"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
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(From 2006, in response to a then-current story on a local grade school principal cancelling a long-standing tradition of a Thanksgiving tableau enacted by the small children dressing as Pilgrims and Indians. The link to the original story is long-decayed, but in light of this particular blast, and this one from the eternally plastic Cher … well, still relevant.)
Reader Mark Rosenbaum commented on one of my historical pieces this week: “Why couldn’t they tell history this well when I was in school a half century ago?” About that same time, I ran across this story—part of the run-up to the Thanksgiving holiday. Perhaps it might, in a small way, explain why people are not so enamored of history these days – at least, the sort of history taught in schools. Read the rest of this entry »
(This was a post from 2006 originally on NCOBrief.com … about the end of empire-slash-hegemony, and the unforeseen results from that kind of event. So – if the Presidency of Obama, an event lauded high and low especially in Western Europe – eventually means the end of the American hegemony in various spheres – what then, replaces it? What happens when the US Navy no longer patrols certain ocean choke-points, and local piracy reigns supreme? Will another international power … step to the fore? What then, oh wolves?)
The stone ruins of Imperial Rome underlie Western Europe and the Mediterranean like the bones of a body, partially buried, yet here and there still visible and grandly manifest above ground, all but complete. From Leptis Magna in North Africa, to Hadrian’s Wall in the contentious border between Scotland and England proper, from Split in the Former Yugoslavia, to the 81 perfectly preserved arches of the ancient bridge over the Guadiana River, in Merida – that part of the empire called Hispania – and in thousands of lesser or greater remnants, the presence of Rome is everywhere and inescapable. The same sort of cast – concrete walls, faced with pebbles, or stone or tile, the same sort of curved roof-tiles, the same temples to Vesta, and Jupiter, to Claudius, Mars and Mithras; the same baths and fora, market-places, villas and apartment buildings, all tied together by a network of commerce and administration. Goods both luxury and otherwise, adventurous tourists, soldiers and civil administrators – the very blood of an empire, all moved along the veins and arteries of well-maintained roads and way-stations, of which the very beating heart was Rome itself. Carrying that image a little farther than absolutely necessary, I can visualize that heart as being a human, four-chambered one; of which two – the political/imperial establishment, and the flamboyantly military Rome of battles and conquest – have always rather overshadowed the other two in popular imagination. Commerce and civil administration just do not fire the blood and imagination – unless one is wonkishly fascinated by these things, and it would take a gifted writer to make them as interesting as imperial intrigues and soldiering adventures.
But close to the Palatine Hill, where the sprawling palace of the emperors looked out over the linked fora, law courts and temples in one direction, and the Circus Maximus in another – Trajan’s concrete and brick central market rambled over three or four levels, from the great hall of the Corn Exchange down to the open plaza of the meat market at the level of the forum below . Here was the embodiment of the great hearts’ economic chamber. Every sort of imaginable commodity moved from one end of the empire to another and from parts outside the Roman hegemony: corn from the Egyptian breadbasket, silk from faraway China, spices from India, African ivory and gold, olive oil, oranges and wine from the Mediterranean to everywhere else. And that trade was enabled by law and technology. Roman roads, waterworks, and civic infrastructure like harbors, lighthouses and bridges would in some cases, not be equaled or bettered until the 19th century. While emperors and soldiers came and went, sometimes with messy and protracted splatters of blood, the unspectacular and dull work of the empire went tirelessly on and on, little changing from day to day, decade to decade, until Rome itself seemed eternal, fixed forever, immutable like the stars in the sky. Read the rest of this entry »
From a system perspective, not a human perspective, compensation for work in capitalism is the system’s way of communicating to people that the system needs more or fewer people in a job. Not enough bricklayers means rising salaries and too many means lower salaries. The trend continues until the number of people doing the work roughly matches what is needed at the market clearing price and the people are generally satisfied with the compensation.
So what does that tell us about the US distribution of population in the labor market? The distribution of compensation is highly skewed and madly demanding more people get into the job of running companies. It’s highly lucrative work that on balance tends to create labor demand. Our lack of labor demand and the resulting salary stagnation are not a harmless consequence.
