Monday Reads from my Ivory Tower in the 9th Ward

henri_matisse_woman_readingGood Morning!

I’m always looking for good books to read.  I have to admit that I’m terribly old school.  My favorite presents to myself are books, videos, and music cds.  I do not trust anything I have to get from the internet given I’ve been without electricity and connectivity for extended periods of time.

I am not a Luddite. I saw the original internet “turned on” in the 1970s in high school.  It was like some kind of print out on a huge printer from the closest university that had linked in to our Math Resource Center that said here we are … university (I remember it as Michigan U)  and US government to select schools.  I first had a personal connection to the internet in 1981 on my IBM peanut with a funky phone mouth/ear piece to modem connection.  So, I’m aptly nicknamed “wirehead”.  I’ve been connected for longer than Dr. Daughter has been alive.

However, I like the real thing.  Call me old fashioned.  I liked to write on my textbooks.  I like the feel of selecting a video and having a long term relationship with it.  I love the anime series Cowboy Bebop and have the complete episodes.  I also have the manga and I love the feel of raised ink.

My first experience trying to copy an entire series over years was Upstairs Downstairs.  I have the complete episodes on beta–yes that’s BETA–copied straight from my TV and my mom’s TV.  It’s no wonder that Downton Abbey is my latest edition. I also have Treme (although my Katrina PTSD keeps me a bit edgy about watching it) and one another series.  I passed my addiction to Criminal Minds to BB. The rest of my collection is an odd assortment of movies. My “cloud” is supplemented by a row of book shelves that line a hallway and my bedroom. They get dusty and old but then so do I.

I’ve discovered solar rechargers and hurricane lamps that run on lamp oil.  This is my black out technology. The first thing I will do if I’m ever lucky enough to come into a huge amount of cash is go off the grid for everything. I also continue to build my little garden of herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees here in the ninth Ward so very near the Mississippi.  Did I mention I can see oil tankers, cruise ships, and destroyers from my front porch?

I fully embrace my eccentricities but, I’ve lived without TV/cable for months and with sporadic electricity recently so I know I’m one storm away from the 18th century.

Reading has always been a safe haven for me.  That and playing my piano.  All of these things I do without electricity and with plenty of printed material. That’s another story but let me tell you, I still cling to music and a good book when I need to get through my life.

So, here’s a review of a book that sounds interesting.  It’s about Life Among the Plutocrats.  The exact title is  Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else” by Chrystia Freeland (Doubleday, Canada 2012).

Today’s plutocrats are the latest variation on an old theme, and at the same time they’re strikingly new in many ways.

Societies have supported plutocratic classes at least since ancient Rome, and the Gilded Age of the US after the Civil War presaged our own: A rising class of self-made men, imaginative exploiters of new technology and wider trade. Then it was the telegraph and the railroad; now it’s the internet and the container ship.

Freeland’s plutocrats are mostly self-made also, and overwhelmingly male; one very rich man suggested to her that women lack the “killer instinct” needed for real success. But they are not the idle heirs of rich parents. The “working rich” are a distinct class: smart, ambitious and often outsiders.

What’s more, they represent a dramatic change from the 19th and early 20th century, Freeland argues. Then, the conflict was between capital and workers, with workers doomed to lose because they couldn’t own the means of production.

The communist revolutions were supposed to transfer those means to the workers, but instead transferred them to a new class of upstart intellectuals and technical experts. She cites Milovan Djilas, Tito’s second in command in communist Yugoslavia. In the 1960s Djilas wrote “The New Class” to describe this phenomenon as a corruption of communist orthodoxy; Tito threw him in jail.

They didn’t come entirely out of the blue. Freeland documents the gradual but decisive shift in fields like finance, which since the age of the superstar had been regulated to the point of boredom. This came along with a new struggle: Now it wasn’t capital versus labour, but capital versus talent.Even more ironically, the same new intellectual class now runs capitalism — with the exception of the princelings of the Chinese Communist Party, the billionaire sons and grandsons of Mao’s old proletarian comrades. But elsewhere, smart young men got possession of ex-Soviet resources, or an operating system for newfangled personal computers, and within months were rich beyond imagining.

