USA

Thanksgiving

Thursday, 24 November, 2016 0 Comments

The poetry of Charles Reznikoff is marked by his love of the simple life and common things. Reznikoff was a New Yorker and “a collector of images and stories who walked the city from Bronx to Battery” in search of “the soul of the Jewish immigrant experience.” There is no mention of Thanksgiving in his Te Deum but he speaks of “the day’s work done” for the reward of a seat “at the common table.”

Te Deum

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

Charles Reznikoff (1894 – 1976)

Note: Te Deum takes its name from an early Christian hymn and its opening Latin words, Te Deum laudamus, are translated as “Thee, O God, we praise”.


Michael Wolff goes to Wolf Hall in Manhattan

Saturday, 19 November, 2016 3 Comments

“The real business of journalism, or at least a major sideline, is envy of those who get lucky,” writes the columnist Michael Wolff. “Nice to be the lucky one this time,” he adds. Wolff was responding to a barrage of Twitter criticism directed at his scoop interview for the Hollywood Reporter with Steve Bannon, chief strategist and Senior Counselor for the Presidency of Donald Trump. It’s a remarkable piece of reportage and one that will send shivers down the liberal spine. Snippet:

“It’s the Bannon theme, the myopia of the media, that it tells only the story that confirms its own view, that in the end it was incapable of seeing an alternative outcome and of making a true risk assessment of the political variables — reaffirming the Hillary Clinton camp’s own political myopia. This defines the parallel realities in which liberals, in their view of themselves, represent a morally superior character and Bannon — immortalized on Twitter as a white nationalist, racist, anti-Semite thug — the ultimate depravity of Trumpism.”

But now the tables have been turned. Bannon is in Trump Tower and world leaders are booking suites above his office in the hope of getting access to his boss, the US President-elect. It’s a revolution and heads are going to roll:

“Bannon represents, he not unreasonably believes, the fall of the establishment. The self-satisfied, in-bred and homogenous views of the establishment are both what he is against and what has provided the opening for the Trump revolution. ‘The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with this country,’ he continues. ‘It’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no f—ing idea what’s going on. If The New York Times didn’t exist, CNN and MSNBC would be a test pattern. The Huffington Post and everything else is predicated on The New York Times. It’s a closed circle of information from which Hillary Clinton got all her information — and her confidence. That was our opening.'”

And now? And next? Time to read some of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which documents the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. Steve Bannon has read it and understood it and intends to live it.

“I am,” he says, with relish, “Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.” Some five hundred years from now, a lucky journalist might conduct an interview that concludes, “I am,” he says, with relish, “Steve Bannon in the court of the Trumps.”


The Making of the President 2016

Tuesday, 8 November, 2016 0 Comments

It has been an extraordinary election campaign in which some of the most selfless and some of the most squalid characters in American public life have played a role. Today is the day when their plans and calculations are subjected to the will of the people in the pageant that’s re-enacted every four years. Here’s how one chronicler captured the spectacular transaction by which a US president is chosen:

“They had begun to vote in the villages of New Hampshire at midnight, as they always do, seven and a half hours before the candidate rose. His men had canvassed Hart’s Location in New Hampshire days before, sending his autographed picture to each of the twelve registered voters in the village. They knew that they had five votes certain there, that their opponent had five votes certain — and that two were still undecided. Yet it was worth the effort. For Hart’s Location’s results would be the first flash of news on the wires to greet millions of voters as they opened their morning papers over coffee. But from there on it was unpredictable — invisible.

By the time the candidate left his hotel at 8.30, several million had already voted across the country — in schools, libraries, churches, stores, post offices. These, too, were invisible. But it was certain that at this hour, the vote was overwhelmingly Republican. On election day America is Republican until five or six in the evening. It is in the last few hours of the day that working people and their families vote, on their way home from work or after supper; it is then, at evening, that America goes Democratic. If it goes Democratic at all. All of this is invisible, for it is the essence of the act that as it happens it is a mystery in which million of people each fit one fragment of a total secret together, none of them knowing the shape of the whole.

The Making of the President What results from the fitting together of these secrets is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power in the world — the power to marshal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so, the power to guide and the responsibility to heal — all committed into the hands of one man… Yet as the transfer of this power takes place, there is nothing to be seen except an occasional line outside a church or school, or a file of people fidgeting in the rain, waiting to enter the booths. No bands play on election day, no troops march, no guns are readied, no conspirators gather in secret headquarters. The noise and the blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and oratory of the long full campaign fade on election day. All the planning is over, all effort spent. Now the candidates must wait.”

