(April 25, 2005)
John Steppling's Review of Swans' April 11 Edition
To the Editor:
Ah, Phil Rockstroh touches on several things near and dear to me...but mostly to a cultural hero of mine, the great Blind Willie McTell. Now, for those of you who don't know McTell, it's time you did. An American treasure, and also a perfect American tragedy. Go listen to his version of Statesboro Blues. McTell died in poverty, homeless, and was buried under an incorrect name (McTier). That a bar is named Blind Willie's, and frequented by yuppie vomit, is enough to make me nauseous...but then, one must develop a strong gag reflex to survive today. McTell remains something of a mystery as well, playing 12-string (tuned classical) and having an impossibly large repertoire. Who taught him and when? He played blues, tin pan alley, country, and gospel. Find a CD of his limited output and buy it; it will serve as an antidote to the cultural virus all around us.
Phil is, as usual, utterly right and on target.
Joe Davison has an excellent analysis of the elections and history of Zimbabwe. The demonizing of any nation that resists (at all) the tyranny of the World Bank and the IMF, the selling of itself to foreign corporations, and in general the domination by its Western masters is seen as a rogue state....as a dictatorship, etc., etc., etc. Mugabe had a pretty poor record in the early 1980s (though I am no expert on this issue, and I know people who insist his record was fine).....but no worse than a lot of other leaders around the planet. His policies since then have tilted toward the progressive, and the land appropriations were, as Davison points out, the most rational and fair decision he ever made (if one listens to CNN or FOX one might think Mugabe should be happy reliving the world of apartheid Rhodesia). The germane point is that Mugabe has tried to steer clear of Western influence and economic exploitation -- and hence suffered the PR fate of Milosevic, Castro, and Chávez. While the state department one-acts unfurl almost weekly (Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus) and sanitized coverage of coups (Haiti, and the failure in Venezuela) are laid out by the talking heads, it's important to remember that one should simply distrust all media coverage of international affairs. Look to Serbia, Haiti, and Iraq if you want to see the effects of Western economic (and military) control. Mugabe (a guy who wears a dashiki with his own picture on it) might not be Milosevic or Chávez, but he's hardly the demon portrayed by Western quisling journalists. When a Bush or a Blair or a Pope John Paul 2, or a Reagan, or a Clinton are called great men, great leaders, committed to a culture of life (WaPo Op-Ed headline: Bush and Pope share commitment to culture of life) then it's absurd to talk of the crimes of Robert Mugabe. Mugabe is fighting against the encroachment of Western domination, and for that he should be applauded, period. Glad to have Joe back, by the way.
Richard Macintosh has an essay on Camillo Meija. It's good to remember Meija, especially in light of the media fantasies about Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch. However, I feel a kind of vertigo that Richard is quoting Havel AND the Pope (for Christ's sake). I mean, one was a state department groupie, the other a reactionary duplicitous friend to world fascists, and a man who beatified only war criminals and fanatics. The Pope? Speaking the truth? -- he'd have choked on the truth. Sorry, but this is a big misstep to my mind (and yeah, the Popester said the war was bad....well, even blind squirrels gather some nuts!). The complexities of the Prague Spring and Eastern Europe's split from communism mustn't be simplified, either. Assuming a black and white picture of Communism is simply silly, and while I don't really think Richard is doing that, it might be so interpreted. Check the unemployment figures in Eastern Europe these days; check the poverty level of the rural areas and check health care. Check exactly who is making money in the Czech Republic, or here in Poland. Check the astounding growth of prostitution in all the former Soviet satellites. Having Havel use the word "truth" begs for clarification -- from Václav mostly. What truth, exactly?
Occasionally a Swans' piece seems to affect me in ways I can't explain -- and Jan Baughman's reflection on her mother's death is such a piece. I really couldn't say why, exactly. Perhaps because of the modesty of the writing, and the clear feeling of how we must all accept our mortality. Perhaps it's the quality of "average" with which she imbues her parents -- I'm not at all sure. So many people I know have died in relative anonymity that I found this short meditation on death very moving, and the realization that there is nothing average about anyone's death.
