Saturday, November 27, 2004
70 Hen night
Source: Mother's the word, David Ward, Thursday November 25, 2004, The Guardian
"On Monday [Nov 22], Morgan Stanley economist Stephen Roach suggested that a steadily weaker dollar would be a good thing for the U.S. and the global economy -- barring a rapid crash. On Tuesday, he got company from Larry Horwitz, senior industry economist at Decision Economics." Source: Embracing a Weak Buck TheStreet.com.
Last week, in a private meeting, Stephen Roach was much more negative:
"Stephen Roach, the chief economist at investment banking giant Morgan Stanley, has a public reputation for being bearish. But you should hear what he's saying in private. Roach met select groups of fund managers downtown last week, including a group at Fidelity. His prediction: America has no better than a 10 percent chance of avoiding economic armageddon." Source: Economic 'Armageddon' predicted By Brett Arends/ On State Street. Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Here's the outline of Roach's argument: The size of the U.S. trade deficit means the dollar will keep falling. The Federal Reserve will have to raise interest rates in order to fund the debt. As interest rates rise, American citizens, "who are in debt up to their eyeballs," will become insolvent and there will be a "spectacular wave of bankruptcies." The economy will break.
The argument is supported by lots of facts: Every day, the U.S. brings in $2.6 billion from foreign sources, mostly in Asia, to finance the current account deficit (which, you'll recall, is the difference between all the outgoings and incomings). This is 80% of the world's net savings and can't be sustained. The level of household debt in the U.S. equals 85% of the economy. Most people opt for flexible interest rates for new and refinanced mortgages, leaving themselves vulnerable to rate hikes. Paying interest bills now takes up a record share of disposable income and the proportion will grow quickly as interest rates rise.
The main question is how fast the dollar will fall. If the descent is gradual, the international financial community -- with a lot of arm twisting by the U.S. -- should be able to manage it. Otherwise, things could get nasty.
The article says that the Federal Reserve might save the U.S. by letting inflation increase as interest rates increase. If inflation increases fast enough, people get to repay loans with dollars that are significantly cheaper (worth less) than the dollars they borrowed. This is a dangerous way of diminishing debt, however, because it alienates lenders who are then likely both to take their business elsewhere and to demand much higher interest from the U.S.
Other reports give insight into the difficulties of managing the decline in the dollar's value:
An article in the AustralAsian Investment Review
(Once Upon A Time in 2005 November 24, 2004) says that Europeans have stopped buying U.S. Treasury securities and no longer invest in U.S. businesses. This means it's up to the Asians to save the U.S. economy from collapse. To do this they must allow their economies to grow more rapidly and increase the proportion of their production that is bought by customers who are not Americans. They, particularly China, are unwilling to do this. But because they are so heavily dependent on exports to the U.S., they cannot sit back and watch the U.S. economy collapse. They have very strong motives for cooperating with the Federal Reserve to prevent that collapse. The article concludes: "[T]he key element is China. [I]f the Chinese relax their current US$ peg and allow Asian currencies to appreciate against the greenback, global economic growth would no longer be artificially fed through low US interest rates but through sustainable domestic demand growth outside the US, and that, in essence, would make for a better world."
An article in Asia Times Online (SPEAKING FREELY
Crisis towers over the dollar, by W Joseph Stroupe) adds a Russian variable. It says the central bank of Russia has shifted its holdings of foreign currencies. It held 75% of these reserves in dollars a year and a half ago, but now holds only 50% in dollars and the rest in euros. The change in Russian policy may cause Asian central banks to attempt a similar shift. If they try to do that, the U.S. could find itself having to raise interest rates much more rapidly than the Federal Reserve wants and a rapid rise in interest rates could bring on the problems that Stephen Roach discusses.
Today's New York Times has an interesting update and overview. See Foreign Interest Appears to Flag as Dollar Falls, by Edmund L. Andrews, November 27, 2004.
A recent publication from the U.S. General Accounting Office gives background information and data to support these arguments by the economists. It's mostly about domestic problems, not international finance. It points out the difficulties that lay in our future: aging population, decrease in size of labor force, anticipated Social Security and Medicare shortfalls, large deficits, low savings rates, dependence on foreigners to support the federal debt, It also points out the difficulties of sustaining a high level of economic growth in these conditions and say that declines in economic growth will result in lower living standards: "The fiscal policies in place today — absent substantive entitlement reform and dramatic changes in tax and spending policies — will result in large, escalating, and persistent deficits that are economically unsustainable over the long term. In other words, today’s policies cannot continue forever."
Regarding international finance, the report, GAO-04-485SP, Federal Debt: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, says that the high levels of personal debt of Americans together with the negative effects of current fiscal polices and demographic trends will result in "rising inflation, higher interest rates, and the unwillingness of foreign investors to invest in a weakening American economy." The report points out how much the U.S. is already dependent on foreigners to finance the deficit (in Sept. 2003 foreigners held 37% of U.S. debt) and points to major risks of this dependence, including the possibility to which Stroupe alludes, that the euro "could eliminate the unique advantage held by U.S. securities — a broad, deep market for low-risk securities denominated in an easily convertible currency. As the market for euro-denominated securities broadens and deepens, euro-denominated debt securities could become a closer competitor for U.S. Treasury securities."
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
When Was America Turned Over To The Crackpots, Eh? As viewed from Canada, America's new morality crusade is not only pathetic and wrongheaded but maddening. "Religious right. Moral majority. Family values. Pick a catchphrase and behold the stupefying ascent of the shrill and pathetic, the petty and disconnected, the scolding band of castigators hellbent on telling others what they can watch and hear and even think... Who are these snivelling whiners? These self-righteous, holier-than-thou grumblers who have programmed 'FCC' into their speed dial?" Toronto Star 11/24/04 Posted: 11/24/2004 6:41 am
The author of the piece also says:
Please don't mistake this cranky dispatch for anti-Americanism. I was born in Akron, Ohio and spent many childhood summers in Harrisburg, Penn., surrounded by good people with unwavering commitments to God, the Stars and Stripes, and the military.
