Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who Killed 'the Movement'?

How do movements die? And who is responsible for their death? This is my adaptation of Nietzsche's fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces the death of God, curiously reinterpreted as a declaration of the death of 'the movement'.

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the agora, and cried incessantly: "I am looking for The Movement! I am looking for The Movement!"

As many of those who did not believe in The Movement were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. "Have you lost it, then?" said one. "Did it lose its way like a child?" said another. Or is it hiding? Is it afraid of us? Has it gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.

"Where has The Movement gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed it - you and I. We are its murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying The Movement? Do we not smell anything yet of The Movement's decomposition? Movements too decompose. The Movement is dead. The Movement remains dead. And we have killed it. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? The greatest Movement of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become world-movers simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed The Movement shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto."

Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still traveling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves."

It has been further related that on that same day the madman went to The Movement's origin and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: "what are these spaces now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of The Movement?"

Union Busters

- on Thursday February 21st, 2008 a picket line was staged at the Port of Tacoma APM terminal to push the administration of Maersk, the largest ship supply vessel in the world with its North American headquarters in Tacoma, and Securitas, its contracted security department, to free its workers from strict union controls which led to a union organizer's firing earlier in the month.

Watch the video about the November picket line here:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Eminent Domain" or "Police Power"?

I've dug up an old case on the issue of property law and decided to digest it.

In 1922 a landmark case helped form the justice department's opinions about eminent domain. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who delivered the opinion of the court, said that in certain situations, according the contracts of law, one must yield to the police power of the state. "Police power" in the sense that Holmes is using it refers to the "regulatory taking" of property through contracts that are facilitated by the government. This is different from eminent domain since that kind of regulatory taking requires compensation by the government. Police power does not. Government can proclaim contracts between private parties invalid if they are damaging to the public interest.

The case in point, Mahon v. Pennsylvania Coal Company, appears to be justified in its reasoning. Mahon had purchased surface rights to a parcel of land, which he inhabited. The Coal Company later wished to mine for coal under Mahon's property, and later, under Pennsylvania law (i.e. the Kohler Act) mining that could potentially cause damage to human habitation was forbidden. Mahon plead to the court to disallow the coal company from mining under his property, and the Supreme Court reversed earlier decisions and upheld the principle of regulatory taking.

Facilitating property rights and disputes is perhaps one of the few good uses of government. In Mahon v. Pennsylvania Coal Company, the court merely facilitated a misunderstanding between contracting parties as to what limitations a "surface right" had implied within it. Significant diminution of property value or damage to human habitation, Holmes said, is a right that surface owners have regardless of the explicit terms of contracts. With the development of new technologies and new sources of property use, which require constant revision of contract law, agreements which did not contemplate future uses need to be arbitrated by a court system in the event of a dispute.

The court refers to this sort of "regulatory taking" as police power, and yet it is later used to justify eminent domain, which is the government's active taking of property in order to fund public developments. This I don't understand. Since states have the power to arbitrate property disputes, it does not follow that they have the power to arbitrate property usage altogether. It puts states on a slippery slope towards complete control of land properties. In forming the opinion of the court, it is difficult to see how the justices could have reasoned that, since there is one legitimate use of government power, that there are further uses of that power which extend beyond mere arbitration and into the realm of annexation.

"Reality Check"

Son of Nun, the underground hip hop artist in this video, is based out of Seattle but frequents venues in the South Puget Sound. I recorded this in Tacoma.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Détournement Gallery

Welcome to the Gallery of Détournement! Below you will find some links to radical or revolutionary and iconic favorites détourned into consumer artifacts. The gallery will be updated as I come across more cultural items of interest. After exhibit C I decided that all the artifacts had to be ones I came across myself instead of ones I found online.

And now, the exhibits!

