Monthly Archives: August 2015

Not really much to say, except we’re staying on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It’s very pretty. Very calm. I’ve seen a lot of butterflies, but I haven’t gotten any good pictures of them. We went kyacking in the water today and saw several of herons of different species and quite a few ospreys.

A couple of years ago, there was a new panda baby at the Smithsonian National Zoo. I haven’t been able to get there to see her again since I took pictures about a year and a half ago. Yesterday, she turned two and they made her a “birthday cake” out of frozen fruit.

Bao Bao Celebrates Her Second Birthday

Just about two years later, her mother, Mei Xiang, has given birth to two more cubs.

Second Panda Cub Born at Smithsonian's National Zoo

Both photographs are from the Smithsonian.

Far too many people on the left, while they are not liable to think of themselves as Marxists in so many words, are influenced by Marxist ideas. Black on black violence is not a problem to them because they see it as the vanguard of the revolution. Other people’s children are just a little sacrifice they’ll just have to live with on the way to their leftist Utopia.

Recently, I happened to read Tom Wolfe’s “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s” from 1970. I’d read other writings of his from the sixties and early seventies and assumed I’d read that one as well. I hadn’t. If I had, there is no way I could have forgotten it. It’s absolutely brilliant. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it highly. Most of it is fairly amusing observations about high society and the behaviors of people in it. Toward the end, however, Wolfe recounts the discussion that took place about the Black Panthers’ political program. One person at the soiree, Richard Feigen, asks if there is any chance the Black Panthers might consider backing a candidate for governor. “In other words,” he asks, “are the Black Panthers interested in getting any political leverage within the System?”

The representative of the Panthers, Don Cox, explains that they have “no use” for “the traditional political arena, because if you try to oppose the system from within the traditional political arena, you’re wasting your time…. We have no power within the system, and we will never have any power within the system. The only power we have is the power to destroy, the power to disrupt.”

In a fabulous descriptive passage, Wolfe writes:

Hardly anybody has noticed it up to now, but Leonard Bernstein has moved from the back of the room to an easy chair up front. He’s only a couple of feet from Cox. But Cox is standing up, by the piano, and Lenny is sunk down to his hip sockets in the easy chair . . . They really don’t know what they’re in for. Lenny is on the move. As more than one person in this room knows, Lenny treasures “the art of conversation.” He treasures it, monopolizes it, conglomerates it, like a Jay Gould, an Onassis, a Cornfeld of Conversation. Anyone who has spent a three-day weekend with Lenny in the country, by the shore, or captive on some lonesome cay in the Windward Islands, knows that feeling—the alternating spells of adrenal stimulation and insulin coma as the Great Interrupter, the Village Explainer, the champion of Mental Jotto, the Free Analyst, Mr. Let’s Find Out, leads the troops on a 72-hour forced march through the lateral geniculate and the pyramids of Betz, no breathers allowed, until every human brain is reduced finally to a clump of dried seaweed inside a burnt-out husk and collapses, implodes, in one last crunch of terminal boredom.

After a discussion of the tensions between the Black Panthers, the churches, the “established black community” and a mention of the fact that the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin did not attend due to threats, Leonard Bernstein and Otto Preminger try to pin Cox down on what the Black Panthers are seeking.

Lenny breaks in: “When you say ‘capitalist’ in that pejorative tone, it reminds me of Stokely. When you read Stokely’s statement in The New York Review of Books, there’s only one place where he says what he really means, and that’s way down in paragraph 28 or something, and you realize he is talking about setting up a socialist government—”

Cox beings to elaborate, but Bernstein interrupts.

Lenny says: “How? I dig it! But how?”

Cox dodges the question.

“You can’t blueprint the future,” says Cox.

“You mean you’re just going to wing it?” says Lenny.

“Like . . . this is what we want, man,” says Cox, “we want the same thing as you, we want peace. We want to come home at night and be with the family . . . and turn on the TV . . . and smoke a little weed . . . you know? . . . and get a little high . . . you dig? . . . and we’d like to get into that bag, like anybody else. But we can’t do that . . . see . . . because if they send in the pigs to rip us off and brutalize our families, then we have to fight.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more!” says Lenny. “But what do you do—”

Cox says: “We think that this country is going more and more toward fascism to oppress those people who have the will to fight back—”

“I agree with you one hundred percent!” says Lenny. “But you’re putting it in defensive terms, and don’t you really mean it in offensive terms—”

After more discussion during which Bernstein talks about the Black Panthers’ feelings towards white society in psychoanalytic terms, Barbara Walters finally manages to speak, and asks the question no one seems to be willing to ask the current crop of radicals.

