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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Look what the stork just brought in!

It is good to know that Krugman and DeLong (ALA Keynes) say it is our patriotic duty to spend money in order to protect the American way of life. I think I like this much more than burying bottles in a coal mine.

PS- I will make sure to equip it with a flipper avoidance system.

PPS- Things may get a little busy again in the next few days if I have to cover shifts of others who may be flying off for this. Let's keep our fingers crossed that Chile's death toll remains light.

"The Queen"

Last night I watched Stephen Frear's unclassifiable film about the week separating the announce of Lady Diana's death, and her public funeral in London.
Unclassifiable because it is NOT a documentary, although it incorporates footage shot at the time, I'm pretty sure. Actors portray Tony Blair, Queen Elizabeth, and the royal family. Diana is there on the footage. In television accounts.
So... it's not fiction, and it IS, at the same time. A UFO film.
I'm posting this for Thai, sweetie, so you can take a crash course in divine right monarchy that will be LESS painful, sawdusty than the Wikipedia entry on divine right monarchy.
Of course, we all know that Great Britain is under the government of a constitutional monarchy, and NOT a divine right one. (The country is NOT a republic.)
But... if you watch this film just right, putting all your neurons into play, you WILL get a glimpse of the underlying structure of divine right monarchy. It... shows through.
The film juxtaposes two very different worlds : the world of the monarchy, structured as it is by the hereditary/aristocratic transmission of political power, represented and incarnated in the physical person of the ruling monarch (ALL OF THOSE WORDS COUNT, DON'T SHIRK, READ WELL...), and the elective transmission of political power, represented and incarnated in the physical person of Prime Minister Tony Blair. What we call "democracy"...
The film's portrayal of these two worlds leaves us with a very important question : to what extent is Britain's constitutional monarchy a JUXTAPOSITION of a divine right based monarchy AND a democratically structured parliament and prime minister ? Both ?
Both worlds, the old and the new, find their raison d'être in the political concept of the people. In different ways.
The Queen has HER idea of public and private, and her relationship with the British people.
Tony Blair has HIS idea of public and private, and WHO/WHAT the British people are.
His idea is more... modern than hers...
The Queen (in the film, of course...) has seriously misjudged WHO/WHAT the British people are, and WHAT THEY EXPECT FROM... her, as a person ? her, as the Queen ? Difficult to say, right ?
And Tony Blair, in the face of a serious POLITICAL crisis which has the potential to destroy the... MONARCHY, is going to force the Queen's hand, moving her to leave her country residence in secluded Balmoral, Scotland to return to London, to make a public statement about Diana's death, and her importance.
The Queen makes a public statement of support of a young woman who single handedly, and probably unwittingly did more than any of her predecessors to undermine and destroy the INSTITUTION of the monarchy...
The Queen grudgingly returns to London, a little bit like... Louis XVI was escorted in his coach to... Paris ? Versailles ? I can't remember.

If you watch this film attentively, you will SEE, in detail, just what Lacan's concept of "symbolic" means.
The Queen is surrounded by a myriad of little rituals, of details and acts that CARACTERIZE the INSTITUTION of the monarchy. They are inseparable from the monarchy.
They... guarantee the perennity, and the transmission of the monarchy AT THE SAME TIME that they corset it, and stifle its creativity, its malleability, its "freedom".
And the Queen (or more importantly, a divine right monarch, I should say...) ?
To what extent is she the incarnation of the ABSOLUTE POWER of the monarchy OR
The more or less willing hostage to its institution, compelled to follow etiquette, and transmit its ethos ?
This political crisis has an important role in modifying the institution of the monarchy, which is NOT SET IN STONE for all eternity, but which continues to evolve... alongside the modern "democracy".
There is a world of difference between an individual and.... the institution that he/she represents.
Even if this difference is becoming less and less apparent in our eyes, in our "democracies".
And.. should this DIFFERENCE disappear, just WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO OUR INSTITUTIONS ??

