There’s a new strategy in the fight against zombie properties. Actually it’s not a new strategy at all. It’s probably one of the oldest real estate strategies in history, and it’s a classic way to kill zombies. Fire. Kill it with fire. And so when the zombies are run-down vacant buildings, we call that arson.
CBS6 reporting from Schenectady, NY: “Arrest made in string of fires“:
City leaders acknowledge that vacant buildings, or so-called “zombie properties” where some of these arsons were, are a problem and they say they are working to clean those properties up or tear them down.
Now it looks from the article like this 22 year old is just a crazy arsonist, likes to play with fire. Or maybe he’s just the fall guy. Maybe I’ve seen too many Batman cartoons but it really wouldn’t surprise me if some larger interest encouraged that arsonist. Now of course, I am (half-)kidding. Because it’s dangerous to think this way.
Words have effects. The things we say make other people feel stuff, and sometimes very differently than the speaker intended. I don’t intend to encourage anyone to burn down buildings. I think I would prefer the strategy in Huntington — use the existing blight laws. See Newsday: “Huntington officials work to resurrect zombie houses, other abandoned homes” by Deborah S. Morris.
And Huntington’s success only further makes me wonder why we need Schneiderman‘s legislation. All the news rhetoric has been about vacant abandoned houses that should be considered blight, and yet the law is about banks and foreclosures… I suspect there are a lot of houses in the grey area and the town doesn’t really want to blight the homes, it wants them repaired, occupied and paying taxes.
Anyway, all this political conjecture is sort of dangerous because this ZombieLaw blog has always been a mix between serious academic newsworthy information and satire. Some people really don’t like satire. It scares them to not know for certain what is true. For many people it seems that it may be scarier to be uncertain than to be lied to. However, false information is also scary and I do try not to be false…. still there is a very real danger of playing into the very media politics I am trying to criticize. Truth becomes a zombie.
Part of why my hiatus lasted so long is that the Charlie Hebdo incident scared me. The first post that started this ZombieLaw blog was about “zombie Mohammed“. A recent headline at Ars is about a blogger being hacked to death (haha at the pun: he’s a blogger being “hacked” … with a machete!). Now, I don’t think anything I’m writing should get me killed but hey, ya never know who I’m pissing off. This whole ZombieLaw activity is sort of an OCD hobby of collecting zombie references, and sometimes that OCD-mentality makes it difficult for me to write at all. I really can’t control what people think after reading. So, this blog only exists when I can suppress that fear and just click publish anyway. Every time I click ‘publish’ it’s sort of like saying ‘fuck it all’. On the one hand, really, who cares what I write on the internet, it’s just another byte on the crap pile.
On the other hand, see, KDVR: “Denver woman wants apology after judge acquits her of lying to police“:
“I think they retaliate on anybody who speaks up, anybody who stands up for their civil rights,” said Lebrun, referring to Denver Police and the City Attorney’s office. Her legal nightmare began October 18th, when she became separated from a friend during Denver’s annual Zombie Crawl downtown
… Her attorney, Siddhartha Rathod argued, “Ms. Lebrun was charged because she complained about the conduct of Denver Police and they wanted to silence her.”
Yes, speaking is dangerous these days.
There is another more important danger, a new study reported in Journal of Applied Communication Research by researchers Julia Daisy Fraustino and Liang Ma about the “Use of Social Media and Humor in a Risk Campaign” (h/t NewsWire). The researchers reexamined the CDC zombie apocalypse emergency preparedness media campaign and studied the
benefits and pitfalls of using social media and humorous messaging for risk communication. Findings show social media can quickly spread information to new publics for minimal costs; however, experiment participants who received the humorous (i.e., zombie) risk message reported significantly weaker intentions to take protective actions in comparison to those who received the traditional, non-humorous risk message.
The researchers conclude:
Ultimately, this research found that the CDC’s zombie-preparedness campaign, while vastly increasing emergency-preparedness message exposure and deemed effective by campaign management, may have decreased publics’ intentions to take any of a host of preparedness actions or even to seek additional information. So, perhaps zombies have overtaken not only pop culture but also publics’ intent to prepare for a zombie apocalypse—or any emergency.
