J-Street Should Have Known When to Say When


Do you remember those beer advertisements telling viewers to “know when to say when”? If not, the basic message was, know when you have had enough and stop drinking before you are inebriated. There was a related message of telling your friends to stop drinking before they get too drunk. This campaign entered my mind around the recent kafuffle regarding J-Street’s rejection of membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Stick with me and I will try to explain why.

From its genesis, J-Street presented itself as the sober alternative to the supposedly belligerent AIPAC. Continuing with the drinking metaphor, J-Street aimed to straddle the fence between abstinence (anti-Zionism) and drunkenness. In other words, J-Street sought to fill the vacuum of an absence of a pro-Israel voice on the left.

I do not think the left is intrinsically anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. David Hirsh and the good people at Engage do a fine job in this regard. J-Street does not. Instead, they have taken it upon themselves to demand a larger role for American Jews in the diaspora to guide Israeli policy in a direction more to their liking. While AIPAC is regularly criticized by its opponents for doing the same thing, AIPAC was not established to influence Israeli policy it was created by Americans to lobby American politicians. Agree or disagree with AIPAC’s support for Israel—whether headed by liberal or conservative government—but we cannot disagree who AIPAC seeks to influence, it is American politicians not the government of Israel. This is a fundamental difference between the two organizations. Mainstream Jewish organizations as represented by the Presidents Council have placed themselves in an analogous role. Namely, their purpose is not to influence Israel but to have an impact on the US.

J-Street met great acclaim in the mainstream liberal press. However, they were not as welcomed by the organized Jewish community. And as Jews became more critical, the leadership of J-Street became nastier in their condemnations of the mainstream. J-Street should have known that their increasingly bellicose statements were going to marginalize them in the community. For example these comments by J-Street founder and president, Jeremy Ben-Ami at the New America Foundation:

I think we’re taking on much more than AIPAC. I think that it is the Conference of Presidents. It’s the American Jewish Committee. It’s the lobbying structures of the Federations. It’s the network of JCRCs, the Jewish Community Relations Councils…

It’s a really multi-layered, multi-headed hydra. This monopoly, this many-headed monopoly, has been trying to squash us.

That is not the sort of language one uses among friends even when you disagree politically. J-Street and their supporters should have known when to say when.


[If you refer to mainstream Jewish organizations as a multi-headed hydra, you are not a friend of mainstream Jewry.]

WBAI Continues to Implode



[Let it die.]

I take good news where I can find it. In this instance, the implosion of Pacifica radio station WBAI:

On Monday, WBAI-FM interim program director Bob Hennelly met two twenty-somethings who wanted to intern at his community radio station. It was the same day he expected to be fired…

It’s no secret that WBAI — the wholly listener-supported, left-leaning station at 99.5 FM — and its owner, the nonprofit Pacifica Foundation, have long been strapped for cash. As WBAI’s debt spiraled up, its membership dwindled down. Last August, WBAI laid off 19 of its 29 employees just to cover basic operating costs like the rent for its transmitter, The New York Times reported

Upon learning that the station had fallen far behind in delivering premiums from October’s drive because it couldn’t afford to pay for them, Hennelly pulled Null’s controversial show from the air to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from charging WBAI with fraud.”

Excellent. Gary Null is a fraud and should be charged accordingly.

However, this is disturbing:

Hennelly has also appealed to labor unions for donations. (In a characteristically democratic move, he consulted listeners to his show before doing so.) He has pleaded the station’s case in labor halls and emails, winning sums like $1000 from the Uniformed Fire Officers Association to put toward WBAI’s $2.5 million annual operating budge.

“Typically, we are stingy fucks,” UFOA president Al Hagan said, but “we think [WBAI] is a great venue to hear non-corporate thoughts and who really knows what the truth is? But if you’re only getting one side, you’re certainly not getting the truth.”

Any union that supports WBAI or Pacifica should be flooded with emails, correspondence and phone calls imploring them to not support the voice of left-wing totalitarianism in the United States. The Uniformed Fire Officers Association should know better. The programmers and activists at WBAI/Pacifica support the continued legal harassment of the NYFD by federal judges. If you personally know any firefighters, please ask them to contact their union and express their concern about affiliation with this anti-American organization.

More on the collapse of WBAI here.

Update: Interim program director Bob Hennelly was fired.

Christian Anti-Zionism, Christian Zionism and “the Jews”



[“Christ in the Night” Marc Chagall]

Martin in the Margins has a twopost series on Christian anti-Zionism that is well-worth reading (and an update, too). I have four comments that I originally intended on posting at Martin’s blog but the comments grew so long I decided to turn them into a post. First, a preliminary statement: the histories of Jews and gentiles, going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, are interwoven. However Jewish–Israelite–identity was predicated on a difference from Greeks and Romans starting with the mark of the covenant and extending to bans on graven images, dietary restrictions and so forth. This notion of intentional, “chosen”, difference between Jews and gentiles predates Christianity.

(1) Rather than ending the piece by mentioning antisemitism, I think we should begin with what “the Jew” represents in the Western mind, the Western heart. Because before you have “the Christ”, you have “the Jew”. It all starts there. Not necessarily Jew hatred, I do not think all Christians are at their core antisemitic. But I am saying that the relationship between the Jewish people and institutional Christian churches, whether Protestant or Catholic, has generally been negative. Thank goodness this has changed. I recognize the strides made in relations between the two faiths. So much that we can speak of a shared “Judeo-Christian” heritage. This was unthinkable not so long ago.


