Booksellers versus Bestsellers
grammatical equivalent of the square root of negative one.)
masculine of empty streets
possessive case of borrow
first person of defeat
omniscient voice of sorrow
feminine of history
plural of alone
intransitive of misery
past tense for home
proper noun for no one
compound form of sever
reflexive of a warming sun
indicative of never
by John MacBeath Watkins
On of the great historians of all time, in my opinion, was Barbara Tuchman, and perhaps her most famous book was The Guns of August
. It tackled one of the great puzzles of history, why World War I happened.
Tuchman went into great detail to make the case the war planning, especially Germany's Schlieffen Plan, which involved winning a war with France by sweeping through Belgium, thereby violating Belgium's neutrality, protected by treaty with England, was a major factor.
A.J.P. Taylor, another great historian, also made the case that mobilization plans played a major role in starting the war.
But both books raise the question, why were these plans made in a way that would inevitably lead to war?
Watching our own war fever while the Bush Administration manipulated the public into backing a war against Iraq brought this question home to me. I now think that WW I started because the participants wanted, or at least were not opposed, to what they thought would be a short and decisive dust-up.
Some confirmation for this theses comes from a little-known book written during WW I, Vernon Kellogg's Headquarters nights; a record of conversations and experiences at the headquarters of the german army in France and Belgium.
Kellogg was a pacifist who was in Belgium before America entered the war, working with Herbert Hoover on the Commission for the Relief
of Belgium, and Belgium was, of course, occupied by the Germans, so he lived in a household with a German officer who often entertained members of the German High Command.
He had trained as a biologist, and was on leave from teaching that subject when he began conversing with these high-ranking Germans, one of whom was also a biology professor, in his case on leave to prosecute the war.
What shocked Kellogg and convinced him that America should do all it could to defeat Germany was the theory the top tier of German officers of the biological superiority of Germans expressed.
While in America Social Darwinism had taken an individualistic form, in Europe it was more commonly expressed in racial terms.
Race, of course, is a ticklish subject -- in World War II, a number of Jews passed as Germans to stay out of the death camps, and were able to do so because they were physically indistinguishable from other Germans, though allegedly a different "race." But the German officers Kellogg found himself talking to believed there was such a thing as the German race, as opposed to the French race, or the Dutch race, or the English race.
From Headquarter Nights, the argument Kellogg found himself subjected to:
But as with the different ant species, struggle -- bitter, ruthless struggle -- is the rule among the different human groups. This struggle not only must go on, for that is the natural law, but it should go on. so that this natural law may work out in its cruel, inevitable way the salvation of the human species. By its salvation is meant its desirable natural evolution. That human group which is in the most advanced evolutionary stage as regards internal organization and form of social relationship is best, and should, for the sake of the species, be preserved at the expense of the less advanced, the less effective. It should win in the struggle for existence, and this struggle should occur precisely that the various types may be tested, and the best not only preserved, but put in position to impose its kind of social organization -- its Kultur -- on the others, or, alternatively, to destroy and replace them.
This is the disheartening kind of argument that I faced at Headquarters; argument logically constructed on premises chosen by the other fellow. Add to these assumed premises of the Allmacht of struggle and selection based on it, and the contemplation of mankind as a congeries of different, mutually irreconcilable kinds, like the different ant species, the additional assumption that the Germans are the chosen race, and German social and political organization the chosen type of human community life, and you have a wall of logic and conviction that you can break your head against but can never shatter -- by head work. You long for the muscles of Samson.
Few people desire to do evil in the world, but the things they justify to themselves as good can be quite astonishingly evil. The arguments Kellogg heard in Belgium while doing his relief work did not die out when the Germans lost the war -- instead, they mutated into the arguments that justified the Holocaust.
Kellogg said that these views were held by most German biologists, as well as non-biologists.
Nor should we assume that they were restricted to high-status Germans. Here's the English view, as expressed by Rudyard Kipling in 1899:Take up the White Man's burden-- Send forth the best ye breed-- Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives' need; To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild-- Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.
The notion that the better "breed" could benefit people by subjugating them was current. In addition, the English had established a large and powerful empire by subjugating foreigners and foreign land. At the time, the understanding of economics was that you needed to control more territory and resources to gain greater wealth. England subjugated India, bringing to them the dubious benefits of British bureaucracy and extracting from them raw materials for England's industry.
