Monday, December 31, 2007

Best Albums of 2007

Anxiously waiting for grades to come through is driving me crazy so, to divert myself, I've been playing my PSP, reading Gravity's Rainbow, and compiling a list of my favorite albums from the year.


1. Burial - Untrue
2. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights
3. Einstürzende Neubauten - Alles Wieder Offen
4. The Budos Band - The Budos Band II
5. David Lynch - Inland Empire OST
6. Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position
7. The National - Boxer
8. Om - Pilgrimage
9. Angels of Light - We Are Him
10. BoyfriendGirlfriend - Names Names
11. M.I.A. - Kala
12. Stars of the Lid - And Their Refinement of the Decline
13. Dyme Def - Space Music
14. The New Pornographers - Challengers
15. The Mary Onettes - The Mary Onettes
16. Thurston - Trees Outside The Academy
17. Midnight Juggernauts - Dystopia
18. John Wiese - Soft Punk
19. Melt-Banana - Bambi's Dilemma
20. Alcest - Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde
21. The Angelic Process - Weighing Souls with Sand
22. Glass Candy - Beatbox
23. Eluvium - Copia
24. Nest - Trail of the Unwary (Special Edition)
25. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
26. Beirut - The Flying Club Cup
27. Swallow The Sun - Hope
28. Gowns - Red State
29. El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead
30. José González - In Our Nature
31. Unsane - Visqueen
32. Artymove - Bones
33. Swod - Sekunden
34. Justice - Cross
35. Throbbing Gristle - Part Two: The Endless Not
36. Dirty Projectors - Rise Above
37. The Field - From Here We Go Sublime
38. Woods - At Rear House
39. Omni. - Attained and Unattained
40. Porcupine Tree - Fear of a Blank Planet
41. Prodigy - Return of the Mac
42. William Basinski - El Camino Real
43. Boxcutter - Glyphic
44. Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
45. Marnie Stern - In Advance of the Broken Arm
46. Jens Lekman - Night Falls over Kortedala
47. Kinski - Down Below It's Chaos
48. Kanye West - Graduation
49. Electric Wizard - Witchcult Today
50. Ulrich Schnauss - Goodbye

Honorable mentions I didn't have room for but were still cool:

Various Artists - Top Shelf 8/8/88 (allegedly a lost mixtape from the 80's but I'm convinced that it's a hoax that came out in 2007. Fucking awesome Hip Hop from some old school names)
Okkervil River - The Stage Names
Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer
Liars - Liars
Dave Gahan - Hourglass
LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Radiohead - In Rainbows
Melee Beats - Bel Esteem
Efdemin - Efdemin
Chamillionaire - Ultimate Victory
Goldmund - Two Point Discrimination
Battles - Mirrored

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Further down the drain.

Yes, my site is incredibly dumb and no one reads it, but I'm posting this link in case someone stumbles upon it.

Waterboarding is Torture… Period

Thursday, October 11, 2007

That's just the way it is!

The worst part about a class discussing sentencing rationale is that all of the rednecks in the class feel the need to come out of the woodwork to reassure us that matters are really simple and should be judged by down home, hick logic.

"If you rape someone, you should die. That's all there is to it."

Gee, thanks for ending centuries of ethical debate with a substance-free, folksy pronouncement.

It's like I'm in a class full of Fred Thompsons, holding forth on the finer points of criminal sentencing based on nothing more than whatever claptrap their daddy's told them during a Nashville Network commercial break while drinking a Bud Lite.

"That's just the way it is," is code for "I have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about."

Friday, October 05, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Budos Band is keeping soul alive

The Budos Band's new album, Budos Band II, is seriously awesome. This is how funk should sound. I'm not surprised, since I've liked everything I've heard from Daptone Records, but this is amazing.

You can buy it here.

And while you're at it, check out the new Sharon Jones.
I'm studying in the library when I accidentally overhear a phrase from a conversation across the room.

"Now, I'm definitely not a racist but..."

I'd thought even people who like to say things like that had realized how it sounded and had stopped saying it, but you'll never stop getting surprised by what people will say when you live in Wyoming.

All I can do is turn up the volume on the electro. Christ.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Huge void in the Universe

I really wanted to read the New Scientist article, but their site is down today.

So here's CNN:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Astronomers have stumbled upon a tremendous hole in the universe. That's got them scratching their heads about what's just not there.

