Sunday, June 26, 2016

This is Europe’s golden age

Fit for a European?
What is the real importance of Britain’s vote to quit the European Union?

That a border in Europe was changed and no army marched.

The discontents of the British are laughable: They complain that Brussels regulates the curvature of bananas. (Not really true) Or, on the pro-EU side, that they will have a hard time traveling to Italy. (Not really true)

The Leavers have short memories. England was famous for red tape (the phrase originated in Westminster) before ever a bureaucrat stamped an order in Brussels. (The historian Arthur Herman contends that the rise of England began when the Royal Navy was reorganized as a bureaucracy of 7 departments — in the reign of Henry VII. And it was an English historian of the Admiralty who enunciated Parkinson’s Law.)

The question of immigration is nothing new. The fear and distrust of strangers in Europe is nothing new — and, considering Europe’s past, nothing surprising. It applies to travelers as well as migrants, Hemingway noticed it while ski-trekking in Tyrol in 1921, for example. And Brecht used it memorably in the opening of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”:

A traveler comes to a house in the mountains and asks shelter and food for the night. He blows on his hands to warm them and on his soup to cool it, so the people recognize him as a wizard and kill him.

The joke (if that is what we can call it) was not original with Brecht. It was an old one.

The problems of the EU are the problems of overwhelming success: On the day I was born, there were 12,000,000 homeless, destitute people in Europe, the factories were ruined, the cities in ruins, the farms in ruins. Europe could not feed itself.  Well into the ‘50s, English people could not readily buy a chicken’s egg (although seagull eggs were readily available even during the war, if you liked the fishy tang).

Today, the complaint is that EU subsidies lead the farmers to produce too much food of too high a quality.

Today, American rightwingers complain that Europe’s armies are too small and weak. American rightwingers, too, have short memories.

Europe’ s malaise, if that’s what the vote represents, is merely an example of a wider phenomenon: that people want to bitch even if they have nothing really to bitch about. And if they have no real problems, then they are free to bitch in ridiculous, even self-harmful ways.

Consider America. Our great grandparents had real problems to deal with: votes for women, fair treatment of blacks (and Irish, Italians, Jews etc.), free coinage of silver, regulation of monopolies, tainted food and impure drugs, epidemics, hunger, limited education for most children.

The list of problems they solved is impressive.
What issue in the 2016 election is as great as any of those? The Trans Pacific Partnership?

The nasty, selfish, often fascist feelings revealed in the success of the Leave voters, the Tea Party, the Trump Republicans are real and dangerous and need to be opposed. But get a grip.

The fall  of stock prices and the jump in gold (though still to only two-thirds its level of five years ago) makes no sense. Markets are often that way. They multiply nervousness until it turns into panic.

For myself, I follow about 20 American stocks closely. (They are not representative of anything in particular.) Of those, two that fell the most on Friday were Berkshire Hathaway and Praxair.

So I bought both, on the theory that the world is not going t want less acetylene, Geico car insurance, Burlington Northern freight cars or Coca-Cola because Britain voted to leave the EU.

I expect the prices of both to be back at Thursday levels by Tuesday, or Wednesday at the latest.

Easy money.








Thursday, June 23, 2016

Exporting democracy

Malcolm Muggeridge refused an appointment in the spy services on the grounds that spies are inevitably second-raters. He was too generous.

 Had Aramco changed its mind? Cutler left it an open question, but William Chandler, vice president at the time of Aramco-owned Tapline, said in an interview before his death in 2009 that the company did resume cooperation, at least to some extent. He received a call in early 1954 from an Aramco executive to expect a briefing about a “special program” involving Tapline, which operated an oil pipeline across Saudi Arabia. The plan was to disable the pipeline if the Soviets invaded by destroying key valves in its pumps. Company supervisors were trained to use plastic explosives, which they stored in footlockers under their beds. “It was something we were ordered to do,” said Chandler.

This harebrained plan helps explain why Iran is an enemy today. It didn't have to be so.

The world was damn lucky the CIA didn't manage to set off a nuclear war in the '50s. It wasn't for lack of trying.

We already know a lot: the military aggression against China, for example. But new and ever crazier schemes keep coming out, like this one to nuke oilfields.

Imagine if the United States had instead supported patriots and democrats in the Middle East. It might not be too late even now. We could support the Kurds.

