Saturday, February 06, 2021

Policy trolls: the Larry Summers edition

There's one thing I really about the meanstesting neolibs, who claim to be so compassionate towards the poors that they wanna means test any relief package so it doesn't benefit the nasty riches - that is, people who make btw 80- 100 thou. Many of these means testers come from Harvard, or Yale, or Stanford, or Chicago. Schools with amazingly high endowments, to which rich peeps give and get accordingly tax deductions. Many of them even teach there, or, in the case of Larry Summers, used to be the president there -of Harvard, in his case.
Oddly, none of the means testers seem to notice that a small, poor college, Wabash College or something, and a multibillion dollar endowed university, Harvard, get - horrors! - the same tax exemption!
Surely, these neolib centrists, who know all about that there economics, should be on the forefront of trying to get their alma maters taxed, and taking away tax exemption from those rich dudes with their "philanthropy". Means testing, if it means anything, means not only testing the positive recipients of government funding, but also the recipients of what Milton Friedman called negative taxation.
But I've never yet read anything about this from the meanstestin' dudes. And I don't expect I will. It is one thing when you pretend to be all concerned that low income people receive the sole benefit from government funding, in order to block that funding at all - and quite another thing when you attack the mother ship for real. Larry Summers was booted from Harvard for being a sexist pig, but he woulda been booted much sooner if he made a big deal about shutting down Harvard's tax exempt status.
What we can conclude about this is that these neolibs form a group that thinks of itself as wonky, but in reality, they are policy trolls. And their trolling has been a disaster.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

hatewatching our minor apocalypse



“The story is, that Leontius, the son of Aglaion, coming up one day from the Piraeus, under the north wall on the outside, observed some dead bodies lying on the ground at the place of execution. He felt a desire to see them, and also a dread and abhorrence of them; for a time he struggled and covered his eyes, but at length the desire got the better of him; and forcing them open, he ran up to the dead bodies, saying, Look, ye wretches, take your fill of the fair sight.”
Hatewatching was not invented in the clickbait age – as Socrates’ story in The Republic proves. A sensationalist culture has, however, radically increased its reach ever since the newspapers discovered that pics of a lovenest and a corpse – if it bleeds, it ledes – could be a wicked mealticket. Now if it bleeds, it is killed endlessly in zombie movies, action movies, and so on, John Wick without end, amen. Any observer downloading American popular entertainment could predict, I think, that the culture that made it would host beaucoup mass shootings, just as this observer would predict, looking at the impossibly skinny models and pornucopia of ads for burgers, beer and sweets, that the culture would host both obesity and anorexia, locked in struggle. Sensationalism is about dizziness – loosing balance. And so the eyes take over, the appetite is hijacked, and ... we do our bourgeois best to navigate the breaks.
This is an exculpatory opening for my confession: since the Capitol riots, I have been binge hatewatching. The videos, the videos, as endless as the peeps searching to kill journalists, libtards and various and sundry and livestreaming on their handy cells for their friends.
In the aftermath, I’m all on the vigilante, the snitch side. I’m with the sedition hunters, the capitol riot trackers, the people who have slowed down the vids to bring into focus face after face, clue after clue, and turn their guesses into the FBI. I have gone into the circuit of watchers of the proud boys, those who’ve hacked their messaging, their pathetic Parler pics. The announcement that Ethan Nordean was arrested, today, as one of the ringleaders of the riot was no surprise to me- I’ve read the hacked messages about Nordean doing lines in the Capitol.
However, unlike Leontius, I have read me some social theory, so I justify my hatewatching with a quasi-academic purpose – to understand political/criminal groupings. I’ve been writing about 1930s extreme right groups in France, lately, and I am gobsmacked by the continuities. Now is the time for some good publisher to fork over the bucks for my translation of the diary of “Dagore” – a mook who was part of the extreme right Cagoulard group that murdered several people in the attempt to overthrow the Popular Front government – because the similarity of thinking between these groups is amazing, down to sexual attitudes and the anti-semitism.

