Where did all those homeless people come from?

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As I move past hundreds of homeless people on my daily commute, I wonder where their counterparts would have been, say, a century ago. And the answer seems clear.

They would have been in rural communities, doing low-skilled jobs on farms or in farming towns.

Or they would have been working in labor-intensive factories.

Today, those jobs have disappeared. Farming has been industrialized and mechanized. Factories have been automated. Today, the people who would have done those jobs have no jobs at all. From unemployment comes depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, etc. Add in those who would have been confined in mental hospitals in earlier eras, and voila! —today’s massive homeless problem.

In England, beginning in the 15th century, landowners began enclosing their fields. They expelled the peasant families who had worked those fields for generations and replaced them with sheep, who were less trouble and expense, and more profitable. From Wikipedia:

There was a significant rise in enclosure during the Tudor period. These enclosures largely resulted in conversion of land use from arable to pasture – usually sheep farming. These enclosures were often undertaken unilaterally by the landowner. Enclosures during the Tudor period were often accompanied by a loss of common rights and could result in the destruction of whole villages.

The now-homeless peasants migrated to the cities, especially London, where they became the urban poor, many of whom succumbed to the vices of the urban poor: drunkenness, petty theft, prostitution. When the English began colonizing in North America and elsewhere, they realized that they could alleviate these problems by sending thousands of these uprooted peasants to Virginia and Australia as indentured servants or deported convicts.

Today, alas, we have nowhere to send our homeless people. What to do?

Let’s give them useful jobs and affordable housing. There are jobs that need doing, but aren’t being done. Cleaning streets and sidewalks, for example. Repairing items that would otherwise be thrown away. Recycling: why do we send our waste overseas to be recycled? I’m sure there are many others.

Would it cost money to give the homeless jobs and housing? Of course. But what is it costing us now to have thousands of people sleeping on the streets? A lot more, I bet. And what is it doing to the quality of life in our communities?

Poetry vs. Horses and Dogs

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Found in John Merriman, Modern Europe: Volume One, From the Renaissance to the Age of Napoleon (1st edition, 1996):

Literature flourishes in Italy and princes there are not ashamed to listen to, and themselves to know, poetry. But in Germany princes pay more attention to horses and dogs than to poets—and thus neglecting the arts they die unremembered like their own beasts.

—Pope Pius II (1405 – 1464)

After reading Miranda Carter’s wonderful George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I, it is difficult not to connect Pius’s remark to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a.k.a. the House of Windsor, Britain’s royals, whose country houses were—are?—filled with dogs and hunting parties. Kaiser Wilhelm II was also an avid hunter. Carter describes Wilhelm’s enthusiasm for hunting, and that of his royal British cousin, the future King George V:

Wilhelm . . . kept a list of everything he’d ever killed: by 1897 it totalled 33,967 animals, beginning with “two aurochs, 7 elks” and ending with “694 herons and cormorants and 581 unspecified beasts.” George could bring down 1,000 pheasants in one day. At [the Windsors’ country estate] Sandringham the quantities of game shot were positively obscene.

Positively.

And in case you think this is all in the past, do an image search for “British royals with dogs and horses.”

A free press is an essential service.

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What if we decided that accurate information is an essential need in a democracy, just as effective police and fire services are essential in any society that values safety?

The logic here is straightforward. Democracy cannot function properly unless voters are knowledgeable and well-informed. By funding public education, most democracies acknowledge, at least tacitly, that voters must be knowledgeable. The shortcomings and confused aims of public education are obvious, but my point here is simply that education is regarded as so universally valuable that we all agree to pay taxes to fund schools. But what about the need for voters to be well-informed? 

We obviously cannot rely on private, for-profit media outlets to provide accurate information to voters. Partisan propaganda is part of the problem, but the profit motive, fundamental to any business, undercuts the desires of conscientious reporters and editors to provide essential information to voters. To understand this, imagine that all police services were privatized. It would soon become apparent that the costs of policing certain areas are just too high. To protect profit margins and please shareholders, services to those areas would be reduced or eliminated. 

Similarly, many news stories that would provide essential information to voters are complicated. To explain them requires long, detailed reporting and investigation. An editor or publisher who chooses to run such stories will quickly find that he or she is losing out to competitors who feature punchy, eye-catching, easy-to-understand stories that are full of “human interest.” As a result, the mass media landscape today is dominated by scandal, gossip, and superficiality. So long as journalism remains a for-profit enterprise, this is unlikely to change.

