Henry Miller: A Different Kind of Silence Breaker

An essay on Henry Miller triggered by Charlie Rose’s sex scandal and the #Metoo Campaign

The same day we learned that US news icon Charlie Rose had been fired by CBSNews and PBS on substantiated allegations that he too of all people may have sexually harassed female co-workers our literary pursuit had us stumble upon the following text:

[I]did the work of five men at a time. In three years I hardly slept. I did not have a single shirt in good condition (…)

The best of the new approach was the introduction of female telegram messengers. It transformed the entire atmosphere on the premises. Especially for Hymie [my assistant who assigns the new hires to the various offices] this was a gift from heaven. (…) Despite the increase in work, he had a permanent erection. … At the end of the day, I always had a list of five or six [female applicants] that were worth trying. The trick was to keep them in uncertainty, promise them a job, and get laid in the process. In general, it was enough to invite them to eat, to take them back to the office at night and go after them on the zinc-covered table in the dressing room. If, as sometimes happened, they had a cozy flat, we would take them home and finish the party in bed.

(see footnote *)

This is an excerpt from Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, a semi-autobiographical novel which was originally published in 1939 and banned in the US until 1961. In the age of the Matt Lauer et al. sex scandal, it isn’t easy to take note of a passage like this without considering it twice. After all, we are talking about an unabashed description of a sexual harassment here. And subject description is even included in a piece of art which undoubtedly forms part of the US canon of literature. So what is going on here? Is this another example of men dominating what is considered to be legitimate art, i.e. another example of male insensitivity towards the needs and rights of women? Or does art get a free pass here because it is considered to be a mind-game only?

Before we get too excited though about Miller’s daring prose we need to put it into perspective. Tropic of Capricorn is above all a novel about the existential challenges a writer has to face in order to discover his artistic calling and then run with. Miller explains that his effort to survive as an employee in the American economy pushed him to such a point of despair that he had to consider suicide before finding the guts to bank on the artistic capacity he had earlier diagnosed in himself (On the connection between considering suicide and becoming a writer see also our own “Businessplan Existenzphilosoph” on this). So, the novel is first and foremost about Miller’s own self- resurrection from near-annihilation. On a second tier it is also about the inhumanity of human existence in general and in New York in particular. According to Miller the capitalist reality in New York likes to pretend that everything’s running fine and smoothly when it actually “stinks from within”(**). Hence the excruciating devastation he experiences when trying to make a living there in a run-of-the-mill fashion. Only in a third tier, finally, Tropic of Capricorn is also about explicit descriptions of sexual encounters. Clearly, these different layers of the book are interconnected with each other and they influence one another.  But it wouldn’t be right to say that Tropic of Capricorn is mainly about sex or loose talk about it. It is a contemplation of life, – at times poetic, at times direct -, that naturally includes the portrayal of sexual encounters which clearly are an essential part of human existence.  And this is precisely one of the aspects which explain Miller’s inclusion into the canon of literature.  We have to bear in mind that all talk about sex was effectively taboo in the Victorian and pre-Wilsonian ages.   The topic was considered to be dirty and salacious. And taking issue with this uptight and potentially dangerous silence on one of the most powerful aspects of human nature is a big part of the social liberation fight that is being waged after World War I and in the 20s of the last century. Henry Miller is part of that liberation movement and breaks new ground here. Others will later follow in his footsteps and will face considerably less obstacles in discussing intimate aspects of their life and how they impacted their evolution. Continue reading

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Who can succeed Chancellor Merkel in Germany?

Observations on the failure of the four-party-coalition talks in Germany

La création du premier être, premier représentant d’une nouvelle espèce intelligente créée par l’homme  “à son image et sa ressemblance”, eut lieu le 27 mars 2029, vingt ans pour jour après la disparition de Michel Djerzinski. Toujours en hommage à Djerzinski, et bien qu’il n’y ait aucun Francais dans l’équipe, la synthèse eut lieu dans le laboratoire de l’Institut de biologie moléculaire de Palaiseau. La retransmission télévisée de l’évènement eut naturellement un impact énorme – un impact qui dépassait même de très loin celui qu’avait eu, une nuit de juillet 1969, près de soixante ans plus tôt , la retransmission en direct des premiers pas de l’homme sur la Lune.. En prélude au reportaje Hubczejak prononça un discours très bref où, avec la franchise brutale qui lui était habituelle, il déclara que l’humanité  devait s’honorer d’être “la première espèce animale de l’univers connu à organiser elle-même les conditions de son propre remplacement”.

