Archive for December, 2021

Howard Thurman on the work of Christmas

December 31, 2021

Hat tip to Beth Ares.

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Business monopolies push prices upward

December 30, 2021

Matt Stoller reports that 60 percent of recent U.S. price increases are caused by businesses exercising monopoly power.  He says the recent surge in inflation cost $2,126 per American.

What can be done about it?  Stoller says:

  1. Strengthen laws against price-fixing.
  2. Impose an excess profits tax.
  3. Strengthen anti-trust laws against business concentration in general.
  4. Revive laws against price discrimination against small businesses.

LINK

Corporate Profits Drive 60% of Inflation Increases by Matt Stoller for BIG.

Covid coming back

December 30, 2021

Daily U.S. Covid cases set new record as of Dec. 30, 2021.

One of the reasons Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 elections was because of Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic and made it into a political issue.  He discouraged testing and gathering of data because it made him look bad.  

On the other hand, his administration deserves credit for Operation Warp Speed and the rapid development of effective vaccines.

Biden’s rhetoric is better, but his administration’s actions fall short of what is needed.  His administration’s leaders talk as if vaccination is a way to prevent the spread of the virus.  The vaccines now in use are not sterilizing.  You can catch the virus from a vaccinated person.

He talks as if vaccines are the answer to everything.  Being vaccinated will cut your risk of death or being hospitalized, but catching the virus can still do long-term damage to you.  The way to protect from infection is to make cheap Covid tests available to everyone.

His administration ignores the fact that we now know that Covid-19 is spread as an aerosol, like fog or cigarette smoke, and not in droplets.  So we should pay less attention to cleaning surfaces and more to proper ventilation.

Some of these failures are a result of the long-term hollowing out of public health and medical capacity.  Some originated with Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control rather than Trump or Biden personally.  

But they are the ones with the ultimate responsibility and power.  When the ship goes aground, the captain is responsible.  He can’t fix everything overnight, but he can begin.

Like Trump, Biden prioritizes getting back to normal.  Like him, he pushes responsibility onto state governments.  We the people need something better than leaders who take the path of political least resistance.

 LINKS

Don’t Be Too Cavalier About Omicron – Long Covid Is Still a Real Risk by Elizabeth Yuko for Rolling Stone.

Administration’s Obvious Covid Fail: Officially Abdicates as Case Count Hits Record; Scientists and Press Misrepresent Data to Put a Happy Face on Omicron by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

The very bad day at the CDC by Eric Topol for Ground Truths.

Covid Cases Fill More New York City Hospital Beds, Threatening Halt on Elective Surgeries by Greg B. Smith for The City.

A Myth Is Born: How CDC, FDA and Media Wove a Web of Ivermectin Lies That Outlive the Truth by Linda Bonvie and Mary Beth Pfeiffer for Michael Capuzzo’s Rescue substack.

Should CRT be taught in public schools?

December 29, 2021

 

Instruction about race and racism should be like all other instruction.

It should be accurate. It should be balanced. And it should be age-appropriate.

Education should give the students the skills they need to function as adults (reading and numeracy at a minimum) and the knowledge they need to understand the world they live in.

What they learn in the classroom should not contradict what they see and experience in the world outside.

Teachers should determine the curriculum with the advice, consent and, ideally, support of parents. They should never shut out parents or go behind the backs of parents.

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The problem with talking about critical race theory is that there is no clear definition of what critical race theory is.  Very few people with opinions about CRT have read books or articles by academic critical race theorists.

One of my friends says that critical race theory is simply facing up to the reality of the history of race and racism in the United States.  Very good!  Nobody could object to that.  But what exactly is that reality?

The version I was taught in high school in the 1940s and college in the 1950s fell short of that reality.  When I. studied the Civil War, I was taught about Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant, I was taught about Jefferson David and Robert E. Lee, but I was not taught much of anything about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.  It’s good that a more complete version is being taught today.

The New York Times has published a new interpretation of American history, The 1619 Project, which says that slavery and white supremacy, and not ideals of freedom and democracy, are the foundations of American history.  

The Times is promoting its 1619 Project articles as the basis of a high school curriculum.  But many respected historians question various aspects of the Times interpretation.

