the world is regressing to neo serfdom, pine forest first snow wallpaper, the century of arsenic

Few of us always act in our own rational self interests. Romance or the dream of romance would have died long ago if we were purely rational animals. Still I wonder at the voracity and tenaciousness at which the U.S. and much of western culture (most recently Spain and Greece) act to sabotage themselves, Surviving Progress transcript

Theme: In the name of “progress,” the world is regressing to neoserfdom.

Mainstream economics has become a body of assumptions selected to rationalize a “trickle-down” tax policy favoring the financial sector driving the rest of the economy into debt, turning the economic surplus into interest charges – to be recycled into yet more debt creation. Claiming that wealth at the top pulls up the rest (“the rich are job creators”), the policy inference is to shift taxes off financial wealth and property onto labor and industry.

What this view leaves out of account is that some ways of “getting rich” are corrosive, not productive. The wealthiest 10% have gotten rich mainly by getting the bottom 90% into debt. And labor (“consumers”) try to escape from their financial squeeze by going even deeper into debt, to buy homes and status before their access price rises even further out of reach. But what is pushing up real estate and other prices is easy bank credit – that is, debt. So the debt expansion calls for yet more debt to keep the financial system solvent.

This is not industrial capitalism as analyzed by the classical economists. It is something quite different. It is a regression to the ancient usury problem that destroyed Rome.

Yet this is not part of today’s economics curriculum. Finance and debt is neglected, and hence in society’s view of the future and where present trends are leading. The debt crisis shortens lifespans, worsens health and leads to emigration, suicide and general impoverishment. So the world economy has entered a regressive epoch whose policies are just the opposite of those of the Progressive Era a century ago.

This inverts the direction in which policy has been moving for the past eight centuries. Already in the 13th century the Churchmen sought to bring prices in line with costs of production, ultimately reducible to the cost of labor. By the 19th century, classical economics was moving toward what Keynes called “euthanasia of the rentier.” But since the 1980s, neoliberalism has promoted euthanasia of the production-and-consumption economy. This pro-financial neoliberal economics is aggressive, not peaceful, and its idea of globalization is neofeudal, not progressive.

By neoliberalism he means the way conservatism has chewed up and regurgitated classical liberal economic policy. While there might be a few millimeters of space left to push – we’re on the precipice of becoming an utterly rent seeking nation. We have billionaires complaining about being over taxed and over regulated. It is as if someone choking on a mouth full of sugar is scribbling frantically that they are not getting enough sweets. We even have people making high six figures complaining about how hard it is to get by if their taxes go up a bit or they have to pay their employees a genuine living wage.

pine forest first snow wallpaper

I still like to read a mystery once in a while and I like traditional English mysteries ( Doyle, Christie and P.D. James), but I like American hard boiled detective fiction as well (Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain). So that is why this caught my eye,  The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work and Play
by James Whorton.

Arsenic was easily and legitimately available for murder or suicide. Moreover, until the Marsh test was developed in 1836 to find arsenic residue in substances including the disinterred organs of victims, there was really no way of deciding whether someone who had been given it either in one go, or over a subtler longer period, had not died of natural causes as a result of poor food hygiene or illness. Why wouldn’t you get rid of the inconvenient or the vile by means of odourless, tasteless, undetectable arsenic – assuming that you had managed to overcome any tendency to value human life over personal convenience? As the over-apostrophised cook Mrs Pettican struggles to put it about Harriet Vane’s presumed crime in Strong Poison: ‘A dreadful wicked woman she must ’a’ been … a-torturin’ of the poor soul that long-winded way.

Another I did not know moment. Given its prevalence in detective fiction of the early to mid-20th century I thought arsenic was the most common drug used for suicide, Whorton says that most people actually chose opium.

