Spotlight

Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-’Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

Full piece here. -Koons gets the Annie Leibovitz treatment (an unfortunate photo ...

Update & Repost-A Reaction To Jeff Koons-For Commerce Or Contemplation?

Koons has a retrospective at the Whitney going on right now: —————– ...

Repost-A Reaction To Jeff Koons-For Commerce Or Contemplation?

—————– Koons’ site here.  Part 1 of a 5-part documentary above. I often ...

Offering links and thoughts on the Arts, Politics, Political Philosophy and Foreign Affairs.

Awesome 80′s Badness-From The Running Man: Restless Heart (Running Away With You)

From a reader:

‘Think Foreigner’s ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ meets a standard Journey/Eddie Money-esque power rock ballad, chock full of all the standard cliches: ‘highest fever’ ‘roll the dice’  ”new horizon’ brand new start’ ‘hit the right spot

All of this tacked onto the end of Schwarzenegger’s pure uncut 80′s sci-fi action thriller…

Almost too much to bear.

Thanks, readers:

————–

***Before you mock, the movie’s theme was composed by Harold Faltermeyer, of Axel F fame, and is nothing to shake a stick at.  It takes real talent to put songs into your head and keep them there.  The vocalist and performer John Parr, of St. Elmo’s Fire fame was more than a one-hit wonder as well.

As posted:

Via David Thompson, if you don’t have time to watch Gymkata, this is the next best thing.

What if an Olympic gymnast, sporting a wicked mullet, went through a rigorous training montage, then on to a top-secret mission to secure the national defense in a distant, fictitious land?

They play for keeps in Karabal:

————————l.

Still looking for awesome badness on this blog.  If you think you’ve got some awesome badness, preferably 80′s awesome badness, send it my way.

That’s all there is to say about that.

Sunday Quotation: Arthur Schopenhauer

‘The doctor sees all the weakness of mankind; the lawyer all the wickedness, the theologian all the stupidity.’

-Arthur Schopenhauer

Some Friday Funny Links

Still funny in my opinion:  Who reads the newspapers?

But, still to me, even funnier:  Yes, that’s a Chinese brothel.

I could not find it for free, but you can check out the first few pages at the link:  Uncle Fred Flits By, by P.G. Wodehouse.

This is a classy joint.

Repost: From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Full review here.

Vendler reviewed John Serio’s new “Selected Poems”  of Wallace Stevens.

“Stevens’s conscience made him confront the chief issues of his era: the waning of religion, the indifferent nature of the physical universe, the theories of Marxism and socialist realism, the effects of the Depression, the uncertainties of philosophical knowledge, and the possibility of a profound American culture, present and future.”

and

“Stevens’s poetry oscillates, throughout his life, between verbal ebullience and New England spareness, between the high rhetoric of England (and of religion) and the “plain sense of things” that he sometimes felt to be more American…”

See Also On This Site:  Trying to stick something against his poems: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarWednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens, The Snow ManFriday Poem: Wallace Stevens And A Quote By David Hume

Victimhood, Grievance, And Equality-Another Way?

On IQ and opportunity, the entirety of which can be found here:

Sowell’s argument is a relatively simple one:  “innate” mental abilities do not develop spontaneously but must undergo development, which is differentially fostered by different cultures, even when the abilities are general and abstract and do not consist of items of cultural knowledge.

“…Sowell’s approach splits the difference between “nature” and “nurture“…

There’s a lot going on here, but notice Sowell doesn’t negate the injustice and historical legacy of slavery in the United States (a different, deeper and more raw discussion), but instead focuses in a more positive direction:  The never equal distribution of intelligence occurs naturally and is fostered and developed differently.  Across our society, never absolutely equally represented immigrant groups thrive and advance within different professions and with different skill-sets.

From this, young people, especially, can thrive not only when they have access to education (where all of our money can easily be wasted in over-promised, under delivering classrooms, though admittedly addressing some of the worst problems there are), but also out in the labor market, where small gains and new skills can be learned daily, where attitude matters, and where just showing up can be a valuable lesson learned.

**I realize this doesn’t address the black market, people learning useful, but criminal skills, and having to learn reasonable life skills that can conflict with even basic job requirements, whatever their background.

We’re all arguably better off when someone’s innate intelligence, acquired skills, drive and determination get them ahead, supposing their ability and effort isn’t put to criminal ends.