But as a trained biologist, Kellogg was well aware of alternate theories about evolution. He did not agree that mankind was "a congeries of different, mutually irreconcilable kinds, like the different ant species
" or that mutual conflict was the only key to evolution -- he considered mutual aid to be at least as important.
Mutual Aid will perhaps be familiar to the reader as the title of Petr Krapotkin's book, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.
Krapotkin argued against the Social Darwinists, pointing out that what he called mutual aid, a term that encompassed symbiosis and altruism, played an important role. In accepting Krapotkin's ideas and thinking human beings are pretty much alike, rather than being like different ant species, Kellogg was a more modern thinker than the German officers he argued with.
And perhaps the horror of the Holocaust helped eliminate that kind of thinking. Certainly, wars have been declining in number
and in the deaths they cause since World War II.
Of course, in a modern industrial society, war is no longer a path to wealth -- in fact, it seems to be a dead loss. That's got to reduce the incentives for war. And empires no longer show a return on investment. Global capital is no longer willing to repatriate profits
and pay taxes to the home country that finances the wars.
And of course, World War I didn't turn out the way people thought it would. Germans remembered the Franco-Prussian War, which was quick, decisive, and led to the unification of the German states. Germany had been the underdog, but had beaten the French in less than a year in a conflict fought mostly on French soil, some of which became German at the peace settlement.
It had been mostly a war of maneuver, in which the Germans mobilized more quickly, and the German General Staff showed better organization and competence than the more traditionally organized French General Staff.
So it's easy enough to see why the German war plans were organized so that they would inevitably lead to war, with no way to put on the brakes. They wanted war. And since 1870, the French had been thinking, Next Time....
The last big war the Russians had fought was against Napoleon, and they had acquitted themselves rather well. They had, however, been recently humiliated by the Japanese.
All the participants expected a glorious campaign in which losses would be tolerable and the people at the top of society would have increased status and power.
What they got instead was a war waged like pest control, even including the poison gas. Military planners seemed to have forgotten what war was for
. Clausewitz said "War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will." Yet the military goal of WW I seemed to be to kill as many people as possible.
The pointlessness of the war was soon apparent to those delegated to kill and die in it, and to the horror of those responsible for starting it, total peace began to break out up and down the line at Christmas, 1914
. The unwillingness of those on the front line on both sides to kill each other might be called a desertion in place. But the reputations of the generals depended on the enlisted men killing each other, and the generals soon had the war going again.
And again, after the failed peace that followed WW I.
I think the death of what Kellogg called "neo-Darwinian" views may have had something to do with the fact that war is in decline, but the economic factors are probably more important. For the most part, war is now viewed as a deadweight loss.
We still hear echoes of the views of the Germans Kellogg debated with in the jingoistic claims for American exceptionalism. And China is beginning to awaken to new dreams of empire and irredentalist claims for lost territory -- even Okinawa, which was conquered by Japan in 1609 and became a prefecture of Japan in 1879, is on the list, with every piece of property the Chinese ever dominated
The nightmare of Headquarter Nights can happen again.
by Jamie Lutton
year I moved
into a house where there are trees, bushes, flowers...and an overgrown
yard that needs a lot of work. This particular home had been neglected
for many years, except that someone had put down a ton of wood-chips,
with cardboard underneath to kill the weeds in some of the yard. I have
not done any gardening since I was my Dad's indentured lawn servant. He
used to follow me around when I mowed the yard, pointing out three or
four blades of grass I missed, etc. He paid me the vast sum of $2 a
week. After I took a a labor history class in high school, I asked him
for a raise; he told me he would 'do the job himself'. I said 'what, are
you going to be a scab, then?" I got my wages raised to $5. Dad was a
left-leaning history buff, and appreciated my rejoinder.
