Affordable glass housing

A while back, a former MRR columnist who was canned by the coordinators asked for my support. He had the delusion that he was entitled to his columnist position on the basis of a verbal promise Tim Yo had supposedly given him, even though no one else at the magazine—past or present shitworkers, contributors or coordinators—could confirm this. This former columnist is a free speech absolutist, and he raised holy shit whenever anybody—Tim Yo or the coordinators since Tim died—dared to change a comma in what he wrote. Yet he never ever raised a peep whenever another MRR columnist who covered oi! and street punk music was regularly censored for what he wrote. And he routinely censors posts critical of him on his Facebook page and on his other websites. So I wrote a couple of columns calling him an asshole.

Now, I’m being asked to remove references to someone’s legal last name in a recent post below by the individual in question. I was quoting another post online in which his legal last name appears, and he knows full well that once something has been posted on the web, it is essentially in the public domain and therefore a joke to expect anyone to remove the offending post. He is accusing me of collaborating with the original poster in doing him harm by quoting the post with his legal name, even though he has spent the last decade telling my friends and enemies alike that I was allegedly behind various online pseudonyms and flame wars. Needless to say, I’m declining his request.

I call bullshit on anyone who demands anonymity for themselves yet who routinely outs others, as well as on anyone who protests against censorship of their right to free speech yet who regularly censors others critical of them. People who live in glass houses are always advised not to throw stones.

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…Always an asshole!

A couple of columns ago I attempted to set the record straight with regard to Mykel Board’s status at MRR, both historically and currently, according to my memories. Much of that column related to Tim Yo’s misunderstood legacy, whereas only a fraction involved Mykel’s more recent ugly behavior. I tried to equate this to “suicide by coordinator,” but I failed to liken it sufficiently to “suicide by cop,” a well-known phenomenon in which individuals subject to lethal police violence provoke the cops into killing them. Certainly, innocent victims of police violence exist, as do trigger-happy cops. Yet, on occasion, a person intent on killing himself does use the police to conduct a suicide by proxy. This was a rather secondary point in my column. What’s more, I tried to keep communicating with Mykel before, during and after the column went to print, even sending him a copy of said column. But Mykel, hell-bent on wrecking his relationship with MRR and everyone associated with it, kept trumpeting the righteousness of his criticisms of MRR while accusing the coordinators of deliberately lying about him. Eventually, Mykel stopped emailing me altogether, instead choosing to post my private “suicide by coordinator/cop” analogy—anonymously—on one of his websites. He claimed it was equivalent to “blaming the victim.” Imagine Mykel, the dude who disparages “victim culture” and makes fun of women who insist they are victims of rape regularly in his columns, now claiming that I am blaming him as the victim. Up until that point, I thought the whole thing between Mykel and MRR’s coordinators was “he said, she said,” with vague evidence all around. Now, I’m convinced that no one lied to Mykel, that in fact it’s Mykel who’s been lying. In an early email, Mykel wrote: “I just hope you don’t think I’ve become a ‘reactionary rightwing’ and I’ve always been an asshole.” Damned straight, Mykel Board is a motherfucking asshole.

Once an asshole… “What’s Left?” August 2013, MRR #363

Memory is a motherfucker.

Bill Ayers, Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Anti-War Activist

So, I get this email from Mykel Board. He’s asking me to write, in my column, pro or con about MRR’s recent decision to shit-can Mykel from the magazine. He’s appealing to me as one of two of the surviving columnists from THOSE DAYS, but whether I’m for or against, he doesn’t want this action to pass quietly.

