Saturday, April 28, 2012

Deep Shit 20-30 Years from Now

Slavoj Žižek: Leftist, paradox, WTF?

Q. What did you think of speaking at the Yale Political Union tonight, using their format, which is not the kind of lecture you’re usually used to?

A. No, no, let’s not idealize this form. Of course it’s all posturing and like one-, two-sentence phrases. It’s like I said, I meant this seriously at the end. I don’t look at this event as a way to really convince someone. It’s just to clarify the differences, to disturb people a little bit. You know, maybe one of them will start to think, maybe some of us became a little more aware of what the inquisitions or impositions are. At this level it works. Otherwise it’s, of course, a spectacle.

Q. But do you think we’ll become fully aware at any point? Will we ever have all the answers? There were many contradictions in everyone’s arguments tonight.

A. Yeah, yeah, but you have to accept them. I don’t think we are in a stage generally to have clear answers. Fuck it, I don’t know what the answers are.

Q. But without the answers, should we act to make change? Or do we have to just keep thinking and worrying?

A. Uh, we have to start thinking, I think, and this may sound very anti-Marxist, but I think thinking even may be more important than acting today, because you know, I don’t believe in this, you know, “People are inventive, you start to act.” No you don’t, we really don’t know what to do. It’s really tragic; I wasn’t bluffing what I was telling there. For example, when I was in Greece, you asked them, “What do you want?” They are totally perplexed. I simply ask. The guy here [at the debate], at least gave me a clear answer: Scandinavian social democracy. The tragedies that I endure almost every month — I mean it’s falling apart all around.

Q. But could we consider thinking to be a form of acting? So for instance, the Occupy movement, what they’re doing right now doesn’t seem to be like much, but they’re doing a lot of thinking.

A. This is why instead of all the fashionable criticism of President Obama, by the leftists, I mean, you know, some leftists wrote as if they expected Obama to bring socialism here or something. No, he still did a great thing with the whole universal health care debate. We should engage in acts like this. You know why?

For two reasons.
First, it is something which is clearly visible. He didn’t propose some crazy radical measure. Universal health care, more or less, works in Canada and many European countries, so you cannot say he’s planning some Leninist utopia. It can be done within the capitalist system.

Point two, which explains the reactions. It obviously did touch some very neural core, some nervous part of American common ideology — depriving customers of the freedom of choice. This is an excellent topic for engagement. Again, you do something which really confronts us with the limitations of most elementary everyday ideology, but again at the same time, it is visible. You are not bullshitting. He didn’t propose — I don’t know, “communism,” — you know what I mean.

So I would say that we should start thinking, but at the same time —
And this is what my example of Scandinavia or even in Latin America [from the debate] — I agree with those who say Lula in Brazil was much more interesting than Chavez because nonetheless, the existing capitalism is not one big monolithic system, and we just have to sit down and wait and it falls apart. It is a space where a number of things can be done here or there. You know, because if you look at all big social changes, they don’t usually happen so that someone decides that we will now do the big thing. You start to do something small, a small conflict, and all of a sudden it triggers — so we just have to do this and that, and maybe at some point, something will happen and so on.

And on the other hand, I hate this elitist leftist who hates ordinary people. You know, when they told me, “You know, people are so ideologically manipulated.” Well, I tell them, “What do you mean by this?” Like, if I were to be an ordinary American citizen, do you think for whom I should vote? Do you think I would have voted for that communist party of United States, the sort of crazy ex-Maoist kind? Of course the people don’t vote [for the left] because they feel that the left really doesn’t have a serious program. I mean you can see this tragically today in Europe. In Spain, in Greece, and so on and so on.

Q. So is part of the problem with the left having no new ideas and they need to start thinking more?

A. No, but you know what, because then people can tell me, “Okay, why do you even expect people from the left to do it?” No, all I’m saying is — and here is where my pessimism comes from — if we do nothing, we will be in deep shit — ecologically, socially. So it may well be possible that nothing will happen, that somehow the system will survive. But then I won’t like to live in a society that pretty much 20, 30 years from now — because remember, I’m not talking about 200 years from now, I’m talking about 20, 30 years.

You can see it in Europe, for example, it was so tragic, you remember, it was a republic here in Greece, but when the crisis began — two, three months, ago, the previous prime minister proposed a national referendum, and whole Europe was horrified. The message was clear, we need now a technocratic government, don’t mess with democracy and so on and so on. And I really think, and right here I am not a leftist paranoid. Okay, I’m not saying that some secret capitalist power center decides the end of democracy. No, it’s the spontaneous logic of the system which leads more and more to what some people in Europe call a post-political society, where economy is left to the experts and we’re allowed to debate these topics like gay rights and abortion, which are important, but it’s not where money, where things are decided, so now almost the only passionate politics is cultural politics. Other things are left to, and I think really that the tragedy today–I will say something horrible — is that you know this Marxist dream, there’s this secret elite capitalist ruling, it would be good if there were such elite, I think —

Q. It would make it easy.

A. Yeah! There are signs that the ruling class is really losing its ability to rule properly. I mean, there are really signs of confusion. And so on and so on. It’s very tragic. And it’s also clear in Europe. They’re just reacting to the crisis, no, maybe they know.

For example, China is now in total panic, as you maybe know. They are just getting ready for some — because they got something, the Chinese communists, that you know, when people say the wonderful things about them, how they lifted 160 million people out of hunger, they don’t get it. Revolutions do not emerge when things are really bad. Revolutions emerge when things start to get better and then people want more and are disappointed, which is why — the Communists in China know this — and again, they are just getting ready for some mega mega disturbances. They’re strengthening incredibly the army, the internal security, special police units, and so on and so on. So I really think that like there are difficult times ahead. Who knows what will happen?

Q. Okay, so given that you are very pessimistic about the future, how do —

A. Not very!

Q. Okay, just a little bit, but —

A. Let me give you a paradoxical answer. For the same reasons, I am optimistic and pessimistic. It is the same when — you know, Mao had this wonderful saying, “Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.”

There is a general crisis. Not economic, but in various areas — no one really knows. These are dangerous times, but at the same time, opportunities. It’s again paradoxical — I am an optimist, for the very same reasons I am a pessimist. Or my dogma is that things cannot go on the way — OK they can five, 10 years, and so on.

But we see what’s happening in Europe. Maybe it’ll explode, it’s horrible. And on the one hand, this Greek bankruptcy, on the other hand, the incredible explosion of violent anti-immigrant and other racism, and homophobia, it’s really really horrible. And which is why I was not just licking the ass of the Americans [during the debate, he mentioned America still has a chance]. I really meant it that, we lost every right to be our country — the way Europe is regressing. You know what I mean by regression?

For me, I am always for dogmatism. For example, the measure of emancipation for me is that certain things — you simply cannot speak, talk like that. And I like this! Today in developed, liberal countries, you cannot argue, “Women really like to be raped.” If you do this, you are simply perceived as an idiot or whatever, and this is good! This should be dogmatic here. I would worry very much to live in a country where all the time I would have to argue that women shouldn’t be raped, you know? And at this level, you will have a regression in Europe. There are racist and other statements which 20 years, ago, even 10, were simply unthinkable to hear them in public. The dirty private secrets — now you can talk like that in public, which worries me very much.

I mean that’s so many dilemmas here. We really need to start thinking here. We really live in dangerous times. Great hopes, but deep shit, which is why sometimes I’m a pessimist. You see the Von Trier movie, “Melancholia”? After I saw it, I said, “Maybe, I would agree with the heroine, maybe this is a good thing.” It’s beautiful, it’s a little sentimental, but I always love the end of the world. Maybe we are a shit humanity.

Q. Thank you for coming and disturbing Yale a little bit, do you have any parting thoughts?

A. Do whatever you want, manipulate me, change the order. Did you see this movie, it’s kind of a nice leftist documentary, “The Thin Blue Line,” about some fake case of mistrial or misjudgment, where the district attorney says, “It takes an average prosecutor to have a guilty guy convicted, but only a really good prosecutor can have an innocent guy convicted.” So you know, the average journalist can reproduce what I said. It takes a really good journalist, without falsifying me, just by mixing words, to make me say the opposite of what I said. I expect nothing less than this.

