November-December 2011

We spent the whole of December away. After two weeks in Maui, we stayed two more in Santa Clara, CA, with our son and daughter-in-law, and their two-month old daughter, Ashley. So just some Commonplace entries added to close out the year. Happy New Year to all my readers!                                                       (December 31, 2011)

The first letter of mine that the New York Times accepted for publication was in November 2000. Both amused and irritated by the coverage of the network TV stations of the presidential election, and their premature calling of the result, I suggested that United Nations observers should be sent in next time. (See:http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/09/opinion/l-for-a-divided-america-a-momentous-night-the-fateful-retraction-112135.html?scp=9&sq=tony%20percy&st=cse. )  Since then, I have written dozens of letters. A couple have appeared in the Science Section (for example, see  http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/04/science/l-randomness-and-evolution-613045.html?scp=7&sq=tony%20percy&st=cse,  and I have recently discovered that a couple were also posted on the NYT website (see:http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/16/opinion/lweb16brooks.html?scp=11&sq=tony%20percy&st=cse     and  http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/21/mailbag-debating-british-anti-semitism/?scp=13&sq=tony%20percy&st=cse.                                                                                                                                                                                                   This month, I was successful again, joining in the debate on the Healthcare legislation, and the coming review of its constitutionality by the Supreme Court: (see:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/opinion/sunday/sunday-dialogue-judging-the-health-law.html?scp=1&sq=judging%20health%20law&st=cse . My letter was tightly compressed for reasons of space, so I have written up a longer article that amalgamates the points I have been making to NYT journalists for some time, and should clarify my opinions, lest any observer should imagine I am a heartless misanthrope. It is viewable here: The Individual Mandate.

My November reading was dominated by three books by female writers. The memoirs of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire, Wait for Me!, were a delight, showing that even among so many weird sisters, she has always had her feet planted firmly on the ground. Sylvia Nasar’s Grand Pursuit, claiming to trace the path of economic genius, was competent and overall well-written, but ultimately bloodless, with the author also appearing to lose steam and interest towards the end of her work, leaving us gasping for insights on the phenomenon of China and European sovereign debt among the woes of the euro. And how she could choose to spend so much time on those two dupes of Communism, Beatrice Webb and Joan Robinson, in a work claiming to describe economic genius, was simply inexcusable. My conclusion? That economists continue in vain with attempts to model what is definitely not a ‘system’, but something inherently capricious, unpredictable and chaotic, and that politicians try to calibrate it on the assumptions of a selected group of those dissenting economists. On the other hand, Sarah Bakewell’s celebration of Montaigne, How To Live, or A Life of Montaigne was sure-footed, captivating, original, insightful, and amusing. In addition, prompted by reading reviews of John Lewis Gaddis’s biography of George Kennan (An American Life), I turned to Kennan himself, and hisMemoirs 1925-1950. These are a little laborious, but full of mostly shrewd and prescient insights (why was his advice on de-Nazification forgotten when the similar de-Ba’athization policies were pursued in Iraq?), alongside one or two naïve observations on Communism. Excerpts from all appear in this month’s Commonplace entries.                                                                                                                                                                         (November 30, 2011)

I have made a mid-month posting – an essay dedicated to Ashley Percy titled ‘An American Odyssey’. It can be viewed here. (November 21, 2011)

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