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An albatross for Republicans

[ 2011-10-18 14:54]     字号 [] [] []  
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An albatross for Republicans

Reader question:

Please explain “albatross” in this sentence: Certainly, conservatives affiliated with the tea-party movement have vehemently attacked the bank bail-outs during the financial crisis, and the belief that the bail-outs were necessary to contain the financial crisis has become something of an albatross for Republican office-seekers (We are the 99%, Economist.com, October 14, 2011).

My comments:

This is politics, American style. And American politics being American politics, this is rather difficult to explain, but let’s see.

First, American politics. The tea-party movement is a Republican movement. It is not a movement shared, however, by all members of the Republic party but the conservatives. Foreigners may argue that all republicans are conservative and I tend to agree. But America being the way it is, everything there is more diverse and complex than foreigners think it is. Therefore, some Republicans are still more conservative than others.

And so let’s, for simplification, say that the tea-party movement members are extreme conservative Republicans. They are a powerful group – there are signs showing the tea party is waning but for the moment it is still a powerful group. They are opposed to bank bail-outs during the financial crisis, believing that government bail-outs rewarded the same people who brought about the crisis in the first place (and would encourage them to do the same in future). However, other republicans, who are generally richer Americans who believe in a laissez faire economy with as little governmental intervention as possible, disagree. They thought bailing out the bad banks were necessary. And therefore, if and when they want to run for office, they face sharp criticism from their fellow Republicans from the tea-party movement.

That is why for these Republican office seekers, advocating for bank bail-outs has become a curse, a bad omen.

Or as mentioned in the text above, an albatross.

This is short for the phrase “albatross across the back” or “an albatross around the neck”, and this expression finds its origin in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798).

But first things first.

First, the albatross. The albatross is one of the largest sea birds in the vast oceans of the southern hemisphere, with a huge wingspan that allows it to glide seemingly effortlessly in sky. Sailors in the old days used to see the albatross as an omen for good luck because where there are birds seen, islands are often near. Where the albatross is concerned, however, this is actually an erroneous calculation because we know today that the albatross are able travel thousands of kilometers in search for food and thus may spend weeks on the fly at sea. They’re called the wandering albatross for this very reason. But anyways, in the old days, the albatross was considered a sign of good luck and sailors used to treat the albatross with a warm feeling.

However, in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the mariner killed the albatross that had been accompanying their ship. A series of mishaps ensued, what with winds and rains and lasting tempests, and the ship sailed on and on and on without any trace of earth in sight. In the end, fellow sailors forced the said mariner to wear the dead albatross around his neck as a form of punishment and a show of penance. In the poem:

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

This, thus, gave rise to the modern-day phrase albatross around the neck or across the back, meaning metaphorically a heavy psychological or moral burden that’s difficult to shake off.


Alright, here are media examples:

1. J.T. Battenberg, chief executive of Delphi, laid it right on the line in a recent speech to his peers at an automotive industry conference in Traverse City, Mich. “There's a ‘perfect storm’ facing the automotive world,” Battenberg said. “Hyper-competition, deflationary OEM pricing to the consumer, breakneck globalization, tough environmental and efficiency mandates, stifling regulations, exploding peripheral costs, imploding profitability, massive overcapacity, rising pension costs, rising health care costs and runaway commodity-price increases--particularly for steel and resins--are all critical issues that continue to shake our foundation. This business is not for the faint of heart.”

Battenberg conceded that to survive Delphi and its competitors would have to rethink their business models. Since Delphi, with $28 billion in annual sales, is the largest parts supplier to General Motors, and because the auto industry is at the heart of U.S. manufacturing, his warning seems to apply across the board to many industries.

The 61-year-old Battenberg faces the fight of his life, with huge liabilities that are largely the result of Delphi’s birth as a spin-off from GM in 1998. The company, for example, simply can’t de-emphasize vehicle parts making as quickly as Battenberg would prefer, meaning that the biggest portion of its business is stuck in a deflationary vortex. Even the third quarter ending Sept. 30 was a reminder of that: Delphi said it expected to post a loss because of GM’s substantial production cuts during the period. The third-quarter performance also underscored that Battenberg has yet to get Delphi’s top and bottom lines to reflect the turnaround that seems to be under way. Delphi’s revenues actually dipped to $26 billion in 2001 from $29 billion the year before. And last year, though revenues were back up to $28 billion, the company posted a net loss of $56 million, the second year in the red of its five years of independence.

Like its former parent, Delphi remains saddled with huge retiree pension and health-care costs that, at best, it can only contain. Over the next several years, Battenberg concedes, Delphi will be whacked again as a wave of retiring white-collar baby boomers take their expertise and ideas out the door with them.

But what Battenberg already has achieved with Delphi is noteworthy, considering what he inherited. After World War II, GM’s far-flung network of captive parts-making operations helped it leapfrog rivals. But in the 1970s, it faced serious competition from Japanese imports, and in the ‘80s, sky-high union wages became an albatross for GM against cheap Asian manufacturing. Vertical integration had turned against the industrial behemoth, and parts operations had become GM’s embarrassing stepchild. In the early ‘90s, the decision was made to spin it off.

- Perfect storm: the fate of U.S. manufacturing lies in the hands of CEOs like Delphi’s J.T. Battenberg, AllBusiness.com, October 1, 2004.

2. While the Yankees were busy celebrating Derek Jeter’s ascension into the 3,000-hit club last weekend, a more sobering reality now confronts them in the second half. The question isn’t will the Bombers still score runs with Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list for four to six weeks — they will — but what kind of production will they get from him in August and beyond?

A-Rod’s latest setback, a torn meniscus in his right knee, is relatively minor as knee injuries go. He’ll recover fully. But it’s one more reminder that the soon-to-be-36-year-old Rodriguez is already in his early decline phase. His slugging percentage has dipped in each of the past four seasons, prompting one talent evaluator to say, “At his age, we’ve probably seen the last of (A-Rod) hitting 50 (homers a season).”

But it’s more than just numbers with Rodriguez — the Yankees are worried about his ability to stay on the field as he gets closer to 40. Ten years ago, A-Rod was practically indestructible, playing in 1,114 games from age 25 through 31, an average of 159 per season.

Since 2008, however, hobbled by hip, knee, shoulder and calf problems, A-Rod’s durability is no longer a given; his average has dipped to 133 games a year. This year Rodriguez is at 80 games, which means he’ll have to play nearly every day down the stretch to make it to 130.

All this does is strengthen the case to convert A-Rod to a full-time DH in 2012, as the Yankees anticipated they someday would have to. But the price of brittle bones and creaking joints is steep, as the Bombers are playing $32 million for a singles hitter.

Rodriguez ended the first half with a streak of 85 at-bats without a home run, the longest of his career. It’s worth noting A-Rod is still a threat with a .295 average, but his new profile is almost unrecognizable: Rodriguez was only fourth among the Yankees in home runs and OPS at the time of his disablement, but he was leading the team in singles.


The Yankees certainly expect more from A-Rod than a .485 slugging percentage — at least for what they’re paying. The best-case scenario is that Rodriguez experiences a burst of energy and power down the stretch, and the homer-less drought becomes nothing more than a blip.

But there’s a flip side, too — a steady procession of minor, nagging injuries that strip A-Rod of his elite status once and for all. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post aptly put it, the danger the Yankees face is that Rodriguez ends up becoming a financial albatross.

- Numbers don't point to A-Rod resurgence, FoxSports.com, July 18, 2011.

3. At the finish, Pat Riley reflected back on the start.

That smoke-machine, spotlight, hydraulic-lift welcome party for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh last July at AmericanAirlines Arena? Perhaps, Riley said Tuesday, not the best way to go.

“There were things we would probably, if we had a chance to really think about it, and do it over again, may have done it a little bit differently,” Riley said in his annual state-of-the-team postseason media session.

But the Miami Heat president said the whole issue also became way overblown.

Asked Tuesday to reflect on that high-volume moment, Riley tried to offer perspective.

“The day that somebody asks my daughter to marry him, she’s going to have a bachelorette party,” he related. “I hope it’s not in Vegas with those guys from ‘Hangover.’ ”

He paused, laughed.

“So you always have a pre-celebration to the celebration, right?” he said.

“So, listen, we were so geeked about Dwyane and Chris, the party was planned for those two guys, a couple of days before.

“Can you imagine when LeBron said, ‘I’m coming.’? ”

Big simply got bigger, perhaps big-top, some would contend.

“So, did we make mistakes along the way? Yes, probably,” Riley said. “It probably put more pressure on them.

“Would they have liked to take back some of the words over the course of the season? Yes, but we can’t.”

Instead, Riley said it is time to move forward, in the wake of the Heat falling to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.

“We don’t any regrets over it,” he said. “We’re going to leave that behind us and, yeah, there were things we would probably, if we had a chance to really think about it, and do it over again, may have done it a little bit differently.

“But that really was for our fans and it got wonderfully out of hand in how everybody covered it. They used it as an albatross across our back.

- Pat Riley: Celebration might have been a ‘mistake’, SunSentinel.com, June 21, 2011.



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.


Let’s keep afloat

No stone unturned?

Who took the cake?

Boomerang child?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)