Banks cooperate to track Occupy protesters

Max Abelson

Friday, April 27, 2012

The world's biggest banks are working with one another and police to gather intelligence as protesters try to rejuvenate the Occupy Wall Street movement with May demonstrations, industry security consultants said.

Among 99 protest targets in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday are JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America offices, said Marisa Holmes, a member of Occupy's May Day planning committee.

Events are scheduled in more than 115 cities, including an effort to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, where Wells Fargo investors relied on police to get past protests at their annual meeting this week.

"Our goal is to kick off the spring offensive and go directly to where the financial elite play and plan," she said.

After evictions and arrests from Manhattan's Zuccotti Park to London that began last year, the movement against income inequality and corporate abuse will regain strength, said Brian McNary, director of global risk at Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations.

He works with international financial firms to "identify, map and track" protesters across social media and at their assemblies, he said. The companies gather data "carefully and methodically" to prevent business disruptions.

Banks are preparing for Occupy demonstrations at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Chicago summit on May 20 and 21 by sharing information from video surveillance, robots and officers in buildings, giving "a real-time, 360-degree" view, said McNary, who works on the project.

Banks cooperating on surveillance are like elk fending off wolves in Yellowstone National Park, he said. While other animals try in vain to sprint away alone, elk survive attacks by forming a ring together, he said.

Planning for Tuesday in New York began in January in a fourth-floor work space at 16 Beaver St., about two blocks from Wall Street, according to Holmes. The date serves as an international labor day, commemorating a deadly 1886 clash between police and workers in Chicago's Haymarket Square.

The midtown demonstrations will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., followed by a march from Bryant Park to Union Square and a 4 p.m. rally there, according to an online schedule.

Protesters, including labor unions and community groups, have a permit to march from Union Square to lower Manhattan, according to police. Goldman Sachs' headquarters is among financial-district picketing options, Holmes said.

Banks are bracing. Deutsche Bank AG is closing the public atrium of its U.S. headquarters at 60 Wall St., which protesters have used for meetings, Holmes said. Duncan King, a bank spokesman, declined to comment.

New York police can handle picketers, said Paul Browne, a spokesman. "We're experienced at accommodating lawful protests and responding appropriately to anyone who engages in unlawful activity," he said. "We're prepared to do both next month."

Banks have a history of coordinating security with city authorities. At a 2009 U.S. Senate hearing, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly described a partnership with financial-district firms that gives his department "access to hundreds of private security cameras."

Footage is monitored in a downtown Manhattan center, he said. A 2005 letter Kelly wrote to Edward Forst, then chief administrative officer at Goldman Sachs, shows it was among firms getting space in the facility.

Max Abelson is a Bloomberg writer.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

