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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"We Need Everyone To Pay Their Fair Share"


Wrestled with insomnia last night, now confront my eight to eight teaching day. Happen to be teaching Arendt both morning and afternoon, which is a mercy, On Violence and Eichmann in the City, then Between Past and Future at Berkeley later on. Also, Kafka and Althusser...

Monday, July 30, 2012

More Must Read Athena

No surprise, the very best piece written on the occasion of the death of Sally Ride is Athena Andreadis' Those Who Never Got To Fly, which draws indispensable attention to the sexism and heterosexism that freighted Ride's marvelous efforts and achievements, in the larger context of the ongoing sexism and heterosexism of NASA culture (she tells again the still neglected still crucial story of the superior cohort of women trained and then discarded as astronauts), in the larger context of the ongoing sexism and heterosexism of science-fiction and pop-science cultures (Arthur C. Clarke is given his due, and more so still in the comments section, and the ugly transhumanoidal love of sexist evopsycho pseudo-science on the road to the dumbass wetdream of sexbot singularity fulfilment is very edifyingly and necessarily lampooned).

Do I Do? Dem Platform Endorses Gay Marriage

Washington Blade:
The Democratic Party platform drafting committee approved on Sunday language endorsing same-sex marriage in addition to other pro-LGBT positions as part of the Democratic Party platform, according to two sources familiar with the drafting process. Retiring gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who sits on the committee, told the Washington Blade on Monday that the 15-member panel unanimously backed the inclusion of a marriage equality plank after a national hearing over the weekend in Minneapolis, in which several witnesses testified in favor of such language. “I was part of a unanimous decision to include it,” Frank said. “There was a unanimous decision in the drafting committee to include it in the platform, which I supported, but everybody was for it.”
Eric and I have been very happily coupled for nearly eleven years now, but we regard marriage as a vestige of human trafficking complicit in a mostly harmful romantic ideology of monogamous reprosexual co-dependent "completion" that is not at all for us. And yet we cheerfully celebrate this decision as one that will help remove one more plank of the edifice of second class citizenship from which all queers suffer, as one that will lend more power to those who resist heteronormative forms by providing them the space to reject something available to them rather than merely complaining about something forbidden them anyway, and as one that will provide social support and render more publicly legible and in many ways more liveable many queer lifeways that are perfectly legitimate even if they are not quite our own.

"Socialized Medicine for Some, Miniature American Flags for Others!"

Let's hear it for the Rainbow Tour! At a fundraiser this morning in Israel, Robot Romney declared:
Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the GDP in Israel? Eight percent. You spend eight percent of GDP on health care. You’re a pretty healthy nation… We spend 18 percent of our GDP on health care, 10 percentage points more. That gap, that 10 percent cost, compare that with the size of our military -- our military which is 4 percent, 4 percent. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of GDP. We have to find ways -- not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to fund and manage our health care costs.
As TPM points out, the "way" Israel just happened to "find" to provide health care to more people and manage costs was the exactly predictable one that is the only one that ever works, and it always does: to adopt a government run healthcare system in which people are forced by mandate to buy insurance from highly regulated, price-controlled, competing not-for-profit plans, providing access to healthcare almost entirely in government-run facilities, all supported by progressive taxes. The system was installed in 1995 and modeled on successful European healthcare systems that Romney and other Republicans idiotically revile as tyrannical power-grabs by jackbooted thugs who are eager to form death panels to kill grandma. While this comment by Romney should certainly make Republicans even more nervous about the firmness of the convictions of their awful candidate, I don't think Democrats can take heart from this apparent momentary genuflection in the direction of obvious truths that defy Republican articles of faith, since it just demonstrates yet again that Romney has no core convictions at all, that Romney says whatever he thinks people with money or power right in front of him might want him to say from moment to moment, that Romney is a creature bending his will to the forces around him and one who has surrounded himself in this campaign with some of the most militaristic, plutocratic, patriarchal wingnuts in America.

Romney should lose in a landslide. If he doesn't, you should worry. If you don't help bring it about, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Let's Hear It For the Rainbow Tour! Racist Romney Blames the Victim

There are at least two things seriously wrong with Robot Romney's observation of the difference between the quality of life in Israel as compared with the quality of life of Palestinians under conditions of occupation comparable to Apartheid:
As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.
The first thing seriously wrong with Romney's observation is that he radically soft-pedaled the devastating difference even as he was presumably drawing our attention to it: As the Associated Press pointed out, Israel’s GDP per capita was $31,000 in 2011 while the Palestinians’ per capita GDP was actually just $1,500. No doubt calling attention to the obviousness of the injustice and the extent of its toll on human lives would "send the wrong message"?

What he apparently thinks the "right message" is brings us to the second thing seriously wrong with Romney's observation, his view that the Palestinians are not suffering under the wretched and stultifying conditions of generational military occupation and authoritarian humiliation, but because their culture is "inferior" and because God is on the side of the occupiers!
[I]f you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and… I recognize the hand of providence in selecting this place.
These flabbergastingly ignorant as well as profoundly undiplomatic comments, coming on the heels of a string of disastrous mis-steps in London, have made the Republican candidate for President (and, face it, America), still more enemies before even managing to trip accidentally over the front stoop and into the White House, whereupon we can only imagine the hits will keep coming and the enemies keep compounding like interest in a secret Swiss bank account. Saeb Erekat, senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to Romney's outrageous remarks more or less as anyone would expect:
It is a racist statement and this man doesn't realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation… It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people… He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.
Elect Romney and the Killer Clowns gathered around him and we return immediately to the profound danger and endless embarrassment of warmongering bigoted ignoramuses with the planet's most powerful arsenal at their disposal itching to get back to barking and bullying. You know, it actually matters that the world is nothing like the cartoon in heads of the Republican base voters mis-educated by patriarchal evangelical preachers, market fundamentalist apologists for plutocracy, and the hysterical hate speech of right wing talk radio and Fox News. Pandering to such views means pretending, and maybe even actually believing, that diplomacy doesn't work, that macroeconomics was never formulated, that public utilities are no different from private commodities, that evolution isn't sound, that climate science isn't real, that abstinence exhortation works, that guns solve every problem, that women are baby factories, that difference means either inferiority or threat, and so on. The thing is, none of that is true, none of that makes sense, none of that is remotely sane.

Romney should lose in a landslide. If he doesn't, you should worry. If you don't help bring it about, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Flotus Floats Fiercely

Another Olympic moment among so many others, quickly forgotten and yet suffusing warmly out into the world to do who knows what good in the long run... Whatever else you might want to say about their accomplishments, policies, strategies, and crimes, how the Obamas have elevated occupancy in the White House just as a couple of warm, smart, dignified American people! Although the horrifying policies advocated by Romney and the Killer Clowns who have gathered around him should lose him the election in a landslide, I fear that it is just the awkward inauthentic insulated unlikeability of the robotic Romney which may be the ultimate reason he loses the election when all is said and done. Meanwhile the Obamas are respected and even loved by people of integrity as people, whatever their politics, around the world. It is important to remember the difference that makes.

Grading Papers Tends To Bring Out My Darker Side

Just saying.

Climate Facts Are Both Stubborn and Stupid Things

A scrupulous study leads one prominent climate change skeptic completely to reverse his stance. No doubt in the year it took to change his mind thousands more have become virulent climate change denialists who were not before and thousands of others have embraced a complacency on the question that yields the effect of denialism without requiring the assumption of an explicit position on the question at all.

By turning the climate debate from an adjudicable dispute about facts to a way of aggressively signaling a defensive subcultural identity on yet another culture war front, Republicans have rendered yet another policy dispute fatally dysfunctional politically. In so doing, they have won it without actually having to win it at all.

From a debate about a literal, and literally shared, threat of environmental destruction on which we must struggle to a consensus to be equal to its challenge, Republicans have displaced the debate onto a psychic and symbolic terrain, yet another contest over the fragile and threatened reactionary ego in a time of demographic diversification and socioeconomic distress. Of course, that socioeconomic distress is itself mostly the consequence of plutocratic Republican policies, implemented with the support of majorities against their own best interest by means of the prior displacement of the politics of shared class interests into a divisive and disavowed politics of racial animus of gendered anxiety -- so the Republicans know this is a game they can win on these terms (so long as we pay no attention to the fact that everybody loses when you destroy the world on which you depend not only for flourishing but even survival).

Meanwhile, ever more and more of the indulgent and ignorant and even some well-meaning and concerned folks, are hypnotized into a kind of consumerist gizmo-fetishizing haze that distracts the majorities indispensable to educated organized democratic change in the direction of sustainability away from the palpable facts of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change even as this distraction also functionally exacerbates the very catastrophe it hides away.

