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May 1, 2010

Spill, baby, spill

When our Exalted Boy Emperor and Nobel Peace Laureate, George W. Obama, caved in to the “Drill, Baby, Drill” crowd and proposed the opening of large areas of the Atlantic and Alaksan coasts and the Gulf Of Mexico for oil drilling, you could’ve knocked over your average Liberal or Pwogwessive with a feather. They were shocked — shocked — to hear that The One was proposing to allow offshore oil drilling with a plan very nearly identical to that Evil Rethuglican, George W. Bush.

The really sad part is, of course, that your average Liberal or Pwogwessive will still — like your classic abused spouse — feel as if they’ve got noplace else to go and, as per usual, trudge off to the polls to pull a lever for the Democrats later this year, and in ‘12 and, also as per usual, once again feign shock and surprise when they come in for more abuse and betrayal from George W. Obama and the Democrats.

Pwog panopticon

Trust a liberal to come up with some nightmarishly elaborate techological scheme for controlling people's lives. Here's the latest:

Democratic leaders have proposed requiring every worker in the nation to carry a national identification card with biometric information, such as a fingerprint....

The national ID program would be titled the Believe System, an acronym for Biometric Enrollment, Locally stored Information and Electronic Verification of Employment.

It would require all workers across the nation to carry a card with a digital encryption key that would have to match work authorization databases.

“The cardholder’s identity will be verified by matching the biometric identifier stored within the microprocessing chip on the card to the identifier provided by the cardholder that shall be read by the scanner used by the employer,” states the Democratic legislative proposal.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a civil liberties defender often aligned with the Democratic Party, wasted no time in blasting the plan.

“.... Every worker in America will need a government permission slip in order to work. And all of this will come with a new federal bureaucracy — one that combines the worst elements of the DMV and the TSA,” said Christopher Calabrese, ACLU legislative counsel.

That's a nice line about the TSA and the DMV -- better than I would have expected from the generally toothless ACLU.

The proposal, a 26-page PDF document, is kinda fun to read, in a horrifying way. You can just see see some poor wanker of a Hill-rat congressional staffer sitting up nights concocting this ecstasy of techno-porn, which incidentally is watermarked with the names of Reid and Schumer.

It's a little incoherent, and about fifteen pages in, the Hill rat has become so boned that he (it's gotta be a guy) drops the cautious passive voice and starts talking about what "we" are going to let people do, and keep them from doing, and just how exactly we're going to go about it.

The gist of the idea is that the card contains some "biometric" information about your physical body -- a thumbprint, say, or a retinal scan -- along with your social security number and, well, who knows what other information about you?

You get one by going down to some government office and satisfying them that you are who you are and giving them the "biometric" info -- which is supposed to go right onto the card and then be forgotten and never stored anywhere else, and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.

In theory, of course, the card is not supposed to be used for any other purpose than for an employer to verify your eligibility to work here in the land of the free -- and again, how long do you think that restriction will last?

There is a strange inconsistency: the "locally stored" part of the scheme's preposterous acronym means that in principle, all the employer has to do is "locally" verify that your thumbprint or retina matches the one stored right on the card, without ever having to check a database anywhere. But then there's this:

The cardholder’s work authorization will be verified by matching a digital encryption key contained within the card to a digital encryption key contained within the work authorization database being searched.
To the extent that one can extract any meaning from this sentence at all, it seems to imply that there will in fact be a "work authorization database" somewhere (the blether about "encryption keys" is meaningless and technologically illiterate). Now each time this "database" is "searched", its proprietor -- presumably Uncle -- has yet another surveillance data point about you.

Well, who cares, really? He already has so many. And this is precisely the line of argument advanced by Demo Dick Durbin:

“The biometric identification card is a critical element here,” Durbin said. “For a long time it was resisted by many groups, but now we live in a world where we take off our shoes at the airport and pull out our identification. People understand that in this vulnerable world, we have to be able to present identification.”
A more perfect example of the Ratchet Effect could hardly be imagined. Bush makes us take off our shoes, and then the Democrats come along and tell us that hey, you're already taking off your shoes, might as well drop trou and assume the position while you're at it.

But of course there is nothing so horrible that a Pwog can't be found to praise it, as long as some Democratic senator's hell-spawn staff has cooked it up:

Angela Kelley, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said the biometric identification provision “will give some people pause.”

But she applauded Democrats for not shying away from the toughest issues in the immigration reform debate.

“What I like about the outline is that Democrats are not trying to hide the ball or soft-pedal the tough decisions,” Kelley said. “It seems a very sincere effort to get the conversation started. This is a serious effort to get Republicans to the table.”

