Archive for the ‘The Passing Scene’ Category

The burning of Notre Dame cathedral

April 16, 2019

Hat tip to Gavin Ashenden.

Notre Dame Cathedral took centuries to build.  One student estimated that it took more than 20 percent of the surrounding area’s resources for 150 years. Could we today commit to something that magnificent that would take even decades?  Yves Smith on her Naked Capitalism blog wrote—

Even if Notre Dame can be restored, the project is likely to take more than a generation, meaning even in best-case scenario, many people will never be able to see it properly again in their lives.  [snip]

The great medieval cathedrals, through their enormous scale and soaring vaults, with their narrow stained glass windows that help pull the eye upward, tell worshipers and later visitors of how small they are compared to God and his works. Yet their seeming solidity and scale also suggests the faithful can find refuge.

All of our technological prowess hasn’t found a way to create spaces that inspire the same sort of awe of these centuries-old houses of worship.

Modern visitors were further humbled by the audaciousness of its accomplishment: a project executed across generations, reaching heights that seem daunting even now, marshaling the skills and hard work of many artisans and laborers.

In other words, Notre Dame provided comfort and hope against that gnawing knowledge in the back of our heads of the certainty of death and the impermanence of human action.  Even though all those who built Notre Dame were long dead, something of them lived on through the cathedral….or did at least till yesterday.

Rod Dreher of The American Conservative recalled the beginning of Kenneth Clark’s famous TV series on Western civilization—

Standing in front of the Notre Dame cathedral, Clark asks, “What is civilization?”  He says he can’t define it in abstract terms, “but I think I can recognize it when I see it.”  He then turns to the cathedral, and says, “I’m looking at it right now.”

(more…)

A joyous flash mob symphony In Spain

April 6, 2019

This performance of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was sponsored by the Sabadell bank in Spain in honor of the 130th anniversary of its founding.  It is headquartered in Alicante, Spain, so that is probably the location of the performance.  The bank was founded Dec. 31, 1881.

The opinion revolution in thinking about race

April 3, 2019

Matthew Yglesias, in an article called The Great Awokening, documents the revolution in white American thinking about race during the past five or so years, especially among Democrats.

Democratic presidential candidates, including those who call themselves centrists and moderates, are talking about reparations and systemic racism.  These issues would have been considered too hot to handle five years ago.

The charts he ran with the article tell the story.

(more…)

The planet closest to Earth isn’t Venus or Mars

March 30, 2019

The order of the planets’ orbits going outward from the Sun is Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.  The orbit of Venus is a little closer to the orbit of Earth than the orbit of Mars is.

But Venus is not our closest neighbor in the Solar System.  Mercury is, most of the time.

The thing many people forgot is that the planets are in motion, and are different distances from each other at different times.  Venus is somewhat closer to the Earth than Mercury when they are both on the same side of the Sun, but much further away from Earth than Mercury when they are on the opposite sides of the Sun.  The video shows how this works.

In fact, Mercury is the closest planet to all the other planets in the Solar System for this reason.

The failure to keep in mind that the planets are constantly changing position in relation to each other invalidates the background (though not the enjoyment) a lot of old-time science fiction.

Most stories with an interplanetary background assume, without spelling it out, that a space voyage from, say, Earth and Mars is like an ocean voyage from Nantucket to Shanghai, a journey between two fixed points.

Instead, how long it would take to get from Planet A to Planet B, and how much trouble it would take, would depend on the date.

LINK

Venus is not Earth’s closest neighbor by Tom Stockman, Gabriel Monroe and Samuel Cordner for Physics Today.

The echo of time

March 24, 2019

Hat tip to Yip Abides

I like this, you may or may not like it, but don’t ask me to explain it.

Climate, migration and border militarization

March 13, 2019

Click to enlarge.

The two agencies of the U.S. government that take climate change most seriously are the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.

They foresee droughts, floods and storms on a scale that will create global political instability and millions of climate refugees, mainly from countries already ravaged by war and poverty.  While other parts of the government dither and deny, they have spent billions since 2003 preparing for the coming emergency.

Their preparation, however, is not aimed at preventing or slowing down climate change, nor is it principally aimed at relieving distress.  Rather it is in protecting the U.S. homeland and American business interests from the desperate masses.

A journalist named Todd Miller did a good job of reporting on this in STORMING THE WALL: Climate Change, Migration and Homeland Security, published in 2017.

He attended a Defense, National Security and Climate Change conference in Washington, D.C., in 2015, attended by top military brass and government and corporate officials.  A NASA representative told how the Space Shuttle and F-35 fighter required chrome, columbium and titanium, which are sourced from South Africa, Congo and Zambia, all threatened with political instability due to climate change.

“If these stressing factor result in increased migration,” he said, “it will just increase the potential for instability and conflict,” which would affect the U.S. ability to obtain elements “critical to the alloys we need to support the system.”