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My loony forum

It's 23h over here (you guys never tell time the railway station way, do you ? Still ?) and I'm worn out after a grueling three days on my loony forum.
I should say that... most of the people on my loony forum are not really loony, not from MY strict diagnostic point of view.
They THINK they are loony. (That's worse... It's like people who are converts to a religion, somehow. We all know how rabid people can be who are converts to a religion. Like... new non smokers. I know, I know, I'm generalizing but YOU'RE going to let me get away with it, right ?)
Two days ago things blew up. Who knows why. It's sometimes hard to pinpoint the exact causes of an outbreak. Something to do with someone feeling picked on and excluded.
And now the attacks are fusing from everywhere.
And every last single nagging, stickling detail that could have been caught in somebody's throat is now getting spewn out in the public arena for everybody to see.
All along the lines of... "you don't UNDERSTAND me" or "But I thought you were such and such and what a colossal DISAPPOINTMENT to discover that you don't perfectly match that image of you that I had built up in a totally unrealistic and idealistic fashion". (That's my translation, for the last part. Too psychological. Too sophisticated for many people's thinking.)
And... "you don't love me enough. You don't love me the way I really am". (Translate : you don't love me the way that I WANT YOU TO LOVE ME, under my definition of love, of course...)
My nerves are really frayed with trying to mediate this little orgy of self deception, and self indulgence. Even if I know that our current collective tolerance for negativity is pretty close to 0, and that we on the forum are definitely NOT running around with machine guns trying to eliminate each other, it's still hard.
A woman who I like a lot is saying some pretty nasty stuff to me. (I won't repeat ; it isn't worth repeating.)
What she says ISN'T true, in my book, and she is saying it with the sole intent of hurting me, but she is intelligent, and she knows how to hurt.
And so, I have told her.... "the person you want to punish the most is not me, it's YOU. And you are saying things now that you don't really believe, just to hurt me."
It is really hard to get out of some situations.
When somebody CAN NOT understand that just because you see another person's point of view DOES NOT MEAN that you can't see THEIRS TOO, and at the same time, this leads to some rather insoluble problems.
What to do ?
Wait until it all blows over, I guess.
When it all calms down, for a while at least.
Until the next major explosion.
That's (human) life for you, right ?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Equality, Fraternity,.... SECURITY

Cherchez l'intrus, as we say in French.

Memories, memories...
I am STILL recovering from the shock of seeing that sign at the Smithsonian Zoo, in front of the lion's den (na, not den, it was a cushy BIG compound, much better fitted out than the cells those maximum security prisoners get crammed into...).
Here it is, that sign (quoted from memory, so I may not be totally accurate. I didn't... grab a pen and paper and jot it down at the time. Who knows ? maybe if I had, some.. plain clothes policeman would have asked me what I was doing ?).
Something along the lines of : "you may find it shocking to see our lions in cages, but, ask yourself this question, where would YOU rather be, HERE, with your din din and breakfast brought to you twice a day, fresh water, a vet when you have a little scratch, and a baball to play with when you get bored OR... out in the WILD, where you have to hunt all the time, and you don't know where your next meal is coming from, nor if you will even have a next meal, and a little scratch could prove fatal to you, with no vet ?"

I have already largely commented on this little sign which would have sent the founding fathers off to puke in the bushes, so I send you off to look for what I have already said (you know how bad I am with links...). And I have already said how SURPRISED I was that SO FEW people I spoke to about this sign registered any... dismay, or even recognition of the IMPLICATIONS of this sign.

Today I want to talk a little bit about the implications of that sign.

I smell a gigantic, colossal FEAR behind that sign.
I wonder if that FEAR is what initially sent us scurrying towards... "civilization" in the first place ?
Fear of not being able to take care of ourselves, using our hands, our minds, the intrication of them both, to solve vital problems that would enable us to survive IN THE WILD.

Take a look around yourself these days. How much... WILD is there still around ?
A lot, you think ?
Next to my suburbia, the city hall just chopped down a bunch of trees in a relatively WILD place to stick in a NEW SHOPPING MALL (as though we really needed a new one...).
Lots of little critters uprooted, forced to scamper to ever fewer WILD places.

We are constantly bulldozing THE WILD to set up our shopping malls.
Sometimes we even have the breathtaking gall to bulldoze the WILD to... plant trees to make PARKS !!! Cool, huh ?

That sign says "We HATE the wild. We are deathly afraid of it. Of not being able to survive in it.
Of having to use those neurons that we dull down with... substances, Internet, TV, the.. Olympic games, (even books...) for example.
Ah, the joys of "civilization" !!
In the Bible, the Cain and Abel story concludes with God announcing to Cain the consequences of the first murder : The earth will no longer "work" for Cain.
And Cain trudges off to found the first.. CITY, because he has alienated himself from the earth.

Our cities have virtual, and sometimes actual walls around them to keep THE WILD out, and US, SAFE inside. To try to conjure the fear that it produces in us.
And we have built... LAWS to try to conjure that fear, too.
And we are telling ourselves GREAT LIES about our own human nature, as predators, as animals LIKE THE OTHER ANIMALS in that great dance of life.

We have built an elaborate system to reassure ourselves that we are not like the other animals. That our civilizations, our language(s), our nature make us DIFFERENT. And that we are... BETTER because of this difference.

I say.. it's all a point of view...

Friday, February 19, 2010


I've come across the phrase "Vibe" a lot this last week. Mostly people using it in the context of "I'm picking up a bad vibe from her". I suppose the phrase was strongly associated with hippies for a long time, but its seem to have evolved into mainstream vernacular.

