Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hot Air Note:
In the Best Way Possible
17 June 2014

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

¶ A few years ago, a profile in The New Yorker inspired the Editor to buy a couple of books by Derek Parfit. The books, which were extremely voluminous, just plain fat really, were opened, and perused carefully for several pages. Coma ensued. The books were put away. Reverently — but far away. Now an apostate analytic philosopher has confirmed our sneaking suspicions. At 3 Quarks Daily, Grace Boey interviews her former teacher, NYU professor Peter Unger, author of Empty Ideas: A Critique of Analytic Philosophy.

It’s fun, of course, it’s a lot of fun doing it. Logic puzzles, language puzzles, so on and so forth. For some people there’s fun in chess, in far more people there’s a lot of fun in bridge, for others there’s a lot of fun in constructing or solving very difficult crossword puzzles. And then for lots of people there’s fun in doing philosophy.

With a certain proviso, philosophy is an enjoyable form of literature, at least for people of a certain training and temperament. The proviso is that a fair amount of it contains special symbols instead of words, so that it looks like some sort of scientific thing, almost like an equation. Mathematics, symbolic logic, so on and so forth. So philosophers put that in, and give themselves the impression that they’re doing things ‘ohhh, so scientifically’ that they need the math. All this makes it much less enjoyable to me. I don’t like reading that stuff. But insofar as we can get over all of that useless and pretentious writing, it’s an enjoyable sort of literature, if they take the time to make it reader-friendly.

Take Derek Parfit’s book, Reasons and Persons. It’s in four parts. The first part is not enjoyable to read, because he talks about a lot of theories which he labels with letters. You can’t keep it straight, you need a scorecard next to the page. But the other three parts don’t have that, and they’re tremendously enjoyable to read — at least for some people who have some training in philosophy, and have the temperament for it. It’s wonderful stuff, fascinating stuff.

Reasons and Persons is extremely enjoyable. But does Parfit ever discover anything? No, not at all. Does he ever make credible, interesting new statements about concrete reality? No, not even close. But it’s very enjoyable literature for very many people.

It’s not surprising that Boey asks Unger (who is 72), “I hope you don’t mind me saying this, in fact I actually mean it in the best way possible, if that’s possible — I feel like you’ve just taken a big crap on everything you’ve done before.” To which Unger replies, “Certainly on most of what I’ve done. If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.”

See, going back to Wittgenstein — he had his two periods. In his early period he wrote the Tractatus, which is supposed to be one of the five classics of twentieth century analytic philosophy. His second period was — it’s all crap on Tractatus. All that stuff I did as a young man is nonsense. This is it — I have to start anew, and what I now say is, you can’t do any of that stuff. You can’t do any of what people have thought of as philosophy. You just can’t do it, it doesn’t amount to anything. When you do it, it’s all puffery, puffery gone awry. So Wittgenstein did that. But then he couldn’t stop doing the puffery!

Whose News?:
“Secret Weapon”
16 June 2014

Monday, June 16th, 2014

¶ Quite aside from its political implications, the “surprise” defeat of Eric Cantor in a Virginia primary provides a measure of the fall-off in journalistic competence. In the Times this morning, David Carr is scathing.

Plenty of reporters are imprisoned in cubes in Washington, but stretched news organizations aren’t eager to spend money on planes, rental cars and hotel rooms so that employees can bring back reports from the hustings. While the Internet has been a boon to modern reporting — All Known Thought One Click Away — it tends to pin journalists at their desks. I was on a panel with Gay Talese some time ago, and he said, “We are outside people,” meaning that we are supposed to leave our offices and hit the streets. But the always-on data stream is hypnotic, giving us the illusion of omniscience.

Data-driven news sites are all the rage, but what happens when newspapers no longer have the money to commission comprehensive, legitimate polls? The quants took a beating on this one, partly because journalists are left to read the same partisan surveys and spotty local reporting as Mr. Cantor’s campaign staff, whose own polling had him up by more than 30 points.