The "Center for American Progress". I feel an essay about "progress" taking shape somewhere in my head. Progress toward what, exactly?

May 3, 2010

Look on the bright side

Here in Lockdown Land, it appears that yesterday's Times Square car-bomb will result in -- you guessed it -- still more policing, on the sound principle that something which has been shown not to work will certainly work if you do more of it.

But there's always a silver lining. Maybe there'll be fewer tourists.

May 4, 2010

Non-workers of the world, unite

This item came drifting by on one of my lefty mailing lists:

The myth of the “lazy Greek workers”
Written by Editorial Board of “Marxistiki Foni” Tuesday, 04 May 2010

Since the crisis in Greece has hit the headlines there have appeared in the bourgeois media many stories about how Greece has too many civil servants, how the working week is very short, how people retire early on fat pensions, and so on, as if this were the cause of the crisis. Facts and figures, however, can be very stubborn things and they tell a completely different story.

The writers go on to argue that Greeks do in fact work as hard as other people -- other people in Europe, that is; quite rightly, there's no comparison to China or the US or other depraved sweatshop societies.

The Greek comrades are making a mistake here. They're allowing the enemy to set the terms of the debate, by accepting that the bourgeois virtues of diligence and industry are things to be prized for their own sake.

It's time to assert the right to be lazy -- indeed, to proclaim the virtue of laziness. A short work week, early retirement, fat pensions -- these are unquestionably enhancements to human life. What's wrong with that? Don't we wish we had these things, here in Pharaonic America?

("Too many civil servants" is of course a little more problematic. But if they're actually serving the cives, then that's got to go in the plus column too.)

It's a case of the negation of the negation. The brutal forced-draft labor regime made possible (and necessary, perhaps?) by the process of industrialization has raised the productivity of labor to the point that that we can practically revert en masse to the lordly leisure of the hunter-gatherer world, if only we choose to do so -- and we should. It actually doesn't take a whole lot of labor, per capita, to maintain the level of physical comfort and amenity that we enjoy these days.

Unfortunately, a lot of us still have the brain-bug of middle-class morality gnawing away in our heads, and demanding the right to slack seems morally abhorrent. But it's a genuinely subversive and expropriative demand -- in the sense of "expropriating the expropriators" -- if we take the fruits of our increased productivity in God-given time, to be used as we see fit for our own delight, rather than in more or less cheesy "stuff"(*), which we buy from a capitalist. That's the real takeback. The capitalist can't get any of our gains back from us if we take those gains in the form of a nap, say, or a stroll in the park, or a long lazy dalliance with the SO.

Of course, if you're the restless type and determined to be busy, then it's Liberty Hall. I don't insist on the nap. I just insist that you use the time to do something that doesn't pay, and preferably needn't be paid for -- writing a book, say, or blogging. Singing, however badly. Practicing card tricks.

You get the idea.


(*) V. George Carlin:

May 7, 2010

Ichabod Pantywaist

For all the Obama regime's viciousness, it can't shake the wimp factor. The reaction to the BP oil spill is a perfect example. When any active reaction at all would have been appropriate, they resorted to blustering, procedural dithering and ensured much greater damage. The net effect was hopeless servility and incompetence. They could have done something remotely connected to mitigation or cleanup as soon as the news broke, and they still could have worked out a way to make it profitable for BP. They could, in other words, have remained thoroughly despicable; titillated the dead-ender pwogs with a few photo-ops, some cleaning, etc. and kept the patron class happy. But... they're hopeless pantywaists. Ichabods. Dorks, sedulously taping the "kick me" signs to their own backs and adopting a pointlessly provocative, butt-thrusting waddle that no bully could resist.

In this, they are exactly like their supporters. They evince the same hysterical pomposity as the double-domes who wail about fascist coups every time an illiterate Teabagger has a temper tantrum. It's enough to make a fascist coup welcome.

May 8, 2010

Flugennock goes all Mencken on us

Mike elaborates:

They range from borderline delusional to flat-out certifiable – and they vote.

I’d been seriously wondering about the root causes of the quality of “leadership” in this country over the past twenty-odd years, beginning late in Reagan’s second term and continuing off and on during the Clinton and Bush years... you can’t possibly imagine the thrill and relief when I finally realized that, yes, I’m not the only one thinking that the number one problem is, in fact, The People.

The Juvenalia continue at Mike's site.

I try to avoid embracing this outlook personally, but can't deny that it's awfully tempting, some days. One gets tired of going about among one's fellow-citizens like an anthropologist all the time, constantly trying very hard to understand.

Drop a bag on Babylon

For something like the third or fourth time since last weekend's great SUV fizzle, Times Square was shut down for an hour because somebody left a bag with some water bottles in it on the sidewalk. The starship troopers (one is shown above) were of course called in, in all their glorious absurdity.

