Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Koch Empire and Venezuela

You may remember the Koch brothers from the recent outbreak of popular outrage over the liquidation of public employee bargaining rights by the current governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker. The Koch brothers spent over $34 million dollars trying to undermine workers rights particularly of public employees seemingly in collusion with Walker. What you might not know about them is that last October they saw the fertilizer plants they owned in Venezuela nationalized by standing President Hugo Chavez.

You might think this would be a story ripe for Fox News or various rightwing pundits to pounce upon. Here's why they kept the nationalization hush hush, from eXiled:

"The Kochs made hundreds of millions on every end of this deal…and even more surprising, bond markets cheered the nationalization. In other words, the free markets championed by the Kochs gave a big thumbs-down to Kochs’ negative influence on the value of the business, while at the same time, the free-market Kochs earned huge windfalls doing business with socialists. No wonder this story hasn’t made the rounds.

Here’s what happened: When Chavez’s nationalization of the plant took Koch Industries out of the picture, bond investors responded by driving up the value of the company’s bond debt by a whopping 33 percent. That means they had a lot more confidence that the debts would be paid back AFTER the free-market Kochs were out of the picture. As every business school flunky knows, price fluctuations of bonds are very much like those of stocks: the more they cost, the higher the confidence in a given company. And that means investors had less faith in the ability of the Kochs to run a tight business operation than they did in a bunch of Venezuelan socialist bureaucrats.


So for all the enterprising Americans out there wondering “What’s the secret to the Kochs’ success?” The answer isn’t pretty—especially if you’re one of the gullible Tea Party libertarians who believe the Kochs practice the free-market libertarianism that they preach. Their ability to reap billions and billions in profits year after year isn’t about buying low and selling high, but about buying subsidized-by-the-state, and selling subsidized-by-the-state. Using taxpayer money to cover the costs and ensure profits every time—that’s the simple formula to the Kochs’ success."

What's more is now the Koch's appear to be taking Chavez's government to court over the nationalization, before a investment dispute body in the World Bank. Check out this article from the Latin American Herald Tribune for more.

Tepoztlán and Movements for Autonomy in México

A Narconews report on a community's response to "a building project that would’ve turned communal lands into a golf course. When the people of Tepoztlán found out about the plan, they expulsed the mayor and the police and barricaded all entrances to the town. During the eight months that followed, Tepoztlán organized its own community police and elected an autonomous government, free of political parties.


After eight months of autonomy, in April 1996, the police killed a local campesino, Marcos Olmedo, near the spot where Emiliano Zapata was shot exactly 76 years earlier. The man’s death was followed by the cancellation of the construction plan. The townspeople, exhausted and mourning but also pleased with their victory, gradually allowed the police and political parties to return to Tepoztlán.

Tepoztlán’s struggle is not the only of its kind. The eviction of the golf course marked a renaissance of resistance movements in the state of Morelos. During the almost 17 years that have passed since Tepoztlán first declared itself a free town, autonomous municipalities have popped up in different parts of the state. They have an impressive track record of winning most of their battles, but those victories have often been, like the one in Tepoztlán, tinged with sadness: many of the movements have failed to bridge the gaping class divisions that characterize Mexican society. Many times autonomy has lasted only a fleeting moment."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Explaining Cultural Capitalism

Fuji - Connoisseur

I am seriously considering purchasing this bike. It's chromoly steel, which I value in the rough terrain of Pittsburgh's warped and battered roads. It also beats the Soma "Smoothie" I was thinking about getting in terms of price.

One thing is certain--waiting for the bus and sitting in traffic for an hour once a day is not a pastime I prefer and would be better spent at the pool or reading for my dissertation prospectus.

@ Nashbar, for half regular price.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to Radicalize Graduate Students:

From Academe's July-August Issue:

Take these simple steps to intimidate, alienate, and agitate your own flock of graduate students.

By Heather Steffen

As the recession, budget cuts, endowment losses, and Republican governors gut university funding, campuses across the country have become host to occupations, union actions, and demonstrations.