America is, in my humble estimation, the greatest country in history. Well, half of it is. The so-called blue states lead the world with innovation, research, development, dominating the economy's competitive sectors while exporting culture and ideas. Those in the red states, not so much.
Also see the Tom Shales piece I already pointed to:
Shales on FCC's Michael Powell
For those who haven't seen it, one of the most passionate and effective shreddings of a public official I have ever witnessed comes from Tom Shales in today's Washington Post. (Source: Cliopatria)
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
November 20, 2004
THE GREAT VOWEL SHIFT.
The Great Vowel Shift:
This dialogue does two things. First, it gives the listener four slices of time and shows how vowels would be pronounced in each of these periods. You can click on a time link and get text, sound, and phonetic transcription for the dialogue as it would have taken place in that time. You may also click on a word within the text and get pronunciations of that word (or a similar one) across time.
• NYTimes.com > Books
Holocaust Victim's Novel Finds a Readership at Last
By ALAN RIDING, Published: November 22, 2004
PARIS, Nov. 19 - At first glance, the novel might be considered just another in the spate of new World War II books recounting stories of love and heroism and offering lessons in brutality and cowardice.
In reality, "Suite Française" by Irène Némirovsky is very different. Written in German-occupied France in 1942 shortly before its Ukrainian-born Jewish author was sent to her death in Auschwitz, it has taken 62 years to be published.
Yet what most distinguishes this two-part novel is not its long journey from scribbled notebook to France's best-sellers' list. It has been acclaimed because it is a finely made work of fiction that portrays occupied France with both severity and sympathy. It is also written with extraordinary detachment by a woman who seemed to know that her own days were numbered. This month it won the Renaudot literary prize.
• Dictionary of Received Ideas
The intent is for it be a central place to deposit links (blog posts, newspaper articles, etc) on history topics (not current politics...), hopefully to make a genuinely useful and interesting resource for historians. (Source: Cliopatria)
• Shales on FCC's Michael Powell
For those who haven't seen it, one of the most passionate and effective shreddings of a public official I have ever witnessed comes from Tom Shales in today's Washington Post. (Source: Cliopatria)
• Kevin Sites Blog (Source: Blogspot)
• The Green Side (Source: Blogspot)
• Hopkin Explained :: mike.whybark.com (Source: Blogspot)
Jesse James Garrett: jjg.net (Source: Blogspot)
• And from Garrett:
November 20, 2004, Economists are trying to figure out if online music trading cuts into CD sales as much as the record industry claims.
Found on Arts & Letters Daily:
The Worst of Times
Seth Mnookin goes inside the paper of record’s 2003 meltdown—and uncovers much inadvertent mirth.
By William Powers
... But between these conventionally fretful parentheses, the book has another purpose entirely, one that, in the current atmosphere of mandatory gloom, feels downright subversive: to tell a richly dramatic, hugely entertaining story, replete with egos run amok, duplicity, hypocrisy, and all the other stigmata of massive institutional failure, in the media and beyond. The author’s deadpan delivery becomes a canny narrative trick. By playing the serious media-crit game on one level, the book gives us permission to laugh on another. If this were just a rollicking send-up of the Times at its modern nadir, it would seem small and mean.
Instead, it’s large and mean—and this is meanness with a purpose. Comedy is the best way to speak serious truths, after all. Mnookin covered the fall of Raines for Newsweek, and he culled his notebooks with a wicked eye. In drafting this account, he was smart enough to zero in on an element of the story that few outside the Times knew much about: the team of five Times reporters and two editors who were charged with investigating Blair’s plagiarism and other offenses and composing the front-page account of his misdeeds.
[F]or all its gory detail, Hard News doesn’t leave you feeling hopeless about Our Corrupt Media. It’s a glimpse of the Times not as the grand abstraction of legend, or the hood ornament of a whole trade, but as a collection of people—people who routinely do a lot of great work and occasionally screw up in the most mortifying ways, and then learn from their mistakes. Kvetching about the media is easy. When you know enough about one of these scandals that you can laugh, and laugh darkly, then you’re making progress.
I recently and most reluctantly closed the last page of Trollope's The way we live now. Maybe now I'll get my hands on the tapes of the BBC prodution that came out a few years back.
In the meantime, here is a site with the wonderful original illustrations --
On the Original Illustrations of Trollope's Fiction
The Way We Live Now
Written 1873 (1 May - 22 December)
Serialized 1874 (February) - 1875 (September), Monthly Shilling Parts
Illustrated Lionel F. Fawkes
Published as a book 1875 (June), Chapman and Hall
One edition of the book:
The way we live now
By: Anthony Trollope
Type: English : Book : Fiction
Publisher: New York : Modern Library, 1984.
Subjects: Capitalists and financiers -- Fiction.
Commercial crimes -- Fiction.
London (England) -- Fiction.
Citation for the video:
The way we live now
By: Anthony Trollope; Nigel Stafford-Clark; David Yates; Andrew Davies; David Suchet; Matthew Macfadyen; Paloma Baeza; Rob Brydon; Cheryl Campbell; Shirley Henderson; Douglas Hodge; Cillian Murphy; Miranda Otto; British Broadcasting Corporation.; Inc BBC Worldwide Americas; Warner Home Video (Firm)
Type: English : Visual Material
Publisher: [Bethesda, Md.?] : Burbank, Calif. : BBC Worldwide Americas ; Distributed by Warner Home Video, ©2002.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
See for example this account on the debt ceiling which says
The government's borrowing limit has climbed by $2.23 trillion since President Bush took office: by $450 billion in 2002, by a record $984 billion in 2003 and by $800 billion this year. Just the increase in the debt ceiling over the past three years is nearly 2 1/2 times the entire federal debt accumulated between 1776 and 1980.
On Greenspan's comments, see for example, this brief report which says straightforwardly that the "huge current account deficit cannot be indefinitely financed by foreign countries and investors."
