Thursday, March 29, 2012

Photo Essay: The Street Art of Chile

Valparaíso, Chile (2012)
 
  “Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint.” – Banksy, Wall and Piece

Art lovers accustomed to the strong anti-graffiti sentiment that permeates most American cities can rest assured that the form is alive and well throughout South America. From Bogota to Santiago, Rio to Quito, entire neighborhoods have become vast, public galleries turning row upon row of drab concrete block housing into a carnival of light and color.

In Santiago -- a sprawling metropolis that is home to well over a third of Chile’s population -- barrios like Patronato, Lastarria, Quinta Normal, Santa Isabel -- and especially the bohemian quarter of Bellavista -- are internationally recognized centers of street art.  An hour-and-a-half away, the gritty port city of Valparaíso is equally renowned for its graf culture, its crumbling walls and narrow alleyways home to a thriving community of artists and crews.  In 2010, Chile’s Consejo Nacional de la Cultura joined a group of wall writers to host a festival there, Graffiti Porteño, to spotlight local artists. Some Chilean writing crews even receive government support.

Unlike other Latin American cities where there are strong gang influences, Santiago is short on tags and big on stencil, wheat paste, block-long latex burners and surreal panoramas that mix cultural references with whimsical themes inspired by politics, anime, space travel and formal art.

These photos in the slideshow below, taken during the week of March 5, barely scratch the surface in terms of the sheer number of wall pieces -- both big and small – that are on display throughout the region; a book would be required to do the topic justice.  Instead I offer this collection as a small but representative cross section of the styles and themes of modern Chilean street art.  Click here to access the slideshow at highbrowmagazine.com.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012

John Dean on the Dilemma of the Right


White House Counsel John Dean in 1972
Nixon’s Former Counsel On The Crisis Of Conservatism 

The contest to determine who will represent the Grand Old Party in November’s presidential election has devolved into a quasi-farcical tit-for-tat over who is the rightful bearer of the mantle of “true conservatism.”

Rick Santorum is pretty sure he holds that distinction (notwithstanding the fact that four years ago he placed the coveted crown on the head of current rival Mitt Romney). For his part, Mitt Romney claims to imbue his conservatism with an element of severity—a far cry from the Senate hopeful who, in 1994, flexed his moderate muscles during a debate with Ted Kennedy.

Newt Gingrich—the mad scientist of the Republican right—thinks it’s quite obvious that he has the creds, thank you very much. “I’m clearly the more conservative candidate, by any rational standard,” he told Fox News anchor Sean Hannity last November.

It’s kind of like watching three children fight over a toy they stole: It would be entertaining if it wasn’t so pathetic.

Truth be told, the self-appointed gatekeepers of contemporary conservatism have little in common with the stalwarts of their adopted movement: men and women (though mostly men) whose reverence for tradition, belief in a Hobbesian social contract, and penchant for personal freedom and limited government has served as an effective counterweight to post-New Deal Democrats from Harry Truman to Jimmy Carter.

The late Senator Barry Goldwater once remarked: “Conservatives seek the wisdom of the past, not the worst of it.” Yet we are faced today with a collection of pseudo-conservatives and reactionaries who would dredge up the worst our history has to offer— backroom abortions, industrial pollution and unfettered greed—to further a cause that has increasingly detached itself from rational discourse.

John Dean—a self-described Goldwater conservative who served as chief counsel to Richard Nixon—saw the writing on the wall more than a decade ago and set out to find out where his party went wrong. His 2006 book, Conservatives Without Conscience, proposes that the Republican Party has been co-opted by an authoritarian vanguard fronted by religious radicals who are undermining the values and goals of their predecessors. According to Dean:

“Conservatism is not inherently moralistic, negative, arrogant, condescending, and self-righteous. Nor is it authoritarian. Yet all of these are adjectives that best describe the political outlook of contemporary conservatism.”

I spoke with Dean earlier this week to get his thoughts on the GOP presidential candidates and the future of the Republican Party. I came away from the conversation more convinced than ever that conservatism as a movement is being held hostage by what Goldwater called “a bunch of kooks."

Each of the three main Republican presidential hopefuls—Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney—has at one point or another claimed to be a “true conservative.” Who do you think most closely reflects true conservatism?