The word “zombie” helps spread the controversy but it doesn’t really help focus the problem or help us understand if any particular position is correct, worse it may lead to inaction. Nevertheless, the humorous juxtaposition of metaphors helps spread the message, so we are constantly exposed to zombie symbols in a big conceptual blender, buy much of it is deathly serious.
It’s sort of like Amanda Knox singing the Cranberries song “Zombie” in NYC (via TMZ): “Amanda Knox — Killing It At Karaoke“. Spreading celebrity and blurring meaning to keep her name alive in cultural consciousness. It doesn’t tell me one bit about what to think of her or what she may have done or didn’t do, and then by my commenting on it, I am unavoidably doing the same, spreading her meme, drawing attention away from other potential ideas. Like meanwhile, in the Irish Mirror, the actual: “Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan to face ‘air rage’ charges” in Ireland after landing on a flight from NYC. Is NYC zombie central?
Recall some old ZombieLaw posts from last year: “In Defense of Satire” and “Rebel Art“. There is a real value in trying to comprehend truth through alternative lenses. Many of the issues associated with zombies are very serious real issues. Hackers and identity security, guns, meat-eating, animal consciousness, the history of slavery, cultural appropriation, psychological impairments, Social Security, memory loss, climate change, ebola and global capitalism, and that’s just off the top of my head. There are lots of other issues that are of insanely serious concerns for the future of the anthropocene. We need to spread awareness and humor can do that, but it also threatens to weaken the importance of our cause, not to mention seriously offend some people (to the risk they might kill us for saying so).
What choice do we have? Do we sit silent. No. It’s funny. We must laugh. People will want to know what we’re laughing about. And they will laugh with us, and then we can all cry together, before we die together.
I hope you don’t think this makes zombie foreclosures or arson or blogger deaths or NYC or the philosophical difficulty of truth any less serious. It’s all funny but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something about it. It’s not just a zombie, it’s somebody’s home. We can prepare for disasters. We can help save the community. See this message from Norwell Fire Department: “FIRE BLOG: Preparing for a zombie apocalypse could save your life” by Capt. Jeff Simpson
Or maybe it’s all just promotion. There’s Zombie Burger in Illinois using the “Human Centipede” to comic effect to sell the human consumption of animal flesh. Des Moines Register: “Look at Zombie Burger’s Human Centipede creation“. The cartoon South Park also used the human centipede idea, I actually thought it was a South Park original idea (“HUMANCENTiPAD“) but no, it’s a whole horror movie franchise “Human Centipede” with the third installment coming out next week, May 22. Human centipede gives whole new meaning to middle class, and to the entire capitalist food chain. Eat shit and pass it on. It’s part of social (media) contract.
Zombies, all of us, playin’ with fire, gun’ get burned. Livin’ in glass zombie houses, gotta put down the rock, gotta live together in this community, gotta make sure the place is safe for everyone, for the kids too, but there’s just no denying that the world’s become a human-shit-chain of zombie debts … we need to fix that.
I have been eager to post about the abandoned properties legislation. There are new developments in Indiana and New York. But the truth is I really don’t know what to say. Looking at the New York Bill A06932 / S04781, I like it but I have many concerns. I have no idea if these concerns are legitimate. I have not yet really read the Indiana law SB 415. So I am not competent to pass any useful information about this important area of zombie foreclosure law.
In New York it is being called zombie properties by many news outlets and that language is championed by Attorney General Schneiderman. The bill aims to charge the banks to repair any abandoned properties on which they hold mortgage. In Indiana, the Governor has signed a new law that seems to do the opposite making it difficult for the local towns to pursue the banks, but also changed some tax code to maybe make sale easier.
