Tuesday, January 31, 2012

the space of power


since its eviction from municipalities all over the country, occupy wall street (OWS hereon) has faded from the news. detractors couldn't be happier. it plays into this assumption that the movement lacked political program and/or direction. OWS had a visible center of energy and attracted a great deal of attention. the status quo had the right intuition: Dismantle it!
If vilifying the leading companies of this sector is allowed to become an unchallenged centerpiece of a coordinated Democratic campaign, it has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye. 

though is still too early to say that OWS has failed, there is no doubt that the movement has suffered a setback. how is the status quo so effective in trampling on peoples' rights?

wall street precipitated the 2008 global financial crisis, but they were able to preempt their fall with a "too big to fail" narrative. they got bailed out by the taxpayers and proceeded to (what would you expect?) do business as usual. congress was overwhelmed by an army of lobbyists (twenty-five times the lobbyists defending bank interests as promoting reform!), the result was a reform package that has not addressed any of the fundamental issues that led to the bubble and the burst and the collapse of our economy.

it seems that this time people could see through the system's hall-of-mirrors. the "normal" of the g.w. bush years seemed like a patent display of systemic dysfunction. the 1% had taken our government hostage. how? money interests in the form of campaign contributions (30-70% of our politicians' time is spent rising money for the next campaign!). it's no secret that our government has become a mouth piece of corporate and personal interests. plutocracy rules!
What instead we saw was that congress was overwhelmed by an army of lobbyists – twenty-five times the lobbyists defending bank interests as promoting reform! The product of that swarm of bank lobbyists was a reform package that has not addressed any of the fundamental issues that led to the bubble and the burst and the collapse of our economy. And that’s testimony to Wall Street’s extraordinary power over the left and the right.

lawrence lessig's prescription (above) goes hand in hand with what philosopher john rawls perceives as "one of the main defects of constitutional government," i.e., "the failure to establish the fair value of political liberty":
(...) Disparities in the distribution of property and wealth that far exceed what is compatible with political equality have generally been tolerated by the legal systemPolitical power rapidly accumulates and becomes unequal; and making use of the coercive apparatus of the state and its law, those who gain the advantage can often assure themselves of a favored positionUniversal suffrage is an insufficient counterpoise; for when parties and elections are financed not by public funds but by private contributions, the political forum is so constrained by the wishes of the dominant interests that the basic measures needed to establish constitutional rule are seldom properly presented.1
these disparities in distribution are legitimized and internalized by people as "personal freedom-narratives," which produce policies perceived -and enacted- as participatory spaces. it's very difficult to become aware that one's own freedom could be "programmed" the system makes it look all fair: to start, the field is opened for all. that only a few seem to make it is not the system's fault, but instead the way things are. it all boils down to personal choices. some just work harder and make it to the 1%!    

take a look at how a chuck bentley, writing for the washington times defends power's narrative:
The only clear phrase of Occupy Wall Street is the call of the 99 percent (mainstream society) against the privileged and aristocratic 1 percent. But the definition of the 1 percent depends on who is doing the calculating and from where they hail. The likes of Michael Moore, Jay Z and Warren Buffet strangely have been given a pass. Few protesters seem to be aware that as citizens of the United States, they've already experienced an unfair financial advantage. According to World Bank figures, the poorest 10 percent of Americans have more income than nearly 4 billion other inhabitants of the planet. Put another way, Americans are relatively rich compared to most of their global counterparts. 
 are we really?

is comparing ourselves with the worse off a reliable way of improving our deficiencies?

16th century humanist étienne de la boétie examines why people usually exhibit bentley's kind of soporific complacency:
It is this, that men born under the yoke thereafter nourished & brought up in servitude are content, without searching any further, to live like they are used to not being aware at all of any other situation or right than the one they know, they accept as natural the condition into which they were born. 2
la boétie mentions a second reason for what he calls "voluntary servitude": the secret of power's domination lies in that it revolves around a structured systems of threats and privileges.

