April 2008 Archives
April 1, 2008
What's Wrong with the World to Close
Effective at 10:33PM Central Time, I will be closing down What's Wrong with the World. The domain will go dark completely at midnight. Backups of the database, comments and site layout have been sent to the editor, Paul J. Cella if he wishes to continue this site elsewhere.
Due to recent changes in my political philosophy, I can no longer, in good conscience, continue to run this site.
Regulation Returns, Because Moral Hazard is Now Structural
Irwin Stelzer, writing in the Weekly Standard, discusses the implications of the Bear Stearns bailout and the regulatory reform proposal Treasury Secretary Paulson unveiled last weekend:
The investment banking industry as we knew it is no more. Change has been inevitable ever since the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve Board decided to use taxpayer money to back J.P. Morgan Chase's takeover of Bear Stearns. R.I.P. the deregulatory trend that has dominated policy towards America's financial institutions. Enter the lawyers, regulators, and politicians to reshape the nation's financial markets.
Investment bankers might moan, but when they created a system rife with conflicts of interest and too few incentives to good performance, followed by acceptance of billions of taxpayer money, they sold their deregulated birthright. When Fed chairman Ben Bernanke received permission from the White House and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to take almost $30 billion of Bear Stearns' paper onto the Federal Reserve Banks' balance sheet--and to open the discount window to other investment banks, to use the jargon of the trade--it put the taxpayer at risk.
Stelzer's language is not even condemnatory; if anything, it is reflective of a deep resignation, born of the knowledge that the wheel of history has turned, and that, given the actions of the participants, regulation of investment banks is simply a logical development. The bundling of collateralized debt instruments, and the sale of the same to third parties (and beyond) created a dense skein of interrelationships, increasing the likelihood of systemic failures, as opposed to isolated ones, and the fact that the entire architecture operated outside of the reserve requirements under which depository institutions operate, created a system of leverage that looked rather creaky once the black swans caused various asset classes to move in opposite directions, throwing the sophisticated mathematical formulae of the best and brightest into confusion.
Winners of the anti-pomo bumper sticker contest
Entirely judged subjectively by me, following my own metanarrative.
I won't keep you in suspense. Runners-up are below the fold. First place goes to
OBJECTIVITY IS MY FRAME OF REFERENCE
submitted by commentator Chris Floyd. This wasn't even hard. It stood out from the beginning.
Three hearty, bipolar, logocentric cheers for Chris. I would love to see people wearing T-shirts with this inscription in philosophy departments, at the APA conference, at the MLA, places like that. Analytic departments would love it and get a laugh. Among continentalists it would be provocative. And as a bumper sticker it would work especially well in college towns.
Notes on Music
Apropos of recent discussions of the vocation of the artist under the conditions of modernity, it would be well to note that Sunday was the birthday of Josef Haydn, while today was the birthday of Sergei Rachmaninov.
Without delving into comparative criticism of various recordings and performances, I'd recommend, well, anything by Haydn, but especially the Masses, the magnificent oratorio, The Seasons, and the sublime Piano Trios. For Rachmaninov, I'm partial to the settings of the Divine Liturgy and All-Night Vigil, particularly this performance of the Liturgy by a Russian church choir and this recording of the Vigil.
Elsewhere at Taki's, Richard Spencer takes up the question of just why contemporary music is so dreadful, providing links to a pair of aural atrocities that are not to be missed. The first, in particular, had me descending into the torments of migraine in less than 30 seconds. Among other things, he observes that
There’s also no evidence that our age is any more “commercial” than the putatively golden one—Die Zäuberflöte was a beer-hall musical; Verdi was always questing for the latest “blockbuster”; and even Wagner, the ultimate anti-social composer, brought out mechanical floating Rheinmädchen for the premiere of his Ring sage.
