Dystopian Visions: Orwell vs. Huxley?

Orwell vs. Huxley: Whose Dystopian Vision was Correct?

Orwell vs. Huxley: Whose Dystopian Vision was Correct?
Description: Aldous Huxley
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Aldous Huxley and George Orwell were two of the great prognosticators of the last century. Both men feared dystopian tyranny, albeit via different methods. At this point in history, who looks more correct?

In Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, citizens are controlled by placating them. In Orwell’s 1984, the government controls citizens via constant oppression and mass surveillance. Both dystopian visions are fearful and ring true in today’s world although I’d give the slight edge to Huxley. Here’s a good summary on the competing dystopian visions from Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared we would become a captive audience. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate would ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

(Read the rest via Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)

Did the U.S. Government kill Big Bands?

Did the U.S. Government kill off Big Bands?

Did the U.S. Government kill off Big Bands?
Description: Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, predecessors to the Big Band era (1921)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1935, Benny Goodman launched the Big Band era with a famous performance in Los Angeles. By 1946, the Big Band era was dead. Despite high popularity, it was replaced by the far less dance-friendly (and far less popular) BeBop era. What happened to the Big Band era?

The U.S. government holds a substantial part of the blame. In 1944, the U.S. government imposed the so-called “Cabaret Tax,” partly to raise funds for World War II. Essentially, it placed a 30% tax rate on all establishments that “contained dance floors, served alcohol and other refreshments, and/or provided musical entertainment.” The tax, like so many others, was supposed to be temporary. But when it was reinstated, dance halls closed across the nation. Thanks to the extra cost of doing business, few places could afford to hire big bands. Thus, many big bands were forced to break apart. Musicians formed smaller bands and started playing non-danceable music. Thus, the era of Bebop began. Here’s more on the government’s war on Big Bands by Eric Felten at The Wall Street Journal (paywall protected):

These are strange days, when we are told both that tax incentives can transform technologies yet higher taxes will not drag down the economy. So which is it? Do taxes change behavior or not? Of course they do, but often in ways that policy hands never anticipate, let alone intend. Consider, for example, how federal taxes hobbled Swing music and gave birth to bebop.

With millions of young men coming home from World War II—eager to trade their combat boots for dancing shoes—the postwar years should have been a boom time for the big bands that had been so wildly popular since the 1930s. Yet by 1946 many of the top orchestras—including those of Benny Goodman, Harry James and Tommy Dorsey—had disbanded. Some big names found ways to get going again, but the journeyman bands weren’t so lucky. By 1949, the hotel dine-and-dance-room trade was a third of what it had been three years earlier. The Swing Era was over.

Dramatic shifts in popular culture are usually assumed to result from naturally occurring forces such as changing tastes (did people get sick of hearing “In the Mood”?) or demographics (were all those new parents of the postwar baby boom at home with junior instead of out on a dance floor?). But the big bands didn’t just stumble and fall behind the times. They were pushed…

(See the rest at The Wall Street Journal)

The Comics Code: Tyranny Based on Lies?

Cover of "This Magazine is Haunted" (# 5): A typical example of horror comics that led to the War on Comics & the Comics Code

Cover of “This Magazine is Haunted” (# 5): A typical example of horror comics that led to the War on Comics & the Comics Code
Attribution: Cover by Sheldon Moldoff
Source: Wikimedia Commons

New findings shows the research that lauched the War on Comics and the Comics Code was based on omissions, fabrications, and outright lies. That’s right, Dr. Fredric Wertham was the comics equivalent of Mike Bellesiles. We like to think of scientists and academics as impartial experts, who are only concerned with knowledge. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s more on the faulty foundations for the Comics Code by Dusty Rhodes at the University of Illinois:

Behavioral problems among teenagers and preteens can be blamed on the violence, sex and gore portrayed in the media marketed to them – that was the topic of televised public hearings held by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954 to address the scourge of comic books. The hearings, which resulted in the decimation of what was an enormous comic book industry, had been inspired in large part by the book “Seduction of the Innocent,” by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, based on his own case studies.

Wertham’s personal archives, however, show that the doctor revised children’s ages, distorted their quotes, omitted other causal factors and in general “played fast and loose with the data he gathered on comics,” according to an article by Carol Tilley, published in a recent issue of Information and Culture: A Journal of History.

“Lots of people have suspected for years that Wertham fudged his so-called clinical evidence in arguing against comics, but there’s been no proof,” Tilley said. “My research is the first definitive indication that he misrepresented and altered children’s own words about comics.”

(See the rest at the University of Illinois)

Unschooling: The Truth about College?

Is Unschooling Superior to Horace Mann's system of Public Schooling?

