Archive for April, 2008

08w17:4 Clay Shirky

by timothy. 0 Comments

Here Comes Everybody | Clay Shirky

Link to above video of presentation:

Transcript of presentation:

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus
I was recently reminded of some reading I did in college, way back in the last century, by a British historian arguing that the critical technology, for the early phase of the industrial revolution, was gin. The transformation from rural to urban life was so sudden, and so wrenching, that the only thing society could do to manage was to drink itself into a stupor for a generation. The stories from that era are amazing– there were gin pushcarts working their way through the streets of London. And it wasn’t until society woke up from that collective bender that we actually started to get the institutional structures that we associate with the industrial revolution today. Things like public libraries and museums, increasingly broad education for children, elected leaders–a lot of things we like–didn’t happen until having all of those people together stopped seeming like a crisis and started seeming like an asset. It wasn’t until people started thinking of this as a vast civic surplus, one they could design for rather than just dissipate, that we started to get what we think of now as an industrial society. If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would’ve come off the whole enterprise, I’d say it was the sitcom. […] Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat. And it’s only now, as we’re waking up from that collective bender, that we’re starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We’re seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody’s basement. […] So I tell her [a TV producer] all this stuff, and I think, “Okay, we’re going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever.” That wasn’t her question. She heard this story [about Pluto’s talk page on Wikipedia] and she shook her head and said, “Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.”

Clay Shirky | KUOW’s The Conversation

08w17:2 The Artist Statement of the Year

by timothy. 0 Comments

Found it yesterday via Andrew Sullivan (who’ I’m loving for Obama-mania analysis). Sullivan linked to the Perez Hilton site, which in itself is a gold mine for the comments, such as:

Disgusting! says: Stupid stupid attention seeking bitch! This made me feel sick to my stomach reading about her yesterday. Regardless of whether its real of fake, shes put the whole thing out there. You art school bitch, next time you go for your 5 mins, have a think about what your stupid actions could do. I know a couple of women who went through heart breaking miscarraiges and it has scarred them for life. Hope you get lynched, you cold blooded witch.

Buffy says: What a complete and utter sociopath

cambel says: I weep at the complete intellectual vacuum this shows in our elite universities. Not only did what she said dance around subjects like Michael Flatley, the fact is she could have said the same thing in 2 paragraphs. What you see with her is somebody who is used to having teachers say “Please turn in a 15 page paper by Friday” She only has 9 pages of info but she inflates, repeats, and mixes the wording and language to produce the extra 6 pages. Unfortunatly, after years of doing so she no longer has the ability to express herself any other way. It’s sad, I almost feel like I’m reading something written by somebody with Downs Syndrome and a spell checker.

wow says: First of all Gere, that’s getting extremely annoying.. stop promoting your crap site here.

second, what was this biyatch blabbing about? im sorry i didn’t have my dictionary handy… was she explaining herself or trying to cram as many SAT words in one essay as possible?

devan in canada says: SHE’S AN IDIOT….half of what she is saying is lifted directly out of feminist theory textbooks and great lecturers on the ideas of bodily ownership, expression and freedom.

i’ve heard all of this stuff before, but with more meaning and sincerity behind it. not just from some girl in leopard shorts and fringy boots trying to be radically female.

she’s just another hack, trying to be original and thought provoking, but instead she has ended up looking like another silly art student with a outrageous idea and no strength to hold it up

Stupid Bitch says: She could have gotten her point across simply by stating “I was bored and lonely. Not all this bullshit trying-to-impress-the-reader jargon.

adriana banana says: HOW FUCKING SAD… This bitch is sick, first of all I don’t understand all of the long ass words she is using, but I’m not dumb enough to realize that even though she comes around as really smart, she is the MOST ignorant person I’ve heard of… I can’t believe this bitch, I never damn anyone, but this person deserves to die. Ew, She makes me so fucking sick