It is an observation which I must contest. The difference between our aesthetically blighted age and that of these composers, for example, is precisely that between a society coasting on the legacy and forms of an aristocratic, Christian civilization, and one in which commercial, quantitative values have pushed art to the fringes, where one might compose a helicopter string quartet. Die Zäuberflöte may have been popular fare of a sort, but this was because higher expressions of popular culture were then authoritatively shaped by those Christian-aristocratic hangovers; grace, we might say, elevated nature. In fine, an aesthetically traditionalist nobility was a tremendous boon to artistic excellence, while the displacement of that nobility by liberal, modernizing, commercial elites - a gradual process, to be certain - set the timer on the vitality of the Western tradition. The contemporary version of an aristocracy, the meritocracy, will not get the job done, first, because where the old aristocracy saw patronage of the arts as a function of its social position, the meritocracy can only view such patronage voluntaristically, and second, because the meritocracy is an elite premised on the very quantification that banishes the arts: IQ, test scores, credentials, the most materially remunerative positions, etc. The meritocracy is the distillation of the utilitarian, calculating ethos of the age, which remains inimical to art.
April 2, 2008
Our Patrimony for a Pot of Filthy Lucre
When Joseph Loconte slyly intimated that Dutch authorities ought to contrive some means of preventing Geert Wilders' film, Fitna, from being released, on the grounds that it constituted incitement to religious hatred and subverted the values of democratic society, it is highly dubious that he had these sorts of oppressions in mind. In brief, an Austrian opposition politician has been indicted on charges of incitement and degradation of religious symbols; the EU's
Politburo Parliament has rejected Hirsi Ali's proposal for a common fund to provide protection for those targeted for assassination; a Dutch journalist wishes Wilders' police protection to be lifted; the Federation of Dutch Employers is mulling a suit against Wilders, to claim damages for any losses incurred as a result of Muslim boycotts; and Belgian authorities are urging vigilant citizens to report instances of religious incitement, connecting this with a campaign to suppress Fitna.
Lawrence Auster suggests that the European Union has jumped the shark. I'm inclined to concur in the assessment, but find myself wrestling with the conundrum of the European Union itself: the EU is a collective act of shark-jumping, a continent-wide declaration that Europe is a spent force as Europe, a distinctive civilization comprised of dozens of unique peoples and cultures. The EU is is merely the denouement of a long, sad process; the two attempted autogenocides of the Twentieth Century represented a last flurry of activity before the final exhaustion, with the EU itself the grave. Europe's accelerating cultural, economic, and demographic integration with the Islamic world is merely the bouquet upon the freshly-turned soil beneath which the real Europe lies. All these things being the case, the entire endeavour being a shark-jumping, how can one episode, however monstrous, be a discrete, distinguishable shark-jumping?
All of these cultural episodes are not merely foreshadowings of dhimmitude; they are the substance of subjugation itself. Consider: it is forbidden to express even historical truths, if these should be invidious in regards to Islam, while the foulest blasphemies are feted; it is apparently a respectable opinion in Europe to maintain that those who run afoul of Islam should confront the consequences naked and alone, pariahs to even their countrymen; European authorities actively seek to suppress public discourse concerning these matters, as assiduously as any Chinese censor; and the possibility of subjecting dissenters to financial ruination is openly contemplated. Dhimmitude is being imposed, not directly, but through intermediaries, the impositions not merely treasonous in the sense that they violate patriotic obligations, but metaphysically, as a breaking of faith with ancestors and descendants (what few of these actual Europeans may have).
What, however, should one expect?
April 3, 2008
Rob Koons' Journey Home interview audio online
You can find it here on the EWTN site here.
Beware the Believers!
Dick the Dawk, a scientist, who's much, much smarter than you, doesn't know what to say about this little ditty:
Mark Pickup does not submit
I bet you think you know what this post is about. Muslim violence, right? Wrong.
Mark Pickup, for those of you unfamiliar with him, is a long-time pro-life writer and, nowadays, blogger who has progressive multiple sclerosis. I've talked just a little about him here.
