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Thursday, May 30, 2013

The sexual politics of Get Smart

by John MacBeath Watkins

We are living in what may turn out to be the golden age of free media, the time between "information wants to be free" and the discovery that those who provide it move on to other activities once it turns out they won't be paid.

One of the bonuses of this period is the availability of free entertainment in the form of shows we would formerly have had to rent from a video store of by watching commercials on television.

And one of the pleasures I've enjoyed recently is watching old episodes of Get Smart, a situation comedy about an inept secret agent.

James Bond drove rare and fast cares, Ferraris and the like. Maxwell Smart drove sports cars on the economy end of the scale -- a Sunbeam Alpine, Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, and Opel GT.

The beautiful women who populated the Bond films were either Bond girls who fell under his spell and had sex with him, or villains who were less impressed and tried to kill him, only to be defeated.

Bond was the super-competent, super-masculine hero. Don Adams (born Donald James Yarmy,) who created the Maxwell Smart character, actually had the backstory a Bond actor should have had. He joined the Marines in World War II, hit the beach at Guadalcanal, was was wounded and invalided out with blackwater fever, which almost no one survived, and after kicking that, became a drill sergeant whipping Marine trainees into shape.

After he mustered out, he went into show business. He was short, ordinary-looking, and had a funny voice, so he became a comedian, and created the character of an inept house detective.

Mel Brooks and Buck Henry had the idea of turning that character into a secret agent comedy. They selected the lovely, obviously intelligent, and somewhat taller Barbara Feldon to play his love interest and partner, Agent 99 to his Agent 86.

Many old shows are time capsules for the culture they were designed to appeal to. Amos & Andy has become an embarrassment, and many old programs represent a culture long gone.

This happens in literature as well. Lady Chatterley's Lover was shocking for its sexual frankness and breaking through class lines. Now, it seems rather tame.

The Bond  franchise moves on, in part by going back to its roots in Ian Fleming's novels, where Bond's love of women was as much a weakness as a display of masculinity, giving him hostages to fortune.

But Get Smart was part of the sexual revolution just as much as Midnight Cowboy or I am Curious (Yellow). While other shows were giving us displays of sexual freedom, Get Smart showed a future with more equal relationships between sexes.

It is still part of its time. Smart, as the man, is supposed to lead, and defeat the bad guy. But he's inept. He has the good fortune to be paired with the more competent 99, and both are aware of his ineptitude. 99 understands that Smart gets by on good intentions and good luck, and chooses to help him. They fall in love in the chaste manner of 1960s prime-time television, not the quick fall into bed of the Bond films, and they have twins.

99 does not give up her work. Smart becomes a nappy-weilding secret agent, 99 at his side (the twins seem to require remarkably little care.) Of course, Smart is not the feminist's dream -- neither character is seen doing housework, but the assumption seems to be that it's 99 doing it.

Don Adams had a working wife as well. He was married to Adelaide (Dell) Efantis, a singer who performed as Adelaide Adams, and he took his last name on stage from her stage name.

99 never gets a name, but that appears to be a humorous device to keep emphasizing the incongruity between the dehumanizing aspect of "givin' you a number and takin' away your name," as the lyric for the them song of the show Secret Agent said, and the affectionate relationships and domestic happiness of the character Barbara Feldon played. The character in Secret Agent inhabited a different identity in every episode, and viewers never knew his name.

 Actually, the theme song for that show, performed by the ragin' Cajun, Johnny Rivers, has proven more enduring than the show. It encapsulates everything Agents 86 and 99 lampooned.



Secret Agent theme song:

There's a man who leads a life of danger.
To everyone he meets he stays a stranger
With every move he makes,
Another chance he takes.
Odds are he won't live to see tomorrow.

Secret Agent Man.
Secret Agent Man.
They've given you a number.
And taken away your name.

Beware of pretty faces that you find.
A pretty face may hide an evil mind.
Ooh be careful what you say.
Or you give yourself away.
Odds are you won't live to see tomorrow.

Secret Agent Man.
Secret Agent Man.
They've given you a number.
And taken away your name.

Swinging on the Riviera one day
Layin' in a Bombay alley the next.
Oh don't let the wrong word slip.
While kissin persuasive lips.
Odds are you won't live to see tomorrow.

Secret Agent Man.
Secret Agent Man.
They've given you a number.
And taken away your name.

source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Under the weather, and the cat

John MacBeath Watkins

On Sunday, I was under the weather. Bunny, my rumpy Manx, decided my fevered head was the warmest place to perch.



The internet apparently exists for cat pictures and videos  on the one hand and porn on the other, and I'm not really into the latter, so here's my contribution to making it more about cats.

Monday, May 27, 2013

My favorite veteran

by John MacBeath Watkins

Here's a picture of my favorite veteran, my father, John L. Watkins. The picture was taken in 1944 when he was a 2nd Lt. in the Army Air Force. He retired as a Lt. Col. in the Air Force, a veteran of WW II, Korea, and Viet Nam.


Here's the eulogy I wrote for his funeral: http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2011/04/death-of-affectionate-man.html

Dared and Done: A dark secret, a happy ending


by Jamie Lutton
 
Everyone likes a love story where the hero and heroine have to overcome barriers to be with each ohter, succeed, and live happily ever after. This is the plot of many of our fairy tales, legends and mythology. fiction, movies and televion is populated by this sort of story. 
 
 The rarity is finding such a story in real life. Even rarer is hearing about  poets falling in love, and live happily every after. Most of the time, it seems, that when poets fall in love you get tragedies like the story of Ted Hughes and Silvia Plath, or that, as Tolstoy said, 'happy families are all alike', and the story of the romances are not interesting.
 
The story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning's romance, elopement and happy marriage in the face of adversity is a wonderful, gripping tale, and should be better known than it is nowadays. The romance of these two is known in a general way from English literature classes, the way we know that Shakespeare was English and lived in the time of Elizabeth l, but the details of their romance have been largely forgotten. 
 
Neither Robert Browning nor Elizabeth are that popular anymore. Our grandparents read a lot more old poetry than we do, and these two used to be revered as greats. Robert Browning, especially, is considered the best English poet of the mid 19th century. I have been hearing about one poem of Robert Browning's all my life. but nothing else - My mother, who loved to read poetry aloud, or from memory, read My Last Dutchess to me, over and over

.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Last_Duchess. to the point where I still mutter "too soon made glad'' under my breath, now and then...and I often pull this poem out and hand it to people who, say, only like Edgar Allen Poe's dark visions and no others.
 
There was a popular movie about the Brownings made 50 years ago, that was fairly accurate as far as it went - The Barretts of Wimpole Street. But there has never been a good, complete biography of this couple until 1995, when Julia Markus wrote the well-researched and well-written Dared and Done; the Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning..
This book is a week by week account of how they had came to know and fall in love with each other.  
 
