December 30, 2007

What Does Iowa Mean?

The caucuses in Iowa this week will be the subject of every political reporter in the US, and each of them wants to convince us that the Iowa results are very important. But what exactly do these caucuses mean? To a considerable degree, the result reflects the depth and organization of a politician's local staff. That is why Hilary Clinton has been flying around the state in a helicopter, trying to inspire and energize her people, as well as the more obvious goal of meeting with the public.  Four years ago Kerry did well in Iowa because he inspired a strong local organization. This is one important thing for a candidate, but we found out that Kerry did not run a very good campaign once he got the nomination.  

One of the curious things this year is that Kerry's VP candidate, John Edwards, is running so well. Consider that he failed to deliver a single Southern state to the Democrats, and therefore cost them the election. In 2004, Edwards could not carry his home state, and yet he is considered one of the top three candidates at the moment. 

As of this writing the polls put Edwards in a statistical dead heat with Clinton and Obama, with each getting slightly less than one quarter of the vote.  The problem in Iowa is that knowing who is tied for first is only part of the equation. In the actual caucuses the room is full of people who can, and indeed often must, change their vote, based on the passions and arguments on that night. Iowans are not fickle. Rather, they must assemble at least 15% of the vote in any given hall for a candidate's supporters to be counted at all. So the roughly 30% of the voters who do not want Clinton, Obama, or Edwards all have to switch their votes as the evening progresses. And given the fact that no one has more than 24% of the vote right now, quite possibly in any given meeting one of the leaders will fall short of the 15%.  In other words, Iowa culls out the weaker candidates, and suggests who is acceptable, but it seldom discovers the winner all by itself. The results can surprise, but one should wait to see how voters respond in New Hampshire, where for the first time they use a secret ballot and they have only one chance.

As for the Republicans, things are even more volatile, and my sense is that many voters could change their minds in the next four days or on the night itself. Giuliani, Huckabee, and Romney all have such obvious flaws for some Republicans and most Democrats, that one cannot write off Fred Thompson, even if he has run a rather lackluster campaign until now. Overall, based on my extensive conversations with ordinary Americans last week, all of the Republican front runners generate considerable bad vibes among many voters. Giuliani is by no means everyone's hero, and has even been attacked by some members of the New York Fire Department. He has skeletons aplenty that are not well hidden in the closet, both personal and political. For the Southern wing of the GOP, he is too liberal, too soft on abortion, and too divorced. For Northern Republicans, Huckabee is almost a joke, a caricature of the poorly educated Bible-thumping snake oil salesman, who has no international experience at all. Hardly the sort to put in charge as the US faces such a volatile world.  Romney seems to lack principles, flip-flopping on issues. Many people in Massachusetts, where he was governor, really hate the guy. In any case, polls indicate that more than a third of Americans, perhaps as many as 40%, are not ready to vote for a Mormon. In short, the Republicans have a flawed field, and the average voter is not very excited by anyone in the group, nor the group as a whole.  

All these observations aside, my personal preference as of the moment is Obama, who seems to me the brightest of all the candidates. He is a wonderful breath of fresh air. Besides, we have had Yale in the White House continuously since 1988! Twenty years of Yale, and Hilary would just be more Yale. This being a democracy, it is time to give the former editor of the Harvard Law Review a chance.  However, this particular argument will likely have little weight with the Iowa voter. Which is as it should be.

December 20, 2007

Christmas and Americanization



Traditionally, we try to push aside gloom and doubts to celebrate Christmas. I sing in a choir, and we have done our part of spreading good cheer, with no less than four concerts during the past two weeks. The music chosen is a good index to the content of the services. The text for most of the hymns comes in fairly direct fashion from the New Testament, whether in Danish, English, or Latin. Yes, Latin is still a living language when it comes to ecclesiastical affairs. We have a work by Palestrina in Latin, for example, and one work with a text in delightfully garbled Old English mixed up with Latin phrases. German hymns are noticeably absent from the repertoire of the choirs I know, and it seems likely that this is an effect of World War II. Occupation did not endear the Germans to the Danes, who frequently perform Handel's Messiah, in English of course, while a performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio is far more rare.