Hordes of blogs and news sites continue to chase the latest incremental scoop that will draw followers on Twitter, but a whole other channel of information is out there, including talk radio. Politico called it “Brat’s secret weapon,” to which, we might ask, secret to whom? About 50 million people in America listen to talk radio, much of it from conservative commentators like Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham.

Long View Note:
A Tartt Debate
13 June 2014

Friday, June 13th, 2014

¶ At Vanity Fair, Evgenia Peretz considers the critical controversy occasioned by Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinchis it art, or just a good read? Our own view is that the question is radically premature, and that no one alive today will ever know the answer. Such questions take at least a century, or the passage of several sifting generations, to settle. For the time being, the fracas is merely “provocative.” Which is reason enough to read her piece.

In all the commentary that Peretz surveyed, one inanity stands out. We tremble at our disrespect, because it was Loren Stein, editor of The Paris Review, who uttered it.

Similarly, Stein, who struggles to keep strong literary voices alive and robust, sees a book like The Goldfinch standing in the way. “What worries me is that people who read only one or two books a year will plunk down their money for The Goldfinch, and read it, and tell themselves they like it, but deep down will be profoundly bored, because they aren’t children, and will quietly give up on the whole enterprise when, in fact, fiction—realistic fiction, old or new—is as alive and gripping as it’s ever been.”

Who the dickens — or even the Dickens — gives a damn about “people who read only one or two books a year”? They may shore up the publishers’ balances, but they have no place in discussions of literature.

God and the World
11 June 2014

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

¶ Feedly is down today (egad!), so we had to make do, and a link by a friend (thanks, Eric!) came in very handy.

We didn’t read Adam Gopnik’s “Bigger Than Phil,” in one of last winter’s New Yorkers, or, if we did, we forgot it. But reading David Hart Bentley’s complaint about the piece left us no happier with him.

The tiny, thwarted blastema of a thought that seems to be lurking in Gopnik’s words is the notion that we have only lately discovered that God cannot be found as a discrete physical object or force within the manifold of nature, and that this is somehow a staggering blow to “that hypothesis”— though, curiously enough, Augustine or Philo or Ramanuja (and so on) could have told him as much: God is not a natural phenomenon. Is it really so difficult to grasp that the classical concept of God has always occupied a logical space that cannot be approached from the necessarily limited perspective of natural science?

Whether or not Bentley is right to attribute such thinking to Gopnik, we have our own two cents to put it. The question of God has been mooted by a rupture in the connection or relation between divinity and the cosmos. No one is interested in a God who is “out there” — not at least along the lines shaped by gods of the past. The God of Adam, certainly, has withdrawn to His proper place in the universe, which is within the hearts and minds of those who believe in Him. While He may be of great importance in the intimate connections of human beings, He no longer has a place in the world. We defy His believers to upstage it.

Think Piece:
Armchair Speculation
10 June 2014

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

¶ At 3 Quarks Daily, Charlie Huenemann offers a spirited defense of “armchair speculation”— and of philosophers generally. We must have missed that they were under attack. Or perhaps we’re right to wonder just why Huenemann puts philosophers in those armchairs.  It has always been our understanding that “armchair speculation” is the lazy pursuit of “just-so” stories that explain matters about which the speculator is at best only partially informed. For Huenemann, the armchair is a great place for “just thinking hard,” and we’re all for that!

The problem is, how do you know when you’re well-enough informed enough to think about something? It’s a problem, because you never really do know. In the end, the test of your competence must be a piece of writing, or remarks that someone else transcribes, so that other people can assess your thought.

¶ In a related key, Frank Bruni sings the praises of solitude, especially for political figures who aren’t likely to enjoy much of it. Just what a politician is supposed to think about in rare quiet moments he doesn’t say; perhaps nothing special, nothing that any intelligent human being doesn’t have to think about. One thing is certain: public figures are going to have to learn, as a group, how to retract from the mindless focus of television.