If there is a God, then anything is permitted

Slavoj Žižek ABC Religion and Ethics 17 Apr 2012 World-renowned philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues that, in fact, nothing is more oppressive and regulated today than being a simple atheistic hedonist. Although the statement "If there is no God, everything is permitted" is widely attributed to Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (Sartre was the first to do so in his Being and Nothingness), he simply never said it. The closest one gets to this infamous aphorism are a hand-full of apoproximations, like Dmitri's claim from his debate with Rakitin (as he reports it to Alyosha): "'But what will become of men then?' I asked him, 'without God and immortal life? All things are permitted then, they can do what they like?'" But the very fact that this misattribution has persisted for decades demonstrates that, even if factually incorrect, it nonetheless hits a nerve in our ideological edifice. No wonder conservatives like to evoke it whenever there are scandals among the atheist-hedonist elite: from millions killed in gulags to animal sex and gay marriages, this is where we end up if we deny transcendental authority as an absolute limit to all human endeavours. Without such transcendental limits - so the story goes - there is nothing ultimately to prevent us from ruthlessly exploiting our neighbours, using them as tools for profit and pleasure, or enslaving, humiliating and killing them in their millions. All that stands between us and this moral vacuum, in the absence of a transcendental limit, are those self-imposed limitations and arbitrary "pacts among wolves" made in the interest of one's survival and temporary well-being, but which can be violated at any moment. But are things really like that? It is well-known that Jacques Lacan claimed that the psychoanalytic practice inverts Dostoyevsky's dictum: "If there is no God, then everything is prohibited." This reversal, of course, runs contrary to moral common sense. So, for example, in an otherwise sympathetic review of a book on Lacan, a Slovene Leftist daily newspaper rendered Lacan's version as: "Even if there is no God, not everything is permitted!" - a benevolent vulgarity, changing Lacan's provocative reversal into a modest assurance that even we, godless atheists, respect some ethical limits. However, even if Lacan's inversion appears to be an empty paradox, a quick look at our moral landscape confirms that it is a much more appropriate description of the atheist liberal/hedonist behaviour: they dedicate their life to the pursuit of pleasures, but since there is no external authority which would guarantee them personal space for this pursuit, they get entangled in a thick network of self-imposed "Politically Correct" regulations, as if they are answerable to a superego far more severe than that of the traditional morality. They thus become obsessed with the concern that, in pursuing their pleasures, they may violate the space of others, and so regulate their behaviour by adopting detailed prescriptions about how to avoid "harassing" others, along with the no less complex regime of the care-of-the-self (physical fitness, health food, spiritual relaxation, and so on). Today, nothing is more oppressive and regulated than being a simple hedonist. But there is a second observation, strictly correlative to the first, here to be made: it is for those who refer to "god" in a brutally direct way, perceiving themselves as instruments of his will, that everything is permitted. These are, of course, the so-called fundamentalists who practice a perverted version of what Kierkegaard called the religious suspension of the ethical. So why are we witnessing the rise of religiously (or ethnically) justified violence today? Precisely because we live in an era which perceives itself as post-ideological. Since great public causes can no longer be mobilized as the basis of mass violence - in other words, since the hegemonic ideology enjoins us to enjoy life and to realize our truest selves - it is almost impossible for the majority of people to overcome their revulsion at the prospect of killing another human being. Most people today are spontaneously moral: the idea of torturing or killing another human being is deeply traumatic for them. So, in order to make them do it, a larger "sacred" Cause is needed, something that makes petty individual concerns about killing seem trivial. Religion or ethnic belonging fit this role perfectly. There are, of course, cases of pathological atheists who are able to commit mass murder just for pleasure, just for the sake of it, but they are rare exceptions. The majority needs to be anaesthetized against their elementary sensitivity to another's suffering. For this, a sacred Cause is needed: without this Cause, we would have to feel all the burden of what we did, with no Absolute on whom to put the ultimate responsibility. Religious ideologists usually claim that, true or not, religion makes some otherwise bad people to do some good things. From today's experience, however, one should rather stick to Steven Weinberg's claim: while, without religion, good people would have been doing good things and bad people bad things, only religion can make good people do bad things. No less important, the same also seems to hold for the display of so-called "human weaknesses." Isolated extreme forms of sexuality among godless hedonists are immediately elevated into representative symbols of the depravity of the godless, while any questioning of, say, the link between the more pronounced phenomenon of clerical paedophilia and the Church as institution is rejected as anti-religious slander. The well-documented story of how the Catholic Church has protected paedophiles in its own ranks is another good example of how if god does exist, then everything is permitted. What makes this protective attitude towards paedophiles so disgusting is that it is not practiced by permissive hedonists, but by the very institution which poses as the moral guardian of society. But what about the Stalinist Communist mass killings? What about the extra-legal liquidations of the nameless millions? It is easy to see how these crimes were always justified by their own ersatz-god, a "god that failed" as Ignazio Silone, one of the great disappointed ex-Communists, called it: they had their own god, which is why everything was permitted to them. In other words, the same logic as that of religious violence applies here. Stalinist Communists do not perceive themselves as hedonist individualists abandoned to their freedom. Rather, they perceive themselves as instruments of historical progress, of a necessity which pushes humanity towards the "higher" stage of Communism - and it is this reference to their own Absolute (and to their privileged relationship to it) which permits them to do whatever they want. This is why, as soon as cracks appear in this ideological protective shield, the weight of what they did became unbearable to many individual Communists, since they have to confront their acts as their own, without any alibi in a higher Logic of History. This is why, after Khrushchev's 1956 speech denouncing Stalin's crimes, many cadres committed suicide: they did not learn anything new during that speech, all the facts were more or less known to them - they were simply deprived of the historical legitimization of their crimes in the Communist historical Absolute. Stalinism - and, to a greater extent, Fascism - adds another perverse twist to this logic: in order to justify their ruthless exercise of power and violence, they not only had to elevate their own role into that of an instrument of the Absolute, they also had to demonize their opponents, to portray them as corruption and decadence personified. For the Nazis, every phenomenon of depravity was immediately elevated into a symbol of Jewish degeneration, the continuity between financial speculation, anti-militarism, cultural modernism, sexual freedom and so on was immediately asserted, since they were all perceived as emanating from the same Jewish essence, the same half-invisible agency which secretly controlled society. Such a demonization had a precise strategic function: it justified the Nazis to do whatever they wanted, since against such an enemy, everything is permitted, because we live in a permanent state of emergency. And, last but not least, one should note here the ultimate irony: although many of those who deplore the disintegration of transcendental limits present themselves as Christians, the longing for a new external/transcendent limit, for a divine agent positing such a limit, is profoundly non-Christian. The Christian God is not a transcendent God of limitations, but the God of immanent love: God, after all, is love; he is present when there is love between his followers. No wonder, then, that Lacan's reversal - "If there is a God, then everything is permitted!" - is openly asserted by some Christians, as a consequence of the Christian notion of the overcoming of the prohibitive Law in love: if you dwell in divine love, then you do not need prohibitions; you can do whatever you want, since, if you really dwell in divine love, you would never want to do something evil. This formula of the "fundamentalist" religious suspension of the ethical was already proposed by Augustine who wrote, "Love God and do as you please" (or, in another version, "Love, and do whatever you want." - from the Christian perspective, the two ultimately amount to the same, since God is love). The catch, of course, is that, if you really love God, you will want what he wants - what pleases him will please you, and what displeases him will make you miserable. So it is not that you can just "do whatever you want" - your love for God, if authentic, guarantees that, in what you want to do, you will follow the highest ethical standards. It is a rather like the proverbial joke, "My fiancee is never late for an appointment, because when she is late, she is no longer my fiancee." If you love God, you can do whatever you want, because when you do something evil, this is in itself a proof that you do not really love God. However, the ambiguity persists, since there is no guarantee, external to your belief, of what God really wants you to do - in the absence of any ethical standards external to your belief in and love for God, the danger is always lurking that you will use your love of God as the legitimization of the most horrible deeds. Furthermore, when Dostoyevsky proposes a line of thought, along the lines of "If there is no God, then everything is permitted," he is in no way simply warning against limitless freedom - that is, evoking God as the agency of a transcendent prohibition which limits human freedom: in a society run by the Inquisition, everything is definitely not permitted, since God is here operative as a higher power constraining our freedom, not as the source of freedom. The whole point of the parable of the Great Inquisitor is precisely that such a society obliterates the very message of Christ: if Christ were to return to this society, he would have been burned as a deadly threat to public order and happiness, since he brought to the people the gift (which turns out to be a heavy burden) of freedom and responsibility. The implicit claim that "If there is no God, then everything is permitted" is thus much more ambiguous - it is well worth to take a closer look at this part of The Brothers Karamazov, and in particular the long conversation in Book Five between Ivan and Alyosha. Ivan tells Alyosha an imagined story about the Grand Inquisitor. Christ comes back to earth in Seville at the time of the Inquisition; after he performs a number of miracles, the people recognize him and adore him, but he is arrested by inquisition and sentenced to be burnt to death the next day. The Grand Inquisitor visits him in his cell to tell him that the Church no longer needs him: his return would interfere with the mission of the Church, which is to bring people happiness. Christ has misjudged human nature: the vast majority of humanity cannot handle the freedom which he has given them - in other words, in giving humans freedom to choose, Jesus has excluded the majority of humanity from redemption and doomed it to suffer. In order to bring people happiness, the Inquisitor and the Church thus follow "the wise spirit, the dread spirit of death and destruction" - namely, the devil - who alone can provide the tools to end all human suffering and unite under the banner of the Church. The multitude should be guided by the few who are strong enough to take on the burden of freedom - only in this way will all mankind live and die happily in ignorance. These few who are strong enough to assume the burden of freedom are the true self-martyrs, dedicating their lives to keep choice from humanity. This is why Christ was wrong to reject the devil's temptation to turn stones into bread: men will always follow those who will feed their bellies. Christ rejected this temptation by saying "Man cannot live on bread alone," ignoring the wisdom which tells us: "Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!" Instead of answering the Inquisitor, Christ, who has been silent throughout, kisses him on his lips; shocked, the Inquisitor releases Christ but tells him never to return ... Alyosha responds to the tale by repeating Christ's gesture: he also gives Ivan a soft kiss on the lips. The point of the story is not simply to attack the Church and advocate the return to full freedom given to us by Christ. Dostoyevsky himself could not come up with a straight answer. One should bear in mind that the parable of the Grand Inquisitor is part of a larger argumentative context which begins with Ivan's evocation of God's cruelty and indifference towards human suffering, referring to the lines from the book of Job (9.22-24): "He destroys the guiltless and the wicked. If the scourge kills suddenly, He mocks the despair of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; He covers the faces of its judges. If it is not He, then who is it?" Alyosha's counter-argument is that all that Ivan has shown is why the question of suffering cannot be answered with only God the Father. But we are not Jews or Muslims, we have God the Son, Alyosha adds, and so Ivan's argument actually strengthens Christian, as opposed to merely theist, belief: Christ "can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave his innocent blood for all and everything." It is as a reply to this evocation of Christ - the passage from Father to Son - that Ivan presents his parable of the Great Inquisitor, and, although there is no direct reply to it, one can claim that the implicit solution is the Holy Spirit: "a radically egalitarian responsibility of each for all and for each." One can also argue that the life of the Elder Zosima, which follows almost immediately the chapter on the Grand Inquisitor, is an attempt to answer Ivan's questions. Zosima, who is on his deathbed, tells how he found his faith in his rebellious youth, in the middle of a duel, and decided to become a monk. Zosima teaches that people must forgive others by acknowledging their own sins and guilt before others: no sin is isolated, so everyone is responsible for their neighbour's sins. Is this not Dostoyevsky's version of "If there is no God, then everything is prohibited"? If the gift of Christ is to make us radically free, then this freedom also brings the heavy burden of total responsibility. Slavoj Zizek is the International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London, and one of the world's most influential public intellectuals. His latest book is Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism.

Occupy Wall Street: what is to be done next?

