“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, January 16, 2004

Adios, LI readers.

This has been immense fun. However, as a habit, blogging has become too expensive for Mr. LI. We received a notice, today, about our electricity. Make the throat slashing gesture -- we have no money to pay it. We have no money to pay rent, etc., etc. And really, it simply takes too muich time, right now, to do this blog.

On the bright side, as one of the "self-employed" of the Bush economy, I have just gotten off the phone with the aid agencies suggested by the City of Austin, and have really understood for the first time what the Bush era means. The City suggested the United way, which suggested St. Mary's, Christian Services, Baptist Community Center. This, of course, surprised us. Asking if there were any more, uh, robust agencies to act as my advocate, if not to offer temporary relief, I was told, No.

This makes complete sense, of course. It is not that the poor in this country are being ruled with indifference -- rather, they evoke unmitigated hostility among the Republican gentry. Losers, whiners, and a reserve army of failure, we are the turds. Having representatives who might look through the bylaws of, say, a power company to discover regulations that protect the poorest payers is just the kind of thing we don't want to encourage. Dependence, you know.

A pity.

So, time for LI to plunge into the bowels of the Temporary Relief for Needy Families. And as any counsellor for the poor knows, the first thing to do is to wean the poor from their bad habits. The poor are always shooting themselves in the foot with their addictions. So it has proven with LI. This habit really has to stop.

So, time to yank the thing. We will leave up the archives and the site for about two weeks, but then, it is coming down. It is too tempting to continue it, and we simply can't afford to. Interesting as it has been to give a worm's eye view of the world, this worm needs a new hole to crawl through, at the very least.

Now for that struggle for food stamps. Wish us well.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Bollettino

Trollopians everywhere, take note: according to the Daily Telegraph, the Church of England might be selling off its most expensive bishop’s palaces:

“THE CHURCH of England is preparing to sell some of its ancient bishops' palaces and houses as part of a cost-cutting review.

The Church Commissioners said yesterday that they would introduce guidelines to maximise the income from properties and those proving too expensive to maintain may be put on the market.”

As we all know, the Bishop’s Palace in Barchester is the center of the world – at least, the world Trollope made. Of course, there are the political novels, the Irish novels, the novels and novels Trollope poured out, but the Barchester series is at the center of this universe. Our Tory impulse is to simply hang down our head when we read that the Church might actually be letting some vulgarian bidder, some Saatchi or other, get his hooks on jewels like these:

“Among the historic houses is Auckland Castle, a 90-room Gothic pile set in six acres, lived in by Bishops of Durham for nearly 900 years. The present bishop occupies a four-bedroom apartment there.

Hartlebury Castle has been home to Bishops of Worcester for even longer and Rose Castle, a fortified manor with listed wallpaper on the Cumbrian border with Scotland, has housed Bishops of Carlisle since the 13th century.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells has a 13th century moated palace whose swans learn to ring a bell when they want to be fed, but this is expected to escape the axe as it makes a profit from tourism and conferences. In a recent reassessment, however, the Bishop of Bristol's eight-bedroom Queen Anne house in Clifton has been sold, and the See House in Wakefield will be put up for sale.”

One remembers the agony of Crawley, the poor curate in the Last Chronicle of Barset, whose suffering increased with his knowledge, and the expense of whose knowledge came out of the happiness of his family. In Chapter IV, Mrs. Crawley has just been to see the lawyer about the matter of a bad check to the butcher. In Trollope’s usually adroit manner, a debt becomes the timer in this novel. The Crawley family is crawling with debts. Debts and cultural capital out the scrawny Crawley behind. The book is, in many ways, like one of those allegorical Victorian pictures – on one side, the Bishop’s Palace, and on the other side, the clergyman’s hovel. Mrs. Crawley comes home to a darkened house, and this is how Trollope lavishes its material weight upon us. When Mrs. Crawley tries to tell her husband what the attorney says, this is his reply:

