Archive for January, 2013

The Wisdom Of The Ancients

January 24, 2013

This morning, reaching outside the door for another piece of firewood, I heard the steady thump, thump, thump of water dripping off the roof onto an overturned bucket. Strange… The third week of January has just passed, it is 14 degrees outside and the sun is bright, but bright enough to turn the roof’s snow to water?
I’ve never cared for winter. It brings out the vulnerabilities which retrieves the perverse nostalgia of realizing the painful struggles with winter in my youth. But the dripping from the roof also brings out vulnerability concerns, not some poetic hope of spring. You see, according to 30+ years of bee keeping, it is right on schedule with what I have been experiencing in terms of global warming. No, it’s not the arctic melting away to the joy of Shell oil, and consternation of naturalists. It is the very real impact that this is having on us all, only in small increments, unnoticed in the everyday. Back in the late 70’s, the “wake up” period for bees, trees, etc. was at the start of February. Since then it has slowly crept up so that most things are happening almost two weeks earlier than then, and lasting a good two weeks later in the fall. The dripping is right on schedule. There’s less stopping the sun now than previously. We’re very vulnerable, and no one is paying attention. Yeah, in the back of everyone’s mind is that global warming will effect us all and change everything to our detriment. But it is filed there along with smoking is bad for you, cholesterol is detrimental, obesity ought to be avoided, texting and driving don’t mix, etc. As the experts point out, climate change (like honey badger) don’t care; it will effect us all, rich or poor, republican or democrat, Christian or Muslim. I’ve never cared for winter but I’m a little concerned about what a year without winter will be like in Ohio.
You know, the ancients were on to something. All over the world are architecturally excavated/built sites where ancient people created structure that aligned astronomical phenomena with constructed edifice. The “experts” tell us this was for religious reasons, “art”, or as calendars to determine planting times, etc. Yet it is undeniable that an effort was made, and a considerable one at that, to integrate what was going on “out there” with what is going on “down here”. The denizens of these sites couldn’t help but notice. The constructed site was part of their everyday. We enlightened inhabitants of the 21st century would do well to pay attention to the ancients’ fait accompli. We believe that by putting ourselves “out there” (with the likes of the space station, Hubble telescope, Mars’ robots, etc.), by being “out there”, we don’t need to concern ourselves about the effect the “out there” has on the “down here”.

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Lance Armstrong

January 18, 2013

compete- to strive to outdo another for acknowledgement, a prize, etc.
competition- the act of competing; rivalry for supremacy, a prize, etc.
(from an old Webster’s Dictionary)

“You’re better than that!” yell all the motivational speakers. “I would prefer not to.” replies Melville’s Bartleby. 25 runners take off for the laurel crown. 24 will have “you’re better than that” continuously resonating in their brain. To say “you’re better than that” implicates competition. The hierarchy of good, better, best exists only within the competitive milieu. Saying “you’re better than that” is really an admonition to compete. It is NOT an affirmation or reinforcement of self-worth, self-esteem. It is an instigator of competition. The Lance Armstrong/Oprah Winfrey conversation reveals the antinomy of a culture obsessed with competition. Although most are daily dogged by the “popular” motivation of “you’re better than that”, who questions its relation to self-worth? The slippery slope leads to “well, it is the competing that makes one worthwhile, getting out there and striving for acknowledgement.” Somehow that wouldn’t exactly be a great selling point on a résumé if you are one of the 24 constantly dogged by “you’re better than that.” We are likewise continuously reminded that having a job is integral to a sense of self-worth. Now we have one whose job has been to wear the laurel crown eschewed and spurned as a character of low worth, stripped of his crowns for not having been worthy. For what? The act of competing, “to outdo another for acknowledgement, a prize”? The Oprah interview with Lance Armstrong makes us uncomfortable precisely because we’ve embraced this mythical connection between self-worth and competition, one founded on the ancient Greek belief. The gods residing on Olympus embodied the very qualities that made them so worthy (why they were gods!). It being sacrilegious to compete with the gods (how many stories reveal the sad demise of those who dared attempt that!), the ancient Olympics were meant to compensate for that lack, to pay tribute to what was not (the relationship between competition and worth, divine worth at that). This mythical association of self-worth with competition, for which there is no real correspondence, reveals itself, its myth, in the competitiveness of Lance Armstrong.

“The Managers Have Failed, Long Live Management” Revisited

January 12, 2013

“Standardized test backlash: Some Seattle teachers just say ‘no’
Resistance to standardized tests has been simmering for years, but now a group of Seattle teachers is in open revolt. No longer will they administer the tests, they say, citing a waste of public resources.
By Dean Paton | Christian Science Monitor” 1-11-13
Excerpts from that article:
“First one teacher, then another, and then more stepped forward to charge that the test wastes time, money, and dwindling school resources. It is also used to evaluate teacher quality.
“Our teachers have come together and agreed that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,” said Kris McBride, academic dean and testing coordinator at Garfield High. “Additionally, students don’t take it seriously. It produces specious results and wreaks havoc on limited school resources during the weeks and weeks the test is administered.””
“This high-stakes testing – there needs to be a moratorium on it, because it’s out of control,” says Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center, Long Island, N.Y. “None of these tests really have anything to do with curriculum. Maybe they have a little bit to do with math. But that’s it.”
“ Ms. McBride, the academic dean, said Garfield teachers “have a myriad of reasons for not administering the MAP test,” including “no evidence” the test is aligned with state and local curriculum, that it’s “filled with things that aren’t a part of the curriculum at all,” and that the district uses student test scores to grade teachers, even though the company that markets the test says it should not be used to assess teacher effectiveness.”
“Seattle school officials say the MAP test, which is given as many as three times per year, “helps improve academic decision-making and accountability.””

The attempt by the actual teaching faculty to critique the imposition of near continuous testing (“three times per year”!) by non-teaching management brought to mind this blog’s May 20, 2012 post which specifically addressed this situation. Here it is again:

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)

Climate Change Problem/Solving Aesthetics or How I’m Tired of Having This Machine Determine How I Think

January 6, 2013

Part 1
The January 4, 2013 Moyers & Company found Bill’s guest to be Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. This appearance was remarkable in that he wasn’t on because of some book he was promoting, or some enterprise or past accomplishment/experience. His reason for being there was totally performative, in the language of today’s aesthetic. The only clue as to how and why he ended up on the show was his résumé position. It was practically a monologue on Climate Change, with Bill asking a few incidental questions as devil’s advocate, etc. From the transcript:
“BILL MOYERS: What you’re saying is that a big powerful industry controls or affects the outcomes of perception in this country disproportionately to what most people think?
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: That’s right. And in part they’re able to do that because this issue is a low level issue, because we don’t talk about it and because there is no what we call issue public on the other side.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Okay, so an issue public is basically an organized social movement that demands change, okay. And we’re very familiar with this term. It’s the pro or anti-immigration movement or the pro-gun control or the anti-gun control movement–
BILL MOYERS: The Civil Rights movement–
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: The Civil Rights movement.
BILL MOYERS: –the Suffragette movement, women’s rights, you’ve got to be organized.
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Absolutely. You’ve got to be organized. And what we see, remember that 16 percent I identified as the alarmed? Again people who are very concerned and think this is an urgent problem, but they feel relatively isolated and alone. They say, “I feel this way, some of my friends and family feel this strongly.” But they have no sense that they’re part of over 40 million Americans that feel just as strongly as they do.
They’ve never been properly organized, mobilized and directed to demand change. And I mean, that’s what the political system ultimately responds to. If you basically have a vacuum of people who are demanding change, and I don’t mean that truly. I mean, there are of course many great organizations that have been advocating for change for a long time. But it hasn’t been a broad based citizens movement demanding change. In that situation a relatively small but well-funded and vocal community that says no can absolutely win the day.”

From the entirety of Anthony’s Leiserowitz’s performative address, particularly the line “They’ve never been properly organized, mobilized and directed to demand change.” It’s clear that Leiserowitz imagines organization pretty much in a top down, vertical manner (who is the “they”? and why are they “they”, and not “we” or us?). What just took place this past week end in Steubenville Ohio does not enter into his imaginary (yet the “issue public” actually appeared, almost spontaneously). On the one hand, he articulates, quite eloquently, a very reasoned and nuanced approach to communicating solutions to what appears inevitable (Climate Change). On the other, he relies on the mechanism and methodology that propels and fuels this inevitable nastiness to solve it. Obviously, when it comes to the social/cultural aspect, Leiserowitz lacks imagination much as some of his groupings of people do with regard the consequences of Global Warming. Once again we find an appeal for leadership resulting in an eventual appeal for followers. All this has not been working. How can I say this? The census bureau reported in 2012 that approximately 25% of Americans over the age of 18 (the voting age) have a Bachelor’s degree. The colleges awarding this degree all pride themselves on forming and producing “leaders”. So we have a bunch of leaders out there organizing on the basis of finding followers, but not considering themselves to be one of them? That doesn’t work. “Some Occupy members suggest that the movement is not so much leaderless as leaderful— that everyone in the Occupy movement is a leader. That’s a charming move, but the essential point of course is that there is a horizontal, nonhierarchical, and rhizomic quality to the leadership rather than a vertical hierarchy, a party vanguard, or elected or self-proclaimed leaders.” (Political Disobedience by Bernard. E. Harcourt, Critical Inquiry Vol. 39, No. 1, pg. 38) Steubenville was not an anomaly.

