Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Unfinished War
10 October 2013

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

¶ How agreeable to read this: we’re not the only ones! Stephan Richter at Salon. (Thanks, George Snyder!)

In essence, now the South is once again rebelling against modernizing shifts of American society. Today, in one of the great political realignments of modern politics, that region is the power base of Republicans.

The equivalent of politically and economically freeing the slaves back then is now granting health care access to all Americans. In either case, the old order is about to be toppled and that leads especially Southerners and white conservatives everywhere, to fear for the end of the United States, as they know it.

In the Times:
9 October 2013

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

¶ A writer to attend to, Robert Olmstead.

These days I feel my edges falling away. I am sure this is weakness. What else could it be in this armed and dangerous land of ours? When people learn that I teach they sometimes launch into lengthy condemnations of young people: their music, their laziness, their callowness. This makes my blood boil. Young people do not make war. Young people do not decide to send off the drones. But young people will be there to do the dirty work when the old people tell them to. Young people will be there to shovel the manure.

No, Virginia:
There Is No Role For the US in Syria
24 September 2013

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

¶ At a site called Syria Comment, a concise but comprehensive array of arguments against US military engagement in Syria.

While the U.S. and the American people are no allies of the Syrian regime (and for good reason), pushing hard for a rebel win today is not in US interests and is unlikely to benefit Syria. Punitive measures taken against the regime following the use of chemical weapons should be conducted with the purpose of deterring the future use of chemical weapons—not to change the balance of power in favor of the rebels.

The writer, Joshua Landis, reminds readers that metropolitan life in large Syrian cities has not been seriously affected by rebel activity. (via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ The awful truth: a compact video tutorial on the distribution of wealth in the United States — which, really, isn’t a distribution at all, but a concentration.

Celebrity Meltdown! @ Towleroad. D’you know, we’ve never seen Julia Louis-Dreyfus before! (Although we’re looking forward to Enough Said.)

Lit Life:
“Immigrant Fiction”
12 September 2013

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

¶ At the Book Review, Jhumpa Lahiri puts a new spin on the idea of immigrant fiction.

What immigrant fiction has been the most important to you, both personally and as an inspiration for your own writing?

I don’t know what to make of the term “immigrant fiction.” Writers have always tended to write about the worlds they come from. And it just so happens that many writers originate from different parts of the world than the ones they end up living in, either by choice or by necessity or by circumstance, and therefore, write about those experiences. If certain books are to be termed immigrant fiction, what do we call the rest? Native fiction? Puritan fiction? This distinction doesn’t agree with me. Given the history of the United States, all American fiction could be classified as immigrant fiction. Hawthorne writes about immigrants. So does Willa Cather. From the beginnings of literature, poets and writers have based their narratives on crossing borders, on wandering, on exile, on encounters beyond the familiar. The stranger is an archetype in epic poetry, in novels. The tension between alienation and assimilation has always been a basic theme.

We agree up to a point. We wouldn’t say this of William Faulkner or Dawn Powell, or almost anybody later than they.

Dress for Disaster
11 September 2013

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

¶ This is the sort of story that can stop my day in its tracks. “Imagining an Attack on the Cybergrid.” Retired North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan has co-written a disaster novel that contemplates an attack on the nation’s power grid. Whoever can bring that about will be wielding a weapon of mass destruction. November is rarely a fun month, but it’s certainly not going to be one this year.

But life is increasingly imitating Mr. Dorgan’s potboiler. More than 200 utilities and government agencies across the country, from Consolidated Edison to the Department of Homeland Security to Verizon, are now expected to sign up for the largest emergency drill to test the electricity sector’s preparation for cyberattack. The drill, scheduled for November, will simulate an attack by an adversary that takes down large sections of the power grid and knocks out vast areas of the continent for weeks.

¶ The timing of this story is palpably ironic: “Sadness, and Bargains, as Mall at South Street Seaport Shuts Down.” The mall and the Seaport Museum together promised something new and shiny for New York, and that’s what they delivered, as long as they were shiny and new.

Dept of Yikes:
Section X
10 September 2013

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

¶ We have wasted half an hour on trying to determine what’s the worst thing about the Section X story. Section X, if it exists, is a club of wealthy grad students at the Harvard Business School who go on expensive ski trips together. There is no part of this story that is not the worst part; the only thing to do is to shut down the school. Here’s why:

As dean, Mr. Nohria has been known for fostering frank conversations about social issues, but it is hard to say if Harvard Business could ever mount a true effort to resolve class issues on campus along the lines of the one on gender.

Many of the school’s top donors and alumni are members of the same ultramoneyed culture that some students criticize. And because many students attend business school in the specific hope of building a network of influential contacts, they tend to fear offending anyone, especially wealthy classmates who might one day provide connections and financing.

In The Nation:
MOOCs for Mooks
9 September 2013

Monday, September 9th, 2013

Three splendid pieces in the current issue of The Nation (9.23.13)

¶ John Connelly writes about Polish intellectual Leszek Kołakowski, a man who, like a number of American thinkers, passed from youthful Marxism to aged anti-liberalism. A standard feature of this sort of development is a bad reaction to late-Sixties students. Having been one of them myself, I certainly sympathize, but the overreaction is extreme.

¶ Joshua Clover’s extremely angry response to Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down reverberates with justified indignation.

This is a truth of the age. Even white people have fallen from their jobs and can’t get up; few are more aggrieved than they to whom the world has always seemed to promise a decent wage and then reneged. The percentage of the population employed dipped below 59 percent in 2009, and for all the nattering on about recovery, there it remains. Cisco earned $2.27 billion dollars last quarter, beating expectations—and celebrated with 4,000 layoffs. Insofar as some sectors have restored profits, the jobs have not come with them. Nor will they. The absence of jobs and the fall of the White House are one.

And so we must hustle for those that remain ever more intensely, affirm the failing mechanism ever more devoutly. It is not enough that we must work for somebody else, produce profit for somebody else, just to keep body affixed to soul. We must yearn for it, take a punch, take a bullet, take any amount of shit, whatever it requires. We must work just for the chance to work: dystopia squared.

¶ Perhaps it is only in a culture where, as Clover puts it, “travail is the point” that anyone would mistake sitting through online lectures for education. It seems that most students don’t,  according to Jon Wiener’s humorlessly hilarious look at Coursera, the next big thing on the venture capital front.

There’s one other problem for Coursera and the other MOOCs trying to make money: 90 percent of the people who enroll in courses do not complete them. Watching video lectures on your laptop at home alone doesn’t seem to work for the overwhelming majority of people who try.

Loose Links:
Seven Reasons
5 September 2013

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

¶ Nick Holdstock appraises the “trial” of former Chongqing macher Bo Xilai at the LRB blog, in “Seeking Truth from Facts.”

¶ Could it be true? Bill Morris asks us to take his word for it that Marisha Pessl’s “writing has done a lot of growing up in the seven years since Calamity Physics was published,” and that “Pessl’s cleverness and bloat have given way to assurance.” You go first. (The Millions)

¶ Robert Kaplan broaches a “Byzantine strategy” for dealing with Syria. We ponder the following remark with grave interest, because it appears to overlook the fact that President Obama is an accountable democratic leader:

President Barack Obama’s mistake is not his hesitancy about entering the Syrian mess; but announcing to the Syrians that his military strike, if it occurs, will be “narrow” and “limited.” Never tell your adversary what you’re not going to do! Let your adversary stay awake all night, worrying about the extent of a military strike! Unless Obama is being deliberately deceptive about his war aims, then some of the public statements from the administration have been naïve in the extreme.

One suspects that a Republican president would not have drawn this criticism. (RealClearWorld)

¶ Why is that pig on a leash? Truffle-hunting in Oregon with dogs. (Modern Farmer; via Brainiac)

¶ You can read the whole piece at Naked Capitalism, but just the checklist of Lynn Parramore’s “Seven Reasons to Fight Obama on Picking Out-of-Touch Crony Capitalist Larry Summers as Fed Chair” will do. (To which we would add an eighth: Harvard’s endowment.) But especially:

3. Summers is not terribly interested in unemployment.

Supporters of Larry Summers like to talk about his brilliance, but in reality he is a highly conventional economist who advocates raising interest rates too fast and places too much emphasis on deficits over jobs. Part of the Fed’s mandate is to move the country toward full employment, so Summers’ history of lackluster interest in jobs is yet another red flag.

