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Author: Steve

I live and work in the Philadelphia area. I am an ETL software tester by profession but I also enjoy writing, tabletop gaming, reading and thinking about history, binge-watching Netflix, and traveling with my BFF. We especially like going to the Big Apple to catch a show.
A Lesson from History: Be Responsible and Get Vaccinated

A Lesson from History: Be Responsible and Get Vaccinated

This year I’ve been involved in a project, doing research on pandemics. As part of that, I’ve been reading this interesting old book I dug up. I like reading old books because the dated perspective and language is illuminating. It is like seeing into the past in a way that you won’t get from reading a history book written in current times.

The book is called “Epidemics Resulting From Wars“, by Dr. Friedrich Prinzing, a German doctor and pioneer in the field of medical statistics. It was published in 1916, under the auspices of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stemming from a conference held in Berne, Switzerland, in August 1911. There is a sad irony in knowing that as this was being written, the Great Powers of Europe had already abandoned International Peace in favor of other ambitions.

In the introduction, the director of the Endowment’s Division of Economics and History has some hopeful comments about how, in the case of the Great War underway, advancements in medicine might mitigate the risk of disease that in the past always accompanied armed conflict. In that naïve and hopeful start-of-World-War-I way, he seems to believe that, thanks to modern science, at least that deadly facet of warfare can be eliminated. It is also a sad irony to read this knowing that an influenza pandemic, the second deadliest pandemic in human history, is just two years away from this book’s publication.

In this blog post, I wanted to highlight one part of the book. The eighth chapter is titled “The Franco-German War of 1870-1, and the Epidemic of Small-pox Caused by It.” In discussing this smallpox epidemic, time and again, the subject of vaccination comes up. As you probably know, the smallpox vaccine was the first vaccine developed, in the late 1700s. By the 1800s, German authorities were attempting to vaccinate their populations, but encountering resistance. Here are a couple of quotes from the book.

“In Württemberg, where vaccination had been compulsory since 1818, but had been frequently evaded in the ‘sixties in consequence of the agitation of the anti-vaccinationists, an epidemic of small-pox raged in the years 1863-7, causing, all told, 804 deaths.”

Dr. Friedrich Prinzing, “Epidemics Resulting from Wars,” p. 260

“The kingdom of Saxony experienced a very severe epidemic of small-pox in consequence of the Franco-German War. The wide dissemination of the disease is attributed by Wunderlich to the fact that vaccination, in consequence of the wild agitation of the anti-vaccinationists, was insufficiently practised; prior to the year 1874 vaccination was not compulsory in Saxony.”

Ibid., p. 269

I find it interesting that anti-vaxxers were around a century and a half ago. Their presence in society today is nothing new. And frankly, I can understand being wary of vaccination. I am actually wary myself. I don’t want someone injecting something into me if I can help it. But the point is that, under some conditions, you can’t avoid the need. The reason is there in the statistics – for example, as recorded in this book:

“A particularly good idea of the protection against small-pox afforded by vaccination is given in the Chemnitz statistics for the years 1870-1. Of 53,891 vaccinated persons 953 (1.8 per cent) contracted the disease in those two years and seven succumbed to it, all of whom were more than ten years of age ; of 5,712 unvaccinated persons, almost one-half contracted the disease (2,643 or 46.3 per cent, to be precise), and of these 243 (9.16 [per cent] of those taken sick) died.”

Ibid., p. 256

Simply put, a vaccinated population is less susceptible during a disease epidemic. Rates of infection and of mortality go down if vaccination is widespread.

So think about what that means for the current epidemic today. Maybe there is some risk to getting vaccinated. It could be inconvenient and uncomfortable since you might get sick for a day. We’ve even heard about potential problems with the J&J vaccine. And we’ve heard there’s a chance you could still catch COVID anyway.

But if a large portion of the population resists getting vaccinated, then there will be more sickness and more death. It’s unavoidable math. It’s the logic of a replicating virus.

Getting vaccinated isn’t really about protecting yourself. Vaccination is another measure to flatten the curve (flatten it way down), just like wearing masks and social distancing. You are asked to take a very small risk to prevent a great deal of suffering and death among other people in your society. That makes it a civic duty.

