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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Dale Carrico Thinks You Are Not Cool"

For real forum topic over at Dale Carrico thinks Dale Carrico is not particularly cool, as it happens. What I think about Robot Cultists? Con-Artists and Rubes.

Teaching Life Blog Life Disjunct

At Berkeley, I'm lecturing on Plato's Symposium and Aristophanes' Wasps today. Meanwhile, of course, Amor Mundi is still reverberating crazily over last weekend's anti-futurological rant. It's a sore temptation to elaborate and respond to comments happening here and elsewhere, since many reflect honest confusions or what look to me like skewed emphases all of which I'd love to treat as teachable moments. I've been saying so insistently so long so many of the things in that little piece, it's lovely that so many are exercised by them at the moment and it would be lovelier still to have the time to get more of the futurologically-susceptible to bite down more conclusively on my fish hook with a little selective cajoling. Unfortunately, there just isn't time.

I will say that I am still bleakly amused by those who seem especially incensed at the length and occasional playfulness of my sentences and so on. For those who feel that way who also happen to number among the sooper-brain futurological congress, I must say it is hard to square their pretended ecstasies about infinitely proliferating morphologies and intelligences with their reactionary dismissal of my own modest divergence in style from third-grade readable newspaper reportage. A mind is a terrible thing to tweet.

Meanwhile, for those who really do hunger for concision, do let me recommend my Futurological Brickbats, which offer up much of my anti-futurological critique in readily digestable aphoristic chunks, many pre-chewed. One-liners directed toward media critique are collected under Fool Me Tee Vee, one-liners directed toward market libertarians and other reactionary politcos are collected under Dispatches from Libertopia, one-liners directed at the academy are collected under Faulty Ivory Towers.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"There Is A Rottenness At the Heart of the Transhuman Project"

…and the biggest symptom of it is blindness to its own origins: a mixture of warmed-over Christian apocalyptic eschatology (which Cory Doctorow and I poke with a stick in "The Rapture of the Nerds") and the Just-So creation mythology of the smugly self-satisfied hypercapitalists who have unintentionally done so much to destroy so many of the moral and interpersonal values of post-Englightenment civilization.
So says Charlie Stross in another delightful righteous comment linking to this weekend's anti-transhumanoid lark. That little tossed-off number is already the most widely read post in this blog's history, which is edifying but a little odd. The comment section under his recommendation is wide-ranging and really great, by all means go over there and contribute to it. My only perplexity is that there are some people who actually seem more enraged by the style of the writing than by the observations, the style being for me a mixture of trying to be precise and playfulness, but for others apparently reads like some kind of shell game or baroque barnacling over a bleak black hole. For heaven's sake, it's not THAT hard to get my point, and not everything should read like People Magazine or futon assembly instructions, surely, let a bazillion flowers bloom, this is my weird brain you're talking about here. Be that as it may, it's hump day for the second week of my summer intensive on classical rhetoric at Berkeley and I can't devote much thought or time to anything but teaching. Today, it's all Plato all the time, the Apology and the Republic. A pure pleasure, but I can't help feeling there is a parade passing by the next street over I would enjoy twirling my baton in.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Yorker Exposes Ayn Raelian Peter Thiel

Prepping lectures on Hecuba and Protagoras, so there's no time to pressure or elaborate on the New Yorker's welcome piece on Peter Thiel, its title a genuflection to the old Extropian slogan, "No death! No taxes!" no less. You can probably anticipate my take clearly enough, tho, simply by revisiting the connections I explore in this post between Thiel and other libertopian libertechian retro-futurists...


Our Pope-Emperor, that's Bruce Sterling to you, visionary in residence, planet Earth, has sent lots of people my way today -- and this despite my being something of a Ranty McRanterson and being not so good with the spelling of names from memory when frothing. Awfully awesome.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Not much blogging today -- I'm prepping for this week's lectures for my classical rhetoric summer intensive at Berkeley. Plato takes center stage this week, I'll be lecturing on the Apology, Protagoras, quite a lot of the Republic, and the Symposium (my favorite). Two plays are woven in on top of all that, Euripides' amazing Hecuba and Aristophanes' bizarre Wasps. Nine hours' lecture may seem like a lot, but it's actually quite cramped if you really want to open a window on all this fabulous literature. I've taught most of these texts many times before, but I'm rusty on a few of them, so I'm spending most of the day reading and scribbling. Any grilling this Memorial Day will be of myself.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"However, When They Try To Argue That Their Stained Wads Are Deeply Philosophical, Subversive Literature Validated by Scientific 'Evidence'…"

The always right on with her right on Athena Andreadis is making marvelous hilarious sense -- or is it trouble? -- again!

The Unbearable Stasis of "Accelerating Change"

Also posted at the World Future Society.

Eric and I got haircuts yesterday afternoon, and while I was waiting I flipped through magazines. Peter Diamandis (who is clearly shaping up as this decade's go-to Kurzweil) had an article in Popular Science about garage inventors "going viral." It seemed to me pretty indistinguishable from stuff Cory Doctorow and Alex Steffen were writing a decade ago -- remember the "Tech Bloom"?

This is something that has struck me time and time again: The transhumanoids and singularitarians and online futurists love to congratulate themselves over their unflappability at the prospects of shatteringly onrushing changed futures. They literally have a whole "shock level" calculator, which is kinda sorta like a Cosmo sex quiz for pasty futurological males who think diddling themselves over cartoons of space elevators or descriptions of traversable wormholes demonstrates the awesomeness of their humanity-plus brains as compared to mehum (mere human) sheeple types.

But what always strikes me most forcefully about these ecstatic pronouncements is their abject staleness. There is simply not much to distinguish Ed Regis' depiction of the superlative futurologists in Great Mambo Chicken from Brian Alexander's in Rapture from breathless blog profiles of today, decade after decade after decade. Stiegler's "Gentle Seduction" from the 1980s is precisely standard transhumanoid boilerplate, techno-transcendence via shopping, loose-talking SENS-style longevity meds and "enhancement" pills and prostheses, Drexlerian nano-cornucopias, singularity (the literal term, already attributed to Vinge, not just the notion), Moravecian uploading, hive mind, market fundamentalism -- every single detail is already there.

Frankly, many of the ideas are already there decades earlier, in Turing, Shannon, Weiner, Bush. Heck, Anne Lindbergh was already surfing the "Wave of the Future" (and it was already fascist) even before a victorious post-war America managed through the inflation of the petrochemical bubble and the imposition of the mass-mediated Culture Industry to "invent" The Future Gernsback and Madison Avenue and all our Presidents would peddle the planet long before Toffler and company would stumble on the obvious and re-invent the wheel as a profitable pseudo-discipline for the seventies, then Brand and company would do it again for the eighties, then WIRED and company would do it again for the nineties, then the various p2p and Web 2.0 enthusiasts would do it again for the lost Bush decade, over and over and over again, the same hopes, the same tropes, the same dopes on and on and on from WW2 to Star Wars to whatever (probably bombed out cities or a pointless polluted moonscape).

I have proposed that the "accelerating change" crowed about for the last two decades by futurologists in pop religious cadences and by more mainstream and academic New Media commentators in pop psychology and pop sociology cadences has never had any substantial reference apart from the increasing precarity produced by neoliberal looting and destabilization of domestic welfare and global economies -- often facilitated, it is true, by the exploitation of digital trading, marketing, and surveillance networks -- a precarity usually seen and experienced from the vantage of privileged people who either benefit from neoliberal destabilization or who (rightly or wrongly) identify with the beneficiaries of that destabilization.

The pseudo-transcendentalizing narratives futurologists attach to this sleight of hand, this heartbreak and anxiety transubstantiated into a rocketship to omniscience and omnipotence, whether proposed in the familiar and profitable imperial triumphalist way (like the Long Boom nonsense and libertopian digirati handwaving and various tech bubbles every few years or so, digital, biological, faux-green, often ultimately military, like greenwashing "geo-engineering" schemes) or in the more enjoyably bonkers quasi-religious way (involving plastic or nuclear or nano magic superabundance fantasies or virtual heavens with virtual sex fantasies or various loosely conceived techno-immortality fantasies), all really just provide the furniture for aspirational/distracted futurological conceits to hang out in while these rebels without a cause or a clue indulge their wish-fulfillment ids and forget to vote and purchase their handhelds and pass the collection plate.