And now even many committed environmentalist intellectuals, in fact more and more with every passing day, are buying into a "geo-engineering" rhetoric in which the worst corporate military actors in our climate catastrophe are peddled as though they are our only saviors from the catastrophe they wrought, saviors who will save us by deploying the very brute-force mega-industrial earth-alienated for profit boondoggles through and for which they caused and maintained and refused to stop the catastrophe in the first place, all peddled with rosy computer renderings of science fiction fantasies of a war against the earth for the earth that is nothing but a crazily amplified variation of the same marketing and PR discourse that hypnotizes the rest of the consumers sleepwalking into apocalypse while tossing their toxic slave-made gizmo-of-the-month into landfill as the planet howls unheeded in Greenhouse storms... but all promulgated oh so confidently by people who think they are better than that and are not and by people who should indeed know better but, apparently, do not.

America Is A Failing State But A Conspicuous Romney Failure Could Provide A Course Correction

Romney's bellicosity and promises of still more tax cuts for the richest of the rich are inviting yet another ballooning of the deficit, providing another pretext for the inevitable GOP calls for the dismantlement (privatization, voucherization, couponization) of social security, medicare, public education, veterans benefits, infrastructure in the midst of more pointless wars and amplifying Greenhouse storms.

Pointing out these outcomes doesn't require a crystal ball: Romney has endorsed the Ryan budget. He has made his irresponsible threats toward Iran and filled his foreign policy team with the dot-eyed neocon war-mongers like John Bolton who took us to war before and shake their fists demanding more war still. He has promised to deregulate the fraudsters and cut taxes on the super-rich like him who he calls "job creators" as though people who work for a living don't create jobs. He is now claiming nobody knows if climate change is happening and he is part of the drill baby drill crowd who want to go down in a howling orgy of planetary gorging. He wants to end Roe v Wade and close down Planned Parenthood and put queers back in their place (that is, back in the closet).

I honestly don't think Romney is going to be elected in November, although I am no longer sure his loss and Obama's win will provide the coattails to keep the Senate and regain the House for Democrats and therefore give Obama the agency to implement any kind of agenda. If the Republicans remain completely obstructionist, though, it is hard to see how we are going to ever clean up the mess a generation of Movement Republicanism culminating in the Killer Clown administration left us with, let alone how we can move forward into a more sustainable, equitable, diverse world. And at this point, racist yahoos in flyover states with crappy educations and Fox on the tee vee and futurological fantasies filling their heads could deliver Romney or any Republican something like an automatic 40% of the electorate even if he wore a KKK hood or propounded Leviticus from the stump.

Because of the Republicans America is a failed state, but because we have the greatest arsenal in the world and the richest resources in the world to insulate us from many of the actual consequences of our errors and our crimes, not to mention sensible liberals and progressives saying reasonable and warm things on the tee vee in between all the plutocratic and death-dealing neofeudal know-nothing bullying and bigotry it is perfectly possible for most of us to fool ourselves most of the time that we are not only not a failed state, or at any rate a failing one, but, quite to the contrary, the greatest nation on earth and the hope of the world.

Actually, America could well be a beacon of hope for a more sustainable equitable peaceful diverse world if it got its act together, but we haven't and we aren't and I think it's looking like we won't. Given the hard lessons of the Killer Clowns of the Bush Administration and given Romney's stated positions on issues an American electorate even marginally capable of understanding its situation enough to change it in time should deliver him the kind of loss that Goldwater suffered -- a matching debacle to provide the bookends to the Movement Republican epoch that tried to destroy the New Deal and the New Frontier and the Great Society and even in failing nearly managed to destroy the country and the planet with it. But I don't think Romney will lose in a landslide, I don't think Democrats will manage to regain the House (though I still expect and hope they will slim the Republican majority by a dozen, enough to make the chamber a wee bit less crazytown at any rate), and I am not at all sure Democrats can manage to keep the Senate and if they do it will be by the skin of their teeth and in ways that make the most powerful Senators the most conservative ones who will only vote with their own party instead of the GOP if every actually progressive element of legislation is watered down to near meaninglessness.

Given Supreme Court nominations, given the necessity to allow vulnerable advances for queers to gain a firmer foothold and to hold the line against the last-ditch misogynist tide against women's healthcare, given the power of the executive to imbed the implementation of healthcare and financial regulations more deeply in the social fabric, given the comparative greater sense of Obama toward Iran and toward soft power and multilateral diplomacy (a point conspicuously undermined by Obama's recourse to drones and assassinations and military tribunals and civil rights abuses as commander in chief and his full embrace and elaboration of the Unitary Executive, but in every case Romney can be expected to be worse, actually taking back on board the architects of these policies while actively disdaining diplomacy and multilateralism as "apologizing" and "weakness"), given the bully pulpit and White House initiatives to set the scene for better midterms this time around, given all this there are still more than enough reasons for even people who are far to the left of President Obama to support him vigorously in the hundred days between now and the election, not only to vote for him, but to hector friends and family into voting for the President again, supporting him with ad money to combat the corporate cash Niagara going to Romney from greedheads smacking their lips in anticipation of the great payback, supporting him with phone banking and door knocking and voter registration drives (especially in the face of evil Republican efforts at unprecedented voter disenfranchisement) and anything else you can.

Romney is just terrible and the Republicans are terrible and profoundly dangerous and they must be soundly defeated if they are to ever change course and become something like sane partners, however conservative, in the work of governing the country and solving our shared problems. The fact that idiot Americans fell for Republican death panel and where is the birth certificate and where are the jobs bullshit in the mid-terms ushering in two years of historically unprecedented dysfunction and a bazillion anti-abortion laws but no jobs and no solutions actually gave the worst most stupid most ugly forces in this country a new lease on life that should have been shattered by the catastrophe of the Bush years and the Obama repudiation.

A second Obama term provides another occasion for the kind of repudiation that could end Movement Republicanism and facilitate a deeper course correction in the midst of secularizing and diversifying demographic trends and weird weather driving home the lessons of catastrophic climate change. A burgeoning of still more radical politics like that represented by Occupy to the left of Obama and most Democrats can be a motor driving that course correction, but only so long as Occupy doesn't become a reason not to vote for Democrats between demonstrations and hence facilitate Republican victories which will create conditions under which Occupy will itself wither and die.

Democrats in control of all the branches of government, Republicans remaking themselves in the image of a saner conservatism in the face of complete marginalization, and a thriving polycultural democratic left to the left of party politics driving the culture and the politicians forward are all necessary to provide America the course correction from failed state to planetary partner in the work to heal and democratize the world. A devastating Romney loss can be an important piece of the puzzle, panel in the quilt, skirmish in the long struggle to bring us closer to where we need to be. There is no reason in the world for Romney not to lose in a landslide.

If he doesn't, you should worry. And if you don't help bring it about, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Elizabeth Warren: "Why Aren't We Rebuilding America?"

Everybody reading this blog knows the answer, but it is still worthwhile saying it: We are not rebuilding America at a time when interest rates to pay for such rebuilding are at historical lows and unemployment among those who would undertake this rebuilding are at historical highs because the Republican Party would rather stand in the way of their own country's recovery than allow Democrats and our President to accomplish anything for which they would be given well deserved credit and respect and gratitude, perhaps also because they would rather cling to their macroeconomic illiteracy in the service of plutocrats, perhaps also because they would rather cling to their climate change denialism as the world on which they themselves depend to flourish and even survive erupts in catastrophes of global weirding than face their costly responsibilities, perhaps also because their cramped version of religious faith commits them to patriarchal domination of the women and hostility to queer folks who share their lives and lots, perhaps also because they are caught up in a terrified defensive belligerence in the face of a complex and uncertain world that makes them fantasize about streets filled with gunfire and jails full of inmates and history full of wars in which they are stronger than they are or surer than they are or safer than they are, perhaps also because they simply hate the consummately competent and accomplished and charming Black man in the White House right now because they are racists, whether they are willing to admit that to anybody else or even themselves, but whatever the variation in play, we are mostly not rebuilding America because of the ignorance and meanness and awfulness of Republicans, the single most dangerous organized force on the planet today, Republicans with whom we have been committed to share this nation of ours and over whom we must prevail if we -- and they, too -- are to keep this nation and live this life in this broken world for long.


Grading papers for both of my summer intensives this weekend. Very weedy.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Romney Banking On Big Banks, Big Banks Banking on Romney

Today's Random Wilde

Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel certain that they mean something else.


