Chris Hedges Gets Hopeful

Death of the Liberal ClassThe following interview of Bill Moyers with Chris Hedges is really great. What is most interesting about it is that Hedges now repudiates what he wrote in Death of the Liberal Class. In that, he wrote the future of this civilization is hopeless and all we could do is document it and hope that if another rises, it will not make the same mistakes. Sadly, I often feel that way. But the Occupy Movement changed his mind and now he thinks that we can improve the system. It’s nice that he is feeling more optimistic. At the moment, I disagree. But tomorrow I’ll probably feel a bit more positive.

Check out this video. It is interesting from beginning to end:

The Writer We Killed

John Kennedy TooleIt turns out that Joan Fontaine also died over the weekend. I’ve never much liked her, but I think that’s because of the kinds of roles she played. She was rather good in Suspicion, and generally later in career when she wasn’t typecast so much, like in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. It’s hard to be too sad that she has died, given that she was 96. But her older sister, Olivia de Havilland, is still kicking at 97.

The great Hindi poet Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana, better known as simply Rahim, was born on this day in 1556. Strangely, although he was Indian, his religion was Islam. He wrote a bit of poetry where he discussed how he gave money to beggars, “Sir, Why give alms like this? Where did you learn that? Your hands are as high as your eyes are low.” By this he means that he gives out charity with humility; he does not pretend that the act makes him superior. It is wisdom for all of us to take to heart. We should be grateful that we are able to give. It is a blessing.

The mathematician and physicist Emilie du Chatelet was born in 1706. She is best known for translating Newton’s Principia into French, which is still considered the standard translation. She also did much research, include work on fire that predicted the concept of infrared radiation. She was also very important in physics education of the 18th century. As I always note: she was a woman, which probably means she would be a household name if she had been born a man. Her lover Voltaire wrote that she was “a great man whose only fault was being a woman.”

It is a big day for scientists. The physicist Joseph Henry was born in 1797. He was basically the American Faraday. He did most of his work with electromagnetism. He discovered self-inductance, as well as mutual inductance, although Faraday published first and so gets the credit. He was also a great inventor, his work on the electromagnetic relay led pretty directly to the telegraph. The unit for inductance is named after him.

The great mathematician Mary Cartwright was born in 1990. She is best known for her work on chaos theory. She did this work with J E Littlewood, who coined the term, “The butterfly effect.” This is the idea that one couldn’t predict atmospheric dynamics perfectly, because a butterfly flapping its wings half a world away would have a large effect on the local dynamics. The atmosphere is a chaotic system. But don’t misunderstand. This is not the chaos theory that was all the rage in the 1980s. Cartwright was doing her work in the 1930s. I’ve never been too clear why more recently people have made a big deal of the study of highly non-linear systems. Physicists have been working on these problems for a very long time.

Pope FrancisAnd Jorge Mario Bergoglio is 77 today. He is better known as Pope Francis and I’m sure you know a lot about him. He did not become a priest until the age of 33—I’m not sure how common that is. Before that, we worked as a nightclub bouncer. I’m curious to see what he does. Many people expect too much of him. But thus far, he has done a lot to improve the image of the Church. And that isn’t just marketing. He is the first Jesuit Pope, and that means a great deal. They are the most committed to interfaith dialog, for example. And they also profess poverty, something that has only barely been tolerated by the papacy for most of the history of the group.

Other birthdays: the great chemists Humphry Davy (1778); mathematician Sophus Lie (1842); post-impressionist painter Paul Cesar Helleu (1859); theater director Erwin Piscator (1893); actor Richard Long (1927); linguistics fan William Safire (1929); publisher Bob Guccione (1930); musician Art Neville (76); truly horrible human being and “journalist” Chris Matthews (68); comedian Eugene Levy (67); film editor Sally Menke (1953); and film director Peter Farrelly (57).

The day, however, belongs to the great writer John Kennedy Toole who was born on this day in 1937. Sadly, he killed himself in 1969, at the age of 31. He really only wrote one book, A Confederacy of Dunces. But it is such a great book. It’s impossible to say exactly why anyone kills himself, but it is certainly true that not being able to find a publisher for the book started his decline. It is hard to understand, because the book is brilliant from the first page. I like to think that he could have been our Cervantes. If you haven’t read the book, you really should. I mean: really. It is very humorous and wonderfully insightful. Most of all, it is a fun read. If you’ve read Life of Pi and not A Confederacy of Dunces, shame on you. Go now and read it! Toole clearly suffered for our benefit. Don’t ignore his sacrifice.