We all know about the thuggish intimidation tactics of the Religion of Peace (tm). "Say we're a peaceful, non-violent religion, or we'll kill you," is pretty much their slogan. What is less well-known even among conservatives is the history of violence among death worshipers of other sorts. The pro-aborts and pro-euthanasia types have done an excellent public relations job of portraying themselves as flower children who stand about singing "Love Makes the World Go 'Round," their violent proclivities limited to...the unborn, the disabled, the elderly. Well, so okay, maybe pro-lifers don't think they're nonviolent. But still, the impression often is that at least they don't engage in ideologically motivated violence against fellow talking, mentally competent human beings over their political disagreements. Human Life Review did a service years ago by publishing this article about little-known incidents of pro-abortion ideological violence.
Now I come to learn today that Mark Pickup has been the recipient of intimidating communications (letters? e-mails? phone calls?) warning him not to write about Robert Latimer. For those of you who don't know who Robert Latimer might be...
April 4, 2008
In Heaven there is no Beer
Question: Whether irony[*] has a place in the Kingdom of God?
Objection 1: It would seem that irony has no place in the Kingdom of God. Irony is possible only when there is a history of privation. Furthermore, two of the purposes of irony are derision and mockery; clearly derision and mockery have no place in the Kingdom of God.
On the Contrary: "His blood be on us and on our children."
I answer that: In the Kingdom of God there is no imperfection; therefore that which was imperfect is remade into perfection for entry into the Kingdom of God. Existence in the Kingdom of God implies perfection, but does not imply a history of perfection alone.
Reply to Objection 1: We are not perfect, and yet we hope to enter the Kingdom of God. Therefore things which enter the Kingdom of God do not cease to be, but are perfected. Furthermore, life without jest and beer is less perfect than life with them. In Heaven there is no Milwaukee's Best.
[*] For the purposes of this post, we define irony as speaking in such a way as to imply the contrary of what one says, often for the purpose of derision, mockery, or jest.
(Cross-posted at Zippy Catholic)
April 7, 2008
The Enemy in the Mirror
In a blog entry at Turnabout Jim Kalb comments:
The author's conclusion is that we need some tribalism, fanaticism and law of the jungle of our own, just enough to maintain our ability to put individual self-interest first. It's the classic neoconservative version of the culture war: liberalism does itself in, so let's stick some traditional discipline into it and justify the discipline by pointing out that it'll put the system of everybody doing what he feels like doing on a more reliable footing.That is an interesting and concise way to put the matter. What really struck me about this way of putting it is how strikingly similar neoconservatism is to its arch-nemesis, communism. Communism saw the death of the free and equal superman in the feudalistic industrialized capitalism which arose from classical liberalism. In order to combat this, communism - as a tactical thing - adopted watered down versions of traditionally conservative or anti-liberal political positions, rejecting (for example) absolute property-based individualism as itself destructive of the liberal programme.
April 9, 2008
Interventionism as Pseudo-Patriotism
In many of my posts touching on foreign policy and the analysis thereof, I have referred to America's strategy of openness, a trope for the orthodoxies of the American establishment, according to which America, a society from which a cohesive cultural identity has been scoured by the deracinating forces of mobility, the fetishization of economic growth, vapid consumerism, mass immigration, and the failures of statist social engineering, requires a policy of globalization, underwritten by an interventionist foreign policy, in order to avoid disintegrating into a squabbling Babel of classes, ethnicities, interests, and ideologies.
As Prof. Andrew Bacevich was quoted in the original post -
In a society in which citizens were joined to one another by little except a fetish for shopping, professional sports, and celebrities along with a ravenous appetite for pop culture, prosperity became a precondition for preserving domestic harmony. Arguing on behalf of a populist vision of an engaged, independent, self-reliant citizenry, an acerbic critic like Lasch might rail against luxury as morally repugnant, insisting that "a democratic society cannot allow unlimited accumulation." But in reality the prospect of unlimited accumulation had long since become the lubricant that kept the system functioning. A booming economy alleviated, or at least kept at bay, social and political dysfunction. Any interruption in economic growth could induce friction, stoke discontent, and bring to the surface old resentments, confronting elected officials with problems for which they possessed no readily available solutions. Lasch may well have been correct in charging that "the reduction of the citizen to the consumer" produces a hollowed-out American democracy. But by the 1990s no one knew now to undo the damage without risking a massive conflagration.
