Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Friendiverse

Early this morning, one of my closest friends died (passed away, as they say in super-polite circles).  It is death that puts me at the greatest disadvantage; I tend to think of some deaths as a personal affront to me, especially deaths of very young people.  I tend to think of other deaths as a relief; but it is difficult to tell how other people would react to the death of even someone who has been suffering for years with a terminal illness.  Many would say: just say what you feel, and if any idiot is affronted, just ignore him/her.  That's easy for you to say; some of my closest friends (not the one who died, thankfully) are idiots, and have been for most of their lives.  And yes; I have given up trying to give them up.

For several years after we met, I was rather intimidated by him and his family, so while I tried not to give the impression that this intimidation was working, I did stay away from them.  Then various misfortunes befell him, and his family, and I watched things unfold without comprehension (because I had only partial information), and with horror, until various events encouraged me to offer to help, without careful planning.  At the same time, I was getting into trouble, and my friend offered to help me, and pretty soon we discovered that we could not really get through the day without a lot of help from each other.  This brings us to our first lesson: erecting a fence of intimidation around your very private life simply delays receiving--and giving--help, sometimes by many years.

Well, I anticipated scores of lessons we could draw from our friendship, but I'm going to have to stop with that one.

Actually, I might have another.

My friend did not suspect, nor did I suspect, that so much support would come from each other.  Stumbling on someone on whom you can rely is such a hit-or-miss thing, isn't it?  On one hand, you just can't go about broadcasting your state of helplessness; it just isn't done.  Though I gave the impression of being quite satisfied to manage by myself, (perhaps not entirely successfully,) I was barely keeping my head above water, and my colleagues had to pacify my students at times, for lashing out at them (the students) because they had not done something or another, or for doing something or another.  For instance, one student was indignant at being kept in class for a minute past the end of the period.  I had told the student that he could leave, but he preferred to stand at the back of the classroom, winter jacket on, focusing hostility at me, as a gesture that I should let the rest of the class go.  Each person, of course, was at liberty to leave, but this man wanted a formal dismissal.  Evidently I was exceeding my bounds.  Unfortunately I swore at the man at the back.  I got a visit from the Dean.  I had to apologize.

These sorts of incidents were a clue that all was not well in Archimedes Land.  Pretty soon, everyone knew that my friend and I were a mutual aid society.  We were both presently bachelors, and we would shop together and fix meals together, and soon some folks jumped to the conclusion that we were an item.  When I was asked, my instinct was to deny it vigorously, but the cultural climate was such that to be too vigorous in my denial could be construed to be admission of guilt, or even denigration of people of alternate lifestyles!  (I wish I could indicate a smirk, but you just have to imagine me wearing a sardonic look and shrugging.)

Eventually, my friend retired, and moved very far away.  Everyone wanted to know how he was doing, as though I had an inside line on his every move!  One thing he had learned, perhaps unwittingly from me, was that he just could not keep everyone satisfied as to the reason that he chose one course of action over another.  That was a lesson that came easy for him, he being a child of the Sixties.  Over the years, I learned through him, who were the good guys--in terms of the people who were most helpful, and kind, and active in charitable work and service, and in support of the Arts, and I tried my darndest to encourage them.  But I had been in financial debt for a few years, and it was more than a decade before I was debt-free, so I could not support all those whom I wished to support, with money.

The Bible says: By their fruits ye shall know them.  This is especially true regarding children.  In my experience, admirable parents often have admirable children.  Unfortunately, some of the best-behaved kids have parents who were martinets, and not entirely admirable.  So this observation has to be taken with a pinch of salt and a glass of Coke, because there are many exceptions to the rule.  Some of my best friends have kids whom you wish had been strangled at birth, and I have always been insanely curious how that came to be.  Luckily, as the years go by, some of those progeny who were absolute terrors up to the age of about 25, settle down to be decent, even wonderful, human beings.  In a country such as this, where everyone guards their prerogatives with almost desperate jealousy, you cannot take any sort of action towards being the village that Hillary Clinton is so fond of talking about, that raises a child, without the enthusiastic and implicit support of its parents.  But you are, even if you do nothing.  Just being a visitor, or a friend of the family, is sometimes all it takes, to supporting certain sorts of values that become a part of the young person's environment.

