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Let’s talk about the most difficult lesson I encountered in class in grade school. To be honest, I feel like I never really mastered it…or perhaps the lesson is still ongoing.  It might not just be me…

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“These are the times that try men’s souls…”

Although I had no natural affection for numbers, I was always successful at middle school because I read everything insatiably and yet still wanted to know more about existence.  School isn’t really set up to sate this desire (except for the IB program, which is amazing and would solve all of America’s problems in a generation if only it were adopted everywhere).  Sadly, success at school generally involves the same sort of things which bring workplace success: showing up on time, giving people the answers which they want to hear, and completing tedious busy-work tasks.   But, back then, I was competent enough at doing those things, because I knew it was mission critical to getting into a good college–which was the ultimate culmination of existence.

All of that is backstory for explaining the most difficult lesson I ever had in grade school. It is one which I still struggle with, because it involves some paradoxes at the heart of knowledge, meaning, and success.  It also bears on life’s true lessons (the fact that I was a bookish twerp lacking popular esteem was probably the true lesson of middle school, but it was extracurricular, whereas this particular failure was enshrined in a report card). Back in the 1980s I had a blithesome free-spirited art teacher.  She was a good art teacher and I still recall the assignments she gave (copying a bird exactly by means of a grid; making a random squiggle and then expanding it to be a drawing; watercolor on a wet paper; exactly copying a piece of money).  Her opinion was also valuable to me, as I am sure any good student (or 15-year-old boy with a pretty teacher) will understand.

Now I worked harder in art class than at any class because I loved it, but a lot of students regarded it as a sort of free period where they could chat, flirt, and maybe doodle a bit if they felt like it. Back in those days I was still smart and hard-working. At the end of the semester, it was time for grades, and the teacher gave us a last strange assignment: give yourself the grade which you feel is appropriate.  Now I was a 15 year old lad, but I had read enough fables to recognize a trap. “This must be a lesson in how to behave with modest decorum!” I gave myself a B plus, because, although I tried extremely hard (much harder than the louts who spent every class socializing), and although my drawings were better than most everyone else’s, I had never succeeded at the level which I wanted.  I could see every feather out of place on the sea eagle I drew (and the overworked beak with an unsatisfactory little hook).  I can still see that sea eagle, damnit.

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The oafs (who didn’t even complete the art assignments!) naturally gave themselves perfect marks.  I assumed that the degree to which I had tried (which was substantial) and my abilities as compared to my classmates (also substantial) would be recognized by the teacher who would correct everything into a familiar bell curve.  This was an unwarranted assumption.

The final report card revealed that the teacher gave us all the same grade we had given ourselves.  The teacher said: “art is about what you think of yourself!” My horrifying B+ became a finalized part of my permanent record! The oafs all got A pluses which they are probably still savoring (in workcamp, prison, General Electric, or the White House) to this very day.

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Anyway, I survived that 9th grade “B” in art class.  Thanks to my parents’ profound generosity and to my love for reading and writing (which was probably also a gift from my parents), I ultimately got out of school with a “golden ticket,” a degree with general honors from the University of Chicago!  Of course, instead of becoming a crooked hedge fund manager and basking in the world’s envy, I ripped up my ticket and I live as an insolvent artist.

“Art is what you think about yourself.” It is a terrible definition of art.  Yet it somehow passes muster in New York’s contemporary art scene which is more self-involved than a Kanye West song.  I have tried to master that sort of pure self-involvement (just look at this essay), yet I still can’t think of art as merely a solipsistic musing on self-identity (nor as a badge of hierarchical status).

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Success in America is defined as making a huge amount of money.  It is humorous how often people cite this completely inaccurate definition to explain things: “Oh it was my job” or “We made a great deal of money” as though this has anything to do with wisdom or knowledge or what is useful or right.  Society is having a great deal of trouble comprehending what is wise, useful, and right. I blame our education system (though perhaps I should instead blame artists…or myself).

