Jambalaya

May 9, 2021

COVID-19 links and comments: May 8, 2021

May 8, 2021

Click to enlarge. Source: ScienceDirect

Why DId It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid? by Zeynep Tufekci for The New York Times.  The importance of airborne transmission of the virus, rather than droplets, has been known for many months, but the WHO and CDC have been slow to admit it.

If the importance of aerosol transmission had been accepted early, we would have been told from the beginning that it was much safer outdoors, where these small particles disperse more easily, as long as you avoid close, prolonged contact with others.  We would have tried to make sure indoor spaces were well ventilated, with air filtered as necessary.  Instead of blanket rules on gatherings, we would have targeted conditions that can produce superspreading events: people in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, especially if engaged over time in activities that increase aerosol production, like shouting and singing.  We would have started using masks more quickly, and we would have paid more attention to their fit, too.  And we would have been less obsessed with cleaning surfaces. 

Our mitigations would have been much more effective, sparing us a great deal of suffering and anxiety.

The difference between droplets and aerosols is like the difference between raindrops and fog.  Droplets fall to the ground and sick to surfaces.  Aerosols float in the air indefinitely. 

If you’re out of doors, and not in a tightly-packed crowd, you’re not in much danger from aerosols.  But if you’re in a poorly ventilated space for a long period of time, you’re going to breathe the same air as other people in that space, no matter how far apart you are.

This makes a big difference in how you protect yourself from the virus.  For example, masks are important indoors.  Outdoors, not so much.

To see this misunderstanding in action, look at what’s still happening throughout the world. In India, where hospitals have run out of supplemental oxygen and people are dying in the streets, money is being spent on fleets of drones to spray anti-coronavirus disinfectant in outdoor spaces.  Parks, beaches and outdoor areas keep getting closed around the world.  This year and last, organizers canceled outdoor events for the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.  Cambodian customs officials advised spraying disinfectant outside vehicles imported from India.  The examples are many.

Meanwhile, many countries allowed their indoor workplaces to open but with inadequate aerosol protections.  There was no attention to ventilation, installing air filters as necessary or even opening windows when possible, more to having people just distancing three or six feet, sometimes not requiring masks beyond that distance, or spending money on hard plastic barriers, which may be useless at best.  (Just this week, President Biden visited a school where students were sitting behind plastic shields.) 

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Success and failure in fighting the pandemic

May 6, 2021

Eric Berne, a famous psychiatrist, wrote that there is a psychological difference between winners and losers.  The winner’s goal is victory, and the winner hopes and expects to win despite any temporary defeats.  The loser’s goal is to avoid defeat, and the loser fears and expects to lose despite any temporary victories.

It seems to me that there is a similar sorting of winners and losers among countries in regard to the pandemic.  There were some nations who sought to eradicate the virus, and largely succeeded.  There are others who sought to bring down the rate of infection to something they could live with, like polio before the Salk vaccine.

A few countries, mainly in the Far East, including China, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea [1] and Japan, had a goal of eradicating the disease, and largely succeeded. 

Their lockdowns, if they had any. were short and sharp.  Their governments by and large used the lockdowns to track down and quarantine persons who were infected before the disease took hold and there were too many to trace.  Many cut off air travel to countries that were centers of the disease.

Here in the USA, the initial reaction was to dismiss COVID-19 as just a more severe version of the ‘flu.  Michael Lewis has a new book coming out, The Premonition, about how Americans in authority failed to react.

In January and February of 2020, hundreds of Americans in Wuhan, China, were flown back to the U.S. Considering how many people had died of COVID-19 in China at that point,  it would have made sense to test those Americans who were coming back.  But according to Lewis and his sources, then-CDC Director Robert Redfield refused to test them, saying it would amount to doing research on imprisoned persons.  [snip]

According to Lewis’ reporting, the CDC basically had two positions on the pandemic early on.  Early on it was that there was nothing to see here — that this is not a big deal.  It’s being overblown.  And then there was this very quick pivot when it started spreading in the U.S. and the position became it’s too late and there’s nothing we can do.

Source: NPR

The United States had partial lockdowns.  Some Americans were able to work from home or, like me, had sufficient retirement income to stay at home.  Some lost their livelihoods and were forced into poverty.  Some had no choice but to continue working, many under extremely unsafe conditions.

The center of infection in the USA was New York City, and the source of the infection was passengers arriving by air from virus hot spots in Europe.  This was known at the time.

