All posts by Philip Waring

Am retired. With my wife Josée I Iive in Tampa, and go often to Paris. There's not yet a bridge between the two cities and we have to fly. These two cities are far apart, but I'm working hard at finding real connections between them. Tampa is America, the best and the worst of it. Paris, well, Paris is Paris.

Progressive populism, conservative populism, and the winner is, moderate liberalism

Wouldn’t that be great! Wouldn’t that mean dancing in the streets, which we haven’t done since when? since Barack Obama was elected to a second term as president nearly 8 years ago.

We’ve been living through, and still are, difficult times. In that regard it’s enough that Donald Trump is the president. David Brooks looks back from the year, 2050, and tells us what happened 2020 and what’s happened since then, things we all want to know, now in 2019.
For what I write below I have first David Brooks and then Michelle Goldberg along with the pollster Stanley Greenberg to thank.

Follow these two links::
Brooks: A Brief History of the Warren Presidency, A look back at American politics from the year 2050.
Goldberg: Dare We Dream of the End of the G.O.P.?

David Brooks has placed himself in the year 2050 and he tells us what has happened, in 2020, and since then.
Michelle Goldberg, still in 2019, brings us the words of the polster, Stanley Greenberg, telling us what will happen in 2020.

For what I write below I have first David Brooks and then Michelle Goldberg and of course the pollster, Stanley Greenberg, to thank.

First David Brooks, the big events he writes about during the 2019-2050 period were:

  1. In the Democratic primary Elizabeth Warren triumphed over the other progressive populist, Bernie Sanders,
  2. Then in November of 2020 Trump’s unfitness for the presidency as well as the fact that he had tied himself down to a white ethnic national narrative that only appealed to a shrinking segment of white nationalists, meant that Warren would and did win convincingly in November.
  3. Also the Democrats won an even bigger majority in the House, and even a slim majority in the Senate.
  4. After that election, the Republicans suffered a long, steady decline. Post election Trump was reviled by everyone and once out of the Oval Office he learned he had no loyal defenders, not even his sidekicks Pence and Pompeo. Furthermore only 8 percent of young people called themselves conservatives. Republican voters, mostly older, were dying out, and were not making new ones. For the ensuing two decades the party didn’t resonate beyond its white rural base.
  5. In 2020 while the progressive populists (Berni Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), and the Republican populists (Trump, Pence and Fox News and friends) did desire radical changes our democracy, for sharply breaking with the past, only the the progressive populist, Elizabeth Warren came out on top.
  6. But the euphoria, the dancing in the street that greeted the expulsion of Trump from the Oval Office, all that quickly came to an end when Warren tried to pass her radical legislative agenda. One by one, her proposals failed in the Senate: Medicare for all, free college, decriminalizing undocumented border crossing, even the wealth tax…
  7. And when the recession of 2021 hit, things got ugly. It became evident that the nation had three political tendencies — conservative populism, progressive populism and moderate liberalism, and not one of them could put together a governing majority to get things done.
  8. With the Republicans powerless and irrelevant, the war within the Democratic Party grew vicious. Democratic progressives detested the moderate Democratic liberals even more than they did the conservatives.
  9. The struggle came to a head with another set of Democratic primaries in 2024. Here the moderate liberals triumphed easily. Progressive populism burned out as had right-wing populism before, and the Democratic moderates became the nation’s majority party.

We’re left after reading Brooks’ article with the big question, which Brooks doesn’t answer, even from the 2050 perspective, what had happened to the moderate liberals, those who had won the election of 2020, those with a basic faith in American institutions, in capitalism and the Constitution, in the classical liberal philosophy that was embedded in America’s founding, the philosophy inherited by Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s and embodied in a millennial nationalism, a sense that America had a special destiny as the last best hope of earth. We’d like to think that this was David’s country in 2050, but nothing he says makes us, or him probably, believe it. Wishful thinking.

Michelle Goldberg’s article doesn’t look ahead to 2050. We’re back in 2019, and we’re still preoccupied by what will happen in 2020. Michelle introduces us to the present thinking of the polster, Stanley Greenberg who in his new book, “R.I.P. G.O.P”. makes a thrilling prediction, delivered with the certainty of prophecy.

“The year 2020 will produce a second blue wave on at least the scale of the first in 2018 and finally will crash and shatter the Republican Party that was consumed by the ill-begotten battle to stop the New America from governing.”

