Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, January 29, 2011 5:27 pm

Friday Random 10, house-chores Saturday edition

Filed under: Friday Random 10 — Lex @ 5:27 pm

Police – Landlord
R.E.M. – Exhuming McCarthy
Athenaeum – Away
Fugazi – Glue Man
U2 – Seconds
Monkees – Shades of Gray
Jackson Browne & Warren Zevon – Cocaine
INXS – Same Direction
New York Dolls – Looking for a Kiss
Social Distortion – Bad Luck


Counting Crows – Mr. Jones (live @ Woodstock)
Elvis Presley – Good Rockin’ Tonight
AC/DC – Love at First Feel

Must-see TV

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 4:49 pm

And they say appointment television is dead. 8 p.m. ET tomorrow, y’all.

(h/t: Fred)

Friday, January 28, 2011 6:11 am

Challenger 25

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 6:11 am
Tags: , , ,

I have nothing new to add on this, the 25th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, other than regret that the most eloquent spokesman that day, the artist Doug Marlette, who created the Pulitzer-winning image above on a brutal deadline, is no longer with us.

So here are two related posts from the vault and a classic from Sars’ vault:

Thursday, January 27, 2011 8:04 pm

Accessories before and after the fact

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:04 pm
Tags: , ,

I’ve had a lot to say here, none of it good, about the banksters and their fraud, which is the primary reason why our economy is in the toilet and not getting out any time soon. But the banksters didn’t do this on their own; indeed, they couldn’t have. They needed inside help.

And they got it, in the form of “anti-regulation.” That is the term preferred, if not coined, by Bill Black, a former savings-and-loan regulator and former executive director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention, a nonprofit that works to prevent fraud and corruption in business and government and to educate people on how to recognize and prevent fraud. Black now is an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. I’ll get back to him in a minute, but first, some background. 

For a long time, Republicans and conservative Democrats have claimed to oppose “excessive” regulation for a number of reasons. Excessive regulation is antithetical to the very concepts of a free society and free enterprise. Excessive regulation hurts profits. Excessive regulation slows or prevents job creation. And, indeed, there is some truth to all of these claims. Some.

Of course, politicians, being politicians, have never defined “excessive,” let alone consistently imposed regulation rationally based on a balance between societal goods (e.g., worker safety, balance of information between seller and buyer, etc.) and the desire of capital to seek as high a return as possible.

But they did find their way to a balance of sorts in some areas, notably financial regulation. As a result, we went from the Depression to the S&L crisis — about half a century — without any major systemic problems in the banking  industry.

But the conservative opposition to government regulation, aided by political contributions to politicians of both parties, picked up speed when the GOP took over the executive branch and Senate in the early 1980s. The savings-and-loan industry, which couldn’t compete with banks that were offering much higher interest rates during the days of 11% inflation, sought and won deregulation. (I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the role of Democrat Rep. Fernand St. Germain of Rhode Island, whose annual bar/restaurant tab, paid by the S&L industry, approached median U.S. household income at the time, in getting the bill through the House.)

And within a few years, whaddaya know, we’ve got a crisis on our hands — a crisis driven almost entirely by fraud and the most expensive banking screwup in U.S. history. Indeed, it was made far worse for taxpayers than it needed to be when Congress defeated a measure by Rep. Guy LaFalce of New York that would have dealt with the whole bloody business at once for about $40 billion — an astronomical figure, at the time, to be sure — rather than dragging it out for years and making it more expensive in the process. Howard Coble, then and now my congressman, voted against the LaFalce amendment, then told me years later he wished he could have that vote back.

The biggest difference between then and now was that then, people went to prison. Not everyone who needed to, of course — no major government officials, mainly some small-town bankers — but a lot of people did. (One who didn’t was Neil Bush, son of George H.W. and brother of George W., who helped run a Colorado S&L into the ground.)

