amor mundi

Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, February 19, 2018

In Honor of Not My Presidents Day

My Tidiness Singularity

I strongly disapprove those who pretend science fiction as a genre is about predicting the future rather than testifying and responding to the futurity in the present like every other real literature does -- sf that peddles predictions is just one more variety of the deceptive, distractive, disruptive advertising and public relations genres that have come to suffuse the norms and forms of public and civic life to our near and utter ruin. That said, it turns out that an obscure passage in Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire was weirdly prophetic for me, and in a way that never once occurred to me before back when I cherished and re-read and even taught the novel a few times over the last couple of decades; although I should have known it would be a passage with only incidental reference to "technological" change:
"It's so neat and clean here," Brett said, sweeping through Mia's front room almost on tiptoe. "Does it always look like this?"

Mia was busying herself in her kitchen. She had never been a tidy person by nature, but during her seventies, the habit of untidiness had left her. She'd simply grown out of messiness, the way a child might shed a tooth. After that, Mia always washed the dishes, always made her bed, always picked up loose objects and filed them away. Living that way was quicker and simpler and made every kind of sense to her. Litter and disorder no longer gave her any sense of relaxation or freedom or spontaneity. It had taken her seventy years to learn how to clean up after herself, but once she had learned the trick of it, it was impossible to go back.

She had no simple way to tell Brett about this. The profundity of this change in her personality would never seem natural to a nineteen-year-old.
I think Sterling is underestimating the imaginative capacities of a lot of nineteen-year-olds here, and I would personally hesitate to describe such a change in terms of a developmental narrative of natural maturation toward an obviously superior way of life -- via the image of a shed child's tooth -- when the freedom and spontaneity messiness presumably delivered at an earlier phase of life is not exactly to be sneezed at, after all. But I do like the way he captured the profundity of quotidian abiding life-changes like this one. And I can attest to exactly this own shift in my own life, in my own fifties not seventies, and occasioned by a life-threatening illness and attendant anxieties which made business and tidiness assume a vast importance I had not hitherto lived with or expected, but, yes, here I am, tidy as hell now who was always an untidy mess before. All my long-suffering past boyfriends and room-mates are shaking their heads in disbelief, but Eric is certainly thrilled.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

High School Students Are Making Me Hopey Changey About Guns For The First Time In My Life

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"We Don't Have To Accept What Conservatives Are Doing To Our Country"

When it comes to guns, we’re a nation of addicts. Like addicts, we have two voices in our heads. One sees the problem and considers it as urgent that something change. The other voice will go to any length to rationalize the status quo so it can continue its self-destructive behavior. The addict voice is winning. The way forward isn’t clear, but the wrong attitudes to take can be. First, we have to maintain a belief that this can be solved, even if we acknowledge that we can’t solve it all by ourselves. We need a support group. We need allies who will pick us up when we lose resolve. We can have coping mechanisms, but we can’t become synonymous with them. Individually, we may be helpless, but together we are a Higher Power. So, as tempting as it might be to throw up your hands or make plans to move to Canada, we need to stick together and keep going. We can’t ever look at our schools getting shot up and just say, “So it goes.” We don’t have to accept what conservatives are doing to our country.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine Straddle

Eric and I met in person, after first corresponding a couple of weeks online, on February 15, 2002. I think we both wisely chose not to freight a first date with Valentine's Day portents. We needn't have worried, we hit it off immediately and never looked back. We became registered as domestic partners in the state of California before the year was out. It was something of a co-incidence that we signed the paperwork on February 13, 2003 -- neither of us were paying much attention to the calendar, by then we were already living together in a rented bungalow (we lived there nearly ten years before it got sold out from under our feet after which we moved a few blocks down the street to the quiet little apartment where we have lived ever since). I can't say that I approve of marriage (that vestige of human trafficking that queers may one day redeem into families we choose), or romantic fantasies of completion via another or possession of another (that seem to me rather dangerous and more deranging of selves and loves than not), or Hallmark holidays (that enlist consumers in damaging and distortive projects of self-making for the benefit of elite wealth concentration), and so I can't exactly endorse love's holiday, even straddled as it is by milestones in the story of the love that has made all the difference in my own life. But I will still take a moment to offer up a valentine to Eric, delight of my heart and my eye, love of my life, another to my ex-boyfriend and still one of my best friends, Jules, another to Gillian, another cherished friend who lives too far away, to two too-lapsed but still-beloved friends Catherine and Kathleen, to a few dear and dependable colleagues in a fraught and sometimes fruitless academy (especially Carolyn and Robin) and to so, so many cats, cats in windows and in yards and on porches I pass by regularly on my way, who say hello or present their chins or ears to be rubbed and relax my grim Trump-resistance rictus into a saving smile, and also to the memory of our recently departed Sarah, still swelling up to fill my heart and mind. Also, I suppose, a Valentine to any readers I may still have after a long few years' eclipse as illness, work-distress, creeping and then galloping authoritarianism, and the resulting demoralizations deranged for a time the writing practice to which I was so long devoted hereabouts... maybe this is the season when love breaks through again into writing... who can say?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Enter Trump

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Futurity of SF -- The Futurology of PR

