Category Archives: Social and Political Pieces

It would be nice if we could ignore the world around us. But we can’t.

If California Can’t Pass Single Payer, the Democrats Will Never Really Win

Most of the attention these days on Congress (the opposite of progress) has centred on the Senate’s inability to pass a replacement for the misnamed Affordable Care Act.  Let me make my first stipulation: the “repeal and replace” business is pure political theatre, has been from the start, and in a sense Donald Trump has called their bluff on it.  (That’s why I dropped the subject when the ACA was passed.)  If I were Trump, I’d let it go down the tube and figure out a “Plan B” to manoeuvre Congress into doing something really worthwhile.

But there’s another legislative drama going on about health care, and it’s in California:

Supporters of a stalled single-payer healthcare bill returned to the Capitol in Sacramento on Monday to express their anger that Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) shelved the measure more than a week ago.

Backers of the bill, SB 562, disrupted a separate hearing on the Assembly floor by unfurling a banner from the gallery before being escorted out. They also attended a hearing of the Assembly Rules Committee, the panel in which Rendon held back the bill, holding up signs on which they’d written personal healthcare stories. And a small contingent staged a “sit-in” near Rendon’s office, chanting “SB 562.”

Single-payer is the left’s “holy grail” from a political standpoint.  But they didn’t pass it when the ACA was enacted and the California Senate can’t bring it self to do it.  Jerry “Governor Moonbeam” Brown doesn’t like it either.  This doesn’t make sense, especially in the single-party state that California has become.

The goal of single-payer is to have mediocre health care for everyone at around 10% of GDP, and the ACA got us half of that.  (Guess which half?)  Under single-payer, people who want something better will have to sneak out of the country for it, hoping that they won’t be caught in a shame/honour reaction the way Charlie Gard did.

Some people say that single-payer is unaffordable. But that’s simply not true.  Once the single entity gets control of the checkbook, if that entity has the political will, they can spend as much or as little as they like to the extent they can stand the political blowback.  That is one of the big “ifs;” the current system allows for blame shifting to outside entities, which is one reason many on the left oppose single-payer, even though they’re loathe to admit it.

At this point in American history, it is my idea that the American people are so deeply into their entitlement mentality and tired of running around for all the “choices” they have in health care that single-payer is what we will, in the end, have.  Politically the left have a winner if they play their cards and pull themselves together long enough to pull it off.

If the Democrats, who are just about the only game in the state, can’t pass single-payer, the nirvana they’ve promised us is a mirage.  And that’s something to think about as we stumble through another election cycle.

The Campus Corporatists Run Scared on Free Speech

A editorial from the University of Maryland lays it out:

Colleges should “screen” speakers to ensure that they are not giving a platform to “intolerant perspectives,” a University of Maryland student argues in a recent op-ed.

“There is nothing inherently wrong with screening speakers, teachers and even students on the campus,” sophomore Moshe Klein declares in an op-ed for The Diamondback, arguing that “intolerant” points of view “prevent certain groups of people from participating in campus life safely.”

There’s a great deal of noise on this subject about the “snowflakes,” but I think the current campus inhabitants’ aversion to free speech (not universal, I might add) stems from two things.

The first is a decidedly corporatist mentality towards education and life itself.  We’ve sold college education–and inspired a generation to go deep into hock for it–as the road to a good-paying job, never mind that many of the majors these people take are dead-ends in that search.  If people come on campus to “rock the boat,” that puts the careerist enterprise in jeopardy.  The boat the students have been on all their lives is one that steers to port most of the time, so it’s no surprise right-wing speakers get attacked the most.

The second stems from the unstable underpinnings of millennial life.  Raised in families that disintegrate on a whim, living in a society that constantly hectors them to “reinvent themselves” while pulling the rug out from under the new reinvention, exhorted to “seek their dream” which may or may not make it possible for them to eat, watching technology blow away entire industries and sectors of the economy, it’s little wonder that stability is highly prized by these people.  My own students are attracted to government positions and, in civil engineering, that’s entirely sensible, and I encourage them to consider that.

