CategoryEditorials/Rants

On Race and Sexual Violence in the Works of Alan Moore

Let’s get something out of the way upfront: I don’t think Alan Moore is a racist, homophobe or misogynist. But some of his works — particularly League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Neonomicon — have issues. Although it might seem silly to go after Moore when there are much worse offenders both in comics and other media (not to mention actual rapists), Moore’s work is a good case study of how even the most well intentioned, progressive writers can screw-up matters of race, gender and sexuality. And because he is perhaps the most highly regarded writer in comics, there’s a trickle down effect from his work. Moore refuses to listen to his critics, but maybe other writers can learn from his mistakes.

Last week Pádraig Ó Méalóid published an interview with Alan Moore in which he asked a few questions about sexual assault in his comics in general and specifically about his inclusion of Golliwog in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier.

Moore’s response is long and vitriolic, and misses the point entirely.

I can understand why Moore is so bothered by accusations of racism and sexism. He’s an old hippie who has put more consideration to identity politics and representation into his work than most comic writers of his or any other generation. He’s taken other creators to task for their sexism and homophobia. But even though he’s written some strong women and minority characters, he can and does get it wrong sometimes, and his reaction here is disappointing — not least of all because of the rhetorical style he employs.

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Prada Revolutionaries: Confessions of a Recovering Solutionist

prada3

This essay is part of 5 Viridian Years, a series of reflections on the Viridian Design movement.

Revolution is depressing.

The U.S. turned deep red after the 2002 mid-term elections. Any hope of a Democratic rebound after George W. Bush’s contentious inauguration vanished. Not that the Democrats were any better. Only one senator had voted against the Patriot Act, and in 2003 congress approved the invasion of Iraq despite worldwide protest — some of the biggest in history. Meanwhile, poverty was on the rise and the Kyoto Protocol was going nowhere.

On a personal level, the a local homeless shelter was on the verge of being pushed out of downtown Olympia, WA out to the outskirts of town. The campaign to save it, which I had volunteered for, was going badly.

It was hard to take the idea of meaningful political change seriously. Things were fucked up at every level of government. Nor could I take seriously the right-wing punk, “fuck-up the system from the inside” idea. Writer Grant Morrison put it this way: “For every McDonald’s you blow up, ‘they’ will build two. Instead of slapping a wad of Semtex between the Happy Meals and the plastic tray, work your way up through the ranks, take over the board of Directors and turn the company into an international laughing stock.”

Sounds nice in theory. But I knew corporations were more resilient than that. Sabotaging the system from inside was as much a pipe dream as changing it through politics and protest.

Outnumbered and out-gunned, armed insurrection seemed pointless. The only viable solution seemed to be outsmarting the enemy.

In early 2003, not long after the start of the Iraq War, I read The Headmap Manifesto, a document written by Ben Russell and first published in 1999. Russell described a future filled with location aware mobile internet devices, augmented reality, reputation systems and digital payment systems. He anticipated nearly every major mobile and geolocative innovation of the following decade, but the heart of the text was a vision of a new society that these technologies could bring about. He called the social economic system that would emerge from these technologies “augmented capitalism.” Today we might call it the “sharing economy.”

I started reading more blogs about mobile technology, social software and design. Back then we talked about designers like they were rock stars — sort of the way we talk about developers and startup people today. Celebrities like Brad Pitt and Lenny Kravitz dabbled in design. Bruce Sterling declared that design magazine Metropolis was the new Wired. It was the thing at the time, so I started reading lots of design blogs, and started following people like Dan Hill, Matt Jones, Adam Greenfield, Josh Ellis and Abe Burmeister. All smart people who continue to do good work.

Most importantly, I discovered Margin Walker, a now defunct web community founded by Adam and Josh and featured contributions by many of the designers I was already following. Metafilter heralded its launch with the headline “The revolutionaries will wear Prada,” because of the community’s peculiar obsession with that brand. Topics ranged from dead malls to micropayments to nomadism.

A few months later the green tech and social enterprise blog WorldChanging launched with the mission of spreading the message of the “bright green” movement, a design movement closely aligned with Sterling’s Viridian Design concept. “The world needs a new, unnatural, seductive, mediated, glamorous Green,” Sterling announced in the movement’s manifesto. “A Viridian Green, if you will. The best chance for progress is to convince the twenty-first century that the twentieth century’s industrial base was crass, gauche, and filthy.”

