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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ruinous Anti-Government Movement Republicans in California Finally Getting Exposed to More National Scrutiny

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not get the election results he sought. Now he seems determined to show California voters the consequences…. The cuts Mr. Schwarzenegger has proposed to make up the difference, if enacted by the Legislature, would turn California into a place that in some ways would be unrecognizable in modern America: poor children would have no health insurance, prisoners would be released by the thousands and state parks would be closed.

It is vital that Democrats actually defend progressive taxation to fund a government that works for everybody and public investment for California's children, and it is vital that Republicans (and the Villagers of California's corporate media) not get away with framing this debate in their terms, when it is their rhetoric and their ideology -- and that arcane 2/3rds provision in the State Constitution -- that has brought California to this pathetic perfectly avoidable catastrophe.

Republicans want to pretend that the failure of Arnie's special election was a repudiation of "tax and spend" (which is the only lesson they claim to read in literally anything that happens ever, because ithat is all they are willing to see). But there is quite a difference between a blanket hostility to taxes and a specific hostility to increased taxes on the majority and the most vulnerable in order to salvage disasters of the unworthy rich who want to eat civilization and have it too. There is quite a difference between a blanket hostility to spending and a specific hostility to welfare for the rich (corporate loopholes, negligible property taxes for the richest Californians) preferred over the provision of vital public services for all the people.

The Evil Death Cult of the Anti-Abortion Anti-Choice Theocratic Zealot Fucks

Wichita Eagle:
George Tiller, the Wichita doctor who became a national lightning rod in the debate over abortion, was shot to death this morning inside the lobby of his Wichita church.

No words to describe these evil fuckers. Catch him and throw him in jail forever. And everlasting shame on any one of you who approves or who pretend that little baby Jesus told him to do it.

We the People, Peer to Peer

Another Anonymous comment in the Moot quips that libertopian greed-heads should be forced to pay back the value of the public services on which they relied for their rugged individualist profit-making and then have their citizenship revoked. I realize that the comment was a joke, and definitely I sympathize with the irritation which inspired it, but I want to take the recommendation more seriously than the spirit in which it was intended and use that as a springboard for making, yet again, a few points that I often return to here.

First of all, if citizenship were annulled by error or foolishness few of us could secure it -- and least of all me.

I think that progressives need to actually say out loud and say often that some indispensable public goods are better provided by accountable government than by for-profit enterprise. We need to say that the provision of a legitimate alternate space for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes and to facilitate consensual self-determination is something only democratic governance can do. We need to say that government is funded by taxation, and hence that taxes really are the price we pay for a democratic civilization. We need to say that taxation coupled to representation assures that government is accountable quite as definitively as does the universal franchise and right to seek office.

I find the anti-tax and anti-government zealots truly ridiculous and despicable, but I must say that few who find them foolish do the good service of explaining quite simply why they are wrong, and so it isn't entirely unexpected that greedy, short-sighted, ignorant people (and all of us are prone to these things in some non-negligible measure, surely) get caught up in this sort of destructive foolishness.

I know very few democratic progressives who celebrate or can even explain why progressive taxation is indispensable to democratic society (however unpleasant in the moment of exaction), even if they know better, and it seems to me we all of us abet the know-nothings in their looting spree so long as we fail to set the record straight and stand by it with conviction and educate our young people and fellow citizens into a responsible awareness of these basic facts of political life.

Rather than indulge in fantasies of revoking the citizenship of the foolish or the greedy, I think we should simply criminalize fraud, regulate and render considerably more accountable the provision of public goods, and progressively tax income (including investment income) and property. We should do this in order to (and the echo of our Constitution's Preamble in the following is very much intentional) fund the legitimate execution of laws to which all have equal recourse, to secure such domestic order as is compatible with the free exercise of consensual self-determination among a diversity of peers, to provide for a defense from foreign invasion and aggression, and to promote the health, education, access to reliable information, and general welfare of every citizen so as to produce a scene of legitimate informed nonduressed consent in which we exercise and actualize our freedom peer to peer.

It's no kind of insoluble or intractable problem that many people are stupid, foolish, or wrong (all people at least some of the time, in fact) so long as we are properly protected from fraud, abuse, and criminality, and so long as the diversity of our citizens has secured the equity of the scene of legitimate informed nonduressed consent in which error and abuse are least likely to prosper for long.

More On Freedom

An Anonymous comment in the Moot wants to know what I mean when I bemoan the "reductionism that misconstrues human freedom as instrumental power." Just who and what sorts of things do I have in mind when I say this? It is actually a question that takes us right to the heart of political thinking, really, especially for somebody indebted to Arendt as I am.

In a nutshell, I would worry about the reductionism of anybody who says that the more tools you have at your disposal to do things with, the more free you are. Especially if the person saying it seems inclined to treat this as anything like the end of the story. This is not to deny that it is nice to have more tools with which to do useful and edifying things (all other things being equal), but it is to say that this is to confuse efficacy for freedom.

Freedom is a political matter, the quintessential matter of politics indeed. In politics, we are not billiard balls banging meaninglessly into one another across a felted surface, in trajectories that can be exhaustively calculated in advance, where what matters is the augmentable or diminishable intensity of force with which the balls are flung and colliding. Where we assume the vantage of the political we are not billiard balls banging about, and we do not treat one another as billiard balls to bang. (This is not to deny that there are other salient vantages we can assume in respect to human conduct and understanding, by the way.)

Freedom is present or not, experienced or not, facilitated or not, from moment to moment -- but it does not accumulate, it does not amplify, it does not hoard, it does not improve. Freedom plays out in the world.

We are free when we act in the world in the company of the diversity of our peers. We are experiencing and actualizing our freedom when we offer up out of our thinking, out of our judgment, out of our privacy a text, declaration, or deed to the hearing and responsiveness of a diversity of our peers in the world. We do this without any certainty what will finally come of our releasing this eruption, this interruption into the world, knowing well that in taking up our text, our declaration, our deed the world will collaborate in the meaning available in it.

What matters is our owning of the text, the declaration, the deed, and the recognition, the substantial being, conferred on us by that diversity of others when it is taken up in the world, a recognition and substantiation in which our own-ness, our public self is produced and maintained in the world, as a peer among peers, as a legible subject with a critical purchase and take on the world that obliges response and responsibility from our fellows.

This recognition conferred in the transaction of free action doesn't require agreement from our fellows, but only the affirmation that the assessment to which we attest, the exertion arising out of our intention is legible as issuing from a peer. A peer is emphatically not an equal, nor an intimate, but one who registers in their alterity both their equity in respect to us and their diversity from us. An action is our own, and that we are our own can be conferred only by the collaborative recognition of our actions as actions among peers -- we can no more substantiate ourselves on our own than we can be free in isolation from one another. In declaring a thing beautiful (or offering up a beautiful thing to the reception of the world), for example, we seek less the affirmation that our judgment is shared but that even where it is not shared the declaration is taken to issue from a subject of a taste that is their own who values a thing that is valu-able even by those who do not value it.

Freedom can be easily destroyed -- it is incredibly fragile -- by the obliterative instensities of pain or of pleasure, by violence, by duress, by immiseration, by isolation, by the lack of a context of trust or legitimacy to give a home to these precarious transactions.

Freedom is usually present when we collaborate toward the accomplishment of a shared task, each contributing their separate measure to that accomplishment, each co-ordinating that effort through the communication of their ongoing re-assessments of the scene. This may be part of what makes us so prone to confuse efficacy with freedom, especially since the capaciousness enabled by tool and technique is often experienced, for a time, as freedom is, as novelty, interruption. Freedom is indeed often present when we take up a tool, and especially when we turn the tool to some unexpected use, or teach another what can come of the tool, or when we declare in the hearing of company that the tool is fine or failed, good or evil, beautiful or ugly.

But freedom is not a matter of making a selection from a menu provided by others, and not augmented by the expedient of being provided ever more items on the menu from which to make a selection. Freedom doesn't accumulate like gold pieces in a vault. It cannot be saved, or hoarded, or amplified. Freedom isn't dumb force, however ferocious, however capacious.

One is either free or not, from moment to moment, one is either experiencing freedom or not, from moment to moment, one is either actualizing freedom or not, from moment to moment. Nobody is free every minute of the day, even in a free country, nor are many of us ever so unspeakably miserable as to be unfree every minute of the day -- outside the hideous extremities of deeply criminal regimes and personal devastations.

But it is true that a form of government that values freedom can provide for more occasions for its actualization among its citizens, while another that disvalues freedom can frustrate its play. It is important to recognize that a society of uncritical conformists and consumers is quite as threatened in its freedom as a society of totalitarian tyranny isolated by terror and mistrust from taking up the risk of freedom and savoring its bounty.