The internet has accellerated journalism’s decline, not only by increasing the competition for eyeballs but by eviscerating what was once a newspaper’s main source of income: the classified ads. Many local newspapers have simply disappeared. Others have been gobbled up by corporate outlets like USA Today. Even at local papers that have survived, reporting staffs have been cut drastically and content is mostly from national syndication. School board meetings and city council meetings go largely unreported. 

How are voters expected to make informed decisions under such conditions? 

There are some alternative models. Britain’s BBC, Canada’s CBC, and National Public Radio in the U.S. come to mind. All of them have flaws. Public funding is often inadequate. Political pressure is a constant threat. Fundraising through donations, memberships, and sponsorships brings another set of challenges. Keeping a publicly-funded news service both independent and accurate requires a carefully-designed system and unrelenting vigilance. None of that is easy, to say the least. But if we accept the idea that well-informed citizens are essential to a 21st-century democracy, then it follows that a free, independent, non-profit, publicly-funded press is an essential service just as much as policing and firefighting are. 

A free press is an essential service.

Daniel Willingham: “When Can You Trust the Experts?”

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I have been impressed with Dan Willingham’s work separating the wheat from the chaff in the world of educational psychology ever since I found his earlier book, Why Don’t Students Like School (Jossey-Bass, 2010), in which he explains what we actually know about teaching and learning, as opposed to what many people believe about teaching and learning without any scientific evidence to support those beliefs.

Only this year I have I discovered his subsequent work, When Can You Trust the Experts? (Jossey-Bass, 2012), and I am kicking myself for not reading it sooner. It would have been an outstanding book to use with students when I was teaching IB Theory of Knowledge, which poses the questions, “What do we know, and how do we know it? What do we believe, and why do we believe it?” Willingham addresses those questions in a practical way that would be especially valuable in a TOK class because educational psychology is a social science, and the social sciences deal with complex, messy human situations that make experiments, measurement, evidence, and conclusions problematic—but not always impossible.

Willingham sorts through this maze of questions with the same wit and clarity he displayed in Why Don’t Students Like School? Anyone who has read about (or taught!) the Golden Ratio, for example, will be hooked from the first page. Anyone who has sat through long committee meetings thrashing out the wording of a school mission statement will enjoy his “do-it-yourself school mission statement,” which made me laugh out loud. Anyone trying to teach the “scientific method” will find a valuable resource, filled with clear explanations and vivid examples.

Most importantly, anyone whose job involves curriculum decisions—high school department heads, school and district administrators, school board members, and state and federal officials and bureaucrats in departments of education—needs to read this book three times and consult it carefully before adopting a single new textbook or curriculum program. At a minimum, they should all photocopy Willingham’s “Exhibit 8.1: A Checklist to Be Completed Before You Adopt a Change,” distribute it to everyone in their organization, and direct them to post their copies prominently in their work areas.

In fact, every teacher should read this book, and every parent with school-age children should read it. As Willingham writes, we need “individuals who are better able to discern good science from bad, institutions that are willing to help individuals in that job, and a change of mind-set for all in how science relates to educational practice.” Amen to that!

 

The Progressive’s Dilemma

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I saw a tweet yesterday warning that Russian bots, already at work on the 2018 elections, were ginning up fears that Democrats favor open borders. Most Democrats, of course, do not favor open borders, but I do, and that puts me in a funny position. Should I make the argument for open borders, and thus risk playing into Trumpian fear-mongering, or should I just keep my opinions about borders to myself, to help increase the chances of electing an effective opposition to Trump?

Here’s another one: since the Vietnam War I have been highly critical of U.S. intelligence agencies like the CIA and the FBI for their reprehensible activities, at home and abroad—assassinations, smear campaigns, illegal surveillance, torture, planting agents provocateurs among dissident groups, etc. Now, however, those same agencies are under attack by Trump for quite different reasons, and the nation is depending on them, among others, to protect it from Trump’s worst excesses. So is this a bad time to remind people that Jim Comey’s Boy-Scout version of the FBI is not quite accurate? 

