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Archive for December 8th, 2008

awk: new word

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I write “awk: new word” sometimes in the margins of my students’ papers, despite the fact that I was told, a long time ago now, that it is a useless comment, very unhelpful. It is a bit unhelpful, but sometimes unhelpful is just what the students need in order to learn for themselves to become better writers.

Anyway, perhaps you won’t be as cruel to and/or pedagogically rigorous with me as I am with them. I need a new word. The word I am looking to replace in my vocabulary, perhaps forever, is utopian. Utopia might be able to stay; I am tired of the adjectival form. I spray it over everything – any intimation of anything good reflexively become utopian. I have utopian intimations, I see utopian glimmers, there are utopian promises and utopian specters.

I never really see anything all that utopian just laying around on the street. It’s the wrong word – even setting aside the tricky oscillation of it etymologically between everything and nothing.

Ameliorative is to tenative. Paradisal is too much and too theological. Salutary sounds neurotic. Socialist perhaps puts too fine a point upon it. What’s a better word for the good stuff that I see, peeking out from behind the debris-pile?

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December 8, 2008 at 9:52 pm

political parapraxis / detroit bailout

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When the political actors wrap the potential bailout of the American car companies in language of environmentalism, they aren’t being serious, they’re being cynical. There are reasons – some decent, some horrible – why those that want to save these dying corporations, but first on no one’s list is the prospect of forcing to market low-emissions vehicles and the like. It is a marketing strategy, and one that play on a very strange sense that is perhaps semi-subliminally resident in the minds of some voters and many commentators: If the nation controlled General Motors, General Motors could be forced to design and distribute vehicles that would be at once socially beneficial, attractive to consumers, and sustainably profitable. From the NYT today:

“They’re going to have to restructure,” Mr. Obama said in an interview on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “And all their stakeholders are going to have restructure. Labor, management, shareholders, creditors — everybody is going to recognize that they have — they do not have a sustainable business model right now, and if they expect taxpayers to help in that adjustment process, then they can’t keep on putting off the kinds of changes that they, frankly, should have made 20 or 30 years ago.”

Even the deployment of the slightly – though not much – more realistic sense that the goal of government intervention is going to return these companies to profitability seems to me fairly cynical and not at all realistic. Jobs and shareholders, not necessarily in that order, are being protected, full stop. The rest is windowdressing.

That said…. Each and every time they dress the windows with this sort of talk, every time the government players offer the argument that General Motors or Chrysler would have been better managed by responsible, sane, and forward-thinking bureaucrats rather than their board and corporate management, they turn the wheel of discursive normativity a click toward state management and the economics of planning. The Environmental Protection Agency together with the Department of Transportation could better manage a car company than the invisible hand of the market and the men it selects for ownership? Talk like this, however cynically deployed, was absolutely unimaginable a few months ago. Of course the chatterers on television and the papers will forget all about these arguments when (if!) things improve. But the voters, an ever larger percentage of whom are about to become unemployed, perhaps won’t if they are startled into attention by the shock of what’s coming in the next few months and years.

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December 8, 2008 at 11:29 am