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

Monday, September 30, 2013

President's Remarks Today on the Shutdown

Five years ago right now, our economy was in meltdown. Today, our businesses have created 7.5 million new jobs over the past three and a half years. The housing market is healing and our deficits are falling fast. The idea of putting the American people’s hard-earned progress at risk is the height of irresponsibility.

And it doesn’t have to happen. Let me repeat this: It does not have to happen. All of this is entirely preventable if the House chooses to do what the Senate has already done -- and that’s the simple act of funding our government without making extraneous and controversial demands in the process, the same way other Congresses have for more than 200 years.

Unfortunately, right now House Republicans continue to tie funding of the government to ideological demands like limiting a woman’s access to contraception, or delaying the Affordable Care Act, all to save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party.

So let me be clear about this. An important part of the Affordable Care Act takes effect tomorrow no matter what Congress decides to do today. The Affordable Care Act is moving forward. That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down. This is a law that passed both houses of Congress; a law that bears my signature; a law that the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional; a law that voters chose not to repeal last November; a law that is already providing benefits to millions of Americans in the form of young people staying on their parents’ plan until they’re 26, seniors getting cheaper prescription drugs, making sure that insurance companies aren't imposing lifetime limits when you already have health insurance, providing rebates for consumers when insurance companies are spending too much money on overhead instead of health care. Those things are already happening.

Starting tomorrow, tens of millions of Americans will be able to visit to shop for affordable health care coverage. So Americans who’ve lived for years in some cases with the fear that one illness could send them into bankruptcy, Americans who’ve been priced out of the market just because they’ve been sick once, they’ll finally be able to afford coverage -- quality coverage -- many of them for the first time in their lives.

Some of them may be sick as we speak. And this is their best opportunity to get some security and some relief. Tens of thousands of Americans die every single year because they don’t have access to affordable health care. Despite this, Republicans have said that if we lock these Americans out of affordable health care for one more year -- if we sacrifice the health care of millions of Americans -- then they’ll fund the government for a couple more months. Does anybody truly believe that we won’t have this fight again in a couple more months? Even at Christmas?

So here’s the bottom line: I’m always willing to work with anyone of either party to make sure the Affordable Care Act works better, to make sure our government works better. I’m always willing to work with anyone to grow our economy faster, or to create new jobs faster, to get our fiscal house in order for the long run. I’ve demonstrated this time and time again, oftentimes to the consternation of my own party.

But one faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election.

Keeping the people’s government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you “give” to the other side. It’s our basic responsibility. It’s something that we’re doing for our military, and our businesses, and our economy, and all the hardworking people out there -- the person working for the Agricultural Department out in some rural community who’s out there helping some farmers make sure that they’re making some modest profit for all the hard work they’re putting in. They’re the person working for HUD who’s helping somebody buy a house for the first time. They’re somebody in a VA office who’s counseling one of our vets who’s got PTSD.

That’s who we’re here to serve. That’s why we’re supposed to be carrying out these responsibilities. It’s why we should be avoiding these kinds of constant brinksmanship. It’s something that we do in the ordinary process of this extraordinary system of government that we have. You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job; for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway; or just because there’s a law there that you don’t like.

You Can Thank the Robot Cultists for Ted Cruz

Gawker is reporting that Tea Party zealot and Congressional troll Ted Cruz (you know, the guy who indulges in phony filibusters on the Senate floor and who has appointed himself de facto Speaker of the House from there, all so that he can raise more money from rubes for his phony 2016 Presidential run slash audition for the next Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck-style tinpot media fiefdom) is being bankrolled by Peter Thiel. This is no surprise to those of us who remember that Peter Thiel also bankrolled anti-ACORN doconmantarian James O'Keefe. Those who have been following his curious right-wingularity activism for years know that in describing Peter Thiel as a "Gay Billionaire Pothead" the Gawker article actually manages to make Thiel seem huggably mainstream, even if the formulation has the benefit of tweaking the GOP's so-called "values voters" with Thiel's gayness. Of course Thiel is a notorious misogynist anti-multicultalist bigot, an anti-education activist, an anti-tax greedhead crybaby who wants to eat civilization and have it too, and one of too many horrible rich white gay men who seem to think homophobia is nothing but a matter of their personal exclusion from white patriarchal plutocratic entitlements, what I have described as the Gaybagger Wave. But the point I personally want to emphasize here is that Peter Thiel is also a Superlative Futurist bankrolling the Singularitarian Robot Cult sect's dream of coding a history-ending sooper-intelligent Robot God as well as the techno-immortalist transhumanoid Robot Cult sect's sooper-boner pill/anti-aging skin kreme longevity Vegas roadshow, SENS and all that nonsense. Indeed, I have accused Peter Thiel and Elon Musk of being the Koch Brothers of Reactionary Futurism.