Welcome back! uh…to me, I guess, since you have been here all along, reading Dan Claymore’s posts.  Speaking of which, a big thank you to Dan for looking after the old blogstead while I was home enjoying the gorgeous waning days of summer.  We’ll keep our eyes out for his novels as soon as they hit the shelf (and I’m going to look more attentively at the tops of my sandwiches to see if there is parsley there).   He’s right: terriers and working dogs are super awesome (although so are all of the hunting dogs…and the hounds…and most of the frou frou dogs too: in fact, pretty much all dogs are awesome, full stop).

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It is good and necessary to get away, and as soon as I unpack, I will share some of the lovely and interesting things I found during my trip, but first, I realized I have been remiss in a more fundamental matter.  I built a website for my artwork, but I never shared the link with anyone!  So, without further ado, here is the link to my online gallery of artwork.

If you have a moment to kindly look the site over I would appreciate it enormously (and if you would perhaps leave me some thoughts about how things could be better, I would appreciate that even more).  I work really hard on my artworks, but I try not to make them obsessively autobiographical.  We have had a LOT of autobiographical art lately and it seems like maybe we could refocus a bit on the worldwide ecological crisis, or perhaps on some overlooked non-human characters who would enjoy our attention too. However the art world has sort of a set template (which is known to work), which frames the artist front and center instead of the artwork.  My work instead focuses on a tragic all-knowing fish who reappears in endless protean guises.  This flatfish represents ecology (specifically the complex and sometimes rapacious relationship of organisms to one another) and human history’s role in larger ecological cycles.  It is unclear if people will be able to transfer the strong feelings they have for Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, or Cindy Sherman to a strange benthic fish.

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If this strikes you as contrived, or if flatfish are not to your taste, there are other works from earlier creative periods, and there is even a little biographical section (although the best artists I know are mostly introverts/workaholics who spend the bulk of their time furiously drawing or painting).  Anyway check it out and see what you think!  I am happy to be back and I have some amazing things to talk about.  Thanks again to Dan, and above all, thank you for reading and for you kind attention and your wonderful comments!

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It is the 50 year anniversary of the Apollo moon landing!  It is a glorious anniversary: the moon landing was surely one of humankind’s proudest moments to date! Human beings left the Earth and walked upon the surface of a different world and returned to tell the tale! Yet it is a bittersweet anniversary too.  Today we are too politically paralyzed, too indebted, and too subservient to world-bestriding monopolies to accomplish anything similarly stirring.  It is unlikely we could even repeat the same feat! The president talks of returning to the moon by 2024, but anybody following the affairs of NASA recognizes that this is not going to happen (even assuming the current administration remains in place to push these particular space priorities).

In 1967, the Apollo program, by itself, was taking 4 percent of total government spending.  That was an era when the USA’s GDP represented 38% of the total world economic output (it is around 24% today).  There are lots of cranks and bumpkins who grouse about such outlays, but that money was spent here on Earth and it yielded rewards far beyond the moon landing itself.  The communications, materials, and technology innovations which have changed so many aspects of life largely flowed out of the space program (and its shadowy military sibling programs).

Perhaps you are wondering why this is not a nostalgic & triumphalist post about an epochal human accomplishment.  Maybe you are also perplexed about why I am writing about budgets and GDP instead of, you know, about landing human beings on the moon (although there has not been a human on the moon during my lifetime).

This is not just an anniversary post, it is also a polemical post about current policy failures. We are not investing any such vast outlays in long-term, open-ended research today.  It is going to come back to haunt us in a future of reduced prospects and lackluster breakthroughs Fifty years hence, are we going to look back on 2019 and enthuse about an Instagram filter, or slight improvements in immunotherapy, or blockchain technology?

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Wikipedia blandly notes ” blue-sky projects are politically and commercially unpopular and tend to lose funding to more reliably profitable or practical research.” The real genius of the moon-landing was that the end result was so spectacular and stupendous that it upended this conventional wisdom.  U.S. politicians of the sixties had the genius to perceive that the Apollo program could bring us together, boost our national prestige, bankrupt the Russians, and yield enormous technological and scientific rewards all at the same time.

