Monday, April 19, 2010

Tea Party Movement and Trust in Government

Not surprising given attitudes on taxes, the countries trust in government has been trending downward for the better part of 50 years. Pew, in fact, finds that only one in five Americans trust the government today: In the late 50s, almost 70 percent trusted the government, and even during he Nixon years, trust remained high. But since Watergate and the ascendancy of conservatives, trust has declined precipitously and has not improved under Obama. This seems to lend support to the argument that the Tea Party is reflecting the interests of the American people. And yet an article in The New Republic challenges the idea that they represents the "real America" at all. In fact, The New York Times and CBS News conducted a careful study of the group last week and found that they are more conservative than the average American, older, more affluent, Whiter and, not surprisingly, more racist ( So while trust is low, it is not clear that the average American does not want the government to step in and address some of the social and economic problems that plague us today. Yet the media has incessantly focused on this vituperative 20 percent and thus kept the focus away from the popular will. What a surprise!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

News Alert: Americans Hate Taxes!

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found that most Americans think "most taxes" are wasted. A surprising 74% of respondents felt that the government wasted most of their tax dollars and another 23 percent said they believed some of their tax dollars were wasted. There were, of course, differences between Republicans and Democrats: with nearly half of the former saying they were angry with the taxes they pay while only 29 percent of Dems feel that way (and 44 percent of Independents). It is interesting to contemplate these numbers in relation to the election of Obama. It appears that people want the government to solve their problems, but without the money necessary to do so. It also appears most people have not taken macroeconomics, which teaches us that government spending tends to have a multiplier effect (a dollar spent by the government adds more than a dollar to the economy). Of course, with all the talk of the deficit, it is not surprising that people think government is wasting money. But the larger issue of the notion that government is largely wasteful shows the power of conservative discourse from Reagan forward to lead people to believe that government is bad and markets implicitly good. While many see the partial lie in the later, their short lived faith in government after 911 (and arguably when voting for Obama) has been supplanted by the dominant conventional wisdom for the past 30 years. The most surprising aspect of this finding is the fact that people generally demand government intervention in bad times and expect a more laissez-faire approach when times are good -- but seem unwilling to count on the government even now to solve our persistent economic troubles.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, it's . . .

Lehman Brothers screwing their investors by hiding its riskier investments through its undisclosed subsidiary Hudson Castle: Like Enron before them, investment firms often use these shadow organizations that: "enable banks to exchange investments for cash to finance their operations and, at times, make their finances look stronger than they are." It's a perfect postmodern tool that allows companies to hide their true financial situation and keep overly nervous investors calm and happy. Content, that is, until the firm collapses, right after the board and execs sell their shares, and they help start a worldwide financial crisis. But hey, it's a small price to pay to keep banks solvent (at least in the short run) and money flowing into the hedge funds so important to our long term economic growth. Though this has never been satisfactorily explained to the public, it has to be true. Markets are always better than government, right? Healthcare reform will destroy the economy, won't it? Sadaam Hussein planned 911, didn't he? And global warming is a farce constructed by nefarious scientists to destroy oil companies and make the world a much safer place. What will those bastards do next?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Postmodern Art

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the new exhibit at the Guggenheim. It provided a sometimes interesting engagement with the evolution of photography and video, and their strong relationship to the past: What interested me most about the exhibit was a subject I have been discussing with an MFA student who is doing an independent study with me this semester: the necessity of mediation in much postmodern art. Picasso once said that art is a lie that tells the truth. Yet modern art, though sometimes difficult to decipher, attempted to tell that truth without the necessity of additional mediation. Since the 60s, and definitely more recently, that need for mediation has seemed to increase. Art in galleries, museums and that sold to collectors have always had different goals and different audiences. But one trend that seems much more pervasive is the necessity of explanation to make the art understandable to audiences not "in the know" (and even some in it). In other words, the producers of art, who are generally influenced by the audience they are doing the art for (though arguably more in recent decades), are taking a more active role in attempting to influence not only the way we see and be in the world but how we see their art.

Art has always been about new ways to see the world, offering re-presentations of reality that reflect different perspectives, views, languages and the like. As Marcuse argued, art can be seen as a form of the "great refusal" -- an instrument to step outside the dominant discourse and rationality of a given epoch. Yet much PM art is about deconstructing perception itself, the production of art and how it is produced and received. Much of the language employed toward that end revolves around irony and self-reflexivity. As many have argued, this has lent it a more elitist stance toward the world, where experts/critics are the main arbitors of quality and the public needs the aforementioned mediation to understand it. What is gained and lost in this process? I think one thing is the ability to contemplate art as it is -- without that mediation. We lose our space of receptive autonomy, as we are oriented toward the prescribed meaning, or at least the assumed meaning of the interpretors (in the case of museums). It seems to follow a larger trend in society to expect and almost require that mediation. Something is not real until it is instantiated within the media culture and given form that is manipulated by the delivery vehicle (e.g., film, television, commentators, etc.) Art seems to be increasingly following this trend and it may be a further point of concern for those worried about creativity and critical thinking. There is still a large fount of creativity and critical thinking among the creative class, but what of everyone else. It is clear that we have expanded the ability to be creative for larger audiences (through the Internet) and to expand those involved in defining what quality work is (ala YouTube and so many other sites). Yet is creativity called into question when art becomes too self-reflective and when audiences come to expect an explanation of what they are seeing or hearing?