The prominence of English should not be mistaken for Americanization, as the pieces chosen by most choirs are from British composers. In the case of the Odense Motet Kor, which I sing with, the earliest British work is by William Byrd, in a series that ends with Benjamin Brittain, John Carter, and Vaughn Williams. American Christmas music, as experienced in Denmark, belongs on the street or the department store, where I hear Bing Crosby croon about that white Christmas we seldom have here and numerous versions of Rudolf. So, the uplifting religious sounds are English, inspired in good part by Cambridge University traditions, while the bouncy and sentimental tunes are American, much the same as one might hear in the US.

The most powerful musical tradition, however, remains Danish. A whole host of songs, both religious and secular, have been composed over the centuries. Some of these melodies seem to me, at least, to be drawn from abroad and reworked into Danish with a new text, but if so they have been thoroughly assimilated. Virtually all Danes seem to know this musical tradition, and on December 24 they will be singing with enthusiasm around their Christmas trees, which are covered with flickering candles - not electric bulbs. These little fires all over a tree that is rapidly drying out are a definite fire hazard, but consider that most families insist on dancing around the tree, with many chances to brush against the limbs and set them waving. And note that some (well, many) of the adults are not really dancing but more staggering around the tree after eating and especially drinking quite a lot, and you have the recipe for conflagration. Yet in fact, I have never seen an accident, which may prove that a higher power is benevolently looking down on the giddy proceedings. Just in case, the Danish family typically has a bucket of water at the ready.

For anyone out there who thinks that Americanization is washing over the world with little resistance, Danish Christmas suggests otherwise. The songs are European, the mountain of protein on the table is usually NOT a turkey, but far more likely a duck, a goose, or pork. And the rituals of the day are all local traditions, too. For example, after the family circles the tree for a while, the youngest child leads them in a line-dance through the entire house. And the presents are usually opened not on the 25th, but after dinner on the 24th. In fact, the Danes love Christmas so much they have an extra dinner on the 23rd. They give it a name - "Little Christmas Eve" - and consider it to be almost as sacred to family life as the following night.

Finally, what about the presents under the tree? Some of them are American, of course, and these are often digital, whether computer software, DVDs of Hollywood films, or a new Ipod. But while a survey would be required to confirm my hunch, I strongly suspect that Christmas is a time of patriotic giving. Danish books and music seem prominent in the store windows, and many presents are expensive, high-quality examples of Danish design. To put this another way, I wonder if the American presents might prove to be a bit ephemeral, while the Danish gifts may well be displayed or used for years.





As for me, Christmas will be in Connecticut this year. It is time for some personal re-Americanization after being immersed (and thoroughly enjoying) several consecutive years of the marvelous Danish Christmas.

December 17, 2007

What Can Denmark Learn from the United States?

In my last blog I pointed to some areas where the United States might learn from Denmark. Now it is only fair to do the reverse: what can Denmark learn from the US? Quite a lot, actually. I want to point to four areas.

First, Danes have only a generation of recent experience in living with minorities from other cultures, and they have not done a good job of integrating them into their society. Refugees and immigrants have come to Denmark from more than 100 nations, but Danes speak of them as if they were a singe group, with few nuances. They speak of them collectively as "new Danes," which is code phrase that signals that these are people that are not really accepted as full members of society, even if they were born in the country and speak Danish as their first language. Politicians on the Danish right angrily demand that foreigners give up their own cultures and assimilate. They talk much like the anti-immigration leaders in the United States c. 1910. I personally know a lovely young women whose parents came to Denmark from Sri Lanka. She got an engineering education and speaks the language like a native - and Denmark is screaming for engineers - but nevertheless she never got a decent job offer inside the country. Instead, she has a terrific position in London. That is crazy, of course, but there are all too many examples of such discrimination and failed integration. The unemployment rate for "new Danes" is much higher than for the rest of the population. So, Danes should go to school to Canada and the US to see better models of how to welcome and integrate new citizens. The need is great, because Denmark has an unemployment rate that is now under 3%. Not only do they need to retain their own minorities, but they desperately want to recruit and then retain skilled people from abroad.