Aliza Shvarts’ Artist Statement | Perez Hilton & Friends
“Just as it is a myth that women are “meant” to be feminine and men masculine, that penises and vaginas are “‘meant’ for penetrative heterosexual sex (or that mouths, anuses, breasts, feet or leather, silicone, vinyl, rubber, or metal implements are not ‘meant’ for sex at all), it is a myth that ovaries and a uterus are ‘meant’ to birth a child. When considering my own bodily form, I recognize its potential as extending beyond its ability to participate in a normative function. While my organs are capable of engaging with the narrative of reproduction — the time-based linkage of discrete events from conception to birth — the realm of capability extends beyond the bounds of that specific narrative chain. These organs can do other things, can have other purposes, and it is the prerogative of every individual to acknowledge and explore this wide realm of capability.”

08w17:1 Luc Tuymans Fail

by timothy. 1 Comment

This totally confirms my art-world cynicism. (Via Boing Boing)

Further, Tuymans image is apparently this one (a screencapture from Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil at 29:50):

Fucking Monkies from Chris Marker’s visit to the Japanese sex museum

Luc Tuymans’ ‘relevant’ version from the above video

John Ralston Saul, in Voltaire’s Bastards (p497-498):

“The official artists do amuse the court of critics, experts and social followers. In a way they are more conservative and patronizing than the official artists of the late 19C. Take Lichtenstein, for example, who was pushed to paint blown-up versions of comic strips when, in 1960, one of his sons pointed to a Mickey Mouse comic book ad said, ‘I bet you can’t paint as good as that.’ He painted an outsized picture of Donald Duck. In 1962 he caused a sensation in the art world with his cartoon-based show at the Castelli gallery in New York. In November 1963 Lichtenstein said, ‘My work is different from comic strips – but I wouldn’t call it a transformation…. What I do is form, whereas the comic strip is not formed in the sense I’m using the word; the comics have shapes, but there has been no effort to make them intensely unified.’ 19 This may sound surprisingly pretentious from the mouth of the leading pop artist, but Lichtenstein, after all, for a good part of his life was a university professor of art. On the other hand, copying comic strips made him rich and famous. This process had to turn, however, on one shared assumption – that Lichtenstein was an artist, while the cartoonists were not.”

“There could be no clearer example of how completely the craft and art functions have been separated by Western society. In hijacking the secondary idea of personal artistic merit, the artist himself loses track not simply of the technical craft so essential to earlier painters, but of the real relationship between the painter’s image and the public. Lichtenstein ripped off the true public images – the comics – while denigrating them and thus amusing his fellow experts. Like most people caught up in the abstract reality of ritual, they assumed quire naturally that the cartoon was just an amusing tool to be manipulated by their talents. There really isn’t much difference between Marie Antoinette’s bon mot over bread and brioche and Warhol’s soup cans. They are both expressions of clever artificiality, not of intelligent relevance. “

08w16:1 Marni Soupcoff’s Provocation

by timothy. 0 Comments

Canada’s biggest mistake: The $7.5-billion that Canadian governments lavish on the arts every year | Marni Soupcoff

National Post says: Cut Government Arts Funding | View on Canadian Art
(Linked to for Comment thread)

Marni Soupcoff’s Provocation | Timothy Comeau

08w14:4 The Shameful Minimum Wage

by timothy. 3 Comments

Honestly, if a business can’t afford to pay all its employees a livable wage, than that business should be considered a fail. What are businesses for? (The wrong answer is to say the enrichment of the owners at the expense of the employees, because that’s like Marxism or something, and we’re supposed to be past all that).

I remember when I was working for a minimum wage in Halifax, feeling both totally exploited and humiliated into enforced poverty. Further, the business had like 6 people on the payroll when it only really needed three. That’s where I got the idea that mismanagement should never be an excuse to pay people peanuts. And why I have no sympathy for the business owners who claim raising the minimum wage would be too hard on them. They’re not paying themselves a minimum wage are they?