In other words, maybe we instead of protesting McDonalds, or joining the board, we could convince people that it was just really uncool to eat there.

Discovering Headmap, Margin Walker and WorldChanging was for me what discovering The Whole Earth Catalog or Mondo 2000 must have been like for previous generations. These were the people I was looking for, and the vision I was seeking. An alternative to both the hopeless outsiderdom of left-wing activism and the nihilism of yuppiedom. A glimmer of hope that I could spend my post-college career making money and making a difference.

Looking back it all seems hopelessly naive.

Last year I saw Twitter co-founder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey give a talk at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. Dorsey, who got his start in tech by writing taxi dispatch software just for fun and still name drops Hakim Bey, is the most “Headmap” tech executive out there. I don’t know if he lurked on Margin Walker or the Geowankers mailing list, but he would have fit right in. He was “one of us.” And there he was at this major tech conference, dressed in a Prada suit, talking about “revolution” while homeless people slept under the bridge right across the street. I guess it could have been either a dream come true or a disillusionment had those particular dreams not already rotted in my heart.

Today we have garbage continents and ocean acidification. The latest ICC report tells us that even if we do manage to gouge our emissions, we’re still in for some rough climate change. And cutting emissions still looks as unlikely as it did to me in 2003 and as it did to Sterling in 1998.

Any sane person would look at the evidence and say the Virdian/Bright Green movement failed miserably. But here’s the thing: The Viridian Design movement may have failed in its goals, but accomplished its objectives.

Green is hip. Green is sexy. And the more affluent you are the greener — and therefore hipper — you can afford to be. “The task of this avant-garde is to design a stable and sustainable physical economy in which the wealthy and powerful will prefer to live,” Sterling wrote.

Virdians eschewed politics. “CO2 emission is not centrally a political or economic problem,” Sterling wrote. “It is a design and engineering problem. It is a cultural problem and a problem of artistic sensibility.”

In other words, it was a “solutionist” movement, meaning that it tried to “route around” politics and provide purely technical solutions to hard problems. The term has been popularized by Evgeny Morozov in the context of tech pundits who, but its origins are, appropriately enough, in architecture.

But in a capitalist society, an aesthetic movement is ultimately a consumerist movement. That’s why punk ended up as a lifestyle you can buy at the mall. It’s why the sharing economy is anything but. And just as the personal computer business became just another consumer electronics industry and the internet became an ad network with an NSA backdoor, Bright Green became just another way to move product. Worse, it became an excuse to use consumption as an alternative to politics and self-discipline. It’s the forfeiture of environmentalism to the market.

This bastardized version of Virdian was best stated by Arnold Vinick, told the world the fictional presidential candidate on The West Wing: “In L.A. now, the coolest thing you can drive is a hybrid. Well, if that’s what the free market can do in the most car-crazed culture on Earth, then I trust the free market to solve our energy problems.”

But as it turns out, 15 years on, that the environment is political problem after all. We need global emissions treaties. We need federal funding for research. We need to adjust our lifestyles and expectations, but we don’t want to. Down shifting is for “hair shirts.” Bright Green has become the left’s version of right-wing transhumanism: an excuse to not solve today’s problems, because tomorrow’s technology will fix them for us.

That’s not to say many of the people involved in those communities didn’t end up doing important work. And to be fair, Margin Walker was always more political and more skeptical than certain other “social responsible design” communities (if that’s even what Margin Walker was). And of course this green washed consumerism isn’t what Sterling, Alex Steffan and company had in mind in the early days. But even the political strains of that era — the so-called “emergent democracy” movement — have been co-opted by commercial forces.

Hopefully there’s a lesson in there somewhere for the next generation of activists, designers and social entrepreneurs. Don’t give up on the political, and don’t be so smug as to think you can route around it.

Photo by japanese_craft_construction

My thoughts on the Breaking Bad finale (Spoiler Warning!)

Warning: spoilers.

