Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Today's Random Wilde

Fathers should be neither seen nor heard. That is the only proper basis for family life.

Cackles from the Balcony: Silly Season Already Edition

I woke up to the "news" that Hillary Clinton has declared she's "in" (and "to win," of course), establishing an exploratory committee for a Presidential run. It seems to me she is more likely to find her way to "The Surreal Life" House than a second tenure in the White House after pulling a stunt like this, given the extent to which her high "name recongition" is yoked to a hostility that already approaches levels attaching (with more justice, certainly) to members of the current Killer Clown Administration, a hostility erupting in different keys but with equal vitriol across the whole political spectrum.

Quite apart from this so-called "unelectability" hurdle of generalized hostility and hysteria, it actually matters to me personally that Clinton has no real legislative accomplishments to speak of as yet, that she lacks the decency, sense, or perspective to grasp that she is perfectly positioned and surely competent to achieve such accomplishments for the good of all in her present job already, that she hasn't got much in the way of national security experience for a job that will likely be defined by the impossible demands of cleaning up after the international messes (ongoing and upcoming) arising out of the current Administration's multiple madnesses, that she supported the war in Iraq with more vigor and for much longer than it is easy for anyone with a brain (or a heart) to understand or forgive, and that she seems altogether more concerned with an outmoded and ungainly politics of triangulation than with any kind of larger vision she passionately believes in which could capture the imagination of Americans hungry for a message of commitment and hope.

Actually, I think it is probably unfair of those on the left to accuse Clinton of any such aloof and hyperrational stainless-steel robotic calculation (and those on the Jesus-Freak right who discern in her instead outright satanic energies are clearly just out to lunch) since it is hard to imagine what kind of hardboiled Machiavellian calculation could actually impel anybody into a Presidential run at a time like this given the palpable negatives delineated above.

One suspects that Clinton's "triangulation" is trapped in a tighter circuit -- id, ego, superego. This kind of rampant narcissism and elite entitlement (honestly, what kind of ego monster do you have to be to find your ambitions unslaked by a meteoric rise to the august United States Senate representing the vast numbers and energies of New York State?) might be a perfect fit in the debased era of celebrity presidentiality we're slogging through, to who knows where -- but don't expect me to sign on for the ride as any kind of willing participant.

Clinton has insisted in the usual manner that her campaign will be about contributing something to the national "conversation," (and, as they say, here in America, "money talks" and only "money is speech") and however vacuous these statements it is certainly true that there will be plenty to talk about with Clinton around. It remains to be seen, when all is said and done, whether her presence will uplift "the national conversation" or nudge it so much as an inch toward actual relevance to the concerns of those whose votes she presumably will be soliciting. Probably you can tell that I doubt it.

Come what may, I am not much impressed to find Clinton's hat in the ring, and for now I'm still inclining most toward Edwards in the Primary (mostly because he isn't as tone-deaf on the politics of economic insecurity as most of the others on offer so far). Clinton's announcement seems to me as much a nonevent as Biden's and Obama's (except to the extent that the latter is possibly really angling for Vice President) -- and her campaign as little likely to hurdle past its inborn incapacities as McCain's across the aisle. I have little doubt that the corporate media will sound furiously (and idiotically) on their behalf for months anyway, all the while, signifying, well, you know how it goes.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Today's Random Wilde

Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know.

Extremism in the Defense of Diversity Is No Vice

I appreciate the work of the radical advocates for the "disabled" at Not Dead Yet, and I have learned quite a bit about morphological and lifeway diversity from their resources. (If you want to know the reasons why I scare-quote the term "disabled," you can read my piece, Differently Enabled.) I am appalled when such perspectives get dismissed as always-only "disability extremism" or what have you by their opponents, even when I disagree myself with the views being trivialized in this way.

Advocating informed nonduressed consensual projects of individual self-creation as I do -- whether through art, education, personal experimentation (with sex, sprituality, substances, travel, activism), therapeutic and prosthetic practices, what have you -- one soon finds that one is never too far from championing the rights of marginal and vulnerable individual people at the "extremes" of legible human experience.

This is not to say that I agree more than not with the arguments one finds on Not Dead Yet. As I already suggested, quite often I do not.

I affirm the right of the differently enabled (in all our fabulous and devastating diversity) to informed nonduressed consensual therapy and prosthetic practices -- either to render ourselves more or less "conventional" in our appearances, capacities, or lifeways. And as a part of that very same commitment I exactly equally affirm the right of the differently enabled to refrain in an informed nonduressed consensual way from being subjected to unwanted therapy and prosthetic practices, and to demand the standing and dignity of full citizenship, whether or not our choices render us more or less conventional on whatever construal.

This commitment seems to put me at odds plenty often both with some inflexible "disability rights" perspectives and some overconfident bioethical "harm-reduction" perspectives.

Unfortunately, both the inflexibility and the overconfidence of the perspectives I find myself arguing against seem to make for rhetoric that is very readily understandable and very powerfully sloganizable. One side maintains that any intervention, chosen or not, in stigmatized difference constitutes a kind of violence against those living with difference, while the other side maintains that treatable suboptimality left untreated is itself a kind of violence. These compelling formulations permit people to "master" too quickly what is in fact the quite fraught, uncertain, error-prone, painfully intimate, and rapidly transforming moral terrain of morphological and lifeway diversity in an era of deranging medical and technoscientific transformation.

Many seem to worry that perspectives championing morphological and lifeway diversity just amount to a kind of anything-goes vulgar relativism, and hence claims arising from such perspectives often seem to provoke an hysterical chorus of warnings about "willing" narcotized slaves, child-mutilators, clone armies, designer soopergenius babies, and so on. These thought experiments can be as deranging as they are clarifying to technoethical deliberation, especially when they obscure the voices of the actually-existing stakeholders to technoethical dilemmas, testifying to the lived experience of their circumstances, the specific threats they confront, and the actually-available tools and options on hand they seek to make recourse to.

I cannot stress enough how helpful it is, as a kind of rule of thumb, at least from my own perspective, to focus on consent as the foundation for a sensible negotiation of these difficulties. Consent, taken as a substantial rather than merely abstract commitment, to be legible must be both informed and nonduressed and hence must occur in the context of access to knowledge and the security of real social support (basic income, healthcare, home, education, representation). Once one has secured the conditions for a legible scene of informed, nonduressed consent (or, more often, carefully documented the ways in which the failure to achieve such a scene has specifically contributed to the damage and difficulty at hand), one will have likewise diminished the vulnerability that attaches to so many of the stakeholders in technoethical dilemmas and hence the experience of anxiety, indignity, and suffering through which these contests get articulated so often to the cost of sense.