As I wrote in a piece describing Thiel as a somewhat sad wannabe Doctor Evil:
Peter Thiel made billions of dollars by investing other dollars he already had in PayPal and Facebook and other digi-wizbangs coded by folks many of whom didn't make so many dollars as Peter Thiel did. Now Peter Thiel is investing in plots to build an offshore libertopian pirate utopia on an oil platform or cruise ship (right off the shore of socialist hell-hole San Francisco, so he and his rich friends can, you know, still have their foodie feasts in restaurants where basic hygiene is secured by government regulations and real hospitals are within easy helipad reach, natch) and investing in a klatch of self-declared sooper-geniuses who think they are coding a sooper-intelligent Robot God that will end human history by solving all our problems for us (or by converting us all to computronium feedstock, depending on whether you prefer your Singularitarian Robot Cultists to be of the hype-notized or the disasturbatory variety).
Although there are some futurologists and Robot Cultists who declare themselves socialist, liberal, or civil libertarian there is simply no question that the technological determinism of the view conduces to complacency as its techno-fetishism conduces to hyper-consumption, setting aside the suave circumventions of deliberation via technocratic elitism or super-intelligent AI parent-substitutes or Ayn Raelian market fundamentalists and eugenic evo-psycho douchebags who throng the discourses and subcultures of transhumanism and other futurological and technobooster precincts. The essence of democracy is an opening up, mostly through the securing of equity-in-diversity, of the futurity within the plural public present while the essence of the futurological is the projection and extrapolation and amplification of a present parochialism as "The Future" to foreclose futurity. At their best, futurologists are proposing progressivisms in reactionary terms, at their worst futurologists are full throated reactionary bigots shilling for the plutocrats. Thiel is more than a bad apple or sordid outlier, but a symptom of the reaction inhering in all futurology.

The Jig Is Up

No death panels, no government takeover, no mass graves full of kids, no abortion malls, no concentration camps. There was always a whiff of legible -- if ugly, if craven, if opportunistic -- political rationality that drove the deception and hyperbole of the opponents of the Affordable Care Act. But lately the level of spastic desperation that has tinged the lies and egregiously irresponsible conduct of the Republicans has come altogether unmoored from predictably pragmatic calculation. Make no mistake, the Republicans don't think they can win: the Supreme Court and the last Presidential election pronounced that verdict unambiguously. What the Republicans face now is humiliating, devastating exposure as obvious liars and absolute crackpots. It's not just that people will like Obamacare, it's that almost nobody will feel a thing. Millions upon millions of Americans are going to confront the fact that they have been lied to, that they completely trusted people who have taken advantage of them. The Republican Party is having a collective freakout confronting the scale of their outrageous clownishness over the last four years. The diversity of the 2008 Obama coalition set the stage for this freakout, announcing that deep change is coming to the christianist/plutocratic coalition that maintained white-racist hegemony in America, and the Affordable Care Act was the first modest step in the direction of that change. The GOP has committed suicide on the altar of health insurance reform, and even they cannot help but recognize the scale of their folly. They may trash the place before they leave, but the country will put itself back together without looking back.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Storytime in Nerdland

Republicans are in a box,
Got there watching too much Fox,
Time to kick them from the House,
With their whimpering Boehner mouse,
America's fed up here and there,
Soon the GOP won't be anywhere.

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Failing to win majorities with their unpopular agenda, and so trying to stop people from voting, then threatening to destroy the government if they don't get their way, the GOP demonstrates they can't even stage a coup properly.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Things are so simple in the GOP. Human rights begin at conception. And unless there is a white penis present, they end at birth.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Safe, Legal, and Rare Was Never Going To Wash With Forced Pregnancy Zealots

It was always a profound mistake for pro-choice feminists to think forced pregnancy zealots would ever be happy with fewer abortions made possible through contraception.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Our President Is Making Some Statements Worth Listening To Right Now

White House Obamacare Explainer

Just Mint the Goddamn Coin!

One stupid joke deserves another.

Existenz Abstracts on the Transhumanoids

Abstracts for contributions to the forthcoming Existenz journal issue The Future of Humanity and the Question of Post-Humanity, are up, mine included:
Futurological Discourse and Posthuman Terrains

Seven basic distinctions seem to me key to grasping futurology as both a discursive and a sub-cultural phenomenon: (1) technology and technologies: the actual constellation of artifacts and techniques in the diversity of their stakes and specificities as against technology as a de-politicizing myth disavowing these specificities; (2) progress and destiny: techno-developmental social struggles in the service of avowed political ends in a material historical frame as against a paradoxical naturalization of progress into destiny, usually via a rhetoric of determination, autonomy, convergence, and/or "accelerationalist" momentum; (3) mainstream futurology and superlative futurism: hyperbolic techno-fixated norms and forms that suffuse popular marketing, promotional, consumer discourses as well as neoliberal administrative, developmentalist discourses as against the futurist amplification of this speculativeness, reductiveness, and hyperbole into faith-based, techno-transcendental, putatively scientific but in fact pseudo-scientific, quasi-theological aspirations toward superintelligence, supercapacitation and superabundance miming the omni-predication of what I like to dub "judeochrislamic" divinity; (4) superlativity and supernativity: posthuman/transhuman against bioconservative/naturalizing futurisms (or more broadly, between undercritically technophilic as against undercritically technophobic orientations), highlighting continuities and inter-dependencies of the two, as distinguished in turn from legible democratizing technodevelopmental social struggle, consensus science and sustainable public investment; (5) posthumanism and transhumanism: post-humanisms as variations of superlative futurology (eugenic transhumanism, apocalyptic singularitarianism, techno-immortalism, and so on) against post-humanisms as variations of the critique of humanism, amounting to a distinction of moralizing prevalence as against ethical reconciliation; (6) transhuman discourses and transhuman subcultures: material differences in the objects and archives of discursive as against subcultural formations, for example, differences between relations of figures, tropes, citations among published texts and conventions as against organizational relations among members, officers, funders, fans, and so on; (7) futurity and "The Future": distinguishing between the political openness inhering in the present in the presence of ineradicable stakeholder diversity as against instrumentalizing projections of parochial fears and fantasies and stakes that would disavow and so foreclose futurity.

