Saturday, February 27, 2010

Warning or Threat?

The Daily Mail (ht Drudge) claims that Soros, who made a billion speculating the pound 9 years ago, is planning to do the same with the euro. He has a record of profiting on currency collapses, and his shorting is thought to have accelerated the collapse of several. But when you look at the story, you wonder who is doing the threatening here:

He believes that unless the European Commission is given sweeping powers over taxation and spending, the single currency will always be vulnerable to financial turbulence in individual states.

'If member countries cannot take the next steps forward, the euro may fall apart,' he added.

Somehow I doubt that the warning arises from his natural altruism. Qui bono? He sounds like a conduit here from another group, saying “OK, we screwed things up so you'd be better off giving us even greater control.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes

This is a history of the Great Depression until 1940. The “forgotten man” of the title is the man whose pocket gets raided when A decides B is in need. The term was rebranded by Roosevelt, of course.

This is not a polemical book, despite what you may have heard. It does not attribute malevolence to Roosevelt or even to his advisers. It simply tells the story of what happened, highlighted by some of the less well-remembered characters: Tugwell, Wilke, Father Divine, and so on.

However, because the textbooks do have it wrong, I'm going to grouse a little.

The textbooks claim that Roosevelt steered the country out of the Great Depression, but the timeline says otherwise. He and his advisers liked tinkering, and some of their policies (demanding that wages not be lowered, for example) had predictably problematic results. Other nations had gotten out of the slump well before, and the US still hadn't recovered as of the start of the war.

Roosevelt was a great leader during the war, and a skillful politician before it. He created the special interest group paradigm that marks the Democratic party to this day. His notion of what the proper role of government should be was a function of his time, perhaps. Unfortunately many people of that era longed for governments to do everything and give men pride again; and we know where that led.

What did he do wrong? He fell for the “laws will make it so” line with things like the wage freeze. He played inconsistent games with the money and gold supply, ending up taking the country off the gold standard altogether; which had ripple effects. He played up class warfare, blaming the rich for being rich, demanding “undistributed profits” taxes, and then blamed them again for not investing. He was willing to pack the Supreme Court to back up his wide-ranging and unconstitutional control of the economy. He'd overlook inconsistent enforcement of the laws if he could attack his targets. He spent money like water. He spoke in private as though he was happy to let the economy fall in disorder for a few months if it meant getting additional authority.

What did he do right? He meant well. Some of the regulations were badly needed. Some of the make-work projects filled genuine needs. For a while, at least, it was encouraging to think that somebody was doing something. And he had clear sight about the dangers of the national socialists. For that he must be forgiven a great deal. (Until the dangers started to come very near the Republicans were isolationists)

There was yet a second contest among Roosevelt's men. It was between those who sought the cooperation of larger businesses and those who wanted to attack them. In New York, Berle considered that a solution might be guaranteeing wages in certain industries, “beginning with housing.” Such a plan, Berle reflected in his diary, “probably also means taking over the railroads,” was well as, perhaps, government “taking over both housing and construction.” He realized that would be an unparalleled infringement on private property. “But,” he wrote with a diarist's sigh, “I do not see that it can be helped.” Balancing the budget would likewise have to go out the window.

That probably sounds familiar. Just change the industry names...

What saved the US economy was the war, followed by the reconstruction when the only undamaged industrial power left had the whole world for a market.

I emphasize the “didn't fix the Depression” theme here because the received wisdom is carelessly wrong; but that's not the way the book reads. Do you want to know how a couple of kosher chicken distributors met the NRA in the Supreme Court? It was also the era that saw Gone With the Wind and Alcoholics Anonymous appear, and sulanilamide.

Read it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cult of Celebrity

I wonder if the celebrity worship we find ourselves with is inevitable.

I do not live in the same neighborhood as my co-workers; not even the same continent as some of them. We know each other at work, but we have no neighbors in common.

We are made for community, but the only people we know in common are those advertised by the media--the celebrities. I can connect better with you if I can make a stronger connection with the people we both know. So if I can say I met a singer you enjoy, I am more closely connected with you.

