“All right, we’re going to move to a–“

Writing as an ‘outsider’ who deeply dislikes the thinking which gives rise to the apparent need for a word such as ‘outsider,’ it seemed cheekily appropriate to write about the first of the “Presidential Debates.”  The full transcript can be found here:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/03/us/politics/transcript-of-the-first-presidential-debate-in-denver.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The first presidential ‘debate’ was, I’m sorry, farcical.  That is not hyperbole.  The first three ‘segments’ – supposedly concentrating on the economy, were near replicas of each other.  Mr Lehrer, who had apparently chosen the questions himself, and had phrased them so ambiguously that they could easily be taken for the same question: in fact, by and large this is how they were fielded, by both candidates.  These are they as an aid to memory:

1:    “What are the major differences between the two of you about how you would go about creating new jobs?”
2:    “What are the differences between the two of you as to how you would go about tackling the deficit problem in this country?”
3:     “It’s two minutes. Mr. President, do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?”
4:    “You want the Affordable Care Act repealed. Why?”
5:    “Do you believe — both of you — but you have the first two minutes on this, Mr. President — do you believe there’s a fundamental difference between the two of you as to how you view the mission of the federal government?”
6:    Many of the legislative functions of the federal government right now are in a state of paralysis as a result of partisan gridlock. If elected in your case, if re-elected in your case, what would you do about that?”

(The sixth question was only asked three minutes before the debate’s end, which gave neither candidate time to produce anything but a synoptic answer with no subsequent discussion.  Which is a pity, because in many ways it’s the most interesting question.  The moderator was ever verging dangerously close to incompetency, and doing so immoderately.)

The first five questions elicited variations on almost the same answers from the candidates: Obama would finish the work of the last four years, Romney would “look at history” and do something “not like anything that’s been tried before.  Both espoused support for the “middle class,” who both acknowledged were “suffering.”  This was interesting, as I have never yet seen any coherent definition of exactly who the “middle class” are, and when people start talking about things which have no clear definition one ought to wonder why they use these terms.  In Europe, from where I am writing, these terms have clear historical meanings: the “middle class” are those who are neither “the aristocracy” nor “the working class.”  So, with a little substitution one could conclude that the “middle class” are those who are below the moneyed elites, and above the working class (and, presumably, by dint of tainted status, those unemployed or who have stopped seeking employment).  But it’s the working class, surely, who do the work; it’s the working class for whom these jobs are most important.

Now, in Britain the old distinction between classes had been pretty consistent for at least two hundred years.  Then, in 1979, an interesting shift began, instigated under the governance of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party and, I suspect, set in motion quite calculatedly by Thatcher herself.  The shift was a redefinition of “working class” and “middle class,” such that the “middle class” were characterized as having the socio-economic benefits to which the “working class” aspired, or ought to aspire.  The “middle class” then had its numbers swollen even more by the inplicit inclusion of the “aspirational working class.”  Thus the “middle class” has ended up – in the UK – as the vast maority of people, irrespective of actual income or actual status.  You are middle class if you are not of the “landed gentry” and not “on the dole.”  The membership has become so vast that the category no longer has any basis in reality, its only basis being rhetorical.  A little like the “tax payer,” darling term of our media.  Both the “tax payer” and the “member of the middle class” have become almost mythological creations of the media/military/legislative/industrial complex.  And people here have almost entirely forgotten about this shift in meaning: both the Labour Party and the Conservatives claim to be the party of “the middle class.”

So both candidates were reaching out to the same sector of the population.  And, I’m sad to say, Mr Romney did this with greater surety, aplomb and seeming conviction than did Mr Obama.  This is not to say that his arguments were more cogent; these “positive” qualities were purely presentational.  His was a ‘seductive’ appeal rather than an appeal to reason.  In fact what he said so seductively was by and large unreasonable, untested and dangerous in the extreme; far more dangerous than Mr Obama’s utterances (though they, too, contained dangerous motifs).  Romney sounded assured, certain, about the capacity of his plan – never spelled out in detail – which had never been tried before.