How I hope somebody is doing this deliberately. And that it happens so often the authorities have to close Times Square for good. Turn it into a bird sanctuary, or something.

May 9, 2010

Not dead yet?!?!

The world's most ponderous and tiresome literary critic -- a field where there's plenty of competition, for tiresomeness and ponderosity -- has just plumbed new abysses of incoherence and bathos in what else, the NY Times Book Review:

The Jewish Question: British Anti-Semitism

A History of Anti-Semitism in England

Anthony Julius has written a strong, somber book on an appalling subject: the long squalor of Jew-hatred in a supposedly enlightened, humane, liberal society. My first, personal, reflection is to give thanks that my own father, who migrated from Odessa, Russia, to London, had the sense, after sojourning there, to continue on to New York City.

If the Brits had any capacity for gratitude at all, they would no doubt be equally thankful.
With a training both literary and legal, Julius is well prepared for the immensity of his task. He is a truth-teller, and authentic enough to stand against the English literary and academic establishment, which essentially opposes the right of the state of Israel to exist, while indulging in the humbuggery that its anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.
Speaking of humbug -- at this stage of the game, it's amazing that even the Times would print this sad, muddled, banal series of unconnected eructations. Bloom is still quite angry about events that happened in 1290, and deeply disappointed in Bill Shakespeare for writing that nasty play The Merchant of Venice. Oh and Dickens, another monster, not to mention
Thomas Nashe, Daniel Defoe, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Wyndham Lewis, down to the contemporary poet Tom Paulin and the dramatist Caryl Churchill.

One can only suppose that Bloom gets away with this kind of sophomoric, ahistorical foolishness because he has Yale to certify his authority -- as Alan Dershowitz has Harvard, and David Mamet has Broadway. When you've got credentials, as far as the Times is concerned, you can be as crazy as a bedbug but you must be heard.

May 11, 2010

Merit baby picks Ivy prof to construct police state

She looks a little like Jackie Gleason, doesn't she? But don't be fooled -- this is an authentic brainiac. The Times says so, burbling about her PLU(*) New York antecedents in a style that might seem over the top for People magazine:

A Climb Marked by Confidence and Canniness

She was a creature of Manhattan’s liberal, intellectual Upper West Side — a smart, witty girl who was bold enough at 13 to challenge her family’s rabbi over her bat mitzvah, cocky (or perhaps prescient) enough at 17 to pose for her high school yearbook in a judge’s robe with a gavel and a quotation from Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court justice.

She was... the literature lover who reread Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” every year.

"Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice" -- not the Tolstoy novel with the same title. "Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court justice" -- not to be confused with the eponymous ancestor of the hot dog. Paris, France.

"Literature lover". Christ on a motherfucking crutch. Is there any institution in the world more sublimely Philistine than the New York Times? In what other pages could a phrase that self-revealingly tin-eared ever possibly appear?

Supreme Court fanciers have been reading the entrails very closely, and have all come to the same conclusion: this liberal Upper West Side success story will certainly give the police-state ratchet a turn or two. She's been diligently on the case as Solicitor General, and since there appears to be a clear elite consensus that civil liberties and privacy and due-process protections need to go, she can be depended on to help show them the door.

We all of course remember how important it was to elect a Democrat a couple of years ago, for the sake of the Supreme Court. I haven't checked with Dailiy Kos on this one, but no doubt there are Cheerybles there ready to assure us that McCain would have certainly found somebody worse.

That's probably even true, in the sense that a McCain appointee might have been even more uncouth -- a person, conceivably, who might not be a "literature lover" at all. But if the Upper West Side lt-lvrs like Kagan are chummily willing to "reach out" to the Orcs like Scalia -- what's the course made good, folks? Where are they taking us? Where were we yesterday, where are we today, where will we be tomorrow? What does "worse" even mean? They'd take us to Hell in a handbasket at 90 mph, instead of just 89?

Is even that true? The Hellward movement seems to be pretty steady, as far as I can tell, whether a Carter or a Reagan or a Bush or a Clinton or an Obama has his executive wingtips on the Oval Office desk. I haven't really noticed any accelerations or decelerations of late. Have you?

On one of my lefty mailing lists somebody passed along an email purporting to originate from The Nation's dependably vomitous Ari Melber. I can't vouch for this, but it sounds authentic:

'As a lawyer, I think there is no doubt that: 1. Kagan is supremely qualified and merits confirmation by any standard 2. Replacing Stevens with Kagan moves the Court to the Right. Ergo 3. The sum consequence of Obama's first term appointments will be to advance qualified nominees through a respectable selection process that ultimately tilts the Court a bit more to the Right. Not the end of the world, but not what most Obama voters had in mind, either.'
Ah. I see. As long as it's "qualified" people from top-notch schools waterboarding us, that's okay.


