Hansel, Gretel, and the Consumer-Military Complex

Ai Weiwei’s collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron’s Hansel and Gretel at the Park Ave Armory (June 7–August 6, 2017) raises unintended questions about surveillance, it’s limits, applications and interrelation with consumerism. Justifiably, we anticipate the merger of an infamous political dissident and big-budget cultural complex architects to forge an insight into one of Western society’s most prescient questions, and be able to inhabit that insight and see it from the perspective of dissident on whom surveillance has been exercised. But instead we encounter an obtuse approach to the predictable power structures of observation laid in a path to techno-aesthetics that feel as dated as the Patriot Act I. But there’s more. (If only it were intentional.)  

The Park Ave Armory, 2017

The Park Ave Armory, 2017

The two part installation buttresses an archimedean point–a door–at which the visitor occupies the role of the prison guard in Bentham’s panopticon model, on a staircase landing, a peeping-hole. I’m starting at the end of the journey, rather than the entrance. Performing the critique we expect from the designers, we look back at the prior point of the installation in the Wade Thomson Drill hall, see our past selves in the innocent and unaware visitors, experiencing the previous stage of the journey. We had entered the dark room with hovering drones and projections of image-capture and one part control-station part research-space. We had walked from Lexington Avenue, down a dim, black velvet corridor, the exit of which into the Drill hall felt expansive: the unlit void located gray rectangles lain over the subtle arc of the floor. We had looked. Seen. Moved around. Exited. Re-entering on Park Ave, we had paused at the camera, then journey up the staircase and from the peeping hole, the those places of contemplation and play, look to float in an ether. Platforms of light with shadow dancers. I saw people sort of dancing, walking, pausing, contemplation. Each area within this nowhere space varied by intensity of brightness; some were entirely dark. Red rectangles within these platforms of light freeze images of your movement. This became a choreography of surveillance, an exchange of image for movement, interacting with your own captured, flattened representation.

There’s a level of theatricality in the installation at the Park Ave. Amory. Like a Grotowski play in which even the audience has been removed, visitors move around dimly lit rectangles, gazing at their own image projection that is being captured and encapsulated with an enigmatic red box as drones hover above creating a refreshing current of cool air amidst the otherwise stagnant darkness.

Dancers, 2017

Dancers, 2017

But on the floor of the drill hall, the buzzing of drones swaying on cables like an invisible chandelier, stirring up a cooling summer breeze vertiginously against the gaze to the floor onto which one’s image captured from above is projected, seems partial, incomplete, wanting. There was the persistent sense that this wasn’t all there was supposed to be, and, in fact one was under surveillance. Upon entering, a text printed in large, bold typeface was pasted on the wall, bracketed by a partially-hidden but obviously working camera above and below the paper set up a, “Ok, when are you going to show me enjoying this moment that I’ve almost forgot is about surveillance.” Exit through the blue light in the corner, walk around the building. Re-enter on Park Ave, have your ticket scanned, pause in front of a red light as instructed and see your face in nightvision displayed on the wall. The hallway diverts right and left. To the right, sure enough, you see those cameras of the entrance on Lexington, streaming on a wall. Boring. A series of tables with iPad invites you to find your face, i.e. the accuracy of facial recognition, and look over a website showing (one) history of surveillance. Ok, but why am I here? I mean, I can see the website anywhere, right? (Why pay $17 to look at an iPad webpage?). Conjoining these two spaces is a flight of stairs up to the peeping hole. Next to the hole is a symbol of a eye printed on 8.5 x 11” paper, calling those below to come, peer. Please.

When you’re interacting with the drones, you know you’re being watched–that’s the point–but you don’t know you’re being watched from the staircase. And as you enter at Lexington Avenue, and read the blunt text that’s been Flex Taped® on, you see the small camera’s recording you. When you re-enter on Park Avenue, you’re asked to stop at the camera.

From the peep hole, the supposed end of the route of surveillance. The title alludes to the trail of breadcrumbs left by the children as they were led into the woods to die, the trail which leads them back home. In the digital world, particularly online but increasingly in the physical world, we leave sorts of breadcrumbs that can be traced back to our individual, our person, our identity. The second section is demonstrates the basic facial recognition technology by capturing visitors’ upon entrance, pushing their image onto large wall monitors and inviting one to search their own face through the aid of an iPad. Your face, like a fingerprint, can be a breadcrumb.

The immediate recollection of Laura Poitras’s installation in Astro Noise at the Whitney Museum in which the visitors are invited to lay down and gaze at ceiling projection of stars and later, upon exiting, have the curtain pulled off their head to reveal, ta-da! You were being surveilled! Thematically, Poitras’s surveillance work, specifically the mobile phone scraping piece in the same show, recalled Trevor Paglen’s show at Metro pictures in 2015, in which he presented Autonomy Cube (2015), which is a wi-fi hotspot that sends all traffic through Tor browser relays. The gesture offers a semi-anonymous browsing experience, lacking only a VPN for further anonymity, but really smartly conveys the existence of Tor to the fine art world crowd, as Poitras’s mobile scraper displayed the technology of capturing telecommunications data, as Weiwei, Herzog and de Meuron demonstrated the surveillance application in the consumer grade drones. But again, surveillance technologies within the safe space of art institutions are distinct from how those same technologies are implemented by a government on a campaign against “terror” and  with the exception of a few art world players like Ai Weiwei, Poitras, and Paglen, the governmental surveillance largely omits members of our socioeconomic class, occasionally deviating along racial and religious lines. And its in this elision and inconsistency that the facade of surveillance comes to light. The technology and infrastructure may reach all, but is applied directly to few. A simple test is to search how to make a ____________ on Google. Go ahead, do it. You won’t be folded into the NSA nor FBI nor CIA database to have a sting operation rendered. You won’t be stopped at an airport. Practically speaking, it’s this inconsistency through which we as a majority continue to allow the Patriot Act’s sunset to extend and parts of the expired act to be reinstated USA Freedom Act. Most don’t feel the direct consequences of being surveilled because the demonstration of power has a preconceived recipient in mind. As a predominantly white, middle to upper class crowd, the art world are more like voyeurs of surveillance than subjects of its protocol.

Weiwei, Herzog & de Meuron aren’t trying to trick you indefinitely. They want to give you the experience of switching roles, being the children who ultimately shoves the old hag in the oven and escape from her dinner clutches. They seem bound by the unspoken ethical chains that dictate in order to critique surveillance one can’t recapitulate its hierarchy upon the artworld visitors to the show. Here, the question of how to persuade us of the existence of tools of surveillance is answered by a strategy of deference, role switching. But there’s a lack of control in this shape shifting when one realizes surveillance with a capital S doesn’t apply in the world of art as it does outside the rarified walls of the museum. In fact, the art world–its patrons, artifacts–have been using tools of surveillance not only since the beginning of photography when subjects we aligned with the exceptionality of the artistic class—the proprietors of art, the creators, portraits and art reproductions—which weren’t surveilled in the sense of be disempowered or controlled by image conveyance but empowered by it. The art world has willingly adapted CCTV systems in museums, galleries and fairs.

Surveillance tools in the museums are not constructing the criminal from the social body of members of the artworld, as in the criminal is constructed in the social body more widely, through the aid of cameras that offer “proof” to the person’s criminality. Surveillance is not a person in relation to a technology, but a relationship of power whose reach is extended through the confluence of lens glass and sensor and screen and imputed into a judicial system. And so here in the armory of Park Avenue, one of the wealthiest streets in North America, we can’t say that these cameras are subjugating us in the prisoners in the Panopticon. These are not peering for the minority who’s jumped the subway turnstyle, or shoplifted. These are not police body cams. No one is using the footage or purview to exorcise their domination over us; we, the good patrons of the artworld, self monitor and self regulate. We play all roles here. Sure, we’ll switch, but it’s weightless. And it is this tradition of near-horizontal power that informs the ethics of this space.

As a demonstration of the technologies that can be used for surveillance like drones with motion tracking, face recognition, and pinhole cameras, the trio of Weiwei, Herzog & de Meuron show us what they found at last year’s Black Friday sale. All of this is pretty tepid until you enter the gift shop. In fact, the gift shop really explodes what’s absent in this turgid critique of surveillance, which is not a demonstration of a technology, but how these socioscientific principals are weaving their way through a consumer society. The gift shop has the expected memorabilia of books and posters of the show, but the cell phone case, thermal signature blocking cape and blankets, glasses with reflective lenses that block face recognition, Faraday bags and RFID wallet to protect your financial data from being maliciously intercepted. There are shield hats that block all the electromagnetic frequencies that are bombarding us. Aluminum helmets, anyone? At first glance, all this seems to hint at a subtle acceptance of daily, integrated paranoia. But we should be more attentive to why a consumer product is a solution legal reality. Nothing is new, novel, nor interesting. In fact, it’s banal. It’s banal, literally. It’s banal to the extent that all the technologies that are exhibited have consumer-grade products that can foil them, all for sale, right there in the gift shop. What’s more banal than a technology that’s already reached a level of having mass consumer-level defense? Inadvertently, the gift shop is the most interesting aspect of the exhibition because it shows us the relationship between surveillance at consumerism.

Although unintended, this is the real conclusion to the exhibition journey. You’ve descended down the stairs from the peephole, you’ve checked out the iPads, you’ve seen your facial recognition, you’ve seen people entering on Lexington and like hungover, hungry Sunday morning you start rummaging through the remaining doors of the Armory, looking for something to justify your $17 entrance ticket. The gift shop. Holy shit.

Ai Weiwei. (Is there on Hello Kitty-esque Ai Weiwei shirt? I get the monographs, sure, but the throw pillows? Seriously? Remember, this exhibition isn’t a critique of consumer society. It’s about drones. Wait. And architecture? The website’s good, check out the website. On Herzog & de Meuron’s site there’s a sort of promo video that aligns the project to closed circuit TV tradition by dividing the screen area into four separate feeds, which at once show the armory’s programming and decoration. It’s okay. ) In the wake of Edward Snowden messing up all the NSA Thanksgiving plans in 2013, we saw Silent Circle’s Blackphone roll out, Protonmail, with servers based in Switzerland, addressed the problem of email un-encryption, and the list continues. Go on Amazon and search “encrypted” to see the plethora of consumer electronics that are responding to the inculcated sense of privacy invaded. The gift shop brings us all these "necessities" to one place, situating them in the context of a political dissident who needs privacy. Compared with the website that shows the history of surveillance, this gift shop with its spiced up aluminum foil hats, now with a fashionable bill so you can blend it at the game, is much more meaningful in the history people watching out about being watched. Yet the nefarious reality is that consumer goods occupy an important role in surveillance, and military technologies more generally. In a hypothetical situation in which the developer of the IR-blocking wallet is the same person at MIT who developed the IR-reading technology that the wallet aims to block, we see the game that the defense industry plays, even if the biographical data of the developers isn't accurate.

So many modern luxuries and worthless junk lying around, all of which makes our lives as easy as they are come from military developments. GPS. Telegraphs. Wristwatches. Computers. Camouflage. Fully-automatic machine guns. But what was once a trickle-down to consumer goods have now become a subsidy by consumer to trickle up. The amount of consumer electronic spending far surpasses the amount of the Defense budget that’s earmarked for development. A billion smartphones sell per year, a staggering ledger on how much these companies can poor in R&D. Soldiers in Iraq are using Apple devices for translation, rather than wading through years of bureaucracy for bespoke design. How about a supercomputer made of PlayStation 3? Financially, many of these technologies could not maintain the pace of development without a consumer-base of street versions of these military grade defense weapons. The flow of tools between consumer and soldier is troubling not only because it appears that civilians are subsidizing killing that we may not condone through the use of technologies wrapped in gadget that we deeply covet, but also because our gadgets are getting imbued with tools that don’t necessarily reflect our needs. In the world of software, this is called “bloatware,” the apps included on a device, apps you didn't ask for, don't use, and don't need. The facial recognition capabilities of the iPhone and iPad, as seen in the Hansel and Gretel has nothing to do with a smartphone. We have 4-digit encryption, we have 7-digit encryption. We have fingerprint recognition, now facial recognition? How about scrotal recognition? How about test my DNA to make sure it’s really me and whether the user is biologically predisposed to drop this fucking phone in the toilet. VPN, NFC, most accessibility features have little use to consumers but readily align with the State Department needs. 

Perhaps the most relevant of techno-trash that shines light on this incestuous holiday at the Park Ave Armory are drones themselves. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, UAVs, those friendly consumer-grade gadgets that guys are using to make every crane shot in every indie movie, or fly around on the beach or park, are ramping up. They're reaching commercial grade, now able to carry and deliver goods. Meanwhile, UAS, unmanned Aerial Systems, like the Reaper, which were used by the military for first surveillance and now to drop bombs, are  getting smaller. 2.8 million UAVs have been sold already, while more and more militaries around the world are buying UAS. LOCUST, Low-cost UAV Swarming Technology says it all: they're taking the consumer scaled UAVs and making them useful in the battlefield, a hybrid between UAV and UAS. 

Peephole, 2017

Peephole, 2017

Weaponry wouldn't be complete without defense. Police and hired defense contractors are putting UAVs to use in crowd surveillance. Then there's the weapon against UAVs: The Dronegun, used to scramble the communication between the UAV and controller. Developed by John M. Franklin and Dr. Brian P. Hearing at Johns Hopkins Air and Missile Defense Sector, the technology is framed as protection for politicians, the military and the rich and famous. Dronegun's technology reveals growing use of UAVs by insurgency, fringe consumers who may want to assassinate someone, and technologically-endowed perverts.  

UAS are a testament for the casualization of conflict, both in terms of policy and mortalities. Termed as "targeted killings" by the U.S., the questionable exodus from traditional realm of warfare dodges into a civilian context. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed after September 11, 2001, is a carte blanche to kill anyone really anywhere at basically anytime. 93,547 bombs have been dropped as of August 23, 2017.  Hypothetically limited to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and their buddies, the open door is whoever these buddies turn out to be, become, emerge or evolve. ISIS. ISIL. And anyone who lives in the neighborhood, city, country, or region where they may be found, or thought to be. (Death by Drone, pp. 27) Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia. Let's not forget that killing civilians is a war crime.

Drone strikes have increased under Trump, which increased under Obama. Civilian casualties have also increased. And it's not just the U.S. Saudi Arabia continues drone strikes on Yemeni rebels, as unmanned hunt and kill missions increasingly become the lingua franca of absentee diplomacy. Blocked by an international Arms Trade Treaty, Saudi Arabia has turned to Chinese military technology to continue their campaign against the Houthis, while Iranian produced drones given the rebels fire to return to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly turning Yemen into the stage for testing international weapon capabilities, a role Spain played prior to World War II. 

Drone strikes are more secretive than manned attacks, presumably because the threat of a depressed parent of an fallen American soldier is less likely. And because the domain of the War on Terror is not limited to national boundaries, the attack by drones doesn't require the usual Congressional approval that a military act of aggression requires. Drones are the casual way of killing. We can see that, like most military weaponry that is applied to the foreign domain, it's soon applied to the domestic market, often without the regulation of historical courts of war. Hollow-tipped bullets, introduced by the British during the colonial wars in India, were outlawed by the Hague due to their excessive brutality. They are still lawfully used by U.S. police against civilians. So while technology is now trickling from the consumer up to the military, weaponry continues to trickle back down. 

Future Throw Pillow, 2017

Future Throw Pillow, 2017


Notes

Airwars.org
https://airwars.org/

"Civilian Drones," The Economist, July 8, 2017
http://www.economist.com/technology-quarterly/2017-06-08/civilian-drones

"China's Saudi Drone Factory Compensates for US Ban," Middle East Eye, March 29, 2017
http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/china-build-factory-saudi-arabia-fill-drone-shortage-1200657135

Death by Drone, Open Society Foundations, New York, NY, 2015

"GPS, Drones, Microwaves and Other Everyday Technologies Born on the Battlefield," Les Shu, Digital Trends, May 26, 2014
https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/modern-civilian-tech-made-possible-wartime-research-development/

"Key Staff," Droneshield, August 23, 20217
https://www.droneshield.com/key-staff

"LOCUST: Autonomous, swarming UAVs fly into the future," David Smalley, Office of Naval Research,April 14, 2015
https://www.onr.navy.mil/Media-Center/Press-Releases/2015/LOCUST-low-cost-UAV-swarm-ONR.aspx

"The Military Consumer Complex," The Economist, December 10, 2009
http://www.economist.com/node/15065709

"Military Tech Versus Street Tech: Who's Got the Edge?" James Vlahos, Popular Science, August 15, 2004
http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2004-08/military-tech-versus-street-tech-whoacutes-got-edge

"The (Not-So) Peaceful Transition of Power: Trump's Drone Strikes Outpace Obama," Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Affairs, March 2, 2017
https://www.cfr.org/blog/not-so-peaceful-transition-power-trumps-drone-strikes-outpace-obama

"US Air Force Connects 1,760 PlayStation 3's to Build Supercomputer," Lisa Zyga, Physics, December 2, 2010
https://phys.org/news/2010-12-air-playstation-3s-supercomputer.html

Technologians

Orthodox Steeples under repair, 2016

Orthodox Steeples under repair, 2016

To what extent must rationality persevere in order to distinguish itself from faith?  Is a seminal intention sufficient, or must rationality be subject to its own self critique at any stage in order to remain a faithful non-believer? 

I don’t think about faith or religion much because the manifestation of organized religion isn’t a predominant part of my life or community. I live a secular life and for the most part the people around me have agreed to participate in this secular experience; we don’t talk about faith in a higher being or an organized religion with the exception of when those two things intersect with politics, e.g. when religious fanatics try to swing the political debate into the influence of the Bible or when Islamophobia rears its head. More subtly, faith is present as a characteristic of a culture, usually as the explanation a friend or colleague’s personal formation–he grew up Jewish, she grew up Catholic, etc. So my musing about rationality in comparison to faith is a question about the status of these differing thought practices and points more toward unorganized religion, rather than the elements of institutionalized belief practices. My concern about these two paths of thinking about the world is based on the semblance of secular thinking and suppositions I see today, one that is rooted in the reliance on consumer technological advances and salvation through technology, rather than a belief that in the All Might. However, I’m not attempting a history of automatons or avatars.Only when necessary will I distinguish what I mean when referring to “technology.” Rather, I’m aiming to write a marriage certificate of our society’s preference to violent domination, ecological suicide and the life preservers believe are in store. 

Google's image recognition software at work identifying this garbage can

Google's image recognition software at work identifying this garbage can

Google maps creating a rainbow that didn't exist, or did it?

Google maps creating a rainbow that didn't exist, or did it?

Here’s my working baseline for what is rational: making decisions based on testable truths that may cultivate an expected, desired end, which is somehow beneficial to the decision maker. This isn’t intended to be a watertight definition, but enough to get off the ground in comparing ‘rational’ with ‘faith.’ Really, the crux of the distinction pertains to the testability of the information that motivates the decision, i.e. whether it’s a theory that can be proven or disproven. Rationality, in this sense, in a blending of logic in the philosophical or mathematical sense and elements the scientific method. There is also the anthropocentric element that what is rational can be conveyed and understood by other people.

Faith is based on an idea that can’t be proven nor disproven. Inherently, it’s something that could be suspect but isn’t; it’s accepted in trusting and explanatory in nature.

Still, very quickly from the point of defining ‘faith’ and ‘rational’ the meager gap allotted almost vanishes immediately. The distance diminishes both within and between terms. Between terms, I’m wondering whether I should have faith in the model of faith or if I should I have faith in the model of rationality. Within the model of rationality, the foundations on which any testable information is built becomes a faith for heuristic purposes. For example, I’m not an engineer, but I have faith that when I turn the key of a cars ignition, the system of engineering principles are going to lead to combustion and I’ll be able to drive away.

In both working definitions I’m avoiding getting into the accuracy of these terms; I’m avoiding Oxford’s Dictionary of Philosophy and I’m avoiding choosing which standard or author to select as the expert of these because the definition, precise or familiar is not secondary but tertiary to what the argument is about. Common, everyday understanding (a rational understanding!) of these two types of thinking is sufficient. But also, this diminution plays into the third term as well as what it is I’m critiquing.

The definition of ‘technology’ too eludes accuracy and could easily lead me on a detour, but fortunately that eliding in meaning resembles the program at which I’m taking aim. I’m referring not only to the superficial consumer technologies like handheld devices that roll out every six months by Apple. The exact object or technology is irrelevant in this argument and in definition. Instead, I’m referring to the networks of intentions from the belief that there is a good in the pursuit and creation of knowledge toward an ends, the production of that (by)product, the transmission of its utility and means to others, and the acceptance of that message of significance by others in the form that an advancement has been made, is relevant and, at times, warrants compensation or acquisition. The specificity of what is produced is as irrelevant in this scenario as the product that the subsequent product replaces, making the former version irrelevant to the consumer (and technology obsolete to the previous researcher), or definition of technology outdated. It’s the message of irrelevance that convinces the consumer that there is a need for a new model or replacement and undermines the philosopher concerned with defining technology before arriving to a useful critique of it.

Here’s one of my favorite examples of this obsolescence because it’s so fucking brashly absurd and overt: This year we’re persuaded to by a phone because the screen is small. Next year, we should update because they’re smaller and more portable; it fits right in your pocket! Last year, we get screens that are curved; this year, the flatter the better.

Technological advances are predicated on disavowing a previous technology or version in some degree and claiming the newer version superior. This is basically the game of obsolescence. I first identified it in 1995 when my Nintendo Entertainment System and game collection was held inferior to Super Nintendo Entertainment System, whose many games were the exact same fucking title but had more curves in the images. (I bought a Super NES but jumped ship on the video game world shortly thereafter, disavowing the vicious cycle of training your ten digits to twitch in a certain way…[was piano the first game system?].)

This irrationality is ubiquitous to the consumer technology market, but also other markets.It’s tempting to expand the critique to media in general; a medium inherently supplants something else. The Roman popularity of glass was due to its ability to mimic other media, such as ceramics and metals. America’s love for polymers was and is its capacity to mimic molded metals, themselves surrogates for cast objects or hand-shaped forms. But is that supplanting necessary? And it’s not just the media that are irrelevantly supplanted, the products are also supplanted, creating micro fractures within a technology. That is, a medium functions by both being superior to another medium, creating a possible route for its own improvement, and out-dating previous iterations. If you look at a 6 megapixel digital image taken in 2005 and compare it to a wood cut print from the 14th century, at one scale the digital image looks much better than the print. But once you scale up the competitors, the wood block maintains its detail more like a vector image. The comparison may sound absurd when you’re thinking of your favorite portrait as a vector graphic rather than a pixel-based bitmap, but my point is proven in the ongoing arms race between camera producers. Prior to DSLR cameras, film manufacturers addressed the same issue of scalability. Kodachrome’s grainless texture allowed for larger scaling. But now people returning to 35mm or analog do so largely for the texture that was lost, intentionally. Predominantly, every three months we’re taunted by a new, larger pixel sensor that promises more realistic images at great sizes. There’s no comparable vector race. This is consumer relation to technology, and it’s irrational at worst and explicable only in that we believe the inferiority that manufacturers and advertiser are selling to us about our current state.

But I’m not simply critiquing consumerism of technology. There are consumer habits that aren’t subject to this irrationality. It’s also not specifically a capitalist issue, although many companies clearly rely on this irrational behavior; theoretically this religion, this dogma, could exist via state-sponsored technological advances. It could exist in communist arrangements. But in the capitalist, consumer context, this irrationality is often advocated by a disguise of rational comparisons, rather than sheer obsession as it would in a society without external parties who gain from our irrationality. Advertiser bombard us with presumably superior numbers that make older models look too small, too big, too slow or too fast. Last year was 10″, this year it’s 100″. While the rational comparison is overt–the numbers and measurements are clear and true–the irrational motivation is hidden but requisite.

But staying with consumer technologies: Rationality and Faith enter stage left.

The rupture of reason and rationality in this scenario of technology that it leads to the dogmatic behavior that is so similar to organized religious thought, when compared to science, that it makes me wonder not only whether ‘technology’ is our contemporary global religion, but whether dogmatic, irrational behavior is inherently human. Around the world people simultaneously identify the ills that a society ripe with consumers technologies issues but the attraction to it and recapitulation of it is pantomime. The places of the world that manufacture our consumer tech knows personally the dangers and destruction the production of this society entails; neighboring countries and towns tell the tales of landfills and toxic dumps. Barges of tech waste competes for open waters against barges carrying virtually the same techno trash inbound, only wrapped and in time for Black Friday.

Macbook Pro HDD, 2011

Macbook Pro HDD, 2011

The odd behavior metastasizes into illogical when we hope that technology’s problems will be solved by more advanced technologies. (And this is it’s useful to think of technology in the broad sense, not just iterations of a technology and not just consumerism, but existing at least since the Greek’s termed ‘techne,’ referring to craft, art, or construction that follows techniques, i.e. a sequence of “technes” or principles of making. It’s a knowledge that is motivated toward something and built upon another, previous construction that includes principles and orders of operation.)  And here’s where I’m deviating from the Luddites of the 19th Century who warned basically the same: I’m not anti-knowledge or anti-any-single technological iteration, but the core questions for technology should be examined at the root of techne: What is the intention? And, if favoring rationality is important, at what means will that intention be achieved? What’s the cost of this technology? What’s the cost of a battery-powered battery-replacer? Electronic scissors? Ironically almost all “As Seen On TV” consumer goods can be summarized into the aesthete of the very technology on which it was advertised, whose audience championed the first time that the riches society was proportionally the least healthy, whose education collective journey to learn about the technological advancements that led to a longer life was cut shorter by while waiting for the paid program to resume after this commercial break.

Not only is a dogmatic faith in technological progress illogical, it leads to a contradiction. The argument is something like this: If technology is useful, that is it fulfills a use that is intended, then it’s a good thing. If technology creates some bad byproducts, like extinction, pollution or climate change, that are unintended, then it’s a bad thing. If the intended use of technology is to reverse the bad, unintended byproducts of another, prior technology, then the second technology is, at least in part, a good thing and the first technology was no more than a part a good thing. (So far, we’ve got the argument for “green technology” as well as Plato’s regress: a technology will always be fixed by a subsequent technology, ad infinitum.) If a technology is created that is irreversible and concludes in the extinction of human life, then it’s a bad thing. (This is the argument/concern for AI’s singularity: AI will infinitely evolve more intelligently and lead to human extinction). But if a technology isn’t created to reverse the negative, unintended byproducts of a technology, then the absence of that at least in part, a bad thing, which can be remediated only by a technology that is good, in part. Fin.

Not only is the faith in technology irrational and illogical, it clouds social and legal avenues to solutions for problems that are haunting our society. As Richard Levins mentions in Living the Eleventh Thesis, “The hundreds of environmental justice groups that noted that toxic waste dumps were concentrated in black and Latino neighborhoods…insisting on the environmental causes of cancer and other infectious diseases while the university laboratories are looking for guilty genes.” (Tactical Biopolitics, da Costa and Philip, MIT 2008, p. 30). Levins essay is advocating for an ethically directed form of scientific research, which I agree is possible. In the passage I’m quoting he’s advocating taking the problem out of the genetic context and put it into the legal context. 

Fossil of Oldest Bird, 2015

Fossil of Oldest Bird, 2015

Another example of how our techologism can baffle a simple solution is in the case of police body cameras. I had the privilege of listening to the debate between Data & Society’s danah boyd [sic] and Jay Stanley of the ACLU. boyd’s argument is the body cam surge is financially motivated, that camera footage can be doctored by police and/or police can learn to edit what’s in the frame by directing their camera and other tactics. In short, the promise of body camera’s isn’t the solution to end the social and legal injustices that are presumably vulnerable (i.e. police corruption, willful killing without judicial process). Stanley’s argument is that, with the right legal structure police body cameras could function a police watchmen. And in his defense, North Carolina did release footage that incriminated a police officer, but shortly thereafter created a law that made the footage unavailable without a court order. There are states that seem to follow this path, but unfortunately, what’s much more prevalent is the absence of Stanley’s dream legislation and a closer semblance to the prediction of boyd: body cameras aren’t society’s savior against illegal police action, they’re tools to support it at worst and evidence in absentia very too often. Furthering unjust legal barricades, states like North Carolina are making that footage accessible only in prosecution against offenders, although citizen tax dollars paid for the equipment. What’s more, is even with video footage, there are legal barricades that perpetuate injustice, regardless of video footage existing or being seen by the jury. We can look at the myriad of citizen footage that doesn’t conclude in due process, like the viral video of Eric Garner being strangled by a mob of NYPD; why would the (grand) jury care if the footage is from a police body camera or a citizen smart phone? But instead of dismantling these unethical legal obstacle courses, our society is in a frenzy to solve the problem with technology and each year American cities are spending tens of millions  of dollars on this techno-trash. Is it that of restructuring legal processes, community justice programs or community-oriented police training isn’t sexy enough?

Mint Press, Bogotá, 2013

Mint Press, Bogotá, 2013

Technology. Consumerism. How about the illusion of progress? There are real, beneficial, rational, logical advances that we’ve made as a society. But that doesn’t conclude that every problem we have can be solved by trudging further down a road of microchipery. Sometimes it’s more rational to cut your loses, annotate failures and map a cul-de-sac as not a through road. How about just stopping? Take a nap. Rest. Wait it out.

We really believe that “technology” will solve all our problems, even and especially global warming. I’ve seen so many well intended grants that hope for the right idea to pilot. While noble, these idea-cultivators don’t address the origins, systematic or societal, that have led to the current problem: industrial productivity and continued consumption. How about a grant for someone to just stop buying shit for a year? What would be the cost to paying people not to buy a new phone for 24 months?

Reed Reactor, 2010

Reed Reactor, 2010

If we stagger more closely to the society that’s being critiqued, we see irrational belief expresses itself differently but cogently irrational at different levels. Within the echelons of the technology industry there are funders who sponsor students and research scientist to answer questions vertically deemed relevant, aided by hardware and software designed by programmer or companies. At the apex of many of these industries individuals express their concern that what they are doing may have negative consequences. The esteem many of them have accrued touts the severity of the consequences described. The Future of Life Institute focuses on the threat of artificial intelligence, climate change, nuclear war and biotech. FLI attempts to self-regulate the scientific world, to offer an Ethics 101 course to the lab rats that may have missed out on the humanities while cramming for O Chem. The topics that FLI are espousing certainly things to worry about, yet within all of these preoccupations there’s a neglect for the historical trend of the applied sciences and the structural disenfranchisement of the social groups of people, a trend that’s been the mainstay of technology when taken outside of the institute and seen in daylight. The socioeconomic question, specifically that the consequences of technological “advancement” when reaching the work place almost always impacts women, racial and gendered minorities more than white males suggests that FLI might consider not only topics within science but ask how is “advancement” considered, measured, and dispersed. Is the industry of science, particularly as it interfaces with consumer technology, structured in a way that makes rational researchers deep in the scientific method output real world solutions that get distorted into irrational product trends?

Tricked Out Buddha, Hội An, 2015 

Tricked Out Buddha, Hội An, 2015 

The structural discrimination of tech is particularly acute given that these forms of labor–often unskilled and uneducated movements of the body–are less easily replaced by the forms of computers and programming than those in socially-advantaged positions. The abacus, the surrogate mathematician, was created before the Industrial Revolution replaced the metal smith. In today’s context, lawyers and computer programmers should be the first replaced by algorithms. Law, when well written, is basically a set of algorithms and deviation from such is usually due a socioeconomic bias. Wouldn’t it be easier to program a program to program other programs rather than make a program that runs a robot that articulates the movements of sweeping a room? If this question is rephrased to fit into FoL’s topic committee it would be something like: Who will be the first to die in the fall of Ai? Will it be the programmer god or the underlings the employer must pay? Is there any end to this frenzy of computer science programs, jobs and applications, is it asymptotic or fated for creating its own collapse?

Consider this video in which vloggers are attempting to exploit the coming surrogate virtual vloggers in order to garner followers as the recursive conclusion to this argument.


Notes

Tactical Biopolitics,  Beatriz da Costa and Kativa Philip, MIT Press, 2008. pp 30
https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/tactical-biopolitics

"Police Body-worn Cameras," Alexandra Mateescu, Rosenblat, and boyd, Data & Society Research Institute, February 2015
Accessed May 29, 2017
https://www.datasociety.net/pubs/dcr/PoliceBodyWornCameras.pdf

"Police Body-Mounted Cameras: With Right Policies in Place, a Win for All," Jay Stanley, ACLU, March 2105
Accessed May 29, 2017
https://www.aclu.org/other/police-body-mounted-cameras-right-policies-place-win-all

"In North Carolina, body camera footage is no longer public information," Jack Smith IV, Mic, October 3, 2016
Accessed May 29, 2017
https://mic.com/articles/155497/in-north-carolina-body-camera-footage-is-no-longer-public-information#.PyHJhIngz

"Justice Department to give $20 million to body cameras, " WHEC News, September 27, 2016
Accessed May 29, 2017
http://www.whec.com/news/justice-department-funding-body-cameras/4274867/

Future of Life Institute web page
Accessed May 29, 2017
http://futureoflife.org/

"Are Virtual Vloggers the End of YouTube?" Good Mythical Morning vlog, S11 E60, April 5, 107
Accessed May 29, 2017
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OjCPGeq6ZU

Trump Budget #1: A Critical Comparison for the NEA

Like many liberals, I’m chipping away on my home-study American political science degree; this chapter is on governmental budgets. The President introduces his “dream budget,” which can be summarized as the potentially most awkward elephant in the room, should Trump ever have to personally meet chairman Jane Chu or any other staff from the department that he zero-ed out. Trump’s using budget like a threat, a political surgical knife that reveals how deep he pierce a government, country and society, given he’s taken no Hippocratic Oath. 

So I visited arts.gov to see if the NEA was still around. I was pleasantly surprised that not only did a 404 error elude me, but a considerate pop-up windowed guided me to a FAQ page, answered all my questions and hearsay about the fallout of Trump’s nightmare budget. Here I share what I learned therein with you, kind reader, and include with it my thoughts, concerns and crass conclusions that comprise my first of many diatribes on how our miserly billionaire Warmonger in Chief plans to spend our monies.

The NEA’s FAQ page begins/began with “Is the NEA closed?”

Social media has been buzzing about everything Sunburnt Combover has been proposing, particularly cutting the arts, environmental protection agency and giving all the money to infrastructure, outfrastructure (wall), war, Mar-a-Lago and Trump International. People are concerned. Infuriated is a better word. And the coveted National Endowment for the Arts strikes a sore spot in those of us Americans who look to more peaceful countries and societies that not only fund arts but communicate to the creative class that they’re valuable for their imagination (not just how well they can make a smart phone app UI), and how enjoy creative culture, museums, the arts, et al. So how has the U.S. compared to other developed countries? This 2005 report may be dated but still sheds light and is regularly referenced in how each country fairs in terms of cultural funding.

But why communicate to the creative class that they’re valued? Uh, well, for one reason is that (according to the NEA) we are one the largest labor classes in the U.S. Filmmakers, actors, graphic designer, musicians, singers, artists, fashion designer, photographers--the arts sector in the United States more than 2 million worker, according to the NEA. And on this note, the value of the NEA is frequently weighed by its distribution of funds toward creativity, but the reports it generates are equally important, particularly in looking at how the marginal disutility of labor occurs within these informal industries. There reports are usefully predictive of how people are working, spending free time, applying their education, generating money (and taxes), and where this is happening. 

So where is this cut coming from? What’s the rationale? What’s the history of controversy in NEA funding? One long-held belief is that the arts serve one (small) percent of the population. Why should tax-payer money be used for the arts, which are appreciated along class lines? The NEA’s FAQ does a great job to clarify that one of its goals and achieved missions to deliver the arts to “underserved areas...especially rural and inner-city communities.” Cutting funding to the NEA will only increase the inequity of access to the arts.

If part of a larger historical fight against the NEA, Trump’s cut is more likely a function of (religious) Conservative dominance on Capital Hill. The NEA budget has steadily increased since it’s founding in 1966, with the exception of a 40% cut in 1995 that remained until 2001. The cause of the aberration: Newt Fucking Gingrich, leader of the Republican majority during the Clinton years, who tried to kill the NEA.  (This cut was reversed in 2001 by the GWB). The Gingrich cut was strongly supported and espoused by Republican of North Carolina, Jesse Helms, (whose been lobbying the Big Guy in the sky since 2008), who was the ideology of the Religious Right incarnate. His disgust for arts funding came from a gag reflex that linked the denigration of the Judeo-Christian god to a certain faction of artists: The NEA four: Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck and Holly Hughes--performance artists funded by the NEA, who had their support rejected by the agency chair, the conservative John Frohmayer (National Endowment for the Arts v. Karen Finley), plus Mapplethorpe and Andre Serrano. (Mapplethorpe’s depictions of the gay nude, shot in dramatic glorification of the body [referencing the classical Greek nude, recalling that phrase “more Greek than the Greeks”] and Andrés Serrano’s Piss Christ explain why the Religious Right believed the arts were against their beliefs: they were, but not just by artists; much of society doesn’t align with these religious interpretations of the law.) The case seized onto an aesthetic parallel in order to censor sacrilegious art works. The preamble to the case begins:

In 1989, controversial photographs that appeared in two NEA-funded exhibits prompted public outcry over the agency’s grant-making procedures. Congress reacted to the controversy by inserting an amendment into the NEA’s 1990 reauthorization bill. The amendment became §954(d)(1), which directs the Chairperson to ensure that “artistic excellence and artistic merit are the criteria by which [grant] applications are judged, taking into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.” 

Finley ultimately won the case and the NEA was forced disperse funds to the artists. The question was from the Left whether religious values, specifically Protestant Christian, were justifiably obstacles to tax dispersion to arts within a country that touts the separation of church and state and/or the Constitutional declaration that no religion will have governmental preference over another.  The NEA v. Finley said, ‘No.’ So rather than setting a criterion to which (Conservative) appointees could control what’s produced, they decided it was better just to cut it. That’s a summary of the culture wars, to which the left and mainstream media don't really talk about today, while the Conservative right, via hot hands Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter maintain as a placeholder for their fight against Liberals. Today, however, it’s not clear whether the Trump budget is a continuation of this religious faction against creative liberals necessarily, or just a psychopathic vendetta to build his wall, stroke his ego, or a combination of both. 

What’s strangely contradictory about Trump’s NEA budget cut is that he claims to be strong on military (offense and) defense, ostensibly to protect our country from attacks by Muslim extremists who seek to destroy our culture, i.e. Western culture, but Trump’s budget does their job for them. What’s consistent is his approach to freedom of the press, women’s rights and socially protected classes are equally contradictory. 

