Monday, December 22, 2014

Lex Anteinternet: Shaving

I posted this item this last April:
Lex Anteinternet: Shaving:
West Point Cadet shaving with a straight razor in the field. The
first thing I do every weekday, or at least every weekday that I work
Bleh. . . I have to admit that recently shaving has been one of those daily tasks I'd gladly give up.  I actually will skip it at least one day of the weekend, Saturday, and frequently I'll skip it on Sunday too.  If I have a few days off, which I hardly ever do, I'll generally skip it then as well.  I just don't like doing it first thing in the morning, and if I were retired, which I'm nowhere near being, and for which there's a fair chance I'll never be, I might just grow a short beard.  This is particularly in mind this morning as I shaved on both days of the weekend, which I rarely do.

Having said this, I'm increasingly surprised by the number of men who find it acceptable to pack a couple of days stubble during the workweek.  It's really common.  I was at a deposition the other day in which, for instances, one of the lawyers had on a suit and tie and about two days of beard growth.

An odd thing about that is how thin a lot of those beards are too.  They're scraggly, in many instances.  For a guy like me, with a really heavy beard, it's weird to see guys skipping a couple of days shaving to grow such thin beards, when if I did that, I'd look like a bear in short order.  Looking back on photos of the hairy 19th Century, it makes me wonder where those guys were then, as it seems like everyone in that era could either grown a titanic beard or mustache.

At any rate, it's probably a sign of my age, but either grow a beard or don't. The scraggly two or three days of thin beard growth look just doesn't work.

Christmas in the Trenches: A unit Christmas Card from World War One.

Nuns On The Ranch Give A Heavenly Twist To Beef : The Salt : NPR

Nuns On The Ranch Give A Heavenly Twist To Beef : The Salt : NPR

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A History Lesson On The Philippines, Stuffed In A Christmas Chicken : The Salt : NPR

A History Lesson On The Philippines, Stuffed In A Christmas Chicken : The Salt : NPR

For Norwegian-Americans, Christmas Cheer Is Wrapped Up In Lefse : The Salt : NPR

For Norwegian-Americans, Christmas Cheer Is Wrapped Up In Lefse : The Salt : NPR

Antarctic Holiday: A Christmas Feast In The Loneliest Spot On Earth : The Salt : NPR

Antarctic Holiday: A Christmas Feast In The Loneliest Spot On Earth : The Salt : NPR

A History Lesson On The Philippines, Stuffed In A Christmas Chicken : The Salt : NPR

A History Lesson On The Philippines, Stuffed In A Christmas Chicken : The Salt : NPR

Pride And Prejudice: For Latinos, Tamales Can Taste Of Both : The Salt : NPR

Pride And Prejudice: For Latinos, Tamales Can Taste Of Both : The Salt : NPR

Tourtiere: A French-Canadian Twist On Christmas Pie : The Salt : NPR

Tourtiere: A French-Canadian Twist On Christmas Pie : The Salt : NPR

A Holy Land Christmas Porridge Honors A Damsel In Distress : The Salt : NPR

A Holy Land Christmas Porridge Honors A Damsel In Distress : The Salt : NPR

St.Barbara, I'd note, is also the Patron Saint of Artillery.

Japan's Beloved Christmas Cake Isn't About Christmas At All : The Salt : NPR

Japan's Beloved Christmas Cake Isn't About Christmas At All : The Salt : NPR

About This Series: The 12 Days Of Quirky Christmas Foods Around The Globe : The Salt : NPR

About This Series: The 12 Days Of Quirky Christmas Foods Around The Globe : The Salt : NPR

Christmas Posters, World War One

 Come on - Join now 15,000,000 members by Christmas /

Red Cross Christmas roll call December 16th to 23rd /

 Join the Red Cross - all you need is a heart and a dollar Red Cross Christmas roll call, Dec. 16-23 /

Sunday Morning Scene: Churches of the West: St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Casper Wyoming

Churches of the West: St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Casper Wyoming:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Today In Wyoming's History: December 18 Updated.

Today In Wyoming's History: December 18:

2014.  Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court seeking to have leave to sue Colorado on a Constitutional basis.regarding Colorado's state legalization of marijuana.  The basis of their argument is that Colorado's action violates the United States Constitution by ignoring the supremacy nature of Federal provisions banning marijuana.

While an interesting argument, my guess is that this will fail, as the Colorado action, while flying in the face of Federal law, does exist in an atmosphere in which the Federal government has ceased enforcing the law itself.

Kill and eat. The deeply unnatural, and rather odd, nature of vegetarianism.

I suppose its indicative or our general desire to be polite, even in print while commenting, but rarely does anyone bother to take on the topic of vegetarianism, how rare it is in the historic examples in the true sense, and how unnatural it is.

 Bean field, New Jersey.  Only in a society with highly developed row crop agriculture is an unnatural diet like vegetarianism possible.

But every now and then, it's worth noting something like this, particularly when those advocating a certain position have become so irrational and aggressive about their position, as vegetarians and their extremist adherents, vegans, have become.  Indeed, I suppose it might be further indicative that we have arrived at this point in that not only I'm now commenting on it, but Stephen Pastis, who previously limited his satiric wit in a class sense to fanatic bicyclist, has now added an equally fanatic irritating character to poke fun at, that being a vegan.

So, let's start with a simple set of truths.

First of all, vegetarianism in any form is a deeply unnatural diet. Human beings aren't designed to eat a strictly vegetable diet, and those who do are engaging in a deeply unnatural act.

Secondly, only in very advanced societies where a human's protein requirements can be made up in other ways, with considerable effort on the part of the eater, or on the part of society at large, can such a diet even be contemplated.

Thirdly, there aren't any well established religions of any antiquity, anywhere, which hold to the concept that a vegetarian diet is somehow morally superior to a diet featuring meat.  And to suggest it comports with Christianity is just fooling yourself in the extreme.

Oh, I know that vegetarians are now rolling in their tofu in anger, but these are the simple facts. And, if arguments work the way they usually do, anyone contesting these simple facts is busy building a straw man to argue against, raising arguments to defeat that I haven't brought up.

No, I'm going with history and nature on this one, and frankly any rational eater ought to as well.

And before I go on to state those facts in greater detail, let me add one more thing.

Everything, and everybody, dies.  You will dear reader, and so will I.  That's obvious, but as with much in contemporary Western society, we're busy ignoring that, and that figures into this topic. In our contemporary society, much effort is expended by many trying to fool ourselves that death is unnatural and can be wholly avoided.  It can't be, and for each of us, it won't be.

The diet a human being is evolved to eat is phenomenally well established.  Indeed, a recent National Geographic article detailed it well.  In a state of nature, human's eat meat, and crave it.

Now, in a state of nature, they also hunt it.  Before any person tries to qualify this by noting that they restrict their meat intake to fish alone, and they are therefore somehow superior, fishing is merely fish hunting.  The only distinction between fishing and hunting is that we've named it differently if it regards fish.  Not that this is wholly unique to fishing, students of language will note that taking frogs is sometimes referred to frogging or frog gigging, and hunters of waterfowl are sometimes claimed to engage in waterfowling, or just fowling.

 Antelope hunter, 19th Century Wyoming. Antelope hunting, including what amounts to a type of subsistence hunting, is very common in Wyoming to this day and very lean antelope makes a dinner entry on a lot of regional tables.  In  terms of what you're evolved to eat, this is it.

And in a state of nature, that's what people eat, and how they get it.  Animals, birds and fish.