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The New Aestetic and Future Fatigue

pixel water

The New Aestetic is a Tumblr by James Bridle, who presented at SXSW this year. It’s based on a manifesto of sorts he wrote last year:

For a while now, I’ve been collecting images and things that seem to approach a new aesthetic of the future, which sounds more portentous than I mean. What I mean is that we’ve got frustrated with the NASA extropianism space-future, the failure of jetpacks, and we need to see the technologies we actually have with a new wonder. Consider this a mood-board for unknown products.

Bruce Sterling described it as sort of an antidote to atemporality.

Matt “Black Belt” Jones wrote this in response, proposing “sensor vernacular” as the new future vibe:

I guess – like NASA imagery – it doesn’t acquire that whiff-of-nostalgia-for-a-lost-future if you don’t remember it from the first time round. For a while, anyway. [...]

There’s both a nowness and nextness to Sensor-Vernacular.

I think my attraction to it – what ever it is – is that these signals are hints that the hangover of 10 years of ‘war-on-terror’ funding into defense and surveillance technology (where after all the advances in computer vision and relative-cheapness of devices like the Kinect came from) might get turned into an exuberant party.


From the Jeremy Scott Fall Collection

I like Bridle’s stuff, but it’s hard for me to feel like it’s a truly new aesthetic. The fashion bits look like electro revival scene style from the 00s that continue to be popular today, which is itself a revival of 80s electro, hip-hop and synthpop. And 8-bit already got a revival in the 90s and 00s, and of course that was all 80s nostalgia. Glitch still felt vital in the early 00s, but it’s by now passe (and it was all probably predated by Amiga stuff anyway). A lot of this stuff Bridle is rounding up still feels like retrofuturism rather than something new. We’ve had steampunk and dieselpunk and atompunk, so now it’s pixelpunk. We’re about to hit full circle and have retro-cyberpunk complete with VR headsets and Power Gloves.

chipflip glitch art
From Chipflip via The New Aestetic

And as to sensor vernacular, does that feel like “the Future”? Not to me. This machine vision stuff has been coming to us for a long time, with Terminator, Predator, Until the End of the World, etc. We’ve seen visions of the future where computers triggered by sensors, voice driven computers, unmanned aircraft for decades now. So now we’re seeing augmented reality, we’re seeing Kinect, we’re seeing Geoloqi and the Internet of Things, and yes it all feels very “now” but it doesn’t feel that much like the future because it’s just taking too long for technology to catch up to our imaginations. Kinect and Siri just aren’t Kit or HAL.

In 2010 William Gibson wrote about “future fatigue,” a symptom or perhaps cause of the atemporality that Bridle decries:

Say it’s midway through the final year of the first decade of the 21st Century. Say that, last week, two things happened: scientists in China announced successful quantum teleportation over a distance of ten miles, while other scientists, in Maryland, announced the creation of an artificial, self-replicating genome. In this particular version of the 21st Century, which happens to be the one you’re living in, neither of these stories attracted a very great deal of attention.

In quantum teleportation, no matter is transferred, but information may be conveyed across a distance, without resorting to a signal in any traditional sense. Still, it’s the word “teleportation”, used seriously, in a headline. My “no kidding” module was activated: “No kidding,” I said to myself, “teleportation.” A slight amazement. [...]

Alvin Toffler warned us about Future Shock, but is this Future Fatigue? For the past decade or so, the only critics of science fiction I pay any attention to, all three of them, have been slyly declaring that the Future is over. I wouldn’t blame anyone for assuming that this is akin to the declaration that history was over, and just as silly. But really I think they’re talking about the capital-F Future, which in my lifetime has been a cult, if not a religion. People my age are products of the culture of the capital-F Future. The younger you are, the less you are a product of that. If you’re fifteen or so, today, I suspect that you inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory. I also suspect that you don’t know it, because, as anthropologists tell us, one cannot know one’s own culture.

While Gibsons’s Neuromancer is mostly remembered for cyberspace and virtual reality and artificial intelligence, there’s a lot more going on in that particular future setting. Just about everything that was “the future” during Gibson’s life time up to the point that the Sprawl Trilogy books were written: neurotechnology, nanotechnology, space travel, life extension, cryogenics, biological computers and all sorts of other weird biotech. There are even geodesic domes and arcologies.

