Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bernard Louedin, Surrealist

Bernard Louedin is a French painter usually described as surrealist, although he prefers "fantastique." I discovered him because he is one of the artists sold by the gallery where my elder daughter will start work in July, and she had to memorize a spiel about him.

I had trouble finding sources about Louedin, but I did find this French web page. The French is terse and rather difficult, so I let Google translate the page. The result was so perfectly appropriate for a surrealist that I have decided to take the rest of this post from that translation.

Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter, began drawing and painting to 8 years to 15 years. His father was a railroad's condition and completely uninterested in anything. His mother was a seamstress.

At 15 he bought his first book Modigliani but his mother threw him because there were bare. Instead of being discouraged, he said it was better to hide these books. Therefore he has not left the painting. At 16, a teacher. drawing took the class to the museum. Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter fell off before the fife Manet. Over time, it makes him think about the grace of Claudel.

At 17 he worked with painters, he trained on the job. It's been 60 years that he painted. Party to its army in Algeria, he came upon a commander who loved painting (he knew Picasso) and gave him permission to practice. Small profit, he painted for his superiors. [I love that. Can't you just imagine the sort of French officer who would discover that one of his soldiers was a painter and let him paint instead of doing guard duty?]

One critic, wanting to play on the words said he was doing a painting between wolf and deer. Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter think it is not wrong at bottom, under pleasant appearances, a small music is less easy.

Bernard Louedin also likes to play with the words. A friend told him to have bowled and he understood "bubbles", so he painted a bubble player! He also loves to read Lacan although sometimes he understands nothing but the addresses like poetry.

Besides, reading poetry help to warm to painter to put himself in a mood of creation, emotion. This compares to dancers, athletes with a need to practice every day.

Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter , like many artists, poets, writers, has a work to perform and devotes all his energy to it. Sometimes to the detriment of non-essential social relations. His daughter became a psychoanalyst, dogs that are not cats! Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter loves understand mental mechanical people. It is also a pledge of indulgence. [I am guessing les chiens ne faisant pas des chats! is an idiom meaning something like "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." But then again I might be wrong.]

Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter like shade, be recessed. He does not like artists who play the artist, poets who play poet, who need a hat to feel poet.

So work with gallerists suits him. At the opening he would not be present and do not talk about his work. Rather than explain, you have to look at the paintings. Bernard Louedin says to me that the explanation needed is a misunderstanding.

Trump's Vice President Might have a Big Job

Paul Manafort, the chairman of Trump's campaign, gave an interview to the Huffington Post about a lot of things. I found this the most interesting part:
The vice presidential pick will also be part of the process of proving he’s ready for the White House, Manafort said.

“He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO.”

“There is a long list of who that person could be,” Manafort added, “and every one of them has major problems.”

The campaign probably won’t choose a woman or a member of a minority group, he said. “In fact, that would be viewed as pandering, I think.”
So Trump doesn't really want to run the government; he'll hire some schlub as Vice President for that job. But it seems Trump and Manafort are having trouble finding the perfect person. After all, the VP has to be up to doing most of the president's job, but on the other hand has to be willing and able to work under a meglomaniacal boss who changes his mind at the drop of a hat; plus it has to be a white man because anything else would be pandering.

Being Trump's VP seems a fascinating challenge. The job might make you the most powerful person in the world, provided you could manage your boss effectively. Does Chris Christie want that assignment? Bob Corker? We'll see.

And of course Trump is going to win, says Manafort;
He’s gonna win. He’s gonna win unless we — meaning people like me — screw it up. This is not a hard race.

The Venezuelan Tragedy

In Venezuela, the dream of popular socialism is collapsing into empty stores, hospitals without medicine, rolling electricity blackouts and actual hunger. Inflation is (depending on who you ask) 720%, 900%, or even 2,000%. Nice summary here.

Chavismo –as Venezuelans call the system created by now dead dictator Hugo Chavez – never worked very well, but during the days of high oil prices it worked well enough. Now that oil prices have collapsed, the Venezuelan economy is collapsing along with them. Venezuelans are paying a high price for supporting a government of Marxist nincompoops.

But as I have noted before, Chavismo didn't come from nowhere. Chavez was hugely popular among Venezuela's poor, and he came to power in an election that most people think was fair; he won two more-or-less fair re-election battles, the last time with more than 60 percent of the vote. Poor Venezuelans supported him because under the previous government both major parties were infamously corrupt and their leaders routinely lied to voters or made promises they didn't even try to keep. (Viz., Carlos Andrés Pérez was elected president in 1989 on a platform of repudiating the demands of the IMF and the US and renegotiating Venezuela's debts, but once elected he did nothing of the kind, instead following the IMF's "reform" dictates to the letter.)

Venezuela strikes me as a cautionary tale about capitalist democracy. If you spit on the poor long enough, and make much of the middle class worry that they will soon be among the poor, the voters will eventually turn against your sensible middle of the road economic plans and find somebody with more radical ideas. Trump and Sanders are warning shots that the American elite ought to take more seriously. If people like the Koch brothers want to remain rich and safe, they should stop fighting any plan to make the poor better off and start spending their billions searching for ways to help.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Things Getting Better in America

Domestic Violence: over the 1993 to 2012 period, the number of Americans assaulted by an "intimate partner" fell by more than half, from 13.5 per thousand to 5.0.

Sexual Abuse of Children: Down 60 percent from 1990 to 2010. (Obviously this is really hard to measure, but if anything our data ought to be getting more complete, not less so.)

Drunk Driving. Fatalities caused by drunk drivers down 51% from 1982 to 2009.

Teen Pregnancy. Down 51% from 1990 to 2010.

Violent Crime. Down 49% from 1991 to 2014. (Murder bumped back up a little last year but other violent crimes continued to fall.)

Kyon.J, Mountains of Guilin

More here.

Men in the Post-Industrial World

Tyler Cowen wonders what connects the rise of  Trump, the Berniebros, and the near victory of a far-right president in Austria, and comes up with this:
The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males. The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them? Brutes?

Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer. They do less well with nice. And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.

Female median wages have been rising pretty consistently, but the male median wage, at least as measured, was higher back in 1969 than it is today (admittedly the deflator probably is off, but even that such a measure is possible speaks volumes). A lot of men did better psychologically and maybe also economically in a world where America had a greater number of tough manufacturing jobs. They thrived under brutish conditions, including a military draft to crack some of their heads into line.
Cowen notes the oft-cited evidence for declining life expectancy among middle-aged white American men, and adds, "For American men ages 18-34, more of them live with their parents than with romantic partners."

Trump’s support is overwhelming male, his modes are extremely male, no one talks about the “Bernie sisters,” and male voters also supported the Austrian neo-Nazi party by a clear majority. Aren’t (some) men the basic problem here? And if you think, as I do, that the incidence of rape is fairly high, perhaps this shouldn’t surprise you.

The sad news is that making the world nicer yet won’t necessarily solve this problem. It might even make it worse.

Again, we don’t know this is true. But it does help explain that men seem to be leading this “populist” charge, and that these bizarre reactions are occurring across a number of countries, not just one or two. It also avoids the weaknesses of purely economic explanations, because right now the labor market in America just isn’t that terrible. Nor did the bad economic times of the late 1970s occasion a similar counter-reaction.

One response would be to double down on feminizing the men, as arguably some of the Nordic countries have done. But America may be too big and diverse for that really to stick. Another option would be to bring back some of the older, more masculine world in a relatively harmless manner, the proverbial sop to Cerberus. But how to do that? That world went away for some good reasons.

If this is indeed the problem, our culture is remarkably ill-suited to talking about it. It is hard for us to admit that “all good things” can be bad for anyone, including brutes. It is hard to talk about what we might have to do to accommodate brutes, and that more niceness isn’t always a cure. And it is hard to admit that history might not be so progressive after all.

What percentage of men are brutes anyway? Let’s hope we don’t find out.
A few thoughts: first, the supporters of politicians like Trump and Austria's Norbert Hofer are majority male, but they still get plenty of female votes: Hofer won 60% of men but nearly 40% of women, and 40% is a lot. So the politics of anti-establishment anger are not just a male thing.

It is true, I think, that a shift from an economy based on industry, agriculture, mining and logging to one based on services hurts men more than women, but it does hurt plenty of women, like the ones who used to sew clothes in factories across the US.

And, of course, those numbers about declining life expectancy among middle-aged white Americans apply to women as well as men.

But all that being said I think it is true that western culture is getting more feminized, and the western economy is moving away from the sort of hard, manly work that defined masculinity for millennia, and plenty of men are dealing very badly with this.

The Nth Battle of Fallujah

The battle to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah has begun: 20,000 Iraqi soldiers, backed by US air power and advisers, are attempting to expel some 800 to 1,000 ISIS fighters.

This is now the third time since 2003 that US and Iraqi forces have fought to retake Fallujah (building on an even longer British tradition of retaking Fallujah.) . . .

Yet the price of the battles of Fallujah has been very high for all involved. The second battle of Fallujah in 2004 was the bloodiest of the 2003 to 2011 Iraq War. The US lost nearly 100 soldiers there in retaking the city in 2004. The insurgents lost as many as 1,500.

The city has been reduced to rubble several times, and virtually all of the city’s occupants— about 350,000 people — have been forced to flee their homes over and over again. Many more people will die in the next battle, as ISIS defends the city fiercely and leaves behind a sea of booby-traps.

Still, the US and its allies have won all of their previous battles for Fallujah. And although the US will only be playing a supporting role this time around, it should be successful as well. The US military is an incredibly effective learning organization and every time it retakes the city of Fallujah, it gets better at it.
So the good news is that we have become very skilled at retaking Fallujah and are likely to succeed once again. The bad news is that also that we have become very skilled at retaking Fallujah.

Today's Geology Statistic

Right now there are 42 volcanoes erupting in the world.

The "Resource Based" Economy

Old ideas in new clothing:
One Friday afternoon someone brought a pair of virtual reality goggles hooked up to a laptop to the shop. Mr. Foster exhaled a cloud that smelled like a Popsicle. He said he had been reading up on the idea, explored in the “Zeitgeist” movie, of a “resource-based economy” — a system in which, he said, “There’s no money and everything is controlled by computers and resources are equally distributed and there’s no ownership or anything like that.”

“The system we have now is going to collapse,” he said. “And technology, the automation process, is going to keep taking over and over.”

That, he said, would free up people to do what they wanted.
My sons and their friends were watching this video or some other in the same genre a few weeks ago. I watched a bit before deciding that I had heard all of these arguments before: this is just Leninism with the techno-futurism brought up to date.

People failed by neo-liberal capitalism are intrigued by this language: if money is the root of all evil, get rid of it and just distribute resourced in an equitable way. Sadly this elides all important questions, from how things are produced to who decides what "equitable" means. I suppose it is predictable that such ideas will surface when people are frustrated, but let's hope they never escape from the fringe world of vaping shops in dying industrial towns.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


 Georgetown, last week and this. Below, an irresistible clematis.

Ethnography of the Sanders Tribe

Bernie Sanders likes to claim that his campaign is about a new birth of left-wing politics in America, but analysis of who votes for  him shows that this is not really so:
Exit polls conducted in two dozen primary and caucus states from early February through the end of April reveal only modest evidence of ideological structure in Democratic voting patterns, but ample evidence of the importance of group loyalties.

Mr. Sanders did just nine points better, on average, among liberals than he did among moderates. By comparison, he did 11 points worse among women than among men, 18 points worse among nonwhites than among whites and 28 points worse among those who identified as Democrats than among independents.

It is very hard to point to differences between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders’s proposed policies that could plausibly account for such substantial cleavages. They are reflections of social identities, symbolic commitments and partisan loyalties. . . .

More detailed evidence casts further doubt on the notion that support for Mr. Sanders reflects a shift to the left in the policy preferences of Democrats. In a survey conducted for the American National Election Studies in late January, supporters of Mr. Sanders were more pessimistic than Mrs. Clinton’s supporters about “opportunity in America today for the average person to get ahead” and more likely to say that economic inequality had increased.

However, they were less likely than Mrs. Clinton’s supporters to favor concrete policies that Mr. Sanders has offered as remedies for these ills, including a higher minimum wage, increasing government spending on health care and an expansion of government services financed by higher taxes. It is quite a stretch to view these people as the vanguard of a new, social-democratic-trending Democratic Party.
Bernie's support comes mainly from people who are upset about the status quo and see Hillary as the embodiment of that status quo. Not from socialists. This is why he gets so much support from the angriest part of the population, young men.

Of course this is not really a knock on Bernie supporters, since most Americans of all sorts cast their votes for strange irrational reasons.

Griffin Shield, Florence, 1380-1450

Made for the Villani family, whose arms these are. They made their money in the wool trade, but in Italy that was a perfectly noble thing to do. In the Victoria and Albert.

Hillary as a Workaholic

David Brooks takes a stab at explaining why Hillary is so disliked:
I would begin my explanation with this question: Can you tell me what Hillary Clinton does for fun? We know what Obama does for fun — golf, basketball, etc. We know, unfortunately, what Trump does for fun.

But when people talk about Clinton, they tend to talk of her exclusively in professional terms. For example, on Nov. 16, 2015, Peter D. Hart conducted a focus group on Clinton. Nearly every assessment had to do with on-the-job performance. She was “multitask-oriented” or “organized” or “deceptive.”

Clinton’s career appears, from the outside, to be all consuming. Her husband is her co-politician. Her daughter works at the Clinton Foundation. Her friendships appear to have been formed at networking gatherings reserved for the extremely successful.

People who work closely with her adore her and say she is warm and caring. But it’s hard from the outside to think of any non-career or pre-career aspect to her life. Except for a few grandma references, she presents herself as a résumé and policy brief.

For example, her campaign recently released a biographical video called “Fighter.” It’s filled with charming and quirky old photos of her fighting for various causes. But then when the video cuts to a current interview with Clinton herself, the lighting is perfect, the setting is perfect, her costume is perfect. She looks less like a human being and more like an avatar from some corporate brand.

Clinton’s unpopularity is akin to the unpopularity of a workaholic. Workaholism is a form of emotional self-estrangement. Workaholics are so consumed by their professional activities that their feelings don’t inform their most fundamental decisions. The professional role comes to dominate the personality and encroaches on the normal intimacies of the soul. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones once put it, whole cemeteries could be filled with the sad tombstone: “Born a man, died a doctor.”
I think there is much to this, but I don't think it is sufficient. Hillary is not just a workaholic and somewhat joyless person; she is a workaholic and somewhat joyless feminist. And that combination repels many Americans.

The modern social justice movement has the same basic problem as Christianity, which is that its goals for humanity are impossible to meet. Nobody is completely un-sexist, un-racist, un-homophobic, un-transphobic, and anti-capitalist all the time. Some people find these rigorous demands uplifting, just as some people are inspired by the words of Jesus to become monks or missionaries. But for most of us, unreachable moral demands must be softened with warmth and humor. Just as we dislike humorless, scolding preachers, we dislike humorless, scolding fighters for justice. And Hillary strikes many, many Americans as exactly that, a humorless, scolding feminist crusader. Of course some people feel that way about her because they want license to be sexist, racist pigs and resent anyone who tells them otherwise. But that doesn't get you to the 57% of Americans who dislike Hillary. Millions of ordinary, ok people, even people who believe in everything Hillary believes in, are put off by her manner, as if they expect her to scowl at them for going shoe shopping instead of launching a voter registration drive.

Personally I don't think that Hillary is really like that; I think she just lacks the social skills to overcome the stereotype that has clung to her. But between the obvious ambition and the un-humorous feminism, she has a mountain of personal issues to overcome before winning over votes.

Monday, May 23, 2016


From 15th-century Florence, by the "Master of the Riccardiana Lactantius." In the Met.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Jennifer Esseiva, Miscanti Lagoon, Chile

From National Geographic.


The brain is weird:
Rationalists complain that most people are too willing to make excuses for their positions, and too unwilling to abandon those positions for ones that better fit the evidence. And most people really are pretty bad at this. But certain stroke victims called anosognosiacs are much, much worse.

Anosognosia is the condition of not being aware of your own disabilities. To be clear, we're not talking minor disabilities here, the sort that only show up during a comprehensive clinical exam. We're talking paralysis or even blindness. Things that should be pretty hard to miss.

Take the example of the woman discussed in Lishman's Organic Psychiatry. After a right-hemisphere stroke, she lost movement in her left arm but continuously denied it. When the doctor asked her to move her arm, and she observed it not moving, she claimed that it wasn't actually her arm, it was her daughter's. Why was her daughter's arm attached to her shoulder? The patient claimed her daughter had been there in the bed with her all week. Why was her wedding ring on her daughter's hand? The patient said her daughter had borrowed it. Where was the patient's arm? The patient "turned her head and searched in a bemused way over her left shoulder".

Why won't these patients admit they're paralyzed, and what are the implications for neurotypical humans? Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran, leading neuroscientist and current holder of the world land-speed record for hypothesis generation, has a theory. . . .

So what's Dr. Ramachandran's solution? He posits two different reasoning modules located in the two different hemispheres. The left brain tries to fit the data to the theory to preserve a coherent internal narrative and prevent a person from jumping back and forth between conclusions upon each new data point. It is primarily an apologist, there to explain why any experience is exactly what its own theory would have predicted. The right brain is the seat of the second virtue. When it's had enough of the left-brain's confabulating, it initiates a Kuhnian paradigm shift to a completely new narrative. Ramachandran describes it as "a left-wing revolutionary".

Normally these two systems work in balance. But if a stroke takes the revolutionary offline, the brain loses its ability to change its mind about anything significant. If your left arm was working before your stroke, the little voice that ought to tell you it might be time to reject the "left arm works fine" theory goes silent. The only one left is the poor apologist, who must tirelessly invent stranger and stranger excuses for why all the facts really fit the "left arm works fine" theory perfectly well.
That the brain has one module for defending our existing beliefs, and a second one for occasionally modifying those beliefs in the light of new evidence, is immediately compelling to me. To me the two processes feel very different: expounding my existing beliefs is something I can do by rote without really engaging my reasoning apparatus to any great degree. But in the face of a significant attack, my mind has to go into another gear and really start thinking about what is the truth here. I could swear I have felt this shift from routine discourse to real analysis take place.

And of course all the people I have told this to say "That explains Republicans!" or whatever group it is they are tired of arguing with.

But wait, there's more:
It gets weirder. For some reason, squirting cold water into the left ear canal wakes up the revolutionary. Maybe the intense sensory input from an unexpected source makes the right hemisphere unusually aroused. Maybe distorting the balance sense causes the eyes to move rapidly, activating a latent system for inter-hemisphere co-ordination usually restricted to REM sleep. In any case, a patient who has been denying paralysis for weeks or months will, upon having cold water placed in the ear, admit to paralysis, admit to having been paralyzed the past few weeks or months, and express bewilderment at having ever denied such an obvious fact. And then the effect wears off, and the patient not only denies the paralysis but denies ever having admitted to it.
A bizarre result that, of course, inspires fantasies of squirting water into our enemies' ears:
My mouth is still agape at that whole cold-water-in-the-ear trick. I have this fantasy of gathering all the leading creationists together and squirting ice cold water in each of their left ears. All of a sudden, one and all, they admit their mistakes, and express bafflement at ever having believed such nonsense. And then ten minutes later the effect wears off, and they're all back to talking about irreducible complexity or whatever. I don't mind. I've already run off to upload the video to YouTube.

Philosophers at Starbucks

Parmenides goes up to the counter. “Same as always?” asks the barista. Parmenides nods.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel goes up to the counter and gives a tremendously long custom order in German, specifying exactly how much of each sort of syrup he wants, various espresso shots, cream in exactly the right pattern, and a bunch of toppings, all added in a specific order at a specific temperature. The barista can’t follow him, so just gives up and hands him a small plain coffee. He walks away. The people behind him in line are very impressed with his apparent expertise, and they all order the same thing Hegel got. The barista gives each of them a small plain coffee, and they all remark on how delicious it tastes and what a remarkable coffee connoisseur that Hegel is. “The Hegel” becomes a new Starbucks special and is wildly popular for the next seventy years.
Lots more here.

Floating Solar

The latest wrinkle in the ongoing solar boom is the installation of solar panels on reservoirs and other artificial lakes and ponds.
Floating solar arrays — they are often referred to as “floatovoltaics,” a term trademarked by one company — also have advantages over solar plants on land, their proponents say. Renting or buying land is more expensive, and there are fewer regulations for structures built on reservoirs, water treatment ponds and other bodies of water not used for recreation. . . .

The floating arrays have other assets. They help keep water from evaporating, making the technology attractive in drought-plagued areas, and restrict algae blooms. And they are more efficient than land-based panels, because water cools the panels.

“The efficiencies are what motivated us to look at this,” said Rajesh Nellore, chief executive officer of Infratech Industries, which has completed the first section of a floating solar plant in Jamestown, Australia, that will eventually cover five water treatment basins. The installation, which went into operation last year, generates up to 57 percent more energy than a rooftop solar plant.
Plus they don't cover lovely hills with solar panels.

The main possible downside would be cutting off the sunlight reaching the lake, leading to its death. Gaining solar power but losing a lot of photosynthesizing algae might be a dubious trade-off. But apparently these lakes are still living and productive, as long as their surfaces are only partially covered. Something to watch, though.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Art Nouveau Months

These come from the German magazine Kunst und Kunsthandwerk (Art and Craft), from the year 1898. Sadly the artist is not identified. Via Rivers of Europe.

Above, table of contents from the October issue. Below, cover of the magazine.

Gerhard Emmoser, Celestial Globe, 1579

Clockwork globe, made in Vienna. In the Met.


Almost ready to leave the nest. With roses all around them.

Obama's Vision

In the latest New Yorker, Adam Gopnik takes notes of the recent speeches and interviews in which Obama has laid out his vision of democracy:
His words have been varied, but his purpose has been consistent and his point simple: liberalism isn’t centrism. It isn’t a way of splitting the differences between two sides, and finding an acceptable soft middle. Liberalism of the kind he practices, the President has been saying, is the most truly radical of ideologies, inasmuch as it proposes a change, makes it happen, and then makes it last. Someone proposes a more equitable world—the enfranchisement of working people, or of African-Americans, or of women, or marital rights for homosexuals—and then makes it endure by assuring those who oppose it that, while they may have lost the fight, they haven’t lost their dignity, their autonomy, or their chance to adapt to the change without fearing the loss of all their agency. “The civil-rights movement happened because there was civil disobedience, because people were willing to go to jail, because there were events like Bloody Sunday,” Obama told Stephanopoulos. “But it was also because the leadership of the movement consistently stayed open to the possibility of reconciliation, and sought to understand the views—even views that were appalling to them—of the other side.” Liberalism is a belief in radical change made through practical measures.

In the interview with Maron, the President, confronting frustrations with the fact that he wasn’t able to alter the world with the wave of a rhetorical wand, offered an alternative view of how big democratic societies work. They are, he said, like ocean liners: you turn the wheel slowly, and the big ship pivots. “Sometimes your job is just to make stuff work,” Obama said. “Sometimes the task of government is to make incremental improvements or try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that, ten years from now, suddenly we’re in a very different place than we were. At the moment, people may feel like we need a fifty-degree turn; we don’t need a two-degree turn. And you say, ‘Well, if I turn fifty degrees, the whole ship turns over’.” Note that the President wasn’t saying that big ships aren’t worth turning, just that it takes time. Their very bigness is what makes them turn slowly, but their bigness is also what makes them worth turning.

Beneath this pragmatism lies a deeper understanding that humanity is various, that the changes we work for will never be universally accepted, and the test of our politics is extending sympathy to those who seem to stand in the way. . . .

Obama’s liberalism is not therapeutic. You don’t listen to others to make them feel better. You listen because without their cooperation, or at least their tacit acceptance of the moral urgency of change, that long arc won’t bend and progress won’t happen. Your opponents have to understand that reform, even if it makes their fixations unsustainable, will not make their lives unlivable. Freedom didn’t happen because your opponents saw the light. It happened because they no longer found it necessary to live in the dark. Their hands may never move toward a candle, but their eyes adjust. Allowing for the adjustment and the time that it takes is part of the intelligence of politics.

What we have passed through in these eight years is perhaps much larger than we know. (When an ocean liner changes course, the people on deck are often the last to notice.) An African-American President in a nation long ruled by the rage over race, a potential female President at hand: these are big changes, even though made slowly. Of course, the case for evolutionary change can suddenly seem futile, even Pyrrhic, when we spy a meteor hurtling toward Earth, threatening an extinction event for incremental improvement of all kinds. This may give the President’s words an added pathos, but it leaves them no less true.
I think "Liberalism is a belief in radical change through practical measures" gets very close to the heart of my own politics.

Trump as a Regular Republican

Trump has been surging in national polls lately mainly because Republicans have unified behind him:
Gallup has been tracking the candidates’ images among their own partisans — and interviews over the past week, conducted May 12-18, find Trump as popular among Republicans (65 percent favorable/30 percent unfavorable) as Clinton is among Democrats (66 percent favorable/29 percent unfavorable). 
There is also news that Trump's transition team – the people tasked with staffing the White House and cabinet should he win – is "reaching out to" veterans of Romney's transition team, including former Utah governor Mike Leavitt.

Most Republicans outside Washington sense that Trump is enough of a generic Republican for them to support him over any Democrat. Republicans inside Washington remain divided, but more and more of them seem to be reconciling themselves to the notion of a Trump administration, I suspect because they think real power would rest with Republican veterans in posts like Chief of Staff or National Security Adviser. There are Republicans sworn to never vote for Trump, but whether there are more than a handful of them remains to be seen.

Of course Hillary is pretty close to a generic Democrat. Which means that the election is shaping up to be a pretty normal election. Early polls show the same basic map, with the same states strong for one side or the other and the same battleground states in contention. Personally I think this gives the advantage to Hillary. The maps seems on the whole to favor the Democrat, the country is only getting more diverse, and she should get the same very high margins among blacks, Latinos and Asians as Obama. Plus she is going to have a billion dollars to hammer him with negative ads and tons of material to work with; whereas it looks like enough of the top Republican money men are going to sit out the Trump campaign to leave him short of funds.

But I still say that Democratic fantasies of some kind of landslide sweep are wrong.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Walking on the Once Forbidden Grass

In Jackson Heights, Queens, a strange war over the grass is drawing to a close:
At the end of a pitched battle that lasted nearly a decade, residents of the Hawthorne Court, a 14-building apartment complex with an expansive landscaped backyard, can now walk on the grass. The 140-unit co-op was one of the last holdouts among a distinctive group of residences in this historic district of north-central Queens to lift its grass-walking ban.

These apartment buildings were designed starting in the early 20th century by the Queensboro Corporation, with buildings that surround blocklong interior green spaces. For years, many of the co-ops mandated that the backyard be reserved for quiet contemplation. Reading a book or strolling the grounds was allowed so long as residents kept off the grass and stuck to designated walkways and benches. The lawn was not to be disturbed.

But over the last decade, a new wave of buyers moved into Jackson Heights, often paying significantly more than those who came before them, and bringing different ideas about how the gardens should be used. In one camp were the longtime residents who wished to preserve the tranquil nature of the gardens. In the other were the newcomers, primarily families with young children, who wanted to roll out picnic blankets and let their children run on the grass. Heated discussions of whether the latter should be permitted transpired, and rules were eventually loosened.
Keep Off the Grass signs are, to me, one of the most offensive violations of freedom dreamed up by the order fanatics. In the immortal words of Stranger in a Strange Land, it is in the karma of grass to be walked on. And, I would add, in the karma of children to run and play on it.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

In the Garden

Catching up on what happened while I was up in Massachusetts. Above, the robin babies getting bigger. Below, irises.

Returning Soldiers and a Divided America

Sebastien Junger has published a book expanding on an argument he first made last year: that our returning soldiers suffer not so much from combat fatigue as the dramatic contrast between the camaraderie of military life and the anomie of contemporary America:
After months of combat, during which “soldiers all but ignore differences of race, religion and politics within their platoon,” they return to the United States to find “a society that is basically at war with itself. People speak with incredible contempt about — depending on their views — the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign-born, the president or the entire U.S. government.”

It’s a formula for deep despair. “Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country,” he writes, “they’re not sure how to live for it.” . . .

Mr. Junger’s premise is simple: Modern civilization may be swell, giving us unimaginable autonomy and material bounty. But it has also deprived us of the psychologically invaluable sense of community and interdependence that we hominids enjoyed for millions of years. It is only during moments of great adversity that we come together and enjoy that kind of fellowship — which may explain why, paradoxically, we thrive during those moments.

War, too, for all of its brutality and ugliness, satisfies some of our deepest evolutionary yearnings for connectedness. Platoons are like tribes. They give soldiers a chance to demonstrate their valor and loyalty, to work cooperatively, to show utter selflessness. Is it any wonder that so many of them say they miss the action when they come home? . . .

Our veterans re-enter an unstable working class. They are awkwardly thanked by strangers for their service — which, as Mr. Junger ruefully observes, only highlights the schism between the few who have served and the great many who have not. And instead of jobs, they are offered lifelong disability.

Soldiers go from a world in which they’re united, interconnected and indispensable to one in which they’re isolated, without purpose, and bombarded with images of politicians and civilians screaming at one another on TV.

“How,” Mr. Junger asks, “do you make veterans feel that they are returning to a cohesive society that was worth fighting for in the first place?”
This brings me back to a comment David made yesterday: given that Americans are so fundamentally divided against each other, is it worth trying to keep the country together? I have lately heard several people arguing for a more relaxed national system and more power for the states, so that each community can be governed as it wants. I am not attracted to this notion, because I think that any unit large enough to function in the modern age is going to be highly diverse. Up here in the blue northeast we tend to think of Georgia and Texas as conservative southern states with a sort of unified outlook, but of course that isn't really true. Both have large black and Hispanic populations and both contain millions of liberals. It's just that with the country as a whole so closely divided in politics, a state that is 66% Republican seems unified by comparison.

I think we are stuck with our divisions. But I do wish we were more polite about them. Which is why I regard Donald Trump as such a danger and am increasingly frustrated with Bernie Sanders.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Josh Marshall is Fed Up with Bernie Sanders

As the chance that Bernie Sanders might win the Democratic nomination gets more and more infinitesimal, his rhetoric gets ever more angry and less conciliatory. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has had enough. Yesterday:
With this new blow-up over whatever happened over the weekend in Nevada we see the real and even dire consequences of lying to your supporters. The Sanders campaign, especially campaign manager Jeff Weaver, has been saying for weeks that Sanders can still win and that the system is 'rigged' against Sanders. But the situation in Nevada is really a microcosm of the dynamic I described last month: to the extent the system is 'rigged', it's mainly rigged in Sanders' favor. . . .

The Sanders campaign and particularly the supporters in Nevada are claiming that the Nevada party bosses deprived them of 'democracy' over the weekend. The reality is that the Sanders folks were trying to overturn the outcome of the election. You can do that in the current system. It's not cheating. But if your banner is 'democracy' and 'transparency' you just haven't got jack.

As I said in the lede, this is the problem with lying to your supporters. Losing is hard. If you pump people up with bogus arguments that they're losing because they got cheated and the system was rigged, you get people who are really angry, genuinely angry, even though they're upset that their efforts to reverse the result of the actual election didn't work.
And then today:
For months I'd thought and written that Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver was the key driver of toxicity in the the Democratic primary race. Weaver has been highly visible on television, far more than campaign managers tend to be. He's also been the one constantly upping the tension, pressing the acrimony and unrealism of the campaign as Sanders actual chances of winning dwindled.

But now I realize I had that wrong.

Actually, I didn't realize it. People who know told me.

Over the last several weeks I've had a series of conversations with multiple highly knowledgable, highly placed people. Perhaps it's coming from Weaver too. The two guys have been together for decades. But the 'burn it down' attitude, the upping the ante, everything we saw in that statement released today by the campaign seems to be coming from Sanders himself. Right from the top. . . .

This might be because he's temperamentally like that. There's some evidence for that. It may also be that, like many other presidential contenders, once you get close it is simply impossible to let go. I don't know which it is. That would only be my speculation. But this is coming from Bernie Sanders. It's not Weaver. It's not driven by people around him. It's right from him. And what I understand from knowledgable sources is that in the last few weeks anyone who was trying to rein it in has basically stopped trying and just decided to let Bernie be Bernie.

Sanders speech tonight was right in line with his statement out this afternoon. He identified the Democratic party as an essentially corrupt, moribund institution which is now on notice that it must let 'the people' in. What about the coalitions Barack Obama built in 2008 and 2012, the biggest and most diverse presidential coalitions ever constructed?

Sanders narrative today has essentially been that he is political legitimacy. The Democratic party needs to realize that. This, as I said earlier, is the problem with lying to your supporters. Sanders is telling his supporters that he can still win, which he can't. He's suggesting that the win is being stolen by a corrupt establishment, an impression which will be validated when his phony prediction turns out not to be true. Lying like this sets you up for stuff like happened over the weekend in Nevada.

As I said, it all comes from the very top.
This whole "Hillary is a crook and the system is rigged" theme is flat out wrong; Hillary is winning because she has gotten 2.5 million more votes than Bernie. That's all there is to it. But it's much worse than just an error or even a lie. In the short term it plays right into Trump's hands, making for him the only argument that has a chance of helping him. In the long term it feeds Americans' frustration with democracy. Bernie loves to talk about democracy but I believe that right now his campaign is an actual danger to the future of the American version. People vote because they think elections matter; if Bernie can persuade millions that their votes aren't being counted because the system is rigged, many of them may never vote again. It's a tragedy in the making.

Bernie, you lost fair and square. Give it up.

Anatolian Copper Chariot Model, 2500 to 2000 BCE

Could be yours for 65,000 Euros. 39 cm long (15 inches)

Everybody is Frustrated with American Politics

Americans are frustrated with politics. This comes out in every poll anybody takes; the sense that America is "on the wrong tract" has much more to do with politics than economics. But why?

Well, for one thing, the country seems to be very closely divided in politics, so neither the right nor the left is really getting what it wants. For another, many people think the system is controlled by big money and lobbyists. This last, though, may not really be true. For example, the Koch brothers have been talking about getting out of politics because they are getting so little return for what they have spent. They were especially angry that after spending so much to help the Republicans take over both the House and the Senate they couldn't even get rid of the Export/Import Bank.

Matt Yglesias summarizes the findings of a fat book by some political scientists that tried to analyze the impact of outside spending on the legislative process:
What Baumgartner et al. find is that across a broad range of issues, the public's fear that whichever side spends more will carry the day in Congress is misplaced. Resources spent statistically explain less than 5 percent of the variation in policy outcomes.

But this holds for the boring and not-that-uplifting reason that the system embeds massive bias toward the status quo. Whichever side fights to not change things tends to win, regardless of who spent more money.
The American political system is just set up to make it very hard to change anything, so if there is any controversy, the general outcome is that nothing happens. And this helps to explain this interesting finding:
In a country whose politics are increasingly driven by principles-based ideological activists, a constitutional structure that makes it hard for anyone to prevail is a recipe for anger and frustration. A revealing 2015 Pew poll showed that Democrats feel their side is "losing" in politics by a 52-40 margin, while Republicans also feel their side is losing, by an even larger 79-14 margin.

Maybe You Don't Want to Know Your Neighbors

Today's least surprising news story:
One message on the web forum asked neighbors to be on the lookout for “two young African Americans, slim, baggy pants, early 20s.” Another warned of a “light skinned black female” walking her dog and talking on her cellphone.

“I don’t recognize her,” the post read. “Has anyone described any suspect of crime like her?”

These postings appeared on the Oakland forums of, a website intended to be a virtual neighborhood hangout for the tens of thousands of neighborhoods and hundreds of local police departments that use it to communicate with residents. The site’s chief executive and co-founder, Nirav Tolia, describes it as a place to find a babysitter, a plumber or a missing cat, and to have a “kind of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ chatter.”

But people also use it to report suspected crimes. And as Nextdoor has grown, users have complained that it has become a magnet for racial profiling, leading African-American and Latino residents to be seen as suspects in their own neighborhood.
America seems to be full of people who spend all their time peering out their windows in a fog of suspicion, fearful of anyone they don't know and especially anyone of the wrong color.

A few years ago in my safe, boring suburban neighborhood we had a great example of this. The county had built a new school, and there was no sidewalk down the other side of the street it was on. At that time the federal government had a program to fund the construction of sidewalks near schools, so the county could have gotten the sidewalk built for free. They also had an easement already in place, written into the deeds of this subdivision. But when they held a public meeting dozens of people showed up to protest. According to a friend of mine who was there, most were worried that the sidewalk would entice dangerous strangers to walk down the street. "We've already got enough criminals around here," said one, "we don't need any more." So the county gave up.