Maybe it was the confrontation of this futurological re-run proposed as fresh insight in the form of glossy pages in a magazine instead of the usual twittering wave of pieties one clicks through online that struck me so forcefully yesterday afternoon at Supercuts. I always chuckle at the covers of men's fitness magazine, at the thought that people actually subscribe to these things, even though it is clear from the covers that every single issue is obsessed with exactly the same things (flabby middle, flagging sex drive), and proposes exactly the same advice (stick to it, more muscle mass will eat more calories, be careful to stretch so you don't injure yourself, there are pills for that), and provides exactly the same -- or at any rate indistinguishable -- trilobite torsoed toothy grinned bland midwestern model on the cover. Eric laughed when I told him about Diamandis's tired re-tread of futurological chestnuts and offered up my analogy to men's fitness magazines. He reminded me that, unlike the fraudulent futurists, those men's fitness magazines at least actually provide the indispensable service of plausibly deniable masturbation material for kids who haven't yet come out of the closet. But of course, it isn't only closeted kids who are treating these magazines as masturbation material. There is a real sense in which that is their sole substantial function, for their whole target audience, gay and straight young and old alike. Like futurologists soaking in the same old soup of progressive transcendent "predictions" that never fail even when they fail, guys scooping up these fitness magazines aren't really looking for information, they aren't really looking for anything new, they are getting another imaginary refueling from the pump, another dose of the daydream they indulge as they defer the real workout, another hit of phony identification with an unrealistic ego-ideal straining in shorts purchased at the cost of dis-identification with the man in the mirror -- all in the name of health, health, health, darling!

When I lampoon "movement" futurology as a Robot Cult it isn't only the defensive groupthink and guru worship and annual conventions of True Believers that lend plausibility to the attribution of "cult" to what amounts to a lame pop-tech journalism fandom with delusions of grandeur (and, I should add, actually existing "membership" organizations peddling "-isms" to the rubes). And when I declare that the more assertively "techno-transcendental" varieties of futurological discourse (like the transhumanists, the singularitarians, the techno-immortalists, the nano-cornucopians, the digital-utopians) are simply extreme and hyperbolic variations of mainstream neoliberal global developmental policy discourse and mainstream marketing, advertising, and PR forms, this latter claim shouldn't be seen as undermining the first. Because there is an unmistakably faith-mobilizing pseudo-transcendentalizing strain to be discerned in this very PR marketing imaginary, deranging us from our present distress into a yearning toward consumer techno-futures bathed in pastels and robots and cars and DNA helices and chocolate and glossy hair and youthful skin and golden sex.

Advertizing and online profiling practices are the opiate of the masses in the age of digitally-networked corporate-militarism (the present stage of capitalism), as Debord insisted in the sixties and Barthes in the fifties and Adorno in the forties and Benjamin in the thirties, a mass mediated Opium War (and often literal war) distracts the masses from awareness that we have already long since arrived at the techno-scientific level to provide security and equity and hence universal emancipation for all, distracting us endlessly instead into internecine struggles over pseudo-needs and pseudo-strivings that leave the obsolete bloodsoaked hierarchies enjoyed by elite incumbents in place, and so seduces us into ongoing collaboration with the terms of our own exploitation. The deceptive and hyperbolic advertising and marketing forms that utterly suffuse our public life amount to a reservoir of fervent reactionary religiosity, a religiosity that achieves one of its more incandescent expressions in the static ec-static intensities of superlative techno-transcendentalizing futurology, and of the Robot Cultists who sing its praises unto death.

Bill Maher Parodies "Birther" Nonsense With "Wifer" Conspiracy

Maher's more hit than miss for me, personally, but I'll admit I found this bit of fire with fire hi-larious.

But for Republicans, the Cruelty's A Feature Not A Bug

In his "defense" of Mitt Romney's highly profitable (for him and his rich friends) gaming and looting and wrecking of the lives of so many people who work for a living while he was at Bain Capital, John McCain declares, "the free enterprise system can be cruel." Well, I guess that's it, then! He also implies that any efforts to meliorate the impacts of that cruelty or question the actual productivity of that looting would make you an evil commie, natch. “The only place in the world that I can recall where companies never failed was the old Soviet Union.”

Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida Orders Illegal Purge of Nearly 200,000 Voters to Steal Key Swing State for Mitt Romney

It's time for the DOJ to bring the hammer down, I'm afraid. I have no doubt that Obama will win a second term, but I cannot say that I think he will win as handily as he managed to do the first time -- not given this economy, not given the 24/7 GOP hate-a-palooza, not given the unprecedented unrelenting GOP obstructionism that made the new tone Obama promised and truly strove for and for which so many Americans hoped impossible -- and a closer election means GOP dis-enfranchisement and election-stealing and electronic voting shenanigans all come into play at the margins. Of course, Republicans will screech that stopping their patently illegal and grotesquely anti-democratic voter fraud MEANS that Obama's re-election is itself a fraud to them, but they will howl about all that anyway just as they have always done through all these four years (I sometimes think those two Black Panthers are like holograms hovering at their bedside at night, presiding menacingly over the table while they eat, filling the doorway while they try to watch their Fox). There is, after all, no way for "that man" to be President of "their country" anyway (perhaps you haven't noticed… he's black?), which is why they keep screaming they want to "take it back" for "Real Americans," which is why they wail that he should be "impeached" (for the impeachable offense of… being black?), blah blah black.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why My Atheism Extends To Futurology, But Why My Tolerance Might Not

I received a very nice invitation from a Robot Cultist asking if I would like to offer a "technoprogressive critique of Mormon transhumanism" at a conference of the faithful later in the summer. I seriously doubt it would be a particularly enjoyable scene for me, or ultimately of any real use to anybody present, but I also doubt my exact positions are quite the ones I would probably be expected to hold and so I explained them in declining the invitation. I thought it might be worthwhile to rehearse them here, too (the text is adapted):
Thank you for the invitation. I appreciate both its seriousness and its generosity. The truth is I don't think I know enough about the specifically "Mormon" sub-sect of transhumanist faith to really critique it differently than I do common or garden variety transhumanism more generally.

You know, although I am a convinced and cheerful atheist of many many years standing, I must admit I am not a militant about it, at least not so long as "militancy" is meant to indicate the belief of some atheists that everybody should be an atheist like they are. I am perfectly content to affirm, for example, that there are technoscientifically literate people of faith who embrace the secular separation of church and state and who struggle for social justice and who are perfectly lovely, reasonable people. Probably that includes at least some Robot Cultists in their transhumanoid, singularitarian, and techno-immortalist faiths as well, although I wonder if they really can have thought about their position very clearly.

Actually, when I am defending humanistic education or multicultural values against some militantly math-and-science fixated educational warriors or some clash of civilizational warriors, for example, I sometimes find that I am making arguments that have a certain kinship with some of the arguments at least some people of faith also make in defending their moral and cultural values from the more strident champions of scientism or objectivism. I believe that there is more to being reasonable than being scientific, and indeed I believe it is both unreasonable and unscientific to pretend that what makes moral, aesthetic, legal, ethical, and political beliefs reasonable (and most religious beliefs seem to be moral and aesthetic in character to me) is the same thing that makes scientific beliefs reasonable. Indeed, I tend to focus my anti-religious critiques mostly on the claims of the faithful when they would subvert science through the pretense that instrumental and faith claims have the same warrants or status, or when people tie their faiths to authoritarian or exclusionary or abusive politics or moralism (as abundantly many but by no means all people of faith tend to do).

Frankly, my critiques of superlative futurology are much the same: As a lifelong enthusiastic geek and sf fanboy, I enjoy much the same blue-skying and occupy some of the same nerd subcultures that many transhumanists do, but I strongly disapprove what happens when a fandom seeks to promote itself as a kind of policy-making apparatus, a form of scientific research, a legitimate and rigorous philosophical activity, or when its subcultural defensiveness leads it to embrace circuits of True Belief or guru-worship or incipient authoritarianism in an aspirational "movement" formation. But the problem with futurology, and this is even more obvious if not even more true with the superlative varieties of futurology I tend to lampoon as Robot Cultism -- the transhumanists, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, digital-utopians, and so on -- is that it seems to me the term "futurology" is premised on and always signals precisely these sorts of faithful misconduct. I think the people who might seem like futurologists or futurologically-adjacent but who DON'T try to peddle their interests as fraudulent pop-tech marketing pretending to be real policy-making or legitimate philosophical thought or who DON'T indulge in collective wish-fulfillment fantasizing while pretending to be championing warrantable scientific practices are never futurologists, conventional or superlative: they are just, you know, sf fans, or geeks, or policy wonks.

As for the "technoprogressive" moniker, I still endorse some older pieces of mine in which I use that phrase, but I frankly jettisoned it a while back as introducing more confusion than clarity into discussions. There is too much jargon-coinage and PR-repackaging that is confused with productivity or insight or political work online and especially in futurological precincts online, if you ask me. I am still a technoscientifically literate and technodevelopmentally focused sustainable secular social democrat/democratic socialist-feminist (which is what that term always was a shorthand convenience for, in my use of it), but I think this term "technoprogressive" now lends itself to misconstrual as some kind of would-be "identity"-signal or "movement"-logo which I personally disapprove. As a programmatic designation, a "techno" fixated progressivism will tend (and has tended) too easily to reductive technological determinism, to insensitivity to the diversity and contingency of actually always fraught technodevelopmental stakeholder struggle, and to techno-fetishisms that ally too readily with extractive-industrialism and corporate-militarism, especially for Americans in our bubble of mass-mediated-and-armed-to-the-teeth-consumer-petrochemical spectacle.

