February 27, 2011

Poland Über Alles

Twenty years ago, the deeply Catholic Poland was a backward agricultural and provincial country. Yet, since then, it has experienced an almost nonstop boom. Even during the 2009 recession, which we’re still recovering from, Poland’s economy grew by 1.7 percent. And thanks to its accession to the EU in 2004, unemployment fell from more than 20 percent to about 8 percent today. No surprise that Poles are among Europe’s most optimistic people… Read the article at Spiegel Online International.

English Identity: A New Report

An interesting new report (“Fear and HOPE”), commissioned by Searchlight Educational Trust, explores the issues of English identity, faith and race. With 5,054 respondents and 91 questions, it is one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys into attitude, identity and extremism in the UK to date.

“This report paints a disturbing picture of our attitudes towards each another and the unknown,” says Nick Lowles, Chief Executive of Searchlight. While highlighting the dangers that lie ahead if the issues explored in the research are not addressed, Fear and HOPE also “shakes the confidence of those who believe that all is well in Britain’s multiracial society.”

The full report will be available here from Monday, February 28, 2011 at 9.00pm (Greenwich Mean Time). In the meantime, you can read the executive summary here. Via Harry's Place.

February 26, 2011

The Rubicon is a River in Wisconsin

Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post:

The magnificent turmoil now gripping statehouses in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and soon others marks an epic political moment. The nation faces a fiscal crisis of historic proportions and, remarkably, our muddled, gridlocked, allegedly broken politics have yielded singular clarity.
We have heard everyone - from Obama's own debt commission to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - call the looming debt a mortal threat to the nation. We have watched Greece self-immolate. We can see the future. The only question has been: When will the country finally rouse itself?
Amazingly, the answer is: now. Led by famously progressive Wisconsin - Scott Walker at the state level and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan at the congressional level - a new generation of Republicans has looked at the debt and is crossing the Rubicon. Recklessly principled, they are putting the question to the nation: Are we a serious people?

February 24, 2011

An Afghanistan in the Mediterranean?

Two scenarios of the Arab revolution. That of Egypt, with an unprecedented alliance between Christians and Muslims. And that of Libya, where the collapse of the regime paves the way for radical Islamism. Take a look at the analysis of Khaled Fouad Allam, as expounded in an article by Sandro Magister.

The picture that emerges […] is that of a Muslim world that is much more fragile and disorganized than is usually imagined. Much more varied. Much more exposed to secularization and to the languages of global communication, universal but still uncertain in meaning.

Yet, this doesn’t apply to all of the Arab countries in revolt today. In fact, there is one exception. That exception is Libya:

Libya has never been a homogeneous nation. It is a tangle of Arab, Berber, and African tribes, for each of which group loyalty matters more than anything else. At the outbreak of the revolt, entire cities and regions were quickly made autonomous.

In Libya there are no real and proper state institutions, no parliament, no army that could assume power, as happened in Egypt, and ensure a smooth transition.

For Gaddafi, the "revolution" was the state, and the state was him. His was an "Islamic Maoism" purified of the prophetic tradition, the Sunna, which made him foreign and distasteful to the bulk of the Sunni Muslim world itself.

Paradoxically, the tyranny of Gaddafi guaranteed the Catholic Church levels of freedom greater than in any other Muslim country of the region.

The downfall of Gadaffi may therefore coincide with the total collapse of Libya. Which could become – Allam warns – "an Afghanistan in the Mediterranean."

An Algerian with Italian citizenship, Khaled Fouad Allam is professor of Sociology of the Muslim world and History and Institutions of the Islamic countries at the Universites of Trieste, Urbino and at the Stanford University of Florence.

February 23, 2011

When the Privileged are Angry

James Taranto’s piece in the WSJ’s Opinion Journal is well worth a careful read. He addresses the Wisconsin thing, the main issues at stake—including the differences between public and private sector unions and between Tea Party and union protests—and their political, economic, and “cultural” implications. He also shows how “almost every lie the left ever told about the Tea Party has turned out to be true of the government unionists in Wisconsin and their supporters.” Via Bookworm Room.

