The BBC Radio 4 series and podcast Moral Maze, a panel discussion program recorded live on the morality of current issues and timely topics, has been hosted since its first broadcast in 1990 by Michael Buerk, whose introductory remarks for each episode are nearly always a tour de force. Their shortened, variant version is posted on each episode's webpage, too.
The July 13, 2016 episode is "Policing Offense", when does personal opinion become morally unacceptable? I've edited Buerk's opening remarks and their published version on the webpage:
As the politics of offence, identity and rights become ever more toxic, they become equally hard to navigate, and the price of transgression is ever higher. We've had laws against "hate speech" for many years now, but are we too keen to create whole new categories of "-isms" to which we can take offence?
If morality rests on the ability to distinguish between groups and make judgments about their lifestyles, how do you distinguish between a legitimate verdict and an unjustifiable prejudice?
Why is it acceptable to say "It's good that the President is black" but not to say "It's good that the next President will be white"? Ditto women. Why is the insult "stale, male and pale" OK, but it wouldn't be if you changed gender and race?
Just when you'd learned to call the sexually ambiguous or at least transient "transgender", you're told the concept of gender is unacceptably binary and hence insulting.
There are exploding tripwires of social acceptability everywhere, with a new vocabulary of perceived offensiveness: "micro-aggression", so-called "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" to protect students from ideas they don't agree with.
It only seems to work one way. Black or brown people can't be racist about whites. Women, if that's not too binary of a description, can't be sexist about men.
Is all this a good thing, stigmatizing and policing prejudice? Is this about defending the powerless against the powerful, or are we stifling debate, making the political personal, limiting people's rights to say what they think, and making identity more important than ideas?
Where do we draw the line between policing the basic principles of equal rights and mutual respect with a capacity to judge people by what lies in their heart? When does personal opinion become morally unacceptable?
Listen to the episode (streaming) or download it as an MP3 here. It's also available on iTunes.
Along with Buerk as chair, the program features four panelists and a series of witnesses. Regular panelists as the time of this writing are Claire Fox, Giles Fraser, Kenan Malik, Anne McElvoy, Michael Portillo, Melanie Phillips, and Matthew Taylor.
Besides chairing Moral Maze, and co-hosting the ITV program Britain's Secret Treasures, Buerk is best known as the journalist whose October 23, 1984 report on the Ethiopia famine inspired Band Aide and Live Aide.
Typefaces are sets of glyphs designed with stylistic unity, and a glyph is any basic symbol within a larger set of symbols and that represents a readable character in writing. Type design as defined today started with the printing press's advent. With digital type design's advent, the number of typefaces increased to a practically countless total, growing daily.
The terms typeface and font are often used interchangeably. But, technically, a typeface consists of fonts. A font is just one alphabet and its associated characters in a single size of type.
Typefaces are, broadly speaking, either serif or sans serif styles. Serif styles have serifs — little projections at a letter's edge — sans serif styles don't. These letters have serifs. These don't.
The main categories of serif typefaces are these and their derivatives —
The main categories of sans serif typefaces are these and their derivatives —
Each typeface category has subcategories, too. We won't get into that.
There are other major typeface styles such as script, which includes the category blackletter (a.k.a. Lombardic), typefaces modeled after manuscript lettering before the invention of the printing press. But the eight style categories above encompass the vast majority of typefaces.
Below: the famous transitional typeface Times New Roman, designed in 1932 for The Times newspaper of London.
It's uncommon for a non-designer like me to be interested typefaces. My interest came from a love of books and perhaps the colophons of books by publisher Alfred A. Knopf that would often include a descriptive blurb about the book's typeface. (Check out the post on The Millions website, "Praise the Colophon: Twenty Notes on Type.")
Lucian Bernhard (March 15, 1883 – May 29, 1972) was, "a German graphic designer, type designer, professor, interior designer, and artist." He was influential in creating the Plakatstil (German, "Poster Style") design of the early 1900s in Germany.
