The Father Brown stories by G.K.
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“…was a man who read his Bible.  That was the matter with him.  When will people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible unless he also reads everybody else’s Bible?  A printer reads a Bible for misprints.  A Mormon reads his Bible, and finds polygamy; a Christian Scientist reads his, and finds we have no arms and legs.  St. Clare was an old Anglo-Indian Protestant soldier….  Of course, he found in the Old Testament anything that he wanted – lust, tyranny, treason.  Oh, I dare say he was honest as you will call it.  But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?”

From “The Sign of the Broken Sword”

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I was going to revive the cagematch series with Surrogates (Jonathan Mostow: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) but then I made a mistake on the bus yesterday and read Howard Hampton’s essay “Metal-liad” and am now thoroughly embarrassed to have even tried the genre.  In that essay Hampton reads 1991 music as Nirvana’s Nevermind against Guns N Roses’ Use Your Illusion I & II. It is a cagematch par excellence and I would recomment everyone check it out.  Nick Hornby has nothing on this guy.  Neither do I.  Instead I offer a review of Surrogates.

The summary portion of the review is best handled by Jenna Busch over at JoBlo.com:

Fourteen years from now, the technology that allows people to move inanimate prosthetics with their minds has advanced by leaps and bounds. In this brave new world, people sit in “stim chairs” for most of the day, while living through an idealized, robotic version of themselves. The son of the man who created this fantastically creepy technology and his one night stand (a fat guy in a girl-bot) has been zapped to death by a mysterious man. And the users themselves have had their brains liquefied in their chairs. FBI agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) are sent to investigate, uncovering a plot that threatens the very idea of surrogacy.

This movie is not good.  I think it has potential but the way they executed it was not enjoyable.  A few problems with the backstory.  First, everyone in the world has a surrogate.  Everyone?  Even the poor?  Capitalism changes and allows universal access?   This is just glossed over, posited as if true, AND it is not even necessary to the story.  Why not just say a lot of people have them a la television or computers?  Because then the movie would become too polemical.  Although I suspect that would have raised the production standards and its hidden jeramiad would have needed tightening up.  Not even a resource crunch based on all the added energy needed to power the near doubling of the world’s overpopulation?

The second issue is that all crime disappears.  Supposedly crime is a personal afront and since people are now sheltered away there is no point to breaking the law.  Anyone who thinks that is plausible was probably confused at “StoopidNoodle”.  And if there is no/little crime why then is there even an FBI for Greer to work at?

Third, each major city has a section called a reservation where Luddites have retreated to escape technology.  Again I have to wonder what other monumental change occurred, because surely our government would need more than a surrogate development to allow this to happen.  Sci Fi is nice when they posit one difference and then see how the world would be different, a type of counterfactual.  This backstory, however, is replete with unfounded changes based upon the movie’s fiat.  Needless to say, the initial backstory montage had my hackles up.

Spoiler, well sort of, the trailer shows all the surrogates deactivating and collapsing so it’s not much of a spoiler (and there are scenes in the movie where an operative disconnects from the surrogate and the surrogate remains standing, but in the the movie’s resolution all of them fall down): Greer unplugs them so people are forced to act as ‘humans’ again.  That’s a silly ending.  The technology is obviously deemed desireable.  Today’s world is so competitive with electronics that undesired technology is quickly discarded.  All Greer does is momentarily suspend the tech.  He also probably kills people as some people are dependent on the tech for sustenance and, most all, people have grown physically dependent upon the surrogates.  Good job.

Greer was faced with a choice and he instead chose ‘humane’ one.  Instead of dropping all the operator/surrogate links he could have allowed a virus to kill all surrogates and operators; his other choice was to stop any change and allow the status quo to continue.  I contend that either of the other options would have been preferable.  I have already laid out how disconnecting them was already a violent act, abruptly denying people something they are used to and have every reason to believe will continue to be available.

The other option of killing the operators would have also been more humane.  It all comes down to the anxiety informing the movie.  Some see the movie as anti-technological.  But there is no reason to think the criticism is about ALL technology.  Rather it is about technologies of representation.  The movie is informed by a crisis of authenticity.  There are a couple of things in the movie pointing to this read: 1. the initiating event is a double murder, and one of the murdered is not an attractive young woman but instead an old guy (a la the chat room predator fear)  2. Greer at one points says, “I don’t even know who you are!”  But it is said as though it makes a difference.  3.  The constant romantic tensions between Greer and his wife is about her continued use of a surrogate and whether or not “they” are still married.  There are many other moments where this reading is clear.  So, the movie is about authenticity, which is supposedly why Greer makes the choice he does.