[Medieval German image of Jews in Hell]

(2) There is great diversity of thought and opinion among evangelicals and across denominations. A very small minority are what are called premillennial dispensationalists.  They believe Jesus will personally return to establish an earthly kingdom, an “end times” and all the other things enlightened secularists snicker at over tea and biscuits. For a good overview of evangelical thought and the divisions among evangelicals–including those who are critics of Israel–take a look at this piece by Robert Nicholson in Mosaic. Quoting at length:

There is no denying an eschatological element in the approach of many evangelicals to Israel—and a minority, emphasizing apocalyptic themes, does try to calculate the exact date and time of the second coming of Jesus. But the reality bears no resemblance to the portrait of cardboard-cutout Jesus freaks itching for the annihilation of the Jews and using them as pawns in their apocalyptic game…

What of the much-hyped mass conversion of the Jews? Many evangelicals do believe that, just prior to the second coming, thousands of Jews will accept Jesus as the messiah they have been waiting for. But these Jews will be making a voluntary choice—they will not be “converted” by anyone, let alone against their will—and will not be “converting” at all in the classic sense. That is, they will not become Christians; they will be Jews who believe in Jesus as their messiah. At this point in history, the old forms of organized religion—churches, baptisms, Sunday schools, even synagogues—will, along with pretty much everything else, be completely transformed, as befits the commencement of a supernatural kingdom on earth.

(3) Writing as a largely secular and increasingly conservative father, I pay more attention to values and actions than theology. I do not know what happens to our spirit after we pass away. Or if we even have a soul. But I do know what we think and what we believe impacts how we behave. I think Jews would benefit by adopting this perspective towards our evangelical brethren instead of constantly worrying about their supposed ulterior motives. Lastly, the majority of Jewish critics of evangelicals are secular leftists who do not believe in God, so it is strange they constantly bring up this theological element.

(4) I realize there is something problematic for religious Jews about the idea of a Jewish Jesus. There are various so-called “messianic” sects that target wayward Jews and, again, history rears its ugly head when the subject of conversion if discussed. However, I think Karen Sue Smith’s interesting review of the Marc Chagal exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York  City (America: The National Catholic Review) provides one of the ways some Jews reconcile Jesus’ Jewish identity and place in our past:

Always Chagall assumes the Jewishness of Jesus, unlike many Christians who have to consciously remind themselves that Jesus was a Jew. Chagall identifies with Jesus’ upbringing, his ritual and biblical tradition and his life under foreign occupiers hostile to Jews…For him Jesus represented all the innocent Jews ever slaughtered. And there were millions…

Chagall’s genius was to use Jesus’ crucifixion to address Christians, to alert them via their own symbol system to the systematic cruelty taking place in the Holocaust. Whenever Christians overemphasize the uniqueness of Jesus’ suffering and death at Calvary, a past event, we risk losing sight of all the crucifixions still being perpetrated. In our day, wanton violence, maiming, torture and other cruelty take place, not only against Jews, which is what concerned Chagall, of course. The value of Chagall’s crucifixions is that each holds up a mirror that says to Christians, Here is your Lord. What will you do to stop this crucifixion?


[© AP/Kevin Frayer, 2006.]

Cassadega, Florida: George P. Colby’s Nineteenth Century Spiritualist Community


Welcome to Florida

I spent a few days in northern and central Florida for a conference and had an excellent time. My progressive friends thought I might be risking my life due to the state’s liberal gun laws. Instead I found friendly people, delicious food and breathtaking landscapes. It helped that I had a local and longtime friend as a guide who took me on the back roads including a short trip to the Cassadega Spiritualist Camp, known as the “psychic capital of the world”. We were not there to communicate with spirits, buy crystals, or have a tarot card reading. More a place to stretch our legs and walk around. The small trail surrounding the town provides nice views of local flora and fauna. Unfortunately the “Spirit Lake” was extremely low on water and the “Spirit Pond” was completely dry. A reflection of this season’s drought.


I have a peripheral interest in the spiritualists because there was some overlap between them and other radicals and eccentrics—Fourierists, anarchists, free thinkers, and back to nature/health nut types—who established utopian communities across the United States during the nineteenth century. Cassadega was founded in 1875 by renowned spiritualist George P. Colby. He attributed his psychic abilities to his baptism in a frozen lake, which left him nearly dead. In this state, Colby claimed his dead uncle spoke to him and let him know he would become a medium. Spiritualism gained popularity in 1848, the year of Colby’s birth and by the 1860s and 1870s it was quite common for mediums to travel from town to town, in some cases making quite a bit of money. Colby’s séances were so popular that he had to turn people away for lack of room.

One of Colby’s most conjured spirit guides was a Native American named Seneca who ultimately guided him south to Florida. By 1875 Colby was suffering from tuberculosis and damaged vocal chords. Seneca told Colby to inhale pine smoke and drink water from the springs he would find in order to cure himself. Heeding Seneca’s advice, Colby traveled by train to Jacksonville and made his way through the forests of Volusia County, ultimately arriving in the location of Cassadega.