A technoethical perspective that defends the outcomes arising out of performances of informed, nonduressed consent accommodates a spectacular range of morphological and lifeway diversity -- including an enormous range of possibilities that will seem from many perspectives suboptimal or perverse or even immoral. But such a technoethical perspective is not a vulgar relativism. Rather, it seeks to defend the widest possible implementation of the democratic value of diversity still compatible with a strong defense of the democratic value of universal equity.

I insist that a society truly committed to the just and democratizing scene of consent would not tolerate the willed assumption for oneself, or decision on behalf of another to whom one is properly legally responsible, of a morphology, lifeway, or intervention that removed one or another from the possibility of an ongoing participation in the scene of consent legible as such (however unconventional the outcomes of the decisions made in that scene may be) to the peers with whom one shares and makes the world.

Again, I would stress that when it comes to actual technoethical analysis and policy recommendations, consent usually provides just a rule of thumb for me, an analytic point of departure, a benchmark against which to assess competing stakeholder claims broadly, but that it will usually underdetermine the level of concrete detail demanded of workable policy prescriptions and political compromises.

And, by way of a conclusion, let me offer up two more such rules of thumb that I try to keep in mind to keep my feet on the ground in the face of the hopelessly complex and yet urgent demands of contemporary technoethical dilemmas in an era of sometimes radical technoscientific change.

A second rule of thumb applies not only to technoethical dilemmas, but helps me keep my bearings when I'm trying to get a real sense of the issues and stakes in political and social struggles more generally:

Always remember how important it is to ensure that one finds out not only what the people think who have their hands on the trigger, but what the people think who have the guns pointed at them. Always remember to ensure that one knows not only the self-congratulatory stories told by the strong, but the testaments of suffering and alternative possibility told by the vulnerable. Always remember that there will always already be plenty of advocates for the positions of the powerful and the privileged, but an urgent need to question established authorities, make common cause with the vulnerable, and imagine the world otherwise.

This rule of thumb has lead me down many unexpected and demanding paths. It lead me into college, it lead me into atheism, it lead me into vegetarianism, it lead me into feminism, it lead me into nonviolence, it lead me into democratic socialism, and it lead me to read and take seriously the resources available at Not Dead Yet, among other things, to try again and again to weave ever more uncomfortable rich new knowledges into my own partial and provincial worldview -- even when so many of these knowledges keep highlighting for me my own embarrassing deficiencies.

A third rule of thumb I use is more quirky and personal, I suppose. As a queer person aware of the history of the "well-meaning" catastrophic medicalization of homosexuality in the twentieth century, I try never to propose an argument about any lifeway or morphology that would deny consent to the different and vulnerable in a way comparable to what I would likely have suffered in my queerness had I been born as little as one generation earlier than I did.

Arguments that parents who value deafness enough to want a deaf child do violence to the children screened for this outcome seem to me to fall under this category, for example -- since, after all, deafness hardly precludes a person from legible performances of consent. Arguments that such children should be prevented from coming into existence or, once existing, should be therapized into more conventional personhood seem to me to depend on the application of a terribly worrisome too-stringent "optimality" reasoning rather than a more democratic reasoning based in consent. And I have no doubt that such an optimality criterion, applied in the era of widespread irrational homophobia suffered by vulnerable queer people for decades, would have earmarked li'l ol' "suboptimal" me for nonexistence or coercive therapy not too long ago, and to the catastrophic cost of everybody involved, however urgently I sought to communicate my preferences in the matter.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Today's Random Wilde

Hard work is simply the refuge of people who have nothing whatever to do.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Amy Sedaris Appreciation Week (Continued): Only Losers Wear Fur Edition

Dispatches from Eco-Libertopia

Over at the GristMill Julia Olmstead calls our attention to a report issued by the World Rainforest Movement. According to the report, A Funny Place to Store Carbon (they don't mean funny ha ha), Olstead writes,
villagers living along the edges of Mount Elgon National Park in east Uganda, the site of a Dutch-owned carbon offset project, have been beaten, shot at, and repeatedly denied access to their land by armed park rangers guarding the "carbon trees" inside the park.

The FACE (Forest Absorbing Carbon-dioxide Emissions) Foundation's carbon credits are sold to European offset companies with clients that include Amnesty International and the Body Shop.

Following the link to the report itself, which is available for download in full for free, we are greeted with the disheartening summary of the prevailing and failing policy imaginary: "As the urgency of climate change increases, so does reliance on 'market solutions' to deal with the problem." This despite the fact that while "[t]he carbon market nearly doubled in size from US$11 billion in 2005 to US$21.5 billion in 2006," there has been "no equivalent reduction in carbon emissions."

I mean, really!

As Olmstead tactfully concludes, "I mean, really," and then amplifies, "whether it's carbon offsets, biofuels, coal-to-liquid, whatever, how long will we continue to think that we can buy our way out of this mess? The cost of our refusal to make actual changes to our lifestyles is beyond our imagining." And how much more mind-boggling when one realizes just how few of the "lifestyle changes" involved would even demand anything like real sacrifice from anybody, even while these lifestyles aren't likely to survive the catastrophes they facilitate in any case? (Worried about losing your lifestyle to them meddling egghead Greens, Jack? Then you'll just love a life lived in the midst of rising tides, climate refugees, supply disruptions, infrastructure failures, and greenhouse storms!)

Today's Random Wilde

Anybody can write a three-volume novel. It merely requires a complete ignorance of both life and literature.

Dispatches from Libertopia

More than a few times now I have heard the story, perhaps merely legendary, that Eva Peron once began a speech with the invocation "We, the shirtless," lifting her arms to enfold the massive crowd below her, and that in the pregnant pause that followed the microphone amplified out to they, the shirtless, the snick, snick, snick, snick of diamond bracelets as they slid from her wrists to collide at her elbows.

On a completely different note, there's some must reading over on Tom Paine, an article entitled "Eat The Rich (Starting With Bill Gates)" -- a title that deserves our commendation, quite apart from the insights and goodly snark that follows. I'll quote some favorite moments, but encourage anybody who hasn't already read the piece to give it a looksee:
Conservative morality has enshrined the billionaire philanthropist as the ideal model of do-gooding. The Gilded Age robber barons who built our public libraries and universities are held up as the reason why we do not need government social welfare programs (or to continue funding those libraries): merely enforce private property rights and let Christian piety take care of the poor. When the rich get super-rich, and they've bought all the gold-plated cocaine straws they can use, they'll start donating their excess bags of gold coins to the less fortunate....

