Sunday, 24 September 2017

Ahoy Facebook #6

Here are my latest tidbits from Facebook.


I love this music. It's very singular and individualised - Partch built his own instruments just so that he could play it, as standard instruments couldn't play 'microtones' - but it's also very sensitive to the music of antiquity.


I voted Labour because 1) I like my local MP, Natascha Engel, 2) A vote for any other progressive party would be wasted in this constituency and help the Tories and 3) I don't want the Labour party to disappear and I sill want it to have a strong parliamentary presence. They have done a lot more for this country than any other party (way more than the Whigs and the Liberals).

Hung parliament? Hahahaha. Serves you right, Theresa May.

Now this is a strange one. It's a puzzle which was released just before the 2015 general election. The premise is '... If Labour Wins the General Election.' The subtitle is 'Use your imagination to puzzle thoughts into reality.' The implication (tellingly, perhaps) seems to be that the thought of Labour winning power is risible in the first place.
The drawing style is reminiscent of 'Beano.' Ed Miliband is prime minister and he is confronted by David Cameron, leader of the opposition, and Nick Clegg. Several other politicians are depicted in goofy ways.
In, say, 20 years' time, this will be a remarkable historical artefact, a complete curiosity. I'm definitely keeping this. It's also a nice companion piece to a t-shirt I own that bears the following caption: 'If Ed Miliband were prime minister, none of this would have happened.'
Sorry about the bad lighting.


I vaguely knew this, but it hadn't sunk in enough to make a difference. Several people - including myself - use the plural of a word and follow it with the verb 'is.' I might often say 'politics is important' when I should really say 'Politics ARE important.' More examples: 'The media ARE biased,' 'Metaphysics ARE interesting,' 'Aesthetics ARE wonderful,' etc. I'll never make the same mistake again.

1) Tal vez hay justicia en el fútbol cuando el equipo que personifica éstilo, posesión, coraje y fútbol atacante (Chile) le gana al equipo que personifica inercia, negatividad y fútbol defensivo (Portugal).
2) Maybe there is justice in football when the team that epitomises flair, possession, courage and attacking football (Chile) beat the team that epitomises inertia, negativity and defensive football (Portugal).

Politics and tidying up are very similar. They are both means to an end, not ends in themselves.
If I want to be productive and do stuff, a clean and tidy environment is conducive to that. Otherwise, I just end up mired in my own shit. However, this is just a means to an end – ordered surroundings yield results.
Likewise, politics are important because politics affect the choices and decisions that I reach. I should be engaged politically because I am affected by an array of laws. Finding meaning in politics, though, would be tedious.
(The only people who see politics as an end in itself are socialists/communists. They opt for ‘organisation’ over ‘freedom.’ The latter is much more exciting because freedom entails a limitless number of choices, creative decisions, etc. The former is dull because it is seldom interesting, or even productive. Another reason they annoy me is their complete contempt for pluralism. Their way of thinking is the correct way of thinking – everyone should sacrifice their freedoms and get organised. They reject the idea of an individual rationally reaching decisions for himself and want to coerce everyone into adopting the ‘party line.’ Most of the time they just meet each other, discuss Marxist thinkers, wave placards and die. What a waste.)
So, just as I read the newspaper every day, I should also tidy up and wash up. I shouldn’t let either of these two things be my primary activities, but they enable me to do the things that really matter.

I don’t understand the leftist antipathy towards liberalism. Ok, so classical liberalism does lead to an unequal distribution of wealth. I get that. (At least left-of-centre social democrats do the right thing. They just want to preserve a safety net and want strong public services. They want equality of opportunity. They often want to regulate the excesses of capitalism. Otherwise, they are keen to preserve individual liberties.) What I don’t understand is the leftist antipathy towards other liberal principles, such as: 1) individuals should reach decisions independently and rationally, 2) all ideas should be debated freely and openly and 3) a tolerance of diversity. They want the opposite: 1) groups and communities such liaise to reach a ‘majority opinion’ (and people should be coerced to do this even if they don’t want to), 2) an antipathy towards a co-existence of different principles, ideologies – everyone should hold the same values and 3) they want a homogeneous society. I don’t understand why you would go out of your way to scold people who prefer the first three options.

I love You Tube.
I can spend hours watching British politicians from the 1970s debating the Common Market and inflation. I can listen to highfalutin rhetoric and plummy accents. I can also see their dapper clothing and bushy eyebrows.
Following this, I can watch a stellar concert by bassist Charles Mingus and multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy. They were both jazz heavyweights, pushed boundaries and made great contributions to the genre's repertoire. And I can watch them play TOGETHER.
If I'm in a different mood, I can watch interviews with Latin American authors. They talk about their novels, the books that influenced them and they often comment on the history/politics of their country. I'm always excited to unearth an interview with one of these guys that I hadn't encountered before.
I can then watch a silent film from the 1920s that's unavailable on DVD.
This is a seriously impressive archive. Its scholarly value is tremendous. I know that this archival footage constitutes less than 1% of videos there. I know that it is teeming with immature narcissists making unfunny comedic sketches. People will then state generalities as to how this is symbolic of our cultural decline. If you ignore the immature narcissists, however (and that is a very easy thing to do), You Tube is an invaluable source.