Michael Doliner gives us a quick take on that endlessly abused word "democracy." It's pretty much a meaningless term at this point. FOX news likes to use it, along with Condi Rice and John Negroponte...both of whom also love "transparency." I would submit that all power uses secrecy. Society can't exist without secret information (where the phone lines are buried, how those gas meters work, etc.). Nations are about protecting property rights and the ruling class. If you have classes, you will have secrecy and you will have exploitation. Period. These days, in the era of monopoly capitalism (or really a sort of state monopoly capitalism) the changes in subordinate classes are worth noting...meaning the new intermediate social groups that make up service sector technicians, etc. Such shifting groupings tend to easily obscure the relevant facts. In any event, the notion of "elections" and "democracy" simply mask the essential reality that American political parties represent the exploiter class, and protect their interests, property, and power. All our interactions and relations reflect class antagonism...even cultural and religious. It's good to keep this in mind -- which Doliner assists -- when people start talking about Iraqi elections, or the Ukraine, or organizing the Democratic Party for higher voter turnout.
This leads nicely to Louis Proyect on the Wobblies: An interesting graphic history of the Industrial Workers of the World is always welcome, especially on the occasion of the coming 100th anniversary of the creation of the IWW (June 27-July 8, 1905). A Wobblies revival would serve us all well! As Debs said then, "We know that without solidarity nothing is possible, that with it nothing is impossible." Solidarity among us all makes "an injury to one an injury to all..." (This too is a lesson from Hagerty and the IWW.)
Our fearless leader, in his blips section, goes off on JP2 some more...and a good thing. I think the cardinals are locked away now (not the ones in St. Louis) and comparing stock portfolios as they bargain down on the selection of the next Pontiff. Maybe the aptly named Ratzinger? No, my pick is Giovanni Battista Re...who is, last time I looked, 20-1 at the Dublin bookies. Gilles also mentions the death of poet Phillip Lamantia -- something I had missed. Lamantia was a much neglected figure, and, perhaps, the major American surrealist. But hey, with steroids, the Popester, and Zoellick visiting Iraq -- who has time for artists?
In Poland, the Pope-enator's death is still big news -- but then the world media (especially the US) has made it big news. Nevermind that the banished Cardinal Law was given an important role in the funeral masses (traveling from his $12,000 a month apartment nearby) or that the death of this proto-fascist (meaning the former Karol Wojtila, not Bernie Law...though the description fits both men) has driven the debacle in Iraq from the news almost entirely (here is an update or sort of scorecard on Iraq) and never mind that all the candidates to replace John Paul 2 are connected to Opus Dei and were appointed by JP2...meaning all are arch-conservatives and all will support the medieval mindset of this deeply unpleasant figure. (See Another Side of the Pope: John Paul II's Balkan Legacy, on Balkanalysis.com.)
Still, spring is here...and Ms. Alouette's note on Grundwaldzki bridge was amusing, since Anna and I live just a short dog walk from said bridge (actually we are closer to the smaller but prettier Debniki bridge)...on the "far" side of the river. Krakow is a beautiful medieval town, and one only wishes the endless new galleries and tourist sites would stop -- but I doubt they will. And yes, there are still swans on the Wisla...the big white kind with wings...not those writing here.
Krakow, Poland - April 17, 2005
[ed. Steppling is a LA playwright (Rockefeller fellow, NEA recipient, and PEN-West winner) and screenwriter (most recent was Animal Factory directed by Steve Buscemi). He is currently living in Poland where he teaches at the National Film School in Lodz. You can find more about his writing on his personal Swans' cove.]
An Empty Head: Joe Davison's Zimbabwe's CourseTo the Editor:
I think the author of this article needs his head read! Visit Zimbabwe before publishing articles of this absurd nature and witness a starving, disease ridden nation -- purely and utterly the fault of the pariah Robert Mugabe..!!
Stop blaming the colonialists of 25 years ago for the reduction of the breadbasket of Africa to the rubbish bin of the world!!!
Port Elizabeth, South Africa* - April 11, 2005
A Great Institution: Gerard Donnelly Smith's Boycotting The Hegemony: Part Three, Bechtel IITo the Editor:
I wish to bring your attention to the volume of publications that pertain to ICSID decisions. These decisions are relatively rare, and, as such, precious. Hence, they are the object of a great volume of literature and commentary. They are also generally published in the periodicals dedicated to investment law (such as the ICSID reports), and virtually all recent decisions are available online (cf. investmentclaims.com; naftaclaims.com; ita.law.uvic.ca).