Is Unschooling Superior to Horace Mann’s system of Public Schooling?
Description: Horace Mann: Father of the Public School System
Attribution: Southworth & Hawes (1850)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Confession: In my youth, I considered school a massive waste of time. As an adult, I feel exactly the same way. School didn’t prepare me for the real world. If anything, it dulled my creativity, tempered my love for learning, and caused me to hide the most interesting parts of myself in order to avoid being an outcast. Hence, I find the idea of unschooling, or encouraging kids to learn through natural interaction with the world, quite interesting.

Americans love their schools however. Out of 56 million kids, just 1.5 million are educated outside of a traditional school. And the vast majority of those kids are homeschooled using the same curriculum and textbooks. It’s believed just 100,000 kids are unschooled.

It’s good to see people starting to challenge the education system, even if it’s just at the college level. For many people (perhaps all people), college is an enormous waste of time and money. Now, we just need a little more attention paid to unschooling. Here’s more from John Tamny at Forbes:

Whether the ambition is to become an investment banker or a Starbucks barista, the dirty little secret is that nothing learned during the four (or five) fun-filled years on idyllic campuses has anything to do with either form of employment. That four years of English Lit or finance courses wouldn’t be required to work behind the counter at Grumpy’s is obvious, but it’s also the case that what’s learned in those finance classes is not necessary if your desire is to thrive at Goldman Sachs either.

To believe otherwise is to believe that someone (the college professor) who for the most part lacks any background in the real-world application of finance could transfer skills to those who desire that real-world knowledge. Lots of luck there. If Wall Street is your goal, major in whatever interests you. Ultimately the top financial firms are looking for “good athletes”; as in people who are smart and who work hard. Anything you need to know you’ll learn on the job.

(See the rest at Forbes)

Police State: Why are Feds Stockpiling Ammo?

Is the U.S. a Police State?

Is the U.S. a Police State?
Description: Dame Wales confronts riot police
Attribution: Joseph Morewood Staniforth (1898)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

While the U.S. government works to disarm its citizens, bureaucrats are stockpiling ammo. Lots and lots of ammo. But no worries. You can trust the police state. Here’s more from Andrew Malcolm at Investors.com:

In a puzzling, unexplained development, the Obama administration has been buying and storing vast amounts of ammunition in recent months, with the Department of Homeland Security just placing another order for an additional 21.6 million rounds…

…DHS has been silent about its need for numerous orders of bullets in the multiple millions. Indeed, Examiner writer Ryan Keller points out Janet Napolitano’s agency illegally redacted information from some ammunition solicitation forms following media inquiries.

According to one estimate, just since last spring DHS has stockpiled more than 1.6 billion bullets, mainly .40 caliber and 9mm. That’s sufficient firepower to shoot every American about five times. Including illegal immigrants. To provide some perspective, experts estimate that at the peak of the Iraq war American troops were firing around 5.5 million rounds per month. At that rate, DHS is armed now for a 24-year Iraq war.

(See the rest at Investors.com)

The Comics Code & the War on Comics?

Cover of "This Magazine is Haunted" (# 5): A typical example of horror comics that led to the War on Comics & the Comics Code

Cover of “This Magazine is Haunted” (# 5): A typical example of horror comics that led to the War on Comics & the Comics Code
Attribution: Cover by Sheldon Moldoff
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the early 1950s, a wave of hysteria raced through America. Comic books, according to the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, were turning kids into monsters. The media, as reactionary then as it is today, demanded a Congressional investigation to (what else?) protect the children. Faced with government regulation, the comics industry created the Comics Code, which essentially ended horror comics and led to hundreds of people losing their jobs.

Today the War on Comics seems ridiculous. I wonder what future generations will think about the modern wars on obesity, drugs, etc.  Here’s more on the Comics Code and the War on Comics from The Christian Science Monitor:

In his 1953 novel “Fahrenheit 451,” named after the temperature at which paper catches on fire, Ray Bradbury painted a picture of a society beset by book-burning. In his vision, the censors didn’t bother to throw comic books on the pyre because they just weren’t worth worrying about.

Not so in mid-century America. For more than a decade, countless parents and teenagers made bonfires of comic books, reducing everyone from Captain Marvel to Archie to ashes.

It wasn’t so much Superman & Co. that drove the book-burnings, although even the Man of Steel had his critics. Instead, psychiatrists, politicians, and editorial writers feared the most extreme comic books – filled with crooks, monsters, and voluptuous women – would drive innocent children into the clutches of juvenile delinquency.

(See the rest at The Christian Science Monitor)

Police State Update: Do Police Officers Lie?

Police State Update: Do Police Officers Lie?