I still want to know where the homeowners went? I want to know why the government law isn’t aimed to more directly help those people? As far as I can tell the Indiana law protects the banks and the New York bill empowers local governments (the upstate mayors like it and this week was the Nassau County photo-op and opportunity for the AG to sit across the table with the Nassau County Executive). It’s nice to see the cross-party collaboration but what about the previous homeowners, where are they at the table? Taxed out maybe? And now they’ll send bank inspectors to the houses to see if any people still live there, force the bank to mow the lawn, pay the taxes, and start short selling. Some of these families’ properties went financially underwater in the bank crisis and then literally underwater during Superstorm Sandy. Why isn’t government forcing the banks to make principal reductions and interest rate modifications to bring the loans to current fair market value? Let the owners get the windfall instead of the banks or the towns. Let the economic flood waters wash away the debts not the homeowners. ?
All we hear about are the abandoned homes, what about the one’s with people still struggling to keep them? The zombie debt crisis isn’t just the abandoned homes and the visible blight. We’re still in the same sinking float of the bank-crisis induced, robo-signed mortgage, collateralized debt, quantitative easing, too-big-to-fail, foreclosure hell. What seems clear is that many politicians want to talk about abandoned blight and not the underlying financial apocalypse. Of course we need to clean up the blight, but there are also a lot of healthy-looking zombies out there, and I might prefer a broader legislative package to help more of those other zombies find agreeable settlement.
Is the New York bill as surely a “no-brainer” as the Attorney General has said (see Newsday: “Schneiderman: Legislation to combat plague of zombie houses on LI ‘is a no-brainer’” by Carl McGowan)? The legislation has some teeth to fine the banks, and even some zombie eyes in the form of bank inspectors checking the properties. How would it actually affect the world? I have no idea but that’s no problem, it’s a promised “no-brainer”, no need to think about it, right? So we don’t need to ask why the bill creates a special foreclosure court part? What’s wrong with the regular foreclosure proceedings? What judicial protections might be lost in an expedited special foreclosure process? Will robo-signed notes be as extensively scrutinized as they should? How will it affect the other cases remaining on the regular foreclosure docket? Where’s Governor Cuomo on this issue? And how will this be affected by who he appoints as the next Chief Judge to replace Lippman?
On all these questions, I have no idea. This post has been a a real no-brainer.
Hi zombies. I wasn’t sure what it was going to take for me to resume this odd hobby. When I left for the new years holiday I had been intending a much shorter hiatus, but instead when I returned I shifted my zombie obsessive tendencies toward simply tweeting instead of blogging. I felt I had written enough about zombie and the new links could stand for themselves.
There have been some big moments the past few months when I thought it was time to come back, and I will maybe try to catch up to some stories I missed in the past few months. There were two Friday the 13ths this year already. And there are continuing parallel stories of a zombie cat and zombie dog (both buried alive and crawled out, and then custody issues for who gets the animal after the veterinarian – property rights or best interest of the animal), are sort of interesting in the way they have grabbed media attention. Questions of animal consciousness remain an important part of the zombie meme set (also related to zombie vegans).
Also the Zombie Foreclosure issues rage on. There are still homeowners who are trying to negotiate with banks and the banks are still playing games. New York’s newly re-elected Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is still stumping for legislative efforts but quite honestly it’s a lot of pomp and circumstance and other than lots of pictures of run-down houses and talk of community banks buying property… I don’t know what this is about. How can we help the homeowners who are still struggling battling bank frauds from like a decade ago? It’s basically nothing exciting on this issue since 2013 when ZombieLaw wrote: “Zombie Foreclosures are Bank Fraud“. OK, that’s not true, and there are exciting zombie foreclosure developments all the time (including lots of press on the NY bill this morning), so probably I’ll write more about that later this week. I’ll have to read the bill but I’m not sure the banks aren’t still screwing the borrowers with government assistance.
And then there’s Bill Bonner still zombie’ing – this week attacking Social Security zombies, claiming social security recipients are zombies and then comparing zombies to a herpes infection (so social security recipients are diseased?), in MoneyWeek: “Social Security is braindead, but that doesn’t make us all zombies“.
