Sunday Reading

by zunguzungu

An unusually blunt and clear example of how conservative economic interests are able to buy themselves academic justification. To say that FSU’s economics department has been tarnished by this is an understatement.  You will find that you require gin and tacos to fully process this.

Living on an island in West Virginia. What survives are cemeteries.  The disappearance of Lindytown.

Jay Smooth notes the wisdom of not feeding the trolls, re: The Donald:

Journalist and president of Rwanda tussle on twitter, at surprising length (via). An excerpt:

IB:  @PaulKagame And once more, pls explain how and why I ‘just pretend’

IB:  @PaulKagame Although aware of what happens with regard to press freedom and those who criticise you in Rwanda

PK:  @ianbirrell. Ask Rwandans they will tell u I am not what u call me and I am sure they r not what you think they are…!

PK:  @ianbirrell. You have no basis for your comments and you dont kno what you r talking about me or Rw. I will only hold all that in contempt!

IB:  @PaulKagame Plenty of evidence – & your statement that no-one in media, UN or human rights groups can criticise you underlines the point

IB: @PaulKagame Presume this is why you dislike human rights groups http://bit.ly/kTG9eD

PK:  @ianbirrell. Africa-Rw- will need Africans to work in the lead n in concert with others globaLly who r genuine to put things right….

PK:  @ianbirrell. ….not the likes of you who just pretend ….!

It goes on and on. Some background reading on Kagame. Also Africa is a Country on how Kagame wastes your time on youtube.

Saratu posts some of the greatest hits of old school Nigerian music.

Amitava Kumar and the point of no return.

Economics of Contempt imagines a counterfactual — inspired by Joshua Green’s Atlantic monthly piece on the Sarah Palin we never saw — in which Sarah Palin took on Wall Street (via Mike):

Unlike the oil industry, which is used to the rough-and-tumble of partisan politics, Wall Street is generally unaccustomed to being broadly vilified by mainstream politicians (as the thin-skinned reactions to financial reform from the likes of Jamie Dimon can attest). Much of Wall Street’s self-image is tied up in the idea that they occupy a higher intellectual plane than everyone else — especially all those poli-sci majors and journalists down in DC.

Having that idea openly and vigorously attacked by any VP would be a huge blow to the Street’s ego, but if it had come from Vice President Palin, I think some heads would have literally exploded in lower Manhattan. Because Wall Street is famous not only for its culture of arrogance, but also for its culture of sexism. Having a proudly unsophisticated, female politician like Palin leading what would undoubtedly have been a ham-fisted, populist-driven effort at financial reform would have been too much for Wall Street to handle.

What’s more, Wall Street would not have known how to respond. Whereas the oil and tobacco industries are used to winning legislative battles by essentially paying off key politicians through campaign contributions, Wall Street, pre-Lehman Brothers, derived the vast majority of its vaunted political power from its ability to convincingly tell politicians and their staffers that “this is all very complicated, and you shouldn’t worry your pretty little heads about it.” (This is a very underappreciated point.) The Street was going to lose its ability to play that card regardless of who won the election, but it would’ve been worse if McCain and Palin had won, because Palin would almost certainly have taken that argument and used it against Wall Street — much in the same way that she turns the tables on the “lamestream media” when they condescend to her. And since Wall Street is practically a market-maker in condescension, the condescension directed at Palin would have reached epic proportions.

Interesting interview footage with Woody Allen from the 70’s. Jerry Seinfeld is posting daily stand-up clips on his website, from now until the end of time.

This isn‘t new, but it was new to me; the Joshua Project targets the 10-40 window: (Via Rohit)

Relatedly, from publichistorian, a great comic on 10-40 and Korean evangelical culture.

Rwanda and Burundi talking about giving their enemies the Osama Bin Laden treatment. Lovely.

PhD octopus suppresses gag reflex, makes an economic argument for the humanities.

Uganda paints protesters pink/purple. Robert’s great piece in N+1 is must reading, also see John Campbell.

Laurent Dubois on the complex race politics of French soccer.

Rohit reviews Gyan Prakash’s Mumbai Fables.

Symposium on Quentin Tarantino and the daddy principle.

Writing, to sit or stand? No, not the same thing as the thing about how sitting down kills you.

Timothy Burke: Everything on the internet is already happened already.

