Saturday, September 10, 2016

Fear breeds evil: Trump is only a symptom of much worse to come

"It is fear that brings misery, fear that brings death, fear that breeds evil."
Vivekananda, the Indian, patriot-saint, whose teachings inspired Mahatma Gandhi, spoke about fear breeding evil in the late 19th century. This was long before a massive wave of post-defeat inflation, which destroyed the savings of its middle class, caused a terrified Germany, home of Goethe, Hegel, Meister Ekhart and Einstein, to hand over its destiny and the lives of many millions of Europeans to an insane, failed water-colorist, ex-corporal, from Vienna... all with the blessing of Germany's "one-percent".

The lesson being, if the corrosive, poisoning effects of fear could cause that nightmare to happen in one the world's most educated and civilized nations, it could happen anywhere and that certainly includes today's United States of America.

Fear as Vivekananda said, "breeds evil". You could say that fear weakens the "political immune system" of a nation and that a "symptom" of an acute failure of that political immune system might be the sudden appearance of the bizarre, massively unqualified figure of Donald Trump as a serious candidate for the US presidency, with its capacity to turn the world into atomic ashes, something which in political terms could be compared to the spectacular Kaposi sarcomas which in the early 1980s announced the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.

Or if you prefer even racier metaphors, The Donald could be a sort of wacky "John the Baptist" for the Anti-Christ...
Imagine, though, a different figure, someone with Mr. Trump’s callousness but without the thin skin, lack of self-control and fragile, oversize ego. Imagine, in other words, a demagogue who embodies the dynamics of America’s pervasive commercial atmosphere, but who is smart, cunning, self-aware and self-disciplined(...)We had better prepare for such a person. In business, Mr. Trump might be called a beta test, or a “proof of concept.” To that end, he has already succeeded. Lee Siegel - New York Times
Mark Twain said that history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes:
The troubled psyche requires a scapegoat. For Hitler, it was the Jews, among others. Today scapegoats are sought everywhere for the widespread feeling that something is amiss: that jobs are being lost; that precariousness has replaced security; that incomes are stagnant or falling; that politicians have been bought; that the bankers behind the 2008 meltdown got off unscathed; that immigrants are free riders; that inequality is out of control; that tax systems are skewed; that terrorists are everywhere. Roger Cohen - New York Times 
What is the objective reality behind the fear that so many people feel today?
When (some economists and technologists) peer deeply into labor-market data, they see troubling signs, masked for now by a cyclical recovery. And when they look up from their spreadsheets, they see automation high and low—robots in the operating room and behind the fast-food counter. They imagine self-driving cars snaking through the streets and Amazon drones dotting the sky, replacing millions of drivers, warehouse stockers, and retail workers. They observe that the capabilities of machines—already formidable—continue to expand exponentially, while our own remain the same. And they wonder: Is any job truly safe?(...) The share of prime-age Americans (25 to 54 years old) who are working has been trending down since 2000. Among men, the decline began even earlier: the share of prime-age men who are neither working nor looking for work has doubled since the late 1970s, and has increased as much throughout the recovery as it did during the Great Recession itself. All in all, about one in six prime-age men today are either unemployed or out of the workforce altogether.   The Atlantic
Andrew McAfee, associate director of the MIT Center for Digital Business at the Sloan School of Management,(…) despite his obvious enthusiasm for the technologies, doesn’t see the recently vanished jobs coming back. The pressure on employment and the resulting inequality will only get worse, he suggests, as digital technologies—fueled with “enough computing power, data, and geeks”—continue their exponential advances over the next several decades. “I would like to be wrong,” he says, “but when all these science-fiction technologies are deployed, what will we need all the people for?” (emphasis mine) MIT Technology Review Magazine
"I love the poorly educated"

When we say, "We the people"... Who exactly are "We"? Who are the winners and the losers going to be in our "brave new world"?