There’s so much interesting zombie art (not just zombie formalism – see also Bruce La Bruce exhibiting at MoMa). And there’s zombie drug law reform efforts and the pharmaceutical’s zombie side-effects, and debts, lots of zombie debts from all sort of zombie companies. And Canadian hackers (see “Foreign hacker sentenced for first time ever in US” – involved hack of “Zombie Studios”). And zombie parasitic insects (see this zombie praying mantis). Yes, there are still so many fascinating zombies on a daily basis.
And yet, I had been contenting my zombie obsession with mere tweets and not sure when I might return to this blog, but it’s this weekend’s NYTimes that I finally has me rise from the dead. Both Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd using the word in their respective NY Times columns. Now, I am still really not sure what the point of this ZombieLaw blog is or ever was, but mocking the NYTimes zombies has definitely been an important part. Recall ZombieLaw previously listed Maureen Dowd’s “zombies” and would tag Paul Krugman with significant frequency.
This week “zombie” is in Krugman’s headline, “Zombies of 2016“, and he repeatedly uses the term throughout his column to describe the status of current Republican politics. Starting in on zombie Chris Christie (who used to fashion himself the zombie-killer), Krugman says “a zombie went to New Hampshire” then assails the GOP primary process for adherence to false economic ideas (“classic zombie”).
Recall Krugman thinks of “zombie ideas” as “zombie lies,” and in this column he directly refers to the voodoo economics of supply-side politics. This is a important connection for zombie political rhetoric: that zombie economics is the result of voodoo … voodoo economics = supply-side economics! For Krugman, it’s the supply-side voodoo that makes zombies. And it was George H.W. Bush (the father) who helped popularize “voodoo economics” as a denigration of then candidate Ronald Reagan’s supply-side proposals in the Republican primary in 1980. See this NBC report from 1982. Bush as VP denied having ever said “voodoo economics” but it the camera can catch zombie doublespeak (be careful camera’s might also steal souls).
The voodoo connection runs through West Africa to Haiti . Recall my visit with George Pfau to the African Burial Grounds, a Federal property with voodoo symbols. But note that the George Romero and the modern fast zombies have transcended the voodoo roots, (perhaps with the aid of computer technology?)
Meanwhile, in Maureen Dowd’s column, “Beware Our Mind Children” is promotions for “Ex Machina“, a new movie written by, Alex Garland, who previously wrote “28 Days Later”. So Dowd’s zombie reference was sort of obligatory, and we all know zombies and robots are well-connected ideas in terms of automaticity, worker-slavery and mindlessness (coincidentally interesting, it’s partly a robo-signing problem causing the zombie foreclosures). Dowd asks:
what will end humanity first, zombies or robots?
and Garland responds:
We’re going to manage that perfectly without any help from zombies or robots.
Krugman’s column also concludes with a question, asking:
why has the Republican Party experienced a zombie apocalypse?
Whatever the reasons, the result is clear. Pundits will try to pretend that we’re having a serious policy debate, but, as far as issues go, 2016 is already set up to be the election of the living dead.
Consider also from The National: “Zombie facts that pose as real science” by Robert Matthews discusses why false facts don’t die.
So yeah, it’s a political circus, a rhetorical mess of zombie facts, so look out zombies, ’cause like Arnold in “Maggie”, we be back… to, ya know, save the children from the future we’ve created for ourselves. I’m not promising to be back forever, this may just be a last hurrah at the end of the zombie movie when the monster rises one last time. Be sure to also keep watching the @Lawzombie twitter feed too, because there will surely still be more zombie links than I will blog.
Ok zombies, I’m out.
Gone fishin’, python huntin’, whatever Florida zombie metaphor you want (down to where they go to die?). See ya when I see ya. Save some brains for me.
While I’m gone, read the previous three posts (Part1, Part2, and Part3) for about two years worth of failed “zombie” cognitive research. Part1 is junk science but Part2 still really excites me and Part3 is a cute proof of a rhetorical paradox. None of it is particularly ground-breaking but I do think Part2 could be a new way to study character words in legal opinions, and Part3 should make us pause every time anyone refers to their supposed reality. But then we already pause at “zombie” and, of course “creativity“, and “anonymous” and soon every word is pause-worthy and none of the words make any sense. All we can do is add more words.