Aujourd’hui, près de cinquante ans plus tard, la réalité a largement confirmé la teneur prophétique des propos d’Hubczejak – à un point, même, que celui-ci n’aurait probabalment pas soupçonné. Il subsiste quelques humains de l’ancienne race, en particulier dans les régions restées longtemps soumises à l’influence des doctrines religieuses traditionelles. Leur taux de reproductions, cependant, diminue d’année en année, et leur extinction semble à présent inéluctable. Contrairement à toutes les prévisions pessimists, cette extinction se fait dans la calme, malgr’e quelques actes de violences isolés, don’t le nombre va constamment décroissant. On est même surpris de voir avec quelle douceur, quelle resignation, et peut-être quell secret soulagement les humains ont consenti à leur propre disparition.

Michel Houellebecq: Les Particules élémentaires, Flammarion 1998, pages 315f

 

In the early hours of Monday, Nov. 20, Germany’s Liberal Democratic Party (FDP) officially tanked all efforts by Chancellor Merkel to form a four-party-coalition government in Germany. This unprecedented move by the FDP may well signal the beginning of the end of Ms. Merkel’s otherwise formidable rule over political affairs in Germany and in Europe. It is hence time to introduce to our international audience the candidate within Ms. Merkel’s center-right CDU who is most suited to eventually succeed her both as president of the party and as Chancellor of Germany. The person that comes to mind here first and foremost is Germany’s current Minister of Defense, Ursula von der Leyen. What kind of person is she? And does she have what it takes to live up to the awesome legacy that Ms. Merkel is leaving behind?

If Prof. Stephen Hawking and French author Michel Houellebecq are correct in predicting that the future of mankind will largely depend on its ability to substitute itself by a scientifically created human race, then Ursula von der Leyen clearly represents the next step in man’s evolution towards a flawless cyborg. Her hairdo never moves an inch. Her composure rarely comes undone.  And her body has withstood the test of time and motherhood without apparent sign of wear and tear. Not just has she given birth and raised 7 children, she also found time to gain a PHD in Medicine and a Master degree in Public Health. She spent time in Stanford, California, studied at the London School of Economics and speaks English and French with stunning ease and fluency. In short, she is a perfect combination between Evelyn Waugh’s Lady Marchmain (Brideshead Revisited), TV Azteca’s Patty Chapoi (Ventaneando) and The Good Wife’s Diane Lockhart (Christine Baransky); or to put it in more colloquial terms, she, Ursula von der Leyen, is a captivating blend of what is most noticeable in Ann Coulter, Nancy Reagan, Bree Van de Kamp and Claire Underwood.

If she herself is, however, an improbable product of perfection, we have to admit that this article on her is just as much an engineered hybrid. Continue reading

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Starbucks is no place for Wittgenstein’s Nephew

An essay on the importance of coffee shops in the digital era

In his 1982 novel “Wittgenstein’s Nephew” the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard spends a lot of ink on the difficulties that cerebral guys of the literary kind (“Geistesmenschen”, in German, something like “thinkers” in English) have to locate the right place to read in public.  Obviously his plot is set in Vienna which can boast of a large variety of coffee shops (“Kaffeehaeuser”) which to this day breathe the peace and qualm of a bygone era. And yet even in the Vienna of the 1980s Bernhard’s hero has the hardest time to find a place that matches his needs in order to pursue his studies. While one place is too dark for extensive reading, others are too crowded by the hipsters of the time and in yet another one the waiters are too narcissistic and obnoxious for reasonable people to actually be able to forget about their presence.  In the end Bernhard resigns himself to the fact that of this many coffee houses in Vienna there is in essence only one place and one only where the mix of light, noise, space and comfortableness is just right for brainy guys to muse on their observations about life. In his case it’s the Coffee House of the Sacher Hotel that he finally settles for.