Okay Mykel, I approve of what MRR did. Let’s start with the basics. This has never been about freedom of speech, or the threat of censorship, in the pages of MRR for you or for any other columnist under the current editorial regime, or even when Tim Yo ran the show. Yes, you occupied a rather privileged position when Tim Yo was still alive. He rarely, if ever, to my knowledge tampered with your columns, even though you constantly complained that Tim and MRR were on the verge of violating your precious right to free speech. I joined “Tim and the Gang” in July of 1991, shortly after moving to the Bay Area. After cutting my teeth on laying out the now defunct Classifieds Section, I started laying out the Columns, which I’ve been doing ever since. I remember once when you demanded that we print a picture as part of your column, a picture of a black stripper as I recall. In your column you asked that your readers rally to complain to the magazine if we didn’t print the picture. Needless to say, Tim printed the picture.

I contend that this has never been about free speech or censorship because Tim was not a free speech absolutist. He never believed anybody had an absolute right to free speech, including you. He liked that you pissed people off, and he liked the controversy that the magazine enjoyed thanks to your columns. He put you up on a pedestal as a consequence. But he was not above censoring people whose opinions he didn’t agree with. Case in point, when Tim fired Jeff Bale for his columns at the annual general meeting December of 1993. Tim argued that the opinions Jeff regularly expressed in his columns were rightwing, reactionary, and little different from the rightwing reactionary tripe that could be found in mainstream media of the day. That full-to-overflowing meeting was held at the old Clipper Street house, and I attended it. I participated in firing Jeff Bale, wholeheartedly, because I too am not a free speech absolutist. I too don’t believe anybody has an absolute right to free speech, including you.

For Tim, the issue was always about editorial policy and control of MRR. I’ll get back to this point in a moment. For now I’d like to bring up one longstanding MRR columnist who had a history of continuously being censored by Tim Yo, as well as by the coordinators who followed. His columns were perhaps the most censored in the history of MRR. I’m talking about Bruce Roehrs. Bruce loved a style of rock music—including oi!, street punk, and skinhead hardcore—that was decidedly un-PC in lyrics and politics by MRR’s standards, then and now. A Roehrs music review was nothing without ample quotations from this or that song’s often nationalist, sexist, racist, or white supremacist lyrics. Beginning with Tim Yo, and continuing through every subsequent set of MRR coordinators, Bruce’s columns were regularly examined and his words routinely expunged, to satisfy the magazine’s standards of political correctness. Yet Bruce always deferred to this editorial control, good-naturedly accepted the changes to his columns, and continued to write for a magazine whose biases time and again infringed upon his self-expression, until the day he died.

I’ve read you yell and whine and throw shit-fits in print about Tim Yo’s entirely sham attempts to censor you, as well as the more substantial acts of censorship of your columns by coordinators since Tim’s death. I’ve even read of your faux outrage that lasted all of a New York minute when Jeff Bale was fired. But where was the anger at the ongoing censorship of Bruce’s column? Where was the indignation when Bruce’s columns were cut? When did you urge your loyal fans to write MRR to “Free Bruce Roehrs!”? It’s too damned easy to point out your fucking double standards.

Which brings me back to the issue of editorial power. Tim Yo was all about that, when it came to MRR. When Tim was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, he made plans to pass on the magazine to the shitworkers and contributors. That began with the plan for a “Gang of Four” of dedicated super shitworkers, which eventually evolved into an extended Board of Directors and one coordinator, then two; a scheme that became reality immediately when Tim Yo died. That structure remains in place to this day. I was part of that effort by Tim to turn over MRR to the punks from the beginning. I remember when Tim said that there would be only one rule: MRR always had to be printed on newsprint. Newsprint forever! I even remember when Tim said that we, the original Gang of Four, and the subsequent iterations of Board of Directors plus Coordinators shouldn’t fire you, Mykel, just because your columns pissed people off. This last desire on Tim’s part was never chiseled in stone however, or more precisely, never written down anywhere.

Finally, I remember asking Tim, pointblank, sometime during the transition period about what we should do if you turned out to be a rightwing reactionary asshole, just like Jeff Bale. Could we fire you? Yes, Tim said, we could, under those circumstances. I pushed further, and made it clear to Tim that we, as the future editors-in-chief of MRR, could let you, Mykel, go under certain conditions. Tim said that it would really have to be justified, but that yes, you could be fired. In other words, you weren’t sacrosanct. You weren’t an MRR columnist in perpetuity. Your tenure at MRR was not for life.