In 1969, it must have seemed like the beginning of a golden age of space exploration.  After our heroic moon conquest we would build nuclear reactors on the moon and then create space cities in domed craters.  There would be giant lunar rail guns, torus space stations, spaceplanes, and Mars missions (and my floating Venutian city).  Instead we have the moldering hulk which is the International Space Station and some worn out space planes in museums.  Our vision and our willpower faded as our greed grew greater.

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But it is never too late! Space is still out there, bigger than ever. The moon landing showed that the impossible is possible if we work together.  That’s still true too and it is something we should all think hard about as we look up at the night sky and make plans for what to do next.

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Do you remember when “Thriller” came out?  It was electrifying. A gifted young man who can dance and sing extremely well transforms into a nightmarish predatory monster before our eyes.

Alas, that turns out to have been the actual life story of Michael Jackson, who has been back in the news a decade after his death, because an HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland” has circled around to shine an unsavory light on the entertainer’s  misdeeds.  People are honestly shocked by the horrifying abuse described by Jackson’s now grown-up victims.  This in turn is shocking, because we pretty much knew all of this back in the early nineties…and then society just sort of shrugged and moved on.  It turns out Jackson was simply rich enough and beloved enough (then) to groom and rape children at his weird palace.

What happened?  How did the authorities and everyone else mess up so badly?

Obviously, the main problem was Michael Jackson himself, who may have had his own demons, but actively chose to commit these horrible crimes.  The remaining blame is nugatory in the face of this prime culpability, but, until there are no more molesters,we must look to society to stop them.

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There is plenty of blame to be portioned onto the police and courts who must surely have been able to see what was going on but were unable to bring Jackson down. Likewise we can blame all of Jackson’s enablers who were making money off of him.  We can blame the families of the victims who were clearly benefiting in ways which made them close their eyes.

A huge portion of blame belongs to our twisted society which worships celebrities and will let them get away with anything.  Why is this?  I feel like if we are going to give celebrities infinite license like they are ancient Celtic godkings, we need to finish the deal and sacrifice them in a wicker man or drown them in a bog after a set period of time (although it could be argued that this is exactly what happened to Jackson).

Anyway all of these things problems, but they are difficult to address so I am choosing to vent my spleen at something we could possibly change: non-disclosure agreements.  Apparently the estate of Michael Jackson has been making noise about suing his victims for what they said in the documentary because back in the day they (or their guardians???) signed non-disclosure agreements about all of this in exchange for astronomical sums of money.  Non-disclosure agreements are the same ilk of restrictive restrictive covenants as non-compete agreements which we find depressing national wages because they prohibit flunkies from jumping from one employer to another.

These are obviously a tool by which the strong abuse the week and flout the law. They are restrictive covenants. They make people into slaves in exchange for money. How is everyone fine with this?

Let’s get rid of these things.  There is no reason any non-disclosure agreement anywhere should be binding in any capacity to anyone unless one of the parties is the Federal Government of the United States.  Congress should proclaim that all other NDAs are instantly void forever and all of their terms and conditions are dissolved.

As always, important processes and technical know-how would be protected by patents.  Creative work would be protected by copyrights. Truly important matters of national security would remain the purview of the vast canon of laws and procedures which govern such things (although if we have Jared Kushner snapchatting and whatsapping our national secrets to his Kremlin handlers maybe we could stand to freshen up those protocols too).

All of the victims of pop stars and crummy billionaires can tell their stories to the police and to the press.  People can leave Burger King to work for a nickel an hour more at Arby’s.  We can’t stop the next Michael Jackson unless we stop worshiping these people, but maybe we can make it impossible for survivors of sexual abuse to be abused again by restrictive covenants.  They can get huge payouts the old-fashioned American way–with lawsuits!

