Monday, October 24, 2022

Woke Culture, Nick Cave

I subscribe to the American Spectator because it challenges me in especially arts, music, wine, food, travel, and architecture. It is considered to be "conservative", but in the classical sense of the word "liberal", meaning free markets, radical free speech, civil liberties under the rule of law, limited government, and some sense of  "enlightenment". 

It often covers people and topics that are "out of my lane", which I find to be important.

I would likely have never ran into Nick Cave, save for a review of the linked book from the current issue of the Spectator. I would normally have just done an incomplete blog and waited for Spectator online to catch up with my paper copy.

I didn't, because Nick lost his15 year old son Arthur in July 2015 when under the influence of LSD, he walked off a cliff and died. I have not had that exact experience, however there were times I could see something like it as somewhat likely.

The second reason is that although I'm going to have to do some typing rather than cut and paste, I didn't want this one to be semi-misplaced among the 100's of incomplete blog entries on my account.  I'm blessed to not have felt all of that pain,  but I have some of the pain of cancel culture. It seems nearly universal, though as Nick mentions, to some of the cancel purists, it is ecstatic.

A quote from the article:

For a man who by his own admission, spent much of the Eighties and Nineties in a miasma of heroin addiction, he is admirably clear-sighted about the greater hypocrisies of our age. He describes woke culture as:

... akin to to a fundamentalist religion impulse ... it may reflect on an unconscious desire to return to a non-secular society, and talks angrily of the "performative aspect to the theater of cancel culture that is essentially vindictive ... it's as if autocratic ideas of virtue and sin have come into play, and as a result, prohibitions and punishments have been put in place, enforced by a kind of callousness that, in my view, is akin to the very worst aspects of religion -- the fundamentalist, joyless, aspects of religion that have nothing to do with mercy. Cancellation is a particularly ugly part of it's weaponry and can end up as a kind of sadism dressed up as virtue"
I've been struggling through Durkheim's "The Elementary Forms Of The Religious Life". Durkheim is considered one of the main, if not THE experts on "why religion"?  In every human culture, no matter how primitive in time and space, and how similar at the base, every manifestation is ... sacred/profane, spirit(s), a creation myth, symbolic totems,  and how critical it is for every tribe/family/community/team/culture it is for a "social imaginary" to be shared for the health of both the individuals and the "group". 

I recently reviewed "The Rise And Triumph of the Modern Self" which gives some good insight as to why the woke culture came about.

Having just attended a wedding at a very fundamentalist church, it is clear that "joyless" is not a common experience of all "fundamentalists", and the Durkheim book shows that rigorous standards, prohibitions and punishments" are an integral part of obtaining the solid community and "joy" -- belonging, comfort, camaraderie, the feeling of being happy ...

Think Navy SEALs. The initiation is brutal, the bond approaches unbreakable, the sense of joy, pride and accomplishment is palpable. We can't all be SEALs, but we can be a member of SOME group of "like minded people". To "work" it has to be something "real", where you know each other F2F, have some "rituals" (like maybe just breakfast after church). The more rigor in the connection, the more likely the group will be significantly helpful.

Like exercise, training, ritual, symbols, rules, etc, there are parameters that have to be carefully aligned and calibrated  in order for the danger of the flame of faith can be properly respected and utilized. This takes decades, lifetimes, sometimes  millennia. We know that cars are dangerous, and we accept the danger (minimizing it as much as possible), in order to reap the benefits they provide. Life is often a tradeoff between risk and reward. To be real, it involves sacrifice.
We WILL all have a "worldview" that is either explicitly or implicitly a "religion" ... how much "choice" we have in what that is,  given genetics, family,  the probable existence of "spirits" -  Holy, Totemic, Tao, daemons, etc, along with community, mental health, physical health, etc, the range of "choices" (or enlightenment)  is a matter of little agreement for those that believe that the examined life is the only real life. 

While not a popular path today, the examined life seems like something worthy to give at least a cursory examination. 