The robotic world of the futurologists is a barren world without freedom in it, only meaningless calculations and amplifications of force. And what is to be most repudiated and feared is not the eventual consummation of their inhuman utopia of heartless hopeless crystal -- horrifying enough though that obliterative consummation would be. No, what is to be repudiated and feared is the degradation of our sense of ourselves in the present, the indifference to ourselves in our freedom and fragility in the present, the obliteration of regard for our social and embodied and contingent agency as it is, peer to peer, equitable and diverse, promising and forgiving, assertive and uncertain in the present.

There is little that is more precarious than freedom. Even where it is valued and facilitated, it scarcely outlasts the moment of the transaction in which it is actualized, the judgment offered up to the hearing of the world, the enterprise offered up to the co-ordination of one's collaborators. Although there is more to flourishing than the experience and actualization of freedom, and although a life lived interminably in the exactions of freedom would little likely be a flourishing one, a life without freedom is no more worth living than an unexamined life is. And again, while it is unquestionably nice to have nice and useful things at one's disposal it is the worst kind of nonsense to confuse such possessions with freedom or in the mad pursuit of them find freedom a mirage.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Shock Doctrine Comes to California

Robert Cruickshank, in yet another indispensable Calitics post earlier today:
[M]embers of the Schwarzenegger Administration are signaling their long-term plan to radically remake California as a Randian paradise for the rich and a desperate hellhole for the poor and the middle-class. Arnold's budget plans are all designed with one purpose in mind -- to make [the] rich pay less and everyone else pay more.

We've been over his... budget cuts proposals, which are all focused on taking away the safety net for the poor and the middle class and making them spend more money on vital services. Now, in an interview with Carla Marinucci, Susan Kennedy reveals the other half of the "screw the poor" strategy -- an overt call for an even more regressive tax structure:
"If [we]'re bold and fearless [we] could tackle one of the most significant issues we face… the volatility of our revenue stream,'' she said... Asked what she'd like to see from the tax commission, Kennedy didn't hesitate. "Flatness,'' she said. "Our revenue stream is way too progressive.'' But no matter how you slice it, she said, changes that come out of it may be seen as "a tax increase to the middle of the structure.''

There you have it -- Arnold's plan is to cut the services the middle-class needs while raising their taxes in order to give the wealthy [an] even bigger tax break…

[This is just an] effort to use "[revenue] volatility"… to suggest that wealth taxes, a proven and effective method of taxation, are bad -- and that we need to sock it to the poor and the middle class, even though numerous examples from history prove that when you shift the tax burden onto those least able to pay, social collapse follows…

Futurological Reification, Reduction, Reaction

There is no such thing as "technology" at the level of generality at which people tend to talk about "technology." It makes no sense to celebrate or to abhor "technology in general," it makes no sense to champion, defend, resist "technique" as such, "artifice" as such.

There are techniques and devices that are useful in some contexts and less useful in other contexts and damaging in other contexts, there are particular technoscientific developments, applications, distributions that are, for the moment, and never universally, disruptive, empowering, provocative, indifferent, unexpectedly potent when conjoined with other developments and so on. But there is no "technology in general" that is monolithically "liberating," "alienating," "progressing," "accelerating," and to speak this way is always, always to peddle mystifications and obfuscations.

There is never anything clarifying to the process of technodevelopmental social struggle -- the collective, collaborative, antagonistic struggle of the diversity of stakeholders to technoscientific changes as they opportunistically make recourse to and sense of those changes -- by speaking of that complex, dynamic, open process of technodevelopmental social struggle through the vapid abstraction "technology."

Already we are well aware of the tendency of the word "technology" to attach very selectively, never to describe all the things in our environments which are artificial, but especially those artifacts which are taken to be provocative in their novelty or unfamiliarity or salience. That is to say, we fail to think of our everyday clothes as "technology" but only our presently-fetishized wearable devices, we fail to think of our everyday language as "technique" but only our jargon. The artifactual is ubiquitous, quotidian, and yet our imagination of the "technological" is freighted with the special fears and fantasies of agency, especially at its disturbing edges, with fears of impotence and fantasies of omnipotence, with death-defying medicines and wish-fulfilling devices and apocalyptic weapons of mass destruction and industrial-extractive pollution and catastrophic climate change. These assignments of what is to us familiar or not, novel or not, salient or not, and just how, are in fact the furthest thing from universal or obvious. These assignments are historical, they are social, cultural, and political.

Too often, "technology" is a word through which a partisan (or simply an uncritical inhabitant) of a particular parochial and interested vantage within the ongoing dynamism of technodevelopmental social struggle renders or simply uncritically acts as if every other vantage within that struggle is inconsequential or invisible altogether. "Technology" is a word that would identify some particular constellation of devices and techniques and the assignment to them of particular saliences and ends with every conceivable or relevant instance of artifice or device or technique, every vicissitude of technoscientific change in history, every impact of that change on whatever stakeholder to it, whatever their differences.

It is interesting to note that the ongoing historical distinction in discourse of what passes for "the natural" from what passes for "the artificial" has always functioned to delineate the customary from the novel, the familiar from the unfamiliar, the taken-for-granted from the threat/promise of the disruptive, and so has functioned in the service of a depoliticizing assignment of "inevitability" to the status quo as well as in the service of a politicizing insistence that things can be otherwise if we educate, agitate, and organize to make them so. The "technological-in-general" tends to function as a kind of depoliticizing re-naturalization within the de-naturalized "artificial," a way of divesting that which is made by us and so could be made different by us of their openness, weighting them down with the parochial assumptions and ends of incumbent interests. The open futurity available in every moment of technodevelopmental social struggle, vouchsafed by the enabling and frustrating contestation of an ineradicable diversity of stakeholders to the terms of change in the moment of change, in the presence of that change -- the open futurity in the present that is freedom -- is depoliticized, re-naturalized, through the substitution of a false "technology in general" for the always-partial always-contingent always-uncertain always-opportunistic engagement in that technodevelopmental social struggle on its own terms and our own.

That is why I say that "the future" is a racket, a de-politicizing substitution of some funhouse mirror of the present for the open futurity in the present that is freedom. "The future" of the futurologists is always a retro-future, always a dream of a maintenance and amplification of the prevailing or romanticized terms of incumbency.

Consider this tendency to reactionary reification in futurological discourse in connection with its tendency as well to a reductionism that misconstrues human freedom as instrumental power, and so with its characteristic gesture of reducing human beings to machines. The endlessly-deferred futurological predictions of the arrival of artificial intelligences and robots indistinguishable from humans are in fact symptomatic expressions of their prior misconstrual of actually-existing social and organismic human intelligence as computation and actually-existing social and organismic human people as robots. Futurological discourse at its most extreme (and consistent) seeks to compensate for this inaugural mutilation of humanity and human freedom by investing in a fantasy of an ecstatic amplification of instrumental capacities amounting to demi-deification.

Of course, this pined-for "transcension" through "technology" of their humanity into a superlative post-humanity, is simply the reductio ad absurdum consummating their initial mistaken and infantile assumptions, their would-be transcension amounts to little more than an evacuation of meaning and sense and humanity, their "post-humanity" an exaggerated testament to their palpable alienation in the present. The bankruptcy of the status quo confronts the Superlative mirage of "The Future" that is uniquely its own -- its rugged possessive isolated individualism exaggerated into promises of prosthetic near-immortalization (superlongevity), its valorization of short-term greed exaggerated into promises of better-than-real immersive digital virtualities, and robotic or nanobotic wish-fulfillment devices (superabundance), its reductive consequentialist and profit-taking rationality and "neutral" cost-benefit analyses exaggerated into promises of post-biological artificial intelligences reckoning with consequences in the abstract, searching through digital "problem-space" and thereby finding in a flash "the solutions" to all our problems (superintelligence).

"The future" of the futurologists is nothing but an absurd and delusive imperializing fantasy of the amplification and eternalization of the neoliberal status quo. It is nostalgia peddling itself as innovation. It is incumbency peddling itself as novelty. It is stasis peddling itself as change. It is hype peddling itself as seriousness. It is navel-gazing peddling itself as problem-solving. It is conservative politics peddling itself as progressive politics.

Would You Hit It?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Dispatches from Libertopia: Going Galt on the High Seas (to Infinity and Beyond!)

Brad Reed has some good fun with the latest -- Remember Sealand? Remember Residensea? -- klatch of deluded market fundamentalists who are now threatening to pack up their toys (whatever those might be) and deprive us of their talents (whatever those might be) and found separatist libertopian enclaves on concrete platforms or cruise ships or under domes on the seafloor or comparable corporate futurological nonsense. Perhaps they could build a lovely casino and vacation home complex Dubai style on that oceanic landfill of discarded plastic blobbing upon our wide blue still under-polluted oceans.