The world's richest man, Bill Gates, with his wife, Melinda, runs the world's largest private foundation... The Gates' do-gooding... and [Warren] Buffet's gift [doubling the Foundation's assets]... cementing the image of the beneficent rich in our collective consciousness...

[But] where [does] all that money actually comes from...? Businesses that around the world are doing people harm as part of their daily work, including frequently causing the very problems Gates and his ilk claim to be interested in solving.

Remember, in order to qualify as a non-profit charity, the Gates Foundation is only legally required to give away 5 percent of its assets annually (that's still around 1.5 billion -- the $800 mil[lion] the Gates Foundation gives away every year as part of its Global Health Iniative alone is approximately equal to the entire budget of the U.N.'s World Health Organization). The rest of that money is plowed back into the capitalist system in order to make MORE money. And the capitalist system? It ain't pretty.

More Fun With the T-Term

Over at Accelerating Future, Michael Anissimov writes: "[H]ow the heck am I supposed to get views outside of the transhumanist community when the authors of [technocentric] blogs turn into transhumanists within a few months of my subscription? ... Any other transhumanist economists out there? You can come out of the closet now."

Now, I realize I've been belaboring this point rather a lot lately, and I know full well that Michael is making a mild funny here, but I do think his comment symptomizes an interesting mindset.

It is unclear to me to what extent a person "in the closet" can properly be called a person "inside the community" she is closeted from. (This is a conversation very familiar, of course, in the queer identity politics from which Anissimov is drawing his analogy here.) And, seriously, I do think "transhumanist"-identified people tend to be altogether too promiscuous in their attribution of "honorary membership" in their tribe. That's their business, and probably it is harmless as far as it goes (although not everybody, let me tell you, is exactly thrilled to be feted by folks viewed as an Ayn Raelian robot cult in some professional quarters), but I do think it likely distorts their own sense of the distribution and entailments of mainstream attitudes on matters presumably of real concern to them.

Sometimes, t-types seem to want to describe as "transhumanist closet-cases" pretty much anybody who is a secular-minded scientifically-literate person geeky enough to be interested in the promise of emerging technologies. Thankfully, I think there are loads and loads of people who fit such a description (yours truly included, needless to say), although it is altogether unclear to me why one would need a special new word to describe such people. This is especially so, considering how incredibly different they are likely to be apart from their shared awareness of and interest in emerging NBIC techs -- likely far too diverse to generate some characteristic subcultural profile at this level of intellectual affinity.

Certainly one can hardly count on people describable under this broadly technocentric heading to be likely to sign up for vitrification, to think mind-uploading is likely to be workable or desirable any time soon, if ever, to spend much time contemplating the near-term arrival of a technodevelopmental singularity (on any construal, certainly one framed in the language of transcendence), to think money is better spent on SENS than on neglected diseases in the developing world, to worry more about gray goo than suitcase nukes, and so on. And don't get me started on the lingering prevalence among actual avowed subcultural t-types (but altogether marginal elsewhere) of libertopians, "Dynamists," scientistic reductionists, so-called "Brights," and so on.

These latter viewpoints seem to me incomparably better indicators of membership in subcultural "transhumanism" (which, as a formal "-ism" candidate is actually delineated in certain canonical FAQs, declarations, manifestos, some associated with actually-existing organizations boasting literal memberships -- few of which are known to or likely to appeal to the overabundant majority of folks liable nevertheless to be treated as "closeted" fellow-travelers from within the actually-existing community), than the rather mainstream enthusiasm for science and well regulated technodevelopment among citizens in relatively secular relatively democratic North Atlantic societies.

It isn't the least bit hard to get technoscientifically literate views outside the actual and avowed "transhumanist" community, as it happen. If it seems otherwise to you, then probably either you are applying the t-term overenthusiastically in a way that is likely to mislead you about some of the actual attitudes, positions, and entailments associated with many of the people so characterized, or you are engaging the world from a subcultural cul-de-sac and would benefit from acquaintance with a wider diversity of perspectives (even if you fail to find them particularly persuasive).

Update: The discussion over at Michael's blog on this topic has been edifying. This blog post itself is adapted from my own initial contribution to that conversation. I would encourage folks to comment there rather than here if they have the inclination.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Amy Sedaris Appreciation Week: Do You Need Goggles For That? Edition

When did you go crazy, Todd?

My Courses at Berkeley This Spring

Another term is already upon us, hard to believe as that is. I'm teaching my usual survey course in contemporary Critical Theory at the San Francisco Art Institute, which means, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Wilde, Barthes, Kobena Mercer, William Burroughs, Valerie Solanas, Fanon, Foucault, Donna Haraway, Paul Gilroy, Carol Adams, Judith Butler -- always a pleasure. But more daunting by far, once again I'm teaching two courses of entirely new material over at the Rhetoric Department at Berkeley. It's an incredible challenge, but I honestly can't believe my luck sometimes, having the opportunity to explore new ideas in conversation with students as bright and earnest and demanding as these. Anyway, here are the two new courses:

Rhetoric 103B: Aesthetics and Politics

Just which objects are art and what are art’s objects and how do arts voice objection? Over the course of the term we will think through the conversation, antagonism, and co-construction of the aesthetic and the political, especially as these have played out in some characteristic Marxist and postmarxist discourses.

Our texts will be collected in a reader, and will include,

“The Soul of Man Under Socialism” by Oscar Wilde
Jeanette Winterson, "Art Objects"
Selections from the volume Aesthetics and Politics, edited by Jameson, including short exchanges between Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch, Brecht, and Lukacs
Selections from the anthology Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg
Selections from the Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord
Selections from the anthology Fetishism as Cultural Discourse, edited by Emily Apter and William Pietz
Selections from the anthology Things edited by Bill Brown
Selections from The Politics of Aesthetics by Jacques Ranciere


What is the shape and what might be the significance of a transformation from a mass mediated public sphere into a networked public sphere? We will spend some time studying the broader institutional and practical history of modern media formations and transformations before fixing our attention on the claims being made by political economists, critical theorists, policymakers, and media activists about our own media moment. We will also cast a retrospective eye on the role of media critique from the
perspective of several different social struggles in the last era of broadcast media, the better to contemplate changes we may discern in the problems, tactics, and hopes available to these struggles in the first era an emerging peer-to-peer public sphere.

