Sunday Reading

by zunguzungu

My blog post “The Grass Is Closed”: What I Have Learned About Power from the Police, Chancellor Birgeneau, and Occupy Cal was nominated* for 3 Quarks Daily’s Politics and Social Science Prize! You can vote for it here, if you’d like (it’s the last one, albeit first in your heart). If you’d like to vote for Millicent (under “The Livestream Ended: How I Got Off My Computer And Onto The Street At Occupy Oakland), Corey Robin (Revolutionaries of the Right: The Deep Roots of Conservative Radicalism), or Peter Frase (Anti-Star Trek: A Theory of Posterity ) or  Brian Thill (On the Early Iconography of Certain of the 2012 Presidential Campaign Logos, Considered Alphabetically), well, you’d also do so here.

* by me, if we’re being strictly honest.

“Whose Fake Park? Our Fake Park!”
and video:

Hamid Dabashi suggests that the “Arab Spring” is

a mode of narrative montage in which we sequence and edit specific historic events in the Arab world and give them a rhetorical consistency that banks on our dreams and thrives on our hopes. That act of creative and critical montage is what makes the Arab Spring both plausible and meaningful.

Individual uprisings as well as both their immediate and distant results are scattered events with distinct local and national registers. But an emotive seepage creeps from one setting to another that blends the colours, shapes, sounds and politics from place as different as Tunisia to Egypt and Syria. This seepage then casts the shade of one event on that of its neighbour – just like a montage that creates the illusion of motion out of light.

In this transfusion, we do the montage – creatively, critically and hopefully – with Elia Suleiman and Sergei Eisenstein implanted inside our mind’s eye. What we call the Arab Spring is the mental editing of a succession of shots that demand and exact a reading and a recreation to render things meaningful.

Occupy Oakland and the 12/12 West Coast Port Blockade:

Kettling 2.0: The Olympic State of Exception and TSG Action Figures:

Here is your state of exception, already in place: steel cordons which were purchased to deal with the unthinkable, to deal with a nuclear holocaust or an erm, zombie apocalypse, are now being used to prevent middle-aged teachers from strolling into Trafalgar Square, because they’re carrying a political placard.

The diagnosis:

I have breast cancer. A week ago, I had breast cancer, and the week before that, and the week before that. Maybe five, eight, even ten years ago, the first bad cell split inside me, secretly. But I didn’t know. This is how I arrived at knowing.

Two friends of mine were recently diagnosed. When news of the first came, I felt sadness. When news of the second came a few weeks ago, I felt a different kind of shock. I’d never had a mammogram. Even though I was ten years younger than the time they say you need to start, it felt like time to start, and when her news came I thought: I need to do this right now. For my friends, for me. Solidarity. Something small I can do, some little action against the big unknowable that swoops down without warning and strikes the ones we love.

How Joe Diaz was arrested, to be put into the file under “reflexive militarization of university spaces”:

The first thing I told the officers was, “Hi, I’m an Emory student and street medic, I know this woman, is she OK?” “Identify yourself!” commanded the largest officer in return. The next few moments happened very quickly. I did not get to talk to Alice at all. I did not walk over to her. I did not stand between her and the police. I felt unsafe in the enclosed area, and so remained near the door. As the police asserted their dominion over this part of the library, which I have spent literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours in over the past year and a half, I was simply taken aback. I was asked, “Are you an Emory student?” It is no trivial fact to note that this question was hollered at me aggressively. Since I opened my interaction with the police by informing them that I am an Emory student, at this point I knew they were not listening to my words. I knew the officers were in a ‘military mindset.’

By ‘military mindset’, I mean something very specific. In this situation, the officer never saw me as a student or the surrounding area as a library. He never asked me something like “How do you know this woman?” or even, “Shouldn’t you be studying during finals time?” Actual context was irrelevant. For the cops, the scene was a Battle. The cop’s comportment demonstrated that I was being viewed as a Potential Enemy and that the library was being deemed a Combat Zone. In a Combat Zone, one does not discuss, one does not reason – one sees only Danger, fighting against it with one goal in mind: Elimination. My presence, for some reason, was seen as the Threat to be Liquidated – even before my ID was demanded. Even so, I reiterated that I was an Emory student. “Yes, I’m an Emory student,” I clearly, if somewhat nervously, stated. At this time, feeling threatened in the enclosed area, I began to back out towards the doorway opening into the main lobby from where I had entered. This is approximately when the video begins.

