Saturday, March 30, 2019

Revolt of the public.....................?

It wasn’t even clear Trump whether or not wanted to win. Watching him on the trail, Trump at times went beyond seeming disinterested. There were periods where it looked like South Park’s Did I offend you?” thesis was true, and he was actively trying to lose, only the polls just wouldn’t let him.

-Matt Taibbi, as extracted from here

Wondering about this........................

"Nature has instilled in our minds an insatiable desire to see truth."


Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge.....

Youth walked before me and I followed him until we came to a distant field.  There he stopped, and gazed at the clouds that drifted over the horizon like a flock of white lambs.  Then he looked at the trees whose naked branches pointed toward the sky as if praying to Heaven for the return of their foliage.
And I said, "Where are we now, Youth?"
And he replied, "We are in the field of Bewilderment. Take heed."
And I said. "let us go back at once. for this desolate place affrights me, and the sight of the clouds and the naked trees saddens my heart."
And he replied, "Be patient. Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge."  
Then I looked around me and saw a form moving gracefully toward us and I asked, "Who is this woman?"
And Youth replied, "This is Melpomene, daughter of Zeus, and Muse of Tragedy."
"Oh, happy Youth!" I exclaimed, "what does Tragedy want of me, while you are at my side?"
And he answered, "She has come to show you the earth and its sorrows; for he who has not looked on Sorrow will never see Joy."
Then the spirit laid a hand upon my eyes.  When she withdrew it, Youth was gone, and I was alone, divested of my earthly garments, and I cried, "Daughter of Zeus, where is Youth?"
Melpomene did not answer; but took me up under her wings, and carried me to the summit of a high mountain. Below me I saw the earth and all in it, spread out like the pages of a book, upon which were inscribed the secrets of the universe.  I stood in awe beside the maiden, pondered the mystery of Man, and struggled to decipher Life's symbols. 
And I saw woeful things: The Angels of Happiness warring with the Devils of Misery, and standing between them was Man, now drawn one way by Hope and now another by Despair. 
I saw Love and Hate dallying with the human heart; Love concealing Man's guilt and besotting him with the wine of submission, praise and flattery; while Hatred provoked him, and sealed his ears and blinded his eyes to Truth.
And I beheld the city crouching like a child of its slums and snatching at the garment of the son of Adam.  From afar I saw the lovely fields weeping over man's sorrow.  I beheld priests foaming like sly foxes; and false messiahs contriving and conspiring against Man's happiness. 
And I saw Man calling upon Wisdom for deliverance; but Wisdom did not hearken to his cries, for he had contemned her when she spoke to him in the streets of the city.
And I saw preachers gazing in adoration toward the heavens, while their hearts were interred in the pits of Greed.
I saw a youth winning a maiden's heart with sweet speech; but their true feelings were asleep, and their divinity was far away.
I saw the lawmakers chattering idly, selling their wares in the market places of Deceit and Hypocrisy.
I saw physicians toying with the souls of the simple hearted and trustful.  I saw the ignorant sitting with the wise, exalting their past to the throne of glory, adorning their present with the robes of plenty, and preparing a couch of luxury for the future.
I saw the wretched poor sowing the seed, and the strong reaping; and oppression, miscalled Law, standing guard. 
I saw the thieves of Ignorance despoiling the treasures of Knowledge, while the sentinels of Light lay drowned in the deep sleep of inaction.
And I saw two lovers; but the woman was like a lute in the hands of a man who cannot play, but understands only harsh sounds.
And I beheld the forces of Knowledge laying siege to the city of Inherited Privilege; but they were few in number and were soon dispersed.

And I saw Freedom walking alone, knocking at doors, and asking for shelter, but no one heeded her pleas. Then I saw Prodigality striding in splendour, and the multitude acclaiming her as Liberty.
 I saw Religion buried in books, and Doubt stood in her place.
And I saw Man, wearing the garments of Patience as a cloak for Cowardice and calling Sloth Tolerance, and Fear Courtesy.
I saw the intruder sitting at the board of Knowledge, uttering folly, but the guests were silent.
I saw gold in the hands of the wasteful, a means of evil-doing; and in the hands of the miserly as a bait for hatred. But in the hands of the wise I saw no gold.
When I beheld all these things, I cried out in pain, "Oh Daughter of Zeus, is this indeed the Earth? Is this Man?"
In a soft and anguished voice she replied, "What you see is the Soul's path, and it is paved with sharp stones and carpeted with thorns. This is only the shadow of Man. This is Night. But wait! Morning will soon be here!"   
Then she laid a gentle hand upon my eyes, and when she withdrew it, behold! There was Youth walking slowly by my side, and ahead of us, leading the way, marched Hope.

-Kahlil Gibran,  Youth and Hope from The Voice Of The Master

Fifty years ago.....................