Rather than learn from that experience, however —

Wait. I was about to write something there based on the presumtion that everyone involved has the public good at heart, “public good” being defined as running a secure banking system at minimal cost to taxpayers. However, as I have observed before, not only is there little basis for any such presumption about the primacy of the public good in the hearts of our government officials anymore, there is considerable evidence that the opposite is the case. Certain people in government decided that if a little deregulation could help their friends and political supporters steal a lot, then a LOT of deregulation could help their friends and political supporters steal a monumental amount. And that, my friends, is where we find ourselves today.

And you know what? They’re not done. Conservatives and pro-corporate Democrats used to say they opposed excessive regulation. Now, in the face of all that has been stolen in the past 30 years, they’re saying they oppose regulation, period, and they’re claiming it kills jobs. This is where Bill Black comes (back) in: He says, in so many words, that the anti-regulators are the job-killers, that they’re killing jobs by the millions. And whaddaya know, he’s right:

The Great Recession (which officially began in the third quarter of 2007) shows why the anti-regulators are the premier job killers in America. Annual private sector gross job losses rose from roughly 12.5 to a peak of 16 million and gross private sector job gains fell from approximately 13 to 10 million. As late as March 2010, after the official end of the Great Recession, the annualized net job loss in the private sector was approximately three million (that job loss has now turned around, but the increases are far too small).

Again, we need net gains of roughly 1.5 million jobs to accommodate new workers, so the total net job losses plus the loss of essential job growth was well over 10 million during the Great Recession. These numbers, again, do not include the large job losses of state and local government workers, the dramatic rise in underemployment, the sharp rise in far longer-term unemployment, and the salary/wage (and job satisfaction) losses that many workers had to take to find a new, typically inferior, job after they lost their job. It also ignores the rise in poverty, particularly the scandalous increase in children living in poverty.

The Great Recession was triggered by the collapse of the real estate bubble epidemic of mortgage fraud by lenders that hyper-inflated that bubble. That epidemic could not have happened without the appointment of anti-regulators to key leadership positions. The epidemic of mortgage fraud was centered on loans that the lending industry (behind closed doors) referred to as “liar’s” loans — so any regulatory leader who was not an anti-regulatory ideologue would (as we did in the early 1990s during the first wave of liar’s loans in California) have ordered banks not to make these pervasively fraudulent loans.

One of the problems was the existence of a “regulatory black hole” — most of the nonprime loans were made by lenders not regulated by the federal government. That black hole, however, conceals two broader federal anti-regulatory problems. The federal regulators actively made the black hole more severe by preempting state efforts to protect the public from predatory and fraudulent loans. Greenspan and Bernanke are particularly culpable. In addition to joining the jihad state regulation, the Fed had unique federal regulatory authority under HOEPA (enacted in 1994) to fill the black hole and regulate any housing lender (authority that Bernanke finally used, after liar’s loans had ended, in response to Congressional criticism). The Fed also had direct evidence of the frauds and abuses in nonprime lending because Congress mandated that the Fed hold hearings on predatory lending.

The S&L debacle, the Enron era frauds, and the current crisis were all driven by accounting control fraud. The three “des” [which he defines earlier in the piece as deregulation, desupervision, and de facto decriminalization — Lex] are critical factors in creating the criminogenic environments that drive these epidemics of accounting control fraud. The regulators are the “cops on the beat” when it comes to stopping accounting control fraud. If they are made ineffective by the three “des” then cheaters gain a competitive advantage over honest firms. This makes markets perverse and causes recurrent crises.

A rational politics and a rational culture would try to move us back in the direction of balance between governmental constraints on banking and the desire of bank holders of capital to make a profit. Instead, even as we remain mired in unemployment levels that would have gotten Gerald Ford impeached, everyone sort of acts as if there’s no crisis going on, no criminals among us who need punishing and, worst of all, reason to consider even more deregulation of the finance industry.

