10 March 2015
I hope you’ll accept my apologies for not having written in quite a while. At last, the numerous current events have dictated the desire to type out a brief epistle updating you on matters. Once more I’m pleased, Periwinkle, to send this impromptu to you in the post as you are understanding of these notes being of a sometimes haphazard and ill-put together nature. I always welcome your thoughtful and most often spot on assessment regarding their subject matter.
First off, the temperatures in Missoula have been quite warm of late. Odd, really. Unseasonably so. Yesterday, one of the tenants in our building alluded to his golf game while we visited as I got off my bicycle to go into the office. It’s been in the sixties, for Pete’s sake. This should be the bomber time to be on the hill making laps. Hopefully the place will hang on through March. I wandered about the backyard yesterday cleaning up dog business while throwing Jonquil a few bumpers. We collected old tennis balls too which had been covered by the previous month’s snowfall and old birch leaves. While doing these things I took a gander along the rock wall and noticed the daffodils were starting their march forth, about an inch out of the ground already. Hardy little fellows, I’m certain they’ll have to endure numerous future snow accumulations. The weather’s been good news for soccer practice. Snow-on-the-Mountain attended a tourney in Spokane last weekend in which his local club had some success, and Rough Mule’s Ears has been practicing as well. Though at the moment, I am home with Rough Mule’s Ears who is a shade under the weather. Tulip had her first tennis practice yesterday, deciding take up the sport this spring. I would be remiss if I did not indicate the warm weather’s pull at me to get out the canoe and rod, giving things a whirl. It’s probably pretty productive at the moment, casting the small presentations. This, of course, would mean renewing my license. So, there you have things on the domestic front. Not too much new to report. Oh, Bitterroot continues in her diligent capacity maintaining the whole operation, including volunteering in the athletic department…
Last night I spent part of the evening, after one Psych (a nifty little comedy) rerun with Tulip, watching a new show called Doc Martin. A retiree came by the shop yesterday and suggested it to me out of thin air. I alluded to the fact that I’ve not watched the tele in well over a year, though I’ve not been tracking the exact length of time. As I’ve mentioned in a few past notes, I still watch some of the soccer matches to attempt to remain current, and watch Psych reruns occasionally with the rascals, but other than that things are pretty quiet as they pertain to the television. Oh, and the Last of the Summer Wine reruns which play off of the laptop onto the Boob-tube. By the way, I’m reading Andrew Vine’s book, Last of the Summer Wine, The Story of the World’s Longest-Running Comedy Series (Aurum Press, 2010). Vine provides good insight into the nature of the program’s initiation and how things fell into place. Evidently the nature of casting such works outdoors was quite unique in the ’70’s and though a risk, took well with audiences. This has certainly been part of the appeal for me, the Pennines and the Yorkshire countryside. Vine allows the reader to glean understanding into the nature of Roy Clarke’s thought process and writing style, having spent formative time as a police officer in Rotherham developing an awareness of how people behave, human nature. This evidently spilled into his writing. Vine takes the reader into the working relationship between Clarke and James Gilbert, a senior BBC producer at the time. How the show’s name came about and the uncertainty of whether or not it would take. The reader learns about the characters. Clegg (Peter Sallis) is the solder (evidently reflecting most of Clarke) holding Compo (Bill Owen) and Blamire (Michael Bates) together. Evidently Bates and Owen did not share one another’s politics off the show either, though they buried the hatchet early on. Nora Batty’s origin is discussed, her immediate appeal and the fiery personality of actress Kathy Staff. It’s a good read for fans of the show. People maintaining a youthful perspective as they age, the gist of the matter.
At any rate, I watched three Doc Martin episodes last night (and into this morning) – “Going Bodmin,” “Gentlemen Prefer” and Sh*t Happens.” I believe theses episodes first aired about a decade ago on ITV in the UK. It’s a bit too soon to provide you any insightful guidance as I’m completely new to the show and only tuned in as it was recommended by a long time aquaintance as mentioned above; however, the Cornwall scenery is outstanding and the characters are quite “British” – witty, humorous and unique. Doctor Martin Ellingham (Martin, played by actor Martin Clunes) goes through quite an environmental change, from that of a lofty London surgeon who learned at some point that blood was not for him (haemophobia), transforming to a more humble country GP. The community makes a rough start of it for Martin, especially after he correctly fires his incompetent assistant, Elaine, who through her errors placed the patients at risk. Ellingham yields to the town’s citizens who made being in the community somewhat uncomfortable for Martin unless he rehired Elaine, which he eventually does. The Doc seems a bit off driving his new Lexus through the rustic countryside to visit his Aunt, a lovely character who seems quite practical and down to earth, a voice of reason. The usual contemporary and age old themes are there, cancer, affection, water issues, depression, car wrecks, mail boxes, education, fitness and health, diet, obesity, beer, cigarettes, love, so forth… Additional characters include a depressed constable and an obese, smoking and drinking plumber whose son, a computer hack, does not want to go into the family plumbing practice. Doc plays a rather serious bird initially, but seems to soften as the story unfolds becoming a counselor as well as the local GP, typical of what happens in professional occupations, particularly in small communities. This seems to be aided by the character of Louisa Glasson, a grade school teacher with whom initially Martin got off on the wrong foot. The two form an attraction for one another in the initial three episodes mentioned above. I actually viewed these on an internet TV service. Each one streamed without hindrance, which has not always the case. The Last of the Summer Wine episodes are DVDs. I particularly like the sheepdog I believe) in Doc Martin, a stray I reckoned, which does not relent in its desire to work its way into Martin’s home and practice. Martin in one scene tosses a stick over a cliff to see if the dog will retrieve it. This follows the local constable having let the dog loose following Martin’s having taken it to the town’s police headquarters. As the two of us fully realize, dogs are like that for some reason, Periwinkle. The dog must see beyond what has thus far been revealed about Doc’s character. It appears the show has foreign adaptations in Berlin and in the Tirol region of Austria as well. Should I stay with it, we might bounce a few laughs between us if you tune in as well.
