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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

red net

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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

same guy

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June 9, 2007 at 12:33 am


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Rather hilarious stuff today coming out of the release of the 2012 London Olympic symbol logo brand that perfectly illustrates the hooker’s art of marketing come-on and shake-down today. Check out the trajectory of the BBC report:

“It is an invitation to take part and be involved.

“We will host a Games where everyone is invited to join in because they are inspired by the Games to either take part in the many sports, cultural, educational and community events leading up to 2012 or they will be inspired to achieve personal goals.”

Great! I’ll book my tickets and start packing my sneakers.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said: “We want London 2012 not just to be about elite sporting success.

“When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life.

Excellent! I was an OK ballplayer back in the day, and this non-logo brand has really inspired me to get out on the field and, yep, make a positive change in my life. This is going to be great. Do you have any hotel suggestions, or can I stay in the athletes’ condo complex village?

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said: “This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about – an inclusive, welcoming and diverse Games that involves the whole country.

“It takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration.

I definitely feel invited and inspired! For a second there, I thought you meant I had to be British… And I couldn’t understand wtf the logo brand was meant to be until someone explained it to me (see the 2-0-1-2 in the crazy blotches?) but, look, I’ve got the message. This is my logo brand, and my games, and I am set to act accordingly.

A London 2012 spokeswoman said: “It is not going to be a free for all. There would be conditions to qualify for it.“It is not about giving it out to people so that they do not pay for it. It is about an emblem that could be a stamp of endorsement that really fits in with the legacy of the Games.”

Huh? Wait…. What?

(For more silliness, check out these branding videos here. There’s a lot more to be said about the hideousness of this design and what it means, as well as the “insidery” inclusion of us in the process of making this thing, such as it is, but I’ve gotta get back to work…)

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June 4, 2007 at 12:29 pm

ads without products, products without qualities

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On his IHT blog, Daniel Altman wrote the other day about the strangeness of the big banks’ global advertising campaigns.

If you’ve seen the ubiquitous ad campaigns by HSBC, UBS, Morgan Stanley and others in the world’s airports, highway billboards and television broadcasts, you might be asking the same question. Each one takes a slightly different tack. HSBC says it understands local customs. Morgan Stanley says it knows how the whole world works. UBS says no matter where you do business, the relationship comes down to the bank and you. But their ads often come off as platitudes or truisms. Even if you did business in countries around the world, how would you choose between them?

Economists have always had a problem with advertising that doesn’t seem to tell you much about products. The feelings that these banks are trying to inspire might not even correspond to their services; there’s no way to know until you see what they’re actually offering – which isn’t in the ads. By trying to mobilize customers using feelings that may echo around the world, they’ve sought a one-size-fits-all solution. That approach could be successful, if there’s really a global business class to be targeted. If not, have they simply become too vague to be effective?

Economists have trouble with ads of this sort, of course, because economists have trouble with the aesthetic. Rare is the advertisement that simply fills you in on the utility of the product at hand. The Adidas ad doesn’t really explain the benefits of the shoe – but rather inserts you in an interesting or exotic situation that auratically adheres to the shoe.

I’m not telling you anything new here, of course. But then again, two questions. First, without using the word “aura” (because we’d like to find something more specific and helpful than that), how do we describe the “something else” that the ad brings us instead of the utility of the product for sale? Second, is it possible that whatever this “something else” is that we’re trying to name, it has something deeply in common with what art has always brought us in addition to its informational content? What does this “something else,” in other words, have to do with the aesthetic?

This one (and it is one of the most brilliant ads I’ve ever seen – I can watch it again and again) crosses a nascent geopolitical conflict with an aesthetic tension – a tension, actually, between two unreconcilable aesthetics: the collectivized bodies-as-machines of the Chinese against the pouty individualized hotness of the Americans. (Isn’t this, in a sense, the work that international athletics almost inevitably performs? Jesse Owens’s sole black body against the Riefenstahl logic of Hitler’s review platform etc… War by other means – by means that come closer to the aesthetic register than any other…)

But whatever we make of either ad, it’s tough to make the leaps from the represented content to the qualities of the shoe itself, unless we’re going to take the “Adidas fits all feet – whether lockstep commie ones or open-toe hypermarketed capitalist ones…”

Back to the banks. I still haven’t learned to take pictures on vacation of the interesting stuff that I’d actually like to look over again from the comfort of my home rather than posing the baby again and again in front of tourist sites that she can make neither heads nor tails of, but, yes, I was at Charles de Gaulle yesterday morning and it was absolutely plastered in just the sort of HSBC ads that Altman is describing above. I have no pictures, so we’ll have to go with a few clipped from elsewhere.


