Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Oppositional Rhetoric

My campus is currently in debate over a document that a coalition of students presented to the University president about making the campus more racially inclusive. We are are mainly a white, upper-middle class private campus. The original document had worrisome features. Being largely in agreement with the structural analysis that the students provided, I thought the majority of students would be put off by the authoritarian rhetoric used in the document - and this has largely been the case. Except that, with this language, it sparked campus-wide debates and discussions about racism in America that might not have taken place if the language was prettified, flowery and easier to dismiss as pansy liberal pouting. And it needs to be reassessed in light of its democratic influence.

I assumed at first that the coalition was less interested in opening up discussion and more interested in throwing a list of demands at the administration and then turning their backs until they had been fulfilled. In this sense it would have appealed strictly to authority, while using no authority of its own to increase its influence on the administration. Most importantly, it would not have used popular support as a necessary component of that authority to have a legitimate democratic influence on the campus. I was worried that this model was more akin to what D.C. politics has been reduced to, what economists call "rent-seeking", and what the ordoliberals call the "re-feudalization" of democratic societies, and what might make more sense to call the lobbyist industrial complex.

But the group is interested in using more diffused methods of power to influence the University administration, by hosting discussions and talks about racism and structural inequalities in American society, by getting students involved. Presenting its case very radically may mean it ends up settling somewhere in the middle, yet without this radical presentation perhaps nothing at all would have been achieved. One of the coalition supporters commented today that the other students were so imbibed with white privilege that they feel they need to be approached in exactly the right way in order to address systemic racism in American society, that they needed to be appeased in order to take action and negate their own privilege. I think this is largely true, and is a better justification for the affirmative language, for jarring students from complacency, rather than appeasing students with flimsy support groups and head-nodding committees.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Vitamin F Rationale

Studies that have tested economic agents' personal theories about distributive justice yield confusing results.

Notions of equity, fairness, status, and "other departures from self-interest" (Matthew Rabin's phrase) play an integral role in how choices in games and various scenarios. It is clear that 'dominant strategies' and 'best-response solutions' to game theoretic problems which involve making "the rational choice" are rarely solved in the way economists would solve them. Even when there are supposed to be clear utility-maximizing solutions to these problems, the utility-maximizing or Pareto-improving solution is not chosen and sometimes not even noticed. Yet these heuristics that economists use, like optimizing outcomes and maximizing profit or utility, are fundamental to the notion of rational public policy decisions and public choice theory.

In the Vitamin F study done by Yaari and Bar-Hillel, for example, the players are told that that one player gets substantially more utility from the Vitamin F in grapefruits another player who gets the same utility from the Vitamin F in avocados as he does from grapefruits. They're asked to divide up the twelve grapefruits and avocados accordingly. Yaari and Bar-Hillel's work demonstrates that decision-makers disproportionately choose outcomes which do not maximize the social utility in this framework but instead distribute foodstuffs equitably or evenly among the players. This should make no sense from a neoclassical perspective. It should be counterintuitive and even "irrational".

These studies tell us something about "behavioral distributive justice", if we can label it that. They show, in non-trivial ways, that decision-making is essentially not neoclassical. It is not Marshallian, or at least not naively so. The standard Marshallian marginal utility model, with all its imperfections (the axes being upside down etc.), does not specify what is "rational" to value, only that it is rational to value utility-maximizing equilibria. What has been pumped into this notion of rationality is today a very simplified, orderly, systematizing, neoclassical set of values. Yet those values contradict most of the data that has sought to describe the values of economic decision-makers, whom, to increase the authority of the generality here, come from different cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. Their values are typically more closely linked to frameworks that involve social concerns and fairness.

Ancillary conclusions about what institutions and economic policies are necessary will likely not be drawn from these studies, but it ought to be open to criticism whether these ancillary conclusions should be drawn. If rationality is in fact something more like "fairness", why use microeconomic models that do not capture this? Perhaps no ancillary conclusions can be drawn in the first place. Decision-makers are, after all, put in the position of a benevolent dictator. All other variables like rent-seeking opportunities are ruled out. There are serious limitations and few policy insights that can be gleaned from this data.

Yet the most basic conclusion that Vitamin F should suggest is that utility-maximizing paradigms simply do not accurately describe what most economic actors think is "rational", and in that regard microeconomics is still unabashedly autistic. One way economists have interpreted the data is to say that the participants in these studies are simply not well-versed in the study of economics enough to make these decisions, making economists into some kind of vanguard group.

However, this seems highly undemocratic and paternalistic, something American economists are not supposed to do. The profession is constantly striving toward being a "positive" science instead of a "normative" calculus. Yet since these models do not include the "positive" results of scientific study, it makes economic modeling and methodology into a series of normative claims. All the models of economic theory and the solutions economists provide, then, would be nothing more than theories about what economic agents "should" do if they wanted act in a certain way, the way economists are telling them they should act. It reduces everything that was once thought to be "positive" and unbiased into a series of moral imperatives coming from a distinct methodologically individualist and utilitarian perspective, but hardly scientific.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunrise with Coglings


Inspiration: machine dreams.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Religionist Methodology in Economics

"Over the years, economists have proffered many reasons for downplaying the relevance of behavioral research challenging our habitual assumptions," writes Matthew Rabin in his essay Psychology and Economics. Written in 1998, it's goal was to summarily dismiss some of the studies in cognitive psychology, behavioral theory and neuroeconomics that were relevant to microeconomic theory.

It was long overdue. The claims of behavioral scientists and cognitive psychologists have posed significant problems for traditional microeconomic models of human behavior that assume rationality and rational agency. Rabin said in his paper that it is common to discuss the "broader methodological significance" of such findings but says he should refrain from doing so since the charges against the models usually stem from "unfamiliarity with the details of the research." This is quite an odd claim to make, since economists themselves were and still are quite unfamiliar with the details of such research, not to mention the methodological significance.

Ironically, it is therefore the aim of the profession to familiarize themselves with the new research, says Rabin. Today we are seeing lots of cross-disciplinary work between chemistry, physics, behavioral science and economics. In so doing Rabin believes the arguments against the profession will "dissipate". Confronting the criticisms with both "healthy skepticism" and "genuine curiosity" should help to "empirically test their validity" and "carefully draw out their economic implications." And with that, economics departments dedicated to the study of neuropsychology began to emerge.

Perhaps it would be unorthodox to suggest this link, but I must. This sort of defense is exactly what American Pentecostals have done with the biological evidence for natural selection and genetic mutation through recombination. For decades, evolutionary biologists have had to put up with religionist lobbyists beating the book over their heads and arm-twisting them into political acquiescence. Likewise, economics has been "autistic" in its vision of a purely rational agent who makes decisions according to the immutable microeconomic Text, despite mounds of evidence to the contrary.

Arguments against economic assumptions are supposed to "dissipate" once economics has camouflaged itself amongst lots of other sciences that carry more legitimacy. That's probably true, but only for the same reasons that creationism looks more credible now that creationist scientists have been camouflaging themselves as real scientists and trying to integrate creationism into lots of places besides church.

The Pentecostal methodology is a relatively easy three-step process to which the microeconomic theorists have quite readily picked up on, demonstrating that it is still possible to denounce science and still maintain important seats of government power. First, claim that the scientific criticism does not really understand science, then, claim that science cannot disprove the religion, and ultimately, claim that your religion is a science.

Perennial Gale of the Software Industry

When the antitrust divisions in the US and the EU had filed suits against Microsoft for "bundling" its software with Internet Explorer, the courts said Microsoft's dominance at the time being was enough for it to see unmatched profits for years to come.

Something missing from almost every simple antitrust debate and all-too-common in an experienced antitrust debate is what has been referred to as dynamic efficiency. A half-century ago, Joseph Schumpeter had offered an analysis of capitalist industry as being one where monopolies are common and frequently swept aside by a "perennial gale of creative destruction". This dynamic competition cannot be analyzed - the way it commonly is - by price-competitions in short-term comparative statics. This is competition that is analyzed solely through current prices and short-run profit-maximizing equilibria.