,
“It sounds almost messianic: the Republican Party, that foul agglomeration of bigotry and avarice that has turned American politics into a dystopian farce, not just defeated but destroyed. The inexorable force of demography bringing us a new, enlightened political dispensation. Greenberg foresees “the death of the Republican Party as we’ve known it,” and a Democratic Party. “liberated from the nation’s suffocating polarization to use government to advance the public good.”
I’d like to believe that, and maybe you would too.

Michelle goes on to say:
“This is not the first time that experts have predicted the inevitable triumph of progressive politics. Seventeen years ago, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira published “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” which argued that the country was on the cusp of a liberal political realignment driven by growing diversity, urbanization and gender equality…. But Republicans still have more power than Democrats, and in 2017, Judis disavowed his book’s thesis, arguing that only populist economics could deliver Democratic victories….”


Yet going into 2020, Greenberg believes that what he calls the “rising American electorate” — including millennials, people of color and single women — will ensure Democratic victory, almost regardless of whom the party nominates. “We’re dealing with demographic and cultural trends, but we’re also dealing with people that are organizing and talking to one and another and becoming much more conscious of their values,” he said.

In his polling and focus groups, he’s seeing that the reaction to Trump is changing people. “The Trump presidency so invaded the public’s consciousness that it was hard to talk to previously disengaged and unregistered unmarried women, people of color and millennials without them going right to Trump,” he writes.

A resolve to resist has led many voters to define their own beliefs in opposition to Trump’s. On immigration, for example, “every Trump outrage increased the proportion of Americans who said, ‘We are an immigrant country,’” writes Greenberg. Indeed, according to recent Pew data, 62 percent of Americans say that immigrants strengthen the country, while 28 percent, a near record low, see them as a burden.

The specter of California haunts the modern right; many conservatives see it as a portent of what demographic change will do to Republican power nationally. But California can just as easily be seen as a sign of how a political party can drive itself to ruin by making a cruel, doomed stand against the coming generation. If Greenberg is right, national Republicans, fearful of going the way of those in California, may have ensured precisely that fate.


And Goldberg: “But is Stranley right? … His confidence will not be enough to lessen the insomnia that has plagued me since the cursed night when Trump was elected. But his book should be a corrective to the media’s overweening focus on the mulish devotion of Trump voters. Trump hatred is a much more potent force in this country than Trump love. “


Stanley Bernard “Stan” Greenberg (born May 10, 1945) is a leading Democratic pollster and political strategist. A political scientist who received his bachelor’s degree from Miami University and his Ph.D. from Harvard. He spent a decade teaching at Yale University before becoming a political consultant.[1] He is the CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a polling and consulting firm,[5] and co-founder (with James Carville and Bob Shrum) of Democracy Corps, a non-profit organization which produces left-leaning political strategy.[6] He advised the Presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, as well as hundreds of other candidates and organizations in the United States, Latin America, Europe and around the world, including Gerhard Schröder, the former Chancellor of Germany and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister.[1][2]

G

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

Theodosius Dobzhansky, born in Nemiriv, now in Ukraine, on 25 January in 1900, was the son of a high school mathematics teacher. He belonged to a family of Russian Orthodox priests. During his childhood, Dobzhansky developed a passion of collecting butterflies and ladybugs, and was an ardent fan of outdoor activities. In his high-school days, he decided to become a biologist.

After graduating in biology from the University of Kiev in 1921, Dobzhansky accepted a position at the Polytechnic Institute of Kiev as a zoology instructor. He moved to the University of Saint Petersburg in 1924 as an assistant to Yuri Filipchenko, head of the genetics department.

Dobzhansky is now most remembered for these words: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

Well, that makes sense to me. Evolution as the dominant idea that would explain all life. In my ownlife there has never been a more powerful idea.

Trump has never apologized

Quora Question: Has Trump ever apologized, for example, to former President Obama for spreading the Birther lie?

Answered by Bruce Spielbauer, July 12, 2019

“Actually, your question can be truncated, as follows: “Has Trump ever apologized?” And, the answer is (of course) no. Trump has never apologized.”

Trump has never apologized for any of the damage that he has done to this nation, nor has he apologized for the damage he has done to the citizens of this nation, nor has he apologized for the damage he has done to the allies of this nation, nor has he apologized for the damage he has done to the planet, nor has he apologized for the damage he has done to the human beings who inhabit this planet.

And, he never will.