All of our texts will be collected in a course reader, which will consist of selections from the following:

Edward Said, Covering Islam: How Media and Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World (1981)
Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1991)
Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War on Amerca’s Women (1992)
Michelangelo Signorile, Queer in America: Sex, the Media, and the Closets of Power (1994)
David Brin, The Transparent Society (1999)
Naomi Klein, Fences and Windows (2002)
Robert McChesney and John Nichols, Our Media, Not Theirs (2002)
Cintra Wilson, A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Examined As A Grotesque Crippling Disease (2002)
Paul Starr, The Creation of the Media (2004)
Dan Gillmor, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People for the People (2004)
Peter Daou, "The Triangle" (available online) (2005)
Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks (2006)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Amy Sedaris Appreciation Week: I'm a Penis! Edition

Today's Random Wilde

The world is simply divided into two classes -- those who believe the incredible, like the public -- and those who do the improbable.

MundiMuster! Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act Being Reintroduced

[Edited, via Center for Inquiry] New House Majority Leader, Congressman Steny Hoyer, has scheduled a vote for January 11, 2007, on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Yes, that's just two days from now.

Reps. Diana DeGette (CO) and Mike Castle (DE) are reintroducing the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (#H.R. 3) in the House, and Sens. Tom Harkin (IA) and Arlen Specter (PA) are bringing it to the Senate (#S. 5.).

The bill is the same one President Bush vetoed last year.

Please contact your representatives immediately and urge them to vote YES on H.R. 3, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. If you live in a district with a new representative, it would be especially helpful for you to call the office directly and tell the staff how important it is for the representative to vote YES.

In 2001, President Bush issued an Executive Order limiting federal funding of stem cell research. The order banned funding of research on any "cell lines" that did not already exist at the time of the order. Because federal funding is the major route enabling basic science, the Bush ban has effectively stalled most stem cell research in the United States, at least wherever embryonic stem cells were involved.

We know that we can coax stem cells into becoming like any cell in the body. This is similar to what happens in developing embryos as their cells differentiate naturally. Scientists abroad and even a few scientists here who use private funds have already managed to grow nerve cells and other tissues using embryonic stem cells. But since the time of Bush's ill-conceived ban the United States has failed to commit anything like the tremendous resources it could and otherwise would to this profoundly promising medical research.

Currently, there are nearly 400,000 frozen embryos available for research. These clumps of about twenty or so cells (called blastocysts) were left over from in vitro fertilization and will almost certainly never otherwise be utilized. If not used for medical research, they will perish.

Some argue that "adult" stem cells should be used instead of these embryonic
stem cells, but embryonic stem cells have been much more effective in stem cell research, and will likely be more effective in future stem cell therapies as well.
Since these frozen embryos have the potential to cure diseases, relieve suffering, and save lives if they used for stem cell research, it seems wrong to withhold federal stem cell research funds.

No rational legal, moral, or ethical code treats blastocysts as equivalent to living human persons. But even if we were to assume that clumps of twenty or so cells were "persons" in any intelligible sense, according to what kind of reasoning would it be justified to use the existing stem cell lines as Bush inadequately authorized American scientists to do, but not to create new ones? It is difficult to see what kind of ethical principle justifies such a distinction of materially indistinguishable blastocysts. And it is difficult to see how the "benefits" (whatever these might be) that could come from allowing these frozen cells simply to perish outweighs in any obvious sense the possible benefits to living human beings suffering or dying from potentially treatable medical conditions.

Congress can override the President's damaging and ill-considered ban. Please vote to reauthorize funding for this vital area of research so that America can join the 21st century and rejoin the world's scientific community in the work to ameliorate human suffering through our collaborative intelligence and effort.

Click here to take action on this issue.

Click here to tell your friends about this.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Amy Sedaris Appreciation Week: Land O' Lakes Edition

Today's Random Wilde

MRS. ALLONBY: What a thoroughly bad man you must be!
LORD ILLINGWORTH: What do you call a bad man?
MRS. ALLONBY: The sort of man who admires innocence.
LORD ILLINGWORTH: And a bad woman?
MRS. ALLONBY: Oh! the sort of woman a man never gets tired of. -- A Woman of No Importance

MundiMuster! Stop Escalation Now

It's outrageous: after the voters, the generals, and the Iraq Study Group
all told the President to lead us out of Iraq, he is planning an escalation and will send more troops as soon as this month.

Congress can block an escalation but it is uncertain if they will. They need to hear from us immediately and loudly. We owe it to our troops -- and the Iraqis -- whose lives are on the line.

Already Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid are.... saying they oppose escalation. But Republicans and some Democrats are considering rubber-stamping Bush's escalation plan.

Now we need to back Pelosi and Reid up -- pushing Democrats to unify and splitting Republicans away from Bush.

Go to to sign a petition and to get more information about further actions taking place this week.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Amy Sedaris Appreciation Week: Baby Killer

Today's Random Wilde

It is only the superficial qualities that last. Man's deeper nature is soon found out.

What Does It Mean When Early Adopters Swell?

Over at the BBC today, technology editor Darren Waters argues that "Technology" is being increasingly "embraced by [the] public."

By "technology" it is clear from the prominence in the article of "gadgets," "video games," "in-car navigation systems," and "flat-panel TVs" that Waters means consumer goods, marketed as upscale, however crappy they may be; by "embrace," then, he means buy; and, hence, by "the public," he means affluent North Atlantic consumers. In other words, Waters' piece threatens to be little more than yet another ill-disguised advertisement masquerading as news and analysis.

The article consists for the most part of quotations from Sean Wargo, "director of industry analysis for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)," which goes a long way toward explaining its limitations. In the first three words quoted from Wargo I find a conceptual confusion that troubles me to no end in this sort of analysis (and which, to be fair, intrigued me enough to click the link and read this piece rather than others on offer):

"Consumers get it."

In this simple, commonplace turn of phrase, "buying" and "understanding" collapse into a single breathless concept, even if they only too rarely do so in practice. But once we bracket off the embarrassing self-promotion and hype radiating from this sort of analysis, I can't help but wonder whether there is any insight to be gleaned from Wargo's analysis. "Consumers," he says, "understand technology and they are adopting it accordingly." The evidence he proposes to substantiate this claim fits broadly under two headings, and seems to me to point to opposing conclusions.

