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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – April 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Pang Mapha Cave in Thailand – photo by John Spies

We’ve made it to Saturday! This concludes one of the more cacophonous political weeks in quite a while.

Paul Ryan is retiring from Congress, and is taking his signed first editions of Ayn Rand’s books back to Janesville, WI. No need to hold a benefit, Paul has $10 million in campaign funds in the bank, and is likely to land a rainmaker job on Wall Street.

Ryan joins the record number of Republicans who’ve decided against seeking re-election. They’re fleeing the anger directed at them for both their hyper-partisanship, and their inability to do much. It is difficult to overestimate the damage Ryan has done to this country. His devotion to the Republican narrative at the expense of truth hasn’t helped our democracy.

His “deficit reduction” proposals were always frauds. The revenue loss from tax cuts always exceeded any explicit spending cuts, so Ryan’s pretense of fiscal responsibility came entirely from “magic asterisks”: Extra revenue from closing unspecified loopholes, reduced spending from cutting unspecified programs.

Ryan took the helm of the House two and a half years ago, because he was seen as the only Congresscritter who could keep Republicans from fratricide. They had already shut down the government, and toppled their former Speaker, John Boehner.

Ryan leaves with the gaps in the party as evident as ever, but drawn along slightly different lines, with nativists and populists following the lead of President Trump. This hard right faction is pitted against what little remains of Mr. Ryan’s brand of traditional conservatism. But Ryan hewed to all of the Right-wing talking points. He faithfully ran interference for those who tried to turn the middle class into serfs beholden to the 1%. And he was in the NRA’s pocket. Sayonara, Mr. Ryan.

And, despite two days of congressional hearings on Facebook, the image that remains is Mark Zuckerberg trying to explain to people who have no idea of how Facebook works what he’s going to do to fix what they don’t understand.

There was a lot of talk about how to better ensure privacy, how to prevent user data from being provided to advertisers. But that is the business model of Facebook: Advertisers use the data collected by Facebook to present specific consumers with what they’re specifically selling.

It works because users often want to buy exactly what they’re being sold. That’s how Facebook makes money.

Users happily share details about themselves and their lives, and Facebook provides those data to advertisers. Even if it’s a little creepy, advertisers are learning way too much about every Facebook user, and most of Facebook’s users are willing participants in the creepiness.

Facebook certainly shouldn’t be allowed to sell those data to any party running a political operation. But it remains to be seen whether Facebook can effectively self-regulate, or whether Congress is up to the task of regulating that which it knows nearly nothing about…sort of like when they tried to regulate Wall Street.

Most of us can read between the political lines. Ryan’s one accomplishment is a flawed tax cut that will turn out huge budget deficits for years.

Zuckerberg? Well, almost everyone’s on Facebook. And on Facebook, like in Congress, half-truths predominate. Facebook gives you the latest selfie of your friends who are at a dinner that you weren’t invited to. Everybody joins because it’s free, and hundreds of millions of Americans already use it.

So this week, Zuckerberg and Ryan both got out of DC unscathed. Hard to believe that Zuckerberg is the more consequential person.

Anyhow, it’s a warm Saturday in the northeast, and the yardwork beckons. For some procrastinators, so does that final touch-up on the old 1040 form. Before getting to all that, it’s time to settle back and have a tall strong cup of PT Coffee of Topeka, Kansas’s Finca Kilimanjaro / Burundi Process + Ethiopia Process with its tasting notes of Fig, Caramel, and Cedar ($54/16oz.).

Now settle back in a chair where you can watch the birds building their nests, and listen to Jean-Baptiste DuPont play Franz Liszt’s, Prélude et Fugue sur Bach on the 1889 Cavaillé-Coll organ in the Basilica Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, France. Liszt composed this in 1855, as an homage to JS Bach. Note that the organist uses no sheet music:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – April 7, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry Blossoms, Tokyo Japan – March 29 photo by Eugene Hoshiko

Maybe Wrongo has Spring Fever, but how could he, when it snowed again yesterday? He promises to put the snow shovel in the garage for its three-season nap on Monday, no matter what.