When respected authorities on a topic disagree,  students should learn both sides of the argument.  I think the 1619 Project belongs in high school libraries, along with alternative interpretations.  

No student who’s curious about it should be discouraged from learning about it.  But it should not be used as a textbook.  If it is, it shouldn’t be the only textbook. 

Another of my friends says that critical race theory is looking at the world through the lens of race.  That is, you should look at everything in terms of how it affects people of different races, both directly and indirectly, and how the way things work in American society is a result of racism, past and present.

I agree that if you look at things that way, you may see things you would otherwise overlook.  But why look at things through only one lens.  It is like looking at things through a microscope with only one setting of magnification.

You can understand a lot of things in society if you look at them through the lens of money.  There is a racial angle on many things, but there is a money angle on almost everything.  Or look at things through the lens of historic American ideals of freedom and democracy.

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The passing scene: Links 12/27/2021

December 27, 2021

The Claims of Memory by Wilfred M. McCloy for First Things.  Conservatism is necessary for progress.  If you can’t preserve existing good things, it is futile to try to create new good things.  Burning everything down and starting over is one of the worst ideas in history.

Everything Going Great: Bad Faith, Worse News and Julian Assange by Edward Snowden for Continuing Ed.

2021 Year in Review: The Only Way Out Is Through by Alexandra Bradbury for Labor Notes.  The labor movement is reviving, but has a long way to go.  [Hat tip to Bill Harvey]

Smartphones Are a New Tax on the Poor by Julia Ticona for Wired.  Low-wage workers are expected to be connected to the Internet, even though many can’t afford it.  As someone said, it’s expensive to be poor.

Hillary 2024? Given the competition, she may be the Dems’ best hope by Joe Concha for The Hill.

Friendly foul-mouthed crow befriends entire elementary school before state police are called in by Lizzy Acker for The Oregonian.  Something cheerful to end with.

Merry Christmas 2021

December 25, 2021

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The Christmas truce of World War One

December 24, 2021

The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce by Mike Dash for Smithsonian magazine.

Matt Taibbi on the Loudoun County culture war

December 23, 2021

AThe school board in Loudon County, Va., which is on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., has been in the headlines over its handling of race and gender issues.

Matt Taibbi has written an excellent series of articles about what’s really going on there, and how it has been misreported. I didn’t know the half of it until I read his pieces.

A proposal to end selective examinations to enter “gifted” programs was called an anti-racism program. But the group that the proposal hurts the most consists of dark-skinned immigrants from south India.

A role-playing exercise that well-meaning people put on to teach students about the Underground Railroad and the evils of slavery was attacked as an exercise in racism.

Self-described advocates of critical race theory went to absurd lengths to silence and marginalize their opponents.  Respectable citizens with legitimate concerns were treated as if they were potentially violent white nationalist zealots.

A highly-publicized incident, in which a 14-year-old girl was forcibly sodomized in a girl’s restroom by a boy wearing a dress, was reported as a transgender rights issue.

All this affected the 2021 elections in Virginia and is likely to have a big impact on the 2022 mid-term elections and beyond.

Most of my liberal friends and acquaintances think that the new “woke-ness” or critical race theory or whatever you want to call it is an extension of the civil rights movement they’ve advocated for all their lives. It is actually—at least in this case—a rejection of the old-time liberal ideal of equal rights and equal treatment for all.

If you care at all about this stuff, I recommend you bookmark this page and read Taibbi’s articles at your leisure.

LINKS

Loudon County, Virginia: A Culture War in Four Acts by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

A furious controversy in the richest county in America was about race, all right, but not in the way national media presented it.

A Culture War in Four Acts.  Loudoun County, Virginia.  Part Two.  “The Incident” by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

An Underground Railroad simulation at an elementary school brings a long-simmering dispute out into the open, triggering a bizarre series of unfortunate events.

The Holy War of Loudoun County, Virginia by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

An opposition galvanized by revelations of bizarre school policies finds itself on an enemies list.

Loudoun County Epilogue: A Worsening Culture War and the False Hope of ‘Decorum’. by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

As the wealthiest county in America found out, difficult political problems can’t just be swept under the rug, or into a parking lot.