Greenspan's statements track pretty closely with the Washington Post editorial I wrote about recently (see "Falling Dollar").
I understand the main points to be the following: (1) Americans tend to spend a lot more than they earn. (2) Instead of putting their money into savings, they tend to purchase merchandise, much of it goods from abroad, particularly Asia, and within Asia particularly from China. (3) As a whole, the U.S. buys vast amounts more from foreigners than we sell to them. (4) To some extent we've been able to export services to reduce the amount of our export deficit, but recent offshoring of service jobs (all those computer programmers in India) has changed this trend. (5) Like U.S. citizens, our government spends more than it takes in. Since U.S. citizens can't or won't finance the whole of the federal deficit, we rely on foreigners to purchase Treasury securities; they currently hold about half the federal deficit. (6) Foreigners are willing to buy Treasury securities because they have confidence in the U.S. economy, which is very large and -- partly by showing nice increases in productivity -- has been growing faster than other economies. (7) They also finance the U.S. debt because the economies of other nations are dependent on that of the U.S.; put otherwise, their failure to finance the debt would provoke a world-wide crisis. (8) Nonetheless, there's a possibility that foreigners will lose faith in the strength of U.S. economy and its economic policies. They might come to think they have less to lose from ceasing to finance our debt than they have to lose from a collapse of the U.S. economy. (9) It's also possible that they won't have any choice but to decrease their purchase of Treasury securities. This could come about as a by-product of the sharp decline in the value of the U.S. dollar. One scenario involves the problems that China faces with inflation (discussed below). (10) And finally it's possible that even a small decrease in confidence in the U.S. economy and small reduction in foreigners' willingness to buy Treasury securities will force up U.S. interest rates, and this, for all practical purposes, could reduce the U.S. government's control over its own economy by limiting the what monetary policy can achieve. (This is presumably why Greenspan was so widely quoted as saying that world leaders need to maintain flexibility as much as possible.)
There seems to be a huge amount of risk of things going wrong.
Other risk factors, in addition to the ones listed above, include the administration's commitment to tax cuts, the unwillingness of the U.S. Congress to restrain federal expenses, and uncertainties about the effects of the plummeting value of the dollar.
There's an interesting article on all this at a site called PrudentBear.com. It's "Lawrence Summers Comes Clean On The US Current Account" by Marshall Auerback on a recent paper by Lawrence Summers. Summers is now head of Harvard University. He previously served as US Treasury Secretary and as chief economist for the World Bank. Here is a link to the paper itself: THE 2004 PER JACOBSSON LECTURE, The U.S. Current Account Deficit and the Global Economy, October 3, 2004. (Note that Auerback isn't entirely unbiased; he works for a mutual fund company whose products are "designed to help protect investors against stock market declines.")
The article says, to paraphrase a bit, that we in the United States have become much too dependent "on the kindness of strangers" meaning the foreign nationals and foreign governments who buy our treasury securities and finance our national debt. Auerback quotes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who refers to the United States as "Squanderville." He concludes that, "With foreign central bankers showing increasing signs of 'buyers’ fatigue' in the US Treasury market, the day of reckoning for the US economy approaches ever nearer."
Like many other accounts (see list below), this one points out that Europeans are being forced to suffer the worst consequences of America's debt problems. The Asian countries are keeping their currencies artificially high, relative to the dollar. A huge chunk of the U.S. trade deficit is with these countries (particularly China). However, the U.S. finds it difficult to convince any of them to let their currencies rise since they hold so much of our national debt and we rely on them to continue financing it. What's happening, to some extent, is that Americans buy Asian goods and Asians use the dollars they earn to purchase Treasury securities.
Auerback says economists have been saying that the decline in U.S. exports, which could help offset the huge deficit in imports to the U.S. will be offset by increases in export of U.S. services. "The problem today, however, is that as more service jobs are offshored, even that surplus is shrinking rapidly."
More from this article:
When foreign economies resist dollar devaluation and the dissipation of their current account surpluses, the risk is that the U.S. may therefore have to raise interest rates in order to induce creditors to continue financing its debt build-up, a highly dangerous policy, given overall debt levels in the domestic economy.
Simply choking off US domestic demand in order to reduce the current account is not without substantial costs as well, given that “any attempt to adjust a large part of the US current account deficit by simply slowing down growth in the US economy will involve a slowdown in growth that would be unacceptable in the United States, and would have very severe consequences for growth globally.
>The Bush Administration must continue the delicate balancing act of convincing its major trading partners, especially China and Japan, to stay at the table and keep lending huge sums even as it encourages the dollar's decline in the hope of boosting US exports, discouraging imports from Asia and Europe and thus shrinking America's trade gap (with little success so far). If Asia refuses to concede a currency realignment, then the US may simply force deflation on the euro zone (as it appears to be doing now), given that the latter currency continues to bear the strain of US dollar devaluation. This is already creating manifest strains in Europe. The 12-nation euro zone's finance ministers, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank unanimously agreed at a meeting in Brussels that recent currency moves were unwelcome and could further undermine their stuttering economic recovery.
An Asian currency revaluation, however, is not without its risks, given the precarious state of China’s own financial system. China is now slowing somewhat, with a banking system riddled with bad loans to its domestic enterprises. If a banking crisis developed, Beijing might have no choice but to sell off its US bonds and use the capital at home to stabilize its financial system or to assuage political unrest among its unemployed masses. Similarly, Tokyo has for some years anticipated an eventual American reckoning but hoped to keep the United States from doing anything rash until the Asian sphere was strong enough to prosper on its own, without depending so heavily on American consumers.
Still, creditor nations, such as China or Japan, naturally have the upper hand, like any banker who can call the loan when he sees the borrower is hopelessly mired.
Debt Limit to Rise to $8.18 Trillion"
Greenspan Urges Trade Gap Reduction"
Greenspan: Appetite for Dollar Will Wane
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Being Blue and Seeing Red
As a Canadian with a green card that allows me to work in the US, I have two things to contribute to the larger debate about being in the US or being in Canada, post election.