What I Got Out Of “The Sopranos”

What I Got Out Of “The Sopranos”

An episode of The Sopranos always begins with the opening credits scene. It pulls you in immediately with a compelling rock song – a little bit funky, a little bit hip-hop. It’s a song for the ’90s but it reminds you of the ’70s. The song goes…

You woke up this morning
Got yourself a gun
Your mama always said you'd be the chosen one
A shot from the opening credits of The Sopranos.

A serious looking middle aged man is driving on the highway through an industrial section of northern New Jersey, smoking a cigar. He definitely could be a 70s tough guy. The song goes…

When you woke up this morning
All that love had gone
Your papa never told you
About right and wrong

He exits the highway and proceeds through lower class sections of the city. You see buildings that will become familiar as you watch the show, which promises to be urban and gritty. The song goes…

You woke up this morning
The world turned upside down

Suddenly he’s in a much nicer neighborhood, pulling into the driveway of an upper middle class house. The grim look on his face as he exits his SUV suggests a lot of serious business on his mind. What has he had to do, and to put up with, to get to this large automobile and this beautiful house? The scene ends as he closes the car door. He’s come home.

That’s what this show is ultimately about; coming home. It’s about family, the bedrock of American life. And in the grand tradition of American fiction, it’s about aspiration, about wanting to rise in wealth and status, and maybe even become the boss.

And, of course, it’s about crime. Because Americans do love a good crime story. Via character dialogue, the show even unabashedly compares itself to The Godfather and Goodfellas, the two iconic movies which define the modern era’s obsession with Mafia-related entertainment. Some of the characters on the show aspire to achieve the celebrated fame of those movies, though others, wisely, prefer to stay in the background.

But the real point is that these characters are part of the modern era. Organized crime, like the rest of society, has had to adapt to the times. The show famously starts with mob capo Tony Soprano in a therapy session with a psychiatrist. He’s there because he’s having anxiety attacks; even a tough guy has trouble coping in this world turned upside down.

Tony Soprano’s therapy sessions are a wonderful contrivance for looking into the psychology and the moral perspective of someone who makes a living as a criminal. Through these sessions, he is humanized, and we learn that he has the same problems as any other middle-aged family man. He has to balance work and family life, maintain his marriage, and raise his children, all while overcoming the baggage from his own upbringing. In some ways, he’s just like the rest of us.

But, of course, he also has his unique work-related problems, the exact details of which he cannot reveal to his therapist. In other words, he’s not like us at all. As the story develops, we the audience get a tantalizing look into his world. This is why we come to these kinds of shows; his life is far riskier and edgier than ours, and we want the vicarious thrill of living it through his eyes. We want the excitement of transgressing moral boundaries, but not the consequences.

Which just goes to show the moral dilemma that this show raises. If we enjoy this story, and even identify with its protagonists, are we not condoning their behavior? These guys murder people, then go to their favorite restaurant for some wine and pasta, like us when we leave the office for a night out at Olive Garden. If they’re so much like us, then are we like them? Do we accept, even celebrate, a world where crime pays?

I think that question troubled the creator, David Chase, which is why he famously ended the show without resolving the chief protagonist’s story arc. But to be fair to the television audiences of the time, crime has always been a popular subject in TV and film, and has often been glamorized. What makes The Sopranos different is how it places this subject in the context of the social era at the time of its premiere in 1999.

In the 1990s, crime rates were high, the Culture Wars were heating up, and there was a pervasive sense of society coming apart. Baby Boomers were in mid-life, parenting Millennial children. David Chase (b. 1945) is a Boomer, and I think he was exploring his generations’ experience of the era – including that question of how much moral looseness a society can and should tolerate. While not all of the actors are strictly Boomers by birth year, some being just a little too old or too young, I think the mid-life characters are meant to be. Tony Soprano clearly is, based on flashback scenes of his childhood in the 1960s.

