Caveat: Unguarded

At least paywalls are honest. Those “register to view” websites are creepy: you’re ceding “tracking rights.”

I’ve been a frequent reader of the Guardian website for several decades. I liked the way they settled into a “donate if you can” model, a la Wikipedia. I donated a few times over the years.

Recently they’ve introduced one of those “register to view” requirements. The Grauniad just lost a reader.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Poem #2178 “No so smart”

I dreamed that I was Elon Musk,
in jail for doing fraud;
a silly judge passed sentence then:
"He'll go to space, abroad!"
They put me on my rocket ship
along with certain staff;
I'd brought my markers and a mug,
I knew I'd have last laugh.
We set course for my favorite spot,
that planet over there;
"To Mars!" I said, "we'll start anew!"
But I'd forgot: no air.

– three stanzas in ballad meter.

Caveat: An Apostate Quaker Parable

An Apostate Quaker Parable

A city denizen was out in the countryside and encountered a sturdy Quaker farmer. After ascertaining that the man was a Quaker, he asked the farmer if he believed in turning the other cheek.

“Yes, Friend, I accept that biblical instruction.”

Whereupon the city man struck the farmer on the left cheek. The farmer simply turned his head. Then the city man struck him on the right cheek.

Whereupon the farmer dropped his hoe and started to roll up his sleeves. Now since the farmer was larger and far more physically fit that the city fellow, the latter started to worry, and blurted out, “What are you doing? I thought you said you believed in following the Biblical command to turn the other cheek?”

“Oh, yes, Friend”, the Quaker farmer replied, “I do. But the Bible is silent on what to do when the other cheek is struck, and now I am going to chastise Thee for being an obnoxious oaf.”


Caveat: Korean Psephology Revisited From Afar

I didn’t follow the run-up to last week’s presidential election in South Korea very closely. In fact I lost track of it happening, and it took a local acquaintance more tuned in to world events than I to point out to me that it had happened last Wednesday.

But looking at and thinking about the results, I’m mostly unsurprised. I remain, as always, intrigued by the electoral map, though.


The ancient province of Jeolla stands out as starkly and quite isolatedly leftist – more so than previous maps I’ve looked at, it seems to me.

Meanwhile, suburban Seoul seems more consistently left-leaning, too. But the rest of the country swung even more rightward, more than compensating for these leftward trends in those limited areas, and ensuring a victory for the conservative, Mr Yoon.

I would almost hazard to say the map looks like evidence of increasing polarization. Which is to say, perhaps an Americanization of Korean politics? I don’t know.


Caveat: comedian-in-chief

The current president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, worked as an actor and as a comedian before becoming president.

In this very short bit, he and another comedian review the history of Ukraine-Russia relations.

– Ukraine has always conned Russia!
– Oh, please, it can’t be understood.
– Ukraine has Russia one day…
– and Russia has Ukraine the next!

I don’t very often spend time on youtube, but after finding that short video clip, I ended up spending more than an hour watching some of Zelenskyy’s oeuvre, including an episode of the sitcom that he produced and starred in (in which he plays an everyman that becomes president) that propelled him, via a bewildering life-imitates-art trajectory, to the presidency.


Caveat: на хуй

At the geopolitical level, I think Putin and the Russian military have miscalculated.

Despite this (or preliminary to this), I should go on record that I actually agree with their “logic” on one key point: Ukraine, historically, is a part of Russia (or, depending on the point in history and the particular patch of land, Poland). Which is to say, Russian revanchist fantasies have some foundation in historical fact. The separate Ukrainian SSR was only carved off of Russia by Lenin in the 1920’s, and the Ukrainian national identity was essentially an artifice wrought by the half-hearted multiculturalist tendencies of the Soviet experiment. As Lenin said (hypocrisy alert), “The proletariat must demand the right of political secession for the colonies and for the nations that ‘its own’ nation oppresses. Unless it does this, proletarian internationalism will remain a meaningless phrase; mutual confidence and class solidarity between the workers of the oppressing and oppressed nations will be impossible.”

This Russian mistake, however, will be their undoing. If Ukraine lacked a “founding myth” and identity before now, Russia’s invasion is giving them one. From now on and far into the future, this Russian invasion of Ukraine will be the kind of foundational myth for Ukrainians that they never had before – and that will happen regardless of whether they win or lose the current war. If they win, then it will be a myth on the same level as George Washington and the American Revolution. If they lose, they become guerilla partisans like the Palestinians on the West Bank, and forge a distinct Ukrainian identity on that basis.

