Archive for August, 2019

The unearthly landscape of Iceland

August 31, 2019

I found this video by Vadim Sherbakov on the Colossal web site, via kottke.org.

‘Woke-ness’ vs. Americanism: a religious conflict

August 30, 2019

As I think about what’s called ‘woke-ness’ as a quasi-religion, I better understand the attacks on the symbols of American patriotism.

I’m thinking of the removal of the Betsy Ross flag from Nike sneakers, demands for removal of statues of Thomas Jefferson and the recent New York Times magazine edition that said the true founding of the United States was not in 1776, but in 1619 with the arrival of the first slave ship.

Americanism is also a quasi religion.  What’s going on is the attempt to substitute a new religion for an old one.  The attacks on symbols of American patriotism are like the early Christians’ attacks on statues of the pagan gods or the early Protestants’ attacks on images of Catholic saints.

‘Americanism’ is an odd word.  Nobody I know of speaks of Canadianism or Mexicanism.  It reflects the fact that being a patriotic American has always implied adherence to a creed—although we Americans have always fought over the definition of that creed.

Debates in American history have generally taken the form: “I am a true American and you are not.”  Both sides in our Civil War believed they were the champions of liberty and self-government as defined by our nation’s Founders (with a capital “F”).

We Americans historically have regarded the Declaration and the Constitution as like Holy Writ, equivalent to the Bible, and criticism of these sacred documents as equivalent to blasphemy.   We settle arguments by citing these documents.

The Pledge of Allegiance is a sacred ceremony.   The American flag is a sacred object.  Criticize them at your peril.

Americanism provides a sense of community.  Trying to be a good American can give life a sense of meaning.  Americanism can also provide a rationale for persecution.

The advantage of Americanism is that, in principle, it is open to any believer, regardless of race, creed or national origin.  No matter where you were born, you are in principle eligible to become an American. [1]   This isn’t true of China or most other countries.

I have always thought of myself as a patriotic American and an adherent of the best ideals of American history and culture.[2]

The triumph of “woke-ness” as a quasi-religion requires the displacement of Americanism as a quasi-religion.  Reverence for the old is an obstacle to creating reverence for the new.

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Social justice as a substitute for religion

August 30, 2019

Critics of the new social justice movement—the movement that’s variously called “anti-oppression,” “political correctness” or “woke-ness,” among other things—say it is like a religion.

It has dogmas and blasphemies.  You can be fired for saying the “n-word.”  It enacts a drama of sin and repentance.  It gives believers the sense of righteousness, sense of community and sense of meaning that earlier generations might have got from religion.

This argument is often made mockingly, but below are links to two article that make it in all seriousness.

Of course the fact that something is religion-like doesn’t mean that it’s bad.  Almost all people need something to provide community and meaning, and they’re lost if they don’t get it somewhere.

LINKS

Gay Rites Are Civil Rites by Scott Alexander for Slate Star Codex.

Postmodern Religion and the Faith of Social Justice by James A. Lindsay and Mike Nayna for Aero Magazine.

When did American democracy lose its way?

August 28, 2019

The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use, and be authorised to use, in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.  

He could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen.  He doesn’t have to check with anybody, he doesn’t have to call the Congress, he doesn’t have to check with the courts.

==Dick Cheney, Fox News, Dec. 21, 2008

We Americans live under a government whose executive has the power to attack foreign countries, order assassinations and kidnapings, imprison people without trial, commit crimes and prosecute those who reveal those crimes.

When did this start?  The historian Garry Wills, in his 2010 book BOMB POWER: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, argued that it began with the Manhattan Project.  The creation of the atomic bomb set the pattern for exercise of vast power in secret, without legal authority, with national security as the justification.

General Groves, the organizer of the project, operated without authorization from Congress and outside the norma military chain of command.  He spent billions of dollars back when that was real money.  He authorized major industrial facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Hanford, Washington, plus the research and test facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico.  All this was done without knowledge of the public (although spies told the Soviet government about it.)

