Posted by Lexington Green on 30th September 2010 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Archive for September, 2010
America, even with Republicans in the House and possibly Senate, runs the risk of becoming the model sclerotic empire, wasting away while other states move toward more freedom. Canada and Sweden, nations we conservatives and libertarians used to scoff at as silly, are starting to beat the US on measures of freedom and competitiveness.
Sweden is one country to watch. First, it does socialism about as well as any state could. (of course, this is easier when your nation is small, homogeneous, and free of the burdens of world leadership). Next, unlike the US, Sweden is moving in the right direction, toward that conservative (in the true meaning of the word) ideal of a 3rd way, where the welfare state, to the extent it exists, is individualized.
Sweden’s Quiet Revolution
Without much fanfare, the Scandinavian country has been moving away from socialism.
There is something about Sweden that provokes a mix of envy, horror, and bewilderment among American observers. Liberals have traditionally celebrated its cradle-to-grave safety net, while conservatives have disparaged its high taxes and centralized health-care regime. Yet both groups have generally agreed that Swedish-style socialism is a far cry from rough-and-tumble U.S. capitalism.
In fact, contemporary Sweden is much less socialist than many Americans realize. Since the early 1990s, when it suffered a painful financial crisis, the Scandinavian country has deregulated key industries (such as airlines, telecommunications, and electricity), lowered its overall tax burden, established universal school vouchers, partially privatized its pension system, abolished certain government monopolies, sold a number of state-owned enterprises (including the parent company of Absolut vodka), and trimmed public spending. Several years ago, it eliminated gift and inheritance taxes. The World Economic Forum now ranks Sweden as the second-most competitive economy on earth, behind only Switzerland. According to the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom (compiled by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation), Sweden offers greater business freedom, trade freedom, monetary freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, freedom from corruption, and property-rights protection than does the United States.
Bolstered by prudent economic stewardship and a relatively conservative financial sector, Sweden entered the global recession on a sound footing. While it endured a nasty spike in unemployment, its export-driven recovery has been so vigorous that the central bank is now concerned about inflation risks. In the second quarter of 2010, Sweden posted a 4.6 percent annual growth rate, prompting the Wall Street Journal to hail it as “the biggest success story in post-recession Europe.” It currently has the lowest deficit-to-GDP ratio in the entire European Union. Before the election, Swedish finance minister Anders Borg announced plans to privatize another $14 billion worth of state assets. “If we get a surplus in place,” Reinfeldt told a Reuters interviewer, “we will deliver on tax cuts for 6.1 million workers and pensioners.” (The total Swedish population is roughly 9.4 million.)
To be sure, Sweden won’t look like Hong Kong or Singapore anytime soon. It still has a lavish welfare state, and its aggregate tax burden is still quite heavy. The top marginal income-tax rate is 57 percent in Sweden, compared with 35 percent (for now) in America. On the other hand, a 2008 OECD study found that household taxes are substantially more progressive in the U.S. than they are in Sweden, even after we control for America’s higher level of income inequality. Sweden has a much lower average statutory corporate-tax rate than the U.S., and also a much lower effective corporate-tax rate on new capital investments (according to University of Calgary economists Duanjie Chen and Jack Mintz). Its tax structure is made even more regressive by a 25 percent value-added tax on consumption of most goods and services.
Which brings us to a common misconception about the Swedish system — that it takes from the rich and gives to the poor. Actually, says Lund University economist Andreas Bergh, “the majority of the taxes you pay are given back to you during your life cycle.” Thus, “if you pay more when you work, you will also get more when you retire.” Even upper-class Swedes enjoy bountiful government largesse.
Another popular myth would have us believe that Sweden’s wealth was somehow created or facilitated by social democracy. In reality, “Sweden’s prosperity is the result of well-functioning capitalist institutions,” says Bergh, author of the new Swedish-language book The Capitalist Welfare State. As Cato Institute scholar Johan Norberg explained in a 2006 National Interest essay, the relative “success” of the country’s social-democratic model “was built on the legacy of an earlier model: the period of economic growth and development preceding the adoption of the socialist system.”
