End of times – Asian air quality edition

Air quality chart;

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This is what the U.S. looks like on a bad air quality day (it’s usually greener),

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This is what China looks like on a GOOD air quality day (it’s usually much worse);

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This was Seoul, South Korea today (check the chart again, notice how it only goes up to 500);

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Day 3 (wasted youth and suburban decay)

For every post I make, there’s probably 5 in the hopper that, for one reason or another, I never post. Here’s an excerpted year in review of posts I didn’t finish (reverse chronological order). Two/day for the next week.

5. 97% of compulsory education is a complete waste of time

As someone who thinks counting is an abstraction that normalizes kids to the objectification of the world, school teacher is an odd career choice. What are you gonna do though? The bills demand payment. Before class the other day, a student was anxiously trying to memorize the periodic table, “God, what a waste of time,” I told her. I’m a foreigner at my school so no one important listens to me, and, if they do, they chalk up any minor philosophical disagreements as western eccentricity (the job’s not without its perks). I told her that I had, on at least three separate occasions, had to memorize some portion of the periodic table. The only time it proved almost useful was during trivia night at a local pub. None of us could remember the symbol for Tungsten though. Maybe if I had taken German, I would’ve remembered Wolfram.

6. On the suburban death of Detroit (zerohedge)

On a recent flight out of Chicago, I had the misfortune of a window seat on a clear day. The 250 mile stretch from Chicago to Cincinnati is devastating. It’s a barren grid of plotted acres as far as the eye can see. Where dense old-growth forests stood less than a hundred and fifty years ago, only single-rows of trees punctuate the barren landscape, utilitarian windbreaks for single homes. It’s a horror, and one we need to begin thinking about how to undo. I don’t want to be callous. Many families have been devastated and lost much, if not all, of what they spent their lives acquiring. But the development of Detroit (like most of the US) with its surrounding suburbs, was madness. Endless streets of shoddy ranch houses spread out for miles in all directions. It’s collapse, though unfortunate for many, is not without potential and hope. It’s perfect for testing how landscapes might be returned to forests. Can we step back, and just get out of the way? There’s a feeling I can’t shake, within the torrent of my own feelings of guilt and inadequacy, that that might be all that is required of us.

 

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Things almost left unsaid, day 2

For every post I make, there’s probably 5 in the hopper that, for one reason or another, I never post. Here’s a excerpted year in review of posts I didn’t finish (reverse chronological order). Two/day for the next week.

3. Inflation for the rich. Citizens United, McCutcheon and political influence purchase.

Lots of people are freaking over McCutcheon v. FEC, “the super-rich can now unfairly influence elections!” All this means to me is that rich people have to pay more for their influence. Good. Whatever. Who cares. A democracy of 300 million people is a joke anyway. Laugh.

4. Coates v. Chait, discussion on race in America.

There is a great back-and-forth going on between Coates and Chait over the last couple weeks concerning race in America. Well, Coates has been great. Chait’s proven a reliable foil by erecting a fence along the limits of acceptable criticism by the left. Shitting on America’s reprehensible past is acceptable among progressives, but only if it proves the point that America is capable of becoming more just, more equitable; only when it buttresses the story of America coming ever closer to its mythological ideals and the stories which it tells about itself and its white people. In short, it’s acceptable only to the degree that it’s in service of a lie.Chait says that “what interests [him] is a real and vital public-policy debate over the culture of poverty.” A culture of poverty? In America? Sorry, no. If there is any common strand that runs across that great expanse of land called the US and might bridge all of  its disparate cultures together, it is the love of money. A distant second is vacuous fame. We all want to be adored, but first, rich. The idea that some defeatist virtue of poverty has taken hold anywhere in America is laughably stupid. People take pride in what they, or, as the case may be, don’t have.

Chait and progressive America also believe every child needs an opportunity. The black children of America, like all people, don’t need an opportunity, but opportunities. And not the kind most people think of. Sure, they need opportunities to better themselves, but also, and perhaps more importantly, they need the opportunity to fuck up, get in trouble, piss off the police, and still have a future. That is, they need the same opportunities given to whites.

You want policy? Here’s a start: stop criminalizing poverty; stop criminalizing black; allow poor people to avoid prison and lifelong record stains as easily as rich kids can cut checks; forgive instead of punish; free education; dismantle private schools and seize their endowments as a means to equalize quality of education across the board. For the richest country in the history of ever, this start would be easy. It would be easy, unless of course, “white supremacy was the central organizing force of American life.” Then, not. Chait and others are troubled by Coates fatalism. Coates fatalism isn’t unwarranted, it’s necessary. Like his street code, it’s a shield. A shield that protects against the endless disappoint that must inevitably arise whenever progressives speak about race in America.

