Saturday, March 27, 2004
PUNKS WITH A POLITICAL CLUE
As I mentioned previously, politically-minded punk rockers who hitch themselves to Leftism, such as those behind Punk Voter, are supporting a politics that is ultimately at odds with core punk values. It turns out that there are indeed punks who realize the very same thing! As this article I stumbled across shows, there is a small but significant subgroup of conservative punks (!) voicing their opposition to the Leftism espoused by the majority of the movement. Online, these include more formal groups such as Conservative Punk Magazine and GOPunk as well as the blogs Anti-Anti-Flag, Punkvoter Lies, Liberty Punk, and Dr. Balls Underground Music Review.
Todd Anderson, editor of Popshot, explains conservative punk's critique of liberal and Leftist punk, echoing the same thoughts I have:
Although Anderson appears to lean toward Libertarianism, most of the conservative punks seem to embrace mainstream conservatism. GOPunk gives an explanation why:
I tend to agree, but Libertarianism still provides more ideological consistency between punk and politics. I guess being a punk doesn't preclude being a pragmatist either!
Friday, March 26, 2004
Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala by Michael Steltenkamp
Among Ray Bradbury's famous Mars stories is the tale of a Martian, one of the few remaining after the human colonization of his world, who has the telepathic ability to become whatever person is the focus of a human colonist's heart and mind. All goes well as he uses this ability to survive with an isolated colonist, until a fateful trip to a teeming human town. The story ends with the Martian fatally collapsing, his true self overwhelmed by the barrage of conflicting images forced on him by the desires of the crowd.
This story often comes to my mind when considering the human tendency to create perceptions of others that deal more with our own wants and needs than who they truly are, be it in the formation of cultural or historical idols or merely our everyday relations with one another. The popular portrayal of the American Indian is undoubtedly one of the most prominent examples of this. While the image and the motives behind the perception have changed over time, the false and self-serving nature of it has not. In the past, the Indian as "worthless savage" justified the killing of him and the taking of his land by European settlers. Today's opposite view of the Indian as "noble savage" merely serves the role of fulfilling urban white fantasies about the "simple life" and communing with nature. This romanticized image is far safer and more beneficial for Indians, and while it's no surprise that they gladly embrace it, it still is an artifact of white desires rather than a true reflection of who they are and their own wishes for themselves.
The story of Lakota holy man Black Elk (1863-1950) as told in popular culture is a prime example of the superficial and patronizing nature of today's "noble savage" portrayal. Black Elk became known through the publication in 1932 of Black Elk Speaks by white poet John Neihardt. The book covers Black Elk's early life, including his experiences in historically important events such as the Ghost-dance movement and the infamous Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890. A major focus is the Lakota religion and Black Elk's role as a holy man, with prominence given to his mysterious visions. The main story ends around 1900, with the book then skipping ahead 30 years to show Black Elk as a defeated old man, pining for the old times and miserably waiting for death to take him.
The book has continued to grow in popularity through the decades, being much loved by both enthusiasts of Indian culture and New Agers in awe of native spirituality. Surprisingly, it seems even American Indians themselves are looking to this book written by a white man for knowledge about their "traditional" ways!  But what of those missing 30 years? Have any of the countless readers wondered what went on during that part of Black Elk's life?
That they both should ask about that biographical gap and yet may not like the answer is shown by Michael Steltenkamp's Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala. His goal is to provide the untold two-thirds of Black Elk's life. Hardly a tale of listless despondency, the older Black Elk enjoyed a vigorous and challenging life -- as an inspired Catholic catechist tirelessly serving and evangelizing his people.
From Lakota shaman to Catholic evangelist. A shocking change, no doubt, for those for whom Black Elk is the epitome of native spirituality. But to the man himself, this was the most important event of his life, and far from being a rejection of his previous beliefs, was instead in his eyes a fulfillment of them. Although the exact reasons for his conversion (in 1904) are unclear, the fact that his Catholicism was his primary focus and spiritual sustenance for almost 50 years cannot be denied.