Easy listening music of the season by Mozart

December 22, 2021

Source: Collins Classics.

Putin’s ultimatum and the threat of war

December 21, 2021

Destruction Is Still Mutually Assured by Freddie deBoer.

Russia Details Security Demands to U.S. and NATO by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

Only the Powerful Issue Ultimatums by Andrei Martyanov (a Russian view).

Russia’s Ultimatum to the West by the Saker (another Russian view)

A surprise Russian ultimatum: new draft treaties to roll back NATO by Gilbert Doctorow.  [Added 12/23/2021]

We’ve Seen the Ultimatum: What Is the ‘Or Else’? by Patrick Armstrong for Russia Observer.  [Added 12/23/2021]  A long list of things Russia could do short of nuclear escalation.

The humiliation of Joe Biden

December 21, 2021

The Build Back Better bill was a list of Joe Biden’s campaign promises in legislative form. For months, President Biden and the Democratic leadership in Congress have been weakening the bill in hope of appeasing Senators Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema.

Now, after all these months and waste of work by administration and congressional staff, Senator Manchin has announced he won’t support the bill even in its gutted form.

Manchin, Biden early 2021

There will be no political retaliation as a result of this, either from the Biden Administration or the Senate Democratic leadership. I can imagine Senator Mitch McConnell would do to any Republican who stymied the Republican legislative program.

This is not only a defeat for Joe Biden. It is a public humiliation.

A year or so into President Barack Obama’s first term, I wondered whether he was a progressive who was very weak and naive, or a conservative who was very cunning. I decided the latter was true.

I don’t have the same question with Biden. Defeat of his program may have been unavoidable, but he didn’t have to set himself up to be made to look like a fool.

Obama failed to deliver on his campaign promises, and the opposition party swept with mid-term congressional elections. Most political observers expect the same thing to happen again.

LINKS

The Democrats Go Full Gotterdammerung as Manchin Makes DOA of BBB Official by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Build Back Better Now DOA: Next Phase of US Economic & Political Crisis Begins by Jack Rasmus.

Globalist Germany and nationalist France?

December 20, 2021

German Chancellor Olaf Scoltz and French President Emmanuel Macron

Diana Johnstone, a long-time independent reporter of European politics, wrote an interesting article about the differences between Germany and France in economic, environmental and military police.

Germany is confident and expansive.  France is defensive and fearful of national decline.  Or so she says.

Germany is committed to green energy, feminism, globalization and an anti-Russian “rules-based international order.”  France is committed to nuclear energy and a nationalistic industrial policy, and is reluctant to join in a new Cold War against Russia.

Franco-German unity has been the key to European unity since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the European Union, in 1952.   If they can’t stay unified, the EU may not have much of a future.

Germany’s new government is, as she puts it, a “traffic light” coalition.  Red represents the Social Democrats, yellow (or gold) represents the pro-business Free Democrats and green represents the Green Party.

A new Ministry of Economic and Climate will be in charge of reducing CO2 emissions.  Every governmental measure will have to pass a climate check.  

Germany today is heavily dependent on coal as a result of phasing out nuclear energy, and it has delayed certification of the new gas pipeline from Russia.  Itt has a goal of generating 80 percent of Germany’s electricity from renewable energy, mainly wind farms, by 2030, sooner than before.

One of the new government’s priorities is to develop an electric car industry for the export market, both inside and outside the EU.  Germany’s expectation is that all EU countries will be open to importing the new electric cars without favoring their own industry.   The European Commission is considering rules that would require all cars sold in Europe after 2035 to be carbon neutral.

France’s Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, is being pulled to the right, Johnstone wrote.  There is a fear that France is losing its national character and also its position in the world.  France is not going to shut down its network of nuclear-powered electric power plants any time soon.

The French government wants to build up French manufacturing industry.  This might bring it into conflict with EU rules and regulations, which bans government policies to favor domestic industry, except in the military sphere.

There has a strong right-wing, anti-immigrant movement in France, led by Marine Le Pen.  But now there’s an even more extreme movement, led by a journalist named Eric Zemmour.  His party is called the Reconquest Party; the idea is to reconquer France for the French.