It should have been possible to take the temperatures of incoming passengers, given COVID tests for those running a fever and quarantined or sent back those who tested positive. 

But neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio did this.  They would have been severely criticized if they had, because the seriousness of the problem would not have been obvious.  Instead they waited until the problem did become obvious.

At first we were told that the virus spreads in droplets, and we needed to be careful to keep our distance even out of doors, and to avoid touching surfaces including touching our faces. 

Now we know that the virus spreads as a kind of mist, and you are at risk anytime you are indoors for a long time in a space without good ventilation, even if you are six feet from anybody else.  But we still act as if the problem was droplets.

The good thing is that vaccines were developed faster than many people expected, but many of us Americans don’t want to get vaccinated.  The idea of getting to “herd immunity” has been quietly dropped.

Sadly, the USA is not an outlier.  The virus is hanging on in other countries, including rich countries, just as much as here, while it is spreading to India and other poor countries.

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From an industrial to a medical care economy

May 5, 2021

When I first came to live here in Rochester, N.Y., the local economy was dominated by Eastman Kodak Co. and Xerox Corp.

Now both companies are shadows of their former selves, and the largest employer is the University of Rochester, mainly because of the size and scope of the UR Medical Center.

Our business news used to focus on Kodak’s and Xerox’s latest products, high-tech startups and employment and profits figures of major companies.  Now it’s more about restaurant openings and closings.

The growth of the URMC is a good thing, I guess, although much of it is through acquiring formerly independent hospitals and clinics.  I’m glad of the good care I get from URMC’s Wilmot Cancer Center. 

But it’s not as if medical care is an adequate substitute for a strong manufacturing base.  It’s the fable of the village where people made a living by taking in each others’ washing. 

On the other hand, if we can produce all the stuff we need with less back-breaking, health-destroying labor, and devote more resources to caring for each other, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

My friend Steve from Texas referred me to a new book, The Next Shift: The Fall of Industry and the Rise of Health Care in Rust Belt America, which describes the same thing going on in Pittsburgh, Pa.

I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll get around to reading or reviewing it.  My reading and writing speeds are slower than it used to be. But here are some links that give the gist of it.  The author, Gabriel Winant, is on to something.

LINKS

The Rise of Healthcare in Steel City, an interview of Gabriel Winant for Dissent Magazine.

Gabriel Winant’s Book, “The Next Shift,” Portrays a Rust Belt City’s New Working Class by Scott W. Stern for The New Republic.

First Nurses Saved Our Lives, Now They’re Saving Our Health Care by Sarah Jaffe for The Nation.

The prevalence of fake news

May 4, 2021

I don’t watch network news very often.  I don’t even have a  functioning TV set.  So I needed this Trevor Noah skit as a reminder of just how goofy and irresponsible Fox News can be.

Joe Biden was going to take away Americans’ meat.  Kamala Harris had her children’s book distributed to unauthorized migrant children at the border.  Joe Biden wore a mask as he sat alone in a ZOOM call with world leaders.  Except none of these things was true.

There are plenty of valid criticisms you could make of Biden, and not just from a conservative point of view.  But if you think of yourself as a liberal and you think of Fox News or right wing talk radio as “the other side,” you are not going to be swayed in your view.

You have the same thing with the “mainstream media.”  A Capitol Police officer was beaten to death with a fire extinguished by maddened Trump supporters.  Rudy Giuliani was warned by the FBI against going to Kiev to dig up material to help Trump’s campaign.  Except none of these things were true, either.

I think it’s possible to get a relatively accurate idea of what’s really going on in the world, but you have to have more leisure time than most people have, and even then, it’s hard. 

LINKS

Corporate News Outlets “Confirm” the Same False Story, While Many Refuse to Correct It by Glenn Greenwald.

The Media Lied Repeatedly About Officer Brian Sicknick’s Death, And They Just Got Caught by Glenn Greenwald.

Pandemic recession and higher education

May 3, 2021

The bizarre behavior of rotating bodies

May 3, 2021

I found this fascinating.  Maybe you will, too.  Hat tip to kottke.org.

The coming of spring

May 2, 2021

The Trees

by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf

like something almost being said;

the recent buds relax and spread,

their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again

and we grow old? No, they die too.

Their yearly trick of looking new

is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the un-resting castles thresh

in full-grown thickness every May.