Now, if Bernhard was wrestling with this issue back in the 80s imagine the difficulties philosophical analysts of the digital age have to find their spot in the turbulent chaos of our times.  First there is the challenge to uncover a piece of literature that can still add relevant insights to the vast sample of interpretations that our modern day poet is already familiar with. And if against all odds, he or she does in deed tumble on a worthwhile source of inspiration then chances are that an adequate place of rest for a sustained analysis of subject offering is pretty much nowhere in sight.

 

The difficulty large rests on the fact that the Starbucks outlets and all its various off-springs aren’t a viable alternative here. First, the few empty chairs usually available in these joints are generally not upholstered. So it is hard to sit on them for a protracted period of time. Then there is this ridiculous problem of the air-conditioning at least in the megalopolis that we find ourselves in. It is usually so cold in these places that you need to bring along a hat, a sweater and better even a scarf only to cover yourself against the insistent jet of air coming from above. But even if it weren’t the air-conditioning that would lower temperatures below the point of comfort, the stellar presence of the uber-cool tech generation already does enough to freeze you up inside.  So while your eyes keep watering and your back is hurting, the unabashed ease of being of the Babettes and Leas from iPhoneland can’t help but remind you what a marginalized loser of yesteryear you really are. How are you supposed to concentrate in circumstances like these which have your self-consciousness run amuck? Continue reading

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To all those who have fallen through the cracks

 

How Noah denkt overcame its futility trap !

« Cela dit survivre [comme poète] est extrêmement difficile. On pourra penser à  adopter une stratégie à la Pessoa : trouver un petit emploi ne rien publier, attendre paisiblement la mort. En pratique on ira au-devant de difficultés importantes : sensation de perdre son temps, de ne pas être à sa place, de ne pas être estimé à sa vraie valeur … tout cela deviendra vite insoutenable. L’alcool sera difficile à éviter. En fin de compte l’amertume et l’aigreur seront au bout du chemin, vite suivies par l’apathie, et la stérilité créatrice complète. Cette solution a donc des inconvénients, mais c’est en générale la seule. Ne pas oublier les psychiatres, qui disposent de la faculté de donner des arrêts de travail. Par contre, le séjour prolongé en hôpital psychiatrique est à proscrire : trop destructeur. On ne l’utilisera qu’en dernier ressort, comme alternative à la clochardisation. »

Michel Houellebecq : Restant Vivant méthode, Chapitre 3 : Survivre, Éditions Flammarion 1997, rééditer dans Michel Houellebecq, Poésie, J’ai lu, 2000, pages 21, 22

 

Noah denkt  has been quite open about the Buddhist and Schopenhauer inspired creativity hole that it had recently dug itself into. It now feels though as if we are slowly growing out of it again. Why is that?

 

Well, it is dawning on us that what we are doing in this project really needs to be done. Someone out there does indeed have to demonstrate that wisdom can still impose itself and break through without having to hawk itself, to market itself or otherwise make some noise about itself. Because this is what our hysteric and overcrowded digital marketplace truly demands. After all, there are too many talented people out there that have lost faith in the self-imposing quality of wisdom. And hence it is this lack of hope that drives too many of them into all sorts of destructive and addictive behavior, be it of the narcotic or the extremist kind.

 

If we are therefore serious about minimizing the level of violence and despair that our hyper-competitive world creates evidence is required that convincingly demonstrates that sensible philosophic and poetic proposals can still break through even if they are proffered by otherwise inconspicuous and unlikely creators.

 

Standard wisdom, obviously, has it that serious, market-relevant proposals of the non-technical kind can only come from sources that have major academic credentials to back them up. Poetic souls, however, who strive for existential wisdom can rarely boast of said stellar academic recognition. After all, it is in the very nature of existential wisdom that the limits of institutional conformity, professional career building and standard approaches need to be challenged and explored in order to come to itself. In other words, many of these uniquely talented poetic souls are simply too shy, too caught up with themselves or too much in a cloud of their own to perform with ease and confidence in the standard structures that society has provided them with to find their livelihood. A large majority of wisdom seekers consequently finds itself sooner or later in a dead-end professional street where there is seemingly no viable exit left to live a full creative life and be successful with it. This is why many of them end up in violent despair.

