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27 January 2008

Why I am an internationalist

In his numinous and magical novel Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut introduced the idea of "granfalloons". These are random groupings of people who think, erroneously, that they have some shared destiny as a group, and for whom this delusion is a source of suffering and misguided action. Examples, famously, are given, thus:

Other examples of granfalloons are the Communist Party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Association of Oddfellows - and any nation, anytime, anywhere.

I think of this statement, which has become a sort of mantra to me over the nearly 40 years since I read Cat's Cradle, literally every time I pass through an airport, see a reference to immigration or international trade, and about the half the time I am watching, listening to or reading the news. Especially when I read about things like this.

20 January 2008

Another similar take on US economic woes

This article, by Paul Krugman in the NYT, is not so in-depth as the WaPo one, but has a similar case to make, particularly:


It wasn’t just Alan Greenspan’s unwillingness to admit that there was anything more than a bit of “froth” in housing markets, or his refusal to do anything about subprime abuses. The fact is that as America’s financial system has grown ever more complex, it has also outgrown the framework of banking regulations that used to protect us — yet instead of an attempt to update that framework, all we got were paeans to the wonders of free markets.

17 January 2008

New kind of recession, new rules

As the government here is in minor turmoil over the "Northern Rock crisis" and the company I used to work for (on whose premises I still work as a contractor) just made 500 people around the country redundant, I just happened upon a really brilliant op-ed piece by Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post (or WaPo as most typing-shy bloggers call it). Now this article is over a year old, even though it is more relevant now than when it was written (which we word-infatuated bloggers call "prescient") so you may need to register with WaPo to read it, but you can opt out of getting any of their friendly and well-meaning spam and it is free. But knowing my readership as I do, I decided to revert to my old habit (avoided lately for IP reasons) of long quotes, because I sense that you won't register, and this is just so good:

In a normal recession, the to-do list is clear. Copies of Keynes are dusted off, the Fed lowers interest rates, the president and Congress cut taxes and hike spending. In time, purchasing, production and loans perk up, and Keynes is placed back on the shelf. No larger alterations to the economy are made, because our economy, but for the occasional bump in the road, is fundamentally sound.
This has been the drill in every recession since World War II.
Republicans and Democrats argue over whose taxes should be cut the most and which projects should be funded, but, under public pressure to do something, they usually find some mutually acceptable midpoint and enact a stimulus package. Even in today's hyperpartisan Washington, the odds still favor such a deal.
This time, though, don't expect that to be the end of the story -- because the coming recession will not be normal, and our economy is not fundamentally sound. This time around, the nation will have to craft new versions of some of the reforms that Franklin Roosevelt created to steer the nation out of the Great Depression -- not because anything like a major depression looms but because we face an economy that's been warped by two developments we've not seen since FDR's time.
The first of these is the stagnation of ordinary Americans' incomes, a phenomenon that began back in the 1970s and that American families have offset by having both spouses work and by drawing on the rising value of their homes. With housing values toppling, no more spouses to send into the workplace, and prices of gas, college and health care continuing to rise, consumers are played out. December was the cruelest month that American retailers have seen in many years, and, as Michael Barbaro and Louis Uchitelle reported in Monday's New York Times, delinquency rates on credit cards, auto loans and mortgages have all been rising steeply for the past year.

So, I hope that was good enough to entice you to read the entire article. He goes on to offer real, serious and radical ideas about "what is to be done".

08 January 2008

Blogkeeping and my life - 2008, election year

This is my first blog of 2008 and it's already the 8th. Not so good, I know. Blogs do wither and die, and even though this one has had its ups and downs, and is definitely in a slow period now, I don't want to let it die. It's not because I'm tired of it, or don't know what to say; it's purely a matter of lack of time, being tired in the evening, having other things that I don't want to do but have to do. But enough whining. Let me tell you all what I have been up to.
For one thing, I am all absorbed in and excited about the 2008 presidential election. Oh, yeah, not very original. So is half the planet. The BBC, honest to God, it's almost all they talk about. The Guardian is in hog-heaven.
Although I am supporting Obama, I am almost as happy about Edwards. I would not mind it he won the presidency at all, especially given that Obama is very young and could run and win again. And I am not thrilled that Clinton is having such a rough time. Sure, I would like the US to have a woman leader. But - well, there are so many "but"s with Mrs. Clinton. I wish she would bow out and just start grooming Chelsea for 2016.
I have been following the events in Pakistan. And those in Kenya.
I have just started a boot camp exercise class on Sundays. More on that later.
I was very happy to see the Richey guy finally get out of prison today.
I still have tons of pictures from my November holiday to put online somewhere.
I have been hanging out at Facebook, exploring ScotsCafe and Sagazone, and I went to one "new" meetup - of American ex-pats in Nottingham (maybe more on that later too).

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