Here is a graph to show the spread of intelligence (hint: most well paying jobs in the future will go to the light purple to red IQs on the right side of the graph)
Credit http://www.archure.net/
Lets clarify even further what "average" means:
The average IQ of the population as a whole is, by definition, 100. IQs range from 0 to above 200, and among children, to above 250. However, about 50% of the population have IQs between 89 and 111, and about 80% of the population have IQs ranging between 80 and 120, with 10% lying below 80, and 10% falling above 120.(emphasis mine) hiqnews.megafoundation.org
Here is a chart that shows what you can do with the following IQs:

Table 1 - Practical Significance of IQ - hiqnews.megafoundation.org
IQ Range
Frequency
Cumulative
Frequency
Typical Educability
Employment
Options
Below 30
1%
1% below 30
Illiterate
Unemployable. Institutionalized.
30 to 50
1%
1% below 50
1st-Grade to 3rd-Grade
Simple, non-critical household chores.
50 to 60
1%
1.5% below 60
3rd-Grade to 6th-grade
Very simple tasks, close supervision.
60 to 74
3.5%
5% below 74
6th-Grade to 8th-Grade
"Slow, simple, supervised."
74 to 89
20%
25% below 89
8th-Grade to 12th-Grade
Assembler, food service, nurse's aide
89 to 100
25%
50% below 100
8th-Grade to 1-2 years of College.
Clerk, teller, Walmart
100 to 111
50%
1 in 2 above 100
12th-Grade to College Degree
Police officer, machinist, sales
111 to 120
15%
1 in 4 above 111
College to Master's Level
Manager, teacher, accountant
120 to 125
5%
1 in 10 above 120
College to Non-Technical Ph. D.'s.
Manager, professor, accountant
125 to 132
3%
1 in 20 above 125
Any Ph. D. at 3rd-Tier Schools
Attorney, editor, executive.
132 to 137
1%
1 in 50 above 132
No limitations.
Eminent professor, editor
137 to 150
0.9%
1 in 100 above 137
No limitations.
Leading math, physics professor
150 to 160
0.1%
1 in 1,100 above 150
No limitations
Lincoln, Copernicus, Jefferson
160 to 174
0.01%
1 in 11,000 above 160
No limitations
Descartes, Einstein, Spinoza
174 to 200
0.0099%
1 in 1,000,000
above 174
No limitations
Shakespeare, Goethe, Newton

If these charts are correct it means that 90% of America's population is at the very best intellectually fitted for nothing more than then AI vulnerable jobs like "manager, teacher, accountant" and only 15% could even aspire to that. 75% are between 89 and 111.  All of those jobs from manager on down to caregivers and perhaps even sex workers are vulnerable to the rapid advances in artificial intelligence.

And don't imagine that China, often the villain of American job loss, is any different. The Chinese are leading the world in Robitics.  The loss of industrial jobs for "average" people is a world problem and the Chinese, like the Japanese, or Europeans for that matter, at least have the excuse that their population is rapidly aging.

However:
Largely as a result of higher fertility rates and immigration, America’s population, while ageing, is nonetheless likely to remain distinctly younger than other developed countries. Oxford Journals
It seems obvious that there is a critical mass of American citizens/voters who have every right to feel afraid and as Vivekananda said, "It is fear that brings misery, fear that brings death, fear that breeds evil.". This is the stagnant pool where demagogues like Donald Trump swim and flourish.

What  or who created good jobs for people with average intelligence in the first place?

Henry Ford
A good symbol of the economy that is disappearing would be Henry Ford and the philosophy behind that economy and American's legendary prosperity could probably be summed up by these two quotes of his:
Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs 
Paying good wages is not charity at all - it is the best kind of business 
Those two ideas, making complex things cheaply and paying basically  low-skilled workers well, changed the world and created a stable, property owning, comfortable, middle class life style for millions of Americans with only a high school education or less, and gave the United States a political stability that was the envy of the entire world. That stability is disappearing/has disappeared as of today and fear... and the evil fear brings are the result. And soon even highly skilled workers and people with graduate degrees will probably be finding themselves facing the same realities as the poorly educated do today... if they aren't already.

Henry Ford's Detroit factory today
As we try to predict the future of the few winners and many losers of today's technological revolution, it might be useful to consider the fate of the losers (and they lost big) of  Ford's technological revolution.

This is what big city traffic looked like before Henry Ford made cheap automobiles ubiquitous.



This film was shot in London, but it could just as well have been made in New York or Chicago.

What is shown in 1890s London that is missing from today's city streets?

Horses.

