Books

This is the new and fantastic book by Arthur M. Melzer and the subtitle is The Lost History of Esoteric Writing.  It is the best book I know on esoteric writing and its history and furthermore it is clear and to the point!  (I think)

Melzer starts his chapter eight with this quotation from John Toland’s eighteenth century Pantheisticon:

[Esotericism is] practiced not by the Ancients alone; for to declare the Truth, it is more in Use among the Moderns.

Here is another bit from the book:

To begin with, we need an author who, in his interpretations, is willing to follow the very un-Straussian injunction — often found on mathematics exams — “show all work.”  We need to see, once or twice, how the sausage is made.  The best writing for this purpose that I am familiar with comes from an appropriately un-Straussian source: Stanley Fish.  His “Georgics of the Mind: The Experience of Bacon’s Essays” is a brilliant and nuanced exercise in textual analysis that openly displays, at every stage of Fish’s encounter with the text, what he thinks and why he thinks it.

…Another excellent and highly communicative reader…is Robert Connor.  His Thucydides is a very sensitive reading of Thucydides’s great history, a reading openly arrived at and clearly conveyed.  In conjunction with this, one should also read Clifford Orwin’s superb The Humanity of Thucydides.

Recommended.

Friday, 1:15, EST.  The LiveStream is here.  I commend the Center for Equitable Growth for sponsoring this event.

Chitmahals

by on September 15, 2014 at 1:57 am in Books, History, Law, Uncategorized | Permalink

I had not known of these:

The Indo-Bangladesh enclaves, also known as the chitmahals (Bengali: ছিটমহল chitmôhol), sometimes called pasha enclaves, are the enclaves along the Bangladesh–India border, in Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal.

There are 106 Indian enclaves and 92 Bangladeshi enclaves. Inside the main part of Bangladesh, 102 of these are first-order Indian enclaves, while inside the main part of India, 71 of these are Bangladeshi first-order enclaves. Further inside these enclaves are an additional 24 second order- or counter-enclaves (21 Bangladeshi, 3 Indian) and one Indian counter-counter-enclave, called Dahala Khagrabari #51. They have an estimated combined population between 50,000 and 100,000.

In September 2011, the Prime Ministers of the two countries (Manmohan Singh of India and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh) signed an accord on border demarcation and exchange of adversely held enclaves; however, the Indian parliament has yet to ratify it. Under this intended agreement, the enclave residents could continue to reside at their present location or move to the country of their choice.

Here is the Wikipedia entry.  It now seems the ruling BJP party seems to want to take that 2011 agreement back.

Alastair Bonnett, in his new and excellent Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and other Inscrutable Geographies, notes that these enclaves are usually not supplied with public goods.  Furthermore:

In order to leave these tiny enclaves, the inhabitants have to obtain a visa to travel through the foreign territory that surrounds them.  But in order to obtain a visa they have to leave their enclave, since visas can only be obtained in cities many miles away.

And:

The Indian Enclave Refugees’ Association has been formed to lobby for the right to “return” to India.

Many of them are denied the right to settle in what is ostensibly their home country, namely India.

The author is Joe Zhang and the subtitle is Is China’s State Capitalism Doomed?  Here is the summary of his conclusions:

1. The state sector remains the dominant part of the Chinese economy.

2. In the past decade, China has erased most (if not all) of the liberalization of the previous two decades.  As a result, the state sector has become more dominant than it was a decade ago.

3. The state sector enjoys widespread public support in China, contrary to perceptions in the West.  there are political, social and cultural reasons for this “strange” situation.

4. The state sector and SOEs are constantly adapting to the public demand for transparency and efficiency.  As a whole, they do not necessarily underperform the private sector.  Indeed, due to systematic discrimination against the private sector, there is evidence to the contrary: the state sector has had a better financial track record in the past three decades.  Indeed, it is not fair to make comparisons given the unleveled playing field.

5. The many challenges China faces today need a robust and well-funded state sector.  At least that is, in my judgment, what the Chinese government and most members of the public think.  These challenges include social inequality, overpopulation, environmental damage, and the depletion of global resources.

I do not agree with every claim in this book, especially the normative ones, but this is one of the better places to go for a look at how the Chinese economy actually works.  Or doesn’t, as the case may be.

Javier Cercas, *Outlaws: A Novel*

by on September 13, 2014 at 2:05 am in Books | Permalink

This is so far my favorite novel in what I consider to be a very weak year for fiction.  Set in and near Barcelona, this story of a gang member and his confrontations with the law, as seen through the eyes of one not totally reliable narrator, reminds me a bit of Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Dimitrios.  Here is one excerpt from the novel:

Let’s go, she said.  Where?, I asked, following her: she was wearing jeans, a white shirt, sneakers and her handbag strap across her chest, like twenty years ago when we’d meet up in La Font to go out and steal cars, snatch old ladies’ handbags and rob banks on the coast.