Won’t everyone be sad to realize that being face to face with someone does not restore authenticity?  Authenticity is not about identity, which is the conflation made in the film.  This movie is a perfect demonstration of Badiou’s criticism of authenticity:

Any attempt to achieve the real as identified authenticity, to bypass the inevitably tendential mediation of representation… will result in infinite violence…  Since any such attempt ‘a formal criterion is lacking to distinguish the real from semblance,’ there is no way for militants to confirm authenticity of commitment – neither that of colleagues and leaders nor their own.  All that can ensue is constant suspicion and purge.  Stalin’s regime is emblematic. (Jenkins 2008)

Greer has not saved anyone from violence.  He has merely delayed it and cast their lives in the interim into an uncomfortable and potentially horrifying place.  The technology still exists and can be rebuilt, so there will always be doubt about whom a person is.  The more humane – humane as “more than human”, a humanity-surpassing move (H+) – move might have been to wipe it all clean and let the anti-Surrogates rebuild.

Hampton, Howard.  (1992) in Howard Hampton, ed.  (2007).  Born in flames (75-80).  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Jenkins, Joseph.  (2008, April).  Symposium law and event: Violence in Badiou’s recent work.  Cardozo Law Review, 29, online.

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Destroying fences at the border by the AATW, 2007
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I finished the Elbaum book and I am still trying to figure out my impression of it.  So instead here are a few impression.

He knows his stuff.  The research strikes me as meticulous and thorough.  I am not an expert about these groups, but I am versed in reading researched materials and this one strikes me as thorough.

The book is too well researched.  The minutia might have been of fundamental importance to the participants, which Elbaum was, but the distance between them and myself make some of these disputes and disagreements seem petty.  I cannot help but suspect that there is an overlooked component to much of the history – leadership, charisma and personality.  There is some discussion of some individuals being forces of nature and hence them being the organization, but these discussions are usually about midwesterners (people in Chicago to be more specific.)  Is it any shock then to learn that Elbaum participated as an undergraduate radical in Madison, WI.?  Despite this fault, however, Elbaum does a great job of never once sounding like a hagiography.

In all fairness to Elbaum, my interest does not seem to intersect with his main interest in writing the book.  I am interested less in the groups and more about the intersection of theory and the direct actions taken by the groups.  There was some discussion of this but mainly Elbaum focuses on why a group originates – what gap they were trying to bridge in the radical or local community – and why the group dissolved – what faction split into what new group.  Most of the talk about direct actions was reserved for the big nationally known groups: The Weatherman, Black Panthers, etc.  While this seems to be a criticism of sloppy scholarship it makes sense given the generally underreported nature of most radical actions, especially then.

I am curious why some longer established groups escape the book’s purview though.  There is not a single mention of the IWW.  I understand radical undergraduates are not exactly the target of IWW efforts but Elbaum spends a significant amount of time discussing labor unions and organizing within them.  Is this a serious oversight?  Or is it instead my wish for it to be a serious oversight?  Ursa can better explain this to me, as I have no idea how prevalent the IWW was in the late 1960s especially around college campuses let alone in the San Fransisco area.

Sadly, Elbaum is an apostate.  The books reads as a guilty confession for having not stood besides his now fallen comrades.  He sounds as though he will have no problem writing about radicals and maybe even honking his horn in support as he drives past a picket line.

All in all this was a good book as long as one understands Elbaum’s purpose.  He makes no attempt to disguise it either as he is very clear in the introduction why he is writing the book.  I just chose to overlook the warning and hoped to find something else.  Nate would probably enjoy this more than I did.  His conslusion was useful if not overly abstract though.

Elbaum, Max.  (2002).  Revolution in the air: Sixties radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che. London: Verso Books.

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In competitive policy debate we have an argument called E-Prime, that we ought not use “to be” and its conjugations because the verb implies a solid static meaning when such rigidity is rarely accurate.  The famous example is, “The runner is a woman,” when discussing some of the former Olympic champions that were revealed to be cheating and/or hermaphroditic.

This argument is not particularly persuasive and is used mainly when there is not a sophisticated negative strategy available.  However, as I age I am come more and more to believe in a variant of the argument.  I tend to dismiss declarative statements as statements of fact and instead see them more as wish-fulfillment.  This is easily seen when people talk among themselves.  I cannot help but cringe a little when someone says, “I have a high threshold for pain” or the classic “Homey don’t play that.”  Homey does play it and wishes he didn’t, hence his enthusiasm for the distancing move.

