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New Yorker Magazine

Because I left my computer behind when I went on my vacation and waiting for re-issuance of my debit card for security reasons, (apparently it had something to do with the new computer virus everyone is concerned about), I have not read any books for the past week or so. I can however rant about The New Yorker Magazine with which I have a love hate relationship.

Like most people who pick up the magazine in the doctor’s waiting room or at someone’s home who for whatever reason subscribes, when I read the New Yorker I skip most of the articles and flip first to the cartoons. I do not find them funny. Someone from the New Yorker once told me with a Eustace Tully like sniff, they’re supposed to be amusing not funny.

Most of the cartoons appear to me to depict characters either collapsing into the ground like slowly deflating balloons or hovering on the verge of transparency. The captions often are snide (which I like) or point out one or another character’s social embarrassment, somewhat at the level of releasing a fart in a crowded room.

The poetry is atrocious. It can be described as poetic excrement. By the time I get to the second line I’m usually furious.

No one I know has admitted to me that they actually read the fiction pieces. They are usually written by a relatively famous Northeast alcoholic, sex-obsessed (or repressed) author, or someone who wishes to be. They really need to now and then try something like publishing the lyrics to a rap song. It would improve the poetry too.

The interesting thing about the non-fiction articles other than their length is that they all begin with great topic sentence that makes you believe you will be greatly informed if you read on. Alas, before I have even finished the first page, new themes are introduced or new characters and I either forget why I started reading the article or, if I have not forgotten, hope I will find it on the following page, often a forlorn hope. When I plod on to the end of the article, to the final paragraph, I frequently discover it lacks any sense of the immediacy with which it began. Or to put more or less into the words of T.S. Elliot it usually ends not with a bang but a whimper.

Now do not get me wrong, I like the New Yorker very much. It reminds me of rainy days and snowy nights on the East Coast with a fire burning in the fireplace or a notoriously dangerous exposed coil (glowing orange) electric heater, depending on one’s socio-economic status. Now and then there would be an article that would knock my socks off and I will always remember it. I love the covers. The magazine also always maintained its grammatical and stylistic standards even as it struggled to remain contemporary. And, I can pile them into stacks in my room for dipping into later (like one does with back copies of National Geographic) and it never looks like clutter.

The following are two quotes from the N.Y. Times that I think catch some of the essence of the magazine and the people who read it:

“The New Yorker magazine has announced that its complete 80-year archive will soon be available on eight computer discs. Some people found this development interesting. But to many, many, many others — and you know who you are, hoarders of America — the idea of being able to own eight DVDs containing every page of the 4,109 issues of the weekly magazine published between February 1925 and February 2005 was life-changing.”
Mimi Avins, July 14, 2005,

“Eleanor Gould Packard, the grammarian for the New Yorker magazine for 54 years whose search for logic, clarity and correct usage in sentences won her grateful as well as grudging admirers among the staff, has died. She was 87. She died Sunday. Her family did not give the cause of death. The first, last and only grammarian at the magazine got her start there in 1945 after sending a letter asking about job openings. In it she pointed out several errors she found in a recent issue.”
Mary Rourke, February 18, 2005

A RESPONSE TO THE ABOVE:

I like to post some of the well written and interesting comments I receive about things I have written in T&T. This came from Stevie Dall:

“Over half a century ago as an 11-year-old growing up in a California railroad town that, for all I know, still doesn’t have a book store, I had the good fortune to make friends with a recent transplant from New York whose mother subscribed to The Atlantic, The Nation, The New Republic, The Saturday Review AND (always my favorite) , The New Yorker.

This was definitely a horizon widener over the Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Boys Life (my brother’s), True Magazine (my father’s — and mine), True Story Magazine (my mother’s), Saturday Evening Post, and Newsweek (mine) that we received at my house, and my grandparents’ Life, Look, and Reader’s Digest, all of which I read from cover to cover.

The one thing they (almost) all had in common were cartoons, and I attacked every new issue from the back thumbing through quickly to read every one of the cartoons as quickly as I could. In The New Yorker, though, I would again go through, once more starting from the back, to read the poetry, followed by the book and movie review.

Only then would I turn to the fiction (there were frequently multiple stories, as I recall, at that point) to savor it the way I do the last morsel of lobster or abalone, leaving everything else to be read (of course I read everything else — there were just so many books one could carry back and forth to the library on a bike!) haphazardly, in no particular order.

