Category Archives: writing

Seeking: a small group of companions to form an email discussion list about the economy.

Dear Readers of My Blog (if any of you even exist, that is),

I’m looking for some company in reading some books about economics and participating in an email discussion about the current state of the global economy. I’ve been having lots of discussions about this topic lately, some wonderfully cathartic and educational, others horribly depressing, and more still immensely frustrating. The root of this frustration is more often a lack of shared vocabulary and historical understanding than it is a lack of shared values, though in few subjects are the two so dramatically intertwined as in economics. Suffice it to say, I’ve found the most productive fruitful conversations to be those in which the participants have read at least some of the same books or articles, even if they vehemently disagree on what they mean.

In a somewhat blind-leading-the-blind experiment, I’ve compiled a list of ten books that might form an initial common ground. Recommendations for this list come from (hopefully less blind) friends, family members, professors, and the books themselves. It is not intended to be a comprehensive overview of a discipline or in any way definitive. I just tried to pick texts which seemed to be in dialogue with each other, and have something valuable to say. Some I’ve read cover to cover, others merely selections, and a couple I’m still waiting to stumble upon in a good used book store. They are listed in chronological order, but I do not propose we read them in that order, or that to join the list you must commit to reading all in their entirety. Instead, the only requirement is that you obtain a few and read them at your leisure. And the list itself? Questions, rants, relevant links, suggested readings, selected passages, apt quotations, critiques: really, whatever the participants desire.

Some ground rules: The list will be hosted either on rrrojer.net or some more convenient non-Google service. The archives will be private but as with all email, assume you are speaking in a public forum. I will take the role of benevolent dictator/curator when it comes to membership, at least for the time being. Wit and humility encouraged; good natured and pointed name calling acceptable; outright hostility and disrespect less so (think Taibi not Limbaugh). The list is meant to be mixed company, meaning people who have studied economics and people who have not (I certainly fall into the latter category), so minimal jargon please. Knowing my peers this will probably have a lefty bent, but free-market fundies most welcome, especially if you turn a good phrase, as well as the unaffiliated. Though many of us are funemployed and have lots of time on our hands, let’s aim for quality over quantity – count to ten before you send kinda deal – so that busy students and professionals are also welcome. I’m hoping for low-volume high-density, but if it becomes too high traffic for your tastes, you can always unsubscribe. I will ban those deemed abusive.

Interested? Send me an email at rebecca@(this site) with a little explanation of why you want in or what book I’ve most egregiously left off the list. If I get a reasonable quorum I’ll set up a list and send you an invite.

Yours in curiosity,
Rebecca

Obligatory Obama Post

School has me very busy and hence not blogging much. But there’s been some little things I want to post, mostly creative endeavors by my pals and smidgens of youtube joy, and it seems wrong to do so without first addressing the election. Not so much cause I have anything new to say about the topic, but because as Guy put it, “insofar as this blog functions as some kind of archival document of my shit I thought it would be appropriate to note this (4 th3 future and @!!).” So two weeks late but better than never:

obama fam
[CC-BY-NC-SA David Katz/Obama for America]

GO AMERICA!

Its clear at this point that the lefty wet dream of Obama being a closet radical who will dismantle capitalism from the inside is but a tantalizing fantasy. Luckily we have the financial crisis to accomplish that mission and Obama’s victory represents many other awesome things. For one, we’ve defeated the fascist elements in this country. Democracy finally pulled through and now I can stop being paranoid about prison camps and nuclear wars (hopefully). And maybe the Constitution will finally be rescued from the bathroom of the White House, where its been used as toilet paper for the past eight years. It will be nice to believe that I have rights because I am an American, not because I am a privileged white college student.

This is a definite win of intelligence over ignorance. I still can’t tell if our past few leaders (sans Clinton, maybe) were actually stupid or just pretending, but either way its fantastic that America elected someone who is not just crazy smart and competent but also graceful and stately. It almost makes me proud to be a Harvardian. Not so much because he went here but because he is a model of an elite (meaning those who are highly skilled and educated, not necessarily born rich) actually contributing to society, not just plundering it.

