Wednesday, August 02, 2017

George Osborne comes to France

Macron is combining the failed approaches of George Bush and George Osborne. But he’s so cute! And Le Monde is following behind, ever the faithful chien de garde. What is the dog’s task? It is to skip the first order of argument – does a country with a growing population really need to cut its spending, or increase it?. And in what areas?  Just assume that we don’t need this discussion, and all bien-pensants are agreed we have to cut spending. Then it is just a matter of going around in a circle, greeting all complaints with the remark, well, we have to cut spending you know.

For example – a few weeks ago, one of Le Monde’s Macron-archs was considering the petty complaints of petty people on the cultural front about cuts to their funding by the gov. He came up with a brilliant justification – it would be unfair not to cut the funding for the arts when everything else is being cut! The brilliance of this is that it skips right over whether the arts need to be cut or need, on the contrary, to be reinvested in, and makes it a matter of everybody has to take the bitter medicine. Of course, that excludes the cuts to the taxes of those in the top 10 percent income bracket, but lets not talk about that now! Let’s pretend that a budget is not about what the people need the government to do on all fronts, and is about nameless “waste” and a deficit that will go down magically as the government withdraws from services to the people.

We will ignore that the public deficit has so far grown in countries like the UK who have adopted the policy of blind cuts.

But one thing that we can surely assert with confidence, although  only cankish lefty economists will talk about this, is the opposite of the “crowding out” thesis. You know that latter thesis. It is that public investment “crowds out” private, so that too much government spending leads to weak investment in the private sphere, and hence unemployment and all the rest of it. The inverse of this thesis, then, should be that the retreat of the state from borrowing leads to the increase of private borrowing. While the first thesis is probably wrong – see Mariana Mazzucato’s The Entrepreneurial State for a rebuttal – the second thesis is almost certainly correct. In every Anglo Saxon country where Macronist style policies have been put in place, private debt skyrockets. For good reason – the state’s withdrawal undermines the lifestyles of the middle class, which are then repaired through use of a “reformed” credit market. Basically, it is jetfuel thrown on the business cycle. Eventually everything explodes.  
However, it is not just the boom and bust cycle of reactionary economics, ably mapped by Naomi Klein, that I am on about here. It is the fact that blind cuts by the state lead to a startling but little remarked  form of inflation. These cuts invariably open up holes in the country’s various infrastructures – physical, educational, healthcare, etc. These holes have a huge cost to the users of these infrastructures.
Take, for example, roads. In the U.S., as has become notorious, the neglect of the highways, byways and bridges has now become a common fact of everyday life. What this means is not just an increase in commuting time, as more people are in cars on less cared for roads – it also stresses every vehicle that uses the road. Just as an improvement in a machine is functioned into the inflation rate as a negative – bringing down inflation – so, to, every deterioration in the infrastructure stressing machines can be figured in as a positive – an inflator. Just because the state and economists don’t like to follow through on the logic of their principles doesn’t mean this isn’t so. It is especially so on things like healthcare and education.
The principle that we decide on cuts on high, because we are principled liberals, and we apply them blindly, is a recipe for disaster. Macron is a lucky son of a bitch, and I think his disaster of an economic policy is not going to effect France immediately, given the ongoing upswing in the business cycle. But the accumulation of austerity driven policies will strike hard once the cycle goes down again. Which can happen fast.

But don’t look to the chiens de garde for information or analysis on this topic.  They are too busy howling their appreciation of our new Jupiter.

Monday, July 31, 2017

ritualized humiliation in the awards ceremony - an american tradition

In the August 3, 1963 New Yorker, there was a funny in the Talk of the Town. It concerned a beauty pageant. It makes remarkable reading.
The beauty pageant was for National College Queen. The New Yorker reporter visited the contestants as they were posing before the ABC news cameras in Central Park for the contest in the Seven Lively Domestic Arts. One of them, of course, was coffee serving. Which is what the girls were doing. A spokesman pointed with pride to the fact that there was a Fullbright scholar and a Phi Beta Kappa among the candidates up for the crown. While they displayed their ability to brew up and serve coffee, they wore crowns on their heads.

This scene seems, today, rife with rage. How could any woman stand the patronizing, debasing, ridiculous treatment they were being accorded – basically, a quick course in second class humanship? But the New Yorker, a magazine which had employed Dorothy Parker and, in 1963, employed, among others, Renata Adler, didn’t see it like that.