Academy of Lies:
6 June 2014

Monday, June 9th, 2014

¶ Here’s hoping that the Massachusetts legislature passes a bill that will severely narrow the enforceability of “non-compete” clauses in employment contracts — and, hopefully, restore some of the luster that Route 128 has lost to Silicon Valley. When we read on the front page of this morning’s Times about the difficulties that a nineteen year-old summer camp counselor was having finding another job, we almost went into a socialist fugue state. Here is what her former employer told reporter Steven Greenhouse:

Joe Kahn, Linx’s owner and founder, defended the noncompete that his company uses. “Our intellectual property is the training and fostering of our counselors, which makes for our unique environment,” he said. “It’s much like a tech firm with designers who developed chips: You don’t want those people walking out the door. It’s the same for us.” He called the restriction — no competing camps within 10 miles — very reasonable.

You can imagine how wickedly the editor’s wife, a long-time summer-camp counselor herself, snorted at this nonsense. Chips, indeed. She’d like to give his little canoe a nice paddle.

We recovered from our socialist fever, but not without a sharper sense that there is a difference between business operators and intellectual property, and that we ought not to be too eager to respect ownership claims by the former to the latter. Non-patented business practices (and such patents ought to be granted most grudgingly) are hardly more confidential or deserving of legal protection on behalf of alleged owners than published cookie recipes.

We’re all for capitalism, wherever it works. We’re very much against mere ownerism.

Getting Deflation Wrong
6 June 2014

Friday, June 6th, 2014

¶ At Naked Capitalism, Bill Black compares economic “austerity” to the quackery of bleeding the sick — a discredited practice that serves only to enrich bankers and the rentiers who hire them.

The NYT’s “Draghi as Physician” Simile

The most embarrassing of the five articles begins with this sentence.

“Mario Draghi might feel like a doctor trying to treat a chronically ill patient with unproven medicines.”

There are three vital things that are totally wrong about that sentence.  First, it was the ECB and its fellow troika members that forced the eurozone – as it was beginning to recover from the Great Recession – back into a gratuitous second recession and in several cases a Second Great Depression by inflicting austerity.  Second, the correct medical metaphor would be that Draghi is continuing to insist on “bleeding” the patient a century after we knew that the practice had no scientific basic and harmed the patient.  His practices were not “unproven” – they were known to be quackery.  Third, to the extent the focus is on low inflation, Draghi has been refusing to “treat” the “chronically ill patient” even though (A) the eurozone has repeatedly failed to meet the ECB’s stated inflation target and (B) there are proven fiscal means of curing the “patient” which Draghi fights to prevent from being used.

Style Note:
1 June 2014

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

¶ A story on the front page of this morning’s Times begins badly. Beneath the headline, “In a First, Test of DNA Finds Root of Illness,” the report launches in lurid human-interest mode (a teenager is dying!). It’s hard to say which is worse, the headline or the text. At a minimum, the headline ought to have made it clear that the DNA in the case belonged to the pathogen, not to the patient. The first sentence of the story ought to have gone like this: “In a recent breakthrough, scientists have significantly shortened the time required to make a diagnosis, critical to dealing with life-threatening infections, by identifying pathogens by their DNA.”

¶ What’s your position on the Oxford comma? Ours is flexible, because, frankly, we believe human language is too complicated for human beings to be able to discern rules that will guarantee clear usage. We don’t even believe that clarity itself is always the most important thing: sometimes, a little ambiguity is the only way to make readers think. (See poetry.) But we think that you’ll enjoying weighing the pros and cons of the rule that prescribes placing a comma after every item in a list, even the penultimate one, the one that is followed by “and.” (Mental Floss; via The Millions)

Especially not to be missed is the final example, with Arika Okrent’s comment. Sometimes, you simply have to rewrite the sentence.

“By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”

Languagehat dug this gem out of a comment thread on the serial comma. It’s from a TV listing in The Times. It supports the use of the Oxford comma, but only because it keeps Mandela from being a dildo collector. However, even the Oxford comma can’t keep him from being an 800-year-old demigod. There’s only so much a comma can do.

Forthcoming Books:
4 June 2014

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

¶ Ms NOLA sent us the link to Laura Miller’s quick interview with Marie Luise Knott, the German author of a book, Unlearning With Hannah Arendt, that has just come out in English. In one chapter, Knott writes about Arendt’s use of irony as an expressive tool (not its opposite) in Eichmann in Jerusalem. We’ve lost no time ordering the book.

Some have argued that the subject of the Holocaust is too terrible to ever admit anything like humor. Obviously, Arendt was not laughing off atrocities, but she was attacked for some statements she made ironically — such as noting that Eichmann resembled a “Zionist” for suggesting that Bohemian and Moravian Jews be resettled in a specific area — and for the implied laughter in what she wrote about Eichmann. Why do you think that bothered people so much?

Of course Hannah Arendt knew that Eichmann was an anti-Semite, an SS officer and the organizer of the murder of millions of Jews. What unsettled and shocked her was to hear this anti-Semite dressing up his testimony with whatever came to mind, even going so far as to call himself a philo-Zionist.

But what worried Arendt most fundamentally was the “totality of the moral collapse the Nazis caused … not only among the persecutors but also among the victims.” She also worried about the consequences of this collapse, the model and possible future heralded by the Nazi policy of extermination. The fact that she saw the collapse among the persecutors but also among the victims was not due to any desire to offend.

Arendt insisted on defending the existence of a common, shared world. As a Jew she had experienced the triumph of the Nazis and the way their ideology had permeated, step by step, every aspect of life and language in Germany. The collapse she discerns is the collapse of the fabric holding human beings together in this world, the fabric of laws and traditions and ideas that had in the past kept the world from falling apart, the idea of solidarity and of humans negotiating the present and the future together. “The totality of the moral collapse” meant for her that the Nazi perpetrators could perversely twist the Christian precept “Thou shalt not kill” into the command “Thou shalt kill.” It meant moreover that parts of mankind (first the mentally ill, then the Jews, then …) had been declared superfluous and step-by-step conditioned to fit the Nazis’ image of them, to be and behave like victims. They found themselves in a situation of total lawlessness and total powerlessness and were thrown out of the human world, i.e., murdered.


Bright Ideas:
Retire to Coach
3 June 2014

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

¶ What a concept! Imagine a business organization in which employs “retire,” with lower salaries, into managerial positions? What if just doing your job well was the only task on your desk. The work might change, but it would never involve managing other workers until your later years. In other words, the whole concept of “promotion” would be stood on its head.

Sounds pie-in-the-sky, right? But that’s what Felix Salmon is advocating, more or less, in a post at Medium. (Click through.)

The alternative is far better: pay people according to the value their job provides to the company. If they can provide more value to another company, then let them leave: at a stroke you get rid of the syndrome whereby people can only get paid more by looking for a job elsewhere and threatening to leave unless they get a raise.

Recognize, too, that while managers do indeed add value to a company, there’s no particular reason to believe that they add more value to a company than the people who report to them.

In this new configuration, the manager is more like a coach, someone who helps the team achieve its objectives. (The “retirement” angle was really our idea.)

The result: an organization where fairly-compensated people work together as a team, rather than trying to work out the best way to make money for themselves at the expense of their colleagues. If you do away with the slippery pole, and do away with the idea that if you get promoted into a managerial role then you’ll get paid a lot more money, then your organization will be a much happier place to work.

Brokenland Note:
Roman Roads
2 June 2014

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

¶ We sat up this morning when we reached Joshua Shank’s Op-Ed piece about the fund that pays for the maintenance of Federal highways. According to Shank, the highway fund is about to run out of money, because revenues from the gas tax haven’t kept up with costs, and Congress has rejected rate hikes.

The obvious solution, raising the gas tax, is a political nonstarter. And even if it could pass, Congress would be tempted to direct some or all of that revenue to other purposes, like deficit reduction — it did just that in 1990 and 1993.

In any case, raising the gas tax wouldn’t help in the long run. When America planned the Interstate System in the 1950s, only half the country was urbanized and the number of cars was growing rapidly. Now more than 80 percent of Americans live in metropolitan regions, and total driving has stagnated. Even if we could raise the tax, it would only reinforce an outdated program.

Shank believes that funds ought to come from general revenues — the income tax. That’s not what captures our attention. It’s willingness to keep the fund solvent, in an ongoing way and not as a matter of quick fixes, that we’ll be watching for. We’ll be surprised to see it.

Gotham Diary:
30 May 2014

Friday, May 30th, 2014

¶ What we want to know is what Tante Hannah would have said about Manhattanhenge. Or rather: whether she’d have found a use for it among her favorite metaphors. (“Thinking in alignment,” say.)

The straight story at Gothamist; fun at The Awl.

By the way, it’s pretty cloudy out there right now.

Loose Links:
29 May 2014

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

¶ Regular readers know what a staple dish spaghetti alla carbonara is in our household. We introduce the non-traditional note of parsley, and we use only the yolk, not the whole egg. But: no cream! And pancetta, not bacon. Is there a better way? We’re working up the courage to try the version updated by Riccardo De Pra, the chef at a restaurant in the northern Veneto. The inspiration, it turns out, is Japanese. At The Smart Set, Jason Wilson claims that this was a dish worth being stranded for — as he was by that Icelandic volcano a couple of years ago.

Carbonara is known as a classic dish of Rome, and so I wanted to know why a chef from the northern Veneto had perfected it. His answer was even more surprising. “The story actually starts in Japan,” he told me. As a young chef, De Pra had worked in Japan, which is extremely rare for an Italian chef, and he learned some decidedly non-Italian kitchen techniques. “I came back from Japan after a year, and brought my new ideas with me. And when I put them on the menu at my father’s restaurant, I immediately lost 80 percent of his customers,” he said, with a laugh.

¶ At The New Statesman, John Gray sketches an interesting history of the Little Red Book. Even more interesting is his review of a new book of academic essays about it. (via 3 Quarks Daily)

All of the relevant disciplines are represented – history, area studies, literature, political science and sociology – and although ten of the 13 contributors teach in the US, the collection is representative of the range of views of China that you will find in universities in much of the world. However, the fact that it reflects the present state of academic opinion is also the book’s most important limitation.

Reading the essays brought together here, you would hardly realise that Mao was responsible for one of the biggest human catastrophes in recorded history.

Robert Kaplan’s thoughts about Cardinal Richelieu are interesting, if only because Kaplan’s usual subject is more contemporary, but in one passing sentence he captures, without realizing it apparently, the contradictory impulses of the modern age.

What emerged from the horror of the Thirty Years’ War was a yearning for international law on one hand and a Europe of coherent states on the other — some form of territorial organization which would replace the hundreds of small political units, overlaid by various degrees of imperial power, that had made the Continent so prone to cataclysm.

How curiously the European Union has attempted to solve this problem by micromanaging from the top while leaving force in the hands of national politics.


Europe Note:
National Socialist
28 May 2014

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

¶ At the LRB blog, Jeremy Harding compares Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage, leaders of the right wing parties, in France and Britain respectively, that garnered big chunks of the latest European Parliament vote. Observing that “Britain doesn’t look like France as you track further right,” Harding excoriates the laddishness of Farage’s UKIP, which is just what you’d expect. What’s odd is his respect for Le Pen’s reformed ideology.

She has turned her party around from the days of her father’s brief flirtation with market-liberal theology to formulate a kind of national socialist programme as coherent as Ukip’s is vague and contradictory. The only antipathies they have in common are for immigrants and European union as it stands. Neither looks like a serious programme for the future but hers has one conspicuous advantage over Ukip’s: consistency. A party that argues against the free movement of money, jobs, goods and services is well placed to make a case against freedom of movement for human beings, whether it hides its racism – as the FN tries to do – or proclaims it from the rooftops.

