Monday, August 31, 2015

India, energy, and WTO

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

When the organization is the WTO, it is VERY easy to explain their actions in terms of stupidity—these are folks with a long and notorious track record of crazy policy decisions.

But not this time:  India is a country in DIRE need of an aggressive solar program.  The reasons are many but for the rest of us there is this reality—if India goes ahead with it plans to electrify their society by burning coal, they will push the world over the edge all by themselves—there are a lot of Indians.  (Keep in mind that because we are tiptoeing next to the point of no return on atmospheric carbon loading, this applies to 100s of scenarios.)  And they came up with a pretty good solar plan only to discover it did not conform to the free trade religious beliefs.  Keep in mind that in order to believe in free trade, one must ignore essentially everything discovered by science since the dawn of the Enlightenment.  What is more insane, the rules of free trade have a lousy track record.

But not this time.  The WTO has launched an all-out assault on reason.  And they are doing it in the face of overwhelming evidence.  Sorry folks, no one is that damn stupid.  This time we are talking about evil in virtually all of its definitions.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

New austerity measures come to Finland

Finland's economic woes these days are very nasty considering how much she has done to avoid them.  Her work force is incredibly hard-working and skilled, her education system is renown throughout the world as arguably the best, and her political culture is one of the least corrupt. That's the good news. The bad news is that she barely has enough agricultural land to feed herself, she has spent her history trying to maintain a culture while sandwiched between two powerful neighbors that love to rip her off, her complicated language is unlike almost anyone else's on earth, while her remote geographic location make most trade relationships difficult and expensive.

Because of Finland's historical isolation, she leapt at the chance to join the EU.  On paper, this looked like the obvious thing to do.  In reality, this has caused most of her current economic woes.  First, she got put on the hook for the Greek debts and then she was forced into an economic boycott with Russia—her biggest and most important trading partner by far.  If that were not bad enough, her two most important industries have been slammed by forces that were not at all easy to prepare for.  Not so lang ago, Nokia was one of the big global players in the mobile phone market.  That was before smartphones made folks believe that reliable call quality was not nearly so important as having a portable computer that could shoot high-def movies.  Finland's innovative and clever paper industry managed to become the top player on the planet just in time for the promise of the "paperless" society to finally come true.

Yes indeed, no one in their right mind would want the economic problems of Finland these days.  So no one should be especially surprised that the political response to these massive problems are especially lame.  In the article below, we see that some "bright" minds think the solution to her economic woes is to increase the working day by 15 minutes.  That's going to fix things...NOT!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ellen Brown on dealing with the Federal Debt

As the world's stock markets start to crash, we are about to be treated to much nonsense about which concept of neoliberalism has been breached to cause such a disaster.  All this is to distract us from the reality that such turmoil is the natural and predictable outcome of neoliberalism and that becoming more rigorous will only make things worse.  This is because the real problem affecting the global economy is lack of customers with money.  Whether the proximate reason for this is income inequality or debt-driven austerity, one simply cannot get around the fact that when the world runs out of customers, everything else eventually goes bust.

There are dozens of ways that money could be pumped into the economy.  For example, if social Security benefits were simply raised by $1000 per month, virtually ALL that money would find its way back into the real economy.  And since pumping money into the economy is a job that needs doing, increasing Social Security benefits would be a job even the elderly could do effectively.

In my mind, the job of reflating the economy should go towards the project of building a workable green society.  It wouldn't benefit the eateries that specialize in "Early Bird" specials like pumping funds into the retirement communities, but it would do a world of good.  Besides, without such expenditures, the planet will soon become uninhabitable for humans so it really should take priority.

Below, Ellen Brown suggests ways that we could find the funds to get past the debt / austerity stalemate.  Like most of the suggestions Ms. Brown has made over the past few years, this one has an almost infinite chance of working better than anything the neoliberals are likely to propose.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The great northern meltdown

The big effects of climate change, it seems, has come first to the poles.  Not that the rest of the planet has been spared, mind you.  It's just that the differences in the polar regions are so much more significant and dramatic.   Unfortunately, polar changes are also easier to ignore.  Virtually no one lives in the polar regions and they are so cold, warming them up a few degrees would seem intuitively to be an improvement.

