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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On the Radio Again, Making Some Frickin REMARKS....

After two weeks of dodgy software skirmishes in the Marshes of Entropy, my little production house is back in action. Here's this new videofication of a radio appearance from earlier this month. Gloriously irrelevant Hubble Telescope footage included.

video

Ocean Waves

Found this video, had these thoughts.

Even Wave: This is all electrostatics. The pair of hydrogens marries the oxygen atom by exchanging electrons; no witness, no ketubah, no ceremony. It's Vegas out there.

Odd Wave: Delmore Schwartz heard and read the ancient folding chapters of the sea off Coney Island, same as when the Anglo-Saxon kings of Engelond took therein a piss royale.

Even Wave: It's a lot of tumbling. It's the water molecules tumbling on each other. It's ping-pong balls in a bin, spilling to the warehouse floor, while hunchbacked angel Mortimer does another doughnut run for the Foreman.

Odd Wave: The waves and the tides are the Moon's lack of a straw.

Even Wave: The march of the waves is martial.

Odd Wave: In Quantum Mechanics, gravity is a force mediated by the exchange of particles called gravitons. In Relativity, gravity is not a force; it's the curvature of spacetime induced by the presence of mass. So the ocean is spitting gravitons at the Moon like a trillion fourth-graders with pea shooters, but the waves are also moving up and down along paths that are the straightest available.

Even Wave: The ocean is pure trance with no mind to lose.

Odd Wave: I think I have a proton from Aristotle's spleen.

Even Wave: Some fish know about birds; most do not. We waves know both.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Review of: Save the World On Your Own Time, by STANLEY FISH

Oh what a weird little book is this 2008 polemic from Stanley Fish, the man who once wrote, "Academics like to eat shit and in a pinch, they don't care whose shit they eat." (See There's No Such Thing As Free Speech: And It's a Good Thing, Too. 1994, p. 278)
Save the World On Your Own Time (Oxford, 2008) opens with a string of anecdotes in which the author confesses to shocking feats of rudeness, usually addressed to his social subordinates. These confessions are offered in a spirit of self-criticism mixed with righteous hostility, culminating in Fish's announcement that he considers himself afflicted-or-blessed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Nowhere does he speak of apologizing to anybody, because in each case he thinks he was right. While I agree that he was often right, his character as presented in these pages seems to me solipsistic and boorish. His book argues (e.g., p. 14) that good character is a desirable trait, but not one that higher education ought to try and conjure or instill.

I delivered an even longer lecture to the blameless fast-food workers who routinely handed me a bagel along with a small container of cream cheese and a plastic knife that couldn’t cut butter. I said, "Look, if I wanted to put my own bagel together, I would have bought the ingredients and taken them home; when I go to a restaurant I expect service; I don’t expect to be asked to do your job; and besides there's not enough cream cheese here to cover the bagel's surface; what's the matter with you guys?" (p. 4)

It's nice that he now perceives the "fast-food workers" as "blameless." If they get wind of his having written that, I'm sure they'll be pleased. But whoever was working that cash-register was poor, and perhaps not socialized to fulfill the expectations in Dr. Fish's head. S/he probably came from a milieu where people may well be unaccustomed to giving, receiving, or "expecting" what Fish calls "service." When you work for dirt wages at a greaseburger franchise, you cannot really be expected to provide much "service." People who appeal to principle and insist otherwise will be correct, but the cultural formation in which their correct position has any weight is long gone.

Suppose you are a member of at least one outgroup, maybe three. In front of you is a member of all three ingroups: America reads him as "White"; he's a man; and he's about old enough to be a Baby-Boomer. He orders a bagel, so you give him exactly what your boss has instructed you to give everyone who orders a bagel. But the old guy starts ranting at you, ending with the question, "what's the matter with you guys?" Does that experience make you feel inclined to give better service to people who resemble this customer, or does it reinforce any prejudice you may have about such people as entitled, pushy, solipsistic old fools who need to be taken down a peg?

I don't consider Fish's behavior in this story hateful or even bigoted. But I consider it reasonable (indeed, defensible) only in two different frames of reference (and not this one): (a) an actual restaurant with a waiter, or (b) a fast food joint in about 1965 0r before. To act this way in a fast-food joint in the year two-thousand and something, however, is to err.

That anecdote is one among a whole bunch; in some of them Fish appears more sensible, and in others he's just as whacked-out.

Continuing down the halls, I found the panels separating two elevators festooned with announcements of lectures that took place two years ago. I proceeded to rip the leaflets down. Halfway through I decided that no one should be posting anything there anyway; so I removed every announcement, no matter how current, and, for good measure, I tore away the surface the announcements adhered to and threw all the thumbtacks and push-pins into the trash. I noticed that someone had left a small carton of books, intended no doubt for impecunious graduate students who might have made good use of them. I didn't care; into the trash they went, too. (p. 5)

This is dinosaur behavior. Taking down flyers for past events is prosocial; taking down flyers for future events is profoundly antisocial. This, they apparently do not teach in Stanleyfishland. Throwing away perfectly good office supplies like thumbtacks and pushpins is bad for the university and bad for the planet. Not to know this at a deep level is very LBJ-era. Throwing out books is despicable. Not to know this at a deep level is just ugly (and especially surprising in a Jew, I might add). The tone does imply a repudiation of these behaviors, but that's all it does. Next:

I told [my students] that I hadn't the slightest interest in whatever opinions they might have and didn't want to hear any. I told them that while they may have been taught that the purpose of writing is to express oneself, the selves they had were not worth expressing... (5)

But then:

What could I do aside from harassing innocent people who would have had every right to have me committed? Write this book was the answer. (7)

Trouble is, "committed" is the wrong word; it's rhetorical; it's a bad-faith bit of self-effacement. What his students would have had the right to do is not to have Fish committed to some mental institution but fired from an institution of higher learning. How long does he think he (tenured, ingrouper) would last as an adjunct (exploited, outgrouper), treating the paying customers this way? How does this compare with "I expect service," Fish's own attitude when he's a paying customer?

Then we're given the armature of the book, the central endoskeleton on which its flesh is hung: "...problems pretty much go away when you understand and act on a simple imperative--do your job--which comes along with two corollary imperatives--don't do somebody else's job and don't let someone else do your job." This is a sensible-looking proposition, a logical engine whose nifty vehicle of argumentation might get us pretty far, depending on the direction in which it's driven. Stanley Fish is no fool; he's perhaps the greatest Miltonist of his day. But in Save the World on Your Own Time, he is not writing within his area of specialization.

