Sunday, February 22, 2009

Let's Go Crazy

You'll be sad to hear that Bush's Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez is having a hard time finding a new job, and is (still) blaming the bad economy.

Le Monde 2, a weekend magazine, ran a fairly amazing story about one of America's "working poor" saving for years for a trip to Spain that was to end with a few days in Paris, having her flight cancelled, running out of money and speaking no French, being turned away by the American embassy, and then living on the streets for almost 2 months. She finally gets a place to stay, and Le Monde contacts the American embassy to find out why they refused to help her, they said she got in the wrong line (the one for French seekers of travel visas to the US) and that they would be happy to send her home ASAP . But this woman, Ann Webb, refuses. My low-wage job as a nursing aide will be gone, my room will be gone, my car will be repossessed. Homeless at home or homeless in France? - I'd rather be homeless in France, she says - there's so much less violence.

This is completely crazy - and yet she's right. You can judge societies by life at the bottom. France wins by a lot.

Other symptoms this weekend:
  • "With Dubai’s economy in free fall, newspapers have reported that more than 3,000 cars sit abandoned in the parking lot at the Dubai Airport, left by fleeing, debt-ridden foreigners (who could in fact be imprisoned if they failed to pay their bills)."
  • The NYT discovers that "Job Losses Pose a Threat to Stability Worldwide."
  • Fr. Frank points out that the US has a Big Denial Problem - which he proves by promising at the end that it will make no difference to point it out.
  • The President points out that America is much bigger than Sweden. Ergo, the banker foxes should keep guarding the financial henhouse, even though they already ate all the hens - or something.
  • Communist China will continue to buy American - T-bills, that is. Why? Because America is "safe as bankers"? No. Because "we hate you guys."
Crazy. Not really. Communist China knows that American leaders are so fanatically capitalist that there won't be any real giveaways to actual people of either political power over finance or of money (see this analysis of the limits of Obama's housing assistance plan), meaning there will be no "capital strike" in which big worldwide investors decide that the US isn't a "safe haven" for their money and pull it out.

And yet creativity comes back when you least expect it. Holland Cotter sums it up in his nice piece "The Boom is Over! Long Live the Art." Read the short history of NYC post-war art waves in blasted spaces that capital had abandoned before the artists reinvented them. The end is the best:
I’m not talking about creating ’60s-style utopias; all those notions are dead and gone and weren’t so great to begin with. I’m talking about carving out a place in the larger culture where a condition of abnormality can be sustained, where imagining the unknown and the unknowable — impossible to buy or sell — is the primary enterprise. Crazy! says anyone with an ounce of business sense.

Right. Exactly. Crazy.
That's the crazy we actually need.

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