For more recent zombie themes, read the posts that precede those three. Zombie scholars should note particularly George Pfau’s presentation, and cultural theorists will be additionally interested in the SVA Zombie Formalism panel discussion.
Haven’t heard of zombie formalism yet? See my attempts to explore it here and here. And for more of the artist names being associated to this see Howard Hurst asking: “Who Has the Cure for “Zombie Formalism”?“.
That article is about the art world in which the answer might be obvious: stop buying it. But many wonder what is the cure for zombie. So as I pause this blog, let’s recall some zombie cures: salt, lemons, frogs, love, yoga, puppies, comedy, iron(y), juju, sadhu, water in the ear, mirror boxes, muscle transplants, shotguns, legislation, fire. I’m sure I’ve left some out and even more I’ve yet to discover, but “not buying it” is a good one to add to the list.
This blog isn’t dead, just a hiatus. Until them, nom nom…
It started when I noticed so many journalists (and others) writing that “zombies aren’t real”. I began asking survey participants (recall previous failed survey efforts) to identify which is the “real zombie” from two choices (“Uncertain” was also a third option). The two choices included one fictional answer choice: “A “zombie” is a mindless monster that eats human brains” and that was tested individually against three alternative answer choices (other alternatives were tested in pilot research but these three were used in the controlled version of this experimental design):
– “A “zombie” is an insect controlled by a parasite,”
– “A “zombie” is a computer that has be taken over by malware,” or
– “A “zombie” is a mixed drink made with rum and fruit juice.”
Each of these alternative definitions is something that exists tangibly and has been called a “zombie” by popular press (see for examples ZombieLaw posts tagged: rum-drinks, botnets, and insects). The survey instructions specifically told participants that both of the choices were ways the media had used the word.
The majority of participants responded that the “real zombie” is the “mindless monster that eats human brains”. This was somewhat surprising to me because I would have thought that the other objects were more real. I have frequently argued that zombies are real but not as monsters, as words. These results show that most participants think the fictional zombies are more real.
The cover of last month’s November 2014 National Geographic was Carl Zimmer’s article with cover headline: “Real Zombies”, about parasite-controlled insects. And yet, the majority of my survey participants seem to disagree.
Another question on the survey asked these same participants whether they believe zombies exist in reality. Most participants respond “No.” but the proportion of “Yes” increases significantly if the order of the questions asks about whether zombies exist after the comparison question. This makes sense because the comparison question answers remind some participants about the existence of an alternative definition. This simple exposure is enough to increase the proportion of participants that will say zombies exist.
Yet many participants who claim that zombies do not exist will still select the fictional definition as the “real zombie”. This means that the participants are willing to label something as “real” even after claiming it doesn’t exist. This suggests that “real” is not a reference to tangible reality, but is perhaps something more about authenticity or essential referent.
This result excited one adjunct professor in my department, so I worked with him to write it up for a Masters degree. After depositing that thesis, I continued to explore the word “real” as related to zombies but continued to fail to intrigue my doctoral advisor. In fact, he claimed I was “harassing” him for trying to get him to read that paper draft too early in the semester. Without any ‘real’ academic support or advisement this process is impossible. Honestly, it’s not entirely my advisor’s, nor the school’s fault. I have been a difficult student and clearly I still don’t get it. My writing is disjointed and poorly styled. I love ideas, but I don’t particularly like the pragmatism of neoliberal institutions nor the insidious mentality of the ivory tower. Grants are all they care about. If the practical applications are not immediately obvious than it’s not science. This is the modern academic system. I should have known better.
My graduate studies have reminded me that I don’t particularly like academia. Like I said, I like ideas but academia is a terrible style. After a decade of trying, I think I’ve learned an important lesson. I’m ok without them. It would be hypocritical of me to keep paying money to a zombie institution that I don’t respect. They want over $4000 a semester just to maintain continuous registration. No credits, just continuous enrollment in supposed “doctoral advisement” except the only advisement I have managed to get is denigration (see Part1 and Part2 of this series of posts on my research failures). I’m done with this crap.