My greater concern for raising the minimum wage is this society’s capacity to maintain an unfair status quo. As is pointed out in this article, adjusted for inflation, today’s Ontario minimum wage is equivalent to what it was thirteen years ago. I’ve noticed in the past that whenever the minimum wage goes up, so do the prices at Tim Hortons, (which I consider to be an unofficial index of inflation). So the gains of the working poor are immediately offset to erase them. The article begins by pointing out that the Ontario minimum wage went up last week. This week Tim Hortons had signs at its counters saying the prices of some menu items would rise next week. Two weeks ago, the Go Train commuter system rose its ticket prices too.

So, in 2010, when the minimum wage rises to $10 and hour, count on 1.60 coffees (rather than the current 1.42 lg) at your national coffee chain, and corresponding ticket prices across our belle province and sun-shiny country. – Timothy

Wage Ain’t Nothing But A Number | Jaime Woo
“Last week, minimum wage was raised to $8.75 an hour in the first of three scheduled increases. According to the arguments provided in the media (and on Torontoist), an increased minimum wage is necessary to help people make ends meet, but could force businesses to cut jobs to accommodate the increased costs. From a numbers point of view, the raise was a necessary antidote to the minimum wage being frozen at $6.85 from 1995 to 2003. Using the Consumer Price Index for Toronto, $8.75 adjusted for inflation ends up being $6.85 in 1995 dollars. Businesses caught off-guard by this year’s minimum wage increase must be pretty naïve to not realize that, after eight years of locked minimum wage rates, a correction was coming. However, each increase (or decrease) of the minimum wage by the government must be justified as the costs come off the back of the employers.”

08w14:3 The Superclass

by timothy. 0 Comments

The rise of the superclass | Laura Miller
“‘Davos man’ is an epithet coined by the conservative scholar Samuel Huntington to describe the very specific type that attends the conference. These are people who, as Huntington wrote, ‘have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations.’ […] Rothkopf’s credible, if not especially original argument in ‘Superclass’ is that over the past several decades a ‘global elite’ has emerged whose connections to each other have become more significant than their ties to their home nations and governments. They schmooze regularly at conferences like Davos, go to the same schools, serve together on corporate and nonprofit boards, and above all do business with each other constantly — to the point that they have become a kind of culture in themselves, a ‘class without a country,’ as Rothkopf puts it. Furthermore, these people are ‘the new leadership class for our era.’ […] In the concluding pages of ‘Superclass’ it becomes increasingly difficult to dispel the impression that you have just read what amounts to a 380-page business card. Many recent nonfiction books on ‘current affairs’ are little more than that. Organized around a catchy concept and extensively researched by underlings, they win their authors jobs in think tanks and speaking engagements at corporate workshops and conferences — all of which pay much, much more than anyone can expect to make on a book. There are a handful of important ideas in ‘Superclass,’ it’s true, but many of them have been gleaned from other, more original thinkers. There are also a lot of facts and statistics, presumably gathered by Rothkopf’s assistants.”

08w14:2 Immanuel Wallerstein's Commentary for 1 April 2008

by timothy. 0 Comments

Immanuel Wallerstein’s Commentary No. 230

“Wall Street is Really Predicated on Greed”

It is not I who is saying that Wall Street is really predicated on greed, but Stephen Raphael. And who is Stephen Raphael? He is a former member of the Board of Bear Stearns, the Wall Street bank that collapsed last month. And where did Raphael say this? In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, which is more or less the house journal of Wall Street. And what was Raphael’s point? It was to explain (or was it to excuse?) the collapse of the firm. “This could happen to any firm,” he said.

Yes, indeed it could. And it did. Meanwhile, while this was happening, the chairman of the firm, Jimmy Caynes, was nonchalantly playing bridge in a tournament. Not too smart for a greedy banker. As a result, he lost most of his personal fortune, and another greedy firm, JPMorgan Chase, came in like a vulture and made a killing. Oh, incidentally, some 14,000 employees of Bear Stearns are, or will soon be, out of a job.

Is then capitalism nothing but greed? No, there are other things to it, but greed plays a very big role. And greed, by definition, works for some at the expense of others. So, some firms are going bankrupt these days – on Wall Street, and elsewhere in the world – and others are not. The United States as a country is going bankrupt, and others are not. The United States doesn’t call it that, but that is the truth of it.