the internalization of the regimes of an impersonal status quo is explored by michel foucault's critique of power. once we've internalized power's subtle constraints, we end up perceiving it as part of our freedoms! power is tolerable because it "masks a substantial part of itself," its success "is proportional to its ability to hide its own mechanisms" 3

power is effective because we are able to tolerate it, according legitimacy to relations of power to the extent to which we fear the chaos which may result in the absence of its presumed stability. the modern subject becomes colonized with "new methods whose operation is not ensured by right but by technique, not by law but by normalization, not by punishment but by control, methods that are employed on all levels and in forms that go beyond the state and its apparatus" 4

with democracy, we take it that the system has rules, that those rules are fair and that we should abide by them. as pieces on a game-board, some moves are licit or illicit depending of the rules defined by the game. so "truth" means making the right moves in a discourse. "right" is what is dictated or tolerated by a truth-regime's criteria for what is acceptable or sanctioned (or excluded by its mechanisms). this is what foucault means when he says that power produces truth rather than merely distorting it. power produces this illusion of "justice" (since it offers spaces of opposition and potential correction).

let's problematize this point: we are not saying that there are no spaces of opposition. only that in our present climate, these spaces have been co-opted by the system.

this is the how charles kadlec, a contributor to forbes magazines depicts OWS: to occupy ... is to take possession of someone else’s property through the power of the mob.
take bloomberg's justification of his decision to evict OWS by force:
 No right is absolute and with every right comes responsibilities. The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out – but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others – nor does it permit anyone in our society to live outside the law. There is no ambiguity in the law here – the First Amendment protects speech – it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space.

police action seeks justification behind a narrow interpretation of the first amendment (as if dissension could not be seen as part of the first amendment's content):
...free speech should be taken beyond merely "tolerating" dissent: the first amendment should be taken to reflect a constitutional commitment to promoting dissent... dissent is necessary to combat injustice.5
following foucault, we can suggest a space of power:

1- a mode of action which does not act directly and immediately on others, 2-  a normalizing regime, 3- a back-and-forth movement of anonymous processes of subjugation, 4- "a total structure of actions brought to bear upon possible actions", 5- a technology of "disciplinary production of life."

A protester arrested by the police at Zucotti Park, November 15, 2011
countering this trend of power, we may have to reevaluate "place" as a heterogeneous dynamic locus of community, resisting a variety of exclusions, i.e., sexism, racism, ethnic chauvinism and class devaluation, as well fostering inclusions, i.e., joining together in the fostering of an energizing a community.  true, place can imply control and surveillance as much as community and free expression.

in this moment of dissolution of places into micro-virtual differences of solipsistic satisfaction, consumption becomes the sole means of individual communication. "pursuit of happiness" is defined in terms of what we purchase, own & enjoy, as if these things were "real" needs. we miss the bigger picture that consumer society ties the individual into a network of dependencies. this is the subtle and pervading challenge of power: the modern subject becomes domesticated with "needs."

Barbara Kruger, I Shop Therefore I am, 1987
first, new commodities make the necessary chores that much easier, and then the chores become too difficult to do unaided, so what is necessary cannot be distinguished from what is unnecessary but which one can no longer do without.6
each new commodity imply its own new necessity. 

the system has become so ubiquitous that people are clueless to the many links of the chain of commodities. OWS is no exception. the protesters (and for that matter, many of us) fall victim to what could be labeled as the fallacy of "protesting X while consuming X":
Recently, Apple Inc. surpassed Exxon Mobil as the wealthiest American company. The disparity between the two companies' products could not be greater, and yet unlike the ideas of the occupiers, have integration. You would find very little conflict with Apple's wealth in the crowd of protesters occupying Wall Street. Many of them are communicating with iPhones and appreciate their value, and rightfully so. Apple is their example of clean, efficient technology. But mention the name Exxon and you will most likely receive looks of revulsion and a speech about why Exxon is the reason for the ills of the world.
The truth is Apple would not have been a Wall Street entity trading at more than $400 without Exxon.7
against power's colonization of space, we must present an equally effective opposing space. let's call it a space of resistance, where "things are not as self-evident as one believed, to see that what is accepted as self-evident will no longer be accepted as such."8