Posted by Mitch Townsend on 30th September 2010 (All posts by Mitch Townsend)
Sept. 30, 2010: IASB proposes Severe Hyperinflation amendment to IFRS 1. “The amendment proposes guidance on how an entity should resume presenting financial statements in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRSs) after a period when the entity was unable to comply with IFRSs because its functional currency was subject to severe hyperinflation.” This is good information, and I expect to study it closely.
I’m exaggerating to make a point here. Hyperinflation is unlikely in the US and EU. Inflation, long term, is nearly certain. Why? Because government debt is denominated in inflatable currency. The debtor has the means to determine the real value of the debt. Inflation would also permit the return of “bracket creep.” This prospect is delightful to the political class, as it passively increases taxes through wage inflation, while permitting nominal “tax cuts” through rate/bracket adjustments that can be artfully timed to coincide with the electoral cycle.
If you’re looking for the Bernanke Helicopter as a sign of coming inflation, you may already be too late. The Bernanke Submarine has already delivered its cargo and returned safely to base. The Federal Reserve’s politically invisible policy of paying interest on excess bank reserves has already created a monetary overhang of $1 trillion. So far, the expanded money supply has amounted to a subsidy for banks, as they can get the equivalent of the overnight Fed funds rate on all their reserves, not just the statutory requirement. The government has essentially printed new money, then borrowed it back in order to buy government and agency debt (quantitative easing).
This strategy, which has worked in the past in Japan as a countermeasure to deflation, creates its own risks. First, it has a tendency to reduce whatever stimulating effect other measures might have by soaking up money and taking it out of circulation. Why should banks lend money to businesses and consumers when they can safely lend to the Fed? Second, it can be difficult to exit. At 0.25%, the Fed is up against the limit of zero interest rates, so the effectiveness of quantitative easing as an anti-deflation device is near its limit. But even if it stops being effective for the purpose, the Fed has a wolf by the ears, and can neither hang on indefinitely nor let go safely. To unwind the position, it would have to sell government and agency debt in the open market. Done abruptly, it would effectively raise interest rates by depressing the price of government debt, immediately inflating the currency. It would have the same effect as an overt currency devaluation, and carries a risk of hyperinflation. Done gradually, it has the risk of continuing to lock up money in the banking reserves and restricting growth. Done clumsily, welcome back stagflation.
The only good exit from this bind is a growing economy. A small amount of inflation is always a by-product of vigorous GDP growth. To the extent that other government policies discourage GDP growth, the Fed’s strategy could make matters worse.
SF authors are generally viewed as being mainly concerned with the future, but Connie Willis is more interested in the past…and, particularly, the way in which the past lives in the present. Her novels and short stories explore this connection using various hypothetical forms of time displacement.
In Lincoln’s Dreams, a young woman starts having strange and very disturbing dreams. With the aid of the man who loves her (unrequitedly), she discovers that her dreams are, in fact (despite the book’s title) those of Robert E Lee. In the introduction, Willis writes:
In the first part of Lincoln’s Dreams, Jeff is offered a job researching the long-term effects of the Vietnam War. He turns it down. “I’m busy studying the long-term effects of the Civil War.” And I guess that’s what I was doing, too, writing this book.
Because the Civil War isn’t over. Its images, dreamlike, stay with us — young boys lying face-down in cornfields and orchards, and Robert E. Lee on Traveller. And Lincoln, dead in the White House, and the sound of crying.
The Civil War disturbs us, all these long years after, troubling our sleep. Like a cry for help, like a warning, like a dream. And we pore over it, trying to break the code, its meaning just out of reach..
The First World War, that is.
The Telegraph reports that Germany has made the final payment on its reparation obligations for World War I. (Actually, it appears that the payments being made by Germany since the end of WWII were not technically the reparations themselves, but rather repayment of bonds that were issued under Weimar to help fund the reparations. See this link.)
Posted by Lexington Green on 29th September 2010 (All posts by Lexington Green)
This post, entitled Tea Party Has Elites on the Run, by Tony Blankley writing in Rasmussen Reports, is very much worth reading. It analyzes the Tea Party in light of the “remarkably prescient book, Christopher Lasch’s The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy.