Janet Yellen, Summers’ main rival for Fed chair, has consistently advocated for expansionary Fed policy focused on reducing unemployment. While out of power, Larry Summers has given lip service to the importance of jobs, but we’ve seen him in power enough times to know that jobs have never really been a major concern for him. Summers, the political protégé of deficit hawk Robert E. Rubin, the Treasury secretary under Clinton, has repeatedly shown — most recently during his years as Director of the National Economic Council under Obama — that if it comes down to a choice between jobs and austerity, he’s usually on the side of austerity. The kind of austerity that kills jobs and undermines programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

Economist Dean Baker reveals that if you want to find the “smoking gun” in the Obama administration that led to a focus on deficit reduction instead of jobs, look no further than a memo drafted by Summers in December 2008, a month before Obama’s inauguration. The memo, which was wrong about the economy on several counts, set the stage for policies that drove an ongoing jobs crisis and led to Obama’s creation of a deficit commission led by former Senator Alan Simpson, a zealot for cutting Social Security and Medicare, and Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles. (The duo relied on famously discredited work by economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff to push austerity).

Since he left the National Economic Council in 2010, Summers has been talking down austerity and talking up the importance of jobs and the middle class. But how he acts when in power and how he talks when out of it are two vastly different things. His doubtful record on adequately stimulating the economy and his political baggage are so worrisome that many — even some business-minded folks — have warned that his leadership at the Fed would be harmful to the economy. The Economist magazine has cautioned that Summers would likely be a Greenspan style “maestro” at the Fed, less interested in transparency and consensus-building in his decision-making than Yellen. In the NYT, Binyamin Applebaum explained that many financial analysts fear a Summers nomination “could lead to slower economic growth, less job creation and higher interest rates…”

Americans are still suffering from the effects of the Great Recession and years of wrong-headed economic policy. We need a Fed chair focused on unemployment and investing in the economy.

In the Times:
3 September 2013

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

¶ You can’t tell from the online edition, but the Business section of this morning’s Times juxtaposes two stories that transforms one headline into a caution about the other: “In a New Book, McKinsey & Co Isn’t All Roses” and “Summers’s Odds Up, Stimulus Ease Seen.” The world would be a much better place if into its dustbin were dropped both the egregious consulting firm and the former Harvard president. They represent the well-dressed Nothing that rises to the top in today’s establishment. On the subject of McKinsey, Adam Ross Sorkin quotes wisely:

Whatever bad advice it has offered over the years, clients keep coming back for more. “They have follow-on work not just because they’re good at what they do, but because they are trained in how to manage these kinds of client relationships,” Alan Kantrow, former editor of McKinsey Quarterly, told Mr. McDonald. “They understand the core reality is the relationship and conversation.”

Business? What business? It’s “relationship and conversation” — eyewash and hot air! And Benjamin Appelbaum’s report on the wide uneasiness that accompanies rumors of Lawrence Summers’ nomination to head the Fed highlights the resemblance of the West Wing to a frat house of knuckleheads.

But the president’s top economic advisers uniformly support the selection of Mr. Summers. They regard him as a creative thinker and an experienced crisis manager, qualities they value in particular because they expect the Fed may confront difficult choices as it begins to retreat from its six-year-old stimulus campaign.

They also insist that Mr. Summers supports the Fed’s efforts to revive the economy and would continue those efforts.

But Mr. Summers has criticized the Fed’s purchases of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities, warning that bond-buying on such a scale could distort financial markets. He said it was “less efficacious for the real economy than most people suppose.” As a result, many investors suspect he would seek to end those purchases more quickly than Ms. Yellen.

Those “top economic advisers” support Summers because its the soundest way to further their own careers.

In the Times:
Academic Tradition
22 August 2013

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

¶ Physicist Alan Frank laments the “Age of Denial” on today’s Op-Ed page. Funny, but I was thinking of the disconnect between the academy and society myself, having written a few lines yesterday about what’s missing in college teaching. I was thinking of the humanities, but Frank shows that my concern stretches to the sciences as well. He concludes:

During my undergraduate studies I was shocked at the low opinion some of my professors had of the astronomer Carl Sagan. For me his efforts to popularize science were an inspiration, but for them such “outreach” was a diversion. That view makes no sense today.

