The world still depends on fossil fuels

February 3, 2023

The world can’t afford to keep burning fossil fuels indefinitely.   The world’s supply of coal, oil and natural gas is not infinite, and burning of fossil fuels contributes to catastrophic climate change.

And indeed progress is being made in conservation of energy and development of renewable energy sources.

But the blowback from economic sanctions against Russia’s oil and gas industry shows how far the world is from being able to do without fossil fuels.  And many of the renewable energy sources involve environmental destruction and use of non-renewable resources.

These graphics from Visual Capitalist provide perspective on fossil fuels.

Read the rest of this entry »

Just to keep things in perspective

January 28, 2023

Hat tip to The Kids Should See This.

Rx: assisted suicide for sick, elderly poor?

January 27, 2023

What used to be called “mercy killing” has become acceptable.  Some U.S. states allow physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs under certain circumstances.  Some nations allow physicians to administer these drugs.

Overall I think this is a good thing, but recently stories have been coming out of Canada that indicate that its MAiD (medical aid in dying) program is used as a substitute for providing welfare assistance for the poverty-stricken elderly poor.  There are only a handful of these cases on record, and the facts aren’t clearcut, but they are important as possible precedents.

Most of the world’s rich countries have a big problem of paying for medical care for their increasing elderly populations.  It is easy to imagine assisted suicide programs as solutions to that problem.

Canada’s MAiD program is one of the world’s most extensive such programs.  In 2021, it was used by 10,058 Canadians – about 3 percent of Canada’s recorded deaths that year.

When it started in 2016, the MAiD program required that applicants’ deaths be “reasonably foreseeable.”  Now it is available to anyone who has a “serious and incurable illness, disease or disability” that is irreversible with “enduring and intolerable” suffering.  Next year Canada is expected to allow MAiD for mental health reasons.  It is considering allowing euthanasia for “mature” minors – children under 18 who meet the same requirements as adults.

The safeguards are that applications have to be approved by two physicians, the process takes 90 days and, in theory, applications are not to be approved if they are for reasons of inadequate financial and social support.

But Conor Gallagher and Alexander Raikin, in articles linked below, give examples of how lack of financial and social support tipped the balance for people who were able to cope with their medical problems.

For example, a man in Medicine Hat named Les Landry had his disability benefits cut off when he reached age 65 and started receiving an old age pension, for some obscure reason.  The latter isn’t enough to cover his needs, so he is going to apply for MAiD.  “I really don’t want to die,” he said.  “I just can’t afford to live.”

He has medical problems that qualify him for MAiD.  But that’s not the reason he’s using it.

Canada offers a suicide hot line, where counselors try to offer hope to people who are thinking of committing suicide.  It also offers a hot line for people who are seeking medical assistance in dying.

One man was hospitalized because he had suicidal tendencies.  When in the hospital, he was euthanized under the MAiD program.

Read the rest of this entry »

The coming end of the population explosion

January 26, 2023

Long ago some of us worried about the population explosion.  Now many countries are experiencing a population implosion.  A falling birth rate means, among other things, fewer working-age people and military-age people compared retirement-age people.

Two of my fellow bloggers, who use the names Nikolai Vladivostok and Fred (Au Natural), have written good posts about this topic.  Nikolai writes about the consequences of the aging of the population of Japan and Fred about things he’s learned by using a tool called PopulationPyramid.net.

Demographers say this is inevitable or almost inevitable when three conditions apply:

  • A nation achieves a certain minimum level of material prosperity, so that couples don’t have to depend on having large numbers of children to assure survival in old age.
  • Women are emancipated and can play a role in society that doesn’t involve child-bearing.
  • Birth control becomes widely available.

I can’t say that any of these things is wrong or even problematic.  Can you?

Providing for children is expensive and raising them properly is hard work.  It’s no wonder that some people aren’t up for it.  For what it’s worth, I myself am a childless divorced bachelor, age 86, and I’m financially better off than I would have been if I had had two or three children to raise and put through college.