The cosmic blank spot has no stray stars, no galaxies, no sucking black holes, not even mysterious dark matter. It is 1 billion light years across of nothing. That's an expanse of nearly 6 billion trillion miles of emptiness, a University of Minnesota team announced Thursday.

Astronomers have known for many years that there are patches in the universe where nobody's home. In fact, one such place is practically a neighbor, a mere 2 million light years away.

But what the Minnesota team discovered, using two different types of astronomical observations, is a void that's far bigger than scientists ever imagined.

"This is 1,000 times the volume of what we sort of expected to see in terms of a typical void," said Minnesota astronomy professor Lawrence Rudnick, author of the paper that will be published in Astrophysical Journal. "It's not clear that we have the right word yet ... This is too much of a surprise."

Rudnick was examining a sky survey from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which essentially takes radio pictures of a broad expanse of the universe.

But one area of the universe had radio pictures indicating there was up to 45 percent less matter in that region, Rudnick said. The rest of the matter in the radio pictures can be explained as stars and other cosmic structures between here and the void, which is about 5 to 10 billion light years away.

Rudnick then checked observations of cosmic microwave background radiation and found a cold spot. The only explanation, Rudnick said, is it's empty of matter.

It could also be a statistical freak of nature, but that's probably less likely than a giant void, said James Condon, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. He wasn't part of Rudnick's team but is following up on the research.

"It looks like something to be taken seriously," said Brent Tully, a University of Hawaii astronomer who wasn't part of this research but studies the void closer to Earth.

Tully said astronomers may eventually find a few cosmic structures in the void, but it would still be nearly empty.

Holes in the universe probably occur when the gravity from areas with bigger mass pull matter from less dense areas, Tully said. After 13 billion years "they are losing out in the battle to where there are larger concentrations of matter," he said.

Retired NASA astronomer Steve Maran said of the discovery: "This is incredibly important for something where there is nothing to it." "
This is especially cool because there's no dark matter in the region. That has important implications on the debate about whether matter-distribution in the Universe follows a fractal pattern or not. If it's fractal, then, as you view the Universe on larger and larger scales, it will never become smooth. New patterns will continue to develop. Galaxy clusters become super clusters and super clusters form even larger patterns. Otherwise, everything should smooth out as you zoom out far enough.

Gefter, Amanda. "Don't mention the F word," New Scientist. March 10, 2007. Lexis:
Collisions between particles of ordinary matter help it clump together, but dark matter is thought not to behave in the same way. That suggests it could be spread out in space more evenly than ordinary matter, so cosmologists assume that the distribution of the matter we can see - galaxies, say - is not a true reflection of the distribution of all the matter that is out there. They believe the structure of the universe is really much "smoother" than it appears to be, because dark matter dominates. In the case of the Sloan survey, the bias is 2: the visible galaxies are clumped twice as densely as the predicted total distribution of matter in the universe.

Sylos Labini, however, sees the bias as a fudge that allows cosmologists to discount the observed clustering of galaxies and to assume that the gigantic clusters of superclusters are only half the problem they appear to be. "The bias is a way to hide the size of structures behind some ad hoc parameter," he says.

Mainstream cosmologists, however, feel the bias is justified, assuming that galaxies cluster in regions of space that are replete with excess dark matter. According to the standard model, dark matter is everywhere, but galaxies only shine in the rare regions where dark matter is densest. Dark matter also lingers in the voids where no light shines but here it is thinly spread out. In other words, while the luminous galaxies look very clustered, the underlying blanket of dark matter is far smoother, supporting the claim of homogeneity. "If the cold dark matter model is correct, then there should be dark matter in the voids," Hogg says.

The million-dollar question is: what is the real distribution of dark matter? Is dark matter smooth or fractal? Is it clustered like the galaxies, or does it spread out, unseen, into the great voids? If the voids are full of dark matter, then the apparent fractal distribution of luminous matter becomes rather insignificant. But if the voids are truly empty, the fractal claim requires a closer look.

Astronomers are now providing our first glimpse into the voids and our first look at the pattern of invisible matter. Richard Massey of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and others in the Cosmic Evolution Survey project have just created the first 3D map of dark matter in the universe (New Scientist , 13 January, p 5). They were able to find the dark matter by observing its gravitational effect on any light streaming past it. Combining data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Subaru telescope in Hawaii and the Very Large Telescope in Chile, they mapped the distribution of dark matter at scales ranging from 23 million to 200 million light years across.

