Review of Steal Like an Artist

I picked up Steal Like an Artist at the Delray Beach Library for a buck and read it over a few hours.

Written prior to Show Your Work,  but like his other book, Austin Kleon work is filled with practical insights for approaching the creative process, examples of the advice in action and techniques for getting a better understanding of one’s own position in relation to one’s chosen family of creators and other issues of practical concern to a creative.

One such instructional section that I like particularly related to homage and inspiration in relation to one’s creative work and process.

Creation as Curation

All great artists are voracious consumers of cultural products.

I’ve spent more money on my personal reading library than is really sensible given my financial conditions – but the sense of joy that they haven give me, of being able to look back at notes that I left for myself or seeing which passages thought were important at the time and so underlined them amuses me to no end so I feel that it is worth it.

Then there’s the smell of books…

Anyway, Kleon’s advice is to make an assessment of where it is that you’re taking from, to ask yourself why, to really determine how the pieces of what you read gets more or less mixed within your self and how it makes it’s way into your art.

You know who really killed it on this mission before Kleon ever wrote about it? Henry Miller. His works The Books in My Life, The Time of the Assassins, not to mention sections throughout his oeuvre, all do this and help world build him as someone equally worthy in status to those he names.

Theft and Art

Emerging from historic, symbolic culture – all art is theft.

Technology certainly changes society and the realm of the possibility, but at a fundamental level, nothing is new under the sun.

For instance my favorite novel by Milan Kundera is  The Unbearable Lightness of Being. This is literally an updated, inverted Anna Karenina. Star Wars is based on numbers myths from antiquity. I’m living my life largely based on Henry Miller’s and the goal of my creative work is to turn Dostoyevsky on his head. The list goes on, the take away being that the quest for excessive novelty can lead to bad art and that transformation rather than mere imitation of work – as in the above – is new and ought be viewed as such.

The “Rules” for Creativity

In my preparations to move out of the country I went through a number of old boxes that contained documents of works that I’d written when in my late teens. Reading them 15 years later was amusing, not just because of the vast divide in perspective that has developed since then but also as I realized that I was not waiting for something external to validate my creative journey but that I just did it.

I also came across the 1930’s type writer I’d purchased for myself and a number of notebooks that I collected my various art compositions in. Seeing these made me recall my college days and how much I loved working with a small group of friends to make collages, drawings, paintings, and performance poetry.

It’s these sorts of experience, Kleon says and from experience I concur with, that help build up a more holistic approach to art.

The book is a quick read and cheap so I highly recommend it to all.

And if you have the time watch this Tedx Talk by Austin, it’s worth it.

Personal Reflection on Immigration and America

Me with my grandmother

Since I’ve started throwing out and packing my possessions to prepare for my move overseas, I’ve been thinking a lot of my Grandparents.

They came from the desirable countries. From Denmark and Russia. Neither side had any grasp of English before they first set foot on American soil. Neither side had anything other than pluck and their trades and a small bit of savings tucked away to make their way in the New World. They adapted to their environs, raised families and by most accounts flourished – but does that mean that they ever really became Americans?

By mere merit of my birth within territorial borders, does that really make me an American or is there something else that I should look to? I’d venture yes, I’m an American, but not for the reasons you think.

Despite excitement of days off school, the grandeur of fireworks, and the pleasant fictions told to children about: Independence; Noble Savages living in Peace with Entrepreneurial White Settlers; Supremely Ethical Founding Fathers; Dead soldiers fighting Worthy Wars abroad and Dead Leaders fighting Worthy Wars at home – my fondest memories as a boy never revolved around National Holidays and their accompanying spectacles of obeisance and foods that encourage obeseness. Instead I remember with vivid precision the energy and joy the different brought to religions and cultural costumes and practices of my Grandparents.

Though I can’t speak Danish or Yiddish, hearing my grandparents speak bilingually and participating in these ceremonies as a child deeply affected me. Joy, of course. But also alienation. On both sides, I felt like I’d lost something that had been for a long line unbroken in my family. I felt like it weighted on me. All the more so as I was the fruit of a union between what once were families of award winning pig farming Epicureans and solemn Orthodox Rabbis.

I remember their warm laps and doting attention to the millions of questions I had about their stories, their struggles. Each side shared stories about outbreaks of state-sponsored violence around them. They weren’t happy as it was some long-time dream to sever ties with all that one’s ever known and go to a strange land with better opportunities, but because the conditions which for generations had once allowed their forebears to sustain family life and line so deteriorated.

Now joining the demographic pool of the 8.5 million people born in American living abroad, I can’t help but think of my grandparents own voyage to a new world.

Their struggles are on my mind as while the forces which motivated them to pack up their things and leave is quite different in tenor, the violence of primitive dispossession is similar in effect to that enacted in the various markets in which people make their day to day way in the world. The opportunities for “good living” in the United States are rapidly disappearing and will continue to deteriorate further.

I say this not to invoke the rhetoric of disaster now popular because the most apt embodiment of the venality and corruption that is the American Ruling Class sits in the White House. No, Trump is but a symbol, a symptom of a deeper systemic illness rather than some special case. I say this as I’ve reviewed the metrics and can reasonably foresee that to have the family life like my grandparents aspired to, I would have to work myself to death so many of my compatriots do.

If America was once great for letting my grandparents in – those that were fleeing from violence – then it’s not now. In fact it’s reasonable to say that America is the opposite of great since its actions and those of its allies forcefully displace millions.

Defining America’s greatness as the people and energy that composed it – the courageousness of some to brave the acclimation process to a foreign culture, a foreign language, foreign business environments – then the Great Land that was once America is now outside its borders. In fact it’s reasonable to say that America is the opposite of great since those which direct the state openly display xenophobia and ahistorical cultural chauvinism – the same trends in different form which helped form my Grandparents decision to leave.

