Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pauline Oliveros
Deep Listening

Heart of Tones

The Kolumba Choir

Beyond what you might think of as minimalism or meditation music, Pauline Oliveros has been composing some of the more extraordinary music on the frontiers of what music can be. I'll be going into her work more for about the next month.

Listening to her music opens your ears to the possibilities of what sound is and what it can be.

Can You Imagine Eliot Spitzer Invited To Speak At A Highschool Graduation? [Anthony McCarthy]

I wasn't at my great nephew's graduation from Portsmouth High and it's just as well considering they had a surprise speaker, Rudolph Giuliani.

You wonder if they'd have considered having Eliot Spitzer address them. If Giuliani of the "notorious adultery" which had him publicly leave Gracie Mansion for a love nest, while he was in office was AOk, why not. Indeed the full epic of the mayor's infidelities, which went on semi-publicly for years, would have been enough to end the careers of a dozen Democrats.

We are talking about a High School graduation. I wonder if they'll have Mark Sanford sometime.

Why The Blogs of the Left Seem To Be So Depressed [Anthony McCarthy]

Because we are.

This commentary by Stephen Crockett at Buzz Flash says it better than I can, even if you don’t read the rest of this, do yourself the favor of reading it.

Barack Obama’s administration is failing because he turns out to be a received elite consensus zombie. He has shown no unconventional courage in any of the major issues that face his administration, the two wars, the horrible economy, health care, the environment, energy, ... you name it, he’s either caved or betrayed the position of his base supporters. He’s screwed his base so often you have to conclude he enjoys doing it. If he had more to show for it than he’s gotten, it might be forgivable that he has betrayed us on occasion, but what he’s gotten is awful*.

The health care bill that he signed is such pathetically weak and delayed relief to the uninsured and the victims of outright theft by the insurance industry that it will not be popular. If, as I’m increasingly worried, the Republicans take the government again, they will destroy even that and suffer very little for it. Those same Republicans who Barack Obama wooed and flattered and courted when he could have enforced party discipline and produced a real bill. The sell outs in the Democratic caucus in the Senate saw Obama’s weakness with the Republicans and they played it on behalf of their backers in the insurance and health care industry. And the results were not only an emboldened Republican machine but a wounded and dispirited Democratic base. The strategy that led to Baucus gutting health care in the Senate was devised by the Obama administration, when it became apparent that Kennedy wasn’t going to be there, they were incredibly stupid to not change it. That is if the predictable result wasn’t the one they wanted.

I’ve given my theory that Obama’s transformation from a community organizer to an organization man happened at Harvard Law. I’m sure that once he became a star there he didn’t want to risk that status by violating the core principles of the elite that raised him up. That’s how they do it, with a sandbag made of velvet. I think it’s that elite that he sees as his real audience, the paying customers who he needs to please. I’m now almost certain that he sees the rest of us as having no choice.

Well, we don’t have a choice for the next two years as far as he goes. We have fixed terms and he has two more years. I’m afraid that this year the Democrats in the House and Senate will suffer, some who deserve to be dumped due to their duplicity, many who don’t nearly as much. And that will do nothing to strengthen Obama. With his record, it will provide him with an excuse for further sell outs. That’s the way he played the veto proof majority in the Senate.

Do we have a choice in 2012? The Republicans will certainly put up someone worse and the choice will be between Obama and whoever that is. Obama and his inner circle are counting on the Democratic base and progressive independents having no choice but to vote for him again. They are depending on the marginally better being the more rational choice. They shouldn’t count on it. They should remember what happened to Jimmy Carter in 1980, if they haven’t already. He didn’t sell out the base of his support nearly as cynically and completely as Barack Obama, he hadn’t shown himself to be as weak a president and the base failed to return him to office in the face of Ronald Reagan winning the election.

