The economic consequences of the pandemic

October 14, 2021

SHUTDOWN: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy by Adam Tooze (2021)

Adam Tooze is possibly the world’s foremost economic historian.  He wrote thick, comprehensive books on the Nazi economy (Wages of Destruction), the war debts crisis of the 1920s (The Deluge) and the 2008 financial crisis (Crashed!).  

His strengths are his international perspective (he is a British subject, educated in Germany who now teaches at Columbia University) and his deep understanding of high finance and how it affects society, politics and the overall economy.

Shutdown is not like his other books. It’s slim, and it is being published while the pandemic is still going on, not from the perspective of history.  This is because he thinks his message is too urgent to wait.

What is his message?

It is that we the public are on the brink of a new era, an era when our worst crises will not be the result of tyranny, corruption and human folly, but blowbacks from our natural environment.

And we are woefully unprepared for this. The coronavirus pandemic had taken 3.2 million lives, including half a million American dead, as of April, when Tooze completed his book.  The number is up to 4.5 million now.

The pandemic resulted in tens of trillions of dollars in economic loss. Yet only tens of billions has been spent on vaccine development, and much less than that on getting the vaccine to the public.

COVID-19 was not a black swan, a completely unpredictable event. It was a grey rhino, an event that many predicted, but were ignored. The climate crisis has bred other grey rhinos—devastating fires, floods, droughts and superstorms.

Tooze wrote that the reason we are unprepared is that the neoliberal policies of the past 50 years have stripped the governments of the USA, UK and much of the Western world of the capacity to respond to emergencies.

The neoliberal philosophy is that, in order to maximize efficiency, institutions should spend no more than they absolutely need in order to function. This means that there is no reserve capacity in case of emergencies, and hospital emergency rooms in the USA are overflowing with Covid patients.

What’s needed, he wrote, is something like the Green New Deal supported by Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others.  Governments must spend whatever is necessary to be prepared for the predictable crises that lie ahead, and do it in a way that creates full employment and puts money in the pockets of working people.

The International Monetary Fund has estimated that a successful global vaccination program would add $7 trillion annually to the world economy by 2014.  Tooze said others estimate that such a vaccination program would cost $50 billion to $100 billion. Yet governments of rich countries, which have spent trillions of dollars on economic stimulus programs, say this is unaffordable.

Tooze quoted the great economist John Maynard Keynes: “Anything we can actually do, we can afford.”  

That is, if the human and physical resources to accomplish a goal exist, and the political will to accomplish the goal exists, the problem of finance can be solved.  People generally understand this in wartime.  Why not in peacetime?

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China, journalism, strikes: Links 10/15/2021

October 15, 2021

The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning by N.S. Lyons for Palladium.   The clash of civilizations.

Intersectional Imperialism and the Woke Cold War: The New Faith Prepares for a Global Crusade by N.S. Lyons for The Upheaval.

‘Frozen Chosin’ Korean War Movie Set to Be Biggest Hit of 2021 by James Barber for Military.com.  The Chinese are the good guys.

Out of the Newsroom by Spencer Ackerman for Forever Wars.  Newspapers whose reporters and editors all work from home.

“Government Without Newspapers”: the manufacture of ignorance by Patrick Lawrence for The Scrum.

A strike wave is coming to save America’s working class the old-fashioned way by Will Bunch for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Great Strike of 2021 by Jack Rasmus.  They also strike who simply refuse to take dangerous jobs for less than a living wage.

Why Record Numbers of Workers Are Quitting and Striking by Sonali Kolhatkar via Naked Capitalism. [Added 10/16/2021]

The Untraversed Land by John Michael Greer for Ecosophia.   How the structure of the world economy causes shortages.

The Afghan War Comes Home to Minneapolis by Thomas Neuburger for God’s Spies.

The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think by Zeynep Tufeckci for The New York Times.

How many people get long Covid?  More than half of those infected, researchers say by Pennsylvania State University.

Matt Taibbi on Robin DiAngelo’s ‘Nice Racism’

October 12, 2021

Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragilityhas a new book out called Nice Racism.  Here’s what Matt Taibbi had to say about it:

Nice Racism’s central message is that it’s necessary to stop white people from seeing themselves as distinct people.

“Insisting that every white person is different from every other white person,” DiAngelo writes, “enables us to distance ourselves from the actions of other white people.”

She doesn’t, or maybe she does, see where this logically leads.

If you tell people to abandon their individual identities and think of themselves as a group, they sooner or later will start to behave as a group.

Short of selling anthrax spores or encouraging people to start exploring sexual feelings toward nine-year-olds, is there a worse idea than suggesting—demanding—that people get in touch with their white identity?

Of course there’s nothing wrong with attending a workshop to help you to better understand your unconscious prejudices, or to become more culturally sensitive about people of other races and ethnicities.  

The problem is when we as a society operate on the premises that (1) being racist is a firing offense and (2) everyone is racist until proven otherwise.

Taibbi wrote:

Her books are chock full of overt threats, using the language of the inquisitor.

When she goes through the list of arguments people make in favor of the arguments that they can or should exist beyond race, she concludes ominously, “None of these factors provides immunity.”

The idea that “continually” availing oneself of DiAngeloid antiracist training is a requirement to remain above suspicion is an explicit warning.

No other strategy is permissible; as she puts it, “Niceness is not antiracism.”

LINK

Our Endless Dinner With Robin DiAngelo by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

The old Cold War and the coming one

October 11, 2021

The United States is gearing up for a new Cold War with China.  But the new Cold War will be difference from the one with the Soviet Union.  In some ways, the roles are reversed.