As someone who has lived through over 60 spring thaws, I can tell you that the difference between snow or ice cover and bare ground is dramatic.  Because the atmosphere has so little mass for its size, its ability to retain heat is low.  So when the sun goes down on a cloudless winter night, it gets COLD in a hurry.  And because snow reflects sunlight, it takes a long time to warm up the next day.  Here in Minnesota, this dynamic can produce cold snaps that last for several weeks.  But once that snow cover has melted, everything else—open water, trees, plowed ground, cities, etc.—absorbs more heat.  Suddenly there are warm breezes at night and the air has fragrance once more.  The pile of snow in the picture below (and miles more like it) melted in less than three weeks causing the devastating Grand Forks, North Dakota Flood of 1997.

60+ spring thaws have taught me one thing—when the polar ice caps melt, this will change everything else so fast that anyone who still denies climate change will be considered a raving lunatic.  (Of course, such people are already lunatics—they just don't do excessive amounts of raving.  But that's another story.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

The West spreads intellectual idiocy

The other day, I read a really sweet story about a young man from Pakistan who had made heroic efforts to learn to read and then made even more heroic efforts to get his hands on good books.  He went on to rhapsodize about the incredible blessings that came from reading and why it had been worth walking miles to a school so he could learn how to extract meaning from books.  The story was so touching I nearly wept.  Why?

Because I know dozens of people who own large private libraries of thousands of books they have never, and will never, read.  Virtually every person I know is a functional illiterate if measured by the standard, "How many serious non-fiction books have you read since you graduated from a University?" because the answer is usually zero.

And then there is the point made by Andre Vltchek below who argues that the organs of information dissemination from schools to newspapers are so dishonest and backwards, folks might be better off "knowing" nothing at all than to learn from them.  And I believe he has a point.  I know this young German scholar, the son of a math professor, who has had the doors opened to the most prestigious schools on the planet, and who is just scary-smart.  Unfortunately, because he accumulated all those As in neoliberal / neocon nonsense, he is also ridiculously ignorant because what he "knows" is demonstrably preposterous.

One night in the late 1990s, I found myself engaged in an utterly pointless argument with man who routinely bragged that he had graduated from Harvard as his ultimate seal of authority.  He was claiming that petty morals aside, the USA military had been remarkably effective in prosecuting the war in Vietnam, and that we were mistaken as a society to not glorify those efforts.  Amazingly angered, I wanted to intellectually crush the arrogant prick.  And so I wheeled out the heavy artillery about Rolling Thunder, Agent Orange, the Phoenix Program, and a few more atrocities committed against the people of SE Asia until finally, his argument was reduced to, "Yeah, who cares?  Who even remembers this stuff?"  I responded, "Well, the victims remember—along with most of the world who understand the basics of Vietnam.  But yes, I certainly understand why a Harvard guy doesn't know this stuff.  Because in the expensive view of Harvard historians, the only history worth remembering is the history of important people—you know, people like the Harvard grads."

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Corn wars

Anyone who attempts to grow anything quickly discovers that there are two eternal truths—you got to have the right growing conditions and you simply must have the right seeds.  The great gardeners I know treat the arrival of the seed catalogues in the dead of winter as an event.  Farmers proudly advertise the kinds of seeds they planted with signs on the edge of their fields.

