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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
September 15, 2011

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Wall Street Aphorisms, Comedy, War, and Politics

Mark Skousen has become a friend of mine in recent years. This is enormously flattering to me, since his friends include some of the smartest, most powerful people in the world.

Skousen is an investment counselor, a teacher and writer about economics, and a dedicated servant of whatever community is lucky enough to have him in it. His investment advice has not been perfect, but he has come closer than anyone else.

Now, almost for the sheer fun of it, he has come out with a collection called The Maxims of Wall Street.

You can't buy it. So far it only exists in a thousand-copy limited edition. But that won't be the case forever, because the book is too fun for Skousen to keep it for his friends alone.

Part of the pleasure is that Wall Street has a saying for both sides of every issue. Follow the trends; ignore the trends. "If you hear that everybody is buying a certain stock, ask who is selling." -- James Dines

It has sayings that make fun of the other sayings. "Don't gamble. Take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don't go up, don't buy it." -- Will Rogers

And it has sayings that simply make fun of Wall Street. "The stock market has forecast nine of the last five recessions." -- Paul A. Samuelson

The result is a book that is a delight on every page. Especially at the end, where Skousen has written a fantasy short story that is half wish-fulfilment for investors (imagine knowing which stocks will perform well for the next twenty years) and half a set-up for a delicious ironic twist.

Some of the best aphorisms in the book are anonymous:

"The stock doesn't know you own it."

"You can cut somebody's hair many times, but you can only scalp him once."

"If you can't take the sting, don't reach for the honey."

"Trees don't grow to the sky."

I was actually surprised that I liked this book so much, because I don't invest money. I'm the guy Rick Rule was trying to warn when he said, "When your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep becomes your downfall."

My philosophy is more along the lines of Jess Livermore's ironic, "The more I make, the more I spend. I don't want to die rich."

The fact is, I do invest -- a lot. But not in stocks. I invest in people. They've all been good investments. I've never lost a dime, because my goal was to create opportunity, not make money.

The quotations from this book that I most enjoyed were not strictly about investment. Here are some of my favorites:

"The ultimate result of protecting fools from their folly is to fill the planet full of fools." -- Sir James Russell Lowell

"I hate to be wrong. But I hate more to stay wrong" -- Paul A. Samuelson

"There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find defenders among the ablest men." -- Lord Acton

"A clear conscience is nothing but a poor memory." -- Rick Rule

"Fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people are so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell.

"When everybody is thinking the same way, nobody is thinking." -- Gen. George Patton, Jr.

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" -- John Maynard Keynes

And nobody ever said anything better than Will Rogers, the author of this double-edged witticism:

"You have to go out on a limb sometimes, because that's where the nuts are."

*

I had high hopes for Patricia Marx's novel Starting from Happy. An offbeat romance with a deftly ironic attitude, what makes the novel work is the author's self-mocking tone.

It's also what makes the novel collapse after about fifty relentless, joke-repeating pages.

Not that it has changed in any way. It's just that there's a limit to how long it's a pleasure to watch somebody show off.

What was desperately needed was a kindly Mr. Bennet to say, "That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit."

It's fine to have an arch, intrusive narrator -- think of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. But, as with that book, you must also get a sense that the story is going somewhere. That it's about something more than the author's delight in her own cleverness.

But for a while, at least, it was amusing. It's worth standing there in the bookstore, reading the first ten pages.

*

Not amusing at all is Michael Jones's The Retreat: Hitler's First Defeat, an account of how the German army nearly took Moscow in 1941.

There is nothing good to say about Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany -- but only a fool would try to deny that the German Army in World War II was quite possibly the most effective military machine ever created.

This book is a clear exposition of precisely how the incompetent political generals of the high command -- the ones whose primary concern was placating Hitler in order to protect their careers -- nearly destroyed that great army, and how the army managed to save itself in spite of them and in spite of Hitler himself.

History has never given an ambitious dictator a finer tool than the German Army that was in Hitler's hands; but in truth it was not really Hitler who wrecked it. It might even be argued that at a key moment, Hitler's seemingly insane hold-at-all-costs order might have helped save it.

The real destruction came from the high command's failure to learn from Napoleon's defeat in Russia more than a century before and provide adequate supplies.

It is perhaps understandable that the Germans had never understood how truly cold temperatures would make their guns fail to fire -- a rather crucial problem in a Russian winter campaign.

But they certainly could have figured out that in fifty-degree-below-zero weather, their soldiers might need gloves.

Jones does a very good job of making a vast battlefield and a confusing campaign clear to the reader. Stalin being no smarter than Hitler, in some ways this war between vicious idiots might have been dull ("a plague on both your houses"); instead, because of good soldiers (Jones draws heavily from diaries) and brilliant generalship on both sides, the campaign from day to day and week to week makes for a highly readable account.

But it helps if you already have a firm grasp on the whole of World War II. This is not a good introductory history -- Jones, quite correctly, takes it for granted that you know all about how the war got to this point.

*

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry as I read the irate responses to my comments in previous columns about the Republican "movement conservatives" now calling themselves the "Tea Party." Most of them merely demonstrated my point, making me despair of talking sensibly to the insensible.

