Dead Socialist Administration

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I don’t have a record of any Socialists dying in the period 6-19 February, so while we’re still brooding over Eisler and Wilkinson (see below) and waiting for the anniversary of Georg B�chner to come round once again, as it does, this is a good opportunity to get the whole Dead Socialist administration out of the text file it’s been sitting in for the last year and a bit, and onto a spreadsheet, which will make it much easier for me to organise everything…

… and also to oversee a substantial expansion of the database… and this is where you, readers, can do your bit. Just scribble the names of your Favourite Dead Socialists in the comments box below, and I’ll do my best to work out when they died, and to give them the commemoration they deserve when the time comes…

(Thanks are owed to Norm, who has already passed on well over a dozen useful suggestions, including some scandalously obvious ones I’ve somehow managed to overlook; note also that my current list is disproportionately made up of reasonably well-known dead European men from the social democratic / Marxist traditions, so names from outside those particular orbits will be particularly welcomed.)

Morecambe Bay (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)

Over at Harry’s, a thread to discuss the worst political song of all time eventually flipped over to consider what might be the best. No one so far has mentioned the excellent Woody Guthrie/Martin Hoffman song “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)”, though it’s surely a very strong contender. Two nights ago, it was quite the highlight of Joan Baez’s fine set at the New Theatre here in Oxford, and yesterday’s grim news from the sands of Morecambe Bay brought it to mind once again, and for more than one reason.

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott’ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They’re flying ’em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be “deportees”.

My father’s own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died ‘neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, “They are just deportees”

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except “deportees”?

Good snippets on the song are over here; SIAW has the best discussion I’ve yet seen of the Morecambe drownings.

UPDATE [8.2.2004]: Chris Bertram has also posted on Morecambe.


I think I’ve just installed an xml feed (see the sidebar), after someone wrote in to request one. I’m not really sure what it is or how it works, but if anyone can tell me whether I’ve done the right thing, and that it’s all in working order, that’d be helpful.

UPDATE [5pm]: I’ve added a link to an rss feed that someone else told me about. Still no idea whether any of this is helpful to anyone… As I say, do say…

Hello. I’m Johnny Cash…

Stealing shamelessly from Simon’s stream-of-consciousness, we have these accurate observations over at the silverdollarcircle:

finally bought johnny cash’s live at san quentin the other day. its excellent, of course, but you don’t need me to tell you that. so i’ll just say this: when johnny starts proceedings with a ‘hello, i’m johnny cash, alright…’ in a voice that manages to be both cheery and graveyard sombre you just know right there and then that its going to be a wonderful record- there’s no way that someone who opens as johnny cash does can fail. these little magical starting moments of perfect harmony and grace are quite common in great art- catch 22’s opening line might be another example, also the opening 30 seconds of ‘i luv u’ and the way dizzee rascal says ‘yo…’ at the start, also the first few oppressive pages of ‘crime and punishment’, perhaps the zither intro to the ‘third man’ as well. actually, talking about ‘the third man’, a friend of mine once said that when orson welles first appears in that film it makes you want to stalk him. and johnny cash seems to cast a similar spell at the start of live in san quentin, drawing you in and not letting you go.also, the audience-noise on the record is an excellently large part of it, a thundercloud of energy, rage and joy, that breaks through the amplified noise frequently. but even when the audience is silent, the silence is a tense, concrete presence [didn’t sartre have a word for things like this? Neants, or something?], a reminder that the next crescendo will be coming soon. Cannonball Adderley and the Quintet’s ‘why am i treated so bad?’ live lp has the best audience noise i’ve ever heard though- absolutely constant, searing, tearing yelps and whoops, claps and cheers dragging and pushing the music forwards.

He’s quite right, of course. It’s one of the all-time great concert recordings, and I’m delighted that Simon’s now caught up with it.I’m currently enjoying a more recent acquisition, Johnny Cash Live at Madison Square Garden, another live recording from the same period as the prison recordings…

And a hundred and eighty were challenged by Travis to die.
By the line that he drew with his sword when the battle was nigh;
“Any man that would fight to the death cross over
— but him that would live better fly!”
And over the line went a hundred and seventy nine…

It isn’t an imperishable classic in quite the way as the San Quentin gig, but it’s still very good indeed: the performances are fine, the various ways in which the ongoing war in Vietnam works to shape the concert makes it an fascinating period piece, and you get a far better sense on this record than elsewhere of how the Carter Family, Carl Perkins, etc. fitted into his show.

