Aversion Therapy 101; Or, the Bourbons Ride Again

The French discover that in an era when you don’t have a captive tax base, you can’t just start ratcheting up folks’ tax burdens.  If they can leave, they will.  Once upon a time the French kings, like kings everywhere, plundered the Jews until there was nothing left to plunder, at which time they kicked them out (not omitting to kill several thousand on the way out the door, of course, just because, dontcha know).  Today’s functional equivalent of the Jews aren’t quite so constrained in their movements; they can get out the door first.

Nowadays when people and capital are ever-more detached from any particular situs, if you start doing stoopid things like enacting taxes on financial transactions, well, they’ll just up and move their dealings elsewhere.  Or they’ll shift into transactions that aren’t so heavily taxed.

This is news to the French government.

Without waiting for its EU neighbors, France enacted a tax on financial transactions in certain securities of firms having a net worth of € 1 billion as of 1 July 2012.  If a security subject to the tax is traded on a French exchange, the purchaser (not the seller) owes the tax.  The tax is not levied on all financial transactions, nor among the securities of all issuers.  Some securities traded on the Paris exchange are subject to the tax (mostly securities of the larger firms), and some issuers (mostly smaller firms) are not subject to the tax, and some kinds of securities (such as derivatives) are not subject to the tax.  In other words, the French, bless their little Gallic hearts, have created a laboratory experiment.  If you have two securities identical in all material respects (say, one share each of common stock in two firms in the same industry, with similar earnings per share, similar debt loads, similar cash flows, etc.) except that one is issued by an entity subject to a specific tax levied on transactions in that security and the other not, which security would you expect to see traded more frequently?  Or let’s say that you have the same issuer, but of two distinct securities, one of which (say, a share of common stock) is subject to the tax, and the other of which (say, a derivative) is not.  Again:  Which gets traded more frequently?

The results are in:  In August the French cranked up their already-introduced tax.  Granted, it’s only 0.2% of the value of the transaction, but that percent of a sufficiently large number is still a pretty damned big number.  So someone has compared the May-July trading data for securities traded on the Paris exchange versus the same securities from August-December.  What they found is that 99 securities subject to the tax experienced a 18% drop in trading volume, while 93 securities not subject to the tax saw an 16% growth in volume.  Hmmm.  They also noted that investors seem to be moving as well into securities that are exempt from the tax, such as derivatives.

The Paris exchange’s competitors (the DAX, among others) also experienced volume loss, but by less than ten percent.  So while pegging a specific number to the shift is difficult, it’s pretty clear that the increase in the tax is in fact moving would be “donors” (for quite a few years I was on our local humane society’s board of directors, and during that time I got familiar with the fact that most veterinary practices keep one or more “donor” animals around the premises, for the specific purpose of having blood drawn from them; the same logic applies here) from taxed to untaxed issuers, and from taxed securities to untaxed securities. 

Of the two trends the more worrisome, I’d suggest, is the shift to derivatives and other exempt issues, rather than that from larger to smaller issuers.  The reason that those securities are untaxed is that their actual value is so hard to determine because . . . because they’re so risky.  And their actual value to the purchaser is contingent upon events that generally have not occurred as of the date of purchase.  Mind you, one of the (at least stated) objectives of the Dodd-Frank financial abortion bill (or whatever its actual name is) was to get some sort of regulatory handle on derivatives precisely because they were so risky that not even super-savvy financial institutions, with guys dragging around sheaves of Ph.D.s in mathematics and statistics, knew how accurately to price them or to weigh their risks.  Thus, when they started to blow up back in 2008, they really blew up because all these suddenly-matured risks were theretofore unknown to the holders.  And so forth.  And now the French have adopted a tax policy which encourages more large investors to move their activity into precisely those issues.

Explain to me again how this is a good idea, as a policy matter?

And oh by the way:  The French had expected to raise € 1.6 billion from this little soak-the-rich scheme.  Looks like something more on the line of € 300 million is going to be the net.  That’s 80% less than expected.  Folks, you know what happens to a chief executive officer in the private sector when one of his signature initiatives falls flat by 80%?  He tends to become “the former CEO of BLANK.”

