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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Halperin's Dick Move

In his Press Conference yesterday, President Obama said in no uncertain terms that Republicans will have to compromise from their repeatedly declared determination as a party deliberately to wreck our already languishing economy and exacerbate the suffering of most of our population by refusing for the first time in history to participate in the pro forma raising of the debt ceiling to ensure the full faith and credit of the United States unless Democrats -- who still control the Executive branch and half of the Legislative branch because majorities of voters put them there to end the ruinous wars, reform the healthcare system, rein in corporate abuses, invest in green jobs and infrastructure -- do the opposite of what they were elected to do, the opposite of what any macro-economically literate person knows to be right, and indulge instead in the palpable madness and cruelty and stupidity of the minority Movement Republican lust for further demolition of indispensable public services and the further larding of the richest of the rich with treasures and privileges. For pointing out that all this is, to say the least, clearly unacceptable, punditocrat Mark Halperin told the viewing public of MSNBC's least-watched most-conservative program that the President was behaving like a "dick."

I personally believe that calling the President or anybody else a "dick" on the tee vee should not incur legal or financial penalties with the FEC (if it does), indeed, I think it would be a wholesome step toward sanity if words like "asshole" "shit" and even the apparently radioactive "fuck" should find their way to broadcast just as they do in actual everyday life so that one more layer of mass-mediated bullshit be removed the better to make way for people who sound like real people to talk in a real way about the real problems that really beset them.

Be that as it may, Halperin's "dick" comment seems to me to reveal quite palpably the problem with him that I daresay almost everybody has already long known: that he is himself the sort of dick who has no right place on television droning ever on and on with his snide gossipy faux-sanctimonious superficial-"Seriousness" in the first place.

That the flabbergastingly obvious point Obama made about the absurd, disgusting, and dangerous spectacle the Republicans are making of themselves made him look like a "dick" to a representative Village insider of our pampered useless debased bought-and-paid-for commentariat reveals yet again that the Village has long been a circle-jerk of dicks fluffing plutocrats into ugly war adventures, CEO celebrity worship, wingnut mancrushes, bank fraud enablement, austerity for the masses, climate change denialism, and Ayn Rand idiocies for years and years and years. I hope it won't be thought a dick move for me to declare the Village must be burned to be saved and to say a little prayer that Halperin's fall be long and the first of many.

Today's Random Wilde

One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

Your new car looks exactly like everybody else's new car.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Today's Random Wilde

Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

And after all, who needs feminism when the tee vee assures us women want nothing at all in the whole wide world but a constant supply of yogurt and chocolate?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

It's a good thing BBC America is turning into the SciFi Channel now that the SciFi Channel is turning into TBN…

Today's Random Wilde

By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Michelle Bachmann Said Something Idiotic

Let's talk about that all day.

Today's Random Wilde

I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

Yeah, thanks, Febreze, when I think of "air freshener" what I really have in mind is a smell like a rotting florist refrigerator in a retirement community for incontinent prostitutes.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

MundiMuster! Tell Your Cable Provider to Treat Current TV At Least As Well As They Treat Faux News, For Crying Out Loud

Countdown with Keith Olbermann has returned to the airwaves on Current TV. With Olbermann's arrival, and considering the other news content and documentary features available on the station, cable providers should treat Current the same as they do CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Click here to sign a petition telling cable providers to treat Current TV equally.

Dull Soulless Dance Music

Pride! Shame! Pride! Shame! Pride! Shame! Pride! Shame! Pride! Shame!

The Ignorance of the Republican and Libertopian Free Marketeers Is Easily Equal to Their Cruelty

Republicans and so-called market "Libertarians" often get in a lather when they are told to their faces the obvious truth that they are not only wrongheaded but also profoundly mean and cruel for advocating policies that disproportionately advantage the already rich and already privileged (often all the while indulging in wish fulfillment fantasies that one day they will be the rich ones benefiting from such policies, once their Genius is finally recognized or once they finally get their Big Break or once their willingness to climb a gory mountain of bloody skulls with more brutality than others finally achieves the Summit or whatever creepy convictions or compulsions or convulsions drive these awful people) rather than addressing palpable problems in our shared world of structural poverty, resource depletion and catastrophic climate change, systemic violence and humiliation, treatable neglected disease and malnutrition, and facilitating through public investment and collective action a scene of equitable, informed, actually non-duressed consent (and the diversity that arises from such a scene).

Typically, these Republicans and market "Libertarians" declare themselves to be speaking from the vantage of particular political philosophy or economic ideas when they defend their selfishness and cruelty.

But it cannot be more clear, nor can one ever stress often enough, that theirs is an outlook that has not yet achieved a grasp of the basic constituents of political understanding: that every right is first of all a rite; that no-one is an island and no one consents to their investment in consent; that public goods -- among them civitas, equitable law and consensual order as such -- are incapable of private provision; that the ineradicable diversity of ends of the stakeholders who share the world are only contingently and hence interminably reconciled over time and that this reconciliation is permanently susceptible to violence; that the legitimate, non-violent adjudication of disputes is a practical, institutional, and also discursive project which will always include the renegotiation of what counts as non-violence; that violence can inhere in inequity but also in the circumscription of diversity and that there is no ideal or logical resolution of these competing but equally indispensable values; that democracy is simply the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them and since there are endlessly many ways of providing what might qualify as such a "say" democracy is not an ideal we approach but a practice in which we engage and experiment in an ongoing way, and so on.

Given their neglect of so many of the fundamental assumptions that give rise to political understanding and deliberation, properly so-called, Movement Republican and market "Libertarians" really cannot be regarded as propouding political views at all as far as I can see, but are better understood as proselytizing altogether pre-political outlooks, or even indulging in outright parochial moralizing mistaken for or peddled as politics.

Similarly, the "economic ideas" to which Republicans and market "Libertarians" appear to be devoted are typically either macroeconomically illiterate variations on the "laissez-faire" platitudes debunked and superceded by Keynes (with a few saltwater refinements) or ecologically illiterate variations on the "productivist" platitudes debunked by Polanyi and Galbraith (for instance, in The Great Transformation and The Affluent Society, respectively) and superceded by sustainability and environmental justice policy-making.

Although Milton Friedman has, since Naomi Klein's excellent polemic The Shock Doctrine, been treated as the arch villain in the story of the suffusion of economics departments and global institutions by market fundamentalist and neoliberal developmentalist brutality, it is interesting to note that Friedman's monetarism at least genuflects in the direction of Keynesian insights, while contemporary market fundamentalists and neoliberals have regressed to pre-Keynesian illiterates via Hayek, Mises, and rank popularizers like Hazlitt (some of this story is quite accessibly told in David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism, a fine companion to Klein).

Further, the moralizing project of providing via "academic economics" a facile and falsifying intellectual framework for organizing in the service of incumbent elites is the latest chapter in a longer American story which includes the initial creation of University Economics departments in the Gilded Age to provide rationalizations for plutocratic abuses and respond to the popularity of Henry George (and to a lesser extent, figures like Marx in the post-Civil War and early Republican labor agitating period).

As for the suffusion of economic thought with "productivist" assumptions that mistake a vulnerable world for an infinitely resourceful one instead and mistake vulnerable human beings who care and share with their fellows as infinitely greedy defensive sociopaths instead, I fear all too many of these pathological prejudices are to be found in Marx and Keynes (Marx's praise for the emancipating powers of technoscientific capitalism is second only to that of capitalism's actual champions, as is well known, and for Keynes see, for instance, "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren") as well as in the usual suspects of reactionary economic thought.

Defenders of Marx and Keynes will have many photogenic counterexamples at hand to resist any blanket equivalence thesis with reactionary "Free Marketeers" here, and I concede their point at the outset, but productivism as social panacea and as denial of ecological limits remains a real problem in both. But only those rare -- thankfully less rare all the time -- tracts in which economic and ecologic thought are woven together is this default economistic-developmentalist productivism sometimes overcome, as in the current work of some environmental justice policy-makers, sustainability theorists, eco-socialists, among others.

To return to the basics, however, there are simply some services, some investments, some goods from which all benefit incomparably more from having them at hand than not whatever their relative contribution to their creation and maintenance and their own immediate and palpable benefits from these, and such public services, public investments, public goods are the accomplishment of collective (or even socialized, if you roll that way) action in the service of general welfare.

For some services, private profitability demands the exclusion of some especially costly beneficiaries from the service (universal basic healthcare is such a service). But when one of the indispensable benefits arising from the provision of the service is precisely that all are included in it (because one wants to live in a society where all are as well as may be, the better to contribute who knows what measure of value to that shared society when not bedeviled by treatable illness, or to eliminate an unnecessary spectacle of suffering or neglect in which we all in that shared society are humiliated), this simply means that the service will necessarily fall to the collective agency of the state rather than to for-profit enterprise for its proper provision.

Likewise, for some investments (transportation, information, education, communication, energy and resource provision infrastructures), private profitability demands that certain conspicuous social or environmental costs be externalized, paid in fact by members of society more generally or later on who must take on the costs of incapacitating injuries, illnesses, undue stresses, or of environmental depletion, pollution, waste, and so private profitability must be foregone so that these costs may be internalized and equitably borne by all those who inevitably pay them in exchange for their general benefits (or if these costs remain too high to be borne in general or in the longer-term, they must be rejected altogether as bad investments whatever their short-term or parochial benefits to some).

