Thursday, October 6, 2016

RIP Bloomingfoods?

The coop ideal of the 1960s and 1970s died as I wrote in an earlier blog on this site, the day worker coops became "consumer coops". On top of that there has been, for years, a "conspiracy", both conscious and ideological, between national coop organisations, including the National Cooperative Grocers Association and CDS Consulting, both of which provide "expert advice" to coops and the managerial class, which is predominately neoliberal, which now run coops. The NCGA, by the way, conducted an audit of Bloomingfoods after public administration academic bureaucrat Keith Taylor urged them to take this action. But back to my main point: The actors in this national conspiracy to turn coops into mirrors of its competitors use fear--we have to stay competitive with Whole Foods--and lies--member labour is illegal--to get their way. What is their way? They want to take power from members and give it to a Board of "elected" neoliberal types. They want to do this by manipulating by-laws (anyone who knows Weber and Foucault knows what is going on here) and they want to turn coops into Whole Foods Junior, Trader Joe's Junior, and Lucky's Junior which is, by the way, not a particularly good survival strategy. They have succeeded with their fear tactics and lies at a number of coops across the country but not in Albany, NY where members provided factual material detailing the lies and fear tactics of national coop advisory groups. It looks like Bloomingfoods is about to be the next hybrid coop and corporation to fall. In this case the picture above foreshadows the story to come. The picture above of the only Bloomingfoods I knew when I was a worker member in the late 1970s, was abandoned by the powers that be just like they abandoned coop principles earlier. These same powers that be, by the way, have apparently arranged that the upcoming member meeting, Board election, and by-laws vote is jigged in their favour. The jigging, and the elimination of dissident voices from the Facebook site, reflects standard national coop expert advice operating procedure as those of us who saw similar things attempted at Honest Weight know all to well. Rest not in peace Bloomingfoods.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Moronicity on the March: Demagoguery and the Alt-Right

I have recently accidentally discovered that self proclaimed messiah of the alt-right, Milo Yiannopoulos. The alt-right that Yiannopoulos wants to be a high priest of is hardly novel. Many of its obsessions are the obsessions of contemporary right wing radio demagogues, and have been the obsessions of National Review Demagogues, John Birch Society demagogues, and anti-Communist demagogues before it. Nor are the hyper or uber exaggerations or the lack of intellectual sophistication of the alt-right and its self proclaimed demagogic high (pun intended) priest novel. Christian apologists and polemicists have been blasting Islam, for example, since the First Crusade. The problem with all of this fear laden Islamophobic demagoguery, Islamophobic because the new old right and the alt right cherry pick their evils, is that the problem is not Islam. The problem is monotheism. Monotheism, Jewish monotheism, Christian monotheism, and Islamic monotheism, all of which were born out of the narrow minded Mediterranean world, with its ethnocentrism, its theocratic tendencies, its homophobia, and its misogynies, has shown itself again and again to be hazardous to human health throughout Western history. Apparently demagogues like Yiannopoulos don't recognise this or can't recognise because it would throw a monkey wrench into his pied piper Machiavellian machinations. The solution to theocratic monotheism, by the way, a solution alt-right demagogues never seem to have recognised or refuse to recognise, is secularisation, again as Western history shows.

Something else that isn't novel about the alt right is its use of exaggeration and fear. Recently in Facebook post Yiannapoulos criticised a group of vegan feminists who, according to him, linked male misogny and the maltreatment of animals, two of the central symbols, apparently, in the demonology of the alt right as it was in the old new right. Just like other apologetic and polemical demagogues Yiannapoulos uses exaggeration and fear as a form of manipulation in order to gain power and financial resources (which he apparently doesn't use to pay employees). What alt right demagogues and all demagogues never give you is the facts but I will. According to Gallup in 2012 5% of Americans were vegetarian. This percentage has remained pretty much constant over the last ten years. 6% of Americans were vegetarians in 1999 and 2001. 5% of 18 to 29 year olds were vegetarian in 2012. 4% of 30 to 49s were vegetarian in 2012. Only 2% of Americans said they were vegans in 2012. Why don't apologetic and polemical demagogues give the people the facts, such as the number of vegans, vegetarians, and radical feminists who link veganism and feminism are small and have been so for some time? Because all demagogues know that nothing comes close to the use of exaggeration and fear when it comes to manipulating the masses. They are, after all, the pied pipers.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Tweedledee and Tweedledum...