On a social level, the real failure to society American society to make the arts correlate with the populace is two fold: one, a failure to broaden the appreciation of art and two the failure to educate toward those to find art appreciable. That is, not only do art practitioners--artists, curators, dealers, institutional functionaries--fail to make the arts accessible to the broader society, but the society to which we hope they would bring the arts is informationally impoverished. Yet, while the arts are perceived as an exclusive past time, more people have been studying contemporary arts since the mid-20th Century than ever before. Structurally, there is an educational lapse in formative public instruction, and we are all aware of it: The Arts are the first to be cut from public curricula in what seems to be the remnants a Space Age attitude that cherishes the sciences, mathematics and history. I’m not opposed to funding any educational study and I like science. But the quick-to-cut-the-arts is delusional in the presumption that the arts are superfluous. In the decades since art education in public schools began getting nixed, we’ve seen that the attraction to better schools and institutions always include and emphasize the arts. The solution is simple: don’t EVER cut educational funding. Any argument to get cut educating should be seen as the simple failure of the predecessors to educate the opponent of education, or a personality disorder. 

The arts are important for students as well as workers. Opponents to arts funding would do well to read the Harvard Business Review’s 2008 article, The MFA is the New MBA, if they hasn’t the haven’t the patience of reading through NEA reports. Rather than teaching kids to pass tests, how about teach them how to creatively problem solve? One results in life-long bullshit artist, the other results in flexible citizens who adapt to a changing world. 

The battle for the NEA funding is a short-sighted trench warfare in what should be a larger war on which department even exist in government. We need not only the NEA, but a Department of Culture. It’s the only rational approach to not only the arts but other quasi-departments that closely parallel economies (i.e. where there are educational, practitioners, and monetary generation) and should be a formalization, represented, and overseen. Anything else, like the current or “small government” mantra is just delusional in the global reality of today. The exportation of our culture and cultural products to the rest of the world is the equivalent to capital flight. If people are creating industry it requires oversight as a liaison between the corporate and business entity and the voting citizen who exists outside that economy. By extension, it requires a line on the budget whether for that oversight or for direct funding. 

The art world is ripe for oversight. We see behavior that would be considered insider-trading on Wall Street or outright neptocracy. Haunch of Venison, which closed in 2013, owned by Christie’s during its decade tenure in New York, showed perhaps the rarified cycle between a gallery that sold works and an auction house that could control the market value of the same works. The fabrication of the value of the works that went through this cycle are nothing short of alchemy. The Hauser & Wirth (previously Schimmel) space in L.A. aims to blend a cultural institution with a for-profit-gallery model like a vertically-oriented industry. How this will impact the exchange between culture cache and monetary value is yet to be seen. And they aren’t alone in devising new financial tools. Investors are open about including the arts in your portfolio; as a global phenomenon, Le Freeport makes buying, trading, and storing your artwork easy--you don’t even have to enter the country. Situated in Singapore’s duty-free airport zone, thus “no tax is due on the artwork for as long as it is stored in the facility, though applicable taxes are due in the respective location the work eventually ends up in for display or ownership. “ 

The abuse of the culture industry of unpaid interns is an exemplary cry for oversight. Around 2010, Obama and various State’s Department’s of Labor started cracking down on this abuse unpaid laborers whose employees interpreted “intern” as “anyone who would work for free,” regardless of whether that person’s time equated to credits from an educational institution or any kind of training; some galleries had (and still have) a perpetual place for an unpaid intern and give them little or no useful skills or experience. 

But I digress. To really understand whether the NEA funding cut is justified on the grounds that it serves a selection of our society or doesn’t generate (enough revenue), we should compare it other state-sponsored past-time, activities like professional sports. The divergences are shocking. Sports teams do not receive direct federal funding, but they do receive enormous local state tax subsidies. The Brookings Institute found that just Yankee Stadium received 1.7 billion in municipal bonds from New York. These bonds don’t have taxable interest, which means the Federal government lost $431 million from those bonds, and another $61 million from private high-income bond holders. That’s just to start. What’s even more troubling is where the money that’s generated goes, and how many people benefit from the activities in the stadium. Jeffrey Dorfman states, “Governments should never finance a stadium with public money as it is simply a subsidy to rich team owners and a few businesses that stand to benefit from the events held there.

Even after a stadium is built, the buck doesn’t stop there. There’s renovations, repairs and staying state-of-the-art. The tax-burden is ongoing, and ever more expensive, while the use value is decreasing: the dozen professional games and occasional concerts don’t warrant these enormous structures to be built over acres of city. These enormous tax-subsidies for rich team owners gets pushed through in aggressive threats to take the team to another state. It’s undemocratic, and as Richard Florida points out, really an inter-state problem that requires Federal regulation

The threat to take a team elsewhere is an indirect threat to take economic growth or activity elsewhere, but according to Stanford professor of economics, Roger Noll “NFL stadiums do not generate significant local economic growth, and the incremental tax revenue is not sufficient to cover any significant financial contribution by the city.” Sports subsidies are the equivalent of just putting money in the pocket of the very rich. It’s not for the fans, nor the city, nor the neighborhood. Dorfman counters the rebuttal that the businesses around the stadium will be spurred when sports attendees come with two points: one, how much of that spending goes toward taxes and two, the money spent there comes out of a budget that would have or could have been spent elsewhere, since these are services and goods, like food and drinks, that can or would have been accessed elsewhere. So it’s not generating business, it’s concentrating business and spending, which is the same rationale to give tax subsidies to the stadium in the first place: concentrate spending on one (rich) entity. Then there’s the question of job creation as a form or economic stimulus. The occasional “gig” at a stadium, from an employee’s perspective is particularly dire; it’s unstable, temporary and deskilled and low-paying. While stadiums largely employ temporary workers, cultural institutions employ workers year round. Even when exploiting internships, the interns are a small percent of the employees at cultural institutions. 

In contrast to funding stadiums, cultural zones, workers, and institutions have been well known to revitalize areas, not only economically but socially. While the urban area around stadiums are often dead zones most of the year, cultural institutions and organizations become thriving places that attract people to live and work. Urban planners know this as the “Bilbao Effect,” referencing Frank Gehry’s revitalization of the Basque industrial city. The museum and works cost €120 million in 1997, but has attracted 19 million visitors, 70% from outside Spain. Today, the Guggenheim Bilbao now generates about €400 million every year. 

Some view the influx of creatives to a neighborhood as unmitigated gentrification, which may have a true negative impact in some situations. But between creatives who raise rent, allegedly start hipster cafes, brunch spots and bars or a stadium that draws herds of drunken tourist, gridlocking traffic, blockaded streets and gives basically nothing to the locals, a neighborhood’s choice is obvious. 

Tashiro Kaplan, 2004

Tashiro Kaplan, 2004

In Seattle these two case studies are in close proximity. The Tashiro Kaplan building, which offers artists live/work spaces at affordable prices, revitalized the Pioneer Square area that borders the International  District. The ground floor hosts commercial, not-for-profit and artist run spaces, cafes and restaurants. It reminds me of a smaller version of New York’s Westbeth. Four blocks from the TK Building is CenturyLink Field. One of two and a half structures that replaced the dilapidating Kingdome (the Supersonics temporarily played there). CenturyLink Field, née Qwest Field, houses Microsoft founder & billionaire, Paul Allen’s Seahawks. The new field cost the public $300 million. Behind CenturyLink is Safeco Field, home of the Mariners, majority owned by John W. Stanton, a modest billionaire. Safeco cost $384.5 million dollars, levied by a food and beverage tax. That is, a tax was placed on citizens so fans could buy a $10 hotdog on picnic benches from a billionaire. Why two structures were extracted from one multi-purpose building is an inexplicable, unjustifiable boondoggle. On a city the size of Seattle, the onerous detour of funds from the plebeians to the rich is even worse than in larger cities like New York. In the 1960s the federal government tried to address this robbing the hood use of monies for stadia, but the result was today’s municipal bonds tax loop. But rather than inhibiting owners to threaten taking their teams to shinier shores, cities are forced to foot the bill or forego the prestige of having a Costco-size, plein air, sports channel TV with overpriced food and beverage for people who may otherwise just watch at home. 

 

Today, the two stadia function like centurion guards overlooking a post-apocalyptic scene from Dario Argento film, an urban waste land that halts the flow of the Pioneer Square knick-knacks couture shoppers, the TK artists and gallery hoppers and I-district restaurants from mingling with Georgetown artisans south of the stadia. The Berlin wall was slightly more effective in blockading human capital than the weave of freeway ramps, and the parking lots in and around the complexes. Only around Olympic constructions is less life found on Earth. Seattle missed a rare opportunity when the the Kingdome was disintegrating in the 1990s: They should have learned from Rome. Let the owners take the teams, who needs the teams? People could harvest the useful materials from the building and would exists as a tourist attraction for centuries, a testament for an outdated, cruel and mythical practices in which emperors were bated against slaves. 

Seattle Sentries, 2004

Seattle Sentries, 2004

From a tax perspective, arts funding can be seen in direct, honest relationship between citizens, organizations, cities and states that are supported federally. Stadia represent citizen millionaires billionaires who pay municipal bonds working in conjunction with city officials to essentially find tax-loops to avoid paying federal taxes. The complexes are profitable for few and seldom even used. I expect that only one (proposed) structure will be a greater waste of money with even less people enjoying it than sports stadia, and that’s Trump’s Wall. 

The NEA reports have shown that artists usually earn an income that is less than the national average. Funding for the arts makes a big impact not only on the audience that can access the arts, but on some of poorer, laboring and productive members of society. By contrast sports team owners, are the country's wealthiest individuals. Time and again, studies have shown giving tax subsidies to the wealthiest does not generate revenue, it just puts money in the pocket of the rich. The attack on NEA funding is a regressive assault on the multitudes of struggling creatives while stadia subsidies mock basic socioeconomic justice.

 

 

Notes

Frequently Asked Questions, National Endowment for the Arts, 2017
https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/NEA-FAQ-March2017-rev.pdf
Accessed April 20, 2017
 

“Comparison of Arts Funding in Selected Countries,” Canada Council for the Arts, 2005
http://intranet.americansforthearts.org/sites/default/files/Comparisonsofartsfunding27Oct2005_0.pdf
Accessed April 20, 2017

Artist in the Workforce 1990-2005, National Endowment for the Arts, p iii
https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/ArtistsInWorkforce.pdf
Accessed April 20, 2017

“National Endowment for the Arts Appropriations History,” National Endowment for the Arts
https://www.arts.gov/open-government/national-endowment-arts-appropriations-history
Accessed April 20, 2017

“YEAR IN REVIEW: 1995: The Arts: Reports of NEA’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated (Yes--Listen Up, Newt),” Diane Haithman, Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1995
http://articles.latimes.com/1995-12-31/entertainment/ca-19460_1_nea-funding
Accessed April 20, 2017

“National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley (97-371) U.S. Supreme Court, decided June 25, 1998
https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/97-371.ZS.html
Accessed April 20, 2017

“5 Major Differences Between Public and Private Schools,” Blythe Grossberg, Thought Co, January 23, 2017
https://www.thoughtco.com/major-differences-between-public-and-private-2773898
Accessed April 20, 2017

“The MFA is the New MBA,” Katherine Bell, Harvard Business Review, April 14, 2008
https://hbr.org/2008/04/the-mfa-is-the-new-mba
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Haunch of Venison Will Close Chelsea Gallery, No Longer Deal New Work, “Dan Duray, Observer, February 1, 2013
http://observer.com/2013/02/haunch-of-venison-will-close-chelsea-gallery/
Accessed April 20, 2017

Le Freeport.com

“Will New York Get Its Own Freeport for Art? ARCIS Plans a Tax Haven in Harlem,” Eileen Kinsella, Artnews, March 2, 2017
https://news.artnet.com/art-world/will-new-york-get-its-own-freeport-for-art-arcis-plans-a-tax-haven-in-harlem-878165
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Publicly Financed Sports Stadiums Are A Game That Taxpayers Lose,” Jeffrey Dorfman, Forbes, January 31, 2015
https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffreydorfman/2015/01/31/publicly-financed-sports-stadiums-are-a-game-that-taxpayers-lose/#5e625af44f07
Accessed April 20, 2017

“The Never Ending Stadium Boondoggle,” Richard Florida, CityLab, September 10, 2015. 
http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/09/the-never-ending-stadium-boondoggle/403666/
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Sports Stadiums Do Not Generate Significant Local Economic Growth, Stanford  Export Says,” Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News, July 30, 2015
http://news.stanford.edu/2015/07/30/stadium-economics-noll-073015/
Accessed April 20, 2017

“The Bilbao effect: How 20 years of Gehry’s Guggenheim transformed the city,” William Cook, BBC, January 12, 2017
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1HL3drXNNWQVq7tpC6pMRsJ/the-bilbao-effect-how-20-years-of-gehrys-guggenheim-transformed-the-city
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts mark 10 years of creative space,” Katharine Schwab, The Seattle Times, July 31, 2014
http://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/tashiro-kaplan-artist-lofts-mark-10-years-of-creative-space/
Access April 20, 2017

“The World’s Billionaires: 840 John Stanton,” Forbes, March 8, 2007
https://www.forbes.com/lists/2007/10/07billionaires_John-Stanton_WGEH.html
Accessed April 20, 2017

Banned, Ban Suspended, Rebanned: Immigration & Politics After a Generation

One of the benefits of propinquity are the encounters with the detritus of your neighbors and the capacity of these objects to take your focus away from what’s been preoccupying your mind. ADHD as urban design. The other day a modest pile of 1990s Playboys came into my possession after a routine trip to the laundry room. For me the decade marked my sexual awakening: Pamela Anderson Baywatch, the patience of a Buddhist for dial-up Internet, Adam & Eve mail-order catalogues that tattooed the postal delivery schedule into my mind, and of course those bunny ear head dresses. How could I not delve, at least for an afternoon, into my physiological nostalgia?

For the most part, I got exactly what I expected: monotonous dated texts, consumer electronic ads, Columbia House artist listings, cigarette promos, and busty girls with bad hair. But two issues stood out: May 1991 and June 1992.

May 1991 is the Tweed sisters issue: two long-legged, smiling women whose skin perfectly matches the pantone A7 studio backdrop. It’s a few shades from cosmic latte, giving one the impression that we as banana jerkers are either in a super closeup on the perfect skin of these goddesses or we’re at an intergalactic vantage point of how the solar system is structured: Tweeds all the way down. Competing with the Tweeds for your attention is a Steinbrenner interview, in which he attest his hatred for baseball. But at page 83 a dapper, two dimensional air brushed Asian gangster pinching a cigarette accompanies the title “big TROUBLE IN LITTLE SAIGON” (title capitalization [it was the 90s]) passes the finish line for the most intriguing time capsule of Americana found therein. Jim Goad’s two-and-a-half page article recounts the crime and depravity that has bubbled up in the Vietnamese refugee community in Orange County since the war.

The article opens into a video surveillance tape of a drive-by shooting at a restaurant and the subsequent denial of the event by the restaurant owner, from whom the police investigators are trying to garner evidence. The reader has just walked into a cul-de-sac of American good intentions, bordered by the baggage of distrust for authority that the refugee victims checked on the tarmac following the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Remember, in this era, anyone who’s roughly ethnic and partakes in violence with his friends is in a gang. The “gang members” are comprised of young men imagined as roving Asian outlaws on motor-horse back, drunk on the freedom that they’ve only recently acquired. Why do these men turn violence rather than express their gratitude for our saving them? Well, obviously, they lost their family following the war, they are alone, unloved and worst of all, bored. Goad’s narrative fits nicely into the Conservative explanation for all urban violence: the demolition of family values due to broken homes, single moms, welfare checks, urban plight and probably rap music in video games are accounted for in the following article. (Flip page to more nudie girls or…read on!)

Goad brings the article to life by following one gangster, Randy, whose biography oscillates between intra-national crime sprees and imprisonment. Randy echoes the broken home being…broken …broke, like his wallet, he explains his love for this free country; to Goad it’s freedom that he’s abusing through crime. Goad [phrases it, “Spoiled by freedom, they come off like suburban brats on a joy ride.” Okay, it’s like Clueless but instead of the incest, pink convertibles, and Valley Girl upspeak it’s bummed out tattooed skin merging with couch upholstery until violence forces the financial hand. Got it. 

But all of this is in Randy’s rear view mirror. He’s no longer dragged down by his broken home. He’s served his final time in prison; now he’s an honest working American, he’s found the light; the sanctity of freedom, its hallowed delicate fibers have calmed the salvage; Randy is born, again. The article ends with the same topic with which it began: the problematic distrust for authority from newcomers from a primitive world. Succinctly, Goad writes “many Vietnamese are puzzled by the U.S. justice system. When they see gangster back on the street hours after being arrested, they figure that payoffs, not bail, are at work. Fearing reprisal, they clam up.” Our justice system, like our freedom, is simply too complex for these simplistic fisherman to comprehend, is what Goad is trying to say. (Wait, in the 1991, would someone arrested for armed robbery or a drive-by shooting be let out on bail? If you’re paying 10% of the bond of 30,000-50,000, taking inflation into account, SCV Bail bonds and I are guessing the people being let out on bail aren’t the violent, gangsters that Goad’s article is covering.) Again, it’s the 90s and there’s the whiff of “getting tough on crime,” three strikes you’re out and getting down on those gun-loving, drug smoking inner-city gangs throughout this article. But all in all, it’s the end to a saga that started a decade earlier and has resolved as the American Dream. 

I read the article from the vicarious position of a Vietnam veteran’s perspective of experience: Enroll, train, ship off, eat MREs, get jungle boot, shoot at Charlie, take psychodelics, try to maintain a semblance of ethics with the village people by stopping that psychopath in the platoon who tries to kill them and wear their ears as a necklace, go home and suffer PTSD and now this. Ungrateful little brats. Why can’t I just enjoy my Playboy? Ok, good. I’m glad the kid worked it out; now the nudies.

June 1992′s cover advertises the Playmate of the Year, a bleach-blonde with almond-shaped face, glossy blue-green eyes messed with 80′s hairband-permanent, dressed in what looks to be a Martha Stewart semi-transparent white linen summer dress knotted at her abdomen, provocatively plucking the flower petals from a daisy next to the text statement of an interview with Ralph Nader. The PMOY is trash; Nader is golden. He’s laying out all the political complexities that have been batted during this last election and gives a brief historical overview of what he’s been up to since the late 50s. But what’s even more interesting and relevant to this topic of refugees is “Styled in Seattle,” a pictorial subtitled “once a refugee from vietnam, hairdresser angela melini is putting down roots on this side of the pacific” (subtitle capitalization). The paragraph of text that accompanies the half dozen images of Angela in silk sheets of a dusty mahogany living room of anywhere U.S.A. ca. 1970 focuses on the determination and level-headed attitude of the industrious hairdresser. She’s practical, hard working and smart. Her abridged biography is as a child of an Italian soldier who died in the war, she and her mother fled Vietnam in 1974, immigrating to North Carolina where she “began a typically suburban American childhood of bike riding, rollerskating an hanging out at the mall, i.e.“Americanized.” This process, identity, and the historical conflict is the subtext of the pictorial. There’s about 2.5 paragraphs of text. 

