Putrid Lies:
The Skills Gap
31 March 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

¶ 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:
Circenses
27 January 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

¶ 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

¶ 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.

 

Book Note:
Forgery and Theft, C & C
7 January 2014

¶ If you were gripped by Nicholas Schmidle’s New Yorker piece on Massimo De Caro, the Italian book forger who literally cooked the books, you’ll enjoy Travis McDade’s refresher about the Oath of a Freeman hoax back in 1985, to which McDade adds an interesting coda. (The Millions)

Much of the information in this piece came from the efforts of James Gilreath. As an Americana specialist at the Library of Congress, he was not only one of the first folks to examine the broadside in 1985, but he wrote about his experience, and encouraged others to do so, in a 1991 collection he edited called The Judgment of Experts. I sometimes assign parts of this work for a class I teach on rare book crime. But what is never made clear in this otherwise excellent book is whether Gilreath, who had worked at the Library of Congress since 1974, was already stealing rare books from that library’s collection when he went to New York to help authenticate Hofmann’s “Oath.”

Reliquary:
Where Should Richard III Lie?
6 January 2014

¶ What with the holiday rush, this piece, by Sam Knight, took a while to register with the good people at The Morning News, and even longer for us to discover after fiddling with Feedly (about which there is still much to be learned).

Where to put the bones of Richard III? That’s not the question; the question is, how to decide where to put them? The City and University of Leicester, which oversaw the exhumation in 2012 (and announced it officially early last year), were perhaps rash in deciding to treat their findings as “human remains,” to be dealt with like any other. But it’s just as hard to sympathise with the Plantaganet Alliance, a virtual club of the short-reigned king’s collateral descendants.

The Ricardian scene is also known for its openness towards ideas of reincarnation. One member of the Richard III Society told me that he would not be surprised if the entire movement turned out to be reincarnated henchmen of the King, and that he would sue me if his name was ever connected with this belief. Charles Brunner, the American prominent in the Plantagenet Alliance, prefers to use the phrase “ancestral memory” to describe his sense of identification with England’s bloody 15th century. “If the reincarnation thing does play into it, there were a lot of people who lost their lives during those events,” he said, “and a lot of what you could call unfinished business in the entire thing.”

Explicable or not, this depth of feeling has made Roe and the Plantagenet Alliance formidable, if unconventional, campaigners. They are not natural negotiators. When I asked Roe whether she would be satisfied if the group were granted the consultation it was seeking, and Richard’s remains were still interred in Leicester, she said: “No. No. Because that is not the right answer. That is not what he wanted. So, no. No.”

After a bit of sputtering, we decided that the idea that you can be the reincarnation of your own ancestors is probably not all that uncommon. Here’s what Alan Bennett has to say about Richard III in this year’s excerpts from last year’s diary:

4 February. I don’t imagine that my old Oxford supervisor, the medieval historian Bruce McFarlane, would be much exercised by the discovery of the body of Richard III, though there would be some mild satisfaction in finding the king exactly where the sources said he was. McFarlane wouldn’t have thought the body particularly informative as compared with the real stuff of history, some of the ex-duke of York’s receiver’s accounts, say, or records of Yorkist estate management.

The TV programme on Channel 4 was a lengthy and slightly spurious cliffhanger, culminating in the always conjectural reconstruction of what the famous corpse looked like. No different from the fanciful portrait, it turns out, but with enough humanity to satisfy the convictions of the Richard III Society, who were stumping up for the whole exercise. Bracketed in my mind with the ‘Bacon is Shakespeare’ lot, the Richard III fans seem not without a bob or two and with some of their barmier members on parade in the programme.

Just east of Leeds and not far from Towton and its bloody battlefield is Lead Church, a medieval cell of a chapel which possibly served as a refuge or a dressing station after the battle in 1461. I have known the chapel since I was a boy when I used to go out there on my bike. It stands in the middle of a field, the grass grazed by sheep right up to the south door and has latterly been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It was untouched as late as 2000 when it figured in an article I wrote for The World of Interiors. However, calling there a few years ago we found that the grass outside the south door had been replaced or supplemented by a patio not even in York stone but in some fake composition. Inside, draped in front of the altar was a gaudy banner advertising the Richard III Society. This I rolled up and had I had the means would have destroyed. I wrote to the CCT, who generally do a decent job, but was told the patio had been there for many years. It hadn’t and I suspect the culprits were the Richard III Society, who see the church as a Yorkist site on which they can lavish their presumably ample funds.

