martha rosler's partial, partisan blogroll

2009 Web project
Opinionated but practical, the Switchboard blogroll is curated by artists or academics we admire and turn to when looking beyond the confines of our own disciplines. Their selections identify stakeholders in political or cultural debates while sketching a portrait of the blogroll curators themselves.

The inaugural edition is written and presented by Martha Rosler, artist, writer, and member of the Vera List Center Advisory Committee, known for her intrepid and fearless challenges to conventions of the public space, particularly as it pertains to the art world.

Martha Rosler's partial, partisan blog roll will be released in three installments on December 7, December 9, and December 11, 2009. (Part one, part two, and part three are now online.)

—Carin Kuoni

    • Howard Dean Announces Dfnm As Convention Blogger
About the artist
Martha Rosler works in multiple media, including photography, sculpture, video and installation. Her work on the public sphere centers on everyday life and the media as well as architecture and housing, with an eye to women's experience. Investigating landscapes of the everyday, she has produced works on systems of airplane, automobile, and metro travel. Rosler has long produced works on war and the "national security climate"; recent solo exhibitions have centered on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other works, from bus tours to sculptural recreations of architectural details, are excavations of history. An on-going project, the Martha Rosler Library, has been touring the U.S. and Europe since 2005. "If You Lived Here Still: An Archive Exhibition," which will open in Utrecht in January after closing in New York in November, documents a cycle of exhibitions and forums on housing, homelessness, and the built environment that she organized in New York City in 1989, with updates to the present. Rosler has published 18 books in several languages.

Her work has been seen in the Venice Biennale of 2003; the Liverpool Biennial and the Taipei Biennial (both 2004); SkulpturProjekte Münster and documenta XII (both 2007); several Whitney biennials as well as many major international survey exhibitions. She has had numerous solo exhibitions. A retrospective of her work, "Positions in the Life World," was shown in five European cities and at the International Center of Photography and the New Museum for Contemporary Art (both in New York) (1998-2000).

Rosler was named Honored Educator by the Society for Photographic Education Mid-Atlantic 2003 and was awarded the Spectrum International Prize in Photography (2005); the Oskar-Kokoschka Prize (Austria's highest fine-arts award, 2006); an Anonymous Was a Woman Foundation Grant (2007); a United States Artists Fellowship (2008); and a Civitella Ranieri Residency (2009).The pioneering left-populist internet bloggers constitute a relatively small group of people (estimates of the most influential left blogs fall south of 100) who gained influence at about the same time, during the campaign for president of antiwar candidate and Vermont Governor Howard Dean, and many of their blogs provide links to others of this group. This corner of the blogosphere helped engineer a revolution in political communication, activism, and campaign fundraising – witness their influence in promoting and fundraising for the next antiwar candidate, Barack Obama – but are themselves often precariously funded (see below). Some of these bloggers, attracting some degree of criticism, have jumped in and out of campaign advisory roles, have set up elite, nonpublic email lists to form campaign strategies, and have helped set up blog advertising networks to solve the financial problem. As with the activist group MoveOn, however, the fact that the pioneering blogs focused so heavily on electoral politics or gained access to politicians means that with their man in the White House, there is little room for serious criticism to take hold.


Part One
Introduction
The political "blogosphere" is a dynamic reticulation whose many skeins are formed by the different ways in which people organize communications about politics and the public sphere – occasional, sporadic, or regular, fantastical or prosaic – using the tools available for production and dissemination of words and images on the World Wide Web. Political blogs are websites (or blogsites, if you prefer), and in what follows I do not differentiate between these terms. The term "blog" suggests a personal, authorial voice and stands in contrast to websites that claim some degree of research, objectivity, and accountability and, moreover, to rise above mere musings of ephemeral interest. The development of the blogosphere, and of the Internet platform generally, is naturally in the process of canceling this rule of thumb.

Political blogs are written and produced by activists, amateurs, professionals, or those trespassing across discipline boundaries, and by people with different degrees of interest and abilities, some with laser-like attention on one field and others with the broadest concerns.