We’re all arguably worse off when getting ahead has even more to do than it does now with mere political patronage, redistributing the wealth of others, nepotism, and is dependent even more upon who you know rather than what you’ve accomplished and done for yourself.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Theodore Dalrymple, Moral Authority, and You’ve Got A Special Delivery From Putin

How do you preserve and conserve many laws and traditions and institutions likely worth preserving and conserving, and the authority necessary to maintain them with perhaps many people less connected in their lives and minds to those laws, traditions and institutions nowadays?

Are we becoming more individualistic?

Without that presumed moral fabric, and with more choice and opportunity available, will more Americans seek security and purpose in the secular ideologies so often leading to a rather Euro-statist secular authority?

Do you trust the institutional authority claimed by many standard secular liberal humanists on the way toward secular ideals?

How do the more often individualist and atheist libertarians find common ground with social and religious conservatives?

Do they?

Here’s Dalrymple:

‘One of the problems of modern society is the difficulty many people now have with accepting and obeying rules that they neither made themselves nor can they deduce from any of their own, self-chosen first principles, chief amongst which is the democratic one that a cat may look at a king. That is why, if you take the risk of asking a person who is behaving in a mildly antisocial way to desist, he will suddenly turn moral philosopher and demand an incontrovertible proof that he should not behave in that way.’

Speaking of authority, at least one Russian lawmaker thought it was time to take post-Soviet authoritarianism, self-serving ethno-nationalism, and Russia’s low birth-rate to the next level.

First, there was talk of encouraging hook-ups in tents at love camps, mixing sweet, young romance with coolly calculated demographic and political survival:

‘Remember the mammoths, say the clean-cut organisers at the youth camp’s mass wedding. “They became extinct because they did not have enough sex. That must not happen to Russia.’

Now for a more ‘personal’ solution.  Ladies, if you’ve seen Vlad on a horse, this really was a next logical step.

-Naturally, Putin still offers photo-ops of himself bare-chested:  embodying the virility, strength, and charisma that the Russian people will need going forward to conquer nature and vanquish all enemies.

A meeting of one of Vlad’s country jaunts was caught, miraculously, on tape and in English:

——————

You can’t enjoy the highs if you haven’t endured the lows, am I right?

***Bonus-1980′s tourist Putin meeting Ronald Reagan as a KGB member in Red Square.

***Double Bonus-Putin and Bush’s love affair in a GAZ M-21 Volga caught on tape.  Putin sent Medvedev out to keep the flame alive with Obama on missile defense.

To put it crudely as possible:  This guy knows more about love than a fate-tossed Ukranian mail-order bride.  You can’t entirely blame him either, as some of its working.

Are we headed toward 19th century geo-politics?:  Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

From The American Interest:’ China’s Lust For Life’

Full piece here.

Our author reviews Evan Osnos’ book about his 8 years spent living on the ground in China:

‘For its part, the government seems to be making efforts to get a grasp on public opinion, though they stem more from its need to buttress its own chances of survival than from any democratic instinct. Attempts at opinion polling have not gone well, mainly because most Chinese are wary about voicing criticism of the government to a stranger on the phone. Nevertheless, there is the sense that the leaders are aware that the ground is shifting. They just don’t know where it is shifting to—and no one else does, either. There is an obsession with establishing the “central melody” of the current culture, but the tune keeps slipping away.’

As previously posted:

—————

(Q & A starts at about minute 6:20)

This blog is still trying to better understand China.  Troost traveled for months around the country, went with the flow, and wrote about his experiences.

The book comes highly recommended.

Some takeaways:  China’s undergoing rapid, almost seething, sociological, economic, and some political change (we’ll see how that pans out given the old Communist state structure and involvement in the economy).  It’s got over a billion people, a huge landmass, and a long history, and can make individuals feel very small indeed.

Interview with Troost here (via Althouse).

Fascinating piece here.

What’s life like in Beijing for an American editing an English-language Business Magazine?

Interesting quote on author Eveline Chao’s censor:

‘I understood then the mundane nature of all that kept her in place. A job she didn’t like, but worked hard to keep. A system that would never reward her for good work, only punish her for mistakes. And in exchange: Tutors. Traffic. Expensive drumming lessons. They were the same things that kept anyone, anywhere, in place — and it was the very ordinariness of these things that made them intractable.’

Related On This Site: Kissinger says our relations with China are incredibly fragile, and that due to its own past, it may not fit as easily into the Western models of statecraft as some would think: From The Online WSJ: ‘Henry Kissinger on China. Or Not.’

