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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cackles from the Balcony: Palin Resignation Watch

Eric is taking bets as to how many days will elapse before some trumped up illness or comparable inanity compels Palin reluctantly to step aside so as to spend more time with her awful interminably growing family.

What Is Rhetoric

Here's an off-the-cuff formulation defining "Rhetoric" that I offered up at the end of my first lecture in the Rhetoric of Argument last week.
Rhetoric is at once the facilitation of efficacious discourse as well as the critique of the terms under which discourse comes to be and fails to be efficacious.

I don't know that I would want to be held to that as a formal definition, but it does seem a pretty good point of departure for grappling with the subject. I like that it captures the sense of rhetoric as a constellation of critical thinking and writing skills -- at least genuflecting in the direction of an historical understanding of rhetoric as practical and persuasive arts -- while at once connecting rhetoric explicitly to the archive and practice of contemporary critical theory which is so central to rhetoric as it is taught in the Department at Berkeley at any rate (another, possibly better, way of making this latter point would be to insist on the indebtedness of critical theory to the rhetorical tradition, and then to propose that the Department of Rhetoric at Berkeley is one of the places that properly registers that debt). Whatever its limits, certainly this is a better definition of rhetoric than the one most people seem to hold, even if they keep it to themselves when I'm around. You know, rhetoric as bullshit.

The Divine One, Sarah Vaughan, Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

Republicans in Total Disarray, Republicans AS Total Disarray

A first point. Were the Democratic candidate to choose as running-mate an utterly under-experienced under-vetted unknown right before a Convention that nobody wanted to participate in even before a gathering Hurricane provided the excuse for their mass bailout you can be absolutely sure that the Village Gatekeepers of the corporate media would rise in a full-throated unanimous chorus to announce that the Democratic Party was in total disarray. They would sniff panic in the air and joyfully poke at the Democrats with every stick they could find. They would pronounce that party's chances of victory ridiculously less than nil, dead on arrival.

Meanwhile, were the Republican candidate to run a seamless campaign, overcoming better-known and better-connected competitors through superior organizing and a message palpably more in touch both with everyday people as well as with the party's own base and rank-and-file, gracefully hurdling past one trumped up pseudo-drama after another while delivering stunning media coups, shattering fundraising expectations, inspiring throngs of people of both parties -- indeed, all around the world in an era when the world is souring on Americans otherwise -- you can be just as sure that the Village Gatekeepers of the corporate media would not be warning that very Republican campaign that they were navigating a horrific mine-field of potentially game-ending mis-steps and gaffes, that this unprecedented and accomplished Republican campaign must nevertheless proceed with infinite caution in the face of stakes endlessly ratcheting-upward, freighting every speech, every decision, every glance, every snippet of press with contradictory demands which if left unmet could presumably lose them everything somehow, whatever their accomplishments, whatever their policies, whatever the force of their gathering movement, stubbornly insisting that the election is, in spite of everything, after all, still a "horse-race," and on and on and on.

The simple fact is that the McCain campaign is indeed in total disarray. His choice of Palin as his running-mate was a desperate bid to shake up the conspicuously Presidential trajectory of the charismatic competent Change candidate Obama in an epoch screaming for change away from the literally criminal insanity of the lying, thieving, bullying, cronyist, warmongering, theocratic Bush Administration. McCain is not only desperate, but quite obviously so.

McCain may indeed have been just clueless enough to imagine that the Palin choice would garner some support from disaffected Hillary supporters (who supported Hillary for positions diametrically opposed to nearly everything Palin claims to stand for after all), but it is far more likely that he chose her to whomp up some kind of a heartbeat of support from the shrinking minority of End-Time anti-science death-cult "Christianist" wingnuts who constitute the actual Republican base at this point, such as it is, and who have been lukewarm at best about his candidacy so far. The many better-known more accomplished Republican women McCain could have chosen for his ticket are none of them Christianist wingnuts, and his selection of Palin over them all is a straightforward indication of the constituency he is pitching for.

That makes sense (I use the phrase loosely), given the Obama campaign's already demonstrated organizational resources and masterly ground game. McCain seems to have been counting on his own long-cultivated True Base -- the corporate Media -- to deliver him the White House, despite the waning influence of broadcast media in the face of emerging p2p media on the one hand and despite the undeniably compelling tug of Obama's own media-friendly Historic counter-narrative. Now that the Villagers seem incapable of delivering the goods, McCain is making an effort to dip one last time into the Rovian well of cultural politics, sliming Obama left and right and picking a crazy Christianist as his veep.