Predictably, the chorus is not questioning whether it’s a dopey idea to have such a tax in the first place.  No, the debate is around the proposition that it must be introduced on a pan-European basis.  Don’t these drooling savants have any idea that money is fungible, and that the same people who’ve bolted the French exchanges for the German or British will bail out for the NYSE, or Chicago, or Tokyo?  If you can’t keep your Jews in place, you can’t bleed them.  And the latter-day Jews aren’t going to sit still and take it; they don’t have to.  The socialists just don’t seem to get it that snuffing kulaks these days is like chasing gobs not just of mercury, but gobs of cyber- and synthetic-mercury around a plate that is spinning phenomenally fast in all three axes.  Stalin, their hero, could send his troikas of Chekisty into the countryside and liquidate them by the hundred.  They couldn’t move fast enough to avoid him.  Times have changed since the 1930s.

All of which goes to show that it wasn’t just the Bourbons who neither learned nor forgot anything.

Sounds Like a “Reasonable Restriction” to Me

Let’s see:  You’re in a country which is — at least insofar as the riff-raff are concerned — explicitly run according to the precepts of the Religion of Peace.  We ignore for the moment that the personal lives of the super-dooper wealthy, including pretty near all the members of the ruling family, more closely resemble something from the latter days of the Roman Empire, only with less restraint and vastly more money.  One of the precepts of the government is that public practice of any religion other than the Religion of Peace is a disturbance to public order, which is not that far-fetched, in that one of central tenets of the Religion of Peace involves the forcible conversion or extermination of the adherents of any religion other than the Religion of Peace.

 Thus, if you catch, say 40-odd Christians plotting — privately — to celebrate Christmas, well, you’ve done a good day’s work by arresting them and seeing to it that the gross provocation to the adherents of the Religion of Peace does not in fact occur.  Which is what just happened in Saudi Arabia.  This, folks, is crime prevention as it ought to be. 

The Saudis’ swooping down on a house of Christians because they just might be a-fixin’ to observe Christmas is, I humbly suggest, no more unreasonable a restriction on those folks’ freedom of conscience than the proposals by Dear Leader, his unpaid interns (for which read: the mainstream media), and his sycophants in Congress that my rights under the Second Amendment must be infringed (gosh; where have I seen that verb before?) because someone other than I may — just might — use the same freedoms that I enjoy in order to commit something that is and would be a crime no matter whether he used the same rights or something else.  I mean, Adam Lanza’s slaughtering 20 children and six adults (other than himself) would have been the crime of murder whether he did it with piano wire, a machete, a baseball bat, a full-automatic Uzi machine gun, or by tying their hands behinds their backs and shoving tennis balls down their throats.  He’s willing, perfectly willing, to commit mass murder, but Dear Leader expects him to flinch before a ban on scary-looking semi-automatic weapons?  Because the Lanzas of this world just maybe might use a scary-looking semi-automatic weapon to commit mass murder — just like those 40-odd Christians in Saudi Arabia might have provoked the Religion of Peace into yet another public rampage — my ability to defend myself and my family must be pruned back to a level thought “reasonable” by people who receive armed protection whenever they’re out and about.

Many years ago Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., set up a rhetorical question suggested by a particular argument.  He then observed (I’d thought I’d run across this line in a Supreme Court opinion, but a quick Westlaw scan didn’t pull it up; maybe it was in an article, book, or interview), that “to ask the question is to answer it.”  To assert that a liberty interest guaranteed to me by the explicit language of the Constitution itself must be infringed because of what some unknown person, under unknowable circumstances, might hypothetically do if extended that same liberty, is to refute the assertion.

Well, Yes Little Boy, in Fact You’re Right: He IS Naked

The Germans, who as one of the world’s top exporters have an incredible amount to lose if and when the shenanigans in Washington crash the American economy for the second time in just over four years, are getting more than a little tired of sermons from the Mount of Blather.

The “Hochmut” (which you can easily translate as “condescension,” or “arrogance,” or even “chutzpah” to some extent) with which Tim Geithner instructs the Europeans is now called out.  What they call “the American Kaiser” is officially pegged as naked.