Keywords: Arendt, Hannah; Eugenics; Futurology; Futurism; Futurity; Lewis, C.S.; Posthumanism; Progress; Public Relations; Technology; Transhumanism.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


And the collective shrug over Atlas Shrugged would be the kickstopper.

Greedhead Expedience

Given that inequity always reveals inefficiencies, it is curious how often efficiency rationalizes inequities.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Teaching Day

Off to the City, MA thesis cohort, all the livelong day.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What's Wrong With Terasem?

I get press inquiries like this a dozen or so times a year. Rarely does anything come of it, I suspect because my academic framing of issues isn't really journalism ready (not that my academic framing of issues seems much more academic ready, either, as these things go), or because the inquiry is part of some freelancer's quixotic attempt to pitch a story that isn't really going anywhere anyway. I always answer these questions as best I can, anyway, since reaching a writer who takes futurology seriously to think technoscience a bit more critically seems a generally worthwhile effort, after all. But it also occurs to me that there is nothing to keep me from turning my responses to such inquiries into blog posts, at least. Names and journalistic credentials are omitted, and the query itself edited to provide nothing more than the context for the response that followed:
I'm working on a story on the Terasem Movement's Lifenaut project and since you're one of the most vocal critics of both Terasem and Transhumanism in general, I thought I'd see if you'd be willing to share some thoughts. I've read some of your critiques of Terasem, but have a few things still on my mind: 1) You've criticized the fact that Martine Rothblatt talks about software-based life and consciousness uploading as if they're real and inevitable. But Terasem is at least actually trying to build a system for creating simulations of people. A) Do they at least get points for trying, rather than just talking? B) Is there anything wrong with doing research to try to prove their "hypothesis"? 2) Terasem isn't charging people for Lifenaut, or selling any products -- so are they really harming anyone? 3) Have you followed the progress, or lack thereof, of Terasem's over the years? It looks like Lifenaut has been around since at least 2010, maybe 2007. Do you know whether the avatars have gotten any better since then? 4) Apart from the desire for actual immortality through consciousness uploading, part of what Lifenaut may offer is something more like an interactive archive or scrapbook of a person's thoughts and activities that could be left behind for decedents, or perhaps future anthropologists. Do you have any thoughts on whether these animated avatars are actually a good way to achieve something like that?
My answers to these questions were the following:

First, of course I do not give people credit for trying to create "simulated persons" and "simulated life." What "life" and "person" mean as terms are distorted by the language these futurists use to describe their assumptions and goals. That they are actually "trying" to do impossible things they wouldn't try to do if they actually understood the phenomena in question is no more worthy than it would be worthy for a math ignoramus to actually try to square a circle -- as, of course, many cranks have indeed idiotically tried to do historically. The "trying" is evidence only of the depth of their misunderstanding, not of their worthy diligence. Worse, the discussion of lives and people on these false and reductive terms is abetting a more general tendency in "technology" circles to get these questions systematically wrong -- to call artifacts like phones and homes "smart" when they are not, to treat devices like cars and programmable coffee makers as "living" and as "personalities" when they are not. Since lives and people and intelligence are truly enormously valuable and also vulnerable it actually matters that they be recognized and supported on their real terms. I am a teacher, and when I point out the errors and confusions in computational misunderstandings of life and of selfhood I am doing what I am always doing -- contributing to the clearer understanding of things that matter. This is an end in itself.

Second, it is not true that Terasem is not selling anything. They are selling their "movement" and their "belief" to scientifically illiterate, credulous people, many of them especially vulnerable to such a scam because they are personally afraid of dying. I occasionally receive e-mails from some of these people, angry at my critiques of their belief system. Needless to say, anyone who offers up arguments to the scrutiny of the public properly does so in the expectation that this will provoke criticism. But Believers who are seeking techno-immortality for themselves or who have formed irrational protective attachments to non-existing robotic or software quasi-personages can sometimes feel personally threatened or even targeted by hostile hate-speech when they read criticisms of their fledgling techno-faith. It should be clear that I do think harm can easily follow from the promotion of True Belief among scared credulous ignoramuses. I recommend that you look more closely into the lives of those who donate money to this movement -- what is the average profile of such funders? Are they also funding legitimate scientific and medical research? Do they devote a proportion of their income to this movement comparable to the amount conventional venture capitalists devote to investment in mainstream technoscience? I do believe, by the way, that Terasem sells a crappy flag for an inflated sixty bucks on their website. It is interesting, don't you think, to say the least, that the raising of an overpriced banner emblazoned with facile symbolism is one of the things this harmless organization wants to encourage?

