Sunday, June 29, 2008

Philosophy Not Blind Without History

History is empty without philosophy, and philosophy is blind without history.

This is the conventional wisdom passed down to us from professional social scientist Imre Lakatos, though the quip has its origins with Immanuel Kant. If you pick up a book like The History of Philosophy and Social Science by Scott Gordon, you are treated with a series of historical vignettes from the annals of philosophy and social science, and then in the last chapter are told that all this needs a bit of philosophy of science to go along with it.

These conventions are sincerely biased. Philosophy does not need history to organize a philosophy of science. History in this regard only teaches us what we (or rather, the scientists) could lose if our 'philosophy of science' is not compatible with contemporary science. It only serves to foster an encouraging attitude toward the scientific project. Why should anyone seriously questioning the conventions of human knowledge (ex.g. a philosopher) care whether there is a history worth losing when discussing a proper philosophy of science?

I don't mean to suggest philosophy of science is a-historical. It should understand these histories, but not in the way that scientific discourse understand them. But philosophers so often propagate the scientific meta-narrative. They have succumbed to a crusader-style message of man's liberation from ignorance to definite knowledge, the meta-narrative of all your science textbooks and what dominates scientific discourse. Scientists themselves rarely understand these things. And philosophers, all too often trying to be like the scientist, end up explaining these histories in the same way the scientist understands them. Scientists and scientific philosophers may doubt the findings in a particular article or study, yet the overall narrative is imbibed to them, and becomes the thing that informs all their work but is hardly understood.

But these are not very profound philosophers. They are more interested in preserving a scientific integrity, an explanation for what science has already got, and wants to keep and ordain this with theoretical commentary.

So often with the maxim, quoted above, scientists and scientific philosophers couple their work with references only to those philosophers who argued for the empirically paradigmatic and dogmatic teachings of the discipline. So many explain the nihilism away with something they call "pragmatism" and this is surely nonsense. Pragmatism can never explain how anything is ever justified for our belief in it, only that it would be appropriate to accept it as true given some social, religious, economic, or other preferential bias. And science, I think it is fair to say of all sciences, was dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist even before the American pragmatist revolution got on its way.

So philosophy is not blind without the history of science. And what about science being "empty" without philosophy? Perhaps science and philosophy are simply incompatible. I say that because, though I am familiar of trends in philosophy which encourage science, the snake of philosophy is ultimately unsatisfied by the scientific epistemology, and will never be. Science will still be empty even after much philosophical treatment because it cannot mitigate the harsh poisons of the snake's bite. This eagerness of philosophers to work around the snake bite, to clean up all the wounds and treat it with oils and bandages, is only a treatment of symptoms.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

CNN is like the worst "news" source. Ever.

I sometimes envy blogs that have very specific purposes, like chronicling the attempts of a large news corporation to inform the citizenry. I came across the blog CNN is like the worst "news" source. Ever. in a quick search for why CNN was focusing so much of its time this morning discussing a YouTube video where a woman is shown spinning around an escalator railing. A friend of mine told me she was watching CNN talk this morning for fifteen consecutive minutes about the new trend of "escalator spinning".

The network appears to be taking its cues from popular vlogging styles like Zadia from Epic Fu. Though Epic Fu itself is becoming more corporate with time, its in-the-street atmosphere and tech/arts-centrism keeps it focused. It is laughable when corporate and mainstream informants attempt to mimic this style.

Coverage on the Iraq War has drastically been cut back this year as well, as a New York Times piece reports. Almost halfway into 2008, CBS, ABC and NBC have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage. Compare this with the 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. CNN and Fox News have only two full-time correspondents in Iraq, and no American television network has a full-time correspondent in Afghanistan.

Al Jazeera, on the hand, covers Iraq and other nations in the region very well. The network has won several prestigious journalism awards, for example, the IFEX's anti-censorship award, for coverage on issues that American networks do not have the resources or the interest to pay attention to. The American networks also have the justifiable disadvantage of being distrusted by many people and heads of state in the region.

CNN and Fox News have done their best to discredit Al Jazeera too. After the alleged broadcasting of the American soldiers' beheading, Al Jazeera was labeled a propaganda machine for Al Qaeda. Also in 2005, during the height of the Falluja attack, the Nation Magazine posted an exchange between Donald Rumsfeld and an American reporter about Al Jazeera's coverage.

REPORTER: Can you definitively say that hundreds of women and children and innocent civilians have not been killed?
RUMSFELD: I can definitively say that what Al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.
REPORTER: Do you have a civilian casualty count?
RUMSFELD: Of course not, we're not in the city. But you know what our forces do; they don't go around killing hundreds of civilians. That's just outrageous nonsense. It's disgraceful what that station is doing.

Al Jazeera consistently reports on events that Washington does not want the world or its own population to see. This is why it has so many enemies within the state and media apparatus. It is not surprising, then, that many Americans look to Al Jazeera with smarmy and disgusted eyes. Many had never heard of Al Jazeera before 2003. Last July I had a long, drawn-out argument with an American student in Germany over the reliability of the Al Jazeera network. What he and several others knew about the network, it turned out, was only what the American networks were saying. I had them go to the Al Jazeera homepage and analyze it before feeling justified in their remarks.

Niel Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death was right about American media. Entertainment and information are increasingly fused, and the public is hardly aware of the importance of global issues; they are only aware of them as entertainment. As the Fox News anchor says in a recent interview with Mark Dice, an anti-war activist, "This is not a joke: it is actually happening".

Friday, June 27, 2008

What is asd?

asd is just a three letter word.

asd doesn't stand for any of the following:

... ambidextrous slave droid
... alternative society dreaming
... ankle sock drawer
... anywhere sex doll
... [alt] [save] [delete]
... ask someone dumb
... aggregate supply (dys)function
... angry step-dad
... alpha systems down

asd can't be explained by any other asd.

asd is an incomplete semiotic language.

asd just is.

asd is just a word.

asd is not an art style or a movement.

think of asd as being more like dsa.

asd is not a palindrome.

asd couldn't fail to disagree with you less.

asd is kind of like a joke too.

asd is not better than anything else.

asd is also what you got for Christmas when you really wanted jkl.

asd has nothing in common with jkl.

asd has no theoretical foundations.

asd is not a paradox, really.

asd is a paradigm that qwerty thinks is true.

asd is only true if you ask it a question, like, asd?

asd likes it when you yell loud.

asd is almost in a way like this.

you won't find asd on the internet.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Museum Slave Labor

I am convinced that museums despite all their public displays of concern for the history and cultures of a people, really care little for the people who work for them. Museum organizers and directors spend all their time pandering to very rich people at upscale cocktail parties raising money for their next showcase, but pay a pittance to people who work and offer their services to enhance the museum's public image. For example, I created this video with a friend of mine for the Tacoma Art Museum to get its great work with South American artists out in the community. The transportation costs to/from/to/from the museum were about $4; a set of five mini-DV tapes costs $24.99; the filming took three and half hours of patience and creativity; the editing took four hours of patience and creativity; and in less than a week we gave the museum a high-quality version and a YouTube-quality version of their video. Not to mention the fixed capital costs of operating an editing studio. For all this the museum paid me $25. How is this possible?

Easy, museums operate by draining surplus value from volunteers and interns to pay for their appeasements at expensive parties.