That’s still the way I read The New Yorker. I did attempt reading the electronic version on my iPad but gave it up when I couldn’t even muster the interest to make it through the cartoons, which don’t seem to read as well from front to back…

This past issue had a Shirley Jackson story — almost 50 years posthumous — but I keep hoping something new and exciting will come along, and I’ll read it in The New Yorker :o)”

The Huffington Post reports:

“The New Yorker led the pack Thursday night at the annual National Magazine Awards, winning four prizes…

Love the magazine as I do I still find its Poetry inept, the articles too long and at times insipid and the cartoons, amusing but not funny. I suggested to Stevie that some rap lyrics could greatly improve things.

big_mac_rap_lyrics_by_nicoletheawesomehog-d5m59xv

According to Matt Daniels (http://rappers.mdaniels.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com) a designer, coder and data scientist at something called Undercurrent in New York City, after analyzing the percentage of unique words used by various rap artists with Shakespeare, fifteen rappers use of unique words exceeded The Bard’s for roughly equivalent sets. Aesop Rock came in first by a mile followed by Wu-Tang Clan, Kool Kieth and Cunnlynguists.

So, no apologies this time.

Declan Burke

I thought it’s time to write about my current man-crush, the Irish mystery and thriller author Declan Burke. Burke’s novel’s, read like Ken Bruen on steroids (try Slaughter’s Hound). His agent advised him that he could make more money writing comic mysteries like Leonard and Hiaasen. So, although he writes more or less the same stories of violence and degradation as Bruen, his bad guys say and do things a bit dumber while his chief protagonist’s rapid fire patter suggests the recent ingestion of about pound of cocaine.

He like Bruen lives much of the time in the perpetual fog and drizzle of western Ireland. They both set the locus of many of their novels there. This misty dark landscape, I believe, has something to do with the tenor of their stories.

Just think, I spend my days in constant sunlight sitting on a warm deck observing flowers, birds and clouds and it still pisses me off. Imagine how angry I’d be if every day I’d go outside to be met with only fog, wind, drizzle and cold.

My personal favorite Declan Burke novel is Absolute Zero Cool. Not so much for its plot but because there are more explosions of one liners per page than in a string of Chinese firecrackers. It’s as though Philip Marlowe returned and found himself slogging through a bog in Galway.

Pookie says, check it out.

“Survival has never been a right… Survival has always been a matter of hard-earned elitism.”
Burke, Declan. Absolute Zero Cool. Liberties Press.

“It’s a crying shame, yeah, so have a cry, feel ashamed and get over it. The rest of the week is coming on hard and its brakes are shot to hell.”
Burke, Declan. Eightball Boogie.

A New Political Consensus?

“[O]n economic issues the modern Democratic party is what we would once have considered “centrist”, or even center-right. Obama’s Heritage-Foundation-inspired health care plan is to the right of Richard Nixon’s. Nobody with political influence is suggesting a return to pre-Reagan tax rates on the wealthy. Fantasies about Obama as a socialist, redistributionist hater of capitalism bear no more resemblance to reality than fantasies about his birthplace or religion.

Second, today’s Republican party is an alliance between the plutocrats and the preachers, plus some opportunists along for the ride — full stop…. Someday there may emerge another party with the same name standing for a quite different agenda…. But that will take a long time… Finally, it’s true that there are some Republican intellectuals and pundits who seem to be truly open-minded…. But… “seem to be”… they’re professional seemers. When it matters, they can always be counted on — after making a big show of stroking their chins and agonizing — to follow the party line, and reject anything that doesn’t go along with the preacher-plutocrat agenda…. Anyone who imagines that there is any real soul-searching going on is deluding himself or herself.
Paul Krugman

It should be noted that beginning with the election of Franklin Roosevelt in fifty years we went from the probably worst economic calamity in our nation’s history to witnessing the greatest growth of income and widest and most equitable distribution of wealth ever achieved. During this period, both Republicans and Democrats accepted the basic concepts of what became standard economic thought.

During the thirty years following the election of Ronald Reagan on the other hand we have seen our nation tumble from that period of broad, equitable and high economic growth into the second greatest economic contraction in our history accompanied by the largest divergence of wealth between the fortunate few and the rest of us since the heyday of the Southern plantation economies. During that time, both Republican and Democratic administrations grew to accept the new economic and fiscal paradigm introduced in Reagan Administration.

What caused this change from a seemingly workable beneficent economic consensus to one so manifestly deficient? The only political event that bridges the transition from one paradigm to the other that I can see that makes sense as a cause is the civil rights movement. Not that it, in itself, engendered a simple reaction by racists who then swept away 50 years of economic agreement. But it did encourage the rural white southern and working class Northern poor who for the most part benefited (and supported) the New Deal, to make a political alliance with those who hated it in an effort to roll back the threats to their precarious existence that they imagined were being generated by the civil rights movement. Many of them, the working class and the southern white voter believed it when they were told by those who stood the most to gain financially by reversing the progressive economic consensus, that that economic consensus was responsible for financing “welfare state.” That the “welfare state” allowed the civil rights and other progressive movements to threaten their precarious hold on their newly won social and economic stability.