 

Of course, one can only always argue that a talented mind who cannot find a creative way to overcome his predicament is not worth his salt. After all, it is the inevitable confrontation with existential barrenness and nothingness and the original resolution of that which produces meaningful truth. Subject argument however downplays the sheer unsurmountable weight which a highly pervasive science-based culture places on the shoulders of an existential philosophic project. Never before has the science-based risk calculation been more pervasive than a in the age of the Human Genome Project and the Hadron Super Collider. Decision makers, opinion leaders and even spiritual authorities everywhere are therefore hard pressed to find reasonable philosophical arguments that could sustain a sanity threatening contradiction of the consensus view in the pertaining expert community. In other words, it has effectively become a near-suicidal undertaking to reach the depth of reasoning that can sensibly voucher for an existential and poetic risk taking of “the hope against all hope” kind (Romans 4:16). In any case all encouragement along the way is highly welcome. And this is especially true if the latter should come from a fellow and congenial mind.

Continue reading

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Heavy handed police tactics against regular people

A two-for-one comment on the Catalan referendum and the German migration problem

Yesterday, on the night of the Catalan independence referendum, Noah denkt™ felt a strong urge to add its voice to the ample commentary about Spain’s inapt response to that regional vote. A day later on Oct. 2, however, this German-based project faces itself with the question of how can it reasonably mingle into domestic issues in other countries when it hasn’t addressed the disastrous rise of the far-right (AfD) in its home territory (see the German national elections of Sept. 24)

THE RISE OF GERMANY’S FAR-RIGHT

Now, obviously, we could hide behind our EU-citizenship here and argue that Spanish domestic matters are EU-matters too. But that would still dodge the AfD-issue which clearly warrants a forthright response as well. The reason why we haven’t given our two-sense on this yet has to do with the fact that we still haven’t found a viable solution to the massive refugee crisis that Germany and Europe are being confronted with. There is no doubt in our mind that the rise of the AfD in Germany is a consequence of the large and disorderly intake of asylum seekers in the summer of 2015. Obviously, this intake has put a strain on social coherence in Germany. Not only is it difficult to see how such a serious number of people originating not just from other countries but from other continents can be successfully integrated into German society; but it’s equally unclear whether the asylum seeking process was the right conduit in the first place to address the Facebook migration reality. Hence, we are left in this matter with the underlying question of what the concept of humanity and humanitarianism actually requests of post-modern civilized societies. The Pope obviously argues that religious and humanitarian convictions dictate that all emergency migrants should be welcomed with open arms in Europe irrespective of the integration challenges that such an open access policy entails. Legal scholars (and AfD supporters) on the hand maintain that the asylum law refers to political persecution by state agencies only and that not any ole’ emergency can constitute a legal basis for granting asylum. In this conundrum Michel de Montaigne (1533 to 1592) may remind us that the adepts of Greek stoicism regarded the inclination for compassion and pity as reprehensible; instead they were willing to help the afflicted when being made aware of them but always insisting on not being emotionally affected by the victim’s plight. (Michel de Montaigne: The Essays, Chapter one, see: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3600/3600-h/3600-h.htm#link2H_4_0019)

Noah denkt™ is inclined to take its cues from Stoicismin this matter. We share the belief that meaningful help can only be granted if it’s done without a bleeding heart since the latter would only abuse of the victim’s pain in order to thereby remedy the rescuer’s personal trauma experiences in the past.

What all that means in practice though for dealing with people who attempt to cross the Mediterranean on ramshackle boats without having suffered systematic persecution by state authorities in their home country is a different matter. Should they be rescued and taken back right away to the African shores? Does due process really require an honest personalized evaluation of each individual’s request for political asylum complete with a right to appeal to the courts if the first step evaluation does not produce the migrant’s preferred result? Or is it thirdly fair to hope that a new immigration law would slow the flow of destitute people to Europe and thereby avoid humanitarian disasters on the Mediterranean Sea?