But people aren’t rushing into the CEO business anywhere near the numbers necessary to drive compensation down. It’s not like the current crop of CEOs is uniformly magnificent and we simply cannot do better. The wrecked companies littering the corporate landscape around the country are a testament to that. And failure at being a CEO would seem not to carry the same penalties as a spectacularly public malpractice for a doctor or lawyer.
So why has CEO production not drawn attention of the same people addressing the “IT shortage”? Why doesn’t the CEO grooming process create more candidates that drive costs down? Why is shareholder value being squandered in so many cases in highly compensating a stream of short lived, not very good chief executives, who drive the company into disaster time and again?
(An archive post for today; originally posted on this day in 2004.)
Around the time of the first anniversary of 9/11, I saw a drawing commemorating, and making a bittersweet comment about anniversaries, memory and the passage of time. Quick pen sketches of the WTC towers, each with a sequential date underneath; 9/11/02, 9/11/03, 9/11/04, but with each repetition, the outline of the towers became mistier, more diffuse. The first anniversary to me was almost unbearable, as much of a psychic battering as the event itself. The second was a sad and thoughtful occasion, and now we are facing the third year, and the day falls on a Saturday; not a work day for most of us. Curiously, that seems to set the event a little aside, this year. I will not be walking into the glass and granite lobby of the office building where I work — a lobby that looks eerily like the lobby of the WTC buildings, owing to the fact they were built at about the same time, following many of the same architectural precepts, and which houses many of the same sort of businesses, although on a much smaller scale — on a glorious September day, not knowing that the towers had already been hit, they were burning, and thousands of people doing the same job they did every day would be dust and ashes in the next few moments. Read the rest of this entry »
A Hunter who had lassoed a Bear was trying to disengage himself from the rope, but the slip-knot about his wrist would not yield, for the Bear was all the time pulling in the slack with his paws. In the midst of his trouble the Hunter saw a Showman passing by and managed to attract his attention.
“What will you give me,” he said, “for my Bear?”
“It will be some five or ten minutes,” said the Showman, “before I shall want a bear, and it looks to me as if prices would fall during that time. I think I’ll wait and watch the market.”
“The price of this animal,” the Hunter replied, “is down to bed-rock; you can have him for a cent a pound, spot cash, and I’ll throw in the next one that I lasso. But the purchaser must remove the goods from the premises forthwith, to make room for three man-eating tigers, a cat-headed gorilla and an armful of rattlesnakes.”
But the Showman passed on in maiden meditation, fancy free, and being joined soon afterward by the Bear, who was absently picking his teeth, it was inferred that they were not unacquainted.
FATHER AND SON
“My boy,” said an aged Father to his fiery and disobedient Son, “a hot temper is the soil of remorse. Promise me that when next you are angry you will count one hundred before you move or speak.”
No sooner had the Son promised than he received a stinging blow from the paternal walking-stick, and by the time he had counted to seventy-five had the unhappiness to see the old man jump into a waiting cab and whirl away.
MORAL PRINCIPLE AND MATERIAL INTEREST
A Moral Principle met a Material Interest on a bridge wide enough for but one.
“Down, you base thing!” thundered the Moral Principle, “and let me pass over you!”
The Material Interest merely looked in the other’s eyes without saying anything.
“Ah,” said the Moral Principle, hesitatingly, “let us draw lots to see which one of us shall retire till the other has crossed.”
The Material Interest maintained an unbroken silence and an unwavering stare.
“In order to avoid a conflict,” the Moral Principle resumed, somewhat uneasily, “I shall myself lie down and let you walk over me.”
Then the Material Interest found his tongue. “I don’t think you are very good walking,” he said. “I am a little particular about what I have underfoot. Suppose you get off into the water.”
It occurred that way.
Bierce’s contemporaries weren’t used to this kind of cynicism and sarcasm, so they gave him the moniker ‘The bitter Bierce‘.
Reality lives in the details.
You have to know enough of the details to know what is vital and to be able to use good judgement as to which histories are worthwhile and which are regurgitated pap.
No one has bothered to do that with MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area, especially as it relates to the proposed invasion of Japan.