The delay of spring’s arrival got Wrongo thinking about change. We like to think that little changes in our environments, either natural, or socio-cultural, but change they do, every day. And except for a few details, Wrongo is certain that this blog’s readers are all on the same page: Change is in the air, and nothing stays the same. And we’re not just talking about the weather.

Yesterday is gone
Tomorrow is already here.

Wrongo has been writing this blog since March, 2010. Over the past eight years, he has explained how our political/social/economic systems operate, and why/how they can easily fail. And how we do not seem to have a rational, coherent plan to avoid that failure. Yet, each year we seem to inch closer to failure.

Are we doing anything more than Don Quixote was doing? Wrongo, by writing and you, by reading this blog? But Wrongo persists. He’s here, you are here, and once again, as in 1968, change is in the air.

Millions of people are on the move, leaving their ancestral homes, fleeing conflict and poverty. They are trying to find a place to survive, while others who were left behind are dying in the millions. With the increased efforts by migrants to survive, both Europe and the US are closing the gates, hoping to keep the immigrant mob on the outside. But at home, we already have achieved conflict, poverty and death that isn’t caused by immigrants. It is, to paraphrase Jimmy Buffet, “Our own damn fault”.

On Monday in our little corner of Connecticut, we will have a very New England form of direct democracy, a special town meeting. Those citizens who show up will get to vote on whether the Town issues bonds to finance the repair of our roads, which have suffered 20+ years of deferred maintenance. Maybe 100 people will show up, (out of 8,000 voters) maybe less. Those who do show up will decide if we fix our roads, or not. They will decide if lower taxes are better than safe roads.

So Wrongo and Ms. Right spent today stuffing envelopes into mailboxes. This vote is the culmination of a two-year effort to get our town to address how poor our roads have become. We will see if our efforts today help to break voters from their Golden Slumbers, and participate.

If they fail to show up, it will be their own damn fault if the vote goes against whatever their viewpoint is on the bonds.

Wrongo believes that political change is in the air, but that change locally and nationally depends primarily on voter turnout. Turnout depends on people being motivated enough to waddle on down to their polling place and vote, even if the weather is bad, the candidate isn’t perfect, and their one vote doesn’t seem to matter.

But today’s Saturday, and it’s time to settle back, relax, and get soothed. Or work on your taxes, if you have procrastinated. To help you relax, brew up a cup of Gedeb Lot 83 Ethiopia Natural coffee ($18.95/12oz) from JBC Coffee Roasters in Madison, WI. It has a sweetly tart structure with a rich umami undercurrent and satiny mouthfeel.

Now settle back in your favorite chair and listen to “Spring Waltz” supposedly by Frédéric Chopin.

However, it isn’t really called that, it isn’t a waltz, and it isn’t by Chopin. It is actually “Mariage d’Amour” composed by Paul de Senneville in 1987. It was wrongly titled and became wildly popular, so the various YouTube channels that feature it won’t correct its name. Still it is very beautiful, and of the season:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – March 31, 2018

The Daily Escape:

 

Zion National Park – 2001 photo by Wrongo

From Alastair Crooke:

At the beating heart of Trump’s Presidency lies the notion of the “Art of the Deal”.  It is said that Trump has few convictions, but his notion of how to negotiate – with a big stick, maximum leverage, and with credible, fear-inducing ‘threats’ –  is central to his whole Presidency.

Crooke continues:

This underlying notion of the ‘deal’ is transactional in essence, best practiced as a one-to-one operation, rather than in a multilateral context.  But in the sphere of geo-politics this is not so easy….in May… Trump will put his negotiating theory to the test in a very different ambit to that of New York real estate. The North Korean summit should be held; the verdict on the nuclear agreement with Iran is due to be pronounced then; the US Israeli-Palestinian determination is scheduled to be ‘handed down’ in May; the Sunni states’ Iran containment roles [are] to be set; and any punitive tariffs on China will be decided, and enacted.

