Why are there so Many Lizard People–and how do we GET RID OF THEM?

Cabrini Green, circa 1960

I’ve finally come up with a good definition for the Lizard People:

People who prioritize order above human utility–including their own.

It’s easy to understand why people harm others if they benefit personally in the process. We might not like it, but at least we understand it, and self-interested people can be reasoned with.

Lizard people look like people, but they seem to lack the ability to reason like people. They make other people’s lives worse, but for no discernible personal benefit. They use words like “progress” or “improvement,” “rational” or “modern,” “rules” or “policies,” to justify their policies, while ignoring complaints from the people involved that the new policies actually break more than they fix.

Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis, Missouri

Or to put it another way: lizard people are the folks who thought Cabrini Green looked nice and built it that way on purpose.

After all, housing projects don’t simply appear out of thin air. Hundreds if not thousands of people were substantially involved in the process of creating some of the ugliest monuments to poverty the nation has ever bulldozed.

And as Slate Star Codex recently discussed in his review of James Scott’s Seeing Like a State, this didn’t happen by accident or because ugly buildings were somehow cheaper than regular ones. It happened because there was a whole school of thought, the Modernists, who thought it would be grand to redesign whole cities to be “modern” and “rational”. As Scott Alexander notes:

The worst of the worst was Le Corbusier, the French artist/intellectual/architect. The Soviets asked him to come up with a plan to redesign Moscow. He came up with one: kick out everyone, bulldoze the entire city, and redesign it from scratch upon rational principles….

The Soviets decided to pass: the plan was too extreme and destructive of existing institutions even for Stalin. Undeterred, Le Corbusier changed the word “Moscow” on the diagram to “Paris”, then presented it to the French government (who also passed). Some aspects of his design eventually ended up as Chandigarh, India. …

the Modernists rarely got their hands on entire cities at once. They did build a number of suburbs, neighborhoods, and apartment buildings. There was, however, a disconnect. Most people did not want to buy a High Modernist house or live in a High Modernist neighborhood. Most governments did want to fund High Modernist houses and neighborhoods, because the academics influencing them said it was the modern scientific rational thing to do. So in the end, one of High Modernists’ main contributions to the United States was the projects – ie government-funded public housing for poor people who didn’t get to choose where to live.

I recommend Alexander’s entire post, because by the end you will have a much better idea of what I mean by “Lizard People” than I can possibly explain myself.

Or to give a much more mundane, local example:

After a couple of the local teenagers got drivers’ licenses and a large family moved in down the block, our neighborhood developed a parking problem: more cars than spaces. Residents complained, so the HOA handed down a ruling: no one can park in the spare spaces. Problem solved!

My personal experience with HOAs is that they are run by lizard people, overly concerned with having a “rule” and a “policy” for everything, and rarely with actually maximizing the property values of the HOAs members.

It’s kind of odd that people don’t discuss HOAs more often, because they’re a level of government that millions of people are exposed to, voting is restricted to property owners, and they’re small enough that individuals could have an effect on them.

To be clear, it’s not that order is itself inherently bad. For example, Alexander posted a map of Chicago (laid out in a grid) next to a map of a traditional, twisty-windy-street city. But Chicago’s sewers are a true engineering marvel:

During the 1850s and 1860s engineers carried out a piecemeal raising of the level of central Chicago. Streets, sidewalks and buildings were physically raised on hydraulic jacks or jackscrews. The work was funded by private property owners and public funds. …

During the 19th century, the elevation of the Chicago area was not much higher than the shorelines of Lake Michigan, so for many years there was little or no naturally occurring drainage from the city surface. The lack of drainage caused unpleasant living conditions, and standing water harbored pathogens that caused numerous epidemics. Epidemics including typhoid fever and dysentery blighted Chicago six years in a row culminating in the 1854 outbreak of cholera that killed six percent of the city’s population.[2][3][4][5]

In January 1858, the first masonry building in Chicago to be thus raised—a four story, 70-foot (21 m) long, 750-ton brick structure situated at the north-east corner of Randolph Street and Dearborn Street—was lifted on two hundred jackscrews to its new grade, which was 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) higher than the old one, “without the slightest injury to the building.”[8] It was the first of more than fifty comparably large masonry buildings to be raised that year.[9]

By 1860, confidence was sufficiently high that a consortium … took on one of the most impressive locations in the city and hoisted it up complete and in one go. They lifted half a city block on Lake Street, between Clark Street and LaSalle Street; a solid masonry row of shops, offices, printeries, etc., 320 feet (98 m) long, comprising brick and stone buildings, some four stories high, some five, having a footprint taking up almost one acre (4,000 m2) of space, and an estimated all in weight including hanging sidewalks of thirty five thousand tons. Businesses operating out of these premises were not closed down for the lifting; as the buildings were being raised, people came, went, shopped and worked in them as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. In five days the entire assembly was elevated 4 feet 8 inches (1.42 m) in the air by a team consisting of six hundred men using six thousand jackscrews, ready for new foundation walls to be built underneath. The spectacle drew crowds of thousands, who were on the final day permitted to walk at the old ground level, among the jacks.[12][13][14][15] …

Many of central Chicago’s hurriedly erected wooden frame buildings were now considered wholly inappropriate to the burgeoning and increasingly wealthy city. Rather than raise them several feet, proprietors often preferred to relocate these old frame buildings, replacing them with new masonry blocks built to the latest grade. Consequently, the practice of putting the old multi-story, intact and furnished wooden buildings—sometimes entire rows of them en bloc—on rollers and moving them to the outskirts of town or to the suburbs was so common as to be considered nothing more than routine traffic. Traveller David Macrae wrote incredulously, “Never a day passed during my stay in the city that I did not meet one or more houses shifting their quarters. One day I met nine. Going out Great Madison Street in the horse cars we had to stop twice to let houses get across.” As discussed above, business did not suffer; shop owners would keep their shops open, even as people had to climb in through a moving front door.[34][35][36][37][38]

In other words, Chicago was too low and flat to drain properly, (which probably has a lot to do with it being laid out so neatly in the first place,) much less build underground sewers, and as a result, people kept getting sick. So they just used a bunch of jacks to lift the city and built the sewers at ground level, then filled in the open space with dirt and rubble.

So, yes, I am in favor of sewers, and even major, city-altering projects in order to install sewers. Sewers are good. Not dying of cholera is awesome. Nothing here should be interpreted as “let’s go die of terrible, preventable diseases in a muddy peasant hovel.”

But too often the imposition of order doesn’t prevent cholera; too often it just makes everything worse. “I have a solution!” doesn’t mean you have a good solution.

The biggest projects ever undertaken to improve human welfare, organized entirely along scientific, “rational” principles, resulted in the deaths of over 35 million people. No one is sure exactly how many people starved to death in the process of collectivization–Wikipedia lists estimates between 5.5 and 8 million for the Soviet famine of 1932-33, 23-55 million for China’s Great Leap Forward, and goodness knows how many we should count for North Korea, Cambodia, Ethiopia, etc.

It’s one thing to raise a city, one block at a time, on hydraulic jacks. It’s quite another matter to redesign an society from the ground up. Even if people’s current systems aren’t functioning perfectly, like the parking situation in my my neighborhood, systems tend to exist as they are because they are serving some purpose and you can’t just step in and sweep them aside without understanding what that purpose was. Moreover, whatever imperfect system you have, people are used to it and most of them have already adapted their lives around it. Before the French Revolution, there were thousands of people who made their livings producing lace, candles, and other luxury goods for the French Nobility. Chop off the king’s head, and some poor hatter will be out of a job.

Or as they say, if you come across a fence in the woods that doesn’t have any obvious purpose, it’s a good idea to figure out why it’s there before you go tearing it down.

But back to the Lizard People: the Lizard People are folks who, as everyone around them is transformed into skeletal corpses, keep insisting that everything is fine and we just need to stick with the plan–maybe even stick to the plan even harder.

And the strangest thing is that these people exist at all, and moreover, that instead of being shunned by society at large, they are often promoted–to manager, overseer, or government office.

Whatever can we do?

Cathedral Round-Up #19: You are the Hope of the World–The SJWs of 1917

Sometimes material for these posts falls serendipitously into my lap–such is today’s case: I have inherited from a great-grandparent in the Puritan line of the family a slim volume from 1917, Hermann Hagedorn’s You are the Hope of the World: An Appeal to the Boys and Girls of America, and oh boy, is it a doozy.

Since I’m dong a lot of quoting, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.

“YOU ARE THE HOPE OF THE WORLD! Girls and boys of America, you are the hope of the world! In Europe, boys of your age are dying daily by hundreds, by thousands! Millions lie dead or wounded; or, fam- ishing in prison camps, watch the slow wasting of body and mind. Millions! Can you imagine it? Five million! Ten million! God knows, how many million more! Twelve million. Fifteen million, perhaps. It is an impossible figure — so huge that it means nothing. …

“Europe does not know yet what she has lost. Europe has great scientists still, great poets, great tellers of tales, inventors, merchants, physicians, preachers. But they are old, or aging. They will pass away, and Europe will look around and cry: “My old heroes are passing. It is time for my young heroes to take the places of honor.” And Europe will call for her young heroes. Europe will call for new poets, new tellers of tales, new scientists, new inventors, new merchants, new physicians, new preachers. And no one will answer. No young heroes will appear. …

“over there across the ocean every twenty seconds, on an average, down goes a brave boy, and out goes another can- dle, and on one of you over here suddenly falls a new responsibility. You don’t feel it, but there it is. That French boy or that English or German or Russian boy, may leave his watch- fob to his brother and his watch to his best friend, but he leaves his chance in life to you. He might have been a great scientist and drawn some wizardry, yet unknown, out of the air; he might have been a great musician, a great engineer; he might have been the immortal leader men have been looking for, ages long, to lead the world to a better civilization. He’s gone, dead at nineteen. Young America, you are his heir! Don’t you feel his mantle on your shoulders? …

[Says the young American:]””It makes me sort of sorry for Europe. Why, when the old duffers die, they’ll holler for new men and —”

“”There won’t be any new men.”

“”They’ll get into a scrape — perhaps another war like this — and they’ll holler for a Washington or a Lincoln, or even for a What’s-his-name? — Joffre — or a What’s-his- name — Lloyd George — to pull ’em out, and there won’t —”

“”There won’t be any Washington or Lincoln or Joffre or Lloyd George.”