Read the whole thing; this is the video:

Are Christians Hate-Filled Hypocrites?

“Christianity” has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed “spiritual” substitute.

Gitmo forever:

For nearly ten years now, Guantanamo Bay’s military prison has been an international symbol of United States lawlessness and a recruiting boon for al-Qaeda. If Congress gets its way the facility will stay that way for the indefinite future. Both houses of Congress have now approved versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill that would require the use of military detention and military courts for suspected terrorists and make it virtually impossible to close Guantanamo.

So true:

DEMYSTIFICATION:

There was a time not too long ago when people – from small children to adults – could look at some celebrities and public figures as role models. Or they could simply be awed by the power, fame, wealth, and talents of various celebrities. Someone like Babe Ruth or The Beatles were, like, not even human. They were gods living on a separate plane of existence above mere mortals. Rock stars, Hollywood icons, powerful elected officials, titans of industry, professional athletes…all of these people formed an elite to which us common people implicitly understood we did not belong. They were special.

Then someone invented Twitter. And now we know exactly how banal, ordinary, and flat-out stupid most of these people are.

Occupy and “The Arab Spring”:

The real comparison, needless to say, has been dodged by Western reporters, so keen to extol the anti-dictator rebellions of the Arabs, so anxious to ignore protests against “democratic” Western governments, so desperate to disparage these demonstrations, to suggest that they are merely picking up on the latest fad in the Arab world. The truth is somewhat different. What drove the Arabs in their tens of thousands and then their millions on to the streets of Middle East capitals was a demand for dignity and a refusal to accept that the local family-ruled dictators actually owned their countries. The Mubaraks and the Ben Alis and the Gaddafis and the kings and emirs of the Gulf (and Jordan) and the Assads all believed that they had property rights to their entire nations. Egypt belonged to Mubarak Inc, Tunisia to Ben Ali Inc (and the Traboulsi family), Libya to Gaddafi Inc. And so on. The Arab martyrs against dictatorship died to prove that their countries belonged to their own people.

And that is the true parallel in the West. The protest movements are indeed against Big Business – a perfectly justified cause – and against “governments”. What they have really divined, however, albeit a bit late in the day, is that they have for decades bought into a fraudulent democracy: they dutifully vote for political parties – which then hand their democratic mandate and people’s power to the banks and the derivative traders and the rating agencies, all three backed up by the slovenly and dishonest coterie of “experts” from America’s top universities and “think tanks”, who maintain the fiction that this is a crisis of globalisation rather than a massive financial con trick foisted on the voters.

The banks and the rating agencies have become the dictators of the West. Like the Mubaraks and Ben Alis, the banks believed – and still believe – they are owners of their countries. The elections which give them power have – through the gutlessness and collusion of governments – become as false as the polls to which the Arabs were forced to troop decade after decade to anoint their own national property owners. Goldman Sachs and the Royal Bank of Scotland became the Mubaraks and Ben Alis of the US and the UK, each gobbling up the people’s wealth in bogus rewards and bonuses for their vicious bosses on a scale infinitely more rapacious than their greedy Arab dictator-brothers could imagine.

Inequality of what?

…at the level of the firm, the state, and ruling ideology, the key inequality has been an inequality of class power, not just earning potential. That, in the end, is the inequality that matters.

American Empire and the Good Life: Hypocrisy and Fantasy at Home and Abroad

On television, we watch attractive lovers drinking red wine in a lush New Zealand vineyard. Cut. Syrian soldiers drag a body down the street. Incongruous images like these aren’t just the stuff of late-night television viewing; equally discordant scenes, “links,” flash up on computer screens where many of us surf. In fact, just about everywhere you look, advertisements for the “good life” coincide, with almost naturalized self-evidence, with registrations of another country’s cruelty. It’s as if the desires for pleasure and calls for moral outrage have something in common, which they do: the capacity to make us feel good. All the more visible in these media saturated times, claims to American virtue and experiences of feel-swell righteousness are nevertheless not new; they have been a common feature of U.S. politics, enabling domestic support for imperial projects from Wilson onwards.


