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Neolithic not so revolutionary?

August 8, 2017

One of the large problems in archaeology is distinguishing between a) large changes in human behavior that create a corresponding change in the archaeological record, and b) small changes in human behavior that then reveal in the archaeological record what people had been doing for a long, long time previous. The growing evidence for farming and communities in the tropics, going back several tens of thousands of years, where they leave no archaeological record, is changing our view of the neolithic revolution, where that behavior then occurs in the mideast, where it does leave archaeological record. (Cite.)

The Corpus Christi Navy regatta #55

August 7, 2017

NavyRegatta55aThe 55th annual Navy regatta is done. The downhill day boasted Corpus Christi’s famous breezes. One boat blew out their first spinnaker. Another, a lively race design, decided not to fly theirs with a novice helmsman. Our Navy helmsman, Captain Dave, did an admirable job sledding the boat, hitting 13 knots at one point, finishing us 4th. And if there were a couple of close calls, well… that’s sailing. Three dolphins joined us for the last spinnaker run, whistling their advice.

The photo shows a few of the boats in the Naval Air Station anchorage Saturday afternoon, their crews lolling in the water. Thanks are due to the US military, the Corpus Christi Yacht Club, and the Bay Yacht Club for sponsoring this annual festivity!

HBO’s Confederate

August 7, 2017

The forthcoming HBO show is more likely to deflect rather than expose truths about America’s racial history and present, for the reason Ta-nehisi Coates well explains:

[T]he creators have said that their hope is to use science fiction to “show us how this history is still with us in a way no strictly realistic drama ever could.” And that really is the problem. African Americans do not need science-fiction, or really any fiction, to tell them that that “history is still with us.” It’s right outside our door. It’s in our politics. It’s on our networks. And Confederate is not immune. The show’s very operating premise, the fact that it roots itself in a long white tradition of imagining away emancipation, leaves one wondering how “lost” the Lost Cause really was.

If the show wants to really explore that material, what it needs to do is show not how different that imagined US is or how far its politics are from our own or how different its people are, but how close all those are to today’s reality. Unless it makes modern day right-wingers and libertarian economists and sometimes even white liberals yelp like the dog hit with the rock, it will be a failure.

The Trump firehose

August 3, 2017

Mother Jones proposes that the constant lies from the Trump White House replicate Russian propaganda techniques identified by a Rand report (pdf):

Distinctive Features of the Contemporary Model for Russian Propaganda

1. High-volume and multichannel
2. Rapid, continuous, and repetitive
3. Lacks commitment to objective reality
4. Lacks commitment to consistency

If people like Bannon still are forming a large part of the Trump message, it’s easy to suspect some of that similarity is intentional. It’s worth keeping that model in mind, even if the resemblance is the coincidence of common purpose.

But, it doesn’t explain Trump’s own proclivity to lie about everything from who called him to his political agenda. Trump always has lied, facilely, constantly, and needlessly. He is the kind of guy who puts an entirely fake Civil War plaque on his golf course.

Globalization and its discontents

August 1, 2017

I do not believe that globalization is in retreat. The world economy will continue to gravitate to large cities that are home to enterprises whose markets and sites span national borders. Wolfgang Streeck well describes that trend and its political tensions from a leftist viewpoint:

Among the structural cracks in contemporary societies in which Trumpism flourishes is a rapidly growing cleavage between cities and their deindustrialized, more or less rural, hinterland. Cities are the growth pole of postindustrial societies. They are international, cosmopolitan, and politically pro-immigration, in part because their success in global competition depends on their ability to attract talent from all over the world. Cities also require a supply of low-skilled and low-paid service workers, who clean offices, provide for security, prepare meals in restaurants, deliver parcels, and take care of the children of dual career families. The white middle class can no longer afford ever-rising urban rents; they find themselves living in growing communities of immigrants, or they leave and move to the small-town provinces.

Geographical separation has deeply divisive cultural and political consequences. Urban elites can easily imagine themselves moving from one global city to another; moving from New York to Ames, Iowa is another matter. National borders are less salient to urban elites than the informal borders between urban and rural communities. As urban labor markets turn global, job applicants from the national hinterlands must compete with talent from all over the world. Globalization creates an incentive for governments and employers not to invest too much in education. Why bother? They can always poach skilled labor from other countries. This is how the United States combines one of the worst school systems in the world with the world’s best universities and research centers.

There is an almost insuperable cultural barrier between the city and the country, something long known to city and country dwellers alike. City dwellers develop a multicultural, cosmopolitan outlook. As their values converge on their interests, what used to be social liberalism edges into free-market liberalism. Seen from the perspective of the provinces, of course, elite cosmopolitanism serves the material interests of a new class of global winners. Mutual contempt is reinforced by self-imposed isolation, both sides speaking only to and within their camps, one through the media, located in the cities, the other through self-constructed private internet channels.

It does seem neoliberals — whatever they are, if anything — are failing to politically manage that tension. Opening the political door to the national populists and neo-fascists.

In the US, of course, the benefits of trade and of large corporate enterprises traditionally are championed by the right, backed by conservative economists. The right wing rapidly shifted gears on that in the last few years, essentially telling economists like Tyler Cowen that their views were irrelevant. That’s not from a better understanding of the modern economy nor a cohesive policy response to it. It’s more that facts and expertise just don’t matter on the right, when they conflict with the more chthonic forces that actually drive its politics.

Conflict of law

July 31, 2017

Australian Attorney-General George Brandis is going to be quite disappointed that no matter what laws Australia writes, and no matter what Australian tech companies promise, his agents still will not be able to read messages that are end-to-end encrypted with adequate algorithm. Far too much gets made of the fact that good encryption is publicly available and impervious to law enforcement. Long before computers, it was trivial for people to communicate privately — just find a field or creek or drinking spot where no one would overhear. The thing about messages is that their secrecy always is at risk from the social fact that they flow between two or more people. Law enforcement and spying relied then and rely still on compromising some of the people involve, rather than on reliably intercepting that flow by purely technical means.

Two cheers for a Canadian appeals court that ruled that foreign notions about gender roles are no reason for leniency in sentencing those who commit spousal abuse in Canada.

Why Republicans failed

July 28, 2017

Ramesh Ponnuru wrote an article a couple of weeks past on Republican struggles, that now seems almost prescient:

The health-care bill is hated by many and loved by almost no one, in part because it does not reflect any coherent understanding of what our health policy should be. That may be the kind of legislation one should expect when neither the Congress nor the president has thought through a policy agenda. The health debate has shown that moderate Republicans, especially, never worked out the implications of the party’s loud opposition to Obamacare, which they joined with gusto. If they had, they might have realized that it was impossible to repeal Obamacare while also refusing to modify in any way its protections for people with preexisting conditions.

In short, the Republican politicians are believing their party’s own propaganda mills. And those lies weaken them.

The Democratic caucus in the US Senate deserves accolades for standing united without a single defection against Trumpcare. The Republican moderate senators Collins and Murkowski deserve special recognition, for refusing both McConnell’s bribes and Trump’s threats. And McCain, in the end, couldn’t bring himself to vote for a piece of crap just to pass anything that counted as Obamacare repeal.