Friday, November 27, 2009

Blogging's been light

Blogging has been light while I’ve been doing non- political consulting in Geneva, Istanbul and Manila. What I’m posting today is from notes made during my trip.

I've been working from notes and books I've been reading, so I've been posting "think pieces" mostly.  Please let me know how you enjoy them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Another Take on the Decline of Empire

Most readers consume a blog from the top (most recent) downward, which rather discourages traditional continuity of thought.  A week ago, I posted several paragraphs on the decline of the Roman Empire, written in 1963 by L. Sprague Decamp – a writer of exceptional imagination who, in 1963, saw no parallel between Rome and the United States.  I found that failure of imagination a telling reflection upon how rapid has been the intellectual decline of the West.

Today, I post a rather long paragraph, written in 1930 by W. Somerset Maugham in a travel book entitled “The Gentleman in the Parlour,” upon the decline of the British Empire.

It is true that should the historian of the Decline and fall of the British Empire come across this book on the shelves of some public library he will have hard things to say of me.  “How can one explain,” he will ask, “that this writer, who in other places showed that he was not devoid of observation, could have gone through so many parts of this Empire and not noticed (for by never a word is it apparent that a suspicion of anything of the sort crossed his mind) with what a nerveless hand the British held the power that their fathers had conquered?  A satirist in his day, was there no matter for his derision in the spectacle of a horde of officials who held their positions only by the force of the guns behind them trying to persuade the races they ruled that they were there only on sufferance?  They offered efficiency to people to whom a hundred others things were of more consequence and sought to justify themselves by the benefits they conferred on people who did not want them.  As if a man in whose house you have forcibly quartered yourself will welcome you any more because you tell him you can run it better than he can!  Did he go through Burma and not see how the British power was tottering because the masters were afraid to rule, did he not meet judges, soldiers, commissioners who had no confidence in themselves and therefore inspired no respect in those they were placed over?  What had happened to the race that had produced Clive, Warren Hastings, and Stamford Raffles, that it must send out to govern its colonies men who were afraid of the authority entrusted to them, men who thought to rule the Oriental by cajolery and submissiveness, by being unobtrusive by pocketing affronts and giving the natives powers they were unfit to use and must inevitably turn against their masters?  But what is a master whose conscience is troubles because he is master?  They prated of efficiency and they did not rule efficiently, for they were filled with an uneasy feeling that they were unfit to rule.  They were sentimentalists.  They wanted the profits of Empire, but would not assume the greatest of its responsibilities, which is power.  But all this, which was staring him in the face, seems to have escaped this writer, and he contented himself with jotting down little incidents of travel, describing his emotions and inventing little stories about the persons he met; he produced a book that can be of no value to the historian, the political economist or the philosopher: it is deservedly forgotten.”

What I take from this is that the British Empire, too, collapsed from losing conviction and confidence.  In a great many instances, colonization was replaced by some variation of totalitarianism and kleptocracy. Former colonial powers or multi-national corporations continue to profit from these former colonies.  Multi-national institutions (United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank) continue to subsidize, enable and attempt to guide the development and governance of these regions. 

I would say that not much has changed, except what category of individual is capable of holding power.  Most of the improvements since Maugham’s time have come from efforts of the former colonial powers (in public health and education), multi-national corporate activities and the imperatives of technological development.  Very little credit can be given to the governments of most of the former colonies for doing more than accepting aid and lining their own pockets.

I would say that the major change from Maugham’s time to our own has been: 1)the re-primitivization of the major powers by decline in civics and education, 2)the  colonization of the major powers by multi-national corporations and domestic vested interests, 3)demographic changes (falling birthrates, longer life spans and immigration), 4)encroachment of government into what was once considered private life (taking the nearly inevitable corruption of government into every aspect of daily life) and 5)the loss of conviction (much as cited by Maugham, above) in the intellectual foundations of the West.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Many years ago, I issued a fatwa on Umberto Eco for his intellectual depravity in writing "The Name of the Rose" and here's an example of why . . .