Long day ahead, teaching from eight to eight, Foucault in the morning, Fanon, Butler, and Spivak in the evening, ain't we got fun. Feeling utterly exhausted this summer, with just two weeks to go. A strange thick fog fills the streets, pressing the sky into the ground, squashing everything flat.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Team Romney Still Dreaming Their Crazy Cold War Dreams

A foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign warned against policies that would aid “the Soviet Union” Wednesday, making him at least the third person from Team Romney -- including Romney himself -- to refer to a country that hasn’t existed since 1991 in the course of attacking President Obama’s foreign policy.

David Brin's Novel Existence, Reviewed by James Fehlinger

Everybody, please welcome James Fehlinger to the guest mic. He e-mailed me with some off-the-cuff impressions of Brin's latest, which seemed to me to warrant a post all on their own. I devoted a whole chapter of my dissertation to debunking Brin's notion of transparency (begin here, if you're curious) which he is still flogging, and I debunk the eugenic neo-imperialism of his "uplifting" notion several places (among them here and here), and I definitely react in much the same way Jim does to the phony transhumanoid celebration of phony diversity (rights for non-existing AIs, love for non-existing uploads, respect for non-existing uplifted chimeras, rights for suffering troops in the non-existing designer baby clone army) always coupled to indifference to the actual suffering and actual exploitation of the actually existing diversity of stakeholders with whom they actually share the actual planet in this actual moment, too. But as for Brin's SF, I've usually found it mildly entertaining if a bit facile. While all the blue skying doesn't pass muster as serious policy discourse contra futurological flim-flam artists, it yields blandly evocative page turners. On the strength of that sense, I'd purchased the novel Jim's reviewing here already, but I haven't yet read it and I must admit it's going down even lower in the to-read pile as of now! d

I recently finished his latest novel, Existence, which has really managed to put me off Brin, possibly for good.

For one thing, it's a Valentine to the contemporary >Hist, Singularitarian, Extropian bunch (Robin Hanson!) which is annoying enough in itself. It's got lots of what you call "disasterbating" (hence the title) and an explicit homage to Nick Bostrom. (There's global warming, but come ON people -- that's not a serious problem! No, the SERIOUS problem isn't even AIs, it's viral ETs wandering the galaxy.)

So, OK, we get AIs in a few decades, only nobody quite realizes they're AIs. (They're like Siri in the iPhone except, you know, they really work.)

We get an accidentally-uploaded pet rat, which might take over the whole "Mesh", but then it doesn't (or maybe it does, like the unleashed Wintermute/Neuromancer hybrid AI in Gibson, or like Mr. Rabbit in Vinge's Rainbows End. D*e*r*i*v*a*t*i*v*e!)

Then we get extraterrestrials, who have figured out how to do uploads really really well, so that takes care of any niggling technical details about that.

Then -- skip ahead a few decades (the jerkiness of the novel is a technical annoyance -- it's clearly been patched together out of sections, possibly completely independent in origin, and it shows rather painfully), and we've got really and truly and unequivocally artificially intelligent AIs, some of them being "raised" like human children in humanoid cyborg bodies.

And there's other Brinish stuff -- uplifted dolphins and chimps. Recreated Homo Neanderthalensis. And (this seems to be a common trope these days -- was it Egan who introduced it in '96 with Distress?) autistic folks who've banded together and realized they're a distinct species with powerful savant capabilities (seeing patterns in what's going on by recognizing conspicuous absences, not just presences, in public discourse -- "searching for cobblies" as they put it).

OK, fine, so it's all about cheering for the folks (rich and poor! But mostly rich) who are willing to embrace diversity and work together (hooray for Robert Wright's Nonzero "one of the most important books of the last century" and Steven Pinker's recent The Better Angels of our Nature).

As a novel, this makes it all annoyingly didactic and breathless and earnestly, self-consciously uplift-ing (to coin a phrase). (Like, Brin's doing his part to save the world by introducing his novel into the meme-stew at just the right moment. Yeah.)

Mega-cheers for diversity! We've got so many species now -- neurotypical humans and auties and Neanderthals and uplifted dolphins and uploaded aliens who've been reincarnated in flesh or cyborg bodies and AIs both great and small.

And then Brin has to go and spoil his hymn to diversity with a token reference that exploded in my brain in hindsight, after I'd finished the whole book.

The novel is relentlessly heterosexual -- everybody is horny, and we've got virtual-reality glasses that'll not only pin name tags and biographical synopses on everybody in sight (again, basically ripped off from Vinge's Rainbows End) but will also give you a chick's bra size if you stare "with interest" at her you-know-whats. (One would assume this would work with guys' packages as well, but Brin doesn't go there.) There's even an erotic dream sequence in which a human woman (with a mostly-cyborg body as a result of an explosion in which she managed to save hundreds of people from a terrorist attack -- all the characters are like that; they're just, well, extropian dontcha know. No mopey Debbie Downers here! Even the one professional Debbie Downer character is really only doing it because he's really good at it -- and for the money and recognition, of course) -- anyway, an erotic dream dreamed by a human woman about her "adolescent" AI partner (in the dream, inhabiting an optimized male body with all the "good parts" enhanced, of course). There's a hint that the AI guy (AIs are gendered? Who'd a thunk it?) may feel the same way about her. No clue as to whether AIs get boners, though.

Anyway, in the midst of all this cheering for diversity, and California wet-dreaming, there's a tossed-off comment somewhere in the middle of the book, offered (as a thought balloon I guess -- I can't remember) by the astronaut who discovers the first-known artifact containing uploaded ETs, in response to being flirted at by a winsome babe, that it's too bad that "this old queer" is too old and, well, too queer for that sort of thing. Or words to that effect! And that's our scrap for the LGBTQ readership. Nothing else is made of it -- it's almost jarringly out of context. The guy doesn't have a male partner. No other poofters, or lesbians, anywhere to be seen. Fraternizing between humans and AIs? Bring it on! Poofters? Well -- can't lose that critical 12-year-old male audience for, uh, "serious" SF now, can we?

Jesus H. Fucking Christ! Give me a break!

Even Arthur C. Clarke did better than that back in the 70s in Imperial Earth. There was actually an acknowledgement that two guys went to bed with each other (though only one of them -- and not the more spectacular specimen -- was queer; the other one only indulged his friend because they were friends and because he himself was going through a major heterosexual heartbreak).

I enjoyed Startide Rising way back when -- the first Brin novel I ever read. I thought the Uplift universe was a cute idea, and I liked the baddies in it, the Tandu and the Soro and so on. The later Uplift novels -- not so much.

But this piece of leftover meatloaf?

"The Problem" Addressed By Voter ID Laws Is That Republicans Can't Win Elections Without Cheating

The Justice Department is investigating Pennsylvania’s voter ID law at the federal level, meanwhile a state trial begins today, with the ACLU and a coalition of other civil rights groups challenging the constitutionality of the voter ID law.

The state has already provided a stipulation agreement admitting there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.” Further, the agreement states that Pennsylvania has no plans to “offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere” or even to argue “that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.”

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, "More than 758,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania do not have photo identification cards from the state Transportation Department, putting their voting rights at risk in the November election, according to data released Tuesday by state election officials… representing 9.2 percent of the state's 8.2 million voters."

Just to summarize, that means that Pennsylvania Republicans are proposing "voter ID fraud legislation" which addresses no actually existing fraud and which even those who passed the legislation admit solves no real problem but which will result in the potential disenfranchisement of well over half a million of their own citizens, which in a democracy would be widely regarded, naturally enough, as the creation of a glaring problem.

Of course, one key Pennsylvania Republican, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), already proudly declared in public that “We are focused on making sure that we meet our obligations that we’ve talked about for years… Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation -- abortion facility regulations -- in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” drawing thunderous applause from his GOP audience. In so saying, Republicans revealed what everybody already knows, that the real "problem" with elections in their state is that Romney and other Republicans won't win unless they cheat.

As of this writing, the latest Public Policy Polling has Obama ahead of Romney in Pennsylvania by six points, 49-43, but it is unclear how many of those citizens expressing their preference for the President would discover to their astonishment that they have been freshly disenfranchised by Republican dirty tricks.

The only argument that the Pennsylvania Republicans are making to justify their Voter ID law has the slightest whiff of legitimacy as far as I can tell, is their insistence that it was introduced to strengthen confidence in the integrity of the vote. Needless to say, true though that may be, as it far as that goes, a more direct way to achieve this result would be for Republicans simply to stop lying so relentlessly about voter fraud problems that don't exist, which is the only reason anybody's confidence in the integrity of the vote was ever undermined in the first place.

The State's case is so weak I actually expect it to fail on the merits. But when it comes to crazytown Republicans who can ever know what might happen?

