Category Archives: Uncategorized

… i have been a-weigh

i have been absent, not least due to a series of reasons that have occupied both my academic and personal life.

respites aside, i am currently assessing the possibility of renewing my ‘blog-o-sphere’ membership and, if i do decide to answer the above pondering in the affirmative, the conditions under which ‘signonthebrokenline’ will continue will also be subject to an equally pedantic analysis.

v.

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spoken discomforts

children asking questions because it is easy to do so, because they were raised by parents who answered every question as if they actually knew the answers (never mind whether their answer was correct or otherwise) to every question (since they self-aggrandized to that extent), is a serious concern all interested parties should be aware of. i still cannot sleep certain nights because i am naturally searching for answers to problems that have no solutions, to problems that were never intended to have solutions and to, err, what problems?

Grunge.

for those children, asking the question (the process) is valid and deserves merit. however, they themselves need to be reminded that they too were given cranial real estate and they too can develop that real estate by first thinking and then asking. notice the embedded if statement.

this only reinforces a previously drawn conclusion that has been causing havoc across family units ever since us humans invented language, namely, that parents handicap their offspring.

further examples require equal attention. art for the sake of art is another one of those examples. many ‘creative’ individuals who themselves self-append ‘artist’ to their left breast pocket, as if to communicate to the plebeian world at large that they cannot be bothered with mechanical trifles, criticize efforts to combine art and purpose. my hints are subtle, but do you catch them?

here is a second chance. education for the sake of education is yet further proof that academia has eloped with finance to produce a lovely epiphenomenon entitled, “More Students, Less Content.” to this i add teaching for the sake of teaching, a commonality at many universities charged with ‘watch-dogging.’

in effect, the message is beyond lucid. it is pellucid. the communists will continue to hate me for this pro-individualism rhetoric, however, i find less time concerning myself with this ‘proposed threat’ than i do with asking for further proof of why it is inconsistent and as a result invalid, to remind all that accepting a condition of insatiable complacency will only reproduce more ‘handicaps’ (see above). no apotheosis here. it was not my intention.

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Part C, The Five Minute Meltdown

I took a walk in the park.
And i saw a flower.
Horse.

I took a walk in the park.
And i saw a horse.
Flower.

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local melodrama: 2:12 AM

I’m sitting on the couch. Being a vegetable. While I’m lying here, growing sprouts, I begin to notice a rather distinct buzz. Spring being months away, I begin to tune in to logic – to try and figure out this mild conundrum. Bikes. Motorcycles. If I could remember what they call these human sling shots in Japan, I would have enlightened you earlier.

But I don’t. What I also “don’t” is why I never happen to either see or hear these machines during the day. Never. Right now for example, I am being carpet bombed by the sound of a ten second radio sound byte on marriage counseling.

I’m nuts. I know.

At one, two, three, four, four thirty five, four thirty-seven AM and on Friday nights, even four thirty-eight, a convoy of wild hogs, castrated teenage choir singers and even a few Italian hand-jobs, pass by my house. I don’t know the purpose of this inconvenience, neither do I care. I am, however, more concerned with why.

The modern day male phenomenon is a distinct amalgamation of evolution and friendly fire. Innocuous in the real world but a real-war-threat in fantasy la-la land.

With their wives fast asleep, under the auspices of non-therapeutic drugs er, America’s in-house palliative care specialists, ahem, CNN, society’s deviants and ‘disobedients’ distance themselves from their fraternal faux-pas, surreptitiously take out their TONKA toys and take to the streets.

And to be completely honest, I understand why they do it. Complacency would suffocate me too.

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brian barry’s culture and equality: a critical review

Culture and Equality

Brian Barry, in his monograph on the “politics of difference” or the “politics of recognition,” is skeptical of the degree to which current multiculturalism policies have in fact advanced “the values of liberty and equality,” to the extent that “the implementation of such policies tends to mark a retreat from both.” Multiculturalism introduces more problems than it solves. Furthermore, a critique of “culture” is absolutely quintessential to understanding Barry’s argument of why the special treatment of certain groups within a society, does not pass the liberal egalitarian’s ‘test of universality.’

However, a few caveats require mentioning: Barry accepts the Enlightenment as fundamental in establishing universal citizenship. While Barry does engage in a critique of current multiculturalism policy and its ineffectiveness at solving the proverbial riddle of a ‘heterogeneous nation-state,’ he is also implicitly undertaking a social engineering agenda. Recycling platitudes, critical ‘rhetoric,’ by Barry’s standards, would find the Enlightenment project’s instrumental compartmentalization of human beings, rather amusing. To carefully and parsimoniously classify subjects into neat, pre-determined and rational categories is as incoherent and worrisome as is the idea that liberal egalitarianism, coupled with its liberal conception of a democracy, will solve the multiculturalism “problem.”