I don’t think that any of the current candidates are anything close to traditional conservatives; they are trying to see who can be the most radical not the most conservative. The conservative label has gotten so vague as to what it means. For instance, I’ve listened to tapes of Nixon’s conversations with [Russell] Kirk [a renowned conservative political historian and author of the 1953 book The Conservative Mind] and there is no religious discussion whatsoever in those conversations. The religion that runs through today’s conservatism is pretty foreign to conservatives like Barry Goldwater, who was a good Episcopalian, and [the late] William F. Buckley, who was a good Catholic. These people were horrified by the religious right. It seems to me this is a pandering to a part of the base, and their social policy is being driven by their religious beliefs rather than what is good social policy. We’re seeing it with this whole revived contraception debate, which most Americans thought had been settled a long time ago.
"Mr. Conservative," Barry Goldwater

You mentioned William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review and former host of the show Firing Line. He was a conservative intellectual, representing a political movement that doesn’t seem to value intellectualism anymore. Has American conservatism been dumbed down?

I’ve seen a lot of evidence of anti-intellectualism in the conservative movement. This is something that’s been observed since the time of Ronald Reagan and it’s growing. The thinking conservatives like Buckley and his National Review crowd were absolutely flummoxed by what they saw happening to the movement. [The National Review] still appeals to some of the more rational conservatives but that’s a dwindling group. It’s just not the base today. [But] the thing that’s most striking to me about conservatives today is that they just don’t care about honesty and truthfulness. They just create their own realities and keep repeating them over and over … and they don’t care about what is actually going on or any rational or scientific explanation. That’s how they can take all these remarkably inconsistent positions philosophically and politically. Santorum is a classic example. He can be arguing for limited  government on the one hand and then propose social policies that are 180 degrees away from it and he doesn’t see the conflict. I find it very frightening.

You posited in Conservatives Without Conscience that the Republican Party has been co-opted by “authoritarian conservatives.” Can you relate those findings to any of the current GOP candidates?

John Dean
[Robert] Altmeyer [an expert on authoritarianism, a main source for Dean's book] told me that somewhere between 20-25 percent of the American people are authoritarian personalities, and so they are followers. They'll follow over the cliff; right or wrong when they are told, they get in line and along the way they go. It's kind of scary. Fortunately there are not more of them. To keep it in the vernacular of the science I relied on, Rick Santorum is a classic “double high” authoritarian. He's the kind of guy that will jump out and try to lead the crowd and say “follow me,” and he may or may not really believe what he is claiming, but he finds it works for his leadership...and so he just keep pushing it.  I hear constantly people say: “How is it that someone like Santorum can argue for small government yet he wants to get into every woman's bedroom and tell them what they can do, why don't they understand the conflict?” And I discussed this at length with a number of the social scientists who've looked at authoritarian personalities and these people just don't see it that way. They have separate compartments that everything fits in and it doesn't mix with rational thinking. They do this with utter abandon. It's how they get their marketplace philosophy confused with their social policy, where they want hands off the market [but] they want hands all over on social behavior.

Modern conservatives like to think they are interpreters and protectors of the founders' vision for our country and the Constitution, which they say is being sullied and trampled upon by progressives – or for that matter, anyone who supports social change. Did the founders set out to create a sort of rigid, inflexible document that is impervious to change? 

For conservatives today, on the founding...it's almost a civic religion for them, where these founders were sort of apostles who carried the word and captured it in the Constitution; but I think the founders would be amazed if they knew the reverence which people try to give their words and their document... it's quite striking. [The founders] created a government that they thought would be modified and developed and amended and corrected and fixed. They saw it as a grand experiment...not as conservatives today see it, that you can't change anything in government. As a practical matter you can't even amend the constitution.  The last time we did it was tardy by years, when we took care of voting for 18 year-olds and presidential succession. It's almost an impossible process.  So, this link of the contemporary conservative to the founders seems to me almost a quasi-civic religious belief they have in these men and their wisdom.

The current GOP candidates, the party's leadership in Congress, and the vast majority of Republican legislators on Capitol Hill embrace an almost religious aversion to raising taxes.  Is it anti-conservative to raise taxes?

No certainly not. It wasn't for Reagan was it?  No, I don't know where this whole...well, no I do know where it comes from, there is a group that has profited wonderfully because of the tax policies that Grover Norquist and his group [Americans for Tax Reform]  have motivated; it's one the reasons we have the one percent and the 99 percent. It's this tax policy that really emerged in the post Reagan years.