Number one: Americans know that many people left the US during the Vietnam war rather than be conscripted....and Canada was a place that many "draft dodgers" went.
What many Americans don't know is that in the 70s there was a significant migration from the US to Canada of people who disagreed with national politics, not just the draft dodgers. My English department at the U of Waterloo, in Ontario, had perhaps 2/3 of its faculty--male and female--come from the US. And at the U of Calgary where I worked for years, most departments--including the library-- had a significant number of faculty with US citizenship. So, if there is a migration from the US as a result of this most recent election, it's nothing new.
Number two: Librarians are covered by the NAFTA agreement. We are on the list of professions that are allowed to cross borders based on a job offer. This is how I got my job in Alaska. In my opinion, it's all good! Cross pollination is healthy and the profession benefits.
We do not, as a rule, remark on politics here at "It's All Good" but I did want to remind librarians that we are one of the blessed professions that have official sanction to cross borders...the NAFTA borders at least.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
The Paris Review
The DNA of Literature
Welcome to the DNA of Literature
Welcome to the DNA of literature—over 50 years of literary wisdom rolled up in 300+ Writers-at-Work interviews, now available online—free. Founder and former Editor George Plimpton dreamed of a day when anyone—a struggling writer in Texas, an English teacher in Amsterdam, even a subscriber in Central Asia—could easily access this vast literary resource; with the establishment of this online archive that day has finally come. Now, for the first time, you can read, search and download any or all of over three hundred in-depth interviews with poets, novelists, playwrights, essayists, critics, musicians, and more, whose work set the compass of twentieth-century writing, and continue to do so into the twenty-first century.
"There is no other archive quite like The Paris Review interviews. The National Endowment for the Arts could not be more pleased or more proud than to make this resource available free to the American public."
—Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts
Release dates for The DNA of Literature PDFs:
1950s: Online Now
1960s: January 10, 2005
1970s: February 14, 2005
1980s: April 4, 2005
1990s: May 16, 2005
2000s: July 1, 2005
On his childhood: “I was thought somewhat eccentric, which was fair enough, and stupid, which I suitably resented . . . ”
“I'd say [to the African villagers] ‘Once there was a man who had an elephant with two heads. . .’ and at once they were eager to hear more. ‘Oh? Yes, but Mem-Sahib, how did be find it, and how did he manage to feed it?’”
“[African-American folklore] is like jazz; there's no inherent problem which prohibits understanding but the assumptions brought to it.”
“The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.”
“Sartre expressed the despair of this generation. He did not create it, but he gave it a justification and a style.”
“Gertrude Stein did us the most harm when she said, ‘You're all a lost generation.’ That got around to certain people and we all said, ‘Whee! We're lost.’”
“I recognize limitations in the sense that I've read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare . . . Aside from that I don't think of limiting myself.”
On the New York theater audience: “I have a fine play in mind I'll write for them someday. The curtain slides up on a stage bare except for a machine gun facing the audience. . . . [then] the actor walks upstage, adjusts the machine gun, and blasts them.”
“The fact [is] that we are I don't know how many millions of people, yet communication, complete communication, is completely impossible between two of those people . . . ”
“When I did the cartoon originally I meant the naked woman to be at the top of a flight of stairs, but I lost the sense of perspective and . . . there she was stuck up there, naked, on a bookcase."
Saturday, November 13, 2004
From the Telegraph (UK):
World of books
By A N Wilson
The simple magic of storytelling
MY OLD English teacher, Timothy Tosswill, was the first person to open my eyes to the fact that there is a limited number of stories in the world. One term we read Chaucer's The Clerk's Tale together with Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale and noted many points of resemblance between these stories of tormented wives being put through unreasonable ordeals by tyrant husbands.
When we turned to King Lear the next term, Tosswill asked us if the story reminded us of another. There was the usual gormless silence, allowing the master to smile-sneer, "None of you, I take it, were read to when you were little boys a story about two ugly sisters and their patient, good little sister, Cinderella."
Christopher Booker has just published the magisterial treatment of this sort of theme – a book called The Seven Basic Plots, subtitled Why We Tell Stories. (Published by continuum, which annoyingly seems to have no capital C).
He thinks that there is one, monist explanation to the question why we tell stories. Ultimately, it is to bring us back to God, who is our home. But in psychological terms, it is to reconcile the conflicts within ourselves. The many stories which have the number three in them reflect the fact that three is the basic number – mother, father and child. But the child will be imprisoned in its ego if it remains only the child of its parents, so it looks for the eternal fourth. Hence the happy ending when comedies and quests end with a marriage, and another pairing.
There is a great pleasure, for me, in monist, catch-all theories of everything, whether they stem from Hegel or Jung or Aquinas or Booker. But one of the pleasures, having absorbed the theory, is to think of the many exceptions which can be found to the dogma.
On some future reading of Booker, I might be converted completely to his Jungian viewpoint. Meanwhile, I shall be buying his compendium as Christmas presents. It is a jolly useful reminder, for one thing, of far more than seven plots – he summarises what must be hundreds of films, novels, folk tales, plays from Sophocles to Chekhov (another hate of his), from Goldilocks to Godot. Some of his clumsier sideswipes against feminism and the like simply miss the mark. But I salute his hatred of soap operas, and the many sloppy films and TV shows and novels which have lost touch with the fascinating and emotionally satisfying business of story.
Basic plot-lines links:
The "Basic" Plots in Literature
What are the seven basic literary plots?
The 36 Basic Plots
The Magic of Making Stories, Basic Plots You Can Use
Some links to other reviews of the Booker book:
Times (of London)
Times Educational Supplement
Thursday, November 11, 2004
The author is Adam Posen, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington DC.
Here's a link to the article.
