This whole frigging place will be down to the ground

2 09 2015

I’m teaching Weimar this semester.

Two months ago—a month ago—I didn’t know that’s what I’d be teaching, but once I hit on it, I thought Yessssss!!

This is actually the 4th version of my Politics and Culture course. The first one, based on women and human rights, was terrible; the second one worked well, but after teaching it a few years, I got bored and redid the syllabus; the third version was okay, but it never quite came together, and I was never fully comfortable with the course.

So, time for yet another revamp.

My first thought was that I’d use Acemoglu and Robinson’s Why Nations Fail. While I had a few issues with their argument (as I had with the Nussbaum book I used for v. 2), I thought the book would work well for the course: it’s well-written, and, importantly, it had the kind of big theory that was missing from one of the books (Banerjee & Duflo’s Poor Economics) I used in v. 3. The students in that course responded when I gave big-sweep historical lectures, so I figured Acemoglu & Robinson’s big-sweep historical analysis would go over well with them.

Except: I couldn’t figure out what to use as an adjunct to the text. Why Nations Fail is all about political and economic development, and while (political) culture plays a role in their argument, I still wanted to round out the course with something else.

Only, I couldn’t figure out what that something else would be. I’d spent a fair amount of time over the past few months looking over my books and pulling one, and then another, and then yet another off the shelf, but I couldn’t settle on one. Then, at some point in mid or late July, I was peering idly at my history books, and I scanned across Richard Evans’s Third Reich trilogy.

Huh, I thought. Then, Yesssss!!

My first thought was The Coming of the Third Reich, then I thought, The Third Reich in Power, but then I went back to The Coming.

Weimar. Perfect. It’s politics and culture galore, is a subject which I’d been reading about off and of the past coupla’ years, and, most importantly, it was something that I was immediately excited about.

I was not immediately excited about Why Nations Fail.

And that’s when I remembered the lesson I keep forgetting: teaching something I’m dutiful about is a pain; teaching something I’m excited about is a gas.

It also helps to teach something which is more rather than less in my wheelhouse. I certainly have interests in political and economic development, but I’m not a political-developmental economist: I’m a theorist, and I want to know how and why ideas move people to act. Material conditions absolutely matter, but they are not determinative; I’m interested in that great gauzy space beyond the material, and how that works out in actual political life.

So why wasn’t I teaching that? Why was I abandoning something that I think also matters? Why wasn’t I taking theory—and politics—seriously?

Weimar gives me a bit of everything; hell, the glory of Weimar as a teaching subject is its too-muchness: economics and diplomacy and monarchy and fascism and liberalism and communism and violence and art and theater and so much promise and in the end, too much peril.

I’ve only taught one session so far (the class meets on Fridays), and we won’t really get into Weimar until the third week, but the students seemed into it. They might not know much about Weimar, but they certainly know something about what came after—Nazis on the march do tend to get one’s attention.

Anyway, I don’t know if this course will work or not, but really, I think it will. And I think the students will end up digging it, too.

In any case, it certainly can’t go any worse than the Republic itself.





Circus Maximus MMXVI: We will we will rock you

30 08 2015

Trump will not be the nominee of the Republican party.

I’m not much for predictions, but I feel pretty good in making this one: he’s peaking too soon—the nomination fight won’t be decided until next spring, at the earliest—has little support among party elites, and, most crucially, lacks the infrastructure to win the nomination.

He has an audience, not an organization.

That said, I do get why some folks on the right are excited by him: he lays it out there with, as the saying goes, no fucks to give.

That’s what I’ve liked about Hillary Clinton—I keep posting that photo of her banging her fists at one of the endless Benghazi hearings, and head any post about her with “Army of me”—and I’m not the only one. And think about the delight some of us are taking in President Obama’s willingness to plant his flag where’er the hell he pleases.

No more fucks to give, indeed.

It’s just tribalism, a part of the passion of the partisan, and it’s neither pathological nor puzzling: we want our guy or broad to win, and we want to see our guy or broad want to win. And we want them to win for us.

Oh, sure, I’m all about policy and the common good and all that, but, goddammit, I’ve also chosen a side, and I want the candidate on my side to be glad s/he’s on this side. I don’t want someone who’s sorry that s/he’s taken a side.

And I think that’s what those crowds like about Trump: he ain’t sorry for nothin’.

