Holiday Book Bonanza Rolls On!

Back from a Thanksgiving break which included a nostalgia-dripping detour through storm-wracked Galveston (more later), the highway-weary blogger offers, for the second year in a row, oodles of holiday book ideas. Here’s installment #2, the New York Times list of the 100 Notable Books of 2008.


The Lessons of Palin’s “TurkeyGate”

One of those “teaching moments” occurred last week.   Sarah Palin was in the middle of a ceremonial Thanksgiving Turkey-pardoning while–black humor here–the camera caught several of the lucky bird’s doomed compadres gobbling their last in the background. I have no idea whether Palin knew the business-as-usual killing was going on as she rambled [insert “you betcha” joke here]  but there’s a bigger point to the matter:

That’s how your Thanksgiving feast gets on the plate, folks. Meat does not grow in cellophane.  The turkeys don’t volunteer, and, contra Dan Ackroyd’s old SNL skit, they don’t just die peacefully in their sleep. Choosing to eat our fellow creatures is both a nutritional and ethical choice, and we should make that choice with eyes open.

A few of the Web comments I’ve seen on this are just silly. Some people seem insulted to have this blunt truth thrust upon them.   As George Bernard Shaw or Tolstoy or Paul McCartney once said,  if slaughterhouses had glass walls (or 24-hour video feeds),  we’d all be vegetarians.

For earlier musings on this subject and my own attempts to quit or reduce meat consumption–and let me tell you, it ain’t easy–check here.




Forget the Inauguration: Let’s Roll on Economy

Friday,  you may have noticed, I tossed out this Hail-Mary Idea: Bush should tell his economic team to resign asap and  appoint Obama’s eco- team now rather than wait until Inauguration Day.  Slingshot these folks through Senate confirmation. Why waste 60 days?   

 Now comes heavyweight NY Times columntator  Tom Friedman with much the same idea. Welcome aboard, Tom.

The JFK Mystery: One Big “What If”


As all Dallasites know, the Kennedy assassination threw a dark cloud over the city for decades, a  fate not suffered by other “assassination cities” like Washington, D. C. (Lincoln),  Los Angeles (Robert Kennedy), Memphis (Martin Luther King), and Buffalo (Do you know? Answer below).

On Friday, I did a KERA/NPR commentary asking how history might have been different had one man given Jack Ruby some different advice. Read and listen here if you like.




President McKinley on September 5, 1901. His assassin was executed less than two months later.

Depression Echoes, and a Hail-Mary Idea

For reasons unknown I was browsing through If You Don’t Mind My Saying So, a 1961 collection of essays by the sadly forgotten Joseph Wood Krutch, a writer who means a lot to me, and came across this quote about a businessman Krutch knew in Knoxville, Tennessee many years ago:

He took his own life shortly after 1929 when it was revealed that the real estate and loan firm of which he was a leading member owed a good deal of its prosperity to some dubious practices. All the loans were, he hoped, sound. Besides, in a community as progressive as Knoxville was just becoming,  property values were sure to rise so rapidly that all the mortgages would soon be safely covered. He was a small victim of a philosophy which brought destruction to more powerful men and almost to our whole civilization.

 That was 80 years ago. Sound familiar? Those last few words–“almost to our whole civilization” really haunt.

 Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out whether to just sell everything we’ve got in mutual funds in order to stop the bleeding.  I’ve read all the conventional wisdom about not jumping in and out of the market, etc., but I’m not sure anyone knows how bad this “destruction” is going to be.

Desperate idea: Obama assembles his whole financial team this week. Bush asks for the resignation of his entire financial team. He appoints the Obama team in their places and then, with the last shreds of his credibility, orders his administration to cooperate with them.

Unprecedented, yes, but. . .

Will We Take the “Mo” Out of Motown?

So Mitt Romney not overcome with sentiment about saving the Big Three automakers, but plenty of others are. I find myself with mixed feelings. At play in  the mix:

1. Nostalgia, always big with me. In fact, I can hardly wait for something to be over so I can start missing it.  I even miss things I was never part of, like saying the mass in Latin–and by the way, how could the Dodgers desert Brooklyn?   I have an emotionally conservative temperament, so the fact that anything has been around for a while gives it bonus points for me. (Yes, I’m aware that slavery, mosquitoes and other bad things have been around for a while.)

2. The Three are part of American history, remnants of a time when  A) we actually made things in America,  and B) we did it better than anyone else. Recall that’s how the “Mo” got in “Motown,” which was a city nickname long before it was a record company.

3. If the car makers go, it’s more than sheet metal and wheels going. The Big Three also represent the high tide of the union movement in America, giving us that iconic image of Joe Lunchbucket supporting a wife and 2.5 kids on a high school education and one nice salary. Adios to all that; in fact,  newer workers at the plants have already given up many of the union-born perks, though I was amazed to hear the other day that they still enjoy health plans with no co-pays and no deductibles. Geez.  When it comes to such perks, I, like many I suspect, feel both proud (it’s nice that working stiffs have a good deal) and envious (hey, where’s my union?).

4. But what about cold, hard economic reality?  The evaporating power of unions (which not even the friendliest Dem administration can reverse) recalls the core meaning of “flat” in Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat. He’s not just writing about globalization, in which barriers of time, space and education that once protected closed markets have fallen, so that the tech guy telling you to unplug your modem and re-install your operating software now lives in  Bangalore, not Boston.   The “flattening” of the world also means the eventual removal of any forces that stand between buyers and sellers, or between management and laborers.

In the old economy, at least in some parts of the country, unions grew up to protect workers and make demands on their behalf, causing wages and benefits to rise. This was a good thing despite the inevitable corruption.  However, in the new economy, in which employers can reach across the globe for workers and “foreign” companies can locate in the U. S., the union model is no longer tenable. The Big Three chieftains, who now have two weeks to come up with some rationale for snagging $25 billion of taxpayer money, know this, but of course they can’t say it  or they’ll offend one of the Dem Party’s staunchest allies.  This adds to the unreality of the Bailout Ballet we’ve been watching.

 As Romney notes, the only way for Detroit to stay competitive with its foreign rivals is to  adopt the same anti-union policies that the foreign automakers live by, paying workers less and giving them less generous benefits.  Right now, there’s about a $2,000 difference between the price of a union-built car and the price of a comparable non-union model. 

Not to get too sentimental, but there’s a lot of American history wrapped up in that  $2,000. It might be called “The American Middle Class Price Differential,” and it’s one of the last remnants of the postwar world that America bestrode like a colossus, a time when we ran the show.  Now the world is flat, and unsentimental consumers can easily bypass the union price bump and buy cheaper  non-union cars, just as we do when we buy a $39 Korean DVD player at Target.  It’s sad and it’s hard to like, but this seems to be the new world we live in.

New Variations on Obama Worship

The ongoing flood of Obama Tributes ranges from the Parnassian to the mundane, to quote one of my college professors who enjoyed saying that kind of thing.

 On the celestially grand end of the scale we had Orlando Patterson’s hosanna to Obama as the fulfillment of humanity’s 25 centuries of striving toward freedom and democracy.

Now, on the mindlessly trivial end, we have Barack Obama is Your New Bicycle, a website listing endless reasons why people love Obama, soon to be a book and, who knows, a movie. Count the ways he is loved here. Keep clicking on the words as long as you can stand it.