Exhibit A) Career-Girl Barbie.
Exhibit B) Barbie learns to cook.
Exhibit C) The anarchist action figure.
Exhibit D) Anarchy-scented perfume.
Exhibit E) The iPod vending machine.
Exhibit F) Revolutionary Jack-in-the-Box restaurant.
Exhibit G) Communist Cookie Cutters.
Exhibit H) Macy's Fashionista Détournement.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Exhibit D: "Anarchy Perfume"

I found this in a Tacoma sex shop. My friend and I both agree there is something musty about this iconic détournement. The tagline is "the rules have changed".

Order Without Law

Last week my university passed a new ordinance on hate speech. As opposed to the university's approach, the approach I would take to hate speech is not top-down. The best way I think to combat the foundations of hatred is to confront it when you see it. Creating far-reaching rules about speech conduct merely creates a legalistic environment and does not attack the social foundations of hate. By actually confronting hate speech one creates a social environment where everyone is more aware of the impact they have on other people. I have done this on several occasions. Hatred can become a very thorny problem, indeed, and some broad rules do need to be in place so that campus communities are safe environments. In general, however, I am optimistic that there can be order without law.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Intellectual Property as Real Property

There are many ways to defend intellectual property, and critics of intellectual ownership may attack this concept from many different perspectives. Conceptually, intellectual property is a form of ownership rights to one's own creations, and if we are advocates of creative ownership, then we must also be advocates of intellectual property. It has been my experience that critics of intellectual property use questionable applications of intellectual property law to argue against creative ownership in general. For example, by pointing to's attempt to capture exclusive patent rights to a simple script that enable users to purchase items using the 1-click option. The application of some 26 patents that refer to the 1-click method is a contestable case even among intellectual property lawyers. So pointing to this as a reason to oppose intellectual property is not convincing.

If it is possible that there is one very real and defensible forms of intellectual property, then the critic of intellectual property must say that there is legitimate basis for intellectual property. Consider the following examples. A poem, a book, a play, and a musical expression, which are all forms of intellectual property.

The utilitarian economic defense of intellectual property says that the creator of the property would not be allowed to recover the costs that it took to invent the product, or be rewarded in any sense, if that creation is not protected from unfair uses like commercial redistribution. If anyone can copy a piece of literature that I spent years writing and perfecting, there is no monetary reward for me. There may also be no personal reward if I am not even credited for the creation. Or, if I am a starving artist and I create a masterpiece, yet anyone with a business degree is able to reproduce my work and sell it, that does not allow me the opportunity to cover the opportunity costs of creating that masterpiece. In general I do not accept utilitarian arguments, yet I find that most critics of intellectual property do and base their opposition to intellectual property on some form of utilitarianism, so it is worth pointing out that there are utilitarian grounds for advocating intellectual property.

A better defense of intellectual property is, I think, on the basis of one's rightful ownership over creations that have significant labor-value crystallized within them. Utilitarian arguments will focus on productive incentives that are created by establishing property laws, and while I think those are important, a more basic defense of intellectual property would argue that acquiring rights to one's own productive activity affords the artisan the respect deserved to have their work credited to themselves. For example, musical notation is not itself copyrighted, yet the specific ordering and written accumulations of notation forms an expression that is. An expression is an extension of one's creativity, one's laborious efforts that went into creating that expression, and ultimately this transforms the expression into something that one can say is a unique signature.

Expressions are even more directly an extension of one's own creativity and labor than are other forms of property, such as real estate. Of course, there are transfer rights involved in property ownership, allowing someone to transfer ownership of property to someone else. Thus I can sell copies of my own poems and art to interested buyers. I can sell the effort it took to build a house to someone else. Or I can sell the right to reproduce my play to a theatrical organization who would like to use it in a performance. Intellectual property also originates with no inherent loss to scarce resources. I can write thousands of plays that had never existed before, and I am not buying up say, land or real estate, that might be put to better uses elsewhere. We cannot talk about allocative inefficiencies with intellectual property: if I had not written any plays, there would be no plays to allocate in the first place. Now, perhaps it would be more efficient for society if I were selling apricots. But we cannot make such a paternalistic judgment objectively since all paternalism falsely objectifies subjective realities.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Political Function of the Uprising

Apart from being an outburst of violence and anger, what political function does an uprising serve?