The first one seems to be from CDG itself, the second from HSBC’s NYC campaign, which interestingly highlighted the internationality of the city itself rather than the bank. (In other words, the EU ads are geared at the weirdness of crossing the German-French border on with no stop for passport controls, while the NYC campaign is isolated on the strangeness of crossing the Queensboro Bridge.

The television ads available on Youtube and the like are more helpful, perhaps in getting at the quiddity of this campaign. (You have to wait a bit to get to the punchline of the first…)

Leaving aside the tactical question that Altman asks – whether this is effective as a paradoxically global campaign about the bank’s respect for locality – I am interested in the contents of the ads themselves. What is the relationship between these quasi-fictional situations – these condensed little parapraxes, the petite romances, the perverse detournement of other aesthetic products (such as, in the case of the first, a film about Che Guevara). Think about how surprisingly close – even though there’s still a great distance, of course – the operative fixation of these ads comes to the preoccupations of works like Kafka’s or Woolf’s or Joyce’s. They work, at once, metaphorically (we can understand how to get along with the Chinese, whether in a restaurant or abstractly, via the markets) and literally (through the entertainment value of the vignettes…), which is, in the end, not far off from the model of the work of literature itself…

(Sorry – I have to pull up a bit hurriedly and short here, as I accidentally posted this before it was done, and I’ve got to run…)

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June 1, 2007 at 10:07 am


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I’ve loved this ad – even though it was for an energy company – for quite a long time. Always seemed to me to be potentially open for repurposing and.. I really love modularity, just in general. (We see an English version here, of course…)

But lo and behold, the other day when I thought to go to youtube to check if it was available for me to suck down into my archive, I found this:

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May 3, 2007 at 11:01 pm


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I’m having a hard time getting my head around all the vicious snark out the last few days in relatively unlikely places vs. the sustainability of the French social model. Sure, there are problems, high unemployment, etc. But this was rather surprising…

First the Globe and Mail comes out with a glowing endorsement of Sarkozy… which is unfortunately behind a paywall, so you’ll have to settle for a summary from here. And then this half-baked paragraph from the LRB of all places:

Much of this is difficult to grasp in the UK. It was the same when the French voted down the European Constitution in 2005 and again, in 2006, when Dominique de Villepin’s ‘first-time contract’ brought large numbers of school and university students – and their parents, and the unions – out on the streets because the law would have allowed companies to dismiss employees under 26 during their first two years in a job without giving a reason. It seemed incomprehensible that an attempt to loosen up the labour market could be greeted with such a suicidal response in a country of high unemployment. Yet to many in France the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model has mysteries of its own. In the parody version, it is an irrational economy with low-wage, low-security work, where employees push onions round a skillet or stick on a nametag and live at the mercy of a line manager, shuffling their debt around a full deck of credit cards, consuming for all they’re worth and then some. Small numbers of people get unattractively rich and the gap between wealthiest and poorest widens.

I’m sorry, did he just say that this is the “parody” version? As far as I know, Americans and Brits, no, generally don’t have much or any job security, legally speaking, and thus, yes, live at the mercy of the manager. Sure. And is Harding doubting the “full deck of credit card” issue? Is he disputing the widening gap between rich and poor?

Very strange stuff… There’s room for critique of the French system from many different perspectives, sure. But the bilious description of the French organization in the LRB piece speaks, I think, to a certain nervousness about the “Anglo-Saxon” model on the part of the Anglo-Saxons themselves, no?

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April 27, 2007 at 12:21 am

because you’re worth it…

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April 18, 2007 at 11:04 pm

too sexy for my jackboots

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From wikipedia (via an excellent post at design observer)…

Hugo Boss established his company in Metzingen, Germany, in 1923, only a few years after the end of World War I, while most of the country was in a state of economic ruin.

Before and during World War II, Mr. Boss’s company both designed and manufactured uniforms and attire for the troops and officers of the Wehrmacht as well as for other governmental branches of Nazi Germany.