Part 2
“If in “painting like a camera” Richter attempts to render the author-function passive – “letting a thing come,” as he put it, “rather than creating it” – the effect, present in Atlas snapshots and the large, mechanically generated abstractions, is intensified in the overpaintings, articulating an ethos of production fundamental to the critical value of Richter’s greater body of work. Here photography, as avatar of the unforeseen outcome, is a radical palimpsest for the artist as a producer outside both ratiocination and imagination, a model for critical art production in its mechanicity, its contingency, and its other-determination. By Richter’s own estimation, “I’m often astonished to find out how much better chance is than I am.” (As Photography: Mechanicity, Contingency, and Other-Determination in Gerhard Richter’s Overpainted Snapshots by Susan Laxton, Critical Inquiry Vol. 38, No. 4, pg. 795). Maybe it’s time to question the actual value (critical or otherwise) of “the artist as a producer outside both ratiocination and imagination”, as a “model for critical art production”. Picasso used to boast of how he and Braque had created camouflage, eventually used by most armies (and now by a lot of fashion). Art, within culture, was not only a determinant and creator of culture but also of political economy. The Suffragette Movement (Feminist), Civil Rights, Chavez’ Farm Workers movement, Black Power and much of the other social organized change referenced by Moyers and Leiserowitz had artists as a major contributor of the movement’s created imaginary (without which the morning after would not have been possible). The artist functioned as a producer within both the ratiocination and imagination of the actual culture and political economy of which she/he was a part, a member. Post Modernism claims that Art has reached its end, no longer functioning within such a role, now independent of its ties to shared ”reality”. Recognizing that machines are creations that in turn also create, artists as diverse as James Brown, Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter (with his machine process of “painting like a camera”) have decided to emulate this mode of creativity. It sells. Considering what Anthony Leiserowitz has to say, one wonders about the value and benefit of being “astonished to find out how much better chance is than I am”. I don’t believe this is the time for “letting a thing come”, “rather than creating it”.

Economic Noir Festival

January 3, 2013

I don’t know whether it is because of the events of the last weeks, the last years or just the holidays but it feels as if the only thing on is a late night festival of B grade black and white economic noir movies. The action, actors and their lines are almost too predictable anymore. Add to that the Jimmy Olsen cub reporter asking the redundant, oxymoronic questions of the usual suspects and one could end up with old movie toxic shock syndrome. Return with us to some of the more memorable stock lines. “The gov’t needs to come up with a long term plan as to how it will pay off the huge deficit.” This comes off so tough guy you can almost feel the cigarette dangling from the lower lip! Until you realize that the US gov’t isn’t part of the European Union and thus does not borrow or owe a central bank, the way the various members of the EU do. In fact, the US has always borrowed. Not only that, but most businesses, whether mom and pop or Wall Street listings, borrow to operate and then continue to do so as they attempt to pay off the original investors or debtors. It may sound like a pyramid scheme to the naïf but that is how commercial banks become too big to fail. Nothing new there. No one says “Businesses need to come up with long term plans as to how they intend to pay their employees more so they can fund their retirements, purchase health care for their families, etc.” Oh, that would change the whole character of the B grade black and white film, maybe make it into color, 3D even. The B grade movie script is getting stale to say the least. Fie on you, nasty old gov’t, for making people rely on you for food stamps while they are working, Social Security for when their employer shows them the door, and various medical/health care entitlements for children and others unable to provide. “Well someone has to pay for it!” Then Jimmy Olsen will ask the “small business” owner who runs a restaurant chain, or clothing outlet or whatever whether that means they will be cutting back on their employees and not hiring any new ones. “Oh, I had planned to expand to another 30 outlets for my franchise, but now I don’t know. I have X hundreds of employees but will have to stay lean and mean.” Etc. Give me a break. Dog eat dog world out there. Grow or get eaten. Cut back on your shelf space at the grocery aisle and someone else will fill it. Lose your market share and your competitor will gobble it up. The lost market share will never return. Jimmy never brings THAT up. Yet if Business Weakly was interviewing this “small business owner” and the talk came down to how and why they operate their business with the imperative to grow and expand, that is precisely what you would hear. Either way, Jimmy or Business Weakly, they make it sound like without them, the store shelves would be empty like in the Soviet Union during the 1960’s. No, the B grade black and white economic noir genre always promotes the standard plot line of the solitary individual tough guys trying to create jobs and provide opportunities for the mindless schmucks who are totally incapable of knowing how to make their own beds (let alone lie in them) and thus have to be taken care of by the G men so they don’t end up at night in the City that never sleeps. But wait, the festival is far from over. We still have many more nights of this to enjoy. We all know how it ends.