I think it’s a good thing that the world’s population growth is on track to start leveling off.  Otherwise, at some point, the number of human beings will exceed the carrying capacity of the planet.

But it’s not happening in all nations at the same rate, and that’s a problem.  Bertrand Russell once wrote that if there is to be world peace, nations would have to make treaties to limit population growth as well as armaments.

Another is that nations with shrinking work forces will need to increase productivity, embrace frugality or both.  It is no coincidence that Japan is the world’s leading manufacturer of robots.

Read the rest of this entry »

Science in a divided Europe

January 25, 2023

Atlas particle detector at CERN. Source: The Guardian

Some Western scientists working on CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland don’t want their names to appear on the same scientific papers as Russian scientists.  The result is that scientific papers written there aren’t getting published at all.

CERN – the European Organization for Nuclear Research – is supported by 22 European countries plus Israel.  Ukraine is an associate member.  Russia has observer status, and CERN has cooperation agreements with Belarus and a number of other countries.  CERN has decided end Russia’s observer status and Belarus’ cooperation agreement when they expire in two years.

This is part of a wider pattern.   Eleni Petrakou wrote in the Guardian:

Although unique, the case of the LHC experiments is part of a wider trend. The German Research Foundation has warned scientists against publishing with co-authors from Russian institutes. The Web of Science database tracking citations has stopped evaluating articles from Russia. There have been reports of individual peer-review referees rejecting articles.

And as Russian institutes are getting excluded from international projects, some fields see a direct impact – such as climate change research, which is being set back by the suspension of collaboration in the Arctic.

That’s sad.  There was a time when science was international.  Even during the Cold War, some American and Soviet physicists tried to keep in contact. 

LINK

Splitting the atomic scientists: how the Ukraine War ruined physics by Eleni Petrakou for The Guardian.

The geography of population

January 25, 2023

According to the editor of the Brilliant Maps, web site, this circle not only contains half the world’s population, it also contains:

  • The highest mountain (Everest)
  • The deepest ocean trench (Mariana)
  • A majority of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Communists.
  • The world’s most sparsely populated independent nation (Mongolia)

Below is the circle that contains the largest possible number of the world’s people.  It is not greatly different from the circle that contains the largest possible acreage of the world’s land area.  Geography, it seems, is Euro-centric.

However, the world’s population center – the point on the earth with the shortest average distance to every person on earth – is believed to be somewhere in Central Asia or northern South Asia.

And here is a map that will enable you to figure out how many people live on your half of the world.

If you click on the links, you can get enlargeable versions of these maps.

More People Live Inside This Circle Than Outside It on Brilliant Maps.

How Much of Humanity Is on Your Side of the World? on Brilliant Maps.

The rise of Vladimir Putin

January 19, 2023

PUTIN by Philip Short (2022)

Vladimir Putin is, in my opinion, the most impressive and significant statesman of our age—impressive in his ability, and significant in his impact on the world. 

That does not mean I find him admirable.  He is an autocrat and personally corrupt.   He fits the Machiavellian ideal, and I do not mean this as a slur.

When Putin came to power, Russia was falling apart.  A group of oligarchs called the Seven Bankers dominated Russia’s economy.  The mass of Russians were even poorer than they had been under Communism.  The death rate exceeded the birth rate.  

Under Putin, the Russian economy has been transformed.  The government is solvent.  Foreign debt has been paid, and foreign ownership of important Russia assets has been pushed back.  Demographic decline has been reversed.  Russia has re-emerged as an economic power and a military power to be reckoned with.

Not all these things are because of things Putin did himself, but the leader of a country deserves credit (and blame) for things they allow to happen as well as things they make happen.

In order to understand Russia’s rise, I looked for good biography of Putin.  Philip Short’s 676-page book is the best I could find.  It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

Philip Short is a workmanlike British  journalist who has written biographies of Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and François Mitterrand.  