Fish continues: "...it is part of my argument that the coherence of tasks depends on their being distinctive. Think of it in consumer terms; you need something to be done, and you look in a phone book or search the Internet until you come upon a description of services that matches your need. What you want is a specialist, someone with the right training and credentials, and you might be suspicious if someone told you that he or she could do just about anything... you will feel most comfortable when you find a person or a company with a skill set that is reassuringly narrow: 'this is what we do; we don't do those other things; but if this particular thing is what you want done, we're the people to turn to.' This narrow sense of vocation is shunned by many teaching in the academy today, and it was not popular in the 1960’s when I was a young faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley. (8) [my emphasis]

The narrow sense of vocation is shunned by many teaching in the academy today. When Fish says that, he means (as his book's next pages and title make admirably clear) that today's academics are not narrowly focused on teaching a single discipline, but are unfocused, attempting to improve students' morals, shift their political beliefs, and in general, "save the world."
EXCURSUS / RANT: A DIFFERENT MEANING FOR "NARROW SENSE OF VOCATION"

Fine. But when I came to that sentence in Fish's book I was struck by how different its meaning would be in any context other than there, in Stanley Fish's book. Chez moi, y'see, [A]
narrow sense of vocation is shunned by many teaching in the academy today is laughably false. Today, the narrow sense of the vocation is well-nigh mandatory: the motto of the successful applicant is: I study X and nothing else; I teach X and the courses everyone teaches (comp, Lit 101, etc.) and nothing else. Therefore, my label is accurate. "Many teaching in the academy today" (in the department of, say, English -- the discipline Fish and I share) are highly suspicious of scholar-teachers with eclectic interests. Not even tenure can fully allay the anxiety some professors experience in the presence of persons who are intellectually alive, strong-willed in their pursuit of lifelong learning, motivated by authentic fascination with the world and its peoples, and capable of teaching what they know, keeping literature central while venturing beyond it in relevant and compelling ways. "Many teaching in the academy today" prefer to hire timid, hidebound, hyper-professionalized joiners who lack the stamina or the curiosity to try and connect the subject of their dissertations -- Charlotte Bronte's relationship with her sister Emily; the young Auden's leftism; X in the work of Y , whatever -- with the larger picture of world literature, science, philosophy, and history. "Many teaching in the academy today" are one-trick ponies, unlikely to put in a bid for the Shakespeare course, since they know little about Shakespeare; they will not compete with others for the best courses, since they only know one sub-field of the discipline. They will not inadvertently make colleagues look shallow and unlearned by publishing work in five or six specialist journals, each in a completely different field, including those of the aforementioned colleagues. They will not (wittingly or unwittingly) make colleagues feel inadequate by teaching through a richer and more coherent world picture than they can. Pusillanimous specialists know their place. That's why they get a place.

END OF EXCURSUS / RANT.
RETURN TO CONFUTATION OF FISH.

In the wake of the Free Speech Movement a faculty union had been formed and I had declined to join it. Some members of the steering committee asked me why, and I asked them to tell me about the union's agenda. They answered that the union would (1) work to change America's foreign policy by fighting militarism, (2) demand that automobiles be banned from the campus and that parking structures be torn down, and (3) speak out strongly in favor of students' rights. In response I said (1) that if I were interested in influencing government policy I would vote for certain candidates and contribute to their campaigns, (2) that I loved automobiles and wanted even more places to park mine, and (3) that I didn't see the point of paying dues to an organization dedicated to the interests of a group of which I was not a member. How about improvements in faculty salaries, better funding for the library, and a reduction in teaching load? 'You, sir, I was admonished, do not belong in a university.'

It is a good bet that among the goals of the faculty union was an improvement in faculty salaries, and that Fish's unionist colleague happened to take it for granted that all faculty members would be quite aware of that already; after all, everyone already knows salary increases are a central part of what unions exist to seek. Fish's additional three goals are excellent, but since he claims to find them desirable goals, he ought to have joined the union in order to help accomplish them.

Now to the three goals that were offered and Fish's three responses.

Although he was there and I wasn't, it's as if Fish does not know that "in the 1960’s... at the University of California at Berkeley", a majority of reasonable adults shared a rather urgent goal: "work to change America's foreign policy by fighting militarism." Now, a narrow construction of the job of an English Department is to teach literature, writing, and rhetoric. Since antiquity, rhetoric has been taught by the use of paradigmatic exemplars. The Declaration of Independence is such an exemplar. It begins: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life..." But during "the 1960's," until the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (written mostly by RFK, though Johnson got all the credit), the first clause of that exemplar was still a festering sore of hypocrisy on the body politic, Jim Crow's sarcoma.

As for inalienable rights, the students in the classrooms and the sit-ins were living under a constant death-threat called the draft. If called to "serve," they would almost surely die in spirit, body, or both; tens of thousands came back broken, homeless men addicted to heroin (thanks, CIA) or alcohol, and unable to rebuild. Somehow Professor Fish expected them to be able to concentrate on Milton anyhow. I imagine he also kept Paradise Lost alien and distant from their real position in the world, by refraining to point out the resemblances between the arbitrary power of Milton's autocratic God, and the awful randomness of the draft. Like the Lottery in Shirley Jackson's oft-taught story of that name, the draft was not unfair (except in that some fortunate sons could shirk it unscathed), it was unjust. Milton is a good place to learn that and conversely, that is a good thing to learn from Milton. Professor Allen Grossman of Brandeis University, one of the few people who is smarter than Stanley Fish, risked everything to harbor draft resisters in his home. That was a way of being a Jew; it answered the righteous gentiles of Europe who took the same risk to save some of us from the Nazis. It was a way of being American; it took the Declaration seriously. It was a way of being a professor of English: if the students are to learn from books and professors, they must be alive and on campus.

Fish's response to the problem was quite different:"if I were interested in influencing government policy I would vote for certain candidates and contribute to their campaigns." Did he not notice that the most popular candidates who supported an end to the war in Vietnam were murdered by the CIA and the Pentagon? His colleague at Berkeley-in-the-1960's was Peter Dale Scott, professor of both political science and English (not a specialist). Scott did the best work in the country on the real-world use of political assassination as a tool of militarist control over domestic policy in the U.S. I guess Dr. Fish did not notice. And in the Presidential election of 1964, there was no anti-war candidate for whom to vote. There was LBJ, who turns out to have been well aware that President Kennedy was to be murdered for inhibiting the Vietnam War, and who then gave us the War on a vast new scale, and there was Goldwater, whose solution was "bomb them into the Stone Age." Vote, my foot.

