Archive | September, 2013

Empires, bureaucracies and religion arise from war : Nature News & Comment

25 Sep

War drove the formation of complex social institutions such as religions and bureaucracies, a study suggests. The institutions would have helped to maintain stability in large and ethnically diverse early societies. The study authors, who tested their theories in simulations and compared the results with historical data, found that empires arise in response to the pressure of warfare between small states.

via Empires, bureaucracies and religion arise from war : Nature News & Comment.

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Conjunctions on the Autumn Equinox

22 Sep

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Early yesterday afternoon I found myself sitting in the sanctuary at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan. The Parish was founded in 1835; this is its third church, built in the second decade of the 20th Century. It is Byzantine in style, with glittering mosaics on the interior.

The pipe organ is the largest in New York City, and one of the ten largest in the world. I didn’t know this when I sat there yesterday, as that was the first time I’d even been in the church. “Byzantine” didn’t even click in my mind, yesterday as I sat between my sister and her friend, Yoshiko, but I was certainly thinking “icons” (“iconoclasm”), “Greek Orthodox,” and even “Russian,” the conjunction of which all but added up to Byzantine. But didn’t. This was, after all, an Episcopal Church, no?

Yes.

The Wikipedia tells me that it is this parish that brought Leopold Stokowski from Europe in 1905 to be its organist and choir director.

Holy crap! says I to myself, no way!

Way.

Stokowski went on to direct the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, and had become something of a celebrity when, over 30 years later, he ran into Walt Disney at a restaurant in Los Angeles. Walt invited him over to his table and Fantasia was hatched. Not then and there, mind you, it took awhile. But that’s when the wheels started turning.

Walt’s father, Elias, had been one of many carpenters who worked on The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. And that fair featured a Japanese exhibit and pavilion on a small 16 acre in a lagoon. It was the unexpected hit of the fair and the first time most Westerners had had any contact with the Japanese, who’d only recently been subject to forced entry by Admiral Perry in 1853. Continue reading

The Banality of Systemic Evil – NYTimes.com

16 Sep

In broad terms, commentators in the mainstream and corporate media have tended to assume that all of these actors needed to be brought to justice, while independent players on the Internet and elsewhere have been much more supportive. Tellingly, a recent Time magazine cover story has pointed out a marked generational difference in how people view these matters: 70 percent of those age 18 to 34 sampled in a poll said they believed that Snowden “did a good thing” in leaking the news of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program.

So has the younger generation lost its moral compass?

No. In my view, just the opposite.

Clearly, there is a moral principle at work in the actions of the leakers, whistle-blowers and hacktivists and those who support them. I would also argue that that moral principle has been clearly articulated, and it may just save us from a dystopian future.

via The Banality of Systemic Evil – NYTimes.com.

A simple theory of recent American intellectual history

16 Sep

Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, the so-called “right wing” was right about virtually everything on the economic front.  Most of all communism, but also inflation, taxes, (most of) deregulation, labor unions, and much more, noting that a big chunk of the right wing blew it on race and some other social issues.  The Friedmanite wing of the right nailed it on floating exchange rates.

Arguably the “rightness of the right” peaks around 1989, with the collapse of communism.  After that, the right wing starts to lose its way.

Up through that time, market-oriented economists have more interesting research, more innovative journals, and much else to their credit, culminating in the persona and career of Milton Friedman.

I’ve never heard tales of Paul Samuelson’s MIT colleagues mocking him for his pronouncements on Soviet economic growth.  I suspect they didn’t.

Starting in the early 1990s, the left wing is better equipped, more scholarly, and also more fun to read.  (What exactly turned them around?)  In the 1990s, the Quarterly Journal of Economics is suddenly more interesting and ultimately more influential than the Journal of Political Economy, even though the latter retained a higher academic ranking.  The right loses track of what its issues ought to be.  There is no real heir to the legacy of Milton Friedman.

The relative rise of the Left peaks in 2009, with the passage of Obamacare and the stimulus.  From that point on, the left wing, for better or worse, is a fundamentally conservative force in the intellectual arena.  It becomes reactive and loses some of its previous creativity.

Over those years, right wing thought, on the whole, became worse and more predictable and also less interesting.  But excess predictability now has infected the left wing also.  Attacking stupid ideas put forward by Republicans, whether or not you think that is desirable or necessary, has become their lazy man’s way forward and it is sapping their faculties.