At the outbreak of the first Cold War in the late 1940s, the United States was the world’s leading industrial power and a champion of the status quo.

The Soviet Union tried to catch up with the USA, but never succeeded. It was seen as threat, first, because of its nuclear arsenal. It was, and still is, the only nation with the capability of destroying the United States. Its ability to retaliate with nuclear weapons made it virtually invulnerable to attack.

It also was a threat because it used its invulnerable position to subsidize, sponsor and inspire insurgents and terrorists all over the world, which is not to say the USA did not itself engage in covert action and dirty tricks.

The Cold War ended because the Soviet Union’s failed economic system could not sustain its ambitions for world power.

Now compare that with the situation of the USA and China today. China is expected to surpass the United States as an industrial power within a few years.  By some measure, it already has.

China is a defender of the status quo, except for certain border area claims.  Unlike the old Soviet Union, it doesn’t have a national goal of making the world over in its image.

It doesn’t project its military power far beyond its borders. Its main tool for power is to grant or deny access to its huge market to nations, companies and individuals based on whether they pay lip service to or go against Chinese perceived national security interests.

One of the main sources of U.S. power is the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which gives it the same invulnerability to attack as the old Soviet Union had and the Russian Federation still has.

The other source is financial power, a legacy of the late 1940s when the USA was the world’s main industrial power. The fact that the U.S. dollar and U.S. Treasury bonds are still the basis of the world’s financial system gives the U.S. government leverage it does not hesitate to use.

It uses its position to finance covert wars, proxy wars and acts of war short of full-scale invasion. It is a source of instability, not stability. The Chinese, except in their own borderlands, and their Russia allies are champions of world order and the status quo.

In the old Cold War, the Soviet Union was pushing an ideology.  In the new Cold War, the U.S. is trying to impose “woke-ness” and neoliberalism on the world.  In the old Cold War, time was on the side of the USA.  In the new Cold War, time is on the side of China.

Of course there are a lot of things wrong with the world as it is.  Accepting the status quo means accepting tyranny, poverty and war.  And the Chinese system is not one that I would wish to live under.

Maybe I push the role reversal analogy too far.  But U.S. interventions do not make the world better, and are not really intended to.  The present-day USA is a disrupter.  China, unlike in the Mao era, is not a disruptor.  And unlike in the first Cold War, time is not on the side of the USA.

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Bohemian Catsody: a Rhapsody parody

October 9, 2021

Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

Even though I’ve never been a cat owner, I think this is pretty funny.

Matt Taibbi on the cult of the vaccine neurotic

October 8, 2021

I’ve been vaccinated for Covid, I think vaccination is a good idea for most people, but I think it very strange that the Biden administration, the mainstream press and the public health establishment say you shouldn’t consider treatments for the disease.

Why not explore anything and everything that might work?  Why limit yourself to just one thing?

The idea is that the general public is so stupid that if they think there is anything other than vaccination that is helpful in fighting the disease, they won’t get vaccinated.  The problem with this is that if you blatantly treat people as if they are stupid, they will stop listening to you.  Matt Taibbi had a good article about this on his Substack blog.

LINK

The Cult of the Vaccine Neurotic by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

War, corruption and tyranny go together

October 7, 2021

The Big Business of Future Wars by Walter Bragman for The Daily Poster.

The Profits of War by William Hartung for TomDIspatch.

Instead of a Free Press by Patrick Lawrence for Consortium News.

Key US Witness Against Assange Arrested in Ireland by Joe Lauria for Consortium News.

The CIA plot to kidnap or kill Assange in London is a story that is being mistakenly ignored by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

CIA plan to poison Assange wasn’t needed | The US found a ‘lawful’ way to disappear him by Jonathan Cook.

Six-Month Sentence to Lawyer Who Took on Chevron Denounced as ‘International Outrage’ by Julia Conley for Common Dreams.

Steven Donziger Was Imprisoned by the 1 Percent’s Favorite Judge by Branko Marcetic for Jacobin.

Will the United States Officially Acknowledge That It Had a Secret Torture Site in Poland? by Raymond Bonner for ProPublica.

Rudyard Kipling’s “The man who would be king”

October 5, 2021

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING and other stories by Rudyard Kipling

After our reading group read Kim, Rudyard Kipling’s best and best-known novel, we turned to Kipling’s best and best-known short story, “The Man Who Would Be King.”  

John Huston made a good movie of the story in 1975; it’s unusual for an excellent work of written fiction to be made into an excellent movie.

“The Man Who Would Be King” is the story of two adventurers, Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnahan, both ex-soldiers of the British Indian Army, and how they reached the inaccessible land of Kafiristan (“land of the heathen”) and established themselves as rulers, only to have everything go horribly wrong.

Dravot and Carnahan sign a “contract” to stick together, refrain from indulgence in alcohol or women and “behave with dignity and discretion.”

They establish their power by demonstrating firearms, whose power to kill at a distance seems like magic, and by their ability to drill troops, which makes them a force that can defeat mere mobs of individual fighters.  

The two men are Freemasons, and the local priests decide they are gods because symbols on their Masonic paraphernalia correspond to ancient sacred symbols known only to the priests.

Everything is fine until Dravot decides to take a wife and establish a dynasty.  The people are horrified because they believe a woman who mates with a god will die.  Dravot chooses a beautiful but unwilling woman.  She bites him, and his bleeding shows that he is a man, not a god.