Passing Up the Spade

I’ve suggested before that Paul “The Thinker” Richards has a complicated relationship to truth.

Here’s another piece of confirming evidence.

In a response to a comment on his blog posted earlier this afternoon, Paul “The Thinker” Richards writes: “Well, I would not be so immodest to call myself ‘the thinker’ – that’s the name of the blog…”

So, if there was any doubt, this would seem to settle things: Paul Richards is the person; The Thinker is the name of the blog, just as — to draw a handy parallel — the Virtual Stoa is the name of the blog you’re currently reading, whereas my real name is Chris Brooke, and that’s the name that appears under each post. Simple. Open and shut case. Not a problem.

Except for the details…

First, there’s the trivial fact that he sometimes refers (e.g., here and here) to two other people he calls Mrs Thinker and The Thinker Jr, and I’m guessing that those are references to his spouse and offspring, placing in slight tension the earlier claim that “The Thinker” referred only to the blog, and suggesting that it might refer more generally to Paul “The Thinker” Richards’ online persona more generally.

Second, more interestingly, and to confirm this last suspicion, we might notice how both in the early days of his new blogsite and when commenting on other people’s blogs, Paul “The Thinker” Richards did in fact habitually sign his comments, “The Thinker”, thoroughly collapsing this neat distinction between the person and the blog. (For examples, look at the comments boards here, here and here, or from a typical intervention at Harry’s Place, look here.)

So it does seem as if once upon a time he was “immodest enough” to call himself “The Thinker”, because it was very much a person, and not a blog, who posted those various comments under that particular self-designation.

All of which raises the question of how Paul “The Thinker” Richards discovered the modesty that led him to dispose of his immodest soubriquet? Can we track the twists and turns of his sentimental education?

I think we can. For we can date the timing of this shift in nomenclature pretty precisely to around lunchtime on 10 November 2003. For in the morning, Paul “The Thinker” Richards was signing his comments “The Thinker”, but by the middle of the afternoon he had successfully navigated the shift to “Paul Richards”, and although there was a brief flirtation with the less formal “Paul” over the next few days — roughly 11-14 November by my estimation, though I can’t be bothered to check this with any accuracy — he has (as far as I can be bothered to find out) stuck with “Paul Richards” ever since.

What might have happened at lunchtime on 10 November to prompt this change of heart? Perhaps we will never know. But it might just be the case that it was Jon’s funny and withering post to the blog on the evening of 8 November (reproduced and discussed here) which prompted a little jolt of self-realisation, leading him — perhaps gradually, over an almost 48 hour period — to see quite how stupid his self-presentation as “The Thinker” really was, and further prompting him to beat a retreat from this absurd self-identification — leading ultimately to this codification of the separation between the Person and the Blog, a denial of which he now considers to be “immodest”.

At the Virtual Stoa he will of course continue to be Paul “The Thinker” Richards, now and evermore…

And — one final thought and then I’ll give up for the evening — one might think that Paul “The Thinker” Richards respects Thought, whether it comes from himself or from other people.

But his publication earlier today of the minutes of a recent Compass meeting reminded me of what Paul “The Thinker” Richards wrote about Compass, a worthwhile group that is embarking on an attempt to raise the level of intellectual exchange on the British centre-left, at the time of its launch last year. For when Compass published its founding statement of principles — a generally intelligent document — he attempted to dismiss the the initiative by noting that some of the signatories “haven’t been seen at a local Labour party meeting in years” and that “Right now, what Labour needs is do-ers, not talkers”.

Actions not Words! Deeds not Thoughts!

Forward with Paul “The Thinker” Richards!


Just another false alarm… is brand new and going straight onto the blogroll… Sarah has hit the ground running with a string of interesting posts since launching her blog on Saturday — including this report arising out of one of last week’s Amnesty Lectures here in Oxford — and she clearly deserves the regular readers which she doesn’t yet seem to have accumulated. Go and have a look…

P.S. Sarah also suggests a new googlebomb. I’d say that it was a whitewash, too.

Strange and Repugnant

Tim Fisken writes:

So, I was going to write something about how being part of the pro-war left leads to endorsing strange and repugnant right-wing positions. But I’m too enraged to actually make an argument, and anyway, I think it’s a case of, if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

Well, I have to ask, so perhaps I’ll never know. (Perhaps I’m teetering on the brink of strange and repugnant right-wing positions? Who knows?)For I’m broadly speaking in favour of regicide. I think monarchy is a revolting institution, built on the denial of just about every worthwhile political value, and, furthermore, on the celebration of that very denial. And it seems to me that executing monarchs, rather than simply deposing them, has been a pretty good way of seeking to address the problem posed by this institution. As regular readers of this blog will know, or could easily have guessed, I don’t think it was unreasonable to put Charles I on trial for his life, or Louis XVI, and I don’t think it was a bad thing to shoot the Tsar, either, in 1918, although questions of procedural justice loom a bit larger in that case.

And if I were to spell out at greater length the underlying rationale for why I am, on the one hand, generally opposed to capital punishment, but, on the other hand, more than tolerant of regicide, it might very well look something like the purgative argument for capital punishment which Matthew Kramer sketches in his second post at the Normblog, and to which Tim Fisken links above. I suppose the difference between us would be that I’m reasonably comfortable with regicide and — relatedly — tyrannicide, but not with the use of the death penalty in the case of particularly gruesome murders, as Kramer is. But I’m not sure we’re coming at the question from wildly different points of view, and I certainly don’t find Kramer’s argument either strange or repulsive.

So I don’t find Tim’s post persuasive, although it’s worth noting that he himself notes the absence of an actual argument, owing to his anger.

(Actually, I find Tim’s post peculiar, since the same post which damns a purgative argument on behalf of capital punishment also approvingly quotes Vyshinsky, who was Stalin’s chief prosecutor during, um, the Great Purge. But perhaps there’s a bit of irony there which I’m not sensitive enough to detect. I don’t know.)

I’m tempted to issue a general call for a bit more bourgeois politeness on the left-hand side of the World of British Blogs towards those with whom we disagree. It’s far more satisfying to read Norm and Ken McLeod engaged in respectful contestation here, here, here, here, here and here than it is reading posts like this or this.

But were I to call for more bourgeois politesse, then I’d probably have to undertake to stop being rude about Paul “The Thinker” Richards from time to time, and I’m not ready to do that just yet. So I’ll just express a preference for a bit more politeness than we have round these parts at present, even in the face of sharp disagreement over questions of war and peace, and move on.

Gibbon-o-Matic, Again

A correspondent writes: “I have taken to consulting the Gibbon-o-Matic as a daily oracle, as much part of my routine as the first coffee at the desk. Today’s excerpt was particularly fine, and I thought I should share it with you”.

“A philosopher may deplore the eternal discord of the human race, but he will confess that the desire of spoil is a more rational provocation than the vanity of conquest. From the age of Constantine to that of the Plantagenets, this rapacious spirit continued to instigate the poor and hardy Caledonians: but the same people, whose generous humanity seems to inspire the songs of Ossian, was disgraced by a savage ignorance of the virtues of peace and of the laws of war. Their southern neighbours have felt, and perhaps exaggerated, the cruel depredations of the Scots and Picts: and a valiant tribe of Caledonia, the Attacotti, the enemies, and afterwards the soldiers, of Valentinian, are accused, by an eye-witness, of delighting in the taste of human flesh. When they hunted the woods for prey, it is said that they attacked the shepherd rather than his flock; and that they curiously selected the most delicate and brawny parts, both of males and females, which they prepared for their horrid repasts. If, in the neighbourhood of the commercial and literary town of Glasgow, a race of cannibals has really existed, we may contemplate, in the period of the Scottish history, the opposite extremes of savage and civilized life. Such reflections tend to enlarge the circle of our ideas: and to encourage the pleasing hope that New Zealand may produce, in some future age, the Hume of the Southern Hemisphere.”

So who might the Hume of the Southern Hemisphere (with special reference to New Zealand) be? I’d say it’s this guy. But other suggestions are more than welcome.