As a matter of brute numbers crunching, one wonders if the number of patriarchal pigs among the Christianist Death-Eaters is actually high enough that the choice of Palin (a fee-male professional in the public eye, after all, however dedicated to serial incubation she may be) would turn off as many of them as it would turn others on -- especially given their longstanding indifference and even hostility about McCain in the first place as well as their sense that the Republican Party has in any case conspicuously failed to deliver them the goods (by "goods," read the totalitarian racist patriarchal fundamentalist fag-killing abortion-criminalizing gun-loving utopia they pine for in the name of baby Jesus) even in its moment of consummating power.

Certainly, it is already becoming clear that far more Hillary supporters are insulted than inspired by the choice themselves, precisely as anybody with a brain would have expected to be the case. That similar minefields likely wait upon the choice of Palin from the wingnuts as well is a matter of course, but as yet, apparently, neglected by the Rovian Brain Trust. (On a side note: Rove is clearly just another brutal bully with a willingness to break the law to get the job done for his paymasters, just like every asshole and thug and bully everybody already knows all too well and hates in their everyday lives for the misery they inflict -- why this awful ugly crap conduct has been described by so many as exhibited in Rove himself as some kind of "genius" has long mystified me.) Of course, it is McCain rather than Huckabee who is the Republican nominee in the first place precisely because this very selfsame deathcult constituency to which McCain now turns for dollars and deliverance obviously didn't have the chops to win the White House in a Change election anyway.

A second point. In the total disarray of McCain's campaign -- as in the stunning inspiration, energy, hope, competence, organization, and professionalism of Obama's campaign -- one finds the perfect prefiguration of the Administrations they would go on to helm were they to win the White House. Pay attention, people.

A third point. Republicans in their feral death-dealing Nixonian and Reaganomic incarnation hate the very idea of good government, and so the total disarray of their campaigns and of every single debt-ridden wealth-concentrating mean-spirited belligerent Republican Administration in this epoch of their ascendancy is actually what everybody should always have expected from them. The promise of this disarray (gu'ment off yer backs! yer on yer own! let the market decide!) is, in point of fact, the very idea that they have campaigned on. Americans really must either stop buying it or stop complaining when they get exactly what they keep paying for.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Memory Loss?

Posted, without comment:

[via Michael Scherer, TIME Magazine]
In an interview on his campaign bus in early April, McCain described Dan Quayle, who served as vice president from 1989 until 1993, as a cautionary tale. He said that while he liked Quayle, he felt the former vice president had "not been briefed and prepared for some of the questions."

[via Robert Elisberg, Huffington Post]
Selecting Sarah Palin as its choice for a vice presidential candidate is… far worse than Dan Quayle, who was a sitting senator. Worse even than Geraldine Ferraro, who at least served in Congress for three-terms. And Far worse than William Miller, a choice so obscure when selected by Barry Goldwater that he (honestly) later did an American Express commercial asking, "Do you know me?" And that was ad was after the election. But even Miller had been a Congressman for 12 years. And been a prosecutor during the Nuremberg War trials against Nazis.

[via Mark Halperin, TIME Magazine]
Early mistakes, like the ones made by Dan Quayle in 1988, could be devastating — not just to her, but also to McCain's chances. Those who point out that George H.W. Bush was able to win despite Dan Quayle's presence on the ticket forget that the country was much more solidly Republican at the presidential level back then… Palin has already had at least one ethical flap as governor, and her personal, political and financial background will be intensely picked over….

We'll Never Forget, We'll Never Forgive

[via Wikipedia]
Hurricane Katrina... ma[de] its second and third landfalls as a Category 3 storm on the morning of August 29 in southeast Louisiana and at the Louisiana/Mississippi state line, respectively….

At least 1,836 people lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina and in the subsequent floods... The storm is estimated to have been responsible for $81.2 billion (2005 U.S. dollars) in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. The catastrophic failure of the flood protection in New Orleans prompted immediate review of the Army Corps of Engineers, which has, by congressional mandate, sole responsibility for design and construction of the flood protection and levee systems.

There was also widespread criticism of the federal, state and local governments' reaction to the storm, which resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Congress, and the resignation of Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael D. Brown.

Conversely, the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service were widely commended for accurate forecasts and abundant lead time.

Um, So, Yeah

We'll see how this works out.