He is not a Russia expert and doesn’t. have inside information.  Much of Putin’s life is a mystery to him.  But he has assembled the important known facts of Putin’s life in granular detail.  

While mostly agreeing with the USA-UK consensus view of events, Short made a good faith effort to understand how things look from Putin’s point of view, which few if any other biographers have done.

I think this is the best that can be expected for now.

Read the rest of this entry »

French writer: Ukraine war “existential” for U.S.

January 16, 2023

Emmanuel Todd, a respected French historian and anthropologist, gave an interview to La Figero Friday that’s getting a lot of attention.

He said  the U.S.-Russian conflict over Ukraine is a global struggle that is “existential” for the USA as well as for Russia.   And, he said, U.S. power is more fragile than most Europeans and US Americans realize.

It is a test of the economic as well as military strengths of Russia on the one hand and the U.S.-led collective West on the other.  If the U.S. loses, its financial power as well as its military prestige will crumble.  It is not a conflict that the USA can simply walk away from as it did the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

After the 2014 coup in Ukraine and the failure of the Minsk accords to protect Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority, both Russia and the NATO alliance prepared for a showdown.  But Russia prepared by building up its economic strength as well as its military strength.

It is true, Todd wrote, that Russia expected Ukraine to crumble during the first few weeks of the invasion.  Russians underestimated the determination of Ukraine and its NATO backers to resist.

But the USA and its allies underestimated Russian determination and US American weakness, he wrote. The Russian leaders regard this war as their last chance to resist American domination, and they will not willingly give in.

He said that if Russia, backed by China, can resist U.S. sanctions indefinitely and exhaust the European economy, American monetary and financial power would collapse and the U.S. government would no longer be able to finance its huge trade deficit and governmental budget deficit.  This means the US government cannot afford to withdraw from the conflict.

For now, Russia has the advantage.  Todd pointed out some indicators of relative strength.

Since sanctions began in 2014, Russia has doubled its production of wheat, while American wheat production has declined, Todd said.  Russia is the world’s leading exporter of nuclear power plants.

In 2007, US American military experts said the USA would soon have the ability to launch a first strike against Russia to which Russia could not respond.  Today, Todd said, Russia’s hypersonic missiles give it nuclear superiority.

He said the USA has more than double the college-age population of Russia, but Russia has 30 percent more students studying engineering.  The USA fills the gap by enrolling foreign students, mostly Chinese and Indian, but this is unstable.

The USA has more advanced high-tech weapons than Russia does, and this has helped Ukraine win some victories.  But Russians are beating the USA in mass production of low-tech weapons, he said, and this is providing decisive.  

Ukrainians cannot match the number of Russian artillery barrages and drone attacks.  Todd did admit it is not clear to him how long the Russians can keep this up.  “The outcome and solution to the war will depend on the ability of both sides to produce armaments,” he said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Did young people in the past look older?

January 14, 2023

And is there a connection between appearance and emotional maturity?

GOP Speaker agrees to probe FBI, CIA abuses

January 11, 2023

Among the many concessions Kevin McCarthy had to agree to before winning sufficient support for his Speaker bid from the holdout Freedom Caucus members was the agreement to allow “Church Committee”-style hearings to investigate the FBI, CIA and other appendages of the surveillance state.

According to likely committee member Thomas Massie the hearings will have genuine teeth and investigators will have plenty of leeway to look into a wide range of potential deep state misdeeds.  This is great news.

On the Jimmy Dore Show, guest host Aaron Maté and comedian Kurt Metzger  discussed the prospects for such a committee and the displeasure its creation is already engendering among intelligence community defenders.

Another demand of the Freedom Caucus is to bring the U.S. military and aid to Ukraine under the same budget oversight as the rest of the government.  

I’m not a libertarian or a Republican myself and I don’t agree with the full program of the Freedom Caucus, but how is this wrong?  