“”Who’ll there be?”

“”Perhaps nobody — in Europe.”

You sit a minute, Young America, thinking that over. And then suddenly you rise to your feet, and throw away your cigarette, and frown, puzzled a bit. And then very slowly you say:

“”Why, it looks as though when that time comes — perhaps — it may — be — up to us.” Right you are, Young America!”

[EvX: Note that Hermann is predicting that in the event of another World War, Europe will not be able to produce for itself the likes of Churchill or Hitler.]

“Why, you say, are we the world’s hope? … You can’t evade it, Young America. The stars have conspired against you. Destiny, which made your country rich and gave her great leaders in time of need, and helped her to build a magnificent republic out of many races and many creeds; Destiny that brought you to the light under the Eagle and the Stars and Stripes; Destiny, that chose America to be the greatest laboratory, the greatest testing-ground of democracy in the world; Destiny, Fortune, God, whatever you want to call laid on you the privilege and the responsibility of being the hope of a world in tears. You can carry this responsibility and be glorious. You can throw it off, and be damned. But you cannot ignore it. …

“The world knows that in you, whether your ancestors came over in the Mayflower three hundred years ago, or in the steerage of a liner twenty years ago, lives the spirit of a great tradition. The world puts its hope in you, but not only in you. It puts its hope in the great ghosts that stand behind you, upholding your arms, whispering wisdom to you, patience, perseverance, courage, crying, “Go on, Young America! We back you up!” Washington, first of all! And around him, Putnam, Warren, Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Hamilton, Jeffer- son, Marshall, Greene, Stark!

[EvX: There follows a long enumeration of American heroes–let us note that at this time, Americans still had heroes and Yale’s students were not “angry, saddened and deeply frustrated” by the University’s decision to name a dormitory after Benjamin Franklin.]

“You remember what the British officer said of Marion’s band? “They go without pay, they go without clothes, living on roots and drinking water — all for liberty. What chance have we against such men?” …

“All Europe paid tribute to pirates in Barbary, and America paid tribute, because everybody was doing it; it seemed to be the style. But then some Bashaw in Tripoli or Tunis, seeing easy money, jacked up his price. And Europe said: “Oh, all right. If you’ll only keep quiet!” But the little U.S. cried: “No, you dirty pirate! We’re hanged if we’ll pay you another cent!” And the ships went over, gallant ships with all sails full, and there was no more tribute-paying after they came back! …

“Rogers and Clark are behind you, Fremont, Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett. You remember? “Thermopylae had its messengers of death, the Alamo had none.” The frontiersmen, the Indian fighters, the pioneers are behind you, dauntless of spirit; the colonists of Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, the New Netherlands, the Carolinas; the settlers in wild lands, pressing westward … the brave builders of the West are behind you, … John Brown of Osawatomie is there! And there, Sherman, Sheridan, Meade, Thomas, Farragut, Grant, silent, tenacious, magnanimous! Stonewall Jackson, Stuart, Lee! And in the midst of them, the greatest of all, Lincoln, with his hand on your shoulder, Young America, saying, “Sonny, I’m with you. Go on!” …

“[WWI] has to many of you, perhaps, seemed merely a brawl in the dark among thieves, or a midnight riot in a madhouse. The issues have been confused. … Because the Right was hard to catch and hold, we cried that there was no Right in it. That was the comfortable point of view. …

“As the months went by, one truth began to emerge with increasing clearness from the smoke and welter and confusion. We saw, dimly at first, then more and more clearly, that the War was not merely a war between competing traders, a war for a place in the sun on the one side, and economic supremacy on the other; but a war of conflicting fundamental ideas. We were slow to see this. It took a revolution in Russia to open our eyes; it took the joyous shout of the countless Siberian exiles, welcoming freedom, to open our ears. But we understand now. We know at last what the war is about. We see at last what the Allies have seen from the beginning, that this is a war between kings and free men. The nations that believe in kings and distrust the people have challenged, with intent to destroy, or incapacitate, the nations that believe in the people and won’t let the kings out in public without a license, a muzzle and a line. It is a war between autocracy and democracy, and beyond that, it is a struggle for the extirpation of war; a struggle between the powers who believe that there is profit in war and the powers who know that there is no profit in it; between the powers who are looking back to a sort of earnest cave-man as an ideal, and the powers who are looking forward to a reasoning, reasonable, law-abiding man with a ballot.

[EvX: Note the many ways in which this is an absurd lie. Did the Kaiser of Germany and the Czar of Russia pitch their armies against each other because one of them was an autocrat and the other a democrat? Did the Communist Revolution in Russia result in freedom, liberty, or democracy for the people there, or mass famines, secret police, and gulags?]

“Blacker and sharper every day, against the lurid glow of flaming villages and smouldering cities, looms the Peril of Kings, and louder and grimmer from millions of graves rumbles the Doom of Kings. If there is any validity in human evidence, and if the logical conclusions of clear minds from clear-cut evidence mean anything at all, this Great War was begun by kings and sons of kings. It will not be ended by kings. It will be ended by folks named Smith and Jones and Robinson; and the kings and sons of kings thereafter will eat their meals through wire baskets, and there will be number-plates on their collars. Foolish dudes and silly women will keep them as pets. Out of this agony of death is coming “a new birth of freedom.”

[EvX: Again he is wrong, for the Russian Czars were not kept as pets (what?) but cruelly murdered shortly after this volume appeared, even poor little Alexei who had certainly never done another human a single ounce of wrong.]

“Young America, if in these days there is one thought emerging like a green island out of the turbulent sea of conflicting opinions, it is that civilization demands the spread of the democratic idea. Kings take to war as Congressmen take to Appropriation Bills. There is no question about that. Nothing in history is surer. … When kings wanted glory, they went and took it out of their neighbors; when they wanted gold, they made war and got it; … And when their people rebelled, they went to war for no reason at all, but just to quiet them down. A good many men died and a good many women became destitute in the course of those adventures, but kings have romance on their side and they have always made believe that they had God on their side, too. The Kaiser isn’t the first king who has chattered about Me und Gott. He is merely the last of a long, sad line of self-deluded frauds. Kings gain by war, and cliques of nobles or plutocrats gain by war; the Lords of Special Privilege thrive and grow fat on aggression.

“But the people do not thrive on it. Smith and Jones and Robinson do not gain by aggression. Uncle Sam might annex Cuba, Mexico, Canada, and South America to-morrow, and Smith and Jones and Robinson would gain nothing from it all. They would lose. For public attention would be so fixed on the romantic glitter of conquest that, hi its shadow, corruption would thrive as never before. Progress within the nation would cease while we pursued the treacherous will-o’-the-wisp of imperialism into distant marshes. Smith and Jones and Robinson know this, and where they control the government, there is not much talk of colonies and the White Man’s Burden. The governments that are controlled by Smith and Jones and Robinson, which means the Common People, are called democracies; and in so far as they are true democracies they are a force for the abolition of war.

[EvX: Were Hermann correct, the US would have never expanded past the territories of the original 13 Colonies, would have never conquered Texas, Mexico, Cuba, etc., and we would be much the poorer for all of this land we had obtained. Likewise, the US would not have entered WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I, Gulf War II, etc., while those monarchies in the Middle East–like Saudi Arabia–would be out conquering their neighbors.

Of course, our author does protect his position with a “no true Scotsman” clause.]

“They have been called to die for their country, but you are called to live for your country. Those who die in the fight for democracy, die for more than their country; they die to build a lasting peace. You who live for the service of democracy, live for the service of more than your country. You live to build, out of the agony and the ashes, a better world than the sun has yet shone upon! …

“”Or put it another way. Somebody who tells you that everything isn’t all hunkydory with America is a bad American, eh?”

“”You bet. If Teacher tried to get off any knocks on Uncle Sam, I’d tell my father, and my father’d get her discharged.”

“”You’re off, sonny. And your father’s off. All you spread-eagle people, who think that the only way to be loyal to Uncle Sam is to pretend that he’s perfect as a cottonwool peach, are off. Your Uncle Sam isn’t perfect, sonny. In fact, he’s just about a hundred thousand miles from perfect.” …

“But the only way our U.S.A. ever will be good and great is for us all to look at ourselves, to look at our nation squarely and without blinking, and keep our minds alert lest we get into bad company and do things that George and Abraham might not like. But Teacher says, in effect: “No! Don’t look at your own faults. Look at the faults of others and forget your own. You’ll be much happier that way!” … Young America, there are times when I should like to see Teacher shot at sunrise in that empty lot down the block. For that sort of jabber is, in the first place, a lie. And in the second place, it’s a damned lie. And in the third place, it’s treason, for it makes you think there’s nothing for you to do. And that’s like putting a bomb under the Capitol. Young America, I know you don’t like to have me say that democracy isn’t a success. It sounds disloyal somehow. But it isn’t disloyal. It’s just trying to look at things squarely, and without blinking, … Democracy is n’t a success — yet. Government of the people, by the people, for the people, is n’t achieved — yet. Do you think it is? You remember what the Grand Old Fellows said in the Declaration: Men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . . Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Look about you. Does it seem to you that the slums in your own city afford life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to the men and women and children, freezing and starving in winter, sweltering and starving in summer? Does it seem to you that the factories where children work eight, ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day help those children achieve those unalienable rights? …

“It is a mystery to me, Young America, why the great men, whose lives and heroic deeds make up the history of this Republic, should have permitted us, the nieces and nephews of Uncle Sam, to take democracy, to take the principle of popular government, as lightly, as carelessly, as we have taken it. Perhaps they lacked imagination to see what a republic, based as firmly as ours, might accomplish with an alert and conscientious citizenry; perhaps, like Lincoln, they were too busy with enormous problems, concrete and immediate, to do more than point out the direction of progress; perhaps they were just optimistic, trusting blissfully in the old convenient notion that, by means of some piece of divine jugglery, some light- fingered shifting of omelets under a hat, the voices of five, ten, fifteen mil- ion farmers, factory-hands, brokers, lawyers, clerks, longshoremen, saloon- keepers, Tammany Hall heelers, murderers, repeaters and Congressmen, became the Voice of God.