When people with whom we share the world suffer from violence, duress, treatable illness, severe want or neglect, exploitation, unfairness, unequal access to opportunity, undue ignorance, misinformation, harassment, or fraud in ways susceptible to collective address only or best or legitimately through the agencies of the state either because their private, charitable, or for-profit address cannot ensure adequate, equitable, or universal provision, or provides only exclusive benefits to parochial ends while imposing general and generational burdens, then it is not only mistaken to ignore this suffering or propose its inadequate address (though it is mistaken, too), but profoundly mean and cruel to do so.

Just because one might declare a person mean and cruel and insensitive to refuse charity or generosity on an occasion when such charity and generosity would do great good at little cost to the one refusing it, this does not mean that everything mean and cruel and insensitive is a matter of a failure to be charitable best addressed through greater compensatory generosity on the part of those who see things differently than some selfish oaf.

Again, some shared problems demand legitimate, collective, public, socialized address funded by taxes and comparable revenue, and while those who are indifferent to the solution of such shared problems may have an uncharitable disposition (along with their short-sightedness, parochialism, and selfish greed), this is far from proposing that charity would provide an adequate address to these shared problems.

And, again, those who propose that competitive for-profit enterprise can solve all such problems are plainly and palpable wrong, and to say otherwise is to neglect so many fundamental political assumptions and warranted economic assertions that it is not really appropriate to declare such proposals to be "political philosophies" at all rather than simply facile uncritical parochial and pre-political impressions of the world, nor to declare them forms of "economic thought" rather than simply incoherent bits of pre-Keynesian nonsense or, worse, as straightforward opportunistic propaganda and fraud in the service of incumbent elites gussied up as intellectual disciplines.

The so-called "Free Marketeers," when they declare those who seek to address shared problems by the actual public means equal to them to be hypocrites imposing their pet charitable causes on the unwilling, indeed reveal themselves to be breathtakingly mean and cruel in their indifference to the unnecessary suffering caused by these shared problems. But do not let us forget that together with their meanness and cruelty, and often enabling it, they are usually also almost flabbergastingly foolish and ignorant people as well who should be exposed as such.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

I realize it's already round, Mr. Dyson, but don't you think the doorknob, too, is just crying out for a radical re-think?

Today's Random Wilde

The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pelosi "Putting A Strong Liberal Voice in the Room" For A Change

The Hill:
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will demand a seat in the table for the final talks on the national debt limit, putting a strong liberal voice in the room. Pelosi and House Democrats were left out of the negotiations between President Obama and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last year that extended nearly all of the Bush tax rates though 2012. Pelosi didn’t participate in the final high-level talks over fiscal 2011 spending levels either. But now she’s demanding her say at a time when many of her House Democratic colleagues are disappointed in Obama’s level of consultation with their caucus. “If they don’t have the votes, House Democrats have to be at the table,” said a House Democratic leadership aide. Pelosi stayed out of the talks on crafting a continuing resolution funding the rest of 2011 that included $38.5 billion in spending cuts because House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) expressed confidence they would pass it without Democratic help. But, in the end of that debate, the Republican votes fell short, and GOP leaders needed help from House Democrats. Democrats went along with a deal they had almost no part in negotiating because they wanted to avert a government shutdown. The experience left a bitter taste in their mouths, and Pelosi won’t let it happen again.
I enjoyed the understatement of the phrase "a bitter taste in their mouths" to characterize the way people of sense have experienced the serial pre-emptive negotiating surrenders of Democrats to the suicidal-homicidal insanity of Republican demands. While Pelosi isn't a progressive panacea by any means, I'm happy to think she'll be in the smoke-filled backroom where what we pretend to consent to is manufactured by Boehner Biden et alia, since she always seems to remember how the game is played and usually remembers what side she's playing on.

"The Basics of Modern Republican Economic Thought Are, Quite Literally, ALWAYS WRONG"

Steve Benen isn't the only one who wants to know:
In 1982, Reagan raised taxes and the right assured Americans this would be a disaster. The right was wrong, and the economy boomed.

In 1993, Clinton raised taxes and the right was even more certain this would be a disaster. The right was wrong again, and we instead saw the longest and strongest sustained recovery in recent memory.

In 2001, Bush slashed taxes and the right swore up and down this would work wonders. The right was wrong again, and the Bush policy failed spectacularly in every possible way.

In 2009, Obama spent heavily to turn the economy around and the right predicted a disaster. The right was wrong, and conditions improved almost immediately. The economy that had been in a tailspin, hemorrhaging jobs, began growing and creating jobs.

How do Republicans explain this? That’s not a rhetorical question. I seriously want to know how and why they believe their uninterrupted track record of failure should be overlooked.
The answer is: rich assholes want M-O-O-O-O-R-E forevah!

Marriage Equality Tide Sets the Stage for This Year's Pride

The Republican-led Senate in New York voted last night to legalize same sex marriage by a small margin. The Democrat-dominated Assembly voted 80 to 63 in favor of the bill on Wednesday. Once it is signed into law by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo -- whose
leadership on this issue was instrumental to its success -- New York will become the sixth and largest state to recognize gay marriage, joining Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia. The number of American citizens living in states where gay marriage is legal effectively doubles at that point. All eyes now turn to California, where a judge last year overturned a bigoted ballot initiative banning gay marriage. For now, no queer weddings (discounting the queerness of notionally straight celebrity weddings) can take place in California while the decision continues to be appealed by the ever more desperate and ridiculous opponents of marriage equality here. It could set national policy if the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court (given the ugly authoritarian bent of the Movement Conservative majority there, the mind reels at the prospect), but even if it does not go so far, a victory for marriage equality in California would increase by many more millions the number of citizens living in states where the simple decency and sanity of marriage equality prevails. The momentum of queer struggles for equity-in-diversity, coming on the high-heels of the ending of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the proliferation of queer folks in the media, the rising generation of Americans for whom antigay bigotry and the closet are utterly alien and nonsensical is growing stronger and stronger, and the kids will have lots to celebrate at this year's Pride.

Today's Random Wilde

It is only an auctioneer who can equally and impartially admire all schools of art.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

Seeing the same commercial four or more times over the course of an hour, even for a product that seemed mildly desirable the first time around, comes to provoke in any sane self-respecting person, I find, a kind of spiritual crisis, calling forth the urgent desire to obliterate every single instance of the damned thing and every single person associated with it in a screaming bloody sledghammering rain of vengeance.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Today's Random Wilde

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

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

The sixteen year old model looks young because she is young, not because of the cream they are lying about her slathering on her sixteen year old face.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sanders and Franken School Randroid Paul

Penny wise, pound foolish (as Steve Benen summarizes the point) isn't exactly a hard concept to grasp, but nobody ever accused Republicans of being the brightest bulbs.

My favorite part from the clip occurs when Paul smugly fancies he's drawing out his ultimate weapon and asks how just many added billions of dollars government would have to spend before the spending doesn't look like saving anymore but just like more spending.

Of course, what Sanders and Franken see is a public problem that needs solving and they assume spending will happen to address the problem and so they seek simply to find the way to solve this problem adequately while spending least.

The actual anti-libertopian ultimate weapon is revealed straitforwardly enough by simply inverting the terms of Randroid Paul's rhetorical question a bit: Just how low does the funding of government go, just how far does the resulting dismantlement of government go, just how far does the anti-tax anti-government libertopian Movement Republican line go before the resulting incapacity to solve actually existing public problems becomes a bigger problem than the unhappiness of a few rich assholes?

Family Values: A Pride Week Miracle Play

I've been angry and sad about things that you do...

Romney and Rubio Is A Ticket Serious As A Heart Attack

I have long regarded a Romney Rubio pairing as among the more potent possibilities available to the GOP in 2012. Florida is a swing state and Rubio is a comer with unmistakable positives and ambitions.

I don't think even at their best they can beat Obama, actually, but I do think they could stave off a possible blowout with coat-tails that could win Democrats back the House and save the Senate (and give us another stab at saving the world). If we lose the Senate and fail to regain the House due to a comparatively closer race, Obama's victory will matter only because of Supreme Court nominations and slightly less catastrophic tinkering around the edges sorts of stuff that count for something but not much.

Now, Romney already comes off as snide and Rubio as smarmy, and we should be parodying them relentlessly and hard as hell to make that stink stick before the Commentariat slathers them with the usual testosterone and swooning star-quality and high-powered intellect accolades they assign these killer clowns. Rubio has a whiff of impropriety and corruption about him already and it isn't clear his positives would survive national campaign trail scrutiny, as it happens.

If Rubio can be framed as an empty gesture and insult to Latinos by a racist party rather than as an opening to sanity on immigration and race in the GOP (as Rove has long wanted to pretend and McCain once tried and failed to make a go at), and if he can be squashed under scandals, then his clear strengths can be overcome and, even better, he can be knocked off the game board earlier than he otherwise would (he looks to me like trouble in the longer run). Then his fall can be woven into an anti-GOP wave narrative starring the hated criminal loon Rick Scott that helps turn Florida Blue for good, and we might could still flip the House and keep the Senate and maybe cajole some scared Republicans into acting sensibly enough to get some necessary work done in a second Obama term.