yard, though, was mine, and my challenge. . I
took on the Sisyphean
task of putting it in order, and weeding it was the first item on the
agenda. After sweating for weeks, removing a million dandelions,
blackberry bushes, and English Ivy, I decided I wanted a treat for
I went rosebush shopping
I had along a female
relative who was wildly enthusiastic about my project. She is alert for
any signs of domesticity in me. She drove me to a big, fancy
gardening place out in the sticks, where there were acres of rosebushes
to choose from. I bought three rosebushes, picked out for their scent,
color and hardiness. I did not want roses that were pretty, big, but
had no scent. In the end, I went for 'Julia Child' (yellow)
'Memorial Day' (pink) and 'Shakespeare'' (red). I was suckered by the
'Shakespeare' rose. Who could resist having 'Shakespeare in the front
She said David Austin roses were the best for our
climate, but in the end only one of the rosebushes, the "Shakespeare"
was that variety. She also said
to the scent of each rose'', and at this place, each rose was marked by
not only what the their blooms would smell like, but how strong the
scent would be. It was rather like picking out wine for a wine cellar;
the details were that careful, luscious and vivid; using terms like
'spice' and 'aroma'..
After I got the roses in the ground with
THREE different kinds of rose food, I gave them a good watering. I
discovered, then, that the short hose I have did not reach Julia Child
which had been planted far from the house, so to water it, I had to
spritz the water long distance, holding my arm above my head, to reach
Looking at the roses each morning, I was hoping they
would grow like Bamboo and get big fast. I called my female relative,
and asked how soon till they get full sized. She said 'two years'.
next day, at the grocery store, I saw
some tiny tea-roses, already blooming with pink, white and red
miniature roses. They looked like they
needed a home. I bought six of them, two of each color, and put them
in another part of the yard, close but not too close to each other.
These last few warm days, I am out at midnight or at 7 am, watering all these roses. I had somehow forgotten about all the upkeep involved...
also bought some big pretty purple daisy like flowers with white
centers, annuals, that I do not know the name of. In my enthusiasm to
get them in the ground, I lost the little tag that says what they are.
They are very hardy. I bought them two months ago, and they are still
blooming, going strong. I keep waiting for them to 'die back', but it
hasn't happened yet. I pick off the dead blooms, and stare at them,
wishing I had the money to have bought many more pots of them. They are
All over the yard, about a six weeks
ago, spindly knee to waist high plants, with long skinny leaves,
'weeds' I had not targeted, suddenly burst into gorgeous, feathery
purple flowers, like the flowers on clover, but much bigger. I learned
that their name was 'Bachelor Buttons'. They are
the most prolific flower in the yard, even growing up through the
pavement here and there. I don't have the heart to cut them back, even
though they are everywhere.
A well meaning person gave me a huge
bag of wild bird seed. This got me looking at bird feeders; after a few
false starts I went to Wild Birds Unlimited, where a crafty saleswoman
(you know the type) got me to buy four bird-feeders, two of which were
supposedly 'squirrel proof'. Also, she sold me blocks of suet for birds
that don't like seeds, with wire baskets to hold the suet
feeder was OK; it had a wire basket over the feeder that kept squirrels
out, but the second, which had a plastic 'dome' over the feeder, did
not keep 'Houdini' out of the food for long. She lowered herself down
onto the dome, riding it like an exercise ball a couple of times, till she figured out she could hang by her back legs, easing herself around
the edge and jumping on the
lip of the feeder. Her mate, Edmund Hilliary, was more prone to taking
great leaps over a five foot gap to land on this feeder. And the suet
feeders were harvested merrily by both; they would hang by their back
legs and eat upside down in seeming comfort, not going away even when I
rapped on the glass. They would glance at me, snicker, and go back to
chowing down on the '''bird''' food.
My cat Piglet sometimes looks
out the window at the fun. She had not seen squirrels before; I think
she thought they were small vegetarian cats who could climb really
well. She knew what birds were , but these squirrels were a mystery
to her. Once, when she sneaked out of the house, she came across a
squirrel on the ground only a few feet from her. They both froze, then
both galloped in opposite directions.
I do get some birds.
Chickadees, Juncos, and some other small birds I have not identified
eat both the seeds and the suet. Two
huge bluejays from the one yard over drop by now and then, where they
have a nest, to eat the birdseed spilled on the ground. I am hoping
for a lot more bird visitors in the
winter, when wild food is harder to find. And by then, I hope to have
figured out how to baffle the squirrels. The two I am dealing with are
too smart for me, so far. I have seen feeders put on poles at that
shop, but I hate to buy $50 -$200 pole systems when I have a couple of
perfectly good trees to put feeders in.
