The private sector and its alleged efficiencies

It’s common to argue that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. In the private sector, competition drives businesses to relentlessly cut costs and maximize output. Private businesses run lean and mean, with none of the waste associated with the public sector. If this is true, why is that if you want […]

The end is very precisely nigh

Harold Camping, a radio preacher in California, has scrutinized the Bible and confidently predicts the end of the world will begin tonight, at 6pm–“wherever it’s 6 pm.” First will be the rapture, in which the chosen will vanish. Then there will be few months of great unpleasantness and then god will say the hell with […]

Subject to Your Attention: Texting and the Movies

We’re closer now to the world first imagined in the movies, a world here the self is “decentered” and dislocated, in multiple places at once. Complaining about this new form of “subjectivity” is a waste of time. It’s neither better or worse: it’s a new paradigm. The other day I taught a class on early […]

Yearning for Land

Can sentimental attachment to land persist without religion? My ancestors were driven off their land in Ireland by the Brits in the 1840s. They emigrated to the US, and now we’re American. I don’t yearn to reclaim my ancestral land in Ireland. Does, say, CIA Chief Leon Panetta dream of reclaiming his great grandfather’s olive […]

EagleFlag in Infinite Variety

Everybody knows that the Eagles and Flags together are the modern symbols of American patriotism. Just Google “Eagle, Flag” and you’ll be dazzled by the sheer number of photoshopped eagles in front of waving flags, air-brushed eagles soaring over flag-colored clouds, ceramic eagles with flags in their talons; hybrid eagleflags of various sorts: Escher-like eagle flag conundrums, or eagles […]

Digital rent-seeking

I’m preparing illustrations for my book on the history of debates about money and value, which the University of Chicago Press will be publishing next year. Apparently they’re having the type hand-drawn by irish monks. For those who’ve never done it, this is how it works. For every illustration, you need to “secure permission.” Sometimes […]

The Always-Imminent Collapse

My research on the history of debates about money in the US involved a lot of looking at libertarians and the gold standard. One of the things you quickly notice about libertarians is their fondness for the idea of imminent collapse. “Fiat money” is always about to crumble, and bring down civilization with it. Often […]

Is this Digitopia?

In the future, we’ll all be curators. Sean Takats’ recent post looks again at how access to information changes out work. If readers will forgive some geezerish ramblings, I’ll recall what it was like back in the early 1990s, when I could reasonably have been called a digital media pioneer, and consider how new media […]

Electrifying the Middleman

You know those ubiquitous  “wall warts” that clutter up your outlets and power strips? Do you know what they’re doing? They’re reducing the voltage and converting AC to DC. Imagine electricity as a flow of water–it starts in a pond, gets pumped out into pipes, gets used by people on the way, and returns eventually […]

I hear America Singing in a Mask

American singing–a distinctively American style, not imitating formal styles from Europe–starts with white guys in blackface. The first distinctive American style of music, known to most people through virtually any Stephen Foster songs or a song like Dixie,originated in the minstrel show. There’s really no way around it: American popular music starts as the soundtrack […]