Police State Update: Do Police Officers Lie?
Description: Dame Wales confronts riot police
Attribution: Joseph Morewood Staniforth (1898)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Police officers are widely viewed as honest public servants. Unfortunately, it turns out they lie under oath, possibly on a massive scale. Yes indeed, the police state is alive and well in the United States. Why do police lie you may ask? Simple. First, they can get away with it. And second, they’re rewarded for it. Here’s more on the rising American police state from the New York Times:

…Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police commissioner, wrote an article in The San Francisco Chronicle decrying a police culture that treats lying as the norm: “Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath. It is a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law. Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.”

The New York City Police Department is not exempt from this critique. In 2011, hundreds of drug cases were dismissed after several police officers were accused of mishandling evidence. That year, Justice Gustin L. Reichbach of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn condemned a widespread culture of lying and corruption in the department’s drug enforcement units. “I thought I was not naïve,” he said when announcing a guilty verdict involving a police detective who had planted crack cocaine on a pair of suspects. “But even this court was shocked, not only by the seeming pervasive scope of misconduct but even more distressingly by the seeming casualness by which such conduct is employed.”

(See the rest at the New York Times)

War on the Federal Reserve?

"Federal Reserve Board with bankers.

“Federal Reserve Board with bankers. Front: Warburg; Williams; Hamlin; Delano. In rear is large group of governors and bankers.” (1914)
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The Federal Reserve is no good. Its money monopoly has wrecked havoc for 100 years. So, I welcome currency competition from Virginia, although I’d prefer it came from the free market. That said, the Federal Reserve will continue to dominate as long as legal tender laws are in full effect. Here’s more on the war on the Federal Reserve from Fox News:

Virginia is one step closer to breaking ties with the country’s monetary system.

A proposal to study whether the state should adopt its own currency is gaining traction in the state legislature from a number of lawmakers as well as conservative economists. The state House voted 65-32 earlier this week to approve the measure, and it will now go to the Senate.

While it’s unlikely that Virginia will be printing its own money any time soon, the move sheds light on the growing distrust surrounding the nation’s central bank. Four other states are considering similar proposals. In 2011, Utah passed a law that recognizes gold and silver coins issued by the federal government as tender and requires a study on adopting other forms of legal currency.

Virginia Republican Del. Robert Marshall told FoxNews.com Tuesday that his bill calls for creation of a 10-member commission that would determine the “need, means and schedule for establishing a metallic-based monetary unit.” Essentially, he wants to spend $20,000 on a study that could call for the state to return to a gold standard…

(See the rest at Fox News)

How well does Congress reflect the People it “serves”?

Federal Hall, where the First Congress met in 1789

Description: Federal Hall, where the First Congress met in 1789
Attribution: Steel engraving by Robert Hinshelwood (1855-1859)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

How well does Congress reflect the people it “serves” (“rules” might be a better word)? Not very well, it turns out. How else could lawyers make up 37% of the U.S. Congress, both now and in 1789? Not to pick on lawyers either…out of the 209 “businesspeople” in Congress, how many do you think are clerks, bakers, entrepreneurs, electricians, etc.? I’m guessing the answer is a big fat zero. So much for James Madison’s dream of the House of Representatives being a lower house for “the people.” Here’s more from Constitution Daily:

With that in mind, the staff of Constitution Daily compiled a comparison between the First U.S. Congress and the current one, looking at the occupational breakdown between their members. The results were, in some ways, predictable, but there were still a few surprises. (Who knew there was a comedian among their ranks?)…

Although the First Congress had a limited variety of professions, the general make up of both are relatively similar. As you can see, from the time the First Congress met, law has been a top profession; in both bodies, about 37 percent of the members are lawyers. It makes sense–the people writing the laws need to have a deep understanding of how the legal system works. But do lawyers make the best politicians?

(See the rest including the breakdown at Constitution Daily)

The End of the U.S. Postal Service?

Will the U.S. Government ever allow competition to the U.S. Postal Service?

Will the U.S. Government ever allow competition to the U.S. Postal Service?
Description: American Letter Mail Company stamp (1844): Used during the U.S. Postal War
Source: Wikimedia Commons

And so Saturday mail comes to an end. Is anyone really that surprised? No competition = No reason to innovate or improve service. Where’s Lysander Spooner when you need him?

Here’s more on the U.S. Postal Service ending Saturday deliveries at Fox News:

The U.S. Postal Service plans to announce Wednesday that it will end Saturday mail delivery, in one of the most significant steps taken to date to cut costs at the struggling agency.

A source familiar with the decision confirmed the plan to Fox News.

Under the proposal, the Postal Service will continue to deliver packages six days a week. The plan, which is aimed at saving about $2 billion, would start to take effect in August.

(See the rest at Fox News)