 Trout hunters, i.e., trout fisherman, Colorado high country 1946. With such an nice looking stream such as this, why does every single Colorado fisherman seem to be fishing in Wyoming?  Also, given as trout fishing is trout hunting, isn't there something a little weird about "catch and release". We fish to eat, after all.

Now, for the most part, in any such society, people still eat more vegetable matter than meat, and for some simple reasons. One is that we're evolved to eat that as well, not exclusively, but in addition. Secondly, getting meat is pretty tough work, even where its plentiful, and even today when hunted.  Calories are expended getting it, as well as time. So, it's quite true that even in hunting societies, of any type, more vegetative matter is eaten than meat.  It's also true that in such societies meat is strongly craved, and vegetative food often disdained, but they are both consumed, with considerably more plant life consumed than meat.

Elk hunters, 19th Century. This hunters work has only just begun, given that he has a bull in the woods.

That's the basic human diet and the only natural one.  A person can try to theorize their way around it, but that is it. That's the scientific, biologic, and historic fact. And that's what your body wants to eat.

Now, the only reason that anyone eats in any different fashion is due to agriculture, and agriculture alone. The irony of that is that it really take fairly advanced, if not fully modern, production agriculture to eat in any other fashion, and its of note that generally farmers, who are pretty attuned to nature, aren't vegetarians.  Only the very modern production agriculture we have in the Western world can allow something like veganism to exist.

 Farmer, late 1930s.  This farmer, engaged in a pretty natural act with animal assistance, is doing something that early agriculturalist would have recognized.  With this heavy labor, he also was certainly not a vegetarian.

The reason for that is that is is only through production agriculture can sufficient protein supplying crops be grown in order to allow for such diets to exist in society. And because of that, ironically, vegetarianism in any form actually cuts not only against the natural order, but it actually destroys it.

Now, I don't mean to dump on farmers here, and indeed I'm a species of farmer myself. But the plant life that has sufficient protein in order to substitute for animal life is crop agriculture, not grass, and that means that it has to be put in, and it supplants, more natural crops. That's neither good nor bad, in a moral sense, it just is. But as something that is, a person should be aware of it. And the irony of any type of crop farming is that when it becomes intensive, like row crop agriculture of any kind, it involves the killing of animals, which farmers well know and accept.  It isn't possible to plow, plant or harvest without killing something, and it further isn't possible to get any crop to market without something also being killed occasionally in the process.  And it involves the supplanting of animals from their preexisting habitat.  Deer and elk don't naturally occur in soybean fields. So, vegans, you're killing, by proxy, and driving things off their habitat. And that is just as true if you go all organic and free trade as if you do not.  And, as you are basing your entire diet on crop agriculture, you are actually more destructive in a way, as people who obtain protein from meat at least can obtain that from meat that came from an animal that lived in a fairly natural way, and which didn't destroy its econiche.  Indeed, some forms of meat, which come in for frequent attacks form those who are ignorant of the realities, comes from animals that can live and usually do live pretty close to their natural state. Beef is the best example, in domestic animals, as they're a large ungulate and large ungulates usually just hand around eating grass, which is what beef cattle pretty much do for most of their lives.

Of course, you can also hunt for your mean, in part or whole, which not only doesn't impact wildlands, but which has been demonstrated to be their most effective protector.  Its hunters who have been the main drivers for the protection of any type of wildland, followed, in the United States, by ranchers who require what most people would regard as wiildlands, even if they don't, large acreages for grazing.

Moreover, the natural diet is the one that's best for you.  That's the one you are evolved to eat.

Now, note here I didn't say that the contemporary fast food American diet is best for you. That wouldn't be true at all. And I'm not saying any diet that incorporates meat is ipso facto a good one for you.  Any diet that departs from a natural one, and that includes the one you get at the burger joint and the one you get at the vegan cafe, can be harmful.  So, a person who is sitting there eating the all meat and cheese pizza or the Double Triple Burger Supreme can't take comfort at this either.  Ideally, you ought to be eating meat that's pretty lean in proportion to a reasonable percentage of vegetables. Better yet, you ought to participate in getting that meat yourself in some fashion, in part if not in whole.

But let's bring up another point here before its missed, which is the simple one that either way look at it, you're going to die anyway.  Oh yes, that again.

There seems to be a general belief in western society now that if you eat the correct odd diet, no matter how far from nature it may be, get the same holistic philosophy that some actor advances, or take the right pills, you're going to live on forever. Well, you aren't.

Eating a sane diet may extend your life, that's for sure, just as eating an unhealthy one may shorten it.  Or more accurately, a sane diet may help keep you from dieing prematurely, maybe. Getting exercise, not smoking, not drinking too much, proper medicine, and avoiding excessive stress also all contribute to that. But anyway you look at it, you are going to pass on, and imagining that if you pass up on the roast beef, or even the hamburger, avoid the offered glass of beer, and just suck down some concoction called a "smoothie" that has the consistency of pooh will make you live forever is delusional.  Just something people should keep in mind, before going whole hog into some peculiar philosophy of diet.  Make yourself miserable if you want to, but the grim reaper is going to stop by anyhow.  Of course, don't invite him early by your conduct either.

On this, by the way, as the boosters of vegetarianism are fond of citing examples of somebody they claim to be vegetarians (although those examples aren't always so clear, and omit some interesting examples of clearly vegetarian historic figures, like Adolf Hitler*) consider that Chief Washakie, the most significant figure of the Shoshone in the 19th Century, lived to be 101 years old, and he definitely wasn't a vegetarian.  He's not the only Native American figure of that period to live to that age either.  That would suggest an outdoor life, getting plenty of exercise, might be the real key to having a long life, outside of course of fortunate genetics.

Monument to famous centenarian and meat eater, Chief Washakie, in Laramie Wyoming.

Now, having already noted that if you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you're participating whole scale in killing animals, let's also note that vegetarians have no claim to moral or religious superiority, and these positions are not in keeping with any accepted religious or moral position of antiquity.  We've already basically disposed of the moral superiority claim, but to restate it, if you are a vegan or vegetarian, you're relying whole scale on a row crop system of agriculture that depends on fairly destructive farming practices combined with international transportation, both of which kill things right and left.  Relying on killing by proxy is, if anything, dishonest and less philosophically sound than accepting that the killing occurs.  The only intellectually honest approach is to do some of it  yourself for your diet.

And no pre modern religion every held to vegetarianism.

Hinduism, which is sometimes cited in these regards, does not, or at least the majority of Hindus are not in sects which require vegetarianism. We've already addressed this in the thread on myths, but the vast majority of Hindus do in fact eat meat. The Dali Lama eats meat.  And while I'm not an expert on Hinduism, as with Christianity, we need to be careful to distinguish a discipline from a religious tenant.  Now, it is true that a minority of Hindus, for some reason, are vegetarians, but the percentage of them that are is a minority percentage, and I don't know the origin of their practice. That most Hindus do eat meat, but have dietary practices that restrict the intake of some forms of meat, seems to be wholly lost in the west. But then the nature of Central Asian religions, such as Hinduism and its reform, Buddhism, seem to be nearly completely lost on westerns in general, including those who claim to embrace those religions.**

Indeed, while I can already sense the hackles on this being raised, let's be blunt about the major Monotheistic religions. None of them, none whatsoever, have any religious tenant that supports even vaguely vegetarianism.***  Indeed, the contrary would be quite true.

