America's predominance isn't new; indeed, it has existed since the early nineteenth century. But where did it come from? And is it in danger of disappearing?By the 1830s, the late British economist Angus Maddison showed, American per-capita income was already the highest in the world. [...]The replacement of labor with capital investment helped usher in the American industrial revolution, as the first industrial entrepreneurs took advantage of engineering advances developed in the fields. The southern states made a great economic as well as moral error in deciding to keep exploiting slaves instead of hiring well-paid workers and embracing new engineering technologies. The South started to catch up with the rest of the nation economically only after turning fully to advanced engineering in the 1960s as a response to rising labor costs.The enormous American territory and the freedom that people had to move and work across it--guilds were nonexistent in the new country--also encouraged an advanced division of labor, which is essential to high productivity, as Adam Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations. And Americans' mobility had a second benefit: by allowing entrepreneurs and workers to shift from location to location and find the best uses of their talents, it reduced prices, following David Ricardo's law of comparative advantage. Today, globalization has the same effect, making prices drop by assigning the production of goods to countries that are relatively efficient at making them. But in nineteenth-century America, the effect was concentrated within a single large nation. Both the extended division of labor and the law of comparative advantage reduced prices to a level lower than any seen before, despite America's high wages.Democracy, too, encouraged ever-cheaper products. In Europe, an entrepreneur could thrive by serving a limited number of wealthy aristocrats--or even just one, provided that he was a king or a prince. Not so in the democratic United States, where entrepreneurs had to satisfy the needs of a large number of clients who compared prices among various vendors. America's leading entrepreneurs haven't always been the greatest innovators, but they have been the greatest cheapeners and tinkerers. Henry Ford didn't invent the automobile, but he figured out how to make it less expensive--a mass product for a democratic market, at first American and then global.The ultimate American economic invention was standardization, which further reduced production costs. Standardization evolved in America because consumers there tended to share a taste for the same products and services. Companies consequently began providing similarly priced goods and services of the same general quality to citizens constantly on the move across the American expanse. Not only did Coca-Cola, Hilton hotels, and McDonald's become successful companies; they became forces for stability in a remarkably mobile society.Immigration has been another component of American economic dynamism, for evident quantitative reasons: national GDP grows when total population and productivity increase simultaneously. But this effect has worked particularly well in the United States because its immigrants have tended to be young, energetic, and open to American values. Immigration is a self-selecting process: those who find the courage to leave behind their roots, traditions, and family often have an entrepreneurial spirit. (Indeed, prior to the emergence of the modern welfare state, it was tough to survive in America without such a spirit.) The newcomers, from Irish workingmen in the nineteenth century to Russian scientists in the twentieth, have continually reenergized the economy with their skills and knowledge.They have also added a wild variety to American life, which helps explain why American culture--highbrow or lowbrow, sophisticated or pop--has dominated the world. In the cultural arena, at least, the globalization of the modern world is actually its Americanization. Roughly 80 percent of the movies seen in the world every year, for instance, are produced in the United States. This surely has something to do with the fact that, from the first days of the film industry, Hollywood's producers and directors hailed from all parts of the globe, intuitively knowing what kind of movies would appeal not just to Americans but to people across the planet.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said Sunday he thinks President Obama wants to dive over the so-called "fiscal cliff.""I believe the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes," Barrasso told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."
Preliminary results on Sunday from a two-day national referendum showed that the charter has passed. President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood party and state media said that 64 percent of voters said yes to the Islamist-backed constitution, though the results are not expected to be officially announced until Monday.Many of the charter's supporters said they hoped that the approval of the new code of law would bring stability to Egypt's streets after weeks of political crisis and nearly two years of uncertainty since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
On Jan. 1, 2000, the world awoke to find that little had changed since the night before. After years of hype around what was then called Y2K -- the fear that computer systems across the globe would collapse, unable to handle the year shifting from '99 to '00 -- the date change turned out to be a momentous non-event.Next week, the United States is in for much the same, after months of frantic hype about the economic disruption that awaits if Congress and the president fail to reach a deal and the federal government goes "over the fiscal cliff."The so-called fiscal cliff is a combination of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1. But the agencies responsible for implementing those changes, including the IRS and the Pentagon, are well aware that congressional and White House negotiators will most likely come to some sort of deal within weeks or months -- and so they are planning to carry on as usual, according to a broad review of private and public government plans.In other words, there will be no cliff. There won't even be a slope.
I absolutely love Christmas.Baking mince pies, choosing presents and then wrapping them all up and writing Christmas cards ... I'm possibly not nearly cynical enough, but I love all the festive stuff that goes with this time of year. I love how everyone gets a day off. I love how everyone travels back to their parents' house on Christmas Eve, like some sort of ritualistic voyage. I love the telly listings and the food and the noise of everyone being together. Love it. It's up there with Eid. This year, I've outdone myself - I organised my Christmas presents last month.Some of my favourite childhood memories are of Christmas day - the family round the table, my dad carving a huge halal turkey which we'd have ordered weeks in advance, heaps of brussels sprouts, sticky carrots and roast potatoes and a bottle or two of Shloer (our version of a, er, posh non-alcoholic drink) to pass around. We'd play Scrabble and Monopoly and watch the Queen's speech, Top of the Pops and the EastEnders Christmas special. Sometimes my mum would do the Asian thing and we'd end up with 40-odd family friends joining us, which would mean less leftovers, but that was OK too. Last year, my Christmas-loving brother was in charge of the menu - he went so far as tracking down an organic, halal goose.Christmas in my Muslim home was obviously not a religious thing: it was (and is) about being on holiday and getting together with friends and family, something festive and bright to cheer up the winter drear. I imagine this is how it is for most people.But at school, where we kneeled every morning after assembly for the Lord's Prayer, it was different. I was in every school nativity play, often a wise man with a keffiyeh-styled tea towel on my head, and I sung hymns and carols in every school Christmas church service, ending with big happy shouts of "Merry Christmas everyone!" and plates of mince pies passed round as we'd bundle out the church door.The traditions are passing on: soon, my four-year-old nephew will be making his debut in his school Christmas play.
Why is cast iron so big? Well, it easily lends itself to almost any kind of cooking. Cast iron heats evenly, without hot spots, and retains that heat better and longer than other types of cookware. Properly cared for, cast iron can last years -- centuries even. Plus, it's reasonably priced, especially compared with other cookware.Cast iron is made by pouring the molten metal into individual sand molds. Once the cookware is cast, it needs to be "seasoned." Because iron corrodes so easily, a fat -- oil, lard or grease -- is used to build a protective layer. Properly applied and heated, the oil hardens over time (polymerizes) to form a dense, slick layer on the surface of the iron. Cast iron is, if you will, the original non-stick pan."People are tired of Teflon and all that other stuff," says David G. Smith. An avid collector and dealer of antique cast iron, he's known as "the Pan Man" and is coauthor of two bibles on collectible cast iron.According to Doris Mosier, who has been collecting and dealing in antique cast iron for more than 30 years, most of her new customers buy three things: a skillet, griddle and Dutch oven. Mosier says a basic skillet will set you back about $50, a basic griddle $45 to $50, and a Dutch oven $85 and up, depending on the size.
There are so many ways for speakers of English to see the world. We can glimpse, glance, visualize, view, look, spy, or ogle. Stare, gawk, or gape. Peek, watch, or scrutinize. Each word suggests some subtly different quality: looking implies volition; spying suggests furtiveness; gawking carries an element of social judgment and a sense of surprise. When we try to describe an act of vision, we consider a constellation of available meanings. But if thoughts and words exist on different planes, then expression must always be an act of compromise.Languages are something of a mess. They evolve over centuries through an unplanned, democratic process that leaves them teeming with irregularities, quirks, and words like "knight." No one who set out to design a form of communication would ever end up with anything like English, Mandarin, or any of the more than six thousand languages spoken today."Natural languages are adequate, but that doesn't mean they're optimal," John Quijada, a fifty-four-year-old former employee of the California State Department of Motor Vehicles, told me. In 2004, he published a monograph on the Internet that was titled "Ithkuil: A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language." Written like a linguistics textbook, the fourteen-page Web site ran to almost a hundred and sixty thousand words. It documented the grammar, syntax, and lexicon of a language that Quijada had spent three decades inventing in his spare time. Ithkuil had never been spoken by anyone other than Quijada, and he assumed that it never would be.In his preface, Quijada wrote that his "greater goal" was "to attempt the creation of what human beings, left to their own devices, would never create naturally, but rather only by conscious intellectual effort: an idealized language whose aim is the highest possible degree of logic, efficiency, detail, and accuracy in cognitive expression via spoken human language, while minimizing the ambiguity, vagueness, illogic, redundancy, polysemy (multiple meanings) and overall arbitrariness that is seemingly ubiquitous in natural human language." [...]A gaunt man with closely cropped hair sat on one side of the room and recorded the proceedings on a camcorder. He