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« DVD Journal: "Overnight" and "Z Channel" | Main | Tough Times »

September 20, 2005

Elsewhere

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Much of the time I watch new cultural/technological developments with bewilderment and pity. But sometimes I do wish I were a kid again.

* Randy Sparkman writes a touching tribute to the recently-deceased country fiddlin' giant Vassar Clements.

* Will Europe be able to revive its fortunes? Joel Kotkin isn't cheerful.

* A while ago, I mentioned a Boston Review piece about why the American middle class is hurtin'. It's now online, here.

* Although I'm a Tantric-sex fan myself, Jill's stories about a charismatic, Tantra-obsessed Swami she once worked for made me laugh a lot.

* Go here to meet this year's MacArthur Foundation geniuses. (Link thanks to Marginal Revolution.)

* There may be such a thing as having too flexible a spine for your own good. (NSFW)

* Can anyone really be as good a shot as this guy appears to be?

* Thanks to a commenter at ChaiTeaLatte, I discovered this retina-boggling optical illusion. For the life of me, I can't persuade my eyeballs that none of the lines in the figure are twisty.

* The ladies have their own NSFW needs, don't they? Here's a pre-Jen, pre-Angelina and very buff Brad, from a visit he made with Gwynnie to St. Barth's.

* Any opinions about whether the contours of this elegant-looking device would suit the device's intended purpose? Or do we have here yet another example of form trumping function? (NSFW, probably.)

* Hi mom! Hi dad! Summer camp was really fun! (NSFW)

* The well-known animator Uli Meyer is a blogger.

* There's poetry in the casual and easy elegance of these drawings by Laurent Beauvallet. Blogging as a way of keeping an online sketchbook -- what a wonderful idea.

* BCRBoy and Capitalist Worker wonder why the diversity-o-crats aren't celebrating how well Asian-Americans are doing at UC Berkeley.

* Sluggo does audioblogging: Mike Hill posts a rarity -- a recording of Rostropovich and the American National Orchestra in Moscow, doing "Stars and Stripes Forever." And doesn't the performance just kick ass!

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at September 20, 2005




Comments

Michael -- I led you astray there by careless blogging. That's our National Symphony, based in Washington, that Slava took along with him to Moscow for the concert.

Thank you for the link, though. I hope a lot of people get to listen to it. It is righteously kickass.

Posted by: Sluggo on September 20, 2005 6:06 PM



The sketchbook by Laurent Beauvallet is a great find (and alas, anoher instance of my lazyass procrastinator ideas implemented by someone else)

Love the Dunes and the Lion...hmm, may be I'll steal the lion as my Zodiak sign...

Posted by: Tatyana on September 20, 2005 7:22 PM



The article on the exodus of European youth to America was too depressing for me to finish. But it certainly rings true. I emigrated from France to NYC 15 yrs ago, and found only a small contingent of French people living in the city. But in the past years I've noticed a heavy influx of French youth --probably the largest influx of French immigrants in over 200 years (with the exception of the WWII years) They're opening restaurants in Brooklyn and the E Village, starting small businesses in Tribeca and Chelsea, living the American dream. More significantly, many of the people I've talked to tell me they have no intention of ever returning to France (French emigration has traditionally been characterized by a high rate of return) On the other side of the Atlantic the employment rate for the under-30 age group is a whopping 30%. Over 250,000 over-educated, under-employed French now live in London. And with the French of France, those fortunate enough to be employed, clinging to their privileges and taking to the streets at the first signs of reform, there seems to be no improvement in sight.

Posted by: Philippe on September 20, 2005 8:56 PM



Sluggo -- Thanks, and I've made the correction. Looking forward to more of your audioblogging.

Tatyana -- Laurent has a nice easy-but-elegant touch with a lot of charm, don't you find? I often love browsing through collections of work like that more than I do taking in more full-dress presentations. So you've been thinking of getting some art up online? Go for it, girl! Blogger's free, and it seems to handle images well at this point.