May will be an important month for America. We could see success in all, some, or none of these negotiations.

Crooke posits that the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians and the Russians all have read and understand the concepts behind the Art of the Deal. They also know that the US is not really in a position to make good on the bluff, and particularly, not in each negotiation, in each part of the globe.

And despite John Bolton’s best efforts to reinforce Trump’s desire to show America as the strongest, baddest version of LeRoy Brown, all of these competitors and would-be adversaries won’t necessarily blink if Trump threatens them.

There are other problems with Trump’s Art of the Deal strategy. He’s not the only one who knows how to play high-stakes poker:  Putin and Xi did not become the undisputed leaders of Russian and China without knowing a bit about strategy and risk-taking.

And the leaders on the other side of each of these Trump initiatives are being told by their own “hawks” that one option is to out-Trump Trump, and win.

This raises the question of a diplomatic “off-ramp”. When Trump warns North Korea that the alternative to accepting America’s demands is military action, what will Trump do if Kim Jong-Un just says “no”? Or, what if Kim answers “yes, but only if America withdraws its nuclear shield from the Korean Peninsula”, or insists that American forces leave northeast Asia altogether?

What does Trump do then?

Does he go to war? The Donald can go to the well too many times with the Art of the Deal strategy.

Over the past 17 years in the Middle East and elsewhere, America’s military might has been shown to have serious limitations, despite our substantial capabilities.

Will Trump be able to bluff his way through May? And if he can’t, then what?

Relax! The good news is that we have a couple of months to figure this out.

Sounds like we need to enjoy the spring, now that it’s finally arrived. Here, the fields of Wrong have finally given up their snow. The birds are returning, and our thoughts turn to a spring clean-up of the damage brought by winter.

So, let’s procrastinate a bit by brewing up a vente cup of Dragonfly Coffee Roasters Ninety Plus Gesha Estates Panama Limited Batch #238, made with the Jose Alfredo Process. ($165/8oz.) Dragonfly claims that the taste is astounding and original, including deeply arousing notes of caramelized green apple surrounding lavish fruit notes that delicately transition the finish into rich cocoa.

Who writes this stuff?

Now, settle back and contemplate the arrival of spring by watching and listening to a video of a Bobolink, by the great Lang Elliott. The Bobolink is a member of the Blackbird family:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – March 17, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Mt Kilimanjaro – March 2018 photo by Peter Madonia

The #enough movement is about school kids protesting school violence. America watched this week as thousands of high school kids left their classrooms. Some wanted their government to do more to end gun violence, some simply wanted to show solidarity with 17 dead Florida kids.

These children may not be able to vote yet, but they’re learning how to make themselves heard. Let’s hope they grow up and vote, because we are living in a country where many, including most Republicans in Congress, think that universal health care is tyranny, but dead school children are part of the cost of freedom.

They think that access to medical treatment is a privilege you earn based on what’s in your wallet. Meanwhile, they defend the right of virtually anyone over 18 to own an AR-15.

And in New Milford, here in Litchfield County CT, there was a big dust-up over the town’s walk out. A group of parents hired an attorney to tell the school district that they were not happy that the kids got to participate in the national student walkout. Their lawyer wrote to the school district, saying:

My clients have asked me to notify you that this event violates state law, on the basis that state and local public funds are being used improperly to advocate for a political issue and to influence how voters will vote. Because it violates state law, we demand that the New Milford Public School District’s Superintendent and Board of Education immediately cancel the event, and rescind any association or prior involvement in it.

Since the event is over, it’s doubtful that it can be canceled. They also emailed Breitbart: (editing and brackets by Wrongo)

…the parents – who wish to remain anonymous – argue [that] the decision involves issues concerning adherence to law and policy, the manipulation of minors, the misuse of tax dollars, and indoctrination and political activism during school hours.