A Democratic president doesn’t only serve as the Executive of the government, he is also the head of the Democratic Party. Barack Obama led the Democrats into the greatest majority that any party has held in a long time and he has botched and squandered it into the ground. Largely with no excuse. I do blame his Chief of Staff for a lot of that, Rahm Emanuel has been the lead sell out of this administration and nothing will improve as long as he’s a part of the administration. He has seldom passed up an opportunity to gratuitously flip the bird at the progressives in the Democratic Party. But Obama shows no signs of facing up to that. The rest of his staff seem to be pretty near useless for governing or for politics. That is one thing you couldn’t say about the Bush II thugs, they were good at politics.

But that conventional analysis is, of course wrong. The Voters are the ultimate authority in any legitimate government. It didn’t start with Obama. It was was the horror of the Democratic base and many independents at the Bush II regime, at the prospect of eight more years of a McCain-Palin horror, at the determination to get a better government in, that led to Obama winning. It was us, not him. We are the ones who put him over the line. He didn’t pull us over it. He is the one who owes us and that account isn’t settled up. He owes us.

In 2008 I put all of my credibility into Barack Obama’s victory in the general election, into the victory of the Democrats in the House and Senate. A lot of us did, a lot of us worked as hard on that election as we have on any. The House under Nancy Pelosi has kept faith the best. I can hardly imagine how dispirited and angry she must feel with all of those bills she got passed in the house awaiting action in the Senate, without much visible effort to push them through by Barack Obama. My own representative, Chellie Pingree, has also kept faith as well as a freshman representative could. I will support her with everything I’ve got.

He’s got less than a year to do something I could support him with and I’m not seeing any signs of that happening. Even if I vote for him in 2012, I’m not going to humiliate myself for someone who seems to enjoy shafting us.

* I won’t even begin on the BP oil gusher and the incredibly impotent response by the macho Obama Administration to BP. That would take thousands of words.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

This is Pudge, balls to the couch. I asked his mistress, Mary, why she hadn't gotten him fixed. She replied: Because I would have had to take his master's before I could take Pudge's.

I know other men who won't de-ball their dogs, but I've yet to encounter a woman who feels that spaying a female would diminish the dog or reflect on her own femininity.

(I'm not counting people who don't fix their dogs because of health concerns or because they plan to breed them.)

Want, want, want (by Suzie)

The car belongs to a friend of a friend. My only hesitation would be the harassment. I don't always want to advertise my political beliefs. Do you put your beliefs on your back end?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Copulatory Vocalizations

I never thought I'd write those two little words. But a new study (yeah) has looked at heterosexual women's copulatory vocalizations and concluded that they are sham. Yes, sham! Hetero women scream and egg men on to get it all over and done with. It's manipulative, my sweeties:

More detailed examination of responses during intercourse revealed that, while female orgasms were most commonly experienced during foreplay, copulatory vocalizations were reported to be made most often before and simultaneously with male ejaculation. These data together clearly demonstrate a dissociation of the timing of women experiencing orgasm and making copulatory vocalizations and indicate that there is at least an element of these responses that are under conscious control, providing women with an opportunity to manipulate male behavior to their advantage.

It could be that "manipulate" is a scientific term here, something that even male subjects might stoop to. But then perhaps not, because of that "to their advantage" tail to the sentence. It's impossible for the researchers to imagine that some women might vocalize for reasons of love or for reasons of increasing the pleasure of their male partners. Just to offer other explanations than manipulation. (Or if they suddenly remembered that they left the soup boiling on the stove.)

I think that these results are based on questionnaires that women were asked to fill in later, not during the sex. If there are copulatory vocalizations which are involuntary consequences of the female orgasms or their approach, those vocalizations might not be remembered by the woman at all, what with her having fainted from pure bliss, say.

Weird Humored

Did you know that they actually sell electric nose-hair clippers? Can you get them monogrammed? For Father's Day, I mean.

The picture I stuck here is awe-inspiring. Imagine having to eat your soup through a straw. And what happens when it's windy? Will you get self-inflicted wounds in your face?

