Sunday, December 30, 2012

Finished Opus 49 No.1 Organ Prelude in C

I'll toss more into the set over the next week. Now to finish the very troubled Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet #2, in F#.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The New Program

I have started a composing program, one aimed at productivity. While this means, of course, that longer works must be put aside, as well as revisions to the concerti, an artist should be able to look at their output and fill what is missing. In my case: smaller works, works that are simpler to play, works for more diverse ensembles.

The goal can be summarized as follows: 3 minutes of new music a day on average, and 3 works every two weeks for a year. That is 75 new works, and 1100 minutes of music. While one can't measure production solely in volume – scribbling isn't composing – there are times to put theory to the test: can a volume of ideas be produced in a variety of shapes and groups.

This program began with the Opus 46 Quintet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, English Horn, and Bassoon entitled "Prayers Ascending". The second work is Opus 47 Sextet for Piano & Winds, which will have a movement posted shortly, and the short Opus 48 Prelude for Flute, Clarinet, Trumpet, Horn, Trombone, and Bassoon. 37 minutes in 11 days so far, on the very foothills of a mountain.

In a way this is much like blogging in music: write quickly for any grouping that is to hand, drop anything blocked, and use a different route, hit ideas over and over again in varied form, and above, keep moving.

Yes few care about this, but that is because eyes and ears are elsewhere. When laboring obscurity, labor, and because the obscurity will most assuredly take care of itself.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An Ecology of Sound – Why My Music

Music can be played or produced. Produced music isn't entirely new, however, with computers, synthesizers, and associated mixing and recording technology, it went from being largely a toy – think a music box – or the pursuit of the odd experimentalist, to being an overwhelming part of life. Produced music is more akin to painting in its requirements than composing music. It is direct, unmediated to the listener from those that create or assemble it. Like a writer, the producer needs only a channel to an audience.

Composition, like script writing, choreography, and other secondary arts, requires not only a channel, but performers. For this reason composition is inherently more political. It must not only compete for limited time attention of the audience, and whatever width of the channel is, and the limitations of aggregation and criticism, but for the limitations of performers. Performers become the music that they play, it is carved on their bones.

For this reason, movements in composition often appear first as literary movements, explaining the new idea, or the idea that literary figures would wish an ideal music to have. Since the advent of production, composition as become a secondary art, which, like poetry, is relevant more to the inner lives of the participants. Athletics has supplanted art and performance as the physical expression of attainment, both personal and corporate. Where once cities would have to have cultural institutions to prove their worth as great metropolitan areas, capable of carrying and inserting performance and production into the cultural channel, now they must prove they can insert sports into the broadcast channel.

The first movements in composition in the West that we can follow date that we have date to Boethius in the 500's, that is at the very break with antiquity. In the renaissance the modern thread of development of counterpoint and polyphony can be connected to the compendium of Tinctoris, who summarized the practice and theory of the time, in a tradition that saw itself as being a thousand years old. However, it is clear that this is not really the case – homophony ruled the liturgical roost, and with it the living the church could provide. From Tinctoris' literary idea, came the more practical realization in the work of Josquin, who can be thought of as the first modern, in the long sense, composer.

Why delve into this?

Because the tensions of patronage, idea, style, and words, are mixed together from the beginning. Composition is not abstract from these issues, but, instead, is one way the art mediates politics – it brings together many goods, to produce one good, the music itself, from an imperfect mind, through imperfect performers, through imperfect circumstances, to imperfect ears, a striving for a kind of reach that is a kind of touching of a shadow of what we imagine perfection to be.

The musical is political, and composition must meld the political with the artistic.

This means that attempts to keep music out of politics, or politics out of music are muddle, even if the concert hall is put beyond ordinary partisanship, this is part of politics: a peace dedicated to the goddess of music. Composition is not, then, partisanship to external movements, but requires partisanship.

Because of the way outside music reaches in to a person's physical and mental existence, the unbearable weight of undesired order is painful, this, combined with the partisanship and physicality of performance, creates a hotbed for overblown, and overbearing, attempts to force the issue. And so all compositional movements, begin as a search to free music from dead words, and ends its tenure being dead words where the dead lord over the living. They then, like Beethoven's hero, must die before their spirit goes out into the world.

In the present, the last gasps of Modernism are passing from the scene. This does not mean that people are ceasing to compose, play, or listen to Modernism in music, but its time as the dictatorship of taste is virtually over, with a few last ditch exceptions. Modernism started to give way to Post-Modernism, or isms, starting in the 1950's, even as High Modernism was very high and mighty in its own estimation.

Post-Modernism is the academic twin, of Pop. Where as Modernism in music had physics envy, and spawned effects that would be of us in commercial art – film music, commercials, songs – Pop embraced Post-Modernism's undermining of absolute truth. Because in Pop, truth is ticket sales, record sales, and the relationships of personal contact that can create the collaborative works that pop culture consists of. Good is what makes money.