What’s interesting is that, while the author notes that the Republicans are blamed for the impending fiscal disaster, they’re not the only ones to blame.  He specifically calls out Dear Leader for indulging his populistic urgings.  The Republicans are concededly correct that tax hikes for the rich will burden both the economy in general and numerous businesses in particular.  The authors notes that the confidence of business has collapsed and consumer confidence is following in its footsteps; he mentions that this year’s Christmas shopping season was the worst since 2008.

Looks as though our wonderful governing classes are scaring the bejesus out of pretty much everyone, not just Main Street.

Don’t Worry; It’s For Your Own Good

I’ll believe that statement coming from the government right about the time that they convince me that “committees of public safety” have anything to do with the public’s safety.

The feds want to require all new vehicles sold after September, 2014 to have a black box, an “event data recorder,” installed by the manufacturer.  We have to presume that they’ll be forbidden to include an operator over-ride.

We are told these recorders will measure things like throttle position, number of passengers, speed, seat belt usage, braking, etc.  They don’t mention steering wheel position but since that’s something measurable you have to assume that would be on the list.  We’re told that recording and transmitting this data — possibly via remote link — is supposed to increase automotive safety.  Really?

Given the number of accidents that are caused by operator error, expressed as a percentage of overall accidents, what precisely about vehicle design, which is the only thing that can be changed by the manufacturer, is going to smarten up the driver?  They can already simulate perfectly head-on collisions at any speed they choose, off-set collisions, t-bone collisions, rear-end collisions, roll-overs of any particular length and launch speed.  In these simulations they can with remarkably advanced test dummies measure all manner of physical forces to which the occupants are exposed.  They can measure all these things much, much more comprehensively and precisely than they ever will be able to using these data boxes.  We’re going to have the boxes “trigger” during, say, an evasive maneuver.  Since the principle stress point of evasive maneuvering (which they can also replicate and measure precisely in tightly controlled environments) is the contact between the tire and the road surface, and half of that equation is the quality and character of the road surface, these black boxes are going to be missing half the necessary data to make an intelligent evaluation of their collected information.

The long and short is that I simply do not accept that the physics of automobile operation are of such a nature that these recorders will be of any material assistance in improving automotive design.  Where they’ll come in jolly handy is in defending bogus lawsuits alleging things like “sudden vehicle acceleration” (see P. J. O’Rourke on the subject).  They’ll also be a gold-mine of revenue for the manufacturers to sell to insurance companies and credit ratings agencies (persistently risky behavior is not a good credit risk).  That’s something that can be regulated as between the manufacturer and its customers.

My particular concern is that they will also prove very helpful to a government intent of surreptitiously monitoring its citizens.

The government routinely subpoenas cell phone and landline records.  It can obtain the location data from any cell phone out there.  The government at least can tap into any telephone call, anywhere.  It is in the process of establishing an enormous center the purpose of which will be to monitor every e-mail that crosses a U.S. server, and to parse it for . . . well, we don’t know what they’re looking for.  It can and does obtain credit card transaction histories.  Do not tell me that remotely-accessible vehicle data recorder information will not be equally routinely accessed, and used.  Certain administrations have a habit of — inadvertently, I’m sure — leaking confidential information regarding its enemies to people who know how to use it.

In The Lives of Others, the Stasi at least had physically to bug the guy’s apartment, and then physically station a live agent up in the attic with headphones.  That need alone puts some limit on the ability to monitor and therefore tyrannize a population.  With the ability to squash 64 gigabytes or more onto a thumb drive, and storage available by the terabyte that can fit into the palm of your hand, where is the technical limitation?  These data recorders are supposed to “trigger” only during certain events?  Right; I believe that.  A chip the size of my little finger nail could record several hours’ trip worth of data, and then be remotely accessed, the data transferred, and the memory dumped and ready for re-use.  By people unknown to me.  With Bluetooth technology now available on even lower-end cars, how hard would it be to include in the data collection software a voice recorder?

