La nación clandestina

27 07 2011

The masterpiece of Bolivian filmmaker, Jorge Sanjinés. In this film, modernity and the traditional ways of the Aymara Indians in Bolivia clash and intermingle, creating a film that, while centered around one Aymara exile in La Paz, has as its real protagonist the Aymara people themselves. Sanjinés says that his film sought to deconstruct the idea of the modern narrative centering around the personal drama of one man. His film is rather about how one man has to overcome himself in order to re-integrate into the being of the community. In this case, his re-entrance into the community is only possible through a ritual in which he dances himself to death. In his walk back to the village, one sees the turmoil emerging all around him, and how his fate is indeed the fate of the entire, hidden nation. This film is about another, very different reaction towards modernity than the one we are accustomed to seeing, and the film can be found in its entirety on Youtube and in other places around the Net.

Many would also be interested in another Sanjinés film called Yawar Malku or Blood of the Condor, which is about forced sterilizations by Americans in an Aymara village. It basically ends (spoiler alert) by the indigeous people castrating the Americans in return (it is not shown, but the viewer well knows what happens). The feel-good, pro-life film of the year if you ask me.

On forgetting

26 07 2011

Hasta en tu modo
de olvidar hay
algo bello.

Creía yo que todo
olvido era sombra;
pero tu olvido es
luz, se siente
como una viva luz…

¡Tu olvido es
la alborada borrando
las estrellas!…

-Dulce María Loynaz

(Even in your way
of forgetting there is
something beautiful.

I used to believe that all
forgetting was shadow;
but your forgetting is
light, it feels
like a living light…

Your forgetting is
the dawn erasing
the stars!…)

In the Shadow of the Stars

20 07 2011

This was of course the film that won the Best Documentary Oscar in 1991, and it is a refreshing blast from the past compared to the too-cool-for-school style of the post-Michael Moore world. The film in a nutshell is the Chorus Line for opera singers, documenting the struggles, joys, and triumphs of those who sing in the chorus of the San Francisco Opera. While it is at times evident that they are afflicted by the green devil of envy and would of course prefer to sing the solos of the repertory that bring down the house, all the same, the people interviewed seemed well adjusted and thankful that they can make a living doing what they love.

What was most revealing to me was a rather whimsical scene of one such singer driving a commercial truck for his “day job”. He said that he learned both his love for opera and his truck driving from his father, who was evidently a great fan of classical music. Such an anecdote from the early 1990’s was a painful reminder concerning how far the working class has fallen in terms of a certain criterion of cultural literacy. In the past, it was perhaps not so unusual for a truck driver (probably unionized) to be an aficionado of the high arts, such as opera. This refutes the idea that the plebs must necessarily love what is plebian: what is so natural for a regular person to love Elvis compared to Verdi: working people crooned both at different times in history while doing their menial tasks? Or what makes Mozart less popular than Rick Ross other than the marketing? Doesn’t our economic system have to create cultural crap just to stay afloat? There is nothing natural about the demand for such cultural dreck: it is manufactured like everything else.

Dos Meditaciones

19 07 2011


Considera, alma mía, esta textura
Áspera al tacto, a la que llaman vida.
Repara en tantos hilos tan sabiamente unidos
Y en el color, sombrío pero noble,
Firme, y donde ha esparcido su resplandor el rojo.
Piensa en la tejedora; en su paciencia
Para recomenzar
Una tarea siempre inacabada.

Y odia después, si puedes.


Hombrecito, ¿qué quieres hacer con tu cabeza?
¿Atar al mundo, al loco, loco y furioso mundo?
¿Castrar al potro Dios?
Pero Dios rompe el freno y continua engendrando
Magníficas criaturas,
Seres salvajes cuyos alaridos
Rompen esta campana de cristal.

-Rosario Castellanos


Consider, my soul, that texture,
Harsh to the touch, that they call life.
She mends so many threads so wisely bound,
And in color, dark but noble,
Firm, and where red has dispersed its splendor.
Think of the weaver; in her patience
To restart
A task never finished.

And afterwards try to hate, if you can.


Little man, what is it you want to do with that head of yours?
Tie up this crazy, oh so crazy, and furious world?
Castrate that colt who is God?
But God breaks the bridle and keeps on begetting
Magnificent creatures,
Wild beings whose howls
Break this glass bell.

The Enchanted as Means of Social Control

18 07 2011

“Don’t you know the white man taught them all of that about ghosts. That was a way of keeping them down – keeping them under control.” Then she describes her grandmother’s account of the overseer riding through slave quarters covered with a white sheet, tin cans tied to his horse’s tail, in order to keep the slaves indoors at night…

This is the seminal quote that begins Gladys-Marie Fry’s book, Night Riders in Black Folk History. The premise of Dr. Fry’s book is that ghost stories and other tales of hauntings in the night were employed by slave owners as a means of social control. There is a common prejudice that we may have under which a slave society is seen as relatively closed when it came to the movement of slaves. Fry dispels that particular myth, and proves that slaves were particularly mobile, especially at night. Religious and secular gatherings were often held by slaves in the woods, and their masters feared that such gatherings might be a prelude to another slave revolt like the successful one in Haiti. Because of a sheer lack of manpower, they had to devise other ways to make the slaves stay on the plantations, and one of those ways was to make up ghost stories of the forest being haunted by evil spirits. In this vein, the overseer and others would dress up as ghosts and ride through the slave quarters at night, trying to reinforce the master’s myth.

After the Civil War, similar tactics were used by ex-slave owners to keep their former slaves on the plantation and working. One tactic was to show up late at night dressed as the ghosts of Confederate soldiers. To be more convincing, such antics were employed as putting large bags under the costumes, so when they asked for water, they could “drink” extraordinary amounts of it, giving the guise of being souls returning thirsty from hell. As one could already surmise, such character acting also played a major role in the formation of what would later be known as the Ku Klux Klan. Apparently, these types of ghost stories were central to the ideology of white supremacy in the pre- and post-bellum South. The slaves and ex-slaves were objects of domination because they would “fall for” such obvious acts of costumed bullying.

Fry portrays most slaves as not “falling for it”, but as being afraid of the very real violence of the slave system nonetheless. Often, such disguises were not well done, and it was known that such-and-such a ghost was really the overseer or master in disguise. If these types of subterfuges were effective, it was in that it added a psychological aspect to the threats of violence that hung over these African-Americans in their daily lives. It also added doubts as to whether the slaves should flee north to freedom. One popular story was that the Yankees up north were really horned beasts who kill slaves. Such myths further extended even to cities like Washington D.C., where urban legends of night doctors killing black people for their organs were spread through the streets to keep loiterers inside.

In any case, Fry’s book is an interesting work in the field of American history and merits much reflection in terms of its investigations into racism, folk religion, and social control.

On the Austrian School

13 07 2011

Three very different essays from very different sources:

Israel Kirzner’s explanation of the Austrian approach to crisis.

A Marxist critique of the Austrian School.

And finally, an article from Slate on libertarianism in general. The money quotes:

To my critique of the Chamberlain example, a libertarian might respond: Given frictionless markets, rational self-maximizers, and perfect information, the market price for Wilt’s services could not stay separable from the market price to see Wilt play. (Visionary entrepreneurs would create start-up leagues, competing leagues would bid up prices for the best players.) In a free-market paradise, capital will flow to talent, until rewards commensurate perfectly with utility. Maybe; and maybe in a socialist paradise, no one will catch the common cold. The essence of any utopianism is: Conjure an ideal that makes an impossible demand on reality, then announce that, until the demand is met in full, your ideal can’t be fairly evaluated. Attribute any incidental successes to the halfway meeting of the demand, any failure to the halfway still to go…

Buccaneering entrepreneurs, boom-and-bust markets, risk capital—these conveniently disappeared from Nozick’s argument because they’d all but disappeared from capitalism. In a world in which J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt have been rendered obsolete, reduced to historical curios, to a funny old-style man, imprisoned in gilt frames, the professionals—the scientists, engineers, professors, lawyers and doctors—correspondingly rise in both power and esteem. And in a world in which the professions are gatekept by universities, which in turn select students based on their measured intelligence, the idea that talent is mental talent, and mental talent is, not only capital, but the only capital, becomes easier and easier for a humanities professor to put across. Hence the terminal irony of Anarchy: Its author’s audible smugness in favor of libertarianism was underwritten by a most un-libertarian arrangement—i.e., the postwar social compact of high marginal taxation and massive transfers of private wealth in the name of the very “public good” Nozick decried as nonexistent.

And the screw takes one last turn: By allowing for the enormous rise in (relative) income and prestige of the upper white collar professions, Keynesianism created the very blind spot by which professionals turned against Keynesianism. Charging high fees as defended by their cartels, cartels defended in turn by universities, universities in turn made powerful by the military state, many upper-white-collar professionals convinced themselves their pre-eminence was not an accident of history or the product of negotiated protections from the marketplace but the result of their own unique mental talents fetching high prices in a free market for labor. Just this cocktail of vanity and delusion helped Nozick edge out Rawls in the marketplace of ideas, making Anarchy a surprise best-seller, it helped make Ronald Reagan president five years later. So it was the public good that killed off the public good.

Credit for the first link is given to the Ius Honorarium blog.

They say that Paradise will be perfect

12 07 2011

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

You don’t have “bad” days and “good” days.
You don’t sometimes feel brilliant and sometimes dumb.
There’s no studying, no scholarly thinking
having to do with love,
but there is a great deal of puffing, and secret touching,
and nights you can’t remember at all.

When I die, lay out the corpse.
You may want to kiss my lips,
just beginning to decay.
Don’t be frightened
if I open my eyes.

They say that Paradise will be perfect
with lots of clear white wine
and all the beautiful women.
We hold on to times like this then,
since this is how it’s going to be.

We have a huge barrel of wine, but no cups.
That’s fine with us. Every morning
we glow and in the evening we glow again.
They say there’s no future for us.
They’re right.
Which is fine with us.

-Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks

Götterdämmerung for piano

8 07 2011

Somehow, listening to this on the piano makes me feel less dirty listening to Wagner.

On having more kids

7 07 2011

This article is the suggested reading for this post.

Reading certain conservative cultural sites, one problem that they see particularly in developed societies is that people are not having children. The logic (which I do see) goes that if we are to have any sort of safety net, we need actual workers working in order to support all of the retired workers or those who can’t work. Fair enough, the math is pretty easy in that regard. But if you take societies where the unemployment rate is 10-20% for the general population, and higher among young people (those of childbearing age), then what incentive do people have to start a family? In other words, I see how the evil Pill and rampant fornication on the part of my parents’ generation may have got us into this mess considering current economic laws and expectations. I just don’t see how such laws can get us out of them. It just seems a nice example of Monday morning quarterbacking.

In the short term, I don’t view this solution as being anything more than advocacy for the expansion and worsening of the working class slum. And no one is going to do that voluntarily. People can argue that this is what we have to do to pay the piper. We’ve been living high off the hog for far too long, and people have to start producing eight children with no visible safety net so they can all compete for the meager jobs that are left. That, and going back on the gold standard and abolishing the central bank. That will solve the problem.

That just seems like the economics of fantasy land.

I make a modest lower middle class income. I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to have more than two kids. If I have more, God should come down and slap me upside the head.

My Catholic post for the month

6 07 2011

Short and sweet:

Some people say that the problem is that most people in the pews are cafeteria Catholics.

I say that the problem is that the Church is being a cafeteria secularist.

You want to make noises about the rights of immigrants, the religiously persecuted, etc.? Well, other people make noises about an entirely different set of rights.