Were we to look to the ability of people to raise family and enough capital to live a good life as the basis for greatness, we’d see that the conditions today are quite different from then. The institutional embodiment of America, the political organization of the ruling class, Federal and State governments since the 70s have worked to erase the human face of what was always an oligarchy.

As I think about leaving the land that is America to live what I see as the noble ethos of America – meaning bravery to place oneself in uncomfortable situations to personally and professional develop and not the flipside of that spirit, the ignoble ethos which dispossessed natives, engaged in the slave economy and constructed a legal system and press thatjustified these and other injustices – I also cannot help but think of the life and work of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. It is January 15th, after all, and while it wasn’t my intention to leave on such a date it does seem appropriate.

A year to the day before his assassination, King said something that had his contemporaries listened to and acted upon would have drastically changed the current shape of America:

“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

Had the people of King’s time been more attuned to the long-term truth and acted with vigor to excise these qualities from the economy, from society, from the culture rather than fighting for their minor advantages I might feel better about staying. But they did not, and so I do not, and so I go – just like my amazingly brave Grandparents, on to greener pastures.

There Will Be No Quality Democracy As Long As There Is No Ethics in Politics

René Ramírez, National Secretary of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, interviewed by Orlando Perez

Translated from El Telefrago by Ariel Sheen

For the academic, 2016 “can be read as the year of the end of the long 20th century in historical terms”. He adds that Brexit, the victory of Donald Trump in the United States and the death of Fidel Castro symbolically mark a turning point in the correlation of forces worldwide, both political and economic. Álvaro García Linera points out that it is the end of globalization.

What is your new book called?

The Great Transition: In Search of New Common Senses‘.

Why the great transition?

In reference to the book by Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation. I locate what happened in Ecuador in this decade in the framework of the political dispute, of the neoliberal background that marked two decades lost for the country and Latin America. There is a historical absurdity of wanting to point out that 10 years is enough to make a structural transformation, as some politicians like María Paula Romo and Guillermo Lasso have mentioned. That is to have no idea of ​​history, neither Ecuadorian nor global. That is impossible, even more so when institutions created to generate an oligarchic society had to be dismantled and, after destroying it, to rebuild another that seeks the common good of the great majorities. If someone is being dragged by the current in the direction of a waterfall, the first thing to do is to steer the boat to take another direction. These ten years have allowed us to re-direct the ship, sailing against the current of world power relations and generate enough social energy to go towards peaceful waters and be able to anchor in a good port. Part of the great transition involves having redirected the ship, while improving the welfare of its passengers.

Does this mean that there is not a decade won?

Of course there is a decade won. And we have another decade ahead of us to win, but it is first a decade to contest. However, we must make a historical reading of the decade gained. Beyond the social results, which are clearly positive. Ppoverty has been reduced, consumption levels have improved, income levels, universal access to education and health, among others. There is a decade gained in political terms justly because the possibility of continuing to dispute a transformation of social structures to build a new social order: the construction of a sustainable human democracy is alive; that is, the society of good living.

What are the historical conditions identified in this transition that make the great transformation viable?

That there has been a dismissal / constituent moment, where the citizenry manifests the need to sign a new social covenant pact that generates a new social order; that the new social pact allows a structural transformation and that the political decisions that accompany the new pact have been structuring actions that allow us to configure the conditions of possibility of being able to dispute the great transformation.

The dismissal / constituent moment is clear, but does the new social pact make a new social order possible?

I have absolutely no doubt it does. The horizon of meaning is embodied in the new constitutional text. There are multiple paths for transformation. For example, we must pass:

1) from anthropocentrism to biocentrism;
2) from colonialism and patriarchalism to the pluridiverse society (plurinational and intercultural);
3) from exclusively representative democracy (which is consubstantial to capitalism) to sustainable human democracy, based on social participation and deliberation;
4) from market capitalism (social de-commodification) to the social and solidarity economy and, 5) from the mercantilist corporate state to the popular sovereign state guaranteeing rights.

Europe raised the construction of the Welfare State and that has been the last proposal for the construction of a new social order (after the failure of the offers of society made by the Soviet bloc). Now it seems that the right begins to dismantle it. In this framework, the road was based, among other aspects, on recognizing the equality of citizens with respect to social rights based on representative democracy. Undoubtedly, the constitutional proposals of South America are moving in that direction and the progressive governments have made rapid progress in reducing poverty, inequality and democratization of rights. But in the world that we live that is insufficient. The “new modernity”, if the term fits, goes through the construction of plurinational societies. This is what the Constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia, which without a doubt are in the vanguard in these terms. While this was raised in the South, in Europe last week in two days, 340 migrants died trying to reach their land. In fact, in 2016 the record number of 4,300 deaths in the Mediterranean was reached with three times fewer arrivals of migrants by sea than in 2015.

Europe is now synonymous with obscurantism and barbarism. Equality has to live with diversity and recognize the diversity of identities that exist in the world. In this framework, the vanguard is to recognize universal citizenship and the recognition that unitary Plurinational States can be built respecting the pluriculturality of identities and nations that coexist in each territory. In Polanyi’s diagnosis of the rise of fascism in the mid-twentieth century, he shows how xenophobic nationalism was a reaction against the enormous inequality caused by the free market. It was a social defense mechanism. In our days, in it’s own unique way, it seems that history repeats itself.

In the economic sphere, what are the transitions that make the transformation viable?

Globally, you might think that 2016 can be read as the year of the end of the long 20th century in historical terms. The Brexit, the victory of Trump and the death of Fidel symbolically mark a watershed in the correlation of forces worldwide, both political and economic. Only the rejection of Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific treaties and the exit of the EU from Great Britain configure another scenario in the world panorama. García Linera points out that it is the end of globalization. Personally I think it is the beginning of another globalization. Ecuador must think about that framework.