Judaism certainly does not.  Indeed, we learn from the Old Testament that Issac sent Esau "out into the field to hunt game for me and make me savory meat."  Genesis Chapter 27.  And we know further that God instructed Moses to have lambs slaughtered for the first Passover, with the blood placed on the door mantels so that the Angel of Death would pass those house holds over.  I have no doubt that there are vegetarian Jews today, but there's no support for that practice in the texts of the religion itself.

Indeed Jesus, who of course was a Jew, also wasn't a vegetarian (as indeed nobody in that region of the world would have been, and indeed hardly anyone on earth would have been).  Jesus called more than one fisherman to his discipleship and, as already explored, the fish they were taking were killed and eaten.  And Jesus undoubtedly ate more than one Passover meal, a feature of which, from the very first Passover, is lamb.  At the Last Supper, lamb was undoubtedly consumed.

Indeed, given this, it's really odd that some contemporary Christians will cite their Christianity as a basis for their vegetarianism. When they do so, they're largely just flat out rationalizing a practice that has no basis in Christian theology at all. Some will point towards certain historic Christian figures or communities, but when they do so, they fail to understand that its largely the case that those examples had that practice as a discipline, rather than a doctrine. That is, these examples largely gave up eating meat as a sacrifice for their Faith, and therefore they didn't give it up because God had implicitly prohibited eating meat, but rather he'd allowed.  In this sense, this example is not only poorly understood by those who cited it, but if the example of the same people is to be followed, there's a lot of other things that would likewise be given up, one of which is the blaring headline on nearly every magazine a person has the misfortune to observe in the grocery store line.  Funny, indeed, that a practice that was one of discipline by select groups who abstained from other things that our society loudly proclaims as necessary would be cited here, or that a practice which every Catholic and Orthodox faithful still practices at least during the Friday's of lent would be so misunderstood.

 Orthodox monk.  Some, but certainly not all, monks in various monastic orders observe meatless regulations.  Of course, they also fast as well, and fasting and abstaining from meat on certain days are features of Catholic and Orthodox faiths for reasons that have nothing to do with diet whatsoever.

And misunderstood indeed is the Christian relationship to food in this context.  Not only is there no proclamation in the New Testament against eating meat, Christians were given license in the New Testament to eat meats that Jews had heretofore not been allowed to.
On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”
Kill and eat.  Not even close to what those who imagine themselves to be following in terms of Christianity in the context of vegetarianism, like to cite.

And of course Moslems also  have a history of eating meat.  I'm much less familiar with the tenants of Islam in this context, but basically Islamic practices and laws concerning diet are fairly similar to Jewish ones, with the addition that Moslems are not supposed to drink alcohol.  Like the Jews, Moslems have a least one yearly observance with requires the slaughtering of a lamb, so the religion doesn't square with vegetarianism at all. However, being a faith that's much more centered in the non Westernized regions of the globe up until very recently, I also do not think I've ever heard anyone claim to be a Moslem vegetarian either.

Okay, so where does this take us, where, to here.

Well for one thing, the fact that there are so many vegetarians and even vegans says something about our society and the the times we live in, and not in a good way, for the most part. Societies that live close to nature live close to reality, and that a lot of people are electing for this deeply unnatural, and even anti-natural, diet shows how far from a sense of reality we now live. That a lot of these same people are very well meaning and also deeply believe that their acting in accordance with nature, or in accordance with some species of philosophical high mindedness, shows how badly we now fail to understand basic nature and have even a remote grasp on philosophical matters.  This doesn't mean that these people are "bad" people, but it does mean that a huge number of these people are acting in accordance with a set of beliefs that can only exist if a person has very little exposure to the natural order and even a misconstruction of it, with some certain exceptions existing for people who have taken this up for other thought out reasons.

Additionally, a set of summations about this can be made, those being:

1. Be a vegetarian if you wish, but don't fool yourself that its an ethically superior choice, or an environmentally benign one.  It's neither, save for the sole example of somebody giving up meat as a species of intentional moral self sacrifice, which is very rare in this day and age. But even at that, unless that sacrifice is based in religion, it isn't really going towards any point.

2.  Don't fool yourself that its the healthiest choice going.  Reason would stand to dictate that the diet you should eat is the one you are evolved to eat, and that's not a vegetarian diet by any stretch of the imagination. Don't make false comparisons here either, and note that a diet of Big Macs isn't good for you.  Of course it isn't, but two unnatural choices doesn't mean that those are the only choices that exist.

3.  Let's not pretend that its the "natural" diet, that's a western world hallucination only capable of being believed in a highly industrialized society that can supply protein in some other fashion.  Nowhere else is that fantasy believed and its scientifically invalid.

4.  Don't argue that its religiously mandated by religions of antiquity, that just isn't so and any argument to that effect is demonstrably false.

Does this mean you shouldn't be a vegetarian? Well, frankly it does.  As a diet its not supported by our evolution and that pretty much means you're having to make huge adjustments somewhere. Does that mean you ought to eat bacon burgers three times a day?  Of course not, that's not supported by our evolution either.  It does mean that the folks in the western world who take some of their own meat in the field or streams, and there are those who take all of their meat that way, are dieting closest to what nature would have for us, but it otherwise means that a person ought to simply use their heads a bit and not buy into dietary fantasy, something that's particularly common in our flighty and overweight society.  Perhaps it would be simply best if people bought a fly rod or a shotgun and headed out to the field every now and then.


*One of the most amusing, or maddening, arguments made by vegetarians is that every single historical figure of consequence was a vegetarian.  This sort of argument is actually common for any sort of social movement, which is what vegetarianism really is, and they all tend to go back towards figures of antiquity on occasion as the further back you go, the more difficult any assertion you might make is to disprove.  Rarely are the claims for any one person analyzed in depth.  For example, I've seen it cited for Benjamin Franklin, but its rarely noted that he switched back and forth on his diet over time making him inconsistent in these regards, and as brilliant of man as he was, he also had other practices most of us wouldn't feel that we were compelled to take up.  And in this instance, the most famous of all modern vegetarians, the gassy murderous Adolph Hitler, is always omitted, which he should not be as, after all, he's a really well known example whose habits are very well known.

**Most westerners have real misunderstanding of religions of the East and frequently misunderstand their basic tenants. For one thing, a lot of westerners don't grasp that monotheistic religions are as common in the East as any others and that a person can't really discuss Eastern religions without including them. For example, there are Catholic populations in Indian that date to the Apostolic age and Christians are quite numerous in South Korea and China, and of course the Philippines, where they are the majority.  Islam is a major Asian religion in China, Central Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines and parts of Southeast Asia.  Animist religions, based on the worship of departed souls, is common in much of China and Korea, and retains a following in Japan.  In Korea, Japan and China, that type of devotion far exceeds the number of people who adhere to Buddhism and none of those countries can be regarded as "Buddhist".  Buddhism itself, being sort of a philosophy in certain ways, sometimes accommodates itself to other native religions so that there are people who combine an animist religion with it.   The mainland Southeast Asian countries are, or were, Buddhist, but all of them have had significant Christian or Moslem minorities for a very long time.  The nature and practice of Buddhism itself is often quite misunderstood in the west, and its rarely grasped that it was a reform of Hinduism.

***I do realize in typing this out that there are some contemporary Monotheistic religions that hold to vegetarianism as part of their beliefs, but none of them date to antiquity.  Some that are sometimes cited as being vegetarians are, additionally, not although some of their members may be as a form of observance, which is once again different from the practice being a tenant of their Faith.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hollywood lets North Korea win.

