Sunday Reading

by zunguzungu

 Surveillance street art (via @kaepora):

Via digby, this story on what we’re sacrificing to pay for the Bush tax cuts:

Cynde Soto dreads the arrival of yet another benefit notice. Her cash assistance has been cut four times in two years. State medical coverage is getting more expensive and no longer includes dental care or podiatry. And the in-home help she needs to take care of basics has been cut by about 20 minutes a day.

“That doesn’t sound like a lot to people but … I’m a quadriplegic,” said the 54-year-old Long Beach resident. “I can’t even scratch my own nose.”

I think “what we’re sacrificing to pay for Bush tax cuts” should be a meme. You can also substitute “Bush wars.” Also, Americans are lightly taxed, on right.

What makes this recession different than past recessions:

[P]rivate-sector job growth after the 2007 recession hasn’t been stunning, but it’s actually been slightly stronger than job growth after the 2001 recession. So why is the U.S. economy struggling so badly this time around? For one, of course, the 2007 recession was considerably more severe. There was a much deeper hole to crawl out of.

But another part of the story is that public-sector job losses have been much more sweeping this time around. As Shapiro and Bivens write: “Government employment is now 1.9 percent lower than it was at the start of the recovery, a drop of 430,000 jobs. In contrast, government employment rose by 1.1 percent (or 232,000 jobs) during the equivalent part of the last recovery.” State and local governments found themselves with such a gaping budget hole this time around that they’ve been slashing government jobs at an unprecedented rate (and, with budget cutbacks, that will continue for the foreseeable future).

Deunionization and growth in inequality:

Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld published an important paper in the American Sociological Review that shows that deunionization has significantly contributed to increases in economic inequality. They make the case that the effect of deunionization on inequality growth is partly the result of a change in norms surrounding equity. Unions “contribute to a moral economy that institutionalizes norms for fair pay, even for nonunion workers.” When unions are less powerful and as those norms fade, even the the wages of nonunion workers decline.

Also, Kevin Drum.

Dana Stevens on some movie from Hollywood:

In film after grimly unfunny film, men chafe at domesticity, women whine about feeling neglected while displaying their near-naked gym-toned bodies, and after some mishaps involving mistaken identity and feces, heterosexual harmony is joylessly restored.

History on a plate:

People have been savoring this slow-cooked sludge for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Today, harisa — or its Persian and South Asian equivalent, haleem — can be found from the eastern Mediterranean to Kashmir, a sizable swath of the Islamic world Ibn Battuta explored. Harisa, however, is not merely a Muslim delicacy. According to food historian and cookbook author Claudia Roden, medieval Andalusian Jews ate it on Saturdays, 20th century Iraqi Jews hired Muslim cooks to pound the wheat and meat for them, and Yemeni Jews make it to this day. In Syria and Lebanon, Christians make harisa to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. And in Iraq and Lebanon, Shi’ite Muslims make it to commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein. In the Indian city of Hyderabad, Hindus argue about the best place to get the dish and whether it tastes better with goat or lamb meat.

The faith, like some of the ingredients, may vary, but all harisa has one thing in common: it is meant to be shared.

Al-Jazeera on income disparities in the US:

Nicholas Schmiddle’s “Getting Bin Laden” in the New Yorker provoked this scathing response from C. Christine Fair at Registan which provoked, in turn, this from Jakob Steiner at Rugpundits, who would like you to know that he is “not on the pay-roll of Manan Ahmed.”

Many Indian families today have stories about how their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents got their surnames. While the government intent was to eradicate the traditional names and naming procedures, what has instead resulted in many cases is a naming duality: the formal names with surnames that the government requires, and traditional names still given in the traditional ways.

