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Showing posts from August, 2012

Antebellum US Politics

Fergus M. Bordewich, a journalist and historian, has written America's Great Debate, a book about the sectional compromise of 1850 that preserved the union without bloodshed, for another 11 years, anyway.

Describes John Calhoun thus early on: "A nominal Democrat through most of his political career, in 1847 Calhoun proposed the formation of a new southern party founded on four principles: that new territories clearly be declared the common property of all the states; that Congress be clearly denied the right to enact any law, or undertake any act, that would deprive  a state of its 'full and equal right' in any United States territory; that any law barring the citizens of any state from carrying their property into any territory was a violation of the Constitution; and 'that people have the unconditional right to adopt the government which they think best calculated to secure their liberty, prosperity, and happiness.' This last was a virtual invitation to sece…

My Next Book, some thoughts

As some of you may have gathered from my "experiment in chronology" last week, I'm giving a lot of thought to how I will organize my next book.

This is going to be the more scholarly re-working of my last book that I've mentioned both in that book and in some of my responses to critics.

But it won't simply be Gambling with Borrowed Chips with end-notes and a bibliography added. It will be different in important organizational respects.

A narrower chronological focus, in particular. I won't be going back over the Renaissance and Reformation.

I probably won't even be going as far back as 1990, last week's "experiment" notwithstanding. I may start in 1994, when a lot of remarkably pertinent things happened.

The above photo, BTW, is of a 1994 Ford Ranger.

Anyway, my book would distinguish between the big picture items one first thinks of when thinking of a year, and the little pictures. It would discuss the little pictures in four groupings…

The Trip Home

Resuming (and concluding!)  my travel notes ... at my hotel, guests received three keys. One of them was a "key" in the old-fashioned sense, a metallic thing with a jagged edge meant to fit a particular lock. That was for the room's wetbar.

The other two keys were "keys" in the new-fangled sense, magnetized cards. One of these was for the door to my room, the other allowed me to work the elevator. This was the first hotel I have ever been in at which I received such a key panoply.

When my trip was done, I flew home. This was part of my design all along. The train one way, the plane the other.

I had to make some sacrifices. A couple of the souvenir trinkets I had purchased in my wanderings around time and town were not, I decided, the sort of things with which one easily gets through airport security in this age, so I left them for some future inhabitant to room 910 to discover for himself in the drawer of the bedtable.

But even having made those sacrifices,…

An Experiment in Chronology

The year 1990 in business and finance.

Big Picture: the two Germanies formally re-united, the Soviet Union tottered toward its end, Bush reached an agreement with Congress that raised taxes, despite his lip-reading pledge, and Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady was still at work implementing an ambitious plan hatched the previous year to retire unpayable debts by undeveloped countries, i.e. the Brady Bonds plan.

Little Pictures: The following items may all have seemed mere details, but it is my contention that each imply important stories, and these small-picture stories help us understand why we are where we are even today.  But I'll make no effort to explain the significance of each as mentioned.

January: Time Inc. merges with Warner Communications to become Time Warner

February: The US Supreme Court decides REVES v. ERNST & YOUNG, struggling with the question of what is a "security" for reg purposes.

March: FASB issues a pronoucnement on the disclosure o…

Fareed Zakaria and Paul Farhi

Fareed Zakaria has now come under assault for plagiarism. So far as I can tell, Zakaria was merely clumsy in one case, and is innocent in the other case, generally cited.

On August 13, The Washington Post ran a column by Paul Farhi (the fellow pictured above) entitled "More questions raised about Fareed Zakaria's Work."  "More" is the operative word there because the one case established prior to that, the instance of apparent clumsiness I've mentioned, appears not to have been enough.

Farhi charged that Zakaria, in his book The Post-American World (2008), quoted Andy Grove about the economic power of the US. Grove said, "America is in danger of folowing Europe down the tubes...." and other stuff along those lines.

Farhi seemed to be saying that Zakaria gave the impression that he had interviewed Grove himself to get that quote, whereas in fact the comment had been published three years earleir in a book by Clyde V. Prestowitz. Zakarua had just…

Ack, poor Liu Xiang, China's hurdler

Liu Xiang, a great track star, one whose ups and downs we've chronicled in the precursor to this blog, crashed into the first hurdle in the morning heat of his signature event, the 110 meter hurdle, Tuesday, August 7th, in the London Olympics.

He fell badly, and hopped the rest of the way around the track in order to protect his right angle.

There's an odd coincidence here. Liu was wearing the number 1356. The Chinese news agency Xinhua says that he had been wearing that same number when he was injured four years before at the Beijing games. Well, the first two digits of that number do have a reputation to uphold!

