Archive for November, 2008

Clive James -TLS Books of the Year

November 29, 2008

Introducing one of the books he has selected for the TLS Books of the Year 2008 list, Clive James, at his most aphoristic, has this to say:

….we need to remember that it is an indulgence to blame civilization for everything that is not civilized. Pascal Bruckner reminds us of that truth in his La Tyrannie de la pénitence, which I read again this year, making notes between my notes. His central message is that while the whole world, including the West, dealt in slaves, only the West came up with the idea of setting them free. 


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Morici V the Big 3 – 2nd round

November 28, 2008

A few days after I posted my Morici V the Big 3 piece, I came across a article by the Edward McClelland, in, which he persuasively argues that the Big Three American car-makers‘ call for government funds to bail them out should given a more sympathetic hearing by the politicians.

As politicians hurl abuse at Big Three executives for building gas guzzlers, here’s a snap back at Washington: If you’d passed a universal healthcare plan, Detroit wouldn’t have had to pay such steep premiums for its workers, leaving more money for innovative research in small cars and fuel efficiency.

Henry Ford liked to boast that he invented the modern era. But he also invented the middle class, when he began paying his workers $5 a day, unheard-of money in an era of cheap immigrant labor. Ford was no liberal, but he figured if he paid his workers well, they’d be able to afford Model As. Thus began a century-long spiral of bigger wages, and bigger cars, that has finally brought the American auto industry to the brink of bankruptcy. Last year, GM — the largest private purchaser of healthcare in the U.S. — spent $4.75 billion a year on retirees’ medical coverage. That included full benefits for families of workers who took their place on the assembly line right out of high school, and took the 30-and-out before they turned 50. It’s one reason the company is $48 billion in debt.

There’s no doubt that The Big Three have had a tough time getting over the era when gas was 24 cents a gallon and Vince Taylor and His Playboys were howling “Brand New Cadillac.” But they kept building that huge iron because it was the only way to maintain another legacy of the 20th century, the idea that blue-collar workers should live as well as white-collar workers.

I don’t think that Morici is wrong in wanting the Big Three to solve their own problems without funding from the government, but it’s worth noting that when he advocates “new labor agreement that brings wages and benefits absolutely in line with those at the most competitive transplant factories”, what he’s in effect  advocating is that the workforce be stripped of many of the benefits it may very well feel should be extended to others rather than taken away from them.

Clive James’s’s poem ‘The Magic Wheel’

November 26, 2008

The editor of the Times Literary Supplement Sir Peter Stothard  when asking himself which were the three favourite poems of all those he’d published in the TLS replied to his own question bysaying that his first choice Clive James’s The Magic Wheel, which appeared in the TLS in the issue before Christmas four years ago.

I remembered it most of all, I had to admit, because it was, in the poet’s words, ‘an ode in the manner of Theocritus‘.Simaetha invokes every magic trick she knows. She wants simultaneously to destroy the faithless Delphis – with fire, hot wax, poisonous lizards and her magic wheel – and to bring him back to her bed.

It was version of a classic – but an unusual, genuinely unforgettable, one.

Theocritus’s Idyll 2 is known in English as The Sorceress.

It is an extended plea by a woman whose lover has loved and abandoned her.

‘The sea is quiet and quiet too are the winds’. As she sweats and curses in her Greek island home, only her pain cannot be made quiet.

Clive James’s narrator too looks out to sea on a Mediterranean island and recites the ancient line ‘O magic wheel, draw hither to the house the man I love’.
His is the idyll in reverse.

He dreaming that a woman, one whom he once knew long ago, had had Simaetha’s dreams about him.

‘I dreamed of you as dreaming that, and now/ The boxed-in balcony of my hotel room high above/ Grand Harbour is a sauna. .’

Instead, the object of his long passion now has her own husband, a ‘great dancer’: Simaetha’s love was a beautifully bodied boy from the gymnasium.

She also has a ‘tremendous little son’.

He sees her and knows best,,,,,, read on 

In yesterday’s post I, as an admirer of James, allowed that the je ne sais quoi you normally expect from poetry is missing in almost all of his,  What I failed to say to say was that in his best poetry,  there are compensations. Sir Peter Stothard, in his discussion here, puts his finger on some of them.

This poem – and others from the TLS and elsewhere – are now published in Angels Over Elsinore, Collected Verse 2003-2008

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Ford Motor Company & bailout money.

November 25, 2008

The Florida paper, The Gainesville Sun,  carries report written by Bill Vlasic for New York Times Business Feed, explaining why Ford Motor Company is not  too worried that it’s not getting a US government bailout money at this stage.

DEARBORN, Mich. — As the Detroit auto companies contend with their worst financial crisis in decades, the most famous American auto executive has stayed largely out of sight.

But William C. Ford Jr., the executive chairman and scion of the founding family of the Ford Motor Company, has been preparing for a bigger role in the industry’s plan for survival.

While General Motors and Chrysler plead to Congress for a bailout, Mr. Ford has reached out to President-elect Barack Obama in hopes that his company can benefit from the administration’s longer-term strategies for the auto industry.