These parents think their kids are being manipulated. They surely must realize how difficult it is to manipulate one teenager, much less to simultaneously manipulate hundreds of thousands of them all across America.

George Soros just isn’t that powerful.

The #enough movement is somewhat reminiscent of the Vietnam-era marches, which included high school and college kids spontaneously standing in public places protesting something that was a legitimate threat to their physical safety. The primary concern of students back then was being killed.

It is also the primary concern of these kids today.

Back in New Milford, solidly Trump country, a few anonymous parents obviously want to micromanage their kids’ experiences and to politicize them. Here is a Facebook page quote by a student at NM High School:

Any student who wanted to go to the gym did, and those who chose not to participate were not forced to. A few students gave speeches, one of which contained a list of the names of the victims of the Parkland shooting. With each name a bell was rung and a moment of silence was given. A memorial for the innocent lives that were lost. The other speeches focused on being positive and spreading kindness; one given from a student who used to live in Parkland and who was very personally affected by this tragedy. Students and teachers alike listened and felt for the losses. It was a powerful and beautiful movement for all who watched. There was NO mention of guns in any way.

These kids didn’t leave the building! But, despite knowing this, these anonymous parents hired a lawyer to intimidate the school district, and politicize the intentions of high school kids. The parents then involved Breitbart, a right wing rag. They wanted to highjack the message of these kids, turning it into yet another right wing, Second Amendment moment.

As Paul Simon said: “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest”.

This really makes Wrongo feel like we all need a soothing experience. To help with that, Wrongo suggests brewing a cup of Al-Durrar Single Farmer Lot coffee from Yemen, ($45/4 oz.) imported and roasted by Port of Mokha coffee. Wrongo heard about this on the PBS News Hour. It is a very interesting story.

Now, take your cup, and settle into your most comfortable chair to listen to “Sicilian Blue” by Hiromi Uehara, a Japanese jazz composer and pianist. Her work is a perfect blend of emotion and control. Here, she is performing live at the Jazz in Marciac (France) Festival in August, 2010:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – March 10, 2018

(The northeast is digging out from two nor’easters, with another possible on Monday or Tuesday. The Wrong family will return from FL into the middle of all that on Sunday. Sunday Cartoon Blogging will be published on Monday, March 12th)

The Daily Escape:

Harbin Opera House, winter. Harbin, China – 2015 photo by Iwan Baan

Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un have stopped trading insults and seem to be willing to meet face-to-face, sometime in May. No sitting American president has ever met a North Korean leader, and Trump has repeatedly vowed that he would not commit the error of his predecessors: Being drawn into a protracted negotiation in which North Korea extracted concessions from the US, but held on to key elements of its nuclear program.

The setup is this: Trump says “they are only talking because we threatened them.” Kim says “they are only talking because we have nukes.”

Both leaders bring their unique orthodoxy to the negotiating table.

It’s pretty clear that South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to help bring this about. It is unclear whether it has been with, or without, the blessing of Washington.

We know for sure that Mike Pence had nothing to do with it.

In Wrongo’s experience, the South Koreans are very skillful negotiators, and Trump must expect that the North Koreans are as well. In particular, the North Koreans have proved to be quite skillful in the past at subverting the very deals that they have agreed to and signed with the West.

Is Kim Jong-un really willing to give up his nuclear program for a deal from a man whose proven to be an unreliable negotiating partner with his allies, much less his adversaries? If something seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t. If talks fail, both will have made their going-in position, that the other side can’t be trusted, justify their desire for a belligerent show of force going forward. They may both think there is nothing to lose by meeting.

If Trump can somehow defuse the threat from North Korea, he should get all of the credit that this achievement deserves. But, it really seems that these two are unlikely to achieve very much. Still, only the most cynical would say we shouldn’t “give peace a chance”, no matter how slim the odds of success may be.

