05.29.20

bewailing george floyd

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:39 pm by Administrator

when I watched the video of George Floyd’s death, I was so devastated by the total paralysis of the unfolding scene.

there was the police officer kneeling on George’s neck, who refused to move.

there was the police officer standing on the curb, who refused to leave his partner’s side.

there were the bystanders on the sidewalk who were aggrieved and clamoring for George’s life, but they too were rooted in place, unable to approach any closer.

and there was George Floyd, yelling out for his mother as he was pinned to the ground. he couldn’t move either.

all of us—motionless, constrained, and transfixed—stood where we were, and in this manner, we watched George fall unconscious and die.

the contrast with all the motion that later ensued—people issuing statements, firing tear gas, running through streets, throwing rocks, setting fire to buildings, handcuffing others—couldn’t be more stark. it is as if our utter futility in the moment of crisis fueled an explosion of frustration at our own ineptitude and inadequacy, an explosion that boiled over into violence. we had to act out our anger at our paralysis; we had to express shame at our inaction.

buildings burn and people are arrested, but the one thing we cannot do is return to that sidewalk, lift the knee off a man’s neck, offer a gesture of love, forgive an offense that almost went too far. it’s over now. a man died, and no one can do anything about it now. this is the nature of systematic injustice in America; it is paralysis, as a terror unfolds over and over again. even the perpetrators are victims in their own right, trapped in a way of thinking that brings them to their knees, that makes them mindless and ultimately party to murder.

in this country, there are only two sides, and one must stand on one side or the other. but in the end, no matter which side they stand on, they will be too deeply rooted in place to move when they are called upon to react. this is why we will continue to be witnesses to the same crimes. and this is why, in the aftermath of these crimes, we will loathe ourselves, hate ourselves for our powerlessness, and hope for a better world that will never arrive

05.19.20

narratives on race

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:54 pm by Administrator

when we talk about social issues, my wife and I talk a lot about race. it’s her work and her passion of course, and so I invariably learn something interesting from every conversation we have. for those who don’t know her, I would describe her as a racial justice activist who critiques american empire through a Marxist lens. for her, racial and socioeconomic inequalities cannot be separated and together tell the tale of a systematic injustice in the West fueled by and in the service of white supremacy.

our latest conversation on these issues was sparked by a comment I made about my fear that the COVID crisis would precipitate class warfare in the united states, a scenario that we must avoid “at all costs”. this sparked some concern from my wife, for reasons that now seem obvious. was I afraid of class warfare because I believe socioeconomic inequalities to be unimportant? was I afraid of radical change because I am a wholesale proponent of the current social order?

in the ensuing discussion, I think we established that we are aligned on many of the particulars. the criminal justice system within and outside of our prisons is both ineffective and immoral. the ongoing racial inequalities in America represent systematic injustices that are institutionalized and thus perpetuated through the generations. the country as a political entity has visited oppression not only upon its own citizens but also upon other nations throughout the world, by virtue of military actions and political policies that are inconsistent with the popular narrative of the U.S. as the world’s leading exporter of freedom, democracy, and the protection of human rights.

where my wife and I differ somewhat is in our approach to the metanarrative we embrace in order to integrate these observations. for my wife, the story revolves around whiteness and its profound psychological and social ramifications; there is an insidious and pervasive myth of whiteness that has been crafted and inculcated into generation after generation of americans of all ethnic and racial backgrounds in order to support a socioeconomic order that preserves the power and privilege of whites. in this narrative, the myth of whiteness is primary, and much of the social context—whether political or economic—is driven, derived from, or justified by this web of beliefs.

I tend to look at whiteness not as the underlying belief but rather as the socialized reaction to what americans perceive as threats to their way of life. I know this sounds rather nuanced, so i’ll try to explain using my favorite typology system.

if America truly were, at its core, a system of preconceived and carefully executed principles, then I might describe the national persona as a “1″—a person so to speak driven to critique, reform, and perfect herself and the world around her. indeed, this was very much the narrative of America offered to me through my primary school history textbooks. in this tale, the founding fathers arrived upon the remarkable principles of self-determination and liberty that fueled their rebellion against corrupt, authoritarian English monarchy and allowed them to innovate a political system that genuinely guaranteed individual freedoms within the stable rule of law. through this lens, all of american history has evidenced the extension of this moral passion, as we have progressively addressed slavery, worker’s rights, women’s rights, European fascism, Soviet communism, and barriers to higher education through the constant self-reflection and reform demanded by our legislative and judicial processes.

