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Tuesday, Apr 4, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

The Sharp Ease
“Advantage” [MP3]
“Life Preservers” [MP3]
“Tie Me Over” [MP3]

The April Skies
“Rise and Rise Again” [MP3]
“Three Minute Singles” [MP3]

“Whispers From Wallface” [MP3]

“Looter’s Follies” [MP3]
“Painter in Your Pocket” [MP3]

Lady Sovereign
“XXXChange Remix” [MP3]

Tapes ‘n Tapes
“Insistor” [MP3]

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Monday, Apr 3, 2006

The happiest day of the year has arrived, and if you don’t believe me, then you obviously don’t have a fantasy baseball team. For the next few months I’ll be reveling in the joy of numbers and player news, with every piece of data being operable rather than inert—every new fact, every new at bat or injury, leads to a series of reevaluations, a host of potential decisions, a cascade of consequences that one can nonetheless feel one has mastered. In all, fantasy baseball is like a simplified stock market, and I can play a being a daytrader, with all the intensity and obsession that implies, without having to venture my retirement savings to do it. I can have the high blood pressure without the profit. If I put half as much energy into research companies as I did into researching shortstops, I could probably make a mint.

The analytical tools used for investing and fantasy-baseball play are rapidly converging, especially with data available on the big administrative sites like CBS.Sportsline and ESPN and Yahoo on what is happening across fantasy leagues in the aggregate—you get the rough equivelent of a stock’s beta, as well as a speculatively determined sense of a player’s value, and which players saw heavy volume. You can see in how many leagues a player is being used, at what position he was drated on average, and several different objective measures of his value on a daily, weekly, or season long basis. (And of course you get analyst’s reports daily when there is news for a particular player—just as Yahoo gives you company news for your portfolio, it provides player news for your fantasy squad, along with how should affect whether you buy, hold, or sell. The very notion of fantasy baseball is a kind of derivatives market, in which values are derived from another source and slightly distorted, magnified, laden with different incentives. My investment strategy? Get some steady value guys—proven established players whose production won’t surprise or disappoint—and then take on some risk with players with growth potential, such as pitchers in their third full year or players coming off injury-plagued seasons. You need a few blue chippers, but often enough, the small caps outproduce that big-salary guys.

This kind of thinking is probably what’s behind those who complain that fantasy sports “destroy” the fun of being a sports fan, or constitutes some phony kind of fandom, turning baseball into pseudo-business. In truth, it reflects perfectly the values of American culture: it stresses the individual over the team, and holds individuals accountable for things the larger team often controls (a pitcher’s wins, a hitter’s RBIs); it enshrines financial calculation and analysis as a primary mode of pleasure (tracking the value of your holdings is a value unto itself; possession itself is the most pleasurable form of spectatorship) and the most rational way of assessing who’s winning (success must be measured in numbers). It reiterates the sense that there should be no emotional investment in something without a quantifiable stake, and no leisure that doesn’t in some way mimic work.

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Friday, Mar 31, 2006

More about immigration, which is really ultimately about how the labor market is where the “first world” and “third world” collide. Economist Max Sawicky points out that existing welfare state programs, funded by the influx of new workers themselves, can help reduce the impact of this collision, edge it toward resembling something more like a merger, and that immigrants make a society on the whole more progressive. Inother words, illiegal immigration is preferable to outsourcing because our institutions blunt the exploitation of labor and serve to distribute more of the fruits back to the worker in the form of social benefits (a safe country to live in with lots of leisure-time fun, etc.).

This is why Zizek finds it necessary to lampoon the Bono/Davos set LRB in this LRB piece, where he condemns entrepreneur/philanthropists (“liberal communists”—business world equivelants of third-way politicians like the Clintons) such as Bill Gates and George Soros for creating the third world misery that they then try to alleiviate. “Etienne Balibar, in La Crainte des masses (1997), distinguishes the two opposite but complementary modes of excessive violence in today’s capitalism: the objective (structural) violence that is inherent in the social conditions of global capitalism (the automatic creation of excluded and dispensable individuals, from the homeless to the unemployed), and the subjective violence of newly emerging ethnic and/or religious (in short: racist) fundamentalisms. They may fight subjective violence, but liberal communists are the agents of the structural violence that creates the conditions for explosions of subjective violence. The same Soros who gives millions to fund education has ruined the lives of thousands thanks to his financial speculations and in doing so created the conditions for the rise of the intolerance he denounces.”