The original purpose was to develop an atomic weapon before Hitler’s scientists did.  When Germany was defeated, that purpose became moot. The purpose became the justification of the project’s existence.

If Groves had not had a uranium bomb to drop on Hiroshima and a plutonium bomb to drop on Nagasaki, he might have been court-martialed, or at the very least, subjected to a congressional investigation, for usurping power and wasting the government’s money.

On the contrary, the atomic bomb became the core of postwar American military strategy.  Congress lost its authority to declare or refuse to declare war.  A decision to respond to an attack, nuclear or otherwise, had to be made within minutes.

Only the President controlled the Bomb and, by extension, the fate of the world with no Constitutional check.  The President came to be regarded not as Chief Executive of one of three branches of government, but as Commander in Chief of the whole nation.

The secret Manhattan project set a precedent for the vast secret powers of the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and the rest of the national security state.  Congress’s power of financial oversight was shut off by a veil of secrecy..

It is true that the U.S. government has a history of suspending civil liberties in times of war, but, prior to World War Two, life returned to normal after the war ended.

 In the nuclear age, the shooting war against Germany and Japan morphed into a global struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.  And when the Soviet Union fell apart, the Cold War morphed into a supposed war against terror that had no defined enemy.

The wartime footing became a constant in American lie.  Only the designated enemies changed.

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Protest and dissent in Putin’s Russia

August 27, 2019

In Russia, the Fight Is Alive by Ilya Matveev for Jacobin.

Kangaroos hopping through the Australian snow

August 25, 2019

This video was shot about two weeks ago in New South Wales, Australia, where it is, of course, winter.

I understand that it’s a mistake to attribute human emotions to animals, but these guys sure look like they’re having a good time.

Peregrine falcons are feathered fighter jets

August 24, 2019

Peregrine falcons have a top speed of more than 200 miles per hour.

I found this video from KQED Deep Look on the Boing Boing web site.

Attending to reality is a moral imperative

August 23, 2019

I read Matthew B. Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction .when it first came out in 2015 and reviewed it favorably.  I read it again recently as part of a reading group hosted by my friend Paul Mitacek and found it well worth re-reading.

Crawford’s basic idea is that we are what we pay attention to, so we should be careful what we pay attention to.  He wrote that there is a moral imperative to attend to the real world and not retreat to a world inside your head.

But attention is a limited resource.  You can’t focus on everything all at once, and your ability to focus is depleted over the course of a day.

The book has two themes.  One is the challenge of engaging with reality—the realities of tangible things, of other people and also of tradition—because reality can be frustrating.  It is what it is, regardless of your wishes..  The temptation is to buffer yourself by use of technology

The other theme is the danger of letting your attention be hijacked by people and organizations that want to manipulate you for their own purpose.  Attention comes in two kinds, purpose-driven and stimulus-driven.   The more you are forced to respond to stimuli, the less you are able to focus on your own purposes.

In the contemporary USA, there are billion-dollar industries devoted to capturing your attention and manipulating your perceptions.  It’s almost impossible to get away from this, as Crawford noted.  Silence has become a luxury good.

All this may seem abstract, but The World Beyond Your Head isn’t an abstract book.  Crawford filled the book with reports of skilled practitioners, including carpenters, short-order cooks, ice hockey players, martial arts fighters and motorcycle racers, and how they train themselves to focus their minds and hone their skills.

Crawford himself, at the time he wrote this book, had a job making components for custom-made motorcycles.  There is no postmodern way of making motorcycle parts.  The component is real.  It either functions or it doesn’t.

He said he felt validated every time he presented his bill to a satisfied customer.  But he added that the public are not the best judges of craft work.  The only true judge of a skilled carpenter is another skilled carpenter.

Skilled manual work is devalued.  A good auto mechanic is just as intelligent as, say, a good pharmacist or librarian, but the mechanic is not respected because he gets his hands dirty.

Factory workers are deskilled by design.  Customers also are deskilled by design.  An example of this is the battle over the right of farmers to repair farm machinery, rather than sending it back to the manufacturer for a replacement.