We won't, though, because the people running our foreign policy are 1) stupid and 2) incapable of learning from experience.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Review 368: Stars Beneath the Sea

STARS BENEATH THE SEA: The Pioneers of Diving, by Trevor North. 281 pages, illustrated. Carroll & Graf, $25

“Stars Beneath the Sea” is a history of man under the sea as told by a standup comic, or perhaps P.J. O’Rourke on his best day.

The most interesting of his characters are three Englishmen, John Haldane, his son J.B.S. and Cameron Wright, who were eccentrics of the sort that English privilege produces so prolifically. But the non-English pioneers (mainly French) were odd, too.

Probably it takes someone a little crazy to put his head underwater and leave it there.

Men — and women, too — have dived for a long time but the rewards of free diving are restricted. The ability to spend long periods underwater opened vast areas of important knowledge, and the systematic approach to devising ways to do that was itself an important source of new knowledge.

Diving, mining, aviation and medicine were positively interfertile in producing revolutionary insights into human physiology. It was this period — the 60 years of research by the Haldanes and Wright beginning around 1900 — that was the most important, but non-scientists had their contributions to make.

North is a diver and marine biologist who knew some of his subjects personally. He has a knowing way with words and a mordant wit.







Racist

Sometimes, RtO has to state the obvious, rather than just restating what other people have observed. This is one of those times.

You may recall that Trump started his extended ruminations about skin color by suggesting that some immigrants from Mexico "are good people." Not many but some.

What, do you suppose, would Trump define as "good people"? How about the Curiels?

I don't know anything about them, except that they left their home country, came into a strange place where they had to start new lives and had a son who was good enough to be confirmed by Congress as a district judge.

Not good enough for Trump, who impugns Judge Curiel's  fairness because of his skin.

Trump is a racist and therefore everyone who supports him is a racist.






Sunday, June 12, 2016

Watchword

I've been retired from business reporting for nearly 5 years now, so I haven't had opportunities to use the watchword that guided all my work.

It was: "All employers lie and the worse they are doing, the more they lie."

It's true, and they are such bad liars. I was reminded of it by this story in the New York Times today.

It would be different if unions were still strong. The employers would still lie and abuse and persecute their workers, but someone would stand up to them.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

An armed society is a polite society (infants excepted)

Father shoots his 1-year-old daughter, tries to shoot the mother but gun jams, then shoots self.

This one has it all.

"Harewood had a conceal carry permit and was an instructor for conceal carry permits, Barrera said."

The comments are interesting.  Hillsborough is a typically overgunned, white, rural county seat town, no gangs, no grizzly bears, no lurking Arab terrorists, no scary black dudes. But the poor (median family income $37,000), white (90%) Teadiots (Obama lost 11-6) of Highland County apparently see no reason to wonder why a loaded firearm was necessary for a family gathering.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Home of the free

A failed American fascist
In the bad old days, in company towns and other centers of American individuality and self-expression and exceptionalism, if you voted -- or even were suspected of voting -- liberal, you were fired.

In a company town, that made you homeless, too.

Nevertheless, the labor movement persevered.

Now we're back to then.

A disturbing piece in New Republic summarizes what Citizens United really means.

Here's one of many nut grafs:
It’s difficult for many of us who are educated, white-collar workers with relatively benevolent employers to appreciate the magnitude of the constraints on freedom that are routine elsewhere in the workforce. We might imagine we would quit if our boss ordered us to campaign for a candidate, even one we supported. But many Americans don’t have that freedom—nor the freedom to refuse a drug test or a work schedule that requires them to be on call at almost all times. They face strict parameters about what they can wear, how they can style their hair, when they can use the bathroom, and whether they have access to a phone in order to be reached in a child-care emergency. Libertarians, who believe that only government can restrict freedom, are blind to these encroachments on liberty.

In summary:

 the choice in Citizens United and other debates about political money is not between freedom and regulation, but between real freedom for individuals and the sweeping power of concentrated wealth. 
The plutocrats used to be more open about their antidemocratic beliefs. H.L. Hunt wrote a book (or had it written) that said rich people should have 7 times as many votes as ordinary Americans.

He was a piker. The new Malefactors of Great Wealth are thinking much more expansively.

And while Hunt never got more than one vote, the New Plutocrats have devised a kludge to work around that.