Why should I accept such a low commission, as if I am myself some kind of "degenerate" artist, entartete Künstler? Well, I considered it pro bono work at the time. Can I be a pro bono artist? I normally make $14 an hour doing my technology consulting gig. Last month the museum told me they were interested in a longer documentary about the "history of art in Tacoma", yet nobody is willing to pay up. Perhaps I shouldn't be concerned about making money from my own art, which is an imitation of art, which in turn is an imitation of reality. To make things worse, the artists are supposedly lying about everything, as Plato said. I don't believe that; I think the artists are telling the truth. It's the museum curators who lie!

Museums are just a lot of lies, and the people who make art their business are mostly imposters.

~ Pablo Picasso.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sad, Sad, Sad

"Man is the only animal that blushes ... or needs to."
--Mark Twain

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety Disorders as a whole affect 40 million Americans, according to the institute. Drug companies, eager to expand their markets, are now spotlighting the disorder and advertising medications to treat it.

When a running back for the Miami Dolphins, Ricky Williams, was diagnosed in 2001 with Social Anxiety Disorder and put on Paxil, an anti-depressant, it sparked a nation-wide awareness campaign. Williams was then expelled from the NFL in 2004 because he tested positive for marijuana. He then went to work for the drug manufacturer of Paxil, GlaxoSmithKline, a company with much controversy over its sketchy environmental and legal records, and became a spokesperson for Paxil. Williams later returned to football and said in an interview with ESPN that "Marijuana is 10 times better for me than Paxil." Three other anti-depressants, Lexapro, Effexor and Zoloft, were approved for Social Anxiety Disorder in 2003. In 2007 Lexapro alone was prescribed to 27 million Americans.

The Adult Anxiety Clinic at Philadelphia's Temple University, (a widely-known and respected clinic in this field) has developed ways of diagnosing the disorder, describing it as a "fear of being negatively judged by others". But this is relatively unhelpful, seeing as this disorder would appear to describe anyone who is not dancing nakedly in public under the influence of MDMA. Most professionals prefer to describe the disorder as "irrational" then, placing it beyond the bounds of Reason, into the realm of hysteria and professional confusion. The Adult Anxiety Clinic's questionnaire and brief sheet "What is Social Anxiety?" is similarly vague and begs the question of whether the disorder affects as many people as the psychiatric society and the manufacturers argue.

Richard Heimberg, head of the clinic, defines the disorder in his book Cognitive-Behavioral Group Therapy for Social Phobia the same way the DSM-III had, as a "persistent, irrational fear of, or compelling desire to avoid, a situation in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others and fears that he or she may act in a way that may be humiliating or embarrassing." The psychiatric profession no longer considers social anxiety a phobia, but a disorder. The new term was introduced in the DSM-IV to underscore the pervasiveness of anxiety symptoms and to broaden the scope of the persons that may receive a medical diagnosis. Yet nearly all of the researchers who write the mental illness sections of the DSM manual have been shown to have close monetary connections with drug manufacturers.

If we ask why as many as 15 million Americans are said to have Social Anxiety Disorder, one of the leading indicators to point our fingers at may be the persistence of fears like glossophobia, the 'fear of public speaking', and related phobias that give the impression that Social Anxiety Disorder is more widespread, more pertinent and in need of immediate chemical attention. Most of the discomforts of Social Anxiety Disorder, as indicated by Temple University, are closely related to public speaking and talking in large groups of people.

But the disorder is said to have more of an empirical basis than this. Using MRI scans, Dr. Murray Stein, of UC San Diego, found that when people with the disorder are shown pictures of angry and contemptuous faces, their amygdala (the brain's fear center) lights up with more activity than it does in people without the condition. The amygdala would appear to overreact to anger, but the disorder may happen earlier in the processing of fear. The patients also activate the insular cortex (a part of the brain associated with addiction) more when this happens, suggesting that there is something unnaturally addictive about the feelings and drives behind the anxiety.

The disorder is interpreted by the bulk of the psychological literature as triggered by a complex mix of genes and environmental cues. This is the so-called biological perspective. As Susan Mineka demonstrated in 1986, wild monkeys transmit their fear of snakes to their lab-reared offspring. Mineka and others suggested that human parents similarly transmit their phobias genetically. Individual monkeys also react more strongly to stress if their close biological relatives are anxiously reactive too (Stephen Suomi, Anxiety Disorders of Childhood: 1986), and identical twins have been observed to independently develop claustrophobic disorders (Eckert, Twin Research: Vol. 3: 1981).

That 'anxiety genes' can be passed on to offspring reflects both a sickness deeply embedded in our society and explains the psychiatric desire to purge or medicate populations from exhibiting these traits in order to function well in their societies. Those who are too "irrational" (to use the DSM's phrase) to perform may be perceived as unsuitable mates for others to couple with, and further, will need to be medicated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which have been linked to suicidiality in adults, but even more so in children, who are prescribed SSRIs at alarming rates.

In a Newsweek interview, Jerilyn Ross, head of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, said that "People with social anxiety have distorted thinking". This reflects both a layperson's perspective and the perspective of the psychiatric profession. Social Anxiety Disorder and other hysterias as a certain type of 'madness' or 'distorted thinking' merely reflects why the psychiatric profession does not know how to treat it or how to diagnose it. They regard hysterics as people who transgress the laws of their science, "like heretics in the eyes of the orthodox," said Freud.

The sectarian claim that there are people with clear heads and people with distorted heads would quickly fall apart under argumentative pressure. When put in the right circumstances, anyone under the scrutinizing headlamp of the psychiatric doctor may display traits of social anxiety. Psychiatrists often ask patients to interpret a set of pictures, answer loaded questionnaires and otherwise frame the setting with diagnostic devices that make pathologizing unavoidable by their criteria. As reported in the New York Times, psychiatrists are also often compelled by drug manufacturers to distribute their products, go on lecture circuits about them, and receive hefty sums to promote a heavily-medicated society, focusing especially on children and pediatric care.

To say that anyone who views a set of pictures in a particular way is perhaps an indirect method of diagnosing post-industrial civilization itself. In The Myth of Mental Illness, Thomas Szasz argues that 'mental illness' is only a stigmatizing moral judgment, and in fact not a medical diagnosis. If it is true that the psychiatric clinic is merely an office front for an institutionalized moral prescription center, then anyone who steps into a psychiatrist's office may already be diagnosed. To offer your interpretation of Goya's The Madhouse may already mark you for madness in their view, and you may be seeking cures from a poisoned well.

That 'civilization' is the cause of this distress is one of the arguments put forth by the anti-psychiatric movement which developed after the 1960s. Michel Foucault, loosely associated with this movement, argued in Madness and Civilization that systematically institutionalizing the insane or the disorderly is indicative of the way doctors have come to view patients: as turning away from Reason, obversing it, obfuscating it, and becoming more animal-like and therefore treated and medicated in the way that doctors treat and medicate animals. The individual with 'distorted thinking' has taken the place of people formerly excluded on medical/moral grounds, a social institution which developed with the disappearance of leprosy during the High Middle Ages and the need exclude the new 'social lepers' from society.

One thing is clear, Social Anxiety Disorder is supposed to be an intensified form of social shyness. Anxiety as a kind of idiosyncrasy, not a disorder, can make people feel worthless and powerless to move forward with their lives. It can be extremely debilitating especially in an age when the primary criterion for progress, success, etc., is a 'performative' one (Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: 1979). The famous French hypnotist Pierre Janet made reference to phobia des situations sociales as early as 1903 (Borsch-Jacobson, History of Psychiatry: 2000). Hannah More was the first to use the word in the English language, in 1525, describing a man as dying "without grudge, without anxiete." W. H. Auden published a poem in 1947 called "The Age of Anxiety" ( later developed into a symphony by Leonard Bernstein.)

