March 7, 2014
I must be really weird.
I only read stuff that makes me think or that should make me angry, (Did you know that the U.S. government is suing Sprint for overcharging for its wiretapping services?)
On my very short list of favorite publications is The Baffler, and I highly recommend its blog: go here. They are the best collection of wise guys I know of.
March 7, 2014
In the community
William Galston is still writing about the necessary relationship between wages and productivity. Jack Kruger of Myrtle Creek, Oregon wrote to the Wall Street Journal (March 3):
When I was a kid my father was a milkman. Landgren's Dairy in Kenosha Wisconsin is long gone, and there are no more milkmen. Then he worked in the purchasing department of an auto company, until he was replaced by an early computer. I worked at the same auto company; American Motors may have had the biggest car factory in the world, because it was all under one roof, but it's gone now; there's not even any brick dust left. I also once worked in a TV factory: that's gone too, and as far as I know there are no TV factories in the USA. Now I have a retirement job in a big-box bookstore, and the handwriting is on the wall for that business; Border's and Barnes & Noble were opening new stores a dozen years ago, but now they are closing them.
If I went back far enough, my great-grandfather was probably the last member of the buggywhip makers union. Mr Kruger clearly needs to get out more: workers have always shared in the losses and stresses of ownership, and they need to share in the successes too, otherwise the whole economy suffers. What could be simpler?
Also in the Wall Street Journal, two people wrote about health care (March 4). In Austin, Texas, Anne Brennan's husband died of cancer in 2006; they had a hard time getting his medication paid for, and she knows first hand that "the system we had before the Affordable Care Act was an expensive failure, which is why a new approach was attempted." (My dad died of cancer in 1991, and the mess was hard to believe.) Brennan goes on:
Ellen Shaffer Meyer of Wilmington, Delaware wrote:
We hear you, ladies.
March 2, 2014
John Browne was CEO of British Petroleum for a dozen years until 2007; in fact, he's the one who renamed the company BP in 2001. He was an unusual oilman in a number of ways, pointing out for example that fighting global warming doesn't just mean conserving fossil fuel -- if we have more efficient appliances, we will just buy more of them -- but using less of it. Now he has published a book called Seven Elements That Changed The World. Reviewing the book in the weekend Wall Street Journal, Mark Levinson writes about why there are few pipelines between Russia and China:
The Russians want to sell oil and the Chinese want to buy it, but they can't do business because they are both shabby dictatorships that don't understand the rule of law or the sanctity of contract. They are centuries out of date.
March 2, 2014
Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes in his Business World column in this weekend's Wall Street Journal:
I almost fell off my chair! One of the "conservative" über-capitalists at the Wall Street Journal effectively admits that we have a global warming problem, and that humans are helping to make it worse! Of course, the rest of his column was about how we can't do anything about it. Still, I thought this was a major step forward for the Journal's editorial page.
February 27, 2014
I seldom recognise my country. I would like it back.
February 27, 2014
Engine of the world
In today's Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger goes on about President Obama "leading from behind", while on the letters page, Mary McLeod of St. Paul Minnesota takes Peggy Noonan to task -- Noonan had written a column called "Whose Side Are We On? -- pointing out that the American people are war-weary because of the foolish mistakes made by the previous administration.
But then Henninger gets more interesting, observing that the USA has been the world's growth engine for many decades, but that we are now leading the world's economy from behind. This ties in with what I was saying yesterday ("The news", below). We are supposed to have recovered from the Great Recession, but our growth is only about 2% a year instead more than 3%, which is what we were used to, and a big fat symptom of this is income inequality. People who have less money spend less and invest less, and no matter how hard most people work they don't get much further ahead. I personally know people who are working two and even three jobs.
It's time for so-called American "conservatives" to stop yapping about the politics of envy: I don't care how much money you're got; that's not the point. I want to be proud of my country again.
February 27, 2014
After the Wedding
I'm going to try this picture again...
Nope. The engagement portrait (scroll down to February 8) appeared upright, but usually the blog assumes all the photos are landscapes, and I don't know what to do about it.
February 27, 2014
Barton Swaim is a scholar and a gentleman from the American south (I assume) who used to write speeches for a governor of South Carolina, about which he has written very amusingly, and he is now communications manager for the South Carolina Policy Council. He has a doctorate from the University of Edinburgh; he has published a book called Scottish Men of Letters and the New Public Sphere, which sounds interesting to me. He also writes for several publications, including my two favorites, the Times Literary Supplement and the Wall Street Journal. But he seems to be a so-called American "conservative", so you have to keep an eye on him.
At the weekend Swaim reviewed a book in the WSJ called The Value of the Humanities, by Helen Small. I do not know for sure that it does any good nowadays to require any college kid to study Shakespeare; today's academia is such as expensive racket (cf Thomas Frank in The Baffler no. 23) that we may as well turn it upside down to see what happens. But a discussion would be worth having. Swaim quotes Small listing the familiar five arguments in favor of the humanities, including that the humanities are useful to society in ways that aren't quantifiable. Indeed Swaim repeats that one twice; and having repeated it he writes that "There may be some truth to that claim, but if so it's a strictly theoretical truth, not a verifiable one."