Colby filed a homestead claim in 1880 which was approved in 1884. By 1881 he was cured of his maladies and took his spiritualist tour across seventeen states. It was at one of these meetings that he met the mayor of Willoughby, Ohio and fellow spiritualist E.W. Bond who suggested Colby visit the Lily Dale Assembly near the village of Cassadega, New York. Colby appropriated the name for his new community, which would be known as Southern Cassadega Spiritualist Camp. Colby and the Lily Dale Spiritualists viewed the Florida location as an ideal place to escape the frigid northern winters.


Things worked out well until the early twentieth century. In 1911 his house burned down, followed by other fires during the 1910s and 1920s (see picture above). Colby died in 1933, nearly destitute, supported by a small group of followers. Much more on Colby here.


Looks like some local kids were doing doughnuts in the “Spirit Pond”.

666th Post

This is my 666th post on this blog. I do not believe in the Devil, angels or demons. God gave man free will. Evil in the world is due to man, not supernatural forces. All that said, the concept (or fear?) of the Devil has a decades-long association with the music of my tween and early teen years, heavy metal:

This seemed like a good place to start:

Judas Priest: “Sad Wings of Destiny” (1976) was not my fave back when I was in junior high, that would be “British Steel”, but this is probably their best from those old years. What’s up with “Island of Domination”? Is that an s/m anthem?:
Cirith Ungol: “Frost and Fire” (1981). I like their second album, King of the Dead,  more but I have posted it so many times I wanted to let you peep something else:
I was never a huge fan of Dio, but so many of my friends were this stuff it is hard to forget. This is from 1983:
A Black Sabbath 2fer (1970 and 71):
Tank’s “Filth Hounds of Hades” (1982) is probably my favorite metal album ever, simply due to the memories of youth that it evokes:
Slayer’s “Chemical Warfare” (1984) is an early track and still one of my faves. Reminds me of my brother. He had this on wax and used to get so pissed off when I played it without his permission, as little bro’s do…RIP…

A bonus:

Speculative Utopias, Or, Utopian Dreams and Capitalist Schemes


Le Phalanstère rêvé

[Le Phalanstère rêvé, Vue du phalanstère. Aquarelle. Au verso, quelques noms d’insectes et autres animaux… La mention “Laurent Pelletier, 1868” ne permet pas de lui attribuer cette aquarelle]

History does not repeat itself but there are cyclical aspects to life from the changing of seasons over the course of a year to the  booms and busts associated with modern capitalism. Early to mid-nineteenth century French utopian socialism, Saint-Simonianism and later Fourierism, emerged as a reaction against the disruption and chaos associated with early industrialization and the transition from artisanal craft production to factories and mass-production. Today we are witnessing a somewhat similar reaction to the dislocations of the Great Recession under the rubric of the Makers movement.

The Fourierists are often relegated to footnote status, if they are addressed at all, but Fourier and his followers were a prominent and visible element of the early American socialist movement. Fourier envisioned a radical reorganization of society but decided to start his grand plans on a small level, through the development of what were known as phalanstères. The phalanstères were intended both as workshops and as nuclei of the future society. The capital to buy these properties was procured through a combination of wealthy supporters and the occasional speculator who viewed them as a get-rich-quick scheme.

While the history of Fourierism is fascinating, the main reason for introducing this case is its relation to the rise of what is known as the Maker Movement and the fall of 3rd Ward, a sort of modern day phalanstère. The Maker Movement bears some similarity to Fourierism, the emphasis on craft and artisan production, the idea that production–making–has counter-cultural implications, and a shared collective ethos.

The roots of the Maker Movement can be found in a variety of places–everything from the early counter-cultural days of Burning-Man to the more staid Maker Faire–and perhaps most essentially in the American propensity to “do it yourself” (DIY), often in the face of economic hardship.

I became acquainted with the term through the sort of tech-boosterism that I am generally leery of. One prime example is Chris Anderson’s, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. In his profile of Anderson, Time’s Sam Gustin explains the thesis of the text: “In a nutshell, the term ‘Maker’ refers to a new category of builders who are using open-source methods and the latest technology to bring manufacturing out of its traditional factory context, and into the realm of the personal desktop computer…According to Anderson, who consciously invokes Karl Marx in his book, new technology has ‘democratized the means of production,’ making it possible for anyone to be a builder or ‘maker.’” Ponoko  is one example.

The rhetoric of the Maker Movement extends far beyond the IT world, everywhere from urban farms to websites like Etsy. A recent piece on NPR’s Morning Edition described the possibility of using open-source computing to allow buyers to customize their automobiles from a list of basic component parts, sort of like Lego blocks. One small-business owner writing in the Huffington Post notes, “In a world of mass-produced products, modern technology has made it easier than ever for a single individual to create and distribute items that are customizable and unique without having middlemen like manufacturers.” It is a bit strange figuring manufacturers as “middle-men” when the term has historically been associated with managers rather than producers.


Enter 3rd Ward

3rd Ward was the brainchild of Jason Goodman and Jeremy Lovitt who raised the initial capital for the project by throwing underground parties with the assistance of promoter William Etundi. In a short period Goodman and Lovitt became poster-children for the Maker Movement in hipster Williamsburg. Mostafa Heddaya writes: “The haphazard process by which two men, Jason Goodman and Jeremy Lovitt, used illegal parties and cheap Brooklyn leases to cobble together a creative empire is a queasy Horatio Alger tale — a parable, if not of ambitious savoir-faire, then of the hubris of frontier gentrifiers.” Another key player, Matthew Blesso, bought a fifty-percent stake in the company in 2010, ultimately selling his share at a significant margin before the whole thing went bust.