A must read, Susan B. Glasser’s New Yorker column of Sept 3, 2019

Trump’s Wacky, Angry, and Extreme August

The thirty-one days of August, 2019, offer an extraordinary catalogue of President Trump’s public meltdown.Photograph by Cheriss May / NurPhoto / Getty

President Trump ended August as he began it, with a blast of angry tweets, ad-hominem insults, and bizarre fulminations that have become so standard that they no longer receive the attention they deserve—emanating, as they do, from the world’s most powerful leader. In between retweeting hurricane-preparation warnings, Trump spent the final day of the month attacking the “Disgusting and foul mouthed Omarosa” Manigault, his former adviser, who wrote a tell-all book about her short time in the Administration; the “Crooked Cop” James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, whom he fired; and the “even dumber” former C.I.A. director John Brennan. He bragged about low Labor Day gas prices, although they were actually lower on the Labor Day before he became President. He congratulated his friend Sean Hannity for the ratings on his Fox News “shoe.” A day earlier, he had tweeted what appeared to be a classified image from his intelligence briefing of “a catastrophic accident” at an Iranian missile-launch site, a Presidential leak of secret information on social media that would have been, needless to say, unthinkable in another Presidency.

All of this took place when Trump was supposed to be in Poland, for a sombre commemoration of the beginning of the Second World War. He cancelled the trip, however, citing the need to monitor the progress of Hurricane Dorian, which was threatening Florida. Instead, he watched Fox News; tweeted nearly two dozen times before noon on Saturday, August 31st; and then motorcaded to a Trump-branded golf course for his two hundred and twenty-sixth day on the links at one of his own properties since becoming President. (That statistic came from Kyle Griffin, an MSNBC producer who keeps track of this particular niche Trump metric.) The Poland trip wasn’t even the first foreign visit that Trump cancelled last month. He was supposed to have gone to Denmark earlier in August, but he refused, in a fit of pique, after the Danish government mocked his efforts to buy Greenland—which was, of course, another Oval Office antic that, had it occurred a few years ago, no one would have believed.

Trump not only makes us believe it now but, as we approach the three-year mark of his upset victory, in 2016, his project has succeeded in such a confounding way that it seems as though Americans will now believe anything—and nothing at all. Today there are few things too extreme not to have plausibly come out of the mouth, or the Twitter feed, of the forty-fifth President. In August, Trump called himself the “Chosen One” for his confrontation with China, grinned and flashed a thumbs-up during a photo op with the family of mass-shooting victims, accused Jews who voted for Democrats of “great disloyalty,” and called the chairman of the Federal Reserve an “enemy” of the United States. He cheered the robbery of a Democratic congressman’s home and labelled various critics “nasty and wrong,” “pathetic,” “highly unstable,” “wacko,” “psycho,” and “lunatic,” among other insults. The daily stream of invective was dizzying to keep track of, and so voluminous as to almost insure that no one could, in fact, do so.

The Trumpian extremes on display in the third August of his Presidency revived a debate about whether he is descending into even less Presidential behavior, shedding the remaining constraints imposed upon him by his office and the efforts of his ever-changing staff. If it seems as if Trump is wackier, angrier, more willing to lash out, and more desperately seeking attention, that is because he is. This, at least, is my conclusion after reviewing his Twitter feed from the past month, along with his public statements, remarks to the press, speeches, and rallies. To revisit a month in the life of this President was exhausting, a dark journey to a nasty and contentious place. And, while Trump’s performance raised many questions that we can’t answer about just what is going on in his head, it was also revelatory: the thirty-one days of August, 2019, turn out to be an extraordinary catalogue of Trump’s in-our-faces meltdown.

At first I wasn’t sure that anything about Trump’s frenetic August was really different. There had been many previous months of dysfunction. He has always courted controversy and trafficked in insults. But then I looked at August, 2017, during the first summer of his Presidency, which was one of the more shocking months of his early tenure. Back then, Trump warned of “fire and fury” against North Korea and spoke of good people on both sides of the white-supremacist march in Charlottesville that culminated in the killing of a peaceful counter-protester. And yet the Trump of two years ago was different—to a degree. He was provocative and insulting and fact-challenged, of course, but to a much lesser extent than he is today. Then and now, he was boastful and braggadocious. He picked fights. But there was much less of that behavior over all—the Trump Twitter archive records two hundred and eighty-seven Trump tweets and retweets in August, 2017, compared to six hundred and eighty in August, 2019—and the volume seems to have been turned up along with the frequency. Today’s Trump is not just more prone to misspeaking and stumbling, he is also more overtly confrontational more of the time, more immersed in a daily cycle of Presidential punditry, and more casually incendiary with his words and sentiments.

