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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Mama Cass Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

What with the inevitable Afghanistan troop escalation announcement tomorrow, and Republicans starting their festival of barking lies and fearmongering to scuttle the already bruised and battered healthcare reform effort while "moderate" and "conservative" Democrats, we are told, are gearing up to exact as a cost of even crappy healthcare reform an undercutting of abortion rights or even Social Security, I find I must turn aside from the intrawebs for now and go to my happy place for some bolstering…

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Lugar proposes an "audacious," and one must add quintessentially Republican, twofer:

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) said that the health care bill should be postponed, in order to focus on Afghanistan and the economy. "The war is terribly important," Lugar said…. "This may be an audacious suggestion, but I would suggest we put aside the health care debate until next year… and talk now about the essentials -- the war and money."

That way, ya see, we can murder even more people in a stupid disgusting despised war while also seeing to it that the stupid disgusting despised for-profit healthcare system keeps on murdering people for money, too! Like, at the same time! I know! It's genius! Bring on the mid-terms, baby, the Party of Ideas is back!

More On William Burroughs

My own little Thanksgiving tradition is to link to the text or, better, when it's available, a video clip of William Burroughs's "A Thanksgiving Prayer" (for which Gus Van Sant provided excellent visuals), either here on Amor Mundi itself, or at least on the blogs associated with various courses I happen to be teaching for which the Burroughs seems nicely apt. Here's a link to this year's video clip, together with a transcript of the text. In the Moot, I have been having the beginnings of a lovely conversation with Athena Andreadis about the poem which I thought I should promote to the top of the blog for others to join in on if they like. I always appreciate those precious occasions when an intelligent disagreement plays out in the Moot, rare though that is. You should probably read the poem or view the clip before diving in, if the piece is unfamiliar to you. Thanks to Athena (and I don't mean that "thanks" ironically)!

Athena: I agree with the rest but laboratory AIDS? Not. A pernicious, dangerous myth.

Me: Yes, of course.

I have hesitated many times to quote this wonderful poem because of that single line, my worries about what it means to approve a poem with that line in it. But to me the important truth he is getting at in the poem isn't located at the level of any of the individual assertions (even the many individual assertions with which I happen to agree that they speak the literal truth), but in the cohort.

Taken together with the rest, I hear in the bitter paranoid reference to "laboratory AIDS" a history that contains the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, involuntarily sterilization of Native American and African American women without their knowledge or consent, as well as the deaf, the blind, epileptics, the "retarded," involuntary lobotomies for the suicidal, for "perverts" and "promiscuous" women, smallpox infected blankets distributed among Native Americans, and so on (every single instance among which has its truths and hyperbolies in tow, after all).

The power of the poem, and the truth it connects us to, does not derive from our agreement with any of its lines or our disagreement with any of them, finally, but with the way it tells truth against the grain of what passes as truth.

If we comfortably agreed with every line and approved the poem as a consequence of that agreement we would be doing a great violence to the actual truth available in it, I think, degrading it into a tedious zealous bumper sticker that costs us nothing to affirm and hence is worth nothing even to those who affirm it since it is threatening to nobody.

You know what I mean?

Athena: Your point about the cohort is well taken.

However, as illustrated by the numerous examples that you list yourself, Burroughs could have scored a far more potent hit if that line said something like "thanks for the involuntary sterilizations and lobotomies performed on those who by not fitting were called unfit".

It would have the added virtues of being literal truth and of subsuming the horrors that the medical profession visited on all Others, not just gay men.

Agreeing morally with something does not include not calling it out for inaccuracies that may blunt or weaken its moral force.

Me: I don't know that Burroughs thought the statement was untrue himself, although he definitely was fond of saying provocative things that were so bad they had a certain ring of truth whether they were true or not, and that in itself does express a kind of truth poetry is especially good at getting at, even if the vehicle through which the truth is expressed is strictly speaking untrue.

And I, like you, I hope it goes without saying, most certainly and uncontroversially do think it is untrue and deranging to claim as a factual matter that the AIDS pandemic originated in a deliberate laboratory conspiracy of some kind!

But, again, I do think that neither would Burroughs propose that the potency of the truth telling in the piece derives from the strict accuracy or inaccuracy of any of the statements individually.

After all, it is the ironical "thanks" that is repeated each line, while the various assertions that follow it have very different forms and flavors (it's different to express ironical gratitude to Native Americans for "provid[ing] a modicum of challenge and danger" and ironical gratitude toward "Kill a Queer for Christ" bumper-stickers, one inhabits these atrocities differently because they are differently embedded in American history, the force of the first is far trickier to get a handle on than the second one, the first one goes deeper into the viciousness at the heart of the American story and implicates us all more deeply too, in consequence, while it is a comparatively easy thing to condemn the idiotic bigotry and hypocrisy of the latter, which is not to diminish the damage it has done).

Notice that it is only Van Sant's imagery in the background that alerts us to the fact that it is the relinquishment of a real space program to which Burroughs refers as the "last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams," a theme that recurs in many of his writings (although with many figurative associations that are far from the customary ones).

One needs to take up the whole to take in the poisoned apple of Burroughsian knowledge here.

I'm not sure why a reference to AIDS would seem to suggest Burroughs is focused on the quandaries of gay men in particular, since elsewhere in the poem he has already demonstrated he is plenty enraged at other violations of human beings (not that I can say I am particularly thrilled with what looks to me like the yuckiest imaginable misogyny in Burroughs's writing, which I can't forgive him for, but neither do I confine my appreciations and educations to those with whom I am in comfortable agreement, else I can't say that I would like much or learn from much of anything, after all), but also since even by 1986 everybody with a brain knew that AIDS was not a gay man's disease if one assumed a planetary vantage on the pandemic.

Of course, every single second we were to spend tit-for-tatting along these lines would draw us moment by moment, line by line, further and further from the actual force and life and substance and provocation and actual truth in it, domesticating it into a vehicle for truths better delineated in public health pamphlets and political speeches, quite the furthest imaginable space from one Burroughs would want to be seen in.

I personally think the chief moral force that one derives from Burroughs, if moral force is the word for it, is a sharpening of our skepticism toward all constituted authorities, a heightened awareness of the value of tolerant relaxation and the cruelty and mischief of intolerance and unthinking rule-following, and, greatest of all -- at least for those who are willing to pay the price of the ticket -- an invitation to what he called the magical universe of artists in which every material association is capable of being woven through our biographical narrative into an altogether different salience than is usual, often in a way that yields unutterable beauties, but more often than not just renders one an incomprehensible paranoid bore (and of course Burroughs's corpus provides ample occasion to observe both outcomes).

Do please feel free to add what you will here, any of you.

Lola Montes

Criterion is finally releasing Max Ophuls' Lola Montes, February 16, 2010. If this offering is anything like as good as their releases of Earrings of Madame de (my favorite), le Plaisir, and la Ronde (all fabulous), it should be shatteringly beautiful to watch. My DVD of Lola is a foggy scratchy muddy thing that is like an Encyclopedia Britannica educational documentary to watch and still it manages to tear at you, I can hardly wait for the whole Criterion treatment.

Futurology Is the Quintessential and Consummating Discourse of the Unwholesome Whole That Is Neoliberal/Neoconservative Corporate-Militarism

The Me Generation denigrated the We and then, utterly predictably, found that me without we is incapable of a flourishing life (Ayn Randian pious puke to the contrary notwithstanding), let alone survival for anybody but the luckiest or most brutal few.

After a generation of chirping Reaganesque "government is the problem" and Clintonesque "era of big government is over" mantras, America is now a "No, We Can't" society, not just incapable of improving infrastructure and public investment, but at this point incapable of keeping its existing highways from crumbling, its neglected bridges and pipes from collapsing and bursting.

Americans have settled for CGI space stations in action films and military recruitment ads, ageing-and-death-denialist Americans sigh and pine to hyperbolic press releases from pharmaceutical companies peddling youth and pep and to reassuring futurological lies mis-shelved in science sections peddling nanoscale Everything for Nothing Machines and techno-longevity just around the corner, or imaginary geo-engineering technofixes to real climate crises, deceptions and delusions and derangements of The Future in pastel-hued soft porn tonalities handwaving away an utter bankruptcy and parasitism and inertia of conscience and criticism in the face of the demands, threats, and promises of our shared present.

Just as: The neoliberal financialization of economy fraudulently sells ever more fantastically leveraged debts as if they are assets, criminally externalizes costs onto the next generation or the next continent, and idiotically mistakes logos for stuff.

So too: The industrialization of ecology fraudulently sells the net loss of superficially increased yields purchased through wasteful, toxic, monocultural, energy-input intensivity as a "Green Revolution," pollutes the atmosphere and ground water, depletes topsoil and aquifers, disrupts local ecosystems beyond healing, externalizing the costs of contemporary waste and harm onto the next generation or the next continent, and idiotically mistakes the GDP and skyrocketing stock arrows for commonwealth.