At the bookstore......................................The Andromeda Strain

       A man with binoculars.  That is how it began:  with a man standing by the side of the road, on a crest overlooking a small Arizona town, on a winter night.

-Michael Crichton,  The Andromeda Strain

Answering the really important..........


The year was 1867.....................

     Grant considered Reconstruction a noble experiment while Welles and other cabinet members condemned it as a misguided disaster that would put shiftless blacks in power.  Conventions now began to meet in southern states to draw up new constitutions, which would allow them to be readmitted to the Union.  At the Louisiana and South Carolina conventions, blacks made up a majority of the delegates.  Never before in American history had there been such racially integrated governmental meetings, that they pioneered in establishing public schools and contesting discrimination.  In Alabama, a racially mixed convention guaranteed voting rights to "all colored male persons of the age of 21 years."  The Louisiana convention enacted a provision calling for equal access to public transportation "without distinction of race or color or previous condition."  In Charleston, seventy-six black delegates made up a majority of the state convention, many of them former slaves.  Such a spectacle was an anathema to many terrified whites, prompting the Charleston Mercury to jeer at this assembly as the "Congo Convention."  More than 80 percent of the black delegates were literate, but the handful of illiterates provided endless fodder for vicious satire in the white press, creating an enduring caricature of Reconstruction as a period of misrule by inept black politicians.
     Nothing alarmed white southerners more than the specter of blacks casting votes.  The united power of blacks, carpetbaggers, and scalawags produced a stunning string of Republican election victories in fall 1867 across a region long solidly Democratic.  Blacks embraced voting rights and registered amazingly high participation rates:  a 70 percent turnout in Georgia and almost 90 percent in Virginia, casting virtually unanimous Republican voters.  In Alabama, there were 89,000 black voters versus 74,000 whites, while 95,000 black voters in Georgia nearly equaled the 100,000 white voters.  In a startling reversal for an area once dominated by slavery, the elections spawned black sheriffs, school board members, state legislators, and congressmen.  That yesterday's slave laborer was today's state legislator horrified many white southerners who refused to accept this extraordinary inversion of their bygone world.

-Ron Chernow,  Grant

Fifty years ago..................................

Blood, Sweat & Tears..............You've Made Me So Very Happy

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Questions are more important anyway.........


On the importance of a philosophy.......

"What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century."

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

On happiness....................

If famine, plague and war are disappearing, if humankind experiences unprecedented peace and prosperity, and if life expectancy increases dramatically, surely all that will make humans happy, right?
     Wrong.  When Epicurus defined happiness as the supreme good, he warned his disciples that it is hard work to be happy.  Material achievements alone will not satisfy us for long.  Indeed, the blind pursuit of money, fame and pleasure will only make us miserable.  Epicurus recommended, for example, to eat and drink in moderation, and to curb one's sexual appetites.  In the long run, a deep friendship will make us more content than a frenzied orgy.  Epicurus outlined an entire ethic of dos and dont's to guide people along the treacherous path to happiness.

-Yuval Noah Harari,  Homo Deus:  A Brief History of Tomorrow

Fifty years ago.............................

Creedence Clearwater Revival.......................Born on the Bayou

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A lament........................

"I have reached the end of my time, and have hardly come to the beginning of my task."

-John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, 1st Baron Acton  (Lord Acton)

A fairly (and rare, today) useful mindset.........

     Chesterton relished debate and often entered the lists.  But when he did, his intent was not to destroy but to build up.  Not to unleash a withering frontal assault, but to come alongside a fellow pilgrim and offer a hand in friendship.  He wished to contend for the faith winsomely, with an erudition marked by wit and bonhomie.

-Kevin Belmonte,  Defiant Joy:  The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton

Let them be..........................

“Let the water flow beneath the bridge; let men be men, that is to say, weak, vain, inconstant, unjust, false, and presumptuous; let the world be the world still; you cannot prevent it. Let every one follow his own inclination and habits; you cannot recast them, and the best course is, to let them be as they are and bear with them. Do not think it strange when you witness unreasonableness and injustice; rest in peace in the bosom of God; He sees it all more clearly than you do, and yet permits it. Be content to do quietly and gently what it becomes you to do, and let everything else be to you as though it were not.” 

-François Fénelon, Spiritual Letters

Financial well-being................... five easy steps:

On parenting.........................

..............................................................and blindspots.

Remembering the thin veneer of "civilization"....

