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Archive for July 30th, 2007

“operationally define ‘happiness’ Hillary Rodham”

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I’ve found my question for the next "youtube" debate in a weird article about Hillary Clinton’s letters to a penpal during college from Sunday’s NYT

Ms. Rodham skates earnestly on the surface of life, raising more
questions than answers. “Last week I decided that even if life is
absurd why couldn’t I spend it absurdly happy?” she wrote in November
of her junior year. “Then, of course, the question naturally bellows operationally define ‘happiness’
Hillary Rodham, acknowledged agnostic intellectual liberal, emotional
conservative.” *

I’d love to hear how she would answer this today. Actually, I wouldn’t.

* As you’ll notice, if you follow the link, the NYT has edited the paragraph I am quoting in the current web version. For clarity, it seems, but I much prefer the clotted, weird sentence that we get here in full.

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July 30, 2007 at 2:37 pm

Posted in consciousness

“in a word”

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I’m a regular reader of Jim Kunstler’s site where every Monday he unleashes a new blast about America’s rush towards towards a disastrous collision of peak oil, poor urban planning, and corporate and governmental malfeasance. The posts are stirring reads, really great rhetorically and in the details… but they are often enough marked by insanely bad “big picture” moments, where Kunstler hauls the load of shit he has collected up to an entirely unlikely and unhelpful location. For instance, while I’m not going to go into detail, but in the earlier days of the Iraq War he was particularly bad in spots, playing out a counter-productive “sure, the republicans are nuts, but those pansy liberals want to drive their big cars and not fuck with Iraq!” – as if it were ever possible to believe that bringing cheap oil to the homeland was ever the point of this adventure. But since I don’t have time to link you to his posts from this period, I’ll just leave it at the level of a brief mention… It is as if there is something (the professional freelancer’s need to make hay? plain old political perversity?) that makes him skew his otherwise decent stuff in unreasonable directions.

Today’s post is emblematic of Kunstler’s problem, albeit in a less offensive way than usual. Here’s a paragraph from the middle of the piece:

By the way, I believe the stunning failure of responsibility actually can be accounted for, though my theory may not be to everyone’s taste (especially the science hard-asses out there). In a word: entropy. The US has enjoyed unprecedented energy inputs and the result is unprecedented entropy outputs. The protean force of entropy then manifests as degradation in just about everything around us from the immersive ugliness of a landscape overbuilt with WalMarts, Pizza Huts, and vinyl houses, to the sexual perversion available on the Internet, to the surrender of standards and norms by executives in the financial sector. It’s as simple as that. Entropy rules.

“Entropy,” is it, or a very specific and describable, if complex, brand of political economy? What does it mean to blur the finance sector presentism that comes of deregulation and a crisis in profits, the inefficient and corrupt distribution of energy resources, housing speculation and the long history of American resistance to urban planning and transit investment, and (ugh) “sexual perversion” under the sign of “entropy” rather than, say, laissez faire deregulatory capitalism? Even if there is something “entropic” about all that it is going on, Kunstler needs to go a few more steps to tell us how it is so in solid terms. Throwing the metaphor out as if it itself is an argument just turns everything pointless, leads you to flip the page and move on to the next thing.

Further, Kunstler’s tic is such a vividly American gesture – perhaps the most American gesture there is – to construct a thorough and largely accurate representation of all that is wrong with everything everywhere and then to caption this representation with a phrase drawn from the metaphysical (or pseudo-scientifical-metaphysical) rather than the blander, though more operable, phrasebook of political economy? Think of “the war on terror,” just to start. And to take it to a more personal place, think, if you’re ready to squirm a bit, about the form that American academic engagement generally takes, filling the hole where the argument needs to be with decorative, metaphorical stuffing – engaging in a general critique of everything that is always automatically defanged and rendered comfortable inhabitable by a lapse into poor poetry when self-aware purposefulness is the order of the day.

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July 30, 2007 at 10:21 am

Posted in america

privatization and its discontents

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A very clear rendition of the story of the privatization of US financial aid for college….

Personally, I think a topic-appropriate variation on the following paragraph, which ends the piece, could (should?) come at the end of every single piece that the NYT publishes, even though I’d change "mostly" to "sometimes" or "occasionally."

It’s a sobering lesson in the limits of capitalism. As a culture, we
praise the ability of the market to create the proper incentives and do
more good than not. And mostly that’s true. But there are some things
that are too important to entrust to the profit motive. Shouldn’t
paying for a college education be one of them?

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July 30, 2007 at 10:11 am

Posted in academia, america

“something wrong with the way movies are made today”

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This is exactly the sort of thing I was trying to talk about here, especially in the comments.

Frustrated with the rightward drift in Portuguese politics and the scarcity of financing, [Pedro Costa] ventured abroad — to the West African islands of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony — and made “Casa de Lava” (Down to Earth,” 1994). The story of a nurse who accompanies a comatose laborer home to Cape Verde, it changed the course of his career.

The Cape Verdeans he met sent him back to Lisbon with gifts for relatives who had emigrated there. The delivery mission led him to the shantytown of Fontainhas, where many Cape Verdeans had settled. He decided to set a film in the neighborhood, using residents as actors.

The result, “Ossos” (“Bones,” 1997), centered on the newborn infant of two hapless teenagers, is a parable of economic and spiritual desperation as oblique and concentrated as anything by Bresson. Mr. Costa was dissatisfied with the shoot, not least for having invaded a residential neighborhood with the unwieldy machinery of film production.

“We would be shooting late at night and shining lights into people’s houses,” he said. “I realized there’s something wrong with the way movies are made today.”

Mr. Costa set out to address not merely logistical headaches but also the responsibility that comes with picking up a camera. The act of filmmaking is premised on a discrepancy of power. As Mr. Costa put it, “The balance is off between those behind and in front of the camera.” His next film, “In Vanda’s Room” (2000), went a long way toward redressing the inequality.

Encouraged by Vanda Duarte, an actress in “Ossos,” he continued to film in Fontainhas, which was being demolished. This time he did so with a small video camera, often by himself. He grew close to his subjects and shot for almost two years. From 140 hours of footage he shaped a three-hour film.

A series of shadowy domestic tableaus (the camera never moves, and Mr. Costa used only available light), “In Vanda’s Room” is a stark, intimate portrait of a community whose world is literally falling apart. (Bulldozers are continuously heard on the soundtrack.) It feels at times like a documentary but is actually the result of long conversations and multiple takes. Ms. Duarte and her friends, who sit around, talk, prepare heroin fixes, smoke and shoot up, are not documentary subjects so much as actors playing themselves.

Sounds wonderful. Now where am I going to get my hands on the movies?

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July 30, 2007 at 2:27 am

Posted in movies

even with the loonie at par…

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July 30, 2007 at 2:03 am

Posted in americas