Is it always like this? No, not always. Just half the time. Let us review how Wall Street and the United States got into this particular disastrous corner. It all started out well – for Wall Street and for the United States in 1945. The war was over. The war was won. And the United States was the only industrial power whose factories were intact, untouched by wartime damage. There were destroyed cities elsewhere, and actual hunger in Europe and Asia.

The United States was set to do well, and it did do well, very well. It could outproduce the world, and get the rewards. It made a deal with the Soviet Union – we call it rhetorically Yalta – so that there would be no nuclear wars that could really damage the United States. And, at home, the big manufacturers made a deal with the big unions so that there would be no destructive strikes to interfere with the profitable production. Rosy times loomed, and the standard of living went up dramatically. Actually, the years after the war proved to be fairly rosy times for most of the world. It was the moment of the greatest expansion of production, of profit, of population, and yes of general welfare in the history of the capitalist world-economy. The French called it the “thirty glorious years.”

Must all good things come to an end? Well, cyclically, in the five hundred years of the modern world-system, I fear this has always been true. When everyone begins to cash in on economic expansion, the rate of profit has to go down. Profit from production depends on relative monopolization of the leading industries. But if too many countries have steel factories or auto factories (the leading industries of the times), there is too much competition. And, despite all the nonsensical slogans, competition is not good for capitalists. It reduces the profits.

And when profits get hit too hard, the world-system enters into one of its periodic periods of stagnation. This happened circa 1970. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, things have not been rosy since then, despite once again all the nonsensical slogans. What happens in a period of worldwide economic stagnation? The factories begin to move out of the erstwhile locales (like the United States, but also Germany, France, Great Britain, and Japan) to other countries (like South Korea, India, Brazil, and Taiwan) in search of lower costs of production. It seems good for the new places of steel and auto production, but it means layoffs in the old centers of production.

But runaway factories are not the whole story. What do big capitalists do, if they want to make money, in times of lower profits from production? They start to shift their money from productive enterprises to financial enterprises. That is to say, they begin to speculate. And, in a time of speculation, greed knows no limits. So we have junk bonds and takeovers and subprime mortgages and hedge funds and all those curious things with curious names. It seems that even Robert Rubin, one of the really big people in the financial world, admitted recently that he doesn’t know what a “liquidity put” is.

The underlying story – from 1970 on – has been that of debt, greater and greater debt. Corporations borrow, individuals borrow, states borrow. They all live above their real incomes. And, if you’re in a position to borrow (it’s called credit), you can live high on the hog, as they say. But debts have a small downside. At some point, you’re expected to repay debts. If you don’t, there is a “debt crisis” or a “bankruptcy” or, if you’re a country with a currency, a dramatic decline in the exchange rate.

This is what we call a bubble. And if you blow up a balloon long enough, no matter how good it feels, at some point the balloon bursts. It is bursting now. And everyone is frightened, as well they might be. When the bubble really bursts, it is really painful. The thing is, it is usually more painful for some than for others, even if it is painful for everyone.

At the moment, it might turn out to be most painful for the United States – as a country, and for its capitalists, and above all for its ordinary citizens. It seems the United States has been spending not billions of dollars but trillions of dollars on some wars in the Middle East it has been losing. And it seems that even the wealthiest country in the world doesn’t have in its coffers trillions of dollars. So it has borrowed them. And it seems that its credit in 2008 is not as good as it was in 1945. It seems that the creditors are today reluctant to throw good money after bad. It seems that the United States might be going bankrupt, like Bear Stearns.

Will the United States be bought out by China or by Qatar or by Norway, or by a combination of all of them at $2 or even $10 a share? What will happen to those very expensive toys that the United States keeps buying, like military bases in a hundred countries, and those airplanes and ships and superduper guns the United States constantly orders to replace yesterday’s toys? Who will feed the people on the breadlines?

Come back next decade, and let me know.

by Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write:

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]