Networks Past and Present

Photo by Roman.

Tuesdays are my laundry days and so (as if I needed such a reason) here is another perspective on my laundry room. It also happens to be a room that includes at least three networks, maybe more depending on how you count them. The foreground is occupied by one of the past: the abandoned ends of three gas lines. The building does still use gas so there is no clue as to why these were abandoned. I find it picturesque in a rough and ready way.

Things change, after all. A few weeks ago, someone from management was showing two people some apartments, nothing unusual. In the courtyard I heard him say something like, “I’ve never managed a building with such a high proportion of common areas. The building really has great potential.”

They entered one of the entrances at that point, so there’s nothing more to be learned. But it seems to me a rather odd thing to say, particularly if one were showing the apartments to prospective rental tenants. I mean, “Stick with me kid; you ain’t seen nothing yet!” That’s a pretty weak pitch, one that pretty much rolls rather than flies across home plate.

But if this were part of a preliminary sales pitch for the building, it makes more sense. After all, in addition to the two garden apartments and machinery room and two laundry rooms, there’s room for a weight / exercise room, a bike storage room, a party room, maybe even an additional unit or two. Why, with those features, you could surely sell all the units of a hypothetical condo in a reasonable time, or if rental then maybe collect twice the rent. After all, you’re not just selling the accoutrements of a home but, more importantly, you’re selling a place on the pecking order, a place for the Karens of our country to feel more secure in the fearsome disorder of the world.

With any luck, I’ll be gone by then. But I’ve become such a peasant.

Democratizing the Economy

a presentation by Olof Palme.

The recording features a presentation at the December, 1980, Eurosocialism and America Conference by Olof Palme (1927 — 1986). At the time, Palme was a leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. He was then between two of his stints (1969-1976 and 1982-1986) as Prime Minister of Sweden. At the time, the Swedish Social Democrats were attempting to implement the “Meidner Plan” which would have euthanized the rentier class essentially by buying it out over time.

The Eurosocialism and America Conference was organized by the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC)’s 501c3 arm, the Institute for Democratic Socialism. A few years later, DSOC merged with the New American Movement to form the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). The conference was held at a strategic moment, after the pivotal November, 1980, election but before the January change in government. At least a few of Palme’s remarks are directed specifically at this. The conference was a Beltway wonder for a few weeks in that December but was ultimately buried by the flood basalts of the erupting Reagan Revolution.

Olof Palme is introduced by Chicago’s Carl Shier. Shier was an International Representative with the United Auto Workers Region 4 and a leader in the DSOC. While it is true that Olof Palme had many connections with the United Auto Workers, it is also true that a truly surprising number of foreign lefty politicians and union leaders knew Carl Shier, Palme among them.

[Recording time: 56:48]

This particular recording was among the several dozen tapes that Frank Llewellyn from the Democratic Socialists of America’s national office had sent to me sometime after the turn of the century. Allowing for duplications and individual tapes expiring from old age, I guessimated those tapes amounted to at least a week’s worth of full time work. I listened to a few of them and did an inventory, but that’s where I left it.

They remained in my closet for well over a decade. Now, voilà.

The Crisis in Economic Theory

1980-3
Michael Harrington (podium) at the 1980 Thomas – Debs Dinner in Chicago. Seated to his right is that year’s honoree, Rosemary Ruether. Seated to his left are Rev. Jim Gorman and Crystal Lee Sutton. Photo by Syd Harris.

This is another of the cassette tapes from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) national office. While I found the content interesting, it also had some mild historical interest, being a presentation by Michael Harrington to a gathering of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) [update] on June 16 of 1980. I’d guess it was the DSOC Youth Section’s annual summer conference. DSOC was one of the predecessors to DSA, the other being the New American Movement.

The quality of the recording is adequate, especially as it may have been done from the audience. It is missing the first minute of the program, and there is another more irritating section of really dead air about two-thirds in. I don’t know who the person recording this was and any specific venue would be but a guess.

I found the presentation interesting in two ways. One is that apparently Keynesian economic policy has not always worked as advertised. Harrington nominates business cycles as a possible explanation. Maybe, though I don’t find that idea particularly exciting. An institutional or even academic memory of this misfire of Keynesianism of a sort, however, is of interest. IMHO. The other thing is: what a topic to present to an organizational meeting of a political group. That leaves a bit, good and bad, to unpack.

(Length — 56:41)

What Rhyme or Reason

is there for a place to park poetry?

Or maybe it’s the daily slog that ambles from home to work, rhythm of sorts with uneven meter and useless rhyme. It must be a kennel for doggerel.

But wait! It promises a quick departure from dreary lines read in flat nasal affect.

