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Showing posts from April 29, 2018

Remember remember

There is a tendency among historians to think that “great” presidents are those who succeeded and who influenced their successors. What they don’t consider is the possibility of a president with enormous influence who also enormously failed. This is because historians believe that American history has an auto-correct embedded in it. The twenty-first century is upending these assumptions. Surely the most influential president of this century was George Bush. And surely he was the most miserable, rotten, corrupt, lying, failure we have yet seen in the presidency, and I am including the present sexual assaulter. In fact, although few people seem to have noticed, the Trump administration is modeled almost pathetically on the Bush administration. When the Bushes came in, what was the first order of business? To undo everything that the Clintons had done. This included, by the way, the information and practice of anti-terrorism, which had concentrated on Al Qaeda. Of course, Al Qaeda w

Liberate the past!

In 1926, there was an attempt to put into place a new kind of sidewalk at Rue Championnet in the 18 th arrondissement – now known, if known at all, for being the last address of the Iranian author, Sadegh Hedayat – which would incorporate one of H.G. Wells’ vision of the future: it would roll. The speed of the sidewalk was set at 1 to 7 kilometers per hour. The experiment was reported by Paris Soir. But evidently it did not catch on: Rue Championnet today has returned to sidewalks that support the movement of the pedestrians, rather than vice versa. The future didn’t happen. I am, for some reason, fascinated by the sidewalks of Paris. Outside of our building and all down our street, this winter, they have been reinstalling pipe. To do this, they had to remove the blocks of stone that constitute the sidewalk and dig a trench, going down a good three feet – or so I judge from watching the diggers step into it, which sank them to a chest high view of street level. The diggers seemed

Ya want resistance? I got resistance for ya.

We’ve been here before. In 1852, a slave named Joshua Glover escaped from the household of Bennami Garland of St. Louis. He ended up in Racine Wisconsin. Unlike Huck and Jim, this slave knew the direction of freedom – the ductus of liberation, you might say. Or thought he did. In 1854, Garland got a court in St. Louis to recognize that Glover was in Racine, and that Glover had stolen Garland’s property – Glover. Given the power encoded by the Fugitive Slave Act, Garland informed the U.S. Marshals, who descended on a shack Glover was staying in – while he worked for a local businessman at a sawmill – and they captured him. What happened next was real resistance, not a hashtag. The bells rang in Racine to warn the populace about the invasion of free territory by the slavers. Racine, at that time, was a strongly anti-slavery town. A meeting was held, and resolutions were passed decrying the kidnapping of Glover. A writ of habaeus corpus for Glover was submitted to the court, which w

in defense of envy: the bad sister of greed

When you read conservative and libertarian economists, you will inevitably, at one time or another, run into an interesting paraodox: the envy paradox. While greed among this type is the good bad emotion, and has been since Mandeville, envy is the wicked sister, the bad bad emotion which we must shame. Right away, it seems that this makes little sense. If you dub envy “aspiration”, hey presto, it becomes a virtue. The Horatio Alger striver, realizing that capitalism is the  best of all systems and the thing to do is to swim upstream and rescue the bankers daughter, is mucho applauded – while the woke Horatio Alger union organizer or (heavens) community organizer who aspires to a more equal society by, say, limiting the amount of wealth possessed by the wealthy, using the democratic tools at hand, are falling for the bad bad emotion of envy. It is a curious twist. Even more curious, though, is the economists blindness, on a massive, ideological scale, to the economics of envy in ca

tradition: we dream each other's dreams

It was, I believe,  T.S. Eliot who said that every strong writer creates the tradition that he then proceeds to follow. By this he meant that literature is not sequential, even if its chronology, by mundane necessity, is. A writer picks out, from the vantage point of those instincts found in his scribblings, those of his predecessors who tended towards him. Blake thought the same thing - Milton dreamed of Blake, and then Blake dreamed of Milton. Mixing memory and desire indeed.  Well, the same can be said, as we all know, for economic history. When bubbles are blowing, the historians turn a revisionist eye on previously dissed speculators. In the nineties, there was an outpouring of sympathy for, of all people, J.P. Morgan. So cultured! So right, so often! This acquisitive weasel, this man whose name was rightly cursed by every farmer and Pullman porter in the 1890s, the classic photograph of whom, stick raised, WC Fields proboscis burning, pig like eyes shining with malice and out