Both were published poets moving in the same circles in 1840s London. Elizabeth Barrett was by far the more popular and successful poet of the two, and was a few years older. . She had been  an infant prodigy; had begun to read at write poetry at age six,and reading and writing epics in Greek and Latin before she was 10; reading and studying Milton, Pope, and Shakespeare. 
 
Intrigued by a poem that Robert Browning had just had published,, Elizabeth wrote a witty reference to it in one of her next poems. The intellectual circles of the time read poetry journals the way we read the Internet; it was a way of communicating ideas in verse form to each other.  Elizabeth Barrett often put 'politics' in her poetry as a habit; she frequently wrote poetry denouncing slavery, and advocating, like Byron, Greek independence.
 
This poem she wrote provoked a letter from Robert Browning to Elizabeth, praising her work. In his first letter to her, Robert Browning wrote "I love your verse with all my heart, my dear Miss Barrett".   
 
They corresponded for several months before they ever met in person. These letters are carefully annotated and selected to show the growing affection they had for each other. I have sat down and tried to read their collected letters on my own. I found them difficult to follow as they are full of classical allusions they slung back and forth to each other; referring to Greek and Roman and Italian poets that I have never read and am only distantly aware of. Dared and Done makes this couple as people a lot more accessible than their love letters on their own..
The drama in their story, what makes their letters of courtship fascinating to the modern reader, is that her father had forbidden her - and all her 11 siblings - from ever marrying.   
 
This forced Elizabeth and Robert to have to 'hide in plain sight' while they grew to know each other over a year and a half of meeting and writing to each other, to then decide to elope and marry.
 
Robert, it seems, fell in love with Elizabeth after meeting her only a few times; it took him over a year of secret meetings and many many letters back and forth to win her heart, and to persuade her to disobey her father and elope with him.. The best of the letters are here in this book, annotated by the author. 
 
Julia Markus, while researching the family's history in the West Indies, discovers the dread secret that the father was trying to hide, this discovery is the great achievement, and core  of this book. Elizabeth's fathers bewildering behavior, in the eyes of modern readers, is made explicable.  
 
SPOILER ALERT.  
 
Elizabeth's father believed that they had 'black blood' in the family, who had lived in Jamaica for centuries.  He was afraid that some of his grandchildren might look 'mixed'; so he wanted to have no grandchildren at all.  This was an age of growing racism towards blacks in the West, to justify slavery. Race was the 'new idea' of the time, and being thought 'part-black' would have destroyed the Barrett's upper-middle class standing. . Elizabeth Barrett herself was dark complexioned, her husband's nickname for her was 'the Portuguese'.  I urge anyone who wants a better undertanding of English Victorian mores, and  paranoid racism of the 1840's should not miss this couple's biography. 
 
It is also a lively account of two great spirits who were able to find each other and in the teeth of family opposition, run away and be happy together. There are so few happy love stories in the world, this one should not be missed by any lover of poetry,  or biography. 
 
Julia Markus also makes clear that Elizabeth Browning chafed at the restrictions of her age, and was a feminist, torn between family affection and wanting her freedom. In her case, happily, freedom won, and she was able to have a happy marriage. Some of her best poetry, like Love Sonnets from 'The Portuguese' are from her married life. The author also makes clear that Robert Browning saved her life; she was on the verge of death from opiate abuse  and depression the winter before their meeting.. His passionate attachment to Elizabeth, his respect for her mind and his tender care of her is preserved in these letters, as well as her joy at finding a true soul mate. 
 

Friday, May 24, 2013

3-D printing for food -- it's what could be for dinner

by Jamie Lutton

Sometimes, there are stories in the news about technological advances that are so unbelievable, they are not credited. The story of '3-D Printers' making food from plant waste is one of them. 
 
NASA has just given a $125,000 grant to a company to develop a '3-D printer' that would make food out of plant waste.  The scientists demonstrated the machine using mealworms, but, according to the article, the technology might be able to use lawn clippings, algae or any kind of plant waste. The inventor  has made the extravagant claim that 3D food Printers, could one day eliminate world hunger.
 
 
 The first use would be to preserve food for long voyages into space, to Mars, and at the proposed Mars colony, because present forms of preservation, such as rations now fed to Astronauts (think TANG)  do not produce food that ''keeps'' for long enough. And if food can be grown from waste, it is not inconceivable that an algae tank on a long voyage could recycle human waste back into food, adding a few vitamins and other nutrients, plus some flavorings. (!)
.
When I emailed an distinguished scientist/engineer  I know and told him about it, he insisted that this idea was not possible, demonstrating Arthur C. Clarke's First Law of Impossibility :
 
 "When a distinguished but elderly scientist declares something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he declares something is impossible, he is very probably wrong"
 
I directed his attention the NASA article. He still did not believe it.   . I think it sounded like a 'perpetual motion' machine to him, as the claim that edible tasty food could be made out of plant waste is, on the surface, incredible. But this is what the Earth itself does; miniaturizing and shortening the process is what this machine is supposed to do.(Not a perpetual motion machine, of course, since it's powered by the energy of the sun.)
 
I believe. this invention, one  related to it, may be the inventions of the century.  
    
There are a lot of  justified worry about famine and food shortages in the world today. At any one time, some part of the world, or another, is on the verge of famine.  In many countries that have "enough" food, children are stunted from not getting enough protein or vitamins in their diet. Some insist that there is enough food for everyone, only it is poorly distributed. Others protest the development of 'Franken foods', or genetically altered foods like corn or tomatoes, or rice that has been altered to have more vitamins in it, called 'golden rice'. Yet while the arguments go on, poor people suffer from malnutrition on every continent.
            
We forget that a lot of the food we love, and is common,  is ''artificial'.  Ice cream is my favorite example, plus frozen vegetables and TV dinners, and in particular  fresh milk and juice. These foods only possible because of home refrigeration and factories that process food for huge numbers of people; this allows people to have fresh green vegetables in the middle of the winter, even if the  local produce is poor. 
 
 I have been in grocery stores where the fresh produce was terrible, in small towns or in bad neighborhoods, but there always were frozen peas and broccoli available in the freezers. Americans don't eat green vegetables as much as they should because of the marketing of junk food. 
 
The idea is that delicious food that is tasty could be 'printed' on the long voyage to Mars, on in the Mars colony after it arrival. Food such as pizza, Mexican and Italian dishes could be fabricated.  Real 'meat' dishes could also be fabricated in the future, using a different technique.
Dutch scientists a few months ago, have successfully grown meat, that is, muscle tissue, in the lab:
 
 
The cost of producing 'hamburger' looks to be $200,000 for one patty, but the scientists claim when the process is perfected, the price would quickly drop.  There is a huge demand for meat, as countries Westernize and develop the taste for red meat, chicken and fish.  
 
Another force driving this is that 'meat' of this type would not damage the environment or be cruel to animals grown in less than humane ways for food. . France M. Lappe in her book, Diet for a Small Planet back in 1972; pointed out that feeding grain to cattle and eating the cattle was terribly inefficient, and bad for the environment. As the Earth's population Westernizes, the demand for meat only goes up, straining the environment. 
 