“Our great men have been loyal to the principle of democracy. … But few, if any, have hammered into our heads the simple truth that democracy is like religion… what definite thing do we ever do to keep alive that little sprig of democracy which is native in the heart of every American girl and boy? What do we do to feed it and tend it and water it? America depends for its life, its liberty, its happiness, on a wide-awake and conscientious citizen- ship; but what do we ever do to build up such a citizenship? …

“What school or college that you ever heard of has in its curriculum emphasized the prime importance of citizenship? I suppose they teach you some civics in your school, and I’ll bet you a dollar it’s drier than algebra. Perhaps they give you a dab at current events — mostly events, and mighty little, I’ll swear, about the current on which they float. For history, I suppose they give you the same accumulation of pleasant legends they gave me when I was fifteen or thereabouts. All about the glory, and nothing about the shame, the stupidity, the greed! As though you were a fool who did n’t know that no man and no country can be all good or all bad; but that both are a mixture of good and bad, and will be loved by their children even if they do make mistakes! …

“Every American boy becomes a hand in the great Factory of Public Welfare we call the United States, the day he is twenty-one. He knows he is going into that factory, and his elders know he is going into it, and they all know that his happiness and their own happiness may depend on his loyalty to the interests of that factory and his understanding of the machinery of that factory. You’d think they’d tell him some- thing beforehand about machinery in general, wouldn’t you? You’d think they’d prepare him a bit to be a good mechanic when his time came. The machinery is so fine and delicate, you’d think the Directors would insist on reducing to a minimum the risk of smashing it up.

“But they don’t…. These Directors go from school to school, and instead of scolding the school-teachers for failing to give you training in government-mechanics, they pat you on the back, Young America, and tell you to be good factory hands, nice factory hands, loyal factory hands; and that the Factory is the grandest factory in the world, and you ought to be glad that you belong to that particular factory, because it is a free factory, where every one can do exactly as he pleases. The Directors say a great many uplifting things, but do they take you to the machine and explain it to you, and stand over you until you know what makes it go? Oh, no! Nothing like that! They tell you that you are the greatest little mechanic in the world and then leave you to wreck the machine as thoroughly as your native common sense will permit. As for freedom — for the ignorant and the untrained there is no such thing as freedom. The ignorant and the untrained are slaves to their own inefficiency. Those only are free who know. Young America, girls and boys can be trained to the work of citizenship even as greenhorns can be trained to the use of machinery; trained in the home, trained in school, trained in college. And we must be trained, Young America, if this country is ever going to be the wise, the just, the humane force for progress in the world that we want it to be. …

I have gone about like Diogenes with a lantern, trying to find a man or boy who has seen or even heard of a school or college that tried deliberately, fearlessly, and thoroughly to train its girls and boys to be intelligent citizens. Colleges teach government and history, but the courses are optional. Nothing in their catalogues suggests that a patriotic citizen will apply himself to these subjects. Physics may be compulsory and Latin or German or French may be compulsory, for those constitute Culture; but never by any chance the subjects that constitute the background for good citizenship. … Do [teachers] bend over you with a blessing or a club and say: You’ll be a decent citizen, my son, or I’ll know the reason why!” — do they? You would think your school- masters had never heard of such a thing as citizenship.

[EvX: Note the contradiction between our author’s certainty that democracy must be explicitly taught in order to succeed, and his complaint that in the past 140 or so years of this country, no one has bothered to teach it, and yet we had not descended into autocracy.]

“You may be too young to die for democ- racy; but no girl or boy is ever too young to live for democracy! Your country is at war. You can- not go to the front. But, in the high- est sense, you are the true Home Guard. Are you going to do your part? In your nation’s critical hour, girls and boys of America, what are you going to do?…

“Unlike the college boy who prefers to stay away from baseball games, the citizen who prefers to stay away from the polls does not lose caste. No one has been taught to see him for the contemptible shirker that he is. For there is no tradition of public service. Young America, it is your opportunity and your obligation to create that tradition; … set forth and gather a friend or two friends or three friends about you and… determine that henceforth you will think about the needs of America, and argue about the needs of America, and give your hands and your hearts to serve the needs of America; and consider any man or woman, boy or girl, who does otherwise, a traitor to the United States and a traitor to the principle of democracy!…

“You must not only run ahead of your parsons and your schoolmasters, you must yourselves awake your parsons and your schoolmasters! Some of them are heavy sleepers, as you know. Bang on the door and drag them out of bed. Not too ceremoniously! Riot, if need be! There are too few riots in American schools and colleges against the cramping conservatism of the elder generation. …

“If your elders in school and college will not volunteer to lead you, lead yourselves, and demand their support! Speak gently to Teacher, speak persuasively to Teacher, but if words don’t wake him, RIOT, girls and boys of America! Do you call yourselves really Americans? Then jump to your feet, resolved that this great nation shall no longer waste its opportunities!

“Think what the republican hearts hidden behind the gray khaki of Germany would give for the democratic institutions you possess! Their lives would seem to them payment ridiculously inadequate. And you possess these institutions and shrug your shoulders and say, in effect, that you should worry what happens to them. Do you say that, you who read these lines? If you do, you are base, and deserve to die as Benedict Arnold died, in a garret in a foreign land, cursing the day that he betrayed his country! Does that sound harsh and violent to you, girls and boys of America? I tell you, the time has passed when we could afford to chatter lightly over the teacups concerning the needs and the shortcomings of our country. Smash the cups, Young America, and come out and fight, that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. Fight! …

Your elder brothers will have to fight with guns; many of them will have to die here or with their fellows-in-democracy in France and Flanders. … To you, girls and boys of ten, twelve, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, is given a work every bit as grand as dying for your country; and that is, living for the highest interests of your country! Those interests are the interests of democracy. If, therefore, you live for the highest interests of America, you live at the same time for the highest interests of the world. In that struggle, the goal is neither nationalism nor internationalism. It is democracy. It is a lasting peace among nations; and, as far as it is humanly possible, amity among men. Go to it! Go to it, girls and boys of America! You are the hope of the world.”


EvX: After completing the book (it is a short read and you may finish it yourself if you wish before continuing with this post,) I looked up the author’s biography on Wikipedia and managed to actually surprise myself by how thoroughly Cathedral Hagedorn was:

Hermann Hagedorn (18 July 1882 – 27 July 1964) was an American author, poet and biographer.

He was born in New York City and educated at Harvard University, where he was awarded the George B. Sohier Prize for literature, the University of Berlin, and Columbia University. From 1909 to 1911, he was an instructor in English at Harvard.

Hagedorn was a friend and biographer of Theodore Roosevelt. He also served as Secretary and Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Association from 1919 to 1957. Drawing upon his friendship with Roosevelt, Hagedorn was able to elicite the support of Roosevelt’s friends and associates’ personal recollections in his biography of TR which was first published in 1918 and then updated in 1922 and which is oriented toward children.

(Funny how Teddy Roosevelt has been nearly completely forgotten these days, compared to his fame back when Mount Rushmore was carved.)

Why are People Poor? A Response to Bishop Camara

“When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were poor, they called me a communist.” —Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, Brazilian Roman Catholic Archbishop, 1909 – 1999

c08pnclw8aapot6In Bishop Camara’s case, they might have been calling him a communist because he was an open socialist who advocated Liberation Theology. But leaving the specific case aside, let’s speak more generally: the problem isn’t that people think it’s inherently communist to wonder why there are poor people; the problem is that you are asking the wrong question.

The state that we now call “poor” was the default condition of the vast, overwhelming majority of humans for the entirety of our existence on this planet. Agriculture has only existed for 10,000 of humanity’s 200,000 years; the vast majority of your ancestors were hunter-gatherers with no more wealth to their names than what they could comfortably carry on their backs or construct in a few hours’ time out of grass and sticks. A modern guy living out of his car has more wealth than our ancestors did.


The important question is not why most of the world’s people are still poor. The question is why some of the world’s people (or groups of people) have become fabulously wealthy, and if whatever they did can work for everyone else.

The Dramatic Decline in World Poverty, from CATO https://www.cato.org/blog/dramatic-decline-world-poverty
The Dramatic Decline in World Poverty, from CATO

Why are people poor?

Why shouldn’t they be poor?

You want to be rich? Figure out how the rich did it.

Quality of life and human well-being have increased tremendously around the world in the past 30 years. The number of people suffering starvation has dropped precipitously. Why? Did Ethiopia and China introduce some fabulous new welfare program to provide for their poorest citizens? No. Capitalism and technological advances in food production happened. (Caveat: Russia post-USSR had collapsing well-being due to, AFAIK, terribly managed and opportunistic transition to capitalism. As always, don’t be stupid.)

chart2 cu1ko5cwaaeachw

historical-median-male-height-1 picture-2

b2eyn9-cuaaq5gr picture-1

A tragedy in three acts
A tragedy in three acts

Before you can make solve problems, you have to understand what the problems actually are–and that requires asking the correct questions in the first place.

Second, you have to answer the question properly.

Anthropology Friday: The Slave Narrative Collection (pt 1/4)

Wes Brady, interviewee from the Slave Narrative Collection, Marshall, Texas, 1937
Wes Brady, interviewee from the Slave Narrative Collection, Marshall, Texas, 1937

Back in 1936, the US government decided to put people to work by sending them out to collect narratives of slavery and the Civil War from the nation’s few remaining ex-slaves.

They found more than 2,000 survivors and ended up with over 10,000 typed pages of interviews, which they titled Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States.

I have been intending to read these narratives for several years, ever since I spotted them on Amazon (though I don’t suspect I’ll get through all 10,000 pages of them.) Many of the accounts are set down in dialect, which I gather was more common in writing in the 30s than it is today, we moderns having decided that dialect is “insulting” or something, though the truth is I think some people just find it difficult to read. I have always loved dialect, ever since I was very young, so you are getting these dialect and all. After all, every single person on earth speaks with an accent to someone else’s ears.

With so many pages of material, debated with myself about what I should excerpt, and eventually decided to just go with whatever I found interesting, especially the parts I found compelling enough to read out loud to others.

As usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.