And finally: Futurology is the consummation of neoliberal fraud, peddling the dislocations of global financialization as "the acceleration of acceleration" (which is indeed, perhaps, how an ever more precarious world feels, for a time, for those who are lucky enough to be relative beneficiaries of neoliberal dislocations, especially if they are stupid and short-sighted enough to imagine that riding the gravy train can last forever, and heartless enough not to notice or care about the distress and waste it imposes on the lives of their neighbors), peddling altogether-imaginary responsibility-deferring wish-fulfilling non-solutions to actual problems, from Robot God parental-supercomputers to "solve" intractable historical and political dilemmas, to nanobotic genies-in-a-bottle and immersive virtual pleasure palaces to "solve" intractable quandaries of poverty, to masturbatory megascale corporate-militarist geo-engineering and off-world migratory science-fiction scenarios to "solve" intractable ecological quandaries, to "mind-uploading" "bio-engineering" and "nano-medical" quasi-immortalizing super-therapies to "solve" intractable dilemmas of mortality, malnutrition, neglected diseases, vulnerability in all living bodies.

And like our fraudulent modern corporatists, selling hyperbolic expectations and barking PR pitches and debts and stealthily externalized costs and vaporware as if they were real assets, futurological discourses are suffused with the same contempt for the material, for the real: disdaining organismic brains and bodies in which intelligence and life are actually materially incarnated, disdaining the diversity of stakeholder knowledges and aspirations and struggles of which history and progress actually consists, disdaining the practices of laboratory testing and peer-review publications out of which consensus science generates its contingently warranted assertions (preferring, as they do, computer models and computer coders as their ideal "scientists" -- which is rather like preferring accountants as one's ideal "poets" -- grand hypotheses depending on glib general analogies from biology by non-biologists, charismatic cranks, pop-science bestsellers, and would-be gurus over actually widely cited and well-substantiated consensus scientists).

It is very much to be hoped that President Obama's jobs bill, coming swiftly on the heels of the heartbreaking sausage-making of healthcare reform, will re-open the long-relinquished progressive-to-New Deal era of infrastructure building and public investment (driven if nothing else by the pragmatic exigencies of mid-term elections, for which jobs jobs jobs will equal votes votes votes to maintain precarious Democratic majorities without which no actual governing seems possible given the monolithic obstructionism and ideological anti-governmentality of the Republican opposition, as Obama must surely grasp as keenly as anybody), employing millions of citizens in the repair of our catastrophically stressed infrastructure, in the construction of intercontinental high-speed rail to connect our cities, building an intelligent grid of dozens of millions of windmill farms and solar rooftops, building inner-city farmers markets, subsidizing the proliferation of small-scale organic and polyculture farms, planting a billion trees, building and healing community colleges and not-for-profit research universities and sending a generation of young people to school.

The market fundamentalists who have the President's ear make that a hard hope to maintain, given their role in the substitution of ponzi-scheming financialization and logo-ization for production, and in their penchant for prosperity on the cheap, purchased through outsourcing and crowdsourcing, cost-externalization and risk-shifting onto ever more precarious planetary populations they deem to be expendably infra-human (I'm talking to you, Lawrence Summers, you disgusting death-dealing actually dim-witted self-important scum-bag, and your whole neoliberal wrecking crew).

Americans need to wake up from the delusive dreams of neoliberal corporatist financial-fraudsters and neoconservative militarist imperial-adventurists (which, as David Harvey insists, are not antagonistic but in fact inter-implicated, a neoliberal/neoconservative, corporate-militarist unwholesome whole).

And, just the same, indeed, of a piece with the same, we need to wake up from the quintessentially American futurological fantasies -- originating in nuclear-plastic-petrochemical compensations for too-palpable apocalyptic technoscientific nightmares of nuclear war, accumulating trash, and suburban sprawl, by means of a constellation of schemes and frauds and daydreams of unbounded abundance -- and now consummating in faith-based initiatives like the transhumanists peddling their consumer-age eugenicism, the digital utopians peddling their vaporware, the techno-immortalist hucksters peddling their stainless-steel skin creams and boner pills, and the geo-engineers peddling their glossy corporate-militarist scenarios to combat corporate-militarist climate catastrophe, and so on and on.

Bruce Sterling once had Oscar, the protagonist of his quintessential Clinton-era neoliberal sf novel, Distraction histrionically declaim that America "invented The Future, godammit!" in a moment of hysterical huckster denialism in the face of real limits, and like the shattered protagonist in William Gibson's early sf story "The Gernsback Continuum," it's true, we Americans are still wading deep down in the muddy murky swamp of The Future we sold ourselves, vestigial futuristic chrome gew-gaws and art deco masonry fading in and out of the funk and fog like scarcely discernible sign-posts guiding us nowhere.

The Market is fueled by The Future: two dumbed-down deceptions like the ads on a sandwich-board holding each other up for scrutiny only so long as neither rickety face leans too far under the least pressure and collapses the whole mess.

And the free market fundamentalists are selling The Future most of all. Futurology is the quintessential discourse of neoliberalism, its starkest most insane unsanitary reductio. (I would say that this is activist-scholar Mike Davis's most urgent and abiding insight.)

And be sure, it is the palpable substance of futurity, that openness inhering in the diversity of contending collaborating co-dependent perspectives, productions, projects of self-creation in our present, in our presence, peer-to-peer, that we are selling for this parochial, packaged domestication of The Future -- futurity for The Future, freedom for force, foresight for hyperbole, investment for scams, problem solving for debts, products for logos, governance for landfill, our commonwealth for their shit.

I Guess The NYT Hasn't Gotten the Futurological Memo About the Space Elevator, the Robot God, and All Them Skyscraper Farms in the Pipeline

Entering the Superproject Void
Generation after generation, giant public works projects have altered the American landscape. The Erie Canal and the transcontinental railroad come to mind. So do massive urban sewer and sanitation systems, the Tennessee Valley Authority, rural electrification, the Hoover Dam...

For the first time in memory, the nation has no outsize public works project under way…

Saturday, November 28, 2009

When the Prick of Conscience Fails Turn Instead to Strategies Suited to Pricks Without Conscience

The bazillionaire financial fraudsters simply cannot be shamed into better behavior. For anybody for whom that is not now clear it will never be clear. Market fundamentalists wipe their asses with sternly worded letters from the Administration (such as the one promised between the lines here), rather like Republicans wipe their asses with the Constitution whenever it's ready to hand. It's well past time to throw the worst offenders into jail, make the perps walk like pageant queens in a delirious spray of slow-mo flash-bulbs. As America's Senator Bernie Sanders has repeatedly and pithily declared we must make too big to fail too big to exist, and everybody knows by now we must obliterate conflicts of interest for those tasked with oversight responsibilities over these scam artists who to this day imagine themselves to be Masters of the Universe. And it is high time to tax the super-rich back to the stone age to get back the money they stole with their stone age behavior. Heck, I don't even think we need necessarily return to the steeply progressive tax rates in play in the Republican Eisenhower Administration, so often evoked as a Golden Age of American Capitalism, to repair the damage done by the catastrophically failed market fundamentalist ideology of the neoliberal generation (which seems to me to have begun with Democrat Carter before Republican Reagan made a ruinous crusade out of it and to have been quite as decisively consolidated by Democrat Clinton as by the killer clowns of the Republican Bushes, so my point is hardly reductively partisan).

Dispatches from Libertopia: Dubai's Galtish Gulch in the Clutch

Neoliberals wrong about everything yet again? That's unpossible!

What Digby said: Trouble in Wingnut Paradise

For context, what Mike Davis said years ago: Fear and Money in Dubai

Climate Change Apparently Becomes Real Only When It Becomes Unprofitable for the Rich

[Republican Governor of Utah Gary] Herbert's reluctance to acknowledge that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming quietly frustrates Utah ski resorts that depend on state marketing money, but it openly infuriates industry officials elsewhere who liken it to having a debate about whether the world is flat.

Yes, the debate with the climate-change denialists has been like that for quite some time now.

Apparently, as more rich people begin to feel the pinch of that reality in their profits, some actual reality might actually get to be treated as reality for real.

It really is too bad to what extent the feedback to which governance can most comfortably and consistently respond in its efforts to solve shared problems are market signals arising out of an insanely rigged hyperbolically speculative in defiance of all sense relentlessly externalizing profit-taking rationality with an attention span governed by news cycles and quarterly reports.