I like it. Bravery is always charming

Bad Humored

Is what I am, these days. Too much crap like this happening in the world:

The 130-page Amnesty report, As if Hell Fell on Me, was based on nearly 300 interviews with residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and the surrounding areas.

"Nearly four million people are effectively living under the Taliban in north-west Pakistan without rule of law and effectively abandoned by the Pakistani government," said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty's interim secretary-general.

A teacher quoted in the report, who fled the Swat valley with his family in March 2009, described how the Taliban operated.

"[The Taliban] took over my school and started to teach children about how to fight in Afghanistan. They kicked out the girls from school, told the men to grow their beards, threatened anybody they didn't like."

The teacher said the government failed to protect them.

"What's the point of having this huge army if it can't even protect us against a group of brutal fanatics?"

Indeed. And why can't we get rid of the rotting system the Taliban wishes to impose on its innocent victims? South Africa finally got rid of Apartheid. What's the difference?

I feel for all the Pakistanis who suffer under the Taliban and for the poor who suffer even without the Taliban. But what they do to the girls and boys is almost irreversible. It destroys lives. It warps them, in the case of the boys and it stunts them, in the case of the girls.

If there is a god she won't like that. Not at all.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


Liberals and progressives are pretty demoralized, based on my informal and sloppy research. It's like an infected boil and needs to be lanced. But I'm not sure how to achieve that.

In fact, we have material for a horror movie: We had an election which took an astonishing feat of getting so many new people to the polls, enormous grass-root work, enormous expenditure of money by those who don't have that much of it, because the alternative was so frightening. We were tied to the seats of a bus driven by a brainless cowboy straight into the Grand Canyon, and we had to find the brake pedal, had to!

Then the high point of the story: Election victory! Or at least a disaster averted! Time to rest, to relax, to do laundry, right? Except that the movie didn't end. The music turned slower, more French and suddenly you weren't quite certain what was being said. Who was the audience now? Why didn't you count as the audience?

And the plot was changed mid-movie. Suddenly the election was a victory for semi-wingnuttery! It was the semi-wingnuts who pounded the pavement and knocked on the doors and spent money on the Democrats' election campaigns.

And we were told to hold hands across the political aisle, while those on the other side keep smashing our outstretched fingers with their made-in-Murka (not) baseball bats, cheerfully continuing Liberal bashing on every television channel. I'm not sure about this administration but that kind of hand-holding used to be called violence or at least dysfunctional behavior.

Then the oil pipe burst and will not stop spewing oil and we are all helpless, waiting to find out what British Petroleum will do to save the world it apparently owns. It sounds almost a metaphor for that demoralized feeling, causing instant mental paralysis and a desire to live under the bed. And even when we are angry we are paralyzed, at most managing a few petty spats with others who agree with us.

The movie I'm sketching out is still less frightening than the alternative (about a wingnut administration). But getting the movie changed cost us a tremendous amount. Yet we appear not to count among the desired market segments for this movie. So we feel blue and paralyzed.

The Florida Shootings

Trigger Warning.

A man in Florida went on a killing spree, targeting only women:

A gunman shot and killed his wife outside a South Florida restaurant where she worked, then targeted women inside and killed three others before committing suicide, police said yesterday.

Three women were hospitalized in critical condition, Hialeah police Detective Eddie Rodriguez said. "He went straight for the women,'' Rodriguez said.


Regalado seemed to have targeted his victims. All were women. Only one was not an employee of the popular restaurant, 495 E. 49th St., on one of the busiest corners in Hialeah.

He deliberately walked in the kitchen, started shooting quickly, at close range, police said.

``He looked at me, went right by me but didn't shoot me,'' an unidentified male employee said.

The murdered women were Liazan Molina, 24, the estranged wife of the killer, Maysel Figueroa, 32, Lavina M. Fonseca, 47 and Zaida Castillo, 56. Those in critical condition are Yasmin Dominguez, 38, Ivet Coronado Fernandez and Mayra de la Caridad Lopez, 55.