Sometimes, the best part of book reviews are the little historical riffs that set the stage at the start; from Susie Linfield’s review of Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning:

IN 1840, MARGARET FULLER wrote an essay for The Dial, the Transcendentalist magazine, which she modestly titled “A Short Essay on Critics”. It is one of the most practical, and morally capacious, explications of the critic’s role; I have been teaching it to my graduate students for years. Fuller urges critics, indeed beseeches them, to avoid “despotic” habits and the “attempt at dictatorship” and to develop, instead, an empathic relationship with readers—one that offers them the freedom to develop their own aesthetic rather than mimic the judgments of the critic. The critic, Fuller wrote, must not tell the reader “what books are not worth reading or what must be made of them when read, but what he read in them.” In Fuller’s view, criticism should and could be a great democratic undertaking, one that could not be separated from the larger democratic undertaking that was America itself: “In books, in reviews, in the senate, in the pulpit we wish to meet thinking men, not schoolmasters or pleaders,” she argued. The critic should “speak as man to man . . . He will be free and make us free . . . He will teach us to love wisely what we before loved well.” In this way, criticism could inculcate the habits of independent thought that are the necessary prerequisite for democratic citizenship.

Millicentsomer has been tweeting about student protests in Chile, and has a great link run-down here.

The Ministry of Education’s official site, which is currently down thanks to Anonymous. If you visit the site, you’ll find a hilarious cardboard .jpg version of it which Mineduc put up in the meantime. (After all, all you need for a Ministry of Education is a photo of what looks like, but isn’t, a functional site!)

@anonops has announced Operation #opchile for Saturday, Aug. 6, with targets including, and You might want to check those periodically to see how they’re doing. As of this writing, is down.


truly Kafkaesque video wherein students outside the Metro explain to a reporter that they’re being turned away from the subway. Explanation offered: it has “collapsed.” Even as subway officials allow commuters who aren’t dressed in student uniforms through. (Obviously an effort to keep students from marching—by keeping ALL STUDENTS off the subway.)

And here’s a rundown of what’s at stake.

Abuso de poder:

Instead of linking to the crazy awesome stuff at How to Be a Retronaut and Ptak Science Books, like I do EVERY SINGLE WEEK, this week I’m just instructing you to go there and read them, ok?

Brian Eno, on abstract art, via The Browser:

“Although lots of people find abstract painting difficult to deal with, they are very happy to listen to music, a much more abstract form of art”

After digging into charts and data, Noah Smith asks:

Do conservative-leaning economists push these stories because they believe that we live in a world that is vastly more complicated than anything that can be described in Econ 102? Or is it just because they choose to ignore Econ 102 completely?

James K. Galbraith gives a talk on “The Final Death (and Next Life) of Maynard Keynes”

Two years ago, as you may recall, our profession enjoyed a moment of ferment. Economists who had built their careers on inflation targeting, rational expectations, representative agents, the efficient markets hypothesis, dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models, the virtues of deregulation and privatization and the Great Moderation were forced by events momentarily to shut up. The fact that they had been absurdly, conspicuously and even in some cases admittedly wrong imposed even a little humility on a few. One senior American legal policy intellectual, a fellow traveler of the Chicago School, announced his conversion to Keynesianism as though it were news.

The apogee of this moment was the publication in the New York Times Sunday Magazine of Paul Krugman’s essay, How The Economists Got It So Wrong. And in it, I noticed, Krugman admitted, and I’ll quote, that “[A] few economists challenged the assumption of rational behavior, questioned the belief that financial markets can be trusted and pointed to the long history of financial crises that had devastating economic consequences. But they were swimming against the tide, unable to make much headway against a pervasive and, in retrospect, foolish complacency.

And I must say, looking out on this audience, it would be fair to say that there were more than just a few and it’s a pleasure to be here among you.

In keeping with mainstream practice, Krugman named almost nobody. So, in a reply essay entitled,Who Were Those Economists, Anyway?, I described the neglected, ignored and denied second and third generation work largely, though not entirely, in the tradition of Keynes which did get it right. I could have named many more than I did including many in this room.

You didn’t think I could actually not include something from How to Be a Retronaut, did you? Although actually, it’s from the Atlantic. But still:


Protesters say they have been taking the sim cards of those shot dead so that they can talk to each other and media without being tracked, Nour Ali (a pseudonym) reports. All phone numbers are registered to the person when they buy it and several of those who have been detained say they have been tracked by their phone number for talking to al-Jazeera or other media. “There’s ever more sim cards available right now, unfortunately,” says one activist in Damascus.

