Monday, March 28, 2011

Frederich Hayek, a Poem and a Seagoing Tale

This posting includes a brief article on economist Frederich Hayek, an "interactive" short story by Harvey Sage and a short poem.  Enjoy....  but please, where are your contributions?  This blog isn't just me !


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More on Frederich Hayek

On occasion I have mentioned Frederich Hayek in this blog, and said that I would follow up on him.  Here goes.

Hayek was a Nobel  Prize-winning Austrian economist who is most remembered (he died in 1992) for this 1944 work, The Road to Serfdom, in which he argued that (1) state control over the economy led inexorably to totalitarianism, and concluded that “only capitalism makes democracy possible”  and that  “economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest:  It is the control of the means for all of our ends.” 

These arguments have been used today by conservatives who look at Hayek’s ideas as the antithesis of the views of John Maynard Keynes who believed that government had the responsibility of spending to stimulate an ailing economy.  It should be noted that both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were followers of Hayek’s ideas.  Based on what I have read, I feel that Hayek’s ideas were greatly influenced by the economies of Stalinist Russian and Nazi Germany. From that viewpoint, his arguments make sense since there was no democracy in those situations.  The roads there indeed led to serfdom.  The pertinence of these ideas today, however, I question.  Some conservatives would have you believe Hayek's position is valid today because they feel that our government's economic stimulus programs can only lead to still greater dependence on government, and eventually, in Hayek's words, to "serfdom."

I have tried to get my hands on a copy of Hayek’s book without success, and have relied on secondary sources in my research.

JL

(1)   Morgenson, Gretchen, The Capitalist’s Bible, New York, NY 2009. pp. 98-99, 226-227.

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Old Faces

Old faces, jowly and wrinkled !
How must they have looked in their prime?  
Unfurrowed with muscles still firm
Not sagging down below the chin,
With eyes still bright and not weathered
By what they viewed over the years,
With skin unblotched and soft to touch
And not sprouting unwanted tufts,
Without leath’ry toughness where once
Peachy smoothness begged to be kissed.
Old girl, Old boy, it’s plain to see
How fair and gallant once you were 
And in the eyes of some, still are,
And in the eyes of some, still are.

JL 

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Stranded

Harvey Sage

This is an open ended story which challenges the reader to work through clues and come to a decision.

The huge storm generated wave struck Truffles like a tsunami, pushing the chartered craft as if it were a cork, high and closer to shore.  It dragged the anchor and settled at a fifteen degree list,  parallel to the beach. I was horrified.  Water could cascade over the boat’s side and swamp me, sweeping me overboard. I closeted myself below deck, securing the hatch so no water, or anything else, could enter.  I was particularly terrified of the crocs.

            The last time I saw my husband of two weeks was three hours ago, just after we’d enjoyed rutty sex.  “I’m going for a swim dearest,” were his last words.  I heard his dive and kicking as I lay on a bed, relaxing. Then there was silence. I climbed to the deck of the mid-sized cruiser and saw a blood red froth halfway to shore. The agitated churning indicated that a crocodile had seized my husband.  I peed in my swim suit.

“Damn you Rick. Why did you have to go for a swim? You knew that this deserted hideaway, our honeymoon delight, was part of an island chain known for its isolation  and large sea crocs. Now here I am, stranded, and I don’t have a clue what to do!” That’s when I prayed in earnest. “Lord help me please.”  I also decided to write down all my experiences and leave them in a watertight jar on the desk. People should know.

We have a radio and Rick was supposed to show me how to work it.  But one thing led to another and he never got around to it.  The Truffles is powered by twin engines. However I don’t have the slightest idea how to work them. Another thing Rick never showed me.  Why not? Didn’t he think me capable? I searched the galley for provisions.  There is plenty of food and water. Enough to survive till help comes. Night time will fall soon. I’ve got nothing to do so I begin to look through Rick’s papers.

Besides the usual things such as passport, marriage license, and business contacts, there is something that caught my eye. Weird. An insurance policy worth a million dollars, and twice that amount if either of us died by an accident. Double indemnity they call it.  Rick’s signature was on the bottom, and so was mine. I never signed this thing. I’m sure of that. Like I said, weird. I started thinking about Rick. Did he intend for me to be rich?

We had met by happenstance on the tennis court. Was it fate that he and I became partners in doubles?  A lunch date followed and he swept me off my feet.  He was a senior VP in a big corp, or so he said. He seemed to have a lot of money and he lavished it on me- dinner, shows, flowers, jewelry- the whole nine yards. Would I marry him? In a heart beat.   In less than a month since we met we were on our honeymoon, motoring through this island chain in the Pacific, enjoying every moment. Until his swim.