So, there’s a calming diplomatic note at the end of the week. Time to continue the soothing for the weekend. To help with that, grind up some Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda coffee beans ($45/8 oz.) from Portland, OR-based Heart Roasters. Then brew a cup, noticing its notes of orange, vanilla, honey, and jasmine. With Heart’s Coffee, the company says it is easy to get the brewed coffee’s tasting notes. Soon, you’ll be saying things like, “I really taste the vanilla notes”.

Now, settle back in a comfy chair and listen to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, performed by Karl Richter in 1969 on the 1766 Riepp organ at Ottobeuren Monastery, Germany. You will notice that Richter is playing from memory. An assistant is there to pull out the stops, as the piece requires too much with hands and feet to also pull stops without interrupting the music. You should watch the video simply to see Richter’s footwork:

Some may know the music as the opening title sequence from the 1975 movie, “Rollerball”. The film is set in 2018. The world is governed by global corporations, with entities such as the Energy Corporation, a global energy monopoly based in Houston. The corporations control access to all transport, luxury, housing, communication, and food. Rollerball is a game, and Rollerball teams represent cities, and are owned by the global corporations. The Energy Corporation, describes Rollerball as having a “distinct social purpose”: To show the futility of individual effort.

Think you see some parallels to the real 2018?

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – March 3, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Eagles Nest, Housatonic River, Litchfield County CT – 2018 photo by JH Cleary

To say that the Trump administration has become a dysfunctional mess is an understatement. Here’s one example: Yesterday, the Administration announced that it would impose 25% tariffs on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminum. Here is some detail behind Trump’s tariff announcement:

There were no prepared, approved remarks for the president to give at the planned meeting, there was no diplomatic strategy for how to alert foreign trade partners, there was no legislative strategy in place for informing Congress and no agreed upon communications plan beyond an email cobbled together by [Wilbur] Ross’s team at the Commerce Department late Wednesday that had not been approved by the White House.

No one at the State Department, the Treasury Department or the Defense Department had been told that a new policy was about to be announced or given an opportunity to weigh in in advance.

The Thursday morning meeting did not originally appear on the president’s public schedule.

The greatest danger to America is not Russia or China, it’s actually Donald Trump. When so much of your goods are imports, saying “1, 2, 3, 4, I declare a trade war” will not produce positive outcomes for the average American, who will simply pay more for their imported products. That will cause some inflation, and maybe, impact the bond markets, which hate higher inflation. It could also cause profit pressure for certain companies that rely on steel and aluminum as a basic raw material, companies like auto and airplane manufacturers.

OTOH, while elites will not like Trump’s move, free trade is not always good for Americans.

But, this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing when it comes to global trade. It isn’t a real estate deal. It involves multiple inputs and outputs across multiple industries and countries.

Not simple enough for a Stable Genius to understand.

On the road here in the south, Wrongo stopped at a McDonald’s to pick up a plain burger patty for a dog who was fussy on our trip. Wrongo asks for a plain patty, no sauce, no bun. The clerk says: “What’s a patty?

So, this weekend when the Atlantic Northeast and the Pacific Northwest are both experiencing highly unusual weather, Wrongo and Ms. Right and the dogs are in the Southeast, experiencing spring-like weather. It’s time to forget Trump and his wars, real and imagined, and think spring. Sit back and brew up a hot cup of Kicking Horse’s Smartass Coffee. The brewer says: “just a bright, chocolaty concoction for the smart-thinking, deep-drinking, good-at-their-game-in-the-morning crowd”.

Obviously, not a coffee for Trump.

Now, settle back and listen to “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring” by Frederick Delius. He composed it in 1912. Here it is performed by Portugal’s Orquestra Clássica do Centro in 2013:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – January 13, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Wizard Island in winter. Crater Lake, OR – photo by Livid Narwhal

How do we avoid talking about him when he reveals himself so completely? We could split hairs, and discuss whether to call him a racist, or a white supremacist, but why bother? How is this any different from the way he’s always been?  We’re talking about a guy who wanted the Central Park Five executed, and took out full page ads in the New York papers to say so at the time. They were later found innocent.