In one scene, when Tony’s teenaged daughter uses language which upsets him, she defends herself with the statement, “this is the 90s.” Tony retorts, “out there it’s the 1990s, but in here it’s 1954,” pointing first out the window, then at the floor of the house. Tony is a moral reactionary, despite his chosen profession. His Millennial daughter is what we would call “woke” today, and might even have reacted to her father with an “OK Boomer,” though that is an expression well ahead of her time.

Tony clearly wants to return to the “father knows best” social order of the good old days. You can tell that all the old gangsters do. They even complain about the breakdown of morals in their own organization. Drugs have had a corrosive influence. You can’t trust the gangsters today, who turn state’s evidence instead of doing their civic duty and serving time in prison. You just know that any of these guys who surivived to see 2016 would be sporting red MAGA caps at a Trump rally. They certainly wouldn’t survive today’s cancel culture, being too blatantly racist and sexist and homophobic.

The Sopranos stands out as an artifact of its place in history, the Bush era transition into the 21st century, with the Cold War receding in the rearview mirror, and all of these new concerns coming down the road. With its frank maturity and uncensored sex and violence, it also helped inaugurate the television noir age we enjoy today. In many ways, it did it better than any show since. It’s so well written, acted and directed, that you might even say it achieved Peak TV.

That last statement, I suspect, is controversial, but it really was the first thought I had when I recently started rewatching the show. And I have a lot of shows fresh in my memory; I’m a man who watches way too much television, a mid-lifer in a new era of staying at home with endless streaming video. In the great trove of video content available online, The Sopranos is a real gem from what already seems like a fading time.


This post is the second in a 2-part series about The Sopranos, following up on an earlier post.

How I Started Watching “The Sopranos”

How I Started Watching “The Sopranos”

On June 10, 2007, I was on the road, and spent the night in a hotel. I don’t remember where I was going or why, and I only know the date because I looked it up; it’s the original air date of a certain television episode.

What happened was, that night, I decided to watch a little TV before going to bed. The hotel had HBO, which I did not have at home. At home, we had satellite TV, but my roommates paid for it and I did not ever make demands of what programming they should get. Since the hotel had a channel I did not normally have access to, naturally I chose to check it out. As it turned out, The Sopranos was about to come on. Of course, I had heard a great deal about this show, which was a cultural mainstay of the era, but I had never watched an episode. So I gave it a go.

(mild spoilers follow so if you don’t want any at all just don’t read the rest of this post)

I liked what I saw. Even though I had no back story at all, other than knowing that James Gandolfini portrayed Tony Soprano, I could follow along, kind of. The guy’s son was rebellious and annoying, and there was some kind of gang war or something happening. There was some threat to the family. They went to a diner, and this guy came in – maybe he was a bad guy? – and then suddenly the show just stopped. The screen went blank for a bit. Then the credits came on. It was some kind of glitch; probably the hotel’s fault. I didn’t think much of it, and went to sleep.

The famous last scene of The Sopranos.

The next day or so, I went online and checked the news feeds (I was already getting my news exclusively via the web by this time). I learned that I had watched the series finale of The Sopranos. The first episode I ever watched was the last episode of the show! And the final scene had intentionally cut abruptly to black, which was generating a big hubbub online. The creator, David Chase, had apparently mystified everyone. What I gather now is that he chose not to provide a conclusive story arc for the main character, which would have resolved the show’s fundamental moral question – can a guy who steals and kills for a living really be just an American guy, with all the same problems as the rest of us? And why did America spend nearly a decade celebrating this professional crook?

Now, it might be for the best for me that there was no resolution, because even though I watched the last episode first, it really wasn’t a spoiler. Nothing had been concluded and my appetite was simply whetted. I ended up watching the entire series a couple years later, by renting the discs on Netflix. Yes, I mean the physical DVDs, mailed to me periodically. That was how it was done in the 2000s, before streaming took off.

I enjoyed the show tremendously – it’s well deserved of the many accolades it has received. In my mind, it is the show that inaugurates the more hard-hitting, stark, and mature age of television that we live in today – though I know the trend was underway throughout the 1990s. It’s also a show that culturally defines the Bush years, along with another one which started in the same year of 1999 – The West Wing.