How a protest movement without a programme can confront a capitalist system that defies reform Slavoj Žižek, Tuesday 24 April 2012 13.05 BST A demonstrator in Oakland holds a sign on 2 November, 2011. Photograph: Eric Thayer/Getty Images What to do in the aftermath of the Occupy Wall Street movement, when the protests that started far away – in the Middle East, Greece, Spain, UK – reached the centre, and are now reinforced and rolling out all around the world? In a San Francisco echo of the OWS movement on 16 October 2011, a guy addressed the crowd with an invitation to participate in it as if it were a happening in the hippy style of the 1960s: "They are asking us what is our program. We have no program. We are here to have a good time." Such statements display one of the great dangers the protesters are facing: the danger that they will fall in love with themselves, with the nice time they are having in the "occupied" places. Carnivals come cheap – the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. The protesters should fall in love with hard and patient work – they are the beginning, not the end. Their basic message is: the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world; we are allowed, obliged even, to think about alternatives. In a kind of Hegelian triad, the western left has come full circle: after abandoning the so-called "class struggle essentialism" for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist etc struggles, "capitalism" is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem. The first two things one should prohibit are therefore the critique of corruption and the critique of financial capitalism. First, let us not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is neither Main Street nor Wall Street, but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street. Public figures from the pope downward bombard us with injunctions to fight the culture of excessive greed and consummation – this disgusting spectacle of cheap moralization is an ideological operation, if there ever was one: the compulsion (to expand) inscribed into the system itself is translated into personal sin, into a private psychological propensity, or, as one of the theologians close to the pope put it: "The present crisis is not crisis of capitalism but the crisis of morality." Let us recall the famous joke from Ernst Lubitch's Ninotchka: the hero visits a cafeteria and orders coffee without cream; the waiter replies: "Sorry, but we have run out of cream, we only have milk. Can I bring you coffee without milk?" Was not a similar trick at work in the dissolution of the eastern european Communist regimes in 1990? The people who protested wanted freedom and democracy without corruption and exploitation, and what they got was freedom and democracy without solidarity and justice. Likewise, the Catholic theologian close to pope is carefully emphasizing that the protesters should target moral injustice, greed, consumerism etc, without capitalism. The self-propelling circulation of Capital remains more than ever the ultimate Real of our lives, a beast that by definition cannot be controlled. One should avoid the temptation of the narcissism of the lost cause, of admiring the sublime beauty of uprisings doomed to fail. What new positive order should replace the old one the day after, when the sublime enthusiasm of the uprising is over? It is at this crucial point that we encounter the fatal weakness of the protests: they express an authentic rage which is not able to transform itself into a minimal positive program of socio-political change. They express a spirit of revolt without revolution. Reacting to the Paris protests of 1968, Lacan said: "What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. You will get one." It seems that Lacan's remark found its target (not only) in the indignados of Spain. Insofar as their protest remains at the level of a hysterical provocation of the master, without a positive program for the new order to replace the old one, it effectively functions as a call for a new master, albeit disavowed. We got the first glimpse of this new master in Greece and Italy, and Spain will probably follow. As if ironically answering the lack of expert programs of the protesters, the trend is now to replace politicians in the government with a "neutral" government of depoliticized technocrats (mostly bankers, as in Greece and Italy). Colorful "politicians" are out, grey experts are in. This trend is clearly moving towards a permanent emergency state and the suspension of political democracy. So we should see in this development also a challenge: it is not enough to reject the depoliticized expert rule as the most ruthless form of ideology; one should also begin to think seriously about what to propose instead of the predominant economic organization, to imagine and experiment with alternate forms of organization, to search for the germs of the New. Communism is not just or predominantly the carnival of the mass protest when the system is brought to a halt; Communism is also, above all, a new form of organization, discipline, hard work. The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support them, but are already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, they will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture. In boxing, to "clinch" means to hold the opponent's body with one or both arms in order to prevent or hinder punches. Bill Clinton's reaction to the Wall Street protests is a perfect case of political clinching; Clinton thinks that the protests are "on balance … a positive thing", but he is worried about the nebulousness of the cause. Clinton suggested the protesters get behind President Obama's jobs plan, which he claimed would create "a couple million jobs in the next year and a half". What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of "concrete" pragmatic demands. Yes, the protests did create a vacuum – a vacuum in the field of hegemonic ideology, and time is needed to fill this vacuum in in a proper way, since it is a pregnant vacuum, an opening for the truly New. The reason protesters went out is that they had enough of the world where to recycle your Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes for the third world troubles is enough to make them feel good. Economic globalization is gradually but inexorably undermining the legitimacy of western democracies. Due to their international character, large economic processes cannot be controlled by democratic mechanisms which are, by definition, limited to nation states. In this way, people more and more experience institutional democratic forms as unable to capture their vital interests. It is here that Marx's key insight remains valid, today perhaps more than ever: for Marx, the question of freedom should not be located primarily into the political sphere proper. The key to actual freedom rather resides in the "apolitical" network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed if we want an actual improvement is not a political reform, but a change in the "apolitical" social relations of production. We do not vote about who owns what, about relations in a factory, etc – all this is left to processes outside the sphere of the political. It is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by "extending" democracy into this sphere, say, by organizing "democratic" banks under people's control. In such "democratic" procedures (which, of course, can have a positive role to play), no matter how radical our anti-capitalism is, the solution is sought in applying the democratic mechanisms – which, one should never forget, are part of the state apparatuses of the "bourgeois" state that guarantees undisturbed functioning of the capitalist reproduction. The emergence of an international protest movement without a coherent program is therefore not an accident: it reflects a deeper crisis, one without an obvious solution. The situation is like that of psychoanalysis, where the patient knows the answer (his symptoms are such answers) but doesn't know to what they are answers, and the analyst has to formulate a question. Only through such a patient work a program will emerge. In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia. Aaware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: "Let's establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false." After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink: "Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theatres show films from the west, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair – the only thing unavailable is red ink." And is this not our situation till now? We have all the freedoms one wants – the only thing missing is the "red ink": we feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict – "war on terror", "democracy and freedom", "human rights", etc – are false terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it. The task today is to give the protesters red ink.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Slavoj Žižek on Greece bailout

Slavoj Žižek in Istanbul

(videos, with a transcription by Marvin Gonzalez)

Thank you very much. And I like it very much when I am introduced and I cannot follow what is said. I have this nice imagination that you were telling them “be patient with this idiot.” I am proud to be here.

Before I begin properly I would nonetheless like to clarify two critical points, which were raised against me. One is a minor one I got made from friends like, how can you appear at the other event, that conference, whatever. Let me tell you why I accepted that one—I mean let them pay for me being here. They pay for everything and I did there what? Nothing, I improvised for twenty minutes some stuff which I am able to repeat here. You know the point is I am able to be here for free. My god this is what Lenin calls, you know what Lenin said, the bourgeoisie will even sell you the rope to hang them. That’s how we should function, don’t be ashamed here—they demand, just don’t feel obliged toward them. That’s the important thing.

Žižek calls for reexamination of capitalism

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Philosopher and former Slovenian presidential candidate Slavoj Žižek explained his concerns with the current state of capitalism Tuesday night.

In Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall room 114 packed with Yale undergraduates and prospective freshmen, Žižek and members of the Yale Political Union debated whether capitalism is the “opiate of the masses.” Žižek argued that capitalism and democracy are no longer synonymous — since nations like China and Singapore are developing capitalist economies but are not democratic governments — and that capitalist systems should be reexamined. While he offered no clear revision of what capitalism should look like, Žižek maintained that people need to consider how the system could radically change from its current state.

“I am afraid that this eternal marriage between democracy and capitalism is slowly coming to an end,” he said. “We have to reinvent capitalism.”

Žižek emphasized that an inability to assess capitalism critically and to consider radical changes to the system have repeatedly caused Western nations to advocate ineffective solutions to the challenges they face. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, Žižek noted, has argued that even if people had known in the early 2000s that their actions would cause a recession to strike in 2008, they would not have acted differently because of an inability to redefine the capitalist mindset.

He cited the European Union’s proposed plans to stabilize Greece’s economy as another example.

“Everyone knows these plans are total bulls---,” Žižek said. “They won’t work, and everyone knows this, but nonetheless we pretend to believe.”

Žižek said few members of Western societies can imagine a shift in the deeply entrenched capitalist mindset, one he said people accept and practice without questioning. But he said the most important step for people of Western countries to take today is to “start being engaged in radical dreams” rather than resisting change.

“We can imagine the end of the earth, or the end of the world — that’s all very easy to imagine,” he said. “But to imagine a small change in capitalism, in the market, is impossible for us.”

The Chinese government, on the other hand, introduced a law in April 2011 that prohibited artistic works that involved alternate universes or time travel, Žižek said. He described the law as an attempt to discourage Chinese citizens from imagining how their lives could change, but he added that the law and the government’s concern also demonstrated that the Chinese people are “still at least able to dream.”

Žižek attributed part of the failure to question capitalism to the extensive influence of powerful government officials. For example, he said Congress was at first strongly against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion stimulus package intended to stimulate jobs and spur the economy, but that President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush, among others, persuaded Congress to pass the act.

Žižek cautioned against creating atmospheres in which individuals can wield disproportionate influence, which he said skews democratic processes and damages the capitalist system.

“It’s so easy to blame people. The problem is not people like Bernie Madoff — there were always people like that,” Žižek said. “It was the social context that allowed him to do what he did that was the problem.”

Four students interviewed said they thought Žižek was a dynamic speaker who expressed his concerns with capitalism persuasively and succinctly.

“I think he really shook people’s understandings about the structures that affect their lives and called on us to ask more radical questions, which maybe had a tint of irony on Bulldog Days at an esteemed Ivy League school, but was important to say and hear nevertheless,” said Elias Kleinbock ’14, a member of the Party of the Left.