The tragedy for those folks who joined onto the bandwagon, was that while this alliance has been very successful in rolling back the previous economic consensus, it abjectly has failed in halting the ever-expanding tide civil rights and other progressive programs. This result has thrown that wing (that we now call “social conservatives”) of the alliance into ever-increasing paroxysms of insanity even to the point of lashing out against virtually all science and their own self-interest.

The irrationality of this wing has grown so outlandish, that recently some of the more insightful of those most opposed to the old New Deal economic paradigm see in them, their allies, a greater danger to their interests, than all but the most radical wing of their traditional opponents in the Democratic Party. They, these few, seem to be beginning to see in the current Democratic Party, the Reagan economic consensus without the socio-theologic crap.

After all, they may now reason, a few years of diminished expectations is a small price to pay for fattening up the pig again.

Steam by Terry Pratchett

Sir Terry Pratchett the beloved author of the innumerable “Discworld” novels was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year or so ago. “Discworld,” for those who do not know, is a flat world on a disc resting on the backs of four huge elephants standing on the shell of an enormous tortoise slowly making its way across the galaxy. The denizens of “Discworld” are delightfully human (even the humans), and humanly delightful. “Steam” is his most recent book. Although it is not as madly surprising and bizarrely inventive as his previous works, it still overflows with Sir Terry’s special brand of humor and insight.

To Sir Terry, captains of industry, commerce and banking are inevitably criminals, hucksters and scoundrels but they seem to do as good a job as anyone would do under the circumstances. Of course it helps, if the government is run by a highly trained assassin instead of a mass murderer. Sir Terry believes that is the best of all political arrangements. He thinks magic is a good thing because it is very funny when its spells go wrong, which they inevitably do. He also believes that goblins, golems, vampires, trolls, werewolves, and various other species of sentient being, more or less, are quite amusingly human and often even more so than humans themselves once you get to know them, even McFeegles.

Pookie says check it out.

“It is now known to science that there are many more dimensions than the classical four. Scientists say that these don’t normally impinge on the world because the extra dimensions are very small and curve in on themselves, and that since reality is fractal most of it is tucked inside itself. This means either that the universe is more full of wonders than we can hope to understand or, more probably, that scientists make things up as they go along.”
Pratchett, Terry. Pyramids (Discworld) (p. 313). Harper Collins.

Note: I also read Pyramids published several years ago in which Sir Terry reveals that the greatest mathematicians in the universe are camels who, alas have found no one within that same universe they deem worthy enough to share that knowledge with.

Pookie says check that out also. In fact read all or Pratchett’s books. There are so many of them you could read them for the rest of your life and still be happy.

NEWS STRAIGHT OR SLIGHTLY BENT: Women in Finance

As I have written here and in many other publications, I believe the world desperately needs men to turn over the reins of economic and political leadership to women. While in times past it may have been sensible and properly celebrated in song and story for groups of under-employed young men to raid the lands of milk and honey, kill all the able-bodied men and enslave their women and children claiming that either their god or their inherent superiority justified it, modern technology makes this ideology inherently dangerous to the survival of humanity. The risk taking gene so useful in the past seems perilous now.

Even in that last vestige of unvarnished aggression and greed, the modern derivatives market, recent studies show that women outperform men.
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In a review of returns from January through November 2013 by Rothstein Kass, hedge funds run by women returned almost 10 percent on the funds invested while those run by men barely topped 6 percent.

According to Meredith Jones, a director at Rothstein Kass:

“There have been studies that show that testosterone can make men less sensitive to risk-reward signals, and that comes through in this study.”

The numbers are even more eye-popping for the six years from January 2007 through June 2013. Hedge funds run by women returned 6 percent compared with a 1.1 percent loss of the HFRX Global Fund Index. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained only 4.2 percent during the same time.

All which shows that not only do women hedge fund managers out perform men significantly but also beat the index which some male economists maintain is impossible over time.

QUIGLEY ON TOP: Security, Power and Political Instability

Introduction

In his unpublished magnum opus Weapons Systems and Political Stability Carroll Quigley attempts to provide a cohesive analytical structure to the morass of confusion regarding concepts of security and power. He goes on at length to demonstrate how the ideas he enunciates repeat in History and how the application of those concepts can explain most historical conflicts. I will not try to summarize his historical examples here but only attempt to lay out the operative concepts he identifies. The first thing I must point out is that he is not particularly discussing security from such things and famine or disease and the like, although he makes it clear that the lack of such security is more often than not a product of the exercise of power or the lack thereof. He is however examining the meaning of security in a clash of power among groups the effect of which could and often does produce tragic consequences to individuals often including death.

He begins by pointing out that security and power are different notions and that security has not always been a product of a state.

“Men have experienced security and insecurity throughout all human history. In all that long period, security has been associated with power relationships and is today associated with the state only because this is the dominant form which power relationships happen to take in recent times. But even today, power relationships exist quite outside of the sphere of the state, and, as we go farther into the past, such non-state (and ultimately, non-public) power relationships become more dominant in human life.”

