Sometimes I have essentially decontextualized insights and I decide to write them down. I was reading some blog about current political events, and thought the following. It’s not a reasoned argument, just an idea that occurred to me.
In a true democracy, it seems to me that the things people believe about government will eventually become true about government. If people believe their government is dangerous, the government will become more and more dangerous over time. If people believe their government is corrupt, the government will become more and more corrupt over time. This can go the other direction too, though: if people believe their government is capable of solving social ills, then more and more social ills will be solved by government over time. If people believe their government is a virtuous protector of individual rights, then the government will become more and more virtuous in this way over time. There is a most disturbing aspect of this “spiral effect” of democracy, however: if people specifically come to believe their government is undemocratic, then the government will become less and less democratic over time. And the problem, there, unlike any of the other spirals, is that there is no way to spiral out from this problem once you’ve descended, because once the government is no longer democratic, this feedback process is no longer in effect. Thus the absolute most important belief for the nurturing and sustenance of a democracy is the belief in democracy itself.
Periodically, in the United States, people go around with guns killing random people in public. This is just part of our culture, apparently – check the news.
Here is someone thinking about this cultural phenomenon.
The United States has institutionalized the mass shooting in a way that Durkheim would immediately recognize. As I discovered to my shock when my own children started school in North Carolina some years ago, preparation for a shooting is a part of our children’s lives as soon as they enter kindergarten. The ritual of a Killing Day is known to all adults. It is taught to children first in outline only, and then gradually in more detail as they get older. The lockdown drill is its Mass. The language of “Active shooters”, “Safe corners”, and “Shelter in place” is its liturgy. “Run, Hide, Fight” is its creed. Security consultants and credential-dispensing experts are its clergy. My son and daughter have been institutionally readied to be shot dead as surely as I, at their age, was readied by my school to receive my first communion. They practice their movements. They are taught how to hold themselves; who to defer to; what to say to their parents; how to hold their hands. The only real difference is that there is a lottery for participation. Most will only prepare. But each week, a chosen few will fully consummate the process, and be killed. – Kieran Healy
I had a camera my uncle Arthur had given to me – a fairly high quality Pentax (film-using, of course, in those days), with some nice lenses.
One day in Paris I walked around and over to the Île de la Cité and to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Because it was cold and overcast, there weren’t many crowds, and I climbed one of the towers and took pictures of Paris.
In the picture below, which I took at that time looking out on the Paris cityscape toward Montmartre, the gargoyle in the right foreground is part of the cathedral.
In fact, the incarceration of children whose parents are in violation of rules about migration is a global problem. I was recently impressed by some discussion of the growing problem in my erstwhile home, South Korea, where it is normally an untouchable subject.
You can read about it here. The below video is included on that site.
My important point is that the recent outrage among some parts of the US population about this issue is in fact quite narrow and parochial. This is a global problem and the US is at best a minor violator. That doesn’t excuse it. Rather, I think this core problem of child punishment for parental behavior is key to understanding why migration restriction regimes are on par with chattel slavery in ethical terms.
AOC was talking at the SXSW conference. An excerpt:
We should not be haunted by the specter of being automated out of work. We should not feel nervous about the toll booth collector not having to collect tolls anymore. We should be excited by that. But the reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.
We should be excited about automation, because what it could potentially mean is more time educating ourselves, more time creating art, more time investing in and investigating the sciences, more time focused on invention, more time going to space, more time enjoying the world that we live in. Because not all creativity needs to be bonded by wage.
Capitalism is based on scarcity. What happens when there is enough for everyone to eat? What happens when there is enough for everyone to be clothed? Then you have to make scarcity artificial. And that is what has happened.- AOC
Then the moderator said: that’s “Full Star Trek Socialism.” AOC just smiled.
The concept of the “post-scarcity society” has been around for a long time. And now we find that AOC is fluent in this thinking – that was not a prepared speech, but rather a response to an audience question. I’m interested.