The new German government wants strong ties with the United States, which, according to Johnstone, means dropping objections to storing nuclear weapons on German soil.  France hasn’t openly opposed NATO, but is less enthusiastic about the alliance than Germany is.

Macron has floated the idea of an independent European military force, independent of the United States, but hasn’t gotten anywhere with the Germans and other NATO allies.  Johnstone said he wouldn’t like Ukraine in NATO, because it would expand German influence and its farm exports would compete with French farmers.

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The mess in American higher education

December 20, 2021

To get a job teaching in American public schools, you have to take college courses in education, then do practice teaching under the supervision of an experienced teacher.  

You may or may not be pleased with the result, but the point is that school authorities don’t expect just anyone to be able to step into a classroom and teach.

Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of the history of education at the University of Pennsylvania, pointed out that college teaching is the exact opposite.

There is no meaningful professional preparation to be a college teacher.  There is no meaningful professional evaluation of college teaching.  Student evaluations don’t help.  All they’ve led to is grade inflation and easier assignments.

The majority of college teachers are adjunct faculty or temporary contractors, the lowest-paid, least secure and least prestigious in the college pecking order.

If universities were truly concerned about social justice, he wrote, there wouldn’t be so many college teachers who lack a living wage, health insurance or even a desk of their own to work at.

He said that undergraduates, because they have no standard of comparison, don’t understand how bad their teaching is.  Some of them rightly revolt against having to pay top dollar  for on-line instruction.  Others are more concerned with alleged thought-crimes of the right and left.

Zimmerman’s solution is a tuition strike.  He is disappointed that so few students are interested in this.  

I find it hard to blame the students.  So long as a college diploma is considered the only ticket to a middle class income, the college administrations will have the upper hand.

LINKS

The Quiet Scandal of College Teaching by Jonathan Zimmerman for Liberties.

Why the Fuck Do You Trust Harvard? by Freddie deBoer.  College admissions are another mess.

Taibbi on culture wars in Loudon County, Va.

December 17, 2021

Loudoun County, Va., on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., is the nation’s richest county. Recently it has been trending Democratic in national elections; Joe Biden got 61 percent of its vote in 2020.  

But last November, along with Virginia as a whole, it rejected Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and supported Republican Glenn Youngkin.  The swing to Republicans in Loudoun was 15 percentage points.

The county’s school system is the battleground of arguments about critical race theory, transgenderism and a sexual assault case on school property.  The great investigative reporter, Matt Taibbi, says almost all these issues have been mis-reported by the national news media.

He is working on a four-part series of articles about Loudon, and has published the first one.   I had originally planned to wait until he finished the series, and link to them, but his first one is interesting and important/.  I don’t know how long he is going to take to publish the others and whether they will be behind a pay wall.  So here goes.

The first article is about the drive to abolish or restructure programs for “gifted” children because such programs supposedly benefit whites more than blacks.  

This isn’t so.  Anything nowadays that’s based on competitive examinations primarily benefits the super-studious children of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and Eastern Asia, just as, a century ago, success in competitive examinations was dominated by the super-studious children of Jewish immigrants.

Loudoun County had a program for gifted children called Academies of Loudoun, and also pays tuition for selected students to attend Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology, the top-rated high school in the nation, in neighboring Fairfax County.  Any graduate of TJ High is practically guaranteed admission to top universities.

Such programs made Loudoun County a magnet for Asian immigrants who worked in high tech industry and were academically ambitious for their children.  A large fraction were dark-skinned people with roots in South India, whose families had been held back by color prejudice in their homelands.

Asians are about 20 percent of the populations of both Loudoun and Fairfax counties.   In 2018, they made up more than half the applicants to TJ High and two-thirds of those accepted.  In contrast, whites were fewer than a third of the applicants and fewer than a quarter of those accepted.  Blacks and Hispanics were fewer than 10 percent of applicants or those accepted.

Taibbi reported that Loudoun County in 2018 changed the criteria for gifted programs to make them more holistic and less dependent on competitive examinations.  The change primarily benefitted whites, not blacks, and at the expense of a particular minority group.  

ThIs is a common pattern where high schools with selective admissions are under attack.