Boss died in 1948, and the company then languished in relative obscurity until the 1950s, when, in 1953, Hugo Boss released its first suit design for menswear.

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April 17, 2007 at 11:12 pm

black swan

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This guy is a trip. Nassim Nicholas Taleb… He’s got a book out that I’ll likely buy, and I most definitely remember the alluring New Yorker article about him by Malcolm Gladwell. He fancies himself something of a renaissance man, and I guess to a certain extent he is one, if one of a very peculiar sort.

But check this out from something on his site that he reminds us at length is definitely not a blog.

This brings me to my comparative discussion Benoit Mandelbrot/ Susan Sontag that I truncated on the day Sontag died. I met both on the very same day, in New York, in October 2001. At the BBC studio where we were interviewed (separately) about our books, Sontag was told that I dealt in “randomness” and developed in interest in talking to me. When she learned by looking at my bio on the dust jacket that I was “in markets”, she gave me the look as if I had killed her mother. She turned her back to me as I was in mid-sentence, leaving me to the discomfort of having to speak without audience. It feels extremely humiliating to be speaking to someone’s back; it felt like the worst, most demeaning insult I ever had in my life. I swallowed my pride and, as I had an afternoon to kill, I forced myself to go to B&N get a copy of her book. I forced myself to enjoy her style, in spite of the frustration, and, after 4 pages, I was able to find it charming –but I kept wondering & introspecting: had I not had witnessed closed-mindedness and abject manners, how would my appreciation of the text turn out to be? (Levantine patricians used to be taught that manners > acts; it is worse to be rude to someone than try to murder him.)

Probably yet another mark in Sontag’s favor. I’ve been on something of a Sontag kick lately, and this one warms the heart a bit…

A bit further in the same post (not a blog so it can’t be a post), we get this lovely nugget:

My Stand Againt Atheism. This, and many other things explain why I just cannot understand atheism. I just cannot. If I were to take “rationality” to its limit, I would then have to treat the dead no differently from the unborn, those who came and left us in the same manner as those who do not exist yet. Otherwise I would be making the mistake of sunk costs [endowment effect]. I cannot & I just do not want to. Homo sum! I want to stay rational in the profane, not the sacred.]

Not really sure what this has to do with atheism/theism, but the “sunk costs” bit is rather fantastic bit, no?

Here’s the kicker: both excerpts are from a post entitled: Baudrillard-Give the Dead Some Respect-Against Atheism.

And finally, a paper that executes the closest thing to perfect-10 Inverse Sokal that I’ve ever seen.

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April 10, 2007 at 12:09 pm


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The New York Observer is to the realm of print journalism what Cops is to television programing. Both are born of utter rot. Both primarily feed and water the worst impulses in their audiences. But interestingly, both, because of their malignant rottenness, are venues for the near-exclusive exposure of the truth of American cultural life and its decay today.

I’ll leave you to troll through youtube looking for Cops examples, but here’s one from the Observer.

Dana Vachon, the 28-year-old banker turned blogger turned novelist about town, was not wearing socks. Just loafers. A buttery brown leather pair that may or may not have been Gucci and cocooned his feet to reveal just the manliest hint of hair-sprinkled skin. Set against an outfit of cobalt blue jeans, gold-coin cufflinks, and a gold-buttoned blazer, they perfected the look of a fresh Welton Academy grad who had just arrived for cocktails at the club.

As it happened, Mr. Vachon wasn’t sipping cocktails but herbal tea, and he was reclining at a table at the 1990’s trend-spot Balthazar—a restaurant that is, in theory at least, not a private club. It was an intriguing choice for a young scribbler whose first novel, Mergers and Acquisitions, is being promoted as the spiritual and stylistic heir to Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney’s coke-powered chronicle of early New York yuppiedom.


He began by freelancing for magazines like The American Conservative, which led, at the suggestion of his B.B.F. (best blogger friend) Elizabeth Spiers, to a blog about the “life and adventures of a 26-year-old investment banker,” which led to his discovery by power-agent David Kuhn, which led, in the spring of 2005, to a deal with Riverhead Books. A big deal. Mr. Vachon would get $650,000 to produce two novels for the imprint. That he was a first-time author who sealed the deal on spec, with just a 70-page taste of his novel-to-be, made him irresistible to lit gossips.


