Leon Wieseltier writes that a group of ultra-orthodox settlers who had just taken over a Palestinian house in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah sang a version of “ayn kamocha” as a hymn to Baruch Goldstein, the Jew who massacred 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. It seems to me that in addition to being disgusting, singing “ayn kamocha” (“there is none like unto Thee”) as an ode to Baruch Goldstein rather than God is blasphemous.
Andrew Sullivan writes that we shouldn’t dismiss libertarians as cranks just because they back the gold standard: “The insanity we take for granted every day – the Afghanistan war, for example – is a lot crazier than the gold standard.” Like Andrew Sullivan, I think the US should extricate itself from Afghanistan, but this is, to put it mildly, not a good illustration of the point he’s trying to make. Supporting the introduction of the gold standard in today’s global fiat-money economy is simply much crazier than supporting the continuation of a counterinsurgency and nation-building war against the Taliban that the US originally got into for very honorable reasons and with apparently good chances of success. Supporting the abrupt and unprovoked invasion of Iraq in 2003, I would grant, might have been compared in its craziness to supporting the introduction of a gold standard in a world economy that has long outgrown such metaphysical superstitions.
There are other reasons why, as Conor Friedersdorf says, we shouldn’t dismiss libertarians as cranks and nut jobs. But one of those reasons is that a lot of libertarians are much too smart to believe in snake-oil stuff like the gold standard.
Proposed: The discussion of Elena Kagan’s undergraduate thesis on the history of socialism in New York City from 1900-33 is dog-whistle politics for the progressive left.
Filed under: Philosophy
American Elf shows you the power of pragmatism.
Big Toe, the greatest breakdancing outfit in Vietnam, won the Southeast Asian regional hip-hop dancing championships in Malaysia on May 15 and will compete in the world championships in South Korea this summer. Here they are making a bunch of Dutch guys look clumsy and slow. But this doesn’t really capture what’s great about Big Toe, which is their social commentary. They do routines that are essentially hip-hop-based enactments of vernacular street culture scenes: in one they become motorbikes and riders jostling in traffic while a frantically popping and locking policeman tries to control them; in another they become spikey-haired gangsta teens trying to pick up a girl in a coffee shop, while avoiding (or perhaps welcoming?) the attentions of a gay waiter. It’s incredibly sharp stuff that might get axed by a Vietnamese government censor, but fortunately with dance there are no words and nothing for a censor to axe. Very, very sharp.
Anyway, here you can appreciate their raw skills if not their auteurship. Also, I have a personal stake here: my daughter had the honor of taking two lessons in hip-hop dancing from Big Toe’s founder and leader, the amazing 36-year-old Viet Thanh, a few years ago before he got too busy with the troupe to teach.
Apparently two kinds of people are fond of writing in all caps: ranting fringe commenters on political blogs, and French hotel managers.
My colleague Erica Grieder at The Economist has a nice post up relating Joachim Kalka’s essay on coins in the New Left Review to the possibility that increasing use of debit cards will lead to a more cash-free economy. Strangely, it seems to me that electronic innovations have actually led to more cross-country differences in modes of payment over the past 40 years, rather than less. In the Netherlands, for instance, credit cards are rare; tighter regulation meant they never had the explosion in credit card offerings that hit the US in the ’80s. On the other hand, they were using debit cards much earlier and more ubiquitously than the US.
Meanwhile here in Vietnam, the economy is exceptionally cash-based, considerably more so than in, say, Africa. Here, in fact, they have no checks. Never have. Hence, they’ve never sent bills through the mail: there’s no way to pay them. They send actual human bill collectors around to collect your phone bill, water bill, electric bill, etc. in cash at your door. This is only now beginning to change, with options for electronic bill payment at ATMs or via mobile phone. But while it’s an exceptionally cash-based economy, it’s not coin-based. In fact, for decades, there were no coins at all. It was all paper money. There are still a bunch of antique Chinese coins floating around, with square holes in the middle; they’re used for jewelry and decor. A few years ago, though, the government decided to start issuing coins, because they last longer and are in the long run cheaper to circulate. The result is this:
This is a roll of Vietnamese 5000-dong coins (about $0.25). Here’s the thing: nobody will accept them. I mean, official shops will, and probably chain supermarkets and so forth. But taxi drivers won’t, people in the market won’t, and basically most individual owner-proprietor businesses won’t. Why not? Because they’re afraid they won’t be able to spend them, because nobody will accept them. It’s a completely irrational collective-action problem. The things are issued by the Vietnamese government; they’re clearly unfakeable at any reasonable cost, who would want to fake a $0.25 coin anyway, and if they did, who would care? You could just let it circulate, it wouldn’t do any harm. But for some reason your average Vietnamese person will simply not accept their own government’s coinage as legal tender. They only trust the banknotes. Craziest thing.