slouched in his chair, showing only intermittent interest in the proceedings, until he came to the front of the room to address the conference. He introduced himself as Igor Garkavenko. Rather than hand his camcorder off to someone in the audience, he continued to hold on to it while he spoke, pointing it at me and our translator.As he spoke, the translator whispered in my ear; Garkavenko spoke so fast and monotonously that it was difficult to keep up. He mentioned a recent stint in prison, described reading Bakhtiyarov's book, "Active Consciousness," in his jail cell every day, and the transformational effect that psychonetics had had on his political and philosophical consciousness.Near the end of his speech, the translator stopped speaking. The color had fled his cheeks. "Do you realize who this guy is?" he whispered to me. "This guy is, like, the No. 2 terrorist in Ukraine."A quick Google from our seats pulled up a news report with a photograph of the man who was standing at the podium. Garkavenko, it turned out, was the founder of a militant far-right Russian nationalist organization called the Ukrainian People's Revolutionary Army. In 1997, he was sent to prison for nine years for firebombing the offices of several Ukrainian political and cultural organizations, as well as the Israeli cultural center in Kharkov.I turned to my translator. "What in the world is this guy doing at a linguistics conference?"I leaned over to Quijada and told him what I had just read. We looked around the room at the collection of young men and women in attendance, and were suddenly struck by a question that probably ought to have dawned on us earlier: What were any of these people doing here?After the conference wrapped up, Quijada and I met over a cup of coffee to debrief, and to try to figure out what we had just taken part in. We ran Internet searches on Bakhtiyarov and Garkavenko, and, with the help of Google Translate, we decoded some of their writings in Russian, including a trail of Garkavenko's anti-Semitic blog posts. "A considerable proportion of the populace knows the role of the State of Israel, and the élites related to it, in those disastrous processes that the peoples of the former Soviet Union are now living in," one of his essays proclaimed. I read that one aloud to Quijada, who twiddled anxiously with the strap of his luggage, a look of devastation on his face.We discovered that Bakhtiyarov, in addition to his work on psychonetics, moonlights in politics. In 1994, he joined the leadership of the Party of Slavonic Unity, a short-lived ultra-nationalist movement whose goal was the reunification of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus into a Slavic confederation that would also include Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks, and Bulgarians.In interviews, Bakhtiyarov talks of developing "intellectual special forces" that can bring about the "reëstablishment of a great power" in greater Russia, and give birth to a "new race . . . that can really be called superhuman."An intellectual élite capable of seeing through the tissue of lies to the underlying essence of things needs a language capable of expressing their new way of thinking. Like Heinlein's fictional secret society of geniuses, who train themselves in Speedtalk in order to think faster and more clearly, Bakhtiyarov and the psychoneticists believe that an Ithkuil training regimen has the potential to reshape human consciousness and help them "solve problems faster." Though he denies that psychonetics is a political project, it's hard to uncouple Bakhtiyarov's dream of creating a Slavic superstate from his dream of creating a Slavic superman--perhaps one who speaks a disciplined, transparent language such as Ithkuil."When I get home, the first thing I'm doing is draft a letter to Dr. Bakhtiyarov saying I don't want to have anything else to do with psychonetics," a dispirited Quijada told me. "What if, God forbid, this were labelled as pseudoscience, or some sort of cult? I wouldn't want to be complicit in that. To find out that, when all is said and done, I'm ultimately a pawn for these misguided Nietzschean whatever-they-are . . . it just turns me off."
Have we, as a culture, lost our ability to appreciate satire?The question occurred to me recently as I was reading Gordon Wood's Revolutionary Characters, picked up on a Thanksgiving trip to Colonial Williamsburg. In the concluding chapter of the book, Wood remarks upon the prevalence of satire in the literature of the revolutionary writers, and in doing so articulates nicely the social character of satire:"Satire as a literary device depends upon a comprehending and homogeneous audience with commonly understood standards of rightness and reasonableness. Since the satirist can expose to instantaneous contempt only what is readily condemned by the opinion of his readers, he must necessarily be on intimate terms with them and count on their sharing his tastes and viewpoint" (emphasis added).Eighty years ago, when Evelyn Waugh began publishing his early satiric novels--Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, Black Mischief, A Handful of Dust, Scoop--he could count on a fair slice of his popular audience sharing the tastes and viewpoint that inspired his literary invective. Of course, Waugh disavowed the suggestion that his novels were satires. Satire, he claimed, in agreement with Gordon Wood, presupposes a shared moral ethos, and in Waugh's opinion, no such ethos existed in the West of the early 20th century.