Obviously, nothing is certain or even very clear at this point, however. Just running at the mouth.

Toe Tag Price Tag of California's Detestable Execution Fetish

California’s death penalty… price tag… is even higher than we thought: $4 billion since 1978. Put another way, we spend $184 million more per year for death penalty inmates than we do on those sentenced to life without the chance of parole. All told, California is on track to spend $1 billion on the death penalty over the next five years. The new estimate is the result of a three-year comprehensive examination of state, federal, and local expenditures on California’s death penalty... $4 billion... g[o]t us... [a] grand total of 13 executions. That’s over $300 million per execution above the cost of life without parole. Meanwhile, nearly half of all murders in California go unsolved. How many dangerous individuals could we have locked up permanently and taken off our streets over the last 33 years if we hadn’t executed those 13 people? How many children and families could have accessed the education and health services they needed, or how many students could have had the opportunity to attend college? … Looking ahead, the study predicts another $9 billion will be spent by 2030… The Governor has the authority to convert all 714 of California’s death sentences to life without the possibility of parole, saving California $1 billion over five years without releasing a single prisoner… California voters agree. Polls as recent as April 2011 show that Californians support cutting the death penalty. A full 63% of likely voters favor the governor converting all existing death sentences to life without parole, with the requirement that prisoners work and pay restitution into the Victims’ Compensation Fund (death row inmates are not currently required to work). That support spans party and geographic lines -- majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all across the state agree… The case is closed on the death penalty.
(That sentencing is inherently and inevitably inequitable, that executions provide no demonstrable deterrent effect, that the unspeakable injustice of errors cannot be reversed, that killing people is wrong, that two wrongs don't make a right remain as true as ever as still further reasons to detest the barbaric practice of capital punishment, of course.)

Boehner and Cantor Grinding Out the Closing Moves in the Movement Republican Dance of Death

Speaker Boehner wanted Eric Cantor in on the Biden debt talks because Cantor has more credibility with the GOP's energetic Tea-tide, and of course Cantor withdrew this morning from the talks precisely because he wants to keep that credibility intact inasmuch as it is almost all he has going for him at this point (and Paul Ryan is moving in on him there like a bird of prey).

The debt talks simply cannot conclude without some recommendations on the revenue side, of course. The Republican suicide-fantasy of some kind of bipartisan voluntary dismantlement into a transcontinental Somalia is obviously a non-starter in actual reality, but anything apart from that full fulminating idiocy has come incredibly to be a non-starter in the political reality of the Tea-tainted GOP base. Cantor's abandonment of Boehner signals yet another ratcheting up of GOP bankruptcy as anything like an actually governing national party, rather than as some kind of weird subcultural fandom for people who read Ayn Rand and Left Behind novels for pleasure. (That three GOP quasi-contenders, Gingrich, Palin, and Trump, were palpably using the campaign trail not seriously to contend for the nomination at all but as part of their self-promotional media marketing and various grifter schemes is another symptom of the shift from a real governing party to a subcultural phenomenon.)

Boehner is House Speaker, which is a responsible position in an actual working government. Now that Majority Leader Cantor has left him high and dry, Boehner will take a probably fatal hit for the slightest actually necessary gestures in the direction of minimally responsible governing in the agreement arising out of the Biden talks, which will mean in turn that he will probably lose his Speakership to Cantor who in gaining it will then in turn be faced with the new reality of Republican anti-governmentality as well: in achieving position one realizes the position is a government position from which one either governs and is punished with losing the position, or fails to govern which means losing the position anyway soon enough.

Republicans have been insisting that all government is bad and all politicians corrupt for years now, and it has never been particularly clear to me how they square this insistence either with their own ruthless efforts to participate in totally bad government or their inclusion within the class of inevitably corrupt politicians. But we have arrived at the logical consummation of this patent nonsense, in which to govern as a Republican is to ensure the result of getting kicked out of government by the Republican base.

They have only themselves to blame. Too bad they destroyed the country and killed all those people along the way to this perfectly predictable end-game.

Least Depressing Analysis of 2012 Democratic Senate Prospects I've Read In A While

...comes from J.B. Poersch. Of course, there are plenty of people who will tell you what you want to hear, but this piece seemed measured and reasonable about some Senate math that has had me dreading a McConnell-lead Senate in 2012 (with all the truly dire implications of that for still ongoing paralysis in the face of ramifying urgent crises even if Obama gets his expected second term and we regain the House, as is quite possible) since early 2009.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

"Real Americans" hate San Francisco so much that all commercials are filmed in our beautiful city so they can stare longingly at it all year between their vacations here.

Today's Random Wilde

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

More Pride, Still Snide

Life without life has no reason or rhyme left.

So. True.

Voice Choice

We're Team Beverley here in the Kingsley-Carrico homestead.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Leaven Your Pride With A Little Shame

Is this a dream?

Is Carson Daly Actually Having Work Done To Look More Like Dick Clark?

It's a fair question.


Congress is fully within its rights to censure President Obama for failing to authorize continued operations in Libya. I wouldn't be the least bit unhappy to see that happen, disliking as I do the Imperial Presidency even if that hasn't been my first priority among the catastrophically many catastrophe plates we have spinning on poles at the moment. I do think it is not unreasonable to suspect that Obama the Constitutional scholar might be properly chastened by such a development -- as no doubt that premature Nobel likely made him feel warm and fuzzy back in the day -- which is all to the good... And I think neither is it unreasonable to suspect that Obama's ambivalent base and the dirt-dumb flibbertigibbet "Independents" might be moved by the spectacle of Censure to contemplate Congressional hypocrisies and shenanigan stunts in ways that would bolster Obama's re-election still more, which is also all to the good, all things considered. I expect a back-door resolution of unasked for support for the Libya mission will be forthcoming in any case in some form or other. I for one loudly disapproved of going into Libya on my shitty blog in the first place, you may recall, but whatevs.

Television Is About To Get A Teentsy Bit Smarter and More Progressive

And I'm not talking about Olbermann's new digs (which is also fine and dandy, but doesn't exactly excite me).

Maroon 5 Helps Make Amor Mundi More Positive

Today's Random Wilde

I am not young enough to know everything.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

Babies wearing denim diapers while sexy music plays in the background? Not cute, actually. Not cool, actually. Not anything at all but creepy and sick, actually.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Senator Franken Opposes Obama on War Powers

Al Franken has turned out to be one of our best Senators, by far (nearly the treasure America's Senator, Bernie Sanders is):
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) told TPM this morning that if the President Obama wants to keep bombing Libya, he'll need to ask Congress' permission. "We're going to have to vote," Franken said shortly after his speech to the Netroots Nation crowd gathered here in his home state Saturday… Obama overruled Justice Department advice that continuing the war in Libya without congressional authority was illegal. Asked about the story, Franken said he rejected the president's reported reasoning behind overruling his own legal team. "I disagree with his take on it..." Congress must give Obama authorization to continue the war. "The War Powers Act should be enforced," Franken said.
Certainly Franken provides a more edifying headline from Netroots Nation than the spectacle of Miscommunications Director Dan Pfeiffer's awful weasel-words or that lame drama queen trying to go all Sinead on Obama's photograph as though secessionist Perry, crazy-eyed Bachmann, or loony limp noodle T-Paw would do us queers any favors any time soon.

Let Puerto Rico Become A State

I've thought so since before the bicentennial, 1976, age eleven, and I still think so today. How's that for consistency? I'm definitely not the only one. (Yeah, and the District of Columbia, too, the disenfranchisement of which is an obscenity Democrats should holler about as regularly as Republicans squall like infants about actually paying for government with taxes.)

The Deep Anti-Ecology of the Futurological "Geo-Engineers"

The White Guys of The Future over at the Very Serious futurologist IEET think-tank (not to mention stealth transhumanist-singularitarian-technoimmortalist Robot Cult outfit) have posted another piece of paint-by-the-numbers advocacy for the greenwashing policy-via-neoligism of "geo-engineering" this week. The author this time around is one R. Dennis Hansen who is, we are told "a planner for a federal resource management agency in Utah" and "member of the Mormon Transhumanist Association" (very confidence-inspiring, I must say).

Hansen frames his bit of futurological flim-flammery with a question that both opens and closes his essay: "Who says we can’t do anything about the weather or the climate?" And I for one suspect it might be quite revealing to think about the actual answer to that question.

There is, of course, a consensus among climate scientists and environmental activists that human industry is affecting the climate, that is to say, that we are palpably doing all sorts of things already about the weather or the climate. Presumably, then, those who say we can't would first of all refer to those who deny anthropogenic climate change altogether. Given that Hansen's "geo-engineering" proposals are addressed in the first place to those who do accept the consensus of climate science and who also share at least some of the concerns of environmentalists, it seems to me that this is not an essay addressed to anybody at all who doubts we can anything about the weather or the climate.