There was a nineteenth century tradition, on the left, that “politicals” would be separated from the rest of the criminal population in the various prisons in which they ended up; one of the themes of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag is the breakdown of this noble tradition, a mark of the evil of Stalinism. I’m wondering, myself, whether that separation was ever as ontological as all that. I look at the vids the Proud Boys took of themselves and I don’t think of terrorists – I think of gangs. Specifically, prison gangs. Not enough has been made of the political creativity of jail. The Sunni paramilitaries in Iraq, which eventually formed Daech, started out with a jailbird – and probably more than one jailbird. Jail, which is harshly racially and sexually segregated, is the factory that has produced the avant garde of today’s American petit bourgeoisie. This is a fact I refused to believe all during the Trump regnum – rectum regnum. And it has mostly been avoided by the “resistance”, which much prefers the story that mini Russkies crawled through the facebook cracks and corrupted our neighbors. Conspiracy against conspiracy in this lightweight championship round, which deflects from the deep culture of despair in which our minds are being liquidated.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Philosophy and the crossword puzzle

 

Apollinaire started writing his typographically complex poems, the Calligrammes, in Paris in 1913 -14. By that point, the cubists were pasting bits of printed matter into their paintings, and Marinetti and the futurists were trying to develop a poetry of pure punctuation.
On the other side of the Atlantic, an English immigrant named Arthur Wynne, working at the New York World, unveiled his own adventure in art in the “Fun” pages, the World’s way of creating a family demographic for the paper. The word cross, as Wynne called it, debuted on December 21, 1913. "Wynne’s puzzle was a peculiar, diamond shaped grid, with no black squares... Rather than being divided into the Across and Down clue columns that we know today, the clues were designated by the first numbered square in the answer and the last.” (Stanley Newman and Mark Lasswell) It was soon called the cross word – although whether this was Wynne’s decision or a typesetter’s error is not known. What is know is that it is a Smith graduate, Margaret Petherbridge, who worked as a secretary at the World, who really gave the puzzle its shape. “She threw out Wynne’s double numbering of clues, decreed that puzzles would be a symmetrical grid with no lonely patches of isolated answer squared, and laid down plenty of other rules. But her biggest contribution might have been the fact that she made ingenuity a hallmark of the crossword puzzle. She jettisoned obvious cluing, introduced the idea of theme puzzles, and generally created an atmosphere that sent the message: Crosswords were smart entertainment.”
It was in the 20s that the fad for the puzzles hit. Petheridge wrote the first book of them, which sold out, and crossword puzzles, like bridge, dancing and bootleg whiskey became part of the decade’s nature.
The twenties also saw the publication of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus , with its strangely numbered “clue”-propositions. Wittgenstein was a devourer of certain sorts of popular culture – Westerns, detective novels. I can find no mention of crossword puzzles in Ray Monk’s biography of Wittgenstein, and perhaps he viewed them as a waste of time. But as an odd language game, where language is indeed on a holiday, they might have interested him.

In a very fine article, The “Puzzle of Scientific Method”, Susan Haack used the crossword puzzle as a governing analogy for how we should feel about scientific explanations and extends her analogy to the scientific method. Her intention was to “give a model of the structure of evidence which would (like foundationalism) acknowledge the relevance of experience to empirical justification, and (like coherentism) allow pervasive mutual support among beliefs without vicious circularity. The difference between clues and intersecting entries mirrors the difference between experiential evidence and reasons for a belief; the interdependence of entries, the mutual support among beliefs. Apropos of the latter desideratum, I was encouraged both by Peirce’s robust insistence that only an ignorance of logic could lead anyone to confuse mutual support and vicious circularity, and by Quine’s observation that “there can be mutual reinforcement between an explanation and what it explains.”
The analogy is rather convincing to me. Haack does not think that science has a privilege in its evidentiary procedure over ordinary life, but that science is distinguished, mostly, by its care for those procedures – what I would call its ability to routinize them, its habitus.
Haack goes further, though, and uses the way crossword puzzles are solved as a way of understanding the scientific method.

“... that, as there is no mechanical procedure for arriving at a plausible entry, there is no mechanical procedure for arriving at good conjectures: and that, as there are no strict rules about when an entry is secure enough to be inked-in, or when it is insecure enough to be rubbed out, there can’t be rules, but only guidelines requiring discretion in their application, for deciding when a conjecture should be accepted and when rejected. “
I like the spirit of this: I think it has a Wittgensteinian cast. Although I think that it misses something about the relationship of the clues, their numbering, and the inscribing of erasing of entries. Or rather, I would like to know more about the clue formation, which is quasi-dependent on the squares to be filled in.
Has Haack’s crossword puzzle analogy traveled through the philosophy sphere? I don't know. I like it though, since it has a quality that is also true of great crossword puzzles: it is very very pretty.
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