Chinese Puzzle

I posted recently about the international incident that was stirred up when the General Manager of the Houston Rockets, of the NBA, dared to tweet that the Chinese people should be supported in their efforts to criticize their government. As a result the two teams that went to China to play an exhibition game were pretty much confined to quarters for much of a week while the public appearances that were scheduled were cancelled by the Chinese government. This is a big deal in that basketball is a very popular sport in China — especially NBA basketball. This may be the result of the fact that one of their players was a star in the NBA for years — Yao Ming by name.

In any event, upon their return to the United States the media in this country were eager to hear all about the kerfuffle in China and finally, after a day’s rest, LeBron James, who  plays for the Los Angles Lakers basketball team, spoke about the matter and in a rather long comment he said that in general we should not tweet about things without first being “educated” (his word, he should have said “well informed”) about the subject, and thinking about the consequences of those tweets in the international arena.

He was severely criticized on many fronts for siding with capitalism as over against “caring,” which is to say, worrying more about the profits that might come to the NBA as a result of good relations with China than he was about free speech which is much prized on this side of the Ocean — though not in China. We regard freedom of speech as a right, of course, though we fail to consider that rights are not absolute; on the contrary, they are always (even the right to bear arms) carefully circumscribed by restraints. We do not have the right to shout fire in a crowded theater, for example. Or, I would add, a right to bear automatic weapons designed for the military.

Now I am not a big fan of LeBron James. On the contrary I find his personality off-putting and I don’t particularly like his style of basketball, relying  much on his size and strength rather than the finesse I always associated with basketball. Moreover, I don’t see why he should regard himself as a qualified spokesperson for the NBA. But in this case I would like to defend him: I think he’s right. This was not a case of freedom of speech, it was a matter of common sense and awareness of the repercussions of the things we say and do. As he noted (and I really thought when he spoke that he was talking here to our President!) we need to think about the consequences of our words and actions. We, as a rule, tend not to do that, especially in this electronic age when buttons are pushed and we realize later what problems arose because of poor judgment and a too-quick thumb. I found that to be the case with at least one of my blogs. James is right: we need to think about the consequences of our words.

In and of itself, the incident is a tempest in a teapot as I noted in my previous post. But as a general trend and given the international repercussions of this seemingly insignificant  incident, we would do well to pause and think about the way we rush into things without taking the time to think about the consequences of our words and actions. That is good advice and in this case it was well intended; James was not denying our right to freedom of speech. He was simply urging us all (including those at the very top) to think before we tweet.

Here And There

I only remember a few things from my trip to the Beyond when last I was there. To begin with I noted that those who were There (and are no  longer Here) were simply doing the things they really wanted to do when they were Here. The Beyond is simply an eternity of doing that which we want to do. It’s a reward that, for many, turns out to be punishment.

So I vividly remember the flurry of activity among those who had been interested in so many things before they went There. Their curiosity and imagination were insatiable and in the Beyond they were always busy finishing projects they had long wanted to complete before they went There, searching hither and yon for answers to the mysteries that surrounded them, curious to know as much as possible and finally getting answers. Philosophers and theologians collected in groups listening to one another seeking the truth about those things that had long puzzled them Here. The scientists were busy conducting experiments that they knew would lead them to a deeper understanding of the puzzles that had confounded them Before. The artists and musicians were busy creating works of inestimable beauty and when finished sharing those works with others of like mind who were able to appreciate what they had done and applaud their efforts. Thespians were acting out the parts they craved while they were Here. All seemed very happy and fulfilled.

Those who were focused on petty things while Here were doomed to remain focused on petty things There. I recall vividly the throngs of people walking barefoot on scorching hot sand from which rising waves of heat could be seen; they hopped from one foot to another, bent over looking for gold coins and gold chains which they either placed around their necks or in the leather pouches at their sides which grew heavier and heavier as they went along, making their movement more and more difficult and the heat from the sand more and more unbearable — with no water for relief. Their attention was on the ground, the scalding hot sand beneath their feet suggesting the heat of the earth they left Before while denying that it was in fact growing hotter each day while the aquifers dried up. Their attention Then, as now, was on the growth of their wealth which they identified with happiness. Above all else, they were alone.

One figure especially stood out. I was astonished to see him because he’s still Here and hasn’t gone There yet. But apparently they have the ability to show us what is certain to be the case in the near future and this was simply one of the more impressive examples. While the others around him were thin and wore tattered clothing this one had very small hands, a permanent frown, was overweight, and wore a crown of gold to accompany the dozens of gold chains that were hot to the touch and dragged his head down until his body was almost doubled up. He was holding an electronic device in his hand and his attention wavered from looking at the ground for more gold and playing with the device in his hand. He couldn’t seem to leave it alone! But this is what he wanted. It is what they all wanted.  Now they were learning a lesson — a lesson which would go on forever.

