Someday, the Last Hick Will Move to Town

And no a moment too soon either: this, another journey of the genre:

My education required a metaphysical moving away, I learned. A professor who could see me struggling through change asked me what scared me about it. I told her that I worried I would lose something, and she reassured me that I would be OK. But she is a brutally honest New Yorker, so she added, “Besides, you can’t unlearn what you now know.” Her words stung.

Having come from Palm Beach and lived in this part of Tennessee for forty years, I can assure Dr. Wilkerson that this place exhibits a complexity that rivals the island’s.  I can also assure her that her beloved trade unions were alive and well in Chattanooga, if she had bothered to come this far down and take a look.  But the elites which engendered the hostility that made this place fertile ground for unions are trying their own burying of the past by going progressive, perhaps for some it will make up for what’s gone before.

The serious sign of initial delusion on her part, however, was this:

Like Dolly Parton’s defenders, I grew up learning the myth that Appalachia was the home of white settlers who weren’t marked by the sin of slavery and thus were not responsible for America’s racism and, conversely, that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery in the first place. My ancestors worked hard as farmers. They built grist mills and lived in log cabins. They are the Appalachians of the American imagination — pure Anglo-Saxon. Dolly Parton rehearses this myth, and I imagine she was raised on it. Her Appalachia is pure and white and heroic; her Appalachia is drained of white America’s sins.

If there’s one thing East Tennessee is not, it’s Anglo-Saxon.  Other than the black people and more recent immigrants, it’s mostly Scots-Irish with a healthy dose of the Cherokee, something Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to claim has fallen desperately flat.  Getting past that myth-making and realising that, like the Asians on the other end, the Scots-Irish put the lie to the whole racial paradigm being promoted these days, is liberating, but I’ll bet that Dr. Wilkerson’s moving to town won’t let her see that for what it is.

I’ll be glad when the last hick moves to town, it will be liberating for me.

The War on–and for–Coal is a Waste of Time

Some think we’re on a downturn with coal:

Across Europe and the U.S., the decline in coal output recently has averaged close to 5 percent a year. If the world as a whole can reach 7 percent a year, it would be on track to meet the IPCC’s 2030 target.

The conventional wisdom is that this isn’t possible, as rising demand from emerging economies, led by China and India, overwhelms the switch from fossil fuels in richer countries. That may underestimate the changing economics of energy generation, though.

There is one basic reality that needs to be understood: coal is a mess.  It’s expensive to transport, messy to use (a boiler fired with coal is job security for those who clean it) and a pain to dispose of, as TVA found out the hard way at Harriman a few years back.

As someone who produced steam-driven equipment until the 1990’s, I can show you photo after photo of boilers in action fuelled by coal.  Before World War I most of our equipment, along with most construction equipment, was powered that way.  Homes were heated with coal; the house my great-grandfather and his brothers grew up in disposed of its chimneys and went to coal heating, appropriate for designers and builders of steam boilers and steam powered equipment.

But coal is, in the long run, always edged out by other, easier to transport and burn, fuels, or fuels that aren’t burnt at all.  With the spread of compressed air and hydraulics, steam and coal were banished from the construction site, and the equipment still powered by steam used oil-fired boilers, as we sold the Chinese in the 1980’s.  But the biggest enemy of coal–a fact not acknowledged in the article–has been natural gas, and the fracking boom has pushed coal off the stage faster than just about anything else.   There are of course the renewables, but for massive energy production these are not quite ready for prime time.  There is also nuclear power, but the environmental movement isn’t big enough to admit its mistake to allow it to displace fossil-fuel burning on a large scale, its angst over climate change notwithstanding.

Coal gets heavily used in the early stages of industrialisation because it’s located near the industrialisation, as was the case in the UK, US, Germany and later Russia and China.  But as soon as things move down the road, coal is inevitably displaced, perhaps not at the rate one would like but displaced all the same.

It’s in that context that Barack Obama’s “war on coal”–and Donald Trump’s reversal of same–needs to be seen as a waste of time.  It’s what happens when optics and politics get put in front of reality, and the less of that in our society, the better.