To the effort to ban cars on campus, Fish responded: "I loved automobiles and wanted even more places to park mine."' If he were less of a specialist, and more curious about the world as it is (in addition to imaginative literature), he might have become aware that cars were destroying the American landscape, locking the country into a suburban infrastructure that was completely unsustainable, and setting us all on a course toward devastating energy scarcity: world petroleum discovery peaked in 1964, and the Lower 48 peaked in 1971 just as Marion King Hubbert had predicted it would. Having almost forgotten the safety, warmth, and humanity of a walkable place to live and work, people wanted to try making one of their university. Fish's mobility is more important, so pour more blacktop for more places where he can park his car. Happy motoring.

To the notion of a faculty union advocating students' rights, Fish responds: "that I didn't see the point of paying dues to an organization dedicated to the interests of a group of which I was not a member." His own education may have imprinted upon him the expectation that everybody's education ought to be just as denuded of its ethical dimension, and just as compartmentalized. There's such a thing as altruistic concern for the young people you're supposed to be helping, but never mind the mushy stuff. The man said he wanted the union to advocate for larger faculty salaries. It turns out that solidarity with students is an important element in the successful pursuit of that goal.

"...better funding for the library, and a reduction in teaching loads" would be easier to achieve as a member of a union than as an isolated monad behind the wheel of one's own little car. Those two goals would also be a thousand times more feasible if the government was compelled to arrest the militarization of the budget and invest in things like education instead. But one doesn't notice such things unless one feels driven to assemble a big picture, fitting the pixilating tiles from each discipline into the greater mosaic of reality's grand image to the best of one's ability. Students should see that process modeled in front of them by older, better educated adults who have achieved that ability.

There is never a shortage of narrow specialists, nor of shallow generalists. Of deep generalists
, there is always a shortage.

Here's Fish on "The Task of Higher Education": "I'm all for moral, civic, and creative capacities [a phrase from Yale's mission statement], but I'm not sure that there is much I or anyone else could do as a teacher to develop them. Moral capacities (or their absence) have nothing to do with the reading of novels, or the running of statistical programs, or the execution of laboratory procedures, all of which can produce certain skills, but not moral states." (11) What the hell?!? The reading of novels has everything to do with the cultivation of the capacity for decency of impulse, as well as for the ability to perceive principles, evaluate, revise, and commit to them. "Moral complexity" and "moral imagination" are the major rubrics under which much scholarship and teaching of the novel is predicated, an approach which can bear more fruit than an exclusive focus upon the structure of the plot (as though literature were a poor approximation of sculpture).

The best book I've ever read about the task of higher education is a study from 1970 called Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years: A Scheme by William G. Perry Jr. Its thesis, borne out by statistical evidence from a partly quantitative longitudinal study, is that the uneducated mind assumes that all important elements of the human world are to be described in nuance-free propositions whose truth value is either complete or nothing; with a little education, the student moves on into new uncertainty -- a crisis position from which the inbound assaults of nuance and ambiguity can no longer be repulsed. Then, when and if the student meets the "task of higher education," he or she becomes capable of tolerating complexity and ambiguity -- especially of the moral kind -- and sees all knowledge as circumscribed by human limitations, but not meaningless on that account. I can hardly imagine teaching Hamlet without mentioning this.

Hold in one hand the work of Lawrence Kohlberg on "moral development" and in the other Huckleberry Finn, or Anna Karenina, or Richard II, and notice that each illuminates the other.
Triangulating the pair is the student's need to orient himself to the world as it is.

"But if an idea or a policy is subjected to a certain kind of interrogation -- what is its history? how has it changed over time? who are its prominent proponents? what are the arguments for and against it? with what other policies is it usually packaged? -- then its partisan thrust will have been blunted, for it will have become an object of analysis rather than an object of affection." (20) The claim that it can't be both, is false.

Here's Fish on a line from the mission statement of Wesleyan U., which aims to:

"...'foster awareness, respect, and appreciation for a diversity of experiences, interests, beliefs and identities..' Awareness is okay; it's important to know what's out there. But why should students be taught to 'respect' a diversity of experiences, interests, beliefs and identities in advance of assessing them and taking their measure? The missing word here is 'evaluate.' That's what intellectual work is all about, the evaluation, not the celebration, of interests, beliefs, and identities; after all, interests can be base, beliefs can be wrong, and identities can be irrelevant to an inquiry."

Before answering Fish, let me agree that mission statements, invariable written by committee, are the last place in the world to look for good prose. Moving on:

(1) "RESPECT"
I agree with Fish and disagree with most academics, in that I believe respect should not be taken as the axiomatic endpoint of any inquiry into a culture. I disagree with Fish in that I believe respect should be precisely the starting point of cultural inquiry, assumed "in advance." What books go on the syllabus of my favorite kind of course, the "Great Books" humanities survey? The variations teem like minnows, but usually there is some Homer, some Greek tragedy, and some Bible. Given the parties to the mayhem of the past eight years, it seems foolhardy to disinclude a look at the Koran. As I taught that book, I was horrified by the figure of a sadistic, bullying, trap-laying authoritarian father-God (not so different from the tyrant of Paradise Lost). My right to say so, and my ability to manage the class, came from my having paired this text-based observation with very similar assessments of comparable moments in the Torah and the Book of Revelation. I taught my students to respect Islam, but not in the way most Muslims seem to insist that it be respected, nor in the uncritical way that a lazy multiculturalist (there are other kinds) would. I distributed that respect, along with the critique that qualifies and even undermines it, evenly across the monotheist field. No narrow specialist can do that.

(2) "INTERESTS"
"interests can be base..." Yes. Interests do have to be evaluated. But understanding them is easier from a standpoint of initial respect than from an Olympian distance.

(3) "BELIEFS"
"beliefs can be wrong..." Yes. But this use of the word "wrong" locks you into a corresponding sense of the word "beliefs," and I suspect it is not the sense in which Welseyan is using it. Remember Wittgenstein on James George Frazer's Golden Bough? If you do, you're a step ahead of Fish: "Frazer's pesentation of the magical and religious views of men is unsatisfactory... It makes these views appear as errors."

(4) "IDENTITIES"
"identities can be irrelevant to an inquiry..." Yes. And the best way to find out if there's a hidden, identity-related factor inflecting the inquiry or its object, is to take a look.

No review can do justice to a book if it stops at page 25. So I don't claim to have fully reviewed Save the World On Your Own Time, but I do feel I've pointed out the sources of my misgivings about the book as I read on. Until next time, gentle readers, au frickin revoir.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A.D.D.eep

I enjoy drawing comics. Here's one about Attention Deficit Disorder.