Some blogs aggregate articles from mainstream organizations, especially print publications and television networks, others collect left, activist, think-tank, or "progressive" posts from other sites (with or without added comments) – or their equivalents on the other end of the political spectrum – while others produce their own critical analyses

Work and society
Except for the few who draw salaries or other financial compensation for their blogging, most political bloggers contribute their labor free. Ironically, these platforms were originally intended to open easy communications between academics and other researchers for the sake of national security – which may be understood in part as the weapons' research and development complex. But the collective labor creating the blogosphere today can be seen as a response to precisely that war machine and to the fixed hierarchical relations between political elites and the rank and file, or grassroots, polity. Since robust communication is widely acknowledged to be at the heart of any democracy, it is worthwhile to revisit the relationship between work, personality, and modes of communication. (Skip to "Historical notes," below, if you can't be bothered with theory.) I suggest rereading Habermas in the light of contributions such as Paolo Virno's Grammar of the Multitude. A taste of Virno's much-discussed work:

At this point we can sketch some of the consequences of the hybridization between Labor, (political) Action and Intellect. Consequences occur both on the level of production and within the public sphere (State. administrative apparatus).

The Intellect becomes public as soon as it links itself to labor; we must observe, however, that once it has been linked to wage labor, its typical publicness is also inhibited and distorted. This publicness is evoked over and over again in its role as productive force; and suppressed over and over again in its role as public sphere (in the proper sense of the term), as possible root of political Action, as a different constitutional principle.

The general intellect is the foundation of a social cooperation broader than that cooperation which is specifically related to labor. ... [Consider] the prevailing nature of the post-Fordist regime. ... The affinity between a pianist and a waiter, which Marx had foreseen, finds an unexpected confirmation in the epoch in which all wage labor has something in common with the "performing artist."... The salient traits of post-Fordist experience (servile virtuosity, exploitation of the very faculty of language. unfailing relation to the "presence of others," etc.) postulate, as a form of conflictual retaliation, nothing less than a radically new form of democracy (Virno, Grammar, pp. 66-67).

Some of Virno's salient points, oversimplified for our purposes: the new forms of (globalized, post-Fordist, often intellectual) "flexible labor" – which has bred the much-vaunted flexible personality in its workers but imposed a more or less permanent state of job precarity for so many – allows for the creation of new forms of democracy. (One difficulty for my remarks here is that for Virno the general intellect becomes public only when applied to paid work.) The long-established dyads of public/private and collective/individual no longer have meaning, and collectivity is enacted in other ways. Central concepts for Virno are the multitude and immaterial labor, which produce subjects who occupy "a middle region between 'individual and collective' " and so have the possibility of engineering a different relationship to society, state, and capital. It is tempting to assign the new forms of communication to this work of the creation of "a radically new form of democracy."


Historical notes

Although weblogs, or blogs, were initially devoted to personal journals, the political blogosphere grew in part out of prehistoric (though still operative) Usenet newsgroups (especially its "alt" hierarchy) and bulletin boards, or BBS's, and the fading but still important listserv (or list serve) phenomenon of targeted emails, which has supported or created communities of discourse. Blogs became possible only after the protocol of the World Wide Web (perhaps the grandest killer app of all) was invented by physicist Timothy Berners-Lee to allow for the posting of widely accessible content on the Internet in the 1990s.

A typical political blogsite, with its signed essays, photos, cartoons, and embedded videos, looks more like a printed magazine than like, say, Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking services that came into prominence on what some marketers and scholars call Web 2.0 – although blogs too are an important part of that nebulously defined state. It also presupposes a shared public interest among its writers, readers, and regular commenters, whereas the social networking sites are merely premised on interlocking circles of individuals acquainted with one another ("you," as Time magazine decided, putting a mirror on its cover for Person of the Year in December 2006).

Twitter, in its brief life, has functioned during notable foreign political crises as a source of rapid information, and even quasi-insurrectionary crowd organization, more reliably than cell phones, but it is fueled by rumor; as authorities in various countries become more adept at controlling its use, it may fade as a source of political organization or breaking news, or it may form part of a wider phalanx of political communications.

Gossip and rumor (by their nature unsourced) are always in play in human societies, but their role in political blogs appears to be decreasing. Although they continue to drive many professional, civic, and art world blogs, the influence of the most prominent right-wing online gossip sheet, the Drudge Report, has greatly diminished as "serious" or responsible blogs and news sites (with growing access to political decision-makers) grow in prominence and number.