The economics of a second term
By Adam Posen
Published in FT.com: November 9 2004 02:00 | Last updated: November 9 2004 02:00
Monday, November 08, 2004
Published: November 7 2004
Plans To Replace Nevada Poet Laureate Surprise Poet Laureate Norman Kaye, 82, a "Las Vegas resident who's written tunes for crooner Perry Como, is not happy the state wants a new promoter of the iambic pentameter. Kaye was torqued to learn the Nevada Arts Council recently sent out a press release seeking nominations for the post of poet laureate. The announcement does not mention the state has an existing poet laureate in Kaye, a grievous slight in my book." Lohantan Valley News (Nevada) 11/08/04
Posted: 11/08/2004 9:19 am
From Lhontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard
What? You've never met Nevada's poet laureate?
Steve F. Lyon
I'm on deadline
November 8, 2004
To some extent, Burke views Republican voters as peasants who are conservative in the pure sense that they want to conserve, as Burke says, a "deliberate maintenance of sufficiency." In other words, they don't buy into the grasping materialism, floated on unreal levels of credit, that the editorial in yesterday's Wash Post refers to (see here for the editorial, while the link lasts, and below for my blog entry on it).
I don't agree and think Burke should look to his namesake, Edmund Burke, for inspiration on this subject. That Burke spoke for tradition (what we might call the constraints of social strictures) and reverence for established authority. He was a reactionary in that he reacted to, and put up defenses against, the threatened and actual revolutionary events of his time. He greatly feared anarchy, class warfare, and the uprising of the lower orders of society. In the French Revolution, he saw the potential for disintegration of civilization.
I see this as one key to the attractiveness of GWB to voters. He, Bush, tells them they are being threatened and must defend themselves. He says faith in the traditional order of things is the best defense. He says we must use our enormous strength to defend our liberty, He says we must cherish and strengthen our traditionally-held values. And he says, "we are freedom's home and defender."
In Reflections on the French Revolution, Edmund Burke uses great eloquence in opening up this theme of "freedom's home and defender." In opposition to terrorism and what he sees as attacks on freedom, he invokes as traditional values: morality, liberty, fear of God, and reverence for authority. Put otherwise, he invokes what he sees as the inarticulate feelings of the English people in opposition to the tyranny of reason in France: the attacks on tradition of the Philosophes of the French Enlightenment and the attacks on tradition of Machiavellian politicians.
This is very Bush-like. In viewing America as "freedom's home and defender," he too invokes inarticulate feelings and what he apparently believes are self-evident truisms. He says, "America has no empire to extend or utopia to establish. We wish for others only what we wish for ourselves—safety from violence, the rewards of liberty, and the hope for a better life."
Burke says the best response to emergencies, such as the terror of the French Revolution (and by extension the War on Terrorism) is an unthinking dependence on tradition, even prejudice. He says: such prejudice "engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, skeptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit; and not a series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature."
This prejudice probably parallels the way GWB sees his faith: He says, "My faith frees me. Frees me to put the problem of the moment in proper perspective. Frees me to make decisions that others might not like. Frees me to do the right thing, even though it may not poll well. Frees me to enjoy life and not worry about what comes next."
Burke has much to say about "duty:" the unrational feeling of what it is right to do and the faith needed to act upon this feeling.
Bush agrees. While Governor he said: "My dream is to usher in what I call the 'responsibility era'—an era in which each and every Texan understands that we're responsible for the decisions we make in life; that each of us is responsible for making sure our families come first; that we're responsible for loving our neighbors as we'd like to be loved ourselves; and that we're responsible for the communities in which we live."
I don't maintain this explains all, but, as I say, it seems to me a more persuasive approach than Tim Burke's.
In closing, I can't resist quoting a bit more of Edmund Burke. He was so much a master of persuasive oratory and political writing. In the section of Reflections on the French Revolution from which I've quoted above he said:
We know that we have made no discoveries, and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality; nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the ideas of liberty, which were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould upon our presumption, and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on our pert loquacity. In England we have not yet been completely embowelled of our natural entrails; we still feel within us, and we cherish and cultivate, those inbred sentiments which are the faithful guardians, the active monitors of our duty, the true supporters of all liberal and manly morals. We have not been drawn and trussed, in order that we may be filled, like stuffed birds in a museum, with chaff and rags and paltry blurred shreds of paper about the rights of man. We preserve the whole of our feelings still native and entire, unsophisticated by pedantry and infidelity. We have real hearts of flesh and blood beating in our bosoms. We fear God; we look up with awe to kings; with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility. Why? Because when such ideas are brought before our minds, it is natural to be so affected; because all other feelings are false and spurious, and tend to corrupt our minds, to vitiate our primary morals, to render us unfit for rational liberty; and by teaching us a servile, licentious, and abandoned insolence, to be our low sport for a few holidays, to make us perfectly fit for, and justly deserving of, slavery, through the whole course of our lives.
You see, Sir, that in this enlightened age I am bold enough to confess, that we are generally men of untaught feelings; that instead of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree, and, to take more shame to ourselves, we cherish them because they are prejudices; and the longer they have lasted, and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherish them. We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages. Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them. If they find what they seek, and they seldom fail, they think it more wise to continue the prejudice, with the reason involved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice, and to leave nothing but the naked reason; because prejudice, with its reason, has a motive to give action to that reason, and an affection which will give it permanence. Prejudice is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, skeptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit; and not a series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature.
Your literary men, and your politicians, and so do the whole clan of the enlightened among us, essentially differ in these points. They have no respect for the wisdom of others; but they pay it off by a very full measure of confidence in their own. With them it is a sufficient motive to destroy an old scheme of things, because it is an old one. As to the new, they are in no sort of fear with regard to the duration of a building run up in haste; because duration is no object to those who think little or nothing has been done before their time, and who place all their hopes in discovery. They conceive, very systematically, that all things which give perpetuity are mischievous, and therefore they are at inexpiable war with all establishments. They think that government may vary like modes of dress, and with as little ill effect: that there needs no principle of attachment, except a sense of present conveniency, to any constitution of the state. They always speak as if they were of opinion that there is a singular species of compact between them and their magistrates, which binds the magistrate, but which has nothing reciprocal in it, but that the majesty of the people has a right to dissolve it without any reason, but its will. Their attachment to their country itself is only so far as it agrees with some of their fleeting projects; it begins and ends with that scheme of polity which falls in with their momentary opinion.