Third, if people want to leave scrapbooks or time capsules or archival traces of themselves in the world, I daresay the brittle evanescence of networked software is already well demonstrated to be a questionable way to go about it. Future anthropologists have little to worry about -- a trip to any one of our countless landfills will tell an exactly revealing story of our epoch to its survivors should there be any. But a contrary point is that government and commercial interests are already aggregating vast amounts of data traces into profiles to drive law enforcement inquiries and targeted marketing programs, and hence there is certainly no need for a charitable organization to clumsily re-invent and then pointlessly attach that third wheel. What is interesting is that most people are well aware that these database profiles, while significantly computable in terms of Big Data, do not create narratives we recognize as connected to our selves in a richly lived sort of way: To the contrary, we tend to regard these profiles as dangerously prejudicial, insultingly simplistic and stereotypical, damaging our civil liberties, getting us fundamentally wrong while threatening our real lives and real persons. Nobody thinks we have become immortal because the NSA is aggregating a data-profile framing us for future prosecutions, or because PR firms are selling our Amazon-clicks to the suits at Wal-Mart who want to harass us into buying their wholesale meat products. I suppose those who desperately want to become immortal might be scammed into believing otherwise, but they are obviously wrong and I won't have any part in encouraging such patent nonsense.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sham Scams of the GOP

GOP surrogates are spinning efforts to enroll younger, healthier folks in ACA as some kind of a scam, rather than an application of the enabling risk distribution inherent in all insurance. Of course, Republicans think lots of things are scams that are not: Evolution, global warming, family planning, safety regulation, macroeconomics. It should go without saying that even if the healthcare costs of older Americans considerably outweigh those of younger people in general, it remains true that lots of young people get sick and have accidents and need healthcare support. It is hard to imagine anything more irresponsible than public officials systematically exploiting the irrational feelings of young people that they are invulnerable when they are not, the better to expose millions of young citizens to greater risk of catastrophe for no reason. Or at any rate it would be hard to imagine anything more irresponsible, I suppose, if we had not just witnessed Republicans voting to ensure millions of their own suffering constituents go hungry without access to the Food Stamps program that is one of the most effective welfare programs in existence, were we not observing Republicans trying to shut the government down and threatening to default on the debt, had Republicans not monolithically rejected common sense gun safety regulations supported by overwhelming majorities of Americans, had Republicans not shut down the American Jobs Act in the face of nearly a decade long unemployment crisis, and on and on and on.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Default Idiot Americanism

My whole life, in every single decade rehashes of dumb market pieties were described as intellectually fresh and energetic, while every generational cohort has been described as re-discovering libertopian anti-governmentality. That is perfectly natural, since the assumptions and aspirations of rugged individualism, spontaneous order, and efficient markets perfectly align with the desires and prejudices of selfish ignoramuses who are insulated as so many Americans happen to be by luck, geography, and history from the worst consequences of their bad decisions and misbehavior.

Well Framed, Senator

"I don't think in America we should throw tantrums when we lose elections and threaten to shut down the government and refuse to pay the bills." -- Claire McCaskil

Friday, September 20, 2013

De-twitterized Privacy Treatise

Considerable parsing of my "Twitterized Privacy Treatise" in an exchange with @MikeAnissimov has happened in its Moot.

Dispatches from Libertopia: Netizen Edition

A Transparent Society in which indifference and distraction prevail will be opaque, in fact, to all but its elites.

In the absence of social justice, "Openness" is always emptiness.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tee Vee On In the Background

My article is done, it's been sent on its way at last, I'm more or less caught up with my teaching load for the first time in months. Presumably, blogging here and at the World Future Society will resume soon. Feeling oddly at loose ends. A few idle observations will reveal in a flash where I'm at. First, given how many thousands of Law and Order episodes there have to be out there at this point, it is hard to make sense of the fact that I am seeing the same episode a dozen times on half a dozen channels. Also, you know, you really do have to appreciate the strange integrity of the writers of Friends who, despite the implausibility of non-millionaires living in an apartment like that, did try to account for the curious prolonged singleness of their unusually attractive and successful protagonists by making them progressively crazier and more pathetic.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


With nothing left but plugging in footnotes, the paper weighs in at forty pages. It's the closest I've come to a single, comparatively concise and yet comprehensive formulation of the critique of superlative futurology. Nice to have done that.

Monday, September 16, 2013


I'm working on an enormously expanded version of this talk this afternoon, for publication in the next issue of Existenz. I'm a little over two thirds done, it's looking pretty good, at least it seems to be here in the belly of the beast, but the hard deadline is tomorrow and the hard deadline is usually the only thing to get me moving on this stuff. I'll provide a link when it becomes available online.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Larry Summers Withdraws His Name from Consideration for Fed Chair

The Left Should Not Fall For Neocon Cold War Analogies In Judging Syria: More Must-Read BooMan

Last night BooMan posted Against a World Arrayed for War and this morning a brief supplement Kill the Paradigm which provide what seem to me indispensable insights about the Administration's Syria policy.