In his exploration of the missing decades of Black Elk's life, Steltenkamp draws upon interviews with Black Elk's last surviving child Lucy Looks Twice, other friends and relatives, and the writings of the Jesuit Fathers who were his spiritual guides. (This touches on the main stylistic weakness of the book: too much of it is verbatim passages from these interviews stitched together with brief comments by Steltenkamp.) All of these speak of Black Elk's genuine, enthusiastic, and unflagging embrace of the Christian religion throughout his later life. That this was neglected in the books written about him was an ongoing source of frustration for the man. Black Elk wrote various appeals for the full story to be told, such as the following one, which also serves as a strong affirmation of his devout Catholicism (pp 83-84):
No hint of this deep Christian belief is to be found in Black Elk Speaks, or later and similarly popular works such as The Sacred Pipe. These authors are interested in Black Elk as Indian shaman, and nothing else. Steltenkamp is fair enough to not trumpet this misleading narrowness of vision as purposeful deception -- he feels this was not so much an intentional "coverup" as a total lack of interest in anything outside of Black Elk's youthful career as a medicine man. The authors wanted the native teachings of a "true" Indian holy man, and did not care whether that holy man still held to those teachings, or upon what new foundation he might now believe them to be grounded. Even Neihardt effectively admitted that, in the end, Black Elk Speaks is much more of an artistic imagining than a straightforward relating of the facts.
But even when his Catholicism is acknowledged, the portrayal of Black Elk continues to be distorted by others' agendas. Take for example this passage from the entry on Black Elk in the college-level Encyclopedia of North American Indians:
Now we have gone from a misleading but ultimately good-natured skirting of Black Elk's later years to an outrageous disrespecting of the man and what he valued. We have no evidence that Black Elk was a fake or a dupe, and the words of the man himself and the testimony of others are exactly to the contrary. We cannot know with absolute certainty what Black Elk believed in his heart of hearts, but at the very least we should have the decency to respect him enough to take him at his word. Further, many of the Sioux medicine men who likewise converted to Christianity later renounced it and returned to traditional ways without penalty, so there is no reason to think Black Elk would not have done the same if he did actually disbelieve. The author may think she is redeeming him or setting free his stifled true voice, but portraying anyone as a helpless victim lacking agency or will and whose inner thoughts we know better than he is profoundly patronizing. Truly honoring a figure does not entail belittling his character while trashing the very thing he valued most.
So here we have Black Elk, yet another Indian whose true face is ignored as outsiders try to force him to fit the image desired in their particular agenda. One faction insists he be spiritual and wise, but only as part of a romanticized nature-centered shamanism of noble savages. Another faction enlists him as beleaguered but wily resister of the white man, used as a testament to the brutality of whites as well as a mocking of their gullibility, but not allowed to freely take on the white man's religion. Even I feel the urge to join in, seeing him as an easy way of giving the finger to the anti-Western multi-culti crowd who idealize him. But for those humble enough to set aside their own desires, the true Black Elk can be sought, with books such as Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala pointing the way.
 Also noted by Steltenkamp.
Thursday, March 25, 2004
HEY BABY, WANNA GET SACRED?
Gospel Minefield serves up a witty and wise rant on The Da Vinci Code and the "sacred feminine". My favorite quotes:
"A new statue of Artemis's torso? Aw, Jeez. How much will I have to shell out this time? WHAT? Participation in the dedication vigil with 2 temple priestesses! HOT DAMN!--I mean, certainly, dear. Anything for you, honeybunch! "
And this one:
The "wise old crone" label is just a sop that is tossed to women. No matter what ceremonial verbal homage is given, nobody gives a rat's ass about a "wise old crone"...
Friday, March 19, 2004
ALTERMAN'S EVER-CRUMBLING CLAIMS
The relentless Pejman has gone in for yet another round of flogging Eric Alterman and his claims of a conservative media bias as outlined in What Liberal Media?. The occasion this time is research by Michael Petrelis showing that recent political contributions of both the publishers and reporters of The New York Times have gone overwhelmingly to Democrats. I might as well kick Alterman while he's down and expand on Petrelis' line of argument a bit.
Alterman's thesis is essentially that, whatever the political orientation of journalists and other media workers, media outlets have a conservative bias on economic issues because their reporting is expected to protect and promote the financial interests of the huge media corporations for which they work. Thus, the supposed "liberal media" doesn't exist. The reasoning here is weak on several points. For example, it implies that economic issues exhaust the possibilities for bias, or at least present the only significant or essential ones. Even if we concede that there is an economic bias, there are many other facets to the political landscape beyond economics, and so to conclude that a conservative bias in this single area means no liberal bias exists anywhere else is, at a minimum, premature. More directly relevant for my purpose here, Alterman's argument takes the stereotypical assumption that if something is corporate, it must thereby necessarily be politically conservative. But do the facts actually bear this out?
Let's examine the political campaign contributions of some major media corporations. If such businesses do indeed have a conservative bias, it is reasonable to assume that the beneficiaries of their donations will be similarly conservative. I will focus in particular on the following companies listed in this 2002 Nation article as the primary media-related megacorporations: AOL Time Warner, Disney, General Electric, News Corporation, Viacom, Vivendi, Sony, Bertelsmann, AT&T and Liberty Media. (I have heard a slightly different list attributed to Alterman, but since I could not verify that, I'm going with this list instead.) Here are Open Secrets' data on the top 20 corporate donors in the category TV/Movies/Music (which nets most of these in question) for the last three election cycles:
As you can see, the vast majority of the funds here are going to Democrats, not Republicans. The only exceptions are with News Corporation and AT&T, and in those instances they are in the lower 10-11 of the ranking. So where's that conservative bias? That's certainly an odd way of supporting your supposed benefactors! It seems we are left with three possible explanations: 1) corporate officials are stupid and/or delusional, 2) Democrats are not the liberals they claim to be, or 3) media corporations are not the conservatives Alterman claims they are.
Of course, it's not quite that simple. For one thing, here is the approach Open Secrets uses for compiling these figures:
So it could be argued (albeit not very effectively) that these donations do not reflect the views of "the corporation" in a meaningful sense. More significantly, is also important to consider to which individual politicians these funds went and the specifics of the races they face(d). A corporation might fund the Democrat who is more likely to win in hopes of influencing him rather than the long-shot Republican who might be naturally inclined in the business's favor. Such things cannot be known through these very generalized figures.
In the end, the pragmatism touched on in the previous paragraph suggests what is really going on here. Good corporate management is relentlessly pragmatic, and thus corporations will most likely donate to whomever they feel will bring the most benefit to them, independent of ideology. Likewise, corporate management is very unlikely to care regarding whether or not the outlook of their corporation is being directly mirrored in their specific media outlets far down the organizational chain so long as they remain profitable. There is no particular reason why a manager would want to curtail the latitude given to media outlets so long as profit is sustained. (The entire purpose of a hierarchical structure is to avoid such wasteful micro-management, after all.) That is why, short of finding an exact, specific match between corporate desire and outlet reporting, the corporate nature of today's media in and of itself is not a relevant factor in determining its potential bias.
Thursday, March 18, 2004
HITCHENS REVIEWS BURKE
Christopher Hitchens gives a surprisingly sympathetic review of a new edition of Edmund Burke's classic Reflections on the Revolution in France. Some good background and interesting interpretations here.
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
PUNK VOTERS: CLUELESS PAWNS OF THE SYSTEM
Thanks to a poster on campus, I've become aware of a new political activism group, Punk Voter. The group bills itself as a "coalition to educate, register and mobilize progressive voters" and has a predictable and tiresome focus on fighting "against the chaotic policies George W. Bush has put in place. He must be exposed." It also, not at all surprisingly, keeps skirting the realm of conspiracy theory.
