Archive for the ‘The Passing Scene’ Category

Some things I just learned from maps

January 8, 2022

How the Netherlands expanded by reclamation from the sea

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Annual hours of sunshine in Europe and the USA

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The wandering North magnetic pole

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The passing scene: Links & comments 1/7/2022

January 7, 2022

Here are links to some articles I found interesting.

The Cuban Missile War Timeline by “Amerigo Vespucci” for altnernatehistory.com.

I remember the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. I didn’t take the danger of nuclear war seriously at the time because I understood that neither President Kennedy nor Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were crazy enough to start one. What I didn’t understand was how easily things could get out of control.

A contributor to the alternate history web log wrote an interesting speculation as to what might have happened if a few things had gone otherwise than as they did—a U-2 plane shot down over Cuba, a Soviet submarine commander who thought he was under attack firing his nuclear missile.

The writer is well-informed about U.S. and Soviet capabilities, positioning of armed forces and likely military strategies. He presents a convincing account of what a nuclear war would have been like and what the aftermath would have been.

Yes, the USA could have “won” a nuclear exchange. More of us Americans would have survived than those on the other side. I don’t think the Chinese would have escaped unscathed as the writer assumes. Daniel Ellsberg’s book tells us that the U.S. nuclear strategy, in the event of war, was to obliterate the USSR and China both.

All too many people make light of the risks of going to the brink of nuclear war.  They say it hasn’t happened yet.  Yes, but it only needs to happen once.

Frederick Douglass’s library by Julian Abagond.

When I visit someone for the first time, I always sneak a look at the person’s bookshelf.  It’s one way of getting to know them.

Frederick Douglass, the great African-American freedom fighter, had a library of thousands of books.  A blogger named Julian Abagond listed some of the highlights.  Particular favorites, according to Abagond, included The Colombia Orator, a textbook on public speaking with selections from great speeches, and the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, the poetry of Robert Burns and Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

Douglass of course owned and read works by and about black people and their history, struggles and achievements, but his interests were wide-ranging and included history, politics, literature and science.  The National Park Service has the complete list.  

He had no formal schooling whatever.  As a slave, he was not supposed to learn to read.  He did it on the sly, by paying a white boy to teach him his ABCs.  He went on from there to educate himself.  He associated on equal terms with some of the leading intellectuals of his time.

Lucille of the Libs by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Rod Dreher, a leading conservative Christian writer, wrote a moving article on the sacrifices required to be a good husband or wife, and a good parent.  He drew on the Kenny Rogers country-and-western song, “Lucille”; the movie, “The Secret Life of Dentists”; and an article by Atlantic senior editor Honor Jones about why she divorced her loving husband and father of her children in order to live for herself.

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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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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.

‘Come thou fount of every blessing’

December 12, 2021

Hat tip to Julian Abagond.

The architecture of bubbles

December 11, 2021

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.

The passing scene: Links 12/1/2021

December 1, 2021

The Next European War by John Michael Greer for Ecosophia.  Peace in Europe is not permanent..

The War Nerd: The Tigray-Ethiopia War.  War is hell.

When All the Media Narratives Collapse by Andrew Sullivan for The Weekly Dish.  Big news organizations have forfeited trust.

Ten Million a Year: David Wallace-Wells on polluted air for the London Review of Books.

How Delaware Sold the Greatest, Most Insidious Financial Security Tool the World Has Ever Known by Casey Michel for CrimeReads.

Hayao Miyazaki Prepares to Cast One Last Spell by Ligaya Mishan for the New York Times.  Some good news to end with.

SNL: Republican or not?

November 27, 2021

Book note: Jan de Hartog’s The Captain

November 15, 2021

THE CAPTAIN by Jan De Hartog (1966)

I picked up Jan de Hartog’s novel, The Captain, by chance at a Little Free Library free book exchange in my neighborhood.  It is about a little-known (at least to me) aspect of World War Two, the ocean-going tugboats that accompanied Atlantic supply convoys.

Many of these convoys were merchant ships of nations that had been overrun by the Nazi German armies—French, Dutch Norwegian or other nations’ ships that were at sea when their home countries fell to the invaders, or that fled home ports to offer their services to the British.

The mission of ocean-going tugboats was to tow disabled ships into port, and also to rescue survivors of sunk and disable ships.  Usually they had little or no armaments to defend against German aircraft or submarines.  The Dutch historically were preeminent in ocean-going tugs.

Martinus Harinixma, the protagonist and narrator of The Captain, is a young Dutchman who has fled to England after the German conquest, and, despite his inexperience, is made captain a tugboat when its beloved previous captain dies unexpectedly.  

He has to learn the art of command by trial and error, while dealing with an exploitative employer, a British fleet commander with a grudge against him, and a resentful and difficult crew.

He has to walk the fine line between antagonizing his crew and seeming weak and indecisive, even when the situation is ambiguous and his knowledge is incomplete.

He is soon put on the lethal Murmansk run, sending war supplies to the Soviet Union to its only open port, which is north of the Arctic Circle.  

Casualties were high, and the novel’s characters believe the convoys were more of a political gesture than something of real importance to the war effort.  Then they become part of a strategic deception plan, which goes horribly wrong.

Over time, Harinixma masters the arts of seamanship and the arts of leadership, although he still makes one nearly fatal misjudgment, which is revealed at the end of the novel.  The stress of constant danger and little rest tells on him, and he nearly, but not quite, breaks under the strain.   Another character, an idealistic and naive young Canadian liaison officer, does break down and loses his life. 

Harinixma soon forgets the larger goal of liberating the Netherlands.  His concern is to protect the lives of his crew, the lives of members of the convoys and his own life.  He succeeds by reason of skill and courage, but also good luck.  

He comes to hate war, but without weakening in his sense of duty.

The Captain can be enjoyed as an action-adventure novel.  It is also a coming-of-age story, and also a story about how men react differently to the stress of war.

Reading the battle scenes is as near as anyone sitting in a comfortable armchair can come to understanding the reality of war.  Along with the horror, there is a lot of grim humor.

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Minimalism

October 23, 2021

Korean artist Lee Sangsoo made sculptures of animals by bending and twisting simple strips of resin and metal, plus subtle coloring.  Notice how the sculpture above is not only recognizably a cat, but a Siamese cat.

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China, journalism, strikes: Links 10/15/2021

October 15, 2021

The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning by N.S. Lyons for Palladium.   The clash of civilizations.

Intersectional Imperialism and the Woke Cold War: The New Faith Prepares for a Global Crusade by N.S. Lyons for The Upheaval.

‘Frozen Chosin’ Korean War Movie Set to Be Biggest Hit of 2021 by James Barber for Military.com.  In the movie, the Chinese are the good guys.

Out of the Newsroom by Spencer Ackerman for Forever Wars.  Newspapers whose reporters and editors all work from home.

“Government Without Newspapers”: the manufacture of ignorance by Patrick Lawrence for The Scrum.

A strike wave is coming to save America’s working class the old-fashioned way by Will Bunch for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Great Strike of 2021 by Jack Rasmus.  They also strike who simply refuse to take dangerous jobs for less than a living wage.

Why Record Numbers of Workers Are Quitting and Striking by Sonali Kolhatkar via Naked Capitalism. [Added 10/16/2021]

The Untraversed Land by John Michael Greer for Ecosophia.   How the structure of the world economy causes shortages.

The Afghan War Comes Home to Minneapolis by Thomas Neuburger for God’s Spies.

The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think by Zeynep Tufeckci for The New York Times.

How many people get long Covid?  More than half of those infected, researchers say by Pennsylvania State University.

