“A democracy cannot exist without an educated citizenry.”
So says the mission statement on our masthead. And that has been on my mind a great deal lately. Exactly what constitutes sufficient education to acquire, enable and preserve a democracy? Continue reading Character Matters
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Great men are almost always bad men.”
The phrasing of ‘tends’ left Acton some wiggle room, just in case we happened to find someone who attained power but was uncorrupted. It’s questionable whether he needed to include that, but since he was a historian and politician, I assume his views reflect that world.
We have certainly seen this opinion verified not only in politics but all to often in the business world. Combined with the teaching of Niccolò Machiavelli, it goes a long way toward describing the success of some terrible people. Continue reading Lord Acton on Liberty in 2016
Rummaging through Depression-era photos at Library of Congress, I came across some
I’d seen before, taken by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration in the ’30-40s. Continue reading Cockleburs and Callings
…to six inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains.
I have PC software that makes any image into a puzzle, and I enjoy putting them together in idle moments. One photo I’m particularly fond of depicts the ruins of what was once an elaborate castle perched on the side of a mountain in France. Another favorite puzzle is the Western Wall in Jerusalem, with blocks of stone weighing up to 30 tons. It boggles my mind to contemplate the sheer physical effort required to build these structures, the power of men and animals dedicated to such work; the logistics of supplying the workers who quarried the stones, those who transported them, those who put them in place, the men and women patiently cultivating the food that sustained them. And it is with a sense of unease that I contemplate the power wielded by those in command, those who could order the building of castle, temple and Great Wall, of skyscrapers, cities and empires. Continue reading We owe it all
To the Thunder On The Right, from Trump to Cruz to your run-of-the-mill fundamentalist bigot, we can add the Cheering On The Left as BernieFans engage in their Mutual Admiration Society. With all that noise, it’s difficult to simply contemplate where we are, where we’re headed, where we should be headed and how to get there. Continue reading Götterdämmerung: Reboot
“Not nearly enough has been done — the regulatory response has been totally inadequate. The big banks have blocked serious reforms, meddling in the process so incentives haven’t changed enough to attack the heart of the problem — which is why it could happen again.”
“We still have the same short-term-oriented compensation, the same big bonuses at year-end…”
“I’ve never gotten over the feeling when I learnt Goldman Sachs had designed securities that would fail, so they could then short them.”
“The 1997 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act was part of the problem  but it goes back even before that. The earlier transformation of investment banks into public corporations was a big mistake — with bankers using shareholders’ money to bet, rather than their own.”
“It isn’t just the big campaign contributions. Anyone at the table talking about financial reform is a potential hire and likely to end up working in the financial sector for huge sums, so they get captured.”
In the long run, all that will remain of most of us will be whatever memories accrue among those we leave behind. When they are gone, so are we. Few will make the pages of the NYT, but some people deserve a wider remembrance than just family and friends. Continue reading Kenneth Aran: 1922-2015
Being the first in a planned Twilight series of observations and ruminations on the state of the world and its denizens, past, present and future.
Return On Investment: As ye sow, so shall ye reap.
When I was a teenager, I drove a 1924 Star. It rattled, creaked, squeaked, clinked, clanked, banged, jangled, clattered and protested mightily when called upon to actually move, but it did get me to school and an occasional jaunt into the countryside. We had to scrounge up old tires and spare parts, even machining some pieces in shop class, since Durant Motors was long out of business. Keeping it on the road became increasingly difficult and complicated. I finally decided it wasn’t worth the time, money and cussing. It might have had some value to an antique auto collector, but it had a negative ROI as a useful means of transportation. As I look around, a great deal of what I see reminds me of that old car.
There are a lot of individual pieces that need to work together. And they aren’t. Continue reading Götterdämmerung: – Noises Off
A couple of us Agonistas solicited Sean Paul Kelley’s views on the current brouhaha involving Turkey and Syria. Having recently returned from Istanbul – a city and culture he knows well – and with his familiarity with the peoples and history of the area, he was kind enough to enlighten us with the following:
This last election, just two weeks behind us now, more or less, proves the following: The AKP has firmly consolidated its power in Turkey in the political realm, the media, the military, the ministries and the provinces. They have swept the board, run the table, pick you metaphor. They’ve won. Continue reading Turkey Day?
Just to get it out of the way, my thoughts on this ‘holiday’ haven’t changed since my earlier post. All the spin and political soundbites, the one-day sales and commercials, the war-mongering and propaganda have buried the truth, along with what little decency we had as a nation. The unfashionable virtues of humanity and love, of fellow-feeling and compassion, of peace and good will now only exist on the personal level. Americans as individuals (or at least most of them, including some we all recognize as assholes politically) are generally more caring than their government, even if they loudly support a draconian regime. Continue reading Ruminating Again
I recently got into a discussion on FB about rising heroin use and attendant ODs in the middle class. Some of the commenters had very personal and painful histories of losing family and the thread threatened to turn into a flame war. I dropped out, but the experience got me thinking and I decided to collect my thoughts on the matter in one place. Continue reading Managing the Pain
Despite what my children used to claim, I did not grow up fighting off dinosaurs or sabretooth tigers. I have, however, always been fascinated by history; not so much the facts of events but what history reveals about the nature of human beings. For the same reason, my library holds a large number of books – poetry, novels, non-fiction – spanning most of the Dewey Decimal classification, but which have in common that they all shine some light on some corner of what it is that makes us what/who we are. Perhaps as a child I found adult behavior puzzling and have been trying ever since to better understand it. And when I contemplate not only our current world but the long, chaotic march (stumble?) of mankind, it seems to me it finally comes down to one simple question: Am I my brother’s keeper?Continue reading One Question, Two Answers
One of my favorite blogs is Justin Smith. He’s always worth reading but this is particularly good.
One of the memes circling around the French Internet shows the mayor of the town of Roanne telling a huddled group of refugees that they cannot stay, since they are not Christian. “Neither are you,” is the reply.
Yes, some people are so ignorant as to believe that all Syrians are Muslims, but the most relevant clarification is not that some are not, but that that is irrelevant to the refugee crisis.
At the popular level in Europe, there is both dispiriting xenophobia and its opposite, a seemingly unprecedented preparedness to welcome the refugees and to take responsibility for their well-being. State officials have so far tended to play to the interests of the xenophobes, mostly not by expressing outward xenophobia (with plenty of exceptions of course, as with the mayor of Roanne, or with Hungarian president Viktor Orbán), but by classic buck-passing, insisting that the crisis is someone else’s problem. This is particularly the case for the poorer countries of the EU to its south and east, which are of course also the countries that are so placed as to first receive the refugees travelling by land (and, more perilously, by water). The absence of any obvious authority, either at the union-wide level or in each individual member state, reveals, like no other situation has since the EU’s expansion to include former Soviet Bloc states, that transnational body’s utter impotence and irrelevance.
American liberals and progressives love to fawn over the great liberal democracies of northern Europe with their advanced welfare states and their commitment to fair distribution of resources to all citizens. Yet as long as these societies continue to adhere to a sharp political and moral distinction between citizens and outsiders, between those who are in the system and those who are outside of it, what they have accomplished is scarcely any more worthy of praise than the sort of ‘socialism’ we see practiced within major corporations. European social democracies that extend medical care and education to everyone who has theirpapers in order, while expelling irregular migrants in nighttime raids and strong-armed police operations, are not truly egalitarian societies, but protection rackets. The extent that European citizens are today, en masse, resisting this arbitrary distinction between citizen and non-citizen, in order to come to the direct aid of the Syrian refugees, is precisely the extent to which Europe is living up to its claim to be Christian.
Somewhere in cyberland, I recently saw an article that the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump reflect the fact that a large part of the population recognizes that the wheels have come off our society and its political processes. This should not come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to the faltering of America and the world in general. Both Bernie and Donald are essentially populists – they just disagree about causes and cures.
One type of populism is based on recognition of one’s humanity and the humanity of others, a brotherhood-of-Man feeling. The other type is based on recognizing only one’s own self and group. For one, power means the ability to benefit everyone. Fo the other, it means the ability to benefit one’s self. One type founded the utopian communities in the 1800s; suffered and died for other peoples’ rights, safety and quality of life; union organizers, civil rights supporters, etc. And National Socialism was a populist movement of the second type. Continue reading Populism for the coming darkness