However, the post-modern is essentially an assertion that enough technology and social unity can overcome any problem. The first is the root of the post-modern problem – how to have authority when production is no longer limited – and the second its answer, the game itself. There might b many printing presses, but games are monopolies. There is an NEG point in here, but can be left to a graduate student to show that as the transportation costs of information reach zero, there comes to be a monopoly of games that overwhelms consumer choice, because the economies of scale of a pipe overwhelm any economies of production. In short, if reproduction costs zero, and transmission is virtually universal artists drop in value to zero. Creativitiy is worth zero, which brings us to the present post-Pop moment.

In the post-Pop moment there is no artist, everything is merely a remix of existing surfaces, and the proof is simply acceptance. This is the resulting of paying people nothing, at that point they see popular culture as something that they already paid for. And they are right: both in the sense that popular culture supports the system they live – that is the Marxian reality that advertising and popular culture support consumption and debt – and because without their active labor in spreading, promoting, remembering, and celebrating popular culture, there is no way for it to be made. Or, to the post-Pop mind, popular culture is paid for by the tax on their earnings which the post-Modern system slaps on them – the empirically demonstrable gap between wage growth and productivity is the tax the wealthy slap on the public – and by their own social labor, and use of social rents. That is, the tell their friends, the telling being labor, their friends being the social rent. If you don't think friends have value, then why are businesses willing to pay good money for referals?

I know that is dense, and the terminal stupid critic will just point and sneer, rather than think an unpack it, but it all works out to this:

In the post-Pop era, there is no such thing as piracy.

There isn't any such thing, because the public has already paid for popular culture by their loss of wages, freedom, and social mobility – that's the tax – and by their active labor. Something doesn't "go viral" until some real people spread it.

This means that rather than the socialism of class solidarity – that is, Marxism – or even the socialism of national necessity – that is, liberalism – or the socialism of militarism – that is fascism or naziism – we have the socialism of emiseration. An as yet unnamed socialism, which is the communism that comes from a combination of poverty and labor. That is, the same communism that, so long ago, produces plainchant and nameless sculptors of innumerable niches on Cathedrals. A neo-feudal socialism for what is, in fact, a neo-feudal age.

We remember Dufay, because he bothered to tell us he existed. The first circle is closed.

In the post-Pop era, there is no creation.

This is no originality, because there is no person allowed to be an origin. Revolution, the overturning of the established order, would be death to the very communism which is the adaptation of ordinary people to a world where they cannot do without the oil, nor replicate the capital system, but cannot take control of either. The populism of the right imagines a war for oil, or "drill everywhere," and the populism of the left imagines an overthrow of the capitalism.

The organizer of sound or art must fit in, in the same way the generator of epithets to be used in oral poetry in the rhapsodic age of Homer had to be invisible to be remembered. His bits had to fit with all the other bits.

This fits in with the ant heap knowledge system, where thousands of drones lay siege to some problem. And with the need for genre. Thus to be creative is to be dead. Everyone is picking through the detritus of the upper layers, and so is the politics of their creation. Why create a harmony when there is the unity of necessity?

Now either one can rebel against ones moment, or accept it. This is where I enter this picture. The post-Pop world is an unsustainable mess. It cannot move itself, because of something that the Post-Modern did not really understand: real physical limits. We are committing thermocide, the heat death of the climate we live in. It cannot reduce itself, because its population is to large. Either the people of this moment have to rebel, or there is no future.

This then is the literary moment: to reassert creation in an era where genius is outlawed, and instead social connection is all. To reassert composition where everything is merely assembled and to show that composition can create order where one mind can master genres, in the form of works.

To do this requires accepting the methods of "production" of sound, as in multi-tracking and multi-layering, and to build pieces, not as a composer might on paper in another age, but at the electronic staff the way a producer might. Music asserts the mastery of the hand and voice over technology: that a person can control the monsters of machinery that we have built, by manipulation – the very word coming from the root hand.

This then is my assertion, that as the modern tried to prove that the brain could be a human physics, creating a realm of laws and order that in turn created a universe - Schoenberg, Webern, Carter, Messiaen, Stockhausen – and the pop a human game, were individuals played reductive bits – Riley, Reich, Glass, Cage – the next era is to prove that a single performer, or group of performers, can create a human ecology of sound, that flowers in each performance.

This then is the basis for a new, and more lyrical, age.

10 Rules of Bad Software Interface Design

10. Must sacrifice to Mouse Click God

When adding a feature, just layer it on some place, creating another menu, and more mouse clicks and mode changes. Users must like to click the mouse, so this only adds to their happiness.

9. Default to dumb

Automatically shift the user to an unrelated mode or feature, with no way to get back but going to the menu. See 10 above.

8. Auto Error

If you can make the auto shift or complete throw an error. See 9 above. And then require an edit (See 6 below).