I visualize it as ripples of energy coming off people much like circular ripples of water in a lake when a stone is dropped in. Which got me thinking about Thai's conservation of energy paradigm. To stop someone's ripples from upsetting your boat you're either going to have to spend energy back out to counteract the ripples or spend energy building some kind of barrier to stop the ripples from arriving. Because there are so many sources of vibes out there, it seems the most efficient use of energy is the, uh, barrier method.

Which then led me to thinking about how some people can not stand to have their vibes repelled. They will go nuclear to have their vibes hit their target. What jackasses! What makes it even more appalling is that in many cases they're not even aware of this compulsion within them. They'll sincerely deny it.

Stupid subliminal coping methods; they'll be the ruin of humanity if we don't get a grip on them ;) As you can probably deduce, I've been working with some delightful personalities over the last few weeks ;) Hope all is well in your respective time zones.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Synchrony versus Diachrony

Kudos to my master Ferdinand de Saussure, the grandaddy of structuralism, for coming up with this extremely pertinent analytical tool which is indispensable in understanding... the social body, which I shall get to in the middle of this post.
Synchrony (like Jung's "synchronicity" ?) refers to events or phenomena which occur simultaneously. A little bit like taking one of those pie charts referring to the state of the economy, right now (or for the year 2009) and sticking it under the microscope. It is a concept which is defined IN RELATION and OPPOSITION, to the concept diachrony.
Diachrony means examining a delimited "object" over an extended period of time.
For example, I think that for practical purposes, you could REPRESENT these phenomena with a graph using the two AXES, ordinant and abcissa. (Correct me if my vocabulary is wrong...)
Since de Saussure was a linguist, he discriminated ;-) between the hic et nunc occurrences of a particular word (an example), and its historical evolution through time.
So... we will posit a difference of.. POINT OF VIEW (for YOU, Thai, sweetie...) between looking at an "object" in the here and now, and looking at it over a period of time.
We will posit that... when you look at the "object" in the here and now you DON'T see IT over a period of time.
What am I driving at ?
Well... for example let's take a close look at... what I call the SOCIAL BODY.
I am going to posit that the social body is made up of... people of varying ages from different generations. That's pretty evident, huh ?
That our children are born into a world that we will never know from THEIR point of view, for the simple reason that... WE were born into a DIFFERENT world, and our parents before us, etc etc. (Like Parmenides' river, if my memory is correct. Please correct if I am wrong...)
This state of affairs means that the social body itself AT ANY GIVEN TIME (synchrony) is NEVER HOMOGENOUS in its ideas, its experiences, and... its ideologies, dominant or otherwise.
On the other hand.... the great unifying force in the social body is our language itself.
While we are born, and die in a relatively short space of time, IT takes much longer to reflect the changes in our ideas, our attitudes about ourselves and our world. IT is the cement that links the generations together when the physical world CAN rapidly change.
And... our language has this INCREDIBLE power to MAKE us BELIEVE and feel that what IT refers to is IMMUTABLE, ENCAPSULATED. Fixed in time for all eternity.
Just to illustrate the way it works...
Take a look at the biblical creation story in Genesis.
"And God said "Let there be light" and... there was light."
Now... if you are reading the Biblical texts ONLY to shrug your shoulders and say "it's a bunch of bunk, it's not TRUE", you will MISS THE POINT about the FUNDAMENTAL ASSUMPTIONS about the power of language in our world.
To CREATE our world. To create meaning.
So... God "says" LIGHT, and bingo, there IS light.
Flash forward to.... IRAK.
And.... George Bush says... "democracy" and... BINGO, there IS democracy !!!
Pretty cool, huh ?
So... let's look at this question of the WORD "democracy".
Do we live in "democracies" or not ?
Well... if all one has to do is to "say" democracy, and bingo, there it is, well... why not ?
When the founding fathers threw the British out and drafted their Constitution, wasn't that the equivalent of "saying" democracy ? If not, WHY not ?
Back to what I said about the social body, the cementing force of language, etc.
It seems to ME that...
The WORD (lol) "democracy", and saying that we live in a democracy obscure the fact that the ideological implications of democracy are STILL CONTINUING to unfold before our eyes, while aspects of the monarchy PERSIST, and are attested to, in our language itself AND EVEN IN OUR INSTITUTIONS. And.... "democracy" continues to unfold before our eyes AT THE SAME TIME as... what IS replacing it gradually is taking ITS place in our world. (But that WE don't see, of course...)
One example : in death penalty legislation, the U.S. STILL accords the governor of a state the RIGHT to "grace" a condemned person. The.. Ancien Regime term for clemency ( a new "democratic" ? word...) is GRACE. And the structure of grace goes right back to divine right monarchy.
So... TECHNICALLY we DON'T live under a democracy. That democracy is CONTINUING to take its place in our society.
And... WHEN we "decide" on a NEW form of government, IT will take its place against the backdrop of... the Ancien Regime, AND our democratic heritage. As I said above... IT already IS taking its place...
That's... diachrony for you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What is blogging FOR anyway ?....

I think I told you that I went to Geneva for a writer's conference a couple of weeks ago.
Two hundred fifty expats, DETERMINED TO PUBLISH THEIR.... BOOKS.
I think I was about the only person there... NOT TOTALLY DETERMINED to publish a book.
I threw them for a loop. I was an ovni, as we say over here. An UFO as you say over... there.
I met some really interesting people, and one woman who I almost fell in love with, that's how much we were on the same wavelength.
And... I gave her the address of this blog. And I took the address of HER blog, which she faithfully writes every day.
She faithfully writes it, out there in the jungle of blogland.
And... she really doesn't seem to care whether anybody is... READING it or not.
Maybe she DOES care if people are reading it. Basically... to chalk up the statistics of her impact ?
And this is where the clincher is...
She has not YET responded to one of my comments...
Hell, even Glenn Greenwald over there in Salon with 942 comments OCCASIONALLY pops his head into HIS saloon to respond to the readership !!!
So... if you just want to WRITE, like anonymously, or something, go publish your book.
That way you will be ensured everybody will leave you the hell alone, right ?
THAT, by the way, is why I'm NOT writing books (other than the fact that I am incredibly lazy, and that I have LOTS OF OTHER TALENTS that I feel like privileging over writing, by the way...).
And I'm pretty sure that blogging will slowly and surely erode the... ARISTOCRACY of being a writer, and publishing books.
Because, GUESS WHAT ???
Blogging is REALLY democratic, you know ?
Who wants... aristocracy when you can have democracy ? Right ?

Monday, February 15, 2010

For the record, I completely agree

This approach makes a lot of sense to me.

However, it should be obvious that there is a major problem with this approach. Do you see what it is?

Also, continuing on my favorite health care theme, I thought you might be interested in reading Tyler Cowen's summary of some of the posts on whether health insurance improves mortality or not. And if it does improve mortality, how many deaths/year does health insurance save? Regular Street Rat Saloon readers should immediately realize by now (using that most famous of scientific "laws"), what I tend to think the answer to this issue is. ;-)

Another Movie Review

We "Netflixed" a movie called Pandorum. It was a horror/action flick basically, but it had some decent sci fi mind candy.

A guy wakes up from suspended animation in a space ship. His memory is glitchy; he can remember how to operate equipment, but he doesn't remember his name or where the ship is headed. Its dark and the area seems abandoned. A sign on his sleeping pod lets him know that temporary memory loss is common.

Soon another guy wakes up who is higher in rank. His memory is in the same state. Together they piece together that they are Flight Crew 5, they were supposed to be wakened by Flight Crew 4 for their 2 year shift, and something has gone horrible wrong.

Something is wrong with the reactor. It sending irregular surges throughout the ship. The 1st guy is an engineer and knows how to fix it, but doesn't know how to get to the reactor (or still where they're going or why). The doors are all shut so the engineer gets out via the ducting system while the captain manually operates the computer system as best possible.

Engineer runs in to monsters. Aliens? WTF? He finds three other survivors (one who doesn't speak english. WTF?). They're in bad shape and don't know much more than the engineer except how to evade the monsters.

Meanwhile, the captain's memory starts returning in some odd ways and he doesn't like what he is realizing. Stop reading here if you don't want the surprises ruined!

The captain was part of the 3 man crew that was awake when they got a transmission from Earth that the Sol system was about to be destroyed so their ship was the last of humanity. Which isn't all that bad since the ship is an "ark" whose mission it was to colonize the first viable Earth-like planet found, Tanus. So they have 60k sleeping humans, a lot of cool equipment, a good destination, and some genetic stock for bananas and zebras and what-have-you. The voyage will take ~120 years.

Captain does not take the loss of Earth well. He kills the other two crew members and decides to make himself a god. He's not good at it and 900 years later there are only ~1200 sleepers left, a mutant monster population, and technical difficulties so he put himself back in a pod. That's got to be some serious @$%^ to suddenly remember about yourself.

The engineer saves the day (Yeah Science!). It turns out the ship landed on Tanus quite a while ago and is half-submerged near land. One of the survivors is a female geneticist so she can get the bananas/zebras online. The ~1200 remaining humans now have a new, unspoiled Earth and some kick-ass technology. The beach they head to is somehow a mix of Ireland and Maui. Nice.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Men : an endangered species

A few things prompt me to go back to this subject which I have already treated at least once :

Thai and Dink's apologetic comment about liking to look at pictures (no nude ones either...) of pretty blonds, a defensive comment if ever there was one.

