From the following video comes a perspective on technology that illustrates the rapid, exponential pace of change since the 1990s – a pace unlike anything human beings have ever experienced. The video ends with: “What does it all mean?” A very good question, don’t you think?
There are children standing here, Arms outstretched into the sky, Tears drying on their face. He has been here. Brothers lie in shallow graves. Fathers lost without a trace. A nation blind to their disgrace, Since he’s been here. And I see no bravery, No bravery In your eyes anymore. Only sadness…. Houses burnt beyond repair. The smell of death is in the air. A woman weeping in despair says, He has been here. Tracer lighting up the sky. It’s another families’ turn to die. A child afraid to even cry out says, He has been here. And I see no bravery, No bravery In your eyes anymore. Only sadness…. There are children standing here, Arms outstretched into the sky, But no one asks the question why, He has been here. Old men kneel to accept their fate. Wives and daughters cut and raped. A generation drenched in hate. Yes, he has been here. And I see no bravery, No bravery In your eyes anymore. Only sadness….
It seems to have taken forever. Let’s hold back on our cheering for now, though, as only time will tell if what happens next is any better….
If you follow my delicious bookmarks at all, you will have noticed that I’ve developed a bit of a macabre fascination with articles about the events that have come to be known as America’s Current Financial Crisis. Here’s the full list of those that I’ve considered significant for one reason or another over the past few days. They’re in no order, at this point, as I’m in a bit of an “information gathering” phase, reading through all these articles repeatedly to try and tease out the unifying threads.
I’ve quoted what I thought was a critical or key point in each article, though I change my mind as all this churns around in my head. As a teaser, you might pay particular attention to the articles from Open Secrets — that is, The Center for Responsive Politics — which will figure prominently in what I have to say. Open Secrets provides a look at the intersection of economics and politics that, as far as I know, is unlike any you’ll find anywhere else on the web.
Bloomberg.com: Worldwide – “The market storm that brought down Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., American International Group Inc. and other pillars of U.S. finance may have also blown holes in the portfolios of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator John Kerry and more than 50 other members of Congress…. Altogether, 56 senators and representatives had stakes in AIG, Lehman, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns Cos. or IndyMac Bancorp Inc. — some of the biggest casualties of the market bloodbath — according to the Center for Responsive Politics….”
Abroad, Bailout Is Seen as a Free Market Detour – NYTimes.com – “Is the United States no longer the global beacon of unfettered, free-market capitalism? In extending a last-minute $85 billion lifeline to American International Group, the troubled insurer, Washington has not only turned away from decades of rhetoric about the virtues of the free market and the dangers of government intervention, but it has also probably undercut future American efforts to promote such policies abroad…. ‘I fear the government has passed the point of no return,’ said Ron Chernow, a leading American financial historian. ‘We have the irony of a free-market administration doing things that the most liberal Democratic administration would never have been doing in it’s wildest dreams.’”
Organic Market – Forbes.com – “The consensus is that Something Must Be Done to rein in financial markets. This consensus is part of a general theme among some pundits and economists that it’s time to give up the naïve faith that markets can solve every problem. We are told that markets have failed…. Yet much of the current chaos is the result of attempts to steer or control markets rather than let them be. Much of the chaos is the result of political failure.”
Free Market To The Rescue – Forbes.com – “Although market ideas are today taking something of a beating, nothing like the 1930s fervor for central planning is in the air. For this reason alone, I am optimistic that we are not on the verge of a second Great Depression….. But in this optimistic account there’s a warning. If our confidence in free markets does come to be overwhelmed by a renewed, if utterly baseless, confidence in the central direction of the economy, then our economic prospects will once again truly be in a great depression.”
Optimism Quickly Fading – “To ban short-selling of stocks is to short-circuit an important mechanism through which people share their knowledge and expectations with others. Banning a mechanism that better allows share prices to reflect the expectation that the underlying assets are not worth as much as current market prices suggest does nothing to change the underlying reality. Such a ban merely distorts knowledge of this reality.”
SEC bans short-selling – Yahoo! News – “The Securities and Exchange Commission took the dramatic step early Friday of temporarily banning the routine practice of betting against company stocks…. The move, announced on the agency’s Web site, may well be unprecedented and a reflection of regulators’ concern about the widening scope of the financial crisis as entreaties come from all quarters to stem a swarm of short-selling.”