I haven’t been posting much of this type of thing, in recent months – since my change in lifestyle with the move to Alaska. But I still read several economics blogs, and I think this is very interesting and insightful.
Very high top tax rates are a means of encouraging “predistribution” rather than the tax part of tax-and-transfer redistribution. Their purpose, their very point, is to create those “agency costs” that economists from the 1970s until now have derided and demanded be ruthlessly excised from corporate practice. But every “agency cost” to shareholders is income to someone else, whether that takes the form of luxury offices and stupid jet travel for firm managers or better work conditions at higher pay for more employees. The ideologically tendentious presumption of the economics profession post-1970s has been that agency costs yield no real benefits, that they look much more like luxury offices for the C-suite than predictable schedules for service workers. But that was always just presumption, and historical experience does not support it. It is, I will admit, not a slam dunk case, it is only suggestive, that the ruthless efficiencies of contemporary labor markets and the shattering of union power happened just after we, in relative-to-prior-period terms, dramatically subsidized payouts to shareholders over other uses of funds. But it is suggestive. And it is plausible that “Treaties of Detroit” and Bell Labses, that corporate practices generally which favor workers, customers, and other stakeholders, are easier for companies to “afford” when shareholders have to give up less to purchase them. Which is precisely the effect, in the most basic economic terms, of taxing payouts to shareholders heavily. – from the blog interfluidity
The point above is that by lowering the capital gains and top tax brackets in the 80s, this encouraged companies (via giving incentives to owners and management) to reduce “agency costs” – which weren’t just perks for managers but also perks for regular employees – things like healthcare, living wages, etc. So the tax cuts of the 80s drove the creation of the new, low-perk, low-security workplaces that we see today.
A mass movement readily exploits the discontent and frustration of large segments of the population which for some reason or other cannot face the responsibility of being persons and standing on their own feet. But give these persons a movement to join, a cause to defend, and they will go to any extreme, stop at no crime, intoxicated as they are by the slogans that give them a pseudo-religious sense of transcending their own limitations. The member of a mass movement, afraid of his own isolation, and his own weakness as an individual, cannot face the task of discovering within himself the spiritual power and integrity which can be called forth only by love. Instead of this, he seeks a movement that will protect his weakness with a wall of anonymity and justify his acts by the sanction of collective glory and power. All the better if this is done out of hatred, for hatred is always easier and less subtle than love. It does not have to respect reality as love does. It does not have to take account of individual cases. Its solutions are simple and easy. It makes its decisions by a simple glance at a face, a colored skin, a uniform. It identifies an enemy by an accent, an unfamiliar turn of speech, an appeal to concepts that are difficult to understand. He is something unfamiliar. This is not “ours.” This must be brought into line – or destroyed.
Here is the great temptation of the modern age, this universal infection of fanaticism, this plague of intolerance, prejudice and hate which flows from the crippled nature of man who is afraid of love and does not dare to be a person. It is against this temptation most of all that the Christian must labor with inexhaustible patience and love, in silence, perhaps in repeated failure, seeking tirelessly to restore, wherever he can, and first of all in himself, the capacity of love and which makes man the living image of God. – Thomas Merton (American monk, 1915-1958)
Here is a random philosophical thought, not fully developed, which occurred to me the other day.
Most people don’t care about the surveillance state and/or the lack-of-privacy which is being induced by modern technology. There is actually a simple reason for this lack of concern. It is because, in fact, that lack of privacy is the human cultural baseline. Through most of history, humans lived in small, extended family or tribal-sized groups where everyone knew what everyone else was doing. What is happening now is a return to that baseline, but within the context of a much larger social structure: city, nation, planet. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing: a global village of 8 billion. What’s to worry about? It’s like it always was. The anomaly was the period between the invention of cities and states (approx. 2000 BC) and the development of instantaneous universally distributed communication. In the grand scale of things, it’s a pretty short period of anomaly.