That’s not enough to get him the nomination, but it is enough to get folks to show up and cheer.

And hey, as long as Trump keeps eating away at the base of this fucking guy, I’m all for it.





Baby you can drive my car

19 08 2015

I’m someone who finds it hard to talk about economists without rolling my eyes. Good lord, they actually think models=life.

This is, admittedly,  mostly just interdisciplinary trash-talk, but then I read something like this. . .

test drive

. . . and I think I am not nearly skeptical enough.

~~~

I should note that I generally enjoy reading Tyler Cowen: he’s smart, well-read, strange, and willing to take curiously-premised positions to their bug-nut logical conclusions. (His colleague Alex Tabarrok, on the other hand, . . .)

I should also note that it’s equally possible that Cowen is a) entirely serious; or b) trolling his readers. Hard to tell, given his deadpan writing style.





Circus Maximus MMXVI: Send in the clowns

18 08 2015

Note: I really don’t think this will end up being the case, but. . .

If the other Republican candidates can’t figure out how to beat as manifestly unfit a candidate as Donald Trump, then they really are a bunch of losers.





If I had a rocket launcher

16 08 2015

Excuse me for the all-caps but:

MIKE HUCKABEE WHY DO YOU THINK YOU SHOULD BE IN CHARGE OF A RAPE VICTIM’S BODY??!!





Everybody knows the deal is rotten, 19

16 08 2015

When I was younger—much younger—I thought I’d get the kind of job I could really throw myself into, an all-encompassing career that would provide me with all of the pleasure and meaning I could want from life.

Touching, isn’t it, how little I knew.

Now, it could be said—has been said, by the likes of me—that my current inability truly to commit to my work (paid and unpaid) takes things in rather too far the opposite direction, but I do think that my unwillingness to commit to a Stakhanovite* work-ethic is generally more healthy than not.

Consider Amazon:

Every aspect of the Amazon system amplifies the others to motivate and discipline the company’s marketers, engineers and finance specialists: the leadership principles; rigorous, continuing feedback on performance; and the competition among peers who fear missing a potential problem or improvement and race to answer an email before anyone else.

Some veterans interviewed said they were protected from pressures by nurturing bosses or worked in relatively slow divisions. But many others said the culture stoked their willingness to erode work-life boundaries, castigate themselves for shortcomings (being “vocally self-critical” is included in the description of the leadership principles) and try to impress a company that can often feel like an insatiable taskmaster. Even many Amazonians who have worked on Wall Street and at start-ups say the workloads at the new South Lake Union campus can be extreme: marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends.

It must be admitted, of course, that Amazon would never hire, much less interview, me: I lack tech skills and corporate experience, so I am most definitely not the Amabot they’re looking for.

Some employees do relish the competitive atmosphere at Amazon, thinking that it makes them better, sharper, more able employees; that this kind of bionic work ethos won’t do much for the person they are outside of being an employee is, of course, irrelevant.

(As an aside: I used to that going to grad school was like sticking your head in a pencil sharpener: you do come out a lot sharper, but you also lose a lot in those shavings.)

And as loathsome as I find Amazon’s “purposeful Darwinism” practices—their treatment of employees who do exhibit human frailties is appalling—they seem to me more different in degree than in kind to many other workplaces. Google and Apple and Facebook might provide all kinds of goodies for their employees, but these aren’t these goodies simply the happy-clappy way to get those workers to spend more time at work?

Now, as an employee I’d rather work for someone who wants happy rather than frazzled workers, but really, I want to work at a place that knows its place in my life: important, but not everything.

I may not have much in my life (this is one of those above-mentioned issues), but I do at least have the possibility of having something more.

And that ain’t nothing.

~~~

*h/t to Chatham Harrison for this reference. My first thought on reading of the need for self-criticism was that that sounded Cultural Revolution-ist, but hey, given the contradictions of a company ethos that demands both that workers be self-critical and that they not admit of any doubts or lack of knowledge, why couldn’t it embody both Stalinism and Maoism?

And no, for the record, I don’t think Jeff Bezos is the bald offspring of Uncle Joe and Mao; I mean, there’s no record of him being a genocidal maniac, is there?





On eagles’ wings

12 08 2015

Yeah, I get it: drones may have some use, and yes, some have captured some pretty amazing footage.

That said. . .

h/t Kathleen Richards, Stranger








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