Regulating away improvement – “The bailouts are getting bigger. The rescue of US mortgage giants Freddie-Mac and Fannie-Mae is hailed as the largest bailout in history. On our side of the Atlantic we saw the similar, but smaller, rescue of Northern Rock. All of these have common features. The companies concerned were nationalized, and their losses are now underwritten by taxpayers. Between them their rescues have engendered a culture of bailout,which says that the public has to be protected at all costs from the consequences of failure. It is almost as if there has been a collective loss of faith in capitalism and in its ability to take failures in its stride.”
The Austrian Economists: Who Can Fix This? – “Government is NOT a corrective. More often than not, it is the source (as in this case) of our economic difficulties. No bailouts, eliminate regulations, certainly no nationalizations, no priming of the pump with easy money, just allow firms to be weeded out that made imprudent decisions, allow capital to be reallocated, and permit prices to adjust to the new market realities.”
Economic View – Too Few Regulations? No, Just Ineffective Ones – NYTimes.com – “There is a misconception that President Bush’s years in office have been characterized by a hands-off approach to regulation. In large part, this myth stems from the rhetoric of the president and his appointees, who have emphasized the costly burdens that regulation places on business…. But the reality has been very different: continuing heavy regulation, with a growing loss of accountability and effectiveness. That’s dysfunctional governance, not laissez-faire…. In the meantime, if you hear a call for more regulation, without a clear explanation of why regulation failed in the past, beware. The odds are that we’ll get additional regulation but with even less accountability and even less focus on solving our very real economic problems.”
OpenSecrets | Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Bailed Out After Buying In – Capital Eye – “As economists and analysts try to sort out how giant mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ended up needing to be bailed out by the federal government this past weekend, here at CRP we can see part of the picture of why that solution won out over others. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are prolific political players, pouring millions of dollars into campaign contributions and lobbying, efforts that have resulted in keeping the two companies afloat as more Americans have defaulted on their mortgages.”
Commentary: How to prevent the next Wall Street crisis – CNN.com – The author writes about several causes of the current U.S. financial crisis, concluding with: “The coup d’grace was the Iraq War, which contributed to soaring oil prices. Money that used to be spent on American goods now got diverted abroad. The Fed took seriously its responsibility to keep the economy going…. It did this by replacing the tech bubble with a new bubble, a housing bubble. Household savings plummeted to zero, to the lowest level since the Great Depression. It managed to sustain the economy, but the way it did it was shortsighted: America was living on borrowed money and borrowed time.”
How Paulson Would Save Fannie Mae – WSJ.com – “Recent statements by Barney Frank (D., Mass.), the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), a powerful member of the Senate Banking Committee, make clear that Congress will never let them be privatized, broken up, slimmed down, nationalized or any of the other options hopeful reformers are putting forth today. Fannie and Freddie in their current form are just what Congress wants: an inexhaustible source of campaign contributions and funds for favored groups.”
OpenSecrets | Wall Street Shake-up Connects to Washington Through Contributions, Personal Investments – Capital Eye – “Wall Street’s grim news has plenty of people worried about their pocketbooks. Lawmakers are among them, not only concerned with how to boost the economy but with their own personal finances tied to companies that are struggling. The richest members of Congress seem to be the most invested in the companies at the center of the Wall Street shake-up…. Of all of the companies facing major transitions, lawmakers owned the most stock in American International Group (AIG), the nation’s largest insurer, which has asked the Federal Reserve for emergency funding as it faces financial hardships. Twenty-seven lawmakers owned stock in AIG last year, worth between $6.4 million and $20 million…..”
I’ll have more on all this shortly, with a longish-post (more like a small book) where I try to make some sense out of what I’ve read in these articles. Until then, as a thought for today, listen to the lyrics of this 1986 performance of “Is This the World We Created,” by Freddie Mercury and Queen.
Is this the world we created?
We made it on or own.
Is this the world we devastated
Right to the bone.
If there’s a god up in the sky
What must he think of what we’ve done
To all that he created….
Historical resources such as industry trade journals are also frequently available on Google Books. Publications like The Railway Conductor may seem a bit pedantic — but they also provide a window into intellectual history by showing how ideas influence society, culture, and everyday life. This Labor Day address by J.F.T. O’Connor (click the image to read the entire address) is an example of what I mean.
… it would seem if we truly used history correctly we would not repeat it so often….
Since then, I’ve been carrying that thought around in my head, considering different ways that I might respond. This is not my response.
