Archive for May, 2012

Why Write?

May 27, 2012

            May 24,2012 AP article by Travis Loller, DNA Study Seeks Origin Of Appalachian Melungeons reports on a “scientific” account of a separated group of Americans. Melungeons, like various other separated groups (“In recent years, it has become a catchall term for people of mixed-race ancestry and has been applied to about 200 communities in the eastern U.S. — from New York to Louisiana.”) strove mightily to distinguish themselves from African ancestry, primarily through creative narratives, historical accounts of their uniqueness. “Estes [Roberta Estes, lead researcher] and her fellow researchers theorize that the various Melungeon lines may have sprung from the unions of black and white indentured servants living in Virginia in the mid-1600s, before slavery. They conclude that as laws were put in place to penalize the mixing of races, the various family groups could only intermarry with each other, even migrating together from Virginia through the Carolinas before settling primarily in the mountains of East Tennessee.” Legal cases (both before and after the elimination of institutionalized ownership of people), intent on establishing distinction, are cited by the article. Ultimately, a present day Melungeon is reported to have paid for three separate DNA tests in order to negate the results of the study. He was very surprised that they all came back the same.

            “Separate but equal” was a big part of the warp and woof of the writers of the Federalist Papers, the framers of the US Constitution, the early legislators and jurists who established our country’s outlook on democracy (and the laws “put in place to penalize the mixing of races”). Property ownership was fundamental to that separation. Every school child knows that the US bicameral legislature came about to reinforce and underwrite the priority and precedence of property ownership within our representative democracy. The recent Citizens United ruling certainly maintains that original intent. The Melungeon myth making allowed folks access to capitalist enterprise that otherwise would have been denied them. On the other hand, Jim Crow laws, in the north as well as in the south, maintained the sanctity of the myth built up around the authors of the Federalist Papers, the US Constitution, and early amendments and laws. “Separate but equal” has never left us.

            In What Was Contemporary Art (ArtMargins vol. 1, issue 1) Octavian Esanu writes about the impact and influence of institutional grants, residencies and fellowships in forming the characteristics and quality of what we’ve come to know and recognize as contemporary art. He describes the role of the Soros Centers for Contemporary Art network as moving art away from the Modern, to the post modern “democratization” of art. Anyone could apply. Those granting the funding were not necessarily practicing or accomplished artists (being instead professional institutional administrators). The end result was Beuys’s, “everyone is an artist.” Esanu describes the funding grants as financial leverage. Although always far short of any kind of individual sustainability, they are used as leverage to form the present day artist entrepreneur (written about too often in this blog). A small amount of financial commitment yields enormous ideological clout. Within American culture and governance, this same outlook could be broadened to include the many “service oriented” involvements meant to address community problems throughout the US. A large bank, energy company, or retailer can boast of its substantial and significant contribution to some food bank or summer camp program. The funding is never large or significant enough to even cover the program’s yearly administrator salary. But the goodwill certainly is leveraged into generating a belief that the capitalist enterprise is genuinely interested in addressing and solving this problem, this need within the community. As Esanu points out to be the case with the SCCA funding, it ultimately creates a “separate but equal” situation within the arts – those generating art independent of any institutional funding, and those reliant on these resources to generate art. “Everyone is an artist.” Within the “service oriented” approach (the one lauded by all the current crop of graduation commencement speakers) the same “separate but equal” culture is promoted and reproduced regarding food, shelter, health care, education and self governance.

            In today’s Newark Advocate (May 27, 2012), Rental Registration Committee Seeking Feedback From Renters, Ann Sudar reports: “An ad-hoc committee is looking for more feedback on the possibility of bringing a rental registration system to Newark [Ohio].” “Although several landlords and property owners attend the meetings to voice their opinions, more participation from those renting properties is needed, said Lesa Best, committee chairwoman.” “Renting properties is one of Newark’s biggest businesses, and more than 42 percent of the city’s housing units are rentals, Best said.” “At the end of each meeting, there is a half-hour session for public comments. About 90 percent of the people who speak at the meetings are landlords, Best said. “I understand we are talking about landlords’ livelihoods, (so) of course they are coming,” she said. “Landlords are vital to the economy of Newark. That’s why we always want their input.” Best said she has not heard many comments from people who are renters. She encouraged more people to attend the meetings.”

            Why write?

The Managers Have Failed, Long Live Management

May 20, 2012

            In the past weeks Jamie Dimon made a preemptive announcement of failure, and kept his job. The rhetorical move exemplified the brilliance of management that makes Dimon the model of emulation for folks like Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mitch Daniels and other state governors across America.

