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Archive for August 2007

light posting

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the last few days and for the next week, as I’ve been away. Right now, here…

…and I’ll soon enough be in a place with very, very little wi-fi to snort up.

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August 21, 2007 at 8:10 pm

Posted in canada, meta

from the seatback pocket

It’s no surprise that the folllowing fliers from The Camp for Climate Action (who seem to be running the Heathrow protests…) would appeal to me:

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August 21, 2007 at 8:02 pm

Posted in design, simplicity

everything in the “to read” folder on my desktop

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Regis Debray, “Socialism: A Life Cycle,” NLR

Robin Blackburn’s “Finance and the Fourth Dimension,” NLR

Peter Schjeldahl, “Painting By Numbers: Gustave Courbet and the Making of a Master,” The New Yorker

Marco Roth, “A Death in Books” et al.,

Erik Olin Wright, Envisioning Real Utopias

Owen Hatherley, “A New Career in a New Town,” perforations

David Harvey, “Neoliberalism and the City”

J.M. Coetzee, “Diary of a Bad Year,” NYRB

“An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries,” UNICEF

That’s not quite everything. There are of course other things that I can’t name / link to… But there’s a start…

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August 17, 2007 at 1:16 am

Posted in meta

narrative arc

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(found here…)


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August 16, 2007 at 1:31 pm

Posted in form, markets

form and the breaking of form

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The word “trope” is one of those little dialectic-at-a-standstill words that we literary types love: it means both what it means and the opposite of what it means at once. Etymologically, it is a “turn,” a change of direction. But we use it to indicate something static, sclerotic – something rigidified into a cliché, a token for thoughtless circulation. Combined, we get an all-too-expected dynamism, a movement that follows the path of expectation such that we wonder whether “movement” was the right word from the start. This is why we love to use the word to describe the narrative form bad movies – a trope of the horror genre etc. Something happens, but it is the same thing that always happens…

On CNBC’s main page, there are three columns: from the left, we have “Top Stories” (which looks like an RSS feed, with the top story blurb previewed, then we have a column of stock indexes and their red or green arrows, and finally a column (that you ignore) of ads for upcoming tv shows and links to video content.

I am interested, right now in the first column, the News one, and in particular the little snippet preview of the top story, which during US business hours is almost always about the performance of the market right now. I’ve kept a little text document on my desktop where I clip the previews in as I read them. Here’s a few that I’ve compiled over the past few days:

Stocks turned lower again after rallying on the Fed’s move to add more money to the banking system. “You had a psychological bounce off of 13,000 (in the Dow),” said Patrick Fay of DA Davidson. “Personally I think its being overdone and every talking head is talking about the end of the world but the reality is that it’s not.”

Stocks remained lower in the final hour of trading but were well off their worst levels of the day. “Ultimately the system is strong and the ECB and Fed are there to support the market if need be,” said Jason Trennert of Strategas Research Partners.

Stocks fell to the lowest levels of the day amid anxiety about the credit markets and a weak earnings outlook from Wal-Mart. “We’re seeing a mini-panic, which is symptomatic of a market that is finding a bottom,” said Michael Metz of Oppenheimer.

Stocks seesawed as declines in basic materials shares offset gains in financials as the Federal Reserve added more funds to the banking system. “I think we might have a little bit more on the downside but we might be close (to a bottom),” said Steve Massocca, co-chief executive officer at Pacific Growth Equities. “I think it’s a good time to put money to work.”

It is as if they are written by a computer, compiled by an algorithm like the one that organizes the Google News page. Bleak data followed by semi-optimistic quote from a trader or analyst. It is just a trivial thing, a stylebook efficiency that keeps the jobber who generates the news bubbles in-line, but it is also the enactment – and perpetual reenactment of a tiny little story line, where the cold winds of the impersonal figures (who stand in for the place that “nature” used to play in the story we tell ourselves) are met and matched, are faced, by the solitary and heroic human being, his ability to see behind and above and around the numbers – and, above all, his own narrative sensibility, his sense of how stories like this one, the storyline we sometimes call “creative destruction,” go. Sundown, sunup – after bloodletting, regrowth. Of course it is just an effect of the sort of market cheerleading that is the raison d’être of CNBC – which spends far more time selling its viewers the market to its viewers than reporting on what the market is actually doing. But it is also an example of the tiny storylines, the little gnomic tropes, that run the world now, or at least try to. We find them everywhere – in the political sphere, the employment market, and of course in the realm of the geopolitical (“they only understand one thing, force” and the like…)

As we all know, however, form becomes most meaningful in its breakdown. This is a lesson that the modernists didn’t invent, but which they intensified, brought to the center of our understanding of how art works and how it means.