The story shows Kipling’s gifts as a descriptive writer, an observer of human nature and a storyteller, but it also echoes basic themes of literature.  It is a classic story of hubris being clobbered by nemesis.

It is a classic story of the downfall of a ruler who allowed himself to become a tyrant.  So long as Dravot ruled justly, he was all right.  It was the act of tyranny, taking a woman against her will, that led to his downfall.

It is an echo of Genesis, and of myths and legends, of how people are granted everything they could want, provided they observe one simple rule, and how they fail to keep the rule.  In “The Man Who Could Be King,” the simple rule is the contract—the promises to avoid women, and to behave with discretion.

Kipling’s story is said to have been inspired by the exploits of an American adventurer, Josiah Harlan, who in 1839 marched an army into Hazarajat, in the center of Afghanistan, and proclaimed himself the sovereign Prince of Ghor.  

Like Kipling’s characters, he fancied himself a successor to Alexander the Great.  His reign was short-lived; a year later, a British army invaded Afghanistan and replaced his rule.

There also was Sir James Brooke, the white rajah of Sarawak, who established a family dynasty that ruled the northwest coast of Borneo from 1841 to 1946.  But Brooke was granted his authority by the Sultan of Brunei and Harlan also was acting as agent of Dost Mohammed, then ruler of Afghanistan.  Their stories were not Kipling’s story.

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In order to read “The Man Who Would Be King,” I bought a collection of Kipling stories.  I read the other stories, too, and mostly enjoyed them. 

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Complaints choirs: Life is tough all over

October 2, 2021

Evidently complaints choirs were a big thing 15 years or so years ago, but I only heard of them last week.  They’re a fad that may have come and gone, but, to me, they are timelessly funny.

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To stop the spread, require tests, not jabs

October 1, 2021

School children in Austria are tested for Covid

I think most people would benefit from being vaccinated against the coronavirus, because you’ll be much less likely to wind up in the hospital or morgue if you catch it.

But this will do little to stop the spread of the virus because you can catch it from a vaccinated person just as you can from an unvaccinated person.

If I was the parent of a small schoolchild, I wouldn’t care if the school staff was vaccinated.

What I’d want is for everyone who goes through the door of the school to have a temperature check, and for everyone who registered a fever to get a Covid test, and for everyone who tested positive for Covid to stay home for a week.

Ideally, people infected with the coronavirus should go into quarantine, but we in the USA don’t have the capability for that.

I’d apply the same policies to high schools and colleges, and to hospitals (except, of course, I wouldn’t send the patients home).

I think vaccine skeptics underrate the harm done by the coronavirus. It’s true the virus kills a relatively small percentage of those infected, but that small percentage adds up to hundreds of thousands (in the USA) and millions (worldwide).

And this is not something where that which does not kill you does not make you stronger. I had a friend who was vaccinated, but nevertheless suffered what I am convinced was a “breakthrough” infection. She was in such severe pain, along with chills and fever, for a couple of days, that she was not able to function.

I know of a family—husband, wife, three children—who got it. The husband went to the hospital. The wife somehow was able to function at home. They’re all well now, but they don’t know what long-term organ damage the virus may have caused.

But I admit that we also don’t know the long-term effects of the vaccines, especially with pregnant women and small children. If I was the husband of a pregnant woman or the father of small children, I’m not sure what I would advise.

Just as some of us are at greater risk for the virus, so others of us are at greater risk for the vaccines.

I do think that if businesses and other institutions require vaccinations, they should give the employee a day off with pay to get the vaccination, and also days off with pay to recover from side effects.

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Biden and the progressives

September 30, 2021

I’m not sure what to make of President Biden.  He says good things about labor rights, economic inequality, high drug prices and curbing monopoly power.  He listens to progressives and has appointed progressives to important positions in his administration.

The economic legislation he has proposed will materially benefit the majority of Americans.  More importantly, unlike Presidents Obama and Clinton, he hasn’t proposed anything that will be actively harmful, such as deregulating the finance industry or unconditionally bailing out crooked Wall Street financiers.

The question is my mind is: Does he really mean what he says?  Or is he, like Obama and Clinton, merely setting up a plausible excuse for failure?

The economic legislation he originally proposed was an omnibus bill to build needed infrastructure, invest in “human capital” and expand the welfare state.  To get it passed, he and the Democratic leaders in Congress agreed to split the infrastructure part from the welfare part, but on condition that the infrastructure bill wouldn’t be enacted unless the Build Back Better welfare bill also was enacted.

Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were two of the Democrats who pledged to support the Build Back Better bill.  But now they’re gone back on their word and now oppose the bill.  My morning newspaper reported that President Biden is trying to find out what they would be willing to settle for.

But what is the point of negotiating with people who won’t keep their word?

If Lyndon Johnson had been President or Senate Majority Leader, Manchin and Sinema would be stripped of their committee assignments, no bills they introduced for the benefit of their states would come up for a vote and they would be cut off from support by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee—not just because they opposed their party’s program, but because they broke their word.

Another key test for President Biden is the filibuster.  A majority in the Senate has the power to change the rules so that laws can be enacted with 51 votes (or 50 plus the Vice President’s vote).  If the filibuster isn’t broken, the Democasts won’t be able to pass their voting rights act, Republican state legislatures will be able to rig the election laws and Democrats will likely lose the 2022 midterm elections.

One reasonable change in the filibuster is to restore it to its original meaning, which was unlimited debate.  Require those who want to delay a vote to go on the floor and keep talking, rather than just register their opposition and go home.  If President Biden and the Democratic leadership won’t even do that, they are not serious.

