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election-2016

Here are more political musings for this highly political fortnight.  Let’s start with a basic assumption.  Donald Trump is not worthy of anyone’s vote until he releases his tax returns.  That is the basic price of entry into politics.  Until he shows otherwise, we can just assume his scammy casinos and fraudulent colleges are bankrupt and all of his money comes from the Russian government. We do not even need to get to the parts about him being an ignoramus, a bully, a fraudster, and a, um, fascist who would upend decades of international peace, progress, and prosperity for his own naked self-aggrandizement.

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So, it looks as though we are supporting the Democrats this year no matter what their circus…er, caucus looks like…but what does their circus look like?  After blogging last week about the Republican convention in Cleveland, it is necessary to say something about the Democratic convention this week in Philadelphia.  So far the Democratic convention has certainly been glitzy–with all sorts of high-profile show-biz folk. After a colorful opening day during which diehard Bernie Sanders supporters disrupted the proceedings, things have settled down and the grand Kabuki of party reconciliation is proceeding apace.  I was also pleased to see the current president return to his finest form with a moving speech about Americans coming together around values like decency, hard work, and responsibility.  Where has this kind of soaring speech been during his presidency?

At heart, I am a believer in our world of capitalism, free markets, and open trade (although I don’t especially love the way the market panders to comfort over meaning).  I don’t think people are as different as the Trumps (or even the Jesse Jacksons) make them out to be.  I am a social liberal.  The theocrats need to keep their imaginary gods (and their very real inquisitors) out of people’s private lives.

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I also believe in classical liberal economics (although I use that phrase in a sort of 19th century way which will hopefully not confuse people). I read The Wealth of Nations, and I was convinced by Adam Smith’s arguments.  However, the part of that book which nobody talks about is the part about monopolies (which Smith saw as anathema to his system). Large corporations merge into immense corporations, which then become nearly impossible for upstarts to dislodge. Such corporations can and do play havoc in the market.  They alter regulations to throttle competitors.  They fix prices so that everyone pays more.  Our version of capitalism may not actually be capitalism, but is instead its hijacked successor.

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The rentiers who gain greatly from operating these monopolies (or cartels or duopolies) need to keep them from being disrupted by the only force large enough to do so: the Federal government. The Republicans…the real Republicans who have seemingly vanished overnight played a cynical game where they accumulated electoral gains by telling people not to believe in government or politicians and then collecting campaign money and post-career favors from the too-big-to fail titans.  The business interests have an easier time writing their own ticket, and minimizing the uncertainties which stem from rapid technological innovation and globalization.

However that is a cynical way of looking at politics, and we can’t afford to be cynical. Also, when I talk to thoughtful conservatives they say what I just said, except they strongly aver that it is the Democrats who have been taken over by moneyed interests.  I don’t disagree, but the sheer extent to which Republicans have acted to paralyze and undermine government makes me think of them as the true malefactors.  Is there a way to make things better?

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During his stump speech on Tuesday night, Bill Clinton said, “Change is hard and can be boring” I have not found this to be true.  Change for the better is hard.  It is exceedingly easy to make things worse.  I keep looking on Facebook and seeing my old scoutmaster from red America lambasting the Democrats and praising Trump, and it fills me with sadness.  What does he imagine in going to happen?  We will start a trade war (or a war war) with China, and suddenly it will be 1963?  Erecting trade barriers (or literal barriers) will make the cost of goods and services leap through the roof and we will be in a recession that makes the one from 2008 look like a jolly day trip. Even then protectionism and isolationism will not fill up factories with high paid workers—those days are gone forever.  If we betray our longstanding allies suddenly the world will be unimaginably dangerous…and we will have no friends.  Our power and prestige could evaporate overnight: such things are made of networks and handshakes and treaties and beliefs.  For that matter so is money (which is just promises in a database somewhere).

So we have to love the Democrats. Thoughtful people may disagree about some of their positions, but we have no choice but to back them this year. Frankly I have never had much love for the Republicans’ world of religious authoritarianism, intrusive rules about substances and bodies, censors, and unfettered cash worship anyway.  The things the Republicans represent which I do love are the belief in a robust military and the desire to throw money at technological progress (which is an entirely necessary requirement for having a worthwhile military in our world of super computers, nano-materials, and space technology).  Blue sky research is also the way to have a vibrant economy tomorrow, and maybe to stay ahead of humankind’s terrifying negative impact on the world ecosystems.  This year, the Republicans are not interested in improving the military or pushing science forward (they even stopped Newt Gingrich from going on about his moonbase) so screw ‘em.