Ms. Melini embodies the American Dream. A disadvantaged immigrant struggles to make a life for herself in this Great Country and gets lucky by/after being “discovered.” Fame, fortune, national appreciation by heterosexual subscribers to the periodical. Freedom. Her big hair is nearly a stargate to travel back to the era when a dangerous majority of American women wore such style, the sheer volume being demonstrative of the greatness of the country. The sprinkles of quotes from the hairdresser clear her of any communist residue or foreign sympathies: “’There are plenty of pretty girls,’ she muses. ‘You have to be more than that.’“ Indeed.

Thirteen months apart, “Styled in Seattle” and “Big Trouble in Little Saigon” create a complementary image of how and whom this country accepts, what was expected by Americans accepting immigrant refugees, and how that’s changed over the last 50 years. In these two Playboy issues, this sociopolitical question is removed from a press conference or protest route and placed within the context of a men’s entertainment magazine. That is, these two stories, and the myriad of stories we hear or read about when policy confronts personal experience, really makes us realize how human these decisions can be and how human something like waiting in line at an airport or looking at a magazine is. We can read graphs and look at statistics, but the human story is what will resonate; the story of fear for Randy, or the story of making it ‘big’ for Angela.  These two individuals’ lives were disrupted by the war and then made examples of either side of a systematic concern for who comes to the U.S. and how they exist here; it’s the question that, today, is divisive as ever, it’s the battle over immigration reform, security v. civil rights, either side trying to stake claim to what is “American” and what is “unAmerican.”

One thing we don’t know as “American” is the Vietnam War, known by the Vietnamese as the War of American Aggression. From both perspectives it was a violent, traumatizing experience in longer tradition of military conflict, for both parties. Uniquely for both parties it resulted in the Indochina refugee crisis when 2.5 million people of the 56 million escaped Vietnam to other countries. That doesn’t include the thousands that fled in 1975. As a humanitarian crisis, the Vietnamese diaspora sets the dinner table for the subsequent refugee crises due to war, but only in terms of what’s televised and subsequently collectively feared across a continent that’s glued to dinnertime news. There’s been war refugees since the dawn of war. This fact shouldn’t soften our empathy meter when thinking about the millions of people who are annually put into the most inconvenient position of leaving a place where they can speak a language that’s understood, have their social valuation, and retain some semblance of dignity. Rather this fact of refugees as a constant in our world history should make us realize how inhumane and uncivil our civilization has been and continues to be.

American Dream

The last day of my trip to Viet Nam in 2015, I was finishing the construction of a vo be, a traditional Vietnamese (and found throughout Southeast Asia) fishing apparatus. The man who was aiding in my learning of how to do this, made the wonderful decision to order two crates of beer to celebrate. And he invited the neighbors there in Cu Chi. We gathered in the shed behind his house, a sort of mother-in-law tin-roof structure that had the unexpected amenities of a full kitchen, lieu and eating area. Exactly one person of that group of 10 spoke a basic level of English, but, just as my prior visit, that was no barrier for hospitality. Hand signals, giggles, nods. I understood the drinking ritual, the ching ching, the food sharing. I understood when solicited mouse as a delicacy to try sauteed that I should accept, as it was a sign that they knew the limits to my own culinary culture and wanted to give me the experience. 

Host & teacher, Sơn, testing the vó bè. The party shack in the background. Nephew (Phức Nguyên) in the foreground.

Host & teacher, Sơn, testing the vó bè. The party shack in the background. Nephew (Phức Nguyên) in the foreground.

As we ate and drank, it started to rain, heavily, The earth eroded around the structure and no person’s voice could be distinguished by the pounding above. Only laughter was evident and precise. Somewhere before I reached the point that I must stop in order to responsibly mount the motorcycle to take me to the airport, I realized that, while this moment was absolutely unforgettable, it was also unjustly unique for me. The beauty of this simple gathering was, most likely, not out of the ordinary in Cu Chi. The totality of the environment, food and company was quotidian to my hosts. A deep sense of being on one side of a bridge that had to be intentionally constructed by me, a returning for discovering, came over me. I thought of how many other children of refugees would have to make their own journey back across the war-scarred roads healed over. At that moment, the Refugee Crisis as it had come to be called (as if it was and were to be the only such crisis), was at full boil in Europe. Families broken. Children raised in new lands. A generation without a knowledge of their own culture. I knew certainly about the uncertainty others who would return must experience, abridged by distance but separated by language and culture throughout the visit. A visit it was and would be. And then the rain stopped and I balanced on the back of a bike, holding down the mouse as my driver took me back to Ho Chi Minh. Returning, leaving, waiting in line at the airport. Drinking beers. These are human things. Even dreaming is human. 

 

The "Hell Or High Water" Narrative @gainst the (Oscar) Establishment

Sunrise from a Getaway Car, 2005

Sunrise from a Getaway Car, 2005

During the entire experience of watching Hell or High Water I couldn’t help but suspect that this is probably how Trump supporters view the world. To a liberal New Yorker, it’s almost a horror story, or the footnote explanation for the current political climate...renegade outlaws, Robin Hood tale in which the big bad banks finally bow down to the people they serve. Well, sort of. 

The writer of Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan, has made a career out of cop shows and movies, which, in the context of this story--which is empathetic to the criminal as much as law enforcement--makes me realize how the genre of cop shows is parasitically dependent not on good guys and bad guys, but on gun rights. This film suggests that justice can be attained through armed robbery but also that order can be maintained by citizen police.  In a parallel reality in which Clinton would have won and Trump lost, this film would be read as a question of gun rights and bank wrongs, not about a power structure that overlooked the potential of the poetic justice found in the robbers' scheme. Sheridan, an actor turned screenwriter, started out on such sets as Walk, Texas Ranger and Sons of Anarchy.  A born and raised Texan, his films tout the rugged individual and duality of good and evil. Sicario (2015), Hell or High Water (2016) and the forthcoming Wind River (2017) all center on law enforcement stories that glorify the pursuit of justice. Although the films are regionally specific, their characters and world views are ubiquitous to the rural experience. In Hell or High Water that world view is necessarily short sighted--focusing on a single bank as an ersatz surrogate of financialization of the housing market.  

Unintended Scorched Earth Policy, 2007

Unintended Scorched Earth Policy, 2007

Although having been nominated for four Academy Awards–Best Picture, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Original Screenplay and Best Achievement in Film Editing–it won none of them. The productions that dominated the awards this year were La La Land and Moonlight.  It's 2016 and not only is the culture industry politically activated, but there's a President in the White House who's adamant about returning fire.  At the awards ceremony, as well as the theater, the specter of the Trump Presidency shades the interpretation of films we watch and the speeches we hear at the winners podium. Thus, I couldn’t help accusing the bandit Howard brothers of Hell or High Water as Turmp voters. This is who they are, what they look like, the values they have–not simply to break the law, but a sense of justice that is resolutely immediate, applicable on the individual scale and in a landscape that is essentially empty. Rural America. In this light, the film’s potential as a lasting historical document is more compelling as a dying view of the world partially explicated by the story it puts forward, than its status as a well made film or well written script. The way of life is dying because the manner of living in isolation is losing against an increasingly urban lifestyle that is growing not only in population, but also leveraging the rural lives through the very debt against which the brother bandits fight. To put it bluntly, the fiction put forward is that the rugged individual can solve macro economic problems by singularly addressing the problem with direct, (maybe illegal maybe gun maybe violent) action. This is Rambo but on Wallstreet.

The roles of pro- and antagonist are blurred by the two pairs of hetero-white dudes who understand ethical behavior through tribal dynamics: the obligation to moral imperatives where natural laws must be exercised over legislated conditions. This both begins the film and ends the film: the first robbery is framed over the deathbed of the brother’s mother for whom they seek to right wrong; the final farewell is bookended with each survivor of the competing duos agreeing to duel to the death. What better way to characterize the individual than to kill his partner and debase his existence down to his singular obligation of vengeance? I just hope there's no sequel. 

The heroism of the film, if there is any, is located in the inception of the ingenuity of the Robin Hood scheme, rather than a critique of the housing subprime loan crisis borne of (neo)liberal capitalism, which is better addressed in Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. Rob who’s robbing you, pay them back and make them your servant. That's essentially the plan. Get your family out of generational poverty, even if it kills you. Okay, that's fatherly. Hell or High Water follows two rebel brothers, Tanner and Toby Howard, who’ve targeted a local banking institution to methodologically rob. But they don’t just want the money, they seek justice. The brothers’ intend to steal the enough money from the bank to pay off their deceased mother’s property, which is in foreclosure from the same bank. The scheme really seems like a story told in the 1990s about gangs, when America was struggling to be both more politically correct and tougher on crime, but this story is with Texan ne'er-do-wells. One brother's an ex-con, the other a failed father. But Hell or High Water tries to be recall bandit classics like Bonnie and ClydeNatural Born Killers and Badlands, and it's with these comparisons that are more fruitful. All three comparative films were innovative for American filmmaking. Bonnie and Clyde promised the American equivalent of the French New Wave style of Goddard and Truffaut. French New Wave was stylistically aberrant because of the sociopolitical slant of the producers; anti-Hollywood, anti-big production, Truffaut and Goddard deeply influenced Bonnie and Clyde. American cinema was stagnant, in crisis, formulaic and more interested in filling theater seats than expanding the medium. Released in 1967, the influence of admixture of youth culture and French cinema proved successful for writers David Newman and Robert Benton.(1) Comparing just the demographics that were attracted to Bonnie and Clyde and those represented in the Trump contingent via Hell or High Water, we see basically the opposite part of the American populace. Americans 25 and under overwhelming supported Sanders and later Clinton. 55% of young voters preferred Clinton; 37% preferred Trump. (2) Natural Born Killers (1994), the murder satire aptly critiques the media's irresponsible action, aggrandizement and perpetuation of violence. Itself a prodigy of Bonnie and Clyde and cinema violence, Stone was forced to address the real world scenarios of his film when copycat killers took off across the country. In defense of the film, Stone stated his purpose was critique of media, not suggesting of a solution. (3) (Ironically, the news coverage of the copycat killings paralleled the exact role Stone claimed the media played.) The message of Natural Born Killers is categorically opposite to that of Hell or High Water. One critiques the frenzy of violence on the screen while the other promises violence to be saving grace. 

Contrasting Terrence Malik’s picturesque landscapes in Badlands–which was woven together from three directors of photography: Brian Proby, Tak Fujimoto and Steven Larner–that seems to stretch almost as wide as 70mmfootage, Giles Nuttgen, Hell or High Water’s director of photography continually degrades the rural Texas landscape with decrepit fences, broken down homes and rusting industrial equipment. Although the aspect ratio of Badlands is less rectangular than Hell or High Water,1.85:1 and 2.20:1 respectively, the latter feels crowded and claustrophobic in the landscape frames. While in Badlands, the landscape appears as an idea stretching to the hard line horizon, Nuttgen’s images are all too present, upfront, in the foreground, a place that is hopelessly inhabited and stretching outward. In keeping with the repetition of billboards targeted at the indebted society, the images we see depict the slow implosion of the pioneer lifestyle–that final fart of westward expansion, the actual footprints of settlers in the legislated colonization of North American West.

Tolerated racism pervades the film through Marcus Hamilton, the cop on the verge of retirement, played by Jeff Bridges, who constantly reminds his partner of his ethnicity. The all too familiar rapport found in small towns, one in which the personal proximity of someone you know fairly well confronts your maintained ideological stereotype, forcing you to both express the stereotype and excuse the recipient as the exception to the alleged rule, Hamilton’s racism toward his partner, Alberto Parker, is complicated by his “natural” duty to avenge the latter’s murder. Hamilton’s obligation can be juxtaposed with Tanner’s insulting of the Native American in the first casino scene, in which the brother blankly concludes that the Native American is his eternal enemy. Two forms of natural law: one that binds, and one that makes boundaries.

Intentionally stoking the racial tension of the Big Star State, the sociopolitical transformation can be summarized in abridged history uttered by the sheriff’s deputy, who’s of Native American and Latino descent: “150 years ago, all this was my ancestors’ land. Everything you can see. Everything you saw yesterday. ‘Til the grandparents of these folks took it. And now it’s been taken from them. ‘Cept it ain’t no army doin’ it. It’s those sonsuvabitches right there [pointing to the bank].” In this sociological model, the conquest of peoples first with guns over those without, then the domination of those with guns by those with contracts is subverted by the well-intending rebel with a gun. Should this story have taken place 160 years ago, the only required change to the script would be the mode of transportation for the getaway.

Perhaps the biggest fantasy of Hell or High Water is the alleged victimization of the rural poor white man in the 2010 American housing crisis. The reality is that urban blacks, not rural whites, were disproportionately affected by predatory subprime lending practices. Blacks were three times more likely to be given a predatory loan as a reasonable loan; Hispanics twice as likely; whites had about a 50/50 chance to get either a good or bad loan.(4) With this in mind, the scheme to rob Texas Midland bank to save mom's house and get the kids new shoes and a college degree makes Hell or High Water less a Robin Hood film and more just a robbery film that hopes to stroke our conditioned distaste for the banking industry.

Sunset on Rural America, 2005

Sunset on Rural America, 2005


Notes

  1.  "Riding the New Wave," Elaine Lennon, Senses of Cinema, February 2006 khttp://sensesofcinema.com/2006/feature-articles/bonnie_and_clyde/
  2. "Behind Trump's Victory: Divisions of race, gender, education," Alec Tyson and Shiva Maniam, 
     Pew Research Center, November 9, 2016
    http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/behind-trumps-victory-divisions-by-race-gender-education/
  3. "The business of murder," Tim Lawrence, The Independent, October 1994
    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/film-the-business-of-murder-oliver-stones-satire-natural-born-killers-has-spawned-a-mini-industry-of-1445214.html
  4. "Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis," Jacob Rugh and Douglass Massey, American Sociological Review,  October, 2010
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4193596/

Week 2 of Drumpf: Believe Me: The Last Thing We Need is Trump to Drop Dead from Natural Causes

Typically the Republican Party, the GOP, the Conservatives of this country propound the preservation and importance of religion. This last election was unique in that both parties–the religious right and liberal (sometime secular) left perceived the candidates on the poles of good and evil. Thus, the failure of the Democratic party and many Clinton supporters was not just an election, but the victory of evil over good. The question of civil society and civil rights is the domain of the liberal left, but why is the fight against Trump being framed as a right/wrong, good/bad concern? 

What are the dangers of viewing politics on a good/evil axis? I think it’s useful to look at two dissenting voices from the left of center and right of center to see how nimble the debate around Trump policies can be, whether seeing them as ethical or judicious makes sense strategically. 

A recent email exchange between Noam Chomsky and Sam Harris can serve as an example of how framing something in the context of good and bad (via good and evil, see Nietzsche “Beyond Good & Evil) can predetermine the sorts of answers that appear to force a concession of one moral value for another. (I didn’t follow the entire stunt of email bating/debating with Chomsky, but the entire discussion seemed to inappropriately concede to Harris’ desired framework, which is a binary between Western values and “non-Western values.” I should stipulate that I actually haven’t read any of the books, in their entirety, that these two authors have produced pertaining to politics. On one hand the dispute between them is an exchange of both referring the other to a book the former wrote, on the other hand the exchange comes off as a PR stunt on behalf of Harris to garner more attention to his platform from Chomsky fans and/but on a third, prosthetic hand that forces the hands of both of the other hands, and on which I’m qualifying my admitted lack of reading either of their books, both have an excess of non-literate media sharing their political perspectives, media that has communicated in the very least that it isn’t necessary to read their books because, if this media is purposeful, effective, and functional, it (the media–interviews, podcasts, speeches, et al.) can disseminate their political perspectives at least as sufficiently as their books. )

A Generalization of Chomsky & Harris Perspectives on American Foreign Policy as It Pertains to the Point of Trump Dropping Dead by Natural Causes

Noam Chomsky’s critique of American foreign policy is that it’s imperialistic. We uproot dissent in foreign countries through covert CIA and/or overt military operations for the goals of imperialist domination and subsequently economic benefit. The banner under which the U.S. government declares its violence against other people–Terrorism, Freedom, Democracy–as part of the manufacturing of the domestic population’s consent, may change but the motivation is constant. The inaccurate rhetoric of American foreign policy is found not only in the inconsistency of how these banner themes are applied across the globe–i.e. some Muslim countries being our enemies while other being our allies–but also in how our own country does not adhere to its own rallying dogma. While U.S. politicians wage war in the name of Democracy, the same politicians may be countering democratic processes at home. Chomsky’s repeated references abroad are to the CIA interventions in Nicaraguamilitary support of the genocide of East Timor by Indonesia, the invasion of Iraq under the guise of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and World War II. 

Sam Harris’ stance on U.S. foreign policy is that it’s the U.S.’s duty to police the world, to protect civil society and this can and may and at times must be done through militarization and tough love (i.e. secret missions, assassinations, et al.). To secure civil society, we must fight against those who oppose it, e.g. Putin. Because there are regimes that do not recognize human rights, its the duty of HR proponents to fight against the tyranny of the opposition in order to affirm women’s rights, create secular governance and end dictatorships. In the debate with Chomsky he emphasizes the “good intention” of the American foreign policy. His references abroad are much narrower than Noam’s, focusing on the Middle East and Russia since the Cold War until the present. 

Harris’ argument is pretty close to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” which was the popular framework around the 9/11, Iraq War. It’s a world picture that appealed to George W. Bush. We, the West (Western Europe & North America), are culturally incompatible with the non-West, but really they mean Islam. Asia’s fine. They make our stuff. This clarification is the first of many. It’s not just Islam, but Middle East, and just Middle Eat but Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt at times…who else…Yemen? Ok, it’s ad hoc. They could have said, “They’re in our way to drive to Kazakstan and must be destroyed,” and it would have been more accurate. You’ll notice, this is the basic road map for Trump’s “Muslim travel ban,” and it’s echoed by many European nationalists. But before I get to how this doesn’t float as a logical argument, I want to return to the fantasy of some good grace shining upon North America, just below the 48th parallel. 

Trump & the Grim Reaper

Ok, so with the context of these two interpretations–Chomsky & Harris–‘twer Trump to drop dead, flat out on the floor of the oval office, not resting but stone dead, deceased of natural causes the entire opposition, the rational center, the apprehensive Michiganders that cast no Presidential vote, the Left and Ultraleft would have no other alternative but to revive the idea and belief of Divine Intervention. There would be no room for secular belief. It would simply not be tenable to have the electoral college hand to leave this flaming paper bag on our doorstep and then, suddenly, not have to deal with it. It would be none other than “miraculous.” Thus, both the right and left in the U.S. would collide in religious fervor. The discord of U.S. politics since the mid 20th Century would simply evaporate, having reached a boiling point with in an orange burst of 5th Avenue egocentricity of smoke and mirrors. You think I’m kidding, but there would be no protection for civil society through/on the grounds of secular or non-belief; there would be only “believers.” Civil society would equate to Christian society in the U.S. The conservative right would simply continue their born-againing, and the left, well, they would born again also. The illogic would be…illogical. Here’s how. 