Boo hiss Sony, and boo hiss chain movie theaters.

We know know that the childish Stalinist theme park, the North Korean Clown College Republic, was responsible for the recent hack of Sony

I haven' frankly followed this much, as I don't care about Hollywood's secrets.  But I do agree its bad that a government is targeting an American business, although if you have to be targeted by anyone, a government that's clearly not long for this world and which will fall relatively soon, leaving a reluctant South Korea to fix things, is the one you want to be targetd by.

Anyhow, for all it likes to pretend to be on the forfront of everythign, the movie industry proved to be real chickens here.  The hack turns out to be because North Korea can't stand to be the target of a joke, even though, it should realize, the country itself is a pathetic international joke.  Mad at the Dear Leader being the target of satire, it went after Sony, who made the film.  Sony's now pulled the film, after certain chain theaters indicated that they wouldn't show it out of fear that North Korea would target them.

Well, so North Korea wins and looks like a serious international pirate.

Some day soon I'm fairly certain that China will make a Godfather like deal with South Korea.  That deal will basically be something like this. China will suggest to South Korea that if it invites the U.S. military to go home, China will take care of the North Korean government, which will then go into retirement, and the border will open.  My guess is that this will happen in less than five years, and certainly no more than ten. An advancing China doesn't want an embarrassing Stalinist reminder next door, Russia doesn't want a reminder of what Communism in its infancy was really like, South Korea doesn't want a dangerous neighbor constantly threatening it, and truth be know the U.S. would just as soon go home.

In the meantime, the cutting edge movie industry has thrown North Korea a bone.  It shouldn't have.

Restoring Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

We have diplomatic relations with Vietnam.

And with the People's Republic of China.

Shoot, up until just after Pearl Harbor, we also did with Nazi Germany.

And we had them with the USSR from 1933 until the USSR collapsed in 1990.

So, it's about time we had renewed relations with Cuba.

Not because we think Cuba's government is nifty, but rather because we don't like it.

We broke relations with Cuba when Fidel Castro, whom we edged up on liking beforehand, declared himself and Cuba to be Communist. At the same time, we imposed a trade embargo on the country.  The thought was that isolating the country like that might bring it back around.

Well, it hasn't worked and there's no sign that its going to.  But it has made dealing with our little Communist neighbor difficult and its brought about a lot of misery for people who have cross border affairs between our nations.

Time that the relations be reestablished.  And for that matter, the trade embargo should go as well.  Chances are a lot better that an increased stream of American tourists and money will operate to undercut the isolated nation's Communist government a lot better than the ongoing shunning has been.

Now, I know that this will upset some, but these appear to be the incontestable facts of the matter.  And continuing to lack diplomatic relations only serves to hurt U.S. interests on the island and to boost the respective interests of other nations.

And lifting the trade embargo would allow free trade between the US and Cuba to the benefit of both nations's people.  That would seem to benefit the Cuban government as well, but chances are it really would not.  If we seek to have Cuba change its government and liberalize, the best way to do that is increase U.S. tourism and trade to the island, which will boost the economic fortunes of the average Cuban.  Once that occurs, they're going to want to exercise some freedom and will pressure their government into reform  The reasons would be fairly simple, and while such arguments are not fool proof, the increased money in the hands of average Cubans, and the increased exposure to a society that lives with rights that benefit the citizens, will lead to the means and increased desire on the part of Cubans to have their own government reform.

That desire is already there, but the iron fist to the Castroist regime keeps the country from opening up.  The general example from Communist countries is that the support for Communism is nearly always remarkably thin, and once the population has some means and independence, it begins to desire more.  That hasn't worked, yet, everywhere.  China doesn't have a democratic government yet, and neither does Vietnam, but they seem to be getting dragged by their populations that way.  Cuba, which never really had a Communist movement comparable to that of Vietnam or China has a western population that's been constantly exposed to the United States by way of its close proximity to us, and to other western nations by way of tourism.  Chances are high that progress would occur there much more rapidly.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Air Transportation

I really like aircraft. 
My son, the pilot

But I hate flying.

So, here I'm dealing with a modern means of transpiration that I use a lot, dread taking, have a lot of familiarity with, have written about a lot here, and I find interesting.

I take airplanes all the time.  I've logged in more air miles than any member of my immediate family, and far more than my father, who was in the United States Air Force during the early 1950s.  As a kid, my fascination with aircraft lead me into the Civil Air Patrol, at which time I could imagine flying airplanes, prior to having to ride in them much.  But, while I like airplanes, and travel on them a lot, I really don't like flying.  Oh well.

Anyhow, as anyone who has ever stopped in this blog at all knows, I'm apparently interested in transportation topics, as they show up a lot. Recently I've been summarizing changes in transportation over the past century or so, and have discussed walking, water transportation, equine transportation and rail.  Here we'll look at one of the most revolutionary changes in how we get around.  It's one I've discussed here frequently, but its certainly worth taking another look at.

Trains were the fast transportation, and the basic means of interstate transportation, for most Americans after some point in the late 19th Century up in to the 1950s.  Now we wouldn't think of trains as fast, but they're a lot faster than equine transportation and water transportation, and prior to the Interstate Highway system, they were a lot more convenient and even more practical than automotive transportation, which tended to be local as a rule.  Now, as we know, for long distance transportation, aircraft are the default means of transportation for most people, with automobiles being a close second.  In much of the country, you couldn't board a passenger train if you wanted to.  And, with FeEx and the like also shipping by air, what the U.S. Postal Service started with air mail has become a major factor in mail and packages, paying a bit of a premium for shipping by air, of course.

FedEx Cessna at Natrona County International Airport.

How did this huge change come about?

Flight rose amazingly quickly. Faster, really, than any other means of transportation. And it evolved much quicker than any other as well.

Powered flight, i.e., the aircraft, only came about in 1903, as is well known.  Even prior to that, however, there were some who pondered the possibilities of air transportation on a grand scale.  Even prior to the American Civil War, one visionary took subscriptions for the construction of a dirigible to be powered by steam engines which would cross the Western prairies and mountains by air, safely (hopefully) delivering its passengers on the Pacific coast.  Of course, it was never built, but such a craft in fact did make a flight in Europe in 1852.

Dirigible patent, 1874.

In spite of their seemingly somewhat goofy nature, airships showed a lot of promise, which is why its somewhat surprising that in spite of a 50 year head start on the airplane, they really didn't get launched as a commercially successful means of transportation until After World War One.  There's undoubtedly a variety of reasons for that, with the weight and horsepower of available power plants being one, but they just didn't manage to really get started as a commercial endeavor by the time the Wrights flew in 1903.  They did get started as a military implement by 1900, however.

Given that airships had a big head start, you'd think the really primitive and scary nature of early aircraft would have still given them a big advantage, but aircraft evolved at such a rapid pace, it's stunning.

Early Air Transportation

The first attempt at an airliner was made by Igor Sikorsky, an early Russian aircraft designer who born in Ukraine and who later immigrated to the United States following the Russian Revolution.  He's most famously recalled today for being the founder of an American company that pioneered and dominated large helicopters for decades, but early on he designed large aircraft.  His airplanes were amazingly large for their era.  Sikorsky was a visionary, and he designed the Ilya Muromets to be an airliner in 1913, although World War One's arrival meant that it made but a single, fourteen hour, flight prior to his heavy designs being used for bombing during the Great War.  The early airliner was a luxury craft to a degree, even featuring a bathroom.