Senator Frank Church, who led the investigation of CIA assassinations and other abuses of power in 1975, was a well-respected and strongly liberal Democrat.  Where are liberal Democrats today?  Who is the equivalent of Frank Church?

Of course the whole investigation could turn into another partisan Republican fiasco – another false dawn.  One can hope.

LINKS

America’s Open Wound: the CIA is not your friend by Edward Snowden for Continuing Ed.

House Republicans Get Set to Investigate by the staff of the Arkansas Democrat & Gazette.

Freedom Caucus earns major concessions from Kevin McCarthy by Jon Levine and Mary Kay Linge for the New York Post.

McCarthy weighing $75 billion defense budget cut in quest for speakership by Conor Echols for Responsible Statecraft.

Portraits in Oversight: Frank Church and the Church Committee by the Levin Center.

Out of sight

January 7, 2023

This video from Japan is about a little blind girl’s perception of the world.

Hat tip to peterme.

Book note: Sapphira and the Slave Girl

January 6, 2023

SAPPHIRA AND THE SLAVE GIRL by Willa Cather (1940)

Sapphira and the Slave Girl is set in Appalachian Virginia in the 1850s and is inspired by stories Willa Cather heard about her great-grandmother.

Sapphira Dodderidge Colbert is the matriarch not only of her own household, but of the backwoods community of Back Creek in Frederick County, Va.

Yet she feels threatened by Nancy, a timid and powerless young slave woman.  The main theme of the novel is the terrible consequences that flow from that.

In Sapphira’s world, an aristocrat such as herself is entitled to deference and obedience, which she in fact receives, not just from black slaves but lower-class whites.  By the same standard, she is obligated to maintain a standard of conduct that manifests her superiority to common people.  

She is gracious, benevolent and forgiving to everyone, black or white, provided they know and accept their place in society. 

She suffers from a crippling, painful and fatal disease called then called dropsy and now called edema—an accumulation of water in the legs due to congestive heart failure.  Formerly a great horsewoman, she now can barely even walk.  Yet she makes few concessions to weakness.  She maintains her routine and exercises authority from her wheelchair.

Her husband, Henry Colbert, is not an aristocrat.  His marriage to Sapphira is based on mutual respect, not passion.

He spends most days and many nights at the flour mill that provides his family with their income.  Sapphira tells him that a real Southern aristocrat would assign a slave or hire someone to do the dirty work.  That’s why a real Southern aristocrat would go broke, Henry replies.

Part of his routine is to have 19-year-old Nancy bring him a cup of coffee at the mill a couple of hours before he goes up to the house for breakfast with his wife.  Nancy feels affection for Henry and wants to please him.  He is like the father she never had.

She takes to plucking a wildflower and bringing it with the coffee.  Henry likes this and comes to feel fatherly affection for Nancy.   Sapphira notices this and doesn’t like it

The reason for Sapphira’s feeling is not clear to me.  Nancy is chaste and naive.  Henry is a completely faithful husband.  As Cather writes, he is committed to observing the terms of his marriage contract, as he would any other contract.

Does Sapphira suspect an erotic relationship? a potential erotic relationship? the appearance of an erotic relationship?  Or was it that she thinks Nancy and Henry have forgotten their “place”?

In any case, she sets out to break up the relationship.  She has a different slave bring Henry his coffee.  Henry objects.  She proposes to sell Nancy.  Henry objects again.

Then she does something truly evil.  She invites Henry’s brother, Martin Colbert, for a long visit.  

Martin Colbert, unlike his brother, is the model of a Virginia gentleman.  He is handsome, well-mannered, charming and a good horseman.  He always pays his gambling debts and, most importantly, never backs down from a fight.  

But in his heart, Martin is as cruel and arrogant as Simon Legree.   He inwardly vows vengeance on Old Sampson, the Colberts’ trusted black foreman, for looking him in the eye without subservience.   He regards black women, and also lower-class white women, as his lawful prey.