Part two of three, forthcoming.

We welcome your comments. Please write to vlc@newschool.edu.

© martha rosler 2009
Posted on December 7, 2009


Part Two
This is the second post in a three-part series by Martha Rosler. Read the first post here and the third post here; Vera List Center director Carin Kuoni introduces Rosler's blogroll project here.

Jostling for position, and who pays?
In the wider spheres of public consciousness, the soi-disant grassroots blogs have been overshadowed by media heavyweights who use their celebrity status derived from their newspaper columns or (worse! much worse!) from their appearances on late night and cable TV to snare an audience entranced with spectacle culture, on the one hand, and inside-the-beltway journalism on the other – and to garner corporate advertising. (Many right-wing sites either are wholly funded by troglodyte billionaires or charge admission.) The most prominent of these liberal-leaning celebrity-infested sites looks exactly like a tabloid newspaper married to a network-television website, but it is not alone in aiming for that sexy je ne sais quoi. In contrast, the corner of the political blogosphere I am presenting here constitutes (with some notable exceptions) a community of distributed labor rather than a corporate, competitive, stand-alone enterprise in search of glory and profits. (Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos also hosts a bloggers' convention every year.)

Some grass-roots sites accept advertising, others plead for reader support. Compare these self-descriptions, and guess which of these carry ads:

CommonDreams.org is an Internet-based progressive news and grassroots activism organization.

... Daily Kos is the premier online political community with 2.5 million unique visitors per month and 215,000 registered users. It is at once a news organization, community, and activist hub.

MyDD is a group blog designed to discuss campaigns, the progressive movement, and political power. We do polling, research, commentary, analysis, and activism ...

Buzzflash: progressive news, progressive commerce, progressive advocacy.

Truthout: We are devoted to the principles of equality, democracy, human rights, accountability and social justice. We believe ardently in the power of free speech, and understand that democratic journalism can make the world a better place for all of us. As an organization, Truthout works to broaden and diversify the political discussion by introducing independent voices and focusing on undercovered issues and unconventional thinking. Harnessing the ever-expanding power of the Internet, we work to spread reliable information, peaceful thought and progressive ideas throughout the world.



"Truthout," screen grab by Martha Rosler
Journalism
For the increasingly hysterical and palpably threatened traditional media – the "mainstream press," or as many progressives call it, the "corporate press," hate radio, and the shrill cable TV shows – the knock on the left-populist sites is that they are written by ignoramuses (read: ordinary people, graduate students, policy wonks, non-J-school grads, non-beltway types, ferocious people, and so on, and those who are mockingly self-described as DFH, or dirty fucking hippies). This is, I imagine, not much different from what was said in high places about The Tatler, the Spectator, and perhaps the Federalist Papers, back in the day, although these publications were indubitably better written than most blogs (for a variety of reasons, beginning with the shortening of what we have been lately calling the "news cycle" and with the need to have a day job.)

The most serious criticism has been made by those in the higher reaches of print journalism, who point out that not only the aggregators but many of the self-generated political blogs depend on material researched and disseminated by trained, salaried, professional journalists; Bill Keller, managing editor of the New York Times, is not alone in calling political blogs "parasites." But hate radio too is parasitical, and surely most of journalism and radio, especially local public radio talk shows, is completely dependent on material published in the current or the previous day's New York Times or Washington Post. If the Times elicits clucks from the political blogosphere, the Post elicits catcalls and snorts of disgust; its journalists, shaped by an insidious, deeply obsequious insider mentality, form the core of what bloggers call "The Village." Should you care to tune in the execrable Sunday morning talking-heads TV shows, or even Washington Week, a program contributed by Washington, D.C.'s public television station, you will see what this means.

A curious development has been the meteoric rise of Politico, a newspaper and website begun by two right-leaning WaPo journalists that seems to be the beltway Villagers' effort to produce their own stand-alone conglomeration or journalism-thingie for when the mother ship goes under. Compare this with the much better – but admittedly only on-line – ProPublica, also begun and produced by echt journalists: ah! you've never heard of it? I rest my case.