This friend, about whom I set out to write, was not a low-profile person by any means.  He was, in fact, one of the most influential faculty in the history of the school, and he was an elected leader, whose tenure was fraught with problems.  Solutions that were hammered into shape one year, evolved into a worse problem another year.  But, if not for the guidance of my friend, our school would be a very different place today.  Not necessarily a worse place, I have to admit; just a different place, and possibly a place we would not have liked as much.


It's Time to Stop Looking to Big Christianity to Adhere to its Moral Foundation

Just like Big Oil, Big Coal, and Big Milk, we now have Big Christianity.

In a recent post, some folks who have studied Big Christianity, some of them from the inside, explain why It is becoming increasingly inured to fielding people who seem to have moral values to which the Christian Conservatives should not be able to subscribe.

It seems that it is impossible to find decent people to run for the GOP (which is where Christian Conservatives have traditionally looked for leadership), so they make do with weirdos, some of whose objectives coincide with those of Big Christianity.  They think of it as a war, where you sometimes have to compromise.

So there you have it.  They're making pacts with the Devil, only I think it is too harsh to say that You-Know-Who is the devil.  He just looks for self-aggrandizement, avoiding taxes, and retaliation against friends who betray him.  Foolishness is not a sin.  It is only a crime.

One of these days, we're going to have to address the morals of our immigration policy.  The Democrats carry on as if it is a simple thing, and as if the Republicans are doing it all wrong.  Unfortunately, everyone in Congress adheres to various immigration principles that are difficult to articulate diplomatically, and if we were to list them, everyone would see what a can of worms it is.  So all immigration policy discussion is based on euphemisms and dog-whistle rhetoric.  If you think about this long enough, and if you separate the principles from each other carefully enough to reduce the issues into a dozen or more independent ones, you could probably arrive at reasonable conclusions without my mediation.

To Be Continued.


Friday, December 28, 2018

Insights into Trump's Small Business Mentality

I was watching Morning Joe on MSNBC a few hours ago, and they were talking about some of the basic reasons why Trump could not get his head around his role as President.

Trump still thinks like a small businessman.  A small businessman has to view the world through the lens of cash-flow.  Cash-flow, that is, short-term income and expense balances, are usually not pressing concerns for large companies, but they are for small companies, like those Trump owns.  In those sorts of businesses, it is a zero-sum game; for someone to win, someone else has to lose.  If you're negotiating agreements with other countries, that mindset obviously will not work; all parties have to be convinced that everyone came away with a win.  Furthermore, Trump seems to feel that even if the US has succeeded in negotiating a wonderful win-win deal, that he has to convince his 'people' that he's the winner, and the other countries are losers.  This makes for unhappy relations with numerous foreign nations, that will come home to roost.

Trump is a very ungracious, mean man.  The small businessman in Trump comes naturally, because he always acts like a cornered raccoon, even if he isn't cornered (and he isn't a raccoon).  It could be a pose, in which case it is a very ungracious pose.  He must have viewed the international agreements of his predecessors, and thought to himself: They (the foreign governments) know that we're going to be nice.  We're too nice.  He thinks he's doing us a favor by showing the various regimes we have to negotiate with that we're not nice, and we're unreliable, and we do not keep our word, and we're capricious, changeful, and inconstant.  That helped him intimidate his antagonists when doing business: take this deal, or there might not be another one.  In foreign policy, no president is forever, all any foreign government needs to do is to wait.

Watch the episode for yourselves.  I did not watch the whole thing, and there might be other insights that are helpful.  They're helpful in understanding Trump, and to see why Trump cannot grow out of his incompetence.  The habits and characteristics that have made him successful, in college, in business, and on TV, are not ones that help the US.  They will continue to ruin us.  He depends on disguising his fails with a glamorous scintillating skin.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Look at Economics, Music of the Season, The Increasing Silliness of Washington

This post will be in three entirely separate sections, mostly unrelated.

Economics: A report of some thinking on this subject
I don't talk about Economics much, except to hurl insults at the discipline.  I have to confess that I have never studied the subject; I just peek in through the windows of it, and make faces.  But a recent article sheds a little light on where these fellows are coming from.  It gives a brief summary of the history of the subject, which helped me, and might help you.
Up to the time of the first Great Depression (The Great Depression), the article says, it was the so-called Marshallian Economics that held sway.  (I assume that this was the same Marshall of the Marshall Plan, which had something to do with --at least--American policies on foreign aid.) Added later: No, this was a different Marshall.
Around the time of the Depression, John Maynard Keynes's economic theories started receiving increased attention.  It was the ideas of this fellow that forms what is, to my mind, the dynamics of conventional economic thinking: how government intervention results in the response of the markets :  labor, goods, and money.  It remained the standard economics, and, the article says, continued to give good results until the Seventies.  Bear in mind that various things influence the interaction between the raw materials of economics: laws about the way banks are allowed to operate; invention of credit cards; the way gasoline is used, and so on.  Every once in a while, an economic theory can be expected to stop working the way it had been.
Around 1975, there were some new thinkers: Milton Friedman, who won a Nobel Prize, and a little later, Robert Lucas.  These guys pointed out some mistakes in the thinking of how the actions of individuals are sort of aggregated to predict how particular conditions will influence conditions in the future.  The main ideas are the same: changing a set of factors changes how they will increase and decrease, via a set of equations, or general principles.  It seemed that the connections were not quite accurate, and depended more on the government policies and the banks than was realized.  This was made clear in 2008, when the interaction of the banks and the insurance companies resulted in a serious crash.
Recently a whole lot of economists got into a huddle and produced, we are told, a set of fourteen papers, presented by Oxford University, called Rebuilding Economic Theory.  There are some basic ideas that we can understand vaguely, and I try to describe them below.
A major basic idea is to recognize every possible entity that affects economics: each consumer, each bank, each business, each stock, each economic policy decision, and so on, and consider them as sort of molecules in some container.  They are called agents.  This seems to borrow from the physics idea of statistical mechanics, which uses the individual motions of molecules to predict the gas laws, e.g. the behavior of pressure under temperature changes and compression.  We would have expected that this would be the obvious approach, but apparently they never got it right.
One theorist has pointed out four major problems with the way economists have been thinking, and he calls these The Four Horsemen of the Econocalypse.  The first is that the interaction between the agents cannot be simplified.  In physics, for example, we develop the gas laws by using a cubical box; then we divide the the molecules into exactly three equal groups, and assume that they go in three perpendicular directions, and then start using mathematics, and taking averages; a sequence of simplifications.  Anyhow, apparently the sort of simplification that they have been accustomed to doing will not work.  The second is that we cannot completely understand the world, just because new and unpredictable things are always happening.  The third is that the entire system will grow properties that the individual parts of the system do not have; for instance, even though individual drivers act in perfectly reasonable ways, their actions can add up to a traffic jam.  The fourth (and last, thank goodness) is that you can't use calculations that worked before, to solve the same problem when it happens again.  Assuming that this problem does not exist is called expecting ergodicity.  This is kind of obvious; people remember how things went the previous time, and opportunistically act in their own interest to take advantage.  If only people would behave like molecules, it would be a better world.  People are always figuring out the angles, such as buying stocks with their credit cards . . . have they no decency?
Some of the economists questioning the bases of economic theory and their methods point at the lack of insight into economics from other rational disciplines.  This has been my personal beef with it: I agree with these people, that economics has become more insular.  They point at the very small number of citations from other disciplines in economics journal articles (see chart at right).
Finally--and this is not going to give you much usable information; it just tells you what the recognized difficulties are--there is the notion of equilibrium, which is heavily used in physics, and even more heavily used, apparently, in economics.
For instance, suppose you take a sample of air, and then force it to occupy twice the volume.  (You have to imagine that it is in a piston, and then you pull the piston out to make the volume contained larger, which is a little counter-intuitive.)  What happens?  Of course you have to wait until the molecules of air stop fussing around and settle down, but this happens almost instantaneously.  Yes, the pressure is roughly halved.  But the point here is that we don't think twice about waiting until the molecules settle into a steady state.  Similarly with the water flowing down a stream: suppose the level upstream rises, and then stops rising.  For a while, while the stream waits for things to settle down, we notice only random sorts of things, and no real patterns.  Then, the situation starts settling into a steady pattern.  That's a quick outline of what we call equilibrium in physics.  In everyday parlance, equilibrium simply means balance; 'Please let me catch my breath, and regain my equilibrium!'  In physics, it means that the system has arrived at a steady state.
In economics, say these economical heretics, things actually never arrive at a steady state.  This throws the usual thinking of economists into a cocked hat.  Actually, a lot of economical argument I have heard is in terms of various things increasing and decreasing, which is definitely not a steady state picture, but, there is usually a background assumption of other things being equal.  This is all of a piece with that first unsimplifiability "horseman."
So, conventional economics is kind of broken.  But, as a particularly authoritative lady economist in the UK states, we are not trying to perfectly predict outcomes using economics; rather, we're trying to get some ballpark idea about how to respond to economic conditions just enough to avoid crises.  (Actually, this might not be what the woman said; I think I'm conflating a couple of different opinions from different people.)
But I expect that these economists will pretty soon come up with some approach in which they have great confidence.  Though I don't believe in the economic religion, I grudgingly admit that, however misguided they are, they are imaginative and clever fellows; their one major fault has, at least heretofore, been that they haven't taken advantage of ideas that originate from outside economics.  But I also know of the towering confidence in themselves that economists have, so it won't be long before we have a new approach from them, which will work well for at least a year.

Music of the Season!
I do not believe in Christmas in the sense that God yakkity yak blah blah.  Even my belief that Jesus was a historical figure is pushing the bounds of rationality.  But I have always enjoyed Christmas music and traditions, not because they make sense from a scientific point of view but because they are fun, and it doesn't make sense to reject something that makes for innocent fun.  (Bear in mind, though, that belief in Santa Claus in young children can pave the way for their adopting various other myths such as that ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  Haha.)
When I say Christmas Music, I used to mean the Baroque classics such as Handel's Messiah and Bach's and Schutz's Christmas Oratorios, or even The Infancy of Christ, by Berlioz, from which I am only familiar with a couple of pieces.  Add to these some well-established Christmas hymns, and that formed my musical world for Christmas.  But, over the years, I have absorbed a taste for Christmas music by various celebrities, such as Julie Andrews, Leontine Price, Robert Goulet, Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and so on.  Then, eventually, I also adopted crazy gag Christmas music, of which the authoritative collections came from Dr. Demento.  Then, finally, I have added choral groups such as Chanticleer, the King's Singers, and the Osmond Family.
The question is how to sequence these songs; they don't all do equally well if Tom Lehrer's Christmas Carol is juxtaposed with something from Schutz.  (I mean, they do, if you want to surprise yourself, but not otherwise.)  So my strategy is to listen to the pop versions early in the season, around December 1st, because my spouse despises Christmas music any earlier, and certainly at other times of the year.  Then I listen to collections of carols, from the Robert Shaw Chorale, and so forth.  Then come carols from King's College, Cambridge, and other serious carol collections, and finally Messiah and other classical Christmas works, and on Christmas Eve, medieval and Elizabethan carols.
This year, I broke with this orderly plan, and just put five CDs in my changer, which dates from around 2000, and have it playing in random mode.  The problem with this is that you can't resume from where you stopped, and I don't like to put the thing on pause when we have to leave the house.  Also, the spouse dislikes not being able to hear an entire disk, because we're always interrupting the music.  Still, there is no particular pattern to my listening.
Most alarmingly, I don't seem to listen to music very much anymore, because it involves actually walking to the music system, loading it, and turning it on, etc.  I love music, but I love indolence even more.

Silliness of Washington: no signs of settling down to a steady state
I hate to comment on what comes out of Washington, (I mean D.C., and not the westerly state that borders Oregon to the North), simply because I don't want to influence my readers' take on which matters to take seriously, just in case it is based on some disinformation from the White House.
I think it is safe to assume that the Trump Administration does not take seriously the need to be factual about either its information, or its reasoning.  We have to depend on the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other sources of news, which are fairly reliable.  We can take a peek at CNN occasionally, but unfortunately they resort to spin, which is not a good thing to do in these miserable times; it is hard to tell what is fact, and what is opinion.  NPR and PBS are a little more reliable, but their tone of objectivity has disappeared, and we're hearing some very partisan reports coming out of there.  Sometimes it is difficult to give an objective report, because at a higher order of reportage, background assumptions have to be factored in.  If the reporters suspect that there is deliberate intention to deceive on the part of the White House, especially since the President is under investigation, that suspicion, unfortunately, destroys the objectivity of the report in an essential way.
The general information we get is that the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, has succeeded in completely destroying the credibility of the Trump Campaign, and hence the Trump White House.  In my mind, hiring Rudy Giuliani as his lawyer is tantamount to an admission of criminal activity, while also being an attempt to distract attention from himself, since Giuliani is such a caricature of a crooked lawyer.  Giuliani went so far as to admit that Trump would be allowed to testify under oath over his dead body, which in turn is to say that Trump cannot be depended upon to tell the truth, or even to not contradict himself.  This is a sad time for America, now that we realize that a White House that lies systematically creates a condition in which law cannot be effective.  Everybody knows now that if we want the law to be ineffective, all we need to do is to elect a President who lies all the time.  Or even some of the time.  I have some admiration for Bill Clinton, despite the embarrassment of the Kenneth Starr investigation.  That whole investigation was only intended to embarrass Clinton; Clinton was just too successful for the GOP to tolerate.  Here, the electoral process is at stake.  I believe that there was no foreign (i.e. Russian) interference with the actual mechanics of the election (but I could be persuaded otherwise).  But as the scale of the Russian propaganda onslaught through social media is revealed, we have to admit that it is of such a massive level that is criminal. Additionally, James Comey said that the FBI was concerned that the Trump indiscretions know to (and possibly arranged by) the Kremlin could have exposed Trump to the possibility of blackmail.  Again, this is another of the liabilities of electing a businessman to be President, especially a crooked businessman.
The Trump voting base had those who were sick and tired of the highly-educated Democrat elite that seemed to dominate Washington.  They were tired of environmentalists.  They were tired of what they perceived as self-righteous Politically Correct liberals, and were only too happy to troll them with rude statements.  They were sick of Feminists.  They were sick of the editorializing of the Press, which they perceived as Left-Leaning.  They were sick of the anti-pollution, and the Global Warming folks.  They thought they could live with a little lie or two from the White House, just to annoy the goody-goody Leftists, and the PC crowd.  They were tired of the concessions that the Democrats had granted to Iran, and they wanted lower gas prices.  And, of course, they hated the increasing power that Blacks, Hispanics and Immigrants were getting.  Apart from that, there was not a lot that those in the Trump Camp had in common.  Now, once the lying out of the White House grows beyond some unknown critical level, to the point where the Trump Camp itself can't quite believe what they hear, they begin to suspect that Trump and his friends are not just lying to the Democrats; they're lying to the Trump Camp as well.
The Democrats (and other left-leaning, intellectually unimpaired people) knew all along that Trump was lying.  Now the Trump Camp is in the process of learning at whom the lying was aimed.  Fooled me once: you know how it goes.
Looking at the election outcomes, anyone can draw their own conclusions why the Senate gained Republican seats, while the House gained Democrat seats.  Trump is persuasive in person, and on TV, on the campaign trail; that's Trump Camp enjoying Democrat-baiting.
Why the Democrats had so much success with the House is still not clear.  Why did the same people who elected Anti-Trump congressmen not elect Anti-Trump Senators?  One reason could be that they were in different states and areas; that's something that anyone who has access to the political maps can verify.  Even I, but indolence is a problem.  It can't be loyalty to a particular congressman, because such a large proportion of them are freshmen.
Anyway, let's brace ourselves for more silliness.  The Democrats are planning, using the familiar tactics of cornering committee seats and chairmanships, and all those strategies that are totally opaque to ordinary citizens.  Democrats have to work on a variety of fronts: effective functioning of the government which had previously gone berserk with Conservative objectives; restraint of the President, and oversight of questionable uses of Government power; and damage control.  Keeping a balance is going to be very, very hard.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Figuring Out Socialism: Do We Have To? (Yes.)

When Bernie Sanders began to talk about Socialism at the beginning of the 2016 election season, I thought to myself: oh no; they are totally wasting their time; anti-socialist propaganda has been bred into our DNA by business interests for too long.  Businesses (and their owners) are obsessed with keeping a share of their profits that they themselves decide, usually arbitrarily.  Taxes cut into their profits, so they hate taxes.  Minimum wages cut into their profits, so they hate the minimum wage.  Regulations cut into their profits, so, naturally, they hate those, too.  When an unemployed person applies for a job, the employer, usually a businessman (or his flunky) offers the applicants a wage rate.  In theory, of course, the applicant can haggle about the wage rate, but in practice, the rate must be accepted.  Being the employers, the businesses/employers wield a great deal of power, and they resent any attempt by the government to restrict this power.  Of course we do, they say; we take the risks, so we get to set our prices, and your wages!  In actual fact, the workers share the risks, which everyone knows, in particular, GM workers.

In conventional (old-time) Socialism, the government owns all the 'businesses', and hires all the workers.  That's the broad outline of Socialism, but the devil, obviously, is in the details.  Furthermore, just like economics, Socialism also has a lot of technical terms (a.k.a. jargon) which is a problem when we have to understand what people like Hilary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders, and Nomi Konst start talking, which Tucker Carlson found out when he started trying to interview her (Nomi Konst).  Some of the jargon is essential (otherwise, every sentence will take about a week), but some of the jargon is actually unnecessary, so just having seen the words is probably enough; we can always come home and Google them.

Some hard-ass Socialists, when asked about how they would proceed, would say that they would confiscate all the businesses, and run them efficiently for the good of the country.  That will be totally repugnant to almost everyone; we would naturally think that the government will next come for our stuff.  (Business owners would probably sneer when we talk about our stuff, but hey, it's just as important to us as their damn factories and oil rigs are to them.)

That's---probably---not going to happen.  But I'm willing to bet that things like oil companies, (which are the certified big polluters, as well as major recipients of government subsidies), perhaps the Internet, electric companies, those will be likely prospects for takeover.  Or maybe the government will not takeover anything.  There are more delicate ways in which the government can take control of key business---including the most polluting businesses, and deal with retraining the displaced labor.  GM, for instance, does little more than token rehabilitation of their former workers.

Let's halt the speculation (which might be completely out in Left Field), and go straight to the source.  Here is an NBC report of the Democratic Socialists, right after the election.  The article is very clear; there are some five bulleted items, ranging from abolishing ICE (the border police), to opposing war.  Note: historically, socialists have identified with working-class people everywhere.  American Democratic Socialists might be different, but typically, a socialist in any country would consider every worker a brother.  The folks coming in across the Mexican border are our brothers, and so keeping them out by force would be something that is anathema to socialists.  Bear in mind that the USA is partly responsible for the failed governments in Central and Latin America; the CIA interfered with the governments of those countries since the nineteen fifties.  You cannot do that without those problems coming home to roost.  It is too late now to go back into South America to help make those nations stable; for evermore, fed-up Latinos will head here for a better life, just as those from former British Colonies head to London, which is one reason why they tried BREXIT.

Some things to think about.

The mentality of left-leaning Americans, and socialists everywhere, is that they're aligned with workers, that is blue-collar folks.  It always puzzled me that the typical American seemed to regard blue-collar workers with some suspicion.  But it's time to get over that; blue-collar folks are just as likely to help anyone as your supposedly friendly neighborhood white-collar worker; it's just that college-educated folk are uncomfortable with those who have not had a college education.  (This is a major problem with college education; a situation which has to be corrected in some creative way.)  It is these workers who suffer the brunt of business hostility, and so when the Democratic Socialists say workers, you have to think: that's us.  If you're a business owner, I suppose, you will probably think: oh, that's THEM.  Well, what can we do.

Going straight to the website of the Democratic Socialists of America, you get to a sort of FAQ about them, and I'll try to paraphrase the ones that I was most interested in.

Doesn’t socialism mean that the government will own and run everything?
Their bottom line is that Socialists have long given up the idea of running everything centrally ("from Washington").  Supply and demand methods work best with consumer goods, such as food commodities, clothing, etc.  (In contrast,) Public Transport, Housing, Energy, and things like that are best administered by the government.  (In other words, the time of the real-estate barons is going away; which makes sense, because they made insane profits, and then the Banks stepped in to crash the economy.)

Won’t socialism be impractical because people will lose their incentive to work?
"We reject the idea that the only reasons for people to work is either greed, or starvation.  People enjoy their work if it is meaningful and enhances their lives. They work out of a sense of responsibility to their community and society. Although a long-term goal of socialism is to [get rid of] all but the most enjoyable kinds of work, we recognize that unappealing jobs will always be there. These unappealing tasks would be spread among as many people as possible rather than assigned on the basis of class, race, ethnicity, or gender, as they are under capitalism. And this undesirable work should be among the best-paid, not the least-paid, work within the economy. Temporarily, the burden should be placed on the employer to make work desirable by raising wages, offering benefits and improving the work environment. In short, we believe that a combination of social, economic, and moral incentives will motivate people to work.

(I thought that was a wonderful paragraph; it tackles a central problem of the economics of labor, which Capitalists have never dealt with properly.  Work is a sort of take-it-or-leave-it thing in the Capitalist world-view; oligarchs never believe that workers need to enjoy their work.)

Aren’t you a party that’s in competition with the Democratic Party for votes and support?
No, we are not a separate party. Like our friends and allies in the feminist, labor, civil rights, religious, and community organizing movements, many of us have been active in the Democratic Party. We work with those movements to strengthen the party’s left wing, represented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

There are many other Q & A items, all chosen very well, which do address a lot of the questions that people have, from: Isn't "Socialist" too discredited a word to call yourselves? and questions about the failed Russian Communist experiments, and the European Union, and the absence of established successful Socialist governments elsewhere.  There is no core 'manifesto' anywhere; which makes me sad, because as a mathematician, I like to have my axioms where I can lay my hands on them.

But bear in mind that in the US, the Media is very powerful, and clever.  And easily won over by money.  The onslaught from the Media against Democratic Socialists has already begun, with people trying to pick apart what the spokespeople for the DSA say; them being attacked both from the ignorance of the attackers of the reasoning behind their statements, as well as the newsmen's innate resistance to anyone who even calls herself or himself a socialist.  Prejudice is going to be hard to overcome.

So, at least for the moment, Amazon and other monopolies are not going to be interfered with, but the specter of regulation is very real.  Similarly for banks, which includes credit cards.  Just because a citizen is not very clever does not give banks and credit-cards the right to swindle them.  Financial organization have taken it to be axiomatic that if you don't read the fine print, it's open season.  Elizabeth Warren fought this, and it looks as though the Dem Socs of America are in her corner.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Beatles, Live: The Rooftop Concert

I have never seen the Beatles perform live; it was always a video (or film, or a telecast of a film) of a live performance.  These days, "Live" seems to mean a performance before an audience.  (Even that seems a little ambiguous, because there are always people listening in while a studio album is being recorded, but I don't consider that a live performance.)  Perhaps a "live" performance is one where there is no possibility of re-recording any part of the performance.

Coming then to the video recordings of live performances, hardly any of the Beatles performances I have seen are anywhere as pleasing as that last crazy performance on the rooftop of some recording studio (you can Google it, if you want; it's probably Studio 2, or something like that) in London.  We know now that it halted traffic on the street below, and ended with the Police coming onto the rooftop to negotiate with the Beatles people to stop the performance.

Evidently it was a cold day, and John and George refused to go out onto the roof initially, but they later did, wearing cold-weather outer-wear, which someone called women's coats, and they may well be.  John and George were wearing furs, Ringo was wearing a parka of some sort, but Paul seemed to wear only a woolen jacket.  Amazing, especially since in the US, certainly, a rooftop would usually be a windy place.  Still, the video of this performance is still my memory of the Beatles as they were in the last several months of 1969, a fabulous year for many, many reasons.

If you've been a Beatles fan, especially if you had been one in the sixties, you would have realized, (assuming you'd followed popular music before the Beatles were famous, and seen their competing acts on TV) that the Beatles were super tailored; cut and pressed and neatly turned out (one of the contributions of Brian Epstein).  However, though initially their true personalities were held under control by their 'handlers', only bursting out of their cages intermittently, by 1969 we knew what they were really like (to the extent that it was possible), and the Rooftop Concert was them, being themselves; amused no end at the quandary the Police were in; pleased at the number of people who had stopped everything to watch them; probably pleased that their impromptu performance was coming off so well, though they had rehearsed it pretty well, and some of the songs were ones they had sung for years, e.g. 'One after 909,' and so on.  What a wonderful way to bring down the curtain!  I would not have it any other way.  (On YouTube there is a set of videos where the Beatles had evidently tried to do a complete concert on the roof of the Liverpool Central Library; I didn't watch them all through; I think perhaps the mood was not as exciting as the original performance in London.  Must find out more.)

The performance list is:
00:11 Get Back
03:22 Don't Let Me Down
06:57 I've Got A Feeling
10:39 One After 909
13:42 Dig A Pony
17:36 Get Back (reprise, and John announcing "We want to thank you on behalf of the Group and Ourselves . . .")
One of the things that delighted me the most was to see John playing lead guitar on Get Back, and the tiny glimpse of Billy Preston, freezing in the cold (around 18:47).

There is a lot more information about the circumstances surrounding the performance at
many of them not having to do with the music.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Education for the Individual

Now that I’m no longer a teacher, I’m beginning to look at Education differently.  There are two ways to look at Education.  Firstly, it is an organized human activity.  All social animals—in the case of mammals, they tend to be the more evolved, usually—have a certain degree of social education; though in the case of elephants, it is more like pre-school, or daycare.  Secondly, it is important, I feel, to look at Education from the point of view of the child, or the student.

If anyone were to say: Nobody can teach anything to someone who does not want to learn anything, most of us would agree, though of course some would say, too bad; there are things kids have to know, even in those evil years when they don’t want to do anything.  As the Bible (that much abused book) quotes Jesus as having said: Nobody is as blind as those who don’t want to see.

This is sad, but interesting: some schools steadily turn out kids who are eager to learn, others turn out kids who want to get out of class as quick as possible.  I know this.

Our school had a brilliant program that gave a total free ride to the Valedictorian from every school in the local area.  Why?  Because they were a good bet.  I have had students from certain local schools for decades, and they were invariably a good bet.  There was something in those schools that made their students not prone to reject formal teaching as authoritarian.  They sailed through my courses, and it was too much of an effect to simply dismiss as coincidence.

Now, of course it is possible for an ultra-authoritarian teacher to turn off the most receptive students; some teachers do have a gift for it.  (I mean, I have insisted, for instance, that my students do not wear earphones during class, which might have come across as needlessly draconian, but I felt affronted by their attitude.  But if I was ultra-authoritarian, I have to admit that as a fault.)

I have said often: all children are born curious and receptive.  To some of them, just the usual stuff we teach in class is interesting and magical!  But there are at least two sources of the jadedness that seems to eat away at their natural receptivity to learning.

Firstly, the social pressure to regard formal schooling as essentially boring.  This is a consequence of the fact that the kids who dominate classes early on are those who are backward educationally, and it is a way for them to continue to dominate their classmates even when they arrive at grade levels where they’re intellectually out of their depth.  This is a sort of bullying, but it is hard to see in that light because it does not have any associated physical violence, and it very successfully proceeds by persuasion.

Secondly, it is the parents.  Without being helicopter parents, I think parents—especially if they themselves had never bought into the belief that learning is boring, but such parents are probably a small proportion, after centuries of anti-learning propaganda!!—can effectively, and tactfully, convey that the material their kids are learning was interesting, and useful.  My mother used to do this; she would say: have you come to compound interest yet?  Oh, that is fascinating!  She showed me how to do problems using algebra, long before we were supposed to use algebra.  (This would never work these days; the kid would bring home a strongly-worded reprimand to the parents.)  Parents often don’t realize what a huge influence they are, because the kids often learn from their peers how to keep their uppity parents in line by expressing scorn about their parents’ mental capability.  You can’t “thump it out of them;” it has to be addressed indirectly.

There certainly are a large number of people around us who have been totally successful in school, certainly in the lower grades.  But unfortunately, this success of these individuals is bad for education, because teaching being such a low-paying job, these people (who could make all the difference in our schools) get more lucrative employment, and forget to even inspire their own children to have a positive attitude towards learning, let alone a good attitude towards school (which is also important, obviously).  But because of human nature, we’re more likely to hear the negatives, rather than the positives.  There certainly are some young people who loved their teachers, love school, who go into the teaching profession, and resist all the negative influences in their schools, and resist the tendency for the administration to draw successful teachers into the administration as well.  I don’t know how that works, not having taught in secondary school.  But individuals with great attitudes are all around us, but they’re smothered by others who simply hate school, and hate everything.  At least 10% of the time, try to hang out with friends who have a good attitude towards things, including a good attitude towards kids, and learning.

One last thing.  Of course it is important to get a good general education; to learn to write well, to be able to make a presentation to a gathering of your peers; to explain some new thing that you have figured out, for instance, but your friends have not; to be able to manage the finances of at least a small charity, say.  Apart from this, it isn’t really important what branch of knowledge a child or youth wants to pursue, provided he or she doesn’t choose to pursue it to the exclusion of everything else.  This is a tricky point to make, because of the professionalization of the hiring process; HR people do tend to depend too much on surface qualifications, because they deal with such large numbers of applicants, and the people who will actually work with the new hire are only allowed to give token input into the process.  But in my humble opinion, the value of the pursuit of an area of knowledge that a student is genuinely interested in is too much to sacrifice in the name of employment.  Perhaps the thing to do is to allow your student to major (or minor) in the area dearest to her or his heart, and let her or him minor (or major) in some area perceived to enhance her or his “employability” such as engineering, or accounting, or (god forbid) business, or accounting.  Why should idiots have all the fun tanking the stock market?


Final Jeopardy

Final Jeopardy
"Think" by Merv Griffin

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