A recently struck up friendship with an American man met in a semi-professional context over here.

Thoughts on my relationship with long gone Daddy (they appear every once in a while).

Rereading Philip Slater's 1970's book, "The Pursuit of Loneliness". (I do not agree 100% with Slater, but I never agree 100% with anyone, even myself, as I have already said here.)

Last night's viewing of "The Taming of the Shrew", the Mary Pickford/Douglas Fairbanks version which is not totally faithful to Shakespeare (it's hard to be totally faithful to Shakespeare in this play, I may get back to this...) but has some excellent points about the sempiternel battle of the sexes.

What hit me hardest, while listening to my new friend, (and it hits me pretty hard when I read the American press while we're at it...) was the constant browbeating he experienced for being a man, and thinking like a man.

Memories... I can remember being 36 and walking down the street in a nice outfit, looking and feeling pretty, and turning heads and getting whistled at.
So.. what ? What's wrong with getting whistled at ? Since when is getting whistled at the equivalent of.. RAPE, for example ?
So... WHAT if getting whistled at means that I was an.. OBJECT for those men ?
What else was I going to be for them, unless we spent our lives getting to know each other (and even then...) ?
What is so great about being a... SUBJECT, for example ?
Why must we ALL be subjects, 100% of the time ? (Which means CONSTANTLY gabbing, and staring into each other's eyes, and empathizing, etc etc...)
My God, a world of 6 billion SUBJECTS !!! (translate to 6 billion orangoutangs, please...)
I have learned to recognize in militant feminism another form of... puritanism that is designed to make us (particularly men..) feel guilty about sex. (And gets women off the hook for STILL feeling queasy about it, the result of years of indoctrination about the evil of the sexual act, passed on from one generation to the next in subtle, not easily identifiable ways.)
I don't know if this is the intent of militant feminism (perhaps not...) but this is certainly the EFFECT of it.
That plus unfeminine, hard, entitlement feeling women who are quick to trample a man as soon as they feel some form of moral outrage.

Now... that doesn't mean acting like Stanley Kowalski in "Streetcar named Desire" (look it up, but maybe I'm being too hard on Stanley from memory, after all I read the play when I was STILL a militant feminist), but it means doing a little "return to sender" act the next time a woman, whoever she is, tries to make you feel guilty for being a man.
After all, as I told someone recently : NO ONE can deprive you of your dignity WITHOUT YOUR OWN CONSENT in the matter. That's the way it works.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Retour du refoulé

This is shrink talk that can be loosely translated as "what goes around, comes around".
This phrase summarizes what I hold to be a psychological truth (for Western culture, and probably for most cultures, but I am not going to fall into Freud's generalization trap).
You will occasionally hear me harping over there in the jungle about the facts that WW2 was fought on European ground, (for the part of WW2 which is constantly browbeated, that is) that our international institutions rose out of the ashes of WW2, and that the final survivors of WW2 are now dying off.
These are facts. No interpretation involved on my part.

Some 15 years ago I got curious about "Mein Kampf." (I am a rather provocative person, as you have certainly noticed.) So... I went to my local library and checked it out, and photocopied several sections of it, with the idea of reading it from a spy perspective.
As I may have already mentioned, when I brought the book back to the library, the librarian looked at me furtively, looked to both sides, and whispered that she had got flak for having let "Mein Kampf "out of the reserve (yeah, well, we can understand that it is NOT on the shelves, right ?). That her superiors wanted to know WHO had checked it out, and why... Of course, I reassured her that I was not a candidate for the national socialist party. (We are good friends, the librarian and I...)
In the ensuing years, I have OCCASIONALLY mentioned that I have read several chapters of "Mein Kampf".
And the reactions are... very interesting.
An old friend and colleague (over 70) looked at me with distaste, and said that he would not be caught dead with it in his hands... Something along the lines of consorting with the enemy...
This weekend, in a Geneva bar, an American man residing in Belgium looked to both sides before telling me confidentially in a low voice that he had a copy stowed away behind other books in his home.
Last night, my theater prof's actor husband laughed dismissively before recounting an anecdote where a high school student brought the book to class to show teacher and classmates...
Here is how I present MY conclusion :
If 14 year old Adolf, father dead, and mother suffering from terminal cancer, had met ONE (or two...) BENEVOLENT souls during his flight to economically depressed Vienna in search of a vocation, a meaning for his life, the face of the world would have been different. (Yeah, Thai, this means, if Adolf had found someone to PROTECT his vulnerable 14 year old self from economic exploitation.)
I firmly believe this.
And my belief, I have found, makes a lot of people uncomfortable...
Some seem to think that my belief is an accusation that is adressed to them : like, THEY are responsible for what happened. (Ridiculous, they weren't even BORN at the time ; how could they be responsible ?)
What this state of affairs highlights is : the structure and the role of scapegoating.
Here is how it works : "Adolf was a MONSTER. This means that he was NOT HUMAN."
When we create monsters, we encapsulate them, and their acts in such a way that we are isolated from them.
Making THEM monsters reassures US that under no circumstances could we BE like them, or do what they do (or did).
Creating monsters is designed to destroy empathy and identification, thus separating the world out into the categories of "us vs THEM".
It is becoming more possible to open up this Pandora's box, these days. It is becoming more possible to talk about "Mein Kampf" and Adolf Hitler. (For those interested, not many people know that "Mein Kampf" was first published in France right after Hitler was elected. The French editors prefaced it with an introduction stating that they felt that it was their DUTY to inform the French public of the content of the book. Hitler himself tried to PREVENT publication of "Mein Kampf" in France.)
But there is still enormous resistance.
Why am I bringing this up ?
Because the SAME mecanism is at work when we DEMONIZE the banksters, our political leaders, and the many other categories we demonize/exclude in the U.S. : pedophiles, schizophrenics, criminals, you name it, we demonize it....
One of our major motivations in the demonization of our economic/political leaders is our "infantile" disappointment that the one whom we have... ELECTED to be Superman (yeah, Thai, you may THINK that Barack Obama is a President, because that is what the political structure of the U.S. suggests, but... I think that the American people in the last election CHOSE a KING.) is just as human, as fallible as we are.
Instead of harping on all the time about making sure that history does NOT repeat itself, in propaganda style fashion, we would do better to open up "Mein Kampf" and try to understand what happened...
I'm not sure that we're really ready for it, though.
It would maybe be a good idea to GET ready, considering the current economic context...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

