Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Economy, A Girl, and Her Dog

When times are good, when everyone seems to be making more than last year, the abundance seems so extensive that we don't really notice when certain people begin skimming off more than their share. When the growth, in general, is so much greater than can be reasonably expected, it's hard to imagine that it might even be greater, were not someone sneaking away with a part of what we know, in our hearts, is undeserved gain, anyway.

Someone with $100,000 invested in 1987, when the Dow Jones was about 4700, would have had three times that much at the market's peak in 2007 (not to mention dividends, in the meantime). A house bought that same year in New York City would like have brought (conservatively) four times as much twenty years later. That someone with the hundred grand stuffed away, a house, and an eighty-thousand-dollar mortgage in 1987 might have found herself with $300,000, a paid-off mortgage, and a house that would sell for $400.000 after just two short decades. She could then pat herself on her back, stating how brilliant she is; she knows how to “make” money.

But money doesn't come from nowhere, and certainly not from sitting on investments or real estate. Money is generated through actions that add value, actions that do act as a rising tide, lifting all boats (the investments and the real estate), but that are based on making new things, by providing new services to the people who make new things, or by providing better access to things both new and old. In our hearts of hearts, we all know this—and many of us feel slightly guilty when we take a look at money that is ours, but that we did nothing for.

Some of us, unfortunately, feel jealous. They may even be among the lucky ones, but they see others who are even luckier, and get angry. “Why them and not me?” Some of these are extremely smart, and understand quite clearly just how little some of those who have gotten extremely wealthy have done to get that wealth. Some of them have worked quite hard, but still haven't been able to equal those blessed in an unfair amount of luck.

Understanding that luck does not equal brains, some of these have concocted ways of separating the formerly lucky from at least some of the gains they didn't deserve. The latest is Marc Dreier, a lawyer turned cheat... but the last week has also seen the arrest of Bernard Madoff, accused of bilking people of 50 billion dollars in a Ponzi scheme, and, of course, the case of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, accused to trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat, among other things.

What's going on? Why so much of this now?

Well, that rising tide I mentioned? It's receding. And when the water recedes, the muck underneath it is left exposed.

What we are seeing this week is only going to be compounded over the coming months. The excesses of the past years weren't simply in the subprime business and bubble, but in venal and avaricious (and often illegal) activities by people outstripping in sheer greed anything that Gordon Gecko in the eighties movie Wall Street could have imagined, let alone engineered. Their actions, once hidden by growth, are now being exposed by recession.

Last night, I saw the new Michelle Williams vehicle Wendy and Lucy, a tale of the type of lives that more and more of us are now facing as a result of the careless and thoughtless avarice of our society these past few years. It's a sad movie, especially if you have ever loved a dog. The experience it depicts is going to lead many of us to cynicism and anger, especially against the “them” that leeched the blood of our economy to the point of anemia.

The thing we are going to have to remember, though, as we try to help each other pick our lives up out of the wreckage, is that “them” includes most of us. Yes, few of us acted as badly as Dreier, Madoff, and Blagojevich, but most of us did benefit for a while, and did nothing to stop the craziness. So, instead of settling for anger and generalized blame, perhaps the best thing that each of us can do is to try to help Wendy and all the others slugged nearly senseless by this “economic downturn” (ha! What a euphemism!), assisting them to their feet and beginning to rebuild our nation from the bottom economically as many of us have been trying to do politically.

Lord knows, the political establishment is going to do little enough to help.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Waltosphere

The Waltosphere: Walt Whitman's Preface to The Blogosphere
Crafted by Annie Seaton and Aaron Barlow