In the distance, beyond the scalding hot sands I could barely hear the faint sounds of very loud music in a closed arena. There were also bright lights constantly flashing on and off that I could see through the windows — even at a distance. I heard from one of the people I was able to talk with that the arena was full of people who were being entertained though many were holding their heads and complained of excruciating headaches. They would remain there forever.

Those who loved other people while Here were surrounded by those they loved and admired who shared in their joys and even their struggles — because there had to be some struggles, even There, or those who were There would never fully appreciate the many moments of satisfaction that came with being with those they wanted above all else to be with and doing those things they most enjoyed doing. They seemed to be unaware of themselves while so many of the others I saw were oblivious to others and to most of what was around them.

The key here is that those I saw were simply doing what they wanted to do. If their wants were shallow Here, they were shallow There. And they would pursue those shallow goals forever. If their interests were varied while Here they would be so There.

(With apologies to Dante and his Divine Comedy.)

Tempest in a Teapot?

You have doubtless heard about the gigantic SNAFU resulting from a seeming harmless tweet that went out a few days ago. NO, not a tweet from Tweety Bird, but one from an NBA manager. CNN tells us:

Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey sent what may be the most problematic and potentially damaging tweet in corporate America this year.

Morey set off an international firestorm over the weekend when he tweeted support for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” said the tweet, which has since been deleted.

Chinese authorities, challenged by months of protests in Hong Kong, have made it clear that business as usual with the league will cease until the NBA totally repudiates Morey’s statement.
The NBA has not “repudiated” the statement, which was cancelled very soon after it went out. In fact, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver supported Morey’s tweet thereby adding fuel to the fire and, of course, the President had to add his two cents worth. In any event, there’s a firestorm as China will now have nothing to do with the NBA and plans for pre-season games among a number of NBA teams that were scheduled in China, along with visits by the immensely popular players to various youth groups and charitable work among the throngs of people in China who find the NBA and its stars captivating have been cancelled.
There are a number of business repercussions as well, including the determination of a shoe company in China that was negotiating with several NBA players begging off and cutting ties with the NBA — under orders from the repressive regime in China, no doubt. In any event, this is a kerfuffle of immense importance in a day when our relations with China were already standing on the edge of a precipice.
I tend to agree with the NBA Commissioner who defended th right of Morey and anyone else to say what he or she may want to say. After all, our nation is founded on the right of free speech — among other rights.
But this never should have happened because it is not up to Morey — or anyone else in this country — to tell the Chinese how they should live their lives. Freedom of speech is one we all prize and rightly so. But the Chinese do not and to shout out in a tweet that the Chinese are justified to protest the actions of their government is iill-advised if not downright stupid. Especially, as I said, given the tottering relations with that nation resulting from numerous actions by our sitting President.
In a word, the right of folks to say what they want (within limits, I would think) is one we rightly pride ourselves on. But we cannot assume that other nations accept those rights — even if they should. And while the actions of a sports team on the other side of the earth may seem trivial in light of the many problems we face these days, it is simply adding fuel to a fire that had already been started when our President decided to impose tariffs on imports from that country not long ago.
We cannot possibly agree with the strictures laid down by the totalitarian regime in China, but it is a healthy reminder to those of us in this country who are faced with the growing possibility of an increasingly repressive government in this country that our freedoms are precious and there are those in this world who are not lucky enough to share them with us.
This is sad, and Morey was on solid ethical ground. But it was a political mistake and a lesson to us all.

Why Science?

After addressing the U.S. Congress recently the young, courageous Greta Thunberg who was warning us all of the dangers of global warming (which we euphemistically call “climate change”) was asked by one of our feckless leaders “why should we pay any attention to science?” Or words to that effect.

The man then almost certainly left the House, climbed into a taxi and drive to the airport where he boarded an airplane to fly home to hob-nob with his corporate sponsors. I dare to say he saw no contradiction whatever between his question and his behavior. But the fact is that science is all around us and it almost always provides us with the truth of things. Not always, but almost always. And the evidence of global warming and the role humans have played in the drama has gone beyond the level of mere conjecture and is now a virtual certainty.

