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Archive for April 2010

a spectre, the spectre, haunting Europe and everywhere else

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Is interesting to note where Marx’s spectre thing turns up. For instance, this from the start of a Businessweek article:

April 30 (Bloomberg) — While the specter of Greek contagion haunts southern Europe, corporate Germany is going from strength to industrial strength.

What is especially interesting is the way that the endless permutations on the original always bear – as if spectrally! – a little bit of the root sense of the original utterance. Crisis of capitalism, even when the recyclers of the trope don’t believe that such a thing is possible.

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April 30, 2010 at 1:03 am

Posted in crisis, marx, Uncategorized

cash flow

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1. Yesterday I decide, after consulting the little statement that comes out of the bank machine, that we’re suffering from a bit of a cash flow problem. Not an emergency, yet, but not good either.

2. Well, I like to write. I have a better byline than I used to. So I spend the day pitching places, trying to round up some work.

3. These efforts yield £100, perhaps £300, worth of work. Novels are drifting through the Royal Mail as we speak toward my office for me to review.

4. A few weeks ago, I sent in an abstract for a conference in Chichester. It was accepted today, so I am going there at the end of May. I (fucking) have to write about Ian McEwan. Though negatively, as a symptom, so it’s OK.

5. I wake up this morning still afflicted with some sort of grub street, cash and pub (publication! not public house! though, sure, that too) mania, and spend much of the day writing a column-type thing for the place that readily takes column-type things at £60 per.

6. I am still not finished with the column-type thing. I should be working on it right now.

7. If I place the column-type thing, after taxes (because my academic salary brushes me right up against the top rate in the UK – not that high mind you), I’ll yield oh about £36.

8. To take a break from writing the column-type thing, I book my train tickets (well in advance – way cheaper!) to get to the conference. They don’t cost much – £29.

9. If today wasn’t a wasted day, I will have netted all of £7 from all this work.

10. Something about Thoreau, trains, and walking to Boston occurs to me as I smoke another 25p cigarette outside.

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April 30, 2010 at 12:42 am

Posted in academia, grub

μέτρα λιτότητας

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From the NYT today, predictable news:

In Athens, the Greek government had no choice but to seek an I.M.F. solution after its costs of borrowing skyrocketed, but that has not made the negotiations for aid any easier.

[…]

According to people who have been briefed on the talks, the aim is to secure from Greece a letter of intent for even deeper budget cuts than the tough measures imposed so far, like reductions in civil service pay, in exchange for emergency funds.

Steps being discussed include closing down parts of the little-used Greek railway system, which employs 7,000 people and is estimated to lose a few million euros a day; limiting unions’ ability to impose collective bargaining agreements, which lead to ever-higher public sector pay; cutting out the two months of pay that private-sector workers get on top of their annual pay packages; increasing the retirement age and cutting back on pensions; and opening up the country’s trucking market in an effort to lower extremely high transportation rates that have hindered the country’s competitiveness.

With Greece now shut out of the debt markets, it has little leverage to resist — especially in light of the 8 billion euros it needs to repay bondholders on May 19. Analysts expect a deal by next week at the latest.

I’ve always been a fan of the euro – not that I’ve given it the amount of thought that I’ve given, say, the style indirect libre and such matters. But it does occur to me today that one thing the common currency seems directly to prevent is the present or eventual adoption of the Kirchner method of handling such crises:

On 15 December 2005, following Brazil’s initiative, Kirchner announced the cancellation of Argentina’s debt to the IMF in full and offered a single payment, in a historical decision that generated controversy at the time (see Argentine debt restructuring). Some commentators, such as Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, suggest that the Argentine experiment has thus far proven successful.Others, such as Michael Mussa, formerly on the staff of the International Monetary Fund and now with the Peterson Institute, question the longer-term sustainability of Pres. Kirchner’s approach.

In a meeting with executives of multinational corporations at Wall Street—after which he was the first Argentine president to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange—Kirchner defended his “heterodox economic policy, within the canon of classic economics” and criticized the IMF for its lack of collaboration with the Argentine recovery.

The Kirchner method, rather than starving labor and the state in service of debt repayment, imposes “austerity measures” on the international banks that made the loans (confident that they’ll be back when the situation improves – and they will) and allows leeway in the domestic effects of a financial crisis (i.e. Argentinians weren’t buying Japanese televisions for quite a bit of the decade…) But due to the eurozone arrangement, this way out, whatever the ideological predilections of those in power, is probably off the table now and for a time to come… As it turns out, the eurozone right now looks like an engine for stealing trains from the Greeks to keep Orlando vacations affordable for the Germans…

And of course, amidst all this, the NYT runs its inevitable ordinary Greeks admit that they are a nation of thieves, and therefore deserve the pain that awaits them piece….

“We did this to ourselves,” said Mr. Koptides, 37. “It is our problem. It’s not Germany or Europe’s fault. We did this to ourselves.”

Greeks seem to be engaged in national soul-searching these days, wondering whether traits they once found amusing might have led to many of their difficulties now.