This blog post was inspired by the fact that the family is now rewatching (adults) / being introduced to (teens) the show. What happened was, we wanted to watch the premiere of Godzilla vs. Kong, but without going to a theater, since it’s pandemic times. So we got a subscription to HBO Max. Well, there was The Sopranos thumbnail staring at us from the screen, and since we like to have something to watch together on evenings when everyone is free, we decided to make it our new show. And personally I am enjoying it the second time around as much as I did the first time.

I have more to say about The Sopranos – a review of sorts – but I’ll publish that in a follow-up post.

The Red-Blue Identity Crisis

The Red-Blue Identity Crisis

This will probably be my last political post for a while. I’ve been hashing out the Red-Blue partisan divide for many posts now since the last election cycle, and wanted to leave a final thought. With the attack on the U.S. Capitol nearly three months behind us, it feels to me like things are settling down. The partisan divide is still there, no doubt, but it seems the conflict has retreated to the shadows. I thought there might be further escalation following the January 6 riot, but now I’m not seeing it. This could just be because of my personal social media bubble, of course.

My last thought on this is that, if partisanship has hardened us to the point that the two political parties can’t possible work together, then politics truly has left the realm of policy debate and become entirely about group identity. This is not unprecedented and it could simply be part and parcel of life in a Crisis Era. So what our political conflict comes down to is a choice of identity for the United States of America. Are we a conservative, “traditional American” society, dominated by whites and Christians (the red zone)? Or are we a progressive, diverse society, accepting of all races, creeds, and orientations (the blue zone)?

Ask yourself: doesn’t this surely describe the choice faced in recent elections? What substantial policy differences have really been on the table, that are not framed in terms of these values differences?

And couldn’t other Crisis Era conflicts be described as identity crises? In the 1860s, Americans faced the choice of defining themselves as primarily agriculturalists dependent on slave labor, or as industrialist capitalists and abolitionists. In the 1770s, Americans faced the choice of defining themselves as loyalists to the King, or as patriots of an independent nation. The winners of the great conflicts of those eras determined the identity which prevailed.

So what we’re experiencing is an identity crisis, as we try to figure out as a society if we are going to let the red zone values regimes prevail, or the blue zone values regime. I see a parallel between our times and England in the Tudor era, which see-sawed between Protestant and Catholic identities under different monarchs. Bloody Mary’s reign was a Catholic interregnum between two Protestant regimes, just as Trump’s was a MAGA interlude between the progressive Presidencies of Obama and Biden.

And just as England emerged from its conflicts as a decidedly Protestant nation, I believe the United States will ultimately affirm itself as a blue zone nation. Why do you think the red zoners complain so much about the “mainstream media?” The blue zone, with its progressive identity, is the mainstream!

In the end, the Red State, already exiled from social media and the butt of joking memes, will be consigned to an “alt-” existence on the fringes of mainstream society. All that their politicians can do now is do their best to suppress the vote. But in the long run, they cannot prevail. They we will be left as troublemakers, and dissenters from the mainstream view.

Which isn’t to say that they will be entirely in the wrong or that the mainstream view will be ideal for society. That’s just the way we are headed right now, as far as I can tell. Of course, some major event could prove me wrong. But barring that, I don’t think I have much more blogging to do on this subject.

The Last of Us Watch

The Last of Us Watch

When I was young man I played computer games. A lot. That was so long ago that being a computer gamer put me in a minority, part of the maligned “nerd” subclass of Generation X. Today’s Millennial gamers are much more of a mainstream group. Nowadays, being a young man who plays video games is pretty basic.

Now, when I was a young man (so very long ago) we would sometimes get groups of guys together for a computer game. We typically would play what is called a “hot seat” game – there is one personal computer (PC), and everyone takes separate turns in the game. When it’s your turn, you sit in the chair that is in front of the PC, hence “hot seat.”