The enthusiasm and generous spirit that Mr. Sagan used to advocate for science now must inspire all of us. There are science Twitter feeds and blogs to run, citywide science festivals and high school science fairs that need input. For the civic-minded nonscientists there are school board curriculum meetings and long-term climate response plans that cry out for the participation of informed citizens. And for every parent and grandparent there is the opportunity to make a few more trips to the science museum with your children.

Behind the giant particle accelerators and space observatories, science is a way of behaving in the world. It is, simply put, a tradition. And as we know from history’s darkest moments, even the most enlightened traditions can be broken and lost. Perhaps that is the most important lesson all lifelong students of science must learn now.

There are several interesting points here, and popularization is certainly one of them. We need authoritative populizers like Carl Sagan, writers and filmmakers who can connect young readers and audiences especially with the look and feel of real science. But my eye caught on “the most enlightened traditions.” It is unusual to hear scientists speak of traditions. Carrying on as though the Aristotelian Weltanschauung was still in need of demolition became something of a necessary deformation for modern scientists. But Western science is by now an august tradition, with centuries-old roots, and most of its authority derives from those roots.

It is really time for universities to reclaim the moral authority that they so heedlessly threw off in the Sixties and Seventies. Ordinary schools abandoned the pretense, as it were, while professors in the great universities contented themselves with a kind of mutual authority, among themselves, that disregarded public opinion. They have no one to thank but themselves for the public’s embrace of existential fantasies.

Loose Links:
(Hey, it’s still August)
20 August 2013

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Solow’s Hole — 6.4 acres of waterfront Manhattan controlled by a — by an unpleasant-sounding person who loves to bring lawsuits. Walking proof that “Developer” ought to be a credentialed profession with clear standards of conduct. (NYT)

Since 2009, Mr. Solow’s executive suite has had a revolving door as he fired one general counsel and chief operating officer after another, including Steven Cherniak, a 27-year veteran of the company. His long-running legal battle with Citigroup over a loan for the property ended with an $85.7 million judgment against him.

John Simon, writing about wordplay, quotes a tremendous stunt of de Vigny’s.

Gall, amant de la reine, alla, tour magnanimeGallamant de l’Arène a la tour Magne a Nîmes…

¶ Okay, fun’s over. Michael Ignatieff puts the Syrian disintegration in perspective: perhaps, like Yugoslavia, it will not survive. (We did not intervene to save Tito’s patchwork federation, but on behalf of one of its scraps, the Bosnians.)

Such an analysis helps us to explain why the anti-Assad opposition has been unable to create a believable government in exile linked both to commanders at the front and to the municipal authorities in the liberated zones. Inside and outside, exiles and front-line fighters regard each other with suspicion. There is no effective national command of the insurrection and hence no shared political claim to defend together. In addition there are a number of fighters, the al Nusra Brigade being only one example, for whom the goal is not the defense of a multi-confessional Syria but the creation of an Islamic caliphate in Arab lands. As Western governments have considered their options since the uprising began, they have found it easier to identify those they want to lose than those they want to win.

But the perspective could be longer: wherever we look in the Near East, we see the bungled break-up of the Ottoman Empire. (Boston Review; via 3 Quarks Daily)

In the Times :
Our Very Motto
15 August 2013

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

¶ What a lucky kid Holland Cotter was, growing up in a family devoted to cultural pleasures. (The luck is that it was right for him.) And how sweet of the Times to start one of its art critics’ autobiographical fragment on the front page!

I spent a lot of time there from the age of about 9, mostly on Saturdays, mostly wandering around on my own. (My parents tended to use the museum as a surrogate nanny.) No one was telling me to look at this or at that, so I looked at whatever appealed. I loved the Japanese Buddhist hall because it was set up in the form of a circular temple, with a ring of life-size carved-wood Buddhas sitting in a kind of twilight. It was transporting. When you were there, you were someplace new.

Like any kid, I was interested in art that told stories, as a good amount of pre-modern art, especially painting, does. Some narratives were familiar, or obvious. Rogier van der Weyden’s 15th-century “St. Luke Painting the Virgin” depicted exactly the placid scene its title describes, but was set in an interior that looked airy, just-cleaned.

We had to fight for this kind of pleasure, in the teeth of a surburban philistinism that Cotter’s family escaped.