The people have been taught to admire strength, or what they are told is strength, forthrightness, or what they are taught is forthrightness, and charisma – which cannot be taught.  They have been taught to prefer eyes that look straight at the person spoken to than those which remain lowered in order to concentrate on notes.  And what the people have been taught to admire, they tend to vote for.  And in this particular case, voting for Romney would be a disaster, both for America and for the rest of the world (which many Americans have forgotten, it seems, is much, much larger than America is or ever could be).  To be fair, Mr Obama presides over a highly toxic administration which has openly arrogated to itself the powers of “world police,” moral arbiter, judge, jury and executioner, and he needs to be dealt with.  Mr Romney’s election would destabilize even that which is already unstable.  Here’s what he would do with his five part plan:

“One, get us energy independent, North American energy independent. That creates about four million jobs.
Number two, open up more trade, particularly in Latin America; crack down on China if and when they cheat.
Number three, make sure our people have the skills they need to succeed and the best schools in the world.
Number four, get us to a balanced budget.
Number five, champion small business.”

I dearly hope that these are in no particular order.  Number one alone poses a real and present danger to all seven billion inhabitants of this planet, in the form Romney sketches it out.  Creating four million jobs a the possible cost of the species seems like an unsound gamble.  Number two sounds both isolationist and imperialist, isolating the Americas and likely to be achieved at least in part by military or covert interventions.  What “cracking down on China if and when they cheat” precisely means is unclear, but it does not sound like a safe attitude to one’s main creditor and business partner.  Number three, as I’m sure any Printculture reader knows, is hardly likely to happen given Mr Romney’s attested views on what we here still take pride in calling the welfare state.  Number four is to be achieved through completely untested means, by Mr Romney’s own admission.  Number five, well, Mr Romney’s view appears to be that “small business” is primarily an adjunct to the functioning of large corporations such that, if large corporations grow, so too the number of small businesses.

Oh, yes.  Mr Romney will absolutely not be making any cuts in military spending.  One wonders – why? – and is fearful of the answer.

Here are a few suggestions for Mr Obama, none of which he articulated plainly.  In particular order only with regard to the first point.

1:   The threat of anthropogenic climate change is the single most important threat to everyone, everywhere, everywhen.  Period.
2:    In any civilization worthy of the name, healthcare is a basic human right, irrespective of the wealth of the recipient.  Period.
3:    Any destabilizing, resource-centered foreign policy, even one less biased that the one he currently presides over, is counterproductive to (1) as well as being inherently hazardous.  Period.
4:    As for healthcare, so too for education.  So too for shelter.  So too for food.  Period.
5:    Likewise for every and all public infrastructure.  Competition in infrastructures which have universal benefit and usage must always be counterproductive due to systems incompatibilities and loss of economies of scale.  Period.
6:    Money has no place influencing politics in anything even remotely close to the degree to which it is permitted to in the U.S.A..

I also hope that Mr Obama wins this intrinsically rigged election, as he seems to be more likely to be convinced by the above, and I, for one, very much hope that the deliberately repeated ‘periods’ do not coalesce into a full stop.



The following clip (discovered for me by René, already a transportation theorist at 2 years 8 months) seems to me allegorical of just about everything. White guy in nice shirt drives around Johannesburg destroying things for the camera! Early on, White Guy in Nice Shirt says something like “On the one hand, I worry about bumping into things. On the other hand, I don’t have to worry about bumping into things,” which is worth ten volumes of moral philosophy and analysis of the spirit of the age. The bit where the SUV drags away the police tow truck rather nicely encapsulates the culture of impunity which will be even harder to extirpate in the case of a Romney win. Meet the Marauder. “A struggle with the earth…”


Great moments in storytelling

From a piece on assholes in Slate:

One need only turn on the television to find oneself subject to the spectacle of an asshole condemning or defending another asshole, while yet a third asshole provides commentary on the assholishness of the previous two—a veritable Möbius strip of assholism.

I can’t tell if it’s because of my great love of the theorization of assholes, or because writing and thinking about assholes is inherently interesting (to everyone), but: the quality of prose, philosophy, and comedy regarding assholes truly does set it apart from the quality of those three things as they apply to every other topic in the universe.


My Bookstore

From the second year of graduate school until about five years after I left, I worked for my university’s bookstore. I did a variety of things, ranging from heaving medical textbooks onto the shelves for $6.15 an hour to working as the “Internet Projects Manager,” which basically meant that I was a one-man web development shop in direct competition with Amazon.

It was a wonderful place, with visionary people. We had a classical music CD department, an anime department, and about 100,000 books on the shelves in academic and non-academic subjects. We had an ongoing reading series with authors from our MFA program, like Maile Meloy, Glen David Gold, Aimee Bender, and Michael Chabon. My bosses turned me loose on web technology a couple of months after the final bits were dry on the first web browser, NCSA Mosaic. We were one of the first bookstores to try e-commerce, and my bosses and I wound up on the cover of the June, 1996 cover of American Bookseller and in the LA Times.