The most interesting argument he makes is that the "early adopter segment of the market has grown." In technological diffusion models "early adopters" are the venturesome folks who enthusiastically take up new technologies before others tend to do so (in this, they are distinguished from mainstream adopters, skeptical latecomers, and even, in a nicely-loaded "neutral" term, the tragically atavistic "laggards"). In such diffusion models "early adopters" are typically imagined to be earlier than their peers because they make a point to be well-informed of the relevant risks and benefits of technologies before these peers, but of course it is also true that many in this demographic adopt early to signal that they are well-informed in this way, whether or not this is true, or simply to signal affluence (since early adoption tends to be more costly).

Wargo claims that consumers who are in a position to afford early adoption are in fact "adopting technologies faster than ever.... New technologies we haven't even seen yet are sure to be adopted faster than their previous generations." And despite all of my snide caveats I am willing to entertain the real possibility that this reflects, among other things, that these consumers are becoming more informed more quickly than has been the case in the past. When he claims, for example, that "[b]logs, voice over ip (internet telephony) and social networks are part of the fabric of our industry," it seems to me that this provides both direct evidence of widespread early adoption but also suggests a possible explanation of the phenomenon: the emergence of alternate information resources and mechanisms for assessing such information. In what I take to be an amplification of this point, according to the article's author, Wargo "also predicted that 'disruptive distribution' was also becoming more important, referring to the shift to new methods of getting content such as TV programming, video and gaming via the net."

To support the suggestion that this shouldn't be dismissed as little more than whomping up a frenzy for useless stuff the better to line the pockets of elites, it is interesting to note that Wargo connects his case to claims that informed early adopters "go against the mainstream thread of cable, satellite, retail of receiving content…. According to the survey 52% of people were interested in being able to download a movie and burn it on to a DVD." Needless to say, at least some of these informed early adopters are enthusiastic file-sharers and muckraking bloggers who may be threatening the conventionally credentialized and compromised commentariat (alliterative euphoria!), the elite hub-and-spoke broadcast media, the interested incumbents in centralized-industrial models of production struggling to maintain their position through the extension and policing of outdated intellectual property regimes, and so on. Although the article does not offer up such a connection itself, I would propose that a swelling demographic of better-informed early-adopters is as likely to take up peer-to-peer practices as they are to crave the electric cars and solar panels for which demand inevitably soars incomparably higher than conventional wisdom is ever prepared to expect or, apparently, conventional industry is ever prepared to satisfy. To the extent that part of the phenomenon highlighted in this article really does reflect the emergence of a deliberative diffusion of better information facilitated by peer-to-peer formations, then this swelling of early adopters is another facet of what I have been describing as an emerging technoprogressive mainstream -- a technoscientifically-literate and progressive culture eager to support technoscientific research and development whenever it is regulated for safety and accountability, and so long as its risks, costs, and benefits are all fairly distributed to all of its stakeholders.

But, before I start handwaving ecstatically (much as I suspect I am meant to do after breathing in the heady high oxygen of consumer hype doled out in this piece), I think it is better to conclude by noting other trends Wargo highlights -- and which he apparently takes as seamlessly of a piece with the ones I have been concentrating on so far. "[T]he average US household spent $1,500 (£765) on consumer technology in 2006 and expects that figure to near $2,000 (£1100) this year." One wonders whether that increase will arise from investments in renewable energy (and hence will reflect knowledgeability in early adopters) or in pastel-hued devices supporting proprietary content people could be purchasing elsewhere more cheaply (and hence will reflect superficiality in the early adopters as much as anything else). When Wargo enthuses that "[c]onsumers are allocating more of their disposable income on consumer electronics and will continue to do so," one need only contemplate the rising crisis of American indebtedness to wonder just how informed the early adopters finally really are. Wargo goes on to say "consumers' love affair with gadgets will continue despite a global economic slowdown and a prediction that growth in the US market would halve in 2007 from last year's figures." And when the early adopter emerges finally, and truly, as a figure in love I daresay we can all agree that the analysis is no longer that of the early adopter as better informed.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cackles from the Balcony: San Francisco Uber Alles Edition

Eric and I have often joked that at the ice-cold bloodstained poo-stinking "heart" of Movement Republicanism there really isn't anything much to be found but a kind of dangerously scared self-hating woman-hating jew-hating gay-baiting crazy Klansman.

But, you know, the thing is, once upon a time, we didn't really believe this was entirely true, or at any rate widely or irredeemably true. Meanwhile, as the years of the illegal war, the years of the looting of governance, the years of lies and lawlessness have dragged on and on and on our laughter has grown more and more nervous on this score.

So, now we hear that the paragon-conservative Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States was some kind of paranoid hard-core drug addict, intimidating black voters and making sure Jews wouldn't make their way into his neighborhood.

I mean, honestly, are there any self-identified conservatives who aren't batshit crazy bigots and bullies? Anyone? Anyone? Dad?

And what the hell is up with the skeeery San Francisco Values hysteria? Brownshirt O'Reilly thinks Coit Tower has blowing up coming to it, Hannity sees a San Francisco wave looming to engulf him? San Francisco values? Are they talking about yuppies buying up the Mission and taking their kids to school in SUVs? I thought these jackholes liked that sort of crap. If the right wing hates San Francisco so much, why is it such a vacation destination for them? Clueless hordes from the flyover states fly over here at such a rate that San Francisco has created a whole archipelago of fake San Francisco attractions to corral them off to -- Fisherman's Wharf, Sausalito, and so on, essentially acres of Brass Fantastics and T-Shirt Huts and occasional mimes to give them that cozy crappy Mall of America feeling they crave but with the peaceful picturesque hills of the Bay as a backdrop -- all to offer them the costly chance of being "elsewhere" without getting too much in our way or challenging them too much with, you know, "difference."

Anybody who reads this blog with any kind of regularity knows that I'm chock full of policy recommendations and cocksure philosophical pronouncements to redress the distress of our debased historical moment...

But, honestly, I sometimes can't help but wonder if we couldn't solve a huge proportion of our difficulties more simply by simply seeing to it that all of America's whiny white guys just went through some kind of twenty-first century initiation ritual.

Let's say, they all have to french kiss another guy, and then maybe even get a woody, and then realize that it really is fine, they can still be straight. Let's say, they all have to work for a competent fairminded boss who is a woman, and then realize that they are not diminished by that state of affairs. Let's say, they all have to go and have a beer with somebody who is smarter than they are but less privileged, and then realize that there is nothing so threatening, really, about finding your way into the wider world as it is and, actually, quite a lot of pleasure in the discovery that there is work to do that everybody is welcome to and needed for.