Teacher in America:
55 Thoughts
27 May 2014

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

¶ At The Millions, Nick Ripatrazone offers a list of 55 considerations for any teacher of high-school English. I read it as Lydia Davis without the irony. Sample:

You will often have young women in class who love to write, and who outnumber the men, and yet these young women will stop writing. Teach them to keep writing. Show them their words matter. Introduce them to Mary Shelley, Marilynne Robinson, Jayne Anne Phillips, Toni Morrison, Tayari Jones, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Alice Elliott Dark, Virginia Woolf, Stacey D’Erasmo, Roxane Gay, Jamie Quatro, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Mary Karr, Susan Sontag, Natalie Diaz, Emily Dickinson, Kate Chopin, Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Willa Cather, Joan Didion, Donna Tartt, and, please, Flannery O’Connor.

Do not try to sanitize Flannery. Let her live on the page.

All well and good. But we want to send Ripatrazone a book by Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future mostly likely, to encourage him to teach his students that they are invaders, unknown newcomers to a complex world that they cannot begin to improve until they know something about it. This is the whole point of education; it’s why we require something so tedious of young people. But we’ve never been good at telling them why the ordeal is necessary. It is our conviction that a teacher who could convey the necessity of education to his or her students would dissolve the ordeal altogether.

Putrid Lies:
The Skills Gap
31 March 2014

Monday, March 31st, 2014

¶ Whether we were roused from our habitual complacent but tacit assent to almost everything that Paul Krugman has to say in his column at the Times by a wave of springlike weather or by an exceptional acuity of insight, we decided to begin a collection of Putrid Lies for use as a self-test. If you fail to smell the rank decay, then you must retire to the Nuisance Corner and compose an eloquent defense of the proposition in question. In today’s case, it concerns the alleged “skills gap.”

Unfortunately, the skills myth — like the myth of a looming debt crisis — is having dire effects on real-world policy. Instead of focusing on the way disastrously wrongheaded fiscal policy and inadequate action by the Federal Reserve have crippled the economy and demanding action, important people piously wring their hands about the failings of American workers.

Moreover, by blaming workers for their own plight, the skills myth shifts attention away from the spectacle of soaring profits and bonuses even as employment and wages stagnate. Of course, that may be another reason corporate executives like the myth so much.

Don’t listen to anyone from the One Percent who claims that the skills gap is a problem.

Brokenland Note:
Ghosts and Zombies
17 February 2014

Monday, February 17th, 2014

¶ For years (decades), we have bewildered our friends by calling for the termination of the Democratic Party — and the retirement of its senior operatives to pleasant pastures without Internet connections (all right, the connectivity thing is a recent stipulation). Our friends are naturally regard the Democratic Party as the last hope of progressive Americans, but, in our view, this is as good as forsaking hope altogether. There used to be a vibrant Democratic Party, but it sacrificed itself for a greater good — the promotion of Civil Rights. Thereafter, its deserted shrines were haunted by ghosts and zombies. One of the ghosts, Adolph Reed, has an essay in the current issue of Harper’sHe wants to revive the labor-versus-management blue collar party that flourished in the Postwar boom, and his criticism of “New Democrat” thinking has a Jacobin glint to it. One of the zombies, Al From, an architect of that thinking, has written a book in which he appears to claim that he was its only architect, a boast that Rick Pearlstein, reviewing the book in The Nation, is eager to discredit. Along the way, Pearlstein also discredits the New Democrats, but without the undertow of tumbrils.

Pearlstein on From:

From, however, is not chagrined. The “core principles of the New Democrat movement…are as viable and useful for meeting today’s challenges as they were for meeting the challenges of the 1990s.” For instance: “we need to adopt and enforce a blueprint that will cut the deficit and build confidence in the private marketplace.” Does he care that, as President Obama constantly boasts, the rate of budget growth is now lower than at any time since the 1950s? Or that the stock market is higher than it has been since the 1990s? No, he does not. Nor, surely, have the jet-setters and feather-bedders who feted his new book at a party hosted by the powerful DC law and lobbying firm Akin Gump—for which From serves as a “consultant”—at the shimmering new Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park. “As Bill Clinton would often remind me,” From writes, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.” Yet the formula has worked well enough for From: he’s been wrong in the same way over and over again, and for him, things have turned out just fine.

We doubt that we’d support Reed’s party of the left; it strikes us as anachronistic. Surely there must be new ways to counter what Andrew Packer calls “organized money.” But we applaud Reed’s assessment of the fundamentally useless Democratic Party.