If Gaddafi Vows to Die a Martyr

That the Arab revolution might reach Libya was regarded as out of the range of possible (or desirable) things. And if one leader could survive the storm, it seemed to be Kadhafi, with his broad security apparatus, his elite military units and his own oil wells. At least that’s how we felt until a few days ago.

But with their utter courage the demonstrators in Benghazi, Surt, Misurata, Tubruq, Derna, and Tripoli have taken even this certainty away. And what is more is that these events mark the first time that uprisings roiling the broader Middle East have destabilized a major oil-producing state. Of course, that’s also why Libya holds a different level of interest to the West than Tunisia or even Egypt. This is true above all for Italy, Libya’s former colonial overlord and its top trade partner. Italy has a lot to lose if Gaddafi goes:

"Italy has been worried because the effects would be more direct and immediate than on other countries" if Gathafi is forced to relinquish power, said Ettore Greco, director of the International Affairs Institute in Rome.
The Libyan regime has shut down illegal immigration towards Italy and holds major stakes in Italian companies including the country's top bank UniCredit, industry giant Finmeccanica and first-division football club Juventus.
Italian officials say a pact with Libya on immigration has reduced undocumented arrivals by more than 90 percent and Libya has threatened to lift controls if Europe tries to topple Gathafi.
Italian businesses also have key investments in the North African state, which accounts for 14 percent of the global output of Italian energy giant ENI.
Italy is the biggest exporter to Libya and is also Libya's biggest export market, importing around 23 percent of its oil supplies from Libya.

That explains the reason why Italy—along with Britain, another country with which Libya has a special (business) relationship—is treading cautiously.

However, in general, as a result of the turmoil, crude oil prices are rising to their highest levels in two years: they went up 6% alone yesterday and the Arab revolution could cause them to go a lot higher (by the way, the exodus of international oil firms is an indication of how dramatic things have become in Libya).

That’s what explains why Russian President Dmitry Medvedev predicted “fires for decades and the spread of extremism” in the Arab world if protesters, whom he called “fanatics,” come to power.

Yet the European and American Left are far less cautious and definitely side with the Arab revolution. And to think that Gaddafi, as recalled by the German conservative daily Die Welt, started as an Arab nationalist with a socialist vocabulary, and many leftists honored him (along with the late far-right Austrian nationalist Jörg Haider), into the ‘90s, as an ‘anti-imperialist’ figure. Things change so quickly sometimes…

But this time, unlike in the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, it’s a bit more difficult to disagree. In the light of what “the mad dog” has proven himself to be these days, even the European Union, Obama and the lefties might be right. And perhaps this will be recalled as the beginning of the last act of the Libyan tragedy:

He called on "those who love Muammar Gaddafi" to come out on to the streets, telling them not to be afraid of the "gangs".
"Come out of your homes, attack them in their dens. Withdraw your children from the streets. They are drugging your children, they are making your children drunk and sending them to hell," he said.
He would "cleanse Libya house by house", he said.
"If matters require, we will use force, according to international law and the Libyan constitution," he said, and warned that the country could descend into civil war or be occupied by the US if protests continued.
Anyone who played games with the country's unity would be executed, he said, citing the Chinese authorities' crushing of the student protests in Tiananmen Square as an example of national unity being "worth more than a small number of protesters".

Well, frankly speaking, who in the right mind would miss him? Just let him “die a martyr” if that’s what he wants, and may Allah have mercy on him, because his people won't.

February 21, 2011

True Grit. Much, Much More Than a Remake

First off let me say that, speaking of movies, as a lover of Westerns I have been a lifelong fan of John Wayne—it is not by chance that Rio Bravo is perhaps my favorite movie ever, though no small part of the credit for this is due to Dean Martin and director Howard Hawks. Second, I think that John Wayne’s 1969 True Grit was a great movie. With all this being said, I have to say that the 2010 remake by Joel and Ethan Coen—starring a fierce but self-ironic Jeff Bridges as Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn, a pompous Matt Damon as Texas Ranger La Boeuf, and the young newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, cast as Mattie Ross after competing with 15,000 other applicants for the role—is a great movie, too (watch the trailer below).