Massey's team found that the dark matter distribution is nearly identical to the luminous matter distribution. "The first thing that strikes me is the voids," Massey says. "Vast expanses of space are completely empty. The dark matter makes up a criss-crossing network of strings and sheets around these voids. And all the luminous matter lies within the densest regions of dark matter."

Although this distribution of dark matter seems to favour the idea that the universe is fractal, Hogg isn't convinced. "It is interesting," he says, "but measurements of dark matter are much less precise than measurements of galaxy distributions."

"The result is very new," Massey agrees. "It demonstrates a very exciting new way of looking directly at dark matter and will be vital in future work, but hasn't yet been subject to all the analysis that has been applied to galaxy surveys." When asked if the dark matter exhibits an explicitly fractal structure, Massey replies, "We don't know yet."

"The universe is not a fractal," Hogg insists, "and if it were a fractal it would create many more problems that we currently have." A universe patterned by fractals would throw all of cosmology out the window. Einstein's cosmic equations would be tossed first, with the big bang and the expansion of the universe following closely behind.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Brightest observed supernova could have created quark star

Seriously awesome.
Quarks are subatomic particles that normally only associate in groups of two – producing short-lived mesons, or three – producing the protons and neutrons that make up the bulk of normal matter.

But some physicists say that when matter is crushed to extreme densities, it settles into a soup of individual quarks. A cubic centimetre of this new type of matter – dubbed 'strange' after one of the six types of quark – would weigh as much as a billion tonnes and would have the unusual property of converting any ordinary matter that touches it into more strange matter, releasing energy in the process.
Light speed

The energy released by converting the core of a star into strange matter would cause an explosion called a quark nova, which Leahy and Ouyed argue has been observed for the first time in SN 2006gy.

In their picture, the event begins when a massive star blasts away its outer layers in an ordinary supernova explosion. In the process, the star's core collapses to become a dense object called a neutron star.

But the team argues that some neutron stars last only a short time because their magnetic properties cause their spin rates to drastically slow down. Because centrifugal force can no longer support the neutron star's core, it collapses even further, transforming into strange matter.

The transformation releases a tremendous amount of energy, blasting the neutron star's outer layers into space at close to light speed. The layers then slam into debris from the original supernova, creating an intense glow bright enough to explain the observations of SN 2006gy, Ouyed told New Scientist.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Back in school

I am so happy to be in the back of a classroom again instead of destroying the blood vessels in my eyes working for a company that's sole purpose is to generate profits by denying people health care.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Ron Paul is a reactionary sack of shit.

I am sick of people acting like Ron Paul is some sort of maverick Republican who is out to save individual liberties and the US Constitution. I understand that he gets little coverage because he has no chance of winning the nomination, but it would be nice if his occasional appearances on programs like the Daily Show wouldn't gloss over how batshit insane he is. Yeah, opposing the occupation of Iraq and the Patriot Act is cool, but no one ever talks about some of his abhorrent political stances:

He voted against divesting federal funds from companies that directly contribute to the genocide in Darfur (there isn't even a good "free trade" defense of this action... it's the federal government's prerogative to determine who it trades with. Isn't that how the sacred "free market" is supposed to correct for things like genocide?)

He wants to prevent federal courts from hearing First Amendment cases.

He doesn't think the Bill of Rights applies to the states (awesome civil libertarian there).

He put out a newsletter featuring explicitly racist statements.

He claims that abortion is a states rights issue but voted in favor of a federal ban on the safest means of late-term abortions.

He supports replacing the military with mercenaries via letters of marque (oh, you thought there was too little oversight over American human rights abuses now? Wait until private firms with zero oversight are running the game).

He wants to abolish the federal reserve and revert to a gold standard.

He honestly thinks that secular society is out to destroy Christianity and that the War on Christmas is a legitimate concern.

He wants to limit the FDA, allowing private groups with profit-driven conflicts of interest to fill the void.

His votes regarding gay rights are disgusting: he has opposed gay adoption and marriage.

He thinks the Establishment Clause only prevents the formation of a federal church and has no problem with any other kind of establishment.

His approach to education would allow local school districts to teach pseudo-science like creationism.