The Enthusiasm Gap and the Mid-Terms

Much is being said of the "enthusiasm gap" between Democrats and Republicans at the moment, but it pays to remember that the whomping up of enthusiasm in the Republican base at this stage in Republicanism's long skid into total crazytown is purchased at the cost of a self-marginalization that cannot command majorities and hence win elections in any kind of sustainable way (barring bleak fascism comes to America get out while you can scenarios). While it is true that mid-term elections traditionally turn on lower turnouts it is an open question whether lower turnouts will sufficiently compensate the shrinkage in voter ID that Republicans are trading off for energizing their base, which at this point is nothing but a lunatic fringe mixed with the lowest of low-information voters.

Democrats are still out-fundraising Republicans, which isn't exactly the worst "enthusiasm" metric in the world, especially since a good part of that fundraising will be funding ads in which unenthused Democrats will be reminded just how stupid and crazy and evil the Republicans are who would be shepherded into power without Democratic votes to stop them.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, but it isn't a bad idea to take occasionally into account the fact that a goodly amount of the sheer enthusiasm and vaunted discipline of the wingnuts ultimately derives from the fact that, you know, they kinda sorta hate with an undiminishable passion the browning feminizing queering secular-multicultural technoscientifically-literate democratic world in which we actually live. They are pouting and stamping their feet at reality and at a world worth living in. However unified this may make them in their ugly hateful know-nothing pocket universe, it isn't exactly a winning strategy for the long-term.

If Democrats are feeling unenthusiastic this is in no small part the absolutely reasonable distaste that follows scrutiny of the prosaic sausage-making that follows the poetry of campaigning. This is always the case given the barriers to too smooth and suave an authoritarian functioning instituted by the Constitution (for better or for worse), but it is especially the case under the present rather crazy conditions of polarization between equal numbers of pragmatists (many principled, many not so principled) and outright barking mad anti-government zealots clogging up the gears of these governing machineries.

Talk of Democratic "majorities" is all well and good, but the hard facts of the matter are that the majorities are worse than razor thin, they are essentially illusory given that there are Democrats who are scarcely distinguishable from Republicans in the caucus and the Republicans are functioning monolithically in opposition, however utterly irresponsible that is given the problems we face, and hence the dynamisms through which governance is supposed to play out are skewed beyond recognition right now. And feeling angry at the Obama Administration for refusing to misbehave as much as did the Killer Clowns of the Bush Administration in the executive overreach stakes makes little sense (especially since, if anything, Obama is overreaching too much still from his perch in the ever more imperializing executive branch).

The poetry of the good old campaign season Obama team will return soon enough (carrot), and the obstructionist misbehavior of the Party of No has been captured on film and will provide an ugly spectacle (stick) to re-activate the Democratic base with. There will be nearly a year after the dispiriting healthcare reform effort to deal with any enthusiasm gap we are seeing now. I doubt many of the underdisciplined narcissists who are pouting and stamping about Third Party bids or staying home election day will still feel that way once the campaign ads start running, given just how insanely bad Republicans really are at this point. I do hope that the bloody healthcare reform sausage really will have enough good regulation left in it among the gristle and bone that all the inevitable crowing will have some kind of substance behind it. And I do hope the noises we are hearing about a jobs bill won't be drowned out by endlessly discredited neo-Hooverite noises about deficits megaphoned by nervous oligarchs clinging to their stolen loot while averting their eyes from the suffering of their fellow citizens. About Afghanistan I won't say anything, because it's too hard to talk while you are puking.

But come what may what we need right now is more Democrats and better Democrats, and however bad our situation, it still seems to me we have the rhetorical and substantial recourses at hand to bring about that result, or at any rate not lose ground.

If the mid-terms were held today, Democrats would be in trouble, we would lose some ground. That is sobering, but it would scarcely betoken even now, at its worst, any turning of the tide back to Republican anti-governmentality, any derangement of the demographic trends toward the Democrats. I don't think it would even be much of a game-changer in terms of practical governance, since I doubt Democrats would lose their Senate majority, and it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to lose the appearance of a filibuster-proof supermajority that doesn't represent reality and as such inspires unrealistic hopes and imposes unrealistic responsibilities on Senate Democrats.

The enthusiasm gap we are seeing makes perfect sense, it is perfectly reasonable given the facts on the ground, but I disagree with those who see in it anything prophetic for 2010's mid-terms. Many things will change between now and then. It isn't a bad idea to remind yourselves of the contours of the 2008 Presidential contest and how that played out. Election year dynamics differ from off-year sausage-making dynamics.

The left Netroots emerged when Democrats were in the wilderness, and this has been our first time bearing witness to the ugliness of actual governing for which we ourselves are non-negligibly responsible. There is a lot of learning going on here.

Cheney, Man of Conviction? Or, Man Who Should Be Convicted?

Jon Meacham in Newsweek
I think we should be taking the possibility of a Dick Cheney bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 more seriously, for a run would be good for the Republicans and good for the country. (The sound you just heard in the background was liberal readers spitting out their lattes.)

Why? Because Cheney is a man of conviction, has a record on which he can be judged, and whatever the result, there could be no ambiguity about the will of the people. The best way to settle arguments is by having what we used to call full and frank exchanges about the issues, and then voting. A contest between Dick Cheney and Barack Obama would offer us a bracing referendum on competing visions.

It's flabbergasting, really, the cartoonish buffoonery that passes for wit in the Village.

Liberals and lattes, again? I think it is a safe bet to say that the GOPers who hob-nob with doughy stuffed shirt Jon Meacham are as or more likely to be sipping lattes themselves as are any self-identified liberals one might happen to meet. Why not just say people who vote for Democrats are FAGS and be done with it? Why not let the world know you are just a dumb fourteen year old bully, Jon Meacham, deep down where all the oozy oily Hitler-mustachioed monsters are always screaming, screaming, screaming inside?

And then, just as mind-boggling, really, there is this ardent pining for a "full and frank exchange" and a "contest of competing visions" between Republicans and Democrats. Honestly.

It is as if there weren't an election at all for Jon Meacham. It is as if all the relentless and unprecedented Republican obstructionism looks to Jon Meacham like the earnest membership of a disappointed debate club desperate to talk about ideas. It is as if Cheney's relentlessly sub-basement poll numbers both in office and right up to the present never meant anything, never quite registered as real to Jon Meacham.

For Jon Meacham, no doubt, there is indeed always to be discerned a serious "ambiguity about the will of the people." No doubt there is always a promising exploitable glimmer of ambiguity available to be nudged like dough by the likes of Jon Meacham into a cozy manufactured consent to whatever is on the corporate-militarist menu for today.

Every contrary result, every anti-war protest sending hundreds of thousands into the street, every poll that decries crony capitalists slurping at the trough, every election that throws out another Christianist freak or corporate shill vanishes down the memory hole or provides the set-up for the inevitable demand for do-over after do-over.

Just a reminder, Jon Meacham, but "that bracing referendum" on the competing visions of the snarling Nixonian Cheney versus the chirpy compromising Obama did indeed already take place, and the results were hardly ambiguous. And however many times it is restaged the result will always endlessly indicate that Americans hate Dick Cheney and everything he stands for whereupon the whiny white guys and pinch-faced Church ladies of the rancid right wing will ignore reality and nominate themselves the "moral majority" in their amoral minority, or "Real Americans" who want to tyrannize majorities of fellow Americans, or "values voters" who vote profits over people every time.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Till We All Drop

Wilde declared patriotism the virtue of the vicious, but especially in this morning's appalling assault of barking brainless ads, in these days when patriotism demands above all that we go shopping for piles of preborn landfill, it is hard to see what remains of patriotism as so much vicious as just squalid.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Arendtian Exercises

Loss, Connection, Transformation, March 2008

Hannah Arendt on Futurology, April, 2009

Hannah Arendt on Common Sense, April, 2009

Hannah Arendt on AI, April, 2009

Arendt, Fanon, King on Violence, May, 2009

More on Freedom, May, 2009

The Peer, February, 2010

Rhetoric and Nonviolence, June, 2010.

My Own Opposition to Capital Punishment, September, 2011.

Judith Butler at the People's Mic, October, 2011.

Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains, published in the Fall 2013 issue of Existenz. (Sections four and seven, especially, take up Arendt.)

"Public Happiness," August, 2014.

Of Natal Politics, February, 2015.

Natality, Tech "Disruption," and Killer Robots, February, 2015.

Returning to the Arendtian "Turn" on Judgment, February, 2015.

The name of this blog, "Amor Mundi," was the personal motto of the political thinker and cultural critic Hannah Arendt.

Arendt is both my earliest and certainly my most abiding philosophical influence, and only Judith Butler has had anything like a comparable impact on my thinking. Sometimes I feel almost as though the whole of my own thinking has just been an interminable effort to reconcile with one another the ways in which Arendt and Butler keep mattering to me in ever different, ever deepening ways however much everything else seems to change.

I have sometimes quipped to my students that whereas most philosophers have written about politics like it was marriage (a matter of contracts, compromises, housekeeping), Arendt wrote about politics like it was sex (a matter of agony, ecstasy, fraught collaborations moment to moment, peer to peer) and that I will always cherish her for that.