For the last bit in TV land I’ll simply note that Snow-on-the-Mountain is quite into the latest adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, the BBC series Sherlock. He enjoys the series so much he had me order the hardback of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s complete works. This is always encouraging, Periwinkle. Bitterroot is quite into House of Cards, which you’ve probably tuned into as it seems to be rather in vogue at the moment. I’ve only watched the first couple of Sherlock episodes and not one of the House of Cards shows. Therefore, I’ll not elaborate on these two programs, but leave them only as a note on the present goings on about the place.
One of the reasons I wanted to write to you was to see if you caught David Schambaugh’s article, The Coming Chinese Crackup (WSJ, 7 March 2015 in the Review Section). We dropped the ball on revisiting Rosen’s work, which we still should do. It’s amazing what can occur in a relatively short period of time. The one take on Schambaugh’s article that resonated was the emigration issue. This is disconcerting as it may be indicative of a power struggle that is occurring within the country, not simply related to the corruption crackdown. Many citizens who would attempt to drive meaningful reforms may be leaving. This of course is not new, but if the trend is accelerating it is a concern. I agree with Schambaugh’s take that Xi is not keen on making the same errors he believes Gorbachev made in the Soviet Union. This is well known and taught. I believe Schambaugh’s criticism of Xi’s economic reforms arising from the Third Plenum “sputtering on the launchpad” are a tad off base. Reforms are occurring. They, however, are not going to be able to be hastily implemented. Consider the obvious in this regard given the magnitude of the program, the size of the country and the desire to maintain some form of stability during the disruption. John Authers’s article on 2/5/2015 in the FT, US Economic Health remains vulnerable to the China syndrome, was of interest as he looks at other measures to break through the typical issue of China’s lack of transparency regarding its economic stats, citing the country’s “electricity output being negative for the first time since 2009.” I don’t know, maybe I’m snowed on this one, but it would sync with a changing real estate environment, a commodities slow down and issues such as excess capacity in their steel sector. China’s economic growth has slowed, this is clear. Real-estate prices continue declining and thus far this year the purchasing managers index has been below 50. Banyan in his latest weekly write up in the Economist (7 March 2015, page 45), Comprehensive Education, also takes Xi to task for not more rapidly moving the “Four Comprehensives” along. Specifically noting the items of Building a Moderately Prosperous Society, Rule of Law and Pollution as reform laggards. Much flowing from the first item according to the article. Again, things move slower in the region. PPI has hit a rough patch, dropping 4.8% in the latest reading while the Chinese CPI went the other way, up in February 1.4 on-the-year. Excess capacity remains an issue for the country and politically this is a sensitive one to deal with, closing plants. For a somewhat different slant on the recent negative labor release, see IBT’s China’s Strong Labor market means no Extraordinary Stimulus by Boby Michael (3/9/2015, International Business Times) which states “Moodys noted that Li (Premier Li Keqiang) has maintained in his address to the Congress (presently going 12th National People’s Congress) that last year’s urban job creations target of about 10 million, following the actual generation of 13.2 million new positions in China’s cities in 2014.” The article also notes Moody’s take that China taking its growth rate down to 7 is a “credit positive” as it may indicate the country is not willing to employ excessive leverage to continue to gun growth. The jobs migration issue to me is the most significant issue facing the country. If this goes smoothly, continued gradual economic reforms will possibly encourage cracks in the communist political system. If the economy slows dramatically, or capacity is not handled properly, it is unclear how matters in China will politically get resolved. Constructive liberal economic policy and growth will encourage political liberalization, deep recession, on the other hand, possibly further repression. How I remain on the issue. Lastly, a Forbes article by Stephen Harner, Why David Shambaugh’s ‘Coming Chinese Crackdown is Wrong, provides a further contrarian take to Shambaugh’s analysis. Harner writes, “Let me say here. Anyone who visits for long intervals or lives in China …. knows that a sense of dramatic, almost revolutionary, change now permeates the air.” Harner’s take on Xi renewing Confucius moral traditions is of interest and how this is perceived outside of China.