He opposes federal funding for stem cell research (I guess forcing people to fund research on embryos is unethical but forcing them to fund the mass slaughter of Sudanese is cool).

He opposes state support for family planning and meaningful sex education.

It makes little sense for genuine libertarians to back Paul and it definitely makes no sense for leftists to be sympathetic to the guy. He's a reactionary religious fundamentalist who longs for Christian dominance of the nation, doesn't give a shit about abuses of civil liberties, and could care less about the feds funding genocide in Darfur. Fuck him.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman Dead

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Words fail me.

How many straws can there be left? I'm speechless:

White House Says Hill Can't Pursue Contempt Cases
By Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 20, 2007; Page A01

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals.

Under federal law, a statutory contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, "whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action."

But administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts.

"A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case," said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. "And a U.S. attorney wouldn't be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen."

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, added: "It has long been understood that, in circumstances like these, the constitutional prerogatives of the president would make it a futile and purely political act for Congress to refer contempt citations to U.S. attorneys."

Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues, called the administration's stance "astonishing."

"That's a breathtakingly broad view of the president's role in this system of separation of powers," Rozell said. "What this statement is saying is the president's claim of executive privilege trumps all."

The administration's statement is a dramatic attempt to seize the upper hand in an escalating constitutional battle with Congress, which has been trying for months, without success, to compel White House officials to testify and to turn over documents about their roles in the prosecutor firings last year. The Justice Department and White House in recent weeks have been discussing when and how to disclose the stance, and the official said he decided yesterday that it was time to highlight it.

Yesterday, a House Judiciary subcommittee voted to lay the groundwork for contempt proceedings against White House chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten, following a similar decision last week against former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers.

The administration has not directly informed Congress of its view. A spokeswoman for Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the Judiciary Committee's chairman, declined to comment . But other leading Democrats attacked the argument.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called it "an outrageous abuse of executive privilege" and said: "The White House must stop stonewalling and start being accountable to Congress and the American people. No one, including the president, is above the law."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) said the administration is "hastening a constitutional crisis," and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said the position "makes a mockery of the ideal that no one is above the law."

Waxman added: "I suppose the next step would be just disbanding the Justice Department."

Under long-established procedures and laws, the House and Senate can each pursue two kinds of criminal contempt proceedings, and the Senate also has a civil contempt option. The first, called statutory contempt, has been the avenue most frequently pursued in modern times, and is the one that requires a referral to the U.S. attorney in the District.

Both chambers also have an "inherent contempt" power, allowing either body to hold its own trials and even jail those found in defiance of Congress. Although widely used during the 19th century, the power has not been invoked since 1934 and Democratic lawmakers have not displayed an appetite for reviving the practice.

In defending its argument, administration officials point to a 1984 opinion by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, headed at the time by Theodore B. Olson, a prominent conservative lawyer who was solicitor general from 2001 to 2004. The opinion centered on a contempt citation issued by the House for Anne Gorsuch Burford, then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

It concluded: "The President, through a United States Attorney, need not, indeed may not, prosecute criminally a subordinate for asserting on his behalf a claim of executive privilege. Nor could the Legislative Branch or the courts require or implement the prosecution of such an individual."

In the Burford case, which involved spending on the Superfund program, the White House filed a federal lawsuit to block Congress's contempt action. The conflict subsided when Burford turned over documents to Congress.

The Bush administration has not previously signaled it would forbid a U.S. attorney from pursuing a contempt case in relation to the prosecutor firings. But officials at Justice and elsewhere say it has long held that Congress cannot force such action.

David B. Rifkin, who worked in the Justice Department and White House counsel's office under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, praised the position and said it is consistent with the idea of a "unitary executive." In practical terms, he said, "U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president's will." And in constitutional terms, he said, "the president has decided, by virtue of invoking executive privilege, that is the correct policy for the entire executive branch."

But Stanley Brand, who was the Democratic House counsel during the Burford case, said the administration's legal view "turns the constitutional enforcement process on its head. They are saying they will always place a claim of presidential privilege without any judicial determination above a congressional demand for evidence -- without any basis in law." Brand said the position is essentially telling Congress: "Because we control the enforcement process, we are going to thumb our nose at you."