Among other things, BooMan is emphasizing that it is profoundly misleading to accept the commonplace over-simplifying assumption that Syria represents a proxy for conflict either with Russia or with Iran for Obama foreign policy. It is important to grasp the extent to which the proxy proposal slots into Cold War obsessed neocon narratives seeking either to cast Islam in the Cold War role of Communism or to cast a resurgent Russia in the Cold War role of the USSR. Such narratives have the intuitive appeal of the familiar, and they are have the added merit of fitting effortlessly into media pieces between commercial breaks in ways that foreground facile but preferred narrative tropes about resolute versus feckless leaders and one-upsmanship and chicken playing out in the latest chapter of The Great Game... but they do not actually connect us meaningfully to the dynamisms or stakes of present and emerging planetary politics (which involve democracy and anti-democracy struggles between the 1 versus the 99 percent, rapidly amplifying environmental crises and resulting stresses, and networked formations of education, mis-information, agitation, marketing, organizing, and surveillance).

BooMan has gone on to point out that Obama's comments on the Sunday shows this morning support his interpretation, but also to remind folks that his present comparative clarity on this is hard won, that like many of us seeking to judge the scrum of events he wasn't quite sure which factual accounts about the use of chemical weapons or the various factions on the ground or the motivations of various officials were the right ones to trust as citizens sought to construct a sense of just what was happening let alone what should be happening from moment to moment.

It really is curious that so many commentators seem to think Obama is emerging out of this ongoing Syria crisis as a weakened figure when he looks to have gotten more or less what he wanted (a recognition that the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons needs to be maintained) in a way that does not require he to do anything unpopular even though it seemed almost inevitable that he would do so (bomb Syrian civilians in our name because Assad had done so). It is especially egregious that the nimble flexibility and open opportunism of our diplomacy is being framed so widely as fecklessness and incompetence when it appears to be comparatively more successful than the alternatives on offer and contrasts so vividly to the catastrophic cowboy buffoonery we presumably learned to reject from the killer clown a decade past.

Needless to say, the Republicans are going to tear their hair out over this -- they were screaming Obama was a tyrant for not letting them vote when they weren't using the upcoming vote as a pretext for screaming Obama was an incompetent and now in their relief at not having to vote ridiculing him as a wimp as they proceed to hold the nation hostage, promising to blow the nation's brains out if the nation doesn't blow its own brains out over Obamacare mostly because, let's face it, the President is black blackety black black. The GOP stoopids always freak out, and since their freakout is not really responding to substantial policy differences and will happen regardless of the vicissitudes it isn't anybody's responsibility to respond to its nonresponsiveness. Ridicule is what the ridiculous deserve and should come to expect.

But it is a bit less clear why the liberal left is having such a hard time judging the administration well in this event. I am sure the larger context of legitimate critique over drone assassinations and the expansion of the Unitary Executive and surveillance in the midst of the Snowden revelations complicate the discursive field in which such judgments have to be made. I have critiques on all those scores myself, of course, but I really do think it is crucial to embed such judgments in the context of available alternatives (if one's distrust of the President really cashes out as a desire for a dis-invention of the Executive Branch as such then you aren't serious however seriously you take these issues, and if one's distrust of the President really cashes out in the improvement of the election prospects of Republicans then you aren't substantively progressive however progressive your intentions) and programs for their immediate and incremental change (recent Congressional push-back against unaccountable NSA spying, against funding Patriot Act provisions that facilitate the burgeoning surveillance state, Administration figures proposing conditions under which the "War on Terror" can be said to end and with it an end to dangerously open ended empowerment of the Executive under the authorization of force, a host of lawsuits over indefinite detention, prisoner abuse, surveillance of civil organizations, civilian casualties of drone attacks brought by the ACLU and other organizations all point the way to ground-level struggles to address these ills in my view -- and of course there are many more, of which shouting "smash the state!" is not one whether your favorite author is Ayn Rand or David Graeber).

It is crucial to grasp that while facile fear-mongering neocon Cold War analogies are an obvious pretext for authoritarian anti-democratization, loose left anti-governmentality is too often a pretext for a no less anti-democratizing self-marginalization as well, amounting whatever its stridency to acquiescence to the status quo. The Syria crisis remains fraught with peril, it is not at all clear what will happen next, it still does not seem that there are many things the US can do that will make things better by our lights except providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees displaced by this conflict and condemning the atrocities committed by most of the relevant parties involves (ourselves included), but our judgments of the Administration's conduct in this affair are muddled by disastrously failed and yet still prevailing Cold War analogies explicitly deployed in the service of reactionary right wing politics, as well as by more broadly libertopian anti-governmental frames across the intellectual spectrum that conduce to the service of reactionary right wing politics as well.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Twitter Privacy Treatise

Smells Like On-Screen Dispirit

When I said Let Kornacki Be Kornacki I really didn't mean this:

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Friday, September 13, 2013

The Endless Summer of Larry Summers

Alex Pareene in Salon: "We all know the history. (Well, all of us besides maybe the president?)" It's the sort of parenthetical you can't help but make when telling the story of serially wrong serially evil sooper-genius Larry Summers, now on the verge of failing upward yet again -- like some vast lumbering mean-faced helium-fat Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon -- this time into the Fed Chair comfy chair from which to do or say who knows what reuinously hideously bigoted incumbent elitist bullshit.