Although these fantasies of self-appointed sooperman sequestration are a recurring libertopian wet-dream, it is apparently an especially alluring notion now that these would-be titans and grifters fear they might actually be taxed and regulated a little in an Obama Administration (if only) thus slowing by a smidge their relentless ongoing (or at any rate pined for) looting and raping of the planet and of the overabundant majority of the people and other beings who share it with them.

You can tell these boys are serious because, among other things, they've founded an Institute. And they've published an online manifesto and FAQ. Always with the "Institutes" and "manifestos" with these boys, ain't it though?

Anyway, Patri Friedman (from neolib Milton to anarcho-capitalist David to anarcho-separatist Patri, from bloody-cuffed shirtsleeves to straightjackets in three generations) is a high muckety-muck in this endeavor. And it's interesting (I can't say it's surprising) to find Peter Thiel right at the heart of this laughable sociopathic libertopian endeavor as well, in addition to his involvement in the laughable sociopathic Singularitarian endeavor.

No doubt he would prefer that his Ayn Raelians "Go Galt" instead in nanobotic treasure caves secreted away in the asteroid belt, but he'll have to settle for now for a li'l patch of libertarian heaven and dysentery and piracy on some crappy abandoned oil rig. Without Big Brother's prying eyes on them every minute of the day, you can be sure that the legion of soopergeniuses in the Robot Cult will be able to code that superintelligent Robot God at last, and the hott sexy slavebots, and the immortalizing shiny robot replacement bodies, and the programmable nanobotic treasure-swarms and all the rest.

Then we'll be sorry for making fun of them! Then we'll be sorry for doubting them! Then we'll be sorry for treading on them! Then we'll be sorry for our regulatory shackling of their genius and our confiscatory taxation of their bounty! Yeah, give it, er, let's see, twenty years, yeah, twenty years from now, and Libertopia will spontaneously order into Robotopia and then they'll transcend into post-humans and, and, and, oh boy, won't we be sorry then!

Permanent Republican Majority

So, while I was busy teaching this week it seems a whole bunch of racists decided to call somebody who isn't a racist a racist while pretending to disapprove of racism all the while saying racist things about the person they are falsely accusing of racism?


Turned in the last of my grades for Spring term on Tuesday, began teaching Summer term Wednesday, just finished my first week of twelve. Three summer intensives, each overlapping the next… What have I gotten myself into this time?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dear Mr. President

This is the text of an excellent open letter sent yesterday to the President by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center upon his arrival in the city. I found the text over at Americablog:
Dear President Obama:

Welcome to California, Mr. President. I welcome you with a heavy heart because of the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Prop. 8, relegating same-sex couples to second class status and denying us that most noble promise of America, “liberty and justice for all.”

You are arriving in Los Angeles on the heels of emotional demonstrations throughout California and our nation and your silence at such a time speaks volumes. LGBT people and our allies have the ‘audacity to hope” for a country that treats us fairly and equally and for a President with the will to stand up for those ideals. From you we expect nothing less.

We know the country faces many serious challenges and we have strived to be patient. We’ve waited for the slightest sign you would live up to your promise to be a “fierce advocate” for our equal rights while watching gay and lesbian members of the armed forces, who have never been more needed, get discharged from the military. And so far you have done nothing. No stop loss order. No call to cease such foolish and discriminatory actions that make our nation less safe.

You pledged to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Mr. President. You promised to support a “complete repeal” of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and pledged to advocate for legislation that would give same-sex couples the 1,100+ federal rights and benefits we are denied, including the same rights to social security benefits. You said “Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples.”

What of those promises, Mr. President?

Your commitment to repeal DOMA has been removed from the White House website. Your promise to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was removed and then replaced with a watered-down version. And in the aftermath of yesterday’s California Supreme Court ruling, you have remained silent while your press secretary summarily dismisses questions about the issue.

We not only need to hear from our President, we need his action. And we need it now.

We need your words, Mr. President. But we also need your deeds. We expect you to fulfill the promises you made to us. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Do not delay, Mr. President. The time for action is now.


Lorri L. Jean
Chief Executive Officer
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More Marriage

It bears repeating, I suppose, that Eric and I (partnered for going on eight years now) disapprove of much of the human trafficking that has been historically denominated as "marriage," we disapprove of the false and facile ideology of possessive exclusivity and romantic "completion" that mobilizes so much marriage discourse, we disapprove of any politics that in fighting to secure marriage equality also functions to denigrate different ways of organizing loving and responsible and fulfilling relationships other than marriage, and we are not personally tempted in the least to become married ourselves. But you shouldn't for a single second think we are unaware that in refusing to grant us the right to refuse marriage a moralizing minority has commandeered the apparatus of the State in an effort at the ritual humiliation and dehumanization and denial of citizenship to fellow-citizens and peers and that this we will fight to the very end. And it is palpable here at the turning of the tide of anti-queer bigotry across the US that in the end we will indeed win the right to marry… whereupon we will cheerfully refuse to participate in the whole unappealing marital mess altogether.

MundiMuster! PROP 8 UPHELD: Be Fearless in Response

[via The Courage Campaign]
Moments ago, the California Supreme Court announced its deeply disappointing decision to uphold Proposition 8.

While we are pleased that the court recognized the legal marriages of the 18,000 same-sex couples married in 2008, we are saddened by the Prop 8 decision.

But we don't have time to mourn the failure of the state court to restore marriage equality to California.

It's time to go on offense. To be fearless in our fight for equality. Starting right now.

In response, the Courage Campaign will hit the California airwaves with a 60-second TV ad version of "Fidelity" -- the heartbreaking online video viewed by more than 1.2 million people, making it the most-watched video ever in the history of California politics.

We are launching this provocative new TV ad in the spirit of Harvey Milk's call to "come out, come out wherever you are" and proudly tell the stories of the people most affected by the passage of Prop 8 -- in moving images set to the beat of Regina Spektor's beautiful song.

Watch the new "Fidelity" TV ad now and -- if you want more people to see it -- make a contribution to put it on the air in Bakersfield, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and San Francisco.

Prop H8 Decision

From the LATimes:
The California Supreme Court today upheld Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage but also ruled that gay couples who wed before the election will continue to be married under state law…

Although the court split 6-1 on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the justices were unanimous in deciding to keep intact the marriages of as many as 18,000 gay couples who exchanged vows before the election….

Only Justice Carlos R. Moreno, the court's sole Democrat, wanted Proposition 8 struck down as an illegal constitutional revision.

Disappointing, but entirely expected. We'll overturn the thing in 2010 after unloading obscene amounts of money Californians don't really have to spare -- mostly battling out of state would-be theocrats who don't know what year we're living in -- all in support of basic human rights that shouldn't be in question in the first place, but whatev, that's the process.

California Breakdown

Robert Cruickshank from today's Calitics:
As the state legislature begins to debate whether to destroy prisons, education, or health care… the California Supreme Court is going to issue its ruling on Proposition 8.

Both events signal the failure of California's system of government. The system that creaked along for the last 30 years has now failed at the core tasks of an American government -- to protect the rights of the governed, and to promote prosperity.

The victory of Prop 8, the dire economic crisis, and the looming collapse of our public services are all the product of a singular failure: the inability to respond effectively to the rise of a political movement bent on destroying the fabric of postwar California. I am referring, of course, to movement conservatism…

There's much more, lots of historical context, all spot on, if you follow the link…

Monday, May 25, 2009

Would You Hit It?

Dispatches from Libertopia: Kevin Kelly Is Clapping Louder

Over at WIRED, futurological intellectual (read: indulgent self-promoter and corporate-libertopian hack) Kevin Kelly crows about The New Socialism, which amounts to the same tired ass neoliberal "dematerializing" (read: fraudulent financialization of the economy, profit via externalization of social and environmental costs, intellectualization, marketing, and logo-ization over actual production) "spontaneous order" (read: corporate-militarized global "free trade") moonshine California Ideologists have been brainlessly peddling and handwaving about for a generation to disastrous results.

We're not talking about your grandfather's socialism. In fact, there is a long list of past movements this new socialism is not. It is not class warfare. It is not anti-American; indeed, digital socialism may be the newest American innovation. While old-school socialism was an arm of the state, digital socialism is socialism without the state.

