‘Tis the Season To Be Jolly (Cogburn Edition)

While you were stuffing yourself with turkey and listening to your creepy uncle’s war stories, Jon Cogburn was expecting (and then having) a baby girl (well, actually his wife was, at least that’s how it usually goes). Since Jon’s an old friend of the blog, I’d like to suspend all sarcasms for just a minute to congratulate him on the new arrival.

More Draconian Security Measures from TSA

Nothing like closing the barn door after the horse escapes!  TSA has decided to implement some security measures in response to the failed terrorist attack on Christmas day. Here’s an excerpt from the US DHS security directive that TSA has already begun to enforce on international flights:


1. During flight, the aircraft operator must ensure that the following procedures are followed:

1. Passengers must remain in seats beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.
2. Passenger access to carry-on baggage is prohibited beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.
3. Disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and services (phone, internet access services, live television programming, global positioning systems) prior to boarding and during all phases of flight.
4. While over U.S. airspace, flight crew may not make any announcement to passengers concerning flight path or position over cities or landmarks.
5. Passengers may not have any blankets, pillows, or personal belongings on the lap beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.

Read the rest here (and the 100 responses!)

Corporate University Is Now

Reading Wannabe U and slowly growing more and more depressed. Here’s a quote from David Harvey’s recent essay that describes my present state of mind:

The current populations of academicians, intellectuals and experts in the social sciences and humanities are by and large ill-equipped to undertake the collective task of revolutionizing our knowledge structures. They have, in fact, been deeply implicated in the construction of the new systems of neoliberal governmentality that evade questions of legitimacy and democracy and foster a technocratic authoritarian politics.  Few seem predisposed to engage in self-critical reflection.  Universities continue to promote the same useless courses on neo classical economic or rational choice political theory as if nothing has happened and the vaunted business schools simply add a course or two on business ethics or how to make money out of other people’s bankruptcies. After all, the crisis arose out of human greed and there is nothing that can be done about that!

The current knowledge structure is clearly dysfunctional and equally clearly illegitimate. The only hope is that a new generation of perceptive students (in the broad sense of all those who seek to know the world) will clearly see it so and insist upon changing it.  This happened in the 1960s. At various other critical points in history student inspired movements, recognizing the disjunction between what is happening in the world and what they are being taught and fed by the media, were prepared to do something about it. There are signs, from Tehran to Athens and onto many European university campuses of such a movement. How the new generation of students in China will act must surely be of deep concern in the corridors of political power in Beijing.

A student-led and youthful revolutionary movement, with all of its evident uncertainties and problems, is a necessary but not sufficient condition to produce that revolution in mental conceptions that can lead us to a more rational solution to the current problems of endless growth.

I feel that the action is elsewhere, that my students don’t really give a shit, that I’m somewhere I will hate to be more and more in the next decade or so.

Rethinking Marx and Religion (by Alberto Toscano)

An interesting piece by Toscano on Marx and religion:

In the contemporary study of religion as a factor of social change and political mobilisation, Marx is treated as a marginal reference at best, a ‘dead dog’ at worst. The global impasse, or even reversal, of a secularisation process that Marx appears to take for granted; the turbulent rise of explicitly religious forms of political subjectivity; the persistence or resurgence of religion both as a principle of political authority and a structuring presence in everyday life – these current trends seem to militate for the relegation of Marx to a historical moment (that of the European nineteenth-century), a political subject (the workers’ movement), and a notion of temporality (the one encompassed by notions of progress, development and revolution) which have been inexorably surpassed in a globalised scenario (whether we grasp this scenario through the differential lens of postcolonial critiques, the hegemonic and homogeneous prism of neoliberalism, or the bellicose culturalism of the infamous ‘clash of civilisations’). To compound this state of affairs, which could also be read in terms of a revenge of the sociology of religions against a Marxian ‘master narrative’ – and with all the apposite caveats regarding the discontinuities between Marx and historical Marxisms, practical and theoretical – we cannot ignore the significance of the religious question within the so-called ‘crisis of Marxism’ of the 1970s and onwards.