On July 8, 2009, I posted here a commentary called "The Voodoo Trifecta of Nonsense" in which the interviewee, below, featured prominently.  If you have any doubt about the menace of his intellectual nihilism or wonder why I so dislike Umberto Eco, please read the entire Spiegel interview here.  Or, you can read the excerpt below and get the general idea.

SPIEGEL Interview with Umberto Eco

'We Like Lists Because We Don't Want to Die'

By Susanne Beyer and Lothar Gorris
Italian novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco, who is curating a new exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, talks to SPIEGEL about the place lists hold in the history of culture, the ways we try to avoid thinking about death and why Google is dangerous for young people.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Eco, you are considered one of the world's great scholars, and now you are opening an exhibition at the Louvre, one of the world's most important museums. The subjects of your exhibition sound a little commonplace, though: the essential nature of lists, poets who list things in their works and painters who accumulate things in their paintings. Why did you choose these subjects?
Umberto Eco: The list is the origin of culture. It's part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order -- not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart's librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists -- the shopping list, the will, the menu -- that are also cultural achievements in their own right.
SPIEGEL: Should the cultured person be understood as a custodian looking to impose order on places where chaos prevails?
Eco: The list doesn't destroy culture; it creates it. Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In fact, there is a dizzying array: lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants, or of treasures and book titles. Think of the nature collections of the 16th century. My novels, by the way, are full of lists.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The absolute absence of irony here is what strikes me . . .

The following excerpt is from The Ancient Engineers, by L. Sprague deCamp.  L. Sprague deCamp is known primarily as a writer of science-fiction and science-fantasy - a colleague and contemporary of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.  This book deals with engineering in civilizations prior to the Renaissance.  In this passage, he discusses the decline of the (western) Roman Empire without ever drawing a parallel to modern American history.

This book was published in 1963 and even an author steeped in the use of his imagination, as L. Sprague DeCamp was, could not imagine what follies America would pursue in the 40 years that followed the book's publication.  It is this utter inability to imagine what has transpired that continues to strike me.  It is a measure of the failure - not of the author, so much as the ability of two generations of Americans to appreciate and defend their heritage (with special mention of Senator Ted Kennedy).

beginning on p. 246:

            Some take the view that there was no one cause of Rome’s downfall.  Instead, the Roman government, like every other, was confronted by a series of problems.  For a long time it succeeded in solving them well enough to carry on.  At last, however, as much by luck as anything else, a number of these problems piled up all at once at a time when the Western Empire lacked strong leadership.  The wonder is not that Rome fell but that it managed to keep going so long.
            The principle problem, of course, was the barbarians.  Before +400 their incursions had been only raids, destructive but not fatal.  However, in +406 the Vandals, Suevi, and Alans burst into Gaul and headed for Spain at a time when the emperors of East and West were too busy fighting each other to defend the frontiers.  A few years later the Franks, Burgundians, and others came in, settled, and refused to leave.  Although willing at first to acknowledge the Emperor’s rule, they proved too numerous to absorb and too strong to oust; so it was only a matter of time before they took over the rule of the lands they occupied.
            Another factor in Rome’s fall was that, while the Romans were almost standing still in science and engineering, the barbarians were advancing.  They were learning the roman arts of peace and war, the former by trading contacts and the latter by mercenary service in the armies of Rome.  The arts of peace enabled their lands to support denser populations, while the arts of war made them as formidable, man for man, as the Romans.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Nancy Pelosi is many things . . .but stupid isn't one of them.

Nancy Pelosi's determination to bring ObamaCare to a floor vote this Saturday seems to me to be widely misunderstood.  It calls to my mind nothing so much as

Both sides are throwing all their resources into a desperate confrontation, whose outcome cannot be clearly foreseen.  Madame Speaker is clearly mindful of the manifest discontent in the electorate's voting this past Tuesday.  
She will never be in a stronger position 
than she is right now, 
so she is wisely pressing for victory without delay.

Republicans are shouting how she should take note of the Democrats' eroding support.  The  Democrats have duly noted it.  