So theorists, right and left, continue to presuppose that such openness is both a prerequisite of America prosperity and security, and the meliorist key to bettering the rest of the world. The arguments are a trifling over means, not ends; the differences between Sens. McCain, Clinton, and Obama in this arena are mere details, no more substantial than a question of which colour to select for the new car. Globalization, an acceleration of the centrifugal forces which have been obliterating American society, is for the establishment the centripetal force that, deftly managed, defers the reckoning with our own emptiness.
April 10, 2008
Evangelical Philosophical Society Launches New Blog
Plotting to save the humanities
Suppose I had scads of money (I don't) and wanted to found a new college (I don't). What would I do about the humanities departments? I'll set aside Philosophy, where I do happen to know that there are lots of excellent candidates out there looking for jobs and that one could easily fill a department. In fact, even if one were founding a Christian school, so long as it wasn't denominationally restricted, I'm pretty sure that one could fill a good analytically-oriented philosophy department.
But what about English? Indulge me for a moment and imagine that I want to have an English department entirely staffed by people who are completely opposed to postmodernism. No "critical theorists," no "Well, Foucault had some good points" folks, nobody wishy washy on this subject. Everybody should take a traditional approach to the humanities, should believe that texts have meaning outside our heads, and should be seeking to teach them. Also, nobody should require students to read The Color Purple. Traditional canon scholars, as well. I'll take old-fashioned New Critics, though probably if I had happened to live when they really were "new," I would have been one of the Old Historicists opposing them. But as it is now, they are the Old Guard, and at least they usually hate and are hated by the postmodernists; and they are by and large real scholars and know their stuff. If there are any of them left, that is.
Now, the trouble here is that we need to staff our hypothetical English department in our hypothetical new college with people who are alive, healthy, active, and willing to teach for a good while, not people who are retired or on the point of retiring.
Is it possible?
April 13, 2008
Life Imitates Art
Update: Folks, I'm going to shut down this combox. People have been remarkably civil given the way the original topic has morphed into a redebating of the Reformation. But because the discussion has drifted so far from my original post, I'm ending it.
In May 2007, Alan Streett of Criswell College offered a humorous blog post about my return to the Catholic Church, Top Ten Reasons Frank Beckwith Became a Roman Catholic. Here's reason #3:
Altruism: In the spirit of brotherly love, Frank wanted to provide Norm Geisler with a subject for a new book project.
Believe it or not, I just saw this on Amazon.com last night:
It is set for release on October 31, 2008, just in time for the 60th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Providence, Rhode Island (Nov. 19-21, 2008), at which the ETS membership will consider amending its statement of faith in order to make sure that any question about whether Catholics may join the ETS is permanently sequestered from serious and scholarly discussion.
April 14, 2008
How to argue against Socialism.
Someone once wrote to ask a question jarring in its directness: How should we argue against Socialism? It is commonly supposed, of course, that the question of Socialism is a somewhat antique one. We’re past all that, you know; it’s so Eighties. But then one reads or hears something striking enough in its implications, that one is reminded that the issue is very far from settled. It is quite pressing — a menace, even, though it wears new disguises. So perhaps the reader will forgive me my presumption as I endeavor to advise my correspondent on the question of how to argue against Socialism.
April 16, 2008
Benedict XVI and Catholic Higher Education
Unless you're living on Mars or in West Hollywood, you probably know that the Pope is in America this week. On his itinerary is a talk to Catholic educators. My colleague, Thomas S. Hibbs, in this morning's National Review Online, offers some reflections on "Benedict and the Catholic Universities." Here is an excerpt:
April 17, 2008
Art Imitates Death (Update: It's "Probably" a Hoax)
This from this morning's Yale Daily News:
Art major Aliza Shvarts '08 wants to make a statement.
Beginning next Tuesday, Shvarts will be displaying her senior art project, a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself "as often as possible" while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process.
You can read the rest of the article here.
April 19, 2008
It's fine for God (and us) to push around molecules
I have no problem with God's pushing around molecules. I have no problem with finite persons' pushing around molecules.
I have little patience with the odd tendency among some Christian writers and thinkers to try to find space for mind-body interaction and even for miracles in, of all things, quantum theory. Or else, sometimes, we hear elaborate theories wherein God set things up by means of the Biggest Bank Shot Ever at the Big Bang so that He would never have to do anything ever after that involved actually reaching a hand down and touching matter. To be fair, these latter scenarios are usually applied only to God's making stuff, not to (say) Jesus' turning water into wine or raising Lazarus. But I can't see the principled difference. If it's so especially cool and important for God to set the initial conditions up at the Big Bang for, say, the origin of life, why wouldn't it be equally good for the miracle at Cana to be the result of a Big Bang bank shot, rather than an actual intervention? If the latter as a true intervention is not a problem theologically or aesthetically (or whatever it is that people worry about), why should the former be?
Why should it be a problem that God should intervene and bump something?
And really, let's just admit plain old mind-body interaction for humans, too, rather than trying to squeeze it in between quarks via quantum theory. Remember--that there can exist nothing but a closed physical system, or something that looks just like a closed physical system, is not a law of science but a metaphysical prejudice. Really.
April 22, 2008
Let Them Drink Wheatgrass
Via James Poulos, it appears that the European Union, like the Hegelian Idea becoming fully self-aware, now proposes to regulate secondhand drinking, the Orwellian euphemism for all of the externalities associated with the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Rational beings have already concluded that the American experience with this sort of regulation is dispositive, but the EU instantiates a different logic. Poulos elaborates:
I’ve suggested before that the inevitable and prompt result of administrative tyranny is freedom by bribe. The particulars here seem to point in the same direction. Already we in the West are accustomed to our celebrities breakin’ all the rules. The more arbitrary and ridiculous the law becomes in trying to shape enjoyments, the more the issue will take on class contours. In the new dystopia, only the upper class will be able to afford lower class pleasures.
Prohibition by de facto luxury pricing is to be the mechanism; exceptions for the meritocracy will be carved out, whether informally, or by the combination of propaganda and increasing levies upon, and penalties for, the 'illicit' use of ordinary pleasures. After all, these externalities increase the burden upon the welfare state, decrease the profitability of private insurers and corporations, and raise the specter of higher taxation for the elites - who, after all, under the
If, however, the social regimentation of the EU is to adopt an explicit, even merely implicit, "let them eat tofu and drink pureed wheatgrass" aspect, I'd suggest that it is high time for a revival of the guillotine.
This being neither ethical, responsible stewardship, nor licit 'dominion' over the creatures of the earth, the two concepts positively excluding the deliberate infliction of grotesque cruelties, I associate myself completely with Lawrence Auster and Spencer Warren's opposition to this "hunt". For the sake of clarity, I do not place this moral enormity at the same depth in the moral abyss as the things we permit to be done to the unborn. I suggest only that a culture which assigns moral worth in accordance with sentience can justify virtually any abominations performed upon beings that don't measure up, regardless of species and nature. That skinning alive and eviscerating live seals is a lesser evil than abortion does not mean that it becomes not-evil. At the root of both is the spiritual disease of believing that beings exist to serve our whims and desires, and that those aspects of being which stand athwart those desires may be exploited/slaughtered/destroyed as we think best.
No. A thousand times, no.