He was by no means among the most significant of type designers...it just happens that today's his birthday and I'd like to blog about typefaces. Also, on my personal letterhead I used to use a typeface, Berlin Sans, designed in 1994 by David Berlow (assisted by Matthew Butterick) that is a digital re-imagining of Bernhard's typeface designed in 1930. This article about Berlin Sans, on The Inquisition website, will tell you more than you'd ever care to know about that typeface.
Below: a sample of the Berlin Sans FB Regular font.
Thanks for reading.
Above: the Johnston typeface, a humanist sans-serif typeface named after Edward Johnston, its original designer. It's famously the typeface of the London Underground transit system. More about Johnston:
It was commissioned in 1913 by Frank Pick [and] in 1933 [was] integrated into London Transport.... The capitals of the typeface are based on Roman square capitals, and the lower-case on the humanistic minuscule, the handwriting in use in Italy in the fifteenth century. In this, it marked a break with the kinds of sans serif previously used, sometimes known as grotesque, which tended to have squarer shapes. [It] was redesigned in 1979 by Eiichi Kono at Banks & Miles to produce New Johnston, the variant of the original font currently used by London Underground.
*Didone is a portmanteau of Didot and Bodoni, two late 1800s serif typeface designs highly characteristic of what became the Didone style category of type.
Early zoology courtesy of The Aberdeen Bestiary (1100s, England), University of Aberdeen Library; accession number: MS 24. Special Collections Centre, Bedford Road, Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom.
There is an animal called the beaver, which is extremely gentle; its testicles are highly suitable for medicine. Physiologus says of it that, when it knows that a hunter is pursuing it, it bites off its testicles and throws them in the hunter's face and, taking flight, escapes. But if, once again, another hunter is in pursuit, the beaver rears up and displays its sexual organs. When the hunter sees that it lacks testicles, he leaves it alone. Thus every man who heeds God's commandment and wishes to live chastely should cut off all his vices and shameless acts, and cast them from him into the face of the devil.
In his New Republic review "Creative Destruction", William Giraldi, novelist, critic, and editor for AGNI literary journal, offers an arresting overview of Scott Timberg's new book Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class.
If you care about art and the humanities in America, brace yourself.
From the 1950s–1970s, there was for artists in America:
institutional support, low rents, a humming population in urban universities, an inviolable sense of a shared culture.... When Robert Lowell was reconfiguring American poetry in 1950s Boston, “a life of genteel poverty was still possible.”
No more. Considering a career related to the arts or humanities? Best to be a trust fund kid or marry rich.
When everyone’s an artist and no one spends money on art, art is stripped of any economic traction and serious artists can’t earn a living. Couple that with a population that overwhelmingly doesn't mind if art and artists go extinct and you have, ladies and gentlemen, what can be fairly called a crisis.
Giraldi notes that "whole throngs of onetime stable middle-class artists have been pummeled into a class where they feel the fangs of hunger."
The concept of the starving artist isn't recent. But that doesn't mean it's not a problem; that doesn't mean it's not a problem that it was less of a problem 30 or 40 years ago—before the decline of the middle class as a whole, before Reaganomics and globalization.
It's not all economics though.
There’s the long-standing and nationwide dedication to anti-intellectualism.... There’s the winner-take-all social credo that kills regard for any place other than first.... (Timberg calls it “blockbuster culture.”) There’s the [pull of] the more practical interests of science, business, and technology. There’s the widespread caricature of artists as eccentric idlers or unstrung cranks, romantic boobs, or sexed-up wastrels we might be better off without.
But, it's probably mostly economics, especially in our Internet age.
There are the Hobbesian market forces, the consumer-propelled capitalism so sweet for behemoth corporations who are its lungs and spleen but not so sweet for those artists who need to maintain their integrity outside the corporate sway.
But there remains this egregiously democratizing effect of the Internet: We believe that most online content is ours for the taking. The model of the online marketplace might be the chief obstacle preventing most middle-class writers and musicians from earning a living with their work, but it’s about time we, the users, come around to the moral side of the argument: We should purchase what we read and hear on our computers.
I used to think we might be entering a new era of art and scholarship patronage.
Given the extraordinary explosion of wealth among the top 1%, especially among the overlord class of the top 1% of the 1%, I used to harbor a feeble phantom hope that maybe America would enjoy a mini-renaissance, a flood of new funds filling the coffers artists, historians, documentarians, and artistic and cultural institutions and projects. After all, Charles and David Koch alone, who are known to give to the arts, are worth more than $100 billion. Just 10% of that is $10 billion for the arts and humanities.
Of course, I knew better. As I said, it was a feeble hope, not an expectation.
Giraldi notes that "at the hub of this mess is how we as a nation perceive our artists and stewards of culture"—specifically our reasoning that the market dictates the worth of all things. Giraldi describes this reasoning as our "bamboozled, depleted mentation", and we permit ourselves to follow it.
If you believe that the life of your mind is inseparable from the health of your life, that serious art and artists are an essential component to human nourishment, then you have an obligation, to yourself and your children and us all, to read Timberg’s book, and the minute you’re finished, to do something about the scourge it sets before you.
Tony Barber's "The Causes of the First World War: How recklessness, unstable alliances and bad luck plunged Europe into crisis" in The Financial Times looks at three books about the Great War, which began 100 years ago this year.
On August 1, 1914, Germany's ultimatum to Russia expired at noon with Russia having not responded to it. That morning, Germany had alread drafted its declaration of war. French mobilization is ordered at 3:40 p.m. German general mobilization is ordered at 5:00 p.m.; Germany declares war on Russia at 7:10 p.m. claiming that Russians had crossed frontier in the afternoon and begun war. In fact, the Russians had not done so though they had begun mobilization.
My friend Simon Gregor is coordinating the Remembrance Image Project "a library of creative photographs which document key sites associated with the war."
The War That Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War, by Margaret MacMillan, Profile Books, RRP£25, 704 pages
July 1914: Countdown to War, by Sean McMeekin, Icon Books, RRP£25/Basic Books, RRP$29.99, 560 pages
Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914, by Max Hastings, William Collins, RRP£30, 628 pages.
From "Dungeons & Dragons Saved My Life," by John Michaud, The New Yorker, Culture Desk, July 18, 2014:
[D&D] ushered in a seminal change in the way games were created and enjoyed. Instead of pieces...there were characters—avatars—who the players inhabited; instead of a board...there was a fictional world that existed in the shared imaginations of those who were playing; and instead of winning and losing, there was, as in life, a sequence of events and adventures that lasted until your character died. These concepts are now commonplace...but four decades ago they were revolutionary, and a key part of D. & D.’s addictive quality. By 1981, more than three million people were playing Dungeons & Dragons.
From "A Game as Literary Tutorial," by Ethan Gilsdorf, The New York Times, Books section, July 13, 2014.
For certain writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives.
The playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, 44, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” said D&D “harkens back to an incredibly primitive mode of storytelling,” one that was both “immersive and interactive.” The Dungeon Master resembles “the tribal storyteller who gathers everyone around the fire to tell stories about heroes and gods and monsters,” he said. “It’s a live, communal event, where anything can happen in the moment.”
2014 is the 40th anniversary of the creation of commercial role-playing games (RPG).*
In 1974, Gary Gygax (1938–2008) and Dave Arneson (1947–2009), both influenced by tabletop wargames and fantasy fiction, created Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). In 1977, the Dungeons & Dragon's Basic Set was published by the company Gygax and Arneson co-founded, TSR, Inc., and Gygax next wrote the more complex three-book Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
The game, under the simple title Dungeons & Dragons, is the epitome of tabletop role-playing games. Its fifth edition debuts in summer 2014 as a product of Wizards of the Coast (WofC), a Hasbro subsidiary based in Seattle.
Tabletop wargames, a major influence on Gygax and Arneson, descend from chess but are less abstract. They are strategy games that first became popular in the 1950s in the U.S. through the Avalon Hill gaming company.** Before that time, wargames existed as instructional tools for military officers--for instance Kriegsspiel (1812) used by the Prussian army--however, popular wargamming arguably descends more directly from the game H.G. Wells created in his 1913 book Little Wars. The book transforms typical improvisational play with toy soldiers into a parlour game version based on codified rules.*** (Read Little Wars at the Gutenberg Project website.)
Both tabletop wargames and RPGs use dice and probability. In wargames, dice and chance tend to stand in for battlefield or strategic conditions generally termed "friction," which are not encapsulated by the rules, e.g., weather conditions, the "fog of war" (Nebel des Krieges, a concept identified by Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), troop morale, etc.)****
In role-playing games, the dice serve the same basic function but relative to friction usually operating at the level of the individual character each player controls (known as a player character or "PC") and not a military unit, and the result of the rolls may effect the sort of narrative structure unfolding during the gaming session.
The various polyhedral dice used in many RPGs are sub-cultural icons and are designated by their number of sides, e.g., d4, d6, d8, d10, d20, etc.
Fantasy fiction was the second influence on Gygax and Arneson. It dramatically expanded as a literary genre following the tremendous popularity beginning in the 1960s of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954).***** The genre includes hundreds of unremarkable "Tol-clones" written since the 1960s as well as a few comparatively more worthwhile works. As I see it, the genre as it exists now descends from three literary categories predating Tolkien, the first two of which influenced Tolkien and the latter two of which are now generally considered to be sub-genres within fantasy fiction:
1) mythology and myth-imbued lore, primarily those of medieval Germanic peoples (e.g. the Prose Edda, penned c. 1220 by Snorri Sturluson, and Beowulf of the Nowell Codex that was penned c. 975–1025);
2) a type of tale Tolkien describes in his 1947 essay "On Fairy-Stories," which includes works by George MacDonald (e.g. The Princess and the Goblin, 1872) and William Morris (e.g. The Well at the World's End, 1896); and
3) fantastical or horror pulp fiction, such as the short stories published in the 1920s magazine Weird Tales, including works by H.P. Lovecraft (e.g. "The Call of Cthuhlu"); this category also falls into one often termed "weird fiction".
The Role-playing Games Industry After D&D
From the 1990s on, tabletop role-playing games evolved into card-based games, computer and mobile device role-playing games, and what is now the $1.4 billion massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) industry.
I spent many hours during my teenage years playing tabletop role-playing games. Some fellow Generation X gamers include Steven Colbert, Conan O'Brian, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Jon Favreau, Ewan McGreggor, Seth Greene, Patton Oswalt, Joss Whedon, Jack Black, and David Boreanaz. Vin Diesel is a major D&D fan. He's been interviewed about role-playing and cites Dungeons & Dragons as an influence on his Riddick films. (On the set of Riddick in 2004, he introduced Dame Judi Dench to D&D.) Wil Wheaton is also a fan and an enthusiast of tabletop gaming in general. He hosts the program TableTop on the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel. Among the Baby Boomer generation, Stephen King is one celebrity who is a D&D fan.
The second part of Jerry Whitworth's excellent article "The ’80s – Geek Edition" gives a good sense of the evolution of RPGs, in part from from the perspective of the comics art profession.
Here is a list of tabletop RPGs that I often played. I highlighted those still in production as of January 2014:
- Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP), a product of Ice Crown Enterprises, Inc., and the first role-playing game I purchased,
- Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, a product to Fantasy Flight Games in Roseville, MN licensed by the British company Games Workshop (LSE: GAW.L),
- GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System; see the Web site), a creation of Steven Jackson Games—the Austin, Texas offices of which were raided by the Secret Service in the 1990s relative to concerns that GURPS Cyberpunk was a how-to on cyber crime—including related products GURPS Autoduel, GURPS Horror, and GURPS Old West.