"ProPublica," screen grab by Martha Rosler
In the United States, the professionalization of the journalistic corps is a bit more than a century old. Professionalization – hinging on the notion of objectivity – was a defensive maneuver executed partly to prevent government regulation consequent upon the manifest ability of "yellow journalism" to foment wars, the case in point being the Hearst-driven Spanish American War of 1898. (In other countries, the advocacy model of journalism, in which newspapers are clearly aligned with specific special, usually class, interests, such as organized labor or the petite bourgeoisie, prevails.) Local and small-town newspapers defined the story of place, a function that the big players like the Times or the Post had great difficulty treating seriously; now newspapers' attention to local news and flavor have also fallen by the wayside – along with most newspapers. Corporate news organizations continue to display their bias toward statism or simply a right-defined political narrative, a bias now increasingly visible to a sophisticated readership/audience well-schooled (through exposure to TV, advertising, and punditry) in narrative analysis; blogs dismiss the very idea of objectivity, though not of truth, and regard these organizations as filters or as gatekeepers keeping citizens from political participation and from a clear, cold look at the workings of power. Bloggers take advocacy for granted. If journalism has fancied itself the first draft of history, political blogs would likely see themselves not as scribes but as tribunes.

On other fronts, as the broadcast model of TV (premised on the idea of public ownership of the airwaves) has decisively loses its dominance in favor of the paid, more niche-oriented cable platform, the print-derived media giants, led by Rupert Murdoch, are attempting to keep their on-line content from search engines—most prominently Google—to prevent aggregators and individuals from accessing and linking to their "content" (a move that Murdoch defines as copyright violation and outright theft). Murdoch is trying to enlist Microsoft against Google in this endeavor (at this writing, Google has decided to limit page views to five per day from each news provider). We will see; but this desperate-seeming step to erect virtual fences is merely one move in the great search for profits as readers' attention shifts from the wood-products page to the screen.

Political blogs – like the range of ever increasing right-wing radio "talkers" and the burgeoning of opinion columnists of every political stripe, the upward creep of celebrity gossip into slick magazines, the multiplication of opinionated talk-show pundits – betray the continuing delegitimation of ideas of objectivity and nonpartisanship and the public's selective disdain for authoritative statements representing state power in favor of a subjectivized point of view (fill in the many requisite mitigating statements here). In other words, like the social networking services, political blogs are a symptom not merely of technological development but of the long implosion of the public sphere (or, in another formulation, the dissolution of the distinction between public and private).

Political blogging brings a personal voice of individual, uncredentialed citizen observers, often fueled by the same throw-the-bums-out outrage as that characterizing the right-wing talkers but unlike them refusing to duck responsibility by claiming to be mere entertainers. As this sphere gains in legitimacy as "alt.journalism," perhaps abandoning amateurism as the new form of accreditation by acclaim takes hold, many prominent bloggers have dropped their playful online monikers for their real names, claiming authorship along with their subjective positions. It still remains to be determined whether blogs, by their nature either amateur productions or based on nebulous sources and opinions, can rise to the level of journalism in the sense of meticulously sourced material and extensively researched investigative work – at which point they will, I suppose cease to be blogs and become online journalism, with all the pitfalls of cosiness and cronyism, not to mention false identification, that access to power can bring (cf. The Village).



"Echidne of the Snakes," screen grab by Martha Rosler
Meanwhile, one persistent itch I have about the blogs is their relationship to sports fandom. The problem lies not particularly in the blogwriters themselves, a number of whom are female (don't bother), nor in their origins (like sports guy turned political commentator Keith Olbermann) but that the conceptual and linguistic frames regularly used by commenters, that testosterone-heavy gang, seem to derive from sports radio – sports, of course, is that one arena of apparently tremendous public importance in which men with no standing or experience can be experts. Commenters are continually exhorting this or that democratic politician, of whatever gender, to "grow a pair"; I am as tired of that as of the favored feminist trope of praising women or events that "kick ass," using a phrase also derived from macho sports lingo.

Final installment, forthcoming.

We welcome your comments. Please write to vlc@newschool.edu.

© martha rosler 2009

Posted on December 9, 2009

Part Three
This is the final post in a three-part series by Martha Rosler. Read the first post here and the second post here; Vera List Center director Carin Kuoni introduces Rosler's blogroll project here.