[B]edford Falls is preserved as a moral community not by the intervention of the federal government but by the public-spiritedness and virtue of local citizens led by George Bailey--who, as far as we know, never gets to meet the Congressman, let alone tell him to wait. Needless to say, the solving of social problems by virtuous individuals working together at the local level has certainly not been the American Left's preferred method over the last three or four generations.Religion, too, holds a very different place in Bedford Falls than in contemporary liberalism, and in such a way that contemporary liberals could hardly claim to be defenders of the kind of community depicted in It's a Wonderful Life. The film begins with a series of prayers, prayers made by various citizens on behalf of George Bailey, whose life has reached a point of crisis. Indeed, the film tells a story of divine intervention into one man's life, an intervention prompted by the prayers of his friends. The film is unintelligible except on the supposition that there is a God who is concerned with the fate of each person, who watches over his creatures and listens to their prayers.Moreover, we learn from Capra's story that one expression of God's care is his law, which must not be violated even under duress, and which will be supported by the laws of a decent community. George Bailey admits that he was considering suicide, but other characters remind him, and us, that suicide is against the law both in Bedford Falls and in heaven.It would be unfair to say that contemporary liberalism entirely repudiates this religious view of life, but it is fair to say that it has often harbored and treated as an ally a radical secularism and skepticism that does repudiate it, openly and aggressively. There is in America today an increasingly imperialistic form of atheism. Not content merely not to believe, it feels a public duty to attack and ridicule those who do. It dismisses with scorn the idea that humanity holds any special place at all in a cosmos ruled by necessity and chance, let alone the belief that there is a personal God who cares about the fate of individuals and responds to their prayers.Liberalism sometimes, rejecting belief in any law higher than that devised by men, goes so far as to promote a radical form of autonomy according to which even suicide could be viewed as a "right." Again, I do not mean to say that this position is embraced by all contemporary liberals, but it finds a political home with them that it does not find with conservatism.Religion also holds a place in the public life of Bedford Falls that America's contemporary liberalism disallows. In the film's famous last scene, George's daughter Zuzu tells him, "Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." We know from the rest of the story, however, that George's children attend public school, because earlier in the film, in the grip of anger and despair, he complains bitterly about the poor quality of his children's teachers, who are supported by the taxes he pays. In Capra's Bedford Falls--as in the rest of 1946 America--teachers were free to promote religious belief in public schools. This arrangement has since been undermined by liberal activist judges pushing for the state's equal neutrality between religion and irreligion--despite that idea's lack of roots in America's traditions, its Constitution, or an impartial reading of how the founders understood the First Amendment.If religion helps explain the goodness of those citizens who want to help George Bailey, it does not seem to explain his desire to help them. George never mentions a religious motive for his public service, and he even admits--ironically, in his own prayer--that he is not a praying man. What, then, is his motive? Contrary to Ken Burns's suggestion, Bailey is not driven to serve his fellow citizens, at the cost of his own ambitious dreams, simply by love for his fellow men. Bailey is certainly a decent and humane person, but his decency and humanity alone cannot overcome his deep desire to escape Bedford Falls, which he regards as a rather insignificant place, and to make his mark on the larger world.What prompts Bailey to stay and serve his fellow citizens is a most conservative impulse: filial piety. The Building and Loan, the business that allows Bailey to help ordinary people realize their dreams of home-ownership, was built by his father, Peter Bailey. His father asks him to consider taking over the business, explaining to him the importance of its work in the community. George Bailey resists, but changes his mind after his father's death, especially when the business faces liquidation if he does not stay to administer it. Out of love and respect for his father, the younger Bailey keeps a photograph of him at his desk years after his death to remind him of his motive for maintaining the Building and Loan.This kind of filial piety--the sense that one should weigh heavily the wishes of a father against one's own ambitions, and perhaps even sacrifice the latter to the former--is utterly alien to and relentlessly undermined by contemporary liberalism's cult of individual autonomy, understood as freedom from all traditional authority, even and especially the authority of fathers.Finally, we might consider the standards that guide Bailey's service to his fellow men. Why does he think it's important to help them buy homes for their families? Bailey follows his father's example, which is more than merely traditional. When Peter Bailey tries to convince his son to work at the Building and Loan, he justifies its work by appealing to human nature. He tells him that the institution's work helps to satisfy a "fundamental urge," that it is something "deep in the race" for a man to want his own, privately owned home. This standard found in human nature supplies the Baileys, father and son, with a standard of goodness, of what constitutes true human flourishing, that teaches them how to do good for their fellow men. The things that are good are the things that are experienced as good by human beings as such, and not merely the things that any particular set of human beings might happen to desire.Contemporary American liberalism has largely rejected such standards of goodness as unduly restrictive and even oppressive. Fixed standards rooted in human nature might require that society say "no" to some disordered desires that are incompatible with our nature. Our liberalism, however, recoils from such discipline, because it is incompatible with liberalism's egalitarianism, its insistence that all ways of life and all desires must be regarded as equally acceptable.