7. Modal Dialog boxes everywhere.

Because all users love dealing with their 2 year old throwing a tantrum who demands attention now, and will not let you do anything until answered. All errors should be modal dialog boxes. See 8 above.

6. Click. Wait. Greatest. Idea. Ever.

When possible use click and wait before being able to edit anything. Because the only thing users like more than clicking, is waiting.

5. Sticky Clicky.

When possible, make an entire entry, when clicked on, do only one thing, so that editing, reorganizing, or changing, requires additional actions. Bonus points for 9 leading to 8 leading to 7 leading to 6 leading to 10. Must sacrifice to mouse click God.

4. Small targets.

For edits, make a small correction require hitting as small a target as possible, and instead grab and delete the entire text, requiring re-entry. See (9) leading to (6) above. Example: correcting one letter in a URL, or email address.

3. Prevent the user from doing what he wants to do.

For example, editing an email address in Apple's mail program. A gem: cannot edit, must click wait, and then has a small target. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

2. Can only Undo what does not need to be undone, can't undo what needs to be.

Because users love redoing their work. Bonus if the undo route requires utilization of as many of (10-3) above.

1. Do it differently every single release.

Because people hate it. But remember to maintain the ideas in (10-2) above.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bigot / Racist Fallacy

Bigotry and racism, or another other kind of systematic discrimination, are related, but not equal. Almost all bigots must, at least on an implicit level, believe in systematic discrimination, or at least their own right to discriminate. However the reverse is not true: an individual can systematically discriminate, without feeling any bigotry themselves, or make use of the bigotry of others for political ends.

A defense against the charge of bigotry does not prove the person in question is not a racist – or holder of equivalent ideologies e.g. sexism. Nor does it prove that the person was not a mere opportunist, pandering to the worst instincts in others.

Begun Sextet for Piano & Winds #2, in D

This will be Opus 48 unless something else intervenes.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Completed Opus 47

Completed Sextet for Piano, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet in Bb, Horn in F, Bassoon.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Rightward Experiment has Failed

The key theory of the Right is that people are prone to  laziness, violence, hysteria, and sin, and that they must be treated with threats, force, and commandments. The right argues that treating people badly is best. The key theory of the Left is that much of what people do that is wrong is out of ignorance, or the response to maltreatment. The left argues that treating people well is best. Across this chasm the left and the right shout at each other.

The rightward drift came as an aging gerontocracy believed that the solution to violent abuse not working, was more violent abuse. The solution to a plutocracy impoverishing the nation, was more plutocracy, the solution to consumption making a sick, was to have more, lower quality, consumption.

Started Sextet For Piano & Winds Opus 47

Scored for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, French Horn, Bassoon, and Piano.

In the Yuan dynasty many of the mandrinate refused to work for the Mongol invaders, and instead retired to Lake Taihu, near the old capital of Nanjing, and artistic centers, to write poetry, feast, drink themselves into a stupor, and chase after comely ladies. Minus the drinking and swapping out music for poetry, this is essentially my own plan.

The work is similar to my Second Piano Concerto in D# "Hyperion," a drift in a sea suffused with light.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wind Quintet #1, in C "Prayers Ascending"

Scored for Flute, Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet, Bassoon. Opus 46.

This work was begun on Saturday December 15th, 2012, and completed early in the morning of December 19th. It is cast in three movements:

First Movement –  Prayers Ascending (7:20)

A slow neo-classical movement, a depiction of eyes turned upward, of guilt, grief, and shock, in the wake of what seems more like an act of nature, than the act of a human. There is a Youtube video here.

Second Movement –  Painted Faces (3:02)

An introduction and fugue after the style of Palestrina, a funeral procession.

Third Movement – Fantasia (Spirit) (5:04)

A scherzo, in the tradition of Beethoven, following the heroic spirit as it flies forth into the world, urging people to be better than they were before, and rise to the occasion.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Prayers Ascending

Youtube video in Memoriam Sandy Hook, words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and with music from the wood wind quintet I have composed in response to the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Bust to the Baby Boom 3

The last element of the pre-conditions of the Boom is the one which is often unstated: the boom is, literally, the product of the GI Generation. The GI Generation is, in a socio-economic sense, a product of the Second World War: the American economy went from being coal driven industrial economy, to being an petroleum driven mechanized economy: oil surpassed coal as a source of BTUs of energy only around 1950. This is somewhat misleading because internal combustion engines are more efficient in terms of final work output than steam engines are less efficient, not because of intrinsic efficient: in practice a steam engine produces useful motion at a rate of around 40%, while, in practice, internal combustion produces useful work at around 20% at the same period – it has risen to over 30% today, or still behind what a steam driven turbine can manager – but because the work is done in place and there is no loss from the cost of transporting the energy by electricity, heat, or feul to move the fuel – coal is less energy dense that either diesel or gasoline.