(it will continue)
1 Steven H. Shiffrin's Dissent, Injustice and the Meanings of America (Princeton University Press, 1999). p. 94. 2 La Boétie, Discours de la Servitude Volontaire, p. 22, cited in  Roland Bleiker Popular Dissent, Human Agency and Global Politics (Cambridge University Press: 2000) p. 63. 3 Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality (Vintage: 1990), p. 86 4 Ibid. p. 89. 5 The suggestion that society should nurture dissent is defended by Ian Shapiro, Democracy's Place (Cornell University Press, 1996).  6 "Practicing Criticism", in Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman, tr. Alan Sheridan et al. (New York: Routledge, 1988), p. 155. 7 James H. Head, "The Hypocrisy of Occupying Wall Street," The Washington Times, October 13, 2011. Much more so, after the recent revelations of Apple's sweat shops in China.  8 See The Consumer Society and the Postmodern City (Routledge: 2003), p. 109.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Is Bill Gates crazy?

In an interview with the BBC he declares:
Well the United States has a huge budget deficit, so taxes are going to have to go up. And I certainly agree that they should go up more on the rich than everyone else. That’s just justice. (...) right now, I don’t feel like people like myself are paying as much as we should.*
* Naturally, miami bourbaki doesn't think Bill Gates is crazy.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

you're right government is evil. here is why: it allows a privileged few to pay about 15% less in taxes than the average middle class american family

Illustration by Nick Anderson

This is the deal: Mitt Romney is worth maybe a quarter billion dollars, considers $375,000 in speaking fees a pittance, parks millions in the Cayman Islands, and pays fifteen percent, maybe, on his income – while the average American living much lower on the totem pole pays 25 to 35 percent. Wow!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

some issues should not be discussed publicly (specially if they concern the public)

QUESTIONER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?
ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.
Find the NBC interview here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

enlightened lascivious impressions

Often eroticism is just a manifestation of illness, exhibited as a more or less marked symptom in a syndrome of manic exaltation.-- Dr. Joseph Guislain ( 1852)
... the truly morbid nocturnal pollution is always the effect of immoderate debaucheries of the body and the mind when, not content to indulge without excess in venereal pleasures, one continually feasts the imagination with lascivious, voluptuous images, filthy conversations, libertine and indecent readings; then, dreams, which are often just a representation of the objects that most occupied the mind during the day, replay the same matters; the generative organs (which frequent exercise and an overheated imagination hold in a continual tension) are much more susceptible to lascivious impressions; they obey the slightest misdirection, and the movements destined to the ejaculation of semen, having become almost habitual, are executed without effort. - Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. [ 1751- 1772] 1778- 1781. Edited by Dénis Diderot and Jean D'Alembert. Lausanne: Société Typographique.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ocuppy Wall Street, the next step


Arianna Huffington writes about OW:
The Occupy movement isn't just a challenge to our political system, it's a response -- a response to the fact that millions believe our system is broken and unable to craft solutions that would reverse the growing inequity and injustice that are fundamentally changing our country. It was a response to the growing feeling that the essential compact of the American Dream -- if you work hard and play by the rules, you'll be rewarded -- could no longer be trusted. And not only is our political system unable to repair it, our political institutions were complicit in the breakdown.
Agree. Then she makes this point:
Though the movement has been cleared out of many parks, this was never about land or territory. And even if it ended tomorrow -- and it's certainly not going to -- it has changed the national conversation in ways that would have seemed unthinkable even a year ago.
True, it's not about "land," which is a pretty vague cipher, but I'd argue that OW has lost its initial steam because it was, indeed, about occupying a physical space. And the status quo realized this right away, which is why OW was systematically evicted from most cities and municipalities across the nation.

What is important to define what that space means and how can be reclaimed back, though perhaps in a different form. This is what I intend to do in a forthcoming post.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

the pere"z" museum & miami xenophobia


that we live in a post-racial society doesn't mean we're free from racist posturing. blame language, a social epistemic realm of condensed xenophobic token-types, where one easily find vestiges of ethnocentric drivel, as if in-slow-motion speech acts of incoherent contempt.

it all begins with a surname: perez.*

so the story goes, miami art museum changes its name after jorge m. perez promises a gift for $35 million. the museum will become jorge m. perez museum of miami dade county. suddenly, artists, collectors -even critics- recoil with a hysteric shudder! facebook pages, such as the poorly conceived occupy miami art museum, or mam not pam, proliferate.

there's a miami new times page entitled "forget jorge perez, here are five better sponsors for the miami art museum," penned by a michael miller. amongst the suggestions? "cafe bustelo museum" and "miami art mu'z'eum." in miller's black-and-white linguistic/jingoist universe there are foreign cursed phonemes: "perez" is the perfect cipher for a good ethnic beating. it ends with "z," thus it has an accent.  

take a look at some of the many comments posted to different articles, posts, etc (including, newspapers, blogs and facebook):

*Who the fuck is gonna list "Jorge Perez Museum" on their resume...
*I will not step foot into the museum if Jorge Perez has his name on it. 
*Jorge M Perez museo de arte y CHECK CASHING y envios a CUBA.
*All of a sudden, it's the Pérez Art Museum, for short.
*Papi Perez is an unsophisticated nouveau rich guy who happens to have the worst taste in art.
*Miami is changing everything into spanish names,viva latinos,miami is havana,dolphins are chubatos, heat are negritos, police is banditos, cuban sandwiches are the new burgers, woman now will be called mamacitas, and all man are papis, and everyone has to play dominos.
*It's going to be called "SPAM" (Spanish Pepito Art Museum) and its logo will be a can of SPAM. Hmm, que rico!
*How about The Pablo Escobar Cultural Center?
*Hey, just make it FIDEL CASTRO!
*I’m not sure anyone would want to have the Bonnie and Clyde Opera Company.
*The Bacardi Art Museum would have a way cooler nickname. A world-class pop art collection belongs in the BAM!
*Media noche sandwich with ham croquettes in the cafeteria... mmm, good move Thom!

keep in mind that some of the the respondents are cuban-american and latinos (!), a sad state of cultural cringe. if they were not so appalling, these comments would pass as just plain stupid.

on the other side of the argument, perez, a miami developer, is presented as a crook (ethnically obvious), his philanthropic act becoming a reprehensible, self-aggrandizing act. but then miami has important institutions bearing the names of benefactors such as arsht, frost, etc. why not perez? 

a third position defended by some artists, collectors and critics (the last one a rara avis, more hypocritical because he/she looks the other way when it comes to the pervasive shady dealings of the art world) mounts a moral attack over perez's rapacious selfishness, as if american philantropy is -or should be, by definition- divorced of self-interest.*

no wonder, the huffington post has this side of the news, with the eye-grabbing heading, "racism".

ironically, "perez" is a patronymic derived from petrus, meaning "son of pero." the suffix "ez" means "descendant of" in spanish. very possibly, "perez" is a sephardic jewish name. of the different variations of the same name we have farez, fretz, peres, peris, peretz, pesidas, pharez, etc.

how about the following list as substitute for our dreadful, ethnically unpalatable "perez"?


isn't it much better?
in spanish, is "pérez," with (é), the more reason to revolt our ethnocentric art community. *Developer and art collector Craig Robins has a interesting advice to all the wealthy, ethnocentric anti-Perez out there: Outbid Perez.

sweeping generalizations ... contain nuggets of truth


I'm befuddled by this sentence
Mexican food? The ultimate in straight cuisine. Sushi? Its opposite.
Simon Doonan has a way of gendering food. Here are some examples:

1- "A Caesar salad’s pretty heterosexual. They whip a lot of egg into it"
2-  "Gay chips are baked"
3-  "Because the Black Angus meatloaf, that’s a whole lot of hetero to digest"
This one is specially sassy: 
4- "Whole-grain bread is both ferociously lesbian and wildly heterosexual"

Surprisingly, Doonan proposes that most gays eat straight food. So, if food consists of "gay" and "straight" versions, good eating boils down to a sort of bisexual middle point.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Roland Kirk Quintet circa. 1973

How can one play three saxophones simultaneously and still make perfect sense?

do you suffer from political rheumatism?

 America is about an idea, and it has to be about shared value, or what is it? What is it? And that's why these moral issues, that everyone says oh, maybe we should step to the side and have a truce on, you can't. It is who we are. It is the purpose of our country. And I have been out fighting the wars on these moral issues.-- Rick Santorum