Swaim goes on to admit that he has "an expensive doctoral degree in English from an ancient university", while I am in absolutely no doubt that I am a better man, a better father, a better husband, a better neighbor, indeed a better citizen because I have read a few good books in my time, and because I have a more than nodding acquaintance with the Beethoven string quartets (and with the string quartets of John Pickard and Harvey Stokes, which I have been listening to this afternoon, as it happens).
Swaim knows as well as I do that the humanities are priceless, that the legacy of centuries of art is civilization itself, and that this doesn't need verification. So why did he change "quantifiable" to "verifiable"? Why do "conservatives" so often try to change the argument that way? Why are they always playing a shell game?
The following Tuesday Swaim reviewed Fred Siegel's The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism has Undermined the Middle Class (from Encounter, a publisher I would describe as reliably "conservative"), also in the Wall Street Journal. The thesis of the book, with which Swaim seems to agree, is that "liberal intellectuals" (I can almost hear the hyphen) loathe the middle class. It is pointed out that post-WWII there was an explosion of of middle-class interest in culture and the arts; that 50,000 Americans a year were buying collections of the great books; and that broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoon were heard by 15 million people. And the thesis is that today we are swimming in a sea of trash because "liberal intellectuals" were not impressed.
Not true, Mr Swaim. I was there; I grew up watching it. My father struggled into the middle class, and approved of me listening to classical music, saying, "That's the kind of music that doesn't go out of date." His generation paid that lip service to the finer things of life, even if they did not have the time or the energy to indulge: he couldn't even afford a decent record player, and there were no string quartets in Kenosha as far as we knew. But all that is over; the classics of music and literature do not get lip service from the middle class these days, and I can assure Mr Swaim that it is not because my generation was reading Susan Sontag.
The reason the NBC Symphony Orchestra was disbanded, the reason the Chicago Symphony's concerts are no longer televised as they were in Fritz Reiner's day, the reason our greatest orchestras no longer have recording contracts, the reason few people will ever hear of John Pickard or Harvey Stokes, is that our culture is now a heaving ocean of hi-tech brain-rotting candy which is more easily profitable, and it is not "liberal intellectuals" who call those shots. It's the accountants in the big corporations, who have replaced the liberals (eg. Goddard Lieberson at Columbia Records) who used to accept some responsibility for maintaining standards.
Time was when a corporate big shot actually wrote a string quartet.
February 26, 2014
Nobody is better at procrastinating than I am. Nobody. Not long ago I had not ironed any of my shirts in months. Finally I had to iron shirts for about two solid days.
It's the same thing with the taxes. I have to enter all of our deductable expenses in an old version of Quicken, which is on my old computer, and of course can't be transferred to my new Mac, and I am certainly not going to buy a new version of Quicken. (Last time I bought Quicken it was packaged with some other piece of software and we were supposed to get a kickback, er I mean rebate, but after I sent in all the box tops we did not get our kickback.) Anyway, all I use Quicken for is making lists of stuff; when we tried to use it to do a tax return the results were bizarre beyond belief.
So I have to unlimber my old computer and plug it in and hook it up to the screen and the modem so that I can't use my new computer for the duration. If I did this at the end of each month there'd be nothing to it, but of course I don't do that. I wait till February and then I have to do a whole year's worth of bookkeeping at once. And I don't really want to do it at all, so of course I think of other things to do... But I finished it today. Then I had to figure out how to print out the lists of stuff from Quicken because I can never remember how I did it last year. (But this year I made a note of how to do that and left it on the dersktop of the old computer.) I wonder if I will be able to keep this up until I die, or if I will have to retire the old computer and find some other way of making lists of stuff.
Oh, and every time I turn on my everyday computer it says that a disc was not removed properly, even if I haven't used a disc for days. And every time I use the printer the computer tells me that the printer is not connected; I have to unplug the printer from a port on the hub and plug it into a different port. Then it is connected. Again. What does this mean? Who the hell knows.
February 26, 2014
I only work a few hours a week at Barnes & Noble, earning enough pocket money to keep me away from the ATM machine. But watching the customers it occurs to me that if the people who wear jackets which say "The North Face" on them knew how many people were wearing jackets that say "The North Face" on them, there wouldn't be so many people wearing jackets that say "The North Face" on them.
