Archive: Society

If Hillary wins…

Books · Society ·· More from February 2008
In 1971, when this book was published, 1992—the year Bill Clinton was elected—was still part of the hazy future. On another branch of time, Big Brother would have been in power for at least eight years.
Concerning Parley J. Cooper, I find nothing online except titles of books, mostly from the 1970s, all of them genre fiction (romance, horror, sci-fi).
John Grant at Infinity Plus has reviewed The Feminists. He finds the writing “drab and uninspiring”. What I’ve skimmed is like the blurbs, but less punchy. Grant adds that “one cannot imagine any front-line commercial publisher being willing to take such a thing on” now. That is too optimistic. All that a present-day Parley Cooper need do is to wrap the tale in sociological jargon, and call it a “projection”. Regnery would publish it as non-fiction, and Mr. Cooper would soon be a commentator on Fox.
For background, see Laura Quilter, “A short history of the backlash against feminism in SF/F”, Feminist Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Utopia. Find The Feminists at Bookfinder.

LinkFebruary 9, 2008


Society ·· More from January 2008
Below the fold: flowers from friends of M.


LinkJanuary 2, 2008

The left’s totalitarian vision

Our future according
to Liberals
Dr. Helen, who comments on society “from a (mostly) psychological perspective”, lays it out in all its horrifying detail. Liberals want to turn America into
a college campus with free food, shelter and recreation.
The good doctor’s perspicuous view of liberal aims owes something, no doubt, to her having interviewed Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism, a book that has already received the strong endorsement of Charles Murray. Goldberg believes that
[…] for a lot of liberals and progressives, the end of history is a giant college campus, or increasingly, Europe. You know, this place where you’ve lost any great ambition, everyone’s much more concerned with self-esteem, with caring for each other.
What Goldberg means by ‘ambition’ is something like this:
I’ve long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the “Ledeen Doctrine.” I’m not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” That’s at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago.
It’s true that no university has yet thrown any small countries against the wall. I’m afraid that in all likelihood none has even wished to do so. That is a definite flaw in their character. Only the School of the Americas has shown some gumption in this respect.
So there you have it: caring for each other is bad, whacking small little countries is good. Anti-fascism in a nutshell.
As an antidote to Goldberg’s pretenses to scholarship, Jean-Pierre Faye’s work on “totalitarian language” is a good starting point. See
Langages totalitaires. Critique de la raison narrative, l'économie (Hermann, 1972) German translation: Totalitäre Sprachen (Ullstein, 1977).
Théorie du récit. Introduction aux Langages totalitaires (Hermann, 1972) — a briefer presentation.
La Raison narrative (Balland, 1990).
Le Piège (Balland, 1994)—on Heidegger and the language of National Socialism.
Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any translations of these works into English, but see “The critique of language and its economy”, Economy and society 5.1 (Feb 1976) 52–73. Langages totalitaires is a minute examination, first of narratives and events in the French Revolution, and then of key phrases like “conservative revolution” and “national socialism” in Germany during the 1920s and 30s. The bits and pieces that were compounded to form the ideology of Nazism were indeed more complicated than one might have thought. But they don’t amount to anything resembling liberalism. Not if by that you mean a historically real liberalism—the New Deal, say, plus the anti-racism and anti-bigotry that became part of the Democratic party’s platform in the sixties.
Added 31 Dec: The “Ledeen Doctrine” could just as well be called the “Presidential Initiation Rite Doctrine”. See R. W. Apple, Fighting in Panama: The Implications; War: Bush’s Presidential Rite of Passage, New York Times 21 Dec 1989. See also Spiderbytes; Allan Nairn, “No More Coddling Big Criminals. Huckabee Fails to Get Tough on Crime”, News and comment 18 Dec 2007.

LinkDecember 28, 2007

Monsieur Chat a dix ans!