The myth of “Tim Yo’s legacy to Mykel” abides, if not in MRR, then in your own mind, Mykel. Certainly, it contributes to your sense of betrayal at being fired by MRR. Your first sentence in your email to me read: “[P]robably know by now that I’ve been canned by the current MRR regime (Yes, in violation of Tim’s instructions).” I would argue that the myth has contributed to a sense of entitlement on your part as well. And here’s where I transition from the realm of subjective memories into personal opinions. I won’t spend much time detailing your petty indignation in your columns, your facebook page and your blogs, whether or not you have been truly censored by the “current regime.” Or the thorough intransigence on your part to carrying out even the simplest requests on the behalf of MRR’s coordinators that you reply to letters printed in MRR critical of your columns, despite having done so when Marc Rentzer wrote a critical letter of your 9/11 column. Your churlish, petulant, and childish behavior toward MRR coordinators, past and present, has often amounted to conduct just short of harassment, in my opinion.

This infantile bravado, this sense of entitlement and escalating aggression, this mixture of braggadocio and insecurity is behavior that reeks simultaneously of desperation and resignation. As such, it suggests to me “suicide by coordinator.” Much like its namesake, you seem to have deliberately provoked MRR’s coordinators to fire you, an intentional act of literary suicide within the pages of this magazine because, basically, you appear to have been tired of writing for MRR and you wanted to end your involvement with the magazine once and for all. MRR’s coordinators honored your literary death wish, and obliged you by shit-canning your ass.

I say this, all of the above in fact, having always liked your columns. I have rarely agreed with what you’ve had to say, but I’ve always enjoyed you saying it. It goes without saying that no, I don’t think you have the right to say what you have to say, not in the pages of MRR. But now that you can no longer say it here, in MRR, I’m sad to see you go.

No free speech for fascists!: “What’s Left?” August 2012, MRR #351

Is it just me, or have an inordinate number of well-known people died in 2012? Perhaps I’m just being overly sensitive to my own mortality, now that I’m 60, but damn, the names are racking up. And there seems to be more than your fair share of dead musicians on that list. There was Etta James, Whitney Houston, Michael Davis, Davy Jones, Earl Scruggs, Levon Helm, Adam Yauch, Kindred McCune, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Doc Watson, Bob Welch, Jef Leppard. and Pete Hayes (as of 6/27/12).

I’d like to focus on a particular individual who died recently, and this one wasn’t a musician. British hairdresser Vidal Sassoon died on May 9. His was an unusual and provocative life.

Vidal Sassoon was born on January 17, 1928 in the London borough of Hammersmith of Sephardic Jewish parents. His father died when he was three, and his mother was so poor that she put Vidal in a Jewish orphanage for seven years until she remarried and could afford to raise him. He apprenticed as a hairdresser as a teen, but was too young to serve in the second World War. Instead, he joined a secret association originally of Jewish combat veterans, the 43 Group, after the war. The founding forty-three British ex-servicemen had returned from fighting in Europe, often having witnessed the consequences of the Nazi Holocaust in the form of Jewish refugees and extermination camp survivors, only to encounter British fascists running rampant in England’s streets. Oswald Mosley’s pre-war British Union of Fascists had been banned by the government in 1940, with Mosley himself interned after 1943, but fascism returned after the war in the form of Jeffrey Hamm’s British League of Ex-Servicemen and Mosley’s reformed Union Movement. Both organizations engaged in provocative public meetings highlighted by antisemitic speeches inciting race hatred, not to mention violent physical attacks on Jews and Jewish property, primarily in London.