From The WSJ-Exclusive: ‘Eric Schmidt Unloads On China In New Book’

From The China Daily Mail: ‘The Cultures Of North Korea And China: Conflict Escalation Explained’

Over a billion people and a culturally homogenous Han core.  Rapid industrialization atop an ancient civilization.  There is state-sponsored hacking and espionage, a good bit of corruption and a lot of young men floating around fast-growing cities.   There are people fighting for their freedoms, better laws, and making their way forward.  There is an often lawless, ruthless capitalism (and hefty State involvement and cronyism) and it will take smart leadership to maintain steady growth. Can they do it?  TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’From Via Media At The American Interest: ‘History Made; Media Blind’From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

Full piece here.

Our author, Daniel Ben-Ami, makes some good points while reviewing Robert Frank’s the Darwin Economy. Here are some quotes from the Princeton Press page on the book (found at the link):

‘The good news is that we have the ability to tame the Darwin economy. The best solution is not to prohibit harmful behaviors but to tax them. By doing so, we could make the economic pie larger, eliminate government debt, and provide better public services, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. That’s a bold claim, Frank concedes, but it follows directly from logic and evidence that most people already accept.’

It’s good to know there are people arguing for such a collectivist moral and political philosophy out of the Origin Of Species and Darwin’s theories of natural selection. Of course, this view requires our betters to gently steer the Ship Of State through the stormy seas of human irrationality, manipulating its levers of taxation wisely, with only the stars of reason, Darwinian group selection, and the dismal science as their guides.

Ben-Ami invokes the fact/value distinction:

‘Students have long been taught that economics is a ‘positive science’ – one based on facts rather than values. Politicians are entitled to their preferences, so the argument went, but economists are supposed to give them impartial advice based on an objective examination of the facts.’

Well, if we do use the fact/value distinction, we should acknowledge that all economists (e.g. Milton Friedman) would fall short of achieving factual knowledge on this view….but point taken.  There is a deeper debate about where to ground our knowledge and what it is that we know.  Economics and potentially unfalsifiable theories are here presented as knowledge upon which to organize all of our lives.   Ben-Ami goes on:

The focus of The Darwin Economy is to work out how best to resolve such conflicts. To do so, he turns to an influential approach developed by Ronald Coase, a Nobel laureate in economics based at the University of Chicago in the late 1950s. His concern was to find a pragmatic way to resolve conflicts rather than having to rely on moral principles

To illustrate his argument, Coase gave the example of a confectioner who had used his business premises for many years. A doctor moved in to occupy the neighbouring property and the confectioner’s machinery did him no harm till he built a consulting room at the end of the garden, next to the confectioner’s premises. The noise and vibration of the machinery began to disturb the doctor’s work.

Coase then made the following assumptions:

  • If the doctor did nothing it would cost his surgery $20,000 in damage;
  • If he moved to a different location it would cost him $10,000;
  • The factory owner could eliminate the noise by installing soundproofing at a cost of $5,000;
  • The costs for the two to negotiate were minimal.

From these premises, it is clear that the two sides should be able to negotiate an agreement with each other for the installation of soundproofing. This is the case even if the government does not make the factory owner responsible for noise damage.

Why not just use the power of taxation to nudge people where you want them to go…if you already happen to know what is rationally in their best interest (or the common interest) anyways? Individuals come into conflict with each other while pursuing their own rational self-interest, and eventually many use the State to resolve their conflicts (property disputes, tort law etc), so why not just head them off at the pass?

And if you’re worried about your freedom?:

”To those who believe that such measures can lead to the denial of individual freedom, Frank enlists an unlikely ally: John Stuart Mill. The nineteenth-century British philosopher is normally seen as the arch proponent of liberty, but Frank turns him into its opposite. Mill supported the maximum possible freedom for individuals with the important caveat that they should not be able to harm others. For instance, I should be free to criticise individuals as harshly as I like but I should not have the right to punch them in the face. Frank extends the harm principle to cover more or less any behaviour that could be deemed harmful. His argument is not that harmful behaviour should always be banned, but government should in many cases impose extra taxes to make it more expensive.’

Don’t worry, these folks are on your side against the interests of large corporations, pretty much all industries, crony capitalists, the oligarchy etc. J.S. Mill’s harm principle is being used to rectify the harm done to individuals by the State through the laws by wielding that State power rationally.  If an individual lives downwind of say, a smelting plant, and comes to develop a disease he thinks can be proven to have been caused by the plant’s activities, he might be able to file suit.  This of course, may be proper legal recourse, but is also used to defend global warming, as virtually any industrial activity can be held legally and morally responsible for causing harm to the individual on this view (acid rain, climate change, rising sea levels, poorer air quality etc).  Scientism abounds amidst deep thinking and actual science.