             Truth be known, I really didn’t know much about Rick. Even our marriage ceremony was strange.  Rick insisted on a quiet, no frills, civil union by a “friend” of his, a notary. I didn’t like it  but I didn’t want to rock the boat. Whatever made the man of my dreams happy.

            Last night I shivered in fear in the cabin as periodic thumping sounds came from the deck.  Were the crocs on board?  Something tried to open the cabin door. Thankfully the lock held. I thought I would die of a heart attack. Then the noises went away and I drifted off to sleep. Morning had arrived. I ventured out to the deck. 

            The tide was out and I could see tracks in the sand leading from the boat. Some of them looked like crocodile tracks, pointed toe shapes that were deep.  Were there also human foot prints among them? I thought this island was deserted. Anyway, I have decided to get off this boat and explore.  Maybe I’ll meet up with some friendly natives. I’ll fix up a sack full of food and off I’ll go.  If anyone finds this message in the jar, please, come look for me.

The patrol craft Beaver found Truffles which the tide had righted.  They had been searching the islands since being alerted by the charter service after Truffles had failed to make its daily situation report.   Officer Higgins found the jar with the message and showed it to Captain Blume.  At that moment there was a voice, hailing them from the shore. A man was waving to them.

Rick Simmons told them how his wife of a few days went for a swim and was attacked by crocodiles.  He cried big tears as he related his futile efforts to save her.  Captain Blume kept a straight face as he questioned him, but Simmons’ story never changed.  The Beaver affixed a tow line to the Truffles and they started to leave. Simmons went down below in the patrol boat to rest and wash up. Both Blume and Officer Higgins were at the helm when they rounded a spit of land jutting away from the island. They spied a young bikini clad lady standing there, waving frantically. Higgins turned to his captain and said “Now sir, this should prove very interesting.”  Captain Blume roared with laughter. “Interesting? Yes indeed.” 
From here on in, what happens is up to you, dear readers.  Feel free to post  your comments.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Editorial Comment: Japan's Tragedy and Americn Joblessness

Can Japan’s Tragedy Open Doors in Our Economy?

It is becoming clear that the Japanese economy will take a very long time to recover from the havoc wreaked upon it by the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant damage.  Aside from the humanitarian factors involved, which are enormous, for the time being (and that may be years) Japan will not be able to continue to play its role of supplier of automobiles, automobile parts and most importantly, electronic devices and electronic components to much of the world.  Without these items, many other countries, spared the cataclysmic physical damage done to Japan, will nevertheless suffer economically.  Without Japan to play this role, an understudy must step in.

This can afford the United States the opportunity to solve its potentially chronic unemployment problem as well as return it to its role as a manufacturing nation supplying products to the world.  The electronic components necessary for computers, TVs, cell phones and communications devices of all sorts, and these devices themselves, can be produced in the United States.  We have the technology and the labor force to accomplish that.  The same goes for automobiles which can be totally manufactured here as well as automotive parts for existing vehicles and those already being manufactured here.  We did this for years and we can do it again.

We cannot, unfortunately, sit on our behinds and wait for American business to determine whether or not doing this can be profitable and to pick and choose for which particular Japanese role they can step in to fill as an understudy.  The government must step in to make certain that the United States fills that role, even if this means subsidizing American business with low-cost loans to accomplish this.  The government might even build the necessary manufacturing facilities here, if they do not already exist, and lease or sell them to businesses at a bargain price.  This would require government spending, always frowned upon by conservatives, but it would truly be an investment which would be repaid many times over by the benefits which our economy would accrue.

I haven’t heard these ideas expressed yet by anyone in government here, but I would wager that India and China are already in line to audition for the role of understudy.  For example, all Honda Civics have been manufactured in Japan and right now, their production is suspended.  It would be tragic for their assembly line to be reactivated in China or India, or even Korea.  Bear in mind that often, when a talented understudy takes on a role, the original star may have difficulty getting back their job once they have recovered. 

The United States cannot let this opportunity pass us by.  We have the physical and intellectual resources to make it happen.  Let’s do it.

JL

Thursday, March 17, 2011

National Public Radio

It's just me this posting!  So, please consider making your contribution (not money ... just words) to this blog.  Let's start with my thoughts on National Public Radio and finish with a poem I wrote. (Sid Bolotin isn't the only poet around here.)