'But none to crush me as this will crush me. Well; what am I to do? Am I to go to prison--tonight?' At this moment his daughter returned with a candle, and the mother could not make her answer at once. It was a wretched, poverty-stricken room. By degrees the carpet had disappeared, which had been laid down some nine or ten years since, when they had first come to Hogglestock, and which even then had not been new. Now nothing but a poor fragment of it remained in front of the fire-place. In the middle of the room there was a table which had once been large; but one flap of it was gone altogether, and the other flap sloped grievously towards the floor, the weakness of old age having fallen into its legs. There were two or three smaller tables about, but they stood propped against walls, thence obtaining a security which their own strength would not give them. At the further end of the room there was an ancient piece of furniture, which was always called 'papa's secretary', at which Mr Crawley customarily sat and wrote his sermons, and did all work that was done by him within the house. The man who had made it, some time in the last century, had intended it to be a locked guardian for domestic documents, and the receptacle for all that was most private in the house of some paterfamilias. But beneath the hands of Mr Crawley it always stood open; and with the exception of the small space at which he wrote, was covered with dog's-eared books, from nearly all of which the covers had disappeared.

There were there two odd volumes of Euripides, a Greek Testament, an Odyssey, a duodecimo Pindar, and a miniature Anacreon. There was half a Horace--the two first books of the Odes at the beginning and the De Arte Poetica at the end having disappeared. There was a little bit of a volume of Cicero, and there were Caesar's 'Commentaries' in two volumes, so stoutly bound that they had defied the combined ill-usage of time and the Crawley family. All these were piled upon the secretary, with many others--odd volumes of sermons and the like; but the Greek and Latin lay at the top, and showed signs of frequent use. There was one arm-chair in the room--a Windsor chair, as such used to be called, made soft by an old cushion in the back, in which Mr Crawley sat when both he and his wife were in the room, and Mrs Crawley when he was absent. And there was an old horsehair sofa--now almost denuded of its horsehair--but that, like the tables required the assistance of a friendly wall. Then there was a half a dozen of other chairs--all of different sorts --and they completed the furniture of the room. It was not such a room as one would wish to see inhabited by an beneficed clergyman of the Church of England; but they who know what money will do and what it will not, will understand how easily a man with a family, and with a hundred and thirty pounds a year, may be brought to the need of inhabiting such a chamber. When it is remembered that three pounds of meat a day, at ninepence a pound, will cost over forty pounds a year, there need be no difficulty in understanding that it may be so. Bread for such a family must cost at least twenty-five pounds. Clothes for five persons of whom one must at any rate wear the raiment of a gentleman, can hardly be found for less than ten pounds a year a head. Then there remains fifteen pounds for tea, sugar, beer, wages, education, amusements and the like. In such circumstances a gentleman can hardly pay much for the renewal of furniture!”

It is truly fascinating how the novel embedded in itself the tracking shot -- for this description of the Crawley chattels is one long tracking shot, from the couple to the child to the carpet to the table to the books to the desk. And like a tracking shot, what is shown is, by being shown, immediately symbolic. It is that instant when the the thing quickens into expression, when collection becomes scene.

The contrast with the gentlemanly circumstances of the Bishop, and his much lesser interest in pagan classics, runs through the book. And the Bishop's problem with his bossy wife. Bishop Proudie is a typical Church of England high official – very good for ceremonial purposes, but no damn backbone. Mrs. Proudie is one of Trollope’s great characters: narrow, proud, petulant, incapable of understanding religion beyond its ceremonial trappings, a conventional figure whom convention cannot satisfy, and (as we know from previous books) susceptible to Enthusiasm. In short, a Victorian Everywoman.

Well. And so that’s that. They fight WWI, they fight WWII, they conquer half the planet, and in the end, it comes down to this.

To think that the Bishop of Durham is practically camping like a student in his palace – practically lives there in LI-like squalor – is shaming.

What’s truly worse is that these palaces are going to rack and ruin merely because England is passing through a temporarily ferocious capitalist phase. Of course, the privatizations of today, and the Thatcherism, will eventually be swallowed up by the larger stream of English history. It would be a shame, however, for the damage those things have already done to engulf and drown the bishop’s palaces.