From a multicultural and racial perspective, this is huge and empowering, and not just as a welcome break from all those scowled white faces. I’m thinking about the difference in how the black students my sister goes to school with will view this country and their options for the future, compared to when I was in middle school. I doubt many students at MMS, black or white, would have believed you nine years ago if you told them a black man would be president less than a decade from now, however much they would have liked to. Now its real. Obama is inspiring to everyone, but for young minorities he opens up possibilities that may have previously seemed unattainable. I look forward to the next generation of leaders.

And the Obama family, what a joy to see such a power couple and their adorable children. Michelle and Barack are both intelligent, strong, and beautiful. They seem to sincerely love and respect one another, to treat each other as equals. They make matrimony seem both sexy and fulfilling.

Finally, how exciting to hear my peers say they feel patriotic for the first time in their lives. To cry with my friends and then cheer for hours in the streets with strangers. To have a couple weeks of feeling hopeful and optimistic, before settling back into pessimism. Which unfortunately is already trickling in, hence the need to dash this out for the archives.

Liberty and justice for all.

Despite Everything, I Still Love America

This is not sarcasm. America is more interesting right now than any piece of fiction on my bookshelf. Frankly, I don’t even care much who wins the election– we’re fucked either way. But I find the whole debacle fascinating: if not a climax (though if Palin has her way, maybe) then certainly a major plot point in American history. So in some ways I’ve detached and am now watching the world like a movie. Every once in a while depression seeps in, but mainly I’m just trying to maintain a sort of bastard love (and understanding) for the disaster that is my homeland. What follows is a collection of what I’ve been reading, and my comments only when I feel like I have something relatively novel to say.

First off, if you read one book during this election season, I so totally enthusiastically recommend Joe Bageant‘s Deer Hunting with Jesus. In fact, unless you have either read this book or spent significant time in a red state, I probably don’t want to discuss the election with you. This sounds harsh, so let me explain: this book offers a perspective on America that is unfortunately super foreign to almost all the liberal Yankees that I know, and yet is arguably more American than we are. I’m well versed in (and largely bored by) coastal liberal thought and supremely ignorant about the rest of the country. This is a primer of sorts. Its also a quick read, both amusing and terrifying. If you want a sample, try his essay Why Rednecks May Rule the World.

Palin was undoubtedly the catalyst for my detachment/amusement towards current events. She represents the glorious union of tabloid celebrity with politics and smirks at the tricky issues of gender that everyone pretends to have figured out (hence the extreme spite most women of my class have for her). Unlike Bush, and is an actual member of the hugely influential, but until now, largely invisible class known as the Scotts Irish/red necks/white working poor, a class that traditionally has been pitted against blacks to ensure the exploitation of both. Palin’s entrance turned the election into this incredible story-within-a-story for all this deep shit bubbling and stewing in our culture. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi has probably the best take on Palin that I’ve read yet, though lacking Bageant’s much needed empathy:

In America, it takes about two weeks in the limelight for the whole country to think you’ve been around for years. To a certain extent, this is why Obama is getting a pass on the same issue. He’s been on TV every day for two years, and according to the standards of our instant-ramen culture, that’s a lifetime of hands-on experience. It is worth noting that the same criticisms of Palin also hold true for two other candidates in this race, John McCain and Barack Obama.

As politicians, both men are more narrative than substance, with McCain rising to prominence on the back of his bio as a suffering war hero and Obama mostly playing the part of the long-lost, future embracing liberal dreamboat not seen on the national stage since Bobby Kennedy died. If your stomach turns to read how Palin’s Kawasaki 704 glasses are flying off the shelves in middle America, you have to accept that middle America probably feels the same way when it hears that Donatella Versace dedicated her collection to Obama during Milan Fashion Week. Or sees the throwing-panties-onstage-“I love you, Obama!” ritual at the Democratic nominee’s town-hall appearances.

So, sure, Barack Obama might be every bit as much a slick piece of imageering as Sarah Palin. The difference is in what the image represents. The Obama image represents tolerance, intelligence, education, patience with the notion of compromise and negotiation, and a willingness to stare ugly facts right in the face, all qualities we’re actually going to need in government if we’re going to get out of this huge mess we’re in.

Here’s what Sarah Palin represents: being a fat fucking pig who pins “Country First” buttons on his man titties and chants “U-S-A! U-S-A!” at the top of his lungs while his kids live off credit cards and Saudis buy up all the mortgages in Kansas.