He who lives by the sword...

H/T Keith Hennessey

But to be fair, this only looks a public spending. What about private spending? The opposite side of the public spending tennis ball was the following:

H/T Sudden Debt

And we know who the presidents were then...

... Wait a minute, how many sides are there on a tennis ball anyway? ;-)

The pot calling the kettle black

While I completely agree with Krugman on this post regarding the hypocrisy of today's Republicans, to a great degree I think Republican intransigence is largely a demon of liberal design.

Or as our forefathers once said: "he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword"

For if you do not fully understand the whole paradox that is our health care debate, I think Keith Hennesy has done a marvelous job explaining it here with a post titled "Four Sided Box".

In a nutshell:

1. You want to enact only the health insurance reforms.
2. You need an individual mandate to make the health insurance reforms work.
3. You need to subsidize lots of people if you implement an individual mandate.
4. You need to cut spending or increase taxes if you want your subsidies not to increase the budget deficit.

You’re right back where you started.

To enact the health insurance reforms, you need a complete bill that includes an individual mandate, subsidies, and politically painful offsets. You can drop the employer mandate, and you certainly don’t need an obscene $1+ trillion of subsidies. My point is simply that you can’t hive off the insurance mandates and make the policy work.

But the one thing the Democrats were not able to do was make those politically unpopular offsets. Indeed they were only able to increase spending.

... FWIW, at least those who are worried about how we name roses will get to say that America's health care system is a little more socialist than privatefor the very first time. Now we are all saved. ;-)

As I have said on numerous occasions, I do not think one can change the underlying structure of our society and the more I see stuff like this the more firm in this conviction I become. We can of course destroy some of the diversity/complexity that got us into this mess in the first place BUT... We have all seen what that did in the world wars of the twentieth century.

Which brings me back to why I posted Krugman, the penultimate public advocate for Keynesianism as a solution for this whole debt cycle mess. For since I think one cannot change the underlying structure of society (except by destroying some of its complexity/diversity) but at the same time, nothing has fundamentally changed in a debt cycle except for our perception of reality, what then is Keynes saying when he says "keep the party going by shifting the debt from the private to the public sector"?

Of course he too is basically saying the same thing as I- namely the underlying structure of society is immutable. But if he is saying this, how can he also be a liberal since wasn't reducing income/wealth inequality the core principle of defining oneself as liberal? Propping up the whole debt thing might keep the party going, but it certainly does not fix inequality? What gives?

I might remind you that inequality is a form of complexity/diversity. Further we know the best way to destroy complexity/diversity (inequality) is to simply eliminate it.

Well, did you know Keynes was a eugenicist?

... As I said before, the more I read, the more the dots are starting to line up.

Are the Republicans really the cruel ones in this issue? Are the Democrats?

Of course it depends on "whose viewpoint' is looking at the issues? What are their "kin boundaries", etc..? What do they want their world to look like?

Totalitarianism is built into the very fabric of the universe.