The Thing Brett Kavanaugh Won’t Do

Well, it’s over but the shouting, and there’s lots of that: Brett Kavanaugh has become an Associate Justice on SCOTUS, after one of the sorriest episodes in American government since Watergate.  (And there are many to choose from…)  Conservatives have high hopes for him on the Court, which is why the opposition was so vociferous.  But are those hopes justified?  I think there are reasons to doubt it.

One thing that comes to mind is one of Kavanaugh’s more careerist moves: his prosecutorial deflection of the investigation of Vince Foster’s death towards a suicide conclusion.  That alone should endear him with the Clintons, but their gratitude is no better than Tsao Tsao’s toward Kuan Yu in the Three Kingdoms.

But another is an unmistakable conclusion from the last fracas over his social life: Kavanaugh is a party animal.  That in turn leads one to believe that Kavanaugh will never overturn Roe v. Wade outright.  Why?  Party animals, especially preppy ones, need abortion.  At his level in society, such things are not moral issues to be decided but problems to be fixed.  Abortion may be the final option available, but for such things option it is.

And abortion was the core issue for Kavanaugh’s opponents.  Oh, there are others that stick in their craw, most notably the interpretation of regulations.  But this one is the hill to die on for those who oppose Kavanaugh.  It’s indicative of the strange nature of American politics that those whose policies are geared for a society where the highest goals in life are to get laid, high or drunk oppose him, while those who are trying to “bring America back to God” support him.

But American politics these days is a series of unappetising choices wrapped in high moral rhetoric.  SCOTUS is important, too important really, and that’s one of those enduring problems that we cannot seem to implement a way to fix.  Kavanaugh will not disappoint his tenacious supporters on some issues, but on others (especially those dear to religious conservatives) he will fall short of the expectations of both his supporters and his opponents, and some of us will realise all too late that the acrimony, certainly damaging for the country, was in vain.

Sexual Crimes Seem to Inspire Suspension of Due Process

That was certainly the case in early Byzantium, as recorded by Procopius in his Secret History, 11:

After that he (the Emperor Justinian) passed a law forbidding pederasty, not inquiring closely into those acts committed after the passing of the law but seeking out men who had succumbed to this malady some time in the past.  The prosecution of these cases was conducted in the most irregular fashion, since the penalty was imposed even when there was no accuser, and the word of a single man or boy, even if he happened to be a slave forced to give evidence most unwillingly against his owner, was accepted as final proof.  Men convicted in this way were castrated and paraded through the streets.  At first, however, not everyone was treated in this shocking manner, only those who were thought to be either Greens (an athletic/political party) or exceptionally wealthy (so their wealth could be confiscated), or who happened to have offended the rulers in some other way.

That’s One Way to Deal with Sexual Assault

This, from Livy, 38, 24: the Romans were conquering Galatia in Asia Minor, which the Gauls (the Romans’ frequent opponent) had occupied.  This incident tells us that Celtic women were as strong willed then as now:

The wife of the Gallic chieftain Ortiago was one of a number of prisoners.  She was a very attractive woman, and charged with guarding her was a centurion with the sexual appetite and the greed of a soldier.  This man at first attempted to seduce her, but seeing that consensual sex was abhorrent to her, he assaulted her person, which fortune had enslaved to him.  Later, to temper the humiliation of the assault, he gave the woman hope that she might return to her people, but even that was not offered free of charge, as by a lover.  The centurion negotiated the payment of a certain amount of gold and, not to have any of his men privy to his dealings, he allowed the woman to send any one of her fellow-prisoners she wished as a messenger to her people.  He picked a spot near the river to which no more than two of the prisoner’s kinsmen were to come to fetch her the following night, bringing the gold.  It so happened that a slave actually belonging to the woman was amongst the prisoners in custody with her.  This man was chosen as the messenger, and the centurion took him out at dusk beyond the guard-outposts.