Or take Russia’s aggressions in Crimea and Ukraine, and the joint Trump-Putin attacks on NATO. Putin and Trump are both, to different degrees, criminal thugs who must be opposed. Is this the wrong time, then, to point out that Russia’s recent behavior is the predictable response to the decision to expand NATO during Bill Clinton’s presidency? “Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia,” said George Kennan in 1998. But perhaps that history would confuse the simple good-guy, bad-guy narrative we need right now. 

And then there’s the Democratic Party establishment. Arrogant, elitist, smug, blind with self-satisfaction, so easy to despise. And yet, we need them if we hope to stop Trump and the Republicans from their ongoing attacks on civil rights, the environment, public education, Medicare and Social Security, etc. The Republicans’ main tactic in the approaching elections will be to turn out their base with phony fears about the Democratic Party being taken over by leftists. So by speaking out on the issues important to us, do we progressives actually help Republican propagandists do their work? Should we all just shut up and vote Democratic?

It’s a dilemma.

Binary Thinking

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Problems with the European Union? Brexit will solve them.

Problems with taxis? Uber and Lyft are the answer.

Does the Veterans Administration have problems? Just privatize it.

Problems with government regulations? Deregulate everything.

Problems with the Democratic Party establishment? Vote Trump, or vote for a third-party candidate, or just stay home.

Problems with politics in general? Just forget it.

Or maybe it would be better to . . . work on fixing the problems.

George Kennan: “the sowing of bitterness, suspicion, and intolerance”

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People are not always more reasonable than governments . . . [and] public opinion, or what passes for public opinion, is not invariably a moderating force in the jungle of politics. It may be true, and I suspect it is, that the mass of people everywhere are normally peace-loving and would accept many restraints and sacrifices in preference to the monstrous calamities of war. But I also suspect that what purports to be public opinion in most countries that consider themselves to have popular government is often not really the consensus of the feelings of the mass of the people at all, but rather the expression of the interests of special highly vocal minorities — politicians, commentators, and publicity-seekers of all sorts: people who live by their ability to draw attention to themselves and die, like fish out of water, if they are compelled to remain silent. These people take refuge in the pat and chauvinistic slogans because they are incapable of understanding any others, because these slogans are safer from the standpoint of short-term gain, because the truth is sometimes a poor competitor in the market place of ideas — complicated, unsatisfying, full of dilemma, always vulnerable to misinterpretation and abuse. The counsels of impatience and hatred can always be supported by the crudest and cheapest symbols; for the counsels of moderation, the reasons are often intricate, rather than emotional, and difficult to explain. And so the chauvinists of all times and places go their appointed way: plucking the easy fruits, reaping the little triumphs of the day at the expense of someone else tomorrow, deluging in noise and filth anyone who gets in their way, dancing their reckless dance on the prospects for human progress, drawing the shadow of a great doubt over the validity of democratic institutions. And until people learn to spot the fanning of mass emotions and the sowing of bitterness, suspicion, and intolerance as crimes in themselves — as perhaps the greatest disservice that can be done to the cause of popular government — this sort of thing will continue to occur.

—George Kennan, American Diplomacy (1951)

Too crazy to fight

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From Scott DeVeaux, The Birth of BeBop:

Howard McGhee told the army psychiatrist, “Man, why should I fight? I ain’t mad at nobody out there. . . . I wouldn’t know the difference. . . . If he’s white, I’m going to shoot him. Whether he’s a Frenchman, a German, or whatever, how the fuck would I know the difference?” McGhee was informed, “We can’t use you.” Later, he reflected: “I wasn’t ready to dodge no bullets for nobody. And I like America. But I didn’t like it that much. I mean, it’s all right to be a second-class citizen, but shit, to be shot at, that’s another damn story.” Dizzy Gillespie (who drew the attention of the psychiatrist by carrying his trumpet in a paper bag) had a similar reaction:
They started asking me my views about fighting. “Well, look, at this time, in this stage of my life here in the United States, whose foot has been in my ass? The white man’s foot has been in my ass hole buried up to his knee . . . ! Now, you’re speaking of the enemy. You’re telling me the German is the enemy. At this point, I can never even remember having met a German. So if you put me out there with a gun in my hand and tell me to shoot at the enemy, I’m liable to create a case of ‘mistaken identity. . . .’”
They finally classified me 4F because I was crazy enough not to want to fight, in anybody’s army.