One knows exactly what the Bishop of Barchester would say: oh dear.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Bollettino

Economics is the science of explaining how the totalling of an economic model in its collision with reality is really not as bad as it looks. In fact, in the economist's version, it is reality that is at fault!

In this, it shares a lot with the science of selling used cars. The latest unemployment numbers certainly point to the ruinous nature of the Bush fiscal policy. While pumping into the system 600 billion some dollars that the state has to borrow, plus the money that it has on hand, is going to produce short term growth, that growth won’t necessarily engender employment. This lesson was learned, by left-wing Keynsians, in the inflation haunted seventies. Right wing Keynsians are reproducing the conditions for that fiasco from the other end.

We read, with mounting hilarity, the analysis of unemployment produced by the London Times Business editor, Anatole Koletsky. The numbers do look bleak, according to Koletsky, but that is because you aren’t looking hard enough. If you look under the numbers, and then you look around for other numbers, what you discover is an employment boom in America.

AK starts from the collision:

"Friday's US employment figures were undeniably a shock to economists (including myself) who have been expecting a strong global expansion, led by American growth."

The rest of the article, he talks himself into believing that the collision didn't take place. It is very funny. We especially like this part:

"But were the employment statistics really all that bad? Looking below the surface, the US economic figures still present an extremely positive story - albeit with a nasty sting in the tail.

The most important point -apart from noting that a single month of figures can never have much significance in its own right -is that Friday's stagnant employment figure was inconsistent with every other indicator of the state of the US economy. Figures on GDP, industrial production, layoff announcements, weekly jobless claims and the monthly surveys by the Institute of Purchasing Management (which have a 50-year track record of correctly anticipating cyclical movements in the US economy) have all been pointing unambiguously to strong employment growth.

"In such conditions, it is wise to ignore the rogue statistic..."

Indeed, such is the wisdom of the economists. There is the problem, however, that the rogue number might, after all, be the extraordinary 3rd quarter growth. As AK knows, each of the last two years have witnessed spurts that petered out.

Still, you need some statistic, somewhere, to continue to perform your shamanic function. Luckily AK has one, having been pointed there, no doubt, by the WSJ editorial board, which has lately given up economics in favor of examining the entrails of cows and such. Cow say, Bush, he very very good!

"The survey of payroll employment, conducted by a questionnaire sent to US employers, normally attracts more attention than the survey of households because it is less volatile from month to month. But over longer periods (such as 12 months) the two surveys have always moved closely together. In the past year, how-ever, the usual relationship has broken down (see top chart). According to the payroll survey the US economy lost 74,000 jobs in the year to December, but the household survey shows a healthy increase of 2.02 million jobs. So which should we believe?
To me the answer seems very clear: the household survey is right and the payroll survey is wrong."

This kind of hocus pocus is disappointing. Kaletsky is, in general we think, right to point to the inflationary load that is being generated by the Bush budget and the Fed's enabling of that budget. His problem is that he doesn't want to see what he is seeing -- an inflationary load and a week job economy.

The survey of businesses, it is true, doesn’t pick up small business starts. However, there is another explanation for the divergence. That is the length of this recession. The survey of households distinguishes between unemployed and ‘self-employed” without really asking too many questions. Kolatsky knows as well as anyone else how soft the ‘self-employed’ category is. People routinely describe themselves ‘upward’ to surveyors. That’s why 14% of Americans surveyed describe themselves as being in the upper 1% income bracket.

LI recently answered a survey, and for the first time, we answered unemployed to the question of what we did. It felt extremely uncomfortable. Of course, we could say self employed. Self employment last year grossed us some 8 thousand bucks – a real fortune. We rounded out the pittances we made from reviews by getting some day labor as a house painter, etc. This month, we owe 350 dollars in rent and, as the month comes to its halfway point, we have made zero house painting, zero on our articles, and zero has come in from our plea to LI readers, making a grand total of zero.

