Friday, October 31, 2008

Season's Greetings

Happy Halloween! Here's a clip from the disturbing upcoming release of Repo: The Genetic Opera. The film is a rock-opera starring Anthony Stewart Head, of Buffy the Vampire fame, as a Repo man whose job is to repossess the transplanted organs of those who fall behind in their medical bills. Ick!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Communication Professors Speak Out

Here's a fine statement from a group of Communication Professors condemning recent Republican racist campaign rhetoric:

We wish to express our great concern over unethical communication behavior that threatens to dominate the closing days of the 2008 Presidential campaign. ...

In recent weeks, the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin has engaged in such incendiary mendacity that we must speak out. The purposeful dissemination of messages that a communicator knows to be false and inflammatory is unethical. It is that simple.

Making decisions in a democracy requires an informed electorate. The health of our democracy and our ability to make a good decision about who should lead our nation require the very best in communication practices, not the worst. ...

We see an effort to color code the election as between an urban, African-American Obama falsely linked to terms like “terrorist,” “unpatriotic,” and “welfare” versus small town, white, “patriotic” Americans like the mythical Joe the Plumber. “Intended” or not, the message is getting through, as reports have emerged of ugly scenes at some Republican rallies and racists hanging Obama in effigy in Oregon and Ohio. In an echo of McCarthyism, Representative Michelle Bachmann has called for investigations into un-American members of Congress, pointing to Senator Obama as the prime suspect. Speaking to warm up the crowd before a McCain rally, Representative Robin Hayes continued the theme: “Folks, there’s a real America, and liberals hate real Americans that work, and accomplish, and achieve, and believe in God.” The official website of the Sacramento County Republican Party compared Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and urged people to “Waterboard Barack Obama.” The October newsletter of the Chaffey Community Republican Women in California depicts Obama on a food stamp surrounded by a watermelon, ribs, and a bucket of fried chicken. The McCain/Palin campaign has not repudiated such actions taken on its behalf, nor has it done enough to respond to reprehensible behavior at rallies. ...

The statement is signed by 155 Communication Professors from around the country and documents an appalling assortment of racist campaign images.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Via. In the spirit of National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, November is also evidently International Academic Writing Month, InaDWriMo. Who knew! Although I can't quite decide how to pronounce the acronym -- is it In-aD-Wri-Mo, or Ina-D-Wri-Mo, or just I-D-Wri-Mo? Whatever it's called, though, it's brilliant!

The LumpenProf has a book project sitting in front of him, but I haven't been able to make myself start writing on it in earnest. This is just what I need to force myself to dive in. I have a sabbatical coming up in the spring. After fourteen years of continuous teaching, this will be my very first sabbatical ever. Evidently, I must have misplaced one somewhere along the way. My fondest hopes for the sabbatical are that I will 1.) heal my post-traumatic stress wounds from tenure; 2.) get buff and tan; and 3.) finish a book manuscript. None of these are terribly likely, but I would like to give them each my best shot.

I'm setting my writing goal for the month of November at 10,000 words and I'm declaring it here publicly and posting a word meter over on the right to help me not wimp out. Encouragement and/or derision, as appropriate, from this blog's visitors throughout the month will be greatly appreciated.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mrs. Palin

They aren't really Russian, but they are really funny...

Hello Sarah Palin we wrote this song for you because we see you from Russia! Plz respond to our emails!! We like to hear from you!!

words 2 song
soon as i wayk up in the morning
i go to my window
i made this teliscop myself out of duck tape and the thing that holds the rapping paper

so i can see if ur there
i fix it on ur howse in Alaska
my next door neybor here in moscow

what r u doing rite now lets see
r u and todd ok?
u say u can see me and my country from ur state well im looking at u evry day!!!

misses palin!
i want to fly into ur Airspase!
misses palin!
i want to reer my little Head!
misses palin!
why wont You reply to my Emails?!!
I made a teliscop for YOU and i luv u so

we share a small merry-time border but the borders of r harts is thick
u dont like news-papers well neether of us can say or reed english

we are madw for eachuther!!!
so fly ur playn my way
i live at 45454 RUSSIA AVE

repeet misses palin chorus

I say dog gone it you betcha you betcha dog gone it you betcha dog gone it say it aint so joe you betcha dog on it etc

i luv u

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obamacans for Change

Here's a very nice short documentary featuring conservatives speaking about the reasons they are voting for Barack Obama. Strangely compelling.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wolff Crisis Lecture

Via. Here's a very accessible Marxian economics lecture on the current crisis from Richard Wolff.