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Grace and grit in southern West Virginia

September 30, 2021

Freelance writer Christopher Martin said he went to McDowell County, West Virginia because it was the poorest and least healthy county in the USA.

He found a lot of unemployment and opioid addiction there.  But he also found a surprising amount of optimism and resiliency, based on religious faith.

The area has a lot going against it.  It is hard to get to, accessible only by narrow, winding country roads along mountainsides.  Internet and cell phone connections are bad.

Coal mining, which used to be the basis of its economy, has virtually disappeared.  Walmart came in and drove local businesses out of business because they couldn’t compete.  Then it left, leaving nothing.   Local people say the area never recovered from great floods in the 2000s.

Opioid addiction and gambling addiction are big problems.  Martin saw many grandparents with grandchildren in public places, which he took to be a sign of absent parents.

At the same time, he didn’t see the outward signs of poverty and demoralization he found in big cities—no drug dealers on street corners, no bunches of young men standing around looking for trouble.  Crime exists, the murder rate is about the national average, but people don’t live in fear of crime.

He was surprised by the high level of morale among people he met and how welcoming they were to him, an outsider.  

He struck up a conversation with a retired coal miner and his wife he met at a Kentucky Fried Chicken.  After they were done, the man gave Martin his address and contact information so that, if his car ever broke down nearby, he would know where to walk for help.  Martin said he knows of areas in big cities where a car breakdown could put your life at risk.

He talked to a volunteer at a food bank. a mother of three whose husband died in March.  Despite her hard life, she gave of herself to help others.  She told Martin she had considered suicide, but “God keeps me going.”

A restaurant owner told him that when she was a college student in New York City, she was on a subway and saw a man with a seizure.  She was the only one who tried to help him.  Friends with her told her she was wrong, that the man could be running some sort of scam.  

Somebody once told this woman she only likes McDowell because she has no point of comparison, and she always answers by telling this story.

Most of the people he talked to were Trump supporters to the extent that they had any interest in national politics at all.  But he did talk to one nice young politically progressive couple, recent graduates of the state university at Morgantown.  

Unlike many progressives he’d known, they were not alienated from their home town.  Just the opposite.  They thought the community’s problems could be helped by drug legalization, by construction of a major highway to make the county more accessible and by better Internet service.

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Why is modern public art so uninteresting?

September 29, 2021

Scott Alexander Suskind observed on his blog that contemporary public art is less interesting than older art, and considered a number of theories why.  Two of them seemed the most plausible to me.

One is that the older art is harder and more expensive to do than contemporary art, and contemporaries lack the genius, the money and the availability of low-paid skilled labor that made the older art possible.

The other is that in older times, the tastes of the elite and the masses were the same, and now they no longer are.  Elites no longer want to impress the masses by building something beautiful; they want to show their superior taste by creating something that they can appreciate, but the general public cannot.

LINK

Whither Tartaria? by Scott Alexander for Astral Codex Ten.

Urban Design: Why Can’t We Build Nice Neighborhoods Anymore? by Tyler Cowen for Bloomberg Opinion.  [Added 10/7/2021]

The real Great Game

September 27, 2021

THE GREAT GAME: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, by Peter Hopkirk (1990)

The Great Game was the 19th century cold war between the British Empire and Russian Empire for control of Central Asia.  To generals and statesmen in London and St. Petersburg, it must have seemed like a global game of chess.

Peter Hopkirk, in his book, The Great Game, told the story mainly from the point of view of the chess pieces —agents of empire, British and Russian, venturing alone, sometimes undercover, into territory where their governments could not protect them.

I read this book as a follow-up to reading Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, which was about a young boy being groomed to be a player in the Great Game.  Hopkirk referred to Kim in his book; he said the Mahbub Ali, Hurree Babu and Colonel Creighton characters were based on specific individuals.

Hopkirk gave a clear explanation of the geopolitical background, but his book also can be enjoyed as a series of real-life action-adventure stories.  The careers of some of the British political officers read like fiction.

While still in their twenties, they mastered local languages and customs well enough to disguise themselves as natives and penetrate unknown territory.  They were explorers, map-makers, spies, diplomats and sometimes commanders of troops in the field.

They command admiration—regardless of whether you think the game of empire was worth playing.

Their field of operation was mainly in what later became the Soviet Central Asian republics, but also included the Caucacus, Tibet and Xinjiang.  The Central Asian region historically has been a center of civilization, but in the 19th century, it had been overrun by warlords, bandits and slave traders. Dealing with them was no job for the timid or the trusting.

One political officer, Eldred Pottinger (not an action-hero name!), at the age of 26, was operating undercover in Herat in 1835. A Persian army with Russian advisers attacked and beseiged the city, and Pottinger offered his services to the local ruler.

He soon established himself as an effective and tireless leader. At one point, the besiegers broke through and the Herat commanders panicked, but Pottinger rallied them and drove back the attackers. In negotiations that followed, one of the Persian-Russian demands was that the Herat send Pottinger home.

This was only one of his exploits.  He died at age 32 of a fever.

Hopkirk focused mainly on British agents.  He did justice to Russian agents.  He barely mentioned the “pundits,” native Indian agents, because permanent records were not kept on them.

The pundits were regarded as more expendable than the white agents, but many of them, like Kipling’s fictional Mahbub Ali and Hurree Babu, faithfully served an empire treated them unequally.