This sounds like it would require an awful lot of sacrifice on the part of queers (kissing awkward gawky straight guys, ew!), women (putting up with resentful clueless straight guys, ugh!), and the working class (teaching the facts of life to unmannered self-important ignoramuses, oy!), but are we not already called upon to suffer mightily in our daily intercourse with these doofuses?

Come to think of it, maybe this is just a way of saying that everybody in America should have to leave home and go to college.

I told Eric that my working theory is that there is something really encouraging in the discovery that Limbaugh and Rehnquist and the bully boy-king and so many other movement conservatives seem to be struggling with addictions. Maybe this suggests that there is some recalcitrant core of empathy and humanity even there in these villains, like a hardening pink wad of chewed gum, something in them that is more responsive and flexible and feeling than their words and deeds will warrant, something that must then be corseted and anaesthetized with drugs and zealotry else it will open even these hardened painted-shut windows to the good works and affiliations of the wider world they so noisily and bloodily and obliviously rampage around in.

Then we really laughed.

Amy Sedaris Appreciation Week: Welcome Wagon Edition

"This is where I get my breakfast burrito and margarita."

Kleiman's No Funds Rider

To prevent mass pardons in January 2008, Mark Kleiman proposes that a rider be included in any forthcoming appropriations bills that "no funds appropriated may be used to prepare or issue a pardon for any person who, during the current administration, has been an employee of the Executive Office of the President, or has held a Schedule C (patronage) position, or been a non-career member of the Senior Executive Service, or held a position, permanently or on an acting basis, that requires Senate confirmation." Something to think about.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Iron Jawed Angel

This picture makes me so happy!

Digby reminds us all why Nancy Pelosi wore purple today: It's the color of the suffragettes.

Today's Random Wilde

There is something tragic about the enormous number of young men there are in England at the present moment who start life with perfect profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession.

More Trainwreck

One of the real pleasures of this last couple of weeks away from teaching has been my return to blogging. I can’t say how much I’ve missed it! Clearly, it’s some kind of addiction. Hopefully next term will be less demanding (I'll be teaching three rather than four courses) and I'll be able to post here more regularly.

Anyway, a few days ago I posted one of my regular critiques of the so-called “transhumanist” movement (that “so called” isn’t there to be mean, by the way, it’s there to register my continued puzzlement about how the patchwork of attitudes and beliefs to which various “transhumanist”-identified people seem to ascribe are supposed to constitute anything that rises to the level of an “ism” in the first place), with a post by an IEET colleague as my proximate inspiration. I was gratified to see that the post generated some interesting comments -– if less gratified to see that it may have hurt some feelings as well. Anyway, I do want to say that the best thing about the post in my view ended up being the conversations with Anne and Nato that took place in the comments, and I recommend that people go back and check out what they had to say, if the initial topic interested them.

Michael Anissimov posted a brief comment about the post on his blog Accelerating Future as well, and I want to take the occasion of responding to his comment as a chance to restate more briefly what I consider my central argument (which I think he missed). First off, let me say that Michael and I disagree with one another quite a bit and spar occasionally, but I tend to enjoy and benefit from our engagements more than I have done with many others who share his opinions.

Anissimov begins by mentioning some person named Danila Medvedev who has apparently criticized “transhumanism” (so-called) as a "worldview" confined to a small intellectual "elite," and then links to my argument as one that “echoes this sentiment.” Very quickly, first, I think a view has to address itself to more dimensions of experience than simply an attitude toward technology before it can properly claim to be a “worldview” in the first place (so “worldview” is not a word I would likely apply to “transhumanism,” so called); and second, I think it takes more than being a persistently small and marginal group of people to qualify as an “elite” one as well (so “elite” is not a word I would likely apply to “transhumanist”-identified folks as a group, either).

Be that as it may, Anissimov expands on my post, summarizing it as “waxing critical about transhumanists and the word ‘transhumanism’,” which certainly (as you see) I do. But in the post itself I repeatedly warn that it is a misreading and distraction from my point to take this as nothing more than a public-relations claim about “labels.” Anissimov responds to my argument by saying: “I think we might as well make as much noise under the banner ‘transhumanism’ as we can, and toss it around proudly, and counterattack people when they attack us, without trying to dilute ourselves into the politically safe world of roundabout rhetoric.”

I can’t emphasize enough that Anissimov seems to me to reproduce in his response precisely the mistaken (and I worry, distorting) viewpoint against which I was arguing in the piece itself. Again, I reminded people that my political perspective arises out of democracy and social justice movements, and that what I call “technoprogressive” politics (technoprogressive = technoscience-focused + progressive) is nothing more than a political focus on the ways in which concrete technoscientific developments either promise to democratize the world or threaten to diminish democracy and fairness. My central claim in the post itself was very simply that identity-politics is a deranging lens through which to analyze and intervene in technodevelopmental social struggle from such a progressive viewpoint.

The crucial moment in the post (for me) was this one:
The future isn’t a destination, it’s just more technodevelopmental social struggle. Futurity is a register of the openness of societies that are free, just as ongoing struggle is a register of that same freedom. This is why technoprogressive types, whatever their differences, all still should insist on the priority of political progress in any sensible project to achieve technoscientific progress. This vision of political progress relies for its force and intelligibility on a support of democratic stakeholder politics that is simply straightforwardly incompatible with any identitarian fantasy in which “technology” or “progress” or “the future” uniquely belongs to the perspective delineated by some one “we,” as against other proper stakeholders who are figured as “they.”

It is very difficult for me to understand how these claims can be interpreted as a call for “dilute[d],” “politically safe,” or “roundabout rhetoric.” I am saying exactly what I mean for exactly the reasons I am stating. Anissimov wants to contrast my attitude with his own, one in which “transhumanists” should “toss it [their unique “transhumanist” identities, that is] around proudly, and counterattack people when they attack us.” All of this seems to assume that my argument is nothing but a prudential recommendation of stealth or closetedness for “transhumanists” (a charge which provokes a certain perverse enjoyment in this out-proud faggot of two decades’ standing).

But all that I am really saying -- over and over and over again -- is that to the extent that one’s technoprogressive politics consists of the struggle to ensure that all the stakeholders to concrete technoscientific developments have a real say in the distribution of the risks, costs, and benefits of those developments, then the identity-politics of subcultural affiliation and battles against defamation and organizational outreach and all that stuff are pretty much a deranging distraction.

