Archive for August, 2017

America’s electrical grid is extremely insecure

August 31, 2017

Electricity gives us Americans a material standard of living that, a century ago, would have seemed like a utopia imagined by H.G. Wells.

Most of us have access to air conditioning, thermostat-controlled heat, electric clothes washers and dryers, electric dishwashers, cable television,  home computers, cell phones and Internet access.

This is made possible by one of the world’s most complex machines—a continent-spanning system of interconnected generators, transformers and 300,000 miles of wires.

 We take this for granted—until the electric grid fails.  Unfortunately, failures are becoming more frequent and longer-lasting.

Source: OilPrice

Some of the reasons are found The Grid: the Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future by Gretchen Bakke (2016).

The average American is without electric power six hours a year, compared to 51 minutes in Italy, 16 minutes in Korea, 15 minutes in Germany and 11 minutes in Japan, Bakke wrote.  The White House itself lost power twice during the George W. Bush administration and twice more during the Obama administration.

Our electrical grid is aging and, in many places, poorly maintained.  About 70 percent of the grid’s transformers and transmission lines are more than 25 years old.   In 2005, one fifth of generating plants were more than 50 years old.   Just as with an automobile, the older electrical equipment is, the most it costs to keep it going.

The main reason for this is the change in the way electric power is regulated.   Before the Energy Policy Act, which was enacted in 1992 and went into effect in 2001, electric utilities were regulated monopolies, with a legal responsibility to guarantee availability of electricity, in return for a guaranteed profit.   There was no reason for a utility not to spend all the money necessary to keep the grid in tip-top shape because they were sure to get it back.

The EPA broke up the grid into (1) producers of electricity, (2) long-distance transmitters of electricity and (3) distributors of electricity.   Supply and demand, not regulators, determined electricity prices.  The idea was that this would open up the grid to new and creative sources of energy.

Suddenly it was possible for a U.S. electric company to go broke.   There was an incentive to cut costs, including maintenance costs.

The most common cause of power outages in foliage—usually in the form of wires coming in contact with tree limbs.   Another common cause is squirrels.   Both the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ exchange have been shut down by squirrels chewing on wires.

After EPA, many utilities stretched out their tree-trimming schedules to save money.  FirstEnergy, an Ohio utility, drastically cut back on its tree-trimming schedule, didn’t even come close to meeting the new schedule and laid off 500 skilled maintenance workers.

The following year three FirstEnergy power lines sagged onto treetops.   That, and a computer bug, created a spreading power outage that left 50 million people in eight states without power for three days.   Bakke described in detail how this happened.   Economists estimate that the outage subtracted $6 billion from the U.S. Gross Domestic Product for that year.

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The Human trilogy

August 29, 2017

During the past few nights, I watched a three-part documentary movie series called “Human.”   An account of the origin of the film is above, and the three parts are below.

It consists of a series of interviews of people from all over the world about love, war, work, marriage, parenthood, poverty, migration, being gay, being handicapped, the nature of happiness and the meaning of life, plus remarkable aerial photographs of human activity.

It reminded me of the benediction we used to give in my church, which included the words, “behind all our differences and beneath all our diversity, there is a unity that makes us one.”

Each part is about 90 minutes, which is a long time to watch something on a computer screen.  But it is broken up into segments of 15 or 20 minutes, so you don’t have to watch it all at once.

If you watch it, you should use the CC (closed caption) feature, which will tell you the first name of the person being interviewed and the location of the interview or scene.

The film series was made by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, a French environmentalist, photographer, journalist and filmmaker.   He and his 20-person team interviewed 2020 people, in 60-some countries and speaking 63 languages, over a period of three years.

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A cat watches Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”

August 26, 2017

Two versions, in case one is taken down or has too many pop-ups

A third version below matches the kitten’s reaction with the scene.

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Friendship, ancient and modern

August 24, 2017

David Andreatta, a newspaper columnist, wrote that a true friend is somebody you would enjoy having a beer with, and who also would help you move.

Tim Madigan, co-author of the forthcoming Friendship and Happiness, once said to me that a true friend is someone who would visit you more than once if you were in a hospital or hospice.

But in ancient times, the ideal of friendship was that friends would literally sacrifice their lives for one another.

