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19 March 2010


Matins: Marina Warner (a world-class expert on the subject, in our opinion) writes about the function of myth, at The Liberal.

The word ‘myth’ is usually used to evoke a dead religion (the Greeks’ Olympians, the Norse pantheon) but it’s also applied rather heedlessly to the sacred stories of peoples who are still unconsciously counted as primitive, and therefore somehow unadulteratedly ancient (the Sanskrit epics of the Hindus, Australian aborigines’ tales, Brazilian Indians’ myths). Both Jung and Freud’s diagnostic uses of myth make this assumption – that pure, pre-historical human tendencies, drives and fears, will be detectable through myths. For Freud, the savage story of Zeus castrating and deposing Kronos to become ruler of Olympus illuminated the conflict that besets all fathers and sons in historical time. The way Freud told and retold this story has become so entrenched that few people still know that the same myth also relates how Kronos’s own father Ouranos was deposed without any bloodshed – he went glumly, cast out of heaven by his son as a punishment for exceeding his authority. In the months following Brown’s coming into his own after Blair’s stuttering abdication, the Greek story again demonstrates myth’s inexhaustible illuminating powers. As the Roman poet Sallust wrote about such tales: “These things never happened but are always”. The question is only which story to pick.

Lauds: Money does not appear to be what may have led Harvey Shipley Miller into error as sole trustee of the Judith Rothschild Foundation. Glory and honor are more like it. Listen hard enough, and you can still hear the clucking about the inappropriateness of a posthumous exhibit (in 1998) of Rothschild's far from top-tier work in  (NYT)

The collection, named after Ms. Rothschild and underwritten by her assets, was presented to the museum in 2005. But when the Modern created a curator’s position tied to the collection, it was named, like the U.C.L.A. fellowship, after Mr. Miller, though the museum said that it too was endowed by Ms. Rothschild’s assets.

“It seems as if Harvey may have advanced his own agenda rather than fulfilling Judith’s,” said Caroline Mortimer, a longtime friend of Ms. Rothschild’s.

Many artists create foundations to shepherd their legacies, but most foundations do not give control to a single trustee because they seek additional oversight. “This kind of governance fails to protect against possible conflicts of interest,” said Nancy E. Kelly, an accountant at Metis Group who serves on the advisory panel of Charity Navigator, a watchdog agency over charities.

Prime: Tyler Durden foresees "pitchforks and sawed-offs."

Steep yield curves, unfathomable derivatives, off balance sheet gimicks, repo XYZ: all these serve simply to push off ever more private risk into the public domain (via the TBTF or otherwise moniker) while Wall Street collects its 3-5% from each transaction, and has an infinite pool of zero interest money courtesy of its biggest lackey - the Fed. People ask - so who is the idiot on the other side of every offer ever higher into this 65% rally? Why you dear taxpayer, that's who. And you are paying for it with either certain eventual hyperinflation which will leave you broke, or certain eventual hyperdeflation which will destroy the entire system as one firm after another go under, until the very US is bankrupt. Heads you lose, tails you lose. And all the time the deranged egomaniacs quoted in Abelson's piece are laughing to the bank.

Tierce: For what it's worth — an X if ever there was one — The Infrastructurist interviews IBM's Vice President of Energy and Environment. Amidst the jargon, there's some good thinking. For example:

I: It’s clear that data center design and building both need to change. How can we redesign? What needs to be done specifically?

RL: There are a couple key points we promote. The first is to design and build data centers to leverage the environment around them. You hear a lot about free air cooling – we recently built a data center in Boulder that has a highly efficient cooling system that takes advantage of the ambient temperature in Colorado and brings in that cool air without having to run air conditioning. We also take the waste heat from that center to heat the office space on the property.

The second point is to use a modular approach to every data center we design. These data centers have an average 20- to 25-year life span. Traditionally, you build the data center with all the AC and cooling capacity to support the end state of the center, even though initially it’s only partially populated with IT equipment. With a modular approach, you add the power as you add the equipment itself. So you’re adding capacity as needed. By doing that, customers are finding you can significantly defer the upfront capital and operating expense, sometimes up to 40% for capital expenses and 50% for total operating expenses.

Sext: The alliteration is so intense that we don't know what Balk's sentence means, nor care if it means anything at all. It's just too psuper! From "You Will Never Find A Husband In New York." (The Awl)

That's the premise of this piece in the Post, which posits that the paucity of paramours prepared to propose perplexes and perturbs their presumptive partners, prompting them to pack it in for more promising provinces.

Nones: In a fine piece at Slate (via The Morning News), Fred Kaplan puts his dukes right up:

How many senior U.S. officials will be branded turncoats or anti-Semites before the Israeli government, AIPAC, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman realize that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a serious mistake in approving an expansion of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem and that he must correct it—not just for political or diplomatic reasons but in the interests of American and Israeli security?

See also the commentary of AIPAC-nemesis John Mearsheimer at the LRBlog.

Vespers: We've been waiting for Robert Darnton to discuss the Paleoblogosphere of ancien régime France, and now he has obliged (NYRBlog)

The anecdotes constituted the early-modern equivalent of a blogosphere, one laced with explosives; for on the eve of the Revolution, French readers were consuming as much smut about the private lives of the great as they were reading treatises about the abuse of power. In fact, the anecdotes and the political discourse reinforced each other. I would therefore argue that the early-modern blog played an important part in the collapse of the Old Regime and in the politics of the French Revolution. I must admit, however, that I am consigning this argument to a blog. Anyone who wants to see it developed at an appropriate length and with supporting evidence will have to read it as a book: The Devil in the Holy Water, or the Art of Slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon.

We have ordered a copy!

Compline: Tony Judt's sketch of his early, non-academic working life includes some very important observations about the indignity of most labor. (NYRB)

From the Blue Boar, I went directly to a Fellowship at King's College, Cambridge. There was nothing inevitable about this: I had been rejected from Fellowship competitions everywhere I applied and would surely have taken up permanent employment of a very different sort had King's not rescued me. The serendipity of this outcome left me with a lasting insight into the precariousness of careers: everything might have been different.

I don't suppose I would have spent the rest of my life making toast at the Blue Boar, delivering carpets, or cleaning diesel engines. It's even unlikely that I would have made a career out of escorting young women around Europe, however tempting. But it seemed that I might have to fall back on one or more of these for an indefinite period—a prospect that has left me distinctly sympathetic to those who, for reasons of chance or misfortune, find themselves on the wrong side of the line.

We remain in thrall to the industrial-era notion that our work defines us: but this is palpably untrue for the overwhelming majority of people today. If we must invoke nineteenth-century clichés, better to recall "The Right to Laziness": an unintentionally prescient 1883 pamphlet by Marx's son-in-law Paul Lafargue suggesting that modern life will offer ever more opportunities for self-definition through leisure and avocation. Mere employment will occupy a thankfully diminishing role.

I ended up doing what I had always wanted to—and getting paid for it. Most people are not so fortunate. The majority of jobs are tedious: they neither enrich nor sustain. All the same (like our Victorian predecessors), we once again regard unemployment as a shameful condition: something akin to a character defect. Well-paid pundits are quick to lecture "welfare queens" on the moral turpitude of economic dependence, the impropriety of public benefits, and the virtues of hard work. They should try it some time.

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