Except for yours. When you gaze out on the quad, all that greets you is a file of book-bagged undergraduates nose deep in text messages, a few graduate students hauling books and lab equipment, and that weird squirrel with the crooked tail. What’s wrong with your corner of the ivory tower? Why aren’t your students marching shoulder to shoulder with the others? You included a three-week unit on Marxist criticism in your fall syllabus and proudly display your Obama ’08 poster, and last month you tacked a strip of Jorge Cham’s comic critique of academia over the photocopier, but your graduate students stubbornly look only to their reading, teaching, and the lab.

If this sounds like your campus, it’s time for a change. The steps below offer simple ways to rile up and radicalize your university’s graduate student population. Why target graduate students? Because they live and work at the crux of the university: when they’re not bothering you, these people are teaching undergraduates, giving conference papers, and living lives entwined with the community. Radicalize them and your university’s troubles will be broadcast where it counts—the classroom, the hotel bar, the statehouse. (And you can be assured, doctoral students will protest with abandon, having already demonstrated an underdeveloped sense of self-preservation by considering academic employment in the first place.)

But before we get to the steps you need to take, one caveat administrator: the things that radicalize are the same things that enervate. Your graduate students, appearances to the contrary, are intelligent adults with adult responsibilities and concerns. Those Chuck Taylor sneakers carry them home at the end of the day to support partners, care for children, feed pets, and call aging parents. Pressures and duties of that magnitude, on top of the commitments they’ve made to your university, are what make each turn of the screw worth two. But if you push too far, you’ll exhaust your most capable rabble-rousers and wind up with nothing but a bunch of broken-spirited, careerist brownnosers in your program.

On the upside, they’ll probably improve your program ranking, but walk this tightrope carefully. If you follow these six steps and keep a sharp eye out for signs of the tipping point between insurrection and burnout, your campus, too, can ring with the tones of disaffection, discontent, and incipient democracy.

Step 1. Build on graduate students’ existing strength: worrying. Depending on your region and Carnegie classification, you may be well on your way to creating a culture of anxiety, uncertainty, and self-doubt among your graduate students, and lord knows they arrive with plenty of that already on hand. But no matter how competitive and intimidating your campus is, the first step to fostering a vibrant radical population of graduate students is getting their hearts beating faster. These three tactics are sure to give any grad student’s pulse a jump-start:

A. Evaluation Assassination. When you evaluate a graduate student’s work, do you treat it like that of a future colleague, engaging with its ideas and style as if you were reading a friend’s article draft? If so, you’ll need to relearn your approach to grading. every seminar paper and dissertation chapter represents an opportunity to shake a graduate student to the very core. An offhand “This is not doctoral-level work” will more than suffice in most cases. (Nota bene: The probability of a demand for rationale decreases in inverse proportion to the time between submission and return of work.)

B. The Draft-and-Switch. Prospectus, research performance evaluation, thesis overview, dissertation: the merest whisper of any of these words makes graduate students curse having lapsed (“It was only one slice!”) on that irritable bowel syndrome diet. The draft-and-switch takes advantage of their inevitable prostration before the task of defining an academic identity. Advisers, perk up your ears.

A prospectus draft hits your inbox. Open that sucker up and give it a skim—does the lit review or the original research get more airtime? Whichever it is, fire off a response within hours apprising your student that she’s failed to incorporate the other. Include a list of at least six monographs against which the student has not adequately positioned herself, and request a total rewrite within three months.

Revision in hand, warm up your reply button, because you’re about to drop a bomb: the document must again be completely recast, and you are concerned about the project’s viability: “This reads like a review essay; what is your argument?” Before closing, recall to the student’s mind that her standing in the program depends upon swift approval by multiple entities and reveal that you are not at this juncture certain of her ability to meet the deadline. Will the student think she’s lost her mind? Will she spend the next two hours combing through her e-mail for your previous comments? Yes, all the while shaking like a leaf. Give yourself a pat on the back, open a celebratory diet coke, and wait for draft three.