You tell me that manufacturers will not be told that either they build in the ability to record indefinitely and on remote command, and disclose to the government the protocols necessary to do it, or they can expect the IRS and the SEC to audit them, their directors, their officers, their secretaries, and the guy who runs the lunch counter into bankruptcy.  Don’t think that will happen?  It’s already happened once.  That’s how the Chrysler secured creditors were “convinced” to give in to Dear Leader’s theft of their collateral.  Their CEOs were told that not only their companies but they personally and everyone who worked in their offices — everyone — would be ruined by audits.  The pernicious thing about such goings-on is that such a directive will not appear anywhere in the Federal Register or the Code of Federal Regulations.  Congress sure isn’t going to be told.  Such paper trail as does exist will not even be in the NHTSA but in some other agency.  The NHTSA may not even know it’s being done.  Maybe the DOJ, which just wrapped up an illegal gun-running operation, will do it.  Maybe the NSA or the CIA, or even the Pentagon, which runs the clandestine center from which Dear Leader’s “disposition matrix” is implemented, will be the point-man.

 I’m just waiting for someone to tell me that, “It’s for the children.”

Here is where you can find out how to contact your Congressional delegation and demand that they strangle this monster in its cradle.

Well Which Is It?

Asks the parole board of H. I. McDonough in Raising Arizona, when he tells them he’s done re-formed himself.  “Are you just tellin’ us what we want to hear?” asks one.  Another joins in, “‘Cause we just want to hear the truth,” in response to which H. I. observes that in that case he reckons he is telling them what they want to hear.  “Well, which is it, young man?” asks the first.

For ten years now we’ve been assured, just positively assured by all the Deep Thinkers™ that them Horrible Bush Tax Cuts (passed by a Republican House and a Democrat Senate:  Folks seem to have forgot that Bush 43 only had a solid Republican Congress from January, 2003 until January, 2007; his first and last two years he had split Congresses) was just nothin’ more than a flagrant give-away to the rich.  Now they tell us that if those cuts expire the Clinton-era taxes on everyone and his cousin will go right through the roof.  Including my taxes.

Now wait just a damned minute here people.  Either those tax cuts provided no relief for middle-income America or they did.  If they provided no such relief then their expiration can impose no burden.  If they did provide such relief, then in fact they were tax cuts for everyone who in fact paid taxes (you can’t give a tax cut to a guy who’s not paying them in the first place; a “refundable credit” is a bogus marketing gimmick used because “direct wealth transfer” doesn’t sell very well) and were not just “tax cuts for the rich.”

So when I’m now told that expiration of them Awful Bush Tax Cuts will crank my tax burden up to the breaking point (and it will, by the way), and I’m told that by the same people who for a decade have labelled those tax cuts as having been just for “the rich,” I’ve a good mind to call bullshit on them all.

Which I now do.

™”Deep Thinkers” is trademarked by (well, maybe not exactly trademarked or copyrighted, but I got the phrase from him) Thos. Sowell.  I use it without attribution but with much gratitude for his work.

Dots, Connected

“No good deed goes unpunished” is a maxim that pretty much everyone except the irredeemably foolish learn at some point, if only temporarily.  “No good intention goes unperverted” would be the corresponding maxim of government.

The Community Reinvestment Act was passed in 1977, back in the waning days of blind faith in government “initiatives” to accomplish just about anything, with the stated goals of increasing the number of Americans who lived in their own house.  On its face this seems to be not just a morally commendable goal — “landlord” comes in neck-and-neck with “tax collector” and “kulak” for most-reviled occupation — but Good Policy as well.  There are hosts of desirable socio-economic data which are positively correlated with home ownership, and equal numbers of undesirable data which are negatively correlated.  So by increasing home ownership we increase the Good Things and decrease the Bad Things.  All at the margins, of course, but hey!, it’s still a twofer and every step forward is a step forward.  And all that, right?  So let’s throw it against the wall and see how much closer we can get.

How the statute worked was that it loosened the loan underwriting requirements that banks were otherwise required to observe in making residential loans.  “Loan underwriting” is the technical term for “those criteria by which a bank determines whether any particular loan is an acceptable risk.”  Much shorter and easier to remember, in other words.  Generally banks, the deposits of which are insured by the FDIC or its S&L counterpart, FSLIC, or those which are to be guaranteed by an agency of the federal government, such as the VA or the FHA, or which are to be purchased by an entity which is backed by the federal government, are required to make some sort of effort to figure out ahead of time whether any particular loan is likely to be paid back, and not to make the loan at all if the answer is too close to “no.”  There are a whole host of things that banks look at, such as income-to-fixed expense ratios, the amount of the loan expressed as a percentage of the collateral’s value, the prospective borrower’s track record in paying his other creditors, whether the borrower has, within a certain period of time before, sought the protection of the bankruptcy system, the prospective borrower’s other unencumbered assets expressed as some percentage of the prospective loan, etc. etc. etc.  Generally those lenders are required to verify what their borrowers tell them.  They do that by requiring the production of tax returns, bank or investment account statements, or obtaining information from unrelated third parties like appraisers of the proposed collateral, or credit reporting agencies which collate information about the proposed borrower.  All well and good, and proper when you consider that, however imperfect it may be in that function, the past is in fact the only thing we have to rely on in figuring out what the future is likely to look like.

The CRA explicitly provided that for certain borrowers, in certain locations, and under certain circumstances, a lender was permitted to look at a loan application that fell into the “don’t make this loan” territory and ignore the warning signs.

A quick aside:  Those folks who think that banks just made up all this stuff about loan underwriting requirements in order to deny loans to people actually able to pay the money back, just because . . . well, just because, are fools.  Banks do not make money if they do not make loans.  OK?  They owe the money on their deposits, including interest; those deposits are obligations on the bank’s books.  Banks cannot get money to loan without themselves borrowing it, from their depositors, or from the Fed, or from other banks.  The only way they can pay the interest is by charging interest and then actually collecting it.  If they make good loans, they stay in business.  If they make bad loans, they cannot pay their debts and, once they’ve exhausted their own capital, they go out of business.  Period.  Banks which willingly pass up good loans are leaving money on the table.  Banks which by bigotry exclude entire classes of borrowers or depositors because they’re . . . well, not people like us, create business opportunities for others who are savvy enough to court those good loan and deposit customers.  Like the Italian-American Immigrant Bank, which loaned to that group because they understood that Italian immigrants paid their bills.  You may have heard of them; they’re now known as Bank of America.  Don’t think I’m just making this up, either; Gary Becker won a Nobel in economics in part for his study of the economics of unjustified invidious discrimination.  He showed that actors who indulged their bigotry under circumstances where there was not some concrete basis for doing so (such as, for example, not serving a drunk stinking of his own piss and who also happened to be black, versus someone who just decided he wasn’t going to do business with the 20% of the town’s population that was black) paid a price for it, and that in a free market, without direct or indirect government subsidy of such behavior, it tended to go away because the people who paid the price realized they were paying it.

The mildly-common-sensical reader will immediately note a few problems with the thinking behind the CRA.  For starts, it treats the genuine economic considerations behind loan underwriting as if they in fact did not exist.  Telling Lender X that it may ignore adverse loan underwriting results for a specific loan application does not mean that the loan is now less likely to prove to be a bad loan.  Secondly, it assumed that because A and B are positively correlated, it must be because A causes B, where A is home ownership and B is positive socio-economic attributes.  This of course not only confuses correlation with causation (the first is a statistical phenomenon that can be determined based upon counting instances of A and B within a population; the second is a logical relationship the existence  and directionality of which can only be determined by experiment and examination of the specifics of the population in question), but it made the assumption that the direction of causality was from A to B.  Of course, what if it’s B that causes A, or what if A and B have no direct causal relationship but rather are both results of (that is, both are caused by, rather than cause) some other factor C?  Artificially increasing A is simply not going to produce more of B in either such case.

In 1995 the enforcement mechanisms under the CRA were significantly sharpened.  Now your examiners were authorized to determine how many CRA loans you ought to be making, and if they found you weren’t making enough, they could fine you.  Really.  No kidding.  You exposed yourself to liability to the government if you did not make sufficient loans to people who could not reasonably be expected to pay them back.  At about the same time, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac decided, on their own, that they were going to increase the percentage of their total loan portfolios represented by “sub-prime” loans (in other words, loans made to people who weren’t likely to pay them back, including specifically CRA loans) to up to 50%.  You read that number right:  Fannie Mae decided that it wanted to have half of its loans consist of paper that was more likely than not worthless.

Well now.  What happens next?  In point of fact sub-prime loans, as a percentage of the total loan market, went through the roof.  And the race was on.

Audit of a bank’s CRA compliance was no empty threat.  Bank of America within the past few months paid $25 million to settle a CRA enforcement action brought by the DOJ.  That’s a lot of money to pony up because you tried not to lose money on bad loans.  But that’s the perversity of the incentive system we created.

Bank of America is of course a large bank.  But what about smaller banks, community banks?  Well, let’s say that I work for Community Bank X, and I know that my bank has a corresponding relationship with Fannie Mae.  That means that I know, for a fact, that every loan which I make which fits within the loan standards established by Fannie Mae, whatever those standards may be, I can originate and have sold and off Community Bank X’s books before the ink is even dry on the closing documents.  In other words, I know that, so long as I have a loan applicant who fits within Fannie Mae’s underwriting requirements, I can make that loan with zero effective risk to my bank.  Community Bank X only has a re-purchase obligation in the event the loan didn’t comply, at the front end, with whatever requirements Fannie Mae had in place at the time.

Let’s see how that plays out:  I have a loan applicant come to see me.  I can look at their application and just about guarantee that they’ll never, ever be able to repay this money.  But wait:  This application in fact does fit within the You-Gotta-Be-Kidding-Me program recently rolled out by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.  So I can make this loan and in less than 24 hours Fannie or Freddie will have taken it off my hands and if three years later the whole thing blows up, it doesn’t do so on my desk.  Do I make the loan?  Well, if I do not make the loan, and the applicant is a member of a pet constituency, or the proposed property is located in a CRA area, what I am doing is risking tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in defending either a private civil action alleging illegal discrimination or a DOJ enforcement action for failing to comply with the CRA or Fair Housing Act, or whatever.  Those risks are uninsurable, meaning the bank gets to pay to defend them and then pay out of pocket any liability.  Even if the bank wins the discovery process will absorb hundreds of thousands of man-hours and attorney’s fees and forensic accountant’s fees.  So do I make the loan?  Hell yes I make the loan.  Have I done anyone any favors?  No.  Is this person any more likely not to lose his home to foreclosure at some point down the line?  Not in the slightest.  But I’ve protected my bank from liability; we can even brag on our website about how we aggressively support the Community Reinvestment Act.

Note, by the way, that even if my lender is for whatever reason not subject to the CRA, or the loan in question is not a CRA loan, so long as the prospective borrower fits within whatever cock-eyed Fannie Mae loan programs are within the scope of my lender’s corresponding relationship with Fannie, if I refuse the loan my lender is still subject to liability.  And in truth how do I justify refusing to make a loan that someone solvent has already promised to buy off me so that my risk in making the loan is zero or close to it?

And now some folks have come along and demonstrated by precise examination that yes, in fact the CRA and its enforcement did increase the loan risk accepted by large lenders in CRA areas.  They conclude pretty plainly that the Community Reinvestment Act in fact materially contributed to the subprime lending bubble and therefore to the subsequent crash.  In fact they allow that because of the constraints of their data sampling it’s likely that their study understates the impact of that misconceived statute.  They only looked at large lenders who were in the midst of CRA examinations.  They observe, “If adjustment costs in lending behavior are large and banks can’t easily tilt their loan portfolio toward greater CRA compliance, the full impact of the CRA is potentially much greater than that estimated by the change in lending behavior around CRA exams.”  In other words, the study’s authors admit that their sampled lenders might have been engaging in Potemkin lending, but that they can’t exclude that the observable behavior extended outside their window of observation.

The above link is to Reason magazine; the actual study is not downloadable for free (except to certain people), but here’s the link for those who wish to pay.

By the way, the Community Reinvestment Act remains out there, unchanged, over four years after the disaster it contributed to exploded into the worst economic downturn the country has experienced since the Great Depression.  Just like the Belgian farmers still plow up, and occasionally get blown up by, old artillery shells from World War I, the CRA still harbors its lethally defective assumptions beneath the American banking system.


Two Old Germans Drinking Coffee

Is the title of this piece in The American Interest.  Generally I read TAI in connection with Walter Russell Meade’s blog, but the link in a side-bar caught my eye and — thanks to the wonders of the internet — hey presto! I was there.