It was at that meeting that Miller for the first time heard the expression, “military-environmental-industrial complex.”  Billions of dollars are being spent to, on the one hand, wean the U.S. military itself from dependence on fossil fuels and, on the other, maintain the political and economic status quo in the face of climate-driven upheaval.

He devoted several chapters of the book to migration from central America and Mexico into the southwest USA.  He showed that the border is not a line on the map separating the United States from Mexico.

The border area extends 100 miles into the interior of the United States, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acts like a military occupying force.  Miller noted that an order by President Obama against racial profiling specifically exempted the Department of Homeland Security.

It also extends down through Mexico into Central America, where there are a series of checkpoints, aided by U.S. military advisers and U.S. military equipment, designed to intercept migrants on their way.  There are fewer arrests nowadays at the international border, but this may not mean that fewer people are trying to cross the border.  It may just mean that more of them are intercepted before they get close.

The U.S. Coast Guard nowadays does more than guard the coasts.  After the 2010 earthquake, the Coast Guard patrolled the coast of Haiti, turning back anyone who tried to flee, and even set up a detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

Migrants leave their home countries for many reasons—commonly poverty, war, tyranny or crime.  But, in the words of a Marine Corps general, climate change is a “threat multiplier.”  Events such as the 2015 drought in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua make all the underlying social problems worse.

The United States is not unique.  The new “smart border” between Turkey and Syria has a new tower every 1,000 feet, a three-language alarm system, and “automated firing zones” supported by hovering zeppelin drones, Miller wrote.

Experts say floods and a rising sea will cause millions to flee Bangladesh.  India has a 2,000-mile ‘iron wall” on its border and soldiers with orders to shoot to kill.  More than 1,000 Bangladeshis were killed between 2001 and 2011 while trying to cross the border.

(more…)

The widening target of ‘anti-racism’

February 14, 2019

Where once the targets of those concerned to fight injustice were “racism” and “sexism,” today the targets are “whiteness” and “masculinity.”  The underlying premise is plain: that there is no whiteness independent of the domination of nonwhites, and no masculinity independent of the domination of women.

==attributed to Wesley Yang, author of The Souls of Yellow Folk

I think it is great that black people to take pride in themselves and not think they have to be like whites in order to respect themselves.    I think it is great that women to take pride in themselves and not think they have to be like men in order to respect themselves.

I think discrimination against black people and against women are great evils, and I think it is great that these evils are being stigmatized and diminished.

I don’t see how racism and sexism are diminished telling white men they should be ashamed of themselves for being white and male.

My father taught me to live in a way that allows me to respect myself and to be willing to treat others with courtesy and respect, and that is what I believe in.

It is wrong to teach anyone that self-respect is impossible, or is possible only by adopting a certain creed or joining a certain group.

A giant floating ice disk forms in Maine

January 19, 2019

This video, taken last weekend, shows a massive spinning ice disk in the Presumptscot River near Westbrook, Maine, which is just west of Portland.  Local residents say it is 100 yards across, which would make it possibly the largest such ice disk on record.  Wonders never cease.

Click on A Massive Naturally Occurring Ice Carousel by Jason Kottke for more information.

Welcome to 2019

December 31, 2018

Source: xkcd

When 2019 Starts Around the World

Which country has New Year first and which celebrates it last? 

Santa Claus in the 21st century

December 23, 2018

An interview with Santa’s lawyer by John Scalzi.   Hat tip to the Weekly Sift.

From the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

November 24, 2018

From the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.

A joyous flash-mob dance troupe

November 3, 2018

Some 200-odd dancers suddenly turned up in Antwerp’s Central Station at 9 a.m. on March 23, 2009, and performed a number based on the “Do-Re-Mi” song in The Sound of Music, as a promotion for a Belgian television station.  What a delightful surprise that must have been!

Airports, security culture and the new normal

November 1, 2018

Source: Philosophy Tube.  Hat tip to Alex Page.

At the dawning of the “war on terror”, the new airport security rules seemed shocking and unnatural.  Conservatives as well as liberals objected to them.  The “no-fly” lists—the idea that the government could ban people from traveling by air and not give a reason—seemed outrageous.

But I’ve ceased to think about this.   The video above—about the thoughts and experiences of a young Englishman flying from London to New York—reminds me of how abnormal our security state really is.

The other thing I get from the video is how the United States is spreading police-state thinking to other countries.  I was brought up to think of my country as a beacon of freedom and democracy, and I think that, in some ways and to some extent, it was.

But nowadays cruel and ruthless dictators can point to the U.S. example to justify torture, warrantless arrests, extrajudicial killings and military intervention.

The question asked by the video is, “When will security ever go back to normal?”  The present security culture has been in existence for 15 years.  It now seems normal to many of us, maybe most of us.   Until and unless we stop thinking of it as normal, it won’t change.