So the answer to the man’s question (if it deserves an answer) is “because it is giving us a warning and whether or not we want to listen to that warning it would be prudent to do so.” Our situation is not unlike that described by Pascal when he told us that we would all be better off to believe in God than not. In both cases, the chance we might be wrong to believe in science or God results in altered behavior, simply. But if Science is right and if God does exist then we would be wise to believe and act accordingly. In the case of global warming it is a matter of life and death. It may not appear so, but it is and that fact is supported by overwhelming evidence. Evidence that only the most stupid among us can continue to ignore.

As one who taught both logic and the philosophy of science for many years, however, I am fully aware that neither tool will deliver all the goods. Life does not always (seldom?) accord with logic and science cannot tell us about things that are deeply important to us — such as how to live our lives. Or how to resolve a moral dilemma, or how to judge a work of art.

But the denial of science in an age such as ours is not borderline stupid: it crosses the border into insanity. There is a point at which the evidence is so heavy that we cannot bear it even though we must. The changes in our behavior that might make a difference in the rapidly warming globe on which we live are minimal when compared to the alterations in all our behavior that must occur when the consequences of global warming are felt by us all — when, for example, we cannot afford the cost of basic foods in our grocery stores whose shelves are nearly empty because the earth simply cannot produce enough food to support a growing human population.

The problem with blog posts such as this, of course, is that they border on preaching and the congregation listening, or reading, already knows whereof I speak and write. But that doesn’t make it any the less important to continue to shout fire in a burning building, because if things remain as they are at present the building will burn down around us and we shall perish in the aftermath. There is no Plan B.

An interview with Putin in 2035

Thoughtful words. The best kind.

musingsofanoldfart

Good morning. This is Natalia Smirnov with Fox/ RT News. I am here with Tsar Vladimir Putin in the first of a series of interviews looking back on his career. Good morning Comrade Tsar.

Q – Comrade Tsar, what do you see as your greatest achievement?
A – I believe the reconstitution of the New Soviet Republic. We are once again a country of great importance.

Q – What were the key events leading to this ascension?
A – Clearly, the fall of a united west was most critical, but that took a lot of planning. I also believe our alliance with China helped show the world that we are the future.

Q – You mention a lot of planning, what do you mean by that?
A – It took proactive and reactive planning to accomplish our goals without using military might. My training allowed us to take advantage of…

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How Are We Entertained?

I am having some health problems of late and seem to lack the will to return to those themes that have inspired years of posts in this blog. And, heaven knows, I strive mightily to avoid politics these days. So, instead I shall offer up from time to time a post that seems to me to have some resonance with today’s goings-on. Today’s topic is suggested in the title of this post.

A number of theorists have drawn interesting parallels between Rome and contemporary America. With one eye on Rome the founders of this nation feared the dissolution of our Republic from within as people lost their sense of civic virtue and went off on tangents into self-indulgence and the seeking of unnecessary wealth. Aldous Huxley later warned Western civilization about its urge to satisfy endless pleasures. I doubt, however, that any of these people could have foreseen the sort of incident that happened in Florida recently.

It is certainly the case that our nation can no longer brag about its commitment to the common good and its practice of public virtue which puts the good of all above one’s  own self-interest. The pursuit of wealth has become synonymous in the minds of many with democracy and freedom. In this regard we do resemble the ancient Romans. But one of the most compelling parallel between today’s Republic and the Roman Republic is our love of diversions. The Romans loved their bread and circuses. Clearly there need to be some diversions, especially at a time when there are pressures from all directions on nearly everyone in this country. But as Aristotle warned, “everything in moderation.”  The love of diversions in this country has reached absurd limits when events like Nathan’s hot dog eating contest takes center stage — only to be upstaged recently by the eating of worms and cockroaches. A recent storytells the sad results:

MIAMI (AP) — The winner of a roach-eating contest in South Florida died shortly after downing dozens of the live bugs as well as worms, authorities said Monday.

About 30 contestants ate the insects during Friday night’s contest at Ben Siegel Reptile Store in Deerfield Beach about 40 miles north of Miami. The grand prize was a python.

If it weren’t so sad it would be positively funny — shades of Monty Python (sorry, ‘had to go there). But one must ask, really, where are we headed in this culture? How does this sort of absurd spectacle pass as entertainment? Even if the man had not died — and he may have died for a number of reasons having nothing whatever to do with his latest meal — what’s with 30 people standing around watching idiots wolf down bugs and worms to see who would win a snake? The sponsors of the “event” thought it fitting to donate the python to the family of the man who died. As the story tells us, “The Miami Herald reported the grand prize has been put aside in Archbold’s [the diseased] name and will be given to his estate.” If we knew how to laugh at a person’s untimely death (as Mary Tyler Moore did)  this, too would be funny. What on earth will this man’s grieving family do with a python?