I think that the Millennials are making a mistake wanting to suppress free speech, but until people are more secure in who they are and less inclined to seek validation in a corporatist world, that attitude isn’t going to change.

Likening Donald Trump to Julius Caesar May Not Send the Message People are Looking For

It really won’t:

Brutus is a commanding figure in the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of “Julius Caesar.” The wily Mark Antony also looms large. But the most fearsome character in the show isn’t standing on stage — not even in the person of a Donald Trump-like Caesar — but instead storming the bleachers and shouting in the aisles. It’s the mindless Roman mob, or, as director Oskar Eustis’s politically slanted production slyly insinuates, it’s the ecstatic mobs at a Trump rally. Although the show whipped up controversy when funders pulled out over right-wing objections, the furor isn’t warranted: Anyone who reads the plays knows Shakespeare’s main message is that no matter how much you want to get rid of your current political leader, don’t kill him.

That last message is lost on people on both sides of the political spectrum, as we’ve seen with Kathy Griffin’s grisly photo and all the other nasty stuff the left is dredging up these days.  Shakespeare’s message needs to be taken to heart, because Brutus’ assassination didn’t restore the Republic, but ultimately led the way for Octavian to set up the Principiate (usually called the Empire) as Augustus.

As far as the dreaded mob is concerned, the Roman mob was an urban mob on the dole.  As long as most people worked, they didn’t have time to be an irresponsible mob.  But the social dislocations of the late Republic and the patronage driven nature of Rome led to that mob, which not only survived the Empire’s establishment and remained a potent force as long as the city of Rome was important, but transferred itself to Constantinople and made waves there.

The crisis of the Republic that led to Julius Caesar’s brief rule was, in a real sense, the product of its success.  Having conquered large areas around the Mediterranean, its political system, formed in a city-state, was no longer able to work properly.  The real question for us is this: is our form of government, formed in agrarian colonies, suitable for a country that essentially rules the world?  People on neither side are really asking this question.  The right wants to run the clock back, and the left wants to keep the form of the system while fundamentally altering its result.  Comparing Donald Trump to Julius Caesar dooms the left because the transition that Rome underwent was done by a relative.

If we are reaching the tipping point that Rome reached, we need to stop asking the question, “How do we restore this country to its ideal state?” and ask “Who is best positioned to take advantage of this mess and come out ahead?”  Answering that question, and finding the leader to make it happen, will decide how this Republic makes its transition to the next stage.

The Undemocratic, Procrustean Experiment Strikes Again

As Nick Park points out in his letter to Ireland’s Foreign Minister about the EU’s actions about Christian refugees from Eritrea:

We are alarmed at report recently from contacts in Brussels that the EU is in the process of signing Compact Agreements with third countries which will mean that members states can send back asylum seekers without difficulty.  Our understanding is that this whole process is being carried out in such a manner as to bypass the European Parliament and avoid democratic scrutiny.  We are informed that all member states must be in agreement before a compact agreement is signed.

The problem of undemocratic action is at the core of the problem of the EU itself.  Not only are the ways to evade democratic action multiple, but the EU has taken a “one size fits all” and “my way or the highway” attitude on many issues.  The biggest result of this was Brexit.  In the lead-up to the vote, I noted that the EU was an “undemocratic, Procrustean experiment.”  Many cried at the result but few stopped to think that, had the EU taken a more flexible and open approach to the UK’s concerns, it would have never happened.

The EU has always been sold that it is “the best.”  The best for what? For whom?  Intent to solve Europe’s propensity to plunge itself into conflict is one thing, but just because there’s a cure doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement.

That Crazy Concept of Central American Economic Development…

…just might be facilitated by the policies of the Trump administration:

Meanwhile, suspension of U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership is potentially good news for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, offering temporary relief from enhanced global competition with the most competitive products and markets in Asia. Although important from a strategic U.S. perspective in Asia and Latin America, TPP nonetheless threatened to divert U.S. trade and investment activities away from the Northern Triangle and others in Central America toward nations like Vietnam and Malaysia.

In all the noise about immigration, it never occurred to most Americans to ask the obvious dumb question: why don’t we promote the economic development of those nations where many of the illegal immigrants come from?  Why make everyone who wants to succeed move here?  The answer to that is a combination of American exceptionalism on the one side to the needs of employers to the desire to change the composition of the electorate on the other.