My thought is that both these technologies could be used to make dog and cat food first, and free up the fish, chicken, beef, etc, that is diverted into making pet food, and so it could be available as human food. . Pet food companies compete vigorously  with companies that make, say, sausage or stew, driving the prices up for these food byproduct. There have been complaints that the pet food companies worldwide outbid the poor nations who try to buy food for their people, as  cheap protein that is diverted into pet food.
     
There might be a lot of resistance to eating manufactured food at first, but this is a good first step...the cats and dogs will have less sales resistance. When this idea is discussed online, the first reaction is to mention Soylent Green, a 1970's SF film based on Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! in which, in the overpopulated future, people were turned into 'soylent green' after they died, and served as food.There was such a thing as 'soylent brown', a powdered soy product you could at one time buy (I shudder to think it may still be in production.) My brother Jon proudly kept an (unused) jar of it in his vegetarian kitchen, just for notoriety and laughs.

Monday, May 20, 2013

If the Marines can't protect the president from the rain, call in the Air Force!

by John MacBeath Watkins

My conservatives friends assure me that it's a terrible scandal that President Obama asked a Marine detailed to him to hold an umbrella for him.

The basis for this is that the Marine Corps does not allow male Marines to use umbrellas. Nor do the Army. All allow females in their service to use umbrellas.

The Air Force, however, has long been more agile in adapting to new technologies, like those invented later than the hat. Air Force officers are allowed to use an umbrella, hold it for someone, and generally treat it like the useful item it is.

You can even get an umbrella with a U.S. Air Force insignia for $21 from the Air Force Museum.
We've got you covered, Mr. President!
We may as well face facts. The Marines, my conservative friends assure me, cannot protect the President from the rain (unless they detail women to the duty, which doesn't seem to have occurred to them.) I'm sure the Air Force will be happy to step in and provide protection with highly-trained personnel of either gender.

Of course, the service chiefs have not yet had their say. They may decide that if a Marine can take a bullet for his President, he can also hold an umbrella for the CIC. Hell, they may even decide that if he wants to shoot down enemy aircraft with a Stinger missile, he's allowed to hold that even though it isn't part of the uniform.

(Edited to add: They Navy changed its rules in 1987 to allow both genders to use umbrellas. Dang, they're catching up to the Air Force!)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Imaginary Words

Imaginary words
(The grammatical equivalent of the square root of negative one.)

The masculine of empty streets
The possessive case of borrow
The first person of defeat
The omniscient voice of sorrow

The feminine of history
The plural of alone
The intransitive of misery
The past tense for home

The proper noun for no one
A compound form of sever
The reflexive of a warming sun
The indicative of never

--excerpted from The Book of Forbidden Words

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Headquarter Nights: The Great War and the trend toward peace

by John MacBeath Watkins

On of the great historians of all time, in my  opinion, was Barbara Tuchman, and perhaps her most famous book was The Guns of August. It tackled one of the great puzzles of history, why World War I happened.

Tuchman went into great detail to make the case the war planning, especially Germany's Schlieffen Plan, which involved winning a war with France by sweeping through Belgium, thereby violating Belgium's neutrality, protected by treaty with England, was a major factor.

A.J.P. Taylor, another great historian, also made the case that mobilization plans played a major role in starting the war.

But both books raise the question, why were these plans made in a way that would inevitably lead to war?

Watching our own war fever while the Bush Administration manipulated the public into backing a war against Iraq brought this question home to me. I now think that WW I started because the participants wanted, or at least were not opposed, to what they thought would be a short and decisive dust-up.

Some confirmation for this theses comes from a little-known book written during WW I, Vernon Kellogg's Headquarters nights; a record of conversations and experiences at the headquarters of the german army in France and Belgium.

Kellogg was a pacifist who was in Belgium before America entered the war, working with Herbert Hoover on the Commission for the Relief of Belgium, and Belgium was, of course, occupied by the Germans, so he lived in a household with a German officer who often entertained members of the German High Command.

He had trained as a biologist, and was on leave from teaching that subject when he began conversing with these high-ranking Germans, one of whom was also a biology professor, in his case on leave to prosecute the war.

What shocked Kellogg and convinced him that America should do all it could to defeat Germany was the theory the top tier of German officers of the biological superiority of Germans expressed.

While in America Social Darwinism had taken an individualistic form, in Europe it was more commonly expressed in racial terms.

Race, of course, is a ticklish subject -- in World War II, a number of Jews passed as Germans to stay out of the death camps, and were able to do so because they were physically indistinguishable from other Germans, though allegedly a different "race." But the German officers Kellogg found himself talking to believed there was such a thing as the German race, as opposed to the French race, or the Dutch race, or the English race.

From Headquarter Nights, the argument Kellogg found himself subjected to:

But as with the different ant species, struggle — bitter, ruthless struggle — is the rule among the different human groups. This struggle not only must go on, for that is the natural law, but it should go on. so that this natural law may work out in its cruel, inevitable way the salvation of the human species. By its salvation is meant its desirable natural evolution. That human group which is in the most advanced evolutionary stage as regards internal organization and form of social relationship is best, and should, for the sake of the species, be preserved at the expense of the less advanced, the less effective. It should win in the struggle for existence, and this struggle should occur precisely that the various types may be tested, and the best not only preserved, but put in position to impose its kind of social organization — its Kultur — on the others, or, alternatively, to destroy and replace them.
This is the disheartening kind of argument that I faced at Headquarters; argument logically constructed on premises chosen by the other fellow. Add to these assumed premises of the Allmacht of struggle and selection based on it, and the contemplation of mankind as a congeries of different, mutually irreconcilable kinds, like the different ant species, the additional assumption that the Germans are the chosen race, and German social and political organization the chosen type of human community life, and you have a wall of logic and conviction that you can break your head against but can never shatter — by head work. You long for the muscles of Samson.
Few people desire to do evil in the world, but the things they justify to themselves as good can be quite astonishingly evil. The arguments Kellogg heard in Belgium while doing his relief work did not die out when the Germans lost the war -- instead, they mutated into the arguments that justified the Holocaust.

Kellogg said that these views were held by most German biologists, as well as non-biologists.

Nor should we assume that they were restricted to high-status Germans. Here's the English view, as expressed by Rudyard Kipling in 1899:

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

 The notion that the better "breed" could benefit people by subjugating them was current. In addition, the English had established a large and powerful empire by subjugating foreigners and foreign land. At the time, the understanding of economics was that you needed to control more territory and resources to gain greater wealth. England subjugated India, bringing to them the dubious benefits of British bureaucracy and extracting from them raw materials for England's industry.

But as a trained biologist, Kellogg was well aware of alternate theories about evolution. He did not agree that mankind was "a congeries of different, mutually irreconcilable kinds, like the different ant species" or that mutual conflict was the only key to evolution -- he considered mutual aid to be at least as important.

