Friday, February 26, 2010

New Post at The Avant Guardian

Hey ehrbody!

I apologize for the light amount of posting going on here. I'm preparing for a conference next month in Mexico (so you'll be getting some of that paper soon), and I've had my schedule thrown a little out of whack recently.

Anywho. Follow this link to read my new bit over at The Avant Guardian and please leave a comment.

Monday, February 22, 2010

You Are Not a Gadget vs. What Is an Apparatus?

To be fair, I'm only discussing the second chapter of Jaron Lanier's manifesto so this may not be the best representation of his book. But, it seems the chapter helps introduce us to Giorgio Agamben's essay.

Lanier states that the purpose of the second chapter is to apply "metaphors from certain strains of computer science to people and the rest of reality." He calls this strategy cybernetic totalism and this chapter is the metaphoric treatment and pragmatic response to "an apocalypse of self-abdication" although I might suggest in the second edition that he reconsider self-abdication and go with self-abnegation instead.

I agree very strongly with Lanier when he states that the "Rapture and the Singularity share one thing in common: they can never be verified by the living." But, ultimately, this chapter seems somewhat flat and wanting of something more rigorous than statements like "Antihuman rhetoric is fascinating in the same way that self-destruction is fascinating: it offends us but we cannot look away." I get the gist, so I shouldn't put too much emphasis on these sorts of statements. Especially since overall I agree with the trajectory of what Lanier's putting out there: that people should not be designing software and gadgets to promote the accomplishment of the Singularity and we can finally slough off this mortal coil we call bodies and live only in our minds. That's a Hale Bopp cult way of thinking.

Again, I agree, overall, with the sentiment that Lanier is putting out there: (some) people (might)are promoting the advent of an artificial intelligence so as to sell apocalypse 2.0. I like statements like,
People degrade themselves in order to make machines seem smart all the time. Before the crash, bankers believed in supposedly intelligent algorithms that could calculate risks before making bad loans (news flash: they still do). We ask teachers to teach to standardized tests so a student will look good to an algorithm. [...] Whenever a computer is imagined to be intelligent, what is really happening is that humans have abandoned aspects of the subject at hand in order to remove from consideration whatever the computer is blind to.
Preach on! I say. But, again, at least in this chapter, Lanier's flat. His worry that "we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in that process" just limps along in this chapter (although maybe it picks up later, I dunno). And the reason why Lanier's jabs and right hooks can't connect is because they lack what Agamben's essay's got.

The essay begins by suggesting that Foucault employs a term "apparatus" (dispositif in French) to accomplish three things in his body of work:
  1. the apparatus is the network itself between discourses, institutions, buildings, laws, police measures, philosophical propositions, and so on
  2. the apparatus is always located in a power relation and has a concrete strategic function (which means that it is not a gesture)
  3. given these, the apparatus is found at the intersection of knowledge relations and power relations.
Agamben, after discussing where Foucault might have developed this idea (Hyppolite's discussion of Hegel), tells us that apparatus is developed by Foucault so that he can "take a position with respect to a decisive problem: the relation between individuals as living beings and the historical element," which he defines as the institutions and processes of subjectification present in society. So we can see that we are making inroads to what Lanier is going on about when he's making ad hominem attacks against certain technologists, "The digital hive is growing at the expense of individuality." Being a concerned Confucian I am troubled by Lanier's call to individuality (even when he makes contradictory statements about interdependence of all living things but then rails against the appropriation of music from the 60s as somehow a lesser form of creativity).

