Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hitch Nails It!

"A Middle Eastern despot now knows for sure when his time in power is well and truly up. He knows it when his bankers in Zurich or Geneva cease accepting his transfers and responding to his confidential communications and instead begin the process of 'freezing' his assets and disclosing their extent and their whereabouts to investigators in his long-exploited country. And, at precisely that moment, the U.S. government also announces that it no longer recognizes the said depositor as the duly constituted head of state." (Christopher Hitchens, Slate, 25/02/11)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Question Concerning Technology

I think Fran Lebowitz got it right. The answer to the question concerning technology is no.
Technology prevents you from being there.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Left-field Conservatism

"Would you consider opting out of the whole system under one condition?" asked Ron Paul at CPAC yesterday. "You pay 10% of your income, but you take care of yourself. Don't ask the government for anything." It reminded me a little of Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin's 1969 New York mayoralty campaign. Here's what their campaign manager, Joe Flaherty, wrote back then in the Village Voice:

But the thing that intrigued me about Mailer was that he carried the idea of community control to its smallest unit -- man itself. When someone suggested the idea of replacing the water in toilets with chemicals to remove the waste, Mailer refused, noting that man is losing contact with himself and "should be able to smell his own shit." Programs for the poor were repugnant to him because they place man in slots negating his chance: "to forge the destiny of his soul." In short, he is still naive enough to think our soul possesses the grace to manage our own lives.

I think Paul is running in the same spirit (sadly, an essentially unelectable one, I guess). It is important to emphasize the role of the community here, which, when you scratch him, Paul also gets around to. Health care isn't a problem if it is a community matter. It's done more cheaply, with more focus on prevention and hygiene, less focus on drugs and surgery. The local doctor is respected in the community but not absurdly enriched by it. The doctor's job is to keep the basic productive capacity of the community functioning, to keep the human body healthy.

"Power to the neighborhoods," said Mailer and Breslin. Mailer was looking for "a hip coalition of left and right." I think Paul's message could be improved subtly as follows: "Pay 10% of your income and take care of each other. Don't ask the government to solve your neighbor's problems." I know, I know. This idea is totally "out there". Let's see what happens when then youth revolts this time around.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gold and Money

Slate has a good piece on Ron Paul: "We have not seen a lot of hearings on monetary policy from the monetary policy subcommittee," notes Mark Calabria, the director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute. "To a certain extent, a lot of members of Congress don't want to bother with the topic. The way I see it, Paul will attempt a public-information campaign. It is not going to be the end of the world for the Fed" (page 3).

It reminds me of that line of John Adams's that Ezra Pound was so fond of quoting. "All the perplexities, confusion and distresses in America arise not from defects in the constitution or confederation, nor from want of honor or virtue, as much from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation." I think Ron Paul is working in that tradition. Like Pound, he believes that that ignorance is the real enemy (SP, p. 314).

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Stranger

I think Camus' novel The Stranger is about a man who discovers that it matters less what he does than what he is. What he has done is bad enough. But that's not what his trial turns out to be about.

I think this discovery, that it is not enough to do the right things, you must feel the right emotions while doing them (or after doing them), is the root of great deal of "existential angst". It is there even when people do good work, when they are clearly doing the right things. All the time, there is that uncertainty about whether it was done sincerely enough. Or too sincerely.

My favorite sentence in Beckett's Watt is, "Watt had watched people smile and thought he understood how it was done." A similar idea is expressed in Wyndham Lewis's Tarr: "[Tarr] had no social machinery [but] the cumbrous one of the intellect. . . . When he tried to be amiable he usually only succeeded in being portentous." (p. 9.)