     The Civil War had been a contest of incomparable ferocity, dwarfing anything in American history.  It claimed 750,000 lives, more than the combined total losses of all other wars between the Revolutionary War and the Vietnam War.  The historian James M. McPherson has calculated that, as a portion of the total population, the Civil War killed seven times as many American soldiers as World War II.  While the North lost more men in absolute terms, death took a far greater toll in the South, where the population was smaller, with young and old alike indiscriminately conscripted;  by the end, more than one-fifth of the southern white male population had perished.  Grant was sobered by the horrifying roster of casualties, saying future generations would look back at the Civil War "with almost incredulity that such events could have happened in a Christian country and in a civilized age."
     For the rest of his life, Grant had to deal with the charge that he had merely been the lucky beneficiary of superiority in men and resources.  He grew touchy on the subject because it addressed the larger question of whether he had crudely consigned young men to their death, winning by overwhelming force.  The plain fact is that six Union commanders before him had failed, with the same men and materiel, whereas Grant had succeeded.  It vexed him that the North denigrated its generals, while southern generals were idealized.  As he remarked bitterly, "The Southern generals were [seen as] models of chivalry and valor—our generals were venal, incompetent, coarse . . . Everything that our opponents did was perfect.  Lee was a demigod,  Jackson was a demigod, while our generals were brutal butchers.

-Ron Chernow,  Grant


     This is the first key moment in the history of the development idea as appealing to diverse—even opposite—groups.  Sun Yat-sen suggested the idea of technocratic development to resist European imperialism in China, while at the same time in Versailles the Allies suggested technocratic development to expand European imperialism in Africa.  The paradox is resolved if we remember what technocratic development takes for granted behind the scenes:  a benevolent autocrat.  The British Empire offered itself as a benevolent autocrat for the sake of development in Africa.  Sun Yat-sen offered himself as a benevolent autocrat for the sake of development in China.  The British were imperialist and Sun was anti-imperialist.  The common theme is what the technocratic emphasis on development as the goal obscures:  both Sun and the British simply wanted power.

-William Easterly:  The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor

Fifty years ago.................................

Creedence Clearwater Revival..................................Green River

Monday, March 25, 2019

Always just enough virtue.....................

     At night, Lincoln reveled in the camaraderie of the campfire and luxuriated in this respite from the pressures of the executive mansion.  There were no office seekers to pursue him, no legislators to lobby him, no reporters to hound him.  Despite his proximity to the battlefield, he was surprisingly relaxed, and Porter observed that as Lincoln "sat in a camp-chair with his long legs doubled up in a grotesque attitudes, the smoke of the fire curling around him, he looked the picture of comfort and good-nature."  With inexhaustible good humor, he traded quips and stories and reminisced about the war.  When someone asked if he had ever doubted the North's final victory, he shot back, "Never for a moment."  He quoted Seward, saying "that there was always just enough virtue in this republic to save it; sometimes none to spare, but still enough to meet the emergency, and he agreed with Mr. Seward in this view."
     Grant derived special pleasure from Lincoln's expansive fireside mood.  As he later said, the president "talked, and talked, and talked, and the old man seemed to enjoy it and said: 'How grateful I feel to be with the boys and see what is being done at Richmond' . . . He would sit for hours tilted back in his chair, with his had shading his eyes, watching the movement of the men with the greatest interest."  By this point, the Lincoln-Grant relationship had ripened into genuine friendship.  Both men had been caricatured as simpletons from the western prairies and greeted with contemptuous sneers by detractors.  A certain self-deprecating modesty deceived people into underrating both of them, causing them to miss an underlying shrewdness.

-Ron Chernow,   Grant

On the importance of debate..............

     Hayek condemned those who wanted to suppress debate, what he called "the presumption of any group of people"—such as Myrdal's unanimous development experts—"to claim the right to determine what people ought to think or believe."  The absence of dissent would "produce a stagnation of thought and a decline of reason."  Hayek argued that it is not possible to know which innovation in thinking will succeed (otherwise it wouldn't be innovation!):  "results [of thinking] cannot be predicted . . . we cannot know which views will assist this growth [of reason] and which will not—in short . . . this growth cannot be governed by any views which we now possess without at the same time limiting it."  For development to occur it is thus necessary to have the debate among many "different views." . . .
     All that can be predicted is that inhibiting debate is bad for the progress of reason.  The absence of debate on the technocratic approach to development stifles progress in development, which in itself is immoral.

-William Easterly, The Tyranny of Experts:  Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor

Just because you’re paranoid.....................

..........................doesn’t mean the algorithms aren’t out to get you.

Moving on up...........................

larger, more readable, version here

Working on #3.........................

Might as well cancel that reconciliation....

If we want to reconcile the public to democracy, the elites will have to embrace the limits to human knowledge, and learn to speak with humility.  They will not tempt the public by promising them all the kingdoms of the world.  They will not speak as if the normal state of humanity is utopia, so that any fall from perfection must be blamed on selfish and corrupt forces – their opponents.  They will have the integrity to speak the truth as they see it, and they will have the courage to say “I was wrong” when necessary.

-the very smart Martin Gurri, from this Q & A



On precision and resilience......

"You’ll probably find that while precision feels like the way forward, resilience, the ability to thrive when things go wrong, is a much safer bet."

-Seth Godin, as extracted from here

Fifty years ago...............................

Creedence Clearwater Revival....................................Proud Mary