Choosing a Jewish Elementary School:
Why One Flunked My Test

[Note: I almost sold this piece to a Jewish newspaper, but the editors wanted it to be balanced by a more positive profile of some better Jewish elementary school (a good editorial idea) as part of a larger article. I bet there is one, and I hope we find it soon; for the moment, there's been no time to go school-hunting just yet, and I do not want to keep this little piece hidden in the shoebox any longer. I ought to run out and chase the $75: go find a better school to profile, then write it all up, cut it down, and send it in. But I'm gonna share it with you guys instead, and get back to one of the two writing projects that is currently (almost) paying the bills... --JH]

We are shopping around for an elementary day-school for my four year old daughter, who is currently attending a Montessori in the greater Los Angeles / Orange County area. I just came back from my first school Open House, where I was one of about ten parents touring the place with a guide who has several children of her own enrolled there. It was a Jewish school, attached to a Temple; I won’t say which, since this is a largely negative review and I don’t want to defame the place. They probably do a generally great job of educating the kids who enroll. I respect what they do there, but I want to tell you why it was not a good fit for our family.

It was sparkling clean, huge, amazingly well-maintained and modern, with laptops everywhere and a “Smart Board” internet projector on the wall in every classroom. The gym was enormous, with a brand new varnished wood floor. All the kids seemed happy and safe, and the spirit of the place seemed quite benevolent and genuine. During the talks by the Principal that preceded and followed the tour itself, we were told about the emphasis on Jewish values and Jewish identity, two areas in which the place seemed to excel. So why aren’t we going to send our kid there?

At one point the tour guide told us that “the kids don’t have a separate Bible class... everything is together; so, say they were having a lesson about the ocean -- it would include Jonah and the whale.” This did not seem to fluster any of the other parents, whereas I felt quite taken aback. To be fair, this was a parent speaking from her own perspective, having volunteered to lead a tour. I asked: “So, at some point, does anyone tell the kids something like, This is a story from HaShem, and it’s in the Torah. This other learning, called ‘oceanography,’ is what we found out ourselves, and here is how we found it out... both are true, but in different ways?” Answer: “No... we don’t sort it out like that... we talk about creationism but we also talk about evolution.” Ahem.

I switched from that tour group to another and asked its leader the same question. Very sensibly, she recommended asking a teacher. I found one and asked him. His first response to my question was, “You mean, do we present scientific evidence for creationism?” No, that was not what I was asking. If that option were on the table I’d wonder if we had been unwittingly teleported from Los Angeles to Wichita. I gently clarified my question, and he responded with what he thought was a progressive idea: “We don’t tell them this is how it is; we say, some people believe only Torah, and other people believe only in evolution, and there’s mixtures in between. I don’t think there’s just one way to teach it.”

This will not do. No educated person “believes in” evolution. It is something of which one becomes persuaded, by evidence and argumentation. Or it’s taught as the patent truth which the kid accepts because the adults do, until s/he comes to question it and then is persuaded by evidence and argumentation. Wittgenstein wrote that “If you tried to doubt everything, you would not get as far as doubting anything; the child learns by believing the adult.” Yes, but for us and for the new-and-different adults we want our children eventually to become, evolution is not a belief -- certainly not a “belief in” anything -- any more than Newtonian physics is a belief: it is a powerful, fascinating, demonstrable though incomplete description of a real process in the world. One could give this teacher the benefit of the doubt and call it a poor choice of words, but the bigger problem is the inability to hear the question.

At the Principal’s after-tour talk, I asked how I can learn more about the textbooks they use. “We don’t tend to use textbooks. We prefer to use literature.” By G-d, so do I! In the lit classes I taught for 14 years, I almost never used an anthology, only primary texts from various disciplines. So I was pleased to hear this, though she still hadn’t named a single book. “For science and math,” she continued, “we use Houghton-Mifflin.” That’s a gargantuan publishing conglomerate, not a book. She just didn’t know the answer. The teaching coordinator was in the room, and she spoke up -- but only to offer me her business card and invite me to email her about it. There was no shortage of time, and there were almost no other questions from the other parents; I had certainly not hogged the floor; had they known which books were being taught in the school, they could have told us.

The Principal’s brief remarks continued, emphasizing Jewish values and Jewish identity at the school, two things I dearly want my kid to have. As an example of the Jewish spirit of learning, she said, “A third grade class was learning about the Tower of Babel, and one boy asked what languages the people were speaking before the Tower of Babel. Another time, when a class was learning about how the Torah says Moses ‘heard the word of G-d,’ a girl asked, ‘Is that really, really true?’“

Good questions from the kids. But the Principal gave no hint about how the teachers at this school responded to those questions. So I raised my hand and asked her, and she said, “We asked the kids what they thought.” That certainly is part of what a good teacher does. But teaching is supposed to include informing kids about the world and the culture in which they find themselves. Adults are supposed to know something. In Chapter 14 of De Magistri -- "On the Teacher" -- Augustine (354 - 430 C.E.) asks, “Who would be so absurdly curious as to send his child to school to learn what the teacher thinks?” Very good. But no teacher can (or should) so sterilize his or her pedagogy as to expunge every trace of opinion; besides, one of the crucial things a good teacher can do for students is to model the figure of the thinking adult. The parent who makes a worse mistake than Augustine’s "absurdly curious" father, is the one who sends his child to school to learn what the other kids think.

Monday, March 16, 2009

$23,876 and a Joint

According to the NY Times, in 2005 the average annual cost per U.S. prison inmate was “about $23,876.” Strangely enough, that is exactly the current annual tuition cost of a B.A. degree in veterinary medicine at UC-Davis. Imagine two young men smoking a joint. They are chased by cops; one is caught, the other gets away. One spends twenty-three thousand, eight hundred and seventy-six dollars to learn how to heal animals; the state spends the same amount to dehumanize the other one.

The New Commentary from Immanuel Wallerstein: "Civil War in the U.S.?"

Immanuel Wallerstein's Commentary No. 253
Mar. 15, 2009,

"Civil War in the United States?"

We are getting accustomed to all sorts of breakdowns of taboos. The world press is full of discussion about whether it would be a good idea to "nationalize" banks. None other than Alan Greenspan, disciple of the superlibertarian prophet of pure market capitalism, Ayn Rand, has recently said that we have to nationalize banks once every hundred years, and this may be that moment. Conservative Republican Senator Lindsay Graham agreed with him. Left Keynesian Alan Blinder discussed the pros and cons of this idea. And while he thinks the cons are a bit bigger than the pros, he was willing to spend public intellectual energy writing about this in the New York Times.