“I wanted to set down a portrait of this generation. Period,” he continued. “What’s the great Flaubertian quote? ‘All it takes for a member of the bourgeoisie to be happy is good health, selfishness, and stupidity, but the first two will get you nowhere if you don’t have the third’?” he said, slightly misquoting the author. “I love that.”

Seriously. Please. Stay. Away. From. The. Flaubert. You. Are. Going. To. Hurt. Yourself.

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April 6, 2007 at 2:42 am

what should the left propose?

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An interesting (and devastating) review of Roberto Unger’s What Should the Left Do? by Michael Bérubé. (I haven’t read Unger’s book, so I can’t really attest to the accuracy of the review, but I’m willing to take MB at his word.) Here’s one bit where Bérubé highlights a Unger’s reaction to the “Dictatorship of No Alternatives” in which the reaction itself takes the shape, to my mind, of a repetition of exactly the sort of third-way progressivism without pain that is half or more of the problem.

To understand the nature of those proposals, one needs to realize that when Unger speaks of the Dictatorship of No Alternatives and humanity’s desperate need to overthrow it, he is not just talking about the narrow spectrum of politics in the United States, where the center has shifted so far to the right that tepid Clintonian triangulation has become the left wing of the possible; he’s dissenting from the idea that the projects of egalitarian social justice should be funded by the redistribution of wealth. Instead, Unger’s project seeks “to root a bias to greater equality and inclusion in the organized logic of economic growth and technological innovation rather than making it rest on retrospective redistribution through tax and transfer.” (This does not, however, prevent Unger from proposing a confiscatory tax on inheritances—or, as he puts it, “the simple abolition of the right of inheritance”—so that “social inheritance for all would gradually replace family inheritance for the few.”)

How do we root a bias to greater equality and inclusion in the organized logic of economic growth and technological innovation? Basically, by making market dynamics more dynamic than even the most exuberant cybercapitalist has yet imagined, in order “to produce a series of repeated breakthroughs in the constraints on economic growth.” At the same time, we will set about creating a form of “high-energy democratic politics” that “requires a sustained and organized heightening of the level of civil engagement,” including plebiscites and other instruments of direct democracy that will override fusty old constitutional strictures and the friction-generating effects of that pesky Madisonian separation of powers. We will thereby “arouse a fever of productive activity, not by suppressing the market but by broadening opportunities to participate in it,” even as we “impose on the creations of such feverish productive activity a rigorous mechanism of competitive selection.” If this sounds like a paradox, surely it is no less a paradox than the idea of creating a new branch of government devoted to the creation of ceaseless flux, a kind of Megadepartment for the Fomenting of Constant Change, “equipped with both the practical resources and the political legitimacy to undertake a task for which the traditional Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary are ill suited.” That task, Unger explains, “is to intervene in particular social organizations and practices that have become little citadels of despotism, and to reconstruct them.”

If the book opens with a critique of actually existing “flexibility,” the answer proposed seems to be a utopian version of the same, a leftist thread of irrational exuberance that, yep, hitches its wagon to the very creative destruction that is the watchword of the thread of No Alternatives to the No Alternatives. (And, god, while things might be straightening out a bit now, way later than it should have happened, given the polls on Iraq, the Patriot Act, and just about every other issue of public import during the first 3/4ths of the Bush era, do plebiscites really seem like a sure fire fix?)

But beyond the question of value of this particular book, what is at once rather revealing and disheartening about that fact that it fails, the fact that every book and article and thought of this sort seems either to fail utterly to fulfill its contract and propose any proposition at all or to collapse into a heap of insane contradictory repetitions or repetitive contradictions, is the sense of how difficult it is today to develop even a modest suggestion of what it is that we might collectively want or do or even just think about wanting or doing. The Dictatorship of No Alternatives rules inside our restive, if confused minds and works just as profoundly as it does out there in the world of blurring partly lines and incessantly announced impossibilities. We see in Unger’s book – and just about everywhere else – just how difficult it is for the left – whatever left, whether we’re talking about the US democratic party or Brazilian legal theorists or marxist English professors or anyone between or beyond these poles – to say coherently just what it is that the left should or even might propose beyond reactive incrementalism, parrying against the worst possible cases.