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Hillary was not born as some cold spoiled oligarch—she worked hard to become one. She has substantial brains and a steely work ethic.  She needs to stand up for the networked world.  This is going to mean working with the corporate hegemons—the same monopolies I was bemoaning two paragraphs ago.  It is going to mean some unpalatable compromises with unsavory corporations, countries, and coalitions. Yet we know Hilary has a knack for this sort of ugly work. She also has kind of a flinty look—like she could be another Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel…our own formidable iron lady!

Tonight she is going to look us in the eye and tell us she loves us all and wants to hug us and that she will work tirelessly to make us richer and more free. Then she will turn around, go into a smoky backroom somewhere, and make very different promises to the great masters (neither they, nor anyone else, can trust Trump–so they are going to have to deal with her).  This saddens me, I wish we could hear about these actual plans for grown-ups rather than whatever airy waffle Hilary serves up in tonight’s speech.  But this year has made it all too obvious that people must be talked to as though they are childish idiots.

I guess I am with her.  We can keep muddling forward together to greatness.  Hilary for President!

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(at least she looks happy to have my support–and that is a very cool twill!)

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It’s movie time here at Ferrebeekeeper! Tonight we are reviewing the DreamWorks animated children’s film “Turbo” which concerns Theo, a humble snail who lives in a garden in the San Fernando Valley. Despite the fact that snails are renowned for being slow and cautious, Theo dreams of blazing speed and obsessively follows Indy Car racing (particularly idolizing the French Canadian champion, Guy Gagné, whose legendary racing prowess is matched by an oversized personality).

 

I like gardening better than car racing so some of this was lost on me

I like gardening better than car racing so some of this was lost on me

The humdrum reality of Theo’s slow-paced life as a lowly “worker” in a vegetable garden seems to preclude him from following his dreams of speedway glory…but after he is cast out of snail society he undergoes a fateful magical (?) transformation and is reborn as Turbo, a supercharged snail capable of blazing speed. Will Turbo be able to find a way into the human world of high speed car racing? Can he make it to Indianapolis and compete in the big race? Could he even maybe win? People who have ever seen a children’s movie may somehow anticipate the answers to these burning questions (and guess that the French Canadian Gagné is less likable than he first seems), but I will try not to spoil the movie for the one person who is somehow both reader of my blog and looking forward to watching a children’s movie which came out last July.

 

(Dreamworks)

(Dreamworks)

In fact devoted readers may be somewhat surprised to find this blog reviewing a children’s movie–or indeed any movie—since the cinematic art has barely been featured here at all; yet Ferrebeekeeper is deeply concerned with mollusks, and Theo/Turbo is unique in being the mollusk hero of a major Hollywood motion picture (and a spinoff television show on Netflix). Additionally, although I found the movie to be a typical work of rags-to-riches whimsy for children, I enjoyed its message about the narrow and chancy ladders to fame and riches which exist for the little guy. Turbo finds a Chicano taco-shop worker who helps the snail find social media fame (which in turn allows him to pursue further ambitions). The crazy world of internet celebrity is the real turbo-boost which elevates the tiny abject creature to the rarified realms of status and importance. It seems significant that when Theo transforms to Turbo he is shown bouncing through the terrifying and incomprehensible labyrinth of a high tech machine he does not understand at all.

Stereotypes? In an animated movie? Nah...

Stereotypes? In an animated movie? Nah…

The movie is most touching when it features the sundry immigrant shopkeepers who inhabit a run down strip mall where they dream simply of having customers. The filmmakers add some colorful urban Angelino snails (tricked out with customized shells) to give the movie some hip-hop “cred”, but it is obviously a movie about trying to compete in a world where the real contenders are playing in a vastly different league. The only aspect of mollusk existence which seemed true to life was the ever-present fear of being crushed or gobbled up (since Turbo and his snail friends are continuously and realistically threatened with being smashed by monopolistic giants and high speed machines).

Aaaaagh!

Aaaaagh!

I love animated movies and so I am giving Turbo a (very generous) rating of 3.5 shells out of a possible 5. Although the movie was colorful, well animated, and fun, it was much less involved with the bizarre and amazing world of mollusks than it might have been. It was almost as though the snail was a whimsical stand-in for omnipresent economic concerns about globalization. Also the 3D stuff did not work at all. Hollywood, stop featuring 3D! It is a horrible horrible feature which everyone hates!