In these 10 years has been able to walk disputing the sense of the barbarism of what is capitalism but obviously within capitalism. The autistic left believes that it was viable to do it from another system. Impossible! Sometimes I feel that this left doesn’t understand what power means, while the right has a great understanding not only of its meaning but also how to exercise it.

In summary terms, I can point out that in the book I argue that in this decade there have been three actions (at different speeds) that are essential to continue disputing a great transformation:

1) a great deconcentration of capital;
2) a new original socio-ecological accumulation;
3) a large accumulation of physical capital.

It remains a task of the vanguard to build a form of productive organization where redistribution is produced and produced by distributing. We propose the construction of a social economy of knowledge built from a collaborative logic.

In these processes, other common meanings must be configured to break the hegemony of the exchange value and a new social value-based appropriation based on life and use value. We must break with the society that knows the price of everything, but knows the value of very few things. The construction and appropriation of such a sensibility is the urgent task of the second transition now in dispute.

Does the left that you call autistic point out that the big winners are the capitalists? What do you think about this assertion?

The decade is won because the whole society won. The difference is that in comparison with the preceding decade, these ten years before had a deliberate priority: the poor and the workers.

In my book I show how the growth during these 10 years went largely to the poor and working class. Participation in the pie (which, incidentally, doubled) decreased by 10% for the capitalists and was distributed among the workers and in that so-called mixed economy (for example, popular economy, cooperatives, etc.). In these ten years, decisions were made that disputed a de-accumulation of capitalist logic; that is, that it passes from hands -either in stock or in future flows- of the capitalists towards society, either directly or indirectly through the State.

Here are some examples: the compensation of the two biggest social robberies in the history of the country. With the audit of the external debt and the recovery of the bank bailout of 2000; the social recovery of oil revenues; the financing of the doubling of the human development bonus destined to the poorest financed with the profits of the private banks are examples of this deconcentration of capital.

In structural terms, we must be vigilant that the trade agreement does not entail a re-concentration of the accumulation in transnational capital and that the original accumulation produced in this decade will not serve to generate accumulation elsewhere, but will produce a larger concentration of wealth where the economy it is produced. This develops a domestic pattern of economic diversification and specialization.

Likewise, there has been a new accumulation of socio-ecological capital and a democratization of access to programs which enhance human capacities. Access to education, health care, social security. Avoiding the emission of 6.3 tons / year of CO2 as a consequence of the change in the matrix energy, etc. Is it not amazing that the average life of Ecuadorians has increased 5.5 years in the past decade?!

In this transition, it is important to develop non-speculative physical capital to make another types of accumulation viable: roads, hydroelectric plants, ports, airports, etc.

What we must have clear about is that in the current scenario there has been an accumulation that did not exist before. The right is rubbing his hands over this. After this wealth that did not exist before was created, the Right seeks to concentrate the benefits in a few hands on national and / or transnational capitalists. They want to freeze the increase in social spending for 20 year and, impose the elimination of the state’s obligation to guarantee initial and secondary education made public and free by Temer. They want a reduction of the government investment in Science and Technology a la Macri. Then there’s Lasso’s proposal to privatize social security so that each “one chooses” its provider in the name of freedom.

it is clear evidence of a new accumulation that the great capitals in our continent intend to do or are already doing after the social decade won by the progressive governments. The proposal of the right: the appropriation of human capacities and institutions of common interest. We must realize that in Argentina, and Brazil, for example, the dispute over transformation has become very opaque.

What should be the strategy?

In the contest to constitutionalize Ecuadorian society, we must be clear about the meaning of the history we are currently experiencing. A free flow of goods and services does not necessarily place us in the nexus of the world economy. As I point out in my book, it seems that 2017 will be the beginning of the 21st century.

That strategy is of the last century and would plunge us into the worst dependency in history. When I talk about the great transition in the book, I also point out that it is not a single transition, but two: the one that Ecuadorians sign and that is embodied in the constitutional text and the one that happens on a world scale: the transition from industrial capitalism to cognitive capitalism based both on processes of speculative financialization of the economy.

The new commercial policy will be directed towards the management of intellectual property. This strategy must then be linked to intelligent inclusion in the powerful circuits of generation of knowledge, technology and innovation. And all this within a framework that addresses the needs and potential of our peoples.

Unfortunately, I see very little debate about what is the role of science in social transformation and what strategy of technological development ought be followed in Ecuador’s coming decades. Ecuador will not get out of the development traps previous set unless it has a clear strategy of how to break the technological and cognitive dependence it has. And it must know how to defend the biodiversity that it has.

It is not fortuitous that in world treaties countries are forced to put in penal codes randing from sanctions to imprisonment when copyright or property rights are undermined. Yet nothing is done when the biodiversity of our countries is stolen! This is biopiracy!

In my book I proposed that the new geopolitics is already contesting this knowledge-biodiversity relationship. That is why, the strategy I propose is for bio-knowledge for the good living of our peoples and nationalities. Thank God we have oil, but we must also be clear that only through deliberate social collective action can we be a tertiary exporting country of knowledge and technology. Thank God we have Galapagos, but thanks to the will of the Ecuadorians we are building Innopolis.

What do you mean when you point to the little debate that takes place on these issues in the electoral process?

It is very sad to see how we have fallen into the democracy of the “encuestología”, that the government opposition consists simply in opposing everything the government has done according to their surveys. That is no proposal for how the future should be goverened. Not only that, if one analyzes what the candidates say, the country would fail sooner rather than later. Ecuador has no monetary policy towards the dollar, so trade policy may be cut for obvious reasons. This is heard in the proposals of the candidates who say they will lower taxes, will remove the tax at the exit of foreign currency or the advance of income tax, etc.