The truly disgusting thing about Sarah Palin isn’t that she’s totally unqualified, or a religious zealot, or married to a secessionist, or unable to educate her own daughter about sex, or a fake conservative who raised taxes and horked up earmark millions every chance she got. No, the most disgusting thing about her is what she says about us: that you can ram us in the ass for eight solid years, and we’ll not only thank you for your trouble, we’ll sign you up for eight more years, if only you promise to stroke us in the right spot for a few hours around election time.

Matt Taibbi – The scariest thing about Sarah Palin isn’t how unqualified she is – it’s what her candidacy says about America

With a figure like Palin I can’t resist Paglia‘s take:

Conservative though she may be, I felt that Palin represented an explosion of a brand new style of muscular American feminism. At her startling debut on that day, she was combining male and female qualities in ways that I have never seen before. And she was somehow able to seem simultaneously reassuringly traditional and gung-ho futurist. In terms of redefining the persona for female authority and leadership, Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment.

In the U.S., the ultimate glass ceiling has been fiendishly complicated for women by the unique peculiarity that our president must also serve as commander in chief of the armed forces. Women have risen to the top in other countries by securing the leadership of their parties and then being routinely promoted to prime minister when that party won at the polls. But a woman candidate for president of the U.S. must show a potential capacity for military affairs and decision-making. Our president also symbolically represents the entire history of the nation — a half-mystical role often filled elsewhere by a revered if politically powerless monarch.

Camille Paglia – Fresh blood for the vampire

I know this will get me kicked out of the sisterhood of northeastern career women but I do find Palin appealing. I mean, she’s dumb as a doornail and will probably bring about the rapture if McCain dies and she gets her hands on our nukes. I don’t want her in power. I don’t respect her, but I respect her feminine aesthetic and I respect the challenge it poses to the “feminism” I was raised with. Of course I’ve always turned to female villains (not princesses) as models for feminine power. They get to use sex and spells/weapons. So maybe I just have a soft spot for girlie evil. As in, “Yay! We finally have a bad ‘guy’ too! Even if she is just Karl Rove’s puppet….”

But I feel there are things we could learn from Palin’s embrace of motherhood and guns. Not necessarily attitudes to emulate out-of-the-box, but she’s an important data point on the domesticity/ambition scatter-dot graph. While I agree with Taibbi that this election is more about narratives than reality, and that’s partly why America is so fucked up, I do think narratives are important. Life imitates art and all. Palin is too ditzy and evil make a productive archetype. But the mother-warrior image is something that progressives might do well to explore, both politically and personally.

And then there’s Elaine Meinel Supkis. She’s even more insane/prophetic/offensive than Paglia:

For 2,000 years even up to 20th century Germany, the Jews were the main population used by the elites to protect themselves from ‘poor white trash’. They would toss this religious minority to the raging mobs and say, ‘Kill them, not us!’ This worked about 90% of the time. When civil rights were finally and extremely belatedly handed over to religious minorities and former slaves in the USA when LBJ signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the army of arrogant white racists exited the Democratic Party in a group huff. They milled around a while. One pro-white trash racist, Wallace, tried to launch his own racist/fascist party but he was conveniently shot and thus, prevented from interfering with the new Republican program.

After the failure to launch an all-racist-all the time party, this great mass of disaffected, lower class whites flowed like a sea into the Republican Party which embraced them with open arms. This is the ‘Southern Strategy’ which the money interests used to corral a herd of bewildered human cattle into a pen where they could moo and moo and be milked while money could flow into the coffers of Eastern Establishment bankers like the Rockerfellers.

I.e: the Real Rulers latched onto the very same population that normally would be after them with pitchforks when things go bad. When the Real Rulers needed to herd this lowly population into sorting pens so they could be either milked or killed for dinner or skinned for leather, the rulers had to become Cowboys. This is why granddaddy Bush encouraged his spawn to spit food while talking at the dinner table. Ma Bush imitated Ma Kettle by having her spawn run riot, torturing small animals, skipping school, teasing weaker children, bullying the servants, etc. Each generation of the Bushes are cruder and crueler. They are nearly universally cowardly but entice the real trailer trash to strut about arrogantly while killing brown skinned people who are of different cultures or religions. The US Indian Wars have moved to the Middle East and are pretty much identical. The natives there live on top of mineral wealth we want so we go cowboy our way into their lands and ‘tame’ them by killing millions of them.

Warning: This essay is quite politically incorrect, but then so is our country. Elaine Meinel Supkis – Triumph Of The GOP White Trailer Trash

Now, lest all this talk of red necks get you thinking that that’s who we should be blaming, lets just be clear about who are the sheep and who are the herders. Who has already lost their job, their home, and a kid in Iraq? Who just destroyed the economy so they could have their house in the Hamptons?

I wish I knew whether this extravaganza of ruin might settle the question as to whether America goes into hyperinflation or implacable deflation, but the net effect is that money is leaving the system in big gobs. And if not money per se, then the idea of money as represented in certificates, contracts, counter-party positions, and gentlemen’s agreements. This is the day that America finds itself a much poorer nation. The capital we thought was there, is gone.

A lot of it was actually translated over the years into Hamptons villas, Gulfstream jets, and other playthings that will now go up on Ebay or some equivalent as we turn into Yard Sale Nation in a general liquidation of remaining assets. Of course, the trouble in a situation like this, where absolutely everybody is trying to pawn off assets, is that there are very few buyers on the scene, so the prices of all these things go down down down. Everything is for sale and nobody has any money.

This was essentially the state of things in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the only escape from that turned out to be the mobilization for war. And in the aftermath of that terrible war, we were the only industrial nation that hadn’t been bombed to rubble. What’s more, we had a very handsome supply of industrial world’s primary resource, oil, at our disposal. So we spent the next thirty years making oodles of things and selling them to people in other lands (lending them the money to buy), until these nations were back on their own feet and solvent. And after 1975, the industrial club picked up a bunch of new members and they all began to clean our clock.

So, as our industrial base waned, and our factories got old and brittle, and our labor force was steeply under-bid by cheaper labor forces, we embarked on a quest for “the new economy.” This was represented in successive turns as the information economy, the consumer economy, the high-tech economy, et cetera. They were all ruses, aimed at concealing the truth — which was that we had become a society no longer producing things of value, no longer generating real wealth. The final act of this farce has been the so-called “financial industry.”

That “industry” turned out to be most earnestly devoted to the production of complex swindles. They were so finely engineered that it took twenty years for the swindles to stand revealed, and they were cleverly hitched to the primary thing that the American public vested its identity in: house-and-home. Thus, much of the public finds itself in very real danger of becoming homeless and broke.

James Kunstler – The Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle

Ideally everyone deserves empathy. But if times like these require you to hate someone, let’s hate the rich, okay? Racism sucks, but its the people who exploit racism for material gain that are evil (edit: not that people who do horrific things like this aren’t, just that I think we’re better off blaming the more powerful puppet masters). Things are clearly going to get really bad in this country. In the culture wars to come, who are the ones with guns? The same ones who don’t believe in birth control. There’s more of them, and they’re armed. So its really in our interest to try to understand the people Palin represents, to have some sort of tolerance and warmth for them. Nothing’s gonna change unless we can unite against the exploiters.

happy new year

To all my family & friends,
I am so insanely lucky to have you in my life. A blog post feels massively inadequate for expressing my gratitude, appreciation, and love for all of you, but to not use this space to say something seems wrong. Because of you, I think it is fair to say that I have had the most exciting, educational, and life-affirming year of my life. I hope that your 2007 was wonderful too, but more importantly, that your 2008 is even better. May the new year bring you peace, health, love, growth, and happiness.

To Marjane Satrapi and Vikram Seth,
Thank you for making art. Marjane, thank you for reminding me how powerful and beautiful animation can be. Vikram, thank you for writing a novel about San Francisco in verse. To both of you, thank you for demonstrating the importance of not compromising as an artist, for giving me a reason to look forward to tomorrow’s cross-country flight with a 2 hour layover, and for helping me view life with some reverence (the good kind). May the new year bring you success and inspiration, and may your work influence our culture.

To the weather,
Thank you so much for snowing today in Cambridge. I really needed that. May the new year keep you safe from global warming.

Love,
Rebecca