Now, to be sure, many climate scientists and environmentalists are increasingly frustrated at the apparent incapacity of our law-makers to craft effective environmental regulations, support conservation and reforestation programs and the like, legislate lower carbon emissions standards, scrub industrial soot, zone for more dense walkable urban neighborhoods, educate their citizens about relevant health and climate issues, create structural incentives like bike-lanes and petroleum taxes and rebates for energy efficient technologies to facilitate more sustainable collective behavior, invest in renewable energy systems like solar rooftops, windfarms, tidal farms, residential geo-thermal pumps, intercontinental and urban mass transit systems, support smaller-scaled organic agriculture, appropriate polyculture, and permaculture practices, and so on. But it is crucial to grasp that these frustrations imply first of all that those who are frustrated think there are in fact an enormous number of practical things that can indeed be done about weather or climate, namely the very sorts of things just listed among many others, but that they are not being done enough yet or by enough people to do the good work reasonably and righteously expected of them.

To grasp that environmental policy proposals are not now being implemented adequately is far from declaring that they will not ever be, nor even that they cannot be implemented in time, that climatic or cultural tipping-points cannot change a long intractable status quo for the better should environmental education, agitation, and organization keep the pressure up long enough. Certainly such frustrations are the farthest imaginable thing from endorsements that more conventional environmental proposals like these should be jettisoned for altogether different proposals, especially wild-eyed epic-scaled mega-engineering proposals involving, when they actually offer any real details at all, proliferating questionable scientific and engineering and political assumptions.

Hansen "defines" geo-engineering as "large-scale technological interventions in the earth’s climate system." Of course, it is hard to see why the regulative and facilitative interventions into mass-behavior advocated by conventional environmentalists (encouraging consumers to switch to solar heating, or electric cars, or white rooftops, or building intercontinental high-speed rail or reforestation projects, say) are not "large-scale" enough to be considered "geo-engineering," then, or, if they are, just why it is useful for futurologists to have introduced their pet neologism "geo-engineering" into the discussion in the first place.

One needs to grasp the essentially gizmo-fetishistic distortions of futurology to understand why white paint, heirloom tomato seeds, landscaping swales, wind-turbines, and comparable techniques and appropriate technologies wouldn't count for a futurologist as "technology."

Instead, Hansen fixes his attention on what I have described as the usual "ramifying suite of mega-engineering wet-dreams," including with robotic predictability "‘[f]ertilizing’ the ocean with iron to encourage the growth of carbon-capturing phytoplankton… Building ‘artificial trees’ to absorb carbon dioxide… Spraying ocean water into the atmosphere to produce sunlight-reflecting clouds… Launching trillions of reflective disks into the upper atmosphere." In other words, the same endlessly discredited handwaving as always.

Note that each of these proposals involve a verb, "fertilizing… building… spraying… launching…" and that the agencies corralling collective will and mobilizing the resources actually involved in these verbs would demand the introduction into these proposals of all the political dynamisms that bedevil environmentalism already.

The primary function of the "technological" in "bio-engineering" proposals -- especially given the hyperbolic scale and superlative cadences of the speculative technoscience preferred by futurologists waxing rhapsodic about "geo-engineering" technofixes -- is precisely to disavow the political agency indispensable to the worldly facilitation of sustainability, as well as to distract attention from the actual agents (the usual corporate-military elite-incumbent bad actors) who would most benefit from the implementation of "geo-engineering" proposals.

Behind all the can-do enthusiasm, the shiny gizmos, the technobabble, the "geo-engineers" are indulging in a profoundly reactionary anti-environmental discourse directed less to the usual opportunistic greed-heads and climate-denialist know-nothings most anti-environmentalism caters to, but directed precisely to those who are already concerned about anthropogenic climate change and respectful, at least in a rough and tumble sort of way, of technoscience as a site for the practical address of shared environmental problems, those otherwise likely to number among the ones doing the most good.

Just as I have been pointing out the real-world implications of deceptive hyperbolic futurological discourse playing out in the present in skewed assumptions of today's policy-makers (futurological fantasies of genetic enhancement and techno-magical longevity therapies providing uncritical rationales for catastrophic immiserating proposals to raise the retirement age and dismantle indispensable Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security entitlements), so too it is crucial to grasp the anti-environmentalist impacts of the futurological faux-environmentalism of the "geo-engineers" are no less likely to play our in present-day distractions, displaced priorities, deranged policy proposals, and skewed budgets.

Reactionary Fruits of Futurology, "Geo-Engineering" Edition

The pernicious contribution of futurologists to environmentalist discourse is, in a word, just a word: "geo-engineering."

While the futurological enthusiasts of "geo-engineering" resent the accusation to no end, it remains as true as ever that their discussions of the "geo-engineering" topic tend to devote themselves much more to defeatist resignation about real-world environmental activism and policy and to very broad brushstrokes handwaving about mega-industrial behemoths of a kind that have no reality apart from the splashy covers of pulp-sf novels and CGI-animations, than they do to substantive discussions concerning, for example:

[one] How these proposals conceptually connect to one another to explain their subsumption under the term in question?

[two] How these proposals differ substantially from existing proposals to explain the necessity to introduce the cherished neologism in the first place?

[three] How the costs and risks that multiply upon the least contemplated contact of these proposals with actual eco-systemic and engineering realities still justify these proposals over others?

[four] How the political processes (funding, oversight, labor conditions, safety concerns, jurisdictional disputes) to which such proposals would need to be answerable to their stakeholders escape the political dysfunction that typically resigns their advocates to "geo-engineering" rather than standard environmentalism demanding regulation, education, structural incentives, and public investments to address climate change and resource descent in the first place?

[five] And why on earth we should choose of all people the very corporate-militarist bad actors who most benefited and still benefit from anthropogenic climate change to take charge of solving it as most of these mega-scale geo-engineering proposals just so happen to require?

I've written on this topic many times before, of course, and many of these posts are collected under the heading Futurology Against Ecology over on the sidebar (probably the best posts are also the most widely read ones, "Geo-Engineering" As Futurological Greenwashing and "Geo-Engineering" Is A Declaration of War That Doesn't Care About Democracy).

To the extent that futurology is really just an extreme edge of conventional corporate marketing and promotion discourse, it shouldn't be surprising that the coining of a phrase or the introduction of gimmick label would be imagined by futurologists to constitute a substantive contribution to environmental politics.

After all, re-packaging the given and treating the result as the "new and improved" the better to peddle the status quo as progress, and distraction as deliberation is the essence of advertizing. It is only the masquerade of futurologists as "experts" in an actual subject and their "think-tanks" as quasi-academic sites that makes the identification of their fraudulent and hyperbolic peddling of corporate-militarist incumbent-elites as straightforward promotional discourse more difficult than it would be otherwise.

Once again, it may be useful to think of "geo-engineering" proposals as a kind of macro-greenwashing correlated with the micro-greenwashing of consumer/lifestyle-green proposals, rather as macro-economics and micro-economics correlate in the literate post-Keynesian economic imaginary.

Reactionary Fruits of Futurology, Social Security Edition

Amplifying my most recent post, from yesterday afternoon, here is a clip from yesterday's Cenk Uygur show on MSNBC. In this clip we have Earl Blumenauer, a Democratic Congressman from Oregon, and not just a Democrat but a member of the Progressive Caucus, as well as a member of the budget committee.

Signaling his openness to raising the retirement age and justifying this betrayal of the progressive legacy of his party, his betrayal of the majority of Americans, his eagerness to murder and immiserate hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens in thankless back breaking stressful toil in service to the forever continuing wealth concentration benefiting a handful of billionaires, the Congressman offers nothing but incredibly airy-fairy fantasies of massive healthy life-expectancy increases in the near future: A "ten year" leap in healthy lifespan is cavalierly tossed off without support or justification at 5.30 of the clip, and then it has amplified in the usual manner of futurological discourse all the way to twenty years or more by 11.19 on the clip! Perhaps the Singularity occurred between minute five and minute ten of the broadcast?

Of course, actual life expectancies at the relevant age of 65 scarcely justify the Congressman's faithful declarations that technoscience is delivering such youthful health to seniors. If anything -- rather like the buying power of the paychecks of people who actually work for a living over the last thirty years -- life expectancy increases are stuttering to a halt for laboring and especially for poorer seniors.

Now, to be sure, there are plenty of hyperbolic futurists yammering about nanobots and longevity pills on the horizon, just as there are plenty of superannuated paragliders and Casanovas on tee vee commercials. But futurological pop-tech magazines and commercials aren't real, however incessantly, insistently, and hysterically they circulate. They are fantasy and they are fraud, they exist simply to peddle crap to consumer dupes.

To raise the retirement age -- especially for those who toil in physical labor and stressful conditions of a kind Congresspeople and the smug Lords and Ladies of the Commentariat can scarcely fathom, not to mention usually at a fraction of their pay -- and let us be very clear about this -- is to sign the death warrants of many who work hard all their lives and follow all the rules, and happen not to claw their way to the fame and fortune of the sociopaths who rule the world and fancy themselves indispensable to the world in their madness and meanness.

Rather than pivoting from jobs to an economically illiterate and politically inept discussion of deficits, Democrats should, if anything, have been pressing to lower the retirement age to stimulate the economy and increase the demand for jobs. Further, social security is not in crisis nor does it face a crisis that justifies a focus on that program rather than on dozens of other, more urgent, problems (especially involving climate change, resource descent, militarism and the military budget, spiraling healthcare costs, unsustainable agriculture, crumbling infrastructure, weapons proliferation, underpaid educators and falling educational standards), but any time any Randroidal Starve-the-Beast Predator-State Republican squawks about Social Security insolvency, every Democrat should always, instantly, resolutely respond with three words "Raise The Cap" and that would shut those assholes right up.