Last year is dead, they seem to say,

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Adam Tooze on the Biden administration

April 30, 2021

For some Joe Biden has already exceeded expectations. For others his economic program is nowhere near enough to address the climate crisis and American decline.  While his Covid relief package has seen billions dispensed immediately, the Jobs Plan proposes to invest $35 billion in green R&D over eight years – less than Americans spend annually on pet food. 

So how radical is President Biden? Is there such a thing as ‘Bidenomics’?  And does the new President represent a break with the orthodoxy of Democrat predecessors such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama?

Discussing all those questions on the UK’s Downstream with Aaron Bastani is Adam Tooze, Professor at Columbia University.

He is the author of The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916-1931; The Wages of Destruction: the Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy and Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World —all outstanding books.

The video interview runs about an hour, which is long to watch something on a computer screen, but I think it is worth taking the time.  Tooze has a wide range of information, a powerful analytical mind and a sharp tongue.  He takes a global view rather than an American view.

All this makes him interesting.  He is, possibly, a little more inclined than I am to regard politics as a clash of opinions than a struggle for power or a conflict of interests.

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The 1975 anthem to the American trucker

April 28, 2021

The video below gives the story of “Convoy,” the 1975 country music anthem to the American trucker.  It tells how the song came to be written, and how country music historically has spoken to American working men.

I’m old enough to have enjoyed “Convoy” when it first came out, and was glad to come across the video giving the background.  If you’re of my generation (or not), maybe you will, too.

LINKS

C.W. McCall – Convoy Lyrics.  The written lyrics.

CONVOY 01 CW McCall – Convoy Original Version – YouTube.  I wasn’t able to embed this YouTube video, so you’ll have to click on the link if you want to hear it.

Convoy by C.W. McCall – Songfacts.  The lyrics decoded.

‘Break up the Ivy League cartel’

April 26, 2021

One encouraging thing is the growing bipartisan sentiment for breaking up giant corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Walmart.

Matt Stoller’s BIG Substack blog is good source of information on business monopoly and the anti-monopoly movement. 

A guest poster, Sam Haselby, pointed out the other that the Ivy League universities are very like monopoly businesses. 

They have positioned themselves the gatekeepers to the affluent life.  Like the big retail chains and tech companies, they are able to thrive because of their financial strength, while their smaller competitors, with smaller margins of survival, go under.

Here are some highlights of his post:

Since the pandemic began, 650,000 jobs have disappeared in American academic institutions. More than 75% of college faculty in the U.S. are contingent workers or non tenure-track.

Meanwhile, as of 2020, the aggregate value of the endowments of the richest 20 U.S. schools rose to over $311 billion, all of which are subsidized by taxpayers through the tax-free treatment we offer nonprofit educational institutions.

The common joke, that Harvard is a hedge fund with an educational arm, is not so far off.

[snip]

In 1940, the acceptance rate at Harvard was eighty-five percent. In 1970, it was twenty percent. This year, for the class of 2025, it was 3.4 percent.

On the surface, a far more selective Ivy League seems to support the notion of meritocracy as something approximating what Jefferson characterized as the purpose of (unrealized plans for) free public schooling in 18th century Virginia: “the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually.”

In practice though American meritocracy has become skewed to elite reproduction.

The economist Raj Chetty has found that nearly 40 of the country’s elite colleges and universities, including five in the Ivy League, accept more students from families in the top 1% of income earners than from the bottom 60%.

Computer scientist Alison Morgan recently released a study examining 7,218 professors in PhD granting departments in the United States across the arts and sciences.  She found that the faculty come from families almost 34% richer than average and are twenty-five times more likely than average to have a parent with a PhD.  Faculty at prestigious universities are fifty times more likely than average person to have a parent with a PhD.

American meritocracy has become a complex, inefficient, and rigged system conferring a series of “merits” on ambitious children of highly educated and prosperous families.

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Covid-19 deniers who have Covid-19

April 25, 2021

Bertrand Russell once wrote, “Most people would sooner die than think; in fact they do so.”

I thought of that when I read this Reddit thread of stories by physicians, nurses and other medical workers about treating (or trying to treat) Covid-19 patients who think Covid-19 in a hoax.

Doctors of Reddit: What happened when you diagnosed a Covid-19 denier with Covid-19?

Human nature can be unbelievably perverse and irrational.  Also, very noble.  My hat goes off to  medical practitioners who risk their own lives and health to treat people who think they are their enemies.

Illusion, reality and perception

April 24, 2021

A critique of critical race theory

April 23, 2021

CRITICAL RACE THEORY: an introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Strafancic (2017) is a college textbook about an idea that is transforming the USA.