In addition to granting access and equipment to artists, 3rd Ward also moved into the field of education. There evidently was a lot of interest in Williamsburg for the sorts of crafts and skills these artists possessed. Makers could also be teachers. Utopian socialists like Fourier and some of the early anarchists had a similar vision.

Heddaya’s article details some of the unsavory business practices that made the early development and growth of 3rd Ward possible. In particular, he highlights the disquieting notion that rather than early boosters for the arts, these men—Etundi in particular—were actually perpetrating various scams that targeted artists. Setting aside the sordid details, the broader story is financial speculation played a role in undermining the institution as in the phalanstères. But a more basic question lay at the heart of both endeavors, the question of ownership.

When artists and others were asked to “invest” money for “lifetime” access to workshops and equipment, the first question they should have asked themselves is: “what happens to my money if this place goes under?” Related questions include, “who owns this building and this equipment”? And then, “who are the people who make the ultimate decisions?”

The situation in the phalanstères and 3rd Ward point towards the tension between financial speculation and ownership. Or, ownership by outside investors versus ownership by the producers themselves. Workers self-management in whatever form–whether something fairly mainstream like an Employee Stock Ownership Plan or a cooperative or collective form of organization–was never an issue for the phalanstères or 3rd Ward and it should have been the first thing on the table from the beginning.

Self-management is not a panacea. But it does take control away from a managerial class—whether managers of capital or those of the state—and places it in the hands of producers. Power and control implies responsibility and risk, and as the recent bankruptcy of the Mondragón cooperative Fagor makes clear, these ventures can fail. Nonetheless, I suspect the taste in the mouth would be far less bitter for the artists involved if 3rd Ward had failed due to the decisions and actions of the owner-makers themselves.

3rd ward farm

[3rd Ward bought the farm]

2013: A Year of Personal Loss



Let me start with a few of the good things about 2013: family is doing well, children continue to amaze and confound me, no problems on the job. Had a chance to get around: Santa Barbara and New Orleans to hang with old school friends, off to London to chill with Bob from Brockley, Kellie (Air Force Amazons), and other UK bloggers from our little trans-Atlantic alliance. Bob even made it out here to NYC for a few days, which was a lot of fun. I was able to show him around: Prospect Park and Brooklyn Heights, dim sum in Flushing, 5Pointz before it was buffed. Roland (But, I am a Liberal!) Dodds) was here for his honeymoon and I had the pleasure of hanging out with him and his lovely wife for an afternoon of tapas, sangria, history, and more drinks.

As all regular readers of this blog know, Norman Geras passed away in October. We never met in person—our correspondence was limited to a few emails and I occasionally commented on his Facebook posts—but he was undoubtedly a major influence on the Decent Left as well as those associated with the Euston Manifesto. His lucidity, friendliness, and insights on a variety of topics from philosophy to human behavior will be missed by many, including myself. RIP, Norm.


On a more personal level, two very close friends of mine,  SYRA-1 and HTD died this year. I am avoiding using their names and apologize in advance if anyone objects to the use of these images.


The name SYRA ONE–FSC, KTD, RF, GM5–will run forever on the great freight train in the sky, the Wall of Fame of true graff KINGS. His style will be emulated by those who aim for mastery of the art of writing. This is a miniscule selection of his pieces.

syra crate

SYRA was the first good friend I made when I moved to Oakland in 1992. Little did I know back then that he would become like a family member. We lived in the same neighborhood on the border of Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley.  He was bombing hard, still seriously into skating and spending a lot of time building his DJing skills. He had a legendary record collection. In the days before Ebay and the Internet, collectors used to travel from as far away as Japan to buy old Jazz, funk and hip-hop records from him. He turned me on to a lot of great hip-hop–especially NYC crews like DITC: Lord Finesse, Show Biz & AG, Diamon D–back when I was mostly listening to West Coast artists.

There used to be crazy skate sessions at his pad, this place called “The Dome”, a huge warehouse with ramps, rails, and other obstacles. The kids that skated there would go on to pro status for Chocolate, Menace, World Industries, and a variety of other companies that have long since disappeared. One example was Fun Skateboards. SYRA did the logo artwork on the deck on the left:


Towards the end of the 90s we were hanging out almost every evening after work. We had a small crew of people that would meet at my place, our SYRA’s or our other homeboy TH. We would make dinner, and listen to music, drink, smoke, hang out, talk about the day. When you hang with people so much, they are sharing practically every other meal with you sometimes, they become like family. And in some ways better than family because they are the family you choose, or you are lucky enough that they choose you. SYRA was one of those people for me. When I would fly back to Oakland he was first person I would call when my plane landed. He was usually picking me up. That is the sort of friend he was. If you have a SYRA in your life, count your blessings because you never know when they may be gone.