——————————————————–

I could see this view getting much more traction in Britain, and Europe more broadly, because there is a much more entrenched Left (many more actual Communists, Socialists, Big Labor parties, Social Democrats, Humanists, Marxists etc) milling around.  Europe is actually run by techo-bureaucrats largely because such a large techno-bureaucracy is arguably the product of such Leftism and certain strains of collectivist, post-Enlightenment thought.

But is this really where the modern American Left is, as well?

Taxing soda in Seattle schools has unintended consequences.  It’s not just taxation, it’s banning happy meals altogether.

There are lots of threats to liberty out there, and when you think about just what’s happened to our American institutions these past few generations, and who’s running them, then the strands of liberalism that dwell there makes more sense.

Culturally, we see more inroads for this point of view as well.

Related On This Site: …Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’… Behavioral economics and libertarian paternalism and below all that some liberal totalitarianism (the personal is political crowd)…Ross Douthat Responds To Paul Krugman At The NY Times: ‘Can We Be Sweden?’

From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge…Martha Nussbaum criticizing Chomsky’s hubris in Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal but her liberalism leads to a kind of technocratic group of self-sacrificing people guiding use along.

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…Morality away from a transcendent God, but back toward Hume through the cognitive sciences?: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’:   At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesTimothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

The market will make people better off, but always leaves them wanting more and in a state of spiritual malaise, which invites constant meddling.  Can economic freedom and free markets reconcile the moral depth of progressive big-State human freedom?:  Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Quotations From F.A. Hayek’s: ‘Why I Am Not A Conservative’…libertarians share a definition of liberty

Robert Bork called them the New Left: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Friday Poem-Robert Frost

The Wood-Pile

Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day
I paused and said, ‘I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther – and we shall see’.
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went through. The view was all in lines
Straight up and down of tall slim trees
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful
To put a tree between us when he lighted,
And say no word to tell me who he was
Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
He thought that I was after him for a feather—
The white one in his tail; like one who takes
Everything said as personal to himself.
One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
And then there was a pile of wood for which
I forgot him and let his little fear
Carry him off the way I might have gone,
Without so much as wishing him good-night.
He went behind it to make his last stand.
It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled and measured, four by four by eight.
And not another like it could I see.
No runner tracks in this year’s snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year’s cutting,
Or even last year’s or the year’s before.
The wood was gray and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it though on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself the labour of his axe,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.

-Robert Frost

Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘Simple Policies Win Elections’

Ron Fournier at the National Journal: ‘Obamacare’s Foundation Of Lies

On the Gruber gaffes (forcing healthy people to work against their interests with knowing lies withheld by a chief Obamacare architect in order to get the thing passed):

‘A lie is apolitical, or at least it should be. If there is one thing that unites clear-headed Americans, it’s a belief that our leaders must be transparent and honest.

And yet, there seem to be two types of lies in our political discourse: Those that hurt “my party” and “my policies”; and those that don’t. We condemn the former and forgive the latter—cheapening the bond of trust that enables a society to progress.’

Megan McArdle has a piece here.

Aside from the Gruber gaffes:

‘So too, with Obamacare.  They wanted a massive overhaul of the whole system, but they couldn’t do that cleanly, so they jammed a bunch of complicated mechanisms into one sort-of-working bill.  You may like the goal of Obamacare, or you may not. Either way, you probably wouldn’t choose this particular method of implementation, which is simultaneously less comprehensive, more expensive and more annoying than many other methods they could have chosen.’

You don’t have to be libertarian to find some of Richard Epstein’s suggestions…reasonable:

As I have noted before, there is only one type of reform that can make progress in meeting the three goals of a sensible health care system: cost reduction, quality improvements, and public access. That reform requires massive deregulation of the many market impediments that are already in place. Lower the costs, drop the excessive mandates, and thin out administrative costs, and people will flock back to the system voluntarily.’

I still see a massive, top-down, poorly conceived law that freezes a lot of the problems in place, adds more layers of bureaucracy on top, and serves a narrower range of interests that claim universal, utopian ideals.

Follow the money.

In the meantime, the rising costs, bloated bureaucracy, misplaced incentives etc. of the current system continue.

First, do no harm.

Related On This SiteFrom The New England Journal Of Medicine Via CATO: ‘The Constitutionality of the Individual Mandate’From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?… From The New Yorker: Atul Gawande On Health Care-”The Cost Conundrum”Sally Pipes At Forbes: ‘A Plan That Leads Health Care To Nowhere’From AEI: ‘Study: ‘Obama Healthcare Reform Raising Costs, Forcing Workers Out Of Existing Plans’

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