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

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Whatever The Odds, Democrats Should Be Fired Up, Ready To Go This December in Alabama

Andrew Tanenbaum:
Many Democrats think that the chance of a Democrat winning a special election for the Senate in Alabama is about as big as the chance of a Republican winning one in Massachusetts. Except that in 2010, Republican Scott Brown did exactly that. An Opinion Savvy poll just out shows Roy Moore (R) ahead of Doug Jones (D) by just 5 points, 50% to 45%. With more than 2 months to go and Moore a constant source of outrageous comments, Jones could possibly win this one, at least if the DNC decides to put some real money into the race. Of course, Republicans who supported primary loser Sen. Luther Strange may be angry now and say they will vote for Jones, but come December they may come and support Moore while holding their noses. On the other hand, it's not impossible that a Moore was a "lesser of two evils" vote, given the shady way in which Strange acquired his office (an apparent quid pro quo for helping quash the prosecution of then-governor Robert Bentley). There could be a segment of voters who were just waiting for the chance to vote for someone who is not Moore or Strange.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Uneven Democratic Recruitment for 2018 Bears Watching:

Andrew Tanenbaum:
The enthusiasm on the Democratic side for congressional races is enormous, but it is not uniform across the map. For example, eight Democrats are already running against Rep. John Faso (R-NY) in NY-19, which is in the Hudson Valley, mostly south of Albany. Another district in which eight Democrats have already announced is VA-10, currently represented in the House by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA). Her district includes all of Clarke, Frederick, and Loudoun Counties, plus parts of Fairfax and Prince William Counties. It is a highly educated district and could easily flip, hence all the interest from Democrats. However, there are also holes in the map. For example, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) in NJ-02 doesn't have a credible Democratic opponent yet. NY-24 looks like a dream pick-up opportunity for the Democrats. Hillary Clinton won it by 4 points and Barack Obama won it twice by double digits. But so far, no serious Democrat has stepped up to take on Rep. John Katko (R-NY). Likewise, FL-18 is devoid of a strong Democrat despite its being a district that Trump carried by less than 2 points and the incumbent, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), having a 100% voting record in support of Donald Trump. Part of the reason is clear, though. FL-27, just south of FL-18, is going to be an open seat because Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is retiring, so local Democrats see that as an easier race than going after an eight-term congressman. The Democrats' problem is that candidates who might run for Congress, such as state senators and representatives, often look at a district and say it is too tough, so they decide to stay put. What they don't realize is that if 2018 is a wave election -- and it might be given what has happened in the special elections already this year -- a plausible but unknown state senator could be swept in on the tide. But that can happen only if the potential candidate becomes an actual candidate. It is an old saying, but it is still true: "You can't beat somebody with nobody." (V)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Teaching Days This Week

Harry Hay and Audre Lorde in "Queer Manifestations" tomorrow. The selections from Lorde's Sister Outsider are especially inspiring, I read them first as an undergraduate myself in a women's studies course I took in the Philosophy Department back in Atlanta back in the late 1980s. For Thursday in "Peace in Pieces" we're reading King (Letter from Birmingham City Jail and A Declaration of Independence from the Vietnam War) and Ella Baker. I've taught King so many times over the years, but I am still impressed by the grace and concision of his writing, the courage and care of his truly radical thinking. Selective misreadings of King to justify complacency, moderation and assimilation are especially enraging once one actually reads King with any attention...

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Walk

Just a short walk today with Eric, through tree-lined neighborhoods and then down the dog-walking trail next to Piedmont Avenue after a late lunch at our favorite diner. A lazy day, outside on the porch reading Harry Hay and Audre Lorde for my "Queer Manifestations" seminar this week, with skinny little Sarah sleeping on my lap.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Jason Isaacs Is Ready To Sit In The Captain's Seat

Everybody is already talking about Star Trek Discovery's upcoming captain Jason Isaac's righteous repudiation of the normalizing of Trump spokesliar Spicer at last night's Emmy awards...

Hoping to forget politics for one night and bask in other people’s glory at the #Netflix#Emmys party and who do I spot at the bar late at night but the poisonous purveyor of lies #SeanSpicer. What were the Emmys thinking celebrating this modern day Goebbels, who was the thuggish face of Orwellian doublespeak just moments ago?