It annoys me how political pressure groups, from both left and right, change language. They do so to such an extent that words start to mean the opposite of what they originally meant.
Take the word ‘equity.’ Movements often derogatorily labelled ‘SJWs’ claim to want ‘equity.’ Well, no, they don’t. Equity involves levelling out something completely. This means that everyone equally owns the same amount of property. Everyone has equal rights. That’s a fine ideal to aspire to.
The problem is that they start to defend equity and then claim that races, genders and classes have historically been oppressed. Dead white men have dominated history. This means that these oppressed races, genders and classes deserve more rights and that white heterosexual men need to be demonised because they have been historically privileged. Well, no, that isn’t equity! That’s the opposite!
It’s the same with the word ‘liberal,’ which now has the opposite meaning. I blame American political discourse for this. American politics is so dichotomous that you are either liberal or conservative. So these ‘SJWs’ are confusingly seen as ‘liberal’ over there. These movements say that people belong to groups. So, technically, I am not an individual – I am a privileged white male. I am part of a privileged economic class, so I am a priori scum. That’s the OPPOSITE of liberalism. They are often intolerant and want to deny political groups the right to free speech. Again, that’s the OPPOSITE of liberalism.
It’s the same with the word ‘progressive,’ which used to have really good connotations. It used to be used by governments which wanted to marry more redistributive economics with social liberalism. Now the word is complete poison. Call yourself a progressive now and people think that you are an intolerant person who wants to shut down all debate. They think that you believe in tripe like cultural appropriation, non-binary genders, identity politics etc. etc.
The right are not exempt from this. They often use the term ‘libertarian’ to defend anarcho-capitalism. So, they want zero government interference so that business people are free to do business. ‘Libertarianism’ was a word that lefty anarchists used in the late 19th/early 20th century. It meant a free-thinking individualist who defied government and corrupt business. It is now used by right-wing zealots who want to roll back the state and defer power to private business. Again, this word now has the opposite meaning.
Language does change over time, but it is meant to change organically. This is like George Orwell’s ‘Newspeak,’ where language is redefined and imposed on everyone else. All the cases that I cited above are cases of political pressure groups actively trying to change language. And it WORKS. As I mentioned above, words start to lose their original meaning and start to acquire the opposite meaning. It’s ridiculous for a decent individual who calls himself a liberal to be ridiculed as an illiberal zealot, for instance.

1) Voy a viajar a Chile. Estaré allí de noviembre a diciembre.
2) I am travelling to Chile. I will be there from November to December.

Ancient Greece, surprisingly, has not been recreated in cinema very much. There are many Hollywood and arthouse films about Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt, but what about Greece?
I am sure there are many exceptions, but no 'major' films spring to mind for me. Directors like Theopolous Angelous dealt with Greek history, but he usually dealt with modern history.
What I find surprising is that there is a lot of rich cinematic material there. There all sorts of individuals and movements that did unusual and surprising things. You could recreate Bacchanal rituals, for instance. You would have debauchery, sacrifices and drunken excess - plenty of golden cinema there. You could recreate the struggles of cynics and stoics. A film about a Pythagorean cult would be superb. They would discuss mathematics, religion, mysticism and crack-pot theories. They would engage in deviant and cult-like behaviour.
There are plenty of philosophers whose lives could be dramatised. This wouldn't just involve long scenes of dry intellectualising - plenty of Greek philosophers led very interesting an unusual lives. A whole film depicting the trial of Socrates would be grand. Hell, even just turning a Socratic dialogue like 'Meno' into a film would be an interesting experiment. A film about Empedocles jumping into a volcano would be exciting. A film depicting Diogenes doing strange things in public would be interesting. It would start with him being caught by pirates and being sold off to slavery. We would later follow him masturbating, carrying a lantern in broad daylight, calling for an 'honest man,' sleeping in a jar, surrounding himself with dogs and, of course, telling Alexander the Great to move away from the sun. I would also like to see a film about Heraclitus, where we follow him stepping into rivers and being a miserable brooder. Even Aristotle's life could be turned into an interesting film. We could follow him establishing his university. The latter stages of the film would follow him fleeing persecution.
If you want a great war film, you could recreate the Persian invasion of Greece. Scenes of Spartan/Greek resistance would be grand. Also, scenes of Xerxes plotting would also be very good.
As I said, there is a lot of exciting cinematic material. Perhaps many of these films have already been made but, as I said, Ancient Greece has not been recreated as much as Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome, which is a shame.

Most governments are usually a mixture of good and bad things. Everyone now seems to think that New Labour was uniformly terrible. People seem to forget that they did a lot of good things.
If you were to rank all Labour governments, based on their domestic record 1997-2010 ranks second after 1945-51. They invested more in public services than any other government in history. They redistributed wealth. They managed to get a lot of people out of poverty through programs such as tax credits and Sure Start. They reduced unemployment. They gave us the minimum wage. They invested in science and the arts. They gave more people the opportunity to go to university. Compared to the 1970s, the Thatcher years and the present, those were happy times and the country was a lot less divided. They also pushed through a lot of social reforms while presiding over economic growth.
But then, the bad things that New Labour did were so bad that they seem to overshadow these achievements. Deregulating the banks from the oversight of the Bank of England surely played a part in the financial crisis. The spin was horrible. If they had done what they did without all the spin, people would have been more tolerant. They often actively told newspapers what to write and this practice turned hideously ugly during the Iraq war. Their social authoritarianism was also off-putting, particularly their insistence on people carrying ID cards.
And then there's of course Iraq, which was a horrible pointless war. It led to a bloody sectarian conflict and the resulting failed state facilitated the rise of ISIS. Blair actively lied about WMD and people resented it.
And, of course, there's Blair. When I watch him speak, I feel physically sick. When you look back at footage of Blair during the 1997 campaign, you wonder how so many people were taken in by him. He clearly doesn't mean a word he says.
When you unwillingly get into arguments with Corbynites, they say 'he isn't radical, he just wants a fully funded NHS and strong public services.' Well, New Labour did those things better than any other government in history. They managed to invest in public services more effectively than previous Labour governments and did so without unleashing an inflationary spiral or economic stagnation. New Labour might be discredited, but people should really remember that they did a lot of good things. It's very unfashionable to say that, though.

I really enjoy watching Jordan Peterson's lectures. I think that a lot of people avoid them because they think that he is a right-wing bigot, but they are really wide-ranging and thought-provoking.
'Crumb' is one of my favourite films ever made and is quite likely also the best documentary I have ever seen. I watch it on a yearly basis and it always moves me deeply and it makes me laugh. As Peterson says, it's very rich and there's a lot going on. It's about a broken family, art as therapy, coping with mental illness, dealing with your demons and honestly expressing one's darkest thought without censoring oneself. I am sure that it must be very interesting for a clinical psychologist, especially for someone who has also studied Freud.

The humorous libertarian journalist P. J. O'Rourke remarked that he became right-wing when he started his first job. He had been a communist, he claimed, but became a libertarian when he realised that 'we had communism already.' His income had been taxed at over 40%. (He really should have know that that would have happened anyway, he really was a tad bit naive.)
I generally find that I have had the opposite experience. The more I venture into the 'real world,' it makes me more left-wing. The more time I spend alone (and I do like to spend a lot of time alone), I want to defend my individual rights.
However, in the real world of work fundamentally decent people (most people are good, really) often do really nasty stuff to increase efficiency. It's a real shame that we have gone backwards in that regard, as the post-war Attlee settlement did so much to protect workers' rights. In the few shitty jobs I've had, I've seen really fragile people get overworked, told that they wouldn't get paid if they did overtime, receive xenophobic abuse and been told they weren't needed once they arrived at work. So, yes, the more I venture into the real world, the more left-wing I become.

If everyone had a mind that was more or less like yours, what would the economy be like?
In my case, there would be more demand for, say, art cinema, classical music and literary novels. For recreation, people would not go clubbing, they would attend Beethoven and Bartok string quartets. However, these sectors of the economy would be insanely competitive and few people would succeed at it. Only the most accomplished people would truly succeed, however the increased demand would mean that more individuals would make money out of these enterprises. Because there would be an increased demand for all these things, more people would work in these sectors in an administrative/organisational capacity. Also, art film makers would have a lot more money to make splashy films. (There only have been a few cases like this in the real world - i.e. Stanley Kubrick's A Space Odyssey and Murnau's version of Faust.)
However, there would still obviously be a need for engineers, doctors, technicians, etc. If everyone had a mind that was more or less like mine, there wouldn't really be any people with an aptitude for these things. There would of course be a need for lower end menial work and such people would be really bitter that the upper classes make a living from their interests whilst they are forced to collect rubbish or stare at conveyor belts. The most likely scenario would be that people would just live in caves, forage for food whenever they can and would just discuss philosophy in a meandering fashion.
Still, homogenous societies can often be the most successful and equitable. Countries like Sweden and Denmark are homogenous in that they are very similar, have a small population and they all work. They can all agree to be taxed more, receive benefits, have universal health care, nationalised utilities and distribute their wealth in an equitable manner. Their minds might not be entirely identical (hence they have engineers, doctors, rubbish men AND artists), but they are similar enough to come to this agreement.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Fake Jazz for Simon King

This is a piece that my good friend Dan Garrity wrote for my birthday. He called it 'Fake Jazz for Simon King.' You can listen to more of his pieces at his You Tube channel and his Soundcloud page. His music is fun, colourful and well-made.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

It's a Wonderful Life and the New Deal

Part three of a forthcoming book called 'Collected Essays.'
The purpose of this essay is to interrogate the relationship between the principles of The New Deal and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). The New Deal introduced extensive welfare programs, safety nets and stimulus spending that brought the United States out of depression and into a period of economic boom. Frank Capra largely shared these values, as evidenced by the term ‘Capraesque’: ‘Capraesque therefore encapsulated a belief in the underdog, a spirit of unshakeable optimism, a commitment to love thy neighbour, all firmly grounded in American history and American folklore’ (p. 71, Rawitsch 2014). This belief in the underdog is mirrored by the New Deal’s concern for working people and its distrust of corruption and monopolies. The character George Bailey triumphs against all the odds and the predatory banker Potter often tries to ruin him. This belief in community and American history is also shared by the New Deal, which was patriotic and wanted to redistribute wealth to preserve social cohesion. This essay will look at the New Deal’s welfare programs and will provide some background on the Keynesian economics that shaped it. It will look at how these welfare programs, such as ‘Building and Loans,’ are recreated in institutions in Capra’s film. It will examine how the ethics of this institution mirror those espoused by the New Deal and it will examine how they clash with the ethics that preceded laissez-faire, which are held by the banker Potter. Two aspects of the New Deal which were more sinister and populist were redistribution and its characterisation of bankers. This essay will look at how the film deals with this and will try to gauge whether this rhetoric is presented benevolently or maliciously. Finally, this essay will look at equality of opportunity in the film, as the New Deal created unheralded opportunities for large sections of the population.

