Monday, December 5, 2011
We have been hearing so much these days about Iran, and the danger that their nuclear program supposedly subjects us to that one might reasonably think there is no foundation for the trouble there or to the animus of so many Iranis to the US, and especially also to the UK. Actually, the trouble between the Iranis and the English goes back some 200 years at least, and the US has joined on the UK side only in the wake of WW II and the Eisenhower administration. As soon as the nascent UN had finished off the imperial pretentions of Germany and Japan, the US resumed the cold war that had started between the elites of capitalism and the USSR with Lenin’s October Revolution. It had been paused for the 4 years 1941-45 while part of the world set aside the doctrinal hatred of the sort that Europe had seen since the French Revolution in order to crush Hitler. Then the US immediately started to collect the remaining forces of the plutocrats from fear that the spectre of Communism would take away the sand pile that we call our world. The world was split between the protectorates of the West and those of the Soviet Union. In the middle, a small package of countries that wanted no part of yet another world war opted out and formed the shaggy uncommitted bloc, notably Yugoslavia, India and little Iran. Although Truman had lived easily with countries that resisted being US protectorates without joining the Warsaw Pact group, the Eisenhower administration under the leadership of John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen implicitly declared that all those that were not with us were against us, and Ike joined the UK in overthrowing the elected government of Iran, which had just then nationalized the oil under Iran. They installed the military fascist regime there, which the Iranis overthrew in 1979, dumping the dictator, and violated international precedent by taking the US keepers as hostages. For some reason, the Iranis thought they had a grievance against US. We live today with the remains of that history.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
We are now embarking again on the famous WI winter. This year, there has been an especially large outbreak of rains, floods and snows that have had the effect of felling trees, many falling across power lines and depriving whole areas of electricity, often for an extended period. Whenever this happens, it reminds me of my effort to interest MG&E in the enormous benefits that could accrue to places like the City of Madison if it were possible to be less dependent on long-distance power lines. Such a condition could be obtained by Madison and many other towns and cities, many in WI, through the advantages that could accrue to us if we had widespread mini-combined heat and power, abbreviated mini-CHP. This technology, which has been proven in use in Europe, especially Scandinavia, would provide electricity each user as a nearly free by-product of home heating. The yearly cost of natural gas and electric power for each such user would be about the cost of gas alone, with savings of about 50%. Into the bargain, the supply of electricity would be a nearly perfect guarantee to the user of continuity of that service, while saving about half the cost of the two utilities billed separately. MG&E advertises that they are eager to help us cut our total energy use, thus saving both money and nearly half of the natural gas and its attendant electricity. I was never successful in winning over the gas company to this proven technology and the side benefits of almost total freedom from power outages due to felled grid lines. There may be some unknown reasons why this company, which could profit handsomely from the benefits that could flow from mini-CHP, refuses to undertake a test in a few dozen homes that would demonstrate the benefits that would flow to the whole city, including the gas and electric company itself.
Monday, November 14, 2011
As we struggle to save the State of Wisconsin from the disaster that is sure to befall it if the Kochs and their hand puppet governor have their way, it is time to consider the likely outcome of the proletarianizing of the teaching profession. In case you have not had occasion to measure, I can vouch for the fact that very few Wisconsin High School graduates have been equipped in the matter of understanding what is going on in mathematics, with a similar notation for physics. Indeed, there are very few teachers in our High Schools who have had any acquaintance with either subject beyond the memorization of a few rules that would enable them to make routine calculations in it, thus qualifying themselves as inferior competitors in carrying out mechanical tasks to the machines widely available. Most egregious is the deficiency in experiencing the process of knowing when a given proposition has been proven. Often fairly talented students in our colleges are prevented from appreciating even the simplest subtleties of formal logic. And as the management of our schools falls increasingly into the hands of administrators and parents who already are handicapped in this way, the ability to hire any of the few available teachers who understand that triumph of human understanding vanishes, and that rules our graduates out of keeping pace with the intellectual accomplishments of the past centuries, and certainly of those now happening. The judgment of who can even teach the material at the High School level falls increasingly to people who do not know it themselves. Almost any teacher might be chosen for that task. And as the profession is made increasingly unattractive by bosses who are themselves ignorant of its subtleties, it will be increasingly difficult to hire the replacements for those who have quit it or been forced out. Governors and Principals who are ignorant of the intellectual achievements that brought us to this time will offer the students increasingly barren educations.
At this moment in mid-November, WI stands at the crossroads for the State, and likely for USA. In a sort of poetic way, we will be following the shade of Bob Lafollette, or that of Joe McCarthy, and will likely set the course for whether we will reignite the Progressive spirit or sink into what sociologists have called the Peasant Mentality. The past 60 years have indicated that the Age of Reason has been losing its battle with sluggish contentment out here on the prairie. The Billionaire’s Lobby has paid to set a hand puppet in charge of the State government and there is no Enlightenment on the horizon to take the place of the German immigrants of 1848. If there is not a flash of clarity to bring the working people of WI to act to rid ourselves of the laws enacted in a virtual flash of an eye as decided by the Kochs and their ilk, we will forfeit all claim to the Progressive tradition and the prosperity it has brought us in the XX Century. We are blessed at this time that Dave Obey has peeked out of retirement to lead the cause of removal of the puppet regime. And if we are lucky, Kathleen Falk will condescend to the office of Lieutenant Governor for a few years, she might well earn the right to succeed him in the statehouse. As for Jon Erpenbach, we will need him desperately in the Senate until our State has regained its intelligence and its Mission. If we lose this chance for the working people to vote for their Enlightenment, the Billionaires’ Lobby will most likely close off that chance for the remainder of this century at least. The move to vote their needs in democracy and prosperity is being negated as quickly as the Kochs are sending bills to negate what we used to think was our traditional recourse to sense and sensibility.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