It seems amazing to me that this is a man, Norquist, who has won no election, and has no electoral authority whatsoever, for all intents and purposes holds the Republican Party hostage on tax policy.

Well he's well funded, that's why. It's not like he is this wonderfully charismatic character that convinces people...what he does is he brings money to a local election. He's worked his way where he has members of Congress and now state officials too, scared shitless that they are going to get opponents to come in with a lot of money that his group will put up and knock them out in primaries and everything else, so they sign the pledge. And it's been a very effective tool. It started at the federal level and now it's at the state level. Their idea to trim government back is to starve the beast that's where this really all started is it'a a way to make good on the conservative pledge to shrink government is to starve it. This is clearly the intention. Government is a necessary evil.None of us particularly like government but what's the alternative. It's a part of civilization. 

It seems to me political discourse has become increasingly vitriolic since I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, particularly from the right. How and when did conservative rhetoric become so nasty?

You can thank Newt Gingrich. He came to Washington [after being elected Speaker of the House in 1995] and said “don’t bring your wives and families, it’s going to be a different city.” When I worked on Capitol Hill everyone knew everybody, all members of Congress, or almost all of them, lived in the District of Columbia or had homes there. Their kids all went to the same schools, they saw each other at church. They knew each other. When I was working for MSNBC during the Clinton impeachment, I would discover many times that two members of Congress didn’t even know each other, they’d never even met; they’re in Washington three days a week spending most of that time raising money, which explains why it’s so easy for them to go out and trash each other. It’s just become an awful system. As I pointed out in an essay on this subject last year, conservatives are now demanding and enforcing absolute GOP party discipline, and trying to impose it at all levels of government, tolerating no exceptions. They recognize no comity or courtesy in any cross-party situations that are not to their advantage. They have made civility the exception, rather than the rule. They will lie and mislead to accomplish what is necessary, and conservative “thinkers” have abandoned intellectual honesty for the cause.

At the end of February, Senator Olympia Snowe, a centrist Republican who served on Capitol Hill since the 1980s, said she would not seek reelection, citing “an atmosphere of polarization” and “my way or the highway” ideologies. Is there still a place for more traditional conservatives in the GOP?

The Republican party has become increasingly fractured. There is really no moderate wing of the party anymore—those people have been pushed out and are all independents. Barry Goldwater, today, would be considered a RINO, a Republican in Name Only; and Nixon, on policy at least, is just so far to the left that he would be considered a liberal by today’s Republicans.

Can the Republican Party retain its relevance under such circumstances?

There was a time when the party was very instrumental for the mechanics of getting elected, particularly in presidential politics. You needed the party’s machinery. You don’t need that anymore. Today a candidate can raise so much money by himself. The functions of the party have decreased considerably. We talk about having a two-party system, but it’s pretty weak. The independents now are really in control because the bases of the parties, which control them, are pretty clearly defined on where their positions are. Neither of the very highly vocal factions on the left or the right have sufficient numbers to take control. There are now more independents than there are members of either party, and it’s independents that ultimately decide elections.

The column originally appeared in abridged format at The Philly Post

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It’s Time to End Vehicle Inspections in Pennsylvania

On Wednesday morning, Pennsylvania’s Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to advance a resolution calling on the federal government to study the continued efficacy of mandatory vehicle emissions tests with the end goal of hopefully doing away with them altogether.

The proposal was introduced earlier this year by the committee’s chairman, Sen. John Wozniak—a Democrat representing parts of Centre County—who says emissions tests are “ineffective and costly” and that modern technology has made them all but obsolete. A similar bill is pending in the state House.

When the federal government began requiring emissions tests in high-population areas in 1984, only Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were impacted; today drivers in 25 counties are required to bring their cars to a certified facility every year and shell out as much as $50 to have them hooked up to a computerized emissions gauge that checks the levels of particulates in the exhaust.

Since the requirements are based on where you live and not what you drive, enforcement of the tests is notoriously arbitrary: For instance, a Prius owner in York is required to have an annual emissions test, while the owner of a 1979 pick-up truck across the Adams County line in Abbottstown is exempt.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Wozniak called the tests a “burden” on consumers and cited research that shows modern cars are already 98 percent compliant with federal standards. But even if  Wozniak’s resolution passes (and surely there are thousands of Pennsylvania drivers who hope that it does) there is no guarantee the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will entertain the state’s request; earlier this year the EPA did authorize the city of Anchorage to end mandatory testing—saying cleaner cars have contributed to a drop in the city’s carbon dioxide levels—but Pennsylvania is not Alaska, and other states have had their highway funds threatened for attempting to alter adherence to the guidelines.

