I have been thinking of making an After Work playlist for quite some time now. Until I can find the bits of notes I have lying around the office I will inaugurate the list with a (should be) familiar track by an American classic.

The song is about trying to escape work but how industry has already moved into the creative fields. Immaterial labor is the subject of the implied criticism of this tune. It seems to be at first about the wide-eyed optimism of a stupid boy, but a closer listen reveals that the boy cannot help his stupidity: he is told that this is the way out. A revisiting of Tom Petty is now on my list of things to do.

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This match is easy to call and predict: An Evening with Kevin Smith (KS). I do not know why I placed Emanuel’s Gift (EG) in my queue and after seeing the movie I am still not sure. EG was the good liberal movie whereas there are times in KS that an actual sophisticated argument against the sentimental-driven documentary is made. That level of nuance already makes a winner easy to determine. All of this is without backsliding into the Disney-is-evil debate that has, sadly, become too prominent.

The reason why KS is so engaging, it is almost 4 hours long and I did not even notice, is summed up by C.K. Ogi over at Amazon.com:

Smith is one of the best story tellers our society has. He really has a gift for just starting a story, leaving no stone unturned, and just engaging you into what he’s relating. His story about writing the script for Superman will have you in tears. Another good one is his encounter with Prince. Smith has an easy-going, self-depricating style that’s combined with a smart guy who LOVES the heck outta movies.

EG however is not good story telling. It is sentimentalism at its finest. The movie makes us sad and yet also happy that this young man was able to rise beyond the usual outcome for Ghana’s disabled bodies. The movie leaves some unanswered questions, especially those that would make us as privileged people in the developed world uncomfortable. If we ever needed proof of sentimentalism’s ability to move or prevent movement this was it. I discovered the following quotation on PopFeminist and it smacks of its appropriateness:

Sentimentality is the feather duster in the junkyard of the human condition. It is a fundamentally inadequate method of handling the plights of our country, but emotive and earnest enough to obfuscate the material circumstances of injustice with personal feelings and alleviate its weeping participants of the burden of real change.

“The late, great Kurt Vonnegut once wrote in the Nation that world leaders were addicted to war preparations in the same way that alcoholics are addicted to alcohol. He recommended: ‘From now on, when a national leader, or even just a neighbor, starts talking about some new weapons system which is going to cost us a mere $29 billion, we should speak up. We should say something on the order of, ‘Honest to God, I couldn’t be sorrier for you if I’d seen you wash down a fistful of black, beauties with a pint of Southern Comfort.’” Reichel, Matt. (2008, August 22). Cold War 2008: The madness continues. Dissident Voice, www.dissidentvoice.org.

Two things in the Twin Cities these days make me think of the appropriateness of this quotation. First and obviously, the presidential campaign. The hubbub over Obama’s supposed lack of experience, as though the great legislator McCain actually has some, demonstrates the addictive nature of this discourse. Palin has none and yet the debate has turned to her as the guardian of Alaskan territory from Russia. There was never a threat. If there had been a threat then that would only prove the inadequacy of a militaristic approach to world affairs. It has become an addiction to speak of military experience in a time of hostility which is completely self-fabricated.

The second thing that is happening is the militarization of our streets. Meeting kids after a concert with full riot gear is sure to provoke a response. And yet it is that very response that is used to justify the deployment of riot geared cops. People no longer see the fallacy because of the addictive nature of military engagements. We want so badly to speak of ass-kicking Americans that we are willing to create the very tensions that cause such ass-kicking. For proof we can see the pictures of police after these engagements. They beat up young kids that have no training, no discipline and no weapons of any comparable worth to the arms carried by the police. Even if these kids were hooligans why is there so much happiness at the inevitable police triumphs?

The following was written for a different publication previous to Monday’s events at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Stay tuned for discussions about what happened Monday, what I saw and what it all means.

When discussing the upcoming RNC protests many ask why I am involved when protest will be ineffective. This essay will answer their question without either disputing their measure of effectiveness or of disputing the conditions on the street that may or may not result in a larger anti-capitalist constituency. This essay will elaborate two reasons why the very ‘efficacy question’ is a question of the conservative establishment.

The first argument is about our engagement with the world. Instead of futility as a reason for acquiescence I think futility is precisely why one should act. This ethic is seen elsewhere: the inability to stop murder does not mean a murderer should go unpunished; the inability to stop hunger does not mean bread should be hoarded by the rich; the inability to solve AIDS does not mean the cocktail should not be prescribed. There are successes to be achieved in the face of futility, one just needs to change the benchmark of success. To acquiesce is to slide into an atomistic world of darkness that I do not want to inhabit. My engagement is simple, I want to en-courage others to act against what they see as injustice.