Class warfare? Over! It's time for some kick-ass 'murcan Innovation! Does that bottle have an e-z pour spout, yet? Let's get on it, people! The Future Is Now! Loot the state, doesn't Silicon Valley have any bazillionaires around who could buy up those services, deregulate that mess, make that engine sing? Hell, it's like you people never read Atlas Shrugged! It's time to eat civilization and have it, too. There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, so, you know, like NO TAXES! Don't tread on me! I'm a white guy, I code software, don't make me Go Galt on your asses!

It's fairly flabbergasting that at the very moment when irrational irresponsible anti-governmental fervor has brought California and the Nation literally to the brink of utter ruin, Kelley still wants to chirp blithely on and on about "ad hocracy," and offer up dot-eyed greedhead digirati a "History of Socialism" that could fit on a soup label and includes both the entries, "1848: Marx & Engels' The Communist Manifesto" and "2009: YouTube: 100 million monthly US users."

It's like Kelly and his clown cohort never noticed that the "Long Boom" they were so completely sure about and so completely wrong about actually went Bust.

Remember: Dow 40,000, Man, extreme!

Remember: "Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone."

Remember: Extropians will abolish both death and taxes!

Who needs reality when you've got irrational exuberance?

Krugman on California

It's incredible, but I have long suspected that the only way ignorant Californians will grasp the reality of their state's situation and begin to grasp what they must do as citizens to address that reality is for non-Californians to write about our crisis in a way that reaches a national audience that incidentally also includes Californians.

Few Californians, even generally progressive and politically informed Californians, seem to be as interested in the actual details of their own state's current distress (in anything more than single-issue sorts of ways) or their power and their duty as citizens of this state to change it as they are interested in National politics -- even though the circumstances that beset our State have unprecedented National consequences due to the size and indispensability of our economy and the planetary influence of our culture industries. As I said, it is completely incredible, and frankly disastrous for California and for the United States.

Rachel Maddow has mentioned this a bit, and I sincerely hope she'll take up the rightwing manufactured crisis in California as an incessant theme in coming months. Atrios occasionally mentions it as well -- possibly because he lived for a time in Irvine, ground zero for no small amount of libertopian insanity, California style. But this crisis needs to suffuse the progressive Netroots, TPM, dKos, and so on, the new Democratic organizational archipelago, the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, and so on, and our scattered voices in mainstream media, Maddow, Olbermann, and so on. Maybe the always indispensable Calitics will even attract an audience commensurate with its worth (that's probably too much to ask).

Anyway, Krugman's latest NYT column might be the beginning of this urgently necessary wake-up call across the Netroots. My fingers are crossed, my megaphone is being raised to my parched lips. Here's hoping the progressive left is about to make some real noise to break through the crust of Villager conventional wisdom and creepy inertia. Read the whole thing, here's a taste:.
California, it has long been claimed, is where the future happens first. But is that still true? If it is, God help America…. What’s really alarming about California, however, is the political system’s inability to rise to the occasion....

California has immense human and financial resources. It should not be in fiscal crisis; it should not be on the verge of cutting essential public services and denying health coverage to almost a million children....

The seeds of California’s current crisis were planted more than 30 years ago, when voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 13, a ballot measure that placed the state’s budget in a straitjacket. Property tax rates were capped, and homeowners were shielded from increases in their tax assessments even as the value of their homes rose.

The result was a tax system that is both inequitable and unstable…. unstable because limits on property taxation have forced California to rely more heavily than other states on income taxes, which fall steeply during recessions. Even more important, however, Proposition 13 made it extremely hard to raise taxes, even in emergencies: no state tax rate may be increased without a two-thirds majority in both houses of the State Legislature. And this provision has interacted disastrously with state political trends.

For California, where the Republicans began their transformation from the party of Eisenhower to the party of Reagan, is also the place where they began their next transformation, into the party of Rush Limbaugh.... And while the party’s growing extremism condemns it to seemingly permanent minority status… the Republican rump retains enough seats in the Legislature to block any responsible action in the face of the fiscal crisis. Will the same thing happen to the nation as a whole?

Exactly right, vitally important, read and then forward Krugman's clear explanation and warning as widely as you can. Maybe the message will break through our National consciousness and so even a few otherwise informed progressive Californians will accidentally trip over it and realize the actual mess they are in themselves.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Academy Is Reaping What We Sowed

Peter Schmidt has an interesting article up in yesterday's AlterNet, directing some very well-aimed criticism for our debased distressed culture of greed at a too-neglected target, the groves of academe:
[T]he nation's elite colleges and universities have taken a financial beating over the past year… Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford all watched their endowments shrink by about 20 percent as a result of investment losses.

Despite all their brainpower, such institutions appear to have failed to learn what every simple farmer knows: you reap what you sow. Elite colleges and professional schools bear a share of the blame for the economic crisis that now plagues them, because it is they who educated and bestowed academic credentials upon many of those who got us into this mess.

It should come as no surprise to them that many on Wall Street and in Washington have proven ethically bankrupt and without regard for people of lesser means, because their admissions policies have done much to ensure such a result… [S]uch institutions rely on standardized admissions tests such as the SAT, even though they know perfectly well that the nation's massive test-preparation industry has severely compromised the reliability of such instruments, turning them into tools for measuring, as much as anything, wealth and willingness to seek unfair advantage.

To improve their odds of having favors done for them by people in positions of power, many selective higher-education institutions also admit mediocre applicants… [C]olleges end up giving the nation's high school students crash courses in cynicism. They teach young people that money talks, fairness is for losers, who you know matters more than what you know, and some people are simply entitled to what others may never attain, no matter how hard they work.

The article doesn't even scratch the surface, of course, in that it doesn't discuss the swelling tide of the ongoing corporatization of public universities, the catastrophic shifts in University policies defined no longer by the long-term commitment to investment in public knowledge and expressivity in the service of general welfare but by considerations of short-term profitability, the intensive infiltration into communities of learning and critical nonconformism of multinational corporations and the ever more ubiquitous insulting harassment of their barking brainless advertisments and strobing logos, the pathetic and absolutely guaranteed-to-fail effort of humanities departments desperate to convince the bomb-builders and statisticians and greedheads that they, too, can produce solid stolid "results" like the "hard sciences" do or churn out "marketable skills" like vocational training programs do, when in fact the humanities produce nothing but more people who are free and more people for whom freedom is worth having in the first place (something altogether different from, and often directly at odds with, the robotic brutalities celebrated as "productivity"), and so on.

Dispatches from Red America

As California Goes, So Goes the Nation

Crucial Robert Cruickshank over at Calitics:
As the crisis in California worsens, the state that may have done more than any other to elect Barack Obama president -- donating enormous sums of money and time, fanning out across the nation to push swing states into the blue column -- is finding that the love is not being reciprocated.

First it was Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner rejecting a Treasury backstop for CA short-term borrowing. Now it's Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who is planning to head a $5 billion effort to improve public education in America -- an effort he says California won't be a part of...

It's not just for California's sake, but for the sake of the nation as a whole, that the Obama Administration needs to reassess its attitude and policy toward the crisis in the states. The approach of "we'll give you some help but you have to do all the rest" might have worked in the 1990s, but it is a recipe for disaster today. It's time Californians who worked so hard to elect Obama saw a return on that investment, instead of a dismissal of our problems.

And remember, the failed Special Election may be getting framed among the Villagers these days as a painful last-ditch effort to deal with our crisis like grownups but which failed due to blanket distrust of "Sacramento" and strident "populist" anti-tax sentiment, but the truth is that those propositions were a set of irresponsible punts and diversions of funds from vulnerable to privileged constituencies and right-wing ideological poison pills all of which refused to address the actual problems caused by a reactionary minority of anti-government zealots (whose frames the Villagers have more or less parroted in the aftermath of the failed Special Election) who have held California hostage throughout this crisis and in a more general way for nearly thirty years to the cost of us all.

The people were absolutely right to reject the Propositions, just as they are absolutely right now to demand instead a Constitutional Convention to overturn the arcane 2/3rds rule that has stymied sensible taxation and regulation policies to fund and administer a government that works for everybody and overcomes our fiscal mess in a progressive way. And they are right to expect that the federal government will come to the assistance here and now of vulnerable screwed-over majorities even as we struggle to re-regulate the irresponsible behavior of greedy short-sighted incumbent minorities who falsely believed (because they were stupid) or pretended to believe (because they were evil) that you can eat your civilization and have it, too.


Never shy to spew patent absurdities into the mic, RNC Chairman Michael Steele is complaining that President Obama was never thoroughly vetted by the media, "because the press fell in love with the black man running for the office." Although I think there may indeed be something to such a theory when it comes to "the black man" who managed to become Chairman of the party of greedy white racist assholes, it isn't a bad idea to remind ourselves of the fine man vetted and approved by the party of Michael Steele not so very long ago.