So when I encounter Che’s famous statement about the revolutionary being “guided by great feelings of love” I have to snort-laugh a little.  Che wants the revolutionary to be guided by love.  Revolutionaries want to be guided by love.  In my experience though, they are not.  Meeting many of the activists that partook in the Battle for St. Paul I believed that many of them were rather disaffected artsy kids that were angry for whatever reason.  This is not to say that those kids are impartial to the sufferings they rallied in support of, but to attribute that concern as the guiding principle is wish fulfillment.  Che’s declaration also serves the classic us/them trope of rhetoric.  If ‘we’ are the ones guided by love then ‘they’ are by definition not guided by love.  Regardless of accuracy this move is moralizing and hence more affective.

Elbaum (89) gives another example of this happening.  When discussing why 1960s radicals were drawn to the communist regimes despite the human rights abuses Elbaum says the evidence of abuses were not considered credible because the sources dismissing the abuses were also the strongest critics of US imperialism.  Much scholarly research is still concerned with the power/failures of persuasion (and evidence) and why people continue to believe something in the face of clear evidence (I contend this is the question central to Marx’ opus).  To me the answer seems obvious: persuasion only works on the choir, affect is what matters most.  The continued neglect of this is an act of wish fulfillment: scholars wish it weren’t so, they wish people could be persuaded.

The failure of debate is probably best treated by popular pundits than by academics.  Arianna Huffington’s most recent book (Right is Wrong) is about this very breakdown in society.  The August recess and the town halls aptly demonstrate this lack as people were vocal about Obama being the next Hitler.  Barney Frank dismissed one of his constituents aptly and appropriately when he said arguing with her would be like debating a kitchen table.  Sadly Frank was only partly correct: debating with anyone and not just her.  I suspect most of us in this community are either atheists or not moved by religious appeals, but there is a certain genius to the “What Would Jesus Do?” slogan.  If Obama had couched reform as the right thing to do instead of being about containing costs (a proposition open for debate, obfuscation and fear tactics) then we would be seeing a very different public dialogue right now.  Obama has a good story.  He defeated Hillary and McCain on the back of that story.  But that story has since disappeared and now he is President Wonk.  Even The Shrub understood this.

With this approach to persuasion one then has to ask, one being fond of theory and nuance, “what then of theory and nuance?”  After all, why do distinctions matter if the crowd merely follows the cool kid?  This question also comes into the easy criticism of my theory: what constitutes “cool” and how does it exist beyond the grid of intelligibility?  Clearly, coolness is not exogenous and independent of rhetoric.  Being able to talk about theory, after all, is cool to come people.  I will own this blindspot as this balancing act I am not yet able to account for.  Ultimately though, my question is about how to organize and recruit.

Theory and those discussions are important, but only after someone has been recruited into the choir.  Until then we, as organizers, ought to be concerned with being model  people (not necessarily the same thing as role models).  We need to be people our targets want to be, want to be around, and accepted by.  Once that level of affection is achieved then the theory is important.  So, trying to explain why capitalism is predatory and it is not just a problem of predatory lenders is important but only affection is achieved.  This model leaves many ambiguities and does not help close many of the difficulties of the organizers, after all, when has affection been achieved?  Is this person more receptive and hence more affected by an ability to cite authors?  In short, what motivates this person? The traditional persuasion model is still applicable, but how applicable?  My answer is to listen, not to what she says she wants but how she describes others.  The magic is in the audience’s observations not the audience’s pronouncements.

Elbaum, Max.  (2002).  Revolution in the air: Sixties radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che. London: Verso Books.

The other night I saw Moon (Duncan Jones) and was thoroughly impressed.  Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) is one of the only actors in this movie and he can pull it off unlike Will Smith’s doomed attempt in I am Legend.  Moon was a nice break, a nice return to actual sci-fi.  No big explosions.  The threat in the movie was the environment and yet it was the extraction of resources from said environment that drove the story along.  The beauty of the movie was that it represented a return to a lost genre and it remained relevant enough to us.  The story is that humans have created mining outfits on the moon to extract Helium-3, which is then sent to Earth as an energy supply.  People can relate because after last summer we all appreciate the importance of energy in our lives and we have all at some time experienced a job that was really awful.  Moon is about such a job and how the worker/s deal with it.  The genius, though, is that the story is a parable for labor and its relationship with corporations.