So had the last of the Yorkist kings been left under the car park I would not have grieved.

Neither, really, should we.

Mining Note:
Dream Clients
23 December 2013

¶ A funny story: when we picked up the Business Section of the Times early this afternoon, it was pristine, untouched. In spite of this, the lady of the house claimed to have read Nick Bilton’s piece about Bitcoin. Dubious, we recited the Tyler Winklevoss quote. “Yes, yes,” she said, “I read that somewhere.” We were just about to conclude that Mr Winklevoss speaks in stock phrases when his attorney remembered. “He read it to me,” she said. “He wanted to be sure that it was okay.”

“People talk about the volatility with surprise, but it’s exactly what you’d expect from a new global asset class whose regulatory landscape is still developing,” Tyler Winklevoss told me. He and his twin brother, Cameron — famous for their involvement in Facebook — have invested heavily in Bitcoin. By some estimates, they own 1 percent of the market.

“We have never sold a single Bitcoin — we started buying in the high single digits and we’re in it for the long haul,” Mr. Winklevoss said. “We don’t look at it in terms of day-to-day. We look at in terms of years.”

Flowers Gone:
Paul Torday
20 December 2013

¶ Paul Torday died, and you could have knocked us over. We  thought we were the only people in America who had read a novel by Paul Torday that wasn’t Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Don’t ask us which one it was. Although I think we did write about it. And we did.

They don’t say what killed him. What a thin, sweet man.

Brokenland Note:
Unfortunate Lack of Notice
10 December 2013

¶ The beginning of the end? (The end of Rome was full of such.) An ambulance outfit, operating for profit in six states, shut down without notice. (Thanks, Aaron!)

First Med was the largest EMS service in Ohio, where at least 1,500 paramedics and other medical workers were left jobless in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, Cincinnati, Youngstown and numerous smaller towns.

First Med also provided services in Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News in Virginia, as well as Wilmington, N.C.

We must pray for arrests.

Rx:
Surowiecki on Health Care Costs
5 December 2013

¶ We are thrilled to see that James Surowiecki has alighted on what, in our view, is the most urgent health-care problem in the United States — crazily capricious costs. We didn’t know that California was a bit ahead of the game (no surprise).

For consumers, this means higher deductibles and co-pays, and having to think more about prices. A peculiar feature of the American health-care system is the enormous variation in prices that hospitals charge for a procedure, which often are not correlated with quality. So in 2011 California adopted a system of “reference-based pricing” for state workers and retirees. If you needed hip-replacement surgery, say, the state would cover you for the amount charged (minus a deductible) at forty-one “value” hospitals in the state. If you went for a costlier option, you had to make up the difference. Most people chose one of the value hospitals, and their outcomes were similar to those of people who chose the more expensive hospitals. The state saved money, and the threat of losing customers, in turn, led the more expensive hospitals to cut prices; one study found that the price of joint-replacement surgery fell by about a third.

Talking Turkey:
Brassy and Devout
4 December 2013

¶ At the NYRB, Christopher de Bellaigue writes about the problem of majoritarian democracy as it is corroding the civic life of Turkey, under the increasingly “hubristic” rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (“Surreal, Menacing…Pompous“) More Turks seem to be pleased with Mr Erdoğan than not, but the unhappiness of the still-large minority is growing more insistent, and neither side is much inclined to civility. One thing appears to be certain: Mr Erdoğan is the creature of an economic boom, and will be replaced when that comes to an end.

Naturally, the people who benefited most from Erdoğan’s rule were his own supporters, not only because specific measures like the headscarf ban fell into partial disuse—universities now admit women in headscarves, as do many courts—but because the tenor of public life became more pious. Erdoğan and his ministers did not conceal their links to religious orders—such as the Nakshibendis—that the Kemalists had regarded as a major threat to the state. God, rather than Atatürk, was invoked at groundbreaking ceremonies; new mosques rose in the big cities. All the while, the prime minister’s friends in the private sector—often pious businessmen from the interior of the country who bankrolled his election victories—were rewarded with contracts for building, improving infrastructure, and producing energy. Turkey gained a new elite, both brassy and devout.