Mr. Ford has been working behind the scenes, meeting one-on-one with Mr. Obama in August, conferring with his senior economic advisers, and teaming up with Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan to push a vision of a leaner, greener auto industry.
With Detroit on the brink of disaster, the great-grandson of Henry Ford could play a critical role in how the Obama administration decides to assist the companies financially and shape broader energy policies.

“One of the things that I feel very encouraged about is the president-elect and where he’d like to take this country in terms of energy, and I completely buy into his vision,” Mr. Ford said in an interview, his first since the Big Three approached Washington lawmakers about a rescue plan.
He can afford to take a longer view because Ford, unlike G.M. and Chrysler, does not need an immediate infusion of government aid to stay in business.;(read on…)

Is this strategy designed to please the President-elect and his administration, or is it (what it should be) a serious attempt by a motor manufacturer to meet the demands of the time? I’d like to think it’s the latter. We’ll have to wait and see.

Morici V the Big 3

November 24, 2008

Peter Morici, an international business professor at the University of Maryland, last week singlehandedly put paid any hopes the Detroit 3 -(General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) had that US Senate Banking Committee would approve a $25 billion bail-out by the government.

The case Morici made was such a strong one that the the the Chicago Tribune calling him “a one-man wrecking crew”, printed  the full transcript of his evidence.

Morici’s remarks are worth reading because if he’s diagnosing the situation correctly, than he presents President-elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats who received strong backing from the UAW and organized labor generally with a real dilemma: The UAW desperately wants the bailout.

But a bailout to the tune of tens of billions of dollars may just be throwing good money after bad.
MR. MORICI: My name is Peter Morici. I’m an economist and professor at the University of Maryland. I’m the sole panelist here to speak against the bailout. I guess three CEOs and a president of a labor union, one Terrapin (the school’s turtle mascot) — I think it’s a pretty fair matchup actually. I feel sort of like the mouse that stowed away on the Titanic.

The automobile industry has two major components: the Detroit Three and the Japanese, Asian and European transplants that assemble vehicles here. Both contribute vitally to our national economy. And ensuring that these companies have the means, to compete, is of the most important national interest.

The gradual erosion of the market shares, of the Detroit Three, over the last several decades, stems from higher labor costs, having origins in wages, benefits, work rules, poor management decisions and less than fully supportive government policies.

Although the government has been sympathetic, to the needs of this industry, the industry has fallen victim to currency manipulation and other forms of protectionism, predominantly in Asia, in Japan, Korea, China, India and elsewhere. The Detroit Three are rapidly running out of cash and face filing for Chapter 11 reorganization.

It’s my position that it would be better to let them go through that process and reemerge with new labor agreements, reduced debt, strengthened management. That would permit these companies to produce cars at costs comparable to those enjoyed by their Japanese and other foreign competitors assembling vehicles in the United States.

Circumstances today …..(read on)

Clive James’s poetry & the je ne sais quoi of poetry

November 24, 2008

Benjamin Lytal writing for the Los Angeles Times (Sunday, November 23, 2008) about Clive James’s Opal Sunset: Selected Poems 1958-2008 passes a judgment that even staunch admirers of James’s work, such as myself, would find it difficult to argue with.

“Opal Sunset” contains poems of compact grace and steady, modest emotion. James’ lines, anchored by memorable phrases and obviously the production of a serious verbal talent, more than fulfill James’ meager definition of poetry, that it be sayable. But most readers of poetry want more. Looking, perhaps guiltily, for that je ne sais quoi they expect from poetry, they will find instead a wealth of cultural history and critical observation set to rhyme. 


1. Opal Sunset: Selected Poems 1958-2008: Clive James .

Bush lets the vandals loose.

November 20, 2008

The Guardian today reports that George Bush and his administration are using  the last days left to them in White House to weaken or reverse regulations regulations intended to protect the American environment


With barely 60 days to go until Bush hands over to Barack Obama, his White House is working methodically to weaken or reverse an array of regulations that protect America’s wilderness from logging or mining operations, and compel factory farms to clean up dangerous waste.
The timing is crucial. Most regulations take effect 60 days after publication, and Bush wants the new rules in place before he leaves the White House on January 20. That will make it more difficult for Obama to undo them.

“There are probably going to be scores of rules that are issued between now and January 20,” said John Walke, a senior attorney at the National Resources Defence Council. “And there are at least a dozen very controversial rules that will weaken public health and environment protection that have no business being adopted and would not be acceptable to the incoming Obama administration, based on stances he has taken as a senator and during the campaign.”

The flurry of new rules – known as midnight regulations – is part of a broader campaign by the Bush administration to leave a lasting imprint on environmental policy. Some of the actions have provoked widespread protests such as the Bureau of Land Management’s plans to auction off 20,000 hectares of oil and gas parcels within sight of Utah’s Delicate Arch natural bridge.

The Bush administration is also accused of engaging in a parallel go-slow on court-ordered actions on the environment. “There are the midnight regulations that they are trying to force out before they leave office, and then there are the other things they are trying not to do before they go. A lot of the climate stuff falls into the category of things they would rather not do,” said a career official at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Other presidents have worked up to the final moments of their presidency to impose their legacy on history. But Bush has been particularly organised in his campaign to roll back years of protections – not only on the environment, but workplace safety and employee rights.