Three prospective freshmen said they were similarly impressed by Žižek’s speech. Zach Plyam ’16 said Žižek kept his discussion “light-hearted” while making important points about redefining the capitalist system.

Žižek ran for president of Slovenia in its first free elections in 1990.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Slavoj Žižek – ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’

‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ is a 90 minute documentary film which is a follow up to the collaboration between Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek and film director Sophie Fiennes ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema’ in 2006.

In order to recreate the scenes for ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’, Fiennes, (sister of Ralph and Joseph) both traveled to original locations and recreated sets in Ardmore Studios in August 2011. One of the few productions to use the sound stages at Ardmore in 2011 for a two and a half week period.

‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ uses Slavoj Žižek’s theoretical matrix to explore what psychoanalysis can tell us about ideology. Through Žižek’s compelling direct exposition to camera we learn how ideology past and present functions. From global locations and studio interiors, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology will unearth the prevailing ideologies at work in our world.

Fiennes likened the experience to “an archaeology of film” – “What’s funny is seeing six movie sets in one room,” said Fiennes. “Here’s a fragment from ‘The Dark Knight’ opposite a fragment from the Mother Superior’s office in ‘The Sound of Music.’ And then obviously that is the toilets from ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ So it’s a very absorbing world, Slavoj’s world.”

The film was co-financed by the BFI (British Film Institute) Film Fund, Film4, Channel 4, Irish Film Board, and a new London-based financier/producer called Rooks Nest.

Fiennes admits it was originally difficult to get funding. “We’ve been trying to make this film for five years, and it was really hard to get the finance together because people always stumbled on the word ‘ideology’ like it was something that no one knew what it meant.”
It’s expected that A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” will be release in September 2012; it’s hardly surprising that there were some copy right issues with material featured in the movie. It should make compelling viewing and something that will provoke much debate.

Director/Writer: Sophie Fiennes (Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow)
Producers: James Wilson (“Attack the Block”), Martin Rosenbaum (The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema), Katie Holly, Blinder Films (One Hundred Mornings), Sophie Fiennes
Executive Producers: Shani Hinton, Katherine Butler (Film4), Tabitha Jackson (Channel 4), Michael Sackler, Julia Godzinskaya (Rooks Nest Entertainment)
Cast: Slavoj Žižek (“The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema”) Designer, Lucy van Lonkhuyzen (One Hundred Mornings)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Corporate Rule of Cyberspace

By Slavoj Žižek on May 2, 2011

Part of the global push towards the privatization of the "general intellect" is the recent trend in the organization of cyberspace towards so-called "cloud computing." Little more than a decade ago, a computer was a big box on one's desk, and downloading was done with floppy disks and USB sticks. Today, we no longer need such cumbersome individual computers, since cloud computing is Internet-based, i.e., software and information are provided to computers or smartphones on demand, in the guise of web-based tools or applications that users can access and use through browsers as if they were programs installed on their own computer. In this way, we can access information from wherever we are in the world, on any computer, with smartphones literally putting this access into our pocket.

We already participate in cloud computing when we run searches and get millions of results in a fraction of a second — the search process is performed by thousands of connected computers sharing resources in the cloud. Similarly, Google Books makes millions of digitized works available any time, anywhere around the world. Not to mention the new level of socialization opened up by smartphones: today a smartphone will typically include a more powerful processor than that of the standard big box PC of only a couple of years ago. Plus it is connected to the Internet, so that I can not only access multiple programs and immense amounts of data, but also instantly exchange voice messages or video clips, and coordinate collective decisions, etc.

This wonderful new world, however, represents only one side of the story, which as a whole reads like the well-known doctor joke: "first the good news, then the bad news." Users today access programs and software maintained far away in climate-controlled rooms housing thousands of computers. To quote from a propaganda-text on cloud computing: "Details are abstracted from consumers, who no longer have need for expertise in, or control over, the technology infrastructure 'in the cloud' that supports them."

There are two tell-tale words here: abstraction and control. In order to manage a cloud, there needs to be a monitoring system which controls its functioning, a system which is by definition hidden from the end-user. The paradox is thus that, as the new gadget (smartphone or tiny portable) I hold in my hand becomes increasingly personalized, easy to use, "transparent" in its functioning, the more the entire set-up has to rely on the work being done elsewhere, on the vast circuit of machines which coordinate the user’s experience. In other words, for the user experience to become more personalized or non-alienated, it has to be regulated and controlled by an alienated network.

This, of course, holds for any complex technology: a TV viewer typically will have no idea how his remote control works, for example. However, the additional twist here is that it is not just the core technology, but also the choice and accessibility of content which are now controlled. That is to say, the formation of "clouds" is accompanied by a process of vertical integration: a single company or corporation will increasingly have a stake at all levels of the cyberworld, from individual machines (PCs, iPhones, etc.) and the "cloud" hardware for program and data storage, to software in all its forms (audio, video, etc.).

Everything thus becomes accessible, but only as mediated through a company which owns it all — software and hardware, content and computers. To take one obvious example, Apple doesn’t only sell iPhones and iPads, it also owns iTunes. It also recently made a deal with Rupert Murdoch allowing the news on the Apple cloud to be supplied by Murdoch’s media empire. To put it simply, Steve Jobs is no better than Bill Gates: whether it be Apple or Microsoft, global access is increasingly grounded in the virtually monopolistic privatization of the cloud which provides this access. The more an individual user is given access to universal public space, the more that space is privatized.

Apologists present cloud computing as the next logical step in the "natural evolution" of the Internet, and while in an abstract-technological way this is true, there is nothing "natural" in the progressive privatization of global cyberspace. There is nothing "natural" in the fact that two or three companies in a quasi-monopolistic position can not only set prices at will but also filter the software they provide to give its "universality" a particular twist depending on commercial and ideological interests.

True, cloud computing offers individual users an unprecedented wealth of choice — but is this freedom of choice not sustained by the initial choice of a provider, in respect to which we have less and less freedom? Partisans of openness like to criticize China for its attempt to control internet access — but are we not all becoming involved in something comparable, insofar as our “cloud” functions in a way not dissimilar to the Chinese state?

Hegel on Marriage

Slavoj Žižek

Far from providing the natural foundation of human lives, sexuality is the very terrain where humans detach themselves from nature: the idea of sexual perversion or of a deadly sexual passion is totally foreign to the animal universe. Here, Hegel fails with regard to his own standards. He only considers how, in the process of culture, the natural substance of sexuality is cultivated, sublated, mediated—we humans no longer just make love for procreation, we get involved in a complex process of seduction and marriage by means of which sexuality becomes an expression of the spiritual bond between a man and a woman, and so forth. However, what Hegel misses is how, once we are within the human condition, sexuality is not only transformed/civilized, but, much more radically, changed in its very substance. It is no longer the instinctual drive to reproduce, but a drive that gets thwarted as to its natural goal (reproduction) and thereby explodes into an infinite, properly meta-physical passion. The becoming-cultural of sexuality is thus not the becoming-cultural of nature, but the attempt to domesticate a properly un-natural excess of the meta-physical sexual passion. This is the properly dialectical reversal of substance: the moment when the immediate substantial (“natural”) starting point is not only acted upon, trans-formed, mediated/cultivated, but changed in its very substance. We not only work upon and thus transform nature; in a gesture of retroactive reversal, nature itself radically changes its “nature.” (In a homologous way, once we enter the domain of legal civil society, the previous tribal order of honor and revenge is deprived of its nobility and appears as common criminality.) This is why Catholics who insist that only sex for procreation is human while coupling for lust is animal totally miss the point and end up celebrating the animality of humans.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Udi Aloni with Slavoj Žižek: What does a Jew want?,com_shows/task,view/Itemid,40/id,6108

Upcoming Shows

Show Description

What Does a Jew Want? is a remarkable series of visual Midrash presenting philosophy, video art, story-telling, and performance. The event portrays theological political fragments of a “split Jew” through the eyes of an outrageous philosopher and an obscure artist. The talented actress, Hani Furstenberg, will be an eminent part of this event.