I also quite liked “Talking to Ourselves,” by Andrés Neuman: “Women who know what they want never want anything interesting.”

*The Shifts and the Shocks*

by on September 11, 2014 at 8:03 pm in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

That is by Martin Wolf and the subtitle is What We’ve Learned — And Still Have to Learn — From the Financial Crisis.  You can buy it here.

File under Arrived in my pile.

What I’ve been reading

by on September 11, 2014 at 1:44 am in Books | Permalink

1. Kai Bird, The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames.  Kai Bird is very highly rated, but in my view he remains underrated.  I very much like each and every one of his books, and this sympathetic treatment brings to life the Middle East conflicts through the 1980s, and also the life of a CIA officer, as well as a bygone era in U.S. foreign policy.

2. Henry Kissinger, World Order.  I liked parts of his China book, but there’s nothing really to this one.  Leave it alone.

3. Pascal Bonafoux, Rodin & Eros.  Beware of visiting too many Rodin museums, you might end up thinking he just repeated the same themes over and over again.  This book, including the color plates, will jolt you into seeing his work fresh once again.

4. Samuel Fromartz, In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey.  A fun cross-sectional look at the bread universe, combined with some recipes and reminiscences.

5. Henry R. Nau, Conservative Internationalism: Armed Diplomacy under Jefferson, Polk, Truman, and Reagan.  We could use more of this, and I am referring to each of those words “conservative” and “internationalism,” as well as the combination of the two.  This book was published about a year ago, and I don’t think the author could have realized how relevant it was going to become.  An important book for 2014, it sets out a manifesto for a classical liberal but non-isolationist approach to foreign policy.

6. Jeff Riggenbach, Persuaded by Reason: Joan Kennedy Taylor and the Rebirth of American Individualism.  I knew her a bit and was always fond of her.  This book is a good look at 1970s libertarianism, and the rebirth of libertarian feminism in the United States.  Both Alex and I make cameos in the text, he as an editor, gatekeeper, and theorist of self-ownership and abortion, I as a purchaser of the CD collection from the estate of Roy Childs (Joan was executor of the estate and also Roy’s dear friend).

I’ve spent time with both the new Ian McEwan novel and the new David Mitchell.  Both have some virtues but neither appears to be a must-read.

dyfalu

by on September 10, 2014 at 1:07 am in Books, Education, History, The Arts | Permalink

In Welsh poetry, dyfalu is the piling on of comparisons, definition through conceit.  The word also means “to guess” in Welsh, and many poems of dyfalu have an element of guesswork, a fanciful and riddling dimension.  “The art of dyfalu, meaning “to describe” or “to deride,” rests in the intricate development of a series of images and extended metaphors which either celebrate or castigate a person, animal, or object,” the encyclopedia of Celtic Culture explains.  Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poems to the mist and the wind are classic fourteenth-century examples.

That is from Edward Hirsch, A Poet’s Glossary, which I am quite enjoying.  There is interesting material on every page and it is written with passion.   A hendiatris is a “figure of speech in which three words are employed to express an idea, as in Thomas Jefferson’s tripartite motto for the Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.””  When there are only two words so employed, it is of course a hendiadys.

What I’ve been reading

by on September 8, 2014 at 12:23 pm in Books, Philosophy | Permalink

1. Michael Ignatieff, Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics.  A genuinely interesting book about why someone with tenure at Harvard might be crazy enough to run for high public office, and then what it is like to lose somewhat ignominiously.

2. Ha-Joon Chang, Economics: The User’s Guide.  A genuinely humble and pluralistic introduction to the economic way of thinking, from a “developmentalist,” linkages are important for economic growth, anti-free trade point of view.

I disagree with both Ignatieff and Chang pretty thoroughly, but of the last few dozen books I read, these are the two which are truly philosophical, in the best sense of that word.  There is no need to list the others, except there is Umberto Eco on Peanuts, scroll down about four paragraphs to start reading.

Sapiens [the new book by Yuval Noah Hariri] devotes large sections to unsparing accounts of the domestication and factory farming of cows, pigs and chickens. This, he contends, has made them some of the most genetically “successful” creatures in history but the most miserable too.

It is an interesting question how much that will prove to be the equilibrium more generally, namely the genetic superiority of slaves because they can reap more external investment.  After all, capital is more productive today than in times past, so evolution might now produce more slaves.  Here is another bit from John Reed’s coverage of the lunch interview with Hariri:

What allowed humans to become history’s most successful species, he [Hariri] argues, was our ability to construct and unify small groups behind certain “fictions” – everything from national legends and organised religion to modern value systems like human rights, and the modern limited liability company with thousands of employees and vast credit lines at its command.