Trump has become the GOP’s id. He uses an air horn while the rest of them know to use a dog whistle. He asks:

Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here? Why do we need more Haitians?

Answer: For the same reason your grandfather and mother fled their countries. Americans weren’t clamoring for more Germans and Scots in their day, either.

It is possible that his comment was calculated. The far right wasn’t happy after Trump, during the bipartisan immigration photo op, showed off his stable genius skills, only to end up looking like he had no clue about the GOP’s immigration policy. GOP House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried reeling him back in, but the stable genius was insisting that the GOP try to give the Dems what they wanted on immigration and DACA.

The RW reaction was immediate: Ann Coulter went on Lou Dobbs’ show and trashed Trump. Many others on the right were pissed off.

Immigration is a red line for all deplorables. So maybe calling the countries of black and brown people “shitholes” was just the ticket, to let his base know he still has their backs. And then saying white immigrants “from Norway” are cool, drove it home.

This kind of talk has been normalized. White business leaders and politicians, as recently as the 1970s talked like that, and no one gave it a second thought. Since then, racist talk became shameful. But Trump’s open bigotry carries no shame for him, or for others who engage in it. His base loves him, because now they can come out of the closet with their hate.

And it’s ok, if you accept the argument that PC talk is a worse sin than showing your naked prejudices to the world.

This is how he was raised, and how people talk in his circle of friends. He’s mouthed off like this his entire life with zero consequences. He’s not likely to suffer any consequences from this either. Remember, this is a man who doesn’t understand why we can’t actually use nuclear weapons.

We need to remember this every day until 11/06/2018. And every day after that until Trump can no longer hurt America.

Wrongo certainly requires soothing, and so do you. Maybe we’ll go and see “The Post” this weekend, to remember a time when newspapers had the courage to take on a president.

In the meantime, sit back and make yourself a vente cup of Ethiopian Fancy ($19/lb.) from San Francisco’s Henry’s House of Coffee. Now, put your feet up and listen to the “Sonata in G Minor for Violoncello and Continuo” by Henry Eccles. Eccles was an English violinist and composer in the Baroque era. He was a member of the Royal Band of Queen Anne. He moved to Paris, and entered the service of King Louis XIV. This recording has Simca Heled on violoncello and Edward Brewer on harpsichord, although it is often played with a double bass and piano, or violin and piano:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – December 23, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Hat tip Ilargi)

Nine. Just nine countries voted against the UN General Assembly’s resolution on Jerusalem, demanding that the US rescind its declaration that Jerusalem should be Israel’s capital. That included us. Our major allies like Britain, France, Germany and Japan voted for the resolution, though some allies, like Australia and Canada, abstained. The overall vote tally was 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions, for the resolution. From the Guardian:

Nine states – including the United States and Israel –voted against the resolution. The other countries which supported Washington were Togo, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Guatemala and Honduras.

Along the way, the world was treated to Nikki Haley telling UN diplomats that she would be taking down the names of those who failed to vote with the US. It may surprise you to know that the Russians call Haley the “Waffle House Bumpkin”. Trump went further, saying:

All of these nations that take our money and then they vote against us at the Security Council or they vote against us…at the Assembly…They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us…Well, we’re watching those votes…Let them vote against us; we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt voted for the resolution.  Do you think that means that they don’t need the money badly enough to roll over when ordered? Or is something larger at stake?

Stewart M. Patrick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said:

I think this was a…self-inflicted wound and really unnecessary, clumsy diplomacy on the part of the United States…More than that, I think it symbolizes the self-defeating notion that for the United States, ‘it’s my way or the highway.’

Since the Inauguration, we practice foreign policy, kindergarten-style. Taking names and threatening our allies will not make Trump and/or Haley successful statesmen. And no, this isn’t an example of “The Art of the Deal“: There will be no deal when one country tries to bully the entire world.

There has been lots of right wingnut talk about the US “getting out of the UN”, and it isn’t beyond the realm of the possible with the current administration.