“Then, clustering prettily for the ABC crew around one large skillet, the girls turned to the more practical lively homemaking art of Frying Eggs. One by one, twelve eggs were cracked into the pan with enormous care. Two yolks broke. None of the eggs cooked. Miss Bowie [the spokesperson] blushing beneath her turban, hurriedly confessed to ABC that she had forgotten to pre-heat the skillet, and then apologized to the head chef of the Tavern, who had been standing by with a pepper mill.   …
The twelve beautiful brain-trusters meanwhile had moved on to tackle the art of Mixing Drinks in a Westinghouse blender. Having each been presented with another egg, pineapple juice, milk, watercress and chocolate sauce, they were told to combine the elements in whatever way they saw fit. “We’re testing your imagination, girls,” Miss Bowie said.”

Although it is a separate and other regime of oppression, this little scenario does resemble, in its coordinates (the contrast between “brains” and the natural essence of the human type at the other end of the brains, as seen by the “typical” American) the battle royal in The Invisible Man. Of course, there is a grand, enduring difference between the regime of humiliation that marks the women in this scenario and the humiliation that marks the African-Americans in Ellison’s story, but it is still a form of ceremonial humiliation, as the reporter unconsciously makes clear with the continual reference to “brains” - the ‘brain-trust,” the “brainy” girls, etc.. It makes me curious about Miss University of Oklahoma, Miss University of Washington, Miss Purdue University and the rest of them. How did they thrive? Did any of them put a bomb up the ass of the Man in the late sixties, early seventies? It also makes me want to ask more about how ritualized humiliation so often emerges as part of a reward ceremony – don’t we see that, especially now, as the mechanics driving the scenarios coming out of D.C.? 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

on: los angeles plays itself

Last week A. told me that we needed to watch Thom Anderson’s Los Angeles Plays Itself. She also told me a funny story, told to her by the person who recommended the movie. Because the movie stitches together clips from about fifty films shot in Los Angeles, the film could only be shown for a time if Mr. Anderson was sitting in the theater. His presence ensured that the film was being played for private reasons, and not public – profit making – ones. Since I was able to download the film from Youtube without inviting Thom Anderson over to our place to see it, presumably the fair use issues have been resolved.
That is all to the profit of the films that are sampled in the film. Anderson has an eye  for a stunning sequence; especially when the sequence involves some Los Angeles site. In fact, the sequences far outweigh many of the films. I doubt that there are many fans of Messiah of Evil, a 1973 zombie film, but the sequences Anderson pulled from that film – of a gas station and a grocery store – are filled with a menace that zombies, however creative the makeup department, just can’t match. They have an astounding photogenic power.
This poses a bit of a question, especially pertinent to a medium, like film, that is a collective product: what are we watching these things for? While I could, presumably, find beautiful lines and extract them from an otherwise bad novel and read them for themselves, this goes against how we read novels (and is one of the reasons that reviewers cherrypicking good lines from novels always end up looking foolish). It is rare that the lines overshadow the novel – which is why Wilde found it so hard to write a novel. Perhaps Ronald Firbank, whose novels are full of cardboard characters and preposterous settings, is a novelist who one still reads for the lines.
Movies are different. They are immanently visual; they are immanently sampleable.
Los Angeles plays Itself pulls out of Die Hard, for instance, all you need to see of that movie – all 20 seconds of it.
This structural property has an economic correlate. A novelist rarely “spends more” on chapter one than on chapter 20. Maybe some research goes into chapter 20, but basically we are talking about time, a computer or typewriter, printing the thing out, a pen.
This isn’t true of movies. Certain sequences are expensive, and certain sequences aren’t. This has an effect: the way a blockbuster film builds to its spectacular sequences is reflected in the books kept by the accountant. Spectacle and stars’ salaries have a great, magnetic power over the film as a whole. This doesn’t mean the spectacular sequences annul the cheaper sequences, or that the sequences without the star are annulled by the star’s appearance. What it does mean is that the movie audience comes to the film to see the expensive parts. That is what they are paying for.
Of course, this principle isn’t true of every film that comes out of Hollywood or Bollywood or wherever.  But what distinguishes the blockbuster is the adjustment of the cheap parts to the expensive parts.
Contrast this with a film like, say, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, to choose one off the top of my head. Altman’s famous presentation of the hesitations and overflow of everyday speech is paralleled by a pictorial care to show rain, snow, forest, candlelight, even the star’s face and figure, in reference to the whole visual library of Western art. McCabe being hunted in the snow and Brueghel’s painting of Hunters in a winter landscape exist on the same plane.  It is this respect for pictorality that makes the Altman film not that much different, in spirit, from the classic westerns. Or from Jean Leterrier’s Roi San divertissement, which also made much of the snowy wilds of Giono’s story.

Myself, I am too often mislead, or rather fascinated, in movies, by the script. I was raised by network television, a medium in which the script was everything, and so loosening up and seeing a movie is an exercise for me. Los Angeles plays itself, in spite of the voiceover by the director, who has a sarcastic, stuffed up voice, loosened me up. 


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...