When the government put up safeguards, among other reasons, to defend dollarization, the right immediately went out to attack it. It wants to guarantee quality rights as in the ‘first world’, with a fourth world tax system. This is unfeasible! If such actions take place, Ecuador will soon have to exit dollarization (if the price of a barrel of oil changes radically upwards). I think we are in a very serious debate in the economic field in the electoral process.

One more point: the repressed past is being disputed. The right says: the government spent too much, now it is necessary to amend through sacrifice. It is punitive morality which seeks to induce fear and solve it by pointing to a scapegoat. In all the opposition speeches a negative messiah is announced and the pitiful tone of Ash Wednesday of the revolutionary carnival is heard. The left must continue to dispute the future, to hope, to embody the conviction that it is possible for all of us to live well, here, today and in this land called Ecuador. Let hope overcome fear!

What role do the media play in this dispute?

The media are the main tool of power used by the right to produce disenchantment and despair. The news, the newspapers try to build the society of fear, of suspicion, of distrust. The news that grows most in audience are the ones with the most blood. To this is added the social networks. This new public sphere allows anonymous trolls to defame without any public responsibility.

Their strategy of pyramidalization (I think this means reinforcing hegemony) when trying to generate the news of the week is clear: they use the massive media and the big ‘influencers’ who have many followers in their social network accounts. Not those who are random private media journalists. Therefore, one of the main principles that must be challenged in tofay’s democracy is truth and defense of the public sphere.

As a citizen I would expect that any candidate for the Presidency of my country will always be attached to the truth and have the courage, in case of being wrong, to clarify and ask for public apology for the mistake they made. Not that lying ought be used as a deliberate strategy to win votes. That is the strategy of a right without morals. We must be clear that there will be no quality democracy as long as there is no ethics in politics and as long as the truth does not reign in the public sphere.

There is a left that indicates that it has been a wasted decade. What do you think?

I agree with the point made by Emir Sader: for those that see is as wasteful decade, it is because they wasted the decade. The question asked by the Brazilian sociologist is pertinent: if governments like the Citizen Revolution are responsible for the return of the right, as these groups usually affirm, then why is this ‘ultra left’ not strengthened? Because they have not taken advantage of the weakening of progressive governments and thus taken their place? No. It is simple. It is because they have no popular base and their arguments have not penetrated any sector of the population.

This left should learn that they are also responsible for their actions or non-actions. Unfortunately, the right has been much more astute and efficient in political terms than this left. It is no coincidence that this left in the next elections has no direct spokesperson as a presidential candidate. A left without a town, it is not a left. In this sense, it seems that the left noun remained large. Yes, they have wasted this decade!

What is the role of politics in this regard?

Perhaps as important as the viability of the contest is that the same described transition has been made within a democratic and peaceful framework. The process of social reconfiguration, having these characteristics, has allowed us to recover the trust in the other and above all the capacity of citizen astonishment in the face of social injustice – which has allowed people to move from indignant anger to the hope of a mindful citizen hope. The right is astute in pointing out that institutional confidence, citizen’s hope in and the recovery of politics are the main weapons that progressive processes have to move forward.

In this context, it is vital for the right to disenchant, to despair of citizenship and to dismantle the image of politics as a space to create a just social order. In this framework, it is necessary to understand political action as a means but also as an end to the process of change. In this way, political action must create a virtuous circle, based on actors that support and push change, and that the change they sustain and support strengthens them. Faced with the society of mistrust and fear that the right seeks to establish as a common sense, one of the main challenges that Lenín Moreno has is to restrain the citizenry – as he does- in order to continue with the hopeful spirit we have had in these 10 years, which implies generating another aesthetic in politics.

What Social Democracy Do We Speak Of In 21st century Ecuador?

Descriptive statistics from Ecuador’s 2013 legislative elections, provincial deputies

Original text by Oscar Perez, Director de el Telegrafo

Translation by Ariel Sheen

In Europe, social democracy is not only going through its worst moment in history, but it has revealed itself as a tendency of those that are right of center. This is evident through the means of those that practice power in its name, the impact of policies on their respective countries, and in the frustration of those social groups that placed their hope in them. At the same time, however, there are still leaders and groups advocating within the social democracy camp for exit from the parliamentary process.

All this infighting is occurring during a period of emergence of various fascist right tendencies found deep within various electorates. The silence of Social Democrats on the triumph of Donald Trump in the USA and the lack of debate on the possibility of a fourth term for Angela Merkel is not something for which we should be grateful.

And in Ecuador? What remains of the social democratic programs that Rodrigo Borja raised despite the antagonism of the oligarchic right? Programs that he could never fulfill, for the same reasons that now lead us to think that it is an impossible political project for a country like ours.

Is it enough to mention the slogan “social justice with freedom” to reflect the crisis evident in this current of thought? Should we think of the social democratic project in Ecuador merely as those consisting of political representatives that claim this label? Could it be that having stretched the Ecuadorian political process to the left in the last 10 years forced a certain social democratic nostalgia without a proper analysis of its real content?

It is very convenient to appeal to the center and talk about absolute consensus. It sounds good – like something found in a self-help manual for times of existential crisis. The European and Latin American reality, however, tells us several truths about where such verities of political centrism leads.

If what is now described as Ecuadorian Social Democracy could adequately explain how society functions – perhaps it could also explain to itself why it has not exercised power for more than 20 years? And something else: why are those who now represent this movement not so different in their visions from the right? Why do certain right-wing actors join those self-described Social Democratic organizations without any misgivings? They will tell me that there are also others, of those who were called left. Yes, as it also happens in the US, where ‘libertarian’ groups that defend homosexuals, ecology and women now join Trump without any misgivings.

