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Silent of the Year – Joe Biden

Silent of the Year – Joe Biden

The Silent Generation (b. 1925-1942) is known for never having produced a United States President. Every other generation older than the Millennials has, even mine, Generation X (b. 1961-1981). There have actually been more Silent candidates for Vice President than for President – 7 vs. 5, and that’s counting Ross Perot (b. 1930). The Baby Boomers (b. 1943 – 1960) reverse those numbers. Now I suppose you could consider Dick Cheney (b. 1941) to have been the power behind the throne in the Bush era, but even that demonstrates how Silents like to influence the world – from 2nd place.

Rather than being in the forefront of public life, the Silent Generation has preferred to work behind the scenes, in the role of helpmate or enabler. Early in their collective careers they served an older generation, the GI or Greatest Generation (b. 1901-1924), refining the powerful institutions created in their elder’s climactic World War II-era coming of age. Later in their careers, they mentored the younger Boomers, joining their energetic juniors, in a guiding role, in the mission of transforming the values of American society.

The last time a member of the Silent Generation was a major party nominee for president was in 2008, when the late John McCain (b. 1936) ran against GenXer Barack Obama. To find another example, you have to go all the way back to Michael Dukakis (b. 1933) in 1988. That’s not to say that the Silent Generation isn’t politically powerful; as I noted in an earlier blog post, they are still prominent in the U.S. Legislative Branch. They just don’t tend to take on the role of Chief Executive.

Joe Biden debating that other guy

That takes us to Joe Biden (b. 1942), who has already served in the executive branch for eight years, in the background during the Obama administration. I have to admit that I wasn’t excited when he announced that he was seeking the Presidential nomination, and even made fun of him a little. That was way back when the field was full of candidates, some of whom aligned closer to my beliefs. That feels like another age (it was, what, January?)

But here we are, near the end of 2020, the most traumatic Crisis year in almost everyone’s living memory. Most of us, including me, are disgusted by the callousness and corruption of the incumbent President. We’re ready for someone to restore duty and honor to the office, and Joe – a man who has known loss and grief – is just the right guy to lead a traumatized nation.

For stepping up in our time of need, and for possibly becoming the first member of his generation to be elected to the highest office in the land, I hereby declare Joe Biden to be the Silent of the Year.

Ridin’ with Biden

Ridin’ with Biden

In my post about moving in with my life partner I did not mention that her house is on a busy main street. It’s not exactly my favorite thing about the house, which is a very fine house in many other ways. The traffic annoys me when I wake up in the morning and when I’m trying to work. But as with all things in life, you get used to it.

Now, given these times we are in, we have, for the first time in our lives, put signs on the lawn endorsing a Presidential candidate. That would be Biden, of course; the only sane choice. But where we are – Morgantown, Pennsylvania – there is a lot of support for the other guy and we wanted to show that it’s not 100% support, and maybe even encourage neighbors who might be hesitant to show their support for Biden, the only sane choice. Yes, that’s what it’s come to in this country.

So now all that traffic driving by every day is a wonderful thing! So many people are seeing the signs. We are standing up for sanity here in Twin Valley, PA – a place that desperately needs it. I’m hoping the signs don’t get stolen or vandalized, but if they do – we’ve got backup. Go Biden!

Covid-19: The Tempering Test of the Market State

Covid-19: The Tempering Test of the Market State

I wanted to exposit a bit on some of the points I made in my last blog post about the dilemma that Covid-19 presents. As many commentators have observed, the pandemic has disrupted our economic system and starkly revealed its defects. In particular it has exposed the risks to a bulk of the population who live on marginal income and can barely, if at all, afford health insurance. But of course these were known issues already, it’s just that Covid-19 is shining a harsh spotlight on them.