Hani Furstenberg is one of the most preeminent actresses in Israel. She has starred in television series and fiction films, including CAMPFIRE by Joseph Cedar, for which she won the Israeli Oscar. As cast member in Israel's prestigious theater The Cameri, her roles have included Ophelia in HAMLET, Constanze in AMADEUS, and Hodel in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. She received the Israeli Tony Award in 2010 for GHETTO, as well as the Most Promising Young Actress award given by the city of Tel Aviv. Hani was born and raised in New York. In her first American leading role, she stars opposite Gael Garcia Bernal in THE LONELIEST PLANET by Julia Loktev, due to be released this summer

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic. His is one of the most original and influential figures in contemporary thinking. His books include "First as Tragedy, Then as Farce;" "In Defense of Lost Causes;" "Living in the End Times;" and many more. His recent book is Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, (Verso2012)

Udi Aloni is a writer, artist and filmmaker whose work explores the discourse between art, theory, and action. Among his films are Kashmir: Journey to Freedom (2009), Forgiveness (2006), and Local Angel (2003). His recent book: What does a Jew want? On Binationalism and Other Specters (2011 Columbia University Press)
Last fall The Public Theater presented his Arabic adaptation of Waiting for Godot.

"Slavoj Žižek is the most dangerous philosopher in the West."
-Adam Kirsch of The New Republic

“Aloni’s secular theology is definitely one of the most fascinating innovations of our time. So if you want to dwell in your blessed secular ignorance...then do not come to this event – at your own risk”
-Slavoj Žižek

*A book signing by Žižek and Aloni, in conjunction with St. Mark’s Bookshop, will follow the show.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Trayvon Martin case reveals a vigilante spirit in the US justice system

Prosecutorial misconduct, police corruption and 'stand your ground' laws are part of the lingering lynch mob mentality

by David A Love,

The shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, has exposed the issue of official misconduct, as police have failed to arrest, and prosecutors have refused to indict, George Zimmerman, Martin's self-professed killer. Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer, claimed Martin looked suspicious and that he shot him in self-defence. Although a federal investigation is under way, Martin's parents have asked the US department of justice to investigate possible meddling by the state's attorney's office with investigations by Sanford police the night of the killing. Martin's family believe that state attorney Norm Wolfinger and Sanford police chief Bill Lee overruled the recommendation of the chief homicide investigator that Zimmerman be arrested and charged with manslaughter.

Further, the "stand your ground" law implicated in this case enables vigilantes who wish to perform private, extrajudicial executions and become a legalised lynch mob. The law breaks with centuries of legal tradition by allowing a person to "stand one's ground" and use deadly force wherever he or she feels threatened, without a duty to retreat.

First enacted in Florida and now adopted by at least 21 states, the law is promoted by the powerful National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or Alec. Alec is a Koch brothers-funded organisation of rightwing legislators throughout the country, responsible for anti-union, voter suppression and forced transvaginal ultrasound legislation in various states. Alec is supported by corporations such as ExxonMobil, Wal-mart, AT&T, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, UPS and until recently, Coca-Cola.

As the "stand your ground" law enables vigilantes and lynch mobs who operate outside the justice system, the system also provides cover to insiders, including renegade prosecutors who stand in the way of justice. With broad discretion but little accountability, prosecutors at their worst become vigilantes.

According to the Veritas Institute and the Innocence Project, Texas prosecutors are not disciplined for their misconduct. Between 2004 and 2008, prosecutors committed error in 91 cases. Yet in 72 of those cases, the convictions were upheld on the grounds of harmless error, while 19 cases were reversed due to harmful error. Only one prosecutor was disciplined by the Texas Bar Association between 2004 and 2011, for a case before 2004.

A similar Veritas Institute study of California found that between 1997 and 2009, state prosecutors engaged in misconduct in criminal trials 707 times, ranging from withholding evidence to intimidating witnesses. Sixty-seven prosecutors committed gross misconduct, including a deputy district attorney who withheld evidence that kept an innocent man behind bars for a murder he didn't commit. Only six California prosecutors were ever disciplined.

Last year, the Texas county and district attorney association (TCDAA) honoured Navarro County district attorney Lowell Thompson. His achievement was preventing a court of inquiry into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham, very likely an innocent man, was executed in 2004 for an arson death that killed his three young children, despite evidence that the fire was accidental.

Michael Morton spent 25 years of a life sentence for the murder of his wife until last year, when DNA evidence proved his innocence. Morton's lawyers learned that Ken Anderson, the Williamson County, Texas prosecutor, did not disclose evidence in 1987 that would have cleared him. A court of inquiry later this year will determine if Anderson, who is now a judge, engaged in misconduct.

John Thompson spent 14 years on Louisiana's death row because evidence proving his innocence was hidden away in the Orleans Parish district attorney's office all of those years. A jury awarded Thompson $14m – $1m for each year he was wrongfully imprisoned due to prosecutorial misconduct. However, the conservative US supreme court found the prosecutor was not liable, and overturned the award.

And in Missouri, Reggie Clemons, who is black, sits on death row for the 1991 murder of two young white women, and the rape of one of them. There was no evidence linking Clemons to the crime, and the case has been marred by accounts of police torture, false testimony and incompetent defence counsel. In addition, the prosecutor, assistant circuit attorney Nels Moss, intimidated witnesses and unlawfully excluded black prospective jurors. Moss was held in criminal contempt and fined for his misconduct in the case, and two federal courts characterised his actions as "abusive and boorish". Moreover, a rape kit and lab reports from one of the victims was concealed in police headquarters for years and never introduced at trial.

Evolution, climate teaching bill awaits Tennessee governor's signature

By NEELA BANERJEE | Tribune Washington Bureau

Tennessee is poised to adopt a law that would allow public school teachers to challenge climate change and evolution in their classrooms without fear of sanction, according to educators and civil libertarians in the state.

Passed by the state Legislature and awaiting Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's signature, the measure is likely to stoke growing concerns among science teachers around the country that teaching climate science is becoming the same kind of classroom and community flash point as evolution. If it becomes law, Tennessee will become the second state, after Louisiana, to allow the teaching of alternatives to accepted science on climate change.

The Tennessee measure does not require the teaching of alternatives to scientific theories of evolution, climate change, human cloning and "the chemical origins of life." Instead, the legislation would prevent school administrators from reining in teachers who expound on alternative hypotheses.

The measure's primary sponsor, Republican state Sen. Bo Watson, said it was meant to give teachers the clarity and security to discuss alternative ideas to evolution and climate change that students may have picked up at home and want to explore in class.

"There appear to be questions from teachers like, 'What can we discuss and not discuss that won't get us in trouble as far as nonconventional, nonscientific ideas, things that student may see videos about on YouTube?' " Watson said. "It doesn't allow for religious or nonreligious ideology to be introduced."

The bill's critics, which include the Tennessee Science Teachers Association and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, counter that teachers currently have no problem addressing unconventional ideas and challenges students bring up. They argue, instead, that the measure gives legal cover to teachers to introduce pseudo-scientific ideas to students, and they have asked the governor to veto it.

"Our fear is that there are communities across this state where schools are very small and one teacher is the science department, and they also happen to teach a Sunday school class, and this gives them permission to bring that into the classroom," said Becky Ashe, president of the state science teachers association. "It's a floodgate."

Haslam has until next week to decide whether to sign or veto the measure. If he does not decide within 10 days of the bill arriving on his desk, it automatically becomes law. The governor's office did not immediately return calls for comment.
Tennessee was the site of the 1925 "Scopes monkey trial," during which a high school science teacher was tried for violating a state law banning the teaching of evolution. Critics of the new law have called it a "monkey bill," asserting that it is a throwback to that earlier era of science denial.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Son of Frackenstein

by Michael I. Niman

The problem is we’re addicted to oil, and like most addicts, we can’t take that first step and admit our addiction. For over a century, we mostly glided, enjoying the high that cheap oil gave our economy and consumptive lifestyles, while not facing many consequences—at least none that we could yet recognize. But, like the meth-head whose body was rotting from the inside out, our addiction was poisoning our atmosphere, our oceans and in places, our land and fresh water. Now we’re seeing the results of that five generation-long binge. We’re also coming into a period that energy economists call “peak oil.”