The second reason why the ‘efficacy question’ is the wrong question is because it is shortsighted about the complexities of the world. The question is akin to the debates about who was most valuable to the civil rights gains: Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X. While there are nuanced counterfactual claims to be made this debate overlooks the necessity of one to the other. MLK needed Malcolm X to make his calls seem reasonable to those at risk of losing power. Malcolm X needed MLK to recruit constituents to the cause, allowing a debate over method to then occur.

The current social justice movements are involved in a similar plight. Radical action at the RNC may be the very public action needed to give Obama support not only for his election but also for a more progressive administration. Radical visibility can recruit people to Obama’s reformist camp by making his position seem more reasonable to those otherwise frightened of liberal causes. While Obama may not be the preferred option of the radicals planning to take to the streets, he represents to most a superior option to McCain. Radicals find Obama’s critical stance towards the current war and military engagement preferable to McCain’s rose-colored optimism about US military and moral superiority. A more progressive approach to health care also makes Obama a more preferable option for most of those considering protesting the RNC. Where MLK may have been a less scary option for white onlookers it was the radical appearance of Malcolm X that made MLK’s demands more palatable. Radicals taking to the street in St. Paul may also make an Obama administration more palatable to those that are scared by his politics and skin color.

RNC radical action may help build Obama’s base, but there is another function, similar to how unions train bosses of a shop, of how our action may help train future leaders. When a shop becomes unionized bosses are more likely to be reflexive about their actions. The presence of a structure to act may deter some actions and make the boss think twice before making some acts. This deterrence need not be limited to policy issues either. A recent issue faced by a shop in the Twin Cities is a boss that responds to employee comments with sarcasm and dismissal. If this shop is successful in unionizing one of the demands will be for the boss to not be flippant when a worker has an issue. Politics works the same way: our action may keep Obama from moving in a more rightward direction once he is inaugurated. Obama will face new challenges in his new job and the presence of a radicalized organized population will help shape his decisions and keep him more honest to a progressive agenda.

Questioning the ability of protests to create immediate measurable change is actually a move to keep people from protesting. This question places the goal so far away that the task seems daunting and too tiring, after all people have lives to live. The approach radicals need to take is to abandon that very landscape and recognize that there are other goals to be gained, goals that may actually be more important than the ones we are told (by those we oppose) to aim for.


In this month’s Esquire there is the following funny bit in the The Vocabulary section, “bookshelf: a soon-to-be archaic piece of furniture upon which a book is placed after being read.” (19).

Puhleeze. This is the ultimate in pretension. Everyone knows the bookshelf is there not to hold the books after being read but instead the ones that have yet to be read. Books that have been read are shipped off to a used bookstore. At least for most people.

When people visit me or The Girl they are always amazed by the collection (size and content) on the bookshelf. Interestingly enough I have read many of them, but even a prodigious reader like myself has many books displayed that have yet to be read. In fact, I would contend that the avid reader actually more bookshelf on unread than read books.

Anywho, all this is to say that the digital age will not replace the book. Even if (some) people did not find reading a book preferable to the digital version, the image of the book contains a social currency that cannot be captured by a digital device. Similar to the framed degree displayed on the wall.

The masculinity of war depends, therefore, on the myth that women are being protected. Spike Peterson has argued that rethinking the meaning of protection is a crucial component of efforts to address problems of world security. By exposing the protector/protected myth we can deepen our understanding of the real victims of direct violence. The National Organization for Women has estimated that up to 90 percent of total casualties in conflicts since 1945 have been civilians, the majority of them women and children. Moreover, as Judith Stiehm points out, if we are to think of men as protectors we must remember they are usually protecting women from other men.
Feminist theory also draws our attention to the issue of domestic violence, which is prevalent but generally underreported and not legislated against in most societies. By pointing to the high incidence of domestic violence in military families and in militarized societies, feminist perspectives can deepen our understanding of the connection between militarism and sexism. Peterson also asserts that the way notions of protection have traditionally been constructed by the state contributes to the reproduction of hierarchies, including gender hierarchies, and hence to the structural violence against which states say they offer protection. Tickner, Anne. 1994. Peace and world security studies: A curriculum guide. 47-8.