"Romney Sure Knows How to Go for the Gold... For Himself!"

Romney Advisor: Perhaps You Haven't Noticed That The President Is… Black?

UK Telegraph
As the Republican presidential challenger accused Barack Obama of appeasing America's enemies in his first foreign policy speech of the US general election campaign, advisers told The Daily Telegraph that he would abandon Mr Obama’s “Left-wing” coolness towards London… one suggested that Mr Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr. Obama, whose father was from Africa. “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”
Of course, the UK, like the US, is in fact a secular and richly multiracial multiethnic multiculture. Nice to see that Mr. Romney's Rainbow Tour is beginning so well.

Monday, July 23, 2012

To Whom Would They Send The Check?

Quite apart from the typical futurological megalomania, I'm always a little perplexed by the very idea of someone "playing god" since any actually observable performance would by definition be a hopelessly bad one.

Well, I'll grant that Keanu Reeves came close to managing the trick of playing not existing in a few movies.

Exxon-Mobil's "Geo-Engineering" Discourse Is Just More Futurological Greenwashing

Also posted at the World Future Society.

A speech made by ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson at the Council on Foreign Relations last month has been attracting greater and greater attention as its implications sink in.

Tillerson has supposedly "pivoted" from his predecessor Lee Raymond's relentless climate change denialism, and has acknowledged that global temperatures are rising. "Clearly there is going to be an impact," Tillerson admitted. But he remains as committed as ever to undermining any acknowledgment that might support a policy consensus that would cut into his corporation's profitability, insisting that climate models cannot predict the actual magnitude of the impact.

Tillerson glibly proposed that in order to preserve the record profits of his industry, humanity might have to "adapt" to rising sea levels and shifts in agriculture. Just to be clear, what "adapting to rising sea levels" means is the dislocation of millions and millions of humans living on coasts and what "adapting to shifts in agriculture" means is the starvation of millions and millions of humans in droughts and famines and widening vectors of insect attack. "We have spent our entire existence adapting. We'll adapt," Tillerson said.

Needless to say, just because human beings have adapted to crises before does not in fact ensure that they can adapt to any situation, and certainly the historical record is full of examples of civilizations that have not survived environmental shifts, plagues, famines, or the social disruption exacerbated by environmental stress.

But more to the point there is that chilling pronoun, "we." Who is included in Rex Tillerson's imagined "we," exactly? Just how many human "theys" can perish in plagues and in famines and in climate refugee camps and in hails of bullets brought on by climate disruption in order to maintain Rex Tillerson's historically unprecedented profit-taking before the bubble of privilege within which resides the population of his personal "we" might begin to feel the least pressure? In time to realize it is too late for us all?

Of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, to the extent that he is admitting its existence in public at all, Tillerson said: "It's an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution." I have written extensively about so-called "geo-engineering" discourse, which I would describe as an apparently environmentalist discourse in which corporate-military organizations are imagined to declare and wage war on climate change on an industrial scale. Such discourses are only "apparently" environmentalist because they actually function to misdirect our attention away from environmentalist education and activism and regulation as these play out in the real world. They try to recast shared environmental problems as opportunities for elite incumbent profit-taking in the very modes that are yielding the ongoing crisis. And they proceed from a curiously alienated vantage on the earth itself, in which environmentalism becomes a kind of science fictional narrative in which humans are like aliens arriving on a distant planet and setting about "terraforming" it to suit their needs, rather than simply recognizing that we are earthlings evolved to flourish on a planet we have wounded, possibly fatally, through ignorance, aggression, and short sighted greed.

Does it really make sense to fantasize that the very agents most responsible for environmental catastrophe are finally the only ones suited to resolve it by attacking the ongoing outcomes of that catastrophe in the very mode of competitive profit-taking mega-scale brute-force extractive-industrial agency through which environmental catastrophe has been wrought? Well, does it?

Chris Mooney for one has taken issue with my characterization of "geo-engineering" discourse as a second order climate change denialism, one which is aimed not at a denial of the consensus of the relevant scientists that this phenomenon is occurring and that its consequences are catastrophic, but aimed instead at a denial that accountable democratic governance can be equal to the collective challenges of climate change which substantially yields the same result as the first, more conventional, denialism.

It is very difficult for me to understand how those who would declare themselves forced into advocacy of "geo-engineering" as a Last Resort or a Plan B because of the failures of environmental regulation and renewable alternative infrastructure investment, for example, supposed imagine the mega-engineering projects they daydream about like science fiction fanboys in digital renderings on YouTube or before rapt techno-fetishists at TED would actually be funded, regulated, and maintained if not by conventional funding and regulatory agencies, or just how such "hard-boiled realists" square their confidence that conventional investment and governance will prevail over "geo-engineering" with their despair over such governance ever being able to rise to the challenge of our shared environmental problems.

Tillerson insists that his industry "is built on technology, it's built on science, it's built on engineering" -- rather than on relentless greed and an opportunism that has demonstrated itself willing to despoil any environment, disrupt any community, dismiss any value that stands in the way of the brutal extraction of condensed banked energy through which the suicidal fraud of the petrochemical bubble he would no doubt describe in self-congratulatory cadences as "modern industrial civilization" remains hysterically inflated.

It should be needless to say that there is no such thing as "technology in general" or "science in general" for Tillerson's industry to be a special exemplar of, and in fact his personal position and privilege absolutely requires of him the selective application of some science together with the selective denial of other science (climate sciences that warn of the perilous consequences of his activities), the selective application of some technologies together with the selection repudiation of other technologies (renewable energy infrastructure at a scale that might threaten the profitability of his activities).

But by deploying "science" and "technology" as muzzy futurological abstractions he can elide all the relevant details on the basis of which public deliberation on the diverse stakeholder costs, risks, and benefits of his activities as against available alternatives might proceed in a reasonable and responsible way, the better to assume the mantle of The Great White Father bemoaning "a society that by and large is illiterate in… science, math and engineering, [for whom] what we do is a mystery to them and they find it scary" -- as if the reckless and border line sociopathic things he is saying aren't scary enough on their own! -- "an illiterate public" he adds, that must be "help[ed… to] understand why we can manage [environmental] risks."

Of course, the technoscientific illiteracy Tillerson speaks of is quite real: And he is counting on it to continue to get his way and make his profits while the sun shines, laissez les bon temps rouler, après moi le deluge! Futurological daydreams of mega-engineering boondoggles actively contribute to this ignorance and illiteracy, distracting people from our shared problems and their available solutions instead to space-opera cover art fantasias of orbiting mirror archipelagos, arctic cathedrals of steel piping icy water from the sea floor to the surface, fleets of airships spraying pseudo-volcanic aerosols into cloudbanks, and so on in an era when we cannot summon the will to bury our power lines so that they don't disrupt power delivery to millions every time it rains or snows or fill the potholes pimpling our highways let alone build obviously beneficial transcontinental high speed rail!

It is no surprise that Tillerson goes on to rail against "interested parties" -- he is the purely disinterested exemplar of pure science now, you will recall -- whose alarmism and activism "is going to… manufacture fear because that's how you slow this down." For such "interested parties" are precisely the ones seeking to educate the public about the shared problems at hand, about their incredible urgency, and about the changes in public policy, in personal conduct, in urban design that we must insist upon if we are to be equal to these shared problems. Since this education and the changes it would bring would undermine the status quo from which Tillerson personally benefits, he welcomes scientific illiteracy, he welcomes public confusion, he welcomes collective complacency.

Just so you know, the "this" that environmentalists would "slow down" with their fears is literally the ongoing unnecessary ruination of a human world just so that Rex Tillerson and his colleagues can continue to enjoy historically unprecedented profits for now. From denialism of the facts of climate change to distraction from politics into fantasies of profitable techno-fixes for the catastrophic outcomes testified to in those facts, Tillerson's speech was a full-throated declaration of a willingness and even eagerness to do harm for his parochial benefit, indifferent to the consequences to the mal-adaptive "they" that is very likely to include the entire "we" reading these words, right here, right now.

Stephen Sondheim: The Gun Song

One of the more spectacular effects unique to Sondheim's artistry is the nearly unbearable juxtaposition of deadly brutality and breathtaking beauty, as when in ACT II of "Sweeny Todd" the reprisal of Johanna is interspersed with some of the most lovely cheerful music, all accompanying grisly scenes of mass murder -- there is little to compare with the horrific sublimity of Sweeny's "oh, look, Johanna, a star!'" as the blade slices into a neck in a spray of blood and then the dripping steel gleams in a salute, "a shooting star!" It is an effect that recurs in Sondheim's "Assassins," in this song whose beauty and horror seems especially painful in the aftermath of a weekend of "prayer and reflection" refusing to take up the political problems of neglected mental distress and private arsenals in a nation of fellow sufferers.