In a somewhat programmatic statement I offered up once to explain what I hoped to accomplish -- if that's the right word -- with this blog and get at the temperament out of which it arises I wrote:
"Amor Mundi" is the love of the world. It is the love of the worldly. It is the worldly love of that becoming that becomes us. It is the love of the collective struggle of which that becoming consists, and on which that becoming depends for its force, for its serendipities, for its pleasures, and for its dangers.
I feel keen kinship with Arendt's statement about herself, quoted in Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's magnificent biography of her teacher and friend Arendt, For Love of the World (a title which itself refers, of course, to Amor Mundi), that "I have a kind of melancholy, which I can only grapple with by understanding, by thinking things through." It was only through this grappling, writes Young-Bruehl, that Arendt could "hold to an attitude she called amor mundi, love of the world" (xvii), an attitude with which she meant to confront and reject "the philosophical tradition of contemptus mundi" (324).

I think it is also quite crucial to think of amor mundi as cognate with Nietzsche's amor fati, what he took to be the affirmation of the threatening, promising contingency of worldly life as it is, characterized most essentially in the eternal return, the intensive interminable responsibility, refigurability, resignifiability of reality. With his own motto amor fati Nietzsche likewise demanded a repudiation of what he to took to be a fearful, resentful (to wit, "The Fearful Ones," ressentiment) unworldliness in traditional philosophy.

But where for Nietzsche loving the world was a matter of stamping the obliterative dynamism of the relentless encounters of the self and the living world with a significance one would sign and resign one's own name to (this is "How one becomes what one is"), for Arendt loving the world was accomplished through the no less dynamic but as supportive as obliterative encounters of the self with the pluralities within and without us: The plurality within is the dialogue of the "I and the me" that constitutes thinking, the ongoing reconciliation of our histories with our hopes, out of which come the assertions of judgment offered up to the hearing of the diversity of our peers, the plurality without us, the testimonies to fact and to value, the making of promises and the offerings of forgiveness, the clash of opinions through which we collectively make the world and substantiate our selves in the world.

I am anthologizing here some of my posts which have taken up the work of Hannah Arendt in an explicit, sustained way. Although Arendt's name comes up a lot here on the blog, and in my conversation more generally, I was surprised how rarely I have really devoted significant space to her here. I definitely mean to write quite a bit more about Arendt on the blog, and someday to transcribe and elaborate lectures I have devoted to her work over the years in my teaching life.

Republicans Lying About Size Matters?

Act surprised.

The size of the bills has become a common talking point for opponents of health care reform. Congressional Republicans have repeatedly referenced the number of pages in the Democrats’ health care bills to try to link them to big government and excessive spending… The AP reported recently that, counter to Senator Hatch’s claims, the Senate health care bill is not actually longer than War and Peace. Tolstoy’s novel is about twice as long as the bill… [L]ong bills are written by both Democrats and Republicans. The second longest bill to appear in Congress over the past ten years was authored by Republican Rep. Don Young [R, AK-1]. It’s a mere 68 words shorter than the House health care bill. Of the 10 longest bills in the past ten years, five were written by Democrats and five were written by Republicans.

Here's the Final for My Green Rhetoric Course at UC Berkeley

There are well over a hundred keywords listed below from among the many more terms we have taken up and deployed over the course of our readings and conversations this term.

For your Final you are to create three categories (conceptual, practical, figurative, whatever) entirely of your own choosing and design, and then subsume under each of these categories a number of keywords from the list below which seem to you to be related to one another in a significant or useful way through each of your chosen categories and in respect to your sense of the overall subject of our course together. "Green" is not a Keyword in the list -- but your own idiosyncratic inhabitation of Greenness, your own sense of what Greenness most importantly consists will likely emerge in the Final taken as a whole.

For each keyword you choose, provide a clear and concise definition of the term (nothing more than a sentence, at most two) in your own words, and then follow that definition with a quotation from one of the assigned texts from our syllabus. The quotation should be one that is especially illuminating for the definition you have made in some way: the quotation can be a definition that yours is a variation of, the quotation can be an example or illustration that supports your definition, the quotation can provide an analogy or figure or frame that inspired your definition, the quotation can even be something that seemed so wrongheaded to you that it provoked your definition as a kind of protest or intervention.

Your final must provide definitions and quotations for at least thirty-six keywords but no more than forty. None of your categories can contain fewer than seven keywords and none can contain more than sixteen keywords.

Each of your categories should have a title and a general explanatory paragraph (and I do mean a paragraph, not an essay) indicating what you take the category to delineate.

You can hand the final in to me personally at any time from now to the end of term, but I ask that you send it to me as a Word-readable attachment in an e-mail if you cannot place a hard copy directly into my hands. The last possible deadline for submitting the final is via e-mail, noon, Tuesday, December 15, 2009. Think about when your other finals are scheduled and when your other papers are due and fit this final Keyword Project into your schedule in a way that best suits your own situation. If you have time to get this done early rather than last minute, by all means do so. You should give yourself a good few days to do this work, since scouting through passages and notes across the whole term often yields unexpected syntheses that lead to revisions of your initial categorizations and keyword groupings. I hope this exercise is an enlightening and enjoyable one for you all rather than a drudgery. Be experimental, exploratory, earnest about it and you are almost sure to get incomparably more benefit from it.

If you have questions, always feel free to post them in Comments, e-mail them to me, raise them in class, or talk with me about them in office hours.

Here are the Keywords I'm having you choose from:

Access-to-Knowledge (a2k)
Appropriate Technology
Biosphere II
Cap and Trade
Climate Change
Climate Refugees
Climax Ecosystem
Common Sense
Consensus Science
Creative Commons
Deep Ecology
Ecosystemic Services
Edible Landscaping
Endangered Species
Energy Descent
Environmental Justice Movement
Environmental Racism
Farmers Market
Industrial Agriculture
Input Intensive
Instrumental Rationality
Integrated Pest Management
Intentional Community
Intellectual Property
Natural Capital
One Size Fits All
Peak Oil
Peer-to-Peer (p2p)
Political Ecology
Precautionary Principle
Public Good
Resource Descent
Seed Saving
Seed Sharing
Slow Food
Small Is Beautiful
Smart Grid
Social Ecology
Technical Metabolism
Triple Bottom Line
Urban Agriculture

A Thanksgiving Prayer by William Burroughs

William Burroughs gives thanks. Director Gus Van Sant helps out.

For John Dillinger
In hope he is still alive
Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1986

Thanks for the wild turkey and the Passenger Pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts

thanks for a Continent to despoil and poison —

thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger —

thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin, leaving the carcass to rot —

thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes —

thanks for the AMERICAN DREAM to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through —

thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killing lawmen feeling their notches, for decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces —

thanks for "Kill a Queer for Christ" stickers —

thanks for laboratory AIDS —

thanks for Prohibition and the War Against Drugs —

thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to mind his own business —

thanks for a nation of finks — yes, thanks for all the memories... all right, let's see your arms... you always were a headache and you always were a bore —

thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

Monday, November 23, 2009

No, I Won't Be Getting On Twitter

To the nice person who enjoys my futurological brickbats and occasional acerbic one-liners so much she wishes I would start tweeting, and stop with the sprawling "tl;dr" e-pistles, I must say thanks, very, but, you know, no thanks. I am in fact temperamentally incapable of tweeting in a sustained way -- if it makes any kind of sense to connect sustenance with tweeting in the first place. I am no more inclined to follow anybody on Twitter than I am stealthfully to stalk a brittle-boned dead-eyed scarcely post-pubescent celebrity into a public restroom in the hope of finding in their recently relinquished bowl a floating fragment of unflushed poo. I eagerly aver that Twitter is useful as a form of reportage in contexts where the contours and stakes of a process (like a mass protest or a legislative process) are changing very rapidly and unpredictably on the basis of scattered diverse stakeholder inputs. But Twitter is in my view an anti-thought anti-analysis anti-judgement medium more generally and actually destructive of these wherever it draws too much attention to itself. One cannot analyze, contextualize, or argue in a Tweet, but only testify to ill-digested sensations, observations, and prejudices. Twitter is where wit withers, it is a further brutalization of common sense and common cause and common wealth at the worst possible time in our collective and planetary life.

Not Looking Good

Some of the Republican healthcare lies are getting traction, at any rate confusing and dividing opinion in the public and in the caucus, and the Democratic numbers are showing it.

Republican numbers are even lower, so their ongoing refusal to participate in problem-solving no longer seems to be working as it did through an entire generation of a Republicanism that said "we think government is good for nothing" and then proved their case by being relentlessly good for nothing.