- Star Frontiers,
- Twilight 2000,
- Top Secret,
- Ars Magica (I merely dabbled in this RPG; it's now in its fifth edition)
and, of course,
- Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), the fifth edition of which will be released in 2014 as a product of Hasbo-owned Wizards of the Coast (WofC).
ARTICLES OF SPECIAL NOTE:
"Happy 40th Birthday to Dungeons & Dragons," The Guardian, Jan. 3, 2014.
The Great Kingdom is an upcoming documentary about the origins of D&D.
This TSR timeline offers a look at D&D's evolution over the last 40 years.
See the Salon.com article, "All I needed to know about life I learned from 'Dungeons & Dragons'"
Images: Top: "The red box," the 1983 revision of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set. This product probably more than any other introduced people to tabletop RGPs. Second from top: my polyhedral dice, unused for about 20 years now!. Middle: the first edition of The Lord of the Rings. Second from bottom: a webisode of the Geek & Sundry program TableTop. Bottom: the cover of an edition of Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP).
*What's a role-playing game? The short first two paragraphs devoted to the topic on Wikipedia are as good of a definition as any I've encountered.
**The Avalon Hill brand is, like the Dungeons & Dragon's brand, owned now by Wizards of the Coast (WofC). As a teenager in the 1980s, I played numerous Avalon Hill tabletop wargames, too. That quality tabletop wargames possess that chess lacks I term "military simulation;" others use the term "battlefield emulation." I find it difficult to describe. It's something like a concern for the historicity of the simulated military encounter or some history-based technical detail that not only the aesthetic of the game but also at least some of the rules attempt to impart. This degree, the depth, of military simulation varies widely from game to game.
Regarding the emergence of tabletop wargames in the 1950s, perhaps it reflects, in part, American society's heightened awareness of military matters as the U.S. moved into its second decade of almost unrelenting war or concern for war: the Second World War followed by the Cold War and the Korean conflict.
***Wells' game may reflect British society's formality and preoccupation with the British Empire, which in 1913 was arguably at its height, or the concern with geo-political contests between European empires as well as the fact that the upper and middle-class lifestyles afforded the leisure time necessary for Wells' game. As others have pointed out, it's ironic that Wells, a pacifist, created Little Wars. Perhaps him doing so points to just how pervasive the aforementioned societal preoccupation was. Wells couldn't escape it. Nonetheless, Wells notes in his book that "much better is this amiable miniature [war] than the real thing." (See Michael Rundel's "HG Wells' 'Little Wars': How An Icon Of Sci-Fi Invented Modern War Games 100 Years Ago.")
****The most original wargame I encountered, though I never had opportunity to play it, was Ogre, which is now in its sixth edition and which also exists as the Kickstarter-funded, 29-pound The Ogre Designer's Edition (photo, click to enlarge) that shipped in November 2013. The special edition's production garnered 5,512 backers on Kickstarter and $903,680 in excess funding above the stated $20,000 goal.
*****Some might include certain historical novels set in the Middle Ages in the fantasy category, too, but this is a gray area. These are the sort of historical novels in which magic is real at least in minds of some or all of the novel's characters. An example is Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. To her characters, magic is a reality—they presume it to be an actual, operative thing in their world—and so it's described as such from a first-person point of view. However, the reader herself is not expected to suspend disbelief and accept that magic was in historical fact operative in 500s Britain and France.
Another gray area is what I call naturalistic fantasy: works that are devoid of magic or or the supernatural or downplay it, but that are set in a time and place imagined by the author and not corresponding to reality. George R.R. Martin's fiction comes close to this type of fiction. Compared to Tolkien's fantasy, for instance, Martin's is less mythic in tone, less concerned with magic, and is more informed by gritty, human interaction and the dynamics of power and politics than, say, the arguably more academic concepts of philology and mythology that inform Tolkien's works so greatly.
Congratulations to Samuel R. Delany on being presented the Damon Knight Grand Master Award at the Nebula Awards last night. I enjoy many of his works and he's been writing for decades. He's won Hugos and Nebulas in the past. I got to introduce him at a reading at Yale's Beinecke Library. I see him in the neighborhood once in a great while and we've chatted briefly two or three times.