So, I think I'll decline the invitation but thank you for offering me a chance to speak at your conference. I doubt it's really my kind of thing.

Romney's Numbers Job

Mitt Romney might not be able to settle on the jobs number he finally means to lie about to the American people, but you can be sure about some numbers he is absolutely firm about as will be the Republicans in Congress who will have his back... Number of women who can end an unwanted pregnancy? ZERO. Number of lesbian and gay folks with the same rights as other citizens? ZERO. Number of people who can get insurance if they have anything that might be construed by some executive as a "pre-existing condition" or who can count on their insurance being there for them if they actually get sick? ZERO. Likelihood that financial fraudsters whose recklessness brought about the world recession will have any regulatory oversight at all? ZERO.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bring On the Hypospray!

My horror of needles is so great that I will momentarily risk the hypocrisy of futurological fantasizing myself, de rigueur Star Trek reference, slick CGI presentation treated as if it is real, developmental costs be damned futurological symptoms all included. (Did you know, by the way, that the Star Trek series introduced the hypospray not because of its many potential medical advantages as a treatment delivery system but because NBC standards and practices prohibited the depiction of the use of hypodermic syringes on air?)

You Are All Going To Die

According to a poll of Very Serious Futurologists:
34.8% of IEET poll responders selected “Cryonics and Resurrection” in a recent survey that inquired about life-after-death preferences. 27.7% selected, instead, the category, “Uploaded in a Non-Biological Medium,” and 24.1% chose “Either is Fine.”
Nevertheless, every single one of these responders is going to die and not one of them will be resurrected in sexy genetically tweaked comic-book super model super hero bodies or in shiny immortal robot bodies or in angelic digital post-bodies in cyber-heaven or whatever nano-digi-cryo-3D Printer scenario happens to be preoccupying their fancy at the moment. In this, they share of course in the mortality without a prospect of resurrection of everybody else, including countless billions of other people of faith who dreamed and dream otherwise, and think they will go to fluffy cloud heaven or seventy two virgins in sensual paradise or your own personal planet or revenge fantasy judgment day or what have you.

Although I am a crusty atheist myself, I am happy to grant that this sort of thing is probably mostly comparatively harmless, or at least not inevitably devastating to those who indulge in it. I think this is true rather in the way a preference for Coke over Pepsi is also comparatively harmless though certainly not good for you whatever your taste may be. At any rate, it remains harmless so long as one doesn't become so obsessed or denialist about mortality through one's faithful fancies, whether conventional or futurological, that one becomes more death-dealing or dead in life before one dies than one otherwise would have done, which, I have to say, does sadly seem to happen sometimes.

Robot Cultist Admits He's A Robot Cultist

I've been pointing out the obvious for years and he's been whining about me calling him mean names for all those years, but Giulio Prisco has now proudly declared that he is a full on fulminating wish-fulfilment fantasist skimming a few hyperbolic tech company press releases and some new agey pop-tech journalism clichés and some hoary science fiction conventions and mixing them into a faith-based initiative dreaming of Making It Big and becoming Raelianism or Scientology or Mormonism some day. The Very Serious Futurologists at the would-be stealth Robot Cult outfit IEET, the so-called "Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies" (of which Prisco is a Director) have published Prisco's declaration and it has attracted enormous positive comment there, exactly as I would expect. For more on the transhumanoid, singularitarian, techno-immortalist, nano-cornucopian, digital-utopian varieties of Robot Cultism, take a look at my Condensed Critique of Transhumanism.

Enter the Dragon: Why I Am Not A SpaceX Space Vegas Space Cadet

The SpaceX Dragon became the first commercial vessel to successfully dock with the International Space Station. I will admit that with this achievement SpaceX has finally managed to become something more than the smarmy impresario offering brief low-gravity low-earth-orbit amusement park rides for breathtakingly huge sums of money while breathlessly pretending that this is the same thing as an actual space program (which it is not).

But those who would crow about how historic this moment is should recall the assurances offered at the start that privatizing this service would render it one-tenth as expensive as the government version and should also note how the price predictably, indeed inevitably, rocketed up and up and up (certainly faster than any of its actual rockets ever did) and how tax-payer subsidization became ever more and more and more indispensable to the project as it convulsively stumbled its way forward.

I do indeed think that this particular commercial exploitation of already existing technology should be remembered, though. Although Apollo, say, managed to be glorious even with a non-negligible share of for-profit private contracting being involved and even subject as it was to changeable public attitudes that led to more than its own fair share of reckless short-cutting and PR nonsense, still Dragon represents an important step along a path which will eventuate, at best, in a space program for which tax payers end up paying more than they otherwise would have for services and outcomes that will be more expensive than they would otherwise have been in order to compensate the irrelevant introduction into space research and exploration of a whole host of parasitic salesmen and PR shills, not to mention a layer of enormously loud entirely dispensable celebrity CEO sociopaths without whose soopervisionary soopergenius we will be endlessly told nothing would ever have been possible in space at all, even if in a sensibly run secular social democracy devoted to public investment in substantial science and developmental commonwealth, the costs, risks, and benefits of which equitably distributed to all, we would have much more much better much faster much cheaper much more real and much more wondrous space exploration without any of these carnival barkers elbowing their way in and making a crass spectacle of themselves in the first place.

But, yeah, sure, by all means, cheers to the Dragon. I always rather preferred the Star Trek future myself (though of course without any hopes of warp drive or replicator magic), but I'm sure the crappy Space Vegas we seem to be aiming for instead will also have its moments (on the off chance we don't pollute or bomb ourselves for parochial plutocratic profit into oblivion before the whole orbital love motel asteroid strip mining McTopia comes online, that is). 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

MundiMuster! If Democrats Get Out the Vote in Wisconsin, Walker Gets Kicked Out

The money avalanche on Walker's side is having its impact, a prime-time tide of deceptive talking points without high-profile pushback is having its impact, a mildly improving economy that Obama deserves the credit for, not Walker, is having its impact, the choice of the understated imperfect Barrett and consequent re-framing of an insurgent recall into a stale re-match is having its impact... and yet there is no question that Wisonsin will fervently regret the missed chance to recall Walker if they fail to rise up in their actually existing numbers and vote to express their actually existing values to bring about the better outcome within their reach.

The polls look terrible to me, the organizing looks like it's puttering a bit within sight of the finish line. We've seen this awful movie before. So, flip the script, don't just watch the damn thing bleakly unfold!

Republicans will spin an epic narrative for the general election from a Democratic defeat here that will be reiterated in so many incessant bulldozing ball-scratching self-congratulatory variations that every decent American will want to claw their ears off rather than hear one more time how Real Murcans want to couponize Medicare and lard billionaires with cash and smash the commie unions of spoiled teachers and public workers and on and on and on and on. Is it really so hard to see what is coming and imagine how much you will hate it and regret it when it comes? This isn't "The Future," this is looming just two weeks ahead.

There is plenty we all can do about it. This is simply a matter of Getting Out the Vote. The numbers are there. The desire has palpably been there. With failure, buyer's remorse will bring the desire ferociously back again... when it's too late to be of any use to anybody.

You can do something. You should do something. You will wish you had done something. Do it!

Make a contribution to help recall the odious anti-labor anti-democracy celebrity Republican Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker.

If you can't part with your hard-earned cash at the moment because you're strapped and you can't knock on doors because you aren't in the state, you probably can devote an hour to making a few phone calls. It's easy.