There is little use contesting the presence of powerful anxieties that have come to dominate the postmodern condition. A fear of other people, a social phobia, might as well be expected from societies where people are alienated from their communities and the fruits of their labor. Idiosyncratic anxiety may be a peculiar historical blend of 'capitalism and schizophrenia' to refer to Gilles Deleuze's phraseology.

In general the biological perspective mentioned earlier is contrasted with the learning perspective, which argues that phobias like this are picked up almost entirely from environmental factors. For example, during World War II constant sirens from air-raids produced conditioned phobias related to the sound of the siren. However, few of these phobias were observed as long-lasting. As the air blitzes continued, the British, Japanese, and German populations did not become more panicked, but rather indifferent to planes not in their immediate neighborhood (Mineka & Zinbarg, Perspectives on Anxiety, Panic, and Fear: 1996). The learning perspective was viewed as incomplete at best.

But there is another perspective that is all too quickly dismissed by the psychiatric profession, and that is the psychoanalytic perspective. It is typically dismissed as an assumption of psychoanalysis that all mystifying symptoms like anxiety were rooted in events during childhood, and for producing "more converts than cures". Modern psychological perspectives focus on the un-falsifiable assumptions of Freudian psychoanalysis, as intensified by the debates between the Adlerian and Freudian schools who challenged each other's assumptions and turned the profession away from psychoanalysis. Modern psychology dismisses the tools developed by these practices, which are, regardless of their assumptions, effective and helpful. This double-standard of praising and blaming to unequal degrees the successes of different curing methods is unbecoming of an instrumentalist science, modern psychiatry.

Psychoanalysis is classically a kind of "talk therapy", or referred to humorously as "chimney-sweeping", that explores the unconscious drives, increases personal awareness, and is less focused on specific symptom relief as the medications are designed to do (Freud, Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis: 1910). Most research on psychotherapy for anxiety disorders focus on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is the approach that Temple University's Richard Heimberg advocates. Part of the reason CBT is studied as opposed to other therapies likes psychoanalysis is because it was developed to be easily testable and falsifiable. However, a study that was described by the NY Times has shown that psychoanalysis is highly effective in the treatment of Panic Disorder. Although Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder are quite different, this study represents an incoming wave of research vindicating psychoanalysis as an effective treatment for anxiety disorders.

Under psychoanalysis, the human subject is said to have a sea of drives and "scenes from recollection" which are largely unobservable but are believed inform our desires and emotions. These artifacts are not judged by their rational or irrational capacity; patients are already assumed to have irrational drives and therefore this alone cannot be clinically conclusive. The boundary between rational and irrational thus overcome, psychoanalysis cannot categorize what is commonly thought of as irrational as 'distorted thinking'. Instead, it attempts to explore all drives by allowing the patient to babble and babble until conclusions and solutions are reached through a personal, dialectic process. Rarely does the psychoanalyst interrupt.

Indeed, most of Freud's own theorizing came from the self-diagnosis of his own unconscious drives. What a psychoanalyst can offer a client in return is principally their own insight and their own experience with similar situations and drives. The bulk of Freud's corpus can be interpreted in this way: as Freud offering his clients an interpretation of their drives in light of the discovery of his own.

For those who wish to have a less patient-to-analyst relationship, there is peculiar form of psychotherapy which was developed by Harvey Jackins in Seattle, WA, called Co-Counseling. It is peculiar because although the clients themselves may be very experienced with psychotherapy, in a Co-Counseling setting, each participant is both a client and an analyst, and there is not a professional diagnostic relationship involved. One client babbles and focuses on 'discharging' their thoughts and emotions, while the other observes and does not speak during this process. The next session they may switch roles. The focus for each participant is primarily achieving emotional competence.

In general the success of psychotherapy can be measured by the personal growth achievements of those undergoing the therapy. Psychotherapy is typically less interesting to drug manufacturers, and thus less interesting to the rest of the psychiatric community. The varied success depends on the competence of the analysts and involvement of the patients, and its performance is less instantly-gratified than the over-praised spark-plug scientism of the psychiatric community. That those intrigued by the "talking cure" could band together and examine themselves and their medical problems would be an attack on the independence and status of the profession.

It has been observed that over the years psychiatrists have become more involved in diagnosing and prescribing medications faster than they prescribe therapies or even offer them. Through any psychiatrist's study they have accumulated such a store of knowledge that remains sealed in a book beyond the patient's understanding. This knowledge is presumably found in the DSM manual, the most-used guide for diagnosing mental disorders in the US. But neither these illnesses nor their cures, we are told, can be explained to a patient seeking help for their anxiety, and typically it is not even on the bottles of the drugs they are prescribed.

For all their knowledge, their training in anatomy, in physiology and pathology, it leaves the psychiatrist "in the lurch," Freud said, when they are confronted by the details of hysterical phenomena. They cannot understand unconscious artifacts or their causes. Just as their patients are laypersons in the face of the 'black box' of the prescription drug container, they too are laypersons in face of the 'black box' of psychosocial phenomena.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Videos

I'm created this section to link archived independent media projects, art video, and instructional technology interviews I've worked on in the past.

  1. "Indymedia Presents"
    1. Kill Your TV. A public service announcement.
    2. A Brief History of the G8. An 11-minute piece outlining the failures and hubris of the Group of Eight Summits, including submitted videos from activists at the 34th Summit in Hokkaido, Japan.
    3. Funny Interviews With Pro-War Demonstrators. Interviews with Fox News listeners in MTV VJ style.
    4. Anti-Union Firing, Picket Line Staged. Security worker is fired for supporting the International Longshore and Warehousing Union.
    5. Docu-Short About Immigration and the Police State. Video about the End Game plan to out all illegal immigrants from the US by 2012, and focusing on the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
    6. Living Wages for Worker-Affordable Housing. Interviews with activists about gentrification issues pertaining to condominiums being built in the urban district.
    7. Reality Check. Seattle raptivist "Son of Nun" waxing lyrical about activists and activism.
    8. False Consciousness, False Activity. A sober look at college students campaigning for Obama, with written commentary.
    9. Army of None: A Televisual Montage. A kind of photo-video-blog with author of military counter-recruitment book.
    10. Labor Solidarity for Maersk Security Workers. Security workers not allowed to join a union of their choice, violations of labor laws, etc.
    11. Give Peace a Chance: Tacoma Police Riot camera #1. A riot I had filmed in March of 2007 at the Port of Tacoma where large amounts of military supplies were being transported to Iraq for the "Surge" plan.
    12. Give Peace a Chance: Tacoma Police Riot camera # 2. Another angle of the same riot at the Port of Tacoma.
    13. Tacoma Police Riot: Rubber Bulleted. The same fascist rioting that went on for nearly 4 days out of a 12-day protest.
    14. Interview with Detective about Tacoma Police Riot. Interview with the spokesperson and detective from the Tacoma Police Department, who made false accusations about the police riot.
    15. Film is Not a Crime. My own "arrest" at the Port of Tacoma, which was allegedly for filming in a bad location.
    16. Film is Not a Crime King 5 Interview. When professors I knew well heard about my "arrest" they urged TV news stations to interview me, which they did.
    17. Port Militarization Resistance: Peppersprayed in Olympia. Shipments of military supplies moving to and from the Port of Olympia, the highly-politicized capitol of Washington State.
    18. Can Police Film at Protests? As a lawyer from the National Lawyer's Guild explains, no they cannot.
    19. About Riots: Thoughts on Riot Culture. A member of Students For a Democratic Society explains what he thinks regarding 'riot culture' at the Port of Tacoma.
    20. Oct. 27th End the War Seattle. A large march in Seattle as part of a "National Day of Action" against the Occupation of Iraq.
    21. Lt. Ehren Watada. The highest-ranking military officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, based in Fort Lewis, WA. Here are some clips and explanations of his intentions.