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Rubber Duck Kaohsiung (Florentijn Hofman, 2013 18 x 15 x 16 meters Inflatable, pontoon and generator)

Rubber Duck Kaohsiung (Florentijn Hofman, 2013
18 x 15 x 16 meters,  Inflatable, pontoon and generator)

I’m sorry to post two duck posts in a row, but events in the art world (and beyond) necessitate such a step.  On September 27th (2013), Pittsburgh , PA became the first U.S. city to host Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s giant floating rubber duck statue.  Actually the rubber duck now in Pittsburgh is only one of several giant ducks designed by Hofman for his worldwide show “Spreading Joy Around the World,” which launched in his native Amsterdam.  The largest of the ducks, which measured 26×20×32 metres (85×66×105 ft) and weighed over 600 kg (1,300 lb) was launched in Saint Nazaire in Western France.

Rubber Duck Kaohsiung (Florentijn Hofman,  2013 26 x 20 x 32 meters Inflatable, pontoon and generators)

Rubber Duck “Kaohsiung” (Florentijn Hofman, 2013
26 x 20 x 32 meters, Inflatable, pontoon and generators)

Hofman’s statues are meant to be fun and playful.  His website describes the purpose of the giant duck project simply, “The Rubber Duck knows no frontiers, it doesn’t discriminate people and doesn’t have a political connotation. The friendly, floating Rubber Duck has healing properties: it can relieve mondial tensions as well as define them.”

Feestaardvarken (Florentijn Hofman, 2013, Metal, concrete and coating)

Feestaardvarken (Florentijn Hofman, 2013, Metal, concrete and coating)

A list of his sculptural projects reveals that he has the generous and delighted soul of a toymaker.  A few example are instructive:  he erected a large plywood statue of a discarded plush rabbit named “Sunbathing Hare” in St. Petersburg, a concrete “party aardvark” in Arnhem (Holland), 2 immense slugs made of discarded shopping bags in France (they are crawling up a hill towards a towering gothic church and their inevitable death), and many other playful animal theme pieces.

Slow Slugs (Florentijn Hofman, 2012, Metal, football nets, and 40.000 plastic bags)

Slow Slugs (Florentijn Hofman, 2012, Metal, football nets, and 40.000 plastic bags)

Not only do Hofman’s works address fundamental Ferrebeekeeper themes like mollusks, art, mammals, and waterfowl, his work hints at the global nature of trade, and human cultural taste in our times. With his industrially crafted giant sculptures and his emphasis on ports around the world, Hofman’s huge toys speak directly to humankind’s delight with inexpensive mass-market products.  The art also provokes a frisson of horror at the oppressive gigantism of even our most frivolous pursuits).

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The Eastern Hemisphere in 1100 AD

Wow look at this lovely map!  It was made by the incredibly gifted and generous Thomas Lessman (Source Website www.WorldHistoryMaps.info).

1100 AD was near the end of the era when huge sophisticated civilizations existed side by side without knowledge of one another. The crusades started one year before 1099.  The coming Islamic conquest of India, China’s maritime expansion, the Mongol invasions, and the European age of exploration were about to mix all of these folks together in a big madcap chemistry experiment which we are still living through.  In 1100 AD, however, a knowledgeable English nobleman could somehow wear a Chinese silk robe with no knowledge of where it came from or how it got to him.

The Song Dynasty–in effect the real center of the world–was busy perfecting gunpowder, moveable type, and navigation while its scholars wrote treatises on medicine, botany, zoology, metallurgy and geology.  Bulwarked behind Byzantium, Christendom looked a bit stagnant although the crusades and the Renaissance were about to jolt Medieval society awake.  Look at Venice, the rapacious little worm on the bottom of the Holy Roman Empire.  The Dar al-Islam (countries in green) stretched from Rajasthan to Spain–with two little specks plucked temporarily away from the Fatimids by the brazen adventurers of the First Crusade. At the edges of the map are the unbreached expanses of Sub-Saharan Africa, the mysterious continent of Australia, and the realm of the sea-faring Polynesians (a second wave of people was invading Hawaii after it had been isolated for centuries).

Finally, on the other side of the planet, wholly unknown to every civilization on this map (except possibly for a handful of Icelandic Vikings) were the peoples of the Americas.  On the Yucatan, Maya’s splendor was fading. The Zapotecs were beginning their domination of Oaxaca.  The Mississippi culture was spreading across North America as forgotten peoples speaking lost tongues built huge earthwork cities in Illinois!

Kincaid sight: Illinois in the 12th century as painted by Heironymous Rowe

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