Second, Danes are losing some of their cultural heritage every year, particularly books and paintings, but also other important cultural objects. This is because of tax laws that do not encourage donations. In the United States, of course, donations are a tax write-off, so someone with a valuable painting can both be benevolent and also get full value for philanthropy. Another example is close to my heart. When a university professor retires in the US, he or she might well donate valuable books and collections to the library, again in exchange for a tax write-off. But in Denmark, no such rules apply. I know of one case of a man who had a valuable personal library, which almost was broken up and sold. Finally, the family did agree to sell it to the university for a fraction of its total worth. But in most cases, nothing of the sort happens. This would not matter so much if Danish libraries were well stocked. However, there is little tradition of building up good research libraries in Denmark, because this sort of thing is left to the State. But national governments, in my observation, are irregular in supporting libraries and museums. So, the Danish nation could benefit from changing the tax laws, because for a pittance they could preserve far more of their cultural heritage. The United States has some amazing libraries and museum collections built up by knowledgeable collectors. There is little monetary incentive for Danes to do the same.

Third, while I praised the Danish socialized medical system in my last Blog because it is free and works pretty well, it could be improved if it adopted a more proactive approach. In the US doctors give their patients an annual medical exam, and so can track their weight, blood pressure, and other vital indicators. Danish doctors only see a patient when something goes wrong. In other words, they wait, often until it is a bit late in the game. Preventive medicine would raise life expectancy, which currently is a bit lower than the US, and quite a bit lower than next door Sweden. I mention Sweden to indicate that this is not a problem with socialized medicine per se, but rather a specifically Danish problem.

Fourth, and finally for today, the Danes could learn from Americans how to meet new people. They are a rather shy lot, hanging back in the corner of the room if they find themselves in a group of strangers. In the US people are quite ready to mix it up at a cocktail party, the more the merrier. Danes feel most comfortable at a smaller gathering, preferably where they know everyone else in advance, and ideally where there is a seating plan. Spontaneity is not the Danish strong point, in other words. Most of my Danish students who take a term in the US are able to make this adjustment, so there is a chance that the country can and will open up a little.

If both nations have something to learn from the other, however, I am not advocating cultural homogeneity. Fortunately, in my view, the Danes are not becoming Americanized, but that is a subject for another blog.

Is Denmark a Model for the United States?

Can Americans Learn from Others?

For most of the time during the last 225 years Americans have been convinced that they live in the best country on earth. They have even seen it as exceptional, a nation like no other. But not too many Americans have looked carefully at the alternatives. They are told repeatedly that the American way is the best, and that the rest of the world is just trying to catch up.

So how about a reality check? I have been living in Denmark for long enough to make a knowledgeable comparison. I have written a short book to introduce outsiders to Denmark, but because it is addressed to people from anywhere who might be planning to visit or live there, I avoid making direct comparisons.

But in the next century I hope that Americans will look carefully at what they are not getting from their government. 

Imagine living in a country with universal health care paid for entirely out of taxes. I will not lie to you and say that Denmark has a perfect system, but it is one which supports both basic and applied research and that provides a high level of care. Quite possibly the Swedes have an even better system.

Imagine a country where handguns are illegal, and where the one or two murders that do occur in a week are almost all solved by the police. 

Imagine a country where the unemployment rate is less than 3%, and where those who are unable to get work receive free retraining and can get unemployment benefits for much longer than the six month limit in the United States.

Imagine a country which provides university education free to all citizens, and then, to make absolutely certain no one is left out, gives ALL students a scholarship big enough to cover housing and meals.

Imagine a country where automobiles are not absolutely essential to getting around, and where most families have only one, and middle-class people get along without one. this is possible because the state has made certain that there is a tightly integrated bus and train system. Certain parts of the US have begun to learn this again - they had it in c. 1905.

