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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wayne LaPierre Thinks He Lives in Westeros

We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and car-jackers and knock-out gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all.
That "rapers" is an obvious Westeros tell. Not to deny the reality of crimes of violence -- especially sexual assault in a patriarchal popular rape culture -- but is LaPierre's dystopian nightmare world anything like the one you or any sane person finds outside your door every day? It is certainly a world that becomes more likely to be realized the more this paranoid freaked out gun-nut with millions of dollars and an army of lobbyists at his disposal fights his fight to pile more and more and more loaded guns on every square inch of our country. I don't know what is worse, the thought that old straight white guys actually live in such deranged hells of horror and rage and despair, or the thought that some of them are willing to whomp up such hellscapes of dead children and scorched earth just so that some rich guys who make weapons can get even richer.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Twitter Will Wither

Those who are counting on twitter to archive and sustain all the creative, critical content happening there are going to have their hearts broken again. Private profiteers do not and cannot support public goods for long. Ever. EVER.

"Simpler Times"

Whenever a white dude pines for a "simpler time" -- and I am including the ones who call themselves anarchists and eco-radicals -- I assume he's got a gun pointed at me.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

A Clash of Spontaneisms: Howard Kunstler on Thomas Piketty

Howard Kunstler has joined a handful of critics on the left of Thomas Piketty's otherwise left-lauded surprise best-selling sensation, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. In the immediate aftermath of Occupy's indispensable figuration and re-invigoration of the politics of "the 99% versus the 1%," Piketty's painstaking documentary theorizing of the intransigence of income inequality in plutocratic societies -- very much including market orders that fancy themselves liberal/libertarian meritocracies like our own -- has struck a chord, to say the least. But a few critics who have long criticized contemporary plutocracy from a perspective lodged in more radical environmental and labor politics wonder if Piketty's formulations dig deep enough to bear the weight of the emancipatory aspirations with which the book is being freighted by many of its champions.

"Piketty’s new book," writes Kunstler, is "a product of failed mental models, historical blindness, hubris, and wishful thinking." He goes on to describe a part of Piketty’s thesis reasonably well, if schematically: "wealth will continue to accumulate and concentrate among individual rich families at ever-greater rates and therefore... nation-states should take a number of steps to prevent that from happening or at least attempt to correct it." The hubris and wishful thinking here I would note is not in Piketty's demonstration that, contra market ideologues, there are in fact neither "market forces" nor is there any "natural tendency" toward general empowerment we can hope for or count on in liberal societies. "Piketty is certainly right that [wealth] will tend to remain concentrated" -- I daresay Kunstler regards the point as obvious, if anything -- but it isn't a bad idea to note that a key result in Piketty, and frankly the very result that is generating most of the excitement about the book, is something Kunstler doesn't disapprove as far as it goes.

More specifically, what Kunstler finds ridiculous is that
Piketty and his fans assume that the industrial orgy will continue one way or another, in other words that some mysterious “they” will “come up with innovative new technologies” to obviate the need for fossil fuels and that the volume of wealth generated will more or less continue to increase. This notion is childish, idiotic, and wrong.
As it happens, I agree with Kunstler (and Bill McKibben) that there is a very real way in which the global postwar economy has mostly been a matter of bubble-blowing within a petrochemical meta-bubble misconstrued as Modernity. From such a perspective the Keynesian productivism of the New Deal and the first post-war quarter-century of Bretton Woods and UN internationalism (think of the basic premise of Keynes's Economic Possibilities of Our Grandchildren), no less than the deregulatory and privatizing unraveling, via libertopian Hayekian-Friendmanian spontaneisms, of the post-Reagan quarter-century of neoliberal financialization, indebtedness, and planetary precarization, BOTH rely for their intelligibility and force on the disavowal of the planetary limits to growth and of the terrible suffering of exploited labor at the margins of North Atlantic corporate-military hegemony.

Definitely -- obviously! -- I agree when Kunstler calls out those reactionary rationalizers of elite-incumbency, the techno-transcendentalizing gizmo-fetishizing retro-futurological consumer-fandoms of futurism as he does in this bit of righteous ranting:
The techno-narcissist Jeremy Rifkins and Ray Kurzweils among us propound magical something-for-nothing workarounds for our predicament, but they are just blowing smoke up the collective fundament of a credulous ruling plutocracy. In fact, we’re faced with an unprecedented contraction of wealth, and a shocking loss of ability to produce new wealth. That‘s the real “game-changer,” not the delusions about shale oil and the robotic “industrial renaissance” and all the related fantasies circulating among a leadership that checked its brains at the Microsoft window.
One cannot repeat often enough or insistently enough on the perfect continuity of the techno-utopian ideology rationalizing the digital networks that facilitated global financial fraud, targeted marketing harassment, corporate-military surveillance and Big Data framing, on the one hand, and the techno-utopian ideology encouraging fantasies of geo-engineering schemes to mitigate and reverse climate catastrophe to the profit of the corporate-military interests who cause and amplify that climate catastrophe, on the other hand.

Another left critic of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Marvin Brown has made something like Kunstler's point when he declares that "Piketty... remains within the story of an economics of property" when earlier economists offering similar criticisms of plutocratic inequity like Henry George and Karl Polanyi provided re-figurations and re-narrativizations of the status quo that could enable more radical interventions into its terms. Brown's reference to Polanyi is one with which I am especially sympathetic, as when he writes: "Karl Polanyi [in] 1940 claim[ed] that labor, land, and money are not properties. Labor is a human activity, land is a biotic community, money is a social relation." I think this is an enormously useful reminder as we contemplate more radical refusals of libertarian and meritocratic rationalizations for elite-incumbency. The way I would put the point is to say that any critique of the inequity or unsustainability of elite incumbent politics that fails to attend to Polanyi's axiom -- or a comparable formulation that does much the same work -- that acceptance of the commodification of labor, land, or money fatally distorts economic models, will render them vulnerable to assimilation by elite incumbent interests, whatever the worth and earnestness of the critique. I would add, just to make the connection of Brown's critique with Kunstler's more palpable, that Polanyi's repudiation of the commodification of "land" has as much to do with Aldo Leopold's environmentalist Land Ethic as Henry George's economic populism.

Piketty recommends that nation-states might intervene -- in a planetary alliance in some instances -- to redress the strong social tendencies toward anti-democratizing and public-dysfunctionalizing wealth concentration through more progressive taxation, not only steeply progressive income taxes, which he does also approve (as do I), but especially by increasing estate taxes that facilitate wealth concentration through inheritance and levying taxes on global investment and financial circulation that facilitate wealth concentration through flight from national regulations. Although one would have to be a fool to deny that the education, agitation, organization, and legislation in support of these recommendations would be incredibly difficult, it seems to me it is a different sort of fool who would deny that efforts in support of comparable regulation have indeed succeeded in the past. Kunstler's critique is lodged in his belief that any recourse to the agency of equitable law embedded in a state-formation is ultimately delusive and reactionary. Again, I am far from denying the difficulty of accomplishing and then long maintaining more equitable and sustainable ends through stakeholder politics in the context of state-formations, but whenever the recognition of these difficulties yields privileged pinings after anarchy, I fear a reactionary anti-politics amounting to complacent acquiescence or eager martyrdom has once again been mistaken for political radicalism. Anarchism is radical only in the sense that it disdains the political as such and right at the root, it fails even to arrive at the point of departure for the political, properly so-called, lodging itself in spontaneist fancies disavowing the ineradicable diversity of stakeholders to the present world as it is and as it will come to be, from this-present/ce onto next-present/ce.