The most famous example is the story of Damon and Pythias, supposedly based on historical fact.  Damon was sentenced to death on charges of plotting against the tyrant of the Greek city of Syracuse, in Sicily, but asked for leave to go home first to attend the funeral of his father.   His friend Pythias volunteered to be a hostage to be executed in Damon’s place if he did not return.

Damon was late, and the tyrant, mocking Pythias for his trust, was about to execute him, when Damon appeared.   He had been kidnapped by pirates, and was able to escape only at the last minute. The tyrant was so touched that he spared their lives.

A.C. Grayling, in his book Friendship (2013), tells a story of an even deeper friendship, the medieval story of the knights Amys and Amylion.   Amys perjured himself in order to save the life of his friend, and, as punishment, was stricken with leprosy. Years later Amylion was told in a dream that he could cure his friend by bathing him in the blood of his children.   He did so, Amys was cured and the children were miraculously restored to life.

I read Friendship over a period of several months as part of a philosophy reading group hosted by Paul Mitacek.   I do not recommend it.  It is rambling, and does not come to interesting conclusions.

But it did raise interesting questions to talk about. Can bad people be friends? Do friends put up with each others’ faults or try to correct them? Do similar or dissimilar people make the best friends?  And just how important is friendship to us today?

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Neoliberalism is about more than free markets

August 22, 2017

The common mistake about neoliberal ideology is to think that it is about nothing more than unrestricted free markets.

In fact, neoliberalism is about unrestricted accumulation of capital.

Concentration of wealth at the top is an intended, not an unintended, consequence.

The idea is that of classical economics’ three sources of wealth – land, labor and capital – it is capital that is the force multiplier.

Capital investment, as Karl Marx recognized in the Communist Manifesto, is what has increased the total amount of wealth available to humanity in the modern capitalist era.   What neoliberals say is that this process can and should continue, with capital remaining in private hands.

That is why neoliberals advocate upper-bracket tax cuts and government austerity, and oppose minimum wage laws and labor unions.   Working people only waste their wages on their personal needs, neoliberals think; capitalists invest and increase the wealth of society.

That is neoliberals they advocate bailing out banks in the USA and Europe, while insisting that home mortgages, student loans and the debt of nations such as Greece by repaid to the last penny.

There is logic to this, once you accept the underlying assumptions.  The wrongness of this idea is shown, not by economic theory, but by the history of the last 40 years.

We have had increasing austerity and increased concentration of wealth in the upper brackets, but the investment needs of the USA and other advanced countries are unmet.

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In fact, non-violent anti-racism tactics work

August 21, 2017

Demonstration in Boston Saturday.  Click to enlarge.  Photo: Al Jazeera

Kevin Drum made the point that non-violent tactics are the most effective way to fight violent racists—at least at this point in American history.

The truth is that white supremacist groups are pretty small. Their views are so obviously vile that they just don’t appeal to very many people.  Generally speaking, then, the answer isn’t to fight them, it’s to outnumber them.  If they announce a rally, liberals should mount a vastly larger counter-rally and…do nothing.  Just surround them peaceably and make sure the police are there to do their job if the neo-Nazi types become violent.  If antifa folks show up with counter-violence in mind, surround them too.

Nonviolence isn’t the answer to everything, but it is here.  The best way to fight these creeps is to take their oxygen away and suffocate them.  Fighting and bloodshed get headlines, which is what they want.  So shut them down with lots of people but no violence.  Eventually they’ll go back to their caves and the press will get bored.

Source: Mother Jones

This is exactly what was done in Boston on Saturday.

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Charlottesville and the face of the Alt-Right

August 18, 2017

Everybody, no matter how reprehensible their opinions, has a right in the United States to express them peacefully, provided that they don’t engage in violence or advocate violence.

The VICE News video above shows Alt-Right protesters in Charlottesville, Va., last week, and it is plain that their purpose was to show their strength and intimidate their enemies.

I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of assembly for all, even those I despise.  I don’t believe in the right to act like a thug, even by those I agree with.

This goes for the club-wielding “Antifa” (anti-fascist) protestors, who believe in fighting fire with fire.  I don’t say they are equivalent to Nazis and KKK members.  I do say that the best way to fight fire is with water.