Taibbi thinks there was a swing of Asian-American voters against the Democrats in the recent Virginia elections, and probably nation-wide.

Until now, most Asian-Americans have regarded Democrats as the party of education.  That can change, and it would be politically important.

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Why Trump won in 2016 and lost in 2020

December 16, 2021

Donald Trump would have won the 2020 election if not for the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, according to political scientist Thomas Ferguson.

He explained why in an academic paper he co-wrote in November and an interview a couple of days ago on Paul Jay’s theAnalysis podcast.

Ferguson is known for his “investment theory of political parties.”  He sees American politic as a conflict between powerful economic interests, not between voting blocs.  The economic interests select and invest in candidates; the public gets to choose between the candidates the investors select.   

Trump was on the verge of losing in 2016 and was saved by a last-minute surge in campaign funding by wealthy donors who feared he would take the Republican Party down with him, Ferguson said.

Trump got campaign support from the oil and gas, coal mining, timber, agri-business industries, which he favored, The Koch brothers, for example, get their wealth from energy and other resources industries. 

I notice that these industries are based in parts of the USA in which states are over-represented in the Senate and Electoral College in proportion to their populations.  This was a big factor in 2020.

While Trump appealed to racial and nativist prejudice, Ferguson said this did not determine the outcome.

His protectionist trade policies were popular with industrial workers as well as manufacturing CEOs.  He got support from farmers because his administration compensated them for losses as a result of trade wars with China.  

All these things, together with the relatively good performance of the economy, put Trump in a good position to win in 2020, Ferguson said.

But his ineffective response to the Covid crisis cost him support from corporate executives and also college-educated Republicans who otherwise might have voted for him out of party loyalty.

The voters’ response to the 2020 strikes and protests movements is interesting and not easy to explain.  Usually, when there are civil disorders, there is a backlash in favor of the police and law-and-order.  This time was different.

Ferguson’s analysis showed that there was a correlation between counties in which there was an upsurge in Black Lives Matter, environmental and others kinds of protests, and counties in which there was strong support for Joe Biden.  The only exception to this were counties with large Hispanic populations.  Also, there was no correlation between Biden voting and wildcat labor strikes.

The point is that it is premature to count out Donald Trump and his followers.  President Biden and the Democrats need to do more than just be anti-Trump if they are to retain office.  They can’t afford to let the economy falter or Covid spread. [*]

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Is the USA a democracy?

Paul Jay asked Ferguson whether he thinks the USA is a democracy.  Ferguson said democracy is an “honorific” term, not an analytical term.  No voting system, in and of itself, can empower the public to overcome the enormous concentration of wealth that exists in today’s USA, he said.

He said wage-earners in the USA and other rich Western countries do still have more rights than they do in Russia or China (although Ferguson acknowledged China’s economic achievements.)

And political disorder in the United States has not yet reached the point as it did in the late Weimar Republic, where political killings by para-military militias were an almost daily occurrence.

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Financial predators and the American press

December 15, 2021

A Secretive Hedge Fund Is Gutting Newspapers: Inside Alden Global Capital by McKay Copplins for The Atlantic.  About the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun.

How Democracy Dies at The Washington Post Editorial Board by Alan McLeod for Mint Press News.

14 maxims for life

December 14, 2021

Today is my 85th birthday.  Here is what I’ve learned, such as it is, in 85 years.

  1. Happiness is being able to look back on your life with justified satisfaction.
  2. Never let your self-respect depend on anything (money, rank, reputation) that somebody else has the power to take away from you.
  3. Success is a product of effort, talent and luck.  The first factor is the only one you control, and the only one you deserve praise or blame for.
  4. Success isn’t everything.
  5. What you are is the product of your habits.  Your habits are the product of thousands of small decisions you probably don’t remember making.
  6. Nobody ever got in trouble by checking.
  7. There is no such thing as a stupid question.  Stupidity consists of not knowing and not asking.
  8. When you admit a mistake, you are telling the world you understand things better today than you did yesterday.
  9. Guilt is like everything else.  Some people have much, much more than they should, and those who need it most have none at all.
  10. Don’t compare yourself with others.  There will always be somebody who is better, or better off, than you, and somebody else who is worse, or worse off, than you.
  11. Don’t get upset about anything you don’t expect to remember 10 years from now.
  12. A survivalist tip: Make yourself useful and treat people well, so that, during the coming bad years, they will have a reason to keep you alive.
  13. Small kindnesses add up.
  14. Count your blessings. 