Yes, reality lives in the details and we are living in a world that both has more of those details available and has fewer of those details capturing our attention. We leave important details unexamined and fixate on the exciting but unimportant details of celebrity and titillation.
What makes the situation supremely frustrating is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Computers are both becoming cheaper and more powerful. We’re deploying new technologies such as the Semantic Web to fix it but the progress is agonizingly slow.
I remember an episode from a decade or so ago, when my wife and I were making some plans for our estate and we were sitting down with the attorney and discussing our wills and trust situations.
We were going to put it in our documents that we wanted certain procedures followed for disposal of our remains. The attorney looked at us and said quite matter of factly “it doesn’t matter what you put in here, everyone will just do whatever they want with your body anyways”.
That short sentence snapped me into reality a bit. You can wish and hope for things to happen when you die, but if you don’t have someone on your side to effectively run your estate upon your death such as a wife or husband, your wishes pretty much don’t mean squat. And you won’t be around to complain.
An acquaintance of mine lost his father a while ago. His father did not want my friend’s sister to have a certain set of flatware that she always coveted. I don’t know what the falling out was about. To make a long story short, she got the flatware since the other brothers knew that she wanted it since she was a little girl. The dad wasn’t around to complain.
A man killed himself, and had put a LOT of thought into it. He left a BIG website up explaining his motives and thinking and prepaid the server costs for five years to hopefully keep it up.
Always being curious about this sort of thing, I read a lot of the site, and there is some interesting info up there. He wasn’t sick, or hurting for money (so he says), but just wanted to end it. I still don’t get why he wanted to shoot himself if he was doing alright, but the website dives into that pretty deeply.
These letters from beyond the grave are always interesting to me. I have often thought about writing a letter to my wife and kids to be found in my safe deposit box someday if I should die suddenly. I have not done that. I think it would just cause more misery.
In the end, the guy who shot himself has lost the narrative, and so does anyone that dies. For the first few days after his death some folks with a morbid curiosity about this sort of thing (like me) will look at the site and read a few things, and shrug their shoulders and move on with life. His name will be forgotten quickly and it will be hard to remember what to google to find the site again if you want to read it.
I imagine that before long, his surviving relatives will contact the service provider and the site will be taken down for whatever reason, and he will fade away into oblivion.
But it is an interesting (if not rambling, at times) look into this guys life, and his postcard from beyond.
Well, the early critical reviews are out and the knives are in: the latest movie remake of The Lone Ranger looks to be tanking like the Titanic,(the original ship, not James Cameron’s movie fantasy) although the some of the reviews posted at Rotten Tomatoes are favorable, most of them are entertainingly vicious. Jerry Bruckheimer again goes over the top from the high-dive with a half-gainer and a jackknife on the way down, all with the noisy special effects, Johnny Depp was promised that he could wear bizarre hair and a lot of makeup and it appears as if the ostensible lead character is just there…
A number of summers ago, when I was still stationed in Spain, I packed up my daughter, and a tent and all the necessary gear, and did a long looping camping tour of the southern part of Spain, down through the Extremadura, and to the rock of Gib al Tarik, and a long leisurely drive along the Golden Coast. I had driven from Sevilla, past the sherry-manufacturies around Jerez La Frontera (on a Sunday, so they were closed, although the Harvey’s people should have given me a freebie on general principals, I had sipped enough of their stuff, over the years), made a pit stop at the Rota naval base for laundry and groceries. I had driven into Gibraltar, done a tour of the historic gun galleries, seen the famous Gibraltar apes, and then waited in the long customs line to come back into Spain. We had even stopped at the Most Disgusting Public Loo on the face of the earth, at a gas station outside of San Roque, before following the road signs along the coastal road towards Malaga and Motril, and our turn-off, the road that climbed steadily higher into the mountains, the tall mountains that guarded the fortress city of Granada, and the fragile fairy-tale pavilions of the Alhambra. Read the rest of this entry »
(This piece was part of a much longer essay about life in Greece when I was stationed at Hellenikon AB in the early 1980s. I posted it originally on The Daily Brief, and also rewrote much later to include in a collection of pieces about travel, people and history for Kindle.)