The streets then, the world itself, was full of horses, millions and millions of horses. For thousands of years horses had accompanied humanity and done them great service. The word for horse in Spanish is "caballo" and the word for gentleman is "caballero". Our relationship was once that close:
Due to its natural companionship with man in both work and art, the Horse easily wins a special seat in history, ranking high marks of honor, reverence and symbolism. Serving man in war, mobility, productivity, agriculture, development of all kinds, the Horse is by far one of the largest contributor to the enhancement of civilization. Avia Venefica
Then...
When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars people said, 'Nah, what's wrong with a horse?' That was a huge bet he made, and it worked. Elon Musk
In a very short time a much loved symbol of the "enhancement of civilization" almost disappeared simply for economic reasons.

What sort of "jobs" are the few horse left doing? What sort of insight could this give us to the future of the masses of today's humans who wont be relevant in tomorrow's new technological environment?

Well, a horse that is very fast or very beautiful, plays polo, does tricks or is very "good with children" still has a place in today's world of the wealthy and the chance of a comfortable, pleasant life. Other less desirable "careers" might be that of a "trail horse" in a summer camp... or participating actively in steak tartar.

But you say, "this horse metaphor is ridiculous, horses are animals and people are well, 'people' ... human beings, 'endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights' and so forth". But what this really boils down to, is that horses couldn't vote and unlike so many Americans today didn't possess fully automatic assault rifles with banana clips.  In short eliminating horses from American life because they were no longer needed or profitable had little or no danger or political cost.
So leaving aside the precedents of certain 20th century figures like Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot, we can safely assume that Americans with average  to low IQs are not going to be physically eliminated. 

Where are we headed then?

If we want to be optimistic we can see ourselves looking at the problem as Michael Littman does:
We can turn machines into workers — they can be labor, and that actually deeply undercuts human value. My biggest concern at the moment is that we as a society find a way of valuing people not just for the work they do. We need to value each other first and foremost. Make it clear that the machines that we're talking about are machines to benefit everybody and not just the people that have them. Michael Littman, computer scientist at Brown University - Tech Insider
A skeptic might imagine one of the "great and the good", a "one-percent-er" reading that and thinking, "how much is all that going to cost?" and saying, "not by raising my taxes" and then contributing heavily to the campaign funding of any politician or media group dedicated to fighting Littman's point of view.

What will the future AI/robotic America probably look like then?

You won't need much of an imagination to envision where we are going. Think of a big country, thickly peopled, rich in natural resources with a first class scientific and cultural establishment and many mega-billionaires... and enormous masses of desperately poor people... Say, Brazil or India

In short, in the foreseeable future, or the United States of America is  going to turn into a nightmare of human misery something like the slums of Calcutta, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro or today's Detroit and the South Side of Chicago, or the elected representatives of the millions of “unneeded human beings” are going to have to fund the  massive government expenditures that are going to have to be made in public education, social support, socialized medicine, day care centers and public “make work” projects of all kinds. This is what libertarian billionaire, Peter Thiel probably meant when he said that freedom and democracy are incompatible. He surely means that in a democracy his freedom to do what he and other billionaires want to do with their money would be severely curtailed.

In short, American big money will be as cool with this nightmare scenario as their Indian and Brazilian counterparts and like a boxer tying up his opponent in a clinch, will happily finance every nutcase and corrupt politician they can find to avoid this future sacrifice of their power, wealth and privilege. DS

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Donald vs. Hillary: the winner gets the atomic bomb

The festive celebration of elderly, white-American andropause held in Cleveland Ohio drew to its close without bloodshed. For this we can be truly thankful. Coming next, the coronation of Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia, the "city of brotherly love".   It has been commented that Donald Trump is the only Republican that Hillary Clinton could defeat and that Hillary Clinton is the only Democrat that Donald Trump could defeat. 

The winner gets the atomic bomb.

For me that is the decisive fact. Hillary Clinton is not very honest and her judgement is questionable, but she is not mentally ill. Donald Trump is neither honest nor trustworthy, either, but on top of that, I seriously doubt his sanity,   The idea of Donald Trump in possession of the atomic bomb is unacceptable. For me it is that simple.

This campaign for the presidency of the United States of America shows every sign of becoming the ugliest, dirtiest one in American history. With my mind already made up and as a matter of elementary mental hygiene, I don't want to follow it blow by blow, wading in the filth.  These coming months, not being able to retire to a cave in the Himalayas, I hope to find other things to write about. DS

Friday, July 15, 2016

Cleveland, America's "glasnost" moment?