No. We have amassed far too much evidence during the past 30 years for any politician now to be allowed to claim ignorance of the deleterious effects on the economy of unbridled deregulation. By now, any politician who isn’t arguing that the finance industry needs to be brutally re-regulated can logically be assumed to be an accessory to the crime. That’s you, Barack Obama. That’s you, Richard Burr and Kay Hagan. That’s you, Howard Coble and Virginia Fox and Mel Watt. (Among our area congresscritters, only Brad Miller seems to be making any effort, and I’m far from convinced that he’s doing all he could and should.)

They’ve come after our 401Ks. They’ve come after our home equity. And now they’re coming after our Social Security and Medicare. And I don’t see a soul on the horizon with the will and means to stop them.

James Kunstler has an interesting hypothesis about why:

The larger riddle of life-in-our-time surrounds the absence of the rule of law in money matters. To say that people are actually running things out there doesn’t mean that are running them effectively or optimally. The US Department of Justice, for example, appears to be led by a zombie, Attorney-General Eric Holder, somebody of this world but no longer quite in it, who is pioneering a new method of Zen law enforcement based on a maximum of doing and saying of nothing. Of course, my ongoing theory since the national election of 2008 is that Barack Obama has been warned repeatedly by many credible figures that any move to disturb the operations of banking would bring down such a wrathful ruin on this nation that he had no choice but to keep his hands off the levers of enforcement. In fact, it’s the only theory that explains adequately the yawning gap between reality and the representation of it by those assumed to hold authority.

The criminals behind our current mess are hiding in plain sight. It’s not, as Kunstler observes, some shadowy bunch of Freemasons or what-have-you. It’s people you see on the news every night.

Now it’s possible that Obama and Holder aren’t prosecuting this mess because they’re in on it — that is to say, not as accessories but as direct beneficiaries. I think that likely will become true of each man as soon as he leaves office, but I do not believe it to be true currently because I see no evidence of that.

But I also believe we may be approaching the situation best described by Arthur Conan Doyle: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 9:13 pm

Shorter Eryn Green: “Facts? We don’t need no stinkin’ facts!”

Filed under: America. It was a really good idea — Lex @ 9:13 pm
Tags: , , ,

Slightly longer Eryn Green: “We are not a culture inclined to the confrontation of our own delusions.” (See also my previous post.)

Random observation: Some of the posts on Esquire’s political blog — and I guess I knew Esquire had a political blog, but I only tonight looked at it for the first time — are quite good.

Even a blind pig …

Generally I despise Chris Matthews and think he has the IQ of the average refrigerator temperature, but on this one occasion he righteously slaps the bejesus out of Sal Russo, founder of the Tea Party Express, for trying to change the subject from the ahistorical lies told by his organization’s darling, Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Memo to American journalists: You want to keep your news organizations in business? MORE LIKE THIS:

Another card-carrying liberal heard from

John Cole at Balloon Juice on the banksters who drove this country into a ditch and got bigger mansions for their trouble, and their witless enablers in the mainstream media (**cough** JOKE LYIN’ **cough**) who think we need to “shame” them:

You can’t shame the shameless. You just can’t. How do you shame people who write [expletive] like this? How do you shame people who have their salaries tripled during a depression and whine about not getting a Christmas bonus? How do you shame Rick Santelli, who a week after the markets are showered with hundreds of billions pitched a fit about a few billion to help homeowners? How do you shame Jim Cramer, who is absolutely destroyed by Jon Stewart but still engages in the same [expletive] every day on his show?

Shaming these people is impossible. You want them to change their behavior, you start putting the [vulgar plural reference to male genitalia] in jail, seizing their assets, fining them, and then making sure they never work in finance again. [And, just because I’m a vengeful SOB, bar them from ever getting health insurance for themselves again — Lex]

That’s right, folks. We’re in the economic mess that we’re in for a number of reasons, some controllable and others not, but the single biggest reason things are as bad as they are right now is fraud. Banksters broke the law, thousands of times a day, for years, and nothing, NOTHING, is being done about it by either major party.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it ’til it happens. It’s the 21st century, and it’s well past time to stop coddling these criminals.