Christmas in Greece barely rates, in intensity it falls somewhere between Arbor Day or Valentines’ Day in the United States: A holiday for sure, but nothing much to make an enormous fuss over, and not for more than a day or two. But Greek Orthodox Easter, in Greece – now that is a major, major holiday. The devout enter into increasingly rigorous fasts during Lent, businesses and government offices for a couple of weeks, everyone goes to their home village, an elaborate feast is prepared for Easter Sunday, the bakeries prepare a special circular pastry adorned with red-dyed eggs, everyone gets new clothes, spring is coming after a soggy, miserable winter never pictured in the tourist brochures. Oh, it’s a major holiday blowout, all right. From Thursday of Holy Week on, AFRTS-Radio conforms to local custom, of only airing increasingly somber music. By Good Friday and Saturday, we are down to gloomy classical pieces, while outside the base, the streets are nearly deserted, traffic down to a trickle and all the shops and storefronts with their iron shutters and grilles drawn down. Read the rest of this entry »
As the old Billy Joel song goes; that is, a fair portion of a civil society is built on trust. Or at least – a large portion of the citizens in that society not only trust each other, but they generally also trust the civil institutions, too. There is an assumption, albeit slightly frayed around some edges that our institutions are generally benign and have the well-being of the larger public at heart. We assume, or did in the past, that laws are passed for our benefit, that rules are instituted for the same reason, that our elected leaders did, or at least mostly made a convincing pretense of representing the interests of their constituents, and not those of lobbyists bearing large favors. Read the rest of this entry »
Sometime around the middle of the time my daughter and I lived in Athens, the Greek television network broadcast the whole series of Jewel in the Crown, and like public broadcasting in many places— strictly rationing their available funds— they did as they usually did with many worthy imported programs. Which is to say, not dubbed into Greek— which was expensive and time-consuming— but with Greek subtitles merely supered over the scenes. My English neighbor, Kyria Penny and I very much wanted to watch this miniseries, which had been played up in the English and American entertainment media, and so she gave me a standing invitation to come over to hers and Georgios’s apartment every Tuesday evening, so we could all watch it, and extract the maximum enjoyment thereby. We could perhaps also make headway with our explanation to Kyrie Georgios on why Sergeant Perron was a gentleman, although an enlisted man, but Colonel Merrick emphatically was not. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been most unsettling, over the last month or so, watching as the ship of state powers straight towards the reefs of financial meltdown, while the Dems and Pubs – establishment ruling class, with just about every one of them grubbing snout deep in the trough – do nothing much but squabble over the arrangement of the deck chairs, and figure out how to be the first one into the purser’s office to loot the safe. And if that wasn’t bad enough to put a dent in my enjoyment of the season: the Newton massacre of school children, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the murders in my own neighborhood, the fact that a basically decent and widely experienced candidate could be defeated in a national election by a legislatively untalented and inexperienced machine hack … all of this was depressing in itself. And don’t get me started on the State Department and the Mysteries of Benghazi. But when a credentialed spawn of academia is given op-ed space in the so-called paper of record to call for deep-sixing the Constitution as an outdated and discredited piece of paper, network television personalities can hector and abuse interviewees with regard to the Second Amendment of same, and an editorialist in a mid-western newspaper(who may be exaggerating for humorous effect, not that he would have a micro-speck slack cut for him if he were a conservative ripping on progressives by name) can call for the torture and execution of those not in agreement on a particular matter, and some fairly senior military commanders can be abruptly side-lined and discredited for playing hide-the-salami (or being assumed to have been playing hide the salami) with a woman not their spouse … well, really, one has to wonder what has been happening here. The ‘othering’ proceeds at a perfectly dismaying rate of speed, with mainstream media and assorted celebs cheerleading from front and center. Read the rest of this entry »
I have recently moved to a farm property where we put up a house. Before we got the Dish set up, we were restricted to whatever channels the digital rabbit ears (do they call them that anymore?) could drag in. I found myself watching TV shows on MeTV that brought me back to my youth. I have very much enjoyed watching those old Emergeney! shows, along with The Rifleman.