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The coming collapse of U.S. power

August 17, 2017

The United States is the world’s dominant superpower.   This is not sustainable.    I believe the collapse is likely to come suddenly, like the fall of the Soviet Union.

American geopolitical dominance is based on:

  1.  A world-wide network of military bases that give it the power to use military force in remote parts of the world.
  2.   Covert action agencies that work to subvert governments that resist U.S. power.
  3.   The dollar as the world’s medium of exchange, which gives the U.S. the power to control the world’s banking system.

The material basis for this dominance was U.S. industrial power, which once was supreme, but no longer is.

U.S. government is dominated by two factions with contradictory policies.   One is what I call the neoconservatives, who think the United States can make itself secure by crushing any nation that resists U.S. dominance.   The other is what I call the neoliberals, who think the United States can make itself prosperous by subordinating policy to the needs of U.S. corporations.

The problem is that executives of the largest U.S. corporations think of the world in global terms, not national terms.   They don’t regard themselves as responsible for maintaining U.S. geopolitical and military power.   Neoliberalism saps national economic strength that neoconservatives count on to support military intervention.

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Paul Theroux in the Deep South

August 14, 2017

At the age of 74, novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux toured the Deep South in 2012 and 2013.   It was research for his first travel book on his own country.  What he found was “kindness, generosity, a welcome.”

Back home in Cape Cod, he wrote, a stranger would look away if he tried to make eye contact.   In the South, a stranger would be likely to say “hello”.    Strangers, black and white, were quick to offer help and advice, even without his asking for it.

He greatly driving back roads in the South.  He enjoyed Southern cooking and the music in Pentecostal churches.  He made more trips than he originally planned.

But he was shocked by the dire poverty in regions such as the Mississippi Delta, which reminded him of what he saw traveling in Africa.

The difference was that, in Africa, he frequently came across American missionaries, philanthropists and foreign aid workers trying to alleviate poverty.   Poor Southern communities, in his view, are own their own, so far as American corporate executives, politicians and philanthropists are concerned.

I read Theroux’s travel book, Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads (2015) as a followup to the writings of David Hackett Fischer and Colin Woodard on the origins of American regional cultures.

Theroux skipped big cities such as Atlanta, which he said are little different from Northern cities, nor what he called the Old Magnolia South, the South of horse farms, historic preservation and gracious living.  He did not interview prominent politicians or anybody whose name I’d heard before.

Instead he concentrated on the small towns and back roads, and talked to people he met in diners, churches and gun shows.

The bulk of the book consists of reports of conversations, with roughly equal numbers of whites and blacks.   In most cases, he did not specify the race of the person he was talking to, and I somethings had to read quite a few paragraphs before I could deduce the race from context—which, significantly, I always could do.

Many Southern white people think Northerners see them caricatures, based on how they’re depicted on television and in the movies.   One man told Theroux he gave up watching television because he is tired of programs that only show a smart black man and a stupid white man.

Theroux thinks a certain type of Southern regional writer is partly responsible for this stereotype.   Writers such as Erskine Caldwell, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers and others depicted poor Southern white people as freaks—albinos, hunchbacks, 12-year-old brides, colorful con men and generates.

Not that their tall tales have no merit as stand-alone works of literature, but their approach was a way of not dealing with segregation, chain gangs, sharecroppers and lynchings, Theroux wrote.   Only a few white Southerners wrote about everyday life in the rural South in the kind of way that Anton Chekhov wrote about the frustrations of life in rural Russia.

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Trump alienates GOP leaders in Washington

August 14, 2017

A year ago, I wrote that Donald Trump wasn’t intellectually, morally or temperamentally fit to be President.  But I admit I had no idea that he would send his administration into a perpetual state of crisis so soon.

There is growing dissatisfaction with Trump among Republicans in Washington.   But there are enough hard-core Trump supporters in their home districts and states to prevent them from attacking him openly.

LINKS

The Battles Within the White House Are Crazier Than You Think by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Republican Senate Blocks Recess Appointments for Donald Trump by Charles P. Pierce for Esquire.

The conservatives turning against Donald Trump by David Smith, Lauren Gambino, Ben Jacobs and Sabrina Siddiqui for The Guardian.

