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  • Songs of the Spanish Civil War: An Audio Documentary

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12 responses to “Songs of the Spanish Civil War: An Audio Documentary”

  1. Paul Quintanilla

    “We had the songs but they had the guns.”

    Those old songs certainly are stirring, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that there is some interest among those concerned with “Rhode Island’s future” in the Spanish Civil War. Having grown up with it – my father was an exile, and, at the time, one of the prominent Spanish artists referred to in the piece – I’ve watched most memories of the war fade into the past.

    I’ve written a biography of my father, Luis Quintanilla, and if anyone is interested in it here is a link…… The title is Waiting at the Shore, which comes from a poem Antonio Machado wrote for my father years before the war…….

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  2. Barry Schiller

    I do like the idea of hearing the songs, but I have also heard allegations of terrible infighting amongst the various anti-fascist forces, especially on the part of the Communists who at times were supposedly more hostile to Trotskyites, anarchists and others in the coalition than the forces they were fighting. All too plausible in view of the constant divisiveness even in a tiny left-wing world.
    Not sure why nostalgia is seen as “reactionary notions” in a pejorative sense. I can be nostalgic for the days when public higher education was free, when NBC had a symphony orchestra, when films had the violence mostly off-screen, when crooners sang songs with clever understandable lyrics, when you could get everywhere by train and going to a downtown you could do anything,, when there were lots of apples in “Apple Valley” … don’t see what is wrong with all that!

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  3. Songs of the Spanish Civil War: An Audio Documentary

    […] Songs of the Spanish Civil War: An Audio Documentary This program is approximately one hour and is available for download in a variety of formats at It's available for free and all permissions are granted to non-profit and educational organizations … Read more on RI Future […]

  4. Randall Rose

    Alan Turing, the founder of computer science, wasn’t tortured, at least not according to what I think is the basic definition of torture.

    When Turing was convicted in 1952 under Britain’s laws for suppressing homosexuality, he was given a choice: jail or taking a drug. The drug was meant to “cure” his homosexuality; it actually didn’t change his natural gay orientation, but it did make him impotent and cause his breasts to grow. The question is whether that counts as torture; it’s certainly a terrible violation of his rights that drastically damaged his life.

    The Oxford English Dictionary’s entry on torture gives “The infliction of severe bodily pain, as punishment or a means of persuasion” as the earliest definition, though the dictionary also says the word can be used to mean weaker things like “anguish”. I guess the weaker meanings are more metaphorical ways of using the word. Some people like to use the word “torture” in a relatively extended way for actions that cause serious anguish even without severe bodily pain — maybe the reason why they use the word like that is to make the point that these things are really terrible. Other people, like me, prefer to reserve the word torture for the infliction of severe bodily pain; we worry that if the word is used for things that don’t stimulate the pain nerves it may become too cheap, or may give the wrong impression. I think someone reading your brief comment about Turing being tortured for being gay might think that means they caused him to feel pain in one or more parts of his body, which isn’t true. I prefer what Turing’s biographer called it — “chemical castration” — which I think manages to show how severely bad it was without mixing it up with the bodily pain of torture. Again, there are some authorities who use torture in the broader way you do, but what was done to Turing — which he preferred to jail — isn’t what Amnesty International would call torture. It’s still something that devastated his life, though, and seems to have caused his suicide a couple years later.

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    1. cailin rua

      I think only Turing could possibly speak for Turing but he died of cyanide poisoning and isn’t here to tell anyone how he actually felt. No one really knows if his death was a suicide or whether it was accidental. I am sure there are many who would project their own narratives onto his life.

      It is my opinion, Randall, that you are splitting hairs over this issue. And, the terms “chemical castration” and “enlarged breasts” are really kind of dismissive of the DES therapy he was coerced into consenting to. DES is a powerful synthetic estrogen. DES hormone therapy has radical effects on the whole body, including the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal feedback loop. What was done to him had a radical effect on his entire body.

      Whether this kind of non-consensual medical intervention was torture or not, it is certainly recognized as a human rights issue. There are descriptions of such interventions as interventions where one is condemned to live in horror. The case of David Reimer is illustrative of that and so is this person’s experience, recounted three paragraphs below this one:

      “Either way the story(Turing’s story) represents potentially the most high-profile unethical medical treatment of homosexuals to date.

      “And while this may sound like old news, unfortunately that’s not the case. A committee of the Australian Senate for example recently heard evidence from the Organisation Intersex International Australia (OII), who stated that every member of their organisation had at some point experienced a form on non-consensual medical intervention. One story from OII was particularly shocking — a person who agreed to hormone therapy after his doctor insisted that it would “turn him into a real man”:
      ‘It was insinuated, even blatantly stated on occasions, that my life would be worthless; that I would be a freak; that I would never achieve my potential, and that I would never have any self-esteem … So, eventually, from the age of 28, after about six years of constant threats and ‘counselling’ by my medical specialists, I began testosterone therapy. And I found it to be a horrifying experience.’

      Yes, testosterone, therapy, I know. This can get very complicated but either way, if it is the wrong way, it can be intolerably painful. Whatever Turing’s own experience was there is plenty of evidence to support that his experience could very likely have been one that many would describe as torture. I wonder if you would consider electro shock therapy and lobotomy torture? Would it matter what the intentions of those administering those treatments were?