According to science, the internet doesn’t make you lonely:

“There are no indications whatsoever that the internet makes people lonely,” Bauernschuster said. He explained that their study revealed that a broadband connection at home positively influences the social activities of adults as well as children.

The three economists found that once adults had access to broadband, their attendance at theatres, cinemas, bars or restaurants actually increased. They also found evidence that far from curtailing children’s extracurricular experiences, a broadband internet subscription at home increased the number of children’s out-of-school social activities, such as sports, ballet, music, painting lessons, or joining a youth club. “With the help of the internet it is much easier to maintain contact with other people and to make plans to meet in the real world,” the economists write.

The economists claim their work provides evidence that most people use the internet to search for information and to communicate rather than for entertainment. They found 95% of people used the internet to search for information while 89% used it for email.

You can read the whole paper here, which starts from Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Random note: one of my favorite scenes in Double Indemnity is the shot where Neff goes bowling by himself to think things through.

A writing teacher argues against “Write What You Know”

I don’t know the origin of the “write what you know” logic. A lot of folks attribute it to Hemingway, but what I find is his having said this: “From all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive.” If this is the logic’s origin, then maybe what’s happened is akin to that old game called Telephone. In the game, one kid whispers a message to a second kid and then that kid whispers it to a third and so on, until the message circles the room and returns to the first kid. The message is always altered, minimized, and corrupted by translation. “Bill is smart to sit in the grass” becomes “Bill is a smart-ass.” A similar transmission problem undermines the logic of writing what you know and, ironically, Hemingway may have been arguing against it all along. The very act of committing an experience to the page is necessarily an act of reduction, and regardless of craft or skill, vision or voice, the result is a story beholden to and inevitably eclipsed by source material.

Another confession: part of me dies inside when a student whose story has been critiqued responds to the workshop by saying, “You can’t object to the _________ scene. It really happened! I was there!” The writer is giving preference to the facts of an experience, the so-called literal truth, rather than fiction’s narrative and emotional integrity. Conceived this way, the writer’s story is relegated to an inferior and insurmountable station; it can neither compete with, nor live without, the ur-experience. Such a writer’s sole ambition is for the characters and events to represent other and superior—read: actual—characters and events. Meaning, the written story has never been what mattered most. Meaning, the reader is meant to care less about the characters and more about whoever inspired them, and the actions in a story serve to ensure that we track their provenance and regard that material as truer. Meaning, the story is engineered—and expected—to be aboutsomething. And aboutness is all but terminal in fiction.

Stories aren’t about things. Stories are things.

Stories aren’t about actions. Stories are, unto themselves, actions.

The Gadulka is burning:

If they tell you there’s no instrument more thankless than the gadulka, you better believe it. There isn’t.

Although I doubt anybody would ever tell you that, since modern people could hardly care less about the gadulka and their lives often pass with nary a word about it. In fact, people have a rather foggy idea of the gadulka. They’ve got similar ideas about words like ‘plow,’ ‘sheaf’ and ‘thresher’ – that is, something of rural origin, but they’re not quite sure what. For that reason, they’re usually satisfied with the explanation that the gadulka is ‘something like a violin’ and leave it at that, figuring they don’t need to know more. And of course, they don’t need to know more. The only sure thing in life is that you can live it out well and good without ever finding out just what kind of instrument the gadulka is.

I’ve been playing the gadulka a long time now and I can’t say that I’m particularly happy. I’ve been a gadulka player for eighteen years and I can openly declare that happiness and the gadulka are two mutually exclusive things. The gadulka just isn’t meant to bring happiness to modern people. The piano – yes. The guitar – yes. The flute – debatable, but yes. The gadulka, however, brings unhappiness both to the one playing it and to those listening to it.

In “Occupation Law and the One State Reality,” Daryl Li argues that:

For over forty years, ten million people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea have lived under a single segregated political regime – the State of Israel. Occupation law is not merely an inadequate tool for analyzing this regime; it can also help legitimize the very spatial arrangements upon which it depends.

