Category Archives: Summer Posts

The Surveillance State

“The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

“The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

“The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/nsa-phone-records-verizon-court-order

Socialism 2011

Last weekend Glenn Greenwald spoke at the Socialism 2011 conference. It’s not clear to me that Greenwald– a constitutional lawyer who writes for Salon– is actually a socialist, but he is certainly a perceptive and articulate speaker.

 

Less for More

There will be a 15% tuition increase at CSU this Fall and in all likelihood another 15% increase next Spring. From Inside Higher Ed:
“Several of the biggest rates of increase in tuition prices at public institutions occurred on California State University campuses: tuitions there increased between 38 and 47 percent from the 2007-8 academic year to 2009-10. (Some of the system’s campuses, including East Bay, Fullerton, Channel Islands and Bakersfield, also saw among the largest increases in net price.)”
How do we know there will be additional increases?
CSU Faces Unprecedented Budget Cuts
The California State University received a $650 million cut to its 2011-12 budget Thursday and could face an additional $100 million reduction if state revenue forecasts are not met.
i.e., the State is betting that $4 billion in additional revenue will somehow appear in the coming months. If that does not happen, another $100 million will be amputated from CSU.
The cut brings the CSU’s new budget to a total of $2.1 billion and represents a 23 percent decrease in state support (year over year).
“What was once unprecedented has unfortunately become normal as the CSU will be cut by well over $500 million for the second time in three years,” said CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed.  “The magnitude of this cut, compounded with the uncertainty of the final amount of the reduction, will have negative impacts on the CSU long after this upcoming fiscal year has come and gone.”
The governor and legislature in March had already approved a budget that reduced the CSU’s funding by $500 million. The CSU received an additional $150 million cut when the governor signed the 2011-12 budget this week, which includes deep reductions to higher education and relies heavily on revenue projections to close an estimated $26.2 billion state budget gap.
The governor for months warned of further cuts to higher education if his proposal to extend several taxes was not supported by the legislature and ultimately the state’s voters.  Lacking the necessary support, Brown has vowed to try and reinstate the taxes in a Nov. 2012 ballot initiative.
To address the “first” $500 million budget reduction, the legislature and governor agreed that the CSU would enroll 10,000 fewer students this fall, apply an estimated $146 million in revenue from a tuition fee increase already approved, and reduce the 23 campus budgets by a combined $281 million and the Chancellor’s Office budget by nearly $11million. These cuts will be made through administrative and instructional efficiencies, as well as expenditure reductions in travel, information technology, equipment, and book and journal purchases by libraries.
The CSU plans to address the additional $150 million to potentially $250 million budget reduction at its Board of Trustees meeting July 12. Chancellor Reed will recommend an additional tuition fee increase of 12 percent or $294 per semester effective fall 2011 to avert devastating and lasting damage to student access, student services and program quality.
The $2.1 billion in state funding allocated to the CSU in the 2011-12 budget will be the lowest level of state support the system has received since the 1998-99 fiscal year($2.16 billion), yet the university currently serves an additional 90,000 students. If the system is cut by an additional $100 million, state support would be at its lowest level since 1997-98.

8 hours

8 hours today– most of it spent trying to find new ways to say the same thing– got me a page and a half of very iffy prose. This is the problem with re-writes: you’ve got a passage that hangs together pretty well– one paragraph blends into the next– and then you need to just tuck in some additional information but the text is too tight, there’re no openings at all. So this morning I review what I know about the Scientific Romance, a dead genre, long since superseded by Science Fiction, but significant because it distills what I consider to be a crucial insight about the construction of the youth concept. When G. Stanley Hall invented Adolescence in the course of establishing genetic psychology he did so by relying not only on the insights of Ernst Haeckel’s biogenetic law, but according to a whole mishmash of cultural values he never examined in their entirety. He was a big R Romantic, suckled on the thin milk of Emersonian idealism, educated by Germans in the late Romantic era, soaked in sturm und drang. His vision of youth, then, emerges from the confluence of poetry and dicey science which makes treating one of his lesser texts, “The Fall of Atlantis,” as a Scientific Romance (and a Lost Race narrative to boot) perfect.

Continue reading

Summer Reading

The book I really want to (and must) read this summer is Theodore Dreiser’s The Genius, a work that was grudgingly released by its publisher in censored form and which has now been re-issued and reassembled from the original, unexpurgated manuscript. If I wasn’t going to be busy finishing my dissertation I’d love to read Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate and Jonathan Litell’s The Kindly Ones— both novels about WWII which are appropriately epic in scope.

