Friday, July 3, 2009

Playing cards close to the chest

The articles in The Economist are, by hallowed tradition, anonymous. The strict and effective house-style makes identifying authors difficult, even irrelevant.

Adrian Wooldridge has been the Washington bureau chief of the journal for some time.

So, economically, 2+2=?

This week's edition has the regular column under the pseudonym of "Lexington". For a while Malcolm assumed that this was somehow a reference to New York's stately 4th Avenue (and location of a couple of decent bars) rather than, as it apparently is, to the first battle in the Revolutionary War. Anyway, here is Lexington marking a departure:
... during the 13 years that the author of this column has spent in the United States, he too [like de Tocqueville] has found his initial exuberance clouded by darker thoughts. When he arrived in 1996, America was lord of all it surveyed, the world’s only remaining superpower, convinced of its supreme benevolence, and the engine of a productivity miracle that left Europeans in awe. Social pathologies such as violent crime were being brought under control; almost half of households owned shares. The place had an air of what Mark Twain once called “the serene confidence which a Christian feels in four aces”.
And now, presumably, a replacement Lexington will slither effortlessly into the vacancy, with nary a quiver of that cool, calculated Oxford articulation.

Having acknowledged that, Malcolm's interest switched to that delicious Mark Twain quotation. he tracked it down to a piece Twain did for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise in May 1864. A query had come in (Twain claimed) from a potential migrant from Missouri to Nevada:
Nevada was discovered many years ago by the Mormons, and was called Carson county. It only became Nevada in 1861, by act of Congress. There is a popular tradition that God Almighty created it; but when you come to see it, William, you will think differently. Do not let that discourage you, though. The country looks something like a singed cat, owing to the scarcity of shrubbery, and also resembles that animal in the respect that it has more merits than its personal appearance would seem to indicate. The Grosch brothers found the first silver lead here in 1857. They also founded Silver City, I believe. (Observe the subtle joke, William.) But the "history" of Nevada which you demand, properly begins with the discovery of the Comstock lead, which event happened nearly five years ago. The opinion now prevailing in the East that the Comstock is on the Gould & Curry is erroneous; on the contrary, the Gould & Curry is on the Comstock. Please make the correction, William. Signify to your friends, also, that all the mines here do not pay dividends as yet; you may make this statement with the utmost unyielding inflexibility - it will not be contradicted from this quarter. The population of this Territory is about 35,000, one half of which number reside in the united cities of Virginia and Gold Hill. However, I will discontinue this history for the present, lest I get you too deeply interested in this distant land and cause you to neglect your family or your religion. But I will address you again upon the subject next year. In the meantime, allow me to answer your inquiry as to the character of our climate.

It has no character to speak of, William, and alas! in this respect it resembles many, ah, too many chambermaids in this wretched, wretched world. Sometimes we have the seasons in their regular order, and then again we have winter all the summer and summer all winter. Consequently, we have never yet come across an almanac that would just exactly fit this latitude. It is mighty regular about not raining, though, William. It will start in here in November and rain about four, and sometimes as much as seven days on a stretch; after that, you may loan out your umbrella for twelve months, with the serene confidence which a Christian feels in four aces. Sometimes the winter begins in November and winds up in June; and sometimes there is a bare suspicion of winter in March and April, and summer all the balance of the year. But as a general thing, William, the climate is good, what there is of it.

What are the productions of the earth? You mean in Nevada, of course. On our ranches here, anything can be raised that can be produced on the fertile fields of Missouri. But ranches are very scattering - as scattering, perhaps, as lawyers in heaven. Nevada, for the most part, is a barren waste of sand, embellished with melancholy sage-brush, and fenced in with snow clad mountains. But these ghastly features were the salvation of the land, William, for no rightly constituted American would have ever come here if the place had been easy of access, and none of our pioneers would have staid after they got here if they had not felt satisfied that they could not find a smaller chance for making a living anywhere else. Such is man, William, as he crops out in America..
Thanks, Lexington, for that farewell gift. Sphere: Related Content

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