It is to the credit of these news sources that they point out the gender-specific victim selection. But none of them moves to the obvious next point: Why did this murderer choose to kill women? What is the motive behind that?

When it comes to his possible motives, we get this:

Regalado, whose estranged wife, Liazan Molina, worked at the restaurant, had apparently been trying to reconcile the relationship in the days leading up to the Sunday massacre.

Molina, 24, had moved out of the couple's home. Police said when Regalado's attempts to get her back failed, he lost it.

And this:

The couple's relationship began in Havana when she was 18 and he was in his early 30s. Regalado told neighbors he had paid to bring Molina to America. Records show she received a Social Security card in 2007, the same year they married.

They had lived together for about four months in a small home in the 100 block of Northwest 48th Court off Flagler Street, neighbors said.

Regalado, who had been unemployed for several months, raised pigeons. The couple had two dogs.

But something happened to sever their relation. Facebook postings offer the best clue.

Regalado made numerous postings in an apparent attempt to win her back. She never responded.

Several weeks ago, she moved in with Dominguez, her cousin, neighbors said.

Neighbors said they had witnessed Regalado's deterioration since Molina moved out. He stopped eating, going from 240 pounds to 205.

``He told me he was going to move out of the apartment, that he was very sad,'' said neighbor Damaris Santana.

``He said he couldn't stand to be in the house alone.''

But Regalado would not reveal to his neighbors why the couple broke up.

``He told us it was over typical marital problems,'' Santana said.

So he just lost it? Could happen to anyone, I guess, when a relationship goes sour, especially as he had tried to get her back and had lost weight and felt sad and everything, right?

But he didn't just kill his estranged wife. He killed women as a category. Surely there's more to be said about that? What made him decide to act as a public executioner of women?

I don't know. Perhaps I'm being unfair to the media here, but it seems really obvious that one doesn't just go "poor guy, he lost weight and just lost it so obviously he went out and killed four women, that's what one does when a relationship goes sour." Even if you admit that he went nuts why didn't he go nuts in a gender-neutral fashion?

Sounds like he was a misogynist.

Today's Practice Post

1. Vampires suck. And no, I didn't invent that. I'd invent something better than that. Vampires swallow, too, and that will be the connection in your head from now to eternity.

2. I'm ready to hand this world over to the cockroaches. But they don't have arms. In either senses of the term.

3. Important question of the day: Who needs nature? Compare Shanghai ten years ago (above) to Shanghai now (below). Then sniff at those capitalistic skies.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Apply A Medical Approach To That Gushing Wound of Oil

Probably not worth even pointing out. But if our seas were a patient lying there while rapidly bleeding to death you would know the steps to take. First, stop the bleeding. Second, stabilize the patient and take care of all the harm that has already been done. Third, the major job of a very slow recovery.

Fourth, and that's the important bit, find out what caused the problem and make sure it will not happen again. That means looking into the power structures, the regulations, the incentive structures and so on. It also means reminding the corporations that they don't own this earth just because they think so. It means that people must wake up to their responsibilities as citizens.

Because the seas are not quite like a human patient bleeding to death and because we are not the physicians we should start on all those numbered steps at the same time. We should also ask whether BP has the best surgeons for this particular case and we should also ask, in a loud voice, why a corporation appears to be treated as if it is the most powerful entity in the area, and if it indeed is that, how did we let it happen.

Economics! Makes You Go Nuts!

When Atrios linked to this piece about studying economics making people more Republican I had to run out and find an old and very bad poem of mine. To see its relevance, here's a snippet from James Kwak:

Patrick McGeehan at the New York Times recently wrote about a New York Fed study finding that studying economics makes you a Republican. The headline conclusion is that the more economics classes you take, the more likely you are to be a Republican. Majoring in economics or business is also more likely to make you a Republican. (See Table 2 in the original paper.) The study is based on thousands of observations of undergraduates at four large universities over three decades, so it is focused on undergraduate-level economics.

