Tuesday, March 29, 2011

semantic "rhyming" slang

Cockney rhyming slang uses a phrase, or more cryptically the first word of a phrase, the last word of which rhymes with a target word, to stand in for that word. For example, "trouble and strife" for "wife" or, more tricky, "have a butcher's" for "have a look", since "butcher's hook" rhymes with "look."

Of course, understanding the intended referent depends crucially upon viewing the phrase as salient. If one doesn't think "hook" upon hearing "butcher's ___," it will be awfully difficult to conclude the intended meaning is "look." As such, cockney rhyming slang has inspired some awfully amusing parodies. For example, 1 min. in or so, Reginald Perrin's son begins using completely obscure and ridiculous rhyming slang:

including, for example "chitty chitty" for "rhyming slang" (since "chitty chitty bang bang" rhymes with "slang").

More recently, Stephen Fry has had his bourgeoise way with rhyming slang:

using, for example, "bulletproofs" for "guests" (from "bulletproof vest") and "Barney" for "double" (via "Barney Rubble").

Now, the difficult trick with rhyming slang is that the sound of the unspoken word is relevant for determining the meaning. But we can see a similar effect, when it is the meaning of an omitted word which gives a compound meaning. For example, consider the sequence "cyberpunk," "steampunk," and "icepunk." The foremost was coined by Bruce Bethke in 1983, and combines the terms "cybernetics" and "punk." The basic idea, of course, was a mixture of the information-flow, artificial intelligence, computer programming nerd priorities associated with the computer age (for some early sci-fi writers, cybernetics was synonymous with AI (e.g. Stanislaw Lem)) with the hip anarchic attitude of 80s punk rock.

But once the term caught the public imagination, "steampunk" was coined. Steampunk still assumes a technological acumen, but now focuses on counterfactual developments, including in particular the possibility that sophisticated technology might be developed with an alternate power source, such as steam. The funny thing here, of course, is that there's more of the "cyber" at issue than the "punk," even though the latter half of the term was preserved while the former dropped. "Cyberpunk" as a whole came to stand for hipster technology, and the "technology" part could be replaced with the word "steam," and yet the new compound could retain the technological connotation. As such, "steampunk" is a kind of semantic rhyming slang, depending upon the missing morpheme (cyber) to imbue it with the appropriate meaning.

But then we reach the back jacket of the recent (first English language) reprint of Jacques Tardi's The Arctic Marauder, which describes it as: "a vintage 'icepunk' graphic novel."

No, not "ice," nor even "steam," but electricity!

First, what might "icepunk" mean? And why the scare quotes? Certainly not because a preexisting word is being quoted; though it's almost as if Fantagraphics wishes to imply they're merely picking up the lingo of the "hip" kids. Except they aren't. And the meaning? Well, there's nothing "punk" in the sense of "hip" or "anarchic" about the story, at least not in an 80s kinda way. In fact, it's a deliberate homage to the sci-fi style of yesteryear, esp. Jules Verne. The story is set in 1899, and ostensibly features technology which barely supersedes that in theory possible during the late 19th century.

But, whereas "cyber" (the style of information flow idea) had previously been replaced with "steam" (power source for the technological device), now it is replaced with "ice" (merely stuff that's around for most of the story). The whole thing makes no literal sense; nor does it make strict analogical sense.

Instead, the sense depends upon semantic rhyming slang. Only someone familiar with the previous terms cyberpunk and steampunk could piece together then intended meaning (anarchic (in the 19th, not 20th cent., style) sci-fi (in the Verne, not Gibson, style)).

Of course, if you're into Verne, and beautiful art, and the 19th century style of anarchy, the story is awesome and highly recommended.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

white trash art comment

How to comment on the degeneration of American society, the gaping interstices in which the poor, the cultureless, the callous, the consumers of kitsch, the fans of heavy metal, the drinkers of cheap beer fall? Where is their voice? What is their voice? What should be their voice?

One strategy: found object, synthetic documentation from within the void.

trash humping

The "fanzine" which accompanies the DVD of Harmony Korine's latest movie, Trash Humpers begins with a "synopsis" of the film, which ends:

Crudely documented by the participants themselvs, we follow the debased and shocking actions of a group of true sociopaths the likesof which have never never been seen before. Inhabiting a world of brokendreams and beyond the limits of morality, they crashagainst a torn and frayed aAmerica . Borderin on an ode to vandalism, it is a new type of horror - palpable and raw.