(In a sense, what I am writing here is not only about Bérubé’s review, but also a tough day at the office. Heard two papers, both informed by some degree if different types of political engagement via cultural analysis, by two esteemed scholars, one of which shrugged off without real rejoinder the fact that the aesthetic principle he seemed to be advocating streamed historically, quite directly, into an allegiance with Nazism, while the second derided the work of human rights organizations and practical critics like Sontag (sure, sure, of course we see what you mean, of course) without suggesting any possible course of action beyond thinking good thoughts, radical thoughts, knowing better than the engaged and entangled. I was not a happy camper by the end of the day…)

And, to preview where I am headed with all of this in future posts: I am beginning to wonder whether a realignment (not total, but definitely significant) of the aesthetic humanities (did you see that! a little realignment in and of itself right there) might not be able to incrementally work towards a modest utopianism, or utopianly vector a kind of political incrementalism, in such a way that we (both the aesthetic humanists in the academy and, well, hopefully, the wider world) might start to know again what kind of story we’d like to tell ourselves and our children about the world and its direction. I wonder if, given certain adjustments in the way we work and in particular what we work towards might begin to shed light on at least what it is that we want, what we like, what is, in the fullest and newest sense, beautiful, a shift that might with work and luck be a first step on the road toward what we might do.

Stay tuned… More to come…

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April 6, 2007 at 12:29 am

Good Magazine: Philanthropic Condescension, Teacher Salaries, and Truthiness

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I subscribe to a lot of magazines, sometimes just for the hell of it. I have a long standing interest in the genre… And many of them don’t cost very much. So I signed up for Good Magazine after I took a look at the first issue. This was especially easy since, remarkably, 100 percent of the cost would be donated to a charity of my choice… No lose situation… What the hell, right…

Good is a strange bird, but one fully in sync with the times. Here’s the editorial statement:

We see a growing number of people tied together not by age, career, background, or circumstance, but by a shared interest. This revolves around a passion for potential mixed with fierce pragmatism and creative engagement. We sum all this up as the sensibility of giving a damn. But to shorten it, let’s call it GOOD. We’re here to push this movement and cover its realization.

While so much of today’s media is taking up our space, dumbing us down, and impeding our productivity, GOOD exists to add value. Through a print magazine, feature and documentary films, original multimedia content and local events, GOOD is providing a platform for the ideas, people, and businesses that are driving change in the world.

The word “business” sticks in the craw a bit, but who cares, right? Sounds like a good idea, even if the statement doesn’t inspire much confidence as far as a predictor of hard-hitting content. One imagines post-partisan up-beatness, neo-liberalism restrung as greenish good will plus tech innovation etc…

But looking back, I probably should have seen what was coming up the pike. I was shocked today when I opened up the newest issue arrived and I flipped through to the following infographic feature at the center of the magazine. (Please excuse the poor scans – hopefully you’ll be able to make them out… Click to enlarge….)

Scan 74223225 1

Scan 742232115 1

I nearly choked on my dinner when I saw this page, which is a state by state chart of how much higher the average school teacher salary (well, not quite… wait for a second) is than the average “white-collar, nonsales employee” in the US. So we’re not even talking teachers vs. proles and farmers here. This is teachers vs. executives, managers, administrators, (nonsales) service and clerical workers.

The numbers are shocking. The average teacher in Connecticut makes 43.1% more than the average white collar worker? In New York, it’s 37.7%. Vermont, 53.9% And in Florida, we’re talking a whopping 65.2%. Teachers must stock the upper-echelons of the upper-middle class, giving doctors and lawyers and corporate vice presidents a run for their money! Wow! We’re not even talking college teachers here – just plain old high school, middle, and elementary school instructors.

Of course, this is just so much bullshit. The first clue is the lead name in the list of sources for the infographic. That’s right, the good old Manhattan Institute, an organization renowned for its slippery use of statistical analysis – a Scaife and Olin funded right-wing think tank in the classical mold pledged to “develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.”

So what is the trick of the MI study upon which the Good pages are based? The oldest and silliest trick in the book when it comes to knocking teacher pay: the comparisons are based on hourly earnings rather than yearly salaries. So, because of the summer and other breaks, as well as the short formalized work day (8-2 or 9-3 clock in and out), yeah, obviously teachers’ rate of pay looks ridiculously impressive. Basically, when presented this way, the average teacher in the US, who actually makes $47,674, is factored as making the equivalent of something like $57,000 per annum.