She’s absolutely right, of course; it’s impossible to study history over any time period longer than twenty seconds, without noticing cycles in human actions and reactions that seem to generate essentially the same social and cultural conditions. Clothing and hairstyles change, and dialogue and postures shift a little, but the broader results often seem about the same. Keeping my generalist hat on for a moment, let me just leave it at this: history repeating itself is as much a cliche as it is an actual historical condition; and as both of those things, it deserves a healthy dose of skeptical analysis.
And that is actually my main point, about all I could explore in this tiny post. When we talk of history repeating itself, we can’t stop there. We can’t really start there, either…. instead, I think we would need to latch on to some specific element of the cycles we’re trying to unravel, and, starting there, pull all sorts of interdisciplinary tricks to search for common threads and relationships among history, science, art, literature, economics, politics, and technology. It’s these things, along with the philosophical ideas that mold them and drive them forward, that define historical cycles. I can’t think of any theoretical reason why history has to repeat itself, or why history, as cooper stated, has to dictate anything … yet it would seem it has and still does, in cycles that are getting shorter and shorter and shorter….
They say the next big thing is here,
That the revolution’s near.
But to me it seems quite clear
That it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.
The newspapers shout:
A new style is growing.
But it doesn’t know
If it’s coming or going.
There is fashion, there is fad.
Some is good, some is bad.
And the joke is rather sad,
That it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.
[Memory] is an ongoing process through which we create usable narratives that explain the world in which we live, stories that inevitably connect us to each other, history that builds community. The community we create is founded in shared remembrance and grounded in place, especially those places that are conducive to the casual associations necessary for emergence of shared memory…. Places, memories, and stories are inextricably connected, and we cannot create a real community without these elements.
So there is a point to history, for history is a process of facilitating conversations in which we consider what we have done well, what we have done poorly, and how we can do better, conversations that are a prelude to action…. As we face the past, we are also facing the future. — pp. 24-25
Come to think of it, these are some of the reasons why we write (and write blogs!) too.
About a year ago, I purchased the complete Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica from a friend of mine, who found it in old boxes in someone’s cellar while he was at an estate sale. I had no idea then that it was quite a find, historically and intellectually, as this article on Wikipedia states:
“The Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1910–1911) is perhaps the most famous edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Some of its articles were written by the best-known scholars of the day. The articles are still of value and interest to modern scholars as cultural artifacts of the 19th and early 20th centuries….”
More on the Eleventh another time; I’ve used it often to get a peek at the past, at how something was perceived or described by thinkers of that time. For now, in honor of the day, I’d certainly send a big “thank you” across the centuries and around the world to the men and women who labored then, and labor still today, to guard our intellectual heritage and keep recreating it in evenmorecomprehensive, substantial, and interestingforms.
Here’s the text of the “Labor Day” entry from the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information, 1911, Volume XVI, page 6:
LABOR DAY, in the United States, a legal holiday in nearly all of the states and Territories, where the first Monday in September is observed by parades and meetings of labour organizations. In 1882 the Knights of Labor paraded in New York City on this day; in 1884 another parade was held, and it was decided that this day should be set apart for this purpose. In 1887 Colorado made the first Monday in September a legal holiday; and in 1909 Labor Day was observed as a holiday throughout the United States, except in Arizona and North Dakota; in Louisiana it is a holiday only in New Orleans (Orleans parish), and in Maryland, Wyoming and New Mexico it is not established as a holiday by statute, but in each may be proclaimed as such in any year by the governor.
Happy Labor Day!
Update: I hadn’t looked for articles about Labor Day by any other bloggers before posting this entry, but have since come across a few that you might find interesting:
As I explained in an earlier post, I returned to school a few years ago, and am working on my degree in historical studies. My next class starts in about three weeks, and I’m talking a short vacation before diving back in … so I’m stepping away from the computer and from blogging to spend a little time with my family and to try to wrap up a few projects. An article I came across some time ago — Life Trumps Blogging — is always a good reminder about keeping a balanced perspective.
The upcoming class is called Exploring Place: History, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Here’s an excerpt from the course description:
Thinking of place as a community in a geographical location or physical environment, this interdisciplinary course seeks to offer an opportunity for a place-based approach to history. Explore the local history of the place you live (or some other place of interest), whether you define that place as a neighborhood, a whole village or town or city, a geographical region, or a watershed. Research, for example, a particular topic or period of local history by engaging with historical scholarship, consulting local archives and historical societies and/or interviewing community members who have witnessed local history.
