MOMUS

29 JAN 02: MOMUS

“It seems clear to me that this song ‘came’
to me complete and finished. I didn’t need to work on it. I didn’t compose
it, it just arrived ‘from another realm’. Musicians often say this. In
an interview in today’s Japan Times entitled ‘Melody of the Inexpressible’,
Kazu of Blonde Redhead says: ‘It’s not so much in your control. You never
feel like it’s your creation. You happened to walk by and pick it up.’…”

[CONTINUED]

"post-autistic economics"

27 JAN 02: “post-autistic
economics”

from the New Statesman: Monday 21st January
2002

The storming of the accountants

David Boyle

It began as a small revolt at the Sorbonne
in Paris, but may yet develop into a


worldwide movement against the tyranny
of numbers. David Boyle reports


 

“It may work fine in practice,” goes a
joke that the French make at their own


expense. “The trouble is, it just doesn’t
work in theory.” So it is strange that


Paris has become the birthplace of a revolt
against the pre-eminence of theory


over practice, of economic abstraction
over reality, and statistics over real


life. Called “post-autistic economics”
- “autistic” is intended to imply an

obsessive preoccupation with numbers -
the revolt began with a website petition


in June 2000 from students at the Sorbonne
(see [http://www.paecon.net]). They


were protesting against the dogmatic teaching
of neoclassical economics and the


“uncontrolled use” of mathematics as “an
end in itself”.


    Within weeks, the call
was taken up by students across France. Le Monde launched


a public debate, and Jack Lang, the education
minister, appointed the respected


economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi to head an
inquiry. Fitoussi reported last


September, backing many of the rebels’
points and recommending sweeping changes

in the way economics is taught in French
universities. The movement has had a


worldwide impact, with Cambridge students
drawing up their own petition -


although most were too scared for their
future careers to put their names to it.


    Could this episode
prove the beginning of the end for the whole cult of


measurement, statistics, targets and indicators
that has become such a feature


of modern life, not just in the Blair
government, but around the world?


    The phrase “post-autistic”
has a touch of Gallic cruelty about it, but there is


a sense in which we have been cut off
from reality by the plethora of targets

and indicators. It’s like the 18th-century
mathematical prodigy Jedediah Buxton,


who, asked if he had enjoyed a performance
of Richard III, could say only that


the actors had spoken 12,445 words.

    Over the past decade
or so – boosted by added enthusiasm from new Labour – we


have been plunged into what Professor
Michael Power of the London School of


Economics calls “the audit culture . .
. a gigantic experiment in public


management”. We can see the results everywhere.
The government introduced about


8,000 targets or numerical indicators
of success during its first term of

office. We have NHS targets, school league
tables, environmental indicators -


150 of them at last count – and measurements
covering almost every area of


professional life or government, all in
the name of openness, accountability and


democracy.

    Nor is this just happening
in the public services. The Japanese multinational


Matsushita has developed a “smart” toilet
that measures your weight, fat ratio,


temperature, protein and glucose every
time you give it something to work on.


Then it sends these figures automatically
to your doctor.

    Accountancy firms cream
off 10 per cent of British graduates to do all this


counting. Whole armies of number-crunchers
are out there, adding to the budgets


of public transport, the NHS and social
services.


    We have been here before
- especially in periods of great social hope such as


the 1830s, when the followers of Jeremy
Bentham rushed across the country in


stagecoaches, armed with great bundles
of tabular data and measuring everything


they thought important: the number of
cesspits (which they saw as an indicator


of ill health), or pubs (an indicator
of immorality), or the number of hymns

that children could recite from memory.

    Then as now, the problem
is that what really needs measuring is not countable.


“So-called efficiency,” says Richard Scase,
professor of organisational


behaviour at the University of Kent at
Canterbury, “takes the place of


effectiveness, quantity of quality. The
means become an end in themselves.” As


anyone in local government will tell you,
these numerical indicators are about


management at a distance, and they will
always miss the point: school league


tables make teachers concentrate on borderline
pupils at the expense of their

weaker classmates; waiting-list targets
persuade NHS managers to treat those


with the quick, simple problems at the
expense of everyone else.


    It is a dream from
the world of management consultancy, encapsulated in the


McKinsey slogan that “everything can be
measured and what gets measured gets


managed”. It is no accident that Nick
Lovegrove, a partner at McKinsey & Co, is


advising Gordon Brown on productivity
and Tessa Jowell on IT strategy. Another


McKinsey recruit has been appointed to
advise No 10 on transport policy.

    The problem is that
people are now expected to do what the targets tell them,


rather than what is actually necessary.
Hospitals are ordering more expensive


trolleys and reclassifying them as “mobile
beds”, to sidestep the target that no


patient should stay on a hospital trolley
for more than four hours. I also know


of at least one local authority that achieves
government targets for separating


waste – at great expense – but then simply
mixes it all up again in landfill.