There are actually quite sound and strong reasons to lower the retirement age to stimulate the economy and raise the cap on taxable incomes to pay for increased social security costs and adopt single payer to constrain rising healthcare costs -- these proposals make economic sense and would also happen to make income distribution in this country more equitable as well, to help re-democratize the nation. It's not that these facts are not known, it is not that the relevant experts do not propose these policies to legislators and pundits, it is not that these proposals do not make good political and electoral sense for Democrats as a party or the people as citizens, it is simply that our system is prohibitively plutocratic and dysfunctional and Democrats are disorganized where they are not captured by the gravity well of that plutocracy and crippled by the constraints of that dysfunction outright.

In a country of non-millionaires "represented" by multi-millionaires it is a difficult thing to connect the life experience and assumptions of the people with those who are running things. Futurological empty talk and wish-fulfillment fantasies mistaken for foresight and deliberation only derange further that already disabling distance of experience into a surreal disconnection from reality. The reactionary force of futurological framing in a public discourse already suffused with the hyperbole and deception of ubiquitous marketing and advertizing forms is just one more thing we need to grasp and expose for the distorting and confusing work it is doing as we struggle to educate, agitate, and organize to democratize this failing nation.

Friday, June 17, 2011

"The Future" Is Not Fairly Distributed

Futurologists have been masturbating about sooper-longevity gene therapies and anti-aging pills for years and years in their saucer eyed pop-tech Best Selling books and the fraudulent position papers of their Very Serious think-tanks.

The result of all that futurological hyperventilation is certainly not that the world is the least bit closer to tank-grown replacement parts or fine-tuned genetic enhancement therapies or designer robot bodies or any of the rest of that nonsense, but only that the very rich, very pampered, very insulated inside-the-beltway politicians and pundits who shape the healthcare policies with which we have to live our actual lives in the actual present always have widely-disseminated, perfectly-legible, false-but-familiar, phony-but-plausible media narratives and images to call upon when they are scouting for justifications to raise the retirement age or voucherize and eliminate healthcare benefits for the overabundant majority of the American citizens they claim to represent.

Of course, we are a nation of non-millionaires represented by multi-millionaires whose access to the best available healthcare is utterly alienated from everyday reality, just as we are a nation of hard-working stressed-out laborers employed in jobs that could not be more different than the working lives of career politicians and lobbyists and members of the commentariat who think phone calls and quorum calls are stressful, who are lavished with attention and favors all their lives and not only see no need to retire at sixty-five from their labors such as they are but typically cling to their positions well into their seventies and beyond right up until the moment they literally collapse unconscious into stretchers and get carted off from them they enjoy them so damned much.

While the futurologists continue to spin scenarios that cash out in fanciful Hollywood action thrillers and Paul Ryan Ayn Rand wet-dream blood-baths of anti-government looting, it remains as true as ever that technodevelopmental gains in economic productivity over the last thirty years have larded the richest of the rich with greater profits and highest of the high end wealth concentration while the buying power of average salaries has flatlined or declines, it remains as true as ever that new medical techniques have created splashy high-end successes while the life expectancy past the relevant age of sixty-five for the average American have scarcely improved an iota.

Eight Weeks To Go

Yes, for the eight weeks of crazy intensive summer teaching remaining, it looks like I may not only be more of a weekend blogger than a daily one, but so fried in the head at that as to be reduced to pop culture commentary...

The Relentless Sexism of Top Chef

The third season of the Bravo cooking game-show "Top Chef: Masters" differed from seasons past in most of the franchise's manifold variations by featuring strong, talented, engaging women throughout and usually doing so without punishing them endlessly for being "conniving bitches" if they are actually competitive on the show or humiliating them as "passionless doormats" if they are actually co-operative in team competitions, and then even actually allowing them for once to prevail quite often over the usual lot of bullying and tantrum-throwing superannuated adolescent male chefs whose banal bad behavior typically enchant the judges of the program to no end for whatever reason.

But, fear not! The winner last Wednesday night, perfectly true to form, was, nevertheless, and for the third time running, the only male chef who had managed to squeeze through the whole season to the Final Three of the competition.

This victory blossom on a "Top Chef" branch should be contemplated in the context of the main trunk of the "Top Chef" tree -- the popular "Top Chef" series itself -- in only a single one of eight seasons of which has a woman won the title. As it happens, in the eighth season of the show, in a special "All Star" format, the winner was not only the usual male, but more particularly and rather flabbergastingly, the very man who had lost to the only woman winner so far. His eventual victory had been framed the whole season long not only as his vindication (as a man and, we were reminded with nauseating incessance, a freshly minted paterfamilias) but also as the rectification of the "mistake" of his loss to her, as though a woman chef's victory was some kind of crazy fluke or obvious clerical error.

That women obviously cannot cook well enough to be expected to pass muster in the high-stakes high-standards world of existing and would-be celebrity chefhood is not only a surreally hilarious fantasy belied by the real-world reality of restaurants and cookbooks all around us, but even more hilariously at odds with the commercials airing alongside these shows. In most of these, women are featured as housewives doing all the cooking (apart from the occasional Dad indulging in manly mucking about at the grill) for freshly-scrubbed nuclear families of the kind ubiquitous in the television of the 1950s -- representations already at odds with 1950s realities, but by now so out of touch they truly take your breath away.

On the dreary daydream world of televised cooking competitions, it would seem that a woman's place is in the kitchen, unless the kitchen is a professional one where money and fame might be made. In such professional kitchens the one indispensable utensil would appear to be, quite contrary to purpose or sense, of all things, a penis.

Seinfeld and Stasis

Returning home late yesterday from teaching, with bag in hand from the local Taquería and already longing a little for my bed tho' it was not even fully dark out yet, I was struck by an episode of "Seinfeld" my remote strayed onto while I munched my cheese quesadilla.

The episode was nearly twenty years old and yet seemed absolutely contemporary -- the layout and gadgets in Jerry's apartment, the attitudes and conversational rhythms of the principals, the pop culture references, even the haircuts and outfits (including Jerry's bland bourgeois duds and Kramer's vintage oddball numbers), literally everything could be directly transplanted into the present day with the same intentions and nobody would blink an eye at any of it.

I do not mean to minimize the skill of the writers in saying this, but I think it indicates far more the utter deathly stasis of American culture over the last quarter century than some luminous prescience on the part of Larry David that "Seinfeld" feels so perfectly contemporary to this day. Even the finest smartest slickest most forward-thinking sit-coms from twenty-years before last night's "Seinfeld" episode first aired, would have felt dated and skewed to "Seinfeld's" audience were it re-run that same night, however much they might appreciate its artistry and chuckle at its jokes, arriving from the alien shore of an America long past.

"Seinfeld" could debut today little changed and achieve an identical popularity and identical accolades for its innovations. Nothing has happened but paralysis and decay in America since "Seinfeld" (and, face it, what "Seinfeld" was remains little more than that rarest of things, a network sit-com that simply doesn't completely suck, which is a good thing to be, but a far cry from an attribution of greatness).

Hearing the sampled, covered, cloned music pouring out of the radios of indistinguishable automobiles on our crumbling roads suggests the same stasis.

Seinfeld symptomizes our stasis, and warns us about the dead-end road we are traveling as a nation. It will take more than a laugh track to make paralysis feel like progress for long.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


It's just day two of my new work schedule and I'm already a bit overwhelmed... I just finished my notes for discussion of Howard Cruse's wonderful graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby, which I'm teaching at Berkeley later this afternoon. But I need to finish reading Joe Sacco's Palestine as well, to prepare for tomorrow's discussion. Meanwhile, I'm providing a general historical/conceptual introduction to critical theory and then also lecturing on Oscar Wilde's "Soul of Man Under Socialism" tomorrow morning. I've taught that stuff so many times, I love the Wilde so fervently, even its flaws are second nature to me now, like breathing out and breathing in, but you'd be surprised at how much changes each time I teach these pieces, really, it's not something you can do -- or at any rate it's not something I can do -- on autopilot. And it's hard to see when I'll have time to work up the notes for the Sacco lecture later that day at Cal, since I'll be lecturing on the other side of the Bay about the time I'd ideally be setting about putting my thoughts in order for the later lecture. Maybe on the train commuting between gigs, I suppose? Presumably, I'll be re-reading and preparing notes Thursday morning for teaching Guibert, Lefevre, and Lemercier's The Photographer later that day (an incredible centaur work, art and strings of photography grafted into a graphic narrative memoir and memorial, too, really), oy! It's feeling like a bit too much at the moment...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Doubling Down

As of today I'm teaching two summer intensives, one at Berkeley, another across the Bay in the City, so things will be a wee bit hectic especially for the next eight weeks...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Border Politics, Border Poetics

This is the online "version" of an MA Thesis I chaired the year just past at SFAI, by Ian Alan Paul. I had very little to do with all that is fabulous about it, all credit goes to Ian. Give a long looksee.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Reading the Genome Misreaders

Social Darwinists old and new, eugenicists "liberal" and reactionary, bio-reductionists "Bright" and dim, beware! The always marvelous, luminously informative Athena Andreadis is on it and on fire.