Economist at MIT, Richard Schmalensee, had testified on behalf of Microsoft in the US antitrust cases. He points out in one of his articles four Schumpeterian characterstics of the software industry in general. The first is that software companies compete dynamically with each other. After the fixed costs of designing, developing, and testing new software, the marginal cost of creating copies of each product is "trivial". The cost of producing software is almost entirely fixed, given that advertising is also a fixed cost.

The second is that the value of software increases depending on its compatibility with other products, which Schmalensee calls "systems" and "network" effects. So the quality of a software platform depends on which programs and interfaces can be used with it. For example, few people would want an XBox 360 if there weren't any good games for it, or an HDDVD player if there are fewer DVDs for it. These "format wars" become contested grounds for dynamism and creative destruction.

Third, despite the network industry models, major innovators in the software market occur repeatedly and market power can quickly be displaced or complemented by rival firms in software or hardware. Schmalensee cites Excel software as evidence of rapid technological change, which was initially only available for the Macintosh and then incorporated into other platforms later.

Forth, the increase in functionality through dynamic competition involves increasing the durability of components and product features broadens the scope of competition. For example, spell-checkers, which were originally not bundled into word-processing products, shifts the boundaries between the categories of software markets in competition.

Something I find interesting in this framework is the distinction made between "Schumpeterian industries" and the possibility of, presumably, "non-Schumpeterian industries". Are there such industries if we take Schumpeter's thesis seriously?

Just as the Attorney General at the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division, Thomas Barnett, has used Schumpeter's dynamic efficiency framework to make the case for monopolies (and also the confusing case against cartels), it is evidence that the influence of Schumpeter's thought is quite widespread today, yet it is questionable whether many economists or antitrust authorities understand the claims he is making. An industry like Portland Cement may be non-Schumpeterian today, yet in the long-run ultimately displaced by the perennial gale of creative destruction. Portland Cement has used the same production processes for over a hundred years and nothing has changed, given that it is a very standardized product, yet cost-saving production methods over time have indeed been dynamic. Software, on the other hand, changes rapidly every six months and is so obviously dynamic we grant it Schumpeterian status. By the same Moorean-Schumpeterian token, with every six months that go by perhaps Microsoft itself matters less and less.

My single-most irksome contention I hold against the authorities on antitrust is that they appear to cherrypick from high-sounding theorists like Schumpeter to prove a point they are much less committed to than they would admit. Perhaps next they will be quoting from Thomas Malthus in order to explain why they ought to impose export-controls on rice, or John Maynard Keynes in order to explain why in the short-run we should actually fuck with the economy, and eventually (as they often do) quote the eugenic words of Thomas Carlyle in order to explain why everything they do is so dismally scientific.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Fall and Rise (And Fall) of Pure Reason

“My idealism concerns not the existence of things (the doubting of which, however, constitutes idealism in the ordinary sense), since it never came into my head to doubt it, but it concerns the sensuous representation of things, to which space and time especially belong.”

~Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics (Remark III)

This passage from the Prolegomena explains Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, which is a counter-position to commonsense realism (but not a skepticism in the Cartesian sense) about the objects of perception. All appearances for Kant are neither “things in themselves” nor determinations from “things in themselves”. By “transcendental” Kant is creating a reference for our cognitive faculties from which we cannot justify any conversion of the appearances into actual things. The critical position that Kant takes refutes the positions of the “rational psychologists” and the “visionary idealists” who reify the objects of perception or convert actual things into mere representations, respectively. So far, Kant says, all of metaphysics has suffered from an enormous, yawning error, and Transcendental Idealism is the solution to all error theory.

This view of Kant’s must be evaluated on the whole, and contradistinguished from the various forms of idealism that are possible at least logically. Kant challenges reason and says we must be able to understand the limits of the transcendental, or critical, idealism, and judge the possibilities of transcendental idealism itself. We must consider the implications of this seriously.

Since Kant uses reason itself to judge the limits of reason, and since transcendental idealism limits what can be said about all appearances in the mind, in order to survive any fundamental critique of transcendental idealism, the theory must be able to justify itself without using any Archimedean levers grounded in appearances. Any Archimedean levers, references points used to move the rest of the world, cannot be left unjustified.

One theme of the Critique is a legal reasoning analogy that is employed in places where Kant discusses the importance of his work. Throughout the Critique we see that reason has been placed on trial. Yet throughout this trial reason is its own judge, its own jury, its own defense and the witness. To judge the limits of reason, therefore, we must call upon reason itself to bring us the verdict. The philosophical Justice System may also be fundamentally in error, an enormous, yawning error that Kant left unchallenged.

Such a thorny, unresolved paradox in Kant’s work should suggest that his work is purely an unjustified exercise in reason, or that one of its more basic points is that all knowledge is purely tautological. The second point is more interesting. It makes Kant’s work compatible with logic (the rules of the mind that reason follows), but since only compatible with reason, it judges the compatibility of this work by its own standards. Yet if reason is a mere representation in the mind, or the result of some natural drive or natural propensity to go on justifying itself, then we should rightly doubt the possibility of using reason as the Archimedean lever from which we can move the rest of the world.

Further reading:

Kant, Immanuel. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Cambridge University Press, 2004: New York, NY.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Translation by Norman Kemp Smith. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003: New York, NY.

Loeb, Paul. Lectures on Kantian Philosophy. University of Puget Sound, 2008: Tacoma, WA.

Van Cleve, James. Problems From Kant. Oxford University Press, 1999: New York, NY.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Spectacle Takes Three

A few weeks ago my barista friend told me that our other friend told her that I could tell her about the spectacle.

"He said it would take three weeks to figure out. So what is it?" she asked.

I began telling her that it would take immense mental effort and rigorous training to put ourselves to the task and come to grips with the spectacle. In short, I was having fun with this new relationship we had developed around the possibility of understanding something neither of us can get outside of to fully comprehend.

Every time I see her in the cafe I write down a new quote from Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle and pass it on while I pay for my drink. She then gives me a wry look as she studies the quote and then asks me if it's like any of the following:


"No, that's just one particular manifestation, and it's too overt to cover everything."

"Class consciousness?"

"Well, it's definitely ideological, but it's more like a massive infestation of false consciousness."

"Dominant discourse?"

"That's sort of the idea. But it's much broader than that. All discourse, possibly."

She now tells me that whatever I'm giving her is just another spectacle, and I told her that seems correct given that the spectacle's means and ends are identical, "endlessly basking in its own glory," as Debord wrote. At any rate, it's been roughly three weeks and while some progress is being made, nothing conclusive has been established.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Meditation on White Male Psychology

I picked up an interesting zine today with the windy title, Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change and other people socialized in a society based on domination.

I found the zine interesting and accessible in that it is written in a style that is common in pop culture magazines: the Top 10 lists, the conversational self-help style, the focus on communication and perlocutionary speech-acts. The primary aim is to shift the locus of white male dominance from reinforcing negative power relationships into creating positive relationships and situations where the white male can practice social change through group communication with others.

The author, Chris Crass, admits reassuringly that he is himself "a white guy who talks a lot." I've experienced many group discussion settings like the kind the author is talking about, where awareness of socialization into roles of dominance is encouraged to promote better communication. And as a white guy myself who like to talk a lot, I try to use these sorts of "tools" without actively acknowledging them as tools. Yet on a few occasions, I can recall a white male or two standing up and saying to everyone else that they feel too contrived and then questioning whether the others are too sensitive for him. This is something that is not usually addressed, but more often not even said aloud, and it is also assumed that the white guy who cannot deal simply has too many dominance issues and perhaps is bound to myths of colorblindness, systemic racism, patriarchy, and what have you.