Technology buffers us from the physical world.  It also buffers us from other people.  It’s much less risky to relate to people on social media than it is face-to-face.   There are many anecdotes about college students today demanding to be protected from the discomfort and even fear that they feel when someone expresses a hostile opinion.

Big institutions have rules for how their employees are supposed to behave, all of which involve not expressing personal feelings and opinions and not exercising individual judgment, no matter what the situation, so that they never give offense.  Instead they’re supposed to face the world with a bland, smiling neutrality.

The last chapter of the book is a report on a firm of pipe organ builders.  They’re the inheritors of a centuries-old tradition of organ building.  They’re the masters of an age-old craft.  But they are more than that.  They can’t just be historic preservationists.  The organs they build have to be fit for use not just now but for a long time to come.  They express their individuality not be rebelling against a tradition, but by enriching and adding to it.

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What if Hitler had been assassinated in 1930?

August 21, 2019

What if Adolf Hitler had been assassinated in 1930?  How would history have been changed?

I believe there would have been no Second World War in Europe.  The more than 20 million troops who died in battle and more than 20 million civilians who were killed would have lived out their natural lives.  But the consequences after that?  A mixture of both good and bad..

Some say history might not have been changed all that much.  They say some other Nazi, such as Goebbels or Goering, would have stepped into Hitler’s shoes.   And that leader, they add, might not have made Hitler’s mistakes.  A more capable leader might have won the war.

Adolf Hitler

I don’t think so.  The Nazi party was organized around the cult of Hitler’s personality.  It wouldn’t have been so easy to find a substitute with his charisma.  I don’t think any of the others would have had his ability to maneuver his way into the chancellorship, then leverage that power into absolute dictatorship and lead a reluctant German officer corps into war.

In the absence of Hitler, Germany might well have become an anti-semitic right-wing dictatorship anyhow, like Poland, Hungary and other European countries.  The German government might have included a few Nazis.  Germany certainly would have re-armed and resumed its place among the great European powers.

But the German generals did not want to go to war with Britain and France.  We now know they would have attempted a coup if the Allies had resisted the remilitarization of the Rhineland or the annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.  If Hitler had not tamed them, they would not have consented to starting a general war in Europe.

After the war, the German generals claimed they might have won if Hitler had not rejected their advice on strategy and tactics.  But Hitler had a better strategic sense than they did.  He recognized that without a dependable source of oil, the blitzkrieg tactic would have stalled, because it depended on large numbers of motorized vehicles moving quickly.  He prioritized the invasion of Ukraine and the Caucasus, but the main objective of his tradition-bound generals was Moscow, the enemy capital.

 No Hitler, no Second World War in Europe.  What follows from that?

There would have been no atomic bomb in 1945 or perhaps.  Without a Hitler, there would have been no reason to undertake such a project.

Only the United States had the wealth and industrial power to undertake the Manhattan Project, and even then, the project would not have succeeded without the help of European refugee scientists.

There probably would still have been a Pacific War between the United States and Japan.  The cause of that conflict was the U.S. oil embargo against Japan to enforce a demand that Japan withdraw its forces from China.

Rather than comply with that demand, Japan seized the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), the only important source of oil in the Far East.  The Japanese attempted to neutralize British and American forces by conquering the Philippines, capturing Britain’s Singapore base and bombing the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Even though the United States would have lacked an atomic bomb, there would have been no need for an American invasion of the Japanese islands.  U.S. forces could have bombed and starved the Japanese into submission without an invasion and without nuclear weapons, probably with as much or more loss of Japanese lives than in the actual war.

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If you had your life to live over…

August 19, 2019

Sometimes I like awake in bed going over the many times in my life when I’ve been foolish, weak or blindly selfish, and rewriting the script so that I behaved as I wish had I behaved.

What would it be like to actually have the chance to live your life over?  Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is about a women who had that chance, not just once, but many times.