Source: Edmund Burke (1729–1797). Reflections on the French Revolution.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14 (Paras. 125–149).
In another rhetorical flight, elsewhere in the Reflections, Burke describes what we used to call the silent majority:
Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.
Note: Bush quotes come from the book review section of the Claremont Institute home page. The Claremont Institute aims to "restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life" (from the mission statement on the home page). Here's a link to the review article: A President, Not a Preacher, by Joseph M. Knippenberg, Posted September 2, 2004. A review of A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush by David Aikman, The Faith of George W. Bush by Stephen Mansfield, and George W. Bush on God and Country edited by Thomas M. Freiling.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
The Other U.S. Deficit
Sunday, November 7, 2004; Page B06
WHEN PRESIDENT Bush batted away questions about the budget deficit during his news conference on Thursday, financial markets delivered a telling verdict. The stock market rallied, delighted by the prospect of continued low-tax policies, but the dollar fell to its lowest level in nine years. The next day's good news on job creation should have buoyed the dollar, but after a brief climb the currency headed down again. Economists have warned of a dollar collapse for several years now, and so far their alarmism has proved wrong. But some of them also warned of a stock market bubble in the 1990s, and after suffering some years of derision they were eventually proved right.
Even the possibility of a dollar crash should give Mr. Bush cause to rethink his tax policies -- if the prospect of burdening his children's generation with a massive national debt is not cause enough. Mr. Bush's budget deficit is so big that there aren't enough savings in the country to soak up the bonds he's issuing: The tax cuts are the prime reason for the expansion in the nation's overall savings deficit from 4 percent of gross domestic product in 2000 to almost 6 percent now. That gap has to be plugged by importing foreign capital, and if foreigners hesitate to provide it, the dollar falls until U.S. assets become cheap enough to lure them. This does not matter too much if the dollar's decline is gradual, as it has been so far. But the real worry is that investors may come to see a falling dollar as inevitable, precipitating a crash.
Mr. Bush may wish to ignore all this unpleasantness, but that may not be an option. Foreigners cannot be relied upon to inject upward of $500 billion into the economy annually forever; their reluctance may threaten not only a weaker dollar but scarcer capital, which will drive interest rates up.
This will be the markets' way of curing American profligacy: The weak dollar cuts American consumption and boosts production, leaving the nation with more savings to finance the budget deficit; high interest rates slow the economy and cut consumption further. The question is whether Mr. Bush allows these adjustments to occur at the whim of the markets, perhaps in a sudden and painful fashion, or whether he faces up to the nation's predicament and takes steps to smooth the transition.
The first step Mr. Bush should take is to present a serious plan to cut the budget deficit, not the phony five-year promise he touts now. Second, he should step up his quiet diplomacy to get China to revalue its currency against the dollar. Since the dollar peaked in February 2002, its orderly and welcome decline against the euro, the yen and other currencies has not cut the savings gap because China's currency has refused to budge, allowing Americans to carry on consuming cheap foreign imports. So long as China keeps its currency low, other Asian exporters that compete with the Chinese will follow that same policy. This inflexible Asian bloc accounts for fully half of America's trade deficit. Unless these countries allow their currencies to rise against the dollar along with the euro and others, the adjustment needed to head off a future economic gale is not going to happen.
I like this depiction of Shakespeare. It's from the jacket of the new book, Will in the World, How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, by Stephen Greenblatt.
I did a blog entry on the book early in October.
Here are links to reviews.
Washington Post Book World, The Observer, Guardian, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, The Times of London
Here's a synopsis from reviewsofbooks.com:
Much is unknown about the details of William Shakespeare's life. In Will in the World, Stephen Greenblatt attempts to fill in many of the missing details. By exploring the events, lifestyles, and politics of the era, he re-creates the environment that would have provided the inspiration and background for Shakespeare's life and plays. Although much of it is conjecture based on circumstantial evidence, Greenblatt provides his estimation of the life lived by the bard. Will in the World has received mostly positive reviews with the Boston Globe saying, "Vividly written, richly detailed, and insightful from first chapter to last, Stephen Greenblatt's fascinating biography of Shakespeare is certain to secure a place among the essential studies of the greatest of all writers."
More review links (from reviewsofbooks.com)
Houston Chronicle review by Earl L. Dachslager,
New York Times review by Michiko Kakutani,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review by Bob Hoover,
New York Times review by Colm Toibin,
Boston Globe review by William E. Cain,
Chicago Sun-Times review by Mark Athitakis,
Salon.com review by Laura Miller,
New Yorker review by Adam Gopnik,
San Francisco Chronicle review by Robert Hurwitt,
BookPage review by James Neal Webb,
New York Observer review by Robert Cornfield
Saturday, November 06, 2004
by T.S. Eliot
Let us go then, to the john,
Where the toilet seat waits to be sat upon
Like a lover's lap perched upon ceramic;
Let us go, through doors that do not always lock,
Which means you ought to knock
Lest opening one reveal a soul within
Who'll shout, "Stay out! Did you not see my shin,
Framed within the gap twixt floor and stall?"
No, I did not see that at all.
That is not what I saw, at all.
To the stall the people come to go,
Reading an obscene graffito.
We have lingered in the chamber labeled "Men"
Till attendants proffer aftershave and mints
As we lather up our hands with soap, and rinse.
by Emily Dickinson
I have a skinny Domicile—
Its Door is very narrow.
'Twill keep—I hope—the Reaper out—
His Scythe—and Bones—and Marrow.