Well, after hearing nationalization proposals by arch-conservative notables, we are now hearing serious discussions about the possibilities of civil war in the United States. Zbigniew Brzezinski, apostle of anti-Communist ideology and President Carter's National Security Advisor, appeared on a morning television talk show on February 17, and was asked to discuss his previous mention of the possibility of class conflict in the United States in the wake of the worldwide economic collapse.

Brzezinski said he was worried about it because of the prospect of "millions and millions of unemployed people facing dire straits," people who have become aware "of this extraordinary wealth that was transferred to a few individuals without historical precedent in America."

He reminded the listeners that, when there was a massive banking crisis in 1907, the great financier, J.P. Morgan, invited a group of wealthy financiers to his home, locked them in his library, and wouldn't let them out until they all kicked in money for a fund to stabilize the banks. Brzezinski said: "Where is the monied class today? Why aren't they doing something: the people who made billions?"

In the absence of their doing something on a voluntary basis, Brzezinski said, "there's going to be growing conflict between the classes and if people are unemployed and really hurting, hell, there could even be riots!"

Almost simultaneously, a European agency called LEAP/Europe that issues monthly confidential Global Europe Anticipation Bulletins for its clients - politicians, public servants, businessmen, and investors - devoted its February issue to global geopolitical dislocation. The report did not paint a pretty picture. It discussed the possibility of civil war in Europe, in the United States, and Japan. It foresaw a "generalized stampede" that will lead to clashes, semi-civil wars.

The experts have some advice: "If your country or region is a zone in which there is a massive availability of guns, the best thing you can do...is to leave the region, if that's possible." The only one of these countries which meets the description of massively available guns is the United States. The head of LEAP/Europe, Franck Biancheri, noted that "there are 200 million guns in circulation in the United States, and social violence is already manifest via gangs." The experts who wrote the report asserted that there is already an ongoing emigration of Americans to Europe, because that is "where physical danger will remain marginal."

If Brzezinski hopes for the emergence of another J.P. Morgan in the United States to force sense upon the "monied" class, the LEAP/Europe report sees a "last chance" in the April 2 London meeting of the G20, provided the participants come forward with a "convincing and audacious" plan.

These analyses are not coming from left intellectuals or radical social movements. They are the openly expressed fears of serious analysts who are part of the existing Establishment in the United States and Europe. Verbal taboos are broken only when such people are truly fearful. The point of breaking the taboos is to try to bring about major rapid action - the equivalent of J.P. Morgan locking the financiers in his home in 1907.

It was easier in 1907.

by Immanuel Wallerstein
[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact: rights@agenceglobal.com, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write: immanuel.wallerstein@yale.edu.

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]
Becky Dunlop, Secretary
Fernand Braudel Center
http://fbc.binghamton.edu/

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Electricity-Generating Stationary Exercise Bicycles: A Quick Look

What little revenue I've thus far managed to pry from the hands of Strumpet Fortuna, I've always spent on books, rent, and that's about it. So it's an interesting experience when I do come to want a bunch of thingy things--things that are very thingy. This computer was one; another was the desktop mixer I finally got, for the purpose of transferring to CD the 45 or 50 cassette tapes of my lectures from the 1990's -- the period before I bought my little semi-obsolete digital voice recorder.

Here is some thingy stuff I now desire, just as Plato and the Buddha said one ought not to:


A dude on this here forum said:
"Let's say you pay $0.25 per kilowatt-hour and can generate 100 watts continuously while sitting on your bike inside the house. In 10 hours, you will save $0.25. Of course, you are unlikely to sit and pedal for 10 hours at one stretch, so it may take you a few days to save that $0.25."
Mitigating considerations: (1) one must exercise anyway, and sometimes I prefer not to deal with car traffic & truck exhaust, not to mention the roadside temptation to stop and blow $6.75 on a 7 million calorie vanilla milkshake; (2) in a power outage--whether a miniature, one-house jobbie or a system-wide, August-2003-style multi-state electron hybernationfest--I'd be able to hop on the bike and eventually light up the room for a little while; (3) we would actually save a small, small, small, but actual pittance of money--not nothing; (4) the principle of the thing! Yes, it did cost fossil fuels to manufacture the bike and the generator and the arcane doohickies that hook them together, but good luck building a bike out of wood and grass. It would feel very good indeed to work off extra pounds, improve my "cardio," and power up my cell-phone without paying anything to anyone and without burning a jot of coal.

Digression on Food
Of course I'd hafta watch where my food calories are coming from, but I gotta do that anyway. I am trying to eat meat 3 times a week, not 6 or 7, and to get grass-fed beef and freerange chicken and cage-free eggs, and to eat out less and less. Lately my wife and I have each been cooking large batches of various bean-based stews and they are pretty awesome. I like sweet and savory together (she doesn't), so I put sliced-up dried apricots in with my lentils and a ton of black pepper.

Then there's the Pedal-A-Watt, which--if purchased in complete, hassle-free, pre-assembled condition--costs eight hundred dollars. But you can instead pay the same company $49.95 and receive: "Step by step plans that include a supplier parts list so that you may obtain all needed components through the mail. No welding is required however, you'll need a wrench, screwdrivers and a drill."

Sounds much better! But what are the parts, where do I get them, and what does it all cost?

Some dudes at "Instructables" have the whole process laid out for you.

So do these other guys at "Pedal Power Generator," and their version is much simpler and more appealing. The plans are free, and the parts seem to total... $580.

I don't feel so enthusiastic now. Then again, there's always Craigslist (I guess the mythical Craig also has shorts, a hat, maybe a Led Zeppelin bumper sticker, and some citrus in the fridge, but all anyone cares about is his list. Is that all Craig is to us? A list? Yes, that is all), where one might be able to score some of these arcane thingamowzaihobers on the cheap.

What else do I want?
A sewing machine that will work without electricity. Here is an email I got from the genuinely great homesteading goddess Sharon Astyk in response to a query I had sent her:

Re:sewing machines - you have a couple of choices, and it depends on what you want to do. You can buy an old Singer - one of the old style treadle machines. There are a fair number of them out there, and sewing machine supply shops can still get the bands and equipment for even the 19th century models. These are beautiful, beautiful instruments, they last forever and are well made, but they are very straightforward - they mostly go forwards and backwards, but don't do a lot of complex things.