To tell the truth, I am only using the dish to get my sports fix and using the digital rabbit ears for the occasional bit of entertainment. But I have become recently re-devoted to The Rifleman.
When I was a child I remember watching reruns of The Rifleman. You remember the opening scene, don’t you?
I have been endlessly fascinated how I view this show now versus when I was a kid.
Blondie and I hit Sam’s Club last weekend for some holiday oddities and endities, and as we were heading out to the parking lot, Blondie remarked that everyone seemed rather … subdued. I couldn’t really see that the other customers were any more depressed than usual, wheeling around great trollies piled full of case-lots and mass quantities than any other Sunday, as I am still trying to throw the Cold From Hell – now in it’s third week of making me sound as if I am about to hack up half a lung. But that is just me – good thing I work at home, the commute is a short stagger to my desk, where I do the absolute minimum necessary for the current project, and another stagger back to to bed, take some Tylenol, suck on a cough drop and go back to sleep for several hours. The cats like this program, by the way – a warm human to curl up close to, on these faintly chill December days. Read the rest of this entry »
So it is not like violence by union members in Michigan against pro-right-to-work activists came as any big surprise to me … or should have to any other sentient being. I mean, this comes after a couple of years of incidents involving members of the SEIU – better known as the Purple People Beaters – and Tea Party protesters going at it. Not that our gutless establishment press organs ever seemed to take notice … or as little notice as they can and still retain a few lingering shreds of credibility, while they remain prostrate and adoring the mighty figure of Ozymandius … sorry, Obama. And in pop-culture circles, historically unions seem to enjoy at least a token respect, for which I hold Hollywood responsible. Why the entertainment industry adores unions, as they are full of plucky, honest blue-collar laboring types, and if it weren’t for unions, why we would be working seven days a week, up to our knees in toxic sludge, owing our soul to the company store, and breaking rocks in the hot sun … oops, sorry, flashback there to about a million Phil Ochs pseudo-folk songs. Read the rest of this entry »
(From the old SSDB archive – a reminiscence about the search for the perfect Christmas tree, December, 1981.)
It really takes a gift to find yourself on a soggy-wet mountainside in on a Sunday afternoon in December, with a fine drizzle coagulating out of the fog in the higher altitudes, slipping and sliding on a muddy deer track with a tree saw in one hand, and leading a sniffling and wet (inside and out) toddler with the other.
Yep, it’s a gift all right, born of spontaneous optimism and an assumption based on the map on the back page of the Sacra-Tomato bloody-f#$*%^g Bee newspaper, and a promise to Mom. Said map made the %$#*ing Christmas tree farm look like it was a couple of blocks, a mere hop-skip-and-jump from the back gate of Mather AFB’s housing area, an easy jaunt on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, a lovely and traditional Christmas pastime, choosing your own tree from the place they were growing in! Read the rest of this entry »
Seriously, I hope they have better luck than the last time American TV producers tried to riff off the success of the original Upstairs, Downstairs – it was called Beacon Hill, as I recall and a routine googlectomy confirms. It started with great fanfare and interest, and promptly fizzled out, probably confirming expectations that American TV just cannot do family saga/period drama in anything other than as a TV miniseries with a limited run. It’s certainly a wise choice to go back to the rip-roaring decades of what Mark Twain called the Gilded Age. Twain did not mean it as a compliment, though – he meant something vulgarly over-ornamented, cheap pot-metal covered with a microscopic layer of gold. All flash and glitter, trashy glamor to fool the tasteless and/or newly-rich, of which there were a lot in post Civil War America, which was going industrial in a way and in a degree that made the genteel old-money established families, with fortunes based on land, trade, banking and the occasional eccentric invention look on in horror. Read the rest of this entry »
(An essay from my archive at www.ncobrief.com – retrieved for your enjoyment on a Friday afternoon. It’s a long one, originally in two parts. Yes, I can write about other than the 19th century frontier….)