Dance! Dance! Dance! a mashup

September 11, 2021

The passing scene: Links & comments 9/1/2021

September 1, 2021

Here are some links to writings I found interesting.  Maybe you will, too.

Costa Ricans Live Longer Than Us – What’s the Secret? by Atul Gowande for The New Yorker.

The average Costa Rican’s income is about one-sixth that of the average US American.  Yet Costa Ricans enjoy longer life expectancies, and are healthier by many other measures.

Atul Gowande wrote that Costa Rica, more than most nations, emphasizes public health—preventing infectious disease outbreaks, malnutrition, toxic hazards, sanitary problems and the like.  It also has clinics that provide free medical care to the whole population, rural as well as urban, poor as well as rich.

Costa Rica is admirable in many ways.  Surrounded by military dictatorships, it has been a democracy with no army for 72 years and counting.  It also is a leader in renewable energy and environmental preservation.

The Great Game of Smashing Nations by John Pilger for Consortium News.

One of the rationales for keeping troops in Afghanistan is to protect women from being oppressed by the Taliban.  But, as John Pilger pointed out, the women of Afghanistan were doing just fine in the 1980s.  Half the university students were women, and women made up 40 percent of Afghanistan’s doctors, 70 percent of its teachers and 30 percent of its civil servants.

But Afghanistan was friendly to the Soviet Union.  The U.S. government recruited fanatic anti-feminist jihadists to overthrow the Afghan government, in order to draw the Soviets into a quagmire war.  The plan succeeded.  The people of Afghanistan, especially the women, paid the price.

Mob Justice Is Trampling Democratic Discourse by Anne Applebaum for The Atlantic.

In today’s USA, you can lose your job and become a social outcast if someone accuses you of violating social codes have to do with race, sex, personal behavior or even acceptable humor–codes that, as Anne Applebaum wrote, may not have existed five years ago or even five months ago.

I’m reminded of the McCarthy period in the 1950s, which I’m old enough to remember.  You could be accused of being pro-Communist for trivial reasons or no reason at all.  The difference is that, in that era, most academics and journalists defended freedom of speech and association, which is not the case today.

Zeynep Tufekci on the Sociology of The Moment, an interview on Conversations with Tyler.

Zepnep Tufekci, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, is doing some of the best writing on the COVID-19 pandemic.  She was born in Turkey.

Here she is interviewed by the economist Tyler Cowen about the pandemic, Turkey and her ways of understanding things.

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A flotilla of origami

August 29, 2021

These watercraft are about an inch or so in size, activated by capillary action and surface tension.  They were created by Etienne Cliquet in 2011.  I found the video on The Kids Should See This via kottke.org.

Boston Dynamics’ robots Atlas and Handle

August 21, 2021

I find these robots’ antics highly impressive, sort-of amusing and vaguely ominous.  How long until such machines will be directing traffic, waiting on tables in restaurants or leading high school students in calisthenics?

Leaps, Bounds and Backflips by Calvin Hennick for Boston Dynamics.  Hat tip to kottke.org.

Barack Obama’s 60th birthday extravaganza

August 13, 2021

Here’s how Matt Taibbi saw it:

“Even Scaled Back,” wrote Vanity Fair, “Barack Obama’s Birthday Bash Is the Event of the Season.”

Not even the famed glossy Bible of the unapologetic rich seemed sure of whether to write Obama’s Birthday bash straight or as an Onion headline: what did the “Event of the Season” mean during a pandemic?

A former president flying half the world’s celebrities to spend three days in a mask-less ring-kissing romp at a $12 million Martha’s Vineyard mansion, at a moment when only a federal eviction ban prevented the outbreak of a national homelessness crisis, was already an all-time “Fuck the Optics” news event, and that was before the curve ball.

Because of what even the New York Times called “growing concerns” over how gross the mega-party looked, not least for the Joe Biden administration burdened with asking the nation for sober sacrifice while his ex-boss raised the roof with movie stars in tropical shirts, advisers prevailed upon the 44th president to reconsider the bacchanal.