Sit on your trap case!

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Daniel Glass’s podcast conversation with Brooks Tegler reminded me of the old days when drummers sat on their trap cases and a cushion. I learned in the podcast that Gene Krupa was the first to sit on a purpose-made drum “throne,” which in his case was a “box throne” designed at the urging of a concert promoter who didn’t like the look of Gene sitting on his trap case. The box throne was never put into production, but was followed by the canister throne that was—I learned—initially open at the bottom, but later turned into a . . . trap case! . . . by putting a bottom on it and putting clasp hinges on the lid. I still like the minimalist beauty of just sitting on the trap case. Here are two photos of the great Kenny Clarke sitting on his trap case. The first might make you think that this was only done in rehearsals or recording sessions when the drummer didn’t want to haul a lot of gear, but the second one is clearly a performance. As for not wanting to haul a lot of gear . . . who needs a lot of gear, eh Kenny? Bass, snare, hats, one cymbal—done!

Here’s Krupa himself, sitting on a trap case:

And here he is again, sitting on what appears to be that custom-made box throne, wrapped in white marine pearl to match his drums:

Queen Elizabeth Park

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Queen Elizabeth Park is one of my favourite spots in Vancouver, so I decided to ride my bike up to the top of the hill and see if the North Shore mountains were still there. They were.

Why Does the American Right Love Russia? Let Mr. Solzhenitsyn Explain

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Alexander Solzhenitsyn was one of the 20th century’s greatest novelists and a constant irritant to the communist leaders of the Soviet Union until he was expelled from the country. After a brief stay in Switzerland he moved his family to Vermont in 1974, where he avoided publicity and worked on The Red Wheel, a series of historical novels tracing the end of imperial Russia and the founding of the Soviet Union. In 1978 he emerged from his rural retreat to deliver a commencement address at Harvard University.

I remember reading press accounts of the speech and thinking that Solzhenitsyn was a man stuck in the past. Like his predecessor, Leo Tolstoy, he seemed mired in a Christianity that was largely irrelevant in the modern world. Re-reading the speech today, I find passages that support those earlier impressions. He bemoans, for example, the West’s moral decadence:

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil. 

He also condemns, not just communism, but any form of socialism:

Having experienced applied socialism in a country where the alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind unto death. 

And in remarks on the Vietnam War, which had finally drawn to a close in 1975 after thirty years, he expresses a view that would have been welcomed by the most right-wing generals in the Pentagon.

Your short-sighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing spell; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms over you. That small Vietnam was a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation’s courage. But if a full-fledged America suffered a real defeat from a small, Communist half-country, how can the West hope to stand firm in the future? 

Such views seemed retrograde and wrong-headed to me in 1978, and still seem so to me now, even though his condemnations of the moral decadence so obvious in American culture, and of the amoral materialism of capitalism, resonate undeniably. Other portions of the speech, however, read today almost like a guide to understanding the initially puzzling sympathy for Russia that Donald Trump’s supporters express. 

Distrust of Journalists

Trump has consistently trashed the media, calling every news report that puts him in a bad light “fake news” and even calling the press “enemies” of America. Here is what Solzhenitsyn says about journalism in the West:

What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? If he has misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No, it hardly ever happens, because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance. . . .

The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus we may see terrorists made heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan “everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era: people also have the right not to know, and it is a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information. . . .

Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. One would then like to ask: By what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the Communist East, a journalist is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has granted Western journalists their power, for how long a time, and with what prerogatives? 

There is yet another surprise for someone coming from the East, where the press is rigorously unified: one gradually discovers a common trend of preferences within the Western press as a whole. It is a fashion; there are generally accepted patterns of judgment and there may be common corporate interests, the sum effect being not competition but unification. Enormous freedom exists for the press, but not for the readership, because newspapers mostly give emphasis to those opinions that do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend. 

Without any censorship, in the West, fashionable trends of thought are carefully separated from those that are not fashionable. Nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally, your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevents independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. 

It is easy to find these themes being echoed today by Trump and his followers.

Christian Nostalgia

It is easy, too, to see the appeal of Solzhenitsyn’s views for conservative Christians:

However, in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred, or even fifty, years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries, with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. 

Solzhenitsyn closes his speech by imagining a future that revives the best features of the Middle Ages without repeating the mistakes of that era:

It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more important, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the modern era. 