Lasch described the emergence of elites who “…control the international flow of money and information, preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus set the terms of public debate.” These elites would undermine American democracy in order to fulfill their insatiable desire for wealth and power and to perpetuate their social and political advantages. Middle-class values, Lasch warned, would be hollowed out by a value-neutral educational system preaching multiculturalism. Their replacement would be narcissistic values based on self-gratification and worshipful of fame and celebrity as the ultimate values in a world devoid of deeper meaning.
Blankley goes on:
The tea party movement will assert middle-class values, economic nationalism, patriotism and other concepts derided by post-modern elitists. The movement’s central tenets — small government, decentralization of power and end to profligate spending — are precisely what Lasch prescribed to restore American democracy.
(I should mention that the NYRB’s review essays on historical subjects, including military history, are often very good. For example, this article about the French Foreign Legion by Max Hastings is very good. He warns “… only the foolish seek to romanticize this bleak, cruel fighting machine, loyal only to its own. ” But the foolish, myself included, continue to do so. And while we are at it here is Max Hastings’ list of the Ten Best Books About War. I’ve read five of them.)
[Photo credit: The picture above is from the Raban article in the NYRB.]
The graph below compares American spending against other OECD countries. It comes from an article in the left-leaning American Prospect that basically argues that our spending isn’t really a problem.
Politicians can fulminate all they want about the $2 million earmark or the silly sounding $150,000 research project. But the truth is that government spending is going to continue to rise, because neither Democrats nor Republicans really want government to get smaller — at least not badly enough to cut it in a meaningful way. It can rise at a slower or faster rate, depending on the decisions we make (the biggest source of future spending is Medicare and Medicaid, a problem the Affordable Care Act begins to tackle). But no matter who wins the election this year, or in 2012, or in any other year, it’s going to keep growing.
First, the comment that ObamaCare is going to “tackle” spending is absurd. Its tax and spending structure will move America way up on that graph. Next, the fact is that spending does matter for all kinds of reasons, particularly for a nation that doesn’t want to go down the path of sclerotic Europe.
No one knows if the Tea Party/Patriot movement is going to succeed in curtailing spending. I get the feeling that they just might. If the Republicans don’t curtail the rate of spending in some meaningful way, the loose network of activists will coalesce into a party.
For how long, and what level of success such a party has is an open question.
The answer need not be cutting spending below the previous year, but merely curtailing spending growth to a manageable number. Raise the retirement age, combine and means test Medicaid and Medicare, and outlaw public unionism at the state level.
Those 3 things alone will cure the spending problems. Get political power, and ram them through.
Posted by Lexington Green on 28th September 2010 (All posts by Lexington Green)
[This post, inspired by this article provoked a conversation about the relationship between India and the Anglosphere. It seems like just yesterday I wrote about this (with Verity and I going back and forth in the comments) on Jim Bennett’s now dormant blog Albion’s Seedlings. My old post needed virtually no revision, so I am reposting it here. Setting the Way Back Machine for 2005 … .]
The comments to this post contained some vexation about whether or not India is part of the “core” of the Anglosphere. The implication seemed to be that one is either part of the Anglosphere or not, and that it was wrong therefore to suggest that India is not.
I think this is to misstate the issue. It is not “either/or” or “in/out” of the Anglosphere. It is a matter of degrees of participation. The USA, UK, Anglo-Canada, Australia, NZ are “core” areas because of very high degrees of commonality in language, law, business practices, cultural norms, etc. Jim Bennett talks about all this in his book, which you must all go and buy and read if you have not yet done so.
The President of the United States of America visits Madison today. As I write this I think I may have heard AF1 buzz over my place of business. We don’t get too many 747s (like, none) landing in Madison.
Also as I write this, some of the major roads are blocked off or are getting blocked off for the President’s motorcade. I honestly have no clue how I am going to get home, as my residence is on the other side of a highway that is blocked off. I believe the overpasses are also blocked. Obama’s speech is set for 6pm.
Some interesting anecdotal evidence for you. I made a point to be visible outside of my usual office area and to talk more than usual to guys who had things to pick up – from parts runners to technicians. Almost every single person is not happy about this – not only for the extreme inconvenience, but for the sheer waste of money. Many guys explicitly said “that’s my money they are wasting”. I know that some of these guys voted for Obama, but none of them are pleased with this show of bluster.