The author does not address why a white male would find these tools contrived and possibly annoying, only that they are tools for working more collaboratively with others. So why is this often so difficult to do? Let me practice a little bit of white male psychology and examine what I think is going on here. The most relevant reason seems to be that practicing this kind of awareness can be a hindrance to natural communication in a Heideggerian sense.

Let me illustrate with Heidegger's own example. When we are involved in a task like sweeping the kitchen floor, the broom is not something alien to us, it is almost as if it were a part of us. It is only when we reflect on the nature of our task that the broom becomes a separate thing that we study and distance from ourselves. We re-see it when we are reflecting in this way, whereas before we were acting in a way that Heidegger calls 'pre-ontological'.

I think this is a very insightful discovery of Heidegger's, and he was the first to really examine our different modes of 'being' in this wat. In our primitive histories, and even today, to act and reflect at the same time prevents us from looking out for our own survival. Imagine a lion running at you and making a lunge for your neck, and you suddenly reflecting on the objects of your perception, logical forms of judgment, etc. and becoming distant from the situation. Evolutionary psychologists would tell us you and those like you would soon die out. And with all the differences between male and female brains neuroscientists are discovering (for example, the narrow corpus collosum in the male brain versus the wide corpus collosum in the female brain) it makes more sense that the male brain is less capable of reflecting and acting simultaneously due to evolutionary pressures from hunting and gathering. This may all be pure speculation on my part, but I don't find the need to search for some scholarly paper to justify it at the moment.

The broom example seems to match well analogously with our group communication tools. The white male who unknowingly communicates his dominance in situations where he has always been socialized as the dominant agent is involved in his act 'pre-ontologically'. Like sweeping the kitchen floor, the white male simply talks and talks without reflecting on his position as the dominant agent. As Heidegger noted, and as Sartre clarified later, however, to reflect on the broom's ontology whilst sweeping makes the task difficult and existentially unbearable. Reflection is not at all like being involved in the task - it is then awkward and does not feel natural to act and reflect at the same time.

Unless the white male has completely socialized himself out of the context in which he is the dominant agent, provoking his movement away from that sort of 'pre-ontological' agency will understandably make the situation awkward and difficult to deal with. While the white male is talking and listening, he is now also reflecting constantly on whether he is or being perceived as dominant, oppressive, and insensitive. The perlocutionary dimension of his speech-acts is suddenly under intense scrutiny. If his angst becomes too nauseating, we should expect him feel ridiculous and unnatural for being socialized into a role which he must constantly socialize himself out of. And upon further reflection, he may feel even more ridiculous for having complained about struggling with his socialization whilst others may be habitual victims of that socialization.

There is a way out, of course. If the tools that the white male uses to work towards social change become the broom with which he performs his tasks, then he no longer has to be frustrated with the separation that existed before. This is an optimistic way of looking at it. On the other hand, since the tools themselves call for constant reassessment and practice, the pessimistic alternative is that the tools themselves become the guilty broomstick that he cannot use naturally unless he is completely socialized out of his socialized role as the dominant agent.

On a side note, I had a dream about brooms last night, and they have been on my mind all day. My Sunday has been one of reflection, and yet my floor is still in desperate need of sweeping!

What Is Today's Socialism?

Few socialists today equate socialism with a centralized public ownership and planning of the economy. Or to put the point in broader terms, few socialists conceive of socialism only as a "mode of production".

If socialism had to be characterized in a single phrase it would be a movement of human liberation, in which the transformation of the economic system is only one element, and itself gives rise to diverse choices in the construction of a different type of socialism.

In reality, scientific socialism - articulated in the work of the Bolsheviks - set out to achieve state power and transform the economic system, to destroy the rich potential of the instruments of the popular struggle and liberation created in revolutionary Russia. The tyrannical rule of the Soviet party system was exactly as Trotsky had predicted years earlier, and something the Russian anarchists had understood well. Though socialists today do not echo Lenin's order for "unquestioning submission to a single will" in the "interests of socialism", do they not appeal to the same transformation of the economic system as one of the primary elements to further the interests of socialism?

It should not be surprising that after a hundred years of socialist failure, socialism is still primarily sought out in terms of transforming economic systems through involuntary distributionist planning as a "mode of production", though socialists themselves rarely equate socialism with centralized public ownership and the like?

That is, today's 'democratic socialists' are loathe to equate their visions of society in scientific socialist terms, but scientific planning is still central to their thesis. And where voluntaryist popular struggle fails and continues to fail - and we should wonder why - the democratic socialists have become the managers of the increasingly centralized state capitalist systems: the managers of the corporate economy, the arbiters of state power, the bureaucrats inside the ideological institutions. In summary, 'the people's representatives'.

Bakunin once said, "the people will feel no better if the stick with which they are being beaten is labeled 'the people's stick.'"

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You There in Hyperborea

One of my friends was looking over my entries and the links on my blog roll and she said we were all too aloof and dry. She does not see a Dionysian-Apollonian synthesis with all the wordy things we're doing in hyperblog land, this blog included. Maybe she's right; after all, she's a free-spirited intelligent person. Perhaps she's suggesting we blog-while-drunk more to exercise the spirits. (This would be fun, and potentially revealing.)

Whatever I write from the mountaintop in Hyperborea can come off too condescending or over-intellectualized, but I don't think I should care. I said we're all people who enjoy fleshing out ideas in writing and creative expression. The impression she had was that we're showing off how trendily postmodern we are and expecting admiration for it. "Intellectual self-indulgence," she said.

Maybe she's right to some degree, but I think whatever we do now is postmodern. It's the age we live in, the postmodern era, and the problems are not just trends. If the only way we can address them is by becoming Hyperboreans, very well, then! becoming Hyperborean is a rite of passage. There are too many misconceptions about us though, and it is for that reason Hyperborea is inhabited by the rarest people. "Perhaps not one of them is yet alive," wrote Nietzsche.

Advocating Overthrow of Government

"Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government; or

"Whoever, with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or

"Whoever organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof—

"Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction."

- U.S. Code of Law, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 115, Section 2385, "Advocating Overthrow of Government". Cornell Law.

"Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

- Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, 2nd paragraph.

A Coasian Democracy

Transactions costs - if they were completely eliminated, we would have pure Coasian bargaining - no searching, just pure interaction. This sounds rather utopian, but it isn't unrealistic to think we could get closer to what is called the "true demand curve". Technological advances have reduced transaction costs significantly.

The way I view it, markets need to equilibrate in order for political and economic satisfaction to be 'maximized' in a world of scarce resources. But transaction costs are present in nearly every market. The model I sketched out above shows where a market is supposed to equilibrate (A).

The bright red line - sometimes called the "true demand curve" - shows that the existence of transaction costs reduces the overall amount of action [demand, quantity supply, bargaining, etc.] And anyway, it's more apt to say the first (logically first) demand curve is the "true demand" in a world where transaction costs do not exist.

But because the cost of, say, greater government accountability is so high, we settle for the lower quantity of government accountability. Because underdeveloped countries face higher transaction costs with everything, they are underrepresented in intergovernmental bodies. Because the cost of action [bargaining, suing, exchanging] against tortfeasors and rights violators is so high, the appropriate level of "justice" does not occur either. These transaction costs apply to nearly every market, and this hampers political and economic satisfaction overall.

At any rate, this view of mine that technology can reduce transaction costs significantly enough to bring about more direct and more deliberate democracy is maybe another stupid idealism. Call it futuristic agorism if you like. But who knows, maybe that's what Ronald Coase had in mind despite his 'utilitarianism of rights' (Nozick's phrase.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spring Break 2007 on Trial

A friend of mine is on trial today, tomorrow and Wednesday for protesting the war in Iraq last year. A lot of people who were arrested during the non-violent resistances to seaport militarization in Tacoma, WA are going on trial. On one particular weekend in Tacoma, police had ordered crowds of people to disperse from an area that was not actually being used to ship military Stryker vehicles (vehicles the U.S. Army is using more commonly in Iraq now). So it took everyone off-guard when police responded as if these symbolic resistances were somehow blocking the shipments. For three nights in a row the police peppered the crowd with rubber bullets and unleashed tear gas. The protests went on for twelve nights. My friend can be seen in this video sitting down in front of the police line before he was arrested. He spent the first days of his Spring Break in the city jail.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Bruce Williams Show....