It's Time To Fight Some More Culture Wars: Abortion, Guns, Climate Change

A few years back I pointed out that liberals had already won the culture wars and proposed that we should start acting like it. I still think that this is true -- changing attitudes about racial diversity and marriage equality and secular culture are obvious cases in point -- but in this moment of a de facto rollback of Roe v Wade, of modest gun safety regulation prompting recall elections, of paralysis on climate change in the face of greenhouse storms and fires, I want to say a bit more about what "acting like it" might look like.

In a word, since the left wins Culture Wars we need to start more of them.

The liberal left has spent over a generation apologizing about how ooky the life-saving abortions we want to ensure access to really are. The liberal left has spent over a generation insisting how we don't mean to be disrespectful to sociopathic patriarchal white-racist gun-nuts when we try to ensure basic commonsense gun safety regulations. The liberal left has spent over a generation promising how we really are going to try to make sure nobody has to pay anything or change their stupid unsatisfying wasteful mindless consumer behavior in any way to survive catastrophic climate change.

Time and time again liberals propose formulations presumably intended to entice members of the elite-incumbent plutocratic and know-nothing-populist right wing coalition into fact-based harm-reduction policy outcomes. And in case after case, the Right has circumvented appeals to factual consensus and pragmatic interest through the transformation of these policy questions into matters of the defensive tribal identification with a threatened American "way of life" mobilizing a host of inchoate resentments and fears in the service of the irrational demands of one side or the other of that right-wing coalition. It is high time to grasp this reality as it is: Not only can the liberal left not win Culture Wars through factual and pragmatic circumlocutions, but it is also true that the liberal left should not even try to do so, since the liberal left has not only the facts BUT ALSO the culture on our side. The left wins Culture Wars, and we should win them already and get on with solving our shared problems.

Progressive efforts to provide women access to healthcare for the good of all, to make our streets safe from gun violence for the good of all, to provide sustainable alternatives to meet the needs of an overpopulated planet for the good of all are cultural issues as much as they are factual ones. Let me say this even more clearly: these are cultural issues because they are factual ones. Understand, I am not proposing the politicization of questions of fact, I am begging the liberal left to grasp that facts are always already ineradicably politicized, that facts are discovered, published, taught, acted upon through political means by situated human beings in the midst of historical struggle.

The problem with the Republican Right's politicization of the facts about the lethality of back alley abortions and the lowering of overall abortion rates where abortion is safe and freely available is not that this is politicized as such but that their politics are reactionary and their politicization of policy is bad. The liberal left should politicize abortion as freedom against the Right's politicization of abortion as murder. Liberals should relentlessly expose (or "out") forced pregnancy zealots as the anti-American butchers they are, and it should reveal the members of their families who have or readily could access the services they would deny majorities through their political and monetary privilege. "Liberal Media" should post a thousand images of an embryo looking like a chewed up wad of gum and the face of a murdered woman denied access to available healthcare for every image of an aborted fetus looking like a broken bloody doll anti-choice zealots wave in the air. Women need to come out about their abortions and publicly and unapologetically celebrate the freedom access to birth control, abortion services, and healthcare makes possible for them. Families, friends, neighbors, coworkers, people need to face the everyday reality and ubiquity and normality of reproductive health choices in our lives. That some might choose not to avail themselves of abortions and birth control is perfectly acceptable to Americans, but make no mistake that American culture is a culture of freedom, it is a culture celebrating health and care and choice for all.

The problem with the Republican Right's politicization of the facts about the lethality of military style weapons and the skyrocketing rates of gun deaths where there is ready access to and even accumulation of weapons caches by zealots, criminals, and irresponsible people for no legitimate reason is not that this is politicized as such but that their politics are reactionary and their politicization of policy is bad. The liberal left should politicize guns as dangerous and anti-social against the Right's politicization of gun ownership as individualist. Liberals should relentlessly expose (or "out") corporate sponsorship and subsidization of "grassroots" gun advocacy and legislation, just as it publicizes the ease with which hunters and everyday citizens can safely and legally purchase rifles and handguns that are licensed, registered, insured, and made inaccessible to inappropriate users. "Liberal Media" should post splashy images of weapons caches by white racist militias and criminal gangs for every image of Ma's handgun in a purse and Pa's rifle on a porch-rail the anarcho gun-zealots and corporate gun profiteers wave in the air. Being able to attend grammar school or buy coffee in a cafe without having some sociopath blow your brains out seems like a fairly plausible candidate description for an American way of life worth becoming a high-intensity voter defending, should the Beltway PR sooper-geniuses casting haplessly about for ways to counter NRA spin on the tee vee want to take that out for a spin. The Founding Fathers put phrases like "domestic tranquility" and "pursuit of happiness" on that old parchment paper too, you know. Survivors of gun violence need to come out about their pain and their losses and their fears for their safety on streets echoing with gunshots. Families, friends, neighbors, coworkers, people need to face the everyday reality and ubiquity and normality of life and commerce without guns in our faces. (More so than with abortion politics, at least so far, a few encouraging exceptions notwithstanding, I do think some of these strategies are actually happening now in gun politics, and one senses that this is a tide that may be turning as a result, even if I am not sure that liberals quite grasp that their initial limited successes are arising from a shifting of the politics of gun safety onto a cultural terrain that takes on gun-nuttery on its actual terms.) That some hunters or hobbyists might choose to avail themselves of legal, licensed, registered, insured, and circumscribed gun purchases is perfectly acceptable to Americans, but make no mistake that American culture is a culture of freedom, it is a culture celebrating public security and safety and nonviolent cooperation for all.