I hope to get around to the book ... my stack is a bit deep and esoteric at the moment though.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Chip Wars

There is a joke in Taipei that if China invades Taiwan the best place to shelter is in microchip factories, the only places the People’s Liberation Army can’t afford to destroy. The country that controls advanced chips controls the future of technology — and Taiwan’s chip fabrication foundries (“fabs”) are the finest in the world. Successful reunification between the mainland and its renegade province would give China a virtual monopoly over the most advanced fabs. Given that Xi Jinping has made clear his intention to take control of Taiwan by 2032, it is no wonder that the American government is worried about the concentration of cutting-edge semiconductor technology on the island.

I tend to like those sort of dark humor jokes. I'm trying to develop one something like "Biden is building us back to a better stoneage". 

The idea is that with all of his attacks on energy production and now the rising tensions with both Russia and China, we may have some form of nuclear, or advanced drone, cyber, and almost certainly targeted mRNA viruses in our fairly near future.  

One statement that I often make is "The greater the efficiency in a system, the greater the fragility". It seems I ought to be able to quote someone on this fact, however it may just be too obvious for anyone with intelligence to write it down. (now we know where that leaves me)

Our supply chains are generally VERY efficient  "Just In Time" manufacturing with near zero inventory, and single source suppliers are very common. Have a pandemic, shut down a single link in your supply chain, and you can't produce your product. 

The whole article (short) is worth your time. Just consider this ... 

At present there is only one company in the world that can make lithography machines that print wafers at the five-nanometer gauge. Based in a nondescript suburb of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Advanced Semiconductor Materials Lithography is perhaps the world’s least well-known hi-tech business. Yet it ranks just behind Shell as the fourth-largest company in Europe.

ASML’s highest tech machines use a process called “extreme ultraviolet” lithogra- phy, which makes them the only systems that can do lithography below 13.5 nanometers. The company produces approximately fifty machines a year at $150 million a pop (plus service contract). As a result, it owns that rare commodity — a market monopoly.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

What's So Special About Ukraine?

The first link is the one I'll focus on, the second mainly says that Russia became religiously orthodox after 1991, and is not woke, while wokenss is the new religion of the West. A quote from the 2nd article:

As early as 2005, scholars Ira Straus and Edward Lozansky remarked upon a pronounced negative coverage of Russia in the US media, contrasting negative media sentiment with largely positive sentiment of the American public and US government. As Russia displayed increasing signs of a Christian revival, so the media reporting in the West became increasingly hostile. Only rarely however did journalists openly attack Russia for its “Christianization”; normally, columnists, conscious of the fact that large numbers of people in the West continued to describe themselves as Christian, portrayed their anti-Russian commentary as a result of Russia's “aggression,” “corruption,” or “lack of democracy.” All that however changed with the new abortion law of 2011. Now the attacks against Russia became explicitly ideological. The Russians, we were told, were oppressing women and turning their backs on “progress.”

The 2nd linked article is worth the read, but it is mainly going to make the point that from the Western POV, Ukraine is "woke/progressive", and Russia is in the social dark ages, converting to radically backward and dangerous Christian values. This quote from the second article agrees with the first, but then the article goes deeper. 

On March 24, a month after Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s borders, the Biden White House summoned America’s partners (as its allies are now called) to a civilizational crusade. The administration proclaimed its commitment to those affected by Russia’s recent invasion—“especially vulnerable populations such as women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, and persons with disabilities.” At noon that same day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted about the “massive, unprecedented consequences” American sanctions were wreaking on Russia, and claimed Russia’s economic “collapse” was imminent.

I tend to compare the highlighted with my observation that the following headline would not be a surprise to me if such a disaster happened: 

"Three fourths of planet destroyed by meteor -- vulnerable populations like women, children, etc ... the worst affected".  

My belief is that Biden, Putin, etc could care less about pretty much anything but their power and personal pleasure, so nearly 100% of their attention is focused there. In the event things go bad, "the vulnerable" will be sacrificed with no reticence, especially the sort of vulnerable that are in red states in the case of the US. 

Pretty much everyone right and left is convinced that the US is currently, and will remain "top dog",  no matter how much debt we have, how weak our woke military gets, and how clueless the "leadership" that we (or they) "elect" is. So why worry? 