Last year we interviewed Mrs. Eldridge Cleaver, Kathleen Cleaver, and it was not an edited report or anything of that sort. She had a chance to say whatever she wanted, and this is a very knowledgeable, very brilliant, very articulate woman . . . And I asked her, I said, ‘I have a child, and you have a child,’ and I said, ‘Do you see any possibility that our children will be able to grow up and live side by side in peace and harmony?’ and she said, ‘not with the conditions that prevail in this society today, not without the overthrow of the system.’ So I asked her, ‘How do you feel, as a mother, about the prospect of your child being in that kind of confrontation, a nation in flames?’ and she said, ‘Let it burn!’ And I said, ‘What about your own child?’ and she said, ‘May he light the first match!’ And that’s what I want to ask you about. I’m still here as a concerned person, not as a reporter, but what I’m talking about, and what Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Preminger are talking about, when they ask you about the way you refer to capitalism, is whether you see any chance at all for a peaceful solution to these problems, some way out without violence.

this country is going more and more toward fascism… I’ve heard this refrain with great regularity. If I haunt left leaning websites, I’ll read it every single day. More and more towards fascism – for forty-five years. The slowest slippery slope known to man.

From the website The Daily Kos alone in just the month of August:

Trump’s a fascist… And his demagoguery is lifted right out of the 20th century fascist playbook

Firearm Fascism in America

Could elements of a far-right fascist movement be present in the “preventative war”-backing, conspicuously self-radicalizing American right?

The neo-fascists are not practiced in throwing poo at a real fascist.

The left is seduced by radical rhetoric, but few follow the radical reasoning to its conclusion. The bask in the glow of revolutionary postures, secure in the knowledge that they live far from any real violence.

But people who live in more vulnerable circumstances do not have that luxury. They do not want their children to be the cannon fodder of the revolutionary vanguard. While homicide rates in most of the country remains low, it has increased dramatically in a small number of cities, St. Louis and Baltimore being two of them. These are the sacrificial victims on the alter of the revolutionary dreams of the educated. The would be leaders are utterly insensible to the pain of the people they pretend to lead.

Although leftist websites are unlikely to disseminate Hubbard’s video, which has racked up over five million shares on Facebook, the far right websites which have shared her video don’t fully represent her interests either. Right now, there is no political party or movement that represents people like her, and that’s missing from our political life, much to our detriment.

I find it almost strange that no one has mentioned something in relation to the U.S. Presidential elections. Governor O’Malley’s Catholic and Senator Sanders is Jewish. Senator Rubio is Catholic as is Senator Santorum. Governor Pataki seems to avoid saying, but he might be Catholic, which is how he was raised. Governor Bush converted to Catholicism as did Governor Jindal.

As an atheist, I don’t really care myself as long as they believe in the importance of a secular government. I find it interesting, though, because in the history of the United States there has only been one president who was not a Protestant. I’m old enough to remember when President Carter’s Baptist faith raised quite a few eyebrows, however President Clinton and the younger President Bush normalized the sect that had been so persecuted during the early years of this country. Still, I have always thought that religion was a bigger barrier in this country than race or gender, so I find it interesting that the press hasn’t commented much on that, at least not as far as I can see.

I can remember idly saying to someone sometime shortly after the year 2000 that the U.S. could have a black president if the right person came along. I had people telling me I was wrong almost up until election day in 2008. I’m a little less certain of whether or not the country could vote for a woman overall, but it is within possibility. However, I cannot see this country electing a Jew. Now, don’t put words in my mouth. It doesn’t make me happy to say it, but I’m just being honest about what I see and hear around me. Personally, on the small number of subjects where it might come into play, assuming an atheist is out of the question, I’d prefer a Reformed or Conservative Jew to just about any other group, with the possible exception of an Episcopalian with an agnostic temperament.

We shall see. With such a small sample, it’s impossible to make any definitive pronouncements, but in a field with so many non-Protestants it will be interesting. The apparent diversity in leadership brought about by President Obama might only be skin deep. Obama is related to Presidents George W Bush, his father George H. W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman and James Madison, and, most famously, Vice-President Dick Cheney. Through his mother’s side he belongs to the same religious and ethnic group that has always dominated the top positions in this country.

Do Bobby Jindal and Bernie Sanders even have a chance?

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

Last night, I was reminded by some Canadians that they have an election going on there too. This is the year for political junkies I suppose.