It is truly painful to watch America in decline, both at home, and abroad. And a time when US global leadership is more necessary than it has been since the end of the Cold War. Come on, Trump, give us back the US we love and the US the world needs.

Will he do it? Can he?

Well, it’s Saturday, and if you haven’t finished your participation in Making America Great by maxing out your credit cards, you need a really big soother. Today, we continue with Christmas music.

So brew a hot steaming cup of Red Rooster Coffee’s Holiday Blend, ($14.99/lb.) with its notes of crème brulee, caramel, and gingersnap cookie.

Now get in a chair where you can see your (hopefully) fully-decorated tree and turn on the tree lights, settle back and listen to “L’Adieu des Bergers” (the Shepherd’s Farewell) by Hector Berlioz.

This piece is about Christ’s life immediately following his birth. It is performed by the Mainzer Domchor, (the choir of the Mainz Cathedral). Founded in 1866, it is comprised of boys’ and men’s voices. Renée Fleming is the soloist:

First Stanza:

Thou must leave thy lowly dwelling,

The humble crib, the stable bare.

Babe, all mortal babes excelling,

Content our earthly lot to share.

Loving father, loving mother,

Shelter thee with tender care.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – December 16, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Central Park NYC, December 12th – 2017 photo by Rommel Tan

Long-time readers know that Wrongo has a very low opinion of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), who he considers an intellectual joker. He is often given a pass by the main stream media, who suggest that he is a thoughtful and principled Republican. But once again, he looked like a partially-informed hack on Thursday when he said that Americans need to have more babies or risk a collapse of Medicare and Social Security.

His concern is about the declining US birth rate. The Boston Globe reports that:

Ten years ago, the typical American woman had about 2.1 children. Today, it is about 1.77, representing a collapse in fertility on par with the declines in other countries that yielded Japan’s rapidly graying population in the 1990s, or Canada’s massive present-day demand for immigrants.

From Ryan’s news conference: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

People — this is going to be the new economic challenge for America. People…I did my part, (Ryan has three kids) but we need to have higher birth rates in this country. Meaning, baby boomers are retiring, and we have fewer people following them in the work force…We have something like a 90% increase in the retirement population in America, but only a 19% increase in the working population in America…

It is true that birth rates in the US have declined, but that’s not necessarily bad news. For example, birth rates for teenagers hit a record low last year. Also, Wrongo recently described McKinsey’s report on jobs lost to automation that showed 75 million jobs are at risk in the US by 2030.

Perhaps we already have too many workers for the jobs revolution that is occurring all around us.

And there’s an obvious solution to the problem that Ryan ignores: Allowing more immigrants into the country, either to fill the jobs being vacated by retiring baby boomers, or as necessary to meet tomorrow’s job requirements. But Ryan shows that he’s all in with Trump’s hard line anti-immigration positions.

Should American women become brood mares? This isn’t a new concept. The fear of being outnumbered by racial and ethnic minorities is the driving force behind today’s alt-right, and the view was around in earlier white nationalist movements. HuffPo interviewed Kelly J. Baker, author of “Gospel According to the Klan”. Baker says that the need to ensure that white women were having more white babies was a key part of the Ku Klux Klan’s platform during its resurgence in the 1920s: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Baker said that the 1920s Klan was “nervous” about the possibility of widespread birth control for white women…To push back against the rising availability of effective birth control, the Klan told white women that having as many white children as possible is your job and it matters for your family and your race and for America.

And now, Ryan makes this a mainstream GOP idea. For all of the political empowerment of women in today’s headlines, the Ryan argument lands in the same place as today’s alt-right, and yesterday’s KKK.

Ryan and the GOP want to see more babies, but they won’t support young kids with health insurance through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Quartz reports that next month, 600,000 American children will lose their CHIP coverage. CHIP has been instrumental in ensuring health care coverage of children in US families that aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford any other form of insurance.