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Every night, in my dreams, I watch the world die.  After a long absence, I have returned to find that the life-giving systems which recycle waste back into useable nutrients have failed. My friends are dead, reduced to grotesque rotting skeletons and mouldering lumps, except for a few last survivors who are barely hanging on to an attenuated half-life of hunger and shallow comatose breaths.  I desperately rush to help: I turn on machines to clean away the toxic miasma.  I ply the dying victims with food and oxygen… but the microbial ecosystems upon which everything depend are mortally degraded.  My last friends are too far gone, and they expire painfully while I watch powerless.  What is left is dead world of complete desolation.  The precious seed of life has failed and I know that I am the author of this annihilation.

This is all true. I have such dreams all the time and they torment me more than you can know.  My art and writing—my entire life quest flows from these nightly horrors.  Worst of all, these dreams are based on true experiences from my childhood which color every news article I read.  Every opinion I hear about humankind, the world, and the fate of all living things is overshadowed by these prophetic nightmares. However, before you call the men with big white nets, there is a critical twist which I must share with you. In these dreams, everyone is a fish and the world is an aquarium.

Here is what happened. When I was a child, I wanted to be an ichthyologist.  I took all of my allowance money and holiday presents and saved to build miniature worlds of wonder like the ones I saw in hobbyist magazines.  I read up on each fish species—what they ate and how they lived and what their natural habitat was like.  I learned about nematodes and frozen brine shrimp and undergravel filters to help nitrifying bacteria flourish.

Back then I had a tropical South America tank of beautiful fish from the Amazon—little tetras like colored gems, adorable armored catfish with big kindly cartoon eyes, angelfish with fins like a bride’s veil, a knife fish named Ripley who was like a black electrical ghost.  I had a tank of Tanganyika cichlids from East Africa (near humankind’s first home).  They lurked in volcanic rocks and I could see their huge mouths (for safely rearing their young) frowning from the crevices.  At the apex of my involvement with the hobby, I even had a marine tank filled with fluorescent damselfish, shrimp like rainbows, and a clever triggerfish which was busy excavating a private lair into a hunk of red tube coral.  It was magical! The miniature worlds I built were incredible.  I even had a classical tank of google-eyed goldfish with multicolored pebbles and a porcelain mermaid in the center.

But each of these little glass paradises failed and died.  Sometimes they were destroyed slowly by unknown bacterial mishaps which caused the ammonia or nitrogen cycle to shift off-kilter.  Sometimes a heater would go out or get flipped to maximum setting and thermal shock would kill my poor pets. The Tanganyika cichlids got stressed out over territory and ate each other whole with their big mouths (just like NY real-estate developers!).  Other times the apocalypse was swift: algal blooms or invasive fungi or diseases which I unknowingly brought from the pet store would ravage the tank.  Once, the glass of my Amazon-basin aquarium shattered while we were out shopping.  My family returned to find the ceilings dripping water.  The dying angelfish were lying gasping on the wet pebbles at the bottom of the empty tank. It was horrible. Even the goldfish ultimately died.  A weird dropsy caused their gleaming orange bodies to bulge out and pop apart.  I love animals and some of the fish had real personality and emotions (in addition to being beautiful) but, despite tremendous heartfelt effort, my stewardship killed them all.

And these experiences haunt me at night. My dreams used to involve a few aquariums which I would try to save…but as I have grown up, the dreams have grown up too.  Now sometimes the setting will be a sere coastline which seems uninhabited at first, until I realize the landscape itself is made of giant earth colored fish which are slowly dying.  Lately the dreams have moved into the forest where the trees are made of deadwood and the boulders are the hulks of once-living things.  As adulthood corrodes away my figurative dreams of success, strength, love, and meaning, my literal nighttime dreams grow bigger and worse.  In dreams, I have walked through cities of contagion, plague, and starvation.  At night I have sailed a junk across an ink black ocean with nothing in it but slips of charred paper and plastic bags floating like ghosts.