Many important changes take place in liberal democracies through massive protest and through the use of the riot. I studied in Germany over the summer and then I traveled around to dozens of cities. All across the nation, documented actions and uprisings were cited as causes of political change during the reign of the closed society. In Leipzig, for example, weekly violent protests convinced the DDR that they needed to become the kind of open society demonstrators envisioned. Same thing all across Eastern Europe.

Even in our own country, race riots led to the civil rights movement; uprisings have prevented massive evictions of poor communities; draft riots sprouted anti-war movements and anti-war movements ended the occupations; the Rodney King uprising brought racial profiling and police brutality to the fore of political debate for a decade. If you are only embarrassed by changes that are taking place in the present, but you revere changes that took place in the past through the same means, then you have to ask yourself whether you are embarrassed by those means or something else.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The War on Participation

A riot recently broke out in my neck o' the woods at a Dead Prez concert when police attempted to arrest a black man who was initially roughhoused by a group of white trouble-makers. But the concert-goers surrounded the police car, set the prisoner free, and then asserted their power over this unjust police procedure. Soon, riot police arrived and gassed a crowd that vandalized three police cars in anger. The local media have done their part in shaming this event as an anarchist act of rage.

What enrages me is that after someone had reported this on the Tacoma SDS website, an upset Tacoma concert-goer responded furiously that because of the anarchists in Olympia, the Dead Prez group would not be playing in Tacoma.

Apparently this person knows "enough" about SDS to know that we're "anarchists". Imagine that. Well, that is, anarchy poorly defined as Hobbesian chaos and disorder. Not to mention that SDS is not even anarchism charitably defined. Nonetheless he builds in the absolutists' defense of totalitarianism by nodding to (of all political constructs) theoretical Monarchism! Whereas there are multiple layers of misunderstanding built into this reaction, the first at the level of "facts" of the case, the second being a contempt for participatory politics itself, which is one of the greatest sources of change in liberal democratic societies. My position is much more broad than anarchism. It appears as though a defense of participation itself is in need.

If you have no patience for those who participate, those who understand the dynamics of social change, and who dream of utopia, then what do you say about all the revolutionary, visionary, utopianists who came before this generation? We are all the beneficiaries of this long line of utopia-dreamers and revolutionaries. If you want to give credit for your liberties, which revolutionaries will you credit, sir?

If a status-quo monger like this one possesses "all-encompassing hate" for those envisioning greater justice in our society, then sigh, sigh, sigh. There's no reason to appease this kind of criticism because it's rooted in something much more radical than participation itself, and that is, radical apathy. In societies dominated by apatheist ideology, such as the "die, hippie die" mantra of many a South Park episode, those who take principled stances against all forms of imperialism and bigotry are cast aside as "stupid anarchists" for challenging the status quo. This is why the Left must always work so much harder than the rest of society. The rest of society is so inculcated with the ideas of the ruling spectacle, they have come to even hate participation itself.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Snacktivism with the ISM

On Monday I had the pleasure to eat lunch with Rachel Corrie's parents and Paul Larudee from the ISM and Free Gaza project. Rachel Corrie was killed in Rafah, Gaza while trying to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from destroying a house, and since then her death has gained widespread notoriety. Rachel's father had gone to Rafah after her death to talk to the people there, and the media had said that he was kidnapped. I asked him about this because I read of his own account and knew that he maintains that he was never kidnapped. Nonetheless, this is the story that made headlines. At any rate, what is happening in Rafah as I write this is quite panicky.