Most of my memories of SYRA are in the bay area–a lot of concerts from jazz to hip-hop, too many to remember–but he made it out here twice.  Once when we were living in Queens and another time when we were in Brooklyn. We had a lot of fun carousing and managed to fit in a couple of shows: Lou Donaldson at the Village Vanguard and Crooklyn Dodgers reunion at Prospect Park. Here is a pic of a piece he painted on the roofs off of the 7Train near 5Pointz:


SYRA was my only close friend who made it India for my wedding, which was a real blessing. It turns out he was in a lot of peeps weddings. We also met up in Barcelona after I finished my research in Mondragon. Of course he came equipped with a cache of fat markers and got up all over the city. I wasted the ink on writing corny political slogans. I was taking way too long and we ended up getting chased by the police in the Den Hague train station. Good times.


But the memory that says the most, I think, is when I was spending the Thanksgiving Holiday away from family for the first time and SYRA invited me over to eat the meal with his family. They were all so welcoming that I did not miss being away in a new place where I barely knew anyone.

Rest in Paradise KING SYRA-ONE!

HTD was an iconoclastic intellectual, psychedelic artist-entertainer and a lawyer. At his memorial service everyone who knew him, almost everyone, used the word “brilliant” to describe him. And he was. He remains one of the smartest people I have met.

HTD 005

I met H when I first moved to Marin County for university from Santa Barbara. We were both studying the political economy of what used to be called Third World development. His focus was Latin America, especially Mexico. We had a shared taste in music and beer, among other things. Turned out he grew up in Los Feliz which was right next to where I grew up, Silver Lake. We moved to San Francisco with our girlfriends, he to the Mission, me to the Lower Haight and continued our mischief throughout the Bay. We went to a lot of shows–Boogie Down Productions (twice), Public Enemy, Fishbone, George Clinton/P-Funk, among others. He ultimately grew up before me, finishing a law degree and having a child while I was still playing around at making the revolution. He moved back to L.A. and we sort of lost contact with each other, especially after I moved to NYC but I was glad to reconnect with him if only electronically in the last two years of his life.

HTD was larger than life. He really filled a room or a conversation in a good way and I will miss him immensely. He also had a way of telling people he loved them without any of the sappy hippy bullshit that was so common in the Bay. I love you too, brother.

Back in the Mix


in the mix

I want to thank Bob from Brockley, Ryan (But, I am a Liberal!), Martin in the Margins, and Jogo, for encouraging me to reactivate my blog. Many of the posts that will appear over the next few weeks–hopefully months–were sparked by email conversations with Bob, Jogo and Ryan over the past year.

A lot of my time has been taken up by work and family life. Blogging gave way to Facebook which is great in some ways, connecting with family and friends, sharing pictures and the like, less so in others. I avoid political conversations on Facebook in a way that was not the case back when I was blogging. With Facebook, and I imagine this is worse with twitter, the depth of an argument is largely lost, buried in a series of links.

In my absence of posting any new material this blog has become a sort of meeting (or at least commenting) place for disaffected and current cultists. I appreciate you keeping things lively around here. However comments on the Oneness Movement and the York/Nuwabian posts are now closed.

Higher Education, Employment and the Current Crisis: Comments, Critique and Possible Solutions



[Don’t blame me…]

From early 2011 through 2012, a time-frame roughly corresponding with the emergence of the Occupy protests, I noticed a series of articles appearing in the mainstream press sharing a common theme: recent college graduates were finding the job search far more difficult than they expected, with few finding employment in the their major and many bearing the additional burden of college debt. Some questioned the utility of their degrees. The general response of the graduates interviewed was: “what happened? We expected jobs when we finished college.”

It was telling that most of the those who expected employment were graduates of the Ivy League. The phenomena of unemployment after graduation has been a problem in this country for decades. The idea of education as an “investment” rather than an “expense” has been laid bare by the high levels of debt often required to attain a BA and the declining likelihood that the BA will lead to employment.

More recently, a number of articles appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Republic, The Claremont Review, and elsewhere lamenting the decline of the humanities. Here is a portion of TNR’s Leon Wieseltier commencement address to the Brandeis University class of 2013:

For decades now in America we have been witnessing a steady and sickening denigration of humanistic understanding and humanistic method…The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer practical questions to questions of meaning – to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work. Our reason has become an instrumental reason, and is no longer the reason of the philosophers, with its ancient magnitude of intellectual ambition, its belief that the proper subjects of human thought are the largest subjects, and that the mind, in one way or another, can penetrate to the very principles of natural life and human life.

This post addresses three interrelated concerns: the decline of the Humanities and Liberal Arts (HALA), the increasing cost of education and some possible solutions. I begin with a somewhat paradoxical and undoubtedly controversial thesis: the Humanities and Social Sciences are in crisis because too many people pursue these fields of study rather than too few.


The Burden of Increasing Cost

In general, subsidizing consumption of a good or service leads directly to increased consumption of that good or service, which, in turn, leads increase in price. The idea that an infusion of federal dollars into the education sector is fueling price increases is known as the Bennett Hypothesis, after former Secretary of Education William Bennett. Bennett’s hypothesis is based on a simple understanding of the law of demand. And he was quick to point out that he did not think federal aid was the sole cause of the increase. However, there was a strong correlation. Nevertheless, his supporters often neglect other basic principles of micro-economics, including if the supply of something increases over time in pace with demand, the cost will not increase as well as the possibility that demand for education may be inelastic. That is, demand is not impacted by price.

Other contributing factors include increased administration costs and real estate expansion, plant and student housing upgrades, and the cost of college sports teams.