(Typos reproduced as accurately as possible.) Trash Humpers features 4 "elderly" protagonists with identical faces who vandalize, crack cheap jokes, mingle with white trash eccentrics, and, most frequently, "hump" trash (cans, bags, also electrical poles, trees, and pretty much anything else at hand).

Later in the "fanzine" (mostly nighttime photos of the films protagonists) we find this phrase (scrawled in deliberately childlike handwriting, like much of the document):

this movie is more like an artifact, its like something found somewhere and unearthed an old vhs tape that was in some attick or buried in some ditch

Now, Trash Humpers does seem to be shot on video, and it's clearly been run through several generations to of vhs copying to degrade the image quality and introduce the familiar analog noise of an old videotape.

On the other hand, before its video release, it was shown on the big screen in 35mm. The DVD packaging lists New York, Toronto, AFI, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, London, and SXSW festivals. This is hardly a screening pattern typical of a found object. The supposed "fanzine," is clearly not made by any fans of the film (as the fallacious and self-aggrandizing quotations above should indicate)—one can only hope it was not made by Harmony himself given the flagrant inconsistency of vision and message between the movie and the packaging / "fanzine" insert.

Compare this with August Underground, a film which also was deliberately degraded by several generations of video copying, also was shot handheld, simulating the homemovies of socio/psycho paths, also features them marauding through a desolate suburban landscape, and also features faux-snuff (though this plays a much more prominent role than in the few scenes in Trash Humpers). Arguably, if there is a purpose to August Underground (beyond its status as gore-exploitation (and maybe there isn't any such further purpose)), then it is as a commentary on a disaffected portion of society, with no sense of social boundaries, a lack of respect not just for law and property, but for human beings themselves, a complete selfishness and entitlement which permits all, at the cost of permitting only the most base repetitive and meaningless actions. (i.e. the exact same purpose we might plausibly attribute to Trash Humpers)

[Tellingly, it appears that once one rejects boundaries and respect, once one rejects the humanity of one's fellows, there isn't much of interest, value, or complexity left for one to do.]

August Underground: eating chips without paying for them, prelude to a grisly crime

August Underground, however, rather famously, preserved the appearance of found object in its initial distribution. It was mailed in neutral packaging on an unmarked VHS tape to likely reviewers of extreme gore, and thereafter passed through the underground amongst aficionados of the genre.

Of course, if Trash Humpers attempts to create appearance of a found object and fails, this in itself isn't a criticism unless the success of the movie stands or falls on this illusion. And in order to answer this question, we need to understand the point of the endeavor: what would it mean for Trash Humpers to succeed?

We could go to the director's own comments on this point, but they're largely unconvincing:

Much more convincing are the comments he makes in character, while driving the other trash humpers to a new location for humping, presumably (note, this monologue is completely out of character with the giggling and leering which characterizes the rest of the film, amply demonstrated in the first 1:12 of this vid):

Safe to say, there's to some extent a glorification, and to some extent a recrimination of a certain type of devil-may-care, libertarian rejection of social norms and morays. A "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" attitude that originates, not in mystical visions, but in a combination of a permissive society, devoid of overseers, and a lack of motivation to instill the order / structure that such overseers might themselves have implemented.

Of course, the classic source for this attitude is an explicit rejection of authority. I hump trash because it is forbidden, and because the powers that forbid it are too ineffectual to prevent me. A sense of rebellion and degeneracy which appears in all of Korine's works, though perhaps the closest in spirit here is his Gummo.

If this is correct, though, then the motivation behind the serial killing in August Underground is actually more complex than that in Trash Humpers—yes, there's the libertarianism, yes there's the "because I can," but there's also a de Sade power-trip, a getting off on using others as objects, as means rather than ends. The trash humpers, however, seem oblivious to the owners of the trash, or the effect their actions have on them, they are merely amusing themselves through juvenalia.

So, suppose both the point is correctly identified, and that the criticism is warranted (i.e. there is a degenerate and selfish libertarianism at the heart of the American experience), then how does the "found object" strategy serve to make that point? The idea here is to produce an artifact of that degeneracy, and comment on it through immersion: you the viewer are forced to confront a side of society which you do not (yourself) participate in, recognize their practices, and reflect on the circumstances which brought them about.

Fair enough, but then the crucial element for creating the desired effect is authenticity. To the extent that the viewer is not convinced by the purported found object, he is divorced from the experience, and no longer reflects upon the circumstances which produced said object, but upon the filmmakers own ineptness and confusion in thinking he understood it.

