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

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Barbara Lee Speaks For Me Daily

Saturday, December 28, 2019


Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Water Dancer in a nice hot tub. Playing with Penny for an hour on the couch. Watching Jeeves and Wooster, The Read, and silly baking shows high as kites with Eric munching delivery pot stickers and basil tofu. Restoring my batteries, recovering my bearings, pick your metaphor. Vacation.

Barbara Lee Speaks For Me Daily

Friday, December 27, 2019

All Passion Spent

An afternoon with Wendy Hiller tallied with my mood perfectly. I think I'm actually starting to feel a bit better at last.

Help Beat Trump and His Collaborators Now Or Kiss Your Ass Goodbye

Yoscha Mounk, writing in The Atlantic:
“Many observers of India have been surprised that Modi has grown so much more extreme in his second term in office. But a comparison of populist governments around the world suggests that India is following a predictable pattern of what would-be authoritarians do when they win reelection.”

“As we’ve seen in countries including Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, populist leaders are at first hamstrung in their ability to concentrate power in their own hands. Many key institutions, including courts and electoral commissions, are still dominated by independent-minded professionals who do not owe their appointment to the new regime. Media outlets are still able and willing to report on scandals, forcing the government to tread somewhat carefully.”

“Once these governments win reelection, these constraints begin to fall away. As the independent-minded judges and civil servants depart, populist leaders feel emboldened to pursue their illiberal dreams.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

And What Have We Done

This is yet another Christmas in wartime, lived in dangerous destructive denial of the many wars being illegally, immorally, catastrophically waged in our names for plunder, for power, and for poll numbers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Uganda, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere, right now, and across the planetary archipelago of military bases and at our many (imaginary) borders and in militarized prisons and detention centers and carceralized social spaces throughout the nation as the colored lights twinkle and smiling puppies tinkle, and the slogans robotically exhort us on to buy, buy, buy as the world burns, burns, burns! And as every year, the dumb numb contrarian thought...

Hark, the Herald Fugelsang

Your annual reminder,

Christmas Effects by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

As every year on this day, a remembrance for a scholar who mattered to me when it mattered quite a lot:
What’s “queer?” Here’s one train of thought about it. The depressing thing about the Christmas season -- isn’t it? -- is that it’s the time when all the institutions are speaking with one voice. The Church says what the Church says. But the State says the same thing: maybe not (in some ways it hardly matters) in the language of theology, but in the language the State talks: legal holidays, long school hiatus, special postage stamps, and all. And the language of commerce more than chimes in, as consumer purchasing is organized ever more narrowly around the final weeks of the calendar year, the Dow Jones aquiver over Americans’ “holiday mood.” The media, in turn, fall in triumphally behind the Christmas phalanx: ad-swollen magazines have oozing turkeys on the cover, while for the news industry every question turns into the Christmas question -- Will hostages be free for Christmas? What did that flash flood or mass murder (umpty-ump people killed and maimed) do to those families’ Christmas? And meanwhile, the pairing “families/Christmas” becomes increasingly tautological, as families more and more constitute themselves according to the schedule, and in the endlessly iterated image, of the holiday itself constituted in the image of "the" family.

The thing hasn’t, finally, so much to do with propaganda for Christianity as with propaganda for Christmas itself. They all -- religion, state, capital, ideology, domesticity, the discourses of power and legitimacy -- line up with each other so neatly once a year, and the monolith so created is a thing one can come to view with unhappy eyes. What if instead there were a practice of valuing the ways in which meanings and institutions can be at loose ends with each other? What if the richest junctures weren’t the ones where everything means the same thing? -- Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tendencies, Duke University Press, 1993, pp. 5-6

Barbara Lee Speaks For Me Daily

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday Brunch

Woke up in a terrible mood this morning. Then I remembered why. Mourning. It was wet and grey this morning, but the showers were getting sporadic so we risked our long Sunday walk and brunch after all, and it turned out to be lovely if a bit soggy. Mean to read Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Water Dancer in a hot tub today and watch old 70s episodes of "The Tomorrow People" tonight. It's lucky I'm on vacation, I don't know if I could get out of bed feeling like I do if I had teaching to confront on top of this sad old feeling I've got...

Barbara Lee Speaks For Me Daily

Friday, December 20, 2019

Speaking of "Hope Is A Discipline" ...

...going to read Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of Utopia: A Graphic History in a nice hot bath now. Then I'm going to eat a marshmallow Santa and watch The Tomorrow People and Phryne Fisher on DVD with Eric and a lovely cannabis edible assist. Vacation.