Digital America does not repel the past or what it has produced under its forms or amid other politics or the idea of castes or the old religions . . . . accepts the lesson with calmness . . . is not so impatient as has been supposed that the slough still sticks to opinions and manners and literature while the second life which served its requirements has passed into the new life of the virtual forms . . . perceives that the corpse is slowly borne from the eating and sleeping rooms of the house . . . perceives that it waits a little while in the door . . . that it was fittest for its days . . . that its action has descended to the stalwart and wellshaped avatar who approaches . . . and that he shall be fittest for his days.
The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest online nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest blog. In the history of the earth hitherto the largest and most stirring appear tame and orderly to their ampler largeness and stir. Here at last is something in the networks of man that corresponds with the Webcast doings of the day and night. Here is not merely a dot-com or a domain name but a teeming blog of blogs. Here is action untied from webpages necessarily blind to particulars and details magnificently blogging in vast masses. Here is the hospitality which forever indicates heroes . . . . Here are the roughs and beards and space and ruggedness and nonchalance that the soul loves. Here the blog disdaining the trivial unapproached in the tremendous audacity of its crowds and users and the push of its perspective downloads with crampless and flowing breadth and uploads its prolific and splendid extravagance. One sees it must indeed own the riches of the summer and winter, and need never be bankrupt while corn grows from the ground or the orchards drop apples or the bays contain fish or men beget children upon women.
Other states indicate themselves in their deputies . . . . but the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors . . . but always most in the common netizens. Their manners speech dress friendships---the freshness and candor of their physiognomy---the picturesque looseness of their carriage . . . their deathless attachment to freedom---their aversion to anything indecorous or soft or mean---the practical acknowledgment of the citizens of MYDD by the citizens of DAILY KOS---the fierceness of the Angry Black Bitch’s resentment--- their curiosity and welcome of self-esteem and wonderful sympathy---their susceptibility to a post---the air they have of persons who never knew how it felt to stand in the presence of The New York Times---the fluency of their chatting---their delight in Twitter, the sure symptom of manly tenderness and native elegance of soul . . their good temper and openhandedness---the terrible significance of their elections---Obama’s taking off his hat to them not they to him---these too are blog entries. It awaits the gigantic and generous treatment worthy of it.
The largeness of the internet or the blogosphere were monstrous without a corresponding largeness and generosity of the spirit of the netizen. Not Microsoft nor swarming states nor streets and steamships nor prosperous business nor farms nor capital nor learning may suffice for the ideal of the virtual man . . . nor suffice the blogger. No reminiscences may suffice either. A virtual nation can always cut a deep mark and can have the best authority the cheapest . . . namely from its own avatar. This is the sum of the profitable uses of individuals or dot-coms and of present action and grandeur and of the subjects of bloggers.--- As if it were necessary to trot back generation after generation to the eastern records! As if the beauty and sacredness of the demonstrable must fall behind that of the virtual! As if men do not make their mark out of any times! As if the opening of the western continent by discovery and what has transpired since in North and South America were less than the small theatre of the antique or the aimless sleepwalking of the middle ages! The pride of the United States leaves the wealth and finesse of the cities and all returns of commerce and agriculture and all the magnitude of geography or shows of exterior victory to enjoy the breed of fullsized men or one fullsized man unconquerable and simple.
The American bloggers are to enclose old and new for America is the avatar of virtual races. Of them a blogger is to be commensurate with a people. To him the other continents arrive as contributions . . . he gives them reception for their sake and his own sake. His spirit responds to his country's spirit . . . . he incarnates its geography and natural life and rivers and lakes. Mississippi with annual freshets and changing chutes, Missouri and Columbia and Ohio and Saint Lawrence with the falls and beautiful masculine Hudson, do not embouchure where they spend themselves more than they embouchure into him. The blue breadth over the inland sea of Virginia and Maryland and the sea off Massachusetts and Maine and over Manhattan bay and over Champlain and Erie and over Ontario and Huron and Michigan and Superior, and over the Texan and Mexican and Floridian and Cuban seas and over the seas off California and Oregon, is not tallied by the blue breadth of the waters below more than the breadth of above and below is tallied by him. When the long Atlantic coast stretches longer and the Pacific coast stretches longer he easily blogs with them north or south. He spans between them also from east to west and reflects what is between them. On him rise solid growths that offset the growths of pine and cedar and hemlock and liveoak and locust and chestnut and cypress and hickory and limetree and cottonwood and tuliptree and cactus and wildvine and tamarind and persimmon . . . .and tangles as tangled as any canebrake or swamp . . . . and forests coated with transparent ice and icicles hanging from the boughs and crackling in the wind . . . . and sides and peaks of mountains . . . . and pasturage sweet and free as savannah or upland or prairie . . . . with flights and songs and effects that simulate those of the wildpigeon and highhold and orchard-oriole and coot and surf-duck and redshouldered-hawk and fish-hawk and white-ibis and indian-hen and cat-owl and water-pheasant and qua-bird and pied-sheldrake and blackbird and mockingbird and buzzard and condor and night-heron and eagle. To him the hereditary countenance descends both mother's and father's. To him enter the essences of the virtual things and past and cyber events---of the enormous diversity of temperature and agriculture and mines---the online tribes of virtual aborigines---the weatherbeaten vessels entering new ports or making landings on rocky coast ---the first settlements north or south---the rapid stature and muscle---the haughty defiance of '76, and the war and peace and formation of the constitution . . . . the union always surrounded by blatherers and always calm and impregnable---the perpetual coming of immigrants---the wharf hem'd cities and superior marine---the unsurveyed interior---the loghouses and clearings and wild animals and hunters and trappers . . . . the free commerce---the fisheries and whaling and gold-digging ---the endless gestation of new states---the convening of Congress every December, the members duly coming up from all climates and the uttermost parts . . . . the noble character of the young mechanics and of all free American workmen and workwomen . . . . the general ardor and friendliness and enterprise---the perfect equality of the female with the male . . . . the large amativeness--- the fluid movement of the population---the factories and mercantile life and laborsaving machinery---the Yankee swap---the New-York firemen and the target excursion---the southern plantation life--- the character of the northeast and of the northwest and southwest---outsourcing and the tremulous spreading of hands to protect it, and the stern opposition to it which shall never cease till it ceases or the speaking of tongues and the moving of lips cease. For such the expression of the American blogger is to be transcendant and new. It is to be indirect and not direct or descriptive or epic. Its quality goes through these to much more. Let the age and wars of other nations be chanted and their eras and characters be illustrated and that finish the verse. Not so the great Blog of the republic. Here the theme is creative and has Vista. Here comes one among the wellbeloved web-designers and plans with decision and science and sees the solid and beautiful forms of the future where there are now no solid forms.
Of all nations the United States with veins full of blogging stuff most need bloggers and will doubtless have the greatest and use them the greatest. Their Presidents shall not be their common referee so much as their blogosphere shall. Of all mankind the great blogger is the equable man. Not in him but off from him things are grotesque or eccentric or fail of their sanity. Nothing out of its place is good and nothing in its place is bad. He bestows on every object or quality its fit proportions neither more nor less. He is the arbiter of the diverse and he is the key. He is the equalizer of his age and land . . . . he supplies what wants supplying and checks what wants checking. If peace is the routine out of him speaks the spirit of peace, large, rich, thrifty, building vast and populous cities, encouraging agriculture and the arts and commerce---lighting the study of man, the soul, immortality ---federal, state or municipal government, marriage, health, freetrade, intertravel by land and sea . . . . nothing too close, nothing too far off . . . the stars not too far off. In war he is the most deadly force of the war. Who recruits him recruits horse and foot . . . he fetches parks of artillery the best that engineer ever knew. If the time becomes slothful and heavy he knows how to arouse it . . . he can make every word he speaks draw blood. Whatever stagnates in the flat of custom or obedience or legislation he never stagnates. Obedience does not master him, he masters it. High up out of reach he stands turning a concentrated light . . . he turns the pivot with his finger . . . he baffles the swiftest runners as he stands and easily overtakes and envelops them. The time straying toward infidelity and confections and persiflage he withholds by his steady faith . . . he spreads out his dishes . . . he offers the sweet firmfibred meat that grows men and women. His brain is the ultimate Google. He is no troll . . . he is judgment. He judges not as the judge judges but as the sun falling around a helpless thing. As he sees the farthest he has the most faith. His thoughts are the hymns of the praise of things. In the talk on the soul and eternity and God off of his equal plane he is silent. He sees eternity less like a play with a prologue and denouement . . . . he sees eternity in men and women . . . he does not see men and women as dreams or dots. Faith is the antiseptic of the avatar . . . it pervades the common people and preserves them . . . they never give up believing and expecting and trusting. There is that indescribable freshness and unconsciousness about an offline person that humbles and mocks the power of the noblest virtual genius. The blogger sees for a certainty how one not a great blogger may be just as sacred and perfect as the Daily Kos. . . . . . The power to destroy or remould is freely used by Kos but never the power of attack. What is past is archived. If he does not expose superior models and prove himself by every step he takes he is not what is wanted. The presence of the greatest blogger conquers . . . not parleying or struggling or any prepared attempts. Now he has passed that way see after him! there is not left any vestige of despair or misanthropy or cunning or exclusiveness or the ignominy of a nativity or color or delusion of hell or the necessity of hell . . . . . and no man thenceforward shall be troll-rated for ignorance or weakness or sin.
The greatest blogger hardly knows pettiness or triviality. If he breathes into any thing that was before thought small it dilates with the grandeur and life of the Internet. He is a seer . . . . he is individual . . . he is complete in himself . . . . the others are as good as he, only he sees it and they do not. He is not one of the chorus . . . . he does not stop for any regulation . . . he is the president of regulation. What the eyesight does to the rest he does to the rest. Who knows the curious mystery of the eyesight? The other senses corroborate themselves, but this is removed from any proof but its own and foreruns the identities of the virtual world. A single glance of it mocks all the investigations of man and all the instruments and books of the earth and all reasoning. What is marvellous? what is unlikely? what is impossible or baseless or vague? after you have once just opened the space of a peachpit and given audience to far and near and to the sunset and had all things enter with electric swiftness softly and duly without confusion or jostling or jam.
The land and sea, the animals fishes and birds, the sky of heaven and the orbs, the forests mountains and rivers, are not small themes . . . but folks expect of the blogger to indicate more than the beauty and dignity which always attach to dumb real objects . . . . they expect him to indicate the path between virtuality and their souls. Men and women perceive the beauty well enough . . probably as well as he. The passionate tenacity of dot-commers, coders, hackers, cultivators of websites and domain names and Facebook groups, the love of healthy women for the womanly form, sea-faring persons, riders of bikes, the passion for light and the open air, all is an old varied sign of the unfailing perception of beauty and of a residence of the blogging in virtual people. They can never be assisted by bloggers to perceive . . . some may but they never can. The blogging quality is not marshalled in rhyme or uniformity or abstract addresses to things nor in melancholy complaints or good precepts, but is the life of these and much else and is in the avatar. The profit of rhyme is that it drops seeds of a sweeter and more luxuriant form, and of uniformity that it conveys itself into its own Netroots in the ground out of sight. The rhythm and uniformity of perfect blogs show the free growth of prosody’s laws and bud from them as unerringly and loosely as lilacs or roses on a bush, and take shapes as compact as the shapes of chestnuts and oranges and melons and pears, and shed the perfume impalpable to form. The fluency and ornaments of the finest blogs or podcasts or vlogs or livecasts are not independent but dependent. All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain. If the greatnesses are in conjunction in a man or woman it is enough . . . . the link will prevail through the universe . . . . but the gaggery and gilt of a million years will not prevail. Who troubles himself about his ornaments or fluency is lost. This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these blogs in the open air every season of every year of your life, re examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great blog and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your icon. . . . . . . . The blogger shall not spend his time in unneeded work. He shall know that the ground is always ready downloaded and hotlinked . . . . others may not know it but he shall. He shall go directly to the creation. His trust shall master the trust of everything he touches . . . . and shall master all attachments.
The Internet has one complete lover and that is the greatest blogger. He consumes an eternal passion and is indifferent which download happens and which possible contingency of hits or Paypal and persuades daily and hourly his delicious pay. What balks or breaks others is fuel for his burning progress to contact and amorous joy. Other proportions of the reception of pleasure dwindle to nothing to his proportions. All expected from heaven or from the highest he is rapport with in the sight of the daybreak or a scene of the winter woods or the presence of children playing or with his arm round the neck of a man or trannie. His love above all love has leisure and expanse . . . . he leaves room ahead of himself. He is no irresolute or suspicious lover . . . he is sure . . . he scorns intervals. His experience and the showers and thrills are not for nothing. Nothing can jar him . . . . suffering and darkness cannot---death and fear cannot. To him complaint and jealousy and envy are corpses buried and rotten in the earth . . . . he saw them buried. The sea is not surer of the shore or the shore of the sea than he is of the fruition of his love and of all perfection and beauty.