M. E. Abrams: Secret BBQs, Spirits, and the Conjurin’ Doctor

“Marse Glenn had 64 slaves. On Sat’day night, de darkies would have a little fun on de side. A way off from de big house, down in de pastur’ dar wuz about de bigges’ gully what I is ebber seed. Dat wuz de place whar us collected mos’ ev’ry Sa’day night fer our lil’ mite o’ fun frum de white folks hearin’. Sometime it wuz so dark dat you could not see de fingers on yo’ han’ when you would raise it fo’ your face. … De pastur’ wuz big and de trees made dark spots in it on de brightest nights. … When us started together, look like us would git parted ‘fo we reach de gully all together. One of us see som’tin and take to runnin’. Maybe de other darkies in de drove, de wouldn’t see nothin’ jes den. Dats zactly how it is wid de spirits. De mout (might) sho de’self to you and not to me. De acts raal queer all de way round. Dey can take a notion to scare de daylights outtin you when you is wid a gang; or dey kin scare de whole gang; den, on de other hand, dey kin sho de’self off to jes two or three. …

“On light nights, I is seed dem look, furs dark like a tree shad’er; den dey gits raal scairy white. T’aint no use fer white folks to low dat it ain’t no haints, an’ grievements dat follows ye all around, kaise I is done had to many ‘spriences wid dem. … Raaly de white folks doesn’t have eyes fer sech as we darkies does; but dey bees dare jes de same.

“Never mindin’ all o’ dat, we n’used to steal our hog ever’ sa’day night and take off to de gully whar us’d git him dressed and barbecued. Niggers has de mos’es fun at a barbecue dat dare is to be had. As none o’ our gang didn’t have no ‘ligion, us never felt no scruples bout not gettin de ‘cue’ ready fo’ Sunday. Us’d git back to de big house along in de evenin’ o’ Sunday. Den Marse, he come out in de yard an’ low whar wuz you niggers dis mornin’. How come de chilluns had to do de work round here. Us would tell some lie bout gwine to a church ‘siety meetin’. But we got raal scairt and mose ‘cided dat de best plan wuz to do away wid de barbecue in de holler. Conjin ‘Doc.’ say dat he done put a spell on ole Marse so dat he wuz ‘blevin ev’y think dat us tole him bout Sa’day night and Sunday morning. Dat give our minds ‘lief; but it turned out dat in a few weeks de Marse come out from under de spell. Doc never even knowed nothin’ bout it. Marse had done got to countin’ his hogs ever’ week. When he cotch us, us wuz all punished wid a hard long task. Dat cured me o’ believing in any conjuring an’ charmin’ but I still kno’s dat dare is haints; kaise ever time you goes to dat gully at night, up to dis very day, you ken hear hogs still gruntin’ in it, but you can’t see nothing.

Eastman Johnson's 1863 painting "The Lord is My Shepherd"
Eastman Johnson‘s 1863 painting “The Lord is My Shepherd”

EvX: So then the Master died and some other people came to live in the plantation house and then it got a reputation for being haunted…

“Den Marse Glenn’s boys put Mammy in de house to keep it fer ’em. But Lawd God! Mammy said dat de furs night she stayed dare de haints nebber let her git not narr’y mite o’ sleep. … Mammy low dat it de Marse a lookin’ fer his money what he done tuck and burried and de boys couldn’t find no sign o’ it. Atter dat, de sons tuck an’ tacked a sign on de front gate, offering $200.00 to de man, white or black, dat would stay dar and fin’ out whar dat money wuz burried. Our preacher, the Rev. Wallace, lowed dat he would stay dar and find out whar dat money wuz from de spirits. …

“He went to bed. A dog began running down dem steps; and a black cat run across de room dat turned to white befo’ it run into de wall. Den a pair of white horses come down de stairway a rattling chains fer harness. Next a woman dressed in white come in dat room. Brother Wallace up and lit out dat house and he never went back no mo’.

“Another preacher tried stayin’ dar. He said he gwine to keep his head kivered plum up. Some’tin unkivered it and he seed a white goat a grinnin’ at him. But as he wuz a brave man and trus’ de Lawd, he lowed, ‘What you want wid me nohow?’ The goat said, ‘what is you doin’ here. Raise, I knows dat you ain’t sleep.’ De preacher say, ‘I wants you to tell me what ole Marse don tuck and hid dat money?’ De goat grin and low, ‘How come you don’ look under your pillar, sometime?’ Den he run away. De preacher hopped up and looked under de pillar, and dar wuz de money sho nuf.”

Ezra Adams, 82 years old, reminds us that many former slaves died of hunger, disease, or exposure in the aftermath of the Civil War:

Negro Life at the South, oil on canvas, 1859,
Negro Life at the South, oil on canvas, 1859, (actually set in Washington, DC)

“De slaves, where I lived, knowed after de war dat they had abundance of dat somethin’ called freedom, what they could not wat, wear, and sleep in. Yes, sir, they soon found out dat freedom ain’t nothin’, ‘less you is got somethin’ to live on and a place to call home. … It sho’ don’t hold good when you has to work, or when you gits hongry. You knows dat poor white folks and niggers has got to work to live, regardless of liberty, love, and all them things. I believes a person loves more better, when they feels good. I knows from experience dat poor folks feels better when they has food in deir frame and a few dimes to jingle in deir pockets. …

“If a poor man wants to enjoy a little freedom, let him go on de farm and work for hisself. It is sho’ worth somethin’ to be boss, and, on de farm you can be boss all you want to, ‘less de man ‘low his wife to hold dat ‘portant post. A man wid a good wife, one dat pulls wid him, can see and feel some pleasure and experience some independence. But, bless your soul, if he gits a woman what wants to be both husband and wife, fare-you-well and good-bye, too, to all love, pleasure, and independence; ’cause you sho’ is gwine to ketch hell here and no mild climate whenever you goes ‘way.

James Hopkinson's Plantation. Planting sweet potatoes. ca. 1862/63
James Hopkinson’s Plantation. Planting sweet potatoes. ca. 1862/63

Victoria Adams, 90 years old: Medicine and the Yankees

“Us had medicine made from herbs, leaves and roots; some of them was cat-nip, garlic root, tansy, and roots of burdock. De roots of burdock soaked in whiskey was mighty good medicine. We dipped asafetida in turpentine and hung it ’round our necks to keep off disease.

“Befo’ de Yankees come thru, our peoples had let loose a lot of our hosses and de hosses strayed over to de Yankee side, and de Yankee men rode de hosses back over to our plantation. De Yankees asked us if we want to be free. I never say I did; I tell them I want to stay wid my missus and they went on and let me alone. They ‘stroyed most everything we had ‘cept a little vittles; took all de stock and take them wid them. They burned all de buildings ‘cept de one de massa and missus was livin’ in.

“It wasn’t long after de Yankees went thru dat our missus told us dat we don’t b’long to her and de massa no more. None of us left dat season. I got married de next year and left her. I like being free more better.”

Uncle Marian, a slave of great notoriety, of North Carolina. Daguerreotype, circa 1850.
Uncle Marian, a slave of great notoriety, of North Carolina. Daguerreotype, circa 1850.

EvX: Many slaves opted to stay where they were immediately after freedom, trusting the plantations they knew to the threat of hunger and homelessness in a war-ravaged land, but moved on later as opportunities arose.

Whether slaves stayed or left had a lot to do with how cruel their masters were–the crueler the master, the more likely their slaves were to leave as fast as possible. Unfortunately, given the misery and starvation induced by the war, these same people were probably less likely to survive long enough to give the folklorists their accounts. Obviously this may create a numerical bias in the accounts.

Frank Adamson, 82 years old: The Rattler and the Red Shirts

“I ‘members when you was barefoot at de bottom; now I see you a settin’ dere, gittin’ bare at de top, as bare as de palm of my hand.”

[EvX: In case it isn’t clear, “you” here is the person conducting the interview.]

“I’s been ‘possum huntin’ wid your pappy, when he lived on de Wateree, just after de war. One night us got into tribulation, I tells you! ‘Twas ’bout midnight when de dogs make a tree. Your pappy climb up de tree, git ’bout halfway up, heard sumpin’ dat once you hears it you never forgits, and dats de rattlin’ of de rattles on a rattle snake’s tail. Us both ‘stinctly hear dat sound! What us do? Me on de ground, him up de tree, but where de snake? Dat was de misery, us didn’t know. Dat snake give us fair warnin’ though! Marster Sam (dats your pa) ‘low: ‘Frank, ease down on de ground; I’ll just stay up here for a while.’ I lay on them leaves, skeered to make a russle. Your pa up de tree skeered to go up or down! Broad daylight didn’t move us. Sun come up, he look all ’round from his vantage up de tree, then come down, not ’til then, do I gits on my foots.

“Then I laugh and laugh and laugh, and ask Marster Sam how he felt. Marster Sam kinda frown and say: ‘Damn I feels like hell! Git up dat tree! Don’t you see dat ‘possum up dere?’ I say: ‘But where de snake, Marster?’ He say: ‘Dat rattler done gone home, where me and you and dat ‘possum gonna be pretty soon!’ …

“I’s as close to white folks then as peas in a pod. Wore de red shirt and drunk a heap of brandy in Columbia, dat time us went down to General Hampton into power. I ‘clare I hollered so loud goin’ ‘long in de procession, dat a nice white lady run out one of de houses down dere in Columbia, give me two biscuits and a drum stick of chicken, patted me on de shoulder, and say: ‘Thank God for all de big black men dat can holler for Governor Hampton as loud as dis one does.’ Then I hollers some more for to please dat lady, though I had to take de half chawed chicken out dis old mouth, and she laugh ’bout dat ’til she cried. She did!

“Well, I’ll be rockin’ ‘long balance of dese days, a hollerin’ for Mr. Roosevelt, just as loud as I holler then for Hampton.

Four generations of a slave family, Smith's Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862
Four generations of a slave family, Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862

EvX: These interviews were conducted in the 30s, so that’s the second Roosevelt.

As Wikipedia points out, the fact that the interviewers were white may also have affected the particular anecdotes informants chose to share or how they framed them. In this case, I wonder if the account is even true. Wikipedia claims:

The Red Shirts or Redshirts of the Southern United States were white supremacist[1][2] paramilitary groups that were active in the late 19th century in the last years and after the end of the Reconstruction era of the United States. Red Shirt groups originated in Mississippi in 1875, when Democratic Party private terror units adopted red shirts to make themselves more visible and threatening to Southern Republicans, both white and freedmen. Similar groups in the Carolinas also adopted red shirts.