Another good long read, The Woman Who Would Be King

In all antiquity, history records only one woman who successfully calculated a systematic rise to power during a time of peace: Hatshepsut, meaning “the Foremost of Noble Women,” an Egyptian king of the Eighteenth Dynasty who ruled during the fifteenth century BC and negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority. It is not precise to call Hatshepsut a queen, despite the English understanding of the word; once she took the throne, Hatshepsut could only be called a king. In the ancient Egyptian language, the word queen only existed in relation to a man, as the “king’s woman.” Once crowned, Hatshepsut served no man; her husband had been dead some seven years by the time she ascended the throne.



social dynamics and success, retro moon ride wallpaper, ethics suffers another bad day

A prevailing belief about the success of a product is that it must be of high quality and marketed in just the right way in order to be successful. That seems to be true for the most part, but it quality and marketing are not the only elements. Cass Sunstein uses the term social dynamics in this essay to explain, what in previous generations would have been called word of mouth, or what some people would still call buzz, to explain why some things become more or less successful, How Social Dynamics Made You Successful

“Searching for Sugar Man” is a stunning documentary about an unsuccessful Detroit singer- songwriter named Sixto Rodriguez, who released two long- forgotten albums in the early 1970s. Almost no one bought his albums, and his label dropped him. Rodriguez stopped making records and worked as a demolition man.

What Rodriguez didn’t know, while working in demolition, was that he had become a spectacular success in South Africa — a giant, a legend, comparable to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

….Social dynamics — who is conveying enthusiasm to whom, and how loudly, and where, and exactly when — can separate the rock icon from the demolition man, and mark the line between stunning success and crashing failure. An understanding of those dynamics tells us a lot about the role of serendipity in cultural markets, business, politics and other domains — and about why success and failure can be impossible to predict.

I’m not sure about why the iPad is more successful than say a 10 inch laptop with a convertible screen. The laptop is easier to type on, runs full fledged applications and are available in models that switch to tablet mode – where you can surf the web or take notes. I’m not saying the iPad is not a good piece of technology, or that it is not fun to use. It also has a nice form factor which  makes reading, viewing pictures and other media easy. While their sales have bottomed out considerably I never got the appeal of a full sized SUV – the Cadillac Escalade and other similar sized SUVs seemed like monsters. Difficult to maneuver around in the city, dangerous blind spots on the highway and even people who could afford them paid a lot for gas. Would the iPad or those over-sized SUVs have ever become popular if we did not start to see quite a few on the road and the advertising was not so heavy.

Successful entrepreneurs, social movements and politicians benefit from the same dynamics that produce best-selling albums. Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were immensely talented and appealing, but countless people voted and worked for them only because they saw that other people were doing so. Other immensely talented and appealing politicians go nowhere, only because they fail to catch an early wave. Science fiction’s “parallel worlds,” exploring how differently history might have turned out, are not as far-fetched as they seem.

True, we can always try to reclaim inevitability by generating after-the-fact explanations of both success and failure.

There is another name for this phenomenon, herd behavior. I know its generally considered an insult to tell anyone they’re part of the herd, but sensitivities aside, such behavior is true for most of us at some time or another. Sometimes herd behavior propels us toward a new generation of innovation. Back when Microsoft and Apple were just getting started someone at IBM is alleged to have asked, who would want a personal computer on their desk.

retro moon ride wallpaper

New York Retro Futurism

The 15 items here, range from the purely conceptual work of Italian 60s architects, Superstudio, who designed a continuous monument around the earth, crashing through lower Manhattan to Lindenthal’s serious proposal for an absolutely gargantuan bridge across the Hudson, with towers bigger than some of the tallest skyscrapers and where the keystone, still exists today.

The way previous generations saw the future is fascinating. Sometimes, like the plastic house of the future featured when the first Disneyland opened, it is a relief that their predictions did not come true. Others, like the flying car, remain interesting possibilities.

black and white retro

looking toward the future from the 1950s

My post the other day on ethics was probably a little pessimistic for some. Today presents another reason to have such a gloomy outlook, CNN Lets Dinesh D’Souza Peddle Conspiracy Theory That Obama Is “Anti-American”. D’Souza seems to lack any moral qualms about his lack of ethics and a major cable news outlet seems to have little motivation to hold guests to account.

modern ethics and public scurtiny, long exposure city bridge, another red states economy myth busted

Howard Gardner looks at the current state of ethics at the NYT. While it is understandable to refer back to the ancient Greeks and Asians, the nostalgia of the recent past is probably misplaced. It is only through nostalgia and the preservation of some public intellectual writings that we interpret those years – say the 1800s until the 1960s. Ministers, priests, culture critics, poets, public officials and novelists certainly said a lot of about ethical standards, but adherence to them was like now, sporadic and situational. These years cover the crashing rule of authoritarian monarchs, the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments, rampant racism, colonialism, the suppression of women and the poor, Nazi death camps and Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Though unless you fellow a net based philosophy magazine or blog, this piece might be the biggest soapbox “ethics” will get today, Reinventing Ethics