In general, there was a high level of competence and realism on both sides. The one big exception was the occupation of Afghanistan in 1839, which replaced its ruler, Dost Mohammed, with a more compliant ruler. General Elphinstone, the commander, allowed his troops to outrage local sensibilities by drinking alcohol and seducing local women, but refused to take reasonable measures for security. The upshot was an evacuation and retreat, in which literally all but one of the 16,000 retreating troops were massacred.

What followed was 20 years of back and forth struggle for control of Afghanistan, which ended with the British inviting Dost Mohammed back.

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The reasonable case for considering ivermectin

September 26, 2021

Some physicians think invermectin is useful as a treatment for Covid; others don’t.  I don’t have the medical or scientific knowledge to judge who is right.  

My view of invermectin is a form of Pascal’s Wager.  It is cheap and, if used as prescribed by a physician, it is safe.   If vaccines have failed or are not available, a person infected with Covid has everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying it.

I am vaccinated.  I think everybody who has access to vaccines should get vaccinated, unless they already have had Covid or have a good medical reason not to.  

But the vaccines now in use do not prevent infection or the spread of the disease.  You can catch Covid from a vaccinated person.  

Vaccines may not prevent breakthrough Covid.  A friend of mine who was vaccinated spent a weekend suffering intense pain, fever and chills, which I think was probably breakthrough Covid.

This doesn’t mean the current vaccines are useless.  They rally the body’s immune system to fight the virus.

What it does show, in my opinion, is the need for a treatment, or a sterilizing vaccine, that will actually kill the virus.

If ivermectin is such a treatment, this would be great for everyone. 

The small-scale clinical trials showing the benefits of ivermectin have sometimes been flawed.  All or almost all have been too limited to bring about conclusive results.  

That is why there should be large-scale clinical trials to settle the question one way or other other.  If ivermectin is not what it’s cracked up to be, then there should be an intense program, equivalent to Operation Warp Speed, to develop one.

It is established medical practice in the USA and other countries to allow government-approved drugs to be used for treatments of diseases other than the ones they’ve been approved for.  

I don’t believe in self-medication for serious conditions, but I believe physicians should be able to use their own judgment about legal treatments.

I  also believe physicians and scientists should be able to post discuss medical treatments on the Internet without being censored.

If I were dying of Covid, I wouldn’t want to be put on a ventilator, I would want my physician to try ivermectin.  If I were the president of an African country that couldn’t get vaccines because majority-white countries such as the USA and Canada want to give their citizens third doses, I would certainly  distribute ivermectin.

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Military recruiting videos around the world

September 25, 2021

Anti-woke folks have been posting three military recruiting videos on the Internet—one each from China, Russia and the USA.

The Chinese video shows a Chinese husband and father, leaving his family to live a life of hardship and danger in order to protect his family and nation from enemies.

The Russian video shows a tough, muscular Russian trooper, ready to face and deal with whatever comes.

The US American video shows a nice young woman, who has been raised by two lesbian women, who has found the U.S. armed forces accept her for what she is.

The anti-wokesters say the videos show the difference in the martial spirit of the leaders of the three countries.

Someone like the young US American woman probably would not be a match for someone like the Chinese or Russian man on the field of battle.  And the nature of the video does say something about the feminization of US American society.  

Then again, actual warriors make up a small percentage of US American armed forces.  Most of them are technicians and support staff whose war is waged at a distance.

I spent all afternoon reviewing military recruitment videos from different countries.  I don’t think that, in isolation, any particular military recruiting video proves anything about the character of the nation that issued it.  Even so, the different kinds of reasons they offer for joining the military are interesting, at least to me.

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Woke-ness as a U.S. soft power weapon

September 24, 2021

Enemies of the woke?

The economist Tyler Cowen says the U.S. government should use the “woke” movement as an instrument of U.S. soft power.

Although Cowen himself deplores the excesses of woke-ism, he pointed out that it is a genuinely popular movement, which has taken hold in large corporations, private universities and the mainstream press, and is spreading around the world.

Why not take advantage of this? he asked.  Almost every country has some group of people who are oppressed, or feel oppressed.  Point this out, identify with this group of people and you have a movement that looks to the USA for inspiration and help.

I think he underrates the degree to which this is already being done, and the degree to which the world is already polarized around woke-ism.

This wouldn’t be new.  In the old Cold War days, it is said that the Central Intelligence Agency promoted logical positivism and abstract art in order to discredit the Soviets’ historical materialism and socialist realist.

Look at the campaign against Hungary for being anti-immigration and suppressing pro-gay educational materials in its school system.  Look at how foreign aid is used to pressure African governments to be less anti-gay, just as the G.W. Bush administration used aid funds as a lever to suppress birth control and abortion.)

Then look at the nations that attended the recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  One thing Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan have in common is that they are anti-woke.

China, for example, has cracked down on portrayals of effeminate men in the entertainment media.  RT News ridicules American social liberalism.  The governments of Iran, Pakistan and India are committed to religious nationalism—different religions, but united in being anti-woke.

Putting the merits of these issues to one side, I think anti-woke patriotism is a source of national unity and woke identity politics is a source of disunity.  A completely cynical government would export identity politics to its rivals and enemies while emphasizing national unity at home.

Conflicts over wealth and power can be compromised, but not questions of religion and ideology.  But that’s the point.  It is easier to get people to fight in your interest if you can convince them they’re fighting for their religion and their ideals.

LINKS

Woke entry in Wikipedia.  I myself define woke-ness as a civil rights movement in support of ethnic identity and the sexual revolution.

Woke Movement Is Global, and America Should Be (Mostly) Proud by Tyler Cowen for Bloomberg Opinion.