Which brings us to acting. The primary characters in Trash Humpers are four supposed old folk, all played by quite young folk (e.g. Harmony and his wife Rachel) wearing old folk latex masks (the effect being all the more disturbing because the masks are all identical). To be fair, these characters are quite compelling and, besides the obvious surrealism of their faces being identical, are convincing as demented artifacts of a corrupt society. Unfortunately, the secondary characters they interact with are totally unconvincing, bombastic in the delivery of their lines like any second rate actor, and clearly the products of Hollywood and not the suburbs. As such, their presence undermines the authenticity of the film and destroys any purported status it pretends to as found object, and thus also as insight into the American experience.

Unconvincing second-rate actor smirking and breaking character when supposedly he is being threatened by a humper

For comparison, Harmony's first film, Gummo, brilliantly combined professional actors with local amateurs caught candidly engaged in their usual white trash activities. Although it didn't purport to be a found object (using voice overs, still frames, and other clever filmmaking techniques), it succeeded far better in immersing the audience in a particular experience.

Much more convincing than anything in Trash Humpers

Likewise, the August Underground series succeeds in immersing the viewer in a plausibly naturalistic scenario. Of course, not all films from Toetag have succeeded equally, nor does the extremity of the content reflect as widespread a social disease (although, one must assume here the trash humping stands in for a broader category of social pathologies—trash humping itself may actually be more rare than serial killing for all I know), nevertheless, the abstract point, about subversion of libertarian values in an American wasteland, is even more effectively conveyed. In fact, I'll go one step further—not only is the acting more convincing in the August Underground series, but the characters themselves (when not engaged in their pathological behavior) are more like us. Ordinary folk one might see walking the streets.

Bumfights, a true found object

Better even still, both on the realism front, and the social commentary front, however, are the actual found objects of the nihilistic American suburbs. I'm thinking here of the countless shock / trash videos to be found in underground music stores, or available for cheap download—actual documents of social deviancy, not faux documents of such by an alienated and pampered NYC art house elite. A prime example for comparison are the Bumfights videos.

If you want to know the sickness that lies in the interstices of the libertarian American dream, then Bumfights will certainly show it to you. Of course, videos such as this exploit the poor and homeless (arguably true of Gummo as well?—even if to a significantly lesser degree). Certainly, it would be reprehensible to encourage videos such as Bumfights by purchasing them or in any way allowing more money or power to end up in the filmmakers' hands. And to watch such videos with glee, to empathize, not with the desperate, the victims, but with the psychopaths, the filmmakers, the de Sadian exploiters, would be sick sick sick.

On the other hand, what to think of the audience for a film like Trash Humpers? Its protagonists are also killers and vandals and exploiters. It also has no plot, but is just a sequence of degradation-glorifying vignettes. Only, unlike in Bumfights, or August Underground, the exploited are unconvincing, are absent or patently in league with their supposed exploiters. Wink wink, nod nod—we're all really intellectuals here! And the cost? No empathy, no redemption. At least the goal of depicting the anarchy in the interstices succeeds with the true found object, or the authentic found object. But without that authenticity, there can be no empathy, and without empathy, there can be no redemption: neither spiritually, nor aesthetically.

Personally, I'm much more worried about whatever head-up-his-ass pretentious nihilist dickwad who awarded Trash Humpers the grand prize at a documentary film festival than the skate punk degenerates who paid money for Bumfights. At least the latter feel something.

Monday, March 14, 2011

el gaucho

J. H. Williams III's El Gaucho

Morrison's run at DC has focussed on permuting the features of iconic characters through a sequence of confrontations with their doubles of various stripes. His All-Star Superman, for example, faces other strong men, bizarro Superman, a "Super" Louis Lane, Supermen from the future, from alternate universes, and even Lex Luthor as Superman. In his run on Batman, we saw Batman confront secret vigilante Batman replacements, Batman in the future, Batman junior, and, eventually, Batman 2: Robin. One of the most amusing sequences (667-9) features an international group of Batman variants, which Jog helpfully points out are distinguished by J. H. Williams III's imitation of various artistic styles. In particular, the Argentinian mirror of Batman, El Gaucho, is drawn in the style of Howard Chaykin.

Of course, he's not a direct copy of any particular Chaykin character, but his disguise does closely mirror that of the (very briefly mentioned in Midnight Men (1993)) El Sombra.