As more and more people compete for the last reserves of cheap easy to get sweet crude oil, energy prices are rising. Rising prices mean that more expensive extraction technologies, not feasible in the days of $40 barrels of oil, are now profitable. With natural gas easily able to replace oil in most applications, with minimal adaptation (it can be used for heating, electric generation and even transportation), we’re seeing a new rush to tap this “clean energy” as well. But like oil, most of the easy to get natural gas is also already tapped out. Higher energy prices, however, allow aggressive technologies into this market. The result is fracking. Energy-wise, it represents an addict’s self-destructive drive to score—in this case, to risk even our drinking water in the quest to maintain our hydrocarbon dependent economy and lifestyles

Fracking could be the beginning of the end—the triumph of pathological greed over reason. But it’s also made some folks very rich, relatively quickly. The most famous of these shadowy fracking magnates, an avid hockey fan from Pennsylvania, recently put himself in the limelight by buying himself his favorite team – the Buffalo Sabres. He did this around the same time that, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, he sold his company to Royal Dutch Shell, “pocketing a $3 billion check.” He also paved the way for fracking to continue in Pennsylvania by buying himself a governor—then he moved to Florida (In 2010, he was the largest contributor to the successful gubernatorial campaign of the pro-fracking Republican, Tom Corbett). It’s a feedback loop. Environmentally reckless greed enriches frackers, whose wealth clears the political path for more fracking. The 2010 Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court cleared the way for energy magnates and even energy corporations to buy politicians on the auction block.

As China and India develop as oil hungry consumer cultures, and as hydrocarbon addiction grows amid a growing global population, energy prices will continue to rise, opening the door of economic opportunity to a plethora of fracking-like energy extraction technologies. These are wildly irresponsible, terribly dangerous processes that only an addiction-maddened mind would contemplate, and only a greed-addled sociopath would execute. Think of this as taking fracking to the next level so that we can continue to speed along on our highway to hell—peak oil, and the earth, be damned.

Light Tight Oil
The next frack-like rush is for “Light Tight Oil” (LTO), also known as “Tight Light Oil” and “Tight Shale Oil.” The extraction technology and the environmental problems it causes, are much the same as those we see with natural gas fracking. It is produced by the same hydraulic fracturing method employing horizontal bores at the ends of deep vertical wells that inject a plethora of toxic fluids and sand into deep shale formations, breaking up that shale and releasing embedded oil. Today’s high oil prices make this technology immediately profitable. In the US, the largest current threat is to Eastern Montana, Western North Dakota, and aquifers in South-East Texas. Like with natural gas fracking, the process, by design, also produces billions of gallons of toxic waste water. The race to tap LTO has made the US the number one oil driller in the world, by some estimates, drilling more wells this year than the rest of the planet combined. As global oil prices rise, expect the drilling to move east into the Utica shale formations, starting in Ohio.

Ultra Deepwater Pre-Salt Oil
This technology is too new for its extraction industry to agree on a name for itself, so I’ll go with the easy to use, “Pre-Salt Oil,” or PSO. Costing slightly more than Light Tight, PSO is only now just entering the market, buoyed by the promise of continually rising oil prices. According the organizers of “Pre-Salt Tech 2012,” an upcoming industry conference in Brazil, PSO is currently “the most technically challenging ultra-deepwater oil recovery” process. It involves drilling in water that is over 8,000 feet deep, through another 5,000 or so feet of salt deposits at the bottom of the ocean, to finally hit oil. The only reserves currently tapped are off the cost of Brazil. Plugging a well blowout under these conditions would make dealing with the Deepwater Horizon disaster look like child’s play. According to Rio de Janeiro’s The Rio Times, the first PSO leak occurred in January of this year. Luck held out this time, preventing the pipe rupture from evolving into a full scale blowout. With perhaps 100 billion barrels of PSO off the coast of Brazil, expect rapid expansion of this gamble.

Oil Sands
Add ten bucks a barrel to the cost of PSO and you can extract oil from a sandy mix reachable through massive surface-destroying open mines and sand-pumping wells. Currently exploitable Oil Sand reserves are primarily in Alberta, Canada. Global Warming scientists and activists argue that extracting this brown gooey stuff is an end-game scenario for the climate, as the energy intensive extraction and refining processes adds up to 15 percent more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than we get from exploiting traditional oil reserves. The actual oil that is harvested is bitumen, which is risky to transport since when it spills into water, it sinks rather than floats, making clean-up and decontamination of water resources difficult or impossible. Oil-industry funded members of the US Congress are currently lobbying aggressively to fast-track construction of a pipeline across the US to bring this oil from Canada to ports in Texas, and onto the global market. Oil-connected media conglomerates are backing this play with oil PR-tainted “news” reports downplaying the risks while promising decades more of carefree motoring, if only we drink the brown Kool-Aid.

Offshore Artic Oil
As both oil prices and global temperatures continue to rise over the next decade, expect to see a push for drilling in newly thawed areas of the Arctic Ocean. This is the ultimate climate feedback loop, with human greed and addiction proving as dependable as thawing bogs releasing methane. In this insanity, melting polar ice, while flooding coastal population centers, changing the salinity of the seas, and skewing climate patterns, also creates opportunities for end time oil plays. Yeah, try capping or cleaning up after a spill in this inaccessible inhospitable frigid wilderness. This is a move that only an addict would make—like smoking crack from a vile you find sticking out of a puddle of vomit. This threat circles the North Pole.

Shale Oil
Not to be confused with LTO, this “oil” is solid, and it’s embedded in shale, which is technically a rock. Think mining for gold. Only in this case, the riches embedded in rock come in the form of kerogen, which is converted to synthetic oil after the rock is mined and brought to a processing plant where it is cooked to almost 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The extraction process is extraordinarily destructive and dirty, like coal mining on steroids, producing unfathomable quantities of toxic tailings while often destroying vast tracks of forest and pasture lands where it is mined. Proposed Shale Oil operations in northern Michigan pose a direct threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem. The processing, essentially melting rock, requires a remarkable amount of the fuel being harvested, making this one of the most greenhouse gas producing energy schemes ever devised. Again, this is an end-game scenario. An addict’s last hit before overdosing.

There are vested energy interests out there that would like all of this oily doomsday talk to lead us to the dreamy la la land of a “clean green carbon-free” nuclear future. But again, working off of the addiction metaphor, let’s not fall for more of the same insanity. There’s no use trading crystal meth for heroin—but that’s essentially the nuclear argument. The Nissan Leaf and plug-in Prius are now hitting the market all enshrined in Greenieness. The fantasy is that we can drive our cars and do all sorts of previously oily things with clean electricity. Of course, our clean electricity is only as clean as our toilets, which magically take our wastes to the enchanted land of “away.” Waste has to go somewhere. And energy has to come from somewhere. And that nice green electric car is more often than not powered by a dirty coal-fired electric plant. So why not a nice new nuclear plant?

Lost in this story is the reality that of all of the dirty energy technologies that we are addicted to, nuclear power, whose wastes are easily spread in the atmosphere and are persistently toxic for millions of years, is the dirtiest. The very existence of this industry represents a reverse socialism, whereby only profit is privatized, with governments and publics assuming almost all of the risk. That’s because the risk is unfathomable, and hence, uninsurable.

Let’s look at the Fukushima disaster, one year later. Most folks think this is over, last year’s news, cleaned up, the scientists took care of it, nuclear power ain’t that dangerous after all. But, while we amuse ourselves discussing the season opener of MadMen, the meltdown is continuing in all three General Electric-built Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors, apparently unabated, as we don’t seem to have the technology to contain it—only the technology to temporarily distract ourselves from it while we license the construction of new Fukushimas and relicense aging old plants such as Vermont’s 40 year old Yankee reactor. Public relations industry texts often outline the importance of making bad stories go away, citing the tactic of convincing journalists “that bad news is old news and has already been covered.” The hope is that journalists, according to the text I just cited, “lose interest.” That certainly has been the case here.

No Nukes: It's not just a live concert album from 1979.
Conditions, however, have recently gotten so bad at the plant, that the environment inside is too hot for even robots to operate in. With the growing possibility of a comprehensive containment breach at the Fukushima plant threatening to breathe new life, or more accurately, death, into this “old: story,” CBS News reported last week that damage to the #2 reactor is so severe that “the plant operator will have to develop special equipment and technology to tolerate the harsh environment and decommission the plant, a process expected to last decades.”

