Friday, January 20, 2012

Bernard Henri-Levy: "The Criminal Childishness of Those Who Believe in the Triple A "

I've always been slightly bemused by the idea of the Public Intellectual, seeing it as somehow akin to being famous for Being Famous.
In that respect Bernard-Henri Lévy is sort of the Kim Kardashian* of the brains rather than the booty, salon.**
[see:, now with daily updates -ed]

From the HuffPo:
Could we be living in an era of such madness, one that has lost its compass and its points of reference to such an extent that this affair of one of the three major rating agencies' withdrawal of America's and then France's triple "A" has taken on such importance?

Let's go over the facts.
Here is a firm, Standard and Poor's, which fulfills its company's mission, earns its shares on the market, augments and consolidates its profits, and benefits its shareholders by offering -- as it is entitled to -- a specific product called a rating.

Here is a firm that -- and it remains within its rights, but this should at least raise some suspicions -- has never stopped making mistakes, failing to foresee any of the crises that have led the world to the edge of the abyss, from Enron to the subprimes, from Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy to that of the Greek debt.

And here is a firm, still Standard and Poor's, whose criteria of appreciation are marked by subjectivity, as is the case for every human endeavor, one whose methodologies are not only vague, but opaque and, from the little we know of them, stamped with the seal of a singular amateurism. For, if we believe what we read in Le Monde (15-16 January), this withdrawal of France's triple-A rating was the work of a German analyst who, seconded by a Slovene assistant, spent "a few months" gathering "public data", blending them with the results of "some interviews" with "ministers, members of the opposition, and bankers", and then, finally, being "bombarded with questions" during a "visioconference" by a group of "five to fifteen people", none of whom were particularly familiar with the dossier.

Yet, when the verdict falls, when, ending the mounting suspense cleverly orchestrated by its communications service, the agency renders its decree, when it publicly announces the result of the little reflection concocted by these two analysts, goaded on (once again, Le Monde's investigation) by the five to fifteen other individuals who are "more or less experts", it's a thunderbolt, a tsunami of comments and contrition, a national and global earthquake. It's as though Jupiter had roared, as though God had spoken, it's as if truth itself had just fallen from the sky -- and the few voices that attempt to qualify things with, "Yes, it's an interesting point of view, but it's only one point of view and perhaps we would do well to compare these uncertain conclusions with others" are promptly swept away by the tidal wave....MORE 
*This morning's Kardashian news:
Kardashian lawsuit saying The Gap tarnished their reputation will be hard to win, experts say
...The Gap’s lawyer, Louis Petrich, will seek to prove that Kim Kardashian is “libel-proof”: a person whose reputation is already so damaged, nothing can hurt them...
**For me the connotation of Public Intellectual is of the Paris Salons where I think I could have held my own.
Of course the reality is I most probably would have been household staff, maybe a footman.
Screw the French.
The English or Polish salons were more interesting anyway.
Odds are I still would have been a footman.