LGBT Forward… And Backward

Teaching Continues

Today at Berkeley I'm lecturing on Thucydides and on the suave conjuration of a mirage of objectivity in his account of a war in which he was a general for the Athenian side. Summer surveys almost inevitably assume a certain "greatest hits" coloration whatever your intentions to complicate the narrative, and so readers will be unsurprised to hear that a juxtaposition of Pericles' Funeral Oration and then the Melian Dialogue sets the scene for ironic commentary on self-righteous plutocrats clothing their slaughters in democratic justifications (no, it isn't surprising that Wilson read Thucydides on that famous boat ride to bloodsoaked Europe in the aftermath of the War to End All War). We go on to read Plato's Menexenus, at the solar center of which a satire of Pericles' oration basks the orbiting planets of the dialogue in sarcastic radiation. With today's lecture the first week of instruction is already over. Exhausting in a stunning way, three weeks of material in a burning blur, but summer is like that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Teaching Is Underway

The break between handing in spring final grades and beginning summer intensives was an awfully brief one this year, so taking up and taking to the pace of teaching hasn't been so very jarring this time, not yet at least. Though I've read most of the texts I teach countless times for years and some I've looked up yet again recently while putting my syllabus together weighing alternatives and so on, I do still re-read the texts I assign as close to the time when most of the students are reading them so they will be fresh and so that the connective thread of a proximate engagement with just these words -- whatever the differences in knowledge, commitment, situation stratify us -- provides a shared context for discussion and lecture with the community of the classroom. Of course, the downside of this is that I never read the same text the same way twice, at least not completely, and sometimes I am seized by some tangential fancy that undermines familiar lines of thought and deranges my potted lecture notes a bit. Anyway, today at Berkeley we're talking about Gorgias' "Encomium to Helen" which was two and a half thousand years ago what it remains, a set-piece calling such attention to itself as it does what it does that it practically teaches itself through its exemplarity as once its exemplarity was meant to advertize the skills (and services) of Gorgias. I was struck as usual by the ugliness of the piece, "praise" of Helen of Troy that strips her so completely of agency it manages in exonerating her nearly to enact or possibly re-enact her rape and abduction. The self-congratulatory meta-discourse of the piece is also a bit hard to take sometimes -- discourse is like a magic spell, like a drug -- are you enchanted yet? are you intoxicated yet? eh? eh? We're also tackling three books from the Iliad, which this time around struck me forcefully as a companion piece to Job: petty divinities unworthy of the world they made find the resulting meaninglessness invigorated into significance through the meaning found by the sufferers in that world of their suffering in their own terms. Job's gambit seems to me an essentially private one, Achilles' essentially public, but both are asserting aesthetic judgments with what turns out to be profoundly political consequences (without expectation of divine reward Job settles for righteousness as an end in itself in rather Socratic terms -- ie, it is better to suffer harm than to do harm for to do harm means you have to live the rest of your life with/as the sort of person who does harm -- without expectation of a literal homecoming Achilles settles for a coming into the home of collective history, conferring on him immortal fame on narrative terms).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Will Self-Driving Cars Change The Way We Think of Cities?

Did the Segway change the way we think of cities? The people saying the one now are exactly like the ones -- when they are not in fact literally the same ones -- who said the other then. If that doesn't matter to you, you are probably a futurologist. You should probably be making sure your head gets frozen when you die or something right about now.

Randroidal and Futurological Soopergenius Fantasies Distort Our Grasp And Undermine Our Support of Real Innovation

Suzy Khimm:
[I]t’s rarely the case that ideas are born, fully fledged, out of the heads of geniuses, just in time to save the world -- outside the realm of fiction at least. "Romantic myths about creative loners can’t be allowed to overshadow the fact that [innovation]’s a big collective enterprise... a multidisciplinary team, a system designed to maximize discovery,” explained [scientist Eric] Isaacs, who happens to oversee one such facility, Chicago’s Argonne National Lab, the federal government’s first science and engineering research lab. The problem is, the myth of the lone genius toiling away still reigns supreme in the eyes of ordinary Americans and politicians alike. And so policymakers neglect the links in the innovation chain that come after that first Eureka moment. The possibilities often fall by the wayside, leaving scientific breakthroughs in the lab instead of in the hands of consumers or society at large… Capitol Hill’s conception of research relies on a notion that’s practically deistic… But what gets forgotten are the two “Ds” that come after R&D -- “demonstration and deployment,” which are essential to applying basic research to real-life problems and creating commercial products… That’s where the scientists believe the real support is lacking -- not only from the government, but also from the private sector, which has scaled back its most ambitious applied research in recent decades.
Given the chronology, it is hard not to wonder if this evaporation of substantial support coincided with the overall so-called "dematerialization" of the American economy, an epoch in which real production was outsourced to precarious labor in more readily exploitable regions of the world and corporations shifted their business models to hype "logo-ization" and fraudulent financial speculative profit-taking, all of which was peddled with futurological propaganda about shifts to a "service" economy, an "information" society, "digital" markets, "branding" power, and "creative classes." It is hard not to worry that many will see as the solution to these problems expansions of intellectual property (no doubt, to "incentivize" R & D) and further corporatization of academic settings (no doubt, to "improve domestic competitiveness" by better exploiting available resources for R & D), when what is wanted instead, in my opinion, is a return to well-regulated domestic production in the hands of a resurgent organized labor pool together with an infusion of non-proprietary research supported by vastly expanded public grants to invigorate open distributed collaboration on shared problems, peer to peer.

Resources for Writing Students

I have developed a number of handouts summarizing useful information or providing a framework for workshopping writing problems for my students. I am gathering them together here for ready reference. Everybody should feel free to make any use of them they like in their own writing or teaching.

Four Habits of Argumentative Writing

Peer Editing Worksheet

Thesis Generation Worksheet

Writing A Precis

Thesis Generation Worksheet

A thesis is a claim. It is a statement of the thing your paper is trying to show your own readers about a text you have read. Very often, the claim will be simple enough to express in a single sentence, and it will usually appear early on in the paper to give your readers a clear sense of the project of your paper. A good thesis is a claim that is strong. For our purposes, the best way to define a strong claim is to say it is a claim for which you can imagine an intelligent opposition. It is a claim that you actually feel you need to argue for, rather than a very obvious sort of claim or a report of your own reactions to a text (which you don't have to argue for at all). Remember, when you are producing a reading about a complex literary text like a novel, a poem, or a film the object of your argument will be to illuminate the text, to draw attention to some aspect of the work you think that the text is accomplishing.

Once you have determined the detail or problem or element in a text that you want to draw your reader's attention to and argue about, your opposition will likely consist of those who would focus elsewhere because they don't grasp the importance of your focus, or who would draw different conclusions than you do from your own focus.

The thesis names your paper's task, its project, its object, its focus. As you write your papers, it is a very good idea to ask yourself these questions from time to time: Does this quotation, does this argument, does this paragraph directly support my thesis in some way? If it doesn't you should probably delete it, because this likely means you have gotten off track. If you are drawn repeatedly away from what you have chosen as your thesis, ask yourself whether or not this signals that you really want to argue for some different thesis.


A. Brainstorm. Take fifteen minutes or so and write down fifteen to twenty claims you can make about your chosen text. Don't worry about whether these claims are "deep" or whether they are "interesting," just write down claims that you think are true about the text and be as clear and specific as you can manage.





















B. In small groups of two to three peers:

1. Once the time is up, take ten to fifteen minutes to share your claims with one another. Determine together which, if any, of your claims are not really about the text at all. For example, eliminate claims that say the text is "good," or "correct," or "effective" -- since these are really claims about the way you react to the text rather than claims about the text demanding argumentative support. Also eliminate claims that say the text is "wrong," or "incorrect," or "ineffective" since, again, these are really claims about you, or they are claims that will lead you to discuss some more general or tangential topic rather than remaining focused on the text itself. Might some of these statements be redirected or rephrased into claims about the text -- for example, might you focus on some characteristic feature or particular textual moment that is an especially strong occasion for your approval or disapproval and think about it in relation to your sense of the more general gist of the work you are reading or with another key moment of illustration or support for the work's project as you see it? How many claims are you left with?

2. Now, take twenty minutes or so to discuss the claims that remain. Do some of the claims seem conspicuously more interesting or more important than the others? Do some of the claims really say the same thing in different ways? Do these comparisons suggest ways to re-phrase claims to capture your intentions more forcefully? Do some of the claims make or rely on observations that might function well as support for other claims? Have other, more forceful, claims occurred to you as you have engaged in this process? Do some of the claims suggest lines of argument and support that seem more promising to you than others? This process of elimination, honing, ordering should leave each of you with three or so strong claims.


A. You should now each have two or three candidate claims for a thesis remaining (some of you may have similar claims by now). Now, for each of these possible thesis claims come up with the strongest or most obvious opposition to each thesis. For example, what would the opposite claim be to the one you are making? Or, might there be an element or detail in the text that initially seems to contradict the thrust of your claim? Devote fifteen minutes or so to this.




B. Read over these oppositions. Of course, you are likely to disagree with these claims since they are opposed to the ones you want to make yourself -- but can you imagine anyone actually making these oppositional claims about the text you have read? Be honest with each other about this, it is important. Take twenty minutes or so to make these determinations and discuss them.

If the opposition you have come up with seems vague or unintelligent or highly implausible this probably indicates that you need to sharpen up your own initial thesis. Is there a version of your thesis that is more focused and specific that retains the spirit of your claim but which provokes a more interesting opposition? What is it? What is its opposition?

If, on the contrary, the opposition you have written suddenly seems more compelling than the thesis itself this probably indicates that the stakes of your project, or possibly your whole take on the text itself, is different than you initially thought it was. Perhaps what you thought of as opposition to your thesis actually provides you with a stronger thesis and a new direction for your own paper. What is the strongest or most opposition to the new thesis you have adopted?

