Cop love

To me, the sight of a cop in his brutish ugly uniform and his panoply of weapons is purely bad. The badness is a composite of fear (I really don’t want to attract his attention) and hate (why is he there at all, and why so heavily armed), and I wish somebody would take him out, or at least pin him down under covering fire and make him cry for his mother and wet his cop pants.

Others feel otherwise. Obviously. I wish I understood them better.

To me, the menacing cop looks like a menace. I mean, a menace to me.

To the cop fans, the cop also looks like a menace, but to somebody else whom they fear and loathe. Who might that be?

The obvious answer is “black people”, and there’s no question that in the US, at least, this is a big part of the picture. But then there are black cop fans too, and I think that race (though it can never be overlooked) isn’t the whole story.

The cop is plainly an object of fear, so to stan him implies that there’s someone – real or illusory – whom we fear worse, and against whom this horrid Talus might be turned.

Is that someone perhaps some part of ourselves? Is the cop the heavily armed external superego, keeping our own unruly Id in line? The personification of a punitive social order, whose rules & regs we have to obey, and are expected to love? The cop can be for us, or against us, depending on which side of us turns up. Better for than against, considering his heavy armament. Better to love him than hate him. Identify with him, or he might gun you down.

But that leaves some Id left over, and so there’s another Other too, namely all those people out there – black people (or for boogie black people, Cousin Pookie); unruly people, undeserving people, those who didn’t do their homework or got bad SATs or “made bad choices”. We who have more or less “made it” under the rules have implicitly constructed these Others onto whom we have projected our own anarchic Id, the thing that makes the cop dangerous to us. They become the externalized internal enemy. Go get ‘em, Officer!

Once you’ve gunned them down, no way that Id will rebound back onto respectable Us. And of course, no way will we have to worry about you.

The First Church of Christ, Communist

M Smith, senior warden. Rectorship currently vacant.

Slightly surprising piece in Jacobin.

This is a topic that has always interested me, as a high-church, liturgically and theologically conservative, Episcopalian Commie. (In fact my current tragedy is that my old mother church has become too liberal for me, but has never been left-wing enough.)

I personally have never found any contradiction here. I’m not an especially good Communist, or an especially good Christian, but to the extent that I’m either, they’ve never seemed to pull me in different directions. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, the remarkable Lady sings, and hath exalted the humble and meek. Sounds pretty Commie to me.

Jacobin’s writer seems to be asking, Why shouldn’t a Commie be a Christian?

Well, there are reasons. Start with the fact that the great sages were atheists – Marx, Engels, Lenin, and so on. So how can one be an admirer and follower of theirs and yet not an atheist?

One obvious answer is that our admiration for Marx et al. is not fideistic, it’s, well, empirical; on matters of political economy and politics and history they seem to have got a lot of stuff right. When they ascend to metaphysics, they run the usual risk of hypoxia. So these great men are not Moses, charged with tablets from Sinai, but fellow-enquirers with us, like Newton or Darwin. They’re not a package deal. This is not meant to endorse a cherry-picking eclecticism, but to suggest that every reading, however respectful, of the Greats, Marxist or not, is also an interlocution.

There’s another, perhaps more serious obstacle: the default position for self-respecting college-educated people in North America and Western Europe these days is to be an atheist; the alternative is more or less an unthinkable gaucherie. One has to be very contrarian to take it up. I dare say that most Marxists in my world were atheists long before they were Marxists. And why should an atheist ever change his mind, absent some extraordinary road-to-Damascus thing? Atheism is a perfectly respectable and consistent position, after all; and it’s really implicit in modernity.

So I would turn Mr Jacobin’s question around, and ask rather, why shouldn’t a Christian be a Commie? I think I could convert Christians to Communism more readily than most Communists to Christianity – because Christianity is basically a tough sell, as St Paul observed some years ago, but Communism is just good common sense.

For religious people – not only Christians, but religious people in general — there’s the “baggage”, of course, that Commies are supposed to be atheists. I think this is easily disposed of. In politics as in religion, start with the praxis and the theory will, over time, make itself clear. Believers can easily, and do easily, make common cause with non-believers on some agreed-upon project. And a lot of believers started coming to church with mental reservations – consider the famous joke about Episcopalians crossing their fingers when it’s time to say the Creed. So they’re used to this, and they have the mental apparatus to dip their toes into Communism “except for the atheist part”. Some of them will find the water fine.

Lemma: the atheist Commies mustn’t insist on atheism as a requirement. And indeed, I can’t think of any way that Marxism or Leninism requires atheism qua axiom – falls to the ground without it.

The substantive ideological obstacles to Communism, for religious people, aren’t often specifically religious ones; in fact they’re usually irreligious ones, and lie in commonplace secular ideological notions about the nature of the State (liberal representative democracy, due process, rule of law, tyranny of the majority, all that mythology) or human nature (sociobiology and all its hellspawn).