            “These processes manifest themselves in an increasing concentration in NPM [New Public Management] on the supervision and regulation of the public sector through mechanisms such as audits and inspections. The emphasis on control brings to light the first hidden substantial aspect of NPM managerialism that is reminiscent of state Communism. Like Communism, NPM is totalitarian because it leaves no institutionalized room for criticism, which it always sees as subversive:

            Because managerialism sees itself as the antidote to chaos, irrationality, disorder,            and incompleteness, there are no spaces within such a social order in which           autonomy can be contested legitimately. Managerial definitions of quality,             efficiency, improved productivity or self management, construct a particular        version of autonomy. Those who do not desire these managerial constructs of           autonomy are simply defined as absurd, as under managerialism, these notions     appear as self-evident “good”


            The German sociologist Ulrich Beck recently coined the term McKinsey Stalinism in this context.

            The introduction of permanent control over faculty – which is unprecedented at least in the history of universities in democracies worthy of the name – is nothing other than the introduction of a culture of permanent mistrust. That is the second attribute that NPM shares with state Communism.

            The qualispeak of NPM exploits the indisputable fact that in Europe, North America, and Australia higher education is largely financed by public funds and founded on the idea that taxpayers – the shareholders in the state – are entitled to know that their money is being spent efficiently and transparently. NPM is VFM [Value for Money] and thus the best of all possible worlds. In this respect NPM is the privatized heir of state Communism. Managers who make higher education “efficient” and “transparent” by exercising constant control over the faculty are represented as the form that “accountability” to taxpayers and consumers takes in the former public domain. “Accounting,” that is, the dual process of counting and being required to account for what one does, is central to this process (“MU,” p. 325). The management itself in NPM, just like the party in state Communism, is outside all control and accountability because the management by definition represents both efficiency and accountability. That is the third attribute that NPM shares with state Communism. The question of whether managers really do spend taxpayers’ money more efficiently and whether they are more reliable than faculty cannot be asked in NPM. Nor may one ask whether the cost of the management controls are less than the money saved on inefficient academic personnel. The fact that there is not a shred of evidence for these two crucial assumptions of NPM – rather the opposite – makes abundantly clear where the blind spots lie in NPM. That all the recent economic scandals – from Enron, WorldCom, and Barings to the Lehman Brothers – happened despite constant audits furnishes some extra empirical food for critical thought on both management and audits.

            This brings us up against a fourth interesting similarity between neo-liberal managerialism and state Communism: just as the Party by definition represents the interests of those who are led by the Party, so according to NPM management represents the interests of those who are managed. That is why NPM management models allow no place for representative bodies, which are only seen as a hindrance to administrative efficiency. And were undeniable irregularities in management practices to occur, then an individual manager eventually may be criticized or dismissed, but management itself can never be challenged. Neither the NPM nor the state Communist discourse will accept any criticism of their core practices and key personnel as legitimate because criticism is identified with lack of loyalty to the organization and so is seen as fundamentally subversive.” (pgs. 608-610, Critical Inquiry Spring 2012, essay entitled If You’re So Smart, Why Are You Under Surveillance? Universities, Neoliberalism, and New Public Management by Chris Lorenz)

And So That Is How It All Works

May 10, 2012

            The May 6 Columbus Dispatch reported on a massive honey bee die off in central Ohio.  Thousands of lifeless bees were found piled at the entrances to hundreds of bee hives in several central Ohio counties. No one can live with the bees. Though they communicate with each other, they don’t communicate with us. However, finding piles of bees in front of a hive usually indicates the outcome of a pesticide application that the insects came in contact with. Bees are very clean. They prefer not to defecate, let alone die, within their colony. They exit to do both. Hence, field bees returning after being contaminated or while carrying contaminated accumulations exchange the poison within the ungodly crowded conditions of a built up healthy hive (trust me, worse than a claustrophobic/agorophobic’s most extreme nightmare). Voila! Beaucoup bees sicken, exit and die. In Ohio, bees must be registered with the state which costs a fee. This falls under the state department of Agriculture. There is even a state apiarist and an additional official bee researcher through the Ohio State University with an exclusive bee research lab in Wooster for study and experimentation. The state’s response has been that we don’t know what killed these bees (““We are trying to figure this out because we don’t want it to happen again,” state apiarist Barb Bloetscher said.” Four days in April deadly for bees Cols. Dispatch May 6, 2012). Researchers say more research is needed! (what else would they say?) The involved beekeepers, not entomologists with phd degrees per se, but folks who make it their business to stay abreast of what is going on world wide with regard to bees (after all, bees ARE their livelihood) claim it is the use of the new neonicotinoids by grain farmers. “Jack Boyme, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience, one of the largest manufacturers of neonicotinoids, said the company has been in touch with Ohio officials, and Bayer thinks something other than pesticides might have caused the bee deaths. “It’s been kind of an unusual weather pattern with a mild winter and an early spring,” Boyme said. “Some of the reports that we’re hearing is that the bees are coming out earlier and that there is not enough available food for them.”” (Four days in April deadly for bees Cols. Dispatch May 6, 2012) Local beekeepers are curious to see those reports Mr. Boyme. April 2011 and the state of Ohio was under record amounts of rain. Yes, bees go hungry then. This year’s mild winter, early and incredibly fine spring has not only left plenty of residual honey stores but also generated nectar flows from mid March on. Besides, no commercial beekeeper of any experience would allow their hundreds of hives to go hungry, let alone starve. Finally, overwinter bees that do starve are found dead in a tight cluster inside the hive, regardless of outside weather conditions.