Is he finding it harder to break through? Does he simply have fewer meetings on his schedule and more free time? Maybe it is all of the above. Trump has such little confidence in his third and current chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, that he’s still not removed Mulvaney’s title of “acting” White House boss, more than eight months into his tenure. It’s also true that the outrage cycle that his Presidency has become requires more fuel than it did two years ago, when the wacky pronouncements and shrill insults emanating directly from the Oval Office were still seen as a shocking novelty. Sure enough, the anger and abuse have dramatically and notably increased. Two years ago, Trump used his feed to criticize, belittle, or humiliate specific targets fourteen times in the month of August. (Interestingly, many were Republican senators who were still offering him resistance, including “publicity-seeking Lindsey Graham,” who is now one of his most faithful public promoters, and the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, whom Trump disparaged as a “loser.”) In August of this year, the number shot up: the President made or shared fifty-two direct insults on his Twitter feed, by my count. Many were aimed at individual members of the media—from “Crazy Lawrence O’Donnell,” of MSNBC, to “Lunatic” Chris Cuomo, of CNN, to “Psycho” Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC, and “pathetic” Juan Williams, of Fox. Other targets who were singled out included “the Three Stooges running against me in the G.O.P. primary”; Denmark; NATO; the euro; “car company executives”; “Sleepy Joe Biden” (August 10th: “Does anybody really believe he is mentally fit to be President?”); Beto O’Rourke; liberal Hollywood, “the true racists”; the “anti-Semite” Representative Rashida Tlaib; the “nut job” Anthony Scaramucci, the former Trump White House communications director who finally broke with his former boss last month; and, in a retweet to start off the month, “the nipple-height mayor of Londonistan.”

Another frequent target was the Federal Reserve and its Trump-appointed chairman, Jerome Powell. For months, Trump has been crusading against Powell in what appears to be an unprecedented public-pressure campaign to turn the Fed into an arm of the President’s reëlection campaign. In August, Trump’s focus on the Fed dramatically escalated, as fears mounted about a slowing economy and the intensifying trade war with China. I counted thirty separate tweets by Trump in August criticizing Powell or the Fed in which the President variously referred to “clueless Jay Powell,” complained about Powell’s “horrendous lack of vision,” and, most strikingly, on August 23rd, blamed the Fed for China’s alleged currency manipulation. On that day, Trump tweeted, “My only question is who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?”

Of course, Trump’s biggest enemy and most frequent target, two years ago and today, remains what he called the “Corrupt and Fake News,” at 5:46 P.M. on August 27th, and the “Fake & Corrupt News,” three minutes later. All told, “#CROOKEDJOURNALISM,” as he called it on August 18th, was the subject of twenty-six complaining tweets in August, 2017—and eighty this August. This escalation seems to be by design, rather than the result of indiscipline or passing fits of anger, at least in the sense that, as Trump himself said in a tweet last month, he hopes his criticism of the media will be one of the lasting accomplishments of his tenure. “When the ‘Age of Trump’ is looked back on many years from now, I only hope that a big part of my legacy will be the exposing of massive dishonesty in the Fake News!” There is little doubt that Trump has also decided to explicitly attack the media as part of his reëlection campaign, a plan that he broadcast in an August 10th tweet, writing, “Never has the press been more inaccurate, unfair or corrupt! We are not fighting the Democrats, they are easy, we are fighting the seriously dishonest and unhinged Lamestream Media. They have gone totally CRAZY.”

At August’s G-7 summit, in Biarritz, France, Trump even claimed that other world leaders were commiserating with him about negative coverage by the American press. “The question I was asked most today by fellow World Leaders, who think the USA is doing so well and is stronger than ever before, happens to be, ‘Mr. President, why does the American media hate your Country so much? Why are they rooting for it to fail?’ ” None of those leaders stepped forward to validate Trump’s claim, although many were subject to another, perhaps surprising, aspect of his Twitter feed: the increasing tendency to use it as a vehicle not only for threats and critiques but also for blandishments and over-the-top praise. This, too, seems more purposeful, or at least more self-consciously executed, than many of Trump’s critics would allow. On Saturday, during his end-of-month social-media spree, he methodically ticked off a list of tweets and retweets individually praising most of the members of the Senate Republican Conference (including targets of his ire two Augusts ago, such as McConnell and Graham).

Like his insults, Trump’s praise has become more flamboyant, and the list of those whom he Twitter-flattered this August included populist nationalists, such as India’s Narendra Modi and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro; the “great leader” and “good man” Xi Jinping, of China; and the shambolic and duplicitous new pro-Brexit British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. The naïveté of his praise is sometimes as alarming as the vitriol of his hatred. On August 15th, with fears rising of a Chinese crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong, Trump tweeted, “If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem. I have no doubt!” On August 10th, he revealed a letter from Kim Jong Un in which the North Korean dictator “very nicely” asked for a meeting while offering a “small apology” for his latest missile tests and claimed that the tests would end when U.S.-South Korean military exercises did. (They did not.)