Eurasia takes shape: How the SCO just flipped the world order by Pepe Escobar for The Cradle. 

Kipling’s Kim and Kipling’s India

September 23, 2021

KIM by Rudyard Kipling (1901) with an introduction and notes by Jeffrey Meyers (2002) 

I read Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim as part of a reading group hosted by my friend Linda White.

Rudyard Kipling was a British imperialist.  He believed the British Empire was, for all practical purposes, permanent, and that it was a force for good.  The first belief proved wrong, and there are few who would defend the secondW.

So why read Kipling’s Kim?

Kim is an interesting story about the coming of age of a young boy and his struggle to define his identity.  Like Huckleberry Finn, Kim is often mistaken for a boy’s book because its central character is a boy, but it isn’t. 

Kim is also an idealized but fascinating portrait of the diversity of India, with its varied religions and ethnic groups.

Kim is the first, or one of the first, espionage thrillers, a new genre in which the spy is the hero and not the villain.

And finally, Kim is a work by one of the masters of the English language.

Kipling was, as we newspaper reporters used to say, a great wordsmith.  Anybody who loves writing can benefit from reading his sentences closely and noting his word choices and the rhythm of the sentence.

He is one of the few 20th century writers admired by both critics and the general public

His books of poetry were best-sellers.  Their rollicking rhythms stick in the mind, like Broadway show tunes.  He also wrote novels short stories, including the Mowgli and Just-So stories for children.  Henry James praised his prose style and T.S. Eliot edited an edition of his poetry.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.

The hero of Kim is Kimball O’Hara, the orphan son of an Irish ex-soldier and a servant woman.  We meet him at age 13.   Kim has allowed to run wild in the streets of Lahore (now part of Pakistan).  He speaks local languages better than he speaks English, and is so sunburned nobody thinks of him as white.  

He earns money by begging and carrying messages.  The closest thing he has to a mentor is Mahbub Ali, an Afghan horse trader who turns out to be an agent of British intelligence.

As the novel opens, Kim encounters a Tibetan lama and decides to follow him on his religious quest.  They have adventures as they travel along the Great Trunk Road, meeting varied people.  These passages show Kipling’s genius as a descriptive writer, both of people and of the sights and sounds of India.  

He makes contact with his father’s old regiment, which takes him in.  He attends the regimental school briefly, then a Catholic school that serves India’s native Catholics.  These include the Thomas Christians, whose ancestors were supposedly converted by the Apostle Thomas, and mixed-race descendants of Portuguese seamen and traders who came to India in the 16th century—another example of India’s diversity.

Manbub Ali and Colonel Creighton, the secret head of British intelligence in India, are impressed by Kim’s talent for languages, disguise and deception and determine to groom him for a career as an espionage agent.

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Vaccines and COVID-19 death rates

September 22, 2021

Click to enlarge

Hat tip to David Zweig.

I’ll be 85 years old in December.  This chart from England makes me very, very glad that I was able to get vaccinated.  

I wasn’t able to find the original link to the chart, but the links below have the basic information.

LINKS

COVID-19 confirmed deaths in England (to 31 January 2021) by Public Health England.

Risk for COVID-19 Infection, Hospitalization and Death by Age Group in the USA by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Another look at critical race theory

September 21, 2021

CRITICAL RACE THEORY: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement, edited by Kimberle Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller and Kendall Thomas, introduction by Cornell West (1995)

Up until a couple of years ago, hardly any of US Americans outside academia has heard of something called “critical race theory.”   Now public opinion polls show about two-thirds of us have heard of it, and more than one-third think they have a good idea of what it is.  Republicans think it will be a winning issue for them in the 2022 elections and beyond.

Critics blame critical race theory for everything they dislike about affirmative action, cancel culture and Black Lives Matter protests.  Defenders say it mere consists of facing well-established and obvious facts about racism and racial prejudice in the past and present USA.

For the past month, I’ve been reading up on what critical race theorists have to say for themselves.  My latest reading is the 1995 Critical Race Theory anthology, which consists of writings of the founders of the movement.  I admit I read only some of the 27 essays and skimmed the rest.  I have links below to 15 that I have read.

I don’t claim this makes me an expert on a topic to which some have devoted years of study–only that I know more than those who haven’t read anything at all about it.

Critical race theory arose from the disappointment in the results of the civil rights revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.  

After a heroic struggle, in which churches were bombed, protesters were jailed and beaten and some were murdered, African-Americans, with the support of white allies, achieved full civil rights and protection of the law.  And then they found that most of them were as poor and just as unequal as they were before.

Some responded by trying to broaden the struggle to achieve equality for all Americans, and not just black people.  This was the idea of the Poor People’s Campaign planned by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. just before his death.  It was the idea behind Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition campaigns in 1984 and 1988 and the current Poor People’s Campaign led by the Rev. William J. Barber II

Others decided that African-Americans needed to double down on black interests and black identity, and not worry about white opinion.  Instead of thinking of themselves as citizens who were denied their individual rights, they should think of themselves as part of an oppressed nation, like people under colonial rule.

During this time, there was a movement among legal scholars called critical legal theory.  Critical legal theorists said it was a mistake to look at the law as a quest, however flawed, for justice.  The whole purpose of the law, they said, was to codify and maintain injustice.

The moral was that if you are lawyer, prosecutor or judge who believes in social justice, you need not think about whether the law is being correctly applied.  You should only think how to interpret the law in ways to help the oppressed.