When Michel Foucault, in his enduringly controversial reports on the Iranian revolution, stressed the irrelevance of Marx’s dictum on religion as the ‘opium of the people’ in accounting for the role of Islamic politics in the overthrow of the Shah, he was expressing a commonly-held rejection of the supposed secular reductivism characteristic of Marxist theories of social change and prescriptions for revolutionary action. Alongside Iran, the complex entanglement of popular rebellions and religion in the Polish Solidarnosc movement and Latin American liberation theology wrong-footed a theory of revolutionary praxis which took the ‘practical atheism’ of the proletariat as a sociological datum. This situation has been exacerbated today in a context where the ebb of projects of human emancipation is accompanied by the pauperisation and brutalisation of a ‘surplus humanity’ living in a ‘planet of slums’, the catalyst for a twenty-first-century ‘reenchantment of a catastrophic modernity’ in which ‘populist Islam and Pentecostal Christianity (and in Bombay, the cult of Shivaji) occupy a social space analogous to that of early twentieth-century socialism and anarchism’.

Up In The Air And About To Hit The Fan.

Went to see Up in the Air, have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it’s perfectly boring “romantic comedy” turned into a predicable “life’s better with a co-pilot” moral lesson. On the other hand, it’s trying to do something, even if it ultimately fails at it. The subject matter itself is rather banal/stupid, but the context is interesting, could have been developed further, something really good could have come out, but it didn’t. I think that maybe it tried to be “fresh” and “happening” but at the expense of people who were losing their jobs, even if they were ultimately compensated (as viewers) for their trouble with a sugary “see, it’s not that bad, it will turn out to be just fine” bullshit.

Apparently George Clooney character was wrong in thinking he can “do it alone” and the naive young super-energetic (anti)feminist was wrong in thinking she could eliminate the human involvement when it comes to the difficult task of “terminating” people, but in the end no one has dared to ask the real question: How is it that if I steal a stapler from my employer, I could (technically) be arrested for petty theft, but when the same employer fires me and thus deprives me of my livelihood, my ability to feed myself and my family, no one calls the cops and no one is getting arrested? In other words, capitalism is not just the default in this movie, it’s social reality, it’s “how things are” and “how they will have always been” – don’t question it, just hope that when it’s your turn, you’ll have friends/family to support you through your “difficult times” (a nice euphemism, isn’t it?)…

Catherine Malabou in Le Monde

A piece on Catherine Malabou in Le monde (12/17/2009):

Catherine Malabou n’a manifestement pas le goût des territoires et des routines. En retrouvant la philosophe dans un café bondé et quelque peu bruyant du 1er arrondissement de Paris, on comprend aussitôt qu’elle préfère les espaces ouverts à la quiétude du logis, et la foule au confort de l’intimité.

C’est d’ailleurs très bien ainsi, et le dialogue n’en pâtira pas. Car on découvre aussi que cette intellectuelle protéiforme est une interlocutrice attentive et passionnée. Elle semble d’ailleurs plus intéressée par l’autre que par elle-même, curieuse d’épier ses réactions et de savoir ce qu’il pense de son travail. Surprise, presque, qu’on s’intéresse à elle.

Elle dira être née en Algérie, avouera être normalienne, évoquera la thèse sur Hegel qu’elle a rédigée sous la direction de Jacques Derrida (dont elle fut un “compagnon de route”). Elle enseigne également à l’université de Nanterre et aux Etats-Unis. Pour le reste ? “Vous savez, élude-t-elle, ma vie n’est pas très intéressante.” On se tourne alors vers ses concepts, et à l’évidence, cela lui convient mieux. Celui de “plasticité”, notamment, qu’elle a justement découvert chez Hegel et n’a cessé d’élaborer depuis, pour en explorer toutes les implications.