Instead of this utopian spiritual revival, however, current events suggest a good old-fashioned upsurge of authoritarianism, tribalism, and nationalism. And so far, at least, Christian conservatives have distinguished themselves only by their craven support of a blatantly immoral leader, not least at his most racist, white-supremacist moments. “Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism,” Solzhenitsyn said in 1978. Forty years later, his dream seems even more naive while his distrust of liberal democracy is echoed far and wide—even in the Oval Office itself.

“Life will break you.”

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Thanks to L.K. for this one:

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t, either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

― Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

4 Reasons the U.S. Is Doomed

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  1. The success myth, which tells us that anyone willing to work hard can succeed in America. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Check the flip side: if anyone willing to work can succeed, then it follows that anyone who has not succeeded has only himself to blame. As a result, most Americans either downplay or simply ignore all the other causes of poverty, refuse to pay taxes that might go to address those causes, and thus condemn themselves to living in a society with a huge, chronic gap between rich and poor, and a middle class who can’t figure out why they are having so much trouble making ends meet. (Oh yeah, it’s the illegal immigrants, the brown people, the foreigners ripping us off, etc.)
  2. Anti-intellectualism, deep-baked into the culture from the very beginning. Distrust education, distrust “worldliness,” just read the Bible and pray. Today, even where the religion has worn away, the anti-intellectualism persists. Book-reading is effeminate; real men don’t read books. Professors are suspicious by definition. And who needs a college education anyway? Meanwhile the cost of a college education keeps rising further and further out of reach for middle-class, much less poor, students, helping to reinforce the wealth gap (see #1). And who needs to study history? or economics? Who needs actual knowledge and understanding to vote? Any ignoramus can do it.
  3. The religious worship of Freedom! above all other values, leading to such absurdities as people insisting that they would rather suffer an obscene rate of gun violence than give up their freedom to own weapons of war; or that they would rather risk being bankrupted by the next illness or injury rather than give up their freedom to be ripped off by private insurance companies. Freedom to live on the streets. Freedom from the humiliation of accepting government handouts. Etc. Free! The possibility that freedom is just one ideal among many others like communitysafetyhealthsecuritycompassion, etc., barely enters the conversation. Our delusions about Freedom! lie so deep in our view of the world that millions of Americans actually believe, and will repeat without the slightest doubt, that “the terrorists hate us because we are free.”
  4. The military-industrial complex. In those irrelevant history books we can read of many a king, prince, or emperor who was infatuated with war. War they must have, but how to pay for it? Tax the peasants? They were already one bad harvest from starvation. Tax the incredibly rich nobles? They would rather overthrow the monarch than pay for his wars. And so, the only alternative (because peace was not an option!) was to borrow the needed funds. Eventually, of course, the country goes bankrupt, the ruler is overthrown, and we start over. Today the U.S. is deeply in debt and headed for bankruptcy because of its ridiculously oversized military budget. The military budget can never be cut, because that is not an option! You see where this is going.

Notice that the racist ideology of white supremacy, an ideology that permeates U.S. history, does not appear on my list except marginally (see #1). That’s because I actually think that, given demographic change (more brown people!) and generational change (“What is all this racist shit about?!?) white supremacy could suddenly flip, in the same way that opposition to gay marriage suddenly flipped. Here’s the problem: even if that happened, all four items on my list would still pertain. Because the success myth, anti-intellectualism, the worship of Freedom!, and the sacred military budget cross all classes, races, genders, and sexual preferences in American society. Those values and beliefs are not going to flip, and sooner or later they are going to bring down the empire.

The Mel Brown Septet

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L to R: George Mitchell (subbing for Gordon Lee), Stan Bock, Tim Gilson, John Nastos, Derek Sims, Renato Caranto. Invisible, behind the drums, the fabulous Mel Brown. Performing at Christo’s Pizzeria Lounge June 9, 2018.

What a joy and an inspiration it has been to hear these master musicians once a month at Christo’s! If you live within an hour’s drive of Salem, Oregon and you miss one of their performances, shame on you.

Chris Hedges: “The Coming Collapse”

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I wish Hedges could write without hyperventilating, because his inflated rhetoric undercuts his message.

I share his pessimism about the future of America, but I think the reasons for pessimism go deeper than the surface-level events he lists.