Why is Iraq still considered in the eyes of most Americans an 'axis of evil'? It is April 2008 - not March 2003. Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death over a year ago.

Arguably, the cultural and political intelligence of American society has dramatically declined since the invention of the imperialist talk radio show host. Imperialists and the like have controlled the air waves from as far back as 1975, with the development of the nationally-syndicated Bruce Williams Show. Still airing, each day the show ends with the "God Bless America" theme.

Botany of Desire

This light-starved parsley is on the far side of my apartment, bending like an acrobat to reach the window. Look at it go!

Here is another angle:

One day when the world is too hot for humans to inhabit my entire house will look like this.

Exhibit G: Communist Cookie Cutters

I bought these cutters when I was in Berlin last summer; they're in the shape of the Ampelmännchen pedestrian traffic lights that adorn the city's Eastern parts. "Traffic psychologist" Karl Peglau created them to encourage friendliness within the Deutsche-Soviet sphere. The Ampelmännchen is probably the most well-known "ostalgic" artifact from the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) era. When East and West were reunited there was tremendous controversy about whether the traffic lights should remain the same or not.

He stayed: the people love the friendly
Ampelmännchen! The Ostalgie Movement then created the Ampelfrau counterpart for the traffic lights in Zwickau and Dresden in 2004.

The Congo: Male Concepts of War

A while back I read a book by Croatian essayist Dubravka Ugrešić titled Culture of Lies: Antipolitical Essays. The book, published in 1998, detailed some of most gruesome aspects of the war in the former Yugoslavia and the new media wars. With the bitter humanism and political interesse of the European critical theorist style, Ugrešić wrote some of the most profound descriptions and metaphors of political rape and misogyny I have read. "War is shooting and shagging, screwing and killing," she writes that a returnee from the front announced.

As the war spread throughout society in the former Yugoslavia, "War and sex were richly intertwined." The society that embraced war "simply activated what had always existed in the male mindset." Her analysis of the "traditional war-pornographic rhetoric" extended to the names of weapons (often women's names), war photographs, (ex.g. fighters with rifles sticking out or embracing the barrel of a fieldpiece), the subculture of war (cartoons, literature, jokes, humor), and the new media war over image, (symbolic exchange for Baudrillard).

This, for Ugrešić, is the male concept of war, where the homeland (a feminine word as in 'the mother country') is fought over with weapons of the male imagination. A "deeply homosexual war came about," she writes, "and the strategy of rape became a cruel everyday reality."

And since "in these lands every lie becomes a truth in the end," the silence about the war in the Congo has likewise become a truth. Many are unaware that the country is six years into a brutal conflict (though ten years since the new conflict began) in which up to 4.7 million people have died: the highest number of fatalities in any conflict since World War II says the Economist.

In her essays, Ugrešić is not talking about Croatian society in particular; the Culture of Lying is a global society. The myth of national priority allegiance is the myth of global media attention.

Harvard researcher Ethan Zuckerman has devised a useful "Global Attention Profile" that documents the amount of reporting that is done throughout the world in order to compare with points of interest. Looking at a timeline of this project, pan-African issues are systematically underrepresented. Our own struggle with irrationality is marked by inadequacies transmitted from the mythical national prioritization of state heads to the mythical faces of media and news management.

An article in The Nation describes several common ways in which marauding militias transmit the male message in the DRC. Unspared infants and old widows, for example, are brutally raped and left to die in the bushes. The men use the phallic barrels of rifles, bayonets, and "chunks of wood" to gang rape young women, piercing and padlocking their labias, and infecting them with HIV/AIDS (which 60% of the combatants carry.) One of these accounts tells the story of a 70 year-old woman whose entire family was murdered. But the armed men were not finished.

"They grabbed me, tied my legs apart like a goat before slaughter, and then raped me one after another."


"they stuck sticks inside me until I fainted."

This woman was left with a massive fistula and permanent incontinence, and her story is a common one. In an interview with filmmaker Lisa Jackson, she tells us that Congolese men who walk into their homes while their wives are being raped will often not interfere if it is done 'for the sake of the motherland'.

For the thousands of women who were raped in the Croatian homeland, Ugrešić writes that their bodies simply served "as a medium for the transmission of male messages," signals written by and sent to other men. It is a numbing 'procession of simulacra' from our perspective, to turn Baudrillard's phrase, but an everyday ministry of pain for the Congolese women.

The media desert is certainly not barren when it comes to information about the rape epidemic in the Congo. It is rather the trahison des clercs of the modern mainstream media which buries and re-prioritizes this information to fit the priorities of prominent heads of state. The "major-league press follows the geopolitical map," says a spokesperson from the UN World Food Program. The snake chews its own tail; we are all followers of each other's information. Even now, the links I provide are linking elsewhere, and the 'chain of signifiers' is unending.

During the conflict in Bosnia alone, NATO peacekeeping troops numbered 65,000, "and even that wasn't enough," a UN major said. Today, there are only 5,000 UN troops in the DRC, an area which is roughly the size of Western Europe, and most of the time peacekeeping forces are outnumbered by the warring militias.

"Never before have we found as many victims of rape in conflict situations as we are discovering in the DRC," said the UNWFP. It's "like Rwanda, only worse."

Fighters from six countries--Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia--have been fighting proxy wars in the DRC for years, plundering the country's tremendous mineral wealth to fill their pockets in a neo-mercantilist struggle for wealth accumulation: another male concept of war wherein the 'homeland' of the other becomes the object of immense jealousy and territories for spilling seeds of rape and war. The commerce of the "blood" minerals, such as coltan, is used in cell phones and laptops, and uranium, drives the conflict. Enriched Congolese uranium was used by the U.S. in the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Since the old truth is that the West determines global priorities, is the new truth that the West simply does not care? Perhaps, but the West in fact has never prioritized Africa. Early on the Western powers, the U.S. included, used strongman imperialist tactics to rape the Congo 'motherland' for its resources: diamonds, rubber, tin, gold, silver, tungsten, manganese, uranium, palm oil, timber, etc. American professors, venture capitalists, colonialists and the like had all struck asymmetric bargains with the Congo since its 'invention'.

And now, as it was said by Kwame Nkrumah, the new colonialism is the highest stage of imperialism. We are constantly "running back again."

This, by the way, is how the Dictionary of Literary Terms defines the word palindrome. It is a running back of words and symbols. Ugrešić introduces us to her work with an analysis of the palindrome as a metaphor for political discourse. "In our normal understanding," she writes, "it is normal for there to be two sides, right and left, East and West, and it doesn't cross anyone's mind to suggest that they're identical."

The palindromic reality that is Africa today is that we are intimately connected to the region through globalization: our cellphones and laptops depend on this war. And it doesn't cross anyone's mind to suggest the interdependent relationship. With every cellphone minute used, we speak "the devil's verse", the language of the palindrome.

- Which is at once subversive and utopian. For Ugrešić the palindrome suggests the abolition of binary opposites and a commitment to sameness. "Shall we destroy each other, will the 'atom furl' us all in the end," she writes, "Will we be left with one single, final palindromic wail - kisik!"

In Croatian this means "oxygen".

The struggle for oxygen continues. There cannot be recrudescence in Africa when we are constantly "running back again" palindromatically but redefining our terms alphagrammatically as we go along.

One of Ugrešić's enigmatic verses ends this way:

"'Madam I'm Adam,' said Adam to Eve, and she introduced herself equally palindromatically: 'Eve.'"

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ready, Set, Congo!