The members of the underground 43 Group eventually numbered in the hundreds, veteran and non-veteran, men and women, Jewish and non-Jewish. They attacked the public meetings of these fascist groups and broke them up, actively infiltrated these organizations and their chapters, and confronted the fascist rank-and-file in running street battles. Voluntarily disbanded in 1950, the 43 Group was succeeded in 1962 by the unrelated 62 Group, which carried on the former’s anti-fascist resistance, and in particular its tactic of anti-fascist street fighting. Thus, street-level resistance to fascism in Britain has a long and quite honorable tradition.

Vidal Sassoon battled the fash in London’s streets at 17, his weapon of choice, a pair of hair styling scissors. He went on to join, first the Zionist Haganah, and then the elite Palmach at age 20 to fight for Israel’s independence in 1948. Then he founded his international hairdressing empire, based on the success of his famous wedge bob haircut in the 1960s.

Before getting to the political point I wish to make, I need to discard a lot of ephemeral political junk. First off, let me say I’m no friend of Zionism or the State of Israel, nor will I take on Sassoon’s contribution to the displacement of the Palestinian people. In his later years he would express opposition to discrimination against Israeli Arabs, but he never openly expressed criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Also, let me state that I’m not going to have much to say about the left communist critique of anti-fascism, along the lines of Gilles Dauvé and others, which maintains that liberal democracy and totalitarian fascism are merely two faces of capitalism, and that instead of fighting fascism, we need to overthrow capitalism. This line of reasoning, as the example of Dauvé amply illustrates, can have the uncomfortable consequence of providing a circuitous back door into holocaust denial. My concern here will be the role of free speech in an ostensibly liberal democracy when confronted by internal totalitarian threats.

The 43 Group provides the initial dilemma. These were British Jews, initially all veterans, who had fought against fascism in Europe, and who had witnessed first-hand Nazism’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish people in the Final Solution. Upon returning home, these British Jewish veterans encountered individuals and organizations espousing a fascism and antisemitism no different from what they had fought against in Europe, and which they perceived to be a threat to their country’s democratic liberties as well as to their own lives and the lives of their fellow Jews. They decided that such political beliefs and political organizing would not stand, so they organized themselves to confront, to fight, and wherever possible, to smash these politics in the form of the individuals and organizations that proclaimed those politics. In so doing, the 43 Group clearly denied those fascist individuals and organizations their right to free speech.

One side claims that, in some cases, free speech must be denied in order to preserve freedom of speech, and that to allow totalitarian fascists who would destroy democracy to democratically organize is tantamount to suicide. The other side claims that these arguments are the equivalent of fucking for chastity, and that this is an expression of Orwellian doublespeak in which war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. Both sides have had their adherents on the American scene. William F. Buckley, arguably the founder of modern conservatism, once argued that, in a democracy, it was proper to ban those political organizations like the Communist Party that advocated totalitarianism and that, once in power by democratic means, would overthrow the very democracy it had used to gain power in the first place. However, Buckley’s anti-communism was so strident that he came to support various far right, anti-communist regimes, including Franco’s Spain and South Africa’s apartheid government, and formulated a sickening apology for Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts. The American Civil Liberties Union, by contrast, is an example of a free speech absolutism that broaches no abridgment of the first amendment to the Bill of Rights. The ACLU has legally defended both the Communist Party (in flying the red flag in Stromberg v California) and the Nazi Party (in their march through Skokie, Illinois in Smith v Collin). But the ACLU has also defended the principle that money is speech in American politics, and subsequently sided with the Supreme Court’s anti-democratic Citizens United ruling overturning campaign finance regulation.

If I were to advance arguments from an ultraleft perspective, I might contend that free speech does not exist apart from the moment you struggle to assert your freedom of speech, or that action also equates to speech, or that it is necessary to go beyond democracy and democratic liberties. All of this can come off as pretty abstract and intellectual, when the underlying argument to the 43 Group is anything but. What if a group of people in society is openly advocating your murder, and the murder of people like you (Jews, blacks, women, punk rockers, whoever)? What’s more, what if wherever in the world people like those who want you dead have been allowed to organize and then have gotten into power, they have been true to their word and gone about executing people like you in campaigns of mass murder? What do you do? Do you allow them their free speech? Or do you stop them from speaking freely?