Another way to do it way back when was a LAN party, where everyone brings their PC to a common location and you play multi-player on a local network. This was done because you couldn’t play a graphics intensive game over the Internet. No one had the bandwidth; people were still using modems to get online. Going to a LAN party was a bit cumbersome since you had to cart your PC to someone else’s house and set it all up, and I never got into the practice. But some people did, and LAN parties were a feature of Gen X computer nerd culture back in the 1990s.

One thing about these Gen X approaches to group gaming is that everyone gets to play. It was unusual for someone to be willing to come hang out where everyone was gaming, but not actually play in the game.

Around this time, console gaming was starting to pick up. That particular format had actually suffered a drought following the failure of the Atari console, which had come out in the youth of early-wave Gen Xers such as myself. But then came the rise of Nintendo, which accompanied the youth of late-wave Gen Xers and the childhood of Millennials. It’s all documented in this great book called “Game Over, Press Start to Continue: How Nintendo Conquered the World.”

With console gaming, you start to see this pattern of people gathering, and some people just sitting and watching while others play. After all, there are only so many controllers. It wasn’t something I was ever hugely into, and in fact I have never owned a video game console. But I went to a few parties where the console was the center of attention.

For the Millennial generation, watching others play video games has become a common practice. In fact, it’s a whole culture; there are live streaming sites like twitch that are dedicated to it. There are YouTubers who make a living sharing streams of their games with added commentary. As in, very popular YouTubers who have become wealthy doing so.

As a mid-life Gen Xer, my computer gaming has shifted over to games that simulate board games, rather than the more active and real-time type video games. I honestly was never heavily into first person shooter or arcade-style games; I prefer strategy games instead.

But what I have done is watched my Millennial stepsons play video games. Specifically, this really cool post-apocalyptic game called The Last of Us. They sit us old folks down around the TV, and then play the game on a Sony PlayStation 4 while we spectate. It works really well with this particlar title because the game is story-driven, with programming that railroads the player throught a plot (in contrast to “open world” games where you can just wander about and do whatever).

The visual design of the game is stunning, even though you can sometimes spot a video glitch which briefly interrupts the cinematic experience. These glitches don’t really matter because the setting is so artfully rendered, with contrasting visual landscapes of urban ruin and beautiful overgrown nature. The sound design is brilliant as well, with music that builds the tension as the characters get into dangerous situations.

It is a combat game, so there is graphic violence, as well as grotesque horror elements. But it’s in the context of a very well-written and poignant story, featuring complex characters and difficult moral dilemmas. Our sons see it as its own genre of cinemtic story-telling, even better than film or television. I can see why they do, and as computer graphics improve the genre could become even more immersive and emotionally intense.

As they play the game while we oldsters watch, our sons are essentially taking on a directing role. They have already played the game through before, so they know all the places to go in game, as well as actions to take, so that we get the complete story as efficiently as possible. They also take us on little “side quests” to see the less important but still interesting stuff. Since it is a game, there is some amount of collecting resources and spending them to upgrade the characters’ capabilities. This video game trope, while “unrealistic” in a sense, does not in any way detract from the story telling or aesthetics of the experience.

Watching the game all the way through took us many, many hours. We watched both the original game and Part II. It was the same as binge-watching multiple seasons of a good streaming TV series. Would it have been as much fun in TV format? I guess we may find out, as rumor has HBO is making a TV show based on the game.

I’d like to thank the boys for sharing this experience with us. It really is a new way of experiencing cinematic story telling. It shows how far the video game medium has evolved since the days I sat in my parents’ basement playing Tunnels of Doom on a TI-499/A (I’m not even kidding). For the new generation, it’s become much more immersive, and grown into a communal experience, and a part of everyday life.

More on “Cancel Culture” as Consensus Building

More on “Cancel Culture” as Consensus Building

I’ve already brought up on this blog the idea that “cancel culture” is simply this era’s approach to building a social values consensus. I’ve tied it into Strauss-Howe generational theory, which describes a social cycle spanning four generations. In that cycle there is an era called an “Awakening,” which is a period when values are challenged and the social mood encourages moral transgression. Those who violate social norms are celebrated as visionaries. The last time we had such an era was during the “Consciousness Revolution” that started in the 1960s.