In practice there is not much difference between what so-called Social Democrats and what the Social Christians, the Christian Democrats and the right-wing libertarians propose. In fact, many of them have their best representatives in the media, in blogs and in the media or the many International NGOs with representatives in Ecuador.

Although one or the other speaks in favor of women’s right to choose abortion or homosexuals to marry, they do not want to transform society much beyond that. It sounds very nice to defend the rights of women and sexual diversities, but within a society predicated on a capitalism means tolerance and nothing else.

This is how they conceive how our society should be: tolerance of diversity, but continued exclusion of opportunity via maintenance of in the distribution of wealth; women ought to be protected from assaulted or violated but not from market conditions which deny them decent jobs. Young people are free and sovereign, but only to sustain the market as good consumers and not as citizens part of a project of collective social transformation.

As the Colombian philosopher Santiago Castro-Gómez said recently in a lecture at La Falco: The only way a society can be changed is by transforming the common sense of our peoples and by taking institutions (not only in the state sense). From there can be exerted real and revolutionary political power!

Even if it is hard for them to recognize it, the new social democrats are actually right-wing libertarians. They have not learned from Rodrigo Borja much less the classics of international social democracy. This is neither meant to stigmatize nor underestimate their political performance.

On the contrary, I say this only to provide evidence for their political role during electoral campaign times. They do this to differentiate themselves from Alianza PAIS. They declare themselves to be anti-reformists to death, with all the consequences that this entails, but then agree with many of the postulates of the Right on the role of the State, fiscal matters, the state of the world economy and the quality of democracy in terms of rights of participation or social inclusion.

Of course, since intellectuals are very busy contributing to electoral campaigns, and profiting as consultants, pollsters and political marketing strategists – as could be seen in the last Political Communication Summit, held in Quito – they do not want to reflect on this. Perhaps this is because their intense work schedule does not give them time to reflect.

And yet there are still some truly independent intellectuals (some of them who write in this newspaper luckily) who have touched on Creole social democracy’s open wounds. Something that can hardly be recognize themselves when one is silent about major developments that have happened in Spain, France, Germany or England over the past two decades.

The question is open and involves a response that in the middle of the electoral campaign should force a more serious debate: what social democracy do we speak of in Ecuador in the 21st century?

*

¿De qué socialdemocracia hablamos en el Ecuador del siglo XXI?

En Europa la socialdemocracia no solo atraviesa el peor momento de su historia, sino que se ha revelado como una tendencia de derecha antes que de centro, no solo por sus prácticas en el ejercicio del poder, sino por el impacto de sus políticas en sus respectivos países y en las sociedades de bienestar de las que tanto se preció. Al mismo tiempo hay líderes y grupos que disputan en el seno de esa socialdemocracia una salida por la izquierda.

Todo eso ocurre cuando la emergencia de derechas y tendencias fascistas cala hondo en el electorado. No es gratuito el silencio de la socialdemocracia sobre el triunfo de Donald Trump en EE.UU. y el casi nulo cuestionamiento a la posibilidad de un cuarto período para Angela Merkel.

¿Y en Ecuador? ¿Qué queda de representación de la socialdemocracia que Rodrigo Borja enarboló en plena disputa con la derecha oligárquica y con un programa que nunca pudo cumplir por las mismas razones que ahora nos llevan a pensar que es un proyecto político imposible para un país como el nuestro? ¿Basta con mencionar un eslogan (justicia social con libertad) para reflejar esa corriente de pensamiento en crisis en el mundo? ¿Se puede pensar en una socialdemocracia a la ecuatoriana a partir solo de la representación y las figuras de algunas personas que se autocalifican de ese modo? ¿No será que haber estirado hacia la izquierda el proceso político ecuatoriano de los últimos 10 años obligó a cierta nostalgia socialdemócrata sin el debido análisis sobre su real condumio?

Es muy cómodo llamarse de centro y hablar de consensos absolutos. Más bien huele a un manual de autoayuda en tiempos de crisis existencial, pero la realidad europea y la latinoamericana nos gritan varias verdades sobre las neutralidades o los centrismos políticos que ya sabemos dónde terminan. Si lo que ahora se autocalifica de socialdemocracia ecuatoriana pudiera explicar cómo entiende a nuestra sociedad, quizá podría también explicarse a sí misma por qué no ha ejercido el poder hace más de 20 años. Y algo más: por qué quienes ahora la representan no son tan distintos, en sus visiones, de la derecha, tan así que determinados actores de la derecha se afilian a esas organizaciones autocalificadas de socialdemócratas sin ningún recelo. Me dirán que también hay de los otros, de los que se llamaban de izquierda. Sí, como también ocurre en EE.UU., donde los grupos ‘libertarios’ que defienden a los homosexuales, la ecología y las mujeres ahora se afilian a Trump sin ningún recelo.

En la práctica no hay mucha diferencia entre lo que plantean los autodenominados socialdemócratas y lo que proponen los socialcristianos, los democratacristianos y los libertarios de derechas (muchos de los cuales tienen a sus mejores representantes en los medios de comunicación, en los blogs y en las ONG internacionales asentadas en Ecuador con representantes nacionales).

Aunque uno que otro hable a favor del aborto o del matrimonio homosexual, en el fondo no quieren transformar la sociedad. Suena muy bonito defender los derechos de las mujeres y las diversidades sexuales, pero dentro de un capitalismo intenso maquillado de tolerancia y nada más.
Así conciben nuestra sociedad: tolerancia con las diversidades aunque estas sigan siendo excluidas en la distribución de la riqueza; que las mujeres no sean agredidas ni violentadas pero que no tengan trabajos dignos ni sean sujetos de la transformación colectiva; y que los jóvenes sean libres y soberanos, pero para sostener al mercado como buenos consumidores y no precisamente como ciudadanos.