Of course, governments have already trimmed down the due process requirements for repatriation of rejected asylum seekers. And new immigration law concepts are already being discussed in most European countries including Germany. Nevertheless, the underlying humanitarian question which the spectacle of desperate migrants raises continues to be philosophically and ethically unanswered. In this moral  quagmire, Noah denkt™ has so far rejected to take a position arguing that if the Pope cannot get it right how can this outfit possibly aspire to achieve just that. But we also have to recognize that our failure to take sides in this debate is jeopardizing the continuation of this project. This is why we have now decided to join the ranks of those who call for the introduction of a new immigration law, a more rigorous repatriation of rejected asylum seekers and a trimming down of the due process requirements for the evaluation of asylum seeking petitions. We don’t like that but the rise of the far-right in Germany (of all countries!) requires some policy adjustments. If they will ultimately resolve the bigger issues is another matter though. But let’s take this step by step and leave the remainder of this article to the Catalan issue instead. After all, there is a humanitarian element in this debate as well.

THE CATALAN INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM

It seems to us that if you didn’t really understand up until now why Catalans are so adamant about gaining more respect/autonomy and/or independence from the Spanish state, the images of Spain’s Guardia Civil using rubber bullets against otherwise regular Catalan voters may have provided some answers here. The spectacle which the Spanish Federal Police offered to an international audience on Oct. 1, 2017 was a disgrace not just for Spain but for the entire European Union. It may well have been that the Catalan government was hoping to produce this kind of images when insisting on following through with its uneasy referendum in the first place. The fact however that the Rajoy government has fallen into this trap speaks to the latter’s lack of sensitivity, adroitness and flexibility in this matter. And it is quite likely that it is the very same heavy-handedness which we have seen yesterday from Madrid which has over the centuries and in recent past reignited Catalonia’s desire for independence in the first place. It is, therefore, a huge disappointment for everybody who loves Catalonia and Spain alike to see that Madrid once again made the same mistake and insisted on orthodox legalism when subtlety and nimbleness would have been required.

From a Northern European perspective it is hard to see now how Mr. Rajoy whose pro-austerity policies we have otherwise staunchly defended over the years can stay in power without calling for snap general elections. Clearly, the sad images of riot police tearing Catalan women by their hair cannot be processed in a business as usual manner. Serious soul searching is now called for and it seems to us that the European Union has a role to play here.

When decrying robust police tactics in this case, Noah denkt™ is well aware that our project was way more generous with rough police tactics when commenting on the use of tear gas by German police against protesters of the Stuttgart-21 construction project. So some readers may be tempted to argue that our stances are contradictory here. But they aren’t. The Stuttgart-21 dispute was about the construction of an ambitious new train station. There wasn’t a historically charged background to this. No cultural minority felt marginalized here. And no rights of national recognition were being trampled upon. So the intent to defend the law was in deed quite unambiguous then. This unambiguity however is not as manifest in the case of Catalonia. The Rajoy government is not just defending the law here, it is also defending the reach of its own power. The legality argument is therefore not only about preserving the spirit of law but also a convenient vehicle for Madrid to safeguard its own interest. That is why less fervor in the application of the legality argument would be very much warranted.

Likewise the Catalans should understand that their political class is still not experienced and mature enough to lead Catalonia into a prosperous independence. Whenever Noah denkt™ has had the opportunity to listen to Catalan leaders speaking to an international audience in their own native language the eventual voice over by a challenged interpreter made the entire presentation seem like a third-world experience. And it is the provinciality of Catalan leaders which is ultimately to blame for that. A mutually satisfying middle ground along the erstwhile Zapatero plan should therefore be found by both parties to smooth the tensions between Madrid and Barcelona. And please, just do it for the benefit of all of us.

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The difficulty of being Captain Courageous in front of a narcissistic boss

Observation of Mr. Comey`s private meeting predicament with POTUS 45

Sen. Marco Rubio: As you perceived it, while it was a request [to drop the Flynn investigation] that he [POTUS 45] hoped you would do away with it, you perceived it as an order?

