Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Gibraltar of the Hindu Kush

X is the Y of Z. There’s a blog for it, needless to say. And of course Language Log has the non pareil discussion of the construction.

But I came across my new favorite example last night, reading Piers Brendon’s superb The Decline and Fall of the British Empire.

The national mood was erratic. It responded most fiercely to issues near at hand, such as Home Rule for Ireland. But it could also react to a smalll Cossack incursion at Buzi Gumbaz: although the Foreign Office had to cable India to ask where this was (in fact, just inside Afghanistan) the Foreign Secretary soon stated that Buzai Gumbaz was “the Gibraltar of the Hindu Kush”.

Let Martin Wolf really depress you

Martin Wolf — always the go-to commentator for economics — in today’s Financial Times:

Now think what will happen if, after two or more years of monstrous fiscal deficits, the US is still mired in unemployment and slow growth. People will ask why the country is exporting so much of its demand to sustain jobs abroad. They will want their demand back. The last time this sort of thing happened – in the 1930s – the outcome was a devastating round of beggar-my-neighbour devaluations, plus protectionism. Can we be confident we can avoid such dangers? On the contrary, the danger is extreme. Once the integration of the world economy starts to reverse and unemployment soars, the demons of our past – above all, nationalism – will return. Achievements of decades may collapse almost overnight.

Yet we have a golden opportunity to turn away from such a course. We know better now. The US has, in Barack Obama, a president with vast political capital. His administration is determined to do whatever it can. But the US is not strong enough to rescue the world economy on its own. It needs helpers, particularly in the surplus countries. The US and a few other advanced countries can no longer absorb the world’s surpluses of savings and goods. This crisis is the proof. The world has changed and so must policy. It must do so now.

If any administration can galvanize coordinated global action, I think it will be Obama’s. But the time and room for maneuver is very small.

History of the world

Over the last week, in between skiing and just loafing about, I read a magisterial, utterly engrossing history of the last 100-odd years. I can’t recall a book that had such a synoptic view of the entire globe, that weaved politics, sociology, economics and popular culture so skillfully.

What was this marvel? The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer by David Goldblatt. I’m interested in soccer, but not obsessed. Yet Goldblatt takes the world’s most popular sport and convincingly makes it a lens for understanding different cultures, political transformations and the vagaries of globalization. At the same time, he deftly conveys the beauty, passion and humor of the game. One of my favorite sports writers, Simon Kuper, correctly blurbs The Ball is Round as “a mindboggling achievement”.

I did think of picking up the universally hailed Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace to read over the holidays.  The Ball is Round weighs in about 300 pages short of Tolstoy’s 1,296. It truly is gripping throughout. Highly recommended.