But characteristically, hilariously, Obama didn’t cancel his party, he merely uninvited those he considered less important, who happened to be almost entirely his most trusted former aides.

Cast out, the Times said, were “the majority of former Obama administration officials… who generally credit themselves with helping create the Obama legacy,” including former top aide David Axelrod, who’d just called Obama an “apostle of hope” in the Washington Post and sat for a three-hour HBO documentary deep-throat of his ex-boss.

Remaining on the list were celeb couples Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, as well as Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, along with Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Questlove, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Don Cheadle, and other Fabulous People, who drank “top shelf liquor,” puffed stogies, and hit the links at the Vineyard Golf Club (membership fee: $350,000). 

[snip]

There’s a glorious moment in the life of a certain kind of politician, when either because their careers are over, or because they’re so untouchable politically that it doesn’t matter anymore, that they finally get to remove the public mask, no pun intended.

This Covid bash was Barack Obama’s “Fuck it!” moment.

He extended middle fingers in all directions: to his Vineyard neighbors, the rest of America, Biden, the hanger-on ex-staffers who’d stacked years of hundred-hour work weeks to build his ballyhooed career, the not quite A-listers bounced at the last minute for being not famous enough (sorry, Larry David and Conan O’Brien!), and so on.

It’d be hard not to laugh imagining Axelrod reading that even “Real Housewife of Atlanta” Kim Fields got on the party list over him, except that Obama giving the shove-off to his most devoted (if also scummy and greedy) aides is also such a perfect metaphor for the way he slammed the door in the faces of the millions of ordinary voters who once so desperately believed in him.

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Juggling from above

August 7, 2021

Juggling, from the usual angle, looks like a very hectic endeavor — balls and clubs and hands flying everywhere. But if you get an overhead view, as in this video from Taylor Glenn, you can see that often there’s very little movement in two of the three dimensions. The mastery of these small movements combined with the sweeping up-and-down motions creates a compelling illusion for ground-based viewers. The power of a different perspective.

Source: kottke.org.

For background, click on Taylor Tries Juggling From Above on The Kids Should See This.

Obedience and rebellion

July 28, 2021

When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion.

==C.P. Snow

Every tyranny must necessarily be grounded upon general popular acceptance. In short, the bulk of the people themselves, for whatever reason, acquiesce in their own subjection….If we led our lives according to the ways intended by nature and the lessons taught by her, we should be intuitively obedient to our parents; later we should adopt reason as our guide and become slaves to nobody.

==Etienne de la Boetie

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.

==Howard Zinn

Procrastination

July 10, 2021

This is from Grant Snider’s Incidental Comics.

Sheep herding viewed from above

July 3, 2021

I admire the professionalism of these hard-working sheep dogs.

The video was shot from a drone.

Doggerel by a senior citizen

June 30, 2021

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What the Geneva summit revealed about Biden

June 23, 2021

Joe Biden arrives in Geneva June 15. (AP)

During the 2020 Democratic presidential primary campaign, a number of observers expressed concern about Joe Biden’s cognitive abilities.

Foreign corespondent Patrick Lawrence wrote that President Biden’s performance at the Geneva summit meeting last week bears this out.

Geneva requires us to face a fact most of us have either flinched from, buried altogether, or noted in an offhand manner not devoid of mockery. 

The fact is this: We have a president who suffers some measure of senility and is in consequence incapable of fully executing his duties.  Geneva brought this home in the starkest of circumstances.

[snip]

Flubs in press conferences, more malapropisms than you’ve had hot dinners, Biden’s failure to remember what the Declaration of Independence is called—“the, you know, you know, the thing”—are small stuff in the end, the stuff of the jokes.

An inability to conduct the affairs of state with a major world power is quite another. No room for ridicule or YouTube segments here. The matter is simply too grave.