That is self employment. The difference between self employment and unemployment, in my case, is that the later is a step upward. We have no doubt that the extra unemployed, having every incentive to describe themselves with optimism, have, over time, either dropped from the rolls of the unemployed, or turned unemployment into a "choice.' It makes you feel better to think that you are self employed. So a former designer waters plants for some connections, earns a third of what she did earn, sends out resumes and gets no reply, and puts herself down as self-employed. This happens over and over. It isn't a pick up -- it is a symptom of a creeping and chronic malady.

There is no talking one’s way out of the employment picture wrought by the extreme of fiscal irresponsibility and the diversion of hundreds of billions to the richest percentiles, a diversion that has purchased an investor boom, but hasn’t trickled down to tighten the labor market in the least. From May of last year to yesterday, LI has sent off approximately 75 responses to job advertisements. We have received one interview. This is over a range of jobs – liquor store clerk, law office receptionist, customer service representative. It is drier than a dead man’s tongue out there.

Surely the investor boom will trickle down this year. There are signs of that in Austin. Up and down fifth street, there are new and very expensive apartment condos. In the past two years, perhaps 40,000 square feet of office space has been added just to downtown Austin. Yet we don’t see any rush to occupy either those condos – which start at 300,000 – or those office spaces. This is speculation of a non-risky kind – usually, after two years of economic doldrums, the American business cycle comes roaring back. But don’t believe the diagnosticians who, not hearing a heartbeat, decide that hearts beating aren’t the main thing. They are. If anything, the unemployment rate is probably understated, by not counting people like me. When Koletsky claims that two million jobs were added to the payrolls last year, I think that this is only evidence that the man is suffering from an almost terminal case of delirium partisans, a disease caused by bending over backwards to defend the Republican economic policy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Bollettino

Hmm. We don’t know if we can pat ourselves on the back yet, but it does look like our projection about the Shi’ite response to Saddam’s capture is starting to assume the outlines we predicted.

“Officials held a round of urgent meetings in Washington and Baghdad in the wake of the rejection on Sunday by a powerful Shiite religious leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, of the administration's complex plans to hold caucuses around the country to select an interim legislature and executive in a newly self-governing Iraq. Officials say they are responding to the cleric's objections with a new plan that will open the caucuses to more people and make their inner workings more transparent.
Administration officials also expressed concern about a separate part of Ayatollah Sistani's statement on Sunday that demanded that any agreement for American-led forces to remain in Iraq be approved by directly elected representatives.”
If you will cast your mind back, faithful reader, you’ll remember that we said, a day or two after the capture of Saddam:

“With Saddam rendered irrelevant, the third factor in Iraqi politics can now come into play � and come into play in such a way as to disturb Wolfowitz�s dream of Pax Chile on the Euphrates. That third factor is the Shi’ite demand for elections. Americans have been blocking this demand, because the American backplan is to somehow thrust a Chalabi or Chalabi like figure on Iraq. This thrusting was to be called democracy, not rape. So far, with Chalabi, it has pretty much failed …

In our opinion, the combinations now at work in Iraq are about to tumble to a new configuration. And this is not going to make the Pentagon happy. Our bet, right now, is that the following will emerge as the combination of forces in Iraq in the next, oh, two or three months:

The resistance will continue. It is a headless resistance. Whether it gets a brain will make a lot of difference, here. Our bet is that it won’t.

The Council is going to have to over-reach or dissolve. They�ve been put in an impossible middle position by the Americans. The question of who and how and for what Saddam H. is tried is going to be a point around which the Council will have to concentrate, for good or ill. We think that the Council, which is as brainless as the resistance, will try to over-reach and submit at the same time, and that it just won�t work any more. Alienating its patron, and alienated from its land, the Council will change radically.

Southern Iraq, assured by Saddam�s capture, will finally show a restiveness that America can ill afford. This, we think, will shape whatever happens next in Iraq. As to what that shape will be --- we have no idea. In truth, the Bushies have been so blinded to what is happening in Iran that they dont realize that the conservative mullahs are, ideologically, their best friends. We think the clerical Shi�a elite, which has obtained a considerable amount of capital, is eager to find an excuse to privatize, and to inject its capital into the global monetary flows. Whether that influences the Shia elite in Iraq is something we don�t know enough about to predict.”