I have always deeply despised the Confederate Flag. Now, this is the internet, which means out there is someone dying to pick a fight over anything, so let me say that I am perfectly aware that the flag many people call “the Confederate Flag” was not actually the flag of the Confederate States of America. It was a battle flag, and, needless to say, I hate that one too. I never really bothered about it much, living as I do in the North and generally feeling that I’d rather focus on issues of substance rather than symbolism. I do have to say, though, that I was happy to see it come down. I have working class white southern relatives who like to say how they’re “proud” to be southern and they don’t like that flag. They normally didn’t say anything, but one person showed me some plates with a Civil War theme that were given to her as a gift.  Since I’m mainly directing this to British, let me specify, the U.S. Civil War, not one of the English ones. She said, “What am I supposed to do with them? They’re a little embarrassing.”

I know that for people in other countries the history and internal divisions of other places can be murky. I’m pretty sure much of the world has heard of the U.S. Civil War. What you might not know is that the divisions still linger. What I’m almost certain you don’t know is how much anger, annoyance and resentment still exists in the North towards the South. Sure, you probably know how much the South romanticizes their bloody war against the tide of history. What you might not know is how people in the North feel about it.

When you’re the winner, you have to be magnanimous. Whenever I’ve said anything to my Southern relatives even hinting that there are ways in which the North is culturally superior to the South, they call me a snob. I think “skinny Northern bitch” is a phrase I once heard. It’s a pretty effective method to bludgeon me into shutting up, though it doesn’t make me like southern food.

Every once in a while you will see a major flame war start on the internet because someone will say, “We should have let the South leave.” Southerners often express their outrage. What they don’t seem to realize is that it’s a common enough sentiment in the North. Political attitudes in the Western States are at least as different from the opinions in the Northeast, yet we never say that about them, so I imagine the war lies at the base of these resentful feelings. In high school, we spent more time covering Reconstruction than we did covering the war. For those of you who don’t know, Reconstruction was the attempt by the U.S. Congress to transform the Southern States in the wake of the Civil War. The feeling that Reconstruction didn’t go far enough or last long enough, that the South was forgiven too soon, is not an uncommon sentiment.

Although it’s probably not universal, and its extent is hard to gauge because it’s not polite to mention, there is more hostility and anger among Northerners towards any and all symbols of the Confederacy than you probably know.

So, you can’t imagine how jarring it is to see the flag of the United States of America referred to as “the stars and bars.” We call it “the stars and stripes.” “The stars and bars” is another flag altogether, the flag of our enemy.

I’m sure it was an accident.

I hope.

And, since you’re asking, I think Hamilton should stay on the ten dollar bill and we should get rid of Jackson.

I’ve started wondering about ancient buildings more prosaic than castles. It’s a wonder, but one wondering lead to another wondering until your wondering wanders all over. Being a very literal minded person, the kind that obsesses about whether or not castles had gutters, I started wondering about exactly how a medieval “machine à habiter”, to steal an expression from an entirely different era, functioned.

In any case, it took me by surprise to learn that chimneys didn’t come common in England until the Tudor period. They apparently existed in castles starting in the twelfth century. Before that, the smoke from fires was, at best, vented through a hole in the roof.

As I had with the looking up information about castles, I’m having a little problem with searching for information about the history of chimneys and instead getting results for the history of chimneys in England. One site noted, “The earthquake of 1347 destroyed several chimneys in Venice and they appear to have been well established in Padua by 1368.” Another site says, “With the Norman Invasion (in 1066) came a new concept: two-story houses. An upstairs meant that you couldn’t have a fire in the middle of the floor anymore, and you needed to draw the smoke outside instead of straight up, so the fire was moved to a niche in the wall.” So, what were they doing in France and when did they start doing it?

The medieval period spanned so many centuries, I don’t personally find it a very useful concept. Furthermore, much of what is written seems to concentrate on the High or Late Middle Ages. I suspect that’s because so little of what was built in the Early Middle Ages actually survives, though it has the strange effect of making about seven centuries of history disappear without noticing it.

Another little detail was how dangerous early chimneys were. Apparently, many were built of wood and covered with clay or wattle and daub. An imperfectly made one could catch fire.

By 1719 all clay built chimneys in England were ordered rebuilt of brick. In America chimneys continued to be constructed of wood lined with clay. As late as 1789 President Washington considered brick chimneys worthy of note during his tour of the east coast.

Even chimneys made of brick could be dangerous since some were not made of brick capable of withstanding the heat. Furthermore, they didn’t know much about how a chimney worked, so many were more than inefficient. Combustible smoke could gather inside. Apparently, it wasn’t until coal became an important source of heat that trying to get the smoke out of the house became an urgent question.

That same site that I’ve quoted several times already says:

About the same time as Franklin invented the Pennsylvanian fireplace, French architect Francois Cuvillies constructed an enclosed stove with fire holes covered by perforated iron plates. The Castrol stove or subsequently the “stew stove”, as his invention was called, was in many respects similar to the masonry stoves Chinese societies had used for centuries. The stew stove had its roots in Mediterranean cooking where food would be prepared in a vessel elevated over charcoal.

Which makes me wonder about chimneys and similar technologies in non-European cultures.

A quick post to bring everyone’s attention to an article I read a couple of weeks ago and to which I may be referring in the future. It has an insight that I think might be very, very useful for the progressives in the U.S. to internalize.

Most people are probably at least vaguely aware that there was an election in the UK a couple of months ago and, uninterestingly if you are not British, the same guy will continue to be Prime Minister. That is probably a relief to much of the world because it took us a long time to learn to identify him in a group photo. Apparently, it was a big upset since a lot of polls had predicted the other guy would win.

In The New Statesman, Helen Lewis wrote about the role she believes social media played in “The echo chamber of social media is luring the left into a cosy delusion and dangerous insularity.” I’m not sure who coined the term, but most links led back to an article by James Bartholomew. It is when you say something that is mainly intended to show other people what “kind, decent and virtuous” person you are.

It’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are. If you were frank and said, ‘I care about the environment more than most people do’ or ‘I care about the poor more than others’, your vanity and self-aggrandisement would be obvious, as it is with Whole Foods. Anger and outrage disguise your boastfulness.

One of the occasions when expressions of hate are not used is when people say they are passionate believers in the NHS. Note the use of the word ‘belief’. This is to shift the issue away from evidence about which healthcare system results in the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people. The speaker does not want to get into facts or evidence. He or she wishes to demonstrate kindness — the desire that all people, notably the poor, should have access to ‘the best’ healthcare. The virtue lies in the wish.

Although the article leads me to believe that he is conservative, I must confess his observations are accurate.

This behavior, virtue signalling, contains a particular trap for progressives. The social nature of forums like Twitter and Facebook encourage it.

But news on Facebook travels through “Likes” and shares, and people won’t Like a crackdown on benefits, even if they secretly support it. A lot of what happens on Facebook, as with Twitter, is “virtue signalling” – showing off to your friends about how right on you are.

It was this “Tyranny of the Like” that had many social media users convinced that Ed Miliband could squeak the election; after all, their friends seemed to be lapping up the mansion tax and the action against non-doms. No one seemed enthused about taking £12bn off the benefit bill, or reducing the help given to disabled people.

She notes how, when polled, people say they are concerned about issues that affect them like “law and order, health, education and variations on the micro-economy.”

Now imagine those same people tweeting or facebooking their thoughts. Would they be as honest and open about their self-interest? I doubt it. They’d be changing their avatar to a rainbow flag, or ostentatiously sharing the touching story of a girl who needs a new wheelchair but can’t ­afford one. And on 7 May, a large percentage of them would have voted Tory.

I would go a bit further and say that “virtue signalling” is a subset of “tribal signalling.” People on the right do it, too, but they are usually not signalling “virtue.” They convey assertiveness and independence by showing how “not PC” they are.

However, as we approach what will be the first seriously contested Presidential election in eight years, we would be wise to consider the potential pitfalls of this behavior.

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in a cafe in Paris when I happened to strike up a conversation with an Australian woman sitting next to me. At some point, she brought up Sarah Palin and went on for quite a bit about how ridiculous she was, a position with which I agreed. After continuing a little bit longer, she finally said, “What ever happened to her?” I said, “She wasn’t elected. She had no real support, so she disappeared.”

This time around, the media is having fun with reality tv star Donald Trump. As far as I can tell, Donald Trump is supported by Republicans who are angry with the status quo of the party and want to send a message. I have no reason to believe that he has even a small chance of winning the general election. However, he satisfies the need everyone has to gloat and go on about how stupid the unwashed masses are, the unwashed masses being, as best as I’ve been able to discern, everyone but the speaker. It’s a ritualized routine everyone is comfortable with.

Another routine which people left of center have enjoyed throughout my entire life is the one where they say how stupid Americans are for being afraid of socialism. We, so the Kabuki theatre of the left goes, barely understand what the word means and we are automatically scared to death when we hear it. This is then followed by a self-congratulatory pose for being so much more well-informed than the strawman.

These routines are so well ingrained in our political discourse, if discourse is the right word, sometimes we continue to say them long after there is much substance behind them. Will the conventional wisdom that U.S. citizens automatically run when they hear the word “socialism” change now that Bernie Sanders is drawing huge crowds, 28,000 people in Portland, Oregon, and 27,500 in Los Angeles?

The idea that citizens in the U.S. tend to be jumpy about the word socialism is not simply a myth. While we may support specific social programs, we tend to back away from a full-blown Socialist ideology. According to Wikipedia:

Initially, “socialism” referred to general concern for the social problems of capitalism regardless of the solutions to those problems. However, by the late 19th century, after waves of revolutionary movements, “socialism” had come to signify opposition to capitalism and advocacy for a post-capitalist system based on some form of social ownership.

In the United States, you can often find support for the former and very little support for the latter. Conservatives have made much use of the blurred definition by referring to specific social programs they oppose as “socialism.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Jason L. Riley points out that “no one is saying Bernie Sanders can’t win because America isn’t ready to elect an avowed socialist as president, which might have been the case not too long ago.”

This is a dramatic change in attitudes. I can’t help speculating that this change has been brought about by the rhetoric of the far right. For six and a half years now, the right has screamed relentlessly that President Obama is a Socialist. This generally has left people to the left of center laughing and shaking their heads. Compared even to me, a moderate liberal, Obama might as well be a moderate conservative. The far right has screamed “The President is a Socialist,” and the general population must have noticed that the sky has not fallen. Ironically, by calling every move to address any social problem “socialism”, without any nuance or explanation, the right may have taken the sting out of the word. Also, they may have confused the distinction.

Riley continues:

If the Democratic Party once felt the need to distinguish itself from socialism, that no longer seems to be the case. When Mr. Sanders entered Congress in 1991, “Democrats initially balked at accepting a Socialist in their caucus,” according to the “Almanac of American Politics.”

He goes on to say, “in this age of Obama, the senator is just another liberal with a statist agenda.” This is routine rhetoric that we’ve come to expect over the past few years. Sanders calls himself a socialist, Sanders often votes with the Democrats, Obama is a Democrat, therefore Obama is a Socialist. Riley may mean this to reflect badly on Obama, but the ultimate effect is to make Socialism less scary and normalize it for the U.S. public.

As an intellectual, I’m not really thrilled with this confusion. I believe that ideas matter, although it may not always be evident in the heat of a political fight when people will say anything to win. Blurring the lines between Liberalism and Socialism, between Leftist Radicalism and Liberalism, makes it difficult to discuss what we believe. Still, I’m not afraid of Socialists and if the slogans of the right have made a self-described socialist electable, I must say I find that very funny.

Oh – the only poll I could find that pitted Sanders against Trump has Sanders winning.

The Alameda is a wide, tree-lined street. The 1890s were the era of the City Beautiful Movement and in 1893 the landscape architect firm, Olmsted Brothers, was engaged to survey the city of Baltimore and make recommendations. The Alameda was one of several boulevards built during this time period to connect parks. It runs through the neighborhood of Coldstream-Homestead-Montabello. CHM is by no means a wealthy neighborhood, but it is not the sort of neighborhood that is associated with urban dysfunction. Predominately African-American and working class, it’s the sort of neighborhood that is often forgotten in discussions of our cities that reduce everyone to caricatures.

A broad boulevard in Baltimore

Yesterday, the Alameda sadly was home to the 200th homicide of the year in the city of Baltimore. The police have not released the identity of the victim. The Baltimore Sun called it part of a “wave of killings the likes of which hasn’t been seen in four decades.” When the loss of population Baltimore has experienced over the past 40 years is taken into account, it may be a wave of killings the likes of which have never been seen. The month of August has averaged one killing a day. This rate has not let up. Since the death on the Alameda, the was another shooting victim on the other side of town, on McCullough Street.

This does not take into account the shooting victims who are injured but not killed. In the same article in the Baltimore Sun:

Three other people were injured in two shootings early Monday morning. At about 12:35 a.m., officers found a 29-year-old man shot multiple times and a 19-year-old woman shot in the abdomen on the 1300 block of N. Carey St. in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, police said.

At 3:40 a.m., officers responded to the 500 block of N. Bouldin St. in the Ellwood Park/Monument neighborhood, where a 24-year-old man was found shot in his abdomen.