Philippe -- Thanks for the report. I had no idea so many young Frenchpeople had picked up and left for good. With regrets, in most cases? It's so funny/odd: France did a great job of rebounding from WWII. But they really seem to have plateau'd at this point. With so much young talent now overseas, I wonder what the odds are they'll be able to revive themselves ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 21, 2005 10:15 AM



Since this is a diverse thread, I'd like to strongly recommend "A la Folie... Pas du Tout" ("He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" in the US) with Audrey Tautou (of "Amelie" fame). Exciting, disturbing plot, with an amazing color scheme and IMHO very nice acting. Go rent it now!

http://www.netflix.com/MovieDisplay?movieid=60026127&trkid=64596

Posted by: jult52 on September 21, 2005 12:51 PM



Pace Phillipe, I don't buy the Europe thing. Europe's doing OK, by every available number there's steady economic growth there and happy people. Visit the place or take a year living there and see. The U.S. can be a better place to get rich quick, Europe often a better place to raise a family. The article was bunk, lots of propaganda, as is common when conservative think tanks write about Europe (my favorite line: Europe's share of the global economy dropped between 1913 and 1998...gee, any wars happen in that period maybe?).

As for migration, as the article points out much is from Eastern and not Western Europe. There are a whole bunch of other factors too -- Europeans are more likely to hack English than the reverse, the dollar drop during the past few years has put the U.S. effectively on sale for Europeans, which has led to some recent uptick in purchases here.

Europe definitely has weaknesses -- the higher education system is a critical one that must be improved (much migration is due to students coming here for better universities). They need to improve the environment for entrepreneurship too, though progress is being made in this area. They need to loosen up central bank policy to increase employment; some other things also. But the U.S. has its problems as well. Europe is a dynamic place that is going to do just fine in the future. Overall Europe has held on to capacity in a greater range of industries than we have too, which I think will be an underrated source of competitive advantage as Asian currencies appreciate.

Posted by: MQ on September 21, 2005 1:44 PM



All right, you stinker- I asked for some clues, some explanation by those who know it. Fess up with the details. Throw me a bone, here. (ha!)

Posted by: Jill on September 21, 2005 4:20 PM



That exhibition shooter was the real deal - in fact, I have seen some very similar shooting done with handguns!

Back in the 30s, a guy named Ed McGivern set some records which still stand:

"Using an ordinary Smith & Wesson double action revolver, he could break six simultaneously hand thrown clay pigeons (standard trap targets) in the air, before any of them could hit the ground. He once fired 5 shots in 2/5 of a second, a record that has never been broken."

http://www.chuckhawks.com/americans_guns_history.htm

Posted by: Mike on September 21, 2005 6:30 PM



Regarding immigration from Europe, I wonder how many of the immigrants are mail-order brides from Russia and eastern Europe?

Posted by: Peter on September 21, 2005 10:02 PM



MQ:

Philippe seems to write from some first-hand experience; I'm a little vague on yours in this matter.

I don't doubt that Joel Kotkin may have an ideological axe to grind. But I'm just kinda guessing that you do too.

Surely you won't argue that Europe has major problems with no very obvious solutions: decades of very high unemployment and very little private-sector job creation; a painfully low birthrate (the population appears to be self-liquidating, at the moment) and consequently terrible demographics and terrible public sector finances in the very near future; a atmosphere that doesn't seem conducive to technological innovation; etc., etc.

I'm rather pessimistic regarding the future fortunes of the U.S., which may be a result of excessive negativity on my part. But I don't see how anybody can be very optimistic about the medium-term fortunes of Europe. It may eventually emerge as a cultural/economic dynamo, but not without a lot of pain (and, probably, social tension) along the way.

P.S. The wars you dismiss so cavalierly question started in Europe and were fought by Europeans in Europe. Why are you willing to let the Europeans off the hook for their blood-thirstiness?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 21, 2005 10:34 PM



MQ -- If Europe is a better place to raise a family than the US, why are so few people doing so in comparison to the US? I'm not being flip - it's a serious question.