So if you see my town on the news tonight with a huge crowd on Library Mall in downtown Madison to hear the One speak, just remember that there is a seething underbelly of people who are major-league pissed off at this spectacle.
Posted by Charles Cameron on 27th September 2010 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
This will be a brief one.
A veteran friend of mine, Thomas Brinson, wrote something recently about violent video games that I found to be painfully honest and admirable.
He began by saying:
one of the things that has kept me away from the computer games is the inherent “violence”, especially warfare violence, in many of them –> as a “vet for peace” I have a knee-jerk abhorrence of anything that I judge “glorifies” war and warfighting.
But that wasn’t enough – he carried on, as befits someone practicing self-examination:
That’s the ideal sentiment; the truth is that I enjoy the art of killing too much, and playing modern warfare games would reawaken how much I nostalgically miss the wargames, real and virtual, of my youth in Vietnam, as well as how much I envy, truth be told, the warfighting options available to youth today all over the planet …
I’d like to honor both sides of that statement – the visceral feeling of a warrior, and the restraint of the man of peace.
Both, its seems to me, are truths — and we humans are complex creatures.
An online poll is making the rounds.
How long you will live.
How much money you will make in your lifetime.
The NAME of the person best suited to you.
How happy you will be compared to the average human.
What profession you will spend most of your life doing.
Where will you live for most of your life.
How many children you will have.
How you will die.
Professor Bainbridge points out that the site originating the poll seems to be directed at a younger audience and the constraints of the thought experiment make the questions inherently personal.
Even so, don’t these questions seem tremendously self-centered?
Thom Yorke wrote a song called “Black Swan” that resonated with me in terms of the financial crisis of 2008-2009 (and today) commonly called “The Great Recession”. He wrote the song in 2006.
The “Black Swan” was a metaphor used by Taleb in his excellent book “Fooled by Randomness“. The point of that book (broadly stated) is that people under estimate randomness and long-tail events; Taleb is an options trader specializing in the valuation of far-out-of-the-money options and whether or not they are fairly priced. The metaphor specifically for the Black Swan is that no one ever anticipated that there was a black swan; all swans were expected to be white and it would be viewed as a very remote or unanticipated event if a “black” swan were to turn up. When settlers reached Australia, however, they were surprised to find black swans, meaning that they had significantly under-estimated the probability of this event occurring.
While you can’t directly tie art to a particular business concept I liked the part of being “ground in the bitumen” and then general feeling of being lost and angst that is summarized as “this is f*cked up, f*cked up”.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Lexington Green on 26th September 2010 (All posts by Lexington Green)
The Indian Question dominated a fascinating conference on the Anglosphere in Winchester yesterday, co-hosted by two of the greatest conservative editors on the planet: Daniel Johnson of Prospect, and Roger Kimball of The New Criterion. Some of the cleverest and most contrarian men in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India were present.
James Bennett, who more or less invented the Anglosphere, saw India as the key. While it might be awkward to talk of a nation of 1.3 billion people “joining” a club of 400 million, the orientation of India would determine the relative power of the English-speaking democracies for the rest of the century.
– Daniel Hannan, Telegraph blogs
There has been a fair amount of negative press recently for Team India because of the Commonwealth Games. Kashmir is everywhere in the news, too. We shall see.
Update: I am using “Team India” in the way that the press often refers to the “Team India versus Team China” rivalry. Personally, I’m a little more worried about Team America’s recent play. I’m sure we’ll right it eventually. I firmly believe that.
My experience in business has been in bureaucracies of various stripes since I left college a couple of decades ago. If you have ever worked in a bureaucracy, you know how difficult it can be to get something accomplished, especially when everyone else seems to be heads-down and avoiding risk. In the simplest of terms, to accomplish anything, you need to continuously have cantankerous meetings, to push your agenda, and to take flak from everyone about what might go wrong with your approach. It seems so much easier just to “go with the flow” and take a low profile, just like everyone else.
