Bedeutung Blog

Postscript: Paul Samuelson

by John Cassidy
from The New Yorker

In the fall of 1996, I arranged to interview Paul Samuelson in his office at M.I.T. for an article I was writing on the state of economics, which is available online to subscribers. At the allotted time, 12:00 if I remember rightly, there was no sign of Samuelson, who was then eighty-one. A few minutes went by. Then he bounced in on the soles of his feet, a diminutive man dressed in a light gray suit, a red-and-white-striped shirt, and a snazzy bow tie. He had gray, frizzy hair, shaggy eyebrows, and a wicked smile. His usual parking space had been occupied, he shouted to his secretary, so he had been forced to park in somebody else’s. “I hope it’s Franco’s. He’s out of town.” (Franco was Franco Modigliani, a fellow M.I.T. Nobel Laureate, who died in 2003.)

Befitting a scholar of his stature, Samuelson had a big airy office that overlooked the Charles River. Books and journals lined the walls and floors, but Samuelson’s desk was neat. On the blackboard, there was a note of congratulations from his colleagues for winning the “National Medal of Science,” which he had received at the White House earlier that year. Samuelson joined M.I.T.’s faculty in 1940. He wrote more than four hundred journal articles, numerous monographs and a famous undergraduate textbook, which, he proudly informed me, had sold “three million or four million copies—I can’t remember which.” When he was awarded the Nobel Prize, in 1970, the citation read: “By his contributions, Samuelson has done more than any other contemporary economist to raise the level of scientific analysis in economic theory.” Almost forty years later, few would quibble with that description. more

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Even Bigger Than Too Big to Fail

Editorial from The New York Times

Asserting that it “is among the strongest banks in the industry,” Citigroup announced on Monday that it would soon repay $20 billion of federal bailout money. This from a bank that has been in the red for most of the past two years, that is expected to limp through 2010 amid a torrent of loan losses, that saw its stock price close after the announcement at a measly $3.70 a share — and that, like other big banks, is still reluctant to lend.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Department, which seems to have no qualms about Citigroup’s self-proclaimed strength, plans to sell its $25 billion stake over the next six to 12 months.

Citigroup’s planned exit from the bailout — like Bank of America’s earlier this month — would be welcome if the banks were the picture of health. But their main motive is to get out from under the bailout’s pay caps and other restraints. The Treasury Department’s approval is a grim reminder of the political power of the banks, even as the economy they did so much to damage continues to struggle. more

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On the Couch with Philip Roth, at the Morgue with Pol Pot

by Charles Simic
from The New York Review of Books blog

As a rule, I read and write poetry in bed; philosophy and serious essays sitting down at my desk; newspapers and magazines while I eat breakfast or lunch, and novels while lying on the couch. It’s toughest to find a good place to read history, since what one is reading usually is a story of injustices and atrocities and wherever one does that, be it in the garden on a fine summer day or riding a bus in a city, one feels embarrassed to be so lucky. Perhaps the waiting room in a city morgue is the only suitable place to read about Stalin and Pol Pot?

Oddly, the same is true of comedy. It’s not always easy to find the right spot and circumstances to allow oneself to laugh freely. I recall attracting attention years ago riding to work on the packed New York subway while reading Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and bursting into guffaws every few minutes. One or two passengers smiled back at me while others appeared annoyed by my behavior. On the other hand, cackling in the dead of the night in an empty country house while reading a biography of W.C. Fields may be thought pretty strange behavior too. more

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The Noughties: a fond(ish) farewell

by Toby Young
from the Telegraph

I was in a French ski resort on January 1 2000 and the first thing I thought about, when the fog of the previous night began to clear, was the Millennium Bug. Deputy US Defence Secretary John Hamre had predicted it would be ‘the electronic equivalent of the El Niño’.

Just how many planes had fallen out of the sky at the stroke of midnight? I plugged my laptop into a phone socket and heard the sound that will forever be associated with the turn of the century: ‘Eeeeee, orrrrrrrrrrrr, ooo-a-ooo-a-ooo-a-ooo-a.’

There was a pause. Had I got through? No, I hadn’t.

‘Eeeeee, orrrrrrrrrrrr, ooo-a-ooo-a-ooo-a-ooo-a.’ Dear God, how I came to hate that sound.