C. The HPT Meeting. Around the Pentagon, HPT stands for “high-payoff target,” and that’s exactly what you’re aiming for, so use this tactic sparingly. Here, HPT is a mnemonic you can use to plan meetings with overconfident graduate students.

A few days after a friendly interaction (drinks at a reception, a chat in the hall about good news on the publishing front, or some similar light conversation), casually request a meeting with your student to check up on his progress. Be sure to say something personal in the e-mail to maximize the sense of informality (“I was glad to hear that your cat’s surgery was successful!”).

Meeting set, the HPT agenda proceeds as follows: (1) Humiliate the student immediately by asking an exam-style question tangential to his area of knowledge. After he stumbles through an answer, inform him that he is devastatingly wrong (for proper affect management, imagine he’s just farted audibly while speaking). As he tilts toward the abyss of his self- doubt, (2) patronizingly offer an olive branch to help him out—a task useful to your own research that also happens to be the only thing capable of saving him from his overwhelming wrongness. You’ll either get a domesticated free research assistant or he’ll resist, declaring that that is not what his project is about at all. If the latter occurs, (3) bring out the threats: “It will be very hard for your thesis to gain my approval if this is not accounted for.” As fear enters your student’s eyes, open the door, extend your best wishes to the cat, and tell him you’ll look forward to seeing how his work progresses. If you’re not naturally coldhearted, the HPT meeting might shake you up a little, but keep in mind that as you’re sipping your evening pinot, your student might be getting in touch with his inner Wobbly at the bar down the street.

Step 2. Practice nepotism and lack of transparency in policy and decision making. Experienced administrators will roll their eyes at this one: “I already do that. I wasn’t promoted because of my sterling teaching record, you know.” But for the sake of faculty readers new to the managerial rim of the labor divide (that’s you, Ohioans), a few words on nepotism and obfuscation are in order.

Nepotism in regard to graduate students is easy, and chances are you’re already better at it than you think. Have you ever invited a couple of friends to present on a panel because writing a call for proposals would take too long or given the nod to a mediocre job candidate whose thesis happens to be signed by your college roommate? Congratulations, you’re half-way there! Now just turn the same principles to the assignment of plum classes and jobs to your favorite graduate students.

When they start to notice the repetitions in the course catalog, it’s time to shut the window on your decision-making process. Remember that graduate students are heavily invested in meritocratic and democratic ideals, so if they see perks accruing where they aren’t deserved and program requirements becoming a moving target, they’re going to want to nose out the culprit. By keeping the decision-making process tightly under wraps, you’ll not only increase its efficiency but also help your graduate students hone their investigative research and networking skills while they close read the handbook and compare notes with their comrades in other departments. Suppression of information is the agar in the petri dish of revolt, after all.

Step 3. Raise tuition and fees. Graduate students don’t pay tuition, do they? But why not? Take a look at your department’s budget sheet—how many of your hard-earned FTEs are wasted reimbursing the university for graduate credit hours? No one’s even teaching those classes, what with the pack of dinosaur ABDs you’ve got hanging around. A refresher on accounting and some well-timed hints about counterbalancing the athletic director’s fall spending spree will not only unify students across the two cultures, it might even get your name on the CFO’s go-to list next time a spot opens up in administration. To preview the results you can get from this one simple tip, look no further than California and Illinois, where just the threat of tuition increase spurred months of strikes, insurgent dance parties, and the authoring of manifesto upon manifesto.

Step 4. Pay them below the living wage. Choosing to starve your students might sound distasteful, but if they’re getting PhDs in late-thirteenth-century barley farming or the morphology of south Bolivian musk gnats, they must come from well-to-do backgrounds, right? These pampered savants need a reason to identify with the working man, and there’s no better way to foster identification than to make sure they’re standing behind him in the Shop ’n Save checkout line instead of flipping through a Dwell at Whole Foods. It might make them less entertaining dinner companions, but the gains in class consciousness will more than compensate for any lack of fluency in microgreens and manchego.