But it’s in the best interest of this country for those nations to our immediate south to prosper and not just be the conduits for our voracious appetite for drugs.  Hopefully the summit later this month on the subject will move things forward, although I’ve always been sceptical about summits like this as gatherings of people who have never done the deal.

Although promoting economic development elsewhere isn’t a novelty in American policy (the Marshall Plan is the largest example) the self-focused nature of our governing elites has put it out of fashion of late.  But if there was a time when fashion needed to be cyclical, it’s this one.

The “Favourite Period” for Feminism was also the Favourite Period for Pentecostal Women Ministers

An interesting observation from Camille Paglia on her “favourite period” for feminism:

My favorite period in feminism has always been the 1920s and 1930s, when American women energized by winning the vote gained worldwide prominence for their professional achievements. My early role models, Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn, were fierce individualists and competitors who liked and admired men and who never indulged in the tiresome, snippy rote male-bashing that we constantly hear from today’s feminists.

It was also (not coincidentally) the “golden age” of women ministers in modern Pentecost, a fact which I touched on in my last post.  After 1950, setting women into ministry in Pentecostal churches (in the Church of God at least) went into decline until recent times.

Another thing that experienced a “golden age” in the 1930’s was aviation, where women such as Earhart and Laura Ingalls made their mark.  My grandfather was part of that era and I discuss that–and womens’ achievements there–in more detail here.

What happened?  In short, World War II, which induced many changes into American society that are still not appreciated.  Today we work under a paradigm (or paradigms, some of which are self-contradictory) that really isn’t working for anybody.  A good example of this comes from another observation from Paglia:

The main point here is that we should have had our first woman president way back in the 1990s, but neither Pelosi nor Feinstein, the leading female candidates, chose to run, as even Elizabeth Dole bravely did. There is absolutely no mythical “misogyny” holding back American women from the presidency: for heaven’s sake, the U.S. has had women mayors, senators, and governors for decades now.

We should have had our first women president then, but instead we got that Scots-Irish wonder kid, Bill Clinton.  Had we done so, as head of government she would have been sandwiched between the UK’s Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May, both of whom were or are Tories.  (Even Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, Muslim countries all, have beat us to the punch on this one…)  Something is wrong, but our heated rhetoric confounds our ability to fix it.

Ending a Ban on Communists in Government is an Improvement in Some Places

Like California:

Lawmakers narrowly approved the bill to repeal part of a law enacted during the Red Scare of the 1940s and ’50s when fear that communists were trying to infiltrate and overthrow the U.S. government was rampant. The bill now goes to the Senate.

To tell the truth, a real Communist would be an improvement over the sybaritic post-modern leftists that dominate California politics.  I’ve referred to the place as the “People’s Republic of California,” but in reality it’s in the thrall of its moneyed elites in a way that would make the “capitalist roaders” of yore envious.

One thing that Communists liked to do (at least in the early years of their rule, before they let the economy run down like Brezhnev did) is to do big public works.  California could use some of that now, but its moneyed elites have an allergy for same, and sad to say the few Republicans left there do too.

Another big problem, however, is that there are few real Marxists-Leninists-_____________ around these days.  The right likes to call American leftists Communists, but few are, even those who claim the label.  The closest major figure on the left to being a Communist is Bernie Sanders, but even with his appeal to the Millennials the Democrat party’s establishment “tilted the table” to prevent his nomination.

Our ruling elites wouldn’t be facing the populist upheaval they are if they were more mindful of the needs of their general population.  But they look down on same general population and then expect adulation.  And they wonder why it’s a bumpy ride these days?

Advice to Graduates: Consider the Brusilov Option

It’s that time of year when most people who graduate from anything actually do it.  And graduation brings up more the most important issue: where do I go from here?  Really, if you’ve waited until graduation to answer that question, you’re in serious trouble.  If you’re reading this long before graduation, perhaps it will save you lost income and other dire consequences of an unexamined life.