I mentioned a few weeks back that I had begun to read a beautiful two volume anthology of all of Ursula Le Guin's Hainish novels and stories as my pleasure reading this Spring term. This was before her death three weeks ago invested that decision with much more present poignancy somehow... I have read and enjoyed the first three novels by now, Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions, none of which I had read before and all of which I found completely engrossing and beautifully written of course, full of great and provocative ideas and interventions, most anticipating conceits I have enjoyed in later writers whose originality I may have overestimated somewhat it turns out! Anyway, I'm moving on to novels I've read before, many of them years and years ago, and am excited to rediscover their beauty as the different and older reader I am now. How I adored this piece from a preface she wrote to The Left Hand of Darkness:
The weather bureau will tell you what next Tuesday will be like, and the Rand Corporation will tell you what the twenty-first century will be like. I don't recommend that you turn to the writers of fiction for such information. It's none of their business. All they're trying to do is tell you what they're like, and what you're like -- what's going on -- what the weather is now, today, this moment, the rain, the sunlight, look! Open your eyes; listen, listen. That is what the novelists say. But they don't tell you what you will see and hear. All they can tell you is what they have seen and heard, in their time in this world, a third of it spent in sleep and dreaming, another third of it spent telling lies.
Of course, as our satellites wink out from neglect and trust in science is torn out by the deceptive and the promotional and the unscrupulous, we cannot long count on the weather bureau to tell us what next Tuesday's weather will be like, and no doubt Le Guin would agree that perhaps we should never have counted on the military-industrial apologists of the Rand Corporation to tell us what the twenty-first century would be like either. Perhaps if we hadn't counted on them to be correct they would have been less so to the benefit of us all. Novelists like Le Guin do contribute to the foresight that would inform the defense of scientific discovery and public investment to distribute the impacts of technoscientific change in equitable, sustainable, and hence progressive ways. But it is because they glean the open futurity in the present ("open your eyes; listen, listen"), not because they project parochial presents onto the future the better to foreclose that futurity to amplify the terms and reassure and the beneficiaries of the status quo that "The Future" is already theirs.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

From Bannon's Lips To Goddess' Ears

Steve Bannon is quoted in a new edition of the book Devil’s Bargain as sharply criticizing what he terms the “anti-patriarchy movement” -- that is, the movement against sexual harassment and assault -- saying he believes it will “undo ten thousand years of recorded history,” CNN reports... “It’s a Cromwell moment! It’s even more powerful than populism. It’s deeper. It’s primal. It’s elemental... It’s anti-patriarchy.” He added: “You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump.”

"Trump Accuses Democrats of Playing Politics With Memo"

That was an AP headline. I laughed with true enjoyment reading it.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

I Love Feminist Art Students!

Wishful Thinking Or Insightful Observation About A Coming Blow To Partisan Gerrymandering?

Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress:
The Supreme Court handed down a fairly routine scheduling order on Tuesday... that... contains a big hint about what may be the most important case of the current Supreme Court term. It suggests that partisan gerrymandering is about to be declared unconstitutional. The case in question, Rucho v. Common Cause, centers on congressional maps in North Carolina. Last January, a panel of three federal judges struck down North Carolina’s maps as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Republican leaders in North Carolina requested a stay of this decision from the Supreme Court... Shortly after the Court granted this stay, the plaintiffs in the case filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to place Rucho on its argument calendar and “establish an expedited schedule for merits briefing and oral argument.” Had the Court granted this motion, it would have potentially allowed the justices to decide Ruchquickly enough that, if the Court ultimately decided that North Carolina’s maps are unconstitutional, new maps could be drawn in time for this November’s election. Unfortunately for opponents of gerrymandering, the order handed down by the Supreme Court on Tuesday denied this request... What’s especially interesting about Tuesday’s order, however, is that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor both dissented. They would have granted the request to hold an expedited hearing in Rucho... The most likely explanation is that, despite this temporary setback in Rucho, the Court is about to hand down very good news to opponents of partisan gerrymandering. Last October, the Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to Wisconsin’s gerrymandered state assembly maps. At that argument, a majority of the Court appeared ready to declare — for the first time — that a partisan gerrymander violates the Constitution. Four months later, it is likely that drafts of the majority opinion and the dissent in Whitford have already circulated among the justices... Ginsburg and Sotomayor know how this case will turn out. If Ginsburg and Sotomayor know that the Court is about to uphold the Wisconsin gerrymander, it is very unlikely they would want to place another partisan gerrymandering case on the Court’s docket... But if Ginsburg and Sotomayor know that the Wisconsin gerrymander is going down — and that the Court is about to usher in a legal revolution that will sweep away many unconstitutional gerrymanders — then they most likely will want that revolution to move swiftly. The most likely reason why they would want the North Carolina case to be heard on an expedited basis is because they know that they won Whitford, and they want to win Rucho fast enough for it to matter in 2018.
This may be wishful thinking, but there it is. I could use some wishful thinking right about now -- it makes a nice change from the dismal thinking I indulge more or less constantly these days oherwise. I think it was William Burroughs who pointed out that all thinking, even the most quotidian, is wishful, after all. 

Wednesday, February 07, 2018


Profitable conveniences don't make you free, but being inconvenient might just.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Only A Democratic Congress Will Support Dreamers

Monday, February 05, 2018

Reality Check, Organizational Prompt

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Today's Random Wilde

Football is all very well as a game for rough girls, but is hardly suitable for delicate boys. -- Oscar Wilde

Remind Doll-Eyed Dolt Paul Randroid Ryan That The Internet Is Forever

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Flu Season As Republican Scandal

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Living the Dream

Trump is running the country as if it were a business. This is what that stupid dream looks like. This should remind you both that government's provision of public goods is not reducible to business, and that much of what passes for business now is indeed reducible to crime.

Trump was always criminal in his business practices. In failing to address his criminality the country collaborated in making him "presidential" long before his run for the White House. America's celebration of profitable fraud made something like a Trump presidency inevitable.

America will always be vulnerable to Trumpublican authoritarianism until we treat the profitable deceptions of false advertising, self-promotional hyperbole, and the gaming or exploitation of systemic vulnerabilities as crime, fraud, criminal negligence, and reckless endangerment.