Ahhhhh!!! No school since Friday and none til next Tuesday :-(

(Photo taken BEFORE the most recent snowstorm which briefly knocked out power; it's back up or I wouldn't be posting this)

We have now had more total snowfall this winter than any other since our government began keeping records of things like this; it's still early February for Pete's sake. I mean I love my boys and all but but "ugghhh!!!", I think my wife and I are both starting to feel like this.

... Okie, I hope you are enjoying those WARM clear Gulf waters.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The blind leading the blind

This one is for Dink and for any fear the Doomers might have been stirring in him. My fractal fettish has been working overdrive of late. ;-)

I don't want to say I am finally beginning to understand this stuff but it is at least starting to make a little more sense to me. In particular, I have been trying to understand some of this "stuff" as it relates to the dollar, etc... as all the talk on the blogs by Doomers and PEAK OILer had me wondering. Anyway, I though I would pass my thoughts along in case you were having similar troubles connecting some of the dots we read- these thoughts were stimulated by a series of posts by Krugman on Spain and the Euromess so hat tip Krugman.

First, I really recommend the following post from the American Enterprise Institute... FWIW, I am finding I really need to read BOTH left and right posts in order to get a three dimensional picture of these issues. Either by themselves seems entirely incomplete.

Anyway, after you do read this stuff, I recommend this and this.

... If you remember anything else, remember that the sum of the parts equals the whole (e.g. the conservation of energy).

Anyway, then look at this (you can click on the box to re-rank the countries by external debt as % GDP).

And of course, we all know by now that looking at debt in isolation is silly as Deb reminds us all the time that looking at anything in isolation is silly. Our debt is not a problem if we have the assets and ability to repay it, etc...

Bottom line, the US dollar will fall over time against some kind of theoretical standard (say gold), but it seems unlikely that it will fall either abruptly or catastrophically. Nor does it seem likely that America will go bankrupt as either a society or a government. This is true even if we continue our drunken sailor Keynsian spending. And if we spend this public money building nuclear power plants and/or drilling for domestic oil, we will push our problem a long way down the road (which has been Hell's point all along). It does seem forever clear that if and when the US government ever does go bankrupt, it will occur only AFTER ITS OWN CITIZENS have completely looted its assets. So even if they do this, and the American government goes bankrupt, the citizens will still have the underlying assets and American society will remain the same.

So I do not agree with Deb that our living standards will fall over time. In fact, I see the opposite. Though one could argue how they define living standards and using certain definitions I might concur.

Remember in any system, a certain amount of energy goes into it and a certain amounts leaves. Peak oilers may have a point re: peak oil but their hype re: PEAK OIL is simply epistomologically wrong so don't get fooled by their randomness.

Bottom Line: The future is not lost, though navigating its ups and downs remains the challenge it has always been.

PS- I do assume a certain degree of TRUST that the data on these links is accurate. I am increasingly learning such assumptions can be unwise. But we have to trust someone. ;-)

This is starting to get fun to watch...

I used to think watching sports was the great American pastime. How silly I was, this is way way better.

It appears that the Greeks may be about to breach the Citadel wall. While that may be a rather unfortunate setback for flipper, at least we all know Greeks are a lot of fun! ;-)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Movie Review (Spoiler Alert)

We "Netflixed" the movie Moon this weekend. Here is a synopsis and some thoughts:

A mining company has set up base on the moon. It needs one human worker on site. These workers are given 3 year contracts. The film opens with worker "Sam" getting a bit squirrely with his 2 remaining weeks until he gets to go home. He gets video messages from his wife and employer occassionally; but his days are mostly filled with solitary hobbies and the base computer "GERTY" (voice by Kevin Spacey mirroring the calm cadence of "HAL").

Sam isn't doing so hot. The movie doesn't come out and say it, but it appears to be radiation sickness (not wholly unexpected for someone that long outside Earth's atmosphere). One of the autopiloted mining vehicles has a problem, Sam drives out to it, hallucinates, and crashes.

In the next scene Sam is in the medical area back on base with GERTY taking care of him. GERTY explains that he was in an accident and he needs to rest a few days. Sam looks in oddly good shape again. Sam is restless and doesn't like being trapped on base by GERTY so he quickly figures a way out and drives to the crash site to see what happened (the company had launched a repair ship to come grab the vehicle he crashed in, but it hadn't gotten there yet). Sam finds another Sam unconscious in the crash.

So Healthy Sam brings Sick Sam back to GERTY to fix him up as best possible. Sick Sam is obviously disturbed by these events (the Sams in general are pretty calm guys, though). GERTY seems especially attached to Sick Sam (perhaps Sick Sam is the only Sam to have lasted this long?)and decides to show him a video of the previous Sams being incinerated in what they thought was the return vehicle to Earth. And shows him the bank of Sam clones waiting for their turn to be awakened. The rest of the film is the Sams working to save themselves.