It takes a lot of men to make a gun
Many men to make a gun

Men in the mines
To dig the iron
Men in the mills
To forge the steel

Men at machines
To turn the barrel
Mold the trigger
Shape the wheel

It takes a lot of men to make a gun
One gun

And all you have to do
Is move your little finger
Move your little finger and
You can change the world

Why should you be blue
When you've your little finger?
Prove how just a little finger
Can change the world
I hate this gun

What a wonder is a gun
What a versatile invention
First of all, when you've a gun
Everybody pays attention

When you think what must be done
Think of all that it can do
Remove a scoundrel
Unite a party

Preserve the Union
Promote the sales of my book
Insure my future
My niche in history

And then the world will see
That I am not a man to overlook
Ha, h

And all you have to do
Is squeeze your little finger
Ease your little finger back

You can change the world
Whatever else is true
You trust your little finger
Just a single little finger
Can change the world

I got this really great gun
Shit, where is it?
No, it's really great

Shit, where is it?
It's just a .38
But it's a gun
You can make a statement

With a gun
Even if you fail

It tells 'em who you are
Where you stand
This one was on sale
It, no, not the shoe
Well, actually the shoe was, too

No, that's not it
Shit, I had it here, got it
Yeah, there it is and all you have to do
Is crook your little finger
Hook your little finger 'round

Shit, I shot it
You can change the world

Simply follow through
And look, your little finger
Can slow them down
To a crawl
Show them all

Big and small
It took a little finger
No time
To change the world

A gun kills many men before it's done
Long before you shoot the gun

Men in the mines
And in the steel mills
Men at machines
Who died for what?

Something to buy
A watch, a shoe, a gun
A thing to make the bosses richer
But a gun claims many men before it's done

Just one more

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"X Changes Everything" + Elapsed Time = "Nothing Has Changed"

Sometimes it's good to keep your Futurological Translator handy when the hype gets rolling. Looks like we're in for another round of futurological fanwanking about "biohacking" right about now.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Upchuck Tawdry Compares Legitimate Questions About Romney's Business Practices to "Swiftboating"

Not that the distinction between telling truths and spreading lies would matter as much as the infinitely more vital distinction between who is "up" and who is "down" from moment to moment for whatever reason to the self-appointed Masters of the Universe to a glorified gossip columnist like Chuck Todd.

Romney has made his business success the centerpiece of his campaign and questioning that career and what counts as its "success" is obviously legitimate given the attention Romney himself is calling to it. And such questioning is especially inevitable given the ongoing financial distress to which many think firms like Romney's indispensably contributed. The Romney campaign should have been prepared for such attacks (inasmuch as they have dogged every single one of his campaigns, including the primary campaign only recently concluded), and should be eager to respond and make their own case given their eagerness to shine their own light on it.

Like Luke Russert, another smug dull-eyed schmoo, Chuck Todd lacks the talent, intelligence, or stage presence to deserve his spotlight. Kick him to the curb for Fox or some flyover news desk to lick up.

Woman Is Raped And Then Deprived of First Amendment Rights Because She Was Raped

Marching on to the Republic of Gilead:
While the perpetrators have yet to be sentenced for raping her, she’s facing up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine if convicted of violating the court order via Twitter. So, she names them and gets up to 180 days in jail; they rape her and show pictures of it to their friends and get between most likely 1 year with probation tacked on but given this is juvenile court, they may not even go to jail… and sealed court records.

Gary Indiana: Bella Is Bella

Gary Indiana is one of the very greatest living American writers in my opinion, with the kind of relentless artistic seriousness and hilarity of William Burroughs and a little bit of Gore Vidal, too, in an America that even they outlived and which has left Indiana hanging out to dry. Not that he's not doing all right or anything, but he is better than his country is capable of responding to responsibly -- and so there is a little bit of Petronius going on there, churning out his endless Satyricon while slitting his wrists and rebinding them over and over and over again while the banquet heartlessly churns on. I've felt this way about his work for over twenty years now, he's turned out to be one of those bannisters that helped me climb the stairs, along with a few others I suppose I talk about more often, like Arendt. His Horse Crazy remains one of the very best novels of unrequited but still quite love ever written and Resentment is one of the most ambitious and actually successful novels of the nineties. I also have a soft spot for the later novel Do Everything In the Dark -- which is a 9/11 novel rather in the way Horse Crazy was an AIDS novel, that is to say, the way faint gray probably sulphur smelling clouds testify to a fireworks show as they dissipate -- and for the earlier short stories to which it harkens back (and occasionally incorporates). And there are tight mean collections of journalistic and cultural observations that are politically congenial and exhibit unerring good literary and artistic taste and have more than the usual measure of pyrotechnical wit, too. I've taught quite a few of his works to Berkeley undergrads in the Rhetoric Department in between the critical theorists and I'd like to think this would amuse the ghost of the UC alumnus I think he was, even if I doubt it would mean much to who I think he has become now. I hope this rather scattered book store reading means a new anthology of short stories is soon to arrive -- my Scar Tissue and White Trash Boulevard are crumbling and it would be nice to have gathered up some of his other stories in one place, "The Whole Works," "Reproduction," and so on, not to mention read some new stuff.

Today's Random Wilde

Those who see any difference between soul and body have neither.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

2012 D'oh!ympics

I know I'm far from the first to have noticed this, but...

Using Queer Strategies to Overcome the Violence and Misinformation of the Anti-Abortion Zealots

I have often argued before that movements for women's healthcare and women's choice should draw lesson from the successes of lgbtq politics and model strategies from those politics.

As an example of what I mean, I believe that women who have had abortions should "come out" to overcome stereotypes and the terrorizing misinformation of anti-abortion zealots, to help inform their neighbors and peers about the alternatives that are available to them. And, like coming out as a queer, I understand just how painful and humiliating such scenes of disclosure can be, how heroic, if unsung, the effort will often actually be, how risky it can be to the terms on which one is living one's everyday life in especially those socially conservative spaces where the impact of such personal stories can do the most good.

I believe that television shows like "Will and Grace" and "Ellen" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (a short lived and easily forgotten show appearing at a crucial moment in which the bodies of straight guys were actually touched and assessed by gay guys in ways that crucially modeled and normalized a non-threatened masculinity that invited the queer eye as a sign of its masculinity rather than needing to respond to this eye and touch with violence) contributed to the rapid emergence of a space accommodating many hitherto abjectifying queer lifeways -- to be sure in a blandly commodified mode far from capacious enough to support and respond to the range of actually existing and actually possible queer lifeways in the world, but one on which so many recent institutional success depended on, and from which nearly all queerfolks take some measure of benefit, and within the terms of which the still urgently necessary multicultural work of recognition and support can continue on with gathered strength. Just so, I also believe that millions of women and girls would benefit if the many abstract allies of choice and women's healthcare in the entertainment industry would make a point to multiply narratives that inform people about family planning and their reproductive healthcare choices, that help overcome the shaming and deceptive religious conservative narratives proliferating in the emptiness of our silence and from the apparent sanction of our discomfort, that multiply the normalizing and sympathetic portrayals of women who benefit from safe and routine abortions and provide human faces for those everyday heroes who are providing these vital health care services in the face of unreasoning hostility and relentless violence and patriarchal propaganda.

I believe that the absurdity of so many anti-abortionist assumptions and aspirations should be exposed with ridicule, parody, and satire, instead of the pre-emptive surrender and timorous so-called bridge building with fulminating fundamentalists and patriarchal pricks that has presided over a generational eclipse of choice and healthcare decline and sexist demonization of women and girls -- and I believe that the hyperbolic satire and ferocious irony of queer discourse and street theater and AIDS and other queer activism provides an incomparably rich archive of substantial theatricality and subversive parody from which choice activism and women's healthcare advocacy can draw. Hell, I would hope it is needless to say this, so much of this archive draws from the work and lives and imaginations of queer women and riot grrrls and feminists indispensably, always, everywhere, already!

And, yes, I also believe in "outing" those political and public figures who are struggling to diminish women's access to healthcare while benefiting from the actual or possible resource to it themselves, or for their wives and daughters, from a position of comparative wealth, privilege, authority, and secrecy. No doubt such "outing" would be as genuinely controversial as queer outing also was, but also no doubt it would provide the extreme countervailing force against the background of which the "moderate" position would become one in which abortion was absolutely legal, always safe, universally accessible, widely understood, perfectly non shameful, and a matter for women to discuss with family and doctor on terms she determines for herself. Until that sensible status quo prevails, however, the personal here, as elsewhere, must be actively politicized.