"The Prepared Burglar," 2004

"The Prepared Burglar," 2004

The claim that defending Muslims or Islam in America or the rest of the world by the liberal left while aspiring to secularism, human rights and equality, or at least separation of church and state, is contradictory, according to Harris. (More than Chomsky Harris engages in debate with the religious and spiritual communities as part of the New Atheist movement.) But first and foremost, this is a stereotype about any religious society, not just Islam. What about Buddhists? Are Confucians ‘ok’? Second, to view a society solely by their religious makeup is anti-intellectual, as it discards any other valuable assets of that society. I watched the first Sean Hannity interview with Trump, you know, the one where Sean basically tricks the old fart into agreeing to pardon some people he knows, and what’s more interesting than any of that hour rehearsed interview is that a youtube commercial by the Islamic society directly followed the video. It correctly explained the many contributions to the world that Islam has made. For example, the idea of zero. Where would be without zeros? But the point is that any society, regardless of their origin stories, afterlife beliefs or distinctions between “science” and “religion” (this is a Western distinction, BTW. See ‘China’) have great contributions to the world, knowledge, food, history, language. Third, can you secure secularism while securing a freedom of religion? *(And I should clarify that I’m an atheist, more over secular). The answer is ‘yes,’ and it’s possible only through example, at probably through law, which is what most of these countries that are worried about Muslims already have. They have a higher standard of living which sets the example for people in poorer countries to say, hey, maybe it would be a good idea to go there, or, ‘wait, no one is getting killed there, that’s an example of my kind of neighborhood.’ As for laws, you vote on them. It’s democracy. For those of us who cling to secular society just because we believe it’s superior than sharia law, well that’s is just as dogmatic as those who cling to another belief system. 

Having given the Harris-teria a few nods, it’s important to return to Islamophia directly, because it’s pertinent in not just the U.S. What is actually going on here? That is, what’s really at stake right now: is there an overtaking by Islam, or an ebb of civil rights? I’d say, ‘no.’ There is no coordinated effort for Islam to finish the job of the Crusades. In real numbers, no European country crosses 11% of Muslims.  What’s the bigger danger, some head garb or fascism turning against the civilian population. Fascism is alive and well in the U.S. and Europe. Why is this a bigger concern? Well, discriminating against 100% of society because you have 10% you don’t like is sad math. 

As pointed out during the Weapons of Mass Destruction campaign and Bush: Deux, Islam isn’t the enemy, as we have allies in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco…actually, most of them, at some time. If you’re worried about Islam, go make a friend who’s Muslim and you’ll be happier. If you’re worried about extremist–whether black, brown, or white–the answer is to improve their standard of living. In fact, for you Europeans who are thinking of protecting your country against the influence of refugees, just know that that’s exactly what George W. Bush would have said. You hated that guy. So did I. Don’t fall for him. You’re better than that. Use your creativity and innovation to deal with this in an un-Bush-ly manner. 

And when compared to our current and recent allies, the Clash of Civilizations model simply doesn’t hold water. I didn’t buy the rhetoric during Bush Deux and I don’t buy it via S. Harris. Reagan didn’t buy it either, as he sent weapons to Afghanistan to fight the clash with the other spectre: Communism. Not even Trump really buys it. Actually, most of the countries we are fighting in, have been fighting in, funding military conflict, or have special operations aren’t Muslim, they’re Christian. As of 2014, the U.S. had around 134 countries that SOCOM, SOF, training of foreign militaries that was going on. Central & South America. Southeast Asia. Pacific Islands. 

Christian countries by percentage

Christian countries by percentage

Apart from their selective cartographic interpretation, they (Bush, Harris, Huntington, but not CIA) also completely omit the civil rights issue pertaining to discriminating against Muslim Americans, which can be traced back to Civil Rights movement, Louis Farrakhan, Malcom X, et al. Discrimination against Muslims is not only illegal under Constitutional right to  the Freedom of Religion, but it savagely and disproportionately effects people of color. If Harris preferred a logical, historical continuity, the lines of discrimination are much more ardent than the clash between civilizations in this country and others. And so, calling it the BS that it is catalyzes the liberal left’s defense of Islam: that it’s a false pretense. 

The contradiction of Harris, and much of what’s come to be the Nationalist movement across many European countries, that declare the inhumane treatment of outsiders (refugees, immigrants, even citizens of other cultures), is quickly shown outlined in the uncivil actions necessary to maintain the alleged civil society. (But then, is it still civil? Was it ever?) Logically, it’s congruent to the camp that believes the death penalty is necessary to ensure that killers don’t kill in a society where killing isn’t allow or you have to bomb to get peace. What’s curious about Harris and Nationalists who advocate violence to ensure peaceful society is that they never advocate for greater support of non-military organizations whose missions more acutely align with these proposed ideals: Amnesty International, for example, works for human rights not only abroad but also within these “civil societies.” They are just one of the many organizations, non-military organizations, that work to do exactly what this contradictory camp suggests, though without contradiction.

T-Minus 0 Days : Misinformation Age

In the fallout all of the scapegoats for Trumpaggedon are taking turns in the spotlight. Lately, “fake news” has been getting the finger. The historical importance of this moment is that social media being requested by government and society to mitigate fake news, effectively being held to higher journalistic standards than entities that actually call themselves news sources. I was particularly inspired by an interview between Anderson Cooper and fake news writer, Paul Horner, which made me wonder exactly what is journalism and what is satire and how they may relate to news media and “the information age.”

In the 5 minute plus interview, Cooper tries to pinpoint Horner as deliberately “spreading false information.” It’s a witch hunt. Cooper is trying to discredit the Horner, but really Horner is exempt from the truth/false axis because he’s a writing fiction. Cooper then tries to further discredit Horner by saying that Horner’s motivation is to make money, and Horner replies by saying what news media won’t admit, which is that they spread false (or one sided) information for revenue. Touché. It’s true in the case of CNN, DemocracyNow, Fox News, The Daily Show, Brietbart; it’s true based on the cartographic limits of what can actually be covered in any day’s coverage; it’s true based on the funding structure of news media; it’s true in the context of how Horner makes money via pay per clicks, just as news sites host advertisements for money, ads of which have information that aren’t fact checked, many of which are totally false; it’s true by all levels–theoretical, local, specific, dire–that news media spreads misinformation, half truths, mediated and intended. Anderson Cooper refutes that, not just because he can’t agree, but because he doesn’t want to have a conversation, in spite of the format of the program, which is two people’s heads being placed next to each other and the appearance of a dialogue, i.e. one person speaks and another addresses the information enclosed in that speech. (Pause for a moment on the fact that Cooper has no idea what an Internet Troll is, 7:15) Horner says something and Cooper moves on to the next point (gotta get that next point in for the silent audience) before the commercial break. This is satire masquerading as news. 

The two men spar at what is true and what is factual for far too short of a minute, but really the point is that news media is in a crisis, not only financially but its mode of dissemination and territory. (Just the fact that “real” news has to address “fake” news, i.e. Internet news, shows there’s a crisis. Anyone remember Tosh.0? , the show where a guy on cable TV talks about what’s interesting on the Internet until you, the viewer, turn your head 13 degrees to the right to see your dusty old Dell desktop, portal to the Internet with that and other hilarious videos, awaiting and then that 13 degrees is reversed and you say, 'to hell with this guy,' turn off the TV, waddle over to the Dell, fire it up and cruise through Internet Explorer like a real Viking. Yeah, that 13 degrees killed TV and news media is trying to cut the umbilical cord it has to the broadcast mama whose in even more trouble than they are.)

Writers like Horner are using the appeal and aesthetics of journalism to propagate misinformation. And it’s too easy. The fact that journalism has a “voice” makes it a target for being mocked and impersonated, lifted and utilized for whatever purpose the writer wants. News media want you to believe that their journalists and information is better, but what’s really at stake is the power of news media, and its subsequent monetary gains and people who invested time, money and talent to get into an industry only to learn that their voice is weighed against an impersonator. 

Journalism is in a crisis as well and has been for decades. It’s in crisis in how it has to deal with alternative information sources (be they fake news or wholehearted conspiracy theories [my favorite is Richard C. Hoagland]); just look at how the journalists deals with Horner: every reference to him is a link to another news media source. They can’t even link to an actual article he wrote. We can’t fact check these journalists (a conspiracy theorist may think he is even an invention of news media), but also his writings and ideas are also in forums or sites that propagate information differently than the more static news media sites; this is an intrinsic difference not only between print and online media, but between forms of information sharing online. How can we compare a news "feed" with a news site? One can be deleted or edited while the other apologies for mistakes in the footer of the article...should you return to that article after the information is corrected.

The format of the discipline is only part of the problem with journalism. The educational structure of journalism has been in crisis for over four decades. Journalists often study “journalism,” which covers what one would expect from a functionary in any industry: ethics, style, what's relevant...spell checking. But why are they reporting on anything other than journalism? My stab is directed at a well know discursive turn in the formation of journalists: Prior to that transition in the 1970s to j-school, a journalist would be an expert on a topic and then do a post-graduate program for the skills of journalism. A classic critique of j-school is Michael Lewis’s “J-school At My Brain,” (1993). But not only does Lewis mention the formation of journalism school which had been in a  response to the "'black sheep' of the profession," i.e. those who weren't professional enough, those we may align with mis-informers in today's age, he talks about how much of a farce j-school really is. It's to be balked in what it teaches, instills and doesn't connect with what is considered "industry success" afterward. Advancement, he claims, is not due to what one garners in a masters of science in journalism, but in the connections one has...how does Anderson Coopper son of Gloria Vanderbilt look now? 

News media is in crisis. You can look at the last three years at its disbanding print publication tactics, but also its invasion into social media, like Twitter. At first, news moving to social platforms really helped it, even providing an advantage that its previous forms lacked, such as new reaches to audiences around the world (e.g. Al Jazeera having a North American viewership). It has become the platform that it now decries; it's competition for audience and truth has become its sole life saver. And in recent years the platform has been turned against not only news media as a check on executive power but on liberation movements previously propelled by facts; instead they’re being employed and curtailed by surveillance and oppressive regimes. Evgeny Morozov writes about this in The Net Delusion (ironic, I know, that I link to a news site). Social media and potentially the Internet more generally can be used for emancipating people’s oppression but it’s also able to be even more oppressive because it can be applied in mass, owned by few and disseminated quickly. And the information may be, uh, misinformation. Even on journalists' accounts.

News media was in crisis before the digital migration to websites and social media; we were worried about the monopolistic nature of companies like News Corp. Whatever happened to making fun of Fox News? Wasn’t ostracizing viewers for being misinformed useful? Remember the comparison of how many Fox News viewers still believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction compared to NPR listeners? NewsCorp’s overtly political and social agenda seemed to contrast independent news sources to such an extent that even satire like John Stewart’s The Daily Show were juxtaposed as beacons of truth and hope in an otherwise dark period called the Bush Junior era. Wait, satire? John Stewart is going around giving talks like an expert on American Democracy, for being a satirist, while Cooper is trying to lynch Horner. Is the messenger or message being hung here? Is the medium the message?

Why are we even watching news at all? Well, if trends toward wanting to know what’s “really” going on in the world rather than just what you already agree with, i.e. echo chambers (a recent distinction between pre- and current social media eras for information acquisition) suggest anything it's that at least at one point it was presumed we watched it for true knowledge. But I’m not so sure. If news media is expanded from the topic of politics that I've implied throughout this article to say, a nice neutral topic like news, it doesn’t get any clearer, but more confusing. Why is there a weather channel ? Is that news? Why does my uncle in San Diego watch the weather channel when the weather is basically the same year round, save a few fires? Why does he care if the Northeast is having some weather event? Does news really just want you to keep watching the news? Is that too easy of a diagnosis? Do they ever say: “Look, this horrible thing is going on and your citizen duty is to get out there and stop it.” No. It’s always, “Stay tuned in,” to various degrees. Keep watching. Subscribe. Stay updated.  

This short article makes the argument that there has always been some form of transferring knowledge of events from one point on Earth to another where a human wanted the information. If we concede that that’s really what news is, i.e. a phenomenon and not an industry, then it seems the Internet bares a closer resemblance to Julius Caeser getting news of what’s hip in Greece than Anderson Cooper 360 (degrees). Personally, I’d guess that the form of news media, how it’s instrumentalized both by stakeholders and by forming beliefs of a literate public, has its origins in the colonial era, in which one part of the world needed to know about certain parts of the world and didn’t care about the rest of the world, which may explain why, aside from the occasional natural disaster, different countries get different news, differently even today. Now quit reading this and go save the world. But this is only a conjecture, not a truth statement or real news. 

T-minus 11 Days : Speech Rights, Lies & Promises

Trump’s failure to keep Carrier in the U.S. is being read, at least by Democrats, as his broken promise. I expect his supporters aren’t even aware of the accuracy of his claim to victory that was partial. But I suspect, not only will this be the first of Trump’s attempt to rephrase broken promises as wholesale success stories, but that his failures are actually indicative of a much larger, situational problem. 

Let’s keep in mind that Trump really had no fucking clue of what he was talking about throughout his campaign, so of course any promises he made were ill-informed. That’s the first point. He was not aware of any of the complexity of what he spouted about. But does that let him off the hook? No, of course not. That’s why he a demagogue. That’s exactly what a demagogue does: makes impossible promises and false claims to gain power. That is the Trump recipe. Moving on. 

As a figurehead and cult of personality, each President makes promises in the campaign trail and it’s only after HIS term(s) that we are able to measure HIS efficacy as leader. This is part of the problem of the our democratic process for leadership in the United States. It’s almost always a de facto reality for which we vote. 

Obama promised to close Guantanamo. The journey of why he failed can be helpful in understanding why Trump will fail in his promises. First, Obama did try to close Guantanamo. In 2009 in a Presidential memorandum he moved to federally purchase Thomson Correctional Center in IL. The problem with transferring Guantanamo detainees to Thomson was blocked not only by the Justice Department but also Congress, which claimed the move to acquire the prison was a political move by Obama seeking re-election. At least two hurtles there, and no budging. But even had some success regarding moving the detainees from Cuba to Thomson been able, that wasn’t really what was implied in Obama’s promise, or at least didn’t address the grievance of anti-Guantanamo activists. The issue with the detainees wasn’t and isn’t their location. It’s the illegality of their detainment, specifically the suspension of habeas corpus. It would have been a play on words for Obama to formally close Guantanamo but just move them to another prison be it down the road or in Illinois. The total failure is decorated with grade E for ‘effort’ scribbled on the report card. In terms of numbers of prisoners held, he did greatly reduce the population, down to 45 as of January 17, 2017. 

Okay, now back to Trump. Obama had political experience and even in his second term, against a Republican majority, couldn’t really expect to fulfill his promises as they were believed to mean by his supporters. Why would we expect Trump to be able to fulfill any of his promises when he has zero political experiences? 

Again, the point isn’t to give grandpa Trump a “pass” for his ascension to power on the back of poor decision-makers. The point is that pointing out his broken promises eludes the bigger issue which is even with all the power players on board, conditionally, the United States can’t return to its previous role of economic top dog who can do anything that it wants, even in its own country. That’s not the world we live in. In the example of Carrier moving to Mexico, we’re talking about the costs of labor, many of the company’s suppliers are already based in Mexico, and the fact that it is the company is the largest producer of air conditioner, heating and refrigeration equipment in the world. These are variables that no President is going to change. Add to the fact that the largest client of Carrier is the Pentagon doesn’t necessarily mean leverage if other variables outweigh this fact; instead, a 30% tariff to re-import would just mean a budgetary question in Trump’s government having to purchasing the equipment at a higher price. 

The conditions that are most concerning, I’m arguing, are not the fulfillment of the promises from Trump, Obama, George W. Bush or any other elected official but the increasing difficulty for the United States to shape the world, i.e. it’s position as a power player on the world stage. Ironically, Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again,” alludes to the fact that America is in decline, which I agree with. It’s a well known fact, even among supporters of Clinton, that the “end of the American Empire,” is approaching. Some read this as a rise of contending economic powers, some read this as a descent into immorality, I read this as a question of power to shape the world to our desired ends.  

The question then becomes what are the results of political impotency? What are the actions of people in positions of supposed power but powerless, is it corruption? What is the role of country in a world that is losing power?

Neither Clinton nor Trump could or can change the falling trajectory of the American empire. It’s at least a relative, comparative situation in which other countries are gaining power beyond our ability to control them and at most a title predicated on unsustainable arrangements of wealth and power distribution among Americans. The differentiation between Trump and Clinton is representational: Shall we go into the night with the dignity of our masks of ethics and taboos, or shall we self-immolate as a tinder of defeat? Practically speaking, whichever ideology we choose is really a question of expediency to the bottom. And since, as a country of the worst polluters on the planet, perhaps TWA-Trump in a tailspin will not only embed us in the valley floor but, through our ensured, profound and fast descent, we will actually avoid greater contribution to the other pending disaster, climate change. Is that optimistic enough?

Shame On You, Shame On Me, Shame Online

There’s a duality of shame in our Internet culture, a duality that reveals both traditional victims and traditional perpetrators. While cyberbullying targeted at girls and women’s via revenge porn approximates hate crime status, online shaming headlines parallels the usage of humiliation, only targeted at public figures, as a legitimate form of social exchange. These two contradictory forms of social justice seem to be in a battle to use Internet technologies in order to arrive at a new sort of social norms. 

The activity of sharing private information in the online public is, in itself, ethically ambiguous. That is, it can be interpreted as a cry for justice or an unfounded, digitally violent action; it’s no wonder that people who may not have a history of psychopathy become the victim–either wrongful initiator or target–of online shaming. 

What we’ve learned in the dichotomy between public and private spheres from which we have contend for a lionized collective common is that maybe it wouldn’t necessarily be that great. In the United States, where the tradition of the commons has often been mourned in comparison to a European collectivity, we see that the sheer existence of a commons isn’t the sole entity of a desired social or political voice. Collectivity, in basic quantitative terms, appeals to certain political models. In the digital commons this is complicated to equate to collective voices that a site and their community have been structured to engender. But was there ever a commons that functioned differently from another commons? Could shaming occur without collectivity? Does the size of an online community effect the impact of a shame campaign? How did shaming occur in the commons prior to the cyberscape?

Another element of online shaming is the uneven disclosure of the Real, either in content or identity. Ridicule is aimed at what someone may believe that others hold to be untrue. Implicit in the urge to correct a fact or person is that information, specifically online, should approximate truth. The Internet is neither fiction nor fiction, but the presumed unbiased voice of the documentary. This is perhaps the least troublesome of an impulse that, when applied to doxing, the disclosure of true identities, culminates in real world consequences, or at least intends to, such as physical harm or psychological discomfort. 

In both collective targeting against a user and doxing there is a recollection to early Western forms of punishment. The tarred and feathered. The stripping of honor. The pillories. These are the forms of punishment that much of society as moved away from in daily jurisprudence but aptly approach in the digital context. Is our digital weapons a reaction to failed legal structures that don’t meet our sense of justice, or are we just clumsy with the lack of responsibility that we have online?

Politicking shame and humiliation have been popular tools of journalists, politicians and citizens. Mobilizing scandals have been our society’s version of assassinating the emperor (that’s a metaphor that makes one wonder whether Roman emperors were immune to scandals, whether scandals were allowed and if not, why they are allowed, even necessitated today). And when a public figure in a position of power isn’t swayed by directed scandal we think of them as immune to populous, or agents of impunity, even if the scandal isn’t necessarily illegal. 

While political muckraking aims to destabilize an individual or party’s power, shaming aims to encourage normality and conformity. Again, the norms to which the humiliated are expected to adapt are contingent on the community in which the humiliation is occurring. 

While humiliation isn’t isolated to humor online, I’m surprised how much comedy is based on humiliation, that is how often we’re encouraged to laugh at someone rather than with someone. I’ve long enjoyed the Daily Show and Last Week Tonight, but both are primarily based on humiliation tactics. Ironically, Trevor Noah was himself a target of shaming for tweets in the transition period following John Stewart, even though they predated his move to Comedy Central. Juxtaposed with Stewart’s equally unpopular replacement of Craig Kilborn, I wonder how much shaming has grown in the last two decades. Last Week Tonight’s entire format can be described as such: a selected topic is presented as an exposé; individual people or corporations are named, juvenile comedic tangents and simile’s are sprinkled between otherwise heavy points and the show closes a political call for action. The humor between the lines is that a show that isn’t really journalism expects to 1) convince their audience who knows it’s not real new that this issue is important so that/and 2) the audience will dedicate time and energy to take up that call for action, at least before the next week’s episode. Both the Daily Show and Last Week Tonight are more reminiscent of proto-propaganda than actual news agencies that adapted the technique more than a century ago. 

How humiliation and shaming integrates into the topics of news, politics and sociality is the divisive outcome in audience formatted media. While critiquing someone or some idea may be motivated to assert truth over falsehood, when aimed at individual and/or identities, the effect is alienation of that individual or perspective from an audience. These mediated critiques are not neighborhood interventions. No one being ostracized is staying tuned in. And they don’ have to. Ridicule isolates; dialogue congregates. If we apply this rational to broadcast news networks and media outlets specifically, too often we see single-sided interpretations of information rather than dialogue and comparison. The minority programs that represent more than one social or political perspective are deemed “centered” or “moderate” in the political sense, even if the guests are talking passed each other and not with each other. As a format, broadcast news and relating of world events has a history of oppositional positioning: Democracy Now in response to Fox News; Brietbart in response to Al Jazeera. MSNBC in response to Crossfire. Not that any of these really grew directly in reponse to the other, necessarily. These misleading origin stories are less important than the near categorical opposites these entities occupy. 

The result of polarized media outlets is a homogeneous audience; an effect that in the social media context has already been concerning to socialists who found that users tend to connect with like-opinioned users, indifferent to their familial or real-world social networks.

Day 13 Privacy, An Overlap of 3 of the 4 Political Parties

The right to privacy is usually portrayed as a freedom from the intrusion of the government and private parties into personal affairs. It’s worth noting how dominant political parties apply this right, defend it in certain contexts and deface it in others. As a political position, privacy seems to be the mainstay of the libertarian stance on government, if not the the entire formula for the raison d’être. And when we’re thinking about political distinctions, often poles come to mind; we conceive of a line, a range or spectrum by degrees of separation between nodes or points. In this diagram libertarians would be be a point against which the Democratic party’s goal toward governmental regulation of the economy as well as a contrary pole the Republican party’s regulation on individual identity and civil rights, as they pertain to the interpretation of Judeo-Christian ethics alleged to be universalized. Yet strangely, the point of privacy is unifying right to all parties, as well as an abandoned necessity by Republicans and Democrats in the context of surveillance. I expect if there were a larger libertarian representation in the U.S. government, that is they were actually held accountable in contending toward a majority count, they too would appeal to surveillance over privacy at least in times when the question of security is flaunted about. 

During the campaigns, the notion of privacy was inconspicuously absent, even in the rhetoric of computers being hacked, emails being lost/eliminated and tapes getting leaked. Why wasn’t this on the debate floor? Between the candidates, there was no difference in their stance and this may be due to singular vision that from a governing perspective today, privacy is seen through the lens of surveillance and security. That is, the governing body of elected officials have an imposition by their constituents to suppress a terrorist threat and they believe that invasion of privacy is the best way to do it.  

Yet, from this perspective of surveillance, the affront to privacy is it is the hyperbole that one doesn’t have anything to hide it isn’t a necessity. This is the ideology subscribed to by Republicans and Democrats. But this contempt for the right privacy elucidates the true function of the common decree: to inhibit the growth the government into a hypothetical new realm, a private place–a space voluminous or psychological, spiritual or biological–to allow the person, the individual, and personal affairs to lead the curious excursion into this unknown realm. Privacy itself is such an ambiguous term, and deliberately so. Rather than being defined, it’s boundaries get determined by the negation of other things more quickly described, e.g business, speech or property. At a time when new ideas, technologies and possibilities are constantly being introduced, this puts an enormous strain on the 14th Amendment. That is, that governmental control should not precede the experiments of the citizen, that governance frames and portrays the uncharted territory in a binary of legal and illegal, more easily prohibiting by law than liberating through right by nature of legal language’s specificity over its unintended ambiguity. 

What’s curious from a populous perspective is there is no unified privacy movement nor is there a unified anti-surveillance or pro-surveillance platform, in spite of its appeal to both Republicans, Libertarians, and Democrats. There are times when the public discourse gets back to that in the U.S.–the NSA scandal (which was well known in the hacker community even as early as the mid-1995s due to the two keys to every Windows OS; one was even called the “NSA Key”), or when Apple refused to help LA police de-encrypt the phone of the couple that shot up their workplace, but it foments from an interdepartmental exchange, rather than a cross-party supporting outcry. In these heated moments everyone thinks and talk about it, they sort of agree that there’s a horrible invasion of privacy, a movie comes out about it, but everyone just goes on using Google or acting in good faith that there isn’t an enormous plot going on. There is no solidarity or collective demand to reposition the party lines or even a leadership that rises up from the support of these citizens against an invading government. 

In the context of most pressing topics of voters, “security” doesn’t get close to the top of the list though if ‘privacy,’ a pertinent component of security were even poled, it maybe one of the few that citizens across the spectrum agree on, as it pertains to their own governance. Instead, ‘terrorism,’ is distinguished from security, which portends an offensive/defensive distinction, as in ‘our security against their terrorism.’ Terrorism is unique compared to the other issues because it is one of the non-economic category that isn’t predetermined by party. (Arguably, terrorism’s cause maybe economically related)

Going down the list (with stereotypical, cursory accusations):

Dissatisfaction with Gov’t: Everyone, but while Democrats are dissatisfied but their solution is to elect a new person but the Republican/Tea party say getting rid of gov’t is the sole solution.

Race relations/Racism. The Democratic party has been the advocate of racial minorities since the Civil Rights movement.

Immigration. Both talk about reform, there Republicans usually defer to ‘Keep the Mexicans Out’ Rhetoric while Democratic areas rely on immigration for economic development. 

Election Reform. Democrats have been supporting the National Popular Vote movement to reform the electoral college, Republicans oppose. Republicans create obstacles for voters while saying Democrats have dead people voting. 

(National Security & Terrorism appear here in 4th and 5th place.)

Healthcare. Republicans like private healthcare, Democrats gave us pseudo-public. 

Ethics/Moral/Religious Decline. Republicans espouse this, Democrats want to put it in the context of civil rights. 

Crimes/Violence. Republicans use this platform for incarceration, Democrats to earmark social services budgets

Aid/Foreign Overseas. Democrats claim for diplomacy, while both parties support wars

Education. Republicans: more competition, Democrats education for all, in the end higher student loans for graduates and parents saying the education stinks

Lack of respect for each other. This should be more discussed

Unifying the country. Both sides use this to insult the other side for being too partisan.

Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness. An issue that will never be an issue, which is strange considering you’d think it’s related to the most important issue, “The Economy.”

Below this poll is an interesting summary by Gallop. It’s a confidence vote in either the Republican, Democratic, or Neither party, compiled since 1954. What’s strange is that since about 1991, while Americans waiver between which party is worse or better, never does “Same/Other/No Opinion” surpass the two parties. This would suggest that, while confidence is low, one of the two main parties is a possible solution. A pessimistic reading of this table is that at no time does either party surpass 49%. Again, since much of the Republican platform is about reducing governmental influence on society (sans civil rights), it could be interpreted that support for the Republican party is support against any government. 

The hurtle for the privacy as a platform is the absence of discussing why and how national security and terrorism, two popular concerns, intersect the suspension of our constitutional right. Of course this would require some thoughtful, human interpretation of terrorism and even reversing the dehumanization of persons deemed as terrorists. Ideologically, this may be the greatest obstacle of the Department of Defense because its support is largely garnered from the hyperbolic assumption that America and American interests are ‘good,’ that is right, ethical, ordained by God. Could an appeal to unconstitutional activity by the government on its own citizens override those civic beliefs that U.S. military actions are ethical?

Abraham Miller’s Terrorism and Hostage Negotiations (Westview, 1980) frames terrorism as a diminished guerilla struggle that failed to gain political power and instead attacks soft targets for symbolic victories in a war that can’t be won. How different this is from the criminal or psychotic accusation by the Defense Department and media. Yet by considering terrorists as liberation fighters without a sufficient mass, an idealistic avenue opens up for diplomatic negotiations. 

The U.S. government’s stance against negotiation with terrorists is rooted in the worry that to negotiate is to encourage violent protest motivated to commence negotiations. What’s contradictory to this perspective is we see that, even with this non-negotiation stance there is violent protest. The counterargument, the presumption that to commence negotiating with violent protesters would cultivate more violent protesters is contradictory to the belief by the Defense Department’s usage of surveillance, namely that, while the invasion of privacy in unconstitutional, can be effective by focusing it on certain demographics that are prejudiced to be prone to violent protest. That is, if surveillance is so effective against terrorism, why is there a need to maintain a non-negotiation stance? The counterargument would now be synonymous with what’s at stake if negotiations with violent protesters were policy: Would this demographic shift, decrease, increase, make surveillance unnecessary, more necessary? Would other constitutional rights necessarily be suspended, or would at least one, the currently trespassed, constitutional rights be restored? And what if changing the negotiation stance were not what was changed, but something else was changed, something that was politically at odds with the current violent protesters, the motivation for their discontent? Would that be effectively solving the problem without negotiation?

Day 12 Failed Logic of the Rust Belt Critique of Politics

Michael Moore explained and justified Michiganders not voting for Clinton or any Presidential candidate.  His perspective focused on the condition of the working class, is echoed by Michigan Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell who’s stated Clinton’s campaign missed the clues of Trump’s victory. In short they both present an everyman working Joe who is just scraping by and trying to survive but the government doesn’t work for them.  They are probably right.  However,  the explanation doesn’t do much in defense of the intelligence of their decision or the logic of pursuing that line of reasoning in the long run. Not only because it is just the Rust Belt Michiganders that aren’t getting by with their low-paying jobs, New Yorkers that overwhelming supported Clinton also are overworked and underpaid, as the New York Times articles has covered. I’m more concerned with outcome of the the anti-elitist attitude that permeates much of Republican American, and implicitly Mr. Moore’s beleaguered Michigander voters.  

Here’s the hypothetical thought process with a mythical, satisfying government:

Joe: Life’s hard and my government isn’t helping the condition.  

Gov: What would you like?

Joe: A good paying job so I can support my family.

Gov: Done.  I just pulled some strings now you make ten times what you did before.  What else?

Joe: I want out of debt,  pay off the house and credit cards.

Gov: Understood.  We just bailed you out, like we did for the banks. Anything else?

Joe: I want my kids to go to a good college and have a future in this country.

Gov: I totally understand. It’s no problem, I just called someone.  Your kid is now in University of Michigan.  It’s a great school.

Joe: And their debt?

Gov: Yes,  well,  at this point in order to be competitive in the marketplace, potentially earn enough to pay off their debt and maybe buy a house,  your kid will probably have to do graduate studies.  Would you like that?

Joe: OK. Which is the best?

Gov: Ivy League in most cases but not necessarily.  Depending on the focus.

Joe: OK.  

Gov: Great. Anything else?

Joe: Well, you’ve done so much already, how can I ask for anything else.

Gov: That’s what we’re here for. Wait, one last thing. Your kid just told us he’s studying political science and plans to run for office in a few years. Do you plan on voting for your kid?

Joe: Absolutely not, he sounds like an elitist.

Another analogy is simply in working class America.  Let’s say you are a mechanic.  A guy opens shop next to you who has never touched a car.  A car pulls up and it’s driver says it needs its oil change.  Which is the better bet, you the mechanic,  who knows the cars inside and out,  whom to order oil from, has relationships with other mechanics or the guy who has no contacts and no experience?

Implicit in libertarian leaning Republicans is the suspicion that government work isn’t a skilled job.  Well as elected positions are largely the law making arm of government, they are lawyers who know how to write,  read and interpret laws.  So it’s  a skill.  

The misconception of these broadly applied terms like “elitist” is that they assume the person’s origins are equally elitist, which undermines any governmental effort to create social mobility. Another way of putting it is those who have not are obstructing those who have worked. As you can see it’s a counter productive stance, and at the same time a hallmark of American suspicion of government. 

Day 11 Goodnews: Yes, He’s Racist; Badnews: You Are Probably Racist Also

The polarizing topic of racism has surpassed race. It existed before and after the presidential race, but it also has permeated supporters on either side. That is, even people who are targets of racist policies are supporting these policies. And in the the ever more dividing America, the claim that someone is or isn’t racist, whether coming from an antagonist or defensive point of view, makes an the opposite inverse true: people who are fighting against racism are also, statistically speaking, racist. Conclusion: if both those who support accusatively racist political representatives and those opposing them are racist, you’re going to have racism.

Here are some examples. First, there’s the very cursory but entertaining episode of the Last Week Tonight about school segregation. If you haven’ watched it, enjoy it, because in an upcoming post I’m going to critique the air and attitude of the show in general, so get it while it lasts. The point of the episode is contrary to popular (Westcoast/New England) belief, the Southern U.S. schools are less segregated than the socially liberal New York City system. LWT claims that New York is actually the most segregated school system. If you consider the trends of private schools, charter school, good public schools and not as good, it’s actually very easy to palate.

Then there’s a more nuanced and expansive study by the Pew Foundation that focuses on where people live. When looking at these tables, it’s important to really think about what the segregation entails. What is segregation? How would you define it? For the Pew study, they define it as “share of low-income households residing in a majority low-income census tract,” or upper-income in upper-income tract, meaning people who make a similar amount of money as their neighbors. So not necessarily pertaining to race, but because of some statistically correlating truths, they are basically saying, “X race(s) makes X amount of money and lives near X race(s), while Y race(s) make Y amount of money and live near Y race(s).” As the title states, the trend of living near people who make the same amount of money as you is increasing. More interestingly,– and this relates back to race– there’s a correlation with immigration; cities with greater income-segregation have a greater immigrant population. I expect this corresponds over seas, as the Guardian writes their eye-grabbing headline:World’s Most Segregated Cities. In conjunction with this study that found poor whites tend to live in more expensive neighborhoods than middle-class blacks and Latinos, one wonders what the motivation to break from that trend might be. There are two sides of this last report: one, poor white are afraid of living in poorer, (black, Latino, immigrant) communities, which is motivated by racism and/or middle-class black prefer to live in poorer (black, Latino, immigrant) communities because of a non-classist preference, rational cost of living, absence of stigma in their social sphere. Just a note, in the Guardian’s article, Madrid won as the most segregated city for a very boring explanation: a shortage of affordable housing, which brings me to my third and personal point: The Bronx.

Prior to the election, my partner and I would regularly discuss the reaction to people when we answered one of the trilogy introduction questions of New York: Where do you live. (”What do you do?”, and “Where are you from?” are the other pins that attempt to triangulate you value, trajectory, interests, et al. in this city social web.) The reactions were nearly consistent. Disbelief and confusion. So many people–white, black, Latinx–can’t believe we live in the Bronx because of all the mythology about the place, or, actually let’s just call it what it is: prejudice. In both directions. Prejudice about the place and prejudice about people, prejudice about us. Many recent-arrivals to New York, many visitors, many first generation inhabitants have never visited the Bronx. And Bronxites are sort of used to this norm. The majority of those who have come to the one borough connected to North America, from our walks of life, disclaim their visit with a memorable Yankees game, the New York Botanical Garden, or an exhibition at the Bronx Museum of Art. That is, rarely is it to ‘visit a friend’ or ‘go to a club.’ In contrast, the neighbors that I’ve befriended, crossed paths or shared gym equipment, have lived in the Bronx for decades.  

I’ve lived in four of the five boroughs and honestly, in every other apartment in the other boroughs over the last decade, all those rooms, shares and sublets, all those contracts and leases, they have all felt like a legal formality before being jumped in an empty parking lot, beaten and waking up to find your driver’s license left in your otherwise empty wallet. The Bronx was, when I moved in three years ago, a breath of fresh air. It was affordable, quiet, clean, unpretentious, human and humane and loaded with amazing architectural spaces that have for the most part maintained their original floor plans by virtue of being overlooked. My point is that the rationale, the explanations, the excuses and attractions I’ve heard for living in other neighborhoods where many of my contemporaries of age and industry live are hodgepodge, ad hoc at best and most easily and elegantly explained as racist. And I don’t mean a blatant spoken racism, but an indirect, subtle, racism. It’s not the fancy Trump at podium racism. It’s concerned about saving face. It’s a defensive state of mind. It’s a preservation of the status quo, a status quo that is racist. It’s useful to go into specifics here, because there are functional elements to this indirect discrimination that are educational. Let’s start with Brooklyn.

If you’re an educated, mid-twenties to early-thirties coming to the city, you enjoy some activity, but also plan to spend a few hours inside your apartment before work and at the end of the day, it’s likely Brooklyn will be your borough of choice. I’m supposing that you’re coming with the idea of developing some hypothetical career and social life. But when the name of ‘Brooklyn’ is brought up in this demographic, we’re really talking about a handful of neighborhoods–Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick Bedstuy, Redhook, Crown Heights maybe maybe Cobble Hill if you are moving with a partner who also earns a decent salary and perhaps even Carrol Gardens if working from home is an option.

Here are all the neighborhoods you probably wouldn’t move into:

Flatbush
Weeksville
Ditmas Park
Bath Beach
Bay Ridge
Bensonhurst
Borough Park
Dyker Heights
Mapleton
New Utrecht
Barren Island
Bergen Beach
Coney Island
Flatlands
Gerritsen Beach
Gravesend
Homecrest
Marine Park
Mill Basin
Plumb Beach
Brownsville
Canarsie
East New York and its five mini-neighborhoods
Highland Park

The point isn’t that you wouldn’t move there because blacks or Latinxs might live there (there are other communities like Russians), the point is these places aren’t even on your map. They aren’t there because the places that make it to your map are put on your map by word of mouth, social media, hearsay in your circle, TV, movies, et al., until you meet someone like me who has deliberately chosen to not live there. What’s implicit here is that most of us talk on a regular basis with people of our own socioeconomic status. Ok, so you’re living in a shithole in Brooklyn, you’re paying $800/month for a room that fits a full-size mattress, two dressers, a desk and some shoes. Maybe it’s been renovated inside the apt., but the common area, like stairs are a mess. Maybe just the door doesn’t have a buzzer. Why are you living there?

The clues come in metrics. In the Bronx the same rent gets you a room twice the size, more windows, an elevator, maybe a doorman, roach free and good transportation. But the clear metrics of cost per square foot and domicile features quickly slides into another explanation as to why you love your apartment. Your neighborhood. “The Energy” (translation, young people I identify with who are go-getters, unpaid interns, get parental financial support and aren’t afraid of using the word “hashtag” in a sentence); “Services” (restaurants, bars, entertainment. True, the Bronx doesn’t compare with Brooklyn. But honestly, do you need five on a block? Isn’t two within walking drunk distance enough); “Hip” (translation, socially mobile young people of white or Asian descent); “Infrastructure” (subways, roads, hospitals, clinics, grocery stores. Actually, parts of the Bronx offer more infrastructure than most parts of Brooklyn). In short, choice of living is not only the apartment, but how you as a person interface with the public sphere and the people in that public sphere.