on account of my own readings and re-readings of history, I’ve come to see my country a bit differently—as an “8″. we were not a nation that embarked upon history with a core belief to live; rather we were a fragile young nation born out of tyranny, threatened by powerful nations, repeatedly traumatized by war, constantly challenged to confirm its core identity, and ultimately forced to be at odds with the rest of the world by nature of her unwillingness to ever be bullied or dominated ever again. the America I know never had designs or ambitions to be an empire; rather, it conquered, colonized, and killed in the name of self-defense, to defend its way of life from enemies both present and potential. whiteness was not the conviction that drove America’s unique path to empire. whiteness—as defined by an entitlement, provincialism, and militarism so primitive it can only be understood as tribal psychology—is the victimized soul within the heart of the world’s most dangerous bully. whiteness is the reflection of trauma, a trauma deepened by generation after generation of unsettling, potentially destabilizing, and ultimately paradoxical shifts in national identity.

perhaps the real question this particular narrative raises is whether the united states truly has a future as a unified, well-integrated nation state. the same question probably faces china as well, a country plagued by an analogous Han ethno-nationalism and bearing a history that better attests to an unassimilable diversity of constituents. if americanness is more rooted in primitive fear than in sublime principle, then perhaps the discourse on whiteness needs to shift—from addressing the programs of the powerful to illuminating the primal tyrannies of the traumatized. indeed, if this were our inclination, we might better understand the subtle truth of chris rock’s statement that it is not black americans who need to advance but rather the whites who must make progress.

in any case, I probably did not do complete justice to my wife’s point of view, but i’ll give her credit for acting on her convictions. someday, I hope I too can contribute to a solution, or at least a way forward

05.13.20

django and the mission

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:07 pm by Administrator

a few days ago, I watched django unchained with my 13 year-old son. maybe you wouldn’t ordinarily think of django as family-friendly entertainment, but my son loved it and it sparked a meaningful dinnertime conversation about tropes and stereotypes and social justice in general.

in any case, I vaguely recalled having written a review of the movie, and I went back through my blogs and found it—an entry in January 2013. in the review, I panned the movie for its lack of imagination and its pointless visual excesses. I’m a little startled to read it, because I really like the movie now. in particular, some of the scenes are positively joyous to me now: django decked out and riding a horse through a southern plantation like he owns the place, later whipping a former slaver with a bull-whip before shooting him to death. all the scenes of racist white people getting shot, mauled, blown up, and mutilated were viscerally pleasurable to me in a way that I really don’t think I experienced back in 2013. in fact, my experience of re-watching django reminded me very much of my recent experience watching jordan peele’s “Get Out” back when it was first released.

what I realize now is that seven years ago I was not prepared to invest myself in the passion that tarantino was inviting his audience to experience—the coarse and gleeful pleasure of seeing history actually visit true justice upon a heretofore unpunished villain. why was I unwilling to experience that pleasure in my younger years? for lack of a better idea, i’ll say that perhaps I was too Christian back then. I was too steeped in a certain idea of the world in which power and privilege did not need to be questioned, in which fate and destiny took shape within a solid if not inflexible structure derived from predestination, divine providence, and human inadequacy. seven years later, I’m out of that cage, and I’ve seen and experienced enough to care about the terrible inequalities that plague people of color in this country. thus, when I watch django now, I don’t see meaningless violence or shallow storytelling. I see art, freed from the bounds of conventional narratives, exemplifying itself in an open protest of accepted history and its dehumanizing lens into the human condition.

I was particularly challenged by the characterization of King Schultz, a distinctive character so outside the usual bounds of the conversation surrounding slavery in America. there are many different ways to understand Schultz and his role in django’s story, but I find it useful to think of Dr. Schultz as an extension of us—the audience who by virtue of our displacement across time can only enter this narrative as a foreigner with utterly incongruous sensibilities. Schultz, who makes absolutely no sense at all to his contemporaries in the movie, makes absolute sense to us, the modern viewers. even with his extraordinary idiosyncrasies, he is as we would hope to imagine ourselves, were we to suddenly be cast upon history without constraint or context. it is a jarring thing, and perhaps an important thing, to recognize that Schultz occupies this unique position—as our intermediary and guide—because he is remarkably capable of seeing the idiocies and injustices of his time as an utter outsider. he is perhaps what George Bernard shaw might have referred to as the consummate “unreasonable man”.