When I discovered that absolutely nothing had happened I felt vaguely disappointed. On the face of it, that makes me sound like a depraved nihilist – I was upset that a global disaster hadn’t occurred – but it was a sickness shared by many and, though I didn’t know it at the time, symptomatic of the decade to come. more

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I Could Fix That

by David Runciman
from The London Review of Books

In the final year of the last century, George Stephanopoulos, Bill Clinton’s one-time aide and press secretary, published a memoir of his time in the White House entitled All Too Human: A Political Education. Back then, it seemed like a terribly exciting book: 1999 was the year of Clinton’s Senate trial, following his impeachment, and also of the first appearance on US television of The West Wing, which offered the fantasy of a different kind of liberal president. Stephanopoulos made working in Clinton’s West Wing sound thrilling, monstrous, deranged. A group of super-smart men (and one or two women) fought round the clock to pin down their super-smart, hopelessly promiscuous president (promiscuous with his time, his interests, his attention, rather than in the more obvious ways). Speeches got written at the last moment, policy was endlessly being reformulated, old enemies were reached out to while a train of new enemies was picked up along the way. Stephanopoulos describes how important physical proximity to the president was – having your office a few yards nearer to the Oval Office than the next person was crucial – and he lets us know that he got close. This was more like a medieval court than a modern workplace, both deeply hierarchical and frighteningly chaotic. And there at the heart of it was George, fixing, fighting, cajoling, despairing, scheming, outwitting, getting outwitted, and all the time feeding off the power. At one point, our hero (George, not Bill) takes a fancy to Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze’s costar in Dirty Dancing, and he gets his people to sound out her people about whether she fancies a date. Yes she does! He goes to gatherings of Greek-Americans and they crowd round wanting to know when he is going to lift the curse of Dukakis (which says that short Greek men can’t get elected president, because they look ridiculous in tanks). What can George say – who knows? more

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Memo to Danes: Even You Cannot Control This Summit

by Naomi Klein
from The Nation

On Saturday night, after a week of living off of conference center snack bars, a group of us were invited to a delicious home-cooked meal with a real live Danish family. After spending the evening gawking at their stylish furnishings, a few of us had a question: Why are Danes so good at design?

“We’re control freaks,” our hostess replied instantly. “It comes from being a small country with not much power. We have to control what we can.”

When it comes to producing absurdly appealing light fixtures and shockingly comfortable desk chairs, that Danish form of displacement is clearly a very good thing. When it comes to hosting a world-changing summit, the Danish need for control is proving to be a serious problem. more

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The globalization of religion

Richard Dawkins’s heart leaps up as high as any Romantic poet’s when he beholds a rainbow. But he has taken issue with Keats’s complaint that when scientists “unweave” a rainbow they spoil it. Mike King in Postsecularism ripostes that Dawkins is trying to “arrogate to science what is the proper domain of a quite different human impulse – the poetic and mystical”. The reason why the rainbow moves us is that it is “unexpected, vivid, and set, like music, against the counterpoint of landscape, whether natural or man-made in its specificity”. This domain of spirituality, to which belongs our sense of interconnectedness and the “grandeur of life” evoked by the rainbow, is, according to King, autonomous with regard to science. He accepts Stephen Jay Gould’s proposition that religion and science are “non-overlapping magisteria”, though he would add a third magisterium, that of the arts. He rejects “monoculture of the mind” as symptomatic of both religious fundamentalism and ultra-scientism.

All the books under review reflect the withering away of the “secularization thesis” that prevailed in sociology thirty years ago. The first four address the phenomenon of militant atheism, while the fifth, by Michael Jackson, may be seen as an attempt to sidestep the problem formulated by Gould. more

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Iranian banknotes uprising

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Buy Local, Act Evil

By Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow
from Slate

As the owner of several energy-efficient light bulbs and a recycled umbrella, I’m familiar with the critiques of “ethical consumption.” In some cases, it’s not clear that ostensibly green products are better for the environment. There’s also the risk that these lifestyle choices will make us complacent, sapping the drive to call senators and chain ourselves to coal plants. Tweaking your shopping list, the argument goes, is at best woefully insufficient and maybe even counterproductive.

But new research by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto levels an even graver charge: that virtuous shopping can actually lead to immoral behavior. In their study (described in a paper now in press at Psychological Science), subjects who made simulated eco-friendly purchases ended up less likely to exhibit altruism in a laboratory game and more likely to cheat and steal.

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The Millions Interview: Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

by Anna Clark
from The Millions

The Russian language is the real hero of Tolstoy’s masterpiece; it is his voice of truth. The English-speaking world is indebted to these two magnificent translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, for revealing more of its hidden riches than any who have tried to translate the book before. — Orlando Figes

After reading their 2007 translation of War and Peace, Orlando Figes, the eminent Russian historian, did not mince words about Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. And so, neither will I: When I found out that I had the opportunity to interview the translators, I was giddy as a girlish Beatles fan circa 1964.