Monday, September 18, 2017


Never trust iconoclasts who don't shatter their mirrors first.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday's Walk

Low muss, low fuss this morning. Eric and I walked to our favorite greasy spoon diner for a late breakfast, then Eric got a nice haircut, and then we browsed bookstores and walked a few bucolic neighborhood blocks in the cool blue sunshine. Saw a VHS tape for a documentary on the exciting imminent nanotechnology future in a dusty discard bin in a used book shop. That was good for a laugh.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

For Eric

Ending Trump's Tax Evasions

Inspired by President Donald Trump’s refusal to provide tax returns before the 2016 election, Democratic Sens. Mike McGuire of Healdsburg and Scott Wiener of San Francisco drafted Senate Bill 149, which declares that tax returns provide “voters with essential information regarding the candidate’s potential conflicts of interest, business dealings, financial status, and charitable donations.
It prohibits the secretary of state from putting a candidate’s name on the ballot in California if he or she has not complied with the tax return requirement. The Legislature’s own lawyers have said the bill is legally questionable, issuing an opinion suggesting it would likely violate the qualifications clause of the U.S. Constitution. According the Assembly analysis of the bill, nearly half the states are considering similar legislation....

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Lie of the Tech Sector

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Another teaching day today, so I don't have much to say, but I did want to post a reassuring word to any readers worried over my worry over my teaching prospects for next term... It turns out my graduate critical theory seminar is still happening, it's just my undergrad survey course that is on hold pending enrollment numbers. Not great, but not so bad. Crisis momentarily averted, at any rate.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Reading Today (Redux)

Prepping Oscar Wilde's Soul of Man Under Socialism -- the first and still one of the best arguments for fully automated luxury gay space communism out there -- for my graduate seminar "Queer Manifestations" tomorrow. Also reading Tolstoy and Gandhi for my undergraduate survey of nonviolent resistance politics and problems, "Peace In Pieces" the next day. So, it's mostly reading today, then. All this would be quite a pleasure if it weren't for my nerves, which always do a number on me prior to teaching, especially these days when Trump/Republican cruel stupid racist cishet greedhead authoritarian America always has me on edge, and especially in light of the fresh exposure yesterday of the precarity of my upcoming teaching and livelihood. As is, the hour or so I take off to walk with Eric and our little black metal cart over to the Safeway to buy groceries for the week will probably be the most sane and content I will feel all damn day.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Reading Today

The Lot of the Adjunct Is Precarious

Next spring's teaching is suddenly up in the air, and next summer has not yet come through... You can work full time, get great evaluations, maintain good professional relationships, and yet it can all fall apart in no time flat after years and years of solid, steady, full time work... Things may still work out, but my prospects are far from secure at the moment and quite scary. 

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Friday, September 08, 2017

Happy Star Trek Day!

Yes, Please!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

What Has Changed Here

Adapted and Upgraded from a comment in the Moot:
Robot Gods, genetic enhancement and longevity, artificial meat, immersive virtuality, techno-abundance nano robo digi bio blah blah blah blah, the terms never changing, the greedhead promises and skeery sfnal threats never happening, but always oh so very important to talk about, year after year after year after year, as privileged mediocrities game the economy and political system in the most boring serially failed utterly predictably idiotic ways (the very real threats being the social ones mediated by and distracted from via tech, natch). You know, I could re-run the first ten years of this blog, just changing the names of the latest tech soopergeniuses as they make exactly identically stupid claims I railed against before and I would presumably resume my place as go-to incendiary tech critic. I definitely hear you when you say you'll choke the latest Very Serious AI-qua-existential-threat drivel down. My righteous rage, and the pleasure I once took in ridiculing tech hucksters, has long since been eclipsed by demoralization. Trump's America is the futurological future we've been waiting for, a shriveled white dick with a megaphone peddling late-nite infomercials promising easy cash and sexy youth to ignorant rubes over a stinking landfill under a gray snowfall of cremated ashes.