¶ Stacy Perman’s story about reinvention at Emma, a Web-based marketing and communications company, gave us something that we’ve been looking for.

At Emma, the project took 18 months, six months longer than anticipated. And it cost $4.5 million. Preliminary research and design began in the summer of 2010. The company relied primarily on its own engineers and developers, hiring a small outside team to build one set of e-mail tools.

The principal operating guideline was to design a flexible system that would remove the need to do anything like this again. “We didn’t know what the marketplace would look like in five years,” Mr. Smith said. “Also, we didn’t know how databases would evolve in five years either. We couldn’t design for the future, but we could design something that could adapt to what the future will bring.”

Our very motto: Don’t build to last; build to upgrade!

¶ We don’t go in for bad reviews, but, having read every page of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, including the five hundred unnecessary ones, we couldn’t suppress a burp of gloat when we read Janet Maslin’s review of Night Film, Marisha Pessl’s “long-awaited” second novel.

There is a haunting suspicion running all through “Night Film”: that this book was more exciting to write than to read, and that Ms. Pessl reveled too contentedly in the universe she created. On the rare occasions when she calls attention to double meanings or bits of wordplay, they fall terribly flat. Yes, Cordova used a lighting company called Phil Lumen, and that more or less means “love of light” in Latin if you stop to notice. But “Night Film” is content to deliver small, self-satisfied rewards. Ms. Pessl seems to take it as a given that this book, like its absent genius, warrants fascination. Where’s the evidence? Not on the page.

All’ Erta!
Egregious Sexismo
2 August 2013

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

¶ We somehow let ourselves be lulled into thinking that we had seen the last of Larry Summers in public life. Wishful thinking! We can think of two reason why he’s unfit to lead the Federal Reserve, and his comments about women in the sciences constitute the lesser offense. Have people forgotten the hole that he put in Harvard’s endowment? But Paul Krugman is right to call attention to the deeper sexism inherent in the keyword “gravitas.”

The point is that while the gravitas types like to think of themselves as serious men (and I do mean men) who are willing to do what needs to be done, recent history suggests that they’re actually men who are eager to prove their seriousness by doing what doesn’t need to be done, at the public’s expense.

Also, there was a time not along ago when almost everyone in the gravitas crowd, if asked who possessed that mystical quality in its purest form, would surely have answered “Alan Greenspan.” How well did that turn out?

So is Janet Yellen the only possible candidate to be the next leader of the Fed? Of course not. But the case for someone else should be made on the merits — and, so far, that hasn’t been what’s happening.

Lit Life:
1 August 2013

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

¶ Although their lives were never in probable danger, both Caleb Crain and Choire Sicha sound like survivors, even if they don’t think they are. Books to follow. (Pacific Standard; via Caleb Crain’s blog — which we learned about from Norman Rush’s nice review in the NYRB — Steamboats Are Ruining Everything)

Choire: Yeah, I just think there’s this thing about being in New York when you’re young. And you moved here when?

Caleb: I moved here in ‘91.

Choire: I moved here in ’92—‘92 or ‘93.

You were very young.
We were young! And it was terrible in New York. But there’s that sense of … we moved here at a much better time than it is now to live here. Thoughts?

Caleb: It was a very different time. It certainly felt more authentic in some ways.

No Vacation
26 July 2013

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Matthew Yglesias argues against closing public schools in the summer, especially in poor districts. (Slate; via MetaFilter)

The entire issue tends to vanish from public debate, because the educated, affluent people who run the debate don’t particularly suffer from it. Summer vacation costs money, but prosperous parents are happy to spend it on their kids. And of course there’s the sentimentality factor. I’ll always treasure tender thoughts of my beloved Camp Winnebago and would one day love to have the experience of picking up my kid from the very same camp I attended when I was young.

But these days, Camp Winnebago is charging $11,550 for a full eight-week session. No doubt more affordable options are out there, but the basic reality is that parents’ ability to provide enriching summer activities for their children is going to be sharply constrained by income. Working-class single moms in urban neighborhoods—exactly the kind of parents whose kids tend to have the most problems in school—are put in a nearly impossible situation by summer vacation.

Summer vacation — which was anything but a vacation in our agricultural past — does seem to be a tradition that makes no sense. Although how teachers would live without it, I can’t imagine.

