25 January 2014

Beware The Oppression of Filthy Rich Guys

Tom Perkins is a founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and what you might call a filthy rich guy. Apparently, he was a path-breaking scientist/engineer in the field of at optics. However, his historical vision seems to be pretty cloudy - distorted by self-serving ideology and resentment.

Tom recently made a fool of himself, publishing this letter at The Wall Street Journal drawing a parallel between critics in the contemporary U.S. who think it is outrageous that wealth and income are distributed in such absurdly skewed ways to - you guessed it - rampaging Nazis.

Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?

I would call attention to the parallels of Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."

Jan. 24, 2014 4:49 p.m. ET

Regarding your editorial "Censors on Campus" (Jan. 18): Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these "techno geeks" can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a "snob" despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?
Poor, oppressed Tom! He is all worked up because luck and speculation are not rewarded just by ridiculous - might I say obscene? - wealth. He wants us to respect him too! And when people do not respect he and his rich friends, when people suggest that the views of the wealthy for what constitutes a decent state of the world might be self-serving or destructive, well Tom looks closely and thinks he discerns the jackboots marching.

So, Tom, let me be clear. I don't hate you or other people lucky enough to occupy the 1% (although you are likely in the top .0001%) of the income and wealth distributions. I  simply think that your position there is indefensible by any plausible moral, political or economic theory. Sorry to disappoint you.

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16 January 2014

Criticism as Instruction

At The Brooklyn Rail, philosopher Alva Noë offers this brief essay on criticism, relying on Dewey to push back on now fashionable neuro-scientific views of aesthetic experience.
"The connoisseur or critic, crucially, is not a measuring instrument, a kind of authorship- or value-detector. Rather, they are bent on seeing, and seeing is not mere detection. Unlike detecting, seeing is not instantaneous, nor is it all or nothing or once and for all. Seeing is itself thoroughly critical; it is thoughtful and it is contextual. Stanley Cavell captures this idea when he explains that what distinguishes the critic is not that he or she can discern qualities that you cannot, but rather that, in discerning them, the critic can give you the means to discern them as well. Criticism is less an art of discrimination than it is a discipline of accounting for what one sees; it is a practice of making it intelligible to oneself and another. Critics make sense, and they give you the tools you need to make sense too. Critics don’t just see, they teach us how to see."

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11 January 2014

Luc Sante on Brassaï

The Lamplighter, Place de la Concorde, circa 1933, PS 2 - © Estate Brassaï.

A very short comment on a new book, here at NYRB.


10 January 2014

This Is Your Face on Solitary Confinement

Journalist Michael Montgomery of the Center for Investigative Reporting has done this remarkable photo essay - portraits of prisoners consigned to long term solitary confinement at Pelican Bay (California). It is published at Politico.

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08 January 2014

The Consequences of Unemployment Benefits

Deflating yet another fact free conservative argument:
"On This Week With George Stephanopoulos last weekend, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) claimed that, when it comes to unemployment, the longer you have it, "it does provide some disincentive to work.”

According to Mark Killingsworth, a professor of economics at Rutgers University, “in a limited sense that’s true, but it’s not huge.”

“Most people would rather get a job than sit on unemployment benefits,” he says.

Another labor economist, Henry Farber, who teaches at Princeton University, says the evidence “is pretty clear.”

“It suggests that the extended unemployment insurance benefits that we have had in the Great Recession and its aftermath have not appreciably reduced the job-finding rate,” he says. Having access to those benefits, Farber says, might extend the period of time someone is unemployed, but just by a couple of days.

“The view that somehow, by providing people with extended benefits," he says, "they are just living the-fat-and happy life and don’t need to look for work and are not finding jobs, does not seem to be borne out in any data that I have seen.”

What the benefits have done, Farber notes, is keep out-of-work Americans from leaving the workforce altogether. Killingsworth says what is missing from the U.S. economy right now is demand – both for goods and services, and workers.

“If we don’t do anything much to demand, then everybody is going to be scurrying around looking for jobs that don’t exist,” Killingsworth says." [Source]

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04 January 2014

Say It With Flowers

From the series "Study in Perspective” (1995-2003) © Ai Weiwei.

Over the past week or so, The New York Times has run two stories [1] [2] on the floral war Ai Weiwei is waging against the Chinese regime. At issue is the fact that the government has impounded Ai's passport, preventing him from traveling. It seems that the flowers carry pretty much the same message as the photo lifted above.

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02 January 2014

Solnit Offerings

From Guernica, Rebacca Solnit's year end manifesto for hope; while I agree that we have to keep an eye our for unforeseeable consequences, I am not sanguine about the arc of the moral universe. And, from Businessweek, this interview with Solnit about the gentrification and commodification of San Francisco by minions from Silicon Valley tech companies, and the protests against that pattern.

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