Hey, that looks pretty good at the moment.

So, the comedy of multi-cultural misunderstanding goes on. It is rather amazing that Americans in 2004 are acting the way Americans in 1904 acted in the Philippines – as if they were dealing with an inferior race. But, in fact, that is exactly what they are doing. These grafs are wholly believable, and wholly astonishing:
“Now that Ayatollah Sistani has rejected the system as not democratic enough, administration officials said they were intensifying efforts in all of Iraq's governorates and in cities and towns to hold local meetings to select delegates to the caucuses.
The new hope in Washington, the officials said, was in effect to make the caucus system look more democratic without changing it in a fundamental way.”
Right. It’s the beads approach – give those savages beads, and in return they’ll give you Manhattan. Hell, worked four hundred years ago, oughta work today. So much for the much lauded moral politics of the Wolfowitz crowd. It’s democracy without any of that pesky will of the people stuff. And really, how can the people object when we’ve imposed on them a perfectly decent savage, one Chalabi, who even learned the charming American art of swindling – he’s almost as civilized as us!

However, a hopeful point should be made. We originally thought that there might be a lot more violence in Southern Iraq, due to the capture of S. There hasn't been. Really, there is a chance for a peaceful revolution here, after all: one bringing with it the prefiguration of Iraqi democracy without the servility towards the Americans. A good thing, a very good thing.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Bollettino

We went to a story in the Observer about grunt discontents. The story pointed us to a highly commendable site, run by the Veterans for Common Sense.

When Time magazine named the soldier the Man of the Year, there was something about the gesture reminiscent of Uriah Heep rubbing his hands together – an unctuous hypocrisy, if you will. Because, beyond the photo ops, the common soldier of America’s current war is being treated dismally by a government that pinches its pennies, when it comes to family leave for reservists, while throwing its billions away, when it comes to contracting with Halliburtan. It stinks.

The Veterans for Common Sense site has a compilation of articles about the collective dump the Pentagon is taking on Times Man of the year. For instance:

1. The wounded. Has there ever been an American war in which the censorship was so hamfisted, and the response of the press was so pussyfooted? In WWII, the press advocated for the GI; in this war, the press so far has advocated for a total of one GI, Jessica Lynch. The rest of them – the 2,841 wounded by offical count on January 7 – have somehow missed out on the Made for Tv movie, and the million dollar book deal. They are also missing out on their rights, not that this is going to make any headlines:

“Most service members severely wounded in Iraq and returned to the United States are treated at Walter Reed.

In a letter sent this week to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Dave Gorman, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, complained that the DAV is being blocked from carrying out its congressionally chartered mission.

Gorman questioned measures that require hospital pre-screening and approval of all visits, and full-time escorts during those visits, according to the letter a copy of which CNN obtained. Gorman said because of those escorts there is a lack of privacy over matters the counselors discuss with patients and their families at Walter Reed.”

2. Money. One of the great things about casting the soldier as a hero is that you don’t have to pay for heroes. I mean, Hercules getting a disability pension? Oh, forget it. It’s enough that Tom Cruise plays him in a cheesy Hollywood movie – one of those movies that, for the one millionth time, says NOTHING about the pay structure of the Army and the National Guard. So Times runs its suck piece; the Defense Department tries to “cut fat’ by cutting out the 300 million extra bucks that go to families for combat pay and family leave. And it isn’t an issue. We’d much rather see smiling dudes in camouflage hoisting a flag than think about paying them a decent salary. The gross inequalities that have become a structural part of the American system since the 80s have created a callousness that is most evident here. If you destroy unions and divert as much money as possible to the wealthiest, eventually the soldier – who is, after all the medals are taken off, another worker – is just going to have to take it on the chin. And there’s going to be more chin-taking as the war goes into its second year. Why? Because the deep, pervasive lying that took place as the Bushies organized this war meant that fighting it had to be done at the least political cost. No selective service here. No preparation for long term combat. Rather, we call up the Reserves – units that should, as the name implies, be Reserves. And as this AP article in the Army Times makes clear, that is the Rumsfeld policy. All military operations have to have a great code name: Operation Eagle, or Thunderbolt, or something. For this one I suggest "The Three Stooges come to the Defense Department".