The crucial tasks for a committed left in the United States now are to admit that no politically effective force exists and to begin trying to create one. This is a long-term effort, and one that requires grounding in a vibrant labor movement. Labor may be weak or in decline, but that means aiding in its rebuilding is the most serious task for the American left. Pretending some other option exists is worse than useless. There are no magical interventions, shortcuts, or technical fixes. We need to reject the fantasy that some spark will ignite the People to move as a mass. We must create a constituency for a left program — and that cannot occur via MSNBC or blog posts or the New York Times. It requires painstaking organization and building relationships with people outside the Beltway and comfortable leftist groves. Finally, admitting our absolute impotence can be politically liberating; acknowledging that as a left we have no influence on who gets nominated or elected, or what they do in office, should reduce the frenzied self-delusion that rivets attention to the quadrennial, biennial, and now seemingly permanent horse races. It is long past time for us to begin again to approach leftist critique and strategy by determining what our social and governmental priorities should be and focusing our attention on building the kind of popular movement capable of realizing that vision. Obama and his top aides punctuated that fact by making brutally apparent during the 2008 campaign that no criticism from the left would have a place in this regime of Hope and Change. The message could not be clearer.

Brokenland Note:
27 January 2014

Monday, January 27th, 2014

¶ We were astonished to read a piece in the Times, even if it was printed on blue paper at the rear of the Magazine, posing the question “Is It Immoral to Watch the Super Bowl?” What makes this essay impressive is its having been written by an avowed football fan, Steve Almond. We don’t think that American professional football is immoral; we think that it’s criminal, or ought to be. But a long history of failed prohibitions stays our keyboarding hand.

We don’t believe that it’s necessary to get to the question of whether watching the game is moral or not; we think that it’s enough to contemplate the damages inflicted on the athletes, and then to question our interest in what ought to be nauseating. But we’re thrilled that the question has been raised in such a prominent venue. As with gay marriage, we didn’t expect things to happen quite this fast. But then, we’re old. And it never would have occurred to us to point to the linkage between the baroque spectacle of today’s Super Bowl with our dreary military record. Dummies, we.

Over the past 12 years, as Americans have sought a distraction from the moral incoherence of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the game has served as a loyal and satisfying proxy. It has become an acceptable way of experiencing our savage impulses, the cultural lodestar when it comes to consuming violence. What differentiates it from the glut of bloody films and video games we devour is our awareness that the violence in football, and the toll of that violence, is real.

The struggle playing out in living rooms across the country is that of a civilian leisure class that has created, for its own entertainment, a caste of warriors too big and strong and fast to play a child’s game without grievously injuring one another. The very rules that govern our perceptions of them might well be applied to soldiers: Those who exhibit impulsive savagery on the field are heroes. Those who do so off the field are reviled monsters.

The Meliorist Front:
The I Miller Building
9 January 2014

Friday, January 10th, 2014

¶ Our civic Christmas present was the gift of the people who bought and renovated the I Miller Building in Times Square. Scouting NY reported on the before, and now it’s celebrating the after. Hear, hear!

Modern Horrors:
Fire Speech
8 January 2014

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

¶ We finally got round to reading this month’s Pacific Standard cover story, “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” by Amanda Hess. We don’t understand what it makes it any less impermissible to post sexual threats online than it is to cry “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. Knucklehead Michael Brusch of Texas displays an almost autistic unconcern for the impact of his “speech.”

In 2012, Gawker unmasked “Violentacrez,” an anonymous member of the online community Reddit who was infamous for posting creepy photographs of underage women and creating or moderating subcommunities on the site with names like “chokeabitch” and “rapebait.” Violentacrez turned out to be a Texas computer programmer named Michael Brusch, who displayed an exceedingly casual attitude toward his online hobbies. “I do my job, go home, watch TV, and go on the Internet. I just like riling people up in my spare time,” he told Adrian Chen, the Gawker reporter who outed him. “People take things way too seriously around here.”

We only wish that we could say that Brusch sounds peculiar.