Como dijo hace poco el filósofo colombiano Santiago Castro-Gómez en una charla en la Flacso, del único modo que se puede cambiar una sociedad es transformando el sentido común de nuestros pueblos y tomándose las instituciones (no solo en el sentido estatal) para desde allí ejercer poder político real y revolucionario.

Los nuevos socialdemócratas (que no han leído los libros y reflexiones de un Rodrigo Borja y menos de los clásicos de la socialdemocracia internacional) son en realidad unos libertarios de derechas aunque les cueste reconocerlo. No es ni un estigma ni una subestimación a su actuación política.
Todo lo contrario, solo es la constatación de su rol político en tiempos de campaña electoral porque para diferenciarse de Alianza PAIS no solo se declaran anticorreístas a muerte —con todas las consecuencias que ello depara—, sino que coinciden en los postulados de la derecha sobre el rol del Estado, materia fiscal, estado de la economía mundial y la calidad de la democracia en cuanto a derechos de participación o de inclusión social.

Claro, como los intelectuales están muy ocupados en contribuir a las campañas electorales, en calidad de asesores, consultores, encuestadores y estrategas de marketing político (como se pudo constatar en la última Cumbre de Comunicación Política, desarrollada en Quito) no han querido reflexionar sobre esto.

Quizá por falta de tiempo dado el trabajo intenso al que están sometidos, pero hay todavía algunos intelectuales verdaderamente independientes (algunos de ellos que escriben en este diario por suerte) que han tocado en las heridas abiertas que tiene la socialdemocracia criolla y que muy difícilmente pueden reconocerse como tales cuando callan sobre lo ocurrido en las 2 últimas décadas en España, Francia, Alemania o Inglaterra.

La pregunta está abierta y conlleva una respuesta que en plena campaña electoral debería obligar a un debate más serio: ¿de qué socialdemocracia hablamos en el Ecuador del siglo XXI? (O)

 

For an American take on a similar theme, watch this:

 

Remote Viewing My Definite Office in Thailand

So this is Content Castle, where I’d be teaching the format of content marketing I specialize in.

Here’s where I’ll be developing the workshops that I’ll be teaching on the digital humanities, creative writing and marketing.

I’m not going to link to all the team there I’ve already cyber-stalked and feel like I know somewhat, but suffice it to say I think we’re going to get along great.

I’m also, literally, across the street from the beach.

My days will definitely start day with sun salutations there watching the sun rise, and I’ll probably be working from there as well.

Where I’d be staying is on site.

It’s really beautiful inside and near by are a lot of parks and temples.

Click to tour the area

Ko Samui is also near Ko Pha Ngan.

Home of the famous Full Moon Party.

Here’s what the Full Moon Party’s will be like at night.

Here’s what they are like during the day.

There’s a lot more of those types of photos here.

Looking around on the Google map I found the best for recovering from hangovers.

As sensational as all this looks, truth is I’m not much of the partying type so I’ll be doing less of that and more of this, deepening and widening my Vedic practice.

Which is great, as theres lots of  beautiful temples, old and new, on the island.

This one is new and is called, no surprise, Big Buddha.

Wat Play Lahm Temple Complex

And then there’s voyaging around the nearby parks and waterfalls!

Definitely be doing lots of meditation and yoga practices on the beaches near my home/office.

And of course taking photos of me engaged in these activities.

Why?

Well because as Patanjali writes thus in the Ten Principal Upanishads:

“If you don’t have a photo of you doing scorpion pose with a beach sunset background behind you, can you really answer the question, “Do you even yoga, bro?”  with an affirmative? No, you cannot.”

Seriously though, I’m super excited just wished I was going to a place where my English and Spanish would be more useful.

Adapting culturally will be no problem, it’s what we Wandering Jews do.

All of the above, of course, is just the destination. Then there’s the journey getting there before before.

I’ll spending some time travel in Bangkok before…

and accept this challenge.

Remote Viewing My Maybe Office in Quito

Heres Where my Staging Ground Would Be If I Got the Job for TeleSur English!

Nice view of an adjacent Park from my office!

Click me to See in 3D

Birds Eye View of TeleSur English is pretty cool. It’s right by this beautiful park.

I’ll have lunch then walk around.

Click to see more!

Or I’ll walk and then have lunch, cause I do have a taste for Ecuadorian food. One of my nanny’s growing up was one and she’d make Llapingacho, when they have at the street cafes nearby so def will be eating lots of this.Image result for Llapingacho

This whole area is in central Quito.

This is just a photo of a park in Southern Quito, Panecillo Hill, that pops up.  I want to hang out at at night and feel connected with the Angels 😀Image result for ecuador quito

Just another view with a volcano doing is’t thing in the background. NBD.

Image result for ecuador quito

Them colors, right?

Image result for ecuador quito

I like being around mountains, they make me happy.

Image result for ecuador quito

Look at all the cute lil towns around there to explore!

 

Real News on Fake Amazon Reviews

A Case Study of Commodity Fetishism in the Age of Communicative Capitalism

Amazon has a serious problem with fake reviews populating their website. So much so that Forbes, NYMag, NYPostC|Net, and Fortune are all writing about it.

After reviewing findings from data-based research by Ming Ooi, one of the co-founders of Fakespot, he offers this blunt assessment of Amazon’s reviews ecosystem: “About 40 percent of reviews we see on Amazon are unreliable.”

This video also goes details the issue:

In this blog post I’m going to examine to distinct types of fake reviews, examine it’s commercial and political effects and then outline how it is that Amazon should be handling them.