“Back-to-back wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have stretched the Army thin. Nearly two-thirds of its active duty brigade-sized units are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. When the troops currently in Iraq rotate out this spring, the U.S. plans to lean heavily on the National Guard and Reserves for replacements. The Pentagon said Wednesday that the number of U.S. military reservists called to active duty jumped by more than 10,000 in the past week.

“What we’re trying to do is to manage the force now so that we don’t have a falloff in recruitment or retention a year from now, and then have a gap where we have to scramble to rectify that,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday.”

Ah, the gibberish just flows and flows from the Donald! He’s the Ed McMahon of bad planning!

3. Meanwhile, back on the home front. The Observer mentioned a Military Families Who Speak Out. The site has some interesting letters. An articulate and impassioned letter from Jessica D. Salamon to President Bush caught our eye. She makes a sensible suggestion: “Please do all of us a favor and don't talk about the sacrifices we are making until you know what they are.”

Pursuant to that request, she enumerates some of her sacrifices. Her husband joined the Ohio National Guard. This turned out to be a bad move, since “he thought being in a local unit would make the most difference in his immediate world. He also thought I would best accept his enlistment because traditionally the National Guard stays home to protect the US, our citizens, and our beloved Constitution.” And it does – normally. But Mr. Salamon wasn't calculating on the political cowardice stalking D.C., where the feel good rodomontade of the belligeranti is paid for by the blood of the citizenry. Ms. Salamon explains what her particular sacrifice is all about:
“When you speak of sacrifices, what do you picture? Do you picture apple-cheeked wives going out to sell war bonds or become Rosie the Riveter? Because that is not the reality of the sacrifices currently being made by military families. I welcome you to spend a day with me. It will be a long day, though, because I am unemployed and have trouble sleeping at night because I am under a lot of stress. I wait all day for my husband to call. I have to have my cell phone with me at all times because I am afraid to miss a call. I won't shop in the grocery store very long, because I don't get a signal in there and I'm afraid that he will call while I am in there. I cry every time I hang up with him because all of the joy and emotion is gone from his voice, he doesn't sound like the husband I married eight months ago, nor the man I have been with for nearly six years.

I spend much of my day writing him letters and printing articles off of the internet for him to read. I try to convince him that things will be better for us when he returns.

We haven't had a very good year, you see. We married in haste in April because we thought his unit was to be deployed then. My husband graduated with a degree in Computer Science and although he is a talented programmer, he was unable to find a job. In August, our home in Columbus was destroyed in a flash flood and we lost everything we owned. Our whole life washed away in one rain storm. We moved to northeastern Ohio to be near our families and try to rebuild our lives. We were both unemployed then. In November, we got the orders for my husband to report on Dec. 6 for mobilization. He was allowed to come home for Christmas, but our holiday was tainted by the fact that everyone had questions about his deployment and the fact that he was only allowed a three day pass. He didn't get to come home for New Year's, he will miss his birthday this month and our first anniversary in April. We may never get to go on a honeymoon. His orders are for eighteen months, so things are not looking up for us in the immediate future.”

Ms. Salamon obviously doesn’t realize what compassionate conservatism is all about – as you make the sacrifices, you store up your joys in heaven, not on earth! On earth, we have to sacrifice to make sure that people in Cheney's income bracket, poor pressed things, and those poor mutual funds investors, and especially those poor, suffering people in the energy industry don’t suffer the untold harm of taxation and regulation. Consequently, we don’t have the money for pesky little things like extending unemployment insurance. And we certainly can't take gravy out of the mouths of the numerous well entrenched military industries (Dyncorps, SIAC, Martin Marietta, Boeing) just to sprinkle some on the families of those who are really doing the fighting, can we? That’s going way too far.