American jurisprudence makes a clear distinction between freedom of speech, which is guaranteed with varying degrees of regulation, and assault, of assault and battery, which is a crime. Assault, contrary to what the name implies, is the threat of violence, whereas battery is the actual, physical violence. Speech that threatens physical violence can be considered a crime, to be criminally prosecuted. Matters get complicated, however, when no direct threat of violence is made. In Britain after the second World War, Hamm and Mosley never openly said Hitler was right and that all the Jews should be exterminated. What they said, no doubt, was that the Jews run the media, own the banks and secretly rule the country; that the Jews are inherently evil, deceitful and predatory; that the Jews killed Jesus; that the Jews are responsible for capitalism’s blood sucking excesses, or Communism’s red terror, or both; that the Jews lied about the Holocaust and the Nazi death camps; that the Jews are behind an international conspiracy bent on world domination. Hamm’s thugs and Mosley’s goons took their cue from their masters’ hateful diatribes, went on rampage after rampage, attacked Jewish shops and synagogues, and assaulted Jews in London’s streets. There is no direct threat of physical violence in the speech, but the speech invariably results in physical violence. There is a code imbedded in the speech, easily denied in public, but also easily understood by its followers.

Members of the 43 Group, Vidal Sassoon included, also understood the code. They didn’t bother to wait for overt expressions threatening physical violence. They took action intended to silence the British League of Ex-Servicemen and the Union Movement. Were they justified? An august MRR columnist and free speech absolutist like Mykel Board would probably say no. I say yes.

The floor is open. What do you say?

25th Anniversary: “What’s Left?” September 2007, MRR #292

I don’t care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right.

-George M. Cohan

The 25th anniversary issue of Maximum Rocknroll slipped right past me.

Mykel Board often laments that he doesn’t get any hate mail anymore. No hate mail, no love letters, no real responses to his columns no matter how over the top they might be. There was a time when a good Mykel Board April Fools column would keep the letters pouring in for months. No more.

That’s not Mykel’s fault. He’s as outrageous and controversial as ever. But when you write a monthly column for twenty-five years, your readership becomes inured to all your provocations. Plus, it’s different times.

I haven’t written my column for nearly as long. Only fifteen years. Nor have I been nearly as successful at stirring up shit. Though that’s what Tim Yo intended. I’d written a couple of guest columns for MRR in 1991, anonymously under the pseudonym “Lefty” Hooligan, when Tim recruited me to write a regular three dot journalism feature for his resurrected news section. The news section tanked. My column didn’t.

That’s because my column raised enough shit-in the form of letters to the editor, even denunciations at MRR general meetings-to warrant Tim Yo keeping me on. To this day, I can remember Jeff Bale accusing Tim-at a general meeting when I was still anonymous-of recruiting an RCP hack to write my columns, just because I was openly Marxist. That was the general meeting Tim Yo cancelled Jeff’s columnist ticket.

I also enjoyed being a troublemaker. I was bummed, if not a little bored, when my column settled into that no comment limbo that familiarity, and regular publishing, breeds. So, I was thrilled to get, not one, but two letters recently taking me to task for what I’d written about the whole anarchist book fair/BASTARD to-do. I’m a tad disappointed at the caliber of the responses. If that’s the best that post-left anarchism has to offer in terms of critical thinking, that tendency might as well call it quits. Still, I’m happy once again to engage in a little political sparring over what I write.

If you like any of MRR‘s columnists, I suggest that you write them some hate mail. Or a love note, or some comment on what they had to say. It’s sure to make their day, if not give them a renewed interest in writing their columns. It will certainly liven up the letters section, and may even help revitalize this venerable punk rock zine, which is older than many of the punks who read it.

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