Even more interestingly, the people who have figured out ways to produce better seeds are accorded phenomenal respect.  Henry Wallace, FDR's über-enlightened vice president was a plant geneticist (Pioneer Seeds) who was both scientifically and commercially successful—the Bill Gates of his day.  His magazine, Wallace's Farmer was read carefully by thousands who wanted to better their methods—those loyal readers were the basis of his political influence.  And so we had a millionaire Republican Iowa scientist who was thrown off the Democratic ticket of FDR in 1944 for being excessively progressive.  He was replaced by Harry Truman, a two-bit creature of Kansas City organized crime.  I would argue that between the nuking of Japan and the creation of the national security state, Truman is clearly the worst President we ever had.  And we could have had Wallace.  (BTW, one of the best reasons to watch Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States is that he gets the Wallace story right.)

Between the predatory behavior of senior management at Monsanto and the fight over GMOs, the very idea of the plant geneticist as the very distillation of the promises of the Enlightenment seems quaint and distant.  But it once was true.

We have a Syngenta research facility about six miles (10 km) from the house.  Considering the plant magic going on in there and the serious qualifications of their scientists, the place is very unpretentious.  Syngenta is a Basel Switzerland-based agricultural / chemical conglomerate that merely claims they are Bringing Plant Potential to Life.  The seed station was originally part of Northrup-King—a Minneapolis seed company founded in 1896.  It was sold to Sandoz in 1976 (also of Basel) which in turn sold it to Syngenta in 1996.  The latest word is that Syngenta is merging with Monsanto.

The quaint little research station that was once known around here for giving high school kids summer jobs detasseling corn, is now going to be a wing of the agribusiness giant that many consider the distillation of evil.

Those are some seriously healthy-looking corn plants

The small offices of the research station.

As you can see. the subject of plant genetics is big business.  Growing enough food to feed the planet is actually a LOT harder than it looks.  And even though the senior management of companies like Monsanto are Dick-Cheney evil, the guys who figure out how to make better plants are quite literally, doing the work of the gods.

The following is a long and quite comprehensive look at the big picture of growing corn.  I don't agree with it all but most of the descriptions of the facts on the ground are very accurate.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Japan's economy is much stronger than neoliberals will admit

As someone who has been following the Japanese economy very closely since they made such spectacular inroads into the USA automobile industry, I tend to dismiss those who somehow believe that when it comes to economic matters, Japan is doing it all wrong.  Nikon Cameras and Lexus LS do not fall from the heavens by accident—they are the products of intense planning.  The economic system that nurtures such efforts must recognize the importance of planning.  Therefore, the Japanese will always be considered "mistaken" by those techno-cretins who believe that economic planning is unnecessary, or worse, evil.

Just as it isn't necessary to build automobiles to employ the techniques Lexus developed to make their nearly perfect cars, it isn't necessary to create an export industry to use the techniques MITI employed to make make Japanese manufacturing world-class.  As for me, I simply assume that a green economy will look a lot more like the Japanese model than one designed by folks who actually believe in invisible hands.

Japan has an incredible producer class.  So naturally, I have been admiring their accomplishments for a long time.  The following by Fingleton is an excellent description of why we should pay them more attention.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Nobody loves Russia

As someone who lived through and quite vividly remembers the lies and horrors of the Cold War, (I was 13 during the Cuban Missile Crises—old enough to be very frightened) I believe the most dominant reason for the mindless Putin-bashing that goes on here in USA lies in the simple fact that the propaganda of that era left almost everyone with severe brain damage. After all, since we as a nation were making expensive preparations to nuke USSR, it hardly mattered if the "experts" on USSR got the culture, history, and accomplishments wrong.

There were a lot of professional Cold War liars—my least favorite was Marshal Goldman who was a frequent guest commentator on all things Soviet for PBS. With a voice dripping with contempt, he would describe USSR as this place where folks needed better instructions on how to pick their noses. I remember at one point, I screamed at my TV, "Goldman, you idiot, you are describing a society where they put chess matches on TV and get viewers."

What is so disgusting about the Putin / Russia bashing this time around is they haven't even bothered to change the lies. And why should they? They invested a lot of money in them and for 40 years, they worked. So now they just get updated. Of course the solution would be if public officials would learn a little history before they open their yaps—but that would require an expensive effort that would so disorient most people, it would be like telling them their God died. Just remember, the overwhelming majority of Americans do not even know that USSR fought the Germans in World War II. Expecting such cretins to understand the nuances of Tsarist Russia or the Orthodox Church would be like expecting your dog to learn C++.