My recommendation for Sen. Wozniak would be to use the time while he waits for an answer from the EPA to follow the national trend and do away with Pennsylvania’s own ineffective and costly vehicle inspections—something he and his fellow lawmakers can do without federal permission. Click here to read at The Phily Post

Friday, March 16, 2012

On The Street Santiago

Mapocho River, In Memoriam: Michel Nash, disappeared by Pinochet's forces two weeks after coup of 9/11/1973.
Nothing and no one is forgotten
Santiago, Chile (2012)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

One From the Stacks: The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943

Doubleday 1948, First American Edition

“Beginning with Lublin, the Jews in the General government are being evacuated eastward. The procedure is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more definitely. Not much will remain of the Jews” - Joseph Goebbels, March 27, 1942

On April 13, 1943-- the day the massacre of thousands of Polish officers in Katyn Forest was first revealed to the world by the German government (initially blamed on the Nazis, responsibility for the killings would eventually fall to the Soviets) -- Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, was traveling by train to an official gathering in Freilassing when he fell ill.  
“En route I had a terrible kidney attack. I suppose a kidney stone got loose,” he wrote in his diary. “The pain was so barbaric that I couldn’t get up at all. Unfortunately it was totally impossible for me to take part in Goering’s conference…It was touching how the Fuehrer, Goering, Ley, Speer and all the others were concerned and worried about my condition.”
Louis P. Lochner with Goebbels
The first time I read that passage, I was struck by Goebbels’ cavalier choice of the term “barbaric” – a word he had coyly used to dance around the deportation and extermination of the Jews of Europe, and one that he favors with Freudian regularity throughout his detailed and comprehensive diaries.  That the Nazi propagandist could use the term to describe his own painful but fleeting physical malady with the same ease with which he discusses mass murder reflects the callous detachment of a true sociopath, I thought.

But the April 13 passage is revealing on another level: Goebbels’ admission that he was “touched” by the concerns of his Nazi colleagues seems to reflect a genuine sentimentalism (on both his part and theirs) -- one that is evident throughout his diaries in passages about his family and the people, especially Hitler, whom he admired and respected, and yet is blatantly absent from his public policy.

When it came to killing Jews and waging war, Goebbels wrote profusely on the need to abandon “sentimentality,” and seemed as possessed with refuting this “weak” human emotion as he was with celebrating barbarity.

From an entry dated February 14, 1942:
“The Fuehrer once more expressed his determination to clean up the Jews in Europe pitilessly. There must be no squeamish sentimentalism about it. The Jews have deserved the catastrophe that has now overtaken them. Their destruction will go hand in hand with the destruction of our enemies.”
Then, a year later, when the Nazis started rounding up “privileged Jews” – those married to Aryans – Goebbels reiterated:
“The arrest of Jews and Jewesses living in privileged wedlock caused a terrific commotion, especially in artistic circles, since these privileged marriages are still prevalent among actors. But I can't be squeamish about them. If a German still finds it possible to live with a Jewess as his legal wife, that's a point against him, and it's out of place to be too sentimental about this question in wartime.” 
Whatever you choose to call them – and each person seems to have a different preference -- notebooks, diaries or journals are intensely intimate affairs and provide a glimpse into the deepest recesses of the life of their creator. My shelves hold a number of these volumes, though I’ve never taken the time to count them (nor would I relish locating them all given my library’s current jumbled state).

I chose this particular selection – one of many books I have on the subject of World War II and the Third Reich – not just because it shines a light on a historically significant person, but because it reveals something important about the nature of evil and our propensity to ignore the warning signs until it is too late.  That’s because there is a misguided belief that evil and the people who perpetrate it are singularly focused and forthcoming about their motivations, which leads to the false security of thinking we will know it when we see it.  But the complexity of a man like Goebbels -- as revealed through his own words – proves that the mass murderer also sends out birthday cards, gives to charity, pays his mortgage (and in Goebbels’ case, owes the taxman).

In many ways, it’s this mundane picture of a dutiful bureaucrat, doting father and flawed husband that I find the most fascinating (and chilling) because it presents Goebbels as an “everyman” – an average Joe (literally) who was probably quite polite and for all I know may have made a great dinner companion in spite of his hidden nefarious intent.  What’s that they say about the banality of evil?