With the War came the end to a long slow decline in the number of hours that employed people worked came to an end. In the US, combining commute times, with a slow continuous increase in the number of hours worked, has resulted in wide gap between the US and Western Europe. While the image Americans have of the era is of a placid domesticity, looking at surveys of the times, such as the famous Kelly Life Survey (KLS) shows that this applied to a relatively narrow range of people the new economy applied to. Much of America, even white America, was in poverty, and much of the newly affluent class was pressured to do unpaid social work, especially by women, which are not accounted for in labor statistics.

The GI Generation was a military creation, and trained as such. While many economists focus on the demand side of the World War II economic shift: that is there was enough demand generated by the war effort to pull the economy out of the Depression, but what is overlooked is that the War also universalized infrastructure: being able to drive, work mechanized devices, phone service, radio, and so on became ordinary skills, the ability to work in a paper driven bureaucracy became an ordinary skill. Before the war, Americans were economically starving to death, in the middle of plenty. Uncle Sam's finishing school trained Americans to take advantage of the powerful position America found itself in after the Second World War: one of a few industrial economies not touched by the war, and the holder of half of the world's remaining industrial capacity: the others were Australia, Canada, Argentina – whose combined output was a drop in the bucket compared to the US.

This might seem as if it is part of an objective realities story, or a ergodic economic story, however, it is the social valence of the GI Generation which is among the under appreciated aspects. Just as with the Marxian consciousness story of social consumption, and the historicist story of being a synthetic intellectual generation, the psychological aspect of this part of the story is a fundamental pillar. Important aspects of the military ethos are pack honor and mentality, the importance of CYA (cover your ass), and group solidarity. The boom then both inherited and reacted agains the military ethos that they saw. It is no accident to say that the methods of mass mobilization and organization were coming to be applied to everything: schools were "skill and drill," subdivisions were laid out like MASH units.

The GI generation were heavier users of alcohol than either their parents or their children would end up being. The subterranean pressures on the nuclear family home that would lead to the liberalization of divorce laws were already in progress. While views on the militarismare filtered through the boom's own critique, namely the sense of containment, constraint, and restriction, there has yet to be a thorough going analysis which connects both the positive and negative aspects of the military heritage of the boom. This includes hero worship of the GI generation, excessive evaluation of the effectiveness, and importance, of the security state.

One of the cardinal legacies is that boomerite ideology aims to produce a sense of security they felt during this time on the streets, while assuaging the personal insecurity they felt in the home. To paraphrase Ike, the look forward with nostalgia.

We Kill Children

Isn't compromise on the gun issue beautiful?

Reported 27 dead, including the shooter. 18 children reported dead.

It's amazing how much safer we are since 9/11.

But then, this is really a blow for Liberty, and Deficit Reduction, by decreasing the surplus population. Swift would have suggested that the deceased could probably be harvest for the delection of the Job Creators.

Work composed in memoriam Sandy Hook here.

We Torture

I do not think anyone in the world will read Glenn first because of this link. However, a link is a vote, even in this social media washed out version of the web. We torture, and it is now our ideology.

Torture does not work, that Americans are proud for whacking an old man at the cost of 1.2 trillion dollars and 10 years, when he had be located repeatedly before, is to realize that the reason torture is the central point is because it is proof that with unlimited resources, evening doing something the wrong way can be made to work. This is a large fraction of what the last generation has been spent doing: that we want to do things the right wing way, and that if we destroy our society and economy, it can work.

This is what is known as terminal stupidity.

The Private Health Insurance Market at Work

Long term care insurance spirals in cost. From sneaky consumers? No, corporate greed. The entire sneaky consumers story was neo-liberal nonsense pushed to be able to tax the young to pay for the old. It was always a generational screw. The truth about Generational Warfare is that, like Class Warfare, the people who accuse you of it, are the ones winning it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mistaken Rendition Censured by Eurocourt

We not only torture, sometimes we torture by mistake. Note the case was dismissed in 2006 on state secrets grounds. The right to a fair and speedy trial takes a back seat to the CYA exception to the bill of rights.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Bust to the Baby Boom 2

The popular part of the Baby Bust's ideology works fairly well told in Marxian terms: after the austerity of the Great Depression, and the Second World War, pent up demand created a wave of babies, this demographic bulges objective realities – they outnumbered their parents; atomization of labor for the required mobility meant that they were in nuclear families; there were competing demands on capital, and these previous facts meant they were Lord of the Flies style left to misraise themselves; mass production and mass broadcast became their form of social mediation and social proof – led to rather clear response in the creation of a "generational consciousness" which replaced class consciousness. For the boomers, one's age was the defining feature of ones opportunities and circle of friends, challenges and outlook.

This story is a gross oversimplification, it has been told often, and while it is close enough for understanding two important parts of Boomerite ideology, it does not tell the other half of the story, namely the intellectual aridity of the previous age. New ideas, other than exploitation of semi-conductor technology, have been almost non-existent.