Definition of Security

Security Quigley defines as:

“…the settlement of disputes involving clashes of wills within the group and the defense of the group against outside threats—are the essential parts of the provision of security through group life. They form the opposite sides of all political life and provide the most fundamental areas in which power operates in any group or community. Both are concerned with clashes of wills, the one with such clashes between individuals or lesser groups within the community and the other with clashes between the wills of different communities regarded as entities. Thus clashes of wills are the chief problems of political life, and the methods by which these clashes are resolved depend on power, which is the very substance of political action.”

The nature of power

He then goes on to ask and discuss, what is the nature of power and what is the relationship between power and security.

“Power,” he maintains, “is simply the ability to obtain the acquiescence of another person’s will.”

That is to obtain full coöperation, obedience to specific orders, or simple acquiescence.

The Basis of Power

These power relationships can be obtained by the exercise of one or more of what can be described as the triple basis of power in our culture: force, wealth or persuasion.

He states:

“The first of these is the most fundamental (and becoming more so) in our society, and will be discussed at length later. The second is quite obvious, since it involves no more than the purchase or bribery of another’s acquiescence, but the third is usually misunderstood in our day.

The economic factor enters into the power nexus when a person’s will yields to some kind of economic consideration, even if this is merely one of reciprocity. When primitive tribes tacitly hunt in restricted areas which do not overlap, there is a power relationship on the lowest level of economic reciprocity.

“The ideological factor in power relationships, which I have called persuasion, operates through a process which is frequently misunderstood. It does not consist of an effort to get someone else to adopt our point of view or to believe something they had not previously believed, but rather consists of showing them that their existing beliefs require that they should do what we want.”

Finally he explains regarding the above three bases of power:

“Of course, in any power situation the most obvious element to people of our culture is force. This refers to the simple fact of physical compulsion, but it is made more complicated by the two facts that man has, throughout history, modified and increased his physical ability to compel, both by the use of tools (weapons) and by organization of numerous men to increase their physical impact. It is also confused, for many people, by the fact that such physical compulsion is usually aimed at a subjective target: the will of another person. This last point, like the role of morale already mentioned, shows again the basic unity of power and of power relationships, in spite of the fact that writers like myself may, for convenience of exposition, divide it into elements, like this division into force, wealth, and persuasion.”

Psychological nature of power relations

In addition, he argues there exists a psychological nature in power relations. He proposes two analytical rules:

“1. Conflict arises when there is no longer a consensus regarding the real power situation, and the two parties, by acting on different subjective pictures of the objective situation, come into collision.
2. The purpose of such a conflict, arising from different pictures of the facts, is to demonstrate to both parties what the real power relationship is in order to reestablish a consensus on it.”

Influence of time in power relationships

A third influence on a power relationship is the changes that time may make to the above psychological rules and thereby the nature of a particular conflict.

Also, distance or space affect power relationships. If you cannot reach someone or some nation to apply the elements of power than a power relationship does not exist and usually cannot exist. In the modern world of course, although this criteria has diminished in significance, it most certainly has not been extinguished.

Relationships in the exercise of power

And finally “most power relationships are multilateral and not dual.” “Such multilateral systems,” he argues, “explain the continued existence of smaller states whose existence could never be explained in any dual system in which they would seem to be included entirely in the power area of an adjacent great power.”

Summary

In the political arena with its enormous complexities, attempts to use power no matter how applied often cause political instability. Nevertheless Quigley writes:

“In all such crises of political instability, we can see the operations of the factors I have enumerated. These are:
(1) the dichotomy between the objective facts and subjective ideas of power situations;
(2) the nature of objective power as a synthesis of force, wealth, and ideology in our cultural tradition; and,
(3) the complication of these operations as a consequence of changes resulting from time, from distance, and from a multiplicity of power centers.”

Examples of the relationship between power and security although described in the historical record laid out in the book will have to remain for another time.

Kautilya, Arthashastra:


“ANVIKSHAKI, the triple Védas (Trayi), Várta (agriculture, cattle-breeding and trade), and Danda-Niti (science of government) are what are called the four sciences.

Anvikshaki comprises the Philosophy of Sankhya (Metaphysics), Yoga (Concentration), and Lokayata (Logic and debate).

Righteous and unrighteous acts (Dharmadharmau) are learnt from the triple Vedas; wealth and non-wealth from Varta; the expedient and the inexpedient (Nayanayau), as well as potency and impotency (Balabale) from the science of government.
Kautilya, Arthashastra

In the West, Pythagorus and Plato developed a somewhat comparable system of education, Trivium (Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric) and Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy) that was generally adopted during Medieval period. Kautilya’s system appears more practical, as it includes applied economics and politics. (Applied economics – get rich. Applied politics – kill your enemy.)

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