Skip to main content


Showing posts from March 2, 2008

Now, dance

LI chatted with our brother on the phone last night. This brother got burned last year in the stock market. Although who didn’t? So he’s letting his buys coast at the moment – the wisest course. As always, in these conversations there comes a moment when D. tells me that I’m always pessimistic. He claims I’ve been pessimistic since 1990 – and that I had to be right once, so that last year, when I told him to get out in the summer after he’d had a good ride on his stocks, I was simply lucky that, for once, pessimism was the correct view. Well, I always squirm and protest that I’m not a pessimist. I’m sour-castic – an entirely different thing. This means that I always sound pessimistic. But all I mean is – we’re all gonna die! In actuality, I am a great admirer of the plodding tenaciousness of your average American Joe. So I found this article about the rise and fall of a house building family, the Dunmores, pretty fascinating . “When George P. Dunmore started his business in Sacrament

Brer Rabbit and Lycurgus

"' I come atter you, Brer Rabbit,' sez Brer Fox, sezee. 'Dar's gwineter be a party up at Miss Meadows's,' sezee. 'All de gals 'llbe dere, en I promus' dat I'd fetch you. De gals, dey 'lowed dat hit wouldn't be no party 'ceppin' I fotch you,' sez Brer Fox, sezee. "Den Brer Rabbit say he wuz too sick, en Brer Fox say he wuzzent, en dar dey had it up and down, 'sputin' en contendin'. Brer Rabbit say he can't walk. Brer Fox say he tote 'im. Brer Rabbit say how? Brer Fox say in his arms. Brer Rabbit say he drap 'im. Brer Fox low he won't. Bimeby Brer Rabbit say he go ef Brer Fox tote 'im on his back. Brer Fox say he would. Brer Rabbit say he can't ride widout a saddle. Brer Fox say he git de saddle. Brer Rabbit say he can't set in saddle less he have bridle fer ter hol' by. Brer Fox say he git de bridle. Brer Rabbit say he can't ride widout bline bridle, kaze Brer Fox be sh

The shock of conquest.

This was the situation which capitalist production confronted as it, since the age of geographic discoveries, prepared itself for world domination through global trade and manufacture. One should think that this mode of marriage had suited it exceptionally well, and so it also was. And yet – the irony of world history is fathomless – it was capitalism that had to make the decisive breach in it. While it turns all things into commodities, it dissolves all obsolete, ancient relations, substitutes buying and selling, the free contract for inherited morals, historical right – as when the English legal scholar H.S. Maine believed to have made a great discovery when he said that our whole progress against earlier epochs consisted in the fact that we have come from status to contract, form inherited, transcended circumstances to freely contractual ones. Which was of course already in the Communist Manifesto, in so far as it was correct. – Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property

the croakers want their own index

LI recommends David Leonardt’s column on unemployment in the NYT today. Leonardt has positioned himself as the NYT’s thorough Business columnist – he doesn’t have Gretchen’s instinct for hot stories of corrupt dealing, or Floyd Norris’ air of being a business columnist paterfamilias. Instead, he’s the economic historian of the bunch. In keeping with that rep, he begins with a fascinating story about the man who invented the way we measure unemployment, Carroll Wright, the chief of the Massachusetts Bureau of the Statistics of Labor in 1873 who was convinced that unemployment wasn’t as bad as the newspapers said it was. To “combat” the erroneous picture, “he created the first survey of unemployment. The survey asked town assessors to estimate the number of local people out of work. Wright, however, added a crucial qualification. He wanted the assessors to count only adult men who “really want employment,” according to the historian Alexander Keyssar. By doing this, Wright said he unde

the fall of the house of LI

I can feel, as I type this, the wind creaking in the shingles, the moon staring malevolently down, and the curse of the ancient house of UFOB creeping into the LI office like the mummy’s last cough. Because tonight, well, we went to the caucus, we v-v-voted for Obama, and we even signed up to be an alternate delegate to the county convention. Oh no, I see the fatal shadow of the raven on the wall! So, we’ve cast ourselves into the whole shilly shally of White House Idol. The convention was held at the middle school a couple of blocks from here. About five hundred people showed up, including my worst enemy in the world. We nodded at each other – the WEIW and I no longer threaten bodily harm to each other. The flames have been banked. About 425 Obama people sat on one side of the room, and the rest were Clinton supporters on the other side. I was with the group that encompassed the cool young college crowd and the prosperous homeowners whose housing prices have regularly increased 25 p

Every which way: IT comes to America

Announcement: IT and a monkey are comin’ to America. (I think the monkey is an homage to a forgotten Clint Eastwood hit of the seventies. Or maybe it is just a monkey ). She has kindly left her schedule on her site, here. We’d urge any LI readers in Los Angeles, SF, NYC or Ithaca, New York to contact her to make arrangements to ply her with food and drink (and peanuts for her monkey, if it likes that kind of thing).

Property and hierarchy

Sir Henry Maine makes an interesting remark – interesting for the observer of emotional customs who also happens to be interested in the history of commodity fictions – in his lectures on Ancient Law to the effect that, to one looking at Roman law in the nineteenth century, under the influence of Bentham, it might seem as though that ancient law was constructed according to some notion of the happiness of the greatest number: “The Roman theory guided men’s efforts in the same direction as the theory put into shape by the Englishman; its practical results were not widely different from those which would have been attained by a sect of law-reformers who maintained a steady pursuit of the general good of the community. It would be a mistake, however, to suppose it a conscious anticipation of Bentham’s principles. The happiness of mankind is, no doubt, sometimes assigned, both in the popular and in the legal literature of the Romans, as the proper object of remedial legislation, but it i

secret societies

Though Balzac saw himself as a romantic legitimist, his real passion was for secret societies. Indeed, the Comedie Humaine is a hive of secret societies, a puzzle palace given over to l'envers de l'histoire. Cousine Bette is, among other things, a sort of equivalent to The Prince in terms of conspiracy. Once the motive is given – Cousine Bette’s resentment over the theft of her Polish sculptor by her relatives, the Hulots – she turns all her resources to overthrowing that family. She has an expert sense of the vices and virtues that render the Hulots so vulnerable, and she sets to work with her trump card – Valerie Marneffe, whose ass will bring down a little private kingdom - all the while sewing and sewing and sewing. Naturally, Balzac was attracted to the mythography of conspiracy. Among this company, one of the greatest was Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall. Hammer-Purgstall is no longer a name to conjure with – I admit! He was an Austrian diplomat during the Napoleon