The Answer and the Betrayal (short film)

I'm still not sure exactly what Matthew, whose idea the film was, had in mind with this convoluted plot line. At first I thought he wanted it to be Kierkegaardian; an attack on reason to make room for faith and all that nonsense. Then I thought it could be Nietzschean, saying that this is the contradictory way we all live in order to sustain our species. But the original idea was conceived out of contempt for religious manipulations of the death drive. At any rate this film was created last October. It was much longer to begin with, but I was tired of the way the film ended before, which really made no sense.

Building Civilization from Starch

Starch is so great. Think of all the things you can do with starch. But is a starch-based diet the healthiest? Here is a debate between vegetarian nutrition experts on the primacy of starch.

Every single society that has ever existed survived on a starch-based diet, says John McDougall. McDougall is taken aback by "niche theories," the point he makes is somewhat overlooked by other nutritionists. On the other hand, every single person has a different metabolic rate and needs to limit their caloric intake to suit their individual needs, says Joel Furston. There is a perfect balance between vegetables and starches and each person needs to 'do the math' to figure out what is best for them. I don't see these two views as incompatible - because McDougall is making his point far too generally, and Furston is confining the discussion to individuals.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Disunity of Reason

If you deconstruct yourself entirely - your own reason entirely - you cannot perform, and you cannot reason. Even the idea that one can reason your way out of such a hold doesn't escape this judgment, since it uses reason to do so. The Kantian idea that only reason can use its own laws to judge itself doesn't succeed for very long, since "knowing thyself" has to use reason itself to do its own judging.

If someone makes a charge against me and I get to be the jury, the judge, the executioner, the lawyer, and the witness, and I get decide whether I'm guilty or not, then the entire project is biased. The idea the reason can be impartial about itself has no cogency. Why should it be the case, as Kant says, that reason can get us anywhere?

It's interesting that Kant said almost the same thing, actually, about the Critique of Pure Reason. He said philosophers and scientists will go on using logic, using natural science, using tools of human reason, etc., without ever examining the tools that is used to first understand them, and that is, reason. He said scholasticisms will fill up the libraries, and his impenetrable book will be laying somewhere in a corner proclaiming all of it to be false, and yet no one will understand it, and the indifferentists will never care about it, and human reason will go on just like it has always done. Just like Kant has done himself in the Critique of Pure Reason.

And just like the Greeks who thought they could explain everything in the world, without explaining the human mind and how it perceives anything, or without explaining human language and how it talks about anything, humans have gone on for centuries like naive little lab rats, sniffing and shuffling their way through life. As a Muser said, Kant seems to want to deny reality -- but not really.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Books, Words, Memes

Baudrillard's Bastard tagged me in the following exercise:

1. Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

The nearest book to me is Zizek's Lacan - The Silent Partners and the fifth sentence on p. 123 is all the way at the bottom since the page seems to be comprised of exactly five and a half long sentences.

"Although it is essentially mixed and equivocal, as we will see, this theory can be considered an important touchstone not only for Badiou's Theory of the Subject but even more so for his recent unpublished seminars on the same topic which are being reworked for Logic of Worlds -- not to forget Lacan's own theory of the four discourses which he begins to elaborate in his seminars right after May '68 , from The Obverse of Psychoanalysis until its last version in Encore: the master's discourse, the hysteric's discourse, the university discourse, and the analyst's discourse."

It's worth pointing out that this book is a reader that Zizek edited. So this quote is from an article that Bruno Bosteels wrote titled Alain Badiou's Theory of the Subject: The Recommencement of Dialectical Materialism. The thesis of Zizek's book as a whole is that Lacan had many theorists whom he held secret (or "silent") alliances with, such as Nietzsche, Kafka, and the student activists of May 1968.

This is the part where I select five others. How about,
  1. The Poet
  2. The Artist
  3. The Misanthrope
  4. The Fragmentalist
  5. The Citationist

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Oh, youtube...