Or, you can order through Walmart a modern treadle sewing machine - this will do more complex things, although it isn't nearly as pretty. I can't remember the brand - I don't think it is a Singer, but I gather they are very popular with Amish families that do all their own sewing, because they can do embroidery stitches and all sorts of funky things. I bet you'll get some raised eyebrows ordering one in LA, but still ;-).

The third possibility is that you can buy a treadle conversion kit for a regular sewing machine. I don't have as source for these at the moment - the person I was using closed down. But then you will be able to do anything the sewing machine can do without power (ie, some machines are computerized and can do crazily complex things) with the treadle. Since they were meant to have somewhat more hp behind them, these sometimes require fairly energetic treadling, but this is the cheapest option, and you should be able to find these on google.

As for the blog - I'll gladly do a guest post, if you don't mind waiting until April, since I'm currently in book edits. Once that's done, I'd be glad to. Anything in particular?


Nope, anything you want. PPC readers, this April (circa Passover) we will get a guest post from Sharon Astyk, author of: Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front, as well as the forthcoming: A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil by Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton (Paperback - April 1, 2009)... I just finished reading the first one (D&A) and my mother's reading it on my suggestion (which is rather super); I pre-ordered the new one a few weeks ago. See her blog Casaubon's Book in my "blogroll" at the right hand side of this page.

Also, I want a solid gold sock.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

VELOCITY by Nancy Krygowski (BOOK REVIEW, POETRY)

Velocity by Nancy Krygowski
Pitt Poetry Series (Paperback - Sep 28, 2007)

Why do I love this book? It sounds nothing like most of the poets I go around praising; it won the 2006 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, so it doesn't need any help from little ole me; and it's a Pittsburgh University Press book, so it doesn't need any help from anybody, actually. But I read it last night and the night before, and I was touched by it. It's gendery as hell, but not in that cloying way you sometimes find, where the author's resentment of the other side's real offenses has outstripped the more interesting emotions like ambivalence and yearning. The title poem is about the rape (the word doesn't occur, but it's pretty clear what we're seeing) of a 16 year old girl by two men from a truck, "On a rural road in Georgia." So there is cause for bitterness galore, but we find "Control," "Still Wet, "Dear Panties," and "It's A Good Day," tender poems of longing for intimacy and ambivalence about love.


IT'S A GOOD DAY

This picture will be too small for legibility, but click it and it'll open nice and large.

The whole poem is humane; nobody is the asshole; everyone is doing the best s/he can, glamor-free. And yet the pain of being alive is in there, along with the kernel of erotic possibility that keeps people going through times of drought. Three people are in line at the express lane; two men, one buying Vaseline to masturbate with, the other buying condoms for actual sex. In front of them and quite alone is the poem's female speaker, who combines the first man's loneliness with the second man's capacity for actual coupling. In case the photo doesn't behave, here's the second half of the poem:
I look for pennies in the bottom of my purse
and look, too, at the word, pennies,
which could almost be the other word,



because of Mr. Vaseline and the happy thing
he is off to do, and because I loved a man
with a beautiful penis, one whose hand,
right now, probably grips a pencil
with the faith of a mathematician who accepts
there are no perfect circles in the world,
that perfect circle exists
not in the smooth-edged copper I slip
into the cashier's hand,
not in the three-pack of Trojans
the man behind me tosses down
on the still-moving conveyor belt,
but only in theory.
He sticks out three one-dollar bills exactly
as the girl hands me the same.
So I smile.
At the mystery of synchronicity,
at the man's beautiful impatience,
at the fact that I, too, had a lover,
one whose tobacco-colored eyes stared
at numbers, triangles, letters
that stood for numbers,
and wondered if a mathematical proposition
could be proven by appealing to experience,
as if a perfect, deep kiss could be proof
of the imperfect circle
of long, consistent love.
The answer, I am told, is no.
But now I remember, happily, exactly what I mourn.


The word "happy" occurs twice here, each occurrence darkened by loneliness. Though there is "synchronicity" in the triad of customers, and the man's three-dollar price, and the woman's three dollars change, and the three-pack of Trojans, it doesn't amount to much. Even the difficult truth which the remembered lover had already come to accept -- "there are no perfect circles in the world" -- is just a taste of the eventual necessary suffering; even "long, consistent love" is "imperfect"; and "the imperfect circle / of long, consistent love" is out of reach. But the fallen, material, geometrically dodgy circles of these mute physical objects -- the pennies, the rolled condoms, even the lid on the "big tub" of Vaseline (as many, many of us are aware, only the largest tubs of Vaseline have circular lids) -- are at least round, even if not Round.

In the Symposium, Plato brought together his thoughts about numbers as exemplars of a perfect and immaterial world of "forms," and his deep worry about love. Real tables and chairs get broken, or they rot, or somebody walks off with them while you're out at the festival. But the Ultimate Table of Tableness, and the Eternal Chair of Chair-osity, cannot fail.

Coins get clipped, wheels are pitted by the gravel of the road, the athelete is frustrated by the discus that feels worn and lopsided -- and as Galileo was astonished to find, the undying Sun itself suffers distortions in its shape (sunspots, solar flares). But the Absolutely Round is beyond this material world, in an unassailable elsewhere to which only the Gods, the dead, and the unborn enjoy unmediated access. Loving a mortal person who is trapped in the body (as Yeats had it, "chained to a dying animal") is a big drag because one way or another you lose him or her. Most of Shakespeare's sonnets are a fugue set to just this Platonic tune. The philosopher exhorted his students to rise above interpersonal attachments (not just the more obviously dangerous love of riches) because, having lost his own beloved mentor to State terror in 399 BCE, Plato knew that the loss of a unique beloved is devastating. Better to love the integers, better to love geometry, since those won't leave us in this life and they will be waiting for us in the next. Krygowski might find this stuff entirely alien to Velocity, but I don't think so. Her book seems to know all about it.

Another strength of this bittersweet work is its excellent poetry of mourning for a beloved dead sister, and for a rather mean mother whose dementia has left her half alive and a little bit nicer. Those elegiac poems aren't grouped together; the tide of grief ebbs and flows in Velocity as it does in real life (an excellent editorial choice).

I have to go stir the cocoa. The point is, this book is well worth buying and reading, and on the strength of it, Nancy Krygowski is now one of the poets I'll mention when people ask me which living poets I really like to read.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Wisdom from an Unexpected Source


Cartoon by the brilliant DAVID REES.