A couple of quick thoughts:  I’d known that Angela Merkel was the daughter of a Lutheran pastor in the Soviet Occupation Zone East Germany but hadn’t understood that the new Bundespräsident is himself a former pastor, likewise from the old zone.  This might well be a coincidence.  On the other hand maybe not.  Among my favorite reads of the last several years is rather thick book titled The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century, by Peter Watson, which is an intellectual and cultural history of the area known now as Germany from 1750 to just recently.  The author (British) starts his foreward with the observation, backed up by survey data, that at least in Britain the twelve years of the Nazi era have pretty much eradicated awareness that long before the Austrian corporal emerged from the grit and slime there was German thought, philosophy, literature, science, music, industry, and innovation.  Up through 1933 Germans had won more Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry than all other nations put together.  The modern university, especially the research university, is a more or less Prussian institution.  In short, there are way more moving parts to Germany, what it was and what it is, and how it got both ways, than you can comfortably fit inside a gas oven.  Watson’s book, like Paul Johnson’s The Birth of the Modern, is a tremendous source of for-further-reading inspiration.  In any book of that scope there won’t be space enough fully to submerge oneself in the details of what might interest, but its scope will (i) plow up enough subjects that the reader will find multiple topics to explore in greater detail elsewhere, and (ii) if the endnotes are consulted, provide some good hints at where to start looking for those greater details.

In any event, one of the interesting factoids to which Watson calls attention, more than once, is the frequency with which the drivers and visionaries of Germany thought and progress all have, somewhere in their biographies, the data point that they were children of Protestant pastors.

The other interesting point made in the linked article is the difference between the ages of the principals: Benedict was born in 1927; Gauck only in 1940.  While at their respective ages one might think 13 years not too significant, its true importance becomes apparent when you consider how old each was in 1944-45, as Everything Went to Pieces in the Reich.  Joseph Ratzinger was 18 in 1945, nearly a full-grown adult, and while not possessing an adult’s full measure of adaptive capacity, at least sufficiently aware of the world to make some kind of sense of it.  Gauck, however, was among the very youngest Kriegskinder, those children who — especially in the east — were exposed to the horrors of industrialized warfare without emotional defenses of any kind.  I’ve already posted on what has been called the “forgotten generation,” and the damage those children took with them into later life.  What is the likelihood that Gauck’s approach to politics is not to some degree colored by his partially-processed, overwhelming recollections of the war’s end, and his father’s arrest and enslavement by the communists?

Is it, in other words, wholly surprising that two “old Germans” of their respective generations and backgrounds would both perceive the de-Christianization of Europe to be among the more important issues facing Western Civilization?

Jauchzet, frohlocket! Auf, preiset die Tage!

This video is pretty old.  The conductor, Nikolaur Harnoncourt, has quite a few more miles on him these days, but he’s still The Goods.  He’s made it his specialty to re-create music using original instruments wherever possible, so what we get to hear is as close as we’re likely to get to what the composer would have had in mind.

This is the first movement of the first cantata of the Christmas Oratorio.  The final movement of the sixth and last is here (I just shoved it in because the trumpet is Ludwig Güttler, who absolutely rocks; the video shots are in Transylvania):

I may have pasted either or both of the above videos here before, but if I have, so what?  It’s my blog, after all.

Now and Then, There’s a Fool

Such as I am, over you.  You taught me how to love and now you say that we are through.

I first heard this Hank Snow song in July, 1987.  It was in (by gentle irony) Snow’s native Canada, as I was driving from Michigan to Newport, Rhode Island.  On June 13, 1987, Garrison Keillor broadcast what he represented to be the last show of A Prairie Home Companion, which has to rank as one of the most magnificent experiments in American popular entertainment, ever.  I’d been at sea, and my mother had recorded it off the radio for me.

For reasons unnecessary to explain fully here, this song really sank in, all the way up the shaft to the feathers.  It still does, although for not quite the same reasons.

Hank Snow died on December 20, 1999.  May he live on, in his songs and music.

Let’s Pull Things Apart, Before We Decide

As Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit would say, read the whole thing.

What I like about this piece on guns, gun crime, and gun criminals is what it does not pretend to know.  It does not offer a panacea, or (pun intended) a magic bullet.  It does not focus on what people think, but rather what they do.  Which is all we can respond to, when you get right down to it.  How do people actually act?