So, I’m not at all surprised if the film received critical acclaim. Rotten Tomatoes, which gives each movie a breakdown of the number of good reviews versus bad, reported that 95% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 203 reviews, with only 10 negative reviews and an average score of 8.3/10. “The critics,” according to the above mentioned popular movie website, “say the Coen Brothers’ (relatively) straightforward remake of True Grit is a rewarding movie in its own right—it’s tough, sly, and filled with marvelous performances, most notably Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.” In other words, in their reviews the movie pundits think that True Grit is “a crowd-pleasing effort from the Coens that manages to maintain their trademark subversion within the framework of an old-school Western.” Just to make an example, according to Total Film, which gave the film a five-star review (denoting “outstanding”), “This isn’t so much a remake as a masterly re-creation.” As it was not enough, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops review called the film “exceptionally fine” and said “[a]mid its archetypical characters, mythic atmosphere and amusingly idiosyncratic dialogue, writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s captivating drama uses its heroine’s sensitive perspective—as well as a fair number of biblical and religious references—to reflect seriously on the violent undertow of frontier life.”

Well, I am by no means a movie critic, nor an aspiring one, but I couldn’t agree more…

Deservedtly, the movie is currently nominated for ten Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Steinfeld), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing (the ceremony will take place on February 27, 2011).

I thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack (by Carter Burwell) as well. It is made up of 19th-century church music. The 1888 hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” is used as Mattie Ross’s theme (Iris DeMent’s version, from her 2004 album Lifeline, is used during the end credits). Other hymns are also referenced in the score, including “The Glory-Land Way” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (watch the featurette video on True Grit’s music). Unfortunately, because the hymns are considered pre-composed music, the score was deemed ineligible to be nominated for Best Original Score in the 2010 Academy Awards.

February 19, 2011

Lenin is Alive and Well in America

~ “LETTERS FROM AMERICA” - by The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

That tactics are toned down, the bloody militarism is too, but the mindset is the same. In 1917 the Bolsheviks couldn’t get their way, so they just started a reign of murder and terror until they did. They were able to keep it up for about a century. Mao and his murderers in China couldn’t get their way, so they started a reign of murder and terror until they did.

The tactics of the Left have changed. Now they have protests, often leading to violence of a lesser sort than Lenin and Mao engaged in, and a perfect example is what’s happening in Wisconsin now. I guess it could just be called intimidation and bullying instead of a violent revolution. They're going for the same result. Make sure they have the money and power, and that the citizens obey them. 

The governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, when he was running for office, said he would make major budget cuts and curtail the power of the unions. Most unions members are government employees, and think that no matter what the economic situation of a state or the country; the citizens should be taxed so they can maintain their life styles. The same citizens that are losing their homes, taking wage and salary cuts, and getting laid off. The citizens liked what they heard Walker and other Republicans say they were going to do to address the $billions of debt Wisconsin is facing, and so elected them.

A huge chunk of that debt, not only in Wisconsin, but in all the states facing bankruptcy, can be laid right at the doorstep of unions. [Side note: Every state and city in America facing bankruptcy is run by Democrats and unions.]  In Wisconsin, state employees (union members) do not contribute to their own health care or retirement plans. They get a full ride on the back of the citizens who are contributing to their own plans. They’re highly paid too; for example, the average wage of a teacher there, salary and benefits, is $89,000 a year. (Note they get three months off in the summer plus 30 days off for various holidays and stuff too.)

Now these employees aren’t showing up for work, and are going to the state capitol building and protesting; twenty-five thousand of them the first day of the demonstrations. This is a great message for the teachers to relay to kids…don’t like the way things are going, don’t show up for work and have a temper tantrum. Despite what their union, the National Education Association (NEA) says, teachers aren't about the kids, teachers are about how they can benefit themselves. If that weren't so, they they would have shown up to work. (To teach, one must be a union member, union thuggery, so those teachers that are coerced to join don't fit that observation.) Which is what the Democrat legislators have done; not show up. They fled the state instead of debating and voting as they were hired by the citizens to do. They had to flee the state because the state police were looking for them, to arrest and take them back to the capitol. They can’t cross state lines to effect the arrests.

