Sunday, November 13, 2011

Libel - what is it good for?

Has anyone really had their reputation cleansed by bringing a libel (or slander or defamation) case?

It went well for Oscar Wilde and for Tommy Sheridan. And nobody now laughs at Max Spanker Mosely.

A self-published writer is suing Vaughan Jones, and Richard Dawkins, and Amazon, over some book reviews. I know this should be nothing to see, move along. But the complaint is being taken seriously. O for a serious legal system.

Index on Censorship write:
John Kampfner, the Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, said: “That a family man from Nuneaton can face a potentially ruinous libel action for a book review on Amazon shows how archaic and expensive our libel law is.”

Kampfner added that the Libel Reform Campaign, which is underway with English Pen and Sense about Science, is hoping to commit to a bill in the next Queen’s speech to reform the chilling effect libel has on freedom of speech.

Debt - the first 5000 years

Over the summer I picked up David Graeber's book Debt - The First 5000 years.

I have just got around to starting it. Even though I'm not far in, I can recommend it without reservation. It's definitely the hot book of the moment.

There's a good review of David Graeber's Debt at Social Text by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi.

There's a good interview with David Graeber by Philip Pilkington at Naked Capitalism:
David Graeber: Yes there’s a standard story we’re all taught, a ‘once upon a time’ — it’s a fairy tale.

It really deserves no other introduction: according to this theory all transactions were by barter. “Tell you what, I’ll give you twenty chickens for that cow.” Or three arrow-heads for that beaver pelt or what-have-you. This created inconveniences, because maybe your neighbor doesn’t need chickens right now, so you have to invent money.

The story goes back at least to Adam Smith and in its own way it’s the founding myth of economics. Now, I’m an anthropologist and we anthropologists have long known this is a myth simply because if there were places where everyday transactions took the form of: “I’ll give you twenty chickens for that cow,” we’d have found one or two by now. After all people have been looking since 1776, when the Wealth of Nations first came out. But if you think about it for just a second, it’s hardly surprising that we haven’t found anything.

Think about what they’re saying here – basically: that a bunch of Neolithic farmers in a village somewhere, or Native Americans or whatever, will be engaging in transactions only through the spot trade. So, if your neighbor doesn’t have what you want right now, no big deal. Obviously what would really happen, and this is what anthropologists observe when neighbors do engage in something like exchange with each other, if you want your neighbor’s cow, you’d say, “wow, nice cow” and he’d say “you like it? Take it!” – and now you owe him one. Quite often people don’t even engage in exchange at all – if they were real Iroquois or other Native Americans, for example, all such things would probably be allocated by women’s councils.

So the real question is not how does barter generate some sort of medium of exchange, that then becomes money, but rather, how does that broad sense of ‘I owe you one’ turn into a precise system of measurement – that is: money as a unit of account?

By the time the curtain goes up on the historical record in ancient Mesopotamia, around 3200 BC, it’s already happened. There’s an elaborate system of money of account and complex credit systems. (Money as medium of exchange or as a standardized circulating units of gold, silver, bronze or whatever, only comes much later.)

So really, rather than the standard story – first there’s barter, then money, then finally credit comes out of that – if anything its precisely the other way around. Credit and debt comes first, then coinage emerges thousands of years later and then, when you do find “I’ll give you twenty chickens for that cow” type of barter systems, it’s usually when there used to be cash markets, but for some reason – as in Russia, for example, in 1998 – the currency collapses or disappears.
There's a video interview with David Graeber:
  1. part one
  2. part two

The New York Times describes David Graber as: "A scholar whose books and articles are used in college classrooms around the world and an anarchist and a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World".

Sunday, November 06, 2011

6th and Mission

Over the summer we spent several days staying around Market Street in San Francisco. I have just found this brilliant and thoughtful piece about gentrification, and the difference between 5th and 6th streets

6th is a lacuna for fruit and veg and 5th is the place for bakeries and coffee and food for all who can afford it. As the piece says "A block away. A unverse away."

People may live in the same city but what is it they share, apart from a post code? When a place changes what happens to the people? And pople are the most important part of any city.

Credit to the brilliant artist, Wendy Macnaughton.

Absurdly expensive shopping

Just finished reading Voices by Arnaldur Indridason. A good Icelandic detective story featuring the misanthropic Erlandur.

A line just needs sharing. A suspect in a sub-plot is wearing "a T-shirt with a designer label on one of the breast pockets, which he wore like a medal rewarding him for absurdly expensive shopping."  [p167, Voices, Arnaldur Indridason].