            We’ve all seen this movie before. Credits at the end usually contain names like A. Gore, etc. The people involved intimately with the environment know first hand that some manufacturing process or something manufactured has had an enormous and detrimental impact on their livelihood, and the world around them. Those who manufactured the product or process blame mother nature for anything going awry, and not their thumb in the pie. The state officials in charge can’t really say (or do anything) for the most curious and unspoken reasons. In Ohio today, there is a big push for all state agencies to be a public /private collaborative (see previous blog posts). Agency logos will soon be “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” with three seated monkeys as an icon. Eventually, all this will appear before the legislature with the lobbyists for Bayer, Monsanto, ADM, Cargill, ethanol producers and other large corporate interests fighting to keep this as part of “jobs creation” and the (non existent) lobby for the honey bees, along with various disparate environmental concerns arguing for “more regulation”. And so that is how it all works.

How Occupy Changes Everything

May 4, 2012

            On the morning of May 2nd, NPR Morning Edition ran Steve Inskeep’s short interview with Jonah Goldberg promoting the release of his latest book Do Liberals Live Under A ‘Tyranny Of Clichés’? : How liberals cheat in the war of ideas. Mr. Goldberg writes when “he gets annoyed”, hence the book. Annoyance also leads to argument. Jonah is quite passionate about argument, wanting a debate about ideas, the foundations of ideology (“All I want is an argument.”). Ideologies are at the heart, the core of politics for Goldberg. “Our country, if you read the Federalist Papers, is about disagreement. It’s about pitting faction against faction, divided government, checks and balances.” Political debate revolves around this, and that’s what makes this country great for Jonah Goldberg. Liberals are slackers, attending to these arguments with unearned clichés, unsubstantiated generalities that appeal to something other than the rules of the game, the paradigm of democracy as spelled out by the founding fathers. He exemplifies this by chastising the president for his use of “Social Darwinism” which is nowhere to be found according to Jonah. Elsewhere he says “We are a species that must try to impose and find systems — systems of thought, ways of organizing and categorizing reality,” Of course, this is not to be taken as a generality or cliché because Mr. Goldberg has pronounced it not to be so. Bruno Latour would beg to differ in his Making Things Public, saying it is precisely the role of a democracy, an assembly of people to determine if “we are a species that must try to impose and find systems”. Unearned cliché?

            As a laborer I once was obligated to sit through a lunch time debate of whether John Deere or International Harvester made the better tractor. My co workers passionately defended the different features and histories though today advertisers just reference the difference in color. In like manner Goldberg is on fire over the difference of liberals and conservatives. It is the love of the fight, the war, “pitting factions against factions” that enamors Goldberg. However, this doesn’t solve problems (not a concern for a lover of rhetoric). Global finance and irrevocable climate change are only possible thanks to their being systemic. We are in what some geologist are calling the “anthropocene”, earth formed by the actions of man. Financial systems play no small part in this. These systems are only possible due to newer and more powerful, more efficient technologies. Man landing on the moon was only possible thanks to calculations impossible for any single person, or collective of persons to do on their own. “Too big to fail” and “tipping” point” may be clichés, but they also express the actuality that problems involved are not comprehendible, let alone solvable by any one person, or even system. Then again, as Latour pointed out (in Making Things Public), identifying a problem (as a problem) is a matter of democracy. Identifying and solving what ails society is what democracy addresses so very well. On this Occupy gets it, Goldberg doesn’t.

            The second thing that Occupy grasps and Jonah elides is the foundations of the paradigm Goldberg so passionately embraces. His criticality doesn’t extend to the actuality that the writers of the Federalist Papers, the founders of our country had no problem with people owning people, as property (along with land, buildings, livestock and machinery). No clichés please about how our founding fathers recognized the inherent evil but in their great wisdom preferred the expediency of adhering to the supremacy of the rights of private property, of ownership. His paradigm of democracy is based on this overriding priority of ownership, founded on the assumed righteousness of disenfranchisement (the exclusion of non owners). Women were not fully equal to the owners of democracy who could govern, nor were Native Americans, immigrants (not possessing Engand as their motherland), the indentured, or the unschooled property-less (schooling at least gave one a claim to entitlement). Current economic data suggests that 40% of Americans have no net worth. In Goldberg’s democracy, these folks have no say.

            Thoreau asks “what makes for ownership?” Who takes ownership of global finance creating economic crisis and climate change? After Occupy, “pitting factions against factions” in an outdated paradigm is a totally inadequate and futile approach to solving the problems and challenges facing us all. Consensus generating action is preferable, not the continuous “war of ideas” and “a country…about disagreement” that Goldberg thrives on.