There are 19 Republicans in the legislature and 14 Democrats. Twenty are needed for a quorum. The governor has proposed to eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees, require employees to pay for half of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health insurance. Wage increases would be tied to the Consumer Price Index. Union negotiations would be limited to wages. This is what the legislators were to debate and vote on. For this the Governor and Republicans are called all sorts of nasty things.  

The state just doesn’t have the money to continue to pay all those benefits and wages. Many retirement packages provide a higher annual income than the employee made while working, and for more years than he\she worked. The governor can’t do what Obama does, borrow and print $trillions and pretend it’s not such a big deal. Something else Obama and the Democrats and their union thugs have done (the two main sources of funds for the Democrats are George Soros and unions) is send in Leftists from all over the country to join the protesters. A wing of the Democrat Party, and the campaign organization for Obama, Organizing for America, is the coordinator in this attack on a state, doing its own state business. The federal government has no jurisdiction here; this is only a Leninist political maneuver, led by the president, who is elected to represent all the people, not just unions and his other political supporters. Obama called what Governor Walker is doing “an assault on unions”. It’s none of Obama’s damned business. Walker’s response: "I think we're focused on balancing our budget. It would be wise for the president and others in Washington to focus on balancing their budget, which they're a long ways from doing."

Starting when GW Bush signed TARP, which was to save the economy but made things worse, and which Conservatives were against; Conservatives starting writing letters to their Representatives and Senators to stop the spending insanity. That didn’t work so Citizens began getting together to confront their congress critters in town hall meetings, and those people were the foundation of the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party. That didn't work. They held rallies. That didn’t work either, so in the election this past November, a massive number of Republicans, fresh faces, not the old RINO’s (Republican In Name Only), were elected to state legislatures, governorships, Senate and House of Representatives. It was a major power shift. (No Conservatives took to the streets to effect this change.) 

What’s happening in Wisconsin is a microcosm of the tipping point we face. Do the unions and their political sock puppets demand we the people pay up to sustain their power and life styles, or are the Citizens in fact the government, and tell the unions and congress critters they’ll take what they're given and shut the hell up or quit.

The cowardly Wisconsin Democrats fled the state rather than do what they’re paid to do. State (Leftist) employees took to the streets rather than go to work and do what they were paid to do. There’s the difference. Conservatives took the legal and moral path, and were called fascists, Nazis, violent, etc., and the Leftists are in fact engaging in fascist, Nazi, Leninist behavior because they’re losing the argument and power. Lot’s of signs by the way, and we’re not surprised, of the Governor with a Hitler mustache.   

The tactics have softened, but the intent is there. We’re at tipping point. Marx and Engels with the Communist Manifesto, or Jefferson and Washington with the US Constitution?

February 16, 2011

Neoconservatism: An Obituary?

Glenn Beck said that C. Bradley Thompson’s new book Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea is “a must-read for all Americans interested in defending the founding fathers vision of a free and just society.” Actually, as far as I have seen until now, this book is being described by reviewers and readers as a comprehensive analysis of what neoconservatives call their “philosophy of governance” which probes and explicates the deepest philosophic principles of neoconservatism, traces the intellectual relationship between the political philosopher Leo Strauss and contemporary neoconservative political actors, and provides a trenchant critique of neoconservatism from the perspective of America’s founding principles. I have just ordered it from Amazon. Will let you know what I think.

February 13, 2011

Egypt: Another Iran In The Making?

Now that Mubarak has stepped down, what will happen in Egypt? That’s the question we all are asking ourselves. More precisely: What will the new Egyptian government look like? And what will be the role of the Muslim Brotherhood? Needless to say, as many international observers—including the Italian doyen of political scientists, Giovanni Sartori—have pointed out, the risk now is that a second Iran might be born.