(*)People Like Us.

May 12, 2010

Teddy bear

I know Dean Baker is not universally admired here, but I thought he made a hell of a lot of sense in this clip. Precis:

"I think we’re going to see a big fall-off in purchases for the rest of 2010 and even into 2011,” Baker says. “So the idea that somehow the market is stable, that housing prices will rise anytime soon – it’s really hard to make a case for that."

Baker lays out several reasons for his bearish case:

  • Programs that lifted the market, including the tax credit for first-time buyers, have expired.
  • The Federal Reserve is exiting the mortgage market, which will likely push rates to 5.5% to 6% by the end of the year.
  • There's still an inventory glut and rental rates are falling in many markets, notes Baker, author of "False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy." He says the rental market doesn't lie.
Baker endears himself to me by asking a simple question which I've never heard anybody else but myself ask: Why do we want house prices to be high? We don't want bread prices to be high, do we?

He also thinks -- as I always have -- that the right approach to relief for strapped mortgagees is to gently turn them into renters.

Somebody tell me what's wrong with this reasoning.

May 17, 2010

Wynne Godley, 1926-2010


One of my favorite economists, Wynne Godley (right) has died. Obituaries are here and here. An extremely candid article on his upbringing is available here here, and an extensive video interview can be found here.

What I find most impressive about Godley was the drive that he exhibited in the last two decades of life. After having his funding cut off by the Thatcherites, whose economics he had called "a giant con trick", Godley was undeterred. He spent over twenty years working on his macroeconomic theory, living to see his magnum opus published in 2007 and his ideas proven right during the financial crisis.

I think that the Times was right to characterize his theories as "major, though as yet not fully recognised, contributions to macroeconomic theory."

In the hopes of increasing his recognition around these parts, here's a section in Jamie Galbraith's article on economists who predicted the crisis that provides a fairly accessible introduction to Godley's economic theory:


The work of John Maynard Keynes is linked closely to the accounting framework that we call the National Income and Product Accounts. Total product is the flow of expenditures in the economy; the change in that flow is what we call economic growth.

The flow of expenditures is broken into major components: consumption, investment, government and net exports, each of them subject to somewhat separable theories about what exactly determines their behavior. Accounting relationships state definite facts about the world in relational terms. In particular, the national income identity (which simply states that total expenditure is the sum of its components) implies, without need for further proof, that there is a reciprocal, offsetting relationship between public deficits and private savings.

To be precise, the financial balance of the private sector (the excess of domestic saving over domestic investment) must always just equal the sum of the government budget deficit and the net export surplus. Thus increasing the public budget deficit increases net private savings (for an unchanged trade balance), and conversely: increasing net private savings increases the budget deficit.

The Cambridge (UK) economist Wynne Godley and a team at the Levy Economics Institute have built a series of strategic analyses of the U.S. economy on this insight, warning repeatedly of unsustainable trends in the current account and (most of all) in the deterioration of the private financial balance. They showed that the budget surpluses of the late 1990s (and relatively small deficits in the late 2000s) corresponded to debt accumulation (investment greater than savings) in the private sector. They argued that the eventual cost of servicing those liabilities would force private households into financial retrenchment, which would in turn drive down activity, collapse the corresponding asset prices, and cut tax revenues. The result would drive the public budget deficits through the roof. And thus—so far as the economics are concerned—more or less precisely these events came to pass.

Godley’s method is similar to [Dean] Baker’s: an unsustainable condition probably exists when an indicative difference (or ratio) deviates far from prior values. The difference is that Godley’s approach is embedded explicitly in a framework of accounts, so that there is a structured approach to figuring out what is and what is not tolerable. This is a definite advance.

For example: public sector surpluses were (not long ago) driven by private-sector debt accumulation. This raises the question, how can such accumulation be sustained and what happens when it stops? Conversely in a downturn: very large public-sector deficits are made inevitable by the private-sector’s return to net saving.

But how long will public policymakers, unaccustomed to thinking about these relationships, tolerate those deficits? The question is important, since if for political reasons they do not, the economy may collapse.

May 19, 2010

We're Here To Help

I try to avoid actively prescriptive solutions to the day's issues, but the British Petroleum suggestion box publicity stunt tugs at my heart strings. I feel for them. I want to help cap the gusher that's destroying huge swathes of coastline and devastating the ocean ecosystem. I also want to help them shed other, equally relevant negative externalities.