Reading for Myself

I always re-read all the texts I've assigned to my students, whether I've taught them before (even many times) or not, along with them. It helps to be aware of just where the students are along the trajectory of the syllabus, not to get ahead of them (especially since my courses are organized as long argumentative trajectories, and I always know where I'm going by the end since I'm the one who has set the narrative in the first place), not to lose sight of the changing reading load they are dealing with, and so on. I find that I teach texts differently every time I re-read, sometimes because I am influenced by day to day events in the world with which students are also grappling, sometimes because my mood or experience has changed in other ways. Anyway, teaching keeps me reading constantly, and this term is no different. I also read for pure pleasure, of course. If there is any constant in my life, it would probably be that I have always felt most free when I was reading. For a long time, I think I truly felt most free not only when I was reading, but more perversely when I was reading precisely while I know I should be doing something else instead. During my summer intensives I read most of Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140 in ten minute snatches on bus seats and toilet seats interspersed within the torrent of hours and hours of lectures, prepping, grading I devoted to teaching in July and August. I had just short of a two week reprieve between terms, and in that delirious stretch was able to read N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, which I found engrossing and impressive (her worldbuilding grapples analogically with so much that is politically fraught and urgent right now -- climate catastrophe, sexual diversity, institutional racism -- and her characters live these quandaries in such emotionally raw ways). This week I have begun Tariq Ali's Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, the first novel in his "Islam Quintet" about the history of Islam in Europe, a doubly heretical exposure of appalling Western ignorance in wartime as well as a skewering of fundamentalist pieties Christian, Islamic, political, and otherwise. I purchased the beautiful Verso set of all five and mean to read them through fall term, time permitting. So far the writing is rich, witty, brilliant really. Teaching is not quite so all encompassing during the regular term and so I have more time to read as I would, so I don't know how long I'll be at it. Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch sequel Akata Warrior is coming out in a few weeks, as is, I believe, Daniel Jose Older's second Shadowshaper book -- and I may break into Ali's long cycle to read them.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Touched By An Angel

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

There Is No AI

Nothing that is being called "AI" these days is actual AI -- which is not to deny how dangerous what passes for AI these days happens to be. The threat of "AI" today is entirely the threat of intelligent designers, owners, and users abusing computers in predictably unscrupulous and reckless ways. Elon Musk and his ilk are not so much warning us of the dangers of AI as they are profitably indulging in them while distracting the marks with shiny sfnal objects. It may be useful to recall "AI" discourse has its (1) robocultic True Believers and ideologues for whom AI cannot fail, only be failed; its (2) opportunistic evangelical hucksters/VC tech-types out to rationalize parochial tech profits with hyped promises and threats; and its (3) many ignorant, opportunistic tech-infotainment fluffers in the advertorial press and in various consumer fandoms. These constituencies overlap, supplement, complement one another, provide wiggle room and contexts for one another (most discourses and organized movements exhibit this sort of complexity and dynamism, AI discourse is no different).

What A Coincidence!

Monday, September 04, 2017

Good To Remember Today (And Every Day)

Sunday, September 03, 2017

No Walk This Sunday

It feels a bit cooler than it has the last couple of days, when the whole Bay has seemed a bit stunned, spread breathlessly beneath an angry bluewhite sky pulsing past a hundred degrees, but it was still too hot for one of our longer walks into the neighborhood today, still headache weather... Here's hoping next week is closer to normal.


via PoliticalWire:
“In a potential death knell for efforts to repeal Obamacare -- at least this year -- the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that Republicans face a Sept. 30 deadline to kill or overhaul the law with only 50 votes... In search of a badly needed legislative victory, McConnell and other Senate Republicans have shifted their focus instead to tax reform. Yet President Donald Trump -- who has repeatedly predicted Obamacare is about to implode -- has called for another repeal vote in the Senate, as have GOP conservative hard-liners in both the House and Senate.”
There is no respect for norms to keep McConnell from replacing this parliamentarian with a more congenial one (sure, it would be "shocking" and scarcely precedented, but McConnell is a flagrant serial disruptor of such norms -- Gorsuch, anyone?), so I cannot draw much comfort from this deadline, though we must all take our minor and provisional victories where we can in the face of Trump/Republican bigot idiot greedhead authoritarianism. If McConnell abides by this recommendation I can only assume it is because he wants an excuse to take the healthcare repeal debacle off the board for now.