Or as James Galbraith puts it in this review of Jeffrey Sachs’s book The End of Poverty: “Can it be that charity has a price, which is playing the game by the global rules? And can it be that these rules—which force poor countries to open markets, cut social and health budgets, privatize power and water, and starve their public investment—in general create more poverty than charity can cure?”

Zizek has this advice for the next time you are tempted to admire Bono or Soros for their selflessness: “We should have no illusions: liberal communists are the enemy of every true progressive struggle today. All other enemies religious fundamentalists, terrorists, corrupt and inefficient state bureaucracies А depend on contingent local circumstances. Precisely because they want to resolve all these secondary malfunctions of the global system, liberal communists are the direct embodiment of what is wrong with the system. It may be necessary to enter into tactical alliances with liberal communists in order to fight racism, sexism and religious obscurantism, but it’s important to remember exactly what they are up to.”

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Friday, Mar 31, 2006

A recent article in the Guardian notes that the ever-complex and expensive process of getting work and travel permits are stopping musicians from arriving on American shores.  But it gets worse than than…

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Friday, Mar 31, 2006

At the economics blog Asymmetrical Information.
Jane Galt has a few interesting posts that cut through the nationalistic nonsense regarding immigration, a current hot topic in American politics. Her points about the legitimate concerns here seem apt: Will immigrants bring with them an over religious or nepotistic habitus that might ultimately undermine the liberal and semi-meritocratic values by which America defines itself? (that is, before the native fundamentalist theocrats do it themselves). Will the import of poverty way out of scale with our homegrown version of it be too shocking for Americans to tolerate? (Are we willing to accept shanty towns and lean-tos and rings of blight around cities? Even more than what already exists?)

But these questions are usually left undiscussed in all the hysteria and fearmongering. Usually immigration debates are veiled expressions of America’s deep-seated racist tendencies; the right scores points by pitting racial groups against each other and by playing to white America’s fears of becoming a minority. The xenophobia inherent to the discussion finds its ultimate expression as a disdain for whatever suffering happens to be taking place beyond national borders. The misery of non-citizens is simply irrelevent, and we should build the walls as high as we can to allow ourselves to more easily ignore it.

Globalization advocates of course despise this kind of thinking; the free movement of the labor to jobs (and jobs to labor via outsourcing) is one the core principles to maximizing the market’s efficiency. Anti-immigration lawas are distortions of the global free market in labor, inhibiting the invisible hand from dispensing its benevolence all around the world. In practice, business exploits illegal immigrants, whom they can pay low wages and no benefits. Because the immigrants are leaving a much worse situation, this works for them, alleviating their poverty relative to Haiti or Mexico or wherever they have come from. But this arouses the resentment of low-skilled native workers, who can put no pressure on business to raise wages for the kind of work they are capable of. Their poverty, relative to living standards in America, worsens. This discontented group then becomes a bloc of motivated but by-and-large underinformed voters that politicians can seek to exploit with demogoguery. We then are treated to the specacle of seeing the impulse that founded this country—the desire for a better life so strong that one will risk it all and go to a completely alien place—made into a criminal enterprise.

Because what business needs in this case (a pool of cheap labor) makes for bad politics (dark-skinned non-English speakers taking advantage of our social services and keeping wages down), we end up with bad policy, like guest worker programs, a recipe for disaster. Why segregate a group as endentured servants and rub their nose in their inferior second-class status while at the same time expecting them to care for our children and cook our food?

So what will happen after all this hullaballoo? Probably the scenario outlined in the comments to Galt’s post—“get tough” laws will be passed and business lobbies will make sure they go unenforced.

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