The following was written by someone who has a firm grasp on the various nuances of Russian history.  He points out the errors in fact and logic of the new Russia bashers.  On one hand, I want to congratulate him for pointing out the obvious flaws in the current narrative about Russia.  On the other, I want to tell him, "Don't you get it? Getting Russia all wrong is a feature, not a bug!"

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

James Galbraith on the future of Europe

When I first visited Berlin in 1970, the contrast between East and West was stark and not a little frightening.  West Berlin was already bordering on hip with bright lights, well-stocked shops, and cars that could make grown men drool with envy.  East Berlin was so colorless it was as if suddenly someone had thrown a switch to black and while.  The cops were armed with machine guns.  The border guards of both sexes were frightening.  And the cars were a sick joke—Trabants and Wartburgs, anyone?  It was little wonder the people in the East eventually succumbed to the desire to emulate the West.

The only problem was that the "capitalism" practiced in the West in 1970 was a showpiece meant to highlight the contrasts between the two economic strategies.  By the time the Wall came down in 1989, the "capitalism" being taught and practiced was a nasty, ugly variation being pushed on the unsuspecting Europeans by Reagan, Thatcher, and the University of Chicago, etc.  By the time the Euro came into use in 1992, the capitalism that had produced such miraculous prosperity in 1970 West Berlin had been replaced by a neofeudal banksterism that would lead directly to today's economic catastrophes.

Not surprisingly, the countries of Eastern Europe that came late to this capitalism have been left wondering when they were going to get their own Kurfürstendamm.  Well, folks it's not coming because their are several variations of capitalism and unfortunately, you got a really, REALLY bad one.  Fortunately, humanity once figured out how to do prosperity really well.  The bad news is that those of us who still remember how it was done are dying out and have been for several decades.  The rest have forgotten and only know the bankster / neoliberal version of "capitalism" that is ruining lives, whole cultures, and the biosphere itself.

The whole point of this blog is to write about the ideas that can lead to the energy and prosperity of 1970s Western Europe or 1980s Japan.  We will need this sort of thinking if the species has any hope of survival—we cannot build the green world on the cheap with slave labor, you know.  So the following from James Galbraith represents another effort by someone else who hopes to keep the old prosperity ideas alive.  It's an attempt to light a candle in the midst of some serious darkness.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here

The problem with science is that because it has developed such superior methods for investigation, a scientifically informed worldview will usually be light-years ahead of other fact-gathering efforts.  So while there is no shortage of evidence of climate change, there is a huge shortfall in plans for doing something meaningful about it.  While reality races ahead, the professions of law, banking, economics, journalism, education, theology, etc. have fallen into deep cesspools of fundamentalism.  Not only do folks in these professions believe things that are just plain goofy, but their thinking is moving in exactly the wrong direction.  The problem is so acute that even scientists who fully understand climate change get trapped in a fundamentally looney world when they try to venture into politics or tax policy.

The events of 2015 must certainly sound the clarion call for the peoples of the world to do SOMETHING about climate change.  I mean, it's getting really scary out there.  Unfortunately, just because everyone with a room-temperature IQ or higher can now be convinced that climate change is real, this does not mean the proposed "solutions" will be any more effective.  Massive, undirected motivation is hardly sufficient—even though motivation as an explanation for how the world works is incredibly popular in all the Leisure Class pursuits from sports to economics to political policy.  It's the go-to lazy explanation for damn near everything because the team that "wants it more" usually wins, doncha know.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Greece staggers on

These days, I am re-reading Marriner Eccles 1951 memoir Beckoning Frontiers.  It is an astonishing account of the unlikely story of how a small-town Mormon banker from Ogden Utah became easily the most enlightened Federal Reserve Chairman in history.  The Fed headquarters was named after him by an act of Congress in 1982.  The bad news is that it is VERY unlikely than anyone working there today shares his ideas and insights.