Since mid-terms often turn on turnout in the respective bases, though, Republicans are counting on a Left base demoralized by the necessarily compromised sausage-making that ensues in the aftermath of the poetry of campaign rhetoric around actually shared ideals and clearheaded If-I-Were-King policy prescriptions (a demoralization now exacerbated to the point of crisis by deliberate flabbergastingly irresponsible Republican obstructionism, of course) and on a Right base energized by the spectacle of unrestrained infantile celebritized id -- since at this point the Republican base is more or less the Mob, that most traumatized, enraged, precarious mass, irrationally belligerent (recalling that greed is a kind of belligerence), scarcely educated, often racist and who knows what else in the hate department, sometimes even outright theocratic.

It would seem that the mass-mediated lies and confusions, coupled with the real elements of crapola that freight any possibly passable healthcare reform at this point, taken together, mean that Democrats now face the ugly alternatives of taking a real electoral hit in the midst of an economic crisis for passing a confusing compromised bill, or not passing even this bill and taking an incomparably greater hit, possibly squandering their majorities, hobbling the President, shunting off absolutely necessary reform into a future in which it won't matter because it will be too late for America by then. Passage of the bill will be, on balance, a good thing, helping many Americans who most need it almost form the moment it is signed into law, but I no longer expect this accomplishment to provide electoral payoffs.

We get nothing better than a foot in the door, and this isn't enough to give the governing party a leg up in an economic environment such as this. And it doesn't matter that it isn't really the Dems' fault more than the Republicans who are likely to benefit from the mess electorally, especially since the Dems' toothless bailouts of the worst financial offenders really were so ill-conceived that our slimy smug corporatists do deserve a heaping dollop of blame, too, anyway. Not that the justice of making corporatist Dems pay for their mistakes with the loss of their majority would do anything at all to correct the situation rather than handing over power to just about the only people in the world hell-bent on making things incomparably worse.

It seems to me (not that anything I say matters or anything) that Obama can only retain the majorities he needs to get anything done in the face of Party of No obstructionism by purchasing these majorities with a jobs bill that gets money and security directly into the hands of millions of voters (filling potholes, planting trees, laying rail, shoring up bridges, insulating schools and civic structures, training nurses and teachers, and so on).

Budget hawks are making their neo-Hooverite noises, and whenever that happens they are always the only ones who get listened to even though they are also always completely catastrophically wrong about everything. Since they are saying what the rich want to hear it doesn't matter that they are wrong and will bring on the usual ruin. Given the ambiguities of healthcare reform, nothing is more important than ignoring the Hooverites and investing in jobs that make majorities of people feel government really is on their side and worth keeping in power.

More jobs or less votes for Democrats, it's as simple as that, and less votes for Democrats means the end of America, it's as simple as that.

The republicans are set on the road to outright fascism, the Bush years made that plain enough, and the truth of the matter is that I believe that dream is ultimately unworkable. But Republicans don't have to install fascism to destroy America -- they need only paralyze us long enough that we become a failed state in the midst of energy descent and climate catastrophe to destroy America. An America destroyed on those terms would not be the worst thing for the world at large, frankly, though there is no question that an America on the path to reasonable sustainable social democracy testifying to the power of the diversity of our immigrants and our commitment to free expression would be an undeniably good thing for a planet with a powerful authoritarian China in it.

So, we must somehow pass relatively unpopular health care reform, we can't expect to get the boost such an accomplishment deserves but must treat it as laying the foundation for longer term successes through ongoing struggle and count our blessings. Meanwhile, we've got to get people working else we're going to give a determinative voice in government to people who hate the very idea of good government and who will inevitably destroy this country because only good government can save America in the face of energy descent and climate catastrophe.

If the Republicans win big time in the mid-terms, or if Obama fails to secure a second term to the Presidency, I'm beginning to think you would be crazy to stay in this country if you are a progressive, intellectual, or precariously stigmatized person. Go to Canada if you can, South America, Europe or even India at that point, because that's where almost everybody will be who will actually be doing anything to solve the problems that matter to the future of the planet. I suppose Pacifica and the Northeast and maybe Chicago will hold on for a time to sanity in the face of the unraveling. But I fear it will be triage and martial law and tent-revival time in America most everywhere else, in a toxic brew of irresolvable irrational hatreds and Greenhouse storms.

Things are not looking good to me right about, I'm sorry to say.

The vicissitudes of the health care debate over the next month and the noises about whether or not jobs are going to be prioritized over deficits and hearing just how deep in the big muddy our troops will be (not to mention, no doubt, the impact of end of term grading and so on) will be driving my ups and downs from here on out right up through January.


It is easier to be taken as serious by saying things complacent people want to hear than it is by saying things that are serious.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

By the Way, Make DC a State Already

Taxation without representation is utterly anathema, not to mention the difference two more Democratic Senators would make right about now.

Sanders: Public Option Not Optional

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued the following statement on Nov. 21, 2009, after the Senate 60-39 vote to begin debate on a health care reform bill:
"I voted to proceed on health care reform because our current health care system is disintegrating and must be reformed. Forty-six million Americans are uninsured, and 45,000 die every year because they don't have access to a doctor. We have almost one million Americans going bankrupt because of medically-related diseases, health care costs are soaring and we end up spending almost twice as much per person on health care as any other nation. It is clear that we need real health care reform.

"While I voted to proceed to the health care legislation tonight, I have made it clear to the administration and Democratic leadership that my vote for the final bill is by no means guaranteed. In the weeks to come I intend to do everything I can to make this legislation stronger and more effective for working families and taxpayers in Vermont and America and something all Americans can be proud of."

Conservadems have attracted an enormous amount of attention and leverage through their threats to commit political suicide and destroy their party's majority and kill countless thousands of their fellow citizens by preserving the murderous for-profit healthcare system intact.

I leave to the side of my considerations, of course, the sizable, far worse, but hopelessly unreachable obstructionist block of outright anti-civilizational Movement Republicans who cannot be moved and who will reap the whirlwind in consequence if Democrats manage to install anything the least bit substantial in the way of more general welfare and good governance in spite of them.

Key now is that we not let a minority of corporate shills and vestigial feudalists among the Democrats dictate the terms of the next, even uglier stage of the struggle in the Senate. Now is the time for relentless pressure on Conservadems and also in support of those who are trying to do the right thing (comparatively speaking) in the face of incredibly loud, frantic, moneyed, incumbent interests.

Those who give up now, need to get out of the way, while the rest of us push, push, push from the left. Note that narcissistic declarations of "a plague on both your houses" at a time like this do not constitute pushes from the left, they constitute infantile demands for attention when nobody with sense has any time or attention to spare.

Majorities of Americans -- Republican lies to the contrary notwithstanding -- want real reform, and majorities in the Congress want to deliver it. Make sure that the attention and the leverage is on the side of the majorities -- who also happen to have the facts and human values on their side in this instance -- right where it belongs by making your voice heard with your calls, your signatures, your dollars, whatever you have.

Sanders, America's Senator, with the statement above, is announcing that the comparatively principled Democratic majority has a greater voice and greater sense and greater vision and greater righteousness and greater strength from which to bargain in this moment than the miniscule minority of greedheads and anti-choicers who are now grabbing the megaphone when they clearly need to be grabbing a copy of the Platform of the Party they benefit from membership in right about now, and we've got to have Sanders' back, we've got to have the back of the many more reform-oriented pro-Choice Democrats who are more in tune with our aspirations.

We need to get our foot in the door to shift the terrain on which the struggle for substantial reform in the direction of universal healthcare as a right to secure the scene of legitimate consent and the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Magic 50

Obama's Gallup Approval has dipped below the Magic 50% for the first time at 49% -- as has happened for every post WW2 President except Kennedy. It's good, frankly, since the Administration really needs to grasp fully that "It's the Economy, Stupid" means jobs jobs jobs, not keep Wall Street fat cats happy. There are plenty of indications that this is a point they well understand, but given the corporatist-cohort whispering in Obama's ear one cannot help but feel nervous about it. Passing healthcare -- yes, even the palpably not at all what we wanted version we will get -- will catapult Approvals up in any case. Here's hoping the wingnut freakout that ensues will energize both bases and mid-terms won't lose Dems the working majorities we need to keep getting anything at all done post 2010. It's gonna be a nail-biter.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

DeFazio: Fire Summers and Geithner for Their Failure and Their Fraud

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) on MSNBC's Ed Show:
"We think it is time [to] reclaim some of the unspent [TARP] funds... reclaim some of the funds that are being paid back… and we use it to put people back to work. Rebuilding America's infrastructure is a tried and true way to put people back to work...

"Unfortunately, the President has an adviser from Wall Street, Larry Summers, and a Treasury Secretary from Wall Street, Timmy Geithner, who don't like that idea… They want to keep the TARP money either to continue to bail out Wall Street... or to pay down the deficit. That's absurd...