Which is, of course, the point of the Constitution in the first place. Rather than discarding rights every time there's an unfortunate incident, we require a cataclysm. It forces us to act deliberatively, rather than emotionally,If you really want to know why the US can't kick its gun habit, take a trip to the National Archives in Washington, DC. You don't even have to look at the exhibits. Just study the queue. What you'll see are ordinary Americans lining up, in hushed reverence, to gaze at an original copy of the United States constitution, guarded and under heavily armoured glass. It is no exaggeration to say that for many Americans this is a religious experience.When outsiders hear that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the second amendment of the US constitution, I suspect many imagine this is like saying it's "protected by law", something that can easily be changed, as it would be in their own countries. But this is to underestimate what the constitution means to Americans.It is indeed a sacred text. Despite, or perhaps because, the US is a country animated by faith, the "founding fathers" are treated as deities, their every word analysed as if it contained gospel truth. Any new idea or policy proposal, no matter how worthy on its own merits, must be proven compatible with what those long-dead politicians of the late 18th century set down - otherwise it's unconstitutional and can be thrown out by the supreme court, the high priesthood selected to interpret what the great prophets of Philadelphia intended.I don't mock America's awe for its constitution. On the contrary, I regard that text as the most powerful statement of democratic principle - starting with its declaration that "we the people" are sovereign - and human rights ever written. Its system of checks and balances is mathematically and beautifully precise in its determination to prevent unfettered, over-centralised power. It represents the unfinished business of England's own incomplete revolution of 1688. It's no exaggeration to say that this single document makes the US possible, cohering an immigrant nation with no common bonds of blood or soil around a radical idea.But when the attachment to that text calcifies into a rigid dogma, danger beckons. Even the best ideals can become warped: note how the first amendment guarantee of free speech has allowed unlimited spending on TV campaign ads by anonymous corporate donors. In the case of the second amendment, a constitution designed to be a document of liberation instead imprisons the US, shackling it to an outdated rule that makes easy the murder of schoolchildren. Polls show a majority of Americans favour greater gun control, but the US constitution stands stubbornly in their way. The scholar Daniel Lazare describes America as "the frozen republic", chained to decisions taken when the right to bear arms meant the freedom to carry a musket. He wants the US to revamp its constitution, like most of the other countries of the world: "Why must Americans remain slaves to the past?"Absent a cataclysm, such as the US suffering a total defeat in war, it's hard even to imagine such a thing.
Ideas are not responsible for the people who believe them, but when evaluating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's ideas for making the Senate more like the House of Representatives, consider the source. Reid is just a legislative mechanic trying to make Congress' machinery responsive to his party's progressivism. And proper progressives think the Constitution, understood as a charter of limited government, is unconstitutional.
Economists and sports buffs are at odds as to what has caused the shift from the thrill of the stadium to the comfort of a couch or bar. Some say it's the technology that has naturally made television a better story teller for America's new greatest pastime."The at-home experience continues to get better. It's really the golden age for fans," says McCarthy. "They are watching games on their 50-inch HD monitors, they have access to NFL.com ... there is NFL Redzone, where you can watch every single score in real time and you have access to food and other comforts at home."Others speculate the reason for increased television viewing is that stadiums are failing to captivate audiences and instead focusing their efforts on TV deals. After all, that's where the majority of the money is. Consider for a moment that each team made $102.5 million from the national TV deal last year and that the NFL's revenue from broadcasting is more than double what it made from ticket sales. In other words, smaller numbers of fans and declining sales of beer and popcorn may not put too hurt the bottom line of owners too much.Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at technology firm ConvergeEx, says it's the economy that has rendered tickets too expensive for the average Joe. He says a significant factor of lowered NFL attendance is that fans simply can't afford to go to games. "If you take a family of four to a football game and you get the average seat--between the parking and making the day for the kids a good experience [with concession items] you are spending about $600, which is the price to pay for a good TV back home," he said.