C. Now, quickly identify the best, strongest, most argumentatively promising thesis that results from this process for you personally, as well as what you take to be its most provocative opposition. Then in your groups, help one another identify two key details or elements in the text to which you could direct a reader's attention in an effort to support your individual theses, and also one detail or element you might use to circumvent its opposition (include page numbers). Take twenty minutes or so to do this.

These discussion provide you with a rudimentary first outline for your argumentative close reading.

(Introduction, contextualization, illustrative anecdote, sketch of initial stakes, culminating or at any rate containing a clear statement of your) Thesis:

1. textual support

2. textual support


3. circumvention of opposition/qualification of thesis in light of opposition

Depending on the length of your paper -- there may be more space for textual support, in a 4-5pp. probably there will not be.

[4... textual support]

Conclusion (Recapitulation of preceding case, and/or opening onto new questions.)

4. opp

Monday, May 21, 2012

Queers Not Dying In Concentration Camps Makes Muscular Baby Jesus Cry

Every time I hear white liberal handwringing about homophobia in Black churches turning against Obama, offered up without numbers to back up what looks to me like an essentially racist phony intuition, offered up in trembling tonalities of concern even as people of color come out across the culture to declare their support of the President and marriage equality, I'll just conjure up this little spectacle when I need to remember what the real trouble makers in this country sound like and look like. This villain calling the President a "baby killer" for supporting a woman's right to choose in the same breath as he calls for the literal genocidal slaughter of actually fully fledged queer people was an especially nice touch, I thought. So much love in that room!

Perhaps You Haven't Noticed That The President Is... Black?

Paul Waldman wonders (not really), What's up with the endless right wing obsession with "vetting" President Obama?

More Righteous Delicious TED Squawk Pushback

Alec Pareene says lots of devastatingly tough and true things about TED in Salon today. Read the whole piece, but here are some choice nuggets:
TED... is a series of short lectures on a variety of subjects that stream on the Internet, for free. That’s it, really, or at least that is all that TED is to most of the people who have even heard of it. For an elite few, though, TED is something more: a lifestyle, an ethos, a bunch of overpriced networking events featuring live entertainment from smart and occasionally famous people. Before streaming video, TED was a conference -- it is not named for a person, but stands for “technology, entertainment and design” -- organized by celebrated “information architect” (fancy graphic designer) Richard Saul Wurman. Wurman sold the conference, in 2002, to a nonprofit foundation... [which] grew TED from a woolly conference for rich Silicon Valley millionaire nerds to a giant global brand... [W]hile TED is run by a nonprofit, it brings in a tremendous amount of money from its members and corporate sponsorships. At this point TED is a massive, money-soaked orgy of self-congratulatory futurism, with multiple events worldwide, awards and grants to TED-certified high achievers... According to a 2010 piece in Fast Company, the trade journal of the breathless bullshit industry, the people behind TED are “creating a new Harvard -- the first new top-prestige education brand in more than 100 years.” Well! That’s certainly saying… something. (What it’s mostly saying is “This is a Fast Company story about some overhyped Internet thing.”) To even attend a TED conference requires not just a donation of between $7,500 and $125,000, but also a complicated admissions process in which the TED people determine whether you’re TED material... Strip away the hype and you’re left with a reasonably good video podcast with delusions of grandeur. For most of the millions of people who watch TED videos at the office, it’s a middlebrow diversion and a source of factoids to use on your friends. Except TED thinks it’s changing the world, like if “This American Life” suddenly mistook itself for Doctors Without Borders. [This analogy is far too generous to TED in my opinion --d] The model for your standard TED talk is... [1] Drastically oversimplified explanations of complex problems. [2] Technologically utopian solutions to said complex problems. [3] Unconventional (and unconvincing) explanations of the origins of said complex problems. [4] Staggeringly obvious observations presented as mind-blowing new insights. What’s most important is a sort of genial feel-good sense that everything will be OK, thanks in large part to the brilliance and beneficence of TED conference attendees. (Well, that and a bit of Vegas magician-with-PowerPoint stagecraft.)
I definitely could not have said it better myself, and it's a sheer pleasure to read it, even better, to myself.

Get Out Your Barf Bag Booker -- Obama Is Not Backing Down on Bain, And That's A Good Thing (UPDATED)

Here's My Transcript of the Key Moments:
Well, first of all, I think Cory Booker is an outstanding mayor, he's doing great work in Newark, and obviously helping to turn that city around... And I think it is important to recognize that this issue is not "a distraction," this is part of the debate we're going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody, from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main Street, have a shot at success, and if they're working hard and they're acting responsibly, that they're able to live out the American dream... The reason why this is relevant to the campaign is my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience. He's not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He's saying, I'm a business guy, and I know how to fix it, and this is his business. And when you're president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who get laid off, and how are we paying for their retraining. Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so they can attract new businesses. Your job as president is to think about how do we set up an equitable tax system so that everybody's paying their fair share, that allows us then to invest in science, and technology, and infrastructure, all of which are going to help us grow. And so if your main argument for how to grow the economy is "I knew how to make a lot of money for investors," then you're missing what this job is about. It doesn't mean you weren't good at private equity. But that's not what my job is as president. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure the country is growing not just now, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now... This is not a distraction. This is what this campaign is going to be about.
This is good stuff. Contrary to some panicky Villagers out there, I think this is winning stuff, too. Rhetorically, this is better than the weekend address I read closely a few posts back.

UPDATE: Mayor Booker was on Rachel Maddow's show tonight responding to the brouhaha, and especially to the ugly opportunistic use to which he is being put by the GOP in the aftermath of his comments. His comments and the President's seem more reconciled at this point to me (as they definitely were not yesterday even in the context of the whole interview if you ask me, despite Booker's protests to the contrary). At his best, which Booker is not at at the moment, that's for sure, he is an inspirational politician who can still do more good as an active figure with some kind of future than as somebody whose rich donor hobnobbing got him out of touch and sunk his ship, surely, even if I think the "Meet the Press" interview revealed a real and really troubling romance with financial fraudsters that he needs to re-think and which his fans need to press him to re-think and which I find it frankly hard to believe the recession has not yet prompted him to re-think more thoroughly than he has done anyway (and he's not the only one). I will say he took a higher road tonight than I have done (as witness the title of this blog-post), and he seemed a bit panicked in the spotlight, which suggests he has sense. Fine, I guess, we should move on and let the Republicans keep on howling without joining in on their terms.

An Insurance Company With An Army

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in the Moot with Ian, prompted by my post a couple of days ago worrying about a tragic and dangerous failure of the EU premised on the neoliberal error that a monetary union could substitute for a political one, or that a monetary union could even function without a robust underlying political one, to which Ian replied:
Indeed. -- It seems that most (if not all) international unions are built around questions of the economic and seek to purposefully hinder political capacities for cooperation and solidarity (except where 'national defense' is concerned, of course). It's hard for me to imagine an alternative at the scale of the nation-state unless non-state actors are included in the democratic process in some way, ensuring that trans/inter/post-national interests are included in the decision making structures.
This, in turn, inspired this bit of rambling from me:
At one level that sounds right to me, but at another I find myself wondering... I am sure you have heard the cliche that after Bismarck and Lincoln the nation-state has amounted to an insurance company backed by an army. Really, this is just making Foucault's point about the late modern rise of disciplinarity/ biopolitics, right? Is this something simply to bemoan or to grasp about where we are?

Democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the decisions that affect them, and it isn't clear to me why biopolitics cannot have a democratic face as well as its awful anti-democratic ones, really. I find myself wanting to pressure your suggestion that "non-state actors" need to be "included" in democratic processes -- of course I agree with this, I think the definition of democracy already implies this even -- but isn't it a bit tricky to imply they are "excluded" too straightforwardly once we get Gramsci's point when he talks about hegemony or Althusser's point when he talks about ideological state apparatuses? Contestations among sociocultural positionalities invigorate and undergird all state agency indispensably.

Part of the problem with too much of the anarchist imaginary is that it tends to reduce "the state" to something dispensable before proceeding to dispense with it, in ways that cause it to radically misconstrue state space both as a multilateral working reality but also as an ongoing democratizing possibility. That given nation-states are suffused with incumbency and hierarchy and routine violation is of course true, just as lamentably as anarchism would have it, but this seems to me a problem for rather than of the state form.

What is wanted is equity-in-diversity, an actually substantial scene of consent to the terms of one's life, which seems to me to demand universal equal rights, healthcare, education, income, and recourse to law -- not so far from the vision of Roosevelt's Four Freedom's or of the UN Declaration -- funded by steeply progressive taxes and administered by actually accountable periodically elected authorities under the terms of universal franchise.

I'm not sure that looks so different from an insurance company with an army again -- provided this is not an army paid for by the people that ensures they remain subservient to private for-profit insurance companies, but the accountable administration of insurance as a public utility and common good. Both are biopolitical governmentalities, the parochial for-profit insurance scam and the insurance that creates a legible scene in which citizen-subjects consent to the terms of their lives, but only one affords abiding and deep democracy.