The attempt to isolate Russia from the American world system has had a striking unintended consequence—the possible founding of an alternative world system that would draw power away from the existing one. Twenty years ago, under George W. Bush, the United States removed the Iraqi deterrent from Iran’s neighborhood, transforming Iran overnight into a regional power. This year, under Joe Biden, the United States has made China a gift of Russia’s exportable food and mineral resources. We are displaying an outright genius for identifying our most dangerous military adversary and solving its most pressing strategic challenge. The attention of China is now engaged. Joe Biden argues that any wavering in the cause of obliterating Russia will be understood by China as a green light on Taiwan. He may have a point, but the U.S. management of the Ukraine situation over the past decade has constituted encouragement enough.

We have managed to get to a place where we are likely to end up in a shooting war with Russia, while China absconds with Taiwan. The article does a great job of explaining the complexity of the situation in a fairly simple way ... although not all that concisely. (I'm nearly as qualified to throw stones about failure to be concise as I am about failure to be skinny) 

Those with a passing familiarity of history realize that underestimating Russia, while definitely a Western tradition,  has not always turned out as everyone was certain it would. 
Reducing Russia’s dimensions appears to be America’s overriding war aim. It is a risky one. Those Western leaders with the ambition to bring Europe to the gates of Moscow have sometimes brought the warriors of the Eurasian steppes onto the streets of Paris and Berlin.
Certainly nuclear weapons change the strategic chessboard, but I really suspect that the vast majority of the West just folds without electricity and fossil fuel. The Western energy grids are so vulnerable that taking them out with some exploding drones would be a snap. Tactical nukes? 80% of the Western population will surrender if their cell phones and internet are removed. 

The whole CRB article is very much worth the read. The financial risks, even if the war risks come to nothing, are very significant. 

Why does nobody in the West care? The usual reasons ... arrogance, distraction, complacency, decadence, selfishness, ignorance of history, and maybe most of all,  nearly total ignorance of reality. largely because the narrative they are spoon fed constantly wants them to be mindless drones. 

I leave you with this ... a point I've been trying to make to many people, only to watch their eyes glaze over in total incomprehension. 

The Ukraine war is special, though. American immunity from danger may be illusory. The progress of technology has imperceptibly eroded a longstanding distinction between supporting a combatant and entering the fray as a combatant oneself. In June, the U.S. began providing Ukraine with M142 HIMARS computer-targeted rocket artillery systems, and these present the problem in an acute form: the role of technology in the lethality of a weapon has grown to the point where the role of the human warrior is, relatively speaking, rendered negligible. An encounter with a sword is an encounter with a swordsman. An encounter with an arrow is an encounter with an only slightly more distant bowman. But an encounter with an M31 rocket fired from a HIMARS launcher is an encounter with General Dynamics. And it is the human warrior who is the repository of all the longings-to-be-vindicated and the sacrifices-freely-undertaken that consecrate war as a cause. With advanced weaponry, the soldier operating it almost doesn’t need to be there. Which is to say that, in this proxy war between Russia and the United States, Ukraine doesn’t need to be there. In these HIMARS artillery strikes, in the assassinations by drone of Russian officers, in the sinking of naval ships with advanced missiles,

Nobody seems to get this. If I hire you to kill my wife, you do, and it is discovered that I hired you, I get tried for murder one, just like you do. Is this really that hard to understand? 

Apparently so. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Asimov's Guide To Shakespeare

 I couldn't find a good review of this book, and I believe I understand why ... Book 1 is 670 pages, Book 2 is 790. 

In the intro there is a reference to a fairly well known tale of a woman who read Hamlet and remarked "I don't see why people admire the play so, it is nothing but a bunch of quotations strung together". That is much less true of this book, however the lack iof general public comprehension of what they are reading is probably similar.

This book is much more history than "Shakespeare", although it does have a significant number of the more famous lines in it.  It focuses on the context of the period, what real or literary/legendary person the lines are likely referring to, and why.