This essay will start by outlining some central principles of the New Deal. Poverty and unemployment were rampant in the USA after the great depression in 1929 (Zentrer 2011). The central aim of the New Deal was to use the federal government to intervene in the economy and combat depression. A quarter of a million people were unemployed and A ‘New Bill of Economic Rights’ was drafted to guarantee welfare for every American (Zentrer). Its aim was universalist and it meant that the program required ‘a transformation of the very principles of American government’ (Zentrer). It was an affront to America’s laissez-faire heritage. The New Deal assured ‘guarantees to life, liberty and property’ and every citizen could turn to the central government for job security and retirement insurance. Additionally, the New Deal wanted to regulate private enterprise and to stabilise the banking system (Zentrer). The state was seen as a benevolent entity that could generate prosperity and address social injustice. Central government would actively involve itself in the private lives of Americans. Americans prior to this thought that public money should only be spent on programs such as national defence. Public spending under Franklin D. Roosevelt doubled. Government would now be centralised, not federalised. The aim of national government would be ‘the continual expansion of the national economy and the more equitable distribution of wealth within that economy’ (Zentrer).
Three principles that emerge in the new deal include full employment, fairness and economic growth. The Roosevelt administration invested in extensive welfare programs to address this. This essay will now examine the centrality of welfare to the New Deal. These programs helped people back into work, provided a safety net that protected citizens from destitution and brought the economy out of a depression and into a period of high productivity. Programs such as ‘Civilian Conservation Corps’ and ‘Work Progress Administration’ helped workers back to work (Zentrer). Government socialised insurance programs, which had previously been private. The principle of insurance was to minimise economic risks that individuals might encounter. An individual pays money into a fund that accrues over time in private insurance. Meanwhile, individual tax payers contribute to a fund managed by the government in socialised insurance. These funds in either case are later used to provide income for those unable to support themselves through labour (DeWitt 2010). This need for public provision according to DeWitt, arose after the emergence of industrial societies. There was an emerging need for social insurance, as larger swathes of the population needed security. Additionally, only 10% of elderly people were insured and this demographic was particularly hard-hit by the depression. Additionally, the New Deal pushed through bank reform. Before the Great Depression, many banks ran into trouble. Finance was a new sector of the economy and bankers took risks in the stock market (Moffatt 2017). Bankers often provided unethical loans to sectors of the industry that they partially owned. An ‘Emergency Banking Act’ was instituted, which reopened banks with federal loans and treasury oversight (Moffatt). Banking, insurance and security businesses were banned from mixing with one another. The government created its own banking sector called ‘Savings and Loans’ after the war, which helped citizens find mortgages (Moffatt). Banking became a more co-operative affair, a social service for the common good. The institution in Capra’s film, ‘Building and Loans,’ is clearly modelled on it. The Great Depression, according to DeWitt, was not the real reason for all of these welfare programs, but it was ‘the triggering event’ (2010). There were two periods when The New Deal where the aforementioned programs really came to effect. The ‘first New Deal’ (1933-34) was seen as a period ‘of relief and recovery’ following the Great Depression. The ‘Second New Deal’ (1935-37) was the period where the Roosevelt government sought to implement ‘long-lasting changes,’ which included the passing of the Social Security Act. The Social Security Act provided old-age assistance, old-age benefits, unemployed insurance, aid to dependent children, grants for maternal and child welfare, public health programs and aid to the blind. The Federal Reserve funded all of these programs (DeWitt). The aim of these benefits were to to be generous enough to provide economic security for all citizens. They were also designed to be equitable, meaning that the benefits should be inversely proportional to the amount each recipient pays for them. Most systems prioritise one or the other, however the Social Security Act sought to reach a balance between both (DeWitt). At the time of the release of It’s a Wonderful Life, tax rates had been frozen due to the war. However, revenues for such programs were higher during this period due to war-time full employment (DeWitt).
The economic backbone to the New Deal was formulated by John Maynard Keynes. This essay will now briefly explore some of his ideas. ‘Laissez-faire,’ meaning transactions free from government intervention, had been discredited. The unfettered free market was believed to be ‘a unique point in history’ (p. 27, Skidelsky 2010). The First World War had brought about financial disorganisation and the Versailles Treaty worsened the peacemaking process. Less goods were bought and there was less investment (p. 27). The UK – Keynes’ birthplace – had returned to the gold standard under chancellor Winston Churchill to artificially raise interest rates. This overvalued sterling and led to a fall in the cost of production, which led to a low-employment economy (p. 58). Demand fell short of supply – otherwise known as ‘overproduction’ - and output eventually stalled. Keynes urged governments to invest in the economy to artificially boost demand and inflate the supply of money, which would lead to a full employment economy (p. 96). These theories were also the theoretic backbone to the New Deal, which strove to create demand, stimulate the economy and drag it out of depression. Low interest rates and modest inflation were to be tolerated if it led to full employment and high productivity.