This helps to explain why Kunstler remains so unimpressed with Piketty despite his agreement with the conclusion for which Piketty is being celebrated in other left precincts: Piketty's repudiation of spontaneist fables of "natural" "market" forces delivering equality of opportunity and liberty is less important to Kunstler, it would seem, than his own spontaneist fables of peak oil and resource descent as a State-Smashing deus ex machina returning some of us (guess who?) to a Golden Age. I remind readers how Kunstler concluded his delineation of the horrors of peak oil and water wars in earlier pieces on what he called The Long Emergency with warm wistful arias to more local anarchic folkways:
These are daunting and even dreadful prospects. The Long Emergency is going to be a tremendous trauma for the human race. We will not believe that this is happening to us, that 200 years of modernity can be brought to its knees by a world-wide power shortage. The survivors will have to cultivate a religion of hope -- that is, a deep and comprehensive belief that humanity is worth carrying on. If there is any positive side to stark changes coming our way, it may be in the benefits of close communal relations, of having to really work intimately (and physically) with our neighbors, to be part of an enterprise that really matters and to be fully engaged in meaningful social enactments instead of being merely entertained to avoid boredom. Years from now, when we hear singing at all, we will hear ourselves, and we will sing with our whole hearts.
In this connection, recall that even sympathetic critics of his post-peak oil trilogy of World Made By Hand novels have often noted the curious satisfaction of the books with the sexism, racism, feudalism, and superstition to which majorities are subjected in his imagined "apocalyptic" world.

I detect a comparable acquiescence in Kunstler's "radical" rejection of Piketty's recommendations, when he writes,
I’d take the less popular view that the Deep State will choke to death on the diminishing returns of technology and that nation-states in general will first degenerate into impotence and then break up into smaller units. What’s more, I’d propose that the whole world is apt to be going medieval, so to speak, as we contend with our energy predicament and its effects on wealth generation, banking, and all the other operations of modern capital.
Now, it seems to me that there are plenty of precincts across the left where such formulations are plenty popular -- among those who seem to me the most self-congratulatory about their radicalism and the most aggressive in their incapacity to distinguish Democrats from Republicans, or better outcomes from worse outcomes. I have already pointed out that there is ample historical evidence of political struggle in the service of recommendations as ambitious as Piketty's proposals, and it should be noted that a large portion of Piketty's book (but not Kunstler's critique of it) is devoted to his demonstration that the historical catastrophes of the Great Depression and World War two created the specific conditions under which state-formations instituted regulations and supports that resisted, mitigated, and compensated for a time the tendencies to wealth concentration he and we all deplore and to which we have lately returned. I have also already commented on the mistaken identification of every possible state-form with corporate-militarism rather than with democratizing struggles for sustainable equity-in-diversity -- even if I obviously disapprove of the particular pathologies Bill Moyers famously described as the Deep State, I believe that democracy is a Deeper State, and I believe the denial of this in theory or in practice is usually to acquiesce in fact to the very corporate-military forces Moyers rightly decries.

All this matters not least because another way for environmentalists in particular to read Piketty is to treat ongoing and upcoming climate catastrophe (not only global warming caused by the private-profiteering carbon pollution of the public good of a breathable atmospheric commons, but also resource depletion caused by the private appropriation of public goods like freshwater commons and topsoil commons and forest commons and diverse species commons) as an analogue to what Piketty described as the "shocks of war" as an anomalous circumstance that might -- and, by the way, must -- enable state-interventions countervailing wealth-concentrating tendencies otherwise. The very forces that Kunstler admonishes Piketty for ignoring may be the forces that make it possible for Piketty's recommendations to gain the purchase Kunstler despairs of finding in the political resources actually at hand.

Beautiful Art in Support of Organizing at SFAI

via the amazing Art Hazelwood:

2014 Mid-Terms Will Not Be A Re-Run of 2010

In the lead-up to the 2010 midterm shellacking, "Death Panel Summer" endlessly amplified right-wing lies as an organizing tool. Of course, it was always obvious that the Koch Brothers invested vast sums of money and Fox News devoted enormous amounts of air-time to create and to promote the so-called "grass-roots" "populist" Tea Party movement and its welter of anti-Obamacare websites, mailers, rallies, events, supplying buses to ship the rubes to rail in front of the right cameras. All of that elite-incumbent investment canalized and articulated a seething reservoir of anxiety and resentment about the billionaire bailouts of 2008 and the still-ongoing unemployment crisis into a mass suicide pact to get the chief victims to vote for their own worst enemies, Republicans devoted to austerity and billionaire tax-cuts and all too willing to obstruct problem-solving into total dysfunction.

Of course, lots of wingnuts across the country and even in office are high on their own supply and are behaving as if Obamacare really is totalitarianism -- rather than simply a private enterprise friendly expansion of the already popular and effective medicaid program to millions of Americans and then the regulation of the worst, most unjust, most wasteful private insurance practices paid off with a magnificent bribe of a mandate to buy private insurance for millions more Americans who can afford it. (It should go without saying that like every sane informed person I advocate a single-payer healthcare system, and hope further Medicaid expansions, early Medicare buy-in, pilot state-level single-payer experiments, and increased support for non-profit healthcare collectives move us from where we are to where we need to be going next.) Be that as it may, for those unfortunates who fear kenyamuslifascisocialism, a botched few weeks of a website demonstrated Obamacare's inevitable fatality, and they still seem to expect that anti-Obamacare messages will create a re-run of the 2010 mid-terms for Republicans, or at any rate preserve the reactionary firewall erected by 2010. (If not, I suppose they will always have Paris, er, Benghazi!)

Gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement drives, and the co-incident bad math of Democratic exposure in the Senate have created a formidable environment for Democrats in 2014, but there are few signs of a re-run of 2010 for those who are not pining for them or given over to paranoiac panicking over them. Right now in the lead-up to the 2014 midterms, exposures of white-racist patriarchal plutocracy amplify very different narratives and organize very different constituencies than the ones Republicans depend on. Observing the success of Obama's presidential campaign organizing two times in a row, Democrats seem finally to be turning away from the long-crippling conventional wisdom of wishy-washily appealing to so-called independent "moderates" (who either do not exist or are mostly just Republicans too uncomfortable with the bald racism and dysfunction of public Republicans to admit to their Republicanism in public) and are focusing instead on motivating their own base voters, or more interestingly still, expanding that base by investing in highly selective voter education, registration, mobilization strategies to overcome traditional mid-term turnout deficits.

There are months to go and the vicissitudes of politics will throw up who knows how many occasions for Republicans to exploit to demoralize the jittery always fractious left -- and of course the demographic pluralizing and secularizing of American culture will continue to create perverse benefits for conservatives right up to the point they force a radical conservative re-invention, because this plural and secular reality can mobilize defensive discipline on the right while at once reassuring the left into complacency -- nothing is guaranteed and the goal of winning back many Governor's mansions and both keeping the Senate and regaining the House remains a fraught, fragile hope even if everybody plays their cards right, but those counting on or dreaming about or having nightmares over a 2010 re-run are in for a real surprise.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Another SpaceX Suckcess

After flying to the edge of space, a spent SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster successfully returned to Earth, deployed its landing legs, and hovered for a moment. The ability, known as a soft landing, could allow the company to dramatically reduce the cost of spaceflight and one day land rockets on Mars. Because it came down at a spot in the Atlantic Ocean, SpaceX’s rocket had nothing solid to land on. It crashed into the ocean and was lost to large waves from a storm before the company could get a boat out to recover it. But in the next few months, SpaceX hopes to reproduce the achievement.
Spaceship doesn't actually go into space, then crashes and is lost in the sea. Is Mars next? Possibly not.

You can call flying to the "edge of space" -- you know, like planes have done for generations -- "spaceflight" if you like. You can call crashing into the sea -- you know, like rockets and shuttles have done for generations -- a "soft landing" if you like. You can call a craft lost at sea -- you know, like crafts have done through the whole of recorded human history -- "success" if you like.