On a parallel vein, there are many different ways to approach a career. One way is to bargain furiously for the highest position possible when you enter a job, and then to focus continually on getting promoted and working the organization politically for continued promotion. The individuals who push down this path are often focused upwards on presenting their efforts in the best light and in ensuring that the areas in which they work are the most promising in terms of opportunities for promotion (i.e. highly visible to executives). This can be a very effective strategy.
Another, opposite sort of approach is to work hard and take on some of the most difficult tasks that the organization faces, and try to do your best to make the firm better even if the choices are not politically popular. If you see a project that is in disarray and you step in to try to make it better, that can be a dangerous move politically (because if it fails, it could get pinned on you) but it could be the best move for the company, because it gives a project the chance to right itself. If you see a process that is inefficient but crosses a lot of organizational silos, meaning that it will be difficult to streamline and get everyone on the same page, this is also the type of effort that the heads-down hardworking type will apply themselves to.
In many instances it seems that the hardworking, change-agent type of person is kind of “playing the fool” by working so hard while the career-orientated politically minded person is looking at the overall picture and trying to pick the project that will give him or her the most visibility and opportunities for career gain.
Read the rest of this entry »
Rick cites a remark by Senator Christopher Dodd about the financial regulation bill: “No one will know until this is actually in place how it works.” My observation is that Dodd’s remark was actually true, and would have been true to a substantial extent even if the bill had been properly read, debated, and analyzed. A more perceptive man than Dodd might have seen this as a reason to avoid making such overwhelming changes all in one fell swoop.
Several years ago, I posted about the failure of the FAA/IBM project for a new air traffic control system. The new system was known as the Advanced Automation System and was intended to be “as radical a departure from well-worn mores and customs as the overflow of the czars,” in the words of a participant. Another participant described the radical ambitiousness of the project as follows:
“You’re living in a modest house and you notice the refrigerator deteriorating. The ice sometimes melts, and the door isn’t flush, and the repairman comes out, it seems, once a month. Then you notice it’s bulky and doesn’t save energy, and you’ve seen those new ones at Sears. The first thing you do is look into some land a couple of states over, combined with several other houses of similar personality. Then you get I M Pei and some of the other great architects and hold a design run-off…”
The Heart of a Continent: A Narrative of Travels in Manchuria, Across the Gobi Desert, through the Himalayas, the Pamirs, and Chitral, 1884-1894 by Captain Francis Younghusband, C.I.E., Indian Staff Corps, Gold Medallist, Royal Geographical Society (1896)
Posted by Lexington Green on 25th September 2010 (All posts by Lexington Green)
I have been reading Victorian war and travel memoirs lately. Google Books has everything full text for free that is out of copyright. I send these books to my Kindle, which makes it easy to read them.
Younghusband’s book does not have a single bad page in it. Here is one good passage. Younghusband and his small party have brassed their way into the hilltop fort of the chief of the Kanjuti bandits, to express the displeasure of the Queen at the perpetual raiding upon her subjects.
We stood together for a long time round the fire, a curious group—rough, hard, determined-looking Kanjutis, in long loose woollen robes, round cloth caps, long curls hanging down their ears, matchlocks slung over their backs, and swords bound to their sides; the timid, red-faced Kirghiz ; the Tartar-featured Ladakis; the patient, long-suffering Baltis; the sturdy, jovial little Gurkhas; the grave Pathan, and a solitary Englishman, met together here, in the very heart of the Himalayas, in the robbers’ stronghold. It is on thinking over occasions like this that one realizes the extraordinary influence of the European in Asia, and marvel at his power of rolling on one race upon another to serve his purpose. An Asiatic and a European fight, the former is beaten, and he immediately joins the European to subdue some other Asiatic. The Gurkhas and the Pathans had both in former days fought desperately against the British; they were now ready to fight equally desperately for the British against these raiders around us, and their presence had inspired so much confidence in the nervous Kirghiz that these even had summoned up enough courage to enter a place which they had before never thought of without a shudder.
Ross, Michael with Jonathan Kay, The Volunteer: A Canadian’s Secret Life in the Mossad, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 2007. 278 pp.
Recommended by Ishmael Jones, author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Culture, reviewed here on chicagoboyz.
