Category Archive: Teaching

Godless Killing Machines

Grizzly Bears Are An Educational Menace

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Back to Basics: The Circuits of Commodities and Capital By NY Brit Expat

Due to popular demand (which I cannot understand for the life of me), today’s piece will discuss chapters 4 and 5 in Karl Marx’s Capital, volume I. On the surface, these two chapters appear simple and in many senses unimportant.  

However, that would be erroneous to conclude. These two chapters clarify two important circuits that are essential to understand the capitalist economic system and to distinguish it from earlier modes of production. Trade and money existed before capitalism itself, so what distinguishes capitalism from ancient slave societies, feudalism, and pre-capitalist mercantile economies?

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Karl Marx

In addition, Marx describes the different functions of money differentiating money as a unit of account or medium of circulation (circuit of commodities) from money in its role as capital (circuit of capital). Additionally, these chapters introduce the notion of surplus value, the self-expansion of capital, and the notion of a transfer of revenue between capitalists as distinct from the creation of surplus value and end on a cliff-hanger before Marx’s explanation of the creation of surplus value which links his discussion in chapter 1 on the value of commodities to the labour process itself.

All references come from Karl, Marx (1867) Capital Volume I,  Penguin Classics, 1990.

Pique the Geek 20101219: The Science behind Christmas Goodies

Republished from the Pique the Geek archives by Translator, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Doc passed away earlier this year. He is missed.

This is the time of the year that I get creative in the kitchen, and almost all of what I prepare is given away to friends and family.  I had hoped to be ready to ship tomorrow, but I got behind and will have to ship Tuesday.  Perhaps too late for Christmas, but certainly not for the rest of the holiday season.

I vary my menu year to year, but a couple of things are standard.  One is Lizzies, a sort of fruit cookie that is reminiscent of fruit cake, except Lizzies are good.  Another is chocolate fudge, with black walnuts.  Both of these were always around during my childhood, because my mum loved everything about Christmas and was an excellent cook.

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: What Is Capitalism? Part I by Le Gauchiste

There have appeared in this space several thought-provoking attempts to define capitalism, including here (see http://www.dailykos.com/story/… and here (see: http://www.dailykos.com/story/… Although this might seem to some a mere academic exercise, nothing could be further from the truth: to be effective, activism to change, transform or overthrow any human construction must be rooted in a thorough and accurate understanding thereof.

This is especially important when discussing capitalism, both because its pervasive ubiquity creates a familiarity that masquerades as understanding and because the defenders of the system work tirelessly to spew lies about its virtues. Even more treacherous than the increasingly strained defenses of the system by modern conservatives are the ideological productions of modern liberals who claim a desire to reform capitalism or ameliorate those of its consequences they don’t like.

The key problem is that liberals and conservatives share the same basic understanding of capitalism, which is rooted in the neo-classical revolution in mainstream economics that occurred in the late 19th century. On this view, capitalism is a “natural” system arising from and based on market exchanges between buyers and sellers of commodities, which are assumed to maximize “efficiency” (defined in terms of allowing “supply” and “demand” to set market-clearing prices) and human happiness (defined as the total dollar value of market commodities bought and sold (GDP), regardless of what needs they meet or how they are distributed among the population).

Thus the neo-classical view (like the classical political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo that preceded it) is fundamentally ahistorical: capitalism is understood not as a historically specific constellation of economic relations, but rather as the result of encouraging the supposedly natural human tendency to engage in market transactions on a competitive basis with the goal of maximizing profit.

Even worse, the neo-classical assumption that the “market” is a naturally occurring phenomenon forces it to posit an Ideal Type Market-characterized by virtually unrestrained good-faith buying and selling backed up by rules to enforce the terms of transactions-against which historical social formations are measured by the degree to which they approximate the Ideal Type and can be called “capitalistic.” In this view there is of course no room for understanding how the historical economies of pre-capitalist social formations worked on their own terms, because those terms are assumed ab initio to represent flaws, deviations from the Ideal Type that maximizes happiness.

And therein lies the reason that neo-classical economics provides an unstable intellectual foundation for capitalist reformism that unavoidably undermines any case for change, because all such reforms involve straying from the Ideal Type Market. That is why, in televised “debates” about regulation between conservatives and liberals, when the former extol the virtues of the market and call for “non-interference,” the latter start off the same way (Obama does this all the time) and then suddenly pivot to an argument that some specific reform represents an exception to the free market rule. Conservatives thus always come off as more intellectually consistent while liberals seem (and in fact are) intellectually muddled and confused-even when “the facts” seem to stand in their favor.

We, however, are Anti-capitalists, and we need an understanding of capitalism that historicizes it as a system with a definite beginning and, therefore, a possible end.

Assumptions

Assumptions can be dangerous to people who are habitually marginalized.  One of the big assumptions that people make about the concept of “transgender” is that transgender is a subset of homosexual.  It is not.  I do not have data to turn to, but I have heard, as I shared in a diary last week, that about 1/4 of transgender people are gay or lesbian, 1/4 are heterosexual, 1/4 are bisexual and 1/4 are asexual.  

What exactly that says about the influence of the normalized control of gender and sexuality by our culture is something I’ll let other people discuss.