I lost my housekeys in the ocean once. It didn't seem like success, particularly. But, then, I didn't have the can-do innovatorial entrepreneurial zeal in the moment to ask the real question demanded by that moment, staring into the foam beneath the setting sun, searching for the keys to my home... Is Mars next?

Irony, Ridicule, Sarcasm

Only those who have forgotten or never lived the double consciousness of the threatened margin could pronounce irony a vehicle of despair, since it is irony that provides for many of us the only way to survive the world or find any beauty in it at all. Ridiculing the ridiculous is a joyful expression in the face of intransigent error or evil that they can be overcome. To recognize that one is ridiculous is a precondition for indulging in ridicule. Sarcasm is like irony, but without the courage of conviction.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

All Futurists Are Footure Fetishists

"The Future" of the futurologists is always so stoopid I propose we call it the Footure.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Adjuncts at the San Francisco Art Institute Have Filed for a Union Election

Adjuncts at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) -- who are designated "Visiting Faculty" regardless of how long we have been teaching at the school -- filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a union election to join SEIU Local 1021. My own "Visit" as an adjunct teaching full time at SFAI has continued for more than a decade. Like our counterparts at Mills College who filed for a union election two weeks before we did, adjuncts at SFAI work for comparatively low pay, have little opportunity for promotion, lack the job security of long-term contracts, and have no voice in governance. Since three-quarters of faculty at SFAI are adjuncts our lack of job security and available channels of accountable communication with administration doesn't only impact our own sense of well-being, but undermines the educational mission and real community of SFAI. Forming a union would oblige administration to confer with us -- the majority of the actual people doing the actual teaching which is the actual reason SFAI actually exists -- about the direction of the school as well as how its resources are allocated. It seems to me that organized adjuncts achieving more of a stake in the institution will contribute reliable feedback as well as even more energetic commitment to the mission of SFAI and will be able to collaborate with administration in a more productive way. And though SFAI's administration seems rather predictably reluctant to embark upon this path for now I think everybody could come to appreciate and prefer the more equitable environment that adjuncts are hoping to bring about. You should check out Adjunct Action Bay Area for the latest news, since there is a whole lot of energy and excitement happening at the moment around adjunct organizing in Bay Area colleges and universities.

Futurism At the Fair: Rituals of Temporary Transcendence

The Frailest Thing: The World of Tomorrow 75 Years Later:
The ’39 New York fair offered an especially grandiose and compelling glimpse of a techno-utopian society poised to materialize within a generation. Its most popular exhibits featured Cities of Tomorrow -- Zions that were to be realized through technological expertise deployed by corporate power and supported by benign government planning. And little wonder these exhibits were so popular: the nation had been through a decade of economic depression and rumors of war swept across the Atlantic. “To catch the public imagination,” historian David Nye has explained, “the fair had to address this uneasiness. It could not do so by mere appeals to patriotism, by displays of goods that many people had no money to buy, or by the nostalgic evocation of golden yesterdays. It had to offer temporary transcendence.”

Friday, April 25, 2014

Long Teaching Day

A night of insomnia greets the dawn of my long teaching day. How apt to be discussing resource descent (carbon fuels, water, "high-tech" materials, topsoil, effective antibiotics) in my Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course this morning, battling my own exhaustion all the while. And in my graduate survey of Critical Theory we have arrived at Valerie Solanas, Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, and Carol Adams, feminist, cyborg, species politics. At the heart of my training, let us hope I really truly can teach these materials with my eyes closed. I am ready to close them again already. Off to my shower! Blogging today will be low to no again, naturally.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Saucers Spinning on Poles

Teaching is intensifying as it usually does as the end of term draws near: There are lots of late assignments flooding in, lots of worries about final papers and projects are finding voice, lots of logistics need bulldozing through as the date for the MA symposium at SFAI draws near, and so on, but this year there is the added complexity and anxiety of adjuncts like me organizing to vote for or against representation by the SEIU happening as well. If you are wondering about all this superficial blogging I'm doing -- even more than usual, that is -- there are quite a lot of saucers spinning on poles right about now to account for it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Not Afraid, Actually

It is revealing how often the choice of effective, familiar, appropriate techniques and technologies over untried or unduly complex ones will invite charges of "luddism" or "technophobia."

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Today's Random Wilde

Lots of people act well... but very few people talk well, which shows that talking is much more the difficult thing of the two, and much the finer thing also.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Meet the Mess

I agree that the bland consultant NBC hired for David Gregory has helped to make Meet the Press more bland.


Lamar Alexander says the GOP wants to be "the iPhone party." Of course, it's already the iMe party.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Brooks Calls President Boy

And let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a -- I'll say it crudely -- but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin?
Not bombing all the furriners everywhere makes Muscular Baby Jesus cry on Easter Sunday.


Funny how often the self-declared genius
turns out in the end to be merely a penius.

Ode to the Smartest Guys In the Room

Can we never hope to curtail
how the stale, the pale, and the male
seem only upwardly to fail?

A Singular Fail

So, it looks like Transcendence will make back scarcely more than eleven of the over one hundred million bucks it took to make it. And the AI Daddy in Tech Heaven agitprop has indeed come in at fourth place behind the much cheaper Sky Daddy in Cloud Heaven agitprop of Heaven Is For Real. Reviews and word of mouth have pronounced the flick a stinker -- at any rate that's the word outside the hypenotized robocultic techbro circles responsible for making anybody think this techno-transcendental fart would smell like a rose and who still declare the film original and ambitious though it is palpably neither. Of course, I expected this tired-ass ponderous pseudo-intellectual clap-trap to fail as it deserved to do, but did not expect so catastrophic a fail, I must say, as the numbers for the opening weekend are weaker than those managed in years past by epic bombs in the genre like Stealth and The Island. Superlative futurology makes for shitty thought -- do you hear me Stanford and Oxford Universities? Superlative futurology makes for shitty business plans -- do you hear me Google? Superlative futurology makes for shitty entertainments -- do you hear me now, Warner Brothers?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why Does Justice Scalia Hate America?

Hope it was snark, else so much for the law and order party:
"Perhaps you should revolt." -- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, quoted by the Knoxville News Sentinel, to a law school student who questioned the constitutionality of the federal income tax.
Yeah, I know they were never really anything but the law means following my orders party.

Salon Calls Transcendence's Bluff

Andrew O'Hehir's review of Transcendence in Salon is smart and snarky and generally splendid:
“Transcendence” is a moronic stew of competing impulses -- bad science meets bad sociology meets bad theology — in which it’s hard to say who looks worse: The naïve techno-boosters like Depp’s Dr. Will Caster (an Ayn Rand character name if ever there was one), wearing round spectacles and spouting clichés about the coming man-machine “singularity” apparently mined from Wired magazine in 1999 [or just as likely, I'm sorry to say, overheard at Google ten minutes ago --d], or the small-minded Luddite reactionaries of the so-called underground resistance, conducting KGB-style assassination campaigns against their enemies... I’m sorry, but “Let’s use machines to cure cancer, as long as there’s no downside” is barely even a thought or a wish, and it’s certainly not a philosophy. Do Pfister and screenwriter Jack Paglen actually believe that there’s some constituency of DIY cord-cutter radical-skeptic types with funny hair who are dead set against medical technology? I’m pretty sure the answer is no, which brings us back to the parsimonious explanation for “Transcendence”: Pfister, who has finally gotten a turn in the director’s chair after many years as Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer, is one of those movie-industry people who is really good at the technical side of the job but maybe not, you know, all that much of a candidate for the chair in Heidegger studies or whatever. Pfister’s former boss, on the other hand, is a dark genius when it comes to infusing his sensory-overload cinema with complicated subtext, with at least a somewhat convincing simulation of depth and ambiguity. (Nolan would never have touched this screenplay with a 50-foot robotic arm.) Actually, no, wait. That sounds like I’m accusing Pfister of being a dumbass, which is totally not the point. You don’t have to be a book-learnin’ intellectual with an expensive education to be an important filmmaker, far from it... Wally Pfister is smart enough to understand, perhaps not quite consciously, that times have changed and the ideological task is now different. (Spoiler alert, this paragraph!) “Transcendence” is constructed to signal an engagement with supposedly important issues, but under the surface it delivers a familiar narrative of gender norms -- the abusive, controlling husband and the hysterical doormat wife -- mixed with a message of militant conformism: If only those crazy radicals hadn’t shot Will Caster with a radioactive bullet, his magic sentient computer would have scrubbed all the bad chemicals from the air and water, cloned the passenger pigeon and restored sight to the blind. Since it’s evidently a very short step from turning off your smartphone to protesting against animal experimentation to psychotic acts of violence, you’re better off sticking with your defined role of spectatorship and consumption and paying no attention to the men behind the curtain.
There is a lot that speaks to me personally in later paragraphs that take a delightful turn to Adorno and Horkheimer, and I do encourage everybody to follow the link for the whole thing, but I also think the excerpt above has both the funniest and most poignant bits. That Transcendence's totally tired and too-prevailing "tech culture" conceits are actually profoundly anti-intellectual and politically reactionary is something that still isn't said enough or understood enough and it matters enormously.