This essay will now try to gauge how the New Deal’s welfare programs and its economic agenda are recreated in the film. It will consider a scene where George, the eventual inheritor of ‘Building and Loans,’ clashes with Potter, the banker who wants to liquidate the company. This paragraph will try to ascertain how two sets of ethics and values clash in this scene. On the one hand, George Bailey espouses the moral values of the New Deal. On the other hand, the banker Potter espouses laissez-faire and entrepreneurial values. There is a clear sense that Potter mistrusts the institution as it clashes with his unethical business motives. The scene starts and we find that George has sacrificed his honeymoon to help Building and Loans out. He does this to help the community and their investments. The purpose of the meeting in this scene (27.29) is to appoint a successor to George’s father, Peter. We see a 75 degree mid-shot of the banker. He is brightly lit, sits on an ornate chair and an assistant sits directly beside him. Both of these characters wear more elaborate clothing than the rest of the board, who wear ordinary suits. Potter says:
This institution is not necessary to this town. I make a motion to dissolve this institution and turn its assets and liabilities to the receiver. (…) Peter Bailey was not a businessman. That’s what killed him. (…) He was a man with high ideals, so-called, but ideals without common sense can ruin this town.’
There is a clear frustration from the banker about the strict controls which have been levied on banks. Before bank reform, Potter would have been free to invest in whichever way he liked. The bank reforms also forbid banks from mixing with insurance and security companies. Potter resents this, as they eat into his revenues. George’s assistant says: ‘That’s fine coming from you, considering that you brought him into his grave.’ It becomes clear in these scenes that Potter has unethical motives. Later in the film, we find that he steals their funds. It becomes apparent that he wants to derail the institution so that he can concentrate wealth to himself and let the rest of the town dwindle. It becomes apparent that he mistrusts social programs that help the poor find mortgages and provide them with a safety net. He says that Potter was a man with ‘high ideals,’ which implies that the ideals underlying some of the programs of the New Deal are naive. Institutions such as Building and Loans, according to Potterm disincentivise individuals. Potter also mistrusts Building and Loans because it is a competitor and he wants to monopolise the market. As this essay will later explore, Roosevelt and the New Deal wanted to break up the ‘concentrated wealth’ that arose as a result of such monopolies. Potter couches his language in the rhetoric of laissez-faire, as he argues that these programs disincentivise individuals. However, it becomes apparent that Potter mistrusts Building and Loans and banking reform because he is unable to invest unethically, monopolise the mortgage industry and accrue all wealth entirely for himself.
This essay will continue to make further examinations about the clash between the ethical values of Building and Loans and Potter. This paragraph will examine how Building and Loans and Potter value distribution of wealth. Building and Loans is a co-operative. Its funds are built up from its contributors and they are later redistributed. Everyone provides for each other’s safety. Peter Bailey finds this ludicrous and states that it is comprised of ‘starry-eyed dreamers.’ Furthermore, he states: ‘What does that do for us? A discontented lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class.’ The New Deal indubitably poured money into the economy to boost demand and helped people back to work through generous welfare packages. These are the effects it had. However, the banker sees social security, the safety net and welfare as programs that make workers lazier and that do not incentivise them to work and compete. This is despite the recent legacy of deflationary laissez-faire that led to economic ruin, unemployment and poverty. The banker also mentions the word ‘thrifty,’ which suggests that they should save more and be more disciplined with their finances. Wealth should not be redistributed to them so that they can own their own home. This is despite the fact that the banker has inordinate wealth and his consumption is excessive, as evidenced by his dapper clothing and his fondness for cigars. George Bailey retorts by giving an impassioned speech. He states that his company helps people get of ‘your [Potter’s] slums’ and that even though his father was ‘no businessman,’ before people had to ‘wait and save before they had a decent home.’ He highlights how wealth is unevenly distributed, since the workers account for the majority of the labour force. It makes little sense for all their labour to be monetised and transferred to a single individual: ‘They do most of the working and paying and living in this community. It is not too much to let them die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath.’ There is a strong sense of social justice here, as there is a definite desire to help the less fortunate through a safety net. George Bailey and Building and Loans want their co-operative to help, support and incentivse people. They also want wealth to be distributed across the entire community, not a single individual. Potter, on the other hand, distrusts these co-operative values and want the revenues of their labour entirely for himself.
This essay will try to look at how the formal aspects in this scene – namely camera work and mise-en-scene – contribute to the thematic aspects outlined above. There are several suggestions in the mise-en-scene that Building and Loans is a communal institution. When we see a mid-shot of the board discussing the future of the company, we can see a framed photograph of George’s father in the background (27.29). This highlights the centrality of family to the institution and George’s desire to stay true to his father’s principles. Alongside this portrait, there is a small replica of a house on top of some drawers. This once more reifies the values of the company, as housing is obviously as central as family and community. Throughout the building, there are many other signs which emphasise the charitable ethos of the company. ‘Build your own home’ is emblazoned in glass. There is also a framed caption: ‘All that you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.’ The former emphasises how the company bequeaths its customers with new opportunities. The latter sign emphasises the co-operative nature of the company. In other words, all its contributors contribute to the company and help all the other contributors. This emphasises the communitarian ethos of the company and how all the members of the community care for each other in both a pecuniary and emotional sense. The values of the company – family, community and housing – are all subtly recreated via the mise-en-scene.
Two elements of the New Deal which were divisive were redistribution and populist rhetoric. Redistribution is divisive because it often wants to actively ‘soak the rich’ and often marginalises sections of society. It is often derided for disparaging ‘aspiration.’ Populism is divisive because it often singles out members of society and demonises them, or even threatens to topple them and deprive them of rights. Roosevelt wanted to tackle ‘concentrated wealth’ and redistribute it to the needy. However, he was not wholly egalitarian, as he did not want to radically alter equality of outcomes. He thought that concentrated wealth created fissures in society and posed a threat to political freedoms and social harmony (Thorndike 2008). Roosevelt thought that wealth was created by collective effort. Hence, it made little sense for property owners to keep large revenues for themselves. He claimed: ‘Vast incomes do not come through the effort or ability of those who receive them. […] [It] rests upon government to restrict such incomes through higher taxes’ (Thorndike). A ‘Wealth Tax Act’ was passed in 1935. Additionally, the New Deal had a populist agenda, since it portrayed bankers and big business as villains and workers and farmers as heroes (Thorndike). These are two elements of the New Deal which are more divisive. Indeed, Thorndike writes that the language of redistribution can be ‘downright ugly.’
However ‘ugly’ the language of redistribution might appear, it is seen as benevolent in Capra’s film. Money is taken from wealthier people and is transferred to the less fortunate. The film sees this as noble and often satirises the upper crust. Taking cash payments from Potter is never seen as ‘ugly’ and revenue for the company is often raised by wealthier members of the co-operative. The institution continually defies all the odds and manages to stay in business. Wealth in this community is shared and the film sees nothing sinister about it. George Potter sums this ethos succinctly: ‘Our money isn’t in a safe. Your money is in Joe’s house, next to yours and in Kennedy’s house and a hundred others.’ The use of camera angles and the framing of bodies also manages to recreate this ethos. The members of the institution are distressed because the institution is about to be liquidated. We always see the members and George portrayed via close-ups. We later see them trying to solve the problem via a mid-shot. Close-ups usually portray single individuals whereas mid-shots usually a cover a wider depth of field. Close-up shots are often in cinema to uncover subjective states (Carter 2011). There is enough space within a mid-shot to frame a whole group of individuals. We only hear the individuals protesting about the problem in the close-up shots. We only find George and the members coming to a solution when they are all portrayed via the mid-shot. Although their situation is difficult, they do not complain and they appease one another. Redistribution in this case creates social harmony and it does not create fissures. The use of mid-shots also evince this ethos of redistribution.
. As this essay stated, the New Deal had a populist streak and this comes through most clearly in its vilification of bankers. The banker Potter is frequently vilified throughout the film and the film portrays the stereotype as a whole in a satirical manner. Potter even bears a resemblance to this stereotype, as he often smokes a cigar and wears ostentatious clothing. Although the film has a gentle and a heart-warming message, George’s father is unusually mordant when he refers to Potter: ‘He is sick in his mind, sick in his soul. There isn’t anything that he won’t get his hands on’ (14.20). Like redistribution, this populist language is also potentially sinister as it singles members of society and blames societal woes on it. Building and Loans is modelled on a New Deal program and the banker always tries to close it down. The controls placed on banks frustrate him as they thwart his unethical investments. The new regulatory controls forbid him with mixing with insurance and mortgages. He wants to monopolise the market and concentrate wealth entirely to himself and tries to derail the company unethically by stealing their funds. Whenever we see the banker, he is always portrayed in a satirical manner by Capra. We often see him lit in darker tones. During the meeting with Building and Loans’ board, the banker is often darkly lit whereas the photograph of Peter Bailey is brightly lit. He also wears black clothing whereas the rest of the board wear lighter clothing. Chiaroscuros is used in this scene – I.e contrast between dark and shade in a black and white photograph. There is more light in the board’s side of the table whilst there is more shade in the banker’s side of the table. He sits in a coronet chair and he is surrounded by busts, lavish book cases and a chandelier in his office. He is surrounded by sycophantic assistants in both scenes. 

Finally, this essay will examine social mobility, which was one of the New Deal’s most notable achievements. One of the principles of the New Deal was to help upward mobility and economic opportunity. This was enhanced with Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s and his ‘war on poverty.’ (Woods 2016). The 1950s were not only a period were government actively assisted the poor and tackled social justice, it was also a period where there was more upward mobility (Woods). America’s history of small government and individual rights might make the New Deal appear ‘UnAmerican,’. However, it was often couched in American rhetoric. The exceptionalist idea that America was ‘a land of opportunity,’ according to Timothy Noah, ‘rang true’ during the New Deal (2012). The economy boomed and people who were born during the Great Depression enjoyed greater opportunities. 85% of unskilled workers moved up to semi-skilled labour, skilled labour or higher positions (Noah). Indeed, there was more upward mobility during the 1950s and 60s than any other point in American history (Noah).
Although these opportunities existed at the time, George Bailey defies them and stays in his town to work for Building and Loan. This essay will now analyse two scenes which analyse this decision and the booming new opportunities. It will also analyse who benefits from this upward mobility and who does not. In one scene we meet George discussing his future with his father. George wants to pursue these new opportunities, however his father wants him to stay at Building and Loan: ‘I want to design things, plan modern buildings’ (14.20). These unheralded opportunities promise riches and dreams of self-realisation. However, the New Deal was also a paternalistic movement that promised to use big government to care for its citizens. In this scene, George decides to make an ethical decision and stay at Building and Loans, even if he remains rooted in the same economic and social class. Geoge claims that he wants to ‘do something big and important’ and ‘not stay the rest of my life in a shabby little office.’ However, his father retorts: ‘I feel that we are doing something important. […] helping people buy homes in that shabby little office.’ There is a sense that this paternalistic institution is more ethical than big business. George makes it clear that he thinks that his father’s company is virtuous: ‘I think that you are a great guy.’ Staying in the same community and contributing to that community is seen as more virtuous than pursuing new opportunities, wealth and upward mobility. This largely contravenes the ‘land of opportunity’ cliché integral to Hollywood, as Hollywood often champions clichés such as self-realisation (Gant 2006). Capra’s film, by contrast, champions a quainter cliché. It champions community and family bonds. This scene also reveals how some demographics and classes were not privy to these booming opportunities. The New Deal has subsequently been criticised for not offering opportunities to blacks (Powell 2003). It was only until Lyndon B. Johnson’s government that they started to acquire more rights when he passed the ‘Civil Rights Act’ (Bowen 2015). In this scene, we find that it is a given that their black maid will always stay working with them. It is a given that she will remain rooted in the same economic class: ‘I’m going to miss Annie.’ Although the New Deal had paternalistic principles, it ended up enabling unbridled new opportunities. Athough George is offered several opportunities, he chooses the ethical choice and retains these principles. This contravenes the ‘land of opportunity’ cliché often promoted by Hollwood. And although several characters have these opportunities, blacks do not have the same rights.
This essay will now gauge how these issues are recreated through the use of camera angles and the mise-en-scene in this scene. The father’s house is quaint and reveals how he has remained rooted in the same social class. The overhead lamp has tassels and the table is copiously filled with plates and food. There are framed photographs of butterflies, which reveals that his father has a specialised interest. There are several clocks adorning the house, including a pendulum clock. All these aspects create strong sense of roots. The New Deal coincided with economic changes and this, combined with Keynesian stimulus spending, contributed to economic growth. His father’s house already looks anachronistic and this reifies the social, economic and technological changes that have occurred in their lifetimes. The camera framing often emphasises this disparity. We usually see George’s father speak via ninety degree mid-shot, which gives ample room in the frame to reveal his quaint interest in clocks and butterflies. We usually see George via a high-angle mid-shot. The white wallpaper makes these objects come to prominence. Peter wears a quaint white jumper and whilst George wears a dapper suit. The editing alternates between these two shots and they emphasise the generational differences between the two characters. Editing in Classical Hollywood often followed strict cause-and-effect logic (Bordwell, Staiger, Thompson 2010) and this is in evidence in this scene.
There is also another scene where these unbridled opportunities become starkly apparent. One of George’s school friends becomes considerably wealthy as a property magnate and has reaped the benefits that the New Deal generated. In a scene where George meets his future wife, he offers him the opportunity to join him and thereby mobilise upwards. George rejects this offer and chooses to marry his wife and stay at the Building and Loan. He prioritises the ethos of his company and wedded bliss over this extravagant opportunity. His friend tells him that ‘it is the chance of a lifetime […] Put every cent of stock into this, that is unless you are married to that broken down Building and Loan.’ At one point, his friend asks him to move to Rochester and George replies ‘Rochester? Why not here?’ As this essay established, industrial, economic and technological changes meant that thousands of people moved away from rural towns and into the city. His friend also says at one point that ‘it is the biggest thing since radio,’ which emphasises the technological nature of the job. It is clearly innovative, transformative and entrepreneurial. It is at this point that he kisses his wife and chooses to marry her. There is clearly an ethical dimension to this stance which indicates his interest in social justice. However, his desire not to be upwardly mobile and not to make extravagant riches is also borne out of his desire to have a stable family and community. This outlook has a conservative slant. This creates a stark binary choice and this is recreated through the use of lighting. This scene is more brightly lit than any other in the film. Geoge wears brown and his wife wears black, however the darkest tone in the frame is the black telephone, which carries the message about the job opportunity. The mise-en-scene is sparse which enhances the bodies in the frame. The close-up is zoomed very closely into the two individuals and the bodies take up most of the space in the frame. Two individuals are squeezed very tightly into the frame and the only other object in view is the black telephone. This highlights the binary choice he has to make and how he chooses the most ethical choice over these extravagant opportunities. These are the two scenes where equality of opportunity are recreated.
Building and Loans is modelled on the New Deal program Saving and Loans. Its outlook is lauded by Capra, as it protects the little man from the predatory of interest of bankers like Potter. These social institutions create social harmony and new economic opportunities and welfare programs are seen as a genuine safety net which help the vulnerable. The institution is a co-operative and the whole community contributes to it so as to help each other. This is recreated by the use of mid-shots whereas the use of mid-shots recreate individuals. All of these qualities are seen as American and the preceding laissez-faire economic system, symbolised most appositely by the banker Potter, is seen as inimical to the country’s values. He appears to be an unethical character who wants to monopolise his market and drive the revenue of the community’s labour directly to himself. The film also deals with two aspects of the New Deal which could be seen as being more sinister, such as redistribution and negative characterisation of bankers. Redistribution is seen benevolently, as it creates social harmony. Bankers are satirised and are also seen as a menace to social harmony and personal freedoms, which also reifies New Deal propaganda. ‘Land of opportunity’ is an American cliché that recurs in several Hollywood films. Capra’s film prefers the quainter cliché of loyalty to family and community. The New Deal created new opportunities for large swathes of the population that had disenfranchised. However, the central character George chooses to remain loyal to his community and thus chooses the just option. These are all the aspects about the New Deal which this essay has identified.