This intellectual story does not fit in Marxian objective realities of production, part of the problem being that Marxism and its spin offs is only half a theory: objective realities work to create consciousness, and that consciousness is the response to pre-existing distribution of wealth and capital, and thus how class conflict plays out. All well and good, but it is missing a theory of psychology, and all economic theories are scaled up theories of psychology.

This is why in the late 20th century a myriad of hybrids of Marxism sprung up, many of which were attempts to combine Marxism, with Freudianism. This impulse is not generated by class consciousness, or generational consciousness, but by historical consciousness: where people think they are in the historical structure. The boomerite ideology is as the janitor generation for a series of synthetic – indeed synthesistic and even syncretic movements, in the arts, in the sciences, and in the humanities. Once one grasps that Syncretism, with a capital "S" is the historical consciousness, one which won among a competing series of ideas, not because of objective consciousness, but because it was the historical consciousness, then the second, that is the elite, strand of the boomerite problem becomes visible.

Syncretic thinking is the response to the Modern period's legacy: where there was war, there had to be peace, where there had been fiat, there had to be consensus; where there was siloed theories, there had to be unity. There had been syncretic movements in the Modern, in cubism, in Dada, in various aspects of literature, and previous syncretic ages, my own study is of Petrarch, and the syncretic nature of his "Scattered Rimes," the collection of hist Italian poems, as well as the 1500's with its syncretic approach to knowledge and myth – e.g. occultism, and poems such as Orlando Furioso. There have been others, for example the mid-Bronze age after the first Bronze dark ages was host to several: the Babylonian synthesis of the Sumero-Akkadian, the Vedic tradition in India, the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, the Hebrew tradition, the early Ionic tradition which leads to Hesiod and Homer. Key signs of syncreticism are hybrid names: Pallas Athena, for example which is a merger of two different goddesses, and shifts away from an original creator sky god to some other God – for example the shift in the pantheon in the middle east to Marduk.

The first wave of the syncretic takes overt pleasure in "mash up" and "bash up" cross over of myth, like that great middle modern syncretic exercise, the superhero comic, where techno marvels, e.g. Iron Man, are next to Norse Gods, e.g. Thor. However once this is done, the next wave looks for a way to unify the competing pieces, and make them look whole. There are many sources for the Greek Pantheon, sources that are still largely visible in Hesiod, but by the time of Greek Tragedy, these sources are being blended together. There is still a need for "deus ex machina" – literally "the god out of the machine," where some higher power is invoked to sort everything out. This is a second wave syncretic exercise, but it is headed to full synthetic. Plato, wants synthesis, where the joints between near eastern despotic gods of nature as it is, have been merged into logic idealist gods, of nature as man imagines it in the utopian. Plato points out, perhaps somewhat in jest, that the Iliad purged of bad gods, is an ode, not an epic.

The synthetic paradigms of the post-war era are many: in physics, the relativistic Standard Model, in economics the neo-classical synthesis, in sociology Marxo-Freudianism, in biology the neo-Darwinian synthesis of mendelvian genetics and Darwinian selection. The necessity of taking very disparate underlying theories, and fusing them, went first by syncretic thinking, and then a search for full synthesis. Many of these theoretical frameworks were extremely successful, for example the Standard Model and General Relativity are the most precisely predictive ideas ever created. Marxo-Freudianism is virtually a religion complete with iconography, without which there simply is no understanding modern cinema and much of modern literature.

The Baby Boom inherited, then, a historical consciousness of their role as the ones who would bring full smooth synthesis to syncretic hybrid theories, prove that there could be "one ring to rule them all," or "a theory of everything. The Baby Boom became the neo- era, neo-classical, neo-liberal, neo-conservative – even a film grasped that to be the arch-neo was the holy grail in The Matrix and its sequels. The Baby Boom was destined to be either a janitor generation, or the root of one of the "Grand Bargains" of intellectual history: make each theory budge enough to make both fit.

Such grand fusions in the past include the medieval synthesis of Mediterranean antiquities (Roman, Greek, Hebrew), the Roman synthesis of Greek and Hebrew thought, the Christian gospel fusion of Jewish and Greek mysticism, the hellenistic synthesis, the renaissance synthesis of Antiquity and post-medieval Catholicism. This last word "catholic" is rooted in universalism. The end of synthetic thought, is catholic, small "c," thought.

Thus the boom at once was disabled, and challenged: challenged to create an envisioned catholic universalism, and disabled, because the real synthetic problem is between the reality of a popular social consciousness, and an elite historical one. These are incommensurable.

So the second part of the preconditions of the boomerite problem is that consensus leads to the necessity of creating synthesis, where none of the parties must give up their preconditioned values or ideologies, leading to an attempt to form a catholic field theory of society and nature. This is the elite consciousness of the age. And this part of the story ends with an exclamation point: the Janitor Generation project of a simple "elegant" solution to synthetic problems has failed, across the boards. Before the boom even came of intellectual age, they were already condemned to a generation of intellectual labor which would go nowhere.