This is not to say that There Is No Alternative but to say that the people must see to it that authority means what it says (this is for me the act of exposure but also the enactment through exposure at the heart of Occupy) -- another way of saying government must be of by and for the people, just like you thought at age four -- another way of saying the state must not be smashed but democratized.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Summer Terms

Next week the first of my summer intensives begins, this one at Berkeley, a survey of Greek and Roman rhetoric, meeting three days a week three hours each day and demanding enormous amounts of lecture prep. By the time I have adjusted to that pace a second intensive begins in the City, a survey of critical theory that throws another six hours of lecture and a commute across the Bay into the mix. A second Berkeley course on theories of interpretation begins within days of the end of the first, while I'm still neck deep in grading finals. If you are curious about the courses, their syllabi are here. All in all, twelve weeks of unusually focused work ahead. Not quite sure what that will do to my blogging, but this is the sixth summer I've pulled this off so presumably I'll manage it again. Perhaps it's something to do with aging, but the slope seems scarily steep from where I'm standing right about now.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Help Me Understand

It certainly made sense on the dance floor. Elsewhere, not so much. So, why should it be?

When Explanations Make No Sense

Were the lies of my generation ever more gorgeous? It's hard not to smile and then cry...

How Do You Know You're Not Conversing Online With A Bot?

If you're really not sure, then you've become little better than a bot yourself so it doesn't much matter. Turing's Test was never really a measure of the arrival of artificial intelligence in nonhumans, but of the arrival in humans, through their involvement with idiotic implements, of artificial imbecillence.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

EU Failure

In the aftermath of the greatest most blood-soaked struggles and mass criminality in human history, Europe needed a political union and created a monetary union instead... and they are on the verge of failure. The EU pretended a monetary union could do the work of a political union, and they are on the verge of failure. The EU pretended a monetary union could function without the support of an underlying political union, and they are on the verge of failure. Europe still needs a political union, and the world needs the example of that sustainable, equitable, accountable, consensual, diverse political union, and they and we all need to learn the lesson of the failure they are on the verge of else they, and I'm afraid we all, will be on the verge of a failure incomparably worse to come.

Dispatches from Libertopia

Whenever institutions are too big to fail they must be recognized as utilities accountable to public stakeholders and not private shareholders, and whenever institutions are too big to regulate they must be recognized as too big to exist and should be broken into manageable portions that are not.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Reading This Week's Presidential Address Rhetorically

"[U]nless you run a financial institution whose business model is built on cheating consumers, or making risky bets that could damage the whole economy, you have nothing to fear from Wall Street reform." Gosh, I wonder if he has anybody specific in mind? What do you think, MittsteRmoney?

These addresses are only rarely informative or provide new policy making substance. But because they are so brief and because they are addressed to an imagined audience that is at least national in scale, containing not only journalists and pundits deeply sensitive to the minutest signals (both real and fanciful) but also everyday citizens who might have only a general sense of the issues at stake, containing not only partisan supporters whose energies are being enlisted but also detractors whose fears and suspicions are being allayed, these addresses are profoundly important indicators of the rhetorical framing which drives the creation, promotion, and implementation of policy, they are like iceberg tips suggesting vast cultural machineries in play elsewhere engaged in the ongoing construction of the political mass consciousness of the possible and the important.

After generations of ineptitude on this score, Democrats under Obama have been wresting government as a site of collective awareness and aspiration from the discursive precincts to which Movement Republicanism and neoliberalism have confined it, subtly seeking to undermine the facile slogans that would identify "free men [sic] and free markets" and conjure of fantasies of "big government standing in the way of liberty" and in so doing providing stealthy rationales for the dismantlement of democracy and the implementation of neo-feudal corporate-military plutocracy.

The crucial move for Democrats is to insist that freedom depends on fairness and then to insist not only on the possibility as such of good government of by and for the people but on the indispensability of such good government to this fairness on which true freedom depends. Notice this sentence from the address: "And we’re going to keep working -- to recover every job lost to the recession; to build an economy where hard work and responsibility are once again rewarded; to restore an America where everyone has a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules." Especially this last phrase is endlessly repeated by this President, and that is a crucial rhetorical effort others are picking up as well. The reiteration of this succession of notions "everyone has a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules" is inculcating a set of associations that is constructing a moral mass consciousness in which equitable and democratic values and projects will flourish and which will inoculate citizens against the facile seductions of parochial short-term selfish gain which ultimately drive anti-democratic values and projects of the sort Movement Republicans prefer: this set of associations fills the empty space of libertopian liberty with the collaborative efforts and hopes of democratic citizens in the institutional context of equal recourse to law for us all.

Notice that hard work is not only praised here, but that the praise of hard work through the implementation of equitable institutions is itself foregrounded as an instance of that praiseworthy hard work. These supportive self re-enforcing re-iterations do enormous constructive work rhetorically, especially as they assume the character of commonsense utterances and habits of thought. Condemning to the contrary the infantile libertopian notion of liberty to the socially injurious encouragement of a reckless and risky and fraud-prone attitude of "anything goes" is no less essential to this effort.

The opening frame of the address -- like most of its official communications -- situates the administration's first term in the context of "an historic economic crisis" which he immediately insists was "caused by breathtaking irresponsibility on the part of some on Wall Street who treated our financial system like a casino" (selfish irresponsible risk-taking with other people's money is not the same as work) which "cost our economy millions of jobs, hurt middle-class families, and left taxpayers holding the bag" (those who are responsible, those who do work for a living are the ones who suffer from this selfish irresponsible risk-taking with other people's money). "[W]e’ve put in place Wall Street reform with smarter, tougher, commonsense rules that serve one primary purpose: to prevent a crisis like that from ever happening again." Setting aside the righteous wonk inside you who knows Wall Street reforms are inadequate and who also knows that the devil is in the implementation details and that the skirmishes over implementation usually favor elite-incumbent actors with the resources to shape the substantial debates, notice first that the usual appeal to the fearful conservative of the "law and order" narrative is being re-articulated into a case for good government in the service not of hierarchy and incumbency but of equity-in-diversity. This is an appropriation of a longstanding Republican frame to which they have always been vulnerable: "Libertopia for me authoritarianism for thee" is a paradoxical conjunction that has always been a conceptual land mine for Movement Republicanism, but one which the American professional left (pundits and administrators) rarely if ever pressured in the service of the articulation of a better more democratic vision. (I suspect this was because the class position of so many of these pundits and administrators -- unlike majorities of people who actually work for a living who through the long night of Movement Republicanism always pined for far more progressive policy outcomes than their so-called official representatives entertained -- inclined them to a profitable complacency about such matters before the emergence of p2p networks suddenly re-democratized, if only partially and impermanently, public discourse.) Come what may, the Obama administration and a host of new Democratic media institutions have been engaged in this effort lately, finally, and the very predictable empowerment of democratic commonsense is following upon that work.

It is also crucial to note that Obama is forthrightly naming the enemy here: "Republicans in Congress and an army of financial industry lobbyists have actually been waging an all-out battle to delay, defund, and dismantle Wall Street reform." Yes, yes, financial industry lobbyists also include Democratic offices in their itineraries and often include Democratic operatives in their rosters, but the leader of the Democratic party is identifying these people as the problem and not part of the solution here and if what is wanted is an organized force defining itself on those terms it seems rather flabbergasting to focus more on its failures to live up to that self-image than on supporting its efforts to live up to that self-image, especially when the only alternative is instead to shore up that organized force which explicitly and even triumphantly champions contrary values and outcomes. The politics of campaigning as against those of governing, that is to say the politics of prevailing over opponents as the outcome rather than compromising with opponents for best outcomes, have always provided Obama with a terrain that encourages his rhetoric into its most inspirational clarity. Given the unprecedented monolithic obstructionism and rarely precedented depth and intensity of their hostility to this President, Republicans have created an environment in which it might have seemed that even after the campaign the terrain provided grounds for little more than this kind of clarity -- and, it is too true, not only have the Republicans settled into a kind of permanent campaigning and culture war stance entirely disconnected to governing, but so too many liberals have seemed to pine for a politics of symbolic gestures from this administration rather than the actually accomplished reforms -- and although reasonable people can differ about how long and how much the President has been open or seemed to be open to compromise with the current crop of anti-governmental anti-civilizational Republicans, I personally think it is right for politics and rhetoric to reflect the changed contexts of campaigning and governing as this administration has (sometimes less effectually than might be wanted) done and I think it is right to celebrate the many regulatory and administrative and civil rights accomplishments of Obama, especially in its partnership with the 111th "Do Something" Congress which this shift facilitated.