Cognitive Revolution:
Seven Touches
24 July 2013

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

¶ In the current New Yorker, Atul Gawande tells a handful of very important stories — which, like all good stories, show that there is no substitute for personal presence in human interaction. There’s some interesting Gestalt, too. Both points appear in the following passage, about surgeons, their initial resistance to antiseptics, and how that resistance was overcome.

Surgeons finally did upgrade their antiseptic standards at the end of the nineteenth century. But, as is often the case with new ideas, the effort required deeper changes than anyone had anticipated. In their blood-slick, viscera-encrusted black coats, surgeons had seen themselves as warriors doing hemorrhagic battle with little more than their bare hands. A few pioneering Germans, however, seized on the idea of the surgeon as scientist. They traded in their black coats for pristine laboratory whites, refashioned their operating rooms to achieve the exacting sterility of a bacteriological lab, and embraced anatomic precision over speed.

The key message to teach surgeons, it turned out, was not how to stop germs but how to think like a laboratory scientist. Young physicians from America and elsewhere who went to Germany to study with its surgical luminaries became fervent converts to their thinking and their standards. They returned as apostles not only for the use of antiseptic practice (to kill germs) but also for the much more exacting demands of aseptic practice (to prevent germs), such as wearing sterile gloves, gowns, hats, and masks. Proselytizing through their own students and colleagues, they finally spread the ideas worldwide.

What we’ve left out — you’ll read all about it in the article — is the distinction between innovations that yield startling, immediate results, and innovations whose effects appear only outside the scope of those who need to make them. Anaesthetics instantly made surgery easy for surgeons. Antiseptics meant that patients didn’t die a week later, somewhere else.

You’ll find out what “seven touches” means, too.

Organized Money:
23 July 2013

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

¶ George Packer writes about the payoff side of organized money — speechmaking fees — at The New Yorker‘s Daily Comment.

If it isn’t fair to ask stars to refuse the money, it is fair to ask exactly what they do to earn it. One problem with the star system (aside from its appearance of corruption and conflict of interest, and its demoralizing effect on adjunct professors, journeymen power forwards, mid-level executives, freelance journalists, and career bureaucrats) is the pervasive mediocrity and corner-cutting that it encourages: the utter banality of corporate speeches written by staff, the abuse of researchers and ghostwriters by big-name authors, the ease with which a star athlete transitions into a business franchise or a commentary gig, the lack of face time with the prof that awaits CUNY students who register for “Are We on the Threshold of the North American Decade?,” a course whose instructor needed three Harvard grad students just to help him put together the syllabus. Nothing spells the end of real achievement like becoming a brand.

Memorize that final sentence.

Monday Hard Copy:
Political Economy
22 July 2013

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

¶ In the Times, Paul Krugman argues against likening the mess in Detroit to the mess in Greece.

So was Detroit just uniquely irresponsible? Again, no. Detroit does seem to have had especially bad governance, but for the most part the city was just an innocent victim of market forces.

What? Market forces have victims? Of course they do. After all, free-market enthusiasts love to quote Joseph Schumpeter about the inevitability of “creative destruction” — but they and their audiences invariably picture themselves as being the creative destroyers, not the creatively destroyed. Well, guess what: Someone always ends up being the modern equivalent of a buggy-whip producer, and it might be you.

Sometimes the losers from economic change are individuals whose skills have become redundant; sometimes they’re companies, serving a market niche that no longer exists; and sometimes they’re whole cities that lose their place in the economic ecosystem. Decline happens.

This is Krugman’s latest proxy fight with the austerity hawks, and we’re very much on his side. But there’s more to Detroit than the funding of pensions. Owing to the flight, long ago, of Detroit’s upper-middle class to the suburbs to the north, Detroit’s economics became entirely divorced from its politics. The people who ran the economy did not live in the city, and eventually they sent the economy elsewhere. Imagine New York City without Manhattan! “Decline happens” is a lazy way of overlooking the same piece’s observations about Pittsburgh.

¶ Sadly behind the paywall, “Mountain Views,” Kim Phillips-Fein’s review of a new book about Friedrich Hayek and the Mont Pelerin Society, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression, by Angus Burgin, is an engaging essay about what looks to be an important book, for the simple reason that Burgin reconstitutes — recomplexifies — the Austrian economist’s thinking, taking it back from libertarian morons. In passing, Phillips-Fein considers the changes (for the worse) wrought by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago.