I am not an economist, but there are two factors at play here: how valuable is a humanities education? And how much does it cost? There is also the matter of tuition in relation to cost. Some Ivies, like Harvard, have increased their tuition, but they manage to keep costs down for students whose families make less than $50,000/year. In any event, the cost of higher education has increased while the economic value of many degrees has declined.

Why Are the Humanities in Decline?

As the quantity of something increases—and especially as its quality decreases—that leads to a service or commodity becoming less dear, less valued, and less prestigious. Writing in the Claremont Review, William Voegeli notes:

College was indeed a good investment of time and money in 1960, when only one out of every 13 American adults had a bachelor’s degree.

Now that the day is at hand when one out of every three will have a B.A., the calculus is different. Going to college is becoming one of those good ideas that turns into a bad idea when too many other people have the same idea—like leaving town early before a three-day weekend to avoid the traffic jam, thereby helping cause and becoming part of the traffic jam you left to avoid.

I recognize a decline in the prominence and stature of the humanities. Only it is not a relatively recent development as progressives argue or a product of 1960s efforts to replace a Western canon with something else as conservatives contend. Instead, the roots of our educational malaise can be traced back to the movement for compulsory high school and the democratization of college. Our crisis is one of oversupply. We have too many over-educated people in the US.

The truth is we (institutions of higher education) have been graduating too many Humanities and Liberal Arts majors since the 1980s. The vast majority of HALA graduates back then were not getting employed in their field of study. We (society) continued saying: “go to college. Education is the way to succeed.” But we were never honest about the type of education that was necessary to get ahead or the massive debt that many students would accumulate in pursuit of marginally beneficial degrees.

But what about the employers who constantly tell us they are not able to hire domestic graduates with the skill sets they are looking for? What about all these people with BAs who are unemployed or underemployed?

Thomas Jefferson was an early advocate of a two-tier educational system in the United States, with separate tracks for the laboring and elite classes. His vision largely held for over a century and a half. Before WWI, fewer than 15% of the population graduated high school and approximately 3% above the age of 25 held a bachelors degree. BA degrees in History, English, Foreign Languages and the Arts were a sign of membership in an intellectual elite. Liberal-arts education emphasized a Western canon of thought, politics, society and culture with a normative white, male, heterosexual.

Much of this elite nature of education was challenged by the Left. The Left fought for the democratization of education—more getting into college and more receiving degrees—as well as a decline of admissions standards to supposedly allow for more diversity and finally—via various forms of identity politics—a tremendous expansion of interdisciplinary “studies” programs that were openly hostile of the Western canon. Viewed in this light, conservatives claim it is not surprising that the Humanities have underwent a decline. Today, rather than a sign of erudition and familiarity with a common core of knowledge, a BA in the humanities is more likely to have a strong critique of Western imperialism and the supposed ills of “globalization” and a weak understanding of Western thought, art and culture.

While I share the conservatives malaise, the reason students who graduated high school in the 1920s were more knowledgeable than those of today concerns more than curriculum, it is closely related to the instigation of compulsory high school education. In rural areas it was common for males to end their formal education when they were strong enough to work on family farms that lacked a lot of machinery. That meant elementary school for most. The level of education was slightly higher in cities, but not much. It was not until the post-WWII era that educational opportunity was broadly expanded

We are not going back to the Jeffersonian model or the Fordist ideal of the production line. The nature of employment has changed. But do these jobs require bachelor’s degrees? One liberal economist notes:

Very few of those occupations require college in the sense that 90+% of people who pursue that occupation will benefit from having learned about it in college. But my guess would be that more than a few of these occupations “require” college in the sense that employers expect that applicants will have a BA. And this is our problem.  A “Diagnostic Medical Sonographer” is a highly-skilled job that doesn’t require college training in the sense that you can learn everything you need to do the job in a manner of months. But many colleges offer programs to help you become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. And when you compare unemployment rates for college graduates and non-college graduates, you see why someone might want to go to college to become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer even if it means taking on huge, unnecessary debt. And once there are enough college graduates who can become Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, you can see why employers would rationally toss out of the pile any resumes that don’t have a college degree on them.


[How do I operate this thing?]

Some Possible Solutions

In conclusion I would like to mention some possible solutions to these problems. I am restricting these to higher education because that is my field. I realize they are drastic, even unfair. Do not take this as a policy blueprint and I do not expect those adversely impacted to agree with these recommendations all I ask is an honest evaluation.

The first thing that needs to happen if we in the Humanities want the stature of our work and research to increase is our schools need to be more restrictive. We need to accept and graduate fewer BAs, MAs and PhDs in History, Sociology, or Political Science, for example. Outside of the institutions, federal assistance for the non-poor should be extremely limited. We should not be subsidizing the sons and daughters of the managerial class to “find themselves” or otherwise extend their adolescence. The vast majority of funding for undergraduate students should go to the STEM majors: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and others who are pursuing courses of study that have a greater likelihood of gainful employment.

We need to be more supportive of students who display no interest in HALA and little in a BA. AA programs in engineering and science are often a perfect match for students with little interest in higher education and employers who need a workforce skilled in higher-level quantitative reasoning and an ability to communicate complex projects clearly and succinctly. This would mean increasing funding to community colleges and other two-year schools and retooling them for the twenty-first century. Making them more like Germany’s Fachhochschulen and less stepping-stones to the supposed “real” degree, which for most remains the BA.

