Fri 30 Jul 2010
The title of a post from earlier this week was a theft from nod to the philosopher and social anthropologist Ernest Gellner. The following is an excerpt from Gellner’s Nations and Nationalism, from the chapter on Culture in Agrarian Society:
One development which takes place during the agrarian epoch of human history is comparable in importance with the emergence of the state itself: the emergence of literacy and of a specialized clerical class or estate, a clerisy. Not all agrarian societies attain literacy: paraphrasing Hegel once again, we may say that at first none could read; then some could read; and eventually all can read. That, at any rate, seems to be the way in which literacy fits in with the three great ages of man. In the middle or agrarian age literacy appertains to some only. Some societies have it; and within the societies that do have it, it is always some, and never all, who can actually read.
The written word seems to enter history with the accountant and the tax collector: the earliest uses of the written sign seem often to be occasioned by the keeping of records. Once developed, however, the written word acquires other uses, legal, contractual, administrative. God himself eventually puts his covenant with humanity and his rules for the comportment of his creation in writing. Theology, legislation, litigation, administration, therapy: all engender a class of literate specialists, in alliance or more often in competition with freelance illiterate thaumaturges. In agrarian societies literacy brings forth a major chasm between the great and the little traditions (or cults). The doctrines and forms of organization of the clerisy of the great and literate cultures are highly variable, and the depth of the chasm between the great and little traditions may vary a great deal. So does the relationship of the clerisy to the state, and its own internal organization: it may be centralized or it may be loose, it may be hereditary or on the contrary constitute an open guild, and so forth.
Literacy, the establishment of a reasonably permanent and standardized script, means in effect the possibility of cultural and cognitive storage and centralization. The cognitive centralization and codification effected by a clerisy, and the political centralization which is the state, need not go hand in hand. Often they are rivals; sometimes one may capture the other; but more often, the Red and the Black, the specialists of violence and of faith, are indeed independently operating rivals, and their territories are often not coextensive.
Thu 29 Jul 2010
I bring this up just to note that we know this is happening and we are doing it.
If the Zephyr can safely return to Earth at that point, it will have smashed the official world record for continuous unmanned flight, now held by Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk drone. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, a governing body for aeronautic world records, is observing the flight.
The goal for the project has been to establish the Zephyr as the “world’s first truly eternal plane,” with future designs of the drone expected to provide “low-cost, persistent surveillance capability over months rather than days,” a company statement said. Both the British Defense Ministry and the Pentagon are involved with the development of the drone.
mmm… let’s all say it together: renewable eternal surveillance.
Wed 28 Jul 2010
Very dour outlook in Nevada.
The decay in Vegas doesn’t stay there: It reverberates throughout the state. “Coming Soon” signs have been pulled down across the city, because nothing is coming soon other than more foreclosures. The Nevada landscape is pockmarked by empty condos and casinos, some of them fully built and sitting there empty, others are shells frozen in time. When analysts talk abstractly about Wall Street sucking capital out of the real economy, these stalled construction projects are the on-the-ground reality. “60% Reduced Prices” promises one empty condo development.
The $3.1 billion Fontainebleau Las Vegas construction project sits nearly complete but the lender pulled out and everybody is suing everybody else. The first Ritz-Carlton in the company’s history to shut down is in Las Vegas.
And as the article title asserts, this is the future for much of the country. I wish I could say or you could think that this is wholly attributable to the economic recession and unrelated to the causes underpinning our crisis of ecology, but we can’t. Unsustainable growth, over-building, mindless reliance on cheap materials and energy, exacerbating resource scarcity… it’s all there. There is greed but also ambivalence about consequences that is too obvious to ignore, that allows for the kinds of rapacious development that built Las Vegas into what it is – which is a gilded yet crumbling metropolis, in the desert, no less. The human toll is tragic and cannot be quantified only by the number of empty subdivisions, but the region’s supposed rebound will be divined in corporate dividends and ephemera like new housing starts. Might as well be reading entrails.
And on top of it all… Fontainebleau? Really?
Tue 27 Jul 2010
Posted by editor under money
, society1 Comment
Largest Tax increase ever? Allow the Bush tax cuts lapse? Job-killing tax hike? But what does it mean?
Given the uncertainty of the Senate outcome, the strategy offers the GOP a chance to accuse Democrats of planning to raise taxes on most Americans, by allowing all the Bush tax cuts to lapse. The cuts, passed in 2001 and 2003, will expire on Jan. 1, 2011, unless Congress passes legislation to extend them.
Except that they lie. Check it.
They only way Bush/Cheney could get them passed in the first place was accounting tricks. This was the main one. Which is not to say they/we won’t pass a “fix” this fall. Only that we/they shouldn’t.
Fri 23 Jul 2010
This is off-topic, but maybe not.
So there’s event called Comic-Con; and there’s this thing called Westboro Baptist Church.
And when they met in the streets, it was Nerds 1, Self-Righteous Fanatics <0. (I don’t how you can have less than zero, except to say that they started from nothing and in the scrum were thereby reduced).
An example of the brutal havoc, via Cole.
Thu 22 Jul 2010
That’s from the Replacements.
This is from Rolling Stone, and no less a travesty – who knows, maybe more.
A comprehensive energy and climate bill – the centerpiece of President Obama’s environmental agenda – is officially dead. Take it from the president’s own climate czar, Carol Browner. “What is abundantly clear,” she told Rolling Stone in an exclusive interview on July 8th, “is that an economy-wide program, which the president has talked about for years now, is not doable in the Senate.”
The Spill, The Scandal and the President: How Obama let BP get away with murder.
But the failure to confront global warming – central not only to Obama’s presidency but to the planet itself – is not the Senate’s alone. Rather than press forward with a climate bill in the Senate last summer, after the House had passed landmark legislation to curb carbon pollution, the administration repeated many of the same mistakes it made in pushing for health care reform. It refused to lay out its own plan, allowing the Senate to bicker endlessly over the details. It pursued a “stealth strategy” of backroom negotiations, supporting huge new subsidies to win over big polluters. It allowed opponents to use scare phrases like “cap and tax” to hijack public debate. And most galling of all, it has failed to use the gravest environmental disaster in the nation’s history to push through a climate bill – to argue that fossil-fuel polluters should pay for the damage they are doing to the atmosphere, just as BP will be forced to pay for the damage it has done to the Gulf.
Tim Dickinson blogs about all the news that fits from the Beltway and beyond on the National Affairs blog.
Top environmental groups, including Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, are openly clashing with the administration, demanding that Obama provide more hands-on leadership to secure a meaningful climate bill. “We really need the president to take the lead and tell us what bill he’s going to support,” says Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund. “If he doesn’t do that, then everything he’s done so far will lead to nothing.”
Get your dose of political muckraking from Matt Taibbi on the Taibblog.
But Obama, so far, has shown no urgency on the issue, and little willingness to lead – despite a June poll showing that 76 percent of Americans believe the government should limit climate pollution. With hopes for an economy-wide approach to global warming dashed, Congress is now weighing a scaled-back proposal that would ratchet down carbon pollution from the nation’s electric utilities. It has come to this: The best legislation we can hope for is the same climate policy that George W. Bush promoted during the 2000 campaign. Even worse, the “utilities first” approach could wind up stripping the EPA of its newfound authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.
Tue 20 Jul 2010
I’ve heard and read several variations on this theme today, that new residential construction is down.
New residential construction dropped in June, another indication that the U.S. housing market is struggling.
But that’s a new kind of sentence fragment – you know, where they leave off the important part. The rest of the sentence should read: to admit to itself that the last thing the housing market needs is a bunch of new houses.
“The housing industry remains stuck in a rut, with both sales and construction activity moribund,” said Michael D. Larson, an interest rate analyst with Weiss Research. “Builders simply lack the confidence — or in some cases, the financing — to ramp up construction, especially in the wake of the home buyer tax credit’s expiration.”
The poor report for housing starts follows news Monday that builder confidence in the new home market sank to its lowest level in more than a year, according to an industry index. Home sales plunged 33% in May, the latest sales figures released, and many economists expect a difficult year for builders now that the federal tax credit for buyers has expired.
This is news? That’s what’s holding them/us back, the expiration of the homebuyers tax credit? Sorry, guess again.
As a result, builders have cut back on home construction. “Builders remain very cautious in light of the sluggish pace of the economic recovery and the hesitancy they are seeing among potential home buyers,” National Association of Home Builders Chairman Bob Jones said in a statement.
What’s more, builders who can work up the confidence to take on new projects are finding it increasingly difficult to get financing. “If you think it is hard to get a mortgage to buy a house, put yourself in the shoes of a developer trying to throw up a subdivision,” Larson said in an interview. “It is really tough to get that kind of financing.
Does anyone ever think to ask why would they want to throw up a subdivision? Because that’s just what they do is no longer operative, developers. Wake up. We don’t need a lot of new houses and condos right now or for the next 12 1/3 years (random). This is again, one of the definitions of insanity – doing the same things over and over but expecting different results. Put on some different shoes, developers. Those have worn holes all the way through to the top. It’s tough to get the financing because we don’t need any more (single family) houses in (far flung) places where we don’t already have too many of these. You can look it up.
Developers: keep your careers if you must but change your MO. Walkable, to work and for provisions, proximity to transit, high density. That kind of building comes back, someday. The other kind, not so much.
Tue 20 Jul 2010
So… even for an election season, the politics of the moment are coming unhinged; just read the last ten or twelve posts at TPM, a supposedly moderate newsy site, and you’ll see how covering the right is becoming a circus of crazy. Conventional thinking is gelling around the notions that
a) the Republican Party is the Tea Party
and b) whatever it’s called the GOP Confederate Party needs to disappear, and/or be replaced by something other than either one of those, for the good of the country.
But that’s… a bit of crazy in its own right, and we could definitely be being governed by majorities of those freaks (think endless investigations of trivial scandals and government shutdowns) after this fall. Nonetheless… Green. What do it mean? How about your crappy internet service? Don’t think its so crappy?
The Connectivity Scorecard is, as Stacey Higginbotham reports for GigaOM, a favorite measure of the telecom industry, since it paints the America in a particularly favorable light.
The Scorecard looks not just at broadband infrastructure, but also at how a country uses its broadband, and how much that helps its economy. So while the United States has less and slower broadband than many Asian and European countries, it was the top rated country on the Scorecard until this year.
But as this chart emphasizes, U.S. broadband is far less advanced than that of leading countries. Despite ranking the United States second, the report states: “While it has significantly more fiber and DOCSIS 3.07 deployment than most of Western Europe, US infrastructure is uneven, and the gap with respect to Asian economies and even Sweden and the Netherlands remains substantial.”
Is there a connection? Sorry. Expect more. Before it becomes a corporate logo. Damn.
Fri 16 Jul 2010
Posted by editor under Friday reading1 Comment
Are people really going to begin considering tearing down some (one… any…) elevated interstates in cities? God bless ‘em. Because, you know, they’re everywhere.
At the risk of ruining it (the reach of this blog knows no limits), here’s part of a Frontline piece on Bhutan.
Tucked between India and China, the Buddhist kingdom is the size of Switzerland and has less than a million people. For centuries it has remained isolated in the Himalayan mountains. But now it has opened itself to what critics call “an electronic invasion” — cable TV.
Rinzy Dorji sees himself as part of modern Bhutan’s promising future. Others fear he’s part of its problem. As the co-owner of Sigma Cable Service, Rinzy has hooked up this secluded society to 45 cable television channels, featuring everything from the BBC to Baywatch, all for about $5 a month: the price of a bag of red chillies. Across the country, people eagerly await a visit from “the man in the TV van.”
Video at the link.
Thu 15 Jul 2010
We are all the financial crisis now.
But when you have bought so much debt and created so much money that rates are near zero, the public is saturated with liquidity; from that point on, they’re holding money simply as a store of value, which makes it no different from bonds — and hence a perfect substitute for bonds. And at that point further open-market operations do nothing — they just swap one zero-interest asset for another, with no effect on anything.
So why not forget about open-market operations, and just drop the stuff from helicopters? Well, remember that at this point cash and short-term bonds are equivalent. So a helicopter drop is just like a temporary lump-sum tax cut. And we would expect people to save much or most of such a tax cut — all of it, if you believe in full Ricardian equivalence.
Ricardian equivalence refers to the suggestion that it does not matter whether a government finances its spending with debt or a tax increase, the effect on total level of demand in an economy being the same. And it doesn’t seem that we believe this at all.
Definitely difficult for the casual observer to stay out front of the forward thinking on what to do about the meltdown, especially where unemployment is the lead canary staggering out of the mine – ostensibly the easiest thing to do something about – infrastructure!
Burying billions and hiring people to dig it up would be productive, to the extent that it put money in people’s pockets, money they would then spend. But what if instead we hired people to re-build bridges, and/or faltering water and sewer systems… much less super trains.
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