For my mother:

The world’s ten creepiest abandoned cities.

Mark McGurl replies to Elif Batuman, months after her original response to his book (and article) extolling the virtues of The Program Era in American Fiction! I modestly blogged the kerfuffle back then, but you should really read Metameat’s wonderful piece here, which has exactly the right perspective, I think, on the whole thing. It also has the benefit of being written by someone who, as I fondly recall, once registered a note of dissent in a seminar discussion of Foucault’s “death of the author” that, as an author, he felt a bit strange about the whole conversation and didn‘t feel dead at all. A taste:

McGurl correctly identifies “voice” as the reigning cliché of recent decades, and further links it to the right conceptual clusters: the belief that speaking is always good in itself, that it is always the self which is spoken, that any kind of imaginative writing must comprehensibly reduce to speaking the self. The civil rights era spins these clusters into the category of multicultural literature: a big tent of differently colored booths whose representatives, in speaking themselves, serve as metonyms for fractions of America. Yet this category, as should be apparent to anyone who has read more than three “multicultural” books, doesn’t come with much conceptual architecture. The Woman Warrior is not much likeLove Medicine in its treatment of the cultural margin, and is nothing at all like Sula or Beloved. As novelists, Kingston and Erdrich and Morrison are ambivalent at best about the cliché of the voice; that is one strength of their novels. The people who do unreservedly subscribe to these clichés, and also seem to think these three are all the same writer, are the people who write their jacket copy. They know that multiculturalism sells as exoticism, as the opportunity to tour foreign subjectivities without taking on the work of dialogue outside one’s book club. Thus the spectacle, perhaps more common ten years ago, of the successful minority writer being attacked as a panderer and traitor, exploiting the people her book was supposed to advocate for. It’s not the writer who should be taken to task…

[I]f one were to look for homogenizing factors in our literature, one might consider that the Euro-American gatekeepers are now six: Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, Bertelsmann AG, CBS Corporation (formerly Viacom), Hachette Livre (formerly Time Warner), Pearson PLC (mostly Penguin), and News Corporation (Murdoch). These companies are not in business to take chances. They are interested in repeatable results with proven techniques. Agents decline what they can’t sell to editors; editors decline what they can’t sell to their bosses; bosses spit back what they don’t think they can sell to the public. Efficiency and productivity, under certain metrics, are served by this system. It is not conducive to (to use another technocratic watchword) innovation.
A nice treatment by ReclaimUC (UC specific, with numbers, but also generally applicable) of how and why universities prioritize building new stuff rather than do silly stuff like hire people to do stuff in them.

A great piece on the stages one must walk through (as teacher and student) between making a response to a literary text and doing The Literary Criticism.

Scott Mclemee reviews Transforming Terror:

Looking back at the early 21st century in their seminar rooms, somewhere down the road, historians might spare a few minutes to consider a short video shot, and posted to YouTube, on the day after Osama bin Laden was killed. It records an attempt by someone in a crowded New York City subway car to lead the other passengers in a triumphant chant of “USA! USA!”

The first half of the clip is evidence of the famous wall of indifference encasing each New Yorker while occupying public space — and especially while riding the subway, where your car may be invaded at any moment by a roving mariachi band or someone delivering a loud sermon. Having documented this familiar demeanor, the man with the camera expects to break it down by reminding everyone that Osama is now dead. The effort misfires. Nobody responds. The news is not cathartic. The anthropologist Victor Turner used the term communitas to name the state of collective intimacy, a collapse of social distance, accompanying certain kinds of rituals or festivals. The aftermath of disaster can create it, too — and as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, there will no doubt be more and more tributes to the spirit of communitas that emerged then, for a while. Our would-be cheerleader expected it to be churning beneath the surface, now that 9/11 was avenged. But the faces he filmed say otherwise. For them it was just another commute, on just another Monday.

On how Western corporations are buying African farmland out from underneath African farmers:

The farmers of Makeni, in central Sierra Leone, signed the contract with their thumbs. In exchange for promises of 2,000 jobs, and reassurances that the bolis (swamps where rice is grown) would not be drained, they approved a deal granting a Swiss company a 50-year lease on 40,000 hectares of land to grow biofuels for Europe. Three years later 50 new jobs exist, irrigation has damaged the bolis and such development as there has been has come “at the social, environmental and economic expense of local communities”, says Elisa Da Vià of Cornell University.