Read the rest of this entry »

Time is running out for Ukraine

January 3, 2023

Ukraine’s armed forces are outnumbered and outgunned.  Its Western allies are unwilling to supply troops in large numbers and are running out of guns to supply.  So it’s hard to see how the Ukrainians, however brave they may be, can keep up the fight.

Alex Vershinin, in an update of his earlier article for the UK’s Royal United Services Institute, explained:

The Ukrainians’ terrain-focused war of maneuver is constrained by two factors: limited artillery ammunition and equipment production, and coalition considerations.

Ukraine started the war with 1,800 artillery pieces of Soviet caliber.  These allowed firing rates of 6,000 to 7,000 rounds a day against 40,000 to 50,000 Russian daily rounds.  By now this artillery is mostly out of ammunition, and in its place Ukraine is using 350 Western caliber artillery pieces, many of which are destroyed or breaking down from overuse.

Meanwhile, Western nations are themselves running out of ammunition; the U.S. is estimated to produce only 15,000 155mm shells a month.  This constraint has forced Ukraine to adopt mass infantry formations focused on regaining territory at any cost.  Ukraine simply cannot go toe to toe with Russia in artillery battles…[snip]

Ukraine’s second constraint is the coalition nature of its warfare.  Since running out of its own stocks, Ukraine is increasingly reliant on Western weaponry.  Maintaining the Western coalition is crucial to the Ukrainian war effort.

Without a constant string of victories, domestic economic concern may cause coalition members to defect.

If Western support dries up due to depletion of stock or of political will, Ukraine’s war effort collapses for lack of supplies.

In some ways, Ukraine has no choice but to launch attacks no matter the human and material cost…[snip]

The Achilles heel of this strategy is manpower. Ukraine started the war with 43 million citizens and 5 million military-aged males, but according to the U.N., 14.3 million Ukrainians have fled the war, and a further 9 million are in Crimea or other Russian-occupied territories.

This means Ukraine is down to about 20 million to 27 million people.  At this ratio, it has less than 3 million draftable men.

A million have been drafted already, and many of the rest are either not physically fit to serve or occupy a vital position in the nation’s economy.  In short, Ukraine might be running out of men, in my view.

This is not the accepted view in the West.  Ukrainians claim it is the Russians that are suffering the greatest casualties and equipment losses and that, in fact, the Russians soon will run out of weapons.  I can’t prove these claims are wrong, but, if they are, the Russians are excellent bluffers.  

Moreover, as Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism explained, Ukraine is short of cash as well as men and weapons.

Ukraine is dependent on the West to fund its government, giving new meaning to the expression “client state”.  Ukraine’s GDP contraction is estimated to be on the order of 35-40 percent for 2022.  Ukraine in November projected its 2023 budget deficit to be $38 billion.

Read the rest of this entry »

A book lover revives Barnes & Noble

January 2, 2023

Back in April, 2019, the Barnes & Noble bookstore chain was on the verge of failure.  Sales of both books and non-book products were down.  It had lost $18 million in 2018 and fired 1,800 employees.  Its stock price was down 80 percent from its previous high.

But now it is profitable and growing again, and has plans to open 30 new stores.  Ted Gioia, writing on his blog, The Honest Broker, credits the new CEO, James Daunt.

Back when he was 26, Daunt had started out running a single bookstore in London—and it was a beautiful store. He had to borrow the money to do it, but he wanted a store that was a showplace for books.  And he succeeded despite breaking all the rules. 

For a start, he refused to discount his books, despite intense price competition in the market.  If you asked him why, he had a simple answer: “I don’t think books are overpriced.”

After taking over Waterstones, he did something similar.  He stopped all the “buy-two-books-and-get-one-free” promotions.  He had a simple explanation for this too:  When you give something away for free, it devalues it. 