Her heroine, Ursula Todd, dies or is killed at least 15 times, including once in childbirth in 1910, four times in the influenza epidemic of 1918 and three times in the London Blitz in 1940.  On each new iteration of her life, she has a dim memory of having lived before.

She learns to survive the ‘flu epidemic by pushing a family servant girl, Bridget, down a flight of stairs and making her break her arm the night before she would have gone into town and gotten inflected.

In later lives, she achieves the same result by telling Bridget lies that cause her to break up with her boyfriend, thus depriving her of the reason to go into town.

But no matter how many times she lives, she can never realize all possibilities.

During one iteration of her life during the Blitz, a man sitting next to her on the Tube (subway) notices she is good at working crossword puzzles, gives her his business card and says he is recruiting “clever girls.”  She decides to follow up on this, but loses the card.

We the readers know, as she does not, that she has lost a chance to be a codebreaker at Bletchley Park.  That chance does not come again.

The Blitz is the “dark beating heart” of the book, Atkinson wrote in an afterword.  She was born in 1951.  “During the war we were weighed in the balance and not found wanting.  The more I read about the war, the more I think that … we really were at our best then, and I would have liked to have known that.”

The book is “about being English,” she wrote.  “Not just the reality of being English, but also what we are in our own imagination,” she wrote.   Yet Ursula lives one of her lives in Germany and dies in Berlin in 1945.

Ursula decides to change history by assassinating Hitler.  In the following life, she learns German and marksmanship, makes the acquaintance of Eva Braun in 1930 and is introduced to Hitler.  She pulls a gun out of her handbag and gets off one shot, because being shot down by his bodyguards.

This is the end of the book. It is where I, as a long-time reader of science fiction, would expect the novel to begin.

What does she do next?  Will she do the same thing in all her subsequent lives—devote herself to preparing to kill Hitler, dying in a hail of bullets at the age of 20, and never knowing for sure what effect her sacrifice had? Or perhaps, in repeated lives, perfect her technique so that she can kill Hitler and get away with it?

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Oil paintings that are both abstract and realistic

August 17, 2019

How abstract can a painting be and still depict something that is recognizably real?  And still not be grotesque?

Jason Kottke posted these paintings by Jason Anderson on his kottke.org web log.

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The hour of maximum danger for U.S. democracy

August 16, 2019

The hour of maximum danger for U.S. democracy, or what will be left of it, will be when other nations rebel against the power of the U.S. dollar.   That will be when the United States is most in danger of a would-be Hitler or Mussolini.

The power of the U.S. dollar is what gives Washington the means to be a great economic power despite huge trade deficits and a hollowing out of American manufacturing.  It provides the means to maintain the world’s most expensive military.

It gives Washington the means to wage economic warfare against nations such as Iran, Venezuela and Russia, and to force poor nations to sacrifice the well-being of their people to foreign creditors.

But the power of the U.S. dollar is a legacy of a past when the U.S. was the world’s leading industrial nation, leading creditor nation and leading exporting nation.   Now the dominance of the dollar rests on the fact no nation’s leaders are both brave enough, and lead a nation that is strong enough, to defy the dollar system.

Benjamin Carter Hett wrote in The Death of Democracy that many European nations turned to fascist and right-wing dictatorships as a result of military defeat, which discredited the established governments, and strong Communist and revolutionary movements, which caused the middle classes to look for protectors.

German democracy survived for a time, but was pushed over the brink by onset of the Great Depression, which the established government was unable to cope with.

The conditions will exist in the United States following the crash of the U.S. dollar.  The U.S. government will no longer be able to raise money by borrowing in foreign markets.  Lack of borrowing power will mean it no longer will be able to pay for a world-wide network of military bases.

At the same time, the military will have to pay more for imported electronics components, imported oil and other supplies, including uniforms.  The fall in value of the U.S. dollar will make U.S. manufacturing costs cheaper in relation other currencies, but it won’t be able to fix the lack of manufacturing capacity.  And it will make investment in new manufacturing capacity more expensive.