Works Cited
Bordwell, Staiger and Thompson. (2010) The Classical Hollywood Cinema Fifty Years Along. [Online] David Bordwell’s Website on Cinema. Available from:
Bowen, Mae. (2015) This Day in History: President Lyndon B. Johnson Signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. [Online] The White House: President Obama. Available from:
Carter, Erica. (2011) Bela Balazs: Early Film Theory. Oxford: Berghahn Books.
Gant, Mike-Choopa. (2006) Hollywood Genres and Post-War America. London: I. R. Tauris.
Moffatt, Mike. (2017) A Brief History of Banking Reform After the New Deal. [Online] Thought Co. Available from:
Noah, Timothy. (2012) The Mobility Myth. [Online] The New Republic. Available from:
How Did DeWitt, Larry. (2010) The Development of Social Security in America. In Social Security: Office of Retirement and Disability Policy. 70.3
Powell, Jim. (2003) FDR’s New Deal Harm Blacks? [Online] John Clare. Available from:
Rawisch, Elizabeth. (2014) Frank Capra in Fifty Hollywood Directors. Ed. Suzanne Leonard and Yvonne Tasker. London: Rotledge
Skidelski, Robert. (2010) Keynes: A Very Short Introduction. London: Oxford.
Thorndike, Joseph. J. (2008) The Rhetoric of Redistribution: Lessons from the 1930s. [Online] Tax Analysts. Available from:
Woods, Randall B. (2016) How the Great Society Reforms of the 1960s Were Different from the New Deal. [Online] Time. Available from:
Zentner, Scott. (2011) New Deal. [Online] First Principles Journal. Available from:
Capra, Frank (1946) It's a Wonderful Life. RKO Radio Pictures.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Short digestible videos

Socialism and Social Democracy

Ancient Greece in Cinema

Ethics, Chaos and Chance

Jazz and Democracy

Modern Classical Music and the Self

Saturday, 19 August 2017


I just had a short story published in this quirky website called 'Winamop.' The story is called 'Heath.' If you are a fan of my work (ha!), you might enjoy it.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Eulogies #4

Stockhausen is a common figure in German cultural history. He is the idealistic individual filled with ambitious, monomanical, absurd and ridiculous goals. At its best, this Teutonic tendency produces the likes of Stockhausen. At its best, it produces Wagner and Beethoven. Stockhausen has lofty, demanding ideas which require strenuous rehearsal and patience.  (And a few helicopters would not go amiss.) The end result is usually cryptic, dense and indecipherable. At its worst, this tendency in the German consciousness results in Adolf Hitler. Hitler, too, filled his head - and the heads of the German people - with ambitious, impossible goals. He wanted to create an empire that lasted a thousand years. (It only lasted for thirteen years in the end.) He wanted to create state of the art buildings to accompany it. At the same time - and here the nastiness really comes through - he wanted to eradicate the Jewish people and create an Aryan race.

That is not to say that Stockhausen had this nasty streak. However, he was selfish, rude and arrogant. His selfishness bordered on solipsism. As time wore on, Stockhausen became quite the cranky hermit. He lived alone in a large house composing overblown Wagenerian pieces. He came to believe that he came from the star Sirius and that he would go back there once his life ended on Earth.

Post-war musical life was truly exciting. Its participants - people like Boulez, Kagel, Ligeti, Nono and, indeed, Stockhausen - were determined to take serious composition as far as it could possibly go. Their model was Anton Webern. Webern wrote serialist music where all twelve tones were ordered in series. This was to get away from the 'tonality' of earlier music - i.e. music played in specific keys. Stockhausen and his cohort took this further with 'total serialism.' In this manifestation, the duration and dynamics of the notes are subjected to the same order as well as the pitches. They often brought in theories from mathematics.

This might sound quite dry and cold. That was certainly embodied in Boulez. Boulez never had a wife - quite probably never had sex seeing as he was such a grouch - and led an ascetic life. Boulez thought that music was just controlled sound. Boulez also had a political agenda. He was determined that the new music would get into the concert hall. He wanted to blow up opera houses. (He was later investigated for this eruption later on.) Boulez was cold and he also was a political radical who wanted to change the destroy the old and replace it with the new.