I have one YouTube account that has over 60 videos. Some of my more politically-charged videos get commented on several times a day. Many of them are recurring viewers. Yet the English-speaking people of YouTube, which is more broadly, the English-speaking people of this planet, are so incredibly and insanely idiotic that I must admit that I have given up hope for them. It is no use responding to each of their comments anymore. With such a high volume of comments, it becomes pointless to debate with each one. After the videos started to gain popularity, I thought it was a great opportunity to educate the falsely ideological masses. But this has proven to be an extremely difficult task. Not to mention conservative bloggers like Michelle Malkin from Fox News have subscribed to the account's feed. Thus whenever she links to any of the videos, thousands of her pusillanimous posters are routed to my content. Most of the outrageous traffic has come from her blog, Hot Air.

In some sense perusing these comments keeps me in touch with the extremely barbaric undertones of American culture. People have said they want to kill the protesters in the videos. People argue that I should be beaten and thrown in jail for making propaganda. It is for this reason that I have extreme contempt for the world of YouTube. Everything has receded into violent idiocy. I try to maintain order in conversing with many of the viewers. But many are virtually incapable of understanding another person's perspective. This has been so basic for me that when I must face the world's lunatics I am overwhelmed by what appears to be Sisyphean task.

Perhaps now is the appropriate time to throw down the towel. That heavy ball is too much to juggle up an infinitely steep hill. In fact, it's greater than just a steep hill. It's wall of ignorance that cannot be surmounted.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Ethernet Offensive on Iran

The Guardian posted a map of the world's submarine Ethernet connections. Last week 4 of the largest cables heading to the Arabian peninsula were "cut". The current net traffic report shows that Iran has lost 100% of its connectivity with 100% of packets lost. The cause of the breakage is "unknown", yet the four broken cables took place in four separate parts of the country at once. It does not appear to have been an accident. This seems much more like information warfare. Joanne Coley from Rocketboom said on Monday that the US and the UK are now re-routing Iran's connectivity through its own Ethernet cables. I had trouble finding any sources for that, but this incident seems extremely suspect, given that American media have virtually blacked this story out in light of "Super Tuesday" and all the distractions from party caucusing.

Brave New Spectacle

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet three crew members from Brave New Films. They're a popular video collective who led a workshop on creating viral videos. The video above was posted yesterday onto their YouTube channel. If you have ever seen any of Robert Greenwald's films (Iraq for Sale, Outfoxed, Unprecedented, etc.) you have seen Brave New Films. Perhaps their most well-known viral YouTube video is "Fox News Porn", attacking the myth that Fox is a conservative news organization (that's a myth?) and eschews sexual deviance. In fact, BNF shows, Fox embraces sexual deviance. But perhaps my favorite BNF mashup is "Fox Attacks Bloggers". How pertinent?

The key to BNF's viral-ness is its ability to "pick fights" as they said in their workshop. Succinctness also plays an obvious role with regards to the internet. They likened the good vs. evil plot purity of their films to DC comic books and Star Wars films. I think this is a more intelligent move than most would assume. In the first chapter of Society of the Spectacle, Debord wrote that,

"In analyzing the spectacle we are obliged to a certain extent to use the spectacle’s own language, in the sense that we have to operate on the methodological terrain of the society that expresses itself in the spectacle. For the spectacle is both the meaning and the agenda of our particular socio-economic formation. It is the historical moment in which we are caught."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bourgeois university at war

Every once in a while I have a startling impromptu conversation with someone that I think is worth sharing. I ran into a student outside the cafe who asked me what I thought about the war in Iraq. The student said he gets a "sadistic" pleasure from asking students at the university why they were against the invasion of Iraq, because most students aren't challenging enough for him. He said he hasn't met one student who can convince him that there weren't weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"That's an awful assumption," I said, "to assume that students walking to class are going to be able to defend themselves against your gadfly criticisms right on the spot. It sounds like you're more interested in making them feel uncomfortable than you are interested in what they're verbal responses will be."

"I find that most people don't know what they believe. Saddam had weapons of mass destruction because we gave them to him," he said.