Among the most prominent Red Shirts were the supporters of Democratic Party candidate Wade Hampton during the campaigns for the South Carolina gubernatorial elections of 1876 and 1878.[3] The Red Shirts were one of several paramilitary organizations, such as the White League in Louisiana, arising from the continuing efforts of white Democrats to regain political power in the South in the 1870s. These groups acted as “the military arm of the Democratic Party.”[4]

While sometimes engaging in violence, the Red Shirts, the White League, rifle clubs, and similar groups in the late nineteenth century worked openly and were better organized than the secret vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Their goals were to use violence and terrorism to restore the Democrats to power and repress the exercise of civil and voting rights by the freedmen.[5] During the 1876, 1898 and 1900 campaigns in North Carolina, the Red Shirts played prominent roles in intimidating non-Democratic Party voters. …

According to E. Merton Coulter in The South During Reconstruction (1947), the red shirt was adopted in Mississippi in 1875 by “southern brigadiers” of the Democratic Party who were opposed to black Republicans. The Red Shirts disrupted Republican rallies, intimidated or assassinated black leaders, and discouraged and suppressed black voting at the polls. …

State Democrats organized parades and rallies in every county of South Carolina. Many of the participants were armed and mounted; all wore red. Mounted men gave an impression of greater numbers. When Wade Hampton and other Democrats spoke, the Red Shirts would respond enthusiastically, shouting the campaign slogan, “Hurrah for Hampton.” …

In the Piedmont counties of Aiken, Edgefield, and Barnwell, freedmen who voted were driven from their homes and whipped, while some of their leaders were murdered. During the 1876 presidential election, Democrats in Edgefield and Laurens counties voted “early and often”, while freedmen were barred from the polls.[7] …

Few freedmen voted for Hampton, and most remained loyal to the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. The 1876 campaign was the “most tumultuous in South Carolina’s history.”[8] “An anti-Reconstruction historian later estimated that 150 Negroes were murdered in South Carolina during the campaign.”[9]

After the election on November 7, a protracted dispute between Chamberlain and Hampton ensued as both claimed victory. Because of the massive election fraud, Edmund William McGregor Mackey, a Republican member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, called upon the “Hunkidori Club” from Charleston to eject Democratic members from Edgefield and Laurens counties from the House. Word spread through the state. By December 3, approximately 5,000 Red Shirts assembled at the State House to defend the Democrats. Hampton appealed for calm and the Red Shirts dispersed.

As a result of a national political compromise, President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered the removal of the Union Army from the state on April 3, 1877. The white Democrats completed their political takeover of South Carolina.

Graph of the enslaved population of the United States as a percentage of the population of each state, 1790–1860
Graph of the enslaved population of the United States as a percentage of the population of each state, 1790–1860

They were active in other states, too, but you get the idea.

Red is a common color, and soon appears again in Democrat lore, as Huber recounts in “Red Necks and Red Bandanas: Appalachian Coal Miners and the Coloring of Union Identity, 1912-1936″ (published 2006):

“They shot one of those Bolsheviks up in Knox County this morning. Harry Sims his name was…. That deputy knew his business. He didn’t give the redneck a chance to talk, he just plugged him in the stomach…” So Malcolm Cowley, writing in The New Republic in 1932, recounted a local coal operator’s response to the murder of a nineteen-year-old Young Communist League union organizer in eastern Kentucky… The contempt and ruthlessness in this comment will scarcely surprise readers familiar with the history of the violent, bloody suppression of the American labor movement, but seeing the pejorative terms Bolshevik and redneck used interchangeably may. For more than a century, the epithet redneck has chiefly denigrated rural, poor white southerners…. During the 1920s and 1930s, however, another one of its definitions in the northern and central Appalachian coalfields was “a Communist.”

Coal miners displaying a bomb that was dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921
Coal miners displaying a bomb that was dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921

During the Appalachian coal mine wars–which was a real thing that actually happened, though obviously it wasn’t actually on the scale of a real war–strikers often wore red bandanas around their necks.

Wikipedia notes:

The term characterized farmers having a red neck caused by sunburn from hours working in the fields. …

By 1900, “rednecks” was in common use to designate the political factions inside the Democratic Party comprising poor white farmers in the South.[14] … A newspaper notice in Mississippi in August 1891 called on rednecks to rally at the polls at the upcoming primary election:[15]


Primary on the 25th.
And the “rednecks” will be there.
And the “Yaller-heels” will be there, also.
And the “hayseeds” and “gray dillers,” they’ll be there, too.
And the “subordinates” and “subalterns” will be there to rebuke their slanderers and traducers.
And the men who pay ten, twenty, thirty, etc. etc. per cent on borrowed money will be on hand, and they’ll remember it, too.

By 1910, the political supporters of the Mississippi Democratic Party politician James K. Vardaman—chiefly poor white farmers—began to describe themselves proudly as “rednecks,” even to the point of wearing red neckerchiefs to political rallies and picnics.[16] …

The term “redneck” in the early 20th century was occasionally used in reference to American coal miner union members who wore red bandannas for solidarity. The sense of “a union man” dates at least to the 1910s and was especially popular during the 1920s and 1930s in the coal-producing regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.[18]

The strikers, IIRC, were multi-ethnic, not just whites.

The path of the Democratic party from “anti Northerners” to “anti rich industrial capitalists” to “anti Southerners” is really interesting–Democrats haven’t won a majority of the white vote in a presidential election since LBJ made them the part of the Civil Rights Act.

It’s like they’re always red, but the meaning of “red” keeps changing.

That’s all I have time for today. See you next week.

Anthropology(ish) Friday: Albania

We are returning to Fonseca’s Bury me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey, though today’s passage focuses on Albania:

south-eastern-europe-map“A taxi from Bulgaria to Albania: twelve hot hours across the memory of Yugoslavia. Like all border posts, the frontier near Struga in Macedonia is chaotic and dull, littered with a ragged population of shufflers, pushers, and peddlers, indolent and insolent, waiting for rejection and a long-familiar journey in the wrong direction. Approaching the border we found a convoy of massive, eighteen-wheel rigs (Italian, Swiss, German, Hungarian,) which had been kept waiting for five days. …

With ostentatious indifference to the queue, and to the customhouse’s throbbing Turkish disco music, a half-dozen officials leaned against the wall and gazed dreamily out on a semibucolic, iron-red vista salted with small unshepherded goats. … Humanitarian aid is the number one import of Europe’s poorest nation. It is all donated gear, but nothing is free in Albania; everything coming in will be sold and resold several times, starting at the border.

La Vlora, leaving the Albanian port city of Durres in 1991 http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/true-stories/pictures-of-albanians-fleeing-for-italian-coast-remind-us-that-seeking-refuge-is-nothing-new/news-story/fd1467dfbb7fb96d36876bf9ea8c7cf3
La Vlora, leaving the Albanian port city of Durres in 1991

We had all seen the pictures of Albanians festooning boats bound for Italy. Marcel even knew some of them. But no one in the queue, aside from Marcel, knew what to expect inside this country that no one was allowed to leave. So far, all we were confident of was that it was as hard for outsiders to get into Albania as it was for natives to get out. …

EvX: Although I am well aware that Albania is one of Europe’s poorest countries, I have no clear memory of Albanian-festooned ships, so I went in search of that story:

There, 40m off shore, La Vlora bobbed up and down and its cargo — 20,000 Albanians — squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder into every available inch of space.

They filled the cabins and hung from the sides of the giant ship. It was “torture”, but it was better than home, where the whole country was imploding. …

Things were changing in Albania in 1991 and not for the better.

Elections left the communist-backed Labour Party of Albania in power but a coalition government was soon formed and decades of communism gave way to a new outlook.

With change came social unrest. Mr Kokthi said Albania imploded.

“Everything was shut down, the whole country. The economy collapsed, factories were closing, there was nothing to do there. We couldn’t see a future there.”

Mass departures from Adriatic ports followed and huge crowds gathered to board overcrowded ships. …

When the ship docked, it was absolute chaos.

“People were jumping from the ship and using ropes to get off. Police were everywhere but they weren’t ready for us. There was no way they were ready for so many people,” Mr Kokthi said. …

Almost 20,000 people were transported from the port to an empty stadium. There, they waited to be processed, but they would eventually all be returned to Albania.

Returning to Fonseca’s account:

The lake coast at St. Naum Monastery, with Galičica Mountain in the background.
The Ohrid lake coast at St. Naum Monastery, with Galičica Mountain in the background.

“Inside Albania, keeping a lookout for our ride, we walked for a while along the shore of the vast turquoise lake Ohrid. There are no plastic spoons, no Coke cans, no scraps, no billboards, no beckonings of any kind.  But immediately one felt that Albania was more than a tourist-free oasis between the ex-paradises of Greece and southern Italy. Or less. What you can’t imagine before you get there is the emptiness. The land is so bad that even the trees come on one at a time, surrounded by more space than their spindliness can support. The particular beauty of Albania seems always to depend on isolation.”

Reconstruction of Bronze Age stilt houses on Lake Ohrid, near Peštani
Reconstruction of Bronze Age stilt houses on Lake Ohrid, near Peštani

EvX: From the photos on Lake Ohrid’s Wikipedia page, it looks like Albania has gotten more crowded (and grown more trees) since Fonseca’s visit. Still, it is a lovely lake.

This photo claims to show a reconstruction of Bronze Age stilt houses, which look an awful lot like modern stilt houses, except with thatched roofs. Looks like the kind of place tourists/wedding parties would love to rent out. According to Wikipedia:

Lake Ohrid … straddles the mountainous border between southwestern Macedonia and eastern Albania. It is one of Europe‘s deepest and oldest lakes, preserving a unique aquatic ecosystem that is of worldwide importance, with more than 200 endemic species. …

The lake is otherwise densely surrounded by settlements in the form of villages and resorts in both basin countries. …

Lake Ohrid is the deepest lake of the Balkans, with a maximum depth of 288 m (940 ft) and a mean depth of 155 m (508 ft). It covers an area of 358 km² (138 sq mi), containing an estimated 55.4 km³ of water. It is 30.4 km long by 14.8 km wide at its maximum extent with a shoreline length of 87.53 km, shared between Macedonia (56.02 km) and Albania (31.51 km). Of the total surface area, 248 km2 belongs to Republic of Macedonia and 110 km2 belongs to Albania.

I admit that Albania is not a country I normally think much about. It suffers the curse of being poor, small, and unfortunate, mostly due to its communist history. It has some lovely mountains/lakes/rivers/forests, though, judging by the photos on Wikipedia.