In the US, at least, the curious sociological fact is that a lot of the people that us Commies would like to recruit – in fact, the social base we’re meant to depend on — are self-identified Christians. The atheists are all PMC and therefore hardened liberals. Not quite beyond Communist redemption, perhaps, but the parable of the camel and the needle’s eye (mutatis mutandis) does come to mind.

In fact, if 10% of Christians could be brought round to Communism, that would be (at least numerically) a bigger deal than 10% of Commies becoming Christian. Because there are a lot of Christians, and very few Commies, I’m sorry to say; I wish there were many, many more.

Okay, I’m a believer now

So by pure chance I picked up a copy of The Deficit Myth, by Stephanie Kelton. I suppose this is the Bible of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). I’m totally convinced, although various puddleglums (sometimes quartered in surprising corners of the swamp) assure me that it’s snake oil.

I recommend the book to those who have heard the brouhaha about this topic. Go to the source; don’t just believe what the doomsters tell you. You may or may not be convinced, but the book is lucid and plain-spoken, and it disposes briskly of most of the canards on this topic.

Let’s begin with the limitations. Kelton acknowledges that the limit of sovereign money-printing is unacceptable levels of inflation. That is, MMT (at least Kelton’s version) doesn’t claim that greenbacks can roll off the press ad infinitum. Her claim, rather, is that deficits as such don’t create unacceptable inflation ipso facto and that much depends on the state of the economy in general and, more specifically, on where the deficit spending goes.

She notes, accurately, that even official economics allows as how some degree of inflation is OK (2% seems to be the canonical benchmark).

She’s very good and eloquent on how central banks worry a lot about how bad inflation might happen and dial up unemployment just in case, even when bad inflation is not happening. One has to wonder whether there’s some other agenda here.

She’s brilliant on the false analogy of household finance – clearly, a sovereign who can print money is not in the same position as a household that can’t. Yet precisely this false analogy absolutely dominates ordinary political discourse – balance the budget, living beyond our means, all that crap.

I wonder whether, as in the Populist days, the question doesn’t come down to hard money (beloved by creditors) versus easy money (beloved by everybody else). Two percent inflation is OK, grudgingly, for the creditors, at the cost of high unemployment (not so popular with everybody else).

Thought experiment: What would monetary and fiscal policy look like if nobody cared much about creditors, apart from giving them a basis point over inflation or two? What are they going to do with their money except invest or lend it, on whatever terms they can negotiate? Do the Scrooge McDuck thing, convert it to specie, and roll around in it?

Bless ‘em if so; if they sequester their assets (“thesaurization” is the term historians use) and don’t spend them, that gives even more scope for non-inflationary public expenditure, hopefully directed to more constructive ends than the vain consumption of the frivolous rich.

Ex Ponto

Of course, dear Naso, you’d have rather not
Been sent to Pontus; liked your metro life,
Especially your amazing metro wife;
Friends, fans; it really sucks to be forgot,

And hence your whingeing letters. Stir the pot,
Perhaps amid the never-ending strife
In Court and forum, there among those rife
Factions and interests, you might have a shot.

But I suspect that Pontus ain’t so bad.
I bet you’ve found who serves the best street food,
Down by the harbor. Who can be too sad,

With such grilled octopus? I know you, dude;
Metamorphosis – that’s your thing, my lad;
Pontus a new adventure, be it ne’er so crude.

Get me rewrite

The concept of “journalist” needs some examination.

These are people who used to be called “reporters”, a term which has the merit of describing what they actually do, or are supposed to do, anyway: namely, find stuff out and report it.

But as usual, we get title inflation, so something called “journalism” is invented. And as usual, it becomes credentiallized and professionalized. Columbia University (“the Octopus”, as we neighbors call it) has a School of Journalism, and no doubt other diploma mills have one too.

Now terms ending in “-ism” generally denote religions (Buddhism) or ideologies (Communism) or practices (Onanism) or medical conditions (Daltonism). Which of these is “journalism”? Somebody who worships journals, or believes in journals, or does journalling, or suffers from it?

For that matter, what’s journalling? I mean, if it’s not just reporting?

There’s a good deal of argument about who’s a “journalist” and who isn’t. Assange is, or isn’t, depending on who you ask. Ditto Greenwald and Taibbi. Everybody seems to agree that ole Marse Tom Friedman is a journalist, though, and everybody agrees that Woodward and Bernstein were the patron saints of the guild. (By contrast, it’s a bit easier to know who’s a reporter: Does he report things?)