Then look in the mirror, jackass

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:16 pm

I don’t want to quarrel with Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee. I want to focus on the madman …

That’d be anti-abortion activist and terrorist enabler Randall Terry, on why he will run for president in 2012 as a Democrat — i.e., against Barack Obama in the primaries.

And just in case you think that the title of this post is a little harsh — i.e., that it’s not Terry himself who is insane — well …

Even if I get 35-40% of the vote in Iowa, it’s a massive embarrassment to President Obama and it shows the level of voter rage against this man.

Yeah. Terry thinks he could get 35 to 40% of the vote in the same Democratic caucuses that made Obama a legitimate contender in 2008.


Thursday, January 20, 2011 8:25 pm

WTH, Google Chrome?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:25 pm

Once again I come in search of wisdom from the Interwebz.

I installed Google Chrome on both my home and work machines some months ago — in addition to Firefox and IE, for work-related reasons I won’t go into here.

For a long time it worked fine. Then, in about the last week, weird stuff started happening. On both machines.

When I opened Chrome and went to the Gmail home page, the type that appears on the left looked fine, but the shaded area with the username and password slots contained two little, tiny slots along with text too tiny to read. If I bumped up the on-screen font size, the type on the left grew as you would expect, but the stuff in the shaded area remained tiny. And when I logged into Gmail, the type around the inbox list appeared normal size (and grew/shrank as usual when I used CTRL + or CTRL -), but the headers in the inbox appeared in indecipherably small type.

I checked the Chrome help pages and FAQs but didn’t find anything that addressed this problem. One page suggested that I go into settings to make some changes, but when I clicked on the wrench, all the windows that popped up, as well as their subwindows were blank. Some (e.g., new tab) worked normally, but others did not.

I tried to install a newer version. The automatic install didn’t work; nothing happened. I manually downloaded the setup file and tried to run it. Nothing happened. I tried to run the uninstall; nothing happened. I finally got Chrome manually uninstalled on one machine, but then couldn’t get it to reinstall either automatically or by downloading and manually running the setup file.

And just to make this really annoying, I apparently am the only person this is happening to because nothing I’ve Googled appears to address this particular problem.

The work machine is XP Pro. The home machine is Media Center Edition, which is XP Pro with some extra multimedia capabilities built in. The problems appear to be identical on both machines.

Ideas, anyone?


Friday, January 14, 2011 8:52 pm

Colombia: Outlaw nation?

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable!,I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:52 pm
Tags: ,

Colombia — yes, Colombia! Cocaine Heaven! — apparently is more intent on rounding up its outlaws than we are on rounding up ours:

Colombia’s Prosecutor General ordered the arrest of Jorge Noguera, a former director of Colombia’s state intelligence agency DAS, for the his alleged involvement in the illegal spying on government opponents.

Noguera, who was director of the DAS between 2002 and 2006, is suspected of having set up the illegal activities of the DAS that included wiretapping supreme court magistrates, journalists, human rights organizations and opposition politicians.

But Obama says we have to look forward, so Bush, Cheney, Hayden, et al., are walking around free. How’s that workin’ out for ya?



Quote of the Day

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:30 pm

Tristero, at Hullabaloo!, on NYT columnist Ross “Duh-what?” Douthat’s suggestion that the political Left will cynically manipulate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s shooting for political benefit: “It takes a uniquely cynical moron to imagine that it is a gift to liberalism for a Democratic congresswoman to get shot in the head.”

Sadly, such cynical moronicity is by no means unique.

Third Way: The rule of law is great, except when we get caught breaking it, and then it’s not

The bogus corporate think tank Third Way, which just spawned the new White House Chief of Staff, all of a sudden has decided that maybe requiring banks to actually have the legal right to foreclose on properties they’re trying to foreclose on might be a little excessive.