An excerpt there from “The Making of the President 1960” by Theodore H. White. Much has changed since White wrote those words 56 years ago, but the fundamentals remain the same. After more than 200 years, the US system remains the best version of running a complex society yet devised. We hope there will be a winner today who is able to reconcile the red and blue states and we hope that people like Putin will have had no part in choosing the victor.


How to Win an Election with Cicero

Monday, 26 September, 2016 0 Comments

It is being reported that the television audience for tonight’s debate at Hofstra University in New York between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could top 100 million. At this point in the US presidential race, many voters will have made up their minds but there is always the chance that one of the candidates might say or do something tonight that could influence the media’s interpretation of the debate. And it is the media that will decide the “winner” and the “loser”.

Whatever the reading of the debate, however, the battle will continue tomorrow. With the polls suggesting that the outcome is too close to call, it’s all to campaign for, which means it’s time to consult Cicero.

In 64 BC, the great orator Marcus Tullius Cicero ran for consul, the highest office in the Roman Republic. He was 42 and successful, but he was not a member of the ruling elite, and that was a major disadvantage. Still, he had a trump card, so to speak: the Commentariolum Petitionis, or “Little Handbook on Electioneering,” which some historians believe was written by his brother Quintus. Regardless of the authorship, the writer knew his Roman politics, which sound remarkably familiar.

How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians by Quintus Tullius Cicero was translated by Philip Freeman and published in 2012 by Princeton Press. Snippets:

  • Running for office can be divided into two kinds of activity: securing the support of your friends and winning over the general public. You gain the goodwill of friends through kindness, favors, old connections, availability, and natural charm. But in an election you need to think of friendship in broader terms than in everyday life. For a candidate, a friend is anyone who shows you goodwill or seeks out your company.
  • There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people. You can win uncommitted voters to your side by doing them even small favors. So much more so all those you have greatly helped, who must be made to understand that if they don’t support you now they will lose all public respect. But do go to them in person and let them know that if they back you in this election you will be in their debt.
  • You must have a wide variety of people around you on a daily basis. Voters will judge you on what sort of crowd you draw both in quality and numbers. The three types of followers are those who greet you at home, those who escort you down to the Forum, and those who accompany you wherever you go.
  • You desperately need to learn the art of flattery — a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office. If you use flattery to corrupt a man there is no excuse for it, but if you apply ingratiation as a way to make political friends, it is acceptable. For a candidate must be a chameleon, adapting to each person he meets, changing his expression and speech as necessary.
  • Keep the doors of your house open, of course, but also open your face and expression, for these are the window to the soul. If you look closed and distracted when people talk with you, it won’t matter that your front gates are never locked. People not only want commitments from a candidate but they want them delivered in an engaged and generous manner.

Cicero famously defeated Catiline, but he made many enemies during that race for consul and both he and his brother, Quintus, were murdered two decades later during the strife that accompanied the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire.

Cicero


The abnormal Trump and the normal Clinton

Tuesday, 20 September, 2016 0 Comments

Writing in USA TODAY, Michael Wolff declares: Abnormal Trump catches up to normal Clinton. Drawing a parallel with Britain the recent Brexit campaign, Wolff notes: “A vote to have Britain exit the European Union was a vote against the organizational norm that’s created a functioning and prosperous society and in favor of the unknown. And that’s exactly what 52% of Britons promptly, and for the other 48% inexplicably, voted for.” This, argues Wolff, puts Mrs Clinton in tricky position:

“Although the Remain side ran as a stalwart of the norm, it chose not to defend it or certainly to promote it. It merely warned of the ghastly consequences of its loss. Similarly, the Clinton campaign has rather turned the presidential race into a straight up referendum between the norm (and, hence, an acceptance of much of what you are currently dissatisfied with) and something outside it. Indeed, Clinton has no real calling card except being anti-abnormal Trump.

Trump’s calling card is, of course, being Trump, precisely an alternative to the norm.”

The liberal incomprehension about what’s going in this presidential campaign “has to do with the logical fallacy of comparing the normal to the abnormal,” says Wolff. Will abnormal become the new normal? The polls suggest that, as in Britain, there’s an appetite for a new norm as the abnormal Trump catches up to the normal Clinton.


Mrs Clinton’s deplorables meme

Tuesday, 13 September, 2016 1 Comment

Between her coughing attack in Cleveland last Monday and her collapse in Manhattan on Sunday, Hillary Clinton found time to generate a meme: “basket of deplorables”. Definition: “a meme is a humorous image, video, text, etc. that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users.”

In a speech she gave at a New York City fundraiser on Friday night, she said: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” Thus, was the “basket of deplorables” meme born.

It prompted Ben Zimmer to post “Horribles and deplorables” at Language Log. Snippet:

Deplorables, whether or not they’re in baskets, fit a pattern we’ve observed in the past: adjectives ending in -able or -ible that are turned into pluralizable nouns… More generally, many adjectives ending in -able/-ible have spawned related noun forms: think of collectibles, convertibles, deductibles, disposables, intangibles, perishables, and unmentionables. Sometimes the noun overtakes the adjective: vegetable comes from an adjective describing something that is able to vegetate, i.e., grow like a plant.”

Donald Trump’s supporters were not interested in the etymology and on Twitter they were quick to post their anger using the hashtag #basketofdeplorable. It should be noted, however, that Mr Trump wished Mrs Clinton well yesterday in a TV interview, saying: “…something’s going on, but I just hope she gets well and gets back on the trail and we’ll be seeing her at the debate.”


WoTD: Servitization

Monday, 1 August, 2016 0 Comments

“I spent the past week at the University of Birmingham in England with a group of 16 Operations and Economics Professors from across Europe,” wrote Rosemary Coates on 6 July in Supply Chain Management Review. She was there to lecture and to represent the Reshoring Institute, which provides “research and support for companies bringing manufacturing back to America.” As we know, manufacturing jobs will be one of the hottest topics in the so-called Rust Belt states during the US presidential campaign, and both candidates have made their positions on the subject clear.

In her blogpost, Ms Coates noted, “Some of the biggest buzz of the week was around the idea of Industry 4.0 (the Internet of Things) and Servitization.” What might appear to some as a misspelling there, “servitization,” is a real word. But what is it?

“This is the process of companies transforming from simply producing a product to including service in the total product offering. The complete product package includes field service, service level agreements and pricing for spares and replacement parts. European manufacturers are way ahead in Servitization.

Some American companies such as Cisco Systems have been including product services and consulting services in their product offerings for many years. But US companies like Cisco, that understand a fully integrated product offering and co-sell product and services, are few and far between.”

The etymology here involves creating a word from “service + -ization.” One assumes “serviceization” was considered unspellable and so we got “servitization” instead. In jargon-speak, “servitization is a transformation journey that involves firms developing the capabilities to provide solutions that supplement their traditional offerings.”


Instant indignation impact

Monday, 11 July, 2016 0 Comments

This is an era of instant indignation impact. People now spend hours online each day searching for videos, photos and stories about “injustice” and then instantly share them with others. The result is increased indignation impact. Social media has changed the rules and the playing field has not just been levelled; it’s been paved over. The antiseptic output from traditional media outlets has been replaced by raw, unedited, personal input reports from the front lines that have an immediacy that intensifies their emotional impact. This makes them more effective at triggering outrage and makes us more vulnerable to emotional manipulation.

The paradox is that many people would like their police to be militarized when confronting terrorists, but unarmed when confronting protesters. But what happens when the peaceful protest in Dallas is joined by the armed warrior Micah X. Johnson? Wanting to have our cake and eat it has never made for good policy, however.

Baton Rouge


Tyler Cowen: Why Brexit happened

Wednesday, 6 July, 2016 0 Comments

“This vote was the one lever the English were given for sending a message to their politicians,” says Tyler Cowen, the American economist, academic and writer. He describes himself as “pro Remain, and also generally pro immigration,” but he admits that the desire of the Leave voters to preserve the English nation “as English” was stronger than he had thought. Why Brexit happened and what it means is one of the more reasoned pieces written on the referendum and Cowen is to be credited for acknowledging a truth that many “Londonists” refuse to accept:

“Quite simply, the English want England to stay relatively English, and voting Leave was the instrument they were given. That specific cultural attachment is not for Irish-American me, no, I feel no sentiment, other than perhaps good humor, when someone offers me ‘a lovely biscuit,’ or when a small book shop devotes an entire section to gardening, but yes I do get it at some level. And some parts of the older England I do truly love and I am talking the Beatles and Monty Python and James Bond here, not just the ancients like Trollope or Edmund Spenser.”

Cowen is on the money when he notes that voting Leave was “the instrument” people were given for sending a message to the UK’s leaders, and many Americans, frustrated with their political system and how it has been corrupted by the political professionals, will have taken note, no doubt. Donald Trump is the instrument being offered to US voters in November for expressing their rage with Washington and some will choose it and use it despite many of the warnings being expressed by his opponents. Given the opportunity, those who feel excluded and ignored are sending the message.


The toxic elites combined

Monday, 4 July, 2016 0 Comments

“In shorthand, Britain’s EU problem is a London problem. London, a young, thriving, creative, cosmopolitan city, seems the model multicultural community, a great European capital. But it is also the home of all of Britain’s elites — the economic elites of ‘the City’ (London’s Wall Street, international rather than European), a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations. It’s as if Hollywood, Wall Street, the Beltway, and the hipper neighborhoods of New York and San Francisco had all been mashed together. This has proved to be a toxic combination.”

Peter Mandler teaches British history at Cambridge University. According to Dissent, which published Britain’s EU Problem is a London Problem, Mandler “voted Remain, so he is probably part of the problem.” In an admirable example of fairness, however, he takes his own side to task for its arrogance:

“Rather like the New York Times’ attitude to Trump, Remain thought it could laugh off Leave, or dazzle it with ‘facts.’ A very large part of the Remain campaign was focused on troupes of ‘experts’ — investment experts, science and university experts, fiscal policy experts—signing collective petitions and open letters declaring their loyalties to Europe. This played directly into anti-elitist sentiment. A very telling point late in the EU referendum campaign came when Michael Gove, one of the right-wing Conservative leaders of the Leave side, was quoted as saying that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts.’ Much fun was made of this remark. But it touched a nerve. The next day a leaflet came through my letterbox from Remain. ‘Find out what trusted experts say’: a range of views from left to right backing Europe, including a trade unionist, a military chief, a scientist, a banker, and a billionaire entrepreneur. All live in London and the southeast except for one Scot and the billionaire, who lives in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. That billionaire, Sir Richard Branson, took out full-page ads in all the major papers in the last days of the campaign, extolling Europe.”

A powerful new caste has come to believe it deserves to rule the world. It combines a brazen devotion to self-preservation with contempt for ordinary people, who are increasingly set against one another in a battle for survival. It ignores the declaration made on this day in 1776 in Philadelphia that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


#Brexit: Wolff on Johnson and Trump

Wednesday, 22 June, 2016 0 Comments

On one side of the Atlantic, Boris Johnson wants Great Britain to regain its post-war sovereignty, on the other side of the ocean, Donald Trump is promising to restore American greatness. The two are charged with opportunism by their opponents; of not believing in what they say. In the eyes of their supporters, however, the message is clear: It’s the real people against the elites. Well, that’s how Michael Wolff sums up the situation for USA Today in What the Brexiters and Donald Trump have in common:

“Both views, in addition to emphasizing national pride, also target as the enemy the superstructure of remote, seemingly soulless, modern governmental management. In the case of the Brexit campaign, the enemy is Brussels and the cold-blooded, unaccountable, ever-expanding, ‘bureaucratic leviathan’… In the case of the Trump campaign, the enemy is a political establishment of complex policy abstractions and self-interested bias that is not only embodied by Hillary Clinton but that has also hopelessly tainted most figures in the Republican party.”

Donald Trump is a political lone wolf, says Wolff, and “his hyperbolic and pugnacious retro views” may, in fact, “reinforce the technocrat’s uneasy hold on the uneasy status quo.” Boris Johnson, in contrast, is “a smart, popular, charismatic, as well as opportunistic, politician with wide support in his party.” If one ends up in the White House and the other in 10 Downing Street, there might be a meeting of minds on some matters, but the conceptual gap between the world’s sole superpower and a Britain that has turned its back on “global anomie” would be huge. Unbridgeable, perhaps.

Still, says Wolff, “there is a conservative message here of return, of cultural revanchism, of a search for national meaning, of a determined deviation from the modern norm, that has gone mainstream and that is not going away.” In the end, it all comes down to how people view their world. Does the future looks bright? Is life full of promise and do most people feel like they are doing well? Or does the future seem uncertain and prosperity and security more elusive? Voters in the United States in November and tomorrow in Great Britain must decide.

USUK