But we’re now at the other end of the cycle, in the “Crisis” era. Values are not being challenged but rather implanted, to guide the establishment of a new order. Those who violate the new social norms are condemned for backward thinking. That is what is happening to the prominent people who find themselves getting “cancelled” when they express views or engage in behaviors which go against the grain of the new values consensus. They can complain about “political correctness” all that they want, they are nonetheless going to run into the simple fact that violating social norms, at least in this social era, means being shunned by society.

Which is exactly the point made in this excellent opinion piece by Dr. Lora Burnett. She starts with an example from a movie, and then connects the movie scene with how appointees of the recent administration were treated in public. She then segues into her argument, that “there is no such thing as ‘cancel culture’ — there is only culture.” Meaning that this phenomenon of “cancelling” is simply the enforcement of cultural norms.

I couldn’t agree with her more. And I think that the problem that those who decry cancel culture have is that they are not happy with the new cultural norms that are forming. Which is their right, and it’s understandable to be concerned that the enforcement of norms can go too far. Is there a danger of a new McCarthy Era arising, where all dissent is suppressed? I think so, and that would take us to a new social era.

Although, truly, most targets of cancel culture don’t have their lives ruined, assuming they haven’t committed any crime. They simply face the scrutiny of the public when in the public space, which is to be expected. The video below from the channel “The Take” goes into all the angles of the phenomenon.

This video brings up the “letter on open debate” which was published in Harper’s magazine and signed by numerous authors and opinion makers. In it, the authors condemn “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.” Again, it’s understandable that, as purveyors of ideas, this would concern them. But they’re missing the zeitgeist.

In the social cycle, we’re turning away from openness and debate and towards resolution and conformity. It’s needed to address the vast political and economic problems that our society has failed to address over the past several decades. Older generations find this disconcerting after a long, free-wheeling period of everyone thinking for themselves. But to get any traction on achieving real world change, we need agreement. So younger generations are likely to say, “get with the program or shut the hell up.”

Boomer Moralism and Today’s Dysfunctional Politics

Boomer Moralism and Today’s Dysfunctional Politics

I’ve read somewhere, more than once, that the Baby Boomers are the worst generation of political leaders in U.S. history. They are presiding over an era of extreme political partisanship and government paralysis. What I mean by “presiding” is that they are the majority of top political leaders, and that it is their generational peer personality that is primarily responsible for the combative, partisan nature of politics today. As I reviewed earlier, some Boomers acknowledge this, and that it’s even worse than you think. Basically, with Boomers in charge, nothing will ever get done, and government is doomed to be an ever-worsening shitshow.

At the heart of the problem is the moralistic character of the Boomer generation. This character was evident in their youth, which was famous for campus unrest and protests against the government policies of older generations. When Boomers aged into mid-life and entered politics themselves, starting in the 1980s, they brought their righteous indignation with them. Politics became more about confrontation over moral principles, and less about actually instituting policy.

This tracked with the overall evolution of the social order, which was steering away from the outer world and collective action, and toward the inner world and individual empowerment. It was what Strauss & Howe call the Unraveling Era, when the demand for social order reaches a nadir. But now that we are in the Crisis Era, and the demand for social order is rising, the confrontational, partisan mode of politics is proving to be severely detrimental. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, for God’s sake!

Which brings me to this remarkable essay by Julius Krein, called “The Three Fusions.” I bring it up because the author pinpoints moralism and ideology-driven politics as the root of this era’s failures of government. I’ll briefly review the essay, without going into what he means by his three fusions, or the details of how he breaks down the ideologies of the Left and the Right.

In “The Three Fusions,” Julius Krein argues that moralism in politics has undermined the democratic nation-state, which is why neither political faction (Left or Right) has been successful at implementing its particular political agenda. The problem is neither faction really wants the collective to be empowered, since each sees virtue as residing in the individual, not the collective. Both the Left and the Right end up trying to advance their goals by putting responsibility on individual morality alone. Each side’s vision of an ideal society can only be achieved by having all individuals freely internalize its moral principles, since neither side will allow for the empowerment of collective will through state action. Hence the ridiculousness of virtue-signalling memes buzzing through our social media feeds, as though given enough time they will cause a majority of the populace to internalize the correct moral viewpoint. But that doesn’t happen; each side’s social media bubble is impervious to the memes of the other. Representative democracy can’t work with two factions in total opposition and government consequently gridlocked by partisanship. So we’re stuck without any means to empower the state to serve the national interest.