The Season of Losses

A bit over three years ago I had a nose bleed that turned into a life threatening loss of liters of blood and weeks in the hospital, and I have never entirely recovered my bearings in the aftermath of that event. I was diagnosed with a blood condition about which there is little understanding (the tell-tale "ideopathic" term was part of the diagnosis from the beginning and remains to this day) and for which there is little in the way of treatment (I don't drink alcohol anymore or take blood-thinning painkillers, which means all the painkillers, and I do yoga and take long walks with Eric and so on, which means I lost about a hundred twenty pounds over the last couple years and Eric and I are closer than ever after eighteen years, all of which has been great, but to this day I get my blood-tests and the doctors look at the results and do their double-takes and say something on the order of, well, my, my, your blood platelet count sure likes to run low, now, doesn't it? which inspires enormous confidence). To this day, I have panic attacks when the subway stalls and I start to imagine bleeding again confined in a train car in the tunnel beneath the waters of the Bay surrounded by panicky commuters as I bleed from the eyes, as happened in the emergency room that night. The 2016 primary fights were taking place at the time of my bleeding incident, and as I lay in my hospital bed, getting poked with needles for test after test hour after hour, I saw the rise of Trump and the idiotic undermining of the already-vulnerable HRC by fauxvolutionary fanboys as a clear preview of the hell we have been living through for the last few years. Those nights in the hospital bed were the first of the long insomnia nights that have plagued me ever since from time to time. You know, the US has always been a disgusting racist conformist money-grubbing anti-intellectual shithole, but I wanted to believe the experience of George W. Bush's idiocies and crimes had inspired a diverse ascendant Obama coalition ready to assume responsibility for the governing of the nation, push the Democratic party in more sustainable and equitable directions, and force a GOP ever more beholden to a diminishing straight white Christianist-authoritarian Base to abandon its post-Nixonian rush into authoritarianism and reactionary conspiracism. That's not at all what happened as we all know by now and the loss of hope for an embrace of nonviolent progressive change in the face of a diversifying population, climate catastrophe, and the palpable failure of market ideological pieties felt a lot like my loss of blood: the loss of the force that keeps me going. In the years since, I've lost a lot of my joy and passion for teaching as I wonder whether teaching theory really contributes to clarity about historical change when so many privileged students seem to spout theory to rationalize their complacency or provide their cynical opportunism a self-promotional self-congratulatory gloss and also as I observe so many of my best students struggling under conditions of extreme psychological distress and economic precarity... does anybody really need to be reading the lovely but esoteric Walter Benjamin or that scumbag Sigmund Freud to understand the threat posed by fossil fuel companies or Trump's Education Secretary or gun-toting bigots in this historical moment we are struggling through here and now? I have adapted my syllabi to reflect these lived urgencies (teaching theory surveys usually means at least half a term of a parade that is relentlessly stale, pale, and male as Rebecca Solnit once put it), but I am forever bedeviled by discouragement and anxiety where before teaching was a real consolation and fuel for me. During this difficult season I also lost first my beloved cat of sixteen years Sarah, then I lost my long-estranged father to early-onset Alzheimer's, then just yesterday my Mother also died, after a completely unexpected heart attack and period of nonresponsive nightmarishness on a ventilator over the last week. So much loss, of connections, of support, of standards, of hope. Mariame Kaba reminds me that "Hope Is A Discipline." I have a few weeks of winter break ahead of me in which to rest and recharge my batteries, read escapist entertainments and prepare for Spring's renewed efforts. I am reminded, as ever, of Donna Haraway's admonition that nobody knows all that is happening in the world, even the most knowledgeable, and that this means none of us knows enough to be fully justified in despair. I am despairing a bit right now, but I know that I don't know many things that would answer my despair if only I connect with them and I know the space of teaching is a space in which those connections are as well fostered as any. The art world remains a place of frivolous predation but actual artists and their actual art can be a far different story. After so much loss, I await a season of gains by rising generations in a world educated by intersectional feminism, environmental justice, and abolition democracy. We can only do our best. I wish you all the best for the coming struggles. And, you know, happy holidays.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Barbara Lee Speaks For Me Daily

Friday, December 13, 2019

Grading Is Done

My last three student papers arrived at the last minute (one was literally the last minute, that is to say, it arrived the minute I sat down to input final grades!), and so it turns out I don't have to fail anybody at all, which means I can sleep comparatively peacefully tonight after all. Normally I would watch Xanadu to celebrate the end of the grading marathon, but I'm not exactly feeling celebratory as Mom's weird deathly unconsciousness back in Indiana has me haunted on my haunches, waiting for who knows what exactly...

Barbara Lee Speaks For Me Daily

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Barbara Lee Speaks For Me Daily

Grading and Ongoingness

Still quite a few students haven't handed in their final papers yet and my grading deadline is now LOOMING. Sometimes it feels as though I care more about getting some of these kids to pass the class than they do themselves. Perhaps I should be more encouraging, but I'm utterly spent, my exhortation engine is empty. My Mother is still in the ICU back in Indiana (landscape of nightmares long since escaped), has occasionally seemed to possibly regain some kind of modest consciousness, but is still not expected to survive the coming days. I'm stuck here, she's stuck in some weird unreachable in-between, everything is stuckness, it stinks.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Today's Random Wilde

To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

Barbara Lee Speaks For Me Daily

Grading and the rest...

My Mom had a heart attack yesterday and she is presently in a coma. She is not expected to survive. I am grading final papers. I get updates on the phone with my brother. It is as if everything is happening on the surface of some distant moon. I still send my usual chipper and/or cajoling e-mails to student stragglers to get their papers in before the deadline. I spent most of yesterday grading twenty or so finals and staring into space and feeling weird, sometimes with my face star-spangled with ambivalent tears. I am tired and distressed and distracted.

Saturday, December 07, 2019


Day two of my final grading marathon, and many more days to come as papers from (the terrifyingly many more than usual this term) students with extensions keep trickling in... Penny purring and stretching over the keyboard keys, silky grey veils of rain hissing like static outside the window, hot chocolate steaming in my mug and chillhop beats in the background make grading seem a somewhat cozier prospect than it might otherwise be. Very ready for a few weeks off.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Barbara Lee Speaks For Me Daily

Kamala Harris wasn't my first choice (Elizabeth Warren still is for now) but a debate stage dominated by unqualified uncharismatic white guys is a stupid travesty and a recipe for disaster.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Barbara Lee Speaks For Me Daily

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Sunday Walk and Brunch

Rained out of our walk, we'll likely order in Chinese and watch holiday baking shows with the cat instead. We can use the rain and I don't mind the rest, so it's lovely. Working on final lectures this weekend, the critical theory concludes on the note of environmental justice and the queer theory survey ends with leftover student presentations and a few scattered notes of conclusion. A joyless, utterly onerous week of grading mountains of papers while at once begging, badgering, and cajoling another inevitable handful of students to meet their writing deadlines so that I don't have to fail them is about to begin. Not my favorite thing.