I’ve categorized this post as “Strategy Review” because I want to think of this problem with one of the strategic theories I’ve reviewed in the past in mind. That would be Philip Bobbitt’s conception of a newly evolving constitutional order called the “market state.” Here’s a key quote from the linked blog post:

the familiar nation state of the 20th century is giving way to what Bobbitt calls the “market state.” A key difference between the two orders is that whereas the nation state serves the welfare of the nation through public services and social safety nets, the market state maximizes economic opportunity for its citizens, while protecting them from environmental degradation and network-infiltrating dangers such as infectious disease and terrorism. The state’s role has evolved from managing the system for the benefit of the people, in competition with other states with different ideologies (the Cold War status quo), to protecting the system’s perimeters while allowing the people to manage themselves in a loosely controlled consumer marketplace of global extent 

The Covid dilemma as it relates to this constitutional order is this: if the market state is supposed to protect the citizen while maximizing opportunities, what does it do when these goals are mutually exclusive? Simply put, an endemic disease that is highly infectious and lethal entails restricting economic activity in order to save lives, but that necessarily reduces economic opportunity. This is especially problematic in the United States, which has a flavor of the market state which Bobbitt calls “entrepreneurial” – meaning that it favors individual over corporate responsibility for well-being.

Hence the quandary the U.S. is in, with its fraying social safety net, and too many people living on a thin margin. Gig economy workers are suddenly in an environment in which there are no gigs. Unskilled laborers have become “essential workers” and are expected to endure dangerous workplaces with no extra compensation, and rudimentary protection measures.

At least the public at large has shown a willingness to follow one simple, minimally disruptive safety measure – the wearing of face masks. I believe that the broad compliance with this mandate shows that society is ready and willing to cooperate and take collective action. The desire is there. But there is a political problem of extreme partisanship and incoherent national leadership.

So this pandemic has become the tempering test of the emerging market state. Can it survive as an ordering principle, or will it break under the strain and need to be replaced? One way to help think about this question is to consider the state in relation to the strategic environment, a key feature of Bobbitt’s line of thinking.

In Bobbit’s model, the nation state prevailed in a particular security environment, which pertained to the World War and Cold War eras. The rise of certain technologies – weapons of mass destruction, advanced computing, telecommunication networks – altered the strategic landscape from that in which the nation state was successful. For the new market state to be successful, it must be able to counter security threats in this new environment.

Threats primarily intrude on the order of the market state by exploiting open networks. In the quote above I explicitly mention infectious disease as a network-infiltrating danger. I had in mind SARS and H1N1, which have turned out to be the preludes to Covid-19. Other potential threats include computer hackers, social media disruptors, and smugglers of WMDs.

The best strategies against these kinds of threats are defensive; think of tower defense casual games, where an infrastructure is built up against ongoing waves of enemies trying to get past a perimeter. Hence the pandemic related shutdowns and other measures – limiting mass gatherings is a defensive strategy against an airborne virus. Surveillance is also crucial (you have to detect the network infiltrators), which is why nations which implemented intensive testing and tracking programs are the ones that have been the most successful at mitigating against the coronavirus.

So you can see the fundamental problem the United States has, with its “entrepreneurial market state.” It is just too open of a society. It is large in extent, and its citizens are used to free travel and a high degree of autonomy. Which is why so many are railing against the measures (though I still think the majority accepts the need for them).

Not only that, the ethos of the independent, self-made American (the “entrepreneur”) means there is resistance to the concept of public assistance, which is another useful defensive measure. The government is calling what pandemic aid has been given “stimulus” money, a complete misnomer. If the economic recession were on the demand side, meaning people didn’t have money to spend for goods or services, then the term “stimulus” would make sense. But the recession is supply side, meaning that businesses can’t deliver goods or services because of the shutdown measures. The loss of income to these businesses is the problem being alleviated, so the money is relief money, not stimulus money. But we can’t call it that, lest we admit that we aren’t a purely capitalist society.