Look back at the capture I’ve inserted above. Apparently, today, the guy who writes the blurbs wasn’t able to find a sunny human on the trading floor to complete his preformatted narrative arc.. Look at the blank space there in the image, the empty spot where the rest of the story is supposed to be… A full four or five lines of text missing…

Stock indexes are sharply lower following worse than expected housing data, more troubles for Countrywide Financial and as traders have accelerated unwinding yen carry trades.

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August 16, 2007 at 12:37 pm

Posted in form, markets


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CNBC this morning:

Most traders agree that this is not a liquidity problem, it is a credit problem. There is plenty of money around–it is just not getting to the players who need it, like the mortgage companies.

If that’s true, why are so many clamoring for a rate cut? If it is a credit problem, cutting the funds rate will make little difference, particularly since they have already flooded the market with liquidity. It will not magically make billions available to Countrywide or any other mortgage lender.

Still, traders like Charles Campbell at Miller Tabak has pointed out that this is a psychological Bear market–and in these kinds of markets a Fed cut–stock traders hope–will have the psychological effect of freeing up money to the players who need it.

Maybe. What is really needed is for major financial players, a strategic player (like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac), or foreign players, to step in and make the market function normally. Expanding Fannie and Freddie’s role–allowing them to buy more mortgages–is widely advocated, but generally opposed by their regulators.

Hmm… “Make the market function normally.” A contradiction in terms? Like telling someone to “Act naturally…” Remember, Mr. Smith is watching…

Martin Wolf, yesterday in the FT:

Not so Jim Cramer, hedge fund manager and television pundit, who declared last Friday that chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, “is being an academic!…My people have been in this game for 25 years. And they are losing their jobs and these firms are going to go out of business, and he’s nuts! They’re nuts! They know nothing! . . .  The Fed is asleep.”So capitalism is for poor people and socialism is for capitalists. This view is not just offensive. It is catastrophic.

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August 16, 2007 at 11:20 am

Posted in markets

al qaeda in the subdivisions; or, AP American History

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It is worth remembering that, however things look on the surface, we Americans will always be the insurgents, never the occupiers. The IEDs will always be ours, the sniping – we invented that.

Whatever it looks like on the screen, we will always be irregulars, we will always land on the asymmetrical side of things. Our torture rooms are never those of the prison-bricked Central Intelligence office or the PVC camp – they are always in the back room, upstairs and to the back, with the rough hewn chair and the single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling.

We will always be “just kids,” and the wars will always be fought between one backyard and the drainage pond at the corner. Someone’s golden retriever will always run across the field of battle at the critical moment. We will lock and load and empty our magazines before our mothers call us in for microwaved dinners.

In Totem and Taboo, Freud fabulates the origination of the incest taboo in a story that is also (of course) a story of the origins of civilization and the social contract that initiates it. There is a big bad father, and then there are sons. The sons – they can’t get what they want sexually or in any other way – dad has a monopoly over the women. So the sons kill dad (Freud wonders if it was “some advance in culture, like the use of a new weapon,” that allowed the sons to win – I think we can all agree that it wasn’t so much a “weapon” as a set of tactics, namely guerrilla warfare, the sort of thing that would later manifest itself, as we all learn in school, at Lexington and Concord against the Redcoats…) But once dad is dead, there is a problem – a problem whose solution takes the shape of the incest prohibition and, well, civilization itself:

[T]he incest prohibition had […] a strong practical foundation. Sexual need does not unite men; it separates them. Though the brothers had joined forces in order to overcome the father, each was the other’s rival among the women. Each one wanted to have them all to himself like the father, and in the fight of each against the other the new organization would have perished. For there was no longer any one stronger than all the rest who could have successfully assumed the role of the father. Thus there was nothing left for the brothers, if they wanted to live together, but to erect the incest prohibition – perhaps after many difficult experiences – through which they all equally renounced the women whom they desired, and on account of whom they had removed the father in the first place. Thus they saved the organization which had made them strong and which could be based upon the homo-sexual feelings and activities which probably manifested themselves among them during the time of their banishment.