In late 1982, 21 year-old Michael Ross arrived in Israel to escape cold weather. After a three year hitch in the Canadian Army, tackled right out of high school, he was on vacation. Backpackers visiting Europe on a budget often traded their wintertime labour at Israeli kibbutzim for free room and board. Michael was soon headed for one in the Beit Shean valley.
Hailing from Victoria, British Columbia and a mildly Anglican religious background, even being in Israel was a stretch. Far more likely that he’d be kayaking, or mountain-biking, or growing dope up in the Rockies. Short of the North Island of New Zealand, or perhaps Marin County, California, there’s hardly a more heavenly place in the English-speaking world than the Gulf Islands between the city of Vancouver and Vancouver Island. It’s “Lotus-land” to eastern Canadians. A young man just out of an army should have found all the pleasure and excitement he could want in the Pacific Coast lifestyle.
Michael’s background certainly didn’t suggest a future in one of the most respected, yet constantly imperiled, clandestine services in the world — the Mossad. Nor could it predict that he would take a side in one of the nastiest confrontations between the modern industrialized world and its neighbours. Yet for almost two decades “Michael Ross” was to serve in a variety of military and intelligence roles for his adopted home under conditions of unimaginable danger. How he came to do so is both fascinating and rather unsettling.
Things like this make me glad I’m a provincial who is isolated from the hip, urban fashions. Come to think of it, the rest of you should be glad as well.
Somethings, you just don’t want to see.
[Oh, h/t Instapundit]
In other words, why cannot liberal defenders of Obama simply say, “Government, much more wisely than a selfish private sector, can ensure a vibrant economy. When people are assured of comprehensive government entitlements they use that security as a base for renewed work and investment. Deficits create consumer demands, spread money around to those who need it most, and spur economic prosperity. And when business provides society with over half its profits in income, payroll, and assorted state and local taxes, the resulting redistributive change and spread-the-wealth equality ensure aggregate economic growth”?
Part of the problem is that leftists can’t actually back up the general claim that government makes better economic decisions than the people do acting as individuals. After the collapse of the Great Lakes states, once the industrial heartland of not only America but the free world, they can’t plausibly claim that spreading the same policies to the rest of the country will make everything better. The same is true in regard to the current plight of California and other similar deep blue areas.
However, the real problem is simply that, as elitists, leftists don’t believe they have any obligation to respect the opinions or experiences of any non-elites.
Posted by Lexington Green on 24th September 2010 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Daley Plaza, Picasso,
Kids laughing, sliding.
Tired, harried lawyer
Walking fast, shirttail half out.
Thirty years, for this?
Hipster, purple shirt,
pinstripe pants, too young to know,
He can get fired too.
Young women. Skirts. Shorts.
Bare legs. Thighs. Knees. Calves. Ankles.
Here, there, everywhere.
Non-leftists spend a lot of time these days telling leftists that the leftists are “elitist.” Leftists usually respond with something like this:
But somehow these born-into-wealth aristocrats get away with calling people who advocate for, say a living wage, or universal health care, or decent public education “elites.”
Translation: We leftists are not elitist because we do things for the economically non-rich that we leftists believe to be in the best interest of the non-rich. Elitists only do things that leftists believe to be in the interest of the rich.
By the leftist definition of elitism, we could live in an absolutist, hereditary aristocracy and still not have an elitist government as long as the aristocrats made decisions that, in the opinion of leftists, benefited the poor.
The leftists are wrong. Elitism isn’t defined by who benefits, elitism is defined by who decides.
I started this post as a comment to Dan’s previous post but it grew overly long so I decided to make it a separate post. Dan asked an important question:
…do people of this generation or people in general seem to show more pride in today’s era than in past eras? Or do you think I am noticing something that isn’t there?
Most of the world’s traditional religious and secular moral systems view pride as the most dangerous emotion. Modern research bears this out. I think the dynamics of modern life make us very prone as individuals to rationalize our unearned pride.
Posted by Charles Cameron on 23rd September 2010 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
There’s something primal about play: it’s instinctual, it’s intuitive, it puts us in the moment.
And it’s where we learn competition and collaboration, strategy and spontaneity, bluff and honor — “poker face” and “fair play” alike.