The next night the woman’s two relatives came to the appointed place and the centurion also came with the prisoner.  Here they were showing the centurion the gold, which amounted to a full Attic talent–the price he had negotiated–when the woman told them in her own language to draw their swords and dispatch him while he was weighing the gold.  After they killed him she cut off his head, wrapped it in her dress and came with it to her husband Ortiago who had made good his escape home from Olympus.  Before she embraced him she threw the centurion’s head at his feet.  Ortiago was wondering whose head this was and what was the meaning of such unfeminine conduct, and she openly confessed to her husband the sexual assault and the retribution she had taken for the violation of her honour.  And it is said that by the moral purity and propriety she showed in the rest of her life she maintained to the end the esteem won by this act of a decent woman.

Polybius records her name as Chiomara.  it’s interesting to note that Livy implies that the centurion has the right to sexually assault her.  By the law and custom of the time that was correct; slaves had no rights to personal integrity.  That was the case until Christianity challenged that more than two centuries later.  But whatever was accepted custom did not dim Livy’s–or our–admiration for this woman.

Bringing Back “La Regale” in the Middle Kingdom

Everything is different in China:

Under the breakthrough, Pope Francis recognized the legitimacy of seven bishops appointed by the Chinese government. Because they had not been selected by the Vatican, they had previously been excommunicated.

For centuries, the monarchs of Europe exercised authority in the choice of bishops in their realm.  The triumph of Ultramontanism in the wake of Napoleon put an end to the practice; since that time the Church has stoutly resisted bringing back what the French called “la regale.”  It has paid the price for it; relations between the Vatican and the then-newly independent states of Latin America got off to a sour start because the Vatican refused to extend la regale, which had been in place during colonial times.

The ultimate fruit of Ultramontanism, which places a heavy emphasis on the central power of the papacy, wasn’t this but papal infallibility.  Given the erratic nature of the current occupant of the See of Rome, the wisdom of that decision needs to be seriously reconsidered, although getting the #straightouttairondale types to do that won’t be easy.  But Francis’ decision to recognise these bishops, in the historical context of la regale, is a major move that may come back to haunt the RCC, especially in countries where secular governments like to exercise authority over just about everything.

Amazon.com, the Company that Could Use a Trade Union

Some of my readers are aware that I was involved in our long-term family business for about half of my working career, and still do work in that field.  One thing I left behind, however, is industrial relations, or dealing with a trade union.  Our company had one for many years in Chicago and again in Chattanooga; it outlasted my family’s time in the business, albeit not by much.

It was an experience for both me and the trade union, to say the least.  The complexities of collective bargaining under our labour laws, to say nothing about handing grievances, tried everyone’s patience.  Trade unions are interesting in that many of their goals–and in certain cases their principal goals–are “non-economic,” i.e., working conditions, termination (or lack thereof) and similar ones.  In a broader perspective, I found out that there were many de facto members of the bargaining unit, either by immediate interest, sentiment or both.

In the middle of all this, I’d hear people say that “At one time, unions served a useful purpose to improve working conditions…”  To some extent, trade unions are a victim of their own success, due to their political activity.  Today we have unemployment insurance, workmen’s compensation, OSHA and other government-mandated benefits, many of which were lobbied for by the trade unions.  But the more benefits workers have from outside the contract, the less useful unions are.

Recent events have shifted things around a bit.  What got me interested in this topic from the “other side” was the ongoing campaign by the British trade union GMB West Midlands to organise amazon.com’s distribution facility in Rugeley.  Living in an area with two amazon.com facilities, I know people who have worked there and what comes out isn’t pretty.  To cut to the chase amazon.com is a brutal place to work with fairly draconian work rules.  From the looks of it they’ve extended that to Whole Foods, which they recently acquired, and they’re thinking about organising too.  For the first time in my adult life, I publicly came out in support of a trade union organising a workplace.

That support is buttressed by the actions of amazon.com’s leader, Jeff Bezos.  Today’s tech executives are a highly moralistic bunch, and Bezos is no exception.  He plasters the Washington Post with “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” but his employees are hard pressed to answer nature’s call.  (Wonder if they get time off to vote, like ours used to?  Perhaps it depends on how they vote…)  His company has no problem butting heads with left-wing stars like Seattle city councilwoman Kshama Sawant over the homeless tax.  (It’s interesting how the most fertile ground for socialists these days is in big blue-state cities…)

The blunt truth is that progressives can’t have it both ways: they can’t blithely support social justice warriors on the one hand (well, the ones that are shilling for them) and brutally exploit their workers on the other.  Neither can they claim the moral high ground.  Bezos and his colleagues in the tech community need to stop the duplicity and face reality.  If they’re really going to claim they’re better not only than anyone else but with all who have gone before them, they need to start acting like it and not like the Second Gilded Age magnates that they really are.

