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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I haven't posted a lot lately, and that is likely to remain so for a bit --

It's that time of term when my MA cohort is shepherding their Theses through to Commmittee signatures and this often involves reading rapid fire variations on long-form thesis docs and committee feedback from everybody at once and it gets a little crazy for a while on my end.

Also, I have to admit that I don't feel like I have anything particularly useful to say about current events at the moment. I mean, Obama's Libya speech genuflected toward multilateralism and diplomacy and pragamtism in welcome ways, but I still oppose the policy and fear the outcome when all is said and done. Republicans are behaving unbelievably badly but in ways that were predictable and about which there is really not too much that can be done at the moment. Or at any rate, lots of people are saying the sorts of things it occurs to me to say, if anything.

As far as tech-talk and futurology goes, I'm getting my fix in the graduate seminar on the Politics and Anti-Politics of Design Discourse I'm teaching at SFAI. Perhaps some of the insights arising from those discussions will crystallize as posts to the blog later on, but for now I'm concentrating elsewhere.

Just an update of sorts.

Republicans Are Fools Who Believe That Americans Are Fools And Have Their Own Election Victories To Show For It

Steve Benen ruefully notes that rather than struggling to find a way to a compromise that would prevent a government shutdown -- with all the painful failures in the provision of vital services and incredible well-understood waste that will certainly result from this shutdown -- that Republicans are frantically spinning the issue to avoid blame, gaming out ways of re-branding and soft-peddling it, sending out trial balloons, calling the impending event a "slowdown" or a "partial shutdown" and so on.

I don't know why anybody would be surprised (if indeed anybody really is in the first place) that a party of people elected on an incessant "I hate government" platform would manage to shut down hated government within weeks of coming into power. I don't know why anybody would be surprised that a party of people who actually modeled the lies and timing of their selling of the illegal immoral catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq on "bringing a product to market" are once again demonstrating that they prioritize marketing over governing.

This is who the Republicans are. More to the point, this is the debased disastrous world we live in. People are always selling and it is always right to exaggerate, bamboozle, massage, deceive when you sell. Short-term parochial profit-taking is its own justification. The complete suffusion of public discourse with the norms and forms of marketing and promotion is robotically cranking out its thought-killing death-dealing results.

Of course, passage of the Republicans' flabbergastingly facile "Government Shutdown Prevention Act," which Benen also discusses in a post today should be seen as of a piece with the Republican marketing and promotion and spinning of policy failure as a product to sell and sell hard -- the shutdown to slowdown hoedown.

As is usual in marketing magical thinking, naming it just so makes it so! Remember when the Republicans just as embarrassingly monikered their quixotic spitball at repealing healthcare reform the "Repealing the Job-Killing Healthcare Law Act" as if calling it that is enough to make it true somehow that healthcare reform -- whatever its deficiencies -- diminished employment even though it factually doesn't? The magic is no less tired when it is forever slapping New! Improved! Zazz! on the status quo of commodities for sale as if that is enough to really, truly make it so that fraud is novelty, that repackaged crap is change, that hype is progress…

Of course the Republican "Government Shutdown Prevention Act" doesn't and can't prevent the government shutdown they are forcing upon us, and indeed this egregious infantilism was formulated and proposed taking up valuable time that might otherwise have been devoted to the sorts of negotiations and problem-solving that alone could prevent the utterly preventable shutdown of government, which doesn't, after all, seem to happen except when Americans foolishly elect a sizable tribe into government who hate responsible governance and want to shut that down as a matter of "principle."

Of this grotesque Republican effort to peddle a "Prevention Act" that functionally prevents action Benen says the following true but actually depressingly beside the point things:
Today, House GOP leaders unveiled [their] new gimmick, which qualifies as creative, in a painfully absurd sort of way. After voting for spending cuts that have already been defeated, the new measure would say the already-failed budget plan would automatically become "the law of the land" -- even without Senate approval or the president's signature -- just because House Republicans would say so. Cantor, who apparently never saw "Schoolhouse Rock," thinks is a great, "serious" idea that could prevent a shutdown next week. It's as if the country elected children -- slow, dimwitted, ill-behaved children -- to run the U.S. House of Representatives. Keep in mind, GOP leaders could be spending time right now on finding a solution to the budget mess. Instead, they're spending time on a gimmick that makes it look like they're finding a solution to the budget mess. They must seriously believe Americans are fools.

Quite so, quite so.

It is hard to take much comfort in this culminating evocation of a wholesome corrective America consisting of people who are not fools, inasmuch as these are the same Americans who elected (or refused to participate in elections in a torpor of disinterest or even in fit of pique with the consequence of facilitating the election of) these slow, dimwitted, ill-behaved children to government, after a long, loud campaign season in which the Republicans mostly behaved precisely like slow, dimwitted, ill-behaved children, and despite being incessantly warned that these were indeed the slow, dimwitted, ill-behaved children they have turned out to be, to the perfectly predictable and persistently predicted catastrophic cost to us all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sniffing Extropia

Libertopia smells like corpses and cyberspace smells like burning coal. It's "The Future" ...take a good whiff!

Only Pro-Business Art From Now On in Republican Maine

Political Wire

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has ordered the removal of a 36-foot mural depicting the state's labor history from the lobby of the Department of Labor headquarters... A spokesman said the mural was "not in keeping with the department's pro-business goals..."

Degenerate Anti-Business Art Undermining the Morale of Republican Maine:

Acceptable Pro-Business Art for a More Republican Maine Future:

But Maybe That's Just a Coincidence

If you were an ignorant racist and a misogynist who wanted to punish women for having sex and were too stupid or lazy to understand basic science or elementary economics you would just happen to behave exactly as Republicans do.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Futurological Zombification

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in Moot, "jollyspaniard" says of the Futurologists I declared myself resigned to the superficial success of a few posts back:
I think their hold on the public imagination is in serious decline. Most people have lost hope in technological salvation...

To this, I replied:

I hope you are right, but I don't think you are.

I see serious institutional consolidation happening in the superlative futurological archipelago -- less splash, but far more cash.

The suave eugenicisms stealthed and/or celebrated co-dependently by transhumanists and bioconservatives the last two decades (with a long pre-history) always provided clarifying symptoms and reductios of more prevailing attitudes and policy discourses, but were no more threatening or revolutionary than Lady GaGa is now as she splashily re-enacts these themes on YouTube. (At least now it's got a good beat and you can dance to it.) So, too, Cryonics captured the mass mediated Spectacular/Culture Industrial "imagination" enough to become a pop culture commonplace and yet it's just as true as ever that nobody is getting their heads frozen.

However, the intrusion of BigPharma salvation-peddlers and techno-hype fraudsters into the doctor patient relationship via tee vee commercials is incomparably more dangerous and belies what might be pitched at first as a story of futurological decline.

Extropians and Cypherpunks were charismatic nutters, I guess you could say, the futurological froth on the neolib/neocon kettle of the 90s. However, the danger posed by the wonk-poseurs of geo-engineering futurology (which seems to me indispensably indebted via Stewart Brand and his ilk to the libertopian and immaterialist conceits incubated in California hot-tubs that amounted to Extropian and Cypherpunk soup bowls), right here, right now is to my mind orders of magnitude more dangerous, literally, to the prospects of earthly survival.

Mainstream futurology and neoliberal immaterialism is of course just as palpably wrongheaded as fraudulent as it ever was, and this wrongheadedness and fraudulence is still most conspicuous at the superlative margins of its discursive and organizational life in the Robot Cult archipelago, where PR hype screeches into the register of transcendental religiosity.

But zombie lies don't die just because you debunk them or make them ridiculous and then they get abandoned by would be avant-gardists, just look at the conceits of neoliberalism and its neoconservative dance of death partner: these formulations and frames just become comfy couches ready at hand to be endlessly cited and recirculated by the thoughtless and the opportunistic long after they cease to inspire or illuminate anyone or anything in any kind of genuinely provocative way.

This, I have to suppose, is a large part of what Michael Anissimov is celebrating in his various recent "transhumanism has won" pieces, for example.

Newcomers to the topics of Robot Cults, neo-eugenics, and superlative futurology more generally are encouraged to read my Condensed Critique of Transhumanism for a schematic overview. Newcomers to the topics of neoliberal immaterialism, and the futurological greenwashing of geo-engineering are encouraged to read my Futurology Against Ecology.

Stewart: "You Can't Simultaneously Fire Teachers and Tomahawk Missiles"

Monday, March 21, 2011

ACLU Keeps On Fighting the Good Fight

[A]n appellate court on Monday reinstated a lawsuit challenging an eavesdropping law passed by Congress three years ago. The decision could put the Obama administration in the uncomfortable position of having to argue in support of broad executive authority to conduct surveillance operations -- a position that President Obama, as a presidential candidate, had once opposed. In the lawsuit, one of the few remaining on the issue, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups charged that the expanded surveillance powers granted by Congress in 2008 were unconstitutional and illegal.