Rozell, the George Mason professor and authority on executive privilege, said the administration's stance "is almost Nixonian in its scope and breadth of interpreting its power. Congress has no recourse at all, in the president's view. . . . It's allowing the executive to define the scope and limits of its own powers."

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Materialism or social change?

It seems like one of the biggest issues facing continental theory is of how to reconcile materialist ontology with some form of progressive politics. How is it possible to move away from the metaphysical abstractions that liberatory movements of the passed relied on while still being able to engage in politics? If we can't rely on the easy categories (such as inaliable rights or Locke's notion of divinely-given autonomy), how are we to justify our sociopolitical stances? Even more, how are we to account for how political change occurs in the first place? What room is there for autonomous engagement or political agency if we're subject to material forces such as networks of power?

I've oscillated a bit on this question for years. I went from being the most vulgar kind of historical materialist to an idealist and back again. Now I'd like to become a more sophisticated kind of materialist, one that acknowledges the possibility of things like hope and sociopolitical change. A large basis for this view is the Lacanian model of subjectivity. In contrast to the brute determinism of my historicist stage (in which the subject is always directly reducible to the sum influence of juridical forces acting upon it) and the solipsism of my drift into idealism, Lacan allows for a kind of radical freedom to emerge due to the way that subjectivity is premised on a constitutive gap. The subject isn't the direct result of external forces, but is the result of the failure of those forces. Copjec gives one of my favorite explanations of this.

This isn't just Lacan. It's also evident in Kant;s argument about the subject's stance towards the thing in itself. Searle expands on this position in Rationality in Action:
Kant pointed this out a long time ago: There is no way to think away your own freedom in the process of voluntary action because the process of deliberation itself can only proceed on the presupposition of freedom, on the presupposition that there is a gap between the causes in the form of your beliefs, desires, and other reasons, and the actual decision that you make (p. 14).
But nothing fills the gap. It is itself empty.

I'm going to keep thinking about this, but I have one thought before I finish.

Zizek dedicates part of his new book, The Parallax View, to this issue. He contrasts a number of approaches to the question of how events can emerge within a materialist ontology. One theorist he discusses is, unsurprisingly, Alain Badiou, who is probably the theorist of the Event in recent decades.

Zizek dismisses Badiou for not being sufficiently materialist. This is because his Event doesn't emerge from the material coordinates of the situation that precedes it.

I'm not sure if this is correct. I understand Badiou's argument to be that Events do emerge from situations, but in a unique way. Rather than being direct consequences that are reducible to the sum of forces that precede them, they are "subtracted" from the situation. This means that the Event marks the moment when the element that had no place in that situation becomes visible.

But such an element certainly had a part of the material constitution of the situation. The critical point is that they were absent from the symbolic coordinates of that world. A good example can be found in the massive immigration protests we saw last year. People that were a physical part of their society, but were effectively erased from legitimate participation in symbolic reality made themselves known, creating a traumatic break from the world where immigrants only exist by hiding in the social margins. Its a question of their symbolic existence and I'm not sure if this is so different from Zizek's own conception of an Act that accomplishes a symbolic break (see Antigone).

Edit: To be fair, Badiou's Platonism, mathematical realism, and focus on the void as the starting point for the Event add a new twist, but I'm not convinced that those are simple idealistic gestures, especially when compared to the Lacanian argument about the Real and how the thing in itself is nothing more than the very parallax gap that separates incommensurable ways of reading the impossible deadlock that underlies the symbolic order.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fetish, events, and Diet Coke

I like Diet Coke. I dislike Diet Pepsi.


For a long time, I've insisted that it's a taste issue. Diet coke seems more bitter than Diet Pepsi. But, to be honest, it's more than that. Diet Coke is about more than the actual taste. It's also about the way that the beverage is presented. This is usually pointed out as a criticism of people who prefer one soda over another.

"You don't really prefer Diet Coke. If I put Diet Pepsi in a Coke bottle, you would say that you liked it."

I accept this and don't know why it's a criticism. It's pretty obvious that enjoyment of a drink is about more than the physical taste. Other sensations are obviously important, including smell and visual aesthetics. If something tastes wonderful but looks like a pile of vomit, I'm perfectly justified in finding it unappetizing. The same goes for cola. If the aesthetics of a Pepsi bottle disagree with me, then I'm perfectly fine not preferring it to other drinks.