  2. Instructional Technology and Education.
    1. How Dramaturgs Use Wikis. Interview with Professor Geoff Proehl about their Theatre Arts Department wiki.
    2. Using YackPack. Interview with Chinese instructor Lotus Perry about software that enables students to turn in digital audio assignments.
    3. Leet Google Haxor Tutorial. A humorous and fast-paced action tutorial on how to be a leet google haxor.
    4. Politics and Government Blog. Interview with Professor Patrick O'Neil about his department's blog.

  3. Art Videos.
    1. Billy Collin's Poetry. Two very popular visual poetry videos I created celebrating Billy Collin's poems.
    2. Sunrise with Coglings. An bizarre experimental video using cut-out effects, Second Life, and audio experimentation.
    3. A Brief Bright Flash of Red Light. A 48-hour film festival video about a drug pusher who has some 'miscommunication' with his dealer's girlfriend.
    4. Fluxus Film no. 1: Desert of the Real. A fluxus film explaining concepts of the Internationale Situationiste.
    5. Flux Film no. 2: Splash! A very short experimental fluxus video.
    6. The Answer and the Betrayal. A short video about religion and television.
    7. Social Realism in Chemnitz. A montage of communist street art scenes in Chemnitz, Germany.
    8. Death and the Maid. Film about a maid who cleans up dead bodies and then talks to them.
    9. A Cyborg Manifesto. An anime interpretation of Donna Haraway's A Cyborg Manifesto.
    10. On Civil Disobedience. Artsy video of dissidents explaining their reasons for opposing the police state.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Miles and Miles From Orlando

Mike Gogulski.jpg
Up to 15 million people around the world may be considered "stateless". That is, having not having any official state record of their status as citizens, nor any official nationality. This usually happens because of ethnic strife or political conflict resulting from a collapse of the state's ability to function. The UN's arm that deals with refugees and statelessness, UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) focuses its energy almost entirely on building or re-building those connections between states and individuals. Numerous committees are setup to end statelessness and naturalize stateless people into states or institutions that will keep them under the protection of a state. But what about political asylees who decide to renounce their state citizenship and do not wish to re-enter the life of state citizenry? One blogger and English-Slovak translator from Orlando, Mike Gogulski, is doing just that.

While currently living in Bratislava, Mike plans to renounce his status as an American citizen and become a stateless person in political protest against war for empire and what he sees as an "express train" to police dictatorship in the United States. With their “anthems blaring” and the complicit American masses “cheering it on”, Mike sees no reason as to why he should be considered a member of the American imperialist system. Since the invasion of Iraq, dozens of American GI war resisters have sought asylum in Canada, but few if any civilians have renounced their citizenship as an act of political protest. Here is what Mike says on his blog about the decision.

"I had told myself as long as two years ago that I would renounce when the US attacked Iran, exploded a nuclear weapon, deployed a bio-weapon, declared martial law, annexed a territory or canceled an election. I became very involved for that reason in watching the news closely for signs that any of those eventualities might be approaching. In doing so, however, I’ve come to the realization that I need no more justification."

This possibility raises all sorts of practical questions regarding the leap. How will he participate in the economy? How will he get from place to place? And, if he becomes stuck in an airport for several years as Iranian refugee Mehram Nasseri once was, will he at least have Internet access?

Let's take you through the process. Assuming that the US government approves his renunciation by issuing him the Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States, Gogulski's renunciation will in fact render him “stateless”. He will not be a citizen of the US, a citizen of Slovakia, nor have citizenship under the EU. He will simply be a person without a state.

As stateless and undocumented, he should be able to travel via land (train, bus, car) throughout the EU under the 1985 Schengen Agreement, without any trouble at all since he is living in Slovakia now. But traveling outside this area is likely to be impossible, he says. Eventually he will become a documented stateless person: someone who carries a UN convention travel document as set out by the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and in the distant future Mike admits he may opt for Slovak citizenship if necessity compels him.

But who knows, “Maybe I'll end up like the stateless Somali man I met in the UK, who told me 'No, it's great being free'”. He and the stateless man met unexpectedly at an airport, and Mike was curious as to whether his friendly interlocutor had experienced difficulty with his statelessness. But if “the Schengen Zone is to be my cage,” Mike says, “I think it's large enough for me. There's enough to explore within Europe to last a lifetime.”

The UNHCR people may run into Mike in Bratislava at some point, he says, and they will be “less than amused” seeing treaties enacted to protect refugees and stateless persons are being used in the service of political protest, “let alone by someone who thinks the UN should be abolished.”

If it is not obvious already, Mike Gogulski views politics in a radically different way than most people in the United States or Europe do; he describes his philosophical point of view as “individualist anarchism”. On his website he has signed a short document entitled An Anarchist's Declaration, in which he outlines his perspective on power relationships and the use of tyrannical political systems to spread evil throughout the world. The philosophical influences that inform Mike's state renunciation are individualist anarchists like Murray Rothbard, and anarcho-capitalists like Frederic Bastiat, Albert Jay Nock and Robert Nozick.

Mike is also wary of state identification methods. In less than a hundred years, he says, the world has gone from being a place where an official identification card did not exist to one in which people who lack identification “are effectively unpersons”. Since the New Deal plans enacted by Roosevelt in 1935 the Social Security Number has become one of the primary ways in which the United States identifies its citizens, something which came about slowly and unexpectedly.

Over the past couple of years the US Department of Homeland Security has been considering a more comprehensive plan to identify its citizens with a national ID card, a “real ID”, which would simultaneously curb terrorist activity and create a national system to digitally store detailed personal data on individuals. The Real ID Act of 2005 has been widely protested by individualist anarchists of all sorts.

In the abstract, Mike says everyone suffers under Statism, which is a “civic religion” that cements our views about the moral and political legitimacy of the state. Statism sacrifices individual liberty and promulgates a set of beliefs in favor of the state. What the “state” is, Mike says, can be summarized as “an institution which claims a monopoly on the initiation of violence in a particular territory.” He agrees with Lysander Spooner, an individualist anarchist, who once said that the state sovereigns were really no different than “bands of robbers and murderers.”

The estimated 15 million stateless people today are in this situation because of war or other forms of government oppression. But it would be quite unfair, Mike says, to consider his situation in the same category as theirs. Mike expects some inconveniences as a result of becoming stateless, yet the 15 million other stateless people “generally have their entire lives ruined for them. There's no comparison there.”
So simply becoming stateless is not exactly Mike's objective, he tells me. “I'm interested in exploring being stateless, but I wouldn't be renouncing my citizenship if I weren't so disgusted by the US government.“ He wants to divorce himself from the US partly as atonement for the guilt he feels at having paid taxes to support mass murder and oppression around the world and at home. He says he wants to publicly call attention to US atrocities and some citizens' dissatisfaction via the media, and to use it as a platform to speak to the cause of liberty.