James B. Comey Jr: Yes

Sen. Marco Rubio: At that time did you say anything to the President about that, that’s not an appropriate request or tell the White House Counsel that this is not an appropriate request, somebody needs to tell the President that he can’t do these things?

James B Comey Jr.: No

Sen. Marco Rubio Why?

James B. Comey Jr.: I don’t know. I think the – as I said earlier, I think the circumstances were such, I was a bit stunned and didn’t have the presence of mind and I don’t know, I don’t want to make you sound like I’m Captain Courageous, I don’t know if I had the presence of mind, I would have said, Sir, that’s wrong.  In the moment, it didn’t come to my mind, what came to my mind is be careful what you say and so I said, I agree Flynn is a good guy.

Excerpt from the Rubio- Comey exchange during the June 8 hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee. (see. C-Span)

Most of you probably are familiar with the Scorsese movie “Goodfellas” of 1990. If so, you will surely remember that scene when – in the split of a second – the mood of a group of mobsters goes from hilarious to dead serious after one of the rank and file crooks laughs a tad bit too long over a joke that his highly irate, violent and unpredictable boss Tommy de Vito (played by Joe Pesci) has cracked a second ago. Unaware of the danger he might be incurring for himself the rank and file guy supplements his amusement by telling his boss that he is “so funny” whereupon Joe Pesci becomes even more tense.  “What do you mean, “I’m funny”, he says, “ … What the fuck you`re saying? Do I amuse you, – like a clown?” … The silence is deafening now. Everybody realizes that this could go really ugly;  -until, after another tense pause -, Pesci lets it slip that he was only joking…  “I almost had him,” he says, banging the table and breaking into a high-pitch laughter….

Now clearly, nobody is inferring here that Mr. Trump is a Tommy de Vito or a Joe Pesci character for that matter. Far from it. But there can be no doubt that he, Mr. Trump, has the hardest time to deal with criticism (see footnote *) and that he likes to employ bullying and intimidation tactics in order to achieve his goals (see footnote **).. So there is without a doubt an authoritarian element to his character.

Former FBI-Director Comey must have undoubtedly felt in his various meetings with POTUS 45 that this man in front of him doesn’t take a candid rejection of his wishes in a stride. That is why he opted for an appeasing response to the President’s inappropriate request (see fottnote ***) to drop the Michael Flynn investigation rather than to courageously call the Commander-in-Chief to order.

Here is the funny thing about speaking truth to power. It is so much easier to do that when you have a balanced and intellectually trained mind to speak to. And it is so much more difficult to do that when you are dealing with an opposite number who is not used to questioning himself, who does not understand the importance of a non-emotional analyzes, who has never heard of Max Weber before. Continue reading

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The Fourth Estate in the US works magnificently

Comment on the US media resistance to the Trump Presidency

Yet again, we have gone silent for quite a while now. And as before, there is a compelling reason for that.  We are entirely consumed by the epic battle which the civil society of the US is waging to liberate itself from the scourge of a dangerously narcissistic and hence incompetent President. This resistance spans from the courts to Republican Senators to regular people on the street. But the most heroic performance of all is probably being offered at this time by a highly capable US media. No matter whether it’s the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC or CNN, to name just a few, they are all doing a fabulous job. (Even Fox News has its occasional moments of editorial independence especially when Charles Krauthammer is on.) So US media coverage of the Trump presidency is truly encouraging and demonstrates now more than ever why a quality fourth estate is so indispensable to a functioning democracy.

One can only hope that the media’s fight to restore reason into the White House will not be thwarted by an unforeseen event such as a terrorist attack that will force the US public to unite behind their President in a show of then much needed patriotism.  Obviously it cannot at all be discarded that such a tragedy will occur. So, it is clearly the right thing to do not to let up and keep up the heat on this mistaken 45th Presidency. Continue reading

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In other (dramatic) news …

Reflections on the candidacies of François Fillon, Benoît Hamon (and his Universal Basic Income pitch) and Martin Schulz

It is hard to keep up with everything that is happening in international politics at this time. And yet there are important developments unfolding as we speak that under normal circumstances would require elaborate attention.  We don’t have enough time though to provide you with individual write-ups for each of them. So we may be forgiven if we address all of them in one general overview.