When a place is simultaneously this pretty and this poor, it makes me think that there must be some as-yet-unrealized opportunity waiting there for someone.

Wed. Open Thread: Armies, 4chan, and the USSR

1024px-r1a1a_distributionHoly [expletive,] my baby brother just joined the military. I don’t have any other details yet, but I wasn’t expecting this. I hope he does admirably and doesn’t get killed.

In blog news, I’ve added a section where I can list books/articles/documentaries etc the readers recommend. Note that I haven’t had a chance to read/watch them all myself.

In hilarious news that you probably already heard about, 4chan claims to have trolled the CIA:

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

1024px-celtic_expansion-svgIf true, this is not just amusing–and a show of how easily our “intelligence” agencies can be duped–it also shows the development of informal citizen-based organizations actually running [what is the correct word? disinformation campaigns?] against their own government’s organs.

Or, you know, some guy on 4 chan is lying.

Comments of the Week are going to BaruchK, who knows much more than I do about the rise of communism:

I don’t think so. Marxism took off towards the end of the Victorian era, when starvation, misery and unemployment were at historic lows.

Further, Marxism/socialism were not spontaneous phenomena. Rather, they were purposely developed, sponsored, propagated and lobbied for by small, elite groups, funded by the super-rich (Carnegie, JP Morgan, etc.) working over decades.

Sutton talks about how socialism allows the transformation of target societies into captive markets. Russia and China were not a threat to the Western elites as long as they were socialist. It also allows the one-way transformation of wealth into power. In the absence of socialism, wealth can come and go. Today’s industrial titan can have his wealth destroyed through crashes, innovation, etc. However, by using his wealth to coopt a government, he can create regulations which will stifle competitors (eg Sarbanes-Oxley,) have the government bail him out during crashes (recent examples abound,) ideally even create fiat currency (effectively sucking up wealth from the rest of the economy.)


The interesting thing about the USSR was its utter economic reliance on aid from the US and Europe throughout its entire existence. …

It is interesting to ponder why the USSR collapsed when it did. I suspect that it just got so sclerotic that it was not even able to manage its own assets and the resources it got from the West, both as payment for oil and as aid. By the end, nobody knew where anything was, how much of it there was, or how to get anything done. Terror was out, the population was no longer the fanatic communists or terrified peasants and workers of the earlier days, but rather demoralized petit-bourgeoisie (private cars and motorcycles, shitty as they were, had become attainable for normal people in the 60s, for instance.) The nervous system of the USSR, which had more or less worked for decades, had just broken down and no longer sent more or less accurate signals to and from its organs.

And With the Thoughts You’d be Thinkin’ for this communist tale (see sidebar for relevant links):

Here’s a fun(?) bit of history, the Soviet central planning in Central Asia didn’t just cause massive diversions of water to plant cotton causing the drying up of the Aral sea it caused the Uzbek communist party to have thousands of members and all but one of its members purged in the 1980s, Brezhnev’s son-in-law was also implicated. Basically the Uzbekistan communist party inflated its cotton production figures stealling billions (USDs) and was only caught by the use of spy satelites.

So what have you guys been up to this week?

So Cultural Marxism is just a “Conspiracy Theory”

Search for “cultural Marxism” on Wikipedia, and you get redirected to “Frankfurt School Conspiracy Theory“:

‘Cultural Marxism’ in modern political parlance refers to a conspiracy theory which sees the Frankfurt School as part of a movement to take over and destroy Western society.[52][53][54][55]

To clear things up, here’s some Cultural Marxism in action:

 Heterosexualism and the Colonial / Modern Gender System, by Maria Lugones, published by Hypatia Press https://muse.jhu.edu/article/206329
From Heterosexualism and the Colonial / Modern Gender System, by Maria Lugones, published by Hypatia Press



In 1933, the Soviet government, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, recriminalised homosexual activity with punishments of up to five years’ hard labor. …

During the Soviet regime, Western observers believed that between 800 and 1,000 men were imprisoned each year under Article 121.[14] The precise reason for the new law is still in some dispute.[citation needed] … Whatever the precise reason, homosexuality remained a serious criminal offense until it was repealed in 1993.[16]

In the People’s Republic of China:

Even as late as the early 1980s, there were some Chinese men seeking asylum in other countries reported that they had faced systematic discrimination and harassment from the government because of their sexual orientation as well as similar mistreatment from family members [1]. Likewise, the Chinese government did treat homosexuality as a disease and subjected gay men to electric shock therapy and other attempts to change their sexual orientation [34]

And Palestine:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in the Palestinian territories are often spoken of in the geopolitical and cultural context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It remains one of the most taboo human rights issues in the region. Homosexuality is illegal in the Gaza Strip but not in the West Bank, although LGBT rights are not protected in either. …

Gay Palestinians frequently seek refuge in Israel fearing for their lives, especially fearing death from members of their own families.[7] “According to lawyer Shaul Gannon, from the Israeli LGBT organisation Aguda, around 2,000 homosexuals from the Palestinian territories live in Tel Aviv at any one time.”[5]

Oh, I guess I have a few more:


Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro
Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro


But sure, Cultural Marxism isn’t real. Nothing to see; move it along.

Entropy, Life, and Welfare (pt. 3/3)

Communism works so well, soldiers had to push Fidel Castro's hearse because the Cuban government couldn't find a working truck
Communism works so well, soldiers had to push Fidel Castro’s hearse because the Cuban government couldn’t find a working truck

This is Part Three of a series on how incentives affect the distribution of energy/resources throughout a society and the destructive effects of social systems like communism. (Part One and Part Two are here)

But before we criticize these programs too much, let’s understand where they came from:

The Industrial Revolution, which began around 1760 in Britain, created mass economic and social dislocation as millions of workers were forced off their farms and flooded into the cities.

Communism: the world's single biggest source of murder in the 20th century
Communism: the world’s single biggest source of murder in the 20th century

The booms and busts of the unregulated (and regulated) industrial economy caused sudden, unpredictable unemployment and, without a social safety net of some kind, starvation. This suffering unleashed Marxism, which soon transformed into an anti-capitalist, anti-Western ideology and tore across the planet, demolishing regimes and killing millions of people.

Reason.com attributes 94 million deaths to communism. The Black Book of Communism places the total between 85 and 100 million people. Historian on the Warpath totals almost 150 million people killed or murdered by communist governments, not including war deaths. (Wikipedia estimates that WWII killed, between battle deaths in Europe and the Pacific, disease, starvation, and genocide, 50-80 million people–and there were communists involved in WWII, also.)

cdchqnbumaaj5sjThe US and Europe, while not explicitly communist, have adopted many of socialism’s suggestions: Social Security, Welfare, Medicaid, etc., many in direct response to the Great Depression.

These solutions are, at best, a stop-gap measures to deal with the massive changes new technologies are still causing. Remember, humans were hunter-gatherers for 190,000 years. We had a long time to get used to being hunter gatherers. 10,000 years ago, a few of us started farming, and developed whole new cultures. A mere 200 years ago, the Industrial Revolution began spreading through Europe. Today, the “post industrial information economy” (or “robot economy,” as I call it,) is upon us, and we have barely even begun to adapt.

We are in an age that is–out of our 200,000 years of existence–entirely novel and the speed of change is increasing. We have not yet figured out how to cope, how to structure society for the long-term so that we don’t accidentally break it.

We have gotten very good, however, at creative accounting to make it look like we are producing more than we are.

ceumwjhviaiaquiBy the mid-1950s, the Industrial Revolution had brought levels of prosperity never before seen in human history to the US (and soon to Europe, Japan, Korea, etc.) But since the ’70s, things seem to have gone off-track.

People fault outsourcing and trade for the death of the great American job market, but technical progress and automation also deserve much of the blame. As the Daily Caller reports:

McDonald’s has announced plans to roll out automated kiosks and mobile pay options at all of its U.S. locations, raising questions about the future of its 1.5 million employees in the country and around the globe.

Roughly 500 restaurants in Florida, New York and California now have the automated ordering stations, and restaurants in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., will be outfitted in 2017, according to CNNMoney.

The locations that are seeing the first automated kiosks closely correlate with the fight for a $15 minimum wage. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a new $15 minimum wage for New York state in 2016, and the University of California has proposed to pay its low-wage employees $15.

There is an obvious trade-off between robots and employees: where wages are low enough, there is little incentive to invest capital in developing and purchasing robots. Where wages are high, there is more incentive to build robots.

labor_forceThe Robot Economy will continue to replace low-skilled, low-wage jobs blue collar workers and young people used to do. No longer will teenagers get summer jobs at McDonald’s. Many if not most of these workers are simply extraneous in the modern economy and cannot be “retrained” to do more information-dependent work. The expansion of the Welfare State, education (also paid for with tax dollars,) and make-work administrative positions can keep these displaced workers fed and maybe even “employed” for the foreseeable future, but they are not a long-term solution, and it is obvious that people in such degraded positions, unable to work, often lose the will to keep going.

picture-30But people do not appreciate the recommendation that they should just fuck off and die already. That’s how you get communist revolutions in the first place.

Mass immigration of unskilled labor into a market already shrinking due to automation / technological progress is a terrible idea. This is Basic Econ 101: Supply and Demand. If the supply of labor keeps increasing while the demand for labor keeps decreasing, the cost of labor (wages) will plummet. Likewise, corporations quite explicitly state that they want immigrants–including illegal ones–because they can pay them less.

In an economy with more demand than supply for labor, labor can organize (unions) and advocate in behalf of its common interests, demanding a higher share of profits, health insurance, pensions, cigarette breaks, etc. When the supply of labor outstrips demand, labor cannot advocate on its own behalf, because any uppity worker can simply be replaced by some desperate, unemployed person willing to work for less and not make a fuss.

gr2009012802033Note two professions in the US that are essentially protected by union-like organizations: doctors and lawyers. Both professions require years of expensive training at exclusive schools and high scores on difficult tests. Lawyers must also be members of their local Bar Associations, and doctors must endure residency. These requirements keep out the majority of people who would like to join these professions, and ensure high salaries for most who do.

