The Long View 2009-02-15

The Long View 2009-02-15
Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley, Fair use

There is a saying that the taxi drivers in Washington D.C. tend to come from whatever country the foreign policy establishment was interested in twenty years ago. As of 2023, the 2009 plan John mentions here to try to increase military recruitment by offering citizenship to select immigrants has not produced a notable class of soldier-citizens. However, the previous method, which provided sanctuary to the losers of whatever war we fomented, is still going strong.

Daydreams & Snappy Answers

Regular readers of the New York Times may have noticed Judith Warner's essay of February 5, Sometimes a President is Just a President, in which she ruefully recounted a dream she had about the president visiting her house. She also noted that she was not the only one:

There was some daydreaming too, much of it a collective fantasy about the still-hot Obama marriage. “Barack and Michelle Obama look like they have sex. They look like they like having sex,” a Los Angeles woman wrote to me, summing up the comments of many. “Often. With each other. These days when the sexless marriage is such a big celebrity in America (and when first couples are icons of rigid propriety), that’s one interesting mental drama.”

Daydreams and even dreams about meeting prominent people are hardly rare. When the prominent people are political leaders, what we often daydream about is giving them a piece of our mind. The British novelist Doris Lessing made a note in her novel, The Golden Notebook (1962), about this class of fantasy.

The protagonist works at the publishing arm of the British Communist Party in the 1950s. One afternoon, she reads her colleagues a story submitted to her in which the writer imagines visiting Moscow and meeting Stalin. He advises Stalin about the USSR's policy toward Great Britain.

When I had finished reading this, no one said anything until George said: "Good honest basic stuff." Which Could mean anything. Then I said: "i remember having that fantasy myself, every word of it, except in my case I put right the policy for Europe as well." Suddenly there was a roar of uncomfortable laughter, and George said: "I thought it was a parody at first--makes you think, doesn't it."

The role of imaginary friend is a function that every head of state has played to some degree, I think. That's why it is useful to have a prime minister or chief of staff who can be blamed when things go wrong.

* * *

Here's the scariest story I've seen lately, also from the New York Times:

Stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American military will begin recruiting skilled immigrants who are living in this country with temporary visas, offering them the chance to become United States citizens in as little as six months.

This program is intended to recruit speakers of foreign languages, and recruiting immigrants is hardly novel. Still, the principle inevitably calls to mind the late Roman Republic. And what would be the political complexion of these soldier-citizens, as distinguished from citizen-soldiers, if they became a substantial part of the electorate?

* * *

So you were encouraged by this week's uptick in the Asian stock markets, were you? R. M. Cutler of Asia Times says that these exchanges are Reliable as tea leaves:

What general advance there was on Asian markets this week was the result of optimism at possible improvements due to government programs. Indeed, there is anecdotal evidence that Chinese banks are responding to the central stimulus by lending and the country's companies are beginning to rebuild commodity inventories after a de-stocking process, leading industrial metals such as copper to appear to be building a medium-term price bottom.

The author isn't having any, however, since the Chinese economy as it exists depends on exports.

The Wall Street Journal

Investment-driven growth is morbid if it is the result of tax cuts or interest-rate cuts made without regard to potential market demand. Keynesianism worked perfectly well for several decades because there was always potential demand from a young population, particularly from a young high-fertility population. It is not at all clear that it works as well in other contexts.

* * *

I am a great fan of snappy answers to important questions. I was therefore pleased to read Richard J. Mouw's piece in the March issue of First Things, "Surprised by Calvin," which included this very useful clarification:

Josef Pieper -- in one of the delightful talks he gave to a group that would gather in the studio of a sculptor -- reported that the pre-Socratic Athenian thinker Anaxagoras, while engaging in a catechetical exercise, ask the question, "Why are you here on earth?" He gave the stark reply: "To behold."

The piece did not discuss the quantum mechanical implications of this dictum, but you can't have everything.

Copyright © 2009 by John J. Reilly

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