Mutual Aid will perhaps be familiar to the reader as the title of Petr Krapotkin's book, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Krapotkin argued against the Social Darwinists, pointing out that what he called mutual aid, a term that encompassed symbiosis and altruism, played an important role. In accepting Krapotkin's ideas and thinking human beings are pretty much alike, rather than being like different ant species, Kellogg was a more modern thinker than the German officers he argued with.

And perhaps the horror of the Holocaust helped eliminate that kind of thinking. Certainly, wars have been declining in number and in the deaths they cause since World War II.

Of course, in a modern industrial society, war is no longer a path to wealth -- in fact, it seems to be a dead loss. That's got to reduce the incentives for war. And empires no longer show a return on investment. Global capital is no longer willing to repatriate profits and pay taxes to the home country that finances the wars.

And of course, World War I didn't turn out the way people thought it would. Germans remembered the Franco-Prussian War, which was quick, decisive, and led to the unification of the German states. Germany had been the underdog, but had beaten the French in less than a year in a conflict fought mostly on French soil, some of which became German at the peace settlement.

It had been mostly a war of maneuver, in which the Germans mobilized more quickly, and the German General Staff showed better organization and competence than the more traditionally organized French General Staff.

So it's easy enough to see why the German war plans were organized so that they would inevitably lead to war, with no way to put on the brakes. They wanted war. And since 1870, the French had been thinking, Next Time.... 

The last big war the Russians had fought was against Napoleon, and they had acquitted themselves rather well. They had, however, been recently humiliated by the Japanese.

All the participants expected a glorious campaign in which losses would be tolerable and the people at the top of society would have increased status and power.

What they got instead was a war waged like pest control, even including the poison gas. Military planners seemed to have forgotten what war was for. Clausewitz said "War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will." Yet the military goal of WW I seemed to be to kill as many people as possible.

The pointlessness of the war was soon apparent to those delegated to kill and die in it, and to the horror of those responsible for starting it, total peace began to break out up and down the line at Christmas, 1914. The unwillingness of those on the front line on both sides to kill each other might be called a desertion in place. But the reputations of the generals depended on the enlisted men killing each other, and the generals soon had the war going again.

And again, after the failed peace that followed WW I. 

I think the death of what Kellogg called "neo-Darwinian" views may have had something to do with the fact that war is in decline, but the economic factors are probably more important. For the most part, war is now viewed as a deadweight loss.

We still hear echoes of the views of the Germans Kellogg debated with in the jingoistic claims for American exceptionalism. And  China is beginning to awaken to new dreams of empire and irredentalist claims for lost territory -- even Okinawa, which was conquered by Japan in 1609 and became a prefecture of Japan in 1879, is on the list, with every piece of property the Chinese ever  dominated 

 The nightmare of Headquarter Nights can happen again.

 
 






 
 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dratted Suirrels!

by Jamie Lutton

Last year I moved into a house where there are trees, bushes, flowers...and an overgrown yard that needs a lot of work.   This particular home had been neglected for many years, except that someone had put down a ton of wood-chips, with cardboard underneath to kill the weeds in some of the yard.  I have not done any gardening since I was my Dad's indentured lawn servant. He used to follow me around when I mowed the yard, pointing out three or four blades of grass I missed, etc. He paid me the vast sum of $2 a week. After I took a  a labor history class in high school, I asked him for a raise; he told me he would 'do the job himself'. I said 'what, are you going to be a scab, then?"  I got my wages raised to $5. Dad was a left-leaning  history buff, and appreciated  my rejoinder. 
   
This yard, though, was mine, and my challenge. . I took on the Sisyphean task of putting it in order, and weeding it was the first item on the agenda. After sweating for weeks,  removing a million dandelions,  blackberry bushes, and English Ivy, I decided I wanted a treat for myself.
       
I went rosebush shopping
      
I had along a female relative who was wildly enthusiastic about my project.  She is alert for any signs of domesticity in me.    She drove me  to a big, fancy gardening place out in the sticks, where there were acres of rosebushes to choose from.  I bought three rosebushes, picked out for their scent, color and hardiness.   I did not want roses that were pretty, big, but had no scent.     In the end, I went for 'Julia Child' (yellow) 'Memorial Day'  (pink) and 'Shakespeare'' (red).   I was suckered by the 'Shakespeare' rose. Who could resist having 'Shakespeare in the front yard?
    
She said  David Austin roses were the best for our climate, but in the end only one of the rosebushes, the "Shakespeare" was that variety. She also said 'pay attention to the scent of each rose'', and at this place, each rose was marked by not only what the their blooms would smell like, but how strong the scent would be.  It was  rather like picking out wine for a wine cellar; the details were that careful, luscious and vivid; using terms like 'spice' and 'aroma'..
    
After I got the roses in the ground with THREE different kinds of rose food, I gave them a good watering.  I discovered, then, that the short hose I have did not reach Julia Child which had been planted far from the house, so to water it, I had to spritz the water long distance, holding my arm above my head, to reach the plant.
 
Looking at the roses each morning, I was hoping they would grow like Bamboo and get big fast. I called my female relative, and asked how soon till they get  full sized. She said 'two years'.
   
Oh.

The next day, at the grocery store, I saw some  tiny tea-roses, already blooming with pink, white and red miniature roses. They looked like they needed a home.   I bought six of them, two of each color, and put them in another part of the yard, close but not too close to each other.  These last few warm days, I am out at midnight or at 7 am, watering all these roses. I had somehow forgotten about all the upkeep involved...

I also bought some big pretty purple daisy like flowers with white centers,  annuals, that I do not know the name of. In my enthusiasm to get them in the ground, I lost the little tag that says what they are.  They are very hardy. I bought them two months ago, and they are still blooming, going strong.  I keep waiting for them to 'die back', but it hasn't happened yet. I pick off the dead blooms, and stare at them, wishing I had the money to have bought many more pots of them. They are amazing.

All over the yard, about a six weeks ago, spindly knee to waist high plants, with long skinny leaves, 'weeds' I had not targeted, suddenly burst into gorgeous, feathery purple flowers, like the flowers on clover, but much bigger.  I learned that their name was 'Bachelor Buttons'. They are the most prolific flower in the yard, even growing up through the pavement here and there. I don't have the heart to cut them back, even though they are everywhere.
   
A well meaning person gave me a huge bag of wild bird seed. This got me looking at bird feeders; after a few false starts I went to Wild Birds Unlimited, where a crafty saleswoman (you know the type) got me to buy four bird-feeders, two of which were supposedly 'squirrel proof'. Also, she sold me  blocks of suet for birds that don't like seeds, with wire baskets to hold the suet
 
One feeder was OK; it had a wire basket over the feeder that kept squirrels out, but the second, which had  a plastic 'dome' over the feeder, did not keep  'Houdini' out of the food for long.  She lowered herself down onto the dome, riding it like an exercise ball a couple of times, till she figured out she could hang by her back legs, easing herself  around the edge and jumping on the lip of the feeder. Her mate, Edmund Hilliary, was more prone to taking great leaps over a five foot gap  to land on this feeder.   And the suet feeders were harvested merrily by both; they would hang by their back legs and eat upside down in seeming comfort, not going away even when I rapped on the glass. They would glance at me, snicker, and go back to chowing down on the '''bird''' food.

My cat Piglet sometimes looks out the window at the fun. She had not seen squirrels before; I think she thought they were small vegetarian cats who could climb really well.    She knew what birds were , but these squirrels were a mystery to her.  Once, when she sneaked out of the house, she came across a squirrel on the ground only  a few feet from her. They both froze, then both galloped in opposite directions.

I do get some birds.  Chickadees, Juncos, and some other small birds I have not identified yet. They eat both the seeds and the suet.  Two huge bluejays from the one yard over drop by now and then, where they have a nest, to  eat the birdseed spilled on the ground.  I am hoping for a lot more bird visitors in the winter, when wild food is harder to find. And by then, I hope to have figured out how to baffle the squirrels. The two I am dealing with are too smart for me, so far.   I have seen feeders put on poles at that shop, but I hate to buy $50 -$200 pole systems when I have a couple of perfectly good trees to put feeders in.

Houdini and Edmund Hillary don't look like they have missed any meals; I will report back if I get any more high-tech  (expensive) bird feeding equipment that can finally baffle them. Right now, I am laid up with an twisted knee inside, and in in no shape to chase squirrels.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hiroshima, a book that helped prevent nuclear war

by Jamie Lutton

As I was thinking about which nonfiction books that I have read to review for this column, I  keep coming back to the book Hiroshima,  by John Hersey. This book   was first published complete in the July 15, 1946  issue of the New Yorker magazine, then expanded a few years later. It is a collection of six interviews of survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

The interviews cover their recollections of the day of the bombing, the immediate aftermath, and the weeks that followed.

John Hersey was an American, he had been an Allied war correspondent for several years in both Europe and in the Pacific. He had access and could interview the Japanese survivors of this  bomb right after the American occupation of Japan. When he was commissioned by the editor of the New Yorker to do a series of pieces interviewing survivors of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, he was the first journalist from America to do so.

He interviewed many Japanese who had been in the city who had witnessed and survived the bombing. The group of six people he chose was heterogeneous,  one   of which were 'foreign national' living in this city; a German priest, and one a Christian, a Methodist. who had been educated in the United States who spoke 'excellent English'..
  
Two doctors, a tailor's widow who was a mother with two kids, and a young female clerk were the others.. No soldiers, sailors or government officials; the survivors in this book were harmless, ordinary people, four of them in the 'helping' professions.  by choosing to include two doctors, Hershey gives the reader the immediacy of seeing through these doctor's eyes those wounded, maimed and dying from the bomb..

These six residents of Hiroshima were very lucky. It is estimated that 135,000 people died in the atomic explosion that day. Some instantly, some from   hideous third-degree burns from the blast, or radiation  sickness in the  days that followed, which caused repeated vomiting, hair loss and eventual death. Four square miles in the center of the city was completely destroyed, while many, many others who survived the initial blast were sick for years later, with hibakusha, or 'bomb sickness' - weakness, dizziness, and digestive issues, as well as leukemia and other cancers killing many, years later.   Five of the six survivors in this book had some bad injuries from the blast; the clerk had one leg nearly crushed and nearly destroyed.

Most of the survivors were viewed with suspicion by other Japanese, endured prejudice in hiring and marrying, and were seen as 'undesirable' people; even their children were treated like 'undesirable people'.  Many survivors would hide the fact that they had been in Hiroshima, and lived through the blast. Only after several decades,  when most survivors have died, did the survivors get better treatment from the Japanese government, and given stipends to live on.

I grew up in the other shadow of the bombing of Japan. Most of my childhood was spent in Richland, Washington. The Hanford Nuclear facility, or 'area' as it was called, was close by. My Dad worked as an inorganic chemist there, specializing in running a sodium cooled plutonium reactor, the Fast Flux Treatment Facility.. The  local industry in Richland had been making  plutonium based atomic bombs for the American military through  the mid 1940's and the 1950's (then gradually switching to domestic nuclear power plants).

Hanford had made the Nagasaki bomb that was dropped on Japan, a plutonium bomb dropped  four days after the Hiroshima bomb.

The local high school I went to, Columbia (now Richland) High's sports teams, their football and basketball teams are called 'The Bombers' (still are,to this day); and the insignia on the sport gear, the t-shirts and sweatshirts show a mushroom cloud on them.
  
So as I grew up in Richland, it was a matter of bragging and pride in my hometown that we had built one of the bombs that was dropped on Japan.  And the stories I head from my dad about the war in the Pacific are part of my perception this action. Dad told me that he had been in the Marines in 1945, a young man of 19, drafted, and was going to be to be in the invasion of Japan..  From previous battles with the Japanese, it was known they would fight fiercely, street by street, to the bitter end. My Dad told me several times that he was dreading the invasion of Japan, and knew he would possibly, even probably die.  

He always figured that dropping two atomic bombs on Japan saved his life. 

Some WW II veterans who are historians like Paul Fussell also praised the bombing of Japan, He pointed out in his essay Thank God for the Atomic Bomb that the use of atomic bombs shortened the war by weeks or months, and saved lives on both sides. According to Fussell,10,000 people, civilians and solders,  were dying every day in mainland China alone in that summer. So  I have been exposed to many points of view, both negative and positive, on the use of the bomb on Japan.

The lessons that I take from Hiroshima, from living in Richland, from my Dad's stories, and even from Fussell is that ordinary people, like these six people and people like my Dad, are in grave peril when war breaks out.
 
But, it has come full circle with the atomic bomb.

It has been centuries in the Westsince we lived in a world where our leaders were at the same risk in wars as the man in the street. This era  ended  in the 1480's in  England,when the last king,  Richard the Third, died leading an army in the field defending his crown.  For centuries now ordinary men and women who fight  in armies or as hapless civilians behind 'enemy lines',  while the men who start vicious wars  are safe at home, directing the fighting.
But the atomic age changed this.

I have a gut feeling that this book was read in the Kremlin by Stalin's advisers in the early 1950's, and by Mao's advisers in China, and by other world leaders who acquired their own atomic bombs.

When General MacArthur wanted to drop the bomb on North Korea,President Truman, who had authorized the first use of atomic bombs, forbade it. Truman had gotten reports from Japan,and did not want to use such a horrible  weapon again..   I do think that despite the bellicose Cold War that lasted from 1946 to 1989 (and some thereafter) this little book may have delayed the a nuclear World War lll. These leaders and others must have drawn the rational conclusion  that not only would nuclear war be horrific, that also there was nowhere to hide from atomic bombs. Any and every leader now could be wiped a atomic bomb from the sky, or smuggled into their country.
     
This book was, in those years after the war a huge best seller.. Banned for years in Japan, while it was occupied by the United States  it   was printed as a book only two months after it was published in the New Yorker, and revised as John Hersey went back and interviewed these six survivors again. 
  
It has never been out of print.

Just as  the novel by Harriet Beecher  Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin,  is credited with  helping start the American Civil War, I do think the six survivors testimony in Hiroshima prevented a nuclear World War III. 

The world has not yet found its way to world peace. There is still dreadful threats on all sides from religious strife to economic and political upheavals.  But I do recommend that everyone read Hiroshima.  This gripping testimony of six eyewitnesses to nuclear warfare, and the pitiful, horrifying  aftermath should not be missed. Those 135,000 civilians should not be forgotten, or died in vain.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Meerkat's crabclaw rig goes sailing!

by John MacBeath Watkins

I went sailing for a couple hours with the new Meerkat crabclaw  rig today. I count it a success





It took some fiddling to get the sail to set right, and I've got a lot to learn, but she performed well on all points of sail. Reaching with the sail on the lee side of the mast and the downhaul eased was a treat, almost like sailing with a spinnaker. The big surprise to me was how the curved spars kept the sail flat. 

I think I had the outhaul too tight the whole time, and I didn't make it easy to adjust while sailing, but one of the most interesting things is that it matters a great deal where you put the attachment points for the sheet on that curved boom. I had one part of the lead in the right place, one too far back. As a result, the boom was twisting so that the sail twisted tighter at the top. I moved the lead inboard, and that seemed to cure it.

Reaching with it on the lee side of the mast was so different from reaching with it on the weather side, I'm going to try to find a way to move it from side to side on the mast, like a dipping lug. The boom moves away from the mast, and the pull is up and forward instead of down and forward.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Humans need Mars!

by Jamie Lutton


 I was reading another Seattle paper a few days ago,  and saw an article about cannibalism being proved among the colonists at Jamestown colony in the winter of 1609-1610. It seems  80%  of the colonists died from starvation that winter. There were written accounts from the time that mentioned this, and newly found archeological evidence from a 14 year old's skull found that had been  hacked open to eat. A very grisly story, but the darkly amusing part was this article was placed just below  an article about the recent enthusiasm for colonizing Mars.

This was funny, but I think misleading. I think the readers were  being asked to put these two stories together in their minds, and think about the likely mortality rate in a Mars Colony.  This sort of negative thinking has pushed the work on a humans to Mars expedition back, decade by decade. In 1968, when we had just circled the Moon, and were planning to land on it the next year, the expectation at NASA  was that we would send a human expedition to Mars by 1990. 

People need to face that we going to have a high death rate in a Mars colony. Human error, accidents, even catastrophes will happen, even if starvation does not plague the first settlers. 
     
We may have failures, even with everyone dying off and vanishing, like the Roanoke colony in Virgina.  We even have to worry about comet impacts; there is a 'close call' predicted for 2014 for Mars, the type that killed the dinosaurs off 64 million years ago (though if a comet did hit, it would add a lot of water to the surface of the planet - you might Google the articles about this - Mars-Comet-2014)

But that does not mean we should not go into space, not colonize other planets.  Look at the history of this country. Fortune favors the bold..
 
Just in passing, I would like to note that another famous early English colony, the Plymouth colony, experienced a 50% die-off the first year. The survivors married each other (and other newcomers) and some 5% of the population of the USA is descended from these colonists, including my business partner, John Watkins.  The name of the Plymouth colony member that was his great many-times- grandfather was John Howland, an indentured servant. John Howland now has hundreds of thousands of descendents alive in the united states today.

As Mars appears to be barren and generally void of life. we will not be displacing or wiping out any native peoples  a' la Avatar or even in our own history through disease or deliberate policies.  There is no good reason not to go; even for the reason Everest was climbed in the 1930's for the first time; 'because it is there'.

I want, then, to recommend the book The Case For Mars, first written back in 1995 and recently revised.  This book is a good introduction to the problems of humans colonizing Mars. and some clever shortcuts that could be made. The author's thesis is that we should plan right from the start to go 'one way', and leave astronauts there to start up a permanent colony.
   
This is an upbeat book, written by a notorious Mars booster  Dr. Robert Zubrin. It has a lot of useful information, and good hard science in it,  with a lot of the technical answers with original thinking covered on the problems that would be faced. A ''sequel'' to this book, How to live on Mars, a comic SF fictional immigration 'handbook', set in 2095, is filled with practical information.
It is a funny book, a good book,  that is a commentary on life as we know it now, as well ..... but I am biased. I did some editing on this book. It got a review in the Wall Street Journal that was favorable and a 1/4 of a page long, so it can't just be me.

What with the risk of a meteor collision like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago,  as well as the comet near-miss that is approaching Mars next year, it would be good for the survival of the human race to live on more than one planet in this solar system.   Even with all the problems the human race faces now, it took economic progress in the West to turn humans into environmentalists, and we are  better stewards of the Earth than we might be otherwise. We do a better job rescuing and reclaiming streams, cleaning the air, sewage,using cleaner technologies,  and saving endangered animals, by using advanced technology applied to the problem.  Humans are far from perfect at this, but the general trend is good,. in my opinion.

On a darker note, I want to recommend two books by Richard Preston, The Hot Zone, and The Demon in the Freezer.  I read the Demon in the Freezer first, and could not put it down, then searched for other books by this author, and found The Hot Zone.

I was brought to the realization  that the human race may be hit by (another) disease outbreak originating in Africa.  Our government chose to ignore the last big epidemic from Africa, until it was too late to contain it; the AIDS epidemic (see the book The Band Played on by Randy Stilts).
           
There are several other epidemic diseases that could break into  pandemics, lurking to break out in a big way; a good example is the five varieties of Ebola. The worst of these being Ebola Zaire, which has a 90% fatality rate, and no known cure - only palliative measures.  The author says the evidence points to both diseases started out as diseases from monkeys and apes in Africa, that spread into the human population from eating or handling sick monkeys, and the destruction of their habitat...
        
We nearly had an outbreak into the general human population of Ebola Zaire near one large American city, from a population of monkeys kept in a military facility. Carelessness, and the insane pursuit of making money by quickly  selling groups of imported monkeys to American labs without adequate precautions. This nearly caused an outbreak like those seen in Africa, when whole villages were wiped out by Ebola. Though this book is 20 years old, the risk is nearly as high it was then. Plus, with warfare and economic conditions being far worse than it was 20 years ago, in Africa, the chance of a big outbreak is high. There have been several small outbreaks in the last 20 years.  The author notes that the West did not contain AIDS when it could...so our track record of spending enough money to 'notice' and stop fatal disease outbreaks is abysmal.

The Demon in the Freezer, which I read first. covers first the heroic struggle to destroy smallpox in the world, by dedicated health workers, doctors  and scientists chasing the smallpox outbreaks  around the world and 'encircling' them, vaccinating everyone around an epidemic, to 'contain' it and snuff it out.  in the early 1970's, smallpox was finally eradicated in the entire world. The difficulties in doing this, the resistance of the local governments, is well told. These men and women are heroes, and this story should be better known.

The second half of the book is the history of some of these scientists then turning to fiddling with smallpox in labs, to 'weaponize' it, i.e. making it stronger, and in some cases 100% fatal. The author interviewed Soviet scientists who had defected years earlier, who reported that the Soviets had done this kind of research...and after the fall of of the Soviet government, these scientists had scattered and gotten jobs in many other nations. Right now, up to this date, there has been no success in destroying all the smallpox kept frozen in labs, as all sides want some 'just in case'.  So,the chance of an 'accident' or a deliberate release of this disease is still very high.

For those who want to read a fictional account of how bad this could get, should read the thriller Andromeda Strain or watch the early 1970's film adapted from the book - it is excellent.  Or the more recent film, Contagion.  This last film was carefully made, a realistic account of a natural pandemic flu outbreak killing millions who catch it, with only a 20% fatality rate.

Having a version of smallpox available that has been tweaked to be 100% fatal could be disastrous for the human race.  As this author points out, we live in the age of air travel. One sick person could be 1,000 miles away in a few hours, spreading an air-born illness to everyone she touches. Unlike the days of, say, the Black Death, which spread only a few miles a week. any contagious illness spread by touch or breath, that is highly fatal, could be around the world in a day or so.

When I read The Band Played On 20 years ago,  I went around for six months trying to get my friends and family to read the book. I was shook to the core by the author's proofs that this fatal illness was ignored by our government, as they did not care much about  the  population it first appeared in - the gay population.  Now, even though we are on the verge of a cure, this illness has killed millions, and had decimated some African countries. It is now epidemic among straight youth, esp. minorities, and seniors in this country.  Our abandonment of good public health worldwide, because of ''the cost'', means a pandemic  could happen anywhere, anytime.
 
We are fairly aware of the bird flu outbreaks that  occur in the Third World and then spread around the world, but most people don't think about what else is out there.

I have to put these two books on my list of great non-fiction of the late 20th and early 21st century, and a must read for everyone. As we as a human race makes plans to colonize Mars, ,these diseases still snap at  at our heels and endanger us all.
Jamie Lutton owns Twice Sold Tales on Capitol Hill, and her blog with her business partner is Booksellersvsbestsellers.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Capitalism:So much more than markets (Rethinking Liberalism Part 12)

Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production, with the goal of making a profit.

-- Wikipedia

by John MacBeath Watkins

Several political movements have been named by their opponents. "Liberal" used to be a term of disapproval before it became a term worn with pride, and then became a term of disapproval again. "Fascist" was a term invented by its liberal opponents, and enthusiastically adopted by its followers.

Capitalism is a term invented by Karl Marx in about 1850 to describe something new in the world, something he thought evil. As the Wikipedia definition demonstrates, the term is now retrospectively applied to all systems in which there is private ownership of the means of production, a situation that has probably existed as long as the institution of property has existed.

But Marx was not describing prehistoric societies where flint knappers owned their tools and hunters owned their spears. Through most of history, there had been peasants who owned their land, their draft animals, and their plows, and artisans who owned the tools of their trade. The situation Marx invented a new term to describe was one in which no longer did each weaver own his loom; ownership of the textile mill belonged to the capitalist, a  person who did not weave or spin, but whose profession was to own, and to manage or hire managers.

The capitalist was the creator and the creation of the industrial revolution. Prior to this, there had been a number of theories of how economics worked.

Thomas Hobbes believed that government made it possible for labor to create value.  The war of each against all, much like the 30-years war, made it impossible for agriculture, navigation, or commerce to take place, which is why we should form a social contract and value the sovereign who keeps us from violent death and ensures that those who plant can reap.

The Physiocrats thought that all value came from the soil, and government should interfere as little as possible. This appealed to planters whose wealth depended on crops such as cotton and sugar, and who wanted to be left alone to keep slaves doing the work.

The mercantilists thought the goal should be to bring as much wealth to their country as possible, which meant getting control of resources, providing the means to exploit those resources, such as roads and bridges for commerce, and steer the most profitable operations of business to their own country. They were natural empire builders, the sort who would conquer India and prohibit the Indians from building textile mills because it was better for England that industry should be in England.

Capitalism adopted parts of all these philosophies, but grew from the changes in technology.  Frederick Law Olmstead, who traveled in the South from 1852 through 1857 writing for the New York Daily Times, considered that slavery and the inefficiency it enabled had impoverished the South, its wealth restricted to the few owners of large plantations. From Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom, an 1861 abridgement of that work:
'The citizens of the cotton States, as a whole, are poor. They work little, and that little, badly; they earn little, they sell little; they buy little, and they have little – very little – of the common comforts and consolations of civilized life. Their destitution is not material only; it is intellectual and it is moral... They were neither generous nor hospitable and their talk was not that of evenly courageous men.'
 In short, he viewed them as insufficiently capitalist. The slaves of the South were at that time worth more than all the factories and railroads in the entire nation, but even so, they were not efficiently employed, because their cost was less than the cost of hiring free men. Not that the cost was low; about half the wealth of the South was in the ownership of slaves.

Capitalism did well enough out of slavery, with 80% of the South's cotton going to British textile mills and coming back as fabric. But the semi-feudal society of the South did not reward labor well, so did not have sufficient demand to support its own industry.

As for the mercantilists, they saw conquest and the domination of other peoples as the key to gaining wealth. The West was won by people following those imperatives, using the nation's troops to conquer land for private ownership. The conquest of Indian land was not an enterprise for libertarians, it was a nation dominating by force people who commanded less force.

Frederick Jackson Turner declared the frontier closed in 1890. Perhaps it is no accident that in 1898, America tried to expand into a true empire by seizing most of the remaining colonies of Spain in the Spanish-American War.

The failure of America to become the sort of empire the proponents of the Spanish-American War had envisioned was really the end of the mercantilist dream. And the intellectual basis for an economic theory replacing mercantilism had been laid long before.

The theory of comparative advantage -- that is, the theory that if each nation produces what it makes best, and trades it to other countries, all will be better off -- was first examined in detail in David Ricardo's 1817 book, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation.

Ricardo suggested that such trade left both countries better off, in contrast to the mercantilists who advocated high tariffs to encourage domestic production of as many goods as possible. This was a very different view of how value is produced, and because it suggested that the production of value is not a zero-sum game, it was a major break from previous notions of how the world works.

The theory of comparative advantage has always been a hard sell, especially in hard times. But another intellectual revolution was to make capitalism work much better than the alternatives, and it grew out of the work Ricardo and a moral philosopher interested in the nature of value, Adam Smith, had done on the way markets work.