As the bestselling and award-winning translators of sixteen great works of Russian literature, Pevear and Volokhonsky are something of a rock star duo in the literary world. The fluency of their translations, grounded in a nuanced understanding of the time and place that the source texts were written, have given cause for many of us to fall more deeply in love with The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Notes from Underground, The Master and Margarita, Dead Souls, and the fiction of Anton Chekhov, among many others. The pair have been working together since 1986; Pevear has also published individual translations from French and Italian. As a duo, they were twice awarded the PEN Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. Their 2004 translation of Anna Karenina was an Oprah’s Book Club pick. more

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Too big to burn: AIG plays God in a man-made firestorm

By McKenzie Funk
from Harper’s

The first light we ran was at Main Street and Jamboree Road, near the Hyatt, and we ran it mostly because we could. Chief Sam flicked on his siren, and eighteen lanes of traffic froze in place. We nudged into the intersection. We accelerated. We swerved. We accelerated again. Our red Ford Expedition, topped with red lights, emblazoned with the word fire, shot onto the 405, tires screeching. Car after car pulled over to let us by until, as we merged onto I-5, some civilian in a Civic didn’t. “Look at this guy,” Chief Sam muttered, and then he cut into the median to race past him.

The traffic died down near Disneyland, but the Santa Ana wind picked up—a hot wind coming from the desert, an arid wind, a wind that sucked any remaining moisture from the landscape. It funneled through the canyons in gusts, carrying brush, bits of cloth, plastic bags, and clouds of dust. The dust blasted across the freeway, ocean-bound, and our truck, now going seventy-five in the center lane, shook from side to side. more

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Turner Prize: Art is beautiful again

by Alastair Sooke
from Telegraph

Do you remember the days when the Turner Prize ignited a firestorm of controversy? When the fag butts, empty vodka bottles and used condoms that surrounded Tracey Emin’s notoriously unmade bed had the nation up in arms – even though it didn’t win?

Well, not any more. This week, the artist Richard Wright won the £25,000 cheque that accompanies Britain’s most prestigious annual art prize. His contribution to this year’s exhibition? An incredibly intricate painting in gold leaf that covers an entire wall of a gallery inside Tate Britain like a bolt of the finest damask wallpaper. A glorious, eminently civilised work, it looks gossamer-delicate, as though it has been woven out of sunbeams. more

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Interview: Martin Amis

by James Knight
from Vice Magazine

Martin Amis is one of the great writers of contemporary fiction. Even if he’d given up putting pen to paper after his third novel, Money, this would be an irrefutable fact. Period. Sorry. He writes grippingly of ugly characters consuming for the sake of consumption, blind to their own greed. His hideous, and occasionally hilarious, creations have always been both of their own time and chillingly in line with whatever is going on outside your window on any given day.

Amis gives interviews rarely and has a reputation for being spiky and guarded. Having read all of his work and been more than a little bit into it, actually picking up the phone to talk to him had me shaking like a wee little leaf on a tree. Luckily, Amis (“Marty” to his buddies) was kind, willing, and open. He also has the most mesmerizing way of emphasizing words midsentence. Go watch him talk about his book House of Meetings on Charlie Rose on YouTube right now and you’ll hear what I mean.

Vice: Having grown up with the towering novelist Kingsley Amis for a father, was there a point where you made a conscious decision to be “a writer,” or was it always sort of a given?

Martin Amis: At around 13, a certain self-awareness came over me as I was writing prose and poems in notebooks and diaries. What you are doing at that age is communing with yourself in a new way and becoming articulate within yourself. I think that everyone goes through that state and the people who end up becoming writers are simply those who never grow out of it. I never did. I also have to admit my father as an early influence. I read his stuff, but I also felt like it was an independent decision that I made to be a writer. I knew that it wasn’t a case of just writing a single novel and thinking, “I’ve done that now,” or that I’d impressed my father and purged the influence. I had the feeling that it would be a long-haul thing—in a good way. more

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Fair Warning

TO THE JAPANESE PEOPLE:

America asks that you take immediate heed of what we say on this leaflet.

We are in possession of the most destructive explosive ever devised by man. A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what two thousand of our giant B-29s can carry on a single mission. This awful fact is one for you to ponder, and we solemnly assure you it is grimly accurate.

We have just begun to use this weapon against your homeland. If you still have any doubt, make inquiry as to what happened to Hiroshima when just one atomic bomb fell on that city.

Before using this bomb to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, we ask that you now petition the emperor to end the war. Our president has outlined for you the thirteen consequences of an honorable surrender. We urge that you accept these consequences and begin the work of building a new, better, and peace-loving Japan.

You should take steps now to cease military resistance. Otherwise, we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all our other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war.