Imagine a country where the minimum wage is more than $12 an hour! This does make a restaurant meal more expensive, for example, but it is worth paying that, if it means almost no one lives in poverty. There is something deeply absurd about the US system where someone can work full time for the minimum wage and still be at the poverty line. 

How is the Danish system this possible? Taxes are higher, and much less is spent on the military. It is not unusual to pay 50% of your salary in taxes. I used to complain about the high taxes a lot when I first came to Denmark, but gradually I began to see that the quality of life in such a system is worth paying for. Danish parents all know that their children will have the chance to go to university if they graduate from gymnasium (high school). A Dane knows that full medical care will be available, even if one is unemployed. A Dane who does get laid off, can feel pretty confidant that they will get another job, and that in the meantime domestic life will go on without too many disruptions. In short, the Danish system reduces anxiety about the future and provides a basic safety net. 

There is no perfect society, but some are better organized, have better food, protect their citizens better, and so forth. We have all heard that joke about heaven being the place where different nationalities have specific roles. In my ideal world, the French run the restaurants, the Spanish operate the cafes, the Danes make the furniture, build windmills and run the social services, the English make TV detective programs, fill the theaters and organize pomp and circumstance, the Italians build the town squares and provide the opera, the Germans construct and maintain the cars, the Americans innovate, build the bathrooms, provide popular music, and make the pizza, while every country provides its own novels, classical music, and fine art.

Of course, nations do not remain static. They get better or worse. The English have learned to cook somewhat better in the last two decades, for example, even if they still build some quite awful houses decorated in what Danes are certain is terrible taste. But many of the English seem to know this, and to recognize that for them IKEA is a step up. So perhaps my fellow Americans can improve, too. My Christmas wish is that they will look seriously at other societies and see what they might learn from each.


If you want to read more about Denmark, have a look at 
David E. Nye, Denmark and the Danes: A Two Hour briefing
SDU Forlag, 2006 (available through Amazon.com)

December 15, 2007


Santa's Calling


'Twas the week before Christmas and Santa's a wreck.
His sack was still empty, for what's politically correct?
His disgruntled workers were no longer "Elves",
"Vertically Challenged" they now styled themselves.
His second-hand pipe smoke made them quite frightened.
And his fur-trimmed red suit was at best "Unenlightened."
Plus, global warming was melting North Pole
Drowning his workshop and house in a shoal.
Poor Mrs. Claus, had light deprivation,
And wintered in Spain, a six month vacation.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,
Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.
And affirmative action had made it quite clear
That Santa no longer could have just reindeer.
So instead of Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
He had three pigs and a moose, and that sure looked stupid!
Then he'd lost flashing Rudolf. Santa's heart nearly froze 
When a network bought all the rights to his nose.
That reindeer told Oprah and the entire nation,
He wanted millions in over-due compensation.
Worse still, people had started to call up the cops
If his team clattered on their solar roof-tops.
And then the steel runners were banned from the sleigh
Because they cut up the tundra. What a sad day!

And as for gifts, why, he'd not had a notion
That giving presents could cause such a commotion.
Nothing of leather, and nothing of fur,
Nothing gendered for him, nor sexy for her.
No arrows to aim, and no guns to shoot.
No motors, no sprays, for they do pollute
No pink for the girls, or blue for the boys.
No dangerous fireworks that made lots of noise.

No candy, no sweets...they were bad for the tooth.
No campaign books, for they embellish the truth.
And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,
Were, like Barbie and Ken, better off hidden.
No baseball, no football (the kids might get hurt);
Besides, rough sports exposed them to dirt.
Dolls were all sexist, and now were passe;
And games would rot a young brain away.

So Santa just stood there, fed up and perplexed;
He no longer knew what he could do next.
He tried to be merry, he tried to be gay,
But he had to be careful with that word today.
His sack, quite empty, hung limp to the ground;
No acceptable gift, it seemed, could be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that one might
Give to all on the Left, or to all on the Right.
A gift for the Red States, a gift for the Blue,
A gift for the entire political zoo.
A gift that none would feel was taboo
For Christian, Jew, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu
Every ethnicity, all possible hues,
Everyone, everywhere, and surely, you too.