On Mike includes a list of Renunciant Resources for anyone else interested in exploring statelessness. We will be following Mike's progress as he becomes stateless and will post any important updates as it pertains to the situation.

Originally posted on The Melon.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Reason I Don't Keep an RPG in House.

They call these "Globemasters" not because of fuel efficiency, but because at the time the original was created in 1942 it was the largest landplane to enter production. It was able to carry 125 soldiers, or 21, 840 kg over a range of 5,500 km. Today the Globemaster can carry 77,519 kg of cargo over the same range. They can also drop 102 paratroppers or two attack Stryker vehicles from the air.

On March 26th, 2003, fifteen USAF Globemasters participated in the biggest combat airdrop since the US invasion of Panama in December of 1989. The night-time airdrop of 1,000 paratroopers from the occurred over Bashur in Iraq. It opened the northern front to combat operations and constituted the largest formation airdrop carried out by the United States since World War II.

Each morning I wake up to the sound of empire. Cargo jets and fighter jets. Cargo jets and fighter jets. It's like counting sheep.

Two at a time, the sleek ones screech through the sky making a tie-fighter sound directly over my apartment several times a day.

Then, drudging along, come the bulky cargo planes, spewing petrol across the sky, each one costing millions of dollars upon take off. Eleven per hour. While the USAF's total fleet of Globemasters is 190, it seems as though one third of them fly around my house each day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Charleston, Mississippi: Separate But Equal

Charleston, Mississippi is a town that was deeply segregated, historically affected by Klan activity, and was shielded from the Civil Rights movement in the South during the 1950s. With a population of around 2,000 today, and with influence from the outside being very low, the town is still trapped within the kind of time loophole devices found in Star Trek episodes.

For example, the town's high school has never had an racially-integrated prom night. I heard this story on NPR. Each year black students and white students have attended separate proms. A student interviewed said that it has been the parents who have imposed this "tradition" on the students, not the students who wish to be segregated. But, "that's the whole thing with our town, everybody's afraid of change," says the student.

Ten years ago, actor Morgan Freeman - who is from Charleston - said he would pay the school board to hold an interracial prom night, but the offer was rejected. When Freeman put the offer back on the table in 2008 (with a new school board in place and a documentary crew following him around) the Charleston school board eventually decided for change. Though a number of white families decided to hold the "white prom" anyway and prevent their children from attending the integrated prom, it should be interesting to see how this event transpired when the documentary, Prom Night in Mississippi, is released sometime in 2009.

Dérive in Buenos Aires

Here is a video from Beunos Aires, Argentina that has been taking the web by storm. It shares close resemblance to the Situationist concept dérive, meaning to walk about almost aimlessly through a city in such a way that re-contextualizes its urban environments. I particularly like the video's time-lapse feel to it, the way the clouds drift over so quickly, while the stop-action motions in the scene are in reality moving quite slowly. This time-lapsed way of contextualizing the urban environment takes the Situationist ideas even further in such a way that surpasses the original, space-bound Situationism of Paris at the time - the 1960s.

But using the dimension of time to re-contextualize the city seemed to always rely on something else, like a camera, or a novel. If you read Eugene Ionesco's The Hermit, there is a particularly piquant moment when the protagonist, a hermit, re-contextualizes his Parisian urban environment by experiencing a strange flow of Paris's historical events. As if he were truly present during the French Revolution, when he is re-awakened, he walks around the city seeing it in a completely new and different way. This particularly Situationist theme of the novel, and partly of this video, is that history is always present in the spaces that we live.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Progress of the Twentieth Century

Vampire mythology is indefatigably interesting to me. The way Anne Rice depicts vampirism is exciting and engaging in her novel The Vampire Lestat, but I have my reservations. I read this book once before and am now re-reading it. She is, like many American writers, a mouthpiece for consumerist lifestyles, and in this way she operates as a kind of unacknowledged propagator of these values. This is much more clear to me now. Five pages into the novel we read that the Vampire Lestat has arisen from his slumber since the 1920s. The year is 1984 now, curiously, and he is loving American capitalism. I find this somewhat humorous, but I wonder if I should. Lestat explains,

"Department stores had become palaces of near Oriental loveliness--merchandise displayed amid soft tinted carpeting, eerie music, amber light. In the all-night drugstores, bottles of violent and green shampoo gleaned like gems on the sparkling glass shelves. Waitress drove sleek leather-lined automobiles to work. Dock laborers went home at night to swim in their heated backyard pools. Charwomen and plumbers changed at the end of the day into exquisitely cut manufactured clothes. In fact the poverty and filth that had been common in the big cities of the earth since time immemorial were almost completely washed away."
Lestat's inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations proceeds as follows:
"Ah, the Twentieth Century. Ah, the turn of the great wheel. It had outdistanced my wildest dreams of it, this future. It had made fools of grim people of ages past. I did a lot of thinking about this sinless secular morality, this optimism. The brilliantly lighted world where the value of human life was greater than it had ever been before."
But I must delve into a bit of Marxist literary criticism here. Lestat is obviously unaware of the perils of living outside the marvelous spectacle of middle-class abundance and progress. He glorifies the leisure and luxury at the disposal of the American middle class, or what appears to be an endless supply of credit and perfectly liquid capital markets. He has not seen any "slum" or witnessed any legitimate hardship in the capitalist spectacle. His eyes are fixed to television screens and the worldly possessions of an apparently classless and non-hierarchical society. It is particularly interesting that he never once mentions the working class nor the upper class, only the middle class, and he is oblivious to the wealth of any other nation, or any other neighborhood besides the bustlingly elitist French Quarter of the old New Orleans.

The sociology of this text is particularly telling; it is so obviously infused with the American mythology: that we are all members of the middle-class now, that there is no upper or working classes, that we have all been washed up by tide of increasing wealth, that there is no wealth disparity, and if there is: it is easily moved through the workings of mobility. But Anne Rice mentions these people very seldom, and when she does, she has reserved her most venomous words for them.

Lestat is particularly distasteful towards whom he calls "drunkards" and "beggars". Of course, 'we' have "achieved a certain androgyny," a certain aesthetic that the Marxists of the past had called "decadence". There is really no reason that there should be drunkards and beggars today, what with all the abundance and luxury described thus far.

This is a particularly interesting way of cementing our beliefs about the sociology of our world, that is, through the guise of the modern mythology of the vampire. The way fantasy and fiction authors in general describe our world by the devices of 'other worlds' is a way of passing on a code, a code that perhaps only Marxist literary critics are keen to, but to which we should all be familiar.

This is certainly only Anne Rice speaking here, not the Vampire Lestat. We are told that Lestat was witness to the French Revolution and who tilled the soil alongside peasants in the 1700s. The technological work and progress of the Twentieth Century had been remarkable and
it certainly has made fools of people like Thomas Malthus and other catastrophists. But the savage garden of Nineteenth Century had not in any way been completely uppified and utterly utopiafied by the Twentieth Century. What a silly joke. The Twentieth Century has been one of the bloodiest, most gruesome centuries known to the human race, and the Twenty First Century is looking no better.

One thing is clear, Lestat is not merely being a naive Eighteenth Century noble who landed in the last century. This is much more genuinely the way in which Anne Rice would assume a French person from the Eighteenth Century would evaluate our century. They would apparently fall head over heels in love the the workings of this mythically 'classless' capitalist empire, with all it's cultural niceties like rock and roll bands and what not.

Further Reading:

Rice, Anne. Interview With a Vampire. Ballantine Publishing Group. New York, NY: 1976.
Rice, Anne. The Vampire Lestat. Ballantine Publishing Group. New York, NY: 1985.
Rice, Anne. The Queen of the Damned. Ballantine Publishing Group. New York, NY: 1988
Lukács, Georg. History and Class Consciousness. Merlin Press Ltd. London, UK: 1971.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Revolutionary and Non-Revolutionary Objections to Rawls' Civil Disobedience

John Locke rejected the view that man has no alternative but to obey any state under which he happened to find himself, and all of liberal theory has followed him in this rejection. Locke accused Hobbes of equivocating “state of nature” with “state of war”, and pointed out that the former rarely collapsed into the latter. In their natural state men can at least fight as equals, but no man would stand a chance against the greater force of the state. One premise of the liberal view has been that when the preservation of the state creates worse evils than the war of all against all, the costs of that state are too high. A citizen has no reason to preserve such a state, for there is no greater good which makes it possible to preserve.

Yet liberal theory contends that its systems are the best form of governance, according to John Rawls, and though they are not perfectly just, they are reasonably just. Men who threaten the preservation of these regimes to some degree compel a “war of all against all”, though the state may have allowed many evils to which men may contend does not conform to its moral principles. A state which does not respect citizens who have rights-claims instead gives priority to the preservation of the state itself, and tacitly accepts the Hobbesian point of view about the state of nature. Contrary to liberal theory which says the state is to preserve rights which are to be found in the state of nature, it says the state prevents the war of all against all.

If our state is reasonably just but not perfectly just, we can be sure that the laws of the state do not encompass all those to whom it commands obedience. The whole structure of liberal theory, with its constitutional prescriptions and inalienable rights must therefore depend on the affirmation of a subsequent premise, if it is not to be naïve. Liberal theory must rest on a premise to the effect that the logic of arbitration is not all-encompassing. That is, the logic of state may not meet the consent of all those who are encompassed by it. This premise seems so obvious that the majority of the followers of Locke bothered to make it explicit (Nozick 1974).

John Rawls claims in The Justification for Civil Disobedience (1969) that “even under a just constitution unjust laws may be passed and unjust policies enforced.” This raises the question of civil disobedience and when it is justified. To engage in acts which disobey the logic of state arbitration implies that citizens have rights-claims that arbitration does not necessarily give them, and though Rawls implies there is a sense in which a prima facie case for obedience justifies arbitrary rule by the sovereign, in liberal theory there must be a more fundamental prima facie case to the effect that rights-claims not respected by the sovereign are unjustified.

It is my contention that liberal theory, through its rejection of Hobbes’ argument about the logic of arbitration, opens the possibility of a much wider range of disobedience than liberal theorists have generally recognized. For the writings of many theorists, including John Rawls, liberal theory has demanded too much rather than too little obedience. Most of his justification is indeed spent on justifying various limitations for civil disobedience. Focusing alone on “reasonably just” systems in which equal opportunity is the only object of disobedience, Rawls and the like force the citizen to be almost totally obedient because he or she could never justify revolutionary disobedience in a reasonably just society. In an already “reasonably just” system, institutions must be “significantly unjust” on top of that to even warrant reform according to Rawls. The case for radical disobedience is, in many ways, an attempt to dispute this very aspect of liberal theory and to point out the possibility of a broader range of revolutionary and non-revolutionary disobedience.

The envisioned civil disobedience within a reasonably just society, as Rawls is makes clear, is a system produced by the Original Position (2001). One fundamental objection to his paper is that the context in which he chooses to discuss civil disobedience precludes any interesting discussions about revolutionary and non-revolutionary disobedience in other societies. While the section concerning the justification itself uses the Original Position to conceive of a society where revolutionary and most non-revolutionary forms of disobedience are unjustified, in earlier sections it is clear that Rawls intends to extend this analysis to all constitutional democracies. Whether he contemplates the extension of his justification for civil disobedience to less-reasonably just systems is implied in that. But we should not conclude that the justification extends any further than Rawls’ own system, since, given the conditions under which the reasonably just society originate, we cannot consider all less-than-perfect systems: we can only considering the reasonably just ones.

Many of the scenarios commanding disobedience that we imagine in (our own) less-than-perfect systems are thus unimaginable in Rawls’ society. We therefore should not take his Justification too seriously if we are to apply it to all constitutional democracies, for they are not all reasonably just. Nonetheless it was meant to be used as a justification for civil disobedience in other societies. The non-contextualized version of this text which appears in Schaur and Armstrong’s The Philosophy of Law (1986) lacks any discussion of the thought experiment which precedes it, implying that even well-known publicists in the area of philosophy take Rawls’ justification further than it is allowed. The justification of civil disobedience does not apparently need a preceding discussion of any Original Position or rights granted by a society. It is presumed that we can start from the fact that we live in a reasonably just society.

Yet in the original experiment, we have finally chosen, behind a veil of ignorance, what the moral principles of civil society ought to be when we ourselves are not any member of that society in particular. Speaking from anyone’s point of view, then, civil disobedience is therefore an act “justified by the moral principles which define our conception of civil society and the public good.” This definition, of course, already assumes its own moral principles are just cannot be challenged, and that the only grounds for disobedience are the disconnection between civil life and the moral principles. “Formal consent” to the government is therefore an issue Rawls is unlikely to take up in any discussion of civil disobedience.

In the reasonably just society, which certainly still has problems of its own, the extent to which a disobedient believes that the regime, while imperfect, is better than war of all against all, he has some reason not to endanger its existence. This reason will not, it is true, lead him to reject disobedience in the face of great injustice, but Rawls contends that it will in almost all cases lead him to reject disobedience in the face of many evils, given that it is system is reasonably just. The better the system is, the stronger the obligation to obey and the greater, therefore, I contend, we should expect the improvement brought about by disobedience be if it is to justify the risks it also implies.

In a constitutional and contractual civil society like the one Rawls envisions, the convictions of a disobedient member can only be traced back to the principles that underlie the constitution itself. The source of one’s disobedience is based on rights-claims already established, or derivable, from the basic moral principles. Legitimate civil disobedience, Rawls contends, is merely a “stabilizing device in a constitutional regime” and therefore acts of civil disobedience which threaten the stability of the regime are not justified, even at the cost of the moral principles he hitherto used as his basic justification.

This is a clear barrier to civil disobedience, since we are threatened on one hand with war of all against all—which has little basis in post-Locke liberal theory—and living with uncontested injustice on the other. Concerning what little “legitimate civil disobedience” we are left with at this point, however, there are still many other avenues, short of revolution and revolution itself, that Rawls forbids.

The first barrier Rawls places in front of disobedience is that of addressing the majority. Acts which do not address the “sense of justice” in the majority are not considered “civil” acts, and are merely disobedient. However, we can imagine scenarios where equal opportunities do not obtain, and disobeying the majority to protect the rights of the minority may require secrecy. When the Underground Railroad was constructed to help slave minorities, no one would have thought to make this act of disobedience known to the majority, otherwise it would have undermined its effectiveness. Rawls would have us believe this sort of scenario is not obtainable in the reasonably just system, but this should not stop us from considering the ways in which he is wrong about other constitutional democracies, and even his own.