Supporters of CRT—Crits for short—claim that the only thing holding back black citizens of the United States is the racism of white people, including unconscious racism and the legacy of past racism.

Their goal is to make us aware of how racism works so we whites will yield our privileged place in society to blacks. 

CRT rejects the old liberal ideal of civil rights, which is to guarantee all individuals equal rights under impartial laws. 

The claim is that this ideal only deals with obvious forms of racism and prevents rooting out racism in its deeper and more subtle forms.

In some parts of American life, CRT has become a creed to which you must swear allegiance if you care about your reputation or career.

Being an old-fashioned liberal myself, I am taken aback by how quickly CRT theory has taken hold in academia, journalism, the liberal churches, and government and corporate administration. 

I read this book because I wanted to understand CRT from an authoritative source and engage with its arguments.

According to the textbook, there are two main schools of CRT.

“Idealists” hold that racism arises from “thinking, mental categorization, attitude and discourse.”  The way to fight racism is to change “the system of images, words, attitudes, unconscious feelings, scripts and social teachings by which we convey to one another that certain people are less intelligent, reliable, hardworking, virtuous and American than others.” (p.11)

“Materialists” hold that what matters is that race—for whatever reason—determines who gets “tangible benefits, including the best jobs, the best schools and invitations to parties in people’s homes.” (p.11)  The way to fight racism is to eliminate racial disparities in access to jobs, education, credit and the other good things of life.

By analogy, the same ideas apply to other oppressed groups (Hispanics, native Americans, women, LGBTQ people, the disabled and so on) in regard to their defined oppressors.

Obviously there is truth to all of this.  Obviously racial prejudice—past and present, conscious and unconscious—has a big impact on American life.  Obviously it is a valid topic of research and debate.

As a specialized social science research agenda, CRT could make a good contribution to human knowledge, in dialogue with other research agendas—for example, sociological and anthropological research into group differences, and how they contribute to success or failure.

The shape of society has multiple causes, and if you insist limiting yourself to one, you risk becoming a dangerous fanatic.  This would be true whether your single explanation is economic self-interest, class struggle, religious heritage or something else.  CRT is no exception.

I’m opposed to treating CRT as unquestioned dogma because I’m opposed to treating anything as unquestioned dogma.  But I also have problems with CRT specifically, not so much because the theory is wrong as because of what it leaves out.

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The sources and future of U.S. global power

April 20, 2021

Click to enlarge.

The goals of U.S. power.

With the fall of Communism in Russia in 1991, the USA found itself an unrivaled global power. Two factions in the U.S. governing establishment—the deep state, the establishment, the power elite, call them what you will—decided to keep it that way.

They set policy all through the Clinton, G.W. Bush, Trump and Obama administrations, and they continue to set policy today.

Neoconservatives sought full spectrum military dominance for the United States in every region of the world. Aside from the love of power for its own sake, they thought this would forever secure the United States from any military threat.

Neoliberals sought to give U.S. banks and global corporations access to every region of the world as a source of customers, raw materials and cheap labor. 

This meant suppression of socialist and nationalist regimes that opposed foreign domination of their economies, and, above all, any regime that refused to do business in U.S. dollars.

Other motives are loyalty to alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel and avoidance of the humiliation of obvious defeat.

No doubt there were and are individuals in the U.S. power structure who sincerely believe in using U.S. power to promote democracy, human rights, a “rules-based international order” and the like.  But they are not the decision-makers.  They are only allowed to speak when their ideals happen to coincide with U.S. policy goals.

The sources of U.S. power.

The main source of U.S. power is the dominance of the U.S. dollar in conducting world trade.

This gives the U.S. government the power to borrow money to finance the world’s most expensive military establishment, and not worry about paying it back.

The U.S. Navy dominates the world’s sea lanes, and the U.S. Air Force dominates the air over poor countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  This allows bombing with impunity.

By using air power and flying killer drones, special operations forces and subsidized foreign fighters, the U.S. military can wage war without large-scale sacrifice of life.

The Central Intelligence Agency has a record of plotting the overthrow of left-wing governments and installing U.S.-friendly dictators.  Latin Americans have a joke: There will never be a military coup in the United States because there is no U.S. embassy in Washington, D.C.

Another source of U.S. power is the thousands of weapons in its nuclear arsenal, the largest in the world.  The only nation with a comparable arsenal is Russia.  This means that no other nation except Russia can rule out the possibility of a nuclear attack.

