BRIEFLY NOTED: For 2021-11-01 Mo
Things that went whizzing by that I want to remember:
I see the late David Graeber is in the news today.
I do not trust anything he ever wrote. Let me tell you why.
Let me pick a chapter at random from Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years… I land on chapter 12… I start reading… I come to the third page <https://archive.org/details/DebtTheFirst5000Years/page/362/mode/2up> and find:
"I would hear occasional rumors of secret gold vaults underneath the Twin Towers in Manhattan.... After the Towers were destroyed… one of the first questions many New Yorkers asked was: What happened to the money?... Some spoke of legions of emergency workers secretly summoned… desperately carting off tons of bullion…. One particularly colorful conspiracy theory suggested that the entire attack was really staged by speculators…. The truly remarkable thing… is that.. I did a little research and discovered that, no, actually, it’s true...
A reader reading this thinks that the “it” of “actually, it's true” is:
There were “secret gold vaults underneath the Twin Towers”,
“Legions of emergency workers [were] secretly summoned to make their way through miles of overheated tunnels”, and
They worked “desperately carting off tons of bullion”,
And perhaps also: (4) “The entire attack was really staged by speculators.”
Actually, what is actually true is that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York does keep the gold in its custodial accounts in the vaults of 33 Liberty Street. 33 Liberty Street is not “underneath” the World Trade Center. 33 Liberty Street is not even, as Graeber later corrects himself, “two blocks” from the World Trade Center. It is six blocks from the World Trade Center—half a mile away.
And do note that when David Graeber claims he “did a little research”, what he means is that he read the pamphlet the FRBNY hands out to visiting junior high school students.
And do not forget the most famous paragraph of Graeber’s Debt, of which barely a word was ever true:
Apple Computers… was founded by (mostly Republican) computer engineers who broke from IBM in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, forming little democratic circles of twenty to forty people with their laptops in each other's garages...
Afterwards, Graeber could not give a consistent account of how he had come to write this. Sometimes he claimed that it was 100% true, but not of Apple Computer, and that it was just a minor mind-o error. Sometimes he claimed he had been led astray by Richard Wolff (and perhaps one of his graduate students?) who had misinformed him. Sometimes he claimed it was his editor’s fault in the copyediting, and he had missed the error when he reviwed the ms.
Not everything Graeber writes is wrong—some of it is right, and some of it is quite good.
But nothing David Graeber writes is trustable.
Today we have Daniel Immerwahr <https://www.thenation.com/article/society/graeber-wengrow-dawn-of-everything/> writing that David Graeber and David Wengrow’s claim that British-colonist settlers in America captured by Amerindians “almost invariably” chose to stay with them is “ballistically false”. Immerwahr writes:
Graeber and Wengrow twice assert that settlers in the colonial Americas who’d been “captured or adopted” by Indigenous societies “almost invariably” chose to stay with them. By contrast, Indigenous people taken into European societies “almost invariably did just the opposite: either escaping at the earliest opportunity, or—having tried their best to adjust, and ultimately failed—returning to indigenous society to live out their last days.”… The sole scholarly authority that Graeber and Wengrow cite… argues the opposite. “Persons of all races and cultural backgrounds reacted to captivity in much the same way” is its thesis; generally, young children assimilated into their new culture and older captives didn’t…
New York Times reporter Jennifer Scheussler does the “he said, he said” dance <https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/31/arts/dawn-of-everything-graeber-wengrow.html> by reporting that David Wengrow says that it is “Immerwahr who was reading the source wrong”.
Scheussler could have—and would have, if competent, resolved this. What the source Graeber and Wengrow draw on, Joseph Norman Heard’s 1977 dissertation, actually argues is exactly what Daniel Immerwahr says it argues. This:
Boys and girls captured below the age of puberty almost always became assimilated, while persons taken prisoner above that age usually retained the desire to return to white civili zation…. An Indian child reared and cherished in a white family became assimilated in much the same manner as a white child adopted by an Indian family. The determining factor was age at the time of removal from natural parents for Indian children as well as for whites... <https://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4156&context=gradschool_disstheses>
No. David Immerwahr has not misread it. Graeber and Wengrow’s “almost invariably” is false. Wengrow is lying.
