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Archive for July 2007

laissez half-emptyism? the cycle never sets on structural reform? capitalism vs. GDP etc…

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There really should be a word for neoliberal eitherorism of this sort. Just as, in the US, tax cuts for the wealthy were first proposed as the only fair thing to do with the federal surplus in the first years of the 2000s, and then, after the economy began to stutter and tank, the only form of economic stimulus sure to bring the feds back into the black, the Economist here greets Europe’s strong economic performance vis a vis the US with a call to Americanizing workplace reform.

Eitherorism, yes, and also pickumandchoozumism. If you are in favor of labor market reform, then the strong performance serves as apt evidence that more reform is needed:

The transformation has been most remarkable in Germany, the biggest European economy, once tarred as “the sick man of Europe”. From 1995 to 2005 German GDP grew at an average of only 1.4% a year. But in the first quarter of 2007 it expanded more than twice as fast, despite a large rise in value-added tax. The 2004 reforms in labour markets and welfare made by the previous government under Gerhard Schröder are bearing fruit. On international definitions, unemployment is down to 6.4%, not much above the level in Britain. German business is doing spectacularly well: the country is again the world’s biggest exporter, profits are at a record, competitiveness has improved sharply.

But if, on the other hand, you take this strong performance as evidence that things are more or less OK the way they are, that there has been enough reform, or even godforbid that European competitiveness is evidence that the relatively “unreformed” European model actually does work, then you are misreading a cyclical effect as an indicator of the effectiveness of policy.

Some Europeans may be tempted to conclude that their economic problems are behind them, their structural faults have been put right—and there is no need for more painful reforms. […] But much of the recovery is really cyclical. When the global economy is registering a fourth successive year of near-5% growth, it would be surprising if the world’s biggest exporter did not benefit; indeed, growth of 3% seems rather modest.

And I think it’s safe to say that the logic deployed in the following paragraph won’t likely be deployed by the Economisers during the next European downturn:

European countries that have introduced radical reforms have usually done so in times of serious economic crisis: Britain in 1979, the Netherlands in 1982, Ireland in 1987, Denmark, Finland and Sweden in the early 1990s. Yet as all these countries found, it is easier to change when times are good, not when they are bad. That is a lesson that Germans, French, Italians and other Europeans should ponder as they bask in today’s sunshine.

So, during the next European recession, we should expect to hear strong advocacy of postponing reform for sunnier times in favor of dosing the economy with some nice state spending, right?

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July 18, 2007 at 12:24 pm

schmuck

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All right. Aside from drinking so much that you spend the next morning alternately aspirining and vomiting and swearing to the god of Lush that you will never ever do it again, and aside from having regret-worthy sex I suppose (though I wouldn’t really know, long-term married such as I am), what is worse than coming in after an evening jampacked with academogossip. In which you participated, you name-dropped, you hinted, you self-promoted and tipped the hand and gave up the goods and basically whipped it out for mutual measurement and mutual admiration or envy? Not much, right?

I have a terrible headache. It so exposes the cancerous kernel at the heart of the thing, the way that everything it touches turns to cross-dinner-table banality.

Obviously, all this has quite a bit to do with my previous post.

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July 9, 2007 at 9:53 pm

Posted in academia, meta

i too dream of a Marxist therapy

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 Go read the whole thing at k-punk:

The opposite of social confidence and its attendant sense of entitlement, its urbane at- homeness-in-the-world, is a sense of inferiority, a constant worry about whether one should occupy certain spaces, the quietly panicky conviction that ‘surely they can see that I don’t belong here’. A sense of inferiority is so much a part of the background noise of my existence that until really quite recently I had tended to assume that it is a universal feature of human experience. That sense of – inherent, ontological – inferiority wasn’t something that I railed against; rather, it was so naturalized that it was barely noticed, but constantly felt, distorting all my encounters with people and the world. (But of course, under capitalism, there is no social interaction that isn’t distorted by class position, no neutral social field that exists beyond social antagonism). I suppose I had my first conscious tastes of inferiority when, in the school holidays, I went with my mother, who worked as a cleaner, to the houses of the well-to-do. Feeling lesser simply wasn’t an issue; it was experienced as a non-contestable fact. At least now – and this is partly thanks to CBT – I am aware both of the way in which that the sense of ontological inferiority colours my experience – sometimes I can practically sense it as an entity, a grey vampire squatting on my shoulders, heavy and draining; and I have learned to reduce its power, if not to eliminate it. One of the other tensions that constantly came up with my therapist was over the cause of this feeling of inferiority: for me, it was clearly a class issue, and I dream of a Marxist therapy that could address the pyschic wounds of class society.