If you live in Brooklyn, you’re probably beginning to think this tirade is inaccurate, or slanted, or that your choosing to pay more for a worse apartment in your neighborhood of choice than you’d find in a poorer neighborhood doesn’t make you racist. And there’s likely very little proof I can provide to show that your actions, rational may not be directly discriminatory but in fact perpetuate city segregation. Trump supporters would similarly defend their identity as not being a racist or perpetuating racism. Similarly, it’s unlikely we can convince them that by their overlooking racist, misogynistic rhetoric vomiting from the mouth of their candidate but instead focusing on whatever preferred narrative of economic progress they choose they are indirectly perpetuating a racist country. 

But here’s the clencher to bring this back to actions and decisions that affirm the status quo. The reason why Madrid is found to be so segregated is actually the opposite in New York. That is, there isn’t an affordable housing shortage for most employed individuals in New York City, in spire of all the talk; there is an affordable housing shortage in areas of the city that those people want to live in. In 2016, you can still rent a studio apartment in four of the five boroughs for under $1,000. You’re just going to be spending time on the subway and/or walking to the station. But commuting to Manhattan isn’t the sole reason people choose to live in these areas; nor are simple calculation that are comparable to other cities; instead the flock of variables afford those who can choose to live where they want, appear as ad hoc explanations for arguably irrational decisions. The result is, in part to an income-based segregation plan that follows racial lines.

I began this treatise on the topic of the presidential race and here’s how it connects. I keep hearing people say, “The country you live in today isn’t so different from the one you lived in before Trump got elected.” There are two interpretations to this statement. The inspiring version is, “Your neighbors haven’t betrayed you, there is still solidarity, still good people.” But the other version is wrapped up in the dream that if Trump didn’t win, everything would continue to be hunky dory. Well, it wasn’t. We still live in the same country as before Trumpaggedon, a country where police murders of unarmed black people was addressed not be holding these police accountable but debating the expected value of body cams, a country where blatant Islamaphobia is perpetrated by Christian extremists while educated liberals fight to protect rights of Muslims, separation of church and state, but wouldn’t live in the Muslim immigrant neighborhood.

The dubious question for the American Left, and I’m assuming Clinton supporters are lefties, is how can we, those willing and persuaded by reason, become less racist, tear down racist our own racist norms and not falsely presume that just because we fight against overt, vocalized racism doesn’t mean that we live, work and depend on a racist configurations. The affront to politics in the Trump campaign was being vocal, impolite and politically incorrect. If the battle is about maintaining face with the assumption that if people don’t say things, they can’t think it or incite others to believe the same, we’re fighting a battle of imposed silence where persuasion is as symbolic as the mute arguments we’re suppressing. This isn’t a critique of political correctness or a drive to retake what’s acceptable to say in a political campaign. It’s an appeal to use this moment to learn from our opposition, to begin dialogue when anything can be said and to reconstruct deliberately.

On the bright side, it should be noted that, with the exception of the KKK, it seems that being called a racist is an offending insult to either political pole. We haven’t entered an era without racism, but we have entered an era where it’s not acceptable to be one (unless you’re a demagogue). That’s some sort of progress. But we have always known that we weren’t fighting words or labels, but the dark, unseen, unheard, elusive immaterial mechanisms that carry on in the undercurrents. By accepting we all perpetuate these injustices by proxy is the first step to disavowing their power. With this echoes of a leader who with whom we may not agree, I hope we can transform the sound waves of his amplified anger into waves of change.

Day 10 COP 22, Trump Organization

I’ve been watching Democracy Now’s coverage of the Conference of Partners in Morocco. Every topic seems to hover in regard to Trump, particularly the climate. And there’s a sense that the Paris agreement made between 195 nations, supported by President Obama will be legally binding during the Trump administration. In spite of climate change denier Myron Ebell being part of the transition team to appoint an EPA administrator who will replace Obama’s third appointee, Gina McCarthy. McCarthy followed a heated chapter in which Obama’s initial appointee, Lisa Perez Jackson, resigned due to Obama’s support for the Keystone pipeline. Her statements about fracking have been used by the media to support the practice. She was criticized by her support for BP’s Corexit method of dealing with the Deep Horizon oil spill. It wasn’t a good eight years for the environment, although the Paris accord did get signed. 

From what’s been discussed with officials and representatives at COP 22, Trump can’t legally pull out of the agreement, but he can be a deadweight. Should this be his approach, we can only hope that his actions will impact his business in those countries (existing or planning in Canada, Panama, India, Germany, among others). 

We can only hope that, like most of his promises, Trump won’t actually follow through with his plans to revitalize the coal industry and dirty energy. One of the highlights of COP 22 has been China’s vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, pointing out that China had not invented the idea, but that it started during the Reagan/Bush senior Republican administration. The Washington Post found this memorandum dated February 9, 1989 that lays out the concern for climate change’s impact on the environment, health and natural resources. Thanks  G.H. Bush. 

When Leonardo di Caprio was appointed UN Messenger of Peace, I wonder if they already has his role in the National Geographic documentary, Before the Flood, in mind. The most riveting, attempt at inspiration in the film is his visit to President Obama, who frankly states that people will make the rational decision to curb climate change once they have to start fight for resources. I wonder how many conflicts and civil discontents have already been caused by climate change. There’s a contentious theory that the Syrian civil war was linked to an unusually bad drought. The immigrant crisis of Europe follows, and the rebirth of fascist politics there and in the U.S. Currently, we think of climate change in regard to a static, human-friendly ecosystem that has been influenced by form of pollution, waste, and activity–mostly rooted in one way or another to industrialized production. Would a more expansive view put not only the direct conflict caused by quantified climate change include, say, Japan’s invasion into China in World War II along that continuum. That is, rather than viewing just the impact of production, like factories and products, like cars, and the byproduct of greenhouse gases on the environment, include also the era in which acquisition of raw materials was a sort of exotic foreplay to climate change. The narrative that is being undermined (and it is a narrative because what else other than an abridged story can encompass the irrational actions of war) is the ethnographic, economic or patriotic explanation for state-conflict. 

Day 9: Zuckertrump, WHCA, Breitbart

The message is clear and two fold: Prez-elect Trump is concerned about media and keeps his friends closer than his enemies. And by “concerned” I mean media is on his mind, more than it keeps him up at night. It’s a priority of his, as well as a tool. Brush up on Society of Spectacle in preparation for the next four years. 

During that hilarious exchange between John Stewart and Trump, I couldn’t help imagining the bankrupt billionaire swaddled in 4,000 thread-count gold bed sheets that match his comb over, squinting at an iPhone screen, trying to eek out a tweet that summarized both his confusion and late night spite in thecomedian’s 140-character chosen battle ground. 

Throughout his campaign, it’s hard to explain the numerous fuck ups and rescinds of tweets coming from a professional, hired staff member, someone who 1) knows how to convey ideas across the social media sphere, 2) has any concern for public reception (PR?) and/or 3) has his/her job in mind, based on the potential subsequent fallout. That is, I think the official Twitter account is accessed, at least in part, by the incoming commander in chief. What a pleasure and danger this is!

The White House Correspondence Association is irked that Prez-elect isn’t allowing the usual press to accompany his travels.  And, on a personal level, you can imagine Trump is probably tired of the mainstream media attacks that have been trying to undo their own work in the last six months. The mainstream media (hereafter ‘Dr. Frankenstein’) aren’t even allowed to see an unexperienced politician try to make a transition team! I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it. But Dr. Frankenstein needs the viewers. Dr. Frankenstein wants to set things straight. That’s the carrot that leads Dr. Frankenstein, keeps him up at night in his laboratory, lit by lightning flashes, well rested from his extended holidays while he just ran entire speeches of the demagogue over broadcast TV. Meanwhile, in hate forums of Brietbart, alt-right–so far right not even Glenn Beck will go there–those offscreen, middle America, basement dwelling support groups have their leader exalted to a plush seat at the table. (Bannon & Beck have a poor history of vying for the diminishing pool of invigorated, working-class live at homes. And if we can learn anything from the Yemeni civil war, it would be send Cruz and Beck in to fight Trump and Bannon.)

Stephen Bannon is at least as adventurous a media hate monger as Trump. Both white stallions ready to be put out to pasture, they’ve come back to the online world of 20 somethings who grew up on this and should know it like the back of their hands. They should know the aesthetics of logic and credibility. The fight is underway, with Breitbart, social media, Trump and Bannon and it looks like a fifth-installment of The Expendables where also gets a cash prize. That is, America is aging and it isn’t graceful, but social media may be aging more quickly.

This week Facebook’s CEO rebuts claims that he/they intentionally suppressed fake news from conservative accounts, particularly regarding Clinton. It’s fun to watch the wording here, because everyone–journalists, pundits, Facebook–are all trying not to say, “Yes, we know that there was tons of misinformation on Facebook and disproportionately about Clinton because who would believe this trash other than Trump supporters? Who would tout this crap? How could this be expected?” Point to Breitbart. Twitter is also coming under attack for the increase in hate speech from users, some of which is just illegal. They haven’t banned Bannon, yet. It’s equally funny/not funny that social media, which isn’t held to journalistic ethics, is being pressured to keep the facts straight, to abide, while actual news sources have been pretty much accepted as nodes of misinformation, blatant lies, intentional manipulation or rewording and that there’s nothing that can be done about it. What’s worse is that the media itself is/has been manipulated by the likes of “Groucho Marx Democracy.”

Following the election, news media and social networks exploded, not literally, unfortunately. Everyone wanted first to figure out WTF happened and how to deal with grief and/of/or flaunt their moment of unexpected victory. And there was and still is tons of misinformation circulating on social media. Many Clinton supporters are re-posting articles that are years old, but with headlines that still, somehow, are relevant, inspiring or conspiranoical. Yes, history repeats itself, but hopefully not that quickly. God, we have to live through this, right? If I see Jr. elected I’m going to fucking snap. I mean, what if Trump’s victory day was repeated like “Groundhog’s Day?” #dayMare #BillMurray2020 

In my own outdated media drawls, I stumbled into a video by Zizek where he makes an interesting point in the last ten minutes about politics becoming depoliticized. He’s talking about Berlusconi and how candidates are being measured on apolitical grounds, “empty spectacles.” What better description for Trump’s entire campaign than this? The purpose is to create smokes screens that facilitate a military authoritarianism not abroad, but within the country. Trump’s first day in office, and most viable promise, is the deportation of illegal immigrants beginning with those with a criminal history. This is less distinct from Obama’s deportation tactics (Obama holding record of most deportations of any President), but only through the vocal platform that intends to instill fear in those living here and conjure hatred in those supporters. 

Aaron David Miller’s explanation as to the end of great presidents nears Zizek’s conclusion of the depoliticization of politics, only in focusing on the criteria by which we weigh candidates. Rather than looking at policy and experience, we’re faced with making a decision on Presidents compared to non-presidents, like rock stars, actors or billionaires. This becomes a recipe for cults of personality, which goes back to Day 4′s post regarding a better form of democracy. Why are we electing one person who basically gives speeches and flies around the world posing for handshaking photos, but then appoints a huge number of members of his candidates whom we have little knowledge of in advance and no say in their politics to lay out law in this country?

Day 8 Conflict of Interest: The Plot Thickens, Edward Snowden, Divisions of Division

Donald Trump Jr. (hereafter ‘Jr.’ for short) boldly and firmly stated that there would be no conflict of interest between this father’s presidency and Trump International. I’ll take his word on it and move onto the next conflict of interest: Putin’s Russia and Edward Snowden. 

You’ve got an axis (let’s refer to the WWII terminology here) that created a haven for dissidents based on the relation between two cults of personality–Obama and Putin–and now that axis is suspended. Where will the resistance go? Venezuela? Sweden? Then you’ve got Giuliani, a hard ball authoritarian who believes the best way to solve an issue is get a bigger hammer. He’s a likely candidate for Secretary of State, and already part of the transition team, meaning ‘tough’ will be interchangeable borderline unconstitutional in terms of approaches to security. He’s got his own conflict of interest since he’s overseen foreign governments projects in Qatar, Canada and Iran. You’ve still got Dakota Access Pipeline police who are trolling Facebook event attendees trying to determine how to implement an Orwellian reality on the central plains. Let’s just put the historical human injustice treatment to the side for a moment. Meanwhile, Wikileaks allegedly hacked the DNC emails and, in tandem with the FBI arguably leaned the final days toward a demagogue. #TechPrivacy, #pyrotechnics, #homelandPirates. It gets worse.

This is a recipe for a best seller. Here are the main characters, entrenched in their own love triangle / conflict of interest: Will Putin hand over Snowden to Trump’s government who, based on the authoritarian nature of the future secretary of state and the switch of social media from enterprising protest to surveillance ? And what part did Wikileaks play into an ever-surveilling government’s hand? This Business Insider article July 2016 follows the Twitter exchange between Snowden and prior collaborators Wikileaks, moderated by the American Left’s conscience-meter, Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald essentially takes the stance that, while digital critique of power is important, there is too much at stake in the 2016 Presidential Elections. And it’s an important point to take because, although this is basically irrelevant given the reality that’s unfolding, as a Sanders supporter, Greenwald indicates that between Trump and Clinton, of course Clinton is the obvious choice. 

Snowden maybe the closest thing to a hero this generation is going to get. He lived a life in front of a screen like so many frustrated young people who regularly hear from the hippy generation that political protest can’t happen behind a laptop. He’s a regular at cultural events–SXSW and even takes place in debates via VOiP. A small minority of Reagan-esque Republican youngsters may view him as a traitor, but the fact that his actions were not motivated by personal profit of any kind, more view him as an important whistleblower. 

But what’s really coming to light is a division within a division of hacker community. We thought of those spotlight critics of power–Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, Anonymous, Wikileaks, Julian Assange–as a joint front that against the hegemony of the U.S. at home and abroad. Not only did we want this picture, we needed this picture. Culture producers responded by giving us Mr. Robot. But the picture of tech-resistance was really a blind omission of the tech and war technology more generally. There are the XIT schools (Rochester, Mass) that turn out potential military technology, but there are even more defense contractors who are the major counter-resistance-tech industry. So there’s not only the dramatic division with the division of conscientious objectors, but before we even get to that point, we have to concede the scale is already tilted way away. 

The hacktivist division is similar to the division in the general American populist. It’s obvious now that there is a division, but that the divided are more polarized and themselves divided. According to the Pew Foundation the majority of each party’s members are further from their own party’s median. The fight for governmental influence from either ideological perspective is an aim to drive whatever ‘the center’ is nearer to toward one’s own political pole, but likely to a dissatisfying extent. 

Reminiscent of the civil rights movement–which the American left identifies as continuing in this year’s election–our divided country is broadcast around the world. What are American ideals? Mary Dudziak makes a compelling case that the motivation by the federal government during the civil rights protests was catalyzed not by an ethical compass but by the desire to maintain an image of the U.S. abroad, one that publicized protest brought under fire, particularly Russia. Sound familiar? Only at that time, both countries were debating what was the more humane social–capitalism or communism. Today, that debate has ended (paraphrasing Zizek in “Living In The End Times,” the total collapse of the world’s ecosystem is more likely than the collapse of capitalism), and we must ask what debate is occurring in its place? There are humane, rational leaders, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, but there are also democratically elected criminals against humanity, like the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. The debate then is not which is the more humane, but simply which is legal.

Day 7 Why Education Can’t Help America’s Racism by Itself

I’m an advocate for education. I love learning. I tend to fraternize with the well-educated. I like clever jokes. But counting on a free education as a tool to end America’s issues of racism, bigotry and hate isn’t a failsafe bet. Here’s why:

First, and most convincingly, there are many countries with free or affordable education and still have racism, xenophobia and extremist beliefs. Look at Denmark, Austria, Japan, even Belgian. They all have significant political and social parties that are essentially racist or xenophobic by American standards. Education is very good there and bigotry still persists. 

Second, ever meet a well-educated racist American? I have. It’s horrifying. All those packaged rebuttals you learn in Philosophy 101 don’t really work. And just calling them ‘idiots’ also doesn’t work. The fact is there is lots of literature that can either be interpreted as or simply is racist, or at least perpetuating racism.  

Third, racism, while correlating to IQ may be true, IQ does not correlate to education. Sorry. You can’t un-educate biology, psychology, development disorders or whatever matter that is that composes and/or influences intelligence. Unfortunately, even neurologist, philosophers of the mind and computer scientist who are pursuing the question of “what is intelligence,” or “what is the mind,” haven’t come to a consensus. What’s left at this point is the racism is learned, handed down like old sneakers from one generation to another to trod up and down Main Street in, hollering hate statements. What’s more is in the context of machine learning / AI realities we don’t know if racism would stopped or diminished; so far there is a greater concern that the entire human race would just be annihilated. Let’s wait and see. 

How education may be useful is toward re-skilling individuals. Many Trump supporters voted on his promise to bring back jobs. What Trump is really claiming is he’ll bring back jobs that were outsourced to cheaper labored countries, jobs that require little or no skill. (Trump delivering this promise is essentially impossible. Either by adding a tariff on overseas-produced goods, which would just pass that cost on to the consumer by increasing the cost of any product that doesn’t have internally-located competitor’s product [which is most unskilled labor products] or unskilled laborers in the U.S. would have to work at globally competitive rates…like $3/day.) But if these disenchanted Trump supporters were given training in skilled jobs that pay better, would they be satisfied? Does education equate to training? For those that hate education and learning, would training–like the trade schools that already exist–be sufficient. But who or what is going to keep those skills up? The employee? The company? The government? 

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development focuses on comparative literacies–reading, numeracy and problem solving. Presumably, these are the foundations for creating skilled workers, individuals who will be flexible and adapt to a changing world and economy. But again, you’ll see that at least 9 of the 10 most literate countries in any category still have a significant extremist party. Hatred isn’t solved.

But there’s a great talk between Paul Krugman and George Soros in 1997 that hints at today’s problem. Krugman’s stance, like many economists, defends globalization as a positive force that has brought much of the world out of starvation and poverty. Soros’ point is that the result of globalization is the failure for governments to properly support and control the population. While Krugman’s point continues to be popular today, Brexit and Trumpocalypse are bringing Soros’ point home in a hard way. That is, the ethical Trump supporter could be communicating that globalization isn’t working for them. This isn’t so far from the explanations by Michael Moore as to why Michiganders didn’t vote for Hillary. I’ll take up the danger of pandering to the white working class concern for getting a voice heard as it correlates to their political aspirations and aversions in the next post. 

 In the defense of a free or affordable education a benefit would be that could de-financialize education. Financializiation, e.g. rather than Wall Street investing in products, everything is just turned into a financial tool, including student debt–would have no home in the education sector. This article in American Kimchi does a good job of explaining the attraction to Sanders and Trump in regard to financialization; perhaps supporters of both will see that neither is really the solution. In the case of education, Sanders could have removed at least one variable: the financialization of students, which Clinton’s later campaign framed as the banks turning young people into debt capital. A parallel I immediately see between Sander’s version of saving society is that of Greece’s Tsipras. On a left of center or socially-radical platform, could these overhauls actually be made? In the case of Greece, they folded when the numbers from the EU Central bank came in. What’s strange is countries without a strong financial market (or a more regulated one) are able to educate more of their population, which was one of the motivations of de-regulating student loans in the U.S. Let more live the American Dream of social mobility. But the methodology of financializing a social problem sounds remarkably similar to the same rationale for deregulating home loans, right? 