Here is what I learned from watching the PBS Frontline report on the two "major" candidates for president of the United States this year, "The Choice" (PBS, 27 September 2016). Donald Trump is a typical fin de siecle capitalist. He commodifies everything especially pretty girls and loves to engage in conspicuous consumption which he sees as a measure of his capitalist "success". Like most capitalists he is a bully boy who is used to getting his own way and he is, as all capitalists are on some level, a narcissist. Hillary Rodham Clinton, on the other hand, despite her supposed feminist convictions changed her hair, dissed the glasses, lost weight, and put on different clothes to help Bubba get elected. She calls it pragmatism. I call it Machiavellianism. Money, lots of it, to her, is the medium that allows her to achieve her political ambitions.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Female Super Hero is Missing: Musings on Sheena, Wonder Woman, Xena, and the Academic Enterprise

Before there was Wonder Woman and Xena there was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Sheena, a kind of female Tarzan, appeared in comic book form in the United Kingdom in 1937, four years before Wonder Woman. She migrated to television in 1955 running in syndication for 26 episodes and to film in 1984. Another syndicated version of the Queen of the Jungle hit the airwaves in 2000 running for two seasons ending in 2002.

Though Wonder Woman (ABC and CBS, 1975-1979) and Xena: Warrior Princess (Syndication 1995-2001) have garnered a lot of critical attention in the Television Studies world Sheena seems to have garnered little attention from academics and one cannot help but wonder why. Like Wonder Woman and Xena, Sheena centred on a female hero. Like Wonder Woman and Xena, Sheena fought for what she cared about and often, like Wonder Woman and Xena, got the best of men. Like Wonder Woman and Xena, Sheena was smart. Unlike Wonder Woman and Xena, Sheena had an ethnically diverse cast that included Sheena's teacher, the shaman Kali. This, along with the fact that Sheena focused on a female hero, would, one would think, garner Sheena a least a bit of critical attention of academics obsessed with comic gooks, gender, and representation. You'd think there would be more than a passing reference to Sheena in the academic literature and at least a few academic papers on subjects like Sheena and the male and female Gaze, Sheena feminist or anti-feminist, and Sheena and the Shamanic Tradition in Africa.

The fact that there is so little of an academic nature on Sheena raises questions about the enterprise of Television Studies itself and leaves one wondering whether it is much beyond fan boy and fan girl stuff. And this leads us back once again into the labyrinthian world of the social and cultural construction of the academic mind.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Poor Edith: Fear and Loathing on the Melodrama Trail...

I have said this before and I am going to say it again, I am fascinated by what I see as the irrational hatred and fear of film and television melodrama or soap operas out there in film and television critic land. The reasons for my fascination are simple. Just as there is great drama, great tragedy, great comedy, and great detective shows, just as there is good drama, good tragedy, good comedy, and good detective shows, just as there are middling dramas, middling tragedies, middling comedies, and middling detective shows, just as there are poor drama, poor tragedy, poor comedies, and poor detective shows, and just as there are awful dramas, awful tragedies, awful comedies, and awful detective shows, there are great, good, middling, poor, and awful melodramas.

So why the irrational hatred and fear of melodramas? Historians, sociologists, cultural anthropologists, and psychologists want to know. Some commentators attribute the irrational hatred and fear of melodramas to paternalism. Melodramas are often, as a number of critics have pointed out over the years, often centred around and oriented toward women. Even if this is true, so what? Others attribute the irrational hatred and fear of melodramas to the perceived hyper or over the top "nature" of melodramas? But are the narrative forms and acting styles of melodramas any more or any less over the top than the narratives and acting choices of American situational comedies?