"[L]ook back at the AIG scandal and Goldman and others who got their bets paid off in full...with taxpayer money through AIG. We channeled the money through them. Geithner would not answer my question when I said, 'Were those naked credit default swaps by Goldman or were they a counterparty?' He would not answer that question...

"[Obama] is being failed by his economic team… We may have to sacrifice just two more jobs to get millions back for Americans."

Encouraging. More like this, please.

UCB Protests -- Revised Schedule for Thursday

Note the Open University events, and the change in time of workshop on academic labor-11 am. We'll have a ladder faculty, a lecturer, a grad student and a union representative on the panel.

Please spend time on the picket line if you possibly can. I've added links to news coverage at the bottom.

5:00 am. UPTE Picket lines start at construction sites

7:15 am. Main Picket lines begin at campus entrances

8:00 am. UPTE Picket lines at UCOP in Oakland

8:00 am. Sit-ins begin at Dwinelle Hall

9:00 am - 10:00 pm. Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of The Black Scholar

Lipman Room, 7th floor of Barrows, Born of the SF State Strike, all TBS events are in Solidarity

9:00 am - 3:00 pm. The Open University Lectures in the Bear's Lair Food Court

9:00 - 10:00. Welcome to the Open University / International Skype Connection

10:00 - 11:00. Gray Brechin, "It doesnt have to be this way: Higher Ed in the New Deal"

11:00 - 12:00. Daniel Graham on "The Coup in Honduras"

12:00 - 1:00. Ananya Roy on "The Financialization of Everything"

1:00 - 2:00. Michael Cohen and Kathryn Lybarger on "The IWW and American Labor Radicalism"

2:00 - 3:00. TJ Clark on "From Print Capitalism to Screen Capitalism"

9:30 am - 3:00 pm. The Open University Workshops on Sproul or in the MLK Multicultural Center (*)

9:30 - 10:30. Field Trip and Experiential Learning Tour with AFSCME 3299

10:00 - 11:00. "This is what Berkeley did for me" a photo workshop (Sproul)

*11:00 - 12:00. Katherine Lee, "Academic Labor: A Workshop for Students and Workers"

12:00 - 1:00. "What is Public? A participatory event in search of the public" (Sproul)

12:00 - 1:00. "Utopias at Work" (Sproul)

12:00 - 1:30. Capoeira on the Picket Lines: Demonstration and workshop (Sproul)

*2:00 - 3:00. Annie McClanahan & West Hays: "Prisons and Education: Teaching in CA Prisons"

*2:00 - 3:00. Gray Brechin & Peter Byrne, "UC Inc. Workshop on Researching the Regents"

12:30 - 2:00 pm. Anthropology Teach-In Multiversity Room, Newman Hall -- HOLY SPIRIT Chapel (2700 DWIGHT WAY)

Jeff Schonberg, "Wartime Crimes: Homelessness, Addiction and Poverty in America."

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, "Making in Crazy (and less so) in Peoples' Park & Vets of forgotten wars."

Noon. Striking Workers March from Bancroft and Telegraph

3:10 pm. Dump your trash at California Hall, Sponsored by ASFCME Bring your campus trash and rally at the east entrance of California Hall.

4:00 pm. Second Strike Meeting: What's Next?

7:00 pm. Film Screening: "Alcatraz is not an Island" 102 Krober Hall

40th Anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz & American Indian Heritage Month

8:00 pm. Musical performance by John Handy Quartet, Lipman Room, Barrows

Part of The Black Scholar Celebration

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Punch Them in the Face

Upon meeting foreign heads of State just what exactly would Republicans prefer US Presidents to do who are presently losing their marbles about Obama's respectful bow in Japan? Presumably America should just give the rest of the world the finger and then bomb everybody. Oh, wait, probably that is what they pine for.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Concerning Republican Bedwetting About Accused Terrorists on Trial

Those who are arguing that it is irresponsible (or just plain skeeeeeery) to jail and hold trials for the accused 9/11 plotters in NYC because it exposes the already exposed City to attack cannot really believe that such an always-already symbolically redolent target would be ratcheted up just enough by becoming the setting of such a trial that would-be terrorists who are now refraining from attacking it would suddenly be induced to do so. Like those who are given to loudly losing their minds in public places at the prospect of sending convicted terrorists to prison facilities in the United States that already house criminals quite as horrible and violent and dangerous as terrorists, these arguments simply make no sense at all on their face.

Either: to be generous, these public freakouts represent some kind of symptomatic upwelling of irrational panic arising out of the trauma of the attacks -- not to mention, the usual bedwetting one expects from loudmouthed would-be he-men and bully types who throng the ranks of Movement Republicanism. In that case, it would probably be kinder by far, not to mention more sensible, to find these people some sort of counseling rather than nudging them incessantly to microphones to document their lamentable breakdowns on our tee vees.

Or: to opt not for generosity but instead for realism, since these are mostly Republicans saying these idiotic things after all, these public freakouts prophetically warning of blood-soaked streets and rampages of violence in Anytown, USA are all too likely offered up in the spirit of pre-emptive media-narrative investments to better position themselves to opportunistically benefit from any catastrophes that might happen to take place (as the Fort Hood tragedy has been disgustingly milked by many right wing sensationalists to suggest that America must relinquish its freedom if it loves its freedom and so on blah blah blah) however tangentially connected to the concerns actually serious people are weighing in the present. You know, the usual brainless fearmongering disasterbatory authoritarian bullshit.

Education, Agitation, Organization at UCB This Week

The privatization and corporatization agenda that has devastated public education, eliminated public services, repudiated public investment in young people's education, looted public infrastructure and resources, handed as much as possible over to profiteers, and brought the State of California more generally to the brink of failed state status continues on, as generations of Movement Republican policy and ideology bears its poisoned fruits. Now ideologues and know-nothings are braying that the predictable and predicted devastation that has come of refusing to pay for civilization requires as its "solution" an orgiastic intensification of the same looting and pillaging and refusal of all responsibility.

UCBerkeley is dying, and for nothing, its campus is pimpling with slick corporate PR posters, its local and co-op vendors replaced with corporate franchises, its departments flooded with corporate dollars and agendas, its rare old trees chainsawed to make room for huge investments in splashy amusements unconnected to education, its fees rising so that fewer and fewer but the wealthiest have access to education, its teaching handed over more and more to precarious lecturers (among them, me), indispensable life-long staff-people fired everywhere while slick suited managers who have never had an original thought in their heads get raises, services slashed, idiotic advertising images and sales pitches metastasizing across the landscape....

Providing, as always, a glimpse into what may very well be the future of America, California has been paralyzed as ever greater majorities have repudiated (too often in an under-informed, under-critical way vulnerable to exploitation) the right wing ideology that is destroying us, but an ever more ideologically zealous core of right wing ideologues maintains a minority large enough to make it impossible to remedy the problems that beset us or govern sensibly, providing through their refusals the very paralysis and paroxysms from which their patrons benefit financially and which represent the destruction of responsive responsible governance that has always, and explicitly, been their goal in the first place.

If what you really want to do is steal and bark orders, there is nothing like chaos to provide the cover and the pretext for it.

Even in losing the losers keep the winners from governing, then reap the rewards of anti-governmental sentiment that follow from these failures to re-install themselves in positions to deepen the crisis further and further.

Nationally, Republicans as The Party of No are beginning to impose this strategy on the Senate, paralyzing reform of catastrophically failed for-profit insurance and unregulated financial institutions and planet-menacing extractive-petrochemical industries. As goes California, so goes the Nation.

Learn from California -- don't repeat our mistakes -- don't let our corporate-militarist Republicans drag down the Nation with us -- help us back to a strength with which our democratic majorities and the genius of our diversity can help the country help itself!

The corporate-militarists who define contemporary Republicanism and who still maintain too strong a hold on too many of the Democrats must be exposed very loudly and very clearly for what they are so that blame for the inevitable failures to come is fixed on those responsible for them rather than on those who are struggling against impossible odds to solve our shared problems.

Here, in California, we are fighting -- in substantial numbers at long last, possibly too late and still, I fear, without really educating people enough about the causes of our suffering so much as testifying to the scale of the catastrophe and to the suffering itself. We are protesting amidst the death throes of a public system of higher education that was once the envy of the world and an investment in knowledge that was one of the great accomplishments and benefits to our democratic way of life.

The vultures have all but killed it, and eagerly cheerfully pick at its bones. Even now our media are too ignorant or complicit or distracted to inform the people of the simple state of affairs that has brought us this catastrophe. Chief among these are the idiosyncratic constitutional barriers that enable small anti-government minorities to paralyze efforts to make the richest Californians pay their fair share in taxes to fund the services and investments without which this is not a place worth living in, even for comparatively rich people hiding in crappy McMansions or behind gated walls.

Still, things are happening here, and if you are a student or a concerned Californian, here are some of the things happening this week...