Amazon put an end to our nascent, at times Rube-Goldberg-like efforts, and I struggled with the limitations of being one person trying to fight an e-commerce battle I had no chance of winning. One boss left in frustration, then I left, and the second boss retired a couple of years after that.

After that, the focus of the store shifted away from strategy and towards operations. By the time a few years had passed, without anyone at the store completely realizing how quickly it was happening, Amazon had eaten our store’s lunch. Together with its competitors, it had peeled off too many of our textbook customers. It was because of a monopoly on textbooks and their profits that we’d been able to do all this great stuff; without that monopoly, the number of students coming through our doors started to dwindle and our margins started to thin.

The end of the store soon followed, brought from on high by administrators who were frustrated that the store was no longer a cash cow. There was a sham of “consultation” with the University community — my letters were met with form letters — but management consultants were brought in, and they made the brutal suggestions that you would expect. My friends there who cared about books and literary values were forced out, along with all the employees over 50. The store has now been emptied of books. It is now selling textbooks, plush animals, and sweatshirts. It has been, in a word, deconsecrated; the word “Bookstore” has been taken out of the name.

So here is a photograph of the shelves that used to hold literary criticism and philosophy, now filled with plush anteater mascots. Look upon it and despair.

Shelf of Anteaters

Shelves where the books used to be: UCI Bookstore, now “The Hill.”


NOTE: I’ve published a follow-up piece to this article at https://printculture.com/the-late-bookstore/.


The practice of happiness

Since many people seem to me to be too unhappy, and since I like being happy (and believe, therefore, that other people will like it too), I thought I would share with you a couple tricks I have for recognizing the good in my life, in the hopes that you might become happier by using them.

(1) Every once in a while I take a few minutes to imagine in a quite serious way how I would feel if a member of my family died. This is, honestly, hard to do vividly. Nonetheless worth it, as it fills me with a tremendous appreciation for the living presence of my loved ones. It occurs to me writing this that I should try doing this with my friends as well. I got this practice from William Irvine’s book on Stoicism, which I recommend to everyone.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

(2) A related, but happier, practice: I occasionally take a few minutes to see my good friends as their loved ones see them. Today in the car I spent some time imagining how my friend Colleen seemed to her now-husband (and my friend and riding partner) Lee the first time they met; then I flipped it around and imagined Lee from Colleen’s point of view. I ended up feeling a little bit in love with each of them myself, happy for them, and happy that I know them.

Both these practices mitigate against the tremendous danger of complacency about one’s own good fortune (earned solo or, more likely, acquired with the substantial help of others), the slow slide into ungratitude and habituation that accompanies the status quo. These exercises are designed to disrupt the stability of that status by reminding you of how fragile it is: in fragility it was obtained, in fragility it can all be lost. Every minute that it sustains itself is a small boon from the universe, a continuous miracle whose miraculousness lies precisely in its insane continuity, as you move through now, and even now… and still now! … and nothing has gone wrong that would destroy it. Isn’t that wonderful?


*sigh*; on the other hand: gay marriage!

I’m reading bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress (Routledge, 1994) for work, and the following passage stood out to me:

It is apparent that one of the primary reasons we have not experienced a revolution of values is that a culture of domination necessarily promotes addiction to lying and denial. That lying takes the presumably innocent form of may white people (and even some black folks) suggesting that racism does not exist anymore, and that conditions of social equality are solidly in place that would enable any black person who works hard to achieve economic self-sufficiency . . . Lying takes the form of mass media creating the myth that feminist movement has completely transformed society, so much so that the politics of patriarchal power have been inverted and that men, particularly white men, just like emasculated black men, have become the victims of dominating women. . . . Add to this the widely held assumptions that blacks, other minorities, and white women are taking jobs from white men, and that people are poor and unemployed because they want to be, and it becomes most evident that part of our contemporary crisis is created by a lack of meaningful access to the truth. That is to say, individuals are not just presented untruths, but are told them in a manner that enables most effective communication. When this collective cultural consumption of and attachment to misinformation is coupled with the layers of lying individuals do in their personal lives, our capacity to face reality is severely diminished as is our will to intervene and change unjust circumstances. (28-29)

The cultural touchstone that hooks mentions in this passage — the Clarence Thomas hearings — seems painfully quaint in the post-Bush II era of lying-on-steroids (SuperPAC, the new comic book hero!). Almost 20 years later, and the alternate universe of lies seems to be where more than half the country wants to live.