  • The success myth, which tells us that anyone willing to work hard can succeed in America. The flip side: anyone who has not been successful has only himself to blame, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to give such lazy sods any of my hard-earned dollars.
  • Anti-intellectualism, deep-baked into the culture from the very beginning. Distrust education, distrust “worldliness,” just read the Bible and pray. Even where the religion has worn away, the anti-intellectualism persists.
  • The religious worship of Freedom above all other values, leading to such absurdities as people insisting that they would rather suffer an obscene rate of gun violence than give up their freedom to own weapons of war; or that they would rather risk being bankrupted by the next illness or injury rather than give up their freedom to be ripped off by private insurance companies. Etc.

I can imagine even white supremacy finally being overturned, just as homophobia has been. But I can’t imagine the success myth, anti-intellectualism, or the religious worship of Freedom disappearing from American culture, and it seems to me that these values, deep-baked into the culture, produce most of the ills that Hedges writes about.

Read Hedges’ article here: https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-coming-collapse/.

“All cleverness was in itself suspicious.”

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George Eliot on the suspicions of country folk:

In that far-off time superstition clung easily round every person or thing that was at all unwonted, or even intermittent and occasional merely, like the visits of the pedlar or the knife-grinder. No one knew where wandering men had their homes or their origin; and how was a man to be explained unless you at least knew somebody who knew his father and mother? To the peasants of old times, the world outside their own direct experience was a region of vagueness and mystery: to their untravelled thought a state of wandering was a conception as dim as the winter life of the swallows that came back with the spring; and even a settler, if he came from distant parts, hardly ever ceased to be viewed with a remnant of distrust, which would have prevented any surprise if a long course of inoffensive conduct on his part had ended in the commission of a crime; especially if he had any reputation for knowledge, or showed any skill in handicraft. All cleverness, whether in the rapid use of that difficult instrument the tongue, or in some other art unfamiliar to villagers, was in itself suspicious: honest folk, born and bred in a visible manner, were mostly not overwise or clever—at least, not beyond such a matter as knowing the signs of the weather; and the process by which rapidity and dexterity of any kind were acquired was so wholly hidden, that they partook of the nature of conjuring.

—From Silas Marner, Chapter 1

Ed Pavlic: “Baldwin’s Lonely Country”

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This is a great article about James Baldwin!

For Baldwin, the whole mythic racial nightmare was based upon “economic arrangements of the Western world [which] are obsolete.” People’s identities as Americans are built on fraudulent terms, terms founded upon criminal economic arrangements. Of the latter, Baldwin told Jamal, “Either the West will revise them or the West will perish.” This was especially acute for white folks gripped in “European hangovers” who fantasized that they had more in common with villagers in Scotland or Ireland than they did with black folks who had been their neighbors (and closer than that!) for generations. Economics and race were mutually reinforcing false witnesses.

Link: http://bostonreview.net/race/ed-pavlic/baldwins-lonely-country

Doc Searls: Facebook’s problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing

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With no control by readers (beyond tracking protection which relatively few know how to use, and for which there is no one approach, standard or experience), and no blood valving by the publishers who bare those readers’ necks, who knows what the hell actually happens to the data?

Answer: nobody can, because the whole adtech “ecosystem” is a four-dimensional shell game with hundreds of players

Link to full post: https://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2018/03/23/nothing/

Two interviews with Mohsin Hamid

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I suggest the OPB interview first, and then the Radio Open Source podcast. Fascinating and important insights.

Links:

  1. OPB https://www.opb.org/radio/programs/thinkoutloud/segment/mohsin-hamid-pakistan-literary-arts-portland-think-out-loud/
  2. Radio Open Source http://radioopensource.org/mohsin-hamid-unwritten-constitution/#

“Barbara Ehrenreich on the Cult of Wellness”

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Another great interview by the invaluable Christopher Lydon on his Radio Open Source podcast. The “cult of wellness” is actually the inevitable result of making healthcare a capitalistic enterprise. It’s why the U.S. spends more per capita than any other nation on healthcare, with indifferent results.

Link: http://radioopensource.org/barbara-ehrenreich-on-the-cult-of-wellness/

Things fall apart

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Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

—from “The Second Coming,” by W. B. Yeats

Bridges. Airplanes. Political systems. Things fall apart.