It is regrettable that many commentators present the ICSID in a very unfavourable light, whereas, if they would spend some time reading relevant legal materials, they might plainly realize that it is a great institution, allowing for a fair and effective trial between two very different parties.
Buenos Aires, Argentina - April 12, 2005
Kennan's "liberalism" -- Gilles d'Aymery's Context And Accuracy: George F. Kennan's Famous "Quotation"To the Editor:
I had intended to comment on the Kennan quote.
Eisenhower in 1954 quoted the Kennan policy document but not directly when he said with 178 million people, 5% of the world's population used 50% of the world's resources and we must ensure these peoples of the rest of the world continued to provide them -- I've got the quote somewhere.
However, Kennan WAS NOT A LIBERAL, merely less crazy than people like Paul Nitze who proposed open war to get what the thought was essential.
He proposed the essential strategy of the Cold War, not open war but "containment," meanwhile continuous pressure over many years and psychological and political warfare to bring down the targeted governments. This is the message of the Moscow Telegram, where he was a councilor in the US Embassy.
This is very instructive as to what is happening at the moment.
Here are Kennan's views before he died:
"George Kennan remarked that 'the collapse of the Soviet system amounted to the unconditional surrender we envisaged -- a voluntary one if you will, but surrender nevertheless.' (7) And as a result the United States is attempting to impose on Russia terms of surrender stated in the National Security Council Memorandum 20/1 (NSC 20/1) which already in 1948 defined the American war aims in the Cold War and envisioned a post Cold War settlement tailored after the Brest-Litovsk treaty of 1918, (8) leading to the partition of the Soviet Union, disarmament, destruction of the national economy of Russia and establishment of American protectorate over large parts of the territory of the former Soviet Union:
"(...) Such terms would have to be harsh ones and distinctly humiliating...They might well be something along the lines of the Brest-Litovsk settlement of 1918... (We) would have to demand:
a. Direct military terms (surrender of equipment, evacuation of key areas, etc) designed to assure military helplessness...
b. Terms designed to produce a considerable economic dependence on the outside world." (9) NSC 20/1 stated further that the unified geopolitical space of the Soviet Union -- the "Fortress Heartland" -- had to be destroyed by partitioning of the country and inclusion of above all, the Baltic States and Ukraine into a "Shatterbelt" of U.S.A controlled territory.
(7) George F. Kennan-The Failure in Our Success - New York Times, March 14, 1992, p. A17
Sheffield, England, UK - April 12, 2005
Losing Weight Puking... Michael Doliner's The Nature Of DemocracyHello all,
I, unfortunately, got a visual of the last sentence of Doliner's essay on democracy and immediately had to go puke, something I do on a regular basis whenever that mother-fucking idiot's name is mentioned, something I won't do in this missive of disgust as I am losing too much weight. Who knew the scumbag could be employed as a dietary supplement?
Bend, Oregon, USA - April 16, 2005
Impatience recompensated herein... David Walsh & John Steppling's conversation on Film and Politics, Part I and Part IITo the Editor,
I'm waiting desperately for the next installment of David Walsh's conversation with John Steppling.
Winnipeg, Canada - April 22, 2005
Marowitz and PicassoTo the Editor,
Dear Sir, I am hoping that you will be able to put me in touch with Charles Marowitz. I see from your website that you often publish articles by him. I am currently writing a book on Picasso and need, if possible, to reproduce a photograph of the production of Picasso's play, Les Quatre Petites Filles, which he directed at the Open Space Theatre in London in December 1971. If you are able to give a contact address, I should be extremely grateful.
History of Art University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh, Scotland - April 22, 2005
Cycling from the U.K. on to the UkraineHello,
I am not sure if this is the way to contact you or any Swans writer..., but let me preface by saying I enjoy reading Swans, though especially lately have had very little time to read any!
As well as lack of time, I am very tired as I am cycling east from the U.K. so as to go on to the Ukraine, and combined with my interest in John Steppling's views as well as what I've gone through this year, I thought I may profit from talking with him... Of course whether it would be worth his while is a different matter, but then, at least, I should try to contact him.