Multi engined 1913 design, the Ilya Muromets, the worlds first airliner, which made but a single flight in that role.  This airplane was designed only a decade after the Wrights first flight.

While the Ilya Muromet was a massive purpose designed aircraft, it would fall to the underpowered and utilitarian Curtis Jenny, the JN4, to be the first commercially used airliner, even though it isn't a big craft, and it wasn't designed for that. Elliot Air Service gets the credit for being the first commercial enterprise that moved people and items by air, using that craft.

The utilitarian Curtis Jenny, the United States first real military aircraft.  Built in large numbers during World War One, the airplane was really too underpowered for a combat role but is sparked the real dawn of American civil aviation.

The Curtis JN4 was an underpowered weak, but durable, aircraft whose real combat role would peak during the Punitive Expedition, where it was sued by the First Aero Squadron, an Army units whose trucks proved to be of nearly equal utility to this planes. But the Jenny would go on to become the first really popular civilian airplane in the world, being sold in large numbers in the United States and being pressed into every conceivable role by private pilots.  Jennys were used as trainers in the US during the  Great War but were pressed into the first really significant parcel delivery by air service in the US, by the Post Office, before World War One was over, with the Signal Corps Jennys being used to deliver mail starting in May, 1918.  Regular air mail would be a fully governmental service for the first eight years of its existence, with the air mail pilots being looked upon as glamorous, as individuals in dangerous occupations often are, but after that, the US went to commercial air carriers for the air mail, thereby encouraging private enterprise in this area.

Delivery of mail by air would seem to be a separate topic from passenger service, but in many ways it is not, as the early history of commercial air transportation dovetails the two, just as the late story of rail transportation also does. Passenger trains carried mail and people, and indeed mail hooks for railroads were set up along the rail lines so that trains didn't have to stop to pick up mail.  A video of that taking place, as a demonstration with a modern train, has just been posted on this site.  Moving mail by plane therefore was a natural extension of what was occurring by train, with a new means of transportation that began to compete with the train nearly immediately, or at least soon after World War One.

In order to make that competition realistic, of course, planes larger than the Jenny, and less scary than the Sikorsky, had to be developed, but they very soon were. Even late war aircraft had sufficiently evolved so that their conversion into airliners wasn't wholly unrealistic. The Farman Goliath, for example, was designed as a bomber but with a closed cockpit and fuselage, it made it possible to be converted into an airliner, a role which it was occupying by the early 1920s and still occupying at the end of that decade, a pretty amazing service life for an aircraft in the early history of commercial aviation.  In the 1920s, or even starting in the late teens just after World War One, some surprisingly modern monoplane passenger aircraft were introduced, however, and the future for some time was pretty set, with large biplane airliners, descendants of World War One bombers, yielding to more efficient monoplanes.

Starting in the mid 1920s, some really serious purpose built airliners started to be introduced.  Ford Motor Company introduced one of the earliest and best with the Ford Trimoter, relying on design lessons learned by its German born designer.  The Ford Trimotor almost immediately saw its twin spring up in Europe in the Fokker Trimotor, which is darned near the same aircraft as it was designed b the same people.  The Fokker and the Ford were amazingly reliable aircraft and they carried on in some locations for decades, with the last ones being retired only relatively recently.  In Europe, the type went on to be the basic cargo aircraft of the Luftwaffe during World War Two, although the military expression of the aircraft was hardly limited to the Germans, as variants were used by Switzerland, Spain, and the United States, amongst others.

United States Army Air Corps Fokker.

As good as the Trimotors were, a crash of one in 1931 would bring about a revolution in aircraft and the next great series of air liner.  TWA's Flight 599 crashed in a Kansas prairie on March 15, 1931, killing all eight occupants including legendary football figure Knute Rockne. Subsequent investigation revealed that structural failure of the wooden structured wings was the cause of the crash and the strict restrictions on such construction followed.  Taking that up as a challenge, Douglas Aircraft Company introduced the all metal DC-1 in 1933. The DC-1 soon yielded to the DC-2, after a single DC-1 was built, which came out in 1934.  Proving the type, DC-2 yielded to the most successful commercial aircraft of all time, the DC-3, of which a vast number were built.

The DC-3 itself was only constructed from 1936 to 1942, under that name, but the start of World War Two meant that the military version, the C-47, was built until 1945.  Production of a larger version of the airplane was commenced in 1949, but so many DC-3s and C-47s were in the air, with over 16,000 of the type having been built, that the new version wasn't really needed.

The impact of the DC-3 can hardly be overstated.  The aircraft remained in service all the way into the 21st Century and chances are that a few are still flying commercial short hops somewhere.  The DC-3, a sturdy, reliable aircraft, was the airplane that really brought regular commercial air service to the United States and the world, or at least interstate and somewhat international air transportation.  If you were going to your local airport in the late 1930s, the 1940s, or the early 1950s, your chances of boarding a DC-3 were good. And if you were shipping parts of something by air from the mid 1930s to the 1950s, chances are it was going by DC-3. For that matter, this would also be true in much of the Third World well into the 1970s or later.

 C-47s being built during World War Two.  The last U.S. Air Force use of the C-47 would come during the Vietnam War, during which some were changed from air transport aircraft into air assault aircraft by being equipped with automatic cannons.  Nicknamed "spooky", they were later transferred to the Central Intelligence Agency and used over Angola in support of SWAPO during the 1980s.

Which isn't to say that the DC-3 did or could do everything.  For transoceanic travel in the 1930s a person was likely to board a Pan American Clipper, or a similar aircraft owned by British Overseas Airways, but only if they were rich.  Planes like this were "flying boats", a type that acknowledged the lack of runways and the need for larger passenger compartments in an era prior to World War Two expanding airfields absolutely everywhere.

 Flying boat, 1930s.

In the United States, it was Pan American that exploited this market and dominated.  Started in 1927 to deliver mail (that again) and passengers between the United States and Cuba, Pan American very early saw the practicality of expanding into near shore routes and it accordingly set the market for flying boats.  Buying the products of Sikorsky, Boeing and Martin in the 1920s and 1930s, its air fleet was actually surprisingly small, with any one run of aircraft being also fairly small. At the same time, however, if a person was going to engage in international air travel from the United States, Pan American was by default the airline that a person took.  With a captive market, and high operating expenses due to the unique limited run aircraft and very long routes, it was a luxury airline, with travel being expensive by its very nature.  In that era, for example the luxury of taking Pan American to Hawaii is something that we can hardly imagine now, and which was only dreamed of by most people then.

During this entire period, it should be noted, the first device that was thought of in terms of commercial air travel wasn't idle.  Air ships, like aircraft, had received a big boost during World War One, and just as big aircraft were used for the first time as bombers, so were airships. The Germans in particular developed and dominated this technology, with Zeppelins, giant airships filled with explosive hydrogen, being used, as dangerous as they were, as bombers.  Zeppelins were even used to bomb London, although the Germans did that with Gotha bombers as well.

 Early (1908) Zeppelin passenger airship.

Following the war, Zeppelins kept on keeping on and were being sued for trans Atlantic air travel out of Germany.  Serious thought was given to switching the craft to Helium, which doesn't explode, but this proved impossible after the Nazis took over Germany, as the U.S., which controls the globes Helium market, wouldn't allow export to Germany.  Hence the airships continued on full of explosive gas.

