How I Met LAPD Officers Bobby Romo And Steven Valenzuela On Vermont Avenue Yesterday At 3 AM And What Happened Next

LAPD Sergeant Bobby Romo (36915), a twenty year veteran of LAPD.

I can’t sleep, so I walk. Three or four miles at 3 or 4 AM does wonders. I’ve been doing this for years without incident. People out at that time have their own private concerns and don’t seem to be much interested in interactions, which I’m also not. There is a certain sense of community among those of us on foot, though. For instance we like to say good morning or utilize some other way of signalling we mean no harm, but no one’s out there looking for conversation.1 I’ve walked hundreds of miles of LA streets in the middle of the night and have never spoken to a cop for any reason until yesterday.

Some time after 3 AM I was returning home from such a walk when I saw that the street I intended to use was blocked by yellow cop tape and there was an empty but lights-spinning cop car guarding the tape. No people, officers or otherwise, were visible on the entire taped block face. I took what I thought would be an effective detour around the cop conclave but when I got around to the street I live on I could see it was taped as well.
Continue reading

Monuments, Altars, Ceramic Tiles, And The Passions Stamped On These Lifeless Things

Caleb Duarte Piñon distinguishes between monuments and altars. Monuments are overwhelming, huge, hard to break, violently jammed into the earth. They reinforce, reproduce, extend power. Monuments violently silence stories people tell about themselves, they suppress every story but their own. The stories told by monuments end in morals. They serve power, they work to control. Only the powerful can call monuments into being.1

Altars are human scale creations, spontaneously precipitated out of a shared desire to tell a shared story. Created both together and individually, this work coalesces socially to express something of the community. Altars are temporary, shifting, laid down upon the earth gently. They quietly amplify the stories people tell about themselves, they celebrate every story woven into them. The stories told by altars don’t end in morals. They don’t end at all, they’re liberating. Anyone can call altars into being.
Continue reading

Why Are Children Forced To Study Mathematics At Gunpoint?

In the United States children are required to study mathematics for most of the time they’re required to attend school and yet essentially everyone hates it. Not just students, but parents and teachers as well. Very few remember any of it once they’re done with school, which strongly suggests that all those years of mandatory mathematics education aren’t serving the students themselves. If they were it wouldn’t be necessary to criminalize nonattendance, to force children into schools to learn mathematics at the point of a policeman’s gun.
Continue reading

Leonhard Euler, Denis Diderot, Augustus De Morgan, William Gillis, and the Weaponization of Scientific Knowledge Authority

There is a story, universally known to mathematicians, about Leonhard Euler, Denis Diderot, Catherine the Great, and the epistemological authority of mathematics. It apparently first appeared in English in Augustus De Morgan‘s book A Budget of Paradoxes:

Diderot paid a visit to the Russian Court at the invitation of [Catherine the Great]. He conversed very freely, and gave the younger members of the Court circle a good deal of lively atheism. The Empress was much amused, but some of her councillors suggested that it might be desirable to check these expositions of doctrine. The Empress did not like to put a direct muzzle on her guest’s tongue, so the following plot was contrived. Diderot was informed that a learned mathematician was in possession of an algebraical demonstration of the existence of God, and would give it him before all the Court, if he desired to hear it. Diderot gladly consented: though the name of the mathematician is not given, it was Euler. He advanced towards Diderot, and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction: Monsieur, $\frac{(a + b^n)}{n} = x$, donc Dieu existe; repondez!1 Diderot, to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarrassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted.2

Continue reading

How I’m Using Mastodon Now

This essay is not a review of anything, it’s not a polemic, it’s not aimed at convincing you to act or refrain from action, it’s not a comprehensive introduction to a subject — it’s certainly not advice! It’s not essential, it doesn’t generalize, and I’m not even choosing my words carefully.1 I’m only writing it to avoid writing the essay I’m writing to avoid writing the essay I know I have to write. But it’s more than just a way to avoid writing other stuff, it’s some things I wish I could have read about Mastodon a few months ago, so I thought I’d write them down for other people.
Continue reading

Anarchism isn’t a fantasy and it’s not a political theory — it’s a collective name for whatever forms of society can exist without murder as a political tool

When people say anarchism is a fantasy I believe they’re thinking of the apparent impossibility of setting up an anarchist government, imposing it on people, voting it into place, getting everyone to agree to its terms. They’re thinking of what would have to precede the first day of anarchism if anarchism were to be somehow instituted somewhere. And of the difficulty of keeping anarchism in place, protecting it against threats, maintaining it. This is a mistake.