My own impression is slightly different: People already tending toward Republicanism take more economics courses, because they hope to hear what they hope to hear.

But I'm sure both explanations can work at the same time. The reason why undergraduate economics might cause Republicanism is that the study starts with those simple models where the markets work beautifully. It's only later that you learn why reality isn't like that. Another reason might be more Republican professors in economics than in many other fields, though that's pure guessing from my part.

And here's the pome I wrote on Economics 101. It is deliciously bad:

Economics is a poisoned arrow
that stands out from my shoulders,
lodged there since the Introduction To.

It slowly leaks its palest poison
into my brain
until I grow selfish, sure and sane
until my life is rational and narrow
until my poetry no longer smolders
until I forget I once knew who
first replaced my rites with reason.

I took the simplest graphs sketched
on the board for the living flesh
and saw it wretched.

But this, of course, was the price fetched
by those who would see young minds stretched.

It has a point, of course! The arrow's point.

The most economics I ever knew was after the first semester. I remember going home for Christmas and lecturing everyone on every single economic matter, both micro and macro, until my sister yelled at me to shut up.

In hindsight it was probably a bit like what evo psychos feel. Here's this incredibly simple no-work-needed understanding of everything!

The rest of all those years of study was to make me normal again and to make everything about economics much, much more complicated. Because the world indeed IS complicated.

But the introductory courses really should try to vaccinate students against that poisoning.

Sex And The City 2

I haven't seen it. Confession time: I have never seen a single episode of the series or the previous movie, either.

But this review made me want to see it:

What have you heard about Sex and the City 2? That it's bad? Let me tell you: this may be the most radical, challenging film ever made.

It is also deeply conservative. That combination has the capacity to blow minds. People will stagger out of cinemas in Tennessee and Arkansas, bug-eyed and dribbling. This could also happen in places where they weren't bug-eyed and dribbling on the way in.

The first oddness of the film comes from the fact that the creators of the TV series were evidently kidnapped, bound and hidden in a cupboard while the entire project was taken over by the hardline, religious right.

Do you agree? And what skilled and mean writing! Somehow I don't think you'd get away with that in the American press.

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Good Idea

That would be contraception as a basic health benefit in the new system:

Federal officials drafting guidelines to implement health care reform should include contraception among the basic set of preventive services for women that private insurance plans must cover without cost sharing, concludes a new Guttmacher Institute analysis.

The so-called Mikulski amendment in the health care reform law enacted in March stipulates that preventive care and screenings for women are to be covered free of any cost sharing. However, while lawmakers who sponsored the amendment made clear their intent that contraceptive services be covered, the legislation leaves it up to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to develop new evidence-based guidelines that would define which services to include. It is not yet clear whether DHHS will draft the guidelines internally or commission an outside panel to do so.

Despite it being a good idea, for reasons which have to do with the costs and problems avoided if contraception indeed were a basic benefit, we are not going to get it. That's my prediction, and the reasons are twofold:

First, it would be an expensive program in terms of the immediate spending. That's what is visible to people, not the later consequences of unwanted pregnancies and so on.

Second, the proposal feeds straight into the Womb Wars: Who owns them and what they are for.

Genealogy and Female Ancestors

Digging up your family roots. Trying to find the baron which old family stories tell about. That kind of stuff.

I've been doing some looking up for a friend, and what strikes me most about the whole adventure is how it truly is HIS story. Women disappear into the mists of time.

The obvious reason for that is the shifting last name, the disappearing last name, the pointlessness of giving the last name of a woman who no longer has it, being now married. The baptismal records state the birth of Maria Elizabetha, parents Johan Wilbert Cachelhooper and wife. If you are really lucky, they state the birth of Maria Elizabetha, parents Johan Wilbert Cachelhooper, and wife Anna Elizabetha!