There is no scenario under which Ukraine fails to become a truly distinct nation in the geopolitical sense, as a direct consequence of Russia’s actions. And personally, I think that’s something that had been in doubt, until now. Putin’s “real-world geofiction” is not going to alter the map in the way that he hopes.

Here is the Ukrainian Highway Signs Agency, contributing to the information war:


The sign has been altered to say, loosely, “Fuck Off / Fuck Off More / Fuck Off Back to Russia”.


Caveat: 100 years in the future

I read weird things online, almost every day.

Today, I read an article published in 1922, predicting the future! It told me all about what life would like in 2022. So now I know! The article is here.

Like all efforts at futurism, it had its hits and misses. I like the use of the term “kinephone” – by which the author means something like television. No inkling of the universal information and communication device in each of our pockets, now. On the other hand, this sentence is quite perceptive and interesting (bearing mind the context – in 1922, the women’s vote was 3 years old, and very fresh in people’s minds):

…[I]t is unlikely that women will have achieved equality with men. Cautious feminists such as myself realize that things go slowly and that a brief hundred years will not wipe out the effects on women of 30,000 years of slavery.

In other news, I went to see the doctor today. For the first time since moving back to the United States in the summer of 2018, I had a doctor’s appointment of my own (as opposed to being a drag-along for Arthur’s doctors’ appointments). It was a general health checkup, not related to any specific ailment or concern. I had been told by my diagnostic oncologist, Dr Cho, in 2018, that “maybe after about 3 years” I should see a doctor as a follow-up to the cancer surgery. It’s been 3 1/2 years, but I just decided I should at least be “on record” at the local healthcare provider, and see what the doctor had to say after a short prodding / checking, along with review of relevant medical history (such as I could report – obviously he doesn’t have access to the Korean National Cancer Centers records).

The doctor took a look in my mouth, prodded my neck, asked some questions, and together we opted against a CAT scan (which I was hoping to opt against, given the hassle and cost). He seemed to agree with Dr Cho’s reported assessment from 2018: any cancer at this point will be a “new” one, as opposed to a follow-on to (metastasis of) the previous one.

So we’ll continue to assert, as I have been, that I am cancer-free, with the caveat (really, a caveat?) that biologically, none of us are truly cancer-free.
picture[daily log: walking, 3km; dogwalking, 3.5km]

Caveat: Just going on record, here…

pictureI want to record this, so that at some point in the future (years hence) I can see if I was right or not.

Facebook’s recent announcement of its corporate name-change to “Meta” – its shift to Zuckerberg’s (next) fantasy – is Facebook’s “AOL-buys-out-TimeWarner” moment. Which is to say, it’s the apex before the fall. I would say I’m not super confident about this. Let’s say… 65% or so. Not confident enough to start shorting Facebook shares – I couldn’t afford the risk.

Caveat: A quite belated obituary (Professor Hernán Vidal)

I have no idea what caused me to suddenly google his name. I had some stray thought, down the path of Latin American literature and history and the intertwining of ideology and criticism – a flashback to my grad-school brain. And thus I learned that Professor Hernán Vidal had passed away some years ago, on August 15, 2014. That’s already almost 7 years ago.
There’s no need to record his career and life – others have done better. There’s a short but heartfelt obituary by Professor John Beverley, here. All I meant to record here on this blog is that he was one of my favorite and most influential teachers in all my years at college at the University of Minnesota. In fact I only had one class with him, plus a kind of unfinished, ongoing independent project that meant I met with him frequently for about a year after that class. I took him for a survey course related to Liberation Theology, taught in Spanish, but, interestingly, including English-language texts – it was my first experience of writing academically in Spanish about non-Spanish topics, if that makes sense. I believe I wrote my final paper for that class on Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I also recall it was the first class (and last!) for which I read a text in Portuguese – I’d taken “Portuguese for Spanish-speakers” the summer before, and so I was feeling hubristic about my capacity in that respect. I read something by Leonardo Boff, the Brazilian priest and “Liberation Theologian” who’d been “silenced” by the Pope for his radical views. I suppose I’d been drawn to that text, in turn, because I’d actually met Boff once, in 1986, at the Mexico City Quaker Meeting, of all places.
Vidal was one of those charismatic, riveting teachers with whom you feel as if you are always hearing something profound. It really wasn’t that his observations were always profound, it was his “angle” on them: always insisting on remaining aware of a text as being in dialogue with the wider world, with other texts, with its intended audience, with peripheral audiences.
One interesting tidbit from Beverley’s obituary, that I’d never known: Vidal had been a Buddhist for the latter part of his life – perhaps only after I’d known him, which had been in the early 90’s. Specifically, his Buddhism had intensified during a bout with cancer. That presents a very striking parallel to my own life, one of those eerie synchronicities one runs across.