The critical race theorists picked up this idea and applied it to race.  It is not an accident that most of the original critical race theorists were law school professors and published their findings in law journals.  

Their idea was that whole social structure, including the law, is set up to serve the interests of white people and repress black people.   The purpose of critical race studies is to show how this works.

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Derrick Bell’s parables of despair

September 18, 2021

THE DERRICK BELL READER edited by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic (2005)

I’ve been reading up on critical race theory to prepare for a presentation I’m going to do Sept. 21 at a Zoom meeting at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y.

At the time I agreed to do the presentation, I’d read a college textbook called Critical Race Theory: an Introduction.

I thought I understood the topic reasonably well, although I was turned off by the authors’ rejection of ideas that I hold hear—liberalism, universalism, the possibility of solidarity across racial lines.

Since then I’ve been reading more about the topic, and especially works of the late  Derrick A. Bell Jr., who is considered the father of this school of thought.

Although I haven’t changed my mind about CRT,  I have come to respect Bell and take his ideas and the ideas of his followers more seriously than before. 

Bell had a distinguished career as a civil rights lawyer for the U.S. government and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and a second distinguished career as a law school professor, scholar and writer.

Bell was the first African-American to be a tenured professor at Harvard Law School.  He resigned in 1992 in protest against Harvard’s failure to hire a black woman as a tenured law school professor. 

The video above shows young Barack Obama, then a Harvard law school student, speaking at a protest in support of Prof. Bell.  The video then segues into a review of Bell’s life.

Bell thought that racism is baked into the white American mind.  The only times that African-Americans advance is when these advances benefit elite white people, and such advances are small and temporary.  He said black people should protest racial inequality, not because there is a realistic hope that it will be overcome, but for the sake of self-respect and honor.

Some of the most interesting parts of The Derrick Bell Reader are a series of fantastic stories, or parables, illustrating his ideas and feelings.  They are not proof of anything, but they are windows into his mind.  They are thought experiments.  You are invited to think about them and decide whether you agree.

###

The Chronicle of the Space Traders

In this story, extraterrestrials land on the East Coast on Jan. 1 and offer the USA a bargain.  They will provide the means to solve the USA’s international trade, pollution and energy problems.  In return, they ask one thing: the nation’s African-American population.  The country is given 16 days to decide.

There are some objections.  Black Americans are a cheap labor force, but also a market for U.S. business.  More importantly, they serve as a target for the resentments of poor and working-class whites, which might otherwise be targeted a white elites.

But the benefits of the trade to white America outweigh the benefits.  A Constitutional amendment is rushed through, and, on Martin Luther King Day, the USA’s black population leave the country the same way their ancestors arrived, naked and in chains.

Bell said that when he tells this story to his law classes, almost all his students, both black and white, agree that US Americans would make the trade.

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White privilege and affirmative action

September 16, 2021

The late Derrick Bell, pioneer of critical race theory, used to say that white people who oppose affirmative action in college admissions were hypocritical or naive.

Affirmative action for black people, he said, has much less impact on the chances of the average student than all the preferences given to the white elite.

Special consideration is given to children of donors, children of alumnae, graduates of expensive private schools and athletes skilled in sports such as rowing or polo that only rich people participated in.

Bell died in 2011, but facts, including a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, support what he said.

Some 43 percent of white Harvard students admitted between 2009 and 2014 got bonus points for being ALDCs – athletes, legacies (children of alumni), dean’s list (from families of big donors of potential donors) or children of faculty or staff.  Fewer than 16 percent of black, Hispanic or Asian students benefited from such preferences.

The study also indicated that three-quarters of the white students who got bonus points would have been rejected if they hadn’t got the points.   Most of them come from upper-crust families.  Such families are also able to give their children the benefit of private schools or well-funded public schools in rich school districts.

All this matters because Ivy League universities such as Harvard are gatekeepers for the top jobs in banking, law, government and academia, and only about 4 or 5 percent of applicants are admitted.

So why, asked Derrick Bell, is all the emphasis on the extra help African-Americans get from affirmative action policies?

One answer is that affirmative action for rich white families is seldom talked about, but affirmative action for racial minorities is talked about constantly, both by those who favor it and those who oppose it. 

When proponents of affirmative action bring up white elite privilege, they do not challenge white elite privilege; they use it as a talking point to defend their own programs.

Affirmative action for minorities is an example of what Bell called racial fortuity, although I am not sure he would have agreed.  

Racial fortuity happens when black people’s interests and white (usually elite white) people’s interests happen to coincide.  

Affirmative action serves the function of lightning rod for resentment of non-elite white students who can’t get into colleges such as Harvard.

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Book note: Strike the Hammer

September 15, 2021

STRIKE THE HAMMER: The Black Freedom Struggle in Rochester, New York, 1940-1970 by Laura Warren Hill (2021)

I’ve lived in Rochester, N.Y., since 1974, more than half my life, and I thought I knew its history well.  But I learned important things from Laura Warren Hill’s Strike the Hammer that I never knew.

Most people who live here know that there was a two-day uprising in black neighborhoods in the city in 1964, leading to a new awareness by the city’s white leadership of racism and the need to do something about it.

I call the violence an uprising rather than a riot because it was organized, which is not to say it was pre-planned.  Churches, community institutions, black-owned businesses and businesses owned by whites with good relationships with the community were spared; police stations and other white-owned businesses were targeted.

I knew the uprising was triggered by police arrest of a drunken young man who disrupted a neighborhood street dance, when a false rumor spread that a police dog had bitten a young girl.