Indeed, Lanier's manifesto (or at a minimum the second chapter of it) would benefit from an investigation into the definition of apparatus (French, dispositif) which has these three meanings:
  1. the enacting clause of a law, thus the section of a judicial opinion that decides
  2. the way in which the parts of a machine are arranged
  3. the set of means arranged in conformity with military plans
As Agamben mentioned this summer, he has recently put the wraps on a project investigating the theological origins of secular law in the West. In these researches he's found that the Greek term oikonomia came to play the most crucial role in the development of the Western church and by extension modernity itself. The term oikonomia (from which we get economy, ecology, etc.) refers to the management of the household and related affairs. The term was crucial in helping to explain the apparent disharmony in the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost). Trying to avoid any sort of pagan pantheism (of course, native to all the regions that the newly formed Church were trying to overcome), the Fathers of the Church argued something like this:
"God, insofar as his being and substance is concerned, is certainly one; but as to his oikonomia - that is to say the way in which he administers his home, his life, and the world he has created - he is rather triple. Just as a good father can entrust to his son the execution of certain functions and duties without in so doing losing his power and his unity, so God entrusts to Christ the 'economy,' the administration and government of human history."
Thus oikonomia became the apparatus that introduced Trinitarian dogma and the divine providential governance of the world into the Christian faith. The downside of this introduction, as Agamben points out, is that God is seperated in His being from His action. This is also the problem of subjectivity in the modern era - how can I be a human being and not a human doing? "Action (economy, but also politics) has no foundation in being: this is the schizophrenia that the theological doctrine of oikonomia left as its legacy to Western culture."

Apparatus designates the way in which and through which we might actualize an activity of governance, but it is devoid of any ontological foundation and this is why the apparatus is said to produce its own subjects.

Agamben recognizes in his essay that to fully accomplish what he must in the interpretation of Foucault's term "apparatus" he must begin to establish his own thinking about the term. "I wish to propose [...] a [...] partitioning of beings into two large groups or classes: on the one hand, living beings (or substances), and on the other, apparatuses in which living beings are increasingly captured." In doing this we are able to return to the theological discussion above and see that we have the ontology of creatures but also the oikonomia of apparatuses that seek to govern and guide these beings.

He defines apparatuses as anything that "has the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings." So an apparatus is just about any thing and certainly any technology.

He defines subjects as "that which results from the relation and [...] from the relentless fight between living beings and apparatuses." And so here we see the first volley against Lanier.

Where Lanier sees the, "digital hive is growing at the expense of individuality," and so suggesting there is a better way to use apparatuses, Agamben states his set-up might, "produce the impression that in our time, the category of subjectivity is wavering and losing consistency," but what needs to happen is not getting rid of technology nor overcoming it but to amplify the ridiculousness of this masquerading of subjectivity that technologists believe in.

Taking a similar tack as Foucault, Agamben points out that "apparatuses aim to create - through a series of practices, discourses, and bodies of knowledge - docile, yet free, bodies that assume their identity and their 'freedom' as subjects in the very process of desubjectification." To illustrate this seeming paradox, that an apparatus creates subjects by desubjectifying them, Agamben points out the apparatus called penance. In performing penance the I that sinned is absolved and thus is created a new I that is capable of entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

This is the same apparatus in addiction "recovery" this is the recovering over. 

Agamben states that what defines the apparatuses confronting us in this current phase of capitalism (perhaps spectaclism) is this process of desubjectification inherent to them. It is here that Agamben and Lanier are on the same page. Lanier states, "there is nothing special about the place of humans in this scheme [....] Information is alienated experience." Thus, Lanier states, information doesn't deserve to be free contra the Whole Earth Catalog.

But, ultimately, Agamben and Lanier do differ in so far as Agamben finds it impossible to achieve what Lanier seems to be putting forward in chapter 2 of his manifesto:
Here lies the vanity of the well-meaning discourse on technology, which asserts that the problem with apparatuses can be reduced to the question of their correct use. Those who make such claims ignore a simple fact: If a certain process of subjectification (or in this case desubjectification) corresponds to every apparatus, then it is impossible for the subject of an apparatus to use it "in the right way."
Agamben's essay finishes in a supremely satisfying consummation of all the parts this far invoked and (maybe because it's later or because I'm lazy) I want to simply reproduce here:
Rather than the proclaimed end of history, we are, in fact, witnessing the incessant though aimless motion of this machine, which, in a sort of colossal parody of theological oikonomia, has assumed the legacy of providential governance of the world; yet instead of redeeming our world, this machine (true to the original eschatological vocation of Providence) is leading us to catastrophe.
Agamben suggests that we must make profane (the bringing back to the human what was elevated to the realm of the sacred) apparatuses. This rings very nicely with Heidegger's gelassenheit.