It is reported that Seoul has been saved from anihilation. The below is apparently an utterly true transcript.
Dramatis personae: the new space emperor, Kanye West, Jim Brown.
"MR. BROWN: And I like North Korea.
THE PRESIDENT: I like North Korea too.
MR. BROWN: (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Yeah. Well, he’s — turned out to be good. Dialogue. We had a little dialogue. And Secretary of State just came back — Mike. He just came back from North Korea. We had very good meetings, and we’ll meet again. But we’re doing good. No more nuclear testing. No more missiles going up. No more nothing. And it’s — that was headed to war. That was headed to war.
MR. BROWN: Yeah. I mean, it was — to me, it seemed like that.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. It was so close. We spoke — I spoke to President Obama. I will tell you, that was headed to war. And now it’s going to be — I believe it’s going to work out very well.
MR. WEST: You stopped the war —
THE PRESIDENT: We really stopped the war. Saved millions of lives. You know, Seoul has 30 million people. You don’t realize how big. Thirty million people who are right near the border; 30 miles off the border. Millions of people would have been killed. And I will say, Chairman Kim has been really good. Really good. And we’ve made a lot of progress.
That’s nice that you say that, because that’s a big — that’s a big thing. These folks were covering — they were covering North Korea not — I think not very promisingly. And there were a lot of problems. President Obama said that was his biggest problem. And I don’t say anything is solved —
MR. WEST: You, day one, solved one of the biggest problems.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MR. WEST: We solved one of the biggest problems.
THE PRESIDENT: It was a big solving. And not solved yet, but I think we’re along — I think we’re on the way."
I decided to take a break from documenting my visit to Oregon and my uncle's health crisis to address the elections held this week in South Korea.
As my sister said, off-handedly, just now, "there are no coincidences in politics." Thus, the fact that the Kim-DJT summit in Singapore was held this week, right before the elections, can hardly be imagined but to have been some bit of orchestration on the part of the South Koreans. And the incumbent president Moon Jae-in and his left-leaning 더불어민주당 [deobuleominjudang ~ "together democratic party"] clearly had decided that the blustery leaders' drafty summiteering would benefit them electorally. It did.
Arguably, Korea experienced a "blue wave" such as some are forecasting for the US elections this Fall. Which is odd not just because Korea isn't in the US, but because this is a kind of Korean mid-term, and as such, just like a US mid-term, you'd expect things to swing the other way. Since Moon had won in 2016, it seemed that things should swing rightward for this election. That didn't happen. The main right-leaning party remains in disarray following the impeachment scandals that led to Moon's election, and Moon is benefiting from domestic fears that Mr T is going to mess things up for South Korea.
So it goes. It's interesting to compare the 2016 electoral map and the 2018 electoral map. You see the "blue wave", barely noticeable and somewhat ambivalent in 2016, engulfing the country this time around. I have the 2016 map in my blog post from that election. And here is this year's, below.
I like electoral maps. They're interesting. Call me an amateur psephological cartographer.
My experience at Seatac passport control yesterday was surreally 21st century in character.
I was standing in line. And standing. A very long time standing. And then… one line manager official mentioned that those with "mobile passport" got to use an expedited line. I began wondering what this "mobile passport" might be.
So seeing as I was standing there with nothing to do, and I had a good airport wifi connection, I researched it on my phone's internet browser. Lo and behold, there was a "TSA-approved" app in the google play store.
I downloaded the app to my phone. I knelt on the floor and scanned my passport into the app. I stood against the wall and took a really bad selfie, and I loaded the pic to my phone and added it to the app. I checked a bunch of boxes on the forms in the app, possibly turning my soul over to the TSA. And voila, I got a QR code on my phone, which then I showed to the line official. "Oh, step right over there," he said, opening the little vinyl strap separating the lines. I only had to stand in line 5 minutes after that.