The Motion of Light on Water is an amazing memoir, and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is a sci-fi masterpiece that when it was written in 1984 foresaw the World Wide Web and was very cutting edge in dealing with issues of gender and sexuality.
The Nevèrÿon series was the first Delany works that I read.
I wrote about Delany on Isebrand.com in 2009.
1970s anxieties about inflation [are being substituted by] today's concerns about the emergence of the plutocratic rich and their impact on economy and society. [Economist Thomas] Piketty is in no doubt, as he indicates in an interview in today's Observer New Review, that the current level of rising wealth inequality, set to grow still further, now imperils the very future of capitalism. He has proved it.
The situation that French economist Thomas Piketty describes in his best-seller Capital in the Twenty-First Century might be outlined more or less like this:
Wealth inequality rises as
1) return on capital rises faster than both workers' wages and general economic growth (see chart #1, click to enlarge, and for more on the related issue of decreasing income mobility in the U.S. see "Inequality Is Not the Problem", Jeff Madrick, NYR Blog, 2014 ),
2) super-high-income workers (e.g., CEOs) reward each other with mega-salaries to "keep up with the other rich" (see chart #2 from "We're More Unequal Than You Think", The New York Review of Books, 2012),
3) inherited wealth and corporate gains aren't greatly taxed (compared to the early post-WWII era especially),
4) tax-reduction/-avoidance schemes abound especially for the rich who can afford the experts to manage their money globally, and
5) the cultural and societal insularity of the wealthy, their disconnectedness from the vast majority of those who are not exceedingly wealthy, combines with their money-driven power (e.g., campaign contributions and armies of lobbyists) to keep the system in place. Such power puts me in mind of the old "golden rule"--he who has the gold makes the rules.
Importantly, due largely to #4 above, the middle class ends up with a disproportionate share of the tax burden to keep the social safety net, defense, services (sanitation, policing, fire fighting), education, and transportation infrastructure in place, even though the services, education, and infrastructure benefit the mega-wealthy, too, directly or indirectly.
The result: it becomes more important who you're born to than what job you have or even what business you create. In the situation Piketty describes, not even typical entrepreneurs can ever expect to gain close to the kind of wealth that the rentier class will enjoy, will see grow (faster than will grow wages or the general economy), and will pass on to offspring...largely untaxed.
It might be noted, too, that with the middle-class's retirement funds so tired up in stocks due to the financial innovation of the 401k, the super-rich can use political rhetoric that suggests they and simple shareholders are on the same team, which they are not.
Another key point of Piketty's book is that the mid-20th-century period of reduced wealth inequality and reduced income inequality is the exception, not the rule, because, as a friend of mine summarized, the disruptions of two world wars and the Great Depressions hugely reduced the capital controlled by the upper classes both through direct destruction and by making very high taxation politically possible. (See that plunge in the rate of return on chart #1 above, 1913–1950.)
Stating that capitalism isn't working is not the same as stating that capitalism doesn't work. Piketty seems to promote a mixed economy. As I think it is better understood by the voting public in much of Europe (perhaps especially Germany and the Scandinavian countries) than in the U.S., there is no strict, binary choice between socialism and capitalism. There are myriad gradations in between the two. Capitalism's tendency toward a final winner-take-all result can be curtailed and social unrest kept at bay by policies such as more progressive taxation, global wealth taxes, etc. However, these tactics are not practicable now. Outrage among the voting majority simply isn't great enough to precipitate change. And all of this is hard to tweet, so good luck getting anyone under the age of 30 to give a damn.
Piketty's book stems from many years of work and research. It will take some time for challenges to emerge robustly, but some are already published. Examples include these considerations via Forbes.com. (Scroll down on the linked-to page for additional Forbes posts by Tom Worstall and Scott Winship about possible problems with some of Piketty's ideas. For instance, Worstall suggests that taxation on consumption is a better approach than Piketty's suggestion to tax capital.)