Today, “Chicago School” is shorthand for the aggressive advocacy of free markets and opposition to government intervention. But even the economists who taught at the University of Chicago in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s were skeptical about capitalism and wary of openly advocating on its behalf. Frank Knight, one of the department’s leading lights (best known for his book Risk, Uncertainty and Profit), feared that market societies subordinated all social values to the quest for profit: “Economic man is the selfish, ruthless object of moral condemnation.” Jacob Viner was sharply critical of corporate bombast: “Nothing in the history of American business justifies undue confidence on the part of the American public that it can trust big business to take care of the community without supervision, regulation or eternal vigilance.” And Henry Simons—the most politically engaged of the three—denounced monopoly power as the “great enemy of democracy.”

Small wonder, then, that Hayek began to believe that if a market society was to survive, it would need a new philosophical grounding. Its defense couldn’t be limited to its ability to produce abundant wealth; nor could its workings be so atomized and individualistic.

It is easy to see now that the Hayek’s many ambivalences were, like everyone else’s, crushed by Cold War polarities.

Power Outages
16 July 2013

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

¶ Columbia law professor David Pozen takes a look behind the curtain from which the US is breathing fire upon Edward Snowden. (via The Morning News)

A trial could turn out to be much more than a distraction: It could be a focal point for domestic and international outrage. From the executive branch’s institutional perspective, the greatest danger posed by the Snowden case is not to any particular program. It is to the credibility of the secrecy system, and at one remove the ideal of our government as a force for good.

To do their jobs, the U.S. intelligence agencies must be able to keep secrets. But even more fundamentally, they must be able to sustain a democratic mandate. They need Congress to give them the money and the discretion to engage in clandestine activities. They need the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to approve their domestic eavesdropping. They need technology companies and allied governments to cooperate with them. They need voters to elect presidents and legislators who support their mission. They need talented young people to want to sign up.

We can only wish that Mr Pozen had taken care to remind readers that Snowden worked for Booz Allen, not the NSA.

¶ At Bloomberg Businessweek, Charles Kenny argues for shutting down the Department of Homeland Security. Boy, would that make sense! (via 3 Quarks Daily)

That’s unfortunate. Beyond the waste of money and the overregulation, the expansion of the homeland security state has created unnecessary fear among a population that should be able to trust its government to send accurate signals about risk. So let’s start sending the right signals. Shut down the DHS, and redistribute the agencies under its umbrella back to other departments, including the justice, transportation, and energy departments. Then start bringing their budgets into some sort of alignment with the benefit they provide.

¶ And, finally, Ta-Nehisi Coates calls the Zimmerman verdict for what it is. (@ The Atlantic)

It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn’t come back from twenty-four down.

Weekend Hard Copy:
In the Times
8 July 2013

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Frank Bruni likens Cardinal Dolan to a corporate executive “steering an oil company through a spill.” We agree, but insist that it cuts both ways: large corporations are that bad.

Brian McFadden’s strip this week, “Journalism Summer Camp,” is as overdue as good camping weather; better late than never. (This link may stale quickly, which is why we’ve highlighted the strip’s title.)

¶ Will American’s survive the Cold War? Young people don’t remember it, of course, but that’s not the problem; Cold War thinking wormed its way into our patriotic DNA, worse than an autoimmune-deficiency disease. In any case, everyone else seems to have gotten over it, especially those old frenemies Russia and China.

¶ Ever since The Sportswriter (at least), Richard Ford has struggled to inscribe the decency and honor of the suburban dream. In our view, it is unworthy of his talent, and his affectionate recollection of his father’s imaginary house-hunting betrays this.

But through the car window, his imagination’s private screen, he could see himself most vividly — standing in his yard, trimming his young trees, watering new grass, building certain things, relaxing in a lawn chair on a freshly mowed palette of green, arriving home from his job at dusk, the house lights blazing, my mother and me in attendance, sitting down to dinner in a room with a real picture window that showed an aqua sky, then later drifting to sleep tired, and waking refreshed and eager, backing down a sloped driveway on his journey to work, whistling a tune, a sweet, rare magic in his head. The song of the suburbs.

The life of Reilly, indeed.