Dept of Get Over It:
“Fact”
3 December 2013

¶ At no point in her new biography of Norman Rockwell does Deborah Solomon say that the popular artist was gay, but we have yet to encounter a review that does not weigh this considerable topic. Post-considerable. Because the reviews are favorable — so favorable that critics have stopped looking down their noses (for the moment) at the creator of The Connoisseur — the homoerotic element in Rockwell’s work, which Solomon does claim to discern, the gay thing is “dangerously becoming fact,” according to granddaughter Abigail Rockwell. Julie Bosman’s story in the Times communicates this anxiety to readers of the Paper of Record.

But the mere insinuations have infuriated members of the Rockwell family intent on protecting his legacy. Two family members, who spoke in an interview on Monday, said that they regarded Ms. Solomon’s book as “shocking.”

<Sigh> Not only is it not shocking — erotic drives are in themselves never shocking, although impermissible ones, if gratified, may lead to shocking consequences — but Solomon’s speculations will probably work to refresh and broaden Rockwell’s appeal to younger generations, who don’t necessarily (as people my age were taught to do) see his art as corny or kitschy. He was guy doing a job that involved intelligent, creative work, and he wasn’t the happiest of men. Does this not sound like a capital-a Artist? Next!

In The Atlantic:
Measuring Up
2 December 2013

¶ Don Peck doesn’t mention The Circle, Dave Eggers’s recent novel about measuring up at work, and that’s the creepiest thing about his report on “people metrics,” “They’re Watching You at Work.” That and his conviction that analytic algorithms are going to open up the workplace to all sorts of sideliners. Measuring skills is not intrinsically harmful, but the very human tendency to line up measurements in rankings introduces, as Eggers shows, a corrosive element.

For a sense of what the future of people analytics may bring, I turned to Sandy Pentland, the director of the Human Dynamics Laboratory at MIT. In recent years, Pentland has pioneered the use of specialized electronic “badges” that transmit data about employees’ interactions as they go about their days. The badges capture all sorts of information about formal and informal conversations: their length; the tone of voice and gestures of the people involved; how much those people talk, listen, and interrupt; the degree to which they demonstrate empathy and extroversion; and more. Each badge generates about 100 data points a minute.

Pentland’s initial goal was to shed light on what differentiated successful teams from unsuccessful ones. As he described last year in the Harvard Business Review, he tried the badges out on about 2,500 people, in 21 different organizations, and learned a number of interesting lessons. About a third of team performance, he discovered, can usually be predicted merely by the number of face-to-face exchanges among team members. (Too many is as much of a problem as too few.) Using data gathered by the badges, he was able to predict which teams would win a business-plan contest, and which workers would (rightly) say they’d had a “productive” or “creative” day. Not only that, but he claimed that his researchers had discovered the “data signature” of natural leaders, whom he called “charismatic connectors” and all of whom, he reported, circulate actively, give their time democratically to others, engage in brief but energetic conversations, and listen at least as much as they talk. In a development that will surprise few readers, Pentland and his fellow researchers created a company, Sociometric Solutions, in 2010, to commercialize his badge technology.

Yikes! say we. Elsewhere in the December issue, Michael Ignatieff gets to the bottom of a tired old problem in “Machiavelli Was Right” (not online). Machiavelli was right, of course, precisely because he was a humanist in earnest. There is no room in politics for wishing that people would behave better than they do. (Leading them to behave better is an entirely different matter.) Ignatieff winds up beautifully:

What [Machiavelli] refuses to praise is people who value their conscience and their soul more than the interests of the state. What he will not pardon is public displays of indecision. We should not choose leaders who agonize, worrying about the moral hazards of the power they exercise in the people’s name. We should choose leaders who sleep soundly after taking ultimate risks with their own virtue. They are doing what must be done.

Well, when it can be done.

Reading Note:
Great Halls
26 November 2013

¶ The first thing we read to day and, re-reading, the last: Miriam Markowitz’s “Here Comes Everybody,” a concise tour d’horizon of writing and publishing at the moment, remarkable not for its argument (which we haven’t quite puzzled out) so much as for its wealth of insights.