April 23, 2008
This would seem to be a case warranting not merely the serious attentions of the authorities, but a stiff sentence upon conviction. Nevertheless, the inclusion of the charge of "attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction" is indicative of a borderline-preposterous prosecution-creep, in which terminology and statutes ostensibly enacted to provide legal instruments for the "war on terror" are applied ever further down the chain of criminal conduct. This is the inevitable consequence of the federalization of much criminal law, and law enforcement work, but also of the (criminally) imprecise statutes enacted pursuant to the necessity of fighting an ill-defined war on a military tactic, not to mention the amorphous concept of a "new normal", a euphemism for increasing deference to executive/prosecutorial authority, the boundaries of which are less and less precisely delimited.
The nihilism of much of our popular culture, in which representations of violence are celebrated all the more when they are nonteleological (as in the "just because" of extreme horror/gore films), and in which some damaged young men strive for the celebrity of infamy, in emulation of other nihilistic killers, is surely a factor. Added to this should be another aspect of our popular culture, that often-feral and vicious tribalism of youth, with its pointless totemization of meaningless differences, along with the customary indifference of authorities in the schools. It's a part of growing up, you see. Take one sensitive youth, add popular culture, stir in a ration of teenaged angst, and mix in a few cups of social ostracism, and the phenomenon, in general, has its explanation. Which is to say the specific cases may well remain mysterious. Anyone desirous of practicing distance psychoanalysis is welcome to attempt it.
Nonetheless, no one should be surprised when legal mechanisms intended for the "war on terror" migrate downward; indeed, they already have in the "war on (some) drugs", though it is not at all obvious that this is everywhere a 'terrorist' phenomenon. Considering the panoply of legal measures enacted, and powers asserted, in the course of the 'war', this is an unhappy medium-term prospect for the Republic. Troubled youths who plot attacks on schools won't be the only malefactors cudgeled with these blunt legal instruments. That's not the nature of power.
A Note on Lincoln-Bashing on the Right
I should place my cards, face-up, on the table: I believe that the South had the better constitutional arguments in the antebellum period, not to mention a sounder architecture for political philosophy generally (which is to say that those with a better inheritance defended the worst, always a recipe for disaster); I question certain of Lincoln's wartime policies, both constitutionally and otherwise; I question the conduct of certain phases of the war; I abominate the centralized national state that emerged in the wake of the War and Reconstruction; I regard the conflict of industrial and agrarian conceptions of order as equally, perhaps more, decisive than slavery in the run-up to the War; and I've no love or reverence for the economic centralizers who desired that state, and availed themselves of it when they received it. I admit without hesitation that the South was often belligerent and injudicious in pressing its claims (so also was the North; it was a national tragedy), that a defense of slavery was an aspect of the Southern cause (though assuredly not the whole of it, and assuredly not to the average fighting man), and that those who dissented from the Southern understanding could not but respond as they did (it was a tragedy, after all). What else could Lincoln have done, given his convictions, after the unpleasantness at Fort Sumter?
Nevertheless, despite all of that, there is a case to be made that, just as Harry Jaffa and certain neoconservatives are mistaken in regarding America as an ideological and messianic nation, destined to spread freedom abroad, so also are they wrong in regarding Lincoln as a prophet of that nation. Lincoln, logically speaking, could have been entirely wrong in his interpretation of America, yet not by virtue of that error a prophet of democratic interventionism; likewise, he could have been correct in his interpretation of American institutions, yet not also such a prophet. The two are not necessarily associated.* Grant Havers makes that case over at Taki's. It is well worth reading.
*This is not to deny a resonance between the unitary national state and adventures abroad; the connection between the two is evidenced quite abundantly in modern history. Nor is it to deny that the tensions and contradictions of such a state often express themselves in foreign policy. It is to say only that this should be understood historically as well as conceptually, and not as a logical entailment. History is inconsistent because men are inconsistent; that Lincoln prosecuted the Civil War does not necessarily make him a herald of neoconservative empire. We can criticise or laud with respect to his own time and aims, and leave anachronisms to the neoconservatives. That is the argument.