Get it? We don’t have the knowhow to deal with this, a year after the catastrophe began, yet we are relicensing identical plants, and building new plants. And, according to CBS, the other two Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors “could be in even worse shape,” but no one has been able to find out as our current technology limits our ability to easily see into a melting nuclear core.

Junichi Matsumoto, spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co., owner of the Fukushima plant, told CBS that in order to properly see into the reactor cores and locate and remove radioactive material, “We have to develop equipment that can tolerate high radiation.” Meanwhile, according to University of California Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering, radioactive Cesium levels in California’s milk has continued to rise since the disaster, and now exceed the EPA limit.
Meanwhile in Japan, the government keeps raising the supposed “safe” level for radiation exposure, as the true level of radiation contamination comes to light. This story continues to unfold, as the nuclear industry continues to sell us dreams.

So yeah, Fracking is bad. Very bad. But the problem isn’t just fracking. Yes, we’ve got to fight against hydraulic fracturing because it threatens our most valuable resource—water. And, in the best case scenario, when we win, we need to understand that we won just one skirmish. The real battle, for sane sustainable safe energy policies, is just beginning, and it will never ever end. We can’t allow sociopaths to take the future of the planet and bet it on a roulette table. There are sustainable pathways. They are blocked, however, by vested interests that one way or another will have to get out of the way.

Friday, April 6, 2012

2011, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously: A Lecture by Slavoj Žižek

New York Public Library
Slavoj Žižek is back


"In 2011, we were witnessing (and participating) in a series of shattering events, from the Arab Spring to the Occupy Wall Street movements, from the UK suburban protests to Breivik's ideological madness. 2011 was thus the year of dreaming dangerously, in both directions: there were emancipatory dreams mobilizing protesters in New York, on Tahir Square, in London and Athens--and there were the obscure destructive dreams propelling Breivik and other racist populists all around Europe.

What is the meaning of these explosions? Do they have a common root?"

--Slavoj Žižek, Spring 2012


Did Scalia Parrot Fox News During Health-Care Arguments?

Matthew DeLuca
The Daily Beast

The Supreme Court justice more than once cited arguments that are suspiciously similar to ones made often on the right wing’s favorite news source, writes Matt DeLuca.

Is Roger Ailes clerking for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia?
One might be forgiven for thinking so following last week’s oral arguments on the health-care law before the nation’s highest court.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, some of Scalia’s questions from the bench made use of the tone and even the diction of the attacks on the Affordable Care Act frequently heard on Fox News and conservative talk-radio shows.

After Scalia picked up on the idea that a government empowered to have its citizens buy health insurance or face a penalty may also strong arm them into buy some other good, such as broccoli, Charles Fried, who served as solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan, told The Washington Post that the court was trumpeting “the most tendentious of the Tea Party arguments.”

US Government tightens lid on dolphin death probe

By Leigh Coleman
BILOXI, Mississippi

(Reuters) - The U.S. government is keeping a tight lid on its probe into scores of unexplained dolphin deaths along the Gulf Coast, possibly connected to last year's BP oil spill, causing tension with some independent marine scientists.
Wildlife biologists contracted by the National Marine Fisheries Service to document spikes in dolphin mortality and to collect specimens and tissue samples for the agency were quietly ordered late last month to keep their findings confidential.

The gag order was contained in an agency letter informing outside scientists that its review of the dolphin die-off, classified as an "unusual mortality event (UME)," had been folded into a federal criminal investigation launched last summer into the oil spill.

New York City Schools called hotbeds for luring young sex slaves

Sex traffickers who coerce kids into prostitution are using the city’s schoolyards and playgrounds as recruiting offices.

It’s such a troubling problem that Brooklyn prosecutors have started training educators on how to spot kids in peril on their turf.

“It happens enough that I can say it happens a bunch,” Assistant District Attorney Lauren Hersh told the Daily News. “Many girls are forced to go to middle school playgrounds and recruit other young girls.”

Hersh, who runs a pioneering sex-trafficking unit for the DA’s office, has held several workshops and hopes to expand into as many schools as possible.
Last fall, pimp Abking Wilcox admitted turning girls as young as 15 into being sex slaves and making them recruit others in Bushwick and Brownsville middle schools.

Wilcox, who pleaded guilty in Brooklyn Criminal Court to three counts of sex trafficking, called it his “team.”

Hersh prosecuted another trafficker — a school parent, no less — after a guidance counselor at a Canarsie, Brooklyn, public high school blew the whistle.

At first, the counselor couldn’t believe the secret hell a 16-year-old student described.

But her tale of being forced to sell sex over the Internet by a classmate’s mom quickly rang true.

“She takes the guidance counselor to She shows her, by plugging in a phone number, that these are in fact pictures of her that are being sold for sex,” Hersh said.

“And the phone number that was on was the mom’s phone number. When you looked on file at the school for the school’s contact information for the mom, it was that phone number.”

The counselor called police, and the mom later pleaded guilty.
In the year and a half that Hersh’s unit has been up and running, 32 defendants have been indicted.

Last year, there were nearly three times as many sex-trafficking arrests in Brooklyn than in any other borough — 23 compared with nine each in the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens, and none in Staten Island.

Rachel Lloyd, executive director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which helps trafficking survivors, said recruiting is happening everywhere, including schools.

“Pimps go where young people are,” she said.

“Teachers may think, that’s something happening in Thailand. But there could be a girl sitting your class who is two weeks away from being recruited, or who has already been recruited . . . . we’ve got girls in junior high who’ve been through this.”

Five New Orleans police officers sentenced in hurricane Katrina killings

Four officers, along with a fifth who helped cover up the 2005 crimes, are sentenced to between six and 65 years in prison

Chris McGreal,

Four New Orleans police officers have been sentenced to decades in prison over the killing of two people and wounding of four others fleeing the massive flooding of the city by hurricane Katrina.

A fifth officer was sent to jail for his role in a web of fabrications to cover up the true circumstances of the shootings on the Danziger bridge in 2005. The shootings came to symbolise the behaviour of a police force regarded as out of control in the chaotic aftermath of the hurricane which claimed nearly 2,000 lives and flooded about 80% of New Orleans.

The policemen were prosecuted in federal court after Louisiana state authorities declined to charge them. The federal investigation revealed a coverup that involved planted evidence, invented witnesses and falsified police reports that prosecutors said exposed a culture of corruption and a code of silence in the New Orleans police department.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

USA High Court’s Supremely Unethical Activists

By Joe Conason

How the Supreme Court majority will rule on President Obama’s Affordable Care Act may well have been foretold months or perhaps years ago—not so much by their questions during argument this week, as by their flagrant displays of bias outside the court, where certain justices regularly behave as dubiously as any sleazy officeholder.

While the public awaits the high court’s judgment on the constitutionality of health care reform, it is worth remembering how cheaply Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in particular have sullied the integrity of their lifetime appointments, and how casually Chief Justice John Roberts and their other colleagues tolerate such outrages.

Koch-Funded ALEC Behind State Attempts To ‘Reclaim’ USA Public Lands

By Public Lands Team

By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.

In the last few months, Republican presidential candidates from Mitt Romney to Rick Santorum have shown their ignorance about the value of public lands. And recently a handful of states have joined the fray, with state legislators introducing bills that demand Congress turn over millions of acres of public lands to the states or face a lawsuit. Utah has taken this idea the furthest, where two weeks ago Governor Gary Herbert (R) signed a bill into law demanding that Congress give 30 million acres of federal land located in Utah to the state by 2015 or it will sue.

But buried under the headlines is the fact these bills are being quietly drafted and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing corporate front group that provides draft legislation to state lawmakers and is funded by some of America’s biggest corporations including Koch Industries, BP, Exxon Mobil, and Shell.

As the Associated Press reported:

Lawmakers in Utah and Arizona have said the legislation is endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that advocates conservative ideals, and they expect it to eventually be introduced in other Western states.
And in January, Utah Pulse noted that:

Lawmakers in four western land states will be running similar bills in their legislative sessions this year – Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Idaho. Ivory’s bill will be unique to Utah, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has turned his bill into model legislation that other western land states can use. While ALEC is a conservative legislative/business group, Ivory says he hopes to get Utah Democrats onboard with this new effort.