Caveat: Just the Vax

Arthur received the Moderna vaccine at SEARHC Clinic in Klawock today. Per Mike and Penny (neighbors-down-the-road), who also received the vaccine a few days ago, there will be some cold/flu-like symptoms of fairly moderate intensity over the next few days. From the literature:

The Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA, under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), to prevent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for use in individuals 18 years of age and older. There is no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

Anyway, the distribution here on Prince of Wales Island in Alaska is prioritized by age, descending. It may be weeks or even months before I am eligible, since I am younger and lower priority.
This fills me with optimism, however, with respect to the Coronavirus situation. I despair at the prevalence of antivaxxers here in my region (impressionistically, they may even approach the majority, here). I affirm my belief in science and in the general good intentions of people and organizations – even “evil” organizations like pharmaceutical companies.
“Never attribute to malice that which is more simply explained by stupidity.”

Caveat: On the Intolerance of Online Political Communities

I have read the “Lawyers, Guns, Money blog” (LGM) almost daily for 4 or 5 years now. I always found many of the comments interesting or enlightening, and collectively they offered a particular view on the world that I felt I need to remain exposed to. This morning, I saw a thread on the Slate Star Codex blog (SSC) controversy and I was happy and surprised – because SSC is not exactly on the same political wavelength as LGM, but I used to read that blog regularly too, for similar reasons.
So I de-lurked and made a comment, mostly to the effect that I was a “regular” lurker on both sites, and that I was pleased the one was acknowledging the other.
I also made a throw-away comment about how the NYT seems to be essentially vilified by both sides, and that seemed… well, indicative of something. I suppose it was that bit of anodyne “both siderism” that raised the hackles of the jackals. I might have done better not to have said that.
My comment was subjected to what seemed to be a fairly vitriolic set of reactions by some (though not all) commenters. Perhaps if I’d been more attentive to the LGM comments section in the past, I wouldn’t have been unprepared for this. But I was utterly unprepared. And hurt.
I am disappointed and frustrated. I am losing not one but two of my favorite websites in the space of a week. One because of Scott’s “take my toys and go home” reaction to the NYT. And the other because I was stupid enough to try to contribute to that community more actively and was attacked. I am the first to admit that I am thin-skinned. There’s a good reason why I mostly “lurk” in these online communities, of course.
It’s actually doubly frustrating, because in my own politics I think I’m much more sympathetic to the LGM position (proudly left) than to the SSC (right – at least it’s characterized that way by its detractors – I think the characterization merits some caveats). And I will admit that I was probably shaken in part because this experience does, in a sense, call out my “privilege.” How can I argue?
Yet I don’t think I have to present bona fides to the American left. At least half my positions are farther left than anyone in the progressive wing of the democratic party. 100% open borders? Please. Single-payer socialized medicine? Even “far right” South Korea manages that. De-militarization of the police, including take away all their guns? They’d learn de-escalation skills fast, I bet. Reparations for descendants of slaves and for Native Americans? Due yesterday. Close down Gitmo and all similar sites completely? I’m still waiting, Mr. Obama. Gender-based affirmative action for all government hires and contracts? Let’s do it. I proudly supported Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy this election cycle, and only grudgingly will move rightward to support Biden because… well, the alternative?
And yet when I had expressed my sympathies to the SSC diaspora via a comment at a known SSC-adjacent web community, I received no such vitriol. It’s almost as if the current American left is guilty of exactly the kind of vitriol and ideological intolerance that I had always taken to be merely caricatures drawn by those on the right.
The whole thing depressed me deeply.
I normally stay very quiet about my politics on this here blog. It’s a survival mechanism, part of keeping sane first as a long-term resident in xenophobic and quasi-fascist South Korea, and now as a resident in the libertarian “no government is good government” wilderness of Southeast Alaska… not to mention now being roommates with – and sometime caretaker to – my uncle, who very much fits in here, ideologically. But something has compelled me to lay the cards on the table, if just for a moment. I suppose being accused of wishy-washy both-siderism has provoked me. I’ll go back to my lurking, now.

Caveat: Progress – Brought to You by Bacon!

… Francis Bacon, that is.
A historian and author, Ada Palmer, has a long-form essay on her blog, from a few years ago, on the subject of how Francis Bacon “invented” the concept of Progress in the 17th century. I also find that in general, the essay is quite well-written and fundamentally optimistic about the human condition, a la Steven Pinker but less controversially so.
Anyway, I recommend reading it if you’re looking for a dose of philosophical optimism.
In other news, an interesting mushroom showed optimism amid my latest cohort of lettuce.

Caveat: Slate Star Supernova

I had a bit of a shock this morning. I went to collect my daily dose of internet, and found my favorite blog had folded up shop overnight.
The announced cause of this is that the host of the blog, who goes by the pseudonym Scott Alexander, was about to be doxxed by the New York Times in an article they’re writing about his blog. “Dox” is a recent coinage used in internet contexts meaning “to publish the facts of an individual’s identity who has expressed a wish to remain anonymous.”
The blog was called Slate Star Codex. I think the origin of the name was that it’s a “near-anagram” of Scott’s pseudonym. He’s good at that kind of wordplay. For those who’ve never heard of it until right now, it will be hard to explain what this blog was – since it’s now gone. It’s not just a blog – my blog is just a blog. But Scott’s blog was a community. And Scott is an excellent writer and thinker.
I came upon SSC in an an unusual way. I discovered SSC because of Scott’s imaginary maps. Given my geofiction hobby, I was of course curious. So one could say: I came for the maps, and stayed for the commentary.
I can link to others who wrote about the blog’s disappearance. Scott Aaronson wrote about it, here, for example. Tom Chivers wrote about it, here.
Aaronson compared Scott and his blog to Mark Twain. That seems hubristic (is there such a thing as being hubristic on behalf of another?), but the more I think about it, the more I like the comparison. Scott writes with humor and wit and looks at things from unexpected angles, and does so while hoving to a clearly enunciated humanistic optimism that is enviable. His vast community of blog commenters slanted, on average, substantially to the right of Scott’s declared values, yet he and they were always civil to one another, because that was what Scott, the community moderator, expected and enforced.
I don’t need to go into a long description of the Slate Star Codex community – others have done that better than I have, including those two bloggers linked above. I will note that I was never a participant in the community, but rather simply an observer. I have what many would consider a strange approach to politics: I have fairly strongly held convictions, but mostly I don’t enjoy explaining or defending those positions. I do enjoy reading other people doing that, though. Hence my enjoyment of Slate Star Codex and its community of commenters.
I felt the same way about Andrew Sullivan’s blog back about a decade ago. It had evolved into a civil community of political commentators. And that despite the inherent disadvantage that Andrew Sullivan himself was a pretty obvious asshole. Scott Alexander is not an asshole. Sometimes functional online communities just happen, I think. The Andrew Sullivan moment is long past, and he’s gone to seed (in my opinion) and is almost unbearable to read and the community is dispersed. I hope Scott Alexander’s fate isn’t that one. He would be be horrified, I think, at the comparison.
I’ll miss Slate Star Codex, if it never comes back.

Caveat: Differences among nations

I feel the below graph underscores a point I often try to make: I believe that “governance” matters. This is to say that different countries are governed in different ways, and that leads to different results. Something like this virus is a great test-scenario, since there is likely no actual difference in the way the virus itself behaves from one country to another. So the differences in the graphs below are all about the direct results of human behavior.

Caveat: Give that homework app a one-star review

Schools in Wuhan, China, have been closed due to the epidemic. According to an article at LRB, kids were being forced to use a “homework app” on their phones to complete schoolwork. They figured out that if they gave the app a one-star review, it would get removed from the app store on their phones, and they’d have an excuse not to complete homework.

Children were presumably glad to be off school – until, that is, an app called DingTalk was introduced. Students are meant to sign in and join their class for online lessons; teachers use the app to set homework. Somehow the little brats worked out that if enough users gave the app a one-star review it would get booted off the App Store. Tens of thousands of reviews flooded in, and DingTalk’s rating plummeted overnight from 4.9 to 1.4.

See? There’s always a solution to these problems.

Caveat: Chicken Little’s cognitive biases

I made up a kind of aphorism for myself. It goes: “It’s not that Chicken Little was wrong, but rather that he was overreacting.”
I suppose this summarizes my feeling about the current atmosphere of “climate change panic” permeating some social spheres. I believe 100% in anthropogenic climate change. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a climate change denier or skeptic. Nevertheless, believing that humans are changing the climate doesn’t (and shouldn’t) necessarily lead to immediate panic.
I think that in fact humans are pretty resourceful and ingenious. I expect that when climate-change crises occur, people will, for the most part, deal with them. I guess I’m an optimist, in some weird way. I think that even now, people are for the most part dealing with these things. But this quotidian “dealing with things” doesn’t make the news. Instead, the failures make the news. And that biases our view toward the negative and catastrophic aspects, and we miss the fact that most people, most places, are dealing with things. This is the same type of negative viewpoint bias that permeates discussion of issues like crime and terrorism.

Unrelatedly, here is a joke.
A man is consulting a doctor, at a very low quality, bureaucratic hospital. The doctor explains that he has bad news and good news. The man asks for the bad news first. The doctor says: “The bad news is that you’re dying of cancer.”
“Jeez. What’s the good news?” the man asks, alarmed.
The doctor sighs. “Around here, things take forever.”

Caveat: MFBGA

The current emperor apparently wants to use his executive power to Make Federal Buildings Great Again (link). I’m not sure this bodes well for Federal Architecture, considering the executive’s previously oft-expressed taste in design.

Caveat: using the free wifi at Starbucks

I have in my life gone to Starbucks mostly to use the free wifi.
This was especially true before I went to Korea in 2007. Starbucks rolled out their free wifi quite early relative to other businesses, so I remember using the free wifi at Starbucks while on various trips in the mid 2000’s.
Apparently, using the free wifi at Starbucks is still a thing in 2019. And apparently the FBI does it, too.
This article (link) on the emptywheel blog describes how the FBI used the Starbucks free wifi to download leaked documents about CIA hacking. Interagency cyberwarfare conducted over the airwaves while enjoying a nice nonfat soy latte.

Caveat: debate-o-matic

One of the subjects that I taught to my students in Korea that I considered most valuable, both for the English skills it engendered as well as for general thinking ability, was debate.
I was the “debate teacher,” and I was well-known for even turning lessons otherwise structured into impromptu debates. The kids mostly seemed to get something out of it.
So now… they’re trying to make an AI (artificial intelligence) that can do debate – in the same way that we have machines now that play chess or baduk (“go”), that diagnose medical conditions or explore other planets. This is just another small step.
I watched this video.

I am both disappointed and impressed. This is often the case when confronting these odd black boxes that computer engineers are constructing these days. They can seem preternaturally smart and eerily stupid at the same time. The AI participating in this debate clearly had a lot of facts to hand, and was reasonably competent at marshaling them in a well-structured argument. But it missed the key thrust of its human opponent’s argument, and thus its rebuttal almost failed to make sense. I was somewhat annoyed that the moderators, who spent time afterward discussing what they’d just done, failed to bring this up.

Caveat: Beetling toward the end

The VW corporation is officially retiring the Beetle after 70 years.

Actually, they retired the model once before but then resurrected it in the form of the New Beetle. And in fact the old Beetles lived on in countries like Mexico and Brazil. In Mexico, for example, I believe they only stopped manufacturing old Beetles in 2003, while in Brazil, they continued to be made until 2006.
I have owned 5 cars in my life. 3 of them were Beetles (old types). It’s the only car where I was able to take apart and put the engine together successfully. I lived in my Beetle for a summer in 1985.
The first bug I owned had been my mom’s before it was mine. We traveled in it across Canada in 1977. The car was known as “Betsy.”
Here is Betsy in Ontario in the summer of 77.
Later I drove Betsy through 25 states and she died in the town of Normal, Illinois, in late 1985. I sold her to a kid named Derrick for $50.
My second bug had been my grandmother’s, and when she died in the late 80’s I inherited it. That car was known as “Rog.”
I had it with me until I was living in Philadelphia in 1997, when Michelle and I sold it because we were broke. It was a sad.
My third bug I bought when living in L.A. and Burbank in 2000. It was named “Vato,” because it was a very Mexican-seeming bug – it had been “lowered” and had one of those vato-ized, mini steering wheels. But it was a good car.
It caught on fire and died on the 134 Freeway near Glendale, I think, one day when my dad was driving it.

Caveat: Incademic

The Quechua language, the historical Native American language of the Inca Empire in the prehispanic period and still alive today, has gone academic: a woman wrote and defended her doctoral thesis entirely in Quechua for the first time in history, in Lima, Peru.

Perhaps this is the first time any Western Hemisphere language has claimed the academy? The only other possible example might maybe have arisen with Nahuatl in Mexico, but I can’t find evidence.

Caveat: the base alloy of hypocrisy

In this historical moment when a motley riot of neo-know-nothingists are mucking about with the levers of government, I find hope for humanist values in the apropos observations of a certain famous politician:

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equals, except negroes and foreigners and Catholics.” When it comes to that I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.
– Abraham Lincoln


Caveat: Tree #296

Arthur and I went to a kind of “community meeting” this evening. Apparently the City of Craig has imperial ambitions with respect to the denizens of Port Saint Nicholas Road (“PSN”). The denizens, however, are quite ambivalent about this. I would myself be inclined to agree that the city offers little of value in terms of improved services, given their fire department’s poor showing during the house fire next door in August (which currently they are legally obligated to provide despite being outside their tax base, but which they receive state monies to do, too, so it’s not like they are losing money on it).
Right now, the battle is about who really controls, owns, and is obligated to maintain the road. This is taking the form of the city’s “Ordinance 719,” which appears to be an unconstitutional “taxation without representation” proposition, wherein the city is allocating to itself the “extraterritorial” right to tax property owners along the road despite their not being voting residents of the city, in exchange for road maintenance – which the city is already legally obligated to do because of where they chose to site their water treatment plant. There are a number of dramatis personae: there’s the city (and specifically its hapless yet hubristic water department), there’s the tribal association (nominally non-profit), there’s the tribal corporation (for-profit, that owns all the non-parcelled land around Craig and PSN, and that originally built the road – it’s not, in fact, “public” in origin), and there are the helpless denizens themselves. At stake: the gobs of state and federal grant money lurking out there for whoever can control the road.
But the City of Craig’s long game is pretty obvious – they hope to undertake an expansive regional annexation into their taxable territory a la Ketchikan (which took over its entire island) or Juneau (which took over several large islands as well as the mainland and became the single largest city in the US in land area). Arthur finds the prospect sufficiently alarming that he was motivated to dislodge himself from his hidey-hole and go find out what was going on. There is a grassroots, community-initiated “legal defense fund” that has hired some lawyers to battle the city and their plans in the courts. So we attended the meeting and became better informed. Arthur donated money (“…pay voluntarily now to avoid paying [taxes] involuntarily later”).
My own opinion is slightly more ambivalent. I don’t share the majority of my neighbors’ instinctual distrust of government and visceral resentment of taxation. I can see that the city has, in this instance, been poorly managed and ham-handed with respect to their treatment of the PSN community, but I refuse to generalize this behavior to the potential of governments in general. My own instinct would be to counter Craig’s ambitions with a move toward a greater degree of counterbalancing self-government: at the least, one or more legally-empowered and -chartered homeowners’ association(s); at the most extreme, pre-emptive incorporation of Port Saint Nicholas as its own “city” (village, but “city” in the legal sense) to effectively “block” Craig’s expansion.
And on that note, I provide this photo of a member Port Saint Nicholas’ silent majority: the trees.
picture[daily log: walking, 3.5km]

Caveat: On Democracy’s Spiral

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.


Caveat: a lottery for participation

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

Caveat: Lady Burns

In January, 1985, I was studying in Paris.
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.
Today, Notre Dame burned.

Caveat: Not Just America

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.

irreversible effects of immigration detention on children (full version) from APIL Korea on Vimeo.
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.

Caveat: not all creativity needs to be bonded by wage

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.

Caveat: on agency costs and the capital gains tax

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.
Just sayin’.

Caveat: intoxicated by slogans

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)

[daily log: walking, 4km; tromping, 250m]

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