Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Rock and a Hard Place


In this way, the radical democracy strategy becomes an inversion of the nationalist strategy. Both the radical democrats and the nationalists would create a situation in which the nation-state cannot meaningfully be blamed for the consequences of the liberal order.



The nationalists accomplish this by blaming the order, performing subversion while continuing to obey. The radical democrats accomplish this by creating new institutions that make the people themselves feel responsible for their own situations. They attempt to ‘responsibilise’ ordinary voters.

 The nationalist strategy’s weakness is that it maintains the liberal order by condemning it, undermining the very thing it maintains.

The radical democrats completely divert attention from the order by making politics about the local level – about you. You become the one responsible for the order, for the flows, and for any instability those flows bring to your community.

These local institutions, however, cannot actually alter the flows. This responsibility is built on lies and misdirection. It functions as an elaborate way of forcing the citizens to internalise the political system’s failures as their own. Radical democrats would give citizens the appearance of direct power without the fact of it, obscuring where the real power lies – with the liberal order.

That would suit the order just fine. But radical democracy wouldn’t deal with the substance of the grievances that have led so many voters to grow frustrated. It would enable the order to continue disappointing people by convincing them that they are the ones disappointing themselves.


Source.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Efficiency Is The Opposite, or, A Walk In The Woods

efficient

utilizing a particular commodity or product with the least waste of resources or effort (usually used in combination): a fuel-efficient engine.

 

Along with other dramatic life changes, I've been doing an inordinate amount of backpacking this past year. I've spent most of my time in the greater Klamath Mountain Ranges, trekking through the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, Siskiyous, Russian and a few others.

Anyway, on one of my solo hikes in the Trinity Alps, I ran into a couple brothers who had a mule team bring up their "80 pounds each of ultralight gear," as I gently chided them.

One was in finance and one was in Medical Technology, as the money guy. Smart, socially conscious, moderate Democrats interested in the debates, clearly solid family guys.



Anyway, we get to talking about politics and the economy, as you do when you see another human for the first time in a day and have time and a little whiskey with you.

The medical brother was discussing the efficiency of producing their products in Asia, and I made some reasonable rebuttal about the corrosive nature of wage arbitrage, but it wasn't quite right.

So as I walked silently through the wilderness for the next seven hours, I really pondered what bothered me about the efficiency argument.

It brought me back a memory of an old article from Cnu's Sewing Circle about money as an illusion, a literally not real thing we choose to collectively accept - with a long history of this acceptance failing when it stops matching reality.

Here's what the people who run the world mean when they talk about efficiency. They mean that we will burn the planet to the ground for a few extra pennies. I'm not being dramatic.

Let's say you have a WIDGET, made in America.  It costs $15 to make; $2 for overhead, $2 for materials, $3 for energy and shipping, $8 for labor. Sells for $20, $5 profit.

Here's the sick, universally accepted version of efficiency:

$2 for overhead, $2 for materials, $8 for energy and shipping, $2 for labor (non-US). Sells for $20, $6 profit.

What we have done is allow a 20% increase in profits for the owners, Elimination of jobs (and spending) in the US, and a 166% increase in literally burning up the atmosphere and our finite oil supply.



Except my example is unfortunately too generous. It's really done for fractions of these results, like this:

$2 for overhead, $2 for materials, $8.95 for energy and shipping, $2 for labor (non-US). Sells for $19.99, $5.04 profit.

This is considered a necessary "efficiency." We rely on tenuous supply lines, eliminate the vast majority of income and spending power at home, and triple our carbon footprint to enrich a minority of asset owners to make fractional gains. Since they are leveraging their money by many multiples, these 1% "efficiency" increases still have the desired 30% return.

Nice guys, but we were deep in the woods, and even I needed a few more hours of hiking to get there.


"efficiency" should revert to a more classical meaning in our thoughts and actions.




Thursday, December 6, 2018

Shared Sacrifice Demands Shared Culture, It's Always Imposed the Same Way

Who is "us" and who is "them?"


What cohesive unit do we decide to represent? And can we look beyond our own politics to see the larger issues? Is this a problem to be solved,  or a correction for earlier hubris? Better a member of a losing tribe in an eternal war, or forever locked into your caste in a peaceful world?

My oldest is 10, and our progressive public school has decided to start sex ed at this age. Unfortunately, the material is politicized, full of poor english ('they' when referring to an individual) and active declaration that gender and sex are separate entities, with explicit language to be used: "keep in mind, not all females identify as girls."

It is not science or health, it's politics. Even where I agree that all people, including transgender people, be treated with kindness and compassion, their beliefs do not need to be normalized, and should not be taught under a scientific rubric.

This is, to my mind, extremely unfortunate. We will be opting out.