Perhaps the difference between Korea and the US is that at the Korean border, such automation (with accompanying surrender of privacy) is obligatory, and thus relatively painless, whereas in the US, such post-modern efficiencies always tend to be "opt in" which means that many others are left in the "slow lane."
Microsoft is buying GitHub. If you've never worked in the field of software development or systems administration, this is meaningless to you. GitHub, however, is a remarkable and important website if you do things with computers at the level development. In my recent adventures with setting up my own fully functional Ubuntu server running the "OSM stack", GitHub was nigh indispensable.
My take on this acquisition can be simplified as follows:
Good for Microsoft: looks like I won't be selling my Microsoft stock anytime soon. Like the company's other gestures toward the Linux ecosystem (e.g. SQL Server for Linux, the bash shell for Windows), it shows that the bigwigs at MS "get" where the best devs are at. Devs appear to be in the driver's seat in Redmond, and it shows in many of their decisions.
Bad for me: in my role as a free software consumer, I'm preemptively depressed. At some point, gates are likely to appear on this once-upon-a-time opensource Mecca. Should I close my GitHub account now, or wait for Microsoft to send me a notification about my "free upgrade to a paid account" in the uncertain future?
Childish Gambino (AKA Donald Glover) has a new song / video out. It's quite remarkable, and has received high critical praise from important media™. There is a detailed parsing of the video and song at Huffington Post, for example.
It's a rap song. It's also a dance composition. It's cinematography and poetry. It's also hefty, deep and dark social criticism. Make of it what you will. I'm impressed.
What I'm listening to right now.
Childish Gambino, "This is America." Is this America?
[Bridge: Childish Gambino & Young Thug] We just wanna party Party just for you We just want the money Money just for you I know you wanna party Party just for me Girl, you got me dancin' (yeah, girl, you got me dancin') Dance and shake the frame We just wanna party (yeah) Party just for you (yeah) We just want the money (yeah) Money just for you (you) I know you wanna party (yeah) Party just for me (yeah) Girl, you got me dancin' (yeah, girl, you got me dancin') Dance and shake the frame (you)
[Chorus: Childish Gambino] This is America Don't catch you slippin' up Don't catch you slippin' up Look what I'm whippin' up This is America (woo) Don't catch you slippin' up Don't catch you slippin' up Look what I'm whippin' up
[Verse 1: Childish Gambino, Blocboy JB, Slim Jxmmi, Young Thug, & 21 Savage] This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo) Don't catch you slippin' up (ayy) Look at how I'm livin' now Police be trippin' now (woo) Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy) Guns in my area (word, my area) I got the strap (ayy, ayy) I gotta carry 'em Yeah, yeah, I'ma go into this (ugh) Yeah, yeah, this is guerilla (woo) Yeah, yeah, I'ma go get the bag Yeah, yeah, or I'ma get the pad Yeah, yeah, I'm so cold like yeah (yeah) I'm so dope like yeah (woo) We gon' blow like yeah (straight up, uh)
[Refrain: Choir & Childish Gambino] Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody You go tell somebody Grandma told me Get your money, Black man (get your money) Get your money, Black man (get your money) Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man) Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man) Black man
[Chorus: Childish Gambino, Slim Jxmmi, & Young Thug] This is America (woo, ayy) Don't catch you slippin' up (woo, woo, don't catch you slippin', now) Don't catch you slippin' up (ayy, woah) Look what I'm whippin' up (Slime!) This is America (yeah, yeah) Don't catch you slippin' up (woah, ayy) Don't catch you slippin' up (ayy, woo) Look what I'm whippin' up (ayy)
[Verse 2: Childish Gambino, Quavo, Young Thug, & 21 Savage] Look how I'm geekin' out (hey) I'm so fitted (I'm so fitted, woo) I'm on Gucci (I'm on Gucci) I'm so pretty (yeah, yeah) I'm gon' get it (ayy, I'm gon' get it) Watch me move (blaow) This a celly (ha) That's a tool (yeah) On my Kodak (woo, Black) Ooh, know that (yeah, know that, hold on) Get it (get it, get it) Ooh, work it (21) Hunnid bands, hunnid bands, hunnid bands (hunnid bands) Contraband, contraband, contraband (contraband) I got the plug in Oaxaca (woah) They gonna find you like blocka (blaow)