Krein is a Millennial, born in 1986. His generation is of the opposite archetype of the Boomers, so it’s no suprise that his instinct is to turn away from moral correctness as the legitimating principle of government. He clearly yearns for a more practical, functioning mode; one that acknowledges differences in belief about morality while still allowing for collective decision-making. I think many in his generation do, as their political activism shows.

But how to get past the dysfunctional Boomer paradigm? And to be fair, it’s not just the Boomer generation that bears a responsibility for excessive moralism. Younger generations are playing along, even Millennials – just scroll through Twitter to see what I mean. They are following the lead of their visionary elders, which might work, if only there were a more clearly dominant vision.

Eventually, as the generations age, moralism will fade away on its own accord. But by then the damage done may be irreparable. There’s certainly no resurrecting all the people who have died from Covid. And it might be too late to restore trust in democracy, or to revert the trend of ever-widening inequality. We’ll end up in a 21st century dystopia.

I honestly think that getting to a dominant vision is probably the only way to a quick resolution of this problem. It allows the Boomers to fulfill their archetypal role of visionary, and the younger generations their roles as well. It won’t matter that the dominant ideology has logical contradictions. Obviously, not everyone is going to like it. But it’s either that or twisting in the wind and enduring the pain of a broken system. Lord knows we’ve endured enough pain as it is.

Subreddit of the week: murderedbyAOC

Subreddit of the week: murderedbyAOC

Years back, I wrote a blog post about how Millennials use social media for consensus building. I was tying into predictions based on Strauss & Howe generational theory on how the Millennial generation would behave as young adults in this era, the Crisis Era. One prediction is that they will enforce a code of good conduct.

Prediction about Millennials from The Fourth Turning.

Fast forward to today, and cancel culture is fully in place. Well, what is “cancel culture” if not an effort to enforce a code of conduct by ostracizing those who violate the code?

It seems that complaints about cancel culture come mostly from the political right. But before you call it a phenomenon of the left, I challenge you to go to a right-leaning site like parler and express support for President Biden. I’ll bet you get “cancelled” pretty fast.

Could the right’s problem with cancel culture just come from the fact that the left has been more successful at it? Perhaps that is because the left’s code of conduct better reflect’s the majoritarian view. Perhaps that is because the left didn’t choose a champion who is a criminal mountebank.

Or maybe the left really is just better at the culture game. We all know from reddit that the /r/TheRightCantMeme. And look no further than reddit to find a Millennial who excels at enforcing good conduct with her brilliant wit.

I mean Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has her own subreddit, dedicated to reposting the stinging comebacks to red zoners that she makes on social media. It’s a happy little bubble for a blue zoner to go and assure themselves of the superiority of their partisan viewpoint. And as a partisan blue zoner myself, I’m happy to declare /r/murderedbyAOC the subrreddit of the week.

Silent of the Week: Mitch McConnell

Silent of the Week: Mitch McConnell

He may well be the most hated man in America. Mitch McConnell has simultaneously angered Democrats by letting Trump off the hook for the January 6 attack on the Capitol, and angered Republicans by betraying Trump. In a bizarre moment in American political history, he acquitted the former President at his impeachment trial, then made a speech blaming him for the very crimes for which he had been acquitted.

Senator Mitch McConnell (b. 1942) makes a blistering speech condemning the former President, moments after voting to acquit him.

Egregiously, his reason for acquitting the former President was that the Senate didn’t have the power to convict an impeached officer once they were out of office, even though, as majority leader when the impeachment articles were presented to the Senate, he had refused to try them! It was like he was playing a shell game. Because of this, McConnell will likely be remembered by history for duplicity, even cowardice.