Jesus Essentially Waterboarded Himself on the Cross Therefore Good Christian Americans Should Defend Torture to "Keep Us Safe"

Movement Conservativism is so insane that it really is, quite simply, beyond parody.

Never Turn Down Work

End of term is fairly harrowing in turns of work load -- I'm sure my lower posting frequency and the diminishing substance of my posts the last few weeks has attested to this. I've been looking forward to a few weeks off before my summer intensives begin at Berkeley and at the Art Institute in the City, looking forward to having some time to just dwell and read and write more elaborate posts attesting to the things I've learned this last term and so on. But it's looking like there's no rest for the weary... Friday afternoon I got a frantic call from my Department that the professor assigned to teach Rhetoric 10 Session A had some sort of emergency knocking him off course, and so I now find that I'm teaching not two but three intensives this summer, the first starting this Wednesday. This means that from now through August I will actually be lecturing on Nietzsche and Euripides and Kant and Fanon and Burroughs and Arendt and Barthes and Marx and Solanas and Haraway and Wilde and Freud and Latour and Butler and Cronenberg and Benjamin and Debord and Klein and Davis and King and Gilroy for something like six hours all told, nine in the morning to five in the afternoon, with a couple hours' break in between for the commute via MUNI and BART from San Francisco to Berkeley and to grab a bite somewhere. Of course, it's a joy to teach these things, it's a privilege to have work that both suits you and has a real chance of making a difference in the lives of creative intelligent earnest young people, it's a miracle for a precarious lecturer to have so much work at all in the midst of this economic crisis, and so on. I don't mean to complain. I could have turned down the job in principle, spent a couple of weeks in the bathtub reading science fiction and re-reading Arendt like I always do when I have time off, but some weird vestigial work ethic thing in me makes it impossible for me ever to turn down an offer of paid work unless it literally conflicts with another paid commitment I've already made. It's sick. I completely disapprove of this skewing of personal priorities, this weird willful wage enslavement, and yet I just can't shake it, I couldn't live with myself if I passed up the opportunity to make a little to save a little more, not to mention passing up the opportunity (amounting to a duty, seems to me) to provoke more fledgling students into the critical awareness that will make them better fellow citizens. Where on earth did I get these ridiculous apparently unshakable attitudes? I'm supposed to be a lazy muzzy cynical liberal aesthete! It's appalling. Anyway, who knows what havoc this will wreak on my blog over the summer months. Summer intensives are, well, intensive. When I'm not blogging my ideas and annoyances into the murk I feel the lack of it like the itching of a phantom limb. We'll see how I weigh these competing demands as they play out in real time. I have to admit I'm a bit nervous about the load. Incredibly, the break between my last summer intensive and the beginning of fall term and another new set of three courses is less than ten days. Scary.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Must Read Calitics

Always invaluable, the California politics blog Calitics is feeling like an indispensable lifeline to sanity to me for the aftermath of the May 19 special election.

David Dayen writes
Virtually the entire political leadership in Sacramento took without questioning the view that the overwhelming loss of the special election is somehow a mandate for… deep, drastic cuts to the budget. The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times… and most other publications provided uncritical coverage of the Governor and even leading Democrats, parroting this theory that "the voters spoke" and the message was that only cuts would be allowable from this point forward…

Far too often in our politics, dishonest lawmakers decide that voters mandate their particular ideologies and preferred policy decisions regardless of the facts. Perhaps the only real message delivered from the voters [May 19] to lawmakers was that the former doesn't particularly like or trust the latter. But there are other possibilities…

I would argue that the voters feel no trust in the legislature because they see time and again policy solutions that stick the average Californian with the bill that the wealthy and well-connected don't pay. The fact that the only permanent tax issue in the February budget was a $1 billion dollar tax cut for the largest corporations in America is a perfect example…

[T]he reason that the legislature has such desperately low esteem right now is that they fail to publicly even advocate for the solutions Californians plainly want, or the breakage of the structural barriers that would provide it. This failure caused the May 19 debacle and will cause further problems for the Democrats in the state if they are not careful. A political party seen as devoid of principle will not be a successful political party forever. What Californians desire, essentially, is leadership. And they will punish those who refuse to give it to them.

Dayen's comments arrive on the heels of an earlier post by Robert Cruickshank driving Dayen's final point even more forcefully home:
Many Dems believe a 2/3 majority is winnable in 2010. It is certainly within the realm of possibility -- but Democrats also risk endangering their own position by causing a massive "throw the bums out" backlash in the November 2010 election.

The Democratic leadership should instead finally stop the enabling [of dysfunctional anti-tax anti-government zealots]… and start assertively proposing their own better solutions. The reason many Democratic voters sat on their hands on May 19 was because they weren't given anything positive or hopeful to embrace. There were no progressive solutions offered, and nothing that would have suggested a line would be held. Voters want something to rally behind. Taxing the wealthy in order to protect schools and health care services and local government seems a good place to start.

If more Californians read and contributed to Calitics, it could have the kind of hand in saving this State in its present distress as the quick-burgeoning readership of dKos and the rest of the Netroots had a hand in saving a certain Nation on the brink of authoritarian catastrophe in all-too-recent memory.

Don't Know Much About State Politics… The Progressive Blogospheric Information Disconnect

I am still perplexed to discover the extent to which many progressive Californians who became incredibly well informed about national politics during the Bush years still remain almost completely in the dark about politics here in their own California, politics in which they have a palpable opportunity to make urgently needed change through their personal efforts.

If nothing else, I would hope that an awareness of the impacts on America's national destiny of California's vicissitudes and present woes -- as one of the dozen largest economies and most influential media and content sources on the planet if nothing else -- would lead progressives here to better educate themselves about the unique problems in our state and our very real, unique chance to have a voice in implementing progressive solutions to those problems. As California goes, so goes the Nation.

The present budget crisis is an opportunity for real progressive change (eg, the call for a Constitutional Congress to eliminate the arcane 2/3rds provision and require instead the usual majority for budget and revenue legislation). But California's own corporate-media Villagers are throwing up a fog of superficialities and misinformation (eg: "You can't trust anybody in Sacramento! No taxes! Let's cut, de-fund, and dismantle the government instead and then expect government to function anyway after we dismantle it and when it doesn't insist you can't trust anybody in Sacramento!" repeated ad infinitum in defiance of sanity while the State burns literally around our ears), zombie narratives that could very well disable any chance for progressive engagement in this historical moment. And too many timorous and under-principled Democrats are falling for and enabling the Villagers's line here.

We are seeing again and again here in California, especially in the years of the Davis recall and surreal Governator epoch, what looks all too ominously like the same sort of Democratic capitulation despite deeply dissatisfied progressive constituencies in the face of failed right-wing ideology and mainstream media vapidity that defined the peculiarly painful epoch between the Clinton Impeachment through the Illegal Bush Supreme Court Selection to the cheerleading for the immoral illegal Iraq war and looting operation.

The Netroots and an archipelago of p2p savvy progressive organizations actually managed to turn that tide (although a progressive verdict on the Democratic majority and Obama Presidency remains in these early days very much an open question, whatever our hopes, whatever our work), but what has taken place on the national stage clearly remains to be done here in California at the state level where one might have thought it would have been an easier feat to accomplish in the first place.

It's not too late, certainly. The budget crisis remains a real opportunity for progressives to spotlight the structural idiosyncrasies of our Constitution and the role of the bad behavior of right-wing anti-tax zealots and obstructionists in the present crisis as well as to propose genuinely progressive solutions to the crisis that include progressive taxes in the service of a government that actually works for everybody in the State. The Villagers have not yet managed to secure their preferred right-wing narrative for the crisis and the failure of the diversionary band-aids of the failed special election. Democrats can still embrace their actually progressive constituencies and provide leadership to solve our shared problems in an equitable way rather than shaking in fear of facile anti-governmental rhetoric Californians already overwhelmingly rejected long ago as evidenced, among other ways, in our National Senatorial and our Presidential picks.

You can be sure that progressives will be blamed and conservatives rewarded for the failures caused by conservative obstructions of progressives solutions unless progressives insist on making what is actually happening clear to the people who suffer the results. So far, progressives are failing both to implement solutions or to defend their perspective or to explain what the problem is. This looks like a job for the emerging progressive California Netroots -- here's hoping they (we!) can pull off the job in time.