Roger Ebert raises some other interesting (non-political) questions about the film.  While watching the film we are obviously supposed to think of 2001.  I do not, however, think this is mere allusion or homage.  I think the universe of Moon is the same universe of 2001 with the stories exsting along side each other.  I really have no reason to think this as all my proof are satisfied by the allusion theory.  A second viewing is in order for this test.  I suspect, however, that Ebert pays no heed to the labor side of the movie because the movie is pure cynicism.  There is not an advocated politics or solution to the problem.  It would have been easy to make one, even a flippant comment at some moment would satisfy it.  Instead though the movie is purely educational about the lack of trust one can put in corporations, or at least technologically advanced energy ones.  Frankly, I am surprised I cannot find this criticism in the press.  Maybe Rorty is correct, that we have become the cynical society uncaring about political solutions and instead merely fixated on defining the problem.

Such people find pride in American citizenship impossible, and vigorous participation in electoral politics pointless.  They associate American aptriotism with an endorsement of atrocities: the importation of African slaves, the slaughter of Native Americans, the rape of ancient forests, and the Vietnam War….They begin to think of themselves as a saving remnant – as the happy few who have the insight to see through the nationalist rhetoric to the ghastly reality of contemporary America.  But this insight does not move them to formulate a legilative program, to join a political movement, or to share a national hope….In the early decades of this century, when an intellectual stepped back from his or her country’s history and looked at it through skeptical eyes, the chances were that he or she was about to propose a new political initiative. (7-9)

Despite his conservatism I have to hand it to Rorty’s clarity and mastery of language.  His romanticism for the past,however…  This quotation smacks of the old man playing the “Back in My Day” fiddle: change is bad because it is change.  Rorty would probably respond that he identifies the normative basis for this conservation: the dissolution of a national hope.  However, we must keep in mind that losing a national hope is not the same as losing hope.  Cynicism may not directly attach itself to a hope, but it is the other side of the coin.  The basis for such a criticism also contains a sense of utopia for which we should strive.  I have no problem placing my hopes in a dream that crosses national borders.

I also contend that Rorty is looking at an incomplete transcript.  His quotation is part of a larger discussion about Henry Adams and other cynical authors.  Because Adams, and likewise Moon, did not explicitly state a politics does not mean there is not one.  Because the reader/viewer is not explicitly told what the solution is does not mean she is unable to figure one out.  Or unable to incorporate the piece’s criticism into her already formed ideal world.  Arguably, the criticism works best by allowing others to identify a problem they may have never before encountered and alter their already formed ideal solution.  Offering a political solution only increases the opportunities for dismissal of the problem.

Rorty wants to call the cynics naive?  I can return the favor.  Here is Dwight Conquergood:

Oppressed people are doubly displaced and degraded: first, by the political and economic structures of violence and exclusion, then by armchair academics-cum-liberators … [S]laves, serfs, peasants, and untouchables are not fools, although at times they may act the part in the presence of power when it is in their own best interests to do so…. Moreover, resistance is not limited to insurrections and uprisings.  Foot-dragging, pilfering, grumbling, conning, and gossiping about one’s overlords are the strategic infrapolitics of the powerless that prepare for and underpin rebellion when it does break out. (89-90)

The answer will be that Rorty and Conquergood are talking about two different groups of people as they both try and target the same group: the Heidegger reading bohemian.  Despite their conservative agreement, Rorty makes the same error Conquergood describes: having too myopic a view of politics.   Even if Rorty’s world is preferable (I would also prefer a reemergence of grand political battles) I will return to an above observation: there are not criticisms of Moon for being apolitical.  Rorty may lament the loss of a less cynical world, but this is where we are and those harpings will not elevate politics over infrapolitics.

Conquergood, Dwight.  (1992).  Ethnogrophy, rhetoric and performance.  Quarterly Journal of Speech, 78, 80-97.

Rorty, Richard.  (1998).  Achieving our country: Leftist thought in twentieth-century America. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard UP.