Wilson is a better precedent for the errors of our age, anyway, at least on the plane of public rhetoric.
Hail Caesar! We Who Are Now Subjects Salute You! (Part II)
Imperial President Decider is not content merely to reign during his actual tenure in office, for such temporal limitations impugn the majesty of his office and the grandeur of his vision. To the contrary, so refulgent is the splendor of his geopolitical idea, executed with such transcendent mastery, that any possible successor must bathe in the light of its glory and perpetuate the legacy. Thus, Arnaud de Borchgrave, mentioning in a recent edition of the Washington Times a rather telling Bush remark:
Pity President Bush's successor. He or she will inherit a mess on all fronts — national security, economy, defense, trade, health. Huge interest costs should also be factored in as combat is funded with borrowed money.
The full impact of Mr. Bush's answer to a question put to him by a European author in a private Oval office meeting a year ago leaves no room for doubt. After an optimistic briefing on Iraq, the author asked the president, "What about your successor?" Mr. Bush replied: "Don't worry about him. We'll fix it so he'll be locked in."
It is a neat encapsulation of the imperial idea in American politics: not simply the open-ended commitment to foreign misadventures, but the idea of stasis, of timelessness, often a pretense of the imperial form. We may change our leadership as we desire, though we may not change the policies; and we may have any political arrangements we wish, so long as they are interventionist and imperial. We can do it our own way, if we do it how they say. "We'll fix it so he'll be locked in." Distressingly, I don't believe that he need have troubled himself; what differences the candidates have permitted themselves are scarcely even trifles.
The 44th President of the United States will not be the only one who is 'locked in'.
April 27, 2008
This is not what capitalism should be
I have said elsewhere that, though it is too vague as it stands, the following slogan seems to me to express an important truth: Things should be themselves. I've even gone so far as to imply that this slogan applies to such mundane enterprices as widget factories and hot dog companies. Such factories should be what they are, and they should be the best they can be, in their circumstances, of their kind.
Human activities that are worth doing have their several excellences, and it's important to pursue and maintain the standards of those several excellences. Put more fuzzily, things should be themselves. An activist should be an activist. A soldier should be a soldier, a doctor, a doctor, a judge, a judge. A teacher of literature should be a teacher of literature. And, even, a widget-maker should be a widget-maker.
If it is worthwhile having widgets and hot dogs in the world, then it is worth having good ones, and it is worth having competition to offer the best ones at the best prices. And we are incredibly fortunate and should be incredibly grateful for all the wonderful stuff that human action and the free market have given us by means of people's doing things they want to do, doing them well, and profiting from the labor of doing them well. I, for one, am intensely grateful for all of this.
It's for that very reason that I am distressed by a conversation I had recently with a corporate employee of a to-remain-unnamed large company that gave me a window into a corporate world that seems to me far removed from this set of capitalist ideals--doing what one does well and what one wants to do, offering something worth having to the customer at a competitive price, and keeping on doing so as well as one can, and perhaps even better as time goes on, for as long as possible.
Why China will Inherit the Earth
(For whatever that's worth).
Suppose you take your kids to a performance of Tchaikovsky's *Swan Lake* by cutting edge European or American performers, in the hopes of interesting them in "culture."
If you're lucky, you might encounter something like this:
...where the dancing is at least reasonably competent, and the "transgressive" element is limited to the cygnets being all male.
April 28, 2008
Work is a treadmill, and the speed doubles every ten years
Lydia has an interesting post up about the seeming oddity in corporate life, in which with few exceptions every employee in a large firm is required to have a 'development plan'. At most large corporations, at least in the white collar world, you (and sometimes your supervisor) are penalized if you don't change jobs often enough.
I don't think this is a result of a distortion of market forces and capitalism though: I think it is intrinsic. I've argued before that I think that PC tyranny has been adopted by corporations because it is profitable to do so, and I think a similar observation applies here.