Anyway, the specific occasion for this repetition of familiar arguments of mine is that I just learned of the website, which seems to me to be taking up the queer strategy of "coming out," just as a recent rash of satirical amendments that women representatives have been forcing mostly old straight men to debate as they go on to pass their pet anti-abortion laws at the level of State legislatures seems to me to be taking up queer strategies of ridicule and satire to expose the reactionary nonsense of the anti-abortion movement. From This Is My Abortion:
Recently, I had an abortion. Lining the street in front of the clinic were a dozen or so protesters. They held up large banners with anti-abortion slogans, religious iconography, and images of dead babies. Just past the bulletproof security doors, the graphic nature of that imagery haunted me in the waiting room. What would my abortion look like? I decided to secretly document my abortion with my cell phone. My intention in documenting and sharing my abortion is to demystify the sensationalist images propagated by the religious and political right on this matter. The use of lifeless fetus photographs are a propaganda tool in the anti-choice/pro-choice debate in which women and their bodies are used as pawns to push a cultural, political, and religious agenda in the United States. At 6 weeks of pregnancy, my abortion looked very different than the images I saw when I entered the clinic that day. This is my abortion… This is my experience. I am not a medical expert. I encourage everyone to educate themselves on abortion with as much diverse information as is accessible. Through education, you can make an informed decision about what is best for your body.
Follow the link for more images and information.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Gun Violence Is A Problem, But Gun Nuts Have Succeeded In Making Talking About The Problem A Problem

That's a problem.

List of Mass Shootings in the United States Since 2005

Provided by the Brady Campaign. As you may already have heard by now, it's over sixty pages long. As George W. Bush would say, "uniquely American."

"Prayer and Reflection" = Not Talking About Gun Control When We Obviously Should

"There are going to be other days for politics. This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection." -- President Obama
This sanctimonious gesture of "setting aside politics for a day" is itself, of course, absolutely political, and, more to the point, it both reflects and re-inscribes quite directly and insistently the dysfunctional and reactionary gun politics of the U.S.A. One day a President will treat a day like this as an occasion to talk honestly to the American people about common sense gun regulation and do something about avoidable gun violence in this country, and one has to wonder how many people will die who otherwise would not because this was not that day.

Needless to say, Romney's use of this tragedy as an occasion to try to convince American voters that a robot can feel human sadness was just as useless as Obama's, in more ways than one.

A Cyborg Is A Cyborg Is A Cyborg

A gunman with a semi-automatic assault rifle with an infrared gun sight and armor-piercing bullets on his way to a massacre is no less a cyborg than Steve Mann wearing his prosthetic Eye-Glass. My point is obviously not to suggest a connection between the two, but precisely to emphasize that political analysis or identity playing out at the level of "the cyborg" is incapable of attention to differences that make a difference.

Gun Dumb Numb

Every elected Democrat and progressive policymaker who believes in common sense gun regulation -- including bans on assault rifles like the one used by a gunman hours ago in a Colorado cinema to kill at least a dozen people and wound dozens more -- but has given up work on or even discussion of the issue for fear of the Republicans and the NRA is exactly as much a part of the problem as the Republicans and the NRA themselves are. Of all the many paranoid conspiracy theories about President Obama, I fear the one in which they declare the President will make it harder for people to buy and keep surreal private arsenals in a second term is quite as far-fetched as all the others. Those who think American climate change denialists might stop their relentless obstruction of environmental regulation and renewable infrastructure as greenhouse storms begin literally to destroy the world before their eyes, should contemplate with extreme care the way gun nuts grow more strident in their insistence on the elimination of ever more barriers to the purchase of ever more destructive arms in response to massacre after massacre after massacre after massacre.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Today's Random Wilde

At twilight nature becomes a wonderfully suggestive effect, and is not without loveliness, though perhaps its chief use is to illustrate quotations from the poets.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Robot Cultist Goes Full Wingnut Over Steve Mann Assault

One of the Very Serious Futurologists over at the stealth Robot Cult outfit IEET, the Institute for Ethics (where the ethics are rarely really discussed) and Emerging Technologies (where the technologies are rarely really emerging) responds to the assault on performance artist and souveillance activist Steve Mann by demanding that France apologize -- yes, France -- and, just like that doofus I ridiculed yesterday over at Techcrunch, that a general boycott of McDonalds be called by, well, who knows, all the world's gizmo fetishists who think their consumer purchases make them a cyborg minority vulnerable to a "brand new" kind of hate crime, I suppose. A much larger constituency of idiots than I had anticipated, apparently, and it's not like my expectations are very high on this score. Scroll down the blog for my own comments on the assault and on all the absurd responses it has occasioned.

Lest you think I am lampooning this Robot Cultist in declaring him fully caught up in a paranoid fantasy of cyborg genocide, let me quote from his article (follow the link, I'm not shitting you):
As soon as I saw the headline my mind raced to a short film I came across recently entitled “No Robots.” Very reminiscent of the Nazi round up of Jews, it is a wonderful depiction of how easy it is to get swept along in the storm of fear and hatred. We should all be familiar with this quote: “First they came for the communists…"
Yeah, he quotes the whole thing. Given the history and ongoing reality of genocide, of hate-crimes, of bigotry the only thing more laugh out funny about this sort of futurological fantasy is how frankly disgusting and disrespectful it really is when it is exposed to any scrutiny at all. Sorry Robot Cultists, you're all going to die because you're mortal like all human beings are, not because there is a "deathist luddite" conspiracy out to get you, and chances are very good nobody is going to bash you because you were stupid enough by waste your money on some "bleeding edge" crap gizmo at the Apple Store.

Calling Bullshit on the World's First "Cyborg Hate Crime"

Surveying the cyberspatial sprawl and the twitterspew on day three of the conversation about performance artist and sousveillance activist Steve Mann's assault in a Paris McDonalds (and I'm not one of the wags who are saying he was asking for it for going to McDonalds in Paris), I can see that a huge number of white guys in blocky spectacles and various stages of male pattern baldness have come to the consensus that this assault is or could be or should be considered the world's first "cyborg hate crime."

I initially commented on the assault here, then I replied to early suggestions of this character here, and then ridiculed the further suggestion of a boycott of McDonalds by pre-post-humans following the logic of this suggestion here. As I have said before, this isn't even the first time Steve Mann himself has been assaulted by folks who were perplexed or provoked by his prostheses, so those who are hyperventilating about the "first cyborg hate crime" don't have a prosthetic leg to stand on when they say such things. But I don't think that is a particularly interesting thing to say either, and what distresses me is that this is an occasion to say much more interesting things instead if we want to make an effort, and it should matter presumably to people who are talking about Steve Mann and claiming to care about Steve Mann that Steve Mann's art and activism has been a decades long effort to provoke precisely a deeper engagement with the prostheticization through which identification and dis-identification and embodiment are experienced and expressed in the world as well as with our immersion in elite incumbent surveillance and data-profiling and marketing.

So, too, since so much of this blather about the world's first "Cyborg Hate Crime" is presumably premised on worry and rage about Mann's assault, surely the actual specificity of the circumstances involved would be something folks would want to know more about? You can be sure that the politics playing out in the scene of this assault were more specific than anything the phrase "cyborg hate crime" puts anybody even remotely in a position to talk about. What if it turns out that Mann's attackers misrecognized his prosthesis as a sign of disability and part of what was happening is that they were assholes who like the idea of attacking a vulnerability they discern in the differently enabled? What if it turns out that the attackers experienced their documentation as a violation calling forth retaliation, a reaction Mann has definitely provoked before and has sometimes provoked deliberately to make a point in the spirit of quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Part of what should be occurring right about now to even the meanest intelligence is that certainly before now, and often, all too often, somebody has had their cellphone snatched and smashed by someone in a McDonalds annoyed by its ringtone or by the snotty affect of its user, somebody has had their walking stick or walker or prosthetic limb or thick spectacles messed with by awful jerks who think it is amusing to prey on the apparently vulnerable differently enabled folks in their midst, somebody has been assaulted because they seemed to signal through sartorial choices or bodily bearing an atypical sex-gender performance or membership in an ethnic minority, and so on and on and on and on.

Suddenly one is in a position to grasp that what might initially and superficially have seemed a new phenomenon in the world -- a person being assaulted for their prosthetic performance of personhood in the polis -- is in fact just a slightly unfamiliar form of an actually ubiquitous phenomenon, the ineradicably prosthetic character of both practices of embodied identification and practices of dis-identification, including the ones that body forth bigotry and violence. It turns out that the initial appearance of unfamiliarity is precisely the opening that allows us to grasp anew and more deeply the character of normative practices in which we are all of us involved.