Now, keeping your last name in marriage may not be justified so that future genealogists wouldn't have such a hard time, especially if you realize that finding the maiden name of Anna Elizabetha just tells you what her dad was called. But that disappearing last name is not a mere fluke. It's a sign of the way people viewed family as the family of men. That's why the women had to lose their last name and that's why all those genealogy sites give us family trees which start from Johan Wilbert Cachelhooper.

The descendants of Johan Wilbert Cachelhooper! Do you descend from him?

That Johan Wilbert Cachelhooper didn't make children all on his own gets forgotten. In fact, we could as well call the whole thing the family tree of Anna Elizabetha. Do you descend from her?

But we don't call it that, even if Anna Elizabetha's maiden name happens to be known.

All this is not just because of women taking their husbands' names. There is a real feeling on those genealogy sites that everyone is looking for their eight times removed grandfathers! It doesn't occur to anyone that if his wife cuckolded him he may not be your 8Xgrandfather, after all.

Then I got to the really fun stuff: Pioneers! Finding the arrival times in America of various European-born ancestors. Oddly enough, those pioneers were all men, and no, they mostly did not marry Indian women! Only men arrived on ship Darling Nancy in 1736! Only men entered the untouched wilderness (except for the Indians) to start farming and building houses!

Even here I found a sort-of reason: Most ship lists only recorded men over sixteen years of age. But how odd that the invisible women stay invisible, even today! Because they really were pioneers, too, and arrived on those same ships. They are even ancestors who could have their own family trees.

The reason I'm writing about this is not because of a particular story of particular immigrants to America (all invented here, by the way), but because it is such an excellent metaphor for what happens to women in history even more generally. Women disappear. It's both because at some point those who write down history decide on rules which make women less visible and also because women did not act in ways which history would notice. Having fifteen children without medical attention and running a farm without any labor-saving conveniences in the backwoods (with bears and wolves at the door) of the eighteenth century America did not give you a mention in history books. It still will not give you a mention anywhere.

But if you lead those women into those backwoods you get to be famous! You also get to decide on rules which mean that women will remain invisible. And most of that goes under our radar. I see some of it happening even today.

This post ties in with the old question I remember reading in a feminist novel:

How many generations back can you go in your female line of ancestries? Most people can't make it past three generations at most, even if they can do better than that in the male line.

The Neo-Hooverism

It's not about all of us starting to vacuum again like mad (that joke may be lost on American readers). It's about the idea that this is the time to tighten up the belts a notch or two, to cut back government spending on the developmentally handicapped or on the elderly or the poor. To cut the fat off the government body, so that we only get the skeleton left over.

Digby wrote about that over the weekend, and about the way this is the time for Disaster Capitalism to strike. Even though the problems we have are caused by a just slightly milder version of the same Disaster Capitalism: that of allowing the boyz-n-galz to play ball in unregulated markets all over the world. For some people the obvious answer is more of the same!

Or what took place in Chile when the Shock Doctrine was first used. You should read Naomi Klein's books if you have not read it yet. She may exaggerate but the events she described did take place, most recently in New Orleans where the hurricane Katrina was used to a) get rid of most of the poor people and b) turn the school system into a right-wingish dream.

I'm not a fan of needless suffering. One needs to be that to support the silly ideas so many economists have these days.

But neither am I a fan of some sort of manna-from-heaven world. Everything has its price and people do need to work for their living. Systems which don't work well must be fixed, regulation must work properly and bad incentives must be weeded out.

I don't see that happening. Even in the U.S. our ability to get proper regulation of the financial markets seems limited, and the reason is that those who were in power are still in power, pretty much. The same is true in Europe, I suspect.

That means the cost will be taken out of the hides of those who never were in power in the first place. So sad. And they still won't hire me to fix it all.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Carla Bley

The You Tube says this is a Nick Mason song but Carla Bley wrote the song, obviously did large parts of the arrangement, her big band of the time had most of the musicians in it and she co-produced the album.