Resigned to the Futurological Broken Record

Upgraded from the Moot, "JimF" tells of his adventures perusing Kaku's Physics of the Future at his bookstore's New Arrivals table:
So I looked up stuff about computers and the brain and AI and shit, and after reading most of a chapter about how AI researchers have reluctantly conceded that brains aren't much like digital computers (we['re] no crazy futurists here), I skip ahead and find out that Friendly AI is the likeliest AI scenario for our future (credited to none other than Eliezer Yudkowsky, too. Right there in print.)

On the zombie afterlife of and weird phony authority that comes to attach to endlessly debunked formulations and unfulfilled promises and opportunistic PR repackaging efforts by futurologists, I'm pretty much resigned at this point to the fact that here in hype-notized zero-culture anti-intellectual America at any rate persistent techno-boosters -- however rampagingly crass and idiotic they are -- really do almost always eventually manage to beat out their critics -- however relentlessly right these are. This is mostly because, even at their most disasterbatory, futurologists are saying enormously reassuring things, pretending to know things when we can't because there is always much more going on than we know about, and peddling funhouse mirror variations on "the future" in which present values and lifeways are grotesquely amplified and then hawked as "change" in ways that flatter elite-incumbents and as "transcendence" in ways that console the mob. Of course, the critics wouldn't for the life of them want to join in the vulgar techno-booster parade come what may, and since the facts are mostly on their side anyway it all comes out in the wash. So a bunch of frauds attract unwarranted attention and hence make things pointlessly harder for sensible people, that's the crappy American dream isn't it?

Philosophical Guns That Shoot Nothing But Blanks

Upgraded from an edifying exchange in the Moot with "Poor Richard" who proposes in a lengthy comment you should read for its own sake: "I've been thinking of how to rescue utility."

He says much more, to which I reply:

I guess I don't think utility really needs rescuing -- which isn't to say I think the notion needs to be bagged for disposal but that utility is plenty useful enough that it doesn't need the protection of philosophers freighting it with our rather silly idiosyncratic baggage.

As a good Jamesian pragmatist I say that "the true is the good in the way of belief... for definite, assignable reasons." That business of offering up reasons for warrantable assertions of belief according to their different modes, scientific, moral, aesthetic, ethical, political, commercial, legal and so on is, sensibly enough, the essence of the reasonable, properly so-called, to my way of thinking.

I do think that common or garden variety truth as beliefs we have reasons for which we are willing to state in public/ation is a perfectly sensible notion but that "truth as correspondence" is a philosophical gun that shoots nothing but blanks. I think that common or garden variety certainty as warranted confidence on which one is willing to stake one's life or at any rate the mortgage is a perfectly sensible notion but that "certainty as indefeasability" is a philosophical gun that shoots nothing but blanks. And I think that common or garden variety utilities, whether of the scientific kind that confer best-on-offer powers of prediction and control, of the moral kind that keep us from losing our scruples despite our belonging to more than one discursive community but to none of them fully, and of the prudential kinds that differently navigate legal, commercial, political tangles are all perfectly sensible notions, too, but that any "general utility function" will be yet another philosophical gun that shoots nothing but blanks. Needless to say, such guns are still noisy enough to leave your ears ringing when you ought to be listening more carefully to what is afoot.

True to my training in the humanities academy (BA literature, MA philosophy, PhD rhetoric, teaching cultural theory for over a decade, lions, and tigers, and bears) that is to say in the belly of the pomo beast, as no doubt the elite effete aesthete you see before you, I suppose, I do happen still think theory is better off reaching first for the tools in the historicization and contextualization drawers rather than the generalization drawer when one is trying to make sense of things. Well, fancy that: a generalization!

You see, if I speak derisively of philosophical impulses, do understand that I have had the philosophy bug most of my life and feel I know Socrates and Kant and the Founders and many Marxists and Arendt and Rorty better than most living people, I haven't shaken that bug yet -- and so acerbic comments should be viewed as wry commentaries on weaknesses to which I am prone more than finger-pointing exercises at silly benighted Others.

I do think one needs to re-think what intellectual ambition properly looks like from a pluralist-pragmatist-rhetorical perspective. I'm a teacher with a vocation for it, so this is something I think about fairly incessantly, actually. Metaphysical traditions and their many scientistic-evolutionary-cybernetic progeny in the present day seem to me to offer more discursive cul-de-sacs and pathological symptoms than uses in this work, I'm afraid. To be honest about it, I consider all such fancies that the universe has preferences about the words humans describe it with or takes sides in human squabbles over the vicissitudes of fashion and so on mostly to be vestiges of organized religiosity with priestly authoritarian politics in tow, and rather think we would all do well without them.

Little Point Complaining About the Air, When That Is All There Is to Breathe, Eh?

Raw Story:
AT&T Inc said on Sunday it would buy Deutsche Telekom AG's T-Mobile USA, in a $39 billion cash-and-stock transaction that would create a new industry behemoth by combining two of the four largest U.S. wireless carriers.

But of course our risk taking sooper-innovative corporate overlords are still striving there in that global free market octagon, competing their manly muscular way to trickle-down libertopia, you'll see!

Freedom Bombs Cost Money?

Andrew Exum via Ezra Klein:
A Tomahawk Missile cost $569,000 in FY99, so if my calculations are correct, they cost a little over $736,000 today assuming they are the same make and model. The United States fired 110 missiles yesterday, which adds up to a cost of around $81 million. That's twice the size of the annual budget of USIP, which the House of Representatives wants to de-fund, and is about 33 times the amount of money National Public Radio receives in grants each year from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which the House of Representatives also wants to de-fund in the name of austerity measures.

But of course, we're too broke to immunize low income kids. Looks like a job for more tax cuts for the rich!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It Rained Outside Therefore 30,000 People Are Without Power

Maybe I'm becoming one of those old geezers who sees the past through a roseate nostalgic haze, but it really does seem to me that infrastructure failure is becoming much more commonplace across the United States. Not only is this worrying on its own terms, but it does occur to me that we should keep such things in mind when listening to corporate flacks assuring us that the smooth function of nuclear plants on earthquake fault-lines of all things is perfectly assured.

Piles of Tomahawk Cruise Missiles = Effortlessly Affordable, Head Start Program = Absolutely Unaffordable

It's always the right time to point out just how patently nonsensical and literally murderous our official discourse is.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Here We Go Again

Dropping bombs at half a million a pop on children's heads, you know, for kids! "Winning!" (By the way, happy eighth birthday immoral illegal ruinously expensive catastrophically failed and very much ongoing Iraq war and occupation.)

California to Try Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Again

Needless to say, every baby step toward a more civil libertarian attitude toward consensual recreational adult drug use should be championed. Every baby step away from panic-based prohibitionist drug policy and toward saner harm-reduction based drug policy should be championed. Every baby in the demolition of the catastrophically failed and racist War on (only some) Drugs should be championed.

From the LATimes:
The campaign behind a failed initiative to legalize marijuana in California announced Friday it had formed a new committee to put another measure on the ballot. The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform 2012 aims to build on the unusual support that coalesced around Proposition 19, which would have allowed adults to grow and possess marijuana and authorized cities and counties to legalize and tax sales.

That campaign drew backing from the California NAACP and the Latino Voters League, which saw it as a way to end disproportionate arrests of African Americans and Latinos for marijuana crimes. Labor leaders in the Bay Area also got behind it, bringing endorsements from some major unions, which saw a legal pot industry as a potential source of union jobs….

Proposition 19 lost 46%-54% in November, but it drew worldwide media attention and stimulated a vigorous debate over the nation's drug policies. Polls have shown growing support for marijuana legalization nationwide, and a post-election poll in California suggested the measure might have passed if proponents had had the money for a campaign to reach swing voters.

Gangster Consistency in the Modern GOP

Yeah, so the GOP wants to cut funds to the IRS, presumably in the name of budget cutting, even though these particular cuts cost something like nine bucks for every dollar cut, so this isn't really about cutting the deficit it's about hating Big Gu'ment, except that the GOP also wants to use the IRS as anti-abortion cops because they love Big Gu'ment after all. So, Republicans not only don't make sense when they say they are fiscal hawks but they don't even make sense when they lie about being fiscal hawks because they are really anti-government because they actually love government when it is used as an instrument of war against women and war against brown people, whether foreign (bomb bomb bomb!) or domestic (War on Drugs), whatever the costs, especially if rape and pillage looks like it's on the menu. I can't say that it requires particular insight or deserves particular applause to exhibit the serial hypocrisies of the modern Republican Party, not to mention how tiring and demoralizing it is doing so. They're all just opportunistic gangsters at this point acting precisely as one properly expects gangsters to act.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Gay Assimilation, Queer Emancipation, and the Dialectic Demolition of the Closet

A new ABC News/Washington Post survey released today has found that, for the first time in a decade of polling, a majority of Americans now support same sex marriage.