Republicans talk a lot about the cost of healthcare. The cost of not providing healthcare to children in an America with failing schools is impossible to calculate. It is very high, it lasts lifetimes and possibly, generations.

Yet, Ryan is saying that American women need to have more babies to Make America Great Again.

And we know that he’s asking for more white babies.

OK, it’s Saturday, and we need a break from toxic politics, and maybe from obsessing about shopping for gifts. Hanukkah began this week, so Wrongo looked for a soothing piece of music that was inspired by the celebration of the Festival of Lights. Here is “Hanukkah Overture for String Orchestra and Clarinet” by Adam Shugar.

If you look at the YouTube video, you will see that it has just 5,000 views. It should have many more. You should watch it because the music is good, and unlike most orchestral pieces, this string orchestra performs while standing. The video is shot from a high angle, and looking down allows you to see them all as they play together, almost like a choreographed dance. Here is “Hanukkah Overture for String Orchestra and Clarinet” played by the Orchestre Nouvelle Génération under the direction of Airat Ichmouratov, with Mark Simons on clarinet:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – December 9, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Fall in Sugar Hollow 2017, near Charlottesville, VA

Wrongo doesn’t have much Christmas spirit this year. Maybe the fractured state of US politics has something to do with his grumpiness. But, it’s Saturday, and we need something positive as we face the start of the gift-buying and gift-giving season, so let’s focus on Iceland: (editing and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Icelanders have a beautiful tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the night reading. This custom is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it is… [called] the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” when the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.

Imagine sitting around with the family on Christmas Eve and everyone reading by the fire. That sounds positively subversive in our consumer-driven culture. OTOH, in Iceland, all the restaurants are closed on the 24th and only a few open on the 25th, so the incentive to stay at home is greater than in the US.

Treehugger points out that Iceland, with a population of only 329,000 people, is an extraordinarily literary country where people love to read and write. And according to the BBC:

The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world…One in 10 Icelanders will publish [a book].

Icelanders receive a free catalog of new books called the Bokatidindi in the fall. They then pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy. Baldur Bjarnason, Icelandic book industry researcher says:

It’s like the firing of the guns at the opening of the race…It’s not like. this is a catalog that gets put in everybody’s mailbox and everybody ignores it. Books get attention here.

And people prefer physical, paper books. A bookstore manager told NPR:

The book in Iceland is such an enormous gift, you give a physical book. You don’t give e-books here.

Now, at The Mansion of Wrong, physical books are always on the Christmas gift menu. This year, Wrongo intends to give multiple copies of two books to family:

  • American Wolf” by Nate Blakeslee is the biography of a single female wolf in Yellowstone. But the story is told from many sides, including those ranchers who opposed the re-introduction of wolves into the park, the wildlife biologists that worked to help wolves flourish in Yellowstone, and the hunters looking for their next trophy. It shows the best, and the pettiest of our society in a microcosm.
  • Spy of the First Person” by Sam Shepard tells Shepard’s story of facing death from ALS. This isn’t for everyone, but Wrongo’s brother died of ALS in 2016, and this first-person account of what an ALS victim goes through has meaning for Wrongo, his sisters, and all who loved Kevin.

Reading on a winter evening is something everyone ought to incorporate into their family’s celebration of Christmas. At the Mansion of Wrong, we celebrate physical books. They are among the few things we collect, that we read, and occasionally re-read, that we pass on to family and friends. Remember: 30 minutes of reading per day equals about 2.2 million words a year. And you could learn a few things!

So, for at least a few minutes we have forgotten politics and toxic personalities. Keep it going by brewing a fresh cup of Redbeard Blue Collar Coffee: ($16.95/lb.). With its “notes of milk chocolate and salted caramel and a smooth body at a medium roast level”, it’s kind of a Christmas blend. Sit by the window and watch the last few leaves fight to remain on the trees, and listen to The Chamber Music Center of NY perform a flash mob of chamber music at the Bank of America Tower:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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