I heard a live performance in Boston at a Jazz Festival during the same period and this recording can only give hint at the wonderful anarchy of that event. [Anthony McCarthy]

Heartbreakingly Beautiful

Carla Bley


Carla Bley piano
Steve Swallow bass

We're having storms here and my power keeps going off. [Anthony McCarthy]

The Irrationalities and Contradictions of the Mythic Construct, Individualism [Anthony McCarthy]

Claude Fischer, in today’s paper, does a little looking around that very odd self-attribution common in American life, rugged individualism. It’s long been my experience that the strongest and most aggressive claimants to individualism, are, inevitably, the most conformist of all. In the past, here, we’ve listed jocks, bikers, cowboys, .... macho guys in general, as about the most violently conforming identifiable personas there are. Yet all of these are commonly identified as being “rugged individualists”. Which says more about the phoniness of identities than it does about any people adopting those set models. In his article Fisher says:

American individualism is far more complex than our national myths, or the soap-box rhetoric of right and left, would have it. It is not individualism in the libertarian sense, the idea that the individual comes before any group and that personal freedom comes before any allegiance to authority. Research suggests that Americans do adhere to a particular strain of liberty - one that emerged in the New World - in which freedom to choose your allegiance is tempered by the expectation that you won't stray from the values of the group you choose. In a political climate where "liberty" is frequently wielded as a rhetorical weapon but rarely discussed in a more serious way, grasping the limits of our notion of liberty might guide us to building America's future on a different philosophical foundation.

Which is about the first time I’ve ever seen any kind of official explanation of that obvious phenomenon. You’re allegedly free to choose what rigid role model you adopt but once inside of that role, you’re expected to meet expectations. Though I doubt anyone chooses to be a biker or Rexall ranger without living up to other peoples coercive expectations.

As a New Englander, hearing people from conservative states and areas identifying themselves as rugged individualists has always seemed absurd, but no more absurd than my own state and region also saying the same thing people here. I don’t think that people in Maine are notably less conformist than those in Kentucky, the last state I remember being identified with “rugged individualism” on the radio. I'm certain New Hampshire isn't. There isn’t a state or region that doesn’t claim itself to be the home of “rugged individualism”. It’s an idea that people seem to like to please themselves with. Never mentioned is that the idea of collective individualism, as seen above, being a non sequitur if ever there was one. That the “individuals” so mentioned all seem to conform to a type doesn’t register either.
I don’t think that Americans really tend to think for themselves and act out of principle divorced from social expectation much more than most other people do. The pose of doing so, I think, masks a deeper conformity. For what it’s worth:

But in modern America, when you look at real issues where individual rights conflict with group interests, Americans don't appear to see things this way at all. Over the last few decades, scholars around the world have collaborated to mount surveys of representative samples of people from different countries. The International Social Survey Programme, or ISSP, and the World Value Surveys, or WVS, are probably the longest-running, most reliable such projects. Starting with just a handful of countries, both now pose the same questions to respondents from dozens of nations.

Their findings suggest that in several major areas, Americans are clearly less individualistic than western Europeans. One topic pits individual conscience against the demands of the state. In 2006, the ISSP asked the question "In general, would you say that people should obey the law without exception, or are there exceptional occasions on which people should follow their consciences even if it means breaking the law?" At 45 percent, Americans were the least likely out of nine nationalities to say that people should at least on occasion follow their consciences - far fewer than, for example, the Swedes (70 percent) and the French (78 percent). Similarly, in 2003, Americans turned out to be the most likely to embrace the statement "People should support their country even if the country is in the wrong."

I’ll leave aside any skepticism I’ve got about the whole idea of measuring something like that to go on.

Fisher also points out:

This quality in the American character struck observers from overseas, including Alexis de Tocqueville, who in his 1830s book, "Democracy in America," famously tied the relatively new word "individualism" to what seemed so refreshingly new about the Americans. Popular culture today reinforces this image by making heroes of men (it's almost always men) who put principle above everything else, even if - perhaps especially if - that makes them loners.

He began by mentioning Clint Eastwood, or rather, the various roles Eastwood has played. He’s the rugged individual following only the imperatives of his will, living his life for his own reasons and to his own ends. Then he mentions the public persona of Frank Sinatra But those roles as individualism is a bunch of hooey, it’s all about the set expectations of machismo in the end.

While, sometimes, Eastwood’s characters have a touch of self-sacrifice to them, the good of other people was seldom presented in a way that would escape cynical self-interest. The code that he was presented as following was hardly one of daily self sacrifice for people unconnected with him. Which wouldn’t have made a tidy commercial movie. There was generally, something grudging about any effort made on behalf of other people. And it then had to be de-sissified by a component of violence. Frank Sinatra’s known association with organized crime, not known as a bunch of free spirits, would make him an even odder role model of “rugged individualism”. You go individualist on those guys in an important way, you were likely to find it not too healthy for you.

I’ve run into the imperative to conform to expectations a lot, writing for this blog and commenting at other blogs. People are always complaining that you hold ideas that you shouldn’t based on your identity or, often, the pigeon hole they’ve put you in. Liberals aren’t supposed to vary from the dogma of free speech absolutism, leftists aren’t supposed to believe in the supernatural, neither are those who accept science, etc. etc. etc.

I hope I’ve never adopted an idea or a behavior on any other basis than that it makes sense, that the evidence available and reason leads in that direction. I hope I haven’t. That other people might have the same idea, even people I disagree with about other things, really can’t overrule evidence and reason. Individuals exist in the universe, they don’t escape its requirements and the limits imposed by it.

The important consideration in adopting an idea or a course of action isn’t if it is conformist or not, it’s why you’re doing it and to what end. Our lives are generally dictated by necessities, not elective choices. It isn’t conformist to eat an adequate diet to maintain life. Eating an eccentric diet that causes malnutrition isn’t rugged individualism, it’s irrational. Dressing in ways that will expose you to the cold and wet could kill you even faster – as any worried relative to fashion conforming teenagers will know.

An even more exigent restriction on individual will than that is the demand of morality that my rights don’t override the rights of other people and living beings to their lives and their rights. Rights and the people who hold them aren’t single entities, they exist in tension with others. Ignoring that doesn’t make you more individual, it makes you more of a selfish jerk.

The necessities of living in a society forces a level of conformity. Dirty Harry was a rogue cop, one who managed to keep his job through a couple of sequels, as I recall. He was in the business of enforcing conformity to the law, while breaking it as he saw fit. In at least one of his other movies he enforced frontier law even as he saw it was unjust. Though if I try to parse out all of the conflicting possible analyses of his movies, more so than the writers and directors seemed to, it would take books, not a blog post.

Igor Stravinsky once said that the more restrictive he made the parameters from which he chose to make a composition the freer he was to write the piece. Arnold Schoenberg famously came up with his method which seemed terribly restrictive to many. That both of them wrote some of the most extraordinary music produced since Beethoven while their detractors didn’t, would seem to indicate that they might have been on to something.

The obsession with individualism is understandable, given the consequences of nervous conformity and the irrational and often immoral strictures placed on us by society and government. But, as becomes clear when you think about it, what we call individualism is sometimes an even worse form of conformity. Maybe the entire concept is flawed and we should develop new ways to think about these issues. One that doesn’t present a false dichotomy of the kind that philosophy and formal study create for their convenience which only becomes increasingly removed from reality as they pursue it. If you’ve got to set up a bifurcated system of looking at it, generosity verses selfishness or irrationality verses rationality would be far more useful than individualist verses conformist. Which means little to nothing, when you look at it closely.

I Recommend Suzie's Friday Posts [Anthony McCarthy]

I'll post something later today. Until then, Suzie's posts on Friday are terrific.