It’s one of the classes that has an independent study component, and classes like that are always my favorite. This one’s so much right up my alley that I couldn’t be more excited for it to get started. I’ll also be considering ways to incorporate elements of the experience into this blog; I’ve never actually done that before, so I guess I’ll be making that up as I go along. Should be a fun time, don’t you think?
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
In early 2006, I completed a class on American Intellectual History, where the first book I read was Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. The course – an independent study course where I worked directly with a mentor to define its content and purpose – was intended to give me a beginning understanding of some of the theory of intellectual history and the different ways it can be approached. Anderson’s book describes the emergence of the idea of a nation as a imagined construct, and his book covers an incredible amount of intellectual territory.
There were a few finer points in Anderson’s book, however, that I found compelling to consider with respect to blogging, and potentially worth exploring from the perspective of intellectual history. Anderson anchors much of his thesis around the impact of the emergence of print publishing, and the spread of newly published material to masses of people as a result of the logic of market capitalism. Anderson goes on to relate this to changes in concepts of time, specifically describing how the conceptual experience of time changed to one where we grasp the idea that there is a distinct past and present, and more importantly that there are people engaging in actions, and events taking place, outside our (approximately) immediate perceptual awareness. Anderson states, as an example:
An American will never meet, or even know the names of [most] of his fellow Americans. He has no idea what they are up to at any one time. But he has complete confidence in their steady, anonymous, simultaneous activity. – pg. 26
Anderson goes on to explain this by describing the experience of reading a newspaper, in which all the news stories are connected first by coincidence of time, and second by their immediate obsolescence:
The obsolescence of the newspaper on the morrow of its printing … creates this extraordinary mass ceremony: the almost precisely simultaneous consumption (“imagining”) of the newspaper-as-fiction. We know that particular morning and evening editions will overwhelmingly be consumed between this hour and that, only on this day, not that…. The significance of this mass ceremony … is paradoxical. It is performed in silent privacy, in the lair of the skull. Yet each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion. Furthermore, this ceremony is incessantly repeated at daily or half-daily intervals throughout the calendar. What more vivid figure for the secular, historically clocked, imagined community can be envisioned? At the same time, the newspaper reader, observing exact replicas of his own paper being consumed by his subway, barbershop, or residential neighbors, is continually reassured that the imagined world is visibly rooted in everyday life. – pg. 35
If you find these ideas difficult – as I did at first – try to imagine not having an awareness of simultaneous activity. That is, try to imagine how differently you would look at the world, if you didn’t have an awareness of a distinct past and present, and of human beings engaged in simultaneous activity. While you won’t really achieve that state of mind, you might begin to grasp what sort of intellectual revolution occurred in human thought for the shift toward this awareness to take hold.
As Anderson also describes, this intellectual revolution occurred within a historical context where existing social and political power structures began to crumble. Blogging is often described as democratizing, in the sense that it moves some control over information from traditional institutions to anybody who has enough interest, and takes enough time, to post their thoughts on a web site. While there are certainly questions to be raised about the efficacy or value of the information on a typical blog site, the fact that blogs even exist – and that they are written and managed by individuals usually working on their own – has implications for human intellectual development that, I think, have yet to be considered. Their potential influence is dramatic; the potential of that influence to effect political, cultural, and social change is also dramatic. And if Anderson’s thesis is true, or even mostly true, then they even have the potential – at least partly because of their immediacy and the speed with which information now travels – to permanently alter some elements of the way human beings think.
Anna: I am paranoid about loosing data after working in IT for years and also having several of my own hard drives crash – and they were only a few months old. I backup to both a USB hard drive as well as online using AmazonS3. People who...
Dawn LaPlante Recore: Hi Dale. Was searching Saranac alumni, and quite indirectly, I ended up at your blog. It’s fascinating. Good for you! Although it was a sad time when I saw you in September, it was never-the-less, good to see you. By...
Ron Coryer: Dale, I was sorry to hear of your father’s passing. I would like to express my condolences to you and you family. As I read your post on your website, I couldn’t help thinking back to the time I lost my dad and I had the...
Gary Coryer: Dale, So sorry to hear of the loss of your Dad. He was always nice to us as kids. Next time I am in Cadyville I will drop in to see your mom and express my condolences. Hope she is doing okay. I will send a note to my brother Ron with...
A u d e e: A deepest condolence to you Dale. Losing a parent is never easy. May Your Father rest in peace.
A u d e e: Hi Dale, It’s been a while since my last visit . I’m sorry to hear about plumbing problems at your house. I’m pretty sure that it is a quite distraction when you hope to be able to spend times on other interesting...