It is in the conclusion to his short address that I find myself most at odds with the rhetoric of the President. My difference is probably more one of emphasis than of substance, but I am not sure this is so. Obama declares: "I believe the free market is one of the greatest forces for progress in human history; that businesses are the engine of growth; that risk-takers and innovators should be celebrated. But I also believe that at its best, the free market has never been a license to take whatever you want, however you can get it. Alongside our entrepreneurial spirit and rugged individualism, America only prospers when we meet our obligations to one another; and to future generations." It is easy to see what the President is doing here. Earlier I showed how Obama's rhetoric seeks to appropriate the longstanding Republican "law and order" narrative but now in the service of a progressive defense of good government against Republican anti-governmentalism, and especially a defense of that good government which would police the misconduct of those elite incumbent bad actors who tend to ally most conspicuous with Republicans against the interests of people who work for a living. Just so, here he seeks to appropriate the Republican "free market" narrative but now in the service of a progress that is actually progressive, that is to say actually sustainable, equitable, diverse. Contrary to the President's insistence that "the free market has never been a license to take whatever you want, however you can get it" we well know, of course, that what has passed for "the free market" (that never natural always contingent congeries of laws, norms, and material affordances) from generation to generation has usually been precisely a license for the abuse of majorities by incumbent elites. Rather than assume Obama is wrong, I assume instead that Obama is engaged in the high-stakes effort to rhetorically re-write "the free market" in the image of something more righteous. I heartily approve such efforts. What worries me is that I see little likelihood of this effort succeeding so long as Obama continues to insist that "risk-takers and innovators should be celebrated" most of all and then, even worse, yokes together what he calls "our entrepreneurial spirit and rugged individualism."

Of course, this is a short address, the subject of which is far more topical (the JP Morgan Chase disgrace) than it is some kind of primer on new Democratic economic framing, and so it might seem to be too much to ask for more from this piece. I will simply point out that even old school liberal rhetoric always knew never to celebrate "innovation" without including in such celebrations a reference to "equal opportunity" and a "level playing field" -- and also let me add that I personally prefer it when Obama draws on the intuition "I am my brother's keeper" rather than genuflecting to the complete idiotic nonsense of "rugged individualism," even if he deploys the term a little ironically (as I hope but am not sure he is here). But deeper than this, I think the effort to appropriate entrepreneurialism in the service of progressive democratization will take not only an insistence on equal opportunity as indispensable to any real support of innovation and a reminder of our ineradicable interdependence as indispensable to any realistic understanding of individualism, but will also require an insistence that everyday people following the rules and working for a living and hoping to leave the world a little better, fairer, cleaner, safer for the next generation are the crucial figures driving the economy as well as history. Perhaps as over-achieving a-type personalities for the most part (and this is palpably true of President Obama), Presidents are the people we can least trust to recognize and celebrate who the real protagonists of history are. But certainly it has never been more important to realize that it is the hard work and purchasing power of everyday people that are the real "job creators" in modern societies, not celebrity CEOs and a-list faces for all of whom fame and fortune has been more appropriative and accidental than they usually can admit to themselves if they want to enjoy the ride they're on.

Transcript of the Address:
For the past three and a half years, we’ve been fighting our way back from an historic economic crisis -- one caused by breathtaking irresponsibility on the part of some on Wall Street who treated our financial system like a casino. Not only did that behavior nearly destroy the financial system -- it cost our economy millions of jobs, hurt middle-class families, and left taxpayers holding the bag. Since then, we’ve recovered taxpayer dollars that were used to stabilize troubled banks. And we’ve put in place Wall Street reform with smarter, tougher, commonsense rules that serve one primary purpose: to prevent a crisis like that from ever happening again. And yet, for the past two years, too many Republicans in Congress and an army of financial industry lobbyists have actually been waging an all-out battle to delay, defund, and dismantle Wall Street reform. Recently, we’ve seen why we can’t let that happen. We found out that a big mistake at one of our biggest banks resulted in a two billion dollar loss. While that bank can handle a loss of that size, other banks may not have been able to. And without Wall Street reform, we could have found ourselves with the taxpayers once again on the hook for Wall Street’s mistakes.

That’s why it’s so important that Members of Congress stand on the side of reform, not against it; because we can’t afford to go back to an era of weak regulation and little oversight; where excessive risk-taking on Wall Street and a lack of basic oversight in Washington nearly destroyed our economy. We can’t afford to go back to that brand of ‘you’re-on-your-own’ economics. Not after the American people have worked so hard to come back from this crisis. We’ve got to keep moving forward. We’ve got to finish the job of implementing this reform and putting these rules in place. These new rules say that, if you’re a big bank or financial institution, you now have to hold more cash on hand so that if you make a bad decision you pay for it, not the taxpayers. You have to write out a “living will” that details how you’ll be wound down if you do fail. The new law takes away big bonuses and paydays from failed CEOs, while giving shareholders a say on executive salaries. And for the first time in our nation’s history, we have in place a consumer watchdog whose sole job is to look out for working families by protecting them from deceptive and unfair practices.

So unless you run a financial institution whose business model is built on cheating consumers, or making risky bets that could damage the whole economy, you have nothing to fear from Wall Street reform. Yes, it discourages big banks and financial institutions from making risky bets with taxpayer-insured money. And it encourages them to do things that actually help the economy -- like extending loans to entrepreneurs with good ideas, to middle-class families who want to buy a home, to students who want to pursue higher education. That’s what Wall Street reform is all about -- making this economy stronger for you. And we’re going to keep working -- to recover every job lost to the recession; to build an economy where hard work and responsibility are once again rewarded; to restore an America where everyone has a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.

I believe the free market is one of the greatest forces for progress in human history; that businesses are the engine of growth; that risk-takers and innovators should be celebrated. But I also believe that at its best, the free market has never been a license to take whatever you want, however you can get it. Alongside our entrepreneurial spirit and rugged individualism, America only prospers when we meet our obligations to one another; and to future generations. If you agree with me, let your Member of Congress know. Tell them to spend less time working to undermine rules that are there to protect the economy, and spend more time actually working to strengthen the economy. Thanks and have a great weekend.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Thinking Through California's Ballot Measures

KQED's Forum hosts a fair and informative discussion of the two measures on the statewide ballot this time around, one a somewhat complicated term limit reform and another a cigarette tax to fund cancer research. I am voting YES on both, but my good fellow Californians should make up their own minds.

House Republicans Fund "East Coast Star Wars Fantasy Base"

Via The Hill:
The House on Friday approved a sweeping defense authorization bill for 2013 that calls for the construction of an East Coast missile defense system in the United States by the end of 2015. The bill obligates $100 million next year to plan for the site, but the project would cost billions of dollars in later years that has yet to be funded... Republicans said the site is needed to counter rising threats from Iran and North Korea, but Democrats say the military does not want the East Coast missile shield and blasted its $100 million startup cost.
Republicans tried to block debate of amendments to the defense authorization for fear that Democratic sponsored amendments like California Representative Barbara Lee's -- she represents me! -- to accelerate American withdrawal from Afghanistan might pass (as if), which prompted Massachusetts Representative James McGovern (who is also credited with the coinage "East Coast Star Wars Fantasy Base" to describe the unnecessary, unworkable, ruinously expensive, de-stabilizingly belligerent feces-eating infantile GOP proposal, which no doubt will now be funded to the tune of billions every year for all time from here on out by Democrats afraid of being called "soft on defense") to complain yesterday, reasonably enough, "The defense bill provides $100 million in start-up money for the East Coast base, and to bring it into operation by 2015 will require another projected $5 billion… Why shouldn't we have such a debate on an expensive proposal like that? Or is all the Republican talk about cost-cutting and putting our fiscal house in order as big a fantasy as this silly Star Wars proposal?" Quite so. Needless to say, when it comes to giving handouts to billionaires (and no small amount of so-called Defense spending amounts precisely to welfare for the rich) cost is never any object for Republicans. It is only when money is being invested in education for everybody or to support our most vulnerable fellow citizens, all for the good of us all, that Republicans inevitably find the costs are too high for them to tolerate. I would be remiss, by the way, given this blog's other focus, not to mention the ongoing role of futurological ideology deranging sensible deliberation on the actual costs and risks and benefits of techno-utopian missile-shield boondoggle proposals.

"The Bane of Romney's Existence"

It's very encouraging that the DNC is still pushing this line so forcefully.

Another Galtian Overlord Poopies His Diaper And Cries Out For The Nanny State

Via TPM:
Famed former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling in recent years became a very public champion of conservative “small-government” politics. He also launched a video game production company that two years ago set up shop in Rhode Island thanks to $75 million in state guaranteed loans. Well, business isn’t going so well, and this month Schilling’s company 38 Studios missed a $1.1 million payment to the state. He’s now asking for more taxpayer help.

Both Parties Do It!