Think about this: we would have more of the population getting educated for less money in less time, graduating with the skills that employers actually need. Instead of the situation where we are now, where we keep turning out unemployable twenty-something who are 100k in debt and wonder: “how did this happen to me? I did the right thing. I went to college.”

Telling teens to “just get the BA” is not working when over half never finish. From my close to ten years of teaching I can say fifty percent should not be in class in the first place. Douglas Murray opines, “even though college has been dumbed down, it is still too intellectually demanding for a large majority of students, in an age when about 50 percent of all high school graduates are heading to four-year colleges the next fall. The result is lots of failure”and:

The acceptable excuses for not going to college have dried up. The more people who go to college, the more stigmatizing the failure to complete college becomes. Today, if you do not get a BA, many people assume it is because you are too dumb or too lazy. Face it: To say “I’m just a high school graduate” as of 2008 is to label oneself in some important sense as a second-class citizen. No amount of protestations of egalitarianism by people who like the current system (i.e., people who do well in an academic setting) will change that reality-a reality fostered by a piece of paper that for most students in most majors is close to meaningless.

We shouldn’t aim for more college grads or fewer. The aim should be a comprehensive education system where every American can find a post secondary program to fit their needs; and for them to feel free to do so without experiencing a decline in their social capital. That’s bigger than an ed or a policy problem. This is a social/cultural issue.

We are missing an important component of the jobs discussion and that is, it is not so much that America lacks good jobs–we hear all the time from companies that want to fill jobs but lack qualified applicants–but that American youth are increasingly unemployable. Significant percentages of students are graduating high school without the ability to construct a well-written paragraph, let alone think critically. The National Assessment of Educational Progress estimates close to half are not prepared for college-level reading and a third are functionally illiterate. Even for those who do well, the skill set that most possess after a high school education is inadequate to land these good-paying jobs so some level of college is necessary.

Not necessarily at the BA level. In fact, our educational system over-emphasizes the BA. A large measure of this is market-driven, employers demand a BA and so we have applicants for BA programs. But when you look at what our students are graduating with (in terms of degrees) and the skills that employers are looking for, there is a huge disconnect. So what are these skills?

Our problem, generally as a society and specifically in regards to education, is we have prioritized the liberal arts degree over the technical degree for a variety of reasons. Part of this relates to the elite roots of a classical liberal education as opposed to the more plebian origins of technical-colleges. In other words, there is a class dimension. The assumption being a degree in the liberal arts was a pathway to the middle-class if not a certificate of bourgeois-ness. There was also a racial dimension. Urban Blacks and Latinos argued they were being tracked into industrial occupations and away from more intellectual and critical endeavors. All of this is part of our past. But it does not help explain how to fix things now.

My first proposal is dramatically reducing federal student aid for four-year college degrees in the fine arts, social sciences, and humanities primarily through a gradual elimination of the federal college loan system. This would have a double-impact in the short term in addition to a more longer term result. The dual impact would be reducing student enrollment–which would be the focus of the progressive media and the educational establishments–as well as significantly reducing costs. As others across the political spectrum have pointed out, the tremendous flows of capital from the federal government to higher education have contributed to skyrocketing tuition costs. The more longer term impact would be as the supply of people with BAs declined, the social value of the social science and humanities BA would increase.

My second suggestion is increasing funding for STEM especially at the AA level at city and community colleges: fully paid scholarships for students willing to complete these two-year degrees in the sciences and math, regardless of whether they want to complete a four-year degree.

These two changes in the way we think about and fund education would have far-reaching impacts. On the one hand, the notion that every young adult needs a liberal arts education to be successful would decrease. And we would be doing our youth a service by giving them an opportunity to start their adult lives free of debt and without a close to worthless degree in the liberal arts.

Neocon Jew World Order


Did you pay attention to the Maureen Dowd-Paul Wolfowitz-“slithering neocon” controversy? If you have read this blog over the years you know I am particularly attuned to the sort of antisemitism that poses as anti-Zionism and anti-neoconservatism, but I have sort of reached the end of my rope on the latter.

One matter that I more or less avoid discussing with non-academics at this point is neoconservatism. There is so much wrapped up in the popular political imagination it is not at all clear what people mean when they use it. One safe assumption is when someone uses the term “neoconservative” or especially “neocon” in conversation at a social event, there is a strong negative association. After that, things get blurry. It can mean internationalist, as opposed to isolationist. It can mean Jewish. It can mean hawk. It can mean pro-Israel and/or Zionist.

To make things more complicated, some talk about the first wave of neoconservatives (Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz) and the second or contemporary wave of neoconservatives (Wolfowitz, Muravchik). Most think Dick Cheney or even John Bolton are neoconservatives. And to further muddy the waters, some refer to Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and the rest of the conservative media echo-chamber as neocons.

One thing absent in most of these discussions is the neo element, which contains two primary dimensions. First, neoconservatism represented something new and important in realm of conservative ideas. Second, the neoconservatives brought a diversity in terms of ethnic background, to a primarily white, Anglo, foreign policy establishment.

One of the most important elements that originally made neoconservatives and neoconservatism such a challenge to post-World War II conservatism was the neoconservatives were not born and bred on the right. Similar to most of the influential anticommunists, there was a movement from left to right. It isn’t always from the radical left. Yes, some were Trots, others were FDR liberals, Muravchik was a social democrat. All were dismayed by the Democratic Party’s weakening defense posture in the 1970s. Another missing element is the neocons were neo because they were new and different, at that time. New to conservatism themselves. But also new for their insights. New for being white ethnics–especially Jews–rather than WASPS.