The sudden collapse of U.S. military power without a military defeat would open the way to a “stab in the back” myth, comparable to the one about Germany’s defeat in World War One.

The buying power of U.S. workers will fall and the prices of merchandise, so much of which is directly or indirectly dependent on foreign supply chains, will fall.  There will be a crash in the U.S. financial markets and real estate markets.  Many workers will strike.  Many citizens will turn to the streets in protest—probably very few that are explicitly Communist, but who knows?

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An ABC of gerrymandered congressional districts

August 14, 2019

Click to enlarge

LINK

The Gerrymandered Font posted by Jason Kottke.

An elite that dare not call themselves elite

August 12, 2019

Natalia Dashan attended Yale University on a scholarship.  She was one of the 2 percent of Yale undergraduates whose parents are in the bottom fifth of American income earners.

She recently wrote an essay about something that struck her about some of her well-to-do classmates..

They lived and acted as if they in fact were poor.   They looked for reasons to think of themselves as oppressed.  They were in a near-constant state of rebellion.

Yale University Shield

But the rebellions were not over anybody’s material interests.  They were over whether how things were named or what someone said was appropriate—for example, whether “master” was an appropriate job title for the head of a college or whether a faculty member was out-of-line for scoffing at worries about racial stereotyping in Hallowe’en costumes.

Dashing also was struck by how quickly the faculty and administrators caved in to student protests, no matter how foolish their demands might have seemed to someone outside the academic environment and even in the absence of evidence that the protestors represented anybody but themselves.

The historic role of Yale, Harvard and other Ivy League universities has been to educate upper-class Americans to take on the responsibility of leadership—that is, for being a member of a ruling class.

Dashan concluded that the elite—defining the elite as those who grow up with the expectation that they and their children will attend Yale, Harvard or the equivalent—no longer want to assume the responsibility of leading and ruling.

So young people born to wealth and power look for ways to define themselves as oppressed, and older people, who should be their mentors, fear to appear in the role of oppressor.

The problem is that it is largely a performance—what I like to call psychodrama, but which more accurately could be called live-action role-playing.  It is tolerated because it is no threat to anybody, except the unlucky individuals who get caught in the crossfire.

Why this loss of confidence?  Dashan thinks it is fear of responsibility.  I think that is a large part of it.  But I think the more important part is a decline in belief in the values that gave confidence to earlier generations of elite Americans.

When I read Edmund Morris’s The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, I was struck by how different the Harvard he attended was from the Harvard of today.

The goal of Harvard University in the 1870s was not only to provide an intellectual education, but to shape students’ character based on ideals of patriotism, Protestantism and manliness.

Young men were expected to participate in footfall and other contact sports to toughen them up, but also to teach ideals of sportsmanship—doing your best, but obeying the rules and not whining if you lose.  Attendance at morning prayers at Appleton Chapel was compulsory.

It is true that these ideals excluded a lot of people—Catholics, Jews, freethinkers and women, not to mention un-athletic men.  I would have felt this morality very restrictive if I had lived then.  Evidently many others over the years felt the same.

The unanswered question was:  What do you put in the place of these ideals?  Young people need to believe in something.

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Why so many suicidal mass gun killings?

August 11, 2019

Vigil for mass shooting victims in Las Vegas in 2017. Source: VOA.

The mass shootings that regularly occur in the United States are mostly also suicides.

Click to enlarge

They are the ultimate “deaths of despair.”

The killers do their shooting in public places and are almost guaranteed to be gunned down in their turn, if they don’t kill themselves first.

They are comparable to the suicide bombers in the Middle East and elsewhere, except that the jihadist killers are sometimes trying to achieve a specific military objective, like the Japanese kamikaze pilots during World War Two.

Among all the rich Western nations, the United States is the only one in which mass shootings occur on a regular basis.

That is not to say that ordinary Americans, and visitors to the United States, are in grave danger.  As a risk factor, mass shootings rank far below traffic accidents.