Like the Shah Reza Pahlavi before him, Mubarak has been a loyal ally of the West. Also on the list of likenesses between the two stories is that the Shah, besides being the first Muslim leader to recognize the State of Israel, went down in history for countless clashes with radical Islamists, and Mubarak, in turn, banned the Muslim Brotherhood (which presents itself as the moderate face of Islam but supports Hamas in Palestine) and strengthened relations with Israel. We know how things went in Iran.

Perhaps it is true that, as Scott Atran put it, the Muslim Brotherhood is not to be feared because it is “marginal to the spirit of revolt now spreading through the Arab world.” Or perhaps Caroline Glick was right when she wrote, “If the (Egypt) regime falls, the successor regime will not be a liberal democracy. Mubarak’s military authoritarianism will be replaced by Islamic totalitarianism.” What I know is that, according to a survey conducted in Egypt—and in six other majority Muslim countries—by the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, “at least three-quarters” of Muslims in Egypt say

they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion.

The survey also finds that

Muslim publics overwhelmingly welcome Islamic influence over their countries’ politics. In Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan, majorities of Muslims who say Islam is playing a large role in politics see this as a good thing, while majorities of those who say Islam is playing only a small role say this is bad for their country.

Yet, when asked for their views about democracy, majorities in most of the Muslim communities surveyed say that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government… Maybe this means that—whatever President Obama may think about the Egypt crisis—we should start asking ourselves to what extent their way to think of democracy is compatible with ours. In the meantime, I can’t help recalling what an Egyptian student had to say about this whole matter, a story very different from what most of us have been seeing on television or reading in our papers. However, and in any event, let's keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best, no matter what our personal beliefs (or disbeliefs) may be.

February 12, 2011

Lincoln, Reagan, Poltical Parties and the Current Political Power Shift

~ “LETTERS FROM AMERICA” - by The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

Last weekend, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan, and this weekend we celebrate the 202nd anniversary of Abraham Lincoln, the founder of the modern Republican Party. What both men had in common was governing by the principals found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The Democrat Party tried all through the 20th century up to now to co-opt Lincoln for its own purposes, and now is trying to co-opt Reagan. There was the recent Time Magazine cover putting Obama arm in arm with Reagan. If it weren’t a Democrat Party mouthpiece, I would have thought it satire.

The foundation of the Republican Party was anti-slavery, and a civil war had to be fought to bring it to an end. (The Democrat Party was pro-slavery) Another part of the framework of the Party was and is keeping government limited. Democrats will say, when trying to co-opt Lincoln, was that he was a good Progressive because he expanded government. He did; he had to conduct a war. The US budget began at $63.2 million in 1860 and increased to $1.29 billion in 1865, and it was reduced to $293 million by 1870. Blacks voted overwhelmingly Republican after the Civil War and into the 1930’s when the Democrats started offering something for nothing. Since then Blacks have seen themselves moved into urban ghettos, put in housing projects, seen their families dissembled, and the men emasculated by those policies. The Ku Klux Klan was all Democrats; one could say they were the terrorist wing of the Democrat Party. Yet Blacks overwhelmingly (over 90%) still vote for the Party and politicians that resisted freeing slaves, murdered them, continued to impoverish them, then re-enslaved them to the State. When Moses was leading the Jews out of Egypt, the hardships were such that many begged him to take them back to Egypt and slavery, it being better to suffer that than what they were going through. Democrats and Franklin Roosevelt (Moses) complied and lead Blacks back into slavery.

Ronald Reagan came to power inheriting double digit inflation, double digit unemployment, and double digit interest rates. He did exactly the opposite of what Obama is doing now. Obama has increased regulation of private business, Reagan reduced it. Obama has weakened the military, Reagan strengthened it. Obama wanted to raise taxes, but even he recognizes that doing so during a recession would be a near death blow to the US economy. Reagan cut taxes across the board. The top marginal tax rate was 70% and he reduced it to 28%. Obama has weakened foreign policy and Reagan strengthened it. Reagan believed in strength by projecting power, and Obama projects appeasement and apology. Part of co-opting Reagan is trying to redefine the man’s ideas and principles, just as they have Lincoln’s. They are trying to rewrite history too, saying they (Democrats) were always respectful of Reagan and his policies.