Scotland Yard figures that showed it had
recruited 218 people from ethnic


minorities between April and September
2000 turned out to include Irish, New

Zealanders and Australians. The useful
figure was four.


    The consequences of
pinning down the wrong thing are severe. All your resources


will be focused on achieving something
you did not intend, as the Pentagon


discovered in the Vietnam war, when it
audited the success of military units by


their body counts. Result: terrible loss
of life among the Vietnamese, but no US


victory.

    The Blair government’s
dilemma is that if ministers measure the things over


which they have direct control, they simply
measure the activity of bureaucrats.

If they measure real effects – for instance,
the looming and probably


unreachable targets for school attainment
in English, maths and truancy – they


risk detonating a political time bomb
when they fail to meet them.


    The first signs of
disenchantment are appearing. The Health Secretary, Alan


Milburn, apologised to anyone who had
suffered because of the government’s


waiting-list targets, and promised to
give priority to patients with the most


serious conditions. The school league
tables have been scrapped in Northern


Ireland after three-quarters of the responses
to a consultation urged that they

go.

    Meanwhile, in the United
States – where the National Commission on Testing and


Public Policy estimates that compulsory
school tests take up 20 million school


days and cost anything up to $900m – pupils
in Massachusetts and Denver refused


to take their tests. Louisiana parents
went to court to prevent them taking


place at all.

    Even conventional accountancy
has problems. “I believe there is a crisis of


confidence in our profession,” Joseph
Berardino, the chief executive of Arthur

Andersen, told the US Congress last month,
after the unexpected bankruptcy of


one of Andersen’s clients, Enron, whose
accounts it had signed and to which it


had also been giving consultancy advice.

    It is well known that
staff in the UK public services are impatient with the


measuring culture because it ignores their
professional knowledge and judgement


- those aspects of their job that can’t
be reduced to figures. But there is also


a suggestion that it was borrowing this
measurement culture – of very narrow


bottom lines, financial and otherwise
- that is behind the failure of so many

privatised businesses to show the imagination
and verve that had been expected


of them.

    Charles Saumarez Smith,
the director of the National Portrait Gallery, argues


that measuring fever actually causes inefficiency
- by “aping the form rather


than the content” of the private sector,
and “assuming that measurement is what


is important, and not intelligence and
achievement”. He characterises the modern


public sector as embodying “a belief that
the system is more important than the


individual, that accountability is more
important than intelligence or

creativity, with the result that the public
sector is likely to continue to limp


along impotently and inefficiently as
long as it holds a low sense of its own


political valuation and public esteem”.

    Accountability is important,
and the auditing culture was in part a response to


the crudity of measuring success by the
financial bottom line. But measurement


of this kind may be more about empire.
It is about the idea that everything can


be controlled from the centre, every job
broken down into measurable parts – a


Taylorist fantasy of time and motion -
with every decision taken in full view of

the auditors and the public.

    It is hard to imagine
a revolt spreading beyond French economics students unless


the movement comes up with a coherent
alternative, but also possible to glimpse


what that might look like. It would be
about decentralising power, giving more


hands-on experience to teachers, managers
and civil servants, and creating


smaller, human-scale institutions. It
would mean more face-to-face management,


nurturing responsibility and creativity
- in short, all the things that new


Labour finds hardest.

    A friend of mine with
a hefty government grant, negotiating with civil servants


over his annual targets, tells me he quoted
the old Scottish proverb: “You don’t


make sheep any fatter by weighing them.”
They looked at him with complete


incomprehension. There is clearly a long
way to go.

David Boyle’s The Tyranny of Numbers
is published in paperback this month by


Flamingo (£8.99)

na

26 JAN 02

from http://www.jewishgates.org/history/jewhis/coffee.stm

The Influence of Coffee on Kabbalistic
All-Night and Midnight Vigils

One of the innovations of Lurianic Kabbalah
was the creation of a variety of


rituals which took place late at night.
Joseph Karo is credited with the


creation of the all-night study session
on the eve of Shavuot, called Tikkun


Leil Shavuot.

    The Ari himself emphasized
the importance of prayer and meditation late at night


(called Tikkun Chatzot or Tikkun Rachel)
and early in the morning (called Tikkun

Leah). These times connected the individual
with the daily creations of light


and darkness. It also was an ideal time
(according to the Zohar) to mourn the


banishment of the Shechinah from Jerusalem.
It also connected the individual


with King David, who was said to have
created the Psalms at midnight. The


powerful image that the gates of Heaven
are most available for prayer late at


night was thus concretized in Tzfat in
the late 16th century. Ironically, it


didn’t catch on in Jerusalem at the same
time even though Jerusalem mystics were


certainly aware of the Zohar’s emphasis
on midnight and all-night vigils.