Excerpts from my Private Presidential Debates Diary (2012 Edition)

9:37 pm

Ugh. Tomorrow entire Punditsphere will be calling BO “professorial”. Mitt “businesslike”/ “professional.”

9:38 pm

When exactly did ‘professorial’ become a pejorative* for both parties?
*Self sounding professorial with use of ‘pejorative’???**

**Definitely professorial with gratuitous use of footnotes. Embrace it, self; you are loved.

10:10 pm

5 ravioli really is a lot of ravioli.




My So-Called Homeland

(A villanelle to Claire Danes, composed upon realizing that every major role she has played that I could think of off the top of my head has been dominated by a basically dysfunctional relationship. Also, I watch too much television.)


My So-Called Homeland

Angela: [voiceover] Does anybody know Jordan Catalano? That question, like, got to me. I mean, I’d had seven conversations with him, and one really bad kiss, and one amazing one. But did I, like, know him?

They stretch your strings like tuning a piano
We all, by now, know Congressman Nick Brody.
Does anyone know Jordan Catalano?

Claire Danes, we need like sauce needs oregano
To find you a male lead who’s not so naughty.
They stretch your strings like tuning a piano.

One crazy soldier, hard like parmigiano;
One shaggy brooder coasting on peyote.
(Does anyone know Jordan Catalano?)

On loser-loves, you need to place a ban-o.
(In Shopgirl, Claire, we saw you date a roadie!)
They stretch your strings like tuning a piano.

Nor Angela nor Carrie has a plan, yo.
Each goes for the inscrutable coyote.
Does anyone know Jordan Catalano?

Both men have got the touch like iPod nano.
But if you’re asking me now for my vote-y,
They stretch your strings like tuning a piano.
Does anyone know Jordan Catalano?


Luck and the welfare state, and Jules

A few months ago I got into a Facebook spat with a former high school classmate about the Obama “you didn’t build that” line. He reposted it; I replied, “…coming from the guy whose parents paid for a high-end private boys’ school education”; he said he didn’t understand what I was talking about and I then explained that he, like many other people, had benefited from a tremendous amount of luck, and that whatever he thought of his own life, he didn’t build that either. In the ensuing discussion (which ended with everyone unconvinced and me having a reason to dislike his seemingly stupid wife) I ended up pointing out that we all benefit a tremendous amount from a variety of forms of luck (or suffering from bad luck) and other kinds of explicit and implicit governmental and personal support, and saying that I’d rather live in a society in which the government acted to mitigate bad luck as much as possible via a tax on good luck.

This brings me to my son Jules. As many of you know, Jules was born with an unusual genetic disorder (9p deletion syndrome) whose long-term consequences are unclear. Short-term medical consequences included a submucous (under-the-skin) cleft palate, which required surgery a few months ago, as well as three weeks in the neonatal ICU ($20,000/day!) as his heart struggled to push blood through his body. For reasons no one understands — at one point a doctor suggested that we might want to let Jules die, rather than putting him through what seemed at the time to be a series of necessary surgeries to replumb his heart — Jules’s heart eventually grew out of its initially deformed state, and is now indistinguishable from a normal heart. Jules was also lucky, relative to other 9p deletion cases, to avoid distorted sexual organs, a misshapen skull (though you can still feel a ridge on his forehead where the bone fused a bit early), and a few other problems. Once the heart thing cleared up we were left with a moderate case of low muscle tone (seriously low–Jules couldn’t lift his arms off the ground for the first couple months; it took him a year to sit, and he’s only now, at 2 years 3 months, beginning to walk), speech and hearing delays (connected to the cleft palate and some malformation of his ears), and, though we don’t know the toll in the long run, some potential cognitive impairments.

(On the one hand, how unlucky to have a child with a disability! On the other, how lucky to have a disabled child who has a very mild case of the disability he has! But all this lacks context: because, finally, how lucky to have a child with this disability today, in the United States, in a family that has social and financial resources, and an extended familial and extrafamilial support network — as opposed to 50 years ago, or today in poverty or in a state in which disability is still a reviled and shameful thing. [More on that latter bit in a forthcoming post on Jules and my Chinese relatives.])

