the demise of the first bank and the federalist party — 8/13/18

Today’s selection — from A Nation of Deadbeats by Scott Reynolds Nelson.

During the first years of the existence of the United States, its economy had been boosted by supplying the combatants in the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, supported by credit made available by the First Bank of the United States. That bank’s charter ran from 1791 to 1811 and was not renewed because of opposition from Democrats. But in the waning years of that bank’s life, its services had favored New England shipping merchants, who were largely Federalists, and those merchants were tied closely to British interests. In part because of those ties, they had opposed the coming War of 1812 with England. It was that divided loyalty that helped doom the Federalists as a viable political force:

“Dissolving the Bank of the United States in 1811 was a crucial step toward war. Congress destroyed an efficient financial machine but also — most assuredly — a political one. Some Democrats believed that dissolution of the bank would finally prevent Britain from corrupting the American legislature. Federalists worried that the bank could no longer quiet the rumblings of a war with England. Whatever it meant, the destruction of the bank can be seen as the first shot in what Ameri­cans would call the War of 1812.

“Yet during the war, even while British and American men-of-war exchanged hot lead and chain shot over Lake Erie, even as American frigates captured English merchantmen in the Atlantic, even as sol­diers tussled over Washington City and New Orleans, many Yankee ships and British shippers continued their trading as if nothing had happened. While American soldiers suffered for food, New England merchants were shipping flour to British soldiers and sailors in Portugal and Spain.

 First Bank of the United States
“By the end of the war New England, whose merchants had traded with the enemy, had a very bad reputation in the rest of the country. Many Democratic newspapers recalled the night in 1813 when mer­chants in New London, Connecticut, flashed blue lights to the British ships blockading their port, warning them of American warships trying to escape the English blockade. Republicans called the Federalist poli­ticians who favored the Bank of the United States ‘blue lights.’ Those blue lights were all that was left of [Alexander] Hamilton’s dream, the ghostly reflec­tion of Hamilton’s promise of saltwater trade, of triumphant American commerce, and of an American bank that had controlled a nation.

“For a while the bank had triumphed. The Napoleonic Wars had provided an opening for the bank and an ambitious plan to turn a new nation into what one historian has called a reexport republic, a republic built on forged papers and fraudulent voyages. This illicit trade, combined with the magical attraction of American bank stocks, built American fortunes and funded American banks. That trade helped the new American republic avoid the fate of so many newly independent nations in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Amer­ica avoided the receivership, default, and balance-of-payments crises that plagued Latin America, the Caribbean, the princely kingdoms of South Asia, postcolonial South Asia, and much of southern Africa. The fiscal and military state that Hamilton helped create with the Consti­tution was no accident; his model was to emulate the fiscal and military might of Great Britain. But the bank’s capacity went beyond creat­ing a public debt to fight wars and police its orders. This bank would also provide funding for East Coast merchants in a time of interna­tional war.”

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A Nation of Deadbeats
Author: Scott Reynolds Nelson
Publisher: Random House, Inc.
Copyright 2012 by Scott Reynolds Nelson
Pages: 45-47


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“wall street bankers are stupid” — 5/21/18

Today’s selection — from The Big Short by Michael Lewis. 

As financial cracks began to appear in 2007, bankers were still claiming that all was well, a woman who was a stock analyst at Oppenheimer was the first to claim loudly that the proverbial emperor had no clothes:

“Meredith Whitney was an obscure analyst of financial firms for an obscure financial firm, Oppenheimer and Co., who, on October 31, 2007, ceased to be obscure. On that day she predicted that Citigroup had so mismanaged its affairs that it would need to slash its dividend or go bust. It’s never entirely clear on any given day what causes what inside the stock market, but it was pretty clear that, on October 31, Meredith Whitney caused the market in financial stocks to crash. By the end of the trading day, a woman whom basically no one had ever heard of, and who could have been dismissed as a nobody, had shaved 8 percent off the shares of Citi­group and $390 billion off the value of the U.S. stock market. Four days later, Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince resigned. Two weeks later, Citigroup slashed its dividend.

Meredith Whitney
“From that moment, Meredith Whitney became E. F. Hutton: When she spoke, people listened. Her message was clear: If you want to know what these Wall Street firms are really worth, take a cold, hard look at these crappy assets they’re holding with borrowed money, and imagine what they’d fetch in a fire sale. The vast assemblages of highly paid people inside them were worth, in her view, nothing. All through 2008, she followed the bankers’ and brokers’ claims that they had put their problems behind them with this write-down or that capital raise with her own claim: You’re wrong. You’re still not facing up to how badly you have mismanaged your business. You’re still not acknowl­edging billions of dollars in losses on subprime mortgage bonds. The value of your securities is as illusory as the value of your people. Rivals accused Whitney of being overrated; bloggers accused her of being lucky. What she was, mainly, was right. But it’s true that she was, in part, guessing. There was no way she could have known what was going to happen to these Wall Street firms, or even the extent of their losses in the subprime mortgage market. The CEOs themselves didn’t know. ‘Either that or they are all liars,’ she said, ‘but I assume they really just don’t know.’