Thoughts for the day:
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Benjamin Franklin
 "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
John 8:32 - King James Version
"Freedom? For whom? To do what?"
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov
"To whom much was given, of him much will be required"
Luke 12:49 · ‎Luke 12:47 · ‎King James Bible

Understanding the world today would be much simpler if we conceded that gradually after WWII and picking up speed dramatically after 9-11, the United States has evolved into a corporate-military-security state... in short a "regime";  and like our old,  Cold War opponents, the Soviet Union, (which was also a corporate-military-security state-regime), we need to wrap our realpolitik in millenarian ideology... "We are building global democratic capitalism comrades". The "end of history" and all that... while we force-feed political prisoners in our Guantanamo gulag, kill American citizens without trial, etc, etc.
America’s post-September 11th national-security state has become so well financed, so divided into secret compartments, so technically capable, so self-perpetuating, and so captured by profit-seeking contractors bidding on the next big idea about big-data mining that intelligence leaders seem to have lost their facility to think independently. Who is deciding what spying projects matter most and why? The New Yorker 
Here are two examples of who we say we are: 
Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2006 "None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree."  109th Congress Public Law 102

So we face a historic opportunity.  We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator.  There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.(...) And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just. Barack Obama - May 19, 2011
Followed by an example of who we really are:
On 3 July 2013, Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led a coalition to remove the only democratically elected President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, from power and suspended the Egyptian constitution.(...) The US refused to describe the action as a coup.(...) Ensuing protests in favour of Morsi were violently suppressed with the dispersal and massacre of pro-Morsi sit-ins on 14 August 2013, amid ongoing unrest; journalists, and several hundred to a few thousand protestors were killed by police and military force. Wikipedia
A clear example of our reality might be the contrast between Obama's Cairo speech in 2009 or the public encouragement of the "Arab Spring" and then supporting the military coup d'├ętat in Egypt, that soon followed their first free elections in history (while because of 109th Congress Public Law 102, denying it was a coup) where an army that literally lives off American aid (in exchange for not troubling Israel) massacres the supporters of a legitimate, democratically elected government that they have overthrown manu militari, without the White House even giving them a sharp tug on their leash... impossible for anyone, anywhere, to believe that the USA hadn't colluded in it...  Perfectly comparable to the Soviets invading Prague in 1968  to "defend 'real existing socialism'"... All of this brings us face to face with our hypocrisy... rubs our noses in it really.

Perhaps hypocrisy is to be preferred to cynicism though, because as La Rochefoucauld famously said, "Hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue", which means that if good didn't exist, bad people wouldn't have to pretend to be good... Which is probably the best you can say about America's present performance on the world stage.

Sort of the "Soviet Union Light".

What was it that brought the mastodonic Soviet superpower crashing to oblivion, the straw that broke the camel's back?


What finally caused the USSR to unravel was the simple free movement of information, it was merely allowing Soviet citizens full, free access to the ordinary photocopying machine. That is what brought down the Soviet system.

Could it be a vulnerability that both superpowers might have somehow in common?

What could be America's version of the USSR's Xerox-Achilles heel.

Today facing the security state we have the ubiquitous cellphone video camera connected to Facebook and Twitter, plus a population armed to the teeth, in a country where in many places "open carry" is legal. This is a combination whose dissolvent effects on public order we are just beginning to sample.

In Dallas, the police's use of an exploding robot also gives a sinister hint of the militarization of America's police forces that the establishment feels might be "necessary" if that public order were to be severely endangered. 

What sort of endangerment? Where could this be leading

We might find out very soon.

How about this for a possibly historic clusterfuck? Armed to the teeth Black Panther activists slipstreaming the Black Lives Matter movement go to the Republican convention is Cleveland Ohio, to protest Donald Trump's racism, where they will meet white power Trump supporters also armed to the teeth. This in a state (Ohio) where a black child carrying a toy rifle could be shot by the police. 
The New Black Panther Party, a "black power" movement, will carry firearms for self-defense during rallies in Cleveland ahead of next week's Republican convention (...) Several other groups, including some supporters of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, have said they will carry weapons in Cleveland.(...) Officials in Ohio have said it will be legal for protesters to carry weapons at demonstrations outside the convention under that state’s "open carry" law, which allows civilians to carry guns in public. Reuters
The ingredients for anarchy are all there. If not now, when?