Frank Pasquale reviews With Liberty and Justice for Some
BBC Interview with Jadaliyya Co-Editor Bassam Haddad on Asad’s ABC Interview

Bassam Haddad states that “the more you know about Syria, the leff effective the interview is, and the less you know about Syria, the more effective it is, even if not too effective”

Occupy Justice, on intra-activist divisiveness:

A major contributor to this divisiveness that is far less obvious than the age-old battle of nonviolence vs. “diversity of tactics” has been the tendency of radicals to incessantly highlight the many transgressions of the government, its corporate masters, and other upholders of the status quo while focusing on solutions only as an afterthought. I will not repeat this tendency here as my whole purpose for writing this is to propose a solution to internal conflict within the Occupy movement, and I do not wish to be ironic. I will, however, add that it is inherently difficult for those who identify as the oppressed/victims (in this case the Occupiers) of a given situation to come up with a solution to their own plight. Calling oneself oppressed implies that the oppressors owe some type of concession—which they certainly do—but there is a problem: If the basis for one’s satisfaction lies in the hands of a party that one has no control over, what can be done if said party refuses to relent?This is where the true conflict begins and it extends to internal struggles as well.

My antidote is simple: We must acknowledge that not every struggle is an outward one and that we bear some responsibility both as a movement and as individuals for our shortcomings. My hope is that such an acknowledgement will be the first step toward building our own justice/accountability process with the aim of strengthening the movement by approaching conflict as an opportunity for individual and collective growth/transformation rather than as a menace to be avoided. It’s not as if we would readily trust the police and the courts to judge our own, so why not take up the gavel ourselves? Of course, I do not mean that we need our own court system and police force; we should instead use our Occupations as laboratories for community-based restorative justice.

Never happened:

Both sides speak in broad strokes about patriotism and devotion to country. But while both sides agree that the Constitution is a well-meaning and important document, the Tea Partyers are unyielding in their devotion, while occupiers say they’re ready to toss all or part of it.

And listening to their hopes and fears, another delineation emerges. The Tea Party members rely on their early American history classes, exhibiting an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Federalist Papers and obscure letters exchanged between the Founding Fathers as they make arguments to return to what they believe are strict interpretations of the Constitution’s intent. Their Occupy counterparts know plenty about applied constitutional theory, but they really only perk up when it comes to 20th century history. The occupiers paint the rise of the middle class after World War II, aided by the strength of unions, high taxes on the wealthy and a robust manufacturing-based economy, with vivid imagery that evokes memories of Rosie the Riveter. The movements emerge from two very different conceptions of what is important in American history.

Higher Ed, A Pyramid Scheme:

How (not) to give advice to Occupy Wall Street

Sometimes people ask me to tell the Occupy movement it should do this or that. It’s tough to know what to say, since the movement doesn’t respond all that well to advice from the outside. That’s because it’s a participatory, relationship-based community. No one person really is in control, so it’s not like I can just pass some nugget of wisdom on to the secret leader. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) If you want a certain idea to get internalized in the movement, the best advice I can give is to participate in it. Join relevant committees, be patient, and try to persuade people there. Have fun. But be warned: you’ll probably change your mind in the process.

Nicholas Kristof’s anti-politics:

[T]he way his method and style directly dehumanize his subjects, expelling them from the realm of the analytical by refusing to connect them to systems and structures that animate their challenges. Kristof’s distancing double move provides us with precisely what is worse than a bourgeois not knowing about the world’s horrors: knowing about them only enough to simultaneously acknowledge and dismiss them, to denude them of political and moral demand, to turn them into consumable and easily digestible spectacles. We are encouraged to look only so we can then close our eyes.

To address this apparent paradox — and to explore what social values, imaginaries, and desires Kristof embodies — I will introduce the concept of the open secret, arguing that elite American discourse is increasingly defined not by ideological obfuscation (where there are secrets that we just do not know), but by an insidious mélange where secrets still exist but also often seem somewhat open, recognized through the side of the eye, becoming things we must know but cannot acknowledge. Kristof is a virtuoso at introducing vexing questions about how various violences might have structural determinants … only to immediately silence those questions. As a result, his reporting allows us to process the trauma of a world of contradictions and incoherencies while concurrently collectively agreeing on an official and comforting narrative: that of progress through the diligent application of universal liberal values. Against Kristof’s double move — opening up the caesura, allowing the pressure to escape, closing it again — the project must become to begin thinking through ways of speaking our open secrets, of holding that caesura open and doing politics in the gap.

Tanzania at 50:

I have tended to define myself in patriotic terms, as Orwell conceived it, finding expression of who I am in individual expressions of identity, styles of being and a personal sense of existence. This sense of who I am has roots, I believe, in a vaguely Tanzanian, but not exclusive to it, sensibility of ‘Upwani’.