The room that Woolf envisioned was not merely metaphorical. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” she remarked, acknowledging at once both the amateur and privileged aspects of the literary endeavor. For the most part, it is the second requirement—the room—that we remember. The money has dropped from the axiom, not because it is crude but because now it seems less true: if writing is a profession, then people get paid for it, just like any other trade.

Markowitz goes on to show that the room has also dropped out of circulation in the age of the Internet:

The insider/outsider problem has become more vexing as aspiring writers come knocking on virtual doors, which is a lot easier than marching into the office of an editor or publisher. These writers don’t want to be confined to rooms, which feel less like oases than echo chambers. They want inside other, bigger rooms—rooms with good acoustics. They want access to the Great Halls of publishing, and a chair at the heart of the feast.

All this from just two adjacent paragraphs! Everyone’s there, from Laura Miller to David Gilmour to Marilynne Robinson. Lisez-le!

Holiday Reading:
The Bezzle
25 November 2013

¶ It has been a long time since last we looked at Crooked Timber, and never mind why just now. Glancing at the site this morning, we came across a repost from 2011, by Daniel Davies, about “the bezzle.” The bezzle is the net gain in (purely imaginary) psychic wealth that accrues when an embezzler makes use of funds that the proper owner still believes he controls. Davies applies this concept, originated by Galbraith, to explain the “crash” of 2008, in which “the bezzle” — house prices, in Davies’s view (we agree) — was revealed as such. The question remains: who was the embezzler? Or, better, what, since this catastrophe is wonderfully free of personal responsibility. Davies points to grave trade imbalances (we agree again).

And it should be clear what we’re talking about here to anyone who has paid even a bit of attention for the last twenty years; the Great Trans-pacific Imbalance. The “savings glut”, the “China effect”, what have you. Basically, the consequence of a) Chinese (also Asian, also to a limited extent other emerging markets) decision to run a large trade surplus as part of a strategy of industrialisation (or because they wanted to be sure never to end up in the position of 1998 Indonesia, or something else), combined with b) the decision on the part of Europe and the USA to accomodate this policy through substantial real appreciation of their own currencies.

If you are importing capital, then the foreign sector surplus has to show up as a deficit in some other sector, mathematically. In the USA it showed up as a deficit in the personal sector, with the increase in indebtedness financing an asset price inflation. In Euroland, it showed up mainly as a big increase in government sector deficit (which in turn piled up in the peripheral European sovereigns, which also ran structural bilateral deficits with Germany), which financed ten years of the Greek policy of “low tax collection and a generous state”, although Spain also had a real estate bubble.

There is a temptation to say that this, in some way, reflect power structures – that in the USA, the political importance and power of the financial sector made it highly likely that the eventual destination of the trans-Pacific capital flows would end up in an asset bubble, while the different power structures of Greece made it more likely that they would be channeled to the locally more politically powerful clients. That’s tempting, and it might even have been right. But it seems more likely to me that things just followed the path of least local resistance, and that in each country, the natural and easiest borrowing sector ended up picking up the deficit. On this analysis, Germany, Australia and Canada came out OK (so far, and Australia has actually had a big run-up in personal debt) because for one reason or another, they had a large enough surplus on their own export trade to offset the capital account imbalance.

Crooked Timber is aptly named, because it all too often makes for thorny reading. (Davies’s repost still needs editing.) But some topics are inherently daunting, and it’s not easy to see why Greece and the United States are in such similar boats. Daniel Davies offers worthy explanation. We only wish that he had gone on to point out that the Chinese “strategy of industrialisation” depended on the existence of an official United States policy not to prohibit the withdrawal of American capital from American industry, a withdrawal that occurred because Chinese labor was so much cheaper. We cannot avert our gaze from this skull-and-crossbones aspect of Free Trade.