I’ve not, for a long time, been very sympathetic to the notion or practice of therapy (whether k-punk’s imagined Marxist variety or just plain on talking cure type stuff), nor have I had much time for therapy’s instantiation in the business of literary study. Lately, though, due to the fact that I’ve had some first hand experience of the thing for the first time in my life, I think I’m headed back in the other direction on the issue. Maybe one day I’ll post more about it. We’ll see.

But I will say that class-issues do seem very hard to get at in these situations. One goes in because one is frustrated with one’s work – perhaps because one is in fact the American technocratic version of the Brit “ruling class” that k-punk describes – and the therapist only wants to talk about sex. Sex is really important, don’t get me wrong. But it is possible, or even probable, that it’s my job, the expectations that I was endowed with as a young kid, the fact that I do extremely well by almost any standard but it just seems like worthless shit constantly, forever and ever, and will continue to do so, or so it looks, until the day that I die…

Blogging is a strange symptom of this problem as well, in case that wasn’t readily clear already.

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July 9, 2007 at 11:25 am

hitting bottom

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hotel.jpg

Is the concept of the “Residence Inn” imaginable in any context other than the American one? If I was ambitious (tee hee) I’d spend the next six days and nights writing a Ballardian novel about the whole thing. HBO is showing Prairie Home Companion right now. I keep it on and muted to keep me company. In order to buy some beer, I had to sprint across an eight lane road. Not a highway. Just an eight lane local road. In the dark. I was (of course) wearing dark clothes. There was probably about a 4 percent chance that I would die each way, there and back. There is no bar here. No, I don’t simply mean in the hotel itself – I mean in reasonable (or even unreasonable) walking distance from the place. Fast food, yes. Tapped beer, no. I am not (technically) permitted to smoke outside of a parkbenched area at the corner of the parking lot (fuck that). I type right now while seated next to something called a kitchenette. They sell Lean Cuisine meals in the lobby, which I guess you are supposed to insert into your microwave. No smoking, no drinking (without risk of death by car-to-forehead injury) but there is a goddamned “play area” for adults (a “multifunction” basketball court). There is a menu stuck to the fridge which tells you what will be served for dinner in the lobby each night. Except they don’t serve dinner on weekends. Instead of leaving the space blank for today (Sunday) they have written “Go to the church of your choice!”

Yay. Sometimes you actually do earn your CV bullets. Does it make me damaged in someway that I was praying that my seminar-mates would suggest, on the bus back to the Residence Inn, that we call a cab and find some place to get some drinks? Instead, they discussed the idea of jogging the four miles into the center where the seminar is tomorrow. Is it awful that I was tempted to tell them that the important people in this business go to get some drinks on a night like this. They don’t bitch about forgetting their sneakers.

Pray for me.

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July 9, 2007 at 12:15 am

Posted in meta

red net

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desk.jpg

Excellent piece today on opendemocracy by Richard Barbrook which recounts the strange history of the internet as a US project that arose in reaction to Soviet advances toward cybernetic communism. The most interesting thing – something I’d definitely like to hear even more about – is the way that what would become the internet took its shape in a certain sense under the influence / the pressure of a non-capitalist sense of what it should or might be (The story is rather telegraphic in the piece – I’ve ordered Barbrook’s book tonight to see if it gets more thoroughly fleshed out there…) and then had to be, only afterwards, properly commoditized. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the difficulty it has had in properly commoditizing itself derives from an initial formal insistence on openness, gift-structure, and non-proprietariness.

More to come, from me, I hope, on parallel topics. I’m thinking about writing a longer piece on, what to call it, the persistent intimations of socialist culture in our benighted world.

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July 6, 2007 at 12:09 am

loitering

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I know I’m just being dim about this, but I’ve never been able to understand the "no loitering" stuff w/r/t film / tv crews. Is there really a law? Or is this the usual NYPD bullshit, where they threaten under just about any circumstances, to "hold you for 24 hours without charge. We can do that, asshole."

What a great situationist law it would be to render it legal to loiter wherever you like during filmings of any sort. Make it illegal for crews to intimidate pedestrians etc. I guarantee the result would be better movies / tv shows. In fact, this might be my first quasi-answer to the question that I posed here.

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July 3, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Posted in teevee

go see

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If you can’t make it to the theater (maybe you’re like me, maybe you have a kid and insufficient babysitting, or maybe you don’t have the cash for the movie, or maybe you live in a part of the world where you can’t see it) and you really want to get the full picture of what’s going on with this Sicko movie, I highly recommend this site. It has helped me to appreciate what a terrific effort this is on MM’s part…

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July 3, 2007 at 2:23 am

Posted in Uncategorized

dude, where’s my right-wing thinktank supplied talking points?