When Anthony Kronman, a professor and former dean of Yale School of Law, wrote nostalgically in 1995 about “the lost lawyer,” he has in mind the “found   lawyer” who is no longer concerned with the health of the community but only with the wealth of his employers, generally large corporations. And the same waning of disinterestedness can be seen in the once-solo practitioner physician (“Marcus Welby”) who is now “managed” by the business school graduates of the health maintenance organization; the once “Mr. Smith goes to Washington”  politician now under the thumbs of the most wealthy donors; the  once selfless “ Mr. Chips” who serves his own careerist interests rather than those of the discipline, the college or the students.

[  ]….I call on members of a professional community to create common spaces in which they can reflect on ethical conundra of our era. For the first time in human history, it is not essential that participants occupy the same physical space.

Gardner suggests that we establish public trustees, what he calls “virtual agoras” The agora was the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city. These would act as oversight to those common spaces of professionals. We kind of have those now. Though many operate – and that might be part of the problem – behind closed doors. While it may have helped to have the full old version of Glass-Steagall in place, which may have helped mediate the damage of the Great Recession we did have quite a few regularly tools at hand. These were in regard certain ethical business standards in fiance and banking. What happened? The formal agora of individuals charged with enforcing these ethics largely looked the other way. In business, medicine-pharmaceuticals, politics – certainly individuals know what is ethical, but money and power tend to corrupt one’s ideals. Congress has an Ethics Committee. The current chairman has used his political power to punish his adversaries, not to pursue actual ethics violations. In the news recently was a drug company that cherry-picked data to get approval for useless drugs. There is a federal regulator, but they largely rely on what are supposed to be unbiased research reports. So we have people, some of them very bright, who are regulated by other very bright people – a private web of agoras. Making more of this public/transparent may well help, yet we’re already to a point where we would have ethical committees, watched over by ethical watchdogs and those in turn watched over by more watchers. While many of us have special interests, subjects in which we have developed some expertise, I for one am not qualified to make technical evaluations of a new drug. I can read and understand a report someone else has written and know enough to look at the use of double-blind tests and standard deviation of any statistics that were complied – so for each segment of society’s business you end up back to needing professionals – a fisheries biologist to determine how many fish can be caught, an expert in physiology to determine the health implications of a new artificial valve. The chain always seems to be as strong as the weakest link no matter how many links you add. having grown up in big-tent revival country I could call for a national revival of personal ethics. If that works like the old-time revivals Billy-Bob and Peggy-Sue will be back to having boiler-makers and slapping the kids around again by Tuesday and back praying for forgiveness on Sunday next.

long exposure city bridge wallpaper


Some people may as well live on another planet, Mitt Romney Will Dock Your Boat

“Both Mitt and I have summer places up in New Hampshire on Lake Winnipesaukee. And a few summers ago I was taking my grandchildren and children to town in the boat for ice cream. And we got into the docks and they were all full and I looked around, there was no place to park, so we stopped at the end of a dock. They all jumped off and ran up the dock. And I realized there was nobody in the boat to help me dock the boat, handle the ropes, do anything – they just left me out there at sea. So I finally found a place to park after about 20 minutes, and I pulled in, I said, ‘Who’s going to grab the rope?,’ and I looked up and there was Mitt Romney. So he pulled me in, he tied up the boat for me. He rescued me just as he’s going to rescue this great country.”
—Marriott International chairman Bill Marriott explains how Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is going to help all of us anchor the recreational watercraft we keep at our second home.

Poor, poor Bill and his docking problems. Well at least he can go home at night and cry on that estimated $1.6 billion dollar fortune.

Romesia. inspired by this post.

I happen to be checking Twitter feeds when the news broke that some study said that red state economies were growing – so much for the veracity of USA Today. I guess their ethics and fact checker was out to lunch, Red States Outpace Blue States in Income Growth — Thanks to Food Stamps

But here’s the kicker: that income growth in those red states? It comes, at least in the South, in large part to government benefits payments, like the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. You know, the ones that Republicans like Newt Gingrich [4] attempt to use as a club to beat Obama and Democrats with. They go mainly to people living under or close to the poverty line, which means that income growth thanks to public benefits is the government making life more bearable for those hit hardest by the recession, not exactly economic growth caused by the “low taxes and business-friendly regulation” that the right-wing ALEC representative the article quotes claims.