Taibbi: “Can We Be Saved From Facebook?”

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“The social media giant has swallowed up the free press, become an unstoppable private spying operation and undermined democracy. Is it too late to stop it?”

facebook menace zuckerberg

“We shouldn’t be asking Facebook to fix the problem. We should be fixing Facebook. It’s our collective misfortune that this perhaps silliest-in-history supercorporation – a tossed-off hookup site turned international cat-video vault turned Orwellian surveillance megavillain – has dragged us all to the very cliff edge of modern technological capitalism.”

Link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/taibbi-facebook-can-we-be-saved-social-media-giant-w518655

“Facebook?! We don’t need no stinkin’ Facebook,” a.k.a., “Welcome to de Hotel California!”

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So, deleting Facebook (and Messenger) from your life turns out to be like checking out of Hotel California:

Just in case that print is too small for you: “To reactivate your account, log in using your old login email and password.” In other words, you can delete Facebook, but Facebook will never delete you and your data.

Comical coda: When you go to deactivate (not delete!) your account, you are told that deactivating FB will NOT deactivate Messenger, so after you deactivate FB you need to open Messenger, tap your profile pic, go to Privacy & Terms, and then click “Deactivate.” So, I re-install Messenger, then I deactivate FB on the computer, then I tap my profile pic, Privacy & Terms, “Deactivate”—only to get a message saying that my session has expired. So I log in, repeat the taps, only to find . . . “Deactivate” is not an option anymore! My guess is that logging back into Messenger reactivated my FB account.

At which point I removed my Franz Kafka mask, deleted Messenger from my phone, and walked away.

Becoming something monstrous

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You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves.

—James Baldwin, 1961

So true. Read the latest news from Gaza and the West Bank to see what the Jews, hapless victims of that monster, Hitler, have become in Israel. Or read Dante and understand that, beyond the endlessly inventive punishments of the damned, the meaning of Hell is quite simple: our punishment is to be who we have become, people who can commit unspeakable crimes and deny them.

ACLU: The Supreme Court Gives Police a Green Light to ‘Shoot First and Think Later’

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The Supreme Court just ruled that a police officer could not be sued for gunning down Amy Hughes. This has vast implications for law enforcement accountability. The details of the case are as damning as the decision. Hughes was not suspected of a crime. She was simply standing still, holding a kitchen knife at her side. The officer gave no warning that he was going to shoot her if she did not comply with his commands. Moments later, the officer shot her four times.

“Shoot first and think later,” according to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, is what the officer did.

Link: https://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/reforming-police-practices/supreme-court-gives-police-green-light-shoot

“Don’t mourn—organize!”

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From November 9, 2016:

The country that slaughtered Native Americans in the name of God and freedom, that built its wealth on the cruel enslavement of Africans, that elected Andrew Jackson as its president, that stole whatever land it wanted from anyone weak enough to steal it from, that needed a catastrophic civil war to end slavery, that murdered and lynched mercilessly to protect white supremacy, that exploited immigrants, the poor, and the working class to enrich Wall Street and the industrialists, that made racism the law of the land and embedded it in its business practices and system of injustice, that applauded the Dred Scott decision, that promoted ignorance among its people and exploited that ignorance to enrich its ruling elites, that subverted democratic movements around the globe in the name of anti-communism while making billions selling weapons to dictators, that murdered the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, that sent its agents to murder and imprison anyone who seemed to pose a threat while advocating for justice, that obscenely declared making money to be the only value in life—that America has now reasserted itself under the banner of a shameless self-promoting demagogue who promises to make the country great again.

The Americans who produced the Abolitionist movement, who organized the Underground Railroad, who protested against wars of aggression from the Mexican War of 1846 to Vietnam to Iraq, who fought for women’s suffrage and equal rights, who organized labor unions, who marched and demonstrated for civil rights for African-Americans, for immigrants, for homosexuals, for dissidents and those labeled as “other” in a myriad ways, who again and again poured into the streets to endure beatings and abuse and arrest and even death to stand up for justice, who really believe in freedom and justice for all—those Americans will now once again rise to the occasion.

Here is the story of one of those Americans.