Have other societies, with more of a “managerial market state” (Bobbitt’s term) fared better? Those would mostly be other developed countries of the West – in Europe, for example. I’m not sure of the answer, though it would be interesting to go over Bobbitt’s work, identify his taxonomy of states, and then see how each has done in the 2020 pandemic. There may be a pattern. It would be a bit of lengthy task, but might be worth the time.

Meanwhile, it’s plain to see one thing that has suffered in reputation in light of the pandemic: globalization. It is, in fact, globalization, with its increased access to markets and increased movement of goods and people, that is the reason new viral diseases keep popping up and rapidly spreading around the world. This latest one, Covid-19, seems to have put the brakes on globalization for some time to come, probably for at least a generational cycle. It had already lost its popularity among anyone except economic elites anyway.

What will happen to the market state? I’ve already noted in previous strategy review posts that we will not simply revert back to the nation state. Time isn’t reversible, for one thing, and the changes in the strategic environment – the nature of threats to the security of society – remain. We still need a state capable of countering danger in a complex, networked world.

It’s not just communicable disease that exploits networks. What about dangerous ideologies, spread on social media? If you’ve seen the Netlfix documentary The Social Dilemma you know what I mean. Given the deep political trouble the United States is in, there may be even stronger fires for the market state to endure before it is strong enough to rule in the twenty-first century.

The Covid dilemma

The Covid dilemma

This sign sits in front of a strip mall in the area where I live. If you visit the site listed you might get the impression that it was created by some of the same people I’ve blogged about who denigrate the Pennsylvania governor’s Covid strategy. I get it; I do. If you are a small business on a thin margin, how can you survive an extended shutdown?

It all comes down, I suppose, to the trade off between freedom and security. Between protecting lives and maximizing economic opportunity, both of which we expect our government to do. But what happens when the two goals are mutually exclusive?

One option is to take a defensive approach, and provide supplemental income to those in need while restrictions are imposed to mitigate against an infectious disease. But to some, that smacks of welfare and is undesirable. No handouts, they say. Just freedom.

These times are clearly testing the resilience of our system. We want openness, but a virus is exactly the sort of thing that exploits an open network. But with little in the way of a social safety net, closing the network inflicts pain. That is the dilemma.

Some kind of plan at the national level would really help out here…

The Emojis of Our Discontent

The Emojis of Our Discontent

Recently, I posted about the DNC on Facebook and one of my Trump supporter friends (friend-in-the-Facebook-sense) responded with the Haha emoji. That’s the laughing face one, appropriate for silly videos and jokes but also available for mocking someone’s beliefs, which was the intent, I think, in this case. This person proceeded to respond to every subsequent comment with the same emoji, was scolded for behaving rudely, and subsequently unfriended me. However, their comments and reactions remain for posterity.

I bring this up not to hold a grudge but only to note how the Haha emoji is sometimes used to express dissent. I guess you could say it substitutes for a dislike or downvote, which Facebook does not provide. The only other choice is the Angry emoji. Either way it’s going to come across as emotionally charged, so maybe we were unfair to my friend-in-the-Facebook-sense, who kind of got mobbed. But that’s the consequence of posting an unpopular opinion on social media, where people of like belief tend to congregate. Very, very few of my friends-in-the-Facebook-sense are Trump supporters.

I’ve seen the Haha emoji used in other contexts, clearly to express dissent. The typical case is when the Governor of my fine state of Pennsylvania posts a declaration regarding his administration’s response to the pandemic. There are generally a few thousand reactions, of three kinds: Like, Haha and Love. I take that to mean: supports, does not support, and supports whole-heartedly. The ratio will be something like 67%/23%/10%. I find comfort in knowing that there is 3/4 support for the Governor among Facebook users, since I think he is doing an excellent job and want him to keep at it.

I see this pattern of minority objection on other social media platforms as well. Now it’s quite possible that I am not getting the whole picture because of some kind of social bubble effect. But I am reminded of the religious faction in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri game, protesting against their society’s mad rush to a technological utopia. Today’s pandemic deniers tag Facebook posts with Haha emojis like they are spraying “We Must Dissent” graffiti. And as the majoritarian viewpoint emerges, they are getting pushed into the shadows.