Barry’s implicit theory of morality implies that moral universalism is valid and that at a bare minimum, “human rights are what all human beings need in order to live minimally decent lives.” For Barry, the “members of a group may suffer not because they have distinctive culturally derived goals,” but because they do poorly in achieving generally shared objectives. A generally shared objective is defined as a good education and a desirable and well-paid job. This is precisely why rational choice theory is poorly equipped to address the complex nature of human beings, both as they act as individuals and as they are found in social groups. Although it may be rational and efficient for one individual to pursue an education and in return be rewarded with ‘a well paid job,’ others may very well wish to live in different conditions that require a different set of pecuniary inputs. This should never imply that those who choose such a lifestyle are “suffering.”

The Sikh example provided by Barry further illustrates the point that the regulation of human life and human activity, has become so ubiquitous and pervasive, that the encroachment on traditional practices, norms, conventions and more precisely, the means and ways by which individuals introduce certainty in a largely uncertain world, is bound to be met with various degrees of resistance. There is no need to speculate the reasons for why Sikhs oppose the wearing of a crash-helmet when riding a motorcycle; religious considerations must be part of it, but that cannot possible provide the entirety of their resistance. It would be a gross misunderstanding to interpret the aforementioned activity as negligence – Sikhs are probably equally aware of the dangers of engaging in such activity without the proper protection. The choice to wear a helmet should be left to those who ride motorcycles. It is not only Sikhs who are at an increased risk of dying from life-threatening trauma to the brain that follows as a result of not having worn protective equipment.

If one buys into the argument that certain policies, including immigration and multiculturalism policies are elitist, as it has arguable been the case in Canada, the morality that posits what is “good” and what is “bad” is not then universal, but rather prescribed. The political elites, who advance arguments of morality, are themselves to be blamed for hypocritically entertaining double-standards. While Barry may be correct in arguing that the current status-quo is seriously lacking any problem-solving potential, neither does his approach. Campaigning for a universal and egalitarian understanding of citizenship, while circumventing a distinct set of issues, concerns and problems, also misses the point that those with particular economic and political vested interests, may not be the best at neutrally defining for the rest of a country what citizenship means and subsequently should be.

The problem then, as has already been mentioned, lies in the fixation and obsession with solving the problems that do not exist, or even worse, creating problems to fit those solutions in need of a problem, something that Barry is also critical of himself. However, difference is not romantic. Difference and diversity is absolutely critical to maintain a healthy polity and a ‘thinking society,’ in which complacency does not override the requirement to scrupulously scrutinize and question those who unequally wield power over others.

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eu series: hegemonism – an eu love affair

Enlarging the European Union to include “new” member states is an ambitious and fascinating political project. Controversy however, does exist. Expanding the EU is an ideological exercise that strives to provide the impetus for the spread of neo-liberal market policies as well as other fundamental “democratic” concepts that may include a commitment to human rights, rule of law, transparency and elements of consociationalism. It is a function of reality and pragmatic constraints, that not everyone and not every political agenda can be accommodated.

Our Choice Is Peace?

The difficulty with failing to provide political outlets for those parties that may find themselves on the extremities or fringes of the political decision making process may find other means by which to manifest their grievances, often times using methods that have been captured by those terms such as “corruption,” “illicit” and “shadow” or “under- ground.”

As the EU looks to the East and the Balkan states to provide future economic markets, cheap labour, intellectual and natural resources, geopolitical advantages, as well as other strategic dimensions that make up the EU’s own “manifest destiny,” it is imperative if not counterintuitive and potentially catastrophic politically, if no measures are taken to accommodate the uniqueness of local and regional problems as well as solutions. The EU has systematically confused accommodation for supremacy and top-down “dictatorship” in key areas such as energy security, foreign policy and corruption. A failure to rethink accommodation in the EU may have history repeat itself with “second revolution” being a potential consequence.

The harmonization of local “laws” with the EU’s body of laws, otherwise known by the catch-all phrase, acquis communitaire, is bound to introduce a remapping or shifting of both political and economic actors. New winners become losers while old losers may find themselves on the other side of the spectrum. To reiterate the above is not to introduce something new, quite the contrary. Political and economic actors are constantly in flux. Traditionally, power sharing is explicitly desirable and opposition healthy; competition, or the antagonistic interplay between two parties competing for a limited-supply resource produces beneficial economic and “political” byproducts.

With the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet regime, East Europe had been left without a governing hegemon. Criticisms aimed at undermining Soviet rule can also be applied to East Europe’s new hegemon, the European Union. East Europe and those living in East Europe have probably turned to the West in search for a panacea solution to their internal political and economic chaos. If freedom from Soviet-rule was, in retrospect, presupposing a departure from “colonialism” and “quasi-sovereignty,” looking forward, EU-rule will be a restoration of the very same things Eastern Europe was expecting to free itself from.

Commonplace energy rhetoric is often bundled with a normative pursuit of democracy. Rather alarmingly, EU’s energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, made explicit that “[t]he best way to create EU energy security is to export market economy values to suppliers such as Russia and the Middle East.” By throwing its political and economic weight around, the EU is trying to reconcile the uncertainty that is “foreign” or “alien” approaches to governance with their own version of market economics. If the EU’s is not prepared or willing to negotiate with players outside their geographical and ideological borders, what sort of example is that setting for the newly accessed East European countries, as well as those to be accessed, Romania and Bulgaria, in January 2007. To proceed with caution would be an understatement.

Furthermore, as an example, Germany and Poland have “failed to see eye-to-eye on the second major issue of energy, with the Polish leader sticking to his opposition against Germany’s plans to build a direct gas pipeline to Russia under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Poland.” This is, again, certainly nothing new. Anyone, with even the most limited background in history understands, not just as a result of World War II, but previous historical events as well, that Poland sovereignty is a sensitive issue for many Poles. To bypass such sovereignty, in this case the justification being that Germany must secure energy supplies and Russia is an appealing as well as suitable supplier, is to yet again, reinforce what has just been previously been said that the EU simply cannot dismiss the unique local socio-political make-up. To have German Chancellor Merkel offer to a “branch from the pipeline to Poland,” allowing for the possibility of a “valve-shut-off,” a-la Ukraine during early 2007, stands to prove the German approach as being unilateral and for the most part, politically ignominious.

Poland has voiced, through President Kaczynski, their sovereign desire to achieve energy security through “supply diversification,” a policy and initiative that includes a commitment by the “Western” countries through the “linking [of] energy grids” and the “enshrining of principles at the [EU] treaty level.” It is without doubt that given the latest rounds of accession, the EU has observed an increase in oil and gas imports and consumption. These rates stand to further rise, as the newly annexed countries have “weak internal hydrocarbon production.”

With the Baltic States looking to “reduce the number of Russian investors for historical and geopolitical reasons,” and the EU seeking to secure policy that is founded on treaty law (something that has yet to happen) with Russia, it will be interesting to observe the extent to which supra-national interests will trump national ones. Vladimir Putin has already expressed his concerns over allegations that Russia has continued to transgress human-rights law (for some a jus cogens principle), stating that Russia did not invent the word “mafia.” Whether or not that stands to be of any significance, it not only reminds the EU of its own past corruption scandals and political malfeasance, but rather antithetically speaks of the hypocrite nature of the disparity between EU practice and EU foreign policy. To provide examples, France’s experience with Jacques Chirac’s sloth during his tenancy as mayor of Paris, as well as the 1991 “Lafayette Deal” between France and Taiwan, both speak for the reality that is corruption and the exploitation of office for personal gain, with different repercussions and consequences for different countries.

In addition, British Euro-skeptics often find it extremely difficult to reconcile the benefits of the current status-quo that is EU’s civil-law legal system, with the UK’s traditional common-law system. EU Criminal Law overrides national provisions, regardless of opposition from local governments. All breaches of EU law are subject to sanctions that can be imposed by the EU Commission, an un-elected body in Brussels, which also has the right to propose and define what those criminal sanctions will be by definition (with a majority vote of Council of Members needed).

The above is an example of how as a supra-national institution, the EU is not always making unanimous decisions or implementing policy that is accommodating of all. It would be dangerous to make such an assumption by implying it. While current governments of the day can be said to be pro-EU, opposition and dissent do exist, even within veteran states, at both political and civil society levels.

Questioning EU’s future prospects is an exercise bound to introduce arguments from both Euro-skeptics as well as EU proponents. However, given current “policy” approaches that adopt measures more akin to imposed dictatorship, dissatisfaction either from old member states or newly accessed member states is bound to, in the future, undermine the traditional EU objective of uniting to reinforce national commitments that provide and oversee all “essential services” – as dictated by accompanying political mandates.