It's a miracle! Thomas Friedman, cornucopian cheerleader of the globalization I decried in my last mouse-that-roared blog post, has woken up from his dogmatic slumber! He has caught the scent of reality and undertaken that "repentance" or "conversion" or "turnaround" or "volte-face" that Augustine strove for in his Confessions; that was forced upon Achilles when Athena grabbed his hair in Iliad Book II; that released Lucius Apuleius from the hateful charm of the witch's salve and turned him back from a donkey into his original human form in The Golden Ass; that befell the Seducer in Kierkegaard's taxonomy of human development when he found himself transformed from an aesthetic into an ethical being; that made an opportunistic Cold Warrior stop spouting lies about a "Missile Gap" and start speaking the dangerous truth of Peace forty-six years ago. Of course, the Moustache Oracle is "no John Kennedy," but the principle is the same: PEOPLE GROW UP. Therefore, there is hope. Not much, but not none!

The Inflection Is Near?



Published: March 7, 2009

Sometimes the satirical newspaper The Onion is so right on, I can’t resist quoting from it. Consider this faux article from June 2005 about America’s addiction to Chinese exports:


Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

FENGHUA, China — Chen Hsien, an employee of Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western markets, expressed his disbelief Monday over the “sheer amount of [garbage] Americans will buy. Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ‘salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these.’ ... One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless [garbage]? I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I’ve made for them,” Chen said. “And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible.”
Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”
We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...
We can’t do this anymore.
“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog climateprogress.org. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.
“You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate ...’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”
Over a billion people today suffer from water scarcity; deforestation in the tropics destroys an area the size of Greece every year — more than 25 million acres; more than half of the world’s fisheries are over-fished or fished at their limit.
“Just as a few lonely economists warned us we were living beyond our financial means and overdrawing our financial assets, scientists are warning us that we’re living beyond our ecological means and overdrawing our natural assets,” argues Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. But, he cautioned, as environmentalists have pointed out: “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”
One of those who has been warning me of this for a long time is Paul Gilding, the Australian environmental business expert. He has a name for this moment — when both Mother Nature and Father Greed have hit the wall at once — “The Great Disruption.”
“We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder,” he wrote me. “No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.” We must have growth, but we must grow in a different way. For starters, economies need to transition to the concept of net-zero, whereby buildings, cars, factories and homes are designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks.
Gilding says he’s actually an optimist. So am I. People are already using this economic slowdown to retool and reorient economies. Germany, Britain, China and the U.S. have all used stimulus bills to make huge new investments in clean power. South Korea’s new national paradigm for development is called: “Low carbon, green growth.” Who knew? People are realizing we need more than incremental changes — and we’re seeing the first stirrings of growth in smarter, more efficient, more responsible ways.
In the meantime, says Gilding, take notes: “When we look back, 2008 will be a momentous year in human history. Our children and grandchildren will ask us, ‘What was it like? What were you doing when it started to fall apart? What did you think? What did you do?’ ” Often in the middle of something momentous, we can’t see its significance. But for me there is no doubt: 2008 will be the marker — the year when ‘The Great Disruption’ began.
-------------------
There you have it, folks. Straight from the pundit's pie-hole! I can hardly believe it. Of course, the real intellectuals in this country have been explaining this very principle (endless economic growth on a finite planet is suicide) to the same two hundred idea-proof wealthy groupthink whores (Friedman, et ilk) for the past 35 years. But the important thing is, now that The Moustache understands, many other people will, too.

Thanks & a shout-out to Sharon Astyk for making me aware of this development.

Gonna Sew My Old Shirts, Patch My Jeans, Shop at Thrift Shops


Subsistence food crops for local consumption are good. Monocrops for trade and debt are bad. Sometimes things are actually as simple as a childlike morality would suggest.
Why dig for nuance when the situation is so stark? I have to buy less new cotton. I simply have to buy less new cotton. I can buy less new cotton. Then Uzbekistani overlords will lose profits, and... fall from power? The rural people would immediately stop growing cotton if they could. The problem is the regime and its international commercial clients. The Uzbeki state is supported by the US as an ally in a regional chessgame intended to encircle Russia. Uzbekistan recently tossed out a U.S. military base, however, so Uncle Sam may not have a lot of pull over there, even if he suddenly discovered the Uzbek / Tajik predicament.

Everyone else in the "3rd world" seems to be enslaved to one cash crop or another --coffee, opium, coca, cotton, the Nile Perch fish in Lake Victoria, bananas, and so on. Whenever this happens, the traditional skills for growing a balanced diet of foodcrops disappear in a generation or two, and everyone is left helpless under the cash economy. Then some other country dumps the same crop on the market at a lower price, and the domestic monocrop industry --rice in Haiti, for one famous example-- crashes. At that point it's either starve in the fields, or wander into the shantytowns of places like Mumbai and Port-au-Prince.

Subsistence food crops for local consumption are good. Monocrops for trade and debt are bad. What am I missing here? Free trade is toxic. Globalization is slavery. It increases the velocity of money (upward), circulates capital (among a shrinking circle of capos), builds opportunity (to wreck unique cultures, lost forever to McWorld), fosters innovation (in shit like Monsanto's "terminator seeds," one of the deadliest threats to food security the world has ever seen), and lifts people out of poverty (where "poverty" is an unmonetized economy based on local relationships and human needs, and "uplift" is wage slavery to absentee Supermen and their little rightist werewolves, like the Contras and the ARVM). The one good thing about Peak Oil is that it may force the "developed world" to leave other people the hell alone.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Introducing My New Book: Limousine, Midnight Blue

What I want is a poetry of what the Greeks called public life, expressed with the intensity and deadly earnest (not unrelieved by irony and humor) of the lyric. I want a tragic poetry whose sense is clear, and whose sound is a subtle, trance-inducing fugue, woven of phonetic subsystems -- consonant patterns, vowel patterns, patterns of rhyme (especially internal rhymes), and the varied, hypnotic rhythms of inspired metrical speech in a high style. That's what I have tried to achieve in my new, first book of poems, called Limousine, Midnight Blue: Fifty Frames from the Zapruder Film. It's blessed with enthusiastic endorsements from both Billy Collins and Peter Dale Scott. Read sample pages and watch trailer clips at my website, http://www.jameyhecht.com.

I'm grateful for your interest in this book and I hope you may be moved to review it. Thank you.





Saturday, March 7, 2009

Trailer Z 172 ..."A Poet Is Possessed," or, How My Book Came to Be and Why It Is So Weird


This sequence of fifty 14-line poems uses the Zapruder Film of President Kennedy's murder as a prism through which to view America and the world. Refracted rays touch on crime and punishment; guilt and responsibility; charisma and love; the dying victim's experience during the stretched-out seconds of his violation and death; and the dark world of war profiteering, narco-traffic, and deceit where the facts of power determine history. Epic tradition (e.g., Homer, Dante, Milton) shares these pages with science, religion, and popular culture, now funny and now horrifying. Limousine, Midnight Blue is a haunted book about a haunted film of an event whose hungry ghosts still walk the American unconscious, rattling their chains louder every year.