If something dreadful doesn't happen, we might take it as a sign that America's famous luck has not quite run out... yet

Where could the combination of all of these ingredients be heading?

A wise old fellow once said something to the effect that the present cannot judge itself, anymore than we can judge a person by what he thinks of himself... that time alone will be the judge of our present affairs, but that old man also said that the present is always pregnant with the future and in time it will be clear that everything that is to come tomorrow was present in some form today, right now, under our noses waiting to come to fruition. 

Sobering thought that. DS

Thursday, July 07, 2016

November 2016... tick tock...tick tock

If you are an American living abroad, as I do, you are naturally very conscious of the world's opinion of the USA. The question now sometimes asked directly and often implied is: How can a country of over 300 million people, the richest and most powerful in the history of the world, one that, once upon a time, produced Jefferson, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts... even Truman, Eisenhower and LBJ, end up having nothing better to choose from now than Trump and Hillary?

Donald Trump appears like a nightmare product of a poorly digested meal... I find myself much more worried by the masses of people who would support him enthusiastically than by the Donald himself. When he has gone back to his golf courses these people will remain and perhaps, someone more subtle and even more evil than Trump will find many more effective ways to exploit them.

That leaves Hillary

I don't like Hillary Clinton, I never have... or Bill for that matter, although he may have been the most naturally gifted politician ever to sit in the White House, he may have also been the cheesiest too. That odor of ripe Camembert follows the Clintons wherever they go. 

Obama too has been quite a disappointment for me, I agree with Cornell West, that he is a "Rockefeller Republican", having said that, he and his family have had a very beneficial effect on America's image around the world. "Elegant" is the best word to describe Barack and Michelle Obama. As to his "legacy", he will probably be remembered as much for what he hasn't done, like not sending ground troops back to the Middle East, as for achievements like Obamacare, which is pitiful when compared to any European country's public health system.

For me the choice between Trump and Hillary is clear

Hillary Clinton may reek of Camembert, but Trump reeks of sulfur.  

The biggest danger now is that many of the supporters of Bernie Sanders, among whom I am numbered, dislike (loathe) Hillary even more than Trump supporters do and if, as is nearly certain, she is the Democratic candidate, many Sanderistas may either stay home on election day, or go out and vote for a third party candidate or... even vote for Trump.  In sufficient numbers this fugitive vote might end up putting a renegade villain escaped from a Marvel Comic into the White House.

The third-party option is the one that worries me most. Remember: this sort of bickering leading to Ralph Nader's votes in Florida was what brought us George W. Bush... and next to Trump, Dubya, is Joan of Arc. 

The American system has been so constructed as to be very resistant to change and it is a two party system. At this moment the Republican Party seems about to commit suicide and it would be a shame if the Bernie supporters did anything to impede their Trump-led, self-destruction. After the Republicans destroy themselves in November and the Democrats take back both houses of Congress... then would be the time to split the Democratic party to left and right, not now. DS


Sunday, July 03, 2016

Are Freedom and Democracy Incompatible? Peter Thiel thinks so

Peter Thiel is the creator of PayPal, also the first major investor in Facebook and he sits on the Facebook board.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f3/Peter_Thiel_%282014%29.jpg/400px-Peter_Thiel_%282014%29.jpg
Peter Thiel
Wikipedia
Peter Thiel wrote, on April 13, 2009, in the Libertarian 'Cato Unbound' blog, “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” In the same article, he also wrote, "Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron. (emphasis mine) Wikipedia
How does Thiel define "freedom"?
"I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives”   Peter Thiel - The Education of a Libertarian
Thiel thinks his freedom is incompatible with democracy. How is democracy normally defined?
democracy ‎(plural democracies)
  1. (uncountable) Rule by the people, especially as a form of government; either directly or through elected representatives (representative democracy).
  2. (countable, government) A government under the direct or representative rule of the people of its jurisdiction.
  3. (uncountable) Belief in political freedom and equality; the "spirit of democracy".
"Democracy" then, means the rule of the "demos". Who are the "demos"?
demos ‎(plural demoi)
  1. (political science) The common populace of a state, the people. Wiktiionary
Where and how is Democracy incompatible with Peter Thiel's freedom?