The EU constantly echoes those principles on paper. In reality, the truth points into other directions, directions that are not “consociational” or “accommodating” in nature, but rather disappointingly, the opposite.

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inside asset bubbles: the rationality of speculation (exec brief)

I wrote a paper on speculative asset bubbles, having loads of fun doing it. Although I am aware of the brutal reality that not everyone may full understand the dialectic/specific vernacular, this should not prevent discussion.

Caveats aside, here is the introduction:

“Chain letters, bubbles, pyramid schemes, Ponzi finance, and manias are somewhat overlapping terms. The generic term is non-sustainable patterns of financial behaviour, in that asset prices today are not consistent with asset prices at distant future dates.” [emphasis added, Kindleberger, 2005, pg. 11]

Charles Kindleberger proposes the above definition of a ‘bubble,’ in his book, Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, where he argues that the “cycle of manias and panics results from the pro-cyclical changes in the supply of credit; the credit supply increases, relatively rapidly in good times, and then when economic growth slackens, the rate of growth of credit has often declined sharply.” It is more than obvious that the supply of credit is at the heart of his proposed framework on how to interpret financial “bubbles.” However, there is one caveat: in typical pro-Enlightenment fashion, Kindleberger’s definition of “non-sustainable patterns of financial behaviour,” implies a problem in need of a solution and says nothing about the (historical) contexts in which these bubbles form, who the actors were and what positions of power they held in society and whether these speculative patterns themselves were intentional or unintentional. For Kindleberger, borrowing one of Alan Greenspan’s terms, “irrational exuberance” is the final destination, a pathology of human cognition and behaviour, which must be contained, acted upon, and solved. However, containment strategies and state administered medicine, in the form of (dis)incentives, is often at odds with a more pragmatic reality that government officials can and often do (and have in the past), either surreptitiously or otherwise, actively participate in speculative undertakings for personal gain.

Consider the following. ‘Contemporary bubbles are distant cousins of past financial behaviour.’ Although almost a cliché in the modern world, this is a gross misunderstanding; one that Peter Garber unpacks in his monograph entitled Famous First Bubbles. The current paradigm, that past “irrational exuberance” and “frenzied speculation” is but part of a rudimentary, archaic and unsophisticated era, Garber argues, is historically unfounded and in turn manufactured by vested interests. That the Mississippi and the South Sea bubbles have now become anecdotes of what once used to happen, but no longer possible because of the ‘safeguards of modernity,’ is proof of the extent to which vested interests have manufactured, manipulated and massaged historical fact to fit their own speculative projects.

Furthermore the opposite can be argued: that modernity is more susceptible to “non-sustainable financial behaviour” than previous pre-Enlightenment and pre-Industrial Revolution eras were. In addition, the term “bubble,” has become a placeholder of convenience. When it is desirable to frame certain market behaviour as a bubble, we (read: vested interests) do so. When it is not, ‘we’ do not. Modern methods of communication, transportation and the proverbial ‘flattening of the world,’ predispose local markets stand to attacks on behalf of speculators. International contagion is an unstoppable ‘disease.’ Regulatory financial, currency, monetary and fiscal policies, designed to forecast and subsequently prevent bubbles, are often times toothless and ineffective. However, these distinct features of modernity are exactly why, reading a trend off a chart is absolutely meaningless, when trying to understand the underlying mechanics of “non-sustainable financial behaviour.”

Concluding, I wrote:

I expected to find both convergences and divergences between the past and present. However, the similarities or convergences between the two are most striking. Modern economic instruments coupled with their modern policy directives are often only marginally better at dealing with financial ‘bubbles’ than their pre-modern counterparts. In addition to this, failing to critically engage history may grossly mislead one to believe that what may be perceived as a ‘bubble,’ was in fact the result of market fundamentals. Furthermore, the term ‘bubble’ is often appropriated or not appropriated by those individuals in whose interest it is to frame the issue one way or the other. Governments, although constantly fighting to maintain an area of unchallenged justification for interventionist and control-politics, fail miserably when public officials themselves are often tied up in corruption scandals – and more notably, actually instigate ‘bubbles’ and see to it that they are carried through.

Yes, the above is controversial. But that is the point, everything is controversial, everything is spun, framed and massaged to fit personal interests. Look for a follow up post to this.

Example
*Non-chartists beweare!

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