Archive for the ‘The Passing Scene’ Category

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.

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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.

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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?

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Trade power and financial power

August 28, 2018

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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.

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The world’s tallest bonfire

June 23, 2018

Time for a little relief from politics.

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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.

Diversity is not a substitute for justice

February 20, 2018

Racial and cultural diversity is a good thing.

Adolph Reed Jr.

I, a straight white male, benefited from diversity during my college days in two ways.

I won a college scholarship because I was the only applicant from a small town below the Mason-Dixon line, and because I was one of the few applicants for this particular scholarship who took tests in the humanities rather than the sciences.

The other way I benefited was in meeting a more diverse group of people than I had known before.  I never had a meaningful conversation with anyone who was not white or Christian until I went to college (in the 1950s) and meeting people of different backgrounds was an important part of my education.

But diversity is not a substitute for social justice.  Diversity will not, in and of itself, end plutocracy or war or police brutality or unemployment or divisiveness.

The reason so many powerful people and institutions embrace diversity and reject social justice is that diversity leaves the existing structure of political and economic power intact.   Diversity is a good thing.  But it’s not enough.

LINKS

Diversity: A Managerial Ideology by Darel E. Paul for Quillette.  Hat tip to Alex Small.

Black Politics After 2016 by Adolph Reed Jr. for Nonsite.org (Emory College).  This is long, but well worth reading.

The Political Economy of Anti-Racism by Walter Benn Michaels for  Nonsite.org (Emory College).  A companion piece to Reed’s article, it also is well worth reading.

All the movies that won special effects Oscars

February 10, 2018

A day in the life of the world

February 4, 2018

Life in a Day is a documentary film consisting of YouTube videos from all around the world, all shot on July 24, 2010, which was a Saturday and a day of a full moon.   The video above is the trailer and the one below is the full 95-minute film.   It’s been around a long time, but I only just now came across it.   That’s true of a lot of my posts.

It’s consists of clips taken from 81,000 videos shot by volunteers in 192 countries, adding up to 4,500 hours of footage.

There are some remarkable episodes—a Slovak filmmaker in Kathmandu, Nepal, interviewing a Korean man who is bicycling around the world; a Peruvian shoeshine boy hustling to make a living, and confessing the thing he likes best is his laptop; an acrobatic Russian making Moscow his playground.

But most of it is people in different places living their everyday lives and answering one of three questions:  What do you love?  What do you fear?  What’s in your pockets?   The filmmaker doesn’t make any overall sociological or political point, except the diversity and unity of the human race.  It’s a joyful movie.  The musical score adds a lot to it.

Ninety-five minutes is a long time to watch a movie on a computer screen, but you don’t have to watch it all at one.  It took me about five or ten minutes to get into the film, but, when I did, I watched through till the end.

Part of the purpose of making the film was to celebrate the fifth anniversary of YouTube.   It was released on YouTube and, so far as I know, has never been shown in theaters.

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Six harsh truths for the new year

December 31, 2017

The world only cares about what it can get from you.

The hippies were wrong.

What you produce does not have to make money, but it does have to benefit people.

You hate yourself because you don’t do anything.

What you are inside only matters because of what it makes you do.

Everything inside you will fight improvement.

∞∞∞

These are sub-headlines of an article on Cracked.com by David Wong.  Click on any of the links to read the full article.

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Merry Christmas 2017

December 24, 2017

I’ll be gone, you’ll still be here

December 14, 2017

I’m 81 years old today.  I don’t come from a long-lived family, and I have what they call a pre-existing medical condition, so I don’t expects decades more of life ahead of me.

I sometimes regret I won’t see what the future holds in store.  But the more I think about the future, the more I’m relieved that I won’t.

The odds are good that I will win what Ian Welsh calls the death bet – the bet that I will have enjoyed the good things the world has to offer and die before I have to pay the price.  If you are 60 years old are younger, the odds are that you will lose.

THE FINAL CRASH

Right before the financial crash of 2008, there was a saying among Wall Street speculators about when the financial bubble would burst.  “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.”

In fact none of them suffered any bad consequences from their actions, up to and including financial fraud.  President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner arranged to have the big banks and investment firms bailed out of the consequences of their mistakes, and Attorney-General Eric Holder declined to prosecute financial fraud by heads of companies deemed “too big to fail.”

The Federal Reserve Board and Treasury Department prioritized reviving the stock market, to the great benefit of owners of stocks and bonds, including investors in mutual funds such as myself.   But then, even under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the financial markets recovered before the job markets did.

Now the U.S. economy is in another bubble, just like the last one—overhangs of debt that can’t be paid, increasing concentration of wealth at the top, the decline of the mass consumer market and the failure of either corporations or the government to invest for the future.

It’s probable, but not certain, that the government will succeed in bailing out the big players, just like the last time.  What is certain is that this can’t go on forever.   Without big changes in the financial system, there will be a final crash in which the institutions are not too big to fail, but are too big to rescue.

NUCLEAR ROULETTE

For more than 60 years, the United States government’s policy toward nuclear war was deterrence.  The theory is that the best way to be safe from war is to have nuclear weapons and be willing to use them if necessary.  In other words, if you want peace, be prepared to go to war.

So far this policy has worked.  We’ve gone to the brink of war a couple of times, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly, but we’ve always pulled back in time.   There have long been factions in the U.S. government that wanted to pre-emptively use nuclear weapons, but they’ve always been sidelined or disregarded.

