That famous first paragraph of “The Haunting of Hill House”

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

–Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

… Stephen King in Danse Macabre, his nonfiction look at horror fiction and film (and a pretty good book at that), “think[s] there are few if any descriptive passages in the English language that are any finer than this; it is the sort of quiet epiphany every writer hopes for ….”

It begins by suggesting Hill House is a living organism; tells us that this live organism does not exist under conditions of absolute reality; that because (although here I should add that I may be making an induction Miss Jackson did not intend) it does not dream, it is not sane. The paragraph tells us how long its history has been, immediately establishing that historical context that is so important to the haunted-house story, and it concludes by telling us that something walks in the rooms and halls of Hill House. All in two sentences.

Made the mistake of picking this book up the other night. Nothing is creepier than the haunted-house story, because nothing else makes you fundamentally mistrust your own house, late into the night.

New Mexico aspires to be like Jim Crow Mississippi

Voter ID is of course about preventing fraud in the voting process. Right?

The New Mexico Motor Vehicles Division (MVD) has reportedly stopped issuing driver’s licenses or photo identification cards used for voting to so-called “illiterates” who only speak the Navajo language.

In a memo obtained by ProgressNowNM, Bureau Chief Aurora Lopez outlines the policy for MVD employees.

“Agents are not allowed to read the questions on driver’s applications to a customer,” Lopez writes. “They would [need] a letter stating that they have a condition that falls under the [Americans with Disabilities Act] for us to read the questions.”

Applicants should be able to read the questions on their own since it raises question[s] as to how they obtained their driver’s license.”

Lopez adds: “We are not able to issue license [sic] for illiterates.”

Sounds like something that’s been tried before.

Wussy on immigration South

You hear something stupid and you realize it’s coming from your mouth.
So you think that you can solve it all by packing up and moving farther South.
But the Devil’s down there too,
And he’s coming after you.
You’ll be belly-aching that it’s always hot–
Like it or not.

–Wussy, “Like It or Not”

Evil the mind that is held by no head

Happy Halloween! Let’s mark it with a quote from the Necronomicon

The nethermost caverns are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.

–Lovecraft, “The Festival

Participating or not participating in cases at the Miss. Supreme Court

Back in March 2014, the MSSC held that a wrongfully convicted person isn’t entitled to statutory compensation intended for his “incarceration” insofar as he was under house arrest. The vote was 5-3, Justice King not participating.

Today, the opinion flips on rehearing, with Presiding Justice Dickinson changing sides (which would have gotten to 4-4, still an affirmance, hence the appellant still would have lost), and with Justice King voting to reverse and render, thus providing the essential fifth vote.

Leaving aside the merits, this pretty much undoes my hazy notion that a justice who doesn’t participate in deciding an appeal doesn’t turn around and do so later. Possibly the Court’s own rules address this, but as long as those continue to be a secret, those of us on the outside of the castle just have to guess. (Please note we impute no wrongdoing to Justice King; we just don’t understand how this works.)

Anyone with any insight, please provide it in comments!

Piketty & Graeber on capital, debt, and saving the world

This is an interesting dialogue. From my purely secondhand knowledge, I’m more impressed with Piketty than with Graeber. The problem of saving capitalism from itself is one that the West probably won’t address until it’s either too late or almost too late, but nice to see people thinking ahead.

One of the points that I most appreciate in David Graeber’s book is the link he shows between slavery and public debt. The most extreme form of debt, he says, is slavery: slaves belong forever to somebody else, and so, potentially, do their children. In principle, one of the great advances of civilization has been the abolition of slavery.
As Graeber explains, the intergenerational transmission of debt that slavery embodied has found a modern form in the growing public debt, which allows for the transfer of one generation’s indebtedness to the next. It is possible to picture an extreme instance of this, with an infinite quantity of public debt amounting to not just one, but ten or twenty years of GNP, and in effect creating what is, for all intents and purposes, a slave society, in which all production and all wealth creation is dedicated to the repayment of debt. In that way, the great majority would be slaves to a minority, implying a reversion to the beginnings of our history.
In actuality, we are not yet at that point. There is still plenty of capital to counteract debt. But this way of looking at things helps us understand our strange situation, in which debtors are held culpable and we are continually assailed by the claim that each of us “owns” between thirty and forty thousand euros of the nation’s public debt. * * *

Eliminating debt implies treating the last creditor, the ultimate holder of debt, as the responsible party. But the system of financial transactions as it actually operates allows the most important players to dispose of letters of credit well before debt is forgiven. The ultimate creditor, thanks to the system of intermediaries, may not be especially rich. Thus canceling debt does not necessarily mean that the richest will lose money in the process.

Hence Piketty prefers progressive taxation to debt forgiveness, which as he notes is suspect, not least because it’s what the capitalists themselves embrace. But how to enforce taxation?

Is it possible to fight tax evasion? Yes, if you want to, you can. When modern governments really want their decisions to be respected, they succeed in getting them respected.

When Western governments want to send a million soldiers to Kuwait to prevent Kuwaiti oil from being seized by Iraq, they do it. Let’s be serious: If they are not afraid of an Iraq, they have no reason to fear the Bahamas or New Jersey. Levying progressive taxes on wealth and capital poses no technical problems. It is a matter of political will.

Christa Wolf on what protects us from reality

Dear A., I cannot prove my assertion–or can prove it only in isolated cases, which prove nothing in favor of the kind of summary declaration I am about to put forward so coolly–but: Aesthetics, to the extent that it is a system of categorization and control, and especially where it advocates certain views about the subject matter of the various genres, namely “reality” (I notice this word appearing between quotation marks more and more in my writing, but I can’t help it)–aesthetics, I say, like philosophy and science, is invented not so much to enable us to get closer to reality as for the purpose of warding it off, of protecting us against it.

–Christa Wolf, Cassandra, “Conditions of a Narrative”

… I remember back in grad school, I had this photocopied & taped above my desk. Which means I’ve cherished it for 20 years, longer than I’ve known all but one or two people.