What can we say? If only this were true when it comes to us. The happy – if only ever moderately happy – structuralization of dad’s brutality, the construction upon the solid foundation of a repressed but ever present fraterphilia as well as the (sure!) very dark joke that deaddad gets to play on them in the end as far as access to women goes (“You thought you’d have all, but instead you’ll have none, because you are too many…”) The revolution ends in a socialism of castration – the only consolation arrives via the fact that it you (pl.) that deny yourself the women, rather than that fat bastard of a father, in our case, King George III, later aka LeninoStalin, et al.

No. What happened here is something entirely other. We killed dad, yes, but rather than simply constructing a totem and going on our self-chastening way, we decided (is that the word?) to reenact differently, more viscerally – for real. With our own sons, or especially the sons of others – even as we strike them down, we imagine, time and again, that it is the hand of filial revolt that we raise when we raise to strike. We will always be the bad son, the prodigal returned to fuck dad up right good when we asks what we’ve done with the money, even if there is no beard on those we strike, even if they still are on mom’s tit as we decapitate and worse, in our eyes, fucked up with the drug of repetition without difference, they are bearded and old, they have stolen our mom-sisters from the tent bed, they are sandy with their mature denial of our rights even as infants. We are Issac as Abraham striking down Issac – the call to hold off never comes, because you need a father’s ear to hear it, and we are only sons…

The Child is the father of the Man. Yes, but the natural piety in question, the binding of now to back then, incessantly takes the shape of sprinting in surplus stuff across the backyard, carrying the guns borrowed from our fathers’ (father’s) collection, a children’s crusade, an insurgency of kids, shooting blanks, catching ourselves on film, all in the end for AP credit.

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August 14, 2007 at 1:47 am

socialism… recycled

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August 11, 2007 at 1:21 am

Posted in ads, americas, socialism

“but you’re still fuckin’ peasants as far as I can see…”

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Just came across another candidate for my collection of incredibly strange American politico-cultural amalgamations, hybrids, and halfrights: Green Day’s recent cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.”

Did they actually listen to the song before they decided on this Darfur x-over thing? High-Period Lennon Political Ambivalence (see also: “When you talk about destruction, doncha know that you can count me out… in…) meets Teary Liberal Piety about those Poor, Poor People Elsewhere at the crossroads of unmetabolized reflexivity. How about this part, as the noble faces of the Darfurians bubble across the screen, and Billie Joe Armstrong sings:

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV,
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free,
But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

Yeouch. Just to make it worse, here’s a bit from wikipedia that quotes the band’s press release about the song:

When asked why they chose the song, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong said, “We wanted to do ‘Working Class Hero’ because its themes of alienation, class, and social status really resonated with us. It’s such a raw, aggressive song — just that line: ‘you’re still fucking
peasants as far as I can see’ — we felt we could really sink our teeth into it. I hope we’ve done him justice.”

You could write a dissertation, not an acceptable one, but whatever, on the topic: “Who does Billie Joe think the ‘you’ of that toothsome line refers to?”

Secondary mystification, or simply vapid distraction, “what the fuck, yeah, the Africans, cool…”? Benettonism gone libidinal? Inadvertent self-disclosure, a profoundly unconscious honesty that leaves Lennon’s navel-gazing in the dust?

(UPDATE: If you’re confused about what I’m saying here – my fault not yours – you can watch me circle back and explain myself over in the comments at Long Sunday, where I x-posted this…)

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August 9, 2007 at 11:10 am

Posted in distraction

fear the centrifuge

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Sven Birkerts against literary blogging in the Boston Globe:

The blogosphere, I would argue, works in the opposite direction. There are arbiters aplenty — some of the smartest print writers are active on blogs as well — but the very nature of the blogosphere is proliferation and dispersal; it is centrifugal and represents a fundamental reversal of the norms of print culture.

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August 9, 2007 at 1:15 am

Posted in criticism

“have you been to the edge?”: photo caption contest

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Need more interactivity, hereabouts. Donc a photo for you to caption:

The NYT explains what the image is here.

What are you waiting for? Get captioning, or I’ll make you watch the Gorbi Pizza Hut ad too.

To hell with it, I’ll make you watch it anyway:

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August 9, 2007 at 12:43 am

“unlike the sociology of the past, [this] is informed by modern economic theory”

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You don’t say… Any guesses on the unmodern economic theory that informed said sociology of the past?

Sisphyus just pointed out this NYT review/article of Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms in the comments to a previous post.