But then I realized that I needed to take a further step. It's not just the whole aesthetic package, but something much bigger. If someone poured me a glass of Diet Pepsi and told me that it was Coke, I would probably claim to like it. This is because enjoyment is about something not contained in the material components of the object. The object cause of desire is something that is in the object that is more than itself. I don't simply enjoy the commodity, but enjoy it as a lifestyle and an image. When I buy a coke, I'm making a statement about that brand versus the Generation Pepsi branding that irritates me.

This is what's known as a fetish. I isolate Coke as the thing that I enjoy but it's something much more elusive that isn't constrained to the physical properties of coke itself.

Jacques-Alain Miller:
The first time that Lacan proposes this still-mysterious object-cause, he illustrates it by the fetish of fetishistic perversion. It is here, he says, that the dimension of the object as cause of desire is unveiled; the fetish is not desire, but it must be there in order for there to be desire, and desire itself is going to stick around wherever it can. You see to what level the fascinating object of desire has fallen. It is no longer any old place where desire is going to stick around: it must be there. One can already, in this "be there," see Dasein, from which Lacan will characterize as the objet petit a, resonate.
Kierkegaard's picture of love has a lot in common with this idea. When you make the radical leap of loving someone, it's not just about the particular properties of that person. It would be obscene to write a list of reasons that you love someone and say that that was the total basis of the way that you felt. Such an act falls short of unconditional love because if those features changed (e.g., the love of your life got in a car accident and was disfigured), your love would vanish. Love can't be reduced to any specific feature of the person in question. It's a dedication to something in the person that is more than themselves.

Even though the love-event seems to be senseless to someone standing on the outside who is not caught up in it, the perspective of the one who finds themselves caught in it imbues it with something more. It is the position that the subject takes towards an event, and not any specific characteristics of the event, that grants it its revolutionary status. To different observers, an outbreak of popular unrest can be perceived as either a meaningless lashing out (see the way that the riots that France saw last year were often interpreted by commentators in the media) or as a challenge to the coordinates of the status quo. The critical thing isn't necessarily the physical conditions that generated the unrest, but the way that someone positions themselves towards it.

In this sense, the object of the event is empty, but it is the subject's fidelity to it that grants it retroactive substance. Love for one's significant other isn't the mechanical interaction between their features and one's preferences but depends on a radical leap on the part of the subject. I recognize myself as being caught in an event that is much more than those features. Saying that one is in love for this or that reason is part of the story, but remains incomplete. The cause of my desire is something that is much more complex and irreducible to mere fetish, in spite of how important the fetish is.

To bring this back around to tasty beverages in a somewhat vulgar fashion, I suppose that that's why I like Diet Coke. Saying it's just the taste or the curves of the bottle is just an expression of commodity fetishism. The more important source of my preference is probably the piece of consumer culture that I purchase and communicate to others when I drink it and declare that it's superior to competing brands.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

I'm really going to law school.

Fall 2007 Schedule

Contract 1
Property 1
Torts 1
Legal Writing
Legal Research
Criminal Law

(This is pretty standard)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Symptom of Globalization

I was listening to some random mp3 of a Zizek lecture at work today ("Why Sept 12 is more important than Sept 11," Jerusalem, January 12, 2003) and his discussion of the Lacanian symptom reminded me of debates over the way that sovereignty and globalization interact with each other.

To explain the symptom in the context of Western Buddhism, he brings up an example that occurs over and over again in his books (he's not too adverse to plagiarizing himself). He had a friend whose wife died of breast cancer. The friend surprised everyone by not shying away from the subject of her death. He would willingly discuss all of the painful moments leading up to her death in horrifying detail without even flinching.

It turned out that the friend kept a hamster in his pocket that had belonged to his wife. Whenever he discussed her, he would hold the hamster in his hand. This allowed him to create the guise of directly accepting the loss of his wife. However, a year later the hamster died and he had a break down. The hamster was a symptom that enabled him to cope with his situation and when it disappeared, he couldn't handle it anymore and had to be hospitalized.

Zizek uses this to explain why he thinks that various forms of Eastern mysticism act as supplements to capitalism. Western appropriations of Buddhism and their advocacy of resignation and withdrawal from materiality allow people to better cope with the excesses of capital. This allows one to be a more efficient participant in economic processes because their excessive features have been dulled. The CEO can calmly fire half of his staff in pursuit of the bottom line after spending an hour meditating in his office. This is the essence of ideology: the mental distance that you achieve towards violent processes enables your continued participation.