I heard (through the blogvine) about an interesting blog event through Black Women Who Vote. Bloggers are calling for other bloggers to research and write about the rape epidemic in the Congo on Sunday, April 13th. Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (see Document the Silence) this is a relevant duty for bloggers.

"A Brief, Bright Flash of Red Light"

This is a short film that I created.

Thanks to Nathan from Beyond Modernity for discussing Nietzschean values, feminist values, and the meaning of this film (before it was finished) on one of the earlier posts, "On Women Being Murderous in the Movies".

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Next Step: The Full Semantic Web

It seems clear to me that the next stage in informatic integration is to break down the barriers that exist between the innumerable platforms and content online. The next stage should be a "mash up" of everything that exists so far, so that all the redundant content is no longer separable. For example, as an opinion in the Economist writes, how can one move furniture from Second Life into the newer metaverses like Entropia? This is not possible today, given modern conditions of production and exchange. But arguably, there is a greater metaverse out there, one in which all online content can be exchanged and flow fluidly to and from the existing "gated communities," if you will.

This does not apply to the virtual worlds exclusively, but rather, to all proprietary platforms. The article in the Economist says that these walled-off online communities are proprietary by nature, and adds that "only when a technology is established do standards emerge." As standards evolve over time it should make it easier to move content in and out of these walled-off communities. Today this is not happening, although it would only take some legal clarification and modifications to the XML code, along with some standardized APIs to change this.

Facebook, to use a familiar example, is reluctantly starting to open up. If you look at their growing list of embedded applications you can see the new kinds of "mash ups" internet visionaries are beginning to get excited about. For example, Facebookers can install web 2.0 specs like Twitter--the Derridean message-following, mobile-friendly news caster--onto their Facebook account and not have to worry about doing the exact same thing in two different places. This increases information while decreasing transaction. But this is only the beginning.

Gone were the days of AOL's "you've got mail!", notes the Economist. I remember when AOL had desperately sent copies of their free AOL time discs to millions of internet users in the mid-1990s. I also remember AOL signing me up for an expensive 6-month internet account that I never wanted in the first place. These technological dinosaurs have disappeared, though AOL still exists in new forms and has become a metaphor for slow-paced technological advances that do not open up to new ways. Now that we have greater serviceability through Web 2.0, the next step is to transform the databases into cross-searching, inter-operable networks. The next step is the "Full Semantic Web" and complete metaversal integration. Proprietary or not, whoever can successfully complete that dynamic leap will be more sustainable and not die out as the AOLs of an earlier era had.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

We Should "Prize and Encourage" Monopolies

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Barnett of the antitrust division of the Department of Justice writes an interesting summary of what some would consider neoliberal views on antitrust. You can find his essay Maximizing Welfare Through Technology Innovation on the DOJ's website. Last year an article about his rejection of Google's claims against Microsoft appeared in the New York Times. This article I've written is an analysis of his substantive claims and rationale behind the more laissez faire position on trusts. It is also a critique of these views, arguing that Barnett and his colleagues have been nearsighted in their analysis of the collusive efforts of capitalists, workers and cartels.

For Barnett and the antitrust officials at the DOJ to adopt the approach, “first, do no harm” articulates a sort of Hippocratic, oath-like attitude toward maximizing society's welfare. Barnett explains that in the context of antitrust, the principle should be interpreted as a careful intention to not "kill the goose that lays the golden egg." This comes under his broader discussion of three different types of efficiency, static, incremental-dynamic, and leap frog-dynamic.

Under the administration of Barnett, the antitrust division finds the dynamic efficiencies, especially where "entirely new forms of production" (that is, to "leap frog") are realistic potentialities, to be the primary incentive for not punishing firms with greater market power. This is quite unlike the view that earlier administrations had taken to, as evidenced by the Philadelphia Bank case, where two banks with relatively little market power were broken up by the antitrust authorities in the 1970s.

The type of competition which Barnett says antitrust officials should not mistake for a violation of antitrust law is what Joseph Schumpeter terms "creative destruction". This sort of competition is a long run phenomena, dealing with "new technologies", "new sources of supply", "new types of organization", and "new commodities". It is the constant restructuring and reorganization of the market through competitive dynamism.

For this reason, here quoting Judge Easterbrook, Barnett believes that "aggressive, competitive conduct by a monopolist" should not be mistaken for anticompetitive conduct or performance since it is "highly beneficial to consumers." Competitive and exclusionary conduct looks the same from the court’s point of view. This is the difficulty, Barnett says. But instead of condemning the monopolists as social welfare-destroyers, courts should "exercise appropriate caution" when dealing with them.

He adds that the courts should to the best of their ability "prize and encourage" dynamic efficiency through antitrust enforcement. That is, prize and encourage monopoly market structure. Because monopoly structure does not determine monopoly performance, the drive towards greater exclusion is interpreted as an exemplification of sort of pro-competitive performances that do not warrant the DOJ's scrutiny toward the market's structure. Exclusionary conduct, in short, is welfare-maximizing. If two firms compete head-to-head in an industry, arguably, every bit of exclusionary conduct (provided a legal system conducive to competition) helps the firms to perform more efficiently, and thus more desirably.

Even if there is only one firm in an industry, the threat of potential competition through the sorts of dynamic efficiencies discussed by Schumpeter ensure the market performance will be efficient and desirable in the long run. If the monopoly firm is not dynamically efficient, it will be taken over by new entrants that are dynamically efficient, and the process of creative destruction continues.

Yet for this same reason, allegedly, Barnett believes that cartels should be the cause of tremendous worry. "Their entire purpose is to avoid disruptive forces of competition," he says. To live the "quiet life"—as Nobel Laureate John Hicks wrote—is their ultimate end. Barnett adds that cartels are not only dynamically inefficient, they are statically inefficient as well. This is to say that cartels not only decrease social welfare in the short run (static), but in the long run as well (dynamic). This is "double the ‘calamity’" and deserving of "severe sanctions available against them under U.S. law."

Now, if one were to attack Barnett's position on trusts, what would it look like? One position, that of the Marxist, might argue that antitrust forces like these only stave off the destruction of the capitalist system. By enforcing the laws on cartels, the DOJ ultimately keeps away the inevitable tendency toward the paroxysm of the capitalist system. I'm not sure whether the appropriate Marxist thing to do is to breakup the trusts (cartels, monopolies, oligopolies, etc.) and give the industries to the workers, or whether to allow capitalism the ultimate free-for-all it needs to force workers into revolt. I don't consider myself a Marxist so my confusion is warranted to some degree.

At any rate, the modern liberal, on the other hand, would argue that the monopoly structure is itself evidence of poor performance and poor conduct. To the liberal, market structure determines conduct which in turn determines performance. This was embodied in the work of Joe Bain during the 1970s, and to this day modern liberals have made essentially the same argument with regards to monopoly market structure. Since the 70s, countless empirical and econometric studies have shown this falsifiable hypothesis to in fact be false: market structure does not determine market performance.

Of course, there have been more modern restatements of the structure-conduct-performance paradigm, and yet there have also been restatements to counter this as well. For the most part, I don't agree with the liberal's basic contention that structure determines performance. It seems to me, as it does to Barnett, that performance determines structure. Especially when one takes into account the dynamic aspect of competition, the cost-benefits to dynamically efficient firms will lead to market structures in which inefficient and poorly performing firms must either vanish or simply refrain from entering a market.

Probably one of the less talked about areas of trusts are labor trusts, or unions as they are more commonly known. In general, modern liberals favor unions and disfavor monopolies. Yet a union is in fact a monopoly on the labor force. It seems to me that this is a one-sided view. If I would allow the performance of labor market to determine the structure of the labor market without interfering with its marketplace, I should also allow the performance of the capitalists' market to determine the structure of the industry without interfering with the marketplace.