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This is why zoos and aquariums (the big public ones) fascinate me. Surely teams of professionals with hundred million dollar endowments can surely keep our animal friends alive!  Except…they can’t always.  Even with all of the best veterinarians, ecologists, and biologists, working night and day, things still go wrong in weird unexpected ways (by the way, this somewhat pitiless assessment doesn’t mean I stand against zoos: I see them as a combination of ambassador, laboratory, and Noah’s ark).  My first job was as an intern at a synthetic ecosystem designed by the world’s foremost designer of synthetic ecosystems…and it was a beautiful study in gradual failure and unexpected interactions.  Ecology is complicated and we don’t understand it very well

We are living through one of the great meltdowns which periodically occur throughout Life’s 4.5 billion year history [eds. note: if religious people can capitalize genitive pronouns for God, then Ferrebeekeeper can capitalize a word which we are using to betoken all of the living things from Earth throughout all of time].  It doesn’t take a geologist’s comprehension of the End-Permian mass extinction to imagine ourselves as a toxic black smear in a rock column of the future.  I know from reading eschatology that I am not the only person who is tormented by dreams of Armageddon.

At the same time humankind is ballooning in number and appetite, we are also learning at an exponential rate.  My experiences with little terrariums and fishtanks does not need to foreshadow the fate of orcas, vinegar scorpions, honeybees, banana trees…and humans. We can use our hard-won knowledge to keep the world’s precious living things alive!  We can even carry the sacred seed of life into the heavens.  Space would be a better place for us anyway—a place where we can truly spread our wings and grow exponentially towards godhood.  It is what we have always wanted…and it is tantalizingly close.

One of my favorite poems has what might be my favorite quotation in English “Learn from your dreams what you lack.” I HAVE learned that…and now I am telling you too. We lack a comprehensive understanding of ecology and the life sciences.  We lack the political cohesion and organizational skills to make effective use of what we already know.  Those things are not outside of our grasp.   Most of the smartest and hardest-working people here spend their lives ripping people off with complicated financial products and elaborate tech products (which are really only online rolodexes or digital catalogs or what-have-you).  What a waste! The bankers could throw away their nasty spreadsheets, the doctors could stop filling out pointless insurance forms, the engineers could stop making wireless blenders and cryptocurrency. We could all start building space cities NOW..this very day (although the first generation of those cities are going to have some troubles with the synthetic oceans).  The possibilities are endless!  Our knowledge and imagination can take us to where we have always dreamed of being.  Our failure to be smart, brave, and creative will take us all to one of my dead festering nightmares.

Those fish should not have died in vain. We should not die in vain either. Let’s build a future worth having.

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Back when I first moved to New York, I didn’t know how to cook very well, so my roommates and I ended up ordering out almost every night.  The profusion of infinite restaurants featuring delicious cuisine from everywhere in the world seemed like one of the city’s great features back then.  My favorite sort of take-out cuisine is Chinese, so we would order Chinese from New Panda Garden or Szechuan Delight at least once a week (and sometimes more).

Then one day, my roommate came back with a menu for a new place: Uncle Liao.  We had immense fun saying the name (which you should try) and we started ordering their sour pork cabbage delight—which was magically delightful. Coincidentally, according to a Chinese-speaking friend, “Liao” means “old” in Chinese—so their name was something like “Uncle Old” or maybe “Venerable Courtesy Relative.”  We ordered Uncle Liao all the time and poor Panda Garden closed (and Szechuan Delight was relegated only for the occasions when we had to have sweet and sour chicken, which they did really well).  But then a funny thing happened: the novelty faded from Uncle Liao and the food stopped seeming so delicious.  After a while my roommate picked up a “Red Hot” menu and soon Uncle Liao dropped out of the rotation.