In all the controversy over who has a “right” to move into a space where someone else has a claim of right, there is very little that addresses the Q in its extremes, though they often fail to exclude those extremes. These consist of the claim that the established people of an area have a right to say who will share that right and who has no such legitimacy. Still, I have not heard anyone claim that the right is universal, or even limited to the sane and legally innocent, while no I have not heard that there are those (e.g. those imported by their parents without their legal consent) who obtain that right without being subject to the laws and practices of the “legitimate” owners. Indeed, I am convinced that almost no one maintains the absoluteness of either of those claims. I do not know of anyone who claims that a child obtains citizenship by such an act of their parents, nor the right to obtain cheap labor in circumstances approaching serfdom. However, I do believe that the entitlement to immigration lies with the legitimate adults of a free land, by unanimous or overwhelming consensus. Until I hear such argument, I eschew all those who claim that their own preferences are the voice of divine law. However, I do believe that the most extreme actions are not necessary as alternatives to allowing the excesses claimed by either side. The most regulated options would, in the opinions of many, at least extend to the benefits of the social compact enacted by those with legitimate standing, especially the coverage of the welfare state, and the forbidding of employment to those without such recognition as a valid claim to citizenship can be policed in a mild way by fining employers who refuse to cooperate in determining who is a legal resident, and the use of substantial penalties against those with resources should be enough to prevent their profligate abuse. Laws like those in AZ and AL are not necessary to minimize those abuses.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
We have already had a bellyful of decisions from the SC like those deciding that money is protected speech and corporations are people with all the rights of the US Constitution’s First Amendment. Now comes the Chamber of Commerce, among other institutions, standing up for the principle that corruption is not criminal, but a legitimate means of obtaining profits, and thus business. And since business has been sanctified as a function of civilized life, this legitimizes it to the point that it is most likely to put the veil of trade secrets around practices that ordinary people think should be subject to the ordinary criminal laws. By a current report, almost all the GOP congressfolk adhere to the move to repeal the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, together with some Democratic Senators and Representatives. The fact that people are making money out of such actions is said to lend it the presumptions of legitimacy unless the contrary can be proved, likely requiring such proof beyond doubt. When I studied the law, I already saw the early form of this argument when e.g. the CEOs of the tobacco corporations all swore under oath that they believed that cigarettes were not addictive, and none were indicted for perjury. Even when strong evidence was found that they did not believe what they were saying, the fact that business was involved shielded them from prosecution. This is how low we have sunk in the deification of money, and the bulk of the US population seems able to accept the decision, together with the other ways in which the SC has proclaimed that money cleans all activities. The alchemists of the Middle Ages sought the universal solvent, which would dissolve every material, and in our own time, it seems to be gold. If we do not stand up for ourselves, we shall all be for sale. If we don’t vote for our autonomy, we shall likely lose it.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Every year at this time, we collect the discarded leaves of our beautiful green city. We pay to have them swept up and taken away, with many of them composted for eventual use as mulch and fertilizer for our lawns and gardens. This composting is a vast improvement on the earlier practice of burning most of them and releasing the CO2 into the air. However, it is still distinctly inferior to subjecting them to anaerobic digestion, in which much of the chemical energy that our thousands of trees have stored in them is made available for chemical energy of a very high level, compared with the CO2, which is generally acknowledged as a pollutant and a contributor to the warming of the planet. Of course, even the digestion gives off part of its output as CO2, but in the case of the composting, the part of the organic process yields methane, which is a far worse product than the CO2. Also, the sludge that is the residue of the composter is a far richer fertilizer, since its proteins and oils have not been degraded by the oxidation of the rest. In addition, the average time needed to reduce the leaves to mulch is much less in the digester than in the open air, even when deprived of O2. There is of course an investment needed in the building of a digester, but the additional energy needed (if any) can easily be provided by solar cells yielding both power and heat to run the digester. For a city that hopes to be graced by its new Inst. of Discovery, it is a step further into the world of the future than the one on the ceremonial quarter, which features a cow, corn and cheese. As the modern efforts abandoned in the past century to avoid the pretended threat of commonism, it would be a claim on the kind of world we hope to build.
The struggle over the teaching of school, particularly HS, continues to confront us, and everyone who has actually been to one imagines that he is an expert on what needs to be learned there and how to present that. Even in the ranks of professors of Mathematics in U, there remains a disagreement on how that should be accomplished. Thus, like most of those in that line of work, I find that entry level undergraduates have no idea of what constitutes a proof in elementary Euclidean geometry or any other part of Mathematics, or in any other discipline. This reduces technical argument to something just barely amounting to plausibility, or even less. In noting this failing, teachers of Calculus are unable to find the time or opportunity to teach this aspect of proof within the Calculus agenda. As a result, the most important feature separating proof from plausibility does not reach many students. There is simply no space, time or opportunity to take up the two disciplines in the same format. The discipline enforced by the traditional 2-column proof separating assertions and justifications is denounced as anachronistic and stultifying by those possibly tired of exacting that kind of effort from unwilling adolescents. Yet it is the keystone upon which the entire edifice of Mathematics (which is much more than the mere art of calculation) stands. Computers have been built to replace human thought in calculation, at least on the undergraduate level, but the matter of logical proof, once passed by, is highly unlikely to reappear in the later levels of learning. And in USA, we are even suffering in the HS a shortage of teachers who have learned that and understand it. The penetration of a faulty narrative proof entails a search of the mind and intent of the putative prover, and if one faces the attempted work of novices, is exhausting. At the same time, attempts by teacher unions to obtain space and time for that in school has always fallen before school board intransigence.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Reading the Guardian news page from UK I came upon a story which, if true, smacks of corruption in the Obama WH reminiscent of the Teapot Dome Scandal of nearly 90 years ago in the Harding administration. If the report in The Guardian is to be believed, a pipeline across the upper midWest and down into Texas carrying an especially toxic and filthy effluent of oil from Canadian oil sands represents a threat to the environment, and that threat has been swept under the rug due to the efforts of a group in the State Dept. consisting of the leavings of Hillary Clinton’s move for the presidential nomination about 4 years ago. And the muscle behind the hiding of the nearly secret signing away of the rights of the US people lies in that group, likely Hillary herself and possibly the strength of her power exerted not through the Interior Department but a misuse of the State Dept. itself. If the report is accurate, it makes the scandal from about 90 years ago sound like child’s play by comparison. And it all happened while the BP negligence was flooding the delicate ecosphere of the Gulf with tons of polluting oil. It may be that this is larceny pointing up what we may have been spared by the defeat of Hillary’s grasp for national power beyond what she may have exercised as First Lady. Yet whatever power may have initiated this grab, what is more frightening was the total hiding of a possible corruption of this magnitude from the “free press”, which is supposed to prevent this sort of action from taking place out of the grasp or reach of the supposedly free People. It is shameful that only the reach of the UK press can bring such a crime to the attention of the nation. What would the administration of the Billionaire Lobby have made of this if it had happened in a country not allied to the movement to rule the whole world, domestic and international, out of DC? Maybe it is time that Lady Clinton be consigned to the slag heap of history?