Jeet Heer: Podcast: The Deep Roots of GOP Extremism: ‘A conversation with Will Wilkinson about Leo Strauss, Harry Jaffa, and the journey from Lincoln to Trump…
Very Briefly Noted:
Financial Times: Jair Bolsonaro’s Faults Go Well Beyond the Pandemic: ‘Brazil’s far-right leader will be remembered for bungling the economy too… <https://www.ft.com/content/4733957d-b1a2-4ef1-90dc-bb394f77997d>
Brian Merchant: Why Facebook Became Meta: ‘The Real Reason Facebook Changed Its Name: Mark Zuckerberg wants to be the hero of the metaverse because he knows Facebook is boring… LINK: <https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/10/facebook-metaverse-mark-zuckerberg/620538/>
John Paul Koning: Does It Make a Difference If Tether Lends Out New USDt?: ‘Tether has misadvertised itself… says in its terms of service that it only creates new stablecoin tokens, USDt, in acceptance for money…. But in reality, Tether does not seem to be waiting for deposits to roll in before issuing new USDt. As the FT’s Kadhim Shubber reports, it is directly lending new USDt out, much like how a bank puts new dollar IOUs into circulation by lending them out… LINK: <http://jpkoning.blogspot.com/2021/10/does-it-make-difference-if-tether-lends.html>
Davide Brignone, Alistair Dieppe, Martino Ricci: Quantifying Risks of Persistently Higher Us Inflation: ‘Using the ECB-Global model, this column estimates the impact on inflation of the fiscal stimulus to be limited. Three scenarios… a steeper Phillips curve, stronger fiscal multipliers, and rising inflation expectations. The results suggest that the impact on inflation from these sources of risk is likely to be moderate, unless all of the risks materialise simultaneously, and the Fed does not depart from the assumed monetary policy path… <https://voxeu.org/article/quantifying-risks-persistently-higher-us-inflation>
Steve M.: A Pro-Worker Party Without All that Silly Economic Populism: ‘Axios reports that Marco Rubio… “will call for a requirement that company boards are committed to U.S. national interest and devoid of conflicts of interest with nations such as China. Rubio will contrast that with what he says are ‘requirements that companies’ board of directors be sufficiently “diverse,” like what the Biden administration is pushing’…” We know what this is… Fox News ragebait instead of ideas. Fox viewers hate China, though they probably can’t tell you why… <https://nomoremister.blogspot.com/2021/11/a-pro-worker-party-without-all-that.html>
Elizabeth Bear: I’ve Been Thinking About Healthcare, Health Outcomes, & American Exceptionalism
Parker Molloy: Time for a Social (Media) Experiment: ‘As I sit here at my computer, silently trying to figure out what to write about for this edition of my newsletter, I keep coming back to something: I am miserable. And while it’s certainly not the sole reason for said misery, I think that Twitter has a lot to do with it…
Daniel Larison: China Hawks Want to Play an Exceptionally Dangerous Game of Chicken: ‘Gamble with provoking an unnecessary war on the assumption that the U.S. and its allies can effectively “close” the “window”…
Henry Farrell: The Politics of Information: ‘The technologist Maciej Ceglowski describes machine learning as “money laundering for bias.” That can have terrible consequences if machine learning reflects the categories of official thought, and then interprets the policy consequences in terms of these categories too, so that bias compounds bias. This then creates incentives for ever more distorted ways of understanding the world which are implemented through these algorithms and which then create these feedback loops which get worse and worse, and lead, perhaps, to human tragedy, but also to these authoritarian systems not working in the cool, clean, beautiful and efficient way that pundits like Harari expect…