Some sayings of sages:

“A man, sir, must keep his friendships in constant repair.”  (Samuel Johnson)

“The virtue of the middle class is thrift.  The virtue of the working class is solidarity.”  (David Graeber)

“It is possible to ignore reality, but it is not possible to ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”  (Atributed to Ayn Rand)

‘Come thou fount of every blessing’

December 12, 2021

Hat tip to Julian Abagond.

The architecture of bubbles

December 11, 2021

Julian Assange and the eclipse of liberalism

December 10, 2021

President Biden is attempting to rally what he calls liberal democratic nations against autocratic China, Russia and Iran. But the Julian Assange case shows that liberalism is a sham in the USA and its vassal allies.

Assange in 2011

The USA under Obama, Trump and Biden has protected high-level officials who commit crimes and atrocities, while prosecuting persons such as Assange who reveal crimes and atrocities.

We got a reminder of this with the recent UK court decision to extradite Julian Assange for violation of the U.S. Espionage Act. The violation consisted of revealing killing of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. forces.

This is something that Woke Democratic and MAGA Republican leaders in the USA (though not necessarily all their followers) agree on, along with leaders of the UK, Australia, Sweden, Ecuador and other countries.

But if a government can commit crimes, and make it a crime to reveal those crimes, then what stands between the public and a would-be Hitler or Stalin?  And how can any impartial observer take U.S. leaders seriously, when they claim to be defenders of democracy and freedom?

LINKS

The Courage Foundation.  Julian Assange is not the only persecuted truth-teller.

Julian Assange Loses Appeal: British High Court Accepts U.S. Request to Extradite Him by Glenn Greenwald.  Why the persecution and prosecution of Assange is an attack on press freedom and the rule of law generally.

Julian Assange Has a Stroke in Belmarsh Prison by Susan Oliver for The Daily Mail.  [Added 12/15/2020]

There Is No Liberal West by N.S. Lyons.  I agree with Lyons’ eloquent defense of classic liberal principles against woke-ism, but notice that he does not mention people persecuted for truth-telling about militaristic governments and abusive corporations.  Freedom is indivisible.

Book note: Braiding Sweetgrass

December 9, 2021

BRAIDING SWEETGRASS: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Wisdom of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013)

Sweetgrass is an aromatic grass found in Canada and the northern USA.  Indigenous people of the Great Lakes believe it was a gift from Skywoman, a divine being who brought plant life to earth. They pluck the grass reverently, gather it into three bundles and weave it into braids.  Then they make the braids into baskets, which, according to their tradition, should always be given away, never sold for money.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and distinguished teaching professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. In this book, she weaves together three strands—indigenous ways of knowledge, scientific knowledge and stories of her own life and lives of her ancestors.

She does not draw a line between humanity and the natural world; she sees them as parts of the same thing.  She does not draw a line between scientific knowledge and indigenous knowledge; she sees them as two ways of understanding the same reality.  

Indigenous knowledge has its own validity; scientific knowledge has its own beauty and awesomeness.  But both are needed.  Neither one is a substitute for the other.

She weaves her book out of many strands—myth, history, botanical lore, cultural survival, environmental and ecological issues, and her own experiences.   It is a rich tapestry, and I’ll only pick out a couple of the strands.

One strand is the Indian idea of the Honorable Harvest.  The idea is that it is permissible for humans use plants and animals to serve their own needs, but it has to be done with restraint and gratitude.

The rules are: Never take the first thing you find, because it may be the only one.  Never take more than half of what you find.  Never take more than you need.  Show respect and express gratitude for what you are given.  And give back as well as take.

This is a form of reverence for life that embraces acceptance of the fact of death.  Some sweetgrass has to be plucked or else the rest will not get enough sunlight and nutrients.  Some deer must fall to predators or hunters, or else the herd will starve.  My life and yours must end someday, or else there will be no room for new people.

Even if we get what we need from the supermarket rather than the forest, we can show gratitude and avoid greed and waste.

Another strand is the idea that plants are teachers.  Kimmerer shows the grandeur of cedar trees and the amazing tenacity of lichen and moss, but there is more to it than that.

It is a wonder and a mystery that living things can be brought into existence by the photosynthesis of light, air and water.  If it weren’t familiar, we’d call it a miracle.

Nor are plants passive entities.  They move and adapt to their environments, although at a pace of seasons and decades, not seconds and minutes.  They communicate and cooperate, using biochemistry instead of words and gestures.  Indeed, as she wrote, plants can be our teachers.

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Our threatened democracy: Links 12/8/2021

December 8, 2021

Will You Storm the Capitol if the 2024 Election Is Stolen? by Thom Hartmann for The Hartmann Report. 

How Would the Left Treat an Illegitimate Election? by Thomas Neuburger for God’s Spies.

The pro-Trump protesters who gathered in Washington on Jan. 6 sincerely thought that the election had been stolen.  I don’t think the evidence supports this.  But suppose they had been right?  What could or should they have done?

This isn’t an academic question.  The 2024 election could well be rigged, and rigged in favor of Trump or whoever is the Republican presidential candidate.  There could be competing slates of electors from key states—a Democratic slate elected by majority vote and a Republican slate chosen by state legislators.

It’s quite likely the Republicans will regain control of the Senate and the House in 2022.  So the GOP, if it is united, would be able to decide in any dispute.  What, then, could or should Democrats do?

A Failing State by Eeggert for The Soundings.

A roundup of all the ways in which the Republican right is working to undermine democracy.  Hartmann’s and Neuburger’s fears are not imaginary.

The Radical Young Intellectuals Who Want to Take Over the American Right by Sam Adler-Bell for The New Republic.

The intellectual right’s war on America’s institutions by Zach Beauchamp for Vox.

Some conservative intellectuals believe their cause can only prevail if they abandon freedom of speech, separation of church and state and other historic small-l liberal ideals.

American Satyricon by Chris Hedges for Scheerpost.

If the USA was a well-functioning democracy, right-wing authoritarianism would not be a threat.

The Ghislaine Maxwell trial reveals how rotten the ruling elite really is, and this is true across the political spectrum.   Rich and powerful men were given free rein to sexually abuse underage and teenage girls, and for years nothing was done.  Jeffrey Epstein died mysteriously, and Maxwell may or may not go to prison, but it’s a safe bet than none of their clients will face any consequences, even in reputation.

An Empire of Dreams by John Michael Greer for Ecosophia.

The more that established authorities discredit themselves, the more willing the public is to embrace fantastic conspiracy theories.  Consider, for example, the imaginary empire of Tartaria.

Therapy as a substitute for religion

December 6, 2021

THE TRIUMPH OF THE THERAPEUTIC: Uses of Faith After Freud by Philip Rieff (1966)

The world’s great civilizations, and all cultures that I know anything about, have been based on religions or philosophies that taught people to regard themselves as part of something greater than themselves.

The greater thing can be conceived as a supernatural order, as natural law or as a web of existence of which we are all a part.  Or it can be service to God or some transcendent force.  Or it can be a continuation of ancient ways of the ancestors.

The atheist sociologist Philip Rieff, like many before him, noticed how such ideas were fading in rich Western countries.  In these countries, people were, and are, increasingly focused on individual self-fulfillment.  For many, religion was and is either ignored or regarded as a stepping-stone to self-fulfillment.

Psychotherapy’s purpose is to make self-fulfillment possible.  In this book, Rieff looked at the potential for psychotherapy to become a substitute for religion, by examining the thought of Sigmund Freud and three of his critics, Carl Jung, Wilhelm Reich and D.H. Lawrence.

I have some basic knowledge about these four thinkers, but I am not a deep student of their thought.  What follows is my understanding of Rieff’s account.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, was an atheist who was committed to scientific rationality.  He discovered that people were much more subject to irrational subconscious forces than they had thought.  

He classified the human mind into the “ego,” the conscious rational mind, and the subconscious “id” and “superego.”  The id consists of all the feelings and desires the ego is unwilling to admit, and the “super-ego,” consists of all the rules and taboos imposed by parents that are subconsciously taken for granted.