In a chapter entitled The Magi, Eccles recounts his early 1930s encounters with the prevailing conventional wisdom that the Great Depression would only end with firm adherence to fiscal austerity and a balanced budget.  Even FDR believed in balanced budgets as a new president in 1933.  Eccles had just spent nearly four years scrambling to keep the lights on in his Utah banks and had come to the conclusion that the Depression would only end when the most impoverished economic actors got some money to spend and the only source for that money was the ability of the Federal Government to run deficits.  For this heresy, Eccles was labeled a Keynesian even though he makes it perfectly clear he had come to his conclusions without reading Keynes.

In a sense, Eccles was like a fiscal and monetary Galileo trying to explain that the sun really didn't revolve around the earth.  He was arguing that the perfect time for aggressive government spending was when the economy was stuck.  Of course, he was absolutely correct.  But somehow, his ideas were shelved—ironically about the same time his name was plastered on the Fed headquarters.  So here we are in 2015 watching people destroy Greece with the same nitwit beliefs Eccles had to vanquish.  What is being done to Greece in the name of fiscal responsibility is not only cruel and evil, it is hopelessly stupid.

Below, Andre Vltchek explains some of the human tragedy triggered by this stupidity.  It is unbearably sad.  It is also, remember, absolutely unnecessary.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A green tech rehab of a polluted Amsterdam canal

The main reason I am so absolutely certain that building a greener world will be expensive and labor intensive is because my first project out of university was rescuing an abandoned old building in a really tough neighborhood.  Start with the fact that rehab is just more difficult than building new, add in the leftover pollution problems of the old development, and toss in the reality that a nice neighborhood became an ugly dump for a host of perfectly valid reasons, and "brownfield" redevelopment becomes a project for the very brave (or in my case, the folks who are too ignorant to know better.)

And yet, this sort of development is really the only sort left.  There just isn't much opportunity for building on undeveloped land anymore.  Which is why the following story about some ambitious and imaginative young Dutch citizens creating a neighborhood out of an industrially polluted canal just warms my heart.  Without people like this, any sort of meaningful definition of human progress ceases to exist.  If the human race is to survive, we will need a few billion young people to follow their lead.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The summer from hell—climate change in central europe

The following from Deutsche Welle is truly remarkable.  Apparently, the Germans have taken all these major steps to redesign their society to reduce their carbon footprint without serious weather changes that would indicate that climate change is affecting them personally.  If this essay is to be believed, the Germans seem to believe that climate change is something that happens to others.

Wow!  Imagine a society that can make political and economic decisions based scientific theory rather than immediate needs.  Kind of explains that when it comes to hardware, Germany leads the pack in green energy installations.  Yes, they still burn enormous amounts of coal.  But they have gained valuable experience in how a transfer to renewables could happen—an enormous accomplishment.

We can all hope that after this summer from hell, the Germans will go back to normalizing relations with Russia, stop beating up on the Greeks, and redoubling their efforts towards "de-carbonizing" their society.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Growing pains for China's wind industry

Watching China's economic development over the past 25-30 years has been easily one of the more fascinating stories going.  At least for me.  My godfather grew up in China as the son of a missionary doctor but was in a college in Minnesota when Mao won his revolution.  Perhaps this is why he never became a right-wing looney like Henry Luce and the rest of the China lobby that so distorted USA politics in the 1950s-60s.  He had fond memories of his childhood in China.  His father has chosen to practice medicine to the poor so his childhood China was spent among the lowest Producing classes.  Because his adult life was spent in places like rural Nepal, I didn't get to see him often but whenever he visited our home, he would talk about China "The Sleeping Giant." "Keep your eyes on China," he would say, "They will amaze you."