I don't make a secret of the fact that I am personally ambivalent about the reduction of queer liberation politics to an essentially neoliberal gay assimilationist project to enable shiny happy gays to confuse love with ownership, to kill official enemies, and to participate in the breeding and raising of future consumers and soldiers.

But as I have argued again and again any more radical queer politics, repudiating such possessive and defensive relations among people and celebrating lifeway diversity in a shared world, peer to peer, is nonetheless enabled when the repudiation of the possessive, violent, conformist status quo is advocated by those who are included but see and want something better, rather than by those who already suffer absolute exclusion from that status quo in the first place.

What I want to propose in this post more specifically is that what has come to seem the quintessential tactic of neoliberal gay assimilationist politics -- "coming out of the closet" and "living out and proud" and so on -- is itself a gesture that ultimately threatens assimilation as much as it has enabled it, and that the demolition of the closet potentially and promisingly demolishes possessive policed sex-gender formations as well.

I can't help but be struck by just how sweeping a change the report of emerging majority support of same-sex marriage really seems to be, and this right on the heels of the dismantling of the system excluding open gays and lesbians from military service.

Back in my Queer Nation days twenty years ago fighting sodomy laws then on the books in Georgia and anti-gay job discrimination at Cracker Barrel restaurants and so on, attitudes opposing gay marriage, adoption, open military service and so on seemed at once so utterly irrational and yet so utterly intractable that they had the sort of character that is so demoralizing when one contemplates (now as then) the endless racist war on recreational drug use or the apparent impossibility of common sense gun control.

In my undergraduate years in the 1980s AIDS-panic functionally yoked the "disease of homosexuality" as such to the disease from which so many gay folks were suffering in the popular imagination, provoking genocidal fantasies of concentration camps and compulsory tattoos.

And still so entrenched was rampaging anti-gay hostility as recently as 2004, fully twenty years later, that it was still being used to get out the Republican vote to help George W. Bush win his first election (that the 2000 election was stolen in a putsch enabled by Republicans in the US Supreme Court should never be forgotten or forgiven).

But it really does seem that the tide has turned, a tipping point has been reached (pick your ecological metaphor) and gay people are to most people, and all this rather suddenly, no longer different in a way that inherently threatens but different in way that inherently expresses the cherished differences we all exhibit such that to threaten them in their difference is to threaten everybody in their individuality.

How did this happen? I think the usual explanation is largely true: namely, that the demolition of the closet over the course of my generation made explicit for the first time the deep and widespread connections of the straight majority to their queer relatives, neighbors, and friends (as well as to figures in the public eye they admired or with whom they sympathized) and made them experience personally and sometimes viscerally the costs of anti-gay bigotry, and hence more likely to resist than to participate in it.

Even though it was always true that only a marginal minority of gay Americans are HIV positive and always also true that only a minority of those who suffer from AIDS as a planetary pandemic are gay, the large number of gay people with AIDS and who took up roles as caregivers in the early years of the pandemic quickly began the process of the mass demolition of the closet. This sudden, sweeping, often involuntary and tragic exodus of so many queer folks from the closet was, to say the least, an ambivalent political and cultural force, connecting many to new forms of support while at once exposing many to new forms of hostility and harm.

And the next chapter in the demolition of the closet was no less paradoxical, as the emergence of online networked forms of sociality were hyperbolically blamed for the disappearance of millions of people from the public scene and their retreat into the isolating glow of the private computer screen, and yet this very development enabled the hitherto enforced private isolation of a geographically dispersed marginalized minority of gay folks suffering homophobic terror in silence sudden access to information, friends and potential partners, organizational resources that brought so many of us out into the mainstream of public life far earlier and far more often and far more fearlessly than ever before.

Again, I do think that the sea change in public attitudes toward queer folks represented in recent polls about gay marriage, gay parents, open lgbt service in the military, and so on reflects a generation of coming out of the closet and into the streets and into the hearts and hearing of everyday American life. However, I do not think this opportune openness tells the whole story of this rather sudden sweeping victory for acceptance of many (very much not all) queer folks. I would propose that there is another strategy afoot here that is often overlooked altogether but which worked hand in latex glove with this queer visibility, and indeed enabled queer visibility to do its measure of emancipatory work in the first place.

I refer to the insistence on the part of so many queer activists, popular figures, everyday folks to declare and repeat loudly, incessantly, and nearly universally -- sometimes as a joke, sometimes as a diagnosis, sometimes as an accusation, sometimes as a proverb, but always lethally -- that every single act of anti-gay bigotry one encounters signals always and everywhere the internalized-homophobia of a closet case.

It is not only the mass coming-out from the closet of gay folks but also (often, to be fair, quite unfairly, and deliciously so) the mass outing of the most energized anti-gay folks that created the unique cultural conditions out of which have emerged the recent victories of assimilationist gay politics.

The marginalization of the anti-gay bully into identification with the gay target of his hostility has been a staple of gay wisdom for generations, but the strategic deployment of this folk psychological chestnut into a mass-mediated rhetorical strategy is recent and has been more effective than anybody could have hoped in their wildest dreams.

Where once the continence of the compulsory heterosexual community was policed precisely through the ritual humiliation and terrorization of possible queers, the re-reading of this very policing gesture as the signal of a possible queerness threatened by and threatening that heterosexual continence rendered compulsory homophobia helpless. In almost no time at all it was precisely the untroubled embrace of gay friends as equals that signaled an unambiguous heterosexual identity, and by now (in about a decade's time, mind you!) a playful questioning of compulsory heterosexuality itself has become the condition on the basis of which heterosexuality has retained its normative force.

That heterosexuality is normal is statistically assured, but that it is "untroubled" and hence legibly normative is now and likely ever more to be ritually assured through its questioning, as witness the almost immediate, at first quite anxious but already now quite easygoing, proliferation of "metrosexuals" and "bromances" and openly exhibited sexual experimentation among younger straight males.

Again, I want to stress that this reframing of conspicuous exhibitions of homophobia themselves as a kind of queer performativity -- homophobic attack qua homosexual conduct -- this politically motivated re-reading of the act of hate as the likely "coming out" of a self-hating closet-case should definitely be treated as of a piece with the larger movement of neoliberal gay assimilationist politics from the closet-structured century of secrecy into a politics of queer publicity through the demolition of the norms of the closet (and the concomitant norms of possessive defensive identity) more generally.

For one thing, it is actually enlightening to insist that especially virulent forms of anti-gay bigotry attest to a form of desire that is profoundly queer in its specificity and should be understood that way: The way homophobes get off on their bigotry is so gay!

It is in this context that many of the early "controversies" around the politics of outing in the early 1990s should be reconsidered: Usually framed by neoliberal gay assimilations as a matter of determining the proper conditions under which it became admissible involuntarily to expose a closeted queer to the public (usually when a closeted politician promoted anti-gay policies or a closeted celebrity indulged in anti-gay defamation), these controversies assumed in advance the security of the subject who "volunteers" or not to testify to the terms of their desire and of an identity that presumably follows as a matter of course from that desire.

But in retrospect, it does not much matter that some of the folks "outed" by radical queers turned out not to "be" gay after all. Setting the scene for this whiff of paradox, note that under the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, a virgin who declared themselves to be gay was discharged in consequence, which made coming out itself, not cocksucking or buttfucking or cuntlicking or what have you, the quintessential, presumably threatening, act of queerness in the first place.

Harvey Fierstein was just plain making sense when he protested that it could just as easily be considered a compliment as defamation to suggest someone's conduct made you assume they were gay, especially when the suggestion came from a queer person. Surely anybody who suffered by this attribution of queerness to them was suffering most of all not because of the mis-behavior of "outing" activists, but because of homophonic norms from which they were already suffering even as heterosexuals in ways that they simply had not hitherto been paying enough attention to -- the impoverishment of their relations with queer family, friends and fellow-citizens, say, and the impoverishment of their own unduly crabbed heterosexual norms.

Finding ways of connecting straight majorities to the suffering of queer minorities and hence making this suffering personal was after all the force that drove the politics of mass coming out in the first place. That it also articulated the politics of outing should hardly seem surprising.

But as a practical matter it was only because homophobia was re-framed as a kind of involuntary coming out performance, that the so-called "voluntary" performances celebrated as coming out were able to assume their finally transformative character. Even if every homophobic bigot were to discover a connection to a cherished queer relative, friend, colleague, icon they could always preserve that cherished connection without calling into question the violence and humiliation of compulsory heterosexual norms themselves through the usual and simple expedient of treating their queer connection as exceptional.

It was the structural connection of the gesture of coming out as gay to the reading of the anti-gay gesture as just another form of coming out as gay that enabled the demolition of the closet to assume a universalizing emancipatory force that undoes compulsory heterosexuality, not by welcoming every closeted queer into opening the closet door but by exposing literally everybody to the threat of being outed as queer, thus socializing the costs of compulsory heterosexuality.

And so, neoliberal gay assimilationism has cheerfully paid as a price of its desired assimilation into the body of conventional society (apart from the costs in superficiality, vulgarity, and boredom of a life lived under the terms of inclusion within awful ugly reprosexual consumer capitalist norms) the assimilation into its body of the phobic foe itself. And in so doing, the assimilationist has of necessity invigorated the possibilities for a far more radical queer politics.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More Signs of the Singularity!

Robot armies doing nuclear cleanup in Japan just like the futurologists promised right after they promised nuclear was safe clean green energy too cheap to meter.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mid-Term Hangover and the GOP Brand

Polls of citizens in states from Wisconsin, to Ohio, to Michigan, to Maine, to Florida are suggesting serious buyers' remorse wherever GOP candidates won in November, now that they have begun to behave like, you know, GOP governors.

Setting aside the I told you so's, if I may be permitted a rosier contemplation in the midst of all this dismally predictable criminal stupidity, I do wonder if part of what is happening here is that the serious damage done to the GOP "brand" by the catastrophic failures of the Bush administration is being confirmed now in much deeper ways the Republicans will not soon be able to recover from.

I happen to think the GOP is in shambles, and still risks self-marginalization into a regional rump, whatever its apparent energy and superficial victories. I think that the objective awfulness of its Presidential field, the level of ignorance testified to by its freshmen and among its more senior panderers of even the most basic governmental functions (this weird game of chicken with the debt ceiling, these crazy culture war spectacles in defiance of doing anything on jobs and so on), the inability to keep the caucus in any kind of order, all this suggests that the GOP wasn't really in any kind of shape to do anything with the majority it won in November. It won, by the way, recall, mostly by keeping its real plans to itself all the while shooting off its mouth to a demoralized general population (including too many unconscionably lazy vindictive Democrats) unwilling to think about what our problems objectively demand but eager to "throw the bums out" in an idiotically uncritical way.

But even after an unmitigated disaster like the killer clown administration, it remains true that political parties shore up a lot of narrative and organizational credibility. It's hard to believe deep down in your heart of hearts that in a country with only two real parties one whole party might completely disintegrate and give itself over to loons and incompetents. Michele Bachmann objectively seems like somebody who should at most be scooping ice cream in a food court, but she's got an "R" by her name and she's got a PAC, and I mean, Lincoln and Eisenhower were Republicans, PACS attract serious institutional money. A candidate like governor John Kasich (whose citizens want a do-over now that he is behaving perfectly predictably) probably benefited from his prior stint in Congress for many next-to-know-nothing voters who still trust that Congress is a minimally functional institution and therefore for whom it confers a measure of legitimacy on a candidate even when their actual record in Congress would be delegitimizing to anybody paying any attention at all.

I suspect that in these union-busting campaigns and dysfunctional congressional scrums Republicans are getting dangerously close to getting branded as the gang that can't shoot straight, the party you can't trust with your money, the guys who lie about what they plan to do because nobody would vote for what they plan to do. Branding like this can go deep and last long.

For generations now Democrats have balanced budgets and made government work better all the while being branded as Tax and Spenders and Big Government socialists (if only), meanwhile Republicans balloon both government and deficits, in ways that never make a whole hell of a lot of sense all the while basking in the surreally inapt brand of fiscal responsibility: Entrenched brands can inertially resist empirical falsification for the longest time, indeed they can frame perceptions in ways that sometimes seem to enable mass hallucination.

The GOP may be risking a radical re-branding right about now, the price of a generation of Movement Republicanism premised on market fundamentalism and white-racist patriarchal christianist authoritarianism which fly in the face of factual reality and popular values in ways they can no longer clearly grasp or adjust to.

There, something positive for you. Not something I'm confident about, just a thought.

What Republicans Fear Instead of Climate Change

Steve Benen:
In September, nearly a fourth of Republicans feared that a group that no longer exists would commit electoral fraud on a grand scale. Six months later, with ACORN a more distant memory, even more Republicans are afraid of the group that no longer exists.

These people vote. They have guns. Hell, it scares me to think they drive cars.

Michelle Bachmann Certified

Via Pam's House Blend:
Speaking to conservative radio host Jeff Katz in an interview last week, [Bachmann] said, "I think the first thing I would do in the first debate is offer my birth certificate so we can get that off the table."

There's no need to show your birth certificate, Michelle. Some forms of stupidity are uniquely American.

Literally Every Republican in the House Is on Record as a Climate-Change Denialist

The Hill:
House Republicans rejected amendments offered Tuesday by Democrats that called on Congress to accept the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, it is caused in large part by human activity and it is a threat to human health…. Committee ranking Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) offered an amendment Tuesday that called on Congress to agree that climate change is occurring. The amendment failed on a party-line vote of 20-31. No Republicans voted for the amendment.

BooMan comments, aptly enough, Eppur si muove.

GOP Disasterbation

The terrifying realization that within a single year the Deepwater Horizon and Fukushima disasters could take place without changing the prospects for renewable energy in this country even the slightest bit is all the proof you need that the Republican Party is not only profoundly unserious but by far the most actively and absolutely dangerous organized force in American life today.

False equivalency tools of the Moot take note: every single actually elected person in our national public life talking sense on these issues is a Democratic and not a single Republican is doing the same, and if that isn't a difference that makes a difference to you, and if you are indifferent as well to the extent to which plenty of the Democratic compromises well-informed and principled citizens find most annoying symptomize the awareness of these lawmakers that whatever good they do must find ways to accommodate the relentless bad faith and stupidity of Republicans on these issues, well, then you are simply little use to anybody at all, least of all to the policy outcomes you claim to care about.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dim Dems Expect Twitterific 2012

Roll Call:
Democrats are hoping they’ve found a secret weapon for winning back the House in 2012: Twitter. House Democrats say that while they may be outnumbered, they stand to come out ahead by becoming more savvy to social media to stay more directly connected to the public.

If Democrats have drunk this twitterific kool-aid as their great hype hope for 2012 then we are well and truly screwed.

It's bad enough when techno-utopian idiots mis-attribute the effects of years-long planning and civil disobedience training that actually enabled the Egyptian Revolution instead to the vapid tween celebrity CEOs of twitter and facebook, but to pin the hopes of pushback against the Movement Republican greed-heads union-busters anti-abortionists climate-change denialists and shock-doctrinaire shock troops of the emerging post Citizens United Gilded Age beggars belief.

If I may be permitted a modest suggestion, might I point out that rather than falling for another round of irrationally exuberant net hype the Democrats might devote more attention to the connection between the Unions that are under attack but fighting back ferociously at the moment (not the same thing as hashtag unions or hashtag Wisconsin, honestly, for true, really not the same thing) and the party that more than any other actually on offer could credibly claim to represent in government the interests of the vast majority of people who have to work for a living?

Maybe if I use the word "synergy" to describe this connection our DNC "thought leaders" might lift their heads from their twitter feeds for a moment and feel the breeze on their faces long enough to notice that it is blowing in a promising new direction?

Groovy Mapping of Science Fiction

Here it is. -- h/t JimF!

California's Fukushimas

Via Democracy Now!

Harvey Wasserman (editor of and a senior adviser to Greenpeace U.S.A.:
[T]he first reactor at Fukushima is identical to the Vermont Yankee plant, and which is now up for relicensing and which the people of Vermont are trying to shut. And we should also note that this kind of accident, this kind of disaster, could have occurred at four reactors in California, had the 9.0-Richter-scale earthquake hit close to Diablo Canyon at San Luis Obispo or San Onofre between L.A. and San Diego. We could very well now be watching Los Angeles or San Diego being evacuated, had this kind of thing happened in California. And, of course, the issue is the same in Vermont. There are 23 reactors in the United States that are identical or close to identical to the first Fukushima reactor.

Is Marvin Fertel A Dangerous Sociopath?

Here is an exchange from yesterday's Meet the Press between Chuck Todd and Marvin Fertel, the president of the NEI, the Nuclear Energy Institute:
CHUCK TODD: We have a couple of nuclear power plants in earthquake zones, or at least in California. Is there a concern? Should Americans be concerned about the fact that these power plants are sitting in earthquake zones? Are they safe?

MARVIN FERTEL: Yeah, all of our power plants, whether they’re in California, which is a high earthquake area, or in the Midwest or other places, are required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to design to be able to withstand the maximum credible earthquake. And the NRC continues to update and upgrade what the requirements are.