More of the Krugman Follies

Mea culpa.

Yeah and Americans were slow to grasp that perhaps the stories of WMD in Iraq were perhaps a tad overblown. Since if the economic problem is more "skills shortage" than "opportunity shortage" it is fixable by relatively easy means, it was an easy narrative to fall into, despite the small problem that it was totally wrong. Now that the crisis has passed and nothing can be done Krugman and Bernstein – another reliable idiot – are starting to admit, it is structural and it is based on the flow of money up to the top.

The most reliably good move for a liberal pundit, is to be a useful idiot for some reactionary idea.

(h/t Matt Stoller)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Bust to the Body Boom

The Boomers are not babies, but they are getting closer to being bodies. The last two decades of American life have been presided over, and dominated by, not mere individuals born during the baby boom, whose boundaries are fiddled with to make various people fit or not based on some thesis or other about them. They are not the only component of a demographic structure which is a failed generation, but they have the most powerful consciousness of themselves as a generation. Thus criticize the present generation, and a boomer will show up, angry that you don't recognize their magnificence.

So, in the end, the problem is the Body Boomers, because they want to be the problem.

Generational consciousness is a recurring, but not constant, feature of history, because synchronizing events that create a wave of people all shaped by the same forces, are a recurring, but not constant, feature. For a time after a synchronizing event, generational consciousness runs on its own, as people marry, raise children, who fall in orderly averages from the previous generation. The consciousness wanes, until some new event resets the clock. The Civil War was such an event in America.

But the period from 1914-1945 was larger and more global than any event before. Only a few events during humanities time on this planet could be compared to it: the end of the Younger Dryas, the Lake Toba super-eruption, the Black Death, the age of discovery's impact was concentrated in the Western Hemisphere, and did not have a generational moment. Or, bluntly, there had never been anything human generated with so much scope, but it was not unprecedented in more localized forms.

The waves that have been thrown off of this event are, however, unique in the combination of circumstances, as all historical events are unique. But since we are living with it, and through it, it's structure is of more than academic interest. We can learn a great deal from the flowering of the Romantic Generation, and from the period after the Black Death. But those are lessons by inference.

The first thing to remember is even highly synchronized generations do not have absolute power. The American GI generation, which held the Presidency from 1961 through 1993, came into its own, and fell, but had other cohorts it had to appease or tried to direct. The present generation in power is a mixture of the Silent Generation, the Body Boom, Generation X, and increasingly Millennials. The reasons for failure cannot be laid at the doorstep of any one group, but thte dysfunctional relationship between the Silent Generation and the Body Boom represents the most immediate political dynamic. They simply cannot easily do business with each other, and their impulses, alternating between confrontation and accommodation on their worst impulse have left the country in a far worse state than before.

The reasons that the Body Boomer, and its ideology. What ideology? David Foster Wallace is well known for his commencement address "This is Water," headlining it with a joke about an old fish asking two young fish "How's the water?" The ideology of an age is not generally made explicit, because much of it consists of the unspoken assumptions and heuristics of a period. Later people, or people coming in from the outside, often must formally phrase the details of the ideology, so they can function in it.

Thus Liberalism, Conservatism, and the rest of the explicit ideologies, are embedded in the zeitgedanken, and change over time, because their tenets are seen through the lens, which is transparent view face on, but changes all that perceived. In the post-modern era, this means the lens, not of production, but of consumption. (For the fundamental analytic terms here see Le Miroir de la production by Balliard) Consumption is the objective reality and necessity with which that era thought, and as one can see, the Body Boomers were conditioned and receive their ideas from post-War syntheticism, more on this another time.

To grapple with real meaning, at some point, requires looking at the underlying assumptions about what proves truth, or epistemology, and what constitutes the boundaries of existence and moral allowance, ontology and deontology. Because every utterance is interpreted in the light of the implicit connection between what can be said, what proves what is said, and what is real, the same words mean different things in different times. Pace Borges, Don Quixote was still written by Cervantes.

The Preconditions of Boomerism

To be quasi marxian for a moment, the easiest way to explain boomerism, is to look at the objective physical facts of the boom, and what that meant for their social interaction. It is not that marxian thought, vulgar or refined, is the best way to interpret events, but it allows people to connect observations with personal experiences more easily, and gives cognitive narrative shape to what can be overwhelming abstract notions, which must be made abstract not because they are, but because they are not. We can only see ourselves in a mirror, and abstraction of common notions is a kind of intellectual mirror.