American Eye-Hole, Finally, er, Finale

I lost any shred of interest in Eye-Hole when the actually talented right-on youngster Allison Iraheta got booted by the speed-dialing teenyboppers who do the actual voting. Sure, homophobia likely had some impact on the final voting (since right wing scum bags like Bill O'Reilly made something of an issue of Lambert's sexuality with that ever less relevant noise machine of theirs), but it actually seems a bit of a stretch in my view to pretend axiomatic certainty that only homophobia could account for those same speed-dialing teenyboppers voting for Kris Allen's white bread in white under pants over Adam Lambert's eye-rolling Broadway histrionics. Those who bemoan Eye-Hole's loss last night of its last bid for "relevance" in handing the victory to Allen must be using a different definition of "relevance" than any I've ever heard before. These must be the same people who think Tyra Banks would ever coronate a person other than herself as America's Top Model. These must be the same people who think all the Ultimate Fighters grappling in the Octagon with boners in their boxer briefs (bless them) are paragons of heterosexual rectitude. Those who want to find actually representative actually relevant actually talented creative young people on mainstream tee vee striving for the limelight would do better to watch America's Best Dance Crew and, it would appear from the pilot, the very charming Glee.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Courage Campaign: Three Steps to Fix California

Where do we go from here?
Step One: Majority vote for budget and taxes. We all know that the 2/3 rule prevents us from passing good budgets. But it also undermines public confidence in the legislature, since nobody can be held accountable and since the 2/3 rule produces unworkable compromises that voters immediately see right through...

Step Two. Restore responsible taxation of the wealthy and corporations. [O]ne of the key reasons our budget is in crisis is because we have been cutting taxes on those with the greatest ability to pay. This makes state revenues heavily dependent on consumer spending from working- and middle-class people, spending that is volatile to short-term economic dislocation.

Under Republican governors Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson, the highest income earners in this state paid taxes at a higher marginal rate than they do today. Now, an individual making $900,000 pays the same tax rate as someone making $50,000. Oil companies pay the same property tax rate as an elderly homeowner -- and unlike Alaska and Texas, oil companies pay no tax on the oil they extract in California. This is absurd and it must change.

Republican legislators will scream and cry, but will they actually vote no on these popular taxes? If they do, we set up victories in 2010. If they vote yes, we help ease the existing budget mess.

Step Three: Convene a Constitutional Convention. The state needs a broad range of changes to the way its government operates. But more fundamentally, it needs a constructive process to produce those fixes. We've gone about as far as the gimmicky special election approach can take us. A Constitutional Convention allows the entire state, whether they're delegates or not, to engage in a debate about the core issues of how our government should react to a 21st century crisis.

We don't believe a Convention should tackle social issues or human rights, but... on fixing our budget and government, on providing more democracy and participation in the public sector[.] Of course, the delegates need to represent the state's diversity, and voters will rightly have the final say. But it's better than the status quo, and will help provide a better state.

It's time we got aggressive. Democrats should NOT accept cuts as inevitable... President Obama has shown that Republicans are unpopular and vulnerable. We would be fools to not take advantage of that unpopularity here in California... Republicans have been in steady decline in both registrations and election outcomes since 1996. We can beat the conservative attack on California -- if we realize we've had the tools to do so all along.

More details here.

Would You Hit It?

It's Centaur Wednesday, Y'All!

Today's Random Wilde

One's real life is so often the life that one does not lead.

Bay Area Council Demands a California Constitutional Convention

Hear! Hear! This is exactly the sort of thing that progressives need to be pushing for right now.
We think it is undeniable that California’s government suffers from drastic dysfunction –- our financing system is bankrupt, our prisons overflow, our water system teeters on collapse, our once proud schools are criminally poor, our democracy produces ideologically‐extreme legislators that can pass neither budget nor reforms, and we have no recourse in the system to right these wrongs.

Most of these problems are a byproduct of the outdated system and rules of governance enshrined in our current constitution. California’s constitution was always meant to be a living document that could adjust to the times, but it hasn’t been systematically reformed since 1879. Our constitution needs serious structural reforms, chosen and authorized by the people, and a Constitutional Convention is the only politically viable means to achieve those reforms.

For much more go to

Hideous Coverage of Yesterday's Election Results

News coverage of the defeated Propositions last night was so flabbergastingly bad -- what I saw of it, anyway -- I had to switch off the tee vee. That's rare for me -- I usually like to hear the framing from opponents the better to understand its allure and weaknesses.

The election results, we were told, clearly indicate that Californians don't trust "Sacramento" and have refused to approve "tax increases."

What a completely ass-backwards "lesson" to take away from this atrocious episode! The failure of mass media to provide any kind of context for the budget crisis is simply catastrophic, a complete demonstration of incompetence (at best, complicity at worst).

I suspect that most Californians, if asked what it takes to pass budget or revenue legislation would declare themselves either completely ignorant or would falsely presume it takes a majority of their representatives.

Those who blame "Sacramento" in some general undiscriminating way for this idiotic mess clearly are unaware that it is a minority of anti-government zealots who refuse to compromise with the comparably more-sensible (yes, far from perfect) majority on any legislative measures at all who have trundled this State down the road to its current catastrophe, due to an unworkable 2/3rds provision in the Constitution put there and maintained there to ensure just this ideological result.

These Propositions were punts and poison pills, smoke and mirrors diversions of cash from vulnerable citizens to defer the responsibilities of the privileged. Citizens saw through the bullshit (the vanishingly small minority who voted at all, that is). In parroting anti-tax slogans as explanation, the corporate media is essentially taking up the very reactionary rhetoric of the minority who are causing the problem!

Since Democrats are the majority you can be sure they will get the blame for the ideological obstructionism of the minority -- especially if glib reactionary talking points declaring all taxes evil and all politicians equally corrupt whatever their actual differences are the only public noises that get made by anybody.

Taxes are the price you pay for a democratic civilization that works, and there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Aren't the wingnuts supposed to have originated that little piece of homespun wisdom? How on earth people think they are going to have a working government with a functioning legal system and disaster relief in the face of wildfires and pandemics and commerce-enabling infrastucture and all the rest without ever being expected to pay for anything is completely beyond me.

America -- abundant majorities of Californians among them -- have repudiated the infantile libertopian fantasies of Movement Republicanism on the National stage, and I daresay they would be quite as ferocious in their repudiation of this stupidity at the State level too were the facts laid before them in any kind of sustained way.

Democrats need to find a way of dramatizing the stakes of the current crisis, they should whomp up some highly visible campaign demanding our Governor resign in the face of his failure and use the campaign as a shiny object to redirect media attention to Democrats putting the blame where blame is (disproportionately though obviously not entirely) due, blaming Republicans for their obstructionism, their zealotry, their ideological desire for their State to fail.

Either we have to kill the 2/3rds provision or gain a 2/3rds majority -- neither result is going to happen so long as the movement Republican minority continues to wreak havoc with impunity under the cover of no coverage and an echo chamber of utterly discredited and never really credible market fundamentalist talking points.

Prop H8te: Looming Decision and Blooming Response

The court decision on the unspeakably odious homophobic Proposition 8 is slated to arrive soon, and the scuttlebutt seems to suggest that word comes down sooner rather than later. I don't know why, but I have a bad feeling about this. Surely, if they end up defending the presumed constitutionality of any well-organized minority of bigots to render the minority of their fellow-citizens who happen to be lgbtq into subhumans, they won't be so flabbergastingly stupid to announce this travesty on May 21, the anniversary of the White Night Riots?

This joyful video from the French GayClic Collab Against Homophobia set to a lovely Lilly Allen tune sums up quite perfectly my own response to the eventual decision, whatever it ends up being in the short term.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Observation, Somewhat in the Manner of a Prediction

If Rachel Maddow (love her!) keeps doing all these high-profile newsmaker interviews while David Gregory keeps generally sucking ass (in a bad way) it seems to me somebody needs to be re-thinking that whole Meet the Press gig...

California Special Election

Eric and I are voting No on all five propositions this morning, and then we're going to brunch. Wonder why we hope to shoot down all five props in the midst of California's very real budget crisis? (Which is actually a hostage crisis -- a progressive state, one of the world's largest and most diverse economies, held hostage via our Constitution's arcane unwieldy obstructionist 2/3rds provision to the zealotry of an intransigent minority cheerleading the very same failed right-wing anti-social libertopian movement conservatism long repudiated here in general as across the country because everything it touches it turns to shit, as it has done and continues to do here as well.) Well, here is a reasonably good voters guide from the Courage Campaign that makes a good case similar to the one Eric and I came to for ourselves.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Politics Reduced Is Politics Denied

Upgraded and adapted from my response to "Jef" in the Moot:

My distinction of science and politics is not so stark that I am insensitive to their inter-implication. For one thing, politics obviously suffuses actual scientific practice as it does every other social enterprise. It just doesn't define what is distinctive to science and indispensable in it, in my view. For more on this, read my Is Science Democratic? from 2005, and Science, Politics, and Administration from a couple of months ago.

