Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Cultivation of Christmas Trees

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish -- which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprises, delight in new possessions
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of the goose or turkey
And the expected awe on its appearance,
So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to the children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St. Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):
So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By 'eightieth' meaning whichever is the last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.

-- T.S. Eliot

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Muntader al-Zeidi

Over the past several years I've said a lot of things about President George W. Bush, few of them publishable anywhere except online, and even by blog-standards I've, um, pushed the envelope. So maybe I'm the wrong person to be calling for this. But I'm going to anyhow.

Mr. President, please publicly forgive Muntadhar al-Zeidi for throwing shoes at you, and please state, unequivocally, that the Iraqi journalist should not face charges or endure official harassment for his actions. If American values mean anything at all, this is the right thing to do.

According to press reports, al-Zeidi is currently being held by the Iraqi government in an undisclosed location. He faces quite serious, if as yet unspecified charges:

An Iraqi lawyer said Zaidi risked a miminum [sic] of two years in prison if he is prosecuted for insulting a visiting head of state, but could face a 15-year term if he is charged with attempted murder.

In the United States, "insulting a visiting head of state" is not a crime. Nor should it be. Throwing a shoe could certainly be illegal, and hustling a shoe-thrower out of a press conference would certainly be understandable. But pressing charges?

We value vigorous dissent in this country. So much so, that even when objects are publicly hurled at controversial speakers, we do not necessarily prosecute, and if we do, we do not consider the "insult" the specific crime at issue. Property damage as a result of such an incident might be a felony, but never an "insult."

According to al-Zeidi's brother, the journalist

"might serve two years in prison or pay a fine for insulting a president of foreign country unless Mr. Bush withdrew the case. "If they manage to imprison Muntader, there are millions of him all over Iraq and the Arab world," Maythem al-Zaidi said.

There are indeed. For political reasons, forgiving this man would be nothing but beneficial. It would show that Americans can be tolerant. It would show that Americans are not vengeful. And it would show that we do not consider "insults" to be a matter for imprisonment: we do not hold one set of beliefs and values for ourselves, and another set for others. But this man, a citizen of Baghdad, makes the case better than I ever could:

Dr. Lutfi Al-Obusi, a 58-year-old political science professor, said: "I disagree with [the shoe-throwing] because that is opposite of our Muslim and Arabic traditions. Because Mr. Bush was here to say bye for Iraq and Iraqis. And in the same time Bush is president of the U.S. and he called for the liberation and freedom. So I hope Mr. Bush will forgive Mr. Muntader al-Zaidi for what happened. And if Mr. Bush will not approve for releasing Mr. Muntader al-Zaidi that will create big problem."

President Bush, you need to avoid this "big problem." Do this one thing, this one small thing, for the sake of peace. Forgive Muntadhar al-Zeidi and call for his immediate release, and call for him to be protected against all forms of official harassment.

Do this one right thing before you leave.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stocks Say Recession, but Bonds Say Depression

Extraordinary things are happening in bondland lately. Tuesday's head-spinning news that Treasury bills had been auctioned off with negative interest rates is only the latest in a series of astonishing developments, surpassing even the more widely followed stock-market swings.

While the Treasury auction grabbed headlines, corporate bonds are doing equally amazing things: the average yield on lower-quality investment-grade corporate bonds — triple-B rated — is hovering around 10%, an unusually rich 7.5-percentage-point spread over Treasury bonds of similar maturity. (That spread has tripled over the past year.) Or consider junk bonds, as measured by Merrill Lynch's High Yield bond index, which yield a jaw-dropping 22%. Of course, junk bonds come from the riskiest borrowers, and a deep recession could drive up the default rate among those companies. But current lofty yields imply investor expectations that one-fifth of these bonds will default, according to Moody's, even though the recent default rate in this sector has been around 3%. Notes Kirk Hartman, chief investment officer for Wells Capital Management, a division of Wells Fargo bank: "Spreads [over Treasuries] in the bond market are pricing in a depression scenario, while the equity markets, despite a substantial decline, are pricing in a recession." (Read "The Recession Is Made Official [EM] and Stocks Take a Dive.")

Many factors weigh on the bond market, such as the falling price of oil — it closed at $43.52 per bbl. in Wednesday's trading — and the progress of the auto-industry bailout, not to mention every gasp from the housing market. And then there's the elephant in the room: the downward spiral of economic activity, including last week's chilling November employment report, which showed 533,000 more people out of work — "one of the worst ever," according to Morgan Stanley economist Ted Wieseman. As the various industry bailouts — banks, auto companies, credit unions and, next, states — seek to reassure investors, collectively they confirm just how bad things are.