Comments on National Public Radio
Right now, because Congress is considering cutting the government’s contribution to National Public Radio, I think it is appropriate to make a few comments about NPR.  I am a member of NPR via their local outlet, WXEL - 90.7 FM, and I occasionally listen to the Miami station, WLRN – 91.3 FM, which while not playing any classical music, does have some interesting daytime talk shows not carried by WXEL.  I have buttons for both stations on my car radio, and the only other button I ever press is for baseball games.  In the house, I listen to WXEL in the kitchen and in the den as well.

Some ot the criticism of NPR is that when it’s not playing music, it leans to the left politically.  If I had more conservative views than I do, I probably would object to this and write to my Congressman asking him to end funding for NPR and CPB (the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) as well.  NPR certainly tries to be non-partisan, occasionally having conservative voices heard, but in the final analysis, the tone of the station is definitely to the left politically. Why is this, you may ask?

Well, the job NPR does is carried out primarily in the public sector, although some of its programs are "underwritten" by firms in the private sector.  People on the right don’t like things done with government money when there is a private sector alternative, and the many stations on the radio dial certainly provide that.  So those on the right don’t like NRP. Hence, the people at NPR find themselves placed in opposition to stations in the private sector which do not need government support because of the heavy load of advertising  they carry.  So, whether they like it or not, public radio finds itself positioned to the left of private radio, and expanding on that a bit, to the left of the private sector.  In addition, many NPR stations are affiliated with colleges and universities which historically are populated by academic folks who lean toward the liberal side.  WFSU in Tallahassee, affiliated with Florida State University, is an example of this.

But what it comes down to is that when you listen to NPR, and try to be as objective as possible, you end up coming down in favor of the liberal side of an issue.  Diane Rehm, who has a daily national talk show out of Washington DC heard weekday mornings at 10 a.m. on WRLN usually has guests representing all sides of an issue.  Because of her pragmatic and objective approach, the liberal side usually comes out looking best.  Is it because of Ms. Rehm’s views, or is it because the liberal side is actually the correct side to be on in most issues?  Could it be that if you listen to NPR long enough, you will be swung to that viewpoint, and start to consider the arguments coming from the right to be fallacious and not for the good of most of the people in the country?  Unless, of course, you feel that deregulation of business and financial institutions as well as tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy will result in an economic bonanza which will ultimately “trickle down” for everyone’s benefit.  This is the old conflict between Keynesian economics and that of Frederich Hayek (check out an earlier blog posting on his book, The Road to Serfdom) rearing its head again.  This is really why conservatives want to cut funding for NPR.  (Only 2% of NPR’s money comes from the Federal Government via the CPB but that Corporation for Public Broadcasting also passes on Federal funds to NPR’s independent stations which use it to purchase programming from NPR.)

My view is that NPR should walk away from the Federal government and seek funding from private sources and its listeners, and be able to say whatever it wants.  And now I will take a sip of coffee from my WXEL mug which they sent me when I made my last donation to them.  

JL


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The Tree Lover

It is enough to walk through a forest
And to see the trees, some ancient, some young,
Some just shoots emerging forth from between
Moist leaves on the forest floor and some dead,
Crashed to the ground and now nourishing bugs,
And this all has a smell, virile and sweet,
Sometimes sinister, more so at night when
Naught can be seen and the only sounds are
Made by those who call the forest their home.
But most times the forest is joyful as
It regenerates and grows and proves that
There is a Creator, indeed there is.
One need not go to a house of worship
One or more days a week to praise the Lord,
Once, twice, three times a day or even five,
Following whatever protocol is
Prescribed for offering praise to the Lord:

Shema Yisroel, Adonoy Elohanu,  
Hail Mary, Full of Grace and Jesus, Fruit of Thy Womb,
Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar.

For some it is enough to see the trees
And to walk among them in the forest.
Others who take comfort in belonging
Will choose a faith to profess and follow
And be more than just a lover of trees.

JL





Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Blog Readership Spreads, a Poem and a Reminiscence

Jackspotpourri Goes International

Before we get on to two delightful contributions from Sid Bolotin and Suzanne Wertheim, a word about this blog:

Don’t ask me for an explanation for this, but as of late last Sunday afternoon, March 6, the preceding seven days saw 63 people sign on to this blog.  Forty-six of them were from the United States, six from the United Kingdom, four from Japan, two from Slovenia and one each from China, Germany, Iran, Russia and Canada. (I have the capability of getting this information.)