The most striking thing about the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome is that it is immensely, overwhelmingly huge, but so humanly proportioned that the size of it doesn’t hit you right away. It sneaks up on you, as the grand vista unfolds, marble and gold, bronze and the glorious dome soaring overhead – and then you realize that the chubby marble cherubs holding the shell-shaped holy water font are actually six feet tall, that what looks like ordinary wainscoting at the bottom of the wall opposite is itself six feet wide, and those are not ants crawling slowly along the polished marble floor, they are other people.
It looks really weird to me, this last Veteran’s Day weekend … not even a week after the election results came in. A couple of days after General Petraeus put in his resignation as head of the CIA – conveniently for the American news cycle – on a Friday before a three-day weekend. So, kind of astonished over that – a mere several days before he was to testify about whatever was going on with regard to our quasi-official establishment in Benghazi on the 11th of September last. Of course, the second most astonishing aspect to me is that the head of the CIA can’t keep an affair secret, and the third most astonishing is that someone so politically wily as to be able to pin on four stars would still be stupidly reckless enough to engage on such a very public affair. What, were they doing the horizontal mambo in the middle of the parade ground at reveille at whatever base they were at in Afghanistan? Read the rest of this entry »
Blondie and I went to bed Tuesday night around 9:30, already fearing that things were not going well as regards Mitt Romney’s chances of taking up residence in that big official governmental residence on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington … so it was not a totally incapacitating shock to the system on Wednesday morning to wake up (to the tune of our next door neighbor’s Basset hound incessantly barking –G*d, are we beginning to hate that dog!) in the wee hours, turn on the computer and discover that Michelle will have another four years of lavish vacations on the government dime. Read the rest of this entry »
(This line comes from the commenter “desiderius” at Hooking Up Smart, though a Google search reveals, with a bit of irony, earlier use at democraticunderground.com in connection with some George W. Bush controversy or other.)
Not even the cleverest among us knows the future. Perhaps we should temper our unhappiness over the election results by recalling the past. Who accurately foresaw 2012 from 2005 or even 2010? Who foresaw 1940 from 1928, or the moon landings from 1940, or the twenty-year Reagan boom from 1979? America’s future looks a bit bleak at the moment, but it is human nature to extrapolate too much from the present and to prefer confident predictions, even of bad outcomes, over the reality of constant uncertainty. Things are rarely as good or bad as they seem, and the only safe bet is on more surprises. Not all of these surprises will be bad. The election was a kick in the gut and it may take us a few days to get our bearings, but, going forward, we should resist the urge to indulge our negative feelings or to accept the comfortably gloomy scenarios as inevitable.
The country appears to be in the midst of a major transition, possibly moving from the top-down social, business and political framework whose effectiveness peaked after the Second World War, and which has been declining ever since, to a more decentralized America that is more consistent with the Founders’ vision. This is one of the main themes of the book that Lex and Jim Bennett are working on. I think that their America 3.0 is an attainable goal so long as there are enough citizens who see the possibilities and do not give up.
The short run seems likely to be difficult, but there is much to look forward to if we maintain our focus and constructive attitude.
We bumptious Americans are always being reminded by everyone from Henry James on, that things in Europe are old, historic, and ancient. We are told that some places are piled thick in layers of events, famous people and great art, like some sort of historical sachertorte - and to a student of history, certain places in Europe are exactly that sort of treat. What they hardly ever mention is that most usually, the most ancient bits of it are pretty sadly battered by the time we come trotting around with our Blue Guide, and what there is left is just the merest small remnant of what there once was. The sanctuary at Delphi once was adorned with statues of gold, silver, bronze - and they were the first to be looted and melted down (all but one, the great bronze Charioteer) leaving us with the least and cheapest stone, sadly chipped, battered and scarred. (My daughter at the age of three and a bit, looking at a pair of archaic nudes in the Delphi museum asked loudly, “Mommy, why are their wieners all broken off?”) The great Athenian Akropolis itself was half-ruined, many of the blocks of which it was constructed scattered across the hillside like gargantuan marble Lego blocks. In Rome, most of the ancient buildings had been stripped long ago of the marble and stone facings, leaving only the battered concrete and tile core to hint at what splendor had once been - and again, only the smallest portion left to us to admire, the smallest, cheapest portion, or that hidden away by chance. Read the rest of this entry »