Click to enlarge

But the fact that they occur says something about our society.  For every man (the shooters are almost all men) who kills others and then himself out of rage and despair, there must be a hundred others who feel the same rage and despair and don’t act it out.

Some people blame availability of guns, and I agree it would be better if the government restricted sales of rapid-firing firearms with large ammunition clips and magazines.  Casualties from mass killings were fewer during the assault weapons ban, but they still occurred.

Click to enlarge

Some people blame ideologies based on hatred of black people or hatred of immigrants or hatred of women.  But the mass shooters can be of any race, and the percentage of white mass shooters is slightly less than the percentage of whites in the general population.

The killers profess all kinds of professed political and social motives and some profess no motives at all.  The only common denominator is that the killers are almost all suicidal men.

Hatred and bigotry have long been motives for killing.  The new thing is that the killers are suicidal.

There are ways to commit murder without sacrificing your life in the process.  (The methods are obvious, but if you can’t think of them, I see no benefit to society in helping you out.)

I think the root cause of mass killings are feelings of powerlessness and feelings of meaninglessness.  Your life is meaningless, so you give it up.  But you take others with you, so you do have some power after all.

I don’t have a good answer for this.  Calling for a greater sense of community or a stronger sense of values isn’t going to bring these things about.  Greater availability of mental health counseling probably would help some, but it won’t in itself empower people or make their lives meaningful.

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George Alfred Townsend’s The Entailed Hat

August 10, 2019

Time for something a little lighter!  I recently finished reading a literary curiosity, THE ENTAILED HAT, or Patty Cannon’s Times: a romance by George Alfred Townsend.  It was published in 1884 but is long out of print.  

Set on the Eastern Shore of Maryland around 1830, It has two plots.  One is a beauty-and-the-beast story about how circumstances cause a beautiful young woman to wed an ugly man who wears a very ugly hat.  The other is an action-adventure story, which graduallly takes over the novel, about an attempted rescue of victims of a criminal gang that kidnaps and sells black people, both enslaved and free.

George Alfred Townsend

The author was a best-selling writer of his time.  He was reportedly the youngest correspondent to cover the Civil War and achieved fame for his reporting of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth.

Later he become one of the first syndicated newspaper columnists and a fiction writer.  He used the pen name Gath, based on the Biblical version, “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not on the streets of Askalon.”

The Entailed Hat is considered his best novel.  His character Meshach Milburn of Princess Anne, Somerset County, wears a hat passed down by his family through the eldest sons since the 17th century.  It is extremely ugly and makes him an object of ridicule, but he stubbornly continues to wear it out of family pride.

One day a pretty little girl, Vesta Custis, gives him a rose to put in his hat.  He is so touched that he falls in love with her and waits for her to grow up  so her can marry her.  

Although an uneducated backwoodsman (a “forester”) low on the social scale, Milburn quietly builds up a fortune over the years.   

At the same time, Vesta’s father, Judge Custis, invests the family fortune in a failed enterprise to smelt iron from low-grade “swamp ore.”   He finally gets to the point where he uses the same property twice for security on different loans, which means that he is in jeopardy of criminal charges as well as bankruptcy.

Milburn buys up all the judge’s IOUs and offers an exchange—a write-off of all his debts in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage.  The judge refuses.

Here the novel takes an unexpected turn.  Vesta interviews Milburn, evaluates the situation and concludes that he would be an adequate, non-abusive husband and that the benefits of marriage would exceed the costs.

Soon after the marriage, Milburn falls ill with fever and Vesta takes charge of his affairs.  She also takes charge of her father’s affairs.  Her example causes her father to reform and give up his bad habits.  She teaches Milburn social graces to make him acceptable in polite society—although she can’t persuade him to give up his hat.

About this time some of Vesta’s slaves and Milburn’s free black employee, Samson Hat, are kidnaped by members of Patty Cannon’s gang.  Patty Cannon was a real person, and her gang, operating near the Maryland-Delaware border, was once the terror of the Delmarva Peninsula.