Howard Chaykin's El Sombra

More important than the costume, however, is the square jaw and Chaykin personality (i.e. kick ass and don't take shit from no one). Jog wonders if Yanick Paquette's art for Batman, Inc. could perform the same imitation. Although the style is not matched, the square jaw and epic attitude are certainly still there. Not the least of which reason being that El Gaucho (who's already saved Batman's life more than once) (i) immediately identifies Bruce Wayne as Batman (amusingly believing Batman to be impersonating Bruce Wayne) and (ii) turns down Batman's offer to join his international team (well, upon initial request, we'll see what happens next issue).

Yanick Paquette's El Gaucho—still badass

Of course, Chaykin's prone to strong Jewish heroes, frequently busting Nazi / fascist butt in one shape or another. But he's no stranger to the swarthy mustache / machismo of El Gaucho, that's for sure. For example, his recent run on Rawhide Kid: The Sensational Seven left ample opportunity for mustachioed macho, in both a variety of villains, and also "heroes" such as Wyatt and Morgan Earp:

Howard Chaykin's Earp brothers

[This frame appears after Morgan has violently induced Wyatt to vomit when told by their cellmate that Wyatt has been eating more than his fare share of the scorpions. In the previous frame, Morgan has counted the scorpion corpses in his brother's vomit, only to discover the accusations are true.]

J. H. Williams III's El Gaucho has a different attitude toward scorpions

Of course, badass as a Chaykin tribute in the pages of Batman is, we shouldn't forget that Chaykin is alive and well, even penciling his own occasional Batman outing (square jaw and attitude and all). Personal wet dream: Morrison scripted, Chaykin penciled, Batman / El Gaucho team up—now when will we get to see that?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

the current state of philosophy

Granted, much literature produced under the head of linguistic philosophy is philosophically inconsequential. Some pieces are amusing or mildly interesting as language studies, but have been drawn into philosophical journals only by superficial association. Some, more philosophical in purport, are simply incompetent; for quality control is spotty in the burgeoning philosophical press. Philosophy has long suffered, as hard sciences have not, from a wavering consensus on questions of professional competence. Students of the heavens are separable into astronomers and astrologers as readily as are the minor domestic ruminants into sheep and goats, but the separation of philosophers into sages and cranks seems to be more sensitive to frames of reference. This is perhaps as it should be, in view of the unregimented and speculative character of the subject.

This passage appears near the end of W. V. O. Quine's "Has Philosophy Lost Contact with People?" (1979) in Theories and Things. I'm tempted to suggest removing the qualification "linguistic" in the first sentence and endorsing it as a valid perspective on the current state of philosophy.

Certainly, the trend has shifted away from "linguistic philosophy," and Quine's epithet, which arguably applied to the lion's share of the discipline shortly before he wrote these comments, does not characterize the majority of published philosophical work today. But at least during the period of the linguistic turn, there was some kind of discipline-wide consensus upon what constituted a legitimate target for philosophical analysis (language), even if there was no universal consensus about what to do about that—we might group under this movement positions as diverse as those of Carnap and the logical positivists on the one hand, and Derrida and the post-structuralists on the other (with interesting points of overlap, e.g. Wittgenstein).

Today, however, the lack of consensus on how to separate the wheat from the chaff extends beyond methods (where it certainly still exists) to the subject matter of philosophy itself. Metaphysics, for example, relegated definitively (by both formal analytic philosophers and continental postmodernists, no less!) to the scrap heap "astrology," has reemerged as a dominant subject matter in formal analytic philosophy proper!

Mind you, Quine is right that "the unregimented and speculative character of the subject" motivates a laxity and pluralism of approach which distinguishes it from (say) the natural sciences. Nevertheless, one begins to doubt the integrity of a discipline if there are whole schools of approach supposedly within it which completely dismiss each other's work. And I'm not talking here about the continental / analytic divide (which is at least reasonably well canonized in a division of journals, etc.), but about divisions within analytic philosophy itself. Arguably, the "philosophers of physics," the "contemporary metaphysicians," the "ancient philosophers," etc. have absolutely nothing to say to each other—what legitimates their presence within a single discipline? And can we bring some helpful norm to bear on this issue to kick out the pretenders and save philosophy?

A helpful comparison perhaps is linguistics, which similarly has been split into (at least) two, uncommunicative, camps since the late 60s / early 70s. The split was initially in terms of syntax vs. semantics—those following Chomsky believed in the precedence of syntax for governing surface structure, while those who split from his camp (e.g. Lakoff) believed in the precedence of semantics. Today, those who favor the Chomskian, intuition-based, approach, and those who favor empirical methods (arguably a natural offshoot of the semantic split, though certainly not aligning directly with cognitive linguistics) have different journals, different standards of evidence, and hardly communicate at all.