--Monday, Nov 16

2:30 pm

Action at the Bear's Lair to support long-time vendors Ann Vu, owner of
Healthy Heavenly Foods, and Arnoldo Marquez, owner of El Taqueria
Tacontento, who are striking in support of students and workers and to
protest UC management's efforts to drive them out and replace them with
corporate vendors like Tully's.

6-7:30 pm

Students: Know Your Rights, Stephens Room, 4th Floor MLK Student Union

A presentation by the Student Advocate's Office, followed by a Q&A session
with a police officer. Are you striking next week? If so, do you know your
rights as a student? Do you know how your actions may signal police
response? What questions must you answer to, and when you can remain silent?
What rights do you have over your own property at a demonstration? How does
university policy blur with CA law? What do you do if you've been detained
or arrested?

6-8:30 pm

International Student Teach-In on the Budget, Multicultural Center in the
MLK Student Union Building

Speaker panel: Lecturer Darren Zook, Political Science; Professor Bob
Jacobsen, Physics (Physics for Future Presidents); Ariel Boone, ASUC
Senator; Viola Tang, Undergraduate International Student & ASUC Senator;
Farren Briggs, Graduate International Student & Graduate Assembly
International Student Affairs Committee Chair; Magrethe Nergaard, Concurrent
Enrollment & Exchange Student

--Tuesday, Nov 17

6 pm

ASUC Store Operations Board meeting in the ASUC Senate Chambers to discuss
the Bear's Lair Food Court and the public bid process. The Board has the
ASUC President, Vice President, and Dean of Students, so a mass of students
and workers in solidarity will be very persuasive. Free coffee and soup will
be provided in the Bear's Lair Food Court all night Tuesday night for
organizing meetings to plan for November 18.

8 pm

Waiting for Lefty, by Clifford Odets, Booth Auditorium in Boalt Hall on
College and Bancroft

An interactive staged reading directed by Peter Glazer (FREE). Featuring
Ariel Boone, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, Michael Cohen, Lura Dolas, Alisha
Ehrlich, Ricardo Gomez, Suzanne Guerlac, Elijah Guo, Lyn Hejinian, Shannon
Jackson, Gregory Levine, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Isaac Miller, Shannon
Steen, Barrie Thorne, Elena Wagoner, Dick Walker

Less than an hour, and worth every second!

--Wednesday, Nov 18

UPTE, CUE, and graduate and undergraduate students will strike to protest
unfair labor practices (illegal layoffs of UPTE bargainers and president),
pay cuts without good faith negotiations, and planned student fee hikes of

5 am

Picketing begins at construction sites

7 am

Picketing begins at campus entrances

12 noon

Rally at Sproul Plaza--arrive at 11:30 if you can (Speakers will include
Ananya Roy, Bob Haas, speakers from the Davis and UCSC campuses including
Barbara Epstein, Annie McClanahan of the Graduate Students Organizing
Committee (GSOC), Tanya Smith of UPTE, Kathryn Lybarger of AFSCME, Juan
Garcia of CUE, Berkeley lecturer Mary Kelsey of UC-AFT, and several

1:30 pm

Send-off for students and workers taking buses to UCLA, followed by a march
to California Hall and a large meeting

--Thursday, Nov 19

Same picketing schedule as Wednesday


Bear's Lair--talks on social movements and their history; classes by Kathryn
Lybarger, AFSCME gardener, will include a learning tour of the campus and a
talk on union organizing history

12 noon

Meeting or rally in front of California Hall

3 pm

At 3:05 pm people will deposit their trash in the trash container at
California Hall to dramatize the consequences of laying off maintenance
workers: garbage accumulating across campus.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Little Truth to Peddle the Deception

The internets are abuzz today with David Brooks' talk show declaration this morning that Sarah Palin is a joke. Here's the quote:
She's a joke. I mean, I just can't take her seriously. We've got serious problems in the country. Barack Obama's trying to handle war. We've just a had guy elected Virginia governor who's probably the model for the future of the Republican Party, Bob McDonnell, pretty serious guy, pragmatic, calm, kind of boring. The idea that this potential talk show host is considered seriously for the Republican nomination -- believe me, it'll never happen. Republican primary voters are just not going to elect a talk show host.

Let's be very clear about this. Brooks' declaration represents no turning of the tide from teabag crazytown, but in fact a crazytown double down. Although it is a stretch to attribute anything so substantial as "views" to La Palin, it is important to grasp that Sarah Palin and Bob McDonnell are actually both right-wing crackpots, neither are the least bit "serious" about solving our shared "serious problems" as a nation.

Palin and McDonnell differ less in political substance than in media style and strategy. To win office, McDonnell pretended to a pragmatism he neither believes in nor is likely to govern by while Palin, on the contrary, clowns it up for the cameras and for the rubes the better to get her Fox Noise or ClearChannel talk-show gig.

That these two ideologues are opportunistically deploying their different cynicisms to their different ends is scarcely worth noting (any more than it is really worth noting that somebody with a brain regards Sarah Palin as a bad joke). But I do think it merits our attention that the most deeply cynical performance on display here, by far, is coming from David Brooks himself, who knows all of this very well, and is smoothly spinning for the stealthy right wing liars over the overt whackjobs for no reason beyond the fact that he knows well which side of the lying loaf his own bread's buttered on.

Yes We Kant

Movement Republicans deny Darwinian knowledge to make room for "Social Darwinian" faith.

Awful Truths

The Bobblespeak Translations are particularly zingy this afternoon:
Stephanopoulos: Karzai is pretty corrupt isn’t he?

Clinton: it’s ok we’re going to get a[n] Official Certification that he’s only to spend money in a non-corrupt and totally ethical way

Stephanopoulos: you can’t even get that in New Jersey!

Clinton: we need to find an off-ramp out of there

Stephanopoulos: it looks like we got lost and drove into another country

Clinton: Pakistan is a theatre

Stephanopoulos: Kabuki?

Clinton: Improv

If only we could get Irene Dunn and Cary Grant to re-enact these…

One for the Ages

Michael K wonders, when Angelina and Brad went to MOCA's 30th Anniversary Gala, did they look at the art or did the art look at them?

Futurological Brickbats

There is nothing more pathetic than boys who strive to sound prophetic.

Futurological Brickbats

We can use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house, indeed we must do so, because in taking up the master's tools and turning them to unheard of tasks we make the tools our own.

Futurological Brickbats

If I cannot dance I want no part in your reductive interpretations of evolution.

Futurological Brickbats

Those who dream of making themselves gods through technology are lying to themselves not least because god is already a dream we made ourselves through the technology of lying.

Futurological Brickbats

Our foolish futurologists are peddling their wishful wares unaware that our world is the ruin of the futurological foolishness of their fathers.

Read all the Futurological Brickbats here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

MundiMuster! Remind the Stupak Bloody Twenty of the Wire Hangers They Are Now Willing to Murder Women With

CREDO Action:
Sign this petition and send a coat hanger to the 20 formerly pro-choice Democrats -- all men -- who voted to pass the Stupak Amendment.

"We know what happens when women are denied access to reproductive health care including abortion. And we can't go back to an era of coat hangers and back alley abortions. Reconsider your vote on the Stupak Amendment. Tell House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the final health care bill that emerges from the conference committee can't turn the clock back on women's rights."

Futurology by Analogy

Foresight is to futurology as investment is to speculation.
Policy is to futurology as deliberation is to marketing.
Thinking is to futurology as sense is to hyperbole.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Berkeley Courses I'm Teaching in the Spring

Rhetoric 105 -- Homo Economicus: Setting the Stage of Enterprising Modernities

We will treat the mannered comedies book-ending the early modern Augustan period and the late modern twentieth century as both documents of and negotiations of the ramifying terrains of enterprising North Atlantic modernities. In these insistently witty plays we will discern not only the shifting urban and institutional landscape of globalizations, mass mediations, technoscientific disruptions, market disciplines, social administrations, raced and gendered relations alive across these London scenes, but also the no less shifting agencies available from the mutable, calculating, contractarian, indebted, disreputable, stylish, desiring and desired rationalities making their play there. A simplifying assumption of our course will be that in the historical figures cut by the Earl of Rochester, Oscar Wilde, and David Bowie, respectively, we discover if not exemplary then at least indicatively provocative figures that capture an emerging enterprising lifeway while at once bringing that lifeway into a highly edifying crisis from which it never will recover even when it comes to prevail. It is no accident that these figures obsessively recur in the mannered comedies we will survey together.