Necessarily more thorough than the Guardian article about Piketty's book is Paul Krugman's review of Capital for the New York Review of Books.
The Scandinavian Model
Slightly off-topic but not entirely unrelated: As others have pointed out, one of the factors driving the Scottish independence referendum (September 18, 2014), which I think will pass by a very slim margin, is a laudable consensus among the Scots that they do not want the kind of radical wealth inequality seen in England and the U.S.A. (See, "Scottish nationalists look to Nordic model for independence", Financial Times.) However, whether independence is the best course for lessening or protecting again wealth inequality is arguable. (Personally, I side with Better Together campaign.) The Conservatives who support continued union with Scotland may go down in history as the party that led the Government that lost the 307-year-old union between Scotland and the rest of Britain and [Northern] Ireland, despite their strenuous rhetorical efforts to preserve it. We'll find out in less that 5 months' time.
The Koch Brothers
Also, it is interesting to look in light of Piketty's book at the efforts of the billionaire economic conservative Koch brothers to have surcharges put upon users of solar power. Piketty notes that the very wealthy will engage in various efforts to maintain the status quo, no doubt. As Piketty writes, "The experience of France in the Belle Époque proves, if proof were needed, that no hypocrisy is too great when economic and financial elites are obliged to defend their interest."
The assessment of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and columnist David Horsey in his regular "Top of the Ticket" column in the Los Angeles Times is that
the Koch brothers have a new ploy to protect the traditional energy business that helped make them the planet’s fifth- and sixth-richest humans. They are funding a campaign to shackle solar energy consumers who have escaped the grip of big electric utilities.
Of all the pro-business, anti-government causes they have funded with their billions, this may be the most cynical and self-serving.
(Click any image in this post to enlarge it.)
It seems to me that the mega-wealthy, like the Koch brothers, will happily and doggedly seek to further game the system and entrench their wealth through tax havens, low tax rates, falsehoods widely disseminated by their media operations--complete with crocodile tears for the middle class--and the political and societal influence that they buy through campaign contributions, armadas of lobbyists, and, frankly, their "charitable" giving, too. (To give a large donation to an arts institution or medical facility not only offers tax advantages but in a sense puts those entities' workers in your pocket; they daren't speak out or too obviously work to reform the status quo lest they lose a big-money donor, patron, lord.) Those with great wealth will work both to rig the system and to keep the masses' outrage at bay by fueling the narrative of the government as being the only true enemy, by fueling misinformation against whatever hurts their interests, including--in the case of the Koch brothers especially--climate change, and by fueling media coverage of and political focus on non-economic issues.
In the U.S., with the decrease in the public intensity of religious conservatives' concerns about social issues and, arguably, social conservatives dwindling numbers, the economic right-wing (and the self-described libertarian wing) of the U.S. will increasingly attack government in all its forms and experiment with new distractions. Old distractions like gay marriage or the war on drugs are losing their appeal. New ones will be found.
I suspect that the super-massively rich, the top 0.01%, like the Koch brothers, convince themselves that they are patriots. But they ignore the simple fact that liberty as outlined in our republic's founding documents is meant to work alongside--variously in cooperation or in tension with--the Constitution's explicitly stated purpose, among others, to PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE. I believe that the Koch brothers' efforts subvert the general welfare, and in that regard they really are more like oligarchic monarchists, insiders in the lordly court of plutocracy, than true champions of liberty.
a certain view of Judaism lies deep in the structure of Western civilization and has helped its intellectuals and polemicists explain Christian heresies, political tyrannies, medieval plagues, capitalist crises, and revolutionary movements. Anti-Judaism is and has long been one of the most powerful theoretical systems “for making sense of the world.” No doubt, Jews sometimes act out the roles that anti-Judaism assigns them—but so do the members of all the other national and religious groups, and in much greater numbers. The theory does not depend on the behavior of “real” Jews.
Read the review: www.nybooks.com
Image: Rabbi with Torah, by Marc Chagall (1887–1985)