The Russians are all “the thing” these days.  Everyone seems to be obsessed with them.  Did they throw our election?  Do they get special treatment from our current President?  Is your tax accountant a Russian spy?  (I have a relative who actually experienced that problem.)

For those of you who aren’t paying attention (and my classroom and lab experience tells me that’s me that’s a lot of you) we’re travelling through the hundredth anniversary of World War I, and this year the Russian Revolution.  Rolling all of that into one brings us to the best part of Russia’s war effort in World War I: the Brusilov Offensive and its commander, Aleksei Alekseevich Brusilov.

From the beginning of the war, Russia’s war effort was dogged by difficulties.  Some of these were due to the nature of the country: large, poorly connected by roads and railways, its soldiers recruited from an illiterate peasantry, its industrial base small and underdeveloped.  Others were due to the uninspiring leadership from its Tsar, Nicholas II, his family and hangers-on, not the least of which was Rasputin.  The result of this was, by the end of 1915, the Germans and Austrians had taken Poland and Russia had no good prospect for improvement.

Enter Brusilov.  Taking command in 1916, he prepared for a major offensive primarily against the Austrians, which he perceived to be the weaker opponent.  Discarding putting everything into one type of military operation (a persistent fault of World War I command) he organised a multifaceted operation including infantry, artillery and cavalry assault (this last was sometimes beneficial in the East, not in the West.)  It was well organised and supplied (neither a given with Russian operations) and he kept the secrecy of the preparations to a higher than usual level.

The last worked: the Austrians were not ready when his armies began their assault on 4 June 1916.  Over the next two months the Russians advanced anywhere from 25-50 miles along an approximately 300 mile front.  Although the Russians were not able to follow up on their success, his offensive forced the Germans to take the pressure from the French and Italians, and his offensive pretty much broke the Austrians as a major ally for the Germans.

The benefits to Russia of their victory have long been debated, especially since their revolution took place the following year.  But one Russian was obviously impressed with the results: Lenin.  Brusilov was never a Bolshevik or Communist, but Lenin recruited Brusilov to serve in the Red Army as an advisor and trainer.  And Lenin did win the Russian Civil War.

So why is all of this relevant for you?  The question you need to ask yourself is simple: are your abilities and skill set of such a calibre that your enemy would value you enough to retain your services?  Or, if things changed significantly like they did for Russia in 1917, would you be able to survive the change?  Russians were faced with the same choice when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and watching them take the challenge changed the way I looked at many things.  Is your degree or skill set dependent on things going on the way they are?  Most of you are products of an educational system whose main goal is to make you fit for the existing system.  What happens when that system changes radically or goes away?  The fear of that result is what’s driving the assault on free speech we see on campuses today.

And then there are those immigrant people.  They came to this country to seek success in a different system.  Could you do the same by leaving this country for another one?  What foreign language skills do you have?  Are your skills marketable outside of this bubble?  Do you even understand the metric system of weights and measurements?  Why is it that everyone has to move here?  These are questions no one is asking these days, but we’ve seen many “unexpected” things in our lifetime, why not some more?

Christians, who are way too heavily invested in these United States, need to think about this as we debate Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option.”  That will never work unless we in turn adopt the “Brusilov Option” of being able to survive and thrive in a hostile world.   Failure to do so will make any “Benedict Option” economically unviable.  (Remember that Benedict’s motto was “To Work is to Pray.”)  We live in a trashy and slovenly culture; unless we can seriously rise above it, we are toast.

Unfortunately for many of you the die is cast with your major, although strange major/career combinations are not unknown.  For those of you reading this who have a better head start, you should think about it.  We have a society which likes big talk about “pursuing your dream” and “changing the world.”  But if the world changes and you’re not ready for it, you’ll wish you had considered the “Brusilov Option” when you had the chance.

Harvard’s Music Curriculum Changes: Another Attempt to Sidetrack the Asians?

Harvard tries to shake things up in its music curriculum:

University curricular reform doesn’t typical ignite fiery internet controversy. But last month, when The Harvard Crimson reported on the adoption of a new undergraduate curriculum at Harvard, the classical music corner of the internet—composers, performers, theorists, musicologists – briefly erupted in intense discussion. The college’s elimination of typical core requirements for concentrators (Harvard’s word for “majors”), including its introductory theory courses, caused some commentators to voice concern about the decline of traditional analytical skills; others instead pointed out that older curricular models often exclude non-Western musics and limit diversity.