Which brings us to the question: Why is it important to know who’s a journalist and who isn’t? Are journalists allowed to do things others aren’t, the way people with a driver’s license can legally drive a car and people without can’t? Are journalists subject to some Hippocratic code? If so, it’s hard to know what its rules are. Assange, for example, was attacked for not selecting and redacting material, and Taibbi is being attacked for the opposite. Woodward and Bernstein had sources they wouldn’t disclose, and this is thought to be praiseworthy, or at least OK, though it seems a bit sketchy to me; but Taibbi, who has been quite open about how he got the stuff he’s reporting, is excoriated for depending on a known source.

So it would appear that a journalist is a reporter you like, and a non-journalist is a reporter you don’t.

Que diable faites-vous dans cette galere?

Tech worker layoffs in Silicon Valley! Jacobin sounds the alarm!

I’m a “tech worker” myself, at least when I can find work, but I applaud this development.

The layoffs Jacobin seems to be whingeing about here are all in the frothy and wildly overstaffed VC-funded sector, with its epicentre in San Francisco. These people are long overdue for a big takedown, and if it’s finally happening, well, bring it on.

The sort of jumped-up junior Poindexters who work for the likes of Twitter and “Meta” are a far cry from the ‘umble drudges like myself who do galley-slave programming in the bowels of Bank Of America vel sim., which is just what most of us “tech workers” do. At the moment, anyway, hiring is pretty robust for these galleys, and the rates aren’t bad, though they don’t compare with lawyers or psychoanalysts. Still, you can make an OK living at it.

Silicon Valley is another matter altogether. The speculative overvaluation (and insane burn rates) of the companies themselves leads to a speculative overvaluation of “rock-star” programmers, both in the market and in their own poorly-socialized minds. I’ve met good programmers and bad ones, but I’ve never met a rock star, and frankly, I don’t think there are any. It’s a very mundane job. Writing good code is mostly a matter of putting in the time — and, of course, giving a shit.

So if all these Silicon Valley boy-bands get disbanded, I won’t shed a tear, even though the former rock stars will be competing with me for a place on the lowly rowing bench.

With friends like these…

Poor Job: Among your sorrows, not the least
Your friends: Let ring their resonant toponyms
To the last age: Bildad, distinguished Shuhite,
Eliphaz, Temanite; Zophar the whatsit,
Ah yes, Naamithite. One does forget.
For one has seen more than a few of these,
From places less exotic. Like next door.

All gather, by consent, t’inspect your boils
And moralize upon them. Every kind
Of useless comfort, found in misplaced kindness,
Chapter on chapter they lay on, sententious,
Proverbial, gnomic, epigrammatical,
Folk knowledge by the cracker-barrelful.
And how they do go on, prosing away.
D’they ever even need to take a breath?

This is of course unfair to him who wrote
Or edited the book. He didn’t mean
To hold them up to ridicule. They speak
Wisdom, no doubt. Ecclesiasticus
And Proverbs much the same; and they’re astute.

Wise as they are, though, Job’s not comforted.
And no one would be. Where’d it all go wrong,
What ancient sin or trauma now pops up
In boils? The comforters are whole of skin.
What do they know? They haven’t got the boils,
Though they have explanations, each to each
A contradiction.

   Me, I think the guy
Who wrote, or edited this book, discovered
He’d bit off more than he could chew. Our man —
Job, with the boils – hijacks the tale. His friends
Were meant, I think, to give the answer. Job,
That bloody-minded unconsolable Job —
Spits in their face.

   (His wife is not much help
Either; “Curse God”, she says, or maybe “bless”
— Translators disagree; but then she says
“And die”. There’s really nothing doubtful there.)

Well, thanks my dear, and thanks, my comforters,
Says Job, who’s taken over from his scribe;
Character drives the tale now, and appeals
On high. And as we know he gets his answer.

It’s not much better: Where were you when I,
And so on, but it is undoubtedly
Authoritative. Asked for, must be taken.
God answers every question with a question —
A very Jewish God. Better His questions
Than Bildad’s answers, though. So Job shuts up.

May be another migration in the works

Blogs are so Boomer, and it’s difficult to set them up right, such that reasonable people can comment and trolls can’t. Rather a lot of work really. So I’m toying with migrating to Substack:

For the moment, when the Muse visits, I’ll post the same content here and there. I’ve kept this thing going for some years now, and I have some psychic investment in it, so I’ll keep it up (as long as I can keep myself up) if only for historical interest. But I am wondering whether the Substack is a better way to get the word out, and also to encourage a kind of back-and-forth that seems to be difficult on this “platform”.

Interested to hear thoughts on the subject. Fervent thanks to those who have doggedly kept reading and commenting here.

Lord, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are

Terms like “PC”, “virtue signalling”, “SJW”, “cancel”, “woke”, and the various forms of “performative”, all originate, as far as I know, within the “left” – very broadly defined for the moment, in the American manner, to include liberals who think of themselves as Lefties. These terms were all either originally positive, or meant as critical commentary on a certain holier-than-thou mentality and practice which us old Lefties have seen among our comrades, or putative comrades, many times.

