Janus Faces 2019

Full length figure of the Roman god Janus, showing his two faces in profile. The god of beginnings is holding a key and a vine.

Janus is the Roman god of beginnings and endings; of gates, doors, and seasons; and all sorts of metaphorical passages.  Associated with time and change, the two-faced god, whose gaze takes in both past and future, presides over all transitions, “whether abstract or concrete, sacred or profane.”  He opens and shuts doors with his key, his staff (depicted above as a living branch heavy with fruit) symbolizing his power to determine what prospers.  From this architect of the new, the month of January takes its name.

Where the past and future meet, Americans stand, wondering how “happy” or “new” 2019 can be.  Given the dismal character of national politics, cries of “Happy New Year!” have a hollow ring.  No need to be blithe, given that, in the manner of Janus, the new year will proceed from the year we’ve just had.  An impotent Congress, two parties captive to an unproductive quest for partisan dominance, a president whose vulgarity and viciousness are infecting civil society: these conditions, in combination, are weakening and destabilizing one of the most prosperous and powerful nations in the world.

Underlying it all is a decline in social leadership and the dying off of what was formerly an effectively unifying civic culture.  In 2018, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the late Senator John McCain, and the late President George H.W. Bush all pleaded for a renewal of civility, comity, and patriotic service, exhorting a new generation to assume the burdens of enlightened and disinterested leadership, in some cases pleading to us from beyond the grave.  To my mind, motivating America’s “natural leaders” to resume their traditional role in promoting communal well-being and an enlightened politics is a crucial task that will determine whether this year improves upon a politically dismal 2018.

Image: from this source.

Restorations

Lake Michigan, as seen from the terraced shore near the Barry underpass in Chicago.

The glory of the present is its offer of restoration: the chance to recoup on a loss, to recover from a painful reversal, to find redemption or liberation despite blows to one’s prospects or identity.  The American optimist wakes up of a morning intent on “making America great again,” though his or her vision of that greatness may substantially deviate from the official Trump version.  Chicagoans wake hoping for an end to the open-air homicides that mow down a few more of us every day.  And all Illinois hopes for something better from Springfield: something that will transform the state’s declining fortunes and liberate it from corruption and a seemingly inescapable pit of debt.  There is no reason (except for human folly) that the state cannot become the forward-looking powerhouse it used to be.

It all depends on synergy: a combination of individual energies–what we can spare of our selves, we whose cares might include a water-damaged apartment, a sick child, trouble at work, or a departed spouse.

I think of Teddy Roosevelt, whose cares included the grief of unexpectedly losing his mother and his young wife in a single day.  Hampered in childhood by health so bad he nearly died, Roosevelt nonetheless managed in adulthood to become strong while conceiving of himself as integrally one with an America every bit as bedeviled as ours is today.  His passionate commitment to public life ended up being a crucial force in turning the United States in a new more wholesome direction and away from the stultifying excesses of the Gilded Age.

The Shape of the Post-Recession Economy

How the Recession Reshaped the Economy by the New York Times (snapshot of graphic)

 

For those interested in the condition of the US economy, I highly recommend the detailed set of interactive graphics that the New York Times published online yesterday.  CLICK ON THE IMAGE OR HERE TO VIEW.  The graphics compile data on almost all the private-sector jobs in today’s economy, depicting how each of 255 sectors has fared since the economic downturn and giving figures for the average pay in each sector and the total number of jobs lost or gained.

Every time I see graphics of this quality, I wonder why the US government is incapable of producing statistical summaries that are as timely and as accessible to ordinary people.  While the government collects an enormous amount of data on almost every aspect of our economy and society, its performance is terrible when it comes to making facts about our country readily available on the internet for everyday use.

Many thanks to Jeremy Ashkenas and Alicia Parlapiano of the New York Times for designing a set of statistical representations that are so beautiful, informative, and easy to read.

The graphics show which sectors of the economy have recovered or never suffered a loss.  Others are newly created and growing (e.g. electronic shopping).  The oil and natural-gas sector, with many high-paying jobs, is growing great guns.  Yet others like air transportation and many sectors relating to homes and home-building are continuing to suffer and even decline.  The recession also accelerated the decline of certain ailing parts of the economy (such as traditional print media).  Overall, it seems obvious that the recession coincided with other major shifts in the economy, such as those caused by globalism and technological developments like the digital revolution.