Posted by: jult52 on September 22, 2005 7:54 AM



Michael -- Thanks for linking to that Boston Review piece on the economics of middle-class living. I read it carefully last night and found the economic analysis very interesting. What I found laughably inadequate, though, was their recommendations, which betray the usual inability to connect the dots between soaring property & state taxes, a dysfunctional public school system and real estate costs. But a worthwhile read.

Posted by: jult52 on September 22, 2005 7:56 AM



MQ, poor deluded liberal, where exactly you spent your year in Europe with conclusions so obviously false, it's not even funny?

I suggest you come for 1 (one) evening to Lisboa, proud member of the European Union, to see how your "happy people" who, per you, experience steady economic growth, sleep on the steps of the grand Municipal Theatre (remember Paris Opera? the same). Or, if you decide to have you dinner in any restaurant with street seating on the streets parallel to Avenida De Libertade, you'll risk to be solicited for cash by guys with "I have AIDS" placard on their necks and a threat of siringe with their, supposedly infected, blood, at the ready.
Police patrols, in mighty twos, simply stroll by.

But I doubt you'll see similar examples of prosperity thru my eyes; the Left always sees what they want to see, I've noticed over the years of "Forward, to the victory of Communist Labor!" slogans on decaying buildings of Soviet Union.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 22, 2005 8:12 AM



Tatyana once again demonstrates that she divides the entire world into Red Communists and Rush Limbaugh.

My first hand experiences: 18 months living in several European countries (where surprisingly, just like Phillipe, I met many expats from my own country who went on about not wanting to move back to the U.S.!), a lot of comparative economic study during and afterwards. As for ideology, I'm consistently somewhat right of center in Europe, left of center here -- there is a LOT of room in that particular ideological niche. I will confess personally to enjoying standard European middle class quality of life probably more than American, but that might just be novelty value and change if I lived there permanently. I get just as annoyed by silly European anti-Americanism (the ghettos! The poor blacks!) as by silly American anti-Europeanism.

A full response here would take a book. Look, Daimler bought Chrysler, not the other way around. Nokia, Airbus, Carrefour, many other European corporations are world leaders in innovation and technology. They lag in some areas but so do we. The picture of Europe as economically stagnant and a backwater is a cartoon, pushed for ideological reasons by people who simply don't understand the place very well. Eurozone productivity performance is not as good as the U.S. but not bad (they produce about 8% less per hour worked, with a number of countries producing more per hour worked), and they have pretty steady productivity growth in the core economies. Again, just visit the place and look around, it's not that hard to tell how successful an economy in the rough outlines.

The debate about how well the post-WWII European economic model is working and how it can be improved is on the contrary quite important and serious, a lot to be said there about both their successes and their failures. Two things need to be understood as a baseline. First is the conscious political decision by Europe to emphasize leisure over economic growth, which has been one factor leading to higher unemployment rates, comparable to the U.S. in the late 70s. (Although EU central bank policy is another factor there). But it has also led to quality of life benefits up and down the income scale. People like those and have consciously chosen them.

The second thing I think one needs to grasp is the magnitude of the economic challenge that the EU has taken on. It's pretty much historically unprecedented to attempt to fully integrate a set of economies as backward as East Germany, Poland, the "satellite" nations like Greece, the Balkans, Spain, etc. with countries as wealthy as the Western European core. Most of the countries under Communism were probably poorer than Mexico before EU entry. It's a huge challenge (IMO it was probably taken on too quickly), which is leading to a ton of both social and economic change, but is happening IMO more successfully than one would expect. It is totally unfair to tag Europe as being "stagnant" while simultaneously ignoring their collective committment to an unprecedented social challenge.

On European wars -- WWI/WWII are good candidates for the the most significant event in recorded history. Dismissing them cavalierly would be discussing long term trends without putting them at the center, which is what Kotkin was doing. I'm puzzled why it should be part of a contemporary discussion about Europe to "put them on the hook" for WWI and WWII. Europe has learned the lessons of those wars pretty well it seems; since 1945 they have worked with the U.S. to create the greatest peaceful political integration of separate nations in history.