This passage needs little work to serve as an explanation for what is happening in Iraq. While some may see Tickner arguing for a conspiracy against women, I see her argument differently. Women tend to bear the brunt of war because military planners unintentionally overlook some of the horrors of war. The main way this overlooking is done is by the militaries assessments of damage. The military is understandably concerned with attrition rates to enemy combatants and less so to the damage done to noncombatants. I will not say the military is callous, however, as I do think they give some concern to non-combatants, but the damage they measure is the damage done by bombs and ammunition. The damage measured is not the damage caused by, for example, the destruction of a dam and the concomitant loss of running water, electricity and the industries powered by the dam – hospitals, pharmaceutical firms, food preparation firms and other essential firms.

Because the military – even the engaged, shocked and awed military – has rations and drugs, it seems the men of that very military are less affected by the disruptions caused by a war. It is also understandable how a military actuary would overlook the cost of these disruptions, since they are not dependent upon such services in their own respect. For example, when ascertaining the cost of destroying a dam in southern Iraq it is understandable that Captain Moore overlooks some things because those aspects of living are not within his realm of experience. I do not know if Tickner goes so far as to claim all war is bad. If she does then I will diverge from her there, as it seems there are times when maybe things can be improved. The problem though is in those assessments of cost and benefit. If history is indicator though, it seems we as a species need some improvement in our calculations.

We can easily see Tickner’s second paragraph at work in Iraq. The US argument all along was to protect the oppressed in Iraq and to liberate them. That message is now being used against us as the insurgents are targeting civilians. While these civilian killings undermine support for the occupation in Iraq, it also damages US credibility abroad as a capable protection force. The occupation in Iraq has ended up hurting, some would say more than Hussein’s Baath Party, those whose original protection was a justification for invasion.

Here is another passage I recently found in my files. Although it was written before the current terrorism ‘craze’ it still seems as erudite to me now as it did to me then. Some would say this passage does not speak to contemporary times, and in response (does this argument not prove the very argument it is supposed to refute?) I would contend that this book was written in a state of terroristic ‘craze’. The book was a study of Spain and the Basque problem at a time when ETA was very active and most of the Spanish population was concerned about terrorism. While things may have changed here in the US since the publishing of this book, it is arguably the same environment as the environment that created the book.

It is hard to imagine a better and more widespread example of what Richard Hofstadter labeled “the paranoid style in American politics” than the rhetoric of experts such as Claire Sterling. She replicates, almost literally, the fears of other alleged grand world conspiracies, such as the panic that broke out at the end of the eighteenth century in New England against the Bavarian Illuminati, and which merited a leap into fantasy by the other well-known author John Robinson when he charged that the association had been formed “for the express purpose of…OVERTURNING ALL THE EXISTING GOVERNMENTS OF EUROPE.” Soon the Illuminati were held to be the Antichrist and denounced from the pulpits of New England, even though it is uncertain whether any of them ever came to the United States from Germany. The anti-Masonic movement of the 1820s and 1830s reflects the same obsession with conspiracy, thus illustrating the essence of the paranoid style, which posits “the existence of a vast, insidious, preternaturally effective international conspiratorial network designed to perpetrate acts of the most fiendish character.” Such an apocalyptic framework is quite characteristic of terrorism discourse. (J. Zulaika and W. Douglas. Terror and taboo: The follies, fables and faces of terrorism. NY: Routledge. pp. 53-4.)

There is a conversation on many blogs that I read about conspiracy theorists and why those conspiracies believe what so few believe. I think this passage sheds some light on the topic. The mainstream story we are told is a conspiracy theory, so why is the counter-narrative so preposterous from a rhetorical perspective? It is a peculiarly American political narrative that makes the conspiracy a credible story for our community. There are probably many arguments, beyond this note and my background, which illustrate this peculiarity. Analysis of conspiracy theories, which some of the writers are not guilty of omitting, needs to begin not with the conspiracy inquiries but rather an examination of conspiracy theory versus conspiracy theory. Why does one gain more salience than the other? That should be the starting point of these discussions.

The passage, however, should not be used only to counter the War on Terrorism critics, but should also be a lens through which we examine the War on Terrorism. Zulaika and Douglas seem particularly prescient as they could be writing 5 years later without having to change a single word from this passage. I could do some work and find the ramblings of our administration to highlight the passage in to-day’s context, but I will not. The passage is, I believe, an enthymeme: everyone knows the continuation without needing it to be told to them. If I am wrong about this, if you do not see the Bush criticism in the passage above then let me know and I will expound.