Two birds. One stone. Use the BP board of directions and the management to cap the gusher. Stuff them all into the pipe. There's no need to for perfect precision—although that would help. Just keep stuffing them down into it and hope for the best.

Needless to say this doesn't preclude other methods or, for that matter, other pursuits (well said, Mr. Davis).

May 24, 2010

Monday Morning Calumnies

The Obama regime takes a certain pride in hamstringing itself over BP's toxic catastrophe. That's not the calumny, by the way. That's the regime's business model; hysterical hand-wringing and dredging for specious interpretations of relevant legislation. The interpretations allow the regime to subordinate state action to the corporate requirements of BP. The harm to the Gulf Coast people and the environment they need to live in is regrettable, but rules must be seen to be subject to adherence-related program activities.

What they've managed is the procedural equivalent of placing condom use guidelines in torture chambers. Their justifications consist of demanding, "What? You'd rather see the victims contract STDs?"

Anyway, the calumny concerns the regime's remaining supporters. My nasty hypothesis is they're not so nutty that they really believe the regime is trying ever so hard, but they are nutty enough to enjoy the minor roles they played in foisting the Democratic version of malign neglect on the country. Sort of a "turn about is fair play" thing. Baby Doc Bush and the American Enterprise Institute's intellectual Tonton Macoutes had their fun. Wingnut triumphalism filled the air for eight years. Why shouldn't passive aggressive goo-goo savagery get some play too?

I find the hypothesis tempting, but badly flawed. It only explains the comprador pundits and foundation shit shovelers. Their interests are aligned with the party's. The rest are hemmed in by the party's Stakhanovite attention to punishing every decent impulse they might have.

Dupes, or accomplices?

One of the reasons it's been so hard post anything here lately is that it seems so otiose. I mean, every day the Obama administration is providing actual tangible concrete evidence that we -- those of us who share to any degree my values, anyway -- have nothing good to expect from it. (One word: Bagram.) What glossing, what explication, what exegesis, does the bald daily newspaper record require? Comment, as they say, seems utterly superfluous.

Yet none of my Obamaphile friends is willing to admit that he or she was taken for a ride.

Perhaps they weren't. Perhaps I was wrong about what motivated them. Before the installation of the current Emperor, I thought they were indulging in wishful thinking. Then for a while after the installation, when the administration's arguably still-latent physiognomy became unmistakably patent, I thought they were being stubborn -- after all, nobody likes to acknowledge that he's been schnookered.

But it's gone on too long. I'm starting to think that Obamaland is the country they want: which is to say, a vile violent brutal empire and police state run by people who don't have hick accents and vulgar prejudices, top-notch smart people from good schools; People Like Us, in other words. It's starting to seem that my friends' objections to Bushery were entirely objections to style rather than substance.

Which of course raises the question: What can one say to people like that? Hadn't one better save one's breath to cool one's soup?

Perhaps I'm still running on autopilot under some old CP notion of "progressive" peoples and social formations being somehow aligned, at least in part, with real substantive social change. It seems pretty clear now that this is a very mistaken idea. The "progress" that "progressives" are interested in is progress toward a universal color- and gender-blind panopticon, a world where the Scholastic Aptitude Test confers imperium over all the legions and all the surveillance cameras.

The resulting quandary explains a lot about this blog. If the people who are likely to read it are the people least likely to be persuaded by anything you have to say -- then the note of mockery, so often deplored by some of our commenters, is about the only note left to strike.

But then too one wants to find somebody to talk to, someplace to look for bloody-minded antisocial impulses that one might help stir up. Hence, I think, the interest that people like Alex Cockburn (and, si licet magnis componere parvos, me) have in libertarians, gun nuts, Tr00thers, climate "denialists": all the people who are, from the enlightened "Progressive" point of view, the wretched refuse of the earth -- the ineducable, in fact. The ineducable are maybe just the people you want, for reasons nicely dissected by Al in an earlier post.

May 25, 2010

Marx on feedlot management

One of my lefty mailing lists saw quite a flap erupt today -- forty posts in one afternoon -- on the subject of "school reform". The post that started it all pointed us to this site, adorned with a photo of an attractive busty young model(*), dressed down in dowdy clothing in order to pose as a teacher:

Tell the Teachers Union: Keep Great Teachers, Not Just the Longest-Serving Ones.

New York State’s fiscal crisis is forcing painful cuts across the board. As a result, New York City’s schools may have to lay off as many 6,500 teachers. While no one wants to see any teachers lose their jobs, outdated Teachers Union rules say that any layoffs must be made in order of hire. This means that regardless of a teacher’s accomplishment in the classroom, the longest serving teachers are protected and the newer teachers are forced out.

