The Segway of Digital Searching

It could be a failure of my imagination, but I’m having a very hard time seeing what would be useful about Google’s new Ngram Viewer. It’s being presented in the Times as some sort of breakthrough, and I suppose it is–it’s never been possible to do this before. But then it was never possible to […]

Rethinking the Beast

Ben Butler had the homely man’s suspicion of genetic advantage, and the poor man’s irreverence about class privilege. Nothing in his appearance inspired admiration. Short, paunchy, no heroic proportions or handsome strong features: his bald pate and droopy, crossed eyes made him a satirist’s delight. And satirize him they did. Butler, U.S. Grant recalled, was […]

Thomas and the Aristocracy of Labor

The Thomas the Tank Engine tv shows have been running for years now. I didn’t really know anything about the show till my son was born, 20 years ago. Within weeks Thomas had cut his right-of-way through our imaginations, blasting the landscape as he went, very much in the same way as actual railroads did […]

Secret, Illegal Music

It was sort of like buying drugs:  to get this book you had to go into an alley, and pay cash, or go back behind a legit music store, where the clerk furtively snuck you a copy; or grab it out of the trunk of some guy’s car. Maybe you had a teacher who sold […]

Money and Making Sense

You say you don’t really understand money? You’re in good company–look at  how J.P.  Morgan, the titan of Wall Street, king of the bankers, richest man in the world, talked about money. Morgan is here testifying before the Pujo committee, investigating the Panic of 1907.[1. You can find the full text of Morgan’s testimony before […]

The Party after the Party

Like a lot of “progressives” I’m pretty disgusted with the Democratic Party. It’s not that I expect to get my way in American politics, far from it. It’s that the Democratic Party seems absolutely unable to articulate progressive positions in an affirmative way. It seems to mostly accept the conservative critique of big government and […]

The Federal Reserve Explained!

It’s true–paper money makes it easier to cause inflation. Much easier. A government can “just print” more money. The US did this in the American Revolution, and again during the Civil War. Some people say we’re doing it now. I don’t think that’s quite right, because of the way the Federal Reserve works, which few […]

Rhetoric of the Gold Fetish

In anthropology, a “fetish” is an object believed to have magical powers. A rabbit’s foot, a horseshoe, a lucky coin: these are “fetishes,” material things supposedly animated by magic power. They can ward off bad times. Historically, when Americans talked about the gold standard, they often talked about it as magical. Gold would make bad […]

the always already of polling

Polling–maybe the worst thing ever to happen to our politics. Somewhere I came across a quote from Foucault–I think it was Foucault[1. lil’ help?]–saying “truth is the product of the system of beliefs designed to produce it.” A Model T Ford was the truth of the Ford assembly line. If we think of the Ford […]