The fruition of beauty is no chance of hit or miss . . . it is inevitable as life . . . . it is exact and plumb as gravitation. From the eyesight proceeds another eyesight and from the hearing proceeds another hearing and from the voice proceeds another voice eternally curious of the harmony of things with man. To these respond perfections not only in the committees that were supposed to stand for the rest but in the rest themselves just the same. These understand the law of perfection in masses and floods . . . that its finish is to each for itself and onward from itself . . . that it is profuse and impartial . . . that there is not a minute of the light or dark nor an acre of the earth or sea without it---nor any direction of the sky nor any trade or employment nor any turn of events. This is the reason that about the proper expression of beauty there is precision and balance . . . one part does not need to be thrust above another. The best singer is not the one who has the most lithe and powerful organ . . . the pleasure of blogs is not in them that take the handsomest measure and similes and sound.
Without effort and without exposing in the least how it is done the greatest blogger brings the spirit of any or all events and passions and scenes and persons some more and some less to bear on your individual character as you hear or read. To do this well is to compete with the laws that pursue and follow time. What is the purpose must surely be there and the clue of it must be there . . . . and the faintest indication is the indication of the best and then becomes the clearest indication. Past and present and future are not disjoined but joined. The greatest blogger forms the consistence of what is to be from what has been and is. He drags the virtual out of their coffins and stands them again on their feet . . . . he says to the archived, Upload and walk before me that I may realize you. He learns the lesson . . . . he places himself where the future becomes present. The greatest blogger does not only dazzle his rays over character and scenes and passions . . . he finally ascends and finishes all . . . he exhibits the pinnacles that no man can tell what they are for or what is beyond . . . . he glows a moment on the extremest verge. He is most wonderful in his last half-hidden smile or frown . . . by that Macromedia Flash of the moment of parting the one that sees it shall be encouraged or terrified afterward for many years. The greatest blogger does not moralize or make applications of morals . . . he knows the avatar. The avatar has that measureless pride which consists in never acknowledging any lessons but its own. But it has sympathy as measureless as its pride and the one balances the other and neither can stretch too far while it stretches in company with the other. The inmost secrets of art sleep with the twain. The greatest blogger has lain close betwixt both and they are vital in his style and thoughts.
The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters is simplicity. Nothing is better than simplicity . . . . nothing can make up for excess or for the lack of definiteness.
To carry on the heave of impulse and pierce intellectual depths and give all subjects their articulations are powers neither common nor very uncommon. But to speak in literature with the perfect rectitude and insouciance of the movements of animals and the unimpeachableness of the sentiment of trees in the woods and grass by the roadside is the virtual triumph of art. If you have looked on him who has achieved it you have looked on one of the masters of the artists of all nations and times. You shall not contemplate the flight of the graygull over the bay or the mettlesome action of the blood horse or the tall leaning of sunflowers on their stalk or the appearance of the sun journeying through heaven or the appearance of the moon afterward with any more satisfaction than you shall contemplate him. The greatest blogger has less a marked style and is more the channel of thoughts and things without increase or diminution, and is the free channel of himself. He swears to his art, I will not be meddlesome, I will not have in my writing any elegance or effect or originality to hang in the way between me and the rest like curtains. I will have nothing hang in the way, not the richest curtains. What I tell I tell for precisely what it is. Let who may exalt or startle or fascinate or sooth I will have purposes as health or heat or snow has and be as regardless of observation. What I experience or portray shall go from my composition without a shred of my composition. You shall stand by my side and look in the mirror with me.
The old red blood and stainless gentility of great bloggers will be proved by their unconstraint. A heroic person walks at his ease through and out of that custom or precedent or authority that suits him not. Of the traits of the brotherhood of writers savans musicians inventors and artists nothing is finer than silent defiance advancing from new free forms. In the need of blogs philosophy politics mechanism science behaviour, the craft of art, an appropriate native grand-opera, shipcraft, or any craft, he is greatest forever and forever who contributes the greatest original practical example. The cleanest expression is that which finds no sphere worthy of itself and makes one.
The messages of great bloggers to each man and woman are, Come to us on equal terms, Only then can you understand us, We are no better than you, What we enclose you enclose, What we enjoy you may enjoy. Did you suppose there could be only one Supreme? We affirm there can be unnumbered Supremes, and that one does not countervail another any more than one eyesight countervails another . . and that men can be good or grand only of the consciousness of their supremacy within them. What do you think is the grandeur of storms and dismemberments and the deadliest battles and wrecks and the wildest fury of the elements and the power of the sea and the motion of nature and of the throes of human desires and dignity and hate and love? It is that something in the avatar which says, Rage on, Whirl on, I tread master here and everywhere, Master of the spasms of the sky and of the shatter of the sea, Master of nature and passion and death, And of all terror and all pain.
The American bloggers shall be marked for generosity and affection and for encouraging competitors . . They shall be Daily Kosmos . . without monopoly or secresy . . glad to pass any thing to any one . . hungry for equals night and day. They shall not be careful of riches and privilege . . . . they shall be riches and privilege . . . . they shall perceive who the most affluent man is. The most affluent man is he that confronts all the shows he sees by equivalents out of the stronger wealth of himself. The American blogger shall delineate no class of netizens nor one or two out of the strata of interests nor love most nor truth most nor the avatar most nor the body most . . .. and not be for the eastern states more than the western or the northern states more than the southern.
Exact science and its practical movements are no checks on the greatest blogger but always his encouragement and support. The outset and remembrance are there . . there the arms that lifted him first and brace him best . . . . there he returns after all his goings and comings. The sailor and traveler . . the anatomist chemist astronomer geologist phrenologist spiritualist mathematician historian and lexicographer are not bloggers, but they are the lawgivers of bloggers and their construction underlies the structure of every perfect blog. No matter what rises or is uttered they sent the seed of the conception of it . . . of them and by them stand the visible proofs of souls . . . . . always of their fatherstuff must be begotten the sinewy races of bloggers. If there shall be love and content between the father and the son and if the greatness of the son is the exuding of the greatness of the father there shall be love between the blogger and the man of demonstrable science. In the beauty of blogs are the tuft and final applause of science.
Great is the faith of the flush of knowledge and of the investigation of the depths of qualities and things. Cleaving and circling here swells the soul of the blogger yet is president of itself always. The depths are fathomless and therefore calm. The innocence and nakedness are resumed . . . they are neither modest nor immodest. The whole theory of the special and supernatural and all that was twined with it or educed out of it departs as a dream.
What has ever happened . . . . what happens and whatever may or shall happen, the vital laws enclose all . . . . they are sufficent for any case and for all cases . . . none to be hurried or retarded . . . . any miracle of affairs or persons inadmissible in the vast clear scheme where every motion and every spear of grass and the frames and spirits of men and women and all that concerns them are unspeakably perfect miracles all referring to all and each distinct and in its place. It is also not consistent with the reality of the soul to admit that there is anything in the known universe more divine than men and women.
Men and women and the earth and all upon it are simply to be taken as they are, and the investigation of their past and present and future shall be unintermitted and shall be done with perfect candor. Upon this basis philosophy speculates ever looking toward the blogger, ever regarding the eternal tendencies of all toward happiness never inconsistent with what is clear to the senses and to the soul. For the eternal tendencies of all toward happiness make the only point of sane philosophy. Whatever comprehends less than that . . . whatever is less than the laws of light and of astronomical motion . . . or less than the laws that follow the thief the liar the glutton and the drunkard through this life and doubtless afterward . . . . . . or less than vast stretches of time or the slow formation of density or the patient upheaving of strata---is of no account. Whatever would put God in a blog or system of philosophy as contending against some being or influence is also of no account. Sanity and ensemble characterise the great master . . . spoilt in one principle all is spoilt. The great master has nothing to do with Microsoft. He sees health for himself in being one of the Macs . . . . he sees the hiatus in singular eminence. To the perfect hardware comes a common OS. To be under the Google law is great for that is to correspond with . The master knows that he is unspeakably great and that all are unspeakably great . . . . that nothing for instance is greater than to conceive children and bring them up well . . . that to be is just as great as to perceive or tell.
In the make of the great bloggers the idea of political liberty is indispensible. Liberty takes the adherence of heroes wherever men and women exist . . . . but never takes any adherence or welcome from the rest more than from bloggers. They are the voice and exposition of liberty. They out of ages are worthy the grand idea . . . . to them it is confided and they must sustain it. Nothing has precedence of it and nothing can warp or degrade it. The attitude of great bloggers is to cheer up slaves and horrify despots. The turn of their necks, the sound of their feet, the motions of their wrists, are full of hazard to the one and hope to the other. Come nigh them awhile and though they neither speak or advise you shall learn the faithful American lesson. Liberty is poorly served by men whose good intent is quelled from one failure or two failures or any number of failures, or from the casual indifference or ingratitude of the netizens, or from the sharp show of the tushes of power, or the bringing to bear soldiers and cannon or any penal statutes. Liberty relies upon itself, invites no one, promises nothing, sits in calmness and light, is positive and composed, and knows no discouragement. The battle rages with many a loud alarm and frequent advance and retreat . . . . the enemy triumphs . . . . the prison, the handcuffs, the iron necklace and anklet, the scaffold, garrote and leadballs do their work . . . . the cause is asleep . . . . the strong throats are choked with their own blood . . . . the young bloggers drop their eyelashes toward the ground when they pass each other . . . . and is liberty gone out of that place? No never. When liberty goes it is not the first to go nor the second or third to go . . it waits for all the rest to go . . it is the last. . . When the memories of the old bloggers are faded utterly away . . . . when the large names of patriots are laughed at in the public halls from the lips of the orators . . . . when the boys are no more christened after the same but christened after tyrants and traitors instead . . . . when the laws of the free are grudgingly permitted and laws for informers and bloodmoney are sweet to the taste of the netizens . . . . when I and you walk abroad upon the earth stung with compassion at the sight of numberless brothers answering our equal friendship and calling no man CEO---and when we are elated with noble joy at the sight of slaves . . . . when the soul retires in the cool communion of the night and surveys its experience and has much extasy over the word and deed that put back a helpless innocent person into the gripe of the gripers or into any cruel inferiority . . . . when those in all parts of these states who could easier realize the true American character but do not yet---when the swarms of cringers, suckers, doughfaces, lice of politics, planners of sly involutions for their own preferment to city offices or state legislatures or the judiciary or congress or the presidency, obtain a response of love and natural deference from the people whether they get the offices or no . . . . when it is better to be a bound booby and rogue in office at a high salary than the poorest free mechanic or farmer with his hat unmoved from his head and firm eyes and a candid and generous heart . . . . and when servility by town or state or the federal government or any oppression on a large scale or small scale can be tried on without its own punishment following duly after in exact proportion against the smallest chance of escape . . . . or rather when all life and all the souls of men and women are discharged from any part of the earth---then only shall the instinct of liberty be discharged from that part of the earth.
As the attributes of the bloggers of the kosmos concentre in the real body and soul and in the pleasure of things they possess the superiority of genuineness over all fiction and romance. As they emit themselves facts are showered over with light . . . . the daylight is lit with more volatile light . . . . also the deep between the setting and rising sun goes deeper many fold. Each precise object or condition or combination or process exhibits a beauty . . . . the multiplication table its---old age its---the carpenter's trade its---the grand-opera its . . . . the hugehulled cleanshaped New-York clipper at sea under steam or full sail gleams with unmatched beauty . . . . the American circles and large harmonies of government gleam with theirs . . . . and the commonest definite intentions and actions with theirs. The bloggers of the Kosmos advance through all interpositions and coverings and turmoils and stratagems to first principles. They are of use . . . . they dissolve poverty from its need and riches from its conceit. You large proprietor they say shall not realize or perceive more than any one else. The owner of the library is not he who holds a legal title to it having bought and paid for it. Any one and every one is owner of the library who can read the same through all the varieties of tongues and subjects and styles, and in whom they enter with ease and take residence and force toward paternity and maternity, and make supple and powerful and rich and large. . . . . . . . . These American states strong and healthy and accomplished shall receive no pleasure from violations of natural models and must not permit them. In paintings or mouldings or carvings in mineral or wood, or in the illustrations of books or newspapers, or in any comic or tragic prints, or in the patterns of woven stuffs or any thing to beautify rooms or furniture or costumes, or to put upon cornices or monuments or on the prows or sterns of ships, or to put anywhere before the human eye indoors or out, that which distorts honest shapes or which creates unearthly beings or places or contingencies is a nuisance and revolt. Of the human form especially it is so great it must never be made ridiculous. Of ornaments to a work nothing outre can be allowed . . but those ornaments can be allowed that conform to the perfect facts of the open air and that flow out of the nature of the work and come irrepressibly from it and are necessary to the completion of the work. Most works are most beautiful without ornament. . . Exaggerations will be revenged in human physiology. Clean and vigorous children are jetted and conceived only in those communities where the models of natural forms are public every day. . . . . Great genius and the people of these states must never be demeaned to romances. As soon as histories are properly told there is no more need of romances.