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It is possible, of course, that their food became less good over time (indeed the internet tells me they closed a decade ago for gross health code violations), however I believe the whole cycle was illustrative of the human need for novelty.  After a while the most delicious food loses its special savor, and the most gorgeous ornaments look stale next to newer baubles.  We have an insatiable appetite for novelty–and it is this taste (not the need for sour pork-cabbage delight) which drives more of human activity and purpose than I ever would have credited.  Lately I see Uncle Liao scenarios everywhere: in media, in politics, in relationships, especially in the arts (which are afflicted by a real weakness for novelty even if the new work is stupid or inane)…yet even science and academia are prone to the “good because it is new” phenomenon.  I suppose this itself is good, since it drives change and innovation, but it is alarming too…our collective hunger which can never be sated which draws us to new things even if they are stupid or tasteless (or kind of too salty with too much MSG).   I don’t propose not trying new things (far from it), but we should be aware that they tend to overperform on the curve and most of them are destined for the back of the folder…or the landfill…or the “CLOSED” tab on the menu finder.

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I still haven’t been able to respond as quickly or as well to comments as I would like (it’s one of my 2017 resolutions, but I clearly need to keep working on it!).  To make up for this a little bit, I am going to use today’s whole post to respond to a query.  Long-time Ferrebeekeeper reader and commenter, Beatrix, asked a great question in response to my post about New Year resolutions. She asked ‘How do you promote your blog?”

Now the literal answer to this is: um…I don’t.  I don’t really promote my art either.  It has always seemed to me that you can be good at doing things, or you can be good at promoting yourself.  The divergence between the two explains so much about our world of shiny empty celebrity and poor outcomes.  Yet, if the self-promoters can fill up the world with their hate rallies, rap videos, and stupid naked selfies, we artists and writers can at least make a little more time to promote ourselves and each other.  Andy Warhol’s acolytes can’t have everything, dammit (even if they have ascended to the nation’s highest office).

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As classically construed, self-promotion involves pushy behavior and obtrusive stunts, but there are things that regular people can do too.  I am going to rebuild my online art gallery, sell more inexpensive prints and artworks, and “cross promote” across platforms. I am also going to rephrase Beatrix’s question and crowd-source it to all of you: what do YOU think works best for promoting content in our world where everyone is always trying to get people to look at their youtube channel (or using cheap stunts like caps and bold letters to catch attention)?

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(Or just portrait photos)

Most importantly though, I am also going to promote Beatrix’s blog “Keep Calm and Curry On” This delightful site features amazing anecdotes and tales of daily life in rural Nepal and life beneath the eves of “the roof of the world”.  Beatrix talks of her multicultural marriage which combines the world’s two largest democracies under one nuptial roof.  She also gives us a treasure trove of essays on gardens and herblore which literally bring you the flavor of South Asia.

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But all of that is merely garnish: the true main course of her blog is a magnificent list of curry recipes. I haven’t tried any of them yet, but you can tell they will be delicious just by the ingredients.  As a winter treat I promise to cook one of your curries, Beatrix, and I will blog the results here.  However first I need to get a chance to walk to the other side of Ditmas Park (or maybe even head over to Kalustyan’s).   These recipes are obviously delicious, but they don’t make any concessions to the American household which has maybe a jar of Madras curry powder or some cumin.   It might take me a little while to get some cassia leaves and ghee (and to dig the cardamom pods and turmeric of of the back of the cabinet), but I know it will be worth it.

So check out Beatrix’s site, and head over to Instagram and look at my “Flounderful” collection.  Even more great content is on the way, and, above all, let everyone know what you think with a comment!  Readers are the best people in the world.  I love you all. so let us hear directly from YOU!

…plus here’s a saucy celebrity gif.

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Hey! How did that get here?

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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 has been a while since Ferrebeekeeper has written about politics.  This is partly because everything everywhere this year has been about politics, and I wanted a break from the relentless annoying noise (at least in my own little patch of the internet).  Also, in general it seems like the vastly increased media/internet attention has not led to better outcomes:  instead the “anything for clicks” mentality has made a volatile situation worse.  Also I did not want to fan the flames by writing about Donald Trump.  Like the screaming kid grabbing people’s hair and kicking desks in 5th grade, he draws his strength from demanding all of our attention.  If we could just ignore him, he would lose his dark power to enthrall.