Here’s some of the things said about him during his presidency. Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House during Reagan’s presidency, said, “The evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.” Lot’s of ‘working class’ people were thrown out of work during Carter’s administration, yet during the Reagan administration, 21 million jobs were added. Democrat congressman William Clay of Missouri said Reagan was trying to replace “the Bill of Rights with fascist precepts lifted verbatim from Mein Kampf”. I remember all kinds of comparisons of Reagan to Hitler and Nazism, part of the unrelenting attacks and insults that have lasted until recently.Even during Reagan's funeral, Democrats and their mouthpieces in the Jurassic Press were making snide and cynical comments about him and people that agreed with his policies and principals. 

The Democrats are now saying Reagan was good on foreign policy, yet at the time were horrified that he called the Soviet Union the evil empire, were aghast he told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”, mocked and blocked his Strategic Defense Initiative; in short opposed everything he tried to do in foreign policy.

The reason for this attempted usurpation is the Democrats are losing power. They lost 63 seats in the House of Representatives in the last election, six Senate seats, several governorships, and several state legislatures. They are going to lose several more in the next election. The latest census shows that Democrat run states, with serious over regulation of business and uber high taxation have lost a lot of population; people have moved to business friendly states with low taxation. Those Republican states will gain, through redistricting, more house seats, in addition to more Democrats and RINO’s (Republican In Name Only) being voted out next year. Since their shine is off, Democrats are trying to gather for themselves some of the shine that comes from leaders that actually believe in, and apply, the principles of the Constitution.

It was important to Lincoln that he keep the Constitution intact. Lincoln was castigated for not, by the stroke of the pen, abolishing slavery the minute he came to power. He responded saying, they “seemed to think that the moment I was president, I had the power to abolish slavery, forgetting that before I could have any power whatsoever I had to take the oath to support the Constitution of the United States and execute the laws as I found them.”

Reagan wrote a friend in 1979: “…the permanent structure of our government with its power to pass regulations has eroded if not in effect repealed portions of our Constitution.” It was during Reagan’s second term that he directed his Attorney General, Ed Meese, to start challenging legislators and the Courts to apply the “original intent” of the Constitution to law and governance. It caused a big fight, and the Democrats hated it.

The principals set forth by Reagan and Lincoln today is the foundation of the TEA Party movement and the re-emergence of the idea of limited government, low taxation, and the return to the original intent of the Constitution; that there is human equality, not equality of outcome through governmental regulation outside the parameters of the Constitution.

February 9, 2011

Why Big Government Doesn’t Work

The latest video released by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation (CF&P) highlights the “four reasons why big government is bad government.” This is the eleventh video of CF&P’s Economics 101 series, which is designed to explain free market concepts, with particular emphasis on reaching students and young people.

In short, the video explains that excessive government spending:
  1. crowds out private growth
  2. requires destructive levels of taxation
  3. created deficits and a massive debt
  4. violates the Constitutional prescription of limited government.
Needless to say, this is also the path which led to the fiscal collapse of some European welfare states.

February 6, 2011

Ronald Reagan: A Fan’s Tribute

This fan is also a good friend of mine and a valued contributor to this blog, and his tribute is a genuine and heartfelt one, with a couple of moving quotes at the end. I truly loved it, almost as much as I loved, and still do love, what President Reagan did for America, for the world, and for Freedom.

P.S.  I would just point out that there is some similarity between my friend's political path and mine. Back in 1980 both of us were left-wingers. I was a sympathizer, and later on a member, of the Italian Socialist Party, which was then a post Marxist, pro-business and pro-market party—more a center-left party than a left-wing one (Blairite before Tony Blair, so to speak). And it was in the summer of 1980, during my first stay in the U.S., when I first became aware of Ronald Reagan—I heard a speech by him, if I remember well. Since then I have always been a Reagan fan, although my “conversion” to political Conservatism was not complete until September 11 and what followed. But it was also in 1980 when my friend Steven, who was then “anti anything Reagan said or represented,” heard a speech by Ronald Reagan, at the end of which he found himself thinking that what that man was saying was true. Ah, how I love coincidences…

February 2, 2011

Google Introduces Art Project

Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy—with a view on Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”

Wow! This is absolutely astonishing, brilliant, and breathtaking! Believe me, I’m not exaggerating. By using the same process as the Street View vans that trekked through cities and suburbs for Google Maps, Art Project gives people a first-hand look at 17 of the world’s most acclaimed art museums—including, among others, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The National Gallery in London, and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence—with a selection of super high-resolution images of famous works of art as well as more than a thousand other images, by more than 400 artists, at one’s fingertips.