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White nationalists aren’t the only mass shooters

August 8, 2019

I deplore the way President Trump inflames racial antagonism, and I think it would be a good idea to restrict the sale of rapid-firing rifles that use large ammunition clips and magazines.  But I don’t think either of these things is a root cause of the mass shootings that plague the U.S.A.

The root cause of mass shootings is deeper than any particular ideology, whether that be white nationalism, Islamic jihadism or something else.  The fact that it is not just due to white nationalism is shown by the racial diversity of the shooters.

And no, we don’t need a renewed “war on terror,” this one aimed at white nationalists.   [Added 8/9/2019]

LINKS

The War on White Supremacist Terror by C.J. Hopkins for The Consent Factory.  [Added 8/9/2019]  Good article.

Mass shootings aren’t growing more common—and evidence contradicts common stereotypes about the killers by Charles J. Ferguson for The Conversation.

Five things to know about mass shootings in America by Frederic Lemieux for The Conversation.

Why Do We Have Mass Killers? by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative [Added 8/9/2019]

A handy list of black mass murderers who were taken alive (for people who think that being taken alive for mass murder is a ‘white privilege’) by Will Shetterly for it’s all one thing.  [Added 8/11/2019]

I added the text, changed the headline and added links the morning after I posted the chart.

We got Donald Trump, they got Boris Johnson

August 7, 2019

Boris Johnson

A friend of mine thinks that Donald Trump would never have been elected President if the United States had the British parliamentary system instead of the 18th century U.S. Constitution, with its Electoral College and fixed terms of office.  Well, the British parliamentary system produced Boris Johnson.  I think we’re even.

LINK

The Ham of Fate by Fintan O’Toole for the New York Review of Books.

Lessons from Hitler’s rise to power

August 6, 2019

Benjamin Carter Hett’s THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic is a month-by-month account of the politics of the years leading up to the Nazi conquest of power in Germany.

Hett described how Hitler went from 2.8 percent of the popular vote in the 1928 elections to 37.6 percent in 1932,  how he leveraged Nazi voting strength to make himself chancellor by legal means in 1933 and how all pretense of legality ended in the “night of the long knives” in 1934.

That was when Hitler destroyed all remnants of legality by simply ordering the execution-style murder of his opponents, including dissidents in the Nazi party.

Adolph Reed Jr. said in an Interview that Hett’s book is not only good in itself, but it throws light on contemporary U.S. politics.  In fact it does have lessons for the present-day United States, although not in a straightforward or obvious way.

A number of European countries, following defeat in World War One and with middle classes threatened by powerful Communist movements, became right-wing dictatorships.  Fascist Italy led the way.

Germany followed a different path.  A Communist revolution was crushed by a government supported by Social Democrats.   Socialists then joined forces with the Catholic Center Party and moderate conservative parties to form a democratic government.

The democratic coalition worked for a number of years.  The economy recovered.  Inflation was curbed.

Germany became a model for democratic socialism.  Labor unions were powerful.  The government provided compulsory wage arbitration and a strong social safety net.  Homosexuality and abortion were legal.

But, like today’s USA, Weimar Germany struggled with the issue of globalization vs. economic nationalism.

One big issue Weimar Germany had in common with the present-day USA was the question of globalization vs. economic nationalism.

The governing coalition accepted the need to pay reparations for Germany’s supposed guilt for starting World War One and to back their currency with gold.  Both were seen as the price of participating in the world economy.

The right-wing nationalists, including the Nazis, objected to these policies because they denied Germany the means to pay for rearmament and a large army.  They also objected to globalization on principle.  The Nazis wanted to end reparations, abrogate international trade treaties, limit foreign trade and make Germany as self-sufficient as possible.

The refugee crisis was another big issue.  An estimated 1.5 million refugees entered Germany between 1918 and 1922.  Most of them were Germans from former German territory in France and Poland, and many were refugees from Bolshevik Russia, but a lot of them were Jews.

Many Germans worried about their country’s inability to secure its borders. The Nazi position was to expel all refugees and also all Jews, refugees or not.