It's all quite simple, let Bernie Sanders explain:
This is an economic model developed by the economic elite to benefit the economic elite. We need real change.(...) We need to end the international scandal in which large corporations and the wealthy avoid paying trillions of dollars in taxes to their national governments. Bernie Sanders - New York Times
Where is Thiel-style freedom leading?
McAfee, associate director of the MIT Center for Digital Business at the Sloan School of Management, (...)despite his obvious enthusiasm for the technologies,  doesn’t see the recently vanished jobs coming back. The pressure on employment and the resulting inequality will only get worse, he suggests, as digital technologies—fueled with “enough computing power, data, and geeks”—continue their exponential advances over the next several decades. “I would like to be wrong,” he says, “but when all these science-fiction technologies are deployed, what will we need all the people for?” (emphasis mine) MIT Technology Review Magazine
Obviously. from Peter Thiel's personal point of view, democracy and his freedom are incompatible.

In Thiel's defense we should be grateful for his forthrightness, because Peter Thiel is rather innocent in his sincerity. The crafty Koch Brothers, for example, would never come right out and express themselves so frankly, but everything they actually do expresses the same view of democracy as Thiel's.

And they are not just sitting on their hands, they are up and doing something about it.
The House approved a bill Tuesday that would bar the IRS from collecting the names of donors to tax-exempt groups, prompting warnings from campaign-finance watchdogs that it could lead to foreign interests illegally infiltrating American elections. USA Today  
USA Today’s Fredreka Schouten reported that the bill is openly supported by Charles Koch, the older of the two “Koch Brothers,” fossil fuel billionaires whose deep pockets hold a notoriously outsized influence on American politics. Kit O'Connell - Mint Press
This is nothing new. The democratic state, (government of the people, by the people, for the people) has always been the only possible defense of "the People" facing the powerful, who wish to dominate and exploit them.

Again, knowing who the Thiels and the Kochs of this world are, who are "the People"?
The mass of a community as distinguished from a special class (elite); the commonalty; the populace; the vulgar; the common crowd; the citizens. Wiktionary
How long has this struggle between the "Thiels and Kochs" and "the People" been going on?
Aesop: A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarreling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four. Moral: United we stand, divided we fall.
This struggle is nothing new and it has no end. DS

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit or the wages of frivolous stupidity

What an irony it would be if the Leave vote led the U.K. to break up before the E.U. does. But after a remarkable night and morning, that didn’t seem beyond the bounds of possibility. Very little did. John Cassidy - The New Yorker
British Prime Minister, David Cameron's totally gratuitous decision to convoke a referendum on Britain's remaining in the European Union, Brexit, is a perfectly amazing example of the effects of frivolous stupidity. The rest of us are to be helpless witnesses and perhaps direct victims of his decision for years to come. 
David Cameron, the British prime minister, has no one to blame but himself. In 2013, besieged by the increasingly assertive anti-European Union wing of his own Conservative Party, Mr. Cameron made a promise intended to keep a short-term peace among the Tories before the 2015 general election: If re-elected, he would hold an in-or-out referendum on continued British membership in the bloc. But what seemed then like a relatively low-risk ploy to deal with a short-term political problem has metastasized into an issue that could badly damage Britain’s economy, influence the country’s direction for generations — and determine Mr. Cameron’s political fate.  New York Times
If you like reading history, you'll come across many examples of such frivolity and stupidity doing massive harm to millions of people.  George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq is a textbook example. Millions of people have lost their homes or lives and one of the world's most critical regions is in the process of disintegrating.  

Could Cameron's Brexit have an effect in any way comparable to Bush's opening the gates of hell in the Middle East? 

Knock-on effects are about cascading disasters. The world's economy is still shaky after the crash of 2008 and in today's globalized finance everything is interconnected. How could Brexit set off a chain of disasters?

An example: UK capital, London, is today the world's most important financial center:
London has swapped places with New York to become the world’s leading financial centre, according to a detailed study of 86 cities. Financial Times
It is axiomatic that money hates uncertainty:
One of the only things we can say for sure after the Brexit decision is that the U.K. and Europe are entering a period of great uncertainty. The New Yorker 
It is easy to imagine the knock-on effects of a major disruption of the intricate and intertwined activities of a place where the good and the great of the entire world go to trade currencies, bonds, shares, privileged information, launder and store their money, you name it. 
One likely outcome of negotiations is that banks and financial firms in the City of London will be stripped of their lucrative EU “passports” that allow them to sell services to the rest of the EU. The Guardian
You can't imagine the knock-on effects of disrupting such a place? Think Lehman Brothers just for starters. If one major financial institution starts to unravel, the entire shaky recovery of the world economy could collapse.

Leaving Financial Armageddon behind, the ordinary human effects of  Britain's leaving Europe are worth describing: British young people will now find it difficult to reside or work in EU countries or study in their universities and talented young Europeans will find it difficult to do the same in the UK. This will have significantly negative effects on generations to come.

The future of  Britain's young people is finally the greatest victim of Brexit, but not just the young.

Here is an example of the sort of micro-tragedies that can befall elderly British people here in Spain, where I live. Thousands of British pensioners on retiring have sold their homes in grey and rainy Britain and with their life savings bought homes on the coasts of Sunny Spain, where as members (till now) of the EU, they have a right to residency, socialized medical care and even get to vote in municipal elections. Imagine their distress as they watch all of these rights disappear and even the value of their investment sink.

All this disruption because of what the President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz, calls "a whole continent (being) taken hostage because of an internal fight in the Tory party”. DS

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Muhammad Ali: An American Genius gone to waste

Wikipedia
"Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up."

“They don’t look at fighters to have brains. They don’t look at fighters to be businessmen, or human, or intelligent. Fighters are just brutes that come to entertain the rich white people. Beat up on each other and break each other’s noses, and bleed, and show off like two little monkeys for the crowd, killing each other for the crowd. And half the crowd is white. We’re just like two slaves in that ring. The masters get two of us big old black slaves and let us fight it out while they bet: ‘My slave can whup your slave.’ That’s what I see when I see two black people fighting.”

"It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up."
Muhammad Ali

What modern athlete, much less one at Ali’s level, has ever talked with such political complexity, ambiguity, or engagement? David Remnick - The New Yorker

Muhammad Ali, a symbol of how racism wastes human potential

If I had to find one example to illustrate how deep racism and social injustice is in America's culture, it would have to be that someone as highly intelligent, brave, resourceful, serious and charismatic, with such a massive power of communication as Muhammad Ali, had to end up semi-illiterate with his brains beaten out in the prize ring... while a second rate, B-picture actor like Ronald Reagan or an immature blockhead like George W. Bush could end up as presidents of the United States or that today someone as weird, mean-spirited and grotesque as Donald Trump could be seriously considered for that job.

"But things are much better today for young African-American men than they were when Ali was a boy growing up in Jim Crow Louisville Kentucky in the 1940s and 50s", you say.

Are they? In the booming economy of the 1950s, Muhammad Ali like many young black people back then grew up in a stable two parent family, with a live-in father, where both parents worked, where his family lived in their own home in a safe, if segregated, neighborhood. How many young black men raised by a single mother in the ghetto neighborhoods of today's USA enjoy those privileges in our present leaky, creaky, drug and gun infested, economy. 

"But what about President Barack Obama?" you reply. To which I would humbly suggest that it is quite different to be raised in Hawaii, where there are practically no African-Americans, than to be raised in Jim-Crow Louisville; quite different to be raised in a prosperous, white, college educated, middle class family and attend an exclusive Hawaiian private school, than to attend a segregated school in Louisville Kentucky... or one on the South Side of Rahm Emanuel's Chicago today, for that matter. 

This is not a criticism of our president, he was fortunate of have his enormous potential recognized early and lovingly nurtured. When that happens, that is the result. Few Americans, white or black... certainly not many African-Americans had that opportunity then or have it now. Ideally, all children should receive that treatment

In short, if you wanted to analyze the dysfunction, injustice and waste of America's human resources, you could begin by meditating upon and answering at length the following riddle. 
Why could George W. Bush graduate with a C-average from Yale and a man who could say, "No Viet Cong ever called me nigger."”, someone who was that intelligent and amply talented enough, who under the right conditions, could have been or done anything, had to have his brains punched out of his head entertaining the "sports fans" he so lucidly described
I think you know why, so do I, but today I'm just too sad to answer that question. DS