From this performance there naturally arises in the mind of any sensible observer the immediate and serious question whether Marvin Fertel should be diagnosed as a dangerous sociopath who at the very least should certainly be forced into retirement but probably also placed under public observation for making these statements at a time like this.

In response to what can only be regarded as the rhetorical question of whether Americans should be concerned about power plants in volatile earthquake zones identical with the one wreaking catastrophic havoc after an earthquake in Japan (of course they should!), Fertel is singing an insipid insidious mashup of "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and "We're in the Money" for the cameras.

There really should be a clinical designation for an addiction to monetary acquisition that undermines the capacity for rational and responsible judgment. Just think of all the world-destroying self-appointed swinging-dick Movers and Shakers we could medically calm and confine to comfortable club chairs and tango lessons in buccolic scenery were such a diagnosis to catch on!

No doubt, of course, even the majority of people who see through Fertel's obviously cynical and opportunistic happy talk of "maximum credible earthquakes" would airily excuse his lethal but lucrative lies as a matter of a man doing the job he is paid to do. (By the way, the "maximum credible earthquake" assumed for the Diablo Canyon facility is 7.5 -- smaller than the actually existing but somehow apparently not credibly forseeable earthquake the devastation from which was under discussion in the very exchange above.) Just following orders! Just chasing dollars!

In my view, this commonplace defense (which compares to defenses of corporations that are legally required to maximize stakeholder profit, as if that is an end to any discussion of the immorality and criminality of so much corporate profit-taking) bespeaks nothing less than the utter suffusion of public discourse by the deceptive, fraudulent, hyperbolic promotional and self-promotional norms and forms of marketing and advertizing, which have truly rendered our society well-nigh suicidally superficial, at once driven by ever amplifying sensationalism as well as ever more decisively disarmed of any checks of critical reflection.

It's Not A Description, It's A Threat

When the GOP declares the nation to be "broke" what they mean is that they recognize any money spent actually governing will undermine the plutocrats they work for and that they will break our legs from under us if we try. America can pay its bills, which means we are not broke, descriptively. That the GOP at this point are just hired muscle for plutocrats is clear from the gun they have pointed at your head.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Godwin's Codicil

Full Discussion Over at Salon:

Mike Godwin himself comments that his famous "Law" was proposed to discourage frivolous, but not substantial and substantiable, Nazi analogies and comparisons. Nobody would deny that ideologues of all stripes seem only too eager too often to call up Nazi comparisons in defiance of sense and to the cost of a proper respect for the unprecedented crimes of that regime. But needless to say, when people in power or seeking power actually do behave like Nazis an instant unreflective blanket ban on drawing any attention to the facts can only benefit the ones who are behaving worst and not those who would strive to be equal to the real demands of both to the present and the past.

Tell Truth, Get Fired

Bad enough, certainly, tho' unquestionably better than the policy of "Tell Truth, Get Tortured" -- telling the truth about which got Crowley fired in the first place.

Glenn Greenwald:
On Friday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley denounced the conditions of Bradley Manning's detention as "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid," forcing President Obama to address those comments in a Press Conference and defend the treatment of Manning. Today, CNN reports, Crowley has "abruptly resigned" under "pressure from White House officials because of controversial comments he made last week about the Bradley Manning case." …

[T]hose who instituted a worldwide torture and illegal eavesdropping regime are entitled to full-scale presidential immunity, while powerless individuals who blow the whistle on high-level wrongdoing and illegality are subjected to the most aggressive campaign of prosecution and persecution the country has ever seen. So protecting those who are abusing Manning, while firing Crowley for condemning the abuse, is perfectly consistent[.]

Sounds About Right

I imagine the US policy response to what's going on in Japan will be a reactor in every back yard.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Earthquakes Disrupt Windfarms Too

And then all the wind-turbines will release all the pent-up death poison they hold in their stalks across the continents, too. Oh, wait.

I'm actually assuming that precisely because Japan has given us such a conspicuous piece of evidence reminding us of the utter folly of ruinously expensive unspeakably dangerous nuclear energy as bogus "green" strategy that it has become much more rather than less inevitable that nuclear plant boondoggles will once again pimple our landscape.

Rather like fantastically idiotic offshore drilling, the greedhead shills in Congress start barking and clapping louder so ferociously and so pre-emptively the moment any disaster risks giving the lie to their science fiction promises of omni-competent robots and energy too cheap to meter that any evidence of the danger of our industrial-extractive-petrochemical deathrace now functions only to prompt ever-greater acceleration toward the wall of catastrophe.

Soul Well Sold

In an earlier post I wrote:
Honestly, just which American President since WW2 has not committed war crimes in your estimation? What kind of world do you think we are living in? Have you sold your soul because you were willing to prefer some Presidents as better than others for election despite this undeniable and undeniably debased state of affairs? …I'll be right behind you in demanding a war crimes tribunal for Obama officials right along with Bush officials if it comes to that. But I still don't think it makes much sense to focus on that at the cost of Obama's election to some union-busting woman-hating climate-change denialist beholden to authoritarian christianists and white-racist gun-nuts.

To which my interlocutor replied, flabbergasted: "So you're willing to vote for someone that you would later support a war crimes tribunal against. Think about that, Dale."

Do you really think I haven't thought about this? I don't find this attitude even remotely paradoxical. I don't think a vote constitutes a marriage vow or a religious conversion for heaven's sake. You say that voting for Democrats wasn't the panacea "we" imagined. Speak for yourself. I never expected a panacea. Republican obstructionism and subsequent irrationality was even worse than I expected, but Obama has been fairly predictable, his Administration tracking his campaign pretty consistently.

Although I voted for Obama and supported most of his efforts before the mid-terms and defended him as doing his best and even progressive best (defensibly so even where I disagreed with him) on issue after issue against those who seemed to want to pretend the Presidency was a magic wand, the fact is I was never "in the tank" for Obama, and always used that expression sardonically. I'm a secular democratic socialist feminist queer vegetarian atheist anti-militarist theory-head aesthete, not to put too fine a point on it, and how anybody thinks such a person could be truly fully unqualifiedly "in the tank" for any actually electable political figure in the USA is entirely beyond me.

I daresay Obama is better than I hoped we could get at this historical juncture -- still quite true, even with his many deficiencies still very much in view -- and I also daresay he could achieve far more of what his left detractors want from him were they to whomp up enthusiasm behind him rather than attack him from his left in ways that are often easily as idiotic as those who attack him from the right.

It would appear that too many Americans who need to vote in their own interests get demoralized by reality and then acquiesce like sleepwalkers to fascism if you don't whip them up into a frenzy of hysterical fandom about every single goddamn election. I suppose the total suffusion of public discourse with the norms and forms of advertizing -- incessant deception, deadening repetition, and hyperbole -- has done its deadly work for real.

Let me add, on the war crimes tribunal front that I wouldn't mind seeing Carter and Clinton standing before such a tribunal as well (and all our lovely Republican thugs, natch). Is that really such a shock to people? Ever heard of East Timor, or anti-humanitarian Iraqi sanctions? Just how naive are you people? If you are a middle-aged person like me, if you have ever voted for a President then you have supported both a war criminal and a plutocrat. Given what your country is, that goes without saying. Do you get that about this historical moment and your country?

Choosing which President to elect from the two party menu (and don't get me started on the folly of quixotic third party bids that can function only as narcissistic spoilers unless they are preceded by serious reform campaigns in our election system and the norms that organize Congressional committees and so on) simply isn't an act that addresses problems at that structural level.

One votes for President to help shepherd policy compromises through Congress in relation to party organizations with programmatic platforms. You aren't electing a best friend, a guru, a new teen idol poster to jerk off to on your bedroom wall. Presidential politics are a crucial vector of activism because Presidents disseminate mass-mediated narrative frames and implement policy outcomes that, if you are very patient and very diligent and very lucky, can alter the institutional conditions that enable deeper changes over the longer term (healthcare policy, tax policy, energy policy, trade policy, immigration policy, media policy, and so on).

Still, it'll take more than a perfect President (who doesn't, after all, exist) to turn the tides of officially condoned torture and security sanctioned violations of civil liberties -- you trivialize these problems if you fancy they can be addressed by so superficial an action as a Presidential campaign. It's still crucial to have the best most progressive possible person occupying the White House, but not because that is a utopia materialization strategy. The particular rot that has given us torture and domestic spying and secret ops is deep and was very long in coming and will take a long fight to remedy. It isn't exactly encouraging to see how quickly how many who know better give up the fight. Americans really are too damned lazy to be believed.

Choice And the "Plague On Both Their Houses" Left

From ongoing conversations in the Moot, an interlocutor claims: "Row v Wade is not materially in danger" due to Republican gains.

