Tuesday, 02 August 2005

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Let the Market Speak! Market, Dear Market, How Can We Help You? or We Hate Your Ears! For reasons I recently mentioned elsewhere, I've had precious little time to develop original material for the blog of late. Such are the spoils of success. Eighty-six that. Replace it with "Such are the 'spoils' of success." Have to keep my priorities straight. Vis-a-vis the conflagration on the aforementioned elsewhere: I entirely agree with Patrick's statement that he "can understand simultaneously being pleased at the mature level of conversation, while also being disappointed at the lack of bomb throwing." Like Patrick, I think Pannapacker wanted to see a fair and professional fight, rule-governed but barely so. People wanted, if not the act, then at least the threat that someone would finish the fight with a little less ear than he or she started it with. In that respect, the event was disappointing. The participants remained civil, the essays measured and careful. Both sides landed calculated blows, but only after dancing around the ring. The audience wanted Tyson; we gave them de la Hoya.[1] They felt we had the better whiskers and they groaned everytime we followed a hook with a two-step to the far corner. They wanted ears. "We hate your ears!" they yelled at the Norton they imagined on the ropes. We politely declined to eat ears. We landed a punch and retreated, determined to fight the fair fight. I admit that the fight felt rigged; especially when, in its aftermath, every party claimed marginal status and maximal success. Then it got ugly. CR, with whom I've exchanged emails and whose opinion I respect, called Sean out for calling out the denizens of Long Sunday: This move - to call “us” (Matt/Long Sunday/whomever) out - and then when we fail to answer your claims and queries, accuse us of arrogance (or perhaps incompetence masked by a feigned arrogance...) is bad faith. Here's the thing though: Sean was initially offended—as was I, to be frank—by what seemed like Matt's flip dismissal of his argument. It did seem as if Matt had brushed aside him by saying "I'd argue with you, but I have some really important pasta to boil." As Matt later acknowledge, the thing about all this is he really did have to leave to cook dinner. Now, through no fault of mine or Sean's, the amount of faith both sides have in the other's intellectual honesty is roughly equivalent to the faith that all sides have that there are WMDs in Iraq or that Karl Rove isn't a savvy political operative but a victim of a vast conspiracy orchestrated by the liberal media.[2] But here's the strange thing: one of the few blogs I check every single days is The Weblog. Why? Because it contains intelligent and informative content—not to mention a regular and refreshing dose of hatred—and the posters don't assume anyone whose surname isn't "of Sorrow" argues in bad faith. That's it. The assumption that people will argue in good faith leads to, well, it leads to people arguing in good faith. The alternative is that...
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How to Open an Academic Essay, Part VII: Ugh, or Why Can't I Invent What I Can't Prove? I desperately want to open the Jack London chapter I'm currently working on with the following clipping from the August 10, 1902 edition of The New York Times: QUEER CASE OF ATAVISM German Physician Tells of Two Young Men Who Ruminate Their Food BERLIN, Aug. 9—The Munich Medicinische Zeitschrift has an article by Dr. L.R. Mueller, head physician of the clinic at Erlangen, reporting a remarkable case of a family of ruminators. The father of the family died in the clinic of cancer of the stomach. His two sons digest their food like cows. The young men say that after a quarter of an hour the food returns to the mouth and is rechewed. After drinking water or beer the ruminating stops. Dr. Mueller believes the case shows all the symptoms of atavism. This short story captures all the confusions I confront in my chapter with an economy the chapter itself increasingly lacks. Plus, it almost reads like a poem. Most notable is the potential pun on the verb "ruminate" and its cognates. Less salient but more powerful is the strange causality created by the juxtaposition in the second paragrah. That "the father of the family died in the clinic of cancer of the stomach" is lamentable. But it has nothing to do with the fact that "his two sons digest their food like cows." Or does it? Given the headline's declaration that these two sons represent a "queer case of atavism," readers cannot be sure the father's stomach cancer is not the result of his own ruminative inclinations. Atavism, however, should not be heritable. During this period, the word "atavism" signals an acceptance of the work of criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso. For Lombroso, some people were "born bad." They were genetically inclined to steal, rape, murder and interpret texts literally. According to Lombroso's essay in September 1895 edition of Forum, the judge incapable of "personal mental effort," who cannot "give free course to those associations of ideas and emotions of which complexity is so great," is as dangerous to society as the thief, rapist, murderer or masked epileptic. "The judges," Lombroso laments, "pronounce judgment as if the crime formed the simplest incident in the life of the criminal." In truth, however, they have been ruminating their food and washing it down with beer their entire life. (How do you like them jarring apples?) Lombroso concedes the value of education while acknowledging the innate depravity of children: "We must admit that there is a tendency to crime at a very early age. Children are liars, thieves, etc. This tendency in well-born children disappears with a good education." In other words, contrary to Lombroso's insistence, atavism isn't a degeneration into a more primitive type so much as a bad education. "If only little Jimmy hadn't neglected his numbers, he wouldn't have raped, murdered, or had epileptic fits." Similarly, if only their father hadn't decided that pseudo-bulimia was the most efficient mode of eating, his children wouldn't ruminate their foods. What's my...

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