Fiduciary Note:
Defalcation
18 November 2013

¶ We’re starting a collection of fiduciary failures. What we’re really interested in is the collapse of New York City Opera, which so far as we could make out when we weren’t paying close attention owed not only to an irresponsible — but we’d better not voice our suppositions; they might be libelous. We’ll have to begin with the sad tale of Mark Spangler, who appears to have had every advantage in life, and to have done well with it until he surrendered to an entrepreneurial urge. Which may have damaged only Spangler himself if he had not controlled other people’s investment funds. Paul Sullivan reports at the Times.

As Mr. Spangler’s failures mounted, he began dipping into the privately managed mutual funds — with names like Growth and Income — that he had for his more risk-averse clients. Those funds had been managed by outside advisers until 2003, when he decided to manage them himself. He told clients that this would save them on fees, but it really removed third-party oversight of his dealings. By the end, he had diverted the bulk of his clients’ money — some $43 million — to TeraHop, where he had become the chief executive, and Tamarac.

Happiness Note:
Insecurity
11 November 2013

¶ In the current issue of The Nation, historian Jackson Lears runs through a stack of get-happy self-help books. Laugh riot — when we weren’t weeping! When Lears dismisses most of the titles as rubbishy adjuncts to the capitalist project of endless consumption, he’s so obviously right that we overlooked the doctrinaire aspect. But the goldenest nugget was his critique of the black-and-white flattening that’s so characteristic of this breezy, brainless literature.

Burkeman’s ringing conclusion—“This, then, is the deep truth about insecurity: it is another word for life”—is a little too open-ended. By identifying all forms of insecurity with “life,” he depoliticizes it. The experience of economic insecurity, from this view, cannot be mitigated (or exacerbated) by particular public policies. Indeed, the equation of insecurity and “life,” while it does contain a “deep truth,” in the end blends all too easily with the neoliberal celebration of risk-taking as an end in itself—a celebration conducted by political and media elites who are themselves well insulated from risk. Burkeman’s notion of happiness, like the positive psychologists’, needs a thicker sense of the ways that social and economic circumstances can promote or undermine possibilities for a satisfying life.

Lears also advocates the elimination of the business-expense deduction for advertising costs. That’s just about the best idea we’ve heard all year.

Beneath Note:
Jofi Joseph
25 October 2013

¶ It was only this morning that we learned of the existence of Jofi Joseph — from a Times story that, rather unprofessionally, took it for granted that we knew all about him. (As we should have done had we taken notice of a story in yesterday’s paper.) A State Department aide with a specialty in nuclear non-proliferation, Joseph aimed a stream of insulting tweets at various Washington figures on both sides of the aisle, in the Administration and elsewhere. In our view, this pastime was nowhere near as juvenile as the official notice taken of it (which cost Joseph his job and may have damaged his wife’s prospects). According to the Times, the tweeter had about 1500 followers at Twitter, “close to a nonentity in the foreign policy conversation.”

We can only hope that every other intelligent aide in Washington will join in a display of solidarity with Jofi Joseph, by organizing a concerted Rectification of Names. Wouldn’t it be great if Twitter were really made to serve a national, heroic purpose.

Te Deum Note:
Pierce on Yoho &c
17 October 2013

¶ This round of secessionist nonsense may be over, but people like Ted Yoho are still in Congress. Charles Pierce @ Esquire (a few days ago):

A guy who should be a minor annoyance at zoning board meetings in Florida is suddenly capable of helping to bring down the financial stability of the world. A guy who should be railing at his local drive-time talk-jock is giving quotes to The New York Times about the essential dismantling of the institutions of self-government.

But what we really like is Pierce’s nutshell history of how we got here. Emphasis supplied!

The power rests with Ted Yoho because the American political system has tolerated carefully cultivated ignorance andcarefully tailored bigotry for far too long. Ted Yoho has been coming for years. Ted Yoho was made inevitable by the NCPAC campaigns of the late 1970′s and by the elevation of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980 and, subsequently, to an artificially exalted place in our history after he left office. The Republican party revelled in all the forces that are now tearing it apart. The Democratic party was criminally negligent and abdicated its profound responsibility to fight against those forces; indeed, it spent the better part of the 1980′s and 1990′s trying to surf the wave itself. The Democratic Leadership Council, and Blue Dog Democrats generally, bear a heavy burden of responsibility for failing to demonstrate to the American people in election after election how extreme the Republicans were becoming.

(Thanks, George Snyer!)