Sunday, September 21, 2014

Easter Island values

Jared Diamond explains in his book Collapse how deeply held societal values can interfere with rational decision-making and even cause a society to become extinct.  

One of his examples is the Norse on Greenland, who did not eat fish (?) and attacked the Inuit, who could have taught them how to hunt whales and seals.  The Norse also kept cows, totally inappropriate for the climate on Greenland, but a matter of prestige back in Norway.  After roughly 400 years, the Norse colony died out.

Another of Diamond’s examples is Easter Island, at one time home to both a substantial Polynesian population and palm forests.  The Easter Islanders erected huge statues, which they carved out of the rock on the island and transported over large distances using trees as sleds.  Prestige was won by erecting bigger statues.  Unfortunately, all the trees were cut down and the island’s economy collapsed.

This made me think of our own inappropriate values that are causing us much harm.  A number American religions oppose the use of birth control and abortion, and as a result, the population keeps growing past the level of sustainability.

A secular value is that many Americans believe that everyone has the right to be armed, resulting in about 60 deaths from guns every day.  This is obviously not rational, but the value is ingrained.

I’ll bet you can think of more examples. 

By the way, the Norse on Greenland lasted over 400 years.  Do the math.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Koch Brothers and Scotland

That was a rather major referendum just held in Scotland.  Should Scotland be independent of Britain?  (In case you haven’t been keeping up, the vote was about 55% to 45% to remain part of the UK).  

According to a letter from Chistine Ward from Allanton, Scotland, the total spent was something on the order of $15 million. although the final figures are not yet tabulated.  Evidently the largest single contributor was J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame.  (She opposed independence.)  Everyone who made contributions had to disclose his or her name.  

In the U.S. in this year the Koch Brothers alone will spend almost half a billion dollars to influence Congressional races.  Let me repeat that—half a billion. 

Kind of wants to make you live in either Scotland or England, doesn’t it?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Hundred Foot Journey

The manager of the Mahoning Cinema has launched the Exceptional Film Series.  He is booking movies that are often considered “art house” films, hoping that he will attract an audience.  

The first one in the series was “Inequality for All.”  Since then he has shown, among others, “The Budapest Hotel” and “Chef.”  Currently playing is “The Hundred Foot Journey,” a story of an Indian family in France who opens a restaurant across the road from a Michelin-rated restaurant.  It stars Helen Mirren.

The film received rave reviews.  Linda and I saw it tonight.  One other couple was in the audience.  All four of us loved it.

Listen up, folks.  If you want quality films shown locally, you have to patronize them when they are shown locally.  Otherwise we are going to get the same old crap of “Fast and Furious Seventeen,” or “One More Zombie Movie,” or “Spiderman Returns for the 7th Time.”

Do I have a self-interest in this?  Of course I do.  I don’t want to have to drive to Allentown to see good movies.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Archeological review for the pipeline

Today I was out distributing yard signs, but I assume representatives of Western Land Services, a company hired by the Penn East pipeline people were walking on our farm to check for its archeological value.  They called two days ago and said they were coming today.

They were here earlier this month to see if we had any wetlands.  We don’t, and we don’t have any archeological features of value either.  In all my years of plowing and cultivating and hoeing, I found one arrowhead.  

It is in our interest to have the land checked.  I assume if Western Land Services found something of value, the pipeline might be diverted.  Since the company won't find anything, I am sure it will come right through our fields.

I understand the need for eminent domain.  One landowner can’t be permitted to stand in the way of a highway or park.  What I can’t understand is how eminent domain procedures can be used to benefit a company that is making a profit.  It has no “public interest.”  It is trying to make money for stockholders.  Yet somehow that company can force us to accept a gas pipeline across our land.  Why aren’t the conservative anti-government Republicans complaining about this?  I guess because they believe private companies can do no wrong.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


At times when I am canvassing for Wolf, I sometimes wonder—does all of this do any good?

“Research has found that broadcast ads and robocalls are far less effective at motivating people to vote than the personal touch:  face-to-face, door-to-door reminders that there is an election coming up, in a direct conversation what discusses the high stakes.”

That is from an editorial in the Sept. 15 New York Times.  My opinion is that if it is in the Times, it must be true.  I’ll be canvassing tomorrow with renewed confidence.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The latest from Francis Fukuyama

The recently published Political Order and Political Decay by Francis Fukuyama looks not only at how liberal democracies develop, but also how they decline.  “The fact that a system once was a successful and stable liberal democracy does not mean that it will remain so in perpetuity.”

Fukuyama believes that the U.S. has been in decline for the past few decades.  The decline is caused by a number of factors, including the inequality of wealth along with political rules that allow the rich to manipulate the government for their own ends.  

Another problem is that interest groups with narrow agendas (read N.R.A. or fracking companies) can exercise a huge influence on governmental policy at the expense of the public good.

Finally, when the government fails to deal with problems, people get disgusted and resist paying taxes, which weakens the government further, and we get into a downward cycle.

Look at what people say about Congress.  You have one party trying to enact reasonable policies.  The other party, however, has set out to block every initiative.  And which one do the people blame from the stalemate?  Both of them.  

Citizens have good reasons to be cynical.  The Supreme Court has managed to subvert democratic government with its decisions on campaign finance.  The gerrymandered districts skew government.  Voter suppression discourages participation.  We are on the downhill slope.

Incidentally, one of the things I learned in graduate school is you don’t have to read the book if you read the reviews.  I have not read Political Order and Political Decay, but I did read a great review of it by Sheri Berman of Columbia that was published on Sunday in the Times Book Review section.  Thank you, Dr. Berman.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

An Independent Scotland?

The vote to determine Scotland’s independence is being followed closely around the world by disaffected people who would also like to create their own independent states.  Catalonians in Spain, Walloons in Belgium, Texans in the U.S.—all are watching this vote closely.

Would the world be better off if every disaffected population had its own state?  We could have a giant federal system in which local groups would have self-government, but would also cooperate to solve problems that spill beyond national boundaries.

Self-determination, which was one of Wilson’s 14 Points after World War I, has an inherent difficulty.  Just how do you determine what peoples get “self determination,” and what do you do when the populations are mixed?

Would India be better served by ten or fifteen independent states?  Would the U.S. be better served if Texas were granted independence?  Would Canada be better off with an independent Quebec?  

On the one hand, we are all united by global issues—environmental problems, trade, technology; on the other hand we are still divided by medieval loyalties—language, religion, race.

In a world of Facebook and Twitter, we have religious groups beheading people. 

I am not optimistic.

(But I do hope Texas leaves the U.S.  What a wonderful thing that would be for the rest of America.  I’m sure King Perry the 1st would do an amazing job.)