The power of the dollar also gives the U.S. government control of the financial bottlenecks of world commerce, and impose sanctions and embargoes on foreign countries without having to worry about retaliation.

Much of the world’s commerce flows through the New York money center banks.  This gives New York banks the authority to impound the funds of nations such as Iran and Venezuela.  It also gives federal judges in New York jurisdiction over such things as Argentina’s settlement with his creditors or Ecuador’s fine of Chevron for environmental violations.

The SWIFT system—Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, based in Brussels—is a messaging system used by banks to transfer money and communicate information.  Being cut off from the SWIFT system means being cut off from the bulk of the world financial system, and SWIFT enforces U.S. sanctions.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are dominated by Americans.  They have a record of insisting that debtor countries impose “austerity”—higher taxes, fewer government services, higher prices and lower wages.  The debtor countries have to sell national assets and open up to U.S. and other foreign investors.

The 2014 coup in Ukraine came after the incumbent President decided to take a Russian loan instead of an IMF loan.  The new government took the unpopular IMF loan.

Click to enlarge.

The threat to U.S. power.

The greatest threat to U.S. power is neither Islamic terrorism, nor Russian subversion, nor China’s growing industrial power. 

It is the replacement of the U.S. dollar as the medium of exchange for doing world business.  Without dollar supremacy, all other sources of U.S. power would collapse.

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Afghanistan, Iran and U.S. power

April 19, 2021

This is from a message by my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey.  It’s as good an analysis as I’ve seen lately. .

Whether my speculation on the continuing US presence in Afghan has much to do with their intransigence there, I can’t see the pressure-on-Iran angle as water under the bridge, whatever the status of the nuclear deal.

There are at least these factors: –

Long-time obsession, certainly 1979 on, with Iran for many of the people with a say in making the decisions. –

Iran’s role in MEast:

US fealty to Israel.

US- Saudi relationship, though not as firm as it used to be, remains in operational high gear.

Iran’s reach throughout the region-  Hezbollah; the Houthis; the Palestinians; the Assad regime; the ascendant position of the Shias in Iraq, courtesy of the Bush II gang.

What am I missing?

Yes, there’s the pivot to Asia where I agree our greater focus should be, but these factors in MEast won’t be overlooked any time soon.

– Iran in US-Europe entanglements- finance capital and energy policy, where the US squeeze on Europe has all but slipped away. And NATO, which has taken a hit recently from Trump (even a broken clock is right twice a day), will continue to be a sore point, especially when the Afghanistan post-mortems begin and many European commentators will be asking “How did we ever get into THAT?”

– Iran itself has been and continues to be a big plum for imperial gazers. In addition to all the other factors I list here: oil; other resources?  – natural gas in the field in the Gulf and co-administered with Quatar is the largest reserve in the world; 75 million relatively prosperous (or could be) souls- quite a market opportunity (The Burger King in Pristina, tennis shoes, movies, bank loans for mega-dams…); and quite a few hands to work the small assembly industry that once was growing in Iran; yet another “threat” for military producers and their flunkies to use to gas up Congress (as if they need it). … …

– Internal Iranian politics- properly speaking, not a factor for this list, but a factor: Who in Iran, of whatever political persuasion, could sensibly trust the US on anything?

– THE UPSHOT: The imperialists are between a rock and a hard place. Everywhere their options are limited by the will of others and most of those limited options have obvious unhappy downsides for them. Their stumble-bumbling is rooted in this predicament. It’s dangerous.

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Democrats support their cause more intensely

April 18, 2021

Willingness to donate to a political party is a measure of how strongly you support it. I came across a couple of graphs that show how the depth of support for Democrats (measured in donations) exceeds support for Republicans.

Double click to enlarge.

The top chart shows the number donors to the Trump and Biden campaigns from various occupations; the bottom chart shows the same thing from various institutions.  The size of the circle indicates the number of donors; the intensity of the blue for Biden or red for Trump indicates how much of a majority they had with each group.

Double click to enlarge.

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It’s time for a little Serbian accordian music

April 17, 2021

Why ‘The Far Side’ was so funny

April 17, 2021

Gary Larson’s biography is on his web site.

Biden my time – some links and comments

April 16, 2021

Here are some links to articles that I found of interest. Maybe you will, too.

Canción de Trump by Sam Kriss for Idiot Joy Showland.