“Now, obviously, Meredith Whitney didn’t sink Wall Street. She’d just expressed most clearly and most loudly a view that turned out to be far more seditious to the social order than, say, the many cam­paigns by various New York attorneys general against Wall Street corruption. If mere scandal could have destroyed the big Wall Street investment banks, they would have vanished long ago. This woman wasn’t saying that Wall Street bankers were corrupt. She was saying that they were stupid. These people whose job it was to allocate capi­tal apparently didn’t even know how to manage their own.”

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The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
Author: Michael Lewis
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Copyright  2011, 2010 by Michael Lewis
Pages: xvi-xvii


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mahatma gandhi and adolf hitler — 3/29/18

Today’s selection — from Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann.

Gandhi advised the British to give up the fight against Hitler and Mussolini, and advised Jews in Germany to offer passive resistance to the Nazi regime:

“Gandhi’s position on nonviolence was absolute. Aggression could never be returned. He did not believe that women should resist rape, but preferred that they should ‘defeat’ their assailants by remaining passive and silent. Correspondingly, he did not believe that the vic­tims of war should resist attackers by physical force, but rather ought to offer satyagraha — that is, noncompliance with the invaders. ‘If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, war against Germany to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race would be completely justified,’ he wrote. ‘But I do not believe in any war.’

“He advised the British to give up the fight against Hitler and Mussolini: ‘Let them take possession of your beautiful island … allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.’ Furthermore, in one of his most controversial arguments, Gandhi advised the Jews in Germany to offer passive resistance to the Nazi regime — and to give up their own lives as sacrifices. He told the Jews to pray for Adolf Hitler. ‘If even one Jew acted thus,’ he wrote, ‘he would salve his self respect and leave an example which, if it became infectious, would save the whole of Jewry and leave a rich heritage to mankind besides.’

Gandhi leading the 1930 Salt March, a notable example of Satyagraha.
“Gandhi compounded this error of judgment by offering praise to Hitler. ‘I do not consider Herr Hitler to be as bad as he is depicted,’ he wrote in May 1940. ‘He is showing an ability that is amazing and he seems to be gaining his victories without much bloodshed. ‘ Ap­parently, he saw some parallel between his own efforts to return In­dia to the Indians and Hitler’s invasion of French territory to reclaim that lost to Germany under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War. He regretted that Hitler had employed war rather than nonviolence to achieve his aims, but nonetheless averred that the Germans of the future ‘will honour Herr Hitler as a genius, a brave man, a matchless organizer and much more.’

“The American journalist Louis Fischer brought up this subject with Gandhi in 1946. By that time, the concentration camps had been discovered, and the true, awful extent of the Holocaust re­vealed. It might have been expected that the benefit of hindsight would have tempered the old man’s views. It had not. ‘Hitler killed five million Jews,’ Gandhi told Fischer, ‘It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. . . . . As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions.’ “

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Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire
Author: Alex Von Tunzelmann
Publisher: Picador, Henry Holt and Company
Copyright 2007 by Alex von Tunzelmann
Pages: 110-111


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hitchcock’s famed psycho shower scene — 2/16/18