While my godfather thought Mao's Marxism was a tragic error, he always believed that China would someday right the ship because they had been organizing civilizations for thousands of years.  They had become weak because the Mandarin system was a hopelessly corrupt organization masquerading as a meritocracy.  So when the colonial powers came bringing bribes and opium, the hardworking poor just got added burdens to bear.  He didn't think that Mao really understood the grievances of the working classes even though he could spout Marx with the best of them. "Mao is just another corrupt rich kid."

So now we have seen Mao's communism being replaced with something that more resembles what the mandarins did.  It's authoritarian, there are elements of central planning, the producing classes are being worked to near suicide, and there is plenty of corruption.  Even so, the upper Producing classes haven't had such opportunities for centuries.  The scale of China-as-a-building-project is just staggering.  According to the Washington Post, China used more concrete between 2011-13 that USA in the whole 20th century.  There has been as much construction in Shanghai in 25 years to equal all the buildings in Chicago.

Not surprisingly, economic development at this pace will have some glitches—even though China has had an abundance of good examples to learn from.  According to DW below, China may be making great strides in renewable energy but their distribution system is, at best, primitive.  I am pretty sure my godfather would tell me the Chinese would work it out.  But it will be very difficult—designing and building an effective grid for distributing renewable energy is at least 10 times as hard as building some wind turbines.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Now aren't you just prouderthanheck?

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the day when USA stopped being the good guys in the eyes of the world.  It's not just that we did something so monstrous and horrifying when we decided to incinerate a city of helpless civilians, it's that for 70 years, we have refused to even entertain the notion that nuking a city was a bad idea.  The rationalizations about Hiroshima we were taught are not merely lies, they are sick and twisted.  I ought to know—I once believed most of them myself.

Then in high school, I decided to write my senior thesis on Hiroshima and the Decision to Use the Bomb.  I chose the topic because I thought it would be a slam dunk.  Six years of a passionate interest in aviation had already taught me a lot of minutia about the B-29 and other details of the bombing mission.  I had also read quite extensively on the Manhattan Project and was exceedingly proud of the sheer accomplishment that was nuclear fission.  I figured I could write that paper in my sleep.  In addition, my sister had written a paper on the subject in college and had a bunch of material to provide me with necessary footnotes.

My "mistake" was to actually read the materials I got from my sister.  It included the debate the scientists at Los Alamos had as a working device became a reality.  There were papers the military men conducting the war in the Pacific had written when the decision was made.  Soon it was clear to me that no matter how clever nukes and high-altitude bombers were, there was absolutely NO justification for using this technology on people.  And what's more, the people who knew most about the Manhattan project knew it at the time.

I never have gotten over the realization that many of the people who supposedly were fighting "The Good War" were criminally insane.  What is worse, I have met less than 10 people in my life who understand that what we did to Hiroshima was pure evil.  Everyone else chooses to believe the BS about how nuking people saved lives and shortened the war—a lie that is childishly easy to disprove.  The trouble with a lie like that is that is destroys the believer's ability to think clearly.  Group the lies about Hiroshima with some of the other whoppers and the USA has lost it ability to govern itself because its citizens can no longer make thoughtful, intelligent decisions.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Reparations for India?

Reparations is one of those subjects that doesn't have a clear moral viewpoint.  It's amazingly difficult to figure out a way that pays off the victims without penalizing folks who are utterly innocent.  For example, any plan to give money to the victims of USA slavery would almost certainly impact folks whose ancestors did not even reach this country until well after the Civil War and so could not be in any way responsible for slavery.

With this in mind, I was quite fascinated by the following argument that Britain should pay something to India for the damage done during the days of the colonial empire.  Obviously, there is not enough money in all of Britain to make the victims of empire whole, but it would be wonderful if there were at least some symbolic gesture that would make the empire admit to their quite hideous guilt.