When I wonder about whether the geeks in a rage about the attack on Mann's Eye-Glass in a McDonalds grasp its continuity with and hence are comparably incensed about the recent attack on a transperson in a McDonalds, the point isn't just to rain on the cyborg parade with a lecture on political correctness (though I should have expected that reaction, given that we're talking about the discourse of a whole hell of a lot of lame privileged straight white male gadget fetishists here, and you know I'm right). Rather than complain that I am forbidding anybody from articulating the material reality of an assault on a cyborg, what I am trying to do is use the assault as a teachable moment through which we come to grasp the extent to which the performance of socially legible selfhood is always crucially prosthetic. Definitely, to the extent that one wants to deploy the phrase "cyborg hate crime" in a way equal to its material resonance one needs to grasp just how many different incarnated figures that have little to do with techno-fetishistic fantasies of the "cyborgic" in the present-day consumer commercial marketing imaginary are indeed indispensably prostheticized.

And, hence, actually, yes I do indeed wonder to what extent some geek identification with Mann as an assaulted cyborg is enabled through a dis-identification with the assaulted trans person despite the fact that prostheticization is no less indispensable to the one as to the other, no less central to one violation as to the other. Again, the point of calling attention to this parallel is to provide an occasion to understand more about the very violation that these comments I'm responding to are claiming to be about. It's true that I think it is pretty facile to leap, as some are doing, to a recommendation of boycotting McDonalds over this assault when it isn't exactly clear what the connection of the organization is to the perpetrators of the violence here, especially given all the ways in which this sort of connection of institutional violence and misinformation is so much clearer in other instances that seem to involve similar problems and hence would seem to inspire similar concerns (environmental concerns, health concerns, concerns about McDonalds use of UK libel laws to attack public critics).

In conclusion, I do hope it is possible to read this intervention as more than vapid scolding from a position of presumed superiority, but as an occasion to connect this event to a wider context that enriches the intuitions this violation has inspired in the first place. In the absence of that, sorry (actually, not), but too much of the commentary around this event just looks way too much like rich privileged white guys wanting to pretend they are a persecuted minority vulnerable to hate crimes now because of their self-congratulatory gizmo consumerism. To the extent that this is the case, needless to say, I call bullshit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Techcrunch Seriously Proposes McDonalds Boycott

Because, apparently, the assault on Steve Mann, allegedly and apparently involving some employees of McDonalds, is the first bad thing techcrunch geeks have ever noticed McDonalds being involved in that is worthy of boycotting somehow?

Here's the Techcrunch article calling for a boycott. And here, for example, is the widely reported account of the recent attack on a transgender women in a McDonalds which also involved issues of surveillance -- McDonalds employees continued to record the victim in the aftermath of the hate crime even after she begged them to stop. And don't get me started on the environmental and health impacts of McDonalds or on their use of UK libel laws to suppress criticism.

Attack on Mann NOT First Attack on a Cyborg

Very predictably, the futurological dunderheads at Kurzweil are megaphoning the "first attack on a cyborg" angle of the Steve Mann assault. As I insisted in my account of the attack last night,
Those who are proposing that this assault might represent a "first" instance of anti-cyborg bigotry are doubly wrong -- first, and most obviously, because this isn't even the first instance in which Mann himself has been assaulted for his prostheses (recall the ordeal to which he was subjected by airport security near the height of the Bush phase of GWOT in 2002), but, second and more interesting to me, because I think a de-naturalization that spotlights the inherently prosthetic character of all culture is so central to so much bigotry, as witness violent assaults on transgender folks or prejudice based on sartorial signals of ethnicity or bullying of the differently enabled.
Robot Cultists often like to pretend that criticism of the more ridiculous statements they have offered up to public scrutiny (and, yes, it's ridiculous to say you expect your "information-self" is going to be migrated to and then eternalized in virtual nanobot sexbot heaven under the ministrations of the sooper-parental history-ending Robot God some amateur self-appointed soopergenius guru-wannabe is presumably coding in his basement) constitutes harassment, so I would not be surprised if this framing of the Mann attack will set the scene for an enormously satisfying paranoid victim narrative in which futurologists fancy themselves a persecuted minority forever imperiled by roving bands of deathist luddites ready to bash them because of their blocky nerd hipster spectacles and iPhones.

Long Day, Day of Longing

Leaving home before eight, returning home after eight, another long teaching day. This morning in the City I'll be screening and then discussing Carpenter's film "They Live" (a film explicitly about the operation of ideology, but also one symptomizing ideology in ways that are bonkers, not to mention, just enough like a zombie movie to be, as all zombie movies are, a commentary on consumer capitalism). Something of a fluke of scheduling, but I'll be screening and discussing the film again at Berkeley a week from now. In Berkeley this afternoon we'll be reading Barthes, first a lecture about Mythologies as another variation on the Marx's fetishism of commodities argument, coming on the heels of Benjamin's auratic aesthetic event and Adorno's Culture Industry and setting the stage for Debord's Spectacle (the Situationist International actually took place the same year Mythologies was published, 1957) and Naomi Klein's Logo, all variations on the Marxian critique of commodity fetishism. I then go on to read what I call the book within the book Mythologies, talking about how chapters like "Nautilus and the Drunken Boat," "The Brain of Einstein," "Plastic," and "Jet Man" zero in on the mythology of "The Future" in particular, in which I use Barthes to model some of my own anti-futurological critique -- beginning with a reading of Daniel Harris' "The Futuristic" as the aesthetics of the perverse. Fun stuff, I would be looking forward to teaching this if I weren't running on empty and running out the clock due to all these relentless teaching intensives this summer.

Makes You Wonder...

They have more than enough material to drop daily devastation right up to the election, you know.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Performance Artist and Sousveillance Activist Steve Mann Assaulted in Paris McDonalds

Mann's account of the attack is available here.

I find Mann's exposure of and resistance to ubiquitous elite surveillance practices useful and interesting -- enough so that I've taught some of his writings in media courses -- but I disapprove (mostly for the very same reasons I approve of what I just described) of his recourse to faux-neutral characterizations of some prosthetic mediation as "enhancement" or "augmediation" or, even, simply "helping people see better."

One might say that Mann's Eye-Glass, in addition to constituting a vital ongoing performance/ activist art intervention into the prevailing neoliberal articulation of the "information age" as well as an interesting contribution to the prosthetic different-enablement of perception, is also an early form of more recent splashy so-called "augmented vision" eyeglass systems from Google and the like streaming information overlays onto the perceptual field, presaging perhaps a bid to form a corporate-military McConsciousness that makes the site of Mann's assault especially evocative.

I think it is crucial to remember that all culture is prosthetic, that all language-users in multiculture are cyborgs, and that all mediation makes apprehension different, but that experiencing such differences as "better" or "worse" or "enhanced" or "disabling" will depend on who one is and what one values and in the service of what ends and at what costs and with what stakes these differences are constituted. It is rarely right to pretend that disputes over these key questions are in fact settled and it is to police these disputes into quiescence, usually to the preferential benefit of incumbent elite interests first of all, that one indulges in these pretenses to neutrality.

Those who are proposing that this assault might represent a "first" instance of anti-cyborg bigotry are doubly wrong -- first, and most obviously, because this isn't even the first instance in which Mann himself has been assaulted for his prostheses (recall the ordeal to which he was subjected by airport security near the height of the Bush phase of GWOT in 2002, for a reminder of which read this), but, second and more interesting to me, because I think a de-naturalization that spotlights the inherently prosthetic character of all culture is so central to so much bigotry, as witness violent assaults on transgender folks or prejudice based on sartorial signals of ethnicity or bullying of the differently enabled.

These are awfully important discussions to be having right about now, in this era of panoptic surveillance, targeted marketing profiling, and experimental subjection in bioremedial networks, and Mann is helping us have these discussions... indeed this seems to me to be the vital substance of his work at its best. Certainly, I wouldn't want my raising of questions about Mann's particular inflection of these discourses to be taken as a trivialization of the violation he has suffered but as the provision of more of the context in which this violation seems especially fraught. It's just that I would like this terrible attack to be an occasion for critical attention rather than just another occasion for a heady bit of gossip scrolling down the twitter feed.