Since Death is not a portly Chap,
The Entrance must be thin—
So—when my Final Moment comes—
He cannot wriggle in.
That's why I don't go out that much—
I can't fit through that Portal.
How dumb—to waste my Social Life
On Plans to be—immortal—
Here are the contents of the site, so far:
Holy Tango of Drama
Shakespeare, Thomas, H.D.
Blake, Nash, cummings
Eliot, Dickinson, Williams
The country's religious divisions are intensely interesting and much debated. See for example the following posting in Crooked Timber. It highlights a main theme of the Newshour discussion: Religious beliefs as personal ethics vs. religious commitment to social justice, put in other words "the individual versus the communitarian".
Religion and Social Justice
Posted by Kieran
Mark Schmitt asks a good question:
The right question, I think, is not whether religion has an undue influence, but why it is that the current flourishing of religious faith has, for the first time ever, virtually no element of social justice? Why is its public phase so exclusively focused on issues of private and personal behavior? Is this caused by trends in the nature of religious worship itself? Is it a displacement of economic or social pressures? Will that change? What are the factors that might cause it to change. I need some reading suggestions here.
Well, here are four from the Sociology department. Bob Wuthnow’s After Heaven: Spirituality in American Since the 1950s might be a good place to get a sense of the shift from what Wuthnow calls “place-based” to “practice-based” spirituality in America. His recent Saving America? Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society looks at the social-service role of religions. Mark Chaves’ Congregations in America is built around the first nationally representative survey of U.S. congregations and emphasizes how small a role politics and social services play in the lives of churches. And The Quiet Hand of God: Faith-Based Activism and the Public Role of Mainline Protestantism, edited by Wuthnow1 and John Evans, offers a survey of recent trends in the political involvement of the Mainline. (Full disclosure: Bob was one of my advisors, Mark is head of my department, and John is a friend of mine from grad school.) But I’m not a sociologist of religion, so there’s probably a lot of other relevant stuff out there I don’t know about.
1 Bob can write books faster than most people can read them.
Here's the link to the Newshour transcript:
A NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript
DIVIDED WE STAND
November 3, 2004
Gwen Ifill leads a discussion about how the country can reunite after the hotly contested election.
GWEN IFILL: Both President Bush and Senator Kerry appealed across party lines today for unity in the wake of another election that left the nation split in shades of blue and red. But in a year when gay marriage bans passed in 11 states, to what degree is the debate over values contributing to that split?
For more on that, we turn to: Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and author of the best-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life"; author and essayist Barbara Ehrenreich-- her most recent book is "Nickel and Dimed: Surviving in Low-Wage America"; Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, a Christian ministry that advocates for social justice; and Morris Fiorina, a political science professor at Stanford's Hoover Institute and the author of "Culture War: The Myth of a Polarized America."
I was interested in the personal/social dicotemy because I've been reading Durkheim on religion and that was a main concern of his. All the same, the part of the panel discussion that most caught my attention were the statements by Morris Fiorina, who teaches at the Hoover Institute, which is a conservative bastion. He seems to be supporting what I've been thinking about the election: voters looked at the two candidates and saw, or thought they saw, that Kerry echoed Bush in most of his platform. See bottom of this post for his view of the matter.
The Democrats were so cautious in promoting the "stronger America" theme that the fight appeared to a whole lot of people to be one about religious beliefs and not politics, or the bungling of the government's response to terrorism, or the tragic mistake of war with Iraq, or even what life will be like in America for our children and their children. Shields and Brooks addressed this matter in the Political Wrap later in the same Newshour program. Mark Shields said that the focus on beliefs hurt the Democrats because they are seen as being a secular party:
I think the point I drew from Gwen's discussion, which was a terrific discussion were two, particularly Jim Wallis's point of the Sojourn. It's far more complex than the one-dimensional. It's the individual versus the communitarian.
If you say partisanism is essentially an individualistic religion, your relationship to God is individualistic and your moral acts really determine that relationship, whereas, communitarian and Catholicism have a far more communitarian concept, that your responsibility, your religious commitment is measured by your involvement in the community, your responsibility to those less fortunate and so forth, I think that's it.
I don't think there is any question that the Democratic Party has become a secular party. I think the Democratic Party to its disadvantage politically --
He also said that the Democrats could have won if they had nominated a man who would be able to differentiate himself from Bush on all the other issues:
The definition of the presidency changed on Sept. 11. Commander-in-chief became central to the job description of the president. John Kerry was the one Democrat in the eyes of Democratic primary voters who met that test and could be competitive, so I think the argument that John Edwards, who is a better campaigner, a more naturally gifted campaigner would have been a better candidate, Dick Gephardt, who I think would have been a better president than either one of them... would have been a better candidate.
Here's the quote from Fiorina:
GWEN IFILL: Morris Fiorina, is there polarization that exists? We looked at these numbers last night. We crunched through them. We saw that one in five people cited moral values as a major issue for their votes, and that eight out of ten of those people voted for President Bush, and then we look at that map with all those red states in the middle and the blue states on the end, does that mean that we're a hopelessly polarized nation?
MORRIS P. FIORINA: No. Not at all; I agree with Andy Kohut. There has been a lot of exaggeration here it is also true that people in the academy and the media are really missing the importance of religion and have for a long time in American politics.
But the point I want to make is it's not as if tens of millions of Americans woke up in the last two elections and decided economics doesn't matter anymore, it's all about values. Rather what's happened is the parties have become closer in economics.
They now argue about how big the tax cuts - how big the budget deficit, how big a prescription drug plan, and have gotten farther apart on values. The Republican Party has barely embraced the religious right. The Democratic Party has gotten quite secular.
But if you can imagine an alternative world in which John McCain was the Republican nominee and you recall he called various members of the religious right evil back in 2000 and a world in which Joe Lieberman was the Democratic nominee, a traditional values kind of guy, then I doubt we'd be having this discussion now. We have to pay attention to what elites are doing to make issues salient and to divide the population, not simply in what voters are doing.