An Elective Affinities Walk

I just came across this delightful video:


How To Live - Goethe's Elective Affinities Walking Group @ Hay-on-Wye from Super Mega Action Plus on Vimeo.

I was following a link to read what Simon Critchely's getting on about and so I also discovered the blog How To Live. We learn that How To Live is
a project dedicated to producing essays, images and arguments for a practical philosophy for life.  How to Live provides philosophical resources for those interested in asking vital questions about love, sex, art, literature, ethics, politics, friendship, war, violence, architecture, religion, walking, gardening, crying and laughing.

Anywho. I walk a good bit with my dog, Chino here in Atlanta and maybe we can start up an urban walk like the above?

Friday, February 19, 2010

New Post at The Avant Guardian

popOP continues its mission here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Awesome Quote

I've been revisiting the Analects of Confucius this week and I just came across something really excellent (no surprise).

I attend the European Graduate School, where I have the great fortune to study with luminaries such as Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, Michael Hardt, Jacques Rancière, Avital Ronell, Slavoj Žižek and many others. I've been also equally impressed by the students at EGS who are all such interesting people with fascinating ideas and works.

Anywho, I read this and I thought of school:

7.28:
The Master said, "There are probably those who can initiate new paths while still not understanding them, but I am not one of them. I learn much, select out of it what works well, and then follow it. I observe much, and remember it. This is a lower level of wisdom."

6.20:
The Master said, " To truly love it is better than just to understand it, and to enjoy it is better than to simply love it."

4.15:
The Master said, "Zeng, my friend! My way (dao ) is bound together with one continuous strand."
Master Zeng replied, "Indeed."
When the Master had left, the disciples asked, "What was he referring to?"
Master Zeng said, "The way of the Master is doing one's utmost and putting oneself in the other's place, nothing more."

1.16:
The Master said: "Don't worry about not being acknowledged by others; worry about failing to acknowledge them."

Thanks.

My Poem Over at W5RAn

My poem was accepted over at W5RAn and so you can go to their site and read it.

Here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Announcing the 7th Annual North Georgia Student Philosophy Conference

I am very glad to see and share that the Philosophy Student Association of Kennesaw State University is holding their 7th Annual conference April 16 & 17.

I remember organizing the first conference was such an amazing experience. We worked for weeks to set the whole thing up. None of us had even been to a conference before, we had no idea how the show would go. We did have a couple of years of the Mike Ryan Lecture Series to somewhat inform us, and of course we had Dr. Jones guiding us.

For several years we would have vegetarian Chinese food from New Lucky China off of Shallowford Road to cater the event. We would design the flyers, the posters, the name tags, the program, we'd set up the rooms, the lunches, we were really hoping that we'd be good hosts.

We edited and published a selected proceedings, building off of the momentum of the monthly newsletters we also created, eventually this led to the establishment of an online journal, OtherWise (which just recently published its newest issue).

I joke some times that I didn't do well in my classes because they were always getting in the way of my real education that I cultivated with the PSA. Clearly I should have been a better student, but I would never take back those actions. The PSA is first and foremost a Nietzche-loving group and quick to dance and affirm; but also a group that is very seriously committed to developing excellence among themselves and promoting excellence in their community (probably something from Jones' lectures on Confucius and Daoism). What a cool group of people.

Congratulations to the PSA for the years of their hard work and here's to their continued successes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rancière's "Misadventures of Universality"

Rancière's talk from the Second Moscow Biennial is available at their site, here.