Happy birthday John Kennedy Toole!

It Doesn’t Matter Who GOP Nominates

RudeEd Kilgore over at Political Animal writes, Can the Right Unite in ’16? Basically, it is just an ad for TPMCafe article that looks more deeply at the hopes of the Republican Party establishment to unite behind a single candidate and not repeat their 2012 experience of everyone rushing to the bottom of conservatism. Remember how none of them would accept a deal with $10 of spending cuts for $1 of tax increases? Kilgore thinks they will have a hard time not repeating that experience.

I’m not really interested in that question. I really don’t think that Romney lost the 2012 election because he was so conservative. Again, we come back to the political science basics. The economy wasn’t good, but it was getting better. The couple of jobs reports before the election were good. There was a feeling that the economy was on the mend. And it was true. If it weren’t for the Sequester, the economy would probably be doing pretty darned well by now.

I will grant one political aspect of the election. Mitt Romney had one claim to fame: his healthcare law in Massachusetts. Long before the formal campaign started, he had repudiated it—at least on the national level. (Funny thing: conservatives always say the states are the “incubators of democracy”; but it’s really just a cover for doing nothing.) So the one thing that Romney could claim to have accomplished, he wouldn’t admit to; and even if he had, Obama had already done it.

This is all very bad news. It means that if the economy tanks in mid-2016, the Republicans will probably win the White House. They could nominate Louie Gohmert. It wouldn’t matter. Well, maybe a little. But let’s remember that most liberals were happy when the Republicans nominated Reagan. Now sure, there was the hostage crisis and Reagan’s “charm,” but mostly it was the bad economy that got Reagan elected president.

So I don’t particularly care how the Republicans go about getting their nominee. And really, what are the choices? Chris Christie is a supposed moderate in the party, and his policy positions are as extreme as any other conservative. The issue is the economy and it always will be.

There is a bit of good news though. The demographics are changing in this country and fewer and fewer people would want their neighbors to know that they vote Republican. So as long as we all get out there and vote, we win. Or at least we win as far as we are allowed to by the moderate to conservative Democrats we elect. I’ll have more to say about that soon.

We Will Save Us From Income Inequality

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman asked a question in his column yesterday, Why Inequality Matters. The question: “So the president was right. Inequality is, indeed, the defining challenge of our time. Will we do anything to meet that challenge?” I have an answer to that question: no.

I know that sounds cynical and I don’t mean it that way. Eventually, I do think we will do something about the defining challenge of our time. But not now and not from President Obama or even from Paul Krugman. Inequality will be dealt with when we people simply won’t take it anymore. I was reminded of this recently while watching Manufacturing Consent. In it, Noam Chomsky says that movements aren’t led by people like him. Movements come about and when they do, there are people around who appear to lead, but that’s just an illusion.

Paul KrugmanI don’t think that’s always true. And I think that leaders really do help movements grow. But clearly, the civil rights movement of the 1960s would have succeeded with or without Martin Luther King. But regardless of that, people like King have an actual stake in the fight. I have an actual stake in the the level of income inequality in this nation. Of course, I’m no leader. But a leader in this fight must share my stake. I think Obama and Krugman are both good men, but they are also men who benefit from income inequality.

Paul Krugman has a net worth of about $3 million. That’s not unreasonable, but it is about 50 times the net worth of the average American. Is he worth that? I don’t actually think so. I don’t think he has anything to give to society that others do not. He’s valuable, but not unique. Similarly, Barack Obama is worth about $12. That is unreasonable when you consider that the wealth comes mostly from his books. Krugman is a real prize compared to Obama. Krugman just might be worth 50 of his fellow Americans but Obama is certainly not worth 200 of his fellow Americans.

But the point is that for both men, inequality is something that is theoretical. Neither will ever have to worry that they won’t have a job. And so they will not be our leaders. They might help out by providing a little intellectual stimulation or giving a good speech. But we need our own Lech Walesas. Most of all, though, we the hundreds of millions of individuals who are harmed by our inequality problem to rise up. We have to be prepared to say, “Income inequality is the defining issue of our time and we need to do something about it now.” That includes giving up on people like Obama who claim to be for the working classes, but who are just more New Democrats with their conservative ideas. And we will get there. We are only a generation away. I see that clearly. My generation is not doing well, but also not badly enough to rise up. Those in their 20s are doing quite badly. As they make it into their 30s and 40s, they will not accept this.

Obama is right that income inequality is the defining issue of our time. And Krugman is right to ask if we will do anything about it. But what matters is what we do. And eventually, we will do a lot.