As for "systems evolving" where you do not seem to mean by these "systems" vulnerable reproductive organisms in a metabolism with their environments, I can only assume that you are speaking metaphorically and I must impress on you that confusing the literal and the figurative is always obfuscatory, and that once we grant we are in the realm of the figurative proper the standards of judgment quite properly shift. The promiscuous overapplication of the figure of "evolution" to practices of knowledge making, meaning making, order making seems to me to be little more than bad, unoriginal, and mostly unilluminating doggerel poetry, and I disapprove it as such.

More to the point, this overapplication of evolutionary frames to public and social dynamisms functions above all else to evacuate politics of their actually definitive normativity, reducing them from a contestation of "ought" assertions to a contestation of "is" assertions. But politics in my view simply isn't reducible to a matter of engineers debating the cheapest and sturdiest way to span a gorge, politics is more a matter of debating whether or not we live in a world that is better with or without the bridge. Politics reduced to instrumental calculation is politics drained of freedom, drained of its raison d'etre, and the wish-fulfillment fantasies sold in the name of "the future" in which that instrumentality presumably would be amplified into superlativity or progress-without-end can never compensate that initial mutilation.

Notice, it's not just silly robot cultists who mobilize this superlative gesture: They just make the move in a facile and dramatic way that exposes its absurdity and regressivity especially palpably. But this logic suffuses prevailing neoliberal technodevelopmental discourses and technocratic design discourses more generally as well.

Would You Hit It?

Dispatches from Libertopia: Rational Self Interest and Spontaneous Order in Somalia

Brought to you by the Libertopian Sooper Geniuses of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, "Stateless in Somalia and Loving It."

MundiMuster! A Dollar A Day to Make Norm Coleman Go Away

Republicans are only too happy to use sore loser Norm Coleman to deprive Minnesotans of proper representation and prevent Al Franken from assuming his seat in the Senate, where he is sure to represent one more voice and vote supporting Obama's vitally necessary and popular progressive agenda in the precarious Democratic majority of a still-conservative United States Senate. A Dollar a Day is a grassroots campaign to create a palpable disincentive to these cynical Republican calculations (that is, another one, in addition to polling which suggests dissatisfaction with Republican obstructionism and disenfranchisement shenanigans is climbing to ruinous heights, further imperiling the already walking-wounded Republican brand), by raising ever more money slated to fund progressive challenges to Republican incumbents across the country for every single day sore loser Coleman and his Republican cronies game the system to stall the change America needs and voted for. Momentum is starting to build behind this still-fledgling campaign, this is a good time to get on board -- the more dollars and attention this attracts, the sooner this nonsense will be behind us. Click here for more.

Designs On Us: First Contentions

We have proceeded first of all under the simple assumption that design practices are always also political practices as well. This isn't a particularly controversial notion, since it is easy to show that design decisions are often driven by assumptions, values, problems that are conventionally understood as political, just as it is easy to show that design decisions inevitably have political impacts, directing resources, policing conduct, circumscribing our palpable sense of the possible and the important, and so on. Our next assumption was also straightforward, but somewhat more controversial: While it is easy to see that design both arises out of political assumptions and has manifold political impacts, we asserted as well that design typically does its political work in a mode of disavowal. The quintessential gesture of design, we said, is that of a circumvention of the political altogether, and the foregrounding of what it poses as technical questions instead.

Technical questions, questions directing themselves to instrumental prediction and control, differ from properly political ones -- among other reasons -- in that technical questions are those for which a consensus as to best means and ends either already exists or is always imagined to be achievable (provoking the aspiration for that achievement), whereas political questions are those which always attest and respond to an ineradicable diversity of stakeholders -- and thereby arise out of a diversity of judgments, desires, problems, capacities, situations -- a diversity that is interminably reconciled, always only imperfectly and contingently, all the while collaborating, contesting, and testifying in concert to that diversity. One way to get at the difference in play here is to recall that science (the quintessential technical or instrumental discourse, since it strives to substitute publicly-testable efficacy for priestly authority) aims at a valid consensus and indeed manages, if only provisionally to achieve it, whereas democratic politics (the quintessential political discourse, since it strives to substitute publicly-legible consent for elite rule) aims at a flourishing dissensus.

The word design comes from the Latin designare, which is to mark out or devise, that is to say, de- "out" conjoined to signare "to mark," derived in turn from signum, "mark" or "sign." Palpable here is the kinship of the word design with the word designate, to name or specify. Also palpable is the connection of design to the primordial cultural technology of writing, as a "marking out." Thinking both naming (designation) and making (design) through the figurative conjuration of a scene of "marking out" is richly evocative: For one thing, a clarifying (and prejudicial) association is made here between the unilateral experience of the staking out on the ground of a layout and the eventual building that arises out of this foundational marking, and a still more foundational transaction (no less unilateral) through which an abstract ideal or plan or eidos arising first in imagination is thereupon implemented in material reality. To be sure, there are other associations in play here as well in this figurative working through of a design akin to designation: To name a thing is by some reckonings to "master" it, as in the primal Adamic scene recapitulated in so much magickal as well as scientific discourse, but by others it is to circumscribe its connotations both to its cost and our own, whatever the benefits that also eventuate from it. Naming certainly has its politics, too, as we shall see especially when the politics of designating just which lives are really lives at all becomes the focus of design.

Return to Preface and Table of Contents
Go on to Next Contentions

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Today's Random Wilde

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things means only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.
-- Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray

Designs On Us: Some Basic Contentions on the Politics of Design

The following contentions are offered up by way of a summary and a conclusion for the community of my graduate seminar "Design for Living," which took place in the Spring term of 2009 at the San Francisco Art Institute. Each contention summarizes a recurring theme or problematic or author that especially preoccupied our attention over the course of the term.

We find ourselves in a world we make, and find that we are made and unmade in the making of it. What are we to make of the abiding artifice, the polis, that sustains "the political"? What are we doing when we are doing design and what do we do when we discern that design has designs on us?

Here we will think about design as a site through which politics are done, but typically done by way of the gesture of a circumvention of the political. At the heart of this disavowed doing of politics we will contend with a perverse conjuration of "the future." The Good Life for biopolitical moderns contending in the world in the aftermath of "The Social Question" is a life with a future, and it is to "the future" that design devotes its politicity. The human species, that fantastic figure of the humanist imaginary, that Good Life that pretends to be Just Life, that universality that never arrives and always excludes, has a future, too, and its City is the one that demands design most of all.

We will direct our attention to the reiterated gesture of a futurological de-politicization of political aspiration through the figure of design, especially as this gesture articulates three urgent contemporary design discourses: First, a design discourse that would achieve sustainability (and ultimately secure social justice) through Green design; a Second design discourse that would deepen democracy through social software coding; and a Third design discourse that would achieve human equity (and ultimately a parochial vision of "optimality" misconstrued as liberation) through a eugenic policing of lifeway diversity.

In summary, we will note the regularity with which [1] the typically de-politicizing gesture of design tends to underwrite actually conservative endorsements of the status quo and the politics of incumbency; [2] any embrace of the typically unilateral implementation of design tends to underwrite anti-democratic circumventions of stakeholder politics among an ineradicable diversity of peers with whom we share the world; [3] identification in the present with "the futures" typical of design tends to be purchased at the cost of a reactionary dis-identification with the diversity of one's peers and the open futurity of politics arising out of that diversity in the present; [4] typically, the rhetorical motor of design's futurisms tends to involve a divestment of freedom of its lived worldly substance through a reductive instrumentalization then compensated for by authoritarian wish-fulfillment fantasies of hyperbolically amplified instrumental powers misconstrued as freedom and sold, incoherently, as earthly deification.

We have proceeded first of all under the simple assumption that design practices are always also political practices as well. This isn't a particularly controversial notion, since it is easy to show that design decisions are often driven by assumptions, values, problems that are conventionally understood as political, just as it is easy to show that design decisions inevitably have political impacts, directing resources, policing conduct, circumscribing our palpable sense of the possible and the important, and so on. Our next assumption was also straightforward, but somewhat more controversial: While it is easy to see that design both arises out of political assumptions and has manifold political impacts, we asserted as well that design typically does its political work in a mode of disavowal. The quintessential gesture of design, we said, is that of a circumvention of the political altogether, and the foregrounding of what it poses as technical questions instead.