The central concern in the talk is "the way in which the universality of the human rights or people's autonomy appears to be absorbed by [...] a certain idea of the universality of the commodity." To illustrate what he means by this, Rancière brings up Godard's Masculin/Feminin (view the trailer below):

the film where we are introduced to the children of Marx and Coca-Cola. He does this to point toward a newer problem, that during the 60s the protests were supposedly in solidarity and identification with the children in Vietnam, today there is no identification possible because there is only the caricature of who is exploiting whom.

In the 70s Martha Rosler's collages were perhaps powerful critiques, but today this technique doesn't seem to have the same force. The mode is tired. These sorts of collages seem to be just one of millions of such images. Perhaps this is because the Vietnam war was so pervasive in the American dining room - the family could be on the front lines of the jungle warfare while eating tv dinners.

Today this proximity to warfare is a primary means of providing entertainment.

ABOVE: Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975).
RIGHT: Martha Rosler, Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful (2004).
BELOW: Martha Rosler, The Grey Drape (2008).

Today, while it might be satisfying on some level to throw a brick through a Starbucks window it just doesn't seem to convey any form of urgency to political action. Indeed, on a personal level I can relate a story of exactly this. While there was some sense of political excitement in the Battle of Seattle as the anti-globalization movement began to really ramp-up and a brick in a Starbucks while wearing a vinegar-soaked bandanna seemed a viable political action; only a few years later the gesture became impotent one night in Athens, Georgia when my friend had her store window busted-in by UGA party boys. No bandanna, not purpose other than the thrill of simple vandalism. In short, no universal principle being advocated, except that joy of being rebellious.
The result of this commensurability (you can invoke the same bandanna worn in the Battle of Seattle by purchasing it at Urban Outfitters) as Rancière states it is, "[u]ltimately terrorism and consumption, protest and spectacle are shown as part of the same process, a process governed by the law of the commodity which is the law of equivalence."

He then proceeds in the talk to outline both sides of the political spectrum, primarily focusing on the shortcomings of the contemporary left. The right he simply passes over characterizing it as full of rage at the ambivalences in today's world.

With the left there is talk of the impotence of its melancholic prediction which is, "not about verifiable facts. It is just about the lie hidden in any truth. Melancholy thus turns into a kind of cynical wisdom. It only says: things are not what you think they are." We should perhaps clarify this as, perhaps, an incomplete melancholia. As Judith Butler pointed out in her "Melancholy Gender", Freud saw an ego-accumulating aspect inherent to melancholia - an incorporative dimension in the ego's seeking the lost object. Perhaps this, too, is a universalism that Rancière would characterize as misadventure...

So on the one hand there is this "rupture predicated on the historical assimilation of a critical knowledge of the system by the powerful material collectivity," but also this rupture is the natural result of what Marx stated was capital's ability to dematerialize previous material relations by subsuming them to the demands of market exchange.

To be continued tonight at the Poncey-Highlands Reading Group...

Remembering a Friend

An old friend of mine (and TAG co-editor), Ari, has just lost a friend to sickness. He's shared a fine memorial to this passed friend and in solidarity I am linking to his eulogy.

I just read a fine interview with Cormac McCarthy where he put it pretty well:
In talking to older people who've had good lives, inevitably half of them will say, "The most significant thing in my life is that I've been extraordinarily lucky." And when you hear that you know you're hearing the truth. It doesn't diminish their talent or industry. You can have all that and fail.
Of course, I'm pretty young still, but already I get this eerie feeling that I'm not in as much control of my living as I'd like to believe (or as responsible for living as the notion of Law and causality would lead us to believe).

Why am I alive and not some really sweet and dear friends that died years ago? Some died in car accidents, some from lupus, some in random acts of violence... The list grows and will continue to; there's nothing I can do about that. I can be thankful that the list doesn't grow suddenly: that the people I meet all get to live long lives and I get to share the pleasure of their living.

There's nothing wrong with dying; it's a gift, as Derrida wrote. It's because we will all die that we have the opportunity to be ethical. It's against that backdrop that we perform our lives.