io9 Has the Transcendence Sadz

Everybody knows now that Transcendence has tanked. Crappy movies flop all the time, but this is hardly a tragedy in the larger scheme of the things, except possibly for investors, any more than the fact that equally crappy movies often make hundreds of millions of dollars. That is why it is so very strange to read in io9 the weepy dashed hope declarations of Charlie Jane Anders about the failure of the film -- "What went wrong" she wails in her opening sentence, "it's really sad." She goes on to insist, "you really have to respect Transcendence's ambition." Must we, despite its triteness, clunkiness, and abject failures? With a stamp of the foot she declares of this obviously terrible turd, "it's not... a terrible film," but rather desperately, "it's just not great, and it's not goofy enough to be just fun." Mm hm, it sucked so much and in such slow-witted slow-motion it cannot even manage to be campy, yes, we get it.

Anders bemoans not only the failure of this dumb b-movie but curiously more than that. Her opening wail "What went wrong?" culminates in the enormously odd further question, "Why did the A.I. revolution fail?" Would the success of the film somehow have contributed to the success of the latter "revolution" in some way? And is it really the failure of the latter "revolution" that makes the failure of just another facile (in)action film so very "really sad"? It is truly strange the lengths to which Anders goes to blame the failure of the film on anything she can think of apart from its dumb dull dishrag of a premise. Of the premise itself she insists instead -- even as she contemplates the spectacle of total shit eventuating from it -- on its "timeliness" and its "ambition."

When Anders declares "timely" the notions of a superintelligent computer and of consciousness uploading at the heart of this stinker can she possibly mean to propose that these ideas are new? They are not. That they are soon to be accomplished in reality? They are not. That they even make sense? They do not.

As a fan of science fiction can she really not effortlessly reel off hundreds upon hundreds of speculative stories and television episodes and movies that took up these conceits? Mind you, some of these are quite classic, indispensable parts of the canon. But it has been a hell of a long time since anybody managed to do anything new along these lines, and only rarely do these conceits yield anything good anymore. Rather desperately, Anders declares: "You could imagine a really fantastic movie around just the question of whether the copy of Will's consciousness in the machine is really Will or a facsimile. In fact, there are all sorts of fantastic questions about identity and personhood raised here and there, that the movie never quite sinks its teeth into."

There is not much of a meal there to "sink [your] teeth into" as far as I can see. I mean, truly? honestly? What would be destined to be so flipping fantastic about such a movie premise? I mean, you can spin a fine film around any hoary old conceit you like if your characters and your language are sufficiently evocative, but Anders actually doesn't seem to grasp what a whiskered vaudevillian bit the whole premise of the software copy versus the real self really is. And to propose that there is deeper thinking about "personhood" raised in this tired cliche is so wrongheaded that it actually frightens me a little. I know quite well the skewed priorities and credulous vacuity of full-on fulminating members of the various techno-transcendental Robot Cults who fall for eugenic transhumanoid and digi-utopian singularitarian flim-flammery, but if otherwise sensitive and imaginative people who are fed too steady a diet of tech-CEO press releases and pop-tech informercial techno-booster "journalism" find themselves mouthing much the same platitudes and aspirations this is a truly dangerous phenomenon we are observing. I mean, are you serious: What if we're all in a simulation, man, what is real, WHAT IS REAL? What if people can't tell the difference between you and something impersonating or representing you, man, who are you, WHO ARE YOU? Dude, deep! I'm so high right now.

You will forgive me if once again I refuse to pretend there is anything particularly profound in mistaking a picture of someone for that someone. You will forgive me if once again I refuse to pretend there is anything particularly profound in attributing what has always been the materially instantiated, biologically incarnated, multi-dimensional phenomenon of "intelligence" to artifacts exhibiting little to none of this reality and richness? You will forgive me if again I refuse to pretend there is anything particularly profound in repudiating a progressive understanding of present stakeholder struggle among a diversity of finite peers for an at once reductive and triumphalist futurological theology of destiny as an acquiescence to sooper-machines flexing their ever-amplifying muscles. These are not new ideas, these are not clever ideas, these are not inspiring ideas, these are not progressive ideas, these are tired, dumb, embarrassing, reactionary ideas... and that they are the leading ideas of so many of the self-declared "thought leaders" of the neoliberals of the corporate-military think-tanks or the libertechbrotarians of the SillyCon Valley is something not to be celebrated, but exposed, critiqued, and marginalized into comparative harmlessness.

So disconsolate is Anders in the face of the obvious intellectual, artistic, commercial, and popular failure of the Transcendence bomb that she loses herself for much of her review in an alternate reality in which the once-bandied-about now-mercifully-tabled notion of a Roland Emmerich summer spectacle called The Singularity, written with an intellectual assist from the Robocultic Pope Ray Kurzweil himself, would be the "pro-AI" film "we would be getting" instead of Transcendence. Of course, Emmerich's blockbuster would almost certainly have been a box-office dog as well, these dumb deluded notions do lend themselves to the special off-putting ponderousness and assholery of the Very Small swollen into Bloated Bigness -- a recognition that possibly saved Emmerich from wasting the time and money making it in the first place. Setting that aside, however, mark well the unabashed endorsement of techno-transcendental agitprop implied in Anders' politically portentious "pro-AI" formulation -- did Transcendence fail truly because it wasn't "pro-AI" enough? Can the faith ever fail or only be failed, after all? But think as well about that "we" who could, in a better world, be "getting" this "pro-AI" blockbuster instead of the turkey Transcendence. I will be generous and presume that Anders' "we" consists of the sf-fans who enjoy a good science fiction flick even if its premises are facile or fantastic, I will not dwell too long on the possibly present "we" of presumably fellow-faithful who, in the better world of The Future, pine to be uploaded as deathless, gorgeous, blissed-out angel avatars in Holodeck Heaven under the ministrations of a history-ending post-parental sooper-intelligent Robot God of loving grace and who are consoled in the present world of ignorance, error, frailty, and frustration by the deranging distractions of pseudo-scientific con-artistry and crass consumer acquiescence and infantile wish-fulfilment fantasies they rationalize as "Big Ideas" and "Serious Science."