What is that gift? A smart phone beyond worth,
By distracting us all, it brings peace to the earth.
Who has time for discord, once the screen's lit?
Why go into the street, if you can just sit?
Santa saw in a flash that his freedom had come.
He shouted, he danced, he forgot he'd been glum.
Never again would he race the world round,
Nor respond to kids' letters from each little town,
No more presents to haul, nor chimneys to down,
No more stockings to fill, no more cookies to eat,
No red suit to wear or fat boots on his feet,
No freezing up North, nor working all year,
He'd no longer feed those ungrateful reindeer.

Santa turned on his phone. He'd sell that old sleigh,
And mail-order those phones, to come Christmas Day. 


© 2007 David E. Nye [revised 21-12-07]

December 12, 2007

The Bush Economy


The US mortgage crisis and the falling prices for houses have now been making headlines for months. The stock market is also jittery because consumer spending seems certain to fall, as homeowners react to this news. Even though most people are not selling their homes this Christmas, when the value of a house drops, it has a psychological effect. When Jones hears that Smith, just down the street, had to sell for $75,000 less than he expected, Jones is deeply sympathetic, and worried.

How is this problem related to George Bush's 7 years in office? Before his election, in 2000, the country was economically strong. The economy had created 1 million new jobs a year during Clinton's presidency. The federal budget was in robust surplus, and Americans were rapidly paying off their national debt. After Bush came into office, not by virtue of a clear electoral victory but thanks to a 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court, he chose to lower taxes, especially for the wealthiest people. So those who least needed a tax break got one, and the budget once again went into the red. The national debt started to rise again, and the US government had to borrow more money every year. Ronald Reagan did the same thing, so one can say that Republican presidents since 1980 have a clear track record on the economy. Republicans spend more than they take in. They drive up the deficit. Republicans are tax cut and overspend conservatives, who pass the bill on to the next generation. In other words, they are not conservatives at all, in the classical understanding of the term.

Part of the bill for these economic policies comes due now in the form of a crumbling housing market. Why is that Bush's fault? First, by lowering taxes, Bush gave people, especially wealthy people, more money to spend, and much of it went into houses. This drove up prices, and it encouraged all home owners to borrow on the value of their property. It also drew many to invest in real estate. So, something of a housing bubble developed, thanks in part to Bush's profligate policy.

Second, more than $1 billion a day of Bush's deficit spending has gone into the War in Iraq. Had he gone out in the desert and simply burned $1 billion a day, it would have had almost as negative an impact on the economy, except that some of the huge war expense did come back, not to ordinary people, of course, but into the coffers of US corporations like Bechtel. But overall, considered as an economic program, the Iraq adventure is hardly a money-making activity.

Indeed, think about all the money that has gone into military hardware. Building a tank or a military jet does not do much to stimulate the American economy after it is built. A big piece of military equipment itself does not create jobs, improve transportation, or upgrade education. A tank does not innovate. A missile does not start a new business. There is far more economic payoff if a government invests in human beings. A better educated workforce generates more national income. A more highly trained hospital staff provides better care. Job training programs help workers make the transition to a new position. Investment in innovation more than pays for itself. In short, the huge military expenses of the Bush years have siphoned off more than $1 trillion and blasted most of it to bits in Iraq. Think about how much stronger the economy would be if that $1 trillion had been spent on health, education, rebuilding roads, and developing alternatives to imported energy. And in a stronger economy, the housing market would not weaken.

Third, one of the arguments for going into Iraq was that the nation could not let all that oil be controlled by Saddam Hussein. But the War has hardly stabilized the price of oil. For much of the time since the US "won" the war Iraq has had trouble supplying even its own population. Meanwhile, the war itself angered many of those who control Middle East oil production, and they are not rushing to increase production. For some reason, they like getting over $95 a barrel. The high cost of fuel obviously does not help the American economy in general, or the housing market in particular.