Some public benefits to the public fly a little under the radar – the mortgage subsidies the wealthy get to buy McMansions for instance. While for others the business benefits via government benefits are not that difficult to connect the dots. If you have a grocery chain those government benefits are part of the profit that go into the pockets of executive management and employees. Take the gov’mint benefits away and your sales and profits go down. Not even close to being rocket science.

kangaroos organized religion and homelessness. not cool to enter someone’s home and take a shower, but now the state has made her part of the prison system. the costs to society will far outweigh any damage she did to that home owner.

don’t blame teachers blame poverty, rain drops indigo rose, the first vampire story

While the degree to which some people value the good opinion of others varies, Adam Smith was right in general about the effects of poverty on on one saw oneself and one’s role in society, Adam Smith on Poverty

‘The poor man … is ashamed of his poverty. He feels that it either places him out of the sight of mankind, or, that if they take any notice of him, they have, however, scarce any fellow–feeling with the misery and distress which he suffers. He is mortified upon both accounts; for though to be overlooked, and to be disapproved of, are things entirely different, yet as obscurity covers us from the daylight of honour and approbation, to feel that we are taken no notice of, necessarily damps the most agreeable hope, and disappoints the most ardent desire, of human nature. The poor man goes out and comes in unheeded, and when in the midst of a crowd is in the same obscurity as if shut up in his own hovel.’

For Smith, a person’s possessions function as signals of underlying personal characteristics — characteristics that others regard either favourably or unfavourably. In the Wealth of Nations he wrote:

‘A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably, though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty, which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct.’

As Mark Thoma notes, Adam Smith thought poverty was about much more than physical deprivation. The labourer’s linen shirt has value because it can be used to influence other people’s opinions. The labourer is using the shirt as a raw material in a production process — a process that affects other people’s mental states, changes their behaviour and, ultimately, improves the psychological well being of the wearer.

The ‘good’ that is being consumed here is not the shirt — it is the observer’s opinion. While it’s true that the observer’s opinion only affects the labourer’s well being via behavioural signaling, this is true of many consumer goods. …


It is also true as parents with a fair but modest income know that children, especially teens can become overly concerned about what their peers think about their shirts or cell phone or whatever it is this year that everyone is supposed to have. I’m not sure why the discussion drifts away into esoterica, but frequently when people talk about poverty and behavior they inevitably bring up not just moral issues, but where and how to place blame. Poverty becomes, in this fairy tale, a failure of character. Sometimes that is true, but not enough of the time to be considered generally true. If George W. Bush had been and alcoholic for twenty years and ran three businesses into the ground, but came from a poor family, society would have regarded him as an abject failure. Someone who squandered every opportunity. So wealth also tends to insulate one from the recriminations generally reserved for the poor or those of modest means. Wealth also protects individuals from a life that distracts from study. Poverty has psychological implications, but very real physicals consequences Poverty Goes Straight to the Brain and here, Children’s Genetic Potentials Are Subdued by Poverty . This recently released study shows that when we look at test scores it is not always teachers or teacher’s unions ( a favorite bogeyman) that are to blame, it is poverty, Want to improve standardized test scores? Increase Americans’ incomes. Richie Rich Aces the SAT

The influence couldn’t be more decisive. The board measured household income in increments of $20,000—starting with students from households making $0 to $20,000 annually, then $20,000 to $40,000, all the way up to $160,000—then an increment of $40,000 ($160,000 to $200,000) and then a final category of more than $200,000. And SAT scores rose considerably at every step in the income scale. The poorest students, from households making less than $20,000 had a mean combined score of 1322 out of 2400; the next highest, 1397; then 1458, then 1497—all the way to a score of 1722 for students from households making more than $200,000. That’s a 400-point difference between our richest and poorest students.

If society wants better test scores, a better economy, less street crime – than we need to do something about the redistribution or unequal sharing of proceeds from work of the nations’ GDP to the top 1%. We might never get to the perfect society with a better division of GDP, but we’ll at least stop the slide into Pottersville.

rain drops on indigo rose wallpaper


For better or worse we have a remarkably high bar for libel in the U.S. Though one exception might be accusing someone of misconduct having to do with their professional credentials. So when this blogger, a lawyer and professor at Cornell University who writes a blog accuses Massachusetts Democratic senate candidate Elizabeth Warren of professional malfeasance with obviously specious evidence, said candidate might have grounds for a law suit, No, Elizabeth Warren Did Not Engage in the Unauthorized Practice of Law.

Here we have a situation where someone can tell a pants on fire lie and get away with it, legally anyway. That is because pants on fire lies have been established by Republicans as the new normal,  Ryan’s ‘Secret’ Tape Is Even More Extreme Than Romney’s

When they booed [5] Paul Ryan at the American Association of Retired Persons last week, most people didn’t even know he called [6] Medicare and Social Security “third party or socialist-based systems.” Or that he said [7] he wants to privatize them in order to “break the back” of a “collectivist philosophy.”

On recently transcribed remarks from an audio recording, Ryan said his ideas and values were shaped by an extremist author who thought humanity must “reject the morality of altruism,” and that his opinions on monetary policy are guided by a fictional speech which says “the words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.”

That author says the “collectivist philosophy” Ryan ascribes to Social Security and Medicare is a “looters’ credo.” By that reckoning, anyone who receives assistance from the government — including disabled combat veterans or impoverished children — is a “looter.”

Let’s assume that Ryan, a college educated Congressman, carefully weighed the evidence some years ago, the pros and cons of his beliefs. Applied some logic as to how best to handle a problem – income security of the elderly over the course of western and eastern civilization – and came to his conclusion that any programs to address that income issue was looting, isn’t the sudden turnaround a suggestion of  intellectual and moral corruption then or now. Lots of teens, for some reason fail to see how ludicrous that last scene in Atlas Shrugged is – you don’t see the Koch brothers down at the plant refining their own oil everyday, they have some of the 47% do it for them. Ryan seems to have never grown out of his teen infatuation.

old movie posters by walker evans. done around 1936 in atlanta, georgia. the poster on the right shows carole lombard starring in “Love Before Breakfast” and the one on the left shows Anne Shirley in “Chatterbox.”

Frankenstein’s Cousin, The Vampyre

“It was a dark and stormy night” in June, 1816 that brought together some of Romantic literature’s shining lights to read ghost stories in the Villa Diodati near Geneva, Switzerland.  Diodati had once hosted Milton and was now occupied by Lord Byron and his personal physician, John William Polidori. In attendance with them, were Percy Bysshe Shelley, his wife Mary, and her half-sister, Claire Clairmont. They shared a roaring fire and read to each other from a collection of chilling German folk tales. Byron suggested they each compose a ghost story and in the days and weeks that followed, they all began writing. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein came from this night of inspiration, as did small pieces by Byron and Percy Shelley. Claire Clairmont may have written a story but there is no record of it other than a mention in one of Mary’s letters. The only other story of real note to be produced came from John Polidori. His Vampyre was the first vampire story in English and preceded Bram Stoker’s Dracula by three quarters of a century. It laid the foundation for nearly every work of vampire fiction since, including those by Anne Rice (The Vampire Chronicles) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight). But who was Polidori and how did he come to be in Switzerland that cold, dark summer of 1816?

I did not know about John Polidori’s Vampyre. I had thought that Bram Stoker was the first to write a vampire story, though the legend about vampires had been around for decades before he wrote Dracula. Polidori did seem to get the suggestion for his plot from Byron, but Polidori wrote the story. Polidori’s vampire, modeled on Byron. Still Polidori deserved credit for being the writer of Vampyre with some acknowledgement to Byron for the inspiration.

Polidori travelled through Italy, returned to England, and resumed medical practice. Under mysterious circumstances and without his permission, The Vampyre was published in April of 1819 by the New Monthly Magazine and attributed to Byron. Byron and Polidori both sought to clear up the question of authorship but the work continued for a time to be attributed to Byron, a fact appreciated by the publisher who was profiting by the false connection.

I recently ran across this post from a blogger who specializes in rare books,  The Complete Historical Background to Lord Byron’s Copy of Frankenstein. There are photos at the link. I’m going to be a spoiler and say that the rarity of the book might escape a casual observer as Mary Shelley did not sign it Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, but ” from the author”.

this one microbe is a very bad neighbor, mountain walkway wallpaper, the self and state of denial

Just this past June one of the NYT’s most popular articles was this piece on the role of microbes in the human body, In Good Health? Thank Your 100 Trillion Bacteria

They discovered more strains than they had ever imagined — as many as a thousand bacterial strains on each person. And each person’s collection of microbes, the microbiome, was different from the next person’s. To the scientists’ surprise, they also found genetic signatures of disease-causing bacteria lurking in everyone’s microbiome. But instead of making people ill, or even infectious, these disease-causing microbes simply live peacefully among their neighbors.

Well you know how neighbors are, there is always that cranky SOB that ruins it for everyone, Common Parasite Linked to Personality Changes

Feeling sociable or reckless? You might have toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by the microscopic parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which the CDC estimates has infected about 22.5 percent of Americans older than 12 years old. Researchers tested participants for T. gondii infection and had them complete a personality questionnaire. They found that both men and women infected with T. gondii were more extroverted and less conscientious than the infection-free participants. These changes are thought to result from the parasite’s influence on brain chemicals, the scientists write in the May/June issue of the European Journal of Personality.

Toxoplasma works by increasing the amount of dopamine concentrations and changing the levels of certain hormones. Humans are generally only hosts, not vectors for this parasite. Its target it actually mice and rats. Doped up on dopamine they become less afraid of cats. The cats don’t have to eat the rodents, just bite off enough to become infected. The cat spread around some more T. gondii by way of the cat’s feces. This is the reason that pregnant women are warned to stay away from cat litter. The parasite can have severe effects on the developing fetus’s brain. While cats and rodents would seem to be the main source of infection for humans, it is actually undercooked meat of animals that have consumed some infected feces during their life. Since the French – as a general sociological and cultural phenomenon – tend to under-cook their meats more than most nations, they have the highest rate of infections. The article link does not say anything about treatment for humans. So I looked it up on the intertubes. One site said that an infection in humans was no big deal and would go away on its own. They need to update their site. WebMD does list some of the drugs used to kill the infection. Considering that one of the possible side effects of Toxoplasma gondii infection is incresed risky behavior, including an increased tendency towards suicide I’d some meds rather than wait and see what happens.

mountain walkway wallpaper

Concepts of self are tricky. For some philosophers having some idea about self is the first step in how we inquiry about the world. Others, such as Descartes thought the self was a concept of autonomy, it existed regardless of what one’s surroundings are like. This is in somewhat opposition to Michel Foucault who thought the self was something constantly evolving, and much of it defined by conflict with the world. Not necessarily armed conflict – you live with someone who likes the thermostat on 74 and you like it on 72. The external –  religion, physical environment, income, chance, personal experience are all elements of the interchange between the internal – sex, genetics, personality, eye color, ethnicity. Still, most of s have at least a fuzzy portrait of self – we generally know many of our preferences – food, clothing, sleep needs, taste in reading, movies, favorite colors. Some elements, seem to philosophers and physiologists as being more in focus than other depending on the individual. Millionaire Mitt: It’s ‘Fair’ For Me To Pay Lower Taxes Than Middle Class Americans. And via @DavidGrann, Paul Ryan on critics: “I think that’s just the nature of conservative punditry is to do that–to kind of complain–about any imperfection” . This conservative inability to grasp irony was probably noted in the blogtopia around 1999.

today’s news

One of the best tools available for seeing where a country is headed is demographic trends. There is some good news and some not so good, Review: The New Geography of Jobs

Moretti lays out what has happened in America over the past 30-40 years. It’s a trend he labels the “Great Divergence” that is illustrated by the quote at the top of this piece. There has been an increasing division among American communities between the haves and the have-nots. As radical productivity enhancements and global competition reduced employment and wages in traditional sectors like manufacturing, new knowledge based industries took their place. However, these knowledge industries require, of course, highly educated workers with specialized skills. This leads to clustering of workers and jobs in select hubs, leaving many communities out the cold.

[  ]…This divergence of fortunes has happened in cities across America. Rather than a red vs. blue America, Moretti sees three Americas: the winners, the losers, and those on the bubble.

I didn’t want to take too much of that blogger’s work so for those who are interested in the topic it is well worth clicking over.

lincoln’s ghost and hucksters, blue sky desert wallpaper, whitewashing murder for school kids

Abraham Lincoln is Watching Over You: The Strange World of Victorian Spirit Photography

Probably the single most (in)famous spirit photographer, William Mumler is a prime example of sheer American hucksterism.  Born in 1832, he worked as a jewel engraver until 1861, when “spirits” began appearing in Mumler’s amateur photographs.  Capitalizing on the nascent rage for Spiritualism and a powerful sentimentality engendered by the mass casualties of the American Civil War, Mumler set up shop as the nation’s chief spirit photographer.  Mumler’s career skyrocketed until 1869, when a trial for fraud, initiated in New York City, made him notorious.  One of the events of the season, Mumler’s trial represents a key moment in the history of photography, as for the first time the medium’s relationship to truth was being brought into the legal arena.  The trial saw P. T. Barnum testify against Mumler, where Barnum (prophetically?) circulated a photograph of himself with the blurry head of Abraham Lincoln in the background as evidence that spirit photographs could be faked.   Though William Mumler was found not guilty, the trial effectively ended the first portion of his career.  After 1869, Mumler continued to circulate spirit photographs—including some of his most famous—but biographical information becomes much more scarce.[1]

William Mumler’s most famous spirit photograph, shown above, captures a beatific, almost Christ-like Abraham Lincoln resting his transparent hands on the shoulders of Mary Todd Lincoln (harder to discern in all digital copies I’ve examined is the faint presence of Thaddeus Lincoln in the upper left-hand corner).

Its been a few years, but I previously posted about the use of so-called spirits in photographs used by ghost hunters and various purveyors of the supernatural. I liked this post because it zeroed in on both the exploitation of the national zeitgeist after the Civil War and on one huckster in particular. The photograph with Lincoln as a “ghost” shows up at the link, but as I write this the other examples are missing – stolen by puckish ghosts no doubt.

blue sky desert wallpaper

14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools

Thanks to a new law [1] privatizing public education in Louisiana, Bible-based curriculum can now indoctrinate young, pliant minds with the good news of the Lord—all on the state taxpayers’ dime.

According to this article a rape victim was denied a morning after pill by a prison guard, because said guard used their “Conscience clause” that would according to them potentially destroy a life. If this roller-coaster ride version of conscience is that expansive it should also apply to the citizens of Louisiana who do not want to support state sponsored propaganda. Just a couple of the things the state will be paying for as James Madison spins in his grave.

1. Dinosaurs and humans probably hung out: “Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years.”—Life Science [17], 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

What a great mental image Mary Magdalen riding on a sauropod instead of a donkey.

3. “God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ.”—America: Land That I Love [19], Teacher ed., A Beka Book, 1994

President Andrew Jackson, instigator of the Trail of Tears, was indeed a Christian. He was also a mass murderer and thief. That anyone would let such a vile piece of human garbage get a pass because he had Christian intentions would not be the first time in a tradition on the far Right towards fantasyland revisionism.

clothespin winter snow wallpaper

Today in 1893: First American-made automobile, built by the Duryea Brothers, is displayed.

william faulkner

William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction No. 12. This conversation took place in New York City, early in 1956.


And your contemporaries?


All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy. Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide. I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

Faulkner was full of himself and contradictions, he loved the Old Testament and his dream job was landlord of a brothel. In his concepts of man’s place in the universe his imagination was a bucky ball that could bounce around in the encyclopedia of knowledge he held in his head, referencing monotheism one minute and polytheism the next, commenting on mankind, ” His moral conscience is the curse he had to accept from the gods in order to gain from them the right to dream.”

the future of health technology, destiny’s autumn wallpaper, drowning in responsibility

Why the future of health?

Technology is the ultimate democratizing force in society. Over time, technology raises lowest common denominators by reducing costs and connecting people across the world. Medical technology is no exception to this trend: previously siloed repositories of information and expensive diagnostic methods are rapidly finding a global reach and enabling both patients and practitioners to make better use of information.