Anarchism begins when people stop being coerced whereas political systems rely on coercion both at their beginnings and for their maintenance. Forcing people to stop being coerced is a contradiction in terms. Anarchism can’t be instituted or put in place, it can only coalesce. Anarchism starts when people stop obeying authority. So how do we get to a society without coercion? What’s the path to the anarchist utopia?
Continue reading

Don’t Take Crenshaw — The Physical and Racial Geography of Bette Davis’s Famous Joke About Fountain Avenue

A mural of Bette Davis with the words 'Johnny Carson asked Bette Davis for "the best way an aspiring actress could get into Hollywood?" Ms Davis replied "take Fountain."'

Apparently Johnny Carson once asked Bette Davis to tell him the best way for a young actress to make it to Hollywood. Her response, now a hot but still deliciously subpop tagline for the tens of thousands of industry-adjacent hipsterati who have tattooed it into their flesh, named trendy cultural objects for it, painted murals incorporating it, splashed it across Twitter feeds and everywhere, was “take Fountain.”1
Continue reading

The Relative Invisibility of Policing in Contemporary Capitalism

Skill improves with experience. An experienced artist may be able to paint with one quick line something that would previously have taken a whole canvas full of brushstrokes. This is an individual process, but it happens in society as well. Social systems also become more efficient with increasing experience.1 A shepherd with a dog, a fence, and an ATV can control more sheep of the sort bred to respond to those tools with less effort than could ever have been done without them. They’re all elements in a social system.2

Policing in the United States is also a social system, founded in the need to control enslaved human beings. The very visibility of the horrors of slavery, the constant terrorism required to hold human beings in bondage, was a weakness in the system. The enslavers’ legal technology didn’t constrain their brutality towards their victims, so any systemic restraint must have gone towards stability. Isolation of slaves was one solution to this problem, a solution adopted by England with the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which kept slaves out of sight in the Americas even as the blood soaked money continued to pour into the treasury.
Continue reading

State Violence, The Diamond/Water Paradox, and an Invisible Axiom of Classical Economics

The diamond/water paradox is a name given to the fact that water has infinitely high use value but only minimal exchange value whereas roughly the opposite is true for diamonds. Apparently economists have been trying to untangle this putative problem for centuries, but my thesis is that it’s actually no problem at all. It seems paradoxical only because these economists have completely ignored the role of state violence in creating value and maintaining capitalism. Without state violence there would be no capitalist economy for them to study and prices of things would be very different than they are now.1

People need water, food, and shelter to survive. For a million years of human history people found countless successful ways to meet these needs directly, for themselves, their families, their communities, without being violently forced by zillionaires to cede a share of the value they created. Fundamentally, capitalism is possible only because if you charge money for those needs and kill anyone who tries to meet them without paying you can force masses of people to labor for your benefit.2
Continue reading

Marqueece Harris-Dawson Really Got To The Heart Of The City’s Role In The Conflict Between Tenants And Landlords When Speaking Yesterday About The Just Cause Eviction Ordinance

Yesterday during the LA City Council’s discussion of the eviction moratorium Marqueece Harris-Dawson quietly made a really important and really radical point when questioning the deputy city attorney in attendance. He asked her if the law would mean that a landlord could evict a tenant for any reason “and [the City of Los Angeles will help [them].” She responded that “the City would be permitting that to happen.” The difference of course is that in MHD’s version the City plays an active role, the role of violent enforcer,1 whereas in the DCA’s version the City is like a passive referee, whose role is merely to regulate voluntary transactions between private parties.

He’s right, of course, and she’s lying. And I don’t mean she’s mistaken. The principle MHD is referring to is well-known to lawyers. It’s the principle on which the Supreme Court decided Shelley v. Kraemer. This is popularly known as the case which outlawed racial restrictions in real estate transactions, but that’s not exactly right. What the case did was outlaw government enforcement of racial restrictions in real estate contracts. Without state enforcement, which necessarily means violent enforcement, racially restrictive contracts, many of which still exist, are meaningless.
Continue reading