For disabled kids today the key words are “early intervention.” Research has shown that extensive efforts early in life can produce radically improved long-term outcomes for the child and his/her family. These outcomes have the advantage of being far cheaper for the state, which is why in the United States disabled children are automatically eligible for Medicaid, and why their physical and cognitive development is supported at the County and State levels (until age 5) and by school districts (from 5-18). As a result Jules has had since the sixth week of his life several hours of therapy a week. It’s now about seven — two hours of physical, two of speech, two of developmental, and one of occupational — all of which are designed to help maximize his genetic/cultural potential and to catch him up with his peers (or at least keep him from lagging further and further behind them). It’s thanks to the efforts of his wonderful therapists that Jules is doing so well today, that he’s made huge leaps both physically and communicatively, and has become a typical adorable and crazy-making two-year-old.

(Let me make the point again: this is cheaper for the state in the long run, since it reduces the amount of other kinds of lifelong support Jules will need [perhaps down to zero]. But it would be right, as I will suggest below, even if it were not just cheaper in relation to Jules alone.)

Anyway. I’ve been thinking about Jules and luck since the Mitt Romney 47 percent business. Obviously it’s always bad luck of a certain sort when a child is born disabled (I don’t buy the whole “it’s a chance from God to become a better person” nonsense). But it would have been much worse for Jules had we had to pay for the therapy ourselves. At some point we would have bankrupted the family, or had to cut back on therapy for Jules, both regrettable outcomes. Thinking beyond Jules himself, our daughter Lola would also have suffered, since through no fault of her own her opportunities to go to college would have been constrained by the family’s financial difficulties; likewise, Lola’s children (or Jules’s, if he ends up being socially and intellectually capable of having them [though he would have to adopt, given the 9p]) would have suffered a radical decrease in luck as a result of having impoverished grandparents.

Somehow for me the cascading effects of a piece of bad luck seem more clearly than anything else I’ve thought of in the last few weeks to illustrate the importance of the welfare state and the reliance down the generations on precisely the kind of “handout” that keeps a vast range of human possibility alive for its beneficiaries. Then I read that, according to Mitt Romney’s mother, the family spent a few years on “welfare relief” when George Romney was a young man, and I wonder at the human capacity to erase the memory of that bad luck, and the support that went with it, in order to produce a maximally self-aggrandizing narrative of personal triumph and success, as though we were all alone in the dark, swimming bravely against the currents, leaping forever alone into the great voids before us, and filling their emptiness with our giant, immortal, pillars of achievement.

I’d rather hold hands, and know that my hand’s been held.


Read of the day

This John Cole piece on how to think about the drone war without turning into an idiot about voting for Obama is very good–perhaps especially because he lays out so clearly such an excellent case for what is wrong with drones as they’re currently being used by the administration.


Watch this if you can find it.

I will never see this show, because I’m not in the habit of going to the theatre (and don’t live in New York), but I was glad to read that a Broadway adaptation of the documentary film, “Hands on a Hard Body” is about to open. Maybe the film will find a new audience and be available for streaming somewhere (it’s currently not available for rental on Netflix or Amazon).

Short plot summary: a car dealership in Texas runs an endurance contest in which contestants must keep a hand on a brand new fully loaded pickup truck. The last person standing wins the truck.

I remember watching the film when it showed briefly in a theater in L.A. back in 1997. The audience laughed  derisively (“look at those hicks!”) when the interview subjects waxed philosophical about the meaning of the contest in their heavy Texas drawls. But the film itself never demeans its subjects. My sense was that the filmmakers went into the project with a certain ironic distance but then got pulled into the human dramas playing out in this manufactured microcosm. A real gem.


How blogging is like the mattress industry

So, reading around the internets today with the new PC 2.0 on the membrane, it occurred to me (as I passed through Kevin Drum, Andrew Sullivan, Balloon Juice, and the other usual suspects) that to be a professional blogger today you basically have to be willing to say almost exactly the same thing as everyone else for some significant percentage of the time. And then for some of the time you have to say something different, or say something about different things. And the reason people read your blog is because, (a) they know they’re going to get comments on the big issues of the day (in politics, today, the Pennsylvania Voter ID decision), and (b) they will also get some other stuff that is unique to you, more or less.

I don’t think it was like this years ago. That is, I feel like there was much more differentiation among bloggers of a certain type (politics) than there is now, and that one of the effects of the professionalization of blogging has been to push everyone towards more similar content, with minor differences that in the long run don’t amount to too much.