Shakespeare was writing for both the common man as well as the wealthy aristocracy and royalty.  What a "commoner" needed to know about Greek, Roman, Italian, the Bible, English history, etc gives a little insight as to why even the "educated" our day, being "experts" of only their iPhones and the latest Netfix binge watch, have a hard time understanding why throwing a trillllion dollars into an "Inflation Rediuction Act" might cause some brows to raise. "Common Sense" is far from common today.

Also, if Shakespere had put in any obvious snark like I just did, he would likely be "cancelled" by literally losing his head. He was marvelously subtle with his little jabs. 

On Page 9, a helpful map of the Roman and Greek gods, with their role is presented. To cover a few of the more popular ones, in Greek we have Zeus, chief of the gods, Athena, goddess of wisdom, Ares, god of war. 

In the Roman version we have the corresponding Jupiter, Minerva, Mars ... you need to understand these references to keep up between the Roman and Greek plays. 

A very helpful page for those of us that don't have the memory of our youth, and received at best a very cursory understanding of the ancient world. Volume 1 covers the Greek, Roman, and Italian plays. The Italian plays are probably the most familar ... Love's Labor Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlermen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing,  As You Like It, Twelfth Night, All's Well That Ends Well, Othello, Measure For Measure, The Tempest. 

The book is loaded with inline cross references to where subjects are covered in the other plays, in order to better understand what is being covered ... the audience at the time of writing had a common understanding of the world they lived in, including the history, and had good memories ... uncluttered by shallow media entertainment.  

Asimov made a number of desisions as to how to present this vast environment to the modern reader, largely unaware of the world of Shakesphere. I think of it a bit as a kalidiscope of "worlds", with sometimes definite and sometimes completely fictional references to real, mythological, current, recent historical, fictional charachters invented for the story, etc. 

Asimov is in a way trying to put us into the Shakespere world  ... a BIT like todays "Marvel Universe", "Star Trek Universe", "Star Wars Universe", etc Think of a reference to "Captain Kirk" 500 years in the future. Yes, I know, that is shallow ... maybe "Winston Churchill", or maybe "Dostoevsky" would be a better example. 

The big differece is that while Shakespere is "fictional entertainment" it has much more connection to thew reality of the time. Maybe something like "The Crown" today. 

Do I recommend the book? To the common reader of today, I really can't, because they are likely to just be frustrated and lost. Certainly there are a decent number of people FAR more qualified than I to read and enjoy the work. Perhaps I'm an arrogant pessimist, I just don't think the audience to actually read it is very wide ... it does however look good on a shelf, unless it is full of tabs like mine is. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The Rise And Triumph of the Modern Self

We know that we live in the era of "it's all about ME" ... what most don't ponder very much is what is "me"? Certainly a body, and in current times, the body and especially the genitals, or the denial of same are critical to "identity".

The man, woman, or "whatever" on the street usually admits to having a brain -- however what it means to have a brain that according to most biologists, is genetically "human",  falls far short of what it means to be "human" in the sense of the modern self is quite vague. Is there something beyond the physical? And if so, does it matter? 

A term that arises often in the book is the "social imaginary" (link followers be warned). To simplify, it can be thought of as "worldview". A fairly short way to scratch this surface a little deeper is "Moral Believing Animals". Communication between other "humans" requires some sort of shared "social imaginary", and since what that now shifts in timeframes that are historically unimaginable, we are all in undiscovered country, almost all the time. 

In 2008, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were firm on the thousands year old fact that marriage was a sacred union between a man and a woman.  By 2012, Obama supported gay "marriage".  In 2015, with the SCOTUS Obergefell ruling, it was the law of the land. By 2022, a SCOTUS nominee was unable to define what a "woman" is. There is every expectation that the pace of this kind of massive change in the Social Imaginary will accelerate. Even worse, the stakes of at least adequately pretending to keep up are rising at a similar pace. 

Not being completely up to date and showing complete fealty to whatever got "imagined" in maybe the past few hours, can cause loss relationship with friends, family, your employer, and increasingly even your freedom of action ... the FBI may identify you as a "semi fascist".  It can certainly be an issue if you want to use a phrase like "sexual preference" if you are trying to get on the SCOTUS. In the case of Amy Coney Barrett, the term was fine in the AM, but had been redefined to be "offensive" by the PM!