These questions about melodrama came to mind this labour day weekend thanks to a discussion on melodrama I had with a colleague and thanks to the fact that this labour day weekend in the US PBS reran the popular melodrama Downton Abbey. Though I have seen each and every episode of Downton Abbey at least once I did, I have to admit, peak in on the Downton marathon several times this long weekend. Binge watching Downton Abbey made clear several things I already knew or suspected about the show. The cinematography, sets, and acting of Downton are superb. It is the writing of Julian Fellowes that is the achilles heel of the show. Downton Abbey is, in my opinion and generally speaking, a middling or mediocre show at best. Series 1, 2, and 3 of the show are the best. Series 4, 5, and 6 are the weakest and repeat some of the things during the first three years of the show suggesting that Fellowes had run out of ideas for the show. Rematching the series also foregrounded the silliness of some of the arcs of the show as written by Fellowes. There's the I can't marry William arc, the can Matthew or can't Matthew walk and have little kiddies arc, the Lord and the parlour maid Jane arc, the I'm Patrick arc, the trails and travails of the possibly murderous Bates's arc, the I'm a socialist no I'm a capitalist thanks to wonderful America where social mobility is possible Branson arc. And then there are all those deus ex machines that seem to be Fellowes too much stock in trades.

None of these failures and the others that populate the show are the products of melodrama. They are down to the middling writing of Julian Fellowes. The reason the show is as watchable as it is, is down not only to the quality of the cinematography and the quality of the sets, but also to the quality of the ensemble acting in the series. Lady Sybill's death scene is superb. Thomas's destruction of the World War I rations he has been conned to buy is superb. Maggie Smith is always superb. Without here Downton Abbey wouldn't be nearly as watchable. If not for the quality of the acting and how devoted one becomes to the characters the actors play, Downton Abbey might almost be unwatchable. All this is rather sad since Fellowes seems to have put so much of his ideological self in the show.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Distant Memories of an Oak Cliff Childhood

As you get older—I am now 61 going on 62—you start to look back at your past life in a way you didn’t look at it when you lived it. Recently I have been thinking a lot about my childhood in Oak Cliff, Texas.

I grew up in the late 1960s and 1970s in a part of Dallas called Oak Cliff. I lived in a new middle class home in a new middle class subdivision in southwest Oak Cliff at 3422 Guadalupe Avenue. To the west of Guadalupe lay Cockrell Hill Road. Between Guadalupe and Cockrell Hill was an old ranch or farm where we sometimes rode motorbikes, the Clyce mansion, a wooded area, and a bridge. Los Angeles Boulevard lay to the east while Blue Ridge Boulevard lay to the south. On the north side of the dirt road section of Blue Ridge Boulevard was a field, probably an old farm or ranch which stretched all the way from Blue Ridge to Kiest. On the Blue Ridge side of the field stood an old shack. Inside that shack I discovered a limerick that I remember to this day: “Tough titty said kitty but the mic was still good”. It took me years to fully understand what this limerick meant. To the south of Blue Ridge was a wooded area that I occasionally cut through to go to school and where I once saw a copperhead. To the north lay Kiest Boulevard and Five Mile Creek. Over the years my brothers, my sister, and me wondered the creek east and west, from Guadalupe Avenue to Cockrell Hill and from Guadalupe Avenue to Pecan Grove Park, our local park which was at the intersection of Kiest and Westmoreland Avenue, catching sight of the occasional crawfish and water moccasin as we hiked and drank from it.

