Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Observers are Worried

I. Ancient History

Item: Stevie Wonder records Happy Birthday on his 1980 album, Hotter Than July, to lobby for a public holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr..

Dig: President Reagan signs legislation creating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 1983

Paul Krugman observes:
In 1980, when Ronald Reagan won the White House, conservative ideas appealed to many, even most, Americans. At the time, we were truly a middle-class nation. To white voters, at least, the vast inequalities and social injustices of the past, which were what originally gave liberalism its appeal, seemed like ancient history.
Would history repeat itself, one wondered? Let's pursue an alternate history, if you will. After the maudlin Ebony and Ivory (1982) with Sir Paul, there was a slight pause.

Then: Stevie Wonder releases Skeletons from his Characters album in 1987, raising his voice about the South African situation.
Skeletons in your closet / Itchin' to come outside / Messin' with your conscience / In a way your face can't hide
Effect?: The apartheid government of South Africa begins secret negotiations with Nelson Mandela and company in 1988. Mandela is released two years later and becomes president of the country after the ANC wins the 1994 elections.

The power of latter day Stevie has long been noted; historians would do well to study his writings as they tease out landmarks from our cultural history. Still, along with the passage of MLK day, the USA got the ongoing Reagan retrenchment - mitigated in part by Monsieur Clinton. Guilt was assuaged: first they got votes and affirmative action, then they got the TV mini-series, and now they've even got the holiday. Reversing the perspective, I can imagine the T-shirt:
I fought for civil rights and all I got was a lousy holiday.
On the South African business, Stevie had impeccable timing, ignoring if you will the multitude who joined in that long and ongoing struggle. They say that every thing that happened before 1994 has been reconciled with truth, right? Indeed that chorus started long before the 1994 handover. We still hear it:
Move on, it's all ancient history.

II. Right on Time

Jacob Weisberg's writing represents the just before banal of the center left in the United States. This is not to say that Mr. Weisberg is stupid, merely that by the time he writes something, there is a vast "The End" spray painted on the wall. He says something just as it is about to become common knowledge.

Stirling Newberry - The Unspeakable Truth discussing the received wisdom in American media and political circles in March 2007, namely that the Iraq war was a mistake
Dig: Barely weeks later, Joe Klein declared George W. Bush unfit to lead.

Per Newberry's spectrum of banality, Klein should be counted as being merely banal. One awaits the post-banal.

III. Risk Avoidance

Only posterity is unkind to the man of conventional wisdom, and all posterity does is bury him in a blanket of neglect.

— John Kenneth Galbraith discussing inequality in The Affluent Society, 1958
Dig the soul singer:
Predicting the loss
before I begin
So it don't cut too deep
when I don't win
I hate it when I'm right
Much rather be wrong
I'd rather be wrong

Amel Larrieux - Mountain of When, 2006

IV. The Bully Pulpit

Ancient history
Idées fixes
Aspirations of prescience

Firm pronouncements of Praetorian guards
Breathless headlines of received wisdom
Platitudinous laments

Ride the wave, over the edge
Light as a feather
That's how the cookie crumbles

Quibbling a la carte
Trend-surfing alacrity
Toothless prophecy

Polemics of convenience
Shrink-wrapped profundity
Trailblazers of the trade winds

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

Observers are worried

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