I fired back, "chemical weapons like sarin nerve gas really only have a shelf life of about five years. So if he obtained them in 91 or 92 from us, they would have been useless by 2003 anyway. But why do you think that just saying he has WMDs is a good enough justification to invade their country anyway? Pakistan and Israel have WMDs too you know."

"But they're our allies and they wouldn't attack us."

I decided at this point that his Socratic method was falling apart and decided to turn the questions on him. "So you setup a criterion where anyone who is possibly a threat is invaded and overthrown? Couldn't the foreign policy hawks just fabricate all kinds of threats and you would fall for every single one them and become a mouthpiece for their imperialism?"

It was interesting that after this point we started talking about what the student had believed at various points during the timeline of the war in Iraq. He gave me a short history of his changing political beliefs. And rather than being angry at the "liberal" college campus setting, it seemed that this student was actually fishing for reasons to accept himself as a member the very liberal college campus setting he was rebelling against.

Now, I don't consider myself "liberal", but a radical, a libertarian, and an anarchist. "Liberal" and "conservative" are binaries that the mainstream promulgate. It's incredibly inconsistent, and that's why the student had such a difficult time consulting his American-style pragmatism regarding when threats are formidable enough to warrant military force. Pragmatism is only consistent in the sense that it is consistently pragmatic, but there are no deeper principles involved. I find that radicalism in general has much more consistent reasons for its oppositions, and our analysis is better than either of the mainstream views.

This confusion and this anger about the war seems to have been produced by disgust at the social environment of the campus. Many students get quite angry at the bourgeois liberals on campus, and then amazingly backfire and become its mainstream binary opposite: conservative. They don't, however, take their critique of the liberal bourgeoisie further to be able to explain better why they're actually part of the reason Iraq was invaded. Bourgeois liberal college students did relatively little to stop the run up to the war in Iraq. They've done nothing but talk about elections in between television show parties. They criticize the direct actions and the lobbying that others are doing. They laugh to themselves as if they're too good for that. It's a way of "outsourcing" your political opposition while maintaining your liberal bourgeois sensibility.

The liberal bourgeoisie are the people who cannot satisfy this student's eagerness to feel politically satisfied in the college setting. He cannot think of himself as being similar to them in any way, so he becomes the opposite of them in every way. Secretly, he would like to be like them, but he would only want to be like the best of them. And the ugliest of them prevent him from doing that. It is an inner ideological struggle over his own self-identity.

Nothing but Obama

So why did I make this video? Don't ask...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Taxation + Terror + Blockade = Gaza

We can understand why Israel would like Fatah to lead Gaza instead of Hamas, but this preference has turned into a policy of terror. The walled border between Egypt and Gaza explodes every time Mubarak builds a barrier to prevent fleeing Palestinians from escaping Israeli attacks and economic warfare.

Though Israel claims to have pulled out of Gaza and handed over sovereignty to the PA in 2005, Israel still 1) withholds tax revenues collected in Gaza by Israel, 2) has worked to cut-off international aid to Gaza, 3) restricts the movement of goods and services in and out of Gaza, 4) imposes banking restrictions on Gazans, and 5) cuts power to Gaza, leaving them in darkness. So how is Gaza not occupied by Israel?

Exhibit C: "Anarchist Action Figure"

Oakland, CA shop-droppers tried to purchase this from a shopping center, but the store manager said, "It's full of like, political polemics. I don't think we sell this. I don't think it's a product that we sell ... it actually looks like some anti-like, G-6, 7 activist would just put on our shelves."

The NYTimes wrote an interesting piece on shop-dropping and other forms of culture-jamming during the Holiday Consumer Season.

