The sweetness follows

31 12 2012

Merry happy peaceful.

040

Still here, still on the way.

May where you are be as maddening and exhilarating as you desire.

May your desires confound and delight you and carry you away and bring you to where you need to be.

May we all be where and how and who we need to be.

With kisses.

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They say what’s up with him

31 12 2012

Presidents are assholes.

Too strong? Misleading, perhaps.

Allow me to clarify: asshole has come to mean something akin to douche or dick—I’ve used in that way when I’ve lamented my own assholish behavior—but there’s an older meaning, closer to prick, which might be captured by the phrase “arrogant asshole”, i.e., someone who thinks he’s all that, the one who’s better than everyone else.

I like President Obama, like seeing the pictures of him with his kids (or with anyone’s kids) or constituents, and there have been moments of his presidency in which I pumped my fist and hissed yes!

But I still think he’s an asshole.

How could he be anything but? He’s the most powerful person in the most powerful country in the world, performing an impossible job, with the only opportunities to be someone other than president tucked into those moments likes cracks in the wall of presidential responsibility. He has to be on, or ready to be on, at all times. He is never not the president.

Who else but an asshole could be president?

To believe that this is a job you could do, and do well, requires a scary level of self-confidence, the kind of calm self-regard that may—may—allow you to second-guess yourself, but only if it confirms your actions or moves you forward. You don’t look back, you don’t wonder what if; you make up your mind, and you do.

Because you’re the fucking president of the fucking Yoo-nited States, and if you can’t do it it can’t be done.

Remember when George W. Bush was asked about his mistakes, and he couldn’t really think of one? Or Bill Clinton’s refusal to admit his fling with Monica Lewinsky and his churlish apology for both the behavior and the lies? They were both so obviously and ridiculously wrong to any normal person—who doesn’t make mistakes? who does that hound dog think he’s fooling?—but normal people do not become president.

I saw a clip the other day of a Barbara Walters interview with the President and Michelle Obama, and there was some bit that Michelle was funnier. The president said, yes, Michelle is funny, but “I’m funnier than people think.”

Asshole. You’re the fucking president of the fucking Yoo-nited States, and you can’t let this one slide?

The president is rather famously competitive—the first lady noted elsewhere in the interview that she doesn’t like to play Scrabble with him because he’s “a little irritating when he wins”—so it’s hardly surprising that he’s going to want to be in it no matter what, but, jeez, man, let it go.

Except, of course, that presidents really can’t let things go. You run for president because you believe that you can catch the things the others let go, and we, the American people, vote for you because we expect you to catch those things and, occasionally, to sling it back out and past everyone else. You expect to win, and we expect you to win.

Is this a fault of the people who run for president, or of the people who vote for him? Both, probably, but even more to the point is the fact that the job is impossible. It is impossible to be president, and yet someone is, nonetheless.

You’d have to be some kind of arrogant asshole to believe you could do the impossible.





I pick up the phone and go Execute

27 12 2012

Are we always already cyborgs?

Sorry for the Heideggerianism, but it’s tough to talk about ontology and technology without bringing in the Nazi Gasbag, specifically, his Question Concerning Technology and, for that matter, Letter on Humanism.

What’s set off this spasm of speculation? A bit in Crooked Timber on a piece by Noah Smith about cyborg techs. Chris Bertram was snarking on economists in his bit, but the, um, question concerning (cyber) technology is taken up with some vigor in the comments.

One question, of course, is the one ol’ Marty throws at us: what is it to be a cyber-human? Can one even be a cyber-human? He, the master of despair, would say No:

In truth. . . precisely nowhere does many today any longer encounter himself, i.e., his essence. Man stands so decisively in attendance on the challenging forth of enframing that he does not grasp the enframing as a a claim, that he fails to see himself as the one spoken to, and hence also fails in every way to hear in what respect he ek-sists, from out of his essence, in the realm of an exhortation or address, that he can never encounter only himself.

As I paraphrased this elsewhere (okay, my dissertation), “There can be no peaceful coexistence between technology and humans because the ways of technology, in the course of enframing humans, prevent them from being fully human.”