[Refrain: Choir, Childish Gambino, & Young Thug] Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody America, I just checked my following list and You go tell somebody You mothafuckas owe me Grandma told me Get your money, Black man (black man) Get your money, Black man (black man) Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man) Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man) Black man (One, two, three, get down) Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody You go tell somebody Grandma told me, "Get your money" Get your money, Black man (Black man) Get your money, Black man (Black man) Get your money, Black man (Black man) Get your money, Black man (Black man) Black man
[Outro: Young Thug] You just a Black man in this world You just a barcode, ayy You just a Black man in this world Drivin' expensive foreigns, ayy You just a big dawg, yeah I kenneled him in the backyard No probably ain't life to a dog For a big dog
Ōoka Tadasuke (1677–1752) was a Japanese samurai and bureaucrat during the shogunate of Tokugawa Yoshimune. He served as a magistrate of Edo (Tokyo), and his roles included chief of police, judge and jury. He has evolved into a kind of folk hero, as an archetypically fair and honest judge. There is a famous story called "The Case of the Stolen Smell." Ōoka heard the case of a paranoid innkeeper who accused a poor student of literally stealing the fumes of his cooking by eating when the innkeeper was cooking to flavor his dull food. Although his colleagues advised Ōoka to throw the case out as ridiculous, he decided to hear the case. The judge resolved the matter by ordering the student to pass the money he had in one hand to his other and ruling that the price of the smell of food is the sound of money. (Above adapted from the wikipedia).
I suppose you could say I’m a bit of a fan of the Japanese polymathic popstar Genki Sudo. I’ve posted atleast3 of his videos on this here blog before.
He and his group WORLD ORDER (all caps, please) made a new music video, darkly satirizing America’s twitterer-in-chief.
What I’m listening to right now.
WORLD ORDER, “Let’s Start World War 3.”
歌詞 (I’m not sure this all the lyrics, but it might be – the song’s actual words seem pretty short).
“We assembled here today
are issuing a new decree
to be heard in every city
in every foreign capital
and in every hall of power.
From this day forward
a new vision will govern our land.
From this day forward
it’s going to be only
Let’s start World War 3
We’re gonna have a party
Let’s start World War 3
We’re gonna have a party
“Let’s grab them by the pussy”
Let’s start World War 3
Can’t break out from this feeling
Let’s start World War 3
“We will make America wealthy again
We will make America proud again
We will make America safe again
And yes, together
We will make America great again”
Translation of the Japanese part above (from the subtitles).
On a boring day
A man who speaks of the end
and wants to save the world
He’s rich and tall
And has a mind that can even understand WWE
Like from a real hero
Right out of a film
I yearn for your blonde hair
and blue eyes
Wherever you go
We will follow you
Currently I am a long-term expat. I observe my home country, the US, from a distance both psychological and physical. The whole "gun thing" seems both tragic and absurd, from my perspective. I currently live in a country with one of the lowest incidences of gun violence in the world – a cursory examination of a list of countries by incidence of gun deaths shows South Korea as being the 3rd lowest, only after Hong Kong and Japan.
Anyway, it's pretty safe here, from gun violence. I have sometimes wondered if there exists any kind of "gun culture" in South Korea. Actually, I speculate that there does, in fact, exist such a culture – but it would be inextricably linked up with the military. Since military service for males is obligatory, that means that, in theory, at least, every Korean adult male in the entire country has fired a gun at some point in his life, and the vast majority have probably qualified with a rifle. That's interesting, vis-a-vis the non-military culture, right? It makes it a far different situation than either Hong Kong or Japan, where military service is, in the former instance non-existent, and in the latter instance, extremely rare and utterly voluntary (given Japan's relatively small military, in per capita terms, compared to South Korea). What it means is that any Korean man who wants to "play" with guns in a safe and responsible manner has an easy way to do so: he can continue to serve as a "reservist" – which many Korean men do. Then he can go out on the range and shoot as much as he wants, several times a year, I can imagine.