Cyberspatial Housecleaning

Spent much of the morning updating dozens upon dozens of old dissertation section links so that they refer to the new splash page. Very tedious. Makes me feel empathy for all the folks scrubbing away at the Bain board meeting minutes and Romney tax returns right about now.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

You're So Bain

Tachyon Like Gobsmack Particle Discovered at Bain Capital

Fresh on the heels of the Higgs Boson discovery, GOP pundits scrambling to account for Romney's ties to Bain Capital since 1999 have apparently stumbled onto a strange particle with characteristics sometimes attributed to the hypothesized tachyon, already being dubbed the "Gobsmack Particle." Top Romney campaign advisor Edward Gillespie proposed on NBC's Meet The Press this morning that manipulating these particles in an undisclosed process over which Bain retains proprietary interest enabled Mitt Romney to "retroactively retire" from Bain so that he "was not there" even when he was signing multiple documents as Chairman, CEO, and sole stockholder. The Romney campaign is reported to be exploring a "retroactive veto" procedure by means of which it will turn out that Governor Romney also "wasn't there" in Massachusetts when he passed Romneycare. Many observers have noted with curiosity that during his appearance Gillespie repeatedly referred to Romney not by name but by the title "Master of All Space and Time." Host David Gregory did not seem nonplussed by this nor did he press for clarification.

Some Things Deserve to Go Viral

New World Future Society Column Is Up

A much expanded version of the parodic Cyberspace Manifesto 2.0 has been published over at the World Future Society. I think it's a scream but Eric warns me it comes off bitter. (UPDATE: Actually, I've edited the versions to harmonize them now.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ayn Raelians Should All Go Walt

When the Ayn Randians whine about how the moochers are getting them down, I say, Go Galt! Enough with the threats already! Begone! Oh, do please go, forthwith, on your Superman Strike! By all means shrug off the shackles of your tax enslavement, build your cathedral to the predator gods for us to pine after in the dreamy distance as we slog the swamp of our muddled mediocrity, leave us all to languish and limp without your fountainhead of endless innovations and insights to bolster us anymore. Go Galt, I say again: It's not like anybody is going to miss you.

I feel much the same when the Ayn Raelians of the Robot Cult go on and on about how they mean to be uploaded into the cyberspatial sprawl, immortalized in shiny robot bodies or shimmery informational post-bodies. To them I say, Go Walt! Enough already with the sales pitch and on to the arrangements, all ye techno-heavenbound True Believers! By all means have your brain sliced and scanned and snapped, the sooner the better, and here's to your hoping the resulting picture of part of you is somehow you and somehow immortal to boot. Leave the rest of us to our sad surgeries and eventual burials or burnings while you are frozen, glassified, or otherwise hamburgerized to await the ministrations of the Robot God and his busy nanobotic angels. Go Walt, I say again: You're all going to die like the rest of us, anyway. It's not like it matters much how you're bagged for disposal.

"I Tweet From Basement, Home of Mom": Time For A Cyberspace Manifesto 2.0?

Also posted at the World Future Society.

Given the dot.bomb, the New Economy crash, the outsourcing outrage, the digirati dump, the facebook fiasco, the various iCrap scandals it seems high time for the digi-hippies and liber-techians and other assorted Ayn Raelian types to rethink, revise, redo some of the assumptions and aspirations that lead so many of them to embrace so ecstatically not so very long ago John Perry Barlow's breathless Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. I never bought Barlow's balderdash, so I am probably not the one to propose a revised line that will be congenial to the gizmo groupies, but what I have in mind would go a little something like this:

Corporations of the Washington Consensus, you giant man-eating monster squids of outsourcing, financial fraud, war profiteering, climate change denialism, and the world ruining race to the bottom, we are writing you from Cyberspace again. Actually, I am here in my slimy sweat pants, in my parent's house, tapping arthritically at a cellphone and squinting at its postage stamp screen with a hangover and a lot on my mind.

On behalf of our hopes for some kind of future, I guess I'm asking you to think about maybe giving me a temp job without benefits or at least to lower the price of a Big Gulp and a microwave burrito until I find work or I drop dead, whichever comes first. And it would sure be great if you guys could leave people who have to work for a living alone to huddle in the dark in our scant fraught leisure time, surfing the web, putting deceptive dating profiles online, getting off on free porn, and blogging for zero comments in a torrent of maddening advertising and intrusive surveillance.

We get it that money is the only speech now and that non-rich people have to suffer so that the rich can live in walled off brass-plated McVegas enclaves among photogenic slaves. We get it that we are not welcome among you, we get it that we are to have no sovereignty where you might gather. We get it that the digital economy was mostly just a screen of technical jazz and hype behind which earth-shatteringly huge financial sector fraud went down. These days we're just looking for a place to recharge our laptop batteries and get a signal among the ruins while we watch the Greenhouse storms roll in.

Yeah, it turns out cyberspace was not really some kind of spirit realm after all but more or less a coal-fired re-branded refurbishment of the century old telegraph network but with a tee vee glued on it for us to stare at or shrunk into a radio walkie-talkie homing beacon so we can get ordered around wherever we go all hours of the day and night until we throw our internet gizmo into a landfill to poison the water table for centuries and replace it with another crappier one made by hand by wage slaves living who knows where even more miserably than we are and kinda sorta because of us.

It turns out that "Moore's Law" was a soap bubble, a skewed perspectival effect and that processors become faster only to encourage software to become slower. It turns out that "accelerating change" was just the PR face of increasing insecurity as infrastructure gets looted, enterprise gets deregulated, welfare gets dismantled, and ecosystems get polluted beyond bearing. It turns out that the Turing Test has been a century long experiment in which the attribution of intelligence to non-intelligent artifacts has resulted in artificial imbecillence among the info-fixated humans who fell for it. It turns out that our identities are bound up with our aging, vulnerable, scarred, skilled bodies after all, and that access and expression online are still stratified by race, sex, gender, morphology, money, geography, history and that denial is never some kind of triumphal overcoming. It turns out that incumbent elites were never afraid of our rising generation at all, but just saw in us the usual marks, and that the pop sci-tech journalists who fed our enthusiasm knew no better than to buy into the same line of hype we were. It turns out the Digital Age and its post-humanoid avant-garde was a conceptually confused, scientifically superficial, emotionally infantile, politically pernicious farrago of ill-digested science fiction conceits and hyperbolic corporate press releases and wooly theology and shrieking id.

Man, it's been some fun, but our revolution mostly sucked, didn't it? I guess there really is a difference between the virtual and the real. You know, like, sorry about all that.

My Little Steampony Singularity

PZ Myers, had this to say (among other more substantive less amusing things) earlier today, on the sooper-genius of Singularitarians:
If singularitarians were 19th century engineers, they’d be the ones talking about our glorious future of transportation by proposing to hack up horses and replace their muscles with hydraulics. Yes, that’s the future: steam-powered robot horses. And if we shovel more coal into their bellies, they’ll go faster!
Just as a reminder, from my own most recent of many singu-skewerings:
I think Moore's "Law" is a skewed perspectival effect and that even on its own terms, to quote Jeron Lanier, "As processors become faster and memory becomes cheaper, software becomes correspondingly slower and more bloated, using up all available resources." I think "accelerating change" is just what neoliberal precarity and neoconservative militarism looks like from the perspective of its beneficiaries (or those dupes who wrongly fancy themselves its potential beneficiaries). I think the real substance of the Turing Test is that the attribution of intelligence to non-intelligent artifacts results in artificial imbecillence among the humans who fall for it. I think that those who are really materialists about consciousness should have to grant that all actually existing intelligence so far worthy of that name has been incarnated in organismic material brains and in social struggles in material history and that those who are really materialists about information should have to grant that all information is non-negligibly instantiated on material carriers and that "cyberspace" is run on coal fires and accessed on toxic devices made by slave labor in exploited regions of the world. Maybe alien or non-biological modes of consciousness and intelligence are logically possible, but that doesn't mean that it won't turn out to make sense to come up with a different word than "consciousness" or "intelligence" that does justice both to what it is and who we are. Maybe forms of narrative selfhood instantiated on silicon can be eternalized (not that there is any reason to think so if we are using actually existing computers as our reference point), but that doesn't mean we can "migrate" our own organismically materialized consciousness onto a different substrate without violating it or that we can extend the narrative form of our own selfhood beyond its present bounds without losing its integrity. Just declaring techno-immortality or super-intelligence a matter of how things are now, only Better, only Longer, only More is a way of refusing to grasp what intelligence, consciousness, selfhood actually materially are, and then plugging the hole of that refusal with a bunch of infantile fears and fantasies and pretending that somehow this constitutes Very Serious intellectual activity somehow…. Singularitarianism [is] a conceptually confused, scientifically superficial, emotionally infantile, politically pernicious farrago of ill-digested science fiction conceits and hyperbolic corporate press releases and wooly theology and shrieking id[.]