Liu has, as always, my sympathies. I don't know what happened to him in what should have been a routine prep heat for him but his career has helped shatter ethnic/racial stereotypes (an Asian championship in track? ) and the other racers/hurdlers at the Olympics seem to have treated him almost as an honored elder statesman of their sport. His own Olympic gold…

The Monarchical Revolution

The second of Barzun's four revolutions was that of and on behalf of the monarchs.

Or, more strictly, it was of and on behalf of kings and queens, and it is the way in which they made themselves into monarchs properly speaking. Monarchs in the strict sense are monocrats, the only rulers of their realms. Anyone else who exercises authority in a realm is doing so as the agent of the monocrat, or is in rebellion.

That was not true of kings in medieval times. Indeed, King Louis XIV, in a memoir, complains that it still wasn't true enough in his own day. He said that every provincial gentleman feels free to "act the tyrant toward his peasants," and that rather than a single ruler, the people "have a thousand."

If that same King also said, "I am the state," (Barzun doubts it, but the legend is tenacious) he meant it in a rather different sense from the way in which it is usually quoted. It was an aspiration. One could paraphrase it this way: "I a…

Four Revolutions

I made San Antonio the destination of the trip I described over the two preceding posts because I wanted to attend a meeting of a group of admirers of Jacques Barzun there. Every second Sunday of the month they discuss his masterpiece, FROM DAWN TO DECADENCE, a history of western culture from 1500 to the present.

The discussion was stimulating and amusing. I am grateful to all those I met there.

I'll just convey some take-away thoughts now. Barzun defined "revolution" in a somewhat narrow way. Nowadays, if someone invents a new vacuum cleaner that can get the dust in the corners more easily than the older cleaners, he is likely to call it a revolutionary product.

Even aside from marketing, you can find in dictionaries broad definitions of revolutions such as this: "far-reaching and drastic change." Thus, the late Helen Gurley Brown is both credited with and blamed for contributions to a "sexual revolution," the Vatican II council is said to have wo…

More Travel Notes

In St Louis we were parked awhile at an unimpressive-looking train station in an equally unimpressive neighborhood. One woman in my car was sure that this wasn't the "main" St Louis Station. She would get off at the next stop, she said, which would be the main one, downtown.

Staff did with some difficulty persuade her that yes, this was THE St. Louis station and that if she didn't get off she would end up at the real next stop, several miles away.

It was by now fairly late on Friday, and I fell sleep not long after we had pulled out of the main and only St Louis station.

I awoke in northern Texas. Marshall, Texas, if I remember rightly.

Longview Texas was next, and those on the train who wanted to go to Houston had to get off at Longview to make their connection.

Around 11:20 those of us still on the Eagle were in Dallas. We had about a 20 minute stop over. I got out of the train to stretch the legs a bit and because I hoped to find a newspaper. The sole vendor of a …

Travel Notes

I did some traveling last weekend, much of it by Amtrak. I was almost continually on one or another of two trains for 2 and a half days.

I had left what should have been plentiful room for down time in Chicago before making the connection between the one train and the other, but as it happened the Lake Shore Ltd was late getting into Union Station. I just had time for a quick lunch there Friday before looking for the gate for the Texas Eagle.

I ate that lunch at a small snack bar that has a blackboard with a trivia question on it along side the menu items.  The trivia question when I arrived was, "Who said, 'I will hear in Heaven.'?"

Those were, as you too might have guessed, the last words of Ludwig von Beethoven.  Unfortunately, you don't win any discount on the food by telling the waitress the right answer.

I also picked up a Wall Street Journal in Chicago and learned of the arrest by New York State authorities of Sergey Aleynikov.  So his stunning victory in …

Carson classic comedy material

On June 17, 1981, Johnny Carson made a weather-related observation.  "It was 107 degrees somewhere in Los Angeles today. But you know what everybody says?  I love this -- 107 today and they say, 'But there's no humidity in California!' There's no humidity in a nuclear meltdown either!"

On April 15, 1986, Johnny Carson levelled with his audience on another matter: "California ball players, let's be honest, are a little too mellow. Out here, a player steals a base and he has to go to a psychiatrist to deal with the guilt."

And last than a month later, May 8, 1986, he was in a re-assuring mood.  He told them: "Do not worry. I want to point out that the radiation from the applause sign is equivalent tro only two dental X-rays."

Death of Marvin Hamlisch

Composer Marvin Hamlisch passed away recently, on Auguist 7th, at 68 years.

Hamlisch won just about every sign of recognition there was to win for a composer of music for Broadway and Holywood: three Oscars, four Emmys, three Golden Globes, one Tony. Even a Pulitzer (the The Chorus Line.)

One of the Oscars was not for composing original music but for adapting it -- he adapted the work of ragtime great Scott Joplin for the movie The Sting.

Hamlisch was also the object of a crush, dear to the heart of Lisa Loopner, the fictional nerd played brilliantly by the late Gilda Radner.
And Hamlisch was due to ring in the new year 2013 with the New York Philharmonic, conducting its New Year's Eve concert.