Related: an anarcha-primitivist's day at the shopping mall.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Exhibit B: "Barbie Learns to Cook"

More oppressvertisements:

Exhibit A: "Career Girl Barbie"

Women with careers are far too subversive; they must be commodified! In fact, they're $25.00 each.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Police State Police State Police State

From the NYTimes:

In the first counterterrorism strategy of its kind in the nation, roving teams of New York City police officers armed with automatic rifles and accompanied by bomb-sniffing dogs will patrol the city’s subway system daily...
New York City might be the most heavily-patrolled police city in the United States. Officers with high-powered rifles and MP5s already patrol above-ground sites like the Empire State Building and the National Guard patrols NYC and New Jersey train systems with heavily-powered weapons. The article notes that police will patrol the subways in 12 hours shifts starting next month.

Not since World War Two's massive internments have we seen local police forces teaming up with ICE raids and Homeland Security as much as we have seen in the last five years. The 404-6 marginal acceptance of bills like HR 1955 and ideologically-based violence against protesters point in a dismal direction. The U.S. military's development and use of civilian control technologies like Active Denial Systems and other directed-energy weapons make the government's control (ideological and physical) very possible and real. I recall last weekend at the West Coast Journalism Conference in L.A. Salvadoran journalist Roberto Lovato saying, "I've never seen the United States look so much like El Salvador in my life!"

"Giantistic cooperationism"

Microsoft announced recently that it was interested in acquiring Yahoo! in an attempt to gain market shares from Google. Read Google's blog which criticizes Microsoft for exerting the same sort of "inappropriate influence" over the internet as it did with the PC in the 90s. If Yahoo! and Microsoft merge, they would effectively control most of the instant-messaging market on the net. (IM systems is not actually a big market, and if IMing becomes inter-operable, then IM users benefit.) Meanwhile Google is attempting to acquire DoubleClick through the European Union.

Criticism of antitrust legislation from "the right" argues that competition and takeover, a process that Joseph Schumpeter calls "creative destruction" and what James Brock calls "economic Darwinism", is a natural market occurrence which does not to be intervened with. There is however, criticism of antitrust from the left, although confounding "right" and "left" on this really doesn't help. I consider myself left, and I reach similar conclusions as those on the right do.

The process of monopolization are modes of securing more perfect integration, and a step in "societal evolution", said William Graham Sumner. Historical monopolists like John D. Rockefeller and pro-trust lega scholars like Robert Bork say that firms which adapt better to changing consumer preferences succeed, and those that do not eventually become "extinct". James Brock critiques their arguments by saying that the occurrence of monopoly does not imply that what led to the monopoly was competitive behavior. The distinction here is between technical monopolies and coercive monopolies.

"Creative destruction" is the process by which, if technical monopolies do obtain, the monopolists are always held to a competitive standard because newcomers in the market might be more dynamically efficient than the monopolist and thus acquire its market shares. But what happens when all dynamically efficient rivals can essentially be taken over by coercive monopolists? Is this an anti-competitive practice that we should be concerned with if we accept the long-run view of creative destruction?

Is this giantistic cooperationism?
Giantistic competition?
Giantistic coercion?

How Capitalism Caused Hot Russian Women?

Anne Applebaum from Microsoft's Slate Magazine wrote an article proclaiming that the fall of communism made women more beautiful in Russia, as evidenced by the emergence of super-models like Natalia Vodianova pictured left.

Under Soviet control there was no market for fashion magazines, TV series dictated by ratings, and various market mechanisms built into 'preference satisfaction'. Soviet communism did not offer the myriad of beauty products and sexual instruction that the capitalist West offered. There were famous Soviet film actresses, like Lyubov Petrovna Orlova, yet Applebaum notes that she was allegedly Stalin's prized actress and was much more "cheerful and wholesome" than sexy. She said market mechanisms brought beautiful Russian women into markets that they could succeed in.

What's missing from the article is that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Western cultural values became accepted in Eastern Europe. The article gives all the credit to capitalism, forgetting imperialism.

Capitalism succeeded in creating a more potent spectacle than the Soviet Union, and part of that had to do with the way women are judged in Western society. The reason why Applebaum thinks capitalism caused hot women is because Applebaum herself was socialized into a society dominated by capitalist conditions of production, including the production of image: when Russian production became interconnected with Western production, Applebaum, like so many - you could call them "global gentrifiers" - could not tell the difference between capitalist penetration and cultural imperialism.

And because the West is both capitalist and imperialist, when Westernization causes women around the world to look - not surprisingly - "Western", she assumes it's because of an economic transformation.

Okay, okay. So it sounds like I'm trying to leave capitalism out of it. Capitalism certainly played a role in speeding up the process of Westernization. But my argument is that Applebaum, and other people too, are thinking that - because Russian women are being exploited and made to look like American models - she assumes that they are becoming sexier than before. But, of course, Applebaum is an American and from a particular time-period in American history. She's completely sidestepping 'cultural relativity' and replacing it with naivete.

Famine without Free Press

Amartya Sen pointed out in his essay The Value of Democracy that "in the terrible history of famines in the world, no sustainable famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press."

Human Rights Watch was taking press rights seriously when it accepted this proposition and agreed that the best way to prevent famine today is secure the rights of a free press. They go on to say that free press can also prevent outbreaks of HIV/AIDS.

Except that press freedom entails a class system. In countries where the ability to publish is prevented by substantial economic barriers, important information may not get out from deep beneath the social strata. When Sen and HRW say press freedoms, then, we can assume they mean more broadly to secure the right to free expression and free information. Otherwise, while I think this analysis is interesting and thought provoking, a free press class is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to prevent famine or AIDS, whereas free information and expression are. Sen's work is entirely empirical.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

On Women Being Murderous in the Movies

I'm currently re-editing a film I shot with a team of four others during a 48-hour film festival three months ago, in order to submit it to another film festival this March. It's difficult sometimes to work with a diverse group of people and produce something that doesn't reinforce dominating ideologies.

The film follows a drug dealer as he struggles for independence against his sexist supplier who orders the dealer and the supplier's girlfriend around forcefully. At one point his girlfriend (the only woman in the film) approaches the street dealer and they engage in an intimate conversation about (what else?) life with drugs. She pitches an offer to the dealer saying that she can help him kill the supplier. However, an aircraft flies overhead and neither one of them can hear each other. There is a moment of miscommunication that is portrayed with the use of subtitles at the bottom of the screen. The street dealer thinks she is helping him by offering free drugs, and he agrees to this alleged offer, while she believes the dealer has accepted the offer to kill the supplier (i.e. her boyfriend.) Ultimately, the woman murders the supplier, and the street dealer has a moment of agitated confusion.

I wonder about this film, called A Brief, Bright Flash of Red Light, and whether it is reinforcing a dominant sexist ideology that the woman is The Deceiver. This idea can be traced back to at least the Book of Genesis. And with all the talk about miscommunication from theorists like Deborah Tannen etc., we should expect that it is always the man who has the dirty intention to deceive or to ignore The Other, not the woman. Except in this case, both the man and the woman are expecting free favors from the other, yet the man is cheated. That is what Nietzsche said about a woman's power over man. Woman is mysterious and uses deception as a substitute for power. As long as men do not understand the source of this power, she remains more powerful than him.

Conversely, then, by acknowledging that woman has this covert power over a man, and eschewing the false-feminist theorists who gloss over this power analysis and proclaim there are no innate differences in these power relationships, the film tells the truth about women. It in fact says that women have more power over men than the man is willing to accept. The man thought that only another man who is more powerful than him could overcome him, and it is proved that a woman is more powerful than both.

This is not a film about morality. Though the woman is the murderer, it is not meant to place any sort of blame on her for being murderous. Morality is something altogether separate, and I would even say it is false to use it as a narrative. Therefore morality is exempt from the film in my view, and exempt from the analysis of the film. I suppose, however, that when morality and power are thought to be inseparable, the film can be interpreted as saying women are evil.