In the meanwhile, Bezos has revived the need for trade unions.  I hope and pray they are successful with organising as wide a variety of his operations as possible.

Once a Fundie, Always a Fundie

In Randal Rouser’s post on village atheism, after he lists the characteristics of village atheists, he makes the following observation:

As I already noted, there are also many village Christians who exhibit similar traits. (But the way, it should not surprise us that when village Christians leave the church, they typically become village atheist.)

To put it another way: once a fundie (fundamentalist) always a fundie.  You can change the book or creed you’re working from but the mentality is the same.  Atheists who have left Christianity frequently think of themselves as “enlightened,” but that’s easier said than done.  Probably the most egregious example of that to butt heads with this blog was James Alexander, but more recently one of my church people went postal on me regarding immigration.

Kicking the Can of History Down the Road

Francis Fukuyama, who predicted the “end of history” at the end of the Cold War, backtracks:

Twenty-nine years later, it seems that the realists haven’t gone anywhere, and that history has a few more tricks up its sleeve. It turns out that liberal democracy and free trade may actually be rather fragile achievements. (Consumerism appears safe for now.) There is something out there that doesn’t like liberalism, and is making trouble for the survival of its institutions.

Fukuyama thinks he knows what that something is, and his answer is summed up in the title of his new book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The demand for recognition, Fukuyama says, is the “master concept” that explains all the contemporary dissatisfactions with the global liberal order: Vladimir Putin, Osama bin Laden, Xi Jinping, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, gay marriage, ISIS, Brexit, resurgent European nationalisms, anti-immigration political movements, campus identity politics, and the election of Donald Trump. It also explains the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, Chinese Communism, the civil-rights movement, the women’s movement, multiculturalism, and the thought of Luther, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, Freud, and Simone de Beauvoir. Oh, and the whole business begins with Plato’s Republic.

It’s difficult to overestimate the damage that his first work on the “end of history” has done to the psyche of our elites.  By making them overconfident and totally unable to handle the adversity that has followed, they are psychologically incapable of handling the rise of authoritarian states such as Russia or China, to say nothing of going postal over Donald Trump.  Fukuyama’s attempt to pin the blame on identity politics won’t work either; it’s the cornerstone of the American left’s idea of life, they’ve even pushed class differences and income inequality to the back of the bus in the name of fulfilling yet another secular nirvana of identity perfection.

Before World War I the chattering classes saw the coming of a new world order, abetted by Christianity’s post-millennialism.  We saw some of that after World War II, but the Cold War put paid to that.  Now our elites have jettisoned Christianity for good, but their longing for a “liberal” utopia is undimmed.

There is only one end to history, and it is the beginning as well: Jesus Christ.  All these other attempts have ended in disaster, and we’re staring another one in the face.  Won’t anyone learn anything?

The Difference Between Donald Trump and UK Labour

This video recently appeared on UK Labour’s Twitter feed:

If we look at this objectively, the major difference between this and what Donald Trump is trying to do is that Trump is using tariffs and Labour wants to use subsidies.  Industrial policy has a long history in the UK and on the Continent; use of tariffs has an equally long history in the US, dating back to the founding of the Republic.  But industrial policy is industrial policy no matter how you set up the government cash flow to accomplish it, and that drives the globalists on both sides of the Atlantic batty.

Had the Democrats thrown the corporatists under the bus and nominated Bernie Sanders, we would have had a contest between two people who agreed on the problem but disagreed on the solution, and the contrast between Trump and Labour illustrates that perfectly.  Left and right don’t define our divisions as well as we would like to think they do.

This video also shows that Jeremy Corbyn–who is taking well-deserved lumps for his anti-Semitism–doesn’t sport a hard hat any better than any other politician.