Look, we’re in the mess we’re in because banks committed nontrivial amounts of fraud. They sold stuff they didn’t own, pure and simple. If I try that with a hubcap or a stereo, I go to prison. You can’t put a bank in prison, more’s the pity, but you can make them eat the cost of stuff they claim to own but actually don’t. And if that bankrupts them, well, that’s what we have a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for. So the CEOs and stockholders and bondholders take it in the teeth? No reason they should be any different from the rest of us.

Thursday, January 13, 2011 8:58 pm

Capitalism ain’t what it used to be

Filed under: Evil,I want my money back.,We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:58 pm

Certainly not in the finance sector, where, as Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism observes, when the external costs of the banking system’s crises are added up honestly, they significantly outpace global banks’ total assets. In other words, although no one’s saying as much (well, besides maybe Smith and me), taxpayers are keeping our largest banks alive artificially. The zombies bank among us:

So a banking industry that creates global crises is negative value added from a societal standpoint. It is purely extractive.

The reality is that banks can no longer meaningfully be called private enterprises, yet no one in the media will challenge this fiction. And pointing out in a more direct manner that banks should not be considered capitalist ventures would also penetrate the dubious defenses of their need for lavish pay. Why should government-backed businesses run hedge funds or engage in high risk trading, or for that matter, be permitted to offer lucrative products that are valuable because they allow customers to engage in questionable activities, like regulatory arbitrage or tax evasion? The sort of markets that serve a public purpose should be reasonably efficient and transparent, which implies low margins for intermediaries.

By any honest accounting, most if not all large global banks are insolvent and should be liquidated. Instead, your taxes are going to keep them on life support and keep their CEOs pampered.

This is where a principled opposition to eliminationist rhetoric, although always necessary, becomes a tad burdensome.


The rule of law. I really miss it. (sniff)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:53 pm

Here’s how bad our system is broken: Crimes are being committed right in front of judges, and judges aren’t calling them out.

Imagine: A judge went so far as to fine a firm for “swearing to false statements.” Why? Because it “reflects poorly on the profession as a whole.” One judge even called the filing of a lawyer “incredible, outrageous, ludicrous and disingenuous.”

Like the awful economists, the judges are circling the wagons around the profession — they are concerned that (horror!) the reputation of the legal profession might be damaged.

“When the consequence of a lawyer plying his trade is the loss of someone’s home, and it turns out there are documents being given to the courts that have no basis in reality, the profession gets a very big black eye,” said Stephen Gillers, an expert in legal ethics at New York University.

With all due respect professor, that is the least of it.

No, your Honors, this is more than a PR issue: Making sworn statements that are false is perjury,  and needs to be prosecuted as such. Last I checked, there is not a different set of felony rules for lawyers than for everyone else.

Apparently, Civil Law Judges are missing the bigger concern — that rampant criminality is taking place.

Judges, its time to Man Up! You Jurists need to reach under your robes, and feel around the space where your testicles used to be, and find a criminal law book. Submitting sworn documents to to a court, filing robo-signed documents, fabricating signatures, phony notarizations, claiming documents were reviewed when they never were — all of this is PERJURY.

Prosecute it as such; stop whining about these lawyers, and refer the cases to the State Attorney General. Better yet, have the bailiffs take these Lawyers into custody.

Want to stop illegality? Make sure there is a real penalty that will deter the criminals –bankers, lawyers, et. al –  from engaging in their illegal actions.

This means prosecuting known violators of the law

I could not agree more. The death penalty doesn’t deter murder in part because murder is not a rational crime. But in the kind of crime we’re talking about, people — lawyers — are making a rational calculation that they can make more money faster by breaking the law than following it, in part because they know judges, who are also lawyers, are more concerned about “the dignity of the profession” than about actual, real, individual crimes materializing before their very eyes.

Clearly, the profession has lost the ability and/or inclination to police itself. Accordingly, I think it would be very instructive if some of these junior associates were clapped into handcuffs, frog-marched out of the courtroom and taken in a squad car to The Tombs, where the partners for whom they work would have to appear, in person, to bail them out. That certainly might make more of an impression than what’s going on now. I say it’s worth a shot. It’s the 21st century and long past time we stopped coddling criminals.

The gorilla in the room …

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:52 pm

… is jobs, and he ain’t house-trained:

Republicans are attacking any and all Democratic legislation as “job-killing,” whether or not that’s true (it usually isn’t), because they, at least, understand that voters want to hear more about what the government is doing to put people back to work. That’s not to say that putting more people back to work is actually their policy goal; it’s not. Their policy goals are, as ever, lower taxes on rich people and corporations, and less regulation, no matter how essential or worthwhile, and damn the unemployed. But if they talk as if they’re concerned about jobs for regular people, they figure that between your stupidity and the cluelessness of the media, they’ll get re-elected, and Obama will be ousted, in 2012, and those things, plus lower taxes for the rich, are all that really matter to them.

It’s a shame there’s not a really bright Democrat in the White House capable of figuring this out and acting on it. But I’ve seen no evidence of one.

Consider the source

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:50 pm
Tags: , ,

S&P and Moody’s: Reduce U.S. debt or we’ll reduce your bond ratings.

Oh, I have no doubt they’ll do it. I just don’t understand why anyone would care what they think, inasmuch as they told us that huge piles of liar loans were AAA investments.

I also don’t understand why everyone who works for them above the rank of office manager isn’t in prison, but that’s a whole ‘nother subject.

If you want to know who the real radicals are …

Filed under: Weird — Lex @ 8:09 pm
Tags: ,

… just consider this: Kay Bailey Hutchison is now too liberal for Texas.

So — that cheering in Tucson last night: appropriate?

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:02 pm
Tags: , ,

“Oh yes. Yes! If there was one thing that was appropriate, it was cheering. I’ve been in the hospital, and the people that are healing, they want to hear people cheer.”

— Tucson mayor Bob Walkup … a Republican.

Monday, January 10, 2011 8:38 pm

Grumpy old coot post; or, I remember the Internet back BEFORE bufferbloat

Filed under: Geek-related issues — Lex @ 8:38 pm

Y’know, when I first got on the Internet. It was faster. A lot faster.

Not saying my modem was, mind. But the Internet was:

Bufferbloat is a term coined by Jim Gettys at Bell Labs for a systemic problem that’s appearing on the Internet involving the downloading of large files or data streams. In simple terms, our efforts to improve client performance for watching TV over the Internet is interfering with the Internet’s own ability to modulate the flow of data traffic to our devices.

Think this isn’t happening? How fast is your Internet connection today compared to, say, three years ago? Most users have 2-3 times the bandwidth today than they did three years ago. Does your connection feel 2-3 times faster? Of course it doesn’t, because it isn’t. And it isn’t because of bufferbloat.

In terms of latency, the Internet was faster 20 years ago than it is today — in many cases vastly faster. And it is getting slower every day. Unchecked, bufferbloat will eventually make the Internet unusable for some data-intensive activities.

I blame the youngs, with all their Nintendo thises and Xbox thats. Now, you kids get off my Internet. I mean lawn.



Saturday, January 8, 2011 12:23 pm

Ford turnaround

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 12:23 pm
Tags: , ,

My friend and former colleague Bernie Woodall, now with Thomson Reuters, shows he still has it: He and a colleague turned this story, on Ford Motor Co. chairman Bill Ford and the turnaround of the company, plus a sidebar on Ford’s Detroit Lions and the NFL labor situation, in 27 hours. Straight.