Trump supporters may actually be too large a minority to be relegated to the lurking in the shadows status of a renegade faction in a science fiction game. But it is my partisan hope that as this era evolves, that is exactly where they will end up in the next era. In the mean time, I can only express my dissent at the outrageious social injustice and criminal conduct of the Trump administration using the Angry red face emoji. It gets used a lot these days. The Sad crying face emoji is also available for expressing a kind of pitying dissent, as if to say, “what a pathetic species.”

I suppose Trump supporters have their criteria for what makes them Angry or Sad, but I don’t see them so much. I live in a different bubble from them. A society split between two bubbles of likeminded people, each group clicking icons on scrolling digital feeds in their own patterns, may be the saddest thing of all.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Covidiots

Rise Of The Planet Of The Covidiots

It’s more contagious than other deadly coronaviruses we have encountered, like SARS. And it’s far deadlier than other very contagious viruses, like H1N1. That is what experts are telling us about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the respiratory disease Covid-19. To reiterate, the virus is both very contagious and much more lethal than the flu. That is why mitigation is warranted.

The current case fatality rate is around 6%, according to this dashboard. That is like, if you get the disease, you roll a d20, and on a 1, you’re dead. Do you like those odds? Do you want to be infected by this virus, or have someone you know become infected? I would hope not. So why don’t you just wear a face mask in public? And avoid crowds? Why is this so hard?

I think about this whenever I see the viral videos of beachgoers or partyers ignoring all social distancing recommendations, or of the crowded hallways of a just opened school. I think about it when I drive by a restaurant and see people out on the tables dining, or even when I walk up to the Post Office and see them gathering at the ice cream place that’s up the block, standing in line or sitting on the benches without wearing masks.

I mean, seriously, it’s that important to eat out? You know you can get takeout, and all parties involved, both the customer and the vendor, can be masked, right? If it’s really that you’re trying to support the restaurant business, you could get takeout but tip like you were dining in, and just forego being waited on because, you know, pandemic.

But apparently it’s all too much for an impatient country, restless from months of being stuck at home. A country with failed national leadership and no cohesive plan for dealing with this disease. A country that bases its beliefs on the science of the pandemic on political partisanship, so that whether or not to wear a mask depends on being blue-zone or red-zone.

So we almost flattened the curve, early on there, but then pent-up energy and sheer orneriness overcame us, and back up it goes.

I feel like we’re at the beginning of some weird apocalypse movie trilogy. I call the current installment Rise Of The Planet Of The Covidiots. I see them everywhere – the anti-maskers, the plandemic conspiracy theorists, led by the Covidiot-in-Chief. Now I’m just waiting for the inevitable sequel. Lord knows what madness comes next.

The Peaceful Protest Movement and the Last Days of White Nationalism

The Peaceful Protest Movement and the Last Days of White Nationalism

The consensus is growing that police reform is needed in the United States. The conservative media is joining in, or at least the intellectual branch of it is. As this article from National Review points out, “The present round of protest is different. The participants are people of every race, ethnicity, sex, age, and religion.” Even the President is recognizing that he can’t ignore the issue.

Protests aren’t just happening in major cities with diverse populations, but in small towns where all or almost all of the participants are white. I can confirm this from my own participation in small protests in Twin Valley, Pennsylvania, where, for the most part, passing motorists honk in solidarity with the protestors.

Unfortunately, there has also been hostility from Trump supporters here, including counterprotestors showing up with firearms. What is it with this need that Red Staters have to sport their weapons in public? There is nothing that threatens them except an opposing political view that favors diversity. Are they ready to go to war over this?

It’s worrisome. It’s like they need to find a use for the expensive arsenals that they’ve gone to so much trouble to acquire. I think about the scene from His Girl Friday, where Hildy Johnson convinces a prisoner that he must have been inpired to shoot someone by hearing about the doctrine of production for use.