But, now that Donald Trump is officially the candidate of the Republican Party, my strategy of pointedly ignoring him has failed.  It is time to actually pay attention to a clickbait election so shrill and mean-spirited that it makes one long for the days of Andrew Jackson, Polk, Goldwater, or even Nixon….

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Except of course we don’t really long for such things.  Those days are gone and good riddance. Saying otherwise is hyperbole; and hyperbole is our enemy right now.  The Republican Convention makes it sound like we are all going to die. “Enemies are at the gate!  Our cities are coming apart because of violence and dissembling immigrants!  Economic depression and stagnation will doom us all to servitude and starvation!”  This is a dishonest and dangerous strategy.  It will fail in unexpected and dangerous ways.

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I grew up at the end of the Cold War, and I was an anxious child.  I read things and knew about the state of world affairs back then.  It seemed pretty improbable that we would survive an era when twitchy old men with endless arrays of poorly computerized nuclear weapons stared unblinking across the world at each other.  Looking back at those times with nostalgia is madness! The fact that we didn’t all perish in nuclear hellfire sometime between the fifties and the nineties is a miracle.  This world is all gravy—an improbable bonus round (and, let’s face it, the fact that we have this impossibly ephemeral bubble of consciousness between two infinities of oblivion is already pretty miraculous).

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Yet Cold War shadows linger: the conflict was a decades-long existential crisis which caused us to come together and work in tandem.  It demanded good leadership and lockstep order at home, and the gravity of the fight allowed us certain freedoms abroad.  Now that the long grim conflict is over, we have great opportunities: opportunities of being closer to other nations and helping people. We can undo some of the great power meddling which was necessary to win that conflict (while making goods and services cheaper for everyone). We can learn astonishing new things. All of humankind can move forward to a brighter world where everyone has opportunities. However to get to such a place will require creative thinking, nimble pursuit of rapidly-changing opportunities, and the ability to adapt quickly to surprising circumstances.

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The Republicans make it sound like they want to go back to the past.  But, for goodness’ sake, we don’t want to go back to a time when everyone could die because of a rogue bear! And if they want to go back to the time just after the Cold War, when America was the only great power, well it wasn’t a Trump who was in the White House then. In fact we know exactly what Trump was up to during that time because New Yorkers lived through it.

I have lived in Brooklyn a long time, and New Yorkers know Trump.  He has refined his act here. There have been times when Trump’s hair-pulling hissy fits and histrionics (and spouse abuse and mistresses and bankruptcies) have sucked up all the oxygen in the local tabloids.  It has given us a measure of immunity to his damnable act…and a valuable insight about his nature.  Like liars who talk about truth all of the time, or broke people who talk about money with every breath, Trump talks incessantly about winning.  It is not because he is a winner.

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So here is what is going to happen in this election: This is the biggest act of Trump’s mendacious life and he is going to lose spectacularly to a woman. He will drag his ticket down with him, but not so much that we can escape the deadlock which is hurting our nation by preventing us from researching and creating.

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You definitely need to vote, and you need to pay attention, but also remember that, in the bigger picture, things are ok.  Don’t be afraid! What people say about the end of America isn’t true.  Race relations are improving. People are being drawn out of poverty.  The pie is getting bigger here and abroad (although the pie hogs are getting stronger and more shameless too).  Heck, even if Trump gets elected through some nightmare circumstance, America has survived presidents who were ninnies, racists, incompetents, or even in a coma.

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Or all of the above

We need to put on our grown-up clothes and calm our anxieties and deal with a world of great change and great opportunity. Now excuse me while I go back to ignoring politics and send out some applications and proposals.

Ok, I apologize for this week.  A friend of mine generously agreed to teach me 3D computer assisted design on Thursday, and I had a cold last night and just fell asleep after work–so there were only a measly 3 posts this week!  To make up for it, I will put up this week’s sketches tomorrow in a special Sunday post—so tune in then (and bring all of your friends and loved ones too!) but first, here is a rare Saturday post–a weird jeremiad about guilds.