Promises, promises. Capitalism always has an exit strategy…

The Norman Thomas v Barry Goldwater Debate

This debate between Norman Thomas and Barry Goldwater took place on a college campus in Tucson, Arizona in November of 1961. The event is mentioned in W.A. Swanberg’s biography of Norman Thomas, Norman Thomas: the Last Idealist, on page 436. There’s no indication in the notes whether Swanberg had listened to a recording of the debate or if he had cribbed from a written account of the event. The December 8, 1961 (Volume 2, Number 3) issue of the Socialist Party’s newspaper, New America, had this account:

Norman Thomas addressed a series of successful meetings in Arizona in late November. In Phoenix he spoke at the Phoenix Public Library on Conservatism and the Anti-Communist Craze. The sponsor of the meeting was the New America Forum. In Tucson, he debated Senator Barry Goldwater, and spoke at a dinner of the Tucson local of the SP-SDF. A drive to organize SP-SDF locals and YPSL chapters at Phoenix and Tempe is now taking place. New America readers in those areas are invited to participate. Contact George Papeun, 1628 N. Tyndall, Tucson, Arizona.

The opening statements and rebuttals were followed by a question and answer session. The question and answer session was not included in the copy that I digitized, unfortunately. Norman Thomas speaks first, then Senator Goldwater.

Length — 1:03:25

While this is one of the recordings I had posted on the Chicago DSA web site back when I was its web master, it is not one of the recordings from Carl Shier’s basement. Sometime in the early 21st Century, Frank Llewellyn, then DSA’s National Director, sent me a pile of cassette tapes that had been stashed in the DSA National Office. He asked that I let him know if there were any of interest. There were, and this was one of them.

(I still have the tapes, incidentally.)

The tape itself is of interest. In 1961, this program would not have been recorded on a cassette tape, not even an 8-track; the tape itself is a copy. A return address was taped to the cassette shell: Ben G. Levy of Houston, Texas. I do believe this is the late Ben Levy who made his name as a civil liberties / civil rights lawyer, including in his list of accomplishments being a co-founder of the Houston, Texas, chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union… in 1957.

Around the turn of the century, the ACLU honored Levy for his work, and Allan Turner in the Houston Chronicle began his story of the award with drama:

“The bullets always were fired at night, but the threats, curses and social snubs came at any hour of the day. Houston’s early American Civil Liberties Union members often found themselves in conflict with groups willing to use unsavory means to maintain the status quo.”

Given the state of the nation in 2020, it’s worth remembering how frequent political violence has been in our nation’s history. It’s hard to figure just what one is to do with that observation, but it does need to be part of the mix in judging our current mess, including the acknowledgement that, over time, violence has come from all parts of the political spectrum.

When I listened to this program again before reposting it on Yip Abides, I was generally disappointed. On the face of it, the idea of a Thomas – Goldwater debate is very cool, and it’s understandable why both Thomas and Goldwater took the opportunity to do it. How this program came to be has to be an interesting story, but I don’t count on ever hearing it. Yet there were three serious difficulties that seem to have escaped the event planners.

First, while both Thomas and Goldwater were iconic public representatives for their ideologies in the U.S., both of them were intellectual welterweights, more political than ideological. It’s interesting that in the debate Thomas aims at the politics and Goldwater at the ideology. While that still leaves the possibility for plenty of fireworks, it was never going to be the clash of ideological titans.

Second, both Thomas and Goldwater were representing severely damaged political movements. That may seem obvious enough with Thomas, what with the Socialist Party reduced to a ghost of its former self, and socialism, in any case, no more than just barely qualifying as a U.S. “mass movement” at the best of times. This is apparent in the way Thomas preferred the political over the ideological and the way Thomas had by that time bought into some aspects of Cold War liberalism. Goldwater, on the other hand, was a Senator. The power imbalance is stark. But even as late as the early 1960s, Republican conservatism was still suffering the aftereffects from becoming highly unpopular during Great Depression. And if McCarthyism in the early 1950s did all manner of useful damage to conservatism’s opponents, McCarthy (and by association, conservatism) was ultimately discredited and defeated. Consequently, Goldwater’s advocacy of libertarian conservatism comes across as oddly tentative if not downright milquetoast: We won’t change much; we’ll just nibble around the edges.

Third, Thomas was a very old man. I’m an old guy too. Maybe that made Thomas’ obvious difficulty in articulating his thoughts quickly or his difficulty in pivoting to a new rhetorical opportunity without stumbling so much more painful to listen to. This was not a new public speaking problem for Thomas as a senior, but he could cope well enough when he simply remembered to slow down.

So who won the debate without the question and answer session? I’d like to declare a tie, but I have to give the debate to Goldwater on points, mostly accrued during Goldwater’s final rebuttal. It’s not a victory that would change any minds, but I could see it motivating some already-believers to action.

Mr. President

a message for Donald

This is a remastered from the version that was on Randy Newman’s 1974 “Good Old Boys” album.