Now they’ve been adopted by the right wing, and it makes the libs mad as hell to have these brickbats flung at them from that quarter (or from any quarter, really). The reason for this fury is easy to understand; as the old proverb tells us, truth hurts.

The lib outlook has a certain social base – for the moment, let’s wield the broad brush and call it the professional-managerial class (PMC). And it has, consequently, certain values: enlightenment – which means knowing what you can and can’t say at any given moment; education – which means reading the New York Times, and believing what you read therein; virtue – which means an abstemious, priggish life-style. Except for travelling. Travelling is OK.

Apart from voting for Democrats, and urging this upon us all, with frothing lips, as an imperative moral duty, libs really have no practical politics except for the gestural stuff – a close attention to pronouns and capital letters, saying “enslaved person” rather than “slave”, and the low comedy of “Latinx” and its even more ridiculous plural, “Latinxes”.

It’s really Pharisaical; a minute attention to the wiggly (and ever-changing) details of the comportmental Law. Hence the moody painting up top.

So libs hate it when the deplaaarables tell them they’re virtue-signalling, etc., because they are, and on some level they know they are. They need to believe, like the Pharisee in the story, that they’re “not as other men”, but their claim to this status rests on trifling ephemera and minutiae of diction and behaviour.

Recently a young friend of mine – I’ll obfuscate the details – was confronted with a substantive political choice. My friend is a great observer of pronouns and such, but I like him anyway. But a union, in a business he works in, was on strike, and was asking people to boycott the company – let’s call it Moloch Inc. My friend, who thinks of himself as union-friendly and surely is so, in principle, found himself in the awkward position of 1) complying with this request, with possible consequences for others besides himself, or at least a need to explain himself to these others, or 2) crossing a kind of moral, though not physical, picket line.

My friend, to his credit, grasped the moral quandary he was in. And he really meant, means, well. But there was a kind of grim fun in watching him tie himself in knots. Well, if the business doesn’t go to Moloch, it’ll go to places that don’t have unions at all! The union only represents a tiny number of Molochians! And they’re really doing pretty well! Much better than the places (Asmodeus and Mammon, Inc.) that don’t have unions!

This chap is very attentive to pronouns and so on, and he’s truly not a bad guy, but when something substantive was asked of him, he really didn’t know which way to turn. I applaud the positive side of his uncertainty, but I bet he had plenty of white-collar colleagues who spent two seconds thinking about it, crossed the line, and kept tinkering with pronouns.

Gradus ad infernum

I’m not up to date on the New School strike and its sequelae. As usual with labor struggles, the respectable media are a lot worse than useless. Last I heard from somebody who was actually a participant – yesterday evening, Sunday 11 December – the adjunct union’s management had accepted an offer from the school’s management, and sent the membership back to work – before ratification, I might add, which seems rather weak.

I suppose the idea is to avoid a railroad-type imbroglio.

My participant/informant told me that the interesting thing was that the students had joined the adjuncts eagerly, militantly. God bless ‘em; the day I stop saying the kids are alright, just shoot me.

But naturally, the students had a beef of their own, and it was all about grading, as far as I could tell. I’d like to know more about this, but we didn’t get a chance to discuss it in depth. So I don’t really know what they’re demanding.

Interestingly, the school’s management was also panicked about grading, and it seems that’s what brought them to the table. The grade, after all, is the school’s product, its commodity par excellence, and it seems that some of the parents were threatening to sue if the grade wasn’t in on time. This is a college in Manhattan, you understand, and I bet a lot of these parents are paying a lot for that grade.

I personally had an Edenic college experience. There weren’t any grades. You passed a course, according to the whim of the teacher, naturally, or you didn’t. If you didn’t, it didn’t appear on your transcript. No penalty for failure; and a point on the board if you scored. You could always go back again – perhaps with a better teacher.

Some years later, I did a stint as an adjunct in an ‘umble community college in New Jersey. I liked my students fine, and as far as I could tell they liked me, but the apple of discord between us was the grade. They always wanted to haggle about the grade.

As for myself, I would have happily given them all “A”s, even the assholes – and there were a few, admittedly. But you can’t do that. So the setup was that I had something to withhold that the kids needed. For some of them, the difference between a B and a C meant keeping or losing a scholarship. (In these cases, I’m proud to say that I conferred A’s indiscriminately.)

But it’s one of the reasons I gave up teaching. (Also, of course, you can’t support yourself on it; at the end of the day, I calculated that I made fifty cents an hour.)

Under the regimen of grading, a teacher is basically a poorhouse cop. What, the boy wants more?