I hasten to add my my lefty correspondent didn't post this link because he approved of it (though he may well have found the busty model as appealing as I did; if I had had teachers like that, I might not be so sour on the Credentialling Sector today). My comrade -- call him Lamaison -- wrote:
Well, this is fairly pernicious. If I'm not mistaken, there is little to no evidence that teacher layoffs based on seniority would actually harm the educational achievement of students, no? Wouldn't younger teachers, on average, actually be worse teachers than veterans because of lack of experience?
Now I believe that anybody who has a job ought to be able to keep it, no matter what a duffer they are; and since I'm pretty long in the tooth myself, seniority seems at least as good a basis for triage as any other, if triage there must be. It has the great merit of being entirely and obviously arbitrary. The only thing better would be casting lots, where the arbitrariness is underscored and even valorized.

But Comrade Lamaison yields the vital point before he starts -- as Lefties so often do, alas. He couches his argument in terms of "educational achievement". Once you grant the premise that "achievement" ought to be any kind of criterion for employment, you've made management's case, and given away the store.

It was all downhill from there. Still deeper abysses of bathetic sanctimony were soon plumbed, by Comrade Maximilian:

A younger or new teacher may have more energy and enthusiasm, a senior one could be burned out. My wife, may she rest in peace, was one of those who came in with little credentials after decades as an attorney, but my perception was that she was a very good teacher with a motivation advantage over some of the burn-outs in her school....

Of course teacher layoffs are criminally dumb, so it doesn't pay to argue over how best to lay off. How to weed out low-performers is a good question, one to which I haven't the answer.

The clear-eyed though slightly saturnine Comrade O'Carolan found this a little too much, and wrote trenchantly:
Damn it. Nothing is more destructive of anything remotely approaching class solidarity than this fucking stupid idea that somehow the incompetent should be "weeded out."

People are not weeds to begin with. Accept the fact that any work force is going to be varied, and rather than this stupid and impossible and divisive obsession with competence give a little bit of thought to performing the best possible with a given work force.

Fundamental to building a good school system would be (a) hiring on the basis of drawing lots among applicants and (b) immediate and irrevocable tenure, and (c) salary determined by time only -- no judgment of this illusory competence.

That was the high point; but O'Carolan was vox clamantis in deserto. None of the hardened cadre were willing to follow him this far. Here's the lowest of low points:
I am sympathetic to this position in the abstract; however, when we're trying to get things done in an educational organization, turning a blind eye to people who don't do their work causes all kinds of problems for students, faculty, and staff. One example: a faculty member at a vaguely unidentified college I've worked at refused to grade final papers for a number of terms....

What are we supposed to do about that? Is it wrong for me to argue that this faculty member should not be allowed to impose additional workload on colleagues?

The non-grading colleague wasn't doing his weeding job on the students; so he must in turn be weeded. It's the opposite of "judge not, that ye be not judged"; above the door of the meritocratic workplace is written, in letters of fire, the motto "judge others or be judged by them. Or both."

That's a self-identified Lefty talking about the sanctity of the letter grade and the moral culpability of Not Doing Your Job. This sort of thing makes me want to hang myself. Sometimes it seems that we really are our own worst enemies. We've internalized the enemy's premises to the point that we might as well be performing a kind of collective auto-lobotomy.


(*) They've gotten rid of the cute girl, alas.

May 27, 2010

Underachievers of the world: Slack off!

One of my self-identified Lefty comrades recently wrote, in connection with a topic mentioned earlier here:

So either one is arguing for meritocracy (who did that?) or we accept and advocate for people performing below their full potential. My that binary looks good on you. Can we please not simply argue for the opposite of what the other side does. We are smarter than that.
Note the giant unexamined assumption here that's there something wrong with "people performing below their full potential." When did that commandment get added to the Decalogue?

It's just a lemma, of course, of the whole bourgeois instrumental-rationalist notion that life is all about maximizing some function or other -- utility, hedony, efficiency vel sim(*).

But let's focus specifically on the idea of "performing at full potential". This phrase is of course just modern pseudo-quantitative managerial-pedagogical jargon for what used to be called the virtue of Industry.

As virtues go, this is an awfully new one. Industry would not have been considered a virtue in the ancient world, or the Middle Ages, or the Renaissance. Aristocrats would have found it revoltingly ungentlemanly, and peasants, artisans and slaves would have thought it insane. In fact, they might have fragged you for practicing it and making the rest of 'em look bad.

I doubt that the virtue of Industry is in fact much older than, surprise, the Industrial Revolution. Perhaps a little. Anybody got texts to suggest from before, say, the later 18th Century?