The blogroll
The political blogosphere is, as I have suggested, full of interlocking circles, and I have found myself browsing mostly within a particular ambit, which I think of (following a remark by a Bush-II White House flunky) as the reality-based community. It is decidedly center-left and mostly tipped toward electoral participation rather than exodus. There are many other compelling sites; I just don't make a regular habit of stopping by. The core of bloggers also post on each other's sites, or comment on each other's posts, which often constitutes a valuable give and take (not to mention the sometimes tiresome, sometimes rewarding comments by readers and regulars). For example, this is from a man named Valtin, whose blog is Invictus which, among other things, reports and comments on the U.S.'s use of torture and its growing body of legal defenses:

I have been blogging at Daily Kos since May 2005. You can also catch me at Firedoglake, American Torture, The Public Record, Docudharma, the Out of Iraq Bloggers Caucus, and Progressive Historians. I am a psychologist, living in Northern California. A full backlog of my pre-Invictus diaries can be found at my Daily Kos page. E-mail me at sfpsych at gmail dot com.

The blogroll, below, points to some basic sites to visit for political opinion, analysis, comment, and snark. It does not include many of the sites set up as arms of mainstream publications, with the exception of Paul Krugman's New York Times-hosted site (we are in an economically drastic moment!). There are some sites, such as The American Prospect, those for advocacy groups such as Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for American Progress, American Civil Liberties Union, the CREDO phone company, PFAW, Consumers Union, that are certainly worth reading, but since I receive regular emails from them (listserv phenomenon), I can't actually list them as sites I regularly visit (but perhaps you should; they provide a wealth of carefully presented material, if without the raw immediacy of the blogs).

Unions maintain websites, often with blogs and commentary, such as Change to Win. The website of the perpetually insurgent, rank-and-file Labor Notes organization is better designed than its magazine. Most magazines and newspapers of note increasingly find it essential to have websites—including the Nation, The Progressive, Le Monde Diplomatique, Harper's, In These Times, Columbia Journalism Review, Editor & Publisher (breaking news: on Dec. 10, Nielson Co., E&P's owner, abruptly announced that this 125-year-old magazine – "the bible of the newspaper industry" – and its blogs will be shut down forthwith), Dollars & Sense, and Counterpunch. Znet is a heroic though unbeautiful effort of very long standing at community building and information sharing, and associated with the (even less beautiful) Z magazine. Many of these are trying to nudge readers toward cheaper, web-only subscriptions (especially since some Republicans have persisted in their efforts to stifle dissent by unconscionably boosting third-class postage rates, which affect disproportionately the little magazines that rely more on subscription than on advertising income).



"TPM," screen grab by Martha Rosler
The many video-based websites, mostly not stand-alone sites but offshoots of some prominent blogs (see GRITtv and, say, Glenn Greenwald's, Kos's, and TPM's video links, usually talking-head interviews on topical matters) point to the imminent translation of every important medium of public (as opposed to audience) address to the Internet.

Less well-funded activist and grass-roots groups also maintain news sites, such as Independent Media Center, which collects independent, activist reportage of several countries and languages, of varying quality and interest. (Terminological note: fake grassroots groups on the right, surreptitiously set up by corporations and vicious tycoons, are known as "astroturf.") Amy Goodman's superb daily interview radio and community television program Democracy Now! archives every show, offering video, audio, and written transcripts. Finally, individual journalists and writers often have websites that are well worth reading; among others, I like Marie Cocco's, Barbara Ehrenreich's, Michael Moore's, and Helen Thomas's for periodic visits.

Special mention should be made of some lawyers' blogs, begun during the Bush II years because of the egregious, persistent, and pernicious flouting of the law by that administration. The premier site is Glenn Greenwald's, but I have also listed Talk Left, although a number of the other listed blogs are lawyer heavy, and there are other worthy sites, such as John Dean's FindLaw and, oh, Lawyers, Guns & Money.