Technical questions, questions directing themselves to instrumental prediction and control, differ from properly political ones -- among other reasons -- in that technical questions are those for which a consensus as to best means and ends either already exists or is always imagined to be achievable (provoking the aspiration for that achievement), whereas political questions are those which always attest and respond to an ineradicable diversity of stakeholders -- and thereby arise out of a diversity of judgments, desires, problems, capacities, situations -- a diversity that is interminably reconciled, always only imperfectly and contingently, all the while collaborating, contesting, and testifying in concert to that diversity. One way to get at the difference in play here is to recall that science (the quintessential technical or instrumental discourse, since it strives to substitute publicly-testable efficacy for priestly authority) aims at a valid consensus and indeed manages, if only provisionally to achieve it, whereas democratic politics (the quintessential political discourse, since it strives to substitute publicly-legible consent for elite rule) aims at a flourishing dissensus.

The word design comes from the Latin designare, which is to mark out or devise, that is to say, de- "out" conjoined to signare "to mark," derived in turn from signum, "mark" or "sign." Palpable here is the kinship of the word design with the word designate, to name or specify. Also palpable is the connection of design to the primordial cultural technology of writing, as a "marking out." Thinking both naming (designation) and making (design) through the figurative conjuration of a scene of "marking out" is richly evocative: For one thing, a clarifying (and prejudicial) association is made here between the unilateral experience of the staking out on the ground of a layout and the eventual building that arises out of this foundational marking, and a still more foundational transaction (no less unilateral) through which an abstract ideal or plan or eidos arising first in imagination is thereupon implemented in material reality. To be sure, there are other associations in play here as well in this figurative working through of a design akin to designation: To name a thing is by some reckonings to "master" it, as in the primal Adamic scene recapitulated in so much magickal as well as scientific discourse, but by others it is to circumscribe its connotations both to its cost and our own, whatever the benefits that also eventuate from it. Naming certainly has its politics, too, as we shall see especially when the politics of designating just which lives are really lives at all becomes the focus of design.

Broken Record

Today looks to be another immersed in Honors Theses and seminar papers. Some great stuff, but there's just so much of it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Today's Random Wilde

The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything. Except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.


Grading, grading, grading.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Would You Hit It?

The Mandated Detroitification of California

[via Calitics]
For our failed governor, a budget deficit always means one thing: cuts. A man cut from the Milton Friedman cloth, Arnold Schwarzenegger is determined to destroy the government he was elected in 2003 to save…. Budget cuts make no rational sense in a severe economic crisis such as this. When state budgets contracted between 1930 and 1932, it helped a recession become a Great Depression…. Tax increases on the wealthy are preferable to budget cuts…. [California's] budget deficit is NOT a problem of "overspending" but of a revenue drop… [a] phenomenon Arnold is going to exacerbate.... [M]ass layoffs will merely exacerbate the retail decline… and worsen a second foreclosure wave already predicted to be severe. If someone can explain to me how laid off teachers and bureaucrats are going to pay mortgages and spend at local businesses, I'm all ears…. [Schwarzenegger will] cut public services to the bone, destroy mass transit, worsen the quality of education, and gut our health care services. How exactly is that going to produce economic growth?! California under Arnold Schwarzenegger is a place where economic logic, basic math, and future planning go to die… With closed libraries, crappy schools, unaffordable college, and mass unemployment, few business[es] in their right mind would want to relocate here. As other states plan for the 21st century by moving toward green transportation and new investments in education, California is locking itself into a late 20th century model that has already failed. Arnold is not just presiding over, but actively mandating a downward spiral, a Detroitification of the once-Golden State.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Today's Random Wilde

The community is infinitely more brutalised by the habitual employment of punishment than it is by the occasional occurrence of crime.

Dolores Umbridge Declares Cruciatus Curse "Forgiveble -- When It Works"

In one of the latest in her recent round of media interviews from her cell in Azkaban, an apparently unrepentant Dolores Umbridge pronounced the Imperius, Cruciatus, and Killing Curses "forgivable and even necessary when circumstances warrant their use in the good opinion of properly constituted authorities of pure blood." Asked to respond to widespread objections concerning both the immorality and even inefficacy of her viewpoint, Umbridge dismissively assured the interviewer, "These are things every true grownup knows deep down in their hearts." Pressed for clarification concerning the relationship of such intuitions and Ministry policies during her tenure, Umbridge asserted that her guiding principle was always, "When the Ministry does it, it's not Unforgivable." A number of well-connected well-off now-retired Death Eaters who have been associated in recent reporting by independent journalists at The Quibbler to a "controversial" Ministry program during the Second Wizarding War to obtain information via Cruciatus from Muggles gathered in random sweeps of the country apparently in the hope of ascertaining the whereabouts of then Undesirable Number One have agreed with Umbridge's remarks "on security grounds" in a number of very serious editorials published in The Prophet as well as in a series of Pitch Papers published by prominent think tanks like the Dark Arts Institute, Pureblood Preservation Foundation, and the Project for a New Slytherin Century. Asked for comment on her predecessor's recent declarations Hogwarts Headmistress Minerva McGonagall is reported to have said (among other things): "What is this nonsense? The laws on these matters, and I might add the Principles involved, are clear as daylight and have been for centuries. Azkaban exists for a reason, you know."

Still Here, Still in the Weeds

End of term and graduation events, faculty meetings, grade norming sessions with my TAs, grading seminar papers. Too much.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Where I'll Be All Day Today

My thesis cohort has been working toward this event for a whole year, and it's going to be great. It's a public event, and all are welcome.

The 2009 MA Symposium provides an occasion for graduate students working within SFAI’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies -- Exhibition and Museum Studies (EMS), History and Theory of Contemporary Art (HTCA), Urban Studies (US), and SFAI’s Dual Degree MA/MFA program -- to make presentations based on the findings that inform their theses.

The program schedule for the symposium is as follows:


Welcome and Introduction
Renée Green, Dean of Graduate Studies

—Session Introductions: Jeannene Przyblyski, Program Moderator and Chair, History and Theory of Contemporary Art

Session 1

—Nancy de Y. Elkus (Dual MA/MFA – HTCA):
“Interventions into the Optical Economy: Producing Contemporary (Feminist) Embodiment through Hapticity, Fancy, and Fracture”

—Gwen Kuanying Kuo (MA – HTCA):
“Decoding China: A Case Study of Ai Weiwei”

—Laura L. Poppiti (MA – EMS):
“Becoming Undone: Nao Bustamante and Given Over to Want”

—Kara Q. Smith (MA – US):
“From Punk to Peer: Trajectory of an Ethos”

—Respondent: Julian Myers





Session 2


—Devon R. Bella (MA – EMS):
“The Appearance of Knowledge: Museum Libraries and Institutions of
Art Research”

—Brooke Kellaway (MA – EMS):
“Archiv ist Überflüssig: Documenta 5’s Contemporaneousness Reanimated”

—Laura Cassidy Rogers (MA – EMS):
“Rendering Life, Refiguring Diversity from the Highlands of New Guinea”

—Respondent: Trevor Paglen





Session 3


—Camille Washington (MA – EMS):
“Situating Blackness in African American Museums—An Investigation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture”

—Dori Latman (MA – US):
“Alternatives, Entrepreneurship, and Collaboration: Art in Urban Contexts”

—Anna Fenia Schneider (MA – EMS):
“Superfluous Bodies: Observations on the Politics of the Oceans and Their Reverberations in Contemporary Art”

—Respondent: Betti-Sue Hertz



—Conclusions and invitation to reconvene in SFAI Café for reception

Respondent Bios

Director of Visual Arts at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) since December 2008, Betti-Sue Hertz was curator of contemporary art at the San Diego Museum of Art from 2000 to 2008, where she produced several major exhibitions and catalogues, including Eleanor Antin: Historical Takes (2008); Animated Painting (2007); Transmission: The Art of Matta and Gordon Matta-Clark (2006); Past in Reverse: Contemporary Art of East Asia (2004); and Axis Mexico: Common Objects and Cosmopolitan Actions (2002).

An art historian whose writings have appeared in such publications as Documents, October, Afterall, and Frieze, Julian Myers is an assistant professor in Visual Studies and Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts.

An artist, writer, and experimental geographer, Trevor Paglen has published three books, including Blank Spots on a Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s Secret World (2009). Paglen holds a BA from UC Berkeley, an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a PhD in Geography from UC Berkeley.

SFAI’s Graduate Division would like to thank the following for their generous support in making the 2009 MA Symposium possible: Chris Bratton (SFAI President), Okwui Enwezor (SFAI Dean of Academic Affairs), and faculty members Robin Balliger (Chair, Urban Studies), Dale Carrico, Claire Daigle, Hou Hanru (Chair, Exhibition and Museum Studies), Krista Lynes, and Jeannene Przyblyski (Chair, History and Theory of Contemporary Art).