I attribute this to the piece I posted on February 27 about the social significance of Billy Joel.  Apparently, if one did a Google search about Billy Joel and also plugged in the words social significance at the same time, for a few days Google was listing this blog as the very first URL on the very first page of their listings.  (It’s now back on the fourth page.) Resultantly, some Joel fans from all over the world must have checked out the blog. Or maybe it’s just a matter of the folks in Ljubljana or Teheran becoming interested in buying a Cascade Lakes resale, even though we don't have a cafe and we're not rushing to refurbish our clubhouse.

So, friends, when you submit something for inclusion on this blog, as I constantly am beseeching you to do, be aware that your exposure will stretch far beyond this community.  Like the song they play at Disney World and which Michael Jackson sang, “We Are the World.” 
JL


And here's a poem from Sid:


 I REMEMBER
 Sid Bolotin

A seven mile bike ride from the city, from his triple-decker tenement
Then a hike along the dirt road circling the lake
Walking his old, second-hand bike
A blue, red-rimmed Iver Johnson with tubeless tires
Finally a struggle through the undergrowth of the secret, almost hidden trail
To burst thru the underbrush at the water’s edge
After skip-hopping across twenty-some rocks to reach his goal
The young boy once again nestles in the hollow atop the massive boulder
Fishing pole beside him, bobber cast accurately
To where the larger Sunfish lurk
Ripples on the lake’s vast expanse glinting in the sun
Munching on his usual lettuce-tomato-cucumber sandwich
Once again he’s left his life behind
To be in his Shangri-La, his Paridise


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And here's a reminiscence from Suzanne:


FALLING NOODLES
Remembering Passover with My Mother

Suzanne J Wertheim

On the day of the first Passover Seder a number of years ago, I took my mother to lunch at the local Jewish deli.  Wanting to give her a semblance of the traditional meal we shared many times before, this substitute for an evening Seder seemed to be a possibility.   It was the best I could do to allay my guilt when I would go without her later.

With almost certainty, I knew she would be unaware it was a holiday and my hope to treat her might not succeed.  Due to Alzheimer’s disease, she was disoriented to time and thus had no awareness of the date.  She admitted her ignorance of the occasion in the self-deprecating manner she often displayed.  She said, “I’m so dopey, I don’t even know it’s a holiday.” 

I fluffed her hair, put on her lipstick and she gave a brief approving look in the mirror.  Assuring her that we would come back later, she agreed to go.  Holding her fragile hand as if walking with a small child, I led Ma out of the assisted living facility and into my car.

At the passenger door, she asked, “Is this a new car?”

It was eight years old and she rode in it countless times.  Each time she lowered her shrunken and ache-ridden body to the low seat, I marveled at her remaining agility, despite a slowed and shuffling gait. 

“We’re riding so long,” she said.  Then, with mounting anxiety, she added, “Don’t take me any more.”  Ten minutes’ ride seemed longer to her.  Annoyance with how far we traveled set the tone of the outing.  My eagerness to provide a change of scenery and a traditional holiday menu was dashed by these words.

Seated immediately in a corner booth at 11:45 a.m., encouraged me to think we had the best possible circumstance for this special event.  Not so.  Wait staff didn’t appear quickly with extra napkins.  Unhappy with that, the negativity began.  Wearing a plastic apron to catch falling noodles, she consumed a bowl of matzo ball soup, but refused to touch the appetizer-portion of gefilte fish and could not even bite a piece of matzo because her dentures were hurting.  Satiated with just the liquid course, she was worn out from the experience.  Her eyelids were getting heavy.

However, as I continued to eat, Mother raised her head and the tired expression changed to a smile as she looked across the table into my eyes.

“You look very pretty,” she said.  Her awareness of my appearance stunned me.

I walked back into my mother’s “home” eager to relate the incident to the receptionist.  I could not hold back the tears as the word “pretty” left my mouth.






Friday, March 4, 2011

Thoughts On Israel

I know that some readers of this blog will disagree with this.  I await your comments, either on the blog, or directly to riart1@aol.com.  And by the way, I found a very comprehensive web site for those interested in matters of Jewish and Israeli concern.  If you are unaware of Tablet magazine, check out www.tabletmag.com.


Some Thoughts on Israel

One of the topics about which I frequently get into discussions is the problem which the State of Israel faces in dealing with the Palestinians.  Actually, that name is a misnomer. Today’s Palestinians are the descendents of the Arab population of the former Ottoman province and British mandate which was called Palestine and whose residents were called Palestinians, regardless of whether they were Arab, Muslim, Jewish, Druze or Christian.  Did you know that in its pre-Israel days, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was known as the Palestine Philharmonic, an almost completely Jewish group?  But since the Arab population there today calls itself Palestinian, that is the name I will use in these comments.

