Category Archives: Mentors

. . .people who have shaped a journalist’s life

Why Socialism? Albert Einstein offers his answer


One of Einstein’s most famous essays, but little known in the country where it was written, ‘”Why Socialism?” was written for the first issues of Monthly Review in May 1949, and remains perhaps the single best introduction to a political philosophy invoked as a bogeyman by the Tea Party set and ranters of the likes of Beck, O’Reilly, Limbaugh and all the rest of the folks who are striving mightily to deconstruct the legacy of the New Deal.

So let’s hear from a real socialist for a change. H/T to Moussequetaire for reminding me of the essay, which most recently appeared here.

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that

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In memoriam, three American originals


Two deaths of note today, and one birthday.

A cartoonist with a point

First, Harvey Pekar, a unique and outspoken cartoonist who proved himself willing to speak truth to power. Invited on the Letterman Show as an occasional guest of the sort of eccentric the host could mock, Pekar had the great temerity to confront Letterman about the misdeeds of his corporate employer, network owner GE, in this memorable segment.

Leterman declared him banished from the show after a second visit, where Pekar refused to give up his point, knowing i could result in his exile from the only national forum he had:

Tuli Kupferberg, frontman for The Fugs

As featured here in April, The Fugs were one of the great underground groups of the 60′s, and had still been recording until Kupferberg was stricken with a stroke that cost him his voice. esnl first heard the band soon after their debut album came out in 1965, The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Point of Views, and General Dissatisfaction.

Here’s one of the greatest hits, still timely, “Kill for Peace”:

Finally, Happy Birthday, Bucky!

Today would’ve been R. Buckminster Fuller‘s 115th birthday. One of the most remarkable figures of the 20th Century, Fuller was an inventor, an original thinker, a poet, and an inspiration. It was esnl‘s great honor to have known him, and to have worked with him on our first book, Fuller’s Earth.

Buckminster Fuller’s vision for the future


Of all the folks esnl has met, Bucky Fuller remains the most remarkable. A true polymath, he was a visionary architect, social and systems thinker, geometer, poet, humanist, and inspiration. Scion of a family of Boston Brahmins, a Harvard dropout—he blew his tuition wining and dining Broadways chorines—Richard Buckminster Fuller was one of the most original thinkers ever produced by this nation, and it was esnl’s privilege to know him.

This conversation was taped in 1974, six years before we met. A collaboration emerged, with three bright young people, in the form of a book, Fuller’s Earth, A Day with Bucky and the Kids, recently reprinted by the New Press.

This conversation highlights the ideas that inspired a generation. After the jump you’‘ll find a second video, with a discussion by Harvard architectural historian K. Michael Hays on the seminal role Fuller’s thinking has played in the field of architecture.

More videos after the jump.
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What if? We stopped working out & worked for?


Another ‘What if?’ story . .

During a recent transoceanic conversation with Moussequetaire, esnl’s passionate and acutely intelligent muse, we discovered a mutual bemusement with the “gym” industry.

Back when esnl was a young sprite, gyms were dark, malodorous places, brimming with testosterone and devoid of estrogen, equipped with boxing rings, speed and heavy bags, and peopled with pugs and cigar-smoking would-be wiseguys reading the daily Racing Form between whispered calls to their bookies.

By the time esnl moved to the West Coast a few years later, gyms still exuded the scent of testosterone-tinged sweat, though the boxing rings had largely vanished, replaced by barbells, dumbbells, low-tech lifting machines and musclebound guys who all seemed a bit on the shy side.

Arriving in Santa Monica another few years later, he met a local developer, a

18 May 2007, 1/60 sec, 600mm, f5.6

not-so-shy musclebound guy with a thick accent who would later become California’s governor, along with a local institution he’d made famous, Gold’s Gym in Venice, founded in 1965 by Joe Gold.

In 1977, the same year esnl arrived in Bay City, Arnold Schwarzenegger achieved movie stardom in the documentary Pumping Iron, filmed at the

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Noam Chomsky speaks at Brown on Israel


On 20 April. Speaking on the Israel/Palestine issue, he addresses the linkage of criticism of Israeli policies with antisemitism, the parallels between Israel and white-ruled apartheid regime of South Africa, the “War on Terror’s” origins in the Reagan era, his support for divestment from investment for companies selling military supplies to Israel, the illegality of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory, the Obama administration’s nuclear policy, the failure of mainstream media to cover critical Israel- and Iran-related issues [including the legal status of Israel’s nuclear arsenal]. H/T to Dandelion Salad.

AIPAC’s Cal plan? Just the iceberg’s tip


The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s vow to take to over UC Berkeley’s student government the same way “AIPAC operates in our nation’s capitol” highlights the intrusion of the Israel lobby into every aspect of American political life.

Increasingly viewed as a pariah state by many nations for its repugnant treatment of the Palestinians and dependent on the largess of United States taxpayers and elected officials, Israel’s American activists have been conducting a ferocious propaganda campaign to influence student activists, starting in their high school years.

The campaigns are only comparable to those launched by Italy in the 1920’s and Germany in the 1930’s, efforts which specifically focused on ethnic Italians and Germans.

But the AIPAC campaign’s focus is much broader, and the video posted here 4 March which included the announcement by AIPAC national leadership development director Jonathan Kessler of the campaign to take over the student government at the University of California at Berkeley was a naked demonstration of self-confident power:

“We’re going to make certain that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote. That is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s capitol. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses.”

As in Washington, so in Berkeley.

But the rest of the video is equally revealing, affording a rare glimpse of the most sophisticated and effective advocacy program on behalf of a foreign power that this blogger has ever seen in the course of more than four decades of reporting.

Of particular brilliance is AIPAC’s stunning effort to win over student body leaders at the nation’s universities and high schools, even enlisting them, as AIPAC reveals on its website, included significant numbers of African Americans.

One element of the propaganda campaign—for such it must be called—targets America’s high schools “to bring student leaders from across the country to Washington, D.C., for Israel advocacy and political activism training.

Note the particular phrase “for Israel advocacy.” In other words, to lobby on behalf of a foreign power which is specifically based on religious identity and ethnic ancestry, the antithesis of a genuine democracy. Zionist will say that

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Paul Farmer, Barbara Lee: Heroes


Paul Farmer is one of esnl’s heroes, a physician and medical anthropologist who writes and speaks eloquently about humanity’s vast global patterns of medical inequities, an admiration shared with ensl’s elder daughter [currently a member of the inaugural class of the University of California at Irvine’s School of Law].

With a pair of posts in the works on the politics of public health, a teaser on the subject seems in order.

Because WordPress won’t accept the embedding code offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, only a link is available to the video of his November 15, 2007, talk on “Global Health Equity.” Well worth watching. esnl gives it four stars.

Instead, here’s an embed of Dr. Farmer and another esnl hero, Rep. Barbara Lee, this humble blog’s very own congressional representative, a point acknowledged with pride as she was the only member of Congress to oppose the BushInc resolution to launch our ongoing, deadly, and provactive imperial military adventures in the Islamic world. The occasion was Lee’s presentation of Farmer with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health 2009 International Hero award last March 18. In accepting, Farmer returned her accolade with one of his own: “People like Congresswoman Lee restore my faith in public service.”

The award, established in 1996 has “the objective to broaden people’s awareness and understanding of the public health field by recognizing individuals and organizations for their significant contributions and exceptional commitment to promoting and protecting the health of the human population.”

For more about the award, see here.