That these punks hitch themselves to progressivism shows their cluelessness, and in the end makes them into dupes of the very forces they wish to resist. If the punk movement can be said to have any key guiding principle, it is a radical rejection of The System. For all its pretensions to the contrary, "progressivism" is ultimately just another flavor of The System. Trying to steer it in a Leftist direction may earn you a few distracting goodies that fool you into thinking you are more free, but it will never yield the full and radical freedom for which punks seem to yearn. Only an extreme enervation of The System offers that possibility, and politically that comes in only two forms: Libertarianism for the reasonable, anarchism for the foolish. A self-identified "punk" group that pushes for anything else does not deserve the label.
There are some punks, however, who see that the true roots of The System extend deeper than politics, and commit themselves to the ultimate rejection of its pomps and works: The Last True Rebellion.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
James Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!
--- Sean Connery & Gert Froebe in Goldfinger
BUGGY PROF ON SPANISH ELECTION
The Buggy Professor gives his always-perceptive thoughts on the Madrid bombings and the response of the Spanish electorate: Part 1 and Part 2. Excellent.
Monday, March 15, 2004
THE REAL CHE GUEVARA, PART 3
Another good article on the truth about Comrade Che, from the Australian News Weekly. A Cuban reader sent in the following response to it:
It's always a struggle for me to keep my cool when I see clueless radical wannabes sporting that murderous bastard on their chests...
Sunday, March 14, 2004
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ROAD TO SERFDOM
In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Road to Serfdom, Tech Central Station has a recollection of Friedrich Hayek's most well-known book.
The Reader's Digest condensed version of The Road to Serfdom mentioned in the article can be found here (PDF), and a cartoon version (in more than one sense!) can be found here.
UPDATE: Here's another commemoration.
Saturday, March 13, 2004
MOTORCYCLING THROUGH CHERNOBYL
A fascinating photo essay from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Friday, March 12, 2004
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
I must say that among educated people, politics occupies far too great a proportion of time. All the periodicals, all the newspapers are saturated with politics, although many of the objects they are discussing are very transient and short-term. Of course, many people do occupy themselves with higher themes... But in general, modern humankind is characterized by the loss of the ability to answer the principal problems of life and death. People are prepared to stuff their heads with anything, and to talk of any subject, but only to block off the contemplation of this subject. This is the reason for the increasing pettiness of our society, the concentration on the small and irrelevant.
--- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
(Via Sed Contra)
MOSCOW AND MADRID
Myles Kantor of FrontPage has an interview with Stanley Payne regarding his new book on the Spanish Civil War that's definitely worth checking out.
"OCCIDENTALISM": THERE'S HOPE FOR ACADEMIA YET!
Though I have mercifully been able to avoid most of the postmodern silliness going on in today's academia, I do occasionally have to wade through it for my research. This term in particular has involved a good amount of torturous reading in the hope that I might find some tiny gems amid the mountainous dunghill of social constructivist drivel. It's almost enough to drive me out of academia -- "Do I really want to spend a lifetime around people who write this stuff?" -- but every once in a while I stumble across something that restores my hope.
A recent instance of this came while reading Landscape, Culture, and Power in Chinese Society, edited by Wen-hsin Yeh (1998, UC Berkeley Institute of East Asian Studies). I started in with some reluctance -- anything with "Power" in its title inevitably provokes lots of exasperated eye-rolling from me. ("Power and landscape? Here comes Foucault!") There was, of course, a fair touch of PoMo in the pieces, but also one that took a surprising departure.