Still, in the case of linguistics, there is one subject matter (language), and there are a natural set of success conditions (empirical adequacy, ability to manipulate / generate relevant phenomenon (e.g. machine translation, natural language processing)). Examining the current state of the art, it's easy to see that, while sharing a subject matter, Chomskian methods are failing, while empirical methods are succeeding, on the relevant success conditions.

If philosophy as a discipline is to maintain the "unregimented and speculative character" which Quine identifies, yet nevertheless make some progress towards separating the "sages" from the "cranks" (more urgently: identifying informed, relevant, progressive work and distinguishing it from poor scholarship / noise), then it cannot limit itself to a single object of study (metaphysics, the mind, ethics, these are simply different), nor can it limit itself to a single set of success conditions (at the very least, there can be hardly any overlap between those for normative and those for descriptive branches of philosophical inquiry). But perhaps it can do this: distinguish and define success conditions within each particular subject matter.

For, if, when reading a paper in (say) metaphysics, I have no sense whatsoever of what it would mean for the project to succeed (how am I to evaluate it?), then how can I even provisionally suspect it to count as "astronomy" rather than "astrology"? And if authors within these subfields work on narrow technical questions without any sense themselves of what the success conditions of their endeavor are (and believe you me, this is widely in evidence—perhaps one can be forgiven in a paper for not listing these, since one might assume to be addressing a community which already knows, but if, when asked point blank in a talk, one cannot so provide, one demonstrates the deep vacuity of one's project), then one's subfield (and one's work) should (rightly!) be relegated to the realm of "astrology" and crank-ism, and one shunned and derided accordingly!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

guarding against abuse of power

Robert A. Heinlein's first novel, For Us, the Living, was finally published posthumously in 2004. Most likely contributing to the reasons it was not accepted for publication in 1939, is that there is hardly any plot, just a sequence of political and economic suggestions for Utopia laid out in relative detail.

Many of Heinlein's suggestions here are compelling, and would find their way in various forms into his later, more novel-like novels. One particularly interesting suggestion concerns a means for guarding against government abuse of power.

In Heinlein's future history, the gradual accrual of power by the government comes to threaten fundamental liberties when a radical evangelist luddite comes close to coercing himself into the whitehouse. Once the freedom-loving recognize they still have the majority, and defeat his election, a new constitution is adopted, one very similar to the original, but with several provisions designed to prevent future abuses of power. Of particular interest is this clause suggested by Heinlein:
Every citizen is free to perform any act which does not hamper the equal freedom of another. No law shall forbid the performance of any act, which does not damage the physical or economic welfare of any other person. No act shall constitute a violation of a law valid under this provision unless there is such damage, or immediate present danger of such damage resulting from that act.

Here's Heinlein's gloss on the significance of this clause:

Do you see the significance of that last provision? Up to that time, a crime had two elements; act of commission and intent. Now it had a third; harmful effect which must be proved in each case, as well as the act and the intent. The consequences of this change can hardly be exaggerated. It established American individualism forever by requiring the state to justify in each case its interference with an individual's acts. Furthermore the justification must be based on a tangible damage or potential damage to a person or persons. The person damaged might be a schoolgirl injured or endangered by a reckless driver or it might be every person in the state endangered by the betrayal of military secrets or injured by manipulation of commodity prices, but it must not be some soulless super-person, the state incarnate, or the majesty of the law. It reduced the state to its proper size, an instrument to serve individuals, instead of a god to be worshipped and glorified. Most especially it ended the possibility of the majority oppressing any minority with that hackneyed hoary lie that `the majority is always right.'

Personally, I'm a fan, and I endorse the sentiments whole-heartedly. Would this clause do the trick, though? Of course, the dangerous wiggle room here is the "immediate present danger"—just how immediate does it need to be?

Take Heinlein's own example of reckless driving. His intended interpretation seems to be that there have to be particular people in danger if one is to be convicted of reckless driving. Not some schoolgirl, but this particular schoolgirl has to be shown to have been in danger. But how long would it be before someone tried to argue that reckless driving poses an immediate present danger to people who live near the road, say, even if they don't happen to be standing on their lawns when the car barrels by? And if that passes, how long until everyone in the city, or everyone in the state, is argued to be in "immediate present danger" from reckless driving?