Hillary Clinton's Senate Office Used the Rev. Wright's Pastor's Page to Recruit Legislative Assistant
Apparently, Senator Hillary Clinton thought well enough of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in February 2006 to have him mention in his Pastor's Page in his Church's Sunday Program that her office was looking for a legislative assistant. (You can find it here; scroll down to page 9). Here is how the announcement reads in the program:
LEGISLATIVE ASSISTANT POSITION WITHIN SENATOR CLINTON'S OFFICE Senator Clinton's office is looking for a Legislative Assistant to handle education, labor, housing, women's and children's issues, including the effect of media on children, child welfare and reproductive rights. This person will be Senator Clinton's lead staff person for the education and labor issues that are considered by the Senate HELP Committee. He or she will be responsible for developing legislative proposals and implementing strategies to get them enacted, staffing the Senator in meetings, responding to constituent requests, and writing talking points and speeches. Please send resumes to email@example.com
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a wide-ranging interview today with Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporters and editors, said she would have left her church if her pastor made the sort of inflammatory remarks Sen. Barack Obama's former pastor made. "He would not have been my pastor," Clinton said. "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend."
You also choose what church from which you want to recruit legislative assistants. Apparently, in February 2006, those who sat under the Rev. Wright's theological tutelage were considered promising prospects to assist the New York senator on legislative matters concerning the common good.
I did my own sleuthing on this one.
April 29, 2008
English departments, hotbeds of fashionable schools of literary criticism, are slowly emptying out, and William Deresiewicz, examining some of the proximate causes, suggests that the discipline lacks a survival instinct. Conservatives conversant with the bitter struggles over the literary canon and the various theoretical fads that have buffeted the discipline might indulge in a few reveries tinged with schadenfreude, consoling themselves with the thought that perhaps the relativists and radicals are finally receiving their just due; perhaps, however, the causes are more mundane. Perhaps no one really cares anymore:
...the number of students studying English literature appears to be in a steep, prolonged and apparently irreversible decline. In the past ten years, my department has gone from about 120 majors a year to about ninety a year. Fewer students mean fewer professors; during the same time, we've gone from about fifty-five full-time faculty positions to about forty-five. Student priorities are shifting to more "practical" majors like economics; university priorities are shifting to the sciences, which bring in a lot more money. In our new consumer-oriented model of higher education, schools compete for students, but so do departments within schools. The bleaker it looks for English departments, the more desperate they become to attract attention.
Baubles of the Meritocracy
I have a modest collection of comparatively modest mechanical timepieces, having been fascinated by them since childhood, when, at that early age, my interest in them prompted me to reflect upon the goods of craftsmanship, the wastefulness of the disposability/planned obsolescence culture, and the impermanence of material things generally. Yes, I did think about this stuff in elementary school. Yes, I was a weird kid, something impressed upon me by my peers, and ratified by the adults in my world, who occasionally remarked that I was growing up before my time. Hence, my interest in this story about a $300,000 watch that doesn't tell time, and therefore isn't really a watch.
What’s most impressive about the Day&Night is its complexity, given its absolute uselessness. The watch features two tourbillons — devices that overcome the ill effects of earth’s gravity on a watch’s accuracy — connected by a differential mechanism. Instead of hands, the watch has a “contemplative tourbillon operation whereby the ‘Day’ tourbillon operates for 12 hours to symbolize working life, while the ‘Night’ tourbillon takes over afterward to represent an individual’s private time.”
April 30, 2008
The Truth about Tuskegee
The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male has long passed into story and legend as one of the ultimate crimes perpetrated by the American White Racist Establishment against African-Americans.
And it's a story and legend that has been in the news, lately, since the very Reverend Jeremiah Wright likes to cite Tuskegee as evidence that the U.S. government would be willing to do almost anything to hurt African Americans - like, for instance, inventing the AIDS virus in a CIA laboratory and then siccing it on the black community.
Wikipedia offers the standard narrative.