Two years ago, the President’s use of Twitter was still so unprecedented that his aides would warn journalists and foreign counterparts not to take it too seriously. But now, as the President’s online pronouncements and stream of daily commentary have almost subsumed regular policymaking, few dispute the significance of having an around-the-clock, unfiltered Presidential feed. It is, therefore, all the more striking that Trump’s major policy preoccupation this past August—his trade war with China—was the subject of his most contradictory, confusing, and hard-to-parse statements. I counted more than forty tweets mentioning China last month. They veered wildly, almost day to day and hour to hour, on whether a deal or a whole new round of tariffs was imminent. On August 23rd, Trump issued a decree that stands out as his most remarkable: at 10:59 A.M., he directed U.S. corporations, via Twitter, to shut down their business with China. “Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China,” he wrote. Markets, as they did repeatedly throughout the month of confusing Presidential commentary, swooned.

But it seems that the markets have moved on. And so, probably, have you. We’re barely forty-eight hours into September, and the President has already claimed that he’s never heard of a Category 5 hurricane; got into a public spat with the star of the sitcom “Will & Grace”; congratulated Poland on the anniversary of the Nazi invasion, in 1939; and played more golf at a Trump resort. The election, if you are counting, is four hundred and twenty-six days away.

Susan B. Glasser is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she writes a weekly column on life in Trump’s Washington.

waiting for the democratic candidate who can lead a moral uprising

I somehow missed this at the time. David Brooks’ op piece inThe NYTimes of August 1, Marianne Williamson Knows How to beat Trump. I was struck by his article but quickly put it aside and only now one month later am getting back to it. Brooks had just heard Marianne Williamson at the Second Democratic Debate on July 31, who said, while speaking of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, that the water crisis, “was part of the dark underbelly of American society — the racism, the bigotry.”

By her words Wlliamson raised the important question, just how much racism and bigotry are embedded in our society? It’s not too difficult to see that Donald Trump’s almost daily racist and bigoted tweets are proof enough of what she is saying.

As a result one might think, as does Williamson, that the 2020 election should be all about confronting and overcoming a racist and bigoted president, not most about as it now seems policy questions such as immigration, health care, the economy and jobs, infrastructure, et al. let alone Trump’s wall which even today Trump himself was once again talking about, having stolen money for the wall from USArmy funds.

Brooks says we have been all subtly corrupted by our president. And that the Democrats in particular have not risen to what are the real needs of the moment. The Democrats don’t know how to speak on Trump’s level. … And then there is the even bigger problem, that being the culture of the Democratic Party. The modern version of the party emerged during the Great Depression to solve one problem: material want. It is a secular party, trapped in a Lockean prison. The Democratic candidate, Marianne Williamson seems to understand this and is running her own spiritual crusade, not an economic redistribution effort…

And Williamson is right about this, as she says, “We’ve never dealt with a figure like this [Trump] in American history before. This man, our president, is not just a politician; he’s a phenomenon. And an insider political game will not be able to defeat him. … The only thing that will defeat him is if we fashion a phenomenon of equal force, that phenomenon being a moral uprising of the American people.”

And while apparently not ready for it, it falls upon the Democrats to arouse the American people to rebuild the moral infrastructure of our country, to promote the country’s traditional values, such as: Unity, We’re one people; Honesty, We respect the truth; Pluralism, We treasure members of all races and faiths; Sympathy, Our daily lives are marked by kindness. and finally, Opportunity, That all children be given an open field and a fair chance in the great race of life.

Marianne Williamson, September 5, 2019:


It’s not a plan or policy competition. The conversation needs to go beyond not just who has the best plan, but to who has the greatest ability to harness the excitement, the enthusiasm and the inspiration of the American people in such a way as to override the anti-democratic forces that confront us. I don’t presume to be able to analyze what is going on inside the president’s mind. I just know how important it is to make him irrelevant as soon as possible.”

And Brooks concludes by asking if there is just one Democrat among the candidates who can lead an uprising to restore these values. After all aren’t these the values of decency, rough trodden for two and one half years by president Trump? And Brooks says, although we haven’t yet identified him or her, there must be one individual who can be the phenomenon the country now needs. So yes we are still looking, just prior to the third Democratic debate on September, 12 to identify, and recognize him or her.