Jult52: good question. Short answer is I think that fertility is more about ideology and culture than economic incentives. Birthrates are plunging everywhere, probably (hopefully?) as part of a transition to a permanently smaller population. Wealthy secularized populations tend to have kids at below the replacement rate, one sees this everywhere. How much below is the question; too low=some form of "race suicide".

Posted by: MQ on September 22, 2005 2:18 PM



While I don't doubt that more Europeans are streaming to America than vise versa you'd wonder why after reading the Boston Review article about how so many middle class Americans are tottering on the edge of financial catastrophe.
Surely the truth for both Europe and America must be that (with some exceptions) those who live relatively prudent lives do relatively well, financially. Likewise, fools go under, wherever they live foolishly.
Sorry if that sounds smug. As an on and off fool I can attest to it from personal experience.

Posted by: ricpic on September 22, 2005 2:42 PM



Thats alot of information!!

servant5150
Hookah Forum

Posted by: Adam on September 22, 2005 2:59 PM



Rush vs Red Communists?
You're delusional, MQ, I've said it before. And not because RED communists is a tautology.

So, your "first-hand experience" is "lot of comparative economic study" - in which, I assume, you were on consuming end, not producing one.

Former socialist countries who entered EU are experiencing dynamic growth not because of socialist policies of EU, but exactly by the opposite reason: they abandon socialist ways and implement capitalist economic principles. They created economic regime beneficial for new business, small and large, they give tax breaks to enterpreneurs - something that scares French, f.ex., to death. And if I remember correctly, Slovakia instituted a flat tax (a 12% figure comes to mind, but I might be mistaken), a decision other Western countries don't have guts to make.

About social policies of Europe see this article that sites Tony Blair, not exactly a Thatcherite. A quote: "Some have suggested I want to abandon Europe's social model," Blair told the European Parliament last month. "But tell me: what type of social model is it that has 20 million unemployed in Europe, productivity rates falling behind those of the United States; that is allowing more science graduates to be produced by India than by Europe; and that, on any relative index of a modern economy -- skills, R&D, patents, IT -- is going down not up."

Your examples of intellectual, technological and big business' achievements of Europe are exctly that - achievements of business, achievment of capitalism (scary word, I know). What makes Europe stagnant is her departure from capitalism and primate of property and individual rights to the state socialism and enormous taxation of the few successful for the benefit of majority of parasites.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 22, 2005 3:04 PM



Also, to your claim that there are as many US emigrants to Europe as the other way around, I recall similar discussion, but with actual statistical data monitoring immigration per country per year in one Live Journal. Sorry it's in Russin (or part of it anyway), but I'm sure your "first-hand" all-encompassing 18 months experience in Europe includes knowledge of major European languages, so you'll be able to follow the argument. For the rest of us: here're the statistics: http://uscis.gov/graphics/shared/statistics/yearbook/YrBk04Im.htm

A small note, not totally unrelated to the above topic: I've learned how the French call their limusine liberals: gauche-caviar.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 22, 2005 3:19 PM



Hi, Tatyana. Glad you are enjoying my delusions. Both Europe and the U.S. are capitalist systems, they are different variants of capitalism each with strengths and weaknesses for growth and quality of life. The aggressive export orientation of European firms helps to sustain a competitive mindset even in small highly left wing countries with little domestic competition (e.g. Sweden and Ericsson). One can and should argue about EU overregulation, but saying that Europe is state socialism is IMO delusory.

Something to emphasize from my first post above: Europe's decaying university system is IMO a major and overlooked source of problems there. This relates to everything -- to entrepreneurship problems (high tech entrepreneurship is very related to universities) high skill migration, etc. And this is a governmental failure, not a matter of not having enough capitalism (although too many student subsidies are an issue in some places). The U.S. university system is a major source of our comparative advantage, and government investment here was a major source to build it up and sustain it. Thinking about how societies are working or failing involves a lot more than just slotting them in as capitalist or socialist.