When deals like this first came to international attention in 2009, it was unclear whether they were “land grabs or development opportunities”, to quote a study published that year. Supporters claimed they would bring seeds, technology and capital to some of the world’s poorest lands. Critics, such as the director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, dubbed them “neo-colonialist”. But no one had hard evidence to back up their claims. Now they do. Two years on, a conference at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) of the University of Sussex, the biggest of its kind so far, examined over 100 land deals. Most judgments are damning.

Timothy Burke: Everything on the internet is already happened already.

Ugly Americans Abroad:

We want something worldly, but if it seems too German, or perhaps just too foreign, we become wary. As my mailbag indicates, the literary community is very much an international phenomenon, but not, it would seem, a level playing field. To make it in America, Pletzinger must shed his German-ness as if he were an immigrant with an embarrassing accent

[after a praiseful excerpting of Peter Stamm’s Seven Years] If you didn’t know Stamm was Swiss, nothing in the English translation would betray this blemish. Certainly he never tells you anything about Switzerland, or the other countries where his books are set. Whenever one of his main characters is asked, while abroad, about his or her home country, the wry Stamm has them shrug and answer that they don’t really have anything to say.

Franzen is the opposite; he could hardly be more loudly American, and to come to him right after Stamm is to see how different are the roads to celebrity for the Swiss author and the American. While Stamm’s characters come free, or bereft, of any social or political context, Franzen’s often seem barely distinguishable from a dense background cluttered with product names, detailed history and geography, linguistic tics, dress habits, and so on, all described with a mixture of irony and disdain, an assumption of superiority and distance, that I immediately found myself uncomfortable with…Often it feels like the characters only exist as an alibi for what is really a journalistic and encyclopedic endeavor to list everything American…

We might say that if the Swiss Stamm, to attract an international public, has been obliged to write about everyman for everyone everywhere, Franzen, thanks to the size of America’s internal market, but also to the huge pull the country exercises on the world’s imagination, can write about Americans for Americans (which is no doubt as it should be) and nevertheless expect to be read worldwide.

On David Barton and expertise.

Shakesville notes the headlines describing the big divorce:

CBS takes the cake with “Bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, say they are separating after a quarter century of marriage.”

Wow. Maria Shriver is a Peabody- and Emmy-winning journalist, an Emmy-winning producer, a best-selling author, an activist, leader on “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything,” and creator of The Minerva Awards—named for the goddess Minerva who appears on the California State Seal as a symbol of courage, wisdom, and strength—bestowed annually at The Women’s Conference to extraordinary Californian women.

Via the archivist, I’m reading Joel Beinin’s “Forgetfulness for Memory: The Limits of the New Israeli History.” 

Chris Newfield points out that it could be different in UC public higher ed, that the culture of helplessness at the top is the problem:

I can still imagine an Arnold Schwarzenegger who forced a state funding growth ceiling on UC and CSU via the Compact but who did not then abandon it unilaterally in 2008. I can imagine a Board of Regents whose members get close to a couple of local campuses and use independent information to assess UCOP reports, and who evaluate solutions offered by faculty, students, and staff. I can imagine a UCOP that decides that transparency with more state trust is better for revenues than opacity with less state trust, and that makes a real long-term effort to explain the details of the budget, including answering questions like why basic arithmetic doesn’t back up core claims such as the amount the state gives to UC per student each year (supposedly $7200, page 3). I can imagine a state legislature that would allow higher ed revenues to grow at the same rate as state income (if this had happened since 1990 UC would have $6 billion in state funding rather than be looking $2.5 billion). I can imagine a state population that would be willing to pay the same share of its income in higher education taxes that it did twenty years ago, and not closer to the half that share that it pays now (chart 2d).

The supposed impossibility of that version of California is not a fact of nature. It has been and is continually created by the decisions the major players make on a daily basis. This includes UC’s Regents and Office of the President. In these cases, their agency is regularly concealed behind a consistent strategy of blame-shifting onto the state legislature and, behind them, the voting public and their alleged universal rejection of the very concept of a public good. The university’s decline has been accelerated by a culture of helplessness at the top, one which assigns blame elsewhere and helps to demobilize its own community.