The last-minute rules passed during the “midnight hours” of the George Bush presidency differ from his predecessors because they are basically a project of deregulation – not regulation. Among the most far-reaching:
• Industrial-size pig, cow and chicken farms can disregard the Clean Water Act and air pollution controls.
• The interior department can approve development such as mining or logging without consulting wildlife managers about their impact.
• Restrictions will be eased so power plants can operate near national parks and wilderness areas.
• Pollution controls on new power plants will be downgraded.
• Mountain-top mine operators could dump waste into rivers and streams.
• 2m acres of land in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado opened to development of oil shales, the dirtiest fuel on Earth.

Is there no end of the damage he and his supporters can do to America?

“Cromwell:God’s Executioner” .

November 16, 2008

This is how The History Channel, introduces both parts of  Cromwell: God’s Executioner, the two-part series commisioned by it and RTÉ Television (with support from Broadcasting Commission of Ireland)from Tile Films. This drama is not expected to generate the same amount of discussion as it did when broadcast by RTE on the 3rd of September (the 350th anniversary of Cromwell’s death) this year, but then Cromwell is not is not seen in the same light this side of the Irish sea as he is in Ireland.

Oliver Cromwell is the great bogeyman of Irish history. His name appears everywhere in the collective psyche of an island that is obsessed with its past. He is a towering figure, a dark silhouette against the bloodstained backdrop of history. But why did he come to Ireland, and does he deserve this black reputation?

 Leading young historian Micheál Ó Siochrú will present the series, offering fascinating and controversial new insights into this crucial time in Irish history. He puts the conquest in its proper context, showing that it was the apex of many years of conflict between Britain and Ireland. He looks at the war itself, exploring its causes and course, Cromwell’s struggles with his Irish adversaries, and the bitter legacy that still haunts the nation’s folk memory, three and a half centuries on. But even this is not the full story. Strikingly, Micheál reveals how ‘God’s Englishman’ helped to lay the foundations for the modern Ireland that we know today.

 In the first part of this two part series, the historical context of 17th century Ireland is set and the main players in the conflict are introduced, including Cromwell himself and his Irish adversaries, the O’Neills. We trace the events that led to the first and most infamous of the atrocities of his campaign at Drogheda and Wexford. Following Drogheda, he sends 5,000 men to Ulster to crush Royalist resistance there. With the death of Owen Roe O’Neill, leader of the Ulster Catholic army, who now can stand against Cromwell?

As episode two opens, we see Cromwell’s army unexpectedly begin to founder. He fails to take two key strategic positions – Duncannon and Waterford, and reaches a low point in the driving rain of Kilmacthomas, with his army reduced by disease and slowed down by bad weather.But in the spring of 1650 he renews his campaign in Leinster and Munster. He captures important towns like Kilkenny and Cashel, but meets his nemesis at Clonmel, where 2,000 of his troops are wiped out by Hugh Dubh O’Neill. Can the Irish prevail? 

Sadly not. We examine the end of the campaign, the fate of O’Neill and other protagonists, and the bitter aftermath of dispossession. We also explore Cromwell’s legacy and its wider significance today.?


Under the Jacarandas by Clive James

November 15, 2008

Under the Jacarandas by Clive James appears in today’s edition of The Guardian

Under the jacarandas

Clive James

The pigeons and the gulls
Pick at the fallen purple
That inundates the grass
For two weeks in October.

Although the splash of colour
Should seem absurdly lush,
Soon you get used to it.
You think life is like that,
But a clock is ticking.

The pigeons and the gulls
Don’t even know how good
They look, set off like this.
They get it while it’s there.
Keep watching and you’ll learn.

Angels over Elsinore: Collected Verse 2003-2008 by Clive James, published by Picador (£14.99). ).

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Palin – nasty of nice next time around?

November 13, 2008

David Free wrote rather interestingly in a recent blog about about how his opinion of Sarah Palin is changing.

Watching Palin’s interview with Greta Van Susteren, I thought Palin came across as a marginally less nasty and stupid person than she had appeared to be before election day. To put it another way, some polling guru must have told her, at the outset of the campaign, that pretending to be nastier and stupider than you really are is a good way of getting elected to the second-most important office in the world. Let’s hope that idea is dead forever.

If Gary Kamiya Kamiya, writing in Salon, is to be believed, there are some very influential people in the Republican party for whom a “marginally less nasty Palin” would be bad news indeed.

Predictably taking the hardest line were the braying tribunes of the right-wing plebs, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. The McCain-detesting Coulter wrote, “The only good thing about McCain is that he gave us a genuine conservative, Sarah Palin. He’s like one of those insects that lives just long enough to reproduce so that the species can survive. That’s why a lot of us are referring to Sarah as ‘The One’ these days. Like Sarah Connor in ‘The Terminator,’ Sarah Palin is destined to give birth to a new movement.”

The Republican belief that is should have played the game more nastily than it did is going to be hard to shift.