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Only game in town?

[ 2010-05-28 16:15]     字号 [] [] []  
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Only game in town?Reader question:

In this headline – Treasuries, dollar “only game in town” as China buys – what does “only game in town” mean?

My comments:

It means China doesn’t have an alternative.

To spend all (or almost all) its foreign exchange reserve on one currency is risky, but for China, buying American paper is still better than buying, say, the Japanese yen.

In short, there’s no better choice. As Jeffrey Caughron, an associate partner in Oklahoma City at The Baker Group Ltd, explains (Bloomberg.com, June 1, 2009): “The U.S. Treasury market is the widest, deepest, most actively traded market in the world. There’s really no other game in town.

“The only game in town” is the catch phrase in question here. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, this phrase dates from the early 1900s, originally alluding to “a gambler looking for a game in a strange town.”

A Bookrag.com article points out the game that original gambler was looking for is the card game of faro, a gambler’s favorite in those days. When friends advised him against it – “because the game is notoriously crooked” – the addicted gambler famously replied: “I know, but it’s the only game in town.”

In Solitaire, Karen Carpenter sings:

There was a man; A lonely man; Who lost his love; Through his indifference

A heart that cared; That went unshared; Until it died; Within his silence

And solitaire’s the only game in town; And every road that takes him, takes him down; And by himself it’s easy to pretend; He’ll never love again

And keeping to himself he plays the game; Without her love it always ends the same

While life goes on around him everywhere; He’s playing solitaire

Anyways, although the game of faro is now virtually extinct, “the only game in town” remains widely in use, and it is best applied to less than ideal situations.

Less than perfectly ideal, perhaps, but still situations one willingly settles for – with the commonplace excuse: I’ve got no choice.

Here are media examples:

1. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council last week broke with RNC Chairman Michael Steele by publicly urging conservatives to stop supporting the Republican National Committee.

Now, as Steele and Perkins both prepare to address the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Perkins has a new message for the RNC: Shape up, or risk seeing your supporters ship out and support Tea Party candidates instead.

“I think the Republicans have to realize they're not operating in a vacuum. Now, while Democrats may be in trouble coming into November’s election, the Republicans are not the only game in town,” Perkins told us on ABC’s “Top Line” today.

“As we see the Tea Party movement taking on a life of its own, the Republicans have some competition, which I think is actually good for the conservative vote. And they’re going to have to be responsible with how they spend their money, they’re going to have to be I think very measured in their message, and that they are embracing a conservative message...”

- Perkins Warns Steele: 'Republicans Are Not the Only Game in Town', ABCNews.com, April 8, 2010.

2. DAVID CAMERON is in many ways a rather traditional Tory. Unlike some of his more ideological colleagues, he prefers to take the world as it is rather than rage that it is not as he would like it. He quickly concluded after May 6th that allying himself with the cause of modest electoral reform was a price worth paying for power.

For the Liberal Democrats, changing the first-past-the-post voting system that discriminates against them has long been the holy grail. The Conservative promise of a referendum on the alternative-vote (AV) system trumped a superior, but ultimately undeliverable, offer by Labour of more radical reform. A coalition was born.

AV is not proportional representation. It allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets more than 50% of first-preference votes, the second choices of those who supported the weakest candidate are redistributed repeatedly until one gets an absolute majority. The Electoral Reform Society, a pressure group, points out that AV can produce results as perverse as first-past-the-post. But if it had been used in this year’s election, the group thinks the Lib Dems would have won 22 more seats than the 57 they got—all of them, interestingly, from the Tories.

Labour offered to enact AV and conduct a referendum on a much more proportional system, the single transferable vote (STV). Under STV votes are cast for candidates in big, multi-member constituencies, by order of preference. If the voter’s first choice does not need the ballot, either because he can be elected without it or because he has too few votes to get in with it, the ballot is transferred to the voter’s second choice, and so on. STV would virtually guarantee that no single party could achieve an overall majority at Westminster. If it had been in operation for this election, the Conservatives would have won 246 seats, Labour 207 and the Lib Dems 162, the Electoral Reform Society estimates.

Though the prize was considerable, as was the enticing prospect of a more or less permanent coalition government based on a “progressive alliance” of the centre-left, the Lib Dems did the maths (together with Labour they do not have a majority) and calculated the cost to their reputation of putting electoral reform ahead of the expressed wishes of the electorate. At the end of the day, said one Lib Dem negotiator, the Tories were “the only game in town”.

- Sprucing up democracy: More unites the Tories and Lib Dems than divides them, Economist.com, May 13, 2010.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Shooting for the stars

Take the bull by the horns

Catch phrase

Sore loser

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)