Body Horror in the Blitz:

“There’s a nasty rumour going around that Hitler’s going to start using a gas this week that’s going to penetrate women’s bodies through their sex organs. Women will have to go about wearing sanitary towels all the time. Its [sic] going to cause a lot of disturbance.” 

Scientific implausibility aside, this rumour encapsulates the horror of gas, that it permeates inside the body and kills from within

I’m actually sort of surprised it’s taken Washington this long to get to us:

[Of all students] Graduate students would be the hardest hit, as the bill proposes an elimination of the interest subsidy on federal student loans for “almost all” of them. This means that beginning July 1, 2012, grad students will be responsible for the interest on their loans while in school and during any subsequent deferment period.

Large debt–and the fear it creates–is a pacifying force. There was no tuition at the City University of New York when I attended one of its colleges in the 1970s, a time when tuition at many U.S. public universities was so affordable that it was easy to get a B.A. and even a graduate degree without accruing any student-loan debt. While those days are gone in the United States, public universities continue to be free in the Arab world and are either free or with very low fees in many countries throughout the world. The millions of young Iranians who risked getting shot to protest their disputed 2009 presidential election, the millions of young Egyptians who risked their lives earlier this year to eliminate Mubarak, and the millions of young Americans who demonstrated against the Vietnam War all had in common the absence of pacifying huge student-loan debt. Today in the United States, two-thirds of graduating seniors at four-year colleges have student-loan debt, including over 62 percent of public university graduates. While average undergraduate debt is close to $25,000, I increasingly talk to college graduates with closer to $100,000 in student-loan debt. During the time in one’s life when it should be easiest to resist authority because one does not yet have family responsibilities, many young people worry about the cost of bucking authority, losing their job, and being unable to pay an ever-increasing debt. In a vicious cycle, student debt has a subduing effect on activism, and political passivity makes it more likely that students will accept such debt as a natural part of life.

For DC peeps, Antecedents of the L’Enfant plan for Washington DC:

Wikipedia and oral knowledge:

The Wikipedia, in its current form, mandates that every entry be backed by citations that are printed. So in essence, if it doesn’t exist in print, it can’t exist on Wikipedia. For a hugely democratic and powerful concept like Wikipedia, this is a huge limitation, believes Achal Prabhala, a Wikimedia fellow and a member of the Foundation’s advisory board.

This led Mr. Prabhala to embark on a project that explores alternative methods of citation on Wikipedia. The current policy on citation, he points out, assumes that people who come from cultures where little is documented or published do not know anything. If that is so, then how can we document aspects of everyday life, and that which is common knowledge in our culture or country, he asks. Indeed, the sum of human knowledge is far greater than the sum of printed knowledge. The problem becomes even more critical when it comes to non-English language Wikipedias. Volunteers and contributors to Indic language wikipedias have often found that the non-existaence of citeable sources a huge impediment in writing articles, or enriching them.

Sahelblog’s Africa blog roundup. Link roundups from Film Studies for Free and Hyperallergic.

Mubarak picks his nose at justice:

Fred Clark does the numbers on the downgrade:

The Tea Party just cost you $322.That’s the latest cost of their incoherent national tantrum — $100 billion in increased financing costs for which America gets nothing in return. That works out to $322 for every man, woman and child in the United States. So the Tea Party just cost you $322. They just cost my family $1,288.

You don’t get anything in return for that $322, nor does my family get anything in return for that $1,288. It is simply an added cost due to our sharing this country with aggressively stupid, resentful, angry fools who would rather let the whole thing burn than bother to learn even the slightest bit about others or about the world they live in.