Today’s selection — from The Dark Side of Genius by Donald Spoto. Though director Alfred Hitchcock was already regarded as a genius, his movie Psycho was originally panned by critics, but became an enormous commercial success and was ultimately praised by critics. The Psycho shower scene in which star Janet Leigh’s character is stabbed to death has become perhaps the most famous and studied scene in movie history:
“In a matter of weeks, from late November until early January [of 1960], Hitch­cock directed Psycho at the Revue Studios, the television branch at Uni­versal Pictures that Paramount rented for him. Everything was done in utmost secrecy. The clapper-board and company designation for the film was ‘Wimpy,’ the better to throw everyone off the track and discour­age reading of the novel that had just appeared.
” ‘I enjoyed making Psycho,’ Anthony Perkins said. ‘In fact, I ac­cepted the film before I’d even read the script. [Hitchcock and I] got on very well, and he let me make several changes and suggestions. It was my idea that I should eat candy throughout the film. I thought it would be more interesting if the killer were a compulsive candy-eater.’ Per­kins had no part in the legendary shower sequence, however, for he was in New York that week preparing a Broadway role; Hitchcock used a stand-in for the shadowy figure of the man disguised as the old woman.
” ‘From the start,’ Joseph Stefano recalled, ‘Hitchcock had decided
to use a nude professional model for the shots in which a torso would be glimpsed, so he wouldn’t have to cope with a trembling actress.’ About that central sequence, which has evoked more study, elicited more comment, and generated more shot-for-shot analysis from a technical viewpoint than any other in the history of the cinema, Hitchcock always retained a cool attitude. And rightly so, for he delegated the design and the shooting of it to the brilliant artist who had created the title designs for Vertigo and North by Northwest, and who, eventually, would do so for Psycho, too. ‘I’m going to get Saul Bass to do a storyboard for the shower scene,’ he told Joseph Stefano when they reached this point in the script, ‘so we know exactly what we’re going to do.’

“For Janet Leigh, this role and this scene provided the challenge of her career.

‘He sent me the book before I agreed to do the role, and he told me the small and not very interesting part of Marion Crane would be improved and made more sympathetic. And it was. By the time we were halfway through photog­raphy, everyone knew we had a good picture, but no one had any idea it was going to make history.
‘He told me he hired me because I was an actress. “I’m not going to direct every nuance,” he said. “But if you don’t come up with what I need, I’ll bring it out of you — and if you give too much, I’ll tone it down. What you do has to fit into my framework and within my camera angle.” I took him quite lit­erally, and I knew my range and intention had to be for him and with him, and we related to one another very respectfully.
‘The planning of the shower sequence was left up to Saul Bass, and Hitch­cock followed his storyboard precisely. Because of this, although we worked on it for almost a week, it went very professionally and very quickly. But it was, of course, very grueling to stand in a shower getting drenched for a week.’
“As it happened, Hitchcock made two important — and personally re­vealing — additions to Bass’s designs: the quick shot of the knife en­tering the woman’s abdomen (done by a fast-motion reverse shot), and the shot of blood and water running down the drain. ‘It had been my idea to do it entirely as a bloodless sequence without overt violence,’ according to Saul Bass, ‘but he insisted on inserting those two shots.’ And to the description of the brutal murder in the screenplay — only generally stated by the writer — Hitchcock added to shot 116: ‘The slashing. An impression of a knife slashing, as if tearing at the very screen, ripping the film.’ If there is a vicious anger throughout Psycho, this is the single moment that spreads that anger before and after it.
“But it was not the brutality of this sequence that caused alarm at Paramount: it was the unprecedented shot (and sound) of a toilet being
flushed. This, not the scarcely glimpsed, soft-focus nudity in the shower, was the most iconoclastic image in the picture — more influential than Hitchcock’s killing off of the leading lady almost halfway through the film. Toilet imagery, as mentioned, and allusions to bodily functions not only surfaced in Hitchcock’s humor — they also mark a recurrent, obsessive motif in his films. Everything about Psycho was bold; and in Hitchcock’s mind, perhaps nothing was so bold as this explicit lavatory detail.
“The technique, the planning, George Tomasini’s editing, and Bernard Herrmann ‘s shrieking score for strings gave the shower scene precisely the effect Hitchcock wanted. (Originally he had designed the shower murder to be accompanied only by the cries of the woman and the splashing of the water. Herrmann, however, asked Hitchcock to hear the music he had composed for it, and afterward Hitchcock had to admit that the score significantly improved the scene.)”
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The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock
Author: Donald Spoto
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Copyright 1983, 1999 by Donald Spoto
Pages: 418-420
 
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Grown Up

So it seems like I’ve been here before

And to tell the truth

I have been growing up and growing down

I see myself a thousand times

Being a little child a thousand times

Being a grown up man

It seems like I’ve grown up a million times

and learn nothing in the process

and yet I’ve learned so much

I could fill a book with what I know

and there’s a whole library of things I don’t

and my card is expired

So where do I go from here?