Step 5. Cut centers, programs, and departments. Even—if you’re as daring as the Minnesotans were—dissolve the graduate school. For maximum impact, go for the arts and humanities first. Donors and corporate partners are unlikely to register the loss, and students on the softer side of campus are already steeped in leftist theory, jealous of their profs’ glory days in the sixties and convinced of the need to enlighten the masses, so they’ll take the dissolution particularly hard. (And when was the last time you saw video of stomatology students getting arrested for failure to disperse?)

Step 6. Keep that tenured head buried in the sand. Are flyers about a graduate student union showing up on the bulletin board across the hall? Did the administration just announce that graduate tuition and fees are going up? Who cares? You’ve already got fifty-two hours of research, peer reviewing, committee work, and lecturing to do every week, so going to bat for your grad students is the last thing on your to-do list, and you should let them know that—loud and clear. If a wild-eyed graduate student idealist asks you to talk to your faculty senate or to advocate for the union, blink confusedly, mumble something that intelligibly includes the word “busy,” and remember to keep your office lights dimmed next time you come in for a meeting. Knowing they’re on their own encourages graduate student self-reliance and solidarity with organizations that really can help them out.

Follow these six easy steps, and pretty soon your campus could join the lucky ones already garnering the attention of police and Fox news anchors. Then you can sit back and let your grad students and the exasperated public take it from there. As one effectively and efficiently radicalized student at the University at Albany put it last January, “A lot of people who are supposed to be protecting us aren’t doing that. So unless we turn a little wolfish on them, they’ll just eat the sheep

Monday, July 11, 2011


A fascinating piece by artists duo Allora & Cazadilla featured in the U.S. pavillion at the Venice Biennial:

An innocent performance laced with political themes is what audiences will experience in Venice. The tank, from 1945 and used in the Korean War, will sit outside the pavilion. There, a USA Track & Field athlete in uniform will run for about 45 minutes on the treadmill above its right track. The associations are many: militarism, national identity, competition.

Also, check out their interview with on PBS' Art 21 show. Here is an excerpt from an interview with the couple discussing another war themed piece entitled 'Clamor:'

"What triggered this piece was our interest in how people use music or sound as a weapon—how you can have a gun made of sound that can immobilize you. Then we started getting interested in the relationship between sound or music and war. Our research opened up an enormous quantity of material related to this idea, an incredible archive of sounds related to war—from actual combat, where music was historically used to command and control troops, to more contemporary uses such as propaganda to instill patriotism.


Interestingly enough, in the history of military music, one of the ways they describe the instruments’ function on the battlefield is to create a clamor. They’d create a noise that was so unbearable for the opponent that it would actually distract them and keep them from being able to effectively fulfill their job of fighting.

It’s described by one Crusader as comprising trumpets, clarions, horns, pipes, drums, cymbals, a prodigious array creating a horrible noise and clamor. And he says they did this to excite the spirit and their courage—for the more violent the clamor became, the more bold they were for the fray.

We’re trying to reinvigorate this word, to redirect it to a new end in this exhibition. We want to talk about the global state of war of today—something that resonates with contemporary experience."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mark Krikorian is a Racist, Anti-Immigrant Immigrant

A commentator for the rightwing organization the Center for Immigration Studies (note the fact that it seeks to give the academy access to correct information on immigration as if the academy's own biases make this impossible) and Armenian immigrant, Mark Krikorian makes a fairly telling comparison (on National Public Radio) between how worthwhile immigrants are to the United States and some sort of national doughnut orgy:

Krikorian says we can think of immigration like a good fat-filled doughnut.

"When you're 11 years old, you eat all of the doughnuts that your parent will let you eat, and they're probably good for you at that point," he says. "When you're 50 years old, you can't eat doughnuts like that anymore. There's nothing wrong with the doughnuts. They're the same doughnuts. But your metabolism has changed. And our body politic's metabolism has changed so that we need to start now looking at what's good for our grandchildren, not what was good for our grandparents."

This comment with its veiled allusions to immigrants as sugary foods that not only pollute the bodies of elder members of a society, but also poison generations to come evinces ideas of racial/cultural purity, albiet ones impacted by a crude behaviorism. As much as this comment seems downplay its racism by reverting to a metaphor of unthreatening food, it still reeks of miscegnation panic of previous decades and centuries.