Houdini and Edmund Hillary
don't look like they have missed any meals; I will report back if I get
any more high-tech (expensive) bird feeding equipment that can finally
baffle them. Right now, I am laid up with an twisted knee inside, and in
in no shape to chase squirrels.
by Jamie Lutton
I was thinking about which nonfiction books that I have read to review for
this column, I keep coming back to the book Hiroshima, by John Hersey.
This book was first published complete in the July 15, 1946 issue of
the New Yorker magazine, then expanded a few years later. It is a
collection of six interviews of survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima on
August 6, 1945.
The interviews cover their recollections of the day of the bombing, the immediate aftermath, and the weeks that followed.
Hersey was an American, he had been an Allied war correspondent for
several years in both Europe and in the Pacific. He had access and could
interview the Japanese survivors of this bomb right after the American
occupation of Japan. When he was commissioned by the editor of the New
Yorker to do a series of pieces interviewing survivors of the atomic
bomb in Hiroshima, he was the first journalist from America to do so.
interviewed many Japanese who
had been in the city who had witnessed and survived the bombing. The
group of six people he chose was heterogeneous, one of which were
'foreign national' living in this city; a German priest, and one a
Christian, a Methodist. who had been educated in the United States who
spoke 'excellent English'..
Two doctors, a
tailor's widow who was a mother with two kids, and a young female clerk
were the others.. No soldiers, sailors or government officials; the
survivors in this book were harmless, ordinary people, four of them in
the 'helping' professions. by choosing to include two doctors, Hershey
gives the reader the immediacy of seeing through these doctor's eyes
those wounded, maimed and dying from the bomb..
These six residents
of Hiroshima were very lucky. It is estimated that 135,000 people died
in the atomic explosion that day. Some instantly, some from hideous
third-degree burns from the blast, or radiation sickness in the days
that followed, which caused repeated vomiting, hair loss and eventual
death. Four square miles in the center of the city was completely
destroyed, while many, many others who survived the initial blast were
sick for years later, with hibakusha,
or 'bomb sickness' - weakness, dizziness,
and digestive issues, as well as leukemia and other cancers killing
many, years later. Five of the six survivors in this book had some bad
injuries from the blast; the clerk
had one leg nearly crushed and nearly
Most of the survivors were viewed with suspicion by other
Japanese, endured prejudice in hiring and marrying, and were seen as
'undesirable' people; even their children were treated like 'undesirable
people'. Many survivors would hide the fact that they had been in
Hiroshima, and lived through the blast. Only after several decades,
when most survivors have died, did the survivors get better treatment
from the Japanese government, and given stipends to live on.
grew up in the other shadow of the bombing of Japan. Most of my
childhood was spent in Richland, Washington. The Hanford Nuclear facility, or 'area' as it was called, was close by. My Dad worked as an
inorganic chemist there, specializing in running a sodium cooled
reactor, the Fast Flux Treatment Facility.. The local industry in
Richland had been making plutonium based atomic bombs
for the American military through the mid 1940's and the 1950's (then
gradually switching to domestic nuclear power plants).
Hanford had made the
Nagasaki bomb that was dropped on Japan, a plutonium bomb dropped four days after the Hiroshima bomb.
The local high school I went to, Columbia (now Richland) High's sports
teams, their football and basketball teams are called 'The Bombers'
(still are,to this day); and the insignia on the sport gear, the
t-shirts and sweatshirts show a mushroom cloud on them.
So as I
grew up in Richland, it was a matter of bragging and pride in my
hometown that we had built one of the bombs that was dropped on Japan.
And the stories I head from my dad about the war in the Pacific are part
of my perception this action. Dad told me that he had been in the
Marines in 1945, a young man of 19, drafted, and was going to be to be
in the invasion of Japan.. From previous battles with the Japanese, it
was known they would fight fiercely, street by street, to the bitter
end. My Dad told me several times that he was dreading the invasion
of Japan, and knew he would possibly, even probably die.
He always figured that dropping two atomic bombs on Japan saved his life.
WW II veterans who are historians like Paul Fussell also praised the
bombing of Japan, He pointed out in his essay Thank God for the Atomic Bomb that the use of
atomic bombs shortened the war by weeks or
months, and saved lives on both sides. According to Fussell,10,000
people, civilians and
solders, were dying every day in mainland China alone in that summer.
So I have been exposed to many points of view, both negative and
positive, on the use of the bomb on Japan.