In key 2018 battlegrounds, Trump’s support is as high as ever by Jeff Guo for Vox.

Google and the gender gap

August 9, 2017

James Damore, a senior engineer at Google, was fired for writing an internal memo for suggesting that the reasons only 20 percent of Google’s technical workers are women may be due to male-female differences in traits and interests.

That’s very different, of course, from saying that women don’t have the ability to be computer scientists.   Below is a link to his memo, for those interested in what he really had to say—followed by links to responses to the memo.

 LINKS

Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber by James Damore.  The full memo.

So, about this Googler’s manifesto by Yonatan Zunger for Medium.  An all-out attack on Damore.

Google Is Being Evil After All and Damore’s Diversity Suggestion List by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Differences Between Men and Women Are Vastly Exaggerated by Adam Grant for Linked-in.   A reasoned analysis.

Contra Grant on Exaggerated Differences by Scott Alexander for Slate Star Codex.   An in-depth rebuttal.

Wealth, risk, and power

August 9, 2017

This is from a Twitter thread by Theresa Nielsen-Hayden.

1.  The rich don’t need federal health insurance. Their up-and-coming competitors, who aren’t rich yet, do: one major illness can wipe them out.

2.  The rich donor class hates social policies that make the non-rich braver and more enterprising. For example…

3.   Social Security, so a lifetime of hard work doesn’t end in misery.  Student financial aid, so that talent + hard work can = achievement.

4.  Bank regulation, so our careful savings and investments aren’t wrecked by irresponsible games the big-money guys play with each other.

5.  Health and safety regulations, because it shouldn’t be okay to maim or poison people who don’t have clout. And so forth.

6.  Us little guys shouldn’t have the nerve to start new businesses, develop new products, or go as far as our work and talent will take us.

7.  Poor whites are supposed to stay poor, and know in their bones that they’re born to sorrow, and their luck will never last.

8.  Blacks should keep quiet, and do first-rate work on jobs that are well below their ability, because things can always get worse, y’hear?

9.  There’s no point in women having ambitions, because one little mishap can wreck everything you’ve worked for.

10.  Keeping the rest of us in a constant state of low-level fear is the one consistent goal of the policies the donor class supports.

11.  Why? Because we have to tolerate some risk in order to successfully compete with them and their less-than-talented offspring.

12.  I’m not talking about rational, calculable risks.  I mean the unforeseeable: illness, accidents, market crashes, natural disasters.

13.  They want us to know in our bones that we have no defense against risk. If *anything* happens, we’ll be stuck paying for it forever.

14.  We’re not allowed to build a more level playing field that we all share.  They want us out of the game entirely, so they can always win.

15.  Meanwhile, they’re always angling to get their own risk reduced.  Always.  Because winning.

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How inequality is growing

August 9, 2017

This chart, from an article in the New York Times, shows the growth of inequality in the past 37 years.

The income growth that took place in 1980 benefited everyone, but primarily those at the bottom of the income scale.   That didn’t mean the rich became any less rich.  In fact, their gains measured in dollars rather than as a percentage probably were greater.   But a rising tide lifted all boats.

By 2004, things were just the opposition.  Most of the income growth that took place in that year was concentrated among the top income earners.

There is an interactive chart in the original article that shows the hockey stick pattern began in the 1980s, but really shot up beginning in the 2000s.

My theory is that the driving forces were (1) the Carter-Reagan era upper-bracket tax cuts, (2) the deregulation of the financial industry during the Clinton administration and (3) the refusal of the Obama-Holder administration to prosecute officers of financial firms “too big to fail.”

Deregulation created new ways you could to get rich in ways that didn’t create value for others.   Refusal to prosecute meant that you could get  rich dishonestly and keep what you had.

The Trump administration will not change this.   It is making things worse by advocating for eliminating what little financial regulation there is, and by granting tax relief that primarily benefits the upper brackets.

LINK

Our Broken Economy, In One Simple Chart, by David Leonhardt for the New York Times.

How Did They Get So Rich? by Matt Breunig for Jacobin.  [Added 8/10/2017]  Breunig shows that the great increase in the income of the wealthy came from ownership of capital.  They became so much richer because they were already rich.