And I produce comparative research, not just consume it...speaking of which procrastination time is over, I'll just lurk on this thread from now on since I've talked too much already.

Posted by: MQ on September 22, 2005 3:35 PM



I'll pop in here only to say that I think it's unfair to think of Joel Kotkin as an ideologue producing boilerplate-on-demand for righties. I don't by any means always agree with him, but he's an often interesting, substantial guy, and worth arguing with. Plus he publishes stuff in all kinds of publications. Here's a recent piece in the British Prospect -- no home to rightie ideologues ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 22, 2005 5:39 PM



MQ:

Sorry to disturb your lurking, but I think you're dodging the main problem: the European social model is going to get a terrific shellacking from the impending demographic catastrophe (i.e., too few workers per retiree). I note that many European countries, including Germany, are rolling back their welfare state benefits even today, although I think its a case of too little too late.

I say this not to denigrate the productivity, intelligence or competitive instincts of Euro businessmen; I admired those myself during my two years operating in Europe. But, ahem, numbers are numbers and no amount of pleasant middle-class amenities are going to wish them away.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 22, 2005 5:52 PM



MQ, the point that FvB was making is that the two WWs can't be dismissed when considering Europe's poor economic growth in the past century because those wars are part of the story of Europe's decline; they were self-inflicted wounds.

I like aspects of both Europe and the U.S. I don't think it can be said that Europe is a better place to raise your kids, though. Both are excellent compared to most of the rest of the world. I give the edge to the U.S. but can imagine reasons to go the other way.

Posted by: C.S. Froning on September 22, 2005 5:59 PM



OK, I guess I'm not really cut out to lurk. C.S., my point is that Europe pre-WWII and Europe post-WWII are profoundly different societies, Europe (Western) apparently learned its lesson on intra-European wars from that experience.

Friedrich, I'm not a big fan of catastrophe theories, whether environmentalist or demographic. I think free, open societies (and both the U.S. and Europe are free and open) generally find ways around them. In the 1950s, thanks the the baby boom and the birth bust during the Depression, the U.S. had total dependency ratios (non workers to workers) that were close to the levels the overall EU will face in the coming decades. We remember this period as a golden age in our history, with no real problem supporting our dependent population.

An aging population will put strain on the European welfare state, sure, probably help induce migration between countries in the EU, other changes as well. But there are so many ways to handle this (extended working years, greater productivity growth, higher taxes, greater immigrations) that I think it is unlikely to be a "catastrophe" or close to one. Modern economies are extremely wealthy, it is a matter of what you wish to spend it on. But we will see what happens.

Yeah, don't know Kotkin, didn't mean to imply he was a hack. Just didn't like the article.

Posted by: MQ on September 22, 2005 11:14 PM



MQ:

You write:

But there are so many ways to handle this (extended working years, greater productivity growth, higher taxes, greater immigrations) that I think it is unlikely to be a "catastrophe" or close to one.

I'm not suggesting Europe will descend into some apocalyptic scenario. Just that none of the solutions you are describing is compatible with the current way Europe works. (You really think higher taxes is a workable solution in Europe? I think capital flight will put the kibosh on that one. And higher levels of immigration? From where, exactly?)

I agree, Europe will survive...in some form. But the current Europe status quo and most of its social welfare trappings will not. I'm also betting that Europe won't find it as easy to adjust as you appear to imply--the types of changes you discuss are generally only adopted 'when the pain gets bad enough.' I.e., they won't come easy in democracies.

Just so you don't think I'm picking on the Europeans, I believe many of these same changes will be forced on the Japanese and the U.S., and they won't come easy in those societies, either. But I've been peddling the notion that many of the 'rules' of how advanced societies work (which have been fairly stable since the 1960s) are due for some fairly disruptive change for a few years now. Which means, of course, that we are entering something of an age of anxiety...

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 23, 2005 1:49 AM






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