Rana Fohoohar writes how the financial sector disproportionately reaps profits compared to the number of jobs it actually creates. She states only 15% of the money passing through the financial sector results in business invest. This is a stake in coffin of Trickle Down economics that Trump espouses. Billionaires put their money in the stock market for it to be financialized–not in their companies–and the stock market puts its money back in the market, even investing in debt. Okay, so the trickle is there whether you’re believing in giving the wealthy a tax cut or not. Lose lose for investment in production and business (unless your business is an investment business). 

The history of student loans from the U.S. government is as conflicted as theinstitutional explanations of how we got to this current tuition rate. But what these hangman’s platforms of solving social and psychological problems through finance seem to be cornering the once-free-world into a polarized, ideologue situation where hypotheticals are more appealing than trying to work out the wrinkles in a system we believe may not work anyhow. 

Day 6 Hit Him Where It Hurts #SaveAgainstTrump on Black Friday

The idea is simple: ethical Trump supporters were voting for economic change. We’re going to give it to them. Furthermore, we aim to foster the values that we believe in and must continue to support.

This Black Friday, I’m not going to buy ANYTHING. I will protest in front of shopping malls, Best Buys, Walmarts, and Apple stores–the most visited retailers on Black Friday–impeding traffic and consumerism. I will attempt to educate and inform shoppers of the negative impact of the Trump Presidency.

Black Friday is the largest spending day in the American consumer economy. $616,900,000,000 in one day. Almost ½ of the U.S. population buys. Clinton supporters account for about ¼ of the population. By refusing to buy, you too can sending a clear message: not my President, not my dollar. Statistically, Clinton supporters are more highly educated and have a greater buying power. This means we have more impact on the entire consumer economy. While everyone got one vote on election day, there is a disproportionate dollar-to- dollar power in this country, and it’s in our hands.

Our demands are simple. We will not buy anything on Black Friday or on Cyber Monday 2016 to initiate a clear message. The electoral college must vote for the popularly voted Hillary Clinton on December 19. 

(Given Trump’s appointment of Republican outsiders this is very unlikely.) 

Next: If Trump is voted for in as the next President in December, we will not buy anything during any of the Black Fridays or Cyber Mondays of his Presidency. This will have an enormous negative impact on the consumer economy and force his supporters to seek another candidate for 2020. 

The Senate will not be in session after the electoral college votes until January 11, 2017. If the Senate refuses to vote on Merrick Garland before January 20, Trump’s inauguration day, we reduce consumer spending everyday for four years OR redirect our spending toward charitable organizations and companies that support our ideals: Social Justice, Gender Equality, Racial Justice, Peaceful Protest and Global Citizenship.

We believe by reducing consumer habits we can foster a better country for our future. 

Our ethical austerity should be interpreted as this: Trump supporters threw out our civic and social values against misogyny, racism, threaten our civil rights for LGBT people by allowing a conservative government to first refuse to do their mandatory duty of by not voting on Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and compromising our environment and future with the appointment of Myron Ebell, a climate change denier. In response, we divert their economic value toward our values. Furthermore, the American consumer economy funds other Trump initiatives, like military for an aggressive hate monger, federal prisons (stock in Corrections Corporation of America skyrocketed after his election) which will be housing immigrants who overstep their visas, as well as tax cuts for the very wealthy–who directly benefit from Black Friday spending. 

 

Day 5 Probabilities & Trajectories of the Trump Presidency

I doubt Trump supporters have or will draw a line by which to determine if he fails to live up to his promises to them. He made a lot. Perhaps many don’t expect any deliveries; perhaps the only motivation for Trump supporters was to make sure Clinton did not win. So check that off the list, based on a technicality many don’t understand. 

Trump swore to throw out Obamacare. Seems like he’ll keep most of it. Trump said he’d drain the swamp of Washington and instead did the opposite and appointed longtime Republican politicians to take up posts. Since I don’t see Trump supporters in the streets, they must be ‘okay’ with that. Great!

On the other side of the aisle, I have heard whispers of optimism from some Clinton supporters; some is holding water, and some leaking at other points. Particularly what is coming true is what Clinton supporters read into Trump’s demeanor: his mission of hatred. This is less about his words since election but expressed in whom he is appointing to office. This is about judging character and presuming all the policies that correlate with it. It’s conjectural, but I think it will come into play in social reforms and civil society more than the promises of a wall or “rescuing” the economy. Granted, he did state on 60 minutes that he did not condone attacks against minorities. So maybe there’s a chance?

The danger of the Trump campaign is that it attacks social welfare and the civil rights that Democrats have been fighting for, as well potentially damaging foreign relations that have been built on diplomacy over the last 8 years. Some are reversible, others aren’t. I anticipate there will be a greater impact on the social level and civil society than other aspects that worry Clinton supporters. Trump’s encounter with politics will be deference to people he likes who have some experience and motivation to change their condition. He won’t admit that he has basically no fucking idea about politics, presidential budgets, the economy, or foreign affairs. I don’t blame him, he’s not a  politician. He’s a business man. But politics rule over business, the economy influences businessin some ways. (Business’s influence on politics isn’t necessarily true but and when it occurs it’s corrupt. This is the single message Trump aimed at Clinton and frankly even Clinton supporters aren’t comfortable with that relation…maybe it got lost in the email scandal.) 

The parts of optimism that are leaking are seen in whom he is appointing to office. Stephen Bannon is an anti-Semite. This is serious. Reince Preibus is the RNC chair, so of course he’ll aim at all the vulnerable civil rights that Republicans dislike: prochoice, gun control, gay rights, etc. Paul Ryan mentioned a softer stance on deportation of undocumented immigrants. 

Two last things:

One: we must accept in this post-election season that nobody apologizes for his/her vote. If you’re old enough to remember George W. Bush fucking up Iraq with the supposed weapons of mass destruction, you’ll remember that exactly zero people said, “Oh, I guess my candidate isn’t the right person for the Presidency,” instead many re-elected him. And It wasn’t until mobilizing a disenfranchised demographic that the country got a new party, renewed economy and some semblance of regard for jurisprudence. The best that anyone can hope for in asking for redemption in this messed up reality television show that is the United States, January 21, 2017-January 21, 2021 is, “Man, maybe I should get more active in the community.” This should come from all sides (even the apathetic). I’ve heard a few people say this and it’s music to my ears. 

So if you’re holding your breath for a Trump supporter to say, “Geeze, why didn’t he drain the swamp,” you’ll pass out. It’s not going to happen. Maybe the mandatory aspects of the Affordable Healthcare Act will be thrown out, but I expect much will be kept. Trump has already stated this. No one is going to say, “You know, I gave him a change in 2016 and he really didn’t live up to my expectations, so I’m going Democrat.” Not going to happen. His supporters will give him a second term.  

So I encourage you to enjoy a few moments of shock and irony as you see some friends of yours who supported Trump and whom you anticipate to be on the short end of his stick. For me, a very nice guy I met at a co-working space has become vehemently vocal about his support for Trump and his hatred toward women. I’m surprised. He’s also Black. I asked him what he thought about the KKK celebration parade and he scuffed it off, saying they didn’t have power here. Ok. Right. Hopefully not. But as Trump appoints more bigots, like Stephen Bannon, I anticipate my friend will suffer from that. But prodding this friend of mine will likely just make him more staid in his ways, because that’s the stubborn disposition he has. (I couldn’t help thinking of the Dave Chapelle blind KKK member skit). 

Lastly, take solace in knowing people do make the wrong decisions, and they do so in democracy also. There’s been this wave of people saying, “You can’t call them stupid or ignorant for voting for Trump.” Their point is that it’s counter productive. I agree with that. But there is room to simply say, “You made the wrong decision.” Of course they won’t agree with you, but look, historically democratic processes have resulted in what most people believe were bad candidates. You don’t have to go to the extreme of Hitler to see this. People make bad decisions all the time–all day! Of course they can vote poorly. It’s not anti-democratic to say someone voting poorly. If you’re in a pizza parlor and your group of friends ask what type of pizza you should build and you think all the toppings from their icecream buffet should go on the pizza, well, you’ve just made a bad decision. And Pizza Hut: Please don’t make an icecream buffet pizza.  

Day 4 Blame Game

Get All Your Blame in One Place! 

Perhaps the impulse to find blame is coping with trauma; perhaps is a sense of solidarity for those who can’t find fellows to protest with; ideally it’s a lesson we can apply in the future, something to learn from. The smoke is clearing and it seems we are beginning to move toward constructive planning and a course of action in how to deal with the President-elect. So, just to recap what’s been discussed in the last days, I put together a list of all the paper scapegoats that have walked out on stage for a moment of projecting collective despair. 

The first blame I heard was Black voters weren’t turning out. This was based on the fact that counties were Obama overwhelming won, Clinton lost. I’m not convinced. Urban areas tend to have higher African American populations and they overwhelming voted for Clinton. Also, there are anomalous Black voters who even voted for Trump. The rationale was something like Bill Clinton’s Presidential Three Strikes You’re Out disproportionately incarcerated Black men, broke up families, and the lackluster support for Hillary gave us Trump. More recently, I would expect the first debate when the question of the national police crisis was put forward, Hillary barely touched on the fact of institutional racism THAT EVEN THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT HAS ALREADY UNCOVERED in police departments…not to mention the myriad of studies facts and you know, the video every week that shows police officers shooting Black men. But both she and Trump very quickly transitioned to talking about the need for mental healthcare. Uh, wait. Didn’t that sound strangely similar to blaming a rape victim for her outfit? I digress. But yeah, usually society blames the Black guy first, so in keeping with historical precedence, Clinton fans started blaming Black Americans for Trump. Again, I’m not convinced. 

The next target I heard was “the rest of the country,” i.e. that Clinton supporters lived in a liberal bubble–you know, a bubble of 40 million Californians, 8 million New Yorkers, 5 million Seattlites, 3 milllion Portlanders, 6 million Chicagoans, 1 milllion Austinians…a 62 million person bubble, plus most other large cities…But as we can see from the protests around the country, many people did not vote Trump in many parts of the country. And as the votes keep coming in we see that a growing majority voted for Hillary. So again, I’m not convinced. 

Another scapegoat was the 50% voter turnout. Okay, who was that? Obviously people who felt their voted didn’t matter or they didn’t like either candidate, equally. Maybe they didn’t have any cause that echoed with them, any policy the candidate proposed. Well, let’s say everyone had turned out–the lukewarm people–there’s no telling how minuscule a difference they would have made either direction, that’s why they were lukewarm; maybe they would have split 50/50 or maybe they would have slightly favored one candidate; it could have been better for Trump. As a counterfactual, this explanation doesn’t make use of time or thought, but it does go toward another scapegoat about how in touch each party is with the American people. I’ll get to that.

Another target were the polls. Data journalism failed to accurately project the winner, which caused people to not understand the closeness of the race. Again, from the previous point: if people had been compelled by a cause or a candidate, they would have voted regardless of the level of competition. Another version of this is that people secretly supported Trump but didn’t express their opinion either to polls or in public due to one or many phantoms: what’s politically correct to support and/or believe; what’s least confrontational, i.e. the person who just wants their milk and doesn’t want to debate politics in a grocery store line. What I don’t understand about this variation of voter data is that the appeal of Trump–who is a loud mouth, non-PC, repeating record–doesn’t explain why his supporters would refrain from acting similarly? Is the suggestion that these individuals lionize Trump for overcoming the PC burden that they feel so oppressed by in society? Maybe some. But what’s more interesting about this argument is that data journalism is a field of study that provides statistical projects. These are pseudo scientific claims, but still aim for concrete, hard data. Ironically, Trump supporters have not been persuaded by either data or science. Clinton supporters, like her campaign, were motivated and assured by data. It appeals to them. The obstacle becomes two fold. Firstly, how can an emerging field of study like data science, infiltrate communities that aren’t swayed by data toward the more accurate prediction? Secondly, how can those assured of data be more suspicious and conspiratorial to avoid future trauma? It’s a discipline in crisis. And in a world moving toward Big Data (at least in the urban areas) how will this evolve?

I’ve heard the Bernie card. The problem with supposing Bernie would have won is that the projections that showed him as a sure winner were created by the same data journalism discipline that inaccurately expected Clinton’s win. Why should we believe them in retrospect? I guess some people still feel the Bern?

I heard the Democratic Party is to blame for having a flawed candidate or not aligning with its supporting voting members. This is a variation on the Bernie card but with a slight Trumpian twist: the system is rigged. “The Democrats are political elitists out of touch with Americans and for that reason they failed.” I’m not sure about that. Garnering support is one thing; turning out to vote is another, votes being counted is another. One scion to this argument is to refer to the point of closeness of the race. If people were supporting but thought it was a tight race, they’d turn out to vote, so they must have not supported, therefore the Democratic Party failed to garner support. Well, the Republican Party not only failed to garner support, many of their officials didn’t even vote for Trump. “But the Republicans won,” you say, “even in maintaining the House.” Still, almost 50% of Americans didn’t vote. The reason is likely multifaceted. I’m not sure people know what they want, and/or whether a better candidate would change a personality trait in which an individual lives in a country, operates every day with the assumption of being free to do certain things but then can’t connect the importance of choosing another individual who will create laws that will impact their daily life. This is rather abstract, but I’m basically talking about democratic states. What’s nearer to this question than the idea of a single party failing (when really both failed) is that urbanites are subjected more strongly and directly to laws governing you and the person two inches from you on the sidewalk while ruralites benefit more strongly from rights because the sphere of influence of the right extends until it encounters another individual’s rights and due to less dense populations this can be a larger sphere. In my model, which party is for the suburbanite? It seems the Republicans at the moment. 

Another explanation is voters simply voted for change. Clinton was an extension of Obama and they voted against the continued program. The reason that this argument fails is that 11 Presidents have served two terms, so why didn’t people vote to change them? The ad hoc argument here would be that people re-elect an incumbent because they are familiar and have recognition advantage. Well, 13 served only one term, so that argument fails. You get the picture. Sometimes people vote for change, sometimes they vote for the familiar, sometimes one term sometimes three (FDR).

Then there’s the electoral college. Basically, each state has at least three electoral representatives despite populations that don’t reflect that in the House of Representatives. Secondly, most states have a winner-takes-all system, so 51% of the voters determine how the other 49% of voters are forced to vote. This is the most clearcut scapegoat because it undermines a core belief that American have for America: that it’s democratic. That is, each citizen gets one vote and that vote is echoed in the government. Ironically, this was Trump’s campaign from the beginning: that the system was rigged. So as Clinton and the Democratic party faced lost they adapted Trump’s campaign but with a clearer objective: to unrig the (electoral college) system.

The last scapegoat, and one I’m proposing is simply this: people made the wrong decision. I’m not saying if you voted for Trump you’re stupid. You’re not. I’m not saying if you voted for a Republican you’re a racist. What I’m saying is if you voted against something, you used your vote incorrectly. A vote is not a weapon, it’s an endorsement. When you vote you are saying, “This is what I support,” not “This is what I’m against.” Trump took advantage of this misinterpretation of democracy. His campaign was contrarian. That was his whole point. He was against EVERYTHING. And if you were against anything, you defaulted for him. This argument is similar to people voting for change, but I’m adding a twist. Here it is simply: don’t be a hater. That’s it. Don’t shit on someone’s parade when you’re voting. 

Inherent in my argument is a critique of democracy, but I’m not proposing a dictatorship, I’m not proposing another form of government, I’m proposing a better form of democracy. This is the point. Rather than saying, “I want anything other than X,” how can democracy be position so that the only way to vote is like “I want Y.” The former statement is vague. Anything other than one thing you’re against. You really have no idea what you’re going to get other than not X. The latter statement is specific. You want one thing and if you don’t get other things, that’s okay. The one thing you want is the one thing you’re aiming for. 

For me, the most frustrating aspect of blame is how Trump has, throughout his campaign, evaded it. He just does not accept wrongdoing. This is a personality disorder. The short satisfaction we pursue in punishment and potentially punishing Trump now seems basically impossible. I’m talking about legal punishment for his not paying taxes, I’m talking about his legal punishment for sexual harassment, I’m talking about his ethical punishment inciting hatred, violence and undoing civil society in the name of “economics.” Americans, relish punishment. We call it ‘justice’ most of the time. 

Please share your ideas about whom to blame for this disaster

Day 3 After the Misogynist's Election

Before the chaos of his cabinet gets going too far, it’s necessary to reflect on the meaning of the 2016 Presidential election outcome. In contrast to the plethora of scapegoating as to why he got elected that is occurring within much of the media, I want to unpack what it means. Specifically, it’s necessary to talk about misogyny because as I’ll argue below, the disguising and dismissing of it is exactly why it persists. As a model for other persevering types of hatred, this argument is applicable to racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, et al. And because the presidential outcome is already off to a good start with protests, riots, concerns for whom to blame, how to get Democrats back on track, the missed misogyny may be too easily sidelined.

Implicit in the feeling of devastation of young voters who supported Clinton is the meaning of the election for them. The primary topic is the various forms of hatred the President-elect embraces, specifically misogyny and racism. Misogyny is evidenced in Trump’s recorded conversation about the power he has due to his wealth, which results in women allowing him to grab their genitals without their permission. In addition to that statement, there are a number of women who are filing sexual harassment suits against him. On one hand what he so crudely stated was something that, as a society we mostly already knew, i.e. that litigation against the wealthy is (increasingly) unbalanced, mostly due to the financial burden of bringing a lawsuit in the first place. That is, wealthy, powerful men can sexually harass women, even though it’s against the law. But on the other hand the misogynistic element of his statement and how it functions is two fold: firstly, there is the overt misogyny that he is propounding–the action or statement–but secondly–and this is the insidious nature of hatred more generally–there is his supporters who choose an explanatory narrative which takes his statement outside of the realm of misogyny and illegality. His supporters, many whom are women, created or accepted ad hoc explanations as to why they wouldn’t interpret what he said as misogyny. Specifically, Trump invented the explanation that it was, “Locker room talk,” which is a version of “boys will be boys” but for grown up men. Rationally, there are a number of problems with his and his supporters’ perspective, but the most readily available is simply ‘delusion.’ I mean delusion in the most simplistic sense: that events or characteristics are repeatedly viewed from a single scope. There is no positive here or negative to weigh, there is no variable to consider, there simply a single constant. There are no anomalies, no aberrations, no deviations. In an analogy with buying a classic car the importance of the car as part of a collection or object owned outweighs the fact that parts may not be available, that it could be difficult to maintain, or that it doesn’t really function like vehicle intended for transportation but rather a big toy that may move around.  

The sexual harassment suits are intended to remove the theoretical aspect of Trump’s statement and root it in fact. They are intended to undo the ad hoc explanation of “locker room talk.” The quantity (the last count was at 12) of suits is intended to make his actions appear not only habitual, but enforce the verity of each plaintiff’s claim. The difficult I can foresee in each of these cases is not only the ephemeral nature  of proof in a crime that may have manifested in touching, speaking or writing but linking that proof–which may only be a statement or message written–with the criminal intention. Coincidentally, this is the same difficulty in prosecuting for hate crimes, which Trump supporters who attack immigrants or Muslims should face. For Trump, it will be doubly difficult to prosecute because of another truth that exists in our society: people in position of political power are often immune to litigation. 

In the next post I will write about Donald Trump’s first day as President agenda.