Where do you really go from there? The transhumanist and singularitian authors like Vernor Vinge, Ken McLeod and Charlie Stross try to take it further, but although their novels may be better and more scientifically accurate do they really have a vision of the future more advanced than Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov? And besides, even the extropian/singularian strain has actually been around at least as long as the cyberpunk strain.

The Headmap Manifesto was such a buzz when I first read it in 2003 (I can only imagine what it was like to read it in 1999). It didn’t so much predict new technologies – mobile phones, GPS and handheld computers all existed at the time – but rather new uses for existing technologies. I already had a smart phone when I read but it still seemed exciting. Minority Report didn’t predict any future technology that you couldn’t have read about long before the movie was released 10 years ago, but it captured many people imaginations because so much of it seemed to be right around the corner. But now as these things arrive – location aware applications, the Kinect – instead of being amazed we say “oh, it’s about time.” A friend of mine just bought a 3D printer, which is really cool but it’s yet another “it’s about time” rather than a future shock.

What comes next, other than iterative improvements to what we already have? Vat grown meat and organs for transplanting? When your first relative gets a vat grown heart transplant, will you think “that’s amazing” or “thank God they figured out how to do that in time?”

Who Speaks for Geek Culture?

Yesterday an essay by Wikipedia and Citizendium co-founder Larry Sanger made rounds: Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?

There’s a lot to discuss there, including whether this is actually a particularly new phenomena, how prominent it actually is, whether being anti-college actually constitutes anti-intellectualism (and does thinking that the educational system is badly broken constitute being anti-college?), whether Nicholas Carr is being unreasonable, and whether advocating letting anyone edit a Wikipedia page actually constitutes a hatred of knowledge.

I’ll let others have that conversation for now.

One thing that I noticed reading Sanger’s essay was how few geeks he cites as evidence. Where are the quotes from Hacker News threads from real-life actual geeks? I’m sure you could find some gems in this thread or this one.

Instead, Sanger cites Peter Thiel, Sir Ken Robinson, Don Tapscott and Clay Shirkey. Do these people represent geek culture?

Thiel is a lawyer and venture capitalist. He’s best known as the co-founder of PayPal, but it was Max Levchin and the other co-founders who had the technical background. Robinson is an education researcher. Tapscott is a business consultant with a background in education research. Shirkey has perhaps the most geek cred among them. According to Wikipedia, he wrote technology guides for Ziff Davis before become a professor of new media. But do any of them truly represent geek culture?

Also, who doesn’t speak for geek culture? Apparently, in Sanger’s view Carr does not. Neither does Sanger himself. Apparently Jaron Lanier doesn’t consider himself a geek anymore, despite his background in computer science, and therefore speaks against geek culture instead of as part of it.

I’m not being glib here, and I’m not bringing this up as a counter point to Sanger. Articles and lectures by and interviews with Shirkey, Thiel, etc. tend to be discussed frequently in geek circles (though not always approvingly). Carr and Lanier are discussed as well – my perception, and Sanger’s, is that they have received more negative attention in the geekosphere than positive attention. But is that a correct assessment?

Who counts as a geek and who doesn’t?

Of course, Sanger only asks whether there is a strain of geek culture that is anti-intellectual, not whether the whole culture is anti-intellectual. Geek culture is not coherent. There are many right-wing libertarian geeks, and there are many socialist geeks as well. Some geeks are ruthless entrepreneurs (especially these days with the bubble in full swing). Some are more interested in free culture than making money. What, then, is the politics of geek culture? What do geeks have in common?

Does it even matter who speaks for geek culture?

Latest Drug Scare: Oxi, a “Highly Addictive Hallucinogenic” That is “Twice as Powerful as Crack Cocaine”

Oxi

I came across this article in The Guardian on “Oxi,” a drug that has reportedly “exploded” in South America. According to The Guardian, Oxi is a “highly addictive and hallucinogenic blend of cocaine paste, gasoline, kerosene and quicklime (calcium oxide).”

From the story:

“The difference between cocaine and oxi is like the difference between drinking beer and pure alcohol,” said a federal police operative on the Peru-Brazil border, who refused to be named.