According to PoliticalWire, "Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R) told KFYI he's not entirely convinced President Obama was really born in the United States and suggested he could be knocked off the state's presidential ballot." Meanwhile, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D) is entirely convinced President Obama really was born in the country, really is the President of the United States even though he is, in case you haven't noticed, black, and also, according to reliable sources, actually believes that women are human beings, that gay people should not be bullied into suicide, and that slavery is wrong. As you can see, Republicans and Democrats are exactly equally crazy.

Ryan Gosling Singularity

Via Wonkblog:

“At this rate, theoretically, by 2094 every single Tumblr will be Ryan Gosling-based,” declares Ray Kurzweil, whereupon they will inevitably crystallize into a superintelligent post-Gosling avatar that will become a gentle feminist Robot God caring for us all with loving grace. (Actually a tumblr user "TopherChris" said it, and with too much tongue in cheek to fall for futurological nonsense, I cheerfully suspect).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

TED Squawk

I'm glad that the relentlessly awful TED Talk scam is being criticized for once (for example, here and here) rather than being endlessly blandly robotically praised by well-heeled techno-fetishistic liberals together with the usual suspects among the elite techno-utopian corporate-militarist set. I regret that TED is not being criticized for pretending that sales pitches are a substitute for teaching, for pretending that marketing gizmos is a substitute for political activism, and for pretending that neoliberalism is a substitute for liberalism. Here's hoping the more sensible progressives among the techno-fetishists have woken up long enough to notice what's really wrong with the liber-techian world of TED.

On My Secret Belief That "We Will Leave Our Meat Bodies Behind And Become Cyber Angels"

The Robot Cultists at a transhumanoid outfit calling itself The Turing Church (not kidding) have noticed my Some Questions For A "Mind Uploading" Enthusiast piece and have this to say about it:
Spirer [the enthusiast being questioned by me --d] has earned a transhumanist badge of honor with his H+ Magazine article: he has been flamed by Dale Carrico himself, no less… I suspect that Carrico understands, as well as I do, that someday we will leave our meat bodies behind and become cyber angels. The difference is that he doesn’t like the idea, and I do.
In the piece I propose that the notion of "mind uploading" is actually conceptually incoherent and laughably ridiculous in countless different ways. What I absolutely do understand about "mind uploading" discourse is that is a farrago of ill-digested metaphors, pseudo-scientific notions, wish-fulfillment fantasies, and futurological con-artistry. I suspect that nobody who reads my critique truly suspects anything but the absolute conviction of my stated positions and my utter disdain about their techno-faithful nonsense. Now, I daresay plenty of people would agree that living forever in cyber heaven as a cyber angel might be nicer than the way reality will turn out instead, ceteris paribus, but that is surely neither here nor there? I disagree with those who seem to think there is anything particularly sophisticated or useful about spending lots of thinking how magic would be cool if it were real.

This would-be priest in the transhumanoid techno-immortalist PR con-job goes on to praise Martine Rothblatt's championing of the pseudo-scientific faith-based initiative "vitology" I critique in another piece as:
Robot Cultist Martine Rothblatt’s denunciation of what she calls the “fiction” that biology is really the scientific study of life processes and living organisms given the fact that this science (so called! Ha!) does not accommodate fictional forms of robotic and software “life” (that don’t, you know, exist and stuff)... Rothblatt has gone on modestly to propose that to avoid this “confusion” that only she feels, we all need to start using a neologism she has just now come up with -- “vitology” -- when referring from here on out to the scientific study of life. Rothblatt airily declares that “Vitology includes biological life as well as cybernetic life.” Well, Martine, you should know. You just made the term up, after all. It can mean whatever you need it to mean, dear. I am sorry to say, however, that this act of assertive stipulation in a vacuum doesn’t actually bring the “cybernetic life” presumably included within it into actual existence. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that “vitology” will take a confused world by storm, and a host of biology textbooks and biology department letterhead across the planet is even now being bagged for disposal.
Probably the Robot Cultists at the Turing Church would read this as an endorsement of their True Beliefs as well? After all, for the True Believer what wouldn't amount to such a confirmation? As it happens, of course, every robot cultist is going to die. Every one. And every transhumanist and singularitarian and cryonicist and calorie-restriction supplement nut who devotes prolonged energy to the contrary belief will not only still die just the same, but is likely to be a little more dead while still alive than they otherwise would be if they faced the facts squarely and lived accordingly.

Is It Possible That We Will Be Flying On Broomsticks After We Are Enrolled In Hogwarts School For Witchcraft And Wizardry?

"Is it possible that we will be living in a virtual reality after the Singularity?" asks Rachel Marone, Very Serious Futurologist and editor of the Robot Cult newsletter hplusmagazine (that's humanityplus! for all you mere humanity-minuses out there).

The Flip Flop Stops Here

Mitt Romney:
I'm not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was.
That is, until I don't, at which time I will have misspoke. Also, too, already (with a bonus -- you really want to talk about kooky religions? -- thrown in for good measure):

Obama Seeks to Combat Republican Mass Disenfranchisement With Which Is… Launching? Now?

The Obama campaign is launching an effort to combat the impact of voter ID laws that have swept Republican-controlled state legislatures over the past couple of years.… is meant to make sure voters have everything they need to cast a ballot on election day.
Click on the link and the banner reads, "Coming Soon: GottaVote will be launching shortly. Please check back." You can also watch this powerful ad there, which provides ample reason why -- and more -- should have been up by the campaign a year ago.

Elizabeth Warren Goes Back to Basics

Scott Brown would like to keep the campaign focused instead on a side-show of supposedly questionable personality issues from her past because he's a much more solid candidate when it comes to such things.

Impressions of Romney

Upgraded from a comment in the Moot:
The point isn't to try to divine Romney's "true beliefs" from the scattered tea leaves of his endlessly shifting statements. Apart from his mean streak and infinite sense of entitlement there might not even be much of what passes for a "self" there at all, in the sense that non- lifelong- bazillionaires cocooned every inch and every second in pastel-hued privilege use such terms.

What matters is that Romney's actions always express the convictions of those he is working with and around... And so, he seemed a bit more reasonable when he was Governor and the Republicans he was working with were all triangulating with Massachusetts liberals of conviction, he now lives in the age of the patriarchal theocratic corporate-militarist plutocratic GOP death cult where the convictions are the sort that should get you life-long prison convictions and he has now become that and will govern like that as well.

Look at the extremity of his advisers and the extremity of the caucus he will be working with -- the whole neo-con bomb brigade and the muscular baby jesus warriors ready to suck off their guns and shackle their women and terrorize their faggots and the doll-eyed dolt Randroid Ryan's fanclub out to drown democracy in the bathtub and refeudalize the state -- they are the clothes he is wearing now, they are the voices in his ear and from his mouth, they are who he will be... Romney is always other people and what he thinks other people are expected to be according to some pretty cramped norms the violation of which fills him either with supreme discomfort or, as we have seen, rage. Sheer away the put-upon privilege and the cruelty of his so-called "pranks" and you will find a schmoo not a you, a creature of dense appetites and stale scripts and opportunistic calculations.
See also The Artificial Man the Killer Clowns Made and the Mouse Child Who Said What She Saw.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

More Signs of the Singularity!

Robot Cultists rejoice, the Robot God is upon us! --h/t JimF (who points out that this is likely an early incarnation)

Biden's Appeal to Working Class Voters Has the GOP Scared Mittless

In an aside to working class voters in Youngstown, Ohio, today Vice President Joe Biden took a moment to express, as it were "spontaneously," his anger at smug out of touch Republicans who want to pretend Democrats are "envious of success" because we condemn the thievery, looting, and destruction of financial fraudsters and vulture capitalists like Republican nominee Mitt Romney. As I have said a million times: to criticize a successful thief is not to attack "success," but thievery. Now, I've seen a few right wing blogs trying to flag this as a "Dean Scream" moment of unhingedness, but the method and angles are too palpable, and anyway with The Most Awkward Man In The World as their nominee it's already clear their hearts just aren't in it. They know as well as we do that this rich vein of populist anger was tapped into time after time after time by Republicans like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich during their own nominating contest, leaving one-percent MittsteR-money bruised, battered, and bloody despite the fact that these rivals were laughably nonviable otherwise. They know that Biden is tapping here into a deep well of righteous populist anger at the incompetent insensitive bulldozing brutality of our corporate plutocratic overlords, they know that Biden is marshaling and canalizing white working class resentment here and so undermining their desperate effort to raise the ghost of the Southern Strategy one last time and make a white-racist appeal against the kenyan muslim socialist uppity negro in the white house blah blah hate hate blah. This is of course not a job Obama can do for himself, not only for the obvious reason but also because that dirty job conflicts with his cultivation of the gracious generous reasonable compromise seeking last grownup in the room appeal to independents and other low-information dead-eyed scared rabbit voters who throng America's couches.