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“Guilds” you are saying,” didn’t those die off in the middle ages? We live in a glistening modern world of opportunities now!”  Actually, guilds didn’t die at all—they have morphed and proliferated in ways both beneficial and detrimental to society.  We should think seriously about this and ask whether the ambiguous benefits of guild outweigh their unfair anti-competitive nature.

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First let’s quickly go back to the Middle Ages when there were two competing ways of learning professional trades.  You could go to a guild, where weird old men made you do sit on a bench and do menial tasks for twenty years while you competed in pointless status games with your cruel peers (and underwent fearsome hazing).  Assuming you survived all of this, you became part of the guild, and participated in its quasi-monopoly on trading fish with the Baltic, making oakum ropes, scrivening, alchemy, accounting, or whatever. Savvy readers will see the roots of the AMA, the Bar Association, and even our great universities and trade schools (and maybe our secondary schools) in this model.

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The other way was the master/apprentice system.  This is now most familiar to us through wizards, kung fu warriors, artists, Jedi, and other fictional characters—which is to say it has not proliferated in the modern world.  A wise master would take a favorite student under his/her wing and teach them the ropes.  This system had the advantage of being better and faster than the guild system—it can truly foster rare genius– but it had all of the Jesus/Peter, Jedi/Sith, father/son problems familiar to us through fiction. Namely the master frequently held on too long, became evil, started giving sermons in the wilderness, or otherwise went bad: or the apprentice decided they did not want to wait but were ready to paint naked ladies instead of mixing paint…or to enchant brooms or to fight the howling serpent gang.

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During the nineteenth century, law and medicine were learned like gunsmithing, coopering, and hat-making: through apprentices.  It worked fine for law but not for medicine (although I am not sure 19th century medicine was worthwhile anyway).   Today we have universities and professional schools controlling all the ways upward in society (provided you have adequate money and have passed through endless mandarin-style standardized tests).  It is making society sclerotic.  Anybody who has spent time in a contemporary office will instantly recognize the parochial narrow-minded professional mindset encountered at every turn.  We have a society made up of narrowly educated reactionaries monopolizing each profession. Time to open things up a bit with a different model.  The apprentice system worked well in the past.  Let’s try it again (and get rid of these smug gate-keeping professional schools in the process).

Nothing could go wrong here!

Nothing could go wrong here!

Frankly I suspect that Doctors alone should have guilds.  It is the only discipline important enough and complicated enough to warrant the stranglehold protectionism of a professional association.  The great medical associations make use of master/apprentice-style relationships later on in a doctor’s training anyway, and they have proven themselves responsible guardians of their sacred trust in numerous other ways.  Lawyers, florists, morticians, artists, clowns, accountants, underwater welders, actuaries and other dodgy modern professionals should compete through the open market. If you want to be a businessman find a businessman and train with him until you know enough to defeat him in open business combat. If you want to be a florist or a computer programmer, find a master florist or a master programmer.  Disciplines like geology and engineering could keep pseudoscientists and frauds out of their ranks with continuing brutal tests.

Nice Digital Serpent!

Nice Digital Serpent!

Of course it is possible that this whole post is merely an angry reaction to troubles in my own extremely subjective profession, art. Contemporary art schools are thoroughly worthless in every way. Back during the 50s and 60s, a bunch of doofy political theorists took over and hijacked art (which has many unpleasant similarities to political theory…but which is not political theory). Art has been a meaningless game of celebrity and identity-politics ever since.  It is sadly devoid of the master craftsman aspect which once made it great. I didn’t learn art at a famous art school.  I learned from a great master painter…who went a bit bonkers and moved off to China to practice veganism and sit on a mountain. That is the way things should be! This business of going to Yale or RISDI needs to be thrown on history’s scrapheap.

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