Further down in the story, however, another police officer is quoted saying ” “It is a new thing and we don’t yet have all the technical details of what oxi really is and the damage it can cause to someone who becomes addicted and uses it constantly.”

The whole story seemed fishy, so I did some digging and found this thread on a drug forum. Someone there found an Al Jazeera story with some more information:

The Al Jazeera story cites a researcher named Mendes who claims to have done a study of 80 oxi users. Mendes claims that users die about one year after starting to use the drug. That’s an insanely high mortality rate, but there’s no indication as to how the study was conducted, what the users actually died from or what sorts of controls were used. (Still, makes me think of Substance D – a drug everyone knows will kill them, but they keep taking anyway).

There’s a paradox that makes the stories particularly weird. If Oxi is so pure, why is it so cheap? One poster on the forums suggests:

Crack can be made straight from coca paste without having to be reverted from cocaine HCL.

The process in making cocaine goes: coca leaves> coca paste > cocaine base (crack) > cocaine HCL.

Its just that street crack always comes from being made from cocaine HCL

My guess is oxi is just cocaine base made straight from coca paste; so oxi would be more pure because it isnt being reverted back to cocaine base from cut cocaine.

The idea, I guess, is that on the black market most coca paste usually goes towards making cocaine hcl, so that anyone wanting to make crack has traditionally used cocaine hcl. What’s happening now is that more people are realizing they can skip the cocaine hcl period and make a cheaper, purer product straight from the paste.

Another poster suggested it might not actually be purer at all, but it might actually be the impurities (not to mention residues left by gasoline or kerosene) that create a different experience:

Sort of like the difference between East Coast USA H4 heroin (a highly purified powder mostly consisting of diacetylmorphine) & West Coast USA Black Tar Heroin (a very crude, not very purified mass containing DAM as well as morphine, 6-MAM & other assorted alkaloids)?

While H4 is obviously the cleaner, “superior” product, many people prefer the unrefined-ness of BTH, because of the nuanced high provided by the different alkaloids.

A few years ago, similar stories about a drug called “Paco” were circulating. From The Christian Science Monitor in 2006:

The paco sold here is a chemical byproduct, a leftover when Andean coca leaves are turned into a paste, then formulated into cocaine bound for US and European markets. Paco was once discarded as laboratory trash, says Dr. Ricardo Nadra, an Argentine government psychiatrist who works with paco addicts. But Argentina’s devastating financial collapse in 2001 left the poorest even poorer, creating an impoverished demand for “cocaine’s garbage,” he says.

“People were broke and they couldn’t afford to buy anything else,” says Dr. Nadra, adding that drug dealers took the leftovers, which look like salt crystals, and added substances such as ground up glass as a filler in order to increase their profits. “Drug dealers could keep selling pure cocaine in Europe or the US but now they could sell paco in [Argentina's poorer neighborhoods],” he says.

The Monitor notes that rich kids were starting to use the drug as well.

The Guardian ran its own story on paco just last year. The Guardian claims that “Paco is cocaine base paste, a byproduct of the refining process, cut with chemicals such as sulphuric acid and kerosene as well as glue, rat poison and crushed glass.”

Sounds very similar, except that The Guardian is describing paco as being made from a waste “paste” as opposed to an essential ingredient being used in a different way. But I can’t help but wonder if they are indeed the same drug. Some of the comments on The Guardian story on Oxi say it is, and Vaughan Bell att Mind Hacks says the same thing. In which case, this has been a known problem in Brazil and Argentina since at least 2001. It reminds me of some of the stories I saw about ya ba a few years ago, as if it were a “new” form of speed.

Anyway, it does sound a bit more legit than jenkem or iDoser.

Is it too late to stop fascism in the US?

(Image from this old post by Nick P, it’s NOT from a Tea Party rally)

First thing first, Robert Paxton’s definition of fascism:

Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline. [...]

A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

Now, Sara Robinson on the question “Are we there yet?”:

And every time this question got asked, people like Chip Berlet and Dave Neiwert and Fred Clarkson and yours truly would look up from our maps like a parent on a long drive, and smile a wan smile of reassurance. “Wellll…we’re on a bad road, and if we don’t change course, we could end up there soon enough. But there’s also still plenty of time and opportunity to turn back. Watch, but don’t worry. As bad as this looks: no — we are not there yet.”