And how is statistical evidence supposed to be used here? Consider second-hand smoking laws: is the waitress who works in a smoking environment in "immediate present danger"? Even though, she may never actually contract cancer?

I wonder what Heinlein would think of the escalating removal of liberties associated with air travel? Are these invasions justifiable under the new clause because every man, woman, and child of the United States is under "immediate present danger" of terrorist attack? Even though these measures have never caught a single terrorist? Nor has any empirical measure of their efficacy ever been provided?

I'm pretty sure he would weep, but I wonder what he would suggest as an alternative . . .

Friday, March 4, 2011

reflections on woodstock

I hate hippies. I hate the aesthetic, the lack of personal hygiene, the naivete, the self-righteousness, the simplistic mouthing off of communalist ideals without any sense of the realities of what a real follow through would require. I hate hippies.

If there's anything I hate more than hippies, it's the overblown and dishonest nostalgia for the 60s that one finds in old hippies, some young hippies sober enough to have read a book, and any frat boy who's ever had an argument about "greatest guitarist of all time" (to my knowledge, this is all frat boys, but I don't want to be dogmatic). If there's anything worse than being a hippie, it's aggrandizing the hippie movement as if something were accomplished, or somehow the 60s were a better time.

But there's something about Woodstock, there's something about naivete in its pure form, there's something about ideals innocently followed, even without a hint of possible realization, there's something about that hope and faith and aspiration that just gets me.

As a cultural event, Woodstock is unique in so many ways, and this even the detractors must recognize. It was a planned event, that deviated radically from that plan (number of people, from commercial event to charity, lack of appropriate facilities, etc.), and this deviation was captured extensively by media (not least of which being the masterful documentary).

But unlike most deviations from plan (or like them?) the result was not catastrophe, but beautiful success. Where riots, starvation, and filth might have resulted, instead there was peace and beauty. And that isn't just propaganda, it's what the people who were there (even the straights) thought while it was happening. And surely thinking makes it so.

The most profound statement of this sentiment was recorded in the documentary when Max Yasgur himself, the farmer who provided the location for the festival, takes the mic. He graciously acknowledges the achievement of Woodstock as a demonstration to the world that "a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music, and have nothing but fun and music, and I God bless you for it."

And this is indeed an accomplishment, one that subsequent Woodstocks, with their rapes and chaos failed to achieve.

But the accomplishment here is twofold: not just hoping that man can rise above, can be better than the morass that is well-familiar "human nature," which hope is in itself unique enough when expressed sincerely, but also the doing, the openness toward a brotherhood of man which, frankly, is lethal in most practical contexts. The essence of the spirit is captured in the absentee song-poem "Woodstock," stirringly rendered by Joni Mitchell at Big Sur:

In the words of the chorus, which she so touchingly emphasizes:
We are stardust,
We are golden,
and we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

The idea here, at the time, is not one of achievement, but of attention and attempt: we've got to get ourselves back to the garden, back to the innocence of Eden. Not that we are there, not that we can assume it, but that if we see what is within ourselves, then we can achieve.

Of course, hope and effort are better than the empty nostalgic complacency of the elderly hippie and Woodstock worshipper. But are they empty? Are these seeds really within us? And if so, is there any value in the efforts made by those at Woodstock, and keeping the memory alive, as in Mitchell's performance at Big Sur?

Perhaps what is so striking about Joni Mitchell's performance here is the sense of possibility, of earnestness - if only the audience can hear and understand (why else explicate the chorus beforehand?), then something can be achieved. And it was only at the start, as such attempts were made for the first time (at least as far as any participants were aware) that such earnestness could be sincere. After the crash of the 70s, and the violence of Altamont, the hope for a change in human consciousness based on the right combination of music, willpower, and drugs was demonstratively misguided.

A too little emphasized strategy for bringing about true radical social reform, and one unfortunately at which many hippies failed miserably, is the instillation of progressive values in one's children through attentive and careful rearing. Of course, any failure here on the part of the hippies is probably not due to a lack of good intentions, but more just a lack of skill and insight—to say nothing of the selfishness which comes from engaging in one's own consciousness expanding drug odyssey. The essence of the problem is perhaps captured by John Sebastian's touching performance at Woodstock. He clearly recognizes the importance of imparting the new values to the next generation, and his eyes are glassy with the beauty of childhood, but his lyrics clearly confuse the strategies for consciousness expansion appropriate to the self-conscious adult with appropriate strategies for effective child rearing.

Not to mention, of course, he's so out of his skull on something he can't even remember the words to his own song.