But the most amazing thing Daunt did at Waterstones was this: He refused to take any promotional money from publishers

This seemed stark raving mad.  But Daunt had a reason.  Publishers give you promotional money in exchange for purchase commitments and prominent placement—but once you take the cash, you’ve made your deal with the devil.  You now must put stacks of the promoted books in the mostvisible parts of the store, and sell them like they’re the holy script of some new cure-all creed.  [snip]

Daunt refused to play this game.  He wanted to put the best books in the window.  He wanted to display the most exciting books by the front door.  Even more amazing, he let the people working in the stores make these decisions

This is James Daunt’s super power: He loves books. 

“Staff are now in control of their own shops,” he explained. “Hopefully they’re enjoying their work more. They’re creating something very different in each store.” 

This crazy strategy proved so successful at Waterstones, that returns fell almost to zero—97% of the books placed on the shelves were purchased by customers.  That’s an amazing figure in the book business.

On the basis of this success, Daunt was put in charge of Barnes & Noble in August 2019.  But could he really bring that dinosaur, on the brink of extinction, back to life?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comedy wildlife photography award entries 2022

December 31, 2022

Time for something a little lighter.  The annual comedy wildlife photography awards are always good for a smile.

The 2022 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.  The winners.  The finalists.

Read the rest of this entry »

Can (some) progressives and conservatives unite?

December 29, 2022

Historically, Americans who’ve talked about getting “beyond left and right” have been elitists who advocate woke-ism combined with neoliberal capitalism.   But maybe we, the grass roots common people, cam also get together across party lines and ideological categories.

On Tuesday, I linked to a post by Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism about how reform movements in the United States succeeded only when progressives (idealistic middle-class people) and populists (oppressed working-class and poor people) united.

I suggested that U.S. politics are stuck because the Democratic leadership consists of fake progressives and the Republican leadership consists of fake populists, both of whom support the powers that be.  A commenter on that thread suggested ways in which the genuine progressive liberals and populist conservatives might unite.

Progressive Priorities the radicalizing secular Right might agree to:

  • Anti-militarism
  • Universal secular education
  • Female legal equality
  • Consumer protections

Radical Priorities the secular “America First” Right might agree to:

  • Eight hour day and work place safety
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Tax the rich
  • Anti-trust and anti-corporate
  • Anti-imperialism

To join forces with the “America First” Right, the Left would have to concede some ground in areas considered sacrosanct for the Democratic Party. These would include:

  • Strict border enforcement (immigration, drugs etc.)
  • More protectionism in trade policy (maybe scrap the WTO and NAFTA altogether)
  • Other?

What I’m proposing is a fusion of “anti war” “America First” and “Pro-Jobs” values.  Couldn’t this be a winning combination?  And most of all, could it work?

As I see it, the biggest obstacle to such a combination is the culture wars  The new ideology – “woke-ism,” critical race theory, queer theory, “cancel culture,” etc. – consists of a series of wedge issues that keep Americans divided.  

But maybe that ideology could be transcended, based on the principle of equal rights for all, special privileges for none.

Maybe all the failure of the American political establishment to deal with continuing problems – endless wars, deindustrialization, climate-related catastrophes, contagious disease – will become so extreme and so apparent that wedge issues will be forgotten.

Are Harvard students getting smarter?

December 28, 2022

Grade Inflation: What Goes Up Must Come Down by Aden Barton for the Harvard Crimson.

Progressives and populists in 2022

December 27, 2022

Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism had a good post on politics and political reform, taking off on a talk by Thomas Frank.

In a nutshell, successful political reform in the United States has been the product of alliances between progressives and populists.

I define progressives as middle-class idealists who want a better world for everyone, and populists as have-nots who want a more just world for themselves.

The progressive agenda is, as defined in a 2011 article by a writer named Richard Kline quoted by Smith, is as follows:

Anti-colonialism
Anti-militarism
Abolition
Universal, secular education
End to child labor
Universal suffrage
Female legal equality
Consumer protections
Civil rights
Conservation/environmentalism

The populist agenda is:

Call off the cops (and thugs)
Eight hour day and work place safety
Right to organize
Anti-discrimination in housing and hiring
Unemployment dole
Public pensions
Public educational scholarships
Tax the rich
Anti-trust and anti-corporate
Anti-imperialism

Broadly speaking, the Democrats are fake progressives and the Republicans are fake populists.  Until we the people can find an alternative to the two-party system, or change the power structure in one or both major parties, we’re stuck.

LINKS

Thomas Frank on How Democrats Trashed the American Middle Class by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

From the Archives: Richard Kline on Progressively Losing (2011) on Naked Capitalism.  Still relevant.

The Democrats’ Nonwhite Working Class Problem by Ruy Teixeira for the Liberal Patriot.

Women inventors: international comparisons

December 26, 2022

The share of female inventors among applicants for international patents was highest in Cuba and the Philippines in 2021, according to data by the World Intellectual Property Organization.  Worldwide, the share of women applicants stood at only 17 percent.  Cuba, which only irregularly reports figures to Wipo, very much exceeded the global average with more than half of all registered patent applicants being women in 2021, as did the Philippines, where last year 38 percent of inventors were female.

Portugal was the highest-ranked European country in rank 3, followed by Romania in rank 6 and Spain in rank 10.  Spanish-speaking countries were featured heavily among the top 10 and also included Costa Rica, Peru and Chile.

Ranking above average was China at 24 percent of female inventors.  Other major European countries like Germany and the UK, but also Italy and Sweden, stayed behind the global average. The United States and France ranked about average.

One of the poorest performance was given by Japan with only 10 percent of women inventors.  Similarly low scores were achieved by India, the UAE and Indonesia.

Source:  Statistica.

Read the rest of this entry »

Merry Christmas 2022

December 24, 2022

Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

The mediocre superheroes

December 22, 2022

Time for something a little lighter.

For background, click on Even Superheroes Have Moments of Mediocrity As This Comic Strip Shows by Sachin P for bettermanly.com.

Read the rest of this entry »

Turning points: Vietnam 1965, Ukraine 2023

December 20, 2022

History doesn’t repeat and historical analogies, in and of themselves, don’t prove anything. But history can provide food for thought.

The USA and its allies are at a turning point in the Ukraine conflict. We’re being told by Ukraine’s leaders that, yes, they’re still on the verge of victory, but nevertheless they may lose unless they get a major infusion of arms and money.

I’m reminded of General Westmoreland’s report on Vietnam in 1965.  He said the South Vietnamese government was not winning, as had been previously reported.  Instead it was on the verge of collapse, unless the USA sent 125,000 troops immediately.

Lyndon Johnson, a strong man who was unwilling to admit defeat, agreed.  In the end 500,000 Americans were sent to Vietnam to fight.  In the end, the USA lost anyway.

Ukraine has been a sinkhole for U.S.-supplied armaments.  They’ve burned through years of production of Javelin missiles and other weapons in a matter of months.  

The choice for the USA is to admit failure now, and give in.  Or to send American troops.  The decision is up to Joe Biden, a weak man who will find it hard to admit defeat.

Back in the 1960s, the United States was at the height of its power as a military and industrial power.  Now both military and industrial strength have been hollowed out.  It is not likely that the U.S. can do to Russia what it failed to do to North Vietnam.

Ukrainian forces have been trying to escalate the war in order to provoke a direct Russia-USA conflict.  This includes attacks on Russian territory, including a drone attack on a Russian Air Force base where nuclear weapons have been stored.  It includes assassination of a Russian media personality, Darya Dugina.  It includes bombardment of a nuclear power plant under Russian control, with risk of another Chernobyl disaster.

I do not blame Ukrainian leaders for seeking a larger war.  Their brave soldiers are being decimated.  Ursula van der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, recently said Ukraine’s armed forces have suffered 100,000 fatal casualties.

They have no obligation to the U.S. government, which led them to believe they could safely join the anti-Russian alliance and suppress the Russian-speaking minority.  Their only hope of victory is to cover their losses by raising the stakes.

But that’s no reason for me, as an American citizen, to support a war that is harming my own country, bringing disaster to Europe and devastating Ukraine.

There is little hope of a compromise peace.  The Russian government perceives the Ukrainian conflict, along with the global sanctions war, as a struggle for national survival.  It does not trust the U.S. government to keep agreements.  It intends to impose its peace terms by force.

I don’t think anybody in the U.S. government perceives it as a war for American national survival, but it is a war to maintain U.S. power.  Defeat in Ukraine will lead to a breakup of the NATO alliance.  The governments that signed up for NATO believed that it was a shield for them against Russian aggression.  They are finding they are the tip of a spear aimed at breaking up Russian power.

Read the rest of this entry »

Have a happy inclusive nonspecific holiday!

December 17, 2022

“Merry Christmas to all!” (or if you prefer) Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all . . . and a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2023, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make the country great, (not to imply that the country is necessarily greater than any other country in both hemispheres), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual preference of the wishee. 

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Read the rest of this entry »

Looking back from the year 2050

December 14, 2022

[What follows is not a prediction, nor is it a program that I advocate.  It is a thought experiment. I attempt to answer the question: If the USA in the year 2050 is on a better path, what might have been the reason?]

Back in the early 2020s, things seemed hopeless to thoughtful Americans. Their government was controlled by oligarchs favorable to big business monopolies and by militarists committed to maintaining U.S. dominance by any means necessary.

Material living standards were falling.  Addiction and mental illness were increasing.  So-called “deaths of despair” – suicides, drug overdoses and alcohol-related liver disease – were increasing.

The manufacturing economy was being hollowed out. The political system was unresponsive to public needs or the public will.  Few expected the next generation to be better off than the present generation.

What Americans back then had no way of foreseeing was the religious movement we now call the Third Great Awakening.  It took a religious movement to transform lives and thereby transform the nation.

Historically, in the English-speaking world, this has always been the case.  Periods of moral and social decay evoke religious revivals in response.

So it was with the rise of Puritanism and Methodism in 17th and 19th century Britain and the first and second Great Awakenings in the early 18th and 19th century USA.

The core values of the Third Great Awakening were (1) putting the needs children, mothers and families first, (2) help in overcoming addiction of all kinds and rehabilitation generally and (3) sympathy for the poor and suspicion of holders of great wealth.

It was a combination of Pentecostal spirituality, Mormon emphasis on community, family and self-reliance, Twelve Step rehabilitation and Latin American-style liberation theology.  It was strict (though forgiving) in terms of personal conduct, but embraced a no-frills Christian theology that made it compatible with diverse denominations.

The core supporters of the Awakening movement were African-Americans, Hispanics and Bible Belt whites, but the movement appealed to people in every niche of American life.

The rise of the movement took place against the background of the Greater Great Depression of the late 2020s.  Governments and corporations went bankrupt and ceased to function.  This time the banks were “too big to bail.”

Confidence in major American institutions had been falling all through the early 21st century.  As they ceased to function, they lost all moral authority.

 Americans were forced to self-organize to cope with the emergency.  They joined together through their local religious congregations, and also through newly-formed labor and community organizations.

About this time the Jeffrey Epstein client files were published by Wikileaks.  They revealed how many high-level politicians, business executives and celebrities had sex with under-age, exploited young girls, and also how Epstein was part of a network of sex traffickers that had continued to function.

This resulted in a great backlash and a drive to track down and punish the guilty—many of whom were also guilty of financial fraud and war crimes.  Financial, political and sexual corruption became conflated in the public mind.  

Some people called what followed a witch hunt, but it weakened, discredited and, to an extent, emptied out the power structure.  New institutions and movements arose to fill the vacuum.

Read the rest of this entry »

Serenading the cows

December 10, 2022