Wolff's basic argument is that the current U.S. economic crisis is due to the decline of real wages in recent decades coupled with unchecked consumption fueled by increases in credit rather than increases in wages. This strategy for accumulation has now run afoul of its own success and produced a crisis every bit as epic as the exploitation, inequalities, and profits it produced.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Via Professor Zero, here's an intriguing blog-based digital art project: We Feel Fine.

Since August 2005, We Feel Fine has been harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs. Every few minutes, the system searches the world's newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases "I feel" and "I am feeling". When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence, up to the period, and identifies the "feeling" expressed in that sentence (e.g. sad, happy, depressed, etc.). Because blogs are structured in largely standard ways, the age, gender, and geographical location of the author can often be extracted and saved along with the sentence, as can the local weather conditions at the time the sentence was written. All of this information is saved.
Read more.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tea Leaves

I read way too many polls and political blogs. It's a neurotic habit, a belief in a sort of sympathetic magic where if only the tea leaves and the stars align, then good news will follow. I try not to read too much into polls. But this one gives me hope.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How True

Via.Interdisciplinary work seems to be particularly plagued by this dynamic. Each academic unit added into the mix requires yet another set of meetings. So the more interdisciplinary your project becomes, the less work actually gets accomplished. Let's call this the law of diminishing collaboration.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Offshoring Data

Here is an article speculating on Google's plans to literally offshore its servers:

Google may take its battle for global domination to the high seas with the launch of its own “computer navy.”

The company is considering deploying the supercomputers necessary to operate its internet search engines on barges anchored up to seven miles (11km) offshore.

The “water-based data centres” would use wave energy to power and cool their computers, reducing Google’s costs. Their offshore status would also mean the company would no longer have to pay property taxes on its data centres.
This plan seems to be the result of a strange confluence of large-scale computing, environmental, and tax accountancy concerns. It seems a very strange solution to any of them.

It also may give a whole new meaning to "computer piracy."

Monday, October 06, 2008

Not Forbidden

"Whatever is not forbidden is mandatory" -- George Orwell.

I've been working at talking with students about the current financial crisis in these terms. In part, as an effort to counter the idea that somehow the fault lies with individual "greedy" capitalists and CEO's.

What the striking lack of regulation in these strange new markets trading in mortgage debt has meant is that every risk becomes not just possible, but mandatory. The competition to produce the highest rate of return possible insures that those too squeamish to pursue unforbidden risks will fall behind. This is different from individual greed. It is institutionally required greed. This line of thought has been spurred on by a recent post from Rough Theory and a reminder of this passage from Marx:
I do not by any means depict the capitalist and the landowner in rosy colours. But individuals are dealt with here only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, the bearers of particular class-relations and interests. (Preface to the First Edition, Capital, Volume I.)
Capital makes mandatory all that is not forbidden. Capitalists just carry out these mandates.

This line of explanation seems to have been somewhat successful. It has worked to tie these recent headlines back to other areas where students also tend to see individual moral failings rather than institutional requirements: sweatshop labor, greenhouse gasses, polar bears, child-labor, mountaintop removal, genetically modified food, pesticides, nuclear power, health care reform, etc. All of these areas can be discussed as a result of the imperative to maximize capital accumulation, rather than from the simple moral ignorance of individual managers and capitalists that can be remedied by forceful enough moral arguments.

The impulse seems to be to try to excuse capitalism by blaming its failures on the "imprudent bearers" of its class-relations and interests. Finding ways to move beyond these moral arguments is always difficult.

Note that this makes the current crisis very different from the Savings and Loan scandal and the Keating 5 which was garden variety forbidden fraud. Capital, though, never does very well at obeying the restrictions placed on it. In note 15 the end of Chapter 31 in Capital, Volume I, Marx reproduces this amazing quote:
With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent, and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulance and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both.
This seems a salutary quote to consider this month in particular.