Twenty years after writing Brave New World Aldous Huxley revisited a number of the themes he had raised in that novel and collected his essays in a book titled Brave New World Revisited. It is a fascinating take on events in the late 50s in light of Huxley’s own predictions in the 1930s. I quoted him in a previous blog as he notes “mankind’s almost limitless appetite for distractions.” Never were truer words spoken and this should make us take seriously his many other warnings about the future of a people who seek nothing more in life than the satisfaction of their own pleasures. But eating bugs and worms? You must be kidding! Surely this is the reductio ad absurdum of our love of distractions and invites another long look at what happened to ancient Rome.

Good People Doing Good Things — Three Nice Guys

These stories keep us going in times like the present!

Filosofa's Word

I want to begin today’s ‘good people’ post with an update to a previous post.  Many of you many not have yet discovered Filosofa’s Word back in June 2017 when I wrote about Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments, a credit card processing company in Seattle, Washington.  What Mr. Price did back then was to slash his own salary from $1.1 million to $77,000 in order to pay every one of his employees a minimum of $70,000.  He came into much criticism at the time, and many said it would never work … but it did! I was thrilled to see Fox Business have to eat their words, after they labeled him the “lunatic of all lunatics,” and Rush Limbaugh declared, “I hope this company is a case study in M.B.A. programs on how socialism does not work, because it’s going to fail.”

Dan-Price.jpgThis week, Dan Price is…

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Taxed Too Much, Are You?

Given the fact that I have pretty much said all I have to say about most topics and some of my former posts aren’t half bad, I repost here one I wrote early on as it still appears to be relevant.

I have had the audacity to suggest that we need to change our mind-set about paying taxes. We lump taxes together with death as the two things we dread and can be certain of. But I suggested that we need to think of taxes as a way of helping our neighbors who may be in need and improving our schools which are failing to get the job done. We pay fewer taxes than most of the people in the “developed” countries and our schools are near the bottom of that group of countries as well. There may be a connection.

In reflecting on this issue, I came across an article in the British paper The Guardianin which the author suggested that Brits — who also dread taxes — think about Sweden where the attitude toward taxes is downright positive. In a recent poll, it was revealed that a growing number of Swedes are pleased to pay taxes because they feel their tax money does so much good. As the article went on to explain:

One way to examine the issue is to compare state help provided by the British government to one which traditionally charges much higher taxes: Sweden. Swedes support the second-highest tax burden in the world – after Denmark’s – with an average of 48.2 per cent of GDP going to taxes. Yet Sweden, along with equally high-taxing Denmark and Norway, tops almost every international barometer of successful societies.

Swedes’ personal income tax can be as little as 29 per cent of their pay, but most people (anyone earning over £32,000) will pay between 49 and 60 per cent through a combination of local government and state income tax.

And yet, the Swedes are happy, the article goes on to explain. What angers them is people who won’t pay their taxes and therefore fail to support national programs that help make the country strong, their kids smarter, their economy healthier, and the people happy.

The key here is twofold: First, the positive attitude of the Swedes is predicated on the good the tax money results in: better schools, free lunches for the kids, excellent teachers, and fewer people in poverty. Secondly, the Swedes don’t spend 60% of their tax revenue on the military. They are not supporting armed forces around the world that are presumably keeping the world safe for democracy. Let’s reflect on these points one at a time.

To take the first point first, the common perception in this country is that much of our tax money is wasted on the poor who are all crackheads busily making one another pregnant with unwanted children. I have written to this point as it is a misconception that is widely accepted among so many Americans who pay taxes in the 10-35% range and who really would rather hang on to all their money and spend it on themselves. But there would certainly have to be some housecleaning and a good deal more accountability before enough people in this country became convinced that their money is being well spent on those in need, on improving the schools, and helping to save the planet from our mindless abuse. There is much good being done already, but more needs to be done and people need reassurance that their money is being well spent.

But I must say the second point above is the sticking point for me. We spend an inordinate amount of money on the military, thereby increasing profits among the multinational corporations who help them build up their armaments. It’s not clear why we need such a gargantuan military presence and I sometimes wonder if it is the military presence itself that creates fear in others and results in them becoming our enemies in the first place. In other words, we are scaring the hell out of everyone else on the planet with our armed presence around the world and that may be what makes them take up arms against us — which in turn makes it necessary for us to increase military spending to protect ourselves against our enemies. It may indeed be a vicious circle. If we are not in fact a bellicose nation, we appear to be so. Perhaps if we presented a friendlier face to the rest of the world the army and navy could “stand down,” as they say in military parlance.