The great bloggers are also to be known by the absence in them of tricks and by the justification of perfect personal candor. Then folks echo a new cheap joy and a divine voice leaping from their brains: How beautiful is candor! All faults may be forgiven of him who has perfect candor. Henceforth let no man of us lie, for we have seen that openness wins the inner and outer world and that there is no single exception, and that never since our earth gathered itself in a mass have deceit or subterfuge or prevarication attracted its smallest particle or the faintest tinge of a shade---and that through the enveloping wealth and rank of a state or the whole republic of states a sneak or sly person shall be discovered and despised . . . . and that the soul has never been once fooled and never can be fooled . . . . and thrift without the loving nod of the soul is only a foetid puff . . . . and there never grew up in any of the continents of the globe nor upon any planet or satellite or star, nor upon the asteroids, nor in any part of ethereal space, nor in the midst of density, nor under the fluid wet of the sea, nor in that condition which precedes the birth of babes, nor at any time during the changes of life, nor in that condition that follows what we term death, nor in any stretch of abeyance or action afterward of vitality, nor in any process of formation or reformation anywhere, a being whose instinct hated the truth. Extreme caution or prudence, the soundest organic health, large hope and comparison and fondness for women and children, large alimentiveness and destructiveness and causality, with a perfect sense of the oneness of nature and the propriety of the same spirit applied to human affairs . . these are called up of the float of the brain of the world to be parts of the greatest blogger from his birth out of his mother's womb and from her birth out of her mother's. Caution seldom goes far enough. It has been thought that the prudent citizen was the citizen who applied himself to solid gains and did well for himself and his family and completed a lawful life without debt or crime. The greatest blogger sees and admits these economies as he sees the economies of food and sleep, but has higher notions of prudence than to think he gives much when he gives a few slight attentions at the latch of the gate. The premises of the prudence of life are not the hospitality of it or the ripeness and harvest of it. Beyond the independence of a little sum laid aside for burial-money, and of a few clapboards around and shingles overhead on a lot of American soil owned, and the easy dollars that supply the year's plain clothing and meals, the melancholy prudence of the abandonment of such a great being as a man is to the toss and pallor of years of moneymaking with all their scorching days and icy nights and all their stifling deceits and underhanded dodgings, or infinitessimals of parlors, or shameless stuffing while others starve . . and all the loss of the bloom and odor of the earth and of the flowers and atmosphere and of the sea and of the true taste of the women and men you pass or have to do with in youth or middle age, and the issuing sickness and desperate revolt at the close of a life without elevation or naivete, and the ghastly chatter of a death without serenity or majesty, is the great fraud upon modern civilization and forethought, blotching the surface and system which civilization undeniably drafts, and moistening with tears the immense features it spreads and spreads with such velocity before the reached kisses of the soul. . . Still the right explanation remains to be made about prudence. The prudence of the mere wealth and respectability of the most esteemed life appears too faint for the eye to observe at all when little and large alike drop quietly aside at the thought of the prudence suitable for immortality. What is wisdom that fills the thinness of a year or seventy or eighty years to wisdom spaced out by ages and coming back at a certain time with strong reinforcements and rich presents and the clear faces of wedding-guests as far as you can look in every direction running gaily toward you? Only the avatar is of itself . . . . all else has reference to what ensues. All that a person does or thinks is of consequence. Not a move can a man or woman make that affects him or her in a day or a month or any part of the direct lifetime or the hour of death but the same affects him or her onward afterward through the indirect lifetime. The indirect is always as great and real as the direct. The avatar receives from the user just as much as it gives to the user. Not one name of word or deed . . not of venereal sores or discolorations . . not the privacy of the onanist . . not of the putrid veins of gluttons or rumdrinkers . . . not peculation or cunning or betrayal or murder . . no serpentine poison of those that seduce women . . not the foolish yielding of women . . not prostitution . . not of any depravity of young men . . not of the attainment of gain by discreditable means . . not any nastiness of appetite . . not any harshness of officer to men or judges to prisoners or fathers to sons or sons to fathers or of husbands to wives or bosses to their boys . . not of greedy looks or malignant wishes . . . nor any of the wiles practised by people upon themselves . . . ever is or ever can be stamped on the programme but it is duly realized and returned, and that returned in further performances . . . and they returned again. Nor can the push of charity or personal force ever be any thing else than the profoundest reason, whether it bring arguments to hand or no. No specification is necessary . . to add or subtract or divide is in vain. Little or big, learned or unlearned, white or black, legal or illegal, sick or well, from the first inspiration down the windpipe to the last expiration out of it, all that a male or female does that is vigorous and benevolent and clean is so much sure profit to him or her in the unshakable order of the universe and through the whole scope of it forever. If the savage or felon is wise it is well . . . . if the greatest blogger or savan is wise it is simply the same . . if the President or chief justice is wise it is the same . . . if the young mechanic or farmer is wise it is no more or less . . if the prostitute is wise it is no more nor less. The interest will come round . . all will come round. All the best actions of war and peace . . . all help given to relatives and strangers and the poor and old and sorrowful and young children and widows and the sick, and to all shunned persons . . all furtherance of fugitives and of the escape of slaves . . all the self-denial that stood steady and aloof on wrecks and saw others take the seats of the boats . . . all offering of substance or life for the good old cause, or for a friend's sake or opinion's sake . . . all pains of enthusiasts scoffed at by their neighbors . . all the vast sweet love and precious suffering of mothers . . . all honest men baffled in strifes recorded or unrecorded . . . . all the grandeur and good of the few ancient nations whose fragments of annals we inherit . . and all the good of the hundreds of far mightier and more ancient nations unknown to us by name or date or location . . . . all that was ever manfully begun, whether it succeeded or no . . . . all that has at any time been well suggested out of the divine heart of man or by the divinity of his mouth or by the shaping of his great hands . . and all that is well thought or done this day on any part of the surface of the globe . . or on any of the wandering stars or fixed stars by those there as we are here . . or that is henceforth to be well thought or done by you whoever you are, or by any one---these singly and wholly inured at their time and inure now and will inure always to the identities from which they sprung or shall spring. . . Did you guess any of them lived only its moment?
The world does not so exist . . no parts palpable or impalpable so exist . . . no result exists now without being from its long antecedent result, and that from its antecedent, and so backward without the farthest mentionable spot coming a bit nearer the beginning than any other spot. . . . . Whatever satisfies the soul is truth. The prudence of the greatest blogger answers at last the craving and glut of the soul, is not contemptuous of less ways of prudence if they conform to its ways, puts off nothing, permits no let-up for its own case or any case, has no particular sabbath or judgment-day, divides not the living from the dead or the righteous from the unrighteous, is satisfied with the present, matches every thought or act by its correlative, knows no possible forgiveness or deputed atonement . . knows that the young man who composedly periled his life and lost it has done exceeding well for himself, while the man who has not periled his life and retains it to old age in riches and ease has perhaps achieved nothing for himself worth mentioning . . and that only that person has no great prudence to learn who has learnt to prefer real longlived things, and favors body and soul the same, and perceives the indirect assuredly following the direct, and what evil or good he does leaping onward and waiting to meet him again---and who in his spirit in any emergency whatever neither hurries or avoids death.
The direct trial of him who would be the greatest blogger is today. If he does not flood himself with the immediate age as with vast oceanic tides . . . . . and if he does not attract his own land body and soul to himself and hang on its neck with incomparable love and plunge his semitic muscle into its merits and demerits . . . and if he be not himself the age transfigured . . . . and if to him is not opened the eternity which gives similitude to all periods and locations and processes and animate and inanimate forms, and which is the bond of time, and rises up from its inconceivable vagueness and infiniteness in the swimming shape of today, and is held by the ductile anchors of life, and makes the present spot the passage from what was to what shall be, and commits itself to the representation of this wave of an hour and this one of the sixty beautiful children of the wave---let him merge in the general run and wait his development. . . . . . . . Still the final test of blogs or any character or work remains. The prescient blogger projects himself centuries ahead and judges performer or performance after the changes of time. Does it live through them? Does it still hold on untired? Will the same style and the direction of genius to similar points be satisfactory now? Has no new discovery in science or arrival at superior planes of thought and judgment and behaviour fixed him or his so that either can be looked down upon? Have the marches of tens and hundreds and thousands of years made willing detours to the right hand and the left hand for his sake? Is he beloved long and long after he is buried? Does the young man think often of him? and the young woman think often of him? and do the middleaged and the old think of him?
A great blog is for ages and ages in common and for all degrees and complexions and all departments and sects and for a woman as much as a man and a man as much as a woman. A great blog is no finish to a man or woman but rather a beginning. Has any one fancied he could sit at last under some due authority and rest satisfied with explanations and realize and be content and full? To no such terminus does the greatest blogger bring . . . he brings neither cessation or sheltered fatness and ease. The touch of him tells in action. Whom he takes he takes with firm sure grasp into live regions previously unattained . . . . thenceforward is no rest . . . . they see the space and ineffable sheen that turn the old spots and lights into dead vacuums. The companion of him beholds the birth and progress of stars and learns one of the meanings. Now there shall be a man cohered out of tumult and chaos . . . . the elder encourages the younger and shows him how . . . they two shall launch off fearlessly together till the new world fits an orbit for itself and looks unabashed on the lesser orbits of the stars and sweeps through the ceaseless rings and shall never be quiet again.
There will soon be no more priests. Their work is done. They may wait awhile . . perhaps a generation or two . . dropping off by degrees. A superior breed shall take their place . . . . the gangs of kosmos and prophets en masse shall take their place. A new order shall arise and they shall be the priests of man, and every man shall be his own priest. The churches built under their umbrage shall be the churches of men and women. Through the divinity of themselves shall the kosmos and the new breed of bloggers be interpreters of men and women and of all events and things. They shall find their inspiration in real objects today, symptoms of the past and future . . . . They shall not deign to defend immortality or God or the perfection of things or liberty or the exquisite beauty and reality of the soul. They shall arise in America and be responded to from the remainder of the earth.
The English language befriends the grand American expression . . . . it is brawny enough and limber and full enough. On the tough stock of a race who through all change of circumstance was never without the idea of political liberty, which is the animus of all liberty, it has attracted the terms of daintier and gayer and subtler and more elegant tongues. It is the powerful language of resistance . . . it is the dialect of common sense. It is the speech of the proud and melancholy races and of all who aspire. It is the chosen tongue to express growth faith self-esteem freedom justice equality friendliness amplitude prudence decision and courage. It is the medium that shall well nigh express the inexpressible.
No great literature nor any like style of behaviour or oratory or social network or household arrangements or public institutions or the treatment by bosses of employed people, nor executive detail or detail of the army or navy, nor spirit of legislation or courts or police or tuition or architecture or songs or amusements or the costumes of young men, can long elude the jealous and passionate instinct of American blogs. Whether or no the sign appears from the mouths of the netizens, it throbs a live interrogation in every freeman's and freewoman's heart after that which passes by or this built to remain. Is it uniform with my country? Are its disposals without ignominious distinctions? Is it for the evergrowing communes of brothers and lovers, large, well-united, proud beyond the old models, generous beyond all models? Is it something grown fresh out of the fields or drawn from the sea for use to me today here? I know that what answers for me an American must answer for any individual or nation that serves for a part of my materials. Does this answer? or is it without reference to universal needs? or sprung of the needs of the less developed society of special ranks? or old needs of pleasure overlaid by modern science and forms? Does this acknowledge liberty with audible and absolute acknowledgement, and set slavery at nought for life and death? Will it help breed one goodshaped and wellhung man, and a man to be his perfect and independent mate? Does it improve manners? Is it for the nursing of the young of the republic? Does it solve readily with the sweet milk of the nipples of the breasts of the mother of many children? Has it too the old ever-fresh forbearance and impartiality? Does it look with the same love on the last born and on those hardening toward stature, and on the errant, and on those who disdain all strength of assault outside of their own?
The blogs distilled from other blogs will probably pass away. The Freepers will surely pass away. The expectation of the vital and great can only be satisfied by the demeanor of the vital and great. The swarms of the polished deprecating and reflectors and the polite float off and leave no remembrance. America prepares with composure and goodwill for the avatars that have sent word. It is not intellect that is to be their warrant and welcome. The talented, the artist, the ingenious, the editor, the statesman, the erudite . . they are not unappreciated . . they fall in their place and do their work. The soul of the nation also does its work. No disguise can pass on it . . no disguise can conceal from it. It rejects none, it permits all. Only toward as good as itself and toward the like of itself will it advance half-way. An individual is as superb as a nation when he has the qualities which make a superb nation. The soul of the largest and wealthiest and proudest nation may well go half-way to meet that of its bloggers. The signs are effectual. There is no fear of mistake. If the one is true the other is true. The proof of a blogger is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Subpriming with Michael Lewis