We’ve taken all you’ve given
It’s gettin’ hard to make a livin’
Mr. President have pity on the working man

We’re not asking you to love us
You may place yourself high above us
Mr. President have pity on the working man

I know it may sound funny
But people ev’rywhere are runnin’ out of money
We just can’t make it by ourself

It is cold and the wind is blowing
We need something to keep us going
Mr. President have pity on the working man

Maybe you’ve cheated
Maybe you’ve lied
Maybe you have finally lost your mind
Maybe you’re only thinking ’bout yourself

Too late to run Too late to cry now
The time has come for us to say good bye now
Mr. President have pity on the working man
Mr. President have pity on the working man

— Randy Newman, 1974

Norman Thomas and Max Shachtman

These recordings are from another reel of audio tape from the late Carl Shier’s basement. This one was a real (begging your pardon) find as the recording dates from 1958. Furthermore, Shachtman, as I recall, was not in general enthusiastic about being recorded. If that sounds a bit shifty to you, it does to me as well, but that’s my bias. Shachtman, IMHO, was not someone who brought out the best in people. Also, if you know anything about open reel magnetic tape, it doesn’t always age well or for long, so it was a real surprise that the audio quality was as good as it was.

As with the earlier audio posts here at Yip Abides, the recording was posted on Chicago DSA’s web site back when I was the web master. This was done early in the century when a plurality of web access was still done through slow dial-up connections, so I had an incentive to degrade the quality slightly and divide the recording into five parts. Altogether, the program lasted nearly two hours. They had iron butts in back in the 1950s! If you have only the time for one, my recommendation would be to listen to Norman Thomas, but that’s mostly because Thomas dealt with issues that I find interesting.

The text below is a slightly edited excerpt of the text from the original web page:

Given the memory of the McCarthy inquisition and the image of the silent generation, it’s hard to imagine 1958 as a particularly optimistic time for the left. But by then, McCarthy-ism had largely been discredited, the Korean War had de-escalated to a fitful cease fire, the Civil Rights Movement was gathering momentum, labor organization was nearly at its all time high including a recent reunion of the two major wings of the movement: the AFL and the CIO. Nor was the economy especially good; the country was undergoing its first experience with “stagflation”: inflation accompanied by relatively high unemployment.

On a smaller scale, the left was coming together. The Socialist International had recently helped engineer a reunion of the old Socialist Party of America and the Social Democratic Federation from a split that had happened in the 1930s. Negotiations were underway to merge with Max Shachtman’s Independent Socialist League. As part of this process in Chicago, a series of public events, the “Democratic Socialist Forum”, were being held, and this is a tape made of one of them. The Democratic Socialist Forum was a joint project of Socialist Party – Social Democratic Federation, the Independent Socialist League, and the Jewish Labor Bund.

Max Shachtman of the Independent Socialist League leads off the discussion. Shachtman is one of the more interesting and obscure historical figures. He was one of the founders of American Trotskyism and an organizer of the Trotskyist 4th International and he played a major role in the famous Teamsters strike in the Minneapolis. In the 1930s, his organization (the Workers Party) entered the Socialist Party with the explicit (if covert) intention of either taking it over or destroying it. They more or less did the latter. But in later years, Shachtman (but most especially his followers) played an increasing role in mainstream politics, particularly the Civil Rights movement and the labor movement. For more information, see Peter Drucker’s biography, Max Shachtman and His Left. This is a rare recording of Max Shachtman and mostly interesting in the context of his political career.

Norman Thomas was the Socialist Party’s Presidential candidate from 1928 through 1948. Thomas was already in his 70s and his delivery shows it. But if Thomas showed some physical infirmity, his presentation (mostly on the problems of the left) touched on the concerns that dominate the left today [this was ~2000], including the problem of labor organizing in an economy that was already showing the effects of automation and a swing from manufacturing toward services.

This recording is an interesting historical record of two of the major players in the 20th Century U.S. left.

1. Introduction — George Watson

The introduction was by George Watson, a political scientist who was then the Dean of Students for Roosevelt University. The organizers of the meeting were probably expecting something better of Watson, but as the author John Scalzi has observed, the default failure mode of “clever” is “asshole.” Length — 3:20.

2. Max Shachtman

Max Shachtman begins the discussion with his vision of what a democratic socialist movement should be. Length — 39:48

1959l
Max Shachtman at the 1959 Debs Dinner in Chicago. Photo by Syd Harris, scanned from contact sheet.

3. Norman Thomas

Norman Thomas speaks to the problems facing the democratic left in 1958. Length — 40:24.

