Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Autumnal Equinox Not

I rarely let an equinox (or solstice, for that matter) pass without at least a nod on this, of late much-neglected, blog. Today is one day after the autumnal equinox, as held by global consensus, but while nothing deters the sun from meeting its appointed rounds, humanity is more subject to pressures of the sort the sun, thank the Lord, never feels. Better late than never.

Above I say “by global consensus” because the equinox took place here (Detroit region) on Monday, the 22rd. But elsewhere in the world, say in Budapest, the city of my birth, it took place on Tuesday, the 23rd. Based on this site, which lists 145 major cities around the globe, a minority of 53 places experienced the equinox on Monday, a majority of 92 experienced it Tuesday. And I celebrate it Wednesday. Have rarely felt comfortable with results based on majority vote…

How it comes about that twice each year day and night have the same length is explained in this earlier blog post (link). I keep revisiting that post because celestial geometry is several levels above my mental pay-grade. So now we are a-march again, from equinox to solstice, with the days shortening but, I hope, our spirits gaining light.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Mansions in a Cluster

Finally, when all capital, all production, all exchange have been brought together in the hands of the nation, private property will disappear of its own accord, money will become superfluous, and production will so expand and man so change that society will be able to slough off whatever of its old economic habits may remain.
     [Friedrich Engels, Principles of Communism, Section 18, link]

The definition of “communism” as a social system based on collective ownership predates Engels’ writings by a few years, but in Engels’ hands that thought is expressed in a much more fulsome manner.

Today’s “The New York Times Magazine” features a brief article with pictures titled “Let A Hundred McMansions Bloom.” The big spread shows more than 60 huge mansions clustered tightly together in a relative small wooded area near Shanghai. The mansion all look alike; to be sure, some have red and some have grey roofs. The biggest cost around $1.5 million and have 6,300 square feet. Roughly half are as yet unsold, others are used as second homes. This link might work to show the picture.

This reminded me that at right regular intervals one must make a conscious effort to redefine the meaning of words when applied to specific situations. It’s certainly erroneous to speak of China as a “communist” country merely because it is ruled by an elite that calls itself the Communist Party.

Some years ago now, when we were looking for a new house in the general area where we live now, we encountered a very similar development. The mansions, to be sure, ranged in price from $500,000 to about $1.2 million. They were tightly packed, cheek to jowl. These were virtually all occupied so that we saw lots of people. They were predominantly of East Indian backgrounds. Curious.

The longer I live, the more the world morphs—perhaps to make departure much less painful, I suppose.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What’s New at the Local Store

The organization called Moms Demand Action has been running an ad attacking Kroger for permitting shoppers to carry a gun while also demanding that shoppers at least wear a T-shirt before entering the store. The ad features the picture of a shirtless man and a woman holding something like an Uzi. The text beneath says: “Attention Shoppers: Kroger won’t let you insides its stores without a shirt. So why would they allow this loaded gun?” To be sure, despite decades of shopping at Kroger, I’ve yet to see anyone carrying a gun. But this ad campaign makes me imagine the future. In the future it may become mandatory to carry a gun—and to wear a T-shirt too…

At CVS yesterday I noted the roll-out of that chain’s new policy. CVS no longer sells tobacco products. However. However, the shelves behind the front counter—where cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco were sold until just recently—positively brim with nicotine products. Now the source of nicotine is by and large tobacco. Therefore CVS’ claims to be tobacco free are not strictly speaking true. Another however. It is that those nicotine products, while actually delivering the goods, are very expensive.

The End of Time, however, will not dawn until Russia embraces Prohibition—and bans tobacco. Meanwhile, let’s chew some nicotine gum.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Two Laws

My theme today is difficult to formulate because it deals with “laws” that are genuine enough but are not laws we can test using the kinds of experiments that yield reliable Laws of Nature. Today I’m interested in two such laws, one in the economic and one in the international sphere. When the laws are violated, chaos tends to be the inevitable result.

An Economic Law

The economic law I have in mind is that just societies require a balance between freedom and its constraint. Freedom is to let people do. Constraint must come from government. If the organized power is abused, all but a relatively small portion of the population will become impoverished. If free markets are abused, all but a relatively small portion of the population will become impoverished as well because Monopoly will become a genuine fact of life. Rightly defined, monopoly is simply excessive power in the hands of a few. For this reason widespread economic inequality is a form of monopoly.

We are now violating that law because government is becoming an instrument of economic power—rather than its regulator. As a consequence of that, we’re witnessing the formations of classes that combat with one another. The sense of social unity, not surprisingly, is fraying quite visibly—even at the neighborhood level. Cracks are appearing all over the place. Calling them ethnic or racial is an altogether secondary phenomenon. The family is beginning to fail as an institution. Deadlocks are appearing everywhere—and when resolved are resolved only temporarily.

Income inequality is measured by the Gini coefficient. It stood at 0.397 in 1967 and at 0.477 in 2012 as measured at the household level—a 20 percent increase. A Gini of zero represents total equality; therefore the higher the ratio the greater the inequality. The U.S. is one of the more unequal economies in the world. The decline of families is illustrated by the drastic decline in the proportion that married-couple families with children represent among total households. That number was 40.3 percent in 1970 and 19.6 percent in 2012. By contrast, households with children headed by single adults were 10.6 percent of households in 1970, 17.8 percent in 2012. Two thirds of these households are headed by women.

A sign of fraying unity is the militarization of police—almost as if new borders are springing up inside the United States.

An International Law

The law I have in mind here is that sovereignty ought to be restricted to definable geographical territories. This means that nations should defend their territories, not their interests. Interests are almost impossible to define precisely enough to implement a policy of defending them coherently. Such is clearly the case today when I view the American reaction of the Islamic State’s expansions from Syria into Iraq. It does not threaten U.S. territory in any real sense. The only real solution would be to incorporate Syria and Iraq into the U.S. domain by outright conquest. And doing so would violate other long standing international laws.

The shift in the use of our national military—from defense of our borders to the pursuit of such intangibles as “national interest” matches our equipping local police with armored vehicles and the like domestically.

I wonder where these deviations from sensible obedience to visible laws will lead. I can extend the trends I see into the future by imagination—absent any genuinely effective and forceful reform—such as those, for instance, that Teddy Roosevelt undertook to curb the power of the trusts. The scenario that urges recognition is the separation of the United States into independent regions. Will that eventually take place? I think yes—unless we manage to “reinvent” the concept of governance somehow before the shatter takes an effective hold.

As for the international problem of trying to be the United States of the Globe, that effort, I fear, will have to wait until we’ve managed put our house in order again. And once that happens, we’ll probably be happy just to defend our borders.