Making a joyful noise

October 27, 2018

The enduringly popular Big Noise from Winnetka was created spontaneously by members of a band called the Bobcats performing at the Blackhawk restaurant in Chicago in 1938.  When some of the members of the bank were late getting back from a break, composer and bass player Bob Haggart and drummer Ray Bauduc started improvising.

It was such a hit that they made a recording, and performed it many more times through their careers.  According to Wikipedia, Haggart whistled the melody and play while Bauduc accompanied him on a drum.  About halfway through, Bauduc starting drumming on the strings of the bass.

Later more elaborate arrangements were made.  The version above was performed by the Midland College Jazz Ensemble in Midland, Texas, in 2014.

Winnetka is a suburb of Chicago.

Strandbeests still on the move

October 20, 2018

.

A couple of years, I posted videos about a Dutch physicist turned artist named Theo Jansen, who created self-moving, wind-powered sculptures called Strandbeests, which he called a new form of life.  As these new videos show, he is still at work.  Click on Strandbeest for his web site.

The Cowboy Hávamál on video

October 13, 2018

About three years ago, I linked to the Cowboy Hávamál, a translation of an ancient Norse book of wisdom into the idiom of the American West.  Prof. Jackson Crawford included it as an appendix to his translation of The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes.

Prof. Crawford took the written translation down from his web site, but provided this oral translation instead.  Click on Jackson Crawford’s Old Norse Channel for his complete YouTube videos.

He saw a link between the ethic of the Viking warriors of the pagan Norse sagas and the pioneers of the American West in the time of his grandfather.  Both cultures honored courage, loyalty and the sense of honor.

I think young men today need such teachings, along with affirmation of the more civilized virtues of sportsmanship and chivalry toward the weak, more than they need lectures about the toxicity of masculinity.  I think the longing for such teaching is one reason for the popularity of Dr. Jordan Peterson.

(more…)

Learning to live in ‘liquid modernity’

September 27, 2018

“Liquid modernity” is a phrase I came across a couple of months ago.   It is an expression that makes a lot of things fall into place.   It expresses how things that once seemed solid and changeless are now fluid and ever-changing.

The expression was coined by a Polish philosopher named Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017).    My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a copy of LIQUID TIMES: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (2007), one of Bauman’s many books on the topic.   A 2016 interview with Bauman is shown in the video above.

I came of age in the 1950s in a world dominated by big organizations that offered security in exchange for conformity.   Social roles, including sex roles, were well-defined, although starting to change.  Science was regarded as the source of true knowledge.

Today’s world offers no security.  Social roles, including the biological distinction between male and female, are in a state of flux.  Post-modern philosophers tell us that nobody knows anything, and you have to figure things out as you go along.  We are at the mercy of economic forces that we don’t understand.

We are free of many of the constraints that hemmed us in back then.   Instead we constantly have to make choices without having any way to know the consequences of these choices.

Our great fear back then was of totalitarianism.  Now our great fear is of terrorism and the collapse of social order.

Bauman wrote that the great dissolving force is globalization—the ending of  restrictions on international movement of goods, services, information and money. along with unsuccessful attempts to restrict the international movement of people.

Politics becomes divorced from power, he wrote.  Politics is national and local, while the power lies with international corporations and organizations not subject to political control.

Governments are helpless before global economic forces, and turn over their historic functions to private organizations.   Individuals find less support either from government or from communities.  Instead of communities, there are networks.

Responsibility for coping with change is solely up to the individual, Bauman wrote.  But change is unpredictable.   Long-range planning is impossible.

∞∞∞

In an age of liquid modernity, you can be affected by events that happen anywhere in the world.  There are no safe havens.

The present era is not more dangerous than earlier eras—at least not for middle-class property owners in North America and Europe.  The difference is that today’s dangers are unknown and unknowable.

If there are wolves in the forest, you can stay out of the forest or be on guard against wolves when you go in.  But there is no way to guard against disruptive economic change that may wipe out your livelihood, or terrorist attacks or mass shootings.

Bauman said liquid modernity gives rise to free-floating fear, which politicians and demagogues can direct at any plausible object.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the war on terror would end when Americans feel safe.  That means it will never end.  Each U.S. attack on foreign countries increases the chances of a blowback terrorist attack on Americans.

(more…)

Thomas Frank on why Obama failed

September 11, 2018

Thomas Frank was recently interviewed by one John Siman, whom I’m not familiar with.  This part of the interview stands out for me.

TCF: …… I had met Barack Obama. He was a professor at the University of Chicago, and I’d been a student there.  And he was super smart.  Anyhow, I met him and was really impressed by him. All the liberals in Hyde Park — that’s the neighborhood we lived in — loved him, and I was one of them, and I loved him too.