Another point about labor forces is that they are more likely to be unionized when there are monopolistic structures than when there is perfect competition, since a firm's variable costs (among other things, this primarily denotes wages) are not fixed in the short run or in the long run. They can be cut if needed, and in a perfectly competitive market cuts to variable costs are needed more due to elasticities and lack of market power. In monopoly market structures, therefore, it would seem the level of cooperation (collusion, unionizing, etc.) increases relatively simultaneously with capitalists as it does with the labor force.

Because we ought not interfere with the aggregation and power of the capitalists, according to Barnett's analysis, why ought we to interfere with the aggregation and power of the labor force? I am not suggesting this is Barnett's position. I am merely using this example to make my argument more clear. It is within a labor union's interest to be dynamically efficient and exclusionary just as it for the monopoly capitalists. The union's performance keeps the firm in a position of market power and dominance, and, so long as the union has market power, the threat of striking or other predatory practices keeps the unions' profits high. With the background analysis that I have provided, I now wish to explain why I think Barnett's argument is ultimately unsatisfactory.

When capitalists collude with other capitalists, how is the DOJ to determine whether this is competitive or anticompetitive? Barnett suggests that performance, as opposed to structure, is the indicator the antitrust division should be concerned about. However, Barnett points to the need to break up cartels as the DOJ's highest antitrust priority. Yet existence of cartel is a structure; it is not an indication of performance. This is an important point. To say that monopoly structure is to be "prized and encouraged" because it may be performatively welfare-maximizing, while at the same time say that cartel structures are to be "severely sanctioned" because it is a structure which cannot possibly perform in a welfare-maximizing way is a non-sequitur.

Perhaps an economist or an attorney general has already come along and said this, but we must ask ourselves what reasonable distinction can be drawn between a collusive capitalist who merges, acquires, sets prices, restricts output, earns profit, (etc.) within a monopoly market structure, and a collusive capitalist who merges, acquires, sets prices, restricts output, and earns profit within a cartelized market structure? Another way to put this would be to ask, What is the difference between two capitalists, one in a monopoly structure and the other in a cartel structure, both whose "entire purpose is to avoid disruptive forces of competition"? To use John Hick's well-known phrase we can likewise ask, What is the difference between the "quiet life" of the monopolist, the "quiet life" of the cartel, and the "quiet life" of the unionized worker?

The argument goes that even if there are no other static competitors in a monopoly market, that the threat of potential competition through dynamic efficiency implores the market to become efficient. Firms may also be checked by gateway entrants from other markets who can enter the industry at the significant cost advantages. All attempts at exclusionary practice, arguably, lends itself toward greater social welfare through competition. Yet the greatest source competition, I would argue, comes from a firm's competition with the labor market. It seems this would be especially evident when there are no other market challengers.

Let me restate this last point. The labor market is the greatest source of competition, since, even if firms exclude to the point where even gateways from other markets have been exhausted, the competitive pressure from the labor market will continue to ensure revenues to capitalists do not exceed the cost of production by far. The standard microeconomic argument that "economic profits attract entrants into the market" and thus lower prices can equally be said to apply here. Instead of attracting entrants, however, it attracts greater demand for wage increases, which in this example would appear to be a form of inflation.

In short, it seems to me Barnett is having the same sort of dynamic misconceptions about collusion and the long run economy that attorney generals of an earlier era had, albeit, now applied to much greater forms of market power. Barnett and his colleagues may believe the DOJ in the 1970s had it wrong when it broke up two banks in Philadelphia with insignificant market power, yet attorney generals now show the same unfounded concern for collusive activity on a greater scale in this era. This shows the extent that the DOJ's views on dynamism reaches. Perhaps an economist or an attorney general will soon come out and say that we cannot make the analytic case against cartels for the same reasons that we cannot make the analytic case against the monopolies, as we once thought. But as of now such argument to my knowledge has not reached fruition.

Same Day Deportation

I came across an article on the WW4 Report about recent ICE raids in the LA area. It's also on Free Speech Radio here. Angélica Salas from the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights in LA (CHIRLA) said it "seemed strange" that recent detainees were "deported so quickly, because that doesn't happen unless they have final orders of deportation, and none of these people even had the chance to talk to a lawyer." The pace of deportation is becoming faster and faster, in accordance with Homeland Security's End Game plan to oust all illegal immigrants by 2012.

The phrase I'm using--"same day deportation"--characterizes these raids perfectly. That is exactly what had happened in these more recent cases. (If this becomes a popular phrase then I want my blog to get the credit for it.) At any rate, I'm going to use the phrase freely to talk about the new kinds of raids that are going on.

There's a very dry blog (Immigration News Briefs) that tries to document as many ICE raids it can. However, there should be a better resource out there in order to keep pace with End Game, especially when ICE's website ( is in no way transparent. As should be expected, it is very unsatisfactory as a source for whistle-blowing. ICE itself prefers to publish selected events and topics which they presumably believe to be Homeland Security victories, leaving out the sorts of human rights failures that happen on a day-to-day basis. It is also worth noting that the larger project, End Game, cannot be found on their website. Or if it is there it's been buried so well it does not come up in any searches.

Question: What is the Purpose of Studying Philosophy?

Some time in October I had passed a note around a philosophy class I was taking at the time. On it, I asked "What is the purpose of studying philosophy?" I knew that a lot of the students in the class weren't majoring in philosophy. Some had in fact not taken philosophy before. So one day before class I was feeling kind of boyish and began passing around notes. Some of the students who received the notes looked up and raised their eyebrows at me. Laughing to themselves, they started to write back. After considerable debate amongst themselves, a handful of students who were in fact majoring or minoring in philosophy decided not to answer the question, saying I was too much of a trouble-maker.

But for the handful of notes which were passed back, their responses were as follows,

"Studying philosophy teaches you how to think: how to challenge assumptions, how to assess meaning, how to interpret situations. Philosophy teaches you how to live a purposeful life by teaching you how to ask 'why?' and how to find reasons."

another, in bright pink colored pen, read


a hurried pen wrote the following,

"To find the ['purpose' is scribbled out] meaning of life and how we should live it."

and finally,

"To be able to mock everything"

Saturday, April 05, 2008

House and Trance Tonight

The ornately adorned Trinity night club in Seattle is known for hosting some of the hottest DJs for its Saturday night dance parties. Tonight they are getting a taste of Tacoma since two of the University of Puget Sound’s well-known techno DJs, David Hvidsten (“Chaosthetic”) and Brad Miller (’06 alum) along with Jason LeMaitre (also from Tacoma) are spinning back-to-back in the 50’s-era retro Blue Room.

Brad is touring the Northwest after having spent his post-graduation years working as a producer for Foambox Nightlife Marketing in NYC. Both David and Brad were hosts of the Thursday night KUPS 90.1 radio show “In The Mix”. David continues to host the show now, kicking out non-stop tech-house, breakbeat and funky glitch four-on-the-floor. He’s opening tonight at 10pm for his first show in Seattle. Brad hosted the show for two years and for his last mix he locked himself inside the studio for a 12-hour marathon set.

The Melon used this opportunity ask Brad about his experiences since UPS. Brad has spun with many famous techno DJs since then, including Preach, BT, Hybrid and Seb Fontaine. He’s spun at a list of impressive clubs from the East to the West Coast. Space is one of his favorite clubs; Paul van Dyk is one of his favorite DJs. When the two converge it must be absolutely wicked. “Half the people who go to see [van Dyk] have no idea what he’s doing to the music,” Brad said. “This guy is adding notes on the fly, layering basslines, tweaking harmonics, adding acapellas, all with timing that comes down to fractions of a second.” Needless to say, van Dyk is one of Brad’s biggest influences.

Using a combination of techniques and technologies like Ableton Live and Apple Logic, Brad says that he loves mixing up his music with lots of sidechaining and percussive delays “to give them a bigger feeling.” With a traditional musical background in piano, saxophone and trumpet, Brad now incorporates instruments like Vember Audio’s Surge and Rob Papen’s Predator. So what kind of EDM (electronic dance music) does it end up sounding like? As Brad describes it, it’s a “darker” blend of progressive house and trance. And although it’s typically more “aggressive” sounding, he balances this with “euphoric”, trance-like elements.

In the techno scene, most don’t eschew what some might see as an endless classification and reclassification of its own genre. “You need some way to put the sounds in context,” Brad says. With trance and EDM in general, “It’s not the same when listened to track-by-track the way other music styles are.” When a fun, enthusiastic DJ with an ear for tune and the right sounds is spinning, “the songs can change meaning and create different feelings depending on the context they’re put in.”

brad miller.jpgBrad naturally tends toward an unregretful attitude toward making music. The question, “What if this is your chance?” was the positive feedback mechanism telling him he had to pursue a career in music. The first big paradigm shift came when, unbeknownst to him, a party thrown by BT would change his life. The next big moment was at Space, with Armin van Buuren spinning a massive set. At the exact moment when they released nitrous jets on the crowd, Brad “knew right there and then that it’s what I was born to do.”

“And,” he adds, “it was only a Tuesday night!”

But when asked about the best party he’d ever been to, Brad admitted it would have to be a 2007 costume party (for pirates only) on a private boat in Manhattan Harbor with Sasha spinning. “Picture me with an eyepatch, a sword, and a pirate flag harassing the tour boats by the Statue of Liberty with Sasha DJing on deck. Unreal.”

Brad, welcome back to the Northwest, and thanks for answering questions for The Melon. See you tonight!

Tonight’s show will open with David Hvidsten at 10pm. Brad Miller and Jason LeMaitre will continue the party until 2pm.

Gentrification, Hip Hop, and the War on Drugs in Hilltop, Tacoma

A friend and I are working on several video installments which look at the affects of gentrification in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.

The first video is one in which we interviewed Tacoma hip hop artists who live in the Hilltop neighborhood, have been or still are long time gang members, some of whom spent time in prison for drug dealing.

During the 80s and 90s the Hilltop neighborhood was terrorized by the city and the police department, which used invasive tactics to remove low-income black residents from the neighborhoods and push them further away from opportunities that the inner city had to offer. In the late 80s Army Rangers had been involved in an intense shootout with Tacoma gangs, where over 300 rounds were fired, although no one was killed. After this notorious and widely-covered incident, arguably, the city began its indirect oppression of the Hilltop community.

The small group of residents we spoke to gave us an alternative story of the Hilltop neighborhood. The War on Drugs was essentially the US government’s way to keep social problems within a legal framework, they argued. Drug problems are social problems, not legal problems. The legal approach is an attempt to divide and conquer without addressing the underlying causes of addiction or crimes which result from addiction. “America is a drug-ridden society,” one resident told us. He mentioned Prozac, Ritalin, and other ways in which society has legalized its own medication. “We only choose which drugs to legalize and which ones to criminalize.”

We spoke to one long-time resident whose family had built a house on the Hilltop “with their bare hands” sometime before the 1970s. They were evicted in the late 80s and the house came under the possession of the city, which it then sold for over $200,000. The resident said that his family’s home, along with many others, had been labeled a “crack house” in order to justify hundreds of searches and seizures. Many of these raids “had it wrong” about which houses were in fact crack houses, he said.

Our interviewees said the police were known to confiscate drugs in one incident and plant them on other people in order to marginalize everyone in the community. Since a large number of Hilltop residents serving fifteen-year sentences for pushing cocaine and crack in the early 90s are being released about this time, those who we spoke with said it has been extremely difficult for them to find jobs, though some actually have college degrees. One of the Hilltop residents with a Master’s Degree told us that education doesn’t matter to the rest society as much as social capital and status does.

Today hip hop is becoming an alternative form of expression in Tacoma. We spoke with a record label startup whose owners suffered through the 80s and 90s on Hilltop, and feel that making music is one of the only legal ways they can be accepted once again into society. However, with the recent anti gang bill, 2712, they argued that even hip hop is being shunned by the city and the police. The city has urged, and in more recent cases forced, venues and nightclubs to refuse hip hop due to “gang activity”, affecting local producers as well as touring artists.

We asked our interviewees about gangs, especially the Hilltop Crips, which most had been or still are associated with. They said the Crips were a community response to police power since the beginning. "Community Revolution in Progress" is what they called it. They feel that, since the 80s and 90s, black youth and its culture had been so marginalized through city zoning laws and policies which ban activities that might otherwise be acceptable, the gangs were a necessary response to this. Since the low income neighborhoods are heavily policed, it magnifies the likelihood of encountering police and being subject to random stops ("terry stops"). The gangs were originally a way to police their own neighborhoods, they said.

We also spoke with them about the prison society, which they argued everyone is socialized into. It is something that makes black offenders worse off than white offenders through its biased structure and non-rehabilitative aspect. Taking a more “restorative” approach to community and criminal justice, especially when many of these crimes are victimless (that is, when there aren't any breaches of civil liberties involved) they argued that the creation of a prison society has been a very ineffective way of dealing with society’s problems.

Gentrification is the process of supposedly "restoring" neighborhoods like the Hilltop. The city designs zoning ordinances, arranges deals with condo developers, and subsidizes other activities in order to bring economic development to the neighborhood. In so doing, they push long time black residents to Spanaway, East Tacoma and places that are far from growing centers of economic activity where they may have access to greater opportunities. Police misconduct and city planning biases are an integral part of this. Since low income residents often do not have the time to digest city ordinances, they are scrutinized for things that higher income residents are not, even though higher income residents may not be following or understanding these ordinances either.

The low-income residents, on the other hand, incur higher costs by virtue of their location and socio-economic status. This may take the form of car towing bills, police harassment, fines, being arrested for things like spitting in public (which are used very selectively), housing evictions, police raids, sting operations, and incarceration for various blackmarket activities which many have turned to. Post-conviction socio-economic status affects to lower income communities of color in greater ways since the convictions less recuperative socially than they would otherwise.

In the future, I’ll be posting this video the blog, and in the future (time permitting) I will post other videos which looks at the socio-economic affects of gentrification on black-owned businesses in the Hilltop neighborhood.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Staying Vigilant for "Democracy" in Zimbabwe

While many of us recognize that elections and election cycles are not ideas to define democracy by, when nation-states built around the workability of electoral politics have trouble achieving the resemblance of a democratic election by popular vote, there is greater cause for worry.

Robert Mugabe, the incumbent President of Zimbabwe, has been known to actively support political cronyism, violence against the people of Zimbabwe, murderous suppression of public protest, and the enforcement of crippling social policies. This once prosperous South African neighbor is currently experiencing the worst inflation rate in the world, now pegged at over 150,000 percent. Zimbabwe also has the lowest life expectancy in the world. Female life expectancy stands at 34 years, while for males it is 37 years. And Zimbabwe has one of the world's worst AIDS epidemics, with little or no access to antiretroviral drugs.

The late results from the elections held on Saturday in Zimbabwe were announced yesterday, yet the ZANU-PF government reported that since no clear winner was found, runoff voting will take place on April 19th. This has raised levels of tension and anticipation within the country and internationally. is the website for an independent election watching organization in Zimbabwe. They also appear to support the opposition party, the MDC. Based on their data, the candidate from the MDC has already achieved the 50% margin needed to take office. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, another independent group, said the results were 49% MDC and 42% ZANU-PF.

Everyone is confused. All over the blogosphere, bloggers are calling for Zimbabweans to exercise peace and calm till the next results are announced so as not to give Mugabe the justification to unleash violence against the people using the state's armed forces.

After 28 years of "Rule by Mugabe", many expected him to be voted out of office. Yet the time lag for the election results were suspicious. "It's clear that [Mugabe] has lost the vote," said Dumisani Muleya, a political reporter at the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper.

Advocating change, Martin Meenagh said on that "It might be that in the dark, you reconcile yourself to the idea that your light is the only one in the darkness, and that it must be hidden behind your eyes because the winds would blow it out."