Aircraft, coming on strong, would have taken out airships as a means of trans Atlantic air travel anyhow, but the explosion of the Hindenburg on May 6, 1937, ended airships day as a commercial carrier forever.  Occasionally revived in concept, airships have never gone away, but their lasts really major world role came on during World War Two, when U.S. Navy blimps patrolled for submarines off of the Atlantic.  Even at that, however, light private aircraft used by the Civil Air Patrol had a pretty major role.

And then came World War Two.

But before going there, let's summarize the first 45 years of air travel.  Basically, what the story is, is as follows"

1.  Airships got really rolling around 1900, but they didn't expand into passenger or commercial service right away.

2.  The airplane was invented in 1903.

3.  Visionaries could see commercial air travel as being viable by 1913.

4.  By the 1910s militaries around the globe were developing military aircraft.

5.  The first passenger, and mail, service started in 1915.

6. It isn't really possible to separate mail service from passenger service early on, and mail service got really rolling in 1918.

7.  Passenger service got rolling in the 1920s as World War One vintage bombers were redesigned for passenger service, and then real passenger planes were introduce in the 1920s.

8. Air disaster lead to air innovation, and the Douglas DC 3 came in during the mid 1930s.

9.  Over water air flight opportunities were picked up by Pan American who soon expanded into luxury transoceanic flight.

10.  Elsewhere, such as in Europe, the story is largely the same, but with the market for aircraft already being international.

Transcontinental air mail route, 1924.

And, while this was going on, private pilots flying really risky odd aircraft in the teens bought various World War One surplus aircraft immediately after the war and the age of private pilot civil aviation was really on.light dangerous war surplus airplanes soon gave way to relatively inexpensive single engine airplanes, and by the start of World War Two the United States and Canada had a pretty big private pilot fleet.

And then World War Two happened.

World War Two

C-47, rebuilt after World War Two as a D.C. 3, being rebuilt.

We've noted here before that Holscher's Fourth Law of History is that "War Changes Everything".  And so it does. And so it was for civil aviation.

Aviation was advanced incredibly rapidly from 1903 to 1939, but it can't help but be noted that during 1914 to 1918, World War One, it received a big boost.  In a lot of ways, however, that boost kept on keeping on following the war.  The top of the line fighter aircraft of 1918 were already obsolete by the early 1920s, hopeless relics of an earlier era.  By the early 1930s, the military aircraft of 1920 were obsolete, and by 1939 the military aircraft of 1930 were largely obsolete.  The best civil aircraft of the 1930s made those of the 1920s look pretty inadequate, although commercial designs, such as the Fokker and Ford Trimotors that came in during the 1920s were still serving.  Commercial aircraft made or designed by Marin, Fokker, Boeing and Douglas that saw service in the 1920s and 1930s would all see military service during World War Two.

United States Army Air Corps C-47, an airplane that hauled equipment, men and even mules everywhere, during World War Two, and which saw service in about every Allied air force, including the U.S., Canadian, Royal New Zealand, Australian, British and Soviet air forces.  Perhaps the greatest single airplane ever made.

But the war would change certain things about air travel in a way that would soon revolutionize it, in spite of the production of so many airplanes that it could have rationally been assumed that the post war manufacture of them would have collapsed.

Post War Aviation

During the war, U.S., British, German, Canadian, and Australian engineers put in airfields absolutely everywhere.  Locations in the United States that had been served by only a tiny airport, if at all, suddenly had massive airfields designed for bombers, as the US had put them in for training.  Casper Wyoming is a good example. Served by a small airport prior to the war, that airfield wasn't even really flat.  But during the war, the U.S. Army built a massive air training facility just outside of town, with runways so long that they remain long enough for the biggest aircraft today.

C-17 Globemaster at the Natrona County International Airport, an airport that was built as an air base during World War Two.

In addition to this, however, in spite of the superb serviceability the pre war airliners gave as military cargo planes, the technological leap that aircraft had taken during the war not only meant that the prewar designs were implicitly obsolete, but also that people and nations that had become acclimated to advances in air power would expect the civilian employment of them.

When the war started, an airplane like the DC3 was a big serviceable and modern airliner.  The really big aircraft just prior to the war were military bombers, but none of them were suitable for airliners and only a few nations had them.  Going into World War Two, in fact, only the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and Japan had really large strategic bombers, and the USSR's were not all that nifty.  It's notable that all of the powers that had really significant bombers were naval powers with oceanic concerns, which had a lot to do with the development of that type of aircraft.  Of those nations, arguably the United Kingdom's bombers were the best going into the war.

By the wars end, strategic bombing had caused the development of successive models or even generations of bombers, and the United States come out of the war with the best, if most problematic, bomber, the B-29.  The B-29 was generations ahead of the B-17 with which the US had entered the war, and the B-17 is indeed downright primitive in comparison to it.  The significant thing here is that during the war, four engined large aircraft had been completely proven and had developed considerably. And, additionally, new generations of air transport aircraft were also coming in.

At the same time, during the war, piston engines had become better and bigger.  More significantly, however, jet engines had also been proven. Introduced first by the British, in a plane that turned out to be significant but lackluster, it was the German ME262 that demonstrated that all future combat aircraft would be jets, at some point. And the introduction of jet engines meant, in spite of what might have been expected, that pretty soon every air fore, and every air line, would soon want fleets of jets.

That didn't happen right away. What happened at first is that the transport, and even the bomber, aircraft of World War Two came in right after the war as new, faster, and longer ranged, civilian aircraft.

Boeing Stratocruiser.  The Stratocruiser was one of two airliner versions of the B-29 which went into production in the late 1930s and which were retired in the early 1960s.  A luxury long distance airliner, they only carried a little over 30 people.  They were the replacement in the Pan American fleet for the flying boats.

These were soon followed by aircraft specifically designed as four engine commercial aircraft, such as the Lockheed Constellation.  The day of the flying boat ended nearly immediately, with the type relegated to odd search and rescue aircraft in various coast guards and navies.

 The four engined Lockheed Constellation started off as a military cargo plane in an era with the C-47 was the standard.  With modifications after the war, it would be the standard for airliners for a time.  A retired fleet of Constellations was parked at the end of a runway at our local airport for decades after they were no longer used in this role, and after that set had been briefly used as firefighting bombers.  One of them was the plane used by General MacArthur during the Korean War.

As new airplanes came in, competition between airlines increased.  Air travel seemingly came in everywhere.  And then, starting in the 1950s, jet airliners began to arrive.

Before we look at that, however, we have to look at two other areas, private and light air transportation, and a brand new aircraft, the helicopter.

As already noted, light aircraft had become big in the United States starting with the Curits Jenny. The US had a well developed private aviation community prior to World War Two, and indeed the country harnessed that population for anti submarine efforts during the war, in the form of the Civil Air Patrol.

Light airplane in Civil Air Patrol use during World War Two.

After the war light aviation took back off.  Cessna introduced the Cessna 120 and Cessna 140 right after World War Two, which introduced a basic type that it still makes today, although the 120 and 140 were tail draggers.  In 1956 it introduced the 172, which is the greatest light plane in aviation history.Still made today, with updates, the plane set the standard for light private aircraft.  With planes being affordable, at first, civil aviation really took off, so to speak.

The Jet Age

Introduced first by the British in the early 1950s, the U.S. introduced its first jet airliners by the late 1950s.  New fleets of piston engined airliners were obsolete nearly overnight.  By the 1960s they were rapidly on the way out, and by the 1970s only regional flights, if any, used piston engined aircraft.  By the late 1960s, jet airliners were the rule.

