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16 February 2010


Matins: Paul Krugman's column on the "Euromess" is well-worth thinking about, especially if you've read Jane Jacobs's Cities and the Wealth of Nations. The real thrust of the piece, however, is Mr Krugman's warning against elitist prematurity.

Long before the euro came into being, economists warned that Europe wasn’t ready for a single currency. But these warnings were ignored, and the crisis came.

Now what? A breakup of the euro is very nearly unthinkable, as a sheer matter of practicality. As Berkeley’s Barry Eichengreen puts it, an attempt to reintroduce a national currency would trigger “the mother of all financial crises.” So the only way out is forward: to make the euro work, Europe needs to move much further toward political union, so that European nations start to function more like American states.

But that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

(It has never been explained to us why the Euro could not have been floated as a supplementary currency.)

Mr Krugman believes that Spain and Greece would be better off as states in a federal republic, but we don't believe that arrangement is working so well on this side of the Atlantic as it is. (NYT)

Lauds: At The Millions, Buzz Poole writes about a photography show in Milwaukee, Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography, 1940-1959, that marks the era in which we learned that the camera is not doomed to truth-telling.

By virtue of developments in camera technology, these photographers were not only innovators but they also played a role in solidifying photography’s status as high art. In doing so, the viewer’s relationship with photographic images and concepts of reality shifted – reality was now a potential; it was not certainty. The integrity of journalistic photography as some absolute truth crumbled with the realization that these machines and developing and printing processes challenged familiarity, creating a self-conscious awareness of photography’s potential to unlock unknown or denied truths.

Prime: Was Ruth Simmons taking Felix Salmon's advice when she resigned from the Goldman Sachs board?

I said after Tuesday’s interview with Simmons was published that she seemed to think about her membership on Goldman’s board much more in terms of what it could do for her and her pet causes than in terms of being a shareholder representative tasked with overseeing senior management, and I called for a revamp of the board. Friday’s news is exactly the step in that direction that I was looking for: maybe Simmons took my comments to heart!

It would be very pretty to think so!

Tierce: It was very pretty to think that Rom Houben, the "locked-in" accident victim, had been let out of his mental prison, but last fall's announcement sparked some reservations that now turn out to have been justified. Andy Coghlan writes in Short Sharp Science.

According to Der Spiegel, Houben failed to pass a 15-item test administered by Laureys. As Houben saw or heard reference to 15 items, he was asked to use his single, incompletely paralysed finger to press the corresponding word on the touch screen - without the help of the speech therapist. But he failed on every item. To make sure the test was fair, Laureys gave the same test to another, impaired patient, who successfully completed the test.

Where does this leave Houben? According to Der Spiegel, because of images taken of his brain activity that reveal it is behaving only slightly differently from that of a healthy brain, "researchers are fairly certain that Houben is conscious".

How to communicate with him is another matter.

Sext: At, Chris Clarke provides a universal template for writing incendiary blog posts.

This sentence proposes that anyone who might disagree with the wildly overgeneralized condemnation is, by so disagreeing, actually proving the author’s point. This sentence explains that such people disagree primarily because of the author’s courageous, iconoclastic approach. This sentence mentions the additional possibilities that readers who express disagreement with the wildly overgeneralized condemnation are merely following political fashion or trying to ingratiate themselves with interest groups. This sentence is a somewhat related assertion based in thoughtless privilege and stated as dispassionate objective truth. This sentence explains that if the scales would merely fall from those dissenting readers’ eyes, they would see the wisdom and necessity of the author’s statements.

Nones: The attempt to divide the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, creating a new state called Telangana, continues to rouse partisan violence.

In January, a meeting of different political parties to discuss the issue failed to arrive at a consensus.

The leaders of the political parties who attended the meeting called for calm in Andhra Pradesh and agreed to hold further talks.

Correspondents say there are deep divisions within political parties over the Telangana issue.

The final decision to create a new state lies with the Indian parliament, but the sharply divided state assembly must pass a resolution approving its creation.

(We're not quite sure what that final paragraph means.)

The Telangana partition ought to be of the first interest to all students of democracy. Authoritarian states can redraw administrative and political maps as needed (whether or not in self-interest), but democratic governments must pull off the trick of persuading interest groups who have no interest in being persuaded. (BBC News)

Vespers: Tom McCarthy discusses the post-nouveau aesthetic of Jean-Philippe Toussaint, a writer "bearing that quintessentially French distinction of being Belgian. (LRB)

In La Patinoire (‘The Ice Rink’), a film Toussaint scripted and directed, the French director-character (it’s a film about the making of a film) tries to explain to his American star that he hides love stories behind elaborate formal exercises. Is that an inverse way of saying that, in order to get away with formal exercises, he uses love stories as a sweetener, a Trojan horse? Either way, the star, who doesn’t speak French, smiles back and says, ‘I don’t understand’; then, as the ice melts beneath the spotlights, and the geometrically scored skate-marks disappear, he goes off and screws the leading lady the director covets. It’s a brilliantly comic moment – and one that (again) replays, or becomes a snapshot, en abîme, of the complex cultural legacy Toussaint has inherited, and its relation to a dumb mainstream culture in a corner of whose soil it must somehow take root and grow.

Compline: Writing about the rather unsurprising perils facing housemaids in early modern England, in History Today, R C Richardson discusses the amazing case of Anne Greene, whose vindication was thought to be nothing less than miraculous.

‘Wonderful’ events of all kinds attracted popular attention in the early modern period; they were written up in eye-catching, moralising ways and became favourite reading matter. The dividing line between fact and fantasy was easily lost. But that Greene’s case and execution took place on the public stage and that leading scientists of the day were present places the record of these events on a more secure footing. Medical opinion in Greene’s case confirmed that this was an instance of miscarriage, not infanticide. Greene freely confessed to Petty and others everything about her seduction and dated her miscarriage to 17 weeks later. The medical men, therefore, confirmed that the half-formed, dead child she had delivered was consequently ‘not capable of being murdered’. 

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