But, of course, in the last few months, Roe v Wade has been radically undermined de facto if not de jure through the implementation of a host of material barriers and harassments in State after State captured or radicalized by Movement Republicanism. These GOP governors and legislatures were empowered by low Dem voter turnout for the Mid-Terms, especially by youth voters many of whom I believe were thinking too much like my "plague on both their houses" detractors are now. Further, the skew of the Supreme Court toward a Movement Republican partisanization via the malign activism of the Federalist Society leaves Roe in the balance, incomparably more precarious at the Federal level than is suggested here. Empty Republican promises about jobs that never made any sense in their formulations but the senselessness of which never mattered to spoiled Americans who just wanted to "throw the bums out" provided a magic carpet ride into power whereupon these corporate-sponsored radicals and mouthpieces immediately started shifting billions more from everyday people to billionaires, attacked abortion, and launched into union-busting (insert "I told you so" here, if you like, and re-read this blog's hair on fire posts in the lead-up to the Mid-Terms from the archive). Once again too many good smart righteous people to Obama's left underestimate the irrationality and organized authoritarianism of Republicans in their disgust with Democratic compromises and inadequacies: Most of that disgust is morally and ethically well justified, of course, but not necessarily politically so, which, as I stress again and again and again, is a different mode of reasonable belief-ascription, with different standards of warrant, than either morals or ethics or aesthetics or commerce or science.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Selling My Soul

Adapted and upgraded from the Moot, from an ongoing conversation with Friend of Blog (and, unquestionably, a good guy) "Martin" asks:
"Obama is now a president who tortures. Gitmo and Quantico are his Abu Ghraibs. Can you support a president who tortures? How much of your soul do you have to sell to win this battle?"

How can people be so innocent after Chomsky and other left intellectuals have been publishing their exposes for decades (occasional errors of fact or judgment notwithstanding)? Honestly, just which American President since WW2 has not committed war crimes in your estimation? What kind of world do you think we are living in? Have you sold your soul because you were willing to prefer some Presidents as better than others for election despite this undeniable and undeniably debased state of affairs?

Let me add, that the absolutely intolerable abuse of whistleblower Bradley Manning consists of enforced solitary confinement, incredibly harsh treatment, extended nudity and exposure, harassment, deliberate humiliation and threats of violence -- all abuses taking place across the American prison system in state after state after state. Is it that you are unaware of this? Have you sold your soul by not prioritizing this issue in your consideration of Presidential politics hitherto? I am painfully aware of this issue, have read about it extensively, lecture about it when I teach Foucault and Angela Davis -- and yet knowledgeable though I am, appalled though I am, it is not something I blog about or prioritize as compared with many other also urgent issues.

My point is not to trivialize the war crimes of the American Executive and our crappy idiot Empire, my point is not to trivialize the criminal mistreatment of Manning, but to suggest that the address of such evils take incomparably more than declaring a plague on both your houses in the name of an "activism" that functionally acquiesces to an organized Republicanism now captured by the most energized reactionary elements in the country.

Pretending and then acting upon the pretense that Democrats and Republicans are the same just because they both palpably suck isn't actually engaging in either analysis or activism at a level that addresses the evil that presumably you are responding to here. That isn't exactly what you are advocating here (although you have flirted with just that in testifying to your righteous and proper indignation over the Administration's treatment of Manning and other civil rights abuses presumably "justified" by the lunacy of our so-called global war on terror), but at times like these you need to think clearly. It isn't only that the politics crystallized by the abuse of Manning is just one facet of the political constellation we need to keep in mind in supporting a political party and its candidates for election, it isn't even just a question of properly prioritizing these facets: to reject the Democrats for their failures in even this one facet is to functionally affirm Republicans vanishingly few of whom are any better and who together are incomparably worse not only on this very issue but on a host of others all of which contribute their measure to a larger anti-democratizing trajectory that would disempower those of us who do struggle on this and other issues, large and small, as a matter of practice rather than just sloganizing deduction.

Thinking politically this way isn't easy, I grant you, but trying to express this hardship through the metaphor of selling or keeping your soul does great violence to the political demands at hand, it seems to me. If Manning were to escape confinement and seek asylum in Europe or South America I would loudly and materially support those who aided him, and I hope I would have the courage to shelter him in his danger in my own home if it came to that, even at the risk of sharing his fate. I can't be sure, but that, at least, is a circumstance in which it makes sense to me to speak of "selling" or "keeping" one's soul. That would be a real moral and ethical moment.

Treating Obama's egregious failure in this issue of policy as a pretense to forsake the indispensable politics of the American Presidency (an Obama landslide will have coat-tails that would re-enable a Congressional landscape in which it would be possible to resume the struggle for carbon taxes, EFCA, a green stimulus, not to mention turn the tide at the state level demonstrated over the last weeks as so potentially transformative in the catastrophic fight against organized labor) looks to me like bad politics justified by righteous morals in a profoundly indulgent form that does no justice to the rectitude of the morals themselves.

By all means, support organizations that are fighting for Manning (are you? I am), demonstrate your rejection of the unitary executive in petitions, letters, education, agitation, organizing (do you? I do). I'll be right behind you in demanding a war crimes tribunal for Obama officials right along with Bush officials if it comes to that. But I still don't think it makes much sense to focus on that at the cost of Obama's election to some union-busting woman-hating climate-change denialist beholden to authoritarian christianists and white-racist gun-nuts.

America is a notionally representative corporate-militarist plutocracy and our Presidency reflects that reality. Progressive taxation, publicly funded elections, breaking up media monopolies are structural requirements that would create countervailing powers to the imperial executive and corporate-militarist drives against civil liberties. There are many vocal Democratic organizations and politicians actively devoted to precisely these sorts of campaigns. Do you believe that Obama and McCain (substitute any of the Republicans in the field for 2012) would be equally likely to veto legislation making taxes more progressive, enacting publicly funded elections, breaking up media monopolies? Be honest.

Majorities don't want America to be policeman for the world and screwing people who work for a living so that the rich few can be richer still, but incumbent-elites continue to profit from this state of affairs. Enabling the latter in the face of the former creates the structural conditions under which abiding anti-democratization flourishes in the Executive, come what may.

We live in a country for which it actually can be said that our President is at once the most progressive President since FDR and also that our President is engaging in war crimes (as did FDR). That the latter is true does not alter the urgent importance of the former in the midst of our terrible distress. The distinction isn't any less indispensable for being so ugly on the ground.

There's no such thing as a soul, anyway. That's what brains are for. You have a brain and a conscience, Martin, and that means you have work to do, seems to me, just like me. If you have to sell your soul or whatever to work for democratization with the materials actually at hand, so be it.

Politics are not the nursery.

Snarky Markey Targets Republican Anti-Science Malarkey

America's Senator Bernie Sanders on the Insanity and Immorality of the Republican Budget; Also: A Simple Way to Start Fixing It

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Politics Are Not the Nursery

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

Well, when you speak of crippling disappointment from the vantage of a sensibly secular democratic perspective, especially in the face of ongoing plutocracy, ongoing militarism, ongoing ominous consolidation of the Unitary Executive under Obama, I definitely hear you.

I went to jail back in my Queer Nation/Atlanta days decades ago battling for queer rights only some of which are beginning to find the least purchase at the level of employment anti-discrimination policy and such -- and all this many long years after majorities had come round to the sense of the modest things we were struggling for (and don't even get me started on the more radical things truer still to my pervert heart).

The pace by which reform confers progress is slower by far than the pace by which argument confers conviction.

No real activist is stranger to drinking the bitter cup.

That's the whole reason we have to remind one another to keep our eyes on the prize.

That said, politicians aren't activists, they compromise because they are supposed to, that's their job. It isn't compromise as such that is the problem, not all compromise is capitulation. It is up to the education, agitation, and organization of citizens to prepare the terrain that ensures compromises still contribute to the substance of progress rather than reaction.

To feel despair is only natural in the face of endless exploitation, corruption, deception, inequity, but the project of sustainable consensual secular democratic polyculture is not a natural one, and we none of us have the room to despair for long.

Republicans are criminally dismantling workplace democracy even as we speak -- and we need to be going to the barricades with the allies we have, warts and all.

This is no time for despair at Democrats but of rage at Republicans. We can keep replacing the worse Democrats with better ones as we go -- but this is a time for picking sides and at such times you pick a side or a side is picked for you.

Scientific, moral, ethical, aesthetic, political, commercial domains all have their separate standards of clarity -- to the extent that this is a moment of political clarity, don't get it muddled in the standards more proper to subjective aesthetics or universalizing ethics or commercial competitiveness or scientific instrumental optimality or what have you.

Those who see clearly can't let their political hopes and energies get eroded by the misapplication to politics of standards and aspirations suited to other domains.

We have to walk and chew gum at the same time, we have to reconcile hopes and histories, we have to see today in both short term and longer term contexts.