Still relatively expensiveness, jet air travel none the less totally supplanted long range train travel in the United States by the early 1970s, a process that had started off with big piston engined airliners like the Constellation.  Railroads discontinued passenger service most places, save for those places where local commuter rail continued to be viable.  Intrastate air travel and regional air travel also became more common, with turboprop aircraft being common there.  In most states local air travel became an option for at least business travelers.

Deregulation of the 1980s really ramped up air competition and the market became unstable but highly competitive.  Air prices steadily dropped and left us with the situation we have today, in which air travel has never been cheaper, or more uncomfortable.

Also in this age, but for a different set of reasons, the helicopter really came into its own.  An oddity in some ways when first developed, it proved itself during the Korean War and became an indispensable military tool by the Vietnam War.  Soon after the Vietnam War, one of the primary uses of the Army helicopter was carried over to civilian life, and the medical "dustoff" which sent in the Medivac UH-1 "Huey"  became a familiar site, with other helicopters, in the United States.  Now medical helicopters are in almost every town, and helicopters in all sorts of local uses, from traffic reporting to pipeline flying, are quite common.

Bell 206 helicopter flying a pipeline.

Private aviation, however, has taken a pounding since its glory days of the 50s and 60s.  By the 1970s law suits had taken their toll on the industry and Cessna even ceased offering light planes for awhile.  Federal intervention through statutory relief allowed it to reenter the market, but there's no doubt that lawyers and lawsuits pose as great of threat to light aviation as flak guns did to Allied bombers during World War Two, I'm sorry to say.

So this is basically where we are today.  In less than a century, given that early aircraft were both dangerous and really not practical for much, we've developed a wholly new means of transportation. That means of transportation had an incredibly rapid evolution, much the way, I suppose, personal computers have in our own age.  They displaced the train for long distance travel to a large extent, rendering the massive US rail passenger fleet obsolete.  They've become, moreover, a common tool of our daily life, and had been a not uncommon avocation for many who just liked flight.  Costs of air travel, except for the cost of being a private pilot, have decreased enormously, while at the same time its become faster and more uncomfortable.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Jeans and Offensive Marketing

Just recently I commented on the year old topic of Jeans in this thread here, Lex Anteinternet: Lex Anteinternet: Levis, in which I commented on the insanity of $700.00 "designer jeans"  Earlier this week, I posted on Froma Harrop's thesis that we might be seeing the end of the consumerist economy.  Many times in the past here I've posted on trends and developments.  Here, all dovetail in a story on pants.

Or, rather, the marketing of what are simply jeans.

Some company is marketing jeans in the United States under the brand name "True Religion".

I suspect that this is calculated to offend, but if it isn't, it certainly does.  It also says how numb our society has become to being truly and unconscionably offensive.

Pants are religion, nor does the depiction of hip, young, pretty adults clearly in an extended adolescence have anything to do with religion.  Indeed, as there isn't a religion on Earth that doesn't advocate selflessness and humility, what the subtle message of this marketing is, is anti religious, or perhaps more accurately the worship of cheesy slick consumerism as a religion. Critics of our consumerist economy have, at their most blunt, criticized consumerism for this very reason.

With the possibly relatively rare example of univeralists beliefs, which seek to incorporate all faiths of all types into a universal truth, and primitive religions that are basically animist in nature, a basic tenant of any faith would be that it is a "true religion" and indeed the True Religion.  Indeed, it wasn't all that long ago that this was sufficiently understood so as to be incorporated into the an ironic line of dialog into a popular film, The Magnificent Seven.  Now the concept of that is so vague that its being used in this fashion with the marketers counting on some vague recollection but not one sufficiently clear as to cause righteous indignation.  It's frankly pathetic.

And its all the more pathetic when realized that this is undoubtedly directly offensive to all the of the monotheistic religions, each of which would maintain that they are the true faith. Here, again, the marketers benefit from the diluted nature of any strong understanding of beliefs in Western society, as the majority of people in Western society are some variant of Christian, and Christians have become used to being picked on in this fashion so that they don't generally react.  One can only imagine what the reaction would be if a person marketed jeans as "True Islam" jeans, or "True Judaism". There would be an uproar, and justifiably so. But, as Islam and Judaism do both maintain that they are the true faith, calling something "True Religion" doesn't vary much from that, really.

Well, things like this should make for a good test of Harrop's thesis that we might be entering a post materialistic age.  If we are, and if the numbers are as high as she maintains, then at some point people begin to buy jeans based on their quality and price, and not the clever marketing.  Jeans marketed in this fashion can only appeal to a consumerist materialistic society, as its some weird sort of image that's being actually purchased, rather than the real product.  As for me, I hope this product fails.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Society of the Military Horse • View topic - Prices at the Dawn of the Gasoline Age, Dusk of the Equine

Society of the Military Horse • View topic - Prices at the Dawn of the Gasoline Age, Dusk of the Equine

Lex Anteinternet: $40/barrel?

Lex Anteinternet: $40/barrel?:   Driven by Saudi Arabian efforts, the price of petroleum oil is falling through the floor.  When I last checked, it was down under $70...
Now under $60/bbl nationwide, and at $53/bbl in the state.

And still dropping.

Page Updates

This blog has "pages", other than this, the main page. Some of the pages were former trailing threads that simply grew to be too unwieldy as they grew too large.

Formerly, when the pages that were threads were updated, they were bumped up, and several of them were amongst the most read threads on the site.  Now, of course, there's no easy way to know when they're bumped up. so this thread will serve that purpose.

Recent Updates:

 They Were Clerics

November 18, 2014.  Albert M. Sawin.

They Were Lawyers.

November 18, 2014.  Stephen Glass, Albert M. Sawin, Barry "the Fish" Melton.

They Were Soldiers.

November 26, 2014, William H. Cosby, Chuck Robb, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Elliot Roosevelt, James Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr., John Aspinwall Roosevelt, Kermit Roosevelt, Joseph Willard Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt III, Quentin Roosevelt II, Archibald Roosevelt.

They were hunters or fishermen

December 12, 2014:  Gary Cooper and Chris Pratt.

Posters from World War Two

December 12, 2014:  Avenge Pearl Harbor, We have just begun to fight, Merchant Marines.

Horses In History: Coney Island Ponies ~1904 | Simply Marvelous Horse World

Horses In History: Coney Island Ponies ~1904 | Simply Marvelous Horse World

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The end of consumerism?

Froma Harrop, the supposedly liberal columnist, has opined in a recent op ed that Americans may be turning "post materialistic".  If so, that's a massive shift in the dominant cultural view of Americans over the past half century, although it might be a return to a mode of thinking that was once the common one, or perhaps more accurately somewhat akin to an earlier one.

Harrop's article is provocative, and not surprisingly hasn't met with universal acknowledgment on the part of her readers.  When she speaks of "post consumerism", what she speaks of is a type of non consumerist behavior focused on experiences and living, for lack of a better way of putting it, and which de-emphasizes material goods as a part of that, while not proposing that they be eschewed all together.  Basically, she proposes a view of life and economics that those familiar with the writings of Belloc, Chesterton or the Southern Agrarians would recognize.  Indeed, those who have persisted in admiring the Southern Agrarians, should they run across her article, must be rejoicing a bit that what they've advocated since the early 1930s is actually gaining ground, assuming that it is.  The general thesis of "post materialism", apparently, de-emphasizes material acquisition in favor of simply living, with family, friends and experience taking precedence over items, particularly those which are temporary in nature.

