Archive for October 29th, 2013

by lizard

I want to thank Mark Anderlik for providing a bit of perspective to counter the unfair pessimism that concluded my last post. Here’s the comment:

As someone who saw up close the Occupy Missoula movement I still come back to where social movements have been successful in the past – organizing. Not sexy, not easy, not quick. Other things are important too, but as our history has shown time and again that without organizing, change will not be sustained. The branches of the Occupy movement still active (including Missoula) have dug in to organize around specific issues that speak to larger problems. For example a group has been organizing in Missoula around foreclosures, another around the Citizen’s United decision. And now several groups facilitated by the Montana Organizing Project is organizing to create a partnership bank for Montana that has the potential to undermine the stranglehold the “too-big-to-fail” banks have on our economy. Hard work, few headlines, building the foundation for change. The proven way.

The headlines OWS generated can be seen (cynically) as mere commodities peddled by alleged originators, like Micah White, who is now moving on to the next product. Knowing that has some value, I think, but to say everyone who identified with OWS got conned is not helpful, and not accurate. I take JC’s point on this one:

As to Occupy being conned, I really don’t think so. Doesn’t really matter who, why or how a revolution gets kicked off. Once it is underway, it is out of control — it becomes an organic, amorphous mass. Which actually terrified many people — the reformers.

One of my favorite memes that emerged from the amorphous mass of OWS was the People’s Library, because apparently the physical presence of books is something that needs to be celebrated and protected against this evil reasoning: Is there any reason to own paper books beside showing off? Not really.

From that blasphemy I’d like to awkwardly jump to Paul Krugman’s piece on Poetry and Blogging. Seriously. Here’s how he does it:

A non-economics, non-policy post; I just want to give a shoutout to a book I’m reading, and really enjoying: Tom Standage’s Writing on the Wall: Social Media — The First 2,000 Years. I’ve been a big fan of Standage’s ever since his book The Victorian Internet, about the rise of the telegraph, which shed a lot of light on network technologies while also being great fun. Now he’s done it again.

Standage’s argument is that the essential aspects of social media — exchange of information that runs horizontally, among people who are affiliated in some way, rather than top-down from centralized sources — have been pervasive through history, with the industrial age’s news media only a temporary episode of disruption. As he shows, Cicero didn’t get his news from Rome Today or Rupertus Murdochus — he got it through constant exchanges of letters with people he knew, letters that were often both passed on to multiple readers and copied, much like tweets being retweeted.

Even more interesting is his discussion of the Tudor court, where a lot of the communication among insiders took place through the exchange of … poetry, which allowed people both to discuss sensitive topics elliptically and to demonstrate their cleverness. You could even build a career through poetry, not by selling it, but by using your poems to build a reputation, which could translate into royal favor and high office — sort of the way some people use their blogs to build influence that eventually leads to paying gigs of one kind or another. The tale of John Harington — of the famous “treason never prospers” line — is fascinating.

Incidentally, when and why did we stop reading poetry? Educated people used to read it all the time, or at least pretend to; that’s no longer the case. Frankly, I don’t read poetry except on very rare occasions. What happened?

That’s a good question, Paul. I’m working on it.

by lizard

When Glenn Greenwald announced he was leaving the Guardian to join a new journalism project, I was intrigued. What kind of journalistic endeavor could lure Greenwald away, I wondered? The answer: a seriously bankrolled project.

eBay billionaire, Pierre Omidyar, is dropping a quarter billion dollars to provide Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and others the cover of extreme wealth to do their adversarial journalist thing. Thank the penniless lord we simple consumers of adversarial journalism have a benevolent billionaire to insulate these journalistic brands from the dangers of speaking truth to power.

Something about this whole setup makes me very uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the class war Chris Hedges discusses in this piece from Truthdig. Here’s an excerpt:

The blanket dissemination of the ideology of free market capitalism through the media and the purging, especially in academia, of critical voices have permitted our oligarchs to orchestrate the largest income inequality gap in the industrialized world. The top 1 percent in the United States own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent own only 7 percent, as Joseph E. Stiglitz wrote in “The Price of Inequality.” For every dollar that the wealthiest 0.1 percent amassed in 1980 they had an additional $3 in yearly income in 2008, David Cay Johnston explained in the article “9 Things the Rich Don’t Want You to Know About Taxes.” The bottom 90 percent, Johnson said, in the same period added only one cent. Half of the country is now classified as poor or low-income. The real value of the minimum wage has fallen by $2.77 since 1968. Oligarchs do not believe in self-sacrifice for the common good. They never have. They never will. They are the cancer of democracy.

“We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are,” Wendell Berry writes. “Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all—by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians—be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us. How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing.”

I expect this period of submission to the will of the oligarchs to continue. How bad it will have to get before people realize what the consensus of wealth has accomplished is an open question.

Meanwhile, check out Wendell Berry’s interview with Bill Moyers, which aired earlier this month. And if you watch it, try to ignore the icky feeling of watching a Goldman Sachs ad before viewing one of America’s most important poets.

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