I've missed my blogging voice more than I can say during this unexpectedly long break I've found myself taking, but it just hasn't seemed possible to muster up the energy to blog for a long while now. The complaint that "I'm too busy" has become a placeholder for everything and so nothing by now, I know. But the simple truth is that teaching two summer intensives these last few months -- that means six hours of lectures on difficult and urgently important (to me) theory in institutions on either side of the Bay with just an hour and a half to commute between them on public transport -- just left me boggled and obliterated much of the time. And so the time I used to devote to blogging has often been given over instead to a blandly recuperative but distressingly fattening dead-eyed contemplation of CSI-marathons pizza-delivery boys and empty booze bottles.

The term ahead of me is also a scarily daunting one, I'm afraid. Or, it would be better to say, as usual, at once daunting and frankly exhilarating to contemplate, given the absurd miracle of being permitted to do the one thing you most want to do for a living in any kind of ongoing terms, however difficult they may be.

This time around I'm teaching a survey of critical theory from Marx, Nietzsche, Freud then to Arendt, Fanon, Foucault and then to Haraway, Butler, Gilroy, with a little Oscar Wilde, Valerie Solanas, and William Burroughs thrown in to keep things nice and queer at SFAI on Tuesdays.

I'm teaching a seminar on the three rapid-fire generations of network-mediated radical politics from the still-lingering libertopians of the 90s, to the still-emerging p2p-ethos of the Netroots and copyfighters redefining politics all around us here and now, to the now-upcoming threatening and promising global bioremediation of the medical-industrial-climate-security complex, also at SFAI but on Thursdays.

Tuesday and Thursday late afternoons I'm teaching an introduction to the rhetoric of argument to an auditorium-throng of undergraduates at Berkeley, not only providing basic critical thinking skills and delineating a sense of the work of a critically-theoretical rhetoric more generally, but engaging in particular the fraught intersection, so crucial in this historical moment, where what we come to call persuasion is at once our best alternative to the violent adjudication of differences and at the same time inevitably constituted through structural violences that are most invisible at the very moments when they facilitate personal non-violences.

And then finally I'm directing MA students at SFAI in the writing of their theses again.

It's an enormous amount of work, demanding hours of lecturing, far more hours of reading and preparation, enormously frustrating collisions with administrivial details to which I'm hideously unsuited as a matter of temperament and skill… and I know that the simple urgency of addressing the needs of an audience sometimes a hundred strong and right before my eyes, or a student facing me in office hours with a real problem to solve or a real idea setting them on fire just a foot away from me, often just makes it enormously difficult to invest my imaginative energies in what feels like the more remote and abstract contemplation of the audience that might or more likely might never find its way to a piece of writing released into the world on a blog or otherwise.

But, come what may, I've been missing Amor Mundi terribly lately. I've missed the blog-mediated conversation of the I with myself that Arendt called (not the first to do so, of course, but the one who matters to me) "thinking," and best of all the thinking offered up to the hearing of peers that Arendt demanded (not the last to do so if we are to survive the demands of this historical moment) when she defined critical theory as simply, urgently, openly, "thinking what we are doing."

I do know that in the past I've thought through many of the most fruitful ideas that eventually found their way into my teaching precisely in the effort of formulating posts here and in the give-and-take of conversation with my thoughtful commentors (which is not at all to say that all of my commentators have been thoughtful), and so even as a straightforward practical matter I know my teaching is better when I'm also writing here.

And so, I'm really going to try to give it a go again. All of this may mean that my posts will be somewhat more directly conversational with the material I'm teaching in a day to day sort of way than in the past. Be that as it may, I'm sorry for the long silence. I've missed this place. There is a lot that is happening and there is a lot to say.

So, here I go, here I go, here I go again. We'll see how this works out.

Flobots Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

MundiMuster! Endorse the Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture

Behind us stands a half-century of industrial food production, underwritten by cheap fossil fuels, abundant land and water resources, and a drive to maximize the global harvest of cheap calories. Ahead lie rising energy and food costs, a changing climate, declining water supplies, a growing population, and the paradox of widespread hunger and obesity.

These realities call for a radically different approach to food and agriculture… Governments have a duty to protect people from malnutrition, unsafe food, and exploitation, and to protect the land and water on which we depend from degradation. Individuals, producers, and organizations have a duty to create regional systems that can provide healthy food for their communities. We all have a duty to respect and honor the laborers of the land without whom we could not survive.

Twelve Principles follow that the Declaration proposes should frame future Agricultural policies. Follow the link to read them. Very much in keeping with the spirit of the still-emerging still-gathering p2p ethos of contemporary politics, readers are invited to comment on and collaborate in the ongoing elaboration of the campaign mobilized by the Declaration whether they endorse it or not.