It all began, says the head of the Art Project, Amit Sood, in Google’s official blog,

when a small group of us who were passionate about art got together to think about how we might use our technology to help museums make their art more accessible---not just to regular museum-goers or those fortunate to have great galleries at their doorstep, but to a whole new set of people who might otherwise never get to see the real thing up close.

As it was not enough, Amit Sood says that he hopes more museums will join the project and that the project will develop the technology further: “I want to find the technology to capture three-dimensional art such as Michelangelo’s David. It’s not going to be easy but these are the kinds of things we hope to explore.”

So what are you waiting for? Go there and enjoy!

~ First written for The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

Learning From Reagan

What today’s leaders can learn from Reagan (in view of the approaching 100th anniversary of the birth of President Ronald Reagan). Mortimer Zuckerman, in U.S. News & World Report:

He had an instantaneous grasp of the main issue or the true problems, and he was decisive in his responses.
Reagan provided what Americans wanted most: a strong leader who could and would lead in a principled way. To refresh a phrase once used about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, this man was "not for turning." He made that clear early on, to the gratified astonishment of the nation, when he fired the striking air traffic controllers—who quickly learned that this commander in chief was not to be taken casually.
As if born with the instinct to be a transformational president, Reagan knew how to instill confidence in a nation that felt it had lost its way. Add to that his transparent likability, and you can understand why Americans felt so good about him and better about themselves when they listened to him. In the process, he earned an enormous presumption of credibility, affection, and support from the American public, even among those, like myself, who hadn't voted for him.
So today we remember fondly "the great communicator" who loved to frame his public policies in such pithy metaphors. "A recession," he explained, "is when your neighbor loses his job; a depression is when you lose yours." And he could be bitingly direct, too. He uttered the most memorable line of the Cold War in Berlin in 1987: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Yet he was ready to form a friendship with the same Mikhail Gorbachev, negotiating agreements, and again bringing forth another pointed slogan: "Trust but verify."

The Great Stagnation

Tyler Cowen 
To be honest, I don’t usually read books on economics, but Tyler Cowen is one of the few economists whose … blog posts I read (or try to read!) quite regularly, in fact, he also runs, along with Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution, a famous economics blog. Yet, despite my own limitations, this post is about a book on economics I have only just started reading, as suggested by my Italian economics guru, Oscar Giannino.

The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History,Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better is a short take on the US’s recent economic trajectory and was released only in electronic format in January 2011. The book’s central issue is: Why American median wages have risen only slowly since the 1970s, and why this multi-decade stagnation is not yet over? This, according to Cowen, has

a single, littlenoticed root cause: We have been living off low-hanging fruit for at least three hundred years. We have built social and economic institutions on the expectation of a lot of low-hanging fruit, but that fruit is mostly gone.

In a figurative sense, he says elsewhere,

the American economy has enjoyed lots of low-hanging fruit since at least the seventeenth century, whether it be free land, lots of immigrant labor, or powerful new technologies. Yet during the last forty years, that low-hanging fruit started disappearing, and we started pretending it was still there. We have failed to recognize that we are at a technological plateau and the trees are more bare than we would like to think. That’s it. That is what has gone wrong.

The problem, of course, won’t be solved overnight, but in Cowen’s opinion there are reasons to be optimistic: Americans simply have to recognize the underlying causes of their past prosperity—low hanging fruit—and how they will come upon more of it.

This book is about America, but it is also about Europe.

For those who don’t know him, Tyler Cowen is Holbert C. Harris Professor of Economics at George Mason University and a columnist for The New York Times and Slate.