...Sweden’s longest economic expansion in at least four decades has done little to win the government more support, polls show. Immigrants have played a large part in the boom, stepping in to fill a growing labor shortage. Foreign-born workers accounted for the entire job growth in the industrial sector last year and filled 90 percent of the new positions in welfare.

Sweden also typically does well in global surveys on life satisfaction and economic competitiveness. And it enjoys a healthy budget surplus...


Akesson has managed to entice voters from both sides of the political spectrum with a message of more welfare, lower taxes and savings based on immigration cuts.

Source.

--

In 1397, the Kalmar Union was formed, with the three Scandinavian countries under a single monarch. However, the union (1397–1523) was scarred by internal conflicts that culminated in the ‘Stockholm Bloodbath’ in 1520, when 80 Swedish nobles were executed at the instigation of the Danish union king, Kristian II. The act provoked a rebellion, which in 1521 led to the deposition of Kristian II and the seizure of power by a Swedish nobleman, Gustav Vasa, who was elected king of Sweden in 1523.

The Vasa period

The foundations of the Swedish state were laid during the reign of Gustav Vasa (1523–60). The church was nationalised, its estates confiscated by the crown, and the Protestant Reformation was introduced. Power was concentrated in the hands of the king and hereditary monarchy came into force in 1544.

 Source.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Seeing Inside Is Gruesome But Enlightening

Been working a few political campaigns lately, mostly localized issues around housing and unions. It's interesting, actually being the guy in the proverbial smoke-filled back room, making the political deals away from the public eye. Weird life, you just never know where you're going to end up, or what you view as right and wrong the more you learn how the world actually works.

--
Born in 1785 in Lebanon, Connecticut, William Beaumont was the son of a thriving farmer and veteran of the Revolutionary War. After declining an offer by his father of a nearby farm, Beaumont left home in 1806 at age 22 with a horse and sleigh, a barrel of cider, and $100. He settled in Champlain, New York, near the Canadian border, and taught school for 3 years. In 1810, at age 25, Beaumont entered a preceptorship under Benjamin Chandler in St. Albans, Vermont, living in Chandler's home for 2 years as an apprentice. He learned medicine primarily through observation of patients rather than through study of books, and recorded cases and his thoughts in notebooks, a habit he continued throughout his life.



...He participated in the capture of York in 1813 and the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814, and resigned when the Treaty of Ghent ended the war in 1815.
After 4 years of private practice in Plattsburgh, Beaumont reenlisted in the army in 1819 at age 35 and was ordered to Fort Michilimackinac in the Michigan territory. Built by the British in 1780 on an island, Fort Mackinac was adjacent to a village inhabited by about 500 French Canadians and Indians employed by the American Fur Company. In June and July, however, Mackinac swelled with 5000 traders bearing their winter catch.

...Beaumont was the only physician on the island in June 1822 when Alexis St. Martin, a 19-year-old French Canadian, was accidentally shot by a gun in the store of the American Fur Company. Beaumont's record of the event follows:
I was called to him immediately after the accident. Found a portion of the Lungs as large as a turkey's egg protruding through the external wound, lacerated and burnt, and below this another protrusion resembling a portion of the Stomach, what at first view I could not believe possible to be that organ in that situation with the subject surviving, but on closer examination I found it to be actually the Stomach, with a puncture in the protruding portion large enough to receive my fore-finger, and through which a portion of his food that he had taken for breakfast had come out and lodged among his apparel. In this dilemma I considered my attempt to save his life entirely useless. (Myers, 1912)
Source.
--
So he cleanses the wound as best he can, clips off a bit of a rib with his penknife to ease the lung back inside, then applies a poultice.
A day later, the voyageur is struggling for his life, pneumonia and fever have set in. Beaumont bleeds the voyageur, then administers a cathartic, which spills out the hole in his stomach. Since attempts to feed the patient have the same result, St. Martin is fed through anal injections for two weeks, until the wound is healed enough for the hole to be bandaged. At least the voyageur can eat.
By December, St. Martin is, miraculously, on the mend, with one exception. The hole in the stomach has not closed—and defies all Beaumont’s attempts to seal it. Instead, the tissue around the opening attaches itself to the tissue in St. Martin’s side, creating a gastric fistula, a permanent opening. A disturbing development for St. Martin, because unless the hole is covered, his last meal leaks out. But for Beaumont, the hole presents an opportunity for his curious medical mind: He can look through the shilling-sized cavity, into a living human stomach. Fascinated, Beaumont spoons in food, then siphons it out again. He attaches meat to a string, dangles it through the hole and pulls it out for observation.

Source.