As Arendt said, politics are not the nursery.

Keyboard Kommandos of the Left

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

Self-congratulatory inactivist "radicals" promulgating Dem-Repug equivalency theses from the left of this secular democratic socialist feminist queer in the Moot because they don't have the patience or discipline for the heart-breaking slow-paced path of reform via activism and policy in the context of partisan stakeholder politics don't impress me.

As it happens, there are a diversity of stakeholders in the world -- including assholes, including incredibly rich greedheads, including incredibly organized reactionaries, including incredibly stupid mobs of scared dimwits. Do you just believe in incarcerating them, or putting them up against the wall, pretending they don't exist? Politics accommodates, compromises, reforms in the face of diversity. Politics isn't ethics or aesthetics, where you can afford to pretend it's my way or the highway from your La-Z-Boy.

Also, talk is cheap. If they have actually joined a revolutionary cell (basement book clubs don't count) because they truly find the Dems too hopelessly reactionary, then they have earned their big dramatic declarations, at least their asses are on the line. I happen to disagree that such a path will get the world closer to where such revolutionaries want it to be, but I admire those whose convictions cash out in substance.

That's what I mean when I demand they back up their big dismissive disempowering diversionary talk. I am not requesting endless rehearsals of the Big Picture of actually-existing plutocracy in America. I get the Big Picture. Almost every political post I publish to this blog is premised on awareness of this Big Picture. I teach several variations of this Big Picture to college students by the thousands.

Getting from here to there without becoming totally demoralized in the process is what is under discussion. Capitulationists who think declaring "a plague on both your houses!" and thereby enabling Republican white-racist patriarchal plutocratic christianist greedhead victories constitutes a form of holier-than-thou activism (Americans are so spoiled they are forever declaring their passive consumptions to be profoundly active productions) don't impress me much.

But they do inspire a well-earned well-aimed measure of disgust.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ritual Ardor for Broder

I read Steve Benen every day. He manages today, for once, to disappoint me. Of David Broder he writes today: "Very few journalists reach the level of 'political institution,' but David Broder earned it. His death this morning is a real loss." Inasmuch as having a tumor surgically removed is also a real loss this statement is, stricto sensu, factually correct. But I have a sinking feeling we are about to be immersed in a scarcely endurable nauseating torrent of phlegm, comparable to the vile festival celebrating nonentity (I mean, incomparable irreplaceable national treasure) Tim Russert upon his demise. Presumably this unedifying circle jerk testifies to the career aspirations of would-be punditocrats jockeying for position among the remaining chairs whenever the music stops, or perhaps to some forlorn hope that by pouring forth these unseemly undeserved panegyrics to their peers in their eclipse this will better ensure that their own exits will be greeted with comparable howls from scores of people they don't actually respect either. I say: Yuck.

Wisconsin GOP Is Winning So Hard They Want to Make It Illegal for Them to Lose

Fucked Scott Fitzgerald very gamely snarls his disdain for the vocal majorities of his fellow citizens -- whom he presumably represents, but never mind that now -- citizens who are righteously and relentlessly protesting in flabbergasting numbers the outrageous anti-democratic union-busting program his party never ran on but ran with upon election, regally airily dismissing these citizens as a rag-tag fugitive band of unkempt undeoderized commienazis from out of state and so on as he does the rounds of the pundipelago to disinform the masses and whomp up billionaire support. All the more enjoyable then is the spectacle of the GOP mouthbreathing mouthpiece scrambling spastically to make prank phone calls illegal and recalls illegitimate as if there were something about prank calls and recall efforts that could be the least threat to a man of the people such as he trumpeting the incontrovertibly winning hand he assures us he has.

The Dean Scream

David Broder, often denominated "The Dean" of mainstream punditry (and aptly enough, given the debased debauched state of mainstream punditry), has died. Let us pray that the bipartisanship qua Democratic capitulation to insane unpopular authoritarian Republicans that was his religion is well on its way to dying with him. Of course, it isn't, which goes a long way to explaining why I am not a praying man. But, civility, civility, people! Outwardly, my altar boy hands clasp chastely at my waist as my eyes invoke angelic choirs and my voice intones, hushed, that my thoughts are with his family and friends in this difficult time. While inwardly, I fear, my response is closer to:

We're All Going to Die

Apparently Obama's approval has taken a ten point nose dive among "Independents" since last month, driven by a rise in gas prices. One wonders what these "independents" think Obama was in any position to do about the Middle Eastern turmoil which is the proximate cause of that rise, let alone the larger structural problems of managing the stresses of an idiotically ill-conceived extractive-industrial civilization in an actually finite world.

But of course these "independents" are not thinking at all. It is from thought, I suppose, that they are actually Independent first of all.

President make joke on Jay Leno -- me like President! Me food now! Me drive now! Me so mad! Throw the bums out!

Who cares what the facts are? Who cares who the stakeholders are? Who cares about context? Damn the consequences!

What a finely calibrated instrument with which to cope with the pressures of policymaking in the midst of Peak Oil and resource descent more generally in the coming years.

While we all know that the GOP has been captured by its rampaging paranoid anti-tax anti-democracy anti-science white-racist patriarchal muscular baby Jesus gun-nut greedhead Base, one wonders how much better are the coveted "Independents" who presumably swing our elections, every one of whom seems to be a lobotomized potbelly with a nasty rash and a hard-on, squalling like an infant for instant gratification.

This, by the way, is the context in which one must weigh the manifold palpable deficiencies of Democrats that seem to inspire too many of the best informed and most righteous of our citizens into fascist-enabling ecstasies of apathetic non-support and non-participation they fancy constitute some kind of radical activism, even if, on its face it is, you know, tantamount to the impersonation of the drooling saucer-eyed stance of the passive indifferent consumer in those who presumably pride themselves on knowing better.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Be The Change, Be The Difference (And Other Mantras)

I've been very busy with school stuff and not really posting, so perhaps this conversation with long-time Friend of Blog Martin from the Moot will provide a stand-in for an original post. I seem to have variations of this conversation over and over and over again with people!

I wrote, in a recent post inspired by the righteous Wisconsin protests: "The real question to my mind is whether folks presently disgusted with Republicans will still feel disgusted when the next election actually arrives."

In answer to this, Martin asks a question of his own: "Would it be any better if there were more Democrats in power? Would the tax breaks have expired? I doubt it. The new boss is always the same as the old boss. Change is just a mantra. Anybody who thinks that Republicans have a monopoly on propaganda isn't paying attention. Quite frankly, I'm disgusted... by Obama."

To which, in a fit of pique, I responded:

"The level of indifference to differences that make a difference implied by such statements borders on a kind of madness at worst, at best a principled stance that yields unprincipled conduct.

"I don't believe you really mean it, actually.

"It's one thing to point out how inadequate and compromised Obama and other Democrats are -- and don't try to out-litany me with a laundry list of all the crap he and they are pulling, especially as an executive augmenting the executive in awful ways that would be checked by the other branches if they weren't thronged with batshit crazies now, I daresay you don't know much more than I do on that score or decry it from an anti-authoritarian pro-democracy advocacy more principled than mine -- but, nonetheless, it's quite another thing to pretend Republicans are not presently captured by anti-science anti-government anti-democracy crazies worse in every possible way than the majority of Democrats and indeed worse in ways that are compelling many of the very inadequacies and compromises which you are attributing equally to all as if you don't know better.

"One doesn't forgive Obama what he is doing wrong in recognizing the manifold ways in which he is better than any actually existing alternatives on offer in ways that actually matter in the world.

"Too many to the left of Obama who declare him so bad as to be equivalent to Republicans either need to join a literal revolutionary cell else be recognized as indulging in full-on bullshit artistry (since differences of belief that do not yield differences in conduct are not differences that make a difference), while almost anybody who proposes such a thing from Obama's right can scarcely be better than a Nazi.

"If your (one's, I'm not picking on *you* you) disgust takes you out of action rather than into action you can be sure it is not righteous, and if change appears to you a mirage then be the change you want to see in the world.

"By the way, if Dems had kept the House and maintained a comparable majority in the Senate, then, yes, I do believe the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would have expired. I also believe that in the real world Republican majorities will never achieve that result and only Democratic ones can -- even if you are right that even with Democratic majorities one cannot be sure of that result unless the majorities are of a sufficiently progressive character. I don't consider that a controversial statement, and I think it makes mincemeat of phony equivalency theses."

Martin replied to this soon after:

"I didn't say they were equivalent, although on some of the biggest issues we are facing, they are practically indistinguishable. Two years ago we scoffed at the idea that the war and Gitmo might continue indefinitely, but now we know that McCain might as well have been elected.

"It's particularly disgusting that Obama has decided to restart our single biggest source of human rights violations.