Stupid Societies Die When Their Luck Runs Out

With interest rates at historic lows and unemployment at historic highs it could not be more obvious that government spending right about now would stimulate the economy as nothing else could while at once addressing in an actually substantive way the looming catastrophes of climate change and resource descent that will define our generation or destroy our world.

Notice that I said, "right about now." Mine is not a declaration that government spending is always more stimulative than so-called "private sector" alternatives, but that it is when a national economy is caught in a liquidity trap such as our own is now, an extraordinary but occasional circumstance that Keynes and his heirs provided and refined the analytic tools to grasp and cope with for those with working brains. To deny this case -- until the models are proven wrong, and they simply have not been -- is to be a macroeconomic illiterate, plain and simple, while to pretend those making this case are treating it as a universal or a panacea is to be a liar.

This explains why Republicans so regularly make both these sorts of claims. All the austerity and tax-cut talk, to the extent that it is earnest and not just greedy opportunism, is the talk of people who are macroeconomic know-nothings, either embarrassingly ignorant of or outright denialist about. For a party which provides a home for climate-change denialists and anti-Darwin creation-"scientists" and abstinence-only follies it can scarcely be surprising that one finds laissez-faire dead-enders among Republicans in droves -- the GOP is, indeed, the largest and most powerful Flat Earth Society on Earth's curving surface.

As for the lies -- well, if the GOP didn't lie about what they are doing they would never be elected for anything, because they mean to enrich a small minority at the cost of majorities and no majority would let them get away with it if they were honest about it in even so notional a democracy as our own. Telling lies is second nature to Republicans, as lying to themselves is first nature.

Now, shifting from our oil, coal, and nuclear energy infrastructure to a renewable solar-wind-tidal-geothermal energy infrastructure, and also shifting from our car culture to a continental mass-transit infrastructure, and also shifting from our soil-eroding energy-input-intensive industrial agriculture system to a smaller more localized decentralized organic permaculture system, and also shifting our zoning priorities to enable dense walkable urban neighborhoods and preserve the ecosystem-services provided by wetlands and watersheds and green spaces would revitalize our economy.

The key tools to facilitate these shifts are regulations, public investments, tax policies -- certainly not micro-greenwashing boutique lifestyle consumption, nor macro-greenwashing "geo-engineering" marketing fantasies. We will not shop our way out of this crisis. We cannot expect the elite-incumbents who profited from the engineering of this catastrophe and thrive in it still to save us from the devastating results. There is no spontaneous order that will crystallize sustainability if only we deregulate out of its way.

The indispensable governmental regulations, subsidizations, investments, and shifts we can and must implement would facilitate the necessary return to a production rather than immaterial-neoliberal financial/promotional consumer-debt pseudo-economy. They would also provide social conditions for the revitalization of organized labor and hence renew the middle class (this time demographically diversified and more multiculture-competent) as a definitive democratizing force in public and civic life. And they would give the human race a chance to survive and possibly even flourish amidst the already-ongoing catastrophically-upcoming global warming and weirding of climate change (superstorms, pandemics, climate refugees in the millions) and resource descent (water wars, mass starvation, rare-mineral-dependent high-tech infrastructure failures).

Although we know what to do, we are not doing it. In fact, things have been getting worse, far worse, and getting worse ever more rapidly, the more we know more clearly what should be done and how do-able what must be done actually is.

Incredibly, our economic catastrophe has actually created excellent conditions for coping with our climate catastrophe: the best way to stimulate the economy is to invest in infrastructure and precisely such investments are indispensable to shifts into renewable energy and mass transportation systems, the greatest obstacle (apart from ignorance and Industrial-Ag lobbying) to a shift into smaller scale permaculture is its higher labor demand at a time when high unemployment happens to be our greatest, and to our everlasting shame our most neglected, economic priority.

My point isn't to propose that easy fixes are available, but just to say that it is hard to imagine a more congenial complementarity of crises, when what must be done is so well understood and the means for doing it solves so many problems at once. It is extraordinary to say the least that in the face of such urgent problems, such obvious solutions, such available means that the institutions of governance are so dysfunctional that we are doing nothing at all when there is so much to do that can so readily be done, especially when to do nothing is literally likely to do us all in.

Government is the indispensable institutional register capable of organizing the agency to address the catastrophes at hand -- and so, this is no time for anarchist day dreams, or narcissistic indulgences in lifestyle retreats. America's incredible resources as well as its unique historical and geographical situation make it the exceptional player in this drama, like it or not, actually capable in its dysfunction of destroying the world and also capable, were it to arrive even late to functionality, of saving the world -- and so, neither is this the time, especially for American citizens like me, to renounce our responsibilities and our power, such as it is, in despair, cynicism, or disgust.

We must educate, agitate, organize, contribute, and vote -- and I am sorry to say that this largely means engaging in a highly partisan effort for Democrats, imperfect, compromised, insufferable though they may be. You go into battle with the army you have, not the one you wish you had.

Third party bids are functional spoilers given the actually-existing system, and reforming the system to change this is harder and would take longer than pushing the Democrats left from the inside. That's just the way it is if (as I believe) the timetable for renewable infrastructure investment is shorter than the time it will take to get publicly funded elections and instant runoff voting. And all that means we have to push for renewable infrastructure investment at the most congenial actually available site: which is clearly the Democratic party.

The Republican party is -- in its present Movement Conservative phase and in this historical moment of interlocking financial and environmental crises -- the single most dangerous and destructive organized force in the world, since it is poised to do the most damage at the American site at which the most devastating and possibly irreversible planetary damage can be done.

I am far from believing that most Democrats are equal to the task at hand, just as I am far from denying that no Democrats are active forces of dysfunction and damage. But the Republicans are now defined by the project of plutocratic profit-taking at public expense and indulge in loud misinformation about sound economics and climate science in short-sighted short-term service to elite-incumbents to the ruin of the world. These Republicans must be defeated and marginalized utterly, then (perhaps the better to reorganize and re-emerge in a more sensibly conservative form), and more, and better, Democrats prevail if there is to be a chance for this world.

It is wholesome, even necessary, to pressure Democrats to reflect better the actual urgencies of the moment. One would have all Democrats embrace absolutely and consistently the politics of people who work for a living over the demands of the rentiers, the politics of public investment for all over private profit-taking for few, the politics of equity-in-diversity over parochialism and plutocracy, the politics of democratic expression and assembly over elite-incumbency, the politics of sustainability over extraction, the politics of consent over exploitation.

But it is crucial that these efforts to push Democrats from the left to the left always do so in ways that also directly empower Democrats as a governing party against the efforts of Republicans, or at any rate never -- even in the short term, since the short-term defines the span in which the address of so many of our urgent problems takes place -- actively disempower Democrats relative to Republicans.

It is better to elect a comparatively compromised Democrat in a district whose politics are backward and so increase the governing majority of Democrats -- among whom are much more progressive voices who can do something useful, even if less often than one might like, with such a governing majority -- than to allow a Republican reactionary to win and hand Republicans the majority that renders progressive voices altogether mute. Likewise, it is better to challenge an incumbent Democrat in a reliably Democratic district when their politics are less progressive than their constituency is, the better to push the party as a whole from the left to the left. So, too, it is always good to make progressive cases to one's representatives and to the community of her constituency to amplify the progressive case in the representative's hearing, and to encourage and actively support representatives whenever they act in ways that reflect progressive priorities. Again, this helps push Democrats from the left to the left.

This is slow-moving, painstaking, exhausting, compromised, frustrating work, and I realize that I am asking you to hold a whole lot of different things in your head at once that cannot be communicated easily in a tweet. But if you would imagine yourself ethically righteous or politically engaged -- and you should -- then it is your responsibility to make this effort.

Politics is not performance art nor is it a philosophical symposium.

To expect stakeholder politics seamlessly or even comfortably to align with one's own ideals would be perfectly ridiculous even in a system considerably less corrupt and plutocratic and ill-informed as our own. To expect it here and now and upon discovering it does not, to pout and stamp and retreat into purist abstraction or punitive inaction when the stakes are so high and our responsibilities so clear is almost unfathomably infantile and irrational.

Stupid societies die when their luck runs out. America is unbelievably, indeed, almost unbearably stupid right now, and I'm not sure we should be counting on luck at a time like this. It is time for good people of good sense and good will to do our best and do our duty for the good of us all.

Micro-Greenwashing, Macro-Greenwashing Made Painfully Simple

Micro-Greenwashing = Boutique-Consumer-Lifestyle "Green"

Macro-Greenwashing = "Geo-Engineering"

Fukushima Worse Than Chernobyl

It's confirmed that there was a complete core meltdown at the Fukushima plant in Japan. Chernobyl kinda sorta happened in the middle of nowhere. Japan is an island, and there is no middle of nowhere there. Meanwhile, an image of the outline of Congressman Anthony Weiner's penis inside his underpants is enormously interesting. Let's talk about that some more. Also, obviously it's high time to build more ruinously expensive catastrophically dangerous nuclear power plants in America, don't you think? Especially since cheaper cleaner more resilient decentralized wind farms and tidal farms and solar rooftops and geothermal pumps is socialism.