But the assumption has a large impact on the everyday lives of gender-variant people.  Even scientists studying sexually-transmitted diseases jump to the conclusion that transgender women are “men who have sex with men.”  And even direct evidence to the contrary often does not dissuade people from adopting the assumption.

Tonight I have two cases in point.

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade by JayRaye

The Great Philadelphia Textile Strike of 1903

The Central Textile Workers Union of Philadelphia held a meeting the evening of May 27, 1903. A vote was taken and a general strike call was issued. That general strike eventually caused 100,000 textile workers to go out on strike in the Philadelphia area. 16,000 of those were children under the age of 16, some as young as 8 or 9 years of age. The textile industry of the day employed children at a higher rate than any other industry. The number given from the 1900 census was 80,000. In cotton textiles, they made up 13.1% of the work force, and that rate reached 30% in the South.

The Central Textile Workers’ Union issued this statement:

Thirty-six trades, representing 90,000 people, ask the employers to reduce working hours from sixty to fifty-five hours a week. They are willing that wages be reduced accordingly. They strike for lower wages in an effort to get shorter hours.

Three trades, representing 10,000 people, ask for the same reduction in working hours, but, in addition, they ask for the same weekly wages or a slight increase, averaging ten per cent.

The request for shorter hours is made primarily for the sake of the children and women. For six years the organized textile workers of Philadelphia have been trying in vain to persuade the politician-controlled Legislature of Pennsylvania to pass a law which would reduce the working hours of children and women and stop them from doing night work.

Average  wages for adults for 60 hours of work were $13. Children working 60 hours(!) got $2.

On Monday June 1st, at least 90,000 textile workers went out on strike in the Philadelphia area. Of the 600 mills in the city, about 550 were idle. Philadelphia now had more workers out on strike than at any other time in her history. Several thousand workers had already been on strike before the textile strike began, including: the carriage and wagon builders, and the carpenters along with others working in the building trades. It appeared that the city would be in for a long hot summer.

By the next day, Tuesday, the strike spread to the hosiery mills, increasing the army of idle workers by  8,000  Most of these were women and children employed in the Kensington district. This class of workers was unorganized, but they decided to join the ranks of the unionist in other branches of the textile trade as they witnessed the magnitude of the fight for a shorter work week. The Manufacturers vowed they would not submit to the union demands even if they had to shut down their factories indefinitely.

Popular Culture 20130111 — The Electric Light Orchestra: On the Third Day

On the Third Day was the third album released by the band, issued 197311 in the US on United Artists and 197312 in the UK on Warner Brothers (they had previously been contracted to Harvest).  It made #52 in the US but did not chart in the UK.

Jeff Lynne produced the record and wrote all of the material with one exception, and you can tell that immediately.  I did not think that it was a very good album, but that is just an opinion.

That is not to say that it was a bad album, but I sort of hold a band like ELO to a higher standard.  In all fairness, they had some stiff competition, since The Who released Quadrophenia that year, The Rolling Stones released Goat’s Head Soup, and Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon!

My Little Town 20120109: Not on Sunday!

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

Back not that long ago there simply were things that could not be purchased on Sunday.  In some areas this still exists, but only regarding the sale of alcohol.  For example, in some places no alcohol in any manner can be sold on a Sunday, in others restaurants can offer it but not package stores, in still others only beer can be had on a Sunday, and in many there are no restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

In Arkansas, until comparatively recently, there were LOTS of things that could not be offered for sale on Sunday under pain of prosecution.  This was not confined to Arkansas, but it seems to have lasted longer there than in many places.

Pique the Geek 20130106: Magnesium — Common and Essential

Magnesium, with a Z = 12, is an extremely common element in the crust of the earth, but it is never found in nature in the elemental state.  It is the second member, after beryllium, in the alkaline earth series of elements.  It is above calcium in that same group, and has significant biological roles.

As is the general trend for elements on the left hand of periodic table, magnesium is less reactive than calcium, just as beryllium is less reactive than magnesium.  This is due to the fact that elements in the first and second columns have their electrons more tightly bound the higher in the column they appear because of less shielding from other electron shells.

Popular Culture 20130104: The Electric Light Orchestra — ELO 2

It has been a while since I started this series.  My contributions here, and at my other regular blogs, have been quite spotty for a number of reasons.  Part of it has to do with it having been the holiday season, and things get a bit odd then, but for the most part the holiday season treated me pretty well, except for when it did not.

Another distraction, one that is absolutely necessary for me to do, is to work on cultivating my nascent consulting business.  I write well, am a great scientist, and have skills that include things from analytical chemistry to health and safety expertise to technical writing to expert testimony.  One of my friends that I met here who does consulting work has agreed to work with me over the telephone to assist me in establishing my business.  Any others who might be able to help are strongly encouraged to pitch in as well, because I am sick and tired of feeling useless!

In any event, it is time to get back to what I do well in this series, or at least I think that I do, and that is to provide embedded music, some historical background, and my commentary to bands that catch my interest.  With this in mind, we shall look at the second effort from The Electric Light Orchestra, called ELO 2.

In my opinion it is a very much better album than their debut one.  The band had settled down a bit, and Jeff Lynne was very much in control, for good or ill, by then.  Let us get started!

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