Sun, 25 Feb 2007

Anarchism and Other Essays

— SjG @ 7:24 pm

Emma Goldman, with an introduction by Hippolyte Havel, 1911, a Gutenberg Project e-book, downloaded via

I started reading this over lunch. I was sitting in an In ‘n’ Out Burger outlet that’s located in the vast parking lot of a CostCo warehouse. The guy to my right at the counter was wearing a suit, and was studiously reading The Wall Street Journal. I’d be hard pressed to describe a more commonplace scene of overwhelming American capitalism.

In this environment, I started reading Havel’s introduction, which would be better described as a fawning hagiography written in full-on Socialist jargon. If written today, it would read as parody. But this sets the scene, which is important while reading all of the essays: when Emma wrote these, it would be nearly ten years before women gained the vote in the US; penicillin was twenty years away from being used as an antibiotic; no nation had yet bombed another from the air; no nation had yet been ruled under a formally Fascist, Socialist, or Communist philosophy; Ford’s Model T was a brand new product; nations measured their military might by their navies and their cavalries; the bloody and profound transformations of Europe that characterized much of the the 20th century had yet to unfold. Emma’s unbounded optimism of 1911 was inspired, inspiring, and based on a world full of the promise of great changes, however ill-placed and tragic it may appear in retrospect.

It was a very different time, and yet, for all these differences, it was very much like today. If I were to remove the names from one of Emma’s contemptuous dismissals of McKinley, I could easily pass it off as being contemporary. Her critique of what we today call the “prison industrial complex” reads like it’s straight from the papers, citing the dramatic growth in prison population and showing that the US had (has) the highest incarceration percentage of any industrial nation. She dove headlong into the nature versus nurture debate, arguing that children (even of impoverished, “lazy” people) could be raised in a wholesome environment and turn out enthusiastic and intelligent.

Where Emma surprised me was her dismissal of women’s suffrage, which reminded me of the bumper sticker that says “don’t vote — it only encourages them!” She believed that anything that could be voted upon would need be so entrenched in the system as to be meaningless. Change could only come from dismantling the system entirely. That Emma was against marriage was not surprising. That she was against the military and particularly the draft was also not surprising, although the intensity of her argument that barracks led to unacceptable “perversions” was.

Interestingly, the core of her belief in anarchy resided in a very Germanic attitude towards work. She believed that all the ills of the world lay in the inability for people to do the work they loved, unmolested. Work was the way to fulfillment, and if people were only allowed to do good, satisfying work, the anarchist utopia would arrive.

And, actually, her essay on the problems of feminism was perhaps the most poignant — she talks of the burden of being an intelligent woman in a society that holds women as second-class citizens. By living up to her intellectual potential, the woman is alienated from society, and thereby prevented from having meaningful relationships. Evidently, even progressive men are sufficiently trapped in convention that they can’t love a woman as an equal.

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Sun, 18 Feb 2007

Mardi Gras!

— SjG @ 10:26 pm

Saturday was the Grand View Krewe’s annual Mardi Gras extravaganza at Venice Beach.

I took close to eight hundred pictures. I’m currently sorting, refining, color-correcting, cropping, etc. They’ll be available in the gallery soon! You can see pictures from 2003 and 2004 there now … If I get my act together, I’ll post up pictures from not just this year, but the last three years…

While you’re waiting, check out some music by The Gumbo Brothers.

Mon, 5 Feb 2007

Dogfight, except with birds

— SjG @ 10:46 am

On my walk in this morning, I was surprised to see a red-tailed hawk, fluttering low over the sports-fields of Venice High School. I do occasionally see red-tails in the area, but I didn’t think it would find much to hunt at the high school (then again, I guess there could be other birds there).

The red-tail was fluttering, riding up on thermals, swooping around, and just being generally magnificent. But before long, a single crow vectored in and started harassing it. They spun around in numerous quick dives and spins, with the hawk flipping and keeping its talons pointed crow-wards as much as possible, while the crow kept zipping around and trying to peck from behind.

After a few charges and countermeasures, the crow managing to pull a feather from the hawk, at which time the red-tail skipped all defensive maneuvers and started beating a retreat. As it headed southwest, a whole mob of crows emerged from a deodar. It didn’t look like the flock actually went after the hawk, but it was clear they were defending territory.

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