Freud believe that, in order to live in society, especially modern industrial society, it is impossible to act out all your emotions and fulfill your desires.  Some control is necessary.  Complete happiness is impossible.

But people make themselves more miserable than necessary because they are unconscious of both their desires and the internal taboos that prevent them from attaining their desires.  Freud thought unconscious sexual taboos and desires were especially harmful.

He was not a libertine.  His goal was to make his patients more aware of their unconscious feelings and desires so that they would not be controlled by them.

Freud believed in moral neutrality.  If a patient behaved in a warm and compassionate way because of unconscious guilt feelings, and, freed of guilt feelings, became selfish and ruthless, that was no concern of the therapist.

Although Freud despised the USA and U.S. American culture, his ideas fit well with a certain kind of American individualism.

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Book note: The dawn of interstellar travel

December 3, 2021

BEYOND THE HALLOWED SKY by Ken MacLeod (2021)

Ken MacLeod’s newest SF novel, the first in a trilogy, is on a theme that’s new to me – the discovery of faster-the-light travel, and its impact on earthly events.

It’s set about 50 years in the future, when the world is divided into three power blocs, the Union, the Alliance and the Co-ordinated States.

The Union includes all of Europe, including Ireland and Scotland, but not England.  The Alliance consists of the Anglosphere—the USA (where democracy has been “recently restored”), England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—plus India. The Coordinated States are Russia, China and their satellites.

The Union is the most interesting of the three.  It has recently undergone something called a “Rising” which has brought about something called a “Cold Revolution.”

The events of the Rising are only vaguely known because the instigators have had all personal records of their activities deleted from the Internet.  It seems to me like something resembling H.G. Wells’ Open Conspiracy, in which like-minded intelligent people understand what needs to be done, and work together to lead the way, without being directed from any center.

In the Union, there is an entity called Iskander, an “algorithmic anticipatory artificial intelligence,” which has access to all on-line information, whether from the equivalents of the NSA or of Facebook.  It can be talked to, and it fulfills requests, like Apple Computer’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa.

Iskander is not only a provider of information and services.  It also is part of the Union’s military-intelligence system. It may ask you whether you a cup of coffee, or it may ask you whether you want to defect.

The novel opens when a young Alliance mathematician gets a letter from her future self proving that faster-than-light travel, contrary to Einstein, is possible. She does not dismiss it out of hand because, if faster-than-light travel is possible, time travel is also possible.

(This is not something I understand at all, but if time slows down to nearly zero as you approach the speed of light, then it’s not crazy to think it would go into reverse if you exceed the speed of light.)

She publishes her proof in the expectation that it will be refuted. She is attacked on all sides, but not convinced she is wrong.  

Finally she gets a visit from a mysterious figure who tells her that, by a strange coincidence, all mathematicians who’ve published such proofs have died soon after.

Taking that hint, she defects to the Union, joins with other bright young people to build an actual FTL ship and then are amazed to learn that the Alliance and Coordinated States have had bases on a planet of another star, and have had FTL travel for at least that long.

This would imply that covert interstellar travel is going on right now. How is this possible?  Presumably the next volumes in the series will tell us.

Also, pioneers at the interstellar base are discovering things that all in question our ideas about the nature and origins of life.

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Biden may be winding down drone killings

December 1, 2021

Click to enlarge

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President Biden may be winding down the drone wars.  Data collected by Airwars.org, an independent organization that monitors civilian casualties in war, indicate drone killings have dwindled to almost nothing.  Above are a couple of Airwars charts.

This is excellent news, if true and if it is more than temporary.

Ryan Cooper, writing for The Week, wonders why Biden doesn’t take credit for his achievement.  My guess is that Biden thinks restraint is unpopular.  It is certainly unpopular in the Washington press corps.

LINKS

Airwars Conflict Data.

Biden nearly ended the drone war and nobody noticed by Ryan Cooper for The Week.

Pentagon Blasted for ‘Unacceptable Failure’ to Reckon With Civilian Casualties by Brett Wilkins for Common Dreams.  [Added 12/3/2021]. The other side of the coin.