Let’s start with the predicament that the center right candidate for the French presidential election François Fillon finds himself in these days. The various revelations that have surfaced in Le Canard Enchainé and in Le Journal du Dimanche about his questionable management of public funds have hit his campaign hard. He has already made it clear that he would retire from the Presidential race if a criminal investigation were to be opened against him. If that were to happen it would frankly be a disaster since the center-right would likely be left without a fully endorsed candidate in the upcoming election. (The runner-up to M. Fillon in the Republican primary, Alain Juppé has already made it clear that he would not enter the race again, in case M. Fillon were to stand down.) Consequently Republican voters who want to avoid a Le Pen victory would have no other choice but to support Emmanuel Macron, the maverick candidate from the center-left who refused to participate in the Socialist Primary. After all, he would then be the only moderate candidate left with a credible chance of beating the ultra-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the second round of the Presidential election. In any case, the upcoming French Presidential election will turn into a nail-biting experience precisely because of the likely presence of Marine le Pen in that second round voting.  In the context of Brexit and Trump a Le Pen victory would effectively spell the end of the EU project with devastating consequences for the world in general. We trust nevertheless that reason will prevail and that it won’t come to that, with or without M. Fillon.

Meanwhile Benoît Hamon has won the Socialist Primary in France. This is noteworthy not so much because he left behind ex-Prime Minister Manuel Valls and industrial policy champion Arnaud Montebourg but mostly because he won because of his endorsement of the Universal Basic Income (UBI) concept. Noah denkt™ itself has recently come around to understanding the relevance of the UBI idea. Obviously, M. Hamon’s version of the UBI is a little too generous for our taste. But we nevertheless believe that the UBI might be a viable way forward to counteract some of the worst distortions that the digital revolution has created. More discussion on this is certainly warranted. Unfortunately, the general public is reacting mostly negatively to the Mr. Hamon’s UBI pitch. In large part that is because it has not yet understood the reality of the new digital labor market and stays beholden to yesteryear’s notion of industrial 8 to 5 jobs instead. These traditional office and industry-based jobs, however, are disappearing rapidly. The new employments that are being created at this time are neither 8 to 5 jobs nor do they come in the well-structured and non-volatile shape that traditional work tended to come in up until now. It may take more time to educate yesteryear workforce members about the need to update their views on employment. But we are confident that even pensioners will eventually come around to understand that changes in social policy are inevitable. Continue reading

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Is the US losing its face?

Dialogue with the Alter Ego on the US’s pivot to protectionism and “America first”

Question by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE): In its various comments on the upcoming Trump presidency, Noah denkt™ has repeatedly expressed its hope that the closest advisors of the 45th  President of the United States (POTUS 45) will be able to steer him away from making the most outrageous mistakes and push him to do the right thing instead. Does Noah denkt™ still nourish this hope?

Answer by Noah denkt™ (Nd): Not as much as we used to. In the course of the inauguration it has somewhat dawned on us that Messrs. Mattis, Kelly and Flynn probably don’t  understand the corrosive effect that protectionist trade policies can have on the strength of traditional military alliances.  It now seems to us as if they are compartimentalizing their new job as being strictly about military matters only. So they will probably be able to steer POTUS 45 in the right direction as far as NATO, Russia and Syria is concerned but they won’t stop him from causing an endless number of trade wars with erstwhile friends and foes alike. That is very troubling and very disappointing in deed.

AE: What is it exactly that gave you that negative intuition with respect to Sec. Mattis and others?

Nd:  Well, we suddenly realized that security and foreign relations experts especially of the conservative brand are traditionally strong in analyzing geopolitical power politics (Russia etc…) but that they have little if no interest for the implications of trade agreements and disagreements.  They tend to view this as an issue of secondary importance. So they fail to understand that the Trump pivot to protectionism is not just a disagreement on the price of chicken but a serious threat to the stability of our world order and thereby to the US itself.  Clearly, we should have realized this earlier. But it was so obvious to us that POTUS 45’s  rejection of a core US policy stand must lead to a huge international upheaval that we were unable to comprehend that the extent of this pivot is probably hard to grasp from the inside.