That is the age-old question

Asked by the mystics, the sages and the mages on drama stages

Those who ever thought they had a idea of the future

or any kind of insight into history or just whatever

Saturday, good to the people of the day

Myself, however, I want to believe the truth

I want to follow the straight and narrow

Because I intended to be successful

I intend to be the best

and that’s just the way of it

Because I am

 

Truth

Truth 

If I was inspired
I would write
If I were a genius
I would consider
If I was a human
I’d be myself
If I were myself
I would be the greatest to have eve lived
If I were the greatest
I would be humble
If I were to practice humilty
I would go nowhere
Once I found nowhere
I would discover uranium
When I fine it is already discovered
I would accept it
When I accept it
I will start again

the rape of nanking — 8/30/17

Today’s selection — from Chiang Kai-Shek by Jonathan Fenby. The so-called “Rape of Nanking” witnessed atrocities that were among the most horrifying in the history of war. It was part of the Second Sino-Japanese War, which began in 1937 when Imperial Japan invaded China under Chiang Kai-Shek. Casualties in that war were estimated at between 20 and 35 million people. Nanking was the capital of the Republic of China and was upriver from Shanghai, China’s wealthiest and most important commercial city, which had already fallen to the Japanese:
“The Rape of Nanking was unique as an urban atrocity not only for the number of people who died but also for the way the Japanese went about their killing, the wanton individual cruelty, the reduction of the city’s inhabitants to the status of subhumans who could be murdered, tortured, and raped at will in an outburst of the basest instincts let loose in six weeks of terror and death. The death toll was put at 300,000 — some accounts set it even higher, though one source for the former figure, Harold Timperley of the Manchester Guardian, used it to refer to deaths in the Yangtze Valley as a whole.
“On the first day, a Japanese division killed more than 24,000 prisoners of war and fleeing soldiers. On the wharves by the river, coolies threw 20,000 bodies into the Yangtze before being killed themselves. Behind its white flags and Red Cross symbols, the foreign Safety Zone proved weak protection: indeed, by concentrating refugees there, it inadvertently provided a big target for the killers; the ‘good Nazi of Nanking’, the German John Rabe could only roam the streets trying to rescue individuals in his path.
 
The corpses of massacred victims on the shore of the Qinhuai River with a Japanese soldier standing nearby
“There were no imperial orders, as such, for the Rape of Nanking, and General Matsui gave senior officers a scathing rebuke after he entered the city for the victory parade on 17 December. But the general left for Shanghai two days later and, though he insisted there that misconduct must be severely punished, his words had no discernible effect. Any Chinese was liable to be a target. People were roped together and machine-gunned, doused with kerosene and set on fire. Thousands were buried alive — or put in holes up to their necks and then savaged by army dogs. Others were frozen to death after being thrown into icy ponds. Japanese soldiers used Chinese for bayonet practice. Civilians were nailed to boards and run over by vehicles, Mutilation, disembowelling and eye gouging took place before executions. People were sprayed with acid, or hung up by their tongues. Medical experiments were conducted in a former hospital where Chinese, known as ‘logs’, were injected with germs and poisons. Women, young and old, pregnant and ill, were raped in enormous numbers, and then killed, some with sticks rammed into their ******s. Foetuses were ripped from the bodies of expectant mothers. Other women were taken to so-called ‘comfort houses’ set up for the soldiers, who called the inmates ‘public toilets’.
“Japanese newspapers recorded a competition between two lieutenants to behead 100 Chinese with their swords. When they both passed the mark, it was not clear who had got there first, so the contest was extended to 150. One of the lieutenants described the competition as ‘fun’, though Japanese newspapers noted that he had damaged his blade on the helmet of a Chinese he cut in half. Revelling in their savagery, Japanese soldiers took photographs of the massacres and sent them to Shanghai to be developed; Chinese staff in the photographic shops passed copies to Rhodes Farmer who forwarded them to Look magazine in America in evidence of the horror.
“As the Nationalist capital, Nanking was obviously an important target where the Japanese wanted to achieve maximum humiliation of their adversary. But the sustained mass bestiality can better be explained — if it can be rationally explained at all — by the tensions that had built up in the army since the Shanghai battle erupted, by the knowledge of the Japanese troops that they were heavily outnumbered by the Chinese in the city, by the callousness bred in the previous four months — and, above all, by the dehumanisation of the Chinese which had become part of the psyche of the Imperial Army. The invaders saw the people around them as lower than animals, targets for a bloodlust which many, if not all, their commanders felt could only spur their men on to fight better. In his diary, one soldier described the Chinese as ‘ants crawling on the ground … a herd of ignorant sheep’. Another recorded that while raping a woman, his colleagues might consider her as human, but, when they killed her, ‘we just thought of her as something like a pig’.
“It seems certain that the Emperor in Tokyo knew at least the outline of what was going on. His uncle was in command, and Japanese newspapers reported the execution contests among officers as if they were sporting events. Hirohito still hoped that China could be defeated with one big blow, which Nanking might provide.”
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Chiang Kai-Shek: China’s Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost

Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers
Copyright 2003 by Jonathan Fenby
Pages: 307-309

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