The title of Anders' review is Transcendence Has Some Of The Dumbest Smart People We've Ever Seen. Given the review that follows, a more self-oblivious declaration can scarcely be imagined. After making lots of noise from the margins for decades, the Robot Cultists have been insinuating themselves into the boardrooms of big corporations like Google, established academic institutions like Oxford, and serious big-bucks entertainments like Warner Brothers lately. The transhumanists and singularitarians and techno-immortalists have long been a revealing symptom in an extreme (and extremely ridiculous) form of more prevailing elite technocratic and technno-utopian assumptions and aspirations, but the libertechbrotarians of corporate "tech culture" who have soaked this nonsense up and taken it literally are now putting real money and muscle into these idiotic visions. The failures we are about to witness -- but, worse, to which we will be subjected and then made to pay for and clean up after -- will be, I fully expect, quite something. From the Bomb to the dot.bomb to this big budget b-movie bomb there are many bombs to come. Grab your popcorn, the show won't be in the theater.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Teaching Day

It's Green Eats day in my Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course. Discussions of eating practices can turn out to be quite tense, even at nine in the morning, I find. Although I've been an ethical vegetarian for longer than some of my students have been alive by now, my own environmental politics and teaching tends to stress structural and regulatory interventions rather than individualized lifestyle choices like boutique eco-consumerism and the various vegetarian tribalisms, and yet these food questions turn out to be the obverse face of permaculture practices that have long seemed to me the best face of sustainable planetary civilization. Food justice politics takes us right back into the heart of environmental justice politics, food deserts right back into the crisis of unsustainable neoliberal/neoconservative over-urbanization, anti-vegetarian agitprop right back into eco-feminism, and so on. My graduate seminar is cancelled since this whole week has been given over to critiques of student studio work. And so I will be home a bit earlier than is usual for a Friday and may even have time to be annoyed by the world enough to blog something -- we'll see.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Millions Insured in Republican Heritage Foundation Romneycare Triumph!

As ACA enrollments swell past eight million -- not even counting, mind you, the millions and millions insured through the Medicaid expansion and young people staying on a parent's plan -- we approach that highly entertaining upcoming episode in which Republicans go from years of lying about, actively sabotaging, and voting over and over and over again for the full repeal of dreaded Obamacare to taking credit for the ACA, made all the more entertaining, no doubt, by the spectacle of pundits and Democrats enabling this utterly nonsensical contortion.

The World Future Society's Unfuturist (Me!) Is Back

I have republished and amplified a couple of snarky old posts about the flick Transcendence here for you to enjoy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Oakland Is Not Fooled

Tweet the Heap: Of Sorites

On Twitteressays

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Queered Science


Cynthia Diaz Is Hunger Striking in the White House Front Yard Because ICE Attacked Her Mom in Her Front Yard

A young, courageous American citizen named Cynthia Diaz has been on a hunger strike in front of the White House to protest the ongoing detention -- in an awful under-regulated private-run prison, as Raul Reyes insists, let us be clear what "detention" is -- of her Mom as undocumented. She tells the traumatic story of the attack on her home by a gang of armed ICE agents and then talks about what she is doing now and how she is feeling. I suspect that most of the people who read this blog will already be well-informed and therefore unsatisfied about America's outrageous immigration politics, but it is going the take the organized anger of those who clearly see the faces and hear the voices of people like Cynthia Diaz who are going to force President Obama to change course via Executive Actions as all else fails, and stop the imprisonment and deportation of undocumented folks in mixed-status families or who have long histories in this country or who have been confined only through the commission of minor offenses, even as we remember that the largest and most stubborn obstacle to comprehensive immigration reform and a permanent end to this ongoing injustice and violence is the racism and cruelty of almost every elected Republican.

American Optimism

Whenever I get accused of pessimism I always take care to look where the guns are pointed.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Long Teaching Day

This morning, from nine to noon, back in the City, in my undergraduate Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course we are taking up digi-utopians, geo-engineers, and Viridians -- something of a pet topic with me, as you know, more or less my Futurology Against Ecology schtick -- and then later in the afternoon, from one to four, in my graduate survey of Critical Theory lecture we have arrived at Foucault, which means the carceral archipelago, docile bodies imprisoned by souls, incited to circumscribing self-creations via sexuality, addiction, vocation, and genocidal governmentality. Oh, what fun it is to ride!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

War Criminal Cute

I consider George W. Bush's now-famous, presumably "humanizing," painting practice perfectly continuous with his long-notorious, obviously cruel, incurious, dehumanizing nick-naming practice. Heh-heh-heh.

Afterlife Grudge Match

It's amusing that the saccharine "Heaven Is For Real" and techno-facile "Transcendence" are opening at the same time in movie theaters across America: the two films assume a number of shared essential assumptions and aspirations and enact a number of shared narrative tropes, and yet the faithful and the hopeful to whom these films are being pitched would little likely concede or be capable of conceiving these films as essentially similar at all. On a side note, I personally hope -- and somewhat expect -- both films to die speedily and soon and without much of an afterlife in the consumer hell of blu-ray bargain bins to console them, and for similar reasons.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Dwarves killed in Lothlorien were listed in official documents under the heading Galadriel Damage.

Oculus Grift

Turn the lights out, sit closer to your tee vee, and save your money.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Future Is A Hell Of A Drug: io9 Has A New Manifesto

Annalee Newitz titled the original "Manifesto" defining the Mission of the io9 website Addicted to the Future. It is a curiously apt phrase. There is a very obvious and flatfooted way in which there is no such thing, here in the present, after all, as The Future. And as such one never arrives at The Future, but always only another present. But I have always taken pains to pressure this point further still, insisting that "futurity" is a characteristic of that always aborning present. I use the term futurity to describe the openness of the present onto the next present that arises out of the ineradicable diversity of stakeholders -- and the ineradicable diversity of their histories, hopes, ends, capacities, vantages -- sharing and making the present world. From such a perspective, "The Future" doesn't only not exist, but is a parochialism projected from within a present perspective that forecloses or seeks to foreclose that futurity, substituting for it a linear extrapolation or amplified incumbency. To be "addicted to the future" is to be addicted to the denial of the futurity in the present, it is to disavow the contingency of the present, to retreat into a presence that would abide and in so abiding deny the presence that is opening. I daresay such disavowals and retreats are sufficiently characteristic of addictions that one might declare an "addiction to the Future" a redundancy. Somewhat paradoxically, its parochialism, its reaction, its incumbency renders every futurism a retro-futurism (and not only in the sense Newitz admits, an appreciation of superannuated science fiction visions in the Gernsback Continuum).

"Good science fiction begins with the present," wrote Newitz, and she would have done well to dwell there. All great literature, and that includes the literature that is science fiction literature, is a comment on the quandaries and promises of the present and an effort to expand the diversity in presence we are capable of grasping as part of the present of which we are a part. When Newitz declares that "science fiction... [i]s the storytelling branch of prophesy" I would quibble with that "the" but I consider her larger point that poiesis is prophetic more important. But when Newitz opened up her manifesto warning that the world is "full of people who want to sell you cheap ways of seeing the future," she didn't make explicit the extent to which what tends to cheapen ways of taking up and taking on futurity is to misunderstand or, worse, deliberately misconstrue prophesy as a predictive rather than diagnostic genre -- a misunderstanding and misconstrual that has as one of its most conspicuous symptoms fetishistic references to "The Future."

The profete is in the original Greek an advocate, speaking as an intermediary from an absolutely idiosyncratic presence into the reception of the wider world, a fraught and fragile transaction every artist knows all too well. How very different the futurological pseudo-expert, circumscribing open futurity in the pretense of "trend-spotting," when
[c]ertainly there is no such thing as an historically agentic or otherwise autonomously forceful trend. Trends, let us say, are retroactive narrative constructions, and usually their retroactivity is falsely projected as if from the vantage of a non-existing superior height (as with fashion trends announced by fashion authorities) or from the future (which does not exist and is inhabited by no one at all)...
Is it any wonder that io9 has chosen as it tagline "We Come From the Future" as if "The Future" singularly and monolithically existed as a vantage from which to intimate "its" imminence in the present and bag the rest in advance for disposal?