The problem with the Republican Right's politicization of the relevant scientific consensus about catastrophic anthropocentric climate change, carbon pollution, freshwater depletion, toxic waste as well as the availability of sustainable energy, transportation, agriculture, urban policy alternatives is not that they are politicized as such but that their politics are reactionary and their politicization of policy is bad. The facilitation, funding, oversight, publication, education of sound science as well as the equitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of scientific knowledge and technological developments are inescapably political matters and good scientific and equitable developmental practices must be supported on these political terms as well as on their factual and commercial grounds. This general point simply cannot be made enough. But more specifically, the liberal left should politicize the opportunistic and contradictory recourse to the charge of "junk science" on the part of plutocrats who stand to profit from ignoring the consensus of climate scientists: Why do people who trust medical experts suddenly distrust climate experts when the life and death stakes are the same? Why do pundits accept the verdict of expert UN reports about war crimes but not expert UN reports about climate impacts? The liberal left should politicize climate change as mass death and unprecedented property damage and radical social instability in a brutally palpable and ongoing way in the world today, especially in over-exploited regions of the world but increasingly so in our own cities and neighborhoods, as against the Right's politicization of climate change as a hoax or a problem for future foreigners. Liberals should relentlessly expose (or "out") climate change denialists as the petrochemical shills they are. "Liberal Media" should post a thousand images of wildfires and floods and hurricanes and disease-bearing insect swarms and climate change refugee camps, as well as smug petrochemical billionaires in gold-plated hotel lobbies for every Republican decrying eco-conspiracy in Congress and every bow-tied corporate shill downplaying environmental threats and promoting "engineering" solutions on the tee vee. Families, friends, neighbors, coworkers, people need to testify to the reality that their wastefulness is not making them happy and their denialism is not making them safe. That some might choose to go off-grid or live like ascetic priests or afford zero-carbon footprint McMansions and boutique green lifestyles is perfectly acceptable to Americans, but make no mistake that the American way of life as a general matter is made possible by an equitable, responsible, democratic investment in public goods like energy, transportation, agriculture, and urban infrastructure (which can be sustainable as easily as it is now unsustainable) and an equitable, responsible, democratic administration of common goods that really do include (and must be seen to include) aquifers, watersheds, fertile topsoil, breathable air, walkable neighborhoods, access to wholesome food, and an atmosphere with under 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in it, a culture of survival and flourishing for all and for coming generations.

Liberals win Culture Wars. Gays and DREAMers stopped listening to the hand-wringers and the pearl clutchers and what we got is change. We should fight these Culture Wars over abortion, guns, and environmentalism as the Culture Wars they are so that we can win them. Sure, the facts are on our side -- and let's just assume that those who know the facts will thank us for fighting on their side on the cultural terrain where these battles are actually being fought. Liberals and moderates and science literate policy wonks (not to mention more radically democratic feminists, pacifists, socialists, and greens as well) must stop ceding the ground to reactionary killer clowns whomping up tribal freak-outs. Pre-emptive surrender in the face of urgently necessary and blatantly winnable cultural wars is not the way to win them, the way to win them is the way we always win them: by fighting them for everybody.

There Is Diplomacy Happening on My Tee Vee

Yesterday there were six countries that were not signatories to the global convention against the use of chemical weapons and now there is one less. What that means as a matter of implementation on the ground is obviously fraught, but it remains true that this is a diplomatic achievement. This is actually obvious, but apparently that does not mean this is something anybody is going to talk about. You know, every single day that passes in which Syria is not using chemical weapons and the United States is not bombing Syrian civilians in our name is an accomplishment. Diplomacy is talking. Kerry said something, the Russians took some of that up, and the Administration is opportunistically spinning it and moving the process forward in real time. Diplomacy is talking. We don't know what will happen, politics is ineradicably about judging in the face of not knowing things, but in any case we do know much of what is happening because an almost unprecedented amount of it is happening right there on the tee vee, and also we do know what is not happening that could be happening so easily instead because days ago it seemed well nigh inevitable that bombs majorities didn't want to be falling were going to be falling anyway. Do those complaining of fecklessness and "zig-zagging" in the midst of the present distress presumably pine for the idiotic swagger and unswervable resolution in the face of actually changing circumstances that characterized the killer clowns of the last decade? Zig-zagging can be admired as nimble as readily as it can be dismissed as stumbling. It is surreal to hear United States foreign policy in the Obama era described as confused and indecisive because it is stymied by outrageous obstructionism in the UN by Russia, but given that United States domestic policy in the Obama era is likewise described as confused and indecisive because it is stymied by outrageous obstructionism in Congress by the Republicans I suppose this is both surreal and typical. There is of course plenty to criticize in Obama's policies -- I abhor the drone policy, the runaway surveillance, the expansion of the Unitary Executive, and the prospect of the Larry Summers makes me want to tear my hair out, among endlessly many other things -- but the fact that Obama is not magic, and cannot simply wave away the ways in which reactionary forces can abuse actually existing limits in the Security Council and the Constitutional Separation of Powers is not properly one of the things for which Obama should be criticized.