Jerusalem’s mystics focused on pre-dawn
rituals instead.

    Elliott Horowitz provides
us with a fascinating thesis about the creation and


development of late-night and all-night
rituals as opposed to early morning


rituals in 17th-18th century Jewish mystical
circles. He notes that coffee


arrived in Tzfat in 1528, and the first
coffee house appeared in Tzfat in 1580.


None came to Jerusalem. The use of coffee
as a stimulant might have encouraged


the mystics of Tzfat to focus more on
all-night and late-night rituals because


they couldn’t sleep anyway. Karo’s Tikkun
Leil Shavuot appeared two or three


years after the introduction of coffee
to Tzfat. Horowitz quotes the following

description of Tzfat in 1587: (Abraham
haLevi Beruchim) would rise at midnight


and walk through all the streets, raising
his voice and shouting bitterly,


“Arise in honor of the Lord…for the
Shechinah is in exile and our Temple has


been burnt.”

    And he would call each
scholar by his name, not departing until he saw that he


had left his bed. Within an hour the city
was full of the sounds of study:


Mishnah and Zohar and midrashim of the
rabbis and Psalms and Prophets, as well


as hymns, dirges, and supplicatory prayers.”

    By 1673, Tikkun Chatzot
had become the known ritual for the vast majority of


Palestinian Jewry, and Italian Jewry knew
that most Palestinian Jews drank


coffee before prayers. Coffee had not
yet arrived in Italy.


    In the late 1570′s,
Italian mystics created their own pre-dawn rituals. They


called themselves Shomrim LaBoker, the
Guardians of the Morning. These rituals


were apparently initiated by kabbalists
who were familiar with the midnight and


all-night devotions of the Jews of Tzfat.
They acknowledged that midnight was


the best time for prayer “when God amused
Himself with the righteous in the

Garden of Eden,” but they were not willing
to maintain the midnight tradition.


Instead, they slept through the night
and woke before dawn for their early


prayers. At least seven editions of predawn
liturgies were published indicating


their popularity.

    Coffee arrived in Venice
in 1615. The first coffee house (making coffee


available to the masses) opened in 1640.
In 1655, a liturgy for Tikkun Chatzot


was published in Italy and a Chatzot group
was formed. In that same year (for


the first time), Italian Jews accepted
Joseph Karo’s ritual of Tikkun Leil

Shavuot. However, coffee was not as popular
in Venice as it was in Tzfat. By


1683, there was still only one coffee
house in Venice, and there were few Jews


drinking the exotic drink.

    By 1759, coffee-drinking
had soared in Italy. There were more than 200 coffee


houses in Venice, including two in the
ghetto. Jews in Mantua were making a


fortune in the coffee industry. A scandal
resulted in a ruling that “women could


not enter coffee houses whether by day
or night.”


    The popularity of Tikkun
Chatzot also rose impressively. By 1755, most pre-dawn

prayer groups in Verona had become midnight
and all-night prayer groups. The


same thing happened in Mantua. The same
thing happened in Modena and Venice.


    Coffee arrived in Worms
Germany in 1728. By 1763 mystic circles were regularly


celebrating midnight and all-night vigils
for the first time.


    In short, although
the Zohar and kabbalistic works had always emphasized the


special significance of midnight, ongoing
prayers and all-night vigils did not


become an important part of Kabbalistic
life until the introduction of coffee


into each Kabbalistic community. Today,
midnight and all-night prayers remain an

important part of Kabbalistic ritual,
and many Jews continue to stay up all


night on Shavuot and meet for supplication
prayers at midnight on Selichot. Our


level of caffeine stimulation makes our
participation in such all-night rituals


much easier.

na

25 JAN 02

Filmmaker James
Fotopoulos
:

“I become very obsessive over things and
my imagination has tendency to go into


overdrive, so I’m always trying to take
all of this chaos and control it with


tools of cinema. Like putting all this
confusion in a tunnel and contain it into


something positive. Because what you don’t
want to happen is allow your


imagination to fall into depravity or
laziness, becasue that is easy to do. So


your job becomes willing your spirit and
imagination into this communication


with other people through film. People
allowing their imagination to dwell in


pornography, sexual activity and drugs
are all trying to do the same thing I am


with film: evolve to make sense of life
and understand our relationship to God.

But their way is a dead end. Because it
is easy and feels good immediately and


like anything, the obsession is intense,
but it cuts them off from other people,


from communication with the collective,
because the moral structure of the world


hasn’t changed and isn’t going to anytime
soon, as long as we remain human


beings, so they remain on the outside.”