The second barrier Rawls gives us is violent disobedience. Violence is simply unnecessary in the reasonably just society, but we should not conclude it is unnecessary in less reasonably just societies. Violence can take the form of state property destruction, for example, when burning military draft cards. One can imagine instances where a citizen living under a less reasonably just society might try to sabotage a particular government program, a nuclear weapons development program that threatens to destroy neighboring cities, for example, without challenging the government in other areas. Such an act is not easy to evaluate, for although it is both highly coercive and violent, it challenges only a very limited aspect of state power. Rawls argues that disobedience must not endanger the rights of others, which although perfectly reasonable since they are not the object of disobedience and have equal rights-claims as anyone else, does not answer the more fundamental question of whether violence towards a state counts as the “other” as well.

The third and more problematic barrier for the reasonably just society is that of equal opportunity. While in a just democratic regime opportunities (visible and non-visible) should be equally available to all citizens, inequalities must be to everyone’s advantage. This is Rawls’ Difference Principle, in which inequalities must be to the advantage of those least well-off. Rawls believes this to be one of the moral principles chosen while behind the veil of ignorance. Thus if citizens are equally subject to some kind of structural injustice, Rawls would require that citizens be able to equally participate in disobedience. Yet the “widespread disposition to disobey” would be followed by “widespread disorder”. In that event “there might be serious injury to the just constitution,” Rawls says.

Here we have a scenario where Rawls suggests “special restraint” in order to preserve the integrity of a state whose object it is to preserve the very rights citizens are demanding. Rawls would require that citizens be able to equally participate in disobedience, but since the degree of injustice is equally distributed and thus magnified, however reasonable it may seen to disobey, disobedience would be thwarted by a magnificent spectacle of disorder. The notion of “justice for all” is supplanted by “equality for all” and that has lead Rawls to offer the precarious solution of a “lottery” or a “rationing system” that will allow only a select few to disobey on behalf of others.

This has suggested to me that Rawls admits that the public good may trump the moral principles the society is based upon. The public good, and thus the purpose of the state, in other words, is order—and this is a very Hobbesian point of view. It also strikes me that Rawls accepts a more utilitarian view here than is often recognized. In the event that widespread disorder should be caused by demands for justice, Rawls accepts a utilitarianism of rights view, whereby rights and justice are things to be maximized, but may not be fully maximized if it should cause widespread disorder (Nozick 1974).

Whereas these rights are not respected as “inalienable”, it may be objected that at least some rights are inalienable for Rawls, which is certainly the case. The less-visible rights violations and injustices in Rawls’ society, however, seem the most susceptible to the crude utilitarian calculus. I believe Rawls is wrong, and much of liberal theory is wrong with him, in saying that the public order takes precedent over rights guaranteed by the constitutions of democratic regimes, and it is this contention of Rawls that causes a fundamental tension within the reasonably just society, and which makes radical disobedience necessary, even in the reasonably just society.

A search for the reasons that it has seemed necessary to confine disobedience so thinly—to “clear” cases to use Rawls’ wording—takes us back to the origins of liberal theory. Reasons first given by Hobbes and then adopted by Locke inform much of our contemporary thinking out disobedience. Many modern arguments against disobedience appear to be only somewhat altered restatements of the original Hobbesian ones. Hobbes pointed out that we have reason to obey even am unjust law because we have an interest in the preservation of a system of arbitration through which quarrels among citizens can be settled calmly. Rawls calls this a “normal political action”. Such a system is achievable, Hobbes reasoned, only if each member of society is willing to reject the use of violence in disputes with others and to present them to binding arbitrators of the sovereign. When Rawls states that “there is no danger of anarchy as long as there is a sufficient working agreement in men’s conceptions of political justice and what it requires” I believe he is relying on the Hobbesian argument.

A citizen might prefer to have the state obey his own principles, and Rawls never denies that it is desirable to have it so. He insists, like Hobbes, that guarantees for citizens against the state, though desirable, could never be enforced without collapsing the state. In a game-theoretic approach, Hobbes says that citizens will only reject the use of violence and submit their quarrels to the sovereign if they were absolutely sure that the other citizens would do the same, and Rawls seems to be in agreement.

I would like to add here that even in the best state we can devise, the possibility of justifiable disobedience cannot be categorically disqualified. As long as we have not devised a procedure which guarantees that only laws and institutions which everyone can consent to, the possibility of a justifiable disobedience will exist. Majority decision is not, however, the only basis for democracy, nor is it necessarily the strongest. The strong claim that democracy does make is that it weakens the possibility of justifiable disobedience by providing alternative means of change. And although this makes democracy stronger than other regimes, it is not, of course, wholly participatory, nor is it the only system that provides those alternatives.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Backed Against the Wall

This is a photoblog from the student sit-in I visited at Evergreen State College.

Students for a Democratic Society at Evergreen has been suspended for not following guidelines set out by the school's administration in the wake of the February 14th Dead Prez "Valentine's Day Riot". That night the Olympia police attacked demonstrators and a police vehicle was subsequently overturned and its equipment stolen. Two Evergreen student groups, The Hip Hop Congress and Students for a Democratic Society (groups which brought Dead Prez to the school and were unfavorably linked to the riot), have since been under investigation by the Olympia Police Department.

When you walk to the floor where the sit-in is taking place, you are greeted with a sign that says "Welcome to People's University". Each night of the sit-in SDS has organized speakers, teachers, musicians, and other community organizers to speak on topics of interest: when I was present I listened to SDS students lead workshops on, for instance, the queer movement growing away from its radical roots from the Stonewall riots to its more whitewashed and complacent position in contemporary society; an eye-witness account of 'first-responder' anarchist street medics during post-Katrina New Orleans shortly after FEMA's fallout; and a discussion about the "Sanctuary City" project to make Olympia a sanctuary city for both GI war resisters and undocumented workers.

"People's University": a concept that invokes the openness of free education that the Evergreen SDS group is striving towards. Students here are listening to a supportive professor and long-time SDS member Pete Bohmer speak about the history of student sit-ins and strikes worldwide from 1968 to 2001. He also gave a concise history of activism at Evergreen.

The sit-in was called two weeks ago when SDS was notified of its suspension (until January 2009) from the college due its apparent non-compliance with Evergreen's new moratorium on concerts and other events that may benefit non-Evergreen organizations, musicians and speakers.

Since the SDS events were previously approved before the Dead Prez incident, and other Evergreen events which did not follow the new guidelines were allowed to happen, the SDS group decided this was hypocrisy and staged a "sit-in" in front the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs, Art Constantino, and called for the group's status to be reinstated immediately.

At one point during my visit Prof. Pete Bohmer said something that made everyone chuckle. He mentioned an event that gave a bit of insight into the campus culture at Evergreen. In 1999 there was some controversy at the school regarding Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and death row inmate who was charged with killing a police officer and now writes on crime and punishment in a police state. He was scheduled to speak at their graduation ceremony, and this was heavily protested by the Fraternal Order of Police and other organization. But he was, after all, voted in by the students to speak.

Around the nation police departments were outraged, and a number of police officers staged a protest outside the graduation ceremony itself. The message Mr. Abu-Jamal gave the students that day was: use your degree to become a revolutionary. Faculty members at one point asked somewhat humorously whether graduation ceremonies at Evergreen could ever just be exempt from the rest of the highly-politicized atmosphere on the campus during the academic year. In Washington D.C. on the same day of the graduation, a group of conservative activists marched the streets and protested the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. At the same time Mr. Abu-Jamal's speech was being broadcast from his penitentiary in Pennsylvania.