Donald Trump is wrecking government, legally

August 7, 2017

President Donald J. Trump in just six months has done permanent damage to the working of the federal government.   It is not just that his policies are mostly bad.   It is that, due to incompetence and contempt for government, he is destroying the ability of government to function.

The trouble is that his wrecking is fully within his legal and Constitutional powers as President, while  the illegal and unconstitutional actions of which he is accused are either unproven and / or have precedent in the Bush and Obama administrations.

LINKS

Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming from Inside the White House by Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair.   Short version by Rod Dreher.

How the Trump Administration Broke the State Department by Robbie Gramer, Dan De Luce and Colum Lynch for Foreign Policy.  Short version by Daniel Larison.

What’s Worse: Trump’s Campaign Agenda or Empowering Generals and CIA Operatives to Subvert It? by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

Trump Is Guilty, of Something by Andrew Levine for Counterpunch.   But what?

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die

August 6, 2017

The idea that most people have of the Epicurean teaching is, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”   The idea most people have of what an Epicurean is like, is the Petronius character in Quo Vadis

Petronius lives for pleasure.  He eats the finest delicacies, sips the finest wines, sniffs the most fragrant perfumes, surrounds himself with beautiful flowers and works of art, listens to beautiful music and has sex with beautiful slave women.

For fun, Petronius pretends to flatter the Emperor Nero while really ridiculing him.   When Nero catches on, he calmly commits suicide, with style.

Click to enlarge

It’s true that the philosopher Epicurus taught that pleasure is the highest good.   But he said real pleasure comes from appreciating whatever it is you have.   His idea was, “Eat plain bread and vegetables, drink plain water and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”

His idea was to make yourself bulletproof against unhappiness by not wanting things you can’t have and by not wanting things that really wouldn’t make you happy anyway.

There are three kinds of desires, he taught: (1) natural and necessary desires, such as food, shelter, etc.; (2) natural but unnecessary desires, such as for rich food, and (3) vain desires, such as for power, wealth or fame.

Courage, justice and moderation, the basic Greek virtues, are not valuable in themselves, according to Epicurus, but because they are necessary to happiness.   Justice consists of neither harming other people nor allowing them to harm you.   The best life is quiet and obscure.

Our present-day economy is based on precisely the kind of thinking that Epicurus wants to rescue us from.   American consumers’ desire for possessions, pleasure and status keeps the economy going, but doesn’t make us happy.   We can learn from Epicurus.

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Some sayings of Epicurus

August 6, 2017

The blessed and important nature knows no trouble nor causes trouble to any other, so that it is never constrained by anger or favor. For all such things exist only in the mind.

Death is nothing to us: for that which is dissolved is without sensation; and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us.

Epicurus

It is not possible to live pleasantly without living prudently and honorably and justly, nor again to live a life of prudence, honor and justice without living pleasantly.  And the man who does not possess the pleasant life, is not living prudently and honorably and justify, and the man who does not possess the virtuous life cannot possibly live pleasantly.

No pleasure is a bad thing in itself, but the means which produce some pleasures bring with them disturbances many times greater than the pleasure.

Infinite time contains no greater pleasure than limited time, if one measures by reason the limits of pleasure.

He who has learned the limits of life knows that, that which removes the pain of want and makes the whole of life complete, is easy to obtain, so that there is no need for actions that involve competition.

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The fine art of telling a joke

August 5, 2017

The only things I know about how to tell a joke is to pause before I state the punch line, and to emphasize the words in the punch line that are the point of the joke.   But there’s a lot more to it, as this analysis of a Louis CK joke shows.

The significance of regionalism in U.S. politics

August 4, 2017

Updated 8/5/2017

Click to enlarge

Two things I came to realize from reading Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America are how much the various regional cultures have changed over time, but how they still have preserved their separate identities.

One of the most interesting parts of his book is his account of how the various regions were changed by the cultural revolution of the 1960s, but in different ways.

The four Southern regions (Tidewater, Deep South, Greater Appalachia, New France) gave up their resistance to legal equality for African-Americans.  The white political establishment in, for example, North Carolina opposes a reform movement of African-Americans and their white allies, but this is done through normal political maneuvering, not murder and terrorism.   This is a revolutionary change.