George Etherege: The Man of Mode
William Wycherley: The Country Wife
Laurence Dunmore: The Libertine (film)
William Congreve: The Way of the World
Richard Sheridan: The School for Scandal
John Gay: The Beggar's Opera / Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill: The Threepenny Opera
Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest
Noel Coward: Design for Living
Noel Coward: Hands Across the Sea
Joe Orton: Entertaining Mr. Sloane
Joe Orton: The Good and Faithful Servant
Todd Haynes: Velvet Goldmine (film)
Jennifer Saunders: Absolutely Fabulous (Television Series): Episodes: "Iso Tank," "Death," "Doorhandle"

Together with these mannered comedies we will be reading selections from Hobbes On Wit and Laughter, Addison and Steele's The Spectator, Willians', The Country and the City, Holland's The First Modern Comedies, Canfield's Tricksters and Estates, Hirschman's The Passions and the Interests, Brockway's The End of Economic Man, Bristol's Effeminate England, Sinfield's The Wilde Century, Harvey's The Limits to Capital, Goux's Symbolic Economies, Adorno's The Culture Industry, Lahr's Coward and his Prick Up Your Ears, Buckley's Strange Fascination: David Bowie the Definitive Story, Debord's Society of the Spectacle, and who knows what else... All of the plays and readings will be available either online or in a reader available for purchase at the beginning of term.

Rhetoric 171 -- Altars and Alters to the Market: Rhetoric in the Neoliberal/Neoconservative Epoch

We will track some of the key popular and polemical exchanges that have for a time, or even still, captured the imaginations, mobilized the movements, and organized the subcultures through which an ongoing clash has played out in the reception of the New Deal and its aftermaths reverberating right up into the present day. This is a discursive clash of Altars offered up to and Alternatives offered up against what have variously been construed as exemplary "market orders." Our texts form key moments in contrary canons, whatever their relative merits, and we will be reading them as time capsules, as symptoms, as crystallizations more often than as particularly sound arguments (which too few of them manage to be). And we will be striving whatever our initial sympathies may be to inhabit all these texts in a way that connects us to whatever it is that has been so compelling in each of them to so many, whatever the outcomes to which their assumptions and aspirations likely contributed in the way of mischief or emancipation. We will be reading:

John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, The End of Laissez Faire, Open Letter to FDR, Proposal for an International Clearing Union (all online)
Ludwig von Mises, Planned Chaos (online)
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson (online)
The Grapes of Wrath (film), The Fountainhead (film)
Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (online)
Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Leonard Lewin, Report from Iron Mountain
John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society
Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose
Peter Shwartz, The Long Boom
John Perkins, Confession of an Economic Hit Man
Hernando De Soto, The Mystery of Capital
Mike Davis, Planet of Slums
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine
Bill McKibben, Deep Economy

Along with these texts we will also be reading contemporary speeches drawn -- well, mostly -- from Presidential campaigns and definitive public addresses by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, Howard Dean, and Barack Obama.

While not required, good background reading for the course might include looking over Kim Phillips-Fein's Invisible Hands, Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, Norman Soloman's Made Love Got War, and David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Still More Dispersal of Blue Dogmatic Stupak Mentality

via The Hill
After indicating that she could live with the Stupak amendment in an interview Monday morning, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said tonight that she opposes the measure because it overreaches in restricting access to abortions.

Again, encouraging. Again, expected. Again, necessary.

Euphemisms Can Say So Much

Jettisoned Republicans pine, we are told, "to spend more time with their families," while jettisoned Democrats are icily informed that it is "time to go write your book."

Obama Opposes Stupak Stupidity

Encouraging and, again, expected.

via ABC News:
President Obama said today that Congress needs to change abortion-related language in the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives this weekend. "I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill," Obama said… Saying the bill cannot change the status quo regarding the ban on federally funding abortions, the President said "there are strong feelings on both sides" about an amendment passed on Saturday and added to the legislation, "and what that tells me is that there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo."

MundiMuster! Sign Bernie Sanders' Petition: Too Big To Fail Is Too Big To Exist

Sign the Petition.

Petition to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

Too Big to Fail is Too Big to Exist

Financial institutions that are “too big to fail” played a major role in undermining the American economy and driving our country into a severe recession.

Financial institutions that are “too big to fail” put taxpayers on the hook for a $700 billion bailout and more than $2 trillion from the Federal Reserve in virtually zero interest loans.

Huge financial institutions have become so big that the four largest banks in America (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup) now issue one out of every two mortgages; two out of three credit cards; and hold $4 out of every $10 in bank deposits in the country.

Just five banks in America (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) own a staggering 95% of the $290 trillion in derivatives held at commercial banks. Derivatives are risky side bets made by Wall Street gamblers that led to the $182 billion bailout of AIG, the $29 billion bailout that allowed JP Morgan Chase to acquire Bear Stearns, and the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

The concentration of ownership in the financial services industry has resulted in higher bank fees and interest rates that consumers are forced to pay for credit cards, mortgages and other financial products.

No single financial institution should be so large that its failure would cause catastrophic risk to millions of American jobs or to our nation’s economic well-being.

No single financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure could send the world economy into crisis.

We believe it is time to break up the banks and insurance companies which are too big to fail.

We believe that passage of The Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act is essential for a strong American economy and a secure future for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.

We urge the immediate enactment of the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act, which directs the treasury secretary to compile a list of those financial institutions that are too big to fail in the next 90 days, and to break up these banks and insurance companies a year after the legislation is signed into law.

Sign the Petition.

Where We Are Now Is Different From Where We'll Be When Healthcare Reform Is Signed Into Law

via The Washington Post
The [Stupak] amendment passed with the support of 64 Democrats, roughly a quarter of the party caucus.

But abortion-rights supporters are vowing to strip the amendment out, as the focus turns to the Senate and the conference committee that would resolve differences between the two bills.

Although House liberals voted for the bill with the amendment to keep the process moving forward, Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.) said she has collected more than 40 signatures from House Democrats vowing to oppose any final bill that includes the amendment -- enough to block passage.

"There's going to be a firestorm here," DeGette said. "Women are going to realize that a Democratic-controlled House has passed legislation that would prohibit women paying for abortions with their own funds.... We're not going to let this into law."

Encouraging and entirely expected.

All sane decent people are incensed, of course, by the passage of the vile theocratic patriarchal punitively anti-woman anti-choice anti-sex anti-healthcare access Stupak amendment as the price for passage of the House version of the healthcare reform bill.

But it is important that we remember, as does DeGette, there is a difference between things that happen to a bill to move it along through a legislative process and the thing that bill will look like when it arrives at the end of the process. I am assuming that the Stupak amendment will be stripped away in committee, and that far more Democrats (most of whom are pro-choice, after all, and all of whom preside over constituencies the majority of whom are also pro-choice) would block final passage of a healthcare bill that also represented the greatest restriction of choice in over a generation than would ever block final passage of the Party's signature issue to the ruin of their own careers because the amendment was either stripped away or domesticated into a vacuity. I daresay many who voted for the amendment did so with every expectation that it would stripped or domesticated -- for disgusting and cowardly reasons of ass-covering and signal-sending to feudal constituents -- else they wouldn't have supported it in the first place.

So, I think it is important to pressure our representatives to remove this amendment before final passage -- including primarying especially those assholes who voted for the amendment and then voted against passage of the bill anyway after working to make it so much worse -- but not to frame hostility to this amendment as hostility to healthcare reform itself, which, like it or not, is represented by the bill we have rather than the bill we wish we had.

To wash your hands of healthcare reform or to declare "a plague on both your houses" like a primadonna incapable of or uninterested in discerning differences that make a difference just because of the ugliness of the results in intermediate stages of the process is to demoralize people striving on our side and in our interest in that process in the face of incredibly daunting incumbent and institutional pressures while at once energizing and providing media-narrative footholds for the mischief-making of the very forces that would destroy reform altogether in the service of their parochial benefit from the unspeakably unjust unsustainable status quo.

It's important neither to lose heart nor to lose focus as this moves forward.

Try to devote as much energy to supporting those who are doing the right thing (where they are) as you do signaling your displeasure at those who are not (where they aren't). And be as thoughtful and as specific as you can be about just what it is that is wrong and what it would take to make it right.

Realize that we're deep in the sausage-making at this point, that there is no un-ugly variation of where we are, and that whomping up blanket outrage at the obviously true and awful facts that authoritarian corporate forces have too much say, that religious reactionaries have too much say, that the incomparably saner single payer didn't even get a hearing and so on is simply not to the point at this point, that many of the compromised players in this process are quite as aware of all that and as revolted by it as are we all and that they must be supported not castigated as they slog through the swamp on our behalf.

Saying "we must do something" without offering any practical details about the doing you have in mind or in ways that don't connect up to supporting those who are working through the process to get us the best possible bill just tends to function to inspire and spread a cynical blanket anti-governmentality that authoritarian corporate-militarism is always only too happy to fill with more parochial profit-taking to the ruin of all.

Getting this ungainly bill passed will be good for good government and good for Democrats as the Party of those who demand good government and will be a foot in the door which can open ever wider onto good government for all.