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      1. cailin rua

        Actually, after going back to that Guardian article, one of the commenters mentions this:

        “The medical protocols directed at people born intersex have been condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

        Doctors sometimes intervene in utero with unlicensed drugs to alter the development of a foetus. These treatments are described as experimental and not a standard of care by medical organisations themselves. Still they continue.”

        Turing wasn’t intersex and like many gay men of his time probably would have been insulted if someone had even inferred that he was. Still, the parallel between non consensual medical interventions and what was done to him are obvious. Both procedures should be considered “normalizing” procedures. This is a very loaded issue.

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  5. Johnnie

    @Randall : “It’s still something that devastated his life, though, and seems to have caused his suicide a couple years later.”

    But it was not torture?

    Is extreme isolation torture? Is intentional affliction of emotional distress, and involuntary chemical castration, considered torture. How about sensory deprivation? The UN says that solitary confinement after 15 days is torture.

    Why are you splitting hairs; and what are you getting at? Let’s try to talk about things that matter.

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  6. Randall Rose

    Good points all. But overusing the word “torture” weakens the cultural protections for human rights, in my view. That’s a surprising idea, and I’m not sure I’m right, but here’s how I see it.

    When a culture passes ideas of what’s right and wrong down from one generation to the next, it doesn’t just say “This stuff is bad, don’t do it”. Instead, cultures develop layers of protection: “This thing is bad, this other thing is very bad, and that thing is extremely bad”. For instance, we don’t approve of sexual relationships where one partner is taking advantage of the other; we object more strongly to sex between an adult and a child; and we object even more when people have sex with their own children. I think having layers like that makes it easier to prevent the things in the most extreme bad category; and also, it can give people a more precise sense of what’s right and wrong.

    So I don’t think it’s healthy to include any kind of infliction of serious suffering under the word “torture”. If your approach to those who cause suffering is always “This is torture, torture is unacceptable, so this is unacceptable”, they’ll find it easy to reply “Well, it’s not really torture”, and act as if that makes it okay. I’d rather keep torture as one of the more extreme bad categories, and surround it with other categories that aren’t quite so bad but still bad. Some of the ways that US police inflict pain on peaceful people are not torture in my view, but do count as abusive cruelty or near-torture. So instead of letting the discussion come down to whether this thing or that thing is or isn’t torture, I think it’s better to take a stand and say that abusive cruelty should be prohibited in general, whether it’s torture or not.

    Andrew cites the UN definition of torture, but that definition stinks. It says “lawful” punishment isn’t torture. The George W. Bush administration would love the way that the UN definition of torture allows an exception for “pain and suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

    Since we have laws and treaties against torture, I understand how people rush to try to fit various forms of cruelty and callous treatment into the torture category. But I think we’d do better at preventing cruelty by making clear that we’re not saying that anything which is only near-torture is acceptable. People who say “This is okay because it isn’t torture” should be put to shame for talking that way. If you don’t say that near-torture is unacceptable too, you’ve just made it easier for people who are testing their limits to slip across the boundary into actual torture, which is one reason why decent people don’t even find near-torture acceptable.

    One thing that the UN Convention Against Torture did right is to ban not only torture, but also “other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture”. Cailin mentions that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture condemned nonconsensual treatment of intersex people, but he never quite said they had been subjected to torture — he said that what they went through was either torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. That’s often how he portrays things. I find that usually when people talk about the special rapporteur on torture, they don’t notice how he makes a distinction between torture and near-torture.

    Also, some things that don’t quite count as torture are still just as bad as torture, or worse. That’s how I see Cailin’s example of lobotomy.

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    1. cailin rua

      Well, I can clearly see where he says in Section III B 1 paragraph 17 that intent is one of the four essential elements (that) are reflected in the definition of torture. I also see where he makes a distinction between “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” and “torture”.

      I said: “Would it matter what the intentions of those administering those treatments were?” So the answer to that question is, clearly, intent does matter.

      I cannot copy and paste from the document very successfully but he precedes the comments in Section III B 1 by saying in Section III A, paragraphs 14, 15, and 16 that the “definition of torture is subject to ongoing reassessment”, and “The conceptualization of abuses in healthcare settings as torture or ill-treatment is a relatively recent phenomenon.” That last quote doesn’t provide an exact match between “ill-treatment” and “torture”. I think I can see that, Randall. It seems, however, the definition has some fluidity in spite of any distinctions the Special Raportteur has made.

      I was referring to lobotomy in relation to aversion therapy. I think you understand that. I wouldn’t call what was done to Alan Turing a matter of simple neglect or “ill-treatment”, though. What was done to him was barbaric.

      Some of what is being discussed were actions done under the pretense of good intentions. In Section III C 2 paragraph 32 the subjects of intent and how the word torture can be applied in health care settings is discussed.

      There is also the issue of the role of the State as it applies to the definition of torture but the way the State may be involved doesn’t have to be direct. I think that is also discussed in Section III C 2.

      I think I can see the point you are trying to make but I don’t think I completely agree with you. I have to wonder if going over all this in such detail is more exhausting than it is worth. I don’t think mere words do justice in trying to describe what some people have been through. Then there is the issue of hierarchy. Is there a hierarchy of oppression?

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  7. Have a radical Black History Month: Communism and black liberation

    […] course one of the shining moments of CPUSA history was the creation of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade that fought in the Spanish Civil War. This was the first fully-integrated military unit in American history where African Americans not […]

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