Weekend Reading

by zunguzungu

Wayne Marshall’s talk at the Berkman Center was preceded by this monstro post, and followed up by a series of fascinating reactions by Berkman people. Ethan Zuckerman, for example, summarized it thusly:

“What people take to be public platforms turn out to be anything but, and our spaces for free speech are not necessarily so free.” They’re unpredictable spaces for public speech because they’re commercial spaces. And what happens to music in these spaces may prefigure other developments in online spaces. “The ways in which culture and music are routed through the web show us some of the fault lines in public culture,” Marshall argues. “We can hear some of these songs and dances as ‘canaries in the coal mine’” of online culture – sometimes, these works disappear before our eyes due to decisions made by tool and platform owners.

One of the signatures of new world music, Marshall argues, is the watermark. Many of the audio tracks and videos that define new music scenes are marked with watermarks left by unlicensed demo software. He suggests that these watermarks may be becoming part of the aesthetics of these new forms. The people producing them are using professional-grade tools and pushing them to a public that’s potentially limitless in size. But the watermarks suggest they’ve got a different set of priorities than most producers – they’re less concerned with polish than with immediacy and immersion in the moment.

Manan reviews Robert D. Kaplan Monsoon, urging us to recall America’s imperial past in order to understand its present:

The policy readers of this book will find it sober reading. The empire, which does listen to Robert Kaplan, will surely invite him to speak to groups with shiny brass and shinier domes. The historians reading this book will have less cause to be charitable. The now-standard collapse of lived history from “Alexander the Great” to “us” would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

Again and again, centuries disappear from Kaplan’s narrative as routinely elaborated customs and practices are relegated to either geographic determinism or something called “Desert Islam”. Those inhabitants of the climes in which Kaplan locates his narrative will have more than ample reason to be offended by his caricatures or by his invocations to the healing power of violence – be it Robert Clive or Sultan Qaboos. In this, however, Kaplan is neither unique nor exemplary in a pantheon of great American commentators which stretches from Thomas L Friedman to Fareed Zakaria.

Just read Ludic Despair, always, ok?

Some dissents from the google Ngram viewer bandwagon by Natalia, by the Binder Blog, and by the Corpus of Historical American English, which doesn’t do some of the most fun things the google Ngram viewer does (and has a comparatively clunky interface) but makes possible whole classes of data analysis that the google version doesn’t do.

Richard Walker on California’s future, and California as the future:

California has been living off the accrued capital of the past. The New Deal and postwar eras left the state with an immense legacy of infrastructural investments. Schools and universities were a big part of this, along with the world’s most advanced freeway network, water-storage and transfer system, and park and wilderness complex. For the last thirty years, there has been too little tax revenue and too little investment. To keep things running, Sacramento has gone deeper and deeper into debt through a series of huge bond issues for prisons, parks and waterworks. By this sleight of hand, Californians have been fooled into thinking they could have both low taxes and high quality public infrastructure. The trick was repeated over and over, in a clear parallel to the nationwide accumulation of excessive mortgage debt. As a result, California now has the worst bond rating of any state.

Examples of failures to invest abound. California’s highways are rated the second worst in the United States. Its prisons are so overcrowded that they are in federal receivership. And state pension funds for employees, teachers and UC staff are all in a parlous state, because the state government stopped paying into them in the recession of the early 1990s, leaving the endowments to ride the stock markets. With some estimates of unfunded liabilities running as high as $500 billion, now everyone is scrambling for ways to make the problem disappear—by reducing benefits, increasing contributions, raising the retirement age or shifting to privatized pension plans. [30] A High Speed Rail link between the Bay Area and Los Angeles ought to be a sign of forward thinking, except that it is about thirty years too late. A generation ago the LA–San Francisco air corridor was one of the busiest in the world, land prices were reasonable and a rail line would have put California at the forefront of transportation technology. Now it is laughably behind the Europeans and Asians. Furthermore, despite new federal aid and an enormous bond issue approved by voters, the state may be unable to afford the bloated price, and the project is beset by local objections to routing, particularly from wealthy residents of the San Francisco peninsula.

…During the postwar era, California’s prosperity was underwritten by massive government investment and overseen by a reformed administration in the mould of the New Deal. At the same time, it rested on the basis of a skilled labour force, who were paid healthy wages, supported by unions and proud to see their children advance by means of public education. Inequality was muted, thanks to progressive taxation, inexpensive land and a quiet stock market. California lived off that legacy for many years, even as it entered the era of global competition and neoliberalism; indeed, its continued success seemed to vindicate the New Economy, even as the rest of the country sank into a post-industrial stupor. But the Golden State was sailing on sunk capital. Today, California has run aground on the reefs of inequality and racial division, inferior schooling and incapacitated government, while those who profited from the boom times have refused to share their good fortune with new arrivals. Without California’s dynamism, the US will lose its chief motor of growth and continue its long decline. The new working class in California will have to break the bonds of race and ideology, and demand good schools, more democratically accountable government and a more equitable economic settlement, if there is to be any hope that this gloomy trajectory can be averted.

An interview with Judith Butler on the rights of students to protest, with particular reference to the situation at UC Berkeley:

some members of the Office of Student Conduct were meting out rehabilitative punishment, asking students to write essays or take certain political viewpoints about the right to free speech and the right to protest. Those forms of punishment, rehabilitative in nature, are generally discredited—and should be—since they serve no legitimate educational purpose and they are arbitrarily imposed forms of punishment that seek to regulate thought itself.  Indeed, these forms of punishment were effectively prescribing points of view, and this educational institution—which has a great tradition of freedom of speech—is committed to being a place where various points of view are entertained and debated openly. Even if those methods have ceased, as I believe they have, we continue to question what place such hearings have as part of an educational process. If harsh punishments are meted out, what is the point of such punishments? Are they supposed to set an example for other students and so to stand as a threat? Or are they increasing student skepticism about the arbitrary and harsh policies of the administration toward its own student body? Is there anything educational in their purpose, or is a message being communicated about what appropriate behavior is and how the rights of protest will be met on this campus?