In that original "Manifesto" Newitz promised "io9 [would be] the visionary watchdog who calls... charlatans on their shit." As attested to by their endless promotion of the work of transhumanoid, singularitarian, techno-immortalist, nano-cornucopiast, digi-utopian Robot Cultists indulging in techno-transcendental wish-fulfillment fantasies and celebratory fantasias about corporate-military elite-incumbents delivering happy gizmo-fetishizing consumers into Holodeck-Heaven or Techno-Treasure Caves or Sexy Hetbot Orgy Pits (and occasionally indulging in robocalyptic disasterbation fantasies for a bit of spice to the otherwise blandly bourgeois and infantile goldgunsgirls libertechbrotarian fare), io9 is a place where one comes to find charlatans peddling futurological shit more than getting called on it.

That io9 has found itself trapped in the gravity well of retro-futurism despite its awareness from the get-go that the futuristic is a graveyard of plutocratic patriarchal colonial cliches derives from its ambivalent embrace of the prophetic as the predictive, the speculative as financial speculation, futurity with "The Future" that is always given over to the marketing and promotional pseudo-science and outright fraud of market futures. It is easy to joke about "rapture fuckers" but The Future is a hell of a drug, and the marvelous raptures of sf fandoms are all too ready to rapture fuck you up if you fail to engage them critically.

I say all this as preface to talking about an updated "Manifesto" Newitz has posted today at io9, called -- promisingly, I would say -- Science Is Political. Such an assertion is absolutely indispensable, now as always, since the defense of science so often takes the form of demands that science "not be politicized" when in fact scientific practices of funding, publication, testing, application, education are thoroughly political, and hence what is needed is their progressive politicization not a fanciful de-politicization which amounts in practice either to a denialism about its political needs that cuts science off from necessary supporters or to an outright anti-politicization that enables elite incumbent norms and forms to stealthily define those politics clothed as neutralities immune from criticism. Or more specifically, as Newitz points out in the piece, "when science is under attack from many political and religious institutions, we can no longer afford to report on the latest research and call it a job well done. To advocate for science is to advocate for a political position, whether we like it or not." I would have to insist once again that techno-transcendental futurisms proliferate faith-based pseudo-scientific sub(cult)ures that are hard to square with "the defense of science" and that nobody who really claims to be defending the ideal of science as rational inquiry can afford to be indifferent to the forms of deception, hyperbole, scientism and pseudo-science, reductionism, triumphalism, reaction, obfuscation, oversimplification, eugenicism, fetishism, narcissism and (self-)promotion that suffuse corporate-military developmental policy discourses, tech company press releases, and pop-tech infomercial spectacles pretending to be journalism. Although I usually enjoy the multicultural literary and cultural criticism and ethnography in io9, otherwise the site endlessly exhibits the political pathologies of tech-talk rather than critically intervening in them.

It is worse than demoralizing that after insisting that science is political Newitz immediately evacuates her discourse of a political perspective, indulging in the usual "false equivalency" and "Middle Way" bullshit apologiae of hacks pretending they are not mouthpieces for the status quo: "Pro-science politics don't divide easily into conservative and liberal. Imagine, if you will, that people from all positions on the political spectrum came together to advocate for scientific research and education. Conservatives advocating for defense and agricultural innovations would rub shoulders with liberals pursuing sustainable energy and environmental reforms." A more cliched bit of genre fantasy could scarcely be imagined. It is true that, say, civic-minded progressives investing in medical treatments to relieve human suffering and militarist fascists dreaming of better bombs to obliterate their foes with will both have their reasons to keep certain laboratories well funded. To pretend that this provides a Royal Road to a science politics "beyond left and right" is the worst kind of nonsense, indeed it is a viewpoint that will almost always conduce to the reactionary politics of incumbent elites.

Newitz may think in pretending otherwise that she is taking a cue from the Donna Haraway who wrote (wisely and beautifully):
I am conscious of the odd perspective provided by my historical position — a PhD in biology for an Irish Catholic girl was made possible by Sputnik's impact on US national science-education policy. I have a body and mind as much constructed by the post-Second World War arms race and cold war as by the women's movements. There are more grounds for hope in focusing on the contradictory effects of politics designed to produce loyal American technocrats, which also produced large numbers of dissidents, than in focusing on the present defeats.
Of course, Haraway's point returns us to the open futurity of the present, but in so doing it does not pretend not to know who the dissidents are. She may be blaspheming, but the Manifesto (which Haraway has moved on from, by the way, in part because of facile blissed-out reactionary technophiliac appropriations of its formulations) remained "faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism," that is to say, retained a critical vantage informed by real commitments. I daresay Newitz would like to say the same -- her readings of sf multiculture are invigorated by these values -- but it is hard to find those values in her rationalizations for transhumanoid eugenicists, DARPA militarists, and singularitarian financiers. You can't engage in a "quest to build a better tomorrow" without making choices about what is better -- equity or not, sustainability or not, diversity or not, violence or not. And you can't make and live with those choices without making enemies of many Newitz clearly wants to make nice with. By the way, Newitz didn't speak of A quest to build a better tomorrow, but of OUR quest to build a better tomorrow. Who is we, Annalee? I have a sinking suspicion it is the same "We" who want to pretend "We Come From The Future."

"Science" is not a monolith any more than "technology" is such a monolith: that both are practiced by a diversity of stakeholders in the ongoing scrum of historical struggle in ways that reflect the diversity of the situations and aspirations of those stakeholders means that there can be no such thing as a "pro-science" or "pro-technology" politics in general -- and that the designation of an "anti-science" or "anti-technology" politics always demands a greater specificity to become actually useful, too. It is commonplace for especially right-wing politics to clothe itself in presumably a-political or non-political or non-partisan neutralities and generalities. Market libertopians who advocate among the most conspicuously plutocratic authoritarian political philosophies imaginable love to declare themselves "beyond left and right" -- and it is not an accident that the corporate-military interests that identify most conspicuously with technodevelopmental dollars are suffused with presumably a-political daydreams of anti-democratizing elite technocratic decision making and "evolutionary" rationalizations for racist and sexist prejudices. Political progress is progress toward sustainable equity-in-diversity and technodevelopmental vicissitudes are rendered progressive only to the extent that their costs, risks, and benefits are equitably distributed to the diversity of their stakeholders in social struggle that rarely if ever has anything to do with the championing of Science or Technology in the abstract.

I come from -- and I come in -- the present. And what is wanted -- it seems to me -- is not to be "addicted to The Future" but to be engaged in the present. To engage in the interminable struggle to reconcile the ineradicably different aspirations of the diversity of stakeholders who share the present is to do politics, whether technoscientific or otherwise. And when we are dedicated and we are lucky in that struggle, to ensure that the costs, risks, and benefits of prosthetic/cultural change are sustainably and equitably distributed to the diversity of its stakeholders is to do the political work of building a better, more progressive world in the present opening onto the next present. I would like the think Newitz agrees with that -- and she may very well -- but if she does, she hasn't said it yet and io9 isn't demonstrating it otherwise.

"Republican-Extremism Denialism"

Joan Walsh has been really fun to read lately:
You’ve heard of climate denialism and science denialism on the right? Some liberals seem to suffer from Republican-extremism denialism. They can’t take in the extent of the GOP’s reliance on racial politics. And if they blame other liberals for their sins, for making things worse, it gives them a sense of control over their lives. If only MSNBC would stop crying racism, then… Then what? What would change? Would the Republican Party drop its opposition to anything President Obama supports? Would it stop pandering to a base that’s more than 90 percent white? Would it stop lying about Obama wanting to cut Medicare to fund Obamacare?