Stockhausen was not like this. Even in the 50s, he was always passionate. Later on, he became quite the hippie mystic. His earliest music was innovative and radical - and certainly excited many people. One of his pieces was written for four concurrent orchestras. In the late sixties, he became mystical and religious. He started to wear garish clothes. He used hippie-dippie phrases. He started to write overblown pieces about everything is cosmic. (Of course it could never be as plain as that, it would have to be cryptic.) He often wrote large-scale pieces about dreams that he had experienced. The musical establishment became radicalised. They started to read Marxist literature and tried to break cars, hit street lamps and fight the police. Stockhausen became more hermetic than ever. He became persona non grata for these leftist twits.

Yet Stockhausen didn't want to destroy the canon. Sorry, Boulez the Mona Lisa will always be great. The enterprise of destroying things and tearing things up is asinine. May '68 was just a spoilt tantrum. Stockhausen's ideas were certainly radical. He ignored existing musical forms - and often invented his own. What he was trying to do was merely to simply add something new to the existing musical canon.

Stockhausen has been likened to a 20th century Beethoven. This kind of makes sense. Beethoven was the rugged individualist who tried to remake music and his pieces were grand and ambitious. Ditto Stockhausen, except that he was living in the age of technological progress, consumerism, two world wars and the holocaust. Some of his pieces I really like, others I just can't make out in the slightest. However, his attitude, his ideals and his sense of self excite me.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Eulogies #3

I admire Heraclitus because he was an archetypal outsider. (Yeah, yeah - there goes that tired cliché again.) He was a misanthropic loner who nonetheless defeated cruel time. When human civilisation comes to an end, history books will still have entries on Heraclitus.

Yes, it is ironic that he did indeed defeat 'cruel time.' Heraclitus thought that everything was subject to constant change. 'You can never step in the same river twice,' he claimed. He also thought that everything that we saw was a clash of opposites. Everything was 'strife.' That would make him a dualist. To add to the confusion, he also claimed that everything came from fire. That would make him a monist!

In many ways, Heraclitus was right about the nature of time. There are many Heraclituses. Our understanding of Heraclitus is different from the medieval understanding. For instance, our understanding of his thought is coloured by Einstein's theory of relativity. All history is indeed subject to constant regeneration.

And yet all we have left are tiny little fragments. I bought his book Fragments and found it infuriating. All it had was tiny little aphorisms containing really general statements. The secondary criticism I have read was a lot more detailed. It always emphasises how it's often conjectural. Still, these books of criticism just consist of a few pages. I really would like to read a whole book about him. These books exist, but they are inordinately expensive! The secondary criticism also adds that his thought is very obscure. Hegel - the archetypal obscurantist - considered Heraclitus his favourite philosopher. Plato and Aristotle read his full texts and found them puzzling. This is part of this appeal - he is so obscure that, even if you read the original text, you might not be able to make it out. However, even his original text was aphoristic in nature, so I might not be missing out on much. If I had a time travel machine, I would want to salvage a copy of his magnum opus from an ancient library.

And Heraclitus was a misanthrope. He lashes out against people and their ignorance in many of his aphorisms. One of his aphorisms was later rewritten - perhaps unknowingly - by John Stuart Mill: 'One man with an idea is worth much more than a thousand others.' He was a loner and detested democracy. The former endears him to me, the latter doesn't.

Despite his elitism, he was also sceptical of education. He claimed that it was a barrier to original thought. He did not like scholars who studied Homer, their equivalent of The Bible. Curiously, many people have written about this later on. The more books you read, your original insights are reduced more and more. 'Knowledge doesn't teach insight,' he claimed. In these times of hyper-specialisation, PHD students have to sift through a mountain of research to arrive at an original contribution to knowledge.

Yet there was no real knowledge in Heraclitus' time - apart from Homer and a handful of cranky pre-Socratic philosophers like Pythagoras. Heraclitus found underlying phenomena fascinating - and was determined to understand it without any empirical or analytic framework.

Heraclitus also found dreams fascinating - and claimed that they are the real world and that waking life is a mirage. Heraclitus is the archetypal loner. Alone with his thoughts, bitter, speculating and dreaming, he created a myth and consecrated his place in history.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Eulogies #2

Apologies for the delay. Well, you don't care - no-one cares! Nonetheless, here is the second instalment. This one is about Lisa Simpson, a cartoon character!

Lisa has always been my favourite character in the series. She is quirky, uber-intelligent and has encyclopedic knowledge. She is surrounded by a sea of ignorance, which frustrates her. Nonetheless, she gets on with things with stoic resilience.

Lisa is a cartoon character. As such, her virtues and her abilities are exaggerated. She is capable of coming up with dazzling scientific inventions. She is capable of solving the most flummoxing moral dilemmas. She is, for her age, a brilliant saxophone player. She reads advanced literature. She likes to solve advanced mathematical problems. She is interested in everything - and she is exceedingly good at the things that she takes an interest in. And whilst she might appear a tad arrogant at times, she does have emotional intelligence. She understands human relations and wants to support the people she cares about, including Bart.

For all her individualism, Lisa has a strong interest in social justice. She cares about the environment and animal rights. She actively tries to help those in need. Inequality bothers her - and there is an abundance of that in the USA.

And while her interests are by no means the average eight-year-old interests, she also likes girly things. She likes to play with dolls. (The function of toys is to help them achieve whatever your imagination wants them to achieve. As such, Lisa uses makes her Malibu Stacey dolls give speeches about feminism.) She likes horses. She can also be prone to childish blunders - and she shrugs them off with sweet insouciance.

Lisa is passionate about all of her interests. Like many bright people, she is also competitive. She cares about getting good grades and she also cares about her future career. We can tell that this auspicious child will go on to great things in the future.