Therefore to stay connected with the people I meet I ought to pay close attention to the lives and doings of sports figures and actors and whoever is being served up as famous. Their doings need to become important to me--because you and I have no other neighbors. Voila: a cult of celebrity.

It is disturbing to have our interpersonal relations mediated by media tycoons.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Other writers

For those not familiar with Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple), he's a retired doctor with an excellent writing style and a sideways eye on society. He takes a clear-eyed look at a writer more popular in the US than in Britain: Ayn Rand. I think she stunk as a writer and as a philosopher; though she had a clear vision--almost prescient--of the motives and methods of the leaders of the progressive movement. She'd seen them up close in Russia already.

And Mark Steyn has an interesting (not quite complete, but interesting) take on trends in Western culture and a wonderfully lively style: read an example on decline of nations. Of course you may not see declines in the West, but check what he has to say anyway--you might end up quoting him.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Near Death

The stories of people who have survived a deadly disease or disaster often tell that their attitude toward life changed: that they are now more happy with living, less interested in things and more interested in people, sometimes more courageous, and so on. For them, something about the nearness of death gave them a better outlook on life. You might expect the contrary--that they'd be more fearful--and some do react that way. Thinking about death doesn't seem the most intuitive approach to enjoying life, but perhaps the old teacher was telling us that that's the way we work.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Improper Investigation

The Middleton police requested a report from Homeland Security on a possible terrorist threat: pro and anti-abortion groups. They got the report they wanted, but eventually somebody higher up in DHS figured out that this was improper and "the analyst ... received improper guidance" and "was given remedial training." That this could have gotten so far is disquieting, and not unanticipated. Somebody in the organization seems to have gotten the vision from Napolitano that political opponents were the real threat.

The power DHS has is too large to let this sort of thing go unrebuked. And Capt. Noel Kakuske should be out on his ear for stupidity and abuse of power. "Potential for violence?" Pitiful excuse...

Polygamists in America

The current National Geographic has a feature on a Mormon group: the FLDS that practices polygamy. Even more dramatically, their prophet can reassign wives and children. As you can easily predict, they tend to expel young men--there aren't enough women to go around anymore.

My better half called their "reassignment" of wives creepy. But reassigning wives is a very old custom. When a conqueror comes through, he collars all the women and assigns them to his followers. Their "prophet" is a kind of warlord and the followers are the vanquished.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

New Orleans 31

Its nice to see a little good news for New Orleans, if only by proxy.

No, I didn't watch the game. Our TV doesn't receive the new broadcast format and we haven't bothered to replace it
Plasma Physics

Prospective student tours all have a stop in Chamberlin Hall to look at the Madison Symmetric Torus, used by the plasma physics group here for a number of different experiments studying the properties of plasma. It is sometimes painful to hear the tour guides descriptions of what is going on, but one scientist overheard what is probably the worst: "That is a giant centrifuge for separating the plasma." Possibly this tour guide was studying for medical technician and got confused; but you'd hope they'd look at their scripts once in a while.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Who Can Resist

Part of the little-known back story for Yoda is that in his youth he was shy, lazy, and clumsy--unable even to tie his own shoes (and so ashamed that he hated to be reminded of it). He shared the cottage for a while with Snow White and the other seven, but was reluctant to do his share of digging until White took him aside and whispered fiercely in his hear "Mine! Mine! Or I help you knot!"

Fitful Sleep

Usually waking for no reason at 2 in the morning is a trial, but sometimes there comes a pang of grateful delight when I look over and see her sleeping beside me.

Ready to talk to anybody except...

Jesus talked to everybody. Crowds, fishermen, disciples, Samaritans, Syrians, whores, tax collectors, Roman procurators, the High Priest--Jesus spoke to them and answered questions. Except for his tormentors, who had no interest in hearing him anyway, there was only one man I can think of who Jesus refused to talk to: Herod.

Herod wanted to be entertained. Jesus refused to be part of it.

That's not a comfortable fact for us in our entertainment culture--we have entertaining movies, entertaining games, entertaining "news," entertaining ways to exercise: do we have entertaining church too? And is Jesus a part of it?

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Aura again.