What does this mean? For me the Tanzanian ‘Upwani’ identity can be found in its food, language, music and general style of being. When I lived in Britain, whenever I would say to friends that I missed ‘Tanzania’ what that meant to me was I yearned for the comfort of ‘chapati na njegere’, ‘halwa’, ‘Taarab’, the particular lilt of Kiswahili that can only be found amongst the ‘pwani’ peoples, its playfulness and its almost always flirtatious pitch. This is what defines my Tanzanian-ness. And I forever will love and feel devoted to this sense of being Tanzanian.

Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women:

They Have Made A Desert, And Called It Adjustment:

It continues to be a source of amazement to see what passes for a success story among austerity advocates. Ireland is proclaimed a huge success despite 14 percent unemployment and a very slow recovery in incomes…Interestingly, people who trumpet small bounces off a very low floor as successes for austerity tend to describe the New Deal as a failure because the fairly rapid growth after 1933 wasn’t enough to fully restore prosperity until the war. Funny how that works.

Upper Big Branch settlement: $200 million for 29 dead coal miners:

It’s raining this morning here in Charleston. The fog was hanging over the Kanawha River on my drive in. Like always, there was a Friend of Coal ad on the local radio station. But over at the Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse, the lights were already burning.In a few hours, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin will announce details of a landmark settlement in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, a deal that calls for Alpha Natural Resources — which bought UBB mine owner Massey Energy in June — to spend $200 million on major safety initiatives, civil penalties related to the mine disaster and other former Massey mines, and restitution to the families of the 29 miners who died and the two miners who were hurt in the April 2010 explosion.

The Post Office as State-Business Hybrid

Congress has asked the Postal Service to do the impossible: act as a monopoly universal provider and make a profit. It’s taken a while, but postal officials are finally starting to put things in those terms:

“We are in a deep financial crisis today because we have a business model that is tied to the past,” Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said during a speech last month. “We are expected to operate like a business, but we do not have the flexibility to do so. Our business model is fundamentally inflexible. It prevents the Postal Service from solving problems and being effective in the way a business would.”

This is an unsustainable model for the long term. I would also stipulate that a major problem for the postal service is the massive obligations it is under for its pension system, though the problem runs far deeper (and therefore I won’t discuss it). Most importantly, I think the Postmaster General is underselling the issue. The key question is whether, as I noted on Friday, the government has a vested interest (i.e., a reason to fund) in providing a means to communicate by paper and packages throughout the country. The problem is and has been that Congress hasn’t asked that question. People want to privatize it or “rescue” it, but with little examination of the underlying question of whether society’s interest in the circulation of information in this manner is worth an expenditure.

Robert Reich called it the most important speech of Obama’s presidency. Yves Smith is angrily unimpressed by the attempt to rebrand. Louis Proyect suggests that it is Bull moose and bullshit. Eric Rauchway suggests Obama is more like Taft than Roosevelt. And Jedediah Purdy has some thoughts on the differences:

Roosevelt put citizenship – civic and political engagement – at the heart of the good life he wanted for Americans. He argued for security and equality because no one could be a good citizen without them, and because the country owed this much to those who contributed to it. For him, public spirit was the highest motivation, and selfishness was never legitimate: he warned that “ruin in its worst form is inevitable” with “the triumph both in politics and business of a sordid and selfish materialism.” He roared that earning a dollar was legitimate only when the profit-making also served the public interest.

There is almost none of this in Obama’s speech. His touchstone is a fair shot at a middle-class life, for its own sake more than for the national community’s. Even education, that most civic of public investments, is just about economic opportunity. This may give some hint of why Obama doesn’t seem to know what to do with the movement he inspired four years ago, other than reconstitute it for the next election. It’s also the temper of the time. Nearly everyone thinks economic success is admirable, and far fewer think that about politics. Obama has deferred to this prejudice throughout his presidency by favoring personal aloofness over calling his supporters into political action. By following that strategy, this speech cuts off one leg of Roosevelt’s paired political and economic vision.

LAPD’s “peaceful sweep”:

I watched as the LAPD destroyed a pop-up canopy tent that, until that moment, had been serving as Occupy LA’s First Aid and Wellness tent, in which volunteer health professionals gave free medical care to absolutely anyone who requested it. As it happens, my family had personally contributed that exact canopy tent to Occupy LA, at a cost of several hundred of my family’s dollars. As I watched, the LAPD sliced that canopy tent to shreds, broke the telescoping poles into pieces and scattered the detritus across the park. Note that these were the objects described in subsequent mainstream press reports as “30 tons of garbage” that was “abandoned” by Occupy LA: personal property forcibly stolen from us, destroyed in front of our eyes and then left for maintenance workers to dispose of while we were sent to prison.