Technology as a democratizing element in society is not so much right or wrong, but a matter of degree and timing. Those with money tend to have first access and in the case of medical technology, the best access. The world black market in human organs is growing faster than the illegal drug trade. An illegal organ is on the market every hour of every day. They almost always come from someone without much money to someone with money. Where do the poor get their organ donations. In places where they do, they get on a waiting list and their place is determined by severity of need. There is no buying a place at the front of the line. though for the most part it is true that cutting edge technology and access frequently gets to the common folk eventually. One of the more promising aspects on the horizon of medical technology is Regeneration: 3D-printed organs, Artificial general-purpose cells, Artificial limbs, Artificial muscles, Artificial retinas, Artificial vascular system, Synthetic & artificial organs, Synthetic blood, Tissue regeneration. Tissue regeneration is already being used on veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. In cases where much of the leg muscle has been shredded by explosives or gun fire, the leg has frequently been amputated. Now much of that muscle can be regenerated using an extracellular matrix. The matrix basically tells the body to start creating new muscle and tissue. Basic medical treatment will be even more personally targeted: Anti-aging stem-cell treatments, Bioelectronic drugs, Enterotype treatments, Gene therapy, Nanocomposite drug carriers, Personalized medicine, Prenatal gene manipulation, Stem-cell treatments. The three major parts of this personalization are gene manipulation, stem cells programmed to grow the needed new healthy tissue or organ and nano-programmed medicine that will go to specific cells to effect repair and or regeneration.

destiny’s autumn wallpaper

There are many destructive myths about U.S. culture and its economy. One is so hard wired in it is difficult to find even a liberal or progressive that can make solid fact based and logical arguments against it. That is the myth that the govmint takes the hard earned dollars of society’s alleged producers and redistributes them to the filthy, whining, ungrateful and undeserving. The fact is that out of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product – a measure of the services and goods we produce and their value, most of it goes to people that are very well off. Yet as Romney recently demonstrated, that while he has received far more in government benefits than someone who gets food assistance for a couple years, even the recipients of the nations’ redistribution system are either maliciously ignorant of the fact or in denial. There is a third element as well. This combination of culture-class warfare is one of the guiding principles of movement conservatism. I’m not calling Romney or conservatives Nazis, but the fact is that this has also been, in a more elimination form, the guiding principle of early 20th century fascism. It has been given the lite treatment – less totalitarianism, but the same authoritarian roots mixed with social-Darwinism. This article get s at that debauched aspect of conservatism in terms of the last few decades –Four histories of the right’s 47 percent theory – Romney may have put it into words, but the ideas behind it have been swirling for decades. This is just sad, Romney would not even get his own father’s vote, Romney’s Dad Was on Welfare. One of the decadent creeps at the top, Romney’s kind of guy, also has a penchant for sex parties, Romney “47 Percent” Fundraiser Host: Hedge Fund Manager Marc Leder Who Likes Sex Parties. I’m not judgmental about these things unless your movement proclaims that it is the paragon of righteous perfection. Leder and Romney are moochers if we just go by the numbers and ignore the myths of people in Porches living the high life off food stamps, Living off handouts

All this is well illustrated in Suzanne Mettler’s book “The Submerged State”, which shows how these hidden subsidies can distort voters’ view of the way that government policy works; a 2008 poll found that 57% of Americans denied ever using a government programme. But when shown a list of 21 actual programmes, including student loans and home-mortgage interest deduction, 94% of the deniers turned out to have benefited after all.

Some of these programmes are heavily skewed towards the better-off. According to Ms Mettler, 69% of the benefits of the mortgage interest deduction went to those who earned $100,000 or more; 55% of the benefits from employer-provided retirement benefits* went to those earning $100,000 or more.

Dear Mitt Romney. Inspired by Ezra’s Klein’s column, What Mitt Romney Doesn’t Get About Responsibility

The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier.

That’s what money has bought Romney, too. He’s a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream.

The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it.

Georgia O’Keeffe hands photo by Alfred Stieglitz. I have to post the following as a condition of using the photo: The Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Purchase and Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation Purchase, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-123456]. This photo is a gelatin silver print. I don’t think I have  hands fetish, but O’Keeffe has particularly beautiful hands. Stieglitz did several photographs of her hands including one where she is just holding her hands in front of a shiny half-moon hubcap.  I was not even aware of this one until today.

Bob Dylan Subterranean Homesick Blues – A HAND LETTERING EXPERIENCE
by Leandro Senna

I´ve been thinking for a lot of time on doing a personal project where I could get out of the computer for a little bit, and have pleasure doing something handmade. Getting back to the basics.

Inspired by Bob Dylan´s Subterranean Homesick Blues video, where he flips cards with the lyrics as the song plays, I decided to recreate those cards with handmade type. I ended up doing all the lyrics, and not just some of the words, as Dylan did.