February 26, 2014
The news is that there isn't any news. One or two of the people who write for the Wall Street Journal are not excessively cramped with ideology and sometimes have interesting things to say; recently William A. Galston has been writing (eg. "The U.S. Needs a New Social Contract") that a big problem today is that wages are not keeping pace with productivity the way they used to when we had a strong and prosperous economy. Retail, manufacturing and services get more and more efficient but wages and salaries are stagnating, which prevents the economy from "growing" and leaches the confidence out of the middle class. But the writers of letters to the Wall Street Journal say pish and tush, balder and dash: why should employees be rewarded for working more productively? And shouldn't the investors reap the rewards of increasing productivity? But the investors are certainly being rewarded; the stock market is doing just fine, thank you very much.
The subject of income inequality won't go away. The problem is that the chattering classes seem to think that's it's about individuals, about taking money from some people and giving it to others. It's not. It's about Wall Street sitting on trillions of dollars and CEOs paying themselves ten times as much as they used to while wages and salaries are stagnant, unemployment is still high and few jobs are being created. Again, the writers of letters to the Wall Street Journal are instructive: Joe Doaks in Wistful Vista California thinks I want some of his money. The truth is I think he should probably be making more.
February 26, 2014
Of course when I should have been doing my taxes or blogging I was on the West Coast acquiring a beautiful new daughter-in-law. Here are Mr. and Mrs. David Clarke on the beach in Monterey (Carmel, actually, I think) a few minutes after their wedding. I have some other pictures I would like to post here but they are portraits, and today my blog will not display them right side up, although it did display the engagement picture (below) properly. Go figure. I think computers were invented to drive us all nuts.
February 10, 2014
Hollywood does it again
Saw Monuments Men last night and enjoyed it. But it's happened again: somebody was playing a 78 on screen at a slow speed. It looked like 45 rpm. How can they get so much detail right in a picture set nearly 70 years ago and get that wrong every time?
Now I am after Ethne to write a book set in Italy, where Cecil Pinsent was a monument man, but she's just published an entire book about Pinsent (An Infinity of Graces) and she probably doesn't want to get back on that treadmill.
And this morning it's take the dog to the kennel (a 30-mile round trip), then ourselves to a hotel near the Philadelphia airport tonight, a very early flight tomorrow to California where there won't be any %$&# SNOW, and in a few days we will have a beautiful daughter-in-law.
February 9, 2014
The gangsters at Adobe
Once again I have allowed myself to become a victim of what amounts to fraud. Suddenly I could not access anything visual without downloading a new version of Adobe's Flash. The only advantage they trumpeted was an improvement in "gaming", and I do not play games on the computer, but apparently I would never be able to see anything on YouTube again if I did not do what some corporation demands that I do. So I bit the bullet, and they wanted a password, and it took me a while to figure out what the hell password they wanted...
And now, on Facebook, the movies start up without me telling them to, and if the sound comes on, the only way I can turn it off is to leave Facebook. Real smart. How wonderful. How utterly stupid.
February 8, 2014
Yet more first-world problems
It's very hard to blog nowadays. The explosion of media and information apparently means that we are getting stupider.
George Washington died too young. He had some kind of infection, which his immune system might have dealt with, but his doctor, who was also his friend and neighbor, bled him until half his blood was gone, and of course it is the blood that fights infection. So maybe the Founding Fathers didn't say anything about health care in the Constitution because they didn't have any. A couple of weeks ago a letter-writer in the Wall Street Journal complained that the Founding Fathers did not want us to have the kind of government that would tell us what kind of light bulb we can have. But Thomas Edison wasn't born until 1847, Nikola Tesla until 1856; the Founding Fathers could not have imagined incandescent light, nor an energy problem, since they were still cutting down forests and did not use fuel oil, natural gas or nuclear power, let alone internal combustion engines. They didn't have an Interstate highway system. How did they get along without iPads?
On the other hand... The Federal Trade Commission is suing Apple because kids are able to buy things on their iPads without asking their parents. Why do kids have iPads? Where are their parents? Why is this Apple's fault? In any case, what's new? I drove my parents nuts when I was a kid, joining record clubs; even a budget-priced box of the complete Beethoven string quartets cost a few bucks more than my dad could afford, and that was some time before the Internet.
There's nothing in the news except that the Founding Fathers have been replaced by the Foundering Children, so it's hard to know what to blog about.
I remember when I used to write books. Weeks would go by, maybe months, when I would not be interrupted, able to stick to my last. I've got something in mind that I would like to write. But first we had the Holidays. Then we had ten days of zero degrees Fahrenheit outside. Now we have six or eight inches of old snow with such a hard crust that I can walk on it and the poor dog doesn't know where to poop, and mountains of ice everywhere so that taking the dog for a walk is dangerous. I am making appointments to get the thermostats replaced (over a grand for two Honeywells) and an estimate on blowing insulation into the attic (a grand is too much, for some reason). I am still settling into my new room on the second floor; I have to prepare our taxes for the accountant, which means using an old computer because the Quicken cannot be moved to the new one... Tons of work to do on the Encyclopedia...Does anyone care about any of this stuff except me? No. So I haven't been blogging much lately. My readers will just have to suffer withdrawal. Both of them.