The realities of the boom were two fold: they were many, and their parents fewer, older, and busy; they were born into either a wilderness of austerity, in the case of Europe and Asia, or a Garden of mass produced plenty. You could have as much of anything, so long as it was like what everyone else wanted. Ken's New Industrial System: corporations do not generate supply to fill demand, but generate demand for what they can supply. This is important, the boom does not fill demand, but creates, or mandates, demand. Before the boomers were even conscious of themselves, the fragmentation of extended families and the building of the "nuclear" family was begun by the Second Word War: war industry meant that people had to be moved to where there was demand for labor, and during the war, remember, the war effort virtually was the American economy. This sheared the coming boom from the communal labor of raising children, and from the extended family labor. Instead, it placed people in a labor-age cohort based on where their parents were in the productive system, not stratified by class, but grouped by demo-economic function.

From this first flows important implicit assumptions: rather than growing up amidst adults, from whom they learned adult games, like many generations that grew up with lowered supervision, they reified children's games. They did not have older adults from clan, family, or geography to learn from, but learned from each other.

Carlin quipped on this, so it is not new.

Thus the first precondition of the boom is demographic isolationism, and consumer productionism as the "realities" that people grew up among. What your cohort liked, and what could be consumed, were the proofs of everything.

This is the first tennet of Boomerism: an acceptance of the post-modern assertion of the game itself being the only important standard: or in short social consumption epistemology. This is codified and re-enforced, and enforced, by its own social proof, Or: once something becomes popular, it pushed out all other alternatives, because the production system of the time was a short tailed one: the few most popular alternatives with the most profitable production were everywhere, a few other items that were distant from them were "alternative" and available and more expense from specialist outlets. And for everything else, you were on your own. Social epistemology is a constant feature of human life, it is the relationship between social proof, as embodied by consumption as a tangible thing, that is central to the boom.

Thus social epistemology has the social proof of personal approval first, but being part of a larger wave of success is proven by success in the popular market place: the band you liked was suddenly on the radio, the food in the supermarkets, the clothes in Sears, the cars on the streets, the images in shows. The proof of social success, would be staring everyone in the face. It is a side discussion how taste makers will then move on to the next area of pre-demand, but it fits in with this structure as can be trivially shown.

Another implicit assumption flowed from the disparity of available adult labor: that of generational exceptionalism. The Body Boomers did not come up  with the idea of their exceptionalism, their parents planned for it. This means that for much of their early existence, the boomers grew up in a world where whatever they needed, seemed already provided. The boom was a demographic escalator, and also a target for demand shaping.

This fit hand in hand with the growth of mass media: in 1945 mass media was films, radio, magazines, and news papers, by 1970 it was color television above all. Mass media lead to media theory, that is a shift in how people mediated their image of the world from what they saw, to what they saw in the media. This was explained, most famously, and framously, by MacLuhan. One can say directly that the hallmark of the age is media theory as a component of all social discourse.  Mass media is "instant karma," it is social epistemology lagging by the minimum distance from the event.

This means that many of the attributes of boomerism were present before the boom was even morally, let alone intellectually, aware: the synchronizing events of the first half of the century. the development of the mechanized industrial economy, the disparity in adults to children, the fragmentation based on the needs of production, the new industrial system, mass media as a form of demand shaping and reality mediation: all of these are pre-conditions to boomerism. Thus two of the important pillars of boomerism are completely beyond the reach of logic, they are matters set in the moral formation of the boom as a generation, and are pathos conditions: the boomers are good people, and what they think and want is what appears on screens and shelves, is also good. It's a good life, or they will wish you to the bottom of the cornfield.

One can see then that the core pathos of the Boom is not their creation, nor then, is their ethos, or really, their logos.

Yes, I know I start much and wander on, but then just as the core society is about holding on for a few more years – the old boomerites love of Hillary gives away that they have no next generation, but only want 8 more years to get to slip to retirement  – means that on the frontier of knowledge it is a time of beginnings, not endings, a time to begin threads that others will spin, and then weave, and then cut, and then sow.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Light Dawns in Paul Krugman's Small Brain

If you are an Obamacrat, and some flavor of bi-coastal liberal, you probably think very highly of Paul Krugman. And you should, he's a seminal intellectual, but mainly of ideas that you hate. Consider NAFTA: Krugman's New Economic Geography provides a powerful argument for reducing trade barriers, because lower trade barriers are, effectively, lower transportation costs, and lower transportation costs make economies of scale more important, and consumer choice in any one location more likely for the likely range of goods.

Krugman is a Neo-Keynesian, and his reading of Macroëconomics is based largely in the synthesis of Keynesian ideas and neo-classical ideas, which is called the Neo-classical synthesis. The resurgant Keynesian branch, based on a different understanding of stickiness in prices, expectations and Phillips relationships, addressing the critiques of the original versions of these ideas, is Neo-Keynesianism.

Gospel for the Neo-Keynesians was that the past economic downturn was almost strictly one of lack of aggregate demand, and that therefore government borrowing and spending was the only really necessary step to get the economy moving, at which point increased activity and increased productivity could be directed at any long term deficit problems, which were comparatively a mild problem. So: not structural, but cyclical. The Neo-Keynesian argument was bolstered by the reality that the "fresh water" alternative, was for austerity now, with tax cuts for the wealthy, and did not work at all.