Allied World War II soldiers
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I propose that the constancy of militarism and its effects on social reality be reintroduced as a crucial locus of contemporary feminist attentions, and that feminists emphasize how wars are eruptions and manifestations of omnipresent militarism that is a product and tool of multiply oppressive, corporate, technocratic states.(2) Feminists should be particularly interested in making this shift because it better allows consideration of the effects of war and militarism on women, subjugated peoples, and environments. While giving attention to the constancy of militarism in contemporary life we need not neglect the importance of addressing the specific qualities of direct, large-scale, declared military conflicts. But the dramatic nature of declared, large-scale conflicts should not obfuscate the ways in which military violence pervades most societies in increasingly technologically sophisticated ways and the significance of military institutions and everyday practices in shaping reality. Philosophical discussions that focus only on the ethics of declaring and fighting wars miss these connections, and also miss the ways in which even declared military conflicts are often experienced as omnipresent horrors. These approaches also leave unquestioned tendencies to suspend or distort moral judgement in the face of what appears to be the inevitability of war and militarism.  (Cuomo, C.  1996.  Hypatia, 11(4).)

One of the things I enjoyed so much about 2666 was its focus on this sort of cultural analysis: how the conditions of possibility for large interstate wars are also the very conditions of possibility for the ubiquitous and often invisible violence in those same cultures.  Bolano tracks this dichotomy and even prioritizes the importance of the micro-level violence, for lack of a better term, vis a vis the macro-level violence.  The first four parts of the book are an increasing crescendo into the micro violence culminating with a painful and gut-wrenching Part Four.  Part Five has Bolano treat the German character to World War II and the analysis traditionally done by those concerned with politics.  This is not, however, to say WW2 was unimportant, but in the scheme of grisly violence that needs to be dealt with the choice is clear and the neocons have it all wrong.

Bolano’s book is an implicit answer to how many people deploy this very piece of evidence: reading the section “While giving attention…declared military conflicts” as a reason why the conflicts of both micro and macro level violences ought to be weighed next to each other.  However, that is a misreading of this evidence.  Cuomo would argue that the divorcing of the two from each other is the very problem, that they are intertwined and only by resolving issues larger than arms control and global trade can we truly achieve a level of peace both internally and externally to the states.

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Saint Wolfgang and the Devil by Michael Pacher).
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The season is finally over.  I have been home 3 days over the past 3 weeks.  I thought I had finished the travels early but then Matt asked if I would be willing to help him househunt for a new place in upstate New York.  Much to The Swede’s disaproval I went along: helping a friend, road tripping to upstate NY, camping in the Adirondacks and the possibility of catching some opening day baseball in as-yet-unvisited ballparks all made for a perfect storm of disappointment for The Swede.

In any case I am now home, and I have been trying to catch up on my shows.  Last night I watched an episode of Reaper which begged a valuable question: why does the Devil care about accumulating souls?  This statement of purpose came during a debate with the Devil about whether his goal was soul accumulation or spreading havoc and misery.  The answer was soul accumulation, which strikes me as utterly capitalist, wealth for wealth’s sake.  Most of us accumulate wealth to enhance our quality of life, but for the super rich this is not the case.  It should come as no shock that on the show the Devil always looks daper and speaks like a true blue capitalist.   It’s such a good show.

I have done some basic research for why the Devil is concerned with soul accumulation and I have only found two answers.  First, there is the claim that the Devil is insane.  I am never comfortable with this description.  Someone’s rationality is another’s comedy sketch but to say it is irrational is lazy in its lack of rigor and its far sweeping non-falsifiable power of explanation.  The second excuse is that God cares for the souls and so the Devil is just trying to fuck with God.  I am also not satisfied with this explanation.  Why would someone dedicate eternity to fuck with an unbeatable foe?  Why would God an omniscient and omnipotent being even desire?  Instead there is something else, something that imbues significance to the ‘fucking’.

If theological texts are going to paint us in the forms of God and the Devil then some of the same methods of inquiry should also translate, especially to the Devil who, while more powerful than humans, was also created by an Other and is limited in relation to that very Other.  The Devil is trying to regain God’s graces and love and has chosen soul-accumulation as the method to do so.  If the Devil accumulates enough souls, so he believes, then he will demonstrate to God his power and value and then God will need to reaccept the Devil into the fold.  Like the boy that accumulates baseballs hoping to earn the love of his father who happens to be a huge baseball fan.

That’s the theory as of now.  Why do I spend time thinking about this stuff when I do not even believe?  I am not sure, but how can believers not spend time thinking of this stuff.  It’s all the same dubious nature of desire at play in all of us, even the Devil.  My concern though is, assuming this is all true, what happens when the Devil finally learns about the futility of this mechanism, what then?  Will psychoanalysis then bear out the ‘final solution’?  The Devil in his anger then really begins to care most about sowing misery and havoc in a self-immolation reminiscient of eschatological premonitions?

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