A student participating in the sit-in is pictured here doing her homework in front of Art Constantino's office. SDS and supportive students have slept in the halls and stairways of the administration's building for two weeks. Last Tuesday about 150 people crammed the fourth floor of the building to hear Kimya Dawson, an anti-folk singer and song-writer. Dozens of sleeping bags and books are spread out in the stairwell each night. Each day they commute to class and return to the sit-in for more congregation.

Evergreen SDS taped a list of demands and their meeting notes from each day on the door of Art Constantino's office. Their first demand is the only demand, to my knowledge, that is being negotiated with the administration. There are seven demands altogether.

I was told that one faculty member, Frank Fatseas, does not like SDS at all. He says they're a bunch of "Bolsheviks". His office is just down the hall from Art Constantino's, and the SDS students who see him everyday said there is no end to the sort of fun-and-games rivalry between him and the students.

One SDS student, Kelly Beckham, was fired from her job at campus security for being too close to the students participating in the sit-in. Here she is discussing with other SDS students the implications of the new negotiations and her position on the Evergreen security staff.

Jonathan Steiner was one of the students whose records were handed over by the college to the Olympia Police Department for investigation. He was severely beaten and hospitalized by Olympia PD at the start of the Dead Prez incident, but said he was still accused of overturning the police vehicles which happened significantly later. At that point he was laying in a hospital bed, he said, and couldn't have been involved.

One of SDS's contentions is that Evergreen had no reason to submit to a flawed subpoena demanding Jonathan's and other students' private information, and they demand that no more students' information be willfully handed over in such a manner. Another demand involves Kelly Beckham's status as an employee with campus Police Services.

Here is one of the many posters around the campus. This one condemns the police suppression of graffiti culture. One Evergreen student who was raped a few months ago began creating anti-rape graffiti and posters after the incident. A number of students believe the walls provide ample space for democratic dialogue and discussion. The police disagree.

This last week has been more hopeful for SDS, however. The Evergreen administration decided to talk with SDS members in private to discuss the group's possible reinstatement. According to the students involved the talks seem to be going well. There has been heavy media pressure, significant student support, and any of these factors might have contributed to the administration's willingness to discuss matters with the students.

The administration declined to speak with me about the suspension of SDS or the negotiations, however. At this point, they said, they don't want to jeopardize what progress is being made at the moment. I was not sure what this meant, exactly, since I have no idea what the administration means by progress. Ostensibly, this means ending the sit-in.

From what SDS at Evergreen has told me, the administration is only asking that SDS acknowledges their violation of Evergreen policies: the concert moratorium, the people's university, etc. If SDS acknowledges this, they may be reinstated. But it is unclear whether the college wants SDS to recognize these rules as legitimate or not, and unclear whether this requires an apology for breaking the rules.

At any rate, Friday was the last day of school at Evergreen, and many students will be leaving Olympia shortly. Naturally, a summertime sit-in might be unproductive. Where SDS is going from here the pictures cannot tell.

It appears as though SDS, which two weeks ago was back against the wall at Evergreen, is now gaining some of its student activities privileges back. Being a recognized part of campus is integral to a functioning student group, and at the same time integral to this student-based activist movement. Several students wondered whether they really needed to be a campus "student group" at Evergreen, but if they are not it means they cannot host any events or use Evergreen facilities for activism. Other students argued if their suppression ignored, it would have been a slippery slope towards further suppression of free speech at The Evergreen State College.

$4.25 a Gallon

This is how much a gallon of gasoline costs at the station down my street: $4.25 a gallon. That's roughly $1.13 a liter.

With gasoline so expensive by American standards, The Economist is speculating that diesel engines will come back as a popular solution, as an oily alternative to the hybrid cars and biofuels. Mercedes-Benz has developed a more fuel-efficient diesel sedan known as the E320 Bluetec, with a price of $53K. The petrol version of the same vehicle (at the same price) runs at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway, compared to the diesel engine's 23 (city) and 32 (highway).

But the price of diesel is expensive too. The diesel price in the US rose twice as fast as petrol this year. While both carry the same tax weight in the US, diesel now costs 60 to 70 cents more a gallon than regular gas. But while diesel is 20% more expensive than gasoline, it is also 35% more efficiently used.

Europe and the US differ in the way oil is refined too, giving way to different pricing schemes. The catalytic "crackers" used in American refineries are setup to produce as much petrol as possible, with the leftover being used for diesel, heating oil, asphalt and other products. In Europe the refineries' hydocrackers produce 25% petrol and 25% diesel. If Europe wants to produce more diesel, it implies producing the same amount of petrol as well, the exports of which are shipped to the US mainly. So producing more diesel in Europe implies lowering the world price of petrol as well.

At any rate, when I drive to and from cities that are somewhere between 30 and 40 miles away (Seattle and Olympia) it costs me approximately $5 per trip, which adds up even for my compact commuter car, the 1997 Geo Metro Sedan. It was once stolen and left somewhere in ditch. I bought it two years ago at an auction in Fife, WA for $1,800. For reasons other than my own self-interest, rising gasoline prices should be a positive influence, and should also be matched by changing consumer preferences and the development of petrol-using substitutes.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Why does postmodern music remix other music?

"Postmodern music" is a maddeningly imprecise idea as a musical concept. So much of what postmodernism has done is react against the project of modernism, and parts of postmodernism are not even doing this: they are not reacting but repudiating the authority of musical history. So, there are really two strains of the "postmodern" music attitude: anti-modernism and post-modernism. Postmodernism embraces, anti-modernism reacts.

Listen to Samuel Barber's second movement in the String Quartet No. 1 in 1936, Adagio for Strings, which is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of the modern classical era. Click on the green link for the full version.

It has been called the "saddest" classical work written in the modern era. With the Nazis coming to power in 1936 and the American Empire on the brink of a new age, the piece was also used in 2001 to commemorate the thousands who were killed in the September 11 attacks.

I heard Adagio for Strings played at a party over the weekend. This was the largest party I've been to, called United States of Consciousness in Seattle. Thousands of diverse creatures in costumes that embraced references all kinds of different sub-cultures. What we all came to be a part of was this party - and beat our heads to Tiësto - because "in trance we trust".

Listen to the Adagio For Strings as 'embraced' by Tiësto...

This nostalgia for the modernist purity and totalizing demonstration of musical mastery is not present in Tiësto's remix of Adagio. It is opposed to strains of modernist drives toward mastery of musical composition. The nostalgia found in Tiësto is distinct from Barber's in that it completely distrusts elitist 'high' and 'low' concepts in art. It doesn't uphold the distinction between varying senses of melodrama and over-sentimentality in art. Tiësto is imitating the superficial appearances of art, through a formula of "remixing" that is supposed to demonstrate the lack of creativity or originality displayed in art.

For example, electronic dance music djs in the "Happy Hardcore" scene and others who remix popular theme songs from Tetris and Wizard of Oz, really do embrace that "superficial" aspect of postmodern music (again, probably not superficial to those who like it). But I don't agree with the claim that postmodernism is superficial so much, because I think that misunderstanding is mostly caused by a generational gap. Generation X thinks Generation Y's music is not creative.

Why does postmodern music remix so much? I don't think it's because of lack of creativity. It's more like a dialogue that cross-generational and cross-cultural. It's what the millenial generation knows how to do so well. YouTube is full of remixes. By remixing something you add another layer of commentary on to it, and someone watching or listening or reading has to figure out what it is that you added to it, and why that's different from what the original was. It's hard to tell what the original of anything is now. But postmodern music embraces the whole of commentary that came before it. Because everything seems so inter-connected, all content seems more like a discussion rather than a private session by yourself.