My own experience with guns is broader than you might expect, given my liberal white privilege. I qualified with a rifle during my Army service – as an expert, even – though I sometimes felt I had simply had some very lucky days on my qualifying days. I had even gone on to take the first steps on qualifying with a pistol, as well, before I mustered out.
Further, despite having avoided seeing any actual action in the first Iraq war (1991) – which took place during my military service, and which I watched on the barracks televisions while stationed here in South Korea at that time – I have nevertheless had the experience of having been shot at, directly. I was lucky, in that the man shooting at me was too drunk to aim well. I was not hurt. There is no doubt I might have died – I consider it one of the several times in my life when I have had to look death right in the eye.
Additionally, I once witnessed a man being shot dead. This was during my time traveling in El Salvador, in 1986 – which was during the civil war. It was not clear to me if I witnessing a crime or an act of "enforcement" – there were plenty of uniforms present but it wasn't clear to me if the uniforms were military or rebel forces, and how it all worked. I suspect that during the Salvadorean civil war of that era, the line between crime and military enforcement was pretty blurry. My main reaction was to get away from the situation as quickly and as unobstrusively as I could manage. I boarded a bus and let it take me away.
In the end, my view of guns and gun violence is complicated. I think I have no issue with the type of allegedly draconian gun laws as exist in Japan or South Korea. I think it hardly makes these societies "less free" – there may in fact be ways that these societies are "less free" than in the US, but I don't think the relaxing of gun controls would impact that in any positive way. My libertarian tendencies are undeniable, however. In principle, I have strong sympathies with the "2nd ammendment types" who will brook no infringement of individual rights. My biggest concern with those people is that they are, almost without exception, utter hypocrites – they are libertarians on gun control, but if you ask them to opine on issues like women's rights or immigration, they are all about control and restrictions. This is "libertarianism for me but not for thee." It makes me much less sympathetic to their position – when I find mostly hypocrites holding a given political position, my gut-level response is to assume this is strong evidence of some kind of flaw in that political position.
I will conclude with a humorous video I ran across – a tongue-in-cheek "European perspective" on the American gun problem, which could probably just as easily represent the typical (informed) Korean position.
Occasionally, I have the thought that I have arrived in the future. Most of the time, I don't feel this. Inevitably, the future arrives more slowly than I expected when I was younger, but it does sometimes nevertheless put in an appearance.
SpaceX corporation's test of their new Falcon Heavy rocket today is one such example. The real innovation is their recovery of the the booster stages for re-use. The recycling of these rocket parts, instead of just dropping them in the Atlantic, in old-school NASA style, will make space flight much, much cheaper over the long run. And the video of the simultaneous landing of two side booster rockets back at Kennedy is a pure science fiction moment, circa 1950s.
That said, Elon Musk, the visionary leader of SpaceX, is also a megalomaniacal plutocrat and basically a living incarnation of a classic James Bond movie villain. Perhaps this is the kind of person who advances humanity – I don't know. Is that just what it takes?
Musk's new rocket test needed a "dummy payload," so, in finest egotistical form, he launched his own sports car (a Tesla Roadster, manufactured by one of his other companies), with a mannequin in a space suit at the wheel. So now, humanity has launched a space-suited dummy at the wheel of a sports car, out into space, and eventually, past the orbit of Mars. Furthermore, he placed a towel and a copy of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide in the glove box. Can you imagine the aliens finding that?
Maybe Elon Musk will move to Mars. Somebody should move to Mars, right? Why not him?