Many sites are poping up these days to give the public access to contemporary art online. Here is one:

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Great Book: The Manual of Detection

There have been some impressive debut novels in recent years, including Gary Schtyngart's The Russian Debutante's Handbook and Jonathon Saffron Froer's Everything is Illuminated. And I just picked up another worthy of the praise it has received -- The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry. I have always been a fan of mystery -- going through everything Agatha Christie and Rex Stout wrote by the end of high school, moving on to Patricia Highsmith, Dashielle Hammett and Ray Chandler among countless others and seeing anything and everything that even skates on the edge of noir. Here Berry revives the old crime drama, but with a postmodern flair that is truly inspired. The plot circles around and comes together wonderfully, the writing is crisp and clear and the outlandish plot begs some broader questions about a society under constant surveillance. There are plenty of unexpected plot twists, fascinatingly odd characters and riveting action, intermingled with a flair for description and some very funny moments. The main character is a clerk at a large detective agency who suddenly finds himself at the center of a plot involving the disappearance of a famous detective he has written reports for for 20 years. As the plot unfolds, we are drawn deeper into a bizarre world where mystical figures have mastered a way to insinuate themselves into your dreams and a cast of carnival characters and agency detectives fight a battle over the heart of the city and its denizens. If you want a great read that will keep your nose in the book, grab a copy of this book and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Optimist

David Brooks used to be a conservative I could occasionally look up to. When he was on PBS, he seemed to be reasonable and often had interesting, incisive things to say about politics. Since becoming a regular on the Op Ed pages of the New York Times, however, I have found him to be a relatively insipid public intellectual largely out of touch with the America he often claims to speak for. Today, in is column "Relax, We'll be Fine," he offers "great luscious orgy of optimism" in the face of America's ongoing crisis: After regaling us with his claim that America will grow by 100 million people in the next 40 years and that we are especially adept at "assimilating immigrants" (a claim many immigrants, including the Mexicans, might disagree with), he claims that self-sufficent suburban villages like Fargo, Dubuque and Boise will be the hotbeds of American renewal. Huh? He then goes on to say, "The United States already measures at the top or close to the top of nearly every global measure of economic competitiveness." While we do have the second highest GDP per capita there are a lot of numbers that are quite troubling. For example, we have the largest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized country, among the highest infant mortality rates and lowest life expectancy, work longer hours than europe (almost four extra weeks a year) and have an education system that ranks near the bottom of developed nations. But what comes next is the truly absurd. Brooks claims that America will rise again because of our acumen at providing "emotional experiences." This is because "educated Americans" grow up in a "culture of moral materialism." What is moral materialism? Apparently shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men. All three are good shows, but are they moral? They appear to provide pretty strong critiques of the greed, violence, general discontent and unhappiness, corruption and poverty so endemic to American society. And this is the problem with the argument. It is quite plausible that America will restore itself as the super power in the world. But what is real progress? How should we measure ourselves as a society? I would say the general happiness of the people should matter. And this is missing from Brooks, just as it is missing from that other cheerleader for capitalism and unfettered globalization -- Thomas Friedman. My optimism is a little different. It is that someday Brooks and Friedman will retire and we will get some real intellectuals that actually challenge readers to think more deeply about what makes a country truly great; not just what makes some of its citizens truly rich . . .

Monday, April 05, 2010

Global Warming Doubters Share Low IQ and High Gullibility

The New Yorker has a nice article on global warming doubters in the current issue: Among other things, the article cites a recent study from George Mason University that found that more than 25% of weathermen agree that "Global warming is a scam." It also mentions Joe Bastardi, the frequent Fox News visitor and global warming doubter, who uses an absurdist combination of volcanism, sunspots, and a sea-temperature trend known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation to argue the earth is cooling. He then suggests waiting 20 or 30 years to see who is right. While we're at it, let's just legalize all pharmaceuticals in the country and wait to see how many people die. Of course Fox News likes him, but why is he showing up on the front page of the New York Times? Well he does have a BA in meteorology, which should make him just as credible as Nobel Prize winning scientists across the globe and every credible scientific body in the world. It is because of crackpots like this, and the media's irresponsibility in covering the issue credibly, that a majority of Americans have come to believe that global warming is a conspiracy. One wonders in the end what (and who) the American people won't believe . . .

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Need a Job without a Job History . . . No Problem!

So you cheated your way through high school, earning an honors degree. Then after getting kicked out of five schools (for cheating, those hypocrites), you decided it was just easier to buy your degree online – for a reasonable fee. After a few years toiling in a Wall Street firm you decided the law was for you, and bought your degree online again. Then you had to deal with the bar exam and realized that there was actually some value in actually attending law school. You scoured the Internet for days, but no bar certification for sale! Now what? Well, we have just the site for you – a place where you can upgrade all those holes in your CV with wonderful references that will actually answer the phone: No you never actually worked with or for them, but who cares? In a postmodern world, any fiction can become fact with the right sign of approval. Before, one earned success predominantly through merit and hard work. But why can’t the lazy guy make it in America today? If George W. Bush can be president, can’t anybody? We can make your dreams come true!

Caveat Emptor: Once you get that killer job, you might actually have to perform it. So we are working tirelessly to come up with an Avatar-like system that can put your body to work with our team of experts behind it while you relax the day away in the comfort of your home. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 02, 2010

New Fuel Emission Standards to Destroy America

In a move clearly designed to destroy America, President Obama passed new fuel emission standards for cars today. The new standards are an attempt to address the absurdist claims of Nobel Prize winning quack scientists about "global warming." Pragmatist critics, of course, worry about the costs in jobs and profits to big oil companies. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called it "the result of backroom deals and an ideological agenda that will cause more Americans to lose their jobs. Even though unemployment is at nearly 10 percent, this administration continues to press expensive regulations as if the economic recession never happened." When one reporter asked if lack of regulation might have actually played a part in the recession, Issa laughed and then claimed that only a socialist pig would ask such a silly question. In further proof that this is a plot against average Americans, the socialists up North passed a similar measure on Thursday. Tea baggers across the country promise they will not take this blow lying down.