Sunday, September 08, 2013


It is, to say the least, weird to hear people speak of "harm" to the President should he fail to get a vote from Congress authorizing actually harming civilians by remote control in our name.

As Heidi Klum says, in fashion one day you're in, and the next day you're out. But in presidential politics you're in until you lose or leave office. Political punditry really needs to retain the distinction. Obama may be "down" rather than "up" if he "loses" the upcoming vote -- but there are countless people with real lives to lose were he to "win," and it is hard to see what he would really win should he win. How long is a win a win when it yields no change in the status quo, or if it precipitates more atrocities, or if it escalates regional tensions, or if it draws us deeper into a pointless ruinously costly already universally unpopular war?

Is it really true that not acting on the violation of "a red line" will diminish the credibility of the United States more than when the United States has failed to act on past violations (as when Republicans made trade agreements and sold arms to Iraq at the very moment when such chemical weapons were being used to kill some of its citizens), or, for that matter, the many times the United States has indeed acted on such grounds in ways that yielded bad results in serially failed armed conflicts around the world? The credibility of the United States, whatever that is supposed to be philosophically, is made of money and bombs and that will remain exactly as true if Congress says no or Congress says yes in coming days to the President's request.

President Obama has lost lots of high-profile votes already, from guns to Grand Bargains. Losses are old hat, and there are plenty of narratives readily available for him to slot this next one into that are as likely to damage his opponents and bolster his credibility as not. Apart from WaPo and Politico pundits wringing their hands about which kids look tough in the playground or sit at the cool table in the cafeteria by their reckoning, the President and his party are as likely as not to benefit from the President's consultation with Congress in matters of war even if he doesn't get what he seems to want from that consultation, and if not getting what he wants means Americans getting what they do seem very much to want themselves (no war), it isn't hard to imagine that soon enough President Obama will decide that what he really wanted wasn't exactly what he thought he wanted anyway. Nobody can know exactly how the politics will play out, indeed the only certainty in all this is the fact that bombing Syria will mean innocent civilians will be blown up in our names.

Within weeks there will be a host of long-postponed high-stakes budgetary and policy issues from sequestration to the debt ceiling to immigration for the Administration to cope with in the face of the criminally obstructionist and hopelessly dysfunctional Republicans dominating Congress. I suspect that in the midst of that mass-mediated scrum, the war-crimes of the Syrian dictator will come to matter to Americans, and to their government, precisely as much as they have done for years now. Which is to say, not very much. I can't shake the sense that the Syrian episode has been propelled by reportorial boredom in August as much as by anything else, and its political stakes will abide or decline in ways that reflect this frankly disgusting fact of the matter.

None of this is to deny the horrifying reality of Assad's brutally violent response to non-violent protestors two years ago or the scale of his atrocities as that protest assumed the demoralizing contours of war-crimes and mass-graves from lethal weapons, both "conventional" and "proscribed," in an armed multi-sectarian civil war. But we would all do well to remember that a willingness to slaughter civilians by aerial bombardment isn't exactly the only or best way in the world to demonstrate we are aghast at human rights abuses when it comes to that.

Futurological Faith Made Flesh

Futurological faith in techno-transcendental virtual reality is made flesh in the faith-based initiative of total information awareness. Futurological faith in techno-transcendental AI is made flesh in faith-based initiatives coding targeting software for ads and drones. Futurological faith in techno-transcendental Access to Knowledge is made flesh as crowdsourced-PR on social networks and channel-surfing in MOOC diploma mills. Futurological faith in techno-transcendental nano-abundance is made flesh in market-driven faith-based initiatives of mass consumption and waste. Futurological faith in techno-transcendental "enhancement" medicine is made flesh in late-nite boner pill and skin kreme informercials in a world without clean water.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

World's Policeman

An "international norm" enforced by the United States alone isn't an international norm and those who truly care about the decay of such norms shouldn't content themselves with pretenses to the contrary.

Thursday, September 05, 2013


Prepping for meetings with members of my new MA thesis cohort in the City this afternoon, so, yet again, blogging low to no.

Cruel To Be Kind

Maybe we should actually try to care for the people caring so much about whom provides our pretext for bombing them?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


America has to kill people in Syria with bombs so that Assad will only kill people in Syria with bombs.


We're calling bombing "tailored attacks" now? What next? "Bringing the outside in?"


The one time Senate Democrats really should send a strongly worded letter they opt instead for bombs.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Founding, Confounding

Knowing what to expect is different from knowing what should be.

Long Teaching Day

Meetings all afternoon, then lectures on the history of critical theory and Wilde as and on trial late in the day.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Still Under

I need to get back to puncturing gizmo-fetishists and techno-transcendentalists, I know. Still haven't gotten back my bearings after a rather breathless teaching scrum, really still ongoing. Hell, I still haven't managed to clear all the junk off my desk.

Forgetting For Getting

The formalization of an indebtedness of all to some is the forgetfulness of the ineradicable interdependence of all with all.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.