And yet there was that speech, laying the blame wholly at Trump’s feet. What gives? Well, consider that McConnell, as I have brought up before, is from the Silent generation (b. 1925-1942). This is a generation that puts process over principle. They are indeed masters of process, which McConnell certainly demonstrated with his little political trick that enabled him to personally blame Trump for January 6, while sparing his fellow party members from having to make any similar such political statement.

Honestly, I think that is his game. He is trying to divest the Republicans of Trump with as little risk as possible to the current Republican office-holders. At least, that’s my understanding of his motivation. If, ultimately, this gambit fails and Trumpism rises again (the feared “beer hall putsch” scenario), then McConnell will go down in history as one of those double-dealing politicians who fails to confront a growing threat until it is too late. Like the Compromisers before the U.S. Civil War, or like Neville Chamberlain.

But for now, since Mitch McConnell has demonstrated the art of political process and a thorough appreciation of his powers within the political system, I name him my Silent of the week.

The Small Wars Come Home

The Small Wars Come Home

In their book The Fourth Turning, Strauss & Howe assert that there is a difference in the way wars are fought in the third phase of their historical cycle, versus the way they are fought in the fourth and final phase. In the third phase, wars are fought with moral fervor but without resolution or consensus. In the current cycle, this was the phase of the Iraq Wars and the War on Terror. In the last cycle, this third phase coincided with the First World War.

In the fourth phase, the Crisis Era, wars are fought to conclusion, for maximum effect. In the last cycle, this was the time of the Second World War. One can easily see how the Second World War can be understood as the First World War re-fought, but to a more decisive end.

In the mid-2000s, when the U.S. was floundering in Iraq, I actually described a kind of heady vision of how affairs might be different in the next era. In other words, how the nation-building wars in the Middle East might be re-fought, but more decisively.

As I understood it, we would finally have the right generational constellation for the Boomers to translate their values obsession into significant world change. Back then in the Bush era, it seemed to me that red zone values were dominating and a Republican would likely be the one to fulfill a role like that of FDR in the last cycle. Here’s what I wrote in conclusion:

Imagine, if you will, a President Sam Brownback. He knows the greatest poverty and oppression in the world lies in the continent of Africa, which is also where the greatest terrorist threat now lives, since Al-Qaeda has fled there after the Middle East has finally been stabilized. Imagine serious nation-building efforts to raise up the poorest of the poor African countries, which might include invasions to depose an intransigent dictator or two. Imagine a corps a hundred thousand strong of enthusiastic young Millennials, guided by competent middle-aged Gen-Xers, joining up to serve in one or two year tours, helping to build infrastructure and train indigenous peoples and do police work. This would be Boomer values finally bearing fruition…

–me, ~2008

It seems ridiculously out of touch now, but where I was clearly going in my thought process was to imagine that there would be a redux of the failed intervention in the Middle East, but one that would actually be successful. Just as World War II had been World War I fought to conclusion, I conceived of a future United States embarking on a new round of nation-building wars, but this time seeing them through to the end.

What’s actually happened, we now see with hindsight, is that nation-building has been repudiated, and the United States has pulled back from its global wars of intervention and turned its focus inward. And the circumstances the United States military faced in the Middle East, it now faces at home. Armed militias disrupt the functioning of government. A “green zone” like the one that was set up in Baghdad is set up instead in Washington D.C. itself.

During the War on Terror, doctrines emerged for fighting “asymmetric warfare”, part of a new focus on “small wars” in an age of unilateralism, with the United States as the sole superpower. “Post-conflict stablization” became a new mission in the wake of invasion and regime change. In a kind of karmic comeuppance for U.S. hubris, these small wars have come home. It’s like the mission now is to stabilize the United States – in the era in which the last round of wars are re-fought, but decisively.

Arguably, the degree of political instablility in America is nothing like what it is in the parts of the world where the U.S. once felt obligated to intervene. But consider that in the Crisis Era, to quote The Fourth Turning, “wars are fought with fury and for maximum result.” (p. 104). The fact that the energy of the U.S. has turned inward, and that the nation has just had a brush with violent domestic regime change, is ominous.