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Reich's Recipe

Robert Reich:
More than five years after Wall Street’s near meltdown the number of full-time workers is still less than it was in December 2007, yet the working-age population of the U.S. has increased by 13 million since then. This explains why so many people are still getting nowhere. Unemployment among those 18 to 29 is 11.4 percent, nearly double the national rate. Most companies continue to shed workers, cut wages, and horde their cash because they don’t have enough customers to warrant expansion. Why? The vast middle class and poor don’t have enough purchasing power, as 95 percent of the economy’s gains go to the top 1 percent. That's why we need to (1) cut taxes on average people (say, exempting the first $15,000 of income from Social Security taxes and making up the shortfall by taking the cap off income subject to it), (2) raise the minimum wage, (3) create jobs by repairing roads, bridges, ports, and much of the rest of our crumbling infrastructure, (4) add teachers and teacher’s aides to now over-crowded classrooms, and (5) create “green” jobs and a new WPA for the long-term unemployed. And pay for much of this by raising taxes on the top, closing tax loopholes for the rich, and ending corporate welfare.
I agree with both Reich's diagnosis and his recommendations. But in the piece offering up his recipe Reich declares that the recent "McCutcheon" decision demolishing yet another limit on Big Money in political campaigns is a crucial dot that connects to the rest of his account, and I think this is rather wrongheaded. It's not that I disagree that Big Money is anti-democratizing, of course, it's that I think it is quixotic to seek to circumvent Big Money through campaign finance reform efforts that expend enormous legislative and organizational time and energy and yet rarely to never pass and which Big Money always proceeds to circumvent in unexpected ways anyway.

I believe that Reich has already proposed the better remedy in delineating his recipe for ending the ongoing unemployment crisis and re-invigorating our sclerotic plutocratic economy: ameliorate wealth concentration with steeply more progressive taxes. If the richest of the rich have less money to spend they will have less to waste on political meddling, and if they have less chance at arriving at the super-rich stratospheric heights now available to them because expansive tax brackets await them there they will have less incentive to game the political system to accomplish this sociopathic feat in the first place.

Lowering taxes for those at the lower end of the income distribution while at once raising taxes on the rich and especially the richest of the rich, as Reich proposes, amplifies the steepness of this progressivity even more than simply adding brackets and raising the taxable cap for social security would, and I think this makes his proposal more firmly and fleetly democratizing still in its effects -- not to mention the fact that it should make such a proposal more a political winner for Democrats who would campaign on it.

But here's the thing. I happen to think that there are many -- and ever more -- professional economists and policy wonks who would agree with all of these proposals, and also many -- and ever more -- Democratic politicians who would find these proposals very congenial. This is true even in the dysfunctional political world of "Citizens United" and "McCutcheon."

While I recognize the obvious connection of the two, I think the problem Reich's Recipe faces (and hence the great majority of people who work for a living continue to face) is too many Republicans in Washington more than too much Big Money in Washington.

I am the last to deny the reality of Blue Dogs and Corporate Dems and DLC-types, but these are neither definitive nor ascendent in the Obama coalition (which would be the same coalition that elects Hillary Clinton and hence should shape the way she runs and then governs), and I believe that the Democratic Party we have rather than the Democratic Party we might wish for would still be good enough were it to prevail in the Executive and Legislative branches -- and hence soon enough also in the Judicial -- to implement Reich's proposals, or proposals very much in their spirit. Campaign finance reform is the wrong focus here and now, and in fact only squanders attention and energy needed elsewhere.

Nothing matters more right about now than keeping the Senate in the hands of Democrats and making gains in the House sufficient to enable enough scared scarred fractious undisciplined Republicans to be manipulated into voting with Democrats on a case by case basis to give the last two years of the Obama Presidency some room to stimulate the economy and provide more support for those who are precarious and suffering.

Even if, like me, you really want entirely public financed campaigns with the campaign season limited by law to a couple of months and you want universal voting by mail and a national election holiday and instant runoff voting to enable actually viable third parties and you want universal enfranchisement and registration of adults via the information gathering of a national single-payer healthcare administration, even if that is what you really want, then more -- and better -- Democrats is still the best shot you've got to get it. So, eyes on the ball, people.

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Best Campaign Finance Reform Would Be Soaking the Rich

I strongly endorse Alex Pareene's sentiments as people freak out over the Supreme Court's latest demolition of our already utterly ineffectual campaign finance limts:
So, if we think that money in politics is a problem; if we think it creates the appearance of corruption, alienates non-wealthy citizens from the democratic process, perverts incentives for politicians and candidates, and creates an unequal system in which the speech of the rich drowns out the speech of everyone else -- and all of those things are already the long-standing status quo -- we can no longer seek to address the problem by preventing money from flowing into politics. The Supreme Court is clearly not going to meet a new spending restriction that it likes any time soon. Instead of attempting to dictate how the wealthy spend their money, we are probably just going to have to take away their money. If the super-rich had less money, they would have less money to spend on campaigns and lobbying. And unlike speech, the government is very clearly allowed to take away people’s money. It’s in the Constitution and everything. I know it wasn’t that long ago that it also seemed obvious that the government could regulate political spending, but in this case the relevant constitutional authority is pretty clear and there is no room for a so-called originalist to justify a politically conservative reading of the text. Congress can tax income any way it pleases. There is one glaring problem with my plan, of course, which is that Congress is already captured by wealthy interests, and is not inclined to tax them. But all I’m saying is that would-be campaign finance reformers ought to give up on their lost cause and shift their energies toward confiscation and redistribution.
Adding more income tax brackets and taxing capital gains as income and increasing inheritance taxes and raising the taxable cap on income for social security and introducing a financial transaction tax are all things progressives should fight for with exactly the same stubborn incessance of wingnuts reflexively demanding tax cuts for the rich with the idiot fervor generation after generation. Raising taxes does a number of things at once -- funding through general welfare provision a legible scene of informed non-duressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce and enabling the equitable administration of common and public goods not least of these, but also providing a countervailing power to anti-democratizing concentrations of wealth that occur in any case in the rough and tumble of comparatively enterprising societies -- unlike the tax cut mantra of the right, the tax and spend mantra of the left actually does enable the majority of people who work for a living to have nice things and check those who would treat the majority like shit. Given our present and upcoming insanely neglected environmental crises there is about to be a whole hell of a lot of public infrastructure and support that needs paying for, I might add. But more to the point of this post, campaign finance laws almost never get passed at all and when they rarely do they inevitably yield unintended consequences and are inevitably gamed by the rich to their disproportionate benefit anyway. Politicians will never be paid as much as the people they hobnob with and lobbying will always be a lucrative investment, so the best check is a steeply progressive taxation that removes some of the temptation created by having piles of money around without competing luxuries to spend it on and eliminates extremes of wealth concentration as a pathologizing payoff lure.

Long Teaching Day

This morning in the City, nine to noon, in my undergraduate Planetary Thinking and Environmental Justice course, we are talking about "sustainable development" and "natural capitalism," most of the discourse of which I subsume under the rhetoric of "greenwashing" -- any tax cuts for technofixes proposal that refuses to recognize and criminalize the violence of environmental harm or the fraud of externalizations of environmental cost/risk or defers the nationalization/planetization of public goods amounts to a marketing apologia for elite-incumbent corporate-military interests. Later in the day, from one to four, in my graduate Introduction to Critical Theory lecture, we are continuing our turn to the biopolitical, with more Arendt and a whole lot of Fanon (Fanon's characterization of the political seems to me importantly continuous with the natality at the heart of Arendt's, making Arendt's rather ungenerous characterization of Fanon's remarks concerning violence especially curious). Although it has become more common since Agamben to set Arendt and Foucault side by side, and although one finds in, say, Paul Gilroy, an insistence that Fanon is a necessary corrective to Foucault (the catastrophe of colonial administration cannot be rationalized as disciplinarity), I treat Arendt, Fanon, and Foucault as equally indispensable to one another, as it were three legs of a biopolitical stool, and I think it is not yet commonplace to treat all three figures as integral to one another in this way, treating each as providing necessary supplements to both of the others and each as providing goads to expose the fatal limits in both the others in any proper taking up or taking on of the biopolitical turn.