"But what are we supposed to do? Vote for "more and better" Democrats? Another impotent mantra. Who is more progressive then Obama (was) that actually stands a chance of winning?

"Gitmo shredded any last hope I had of Obama being a "change" candidate."

Whereupon I replied:

"You said, 'on some of the biggest issues we are facing, they [Dems and Repugs] are practically indistinguishable,' [but i]t is precisely at the practical level that they are palpably distinguishable, even where they both suck.

When Democrats are not elected Republicans are, and at the moment Republicans getting elected means union-smashing infrastructure-looting woman hating queer bashing white-racist climate-change denialist greedhead Christianist gun-nuts have more power. Get a grip!

I think Obama is wrong on indefinite detention, I think he is wrong on wikileaks, I think he is wrong on executive privilege, I think he is wrong on wiretaps, I think he is wrong on not prosecuting Bush Administration officials for war crimes. Pointing these things out is crucial. Who in their right mind isn't disgusted by this?

My point isn't to denigrate these issues vis-a-vis others: the simple fact is that if you really care about these issues you have more allies among Democrats even if not all Democrats are your allies on this. And quite apart from that ugly reality it remains true that re-electing Obama, ideally in a landslide, is probably among the few things that can happen in this historical moment to ensure his coattails turn back the House and retain the Senate and scramble the political terrain in ways that make it more susceptible to fighting Obama with sympathetic Dems at the level of policy where we disapprove of him.

"You describe '"more and better Democrats" [as a]nother impotent mantra.'

On what actual reality-reference are the concepts of power (the potency mobilized in the ascription of impotence here) and substance (the reference to "mantra" presumably indicated vacuity) being offered up? Really, can you answer that?

Do you really think electing Republicans or acquiescing to their election through passivity is empowering to your issues in some sense? Is that a program I am to presume is not a mantra, then?

More, and better, Democrats, hell yes that's substantial.

Better Democrats care about collective bargaining and making the rich contribute their fair share to the maintenance of the society from which they so benefit and protecting woman's health and stepping back from the cliff of petrochemical suicide and educating future generations in science and critical thinking and so much more. More Democrats believe that and act on it than Republicans do, and that makes them better factually. The more of them the better. The more of them the more even the timid ones among them are encouraged to act more like the better ones themselves.

That's the kind of thinking politics demands -- which makes it different from the way we think ethics (which are universalizing) or aesthetics (which are subjective) and idealistic in ways politics just doesn't get to be.

"You say that 'Gitmo shredded any last hope [you] had of Obama being a "change" candidate.'

You mean, change in respect to this issue on which I agree Obama sucks? But there are many issues. In none of them is Obama managing to be my dream lover -- but as a democratic socialist feminist queer I can't say that I expect American Presidents to be my dream lovers, especially when they don't campaign as such.

"Still, the Presidency is the Presidency, it is a vector of change within a political terrain that actually is what it is -- you can disdain it for something else, but you need to be pretty clear about just what that something else is before I am going to take that sort of thing as more than tantrum throwing.

"Martin, I mean, buck up. You're one of the bright ones. I can't take this from people with both brains and hearts at their disposal. This position you are taking is perfectly ridiculous, I am going to chalk it up to a bad day, we all have those."

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Whenever His Preachers Aren't Beating Off Next to Playground Carousels It Makes Baby Jesus Cry

Political Wire
The Rev. Grant Storms -- a self-styled "Christian patriot" known for "arming followers with bullhorns, Bibles and picket signs" to protest a gay festival held each summer -- was arrested on a charge of masturbating in public, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. Storms was sitting in "the driver's seat of his van, which was parked near the carousel and playground."

Dems Won't Get A Do Over

Why are so many Democrats crowing over polling suggesting that many would no longer vote for the Republicans they elected in November (or apathically enabled to get elected through opting out of the election)? Why all this breathless ecstasy about Republican over-reach? Are people day dreaming that they can picket their way to a do-over of November any time soon?

The real question to my mind is whether folks presently disgusted with Republicans will still feel disgusted when the next election actually arrives. And I don't think it at all implausible to imagine that when this opportunistic "over-reach" is long past much of this outrage will likewise fade away unless we are more disciplined than usual about the politics at hand. I don’t think it all implausible to imagine that progressives will have become disgruntled by still more ugly compromises demanded by stakeholder governance with greedheads and loons, that GOP policies to constrain the recovery will have exacerbated discontent that few will actually know to attribute to those GOP policies, that so-called independents will go with their "guts" and fall as usual for dumb dumb slogans and cartoons, and the teapartiers will continue barking like dogs at the Moon.

You'll forgive me if I fail to feel triumphant about our prospects, however inspired I am by the righteous and gorgeous protests in the people's house in Madison.

You know, the beginning of a term is precisely when Walker's brand of gangster over-reach makes the most sense, and Republicans know all about this game. Because Republicans can't get elected describing the actually likely policy outcomes of their schemes, er, "ideas," they usually talk around them when they don't outright lie about them, and buyer's remorse in an electorate confronted by the usual policy aftermath follows like the night the day. This is nothing new.

There is some possibility that we can parlay all this outrage into hearings that have an off-chance of enabling an impeachment or recall or a better chance of scaring some Republicans into co-operating with enough Democrats to hold back the anti-democratizing tide and create a better electoral environment for Democrats when the next actual election happens. Sorry, no do-over, just the usual hard work of do-something.

The Buried Treasure of the Revolutionary Tradition Re-Emerges Yet Again in Revolutionary Libya

Via Democracy Now!
In the liberated city of Benghazi, where pro-Gaddafi forces have been ousted, Libyan people are now organizing a self-government structure to manage the city. One group calling itself the Coalition of the February 17 Revolution—which is made up of doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors, workers, students—just established a city council to manage the day-to-day activities of the city. Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat speaks with two female Libyan attorneys who are very involved in the coalition.

Hannah Arendt described the emergence of democratic workers and citizens councils in the aftermath of almost every modern revolutionary situation as the "buried treasure" subsequently squashed either by counter-revolutionary forces or the emerging establishment of the post-revolutionary period (the Bolshevik domestication of the peoples' Soviets, the squashing of the workers' councils in the Hungarian Spring are exemplary instances). In this ever re-emerging democratic treasure, however, Arendt discerned the endlessly renewed and endlessly promising evidence that human beings are absolutely capable of consensual self-government and profoundly eager for the pleasures and dangers of life in concert.

It is interesting that in the absence of the long nonviolent and democratic education, agitation, and organization of the Egyptian youth movements, nonetheless the Libyan revolutionary movement have incubated an archipelago of citizen councils in liberated city after liberated city, everyday citizens have taken up the equitable provision of public services and diverse deliberative bodies, and are calling out together for a united, democratic Libya whose capital is Tripoli.

GOP nth Dimensional Chess

I don't quite understand why left commentators will sometimes attribute great cunning or even something like criminal genius to greedy banksters and GOP gangster governors.

Greedheads, regardless of party affiliation, will try to get money for nothing wherever and whenever the occasion arises. Whatever the reason to be found deep in the sticky stink of their psyches, market fundamentalists and movement Republicans are ideologically committed to demolishing every institution and convention that empowers everyday people over the oligarchs with whom they personally identify.

Why attribute to "genius" plans and schemes what can more readily be attributed to opportunistic cunning from moment to moment?

Subprime mortgages peddled to pension plans as triple-A rated was a fairly straightforward scumbag scam operation of the kind that greedy assholes inevitably go for unless they are scrupulously policed. In the aftermath of deregulation, this scam was low hanging fruit, and the low hanging fruit got plucked. Blaming the pensioners who were actually victimized by this predation now is also low-hanging fruit for anti-government low-lifes. Citizens United shoveled cash to the corporate castle-builders and now GOP governors are trying to demolish the unions that would compete with corporatists.

This is supposed to be the unfolding of some grand strategy? All of this looks to me far less like dominoes systematically falling, than it does assholes grabbing whatever is handy and attacking Democrats whenever the opportunity presents itself. Of course one can discern historical and structural relations between these events of predation and authoritarianism, creating new opportunities for the gangsters, but that hardly provides evidence of master planning.

These people are brainless thugs and con artists. The universe is a deaf dumb blind robot programmed for destruction, and it is creation, like culture, that is the intelligent, because collective, effort. It takes little effort to destroy civilization, civilization is an unnatural and even fragile accomplishment.

Walker is a dead eyed dumb-dumb. Karl Rove is a slobbering sociopathic asshole distinguished from his fellows less by his intellect than by the shamelessness of his willingness to cheat. The banksters are grafters, plain and simple, whatever their pretensions to intellectual aristocracy. We should not abet the fraud of their self-congratulation or psyche ourselves out pretending their relentlessly obvious moves are the least bit interesting just because they are so ruinous.