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Showing posts from December 16, 2007

Waiter, there's a wire in my soup!

That the brain is hardwired or softwired is one of those half truths that drives the wires in LI’s own brain haywire. The idea that the nerve is a wire goes back, as we have shown in various previous posts, to suggestions made by Newton, and taken up in the eighteenth century by people like Hartley. Although strictly, the metaphor then was more of a kind of string imparting pulses, or vibrations. Galvani’s experiments suggested that the nerve was the locus of animal electricity – it was like the wire coming out of a Leyden Jar. Now, in truth, there is no wire that I meet up with in the course of my day to day encounters with electricity that is like a nerve. The string idea, of course, still exists in the notion of nerve ‘fibers’ – which is only to say that the way in which the nerve had to be modeled on artifices of human manufacture as it was understood goes deeply into the way nerves are talked about. On some level, we are all naturally Hollywood voodooists – we make little dolls an

The Age of Bosoms

LI finished watching Wojciech Has’ The Sargasso Manuscript last night. We had to watch it over two days – the movie, which came out in 1965, is a series of nested stories, framed by one master story recounting how Captain Alfonso van Worden traveled through Andalusia to Madrid. On the way, he was seduced by ghosts/genii/women/infidels at an abandoned inn. The seduction goes so far that van Worden semi-agrees to abjure Jesus Christ and follow the Prophet. Interestingly, if you go to the Web and read about this movie, you’ll find a blur of factoids. Was it made in 1965, 1964 or 1966? Was it set in the 18th century or the 17th? Those who watch the movie more carefully and obsessively than I have discover strange loops in the film. In the Penguin translation of the book by Jan Potocki, it is reported that Potocki “is said to have fashioned a silver bullet himself out of the knob of his teapot (or the handle of a sugar-bowl bequeathed to him by his mother): he had it blessed by the cha

Bad News in this Holiday Season

LI was going to write about the NYT piece about the vaunted return of Iraq’s refugees. This was floated a month ago as a definite sign that the surge was working, but – as was obvious from the illogic of the reports – it turned out to be another big lie. Some refugees are returning, especially Shi’ites, but in the main, the drivers are economic – these refugees, it turns out, are simply going to another station on the downhill slope. This story almost effected me, although as an American proud to support our troops, and helping freedom wind its way around the world, I immediately forgot it as soon as I read it: “Afraah Kadhom’s family is among the uprooted. She is 36, and usually shrouded in a billowing black abaya, a symbol of mourning. Her father and four brothers were killed two years ago when gunmen broke through the doors to the family’s house in Huriya, a neighborhood in north central Baghdad, and methodically hunted the men down. One of her brother’s sons, Mustafa, cradled hi

They say that I'm a clown making too much dirty sound

Every monkey like to be in my place instead of me cause I'm the king of bongo baby I'm the king of bongo Karl Bücher is a not very well remembered economist. His ghost comes up, faintly, in the literature about Karl Polanyi. He was an economist of the ‘historical school’ back in the early twentieth century. The ‘historical school’ and the marginalists were pitted against each other, and each also pitted itself against Marx. Institutional economics owes the historical school – although it is commonly thought that the historicists were creamed when the marginalists began to produce groovy, mathematical models. Bücher’s ghost also sometimes haunts … musicology. Of all things. This is because of a little book entitled Work and Rhythm. We all know about Taylor, and the making of work efficiency. Bücher, in 1894, worked along other lines. He listened to labor with that German metaphysician’s ear. He listened to the sound made by the shovel going into a sandpile. He listened to t

Blue Whale World

LI is looking at today’s NYT headlines – the Morgan Stanley losses, the recent EU Central bank decision to socialize the red ink of the wealthiest by throwing half a trillion dollars into the solvency crisis, the inevitable leak that the Bush White House, of course, had its hands all over the destruction of the CIA’s personal snuff n torture films – and we are trying and failing to see the big picture. We know, or we ought to know, that torture, bankruptcy, moral hazard as a governing style, and ill formed lies are what we should expect in societies that opt for transformative increases of inequality. It is no accident that the NSS-es of Latin America, when inequality had become intolerable in the 70s, became labs of death squads and jimmied up concentration camps – Argentina’s junta operating a torture chamber in a bank was not only another of Kafka’s nightmares from the Trial made real, but showed, once again, that the base of society is essentially poetic, made of symbols that are m

the bloody tree, the invisible hand

LI has been having trouble with this post, and in general with our posts on the pessimists. The reason is this: though the brunt of the pessimistic attack on the liberal system was, essentially, that the system made an unjustified and unjustifiable projection of a human mood – happiness – upon intentionally constructed social circumstances (in essence, what we have labeled the hedonic fallacy), the pessimists were by nature averse to system, and prone to launch into poetic arias about mythological pasts. Yet the nostalgia of the first counter-revolutionary generation – the generation that had actually existed under the ancien regime – is… not for the conditions of that existence. Maistre seems to long for the seventeenth century – or the sixteenth. Or the Spanish inquisition. Nietzsche sometimes seems to long for an Aryan never never epoch. I want to extract from this tradition one thing – the critique of the hedonic fallacy – but, as happens when you deal with literature, theme comes

Pollan Today

Michael Pollan is the best writer at the moment working for the NYT. It is with a mixture of amazement and jealousy that I trip through Pollan’s articles – like the one in the Mag today . Who else moves so calmly and clearly from Confucius and Marx to the honey bee and the hog?