Cathy Davidson has a thought crime:

What I am about to say may well be perceived as supporting attitudes thought to be against the interests and well-being of college professors.   Here goes:  I do not think going to university should be the be-all and end-all of K-12 education. The importance of going to college should be intrinsically the rationale by which we justify public support of higher education.  Higher education is incredibly valuable, even precious, for many.  But  It is bad for individuals and society to be retrofitting learning all the way back to preschool, as if the only skills valuable, vital, necessary in the world are the ones that earn you a BS, BA, or a graduate and professional degree…

The world of work–the world we live in–is so much more complex than the quite narrow scope of learning measured and tested by college entrance exams and in college courses.   There are so many viable and important and skilled professions that cannot be outsourced to either an exploitative Third World sweat shop or to a computer, that require face-to-face presence, and a bucketload of skills–but that  do not require a college education:  the full range of IT workers, web designers, body workers (ie deep tissue massage), yoga and pilates instructors, fitness educators, DJ’s, hair dressers, retail workers, food industry professionals, entertainers,  entertainment industry professionals, construction workers, dancers, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, landscapers, nanny’s, elder-care professionals, nurses’s aids, dog trainers, cosmetologists, athletes, sales people, fashion designers, novelists, poets, furniture makers, book keepers, sound engineers, inn keepers, wedding planners, stylists, photographers, auto mechanics, and on and on.

All those jobs require specialized knowledge and intelligence but most people who end up in those jobs have had to fight for the special form their intelligence takes because, throughout their lives, they have seen never seen their particular ability and skill-set represented as a discipline, rewarded with grades, put into a textbook, or tested on an end-of-grade exam.   They have had to fight for their identity and dignity, their self-worth and the importance of their particular genius in the world, against a highly structured system that makes knowledge into a hierarchy with creativity, imagination, technical skills, and the array of so-called “manual skills” not just at the bottom but absent.

The internet is leaking: (via)

Mass fainting in Angola: toxic gas or do the ladies just have the vapors?

A commission set up by the Angolan government to probe mass fainting in schools in the country has denied that toxic gas was responsible and instead blamed “mass hysteria” for the phenomenon.

More than 500 pupils have allegedly fainted in seven provinces, including the capital Luanda since April, allegedly due to intoxication with an unidentified gas. The fainting wave has affected mainly females and speculation had earlier centered on criminals supposedly sighted launching toxic gas in the institutions.

But on Wednesday the deputy commander of the National Police, Paulo de Almeida, dismissed the existence of such a gas. Tests do not confirm any toxic substance causing the fainting registered in several schools in the country,” he said at a news conference. “The tests were done and the results are negative,” he said, adding that the samples had also been sent to foreign laboratories.

Dale Carrico reads the idea of student debt as pacifying force through Foucault.

N+1 on the origins of the debt crisis, a must read:

The deal was so wildly favorable to the Republicans that members of the old neoliberal order couldn’t believe it. The New York Timesquoted Mickey Edwards, a House Republican leader under Reagan and Bush I, “If I were there I would say, ‘My God, declare victory.’” The fact that John Boehner walked away shouldn’t obscure the facts: A Democratic president offered to pay for the Bush tax cuts by handing over the health care, education, safety, and savings of the American people.

Lessons of the debt crisis:

To begin with, we can now say with some confidence that Washington will be doing nothing more to help the ailing economy. President Obama is trying to push a jobs agenda. But for the federal government to spur growth or create jobs, it has to spend additional money. The antediluvian Republicans who control Congress do not think that demand can be expanded in this way. They believe that the 2009 stimulus bill, which has prevented an even worse economy over the past two years, is actually responsible for the current weakness. Their Hooverite approach—embedded in the debt-ceiling compromise—demands that we address the risk of a double-dip recession by cutting public expenditure now rather than later.

How many secret wars do you think the US is fighting?

Last year, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post reported that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in 75 countries, up from 60 at the end of the Bush presidency.  By the end of this year, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me, that number will likely reach 120.  “We do a lot of traveling — a lot more than Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said recently.  This global presence — in about 60% of the world’s nations and far larger than previously acknowledged — provides striking new evidence of a rising clandestine Pentagon power elite waging a secret war in all corners of the world.

Is the debt crisis a historic opportunity to cut military spending? Well, as Greenwald points out, we’ll have to get through our Republican president first:

Yesterday, President Obama’s Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, donned his Dr. Strangelove hat and decried these prospective cuts as a “doomsday mechanism” — doomsday! — warning that these would be “very dangerous cuts” that “would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our military’s ability to protect the nation.”  Then, this morning, we have this from The Washington Post:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Thursday of dire consequences if the Pentagon is forced to make cuts to its budget beyond the $400 billion in savings planned for the next decade.