Stupid societies die when their luck runs out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Commentariat Forever Pining for the "Independent" "Libertarian" "Middle" Messiah

Apparently Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch have written a book called, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America.

Of course the so-called "independent voter" in America is for the most part a completely idiotic ignoramus who votes on the basis of his stomach contents or the status of his erection or the random promptings of the tee vee from moment to moment without much evidence of historical awareness, socioeconomic context, consideration of practical governance, or critical thought.

The real "declaration of the independents" could never be compassed between the covers of a book, but is more reasonably conveyed by scanning the random belches and vapid comments forever scrolling the twitterverse, or surveying the walking dead cramming a rush-hour subway train at 8:30 in the morning on the way to the City, faces planted in their cellphones or staring saucer-eyed into the abyss.

Apart from that, though, I do find myself wondering if the day will ever come when the Commentariat will not re-discover with breathless amazement every couple of months or so the surely, surely saving power of "libertarian politics" which have never had nor will ever have any existence at all apart from their function as occasional hypocritical rationalizations for the cruelty, corruption, and plutocracy of the killer clowns of the Republican Party.

Phony libertopian pieties intoned like muttered prayers to the clicking of rosary beads have been the incessant soundtrack accompanying every act of anti-governmental dismantlement and looting along the long road to our present catastrophe from frowny-faced Nixon to smiley-faced Reagan to two-faced Clinton and it simply beggars belief that they would be offered up once more, yet again, even as we stand amidst the smoking ruins of our infrastructure and civic institutions, wading in a soup of toxic greenhouse sludge, hiding from a white-racist authoritarian mob of science-denialist theocrats and paid corporate-military thugs waving rifles and placards blazoned with the same libertopian pieties.

"Libertarianism," "Independent Voters," and the "Moderate Middle" in America amount -- at best! -- to an unthinking incoherent morass of right-wing policies wedded via magical thinking, selfish parochialism, and junk education to ambivalent left-wing aspirations toward opportunity, fairness, and effective governance. It is a symptom if not the very substance of our crisis and not any kind of solution.

But it doesn't matter, there's nothing to stop it, on and on and on it goes, the same magic spell, "libertarianism," "independent voters," "moderate middle," "fiscal conservatism, social liberalism" will be intoned again and again by The Serious before the door to tomorrow that never opens with perfect smug self-assurance with perfect metronomic regularity right up to the moment we all needlessly idiotically drop dead from starvation, a warlord's bullet, or poisoned fumes.

Those Faddish Futurologists

It's funny -- and not just funny ha ha, though of course it is also that -- to observe just how thin the line can be between Very Serious futurological flim-flam artistry and the earnest pitching of fad diets, New Age narcissistic psychobabble, and manic exercise scams. On they go, the futurological circus barkers, peddling their wares: immortality via robot bodies! freezing your head! nanobots in the bloodstream! "uploading" into virtual paradise! sooper genetic tweaks! and always just twenty years away! But the tune can change on the turn of a dime, they pause in the chorus of techno-sublime and suddenly instead they're peddling paleo! Atkins! alkaline water! positive visualization! Vegas pill-popper fairs! muscle confusion!

I suppose the most conspicuous illustration of the phenomenon is also the most influential of the superlative futurologists, Raymond Kurzweil himself, who cheerfully indulges his theo-futurological id in handwaving techno-whizbang volumes like The Singularity Is Near when he isn't being the Raymond Kurzweil who indulges in punchy little food fad numbers like The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life: How to Reduce Fat in Your Diet and Eliminate Virtually All Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer (you just gotta love that "virtually").

Although the straightforward credulity continuum connecting junk science, food fads, and self-promotional psychobabble is not exactly hard to fathom, I would also point to the ways in which these forms of kidding yourself for cash can also complement and enable one another in futurological sub(cult)ures like transhumanism, singularitarianism, and techno-immortalism.

As witness George Dvorsky, one of the Very Serious White Guys of the Future over at the futurological "think-tank" IEET: Seized by the momentary realization that all the usual Robot Cult preoccupations are no more available after twenty years of boosterism on their behalf than they were when they were being hyperventilated on the pages of OMNI, Mondo 2000, Great Mambo Chicken, and Extropy way back when (but in twenty more years, man, watch out, it'll be FAI, VR, SENS, Drextech, the whole nine!) the futurologist always has more proximate flim-flammery ready-to-hand, there are always thigh-masters to scrunch and livid green spirulina bone marrow shakes to gulp in those moments when one despairs at the absence of a buckyball-spiderthread space elevator on the horizon but still aches like crazy (and I do mean crazy) to accentuate the hyper-positive. Quoth Dvorsky:
Look, it’s 2011 and it’s glaringly obvious that we’re still quite a ways off from achieving the much heralded posthuman condition. The sad truth is that all interventions or augmentations currently available are fairly low impact by any measure…. So what’s a transhumanist to do? … An increasing number of transhumanists are taking matters into their own hands by working with what they got. And by doing so, they’re pushing the limits of their genetic potential.
He goes on from there to extol the virtues of the usual Cross Training regimens, Paleo Diets, and even the rather dubious Four Hour Body by guru of the moment Timothy Ferris.

While I am far from discounting the virtues of fitness and nutrition in a flourishing life, so long as one remains modest and moderate about the business, I can't help but comment on the body-loathing and hysterical death-denialism that seems so often to connect those who strive with punishing exertions after the Body Beautiful and who daydream about immaterial "selves" digi-immortalized and released into cyberspatial paradise... the strange sort of permanent adolescence that seems so often to connect the serial enthusiasms for hype-marketed crap-gadgets forever on the "bleeding edge" and an endless ego-churn of diet, exercise, lifestyle fads... the conspicuous lack of critical standards that seems to drive desperate futurologists away from consensus science time after time into hyperbole and junk (cryonics, old school AI, Drexlerian nanotechnology, geo-engineering, offworld migration, designer genetics, and so on) as well as into so many self-help self-hate self-improvement scams.

Just what is it with these foolish, facile, faddish, futurological fanboys anyway?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Teaching Day

Back to school, so probably low to no posting. Next week, a second summer intensive begins as well, that one an undergraduate critical theory survey course, so things are going to be a bit hectic around here for the next eight weeks. In class today, we're comparing the graphic novel Persepolis to its film adaptation. While it is commonplace to analogize the serial narrativization of the comic strip to filmic story-telling, it is interesting how in this case the film reveals the imprint of the comic form -- in this motion picture the motion that predominates often amounts to nearly static images succeeding one another, fading in and out, swelling or panning as though pages were turning, and an eye were roving restlessly across them... Also, interesting to note how much more cartoonish the film is than the comic -- so many more nuances, ambivalences, critical demands in the graphic novel itself.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Boys And Their Toys

Men are pigs. More women in politics, please. Give me an army of Nancy Pelosis and Barbara Lees. Republican closet cases and family values hypocrites are bad enough, but apparently neither can these guys be trusted to do the indispensable progressive work we are counting on them to do once they attract enough attention to fancy themselves "players." Weiner was a dependable voice and vote for the democratic wing of the democratic party, if a bit of a show-boat. And he's sending cock shots to women he doesn't know, who knows how old, with family pictures in the background? In this world? In this historical moment? Given the stakes at hand? Really? Really? Clinton, Spitzer, Edwards, now Weiner. Un fucking believable. I'm not feeling at all forgiving about this, which is not the same thing as declaring I think Weiner should have been subjected to the ritual humiliation of apologizing to the execrable Breitbart as he did, and which is also not the same thing as declaring I think Weiner should necessarily resign (after all Barney Frank slogged through such a swamp and still emerged to do good work). Nor is my point that there is something wrong with showing strangers online the angle of your dangle in your underwear if you like in a free country -- I've done that myself, as it happens. The point is that if you decide to embark on the life of a career politician millions of people will be counting on to help solve shared problems in a professional way with a minimum of distraction you don't get to fuck around in idiot America as it actually exists and you damn well know better.

It's His Dick, and We're Up the Crick

Breitbart declares he is "vindicated" now, of course, and that is sure to presage a new journalistic Golden Age. Apparently, Breitbart commandeered swinging-dick Weiner's already surreal press conference and rather than getting kicked out on his ass, fielded questions and took over the show. So, the serial liar and wingnut misinformation artist and manufactured outrage spinner can now do or say whatever he wants and nobody can do anything about it because he was kinda sorta right about something once. Good thing that as Drudge seems to drift into eclipse, Breitbart can now rule their world. Did you hear? The climate is not warming, voucherizing Medicare is saving Medicare, cutting taxes shrinks deficits, bombing is democracy promotion, and many other sweet-smelling rainbow gifts of unchallengeable truth are coming loud and hard to a reality near you. And won't it be nice that from here on out any Democrat who ever manages to do any good or make any sense at all in any measure can now be hounded into an ignominious retirement by the fierce need to stop looking back, stop blame gaming, keep moving forward? And surely you, like me, now await with breathless anticipation the parade of old white guys castigating sexual improprieties in ways that require, of course, endless fine-grained salacious reportage and editorializing in the form of soft porn. That's always fun and highly proper and very serious.


What a relief for the Commentariat to have an excuse to indulge in a full froth of gossip, and not to have to pretend to have or even care about basic economic literacy while discussing relentless GOP obstruction and looting in the face of completely avoidable economic catastrophe.