I can even see how the preponderance of military equipment owned by police forces accounts for the militaristic response to the recent BLM protests. Were they supposed to not use all those grenades and bullets they were given? I’m sure the tension was insanely high, with police lined up facing large crowds of protesters, and everyone full of pent-up energy from weeks of COVID lockdown.

I wrote about the protests in my last blog post and linked to some of the many viral videos of violent encounters that occurred. But as disturbing as those incidents captured on video are, the overall level of violence has actually been less than what was experienced during the infamously riotous late 1960s, or even the 1992 Los Angeles riots. This is all the more remarkable considering the size and nationwide extent of the movement.

I do believe this peaceful protest movement marks a critical turning point in the evolution of our current Crisis Era. The divisiveness of the Culture Wars that has persisted and been called a ‘cold civil war’ seems intractable. But we have actually gradually come to a consensus on many Culture Wars issues, such as gay rights and cannabis legalization. And now it is happening with reform of the justice system.

Back in May 2016 I attempted to identify an emerging new values consensus, and marked the recognition of the need for criminal justice reform as part of that consensus. But then I amended my list after the election, indicating that it was less clear that this was so, given Trump’s victory. But Trump’s hold on power is weakening, and his poisonous white nationalist ideology losing credibility in the face of massive public outrage at the evils it perpetrates on racial minorities. A fair and equal justice system will come as part of a new civic regeneracy, and the days of white nationalism are numbered.

Black Lives Matter protest in Twin Valley, Berks County, PA
The Red State’s Toxic Form of Law and Order

The Red State’s Toxic Form of Law and Order

It is not surprising that protests against police brutality are being met by more police brutality. After all, the protesting is specifically against the police themselves. The police are not at the protests to maintain order but to counterprotest. They are there as a show of muscle by the currently empowered Red State.

The infamous event at Lafayette Square, where law enforcement assaulted protesters with tear gas to clear a path for a Presidential photo op, underscores this fact. Tear gas is supposed to be a last resort for riot control, not something to use unprovoked on a peaceful assembly. It is the same with rubber bullets. They are for riot control, but there have been no riots. Instead, law enforcement has been using these weapons everywhere across the United States to attack peaceful gatherings of people, the same people they ostensibly exist to serve and protect. Attacking them as if they were an enemy.

I apologize for linking to all this violent content, though by now you’ve probably seen it because it has become a staple of social media feeds. I just want to make the point of how dangerous the militarization of police forces has become to the citizens of the United States. The Red State has even gone as far as to call in the National Guard to attack people in their homes.

Why do I use the term Red State? Because it is clear that the current conflict across the United States is the Culture Wars of the previous era coming to a head in city streets. I’ve written before about these two partisan sides; the Red v. Blue narrative goes way back. And in the current conflict between protesters and police, it is likely that where you fall along this partisan divide determines what facts you believe, and how you perceive the conduct of either side.

When I first delineated the differences between the Red Zone and the Blue Zone, following the 2000 election, I identified “worst examples” on each side, meaning the most dangerous extremists.

It’s unfortunate that the worst example of the Red Zone remains a persistent problem. Police forces have been infiltrated by white supremacists, and police have actively supported white vigilantes. These elements are emboldened by the support of their “law and order” President. Even I got a tiny taste of it when, in a small Black Lives Matter vigil in my podunk Pennsylvania town, young white men speeding by in their pickup trucks yelled “Fuck you!” and “Go fuck yourselves!” out of their windows.

I’m not going to go deeply into the issue of systemic racism and how we should implement judicial reform – the heart of why the BLM movement exists – because that’s not the point of this post. The point I am making is that we are now past the era of ideological argument. We are in a struggle for power. A struggle to determine who gets to decide how law and order are implemented in this country. And we cannot let the Red State’s racist authoritarianism prevail.