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Things almost left unsaid

For every post I make, there’s probably 5 in the hopper that, for one reason or another, I never post. Here’s a excerpted year in review of posts I didn’t finish (reverse chronological order). Two/day for the next week.

1. In regard to a bunch of analysts trying to parse and infer from Obama’s big war speech.

  • Political analysts are a strange bunch. Forever trying to  determining the “tone” of what was said. Maybe it’s a generational thing. A nation of children raised by mothers who themselves were forever trying to understand that which was left unsaid by their own husbands. My mother was the same, forever admonishing us boys in the house that, “it’s not what you said, but how you said it.” Perhaps some learned the lesson too well. In any event, of course tone is important, especially if your interlocutor doesn’t have much to say, but when someone stands up in front of a few million people and gives a televised speech for near an hour, the importance of tone quickly gives way to, that which was actually said.

2.  American mythology

  • The myth of America dies hard. In school I studied history, among other things now mostly forgotten. It was a decent program, heavy on the west with a few impressive, yet token, 300-level nods to Africa and Asia. The professors were all interesting, highly credentialed, and earnestly fascinated by their chosen area of expertise. Yet still, they all had a blind spot you could fly a predator drone through when it came to the American project. There was always a disconnect between what the country did and what the country was. They enjoyed intriguing us with the bad:  the Middle Passage, Old Hickory versus the stillborn and the subsequent Trail of Tears, Reconstruction, the “virgin targets” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,  Diego Garcia, Cambodian and Laos bombing raids, and on and on. They knew Jefferson had to butcher Locke with that ridiculous “pursuit of happiness” line to get around the pesky problem of slavery, but they still got misty eyed talking about him and the other founding fathers. It was like traveling to Oz, finally peeking behind the curtain, and then falling to your knees in veneration. 

If the people who know all the terrible shit perpetrated by the government are still only milquetoast reformists who believe tapping the compass can right the ship, what hope is there? None. American government is and always has been a cabal of occasionally well-read yet pathological misfits who built themselves a world-encircling empire. The can-do, bootstrapping allusions politicians are always referencing in their speeches? They’re not talking about the American people. They sing their own praise, an ode to an order of people more bovine than fox. Stubborn, callous, and seemingly unstoppable. Iraq, Vietnam.  These aren’t aberrations or departures. These projects are the project.

 

 

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Small disagreements

“Those in military or paramilitary forces who interfere with politics should be removed from their positions and relegated to civilian life, where they may demonstrate to their hearts content.”

-I. Welsh

I’m a fan of Ian Welsh but disagree with his latest post. The discussion of oligarchy being ever just around the corner is self-defeating. I get the sentiment about “preserving the democracy” but this erroneously presumes there is something even resembling a democracy to preserve. There’s not and those on the left need to quit perpetuating the myth that America is in danger of losing its democracy. It’s already gone. No point in closing the barn doors after the unicorns have already run off sorta thing.  It’s time to recognize that and fight back with measures beyond hand-wringing about some perilous future that might be. The present is nightmarish enough.

To the point. Some convincing pockets of the left contend that revolution will occur when the political power-centers in this country lose the support of civil-servants who ensure that power. I’m largely in agreement. Yes, we would prefer that those civil-servants find common cause with our righteous lefty morality, but this isn’t going to happen. You’re not going to brow-beat critical race theory into the heads of people like Daniel Palenteo who relish actually beating on black people. The best we can hope for is breaks in rank. And wherever these occur we should support them. A bunch of racist asshole cops turning its collective back on a racist asshole city-hall is an undisputed good. The NYPD is bad, but the mayor’s office is worse. This little “bait and bleed” strategy could prove very effective for a left that has neither the numbers nor the stomach for revolt.

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The Interview (sympathy for the devil)

I would tell you where exactly in Seoul I was, but one can never be exactly sure where in Seoul one is. The buildings and streets, save a few dongs (boroughs), all look the same. Stale, uninspired buildings tower above street-level coffee shops and GS-25 convenience stores. McDonald’s here, bbq there. I climb out of a subway exit and try to get my bearings. Fail. After 3 phone calls, I finally arrive. A western bar with tables on the sidewalk so we can drink Cass outside on a warm summer night.

The conversation turned, as it occasionally does in Korea, to North Korea (NK). My friend had recently visited (NK occasionally opens for guided tours, even for Americans). The propaganda videos were the most interesting part of his trip. He found the hyperbole hilarious. Capitalism was always portrayed as a “monster, with an insatiable appetite. It consumes everything it sets its sights on.” As we sat at that sidewalk table, I looked up at the prison like wall of skyscrapers encircling us for miles in every direction and quipped, “not sure how far off the mark they are with that.” He gave a wry smile, more bewilderment than amusement. His sights were set on a US diplomatic post of some sort and he likely hadn’t heard many people defend the hermit kingdom before.