In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world’s pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist. In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn’t by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together. According to our reading of Paxton’s stages, we weren’t there yet. There were certain signs — one in particular — we were keeping an eye out for, and we just weren’t seeing it.

And now we are. In fact, if you know what you’re looking for, it’s suddenly everywhere. [...]

All through the Bush years, progressive right-wing watchers refused to call it “fascism” because, though we kept looking, we never saw clear signs of a deliberate, committed institutional partnership forming between America’s conservative elites and its emerging homegrown brownshirt horde. We caught tantalizing signs of brief flirtations — passing political alliances, money passing hands, far-right moonbat talking points flying out of the mouths of “mainstream” conservative leaders. But it was all circumstantial, and fairly transitory. The two sides kept a discreet distance from each other, at least in public. What went on behind closed doors, we could only guess. They certainly didn’t act like a married couple.

Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips’ Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas — the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer — being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We’ve seen Armey’s own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process — and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We’ve seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to “a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress.”

This is the sign we were waiting for — the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America’s conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country’s legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America’s streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won’t do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It’s also our very last chance to stop it.

Alternet: Is the U.S. on the Brink of Fascism?

Robinson has 2 follow-up posts: 7 Ways We Can Fight Back Against the Rising Fascist Threat and 5 Ways to Build a Fascist-Proof America

I don’t share Robinson’s faith that we can pull out of this. I don’t have her faith in the Democratic Party, which I think plays the role of “good cop” in what’s actually a one party system. I think the entire establishment media, not just Fox News, is a party of that system and can never be made to “get the story right.” I don’t think we can rely on the police to do the “heavy lifting.”

I have, however, been considering what can be done. I will share my thoughts and conclusions eventually (unless of course I do decide there really isn’t anything that can be done).

In the meantime, here are some other things to consider.

Naomi Wolf in her own piece claiming we’re in the late stages of a fascist shift: (from 2007)

A friend emails me a story from USA Today about a 24-year-old college graduate who testified before Congress about her family of immigrants and the difficulties they face; shortly afterward, the entire family was arrested by immigration agents. Another online piece reports that Blackwater is setting up operations along the US/Mexico border and an insightful post on Daily Kos describes how the TSA list will revert from the airlines to the management of the Department of Homeland Security shortly and that by February we may well face the need to apply to the State for permission to travel. If this proposed regulation goes through, we will move from 1931 to about 1934–when the borders started to close– with the stroke of a pen. Jews in America have hardwired into their DNA a sense of the distinction between those who got out before the borders closed and those who waited a moment too long.

And these thoughts about life during totalitarianism from William S. Burroughs and RU Sirius.

Why the Republicans are (still) winning

This Labor Day weekend we learned that unemployment shot up again in August, after the false hope of an artificially low rate reported for July. And we learned that 1/9 of Americans are receiving food stamps.

And, in a major victory in their apparent quest to turn all of the United States into the town from Gummo, Republicans pressured the nation’s “green jobs czar,” into resigning for not being nice enough to the people who got us into this mess.

That professional Republican propagandists can paint Jones as an uncivil and racially insensitive conspiracy theorist is a major coup for them, and that these matters are more important than the state of our ever crumbling economy is telling.

How is that with a minority in both the house and senate, having lost the presidency, and with its political leadership in disarray the Republicans are still setting the agenda and winning political battles? Why are the Democrats bending over backwards to accommodate these swine that so cynically sold the nation up the river?

The easy answer is that there isn’t really much difference between the two parties. But that answer doesn’t tell the whole story.

To say “there’s no difference between the Democrats and Republicans” is to drastically over simplify. The worst Democrats in recent history (ex: Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman) are nowhere near as bad as the worst Republicans in recent history (ex: Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond). The best Republican senators in recent history (ex: Arlen Specter) are no where near as good as the best Democratic senators in recent history (ex: Russ Feingold) George W. Bush was clearly a worse president than Bill Clinton.