Spanish-speaking people in the Southwest (El Norte) and French-speaking people in Quebec (New France) changed from being politically passive and oriented toward tradition to being politically active and oriented toward the future.   I think these changes were set in motion by the new thinking of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.

The “youth revolution” in attitudes toward drug use, military service and sexual morality—”acid, amnesty and abortion”—was limited to the Pacific Coast (the Left Coast), the Northeast (Yankeedom and New Netherland), Woodard wrote.

This, too, was a revolutionary change.   A hundred years ago, you could get arrested as a pornographer in Boston for distributing information on birth control.  Now Boston is a stronghold of Planned Parenthood.

Woodard overlooked another transformative 1960s movement—the new conservative movement represented by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.   The Far West was once the scene of violent labor strikes with battles between armed workers and company police.   Now there are confrontations  between armed private militias and the federal government.

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Congress reins in Trump’s peace-making powers

August 3, 2017

You might think Congress would try to rein in President Trump’s war-making powers, considering his lack of judgment and self-control.

You might think Congress would have second-thoughts about giving Trump authority to engage in acts of war, order assassinations and engage in economic warfare, strictly on his own say-so.

You might thank that, and so might I.

But what Congress has done is to let all of Donald Trump’s war-making powers stand, while limiting his power to make peace.

The new sanctions legislation writes existing sanctions against Russia into law, enacts new sanctions and forbids the President to lift sanctions without consent of Congress.

  • This is a bad idea because it puts the USA in a permanent state of cold war with the world’s second largest nuclear weapons power.
  • This is a bad idea because it sets the United States against its European allies, who see their oil and gas prices go up.
  • This is a bad idea because President Putin is likely to retaliate by ending U.S.-Russian co-operation in the space program.

All this is to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2017 U.S. election, even though such interference has never been proved.

The charge that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign computers is treated by Congress and most of the Washington press as a proved fact, but the FBI has never been allowed access to those computers, and has never demanded access to those computers.

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Is Canada a nation?

August 3, 2017

In this post, I consider two authors who argue that Canada is not a nation.

Click to enlage. Source: Cyrus Dahmubed

Joel Garreau, a reporter for the Washington Post, wrote back in 1981 that the USA and Canada were not actually nations.

He claimed that their territories were actually divided among The Nine Nations of North America (shown in the left map above), of which only Quebec was wholly contained within the jurisdiction of Canada and Dixie within the United States.

His conclusions were based on travels and interviews in the late 1970s, and he concluded that there really were six Canadian nations, all but one of which had a metropolis in the United States.  They were:

  • New England (Boston), the U.S. New England states and the Canadian maritime provinces.
  • Quebec (Montreal), the actual province of Quebec.
  • The Foundry (Detroit), the industrial region north and south of the Great Lakes and including the U.S. Middle Atlantic States.
  • The Breadbasket (Kansas City), the agricultural U.S. Great Plains and the Canadian prairie provinces.
  • The Empty Quarter (Denver), the thinly populated, mineral-rich Rocky Mountain states and provinces and the Canadian north.
  • Ecotopia (San Francisco), the Pacific-facing region from San Francisco to Juneau, Alaska.

Americans and Canadians within these areas, Garreau argued, had more in common with each other, economically and culturally, than they did with U.S. and Canadian citizens in other regions.

Colin Woodard made the same argument 30 years later in American Nations: a History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America, except that, unlike Garreau, he defined all of his “nations” except the Far West based on their cultural inheritance rather than economics and geography.

He divided Canada into six “nations”, at least four of which overlap with the United States.   They are:

  • First Nation, the newly autonomous American Indian nations in the Canadian North.
  • New France, the heirs of the original French settlers.
  • Yankeedom, roughly corresponding on the Canadian side to Garreau’s New England.
  • Midlands, which I will discuss below.
  • The Far West, roughly corresponding to Garreau’s Empty Quarter
  • The Left Coast, roughly corresponding to Garreau’s Ecotopia.