Thursday, August 3, 2017

Effusive Errata

I think often on my years as an altar boy. I must have been eight or nine when I was first plucked from the pew by the priest and asked to fill in, beginning my 3 or 4 years of service.

I still remember how seriously I took it, and how much my left-wing Catholic upbringing shaped who I am as a man, now almost 30 years later.

Of course, by twelve or thirteen I had gone from credulous earnestness to refusing confirmation and deciding there was no God. I was, of course, wrong.



My nine year old, raised in what I would say is a moral and rules based home, has not been raised religiously, aside from a quick grace at dinner. Even that solitary prayer is interrupted by deities only briefly with a "Dear Lord..." invocation, followed by standard tropes of gratitude, and a context-free "Amen."

Anyway, recently, she told me and her mother that she "did not believe in God."

Not angrily or defiantly, because there was no real weight to it.

We both (somewhat to my surprise) objected strenuously, and more or less told her she is wrong.

She's smart, you see. The conception of God she is able to form in her mind is, of course, very much not God. This is a problem many adults seem to face as well.

An inability to understand, or even properly conceive of the concept of God is definitional. The term should be understood as meaning beyond comprehension or understanding. That's why concepts like the trinity even exist--it's a koan, designed to take you past your understanding to a metaphysical place of wonder, and awe.

Lucky for us, she is nine, and still not infected with a strong sense of self, apart from others.

She is Us still, not really a separate entity.

I think that helps maintain a peace with not knowing, not controlling everything, not understanding all ideas or rules while still being able to accept them.

Her and I have been to mass together, once. Just a random Sunday. It didn't take. I don't want to give of myself to that entity any more, don't want to be used up, or serve the wrong master, or be exploited.

Can the heart exploit the hands? Can the mind abuse the lungs? Does the fascia serve the muscle? At what level do we exist most richly? Better to be a man alone, or the sole of a foot, forever trampled?

Of course, any reader of this era immediately assigns a Voltron-like form to this thought experiment, assigning one as the head/brain archetype, and others as the lowly feet.


Maybe it's better to ask if the oxygen resents the hydrogen in water.

Weird hierarchical brains.







Thursday, May 18, 2017

Emphatically immoral

‘When some people think of empathy, they think of kindness. I think of war...’

In Against Empathy, Bloom provides a thoughtful, considered, empirically-grounded case which challenges many notions that we often accept as good without really thinking them through.



We live in an age in which, Bloom observes, reason is constantly deprecated and emotions celebrated. Social psychologists and neuroscientists insist that humans are irrational creatures. Many philosophers and sociologists claim that the appeal to reason is Eurocentric; Bloom writes of a sociology professor who ‘gently told me that my emphasis on reason expressed a particularly Western white male viewpoint...’

...Reason is what ‘makes us distinctively human, and it gives us the potential to be better to one another, to create a world with less suffering and more flourishing and happiness.’ Empathy, on the other hand, is ‘a poor moral guide’ in almost all realms of life, whether that be public policy, private charity or interpersonal relationships...



By ‘empathy’, Bloom means something highly specific. He is not talking about general sympathy for, or identification with, another’s plight. He refers rather to ‘the act of feeling what you believe other people feel – experiencing what they experience.’

So, what is the problem with such empathy? Bloom has a long checklist. First, empathy is like a spotlight that focuses on certain people, making us care more about them but leaving us insensitive to long-term consequences of our acts, and blind to the suffering of those we do not or cannot empathise with.


Source. Emphasis mine

Monday, May 15, 2017

Days of our Lives

[H]ow old do you suppose the hourglass is: two thousand years? Four thousand years?

...Oddly enough, it came into use at almost exactly the same time as the first mechanical clocks. The hourglass is only about seven hundred years old.

...Hourglasses found their place in setting off blocks of time. The time between canonical hours in a monastery, or between watches on shipboard. They ran neither long enough nor accurately enough to be of much use in marine navigation. They were a poor person's timepiece -- a kind of clock for everyman.

Both the mechanical clock and the hourglass found powerful symbolic roles during the Renaissance. The complex mechanical clock with its rotary gears became a metaphor for the heavenly spheres or for the wheel of fortune. But the hourglass, whose sands run out, was a thing of this base earth. It became a metaphor for the running-out-of-sands we all inevitably face. It became, and it remains, a universal symbol of death.



 
Two technologies, one simple, one complex, running side by side -- the clock making a continuum of time, the hourglass segmenting it -- the clock speaking of timelessness, the hourglass showing us finality -- the clock evoking things celestial, the hourglass reminding us of base earth. They are Yin and Yang.

 ...The clock and the hourglass create technological parity. Either, without the other, would provide an unbalanced metaphor, and that subtle fact can be far more important than it might seem.

Source.