- We’ve seen Kriegspiel used in training the Prussian officer corps.
- We’ve seen a chess set Harun al-Rashid supposedly sent Charlemagne as a diplomatic gift.
- We’ve seen chess in Reykjavik as a continuation of the Cold War by other means.
- We’ve seen Mao as a student of strategy in Go.
- We’ve seen the Olympics as a time of truce among the warring states of Greece
- We’ve seen soccer as a triumph of peace-making in South Africa.
- We’ve seen a soccer match trigger war between Honduras and El Salvador.
- We’ve seen the Olympics as a killing field in Munich.
Once you start thinking of play as a significant category in its own right – not just as what kids can do with their free time, but as the very essence of freedom – correlations between games and current affairs take on a whole new coloration. From a Jungian perspective, you might say that our play time strikes an archetypal chord in us: it carries profound and generally unrecognized meaning.
Our games are as close as peace can get to war, while remaining peace – and when the whole wide world plays games, our feelings can get mightily involved.
I also think, for similar reasons, that it’s important to notice when games and play meet religion.
Back when I was Editor-at-Large for The Cursor, a magazine for game designers, I wrote a piece which was the featured article in their April 1997 issue under the title “Doom Goes to Church” — (there’s a version titled Games Lamas Play still available online). Edward Castronova recently hosted a discussion of “virtual communion” on Terra Nova – and just a couple of days ago, Lisa Poisso posted an interview with a Lutheran pastor titled When WoW meets real-world religion on WoW Insider.
I am reminded …
- that Hindus speak of the activities of the avatars of Vishnu as lila – sport, play, theater.
- that Christians are rethinking the role of Jews in the passion play at Oberammergau.
- that Shi’ites commemorate Huseyn’s martyrdom at Kerbala in ta’ziyeh passion plays.
- that Hesse’s Glass Bead Game has been compared to a Papal High Mass of Easter in St Peter’s.
And Hesse’s contemporary, the historian Johan Huizinga, tells us something of the power of sacred play when he writes in Homo Ludens:
But with the end of the play its effect is not lost; rather it continues to shed its radiance on the ordinary world outside, a wholesome influence working security, order and prosperity for the whole community until the sacred play-season comes round again.
So when I read yesterday that the Commonwealth Games scheduled to take place in New Delhi in ten days had been threatened by the “Indian Mujahideen” who recently attacked the Jama Masjid, I was concerned at the volatile mix of games and religious warfare on the world stage.
I was particularly struck by the jihadists’ phrasing, “We will now rightfully play Holi with your blood” – a reference to the Spring festival of Holi, in which Hindus douse one another playfully in colored water in memory of a devotee named Prahalad, until they are literally and metaphorically awash in the “colors of devotion”. The jihadists consider their Hindu fellow-countrymen to be “Indian idol-worshippers”
Also relevant, it seems to me, is this ruling on India’s equivalent of the disputed Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem — the Ayodhya Babri mosque / Ram Janambhoomi dispute:
Indian Court Delays Ruling on Mosque Site
India’s Supreme Court on Thursday postponed a ruling on whether Hindus or Muslims would control the country’s most disputed religious site.
A lower court had been scheduled to issue a verdict on Friday, and the Indian government had issued national appeals for calm. The case involved the site of the former Babri mosque, which was destroyed by Hindu activists in 1992, sparking riots that killed about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. The Supreme Court’s intervention came in response to legal appeals arguing that the mosque ruling could incite a new wave of violence as India is preparing to play host to the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi for two weeks starting Oct. 3.
We can only watch and pray.
In the past ten months there has been measured progress in the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF); in quality as well as quantity. Since last November, NATO Training Mission Afghanistan has supported the Afghan Ministries of Interior and Defense to recruit, train and assign over 100,000 soldiers and police, an incredible feat. To achieve this, the training capacity was increased, moving from under 10,000 seats for police training alone to almost 15,000.
William Caldwell (Small Wars Journal)
The NGO community in Afghanistan has grown into an industry where a large part of aid budgets is spent on security, and money gets frittered away on pointless projects. Afghans are becoming increasingly skeptical about the foreign organizations that are supposed to be rebuilding their country.