"The Raw Story," screen grab by Martha Rosler
Note on the future
Although the Internet is pushing forty, it is under constant reconfiguration. The migration of journalism and of much of the rest of the public sphere, such as it is, to the Internet, has produced a situation in which commerce, technology, and political governance are in play, marshalling the forces of ideology, policing, surveillance, and law; technical and formal innovation; advertising; scams, frauds, and deceptions – and popular pushback. It seems impossible to predict even the next five minutes of Internet life. At present we live in what must look to Internet service providers – commercial giants such as Verizon and AOL – as unreconstructed primitive communism, in which all those who seek to communicate and establish websites are allowed equal access to this virtual "commons," a situation that its defenders are calling "net neutrality" in their efforts to have this equality of access written into U.S. law.

The grassroots blogosphere is threatened by the efforts of the hosting corporations to scrap net neutrality in favor of the right to charge differential rates to website operators, stratifying the Internet into high-paying corporate providers (and government agencies?) whose sites would load quickly – and all the rest of us, consigned to the slow lane. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, founded in 1990, advocates for electronic policy issues, including the rights of bloggers to remain anonymous, against surveillance and excessive commercialization, for free speech, privacy, digital rights, and of course net neutrality. (Consult them and others on issues of digital rights.) It is net neutrality that has potentiated the healthy set of political blogs and allowed just about anyone to start a new one and hope to find an audience.

Here are some sites that make up part of my regular rounds.

The daily inevitable. The pioneer left activist blog. Left-populist grass-roots central; covering many topics, though unevenly, but the central compass is electoral and congressional politics. Not very good on foreign policy except on our current wars:

Daily Kos — original content, many "diaries," robust community

Mydd (Direct Democracy) — spin-off of Daily Kos; see their list of state blogs on the left-hand side of the page

Single author

Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com — sharp, often stunning analysis; my homepage

Maha (Barbara O'Brien) — politics & American Buddhism

Echidne of the Snakes — politics through feminist eyes

Informed Comment (Juan Cole) — the go-to source on the Middle East

Tom Tomorrow — cartoons & commentary

I Blame the Patriarchy — a woman in Texas

A further cast of regulars

Hullabaloo — terrific and now often cited by Krugman; one of the first female political bloggers

Firedoglake — sterling; more women

Sadly, No! — snark

Talk Left — another lawyer-based political blog

Progressive Historians

Political magazines, large and small, and aggregators, some with original content

CommonDreams.org

Truthout — aggregator with significant original content

Tom Engelhardt — Engelhardt works at The Nation Institute

Consortium News — investigative journalism; founded by reporter Robert Parry

The Black Commentator — all content is original

Buzzflash — aggregator with attitude, and original comment

The Raw Story — left aggregator

Portside — left aggregator

TPM (Joshua Micah Marshall) — tending more & more toward the beltway mainstream

Truthdig — familiar liberal commentators; led by Robert Scheer, fired after 30-years at the Los Angeles Times

Black Agenda Report — its founders split off from Black Commentator

The Smirking Chimp — named after Bush II

Color of Change — activism on race

Americablog — John Aravosis, one of the early bloggers; site's political focus encompasses gay activism

Tom Paine — "a project of the Institute for America's Future"

Duncan Black ("Atrios") — pioneer

Crooks and Liars — a political site run by a musician; uneven

Journalism & media critique

Media Matters for America — I said above that I wouldn't list it, but here it is

ProPublica

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

The Daily Howler (Bob Somersby) — uneven, terribly written—unkind metaphors spring to mind—but often heart-stoppingly accurate on press & education reporting

Token science blog, and environmentalism

Pharyngula — a science blog, as advertised

350.org — activism for political action against global warming; founded by writer Bill McKibben

economics, reality-based capitalism

1. mainstream:

Paul Krugman

Brad Delong

Nouriel Roubini

Baseline Scenario (Simon Johnson and others)

2. more to the left:

Economic Policy Institute

Doug Henwood — by publisher of Left Business Observer newsletter

Monthly Review

Middle East

Juan Cole — indispensable analysis

Electronic Intifada — important analysis and commentary

J Street — newly visible Jewish peace camp

New Profile — Israeli activists

oh, well

The Rude Pundit — rude, as advertised

We welcome your comments. Please write to vlc@newschool.edu.



"Hullabaloo," screen grab by Martha Rosler
© martha rosler 2009

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Posted on December 11, 2009