Cats · Society ·· More from December 2007
Oui, c’est l’anniversaire de Monsieur Chat, la création de Thomas Vuille. M. Chat s’est montré pour la première fois en 1997 à Orléans. Maintenant on le trouve à Paris et à beaucoup d’autres villes françaises, et aussi à Londres, New York, Sarajevo—et tout continent sauf l’Afrique. Voyez le blog Les Petits mots de cat pour quelques exemples de type classique.
Des liens:

LinkDecember 26, 2007

Easy hair removal

Sometimes in the midst of one’s toils in the archives one comes across passages that cannot await the eventual publication of one’s research to see the light of day. Not long ago, for example, I came across the following irresistible bits.
The first seems to epitomize an age. In this case, the age known as Last Week. It’s from an interview with Devorah Rose, editor of a magazine called Social Life (not to be confused with Social Text).
Still, there’s one thing I can’t understand. Why is a self-professed “introvert” who loves the work of her profs Sam Lipsyte and Ben Marcus, and whose real goal is to write serious fiction, working at a magazine that’s basically a house organ for a nonexistent club that, if it had a name, would be called something like “the especially attention-craving Manhattan rich kids D-list association?”
“Um,” she said, “Because it’s easy?”
Next: hair removal—a rite of passage, like wearing your trousers rolled.
“When a girl removes hair for the first time, it’s a life-changing moment,” said Stacey Feldman, vice president for marketing at the women’s health and personal care division of the Church & Dwight Company, which purchased Nair in 2001.
The last sentence of this would fit nicely into an Ashbery poem.
“The whole hair removal situation has changed,” Ms. Feldman said. “Now people are removing hair from eyebrows to toes, and using all kinds of different products. People are more open about it and they feel more confident, cleaner.”
Emily Gould, “‘Social Life’ editor Devorah Rose was never a stripper”, Gawker 10 Sep 2007.
Andrew Adam Newman, “Depilatory market moves far beyond the short-shorts wearers”, New York Times 14 Sep 2007; via Alex Balk, “Bring on the smooth young girls!”, Gawker 14 Sep 2007.

LinkSeptember 17, 2007

Language was given to us to conceal our thoughts

An example to show why irony is moribund. In the passage below, you can’t tell whether the reporter is being a faithful stenographer or subtly mocking her source. Derrida would have said it was “undecidable”. Not in the logical sense, but insofar as nothing we can appeal to settles the question. There’s no “fact of the matter”, as another late philosopher used to say.
The official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak more openly about the process declined to identify the five contenders who were being looked at “pretty seriously.”
I would call this an “air quote”. Air quotes are to actual assertions as air guitar is to actual guitar-playing—gesture without act. Jordan’s “senior official” says exactly what senior officials always say in a circumstance like this: the administration is looking at wide variety of candidates, it is taking the process seriously, it will endeavor to choose the best person, etc. The function of the quotation, I suppose, is to confirm that business as usual is indeed going on. Back when Chevy Chase did the news on Saturday Night Live, he would announce each week that Generalissimo Franco “is still dead”. If he had revealed that according to a senior official Franco was still dead, that would have been an air quote.
Why air quotes? That Jordan has spoken with a “senior official” shows us that she has access to the inner workings of the government; the quote helps to establish her credentials as a source of information on those workings. But I think there’s another reason—one that helps account for all those air quotes from figures at privately funded, ideologically driven think tanks. Some journalists write as if they were reporting on an adversary proceeding, where nothing counts as evidence unless it is brought forward in testimony. Even what would ordinarily be quite basic, unproblematic truths (that the universe is billions of years old, say) cannot be stated directly; instead you must quote a source.
I suspect that in some cases, the reporter resorts to this to compensate for ignorance about the matters being reported: if you have to write even so, all you can do is rely on others. But the “adversarial” framework also takes the reporter, and his or her employer, off the hook. Like Sydney’s poet, the reporter “affirmeth nothing”. We learn that X said that the earth moves, and Y that it stands still. Whether it does move or stand, we don’t learn. In poetry, that’s not a defect. No-one expects to get their cosmology from Dante. But news is not fiction.
For some real reporting, see Ernie Pyle, “The death of Capt. Waskow”, included in Reporting America at war, WETA/PBS; also here. Reprinted in David Nichols, ed. Ernie’s war: the best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II dispatches (New York: Random House, 1986 · find it at Best Book Buys, isbn.nu, Powells, ABE).