…I tell Harari I like the idea of fiction as the supreme human construct.

That is from the FT’s lunch with Yuval Noah Hariri.  If I recall correctly, I pre-ordered Sapiens from UK Amazon.

It is potent:

If people married each other more randomly, poverty levels would be considerably lower than they are now.  If we abandoned all current family arrangements and randomly grouped all Bolivians into new families of 5 persons, poverty levels would fall by about 15 percentage points (from the current level of 55% of all households to about 40% of all households).  The Gini coefficient measuring inequality would also fall from about 0.70 to 0.55.

But Bolivians do not mix much in marriage.  The correlation between partners’ education levels is extremely high at about 0.77, with no signs of falling.  For comparison, the corresponding number for Germany is 0.52 and for Britain it is 0.41.

But not all Bolivians are equally restricted in their marriage choices.  In the department of Santa Cruz the correlation is only 0.69 while in Potosi it is 0.82, with a corresponding difference in poverty rates.

That is from Lykke E. Andersen, Development from Within, an interesting and well-written collection of essays on Bolivian development, and sometimes on development policy more generally.  The cited piece was written in 2008.

Here is a good sentence from that book:

Just one little road block can disrupt an entire vacation.

Here is the author on Twitter.  Here is her blog.

Love in the old East Germany

by on August 30, 2014 at 2:14 am in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

The East German woman had a job, was economically independent, self-confident, and divorce-happy; at a time when only 50 percent of West German women made their own money, 90 percent of women in East Germany were employed.

…the East German woman didn’t consider her male partner an enemy but rather a partner who, economically speaking, had little or nothig on her.  Indeed, the average East German man, unless he had managed to gin a foothold in the regime’s upper echelons — but what woman would want a man like that? — wasn’t in a position to boast any typically macho privileges.  He couldn’t show off with money, fast cars, or a house on Ibiza.  he had to rely on his potential talent as a lover and his qualities as a father and partner.  As a result, he tended to cultivate a rather “soft” masculine image.

…And, on top of all this: the suppression of free movement in public in East Germany had led both sexes to develop a relatively uninhibited attitude toward sex.  What other unregulatable pastime did East Germany have to offer its citizens?

That is from the newly translated book by Peter Schneider, Berlin Now: The City After the Wall.  Much of that passage makes sense, but one part confuses me:  does “rely on his potential talent as a lover” support or contradict “cultivate a “soft” masculine image”?

From David Cay Johnson:

From 2000 to 2012, American workers as a whole had a tough time, as population grew much faster than new jobs and many people gave up looking for work. There was one major exception: jobs paying $100,000 to $400,000 (in 2012 dollars).

This is what I call America’s new prosperous class. Many of these workers have an advanced degree. They no longer struggle, but they continue to work because their wealth is far from adequate to support their lifestyles.

The number of prosperous-class jobs soared to 10.8 million, an increase of 2.1 million since 2000. That is almost 10 times the growth rate of jobs paying either more or less.

Most astonishing is how much of the overall increase in wages earned by the 153.6 million people with a job in 2012 went to this narrow band of very well paid workers: Just 7 percent of all jobs pay in this range, but those workers collected 76.9 percent of the total real wage increase.

For the pointer I thank Mary Ray.  (p.s.: the paperback edition of Average is Over is out today).

I sometimes say it is coming first to Israel and Singapore (and England?), but the Kiwis are a different case.  Eric Crampton quotes from an NZ Ministry report:

Overall, there is no evidence of any sustained rise or fall in inequality in the last two decades. The level of household disposable income inequality in New Zealand is a little above the OECD median. The share of total income received by the top 1% of individuals is at the low end of the OECD rankings.

You also will note that New Zealand has been a steady under-performer in terms of economic growth, despite a lot of good policy decisions.  This has helped keep income inequality down.

On this note, the paperback of Average is Over is coming out August 26th, you can order your copy here.

The actual title is Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae: A Biography.  I enjoyed this book and learned a good deal from it, here is one excerpt:

…understanding the Summa as based on the cycle of emanation and return helps tie much of Thomas’s theological work together, from the Writing on the Sentences to the Summa.  In his earliest synthesis Thomas had already referred to the coming forth from and return of all things to God as a key theological principle…

For Thomas this circular motion reveals god’s sapiential ordering on the most universal level.  To think of the exitus-reditus model as primarily philosophical and Neoplatonic, as some have argued, is a modern view that Thomas would not have shared.  What else does scripture teach but how all things were created by God and are directed back to him as their final goal?

You can order the book here.