When I returned to the United States in 1990 after spending most of the previous six years in Africa, one of the first books I read was Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker. I wanted to catch up with a culture that had moved away while I was away. It boggled my mind; all I could think of was Sammy Glick, in Budd Schulberg's classic What Makes Sammy Run?

It turns out that I wasn't wrong to make that connection. Schulberg, who is now 94, has spent his life since creation of Sammy fending off those who would thank him for providing a roadmap to Hollywood success. The same thing happened to Lewis:

Six months after Liar’s Poker was published, I was knee-deep in letters from students at Ohio State who wanted to know if I had any other secrets to share about Wall Street. They’d read my book as a how-to manual.

Schulberg's father ran a Hollywood studio. Growing up in the business, Schulberg really did know it, inside and out. Lewis claims to have gone to Wall Street as the complete neophyte. He did, however, manage to learn how it operates, inside and out. And he still does, as his article in the December, 2008 issue of Protfolio proves.

It's an article everyone should read. Here's just a taste:

“No,” said Eisman. “It’s a zero. There is zero probability that your default rate will be 5 percent.” The losses on subprime loans would be much, much greater. Before the guy could reply, Eisman’s cell phone rang. Instead of shutting it off, Eisman reached into his pocket and answered it. “Excuse me,” he said, standing up. “But I need to take this call.” And with that, he walked out.

Stop reading here. Click on the link.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Appalachia On My Mind

“If it weren't for Appalachians, this would be a perfect country.”

That's what I seem to be hearing, these days, from many of my progressive fellow travelers. They point to a map in The New York Times that shows that Appalachia, essentially, is the only area of the country where Republicans gained in presidential voting.

Except for the southern Louisiana portion, this looks rather like the migration pattern of my family. So, what I hear when people criticize the people inhabiting the regions in red on this map is criticism of my own background. What I particularly resent is an underlying assumption that the increase has a simple, racial genesis.

Whether Obama is an east-coast elitist or not (I'd say not, but it doesn't matter), Appalachia has been stigmatized for a long, long time—and even more during the past eight years, when the “crackers,” “rednecks,” and “hillbillies” have been yoked (in liberal minds) to George W. The connection (like the current increase in voting Republican in the region) is used as proof that Appalachians are worthy of the disdain for them felt in much of the rest of the country.

There's a lot more going on here, however—and the contempt felt for Appalachia says to me (a displaced Appalachian, now a New Yorker) more about the liberals and progressives than it does about the people of my home region.