Senior Pentagon officials have launched an offensive over the past two days to convince lawmakers that further reductions in Pentagon spending would imperil the country’s security. Instead of slashing defense, Panetta said, the bipartisan panel should rely on tax increases and cuts to nondiscretionary spending, such as Medicare and Social Security, to provide the necessary savings.

Just think about that for a minute.  We have a Democratic administration installed in power after millions of liberals donated large amounts of their time and money to help elect them.  Yet here we have a top official in the President’s cabinet demanding cuts to Medicare and Social Security in order to protect the military budget from further reductions.  That’s the position of the Democratic administration.  While it’s true that Pentagon officials reflexively protect the Pentagon budget, there is zero question that Panetta — the career-long supremely loyal Democratic Party functionary — is speaking here on behalf of and with the authorization of the White House; indeed, he said exactly that in the written message he sent about these cuts to the Pentagon’s staff(“this outcome would be completely unacceptable to me as Secretary of Defense, the President, and to our nation’s leaders”).

For all the boastful claims from Panetta and others about how much the Pentagon budget was just cut by the first round of the debt deal, the reality, as McClatchy detailed yesterday, is much different: “The new deficit-cutting law appears to reduce defense spending by $350 billion up front and perhaps by as much as $850 billion over 10 years, but in fact that’s highly unlikely to happen.”  That’s because defense hawks ensured that these initial cuts would be applied not only to “defense” but also “security” spending, which encompasses programs “such as homeland security, border enforcement, foreign aid and even veterans’ benefits as potential targets.”  Moreover, as Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin explained on Tuesday night on Rachel Maddow’s program, the magnitude of this first round of cuts as well as the potential series of automatic cuts in the second round is wildly overstated by administration officials given budgetary gimmicks in how these numbers are derived.

An interview with Eric Kajemba on the actual effects of the Dodd-Frank bill, which tries to legislate conflict minerals in the DRC (via Texas in Africa).

The motivation behind the law is very good – to impose transparency. But it the implementation has been the problem. We are not in a country with a functioning government, you cannot just assume that certification and due diligence can spring up overnight. Plus, there were efforts under way already by other actors to impose transparency; ironically, the Dodd-Frank law slowed these efforts down, as they were financed by the minerals trade.

But there have been other consequences as well, for example, with other aspects of the local economy. For example, in places like Shabunda, people relied on planes to bring them goods and merchandise – rice, sugar, and so on. Those same planes then left with minerals back to Bukavu. But now that the planes cannot transport minerals [due to the export ban and embargo] they don’t fly there with goods any more. So the impact has been huge in many areas.

This movie of glazed-gaze children watching TV isn’t new:

But the framing of it — which I came to here — is interesting; the fact that Godfrey Reggio, the filmmaker, describes these expressions as “they appear drugged, retarded, like the patients of a mental hospital” says quite a lot about what he expects people’s normal expressions to be.

A (partial) meta-post from Laurent DuBois on the Women’s World Cup and the male gaze:

My recent post on Louisa Necib has been the most visted post I’ve ever written on this blog. That’s a great testament to the burst of interest this Women’s World Cup has generated around the world. (France’s semi-final  game, for instance, attracted 4 million viewers in a country that has been very slow to adopt women’s football). But a small but significant minority of those who found their way to the article did so after typing in “Louisa Necib nude” or “Louisa Necib hot” – or in a few desperate cases, “Louisa Necib boyfriend” on a google search. Jennifer Doyle — who has, for years, written brilliantly on the topic of the representation of female athletes — reported similarly recently that the title of her blog post, “Allez les Nudes” created a jump in her blog traffic. It turns out, then, that our high-falutin’ blogs are partly being sustained by people looking for naked pictures of female soccer players.