Yet I am not pessimistic about discourse.  Our time is a wonderful era for independent thinkers, and many of them are bloggers, too.  It’s as if we have created a new political spectrum in a very small sliver of the world, a perhaps inconsequential eddy in a much larger and often unpleasant vortex.

via A simple theory of recent American intellectual history.

Dear Ron and Dennis: For the sake of the planet and your great-grandkids, kiss and make up! Please!

14 Sep

Charlie first wrote this in the Spring of 2012. A year plus later it makes even more sense for liberals and libertarians to make common cause in stopping wars, celebrating self-determination of peoples, and saving the speciation from ongoing destruction and our own.

Dear Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich,

I urge you to put your respective strengths together on a firm foundation built by back-to-basics Austrian and Buddhist economics. A casual reading of G. Bateson, E. F. Schumacher, John Ruskin, anyone who has thought long and hard about the profound evil embodied in “central banking,” war preparations and “Fed manipulations” everywhere, will give you the tools and bricks you need to build a Reform Party and/or an Americans Elect TEAM based on emergent truths and the oldest traditions.

At the Truth & Traditions website you will find arguments, positions, reports, a Declaration of Interdependence, some of what you will need to create a balanced platform and a beyond-bi-partisan Sunshine Cabinet whose members and many surrogates can campaign with you this summer and fall.

The key to this Sunshine Cabinet is the creation of a Peace Department (Kucinich in charge?) and an Ecology Department (Bill McKibben or Andrew Kimbrell in charge?), each department NEVER to exceed a size sustainable by a quarter of one percent of the current Defense Department budget. In truth, each department needs only a few dozen people to gather up the long-term thinking and best practices of diverse Great Transition communities, colleges, universities, institutes, limited and democratic governments around the world that work for the best interests of their peoples. These two very small and extremely cost-effective departments can shape and pass on as many proposals to Congress, Executive and Judicial branches as are needed. Continue reading

One Good Thing About George W. Bush

14 Sep

He was no micro-manager.

Dick Chaney, unfortunately, was. But that’s beside the point.

George Bush apparently wasn’t. He liked to take his time away from the office. And that’s good.

The Presidency is such an insane job that it’s nuts for anyone to even try to do it all. Get a handful of trusted associates, some of them superb manages, if not all, and let them do their jobs. And see that they, in turn do likewise: pick good subordinates, etc.

That way you can all set a good example of work/life balance.

Why? Because micro-manages are a pain in the ass and just make things worse for their direct reports without actually achieving any increase in effectiveness.

It’s about the job, not you.

I’m thinking G. W. Bush understood that. He just had a questionable set of ideas about what needed to get done.

21st C = von Neumann * Armstrong^2

10 Sep

I wrote this a some time ago. IBM is no longer on the ropes, as it was at that time. But it hasn’t regained its past glory either. That is gone, perhaps forever (prediction: the Watson technology will bottom out in a decade). Meanwhile, Microsoft is running into trouble, having been outstripped by Google and, of all companies, Apple. Still, there’s a basic truth stored away in these words and that truth doesn’t change just becase the high tech world keeps whirlin’ around.


Why is America the software center of the Universe?
Because it is also the Rap-Rock-Funk-Soul-Jazz-Blues
center of the Universe. What does that have to do
with the If-Then-Else imperatives of byte busting?
Technology is not just technique. It is style and
attitude. You can’t write great software if your
soul was nurtured on the mechanical clockwork and
internal combustion rhythms of the Machine Age. You
must free yourself from the linear flow of
mechanical time and learn to improvise order from
the creative chaos lurking in the multiple
intersecting flows of the digital domain.
Roll over Beethoven, it’s Jimi Hendrix time.


Cases in point: Steve Wozniak took time out
from Apple to produce rock and roll concerts.
Microsoft was co-founded by a guitar-playing
Jimi Hendrix fan, Paul Allen. Borland International
is the brainchild of barbarian jazz saxophonist
Philippe Kahn. Xerox and Apple guru Alan GUI
Kay worked his way through graduate school as
a jazz musician. Lotus founder Mitch Kapor
has taken to riding the informatic frontier
with Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow. Continue reading

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Time for some Cabbage

6 Sep

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