Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:



Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.



Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.


Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.



Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.



Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.


The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.


The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.


Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income



Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market



Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.



Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.


Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.



Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.



Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.


Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President



Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

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Sean LaFreniere
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Thursday, July 08, 2004


Studying modern architecture often involves memorizing names, dates, and places. However, living with architecture is more about feelings and personal taste. Occasionally the two activities converge, as with a recent field trip to Mount Angel, Oregon.

Mt Mt Angel, Oregon

Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto was a Finnish architect who worked from the 1920's until the 60's. He was trained in the Finnish National Romanticism movement, worked in Helsinki, chaired the Finnish national association of architects, and taught at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mount Angel boasts a library that is one of only two examples of his work in the US.

Finnish Finnish National Museum

Aalto was influenced by travels in Italy in the twenties. Through the Bauhaus teacher Lazlo Moholy-Nagy he was impressed with the Modernist and Functionalist movements. In 1932 he designed a tuberculosis sanatorium in Paimio, Finland that has been recognized as a masterpiece of modern architecture.

Paimio Paimio Sanatorium

After the success of Paimio Aalto won a design competition for the Viipuri Library in Vyborg, Russia. With this project Aalto was able to incorporate furniture designs that he developed with carpenter Otto Korhonen. Designing the entire program for a building, including the furniture, was a modern idea that became an Alto halmark.

Viipuri Viipuri Stools

Success allowed Aalto to build his own home in the Helsinki suburb of Munkkiniem in 1936. This home was followed the next year by Villa Mairea, a country house for his friends Mairea and Harry Gullichsen. This home combined modern tenets of simplicity and industrial fabrication with a Finnish national favor for natural materials and appreciation of the outdoor surroundings.

Villa Villa Mairea

The library at Vyborg was followed by several similar buildings and designing libraries became a strong business for Aalto. In 1960's Fr. Barnabas Reasoner asked Aalto to design a library for the Benedictine abbey at Mount Angel, Oregon. The resulting building was completed in 1970 and is now a quietly famous structure (seemingly only professors, students, and fans of modern architecture make it a tourist destination).

Benedictine Benedictine Order

Aalto is famous for his use of wood and natural light. In the Mt Angel library wood is used to soften both utilitarian objects such as firehose cabinets and structural features such as the posts holding up the entry porch. Light is brought in through many high windows, modulated by wooden slat screens.

Mount Mount Angel Library

I dislike most modern architecture, especially for domestic buildings (factories and bridges are another matter... check out Albert Kahn's factories). I find it cold and alienating, and simple to the point of boring. I also agree with architect, professor, and theorist Christopher Alexander that the West has largely lost its bearings, ignoring its own "form language", in the persuit of "image architecture". Most modern buildings have to be explained, in a usually long-winded and obscurant manner, to the lay public and it seems that the idea behind buildings has come to dominate the people the buildings are meant to serve.

Chrysler Chrysler Factory

I appreciate Aalto's focus on the human occupants and activities. The library at Mt Angel is at a much more personal scale than many modern projects. It does not shout for attention with either size or height or flashy materials.

Library Library Facade

Inside the spaces are obviously designed for just the activity that they are used for, such as the rare book room, the ecclesiastic archives, and the music room. The specially designed door hardware, light fixtures, and furniture helps complete the creation of a unique space within the library. I also appreciate the presence of wood and soft natural light which are vital to the creation of a welcoming reading place.

Library Library Atrium

A few elements of the Mt Angel library leave me aesthetically unsatisfied. For a building with so many windows on such a prominent hillside site, the building fails to engage the stunning views of the Willamette Valley. The best views are from private offices that ring the exterior perimeter while library readers can only gaze upon frosted glass.

Library Library Views

And, obviously, as a modern building, the structure cannot avoid clashing with the Romanesque abbey campus - no matter how low slung a facade it wears.

Abbey Abbey Church

The furniture is of a style that has now become almost cliche with the prevalence of Dania and Scandisign stores. The woodworking is of a modern style, clean simple lines with lots of curves, which can become very boring when repeated in large quantities with little variation. And on a technical note it appears that many pieces were either added later or replaced and many of the wood tones do not match.

Library Library Furniture

My criticism is not meant to diminish the building or the architect. I attribute most of my negative reaction to the modern programme as a reaction against the proscription qualities of the style itself. In attempting to design the entire aesthetic experience within the building, a typically modern approach, Aalto probably cannot avoid offending the tastes of a person born after the 1960's rebellion against such ordering paradigms.

Architectural Architectural Blunder

I am pleased that Oregon can host the work of such a prominent architect. Through my exploration of the Mt Angel library I am educating myself about modern style and values - or one variation. Alvar Aalto shows a more natural and humanist approach than I expected from modern architecture and his work encourages me to investigate further.

Sean: Thursday, July 08, 2004 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


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