The surprising piece was "Mapping China's World: Cultural Cartography in Late Imperial Times" by Richard J. Smith (pp 52-109). It is a fascinating exploration of the social significance of cartography in Chinese culture. Among several other things, maps often expressed the traditional chauvinism of the Chinese people, which consisted of seeing China as the pinnacle of civilization and indeed the very center of the world -- Zhongguo, the "Central Kingdom." This translated itself cartographically into conventions such as centering world maps on China, exaggerating the size of the country, portraying foreign countries as small islands vaguely scattered around the periphery (regardless of actual size and location), and so on. Having been put in a sarcastic mood by the previous articles, all this made me mutter, "But I thought only the West is bigoted toward 'the Other'!" This made it all the more startling when, in a discussion of a "postcolonial" critique of Western attitudes toward the Chinese, I found the following passage on page 87:
After discussing the Imperial Chinese tribute system and the assumptions involved therein, Smith continues:
"Orientalization," of course, refers to the notorious idea promoted by Edward Said in Orientalism that Western views of the Middle East (and by extension, all of the non-Western world) have more to do with the desires and agendas of Westerners than with seeing it as it truly is. Westerners conceive of the Orient in ways that let them fantasize about forbidden pleasures and justify their imperialist schemes and conquests. That a mirror image Occidentalism coming from the other direction can easily be constructed is obvious in light of both common sense and a passing knowledge of world history, but, not surprisingly, little attention has been paid to it in academia despite substantive attempts to formulate it. That is why it was so refreshing to find this criticism of the one-sidedness of the "Orientalist" critique, especially in the midst of an article that had no obstensible agenda -- he is just a scholar trying to set the record straight. An academic not only seeing this bias but also feeling secure in openly criticizing it in a significant publication is surely a heartening sign.
On Cultural Chauvinism
None of this, however, should be taken to mean that I am especially condemning Chinese or other (non-Western and Western) cultural chauvinism. Every culture in the world considers itself the best, and quite naturally so. Moreover, so long as that does not fuel outward aggression or an inertia against making needed changes, there's nothing particularly wrong with it. That should simply be acknowledged, and the uncovering of such chauvinism not be used as an ideological club against any side.
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
VDH ENTERS THE BLOGOSPHERE
It looks like at long last Victor Davis Hanson has a weblog! The more platforms this guy has, the better!
THE INTERACTIVE ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN PROJECT
Here's an interesting site offering online maps of the ancient Mediterranean, including the Aegean, Africa, and Gaul. It's part of the Ancient World Mapping Center, created to "promote cartography and geographic information science as essential disciplines within the field of ancient studies." How can a geographer not love hearing that?
THE REAL CHE GUEVARA, PART 2
Just in time for the upcoming release of 2 films honoring the Leftist pop icon comes another analysis of the murderously totalitarian nature of Che Guevara. Perhaps my readership should get some of these to celebrate the movie premieres...
Friday, March 05, 2004
I usually dislike modernist church buildings as the Lego-block blight on the urban landscape that they are, but I recently became aware of one that has me intrigued: Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki, Finland. Built in the late 1960s, the church is a domed bowl made from a carved-out hollow in an outcrop of rock. The interior has the typically Lutheran simplicity and starkness, but this helps in emphasizing the interplay of light and patterns in the rock walls. From the outside, the building is amazingly unobtrusive and blends in to the natural landscape, almost to the point of disappearing. This aspect is reminiscent of the building exterior concepts of fantastical artist and architect Roger Dean, although I think this is a much more practical and aesthetically pleasing approach than that found in the exteriors of Dean's bubble houses (scroll down) -- the leap from painting to physical structure doesn't succeed for him.
THE PYRRHIC STRATEGY OF GAY MARRIAGE
David Morrison of Sed Contra does an excellent job explaining why the recent defiant gay marriage actions subvert the rule of law and ultimately threaten the very minorities they are supposed to benefit.
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
THOUGHTS FROM G. K. CHESTERTON
Just to let you know I'm still kicking...
A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.
--- in The Everlasting Man, 1925
This is the age in which thin and theoretic minorities can cover and conquer unconscious and untheoretic majorities.
--- in Illustrated London News, 12/20/1919
It is hard to make government representative when it is also remote.
--- in Illustrated London News, 8/17/1918
Regular posting should resume soon.