Freddie DeBoer on the “contempt gap”:

It may be that the media’s tendency to take any conservative populist movement seriously and to treat any liberal populist movement as a gang of crazies is too much to overcome now. I hear it constantly: “well, what liberals need to do is to start a tea party of the left.” But the left wouldn’t receive the fawning, credulous media coverage that the tea parties did. Look, from 2002 to 2005, I organized in the antiwar movement constantly. I knocked on doors and went to Departments of Licensing and Inspection and spoke to alternative media and attended meeting after pointless meeting. I still have the permits. You’d be surprised, if you live in the bubble of mainstream cable and Internet media, at how receptive and friendly most of the people I’d meet– the mythical “average Americans”– were to a dedicated and avowedly left-wing antiwar movement.

But that sympathy could never survive an incredibly hostile media environment, and both cable news and the establishment blogosphere– even the liberal blogosphere– took pains to paint the antiwar movement as a batch of Stalinist crazies. That this was perpetrated by corporate media is no surprise, but that progressive bloggers never learn that the extremes define the center is baffling. The Tea Parties don’t get exactly what they want, usually. But they steadily and consistently push the conservative movement to the right, and in doing so drag the center with them. That’s the salient lesson of the last several years: extremes define the center. Yet liberal bloggers delight in kneecapping the man to their left, while conservatives race to be the man to the right. How could anyone wonder why this results in a steady march rightward? What bothers me is never that liberal bloggers fail to adopt the ideas of the left but always that they don’t understand that true left wing voices give them cover and help to establish a middle ground that is conducive to their interests…

The fundamental architecture of American cosmopolitanism– the assumption of equal dignity across difference, the celebration of individuality over social constructs of religion or rank, the preeminence of the right to be yourself, the things that many of us truly value in the commission of personal freedom– these have been built by the left. If you are more interested in specific legislative victories, I would remind you of who was the vanguard of civil rights for black Americans, women, and gay and lesbian men and women. But ultimately my concern here is social and  cultural, and I don’t know how anyone can fail to give pride of place to the left for advancing the right to be your own weird self. We’ve always been the home of freaks and weirdos and out theres, and I couldn’t be prouder…Cosmopolitan libertarians live in liberal urban enclaves, surrounded by liberals, taking advantage of the kind of governmental cultural and transportation infrastructure that liberals created. They consume movies, novels, music, and theater crafted in overwhelming majorities by leftists. They operate in environments where the liberal spirit of tolerance and freedom from conformity underpins everything, yet they will identify again and again the liberal hand as the one of villainy.

I don’t understand why these people believe that they can express such disdain for cultural liberalism while maintaining the benefits of it. There’s a bizarre faith among this country’s rarefied political class that they can cede every major political battle to the the reactionary fringe and yet maintain their arty bohemian privileged lifestyles. I assure you: the average libertarian who disagrees with both sides but saves his invective for only the left does not want to live in Tea Party America.

Traxus4420 starts from here:

Democratic movements are initiated by people who have individually managed to attain a high level of personal political self-respect. They are not resigned; they are not intimidated. To put it another way, they are not culturally organized to conform to established hierarchical forms. Their sense of autonomy permits them to dare to try to change things by seeking to influence others.

and ends up here:

For whom would it be a victory if Elizabeth Warren became a Senator? Should it be considered a loss for the left that Cenk Uygur was pushed out of MSNBC? These aren’t particularly consequential examples, but that’s the point: the political, media, corporate, and financial classes are not going to be the basis of anyone’s revolution. There are many theoretical and historical arguments for why, but a good shorthand is simply that the desire of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois — aka the “middle class” and “business class” — to retain and reproduce their privileges, while often sympathetic and sometimes linked to working class struggles (in, for example, the politics of access to higher education), is just not fundamental enough in a world system flimsily upheld by deep, multiple layers of oppression, violence, and ecological devastation. All that said, the halls of official power are open to (occasional, local, partial) dissent, and the most important rule for initiating it can perhaps be put like this: changing things from inside a system only works if non-rhetorical ties to its outside are maintained. As the state, the corporate media, even the university become more insular, as they isolate themselves ever further from their constituents, they may simply have to be abandoned — not as targets, of public pressure, criticism, and demands, but as subjects of identification and of investment of time and energy.

So you think you’re a radical? Critical Legal Thinking argues that “in political terms your personal liberation doesn’t count for diddly-squat.”