Metnong: Live!

Well, they were at the time. Alive, that is. The time was 1980s experimental jazz in Chicago. At least, I think “experimental” is what one would call it, but I am sure about jazz, Chicago and the 1980s. Metnong: Live! (that is the title, I think, though the cassette cover is remarkably unhelpful) is one of two albums released by Metnong, the other being A Vast Orbital Kiss. You can find a copy of that at the Internet Archive.

Since the cassette cover is remarkably unhelpful, this post will have to serve as its liner notes.

Very well, then. Though I am mostly unsuitable for the task. I am not a musician nor a tribal follower of musicians and music. But I was a friend of the band, having known Steve Owens from years long before Metnong. We had been distant neighbors (same wing, different floor) with an overlapping set of friends in the same university dormitory complex. We both hung out with the Ozone Ranger, for example.

But you won’t find Steve Owens listed on the cassette cover. For Side A, the list is jab weird, steve ivan, harry lenz, and yuri. For Side B, the list is jab weird, steve ivan, and harry lenz. “steve ivan” is my friend Steve Owens. “harry lenz” and “jab weird” were introduced to me as Richard and Julie Kovacs… another pseudonym as the name was actually Theodore. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.

Why all the pseudonyms? I simply can’t tell you. You see how I fail as a liner notes raconteur? Being secretive might have some entertainment value, but I can’t even offer that: I don’t know.

Neither Richard nor Julie are around to ask. Richard died more than a decade ago and Julie years before that. When asked, Steve vaguely waves and mumbles something about the law but I suspect he’s being both diplomatic and dramatic. Musicians, after all… I mean, some of the places they played may not have had an entertainment license, but really.

Posting these recordings is not a nostalgia trip for me. I think there is work and history worth preserving here. When I spoke to him about posting these recordings, Steve was a bit startled when I told him that I was more into these recordings now than I was at the time. Possibly I’m a bit more inclined to listen now than I was then…

The thing about experimental art is: It’s experimental. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it works in unexpected ways. And that is the always unexpected pleasure in just listening. Judge for yourself:

Side A (43:31) recorded at batteries not included february 14, 1988, by fred

Side B (37:21) recorded on mars a week later (time warp over warsaw) by dick teddy

Metnong: Live cassette cover. Photo by Roman.

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

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)

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.

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

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.


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 Right to be Healthy

This is an audio file originally from an open reel tape the late Carl Shier found in his basement when he moved from his apartment on Touhy Avenue. He gave this reel and several others to me as, at the time, I still had a functioning reel-to-reel tape deck.* Digitized, it was among the audio files posted on the Chicago DSA web site back when I was the web master:

Dr. David Stark Murray was President of the British Socialist Medical Association (renamed the Socialist Health Association in 1980) from 1951 – 1972. He was one of the architects of the British National Health Service.

Dr. David Stark Murray

In this recording, Dr. Murray gives an avuncular, insightful comparison between the British system and the U.S. system in the early 1970s, much of which remains the same. In a few cases, Dr. Murray mentions prices. To convert to 2004 Dollars, multiply by 4.5.

Dr. Murray, incidentally, did not feel the British system merited the label “socialist”; the system wasn’t good enough! He preferred the label “social medicine”.

If you can get past the paisley elevator music (sorry, Howie) used as bridge and background, this is a fascinating exposition of values and medicine that remains (sadly) all too relevant today.

“The Right to Be Healthy” was professionally produced in 1971 or early 1972. At that time, the prospect of national health insurance was a real possibility. Even President Nixon called for a National Health Insurance plan in his State of the Union Address in 1971. This “infomercial” was intended to influence the debate. There was no indication in the program or on the original tape as to the group that sponsored its production let alone how it was actually used.

There were several competing plans before Congress that year. Most of them were National Health Insurance plans (something Britain has had since the very early years of the last century); none were proposals for a National Health System. Nixon’s proposal was actually rather close to the political center among all the plans, mandating employment based coverage through private insurance carriers (subsidies available under particular circumstances), but including a government run insurance plan for those not otherwise covered with premiums scaled to income.

Nixon’s proposal would be considered the left wing of the possible in today’s Congress. Consider the similarity to “ObamaCare” and that Nixon included a “public option”. At the time, there were a variety of other proposals before Congress, including one backed by the AMA that was mostly tax credits toward the expense of insurance premiums: sound familiar? The good doctors apparently felt those too poor to pay taxes could die or beg; they certainly had no right to be healthy.

Dr. Murray specifically mentions the Kennedy – Griffiths Plan. This was to have been a national health insurance system administered by the Federal government. Everyone would have been covered. It would have been financed by employment taxes (payroll and self-employment) and by general tax revenues.

None of these proposals passed. To some extent, they were victims of the election cycle. Oddly enough, one point that Dr. Murray makes, the need for planning, was passed by Congress. The government established a system of health care planning done on a local level by “Health Systems Agencies“. These planning bodies functioned for several years in the 1970s before being deliberately strangled by a lack of financing. In some states, some degree of planning remains on a state-wide basis.

(Length: 31:13)

* I still have the deck, no longer functioning, a Tandberg TD20A. It’s available. Cheap (make an offer). But you pay the shipping. It’s heavy.