Which of course they don’t make. They make $47,000 per year. The Manhattan Institute explains their deceptive method in the following way:

One of the significant benefits available to public school teachers is that they work fewer weeks per year. Teachers can use that time to be with family, to engage in activities that they enjoy, or to earn additional money from other employment. Whether teachers use those free weeks to make additional money or simply to enjoy their time off, that time is worth money and cannot simply be ignored when comparing earnings. The appropriate way to compare earnings in this circumstance is to focus on hourly rates.

Um, sure. This is true. But let’s be clear. School teachers are not going to, as a rule, find work during the summer months (and mid-semester breaks, for god’s sake) that compensates them at the same (ridiculously high – that’s the point, right?) level. Anyone who has been a Ph.D. candidate in need of summer cash can tell you that the summer temporary work options generally include, what, landscaping, summer camp counselor, barista, lifeguard, supermarket bagging – all minimum or in some cases subminimum wage type positions. Over the summer, one might expect to pull in, oh, $1500 or so before taxes. Of course, teachers can “be with family” or “engage in activities they enjoy,” sure. More likely, teachers do some of that type of thing and a lot of class preparatory groundwork, etc. But the one thing they can’t do is go into cost-reductive hibernation for the summer months, abandoning rent, mortgage, car payments, eating, and the like. The cost of living runs on a, yes, twelve month cycle. The salaries, yes, are for a twelve month cycle. In casual parlance, it’s usually called a year, and there is no option to stay alive and hungry only during a fractional part of it.

OK. Well and good. The MI study is dishonest, cherry-picking a set of data to work with that paints an inaccurate picture of the situation. But we expect that of the good folk at the Manhattan Institute. Still, why didn’t I just write a post arguing with the MI? Why bother with Good?

I bother with Good because they dishonestly made things even worse. Take a look back at the scans above. While the Manhattan Institute paper is careful to ground its claims in the proper nomenclature – they are careful to at every point describe the comparison as one of mean hourly earnings, which is the right word for the numbers compared – in the Good graphs the comparison is erroneously stated as one of salaries. “CT 43.1% above avg worker’s salary.” No one, speaking proper English, uses the word “salary” to denote an hourly wage or hourly earnings, or really anything other than the total amount of money one is paid for a job over the course of an entire year. (Just in case anyone is unclear on this point, take a look at what comes up when you search for the phrase hourly salary on Google – a whole bunch of calculators for converting your yearly salary into an hourly wage.) This error on Good’s part smacks of hyperbolic, inflationary dishonesty. Far fewer of its readers would be all that stunned to learn that teachers have a relatively high rate of pay per hour – the graph is only provocative because it suggests that the yearly salaries of teachers is that much higher than other white collar workers.

(xposted to Long Sunday)

I imagine the reaction of the average reader would be something like Holy crap! Teachers make that much money and they don’t even have to work summers!!!! Overpaid bastards!!!! Which is exactly not the case. The word salary, in other words, allows Good to score twice against teachers for a single strike…

I’m sure the reaction of Good would be that this was a fact-checking error, a non-intentional slip. But of course it isn’t – the proper language is right there for them to take from the MI piece, and the fact is salary sensationalizes the piece, makes it seem provocative and convincing in a way that mean hourly earnings does not. You can hear the number crunching, the figure forcing in the latter – the former seems to be clear as day, a simple calculation.

So why would the good folks at Good play the truthiness game? Why would they take up this issue, which seems a bit distant from the overall focus of the magazine, in the first place? Go take a look at some of the press on the founder, and I think the picture starts to clear up a little bit, especially in regard to his family foundation’s investment in teaching entrepreneurship in the schools. (Hint: public sector teaching jobs are not very entrepreneurial… But privatized, deunionized schools, well, that would be a different story… Hell, while we’re at it, why not scrap the whatever shreds of public sector infrastructure are left in the world, as tech savvy scions of media capitalists with their checkbooks + 25-40s with their green and good intentions (organic eats etc) would do a far better job at this whole taking care of poor folks than the… You get the point.)