Joe Hill (1879 – 1915) immigrated to America from Sweden in his early 20s and worked as a laborer all across the country. He became active in the struggle for labor rights and achieved fame as a writer of songs for the labor movement. In 1914 he was falsely arrested on murder charges, convicted, and finally condemned to death. Before his execution by firing squad he wrote to Bill Haywood, one of the leaders of the IWW (International Workers of the World).

“Don’t waste any time in mourning,” he said to Haywood. “Organize.”

Making sense of 2016

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From December 2016:

When my mother died in 1978, after a long illness, it was not a surprise. It was a blessed relief for her, and for her sons. Thus I was totally unprepared for the tsunami of grief that hit me. Slowly I realized that I was not grieving the death of my mother, but the loss of my childhood. I would never “go home” again; I would never be a kid again.

All of us want unconditional love, and for most of us that means mom, and childhood. If you cut through the mishmash of conflicting political impulses behind Donald Trump, “Make America Great Again!” boils down to this: “Let’s re-wind to when I was a kid and I didn’t have all these problems and uncertainties.” Unconvinced? Try asking someone bemoaning the terrible state of the world today, “What era, exactly, would be a better age to live in than this one?” There isn’t one.

Similarly, the howls of outraged grief that follow the death of a pop star from our youth has its roots in the same nostalgia for childhood. Most of us never met these people, and had no personal relationship with them. They function as pieces of furniture decorating our younger, happier days. We are mourning the loss of our youth, not the loss of those people we never knew.

And so as 2016 winds mercifully to a close, we can perhaps find some solace in recognizing that the grieving fans of Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, etc., have more in common than they might imagine with the angry, desperate people who voted for a man who promised to make everything better again.

Hey Zuck: got an idea for you

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Memo to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO:

Dear Mark,

Let’s face it, you are filthy rich several times over. This monetizing-users thing has been a big, big success for you. You don’t need any more money. Your descendants for several generations don’t need any more money. How about you do something for the rest of us?

Make Facebook a free service with zero data collection, zero advertising, zero promoted posts, zero monetizing of users. Pay for ongoing costs with premium services, but keep it free for basic accounts. Make it into a non-profit corporation. Turn it over to some good people to run. Maybe Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia could recommend some to you.

Then go enjoy your money.

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Capitalism

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King was murdered fifty years ago on April 4th, 1968.

We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor—both black and white, both here and abroad.

—from “The Three Evils of Society,” an address delivered at the National Conference on New Politics, August 31, 1967.

Lest someone object that capitalism arose in Europe where there were no (or very few) black slaves, it should be pointed out that the Industrial Revolution was fueled primarily by textile factories, specifically cotton mills—and that the economic revolution produced by the cotton trade was founded on the labor of enslaved Africans working on the cotton plantations of the American South. For more on this history I strongly recommend Empire of Cotton, by Sven Beckert (2014).

I. F. Stone’s advice to young activists

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I mean, something happened between 1905 and 1970 besides the Vietnam War. If you want to be a revolutionary and change society, you’ve got to study what happened before. I mean, Lenin and Trotsky studied the French Revolution. The French revolutionaries studied the English revolution. The Founders of the Constitution studied the Greek and Roman revolutions. And they really studied it—it’s in the Constitution, it’s in the Federalist Papers, real knowledge, real absorption and distillation of human political experience.

—from the documentary film, “I. F. Stone’s Weekly” (1973)

1932: Louis Armstrong plays the Palladium; London critics reveal their prejudices vs. blacks, Jews, the Irish, and modern art

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His actual presence gave me, in a sense, a shock, and I much regret to have to admit to finding something of the barbaric in his violent stage mannerisms.

The young Jewish element at the back was enthusiastic.

As for Armstrong himself, he was

the ugliest man I have seen on the music-hall stage. He looks, and behaves, like an untrained gorilla.

This savage growling is as far removed from English as we speak or sing it—and as modern—as James Joyce.

Pops, by Terry Teachout, pp. 186-87

August 1914: Fake News, a.k.a. Propaganda

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[Moltke, the German Chief of Staff,] did not himself, he said, attach much value to declarations of war. French hostile acts during [recent] days had already made war a fact. He was referring to the alleged reports of French bombings in the Nuremberg area which the German press had been blazing forth in extras all day with such effect that people in Berlin went about looking nervously at the sky. In fact, no bombings had taken place. Now, according to German logic, a declaration of war was found to be necessary because of the imaginary bombings.

—Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August, p. 110