Reading once again Herodotus

The recent NRA encouraged but otherwise mindless shootings at El Paso and Odessa, Texas, came to mind while reading Herodotus (I’m making a major effort to read the great books, some of them anyway, in the years left me for such).
I’ve had most of the great books on my shelves for most of my life, years and years, and they’re still with me right now on our bookshelves here in Tampa, FL but I’ve only tasted them, often yes, but only rarely swallowed them whole and digested them. So it’s about time. That life-long education we talk so much about. pbw

I take the following passage from Jennifer Roberts’s. Herodotus: A Very Short Introduction

Our roving reporter, a thinker and traveler of insatiable curiosity, catches us up in his narrative by the intensity of his contagious thirst for knowledge. Whether about the true story of the abduction of Helen (she was never, Herodotus says, in Troy, but remained in Egypt throughout the war), the way the Scythians buried their kings (with many retainers), …

how the Trausians greet the birth of a baby (mourning the sufferings it will have to endure),

how the Greeks and Persians came to blows (a very long story indeed), Herodotus wants to know. He would have heartily agreed with Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński (who travelled all over the world with a copy of The Histories) that ‘Without trying to enter other ways of looking, perceiving, describing, we won’t understand anything of the world.’ And he imparts this burning desire to us as we read, for he not only wants to know about the broad diversity of customs and values in the world; he wants us to know too. A conspicuous lack of Greek chauvinism undergirded Herodotus’s ethnography and spurred it on. Yet for all his tolerance, for all his praise of individual Persian customs… –

the writer greatly approves their practice of keeping a boy from his father for the first five years of his life, lest it be too upsetting to him if the child should die

he nowhere suggests that Eastern autocracy is as viable an institution (attention Donald Trump) as the variety of more broadly based governments that marked the Greek world.

The country I love , which one is it?

Well I know for sure that It’s not this one where there are tens of thousands of white supremacist losers like these three pictured below.

No, it’s another one entirely, this one, our country, that is not building a wall but welcoming at the border with Mexico the waves of immigrants and refugees coming here on foot from the countries of the Northern Triangle.

OK, it can’t happen here, But it is happening!

I take the following from a recent cover article in the Economist Magazine, The corrupting of democracy. The writer is speaking of Hungary, and Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban.

Take Hungary, where Fidesz, the ruling party, has used its parliamentary majority to capture regulators, dominate business, control the courts, buy the media and manipulate the rules for elections. The prime minister, Viktor Orban, does not have to break the law, because he can get parliament to change it instead. He does not need secret police to take his enemies away in the night. They can be cut down to size without violence, by the tame press or the taxman. In form, Hungary is a thriving democracy; in spirit, it is a one-party state.

Victor Orban

While speaking of the Hungarian pirme minister, Victor Orban, the Ecoomist writer might have been speaking of Donald Trump:

At the heart of the degradation of Hungarian democracy is cynicism. After the head of a socialist government popularly seen as corrupt admitted that he had lied to the electorate in 2006, voters learned to assume the worst of their politicians. Orban-Trump has enthusiastically exploited this tendency.

This political theatre, of which, if of nothing else, Orban-Trump is a master, is designed to be a distraction from their real purpose, which is the artful manipulation of obscure rules and institutions to guarantee their hold on power.

Rather than appeal to his compatriots’ better nature, Orban-Trump sows division, stokes resentment and exploits their prejudices, especially over immigration.

Now we see this sort of political theatre happening here, almost on a daily basis.
I take what follows from the NYTimes of August 28:

President Trump’s signature campaign promise to build a wall along the southwestern border is far behind schedule. So he has told his aides to get the job done by whatever means necessary, including by seizing land on the Mexican frontier. The president has repeatedly suggested during meetings on immigration policy that aides “take the land” and “get it done,” according to a person who has heard him say it. The Washington Post first reported that Mr. Trump had brought up the land seizures and had floated the idea of offering pardons to aides willing to break the law, a suggestion he has made previously when exploring ways to fulfill his campaign promises.

Reuters

And our president, Donald Trump takes this sort of irresponsible behavior ever further than Victor Orban, who has not, I believe kowtowed to Vladimir Putin. In the Business Insider of August 30, 2019 we read:

  • Current and former spies are floored by President Donald Trump’s fervent defense of Russia at this year’s G7 summit in Biarritz, France. 
  • President Trump Is Either A ‘Russian Asset’ Or A ‘Useful Idiot’ For Putin
  • At the summit, Trump aggressively lobbied for Russia to be readmitted into the G7, refused to hold it accountable for violating international law, blamed former President Barack Obama for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
  • One former senior Justice Department official, who worked closely with the former special counsel Robert Mueller when he was the FBI director, told Insider Trump’s behavior was “directly out of the Putin playbook. We have a Russian asset sitting in the Oval Office.” 
  • A former CIA operative told Insider the evidence is “overwhelming” that Trump is a Russian agent, but another CIA and NSA veteran said it was more likely Trump was currying favor with Putin for future business deals. 
  • Meanwhile, a recently retired FBI special agent told Insider that Trump’s freewheeling and often unfounded statements make it more likely that he’s a “useful idiot” for the Russians. But “it would not surprise me in the least if the Russians had at least one asset in Trump’s inner circle.”

The Economist writer does go on to say that the old-established polities of the United States and Britain are not about to become one-party states, but they are already showing signs of decay. Once the rot sets in, it is formidably hard to stop. So yes, it is happening here , the “rot” that Trump has brought with him to the Oval Office..

Louis L’Amour

l'amour2

Louis L’Amour was, and is still a great favorite of mine. He’s probably not a great favorite of intellectual elite. At least I’ve read almost nothing about him in the NY and Boston Reviews of Books. (I say that wihtout having done a Google search, not the way I usually do things. But for whatever reason the reading public loves his books, having been sold in the hundreds of thousands, millions world wide, (as well as having been Ronald Reagan’s favorite writer).
But in my opinion his stories are more than just Westerns. But they are Westerns, and I take nothing away from the real achievement of this genre, and the real achievement of Louis L’Amour. His stories at best, and there are many ‘at best” stories, they represent a thinking man’s stories of the West and have much to tell us about people as well as how the West was won, tamed and settled. L’Amour himself wanted to be remembered as a writer of good stories. And that he was.

His books also have much to say regarding who we are, from our beginnings (when was that?), with the first crossing of the first Americans from Siberia into Alaska some 10s of thousands of years ago most likely on the Bering Land Bridge, an area long since under water? What color were we to start with? Red, white, yellow, black of various combinations of all four colors, others? In any case we were never and are not now ethnographically one. The word white supremacist certainly doesn’t come from our history. No matter how far back you might go you won’t get there. For we are now and have always been a people of many colors, many cultures. E pluribus unum. That’s us. And that’s the people who people L’Amour’s more than 100 books.

As for Louis himself, there were many sides to him. As a young man he didn’t sit still, as he would later on his life, but worked at many different jobs. Before settling down in his own home and library, to write, surrounded by the tens of thousands of books he owned and had read, he was a school dropout at 15, and only a bit older a hobo on the Southern Pacific Railroad, a cattle skinner in Texas, a merchant seaman in Singapore and the West Indies, an itinerant bare-knuckled prize prize fighter fighting across a large part of small-town America.

It’s interesting to me, at least, that his books sold well without there being therein a lot of sex and violence. Whereas what sells well today contains huge amounts of sex and violence, as if that’s what it takes to sell. But sex is almost totally absent from Louis’s books and when there is violence it’s always controlled, as in a boxing match that might have come from Louis’s own real life experiences. The violence that is in a L’Amour novel is not the rampant, mindless, cruel and ugly stuff of our films and television screens and for that I’m grateful.

But what I wanted to share with you today is the passage below, taken from the book, Education of a Wandering Man, written by Louis himself about his own reading habits, reading being the biggest part of his education. These are the thoughts of a thinking man, and should be up there with the best of all that has been written, thought, and said about education.

As can be guessed from the title, this book is about education, but not education in the accepted sense. No man or woman has a greater appreciation for schools than I, although few have spent less time in them. No matter how much I admire our schools, I know that no university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner a direction and guidance. The rest one has to do for oneself. If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction. Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live life well one must live with awareness. No one can “get” an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process. If it does nothing else, it should provide students with the tools for learning, acquaint them with methods of study and research, methods of pursuing an idea. We can only hope they come upon an idea they wish to pursue.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: The Best Idea Ever

Charles Darwin’s 1859 publication, On the Origin of Species, changed the way we look at biology forever. charles-darwinIts central idea, evolution by means of natural selection, explains how all life evolves. No single idea has ever explained so much. It stands apart from most, if not all, scientific discoveries in its outreach and simplicity. As with most great ideas, once grasped, one is inclined to ask: “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?”

Posted on
See also: The Genius of Charles Darwin

Actually, others had similar ideas before Darwin, including fellow naturalist  Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace had figured out that species evolve through natural selection and sent Darwin his version prior to Darwin’s landmark publication. In 1858 they jointly presented their work to the Linnean Society of London. But ultimately, it was Darwin’s detailed explanation in 1859 that history would recognize.

The Idea

Organisms evolve over time by means of natural selection. Each generation is tested by its environment; the traits that aid an organism to survive and reproduce will tend to be passed on to the next generation. Not necessarily all the time, but often enough or in greater numbers. Traits that are not useful will tend to be discarded when the organism that bears them fails to survive or reproduce.

Through this process survivors are copied with slight random variations, which are then tested many times over. In other words, survivors live longer and usually reproduce more, keeping their survival traits alive in the ensuing generations. Darwin wasn’t the first to suggest that organisms evolve from previous forms, but he provided the mechanism (natural selection).

The Controversy

darwin_tree_lgDarwin delayed the publication of his theory of evolution for about 17 years,
because he feared a public backlash. And he was right in assuming that controversy would follow. His chief concern, I can only speculate, was probably religious. Natural selection can easily be viewed as taking god out of the creation business. If nature is shaping all of life, what is god left to do? Despite some criticism, his book drew worldwide interest. Even today evolution still gets some people upset. 
                                                                                   (Darwin’s Tree of Life)

Why is such a profound idea so difficult for some? Let’s look at possible reasons why:

  • Religious : Evolution contradicts the bible’s account of creation; however, many people seem to have no problem squaring evolution with the bible. They either don’t really know what the bible says or they don’t take it literally. Whereas literal interpreters of the bible clearly see what evolution means for their faith. For them evolution is akin to a fatal blow.
  • Supernatural thinking: If one is inclined to believe that there exists a dimension outside the laws of nature, then anything is possible. Life can then be guided by a supernatural force. If that is the case, evolution is no longer required as an explanation.
  • Evolution is confused with natural selection: I suspect that some people think of evolution as simply gradual change over time. In terms of the cause, they can use their imagination. However, the key insight is the means by which change happens. Evolution is the process and natural selection is the mechanism.
  • Deep time: There is nothing in everyday experience that can prepare us for the time scales involved in evolution. Simple life emerged on earth (in the ocean to be exact) 3.8 billion years ago. And from there spread to all regions of the planet. That’s 38 million centuries for life to evolve to eventually create you and me. Given enough time, minor variations in each generation can result in changes that may be hard for some to grasp.          
  • Sometimes the truth hurts: There is no plan in evolution, no final destination that has to be achieved. Furthermore, human beings don’t hold any privileged position in the tree of life. Darwin described life as a family tree, with different species spreading in all directions. Life could no longer be seen as analogues to a ladder, with humans occupying the top rung.  

A Scientific Idea

Darwin’s idea was much more than a moment of insight. It was a scientific idea, a theory that he developed based on years of experience as a naturalist. As a young man Darwin sailed across the globe on the HMS Beagle. He accompanied Captain Robert FitzRoy on a 5 year journey, where Darwin collected a multitude of natural specimens and fossils. It is on this voyage, from 1831 to 1836, that Darwin gathered extensive evidence for his theory of evolution.

Darwin collected many fossils; some were from ancient sea creatures, which he found in mountainous regions. This was clear evidence that mountains moved over time—that a high altitude had once been under water. From a geological perspective the earth had changed slowing throughout the ages. This principle of gradual change over time was extended to include life forms. If the earth changed, life could also change.

Influential to forming his ideas, Darwin collected bird specimens (finches) from the Galapagos Islands in South America. He noticed that the shape of the finch’s beaks varied depending on the island they came from. Darwin reasoned that the finches all originated from a common ancestor, and had evolved different beaks. The finches had become isolated on separate islands, thus evolving differently to meet the demands of the local food supply.

These and other similar ideas got the wheels in motion for Darwin, showing him that species were not stable, that they can change dramatically over long periods of time. Some of the fossils he unearthed were from extinct species, distant ancestors that resembled species that were still living. He also examined different mammal skeletons and noticed they were all variations of a similar bone structure. Beyond his own ideas, Darwin corresponded with other naturalist around the world through letters, thus gathering piles of information.

It would eventually culminate in the publication of On the Origin of Species. Darwin surely struggled with the implications of his theory, as it would have been radical in Victorian England. Creationism was the overwhelming belief of the time; however, it became clear to Darwin that organisms where not created in their present form. Darwin must have been apprehensive upon the publication of his book. Nevertheless, he was guided by the overwhelming evidence he observed as a scientist. He had to accept what his scientific mind was telling him, regardless of the belief of the day. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is a great scientific idea, and that is why it still stands today.

References: The Genius of Charles Darwin, The Science Foundation, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptV9sNezEvk, Published on Jan 12, 2011.