The first person I can think of, offhand, to write in praise of Industry (The Virtue) is Benjamin Franklin, who notoriously compiled a list of thirteen -- count 'em, thirteen -- virtues. (The Middle Ages only had seven, three theological and four natural.)

Ben's list is well worth reading:

  1. TEMPERANCE -- Eat not to fulness; drink not to elevation.
  2. SILENCE -- Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. ORDER -- Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. RESOLUTION -- Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. FRUGALITY -- Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself i.e., waste nothing.
  6. INDUSTRY -- Lose no time, be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary action.
  7. SINCERITY -- Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. JUSTICE -- Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. MODERATION -- Avoid extremes, forbear resenting injuries as much as you think they deserve.
  10. CLEANLINESS -- Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. TRANQUILLITY -- Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. CHASTITY -- Rarely use venery but for health and offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. HUMILITY -- Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
A text worthy to be inscribed on every sweatshop wall, isn't it?

D H Lawrence has never been my favorite writer -- though I knew a girl once who was crazy about him, and she was quite something -- but he's very good on Ben and his virtues:

This is Benjamin's barbed wire fence. He made himself a list of virtues, which he trotted inside like a grey nag in a paddock.

.... A Quaker friend told Franklin that he, Benjamin, was generally considered proud, so Benjamin put in the Humility touch as an afterthought. The amusing part is the sort of humility it displays. 'Imitate Jesus and Socrates,' ... One can just imagine Socrates and Alcibiades roaring in their cups over Philadelphian Benjamin, and Jesus looking at him a little puzzled.

.... He had the virtues in columns, and gave himself good and bad marks according as he thought his behaviour deserved. Pity these conduct charts are lost to us....

He was a little model, was Benjamin. Doctor Franklin. Snuff-coloured little man!

... I admire him. I admire his sturdy courage first of all, then his sagacity, then his glimpsing into the thunders of electricity, then his common-sense humour. All the qualities of a great man, and never more than a great citizen. Middle-sized, sturdy, snuff-coloured Doctor Franklin, one of the soundest citizens that ever trod or 'used venery'.

I do not like him.


(*) And you often find a further utterly unjustified and entirely unexamined idea that these three maxima are mutually implicit -- maximizing one implies maximizing the others. What a hoot, huh?

Mr Doolittle on the virtue of industry

Anent an earlier topic. It's all been said before, and said better. From Pygmalion, of course:

Doolittle. What am I, Governors both? I ask you, what am I? I'm one of the undeserving poor: that's what I am.

Think of what that means to me as a man. It means that he's up agen middle class morality all the time. If there's anything going, and I put in for a bit of it, it's always the same story: "You're undeserving; so you can't have it."

But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow's... I don't need less than a deserving man: I need more. I don't eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more. I want a bit of amusement, 'cause I'm a thinking man....

Well, they charge me just the same for everything as they charge the deserving.

What is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything.

Therefore, I ask you, as two gentlemen, not to play that game on me. I'm playing straight with you. I ain't pretending to be deserving. I'm undeserving; and I mean to go on being undeserving. I like it; and that's the truth. Will you take advantage of man's nature to do him out of the price of his own daughter what he's brought up and fed and clothed by the sweat of his brow until she's growed big enough to be interesting to you two gentleman? Is five pounds unreasonable? I put it to you; and I leave it to you.

Higgins [rising, and going over to Pickering] Pickering: if we were to take this man in hand for three months, he could choose between a seat in the Cabinet and a popular pulpit in Wales.

Pickering. What do you say to that, Doolittle?

Doolittle. Not me, Governor, thank you kindly. I've heard all the preachers and all the prime ministers - for I'm a thinking man and game for politics or religion or social reform same as all other amusements - and I tell you it's a dog's life any way you look at it. Undeserving poverty is my line. Taking one station in society with another, it's - it's - well, it's the only one that has any ginger in it, to my taste.

Higgins. I suppose we must give him a fiver.

May 29, 2010

Junk shot

Our own Mike Flugennock, inspired by a recent post from Al:

May 30, 2010

Sir Leon, chevalier sans reproche

I know, I know, it's very foolish of me to step a-purpose into a sectarian cowpat which has flopped wetly onto these pages before, but something just came in on my wires which tickled me pink -- dismal pun fully intended, I fear:

Leon Trotsky
The Struggle for Cultured Speech
(May 1923)

(First Published: Pravda, May 15, 1923)

I read lately in one of our papers that at a general meeting of the workers at the “Paris Commune” shoe factory, a resolution was carried to abstain from swearing, to impose fines for bad language, etc.

This is a small incident in the turmoil of the present day, but a very telling small incident. Its importance, however, depends on the response the initiative of the shoe factory is going to meet with in the working class.