By all means, people, let your freak flags fly and more power to you all if you decide you are a “transhumanist” or a “Trekker” or a “Raelian” or a “Randian Objectivist” or a “Scientologist” or “Mormon” or who knows what other kinds of identifications and disidentifications might arise out of the churn of rapid, radical technoscientifc transformation. I really mean it. I adore the vitality and quirky originality of marginal subcultures, even the ones with which I cannot personally identify.

But please don’t confuse the politics of “transhumanist” subcultural identity with the technoprogressive stakeholder politics of safer, fairer, more democratic technodevelopmental social struggle. I think that the effort to legitimize “transhumanist” organizations sometimes takes the form of improperly hijacking the democratic technodevelopmental politics of the emerging technoprogressive mainstream, just as the effort to legitimize unpopular “bioconservative” arguments sometimes takes the form of improperly smearing the emerging technoprogressive mainstream with the paraphernialia of marginal “transhumanist” subcultural identity-politics. It isn’t an argument from stealth, but from clarity, to insist, as I will keep on doing, on the impropriety and danger of both of these moves.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Catching the Drift: Jonathan Tasini and the Emerging Technoprogressive Mainstream

The New Year has provided the occasion for the usual spate of to-do lists, wish-lists, and so on for the upcoming Congress. I for one am quite pleased to note how many of these lists have testified to what I have been calling here at Amor Mundi the politics of an emerging technoprogressive mainstream.

Many of these pundit recommendations call special attention, for example, to the value of stem-cell research and other medical research, to the need for substantial public investment in renewable energy, for providing women access to contraception and abortion to avoid or end unwanted pregnancies and access to ARTs to facilitate wanted pregnancies, supporting science education and defending the policy value of scientific consensus on issues of climate change, evolution, safer sex education, recreational drug use and rehabilitation, and so on.

Jonathan Tasini has published an article outlining what he calls a “10-Step Program For Democrats in 2007,” that provides the most recent example of this encouragingly widespread genre. I might not prioritize all of the things Tasini recommends in quite the way that he does himself, but his emphasis on repudiating endlessly failed so-called “free market” mantras, on supporting Unions, and on the need to reintroduce progressive taxation to consolidate the democratizing middle class while restraining the emergence of anti-democratizing Royalists are all obviously exactly what the doctor ordered.

There are, mercifully, quite a few people talking sense in this vein these days, now that the Killer Clowns have pulled the curtain back on the real-world impacts of religious and market fundamentalisms so clumsily and catastrophically that few but zealots remain who fail to sense that something is amiss here.

But what makes Tasini’s article especially worthy of note here on Amor Mundi is just how sensible and mainstream it is (for the dem-left press, that is; be assured that the wingnut right is still screaming death is life, war is freedom, fairness is fascism, and so on, as usual, to the embarrassment of us all), and that for all its mainstream appeal it begins its recommendations with three conscpicuously technoprgressive ones that Tasini describes as the “three things to do, pronto.”

I’ll begin with his third suggestion. Under the heading “High-Tech And Progressive,” he proposes that the Democratic-lead Congress “Spend $5 billion to set up a free wireless Internet network across the country for every American.”

He offers a brief bit of support for his recommendation (technoprogressives like to provide a sense of the evidence and arguments that compel us, even in our laundry lists. It’s something to do with being, as they say, “Reality Based”): “Sociologist Joel Rogers calculates that wireless for a typical city of 150 square miles costs about $20 million to set up and, if you figure 200 such cities cover about 30,000 square miles, you cover 80 percent of the population at a total cost of $4 billion. Throw in another billion for the less populous areas and, presto, you've just lowered peoples' cost of living by hundreds of dollars a year (a whole lot more than the majority of people got from the Bush tax cuts). Now, do you think that might endear a whole lot of young people to the Democratic Party for a very long time (‘Like Your Free Wireless? Thank The Democrats!’)?”

Had he put in a word here as well for Net Neutrality, copyfight, and endorsed the public subsidization of p2p (peer-to-peer) and a2k (access to knowledge), Tasini would really be onto something here! But his is a good and palpably technoprogressive idea on its own merits.

This recommendation follows close on the heels of the second recommendation in Tasini’s piece. Under the heading, “Energy Is Where Our Money Is Best Spent,” he proposes that Congress work to “[l]ower energy costs.” And he recommends that they do so by supporting “the Apollo Alliance's plan” -- which I have often had occasion to champion here on Amor Mundi as well (although I've sometimes felt a bit impatient at their patience.

About the Plan, Tasini maintains that “for a 10-year national investment of a bit more than $313 billion, we would generate $1.43 trillion in economic activity, $953.87 billion in personal income and over 3.3 million new good-paying jobs. That investment is maybe a fifth or less of what the Iraq war is likely to cost. Which would be a better return? Pass a bill now.” Interestingly enough, Tasini is framing support of Apollo primarily as a matter of economic good sense here, with a subtle supplemental nudge at an argument about the foreign policy good sense of “energy independence.”

Readers hereabouts know already that the Apollo Alliance plan is in fact a clean and renewable energy plan above all, to implement “A clean energy future [that] means greater prosperity, security and health.” A sketch of that plan involves, among other things (and all of this is available at the Apollo Alliance website):
“Retooling abandoned factories to create new energy technology like windmills, solar panels, and hydrogen fuel cells; helping existing plants stay open by encouraging new investments in high performance capital equipment and worker training; …leading the world in developing the next generation of advanced technology hybrid and hydrogen cars; [p]utting hundreds of thousands of men and women to work installing and maintaining solar panels on every new home, office and government building; [e]mploying hundreds of thousands more Americans retrofitting old buildings to become more energy efficient; [b]uilding a new generation of public infrastructure from mass transit and high speed rail, to hydrogen distribution, to a modernized electrical grid; [and c]onserving billions of dollars of taxpayer and ratepayer money through increased efficiency, protecting consumers, workers, and the environment.”

And to end where Tasini begins, under the heading “Health Care: A Universal Right,” he warns, very rightly, that “[w]ith Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., leading the way, we can expect all sorts of half-measured, warmed-over Clinton-lite national health care plans, all of which will fail to solve the long-term moral and economic health care crisis.”

He goes on to point out that “[m]ost Americans who support a national health program favor a single-payer system, which keeps the private delivery of health care in the hands of physicians and hospitals, but takes away the moving of money from the insurance industry and places it under a single public agency…. Only a single-payer system will wring out the administrative savings -- as much as $300 billion per year -- that we can use to cover the current uninsured and make up the cost to provide full benefits to every American. Single-payer will increase our individual personal wealth far more than a minimum wage increase.”