Try not to let the way you're right distract you entirely from the ways you're wrong.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Today's Random Wilde

Each class preaches the importance of those virtues it need not exercise. The rich harp on the value of thrift, the idle grow eloquent over the dignity of labour.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Dvorsky Celebrates Promising Transhuman Future of Corporate-Military Horrors

Robot Cultists pray to DARPA and Google to deliver them eternal life and sooper-powers and treasure piles in "The Future" Heaven, because... science!

As witness Dumb Dvorsky's latest undisguised unapologetic corporate-militarist agitprop in io9. "DARPA's commitment to cutting-edge innovation is unquestioned," Dvorsky hyperventilates like a motivational speaker cum circus barker as he directs his spotlight or his vapid PowerPoint flow-chart.

Among the ugly wish-fulfillment fantasies to which io9s favorite Robot Cultist gives full vent in today's exercise in idiocy is the transhumanism of "enhanced soldiers" to "maintain peak soldier abilities and then restore those abilities as soon as possible after an injury... includ[ing] advanced prosthetics (featuring mind-controlled limbs), neural interfaces, the ability to survive blood loss, and even neurotechnological solutions to treat psychological trauma such as PTSD." Tweak those bad fee fees away future sooper-killers! Yay, Future! Futurological used-car salesman Dvorsky lets us know, "DARPA has already made tremendous strides in this area." To be sure, George, to be sure, tremendous strides.

Shifting sects, our Robot Cultist has good news for the Singularitarians in the house (of worship), too: "DARPA is working on advanced robotics, an artificial human brain, next-gen robotic aircraft... and self-teaching computers." He quips "if anyone's going to build a recursively improving AI it's going to be DARPA," heh heh heh. Get that hack on the salesfloor, there's Big Thinking afoot here! If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, Moore's Law, Manifest Destiny, recursivity, adding more and more blades to your shaver, it doesn't matter, none of these are going to spit out an info-logo-digi-spirit-sooper-brain any more than an accumulating pile of sand grains (or abacuses) would, because intelligence isn't anything like what everybody who keeps saying such things and always being wrong about everything thinks it is. 

Dvorsky's celebration of "incredibly promising research areas" Creating A Transhuman Future (his words, "To Create A Transhuman Future," castigate me for misattribution, ad hominem, straw man caricature, eeevil luddism or deathism or whatever you want, click the link, read em and weep) is introduced by a bleak image of faceless robot soldiers in a landscape of ice and smoke with the Kremlin burning in the background -- how topical! Dvorsky's id would seem to be all over the place -- well, except that it never seems to land on anyplace very nice.

Given all this, I know I should have been well-prepared for the whole obscene lip-smacking contemplation of corporate-military mayhem that followed. And yet, when Dvorsky actually cited Star Trek's "To Seek Out New Life" as the heading of a section indulging dizzy daydreams of clone armies and weaponized plagues, I must admit he surprised me enough to make me want to ralph rather than merely ridicule.

If you follow the link to read this latest atrocity exhibit, do stay for the reader comments. It is impossible to know if the chirpy declarations are in earnest or parodies of reactionary futurological fulminations:
DARPA and Google are probably the two biggest proponents of transhumanizing technology and Digital Intelligence currently operating in the United States. Mainly because they're staffed by folks who understand that the "Singularity" is not an inevitable quasi-kinda/sorta "law" but a self-fulfilling prophecy. Both of them have shit-tonnes of money and want to use it to build a better future by actually putting in the R&D hours to make it happen.
Can do corporate-military techno-elites are coding the Robot God who will end history, because the techbros on staff understand! They're working even now to "build a better future" of remorseless sooper-solders and killing machines, just keep buying the products, consumers, let's "make it happen"!
I feel like capitalism makes the singularity almost inevitable. basically google is working on it now because they have the cash, but if they didn't then somewhere down the line as tech continued to develop via natural unstimulated means someone would eventually think "Hey, we've got all the necessary components for a cybernetic eyeball replacement, I bet people would pay for that."
Yeah, when you really think about it, to expect to upload your brain and live forever in Holodeck Heaven or wallow in a nano-magickal treasure cave in a robot body surrounded by sexy sexbots under the ministrations of a sooper-intelligent post-human post-parental Robot God of loving grace isn't implausible, really, but inevitable! Especially if we get out of the way of capitalism and, you know, let all the libertechbrotarian sooper-innovators and thought-leaders do their Fountainhead thing!
DARPA and Google should join forces and conquer the world.
Past as prologue?
I....wouldn't mind living in that future
So certain are you?

Old Soul: Souley Vegan Found To Be Located in Oakland's Oldest Building

[A] plain, one-story, unnamed building at 301 Broadway near Jack London Square, which now houses a vegan soul-food restaurant, appears to be the oldest building in Oakland and one of the oldest in the region.... The brick-and-plaster building dates from 1857, according to the city's tax assessment maps and a cultural heritage survey conducted in 1982. No other building in Oakland, and only a few in the Bay Area, survived from those days. The rest have burned, crumbled, rotted, collapsed or been razed. Even more astonishingly, 301 Broadway looks pretty much as it did in 1857. With the exception of indoor plumbing, electricity and an occasional fresh coat of paint, not much has been done to the building in 157 years... According to city records, it was built by Theophilide St. Germain and her husband, a French count, as a wine shop. They moved to Oakland in the early 1850s to invest in real estate in the wake of the Gold Rush... Rahman's mother opened Souley Vegan in 2009 after a successful run at the Grand Lake farmers' market, and now has a large following for her candied yams, black-eyed peas and tofu loaf with rosemary gravy. "Although I don't know," Rahman said Wednesday. "After hearing the building's history, I think we need to stock more wine."

Kitten Eidos

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Will Reading Piketty Help MSNBC's Cyclists to Step Back From Their Undercritical Technophilia and Its Reactionary Implications?

Like everybody else, I'm reading Thomas Piketty right now, and I'm personally finding it quite strong but utterly unsurprising. It's hard to believe anybody who actually reads (even critically) Marx, Polanyi, Keynes, Harvey is going to find surprising Piketty's scrupulously documented demonstration that wealth concentration can only be checked by steeply progressive taxation toward public investment to ensure equitable recourse to the law to the diversity of its stakeholders and enjoyment through general welfare of an informed nonduressed scene of consent to the terms of everyday commerce for all. I must say I was especially encouraged by the following response to Piketty's scholarly tome from Krystal Ball. The brat pundit pack of MSNBC's The Cycle have often seemed to me in their rather egregious shared technofixations to represent what I fear and decry as the special liberal susceptibility to reactionary political formulations via an undercritical technophilia mistaken for a championing of secular science, education, and technology investment. I talked about the MSNBC's Cyclists on this score already here, and have made the more general point here and here, for example. That Krystal Ball frames her comments with a Matrix reference feels very silly and also very true to type, but I can forgive that awkward hyperbole if Piketty really has managed to disabuse her of the fantasy that "technology has created a meritocracy" as she has claimed it has done. If fewer meme-hustlers, designer-technocratic would-be aristos, and libertechbrotarians find their way to the guest spot for the Cyclists to swap spit and futurological buzzwords with in days to come it will be all to the good.

PS: And now for something completely different, since I have found myself talking about the Cycle, now is as good a time as there is likely ever to be for me to say that since the Cycle still seems wedded to pretending to represent the range of political positions -- from A to B, as Dorothy Parker liked to say -- I must say I prefer token-Republican Abby Huntsman's deer in the headlights affect over token-Republican S.E. Cupp's Snidely Whiplash impersonation. Republicans should be scared.

Today's Random Wilde

Remember that the fool in the eyes of the gods and the fool in the eyes of man are very different.