In any event, there are at least two obstacles to the citizens of this nation adopting a more positive attitude toward paying taxes, both of which are based on fear (and possible misconceptions) and neither of which contributes to a healthier and happier world.

Good People Doing Good Things — Najah Bazzy

We need to be reminded that there are such people out there helping others!

Filosofa's Word

Good morning, friends!  If it’s Wednesday, that must mean it’s time for some … Good People!!!  Today I would like to introduce you to Najah Bazzy.

Najah BazzyIn 1996, she was working as a nurse in Detroit, Michigan, when she visited an Iraqi refugee family to help care for their dying 3-month-old infant. The family had recently immigrated to the U.S., and she knew the situation would be difficult, but she wasn’t prepared for what she encountered.

“There, at the house, I got my first glimpse of poverty. They absolutely had nothing. There was no refrigerator, there was no stove, there was no crib. The baby was in a laundry basket, laying on clean white towels. I was so devastated by that. I decided that this wasn’t going to happen on my watch.”

That day, Bazzy and her family gathered all the furniture and household items that they could — including…

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Alienation and Exploitation

 The following slightly modified post from many years back remains relevant.

Karl Marx’s Capital is seldom read these days. This book by a dead, white European male has been tossed into the dustbins by the League of the Politically Correct and replaced by something more in fashion, easier to read and more acceptable to the League. Pity. What Marx had to say about capitalist alienation and exploitation still rings true even after more than a hundred years. This was driven home by an article I read not long ago about the (then) current recession and the trend to squeeze more work out of the labor force in the name of higher profits. Consider the following excerpt about the recent changes in the dynamics of the job market:

The drop comes after a string of steady gains in productivity, as employers slashed their payrolls during the 2007 recession but squeezed more output from thinner staffs. Some of those gains came from investment in technology and other efficiencies. Some of it came from asking workers – fearful of losing their jobs with the unemployment rate at 8.2 percent — to work harder and put in longer hours.

But employers have apparently wrung about as much work as they could from their existing employees. To increase output, they’ve had to hire back some of the people they laid off during the recession.

(Note here that there’s apparently a point of diminishing return in this dynamic. Employers are hiring back more workers not because they want to put people to work, but because productivity has dropped. This is not an ethical decision on the employers’ part; it is business as usual.)

I’m not a Marxist, though I think his notion of alienation is spot on, as is his notion of exploitation. Further, he looked into the teeth of the capitalist beast and saw how it nurtured human greed and avarice. So let’s think about some of the things Marx had to say. He was convinced that the inherent nature of capitalism necessitated the exploitation of the workers in the name of increased profits. In the world of capitalism, the value of the products workers make is determined independently of the amount of time they spend on the job. In Marx’s view, the opposite should be the case, as the value of the product should directly reflect the amount of labor time spent on its making. The separation here between labor and value results from the fact that the worker must go to work: he sells his labor to the capitalist; his labor becomes a commodity. The ideal Marx had in mind was the intimate connection between a worker in his shop making, say, a chair, and the value he is able to realize in the market place. Once he goes to work for a factory owner his connection with the product of his labor is severed. Again, it is the intimate connections that Marx focused his attention upon. Capitalism, in his view, alienated workers from their products and prices from real value. Those contradictions, he was convinced, would bring about the demise of capitalism as workers would experience increasing frustration and eventually rise up in revolt.

Well, he was certainly wrong about that. The chains that Marx saw binding the workers have been replaced by credit card debt. Capitalism has prospered as the unions (among other things) have made the lives of workers tolerable and they can now afford important things like iPods, televisions (charged on the credit card), new cars (leased, of course), and homes tied to a huge mortgage. The contradictions within capitalism no longer bother most people and the moral message of Capital has been silenced by complacency. Though its numbers are shrinking, the “middle class” which expanded after Marx’s death is relatively content and easily diverted by the entertainment industry and the revolution that Marx foresaw no longer seems possible, much less likely. The “workers” seem content to take what is given them while the 1% continue to prosper and grow fat on the fruit of the labor of the other 99%. That is to say, the essential framework that Marx analyzed is still in place. The difference is that, for the most part, the workers no longer care that they are being exploited because they have been pacified with constant entertainment and a smattering of goods they invariably buy on time; this makes their lives tolerable in a commodified culture that is designed to alleviate their discontent and keep them calm.