This reminded me of how globalization affects the state and its claim to sovereign authority. One of the banners of leftist activists in recent years has been the use of transnational forces to challenge that authority, including features such as the state's monopoly on violence and the existence of concrete borders that mark up the planet into separate jurisdictions.

However, I think a lot of this misses the point. Sure, the growth of the global economy has introduced a number of forces of deterritorialization, but a lot of that has been accompanied by reterritorialization. This is especially evident in the years since Sept 11, which have seen a reassertion of state authority against international institutions like the United Nations.

But it's even more radical than that. Globalization has been a dramatic process, but it is one that has been appropriated by sovereign power. See how the U.S. dismisses realist norms regarding the sanctity of sovereign power in its pre-emptive invasion of Iraq or its ability to detain individuals as enemy combatants at will. See how the U.S. uses its relationships with nations in Eastern Europe to "disappear" inconvenient prisoners to black sites beyond the oversight of humanitarian activists and organizations.

Neocleous talks about this effect in his book, Imagining the State, in the context of the monarchy in the 18th century. When movements struggled for and won the right to representative government, this created the illusion that the power of the monarch had been broken. Although this seemed to move power from one central pole to a more dispersed space, it merely moved the power that was imbued in the body of the king to a new pole, the "body of citizens." Feudal rule was replaced by the bourgeois rule of capital, allowing new forms of subjugation. In the same fashion that the metaphysical institution of the monarchy used to achieve immortality by transferring to new locations every time a particular king would die ("The king is dead, long live the king") the body of sovereignty merely moved to a new location. One was still subject to the demands of the body politic, including any measure deemed necessary for the health of that body, however reactionary or violent.

This is the same process we see now. The global dispersion of power is often far from liberating. In place of the United States' ability to exercise violence against the subjects of its rule, we find a state that can use international influence to indefinitely imprison anyone on the planet that it deems to be an unlawful combatant. People become subject to the whims of transnational firms that can utilize structural forces to compel them to forfeit absurd portions of their labor power while being unable to take care of their families. Refugees are reduced to the status of bare life, deprived of any possible form of subjectivity.

Although a lot of possibilities exist for using transnationalism to challenge subjugation, a lot of the rhetoric is little more than ideology. We glorify globalization as an abstract universal, ignoring a wide variety of specific manifestations with sharply different political stakes (compare the investor who uses trade liberalization to cement petroleum future deals as he flies around the planet to a refugee displaced from the Iraq conflict). We satisfy ourselves with the idea that we've somehow "broken down state power" when we've merely shifted its power into new spheres of life, allowing for more insidious violence on a planetary scale.

This is the definition of the symptom. We can cope with all of these processes because the illusion of progressive transnationalism has conflated contradictory forms of globalization with each other. In the same fashion as the Buddhist CEO, the neoliberal investor can associate his decisions with hip progressivism. He's not extracting surplus value from laborers, he's challenging the static nature of the state system. The idea that this is fundamentally altering social relations is the lie that speaks to the global truth whereby the hegemony of global capital is cemented and any kind of alternative is rendered impossible. Jacques-Alain Miller writes:
In this sense the symptom, as it is articulated and conveyed in the speech addressed to the analyst, formalized in the field of the Other, is a lie. It is, if I may say, an allegory of the symptom - the term allegory is for me irresistible since long ago, at the Section Clinique, I heard it used at its worst apropos of anxiety. The symptom is a lie - what does it mean? It doesn't mean that as soon as one enters analysis one becomes an imaginary sick person - even if the analysand tends to believe so, for he could willingly believe that nothing could happen to him as long as he is in analysis. To state that the symptom is a lie is not an insult to pain; on the contrary, it is to state that the parlêtre of the symptom belongs to the dimension of truth, for it is only there that truth and falseness are posited. And it is in this sense that Lacan formulates that the symptom is truth, "made both of the same wood, if we posit materialistically that truth is what gets established from the signifying chain." We must understand what this assertion implies against the background of "truth having the structure of fiction". One has only to superimpose these two assertions to infer that for one's guidance, the symptom has the structure of fiction.
Although the sovereign is initially threatened by transnationalism, including its assault on the state's monopoly on violence and the introduction of transnational flows, like immigrant populations and terrorist networks, that threaten its territorial integrity, it finds ways to utilize those very processes to extend its power into new domains. The illusion of power dispersal is the devil's greatest trick, utilizing the lie of a new order in which any person on the planet has equal access to the proceeds of the global economy to conceal the re-emergence of very old forms of sovereign violence in very new contexts. The anxiety posed by the figure of the Mexican migrant is temporarily papered over, allowing one to ignore the sheer chaos that continues to exist at the periphery. We pass a guest worker plan and put up a wall, allowing the migrants to continue to work in the margins of society for scant wages, providing the cheap labor that bourgeois Americans rely on to enjoy their excessive lifestyles. We pass trade deals, allowing firms to locate manufacturing overseas. The violent conditions required to make my cheap PSP games are pushed out of view, so I can continue to play them without being overwhelmed by any of my liberal guilt. Even though the vision of a global market utopia is a lie, it reveals the truth of how sovereignty and capital interact with each other.