One of the things they’re trying to do is this:

And our old curriculum was saying to those students, “You cannot major in music because your parents did not give you 12 years of this kind of education that we implicitly require.” Although it says nowhere on our website that that is required, that’s essentially what we’re requiring. We’ve gotten rid of this whole notion of this implicit – and it is, ultimately, a class-based implicit requirement. And students come with a variety of backgrounds and musical interests. For example, a highly skilled singer-songwriter can become a music concentrator.

Music at the university level is an interesting proposition.  It’s true that music academics commonly expect that the major has been doing this all of his or her life, which is a leisurely approach to being an academic.  (Everyone else struggles with products of a school system which doesn’t bring students to a high enough level, so we’re a little envious.)  And it’s true that “classical” music (and that term really isn’t used properly) dominates most university curricula, although there are  excellent jazz programs.

The bottom line is that music academics, whether they want to admit it or not, realise that the musical world they’re preparing their students for is not the same as we see in the, say, pop culture.  Here in Tennessee that’s especially obvious with the dominance of the country (and Christian) music industry in Nashville.

It’s easy to say that this is the problem Harvard is trying to fix.  Or is it?  Harvard and the other Ivy League schools, their reputation for excellence notwithstanding, have a long history of “levelling the playing field” when overachievers arrive.  This goes back to their treatment of the Jews a century ago, when they discovered the “well-rounded” person and reduced their Jewish admissions.  They’ve done basically the same thing with the Asians, which is why the Asians are suing.

Anyone who has been around music education knows that the Asians are very much dominant in competitions, just as they are in the STEM fields.  They are the primary recipients of the twelve (and more) year music education before they arrive (homeschoolers are another group that turn up in this bunch.)  Harvard’s changes strike me as an attempt to change the rules and “defend” the system against people who diligently followed it, all in the name of addressing a “class-based” problem.

The husband of a past president of the Tennessee Music Teachers Association expressed to me the sentiment that what music academia really needs is an audience.  Much of the system is a “closed loop,” which has made it a prime target for university budget cutting.  Starting with the audience would go a much longer way to addressing the “industry’s” problems than tinkering with the curriculum.

Erdogan: Touching the Sultan’s Garment is Still a Big Deal

In the wake his victory, Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan does something distinctly Ottoman:

As he stood before the tomb of Selim I, Erdogan gazed upon the caliph’s caftan and gently touched it. Would the garment become his, and more importantly, would he inherit the powers of the conquering Turkish caliph?

This custom, which finds application in the New Testament, has a long heritage in Turkey, as I explained two years ago:

The Ottomans put fair stock in touching or kissing this hem.  When Sultan Abdul Hamid II was enthroned in 1876, he went in procession to the Eyub Mosque (the Friday procession of the Sultan and his retinue to the mosque for prayers was one of the highlights of the week for residents of Constantinople).  Once the dervishes had girded him with the sabre–the Turks were and are a military people–the Sultan took three steps towards his Grand Vizier (prime minister) who kissed the hem of his garment in the name of the people.  This gesture was done even under duress; in 1808, when Sultan Selim III was murdered and Mahmud II ended up as Sultan, his soon to be Grand Vizier Bairactar kissed the hem of the new Sultan’s robe.  (Bairactar didn’t last long; he was murdered by the Janissaries, but ultimately they came to the same end).

The Ottoman emperor was also the Caliph, the head of the Islamic faithful. I think it’s fair to say that Erdogan has always had the caliphate in view, now he is one step closer. In addition to putting him at odds with Christian states like Russia (Western Europe has long since decamped from this status, as has the United States,) it also puts him at odds with Isis, which believes the Caliph must be an Arab.  It also puts him at odds with the Iranians, who are outside of Islam in the Sunni idea.

This mess isn’t going away any time soon…but watch: Erdogan’s next move along these lines is to unfurl the banner named Barack…