Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Postwar, So Much to Answer For

A couple of passages from Postwar, by Tony Judt, that I don't really understand. First (p. 643):

"As in its dealings with Moscow, Bonn's response was to throw very large sums of money at the problem. In the three years following unification total transfers from Western into Eastern Germany amounted to the equivalent of 1,200 billion euros; by the end of 2003 the cost of absorbing the former GDR had reached 1.2 trillion euros." (emphasis in original)

My initial reaction was that this doesn't make any sense. 1,200 billion = 1.2 trillion. I can think of only two explanations, only one of which turns out to make any sense.

Judt could simply mean that the annual cost had reached 1.2 trillion euros. It's an odd way of putting it, but it has the advantage of not being ridiculous.

Another possibility is that Judt is using the traditional British terminology, in which UK billion = US trillion, and so forth. If you look at the chart on Wikipedia, though, you'll see that this doesn't make any sense. A trillion in traditional British terminology is 1018, which is a million million millions (or a million US trillions). That's an insane number of euros. If I had that many euros, I would move to Oregon and build a utopian urban community with few cars, lots of mass transit, and really lovely tree-lined streets. We're talking completely modern infrastructure, including fiber optic wiring to every house. Did I say house? I meant residential unit dwelling (RUD), because my utopian community will be divided into "pods" of 100 people, and the traditional family will be abolished. Pod membership will be determined by a yearly lottery system with an elaborate bidding process based on seniority, productivity, and a series of essay questions. Pod cohesion will be maintained by sexual promiscuity within the pod, but inter-pod celibacy (except during the annual Interpod Mating Festival, which will take place on my birthday). Long story short, 1018 euros would be more than enough.

The second passage that doesn't make sense to me is this (p. 540):

"Until she successfully beat off much more senior Conservative figures to win her party's leadership in 1975, Margaret Thatcher was best known in Britain as the Education Minister in Heath's Conservative government who, in order to meet budget-cutting targets, abolished the provision of free milk in British schools: a decision (taken reluctantly) that led to the sobriquet 'Maggie Thatcher Milk Snatcher' and gave the first hint of her future trajectory."

Where to begin? The sentence could probably be broken up into a few sentences for clarity. "Sobriquet" seems a little stuffy. I had no idea that Margaret Thatcher beat off more senior Conservative figures, though I can see why it would bring about a change in her reputation. Not quite what she was going for, though, I would imagine.

[UPDATE: Also, wasn't it Margaret Thatcher's daughter who "gave a pig a tug," as I learned on a Ricky Gervais podcast? Is it in the Thatcher genes or something?]


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