In the gap between the last weeks of the semester and posting grades I did manage to chow down a few shorter works, however, including Massimo Carlotto’s The Goodbye Kiss, probably the best crime novel I’ve read since Edward Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce. The Goodbye Kiss is absolutely hard-boiled and features a charming, psychopathic protagonist. Critics have likened Carlotto’s style to that of classic roman noir writer James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, etc.) though the main character of The Goodbye Kiss isn’t driven so much by brutal passions as by cold calculation. As with any good crime novel, Carlotto is concerned with social critique, and The Goodbye Kiss examines not only the failure of the Red Brigades-style militant leftism of the 1970s but the parallels between contemporary business and crime. One implication of his work, particularly in subsequent books such as Poisonville, is an emphasis on the fact that there is virtually no daylight between corporate capitalism and organized crime. In this sense he underscores Bertolt Brecht’s famous question: What is robbing a bank compared to founding one?

I also went on a sci-fi spree, reading Christopher Priest’s Inverted World, John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids and Ninni Holmqvist’s The Unit. Priest’s novel could function rather neatly as an allegory for the ideology of Progress. A city which perpetually rolls along tracks built by its inhabitants struggles forward to reach “Optimum,” desperate not to fall behind and be crushed by the strange gravitational forces of the lower latitudes. (The space of the city itself reminded me a bit of China Mieville’s stupendous The City and the City, a book I really recommend as well.) The Chrysalids is just as strange as Inverted World despite operating in the familiar terrain of a post-apocalyptic society. Increasing mutations (presumably from nuclear fallout) in the population have led the dogmatically evangelical  survivors to enact controls against “Blasphemies”– i.e. humans who deviate from the prescribed physical norms. Holmqvist’s novel also takes the human body as its subject, though in this case citizens who have been deemed “Dispensable” are compelled to submit themselves to medical experiments and organ donations in the service of the “Indispensables,” those who are economically productive. There’s an echo of Atwood’s Oryx and Crake here, I think, in the book’s emphasis on narrowly utilitarian thinking, and as with Atwood the dystopia in question is not Orwellian– that is to say Stalinist– but neoliberal.

Finally, I followed up a little on the work of Friedrich Durrenmatt, who is known primarily for his plays (The Physicists, The Visit, etc.). Like The Assignment, his mystery novels tend to be intriguing and  cryptic, particularly his Inspector Barlach series (The Judge and the Hangman, Suspicion) which combines alienation with a distinctively philosophical subtext. I’ve always thought crime and philosophy belong together in that both of these domains of human experience are concerned, in their own ways, with transgression, and are (ask a philosopher!) even a matter of life and death. See too his remarkable The Pledge, which self-consciously violates the conventions of the thriller genre in order to revive it.

It’s Coming

The Fall semester’s almost here and I’m still chopping cotton on the third chapter of my dissertation. The last 3 months have been a long, fluid blur of neo-Lamarckianism, genetic psychology, romantic naturalism, and G. Stanley Hall’s impossibly baroque writing style. Here’s an example of the latter:

“Thus it is that the vast domains of experience of man and also of his far back animal progenitors, when obliterated from all records of the race, leave as their most permanent and last-to-be-effaced trace a predisposition of the imagination to reproduce their psychokinetic equivalents in forms thought to be original creations, just as the engrams of the great saurians and megatheria of the Trias age, inclined the mind of man, eons after they were extinct, to make fables of draconian monsters slain by culture-heroes who unified  peoples and founded states, like St. George, Seigfried, Perseus, Beowulf, because man’s psyche and its organ, the brain, now inherit all the marvelous plasticity once shown best of all in the morphological plasticity of these most polymorphic lacertilian forms, or finds another illustration in our altitude psychoses and nightmares of hovering, in which we see reverberations in the soul of the piscine and pelagic life of our aquatic progenitors” (Adolescence 29).

Essentially he’s arguing that the psychic life of individuals bear the traces of  long-obscured memories of a pre-historic human past in the form of myths and legends. This, in a nutshell, is the theory of recapitulation. Our instincts and proclivities were scripted millennia ago by the experiences of our forebears. So, for example, “doraphobia,” the fear of fur– and its opposite, “the love of fur” — can only be fully explained by “recourse to a time when association with animals was far closer than now, or perhaps when our remote ancestors were hairy.” I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone afraid of fur, but for Hall that’s not really the point. The basis of his entire system of genetic psychology is the supposed persistence of “phyletic vestiges” in the minds of modern people.

Here’s the man himself: