Thursday, December 2, 2021

#336 / Losing (And Gaining) At The Calorie Casino

 

The End of Craving, a book by Mark Schatzker, tells us why we "can't eat just one." It follows up on Schatzker's earlier book, The Dorito Effect
 
The End of Craving was recently reviewed in The Wall Street Journal's "Bookshelf" column by Matthew Rees. This is not the same Matthew Rees, by the way, who is a union rugby footballer currently playing for the Cardiff Blues. 
 
I haven't read The End of Craving, but the Rees' review definitely gives us the highlights:

Why has the incidence of obesity—contributing to disease and early death—been creeping dangerously upward in virtually all the world’s countries for the past several decades? More specifically, why does the United States have an adult obesity rate, 42%, that is the highest in the world outside a few small nations?
The simple answer is that people are eating larger quantities of unhealthy food and smaller quantities of the food that’s good for them. But precisely why have dietary patterns changed so much for the worse? In “The End of Craving,” Mark Schatzker, author of “The Dorito Effect” (2015), shrewdly looks into the matter, presenting, among much else, laboratory studies that show how today’s foods and beverages manipulate the brain and wreak havoc on the body. 
Start with a staggering fact: 58% of calories in the American adult diet come from ultra-processed foods, 67% among children and adolescents. Such foods—prepared meats, potato chips and other snacks, really almost anything in a package—are high in sugar, salt or fat. Many also contain a witch’s brew of ingredients that make nutrition labels unintelligible: sucralose, methylcelluloses, saccharin, microparticulated protein, Solka-Floc, maltodextrins, carrageenan. 
Such ingredients are central to “The End of Craving.” According to Mr. Schatzker, they create “a divergence between the nutritional content the brain senses as it consumes food and the actual nutrients that arrive in the stomach.” The manipulation of nutrients “is what set so many of us on a path to weight gain.”
Mr. Schatzker aptly calls today’s food environment a “calorie casino,” in which the probabilities of nutritional value are uncertain and seemingly subject to chance while also leading people to “behave in self-destructive ways.” Drawing on the work of psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman and his collaborator Amos Tversky, Mr. Schatzker shows that when the brain experiences uncertainty, it tries to compensate by working harder and seeking more of the item that is triggering the uncertainty—an evolutionary impulse reflecting a determination to avoid loss. 
Consuming foods and beverages that have been designed to fool the brain into believing that it has received nutrition when it hasn’t, says Mr. Schatzker, stimulates a desire to consume more of them. Cravings follow, and they’re satisfied with the supersize concoctions that have become a defining—and depressing—feature of America’s food landscape. A few years ago, a study confirmed this suspicion: The portion size of entrées at U.S. fast-food outlets, in roughly the past three decades, has grown 24% (emphasis added).
 
Besides the practical advice provided by Schatzker's book - don't eat food that comes in a package - Schatzker's message highlights a more general issue that I often discuss in this blog. We live, "ultimately," in the World of Nature, but we live most "immediately" in a world that we have created ourselves. Often, we prefer "our world" because our own creations seem to promise that there is way to eliminate the constraints inherent in the natural world. We hope, by creating human substitutes for what we find in nature that we can escape the constraints imposed by the Natural World - a world we did not create and into which we have been most mysteriously born. 
 
"Ultimately," let me emphasize, there is no way to escape our radical dependence on the World of Nature. When we place our bets in the nutrition casino on foods that are "manufactured," and unnatural, we are almost certain to lose (as to health) even as we gain (as to weight). 


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Image Credit:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-end-of-craving-review-why-you-cant-eat-just-one-11635977800
 
 
 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

#335 / Unity, Unity, Unity

 

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, titled his November 5, 2021, column, "Democrats Must Confront Their Privilege." Writing just days after the Democratic Party had experienced some high-profile political setbacks, most significantly by losing the Virginia governorship, it was Brooks' thought that the Democratic Party had become the party of the "cultural elite," as opposed to the party of "the underdog." 
 
It seems to me that Brooks has put his finger on something important. Ever since the Democratic Party's failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters a "basket of deplorables" (that comment helping to fry her presidential prospects), an implicit claim by high-level Democratic Party leaders that Democrats are, morally speaking, somehow a "cut above" those who don't support them has haunted the party's political efforts.
 
For example, in a remark that seemed to harmonize with Clinton's holier-than-thou approach to those who differed with her political priorities, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe told parents who were concerned about what kind of subjects were being taught in Virginia schools that he didn't think "parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” 
 
As someone with twenty-years of experience as an elected official, having been elected five times (at the local level, of course), it has been my observation that telling your constituents that you know more than they do is never a winning political strategy.
 
Brooks does suggest what he thinks would be a winning strategy for the Democrats. Here it is:

Democrats need a positive moral vision that would start by rejecting the idea that we are locked into incessant conflict along class, cultural, racial and ideological lines. It would reject all the appurtenances of the culture warrior pose — the us/them thinking, exaggerating the malevolence of the other half of the country, relying on crude essentialist stereotypes to categorize yourself and others. 
It would instead offer a vision of unity, unity, unity. That unity is based on a recognition of the complex humanity of each person — that each person is in the act of creating a meaningful life. It would reject racism, the ultimate dehumanizing force, but also reject any act that seeks to control the marketplace of ideas or intimidate those with opposing views. It would reject ideas and movements that seek to reduce complex humans to their group identities. It would stand for racial, economic and ideological integration, and against separatism, criticizing, for example, the way conservatives are often shut out from elite cultural institutions (emphasis added). 
 
As I say, I do think that Brooks is putting his finger on an important truth. Here's the way I most often put it: "We are all in this together." 

That is true, you know. We are "in it together," and we are not just a bunch of individuals. Whatever your individual (or partisan) views might be, you and I all in the same "basket." If you don't want to think "baskets," think "frogs in a pot." We are all going to be cooked unless we can get it together and figure out, collectively, how to move on to better arrangements. It is about time that we started acknowledging that, too, Democrats and Republicans alike. 
 
If you are the kind of person who might give some credence to one of our revered founding fathers, then listen to the message the way Ben Franklin put it: 
 
We are either going to hang together, or we most assuredly are going to hang separately!

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Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/04/opinion/democrats-culture-wars.html
 
 
 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

#334 / Houston....

 

Pictured is the cover of the September 2021, edition of Desert Report, "news of the desert from Sierra Club California & Nevada Desert Committee." I believe that anyone who is concerned about the natural environment should think seriously about making a donation and subscribing. This publication is always exceptionally informative and is sometimes inspirational. 

When I saw the cover on the September edition, I knew exactly what that legend on the top was intended to say. The phrase is famous: "Houston, we have a problem." I guess, taking Wikipedia as an authority, the famous "quote" is really a "misquote." You can click the link if you'd like to pursue that line of inquiry.
 
When I looked at the cover I had a little problem with the word "have." I knew what that word was supposed to be ("have"), but the "v" didn't translate as a "v," as my eyes took it in. It looked like an "r" to me. 
 
"Houston, we hare a problem" doesn't make any sense. Another reason to be sure that what my eyes saw as "hare" should actually register as "have." Still, since my eyes continued to see "hare," I really contemplated two alternative possibilities. First (the right answer, of course), is that the cover properly reprinted the famous quote (or "misquote"), and that third letter was really a "v," not an "r." Second, though, maybe there was a printing error, and an unwanted "h" was added, and the word "hare" on the cover was really supposed to be "are." That would mean that the magazine intended to say the following, in the dark of space surrounding our very lovely planet:

Houston, we are a problem. 

You can see how I became confused. That's so true!
 

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Image Credit:
https://desertreport.org/category/issues/
 
 
 

Monday, November 29, 2021

#333 / What Soros Said

 

Here is what Wikipedia says about George Soros (just in case you don't already have a pretty good idea):
 

George Soros, who was born György Schwartz on August 12, 1930, is a Hungarian-born American billionaire investor and philanthropist. As of March 2021, Soros had a personal net worth of $8.6 billion, having already donated more than $32 billion to The Open Society Foundations. Of the amount that Soros has donated, $15 billion has already been distributed, representing 64% of Soros' original fortune. This makes Soros "the most generous giver" (in terms of percentage of net worth) according to Forbes.

 
Because a lot of Soros' political and charitable giving has gone to the Democratic Party, and to "progressive" type causes (like efforts to legalize marijuana), Soros is the billionaire that the right wing loves to hate. For those on the progressive side of the political divide, Soros might be thought of as "our billionaire." 
 
I was impressed by an opinion piece, authored by Soros, that showed up in the August 14-15, 2021, edition of The Wall Street Journal. Soros' article was titled, "Xi's Dictatorship Threatens the Chinese State." I am not sure whether or not a paywall will make that article unreadable by non-subscribers, but if you would like to read the entire argument, click the link and see what you can find. 

Here are the opening paragraphs, with one statement highlighted in bold:

Xi Jinping, the ruler of China, suffers from several internal inconsistencies which greatly reduce the cohesion and effectiveness of his leadership. There is a conflict between his beliefs and his actions and between his public declarations of wanting to make China a superpower and his behavior as a domestic ruler. These internal contradictions have revealed themselves in the context of the growing conflict between the U.S. and China. 
At the heart of this conflict is the reality that the two nations represent systems of governance that are diametrically opposed. The U.S. stands for a democratic, open society in which the role of the government is to protect the freedom of the individual. Mr. Xi believes Mao Zedong invented a superior form of organization, which he is carrying on: a totalitarian closed society in which the individual is subordinated to the one-party state. It is superior, in this view, because it is more disciplined, stronger and therefore bound to prevail in a contest. 
Relations between China and the U.S. are rapidly deteriorating and may lead to war. Mr. Xi has made clear that he intends to take possession of Taiwan within the next decade, and he is increasing China’s military capacity accordingly. 
He also faces an important domestic hurdle in 2022, when he intends to break the established system of succession to remain president for life. He feels that he needs at least another decade to concentrate the power of the one-party state and its military in his own hands. He knows that his plan has many enemies, and he wants to make sure they won’t have the ability to resist him (emphasis added).
 
I appreciated Soros' commentary because there are all too many people who believe - as Xi is said to believe - that "democracy" is inherently incapable - or certainly less capable - of the kind of "discipline" that is sometimes needed to address collective crises, or to achieve community or collective goals. If "democracy" is thought to mean that our society ought to be governed so as to let the self-serving interests and ambitions of every individual person predominate, no matter what would be best for us overall, then it is obvious that such a "democracy" would be at a profound disadvantage in achieving collective or community objectives.
 
There is a fallacy, however, in that view of "democracy." The fallacy is in thinking that we, looked at in our totality, are nothing more than a collection of individuals, each individual devoted to his or her own personal advancement and self-aggrandizement. But this is not who "we" actually are. We are individuals, of course! But we are not only individuals. While separate, we are part of a greater whole. We are "in this together," and we know it. To the degree that we lose that appreciation of our common future and our common fate, then we will, indeed, go down in the flood, as Xi is said to anticipate. 

But if that is not true, and if we remain clear that we share a common world and a common destiny, and that our "plurality," our "diversity" as individuals, is a "feature, not a bug," then it is clear that to allow individuals the scope and ability to provide leadership, and to rally others to collective action, makes that kind of genuine "democracy" far stronger than a system in which only a very few people (and ultimately only one person) can suggest actions, and solutions, and call us all into a unified and collective effort.

The fallacy is to think that "democracy" should be analyzed as some sort of "economic" order, focusing on individual activities. "Democracy" is a political category, and our understanding of democracy must place it in its proper, political dimension. We are not individuals, but citizens, and in a democracy, citizens do not operate as atomized, unconnected individual units, but in small (and ever larger) groups, bound to the overall community that sustains us all. 

Let's not forget that quintessential American phrase, found on the back of our dollar bill: "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one. Out of our "diversity," or "plurality," as Hannah Arendt would say, comes a unity that brings us all together.  

When we have genuinely embraced democracy, which means that we have embraced that "plurality" that is the essence of the human condition, we are then best able, together, to create that "New Order in the World" that is also mentioned on our dollar bill. 

You don't need billions of those dollar bills to get the message, either!
 

 

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Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.wsj.com/articles/xi-jinping-deng-xiaoping-dictatorship-ant-didi-economy-communist-party-beijing-authoritarian-11628885076 
(2) - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:United_States_one_dollar_bill,_reverse.jpg
 
 
 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

#332 / Handwritten

 

Bria East, pictured above, is an educator in Philadelphia. According to The New York Times, she was inspired to vote after hearing from a volunteer with the group Vote Forward.
 
Vote Forward is attempting to make democracy work. As its website notes, "Writing letters to voters is one of the most effective ways to help increase election turnout. And you can do it right from home!"
 
I frequently urge those who might be reading these blog postings to realize that there is a great deal of merit in "Talking With Strangers." I never tire of suggesting that we are "all in this together," and that we should act as though we understand that. 
 
Sending a handwritten letter to someone we don't know, personally, but whom we do know is a person with whom we are "in this together," is certainly a great way to follow up on my blog-posted advisories. One of my blog-reading friends alerted me to the article in The Times. Vote Forward is now on my horizon line.

Please note that this handwritten approach to political and social action is not available in the "Metaverse" that I mentioned in my blog posting yesterday. Let's take off our goggles, and go make some new friends in the real world.
 
Write them a letter. 
 
Handwritten!


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Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/28/us/politics/vote-forward-letter.html
 
 
 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

#331 / Meta

 

That Mark Zuckerberg is restructuring his company, Facebook, as part of an effort to get "beyond" the place in which he and the company currently find themselves, is old news by now. The image above was gleaned from an article in the October 29, 2021, edition of The New York Times. If you have the credentials to slip past The Times' paywall, you can read the entire article by clicking the following link. The article is titled, "The Metaverse Is Mark Zuckerberg’s Escape Hatch."

"Meta" is defined as meaning "situated behind or beyond," and Zuckerberg defines his "Metaverse" as "a clean, well-lit virtual world, entered with virtual and augmented reality hardware at first and more advanced body sensors later on, in which people can play virtual games, attend virtual concerts, go shopping for virtual goods, collect virtual art, hang out with each others’ virtual avatars and attend virtual work meetings."

Whether Zuckerberg's reconfiguration of Facebook's corporate structure will fend off further efforts to hold Zuckerberg and Facebook accountable for the business decisions that Zuckerberg and Facebook have made is yet to be determined. The so-called "Facebook Papers," the internal corporate documents made public by Frances Haugen, raise a lot of questions. Time will tell whether renaming the company will make critics, including Members of Congress and other official types, disappear. I tend to think it probably won't. 

The question I would like to raise here, however, is a different one. I want to question whether Zuckerberg's "Metaverse" is going to be a space that people will actually want to inhabit. One blogger, whose blog is titled, "We Live In The Natural World," has already decided that he wants no part of it. As he says, "If the future of the real world, the natural world, is to be replaced by this proposed faux, digital, 3D simulacrum of life, I’m glad I won’t live long enough to see its arrival."

At any rate, I would like us to think about what this "Metaverse" really implies. 
 
I am fond of touting my "Two Worlds Hypothesis," which suggests that we can learn important lessons by understanding "the world" as really being "two worlds," the World of Nature, a world that preexists our own appearance on the scene, and the "Human World," which is the world that we (human beings) have constructed within the World of Nature. We live most "immediately" in the Human World, but "ultimately," we live in and depend upon the World of Nature - just as that "We Live In The Natural World" blog says. How then, does the "Metaverse" fit into this way of understanding our human situation?
 
The "Metaverse" is clearly part of the "Human World," because it is a human creation. However, most of the "Human World" is actually tightly integrated with the World of Nature. That is one reason that some people resist the idea that we should conceptualize our existence as being placed in "two worlds." After all, our homes are built out of materials found in Nature. If we walk on city streets, or country roads, we will hear, smell, and see that "World of Nature" upon which everything ultimately depends. Not so in the "Metaverse." 
 
The "Metaverse," sometimes called "Augmented Reality," is completely synthetic and artificial. It is the opposite of "reality." While we are wearing the goggles, or while we look through the AR glasses that provide an entry into the "Metaverse," everything we see is a simulacrum of the "reality" that is that combination of Nature and human effort that constitutes the world in which we most immediately live. The "Metaverse" is a next step towards a world in which Nature has no place at all. One tip off is that his "Metaverse" is going to be "clean and well-lit." The dirty secrets and dark corners of the human-nature amalgam that constitutes our current reality are eliminated. The "Metaverse" is - not only for Zuckerberg, but for everyone who is willing to follow him there - a kind of "escape hatch."

I would like to suggest that trying to escape our current reality (a composite reality, in the way I see it) is not a good thing. The promises of the "Metaverse" are built on the idea that we can truly escape the World of Nature, the world of constraints, the world of dark corners and dirty secrets, that are the ultimate reality that we may try to avoid confronting, but which world, in fact, is our true home. 

Trying to "escape" the world we have, with all its problems and difficulties, is the very most certain way to insure that we will have more of both.


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Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/29/technology/meta-facebook-zuckerberg.html
 
 
 

Friday, November 26, 2021

#330 / Alice's Restaurant

 

Thanksgiving was yesterday, and that's a long-ago picture of Arlo Guthrie, above. Thanksgiving and Arlo Guthrie go together, and if you click this link, you'll be connected up with the Whalebone website, where Lenny Falcone makes clear that the story of "Alice's Restaurant" is a story founded on fact. 

Yesterday, thanks to a Facebook Friend who posted the original version of the song on her Facebook page, I listened to "Alice's Restaurant" once again, and I ended up in tears. 
 
Way back then, I went to one of those induction centers, as featured in the song, and refused to step forward. I had not then heard of the "Alice's Restaurant" alternative, but I knew that any alternative to going into the armed forces to kill people would have to be my choice. I realized, yesterday, hearing the song once again, that Arlo Guthrie sang his song not only with lots of humor, but with a great, immense hope, and I realized how wonderful it was that Guthrie's song, and people who chose to resist the draft, were able to shut down the conscription system - probably for good. 

But (and this is the thought that brought on the tears) despite all that great work, despite the fact that we have stopped the military draft, we still haven't stopped our organized American efforts to kill others, abroad, and all around the world. That means, I think, we are going to have to search out some sort of new song, because if there is any one lesson from "Alice's Restaurant," it is that you don't throw new garbage on top of garbage left out there from sometime ago. Ultimately, we're going to have to clean up the garbage, and it's best not to add to the pile.
 
Even one day after Thanksgiving, it's still good to listen to the song. So, here it is:
 

 
Image Credit:
https://whalebonemag.com/arlo-guthrie-howard-beach-thanksgiving/


Thursday, November 25, 2021

#329 / Thanksgiving, 2021

 

The Thanksgiving photo above is from 2012. That's my daughter, Sonya, and my grandchildren Dylan and Delaney. Dylan and Delaney are a lot older now - and now there is Jay, too! As I searched among my personal photos for an image for today's blog posting, this was the only photo I could find that depicted an actual Thanksgiving Day meal at our house. In fact, of course, this photo provides only a post-meal image. We have eaten, it is pretty clear, and it doesn't look like there is very much left. 
 
The earliest Thanksgiving Day for which I could find a personal photo is our family Thanksgiving in 2009. On that Thanksgiving, and on every one thereafter, up until 2020, the pictures I have collected show us out on a family hike. We will be out on a family hike today, too, extremely grateful for food, family, and the wondrous beauty of the Natural World. 
 
For many, those blessings that I list here are problematic, on this and every other day. 
 
May the blessings we enjoy tender our hearts towards those less fortunate than we. Cannot we resolve now, even in advance of that annual moment of resolutions, celebrated as a new year begins, to share more, do more, care more, every day from this day on, until Thanksgiving Day next year? I know we can, and we must do that, just as we must make the fundamental changes in our society and economics that Greta Thunberg has called for, and that I wrote about a couple of days ago. 


Our 2020 Thanksgiving hike to the Fern Grotto at Wilder Ranch.

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Image Credits:
Gary A. Patton personal photos
 
 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

#328 / It Is Not A Secret

 
 
 
 
It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure.

It should be obvious that we cannot solve a crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place. And more and more people are starting to realize this.

Many are starting to ask themselves, “What will it take for the people in power to wake up?” But let’s be clear: They are already awake.

They know exactly what they are doing. They know exactly what priceless values they are sacrificing to maintain business as usual. The leaders are not doing nothing; they are actively creating loopholes and shaping frameworks to benefit themselves and to continue profiting from this destructive system
 
This is an active choice by the leaders to continue to let the exploitation of people and nature and the destruction of present and future living conditions to take place.
 
The COP has turned into a PR event where leaders are giving beautiful speeches and announcing fancy commitments and targets, while behind the curtains the governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action.

It seems like their main goal is to continue to fight for the status quo. And COP26 has been named the most exclusionary COP ever. This is not a conference. This is now a Global North greenwash festival, a two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah.

The most affected people in the most affected areas still remain unheard, and the voices of future generations are drowning in their greenwash and empty words and promises.

But the facts do not lie, and we know that our emperors are naked. To stay below the targets set in the Paris Agreement, and thereby minimizing the risks of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control, we need immediate, drastic, annual emission cuts unlike anything the world has ever seen.

And as we don’t have the technological solutions that alone will do anything even close to that, that means we will have to fundamentally change our society.

And this is the uncomfortable result of our leaders’ repeated failure to address this crisis. At the current emissions rates, our remaining CO2 budgets to give us the best chances of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius will be gone within the end of this decade.

And the climate and ecological crisis, of course, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is directly tied to other crises and injustices that date back to colonialism and beyond, crises based on the idea that some people are worth more than others, and therefore had the right to steal others — to exploit others and to steal their land and resources.

And it is very naive of us to think that we could solve this crisis without addressing the root cause of it.
 
But this is not going to be spoken about inside the COP. It’s just too uncomfortable. It’s much easier for them to simply ignore the historical debt that the countries of the Global North have towards the most affected people and areas.

And the question we must now ask ourselves is: What is it that we are fighting for?

Are we fighting to save ourselves and the living planet, or are we fighting to maintain business as usual (emphasis added)?

oooOOOooo

My Comments:
 
I think Greta Thunberg has got it right. 

I think Greta Thunberg is correct in saying that to "minimize the risks of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control," it is going to be necessary to make fundamental changes to our society.

About a week or so ago, I suggested that we should eliminate personal automobiles. I suggested that we had to share rides. That would be a fundamental change, and would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30% to 40%. So, thinking just about that example, "are we fighting to save ourselves and the living planet, or are we fighting to maintain business as usual?"
 
Yesterday, I wrote about Strauss and Howe, historians who predicted, thirty years ago, that the early 2020's would be "fateful." They said that they expected our society to face "a crisis lasting from 2013 to 2024." Those predictions seem accurate, at least to me. We are living in fateful times, and the national election in 2024 will probably determine whether or not the United States of America continues as a country in which democratic self-government prevails.
 
I only hope that Strauss and Howe were also right in their prediction that people who are my age, and those who are in what Strauss and Howe called the "Millennial Generation," will in fact join forces to "demonstrate their civic virtue, and will triumph over great adversity." 

Strauss and Howe could have been talking about me (and others my age) and Greta Thunberg and her followers.
 
Actually, I think they were. 

So, I guess it's up to us to ask ourselves, will it be fundamental change, or "business as usual and blah, blah, blah?"
 
So far, and it is not a secret, we have been willing to go with "blah, blah, blah!"

 
Image Credit:
https://www.axios.com/greta-thunberg-cop26-failure-climate-change-56f6ce05-8c54-4b74-9967-1647de60dc1a.html
 
 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

#327 / Generations II

 
 
The Wall Street Journal says "it’s time to drop the silly stereotypes about Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z and discuss the real issues faced by each age group." The Wall Street Journal article making these assertions is titled, "The Bunk of Generational Talk." The New Yorker is on the same page. In The New Yorker's October 18, 2021, edition, Louis Menand asserts that "It’s Time to Stop Talking About 'Generations.'"
 
Both articles point out that the characteristics attributed to the different "generations" are often actually related to "lifecycle" characteristics - so the idea that the various "generations" are generationally different is largely fallacious. Bob Duffy, writing in The Wall Street Journal, explains what that means with this example: 

We need to discard the clickbait headlines and bad research. Consider, for example, the idea that young people today are fickle employees, prone to switching jobs casually. A 2017 article in Forbes examined “Millennials and the Death of Loyalty.” It is true that younger people change jobs more often than older people—but that’s always been true, and young people today are no more flighty than in the past. In fact, it’s older workers who are moving more frequently than past generations of old, and, if anything, the young are holding on to their jobs tighter than in the past, given the tougher economic environment. Similarly, it’s true that young people today work fewer hours than they did in the past, but that’s because the working hours of all age groups have seen a long-term decline.
 
The New Yorker article, which is partly a review of Duffy's book, The Generation Myth - Why When You're Born Matters Less Than You Think, echoes what The Journal has to say:
 
Failure to recognize the way the fabric is woven leads to skewed social history. The so-called Silent Generation is a particularly outrageous example. That term has come to describe Americans who went to high school and college in the nineteen-fifties, partly because it sets up a convenient contrast to the baby-boom generation that followed. Those boomers, we think—they were not silent! In fact, they mostly were. 
The term “Silent Generation” was coined in 1951, in an article in Time—and so was not intended to characterize the decade. “Today’s generation is ready to conform,” the article concluded. Time defined the Silent Generation as people aged eighteen to twenty-eight—that is, those who entered the workforce mostly in the nineteen-forties. Though the birth dates of Time’s Silent Generation were 1923 to 1933, the term somehow migrated to later dates, and it is now used for the generation born between 1928 and 1945. 
So who were these silent conformists? Gloria Steinem, Muhammad Ali, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Noam Chomsky, Philip Roth, Susan Sontag, Martin Luther King, Jr., Billie Jean King, Jesse Jackson, Joan Baez, Berry Gordy, Amiri Baraka, Ken Kesey, Huey Newton, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol . . . Sorry, am I boring you?
It was people like these, along with even older folks, like Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Pauli Murray, who were active in the culture and the politics of the nineteen-sixties. Apart from a few musicians, it is hard to name a single major figure in that decade who was a baby boomer. But the boomers, most of whom were too young then even to know what was going on, get the credit (or, just as unfairly, the blame). 
[Karl] Mannheim thought that the great danger in generational analysis was the elision of class as a factor in determining beliefs, attitudes, and experiences. Today, we would add race, gender, immigration status, and any number of other “preconditions.” A woman born to an immigrant family in San Antonio in 1947 had very different life chances from a white man born in San Francisco that year. Yet the baby-boom prototype is a white male college student wearing striped bell-bottoms and a peace button, just as the Gen Z prototype is a female high-school student with spending money and an Instagram account. 
 
I wrote about "Generations" in this blog, in 2015, stimulated by the book pictured in the image at the bottom of this blog posting. William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote their book in 1991. It was subtitled, "The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069." Wikipedia summarizes the Strauss-Howe book this way:

William Strauss and Neil Howe describe a theorized recurring generation cycle in American history and global history. According to the theory, historical events are associated with recurring generational personas (archetypes). Each generational persona unleashes a new era (called a turning) lasting around 20–25 years, in which a new social, political, and economic climate (mood) exists. They are part of a larger cyclical "saeculum" (a long human life, which usually spans between 80 and 100 years, although some saecula have lasted longer). The theory states that a crisis recurs in American history after every saeculum, which is followed by a recovery (high). During this recovery, institutions and communitarian values are strong. Ultimately, succeeding generational archetypes attack and weaken institutions in the name of autonomy and individualism, which eventually creates a tumultuous political environment that ripens conditions for another crisis.
 
The Strauss and Howe book, in other words, is looking at patterns in American history, not really trying to differentiate "generations" based on the personal characteristics of the people born during a particular period. To quote what I said about Strauss and Howe in my 2015 blog posting:

Their research on past generations leads them to expect a "crisis lasting from 2013 to 2024." They say "the early 2020's appear fateful," and that they expect Malloch's "next Great Generation," the Millennials, will have "a chance to demonstrate civic virtue and to triumph over great adversity."
 
I think we need to pay attention to authors who were able to say, in 1991, that "the early 2020's appear fateful." 
 
Strauss and Howe were certainly right about that - thirty years before the fact. I only hope that they were also right in their prediction that people who are my age, and those in what Strauss and Howe called the "Millennial Generation," will in fact join forces to "demonstrate their civic virtue, and will triumph over great adversity." 
 
That is exactly what is going to be required.
 

 
 
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Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-bunk-of-generational-talk-11634914564
(2) - https://www.amazon.com/Generations-History-Americas-Future-1584/dp/0688119123/ref=asc_df_0688119123/
 
 
 

Monday, November 22, 2021

#326 / The Next Major War?

 

Here's what The Wall Street Journal said in an editorial statement on October 18, 2021: 

Most Americans believe the U.S. has the world’s most dominant military, but that dominance is ending. The report that China has tested a new hypersonic missile should alert the country to the growing danger. 
“China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August that circled the globe before speeding towards its target,” reports the Financial Times. Hypersonic missiles are harder to track and destroy than ballistic missiles and could evade U.S. missile defenses. 
The hypersonic news follows the discovery this year of hundreds of new missile silos in the Chinese desert, almost certainly for nuclear missiles. This isn’t the behavior of a nation merely interested in defending its sovereignty. China has global ambitions, and they include projecting military power as a way to assert its political and commercial interests. 
This is important to understand because the next major war won’t look anything like the last one. The U.S. homeland was spared from most of World War II’s destruction. But the next conflict will feature cyber attacks, hypersonic missiles, and unmanned vehicles using artificial intelligence that put the U.S. at risk of attack from afar. Hiding behind fortress America won’t be possible, if it ever was (emphasis added).
 
 
If you believe what The Journal has to say here, there "will be" - and maybe soon - a "next major war." The New York Times is pretty much on the same page.  
 
In a news analysis published on October 17, 2021, The Times is predicting a "Cold War between Beijing and Washington," which a couple of paragraphs later has become a "Cold War, or something quite different." 
 
I think by "quite different" The Times means not "Cold" at all, but in fact a "real" war, a war in which the two nations start killing people "at scale," as those Silicon Valley types might say. 
 
That New York Times prediction is pretty ominous, but still not quite as terrifying as The Wall Street Journal's more definitive statement that there "will be a next major war," and a war that The Journal states "will feature cyber attacks, hypersonic missiles, and unmanned vehicles using artificial intelligence."
 
This is not a cheery prospect, it seems to me, and as Bob Dylan might say (well, he actually did say it), "If God's on our side, he'll stop the next war."

Maybe I should stop right there. I couldn't ever really top Bob Dylan, but let me say one more thing. 

There is nothing "inevitable" about anything. A newspaper that announces "the next major war," as though that "next major war" is some sort of factual "thing," and that this hypothetical "next major war" is as real as the last war that actually did take place, is inviting us to deny the reality of human choice and human freedom. 

We can hope and pray that God might solve the problem, and "stop the next war." Absent any certainty about that, however, let us treat The Wall Street Journal's editorial statement as the "wake up call" they say it is.

Besides reversing the processes of global warming that are putting the stability of the Natural World at risk, and that are threatening the end of human civilization, let's assign ourselves the task of stopping that "next war." 
 
Nothing about that "next war" is inevitable. If it were to take place it would be horrible. Thus, we need to organize ourselves to do what we must do to make it impossible that there will ever be a "next war." Who is going to be in charge of that effort?

Maybe I should end this commentary with Bob Dylan after all. What I said on November 19th remains a reliable guide to what we need to do - each one of us. 
 
We each need to own this assignment. We each need to "sing along," and to stop the "next war." 
 
And as Bob Dylan might say (well, he actually did say it), we each need to remember and realize that it's "Up To Me."
 
 
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Image Credit:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-hypersonic-wake-up-call-11634596933
 
 
 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

#325 / Reality Revisited

 

The article from which the above image was obtained is titled, "Revisiting Reality, fighting the status-quo." The article was authored by Alexander Girvan and was published in 2016. The essence of Girvan's argument is this: 
 
History shows that holding on to a current reality means we sacrifice the possibility of a better one.
 
Presumably, Girvan means to suggest, by his illustration, that the "flat Earth" idea about reality is not as good as our more current belief that Earth is a sphere, orbiting our sun, in space. I doubt he is suggesting the opposite, but the point is that what we now consider to be a "reality" is in fact a human construction, and that we need to be open to discovering that our former ideas about reality should be changed. 

I came upon Girvan's article because I was pursuing an idea propounded by New York Times' columnist David Brooks. In a column published in The Times on September 3, 2021, Brooks claims "You Are Not Who You Think You Are." I am not an expert in what sort of access non-subscribers can obtain to The New York Times' online edition, but if you can slip through The Times' paywall, I think Brooks' column is worth reading. For those who can't escape the paywall, here is a representative excerpt of what Brooks has to say:

You may think you understand the difference between seeing something and imagining it. When you see something it’s really there; when you imagine it, you make it up. That feels very different.

The problem is that when researchers ask people to imagine something, like a tomato, and then give some of them a just barely visible image of a tomato, they find that the process of imagining it is hard to totally separate from the process of seeing it. In fact, they use a lot of the same brain areas.

And when you stop to think about it, that makes some sense. Your brain is locked in the pitch-black bony vault of your skull, trying to use scraps of information to piece together the world. Even when it’s seeing, it’s partly constructing what’s out there based on experience. “It turns out, reality and imagination are completely intermixed in our brain,” Nadine Dijkstra writes in Nautilus, “which means that the separation between our inner world and the outside world is not as clear as we might like to think.”

We grew up believing that “imagining” and “seeing” describe different mental faculties. But as we learn more about what’s going on in the mind, these concepts get really blurry really fast (emphasis added). 
 
The point Brooks is making (and that Girvan is making) is one with which I agree. The "reality" we most immediately inhabit does not approach us completely from outside, and does not exist independently of our own ideas about it. "Imagination" is a faculty of "image making," and as we undertake that process, all unaware that we're doing it, quite often, we participate in the creation of the reality upon which we depend, and which we believe defines both possibility and limitations. This idea about how "reality" is both discovered and constructed goes along with my personal conviction that "anything is possible," an idea that applies in what I call the "Human World." 

When you think about the statement made by the headline on Brooks' column - "You Are Not Who You Think You Are" - the argument that Brooks actually presents in his column is a direct refutation of that statement. In so many ways, we ARE who we think we are, and "reality" is what we can imagine, and thus both discover and create. 

John Lennon was absolutely correct in what I continue to think of as his most important song: "Imagine." Click that link to hear him sing it. Click on this link for the lyrics

If our current reality is unacceptable (and I am suggesting that it is), we will need to imagine a new one.

"It's easy if you try."

 
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Image Credit:
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/revisiting-reality-fighting-status-quo-alexander-girvan
 
 
 
 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

#324 / How High (Can The Dow Jones Go)?

 
 
Zachary Karabel is the founder of The Progress Network, whose motto is phrased as follows: "Progress is still possible!" The Progress Network publishes a weekly newsletter, for people who "can't stop doomscrolling." The newsletter provides its readers with "a weekly dose of everything that's going right in the world." The newsletter is titled, "What Could Go Right?" If you are feeling a bit pessimistic about how the world is going right now, maybe you should sign up! Maybe the newsletter will make you feel better. However, I am not at all convinced that what you will read in the newsletter should persuade you that things, in fact, are going just fine. I don't think they actually are.
 
Besides his affiliation with The Progress Network, Karabel is also the author, most recently, of Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power. He is, in other words, one of those "money guys," though he would like to present himself as one of the "good guy" money guys. 
 
On October 19, 2021, Karabel wrote an opinion column in The New York Times. His column was headlined "Just How High Could the Dow Go?" Here is an excerpt from Karabel's column:
 
Stocks have seen huge gains relative to wages. What then to make of the growth of the Dow? The more-than-fivefold gains for the tech-heavy Nasdaq? Is it a sign of an economic system badly tilted toward the wealthy? Proof that financial markets exist in an alternate universe of capitalism, ever expanding as the prospects for so many millions continue shrinking? ...
Though more than half of American households own stocks, the gains in financial markets are often treated as a prime example of how those with money — and how capital in general — have reaped unfair rewards. The current imbroglio in Congress over how to fund a several-trillion-dollar spending plan has turned to taxing stock market gains at a higher rate, in part because of a conviction that corporations and the very wealthy enjoy privileged tax treatment on those gains relative to wage earners.
 
Given the realities just outlined, Karabel wants to convince us that we shouldn't assume that those with money have "reaped unfair rewards."

It can be simultaneously true that capital has enjoyed an enviable position and that markets going up is not a sign of a rigged system. There are now about 4,000 publicly traded companies on the major exchanges in the United States — 20 years ago, there were around 7,000. Capital markets reward those that excel in eking out double-digit growth in a single-digit world. Only the strongest companies survive. 
Those companies reap the rewards of capitalism. Apple, for instance, has had phenomenal growth. But it sells expensive phones to the hundreds of millions of people who can afford them, while many more cannot. The same is true for most public companies: They sell to those who can buy and ignore those that can’t. 
Successful companies succeed thanks to a global middle class that continues to expand, albeit dented by a pandemic. Companies that cater to it can hire the best and brightest, and deploy technology to save on labor costs. They are hubs of innovation and creativity. 
In the meantime, governments and citizens are saddled with the real costs of being alive. Companies don’t need to concern themselves with public infrastructure, defense, elder care, education and child care. The bulk of these costs is externalized. 
In short, public companies are the cream of global capitalism — whether that’s a triumph of the system or an abomination, the price for owning a slice of this system should be at a substantial premium to everything else. And those prices should go up. 
The challenge, then, is to broaden the gains of capitalism — not hobble it (emphasis added).

Karabel, in other words, wants us to think about how to make capitalism more equitable. That's the basis on which he'd like to be understood as one of the "good guy" money guys. Specifically, Karabel has these suggestions:
 
  • Congress could draw up innovative laws and nuanced rules to better distribute the gains of capitalism. Rather than hiking taxes, why not use the tax code to nudge companies to give all workers shares in the company so that labor enjoys some of the benefits of capital? 
  • Or tie wage increases to the profitability of the company rather than indexing them to inflation?
 
Well, those are at least two possibilities. Karabel doesn't go further with specifics, but his general suggestion is clear:
 
Given the dynamism of public companies and a world awash in capital, it’s a fair bet that we will one day see the Dow at 72,000 or 144,000. Rather than trying to slow that momentum, why not disseminate the rewards to wage earners by bringing them into the fold? That may sound like utopia, but only because we’ve forgotten to strive for it (emphasis added).
 
The way that Karabel puts this suggestion indicates to me that his audience is not the ordinary person -  those wage earners, for instance, who have been shortchanged as the money guys have raked in the dough. Rather, Karabel seems to be writing for those other "money guys," maybe those who aren't quite as enamored as Karabel is with the idea that the "money guys" should try to be "good guys," too. That expression "bringing them into the fold" seems clearly addressed to those who are already "in the fold." Karabel's idea, as I read it, is largely preemptive. "Hey, money guys," he seems to be saying, "we had better cut the workers a bigger slice or they might actually get the idea that their democratic government could make some more fundamental readjustments in just how capitalism works."

I am on the side of the workers and citizens who are currently the victims of what Karabel's book calls "the American way of power." I would be a bit bolder than Karabel in my suggestions. For instance, instead of leaving corporate tax rates as they are and using the tax code to "nudge" companies to "give all workers shares in the company," why not increase corporate taxes AND require corporations to insure that all workers are, in fact, "owners?" Why not require wage increases as a company prospers? Karabel thinks that the fact that the number of corporations has decreased from 7,000 to 4,000 in the last twenty years indicates that "only the strongest companies survive." My bet is that those companies with the most capital have eliminated their competitors by buying and then dismantling them, to increase their monopoly position in the market, and allowing them inordinate profits. Why not require the splitting up of the giant monopolies, the way we used to do it?

In sum, I don't think we should all wait around for "good guy" money guys to figure out just how much to accommodate the ordinary working men and women of the world. I think the working men and women of the world should tell the corporations what do do. 

That's another kind of "utopian" idea, of course. It is one that suggests that we need to dismantle the "American way of power." 
 
I am not a "money guy," but I hope I am a "good guy," and that's the way I'd like to see it go!

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Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/18/opinion/economy-wages-dow-jones.html 
 
 
 
 

Friday, November 19, 2021

#323 / Comic Strip Widsom

 

Mutts is a daily comic strip created by Patrick McDonnell. The comic strip above ran in my local newspaper on October 22, 2021. 

Sometimes, commentary or discussion is not really necessary when one confronts a work of art. That's how I feel about this edition of the Mutts comic strip.

What we discover in the future will be determined by what we do today. We have the feeling that we ought to be able to "see the future," but the truth is that we can only "see" the past. Even in the present, what we see is the result of our past actions. There is, however, the unfilled frame on the right. Today, right now, each one of us has the ability to do something new and unexpected, something that has never been done or attempted before. Hannah Arendt said that. 

Bob Dylan has a song about the phenomenon. Click here for the lyrics. You can listen to him sing it, by clicking below. 


What's going to show up in that right hand frame? I guess it must be up to me!


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Image Credit:
https://mutts.com (10-22-21)