If you needed a little more convincing Krikorian's "post"racism observe his enlightening comments on Haiti following the earthquake:

"My guess is that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough…But, unlike Jamaicans and Bajans and Guadeloupeans, et al., after experiencing the worst of tropical colonial slavery, the Haitians didn’t stick around long enough to benefit from it. (Haiti became independent in 1804.). And by benefit I mean develop a local culture significantly shaped by the more-advanced civilization of the colonizers."

Commentators from Think Progress follow this comment up nicely with:

"In fact, Haiti’s comparatively short-lived colonial history might be the best thing the island had going for it. Haiti’s revolution inspired the fights for independence across Latin America and ushered in the end of slavery in the New World. Meanwhile, a never-ending sphere of Western influence and self-serving intervention probably offers a better explanation for why Haiti is as “screwed-up” as it is. Unlike the islands of Jamaica, Barbados, and Guadalupe, Haiti has long been the 'poster case for the vicious circle of colonial and foreign intervention, poverty, violence and political instability.'"

Jean-Luc Godard's Commercial for Schick

A central figure in France's mid-20th century Nouvelle Vague film movement, Jean-Luc Godard made a commercial for Schick. This would seem a break with Godard's relatively overt anti-capitalist politics, in films such as La Chinoise, wherein French Students under the auspices of Maoism form a revolutionary cell and begin carrying out assassinations.

Nicholas Rombes writes about it over at the Rumpus in his Art Film Roundup:

Schick was owned by ultra-Conservative, capitalist extraordinaire Patrick Frawley. Does this matter, that Godard made a commercial to help sell products for a company whose profits supported political causes antithetical to his own? We are all complicit in these hypocrisies, small and large, as we use and consume objects each day whose sources in the global matrix are often obscure. If Godard made the commercial to help fund his more radical projects (perhaps Tout va bien, the following year?) then do the two projects cancel each other out? Is there some sort of ledger to keep track? Is it okay to denounce the enemy, and then collaborate with the enemy, as long as you can come up with some sort of intellectual rationalization for your actions?

Here at Filmmaker, Zach Wigon writes about Godard and the role of the socially-engaged director. His lede:

Jean-Luc Godard was a guest at the University of Southern California in 1968, discussing his work on a panel with King Vidor, Roger Corman, Peter Bogdanovich and Sam Fuller. This was at the close of a cinematic decade that Godard had owned; now, breaking with his previous work, he was becoming more political and less accessible. One of the discussion’s most telling moments came toward the end, when an audience member asked, “Monsieur Godard, are you more interested in making films or making social commentary?” Godard coolly replied, “I see no difference between the two.”

I think the discussion from Inpursuitofsilence blog has a few interesting points to make on the commercial:

As is Godard’s seductive way, the subject of the mini-scenario is a gorgeous young couple. In this case, a man and woman rising from bed in the morning light, already deep into a noisy spat, which is compounded by loud shifting electroacoustical broadcaster and music tracks. The fight gets noisier and the din gets uglier as they proceed, in tandem, into the bathroom. And then, at a certain point, the man picks up the bottle of aftershave, pops the lid and — abracadabra! — the broadcasts vanish; the fight ends; there’s a second or two of silence, before the woman expresses her appreciation of the scent. She takes the bottle, smells, and the commercial closes with soft, wet kisses.

It’s amusing, effective — and weirdly evocative of where we are now as a culture. If we have the means, we buy our quiet, if not quite in the form of a geni in a bottle of aftershave, in “quiet products” that can shave a handful of decibels off the noise of vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and the like for considerably more money than their rattling, roaring rank and file appliance-cousins cost. We purchase spa sessions and soundproofing technology and other miracles of padding, muffling, filtering and muting — the velvet, noise-cancelling armor that the affluent don to charge the world, or to flee the chase. But what about everyone else? All those people who lack resources (educational as well as financial) to perform their own sonic schick trick?