each generation calls for its own unreasonable citizens, and this time that we are living in is no different. history will judge us for the ways in which we separate ourselves from the milieu and demonstrate uniqueness (if not clarity) of perspective on what is just. it makes me wonder what future tarantino movie could be made of a king schultz who is suddenly thrust upon our society in these particular times. would our beloved dentist still make a career change to pursue bounty hunting? or would he find another equally ludicrous way to upend the powerful and undermine the privileged? I think Dr. Schultz would have no shortage of cruel, powerful, and abusive entities to resist in these times. these reflections challenge me, I must admit, to consider that with the time I have left, I too ought to consider a career change and a life of playful (and perhaps redemptive) misadventure

05.06.20

downside risks and long-term projections

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:52 pm by Administrator

unlike the pandemic’s impacts on the “real” economy, COVID’s impacts on global stock markets have been difficult to predict and equally hard to understand in retrospect. I’ve been tuning in when I can and trying to understand what is happening from as many perspectives as possible. what’s impressed me is that behind the preponderance of facts and interpretations been presented, there’s little consensus on basic paradigm. each analyst has his or her own favorite bellwether metric; each has her own school of thought driving her presuppositions and projections. it’s as voodoo as virtually anything you can think of, except that its practitioners ardently contend that they’re data-driven and evidence-based.

there are few facts I can identify and even fewer useful conclusions I’m prepared to draw. but this is what I’ve learned thus far as I’ve watched the markets respond to the incredible calamity of COVID-19:

1. of all the factors impacting the markets, Fed policy is the dominant factor. I’ve been impressed by the degree of correlation between Fed policy and market movement. given that jerome powell seems utterly committed to supporting market valuations, the floor is decidedly higher and firmer than i predicted a month ago. powell may not be able to promise a cure to COVID, but he’s no less potent of an economic force than a vaccine.

2. the floor may be solid, but the fiscal stimulus also means that the ceiling on growth is fairly real as well. anti-MMT purists are worried about the emergence of a zombie economy propped up by the feds, but even if the situation does not devolve to that level, the level of debt that is financing this transitional economy is going to weigh it down considerably over the long term. the years of predictable 8-10% returns on the S&P 500 do seem to be mostly behind us, at least for the foreseeable future.

3. inflation over the longer term appears not only inevitable but also necessary. what we’re clearly experiencing in the short term is a massive deflationary shock, as consumer demand has essentially been synchronously curtailed across the globe. that demand will eventually recover, thanks in part to the level of stimulus and liquidity being “helicoptered” into the economy to stabilize the job market. but supply is really unlikely to rocket back to prior levels, given the disruptions to global trade and supply chains that are sure to persist for the next several years. spiking inflation, which we haven’t seen in decades, may help borrowers like the federal government pay down debts, but it’s going to hurt consumers, savers, and pensioners—the people whose day to day spending fuels the nation’s GDP growth. debt, on top of inflation, will curb growth in the U.S. and developed markets for years to come.

4. currency, previously an afterthought for most people, will become an important concern for average citizens, as inflation threatens the dollar as a stable “store of wealth”. this may be a more speculative concern than the previous three, but the decade ahead may be witness to the rise of cryptocurrrencies and precious metals, as the dollar critically weakens due to the factors described above. the traditional 60/40 equities/bonds split for long-term investors may be tested and even disrupted, as alternative investments in commodities and crypto outpace US equities and increasingly penetrate institutional portfolios in a high-volatility environment.

05.02.20

grading the eagles’ 2020 draft

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:30 am by Administrator

I’ve already written enough about pick 53 and jalen hurts. i thought it was a tremendous pick for the eagles and the kind of out-of-the-box decision that the franchise needed in order to break out and reverse its recent decline.

the draft as a whole was a strong one and better than our 2019 draft. roseman certainly applied his three “guiding principles”—speed, health, and love for the game—to this draft , and I respect him and his team for being systematic about their player selection strategy. that being said, I’m not sure I really like the criteria, which remind me a lot of al davis in his dubious later years and chip kelly during his catastrophic stint with the eagles. I’ve always believed that an overemphasis on the measurables is a dangerous thing, especially when the speed and strength metrics do not align with the game tape. a guy can run, be healthy, and love the game and still be a rather atrocious football player. I think of nelson agholor for example, chip kelly’s 1st round draft pick who certainly didn’t lack for speed. like belichick perhaps, I’m much more interested in intelligence, instincts, and versatility, which for me can’t be coached and without which uber-athleticism is largely wasted.