I'm living life these days largely without any metaphysical grounding. There is a great moment in the Analects that really informs me on this:
11.12 - Zilu asked how to serve the spirits and the gods. The Master (Confucius) replied, "Not yet being able to serve other people, how would you be able to serve the spirits?" Zilu said, "May I ask about death?" The Master replied, "Not yet understanding life, how could you understand death?"
The footnote to this passage is also really informative for me in reiterating the force of Confucius' teaching and also serves well for this post:
David Keightley (1990), in his reflections on the broader meaning and value of death in classical China, allows that death was perceived as "unproblematic." Of course, he is not claiming that the end of life was not approached with some trepidation. He means rather that death was not considered unnatural, perverse, or horrible. Chinese "natural" death is contrasted with the enormity of death in the Judeo-Christian tradition, where mortality is conceived as divine punishment meted out for human hubris and disobedience.
That said, it is a greater sadness, and unnatural, when a parent must bury their child. Children should expect to bury their parents, this is part of the child's obligation to their parents, but it is a tragedy for a parent to have to bury their child.

I am thankful to Andy for his friendship to my friend Ari - clearly Andy was a significant part of Ari's life and I am the beneficiary of their years together.

technorati claim

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The Avant Guardian Is Hosting a Logo Design Contest

We're looking for some branding help, y'all.

There's talk of a prize in addition to having your design work on the site.

Follow this link.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

New Post at The Avant Guardian Announcing popOP

I've got a new post at The Avant Guardian right now, it's about Anonymous and politics.

Also, after some brainstorming with my amazing wife, Karen, we've come up with a name for my weekly musings on relational aesthetics and popular culture: popOP.

Those of you that are Arrested Development fans might recognize the name, "the fact that you still call it that tells me you're not ready..."

Thanks for your support and please let me know what you think.

Oh, and I think this week I will have a poem published over at W5RAN. I'll be sure to announce it here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New Post at The Avant Guardian forthcoming

A thousand pardons for my delay in writing here.

So here's a quick rundown of what's new: I've recently been made a co-editor of The Avant Guardian as well as a reader for the American Society for Aesthetics Graduate E-journal and I'm really enjoying my internship with ART PAPERS. I submitted a poem for inclusion in the really neat W5RAN, we'll see if they're interested.

I just finished writing my next bit for TAG, it will be there tomorrow.

This weekend there will be some make-up posts published here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Refund Anticipation Loans Are Killing Us


It's tax season in the U.S. again and I'm glad to be involved with a group offering VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) for low and moderate income households as a part of my internship with the International Rescue Committee. The VITA program is vital to the most successful poverty alleviation program the Fed has found so far: the Earned Income Tax Credit. When I was working with ACCIÓN USA I had the good fortune to be present at the first convening of the Atlanta Prosperity Campaign's Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) task force and I'm glad to see that the campaign is in full swing a few years later.

You might recall that we've discussed the EITC a few times here on the blog.

It's been credited as very successful in assisting those of low and moderate incomes to develop assets, that is, wealth building.  
Started in 1975, the Earned Income Tax Credit is a refundable federal tax credit designed to reduce the tax burden on low- and moderate-income workers and encourage participation in the labor force. In 2006, EITC benefited 22.4 million people with an average credit of $1,951. Research has shown that the EITC is often used to pay off debt, but it can also present an opportunity for wealth building.
I copy + pasted the last three sentences from a study recently released from the Woodstock Institute, a Chicago-based research and policy organization. They go on to point out that the "primary consumers of Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs) are recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit. According to the National Consumer Law Center, 63 percent of the 8.67 million people who received a refund anticipation loan in 2007 also received the EITC."