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loder.jpg

I haven’t watched much MTV since I was a teenager. Actually, I haven’t watched any MTV, that I can remember, since then. It’s all the death of Kurt Cobain and then things get foggy for me on that front. But I do remember Kurt Loder, the talking head of the MTV news division (?), and the guy who famously broke the story on Cobain’s demise…

So I’ve been out of the loop for a bit. But what in christ’s name is going on with Loder’s review of Sicko, which is new to me, but is apparently generating major blog juice from the look of the google results. Someone over at Daily Kos does a pretty good job on the surface level bullshit in this piece, which feels like the fruits of some major right-wing foundation research help, and whose subtextual message could be more or less summarized as: “Lissen up, kiddo. You vote for Edwards, and the text time you do funnel shots in the backyard of the college Eating Club, you’re going to be waiting in line at the hospital behind some smelly black dude who just got his head clubbed in my the cops. Mommy and Daddy might as well not call, there will be no strings to pull. It’ll just be your unconscious ass rationed right to the back of the line while people who haven’t even gone to college, let alone successfully pledged at Alpha Sigma Sigma, get treated in the order they arrived. And you wanna talk about the boob job that daddy promised you if you make all Bs this semester. Forget about it. It’s A cup for you, cupcake, while the cleft-palate kids take all the surgical aestheticians for their greedy selves.”

Enough of that. One other thing though. Loder takes up the Cuban medical tourism meme that I last engaged with over at Acephalous.

What Moore doesn’t mention is the flourishing Cuban industry of “health
tourism” — a system in which foreigners (including self-admitted multimillionaire film directors and, of course, government bigwigs) who are willing to pay cash for anything from brain-surgery to dental work
can purchase a level of treatment that’s unavailable to the majority of Cubans with no hard currency at their disposal. The Cuban American National Foundation (admittedly a group with no love for the Castro
regime) calls this “medical apartheid.” And in a 2004 article in Canada’s National Post, writer Isabel Vincent quoted a dissident Cuban neurosurgeon, Doctor Hilda Molina, as saying, “Cubans should be treated the same as foreigners. Cubans have less rights in their own country than foreigners who visit here.”

God is this little argumentoid getting wide and fast circulation. Without taking up the reasons why
Cuba might need to sell medical services for hard currency, let’s just remember that 1) the only reason why the US isn’t a bigger player in the medical tourism business is because medical services are so frigging expensive that you’d be crazy to come here rather than other places with cheap, quality medical care and 2) on the upper-end of the medical spectrum, we already do do a bristling business in selling medical resources to foreigners. I’m sure there are statistics, but for brevity’s sake, an anecdote: my mother suffers from, and has suffered for more than 30 years from a certain chronic-progressive, and ultimately fatal disease. (I’d rather not say which, for pseudo reasons… But you can probably fill in the blanks yourselves….) And for the past five or so years, she has been under the care of the guy who is commonly known to be the very best practitioner in the country when it comes to her condition. How did she get in with this guy? A friend of a friend happened to be president of the research hospital where said doctor works, and got her an appointment – no easy task. So, yeah – if your mom suffers from this disease, she’s just basically not getting in to see this guy. (Obviously I don’t begrudge her the care – I just begrudge the system that generates results in this fashion…) And when she goes for her quarterly checkup, the waiting room is largely stocked with non-Americans of one sort or another – petrodollar spending middle-easterners seem to be the best represented demographic. The office, I believe, keeps a block of rooms at a local hotel reserved for their exotic patients. Perhaps this situation would even continue after the arrival of single-payer health care in the US – there are exemptions that allow it to happen in Canada, and maybe they’d build them in here too as a sort of kickback to doctors.

In the end, whether homegrown or imported, it is the wealthy and connected who have exclusive access to the best care in the US… But let’s just not mistake the equation at hand: even in the worst case, the question is between an egalitarian system with a sliver of free-market capitalism at the very top, or a radically inegalitarian system with the same sliver at the top. In other words, our entire system is structured along the lines of the fractional element of the Cuban one that Loder calls out in his piece, that he deploys as evidence of the hypocritical downfall of socialized medicine…

Above all else, it is a bit strange that Loder would write a piece like this. I’ve sifted through his other reviews looking for a similar level of, what to call it, contextual-investment as in this one and I can find nothing like it. Smells like a bit of prefab work to me…

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July 2, 2007 at 11:55 pm

Posted in movies, socialism