Early in it she poses the possibility of a shift to this sort of view in a significant percentage of the population, noting a slow start to the typical Christmas big retail season:
Certainly, some of this frugality is a hangover from the economic trauma of six years ago. The recession smashed Americans’ comfort with debt, belief in real estate and faith in an ever-more prosperous future. Many feel the sting of stagnant wages. Even winners in this strengthening economy seem to be holding back.

But a more fundamental change may be afoot, a change in belief systems. Americans may be moving into an era of post-materialism. If so, retailing faces a whole different ballgame.
What does she mean by this?  We're so used to the concept that capitalism equates with consumerism, that the two are indistinguishable to a lot of Americans, and particularly a lot of Americans in commerce and government.  In fact, however, that's not the case, however, and as various social theorist and critics have long noted, its perfectly possible to have a capitalist economy that isn't consumerist.  She then goes on to discuss the concept of "post materialism"
Post-materialism is defined as a reorientation of values away from the big-ticket luxuries, such as fancy cars, and toward self-expression and quality of life. It could mean choosing more free time over working longer to support a big home.
This trend is strongest in rich countries, where the basics of food, shelter and security are taken for granted. The World Values Survey shows Australia having the highest proportion of post-materialists, 35 percent, followed by Austria, Canada, Italy and then the United States, at 25 percent.
If this is the case, and frankly I have my doubts, it would truly be a revolutionary development, although one that a person can see having gained some steam in recent years.  That 25% of the American population would self identify in this fashion would truly be stunning. But careful students of slow trends and thought in society might find that this isn't quite as surprising as might it might seem, and it might actually reflect the rise of Generation X and Generation Y and the beginning of the the decline of the Boomers.

Consumerism, what Harrop and others sometimes call "materialism", which is an apt description, wasn't always with us, in fact, in the form which we now see it, although it has been for about a century or so in the US, and the rests of the Western world to varying degrees.   The super heated consumerism that we've had in recent memory, however, is really something that arose in the post World War Two world, although the roots of it were there before that.  It's a complicated story, but if we look back into the 19th Century, what we tend to see is that almost all Western economic thought out side of Socialist thought. was highly family oriented and did not tend to acquisition oriented.  This isn't universally true, to be sure, as in the unregulated economy of the industrial late 19th Century there were those who grew fantastically wealthy and exhibited a tremendous drive towards acquisition.  But at every level, the thought that the function of people was to act as the purchasers of stuff was something that was not only not there, but which would have been regarded as highly offensive.  Most common people viewed economic activity as a means of trying to support their family in a decent manner. Even socialism, which is highly materialistic in its world view, had this as its basic premise, albeit in a very materialistic manner.

It wasn't until after World War Two when this began to change in a significant manner.  Consumerism was already there, but the goods starvation caused by the Great Depression and the Second World War created a post war consumer demand that was enormous in the US.  Truth be known, it also created the same in Europe, but Europe was in such poor shape after the war this wouldn't really begin to express itself there until the late 1950s.   The impact of the Depression and the war, combined with the American economic revival of the 40s and 50s, followed by the European economic recovery of the late 50s and 60s, caused a sort of one-two punch on how people valued goods and how they valued their own societies.

The real explosion in this view got really rolling in the 1970s, and in a manner that was highly ironic.  The social upheaval in the 1960s seemingly espoused a very non materialistic view of the world, which at the same time rejected almost any traditional value. But that really didn't last very long and the youth trend of the 1960s towards rejection saw the commercial hedonism in advertising of the 1950s fully adopted by the 1970s. The same generational cohort that was responsible for the upheaval of the late 60s and early 70s very quickly adopted a hardcore consumerist, money generation ethos by the early 80s.  Gordon Gecko's "greed is good" type of view was, ironically, a view espoused by many in the same generation that saw Woodstock as the pinnacle of their generations experience.  Termed the "Me Generations" in the 1970s, this saw its expression in consumerist behavior in the late 1970s and has dominated American economic output ever since.

Consumerism/Materialism has received real criticism for a long time, and has been defined as a  societal evil by its critics for years, receiving erudite analysis from everyone from hard left critics to the Popes at various times.  And that consumerism or materialism pose real dangers to society really cannot be challenged.  As recently analyzed in the Catholic Things You Should Know podcast, consumerism has given rise to a lack of attachment to goods and a lack of attachment to nearly everything by extent.  It's been deeply challenged by moral theorist but its also been attacked by liberal economist as well.  Environmentalist have also deeply attacked it, as it gives rise to a throw away culture that creates obvious environmental problems.  And sociologist have been in the fray as well, noting that a consumerist economy seemingly erodes a societal attachment to any meaningful standards or thought and gives rise to a deeply unhappy population. 

That last item alone has been the subject of extensive analysis in recent years, all of which has demonstrated that the purchase of goods at bests only gives rise to a very temporary sense of happiness followed by the opposite, but on the other hand experiences, shared with close friends and family do the precise opposite. As that's highly demonstrated, what Harrop observes that people may be electing to do would be to elect to act wisely. 

What she doesn't note, but what might very well be worth noting, is that this is arguably a generational change.  Observers of Generations X and Y have noted for some time that they are seemingly unimpressed and unattached to much careerist thought, to a degree that is sometimes maddening to Boomers and the World War Two Generation.  This has been frequently noted, but rarely addressed.  They seem to have low attachment to their occupations, or at least to employers, and in some fields that have traditionally demanded big sacrifices of personal time, they just don't.

Less noticed is that they do seem very attached to experiences and friends.  And they have slowly and conservatively adopted practices and modes of thinking that the Boomers claimed to liberally espouse in the 1960s, but didn't really seem to.  As a generation, they're more interested in what we could regard as Distributist and Agrarian thought, with all sorts of "buy local", know your farmer, etc. etc., type of practices and thoughts.  Activities that seemed in decline only a decade ago are now going the other way.  Local produce and small scale farming are on the rise. Small, just middle class, businesses that have no hope of big time entrepreneurial success are as well.  Hunting, a big activity in more rural and simpler times, has seen an enormous increase in recent years, with women joining the ranks in large numbers for the first time ever.

This would all seem to be a good trend, really, and its one that economist, sociologist and religious advocates have argued in favor of for a long time.  Harrop, however, frets a bit about it, noting
Before going on, let’s put in a good word for consumption. The lust to amass stuff associated with The Good Life is not entirely bad. It fuels the economy, and if budgets aren’t broken in the process, a splurge now and then can at least temporarily raise the spirits — doubly so when done in the company of other merrymakers.
But she also goes on to note:
Sadly, many of today’s shopping experiences do not raise the spirits. Picking up a cheaply made import at a big-box store on a drab strip is not quite the same thing as shopping for toys on a festive Main Street. Surely, the sameness of mall shopping has driven many a consumer online, where prices are transparent, the selection broad and traffic is zero.
If her observations are correct, this is a massive shift, or perhaps a massive return, to the value system of an earlier era, but more so.  Given that, those who have criticized materialistic thought might take some solace in her factual observations.  If people are really making this philosophical shift, it will alter out economy, but it will also mean that people are electing to live deeper lives. 

And if that's so, perhaps its not as surprising as it might at first seem.  Entire generations have shifted the values of their times, their countries, and even the entire world.  From time to time a large number of people do in fact adopt an outlook that has huge changes, sometimes positively, and sometimes negatively.  If she's correct, and this reflects a change in outlook, rather than a simple lack of buying power, this might be a good development.  It'd hard to see it as being a bad one.