RALs are those loans that tax prep sites (like H&R Block, Liberty Tax, Jackson Hewitt, etc.) offer to folks that want their tax return refunds ASAP. As they state:

While RALs give borrowers rapid access to their tax return, they do so at a significant cost to borrowers. According to a February 2009 report on the RAL industry produced by the National Consumer Law Center and the Consumer Federation of America, fees for a RAL in 2007 ranged from $104 to $111 per loan, with an average fee of $107.50. Lenders charged additional fees to borrowers who wanted their loans processed in one day. These costs are substantial when considering the size of the loan. For a refund anticipation loan of $3,000, annual percentage rates (APRs) ranged from 77 to 140 percent. On top of these RAL fees, an estimated 20 percent of RALs included additional application fees which can add another $40 to the cost of the loan. In addition, borrowers pay tax preparation fees that average as much as $183 at one nationwide vendor.
They then quote the National Consumer Law Center study that states that, "EITC recipients generated $525 million in fees for refund anticipation loans in 2002." Then citing a Brookings Institute study stating, "the complexities of the EITC qualification and application process appear to drive low-income taxpayers to use paid tax preparers. The means by which tax preparers are compensated for generating RALs rewards steering. A tax preparer is compensated for each loan they generate, and in some cases receive additional bonuses for meeting the quotas of the lender."

The Woodstock researchers point out that there is evidence for a motivation toward tax fraud present in these Refund Anticipation Loans, "In 1994, the IRS estimated that 92 percent of fraudulent returns filed electronically involved refund anticipation loans. In an effort to reduce fraud, the IRS stopped providing tax preparers with information on outstanding tax debt, a function called the Debt Indicator. Both RAL volume and RAL fraud dramatically declined after the elimination of the Debt Indicator. However, the IRS reinstated the Debt Indicator in 1999, after which RAL fraud rates increased."

So who are the folks making these RALs possible? According to the National Consumer Law Center it's: JP Morgan Chase (with 13,000 independent tax preparers), HSBC (H&R Block's RAL provider), and Pacific Capital Bancorp - the parent company of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust. According to the NCLC's recent press release, "RALs drained the refunds of about 8.4 million American taxpayers in 2008, costing them in the neighborhood of $738 million in loan fees, plus over $68 million in other fees." It's obviously popular to complain about the Wall Street Bailouts, but here is an annual bilking of Main Street.


Weirdly, the IRS doesn't require any kind of regulation of tax preparers, until this year, as the NCLC reports this year, "On January 4, 2010, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced its plans to finally regulate the tax preparation industry. Currently, most tax preparers are not subject to any sort of licensing, competency or minimum educational requirements, a fact long criticized by consumer advocates and others, such as the National Taxpayer Advocate."

While it would be great if the EITC was used to build assets among those that qualify, the reality is that the recipients are often on the business end of a host of predatory lending practices (such as RALs, Title Loans, Pay Day Loans, Check Cashing services, Rent-to-Own schemes, etc.) and so the monies that are allocated with EITC are usually spent servicing debts. As the National Consumer Law Center points out, if you're considering a debt repayment program, caveat emptor (buyer beware):
[D]ebt settlement companies usually take out all of their fees, ranging from 14 to 20 percent of the total debt, within the first half of the contract. For debts totaling $20,000, a consumer could pay fees of $2,800 to $4,000.

"Debt settlement companies usually collect most or all of their fees from consumers long before they have eliminated any of their debts, and consumers pay these high fees regardless of whether their debts are settled or not," said Susan Grant, Consumer Federation of America’s Director of Consumer Protection.

"There is no guarantee that your debts will be settled," said Gail Hillebrand, Financial Services Campaign Manager at Consumers Union. "The industry’s own statistics show that debt settlement doesn’t eliminate all of the debt for most consumers. The full fee can be deducted from your savings even if you are still stuck with your debts."

The drop-out rate for debt settlement services is very high; a study of one company’s customers revealed that 60 percent had cancelled within 5 to 6 months after starting debt settlement. Claims for success rates can be very misleading because they often don’t take into consideration the cost of the fees consumer pay or the size of those debts that are never settled.
The NCLC is an excellent source for those of us that don't have much money and don't know how the credit and financial systems are set-up (and how they're predisposed to bleed us).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Who Needs Time?

There is a great article written by John Cox over at Wired's Epicenter blog.