AE: Can you expand on this? What is so hard to understand from the inside in this?

Nd: If you are US patriot as Sec. Mattis certainly is, the plight of laid-off factory workers in Ohio is clearly closer to you than the consternation that Chinese leaders may feel over the US betraying its own earlier convictions.  It is simply harder for you to understand the Chinese point of view.

AE: What is that Chinese point of view?

AE: Well, think about how many US Presidents have gone visiting China lecturing it on the virtue of open societies, free trade and the values of the international community. Think about how long it has taken China to warm up to the idea of international trade to begin with, let alone to that of becoming a member of the World Trade Organization.  Now, that it has finally started to do that the US changes its own stance on free trade and the value of supranational, collective security arrangements. And it, the US that is, does so just because it has gotten a little more costly and inconvenient to stay true to its earlier missionary beliefs. Must that pivot by the US not be perceived by the Chinese as an American loss of face? How can the Chinese continue to view the US as a credible negotiating partner that stays true to her word if the current experience is that the US ditches its own high held convictions at the first inconvenience? And what does all this mean for the creditworthiness of the US? Don’t forget that China is the US’s biggest lender. Presumably, the Trump administration will want to expand on that when it goes to the markets in order to generate massive loans for a huge infrastructural spending that POTUS 45 has announced during his campaign.  How can China trust that it will in deed get its money back eventually if the US is now betraying its own word in a matter that supposedly was so fundamental to it? Continue reading

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Will the US under President Trump change the essence of its being?

Comment on the post-election gloom that had befallen us, first drafted on Dec. 6, 2016

Dear Reader,

You may have wondered why we have gone quiet on this site for such a long time. You did not hear from us when François Fillon won the Republican primary.  We did not comment on the all-time highs the Dow Jones reached not long ago.  And certainly you have not heart from us since Donald Trump won the US presidency on Nov. 8. In fact, it was the outcome of that particular election that had us go into a soul searching mode. Although we had flip-flopped on his candidacy during the campaign, first endorsing him then disavowing him, we cannot deny that the sheer misguidedness of his views on free trade as well as the xenophobic undertone of some of his rhetoric had us wonder whether we may have ever so slightly been an accomplice in creating a monster which you really, really do not want to see in the top job. Obviously, it is still very unclear where the Trump Presidency will actually be heading for. His pronouncements in the campaign were so light on substance that a moderate Trump is still just as much possible as is the out of control one.  In any case, one can only hope that the advisors who have his ears will be clever and adroitly enough to steer him into a reasonable direction.

On the free trade issue, however, it will not be dependent on his advisors whether Mr. Trump will be able to avoid making the worst protectionist mistakes. In our humble opinion, it will be the historical legacy of the US which will stop him from undermining let alone dismantling the WTO system and spirit. After all, it was the United States of America itself which fathered the World Trade Organisation rightly arguing that free trade will be instrumental to bring nations closer together, increase their understanding of each other and thereby contribute to the spread of universal values such as rule of law and world peace. Woodrow Wilson was the first to suggest a supranational approach to international relations. His League of Nations concept was the beginning of what later, after yet another devastating world war, became the United Nations, the Worldbank, the IMF and yes the WTO. Mr. Trump may be a great dealmaker but he certainly does not have the intellectual depth and analysis to understand the tectonic implications that come with undoing a cornerstone of US policy which has defined probably forever what the United States actually stands for. In other words, the unilateral and arbitrary undermining of WTO rules which the United States had earlier subjected itself to not just by law but also in spirit will not come to pass.  The consequences of this would be too preposterous that any such thing would indeed be allowed to happen by the wise men establishment in the US. In that respect, there is reason to hope that the financial markets will do to an out of control Mr. Trump what they are supposed to, i.e. force him into doing the right thing just as much as they earlier forced Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Hollande to give up their adolescent pipe-dreams of redistribution for budgetary responsibility.

Be that as it may, this still does not explain why we are back in action now. Well, the answer to that simply is that you have to do what you have to even if the latter seems quite futile meanwhile.

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