This drives Heidegger over the edge: “We have only purely technological conditions left. It is no longer an earth on which human beings live today.”

To which I responded, more or less, Bosh.

Heidegger’s concept of enframing helps us to see how caught up we are already in a techno-scientific world, that we are not separate from the technologies we create and use, and, as such, are shaped by the techs themselves. But as acute as Heidegger was in diagnosing technoscience, his prognostic skills for humans were warped by his own, ah, idiosyncratic understanding of history, and rather complete misunderstanding of actual humans.

And even the acuity of his diagnosis is marred by its partiality, that is, that he treats technological practices as somehow more forbidding and final than every other social practice that ever existed before.  In other words, he gets the transformational powers of technology, but in assigning the power to the techs rather than to the nexus of social practices which produce them (although he does go forward from the techs to the practices they produce) he misses the continuing human presence in the tech practices themselves.

This line of thinking leads rather easily to Foucault and his much-quoted bit—“My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we already have something to do”—as well as to Donna Haraway’s admonition that “We cannot pretend we live on some other planet where the cyborg was never spat out of the womb-brain of its war-besotted parents. . . . Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein’s monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden.”

In other words, this is how we are, and how we are today is as human as we want to be.

Two further points: One (and this was going to be the main point of this point until I sidetracked myself, and hm, maybe I really should make that a separate post), the real excitement about cyber-techs is about the dream of control—and it is the dream, not the tech, that is the worry.

A précis for that separate post:  A computer, its parts and software can all be patented and their use, to some extent, controlled, but what we think when we’re away from the computers remains with us, is beyond the control of any owners or managers. I don’t know if implants would make us more productive, but they would certainly make us more manageable.*

The concern, I’d argue, lies more with the management than the implant.

*Note: This is not necessarily an argument against all implants, and the speculative future post will dig around the nuances of cyber-techs and practices, but, y’know: précis.

Two, it’s not at all clear that we much care how human we are or could be.

Heidegger bemoaned the concealing power of techs—to do is not to think—but it’s doubtful than many people in the history of people have ever spent much time pondering being. Maybe cyber-techs will hide us irrevocably from ourselves, but it’s also just possible that in thinking about how we incorporate these techs into ourselves, we’ll wonder not just about the techs, but about us.

I doubt it, but what the hell: one can always hack the hack.





Ring the bells that can still ring

24 12 2012

Merry happy peaceful, by way of Leonard Cohen:

Anthem

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government —
signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring …

You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.





Give me the gun

21 12 2012

Christ, is it even worth posting this?

I’m tired and crabby and have grading and have to get up early to work the second job tomorrow and do I really want to write—more to the point, do you really want to read what I write—about guns?

What the hell.

My views about guns haven’t much shifted from where I landed a decade or so ago: I’m not crazy about them, don’t hate them, and if I lived out in the boonies I’d have a shotgun, if only to scare off any big critters trying to get at my little critters. And the next time I go back to Wisconsin I’d like to try trap shooting or target shooting with my hunting-rifle-owning brother and brother-in-law.

So, guns: dangerous tools, useful in some circumstances, nothing more.

Except, of course, culturally they are so much more: Totems of freedom, penis-substitutes, toys for the uncivilized, power, markers of Real Americans, manly, gangster, and on and on and on.

That’s a big part of the problem, that instead of treating guns as dangerous tools, we polemicize them into ontological signifiers: To be or not to be, with guns.

Actually, that’s wrong: Most of us probably don’t polemicize them into ontological signifiers; most of us probably seem them as dangerous tools which it is okay to own and use in a properly regulated fashion. Go on and on about guns and you’ll be given the side-eye, but if you hunt or like to target shoot at the range, well, okay. And if you won’t buy your kid a Nerf gun because you think it promotes aggression, you might get an eye-roll, but, well, okay.

Honestly, I’m closer to the gun-control folks than the NRA (no kidding. . . ), but if you want to collect an armory in your basement in preparation for the apocalypse, well, it’s your dime.