It’s one of the ironies of western fascination with propaganda that western people rarely give it its due when it comes from their media, their leaders. South Korea is every bit the master of disinformation. Koreans themselves seem more or less indifferent to it, but the ex-pats here eat it up. Stories likely originating from the NIS (Korea’s CIA which when originally conceived, was actually called the K-CIA), pour forth on a regular basis. Some nefarious, most bizarre. Pretty SOP for disinformation campaigns, Hitler has syphilis type intrigue. Did you hear that Kim Jong Un fed his uncle to the dogs? Or that all males must have the same haircut? Or that state TV claimed North Korea won the World Cup? Or that his girlfriend was executed for making a porn? Or that Olympic athletes are punished for poor performance? Or that Kim Jong Un himself was killed in a coup? Or that they hacked a number of South Korean banks? That these are proven untrue time and again, doesn’t dissuade people in the least from believing the next story.

Now NK may not, or may not, have hacked some corporate emails of Sony. Whether you believe this to be true probably hews pretty close to whether you believe a country that uses farm tractors to pull fake Buk missiles in a military parade is actually capable of making a nuke:

northkorea

Myself? I have doubts. Nuclear weapons are incredibly resource intensive to produce and maintain. You can’t just store them on the shelf next to your AK-47s and barely-functional taepodong missiles. There are only 8 countries with nuclear weapons. Pakistan is the second poorest country on the list with a nuke, and their economy is 20x larger than North Korea’s. To give you an idea of how impoverished NK is, Apple grosses more money in a single quarter selling iPads alone than the entire yearly output of NK. Slave labor does have its advantages for both Apple and NK, but only if you can “bring it to market” as they say.

Now you may be saying, what kind of logic is that? Whether or not NK has nukes has little to do with whether they hacked Sony. Well, yes. And, no. The point is is that everything you hear about NK is bullshit. It’s so bad that in 2011 Vice sent a team to do a story on the vast forced labor camps in Siberia, but couldn’t actually find them anywhere. Most of the story is them just drinking Vodka on the train. They do find a couple poor North Korean guys cutting timber (which all ends up in England btw) who tell them over a beer, that, “well yeah, conditions in NK are bad. But it’s because of a 50 year economic blockade on our country.” Who are the real propaganda victims here, fellas? The sadist administrators in charge of the camp eventually make an appearance to shoo the cameras away and actually come across as reasonable and almost pleasant, more embarrassed than fearful of a camera seeing how they live.

To be sure, I’m not saying NK isn’t an evil country, they’re a modern state–of course they are evil. But they are far from uniquely evil as always portrayed. It’s also worth remembering that NK is only a “threat” today because G.W.Bush needed a third leg for his “tripod of evil.” In 2000, Kim Jong Il actually visited Seoul and the two countries were beginning to normalize relations. Economic trade between the two steadily increased until 2008. It stalled, perhaps coincidentally, after the passage and gradual implementation of the 2007 US-Korean FTA. Yes, the Kims have and do operate awful prison camps but I’ve yet to see evidence that they’ve constructed an entire scheme of imprisonment and torture that caters more to their leaders particular sexual peccadillos than any utilitarian purpose.

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Rate increases hit Obama supporters

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I actually voted for Obama in ’08. That support, however, didn’t last long. Early in ’09, he decided not to release the torture photos (much less prosecute the torturers) and not to nationalize the banks (much less prosecute the bankers). You’ve perhaps forgotten, but nationalization was being seriously debated in the spring of ’09 before Obama brought in the Clinton financial people. The breaking point for me though came at the beginning of healthcare reform.

As I understood it, Obama’s campaign had been largely premised on two things: increasing transparency and cutting down the power of lobbyists. Many liberals, my-deluded-self included, thought those 2 issues were key to getting the government to quit doing evil shit. I was wrong though and it likely doesn’t matter. The American people support enough evil shit that the empire can continue doing heinous things whether we’re told or not. Regardless, both of those campaign promises were dashed when Obama called the top health-care executives to the white house and then fought to keep that meeting secret. Obama apparently had less a problem with corporate power than with lobbyists acting as middle-man. Go straight to the source, I guess? It was hard to believe at the time. Single-payer was dead and reform was going to be a bonanza for corporate health companies (primarily the insurance companies, quite possibly the most hated industry in America).

Since that time, those who saw Obamacare as true reform have been doing their best to promote it. One particular couple who I’m friends with has spent the last two+ years defending the ACA and posting many positive stories about the legislation and its benefits for America. But today? Cracks in the dam;

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As you can see from their profile pic proudly standing on the whitehouse lawn, they’re quite devoted. If you take Obamacare away from the liberals who still support Obama, what do they have? That was the sole issue on which many half-hearted 2012 votes were cast. Perhaps they’ll just do a Clintonian rebranding after his term. Nauseous already.

 

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