My wife's always teasing me because I've got this blog (plus another), I've got a myspace account (what a waste - almost as bad as monster.com), facebook, twitter, linkedin, academia.edu, and then a wordpress blog and fan page on Facebook for our reading group. What's the point of all this self-promotion? Right now, really very little actually. But, as this Epicenter article points-out, understanding how these platforms work and developing attention from the right people makes all the difference. These are ways of manipulating your relationship with the world virtually to effect changes in actuality.

What the article doesn't discuss, and maybe it isn't the place of that blog, is the kind of relationships that the people who voted for Brown. Who had the time to get to know him?

In some ways I wonder if this was an exciting opportunity for many people in Massachusetts but campaigning and public service isn't something that many want to do for sustained amounts of time? Maybe not - maybe the shame would be that so many people could become involved so rapidly and decisively and then not be allowed to continue to interface with the political process. That's been my overall experience with the Obama Administration's web portal.

Rather than a means to participate in democracy, the Internet continues to be hamstrung by those in a position to do so (RIAA, NSA, AT&T, et al.) I've been told that voting is mandatory in Australia and to make sure there is compliance, people can vote very easily with a proximity to polling place that would put the U.S. to shame. The U.S., miraculously, can develop technology that allows me to do all my banking virtually (there isn't even a bank branch in my state), I can bank nearly anywhere in the world. Yet some how we can't get a little voter card that would work like an ATM card? C'mon.

Friday, February 5, 2010

New Post at The Avant Guardian




I've written a little sumpin'-sum at that place of internet jocularity we like to call The Avant Guardian.

There seems to be an arc developing in these pieces: something about social relations and how they've been shifting.

I thank you for your generosity in reading.

Also, many, many thanks to Tom Maxwell for turning me on to the two new blogs I've added over in the side bar there:
The strawman image here on our left is an illustration from "Za Lahko Noč" Ančka Gošnik-Godec (1964) which I found on A Journey Around My Skull.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Commodification of the Self


In preparation for tomorrow's essay at The Avant Guardian I'll share a little something I learned about.

Prior to the 14th century social stratification in Europe was of three forms: those who worked (the peasants), those who prayed (the clergy), and those who fought (the aristocracy). And this was all-good. For some reason I had this other image of the peasants as basically struggling for millenia just wishing they could shrug off the yoke of repression, getting burninated on by Trogdor. Now I have to revisit the image of the peasant as portrayed in Monty Python's Holy Grail.

All three categories were of a Great Chain of Being which was an attempt to understand how all the universe was, in essence, gradations of God. At the bottom of this ladder was the earth itself, which had only the property of existence, in the center was humanity (between the angels and the animals), and at the top was God. All of reality fit within a gradation of godliness. This would become undone, however, during the vicious cycle of famine, warfare, and plague that obliterated most of Western Europe. In the wake of lived apocalypse, people began seeking positive expression of God's existence, this pursuit of positive knowledge lead to the era now called the Enlightenment.

As you may recall I've been discussing the aesthetics of personhood over at TAG: that "who I am" is is an accumulation of responses to traumatic events, that "who I am" is possibly an agglomeration of pieces of other examples of who I could be, and that a central component to the currently-developing economic relationship called spectaclism is the exploitation of a sense of dissolution in celebrity and anonymity.

Tomorrow we're going to extend that conversation a bit and discuss someone in this video:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Three Year Anniversary!?

I just realized that Kudzu Kongzi has been here for three years. Well, three years as of January 11, 2007. Allow me to show you what I wrote three years ago:
 

Brilliant!

The Militarization of Intellectual Capital in Spectaclist Economics

I'm in day two of a gnarly cold and am just laying in bed. Thanks to a good friend I have a movie to watch and thanks to Hulu I watched a great documentary, RiP! A Remix Manifesto.

Also, the Pentagon released it's budget for the next year and its Black Ops budget is around $56 billion. You can read a little about that here. Also, check out Trevor Paglen's books. Paglen was recently here in Atlanta for a talk sponsored by ART PAPERS (where I am interning).