Woodard, who lives in Maine, described the sense of unity between New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces.  The Canadian Maritimes were settled from New England, he wrote, and Yankees and Maritimers were reluctant to fight each other during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

The provinces of Upper Canada (now Ontario) and New Brunswick were created after the Revolutionary War to provide a refuge for defeated Loyalists after the American Revolution.   Most of those Loyalists, according to Woodard, were pro-British fighters, neutral merchants and farmers and Quaker pacifists from the New York City and Philadelphia regions.

Some of them were loyal to the British crown.   Others were attracted by the offer of free land in Ontario—a forerunner of the U.S. Homestead Act.

British, Scots and Irish settlers came in larger numbers to the Maritimes and Ontario, but, according to Woodard, the settlers from the U.S. Midlands came first and it was they who set the tone for the culture.   That is why his hypothetical Midlands region has such a strange, looping shape.

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The new normal 2017

August 2, 2017

Click to enlarge.   Source: Tom Tomorrow.

On the other hand, read What Trump Is Quietly Accomplishing by David A. Graham for The Atlantic.

Is the American South a nation?

August 1, 2017

What is a nation?  In my opinion, a nation is a group of people who wish to live under an independent sovereign government and whose primary loyalty is to each other.

By that definition, are any of the regional cultures in Colin Woodard’s American Nations nations?

Some North American Indian nations fit that definition.   The French-speaking people of Quebec are a nation; they have achieved virtual sovereignty within the Canadian state.   A certain number of African-Americans and of Mexican-Americans think of themselves as a separate nation.

Woodard described early secessionist attempts in the trans-Appalachian West and talk of secession of New England during the War of 1812, but none of them every came to anything.   There is talk today of secession in California, Texas and other states, but also highly unlikely to come to anything.

The only region within the United States that ever made a sustained struggle to be an independent nation is the American South.

Originally the South, according to Woodard, was not one unified region, nor even two (the mountain and lowland South), but three (which he calls Tidewater, the Deep South and Greater Appalachia).

Click to enlarge.

The difference between Tidewater and the Deep South is that the first is that the Chesapeake Bay region was settled by Cavaliers from southern England, who hoped to reproduce British aristocratic rule as it was in the 16th and 17th centuries, and South Carolina was settled by planters from the British colony of Barbados, who intended to establish the slave society of the West Indian sugar islands.

Slavery in the two regions was very different.   The first Africans imported by the Tidewater plantation owners were indentured servants, who had a legal right to freedom after they served their indenture.   Race slavery was introduced only later.

This explains something that puzzled me.   I learned in a biography of Harriet Tubman, who was enslaved in my home state of Maryland, that Maryland in those days had the highest proportion of free black people of any American state.

Click to enlarge.

Later a fellow Marylander, who visited Liberia in his youth as a merchant seaman, said he was astonished at the number of Maryland place names and family names he saw there.

Where did those free Maryland black people come from?

The free black people in Maryland, and the African-American colonists of Virginia, were the descendants of the indentured servants.   Their presence in Maryland and Virginia meant that, even though free black people lacked virtually any legal rights, they still were not quite reduced to the status of livestock.

In contrast, the slave culture of the Spanish, French and British colonies in the West Indies was more like the Soviet Gulag or the Nazi forced labor camps than it was like serfdom in 16th and 17th century Europe.

The West Indian sugar plantations were strictly commercial operations, controlled by a tiny minority of white people, who used terror, torture and the threat of death and mutilation to try to keep slaves under control.   Slaves died at such a rate that the planters needed a continual supply of new slaves to keep operating.

Slavery in South Carolina and the rest of the Deep South was not quite as bad as that, but it was bad enough.   Slaves in Virginia and Kentucky feared being sold down the river to South Carolina and the Gulf states.   But slave owners in the Deep South threatened slaves with being sent to Cuba, which was even worse.

I don’t, of course, intend to justify slavery in any form.  Any time one group of people has absolute power over another, you will reproduce the Stanford prison experiment.

Neither to I intend to imply that Southern white people were all demons or that Northern white people were angels.

Woodard pointed out that there was a time when there were more African slaves in Dutch New Amsterdam than in the region from Maryland to Georgia.   Much of the African slave  trade operated out of Newport, Rhode Island, from which Yankee skippers took trade goods to west Africa, then slaves to the West Indies and then rum back to New England.    The whole newly independent USA  was involved in slavery, not just the South.

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