of the receivers available at pick 21, I personally favored michael pittman, and I would have ranked laviska shenault, tee higgins, and jalen reagor right behind him, with justin jefferson, denzel mims, and chase claypool bringing up the rear of that 2nd tier. I think the eagles should have traded down from pick 21 if their intention was to take a receiver with their top pick, but that’s neither here nor there. jalen reagor was certainly an acceptable choice if they were determined to draft speed over production and versatility, so I was happy enough with that pick to consider it par for the course. I am probably one of the few in philadelphia that was happy to see us pass on justin jefferson. I don’t mean to knock the guy—but he’s not going to be a star in this league. reagor at least will grow into his long-term role as our primary downfield threat.

jalen hurts was an exceptional pick and I’ve said enough about him. he’s going to be our starting QB in 2021, if I have any say in it. he’s a tremendous football player and an awesome human being, and I’m rooting for the guy all the way.

davion taylor was a bad pick. it was a pick that was certainly consistent with roseman’s guiding principles for this draft, so I can’t knock it as a total aberration. but davion absolutely essentializes what I believe to be the deadly limitations of an overemphasis on athleticism. the guy can’t read a play. isn’t that the core responsibility of a linebacker? some scouts say that he simply hasn’t played enough football—but if you can’t show that vision and those instincts after 2-3 years of college play, then you haven’t shown me that you can manage the inside linebacker responsibilities at the NFL level. it’s that simple. I’d be shocked if taylor isn’t a bust.

any player taken in round 4 or after is a roll of the dice, so with that being said, I’m sort of glad that howie maximized his arsenal of darts in the late rounds. everyone loves the k’von wallace pick. I kinda like it too. enough said; he fills a need. I felt good about taking the auburn tackles in rounds 4 and 6. prince tega wanogho is a legit tackle, certainly better than a project, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually beat out dillard for the left tackle position at some point next season. I personally didn’t like trading one of our 4th rounders to dallas, as I would have vastly preferred just taking tyler biedasz for ourselves. but of course tyler biedasz can’t run, so he doesn’t fit what the eagles are trying to do. (question: would jason kelce back in 2011 have fit roseman’s current paradigm?)

regarding the late-round wide receivers, it was hilarious to me to see the eagles get so one-dimensional in their approach to filling out their receiver room with the likes of hightower and watkins. personally, I think that we would have been better off taking two quality receivers in the first 3 rounds; I wouldn’t have complained about mims in the 2nd or gandy golden at the end of the 3rd. I honestly don’t know how we’re going to differentiate hightower and watkins and determine their fit on this squad, because there are only so many 40 yard sprinters you can put on the line of scrimmage on any given play. but once again, howie was sticking to his system here, just like al davis did with darrius heyward bey and all the other speedster busts that he drafted for the raiders. 5th and 6th rounders are worse than coin flips, so it’s not like we should have any real expectations here.

for reagor, hurts, wallace, driscoll, and wanogho, roseman gets a solid A- from me. that’s a good group of guys, and all of them will contribute. taylor, hightower, watkins, and toohill are all random shots in the dark as far as I’m concerned, so if any of those guys end up being impact players then that only elevates the grade for this class.

I liked the ravens draft, and the cardinals did a good job as well, but other than that most everyone else was meh for me. john schneider is an undercover genius, so that means that jordyn brooks is the linebacker extraordinaire that somehow all the rest of us thoroughly slept on. I know that dallas fans think that they made out quite well in this draft, but the way I see it none of the guys they drafted will make any difference. jourdan lewis is a lot better than trevon diggs; I don’t see diggs really finding his opportunity for at least a couple years. ceedee lamb is a heck of a player, but thanks to dak prescott, I don’t think he’ll achieve anything remotely close to his full potential in dallas. dallas was really the team that needed to take jalen hurts in round two. the fact that they passed on him when their starter is dak prescott is absolutely mind-blowing to me and will probably plague dallas fans for years to come!

Go eagles!