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
The reality of Game Theory reveals the weakness that underlies its role in destroying the economy. The theory involves antagonists playing a game for a prize, and in order to do what usually passes for mathematics, and thus for science, the prize, and its probabilities, has to be reckoned in real numbers. The fact that the economy includes many things, like life and health and justice and education, which cannot be measured in mutually understood numbers, reveals why the attempt to reduce it to a game over real numbers cannot take account of some of the subtleties, and this gives the lie to the claim of the economic theorists that they are analyzing with science. The attempt to measure things in imaginary units called utiles ends up measuring them in dollars. Thus this 3-cushion shot gives us the 300-year-old error that money alone measures the effectiveness of economics. In the region of elections, we see the failure of that theory. The New Labour Party in UK acted in accord with the theory when they moved their policies to as near that of the Tories as they could without erasing any difference, but in the end they came so close that a substantial portion of their base in UK labor did not see enough difference between them and the Tories to make it worthwhile voting for Gordon Brown. Now that the Tories are in the saddle, they have plenty of opportunity to see that difference, and who knows how long the workers who abandoned the New Labour Party will sweat and bleed under that yoke before they will be able to rescue their lives and those of their children and grandchildren. Now Obama has the chance to make the error of Blair and Brown and submit US to the yoke of the tea party, in which case the ruination of obsolete economics may extend a century. The threat, as in UK, has no obvious road back to sanity if they regain the whip hand.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
About 300 years ago, about the beginning of the Age of Reason, as the economy of EU was making the transition from the Imperial mode to what was called the Free Market, the economy was defined as one of need, when even the emerging industrial revolution could not provide the basic needs of life for even the advancing population of the new industrial countries. Life under the remains of serfdom remained marginal for many of those working on the land. For the new working class it was actually more secure, though barely so. The social and economic thinking of the day saw no alternative to the greedy and rapacious market and death from hunger was not unknown. Still, it seemed to many as the only way, despite the optimistic thinking that was experimenting with the idea of cooperation as an acceptable alternative to the whipping that was competition, often called cutthroat. Today, at least in the industrial world, it is clear that an economic model built on a standard work life of 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year over 45 years produces enough to provide a living wage for all those willing and able to do it, with the increase in productivity giving more than enough for that and an ample surplus to provide rewards for those who genuinely exceed the average to a notable degree. Still, in almost all the world, the Free Market does not provide jobs for all willing and able to meet the need and joblessness of eager workers rears its head frequently, even constantly. And the economic profession is apparently unable to find a way to use the prospective labor surplus to supply manifest needs in the infrastructure, the schools, health provision and other places, like clean air and water, where only governmental initiative can provide what would be a benefit in the lives of all the people. The paid propaganda of the continuing greedy classes has convinced most of the people that would lead to the Gulag, via the workings of the now defunct Soviet Union.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
For those who had read and understood “The Affluent Society”, the demands of support for the economy back in November 08 lay supporting the States. Instead of waiting to learn what promises those governments might make as a support for the payroll, it would have been wise to immediately announce a program of federal support for those commitments they had made when they thought they were staking their own money. Obama should have announced that there would be an immediate infusion of about $200 billion to them on a per capita basis to enable them to retain their public employees, especially teachers, and to continue the infrastructure contracts they had already made under the same belief, with further help to follow based not on promises, but on the way in which the first payment sustained the economy. Of course, the economic establishment was operating not on the basis of Keynes, but on Ayn Rand, as dictated by the business schools, under the illusion that Game Theory was the answer to every problem in the economy. It would have been hard for Obama to move against the nearly unanimous opinion of those who proclaimed their dicta scientific, having armored themselves by buying themselves a counterfeit Nobel Prize to crown each other with. Of course, we now know that the Democrats had abandoned the legacy of the New Deal and had lost even the history of that remedy 80 years ago. So the result was to undertake a recovery that would have been weak even in the hands of Herbert Hoover. There remains the wisdom that those who have not learned the lesson of history will be condemned to repeat it, and we are now reaping the harvest of the policies that did not work for Hoover and now not for Obama. Game Theory is an interesting study in the situation of a simple game, but the economy is deeper than that, and has many more dimensions.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Last week I had the unpleasant experience again of reaching Madison through Chi from a foreign airport. After going through the security check in London, I had togo outside the customs barrier at Chi, carrying my hand luggage, and taking a train from one building to another and then repeating the security inquisition for a second time in the same trip. As earlier, it occurred to me that any city or state that wants to play in the arena of excellence in international science or business must have easy access by the standard air routes. I figured out once how WI could do that without involving any State costs. When I raised the suggestion with my Assemblyman, I was rebuffed with no reason given. When I asked my State Senator, I was told that it was too ambitious for WI to consider. This time, it occurred to me that unless there were a desire in MSN and MKE to be included in the wider world of science and business, the idea that the State capital and the seat of the University were only accessible dependably by local bus was a substantial impediment to keeping competitive with MI and MN, which have the national and international connections. Our world reaches out to the edges of the universe, both geographically and philosophically. Yet in many ways, it feels as though Madison is a leftover, as in the dismissal of the Middle West as the Flyover People. The sense that the real world is absent on another planet is one that plays a central part in luring talented people from the Midwest. The possibility of having an international airport in Jefferson County, linked to MSN and MKE by high-speed electric railroad is one that might still exist, if there were the desire to move this part of the world closer to the intellectual center of this country
I have been following the news on this outbreak of rioting in UK, but until yesterday, I had only the vaguest idea of what it was that was driving the onset. It stems from the killing of a black man named Duggan by a policeman. The exact sequence of events was never clear at first. What was patent was that the policeman did kill Mr. Duggan and there was no indication that there was even a suspicion that the killing was unjustified. In similar circumstances, one might have expected that the killer would have been suspended pending an investigation of the circumstances, but no such announcement was made. After several days, a crowd went to the local police station to inquire after the state of matters. They were left standing in the street for four hours without comment, after which they turned their backs and walked away. In the light of decades of relationship between the police and the black community in UK, the absence of any recognition of the urgency of having something to say was left to die unanswered. It had come upon the heels of an announcement that Mr. Duggan had killed a policeman or, in a later version, that he had had an exchange of gunshots, and seemed to validate the killing. The crowd exploded. They turned to the one thing that was sure to elicit a response. They broke things. Like the story of the mule trainer that started out beating the mule with a 2x4 “to get its attention”. But the Government has taken shelter in the canard that those who sought attention to the events leading up to the riot were claiming that that justified the explosion of anger and by the allegation that those who demanded clarification were justifying the theft. The issue was not the theft. It was the killing of Mr. Duggan. The attempt to focus on the theft shows the shallowness of Tory understanding.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