Bright Matonga, the government's Deputy Information Minister, told the BBC that the opposition was being "irresponsible" and "mischievous." Only the electoral commission has the legal privilege to announce results in Zimbabwe. ZANU-PF officials have threatened to punish anyone who makes their own representation about vote results and totals, as the opposition has in fact already done.

Matonga said the opposition thinks it can "provoke ZANU-PF and the police and the army."

Al Jazeera reported that state police were seen "manning a number of roadblocks" for checkpoint security in the capital today, but no other signs of oppressive police planning are known as of yet. The South African indymedia website occasionally mentions the ongoing political crisis and violence in Zimbabwe, and may be a valuable source of information if another crackdown does occur.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No Such Thing as a Simple Substance, Except Kant's

In interpreting Kant we must be careful not to make the mistake that many so-called "charitable" interpreters do, and that is to make Kant into a realist, or a traditional empiricist. There certainly are passages in the Critique and other places which can easily be used to lend themselves to such an interpretation. But the principle of charity must not be abused in this way, and must remain steady in its treatment of Kant as a transcendental idealist.

Kant’s theory of the relation between subjective inner conscious states and the objects of the outer sense is one such topic vulnerable to attacks. It is discussed in the both the A and B editions of the Transcendental Deduction.

The overall project of the Deduction is to establish a proof for the necessary connection (and the rules that govern it) between appearances of the outer sense and the faculties of the mind in the inner sense. There needs to be action (wirkung) through synthesis in the mind before "appearances can belong to knowledge or even to our consciousness, and so to ourselves." This synthesis happens in the 'imagination', a faculty Kant describes as synthesizing the manifolds of the appearances it apprehends. These are all heavily laden terms. Each appearance has a manifold, which must be apprehended before it can be synthesized in the imagination.

This "employment" of empirical work happens in the following ways: recognition, reproduction, association, and apprehension. These fundamental concepts are the only means by which knowledge (erkenntnisse) is possible for us. We would otherwise be passively receptive conduit with no way to synthesize any of the material traveling through our (minds?). Zombies, perchance. The alternative is that we have some sort of apperception, which is a transcendental concept as opposed to an empirical concept.

The apperception is the unchanging and ultimate foundation for synthesizing the unity of experience. I say "foundation" because Kant says apperception "lies under" all our knowledge of experience. Thus we can be sure that there is no alternative to apperception if there is unity of experience. This foundation must be proved in order for there to be any unity.

Now, when Kant says in the A Deduction that these unifying concepts must be "objectively valid" he does not mean that the things in themselves (or even appearances) have to be objectively valid. It is not a judgment about what is really out there, true or false, yes or no, on the grid or off the grid. It is an argument, a proof as he would have it, about what is necessary to have within the mind, in order for any of these appearances to be set in the mind. These subjective processes, unifying concepts, rules of the mind, and the reality of objective faculties, must indeed be "objectively valid" for anything subjective to be possible for us. We can also interpret "objectively valid" more rigidly as "intersubjectively valid", because one way to view an objective truth is to say that it is ultimately intersubjective truth.

The "rules" of the mind are therefore intersubjectively valid, and Kant goes so far as to call these laws. This step-by-step argument is entirely a priori. The concepts are not derived from the objects of perception, not the nature of "self", and especially not from things in themselves. They are derived from the necessary conditions that precede all empirical knowledge of objects. And to put the final nail in the pyrrhonist’s coffin, these concepts must be unified subjectively in "one and the same apperception".

Let’s talk about apperception a bit more. Kant argues the unity of apperception is entirely synthetic in the A Deduction. That all our apprehended appearances must be unified in a "single self-consciousness" must be the "absolutely first synthetic principle of our thinking in general." If it is true that apperception must come first before any other synthetic building block, then this would seem to establish the "self" as a "simple substance". That is, a thing that is not numerically divisible over time.

However, in the Second Paralogism, Kant had attacked Descartes for using the same principle of the self to establish a dogmatic doctrine of the soul. (See this related entry.) You’ll recall that Kant argued this was an attempt to establish simplicity analytically, which if possible would be false, and if not possible than impossible. In the B Deduction Kant is arguing for the objective simplicity analytically.

This means Kant argues qua the B Deduction what will later be established as an impossible proof or a false proof. If Descartes was "equivocating", according to Kant, then Kant himself is not only doing the same but is undermining that which the completeness of the entire Critique of Pure Reason rests on, the most important proof of the Critique: the apperception itself.

Perhaps Kant is confused. But let’s interpret him charitably, as we promised. Kant needs to have apperception be simple and non-divisible in order for the Critique to be "complete" as he mentioned at the outset in the 1st and 2nd prefaces and the Introduction. If the transcendental apperception were not a single foundation that does not change, it would be a contingent happenstance that any knowledge would ever be possible for us. So there needs to be this foundation, and its objective validity needs to be established analytically.

This foundation, furthermore, is different from the subjective "inner sense". So if the “I that thinks” can be distinct from the “I that intuits itself”, and yet can be the same subject, why can’t this same simplicity hold for Descartes? All that would need to be done is add some categories, show how they’re necessary, give space and time with manifolds for every appearance, bundle this together and we have knowledge. It would seem that before we read Kant charitably here we should consider why we are not transitively reading into Descartes charitably as well. Kant claims equivocation where Descartes could have made a similar move, yet he does not tidy up Descartes. He distills his views on the self in chapter the Paralogisms of Pure Reason.

The situation we are put in, as charitable readers, is one where our interlocutor has uncharitably interpreted his own interlocutor. And if the principle of charity extends beyond the text at hand, namely to Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy, what we have is a philosophical stalemate.


Last Saturday I skipped an excellent gathering (an Oracle Gathering) in order to study Kant's Transcendental Deduction. Some friends of mine had gone to the gathering for the downtempo music, the breakbeats, and of course the dancing. A week earlier we had all gone to a large party like this at the Seattle Science Center, Kinetic III.

Bluetech is a downtempo "psybient" producer from Portland who spun at Oracle this weekend. The kind of music Bluetech produces is often categorized as "intelligent dance music" or IDM, and is usually without a beat. (Though for parties I imagine he spins dubby tech-house, minimal house and music of that nature.) While reading the Deduction I listened to several of his early albums. Starting with Prima Materia, Elementary Particles, and Sines and Singularities, the atmospheric content of each creates what sound like enormous soundscapes that could only be experienced over the period of each album in its entirety. Like the mathematical concepts Bluetech invokes, they take time to understand and appreciate.

Perhaps the best way to describe what Bluetech produces is to make a distinction between moods and acute sensations. Most music today - "pop music" in particular - is interested in created acute sensations such as happiness, anger, surprise, etc. These sensations (pop sensations!) are more specific, triggered usually by specific changes in rhythm, lyrics, tempos, and other audible events. Moods on the other hand are characterized by a relatively long-lasting affective state. They are less specific and less likely to be triggered by separable stimuli.

Mood psychologist Robert Thayer distinguishes two dimensions of mood: energy level and tension level. Generally speaking, one can combine energetic or tired moods with tense or calm moods. The most pleasant mood to be in, Thayer says, is the energetic-calm. And the sorts of moods psybient music is interested in are these energetic calms which have induce lasting affective states.

Having been to a significant number of live DJ performances and parties, I tend to prefer the entire set, or the entire album, for the experience - as opposed to sequestering each three minute piece of music and having it marketed to me as an autonomous, interchangeable part. (At parties, however, socializing to and from rooms is a different experience altogether.) In this sense, great electronic DJs and producers have much in common with the great masters of baroque and classical music styles. Because it is the kind of music that cannot be sampled easily - without significantly diminishing the appreciation of it - their music must be something listeners are prepared to be affected by over a greater period of time.

Some online places you can find Bluetech's music are on his myspace, on imeem, or through pandora.