One of the complainers even went so far as to remind me of the Clinton campaign slogan, "It's the economy, stupid."

That's my point. If the Republicans will simply remember that, we won't end up watching the ideologically driven Obama administration crash on through another four years.

But Rick Perry, the current front-runner in the Republican polls, is not about the economy. Perry inherited the Texas economy. A sun belt state with low taxes, weak unions, and lots of cheap labor, it was doing well before he got into office and, like other states with the same recipe, it will continue doing well for reasons having nothing to do with its governor.

Rick Perry is the darling of the New Tea Party (otherwise known as "movement conservatism") for reasons having nothing to do with the economy. They are hoping that with him they can do what the extreme Left did with Obama -- sneak a fanatical ideologue past the profoundly moderate-to-conservative electorate by pretending that it's just about the economy.

That's what the Democrats did with Clinton and then with Obama -- they lied. They had a certified leftwinger in both cases, and then pretended he was a moderate. Electing Clinton, it was a matter of pounding Bush with the economy. Electing Obama, it was a matter of saying nothing ("change") and pounding McCain with Bush.

What Republicans forget is that Democrats can get away with such charades because the national media cooperates completely. They simply don't report anything that would contradict the lie.

But Republicans have no such massive ally in the media. On the contrary, Republicans are savagely attacked for sneezing. The treatment Palin got should be exemplary. Right now the media are being easy on Perry because they hope hope hope he'll be the Republican nominee. He'll be so easy to destroy.

They know it's the only way they can keep Obama for four more years.

What movement conservatives are never able to grasp is that ideological purity does not win the presidency. Americans don't want ideologues. They appreciate presidents with principles, but not presidents who are rigid, unwilling to compromise when that's what it takes to govern well.

Clinton had only one principle: Stay in office. Newt Gingrich used Clinton's ideologically pure first two years to give Republicans control of the Congress for the first time since 1953. Clinton smelled electoral disaster and immediately became a moderate.

I think of Clinton's last six years as the Gingrich presidency, plus Monica. Clinton was a disaster for America (his foreign policy handed us Osama bin Laden), but Gingrich was a pretty good prime minister.

Movement conservatives actually blame McCain for their defeat by Obama in 2008. Not so, children. McCain's impurity, his moderacy, his willingness to compromise across the aisle, plus his dead-on correctness on foreign policy, were the reasons why Obama did not carry every state but Utah.

A movement conservative would have evaporated in front of the Obama/Media juggernaut.

Today, Rick Perry is the darling of the evangelicals. When statements that make the religious right cheer are pounded again and again in media ads during the campaign in 2012, he will be electorally dead, because the American public does not want a president who thinks he's chosen by God. For good or ill, we prefer to choose our presidents ourselves.

(And Rick Perry, an anti-Mormon like Huckabee, won't even carry Utah, the most Republican state in the union, once his Mormon-hating anti-Romney push polls are fully exposed.)

Obama is the most vulnerable incumbent since Jimmy Carter -- potentially more vulnerable. If the Republicans remember that It's The Economy, and nominate a candidate who is about the economy and nothing else, they will win in a landslide, sweep the Congress, and govern for at least two years, until they screw it up and lose a house or two.

But if the Republicans nominate a Rick Perry or a Michele Bachmann, there is every chance, after the media are through with them, that Obama will eke out a victory.

Republicans right now seem hellbent on nominated William Jennings Bryan. And if that name means nothing to you, that not only says something awful about your high school education, it also explains why history is so likely to repeat itself. William Jennings Bryan is the primary reason why the Democratic Party played dead between Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson.

I'm not a Republican. I'm a Democrat who is sickened by the way my party has been kidnapped and held for ransom by the democracy-hating PC Inquisition, as epitomized by the bubble of vanity called Obama.

Since the media is also a wholly owned subsidiary of the PC Inquisition, my only hope for bringing my party back to reason and American government back to sanity is a massive Republican victory. But that can only happen if the Republican party acts against type and nominates a moderate -- in other words, a RINO -- a "Republican in name only."

(RINO is fanatic-conservative code for "a Republican who actually tries to accomplish something instead of making speeches as the ship goes down.")

You don't like Mitt Romney? Why is that? He's the only candidate in either party who actually understands money. He is also a man of principle (except for his self-destructive foray into anti-immigrant nonsense). You accuse him of flip-flopping? What you can't forgive him for is not flip-flopping -- on Massachusetts Health Care. He's already pledged to repeal Obamacare and not to introduce any kind of federal healthcare program. What more do you want?

But if you don't want Romney, fine -- he's not my candidate, either. Find somebody else. Somebody moderate enough to govern, which requires a willingness to compromise in order to get the best possible deal rather than no deal at all.

Somebody who is brave enough to do the politically unpopular things that are required to save the American economy -- a Ryan, a Boehner. They exist in the Republican Party. At the moment, they don't exist in the Democratic Party -- the Inquisition has burned them all.

Please, get your heads together and choose, not a True Conservative with a Kick-Me sign on his butt for the Leftist media to aim at, but a rational nominee, with credibility on the economy, whom the independents who gave the presidency to Obama can vote for.


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