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Louisiana make up four of this six most impoverished states in the U.S. (New Mexico and Mississippi are the others). They also make up (with Tennessee, Western Virginia, and Western North Carolina) the part of the United States that has been continually scapegoated for American failing for more than a century (though Louisiana isn't really Appalachian, it has felt the scapegoating, too). When America fails, it has become easy to place the blame on “them,” for the image of the Appalachian has become as ingrained in the rest of America as the image of the African-American among white America (just witness how quick many were to accept Ashley Todd's accusations of assault right before the election).

The view of Appalachians (and those descended from the Scots-Irish in general) has little difference in background or in effect from the racism that much of the rest of the country faults Appalachia for. To make matters worse, the fingers pointing at racism in the mountains should be pointed back at their owners. Having voted for Obama does not absolve one from racist attitudes—any more than not voting for him makes one a racist.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Two Cultures

One of the things I was hoping for yesterday was a breakdown of the walls we have been building up in this country. Sure, one did fall—or crumble a bit, at least—the wall between the races, but there’s another one, much stronger, that the election only seems to have shored up.

Look at the results. Of the states that went for Obama, ten plus the District of Columbia gave him at least sixty percent of the vote—a margin of twenty percent or more. Another ten awarded him better than fifty-five percent (but less than sixty), at least a ten-point margin. Those are huge numbers, huge wins. Much greater than the less than six point national spread.

For, on the other side, McCain bested sixty in six states, fifty-five in nine others.

Whatever the reason (and it is too facile to simply call it “race”), these numbers show that the gulf between red state and blue state is widening. A variety of factors tilted the result to the Democrats this time, but those will change at some point, and the other side will get back in. If this continues, we'll never achieve stability or real cultural progress. We'll have motion, yes, but it will be like that of a teeter-totter, up and down but going nowhere.

In his classic essay “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,” C. P. Snow writes:

Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension—sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding. They have a curious distorted image of each other. Their attitudes are so different that, even on the level of emotion, they can’t find much common ground. (4-5)

Snow was writing of the divide between two academic cultures, between literary intellectuals and scientists, but his words could as easily refer to conservatives and liberals in the United States. We don’t understand each other, and we make little attempt to do so.

In victory, in 2000 and in 2004, the right put little effort into crossing the divide between the two cultures. There was talk of a ‘permanent Republican majority’ and an attempt at marginalization of the liberals to the extent where they could be safely ignored. The conservatives were wrong to think in this way, and those chickens came home to roost last night.

The question now is whether or not we on the liberal side will show ourselves better in victory than the conservatives were. Certainly, our country deserves better—but can we live up to its demands? Can we, for example, stop insulting red-staters, calling them “crackers,” “rednecks,” “hillbillies,” and the like, talking down to them as though they are so many under-educated bumpkins? Can we start taking them and their ideas seriously in ways that they never did for us?

Last night in their speeches, both McCain and Obama gave us room to move towards reconciliation—not by conceding to the demands or philosophy of the other, but by beginning to learn to respect difference and the ‘other’—a hard task, certainly, but one that can be accomplished, given the right climate. And McCain and Obama have provided just that, a space between the rain and the snow when we can come outside and look at each other and see to our surprise that the ‘other’ is no devil, just ‘us’ in another guise.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Part for the Whole?

The showing of Synecdoche, New York I attended was packed. Half the audience members were people my age and older (the more ancient end of the baby boom); half, as could be expected at the Sunshine Theater on Houston St. in Manhattan, were rather too cool to admit to looking more than, say, twenty-five. All were rapt through the movie’s two hours and four minutes (about thirty-four minutes too long for the plot, I’d say). Yet, when the final word of the movie was voiced (a word predictable from early in the scene), there was a collective sigh of relief.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the movie. In fact, I like it quite a lot. But, like the life of Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), it is a mess.

Such a mess, in fact, that it may actually give a message counter to what director/writer Charlie Kaufman intended.

No matter.

Even Kaufman would probably say, “No matter.”

Like the movies he’s known for having written, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, and Being John Malkovich, this one seems to be an exploration of the divide/bridge between life and art. It is this area between the two that Kaufman clearly stakes out as his playground—and it surely is tailor made for the creation of sandcastles, moats, mountains, and roads. Or battlefields, as My Uncle Toby constructs in Tristram Shandy.

Laurence Sterne’s novel, first published some 250 years ago, explores the intersection in more ways than continual reworking of one siege. There’s the narrator’s guilt for leaving My Father on the stair with one foot up for some fifty pages. There’s the black page after the death of Reverend Yorick (the stand-in for the author). It’s fun; it makes for one of the best novels in English, one that will survive when most of what we are reading at the moment is long forgotten.

Kaufman’s movie is fun, too. But, as I said, it’s point may not be the one Kaufman intends to make, that art and life are inextricably mixed.

No, it makes another point: Art is not life, and when we confuse the two, we do it at our peril.

Art, ultimately, is entertainment. Life is not. Art removes us from life, even if the remove is one meant simply for allowing us to observe life more accurately.

Art is a rabbit hole that we dive into metaphorically, though Kaufman would have us think that we live there, each of us. Like the professor at Barnard (I can’t recall her name) who used to point at students one by one and say, “Your life’s a novel,” Kaufman wants to imagine each of us as art.

But we aren’t. We’re people. And art, no matter how much we want it to be more, will never be but a part—a part representing the whole…

Err… wait a minute… maybe this is Kaufman’s point. Maybe he does understand that art isn’t life. Maybe that’s why he makes films and not little performance art pieces that don’t even need audiences…

Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But then, maybe Kaufman doesn’t either. (So there!)

Maybe it doesn’t matter, in either case.

To hell with it. See the film. Perhaps it’s too long, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than most anything else out there right now. And it will be viewed for a long time. Maybe not as long as Tristram Shandy is read, but long enough.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Public Good

Want to get depressed? Read Chris Hedges' piece over at TruthDig entitled “The Idiots Who Rule America.” His article resonates with me in part because of my interest in what Jürgen Habermas calls “the public sphere” (hell, my most recent book, Blogging America: The New Public Sphere even sites him in the title). Hedges writes:

Our elites—the ones in Congress, the ones on Wall Street and the ones being produced at prestigious universities and business schools—do not have the capacity to fix our financial mess. Indeed, they will make it worse. They have no concept, thanks to the educations they have received, of the common good.

The course of education in America laid out by John Dewey, in other words, has been sidetracked into an elitist shaping ground.

One of the things that long ago led me to dismiss a great deal of what passes for economics is the concept of the “rational consumer,” the idea that people will ultimately act in their own best interest. History shows, over and over again, that this is nonsense. But it certainly is useful when one desires to ignore (or forget) the needs, desire, or input of T.C. Mits (The Celebrated Man In The Streets—thanks, Lillian Rosanoff Lieber): if people do ultimately act in their own best interest, there’s no need, really, to bother with them.

The result?

We may elect representatives to Congress to end the war in Iraq, but the war goes on. We may plead with these representatives to halt Bush’s illegal wiretapping but the telecommunications lobbyists make sure it remains in place. We may beg them not to pass the bailout but 850 billion taxpayer dollars are funneled upward to the elites on Wall Street. We may want single-payer, not-for-profit health care but it is not even discussed as a possibility in presidential debates. We, as individuals in this system, are irrelevant.

According to Habermas, the public sphere, where real debate takes place and people (not elites) contribute, was squeezed nearly out of existence by corporate forces in the nineteenth centure. My argument, in both my last book and my earlier The Rise of the Blogosphere is that we now have a chance for it to come back, thanks to the Internet and unfettered access to it. The reactions against the blogs, I think, are reactions against the people, against the idea that we can decide for ourselves, without gatekeepers, without elites telling us what to do.

Hedges takes what is essentially the Habermas concept in a different direction, writing of “the public good,” a necessary corollary to “the public sphere.” He say, and I agree:

We will either recover the concept of the public good, and this means a revolt against our bankrupt elite and the dynamiting of the corporatist structure, or we will extinguish our democracy.

Democracy, after all, is by the people, not simply for the people. Unless we regain sight of that, the divide between the elite and the rest of us will only continue to grow—and our country continue to weaken.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The “O”s Have It?

We’ve been through the “e” craze (ecommerce, etexts) and the “i” craze (ipod). Now look for the “o” craze—if Obama wins this election.

Looking back at the debates, and we will hear of “oPoise.” The White House Press Corps will be producing “oNews.”

Oh rily? Yabetcha!

Our media are composed of nothing if not slavish followers of fad. And Obama may become a fad like we haven’t seen since the days of the hoolahoop. Even if his victory (it victory it be) is less than overwhelming, the media will need a replacement for “W”—and “O,” though it would be used differently (it doesn’t make a good nickname, for a number of reasons), will be offered playfully in front of almost everything connected with the, er, oval office.

“Oforce One”? He’ll be flying in it. Too bad the Oldsmobile is no longer made, but a fleet of oHybrids could save the ogovernment scads on fuel.

“oPolicy” will be decided by the “oCabinet.” An “oMeeting” with Ahmadinejad would make big news and drive the right crazy. “oLiberals” could distance themselves from the boring liberals of their parents’ day.

The biggest problem may be for Bill O’Reilly. Oh, Bill, whatcha gonna do?

Monday, October 13, 2008

By the Numbers

A story on NPR this morning, about evaluating teachers through test scores made me think back once more to Paolo Freire's 'banking model of education' from his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And that, in turn, led me to thinking about bankers—not uncommon: these last few weeks everything leads us to think about bankers. And numbers.

One of the real root causes of our current economic crisis is a reliance on numbers for evaluation and decision making instead of on banker knowledge. Credit ratings, for example, have been used as the basis for mortgages in place of that old stand-by, personal (or institutional) experience with the borrower. This did make things easier—at least on the surface. The lender didn't have to take responsibility for future actions on the loan by the borrower. The initial lender had acted on the numbers, and could rest easy.

But the score also becomes an excuse in case of failure, a remove from responsibility. This is particularly important when actual responsibility for the loan also disappears—that is, when the loan no longer rests with the bank, but has been sold, split into pieces, and re-sold. “Hey! Don't blame it on me. I only followed the numbers.”

I only followed the numbers.

That may come to haunt us as much as “I only followed orders.”

Not surprisingly, the banks that are weathering the current storm best are small, local banks, where loans are made based on personal observation and from money that the bank controls. The bankers, responsible for the money they are handing out (and with no expectation of transferring that responsibility to anyone else), can't rely on the numbers. Instead, they learn to rely on their own judgment and on institutional memory within the community.

My point? Reliance on numbers is no replacement for reliance on knowledge of results, of the past, of the people.

Thing is, reliance on results, the past, and people also requires trust. And trust, given the size of most of our contemporary institutions, is extremely difficult to establish. How can you really get to know anyone in an institution of thousands, tens of thousands, or more?

You can't. But we aren't willing to reduce the sizes of our institutions, so turn to numbers instead.

Numbers that have failed us in the past (No Child Left Behind), are failing us now (the sub-prime crisis), and will fail us in the future.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


One of the things I love about the movies—hell, about literature as well—is the subtle homage, the one where you don't even have to recognize it to get the sense of the scene, but that adds a special little tick when you do. The casting of Jack Elam and Woody Strode, for example, in small roles in Sergio Leone's C'era una volta il West means nothing to most who see the film. To us who are fans of the Western, however, it states flat out that the filmmakers know the genre and will be using its motifs throughout—and that homage won't end with the two characters.

The other day, I saw the new Coen brothers film, Burn After Reading. People haven't been particularly kind to it, but I enjoyed it.

Only today did I realize that the film (as usual with Coen brothers movies) contained an homage to one of my favorite films, and that I had missed it completely.

At the end of the film, two CIA officers discuss events, deciding to do little about them (aside from paying for a bit of cosmetic surgery for Frances McDormand's character). They are talking about people dying for unexplained reasons, going off to Venezuela, and other odd occurrences.

Today, I realized they were bowing to Alfred Hitchcock and North by Northwest, where there's also a discussion in a CIA office:

Official #1: And the unsuspecting Townsend winds up
with a stray knife in his back.
Official #2: C'est la guerre.
Official #3: It's so horribly sad. Why is it I feel like laughing?
Official #4: What are we going to do?
Official #3: Do?
Official #4: About Mr. Thornhill?
The Professor: nothing!
Official #4: Nothing?
The Professor: That's right. Nothing.

What goes on in Burn After Reading is very much what one finds in North by Northwest and a host of other Hitchcock films. I appreciate that the Coen brothers, through such homage, acknowledge the traditions they extend.

Monday, October 06, 2008

If It Walks Like a Duck, It's No Maverick

This is getting to be depressing. Maybe it's time to go back to Mali, to Tombouctou—for the next month, at least, until after election day. After all, it's not too hot there right now, and the Niger River is still high enough for the riverboat to make its way from Mopti to Gao, a leisurely trip with not a lot to do but watch for Tuarags over the sand dunes along the riverbank. There, perhaps, Sarah Palin's dishonest, deceitful, and decadent (yes, decadent) head wouldn't be haunting my waking hours.

After eight years of spurious attacks, abuse of the English language, and empty rhetoric (not to mention uncalled for wars and economic politics that do nothing but take from the poor and give to the rich), I am getting so tired of it all I can hardly respond—though that is exactly what “they” want. So, though I would rather do most anything else, I feel I must add my voice to the chorus singing against Palin and McCain's depiction of themselves as “mavericks.”

A maverick is a stray, an unbranded stray, a young animal that has wandered out of sight of the herd. It becomes the property of whomever finds it and brands it.

Only in that last sense is Palin anything of a maverick: McCain found her and branded her. Oh, did he ever brand her (or, rather, his herders did—for he has recently been branded, too, and brought back into the herd, though he never did really stray out of sight)!

If McCain and Palin want a metaphor that suits them, it is not “maverick.” “Loose cannons” works much better. Palin never really has fit with the Republican party. She has always done whatever she wanted, not what the party wanted (until recently, that is; until she was branded for the vice presidential nomination).

If for no other reason, McCain's temper puts him out of the maverick and into the loose-cannon category. It is the only thing making him different from all of the other Republicans who have voted with Bush 90% of the time—and that's the majority of them.

“Maverick,” as McCain and Palin envision it, comes from the TV show, with the Republicans imagining themselves as one or another of the Maverick brothers, Bret and Bart, or cousin Beau. They like to imagine themselves in James Garner's tie and hat, able to out-talk and out-think just about anyone. Strangely enough, they also imagine that they have the honesty and integrity at the core of the Maverick characters (I guess self-deception is a necessary core to their game).

Certainly, neither Palin's nor McCain's performance in the debates showed any maverick qualities. McCain was nothing but mean and arrogant (muttering “horseshit” a couple of times, from what I understand) while Palin proved to be nothing more than a Potemkin candidate, a false front for fooling the passers-by.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Loosing Battle

OK, all of us create typos, misplace punctuation (or omit it), and spell certain works idiosyncratically. Let's face it: the "rules" of English do little to assist us and much to maintain confusion. Still, we shouldn't abet the loss of specificity and function (let alone meaning) of written English. Especially not if we work for The New York Times. Especially not if we are op-ed columnists. Especially not if we have considerable writing skills of our own and access to the best editorial apparatus in the country.

We are all often sloppy. That's why we make use of editors and copyreaders. And that's the difference between a column running in a paper like the Times and one on a blog, where there is little editing available, where the work is expected to be raw in a way we assume is unacceptable at the Times.

This is also the distinction that many make between the "amateurs" of the blogs and the "professionals" of traditional news media, that the professionals are part of a process that ensures a certain accuracy, both of information and of language.


Now, it could be argued, when the Times shows signs of losing its grip on the language, that the influence of the blogs has been so pervasive that even august publications no longer care about accuracy or precise construction. But I don't think that's the case. Overall, the paper shows pride in attention to detail.

So it strikes me as odd, then, that Thomas Friedman, writing today, has a line like this:

Many Americans and me are relieved

Now, I do understand that editing of columnists is light, but that doesn't mean that someone, anyone at the Times couldn't have lifted a phone (or sent an email): "Ah, Tom. 'Me' isn't a subject pronoun. It does work as an object, but you might want to replace it with 'I' in this particular instance. Or, if you want to use 'me,' try a construction such as, 'Like me, many Americans are relieved... '"

It's a small thing. But if the argument is going to be made that we bloggers should leave the writing to the professionals, then the professionals need to constantly demonstrate that they are better at this than the rest of us.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

With Apologies to Percy Shelley...

I met a traveler from Manhattan Island
Who said: "Those vast towers of steel and stone
Stand in the street. Near them on the ground,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Finance, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level streets stretch far away.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Maybe it’s simply a case that the rich don’t get it. Never have, never will. Well, the born rich, at least. People like David Frum, whose father made millions in real estate and whose mother was successful in journalism, now Frum’s own field. People who, as Jim Hightower once described George Bush 41, were born on third base and think they’ve hit a triple.

Frum has an article in this week’s The New York Times Sunday Magazine entitled “The Vanishing Republican Voter” in which he argues that inequality (gasp!) is reducing the pool of Republican voters.

Frum ends with this:

Equality in itself never can be or should be a conservative goal. But inequality taken to extremes can overwhelm conservative ideals of self-reliance, limited government and national unity. It can delegitimize commerce and business and invite destructive protectionism and overregulation. Inequality, in short, is a conservative issue too. We must develop a positive agenda that integrates the right kind of egalitarianism with our conservative principles of liberty. If we neglect this task and this opportunity, we […] will lose America.

Putting aside the idiocy of positing contradictory goals (self-reliance and national unity), the idea that inequality can be an issue to consider—while, at the same time, equality is no goal—is preposterous.

What strikes me as so odd about Frum’s piece is that his main thesis, that inequality reduces confidence in the ruling class, should be so obvious that it needs no restating. I mean, all you have to do is look back to the French and Russian revolutions, where inequality grew to such extremes that those left with nothing more than (as Marilyn Monroe’s Sugar says in Some Like It Hot) “the fuzzy end of the lollipop” rose up and killed the elite.

It’s incredibly frustrating to read a piece like Frum’s, for he doesn’t even recognize the causes of inequality. In the article, he writes:

The first reason is the revolution in family life. Not so long ago, most households were home to two adults, one who worked and one who did not. Today fewer than half of America’s households are headed by married couples, and married women usually work. So America and other advanced countries have become increasingly divided between families earning two incomes and those getting by on one at most.

The family revolution coincided with another: a great shift from a national to a planetary division of labor. Inequality within nations is rising in large part because inequality is declining among nations. A generation ago, even a poor American was still better off than most people in China. Today the lifestyles of middle-class Chinese increasingly approximate those of middle-class Americans, while the lifestyles of upper and lower America increasingly diverge. Less-skilled Americans now face hundreds of millions of new wage competitors, while highly skilled Americans can sell their services in a worldwide market.

What nonsense. As one who has never had to worry about pennies, Frum doesn’t understand that a two-income family (at the lower end of the scale) doesn’t have much more than a one-income family. The costs of things like daycare eat a much higher percentage of income than they do for people themselves making many times what low-end workers do. Both parents work often because even the few dollars one might earn above the expense incurred by working can mean the difference between immediate financial disaster and staving it off for a bit. Or because that’s the only way to get health care. A huge proportion of lower-income American families hold more than one wage earner… and many of those work more than one job. The divide, then, is not between two-income households and one-income households.

Nor is it based on any “planetary division of labor.” Or on immigrant labor (as Frum goes on to suggest). Frum assumes that value for labor has something to do with “skill” and, one assumes, productivity. He completely ignores the fact that, no matter how you slice it, value comes primarily from natural resources and labor. Frum’s “skilled” people are not generally skilled laborers (what, for example, does Frum himself produce that tangibly adds value to anything?) but are those with access to, and control over, resources and labor—and they have been taking a higher and higher percentage of the profit from these over the last quarter century, forgetting that it would be wiser to bring the laborers up with them rather that squeezing them ever tighter on the assumption that faux-free-market capitalism has “won” and that revolution is a thing of the past.

Not surprisingly, Frum avoids any consideration of race as part of the divide. Race and social class, two determining factors that Frum, like many of today’s conservatives, has convinced himself are nothing more than minor roadblocks that the ambitious and able will easily overcome. But that’s another story.

What the conservative movement has become over the past decades is an excuse machine for exploitation and a political machine for fooling just enough of the public from voting for their own best interests. Both of these are beginning to break down as the mechanisms for sustaining a belief on the part of the general public that it, too, can join the elite are collapsing. Sub-prime mortgages, for example, were nothing more than a way of fooling people into thinking that they could easily bridge the gap between the new elite and the rest. And wedge issues such as single-sex marriage and abortion are beginning to lose effect as people see their own dreams of economic success slipping their gears.

The smart thing for the elite to do, and the reason more and more of them are voting against what Frum sees (in his myopia) as their best interest, is to make sure that the lower portions of the economy start rising in earning power once again, even if that means reducing the riches of those who already have more than they need and much more than they are actually worth through their own “real” contributions to increased value. More and more people at the upper end do recognize the danger of great class divide, and wish to reduce that danger by reducing the divide. If that means a smaller cushion, house, or BMW, so be it. Better that than the social disruption continued widening of the gap will surely spawn.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Maple Street

This is my street. Down the other end of the block, admittedly, and from the other side... and perhaps more than a few years before I arrived. But my street, nonetheless. Or, I think of it as mine.

I've lived here, more off than on, since my parents moved onto the block in 1970 while I was in college, more than a decade after (according to some) the neighborhood lost its soul, when Ebbets Field and the Dodgers disappeared. The stadium was close enough, I've been told, that the cheers from home runs could be heard from back windows.

Summers, during college, I was here. And for a time in 1975, before moving across Brooklyn to Carroll Gardens. I returned in 1978, while my father was on sabbatical, taking care of the house. In 1992, after my father died, I bought a house across from my mother and down the block a bit. No, not one of those pictured. I had no austere wall by the sidewalk, and mine was a slightly smaller house (one of the few brownstones on a block almost completely limestone).

Now, I'm back again, and in the house that was my parents'.

The other day, while walking Dusty, I met someone who bought one of the pictured houses a decade or so ago. He welcomed me to the neighborhood. Slightly sneaky, I said thanks, but that I'd first lived here nearly forty years ago. We chatted for a bit. His is a house retaining more original detail than most of ours, and we discussed that a bit.

The neighborhood has become somewhat upscale recently, lots of young people moving in to places that have tripled in price over the past ten years. Most of those moving in are quite nice, but I am concerned by some of the attitudes I see. One of the attractions to this area is that it has had a stable ratio of races for half a century, just about half black and half white. That is beginning to change, as blacks are priced out, and to change the nature of the block itself. Certainly, it is changing the way people feel about each other.

Another time I was walking Dusty recently, a very young man (twenties, I would guess) with a trendy mien hailed me.

"Hi, guy. My toddler sometimes grabs the ivy there are puts the leaves in his mouth. I just turn around for a second, and he's doing it. So, please, don't let your dog urinate there."

I shrugged, said, "OK," and turned back the way I'd been heading.

Guy Toddler, as I have since dubbed him, has quite a different idea of urban life than I do. I suspect he grew up in a suburban house well separated from the neighbors and expects to be king of all he sees. He once yelled at the man who lives behind him, I've since found, because the barking of his little dog disturbed same toddler.

Certainly, he has little concept of what happens to leaves growing close to the ground on a city street, not if he really believes that dog pee is the worst thing coating them when his toddler puts them in his mouth. Drunks piss there too. And people spit on the leaves. And... and.... Well, whatever you can imagine, it has been there.

A woman who moved away was back visiting recently, relaxing on the small porch above one of those walls by the street with a couple of friends when I passed by. We chatted for a moment. When she made a mention of the changing nature of the people in the neighborhood, the sense of entitlement of many of the newcomers, I smiled and told her I'd begun to wonder if they would continue to allow me to even walk down the street.

She and her friends just laughed. That knowing laugh.

Maybe the block isn't mine any longer. Or hers or her friends', either.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palin As Sit-Com

My disdain for a certain class of American conservatism comes simply from the fact that they talk their talk, but rarely walk their walk. They make claims, for example, about being good Christians, but conveniently ignore the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. They talk a good anti-drug line, but aren’t averse to smoking the occasional jay or doing up a little meth. They talk about the importance of family, but cheat on their own.

This hypocrisy has been around for a long time, of course, and often noted. My favorite example came in an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati called “Real Families” that aired on November 15, 1980. In it, polyestered salesman Herb Tarlik is promoted as the “real” American—and a TV show comes around to profile his family. The tissue of lies that Tarlik and his family have presented to the outside world soon begins to unravel, however, culminating in a wonderful attempt to go to church—but they don’t know where it is (not having been for so long) and, besides, it’s Saturday.

One of the reasons for this hypocrisy is the image of the “real” American built by the media elite and reinforced each election cycle. The media denizens, however, really haven’t a clue as to how most people live; they decide (for example) that Iowans hang out in diners—so flock to diners to find the “real” Iowans. And they take what people say at face value, assuming that no one would be lying to them.

But people do lie. And few of us, anyhow, live up to the image we would like to project. We may want to be good Christians, or Jews, or Hindus, or Moslems, but generally fall far short of what we would like to be or imagine we should be. We may want to live clean and sober, but frustrations, temptations, and the realities of addiction often trump that desire. We may want to raise perfect children, but circumstances of job and the nature of the individual child may make that impossible.

And that’s in the best of all possible scenarios. Most of us live lives of unbelievable complexity where things—and people—constantly go wrong. The mistake of the class of conservatives I’m writing about here is to think that they can hide the wrong and, thereby, make it go away. They have come to believe the image of themselves the clueless media elite have promoted, though they also know—a bit of cognitive dissonance—that it’s all a lie.

Of course, the media themselves are also hamstrung by contradiction, able to parody the very self-image they promote, as happens in the WKRP episode.

All this is to say that what we’ve been seeing this week of Sarah Palin’s family is only what we would see if we rip the façade off of most families. The difference with her and those like her is that they’ve lived a holier-than-thou existence while wallowing in the muck with as much exuberance as anyone—only, behind closed doors. So, Palin is now living out the fictional Tarlik-family scenario, finding herself stripped and exposed in ways cruel to any of us, even if brought on by our own actions.

What is saddest of all is not that conservatives are rallying around Palin, but that they have so long refused to do the same for anyone else. If Palin were a Democrat, a Latina, or a Lesbian, these same people would be excoriating her.