Hey, GOP, get a clue.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Obama White House War with Reality: we report - you decide!

For the Obama White House to go to war with Fox News over ACORN scandals  was bizarre, in that it should have been beneath the purview of the Presidency.

For the Obama White House to go to war with Edmunds, the perennially dorky automobile folks, for their estimate that Cash-for-Clunkers brought in only 125,000 in car sales that would not otherwise have happened (==> $24,000 for each car that would not have otherwise sold) was petty and peevish.  Edmunds did the math.  All the White House did was pout.

Now comes comic calculations of jobs saved and created by the Obama Stimulus, through creative mathematics operating upon raises given to existing federal and Quango staff.

My most favorite excerptAt Southwest Georgia Community Action Council in Moultrie, Ga., director Myrtis Mulkey-Ndawula said she followed the guidelines the Obama administration provided. She said she multiplied the 508 employees by 1.84 — the percentage pay raise they received — and came up with 935 jobs saved. "I would say it's confusing at best," she said. "But we followed the instructions we were given."

My least favorite excerpt: Ed DeSeve, who oversees the stimulus at the White House, said the Head Start numbers "represent a few percent of all jobs reported" and said the problems would probably be balanced out by other errors that underreported jobs. So we don't expect any corrections to this data to meaningfully impact the total 640,000 direct jobs," DeSeve said.

I think that these behaviors should be noted.  I think that this blog is an appropriate place to note them.  This is part of American governance at this time and it should be noted and known.

Prior blog entries here have noted that the Obama Administration has concentrated its recovery funds where they will most immediately and directly improve the economic indices, rather than where they will actually promote recovery.  We've also noted that very early in this administration, the economic statistical tables were re-stated back to 1929 in order to dramatize the messianic recovery that has not materialized.

Whether this constitutes paranoid transference, corrupt governance or politics as usual, I leave to others to discern.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Headline: FDIC closes 9 banks in one day . . .Oct. 30, 2009 . . .

What you don't see behind the curtain is . . .

image from FBOP's home page
All banks were owned by FBOP Corp. of Chicago. The Chicago Tribune covered the situation comprehensively here:,0,502486.story

Excerpts: 1) Until recently, Kelly was viewed as a brilliant operator. But he had an abrupt reversal of fortune last year when the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac exposed the holding company's large concentration of Fannie and Freddie preferred stock. The company unsuccessfully applied for about $500 million in federal TARP funds

2) The timing was awkward. The government shut down $4.7 billion-asset Park National on the same day that its community development arm, Park National Bank Initiatives, received $50 million from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at a ceremony in Chicago.

3) The Park National shutdown occurred after several Illinois congressmen, including Reps. Bobby Rush and Danny Davis and Sen. Roland Burris, called the FDIC asking it to delay closing the bank for at least a week, said Marilyn Katz, a bank spokeswoman.

4) "At 10 a.m. this morning they were praising them and giving them $50 million, and at 10 p.m. this evening they'll be putting the padlock on the door," Rush said Friday evening. "There is something wrong with this picture: Wall Street wins and Main Street loses."

This story is a clear (in its muddledness) example of how the intermixing of federal interventions and private enterprise conjures tragedy and travesty, when it doesn’t conjure conspiracy and crime.
==> Michael Kelly was seen as a canny operator. He erred in trusting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac preferred stock. The man and his company are ruined because the feds drew their line on the other side of them.
==> The holding company was reported still profitable, but could not meet capital requirements after the quasi-government entities defaulted.
==> FBOP was denied TARP funds. Again, FBOP found itself on the wrong side of the Fed’s line.
==> Intervention by local politicians was insufficient. When you play in these games, you never know.
==> Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s right-hand didn’t know what his left-hand was doing.
==> This company (nine banks) and its sole proprietor, Mike Kelley, foundered in the cross-winds of Washington politics and policy. It did not fail from lending policy. In fact, it did not fail for lack of performing loans. This was and is just a nasty, stinking mess.
==> Under Obama, one immediately wonders whether Mike Kelly didn't put his political support in the wrong place.

More details here: