Monday, August 25, 2014

The New Broadsheets




I am currently reading a lot of Canadian history. It reminds me of how much newspapering and journalism has changed, in my own lifetime. How much it has declined.

In the old days, right up to the generation just before my own, newspapering was a working class occupation. Nobody in the newsroom had a degree of any kind. Peter Gzowski did, a B.A., and was thought of as a real egghead as a result.

This was a very good arrangement for several reasons. Probably most importantly, it meant that journalizing was by its nature anti-establishment. You got the unofficial view, a contrast from the view you got from the government, the schools, the professions, the academy. Which is the reason for having a fourth estate.

Second, people got into newspapering, and rose in the trade, because they wrote well. This is not something that can be taught. And because they had an interesting, unconventional turn of mind—that’s what news is, the interesting and the unexpected. Again, this is not something that can be taught.

Third, under this system, journalism was an outlet for very bright working class kids, who otherwise have nowhere to go and no chance to make good.

Contemporary journalism, as in “the mainstream media” or “the legacy media” has lost its way and is no longer worth watching or reading, because none of this is any longer the case. Back in about the 1960s, newspapermen decided to join the establishment, and become a “profession.” This just does not work. If they are just going to parrot the establishment view, there is no longer any reason to read a newspaper or to watch the news. Worse, by requiring j-school instead of sinking or swimming on the job, we have ended up with a lot of journalists who have no ability to write and no nose for news. And we have priced the job beyond the means of those bright working class kids.

From this perspective, all the “new media” are really doing is restoring journalism as it always was: a non-establishment, ordinary-citizen voice.

It seems to me no coincidence that the very best Canadian political blogs, Kathy Shaidle’s Five Feet of Fury and Kate McMillan’s Small Dead Animals, are both put out by working-class women. I am not working class by any definition I can think of, but that is certainly what I want to read. There is no reason to read what you already know.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Job Loss

Ned Ludd.

A lot of people are worried about job loss with increasing computerization. And yes, for sure, there will be job loss.Just as there was in the Industrial Revolution: a few jobs lost. An exponentially larger number of new jobs gained.

Why? Because, when things get easier to make, they become cheaper to make. More people can buy them. Therefore, you make more. Therefore, more, not fewer jobs. That now one man can make ten shirts a day, whereas before, he could only make one, will be a problem only if the total number of shirts manufactured remains the same. Which is extremely unlikely if suddenly shirts cost only ten dollars, when before they cost a hundred.

Our awareness of this has been terribly distorted by Marxist doctrine. Marx predicted that, with industrialization, the “proletariat,” the class of urban factory workers, would grow and grow until it included nearly everyone, while they became poorer and poorer. Meanwhile, the wealth would concentrate in the hands of a very few “grand bourgeoisie” or rich capitalists.

This theory was, of course, embraced by the ruling classes, because it warned against a threat to their rule. Marx was the original reactionary. The original counter-revolutionary.

History has not turned out that way at all. Marx missed the mark, disproving his theory. The proletariat has instead grown richer, and, in developed countries, smaller. In the meantime, rich capitalists have almost completely disappeared, replaced by publicly-held corporations. There is much less disparity in wealth now than at the beginning of the Insutrial Revolution, when the bottom class was literally starving, while the top class thought working for a living, indeed doing anything for money, was beneath contempt.

Faced with this stark disproof of something in which they've invested a lot of their own das capital, a lot of folks, notably the ruling classes, just elide or falsify the facts; so that we get a distorted Dickensian history. Kind of like our perspective on the Dark Ages--dark mostly because nobody wants to look at them.

In the Industrial Revolution, it was the very poorest who most quickly and obviously benefitted. It took less skill and training to run a mechanical loom than it once did to make cloth by hand. The men who flooded into the factories might not have had a great life, but it was a lot better than that of the typical rural agricultural labourer. Which almost everybody was before the good old IR.

We see the same today. Already, the information revolution has generated a huge number of new jobs for the very poorest of the poor. In Asia. Where to some folks they don't count.

Ah, but the Luddites would say, and did, that there was and will be job loss for the skilled tradesman. The special skills needed by the town tinsmith or weaver no longer had any value after the Industrial Revolution, being readily replaced by unskilled labour and machine. That is true, and we will probably see something like this again, in clerical work and some of the professions. We already have. When I was going to university, I worked summers, nights, and weekends as a posting clerk in banks, and ran the telephone switchboard in hotels. Both jobs are now gone.

But what really happened to the skilled tradesmen of the Industrial Revolution? Did they end up working the mechanical looms?

Perhaps some did. But where do you think that new class of rich capitalists came from?

They were generally these skilled tradesmen—always a small number of men. In order to set up and supervise a factory, the budding capitalist first had to know intimately himself how the product was made. He set the factory up, then moved to the front office and left the actual machine operations to unskilled others.

Was that so terrible a fate?

The folks most likely to suffer are those who are parasitical on the system. The ones who are getting by without adding any real value.

You will probably recognize them. They're the ones who are still pushing Marx.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams



Everybody is blogging about Robin Williams. His death was a great shock to a great many. One thinks of the poem “Richard Corey.” He was rich, famous, and adored. If his life wasn't worth living, what can it mean?

It was pretty obvious from the beginning of his career that he had a certain manic energy. Manic—as in manic depressive. So there's that.

However, one would still think that, at his age, and having made so much money, at worst he could have withdrawn from the world for as long as was necessary, or even permanently, to find serenity.

But in fact, he could not. And this is what killed Robin Williams. He was in serious financial trouble.

So how could someone whose movies grossed more than three billion dollars end up at 63 in serious financial trouble? Surely he must have gambled it all away in Vegas or something?

No; he did not. All it took was two divorces.

Given the alimony he was liable for, he was in the position of having to work as hard as hecould just to hold off bankruptcy. This forced him to take roles that he did not want, and inevitably, he just was not as good in them. But then, as his star faded as a result, meeting those payments became harder and harder.

He was on a treadmill he could not escape; except by this means. And this is not a rare thing among rich and famous men. John Cleese is apparently on the same treadmill for the same reason. Gordon Lightfoot has declared that, at his age, he cannot afford to become involved with any new women.

Something is very wrong here. We are enslaving and destroying men--especially the best and the brightest.

Given that woman are free to work and have their own careers, there is no excuse for alimony. If a divorced spouse is still receiving some portion of the other spouse's income, this should be only for services continuing to be performed. And as for dividing marital property, why should the value of a woman's housework rise and fall based on the value of the man's work outside the home? Traditional housework should have a fixed value. The woman's (or lower earner's) share in any divorce settlement should be based on having actually performed this function, and this fixed value, plus the other party's ability to pay. Settlements should accordingly be capped. At about what a live-in maid could earn over the period of the marriage.

As for child support, of course, it is not fair for one party to have the benefit of the children's presence, while the other party has only the bills. Whoever pays child support should, as a matter of simple justice, have full custody of the children.

Enough men have died that we ought to notice what is going on. The suicide rate for men is about four times what it is for women in the US. And that is without counting mysterious traffic accidents, probably the easiest way for men to kill themselves. The suicide rate is accelerating, especially for middle-aged men.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Three Options for the Americans in Iraq


A fascinating article, for two reasons. First, because it lays out well some of the problems with the three options it cites. Second, because it omits one obvious option.

In case you missed it, the obvious but unmentioned option is to send in troops. The proverbial "boots on the ground."

This is of course what it would take, and it would be far easier and less legally problematic to do so now than it was back in '03 or so.

Why do you suppose this is not even mentioned?

I presume it is politically impossible. But it is a bit sinister to not even mention it.

There are also other unmentioned options...

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Best Thing for the Middle East


A case might be made here for a larger crown.

The Middle East is mess. A lot of people are upset with the US and NATO for not going in and helping the poor people of Syria. It's such a mess. A lot of the same people are upset with the US and NATO for going in and getting rid of Ghaddafi. Leaving such a mess. Not to mention with Bush going in and taking out Saddam, leaving the mess of ISIS there now.

Wait a minute, though. What would you have the US and NATO do?

The problem with nasty dictatorships is that they destroy all elements of civil society. They do this, because any separate organizations could become rival power centres and challenge their rule. They want an absolutely free hand, or what's a totalitarian supposed to do? It's in the job description.

That means that, when they fall, there is nobody and nothing in a position to replace them. And you have a mess.

So, the rest of us have three options here, and only three options, when they start to shoot their own people:

1. Go in, take out the dictator, and try to set up a civil society before we leave. That's Iraq.
2. Go in, take out the dictator, and leave, letting the chips fall where they may. That's Libya.
3. Do nothing, and leave matters to work themselves out. That's Syria.

The West is catching all kinds of criticism for each of these. In other words, they are being blamed no matter what they do.

For my money, number 2 is the best option available. All three end in a mess, but in 1, the West gets blamed for the chaos, while in 3, the West gets blamed for the dictator. The West still gets blamed for the chaos in 2, but it is less convincing, and certainly costs less.

The one institution that dictators in the Middle East do not dare to shut down, because it is too culturally ingrained, is the mosque. As a result, all organized opposition must develop a quasi-religious character, or at least a religious disguise. So, when a dictator goes, almost the only option to replace him ends up being the so-called “religious extremists” (a serious misnomer—these guys aren't very religious at all). This is why democracy doesn't work here. There are only two organized groups: the army, and the mosque. Neither is democratic in nature.

So how do you get to a healthy civil society in the Middle East?

History tells us that there is really only one way: monarchy.

The matter is partially obscured, because many nations have chucked the monarchy since achieving democracy, but it has almost always been necessary to have a monarchy in order to get a democracy in the first place. This is of course true of Canada, Britain, Australia, and the rest of the Commonwealth. It is true, recently, of Spain. It is also true, despite the national mythology, of the US: they got their democratic institutions when they were still colonies. It is true of Japan—under Hirohito; and of Italy. Germany achieved it without a king, but under long foreign military occupation. It is also true of France. Despite the revolution and all that, stable democracy came under Napoleon III, the hereditary Emperor.

With rare exceptions like Henry VIII, monarchies are not totalitarian. One reason is because you do not become the leader in a monarchy through personal ambition. On average, the average monarch will have only the average drive for personal power. Accordingly, there is so desire in the typical monarch to destroy civil society. Or, should suitable institutions arise, to hang on to power for the sake of power.

Like other citizens, they are mostly inclined to do whatever seems best for the nation. Nor do they have the same incentive as a dictator to loot the country's treasury: given the hereditary principle, they have every reason to want to leave the country in the best possible condition for the sake of their children.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have oil. Iraq and Iran have oil. Which governments have made better use of the resource?

Fortunately for the Middle East, it does include some monarchies.

Prince Condla

Once upon a time in Ireland there was a handsome prince. His name was Condla, if you need to know. He was a good prince and a good son, and his father King Conn felt that all was well regarding the succession.

Then one day, Prince Condla and King Conn were walking in the hills. At once, a woman of supernatural beauty appeared, but only to Condla. She handed him an apple from the Land of Youth, and told him she was waiting for him there. In the Land of Youth, she said, there was no fighting, no death, and no evil.

King Conn could not see the woman; but he did hear the voice, and the apple was a verifiable fact. Condla put it by his bedside, and, over the months, it never showed any signs of decay.

Over the same months, Prince Condla grew more and more melancholy. He could not forget the beautiful woman. He could find no peace until he joined her in the Land of Youth.

And this, children, is the true story of what we call “depression,” or at least one strain of it.

There is much wisdom in fairy tales. They are the real psychology, and far more reliable than the modern "scientific" discipline.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Did Marshall McLuhan See This?

For your consideration: could this unobtrusive home intruder mean the ultimate death of all mankind?.

Just back for a stroll through my Filipino summer neighbourhood. It is a delight—everywhere, families out playing with their children.

I think I may have hit on why there has been such a collapse in the birthrate in the industrialized world—and, increasingly, in the developing world as well.

It is not the cost of college, though one thinks it ought to be. In Germany and Sweden, college is free, and they have it worse than most.

It is not the availability of old age security. As someone has worked out, in the Third World, without it, the old folks continue to be worth more in income to the family than they cost until quite late in life.

It is not feminism. Feminism is weakest in Japan, and their demographic collapse is legend.

I think it's TV.

We might forget it now, since we don't have them any more, but watching my neighbours, it is borne in to me that kids have a lot of entertainment value. Once upon a time, that mattered, because we did not have all that many other things to do once we came home from work in the evenings.

And exactly the same has happened to other things that were once good entertainment. Church attendance. Membership in voluntary associations: the Masons, the Elks. Bowling leagues. Playing cards. Botticelli. TV killed it all, by offering massive free entertainment at home.

Of course, computers and the internet are only making it worse.

TV showed up in the postwar years, right along with the baby boom, but it only reached 90% of US homes in 1962. And it took at least as long for there to be enough worthwhile stuff for adults to watch.

The baby boom ended, by common calculation, four years later.