Sam Kriss is a British blogger, new to me, who wrote a hilarious but insightful takedown of the Trump administration, with a sideswipe at Joe Biden and the Black Lives Matter protests.

Trench Warfare: notes on the 2020 election by Mike Davis for New Left Review.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

A detailed analysis of the vote shows only a little change from 2016.  The election hinged on a narrow margin of victory in a few key states – less than 1 percent in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona and only 2.6 percent in Michigan.

Donald Trump, strangely enough, did best where COVID-19 was worst and unemployment was highest.  He probably has a rock solid 40 percent of the electorate behind him, and he is still a kingmaker in the Republican Party.

Barring some unlikely great achievement by President Joe Biden that will make voters’ lives noticeably better, the coming elections are likely to be a continuation of the back and forth struggle of the past 20 or 30 years. 

My Predictions for Biden’s Probably Truncated Presidency by Ted Rall.

Joe Biden faces extraordinary problems, and he is not an extraordinary statesman.  Ted Rall argues that he probably won’t complete his first term, for both health and political reasons.

Contrary to What Biden Said, U.S. Warfare in Afghanistan Is Set to Continue by Norman Solomon for Common Dreams.

The U.S. government announced a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, but said assistance to Afghan national defense and security forces will continue.  This likely means continued bombing and missile attacks launched from outside Afghanistan, plus secret Special Operations forces, Pentagon contract forces and CIA operatives.

Taiwan—the Thucydides Trapper Who Cried Woof by ‘Gary Brecher’ for Radio War Nerd.

Threatening war with China over Taiwan is a bad idea.

Ukraine Redux—War, Russophobia and Pipelineistan by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Threatening war with Russia over Ukraine is a bad idea.

Big Corporations Now Deploying Woke Ideology the Way the Intelligence Agencies Do: As a Disguise by Glenn Greenwald.

Talk of social justice, feminism and racial diversity gives secret intelligence agencies and big corporations cover for a multitude of sins.

1619 Project lead writer Nikole Hannah-Jones paid $25,000 for virtual lecture by Trévon Austin for the World Socialist Web Site. 

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, also has done very well for herself.

Race, ancestry and nationality

April 13, 2021

Ethnographic map of the world. Click to enlarge.

So-called scientific racism is nonsense.  On the other hand, the idea of identity based on common ancestry is powerful, unifying and non-falsifiable.  It is the most common basis of nationalism.

The question is whether peace is possible in a world of nationalisms based on ancestry.

When nationalism is based on ancestry, a nation’s people are taught that they are like members of an extended family (usually a patriarchal family, headed by a father-figure) and that there is a bright line between members of the national family and all others.

Japan and Korea are two nations in which this idea is strong.  Japanese mythology tells how the Japanese islands were created by the gods and their Emperor is the descendant of the sun goddess; Korean mythology tells how the Korean people were specifically created by the gods.

President Kennedy called the United States a nation of immigrants.  Nobody would ever say that of Japan or the two Koreas.  Nobody would ever call these nations multi-cultural. 

The Han Chinese, probably the world’s most successful ethnic group, also have a strong sense of national unity.  Unlike the Japanese and Koreans, they have a history of being able to absorb foreigners, including conquerors such as the Mongols and Manchus, through intermarriage and cultural assimilation.

The assimilation process is now going on, in a brutal way, with Tibetans and Uighurs.  I think the reason the Vietnamese fear the Chinese more than they ever feared the French or us Americans is because of the real possibility that assimilation by the Chinese could end their existence as a nation.

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Welcome to the modern world

April 12, 2021

When publicity trumps everything else

April 12, 2021
Major auto companies’ production in 2020 vs. total value of their stock

One of the ancient Greek historians—I forget whether it was Thucydides or somebody else—wrote that the Athenians in the early days of their city chose leaders they thought were the wisest and most virtuous, but as they grew prosperous, powerful and complacent, they chose leaders that were the most entertaining.

My friend Bill Elwell sent me a link to a post about how, in American life today, your ability to get the public’s attention matters more than what you actually accomplish.  Click on Red Bull, Elon Musk and Matt Gaetz to read it.

I needed a little bluegrass to cheer myself up

April 11, 2021

How the universe marches in step

April 10, 2021

What do swaying bridges, flashing fireflies, clapping audiences, the far side of the Moon, and beating hearts have in common? Their behavior all has something to do with synchronization. In this video, Veritasium explains why and how spontaneous synchronization appears all the time in the physical world.

Source: The Secret of Synchronization on kottke.org.