So Hitler was a Panthers fan …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 12:20 pm

… who knew? (text NSFW).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011 8:21 pm

Editing Mark Twain

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:21 pm
Tags: ,

You may have heard that a new edition of some of Mark Twain’s works includes a version of Huckleberry Finn from which the word “nigger” has been excised in favor of “slave.” Via the Chronicle of Higher Education [paywall; sorry], here’s the explanation of the edition’s publisher:

In a radical departure from standard editions, Twain’s most famous novels are published here as the continuous narrative that the author originally envisioned. More controversial will be the decision by the editor, noted Mark Twain scholar Alan Gribben, to eliminate the pejorative racial labels that Twain employed in his effort to write realistically about social attitudes of the 1840s.

Gribben points out that dozens of other editions currently make available the inflammatory words, but their presence has gradually diminished the potential audience for two of Twain’s masterpieces. “Both novels can be enjoyed deeply and authentically without those continual encounters with the hundreds of now-indefensible racial slurs,” Gribben explains.

Well, sure, both novels (i.e., Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn can be enjoyed without the n-bombs, of which there are, if I recall, four in the former novel and a couple of hundred in the latter.

But should they be, particularly in the latter book? And can they truly be enjoyed “deeply and authentically”?

Here’s the strongest academic argument for doing so that I found in the comments (which aren’t individually linked), from commenter marcbousquet:

I for one welcome this edition–I wouldn’t describe this substitution as “censorship,” but more simply as “editing.” There’s room for lots of editions. …

For perspective, consider the work of textual scholar Hershel Parker, whose romantic theory of editing has been applied under the imprimatur of many distinguished grant-funded projects. Believing that author’s revisions frequently represented pressured reconsiderations (concern about the public’s reaction, an editor, spouse or friend’s bad advice, etc), Parker often reversed authorial revision in an effort to reconstruct what he contended was the author’s inspired original intention. There were often many choices for Parker to revert to: multiple crossings out in a manuscript, multiple alterations in successive lifetime printings, etc: which was “right,” even by Parker’s loose standard? See Parker’s role in producing the text of the Library of America Melville edition, for example.

We give Parker millions to reconstruct what Melville would have published if his editor or friends hadn’t interfered. We happily watch performances of Shakespeare in altered or redacted language–there’s a whole essay in acting as translation here, even when the “original language” is used. We routinely expect the Supreme Court (ok, not this one!) to navigate “original language” for us. In the end, I think the best comparison to this kind of editorial work is translation: the editor is translating the work into a language in which aspects of the work can be better understood by some readers. As in all translations (and other editorial decisions, right down to typography), things are both lost and gained. Translation is additive; “censorship” is repressive.

Well, I am not familiar with the work of Hershel Parker and was  no great literary scholar even when I was in school. But I would be curious to know the basis for Parker’s belief, which the commenter doesn’t question, that “the author’s revisions frequently represented pressured reconsiderations.” Absent explicit notes in the manuscript or elsewhere, how is he to know?

Because although I don’t know much about literary scholarship, I do know writing — from the inside out. For me and most writers I know, writing is REwriting. (A corollary: Good rewriting frequently involves lots of cutting; the classic journalism example is the reporter who tells the editor, “I’ve filed my story. It’s 30 inches long because I didn’t have time to write 15.”) I don’t do a ton of rewriting on this blog; part of its purpose is to serve as an exercise in making my first writing better. But on my writing that counts, whether here, at work or anywhere else, I usually spend at least twice as much time rewriting as I did writing. And when I change something, 99% of the time it’s because I think the change is BETTER, not because I’m trying to avoid offending anyone (as you know if you stop here regularly) or bowing to economic pressure. How is Parker to know whether an author’s original intention was, in fact, “inspired” rather than merely an early glimmer of an idea yet to be fully developed?

The commenter likens these changes to translation. Again, I’m no expert, but having studied Spanish deep into college and having covered controversies about biblical translation as a religion writer, I’m aware of some of the basic important issues.