Packy McCormick: Sc3nius: ‘In 1997… David Banks argued… that, “The most important question we can ask of historians is ‘Why are some periods and places so astonishingly more productive than the rest?’” … The same periods come up over and over again in these conversations because they were so head-scratchingly productive. Ancient Greece. Renaissance Florence. Elizabethan England. Northern England during the Industrial Revolution. Silicon Valley. These time-place combinations produce new ideas, new art, new economic structures, and new technology of astonishing breadth, quality, and staying power…. Brian Eno… “The important changes in cultural history were actually the product of very large numbers of people and circumstances conspiring to make something new. I call this ‘scenius’-it means ‘the intelligence and intuition of a whole cultural scene’. It is the communal form of the concept of genius…. Historically, scenius had been tied to, and limited by, place…. Johah Lehrer… suggests… Human Mixing… a diversity of people… shar[ing] ideas. Education… new forms of teaching and learning…. Institutions that Encourage Risk-Taking…. I tried to add some ingredients… one in particular seemed to appear before most of history’s great Scenia: catastrophe…. Catastrophe focuses energy, attention, and talent…. Crisis shakes and breaks and calls for new solutions…. Catastrophe brings people together in ways that are difficult to accomplish in peacetime…. Then the endogenous factors take over, and it’s up to the scene to make its impact…. Mutual appreciation…. Rapid exchange of tools and techniques…. Network effects of success…. Local tolerance for the novelties…. Competition…. Place-Based Ritual: A scene needs a setting. The Junto met in a bar, The Inklings in The Eagle and Child Pub, Motown’s artists in Detroit houses, and Renaissance artists in le botteghe. Informal meeting places…. Diversity of Thought and Experience…. Those eleven factors—four exogenous and seven endogenous—can turn groups of individuals into a Scenius, a community that accomplishes much more, across a range of disciplines, than would otherwise be expected…
Addison Del Mastro: Main Street Manufacturing: ‘Operations like microbreweries and coffee roasteries were often zoned as light industrial… located in industrial/office-type areas outside of downtown, often accessible only by car and by following a number of winding roads into the office parks…. Iit’s obviously not a great idea to more or less force people to drive to a place where they’ll be drinking. Second, these kinds of businesses draw a lot of people, and are great ways to enliven main streets. Third, I get the sense that zoning hasn’t caught up to reality here…
Jonathan V. Last: Facebook’s Pivot to Meta: ‘I am… skeptical of Facebook renaming itself “Meta” as a sign that it is going to orient the company principally toward the metaverse future…. I have seen this before. Back in 2015, Facebook launched a “pivot to video.”… What happened… is that everyone who tried to pivot with Facebook got burned. Bad. By 2018 the pivot to video was dead and Facebook was pivoting back to what it does very well: Keeping Boomers addicted to the site so that they can sell targeted advertising against their eyeballs. The dirty secret of Facebook—and Google, too—is that these mega-companies are just advertising platforms. That’s it…. Also: We’ve seen the metaverse before. It used to be called Second Life…. Mark Zuckerberg seems to think that the metaverse he’s building will be like the Oasis in Ready Player One and that he’ll own it. This future seems… unlikely…. I’m not even sure Facebook will be able to hold off TikTok and Snap over the next decade, let alone still be a dominant corporation a half century from now…
David French: J.D. Vance & the Great Challenge of Christian Malice: ‘Sohrab Ahmari wrote an essay in First Things called “Against David Frenchism”… first, a critique of classical liberalism itself, and second, a critique of my (highly imperfect!) commitment to civility and decency as a mode of political discourse…. His essay[’s]… power… is expressed in these sentences: “Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty…” These words provided a theological and intellectual rationalization for a particular kind of public aggression…. They provided a sacred frame that allowed and even encouraged Christians to conform their words to the words of the most publicly cruel man to ever occupy the Oval Office…. Let’s turn back to J.D. Vance…. The American Conservative published a fascinating profile…. The last paragraph contained these ominous words, especially coming from a Christian politician: “I think our people hate the right people,” Vance said…. All too many of us have forgotten a fundamental truth. There are no “right people” to hate…