However, the heterodox position was, and is, that the economic problem, while it was visible as a drop in aggregate demand, is structural: the economy gives incentives for economic activity, and economic accumulation. We have a lack of aggregate demand, but simply goosing economic demand will lead to demand for already bottlenecked: oil being the poster child. This means that restructuring must be the focus of spending. We are not in a situation where simply lowering interest rates and government spending on roads will do the job.

The reasons for this are myriad, but the root causes are from the nature of the economy: all growth must pass through a very small number of channels, and it is possible to corner those channels relatively early. Oil is the poster child, because all consumer demand becomes demand for things that run on oil in the end.

The problem then is that a demand cycle kills itself: demand is goosed, money flows into resource based acquisition, and that chokes off the recovery. Growth is then limited to the rate below which resources out perform capital, but capital is sucked up to the top of the economy.

The real problem is no lack of aggregate personal demand in a macro-economic sense, but of true mega-economic demand for a better world. The people who constitute the voting majority are fine with how things are, at least compared to anything they can have at minimal cost. The only thing the aging body boomers want, is their ass covered if they get sick before Medicare. Hundred thousand dollar funerals, they're done. They want pot and the right to fuck, but these things don't really touch aggregate spending decisions.

Where the demand is for stability, the inevitable result is that ordinary people have no pricing power, not for their wages, and not on prices. They cannot force their wages higher, and they cannot force prices down as far as their wages. This complex is why deflationism never works: prices never go down by as much as wages minus sticky rents on wages.

No pricing power means that any stimulus that goes to wages will be vacuumed up by either capital rents, or by resource rents. Repeat this: Keynesian stimulus will be boiled away to minting more billionaires. Not income, but through put. This is a structural problem, because the nature of mega- as opposed to macro- demand is that it is related to the long term equilibrium of resources against technology and population.

Thus with this column light dawns on Krugman's skull: no pricing power, wow. Now of course it is too late to do anything about it, and Krugman and the other et al. neo-Keynesians have been so far in the pocket of the Obamacrats that it will be another half generation before there is another political moment. By that time millions of people will have suffered, and many died, because during the one golden chance in a generation to get serious about shifting off the internal combustion economy, the neos were part of the consensus to bail out the banks first, the boomers second, and screw over everyone else.

OK, you got what you wanted, but what you'll also get is the undying hatred of the next generation, that won't care which bunch of billionaires you sold out to. Because that is the other reality: we have austerity and lack of shift, not because it can't happen, but because the mega demand is to create a parallel world for the rich. We can't have that, and a new world. Right now, the old are willing to sell out the future and allow the Davos Consensus build its parallel planet, so long as they get some scraps.

The three tier attack

In internet discourse at the present time, one of the time honored patterns is the three tier attack on a discourse system. It takes advantage of peonism – the pathos connection of ordinary seeming people to other ordinary seeming people – and to the sub-pop illusion, namely that there is another different world which we could have right now, but is being kept from us by a conspiracy of elites. It also takes advantage of the breakdown of disinterested gatekeeping. All gatekeepers now are self-interest, and there for weed the discussion of the best, because these people reduce the size of conversation, and therefore the number of ad impressions, this is a descendant of the social reality of the baby boom, where there were far more children than adults.

The first step are the screamers. The screamer loudly asserts some patent untruth, for example, African Americans are stupid genetically, or that Albert Gore was secretly taking in unknown billions for the Democrats, that Saddam had working nuclear weapons or was close to acquiring them. The screamers point is to end all other discussion, and make it focus on the screamer. The screamer will offend whatever the smartest people left are, who will know the screamer is uttering unspeakable nonsense.

The second step is the spammer, while the screamer can spam links or repeat talking points, having others creates the illusion that a large body of social opinion exists, and that it is backed up by some independent body of research. Of course it doesn't, all the links are mirrors of a few original pieces of propaganda, where the screamer and spammer are primed with their screams, and links. The Free Republic is like an infection reservoir for crazy. These are replaced as the old ones decay.

This hovers for a while, until everyone with the ability to disable the attack has been outed as "uncivil." If need be some version of Godwin's Law is invoked: I can't be a Nazi, I am a peon like you. The logical result is that Nazis win all arguments, because Godwin's Law forbids telling the truth about Nazis.

However, at some point the last of the three tiers comes in, the suit. The suit does not scream, he will confess to agreeing to some of the points the other side makes. He will drop words that betray he has a viewpoint, but it is such a moderate view, he has to be reasonable, and look the people against him are so unreasonable, what's wrong with a little discussion of the Jewish Question?

Until social mechanisms are in place that overturns this, the discourse system is screwed. One was created, but that was crashed. Where only a few people are writers, and most are in the soup of facebooking and tweeting and commenting, it is easy to capsize the discourse with the time honored three tier attack.