But I didn’t know of the outrages that put the community on hair-trigger.  In 1962, Rochester police beat a respectable young black man, not accused of any crime, so badly that he suffered two broken vertebrae and was confined to a wheelchair.

Early in 1963, police invaded a Nation of Islam mosque with police dogs while a religious service was in progress because of an anonymous tip about someone with a gun.  A few weeks later they arrested a young man for a traffic offense and beat him so badly he was hospitalized for 21 days.

Another thing I hadn’t known is that Malcolm X, then a leader of the Nation of Islam, was a frequent visitor to Rochester and had a warm relationship with Minister Franklin Florence, Constance Mitchell, Dr. Walter Cooper and other black civil rights activists.

The national NAACP forbid its local chapters to engage in joint actions with Malcolm X or the Nation of Islam because of its bizarre anti-white theology and antisemitism.  Black NAACP members in Rochester simply disregarded these instructions.

After the uprising, the Rochester Area Council of Churches, which was mainly led by literal white people, offered famed community organizer Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation a $100,000, two-year contract to advise Rochester’s black leaders.

Alinsky agreed, but only on condition that the invitation come from the black community itself.  Hill quoted Minister Florence’s recollection of Alinsky:

One thing that stayed with me, with Saul, he said, “Never mind my being invited here by the Council of Churches.  I refuse to come to Rochester unless you invite me.”  But here’s…the genius of Saul and organizing—he said, “You would have to get three thousand names of people in your neighborhood…before I come in with you.”…

“Now—” We’d raised with him, “Well, who’s paying you?”  He said, “That wouldn’t be your business, but I’ll tell you.”  He said, “Our contract is with the Council of Churches to come in and offer you a service, provided you invite me.”

I said, “Well, what about their money?”  He said, “Well, I’m going to take their money, but I’m not taking their money to do their bidding.  I’m taking their money because they won’t give it to you.”

The clincher for Florence was that Malcolm X vouched for Alinsky.  He said Alinsky was possibly the best community organizer in the USA, and black people should always be willing to learn new skills, no matter who the teacher.

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Why can’t US Americans be like Canadians?

September 14, 2021

The bond of unity of most nations is the idea that they are one family, a family of common lineage usually speaking a common language and adhering to a common religion. Sometimes this is cemented by having a hereditary monarch as a symbolic national father or mother.

We US Americans lack a common lineage.  We consist of all kinds of people—descendants of the original white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, African slaves, native American peoples and Spanish-speakers acquired by conquest, plus immigrants from literally every continent in the world.

So maybe we need an American creed, or an American myth, to bind us together.

But wait a minute!  Canada, our good (and often better) neighbor does all right, without any obvious sense of Canadian exceptionalism.  How do they do it?

A Canadian friend of mine summed up her idea of her nation this way:

Canadians suffer from boredom and blandness.  Even the most conservative politician in Canada believes in universal health care run by the government.

There were some differences here concerning the role of the private sector in healthcare, but in general those differences were worked out years ago.  Canadians put up with high taxes.  Doctors are basically civil servants.

What myth warms our hearts?  Fairness and multiculturalism? 

Refugees and immigrants in Canada are enjoyed.  Their story adds a little spice to the Canadian meat and potatoes.  They are not pushed to become CANADIANS.  What would that even be?  It would be very unusual in Toronto to walk down the street for one block and not hear 3 or 4 languages spoken.

One very common problem is people in their 40s who have parents who came to Canada 30 years ago and never learned English.  I know a lot of people in that situation, who feel an obligation to be their parents’ interpreters at a moment’s notice (even though they have demanding careers and young children to raise).

There are no illusions that Canada is the leader of the Free World, no sense that we are shining beacons on a hill, no sense that we set the world’s agenda.  We try to do our fair share of the world’s peacekeeping. 

This makes Canadians a bit like children. We put the government in charge and then complain mightily about everything they do.

What made the USA and Canada different?

The USA had to fight for its independence.  Canada never had to.  The leaders of the USA in 1776 were mostly descendants of the original British settlers, but they had to figure out a rationale for independence not based on lineage. 

The rationale was that we US Americans stood for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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COVID-19 and the war on populism

September 13, 2021

Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Thomas Frank had a good interview last week on the Breaking Points TV show.  It’s worth watching.

He talked about how failure to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, instead of being blamed on the failed health care system, is instead blamed on people who are skeptical of established authority.

The problem is that there are good reasons to be skeptical of authority.  It was Anthony Fauci, who is nowadays considered to the voice of science, who in the early days of the pandemic said that it was not to be taken seriously, it was just like the ‘flu, and that masks were useless.

It was the Centers for DIsease Control that, in the early days, advised the U.S. government not to screen air travelers coming in from China. 

Established authority nowadays tells us that vaccination will prevent the spread of the disease, when, so far as is known, it merely suppresses the symptoms and does little or nothing to stop the spread.

Nobody is being called to account for this.  The bulk of the press, the political establishment and the medical establishment say that everything that has gone wrong, and everything that is predictably going to go wrong, is the fault of right-wingers who refuse to get vaccinated.

There are all kinds of reasons why people don’t get vaccinated.  There are medical reasons.  There are economic reasons.  There are religious reasons.

And of course there are conspiracy theorists who think the pandemic is a Democratic hoax.  I don’t share their views, of course, but conspiracy theories flourish in times like these, when established authority can’t be trusted.

Whatever the reasons people have for not getting vaccinated, ridicule and scapegoating are not good methods for bringing them around.  They are, however, good tactics for diverting blame for failure from the people in charge.

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