As it happens, I now have not many days to reach the Ukraine, but if it is not possible on my way in, perhaps on my return??
I am quite open to any questions either of you may have before taking this further.
Pedalling somewhere in Eastern Europe - April 22, 2005
Replace GDP with the Quality-of-Living (QLI) Index!Attn: Swans representative,
The following is a proposed Letter to the Editor, inspired by the book entitled Capitalism is Not Democracy. Raymond Samuels is a member of the University of Toronto community who has a professional background as an academic lecturer at the college/university-level. He is also a founder of the Canadian Association of Quantuum Economics. He has also been appointed to government-related advisory committees. Thanks for your consideration.
Cosmopolitan Party of Canada
Parti Cosmopolite du Canada
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada - April 15, 2005
Toward a new Political Economy of Social Justice and Environmental Protection
It is about time that responsible members of the economics profession begin a constructive dialogue on the relative merits of the continued use of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), along with corresponding Leading Economic Indicators. Arguably, GDP should be replaced. It is a highly dysfunctional measurement context. The GDP measurement context pivots on a highly reductionist and materialistic conception of economic development. The economics profession maintains this economic performance index to the detriment of human civilization. Indeed, GDP manifests the economic sensibilities of the colonial European powers, and the United States in the nineteenth century. Such a political economic governance context ignored the plight of the poor, and viewed the environment to be a "great toilet" for the pollution of "industry," that represented progress to the elites.
America was supposed to be a "great experiment in democracy," that would contrast with the colonial hypocrisies of the European aristocracies. Through the guidance of GDP, America is losing itself, into the very prism of political economic colonialism and hegemony, that the colonists in the Thirteen Colonies had rebelled against. The result of this GDP prism, in contemporary America, is the defiling of America. This defiling, encompasses its worsening ghettos, that harbour social despair and alienation, where people are often without adequate food, clothing, shelter, and basic healthcare; to destroyed forests.... all under periods of supposedly booming GDP-measured "growth" as the economic public policy making guidance context.
The GDP context, is singularly turning America away from its supposedly progressive enlightened revolutionary democratic foundations, into the very prism of elitist-oriented political economic governance. It was such an elitist context that the colonists in the Thirteen Colonies rebelled against, in the American Revolution, leading to the Declaration of Independence.
The promise of America, as the "land of opportunity" for all Americans, and as an enlightened Superpower as championed by FDR, toward support for vital global social justice and toward vital environmental protection, is yet to be fulfilled. However that result pivots on propelling the economic profession, and the resultant conditioned framework of economic public policy-making, beyond service to a "capitalistocracy of GDP." "Economics" needs to move beyond rationalizing worship in a "Church of Mammon."
When is the economics profession going to elevate itself from its apparent primitive state? In such a primitive focus, the practice of economic analysis induces societies via a GDP emphases and accompanying targets, to achieve a highly corporate-focused "growth" (through the pursuit of insatiable commercial "profit") at whatever human social and environmental costs. The books entitled Quantuum Economics: Wage Slavery or the Quality-of-Life? Choices in "the New Economy," ISBN: 1894839609, and Capitalism is Not Democracy, ISBN: 1894934636, present a rejuvenated Human Development economic developmental paradigm.
In these books, a Quality-of-Living Index (QLI) is presented and suggested as a replacement for "GDP." Whereas QLI fully integrates social and environmental costs in the economic development consideration, GDP totally ignores such vital costs on human civilization. QLI provides an innovative approach to redressing Global Warming, and other related vital social, and environmental issues, within a rejuvenated index of economic development context, that would go beyond GDP. Global efforts to embrace the Kyoto Accord (adopted by many nations, that include Canada; but not for example, the United States and China which are among the highest contributors to Greenhouse emissions); and relief of worsening documented poverty under Corporate Globalization, continue to be frustrated. This frustration will continue as long as industrial and other nations rely on an economic index, that promotes a system of public policies that create environmental destruction, and also profound economic disparity, which undermines the quality of human survival.
Governments must be lobbied internationally, to replace the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Index with the rejuvenated Quality-of-Living (QLI) Index!
Toronto, Ontario, Canada - April 15, 2005
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