While Residency sounds abjectly awful, the situation for doctors in Britain and Ireland sounds much worse. Slate Star Codex goes into great detail about the problems:

Many of the junior doctors I worked with in Ireland were working a hundred hours a week. It’s hard to describe what working 100 hours a week is like. Saying “it means you work from 7 AM to 9 PM every day including weekends” doesn’t really cut it. Imagine the hobbies you enjoy and the people you love. Now imagine you can’t spend time on any of them, because you are being yelled at as people die all around you for fourteen hours a day, and when you get home you have just enough time to eat dinner, brush your teeth, possibly pay a bill or two, and curl up in a ball before you have to go do it all again, and your next day off is in two weeks.

And this is the best case scenario, where everything is spaced out nice and even. The junior doctors I knew frequently worked thirty-six hour shifts at a time (the European Court of Human Rights has since declined to fine Ireland for this illegal practice). …

The psychological consequences are predictable: after one year, 55% of junior doctors describe themselves as burned out, 30% meet criteria for moderate depression, and 12% report considering suicide.

A lot of American junior doctors are able to bear this by reminding themselves that it’s only temporary. The worst part, internship, is only one year; junior doctorness as a whole only lasts three or four. After that you become a full doctor and a free agent – probably still pretty stressed, but at least making a lot of money and enjoying a modicum of control over your life.

In Britain, this consolation is denied most junior doctors. Everyone works for the government, and the government has a strict hierarchy of ranks, only the top of which – “consultant” – has anything like the freedom and salary that most American doctors enjoy. It can take ten to twenty years for junior doctors in Britain to become consultants, and some never do.

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want my doctor to be suicidal.

Now, you may notice that Scott doesn’t live in Ireland anymore, and similarly, many British doctors to take their credentials and move abroad as quickly as possible. The British medical system would be forced to reform if not for the influx of foreign doctors willing to put up with hell in exchange for not living in the third world.

From the outside, many of these systems, from underfunded pensions to British medicine, look just fine. Indeed, an underfunded pension will operate just fine until the day it runs out of money. Until that day, everyone who clams the pension is in deep trouble looks like Chicken Little, running around claiming that the sky is falling.

There’s a saying in finance: The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.

BTW, the entire state of California is in deep trouble, from budget problems to insane property tax laws. They already consume far more water than they receive, (and are set for massive forest fires,) but vote for increased population via immigration with Mexico. California’s economy is being propped up by–among other things–masses of cash flowing into Silicon Valley. This is Dot.Com Bubble 2.0, and like the first, it will pop–the only question is when. As Reuters reported last February:

LinkedIn Corp’s (LNKD.N) shares closed down 43.6 percent on Friday, wiping out nearly $11 billion of market value, after the social network for professionals shocked Wall Street with a revenue forecast that fell far short of expectations. …

As of Thursday, LinkedIn shares were trading at 50 times forward 12-month earnings, making it one of the most expensive stocks in the tech sector.

Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) trades at 29.5 times forward earnings, Facebook Inc (FB.O) at 33.8 times and Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) at 20.9 times.

Even after the selloff, LinkedIn’s shares may still be overvalued, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine data.

LinkedIn should be trading at $71.79, a 30 percent discount to the stock’s Friday’s low, according to StarMine’s Intrinsic Valuation model, which takes analysts’ five-year estimates and models the growth trajectory over a longer period.

Linked in has since been bought out by Microsoft for $26 billion. As Fortune notes, this is absolutely insane, as there is no way Microsoft can make back that much money off of LinkedIn:

Source Fortune http://fortune.com/2016/06/13/microsoft-linkedin-overpaid/
Source Fortune

“Ebitda” stands for Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortisation. There is absolutely no way that LinkedIn, a social network that barely turns a profit, is worth more than Sun, EMC, Compaq, and Time Warner.

Shares normally trade around 20x a company’s previous year’s earnings, though right now the S & P’s P/E ratio is around 25. In 2016, LinkedIn’s P/E ratio has been around 180. (Even crazier, their ratio in 2015 was -1,220, because they lost money.)

Ever wonder where all of that money from QE is going? It’s turning into Ferraris cruising around San Francisco, and LinkedIn is not the only offender.

But these companies will not maintain fantasy valuations forever.

(While we’re at it: Why the AOL-Time Warner Merger Went so Wrong:

When the deal was announced on Jan. 10, 2000, Stephen M. Case, a co-founder of AOL, said, “This is a historic moment in which new media has truly come of age.” His counterpart at Time Warner, the philosopher chief executive Gerald M. Levin, who was fond of quoting the Bible and Camus, said the Internet had begun to “create unprecedented and instantaneous access to every form of media and to unleash immense possibilities for economic growth, human understanding and creative expression.”

The trail of despair in subsequent years included countless job losses, the decimation of retirement accounts, investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department, and countless executive upheavals. Today, the combined values of the companies, which have been separated, is about one-seventh of their worth on the day of the merger.)

So, that was a bit of a long diversion into the sheer artificiality of much of our economy, and how sooner or later, the Piper must be paid.

picture-5bWhen I try to talk to liberal friends about the problems of increasing automation and immigration on the incomes of the American working class, their response is that “We just need more regulation.”

In this cheerful fantasy, we can help my friend who cannot afford health insurance by requiring his employer to provide health insurance–when in reality, my friend now cannot find a job that lasts for more than a month because employers just fire him before the health insurance requirement kicks in. In fantasy land, you can protect poor people by making it harder for landlords to evict them, but in the real world, this makes it even harder for the poorest to get long-term housing because no landlord wants to take the chance of getting stuck with them. In fantasy land, immigration doesn’t hurt wages because you can just legislate a higher minimum wage, but the idea that you can legislate a wage that the market does not support is an absurdity worthy only of the USSR. In the real world, your job gets replaced with a robot.

picture-4bThis is not to say that we can’t have some form of welfare or social safety net to deal with the dislocations and difficulties of our new economy. Indeed, some form of social welfare may, in the long run, make the economic system more robust by allowing people to change jobs or weather temporary unemployment without dying. Nor does it mean that any inefficiency is going to break the system. But long-term, using legislation to create a problem and then using more legislation to prevent the market from correcting it increases inefficiency, and you are now spending resources to enforce both laws.

Just like Enron’s “creative accounting,” you cannot keep hiding losses indefinitely.

You can have open-borders capitalism with minimal welfare, in which the most skilled thrive and survive and the least skilled die out. This is more-or-less the system in Singapore (see here for a discussion of how they use personal savings accounts instead of most welfare; a discussion of poverty in Singapore; and Singapore’s migration policies.)

Or you can have a Japanese or Swedish-style welfare state, but no open borders, (because the system will collapse if you let in just anyone who wants free money [hint: everyone.])

But you cannot just smash two different systems together, heap more laws on top of them to try to prevent the market from responding, and expect it to carry on indefinitely producing the same levels of wealth and well-being as it always has.

The laws of thermodynamics are against you.

(Return to Part One and Part Two.)

Entropy, Life, and Welfare (pt 2)

images(This is Part 2. Part 1 and Part 3 are here.)

Complex systems, because they must be homeostatic to exist at all, can absorb and disguise the symptoms of a great deal of internal stress.

The collapse of the Soviet Union remains one of the great mysteries of Political Science, not because it happened (that is easy enough to understand,) but because Political Scientists did not predict it.

The big problem with planned economies is that their incentive structures make self-correction almost impossible. For example, when the law allowed Soviet officials to confiscate unlimited quantities of grain in 1932, about 7 million people died. The people who could see the famine happening were not the ones with the power to change tax laws nor the incentives pressuring officials to confiscate so much grain in the first place. As Wikipedia relates:

Alexander Wienberger, Holodomor
Alexander Wienberger, Holodomor

From the 1932 harvest, Soviet authorities were able to procure only 4.3 million tons as compared with 7.2 million tons obtained from the 1931 harvest.[49] Rations in town were drastically cut back, and in the winter of 1932–33 and spring of 1933 people in many urban areas were starved.[50] The urban workers were supplied by a rationing system (and therefore could occasionally assist their starving relatives of the countryside), but rations were gradually cut; and by the spring of 1933, the urban residents also faced starvation. At the same time, workers were shown agitprop movies, where all peasants were portrayed as counterrevolutionaries hiding grain and potatoes at a time when workers, who were constructing the “bright future” of socialism, were starving.[51]

cybtak1veaaoko9 cygs2gyxgaafqgn

Excuse me. I need a moment.

Say what you will for libertarianism, it has at least the basic ingredients for a self-correcting system. A farmer, left to his own devices, will not sell so much of his own grain that he starves. A factory owner will not order incorrect parts for his own factory because his profits would suffer. But in a planned economy, the person doing the ordering or deciding how much grain to sell does not personally benefit (or suffer) from these transactions, and so has no interest in their efficiency. Their incentives are totally different–they have a boss higher up in the party to please; they are required to increase the efficiency of Sector G; they are supposed to hire more people people from underrepresented groups; etc.

As Wikipedia notes:

Most information in the Soviet economy flowed from the top down. There were several mechanisms in place for producers and consumers to provide input and information that would help in the drafting of economic plans (as detailed below), but the political climate was such that few people ever provided negative input or criticism of the plan. Thus, Soviet planners had very little reliable feedback that they could use to determine the success of their plans. This meant that economic planning was often done based on faulty or outdated information, particularly in sectors with large numbers of consumers. As a result, some goods tended to be underproduced, leading to shortages, while other goods were overproduced and accumulated in storage. Low-level managers often did not report such problems to their superiors, relying instead on each other for support. Some factories developed a system of barter and either exchanged or shared raw materials and parts without the knowledge of the authorities and outside the parameters of the economic plan. …

The cumbersome procedures for bureaucratic administration foreclosed the free communication and flexible response required at the enterprise level for dealing with worker alienation, innovation, customers, and suppliers. During 1975–85, corruption and data fiddling became common practice among bureaucracy to report satisfied targets and quotas thus entrenching the crisis.

cw3bumxusaavkjbCastellano writes in Causes of the Soviet Collapse:

Around 1975, the Soviet Union entered a period of economic stagnation from which it would never emerge. Increasingly, the USSR looked to Europe, primarily West Germany, to provide hard currency financing through massive loans, while the U.S. became a major supplier of grain.[1] Despite moments of anti-Communist grandstanding, the Americans and Western Europeans maintained trade relations with the cash-strapped Soviet Union, which dipped into its Stalin-era gold reserves to increase availability of consumer goods.