The people who are called neocons today–William Kristol, Max Boot, etc.–never went through that transition. They also are not saying anything particularly new when it comes to the mainstream conservative worldview (2012). If anything, neoconservative ideas about foreign policy–less about democracy promotion and more about the need for a projection of military strength–are the status-quo for the Republicans at this point.

I suspect at the core of the contemporary dislike of so-called neocons is this hawkishness. Despite what others may think about Americans, the notion that we might actually have to kill someone to maintain our security and way of life is not something we like to think about. We are socialized to dislike combat and war. Again, I know we have violent movies, video games, and all the rest. But the message we receive as we grow older–and especially after college–is war solves very little and it mostly leads to human suffering. In this context, use of the word “neocon”–especially the association with the supposedly failed policies of President George W. Bush–is a quick and fairly effective way for liberals to challenge hawkish foreign policy, broadly speaking. With this phraseology, President Obama is continuing neoconservative policies in the AfPak region.

Antisemitism is often involved as well. When someone goes into a tirade about supposed “neocon” influence and all the names they provide are Jewish, it is pretty obvious. It is one of those areas where the far-left and paleoconservatives, the old-guard isolationists and Nativists find common ground. However, unlike some of my conservative friends, I do not think this anti-Jewish sentiment is at the heart of liberal opposition to neoconservatism.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that a dislike of Israel, in particular Likud and any other party or project associated with the right,  is a sacred cow of the progressive and radical left at this point and intense dislike of Israel can dovetail with anti-Semitic tropes.

One example was the prevalence of the term “Likudnik” in the vocabulary of critics of the Iraq War. Anyone who supported President Bush’s policy was a “neocon” and if they were a vocal supporter of Israel, “Likudnik” was added for good measure. So when someone refers to Paul Wolfowitz as a “Likudnik” is that:

1) an anti-Jewish statement?

2) an anti-Israel statement?

3) an anti-right-wing politics statement?

All three or perhaps just one or two?

How can we be sure? How do we know? Does it depend on who is saying it? We run into the problem of self-identification and how we evaluate others.

At heart it is a inaccurate statement because Wolfowitz said he is not a supporter of the Likud and that he supported the two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians. I heard him say this with my own ears in front of an audience of hundreds of people in Manhattan, mostly Leftists. But this never gets brought up in relation to Wolfowitz.

Another important thing to consider is a perusal of Israeli sources at the time knows the actual Likudniks did not support the war in Iraq nor did they support the democracy promotion agenda in general. Their eyes then, as now, were on Iran.

On a peripherally related topic, I recently became aware of a supposedly anti-Semitic graffiti production in the Brick Lane neighborhood of London’s East End. The East End in the early twentieth century had a large working-class Jewish population, many involved in the needletrades, and a reputation for working-class radicalism. Rudolph Rocker, the so-called “anarchist rabbi”—who was not Jewish—was particularly influential.

Today the neighborhood is home to large South Asian and predominately Muslim population. It is also the epicenter of London’s “street art” scene and well in the middle of a gentrification process. While some describe the area as edgy, it seemed more hipster to me. Comrade Bob from Brockley gave me a tour earlier this year.

The piece, by MEAR1, depicts fairly standard New World Order conspiracy theory imagery including a group of old white men (The Illuminati?) assembled around a Monopoly board that is sitting on the backs of group of faceless people of color. In the background are ominous nuclear power plants and the gears of industrial capitalism.

What the piece lacks are the often obvious anti-Semitic trappings one associates with these conspiracy theories. So is this an anti-Jewish mural? I do not think so. Mainly because, in my experience with artists in general and graf writers in particular, if they want to make a controversial or even hateful image, they will. Another important thing to consider is what the artist has to say about the painting. In this case, MEAR states:

My mural is about class & privilege. The banker group is made up of Jewish & white Anglos. For some reason they are saying I am anti semetic. This I am most defenatly not. I believe in equality and brother & sisterhood on a global scale. What I am against is class. Ruling class, this is a problem and we need humanization.

As far as the “New World Order” fixation, I find it extremely problematic but I have known people who think like this for a long time. Some of them went down the road of seeing “Zionists” behind all the world’s problems and from there it is a short step to blaming “the Jews”. I get it. But there were many more people who did not undergo the same process. Instead they blame the Bilderbergs or the Council on Foreign Relations, or some other shadowy or not so shadowy group. In any event, not “Zionists” or Jews. Elites, yes. Old white men behind the scenes, yes. But Jews? No.

[Schematic New World Order]

The reason it is problematic is it is a political dead end. So you now have this supposedly secret knowledge about the Illuminati or whoever controlling the world. What is your next step? Does it lead to political mobilization and organization? Of course not. It is an excuse to disengage from the real difficult work of politics. After all, if these nefarious forces have always been around manipulating things what chance does someone like me have against the Leviathan? Like all forms of extremism, it also leads to a degree of distance between the person who has the inside knowledge and the mainstream supposedly clueless “sheeple”. In other words, the “New World Order” framework and those who adhere to it need to be challenged, but not via censorship.