LinkAugust 28, 2007

Alphabet soup, second serving

Source: The Forum On-Line Antiques Mall
As mortgage companies bail out and the Fed attempts a rescue, here is a bit more explanation of some of the machinery which is currently malfunctioning. In the quotation below, ‘CDO’ means “collateralized debt obligation”. See Alphabet soup for a glossary.
Assured by Triple-A ratings that these instruments were money good and completely liquid, bankers thought they had discovered the philosopher’s stone — a risk-free, high-yielding asset — and this new credit/money has found its way into every corner of the financial system from teachers’ pensions to commercial paper to money market funds. Moreover, once the printers of this new fiat currency realized that there was an appetite for their product among yield-starved institutional investors, they did what every unrestrained ruler with a printing press has done since the dawn of money: they began minting more of it.
In this case, credit/money was inflated through the re-securitization of already securitized assets. The Mugabes of hyperinflation in this case were the rocket scientists in structured finance, and the Zimbabwian extreme are so-called synthetic CDOs, arcane confections which invest in tranches of CDOs. These “innovations” leverage the underlying subprime assets to dizzying multiples so that tens of billions of dollars in subprime originations might ultimately support of a trillion dollars in CDO tranches. At the tail end of this whip, tiny variances from the assumptions about the performance of the underlying assets can vaporize the value of these supposedly rock solid assets.

LinkAugust 18, 2007

Alphabet soup, finance style

The current turmoil in the markets is partly owing to the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, which is now affecting mortgage companies and hedge funds, and which threatens to spread, taking the stock market down with it. The mortgage market includes a number of more-or-less esoteric investment vehicles, which become even more mysterious to the profane when they are referred to by their acronyms. This is not only a way of burying ugly terminology; like calling celebrities (or banking entities, like the once-respectable “Fannie Mae”) by their first name, it signals familiarity.
ABCP asset backed commercial paper
CBO collateralized bond obligation
CDO collateralized debt obligation
CDS credit default swap
CLO collateralized loan obligation
LBO leveraged buyout
LIBOR London inter-bank offering rates (see Mortgage-X for more)
RMBS residential mortgage backed securities
SIV structured investment vehicles
Example of use:
First, you take a bunch of shaky and risky subprime mortgages and repackage them into residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS); then you repackage these RMBS in different (equity, mezzanine, senior) tranches of cash CDOs that receive a misleading investment grade rating by the credit rating agencies; then you create synthetic CDOs out of the same underlying RMBS; then you create CDOs of CDOs (or squared CDOs) out of these CDOs; and then you create CDOs of CDOs of CDOs (or cubed CDOs) out of the same murky securities; then you stuff some of these RMBS and CDO tranches into SIV (structured investment vehicles) or into ABCP (Asset Backed Commercial Paper) or into money market funds. Then no wonder that eventually people panic and run—as they did yesterday—on an apparently “safe” money market fund such as Sentinel. That “toxic waste” of unpriceable and uncertain junk and zombie corpses is now emerging in the most unlikely places in the financial markets.

LinkAugust 17, 2007

Brief answers from Mr. Science

Science · Society ·· More from July 2007
Today Mr. Science shows us one way to tell men from women.
Men get wrinkles as they age.
Daniel Craig, age 39
Women don’t.
Nicole Kidman, age 40
Source: Internet Movie Poster Awards via “The Photoshop Awards: Nicole Kidman in The Golden Compass”, Dlisted 16 Jul 2007, (Kidman, Craig). From posters for The Golden Compass.

LinkJuly 16, 2007

Nieuwe Kunst

Æsthetics · Society ·· More from November 2006
At Florida International University: the Wolfsonian-FIU Collection of Dutch decorative arts includes items from the 1880s to 1940, including hundreds of ornamental bound books, mainly in the style of “Nieuwe Kunst” (Art Nouveau). If, like Adolf Loos (lnglabfr.png lnglabdeu.png), you think that “ornament is crime”, you won’t like it. Loos’s Ornament und Verbrechen was published almost a hundred years ago. In that time, I think we have seen that there are worse crimes in architecture than an overabundance of ornament.


LinkNovember 26, 2006