Weimar Germany had its own version of identity politics, which however was based on social class and religion rather than race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.  By identity politics, I mean politics based on an affirmation that your own group is good and other groups are bad, rather than politics based on getting what you and your group want.

The identity group to which the Nazis and other right-wing nationalists appealed were the rural and middle-class German Protestants.  The American and British image of Weimar Germany is based on Berlin, but more than a third of Germans lived in villages of fewer than 2,000 people.  Rural Protestants tended to be highly religious, respectful of authority and nostalgic for the Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm.

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Storm clouds

August 3, 2019

These time-lapse photos were taken by Mike Olbinski.  Hat tip to kottke.org.  Best viewed on full screen.

Considering the case for white nationalism

August 1, 2019

Click to enlarge

I read The White Nationalist Manifesto by Greg Johnson partly because I am annoyed at the casual way the word “racist” is thrown around, and I thought it would be interesting to discuss the ideas of an actual unapologetic racist.

I read it partly because I can remember when white racist ideas such as his were acceptable, and I see nothing in the nature of things to prevent them from becoming acceptable again.

And I read it partly because, as John Stuart Mill once said, “he who knows only his own side of a case knows little of that.”  If I believe in equal rights for all, I should be willing to confront the strongest arguments of someone who believes the opposite.

I take Greg Johnson’s arguments seriously and will respond to them in a civil manner.  I hope nobody accuses me of being an apologist for white nationalism because I do not use abusive language..  An insult is not an argument..

Greg Johnson starts out with the assumption that there is a genetic difference between white and non-white people that is so fundamental that they cannot live together in peace.  He then goes on to point out two facts.

  • The birth rate in majority-white countries, including the USA, is below the replacement rate (an average of 2.1 per woman).
  • All the countries in which the birth rate is above the replacement rate are non-white.  These are the countries that would be the predominant sources of immigration.

If non-white immigration and the declining birth rate continue indefinitely, white people will in time become minorities in their homelands and possibly be replaced altogether.  That’s a matter of logic.  Johnson calls this “white genocide.”

He mentioned the recent rise in “deaths of despair”  (suicide, drug overdoses, alcohol-related liver disease) among the American white population, which he attributed to the stress of living in a multi-racial society.

He believes that two things are necessary to prevent this:

  • White women of child-bearing age must have at least three children.  To ensure this happens, feminism must be rejected, abortion and birth control outlawed and LGBT persons not tolerated—at least among white people.  Men should be protectors and providers, women should be wives and mothers.
  • Immigration from non-white countries must cease and, over time, non-white immigrants and their children be returned to their homelands.  Jews should be sent to Israel.  In majority-white countries outside Europe, separate territories should be provided for indigenous peoples and “perhaps” for descendants of non-white slaves.  Aside from this, the long-range goal is to get rid of the non-white people.

Johnson distinguished white nationalism from white supremacy.  He did not advocate that white people subjugate and rule people of color, as in the pre-Civil War American South or apartheid South Africa.  He rather wants to exclude people of color as much as possible.

He also distinguished white nationalism from German Naziism and Italian Fascism, but here he had to tread carefully because neo-Nazis are part of his constituency.  He praised the Nazis and Fascists, whom he calls the Old Right, for their racism and anti-semitism, but added that white nationalism does not require a totalitarian police state or wars of extermination.

But while while nationalism is not totalitarian, neither is it a philosophy of individual freedom.  Johnson wrote:

White nationalism by its very nature is statist rather than libertarian, collectivist rather than individualist, illiberal rather than liberal.  We believe there is a common good—the survival and flourishing of our people—which can only be promoted by government policy, and we believe that whenever private interests conflict with the common good, the common good should win out.

Johnson endorsed the basic idea of identity politics as he sees it—that you should stick up for members of your own ethnic and racial group, regardless of merit or the facts of the individual case..  White nationalism is identity politics for white people.

The last thing he wants is a colorblind society, in which African-Americans, Hispanics and other non-whites assimilate and intermarry with the majority population.

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