Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why the Euro Matters

[The Yalta Conference, 1945]

It was a fundamental tenet of fascism to deny the unity of Europe.  The fascist governments explicitly denied the unity of Europe because they intended, and felt justified in intending, to treat their fellow Europeans as objects of imperial and colonial acquisition.  That is quite different than the mutuality of neighbors, even unfriendly neighbors, with whom one shares a long history and a common, or at least, similar religion.  The earlier version of this was the notion of 'Christendom'.

Even in war, Europeans acknowledged each other's humanity.  One remembers the informal Christmas truces on the Western Front in World War One when German and English troops would sing carols to one another across the corpses and machine guns of the trenches and the wire.  And that the next day, they would follow orders and return to the slaughter.

The European Union, the European Central Bank, the common European passport, the European Commission, the European Parliament, all the other institutions of European integration, and most notably the Euro, are an attempt to bring an end to a thousand years of uncountable and progressively more destructive European wars.

If the Euro fails that would be the first significant step backward on a path that people of good will hope and intend will eventually lead to the merger of sovereign European states into what young people in particular hope will be a "Europe of regions", not of states.  Worse, it would break the momentum toward integration and damage, perhaps irreparably European confidence in that outcome.

So while the discussion may seem like abstruse questions of banking and national debts and finance taking place among people in suits around long mahogany tables and that it all has not much to do with our lives, nothing could be further from the truth.  If the number of European wars over the past millennium is uncountable, the number of casualties in those wars is trebly so.  Twice in my father's lifetime, millions of young Americans have been sent overseas to fight, and too often to die, in those wars.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What the Founding Fathers Have to Say to Modern America

[Patrick Henry's landed estate was in Henry County, Virginia.  I too was 
raised in a county named for my family, PoorAssJews County, California.] 

He was on of those who wrote the US Constitution and represented, not the people, though they often claimed to (politicians were hypocritical liars then too), but country gentlemen like the Virginia aristocracy, i.e themselves.

The liberal democrats like Henry and Jefferson wanted a weak central government run by Southern aristocrats which would not be able to impose direct taxes and most of all not be able to interfere with slavery.  A government composed of people like, say, Jefferson and his class.

The Federalists, led by Hamilton and the New Englanders and New Yorkers, wanted a strong central government that could create a positive business climate for commerce and banking. It was mere coincidence that they and their friends were engaged in commerce and banking.  They wanted to impose taxes to pay for infrastructure like the Erie Canal, turnpikes, harbors, and suppression of the Indians. They wanted a strong government to limit and eventually suppress the slave trade.

Now we have come to an era when everybody quotes one Founding Father or another for some principle or another as though the Founders were unified and agreed on anything. They agreed on absolutely nothing. They only reason they were able to stick together at all was the personal prestige and leadership of George Washington. Without Washington they would have been defeated, the British army would have rounded them all up and hung them, just as Franklin predicted.

In modern times the libertarians call on the Constitution to give freedom to business against the interest of the common people.  Completely wrongheaded and false.  Similarly, the liberals call on the Constitution for a strong government to regulate business.  Equally wrong.  The fact is that the situation of American business and banking is now so far from when it was just getting started in the near-wilderness of 1787 that the comparison is meaningless.  American business and banking are a colossus that bestrides the world.  Slavery has been gone for a century and a half and the slave trade even longer. So the reasons for wanting a strong or a weak government in 1787 are meaningless today.

Which means, to me at least, that quoting the Founders for this purpose or that is doubly meaningless. They were all over the map on every issue and fought bitterly over every word and phrase in the constitution.  Patrick Henry, who did as much as anyone to get the Revolution underway, "smelt a rat" and refused to even attend the Constitutional Convention. On the other side of the question, it is meaningless to try and figure out what Jefferson or Adams would have thought of tapping cellphones or abortion or racial equality.  Those things would be inconceivable to them.  So I think we have to look to how we the living want to govern our country and not worry too much about what the Founders would have thought about the issues that divide us. The real fact is that they would not have thought anything at all.  They couldn't have.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Growing Darkness

The end of daylight savings time in the wee hours of the morning today has begun my least favorite time of the year.  I do not like the short days.  I do not like the cloudy overcast skies.  I do not like the cold.  I do like the rain but not like the wet after the rain.