Here’s an NPR interview with author Chrystia Freeland.

Those at the very top, Freeland says, have told her that American workers are the most overpaid in the world, and that they need to be more productive if they want to have better lives.

“It is a sense of, you know, ‘I deserve this,’ ” she says. “I do think that there is both a very powerful sense of entitlement and a kind of bubble of wealth which makes it hard for the people at the very top to understand the travails of the middle class.”

One standout moment Freeland recalls is a conversation with a billionaire who spoke with great sympathy about some friends who’d come to him for investment advice. “And he said to me, ‘You know what? They only had $10 million saved. How are they going to live on that?’ I kid you not, he was really worried about them.”

Today’s plutocrats come down across the political spectrum, Freeland says; there are definitely liberal billionaires. “It is, however, also the case that in the United States there has been a real shift away from Barack Obama, and a lot of these guys loved him in 2008 … They feel really angry at Obama, and it’s not just the question of taxes.” Freeland calls it “a profound emotional thing.”

“In America,” she says, “we have equated personal business success with public virtue. And to a certain extent, your moral and civic virtue could be measured by the size of your bank account.”

I also embrace my inner geek and outre scholar.  You know that I absolutely hate the way politicians and many popular cult figures in conservative media demonize science, facts, and education.  Here’s a bit on that worth reading in The New Statesmen:Brian Cox and Robin Ince: Politicians must not elevate mere opinion over science.

The story of the past hundred years is one of unparalleled human advances, medically, technologically and intellectually. The foundation for these changes is the scientific method. In every room in your house, there are innovations that in 1912 would have been considered on the cusp of magic. The problem with a hundred years of unabated progress, however, is that its continual nature has made us blasé. We expect immediate hot water, 200 channels of television 24 hours a day, and the ability to speak directly to anyone anywhere in the world any time via an orbiting network of spacecraft. Any less is tantamount to penury. Where once the arrival of a television in a street or the availability of international flight would have been greeted with excitement and awe, and the desire to understand how those innovations came into being, it is now expected that every three months you’ll be queuing outside the Apple store for a new wafer-thin slab of brushed metal, blithely unaware that watching a movie in the palm of your hand has been made possible only through improbable and hard-won leaps in the understanding of the quantum behaviour of electrons in silicon.

With each new generation, the memory of appallingly high child mortality rates, tuberculosis and vast slums grows fainter and fainter. As the past becomes hazy, we start to believe that there can be no other sort of world. We become nonchalant about vaccines, to the point of seeing them as a lifestyle choice akin to a decision to eat only organically farmed fruit, because we attend fewer and fewer funerals of those who died too young. The technology and advances in knowledge that cosset us have removed, to a large extent, the need to use our ingenuity and to think rationally. Believing complete drivel was once selected against; now it gets you an expert slot on daytime TV.

Against this rather depressing introductory backdrop, however, there are faint glimmers of hope, because science, rational think-ing and evidence-based policy-making are enjoying a revival. Part of the evidence for this statement can be found on the pages of a certain type of newspaper, where the idea that there may be an adjudicator above opinion is treated as an affront to the ideology of the columnist. The adjudicator in question is nature, the universe beyond the Notting Hill basement kitchen, and the wonderful thing about nature is that opinions can be tested against it. The key to science is in this simple statement from the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Richard Feynman, who once remarked: “It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.”

This brings me to my own field of financial economics and a blog post on science, politics, mathematics and finance.  I do this as I play hookey–or procrastinate grading–while writing this blog post rather than spend time eyeballing the homework of my graduate students trying to figure out how to hedge FOREX exposure.  I have to agree that models are a human construct, but still, there’s a need to sort things out in a systemic and provable way.  So, the punchline to this blog post grabbed me.  Is science an adjudicator of opinions as the authors above (C&I) aver?

BTW, if you haven’t ever heard of their BBC radio show “The Infinite Monkey Cage” you must get on line and find it now.

I also learned the benefits of good old fashioned radio when everything else goes off with the cable and electricity.

C&I base their science on observation, data, and the predictive models constructed on the basis of the data.  However there appears to be an assumption that “science” will come up with the right models, modulo the approximation problem, given the data.  However this approach makes some omissions: what data is collected and why (science does not work by collecting reams of data in the hope something will drop out), data analysis is subjective (is climate data a hockey stick or a bath – see McIntyre&McKitrick, what does the data say?), models are human constructions.

Making these observations does not seem relevant to C&I, but they are crucial in  modern finance,  an arena of people competing to select and interpret data and develop the best models.  It is a microcosm of good science, and for this reason it should be taken more seriously by the scientific establishment.  Not least because modern finance is more relevant, and therefore more interesting, to the public than cosmology or theoretical physics.

Yes, modern economics and finance are relevant and scientific. The problem is that politicians seem to think that faith/dogma based lies are infinitely more useful.

It’s officially Carnival 2013 in New Orleans. Sunday was 12th night and we began with a parade to honor Jone of Arc and a street car ride of a 200px-Joan_of_arc_miniature_gradedlot of drunks.   The Joan of Arc parade is great visual feast since its participants wear medieval costumes. This week we feast on King Cakes.  Lately, the King Cake infused vodka beckons.

“Joan of Arc honors the patron saint of New Orleans which was St. Joan of Arc,” Mardi Gras expert Arthur Hardy said. “Twelfth night is her birthday, so it’s very appropriate. It’s a new small walking club with some horse riders and now some marching groups.”

 This parade is just one of the really wonderful things about my city.  The patron saint of my home town is a kick ass warrior woman.
We are a walking parade open to men, women, and children, dedicated to historical costumery, artistry, handmade throws, and the celebration of New Orleans and her ties to France. Joan of Arc embodies the best qualities of New Orleans and her citizens: loyalty, faith, courage, and determination. We honor Joan on her birthday each year by walking in medieval and Renaissance costumes with horses, live music, a variety of quirky and quaint parade throws, medieval carts and banners, and gifts of king cake and champagne through the French Quarter, from the Bienville statue (representing the founding of New Orleans) to the Joan of Arc statue at Decatur and St. Phillip Street. At this time we have approximately 35 krewe members and will welcome another 10-15 new members this year. We enjoy being a small, family-friendly krewe with a parade that at this time lasts a brief 30-40 minutes from start to finish. Our parade begins at 6:00 p.m. at Bienville Park on Decatur, goes up Conti Street to Chartres, across Jackson Square in front of St. Louis Cathedral, and continues on Chartres up to St. Phillip where we turn towards the River to reach Joan’s statue, a gift from France to the City of New Orleans.

Oh, dear, was this really a newsy thread or just one of my esoteric set of links?  JJ covered my archeology fetish yesterday so this will have to suffice for today.  It’s a sweet break before we slippery slope towards the inability of Congress to pay for those things for which they voted. Now, if I could just get a better pay check for life in the ivory tower I would be just fine!!

Meanwhile,  anything out there of newsy interest to you?  Today, I think I will stay in my ivory tower and wish away the likes of our idiot political class.  So, my point is that Joan of Arc makes for a great, romantic, showy parade and science makes for effective policy.  Vraiment, mes amis!!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

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51 Comments on “Monday Reads from my Ivory Tower in the 9th Ward”

  1. ecocatwoman says:

    I read the Plutocrats’ book review on Alternet yesterday – interesting read.

    I never watched Upstairs/Downstairs, but have watched the latest incarnation. Downton Abbey is must see tv for me. NPR interviewed a few cast members last week on Morning Edition. The actors take on his dastardly character Thomas was interesting: http://www.npr.org/2013/01/03/167528679/downton-abbey-cast-its-more-fun-downstairs & http://www.npr.org/2013/01/04/168594456/downton-abbey-not-much-hurly-burly-upstairs

    In my book the most powerful naysayers to science are the nefarious Koch Brothers. Read this piece from The Nation this AM: http://www.thenation.com/blog/171906/david-koch-now-taking-aim-hurricane-sandy-victims This snippet should whet your appetite:

    There is some legitimate criticism with aspects of the legislation, including the fact that some of the money will go to non-Sandy related reconstruction efforts in disaster areas. For AFP, however, the whole bill must die and victims of the storm deserve no help from the government.

    Koch’s top deputy in New Jersey, a surly gentleman named Steve Lonegan, who heads the local AFP state chapter, called the aid package a “disgrace.” “This is not a federal government responsibility,” Lonegan told reporters. “We need to suck it up and be responsible for taking care of ourselves.”

    I guess in the Koch Universe the real responsibility of the federal gov’t is to further enable the rape, pillage & plunder conducted by the plutocrats.

    • roofingbird says:

      Also, inane. Yes, private and state built up those areas. However, the Feds helped too. Contributing funds in schools, transportation, security, dams, dikes, etc. etc, were also impacted. NO state grew by itself.

  2. Brilliant post Dak, Love it!

  3. bostonboomer says:

    A Massachusetts man and his nephew were attacked by a bobcat in their garage.

    Roger Mundell Jr. had gone into his Brookfield garage when he heard a hiss. Then, from behind his wife’s car, the bobcat lunged, sinking its fangs into Mundell’s face and wrapping its front legs around his torso.

    “It was on me in a split second,” he said Sunday, hours after the attack. “I have bite marks in my eyelid, up my forehead. It scratched my back. I was bleeding like crazy.”

    After the bobcat attacked both Mundell and his 15-year-old nephew, they were able to pin the animal to the ground and shoot it in the head. Environmental Police took its remains to test it for rabies, according to a spokesman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, but test results were not available Sunday night.

    • ecocatwoman says:

      I’m willing to bet the bobcat will test positive for rabies. Highly unusual behavior, although if the bobcat felt cornered & unable to escape, an attack might have been his/her only option.

      • bostonboomer says:

        The article said that bobcats are quite common in Mass., but they stay away from humans. For one to go near a house, much less into a garage is extremely unlikely.

        • ecocatwoman says:

          Most wild animals avoid humans – smart on their part for sure.

          The exotic pet trade is also alive & well across the country. I wonder if this bobcat could have been someone’s “pet” at some point & either escaped or was turned loose? If that’s the case then it’s doubtful the attack was caused by rabies.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I doubt it. According to the article there are lots of bobcats in the area and they are spreading east. The only place in the state they haven’t been sighted is Cape Cod. I had no idea that bobcats were so common around here. I’m glad to know that.

        • ecocatwoman says:

          Urban wildlife, other than the regular raccoons & opossums, are becoming more common. We’ve left so little wildlands for them & eradicated much of their traditional food sources. Bears, coyotes, bobcats – the new normal. I only mentioned the exotic pet trade because of the unusual behavior of the bobcat.

      • bostonboomer says:

        This happened in a rural area. Surprisingly, there are a lot of those in Mass.

  4. ecocatwoman says:

    I just finished reading this piece on Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/war-womens-sexuality?page=0%2C0

    I’d love to hear ya’ll’s opinion on the piece. It seemed to me that the author interviewed, David Jacobson, minimized the War on Women in the Western world. Maybe it was simply the fault of the interviewer, but it came across to me that “we’re okay, it’s those old fashioned Islamists who are the problem.” The male privilege of patriarchy is alive and well right here at home and throughout the world. But, as a mere woman, I could be a bit prejudiced.

    • Delphyne says:

      Well, I got to this part of the introduction and almost yelled out loud: Why the f**k is this even a question?? I’m going back to read the rest of it now.

      It’s chiefly an ideological divide of “honor” versus “self-possession” — or, as he puts it in the book, “who owns and control’s one’s body, especially when it comes to women: is it the individual herself or the community, through enforced practices of honor, virginity, veiling, and marriage?”

      Imagine if that question was asked of human males anywhere on Earth.

      • ecocatwoman says:

        Personally I think it’s a perfect definition of the foundation upon which patriarchy is based. Male mammals have the innate behavior to “mark their territory” (otherwise known as property). Women, recliners, remote controls, property lines – you name it, they have to post Private Property on all that “stuff.” Some men, fortunately, have evolved to overcome this animal instinct. If only the rest of them would follow suit.

    • Delphyne says:

      Well, I made it though that interview. I agree that he minimized the War on Women in the West and turned the discussion to men again a la MRA.

      So, there’s a dynamic we’re going to have to pay much more attention to, not just the strides women are making but some of the problems emerging in terms of men and in some sense a crisis of masculinity we see playing out.

      That is very encouraging on one level, given the progress of women, but it’s also generating these concerns and we have to begin thinking how they play out in terms of men. At the same time, the resistance, the patriarchal backlash we’ve been talking about, is very, very deep in regions from North Africa to the Middle East to parts of South Asia. These challenges aren’t simply political but deeply cultural. Pushing hard in terms of women’s rights can sometimes generate that backlash, so we have to think of subtle and nuanced ways of tackling this problem.

      And speaking of MRAs, here’s Kate Harding.

      http://jezebel.com/5967923/fuck-you-mras

  5. bostonboomer says:

    I downloaded the sample of “Plutocrats” to my Kindle a few months ago after I blogged about Chrystia Freeland’s piece in the New Yorker: SUPER-RICH IRONY: Why do billionaires feel victimized by Obama? I’d still like to read the book, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. The New Yorker piece is a pretty long read though, and it might be enough for me. She writes very well.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    For the millionth time, Krugman explains why austerity will fail.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/opinion/krugman-the-big-fail.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    • RalphB says:

      He’s done that for so long and so well, you would really think the message would sink in by now.

    • RalphB says:

      More Paul Krugman: Be Ready To Mint That Coin

      It’s easy to make sententious remarks to the effect that we shouldn’t look for gimmicks, we should sit down like serious people and deal with our problems realistically. That may sound reasonable — if you’ve been living in a cave for the past four years.Given the realities of our political situation, and in particular the mixture of ruthlessness and craziness that now characterizes House Republicans, it’s just ridiculous — far more ridiculous than the notion of the coin.

      So if the 14th amendment solution — simply declaring that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional — isn’t workable, go with the coin.

      This still leaves the question of whose face goes on the coin — but that’s easy: John Boehner. Because without him and his colleagues, this wouldn’t be necessary.

      • ANonOMouse says:

        I’m all in with either option. I favor the coin, because I think it’s a hysterically brilliant idea, but using the 14th Amendment option suits me too simply because that option would send the GOP into a shit-hissy fit. They’d be screaming “constitutional crisis” and sending out their doomsday preppers. The fact is the GOP has made it perfectly clear they will drag us all into the 10th level of hell over the debt ceiling if they can, so why not stick it to them, since we can. Fuck the GOP, the tan man and the slack jaw man. (I’m a slack jaw too so I can poke fun at that chin without feeling guilty)

      • NW Luna says:

        “constitutional crisis” Oh the idiots.

        Nope, they’re not just stupid. They fully intend to crash things for everyone else. They’ve got theirs.

  7. ANonOMouse says:

    Great post Dak.

  8. NW Luna says:

    Fantastic post, Dak.

    I especially liked the “off the power grid” idea. I grew up off the grid, in a very rural area. We were too far away for the power company to bother placing lines for, I gather. My engineer father put together good-sized power generator for use when we needed electricity. Stove, heater, refrigerator ran on gas. Wood stove too. But nothing essential ran on electricity. As an adult I do backcountry hiking, sometimes for over a week at a time when I can get away that long (and the weather’s good). I have cold-weather clothing, and a lightweight stove. My house has a gas stove and a wood-stove fireplace insert. Everyone should have gear and clothing so they can do without power for a few days.

    Real books are so much easier on my eyes to read, don’t need batteries or a power cord, and you can take them outside or even read in the bathtub. Easier to reference something in a hard-copy book than search for it in an e-book, especially if you need to flip back and forth between pages.

    But I do like my computer and connection to SkyDancing!

    • dakinikat says:

      I’m really attached to my computer. I was downloading some sheet music the other day from a site. Picking up more Ravel and Faure that I don’t already have in my library. I just think there’s still something about maintaining a real library of printed material for me. I write on things like music and journal articles and I like to tape flag parts in books. I’ve also lost hard drives. I store all my research now out in the cloud as well as what’s on my computer. Last time my system crashed it took my 6 hours to load it back in. It takes a few seconds to put my hands on anything around here from my cds to books to sheet music.

      • NW Luna says:

        Using both is the best of both worlds.

        Lol. Good to know I’m not the only one who keeps 2 backups of important stuff…

  9. RalphB says:

    James Fallows has a funny one today. :-)

    The Atlantic: The Hagel Choice: An ‘Amish Give Up’ Moment for Obama?

    Hagel’s critics have helpfully informed us that Paul Wolfowitz considers someone else a better choice. Were Dick Cheney and Paul Bremer not available for advice?
    […]
    If, as seems all but certain, he is about to nominate Hagel, that is a heartening sign. “‘This is bullshit,’ president says.”

    • ecocatwoman says:

      Great piece – loved the Cheney/Wolfowitz/Bremer joke.

      Then I went to a piece on Downton Abbey – the author isn’t a fan, but it’s worth reading. I do agree with him on one thing – Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) was delightful in Notting Hill.

  10. roofingbird says:

    I have a stupid question. If a corporation is a person, why then does it not have the same campaign contribution limit per candidate as any other person? If this is the case how then can bundling occur within the corporation?

    I have another stupid question. Does anyone know how to find the MUR on the FEC site the would presumably disclose the 2008 Obama campaign fine? If the FEC deigned to send a letter to the Repugs, it seems like it ought to be public info by now.

  11. RalphB says:

    Chuck Hagel interview in the Lincoln Journal-Star. He’s gonna be hard not to confirm.

    Exclusive: Hagel says critics distort his views on Israel, Iran

    “I fully recognize that confirmation is up to the Senate. All I ask is a fair hearing, and I will get that. I am very much looking forward to having a full, open, transparent hearing about my qualifications and my record.

    “All I look for is an opportunity to respond,” Hagel said.

    “I intend to make this relationship a partnership, Democrats and Republicans. I would work with them as well as the president.

    “I will always tell you the truth, tell you what I think,” Hagel said. “I have great confidence in this president. He is one of the most decent people we’ve had in the White House. He is a good man. He and I don’t agree on everything, but he wants people who will be honest with him.”

  12. roofingbird says:

    I’m filled to the gills with books. Any library book sale, or collectibles shop find, I’m there. I’m finding that more than a few of my $2 purchases have been reprinted as $26 ebooks. Of course, storage is the problem and de-cluttering is in the future. Powell’s will take them and find them a good home.

    I do read what I find.

  13. Red Dragon says:

    I also love “Cowboy Beebop and manga! I absolutely love the feel of cracking the spin on a good book. I have a Kindle Fire but nothing beats “Old fashioned Paper!”