Bush Administration policies encouraged housing prices to soar while undermining the strength of the economy as a whole. A correction is unavoidable. One hopes it will not be too severe. It is happening even as I write, and we can only hope that the hard work and innovative activity of ordinary Americans has been a sufficient counter force to Bush's over-spending.

December 11, 2007

Gore Receives Nobel Prize

Al Gore received the Nobel Prize yesterday in Oslo. He also won the popular vote in the United States in 2000. And if there were an election today in the rest of the world, who doubts that he would defeat George Bush? The trajectories of these two men, both born in 1946, is fascinating. Bush avoided Vietnam, using family connections to be placed in the National Guard. Even in that safe, domestic role, the evidence suggests he was not quite a full-time soldier. As President, Bush has enjoyed parading himself before the troops as the commander in chief, but future historians will surely see the hypocrisy in his posing. Gore, in contrast, went to Vietnam, out of a sense of duty, but without enthusiasm for the war itself. Like John Kerry, he has direct experience of what it means to serve in a foreign war. 

This is not the place for a full rehearsal of Bush's subsequent career, or to compare it with Gore's. Suffice it to say that after lying to the United Nations and charging into a war with Iraq, there is little chance of George W. Bush ever winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and absolutely no chance that he will be remembered as a man of vision with regards to the environment. Recall that Bush long denied even the existence of global warming. He has represented an old-fashioned view of the relationship between the economy and ecology, one that made him popular with oil companies and the boardrooms of Detroit car companies. By comparison, Gore has proved himself to be a man of vision, articulating the environmental crisis with clarity and compassion. In his speech, he emphasized that "without realizing it, we have begun to wage war on the earth itself. It is time to make peace with the planet." Try to imagine Bush making that statement. Try to imagine anyone believing him if he did.

It is an inconvenient truth for the American people, but Al Gore would have made a far better president than George Bush. 

December 07, 2007

Problems with maintaining American Hegemony

The phrase "The American Century" accurately suggests the rise to dominance of the United States between 1900 and 2000. It is unlikely that this dominance can continue long into the new century, however. There are two sets of arguments to support this prediction: those that have to do with foreign affairs and those which are domestic.
The United States was the world's greatest military power at the dawn of the new millennium and the predominance of English as the language of science, the Internet, and business, ensures a central place to the United States in the new century. Yet, its economy no longer produces one third of the world's goods as it did in c. 1920. The greatest opportunities for growth lie in Asia, where China and India each have populations four times as large as the United States. Both are nuclear powers, and China has an ambitious space program with the goal of a manned mission to the moon. The "tiger" economies of nations such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia have already shown that Japan is by no means the only Asian nation capable of mastering advanced technologies and competing in the global marketplace. At the same time, the launch of the Euro currency and the expansion of the European Union to include new members has created a counterweight to the NAFTA free-trade zone of the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. (On the other hand, Europe's population is aging and shrinking, its labor markets are less flexible, and its taxes are higher.) The U.S. economy continues to grow, but as a percentage of the world economy it will become smaller.

Not only is the U.S. economy becoming a diminishing part of the world's economy, but also the globalization of business is eroding the centrality of the American market. In one sense, this globalization represents the triumph of American business values. Yet globalization also lessens the importance of nations, merging them into larger markets and into international organizations. Environmental problems such as global warming and energy shortages will almost certainly increase the pressure to think internationally, rather than in more narrow, national terms. Smaller countries have learned this lesson already, but it appears to be difficult for larger nations to recognize their interdependence, and hardest of all for the United States, as the last remaining superpower, to do so. Regrettably, Washington has not been a leader in reducing global air pollution, for example, and the 2000 election campaign did not result in an environmentally sensitive administration. Quite the contrary. President Bush, as a former (failed) oil entrepreneur, wanted to drill for more oil on public lands and nature reserves. His cabinet has many ties to the oil and automobile industries, but few ties to computer firms such as Microsoft or Intel. George Bush tried to think parochially in his first administration, but was forced to admit that global warming does exist halfway through his second administration.