There are a few steps you should have to follow, however: Every single person who owns a gun should have a background check, and perhaps should be licensed. Every single gun you own should be registered, and any gun you own which is not registered should be confiscated and you should pay a huge-ass fine for not registering it.

At the time of registration, you should have to take it to a licensed instructor and demonstrate that you know how to load, unload, fire, lock, and safely store the gun. And maybe when you fire the gun, the bullet should be collected and entered into one of the those nifty CSI-type databases.

(And for those, like me, concerned about civil liberties: Make the registration system dual key, i.e., the registrant is assigned a number, and that number is entered into the gun-owning database. In order to access the name behind the number, a search warrant would be required.)

If you sell your gun, you must file a transfer form with the gun registry. The new owner would then be required to file a preliminary registration application before the actual gun could be transferred. A background check would be performed in the interim, and once it comes back clean, the gun may be transferred, at which point the new owner would be required to complete the registration process. A reasonable fee—one which would cover the costs of the registry and the registration process—would be required.

If you sell your gun or give it away and don’t file a transfer form, if you lose it or it’s stole and you don’t inform the police, you would be open to large, large fines, and holds on any future firearms registration. If you are convicted of crimes which, if turned up in a background check would prevent you from owning a gun [for whatever period of time], you either have to surrender your guns to a licensed dealer for the duration of the n0-gun period, or you have to sell them. You’ll retain the right to petition the court for restoration of your gun rights, although further restrictions may be attached to them.

And tough laws for any crimes committed with guns? Yep, as well as laws for negligence, brandishing, and general stupidity. (For the latter I prefer those huge-ass fines, largely because I think we already lock up too many people, but short jail, as opposed to prison, terms might be warranted.)

States and localities will retain the right to impose further restrictions on ownership, and while I think concealed-carry laws are a menace, I don’t know that there’s any constitutional way for the federal government to override them.

The feds can and should ban certain types of weapons—as they already do with automatic weapons—as well as certain types of bullets. They might also retain the right to impose stricter licensing requirements for various types of weaponry.

Oh, and ban large-capacity magazines—anything over 10 bullets.

Others have mentioned insurance requirements for gun-owners, which some states might wish to implement or at least allow insurers to ask before offering home or life-insurance. Let the insurers add their own (reasonable) licensing requirements. Tax the shit out of bullets.

[Edited to add: And that law Congress passed awhile ago shielding gun manufacturers from lawsuits? Repeal it.]

The upshot of all of this: Recognize the existence of the [current interpretation of the] Second Amendment which allows for both gun ownership and gun regulation, and go from there. Recognize in law the difference between a bolt-action hunting rifle and a semi-automatic handgun or rifle, and recognize in culture the line between use of guns for one’s own enjoyment and that based on anti-social contempt.

It’s not enough, of course, to stop the gun violence in both our streets and our homes, nor is it enough to stop suicides or, maddeningly and sadly, periodic massacres. I think we’d all be better off if there were fewer guns—especially handguns—in this country, and I’m offended by arguments that we can’t live with one another without guns.

But I also believe if things are to get better—if we’re to kill fewer of us—we need to start where we are, and where we are is in a gun-laden and gun-positive place. We need to start treating guns as dangerous tools, and maybe, just maybe, down the line that’s all they’ll be.

Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll want fewer of them.





I can see you in the morning when you go to school

18 12 2012

Have I mentioned recently my. . . delight? satisfaction? relief—yes, let’s go with relief—that I live in New York City?

That’s because I don’t have to worry about my governor or mayor suggesting that teachers lock-and-load prior to entering the classroom.

Is it really any surprise that Texas Governor Rick Perry or Virginia Gov Bob McDonnell muses that the appropriate response to gun violence on school ground would be to increase the number of guns on those same school grounds?

Didn’t think so.

Cienna Madrid at The Stranger posted this response from a schoolteacher friend to similar musings:

Kids steal anything that isn’t nailed down in my classroom. In this school year alone, I’ve “lost”: 2 staplers, 12 whiteboard markers, 1 globe, 1 map, 1 copy of The Color Purple, 3 boxes of staples, countless pens and pencils, an apple, my deskplate, and a years’ supply of tacks. If I yawned long enough, these kids would pluck the fillings right out of my mouth and this guy thinks I should have a GUN in the CLASSROOM? Where the fuck would I securely keep a gun? Because I’m sure as shit not packing one on my person. and even if teachers are allowed to carry guns, then what? We’re all supposed to take marksmanship classes to learn how to shoot the damn things? How is this anything but a cheap way of turning teachers into unsworn police officers?

No. No. No. Teachers teach. Police officers police. And legislators are supposed to legislate. Maybe instead of trying to add to the burden of my jobs, legislators should take a crack at doing theirs.

I’m not worried about my students—who are not kids—stealing from me, but I”m right there on the whole “teachers teach” bit: that’s what we do, that’s the whole point of us.

Imma gonna go out on a limb here and speculate that those who want teachers to pack heat probably don’t, really, respect us.  As commenter Sly at Lawyers, Guns & Money pointed out,

According to conservative orthodoxy, I’m a parasite on the public’s dime who is only interested in indoctrinating the precious children of America into communism or atheism or whatever. I can’t be trusted to have any control over the curriculum I teach. I can’t be trusted to fairly and impartially evaluate my students, let alone my colleagues. I can’t be trusted to have collective bargaining rights. I can’t be trusted to have an objective view of governmental policy when it comes to my own profession.

But they’ll trust me to keep a gun in a room filled with children.

Allow me to add to the rant by noting that not only do they not respect teachers, they don’t respect what we do. Maybe they don’t respect us because they don’t respect teaching, maybe they don’t respect teaching because it’s performed by, y’know, teachers—but whatever the arrows of causality, they don’t bother to understand the first goddamned thing about teaching.

And what is that first goddamned thing? Teaching is work. It’s fucking hard work to try to do well and, on some days, just to not do it poorly.

I just finished the last session of a course which had kicked my ass all semester. It was the first time I taught this course, and as often happens with a new course, all of those things which seemed like good ideas while preparing the syllabus turn out to be bad or unworkable ideas as the semester progressed. About halfway through it became clear that things were falling apart, and about two-thirds of the way through I’d figured out how I could improve things for next semester, but in the meantime I had to try to salvage what I could so that the class wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Do you know what it’s like to know that you’re failing—that you’ve failed–but the best you can do is to try to prevent the failure from bursting into flames and immolating what few nuggets you did manage to pass along? Yeah, it sucks.

I’m actually pretty fortunate in that most of the time, I’m jazzed rather than drained by what happens in the classroom, but either way, it’s work. I think about and prepare and rethink and revise and prepare some more, all so that my students can get something out of the course, which in turn means that I can get something out of teaching them.

But hey, if what I do doesn’t matter, then all of that time spent pretending as if it does could better be spent at the firing range doing the real work of shredding paper targets or at SWAT camp learning how to somersault through a hail of bullets and turn up rightside firing at my attacker(s).

I’m a teacher, not a ninja, and that should be enough.





See how we are: gotta keep bars in all our windows

15 12 2012

A surprise, yes, but not as much as it should be: another mass shooting.

The shock, perhaps, was in the age of the majority of the murder victims. As President Obama observed:

The majority of those who died today were children. . . beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them—birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers—men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.

Beautiful little kids, yes.

The on-average 30+ people who are killed every day in this country also were, years ago or perhaps just the day before, beautiful little kids.

I don’t know that’s there’s anything anymore can be done. Over 300 million guns in this country, and the first response to every damned mass shooting—and how terrible is it that word “every”?—is to say no, no, this has nothing to do with guns.

Over three hundred million guns, and maybe it is too late, maybe there is nothing more to be done but to prepare for the next shooting. Run the teachers and students and employees and customers through drills, train the doctors and nurses, prepare the counselors, militarize the police.

Unless, of course, that isn’t enough, and you think that  the problem is that not enough people were armed, that if only the teachers or the movie theatre ushers or the mall retail workers or the customers or the temple congregants had guns this all could have been prevented or stopped sooner.

Every person with a gun, every person a hero with a gun against every other person a villain with a gun.