I’ve been re-reading John Dos Passos’ U.S.A., last read in about 1966 when I found it in the Peace Corps book box. Its portrayal of the early decades of the 20th century seems curiously relevant to the horrors unfolding in the early decades of the 21st, and I’ve been tempted to transcribe various passages in the blog but heretofore haven’t felt the absolute necessity that struck when I read this paragraph in the third volume, describing Thorstein Veblen:
At Carleton College young Veblen was considered a brilliant unsound eccentric; nobody could understand why a boy of such attainments wouldn’t settle down to the business of the day, which was to buttress property and profits with anything usable in the débris of Christian ethics and eighteenthcentury economics that cluttered the minds of collegeprofessors, and to reinforce the sacred, already shaky edifice with the new strong girderwork of science Herbert Spencer was throwing up for the benefit of the bosses.
People complained they never knew whether Veblen was joking or serious.
“One never know, do one?” – Fats Waller
(see Bob Purse’s ‘Strange Bedfellows’ post at WFMU’s Beware of the Blog to find out what one never know)
Mark Liberman, over at Language Log, has a totally brilliant post: Towel-snapping semiotics: How the frontal lobe comes out through the mouth. He closes with this essential HL Mencken quote, perennially useful:
… more than anywhere else that I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly–the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages, and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagances–is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows. [“On Being an American“, 1922]
I’m currently enjoying Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, and this fits right in.
via Crooked Timber, Cosma’s engaging fable Dives, Lazarus, and Alice. A couple of bits to whet the ummmm appetite:
…Gloomy, snarky, heavy-handed, academic, and obvious to anyone who knows enough about the subject to care…
…The larger point is that while what is technologically efficient depends on facts of nature, what is economically efficient is a function of our social arrangements, of who owns how much of what. Economic efficiency may be a good tool, but it is perverse to serve your own tools, and monstrous to be ruled by them. Let us be thankful for the extent to which we escape perversion and monstrosity.
from Tom Dispatch:
The outrage that it has transformed into activity is over those who are still living high and profiting off that world’s demise — the privateers, looters, subprime hucksters, corporate grifters, Wall Street gamblers, and all those willing to take a buck to shill for them, to make sure in every way that they thrive as other Americans crash and burn.
From Jeff Madrick in New York Review of Books:
…compensation tied to stock options along with unusually high profits by financial firms, much of which was passed on to their executives, seems to be the overriding factor. This is probably now the main driver of what we call income inequality in America and what we should more accurately call runaway incomes at the very top…
…This may seem counterintuitive at first. After all, analysts have long painted a picture of growing inequality over the past few decades in which the top quintile’s share of the national income has risen while the share of the other 80 percent has fallen. But almost all the gains for the top 20 percent was for the top 1 percent. And half of that is accounted for by a tiny group within the top percent—those earners in the top 0.1 percent. Meanwhile, for the four quintiles below the 80 percent level, the share of total income fell significantly. For those from the 80th to the 99th percentile, the share rose only slightly (a little more rapidly as you go higher up). In other words, Occupy Wall Street’s claim that “We are the 99 percent” is dead on right.
Jason Scott on the Facebook:
Facebook is a living computer nightmare. Just as viruses took the advantages of sharing information on floppies and modems and revealed a devastating undercarriage to the whole process, making every computer transaction suspect… and just as spyware/malware took advantage of beautiful advances in computer strength and horsepower to turn your beloved machine of expression into a gatling gun of misery and assholery… Facebook now stands as taking over a decade and a half of the dream of the World Wide Web and turning it into a miserable IT cube farm of pseudo human interaction, a bastardized form of e-mail, of mailing lists, of photo albums, of friendship. While I can’t really imply that it was going to be any other way, I can not sit by and act like this whole turn of events hasn’t resulted in an epidemic of ruin that will have consequences far-reaching from anything related to archiving…
Now me, I don’t have any truck with the Facebook, but I haven’t tried to articulate why it squinks me out. Perhaps I no longer need to try?
I’m re-reading John McPhee’s 1987 Atchafalaya article in the New Yorker (as are many other people, just now) and encountered this technological easter egg:
The sun, just above the horizon, was large and ruddy in the mist, rising slowly, like a hot-air baboon.
So you see there IS hope.