Foreign trade and mild economic reforms were not enough to overcome the inefficiencies of the Soviet command economy, which remained technologically backward and full of corruption. Economic planners were frequently unable to diagnose and remedy problems, since they were given false reports by officials who only pretended to be productive. Soviet living standards remained poor by Western standards. By 1980, only 9 percent of Soviets had automobiles, which was actually a vast improvement under Brezhnev.

Back to Wikipedia:

One of the greatest strengths of Soviet economy was its vast supplies of oil and gas; world oil prices quadrupled in the 1973-74, and rose again in 1979-1981, making the energy sector the chief driver of the Soviet economy, and was used to cover multiple weaknesses. During this period, USSR had the lowest per-capita incomes among the other socialist countries.[49] At one point, Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin told the head of oil and gas production, “things are bad with bread. Give me 3 million tons [of oil] over the plan.” [50] Former prime minister Yegor Gaidar, an economist looking back three decades, in 2007 wrote:

The hard currency from oil exports stopped the growing food supply crisis, increased the import of equipment and consumer goods, ensured a financial base for the arms race and the achievement of nuclear parity with the United States, and permitted the realization of such risky foreign-policy actions as the war in Afghanistan.[51]

Awareness of the growing crisis arose initially within the KGB which with its extensive network of informants in every region and institution had its finger on the pulse of the nation. Yuri Andropov, director of the KGB, created a secret department during the 1970s within the KGB devoted to economic analysis, and when he succeeded Brezhnev in 1982 sounded the alarm forcefully to the Soviet leadership. Andropov’s remedy of increased discipline, however, proved ineffective. It was only when Andropov’s protege Gorbachev assumed power that a determined, but ultimately unsuccessful, assault on the economic crisis was undertaken.[52]

And back to Castellano:

 By 1988, private ownership was permitted in certain manufacturing industries. Ironically, these reforms actually caused the Soviet economy to deteriorate further, as unprofitable private enterprises were now subsidized by the state, and the lack of state oversight of supply lines resulted in shortages of food and clothing, which were unknown even under Brezhnev.[8]

By the mid-1980s, the Warsaw Pact satellites had ceased to be an economic asset to the Soviet Union, and in fact Gorbachev’s withdrawal had been motivated in part by economic considerations. There was no longer a real danger of war with Western Europe, so the bloc had lost its strategic significance as well.

People atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on November 9, 1989.
People atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on November 9, 1989.

You know how this story ends. The Wall comes down, communism crumbles in all but Cuba and North Korea, and Russia is further assaulted by “shock therapy,” which it is in no position to cope with.

And yet, even in the months just before the Wall fell, no one predicted that it was about to happen. It was very easy to see, from an economic position, that the USSR couldn’t just keep limping on–even the KGB knew that. But “Communism is broken” is information we’d had for six decades already, and the USSR looked like it was in no hurry to finally go ahead and kick the bucket.

Socialism fails because it prevents economic feedback from directing the flow of resources to the places where they’re needed, but even a terrible system like the USSR’s can keep limping along like it’s going to last forever right until the day it falls.

There are reports now coming out of socialist Venezuela of people eating pets, rats, and worse, each other (I am not quoting the cannibalism article, you can read it yourself. This is from the one about eating cats, dogs, and garbage):

Ramón Muchacho, Mayor of Chacao in Caracas, said the streets of the capital of Venezuela are filled with people killing animals for food.

Through Twitter, Muchacho reported that in Venezuela, it is a “painful reality” that people “hunt cats, dogs and pigeons” to ease their hunger. … People are also reportedly gathering vegetables from the ground and trash to eat as well. … The week before, various regions of the country saw widespread looting of shopping malls, pharmacies, supermarkets and food trucks, all while people chanted “we are hungry.”

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s currency has become so worthless, shopkeepers are weighing piles of notes instead of counting them.

Command economies just don’t work very well.

cw1htkluuaatpa7We Americans have our own reasons why we should be concerned, from the death of manufacturing to the increasing national debt. The Federal Budget is about 20% of total GDP. The government periodically threatens to default on its debts while funding wars against non-enemies like Iraq. Obligations like pensions and Social Security are often ridiculously under-funded (to the tune of billions of dollars that investments simply haven’t produced) or depend on infinite population growth–which, of course, no nation can ever maintain. As CNBC reports:

Weak investment performance and insufficient contributions will cause total unfunded liabilities for U.S. state public pensions to balloon by 40 percent to $1.75 trillion through fiscal 2017, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report on Thursday. …

It has been a tough year for the funds, which earned a median 0.52 percent on investments in fiscal 2016 versus their average assumed return rate of 7.5 percent, Moody’s said.

Assumptions. The sheer gall of it is flabbergasting.

Steve Bannon gave this rather insightful speech about our deteriorating economic situation several years ago:

(But you know, underwear is racist so let’s ignore the economy…)

To be continued: Return to  Part 1 or continue to Part 3.)

What the hell do the terrorists even want?

IRA: Wanted Northern Ireland to be part of Ireland.

Palestinian Terrorists: Want to take over Israel

Ted Kaczynski: Wanted people to stop chopping down his forest

OK City: Revenge for Ruby Ridge and Waco

9-11: Incoherent hate of America

Madrid Train Bombing: None

Anders Breivik: didn’t like communists

Tsarnev Brothers: Incoherent hate of America

Charlie Hebdo: disliked Hebdo’s Muhammad cartoons

Paris attack: ISIS support

San Bernardino Christmas party shooting: incoherent ISIS Support

Oregon Occupation: Opposition to the BLM

Brussels bombing: ISIS Support

Easter bombing in Pakistan: hatred of Christians

Say what you will, the IRA, ETA, and PLO had clear, coherent goals. Goals they were willing to kill babies to achieve, but still goals. You knew what they wanted and could at least hypothetically negotiate with them about it.

Since 9-11, the attacks have been increasingly incoherent. Why would Pakistani-American citizens attack the US in support of one side or the other in a civil war going on in Syria? Why would the children of Chechen refugees attack the country that took them in? Why would a guy living in Afghanistan believe it is anti-Muslim for the US to protect the interests of Muslims in Kuwait? Why move to the EU and then violently object to the laws or foreign policy? For that matter, why the hell would anyone support ISIS?

We may infer a kind of pan-Islamic tribalism which regards the US (and other Western nations) as acting against Islamic interests, but even this is incoherent. Why would Osama bin Ladin feel the need to stand up for Saudi Arabia when the Saudis could do it perfectly well themselves?

In reality, the US prior to 9-11 was pretty agnostic on Muslims. Palestinians were unpopular, due to terrorist attacks against Israel, but countries like Egypt and Jordan attracted the average person’s interest only because of their pyramids and long history. Most US actions in the Middle East over the past 55 years had been motivated by Cold War or “peace keeping” concerns.

The US supported Egypt in the Suez Crisis, keeping the Suez Canal under Egyptian control, an obvious economic boon to Egypt. We have supported, at various times, the Shah of Iran, the King of Jordan, Iraq against Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan against Soviet invasion. We intervened militarily on behalf of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia.

The US gives a substantial amount in foreign aid to other countries every year; in 2013 (the Wikipedia only lists our foreign aid for 2013 and 2012,) we gave 42.829 billion dollars–or $134 from every American citizen–to Muslim countries from Afghanistan to Yemen. (See bottom of post for my list of aid dollars per country.)

It has only been since 9-11 that Americans really become aware of the “Muslim world” as a coherent entity (if such exists) with which “we” are supposedly in conflict.

Before then, as mentioned before, our concerns were largely leftovers from the Cold War era. The “modernizers,” like Kemal Ataturk, King Hussein of Jordan, the Shah of Iran, and Saddam Hussein were “the good guys,” capitalists intent on modernizing their countries and promoting free market economic opportunities.

I recall a conversation I had with a high-ranking US government official in the weeks before 9-11. He pointed out a picture of the King of Jordan he had hanging in his office, and referred to the king as “a good guy” and “one of our friends.”

The “bad guys” were the Communists. If you’ve read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, then you know that the Iranian Revolution was a communist revolution. The triumph of “radical Islam” in Iran was a Communist revolution against Western Capitalism.

Saddam was our guy against the Ayatollah, until he invaded Kuwait (which may be partially our fault due to our ambassador inadequately conveying the idea that we would invade if he did.)

The Palestinians are supported by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Cultural Marxists, and regular Marxists.

Anti-capitalism is anti-colonialism is anti-modernism is anti-Westernism is radical religious fundamentalism.

The Muslim world is split between two factions, modernizers who want capitalism and are happy to work with the West, and radical internationalist who oppose Western influence and want to return to religious fundamentalism through out the Islamic world.

This is why the invasion of Iraq failed and could not help but fail: we took out our own guy, the modernizer, the capitalist. Who would replace him? Another capitalist? No, we got the opposition party, the fundamentalist, the communist, ISIS.

We took out the capitalist and put the communists in power.

We fucked ourselves, to the tun of 3 trillion dollars and thousands of dead soldiers. (And Iraqis.)



Table of 2013 US Aid to Muslim countries in millions of dollars (I picked Bosnia, on behalf of whose Muslim population the US intervened following the breakup of Yugoslavia, as my “minimum Muslim %” cut-off for inclusion in this list.) My apologies if I’ve missed any.

Afghanistan 5265.95
Albania 298.38
Algeria 207.96
Azerbaijan -63.13
Bangladesh 2669.1
Bosnia 550.04
Burkina Faso 1040.11
Chad 399.33
Comoros 81.9
Djibouti 152.95
Egypt 5505
Eritrea 83.69
Gambia 110.8
Guinea 499.5
Guinea Bissau 103.6
Indonesia 53.3
Iran 131.3
Iraq 1,541.4
Jordan 1,407.9
Kazakhstan 91.3
Kyrgyzstan 536.6
Lebanon 626.4
Libya 129.4
Malaysia -119.4
Maldives 22.9
Mali 1,391.3
Mauritania 291.2
Morocco 1,966.1
Niger 773.1
Nigeria 2,529.4
Pakistan 2174.1
Senegal 982.8
Sierra Leone 443.7
Somalia 991.9
Sudan 1,163.1
Syria 3,626.7
Tajikistan 382.2
Tunisia 713.6
Turkey 2,740.5
Turkmenistan 37.3
Uzbekistan 292.5
Yemen 1,003.5