GWEN IFILL: What do you mean when you say elites?
MORRIS P. FIORINA: By elites I mean the candidates, the activists, the parties basically, the corporate parties out there, and right now the Republicans in particular have found it politically advantageous to fight on values issues. This is one of the ways in which they undermine the old New Deal economic coalition for the Democrats.
It was the end of day—
Vast far clouds
In the zenith darkening
At the end of day.
The voices of my aunts
Sounded through an open window.
Bird-speech cantankerous in a high tree mingled
With the voices of my aunts.
I was playing alone,
Caught up in a sort of dream,
With sticks and twigs pretending,
Playing there alone
In the dust.
And a lamp came on indoors,
Printing a frail gold geometry
On the dust.
Shadows came engulfing
The great charmed sycamore.
It was the end of day.
Shadows came engulfing.
From a nice article called "The memory of Donald Justice" by David Yezzi (New Criterion)
The author also quotes Eurdora Welty and Justide himself:
The greatest confluence of all is that which makes up the human memory—the individual human memory… . The memory is a living thing—it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remembered joins, and lives—the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead.
—Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
Certain moments will never change nor stop being— My mother’s face all smiles, all wrinkles soon; The rock wall building, built, collapsed then, fallen; Our upright loosening downward slowly out of tune— All fixed into place now, all rhyming with each other.
—Donald Justice, “Thinking about the Past”
It starts out:
With pride, I bear the mark of a Dame Edna Everage fan—recurring flower burn. Repeatedly, my eyes have almost been poked out by one of the wacky widow's flying gladiolus, but I was too busy laughing my guts out to be all that mortified, possums. By the time Edna has lovingly torpedoed the flora into the crowd for her finale, you've succumbed to her bracing mix of topical jokes, insult humor, saucy songs, and enforced audience participation. By melding all those titillating talents, Edna has carved out a unique niche, and not just on my face. The drag creation of Aussie actor Barry Humphries since 1956, she's fused music hall showmanship with self-help expertise, while deftly spoofing the aspirations and biases of the endearingly crass.
The dame from Oz gathers her gladiolus for her Broadway return
by Michael Musto
October 25th, 2004 4:55 PM
This review article is partly about the difficulty of understanding, almost re-experiencing, past events through the objects that they produce: news accounts, reports, literature, artifacts.... And it's partly about the unimaginable magnitude of the Great War. Still, the impacts can be described. For example, the author refers to the slaughter of 30 million horses and donkeys as "the genocidal end of a once-benign, millennium-old friendship between men and horses."
From The Chronicle Review
From the issue dated November 5, 2004
Our First View of the End of the World
List: Books discussed in this essay
By TERRY CASTLE
What does it mean to remember the First World War? Over the past few years I have been trying to get my students -- mostly 19- or 20-year-old Stanford English majors -- to learn about, think about, reckon with, remember the Great War. I have been spectacularly unsuccessful. My latest failure came just this spring, in an honors seminar on Virginia Woolf. We were reading Jacob's Room, the hero of which dies on the Western Front, and I suspected -- correctly -- that my students knew little about the war or its repercussions. (Make of it what you will, but all of the students except one were female.)
I set out to give them my usual nasty brutish overview, complete with some rough-'em-up Powerpoints to shock them into attention: Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife dead in their coffins; the idiot kaiser in his skull-helmet; pathetic mobs of Frenchmen, Englishmen, and Germans crowding into recruiting stations in 1914-15; Ypres and Verdun in ruins; trenches and craters and bombed-out churches; and of course lots of dead and dismembered bodies. Boneyards and muck on a sunny Palo Alto morning! This is why, I gravely informed the students, Woolf gave the doomed protagonist of Jacob's Room the last name of Flanders.
When their papers came in, one of the more intelligent young women in the group (or so I had judged her) had produced some garbled late-night drivel about how traumatic it was for Woolf to see the peaceful English countryside devastated by trench warfare during the First World War. Now I know academic piety insists that one hold one's students dear, even when they exhibit the most shameful ignorance and inattention. But for several days afterward I felt only rage at the student and a fairly mind-boggling hatred for my job. Why did I have to deal with such obtuseness? How could a seemingly good student get it all so bollixed up? Why did these intelligent Stanford girls (their hip-huggers and pedicures and blonde ponytails notwithstanding) have to be so blatantly oblivious? What was the point (splutter) of trying to teach them anything?
Why do we want to forget the First World War? Why can't we keep our facts straight? Why
would we rather talk about "memory objects" than the memories themselves? (Or our inability to find them?) Given our flaunted "interest" -- and academics are the worst -- why do we seem so keen on not remembering?
We can't remember the Great War because we weren't there. Only if we had some magic syncretic access to the experiences of every human being alive between 1914 and 1918 might we have a chance of "remembering" -- or at least of not forgetting so completely. We'd have to have the experiences of every animal and plant alive then too, especially the millions of horses, mules, dogs, carrier pigeons, trees, rats, lice, and other nonhuman things that were also part of the carnage. Some 30 million horses and donkeys -- mainly pack animals -- died in the Great War. Yet when I once described the war (again to bright Stanford students) as a "hippocide," the genocidal end of a once-benign, millennium-old friendship between men and horses, they smirked as if I'd made some strange professorial joke.
Source: Arts & Letters Daily
Friday, November 05, 2004
Found on BeSpacific
From the Bureau of the Public Debt, the following data, as of November 3, 2004:
# Debt Held by the Public - $4,332,224,143,554.05
# Intragovernmental Holdings - 3,097,310,844,198.64
# Total - $7,429,534,987,752.69
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
The photos were scanned from prints given us by our neighbors across the street.
Monday, November 01, 2004
Operation Eagle Eye by Rick Perlstein
Nowhere has Republican election chicanery been more blatant, systematic, and diabolic then in the Buckeye State. On this blog I'll be documenting the outrages, straight outta Cleveland. Send all tips, terrors, and tales of the tawdry to email@example.com.