Nevertheless, I conducted one more follow-up study, even though I don’t even care what they think about it anymore. I am sharing it here because I think it’s interesting and you all can decide for yourself. The crumbling zombie Ivy league is an elitist scam and I have wasted enough of my life trying to impress them. Their style works for them, good for them.
I think this last study is pretty great but I’m sure it still doesn’t explain the cognitive implications. The results show that participants do distinguish between the words “real” and “nonfictional”. This was a controlled study, the participants were randomly assigned by the survey software to either a question asking participants to indentify the “real zombie” (as above) or the “nonfictional zombie”. The answer choice options were the same as the version above (the fictional version tested individually against rum-drink, malware and insects, plus an “uncertain” option). The variable of interest is the one word changed in the question asked (to identify either the “real zombie” or “nonfictional zombie”).
The difference between these groups shows a statistical difference in the understanding of the words. Participants are more likely to select the fictional definition when asked for the “real zombie” than when asked for the “nonfictional zombie”. Hence, the rhetorical “real” is not perceived as synonymous with the “nonfictional”. Therefore, being “real” is different than being “nonfictional”, at least as applied to zombies (and also seems to work on some pilot testing I did with “wizards”, i.e. participants are likely to think “real wizards” are spellcasters as opposed to math, finance, computer, or pinball experts).
Surprisingly, many participants still select the fictional monster definition even when asked for the “nonfictional zombie”. I don’t have a good explanation for that. Perhaps participants don’t know what nonfictional means or perhaps this word also has something more to do with authenticity than it might seem. Still, the main effect is significant, and there is a proportional difference in the interpretation of “real zombie” versus “nonfictional zombie” on all three sets of answer choices tested. Again, as mentioned in the previous post about my other MTurk surveys, some of the samples had inconsistent results, but I didn’t throw out any of the data and summed overall and the effect holds.
I do believe this project was on it’s way to maybe finding some ‘real’ cognitive implications potentially regarding the perception of rhetorical reality. However, without a supportive advisor, I refuse to continue paying for so-called “doctoral advisement” that I am not getting. Honestly, who cares about the letters appended to the end of my name? It’s all so bourgeois-gauche. Sorry mom, but this work ain’t doctoral material. Maybe it could have been… Surely it’s as much my fault as anyone else, this program was a bad fit and I kept trying for way too long. There is an “adjunct crisis“, and still the adjuncts are the only faculty that care at all. Paying any more money to this zombie institution would be psychotic. It’s time to stop being a zombie student and try making a real living…
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
– J.K. Rawling, in the book “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”
“Reality is merely an illusion albeit a very persistent one.”
– Albert Einstein (* is this an authentic quote or a persistent attribution?)
“what the art of physics is, is the ability to sniff out which mathematics is relevant for reality and which mathematics isn’t”.
– Brian Greene, modern physicist in “The Hidden Reality” (2011)
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
– Philip K. Dick, science fiction writer
“It’s now reality. It’s not science fiction. It’s real and you can look at it.”
– Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, about a new rail gun weapon system
“It was so real it didn’t seem real.”
– School Police Officer on scene of Newtown school shooting
“It doesn’t have to be understood to be real.”
– Peter Lanza, father of Newtown school shooter Adam Lanza.
“I challenge you to make sure all students feel like the ‘realist person on earth'”
– Sonia Nieto at the Teachers College 2014 commencement
“too many of them are getting addicted to video games, and we just can’t let them do that, nope, we gotta get out there, and you gotta get them out there, doing real stuff.”
– Temple Grandin at the Teachers College 2014 commencement
“Pick any metric you want — America’s resurgence is real.”
– President Barack Obama, December 20 2014 weekly address
“that’s how you want to portray the world but we know a different reality.”
– Mayor Bill de Blasio, December 22 2014 press conference