Best of luck, then, to Hamlisch in his otherworldly journey and best of luck, too, to the Philharmonic in finding someone else for that gig.

Track and Field in London

Next week, when this Olympics is over, I'll have something mre to say about its track and field events. For now, two quick thoughts: First, I am happy to report that the first double amputee in Olympic history ran a qualifying heat Saturday. The athlete, Oscar Pistorius of South Africa (aka the "blade runner"), did quite well in the 400 meters, finishing in 45.44 seconds, and qualifying for the semifinals.

Yes, his "blades" create issues. How far in the direction of 'bionics' will atheletes be allowed to go. Does the design of his blades give him an unfair advantage over able-bodied runners?

But I don't care. I'm happy for him. So, it seems, are many of his competitors. The relevant authorities will just have to deal with such issues in an ad hoc way as they develop in Olympics to come.

Second, yes, Usain Bolt is amazing. His performance shows we he is worth every penny of the $10 million a year that Puma pays him for his endorsements. 

Bolt …

A Closing Statement from W. J. Bryan

"Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of the storm-tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endanger its cargo. In war, science has proven itself an evil genius; it has made war more terrible than it ever was before. Man used to be content to slaughter his fellow men on a single plane--the earth's surface. Science has taught him to go down into the water and shoot up from below and to go up into the clouds and shoot down from above, thus making the battlefield three times as bloody as it was before; but science does not teach brotherly love. Science has made war so hellish that civilization was about to commit suicide; and…

Pray for Forgiveness

I began my blog entry here for July 26 by reflecting on President Obama's statement to entrepreneurs, "You didn't build that."

This led me in time, through an associative train the station stops of which I won't here reproduce, to the words of William James on the moral philosopher and the moral life.

On the final station of that roadway, I quoted James thus:

"See everywhere the struggle and the squeeze; and ever-lastingly the problem of how to make them less. The anarchists, nihilists and free-lovers; the free-silverites, socialists, and single-tax men; the free-traders and civil-service reformers; the prohibitionists and anti-vivisectionists; the radical darwinians with their idea of the suppression of the weak, -- these and all the conservative sentiments of society arrayed against them are simply deciding through actual experiment by what sort of conduct the maximum amount of good can be gained and kept in this world."

In reflections thereo…

Caro on Johnson

The Federal Lawyer this month ran my review of the fourth volume in Robert Caro's ongoing biography of Lyndon Johnson, the 36th president of the United States.

I discuss aspects of the volume not discussed much in the other reviews I've seen, including Johnson's dealings with Bobby Baker and (through Bobby Baker) with insurance salesman Don Reynolds.

Here is a quote from the book (I don't quote it, though I allude to it, in my review):

Reynolds told Williams that in 1957, having been advised that a 'political connection' would be helpful in building up his insurance business, he contacted Bobby Baker, a fellow South Carolinian, and they entered into an agreement under which he would make payments to Baker 'because,' as Reynolds was to put it, 'of his social contacts and his wide knowledge of people [whom he] could present to me.' Baker had shortly thereafter introduced him to Walter Jenkins. Johnson, that same year, had mentioned to Baker that …


Ciceronianus has a fascinating post up about H.L. Mencken, a guy who could inspire many of them.

I wonder if young people still regularly read (or see performed in some form) the old play/movie Inherit the Wind ?

For many of my generation, anyway, an interest in Mencken was first roused by the character based upon him in this play, E.K. Hornbeck, memorably played by Gene Kelly. (Yes, a non-dancing dramatic role by the Gene Kelly) in the 1960 movie.

Hornbeck is not written as an admirable character. We're supposed to side with Henry Drummond/Spencer Tracy/Clarence Darrow after all, (how can one not side with Spencer Tracy??) and we're supposed to see Hornbeck as being as much a dogmatist as Brady/Bryan, though a dogmatist of a contrary dogma. The Bryanesque character, by the way, was played by Frederick March.

William James, the titular figure and presiding genius of this blog, once referred to his own philosophical goal as ensuring a safe space between "the upper and the…

Inventing Dylan

Jonah Lehrer has left his post at The New Yorker amidst a bit of scandal.

Lehrer is the author of a non-fiction book on neurology, called Imagine, published in March of this year. The subtitle of Lehrer's book sounds a bit ironic now, "How Creativity Works."

Lehrer uses Bob Dylan as one of his examples of a creative individual, someone whose creativity can be understood through contemporary neuroscience.

Well, this is how creativity doesn't work: making up sh!t and attributing it to someone else.

Michael Moynihan pointed out in the devastating article that forced Lehrer's admission and resignation at TNY, Lehrer had simply lied. He had invented some Dylan quotes out of thin air, and in other cases terribly distorted their significance to fit his broader neurological narrative. Lehrer has now admitted as much, "The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquoations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes.&…