"Ovid himself might have taken notice of this volume. It's one thing to turn a woman into a tree, another more advanced thing to transform fifty frames of the Zapruder film into as many sonnets. Limousine, Midnight Blue is a radical display of poetry's ability to freeze time, to catch fugitive —and here, disputed—moments in the amber of form." —Billy Collins


Friday, March 6, 2009

A Chat With A Libertarian About Economic Growth

...or, How To Be Free and Prosperous Beneath Meters of Melted Sea-Ice

These of course are screencaps from Facebook, where I recently enjoyed a little tet-a-tete with a fine fellow I had never heard of. I wish him well.

These look too small to read, but if you click on each one it will blow up larger.






Note this interesting article:
http://blogs.edmunds.com/greencaradvisor/2008/03/filler-up-thatll-be-27-cents.html

Wow! There's an amazingly fuel efficient vehicle. But who will scale it up to replace the doomed US car fleet -- 250 million cars!? How much fossil energy will it cost to build that many replacements? NO combination of renewables known to humanity can drive the scale of energy consumption to which our sprawling infrastructure has committed us.

I hope the gov't allocates 800 billion to the auto industry to retool all the plants for building streetcar trolleys, passenger light rail (high speed or not), and freight rail. That way you guys get jobs, and the rest of us get some food security when the trucks crap out. Instead they're investing in highways.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Peter Dale Scott on 1-27-09 + Michael Hudson on 2-27-09

"Saving American Politics from the Present Two-Party System"
...an address by Peter Dale Scott to "The Republican Roundtable."

The guy who introduces PDS has no idea who he's dealing with and hasn't read any Scott, which reflects rather poorly on the RR as host. PDS is, in reality, the greatest documentarian of American suppressed history; he coined the phrase "Deep Politics"; he wrote some of the best books on the real origins of the Vietnam War, the large-scale structure of geopolitical crime and political sabotage, the two Kennedy Assassinations, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the global systems of drugs, oil, and war. He's also a fine poet with several books of poetry from the great New Directions Press.

This presentation by PDS just a month ago (1-27-09; it's now 3-2-09) is particularly interesting in light of his more frank and alarming article of a few weeks before (1-8-09):
Martial Law, the Financial Bailout, and War
That article is rather bracing and well word reading immediately. Some weeks ago I was so struck by the section on the Gary Hartization of Eliot Spitzer just as he blew the whistle on the bush administration's Ponzi financial policy, that I posted a small excerpt of it here:

How the Bush Administration Protected Predatory Lending and Let the Financial Crisis Grow
Let us now consider the financial crisis and the panic bailout. No one should think that the crisis was unforeseen. Back in February Eliot Spitzer, in one of his last acts as governor of New York, warned about the impending crisis created by predatory lending, and reveled that the Bush Administration was blocking state efforts to deal with it. His extraordinary warning, in the Washington Post, is worth quoting at some length:
Several years ago, state attorneys general and others involved in consumer protection began to notice a marked increase in a range of predatory lending practices by mortgage lenders. …
Even though predatory lending was becoming a national problem, the Bush administration looked the other way and did nothing to protect American homeowners. In fact, the government chose instead to align itself with the banks that were victimizing consumers. . . . Several state legislatures, including New York's, enacted laws aimed at curbing such practices. . . .Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which the federal government was turning a blind eye.

Let me explain: The administration accomplished this feat through an obscure federal [Treasury] agency called the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The OCC has been in existence since the Civil War. Its mission is to ensure the fiscal soundness of national banks. For 140 years, the OCC examined the books of national banks to make sure they were balanced, an important but uncontroversial function. But a few years ago, for the first time in its history, the OCC was used as a tool against consumers.
In 2003, during the height of the predatory lending crisis, the OCC invoked a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to issue formal opinions preempting all state predatory lending laws, thereby rendering them inoperative. The OCC also promulgated new rules that prevented states from enforcing any of their own consumer protection laws against national banks. The federal government's actions were so egregious and so unprecedented that all 50 state attorneys general, and all 50 state banking superintendents, actively fought the new rules.
But the unanimous opposition of the 50 states did not deter, or even slow, the Bush administration in its goal of protecting the banks. In fact, when my office opened an investigation of possible discrimination in mortgage lending by a number of banks, the OCC filed a federal lawsuit to stop the investigation.21
Eliot Spitzer submitted his Op Ed to the Washington Post on February 13. If it had an impact, it was not the one Spitzer had hoped for. On March 10 the New York Times broke the story of Spitzer’s encounter with a prostitute. According to a later Times story, “on Feb. 13 [the day Spitzer’s Op Ed went up on the Washington Post website] federal agents staked out his hotel in Washington.”[22]
It is remarkable that the Mainstream Media found Spitzer’s private life to be big news, but not his charges that Paulson’s Treasury was prolonging the financial crisis, or the relation of these charges to Spitzer’s exposure.

Let's return to the video of his presentation to the Republican Roundtable. Here's part 3 of 4. It starts with PDS reiterating some shocking yet familiar statistics about the wealth transfer (not wealth production) upward from the general population into the coffers of the most wealthy. Then (at 1:26) he quotes Kevin Phillips on the FINANCIALIZATION of America, "'A process whereby financial services, broadly construed, take over the dominant economic, cultural, and political role in a national economy...' and in his wonderful book,
[Phillips] shows how this happened in Spain in the 16th Century and led to the rapid collapse of Spain; happened in the Netherlands the 17th Century led to the collapse of the Netherlands; and happened very conspicuously in Britian in the 19th Century, followed by the collapse of Britain as a world power..."

I've just ordered Philips' book, but I can already recommend a great book I read in 2004 on this: Super-Imperialism: The Origin and Fundamentals of U.S. World Dominance, by Michael Hudson. I got it new off the shelf for about $29 back then. Today there are 7 copies for sale on amazon, and the cheapest is $72. Word must've gotten out about the extraordinary explanatory power of Hudson's book. He did a great article in Harper's in May 2006 called "The New Road to Serfdom: An Illustrated Guide to the Coming Real Estate Collapse." Harper's wants money for access to its articles online (understandable), but here's a video interview with Michael Hudson:


And now back to Peter for Part 4 of 4: