December 2008: Nobody asked me, but…

Liberty and equality in the Obama years, financial schemes and common sense, fathers and sons, and other observations

With a doffed ski cap (for borrowing his catch-phrase) to the late, great New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon: nobody asked me, but…

PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA WILL TAKE OFFICE WITH BROAD POPULAR SUPPORT and it will be fascinating to see if he decides to move the United States more towards equality, at perhaps the cost of some liberty, and whether that will mean more justice—to use the philosophical framework established by Mortimer J. Adler in his book Six Great Ideas.

Adler’s thinking illuminates some of the questions President Obama will face: should he pursue equality of opportunity or equality of outcome with his economic policies? Will Americans support a shift towards a European-style social democracy, with universal health care and the government as employer of last resort? And how will any increased taxation or government regulation to achieve these goals be received?

THE CRASH OF 2008 WILL, NO DOUBT, BE COMPARED WITH THE CRASH OF 1929, and when it is, one can hope that historians turn to the words of classicist Victor Davis Hanson for a diagnosis of what went wrong:

After the junk bond meltdown, the S&L debacle, and now the financial panic, in just a few years the financial community destroyed the ancient wisdom: deal in personal trust; your word is your bond; avoid extremes; treat the money you invest for others as something sacred; don’t take any more perks than you would wish others to take; don’t borrow what you couldn’t suddenly pay back; imagine the worse case financial scenario and expect it very may well happen; the wealthier you become the more humble you should act.

Hanson’s approach may seem somewhat simplistic, but it was an abandonment of financial common sense that helped spark the meltdown. Look no further than the mariachi singer in California given a mortgage by WaMu with his photo in costume as a substitute for proof of income! Is it any wonder that the house of cards came tumbling down?

A SAD REMINDER OF THE LASTING NEGATIVE POWER A CRITICAL FATHER CAN HAVE OVER HIS SON came in the New York Times obituary of Van Johnson, the movie actor, who died Dec. 12 at the age of 92. The obituary noted that Johnson had a distant relationship with his father (who had frowned on his desire to act), and recounted this story:

According to his stepson, Ned Wynn, when Mr. Johnson became a star, he invited his father to California and proudly took him to the famous Chasen’s restaurant. Charles Johnson refused to eat anything but a tuna fish sandwich.

“Van was devastated,” Mr. Wynn wrote in a memoir, “We Will Always Live in Beverly Hills.” “He had wanted to show his father that now, after years of a gray, loveless, miserly life, he was a star, he could afford steak. And the old bastard had beaten him down one more time.”

MAKE WAR, NOT LOVE MAY BE THE PRIMATE WAY, according to Lionel Tiger, noted anthropologist, who reports in a Wall Street Journal article “Of Monkeys and Utopia: The state of nature is not a state of pacifism” that bonobos, a type of chimpanzee reputed to solve conflict through love-making, may actually be as aggressive and combative as the rest of us. Tigers says the laboratory research of Emory University’s Franz de Waal, which touted the sweet-tempered libido-driven behavior of the bonobos, hasn’t held up in the field studies where “Gottfried Hohman of the Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has seen groups of bonobos engage in clearly willful and challenging hunts.” Another paradise lost!

DO OUR MOST CREATIVE WRITERS THINK CLEARLY WHEN IT COMES TO POLITICS? In The Sunday Times Minette Marrin recently reconsidered the rabid anti-Americanism of the late English playwright Harold Pinter, a fan of the noxious Slobodan Milosevic, and some other politically misguided writers (ranging from Tolstoy to Sartre to V. S. Naipaul) and concludes that there’s little if any connection between writing talent and political acumen. She concludes: “We should be careful, both readers and writers, of the bewitchment of language: it can often mean less than you might think.”

CLUELESS CONSPIRACY THEORISTS OF THE MONTH AWARDS. First prize goes to those netroots bloggers suggesting that the death of Michael L. Connell, an Internet consultant for the Bush and McCain presidential campaigns, in a small plane crash has some sinister connection to alleged vote fraud in Ohio in the 2004 election. In response to the speculation that Connell was ready to reveal a vote-rigging plot, his wife Heather told Huffington Post‘s Thomas Edsall: “…He [Connell] did nothing wrong. He wasn’t about to talk, because there was nothing to talk about. Nobody did anything wrong. We won the elction fair and square. Deal with it.” The preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report: Connell attempted to correct his approach to Akron-Canton Airport in misty, foggy conditions and declared an emergency before crashing.

Second prize goes to Princeton professor Richard A. Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, who when not bashing the Israelis is supporting the “9/11 Truth Movement” and claiming “serious discrepancies between the official version of what took place and the actual happenings” of 9/11. Falk apparently has a problem with the recently released NIST analysis of the collapse of WTC 7, although he is vague about whether his “counter-narrative” includes controlled demolition or energy weapons as a cause for the building’s destruction.

PANDORA, A QUITE CLEVER WEBSITE, MATCHES YOUR EXISTING MUSICAL TASTES to a database (“The Music Genome Project”) plays new songs that are similar. You let Pandora (www.pandora.com) know which ones you like and—voila—it continues to find even more matching songs and before long you’ve created an Internet radio station. Caution: it can be quite addictive!

THIS MONTH’S WORDS OF WISDOM FROM NEW YORK JOURNALIST MURRAY KEMPTON (1917-1997): “It is function of government to invent philosophies to explain the demands of its own convenience.”

Copyright © 2009 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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