There are a lot of things I remember about my Oak Cliff childhood, a childhood that in retrospect seems quite idyllic. I remember the lone pecan tree that stood by the last home on Guadalupe heading toward Kiest thanks to which I was able to pick up enough pecans to fill a large grocery bag. I remember swimming for free during the boys hour at the pool in Pecan Park every summer weekday. I remember seeing the asphalt bubble up as I walked what was then a ruralish two lane stretch of Kiest from Gaudalupe to Pecan Park. I recall thinking that the chasm beneath the bridge that ran across Five Mile Creek on Westmoreland near Pecan Park looked like the grand canyon of Oak Cliff to me. I remember scooting on my behind with my brothers and sister on a pipe that ran across Five Mile creek west of the Westmoreland bridge once or twice during my childhood life. I remember the huge hill that Boulder Drive ran up near the grand canyon of Oak Cliff.

I remember my school, TW Browne Junior High School. I recall that I wasn’t particularly a great or even good student for a variety of reasons. I liked the social sciences but I wasn’t particularly taken with or good at maths or the sciences. I remember once getting an A on an art assignment in which I mimicked Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup can. I recall that my metal shop teacher made us bring Lava soap to shop and that I made a wood and metal sign of our address in metal shop class for our house. I remember that Dad put in our front yard. It disappeared two or three days later. I recall the foul smell near in the biology room in Browne. I remember that it was warm enough in Dallas so that every day we went outside during our lunch period. I recall one day when a light snow fall led to the school sending us home early. I recall being on the proverbially worst team in everything during gym period. I remember playing paper football in the lunchroom with other early arriving students before school started in the morning. I recall the last day of school when paper rained down like thick snow and covered the halls of TW Browne Junior High School.

I remember listening to what was the most listened to radio station in Dallas at the time I lived there, KLIF. I loved the Beatles, the Stones, the Supremes, the Airplane, and the Temptations all of whom you could hear on Dallas’s number 1 top 40 station at the time. I recall listening to a report one Sunday morning on KLIF about the supposed death of Paul McCartney. I remember hearing Credence Clearwater Revivals “Fortunate Son” for the first time on KLIF, a song about entitlement and nationalism that would have a huge impact on me intellectually. It wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that I graduated from KLIF to to a non-commercial FM station in Arlington that played albums by King Crimson and the Moody Blues, two other bands, along with the Beatles, which would have a huge impact on my intellectual development. I remember seeing Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds for the first time on TV. My Dad urged me to watch it. I loved it and have been a cinema nerd ever since.

I remember my best friend John Cerillo. I met John at Browne. John had an enormous impact on me. He and the Beatles introduced me to the joys of progressive and protest rock and horrors of the Vietnam War. I remember that after I started listening to the Beatles and met John I began to turn against the war in Vietnam. I recall that I typically wore the bohemian uniform of jeans and an old army jacket to school. I remember that I wanted to, like other anti-war activists and many rock stars, let my hair grow and grow but I couldn’t. My parents wouldn’t let me and the vice-principal of Browne checked every morning to make sure that male hear length met the anti-long hair standards of the Dallas Independent School District. I recall John and me going over to Kimball High next door to Browne and protesting at Kimball’s after school ROTC drills before John’s father picked us up in his car and took us home. I remember wearing a black armband in protest against the war in Vietnam to school. I ended up wearing it under my army jacket, however, because I knew if I wore it on the outside that I would be kicked out of school. I still got in trouble. I remember trying to organise a walk out at Browne with John in protest against the war. Our walkout was timed to take place after the every Friday football season pep rally. The powers that be, however, heard about it, stationed teachers at every door, and put chains around all the door handles of every door in the school except for those leading to the courtyard to keep us from walking out. A bunch of us walked around the hallways for a while before returning to class. I still felt like I had accomplished something.