I get depressed and moody during the dark months.  Every year I promise myself that I will escape to sunnier climes.  Chile and New Zealand come to mind.  I think about renting an apartment in Valparaiso or Auckland.  And every year I decide that being alone in a far-off country where I know no one would be worse than staying here in the cold and wet and dark.

There is lots to recommend the Southern Hemisphere.  It is springtime there when it is November and December here.

Outside the United States one is free of endless tape loops of Bing Crosby singing 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer', and of 'Jingle Bells' sung by people who have never seen, and who never will see, a one-horse open sleigh.  Outside the United States one is not inundated in red and green decorations, and in images of Frosty the Snowman in California where there are no snowmen.  Outside the United States one is not subjected to endless seasons greetings cards from people whose sole purpose in sending them is to show themselves and others that they are married.  I have long since given up any sense of guilt or obligation about not sending cards myself.  I have accepted that I am a curmudgeon and that I just don't care and I rely on my friends to recognize this.

Outside the United States one is not subjected to the idiocy of receiving presents one doesn't want in return for buying and giving presents the recipient doesn't want either.  For some reason the presents have to be wrapped in colored paper which is promptly thrown away, as though that somehow conceals the fact that they are mass-produced in Chinese sweatshops.

If one gives expensive presents, one gives a label of which the message is, "I pointlessly gave a prosperous store owner a lot of money for something functionally worth far less than I paid for it in hopes you would feel good about me, or at least not be pissed at me for not getting you anything."  Does anyone not know that luxury goods are sold at a far higher markup than useful things?  But then again, you know me well enough to know that the reason I spent so much money was out of desperation about not being able to think of anything interesting or original to get you.

Rita sometimes gives people notices that she has sent money in their name to a sanctuary for homeless pot-bellied pigs.  People buy them as piglets because they are so cute, smart, and easy to train.  They ditch them when they grow into enormous hogs which occasionally eat their neighbors' pets and small children.  Why they don't just eat the pigs is hard to understand.  Having an edible pet seems like a practical foresight.  One can imagine a vegan with a pet carrot.

And New Year's Eve has become a waste of time.  It used to be an evening to get drunk and laid after a loud party.  Now one is married or close to it and one goes home with the one one came with.  So there is nothing to look forward to about it except being a year older, which isn't much to look forward to at all.

Rita has an enormous and quite ridiculous bulldog named Ollie.  He is a likable pooch and a hopeless goofball.  He is fat and farts a lot and snores when he sleeps.  That pretty well describes me too, so I wonder what exactly Rita sees in me.  But I am far from the first to not understand women.

Ollie is a good ol' dog but he is a problem if we want to move to Punta Arenas or Christchurch for a month.  It seems wrong to put him in a kennel for more than a few days.  On the other hand am I willing to be depressed and miserable staying here so that Ollie won't be depressed and miserable staying in a kennel?   It is a quandary.  

The only good thing about winter is skiing.  Sadly I am getting close to being too old to go anymore.  But I have been going to the gym semi-religiously to get my legs into shape for a few ski runs.  It is harder on the legs than it used to be because I am a lot fatter than I used to be and a lot heavier.  Which makes standing up on the skis harder, and falling down at speed problematic.

Another only good thing about winter is driving through snowy scenery.  I like that a lot.  I am not yet too old to do that though my back complains loudly if I sit too long.  I have a mechanical back massager thing which move steel knuckles up and down my back as I drive.  I doubt I could still drive long distances without it.

So I am semi-stuck and semi-dreading the winter and its thoroughly annoying holidays.