I think it is likely to work—right up until the time it doesn’t work, and it only has to fail once.  If you play a game of Russian roulette, you’re likely—although not certain—to win.  If you continually play Russian roulette, you’re certain to someday lose.

I don’t expect nuclear war with North Korea, although the chances are more than zero.  I don’t expect nuclear war with Russia, although the chances are greater than war with North Korea.   But unless our policy changes, both concerning armaments and our foreign policy in general, there will be a war in which we and everybody else will be the loser.

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Am I being unpatriotic when I link to RT News?

November 30, 2017

RT News and Sputnik International are news services funded by the Russian government.   They are said to be waging “information warfare” against the United States.

RT America and Sputnik International have been ordered to register as foreign agents, the only foreign news services that have been ordered to do so.  What this means is that they will be required to disclose their sources of funds and other details of their operations.

The FBI is investigating Sputnik.  Google has changed its algorithm to “de-rank” RT and Sputnik in Google searches.  Twitter has banned advertising by RT and Google.

None of these things prevent RT or Sputnik from reporting their version of the news or making their reports available to Americans.   We’re not like the old Soviet Union, where you could be arrested for listening to the Voice of America.

And, in one respect, the United States is more liberal than the Russian federation.  Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America lost their Russian broadcast licenses in 2012 and 2014, but Sputnik still has a radio station in Washington, D.C.

The anti-Russia campaign is intended to brand Americans as unpatriotic if they work for RT or Sputnik, appear on their programs or even watch their programs.

I’ve linked to RT News videos in previous posts.  What does that make me?  Am I unpatriotic?

I think an American who listens to or watches RT or Sputnik is like a Russian who watches or listens to the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe.   The U.S. government has an ulterior motive in funding these two news services.   At the same time, they provide Russians with information and ideas they wouldn’t get from their domestic broadcasters.

Established U.S. broadcasters have a limited range of viewpoints they regard as acceptable.   I never noticed this until my own thinking moved outside the range of the acceptable.   So if there’s something on RT News I think is interesting or worthwhile, even though it might not be acceptable to PBS or CNN, I’ll link to it..    That’s my right as a free American.

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Global warming and local freezing

November 13, 2017

Double click to enlarge

Source: The Real News Network

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How long can they put their heads in the sand?

November 12, 2017

Double click to enlarge

Source: Real News Network.

“Reality,” according to the SF writer Philip K. Dick, “is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

“You can ignore reality,” the philosopher Ayn Rand reportedly said, “but you cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”

How long can members of the Trump administration ignore the reality of climate change?

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Recorte: the art of bull leaping

October 28, 2017

I’ve heard of bull riding and bullfighting.  But until I came across this video, I never heard of “recorte,” which is the part of bull leaping.  In recorte competitions, bull leapers invite charging bulls toward them in order to evade the animals via side-steps, flips and acrobatic turns.  A panel of judges scores their moves.  Unlike bullfighting, no harm is done to the animals.

Source: Great Big Story

The quest for perfection

September 30, 2017

Source: Incidental Comics.

The South as a culture of honor

September 29, 2017

I’ve been reading and thinking about the differences among American regional cultures, and especially the difference between the culture or cultures of the South and the culture of the New England Yankees.

I believe that one reason for the clash is that the South is predominantly a culture of honor and the Yankee culture is predominantly a culture of virtue.

David Blight

The other day my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to the text of a lecture by David Blight, a history professor at Yale, that is an excellent discussion of this.   I link to it today.

A culture of honor teaches you to behave in a way that people are forced to respect you.   A culture of virtue teaches you to follow moral rules no matter what people think.

These are not polar opposites.  An honorable person and a virtuous person will do the same things most of the time.   But a person of honor will not tolerate an insult or a slight that a person of virtue might shrug off.   A person of honor will usually put loyalty to kindred over loyalty to principle.

When I write of the culture of the South, I mean specifically the white people of the South.  But I think the African-American culture is, in its own way, also a culture of honor.

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Repealing and replacing Obamacare

September 22, 2017

Two Democrats—Senator Bernie Sanders [1] of Vermont and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan—have proposed bills to do something that President Donald Trump promised to do, but can’t and won’t do.

That is, they would repeal and replace Obamacare with something better.

I applaud what they’re doing, and I think Sanders deserves credit for making universal health care politically possible.

Tom Price

I don’t think Sanders or Conyers can get their bills through Congress at the present time, and I think President Trump would veto them if they did.

That’s just as well.   Implementation of both programs would require the cooperation of Tom Price, the current Secretary of Health and Human Services.   He is an opponent of traditional Medicare, which he would replace with a voucher system, and favors cutbacks in Medicaid.

But under both the Sanders and Conyers bills, he would appoint the administrators of the new program, and, under the Sanders bill,

The Secretary is … directed to develop policies, procedures, guidelines, and requirements related to eligibility, enrollment, benefits, provider participation standards and qualifications, levels of funding, provider payment rates, medical necessity standards, planning for capital expenditures and health professional education, and regional planning mechanisms.

Source: Health Affairs Blog

I’m pretty sure that neither Sanders nor Conyers intends to give Secretary Price the power to sabotage and discredit their plans.   Their proposals are talking points to rally support for universal health care and encourage thinking about how to make their bills better.

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The fine art of telling a joke

August 5, 2017

The only things I know about how to tell a joke is to pause before I state the punch line, and to emphasize the words in the punch line that are the point of the joke.   But there’s a lot more to it, as this analysis of a Louis CK joke shows.

Steven Pinker on moral fiction

July 9, 2017

Double click to enlarge.

Source: New York Times.