“The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away”

Oh Fortuna!

A weak translation, I am told by the internet, of Boethius. It almost makes one want to learn ancient Greek. Almost.

Seriously, though, 24 Hour Party People is a great movie.

Wolves in Women's Clothing

Not a word here about using trans imagery as the symbolic palette humiliationIn a (damning, though fair) review of Corey Robin’s 2011 book painting conservative ideology as united only by the revanchist urge to maintain rule (and a slightly less controversial text from a grinning TV posterboy of the American left, Chris Hayes), Andrew Seal argues that placing affect/feeling of individuals at the centre of their analysis—as he claims both authors do—means consistently mistaking hegemony for hierarchy, missing the forest for the trees, and forgetting that, if there is a ruling class, that it then needs to be addressed as a class.

It’s a mesmerizing, superb piece of writing, more than enough to scare me away me from either of his sources. Invoking Tony Soprano and Jay Gatsby, he writes that “Robin’s vocabulary of feudalism…rhymes with preconceptions not yet articulated except as myths.”

Yet, in focusing away from affect and shining the spotlight instead on an amorphous “class interest,” Seal might be cutting off too much. It may well be that the maintenance of power structures results from instincts more complex than the monarchical pretensions of individual autocrats (an idea I give some credit), but to ignore instinct, affect and feeling entirely in favour Seal’s call to conceptualize “how the group acts” risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Every time another layer of the Koch brothers’ global empire of misdirection, astro-turfing and white-washing is unpeeled, each new insight into the revolutionary plot hatched at Mont Pellerin to enthrone market-friendly ideas, each time money flows from powerful hands into the palms of key US decision-makers, it becomes easier to imagine power in the form of a cabal or a clan, as a clandestine conspiracy united not only in interest but in strategy to maintain their lordship over the suffering plebes.

Of course tracing and tracking these strategies matters, and responding to them needs to be a part of everyday politics. Yet, it’s also important to pay attention to the way in which feelings, and especially in-group feeling, play a part in perpetuating power structures. A recent piece by Sam Polk, a lapsed Wall Street insider, does something similar, and it’s gotten a fair bit of attention. Polk treats the industry’s pathology in terms of addiction. Most interesting about the piece, however, is not the soulless drive for ever more money and power (it’s always odd to me that people are surprised by capitalists acting, as Marx predicted, “as capital personified”), but with the picture he paints of industry politics. It’s true that the industry hates both financial regulation, and taxes on the rich, but when Polk put the systemic advisability of certain measures in question, the response from his boss was that he didn’t “have the brain capacity to think about the system as a whole. All I’m concerned with is how this affects our company.”

It’s not that the US financial class is uninterested in politics, but many of them nonetheless have an unsophisticated view of politics, backed up by fear and selfishness, not a desire to rule per se.

All this provides proper context for a recent exposé in New York Magazine detailing the hazing rituals of Kappa Beta Phi, an exclusive club for powerful Wall Street types.  What is most striking about this soirée for billionaires (and those making due with only hundreds of millions) is not simply the fact of their gathering, but how much closer their hijinx come to the crude embarrassments of a freshman fraternity rush than a secret meeting of the Illuminati. It’s a wonder, reading the KBP piece next to a recent investigation into real college fraternities, that more Wall Street types aren’t falling off things to their death.

It’s easy to look at the incredible power that has been accumulated by Wall Street over the last 30 years and assume that its ascendance was by design, that it could only have resulted from a clandestine, concerted scheme. It’s doubly so, given that much of the still-powerful neoliberal orthodoxy is not only the brainchild of an intellectual revolution, but the result of a concerted political project. Fine. But strategy to respond has to take into account as well, how much “the smartest guys in the room” are far from it, and how much the structures of power are self-reinforcing, with or without concerted efforts by anyone. If there’s one thing Wolf of Wall Street can help make clear, it’s that.

The Will to Power at Qatar Airways

So, go read this description of the working conditions for airline attendants at Qatar Airways. What’s going on here? Sure, the working realities for south Asian men depicted in the article make it impossible to describe the attendant’s conditions as “horrendous,” but still, this seems not only unpleasant, but also irrational on the part of the employer.

Neoclassical economists have no way to explain the existence of employees at all. In the world of endless [...More] ‘ The Will to Power at Qatar Airways ‘

In which ten movies are reviewed in a failed response to a request for "not too subtle", "visually appealing" non-comedies

One of my favourite movies from the last few years was A Winter’s Bone. Harsh, dark allegory in the small hills and hard lives of the Ozarks. Brilliant noir meets western sensibilities in a morality play about how norms, rules and power play out in the shadow of the law. Like the Coen brothers without any of Tarantino’s glib distance from what’s happening.

How dark are you willing to go? Snowtown (or, for North Americans [...More] ‘ In which ten movies are reviewed in a failed response to a request for “not too subtle”, “visually appealing” non-comedies ‘

Ding Dongs

Rob Ford has been removed from office (or, as many of my friends have written on facebook “ROB FORD HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM OFFICE”). Let me tell you, that makes-a-somma people angry! Say, and this may surprise you, Christie Blatchford.

I haven’t been able to read past the fold, but that’s more than enough. Here’s her headline

Christie Blatchford: 383,501 Torontonians voted for Rob Ford — not one voted for the men behind his ouster

[...More] ‘ Ding Dongs ‘

Once more the refrain: Inequality is bad for growth

Earlier this year, a couple of high-level staff at the IMF’s research department and a colleague at the IBRD published a paper on the determinants of long-term growth – that is, of growth spells that continue over time rather than sinking countries into depression and stagnation. Among the determinants they found were: “the degree of equality of the income distribution; democratic institutions; export orientation…; and macroeconomic stability.”

That is, the more equal the income structure [...More] ‘ Once more the refrain: Inequality is bad for growth ‘

Learning and Meta-Learning

Over at Tomorrow’s Professor, an excerpt from a book on ePortfolios (for the unnaturally curious, the book is Documenting Learning with ePortfolios: A Guide for College Instructors):

ePortfolios…allow learners to make connections among varied learning experiences and transfer knowledge and skills to new contexts and situations. This approach, particularly when it capitalizes on the features of ePortfolios together with a culture of folio thinking, can promote deep and integrative learning. For students, however, the value [...More] ‘ Learning and Meta-Learning ‘