Saturday, May 25, 2024

Globalization today

Economists are talking about a turning away from globalization as a policy. But there are other ways of defining globalization. Thomas de Waal has a long essay on the unstable situation in the Republic of Georgia. It's a very detailed analysis, but three passages struck me: his reference to "the tax-exempt status of the British Virgin Islands" as a factor in Georgian politics (no further explanation); the adoption by the increasingly authoritarian political party Georgian Dream, of the name of a rap song by the son of the authoritarian leader; de Waal's rather appropriate coinage: Georgian Dream has also signed up to the European chapter of what might be called ‘Illiberalism International’.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

I was really alarmed by this -- Senator censured for stating a fact

 I won't try to summarize this.  I'll simply urge you to see for yourself.  (From David Kurtz at TPM.)

When The Truth Hurts

House Republicans lost their minds yesterday when Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) went on the floor and listed the trials Donald Trump is currently facing. They moved to strike McGovern’s comments from the record and admonished him for making them. McGovern was dumbstruck:

The result of the admonishment was that McGovern was barred from speaking on the House floor for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Civic friendship as an essential element for democracy

 Brad deLong does his usual service -- drawing attention to important facts and ideas in a clear and convincing way -- by commenting on Brook Manville & Josiah Ober's The Civic Bargain: How Democracy Survives <>.  I have for a long time been thinking about the role of what people often call norms; Manville and Ober seem to have come up with a better term and formulation.  Norms are bloodless; friendship is not.

 Here's the beginning of DeLong's post:

 had wanted to spend this month's column writing a review praising Brook Manville & Josiah Ober with their very well-written and insightful book: The Civic Bargain: How Democracy Survives <>. And indeed, the historical part is of enormous interest—is, indeed, a treasure for all time...But the what-do-we-do-now part? That part left me even more depressed than before, and with nothing constructive to say. For their big conclusion—with which I agree—is that democracies survive only where there is civic friendship, where, as Plutarch wrote of the Roman Republic before the year -150, points of contention "though neither trifling nor raised for trifling objects, were settled by mutual concessions, the nobles yielding from fear of the multitude, and the people out of respect for the senate."

But right now America has one political party—the Republicans—so constituted that it bankrupts itself if it ever acknowledges Democrats as civic friends rather than as mortal alien enemies. And so it cannot do it.

I date the beginnings of America's democratic decline to 1993. The Neoliberal Order established by the Reagan Revolution had, to put it bluntly, failed in policy terms. Newt Gingrich decided that since the Republican Party could not win by pointing to policy success it should try to win by arousing a combination of scorn and fear.

I was also struck by a comment on a different deLong post by Patrick Marren: 


And we no longer meet with people who disagree with us either; and the few times we do, we disagree on the basic facts, not just goals or means. To very roughly paraphrase Lincoln, "The realities of neither side could be completely true; those of one side must needs be false."

One hopes that other passages of that speech are not also echoed: "Neither party expected for the [conflict] the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of [any such fundamental] conflict might [not exist at all in reality]. Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same [Constitution] and [honor the same Framers] and each invokes [their] aid against the other. It may seem strange that any [citizens] should dare to ask a just God's assistance in [dehumanizing their fellow citizens and targeting them with blood libels for short-term political gain], but let us judge not that we be not judged."

Yes, I hope, with Ebenezer Scrooge, that these are"shadows of the things that May be only, not shadows of the things that Will be."

Lincoln's second inaugural address is a treasure for all time.

As  is Lincoln himself. 


Wednesday, May 08, 2024

I, too, don't trust the New York Times

 I think many people think the New York Times is an organ of East Coast liberalism.  Me, I haven't trusted them since the Vietnam War.  When have they taken a leading role in opposing corrupt right-wing strategies?  I urge you to be skeptical -- to say the least-- of the Times' coverage.

But why should you take my word for it?  If you doubt me, have a look at Dan Froomkin's compilation of criticism of the Times by informed observers.  

Friday, April 26, 2024

The Banana Republic of America

 Is this the end of American democracy?  Pretty much, says David Kurtz,  an informed observer at the excellent Talking Points Memo. Josh Marshal, the founder of TPM, and the most penetrating observer of current American politics, concurs.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

1,000,000,000 Voters

You read that right.  There are very close to ONE BILLION qualified voters taking part in the Indian election.  There is likely to be a high turnout because some issues important to Indians are effectively on the ballot.

You want another impressive number? How about  24,341,055,613.7 (earlier today)?

 That's the distance from Earth to Voyager 1 in kilometers.

From the Jet Propulsion Lab:

From the Daily Mail, sometime back.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Comments on

 Some months ago I turned off Comments on this blog, for reasons I can't recall.  I have now turned them back on.  Perhaps one of you can give  it a  try?

Friday, April 19, 2024

It Takes A Village Where No One Is Above The Law To Bring Down A Tyrant

It Takes A Village Where No One Is Above The Law To Bring Down A Tyrant is a post at toays Morning Memo at TPM.  Here's an excerpt:

So it has warmed my heart this week to hear multiple prospective jurors in the Trump hush-money case assert that no one is above the law. As a statement of fact, that is unassailable. But it’s more important as a civic virtue. It states an expectation and an aspiration for who we are and what we want to be.

Nothing is quite as succinct a distillation of the American revolutionary experience: No one is above the law. (Where we have been at our worst is putting people – enslaved peoples, minorities, women, immigrants – outside of the law.) We are seeing random citizens who are imbued with an innate understanding of what the rule of law means. That civic-minded understanding of the rule of law is the bedrock foundation for the legal structures we erect upon it. Without it, we have nothing. It’s a small sign of hope in a troubled time.

This reminds me of the brilliant speech Ursula K LeGuin put in the mouth of her character Shevek in her novel The Dispossesed. Have a look.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Star Trek will not save us

 The Honest Sorceror argues that there is no conceivable technological fix for the decline of our civilization. All civilizations depend on key resources which will eventually be used up. When they are it will be impossible to replace them and our network of technologies and  institutions will unravel.

This is an economist ' argument, clearly stated. 

Don't forget


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On March 21, 1861, Georgia’s Alexander Stephens, the newly-elected vice president of the Confederacy, explained to a crowd that the Confederate government rested on the “great truth” that the Black man “is not equal to the white man; that…subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” Stephens told listeners that the Confederate government “is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The English language, Canada, yesterday

 I was listening to the  CBC 1 program "Commotion" where they were discussing  Canada's music awards.  One of the commentators used these two phrases:  "Jetson-realistic" and "super-iconic."

Once in the early days of the breakout of rap I told my academic adviser -- who had been an important dean in the turbulent days 1968-72 that soon it would be impossible for my generation -- the rock and roll generation -- to understand what younger people were talking about.

He gave a small smile and said "Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch."

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Umair Haq, the Everything Crisis and the Crisis of Democracy

 The eccentric economist Umair Haq is the blogger I have the most respect for.  Why?  Because he is always looking at the big picture, and he is always right.  Sure, it is a deeply pessimistic picture he paints, but he has consistently analyzed trends before prominent commentators have even thought about them.  If you want to know more about him, look  at his most recent essay

Umair Haq and now everybody else have written about the crisis of democracy, and sure enough it is real enough and alarming.  But there is a positive side to this.  Reading high quality news sources (the CBC, the Guardian) and even mediocre ones (MSNBC) I am struck by the fact that people in many countries know that on a very basic level know that elections, honest elections, are essential for sane public life, and  are willing to organize and fill the streets to get them.  And even Putin and  Lukashenko have to present themselves as elected leaders.  The news is filled with wars and even genocide, but also coverage of elections and how honest or dishonest they are. The CBC routinely does this.

One reason that American democracy is in so much trouble is that no one is willing to say how ridiculous the American "system" is. Indeed, Americans hardly seem to reccognize there is a problem.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Nomadic empires

If you are interested in nomadic empires, you surely will want to read this substantial article at If you want to know more, it will link you to the original scholarly article Genetic population structure of the Xiongnu Empire at imperial and local scales. 

I feel much smarter than I did before I read this material😄.  It's really a matter of attitude -- my attitude.  The traditional literary sources  for the steppe seemed to be dominated by mythological stories of Genghis  Khan and efforts of more modern historians to estimate how many gazillion Mongols were in his armies.  The latter efforts were influenced by a fear of the Ottomans, which kept alive the fearsome reputation of the Mongols and the Huns.  (Not so much the Avars and the Magyars.)

This recent DNA research gives me reason to visualize the steppe peoples as real peoples with economies, graves and other tangible attributes.

Image:  A multi-ethnic dinner on the steppes.  No doubt they will be discussing the state of the herds and potential marriage alliances.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

To my readers : January 30, 2030'


My Parkinson's is progressing, and I find myself tired and too often afflicted with brain fog.

So  if you've got something you've always meant to ask me or tell me, this would be a good time.

Maybe you'll want to send anything too personal or confidential via email.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Some good news out of Nunavut

We hear that the Federal government of Canada has turned over control of resources and other areas of federal jurisdiction to the territorial government of Nunavut, the farthest northern territory of Canada, inhabited mostly by Inuit (formerly called Eskimo). This is a big deal. More later.

Here's the "More Later."

In Canada, as in the United States and I believe Australia and New Zealand and other colonies (Brazil?) the indigenous people were forced to surrender their claims to the land they lived on in exchange for small reserves.  These settlements, whatever they said gave control  of valuable or potentially valuable resources to colonial settlers.  The resources have become ever more valuable and strategic in recent years.  This Nunavut settlement seems to put the territory on the same footing as the Canadian provinces, which have a great deal of practical autonomy (see the case of Alberta and oil).

We'll see how it works out.  And if it has any effect on other countries' approach to indigenous issues.

Monday, January 15, 2024

The Honest Sorcerer talks about resource depletion and the collapse of the civilization of the Colombian Age

 The Honest Sorcerer is one of those economist guys who looks at the long trends and comparative histories.  Honest Sorcerer says that  all the easy resources that made possible Western domination of the globe (the Colombian Age) have been used up and there are no substitutes.  H.S. also sketches out the politics and culture of civilizational pre-collapse and collapse.

This quote (grammar adjusted) will give you a taste:

P.S.: Save this article and send it in a few years time to anyone who insists that all this could not possibly have been foreseen.