Two highly consequential treaties—Open Skies and New START—tensions NATO provokes on Russia’s western flank, the Syria mess, the Ukraine mess, Russia’s hypersonic weaponry, Israel’s apparent intent to go for broke this time with the Palestinians, all the cyberbusiness—little to nothing got done in Geneva on any of these questions.

Given how thoroughly Biden’s people scripted his appearance, I am convinced this was intentional. Get out there and posture for the “folks” back home, Mr. Prez. We’ll take care of the substantive stuff later.

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Book note: White Supremacy Culture

June 18, 2021

A SELF-CONFESSED WHITE SUPREMACY CULTURE: The Emergence of an Illiberal Left in Unitarian Universalism by Anne Larason Schneider (2019)

In 2017, the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees took the unusual step of declaring that the UUA was part of a “culture of white supremacy,” and declaring that its mission was to root out this culture.

The UUA is, by some definitions, the most liberal religious movement in the USA. So why would its leaders would describe themselves in words formerly applied to neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan?

It makes a little more sense if you realize that “white supremacy culture” is something more vague and insidious than plain white supremacy. White supremacy is an ideology that says that white people have a right to conquer, enslave, drive out or kill off non-white people.

“White supremacy culture” is defined as a set of traits and attitudes that are common to white people, including nice well-meaning white people, and not shared by nonwhite people.

At worst, it is claimed that these attitudes are detrimental to non-white people and maintain white dominance. At best, they exclude non-white people. Either way, the “whiteness” of even well-meaning white people is believed to be harmful, and needs to be overcome.

A Unitarian-Universalist named Anne Larason Schneider, a retired political science professor, took it on herself to research whether there is any basis for belief in white supremacy culture, and such related concepts as white privilege, implicit bias, micro aggression and white fragility. The results are in this book.

She found that the most commonly-used description of white supremacy culture comes from a 2001 article by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun. A Google search shows the article is still widely quoted, including by Unitarian Universalists.

Jones and Okun said white supremacy culture is marked by (1) perfectionism, (2) sense of urgency, (3) defensiveness, (4) quantity over quality, (5) worship of the written word, (6) only one right way, (7) paternalism, (8) either/or thinking, (9) power hoarding, (10) fear of open conflict, (11) individualism, (12) “I’m the only one,” (13) progress is bigger and more, (14) objectivity and (15) right to comfort.

One notable thing about the Jones-Okun article is that race, racial groups and racial prejudice are not mentioned except in the title and opening and closing paragraphs. Take them away and it would be a typical critique of business management practices. It is almost as if such a critique had been retitled and repurposed.

Another thing that struck Schneider is how the alleged traits of white people fit in with historic racial stereotypes.

Are white people perfectionists? If so, does that imply that black people, Hispanics and American Indians are sloppy? Do white people have a sense of urgency? If so, does that imply that non-white people are habitually late?

Do white people worship the written word? If so, does that imply non-whites are only semi-literate? Do white people value objectivity? If so, does that imply that non-white people don’t care about facts?

Would non-white people benefit if white people become less individualistic, perfectionist, objective and so on? Schneider said there is no evidence and no logical reason to think so.

The important question is whether there is any reason to think that whites and non-whites are divided along these lines. Or are “power hoarding,” “fear of open conflict,” or belief in “a right to comfort” traits found in all human beings?

Schneider found a survey showing that whites were on average a little more individualistic that blacks, Asians and Hispanics, but only by a few percentage points. Other than that, she found no empirical data either supporting or refuting the essay. It is mere assertion.

Because White Supremacy Culture ideology cannot be defended on rational grounds, it can only defended based on appeals to emotion, attacks on motives and exercise of authority.

One example of this is the campaign against Schneider’s friend, the Rev. Todd Eklof, to whom she devotes a chapter.  This is bad news for Unitarian Universalists who believe in historic principles of freedom, reason and tolerance.

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