It’s a shame, really. The magazine, in general, seems like a partly noble gesture. But it is hard to see how this infographic jives at all with these philanthropic intentions. (Even if schoolteachers were overpaid, which they of course aren’t, not by a longshot, this is an issue that Good thinks is worthy of attention, among all the other very grave problems there are in the world?) And above all else, we suffer from far too much bullshit in the realm of politics and popular sociology, far too much fact bending and bad faith argumentation, which makes this sort of thing, in the end, truly unforgivable.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 3, 2007 at 1:26 am

dialectics at a standstill: bruce sterling as exemplary public intellectual, circa now

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(Xposted to Long Sunday….)

The current configuration of the fields of journalism, academia, and publishing – plus the advent of the blogsphere – have produced in turn a new configuration of public intellectualism. There’s something of a long tail effect at work – there are probably more PIs listened to by fewer than any time in history. All manner of blogpundits, evangelists, and visionaries abound.

One of these (actually, he’s officially the Visionary in Residence at the Art Center College of Design in California) is Bruce Sterling, who has recently produced his very own youtubed guide to Belgrade:

Let me clip in what I think is the key passage here:

OK. so bear around the corner of the street, and this Tito-era workers housing building with its crumbling substandard concrete, we have what’s basically an ideological declaration here: business, technology, communication. You notice it doesn’t seem to be actually selling much of anything, it’s more like a placard for the 21st century way of life. Just a layer, a thin layer, on top of an older building. But it is this layer, this thin layer, that actually allows me to live within this particular city and earn a living here… via internet. Oh but what kind of person am I? Well, you know, look at my clothing. Look at my possessions. Business, technology, communication. What are these objects, actually attached to my body. This one in particular, wireless communication, completely changes people’s physical relationship to the city grid. In order to assemble my crew here on this street corner, we had to make about 30 different wireless phone calls just this morning and this afternoon. And yet, thanks to wireless communication, this is it. Thanks to the internet, that’s what allows me to be here.

Dear Christ. So, let’s consult the scorecard. The public housing of the old regime sucked, sure, but now there’s, what, a weird placard and Sterling with a fucking cellphone. For a proper celebration to ensue, you’d think we’d catch sight of all the fabulous new housing for the underclasses since the arrival of the free market chez Belgrade. After all, one guesses that there still are, like, people living in the crumbling workers housing building. Just as the failure of the American welfare state doesn’t mean that no one has to live in towering projects, it’s just that the idea of building new residences for the working class has been abandoned.

I suppose it does change “people’s relationship to the city grid” to have a well-paid speculative fiction writer cum freelance consultant strolling the streets of your city, making 30 calls a day on his phone, escorted by a movie crew. The rise of communism. The death of Tito. The fall of the Wall. The arrival of Bruce Sterling in your city. It all makes sense now, no?

More seriously: the illogic of the paragraph I’ve typed in speaks to the strange situation of the nearly-depoliticized public intellectual in 2007. The past, its utopian politics, are recognized and then derided. Guffaw, guffaw. But when the part of the paragraph arrives when you’re meant to explain why you’re smiling and carrying on, the part about the world actually being a better place now that the nasty specter of communism has slinked back into the grave, you simply stare into the face of your cellphone, or flip it out for all to admire. You register the amazingness of the fact that you’re actually here, wherever you are: a post-communist city that still bears the scares of US bombing, or a Pizza Hut in Bangalore, or the Department of Defense media center in the green zone, wherever. Your voice rises, you get excited, but there’s nothing to show but a civic-boosterist information economy poster splayed across the face of a Worker’s Residence, gutted into condos.

In short, the past and its potentialities are everywhere confronted, but only to be at once disowned with a shrug….

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Written by adswithoutproducts

March 26, 2007 at 2:30 am

do i contradict myself? very well, i contradict myself.

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My magazine budget is large, my rack contains multitudes.

I just a) resubscribed to Radical Philosophy and b) started a new subscription to Monocle.

I finally got myself a copy of the latter in a relatively unlikely place, a Barnes and Noble in the silly resort town on the west coast of Florida where I was staying. My wife said she saw tears well up in my eyes when I grabbed it from the magazine display.

I am a print junkie, despite all this on-line tapping about.

And if I could figure out the secret link between the two journals I plunked down, oh, well, let’s not name the price, my work would basically write itself.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

March 16, 2007 at 1:47 am