A few years ago, a writer produced a book called What’s wrong with Kansas? His thesis was that the Conservatives never produce the laws that their conservative voters want, but they continue to re-elect them. All that seems required is that they show themselves as minded in the indicated directions, as a contrast to the Dems. Since I have doggedly tied myself to the desire that Obama wishes to do the things he says, and he seems to make no effort to achieve those things, I am in the same position as the Kansas voters, though in reverse. Since I do not take Obama for a fool, I am forced to the conclusion that he takes me for one, and you too. The purpose for his failure to exhibit any of the strength that he patently showed in the 08 election might be his re-election rather than one of the Tories, but there does not seem to be any urgent desire to accomplish the things that the US people gave him the mandate to do, or at least to attempt. So maybe he does consider me a fool, and maybe you, too. I thought Gore was not worth voting for and, in the light of the present President, maybe that was right, but look what the Bush regime has cost us. And when I succumbed and backed Kerry, that also looked like Kansas in reverse. Meanwhile, UK is now suffering from a government even worse than Blair or Brown, and it looks like there will be no release from the ravishing of the present generation of adolescents as far into the future as anyone can see. And back at home I have the choice of settling for a President who is a block against progress or taking a chance on a Bush clone, or even worse, if that is possible. And I tremble at the thought of who may be orchestrating this parody of Democracy and how they bring it about, while desperately clinging to the hope that we have not been sold out while saluting the Democrats’ shining banner and marching in the ranks of the betrayed believers.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Here in London, we are coming to understand that the re-allocation of road space from cars to bicycles contains costs that are not apparent from the outset. It is one thing when we are dealing with little-used suburban and local streets, but quite another when the appearance of bicycles in dozens and scores forces following traffic to advance at bicycle speed. This is especially true when outraged motorists are impeded and demand that bikes share their lanes with cars and trucks, often close and frequently fast. The law in WI has always required that they take a full lane, so as not to subject this fragile traffic to the danger of being forced off the road or crushed. I have even been harassed by police in the Arboretum for not moving over to share a single lane with a police car. The secret lies in the growth of traffic. As urban housing and offices dictate the razing of 3- and 4-story houses to apartment blocks of 12 or 20 stories, even worse in cities like London, where, as 30- and 40-story buildings are increasingly to be seen, the streets will have no room into which to expand. As an engineering problem, I see no solution but the division of the space over the roads into motorized traffic at the street level and elevated promenades for pedestrians and non-motorized bikes and skates. A civilizing dent can be made by saving the sky over the sidewalks and having the light traffic as high as the third story to allow a sense of space to those using the lower level. Otherwise, in time the bicycles will push the cars and trucks off the streets entirely, though at significant peril. And if we are to find some recourse in downtown construction, we had better get building very soon. If we wait long enough, the construction alone will be very costly and more intrusive. Meanwhile, we can expect the existing roads to become increasingly crowded and dangerous, and increasingly unattractive as an engineering problem.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
The fiasco of the collapsing of the Murdoch regime in US and UK makes clear the expectation of entitlement on the part of the proprietor class in the world of the Free Market (FM) and the relative triviality of the application of that term when relating to the struggle of the poorest and least powerful among us merely to stay alive and retain the most basic of the amenities of life. The ruling of UK by the coalition government, led by a cabal of Eton men who consider that their privileged status includes the right to rule, overshadows the claim of working people to a level of at least decency, and by a margin that makes us realize that their use of the term, like that of the word “elitism” is in a large part a move to disarm the word itself to prevent its being applied to them. For just as that can refer to a statement about whether the rich have a right to rule, it can merely note that Einstein was smarter than most people. And a similar comment applies to the word “entitlement”. Anyone who has any experience with seeing how the rich in college feel they are entitled to certification as superior thinkers for routine memorization without any meaningful degree of understanding must look with scorn on their complaints against those who are merely collecting belatedly on their share of the wealth that their generation has conferred on those who have profited from the fruits of their labors. The economy, which was one of distributing a meager weal, is now so fruitful that “hot money” is plentiful in the strata of those who have never worked for a living. The growing productivity of labor in each succeeding generation creates more wealth to supply all with a comfortable living and still have plenty left to act as a spur to creativity. Indeed, it is really only those who are at most merely comfortable who are genuinely moved to that accomplishment by the promise of prosperity.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
I was recently in contact with a friend about a notion I had had about creating a bank of stem cells harvested from human placentas, a source which had almost invariably been discarded. It seemed to me that the potential supply was endless there and only a brutal indifference to the possible benefits could stand against such a blood bank. It could be sustainably renewed as soon as any degeneration in old stem cells from that showed a sign of decay. What I got in reply from my medical friend was a long list of links to the work of the past decades since the pioneering work of Prof. Thomson and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. It turned out that there has been a flood of results, culminating in some investigations in Australia involving two placentas donated by women who had had well-planned Caesarian deliveries, yielding a total of about 4.5 m cells of extremely high quality and great promise. I was astounded to learn that I had heard nothing of the work, despite my lay interest in scientific advance. However, if the ordinary considerations applied, this should put paid to the controversy and we should all celebrate together, regardless of our religious orientations. Still, I cannot imagine that there could be any objection to applying this nascent technology, at least in the cases of people with no other sources of hope. Yet it would seem that there must be objection somewhere to going further at full speed, at least in the case of special urgency. I hope that someone would fill me in to the information of any objection and why it carries weight in our supposedly advanced society. It is so rare these days that the advance of knowledge seems not to have any down side, even for those who appear congenitally to oppose the advances of knowledge that is not grounded in ancient texts. When
Thursday, July 14, 2011
This month will go into USA history as the time when Pres. Obama finally drained the Dem Party of hope, leaving the Enlightenment to be extinguished by the ignorant depredations of the ideological know-nothings that put the welfare of GOP functionaries ahead of the desperate needs of the nation. In the dismantling and castrating of the Labour Party in UK, we see the future of our country as far ahead as the horizon. We do not need the stirrings of hope we saw in the 08 elections as a foil for the strangulation of the Enlightenment, such as that of Government in UK under Blair and Brown. The presence of Obama apparently softening the sharp edge of labor servitude is not an adequate payment for the circumstances that will deprive civilized life of the advantages that were piled up in the XX Century making life more tolerable, and even somewhat pleasant, for the working people and laying the grounds for advancement and participation in the economic life of US. We will actually not replace Obama at the head of the ticket in 2012 and that will doom us to total non-participation in the decisions of our lives until 2017, by which time the Dem Party will join New Labour on the ash heap of History. The loss of the lesson of the New Deal has been lost by the working people who have benefitted from the example of FDR and have escaped the wreck visited upon this nation by the greed and predation of the Golden Era, culminating in the Great Depression. In the belief that the method of Obama was the best we could hope for, we have followed a false Messiah not to the Peaceful Kingdom but back into the chains of the Old Regime. Whether Obama wins or loses next year, the future for the working people of US is very dark, and there does not appear that any new home for the Enlightenment offering itself in the very dark days that seem to lower on the horizon.
Friday, July 8, 2011
To misquote Lincoln Steffens from his autobiography, “I have seen the future and it stinks”. UK is so dysfunctional it almost makes Wisconsin look intelligent. The Tory government is so eager to unravel the advances made in the lives of average people in the XX Century that one fears that the human race is in the process of abandoning the advances of that century and returning to the abuses of the Golden Age, or even back to the time when the Free Market represented an advance on the pattern of old Liberal economics that were an advance 250 years ago on the Administered prices of imperial Europe. Meanwhile, all the nations of the planet are shrinking their budgets, neglecting the teachings of Keynes and their proof in the New Deal of Roosevelt. Even Pres. Obama seems to be reliving the policies of Herbert Hoover as the robust economy that USA had in the 1960s and 70s grinds to a slow crawl. UK seems like WI on sleeping pills, waiting for the super-rich to decide to invest in industry, just as they didn’t in the 1930s. And the supposed experts tell us that the route to prosperity is to deny ourselves the results of fostering the middle class through having them work, producing so many things that we all seem to want while cashing in on the good life that would follow if all of the working people had jobs, good jobs that could support the nation to the degree that we knew it in the years of the late century just past. Instead, the Tories and their owners are pulling the carpet out from under the working people and our children, creating a Lost Generation of those who are being denied access to the universities, and denying health care to those who do not have the money to buy it at its current prices, even in some cases stretching to the point of denying life-saving treatment. For most of the population the choice is to fight this reversal of prosperity or succumb to the threat of a Dark Age crawling over the horizon.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
We are now past the expiration date of the US debt limit, and living on the scraps and bits of money that we can scrounge up in the treasury, but the Obama administration hardly looks like they are facing a screeching halt. The only ones who are facing that eventuality are the members of the Tea Party who appear to have taken John Boehner captive and are threatening to oust him from his Chair after only a few months of his achieving the life goal of his ambition in Congress. If we were to believe the mouthings of the national press, there remain only a few months until everything would stop, including even the few nickels it would require to pack up the US effort in Iraq and Afghanistan and get the warriors home. So it looks like the only reality that would match the effort is that Obama is preparing to cede once again to the bluster of a few maniacs. If he were actually playing the game of Chicken that he says has him trapped, he would certainly be having the forces pack up for a decent departure back to the Western Hemisphere while there were a few cents left to pay their way Home. Instead, GOP can always complain that his body English was always consonant with their having him over a barrel and that he was always moving to conform to the force majeure. Indeed, he has left that message with people like me, and that is why so many of us on his Left are responding to polls with the opinion that we are not satisfied with this conduct of the Government. It is clear that all he wants is a plausible tale to cover his surrender, and that is all GOP is planning on letting him have. On the other hand, if he gives the order to prepare to bring the forces home, the ball would then be in the Tea party’s court, and we might see a two-sided game of Chicken.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
The US Supreme Court has never actually ruled that anyone who had a billion dollars was entitled to a billion extra votes, but it began to feel like it. Certainly the Koch brothers had more influence on the outcome of the 2010 vote in WI than the hundreds of thousands of voters who had been persuaded by their slick advertising that it was not worth the time and effort to get down to the polls and vote. And that on top of those who felt that if the Dems could not get over the obstructionist tactics of GOP, then it didn’t matter who won the election. So it is proven again that if the People did not take account of who was primed to do them more damage (not to mention the few that were actually acting in their interests), then Plato’s dictum on the worthlessness of democracy would be reinforced. On top of that, the prospect that the Kochs didn’t have to say who was paying for the slick ads that flooded the TV made it appear as the cool thing that year was to “turn the rascals out” or to “starve the beast” or any of the shallow slogans by the use of which they could be persuaded to act against their own better interest (not to mention their best ones). It must, after all have looked like the Dems would lie battered in the ditch after deciding that it would be ungentlemanly to give GOP a dose of what the representatives of the billionaires had been offering the negligent People as the strategy that they said was their way out of the dead end. Both in DC and in Madison, it seemed that those who were threatening to kill off the People’s democracy and blame it on either the machinations of the Dems or at least a law of nature were going to get away with it and secure an almost unconditional surrender for the hirelings of the Plutocrats. So it looked to many that the appropriate way to punish their false friends in the Center Left was to vote to empower their true enemies on the Far Right.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
From time to time we hear reports from the US Government about events in the Great World in which this nation or another stands in the court of public opinion. Sometimes DC will contribute this principle or that to indicate which nation or another is in violation of something that DC likes to call the opinion of humankind. It often happens that the choice of judgment coincides with whether the accused country is a US ally or not. Today we are witnessing the opening of the trial of Serbian General Mladic. People parroting the US line are saying that since he was in charge of the Serbian army at the time, any violations of common understanding can be laid to his command, and that he is thus individually guilty of many crimes, one of which is murder. Yet when the accused is a major political figure of a DC ally, or even DC itself, a different set of rules is adduced, notably what actions the accused has provably done. Just as a coincidence, the past 2 weeks featured the exhumation of President Salvatore Allende of Chile. The Nixon administration, which had borne the accusation by many observers of having sponsored the Pinochet coup, was thought by many to have murdered President Allende. But they had Allende buried without a post-mortem and all succeeding presidents, including Pres. Obama, have not rushed to condemn Nixon, who announced that Allende had killed himself with his AK47. The burden of individual conviction for murder, they said, required proof of individual action beyond reasonable doubt. General Mladic, by contrast, was said to be convicted by the suspicions of the observers. Now, by coincidence, it is reported that Allende’s body showed 2 shots: a small caliber to the head and a major one from the assault rifle. It is hard to imagine the scenario, in which a coup soldier had found the corpse and put an extraneous bullet in the head, which can still be tested for as the cause of his death. I think that he was murdered, and that under the Mladic precedent, Nixon must be accorded the status of his murderer.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
We are being told that there is a recovery happening, but the only real evidence for that is a rise in the stock market. Meanwhile, the housing industry is in collapse, the auto plants are just making money on the pent-up demand, abut 15 million people who want real jobs on which one can raise a family are either jobless or do lower-level work that takes in no evidence that they are skilled workers, or work only part-time but have the training for an advanced job that they are barred from by the slack in the labor market. The rise in the stock market or similar deposits called “investments” are signs only of the purchase of securities by the minority that have money and are used to the expectation that they can increase their wealth not through genuine accomplishments but only through the fact that there are others who will pay even more to agglomerate wealth without making anything of value or inventing anything of worth. This motivation is so widespread that the demand for these supposed pots of gold keeps building up in a bubble until a wrinkle punctures it. We have seen from the New Deal how to get out of a depression caused by such a puncture, but now we have a new Keynesianism from Galbraith that points out that the draining of hot money into projects of genuine social need not only can spread health, wealth and prosperity but also reduces the apparent need of everyone with a bit of spare cash (Spare as shown by the ability to wager it in the Big Casino) in the search for reward for winning the gamble against others similarly ignorant and similarly driven. If we understand the motives that drive people to play in this game in which most are the rankest of amateurs compared with those with enough to bend the rules to their benefit, then we can see the shifting of funds from the feeding of the professionals to the People, in the form of health, education, justice and stability is to nearly everyone’s advantage.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
