Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Temperature"

Hans Castorp calculates the yearly cost of staying at the sanatorium and finds it is well within his means -- not that he admits even to himself that he did the sums on his own behalf.

It is half a week until Castorp's expected departure, and he has caught a severe cold. The cold drives the story in this section, from his encounter with Fraulein von Mylendonk, his acquisition of a thermometer, his discovery of his fever, and the overknowing and apparently mistaken reaction of his tablemates (who suggest and perhaps think he really has tuberculosis) to Castorp's decision to have an examination, the seemingly challenging look from Madame Chauchat as he is thinking about skipping it, and the final revelation of his diseased state.

Hans Castorp has trouble with time and the thermometer -- at first time goes too slow, and he can't seem to get to the end of the seven minutes. Then he daydreams a little, and the time goes by so quickly that he is already more than a minute over before he realizes it.

Castorp on Hofrat Behrens, and himself (thinking, I guess, of his odd relationship with Madame Chauchat), 174-175: "Settembrini said his joviality is forced, and one must admit that Settembrini has his own views and knows whereof he speaks. I probably ought to have more opinions of my own, as he says, and not take everything as it comes, the way I do. But sometimes one starts out with having an opinion and feeling righteous indignation and all that, and then something comes up that has nothing to do with judgments and criticism, and then it is all up with your severity, and you feel disgusted with the republic and the bello stile --"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 4, "Professional Reputation"

Presidential persuasiveness also depends upon other actors' perception of his ability and will to use his advantages. Other Washington insiders form this perception on the basis of the president's past performance. Since every president's performance has its high and low points, what is looked for is a pattern of being skillful and tenacious, or the opposite.

Though a president can't expect to have a reputation for invincibility, he at the very least wants to leave his enemies with as much uncertainty as possible about the dangers of crossing him and his allies with as much certainty as possible about his steadiness if they support him.

The Eisenhower administration's budget prevarications of 1957 are an example of how presidential reputation is diminished. This situation was not permanent, however, which shows that a president has the means to recover a damaged reputation, even if this ability is limited.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 3, "The Power to Persuade"

American government: "separated institutions sharing powers." (27)

In order to achieve his ends, a president depends on members of Congress, party officials, business and labor leaders, administration officials, and foreign governments who have their own authority and sources of legitimacy. Likewise, in order to accomplish anything all of these must depend at some point, in the future if not at present, on actions that only the president has authority to perform.

The president's power to persuade comes largely from this mutual dependence -- it comes from the ability to bargain.

This analysis is a commonplace except in the case of the executive branch itself. It has not been widely appreciated that the executive itself does not act with one agenda, that other members of the administration and the bureaucracy have goals, authorities, and responsibilities that may conflict with those of the president, and that the president must persuade them to do what he wants.

The president's power to persuade consists in convincing other agents with whom he shares authority that acting as he wants coincides with their own interests and responsibilities.

The Marshall Plan as an example of an initiative where the key actors -- Marshall, Vandenburg, Bevin -- cooperated with the president's goals. Even in this case a great deal of give and take was required from Truman. In fact, he was fortunate that so much was required from Congress, to whom he had the ability to grant concessions to ease the path for the plan, rather than from actors within the executive branch itself, with whom he might not have had the same influence.

Points to a key issue of for presidents: making choices that preserve future influence.