But at its current extreme, bond-investor fear is myopic. In striving to avoid the falling stock market and the downdraft of the economy, investors are all but ignoring the longer-term inflationary implications of a monetary easing and explosive growth in U.S. government spending and what it could ultimately mean to bond yields. At Thursday's close, for example, the 30-year T-bond was yielding 3.07%, implying investor expectations for stable prices for decades to come. Inflation-protected Treasuries, known as TIPS, are yielding so little that money managers say they imply investor expectations for a deflationary environment for the next few years. All of which points to the fact that nobody really cares about inflation dangers at this point; it's all about safety.

So how should investors approach the bifurcated bond market? Should they run for the safety of Treasuries or consider the neck-wrenching yields now available in other sectors? Notes money manager Hartman: "From a relative-value standpoint, bonds offer an unusual investment opportunity" that he expects to pay off once the housing market bottoms and the financial outlook improves. "Investment-grade corporate bonds are very cheap, and high-yield bonds similarly offer great value at these levels," he says. Treasury bonds on the other hand, are widely viewed as overvalued on the basis of what can only be characterized as the Armageddon-anxiety rally of the past few months. They could wallop investors with losses should the economic recovery take hold next year.

-- John Curran (Time)

Friday, December 05, 2008

from: Geographical History of America or The Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind

Now listen a minute.

If you fly over Salt Lake City it is exactly like flying over the bottom of the sea with the water not in it.

The water is not in it, and so is there any reason why the water should be in it. Sometime the water has been in it but now that the water is not in it it makes it more easy perhaps not to fly but to see what you see as you fly.

Now the reason for the water not being there is one thing but the water not being there is another thing.

Now suppose it is a detective story.

Well it is astonishing to see a pigeon where you had not expected ever to see one.

Not because a pigeon could not be there, not even because a pigeon had never been there but because you could never have expected a pigeon to be there.

Even the wind could not blow the pigeon away once it was really there where the pigeon is.

The pigeon almost falls off because suddenly there is another pigeon there and the pigeon had not believed it possible for another pigeon to be there.

Perhaps there is still another pigeon there but it can not be seen even if it is there and any way the first pigeon turns his back so that he will not be able to see them or the other one and then he changes his mind and turns around toward them.

Perhaps from now on pigeons will always come there. Very likely because that is what anybody can do.

So once more no pigeons being there never again can there never be any pigeon there.

Detective story no 2.

Suppose you know just what has happened does that make any difference if you tell it.

What is the difference between write it and tell it. There is a difference you can tell it as you write it but you can tell it and not write it. There is a difference and the next detective story is to detect that difference.

If the pigeon can come again and he has come again then he can surprise some one but he cannot surprise me.

A pigeon itself if anything is a surprise such as being there can be interested in anything being surprising.

Think how heavily a pigeon flies and alights and if he is there is he likely to think that the wind can blow him away. The wind does blow but does it blow as a surprise or anything to him. Has he a motive in being there and having been there does he come there again.

He does come there again and this has no connection with the wind blowing and there has been no motive for the coming there.

So then what does human nature do.

It does it because it does and having done it it is not because it has done it that it does it it does it because it is there again.

There they are again.

The three pigeons are there again. There is no reason for it.

But if looking at it you are to paint it, the pigeon is there again and turning his back on the two other pigeons who are below it. You only can see from the side where you are seeing everything you only can see the two heads of the other two pigeons and now there are three. That makes four in all.

That is why numbers really have something to do with the human mind. That they are pigeons has nothing to do with it but that there was one and then that there were three and that then there are four and that then it may not cease to matter what number follows another but the human mindhas to have it matter that any number is a number.

So then detective story number III

-- G. Stein

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Late Echo

Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over
For love to continue and be gradually different.

Beehives and ants have to be reexamined eternally
And the color of the day put in
Hundreds of times and varied from summer to winter
For it to get slowed down to the pace of an authentic
Saraband and huddle there, alive and resting.

Only then can the chronic inattention
Of our lives drape itself around us, conciliatory
And with one eye on those long tan plush shadows
That speak so deeply into our unprepared knowledge
Of ourselves, the talking engines of our day.

-- John Ashbery

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Global Warming Extinction?

Scientists say a white possum native to the Daintree rainforest in the Australian state of Queensland has become the first mammal to become extinct due to man-made global warming.

The Brisbane, Queensland, Courier-Mail reports the white variety of the lemuroid ringtail possum, found only above 3,000 feet in the mountain forests of far north Queensland, has not been seen for three years.

Experts fear climate change is to blame for the disappearance of the highly vulnerable strain thanks to a temperature rise of up to 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Researchers will mount a last-ditch expedition early next year deep into the untouched "cloud forests" of the Carbine Range near Mt. Lewis, three hours north of the city of Cairns, in search of the tiny tree-dweller, dubbed the "Dodo of the Daintree."

"It is not looking good," researcher Steve Williams said. "If they have died out it would be first example of something that has gone extinct purely because of global warming."


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