It seems to me that we are reaching the end of the Enlightenment. I had never heard of it until I reached literature in college German class, which now seems strange, since it was the moving spirit of the US Revolution and the intellectual life of the latter 18th Century in EU. In fact, as I later realized to my surprise, it was the Enlightenment that endeared US to the dreams of the educated people there in the 19th Century. The Enlightenment was the force of mind that led politics in UK, philosophy in France, and music and literature in Germany during that time, but only US was successful promoting it as a political philosophy, though France kept trying and falling back into autocracy. Still, there was enough of that outlook in US so that the attempt to believe in it kept Columbia as the Gem of the Ocean until it finally broke over the issue of slavery. What it had left behind was a beacon of hope in the practical policies of Democracy for almost 100 years and a very prosperous economy for most of its second century. But underneath there was always a strange mixture of the Wild West and peasant life in EU imperial life to undermine the glorious vision of a nation governed by the philosophy of Reason. By the early 20th Century, the cracks in the attendant belief in the perfection of the Free Market were challenging the rule of money that had been part of the credo of the Free Market for over 200 years. In the meantime, the Germans fleeing the crumbling of the Prussian Revolution in 1848 came to WI, bearing the Enlightenment with them and were the torch of Liberty for about 100 years until being swallowed by McCarthyism after WW II. Today we struggle to maintain the faith that made us the Capital of Reason during most of the US centuries until the class war of the billionaires has put our heritage in peril. The next few years will chart WI’s course for the next few centuries. This is a call to fight for the Light.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Today the Mississippi R is flooding again, as it does from time to time, but today it is within 2” of the record flood at Memphis in 1937. When I was a kid in the 1930s, the R flooded almost every year, as did its companion, the Tennessee. And the TN valley was a mess of swamps, malaria, and underdevelopment. But the New Deal changed that for them, as new dams converted the swamps into lakes, managed the mosquitoes by manipulating the water levels in them, and electrified SE TN into the industrial giant of that State. After being interrupted by WW II, the move to do a similar thing to the MO R was restored. Since that did not have the same geography, it would have involved diverting the R SE through many farm fields when necessary prevent the destruction caused in river cities. But after 1945, the anger of the corporate bureaucracy against what they called the Red Menace in the form of the TVA not only prevented the upper Midwest from profiting from TN’s example, but as soon as GOP got their hands on government, Eisenhower began to restrict the socially beneficial effects of the TVA, resulting on a stress on coal burning power plants which left a toxic legacy of coal ash in place of the long-past floods. MVA was out of the Q, and remained so to this day. Today 400 miles W of TVA in TN, Memphis is the victim of the lack of flood control while TX is consumed by a drought and could dearly love the MO R water if they could get it. Of course, TX leads the country in finding Reds under their beds, so perhaps it is plain divine justice that they are not getting the MO Valley’s surplus to wet their fields. But a week or so back one part of MO was flooded to save the city of Cairo IL, while MO raged and TX was bone dry. But just try to get the Senators from TX to see the value in MVA today, even as they thirst and pray for rain.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
As I listen to the ease with which the comfortable middle class tolerates the agonies of the jobless, I observe that many of the prosperous find the troubles of those who are without work, without income, often losing their homes, their marriages, their families, and often even their health, and even their lives. Often those who seemingly have learned that the least painful place to endure a beating is on someone else’s back may prattle about sharing the pain even when the pain is in many cases a temporary lack of what many of us recognize as a luxury will talk about the shared sacrifice as though the temporary absence of that luxury is somehow equivalent to the deep troubles being suffered by people who genuinely have to suffer privation of the deep needs of life. It seems that the President’s lack of urgency in pressing the needs of the needy indicates that he is indifferent to the pain of the jobless. In this he may be unconscious of the depth of the suffering of others, or he might be just genuinely indifferent to it. I remember that 18 years ago, I had an interview with Russell Feingold just before he left for DC. I had been a supporter of his from the day when he entered politics and I pressed upon him the position that the urgent needs of the jobless was more pressing than the accumulated debt. I could not manage to make my point. Feingold had been raised in middle-class comfort and, though he took on almost every protest against the treatment of the poor and powerless, it weighed lightly on his shoulders. He often voted for its amelioration, but it never seemed to have the urgency that its pain should carry. As a result, although he had the support of many unions, it did not turn out enough voters to carry the day when the fat was in the fire. Possibly Obama is tempting a similar fate, as many who should be supporting him register their lack of commitment.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
It is an insult to informed listeners when the US administration tells us things that we can easily know are untrue. This supposed right of the rulers to tell lies that will support their policies is a balance to their supposed right to keep us from knowing the truth, as is seen in the wikileaks prosecutions. Not only do they tell us the lies, but they claim the right to inflict punishment upon those who discover them and tell what they have learned. In the case of Iran, they long ago branded them an enemy of US, and succeeding governments have repeated their untruths as though they knew no better, and called upon the law and the patriotism of US to second the deceptions, far into the future when no legitimate grounds for them continue to exist. An outstanding example is when US labels their allies as democracies, overlooking deeds that we would excoriate in those whose offenses do not exceed the unwillingness to join an alliance against some US interest. As an example, we have the contrast between our propaganda about Iran and Sa’udi Arabia. The former is attacked for its undemocratic government while the hereditary monarchy of the latter is called a democracy, or at least we take no notice of their medieval excesses. Also, Iraq was called the worst tyranny in the world while their neighbor Syria was being excused. Now Syria has suddenly joined the ranks of the worst, while Yemen continues being mostly overlooked. In the meantime, we have supported military dictatorships of the worst sort over the decades since WW II even heaping accolades on the likes of Pinochet and Ferdinand Marcos. When Pakistan joined US in standing against the Chinese, they were wonderful, while India was treated as an enemy for decades, and Iran had its government overthrown, leading to the “choice” of the mullahs and the Shah, probably dooming democracy there for the foreseeable future. The people of Iran are due an abject apology but instead they are excoriated because they are at political odds with their natural foes in the Israelis. It is time that some respect be shown to the intelligent US people.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
In the discussion of debt, it is important to recognize the cultures surrounding this institution in our world. The most serious consideration on the part of the lender is whether the borrower has the genuine intent and also the ability to repay the principal, and also the interest, if any. It is usually considered that this consideration must fall upon the lender, if he has any genuine concern for the loan. Of course, in our time, we are familiar with the bankster game of inducing a loan by a borrower who may not repay the principal, but can be expected to submit to usurious interest costs, possibly coming to exceed even a large multiple of the whole loan. This seems to support the whole of the credit card scam, usually foisted upon the unwary. Young adults especially seem to fall for this gambit. In the case of nations, the issue of the willingness and capacity to pay the contracted costs seems to be essential in making the loan. Yet our literature is replete in cases in which the borrower genuinely believes that he will repay somehow, but is without any real motivation to deprive himself to do that, and maybe there will be no way to succeed in that. Any observer seeing the contortions of the two major US parties must realize that the People have been seduced into debt by the inability of either party to remain in elective contention unless they promise to reduce the taxes from which the money to repay the debt will come. Thus we have the canonical situation in which the loan cannot be repaid, even if the debtor wishes he could. In that case, we see extraordinary efforts being made to secure the cost of the debt from someone else. In general, it is the onus of the lender to see that he does not lend to someone who will not pay, even if he wants to. Unless the borrower has the will to exact the debt from himself, or from those who own him, it is the action of a fool to lend him money. So much for confidence.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
No matter how you slice it, approximately half the electorate of WI has voted to continue the control of our government by the corporate plutocrats, and while there is a lot of difference between 49% and 51% in terms of who holds office, it can hardly fail to be noticeable that most of those below the median in their share of the goodies have voted for the regime of the Kochs and their ilk. Thus, while the Tories sell the working and lower middle classes on endless promises of the likes of abortion prohibition, the Dems are doing the same with empty promises of economic justice. Barack Obama continues to sell himself in the role of the Weak King, soliciting pity for his fecklessness, and others will be paying the costs of his weakness. In AZ, the State made a political decision to forego the program of replacement organs for medical victims. Middle class citizens paid with their lives for the election of Tories who call themselves Republicans, and the Republic is ratifying that election. In many states, middle class teens are being priced out of the economic benefits, if any, of a college education. By the time this depression turns itself around, they might have missed the boat and will have to live their lives as a lost generation. Corporatized health insurance will continue to empty the bank accounts of many and fill the graves of many of those who don’t have the money the plutocrats want to rob. But as I have often mentioned, and many before me for over 2K years, including Plato and Socrates, democracy is subject to the depredations of demagogues selling political snake oil and the public is often too sleepy to act sensibly in their own interest. Still it remains the truth that the People can make a revolution at the ballot box, without needing to pick up a gun. If we wait too long, we will share the agonies of the people of Libya. Even in this pinch, democracy offers the People their best deal, until it becomes too late, as it often does.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
As US once again takes the position that our voice is the voice of the whole human race, I must admit that I am again feeling queasy. I am sensitive to the ancient Greek concept of hubris, and of my sense that there are many others on this lost little planet of ours that take a similar feeling from such imperial statements coming out of DC. I have no use for Col. Kaddafi, but that puts him into company with other military dictators, many of whom have been allies and supporters of US governments in the past. Some of these, notably Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen, are showing their colors these days, and their misdeeds extend to deploying battlefield type weapons, especially tanks and fighter- bombers, against unarmed or slightly-armed political protesters. There are no international conventions outlawing such blatant use of the People’s money by the nation’s rulers against political protesters, though I thin there should be. By contrast, we have the issue of piracy, lately appearing in the Straits of Malacca and now issuing from the fishing villages of Somalia. These incursions take place in international waters, and even the imperial US Government shies away from enforcing the centuries-old reading of international law that proclaimed pirates as the enemies of all humanity. An international problem courts an international solution, and the Charter of the United Nations used to include an armed force. I cannot imagine any infraction of world-wide law that has such a uniform condemnation. Who would stand up for piracy on the high seas as a form of Freedom of the Seas? Yet the Emperor of the Planet in DC has never proposed a UN Navy to enforce this unanimous opinion against the violation. Perhaps such a general agreement might be a start toward a day when tanks in the streets against protesters can be generally condemned, and not on a case-by-case basis arising from the opinions of the Boss Nation. I know US love being Boss, but catering to this addiction has proven very dear to US over the past 50 years, in money, lives and moral honor.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
This year, in accord with the plans of GOP, 65K teachers will be laid off. This is in the face of a time when high school math teachers are enormously under-certified with only a few percent holding undergraduate degrees in the subject they are to teach and only a few of the elementary teachers having an understanding of how elementary arithmetic works as noted by professors of mathematics in reputable universities. And the decision of which of them are to be made jobless over money will be taken in a majority of cases by administrators who are themselves ignorant of the logical substructure underlying the subject, at least by the ordinary criteria of scholarly attainment. Indeed, many of those who are retained may have only fractional awareness of the underpinnings of the subject, and those will necessarily be working in classes that are increasingly overcrowded. As a matter of fact, many of those teaching high school math are e.g. athletic coaches. The best that can be said of many of those is that they are no more incompetent at math than at any other academic area. The conclusion is that any warm body capable of elementary arithmetic would be equally considered of capability for the task, if only able to persuade an administrator almost equally unfamiliar with the task. In addition, no resources are being made available to the schools to correct this deficiency. On the contrary, those like with new governor of Wisconsin will be cutting the funds that would be needed to make any inroad on the problem. At the same time, such State officials are acting as though any person with any teaching certificate can be assigned the task, up only to the day when the students or their parents wake up to his/her weakness in the face of the challenge. When these do come out of their denial, there will be no one to hire for the work, even worse than it was on that day in 1957 when we discovered the Sputnik beeping overhead.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
As we look upon the demonstrations taking place on the Capitol Square, it must surely come to us to wonder how we acquired this predatory government, and how we can relieve ourselves of it. Seen at the simple level, it seems as though there is no way out of this dead end. Through sloth and inattention, the US people have allowed ourselves to be saddled with a Supreme Court that has annunciated the principled that we must tolerate persons and corporations of great wealth to turn that inequality in riches into a control of the means of ruling us, even to our great disadvantage. In places like France in the XVIII Century or Egypt in the past 30 years, people allowed things to get bad enough that only a willingness to put their lives at risk before an unprincipled and murderous government might free them. And in US, we have watched a government bought by billionaires try to deprive us of the political and economic freedoms that we have taken for granted in the XX Century, and they seem to be on the way to succeeding. And it seems that we have put that power in the hands of the forces that will reduce us to economic and political servitude. And they have moved us into a class war in which we seem powerless before the entrenched power of money. If we turn our backs on this reality, as we have for the past 40 years, the collar of servitude will continue to grow tighter, as we fall for their well-paid lies to grant them power over us. We may be facing our last chance to turn things around during the coming two years, and we had better be ready to vote for our own best interest. The Class War is a reality and has come into open view, and we must be ready to vote for our own benefit while we still have the chance. The predator class has taken control of the levers of power, and unless we close our ears to the lies pouring out of their well-paid propagandists, we may see our children reduced to the choices of the Egyptians this month facing the guns of the predators.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
The constitutional lawsuits against he Obama health insurance bill now offer the liberal minority a golden opportunity, which should not be missed. It appears from all the writing on this subject that a decision to raise taxes to pay for a single-payer health insurance plan would be legal, and that the machinations of the blockers would have to rest on advisability rather than mandates to buy. Once a plan payed for by a general levy, say by a percentage addition to the income tax and was named for the cost of a gift to the general population of “free” health insurance paid by US, the cost would become an issue in its own right. At the time that Obama decided to play softly, softly with the party of NO, there was a substantial majority in favor of single payer, and the closing of other ways of paying it by constitutional maneuverings leaves it in a position to raise the issue again, this time in time for the 2012 election. Also, the blockage of the compromise was not by the Dems, but by those championing the predatory blockage by the profiteers. In an atmosphere where the alternative has been closed, it would be just right to turn the 2012 election around that question. And it would not be the liberals that blocked the soft turn to compromise. Of course, all this would bespeak a hormonal recovery by the Dem party, and a straight opportunity for the people to enact their own health salvation by kicking the GOP out of the Congress. Those who believe in the people can propose this resolution under the urgency of the word “must”. There is a certain satisfaction in the stratagem of laying this matter into the hands of the People, and for them to rise or fall by their own vote. Then we might see what the People really want. The theorists of Democracy have always told us that taking a good or bad outcome by your own choice beats having it forced upon you by someone else’s power.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
We hear a lot about entitlements these days, in a tone of inaudible snickering, as though the laws which detail the safety net provisions detailing them were somehow suspect, like the Obama birth certificate also beloved by the snickerers. Actually, it might be worthwhile to master this skill, for use in referring to Republicans. There are many cases of laws laid down for the benefits of a particular section of society, but the subtle sneers seem reserved for those who are poor and nearly helpless, unlike banksters and hedge fund scams. Attacks on these latter are dismissed as class warfare. The public is so used to special laws favoring the rich and well-connected that they have long since quit taking note of those special laws, such as the one passed in the 1930s tailored for the tax needs of Louis B. Mayer, the movie mogul. In the late 18th century, the laws of monarchial France favoring the princes and dukes were so old and well-established that the struggling masses had ceased to comment on them. Even in more democratic England in the XIX Century, it was common for a bank or an economic scheme to rent the name and title of a duke, or at least a baron, as a façade to legitimatize its predations. Those without any particular talent for the enterprise understood that society would rather enter any such undertaking as the underling of a man who called himself a noble than take a chance with one of the (sneer) common people. The idiocy continues today in nations that still vote for the scions of supposedly superior people. It is time to announce that the snickering use of the word “entitlements” is the mark of a snake-oil salesman, seeking to turn the working population against the laws that protect their homes, their jobs, their incomes, and their pensions. We should recognize that the sneer should apply instead to those who implicitly suggest that legal protections apply solely to working people and that there is something dirty about them. Only a fool would fall for that scam.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Once again, the newspapers tell us of minor contamination in the drinking water in Madison. Sometimes it is a chemical element, particularly if it is radioactive. At other times, it might be a whole chemical or a bacterium or a virus. Often it is a pollutant that cannot be surely written off as harmless, but threatening enough that there are people who will buy bottled water or invest in a filtering system that requires rejuvenation every six months or so. There are several ways to deal with such a marginal threat, but the cheapest one is for the answerable agency to deny that there is an actual threat there, until all the dodges have been exhausted and the responsible authorities must, finally, deal with the situation. Even when they must eventually do the right thing, the time to correct it can be stretched out by the injection of uncertainty until, in the meantime, much harm can have been done. An outstanding example was the downwinders of Utah living to the NE of the testing range for nuclear weapons. The US Government denied for a whole generation that they were facing deadly radiation while the children grew up to lives dominated by thyroid cancer. Less horrible, but bad enough, were the denials that coal dust was causing cancer, similarly with asbestos, cotton lint, and various sorts of dust. In every such instance there was a commercial interest that would benefit financially by having the threat overlooked, permanently if possible but profitable if temporary. So there was the campaign to prevent the removal of lead from gasoline, to say nothing of the decades of denials that smoking helps cause cancer. In Madison, it is time to take by the horns the obligation to provide the city with drinking water as safe as can be, either by running a system of providing pure water as soon as possible or at least a filter system that flushes itself automatically so that decades can pass between replacement of filters. Until that happens, many people will drink bottled water, and many will discard the bottles where their disposition will be a burden on the City, which will not be adequately addressed by complaining about the bottles that have to be rounded up and disposed of.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Once again, as Martin Luther King moves from civil beatification to sainthood, it is time to remember who has won a place with him in the memory of the American people. For it is easy to forget that the Civil Rights Movement, while advancing the civilization of our people, was a noisy and somewhat disorderly experience, marked by civil disobedience and some that occasionally lacked some of its civility. It is always the case that there are those who would prefer that protest take place at low decibels, so that the ruling classes can get on with their agenda. Cynics describe this as the desire of those classes to have their war in peace. There were places, including some universities, some cities, some states and some countries, that signed on to the protest, and there were others for which the ripples in the fabric of order were enough that they labeled people like Dr. King as disturbers of the peace, even when that peace, paradoxically, involved the passive signing on to war, despite the nagging of conscience. Two of the latter class were named Wisconsin, both the State and the University. In the academic year 1967-68, Dr. King had come out in support of protests against the war, in both places. This irregularity was taken as nearly treasonable by the establishments in both. In the University, he was nominated for an honorary doctorate by the Department of Sociology with scattered support. As nearly as can be discerned in a committee that declined to offer any rationale, the anger that was manifest in some of the Establishment over his failure to second the false account that put us into the war was taken as nearly treasonable. And thus Wisconsin managed to place itself into the dishonor roll of those who would not join in praising Dr. King’s message of peace until later in that year, when he had already been assassinated, and in many cases not until much later. One poet wrote of those who would hold back their praise for Truth “till her cause shall come to flower and ‘tis prosperous to be just”. So today the State and University praise Dr. King every January as though we had not denied him when he was still alive to do his great work.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Close to the center of the rage about the adequacy of teaching in US K-12 schools is the difficulty in reaching students in Mathematics, even elementary Arithmetic. This is due in part to the fact that most students, their parents and their teachers think of Math as the art of carrying out calculations, and these have been reduced to carrying out certain memorized procedures. Indeed, the art of teaching the procedures has been sharpened specifically to eliminate almost all need for a deep understanding, which can command time and attention. In the process, we rob our students of the intellectual adventure that has been so central in creating the growing discipline of commanding the artificial intellectual structure we call Mathematics. When we attempted to improve the students’ understanding in the 1960s and 70s by teaching what became known as the New Math, we ran into a block by parents and teachers who thought that what they knew was all that it was required to know, and resented the idea that they would need to learn some “new” ideas to improve that understanding. The belief in Mathematics not as an adventure in human knowledge of this intellectual structure, but as just the art of getting the answers without being “burdened” with comprehension infects our understanding even well into graduate study. Meanwhile, almost all of the intellectual world (excluding the portion that speaks English) has adopted the New Math and has left us behind while it caters to those who can handle the development of this discipline. Attempts by the universities to expand those theoretical limitations has been rejected by the students, their administrators and parents, who seem to prefer a world of authoritarian rules that can be applied with rote ease and without mental strain. The history and philosophy of this voyage out of ignorance are dismissed as luxuries, with the mechanical extraction of calculation being thought of as the true meaning of the study. Since this end is available without the “philosophy” and can be increasingly built into machines, the human content is eliminated. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is not standing still.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Just this Monday morning, the new WI government slipped all the working people into the chains of an economy run by the representatives of the predator class, a fate that we all bought into in November. Largely through indifference, or ignorance, or pique or not paying attention, we fell into the peril that has always surrounded democracy whenever the electorate slackens its eternal vigilance. It is not as though we have not had most of the XX Century in which to learn that the J. P. Morgans and the bankers and the Enrons and the BPs and the Exxons of the world are not the friends of the working people of US, but for most of this century the Hearsts and the Murdochs of the West have been driving home the pernicious lie that our best interests in escaping the fate of the Russian Empire lie in entrusting our fates and those of our children and grandchildren to the super-rich representatives of the class of the economic pirates and banksters. And last year we again put our treasuries at their disposal, with the economy of the state of WI being put into the care of one of those predatory corporations pledged to the enrichment of their stockholders, instead of the elected leaders of the People. It is not as though the past 10 years had not shown us, in the hands of the Bush-Cheney gang, how thoroughly they could fleece us via the defense scam. But since the socialists, and then the communists, overthrew the medieval Russian Tsars, it has been a prime project of the owners of US newspapers, followed by radio, television, and blogs, to convince us that in order to be free of the Bolsheviks, and even the Cubans, we must entrust our economic welfare to those who have shriveled our unions, overturned the Progressive movement, and turned us back toward the Old Regime in EU in the XIX Century. And now our negligence has meant that it will be at least 4 years, and more likely 8 or 10, until we will have any chance to begin restoring the government of WI to the needs of the People, and away from the predatory rule of WMC and their ilk.