Why go through the work of explaining this?

For one, as someone that has almost 150 book reviews on their website as a means of monetization, I find sending referral traffic to a website with a consumer rating function that has been hijacked by marketers to be highly unethical.

Secondly, I find the unresponsiveness of Amazon to taking simple steps to prevent this to be reflective of a corporate environment that

Let me give you two case study examples of products that I’ve recently come across that illustrate what I mean.

Freewrite: The Juicero of Word Processing

I use the same computer for word processing as I do for my marketing business, I know how susceptible to distraction the various alerts I have set up and immediate access to the internet can be. Thus when I first saw the Kickstarter ad for the Freewrite I was interested. I clicked the sponsored post in my Facebook feed, and began to read their promotional literature. As I did, my initial excitement on a new tool faded on learning of it’s features and price.

Unlike others that have written negative reviews of the product after using it, I could tell without even investing $550 into it that it was, quoting Mashable, pretentious hipster nonsense.

Identifying Fake Amazon Reviews

Leading up to Christmas, I started to see ads announcing that the second generation of the product had been released. Hopeful at first that maybe they’d changed their product to address what I and others saw as flaws in it’s features, I was disappointed to learn that they hadn’t. And I was also confused. Fully aware that my preferences aren’t universal, I still surprised at the high number of gushing customer review ratings on Amazon.

When I started to dig deeper I noticed a number of abnormalities in those people that were reviewing it. For one, you’ll notice that a large number of the 5 star reviews are all written by people that have only ever reviewed one product: The FreeWrite.

I didn’t take screenshots of them all, but if you look at some of the other reviews you’ll notice that a lot of them also have only one or two reviews for items that were written years ago.

31 of the 42 reviews, or 74% of the 5 star reviews for FreeWrite all occur within a nine day period – between November 21st and November 30th 2016. Here’s the data from Amazon that I collected should you want to review the numbers yourself. Many of them have a length and style that is directly mirrors FreeWrite’s own marketing material and at least two reviews come from those that were incentivized to write it based upon being given the product for free. Why else, after all, would someone write a 2,300 word review of it?

Marketing Authenticity Whilst Acting Suspiciously

Despite what their video would have you believe, Stephen King DOES NOT endorse FreeWrite

Above I said that FreeWrite is like the Juicero. How so? Well, they both created much hyped, over-priced products that poorly deliver on their promises. Like Douglas Evans, founder of Juicero, they then moved on to another project that is at it’s core, well, ridiculous.

Evans is now marketing the unproven benefits of the dubiously named raw water he sells while AstroHaus tried to bring to market ClapBoss – a device that mandates you spend money and time programming a device that you can just as easily do without. It wasn’t just schadenfreude that made me happy to see that this project didn’t get funded, but a deep and genuine disdain for marketing language that mobilizes concepts such as “Freedom” and “Control Over Your Life” to encourages people to buy products such as these. I’d go so far as to venture that any person that would prefer a $550 FreeWrite to $510 dollars worth of books and some notebooks and pen or word processing software like Scrivener aren’t real writers. That said, let me add I’ve never used Scrivener, I wasn’t paid to point this out and that if you ascribe to a historical materialist view of the world you’ll notice a troubling paradox in the reviews of products that could actually lead to freedom and control over your life.

Financial Incentive Not Sole Factor For Fake Reviews

As a subject area expert, George Ciccariello-Maher frequently writes, lectures and speaks on the subject of Venezuela and American political economy. One of my favorite history books of the past several years, in fact, was We Created Chavez by GCM. In my review of the book I favorably compared it’s prose to that found in C. L. R. James’ work on the Haitian Revolution The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, a historian that’s quoted several times in the book.

Full disclosure, thought we’ve never met – we did both present research at the 2013 Rethinking Marxism: Surplus, Solidarity and Sufficiency 2013 Conference at UMASS Amherst – me critically defending the democratically elected government of Venezuela and Bolivarianism, he on decolonizing dialectics.

For those familiar with American history and political economy and that aren’t white nationalists, the tweets for which he received negative press was funny, neigh, hilarious. Those that didn’t like it – which was much of the commentariat – didn’t get it and thus misrepresented views. In an interview GCM gave with The Inquirer, he explains as follows (Link to BET’s coverage of the State Farm Insurance tweet added by me):

“On Christmas Eve, I sent a satirical tweet about an imaginary concept, ‘white genocide,'” For those who haven’t bothered to do their research, ‘white genocide’ is an idea invented by white supremacists and used to denounce everything from interracial relationships to multicultural policies (and most recently, against a tweet by State Farm Insurance). It is a figment of the racist imagination, it should be mocked, and I’m glad to have mocked it.”

Historical Ignorance and Revisionism in Amazon Reviews

Following this the White Nationalist press got upset and mobilized their base, which also happens to have intersectional affinities with Venezuelans in Miami. The above screen shot shows how Google searches for “White Genocide” and “George Ciccariello-Maher” both peaked following his tweet going viral.

The ramifications of the Tweet wasn’t just Google searches, however, but a campaign of harassment and death threats that lead to GCM being placed on leave and an attempt at delegitimizing his academic work via the means that most used online means of commerce in America – Amazon.

Amazon Reviews and The World Turned Inside Out

The above Amazon user yentl’s sole contributions to Amazon are typical of others like it in level of insight and engagement following the uproar over two tweets by GCM. In fact, the seven reviews by yentl shown above are all for books written, translated or co-edited by George Ciccariello-Maher and are all the same – “It makes me want to Vomit!”. Similar depth of insight and engagement with the text abounds in other reviews.

I didn’t take the time to go through all of his books on Amazon, but it’s worth noting that 42 of the 63 review for We Created Chavez occur within a one week period in March of 2017 and a 3 day period in December of 2016. For those that want to check my methods, feel free to review this data sheet I made.