I'm talking about the marginal revolution, one of the least-known and most important revolutions in history. Economists in Austria, England, and America participated in perfecting the theory that the marginal utility of goods is key to understanding their value.

Adam Smith and David Ricardo had not understood value well enough to explain why diamonds are worth more than water. The one was a shiny stone, they other essential to life, yet the stone was worth more, which Smith regarded as the paradox of diamonds and water.

Marginalists could explain this. Many people had no diamonds, but all had sufficient water to maintain life, or they were dead. Since the dead demand no material object, the remainder of the population, who usually have more water than they need, do not hold additional water to be of high value. Most people the world over own no diamonds. When you have no diamonds, wanting to own one has some value. The notion of marginal utility could explain and quantify the effect of scarcity on prices.

Marx, remember, invented the word "capitalism," but he did not invent a really workable theory of value. About the time he would have read of the theory of marginal utility, he stopped writing. Personally, I think he realized that his theory of value, based on that of John Locke (Locke said labor creates property, Marx said labor creates value,) was crap compared to the theory of marginal utility, which left his theory with no place to go.

The marginal revolution gave liberal economists a powerful tool that allowed them to run an economy more successfully than those who did not adopt this notion. It laid the basis for the economic consensus that gave us steady growth with only modest downturns from the late 1930s until 2008. In the early 1930s, there was a sizable leftist movement, reflecting that many people didn't buy into capitalism as the best way of life. The steady success of a kind of capitalism where government moderated the excesses of the markets and made it possible for them to thrive undermined the socialist alternative, as did the less than brilliant performance of Fabian socialism and the wretched failure of the Communist economies.

The economic philosophies that asked government to moderate the effects of capitalism were first Keynesian economics, then monetarism. Keynes claimed that when the economy got into a liquidity trap -- that is, when the natural rate of interest is below zero -- fiscal stimulus is needed to get the economy running again. Moneterists claimed that monetary policy could do the job, making central banks the essential institution of capitalism.

But what has happened is that with the collapse of the socialist alternative, the left is defined by Keynesian and even monetarist ideas, while the right is defined by what amounts to pre-Depression economics. Although those on the right wish to portray this as an argument between socialists and capitalists, it is really an argument between different brands of capitalists.

When the only real alternative to capitalism is another brand of capitalism, you can say with some certainty that capitalism has won. Rhetorical efforts to label Keynesians as socialists remind me of the efforts of the Catholic Church to label the Goliard poets as "Bohemians."

The Goliard poets were rebelious clerics who wrote scandalous songs and poems often featuring "Father Golias," a figure who possessed all the flaws of the rulers of the Catholic Church. At the time they were suppressed (in 1289, the Church decreed that "no clerks shall be jongleurs, goliards or buffons"), the Gypsies, so called because of the untrue claim that they were from Egypt, were moving into France, where they were called Bohemians, because of the untrue claim that they were from the kingdom of Bohemia. They were foreign, poor, transient, and often stole things.

The Church began to refer to the Goliards as "Bohemians," in an effort to make them seem less socially acceptable. But the term bohemian has come to mean a rebel poet, which is pretty much what Goliard meant. The Church had managed to change the sign, but not the signified.

So those who now wish to associate a rather successful branch of capitalism with the term "socialism" should be wary that they may revive the legitimacy of the term "socialist."

The paleoeconomic right wants to "end the fed." It's my belief that in so doing, they would be well on their way to ending modern capitalism, which since 1913 has relied on the central bank to moderate the excesses of the market and guarantee some stability in the economy. The problem is that a system that relies on large accumulations of capital needs a market in debt that can be relied upon. Alexander Hamilton understood this, which is why the Funding Act of 1790 funded the debt rather than paying it off -- he wanted to create a market for securities that could finance commerce. He proposed a Bank of the United States, which would accept deposits and make commercial loans. It was to take on the functions of the Bank of England, which had rescued the pound by acting as a lender of last resort in 1763.

Andrew Jackson, the Ron Paul of his day, denounced the Bank of the United States in 1828 and refused to renew its charter in 1836.

As Wikipedia notes, "The end of the bank saw a period of runaway inflation, until Jackson's executive order requiring all federal land payments be made in gold or silver, driving all banks to require payments in gold and silver, producing the depression of 1837, which lasted for four years."

This is the paradise to which Ron Paul wants us to return.

State banks took up the slack until 1863, when the Union, freed of Jacksonian southerners, chartered national banks. The panic of 1907 revealed that capital had become so important, and markets so unstable, that the Federal Reserve system was needed.

Jackson demonstrated that capitalism without capital fails, and the Panic of 1907 revealed that to have stable capital markets, we need a lender of last resort. So let's add that to the components of capitalism.

When Marx coined the term "capitalism," it was a flawed and sometimes brutal system. He correctly forecast that it would have to change. What he missed was that the beast could be tamed, with the advancing arts of economics and central banking, and policies of social insurance making it not only tolerable, but preferable to other systems. The danger now is that we will forget the lessons we learned in an earlier and more brutal time, and eliminate those elements of capitalism that make it function well enough not to call for its replacement.

When you take the tools from the weaver and concentrate them in the hands of the textile mill owner, you take control of working conditions away from those who make the fabric. Democracy has a pretty good history of fixing that problem, with the actions of capitalists restrained to a level that keeps revolutionary urges in check. It is inherent in the nature of capitalism that the ownership of the means of production is concentrated in few hands, often in the hands of a person who is a legal fiction, the corporation. This is at the core of capitalism, and it is the need for such large investments that makes the management of capital so important.

In 1811, William Blake published the following words:
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Yet somehow, among paleoeconomic conservatives, those dark Satanic Mills have become a vision of paradise. I would say they were not even capitalism, only the precursor to our capitalist system.

Links for this series:

Rethinking liberal theory 1: Thomas Hobbes, blasphemer and patriot
Rethinking liberal theory 2: The outlaw John Locke, terrorist, liberal, and advocate of freedom
Rethinking liberal theory 3: A compact to protect property, or a conspiracy to create meaning?
Rethinking Liberal Theory 4: John Milton and the many shapes of truth
Rethinking Liberal Theory 5: Adam Smith, moral philosopher of the marketplace
Rethinking Liberal Theory 6: Mythmaking and manufacturing
Rethinking liberal theory 7: Hegel, the end of history, and the triumph of the liberal idea
Rethinking liberal theory 8: Liberalism and individualism: The invention of the Util and the way west 
Rethinking liberal theory 9 Property and freedom: Why language is the basis for the social contract 
Rethinking Liberal theory 10: Physiocrats & mercantilists: The economic philosophies of the founding fathers
Rethinking Liberal Theory 11:Stateless income, global capital, and the death of empires
Rethinking Liberal Theory 12:Capitalism:So much more than market
Rethinking liberalism 13: What is money?