The State of Israel’s borders were established by the United Nations in 1948.  Beyond those borders was supposed to be a separate “Palestinian” (i.e. non-Jewish) entity, but this was never established because the existence of Israel was not accepted by the Arab world.  Several unsuccessful wars ensued, all started by Arab states, in efforts to destroy Israel.  As a result, Israel’s pre-1967 borders were expanded to include occupied territories won in those wars by Israel.  Many Israel’s feel that this expanded Israel, which approximates  ancient Israel of the Bible, should become permanent.  Many Israeli settlements, initially for protective purposes, have been established in these areas.  Some areas, like Yamit in the Sinai and the Gaza Strip, have been returned to the Arabs.  Israeli settlements and construction of dwellings, however, have proliferated in the some of the areas outside of Israel’s 1967 borders, known as the West Bank.  Some Jews, particularly the Orthodox, feel that these territories should never be returned since they form part of the original Biblical Israel.  On the other hand, polls show that the majority of Israelis do accept the idea of some sort of Arab, or Palestinian, de-militarized state eventually coming into existence once the Palestinians agree to accept the existence of the State of Israel and cease their efforts to destroy it.

A large body of Jews in the United States, but not necessarily in Israel, believe this will never happen and that no matter what they say and no matter what treaties they sign, Palestinians are not to be trusted.  This is a very understandable point, particularly while those Muslim states supporting the Palestinians, such as Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan and Iran, remain virulently opposed to the existence of Israel. Proponents of this viewpoint feel a “two state solution" is impossible since the new Palestinian state would, despite whatever the provisions of the treaty establishing it might say, eventually seek the destruction of Israel. What happened in Gaza, once it was returned, is cited as evidence of this.

If there is not to be a “two state solution,” this leaves the Palestinians right where they are today, primarily living in territories occupied by Israel, which many Israelis want to make a permanent part of Israel, and with no real rights as Israeli citizens. (Palestinians living within the boundaries of Israel do have such rights.)   Proponents of a “two state solution” feel that the expansion by birthrate alone of the Palestinians within a single “greater” Israel would soon make them into a majority, and use this as an argument for coming to some accommodation with the Palestinians so that this will not happen.  Advocates of a single “greater“ Israel argue that this is not so, and that the Orthodox birthrate and future Aliyah (immigration to Israel) will offset this.  I disagree with this since the studies on which this argument is based are not from academically accepted demographic experts.

The United States, in its efforts to continue to its 63 years of support for the State of Israel and at the same time, remain on good terms with the Arab world, advocates a “two state solution”  one in which there will eventually be a demilitarized Palestinian state. To further this aim, United States policy attempts to discourage further expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, and limiting of construction within existing settlements.  This policy extends to areas of Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, where Jewish and Arab neighborhoods co-exist with frequent Jewish expansion into areas lived in by Palestinians.

While the majority of Israelis probably favor this “two state solution” on the West Bank (but not necessarily for Jerusalem), conservative groups in Israel have sufficient influence in the government to prevent this from happening.  Without them, the government would fall.  Hence, regarding expansion or contraction of settlements on the West Bank, and regarding construction of new housing on the West Bank and in parts of Jerusalem, any Israeli government must walk a tightrope, knowing exactly how far the United States will go in supporting their position.

Add to this the stated mission of Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza to destroy Israel, the potential nuclear threat from Iran, the present nuclear threat from Pakistan and the present state of turmoil in the Muslim world, and you can see why the Israelis, even those who want some sort of accommodation with the Palestinians, are reluctant to work as hard as they can for it at this time.  Most Israelis, regardless of political belief, agree that the Palestinians and their Arab allies all understand the language of brute force better than that of the negotiating table and this realization will delay their sitting down at that table.  Why?  Because for the Israelis, the time is not right at present since they really have no one with whom to negotiate.  

My opinion is that eventually there must be a “two state solution,” or else Israel will remain a garrison state forever.  This cannot be because while Israel has won many wars against its antagonists, and is capable of winning many, many more, it only has to lose one. 

It won’t be easy, and it will require the efforts of a lot of people outside of Israel, particularly in the United States and in the Arab states, to accomplish this.  Perhaps the current turmoil in the Muslim world, taking the Arab mind off of Israel, will enable this to happen.  The cards are being shuffled and reshuffled.  No one knows what kind of hand will be dealt to Egypt and the other Muslim states in turmoil, and more importantly, how they will play that hand.  The Israelis (and Americans whose minds are open) are waiting to see.


JL