.\\,11 and Associates 1117 West 5th Street Austin, Texas 78703 REALTOR 61 Representing all types of properties In Austin and Central Texas Interesting & unusual property a specialty. 477-3651 percent, while the share going to the richest fifth has risen by six percent. He considers this “remarkably stable.” The poorest fifth might consider it otherwise. He is on better footing when refuting the neoconservative idea that welfare programs have somehow contributed to the decline in incomes. He offers a few statistics on the relative value of wages and welfare benefits. But his general idea is simply that welfare programs can only reduce welfare dependency in a growing economy. But prolonged stagnation ensures that the “underclass” will find fewer opportunities to escape dependence. It also pushes the working poor toward greater need for assistance in meeting housing, medical, or education expenses. So the spread of dependency is less a result of faulty incentives or program failures than the failure of an anemic economy to provide sufficient income for poor families to become or remain truly self-sufficient. Levy provides only the briefest diagnosis of this anemia. In his view, the “quiet depression” boils down to a collision between the baby boom and inflation. The 1982 recession, he reasons, has snuffed out inflationary expectations. And the baby boomers are already well on their way through the labor force. So Levy is optimistic that the worst of the income slide is over. This, as much as his data, might explain his aversion to trade or industrial policy reforms. He simply insists that we won’t need them. Staying the course on noninflationary growth will, he believes, revive incomes and make the middle-class dream a practical possibility again. Perhaps Levy is right, and the economy is essentially on the right track. The quiet depression may well be passing. Pressures for industrial, trade, and welfare reform may be simply the fading political legacies of an unhappy decade. Budget and trade deficits, however, are legacies that won’t simply fade away. Implicitly, Levy argues that growth will be strong enough to provide more economic security for families and still generate the tax revenue needed to bring the federal deficits under control. If it is not, then the unintended and accidental forces that eroded family living standards during the “quiet depression” will be replaced by a deliberate policy of depressing family living standards in order to balance the budget or reduce the grade deficit. That policy will be a better one if it is informed by Levy’s book. LI BY ALICIA DANIEL BIRD OF LIFE, BIRD OF DEATH: A Political Ornithology of Central America By Jonathan Evan Maslow New York: Dell Publishing, 1987 IF ANYTHING in the living world deserves to be called resplendent, it is the quetzal, national bird of Guatemala. Alexander Skutch, a Central American ornithologist, described the quetzal in his 1938 journal: ” . . . a supremely lovely bird; the most beautiful, all things considered, that I have ever seen. He owes his beauty to the intensity and arresting contrast of coloration, the resplendent sheen and glitter of his plumage, the elegance of his ornamentation; the symmetry of his form, and the noble dignity of his carriage. His whole head and upper plumage, foreneck, and chest are an intense glittering green. His lower breast, belly, and undertail coverts are of the richest crimson.” In 1983, Jonathan Maslow traveled to Guatemala, to “see the rare and endangered Resplendent Quetzal, to learn something of that bird’s extensive lore, and to investigate its impending extinction.” Maslow found the quetzal. But somewhere along the way he decided to turn his attention to the political and cultural turmoil that is inexorably interwoven with the demise of the exquisite quetzal and the exquisite Central American nation the bird has come to represent. So Bird of Life, recently released in trade paperback, becomes a “political ornithology,” with Maslow directing the observational skills of the naturalist, first toward the quetzal, and then toward the political culture of Guatemala that is its greater habitat. And the quetzal is becoming as rare as it is beautiful, especially that subspecies that inhabits the northern range, which includes portions of remote mountain ranges in Guatemala and Mexico. \(A Southern population is doing considerably better in Costa Rica where the government funded an extensive national park system in 1948 by Guatemala, its end seems preordained. The bird is shy. And it will only nest in the trunks of soft, dead trees. Each nesting season, nests are lost when the trees the quetzals Fonner Observer staffer Alicia Daniel is working on a fellowship at the University of Vermont in the Field Naturalist Program. have chosen crumble and fall away beneath them. The bird’s reclusive nature, coupled with its delicate taste for nesting sites, make it difficult to preserve. Unlike the peregrine falcon, the quetzal has no future in downtown Chicago. The government in Guatemala has become so resigned to the quetzal’s inevitable loss that they are only awaiting its extinction. So sure are they of its demise, they have commissioned the design of a monument to be erected when the quetzal is gone “a bleak stone obelisk, with a lily-white couple standing in the foreground holding hands,” according to Maslow. BUT MASLOW’S BOOK is considerably more than a treatment of the plight of this bird. It is a book about life, death, and political turmoil in Central America. While Bird of Life, Bird of Death explores the extinction of a species, it also addresses the extinction of cultures. “The Mayans,” Maslow writes, “never practiced a distinction between history and myth.” And so what remains of their culture after the destructive conquest of the Mayans by the Spanish, ending in 1524, is enshrouded in mystery. But what is evident is that the history of conquest, full of subjugation, pain, and humiliation for the Indians, continues today in Central America. The agents of this modern-day conquest are not the Spanish but descendants of the Spanish, and the people conquered are not the Mayans but descendants of the Mayans. In his travels, Maslow encounters the Ladino \(a term generally used to describe Guatemalans who have adopted the whispered fears of the military, at every turn. Maslow describes one of the many road blocks: “They slouched against the hood of the Chevy like lizards lolling on a rock, watching insects crawl by. You had the sense that they might get hungry again soon. You had the sense they couldn’t control their appetite.” During a 500-year reign of terror, the Indians of Guatemala have been isolated from themselves and their past. This unconnectedness surfaces in a village scene near the town of Antigua, just east of Guatemala City. Maslow visits an Indian village and discovers the beauty of the traditional Guatemalan weavings displayed in houses along the road. When he asks a The Obscure Bird of Life 18 APRIL 8, 1988
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