Which brings us to some domestic reasons why the United States may slip a bit from its position of global hegemony. While the economy remains dynamic, the objects selected for development are not those best suited for the long term. The huge American investments in private automobiles and highways have created a rigid infrastructure that sprawls across a vast landscape, in contrast to other nations that have invested in high-speed trains and public transportation that concentrate the population and give them more transportation choices. In much of the United States, walking to the store is impossible. Consumers have no choice but to use their automobiles even to make the smallest purchase. Americans cannot easily change their consumption patterns to respond to rising energy costs. In the marketplaces for housing, transportation and conveniences, the majority of American consumers have ignored long-term environmental problems such as global warming, and thought too little about the energy needs of the rest of the world, while insisting on their consumption (and pollution) practices. If you want to see what the US might have done instead, visit a nation like Denmark or The Netherlands. They are also buying more cars than they used to, but in a pinch they can take public transport or bicycle. 

This Blog explores many topics, but the question of how the United States will adjust to a gradual decline of its hegemony remains a theme throughout. This is written without any pleasure at the changes described. I am, after all is said, an American, born in the middle of the American Century, witnessing the next act in the nation's history.

December 06, 2007

What was different at the end of the American Century?


The twentieth century, it is generally agreed, was the American Century. This webpage is dedicated to studying where the United States is headed in this new century, which cannot belong to the US to the same degree. It seems appropriate to reflect back over what changed between 1900 and 2000 in this first blog. For the nation changed stupendously in that time.

By 2006, the American population had grown to 300 million, four times that of 1900. The people were no longer concentrated in the Northeast, but had spread more evenly across the country. A rural nation had become urban and then suburban. A nation where only men over 21, and primarily white men, could vote, had expanded the franchise to all its citizens over 18. A nation that had banned African Americans from most public amusements and often denied them the vote had elected many Black men and women to the office of mayor, governor, and US Senator. In 2006 the public considered Barak Obama and Condoleezza Rice suitable for the presidency. A largely white nation had become a hub of multiculturalism.

A nation primarily of farmers and blue-collar workers had become a nation of office workers. A nation lighted mostly by gas and powered almost entirely by steam had electrified. A nation that once relied on horses and railroads had one car for every adult, plus an enormous airline industry. A few small companies making five-minute silent films had grown into the massive film industry. A nation devoted to the live entertainment of vaudeville, theaters, and other public places had largely privatized leisure by embracing the phonograph, radio, television, and Internet. A nation so uncertain about the value of its own literature that many still read British novels and poetry had both rediscovered the great writers of its first centuries and had produced a new pantheon of authors. A nation that once accepted the supremacy of European fine art had pioneered abstractionism and established New York as the world art capital. A nation bent on prohibiting alcohol had not only accepted its consumption but also fostered excellent vineyards and breweries.

There were more problematic developments, however. An isolationist nation with no standing army in peacetime had become the world's only superpower, capable of intervention anywhere. A nation that had identified itself with democracy had at times supported totalitarian regimes abroad. A nation proud of its Bill of Rights had imprisoned men for years on a military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without pressing charges against them or allowing them the rights normally granted to prisoners. A nation that had periodically been obsessed with "100% Americanism," the dangers of Catholicism, Fascism, and Bolshevism, found a new enemy, the religiously inspired terrorist. A nation that had prided itself on being the asylum of immigrants from around the world built an expensive wall across parts of the Mexican border, in an unsuccessful attempt to keep out illegal immigrants. A nation that had appeared to be shifting toward secularism in 1900 now seemed to welcome fundamentalism, and religious sectarianism not only flourished but gained increasing political influence.

How important were each of these various elements of the "American Century"? That is what this Blog seeks to understand.

If you want a more detailed retrospective, have a look at The American Century
[coauthored with Thomas Johansen], which is now available from SDU Forlag.