On that same subject this Rohin Dahr piece on the mattress industry is getting a lot of play. Here’s the block quote featured by both Drum and Sullivan:

The top four companies (Sealy, Serta, Simmons, and Tempur-Pedic) make up 59% of the industry revenue. The top fifteen mattress companies make up a whopping 81% of the market. Low levels of competition lead to consumers paying obscenely high prices for mattresses.

As Drum points out, this structure doesn’t seem that surprising in a mature industry. Perhaps that’s why blogging is starting to look like it.


The Tissues of Immortality

From this weekend’s New York Times feature on “Great Moments in Inspiration”:

“When you get to the bottom of a box of Kleenex, the Kleenex turns pink or peach to let you know that it’s the end. You got five sheets left, so whatever you need to get done. So I’ll come up with a line of: ‘Time’s running out/My Kleenex is turning peach.’ …  And that’s how it starts. That’s that quick moment of inspiration — ‘Aw, man, these napkins are turning peach, time’s running out’ — then it’s a metaphor, in a rap, on the radio.” – Lupe Fiasco

My tissues and napkins never turn peach. Ergo, I will live forever.




Maybe it’s inevitable that time travel movies, in which the same events happen and re-happen with difference, seem so well suited to structuralist taxonomy.  The defining element in terms of plot is, of course, the fantasy of altering the past (personal, historical or otherwise), which creates a pretext for the relatively novel prospect (in mainstream film, anyway) of segments of narrative repetition.

Thematically, the film must also take a position on a broader question – namely, can the past be altered, or will time-travel simply provide empirical proof that we are on the traintracks of fate?

On this question, time travel movies are split:

Tragedy – Fate. Sorry, everyone.  Examples: La Jetée (Ohhhhhhh.), Donnie Darko (Awwwww.)

Satire – We can change things, but boy do we mortal fools make a hash of it.  Examples: Primer (What jerks!), Timecrimes (What a jerk!)

Romance – Hooray, the universe bends to our will! Examples: Star Trek IV (Save the whales? Have saved the whales), Back to the Future (Save the 50s!)

Comedy: Are there none, or can I simply not think of any?  Commenters’ choice!  (But let’s not have any Hot Tub Time Machine nonsense.  Risible though the gang’s adventures might have been, the movie goes in Romance and you know it.)

 [Hi! I’m future you.  Unless you’re careful, you’re about read a sort of spoiler of the film Looper, only in the sense that you’ll have an account of the general attitude the film takes toward the possibility of changing the past, present and future.  I read it the first time around, and found that it enhanced my eventual viewing of the film.  But, you decide, McFly. ]

So, Looper.  Romance aged in a Tragedy-Oak barrel.  While reviews of time travel movies often consider the degree to which the movies take time travel “seriously” in the sense of coming up with plausible technological explanations, there is another tendency amongst the tragic films to take time travel “seriously” in the sense of being grimly reverent toward the subject.  Looper maintains that attitude in a way utterly unlike the giddy freedom promised by most of the Romantic time travel tradition.  The will to power is dangerous and tends to ironically replicate precisely the outcomes individual actors seek to alter.  And yet, in Looper, the force of fate is less law than a center of gravity escaped not by rushing ahead, but by reflection.


Reprint: a mission statement, of sorts

For PC 2.0 I thought it might be nice to repost a few things from the archive, a way of remembering where we came from. Today’s reprint is my first post for Printculture, dated Dec. 9, 2004:

I came across the following in a book of interviews with Michel Foucault this morning:

It is the task of philosophy to explain what today is and what we are today, but without breast-beating drama and theatricality and maintaining that this moment is the greatest damnation or daybreak of the rising sun. No, it is a day like every other, or much more, a day which is never like another.

What is today? What are we today, who live today as the central present of our lives, as that which makes our lives present to us? And how can we recognize–as a way of resisting a set of narratives that continue to tell us that this today is a day unlike any before, that we face a set of challenges that have changed “everything”–the ordinariness of today, including the ordinariness of its fear, its war, and its violence?

Whether it’s Sept. 11 or the recent presidential election [remember readers–this was December 2004!], I think the danger of imagining today as the one time (the greatest damnation, the new world world order) is that it gets in the way of thinking productively about an actionable relation to the future. The thing that changes “everything” always comes to us from an apparent outside (Al Qaida, red-state America) and because of that threatens to leave us feeling helpless.