But there is no denying that both parties serve the same corporate masters. The Democrats and Republicans are engaged in a perpetual game of “Good Cop, Bad Cop.” And this latest election cycle, and the first few months of Obama’s presidency, has made their pattern of action clear: 1) Get a conservative president or two (Reagan, Bush) into office, let them run the country into the ground. 2) Let the Dems take over for a while, but perpetuate Republican policy 3) Even though the Dems are essentially only maintaining previous Republican policy, attack, attack, attack 4) Get an even more conservative president into office. 5) Loop back to step 2.

At this stage of the process, the Republicans don’t need a strong political leader as long as their propaganda force -the Limbaughs and Becks – is in full effect. The Democrats evidently have no will to stand-up to these attacks, meaning we can expect a further rightward march off the cliff for the foreseeable future.

Birthers and the democratization of media

“I’ve just recently realized the degree to which the Net and Web represents a victory for counter and subculturalism in one sense: The generation currently in their teens won’t even be able to recognize a consensus reality or know what the mainline politics of the moment allegedly is, because they won’t even look at centralized media.” – R.U. Sirius, Mondo 2000 issue 16, winter 1996

“Today’s cutting-edge youth demands free access to uncensored information over the Internet with universal encryption to guarantee secure, unmediated communications. Once again, through a technological backdoor, we are witnessing a social movement that threatens to pull the plug on the powers-that-be. As it loses its traditional control over information, government becomes irrelevant. After all the loudmouthed posturing and wishful thinking, all the manifestos and ephemera, will it really be the ones and zeros of the computer’s binary code that render authority obsolete and redefine human relations?” – Peter Stansill, Preface to the 1999 edition of BAMN: Outlaw Manifestos & Ephemera 1965 – 1970.

“It’s a total cacophony of disparate voices and ideologies. For every Noam Chomsky Archive or Mother Jones web site, there’s an Aryan Dating Service or a Holohoax site or a godhatesfags.com. It doesn’t favor one school of thought over another. But that’s a good thing! More chaos! More ideological Balkanization, please! Push the pedal to the metal of the Hegelian dialectic as hard and as fast as possible!

At root level, these competing voices all have certain things in common – a deep mistrust of the government and the capitalist elite, death-sucking powers that be. The Left hates something like NAFTA, but so does the Buchanan Brigade. I prsonally find myself in agreement with the Archie Bunker types when it comes to despising the New World Order of corporate greedheads who are reducing the working class of this country to renting their lives out like fucking slaves to Walmart and McDonalds for five bucks an hour.” – Richard Metzger, 21C, 1997.

In the 90s, the advent of the Internet age, many people, including myself, thought the Internet’s democratization of media would be vehicle for social progress. R.U. Sirius was correct that “consensus reality” would be demolished. But instead of a new enlightenment, we have a new dark age in which disinformation flows at will and even educated people can’t be bothered to check Snopes before hitting forward on the latest right wing chain e-mail.

The thinking seemed to go: access to information outside the mainstream media would in itself cause the media establishment’s authority to crumble and foster a new age of critical thinking. “The people” would get a better sense of what was really going on in the world, and demand change. People, awash in unverified sources, would also become more critical thinkers.

By 2002, in the wake of 9/11, and the rise of the “Warbloggers” it should have been clear that this simply wasn’t happening.

“Blogging” first entered mainstream consciousness with the rise of the “warblog” – pro-war often nominally libertarian blogs that launched after 9/11. Back before liberal sites like Daily Kos and the Huffington Post stole the show, Glenn Reynold’s Instapundit was the best known political blog. Reynolds was actually one of the most civil warblogs – others had a “most blood thirsty warblogger contest” (results, and no, it wasn’t a joke). Example post from Cato the Youngest:

Who calls for the destruction of an entire city in every post, and most comments and e-mails? Who has wished, in the pages of his blog, that he could be the bombadier-navigator on a B-1B, loaded with 38 200-kT AGM-69 missiles, with orders to scour the Middle East with thermonuclear fire? Who has suggested that the Israelis could annihilate Egypt by breaking the Aswan dams, in order to drive people to high ground, then nuking them? Cato the Youngest.

That is what the radical democratization of media wrought.

Maybe it should have been predictable. Ever since the death of Alan Berg at the hands of Nazis in 1984, the right has dominated talk radio – starting with Rush Limbaugh’s issue talk in 1984. And since the fairness doctrine was repealed in 1987, we’ve seen a lot more Limbaughs than Amy Goodmans.