1959 Debs Day Dinner
A. Philip Randolph and Norman Thomas at the 1959 Debs Day Dinner in Chicago. Photo by Syd Harris.

4. Max Shachtman

Max Shachtman’s reprise, wherein he speaks about Leninism. There’s about a 30 second gap resulting from the amateur engineer running out of tape and having to flip over the tape reels and rethread the machine, but you’ll have to listen closely to spot it. Sabotage? That’s a fanciful thought under the circumstances, but I’ve seen any number of amateurs and even a few professionals do the same. Length — 17:03.

5. Questions from the audience.

The question and answer session showed that lefties hadn’t changed much in the last half of the 20th Century. Strip away the specifics of current events in 1958 and this could have been from 2000. I suspect the possibility of something new is rather greater today, but I’ve not been to a political meeting in years. You tell me. Unfortunately, the questions are only somewhat audible. Length — 34:38.

Postscript

A curious note from when the program was posted on the Chicago DSA site: The site, back then, was hosted by pair Networks. They provided access to the raw log files that recorded activity on the site, but the customer had to find their own analytic software. pair Networks provided two shareware open source options. We used Analog. Every month that I ran the numbers, there would be hundreds of requests for these audio files. That seemed unlikely. Further undermining its credibility, the volume of data (the total number of bytes sent in serving those file requests) would never come close to the total needed to account for all those requests. By examining the logs, it became obvious that when a user downloaded or listened to one of these files, that action would result in multiple requests for the file, each ending with a “partial download” code until a final request was served. By filtering out those requests returning a “partial download,” one still got a number that was too high. It turns out that many of the remaining requests were not for the file itself but for the “meta data” (title, duration, etc.) that one might expect if the file were part of a play list. And where were those requests coming from? Perhaps a majority of those were from web spiders that index the web, including China’s Baidu. The rest? A plurality by IP address, China. Of course, with VPNs, there’s no telling for sure where the requests were originating, but I had this fantasy of someone in Stalinist China setting up a honey trap for Trots… We’ll never know, but my experience counting beans for the web site left me with a profound mistrust for all traffic numbers for the web. It’s not that they are lies, necessarily, but the beans selected for counting on web servers were to serve the needs of the people running the servers not the authors and the editors (or advertisers!) of a web site. In general I regard the numbers as accurate only to within an order of magnitude.

The Atlas of False Desires

This from Nathan Su’s Vimeo channel, a short piece that is ambiguously fiction, complete with graphics that evoke the imagery of William Gibson:

“In Fashion, forecasting the next big trend is everything. In the wild territory of the internet, companies harvest social networks for valuable patterns to predict and manipulate your buying preferences. As trends spread like viruses through dataspace, they provoke planetary shifts in production infrastructures; translating dreams into economies that reach from sweatshops to the windows on the high street.”

Gossip

Toward the end of May, I posted a longish note pissing and moaning about my housing prospects for the coming year. There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that management proposed a reasonable deal and the bad news is that a reasonable deal is not, for me, sustainable. Nonetheless, it’s less than the opportunity costs associated with moving, so here I stay.

Based on their advertising, I had anticipated the new rent to be about 122% of my present rent, right about the amount where I might be able to find a new place of similar size* where the lower rate would pay for the move over maybe two years. There’s lots of ifs there. But management proposed a new rent of only 104.5% of my current rent, bringing the charges up to the lower mid-range for the neighborhood. The property manager was no better at negotiating than I am; he sounded so relieved when I indicated I was interested.

I should check their web site to see if they’ve come down in price there as well or if they’re rationalizing this as an “unimproved” unit.

Still, “the large print giveth and the small print taketh away;” I wanted to read the rental contract first. It was pretty much the usual: The tenant has no rights beyond what the law demands we recognize and we don’t admit to recognizing all of those rights either unless we’re dragged into court where we’ll also try to collect all our legal expenses from you whether we win or we lose. I don’t believe I’ve ever signed a lease that offered anything different. I trusted the previous management company more than these folks but the previous company was, in fact, somewhat more obnoxious with their leases.

So this is not a sustainable deal. It won’t do in the long term and even the medium term demands action. The new rent means that nearly all of my income goes to rent, even factoring in this year’s virus money. But I’m a geezer. “Long term” may easily have a somewhat different meaning to me than to you.


* A smaller studio apartment might pay off the moving expenses sooner, but I’m still encumbered by too much stuff to actually fit into one. Maybe next year.

Passage

What is important about this video is not so much the content — I like the content — but the technology. In the coming decade, the technologies that this video represents will dramatically change what it means to be an actor, elements of which are already in play.

This item is from Theoriz Studio. Based in Lyon, France, they seem to do art light installations and gaming work… at least judging by what they have posted on their Vimeo channel. Regarding this video, Theoriz Studio says: “PASSAGE is an artistic short movie involving elements of dance and new technologies. The first of its kind, it has been shot with a special mixed reality technique developed specifically by THEORIZ studio.”