For this reason the Nazis are a gold mine for sociological study: these were men, not monsters; and yet they were not only capable of monstrous acts, but they had the power to drag an entire nation (and a once proud military) down with them. 

Joseph Goebbels, family man
Goebbels was an incessant diarist, and a cunning opportunist. What made his propaganda so successful was his willingness to parlay almost any situation into a Nazi win, even when he had to make it up.

He wrote almost every day from the time he was a student until his self-inflicted death in 1945. In their entirety the Goebbels diaries cover more than two decades and span 29 volumes of roughly 500 pages each. The volumes I have, which cover 1942 through 1943, are represented in a single book edited by the American journalist Louis Lochner (a photo of Lochner dining with a smiling Goebbels before the war appears in the frontispiece). That they survived at all is a minor miracle: Some 7,000 pages of typewritten entries and assorted papers were found partially burned and trampled upon in a Berlin trash heap. (The Soviets were more interested in salvaging the file cabinets than what was inside them.)

The reader is simultaneously struck by the thoughtfulness of the prose and the lunacy of its message (for instance, Goebbels’ vigorous defense of the notorious anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion). There are even flashes of prophetic insight, as when the author reflects on the sorry state of American intellectualism:
“Americans are coming to Europe with a spiritual emptiness that really makes you shake your head. They are uneducated and don’t know anything. For instance, they ask whether Bavaria belongs to Germany and similar things. One can imagine what would happen to Europe if this dilettantism could spread unchallenged. But we, after all, will have something to say about that!”  
Of course the Americans would prove it doesn’t take knowledge of the Classics to win a war (although our ignorance about basic geography concerns me).

Unlike many diarists, Goebbels surely expected his chronicles to be read someday (probably as a published volume after Germany won the war) and so his thoughts are disciplined and reserved in many places. But they are also surprisingly candid (as in the numerous passages Goebbels wrote about his famous extramarital affairs).

In his detailed notebooks, Goebbels lets us into the mind of a defeated man utterly deluded by visions of grandeur. In a way that same description could be applied to Germany as a whole between the years 1939 and 1944 -- thanks largely to the tireless duplicity of the crafty little technocrat with a bum leg (Goebbels' club foot had kept him out of the Army, and he went through much of his life bearing a self-conscious burden of having something to prove -- a burden that is evident in his writings).

A despicable character free of psycho-spiritual conflict about his role in mass murder, Goebbels was the last of the true believers who stood by Hitler in his final hours and helped burn his Fuehrer’s body before coldly murdering his six children and his wife and then killing himself.  With his disciplined if sometimes crass writing (marked by what Hugh Gibson, in his publisher’s note, calls “gutter language”) Goebbels presents the most complete psychological portrait of any member of the Nazi leadership available, and his diaries have unrivaled value to anyone interested in World War II history and understanding the patient, calculated evil that made the Third Reich possible.

Details:

The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943
By Paul Joseph Goebbels
Translated, edited, and introduced by Louis P. Lochner
Published by Doubleday in 1948 (First American Edition)
Purchase Date: 2004-2005? -- Price: $1.00 at library sale (a great place to find used books cheap; they practically give them away)
Condition: Good, missing dust jacket


Thursday, March 1, 2012

The trouble with greed

On Monday,  the National Academy of Sciences published the results of a series of studies conducted by psychologists from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Toronto that found what many of us already knew: Greed is in fact quite bad, and those most likely to celebrate it find it easier to lie, cheat and, yes—even take candy from a baby—than the less materially driven among us.

The researchers—who were led by a Berkeley doctoral candidate named Paul Piff—conducted seven individual experiments in an effort to determine what effect, if any, social status has on ethical behavior. Piff and his colleagues used a standard gauge of socioeconomic status based on wealth, occupational prestige and education to show, among other things, that people from higher income groups are far more likely to drive aggressively, cheat at games of chance, behave underhandedly in business negotiations, and, when given the opportunity, take things that don’t belong to them.

“I think that, in general, as a person’s station in society increases, that is, as their position in the socioeconomic hierarchy increases, their self-focused tendencies also increase,” said Piff. “The more wealth and status a person has, the more likely they are to see themselves as deserving of that status, perhaps even entitled, independent of others, powerful, and so forth.”  Click here to read at The Philly Post