“I think that the apparatus that we have, in terms of democracy and free speech, is probably as good as it’s going to get — we just have to find a way back to real power within the democratic apparatus that’s been captured by money and so forth.” – R.U. Sirius, Shift , July 2002.

“The base is not reality based.” – Jay Rosen, February 2009.

Which brings us to the “birthers.” Although the birthers are often compared to truthers, these people are even more deranged. At their best truthers raise valid questions about the government’s response to 9/11. At their worst, they extrapolate wild claims based on thin shreds of evidence.

Birthers don’t even have these sorts of thin shreds from which to spin their stories. They stand steadfast in the resolve to disbelieve Obama’s citizenship in the face of all contrary evidence, while offering not one bit of evidence themselves. (I wish they would apply the same standard of evidence to the existence of god as they do to the citizenship of Obama). If you show these people Snopes, they’ll dismiss it as conspiracy. They are allergic to the truth.

Meanwhile, the lack of centralized control has done little to rattle the powers that be. There are web sites dedicated to supporting any fringe belief you can think of. Everyone from StormFront to IndyMedia is routinely ignored by the establishment.

Not that the mainstream media is any better than the Internet. The Birthers have been given ample coverage, in a “he said, she said” treatment that legitimizes their lunacy. As much as the right loves to rail against relativism and post-modernism, their maniacal insistence that they be given “equal treatment,” and the media’s compliance with those demands, does more to create a postmodern, truth-less world than any French academic ever did.

Sadly, even as bloggers explain in detail how Goldman Sachs screwed America and provide factual analysis of Sotomayor’s record, lies and propaganda are able to shout them down. And our “watchdogs” choose to go after Matt Taibi instead of Goldman Sachs and to treat the “debate” over Sotomayor’s record like an actual controversy instead of a bunch of a nonsense. There seems to be no point in speaking truth to power. Power does not care what is spoken to it.

This should not be read as a reactionary rant. The yearning for a “golden age” of investigative journalism is a case of rosy retrospection.

What to do then when the watchmen are evil, and the populace is mad? I have no answers. My only solace at this point is that every outbreak of insanity seems to die down eventually, even if society writ large learns nothing from them.

Stimulus plan that won’t cost much – federal, state, and local

Government at all levels are scrambling to stimulate the economy, mostly through either big spending packages or through tax cuts.

One way to increase economic activity without spending much, if any money, is the liberalization of vice laws. At present cities, states, and even entire countries loose revenue to locations that have more liberal laws concerning sex, drugs, and gambling. All these stimulus projects would require is the repeal or loosening of a few existing laws and regulations.

I’m a big proponent of ending drug prohibition. However, that’s going to be hard to do and there is is a huge bureaucracy and multiple government agencies in place for drug enforcement. So using drug legalization or decriminalization as a stimulus is a longer and more complicated process than legalizing/decriminalizing other vices*.

Federal:

  • Repeal the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act portion of the SAFE Port Act.
  • Loosen requirements for obtaining a license to distill hard liquor.
  • Stop interfering with states drinking age limits
  • State:

  • Repeal prostitution laws
  • Repeal gambling laws
  • Grant more liquor licenses, make them easier to obtain
  • Loosen requirements for brewers and wine makers.
  • Reduce the legal drinking age to 18
  • Repeal smoking bans
  • Repeal state gun licensing laws, hand gun bans, etc.
  • Repeal sex toy laws and similar silly laws
  • City:

  • Repeal any local laws that interfere with the above
  • Repeal zoning laws that interfere with the establishment of strip clubs, brothels, casinos, porn stores and bars within city limits.
  • Repeal public intoxication and open container laws (outside of automobiles, of course)
  • Repeal local gun licensing laws, hand gun bans, etc.
  • *One alternative would be to start by un-scheduling drugs that don’t currently take a lot of law enforcements resources currently, such as ketamine, LSD, DMT, psilocybin, and various analogs. This leaves all law enforcement agencies in-tact and operating at or near present levels while freeing up the market to ramp up sale and manufacture of these drugs. Also, change the scheduling of many prescription drugs to make them easier to obtain without a prescription.

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