Amazon and Authentic Reviews

With these two cases in mind, it’s easy to see that the majority of positive reviews are done from financial motivation and those that are negative are ideological in origin. It’s also easy to see how Amazon can help prevent these sorts of false distortions of reality from being considered real.

For one monitoring negative or positive spikes in reviews and flagging them for review prior to publication.

Secondly Amazon needs to take Abuse Reports seriously. I’ve reported a number of reviews that are clearly either spam or ideologically motivated only to see that several days, weeks, months later that they remain online as a genuine “experience” of the product.

Since Amazon claims they want to be the brand of Customer Experience, they need to address this. Now. While the tenor of political discourse is no where near as bad as it is elsewhere, there needs to be a greater degree of vigilance to ensure honest communication about the merits of products and worldview. What’s at stake here isn’t just about whether or not someone chooses to buy something – but the need to be vigilant towards a platform with “democratic aspirations” from inadvertently  promoting the widening and deepening of false consciousness.

Review of The Fruit Palace

La verdad es una puta y hay que pagar.
Truth is a whore and you must pay for her.
Colombian Epigram
 

I picked up Charles Nicholl’s book The Fruit Palace as part of my cultural research before going to Colombia. I found it a very enjoyable yarn, in the vein of a number of other travel and get in trouble narratives.

Something that I love about Nicholl’s writing is the high level of descriptive language and inclusion of local color though out the yarns he spins. Some of my favorite passages are those describing the beauty of the Tensa Valley. After one long, nearly baroque description of the plant life used by the indigenes of Boyaca to produce nearly all of their material needs I found so engaging that it made me want to go off and try my own hand at such an existence. The underworld slang found throughout demonstrates authenticity and shows anthropological insight into the manner in which many of the subjects he writes about think – as individuals in la otro economia; as individuals that grew up in a specific region of Colombia; as people belonging to a loosely knit nation.

The cast of characters – Gus, Waldino, Rikki, Ariel, the various ex-pats in various states of “going native” and the many others involved in the quest for information on The Great Cocaine Story which takes Nicholls all over the many climates and regions of Colombia are described in with novelistic detail. He also does a great job of humanizing the predation that goes on in the country and what’s often described as backwardness. While he doesn’t delve into the geopolitics of the region, the formation of class and politics, etc. I feel like he humanizes a lot of the situations that often times get viewed as black and white. One of the drug dealers, Julio Cesar, tending after an injured, drug addicted journalist, for instance, or the 15 year-old prostitute that he’s set up with who explains that her selling herself is far preferable to the treatment she was put out by her family.

Nicholl’s gift is to include all of their without relying upon extensive commentary to highlight this. There are insightful passages like this:

“It is probably true to say that Colombia’s entire export earnings are matched dollar for dollar by illicit drug earnings. But the money is only the beginning. It is what the money does that counts, the power grip that the drug mafia exerts on Colombia… It not only supports the fantastical opulence of the drug capos. It also buys off police, judiciary and administration, flows into all sorts of legitimate business fronts, becomes a major source of low interest credit, vastly increases the growth of the country’s money supply… These narco-dollars are only a part, though now much the biggest part, of Colombia’s whole subterranean economy, the black market and contraband interests so widespread they are simply known as la otra economia, the other economy.”

However this is mostly limited to the opening of the book, where he explains how he got the writing assignment and onto the trail of The Great Cocaine Story. The majority is not like this.

Most of the tale is of his quest to find Snow White, a particularly high quality cocaine. On the quest to find this he travels across rivers, jungles in the mountains and must lie, cheat and act his way to the heart of a smuggling operate far from civilization. He even witnesses the 1983 Popayán earthquake, which destroyed much of the city and is the subject of the above Botero painting.

Should he ever read this, a tip of my hat goes to you, Mr. Nicholl, for being able to have the discipline to keep such extensive notes whilst consuming so much cocaine on your way to the find the manner in which Snow White made her way to Europe. The passages describing the binges he took and the effects that they had on his body and mind makes it a feat that he did not go the way of Gus, the journalist he meets who’s nearly gone mad from the amount of basuko that he’s been smoking.

And then there’s Ariel. He and I look nothing alike, but I did like this passage describing him:

‘Tell me about Ariel.’

“She laughed. ‘Ariel will tell you about Ariel. It’s like there’s lots of Ariels: he’ll be someone different for you. He’s hard to find, hard to catch. Like we say, nacio de pie – he was born on his feet.”

I found the closing of the book to offer a really nice coda to the tale of adventure. By closing with his experiences visiting the Arhuaco people I felt that it offered a compelling counter-narrative to the madness of the cocaine-fueled journalism that composed the rest of the book. While everyone else is in some ways economically dependent on the the powder, here’s a people that have grown a culture around it whilst not falling prey to the similar need for greed in the form of more intensity or material possessions. Coca need not be a high but, as they say, something that is sano, healthy, that cuida del cuerpo, that takes care of the body.

New Biography of Lucy Parsons Released

The New York Times now has an interview up now with the author of the book Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical in their book sections.

I’ve not read much about her besides her character’s speeches in Martin Duberman’s novel Haymarket, but from Jacquelin Jones description of her as a historic person:

“She was very well known throughout the United States, especially when she began to launch her own speaking tours in 1886, when her husband was in prison. Her name was really a household word. She was never happier than speaking in front of large crowds, riling them up. Her politics were very radical, quite outside the mainstream — then and today. But workers loved her rhetoric. She condemned the employers, the capitalist machine, the corrupt two-party system. She knew that undercover detectives covered every one of her speeches.”

she seems like someone worth getting to know more about.