That is why those of us opposed to it must continue to resist. We must show solidarity, and use what is left of our democratic institutions as best as we can to fight the Red State’s toxic form of law and order. Don’t worry about the ideological labelling, or being accused of virtue signalling or performative activism. Don’t worry about whether you are too far to the left or not far enough. It doesn’t fucking matter. What matters is that you are against the white nationalism that Trump and his minions are trying to institute.

The truth is that violence and crime have declined in the United States in the past generation, though Red State propaganda would have you believe otherwise. The young people out protesting are correct to demand better treatment at the hands of law enforcement. The massively built up police forces that protesters are facing are a legacy of a past “tough-on-crime” regime that has become obsolete. It is time to reform the police and the judicial system, for the sake of the peaceful and diverse Millennial generation. And that requires a Blue Wave to sweep away the Red State’s vile apparatus of control. So persist.

Signs posted on the White House fence that was constructed to keep protesters away

The Long Road to Freedom

The Long Road to Freedom

I’ve been struggling to write a blog post about the events of this past week. It’s been such a difficult time, and my heart is troubled and my mind scattered. So while I’m trying to get that together, I’m just going to share my goodreads review of a book I just finished reading. It’s Howard Fast’s Freedom Road, set in the Reconstruction South. I picked it up off my shelf of unread books mainly because it’s a small paperback suitable for carrying around at the office, so I could read it at lunch or on breaks. But of course I haven’t been at the office in months so I finished it at home.

Here is the review:

Howard Fast dedicates this novel to all those, of every race, who have died in the fight against fascism. It was written during the Second World War, when America was fighting fascism abroad. At once hopeful and harrowing, it tells a story of progress and setbacks for African-Americans living on a former plantation in South Carolina during Reconstruction. The fascism they fight is that of the white supremacist terrorists who erased the progress made in the immediate years after the Civil War, after the Union pulled their forces out of the South as part of the Tilden Compromise.

The writing is crisp and vibrant, the characters vivid and believable, and the plot dramatic, including action, romance, and political intrigue. As a good novel should, this one makes you feel like you are there in that place and time, living the characters’ lives along with them. The author does use dated language, including stereotypes and prolific use of a word forbidden to white people. This would probably get him canceled by today’s social justice warriors, which is ironic since he was blacklisted as a Communist in the McCarthy Era. I would hope that modern readers could look past that, since this story has so much say about the struggle for racial justice, and what the true stakes are in that ongoing conflict. It couldn’t be more relevant than it is right now.

A Memorial Day that will go down in infamy

A Memorial Day that will go down in infamy

Memorial Day 2020 will be remembered as the day America blew off the experts and partied with the coronavirus. Reading the news articles about how crowds gathered at beaches and parks, ignoring the social distancing recommendations of the CDC, I can’t help but notice the irony. Memorial Day was instituted as a holiday to honor those who have died performing their civic duty. And America chose to celebrate it by ignoring civic duty altogether.

Maybe it’s just that the definition of civic duty has changed. After all, the President told us just after 9/11 to do our duty by going shopping. As citizen-consumers of the neo-liberal market state, it is our responsibility to sustain economic activity at all costs, even if the cost is the lives of those vulnerable to a contagious new virus.

This could be seen as a consequence of the failure of leadership at the Federal level, with the current President actually touting conspiracy theories. It’s a crying shame that partisanship has split the country to the point that it determines what facts you believe. I get that it’s hard to know what’s really going on, given that even the experts on disease control can only make a best assessment based on limited data. But would it really have been so hard to just enjoy this weekend from home?

Next Memorial Day should be dedicated to those who are now going to die because so many people chose to ignore social distancing and spread SARS-COV-2. Next Memorial Day should honor those who did their duty for freedom, by suffering and dying of COVID-19, thanks to this weekend’s hordes of the irresponsible and ignorant.

Beachgoers on Memorial Day in Port Aransas, Texas