Some elements I liked were the quiet "2001" feel, the fact that you assumed GERTY was HAL but really turned out to be kind to its human pet (at least after a few generations), the interaction of clones ("I can't kill so I know you can't kill"), and the interesting fact that the clones apparently had identical neural mapping when they woke up (their kid was just born, etc.).

You know, I really don't remember this filmed being released last year. Odd.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I was blogging with someone named Toby the other day when it seemed to me his ideas might have unrecognized negative consequences. I respond by saying "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions".

What startled me was his reply: "... the road to Heaven is lined with bad intentions, which is also absurd!". As you know, I simply love looking at the same thing from different perspectives and I had never quite thought of this from quite this perspective.

I had thought of totalitarianism and how the universe is the ultimate totalitarian mistress. But I had not thought of it quite like this and I immediately realized he was right/wrong as it was not absurd at all. It was just another rose by any other name does not smell as sweet issue and the realization made me chuckle.

So when I saw this tonight, I had to smile and thought I would pass it on for fun.

Be well

H/T Tyler Cowen

Angela Merkel's Scylla and Charybdis

This morning I listened to public radio's excellent editorialist's comment on Angela Merkel's decision to buy that list of tax evaders that some well connected computer hacker has put up for sale for a very comfy sum. (whew, too many apostrophes there, but it shows you I'm an ace, right ?)
I can't give you a link for this subject, because it's all in French, but I presume that at least ONE anglo-american financial rag will pick up on this because, dum de dum de dum, there is a certain interest in this kind of subject in financial quarters, wonder why ??
A few observations...
This list was stolen. (Stealing is illegal, and theft is one of those very BASIC acts that appears in the Ten Commandments, even, which are a FAR CRY from the regulations governing which side of the road you park on during the week. Theft tends to seriously destroy trust, and destabilize societies. That's why there is a practically universal consensus against it.)
It was obtained by illegaly invading personal liberty.
And the person who obtained it wants $$$$$ (oops, probably €€€€, who wants those greenbacks these days ? what a liability...) as payment for it.
Ironically enough, it is the RIGHT which is "morally" uncomfortable about buying this document. The German RIGHT is disturbed about the Government's right to acquire information obtained by illegal means. The LEFT says... let's go for it. (Yeah, well, we can be sympathetic ; elections are coming up in Germany... I think.)
My questions do not fall into a totally predictable pattern...
Why should the government have to BUY that list ? (* Update : I forgot that this illegally obtained info is the "property"---how much can you be entitled to what you have stolen in the first place, we'll let that dog lie at this time --- of a French citizen which admittedly complicates the matter a lot.)
Does the fact of legally and consensually acquiring information obtained by illegal means exonerate you from ill doing ? On the other hand, should the government be held to respect the law in the same way as a citizen is held to do so ? Isn't there a difference between the two ? To what extent IS the government LOGICALLY above the law ? Why or why not ?
Why not just... GRAB the list ? Invoke national interest, or something along those lines ?
If you're government, and you're above the law, what's going to stop you from GRABBING that list ?
Now... don't think for ONE MINUTE that I think that this is a good idea.
Because I think that openly sanctioning the government's "RIGHT" to enter into a contractual arrangement with someone who has violated the law is VERY VERY DANGEROUS PRECEDENT. Particularly since the government itself tends to violate the law anyway, WITH OR WITHOUT OUR KNOWLEDGE AND/OR ENCOURAGEMENT. (Look at the Fisa fiasco.)
So... just HOW MUCH do WE want to get our hands on those "bad guys" ? (Of course, we want to get our hands on them so that we can "get" their MONEY...)
And have we thought about the fact that our INFANTILE desire to punish all those bad guys (and WE are NEVER the bad guys, it doesn't work that way) is what FUELS the government's motivation to extend its power to curtail our liberties ?
Punish the bad guys/protect us.
How MUCH of our liberties are we willing to trade off, to sacrifice in order to get those "bad guys", punish them, and be protected ? Can't have them thar advantages without having the accompanying... disadvantages.
Delenda Government. Delenda Money.
The German government's ACCEPTANCE to pay MONEY for this list is a subtle statement that its leaders have accepted that... MONEY has more power and legitimacy than government.
I wonder if Angela Merkel realizes this...
Now... maybe this is a GOOD thing, after all : the civilizing effect of money on our exchanges. The substitution of payment of money for the violent application of brute force ?
The problem being what happens when money becomes the measure of ALL things, and confers automatic legitimacy.

Ahh, the joys of tripping merrily down the path to dictatorship.
Too bad we don't seem to learn from our collective mistakes.
Because somehow we don't believe that it could EVER happen to U.S.
I welcome your comments, particularly if you think I am missing something here. (I have rewritten this post a number of times, finding answers to the questions I was asking, which in turn provoked new questions...)

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits