Wednesday, July 09, 2014

An Ogden Nash poem

from the collection I'm a Stranger Here Myself  (1938).
How Now, Sirrah? Oh, Anyhow 
Oh, sometimes I sit around and think, what would you do if you were up a dark alley and there was Caesar Borgia,
And he was coming torgia,
And brandished a poisoned poniard,
And looked at you like an angry fox looking at the plumpest rooster in a boniard?
Why that would certainly be an adventure,
It would be much more exciting than writing a poem or selling a debenture,
But would you be fascinated,
Or just afraid of being assassinated?
Or suppose you went out dancing some place where you generally dance a lot,
And you jostled somebody accidentally and it turned out to be Sir Lancelot,
And he drew his sword,
Would you say Have at you! or would you say Oh Lord!?
Or what if you were held up by a bandit,
And he told you to hand over your money, would you try to disarm him and turn him over to the police, or would you over just meekly hand it?
What would you do if you were in a luxurious cosmopolitan hotel surrounded by Europeans and Frenchmen,
And a beautiful woman came up to you and asked you to rescue her from some mysterious master mind and his sinister henchmen?
Would you chivalrously make her rescue your personal objective,
Or would you refer her to the house detective?
Yes, and what if you were on trial for murdering somebody whom for the sake of argument we might call Kelly or O'Connor,
And you were innocent but were bound to be convicted unless you told the truth and the truth would tarnish a lady's honor,
Would you elect to die like a gentleman or live like a poltroon,
Or put the whole thing in the hands of an arbitration committee headed by Heywood Broun?
Yes, often as through life I wander,
This is the kind of question I ponder,
And what puzzles me most is why I even bother to ponder when I already know the answer,
Because anybody who won't cross the street till the lights are green would never get far as a Musketeer or a Bengal Lancer.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Political correctness

Dorothy Healey, in California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party (1990, U. of Illinois Press):

However, with the white chauvinism campaign of 1949-1953, what had been a legitimate concern turned into an obsession, a ritual act of self-purification that did nothing to strengthen the Party in its fight against racism and was manipulated by some Communist leaders for ends which had nothing to do with the ostensible purpose of the whole campaign. Once an accusation of white chauvinism was thrown against a white Communist, there was no defense. Debate was over. By the very act of denying the validity of the charge, you only proved your own guilt. Thousands of people were caught up in this campaign--not only in the Party itself, but within the Progressive Party and some of the Left unions as well. In Los Angeles alone we must have expelled two hundred people on charges of white chauvinism, usually on the most trivial of pretexts. People would be expelled for serving coffee in a chipped coffee cup to a Black or serving watermelon at the end of dinner.
Healey was eventually accused of "white chauvinism" herself. She gave in to the charge because she thought the whole thing was a farce and this would end her involvement. But then she was ordered to sign a written public statement, which was used against her in her later dealings with the Party.

She writes:
Because it was almost impossible to criticize a Black leader, the Party suffered and I think the Black leaders themselves suffered...When Blacks were spared this [criticism], it wasn't doing them any favor...when you have the notion that only Blacks can lead or that you must uncritically accept Black leadership without any standards, then you get reverse application of what you were fighting for.
Joseph R. Starobin was the American foreign editor of The Daily Worker. In his book, American Communism in Crisis, 1943-1947 (U. of California Press, 1975), he described the campaign against "white chauvinism" as a "witch hunt" and that it was used to "settle [personal] scores". Words like "whitewash" and "black sheep" were considered racist.
Doris Lessing, Language and the Lunatic Fringe (NY Times, June 26, 1992):
Yes, I know the obfuscations of academia did not begin with Communism -- as Swift, for one, tells us -- but the pedantries and verbosity of Communism had its root in German academia. And now it has become a kind of mildew blighting the whole world. [...]  
Raising Consciousness, like Commitment, like Political Correctness, is a continuation of that old bully, the Party Line. [...]
The demand that stories must be 'about' something is from Communist thinking and, further back, from religious thinking, with its desire for self-improvement books as simple-minded as the messages on samplers.  The phrase Political Correctness was born as Communism was collapsing. I do not think this was chance. I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism  has been handed on to the Political Correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.
Dalton Trumbo was severely criticized for "white chauvinism". One of his sins was describing a Negro boy in one of his writings as "polished and dressed in his very best" because this implied he was "clean only on special occasions"! See Ron and Allis Radosh's "Red Star Over Hollywood". You can use Amazon's "search inside".
Here's another excerpt from that book. Herbert Biberman was a Hollywood screenwriter, one of the Hollywood Ten. He had gone to New York to consult leading "Negro cultural workers" there about films the Communists were planning. They told him (Biberman wrote in a letter) that they
"were too busy and occupied to spend an instant dealing with people who were so misinformed as to still consider that they were being 'broad-minded' in consulting  Negro cultural leaders as 'experts' on Negro material" that was developed by "lily-white artists for the good of the Negro people." White artists could join with them, he reported, but they would have to admit that "they needed the Negro People more than the Negro people needed them."
With each sentence, Biberman sounded more and more agitated. What he had learned from his experience in New York, he wrote, was "soul-shaking, land-shaking, country-shaking." He learned about "the poison of chauvinism" and how it was deeply embedded even in people like themselves. ... After talking with the New York African-American cultural leaders, Biberman decided that all their films—including those they thought were favorable to the fight for civil rights—were in reality patronizing and racist.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Information control and Communism

From A Lament for Vietnam by Doan Van Toai, NY Times Magazine, 3/29/81:
While I was in jail, Mai Chi Tho, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, addressed a selected group of political prisoners. He told us: ''Ho Chi Minh may have been an evil man; Nixon may have been a great man. The Americans may have had the just cause; we may not have had the just cause. But we won and the Americans were defeated because we convinced the people that Ho Chi Minh is the great man, that Nixon is a murderer and the Americans are the invaders.'' He concluded that ''the key factor is how to control people and their opinions. Only Marxism-Leninism can do that. None of you ever see resistance to the Communist regime, so don't think about it. Forget it. Between you - the bright intellectuals - and me, I tell you the truth.''

And he did tell us the truth. ...

The media and totalitarianism

From Goldstein's book in Orwell's 1984, part 2, chapter 9
The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians. These people, whose origins lay in the salaried middle class and the upper grades of the working class, had been shaped and brought together by the barren world of monopoly industry and centralized government. As compared with their opposite numbers in past ages, they were less avaricious, less tempted by luxury, hungrier for pure power, and, above all, more conscious of what they were doing and more intent on crushing opposition. This last difference was cardinal. By comparison with that existing today, all the tyrannies of the past were half-hearted and inefficient. The ruling groups were always infected to some extent by liberal ideas, and were content to leave loose ends everywhere, to regard only the overt act and to be uninterested in what their subjects were thinking. Even the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was tolerant by modern standards. Part of the reason for this was that in the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance. The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. Every citizen, or at least every citizen important enough to be worth watching, could be kept for twenty-four hours a day under the eyes of the police and in the sound of official propaganda, with all other channels of communication closed. The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time.