Abusive language and swearing are a legacy of slavery, humiliation, and disrespect for human dignity—one’s own and that of other people. This is particularly the case with swearing in Russia. I should like to hear from our philologists, our linguists and experts in folklore, whether they know of such loose, sticky, and low terms of abuse in any other language than Russian. As far as I know, there is nothing, or nearly nothing, of the kind outside Russia. Russian swearing in “the lower depths” was the result of despair, embitterment and, above all, slavery without hope, without escape. The swearing of the upper classes, on the other hand, the swearing that came out of the throats of the gentry, the authorities, was the outcome of class rule, slaveowner’s pride, unshakable power.

Rich stuff, huh? I particularly like the double interpretation of "uncultured" language. The lower classes swear out of despair, the upper classes swear out of arrogance. Perhaps this is an example of the higher dialectics at work, but if so, it leaves my coarse Anglo-American mind metaphorically gaping. I have to wonder whether there might not be a more economical explanation -- one with fewer moving parts.

Who knew that Commissar Trotsky was the grandfather of our more contemporary campus-PC diction police? (Though there seem to be fewer and fewer recruits each year to this squad, and the force is visibly getting rather long in the tooth.)

It's interesting that Trotsky, who was a bit of a polyglot, is so convinced that Russian bad language is so much coarser and more appalling than other languages' bad language. Anybody who really knows how to swear in Russian is welcome to weigh in here: can Russian beat terms like "asswipe" and "cuntface"? If so, I want to know these words.

NB: one has certainly known Stalinists who were equally priggish. Fair's fair. But I've never seen such a spectacular exercise in "left-wing" Grundyism before, from anybody who can claim canonical status. This bids fair to become the locus classicus.

May 31, 2010

A faraway people, of whom we know way too much

Okay, I admit it. In fact, I proclaim it from the housetops: I hate Israel. I hate it worse than Kosovo or Croatia or any other nasty little actually-existing racial-chauvinist country I can think of -- though in my defense I will say I hated apartheid South Africa as much, while it was around. But now that the Boers aren't running the show there any more, Israel has had to take up the slack; and it has done so, admirably, more than adequately, and con amore.

I encourage others to join me here. Free your minds of cant, abandon false piety and useless prudence, and repeat after me: I hate Israel.

Say it quietly at first, if necessary. You'll grow to like the sound of it, and you'll start saying it louder. A person near and dear to me asked me, just now, what I would like to see done about Israel, and I found myself quoting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: I would like to see it wiped off the map.

It was, of course, unsurprising that after this weekend's spectacularly criminal attack on the Gaza aid ships, the defense team would swing into action -- though to be sure, they had their work cut out.

The embarrassingly silly claims of the propaganda ministry in the Promised Land itself were soft-pedalled in the world I live in. The favored approach in my world came from The Department Of Comparative Atrocity, like this contribution to one of my mailing lists:

List of genocides and democides (1970 to 2010)

  • Cambodia 3 700 000 dead (estimate)
  • Bangladesh 2 800 000 dead (estiamte)
  • Sudan 2 600 000 dead (estimate)
  • Congo 2 100 000 dead (estimate)
  • Afghanistan 1 800 000 dead (estimate)
  • Rwanda 800 000 dead (estimate)
  • China (1970 - 1974) 750 000 dead (estimate)
  • Vietnam 500 000 dead (estimate)
  • Uganda 450 000 dead (estimate)
  • Indonesia 300 000 dead (estimate)
  • Guatemala 250 000 dead (estimate)
  • Bosnia 200 000 dead (estimate)
  • Iraq 180 000 dead (estimate)
  • Palestinians killed by Israel since 1980 : 7 000 dead (estimate)
Can we condemn Israel, boycott Israel, firmly, without it becoming a form of monomania ?
There you have it, folks. They're not so bad, see? Develop a sense of proportion, for Heaven's sake.

One has, of course, seen this argument before. In keeping with the usual habit 'round here of questioning unstated presuppositions, one might start by asking, just what's so wrong with monomania?

I can't claim to be quite so focussed as to deserve that honorable term myself, but I'm quite willing to acknowledge that Israeli atrocities bother me more than atrocities elsewhere. This is because my own country's government supports these atrocities, up to the hilt, and because I live in a social world where every day you meet people who will go purple in the face making a case for them if the subject comes up.

For a lot of us, Zionism is an in-your-face, immediate, on-the-table problem in a way that similarly vile phenomena elsewhere in the world are not. The guy standing next to me at the lox counter in my local deli is unlikely to defend Hutus killing Tutsis, or vice versa, but the odds are better than even that he'll find a good word to say for the Gaza "incursion", or this weekend's quantitatively insignificant police action.

About May 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in May 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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