EVACUATE YOUR CITIES

from Lapham’s Quarterly

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Who killed John Keats?

by John Barnard
from Times

On Friday July 27, 1821, five months after Keats’s death, the Morning Chronicle printed, under the heading “John Keats, the Poet”, a long letter written by someone identified only as “Y”. The letter was reprinted by Edmund Blunden in his book Shelley and Keats as they struck their Contemporaries (1925), with the warning, “Y. may have been C. Cowden Clarke, but the letter does not altogether decide the point”. A quarter of a century later, J. R. MacGillivray noted the existence of the letter in his Bibliography and Reference Guide (1949), and identified the writer as “almost certainly Charles Cowden Clarke”.

MacGillivray cited the letter writer’s description of himself as Keats’s “School-fellow and friend”, and his claims to have been present when Keats was first introduced to Leigh Hunt and to Benjamin Robert Haydon (facts which point to Clarke’s authorship), and concluded by giving a short extract in which Y describes a night he once spent talking to the poet about the recent hostile reviews of Endymion. The letter’s account of Keats’s sensitivity to the critics’ attacks has never been fully integrated into the poet’s biography. That may be partly because the identity of Y is not entirely certain, and partly because Blunden’s book, which was printed in a limited edition of 390, is a collector’s item usually lodged in rare book rooms. But there may be another more important reason. At the heart of the letter is a description of Keats lying awake “through the whole night” talking with “sensative-bitterness” [sic] about the attacks by his critics. This challenges Keats’s own claims that the hostile articles written about him in Blackwood’s and the Quarterly affected him less than his own self-criticism (claims always cited to rebut the myth that he was killed by a review). more

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A Cartoon

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Thinking in Dark Times—Six Questions for Roger Berkowitz

By Scott Horton
from Harper’s

Fordham University Press has just put out Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics, a collection of papers from a conference convened at Bard College to mark Arendt’s hundredth birthday. I put six questions to Roger Berkowitz, a professor at Bard and academic director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Ethical and Political Thinking, about issues addressed in the book.

1. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt writes that the most essential criterion for judging the events of our time is whether they will lead to totalitarianism. That seemed perfectly sensible in the ashes of World War II, when the West still faced an existential threat from the Communist bloc. But is this analysis still current today, in light of the triumph of liberal democracy that came in 1988-92, as the Communist world shattered and fell?

The victory of liberal democracy, for Arendt, is not a guarantee of human dignity. So while you’re right that the threat of totalitarianism appears less pressing today, Arendt’s book is not simply about totalitarianism but specifically its origins. Arendt locates those origins in the basic experiences of modern life: rootlessness, homelessness, and loneliness. These are her words, and they name a fundamental condition not limited to citizens of totalitarian states. This is why Arendt can write that “the true predicaments of our time will assume their authentic form—though not necessarily their cruelest—only when totalitarianism has become a thing of the past.” more

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All That

by David Foster Wallace
from The New Yorker

Once when I was a little boy I received as a gift a toy cement mixer. It was made of wood except for its wheels—axles—which, as I remember, were thin metal rods. I’m ninety per cent sure it was a Christmas gift. I liked it the same way a boy that age likes toy dump trucks, ambulances, tractor-trailers, and whatnot. There are little boys who like trains and little boys who like vehicles—I liked the latter.
It was (“it” meaning the cement mixer) the same overlarge miniature as many other toy vehicles—about the size of a breadbox. It weighed three or four pounds. It was a simple toy—no batteries. It had a colored rope, with a yellow handle, and you held the handle and walked pulling the cement mixer behind you—rather like a wagon, although it was nowhere near the size of a wagon. For Christmas, I’m positive it was. It was when I was the age where you can, as they say, “hear voices” without worrying that something is wrong with you. I “heard voices” all the time as a small child. I was either five or six, I believe. (I’m not very good with numbers.) more

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Reckoning with Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the "War on Terror"

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Bill Viola: Anthem (1983)

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The Anthem, in Israeli religion, is a chorus sung, repetitively, between each verse of a psalm.

The piece centers on a single piercing scream and on the extension of this scream by a little girl eleven years old under the engine shed at Union Railroad Station in Los Angeles. This initial cry, which only lasts a few seconds, is prolonged in time and its frequency is profoundly transformed and multiplied by the use of slow motion. This spasm of sound is the invisible container of a stretched-out time and space, a universal breath. Thus, although the picture shows the little girl to be the source of the sound, the shriek extends well beyond the contours established by her body, spreading and flowing like a dark fluid, and mingles with all the sirens in the town, with every shout and with the noises of the rising irrepressibly from below. These are mnesic images, “all centered on the theme of primitive fear of the dark, materialism and the harmful separation of body and mind” (Bill Viola).

In a violent dialectic movement, the child’s cry reflects the rumbling of the town, the flaming factory chimneys, a surgical operation, a torn living body from which flesh is being removed, revealing the heart beating vigorously. This cry, which functions as an eyes, crystallizes and dismembers the flesh of the image, removing it to a terrifying twilight world.

Thanks to — U B U W E B

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