One is that there are several different approaches to translation, and the most successful translations of a work tend to involve different approaches at different places in the work. At the most basic, there’s the literal, “word-for-word” translation as opposed to a translation that, while not precisely literal, best captures the sense of the word, phrase, sentence, passage or work as a whole. A simple example familiar probably even to a lot of Americans who don’t speak another language is the Spanish phrase, “Mi casa es su casa.” Translated literally, word-for-word, it means, “My house is your house.” But an equally serviceable translation, depending on context, might be something like, “You’re welcome here anytime,” or, “Make yourself at home.”

If the commenter wants to argue that this new edition is a translation, then it fails as translation on both the literal and the more figurative levels.

At the level of the words themselves, “nigger” and “slave” aren’t synonymous. They aren’t now, they weren’t at the time Twain wrote, and they weren’t in the time and place, 1840s Missouri, about which Twain was writing.

But there’s a much bigger problem. Yes, “things are both lost and gained” in translation, but this change risks losing the entire point of Huckleberry Finn.

Most accusations of “political correctness,” I’ve found, come from people who are just pissed that they can no longer say gratuitously insulting, demeaning things without fear of repercussion. This, however, is not such a case.

Mark Twain expressed, even for his time and certainly for the time about which he wrote, a profound moral vision with respect not just to the institution of slavery — otherwise, the difference between “nigger” and “slave” wouldn’t be so important — but also with respect to relations between the races irrespective of slavery. He saw a huge gap between the way things were and the way he thought they ought to be — a gap encapsulated  in Huck’s belief that if he helps his friend, the runaway slave Jim, to escape, then he, Huck, will go to Hell. Twain expresses outrage about that gap clearly in Huckleberry Finn, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he used the word “nigger.” To substitute “slave” for “nigger” in that book is the very opposite of the commenter’s “additive translation”: The change diminishes the work and blurs the sharp moral viewpoint that underlies it.

I can think of a lot of things I might call such a change, but “education” ain’t one of them.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011 8:43 pm

“They laughed and laughed until I thought they were going to asphyxiate on their own wretched spittle.”

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:43 pm

Before we hit the 12th day of Christmas and say goodbye to the season for another year, let us pause to reflect upon how Jesus Kenny Loggins was born and died violently assaulted with a cane to save your soul, combining all the best traits of Our Blessed Savior and Chuck Norris, at the priceless Hyperbole and a Half.

Monday, January 3, 2011 8:31 pm

Holy crap. As it were.

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 8:31 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Apparently it is possible to create hydrogen for fuel cells from … pee:

The shower is well known as a source of good ideas. But the toilet? Equally promising, says Gerardine Botte, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio University who has developed a technology to generate hydrogen fuel from urine.

Botte recognized that urine contains two compounds that could be a source of hydrogen: ammonia and urea. Place an electrode in wastewater, apply a gentle current, and voilà: hydrogen gas that can be used to power a fuel cell.

Her system operates similarly to the electrolysis of water, a process that can be used to produce hydrogen for fuel cells—except that ammonia and urea hold their hydrogen atoms less tightly than water does, so less energy is required to split them off. …

Botte’s technology has the greatest potential for power generation in settings where large numbers of people gather—airports and sports stadiums, for example. An office building with 200 to 300 workers could generate 2 kilowatts of power, Botte has calculated. Granted, that’s not enough to power the building, but every drop in the bucket helps.

The approach could also address pollution associated with animal feedlots. The urine produced by 1,000 cows could generate 40 to 50 kilowatts of power, Botte estimates—getting rid of noxious ammonia in the process.

I Am Not a Scientist, but it looks to me as if this process isn’t going to be as valuable in the short term for generating energy as it is for reducing the amount of energy needed to clean sewage. Still, that’s no small thing: The U.S. population is increasingly concentrated in urban centers served by municipal or county wastewater treatment systems, and the cost of energy to run those facilities ain’t going anywhere but up anytime soon.




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