While a documentary about copyright vs. copy left and this black budget may seem unrelated, I think that if you watch RiP you'll see that they're not so far removed at all.

As one former Clinton Administration discusses it, the U.S. in the 80s and 90s made a serious movement away from domestic manufacturing initiatives and changed its focus to developing intellectual capital in the country. The thinking was that the U.S. would outsource all of these manufacturing jobs overseas (where they'd be made cheaper - a boon to the owners of manufacturing interests, but a bane to the working poor of the U.S.), and with this movement overseas the U.S. work force would be reeducated so as to create things abstractly. For this to work, the developing nations where these manufacturing jobs went would have to adopt intellectual property rights like what the U.S. has today.

This black budget is primarily accounting for the most advanced research (intellectual capital) in the world; although it also is accounting for the cost of torturing suspected people that the U.S. has kidnapped (such as Omar Deghayes) as well. The militarization of intellectual capital is becoming a reality (check it out) and I suspect it is a symptom of a structural change that is the result of that shift from capitalism the way Marx described it to spectaclism today.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Poverty in the Suburbs, Earned Income Tax Credit

According to the Institute for Financial Literacy, the average person filing for bankruptcy in 2006 was:
white, male, between the ages of 35 and 44, making less than $30,000 a year.

The official beginning of the recession was recorded in December, 2007 (although the feeling of being in recession was felt in 2006 by many); the Institute for Financial Literacy's follow-up on who filed bankruptcy in 2008 found the same group from 2006 was filing for bankruptcy - but that there has been a sharp shift into the middle class. Among the groups they found with the greatest rates of increase were the college educated, self-employed, making more than $40,000 a year.

Let's combine this with the Brookings Institute's study on the surge of poverty in the suburbs:
  • 7.2 million jobs have been shed from the economy since December, 2007
  • the majority of these job losses were in "decentralized" (not concentrated in industrial or city centers) i.e. real estate, construction, retail; and are part of a greater trend since the 1990s of the suburbanization of the poor
  • low-density "exurbs" have been particularly hard hit because these communities don't have the same infrastructural safety nets that have become structural in the city. This can be seen in the use of food stamps: although there are more poor people living in the suburbs, only 32% of suburban families received food stamps vs. 39% in the primary cities they surround.
And, finally, lets briefly jextapose these micro-level economic indicators with what the ruling class had to say in Davos, Switzerland:
  • Government debt has reached historical levels for peace time in a number of advanced economies.
  • With a few exceptions, the larger advanced economies have been the most affected by fiscal crises. According to the IMF, by 2014, the average debt-to-GDP ratio of advanced economies that are members of the G20 is expected to climb from the 2007 pre-crisis level of 78% to 118%.
  • According to the same IMF analysis, between 2007 and 2014 the average debt-to-GDP ratio of emerging countries that are members of the G20 will never exceed 40%.
  • The U.S. will continue to experience plant foreclosures and the the bankruptcy of small and medium size enterprises, one legacy of this may be a legacy of underemployment in the U.S. as there are 9 million part-time workers today seeking full-time employment (myself included, y'all).
Since it is tax time again, I think it's appropriate to remind the readership that there is no reason to pay someone to help you prepare your taxes. This is particularly a problem for the most vulnerable section of the economy: the working poor. The Nation has a fine article discussing the problem of tax refund advance loans here.

If you are concerned that you won't be able to file your own taxes or are having a difficulty with your tax preparation, please consider using a VITA site, the Atlanta Prosperity Campaign helps working families find many sources of support.

I've discussed the Atlanta Prosperity Campaign before. A primary tool in their belt is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable federal income tax credit for low to moderate income working individuals and families. The EITC is an effective tool for asset-building among the working poor:
[T]he Internal Revenue Service estimates the EITC participation rate for eligible individuals ranges from 75% to 80% Thus, increasing the EITC participation rate for Atlanta families by a mere 10% (7,934) could result in over $15 million in additional benefits.
Good luck.