There are a lot of other things I recall about my Oak Cliff childhood. I remember buying "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" at a drug store near, if memory serves, the Piggly Wiggly on Cockrell Hill. I remember going to Gibson’s on Westmoreland a hop, skip, and a jump from the intersection with Kiest. I recall walking to a record store on Kiest near Kiest Park to get Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band in November or December of 1967. One of my brothers, if memory serves, went with me. I remember going to a record store on Jefferson Avenue, the high street in what was “downtown” Oak Cliff, where I bought bootleg Beatles and Moody Blues albums. I remember the old Texas Theatre on Jefferson where Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who shot President John F. Kennedy, was captured after he shot JFK. I remember how mammoth and magical Jefferson Avenue seemed to this kid at the time. I remember riding in my parent’s car along Kiest to Polk Street and into the heart of old Oak Cliff. I recall thinking how nice and prosperous everything looked. I remember taking the bus to the State Fair of Texas on junior high day at the fair.

I remember swimming in the big Westmoreland Park pool once or twice. I remember representing Pecan Park in the backstroke at the huge pool in Kiest Park. I finished third. I recall playing on the Tyler Street Methodist Church softball team in Kiest Park though I was neither Christian nor religious. I remember the big neighbourhood football game between the Clyce team, which included my brothers, and my team on the rocky field near the Clyce mansion. It ended in a 0-0 draw after one of my brothers broke his arm just as my father predicted. I recall being a rabid Dallas Cowboys and Texas Longhorns fan. I remember being terribly disappointed when the Cowboys lost to Green Bay for the second time in a row at the Ice Bowl. I recall going to the Cotton Bowl one year where I saw Texas beat Tennessee. I remember thinking that the #1 Longhorns were going to lose to the #2 Arkansas Razorbacks after the Razorbacks took a 14-0 lead so I took my weekly Saturday bath. When I got out of the tub I learned that the Longhorns had scored in the fourth quarter to narrow the gap. They would score again and successfully complete a 2-point conversion to win the game. Football for me and for Texas was our real religion.

Not all of my memories of my Oak Cliff childhood are idyllic. I got severe asthma when I was 12. I was running track and suddently couldn’t breath one spring afternoon. I recall that my Dad took me to the Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff for treatment. It seemed huge to this smallish teenager. At first the doctor put me on cortisone. It worked well allowing me to continue to run track—I generally finished first in distance running—until side affects began to appear. Eventually I was put on portable respiratory machines that were only of limited help. I remember being barely able to walk up to the second and third stories of Browne because my breathing was so strained.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that the Dallas and Oak Cliff in which I lived was segregated. There were no Blacks and, rumour has it, only three Hispanics, at Browne when I was a student there. Blacks were segregated into South Oak Cliff at the time.

As I get older I find myself thinking that I would really like to see my old Oak Cliff haunts again. I am sure, however, that my memories of the Oak Cliff of the sixties and seventies are quite different from the reality of Oak Cliff today. What hasn't changed is that Dallas remains a segregated city and no section of Dallas reflects that economic and ethnic segregation more than minority dominated Oak Cliff.

Friday, August 5, 2016

You've Been Clintoned

If you believe that Donald Trump is the 1764th avatar of Adolf Hitler since the 1930s then you've been Clintoned. At best or at worst, depending on your point of view, Trump is kind of a comic or Chaplinesque version of Italy's Benito Mussolini. If you believe that Vladimir Putin is the 7914th avatar of Josef Stalin since the 1950s then you've been Clintoned. Putin is more akin to the 19th and 20th century Tsars.

This discourse, this absurd genealogy which links people like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to evil comic book versions of "evil" historical characters of the past, has been created and disseminated by the heirs of those who manufactured a fear based World War I mass propaganda and the heirs of Madison Avenue, who were themselves the heirs of WWI propagandists, who manipulated mass consumer habits by manufacturing "needs, many" of them sexual. What I find so fascinating is that many American and Western academic social scientists and historians appear to believe and parrot this same propaganda or spinning coming from the propagandists of the political party cartel and their wooden dummies in the media as though it were fact. They should know better. That they don't just proves Barnum's point, a sucker is born every minute.