Sane people realize that it is not possible for each one of us to define ourselves in any way we see fit (at this moment), and expect the rest of society to totally buy into that definition of the moment (see proper pronouns). As in the case of Barrett, the meaning of what you say may be changed in a matter of hours! 

Unfortunately, at least one member of the SCOTUS strongly supports an individual's right to do just that! As Justice Kennedy stated in Casey: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." Thankfully, after an insane fight, Kennedy was replaced by Kavanaugh, who disagrees. For Kennedy, the Hitchhiker's guide declaring the answer to “Life, the Universe and Everything" to be "42" is as valid as any imagined "reality" that all should celebrate and relate to "correctly" (as defined by the individual who created it). 

(As an aside, there are 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus as quoted in Matthew ... so perhaps "42" DOES point us to the the answer to "Life, the Universe, and Everything" after all)

The book opens with:

The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement as has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: "I am a woman trapped in a man's body". 

The book does an excellent and reasonably concise explanation of how we got here. The foreword by Rod Dreher, contains a much shorter explanation of the "how" from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ... "Men have forgotten God, and that is why all this as happened". He was referring to the tragedy of the USSR, but it applies equally well here. 

The linked review is excellent, well worth quite minimal time to read it.  Fortunately there is a more concise version of  this book that is reviewed by Clairmont. For those that know me, it will be unsurprising that I took the long version. 

Here is a link to that book on Amazon  - Strange New World - How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution

A quote from the introduction that cut to the soul is: "The task of the Christian is not to whine about the moment in which he or she lives, but to understand its problems and respond appropriately to them." 

As with pretty much all such books at this time, suggestions of what to do are sparse. Prayer is always one answer, because it is going to take action from God to change this Social Imaginary. Perhaps his solution is already baked in ... those that buy into the Social Imaginary of our times tend not to reproduce ... which can make an particular Social Imaginaries future less bright!

The review contains this: 

Another weakness is the relative lack of suggestions for combating Western culture’s increasing decadence. Important as they are, a mere six pages of 400 are dedicated to navigating our way out of the ruins. Trueman proposes three suggestions. First, Christians must better understand the interplay between aesthetics and formation—both within and outside the church. Here Trueman insists that moral legitimacy cannot be achieved by emotion or narrative, but by “the being of God and his act of creation.” Second, in a world of constant flux wherein liquid modernity provides ever-shifting foundations for identity, Trueman calls the church to a greater sense of community. Only this will counteract the hollowing out of institutions that more securely anchored human identity in the past. Third—and of particular importance to me, I confess—Trueman argues that Protestant Christians need greater familiarity with natural law, but not because it will necessarily convince skeptics but because it will provide grounding for a theology of human embodiment, which will counteract the transient Gnosticisms of modernity.

Gnosticism - the idea that it is your "knowledge/timeless wisdom/etc" that will save/set you free/make you happy/etc.

As stated above: "Trueman insists that moral legitimacy cannot be achieved by emotion or narrative, but by “the being of God and his act of creation.”"

To a Christian, the "being of God" is the Holy Trinity, with the Holy Spirit being the indwelling of God that through "The Way, The Truth, and The Life" (Christ). To others it may be "the Great Spirit", the Tao, El Shaddai, Adonai, Dirawong, Sango, Odin, etc. I'm struggling through Durkheim's The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life at this time -- seeking a way to help people understand that since they are human, they DO have a God. Based on my search, I believe there is much to suggest Christianity, however, the BEGINNING of wisdom is the fear (respect) of God. We all need to understand that it isn't all about ME ... which this book is a help in realizing.

My personal "search for God" (or proof of his absence) went through a lot of books, meditations and practices -- if you seek you will find, or if you are willing to submit, Christ will find you. Understanding the real stakes of everyone living an isolated, meaningless life is important these days. Your faith WILL be questioned! Christians need to all be defenders of their faith, and the reasons to believe -- ideally in terms that an atheist secularist can at least understand.