The Next Riots:

In a detailed survey of the riots, the London School of Economics found that four out of five participants in summer unrest think there will be a repeat, with most believing poverty to be a factor. Of the 270 questioned in the Reading the Riots study, 81% said they believed the disturbances that spread across England in August “would happen again”.Two-thirds predicted there would be more riots before the end of 2014. Despite more than 4,000 riot-related arrests, and harsher than average sentences in the courts, many of those interviewed said they did not regret their actions. The research found they were predominantly from the country’s most deprived areas, with many complaining of falling living standards and worsening employment prospects.

Another Arrest:

[Jillian C. York is] really fucking tired of seeing my good friends, one by one, arrested by hideous regimes. First it was Ali, who remains in hiding from the US-supported Bahraini government, then it was Slim (who thankfully went free shortly thereafter), then Alaa, who might miss the birth of his first child because of the US-supported SCAF and now my dear sweet Razan

You don’t know how to watch football:

For decades, NFL TV broadcasts have relied most heavily on one view: the shot from a sideline camera that follows the progress of the ball. Anyone who wants to analyze the game, however, prefers to see the pulled-back camera angle known as the “All 22.”

While this shot makes the players look like stick figures, it allows students of the game to see things that are invisible to TV watchers: like what routes the receivers ran, how the defense aligned itself and who made blocks past the line of scrimmage.

By distributing this footage only to NFL teams, and rationing it out carefully to its TV partners and on its web site, the NFL has created a paradox. The most-watched sport in the U.S. is also arguably the least understood. “I don’t think you can get a full understanding without watching the entirety of the game,” says former head coach Bill Parcells. The zoomed-in footage on TV broadcasts, he says, only shows a “fragment” of what happens on the field.

Only the “Pro” Not the “Test”:

The Dean of Students at UCR has distributed a draft for new rules concerning protest on the Riverside campus. They are actually quite remarkable. Under the tag line “Your voice matters. Make an Impact” the Dean is proposing a system where only the most regulated protest activities are allowed on campus. Not only is Riverside proposing the usual “time, place, and manner” restrictions but they are demanding that all protests be cleared with the administration two weeks before they are to occur, insisting that protesters clear with the administration any movement they plan across campus, make sure that your protest has been “approved,” and don’t use sticks with your signs (i.e. the conventional way that placards and signs have been held for the last 100 years or so).

This “sugary excerpt” from Natalia Antonova, stolen from Christelle:

Good fiction features a lot of bad sex writing for the same reason as porn actors (Sasha Greyimmediately springs to mind) have a tough time crossing over into mainstream film – society’s desperate need to compartmentalise sex.

Literature should be, well, literary, we reason – for stimulation of the brain, not other parts. The ghettoisation of eroticism is the reason why you’d be hard pressed to find a “serious” book review that praises an author’s approach to sex scenes, no matter how difficult they may have been to write.(…)Good writers are hyper-aware, neurotic creatures, which is probably another reason why so many tend to fail miserably (or entertainingly) when writing about an activity that puts much of the brain on autopilot. (…)Good sex writers, like bad sex writers, explore the dark side of desire. But bad sex writing is often a tough guy act – an attempt to intimidate the reader with shocking detail – whereas good sex writers invite the reader to explore strange territory.

The most important social science research being done right now in the field of “Aaron Bady’s Blog”:

Aaron Bady’s blog, zunguzungu.wordpress.com, was just another WordPress blog. Up until late 2010, his blog received a respectable number of views per day, but nothing astronomical. In November 2010, Bady posted a thorough, thoughtful, and probing analysis of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. His blog post was picked up by an influential blogger, Wayne Marshall, who had been following Bady’s blog since 2008. After a handful of others promoted his piece, it was read tens of thousands of times, becoming an important piece of journalism that changed the trajectory of the Assange and Wikileaks debate. Even more found out about Bady’s post when the Atlantic wrote an article describing how this unknown blogger had been catapulted into the elite blogosphere realm. Over the course of a few short weeks, Aaron Bady went from an almost unknown blogger to an influential commenter on a current political event. While many argue that the blogosphere is dominated by institutions and established sources — “elites” — the stories of Bady and his fellow non–elite bloggers [1] seem to suggest that the blogosphere is indeed a place where small bloggers have a chance at getting their voices heard (Madrigal, 2010)…