Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday

Who ya gonna believe, me or your own two eyes?

Possibly the most magical words in English are "because" and "despite": by deft use of them, you can be guaranteed to be 100% correct about any assertion whatever that you care to make. If some data bear it out, that's because; if some other data fail to bear it out, that's despite.

A small but clear and amusing example of this is the long-running flood of predictions that this year's Christmas shopping season--a season that is the difference between wealth and bankruptcy for a good many businesses--would be mediocre to awful. Instead, the headlines run "Shoppers Start Holiday Marathon". So will the pundits say "oops, we were wrong" of anything like it? Hah. "However, some industry analysts caution that the early buying frenzy could soon peter out - and endanger crucial weekend sales - as millions of pre-dawn shoppers succumb to shopping fatigue." Right: "despite the fact that this will be a terrible shopping season, it has started off as a great shopping season--but we just know that will stop soon because this will be a terrible shopping season." Those people are missing a great career in politics.

I didn't need this--or did I?

A trio of depressing articles happened to all catch my eye today. Setting the tone was a review at Salon of Amy Chua's book Day of Empire, whose chief thrust is that "when imperial societies have turned inward, closed themselves off from the outside world and retreated into ethnic or cultural chauvinism, the end was generally in sight. Indeed, she finds in history near-inevitable progress from monster A to monster B: Nations rise to global hegemony by being extraordinarily pluralistic and tolerant, but such imperial expansion eventually reaches a tipping point, triggering internal conflict and xenophobia, which leads to imperial decline." And, as reviewer Andrew O'Hehir further notes, "the potential applicability of its case histories to America's current quandary, at least, is clear enough."

That was depressing, but depression turns to concern with Newsweek's Michael Hirsh opining about our being "In the Realm of the Dying Dollar", in which he takes, with good reason, the precipitous decline of the dollar as symptomatic of a corresponding decline in America's fate: "One has to wonder now whether the American superpower is also experiencing a terminal illness, with its decline marked by the dollar's downward drift." His arguments are frighteningly persuasive.

Then depression turns to outright fear--possibly paranoia, but, as someone famously remarked, even paranoics have real enemies--with a review, by Don Hazen of AfterNet, of Naomi Wolf's book The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. In the book, Wolf lays out the 10 steps that dictators (or aspiring dictators) take in order to shut down an open society and observes that "Each of those ten steps is now under way in the United States today." Look them over and shudder.

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