Archive for December, 2022

Comedy wildlife photography award entries 2022

December 31, 2022

Time for something a little lighter.  The annual comedy wildlife photography awards are always good for a smile.

The 2022 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.  The winners.  The finalists.


Can (some) progressives and conservatives unite?

December 29, 2022

Historically, Americans who’ve talked about getting “beyond left and right” have been elitists who advocate woke-ism combined with neoliberal capitalism.   But maybe we, the grass roots common people, cam also get together across party lines and ideological categories.

On Tuesday, I linked to a post by Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism about how reform movements in the United States succeeded only when progressives (idealistic middle-class people) and populists (oppressed working-class and poor people) united.

I suggested that U.S. politics are stuck because the Democratic leadership consists of fake progressives and the Republican leadership consists of fake populists, both of whom support the powers that be.  A commenter on that thread suggested ways in which the genuine progressive liberals and populist conservatives might unite.

Progressive Priorities the radicalizing secular Right might agree to:

  • Anti-militarism
  • Universal secular education
  • Female legal equality
  • Consumer protections

Radical Priorities the secular “America First” Right might agree to:

  • Eight hour day and work place safety
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Tax the rich
  • Anti-trust and anti-corporate
  • Anti-imperialism

To join forces with the “America First” Right, the Left would have to concede some ground in areas considered sacrosanct for the Democratic Party. These would include:

  • Strict border enforcement (immigration, drugs etc.)
  • More protectionism in trade policy (maybe scrap the WTO and NAFTA altogether)
  • Other?

What I’m proposing is a fusion of “anti war” “America First” and “Pro-Jobs” values.  Couldn’t this be a winning combination?  And most of all, could it work?

As I see it, the biggest obstacle to such a combination is the culture wars  The new ideology – “woke-ism,” critical race theory, queer theory, “cancel culture,” etc. – consists of a series of wedge issues that keep Americans divided.  

But maybe that ideology could be transcended, based on the principle of equal rights for all, special privileges for none.

Maybe all the failure of the American political establishment to deal with continuing problems – endless wars, deindustrialization, climate-related catastrophes, contagious disease – will become so extreme and so apparent that wedge issues will be forgotten.

Are Harvard students getting smarter?

December 28, 2022

Grade Inflation: What Goes Up Must Come Down by Aden Barton for the Harvard Crimson.

Progressives and populists in 2022

December 27, 2022

Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism had a good post on politics and political reform, taking off on a talk by Thomas Frank.

In a nutshell, successful political reform in the United States has been the product of alliances between progressives and populists.

I define progressives as middle-class idealists who want a better world for everyone, and populists as have-nots who want a more just world for themselves.

The progressive agenda is, as defined in a 2011 article by a writer named Richard Kline quoted by Smith, is as follows:

Universal, secular education
End to child labor
Universal suffrage
Female legal equality
Consumer protections
Civil rights

The populist agenda is:

Call off the cops (and thugs)
Eight hour day and work place safety
Right to organize
Anti-discrimination in housing and hiring
Unemployment dole
Public pensions
Public educational scholarships
Tax the rich
Anti-trust and anti-corporate

Broadly speaking, the Democrats are fake progressives and the Republicans are fake populists.  Until we the people can find an alternative to the two-party system, or change the power structure in one or both major parties, we’re stuck.


Thomas Frank on How Democrats Trashed the American Middle Class by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

From the Archives: Richard Kline on Progressively Losing (2011) on Naked Capitalism.  Still relevant.

The Democrats’ Nonwhite Working Class Problem by Ruy Teixeira for the Liberal Patriot.

Women inventors: international comparisons

December 26, 2022

The share of female inventors among applicants for international patents was highest in Cuba and the Philippines in 2021, according to data by the World Intellectual Property Organization.  Worldwide, the share of women applicants stood at only 17 percent.  Cuba, which only irregularly reports figures to Wipo, very much exceeded the global average with more than half of all registered patent applicants being women in 2021, as did the Philippines, where last year 38 percent of inventors were female.

Portugal was the highest-ranked European country in rank 3, followed by Romania in rank 6 and Spain in rank 10.  Spanish-speaking countries were featured heavily among the top 10 and also included Costa Rica, Peru and Chile.

Ranking above average was China at 24 percent of female inventors.  Other major European countries like Germany and the UK, but also Italy and Sweden, stayed behind the global average. The United States and France ranked about average.

One of the poorest performance was given by Japan with only 10 percent of women inventors.  Similarly low scores were achieved by India, the UAE and Indonesia.

Source:  Statistica.


Merry Christmas 2022

December 24, 2022

Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

The mediocre superheroes

December 22, 2022

Time for something a little lighter.

For background, click on Even Superheroes Have Moments of Mediocrity As This Comic Strip Shows by Sachin P for


Turning points: Vietnam 1965, Ukraine 2023

December 20, 2022

History doesn’t repeat and historical analogies, in and of themselves, don’t prove anything. But history can provide food for thought.

The USA and its allies are at a turning point in the Ukraine conflict. We’re being told by Ukraine’s leaders that, yes, they’re still on the verge of victory, but nevertheless they may lose unless they get a major infusion of arms and money.

I’m reminded of General Westmoreland’s report on Vietnam in 1965.  He said the South Vietnamese government was not winning, as had been previously reported.  Instead it was on the verge of collapse, unless the USA sent 125,000 troops immediately.

Lyndon Johnson, a strong man who was unwilling to admit defeat, agreed.  In the end 500,000 Americans were sent to Vietnam to fight.  In the end, the USA lost anyway.

Ukraine has been a sinkhole for U.S.-supplied armaments.  They’ve burned through years of production of Javelin missiles and other weapons in a matter of months.  

The choice for the USA is to admit failure now, and give in.  Or to send American troops.  The decision is up to Joe Biden, a weak man who will find it hard to admit defeat.

Back in the 1960s, the United States was at the height of its power as a military and industrial power.  Now both military and industrial strength have been hollowed out.  It is not likely that the U.S. can do to Russia what it failed to do to North Vietnam.

Ukrainian forces have been trying to escalate the war in order to provoke a direct Russia-USA conflict.  This includes attacks on Russian territory, including a drone attack on a Russian Air Force base where nuclear weapons have been stored.  It includes assassination of a Russian media personality, Darya Dugina.  It includes bombardment of a nuclear power plant under Russian control, with risk of another Chernobyl disaster.

I do not blame Ukrainian leaders for seeking a larger war.  Their brave soldiers are being decimated.  Ursula van der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, recently said Ukraine’s armed forces have suffered 100,000 fatal casualties.

They have no obligation to the U.S. government, which led them to believe they could safely join the anti-Russian alliance and suppress the Russian-speaking minority.  Their only hope of victory is to cover their losses by raising the stakes.

But that’s no reason for me, as an American citizen, to support a war that is harming my own country, bringing disaster to Europe and devastating Ukraine.

There is little hope of a compromise peace.  The Russian government perceives the Ukrainian conflict, along with the global sanctions war, as a struggle for national survival.  It does not trust the U.S. government to keep agreements.  It intends to impose its peace terms by force.

I don’t think anybody in the U.S. government perceives it as a war for American national survival, but it is a war to maintain U.S. power.  Defeat in Ukraine will lead to a breakup of the NATO alliance.  The governments that signed up for NATO believed that it was a shield for them against Russian aggression.  They are finding they are the tip of a spear aimed at breaking up Russian power.


Have a happy inclusive nonspecific holiday!

December 17, 2022

“Merry Christmas to all!” (or if you prefer) Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all . . . and a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2023, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make the country great, (not to imply that the country is necessarily greater than any other country in both hemispheres), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual preference of the wishee. 

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.


Looking back from the year 2050

December 14, 2022

[What follows is not a prediction, nor is it a program that I advocate.  It is a thought experiment. I attempt to answer the question: If the USA in the year 2050 is on a better path, what might have been the reason?]

Back in the early 2020s, things seemed hopeless to thoughtful Americans. Their government was controlled by oligarchs favorable to big business monopolies and by militarists committed to maintaining U.S. dominance by any means necessary.

Material living standards were falling.  Addiction and mental illness were increasing.  So-called “deaths of despair” – suicides, drug overdoses and alcohol-related liver disease – were increasing.

The manufacturing economy was being hollowed out. The political system was unresponsive to public needs or the public will.  Few expected the next generation to be better off than the present generation.

What Americans back then had no way of foreseeing was the religious movement we now call the Third Great Awakening.  It took a religious movement to transform lives and thereby transform the nation.

Historically, in the English-speaking world, this has always been the case.  Periods of moral and social decay evoke religious revivals in response.

So it was with the rise of Puritanism and Methodism in 17th and 19th century Britain and the first and second Great Awakenings in the early 18th and 19th century USA.

The core values of the Third Great Awakening were (1) putting the needs children, mothers and families first, (2) help in overcoming addiction of all kinds and rehabilitation generally and (3) sympathy for the poor and suspicion of holders of great wealth.

It was a combination of Pentecostal spirituality, Mormon emphasis on community, family and self-reliance, Twelve Step rehabilitation and Latin American-style liberation theology.  It was strict (though forgiving) in terms of personal conduct, but embraced a no-frills Christian theology that made it compatible with diverse denominations.

The core supporters of the Awakening movement were African-Americans, Hispanics and Bible Belt whites, but the movement appealed to people in every niche of American life.

The rise of the movement took place against the background of the Greater Great Depression of the late 2020s.  Governments and corporations went bankrupt and ceased to function.  This time the banks were “too big to bail.”

Confidence in major American institutions had been falling all through the early 21st century.  As they ceased to function, they lost all moral authority.

 Americans were forced to self-organize to cope with the emergency.  They joined together through their local religious congregations, and also through newly-formed labor and community organizations.

About this time the Jeffrey Epstein client files were published by Wikileaks.  They revealed how many high-level politicians, business executives and celebrities had sex with under-age, exploited young girls, and also how Epstein was part of a network of sex traffickers that had continued to function.

This resulted in a great backlash and a drive to track down and punish the guilty—many of whom were also guilty of financial fraud and war crimes.  Financial, political and sexual corruption became conflated in the public mind.  

Some people called what followed a witch hunt, but it weakened, discredited and, to an extent, emptied out the power structure.  New institutions and movements arose to fill the vacuum.


Serenading the cows

December 10, 2022

Twitter moderators take note

December 8, 2022

Race, class and the wages of whiteness

December 6, 2022

[This is an expanded version of notes for a presentation I made to a discussion group at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., last Sunday.]

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who was recently elected Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, had this to say about this political philosophy in an interview back in 2021.

There’s a difference between progressive Democrats and hard-left democratic socialists.  It’s not a distinction that I’m drawing.  They draw that distinction.  And so clearly, I’m a Black progressive Democrat concerned with addressing racial and social and economic injustice with the fierce urgency of now. That’s been my career, that’s been my journey, and it will continue to be as I move forward for however long I have an opportunity to serve.  There will never be a moment where I bend the knee to hard-left democratic socialism.

Black progressives do tend to tackle issues first and foremost with an understanding that systemic racism has been in the soil of America for over 400 years.  Hard-left progressives tend to view the defining problem in America as one that is anchored in class. That is not my experience as a Black man in this country.  And perhaps that’s where we have a difference of perspective.

What this shows is that there are the two perspectives among American liberals and progressives about justice for black American citizens.  

One prioritizes fighting racial injustice.  The other prioritizes fighting economic injustice.

One says the main problem is oppression of black people and other minority groups by the whites.  The other says the main problem is the exploitation of the have-nots by the haves.

One sees African-Americans as an oppressed nation, like the Irish under British rule or the Poles under Russian rule.  The other sees black people as individual American citizens who have been unfairly excluded from the mainstream of American life.

One defines its mission as overcoming exclusion and marginalization.  The other sees its mission as fighting exploitation.

Both agree that African-Americans and other minority groups are entitled to equal justice and equal treatment.  But one says they also are entitled to equal representation.

I’ll call these two viewpoints racial essentialism and class essentialism.  Nobody I know uses these words, although some use the negative terms “race reductionism” and “class reductionism.”  However you label them, I think these two viewpoints exist and are important to understand.

Both viewpoints are held by intelligent people with good intentions.  I agree with one more than I do the other, but I will do my best to state the strong arguments for both sides.

If you’re a person of good will of good will, you may wonder what the problem is.  Why not fight both racial discrimination and economic inequality at the same time?  Why should this even be a problem?  The answer lies in differing views of the nature of racism.

The late, great W.E.B. DuBois explained American racism as “the wages of whiteness.”  

He said Southern plantation owners told poor white sharecroppers that, as low as they were on the social and economic scale, they at least could have the satisfaction of knowing they were considered superior to black sharecroppers.

A similar story was told to poor European immigrant sweat-shop workers in the North.   An Italian-American acquaintance of mine once remarked that he always felt he was made to feel he was “not quite white enough.”

So racism is an artificial idea created by elite white people to keep lower-class and working-class white people divided against each other.  The whites received no economic benefit, but they received a psychological  benefit 

If this is so, the way forward is to show get non-elite white people to understand that race is an illusion, human rights are universal and the best way to improve their condition is to join forces with their black fellow citizens for the common good.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The view of the historic civil rights movement – DuBois himself, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. – has been a campaign to get white people to understand that human rights are universal, race is an illusion and blacks and whites should unite for the common good.

But there was another stream, based on racial solidarity.  It has gained strength because of the perceived failure of the civil rights movement.   It is represented by the Black Muslims, the Black Panthers, the Black Power movement and the Critical Race Studies movement.  I think it was represented by the black empowerment movement in the Unitarian Universalist Association.  

All of them were a reaction against the historic civil rights movement because of its perceived failures. (more…)

The Zipf file

December 6, 2022

The word “the” is the most commonly used word in the English language. The second most used word is “of” and it occurs half as many times as “the.” The third most used word, “and,” occurs a third as many times, the fourth most used word, “a,” occurs a fourth as many times, and so on down through the whole English language.

This pattern is called Zipf’s Law, named for George Kingsley Zipf, an American linguist who popularized the pattern and sought to explain it.  Zipf claimed that Zipfian distribution applies to a lot of things.  

For example, he claimed the largest city in a country is roughly twice as populous as the second largest city, three times as large as the third largest, four times as large as the fourth largest, and so on.  This isn’t always true, but the pattern appears surprisingly often.  It is a rule of thumb, like the Pareto Principle.

Is this really a law?  If so, why?  What are the implications?  One of them, it seems to me, is that all other things being equal, there will be a drift towards extreme income inequality – which doesn’t mean that extreme income inequality is inevitable or justified.  What do you think?

Weapons from Ukraine war appear in Nigeria

December 5, 2022

Nigeria President Says Weapons From Ukraine Are Winding Up in Africa by Dave DeCamp for

Weapons, fighters from Russia / Ukraine conflict compounding Boko Haran insurgency by Johnbosco Agbakwuru for Vanguard news service.

Why India should be concerned about Ukraine war weapons in Nigeria by Sanjib Kr Baruah for The Week magazine of India.

Weapons from Russia-Ukraine War Now Slipping Into Africa, Used by Terrorists by the Sahara Reporter.

The Ukraine War: Cracks in Unexpected Places by Ted Snider for

Andrei Martyanov’s warning of U.S. weakness

December 2, 2022

DISINTEGRATION: Indications of the Coming American Collapse by Andrei Martyanov (2021)

Andrei Martyanov, an immigrant from Russia, is a writer and blogger on military affairs who for years has been warning the citizens of his adopted country of American military weakness.

In Disintegration, his latest book, he connects U.S. military failures to an an overall decline in American society – economically, politically and morally – which he fears may be irreversible.  

Born in 1963 in Baku,  he  is a graduate of the  Kirov Naval Red Banner Academy and served as an officer in Soviet Coast Guard through 1990.  He moved to the United States in the mid-1990s and worked for a time as laboratory director for a military aerospace group.  He lives in Washington state.

He said that as he traveled in the early 1990s, he always felt relief at landing in the USA, a safe haven from crime-ridden Russia.  He would stop at an airport bar and enjoy a plate of chicken wings, a beer and a cigarette.  The sitcom Cheers was usually on TV, and, to him, it symbolized the values of a peaceful, welcoming nation.

Since then, he says, his new country has been in decline, and his old country has risen from the ashes.  The United States is attempting to project power worldwide that it no longer has.  

I won’t attempt to summarize the book, but I’ll hit a few high points.

He presents evidence that, even though the United States has the world’s most expensive military, its military technology is qualitatively inferior to Russia’s and China’s.

Russia’s hypersonic missiles have changed warfare forever, he said.  They are not interruptible by existing U.S. anti-missile systems.  He said the U.S. lag behind Russias in air-defense systems is massive.  None of this can be changed anytime soon.

Although U.S. power projection defends on its Navy and Air Force, American shipbuilding and aircraft industries lag behind Chinese competitors and are being overtaken by Russians.

In 2018, 90 percent of the world’s ships were built in China, Japan and South Korea.  Russia also surpasses the USA in commercial shipbuilding.  Many tankers and other commercial ships built by these four countries are bigger than U.S. aircraft carriers.

Boeing aircraft have had disastrous crashes in the past few years, due to failures in the manufacturing process.  Martyanov says Russia’s new MC-21 plane is competitive with Boeing or any other of the world’s aircraft.  

The U.S. responded to the MC-21 by blocking exports of carbon fiber, a necessary component.  Russia proceeded to develop its own carbon fiber industry.