Some say their country may have been unprepared to join the European Union in the first place. Some focus on how European Union funds sent to Greece were spent on wasteful projects. Greece’s last administration hid the extent of its debt.

“There has always been this way of thinking in Greece that the thieves are the clever ones and the ones who don’t steal are the patsies,” said Petros Anagnostou, 46, a book dealer. “We have to develop a conscience as a community, to see ourselves as a collective society. If it is a jungle out there, then we will eat each other and end up in a place like we are today.”

But of course the right path toward the reestablishment of “a community… a collective society” is by the elimination of the right to collective bargaining and the phasing out of public mass transit!

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April 29, 2010 at 9:22 am

Posted in austerity, crisis, economics

picket line

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Huh. Looks like I’m going to be going on strike next week. First time I’ve ever been involved in one of those. Luckily the union is (thus far) permitting us to run our exams… Was very worried about the idea of screwing up my students in service of the cause (exams aren’t easily rescheduled where I work… and they also make up just about all of my students’ marked profile… so it’s no trivial matter…)

I’m starting to have a feeling that things are about to get a wee bit pitched and contentious – even more they than already have been – in and around the UK higher education sector in the coming weeks before everyone goes home for summer break.

Was just talking tonight to my wife about how utterly disconnected I feel from politics. Not in the sense that my fundamental beliefs have changed or lightened – I’m still very much the same democratic socialist that I’ve always been. Just feel like I don’t have anything to say, any insight to contribute on that front – the front of politics writ large, politics played out on television and in the papers – anymore. Back in the early days of this blog (and the blog before that, in particular) I was constantly writing about the political churn, what was in the front sections of the papers, etc. Now, not so much.

But on the other hand… I’ve taken a small but significant step lately towards becoming more involved in my union, getting trained for further and grander participation in it. I am and have been haunted by the sense that people have me pegged out for university administration. I mean the upper bits – head of department, dean, whatever. I am the rare but true alpha male in a humanities department, one of those swaggering ex-athletes with a booming voice and an air of definitiveness about me when I speak in public. People like to be led by me, it seems. My dad was in management (erm, human resources) so there’s something about it all that makes sense.

But I’ll be damned before I go into it though – everyone knows that they carrot and stick you with a big salary and extracted promises to sort things out down on the farm, if you know what we mean. And I wouldn’t do that. But with the union – maybe there’s a place I can take all that half-oedipalized paternal training and put it to good use. And maybe in doing so, find for myself a place where my ever-more-humbled and generally-disenchanted political instinct can find somewhere new to set down roots. We’ll see…

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April 28, 2010 at 10:46 pm

philosophical

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The playhouse he built for his daughter in the garden. What does he say – to himself, even to it – as he stands before it smoking yet another cigarette? He can remember the day he built it. His wife kept his daughter away from the back windows so that she wouldn’t see. It was the day before her third birthday and they had just moved into the place with the garden at back. One pane of the little plastic window in front cracked as he secured it in the frame, and there’s a little lintel piece that he never got around to installing sitting at its side.

Inside the house, there are mostly unused toys. A kitchen set. Some balls. A little chair.

He says to himself while standing in front of the house, Ah, this that you’re feeling comes one way or another no matter what happens. One way or another way, there will be a last time you look at that house. Such is the nature of things. We know this. We know when we’re hammering the nails and tightening the screws that one day some person, one day, will break the house down with a hammer and crowbar and set it out front on the day that they pick up large objects. So what if it is sooner rather than later? It will happen either way.

He says this to himself, and his heart rises momentarily only to fall again. He is right, he is wrong. It doesn’t work. He says this to himself but refuses to say it, even under his breath, to the playhouse.

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April 25, 2010 at 2:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

good taste, anyway

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From an interview with Nick Clegg in the Guardian magazine today:

Which living person do you most admire, and why? JM Coetzee – he writes with a simplicity which lays bare what really matters.

[…]

What is your favourite book? Life & Times Of Michael K, by JM Coetzee.

Funny to think what an absolutely perfect choice is for a politicians favorite novel, and funnier to think what a catastrophic choice Disgrace would be…

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April 24, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Posted in coetzee, Uncategorized

keep the interesting in business: helen dewitt

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I’m not sure that all of my US readers (sounds like the UK ones maybe can’t) shouldn’t try to help Helen DeWitt out if they can. The Last Samurai is a very interesting novel; Helen is a very interesting novelist. The world needs more interesting, especially the literary part of the world. And she’s mentioned in a now-deleted post involving Neurathian isotype in her next book – which all AWP readers should understand and support.

(Just to be clear – the better end result from any interest this may spark in you is not to buy a used copy of her novel from Amazon, which will do you but not Helen any good. Unless I’m wrong, a new copy from Amazon would maybe do the trick… But better yet, follow her instructions…. You can pretend you’re paying me for my years of hard toil keeping all of you entertained and educated and such… We’re talking about somewhere in the environs of $15, so come on for chrissake!)

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April 16, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Posted in dewitt, marketing