Here’s where it really gets frightening:

Dr. Clark says the middle-class values needed for productivity could
have been transmitted either culturally or genetically. But in some
passages, he seems to lean toward evolution as the explanation.
“Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial
Revolution, man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern
economic world,” he writes. And, “The triumph of capitalism in the
modern world thus may lie as much in our genes as in ideology or

Boy is that ever a heavily thudding "our" in the last sentence. You have to love it, really, and the way that it echoes the hard science cum totally asswild speculation stuff that cropped up everywhere toward the end of the nineteenth century. Thermodynamics and entropy, therefore heat death (well sure, a long, long way off), therefore a universe and its maker that agree on one point: economic equality leads to dissolute catastrophe. At least via this article, and of course we should wait for the book, it doesn’t sound like there’s going to be much to back up the genetic turn aside from a hunch and some handwaving in the genome-decoded direction.

A genetic predisposition to low interest rates, huh? Then again, maybe he’s on to something.

So yuck, yes. But I’m actually more upset at the Times than Clark himself, for an ideosyncractic reason. They have, their information design department anyway, taken Neurath’s Isotype in vain.

You can click through to see a big version of the infographic, but do you see those little guys in the middle, the second graph? Not cool – this is exactly the opposite sort of argument than the one they were, ahem, born to serve.

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August 9, 2007 at 12:01 am

and you thought our side was bad

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Look, I get in over my head sometimes with the economics, even right out here in front of you guys, no doubt, but what follows is a remarkably shallow pool to drown in. Mark Steyn at The Corner on National Review Online, instructs his readers why using less gas won’t “hurt the Saudis”:

Well, you can say it all you want but people will just laugh at you. Americans will never accept that the way to make the world better is to drive smaller, less comfortable cars. And, besides, the premise is completely false: If you trade in the Expedition for a Honda Civic, that oil you save won’t stay in the ground and thus impoverish the Saudis; it will merely be sold to the Chinese and Indians and other fast developing nations who will replace America and Europe as buyers of the cheapest and most easily extractable oil in the world. So the sheikhs will be as rich as ever and funding as many Islamist nutters. But we’ll be driving worse cars and feeling virtuous.

Aren’t these guys all about market pricing as the One True Way, the answer to every ill? What do they think they mean when they talk about it?

(via Yglesias, who reads it so we don’t have to…)

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August 8, 2007 at 9:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

think they meant “ouroboros capital management”

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Cerberus Capital Management, whose largest institutional investors include the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and TIAA-CREF (the latter handles my meager retirement accounts), purchases Chrysler, and immediately installs an anti-labor goon as CEO… Robert Nardelli, referred to in this USA Today article as "the poster child of poor workforce relations," is the goon in question. In other words, money managed on behalf of (mostly) union members has, via the wonderful ethical laundry program of capital management lp type stuff, come around to set other union members up for a royal ass-kicking and general despoilation, mostly of, yes, their retirement benefits. Following so far?

We’re not very far away from a scenario in which, say, a car company’s employee-managed retirement fund, via a capital management company, purchases the very car company in question, and in a frantic grasp for capital, robs the very workers who hold the fund of retirement benefits before breaking the company into parts and putting everyone out of work. So everyone ends up with no job, no health benefits, and slightly higher retirement account balances. Except, of course, for the new CEO and the managers in the CM firm, who walk away with tons of cash.

Ha! That would be hilarious! Almost as funny as California school teachers ("inadvertently") fucking the guys who make the Chryslers. (which is not as funny, because it is not as uncanny… plus there’s a rather obvious white-collar, blue-collar thing going on, though I’ll bet the blues on average earned more than the whites do now…)

At any rate, there is of course a message in all of this, a blindingly clear one about complicity and the impossibility of clean hands (like I said, TIAA-CREF manages my money too!), and what the "end of the proletariat" means when it results in the birth of a class of fractional capitalists who unconsciously read their quarterly-statements unaffected by the scenes of cannibalistic creative destruction playing out between the lines of figures.

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August 8, 2007 at 12:32 am

falling man

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Culture of dependency, eh? Are financial outfits permitted to fail or is that, like, unconstitutional?

As the parent of a kid who really should be weaned by now but isn’t, I so recognize the mixture of the very real pain of need and want and the cynical, if infantile, theatrically on display here. Cute-tantrum yourself into the mother’s milk, the liquidity. This stuff is more captivating to watch than anything sitting on my shelf would be to read.

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August 6, 2007 at 10:34 am

Posted in markets