Iron Law of Celebrity

While it may be possible to become a celebrity without being a sociopath, it is next to impossible to remain one for long without being a sociopath. Now that our politicians are also celebrities, it pays to remember this law from time to time.

This post is very grumpily dedicated to Anthony Weiner, with thanks for the reminder.

From "The Great Stagnation" to a Great Awakening

Tyler Cowen made quite a splash for a few months with his "Great Stagnation" thesis, proposing in a book (but here's a succinct op-ed precis) that technical innovation and improvement of quality of life are now slowing down, contra the cheerleaders of silicon capitalism about accelerating progress forever right around the corner.

Part of Cowen's argument is that the dizzying transformations we have come to associate with "modernization" represent what he calls "low-hanging fruit," and that technical breakthroughs of comparable transformative scope may simply be harder to come by from here on out. I question that phrase a little since it is hard to square with the fact that it took millennia for humanity to stumble onto these apparently low-hanging fruits, for one thing. But also I disapprove of the metaphor because I think there are differences that make a real difference among these "low-hanging fruits."

Hitting upon a petrochemical reorganization of production (a reorganization that definitely transformed more than you might initially think of, not only our energy and transportation infrastructure but also our disastrous petro-fertilized industrially-irrigated globally-dispersed agricultural system and our plasticized material environment, for example) represented a kind of hyper-bubble, an organizational cul-de-sac, toxic to the touch and catastrophic to the atmosphere, in finite and dwindling supply, neither desirable or even possible to emulate as a developmental pathway in nations that have not already taken it up, leaving those that did stranded in a poisonous junk-heap.

Strictly speaking, I am not sure it is right to describe the recognition that we have been misdiagnosing as "progress" an actually unsustainable and poisonous petrochemical bubble and that we must now change course as "stagnation" rather than as a hard lesson that will either destroy us or provide the knowledge and wisdom from which real and sustainable progress may arise.

Certainly, I would want to distinguish the siren-song of the dead-end short-cut of petrochemical modernization as "low-hanging fruit" from that of the elementary hygienic and therapeutic discoveries that provided a leap forward in life-expectancy over the last century and a half (especially to the extent that this results from the address of infant mortality, malnutrition, and cardiovascular disease), elementary techniques that could and should be available sustainably and equitably to all. While futurologists may get starry eyed about imaginary nanobots scouting out and zapping cancer cells, Mike Davis (in Planet of Slums) brings us back to earth when he declares the ultimate "miracle drug" to be, quite simply, the availability to all of clean water.

When Cowen goes on to deride those who pin their hopes for continued or even accelerating progress on innovations in the computer sector, saying they represent a "different kind of innovation," I certainly agree with his conclusion, but possibly would differ from him in my analysis of it. Digitization and networked organization has simplified certain tasks and lowered certain costs, but while the stories we have been telling ourselves about these changes have tended to make recourse to metaphors and narratives of "de-materialization" and the "abolition of distance" and the widening of "participation," the lived realities of digital networked mediation and organization have been acutely material and geopolitical, involving the facilitation of financial fraud, the displacement of exploited labor onto invisible distances, and the implementation of more intensive and intrusive modes of marketing and surveillance.

Rather than a different kind of innovation, computers have actually amounted to conventional innovation, ambivalent and contingent in its impacts, but experienced culturally through the distortive lens of relentless, nearly ubiquitous, hyperbolic promotion and futurological framing. Futurological day dreams of nanotechnological cornucopias, renewable energy too cheap to meter, declarations of "geo-engineering" war on climate change, immersive virtual reality cyber-heavens, post-human or even post-mortal genetic enhancement, and so on (some of which Cowen genuflects in the direction of himself more than he should) should be grasped by way of that example of computer innovation: just as Moore's law is not a magic carpet ride into a rapturous singularitarian end-of-history even if computers and digital networks do indeed make many tasks incomparably easier and cheaper, so too nanoscale biochemistry and genetic science will continue to provide useful innovations in medicine and materials without ending scarcity or mortality, so too a renewable energy infrastructure and agroforestry/permaculture techniques might make our energy and food systems sustainable as they are not now, but only if these techniques are embedded in sociocultural changes in our pathologically wasteful, inequitable, frivolous consumer lifeways.

It is well known that the security, quality of life, and buying power of the middle class has been declining for generations even as costs of production have decreased and profits increased, that the so-called epoch of "accelerating change" and "the Long Boom" and "innovation unto infinity" about which futurologists have been handwaving so ecstatically for years has actually been an epoch of unprecedented disparity between a fraction of the richest of the rich and the intensifying precarization of ever wider majorities.

Setting aside the obvious distortions introduced into this discussion by the pervasive deceptions and hyperbole of marketing discourse, and the metaphors and narratives of the futurological imaginary at its extremity, it seems to me crucial to recognize that what Cowen characterizes as contemporary "stagnation" is better regarded as a crisis of and for politics, rather than something demanding "technical" or "scientific" address in some facile de-politicized understanding of the technoscientific.

This anti-democratizing anti-civilizing concentration of wealth, that is to say this profoundly inequitable distribution of the costs and benefits of innovation and production, has not happened because of generically diminishing technodevelopment (the very idea of which should, but doesn't, strike one as incoherent on its face) but through the particular forms of technodevelopmental social struggle that have articulated innovation and production.

The market-ideological deregulation of enterprise has lead inevitably to abuses, the market-ideological dismantlement and prevention of general welfare programs has lead inevitably to insecurity, the market-ideological attack on organized labor has lead inevitably to the immiseration of the middle-class, the market-ideological cutting and regressivity of tax-revenues has lead inevitably to inequity and injustice, the market-ideological organization of corporate lobbying and campaign spending has lead inevitably to the corruption and paralysis of the political system, the market-ideological proposal that money is speech and that corporations have human rights has lead inevitably to plutocracy and serfdom. (You can be sure, Cowen himself would disagree emphatically with much of the substance and emphasis of what I am saying here.)

To raise the general standard of living, champion human equity-in-diversity, render civilization sustainable, and incubate innovation and expression requires better informed and democratically passionate technodevelopmental social struggle, progressive political campaigns, good old fashioned education, agitation, organization pushing from the left wing of the possible. Treating scientists as a priesthood or corporate CEOs as gurus or Commentariat hacks for incumbent-elites as "thought leaders" is an utterly misguided misapprehension of what our present "stagnation" materially consists and of what brought us to this imbecilic and perfectly avoidable pass.

In my view, the provision of a universal non-means-tested basic guaranteed income (or the approach to such an income via vastly expanded general welfare programs), paid for through steeply progressive income (including capital gains) and property taxes, would be the best way to subsidize real democratic participation, including -- as Erik Olin Wright has pointed out -- the subsidization of democratic labor organizing by providing a permanent strike fund, and frustrate the current regime of unpaid domestic labor, outsourcing of domestic production onto overexploited regions of the world, and the crowdsourcing of the culture industry via digital networks, and would subsidize research and innovation through grants to freely available knowledge and frustrate the current regime of circumscription and capture and piracy via regressive intellectual property rights.

Bill McKibben has written about social research suggesting that the lives of people in extreme poverty are reported almost universally to be materially improved by an increase in income right up to a certain point. Adjusted for inflation and cost-of-living disparities the amount is roughly ten thousand dollars a year. But, contrary to our probable expectations, beyond that point reports of satisfaction and well-being are no longer universal at all but become profoundly ambivalent and confused, beyond a certain point people are often stressed and oppressed by increasing incomes quite as much as they are satisfied by what those increasing incomes afford them. Even if McKibben is oversimplifying his case or overstating the force of his point, it is obvious that this insight provides yet another set of possible reasons to approve the radically democratizing politics of a basic guaranteed income. But it also provides another angle of view on Cowen's "Great Stagnation" thesis.

I have already suggested that it might not make much sense in the final analysis to describe by the word "stagnation" what amounts to our learning (or not) the hard lesson that the wasteful, toxic cul-de-sac of petrochemical production constitutes an epochal civilizational bubble phenomenon rather than a narrative of triumphal progressive modernity. So, too, it may be that beyond a certain point the productivist/consumerist standards on the basis of which we have sought to measure human well-being and satisfaction have been profoundly misleading, such that it might not make much sense in the final analysis to describe as "stagnation," either, our discovery that we are no longer be able to interminably fulfill let alone amplify their actually pathological terms.

I do not mean by all this to deny the conspicuous and demoralizing failure of our long cherished and celebrated public institutions and system to continue to provide solutions to shared problems, or to provide security and satisfaction in most of our lives, or even manage not to destroy the very planet on which we depend for our survival and flourishing. Nor do I mean to deny that increasing knowledge and technique has an indispensable role, as always, in solving those shared problems, in facilitating that security, in providing that satisfaction, in finding our way to a sustainable and equitable civilization.

But I do think that it is wrong to describe as a general "stagnation in technoscientific innovation" what is in fact a complex of crises most of which arise from political failures and will demand political struggles (including technodevelopmental struggles that should not be mischaracterized as apolitical technical problems) and many of which amount to belated recognitions that we have mistaken panic for progress, hysteria for happiness, waste for worth, recognitions that are the furthest things from "stagnation" but look instead like the possible beginnings of wisdom.