Well, the good news today is that Yellen indicated that removing “patient” from the script is just around the bend. The only negative I find in such sentiment might be how much higher can the dollar go? This is no small issue. The emerging economies, our customers, have been taking a beating with their currencies relative to the dollar, seeing significant declines. This is now showing up in our trade numbers. The equity markets today were none too excited, yet, that’s to be expected in a sense and things have gotten a touch frothy in certain areas; a result of low US rates. I read an article today discussing that folks were not to be concerned, the ECB will be able to find sovereign bonds to purchase for its 60 or so billion Euros per month. This is disconcerting and I spent some time trying to dig up another article I read somewhere alluding to how out of whack Japanese government bond markets have become given what is transpiring there. At some point in the past I wrote “is anything true anymore?” You might recall the remark. The issue is markets are not functioning rationally globally. Sorry, but when you see negative yields in so many markets, one has to perk up and take notice. This is what happens, I believe, when committees of bureaucrats and policy makers intervene deeply in fixed income markets. Part of the buying in the private sector may reflect fear, but things are principally being driven out of whack by the monetary policy programs to save overly indebted states. I did not read the editorial, but evidently Rubin took the legislative branch to task for not acting while the economy has been growing. When are the cuts going to occur? Should a country, pick an establish one, cut spending and raise taxes when the economy is in recession? That does not make much sense to me. For their take on this matter, I admire the Cameron government for sticking with their fiscally responsible guns. I also admire Cameron’s government’s take regarding an EU Army. The UK, according to the PM, would be out on that one. Rightly so. I see that Schauble is being candid with the German citizenry that Germany will see increases in defense outlays. This is being put on the Ukraine incident; however, I believe whatever the cause, it will be constructive for Euro states to increase their defense spending in order that the US can allow Western Europe to principally provide their own defense and therefore over time allow the US an uneventful Nato exit. This is appealing for the economic savings, particularly as we are so engaged in so many other places. This is a subject for another letter, though. Wrapping up on the economy, the employment situation here appears to be continuing its improvement. Even if the participation rate is off, one would expect changes in the wage data to start surfacing. Yellen is right to change the language, hopefully, in my view, not too late. By the way, the language issue has to go. I remain a fan of no forward guidance, regardless of Canada’s experience thus far. Maybe a few rate notches up in the States will begin to present some semblance of a return to normalcy. The reality is, I’m afraid, rates will be moving up very slowly if at all this year. Too much attention being paid abroad, though understandably. I reckon we’ll see how the thinkers sort it out.
Lastly, Periwinkle, I’ll close with a wonderful read I would like to encourage you to undertake – Gogol’s The Overcoat. It was subtle, but once I finished the short story it hit me full force. There’s so much there. What man strives for and why? How individuals in society behave towards their fellow human beings; particularly those in power. Gogol explores this deeply with government officials, but it can be seen in most larger organizations and bureaucracies. Large concentrations of power are often to be feared. This applies to syndicates and cartels, conglomerates, business supermarkets (if you will) – the one stop shop, the mega this and that. See the crisis of 08/09 through this lens. The world in the latter ’30s as well. Smaller is most often better for the community. Matters remain known, transparent and efficient. You’ll probably ask me after a read, “Are you sure you were not meaning Gogol’s play, The Government Inspector?” To this I would reply, a good read, but no. I picked up a sense of the above in the character of Akaky Akakievich, a regular Joe who lived a modest life and socked away part of his income along the way. I’m not going to ruin it for you. Read it yourself if you’ve not already. Sometimes, one only needs a light aesthetic touch to trigger vast emotions. Turgenev, in a compilation of his letters in Letters A Selection Edited…by Edgar H. Lehrman (Alfred A. Knopf 1960, pp. 39-41), writes to the Viardots “A very great misfortune has struck us: Gogol died in Moscow, died after burning everything – everything – the second volume of Dead Souls, a host of finished works… He was more than a mere writer to us: He revealed to us ourselves…” A letter following – “… Let me begin by telling you I have not left St. Petersburg for a month – much against my wish. I am under arrest at a police station, by order of the Emperor, for having had an article – some lines on Gogol’s death – printed in a Moscow newspaper…. I am not complaining about the Emperor… In two weeks they will send me to the countryside…” Which is of course where Turgenev soon found himself. I only include this because you know how I feel about Turgenev and I thought you’d find of interest his take on Gogol. I have not read Dead Souls though I just got a used copy which I’ll probably go through shortly.
When you get a moment, send along your thoughts. Snow-on-the-Mountain jabbed me this evening to ask if we might slip out tomorrow following school to wet a few flies, should this weather hold. If that’s the case, I’ll give you a report on the day. Until then, I have the honor to be, Sir your most humble and obedient servant,