Barack Obama

And I was so happy when he got elected.  Anyhow, I knew one thing he would do for sure, and that is he would end the reign of cronyism and incompetence that marked the Bush administration and before them the Reagan administration.  These were administrations that actively promoted incompetent people.  And I knew Obama wouldn’t do that, and I knew Obama would bring in the smartest people, and he’d get the best economists.

Remember, when he got elected we were in the pit of the crisis — we were at this terrible moment — and here comes exactly the right man to solve the problem.  He did exactly what I just described:  He brought in [pause] Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard, considered the greatest economist of his generation — and, you know, go down the list: He had Nobel Prize winners, he had people who’d won genius grants, he had The Best and the Brightest.

And they didn’t really deal with the problem.  They let the Wall Street perpetrators off the hook — in a catastrophic way, I would argue.  They come up with a health care system that was half-baked.

Anyhow, the question becomes — after watching the great disappointments of the Obama years — the question becomes: Why did government-by-expert fail?

(more…)

Trade power and financial power

August 28, 2018

.

The international trade in goods is one thing and the international flow of money is another.

I came across these two charts showing how China is at the center of world trade in goods, and the United Kingdom is at the periphery, and the UK is at the center of world banking and China is at the periphery.

Economic historian Adam Tooze said that the UK is trying to make itself China’s financial gateway to the world.  It is well positioned to do that.   The danger is that the greatest current threat to the world economy is a Chinese meltdown, he wrote, and the UK is even more exposed than the rest of the world.

LINK

Trade and Finance – Two Very Different Visions of the Twenty-First Century Economic Condition by Adam Tooze.

 

What the American land is used for

August 3, 2018

Click to enlarge.

LINK

Here’s How America Uses Its Land by Dave Merrill and Lauren Leatherby for Bloomberg News.  Click on the link for more facts and maps.

Paul Revere and American independence

July 4, 2018

Paul Revere was much more than the man who rode to warn the troops at Lexington and Concord that the British were on their way.

He was a true revolutionary whose methods in some ways resemble revolutionaries and insurgents of todays.  He was one of the most important leaders in a network of revolutionary organizations that engaged in propaganda, espionage and preparation for armed revolt.

He helped bring Britain’s Massachusetts colony to the tipping point of armed revolt, the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, and make that revolt successful.

PAUL REVERE’S RIDE by David Hackett Fischer (1994) tells the true story of Paul Revere as part of a detailed account of the events leading up to Lexington and Concord and an hour-by-hour account of what happened on that fateful day.

In giving a granular factual account of what happened on a particular day, Fischer threw light on many things—including manners, morals and day-to-day life in 1775 Massachusetts, how American and British political and social values differed, and how this was reflected in their respective military tactics.

In 1774-1775 Britain, you could be an artisan or mechanic who worked with his hands, a merchant who handled money or a gentleman who owned land and had a title of nobility, but you couldn’t combine these roles.

Paul Revere was all three.  He was a silversmith who worked with his hands, and whose work is still prized today.  He was a respected merchant.  And he claimed and was given the status of gentleman.

Revere’s opposite number was General Thomas Gage, commander of British forces in North American and royal governor of Massachusetts.  Gage believed his power derived from the King who ruled by divine right, but subject to British laws.  The British believed they were a free people because of the principle of the rule of law.

A contrary principle had grown in up colonial New England.  The Puritan churches, both in England and New England, were governed by their congregations.  The New England townships were governed by town meetings.  The principle was that authority in government came from the bottom up, not the top down.

General Gage’s mission was to make the people of New England submit to the authority of the British crown in some way, however minor or symbolic.  At least seven organizations sprung up to resist this.  There was no overall leader and nobody who belonged to all seven.  Paul Revere and another leader, Dr. Joseph Warren, belonged to five.

Out in the countryside, each town had is own well-ordered militia, based on the right and duty of the citizen to keep and bear arms.  Some towns provided weapons for the indigent.

There was no overall organization, only a communication network.  Paul Revere organized teams of riders who kept the nearby towns informed of British plans.  He made many rides himself.

Gage never ordered the arrests of Paul Revere, Dr. Joseph Warren, Sam Adams, John Hancock or any of the other revolutionary organizers, because they had not broken any specific law.  He was later criticized for this.

Because of the broad-based nature of the organizations, any leaders would have been quickly replaced.  Would new leaders have been as effective as the old?  Would this have mattered?  There is no way to know.

(more…)

The world’s tallest bonfire

June 23, 2018

Time for a little relief from politics.

(more…)

Three Mexican window-washers and their world

June 2, 2018

Happy cows jump for joy at spring’s arrival

April 8, 2018

Source: thefunkyfarmer.

This is pretty much the way I feel.

Skating on thin ice

March 3, 2018

I wouldn’t advise trying this.