At least we should start by ignoring those ugly defenders of colonialism like the execrable Niall Ferguson who spouts his poisonous views as a Harvard tenured professor.  After all, the USA was formed by people who believed colonialism was so evil, they were willing to risk "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" to rid the nation of teachers of evil like Ferguson.  As Gary Brechter "the War Nerd" puts it so well, "German Fascism lasted 12 years and they have been apologizing for it ever since, while British colonialism lasted over 300 years and good proper Brits are still defending it."  And Winston Churchill has been elevated to some sort of status as saint even though he deliberately starved to death 4 million in Bengal during WW II (1943).

Anyone with a strong stomach can watch the Brits flatter themselves on USA public television.  The denizens of Downton Abby can live their vacuous lives in comfort because the Brits still had India.  And while they enjoy their lives based on theft, they can pretend to a sort of morality because they are uptight about sex.  Interestingly, people who watch this ethical trash seem to feel it makes them cultured and sophisticated.  And so yet again the Predator Class justifies their crimes against humanity to folks who lap it up in the name of Leisure Class respectability.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Stop burning fossil fuels now: there is no CO2 'technofix'

Regular readers of this blog know that my "solution" to climate change can be reduced to the bumper sticker "Put out the Fires!"  I believe this for a simple reason—I have all of chemistry on my side.  The only way to reduce CO2 emissions is to stop oxidizing carbon—is a fact beyond all rational debate.

So it is with interest that some of the stop-the-fire guys are piling on with a new killer argument.  Essentially they are saying that while it may be possible to remove some of the CO2 from the atmosphere, the CO2 that has acidified the oceans (all air pollution eventually becomes water pollution) will not clean up nearly so easily.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Economics as moral philosophy

One of the more interesting phenomena that comes up during these financial crises is the sudden interest the bankster classes take in moral philosophy.  Of course, what those folks are worried about is that someone might suggest that the creditors get back any less than 100% of what they are supposedly owed.  That is what they really mean when they start talking about "moral hazard."

I don't agree with the banksters on much, but I do agree that economics is an offshoot of moral philosophy.  My agreement that there are ethical dimensions to economic questions is rooted in personal experience—with all my religious training, this really is my turf.  And I enjoy playing on it for one basic reason—for all its flaws, Christianity has core concepts that practiced well, lead to very prosperous societies.  Unfortunately, there are rogue versions that turn those strategies for trying to lead a gentle life into monstrosities like imperialism—had to be a member of the Church of England to serve in the Royal Navy during the heady days of empire, you know.

Now if anyone should have a handle on the problem that credit practices pose to industrialized countries, it should surely be Germany.  Yet there were the Germans during the latest Greek crises acting as if they had never been the folks who needed their debts restructured—scowling and lecturing about moral hazard completely oblivious to the fact that they had become ethical monsters who actually looked the part of devils.  Last February, I wrote about how far Angela Merkel, the Lutheran preacher's daughter, had strayed from the teachings of Matthew 18 all the while effectively bringing Dana Carvey's church lady back to life.

Yes, Germany, economics is, and should be, a branch of moral philosophy.  But you're getting it all wrong these days.  Who's making you behave so badly?  Could it be...SATAN?  (ht Carvey)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A blue moon rises

Friday night, I saw a magnificent moonrise.  I went looking for it and found a spot to watch on a hill behind the Valley Grove Church—the place where Thorstein Veblen's parents were buried.  According to the charts, the sunset and moonrise were supposed to happen the same minute.  In practice there were a few minutes between the events.

The land surrounding the church has been planted with authentic prairie grasses.  The lovely specimen that opens the video is giant bluestem.  This grass can reach a height of over six feet (183 cm) and the root system can go down twelve (366 cm).  The great midwest prairies were formed by such plants.  Much of the food in North America grows in the organic matter left behind by these giants.

Anyway, this little movie fulfilled two functions.  It got me back into video editing and reminded me that my project left from February is not done yet.  So this August, if my posts are not especially regular, its because I am going to try to get those promised videos done before Labor Day.

Enjoy.  Note that a bat came out to show off in the last video clip.  Full moon, an old graveyard, and bats.  Doesn't get much better than that.