Quite apart from the fact that universal health care is an urgent and incomprehensibly overdue demand for a nation with the kind of prosperity America boasts about, it is also true that the will to implement some kind of plan is finally at hand, even inside the Beltway, as big business groans under ballooning healthcare costs and the ranks of the uninsured swell and medical costs rise beyond sense or decency.

I would suggest that Tasini’s own foregrounding of the need for progressive Democrats to take the lead in implementing real, workable (that is to say single-payer) universal health care should be read together with the emerging ownership by progressives of the politics of the public support of medical research in the service of general welfare.

Battles over stem cell research shaped some election outcomes, as progressive harm-reduction politics around informed consensual drug use, safer safe practices, neglected diseases in the developing world, and so on will continue to do, and there is likely to be much more where that came from: as witness, the not yet quite on the radar-screen research programs and campaigns recommended by bioethicist S. Jay Olshansky (and others) in his article In Pursuit of the Longevity Dividend.

Just as Tasini makes a case for clean energy that emphasizes its implications for security and economic prosperity, similar implications can be emphasized in technoprogressive programs for dem-left support of medical research to enable all people to live unprecedentedly longer and healthy lives. There is, of course, much for technoprogressives to fear and to fight in an emerging medical-industrial complex, but I for one will not weep to witness the eclipse of the military-industrial complex as social investment turns its attention from bombs and bullets to renewables and medicines.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Today's Random Wilde

The only difference between a saint and a sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.

Harrington's Why We Need Socialism in America Now Available Online

For those of you who are not acquainted with the important work of Michael Harrington, a short, immensely readable, occasionally rather quaint period piece, Why We Need Socialism in America is now available online for free perusal. The piece was published in Dissent Magazine in 1970, and is something of a condensed and simplified version of Harrington's influential book Socialism (which I definitely recommend, along with other works of his, for those who are inspired to explore Harrington's memorable contribution to democratic left politics in America more deeply).

Monday, January 01, 2007

On Limits

There is little doubt that if technoscientific developments were rapidly to transform long-customary limits that have defined human capacities, life-span, scarcity as a material hurdle to good will and so on, and all within the lifetimes of many millions of people now living, this might seem for those of us caught up in the transformation as a kind of bacchanal, a throwing off of human boundedness altogether.

It seems to me, however, on deeper reflection, that this impression would be terribly mistaken. I have to say I think it would be wrongheaded (if understandable) to confuse -- as some technophiliacs seem to want to do -- such a sudden arrival of unprecedented longevity and unprecedented material abundance, say, with an overcoming of human finitude as such (not that I expect these accomplishments to occur as soon as some of my optimistic friends seem to do). Needless to say, the bioconservative line that we must all of us accommodate the particular limits that they have parochially settled on for themselves (and usually to their comparative advantage) as the limits that define human "dignity" in some more absolute sense is even more foolish.

Actually, both attitudes involve a comparable misconstrual of finitude. Both mistakenly identify the given, and in fact contingent, limits that characterize the human condition in our own moment and on our own patch of ground with finitude as such.

And so, some foolish technophiliacs will sometimes imagine that overcoming these limits is to transcend all limits as such. Meanwhile, no less foolish technophobes will insist on the inevitability and necessity of just these limits, all in the name of an abjuration of the false and absurdly hubristic assumption of the arrival of an omnipredicated (omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent) humanity.

It seems important to me to note that both of these attitudes will likely conduce to a certain conservatism in application: The technophobic attitude most obviously so, inasmuch as it defends a given order it mistakes as the "natural" order, but the technophiliac one, too, to the extent that the refrain "there are no limits!" or "there must be no limits!" translates so often, on the ground, to the smug assurance of the privileged that "there will always be poor slobs around to clean up my messes for me!"

So long as human beings are shaped by the accidents of their histories, so long as we must reconcile the contending aspirations of peers with whom we share a world, so long as we confront mysteries that frustrate our ends and unsettle our convictions, so long as we are incarnated materially (as even information always is), so long as we can be mistaken and so must be forgiven... then we are finite beings, not angelic ones, no matter how ingenious and powerful we may become.

As always, for the likes of us, what is wanted is to solve shared problems, to satisfy harmless ends, and to keep the space of freedom open for good.

Overcoming the contingent limits and problems that bedevil our own generation constitutes the struggle that will define our generation. Overcoming all limits, on the other hand, is a literally unintelligible proposition, a facile fantasy. It amounts to something like an itch after the denial of friction, rivalry, interdependence, plurality, determinateness, history, uncertainty, vulnerability, embodiment. It is a denial of life lived, and intriguingly often it is a denial of life clothed in the guise of a denial of death as intoned by the faithful.

Cackles from the Balcony: Original Intent Edition

I have long worried that the most lasting legacy of the marauding mercenaries of the era of Killer Clown Republicanism will be their generational debasement of the Courts. Recent comments by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. have reminded me why the Repug movement is just as likely to simply eat itself or unceremoniously leave the public building the moment the sweet pickings get the least bit harder to come by. According to an article in the New York Times today, Roberts “made judicial pay the sole topic of his second annual report, issued on Sunday, declaring that the failure by Congress to raise federal judges’ salaries in recent years has become a ‘constitutional crisis’ that puts the future of the federal courts in jeopardy.”

One wishes he had responded as forcefully to the intimations of Constitutional crisis to be discerned by unprovoked war, executive signing statements, unwarranted wire taps, or the flushing of habeas corpus, but one readily understands that a “Mean Generation” Republican will have other priorities: Roberts “noted that judges had fallen well behind the American labor force as a whole in keeping up with inflation over the past 25 years, with judges’ pay having declined by 23.9 percent since 1969, adjusted for inflation, while the national average for all wages rose by 17.8 percent.”

Who could blame the anointed Royalists from expressing their exasperation at making $175,000 a year (Roberts himself makes $212,000 a year with little but the title “Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States” to console him for his sacrifice), considering the high cost of all the craptacular McMansions and Vegas vomitoria vacations and chewable hooker-feet such elite folks are surely otherwise entitled to?

By all means, let me encourage all the theocrats and economic Royalists who have plagued us from Reagan through Bush to get the hell out of the public service they so palpably despise and move on to the millionaire lecture circuits and advisory boards and corporate-militarist Chairmanships that better befit their brutality. Be careful, though, boys, not to give too full vent to your book-cooking fraud-spinning conflict-of-interest indulging Republican ids once you leave your unloved underpaid Government posts, or you may find yourselves where so many of you have long belonged: behind bars.