Clinton commits sonic atrocity.

Celine Dion song selected for Clinton campaign theme

I could probably forgive her for her DLC brand Democrat lite shtick and for enabling the Iraq invasion, but this is beyond the pale.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Health care

I am so fucking sick of Blue Cross Blue Shield. I was offered a full-time position, which includes health benefits, months ago. Since then I've been working full time. After getting the run-around for months ("We'll get it done in two weeks. The new system is coming.") they finally decided to come clean and tell me that the offer was rescinded. Since staff might have to change a month from now in response to the new scanning system, they're worried that they'll have to take the full-time away after a month and don't want to put me through that.

Gee, thanks. I'll try to keep that in mind if I get cancer and get fucked out of coverage for life because of a pre-existing condition.

And I'm still expected to work full-time. They get all of the benefits of full-time labor without having to pay the full price for it. They deceived me, keeping me from getting coverage elsewhere (not that I could afford it on my sub-poverty line salary). If they had been up front, I could have at least tried to get a job with the state or something. Now, the closest thing that I get to health care from a goddamn insurance company is a pathetic newsletter telling me that should get enough sleep and drink anti-oxidant tea.

I can't even begin to express how awesome it is to show up at the ER without insurance. I love getting treated like a criminal for daring to seek emergency treatment in the middle of the night. I love getting shoved into a broom closet that bears a pretty close resemblance to the holding cell the police locked me in the night that I was arrested. I love getting shoved to the bottom of the list and having to wait for five fucking hours for anything to happen. I love getting bills from collection agencies months later because I don't have thousands of dollars to pay for necessary care.

This would all be irritating if it were just me, but now I have a family to look out for. When you can't get health care for a loved one in desperate need of it, it makes you feel helpless and empty inside.

The insurance industry sure spent a lot in their lobbying efforts and have gotten an awesome return on their investment. The millions of people, most of whom are in much, much worse situations than I will ever face, don't have that kind of clout. They can't pressure their representative by dangling campaign funds in a swank Washington gym. And I'm guessing that not much is going to happen to fix this trainwreck of a system because it's too much of a threat to the profit motives of the health care industry.

Fuck it.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Back from the dead.

It's been a long time, but, after months of debate, followed by months of full time work without an internet connection, I'm back.

A lot of stuff has happened to me.

I got married to my best friend and the only person who could break through my cynicism to show me that something like love is possible.

I finally got my BAs in Philosophy and Communication and have been working about forty hours a week, aiding the redistribution of capital for an insurance company.

I'll be attending law school in the fall. I'm really conflicted about what can be done about the legal system at this point but think that I can do some good with a JD.

My wife and I have also adopted a kitten. She was living in a barn when a dog killed her mother and a sibling. Someone dropped her off with a few other cats at a local animal clinic and we took her in. I was nervous at first, but after a night and a day with her, I'm attached. Here she is:

She's the tiniest cat that I've ever seen and is really fragile right now. Her name is Vera Limon (or Limón... I'm not sure).

The main reason that I'm posting here is in case some person that I haven't spoken to in a while happens to check here. I'm also struggling with some of my thoughts regarding critical theory. Being at a computer, entering data all day, I have a lot of time to think, but not many ways to actually express what's going through my head, other than the dozens of sticky notes covered with erasable pen ink that sit in my desk. Hopefully, this will change that.