The lessons that I take from Hiroshima, from living in Richland, from my Dad's stories, and even from Fussell is that ordinary
people, like these six people and people like my Dad, are in grave peril when war breaks out.
But, it has come full circle with the atomic bomb.
has been centuries in the Westsince we lived in a world where our
leaders were at the same risk in wars as the man in the street. This
era ended in the 1480's in England,when the last king, Richard the
Third, died leading an army in the field defending his crown. For
centuries now ordinary men and women who fight in armies or as hapless
civilians behind 'enemy lines', while the men who start vicious wars
are safe at home, directing the fighting.
But the atomic age changed this.
I have a gut feeling that this book was read in the Kremlin by Stalin's
advisers in the early 1950's, and by Mao's advisers in China, and by
other world leaders who acquired their own atomic bombs.
General MacArthur wanted to drop the bomb on North Korea,President
Truman, who had authorized the first use of atomic bombs, forbade it.
Truman had gotten reports from Japan,and did not want to use such a
horrible weapon again.. I do think that despite the
bellicose Cold War that lasted from 1946 to 1989 (and some thereafter)
this little book may have delayed the a nuclear World War lll.
These leaders and others must have drawn the rational conclusion that
not only would
nuclear war be horrific, that also there was nowhere to hide from atomic
bombs. Any and every leader now could be wiped a atomic bomb from the
sky, or smuggled into their country.
This book was, in those
years after the war a huge best seller.. Banned
for years in Japan, while it was occupied by the United States it
was printed as a book only two months after it was published in the New
Yorker, and revised as John Hersey went back and interviewed these six
It has never been out of print.
the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, is credited with helping start the American Civil War, I do think the six survivors testimony
in Hiroshima prevented a nuclear World War III.
The world has not yet found its way to world peace. There is still
dreadful threats on all sides from religious strife to economic and
political upheavals. But I
do recommend that everyone read Hiroshima. This gripping testimony of
six eyewitnesses to nuclear warfare, and the pitiful, horrifying
aftermath should not be missed. Those 135,000 civilians should not be
forgotten, or died in vain.
by John MacBeath Watkins
I went sailing for a couple hours with the new Meerkat
crabclaw rig today. I count it a success
by Jamie Lutton
I was reading another
Seattle paper a few days ago, and saw an article about cannibalism
being proved among the colonists at Jamestown colony in the winter of
1609-1610. It seems 80% of the colonists died from starvation that
winter. There were written accounts from the time that mentioned this,
and newly found archeological evidence from a 14 year old's skull found
that had been hacked open to eat. A very grisly story, but the darkly
amusing part was this article was placed just below an article about
the recent enthusiasm for colonizing Mars.
This was funny, but
I think misleading. I think the readers were being asked to put these
two stories together in their minds, and think about the likely
mortality rate in a Mars Colony. This sort of negative thinking has
pushed the work on a humans to Mars expedition back,
decade by decade. In 1968, when we had just circled the Moon, and were
planning to land on it the next year, the expectation at NASA was that
we would send a human expedition to Mars by 1990.
People need to
face that we going to have a high death rate in a Mars colony. Human
error, accidents, even catastrophes will happen, even if starvation does not plague the first settlers.
We may have failures, even with everyone dying off and vanishing, like
the Roanoke colony in Virgina. We even have to worry about comet
impacts; there is a 'close call' predicted for 2014 for Mars, the type
that killed the dinosaurs off 64 million years ago (though if a comet
did hit, it would add a lot of water to the surface of the planet - you
might Google the articles about this - Mars-Comet-2014)
that does not mean we should not go into space, not colonize other
planets. Look at the history of this country. Fortune favors the bold..
Just in passing, I would like to note that another famous early English
colony, the Plymouth colony, experienced a 50% die-off the first year.
The survivors married each other (and other newcomers) and some 5% of
of the USA is descended from these colonists, including my business
partner, John Watkins. The name of the Plymouth colony member that was his great many-times- grandfather was John
Howland, an indentured servant. John Howland now has hundreds of
thousands of descendents alive in the united states today.
appears to be barren and generally void of life. we will not be
displacing or wiping out any native peoples a' la Avatar or even in our
own history through disease or deliberate policies. There is no good
reason not to go; even for the reason Everest was climbed in the 1930's
for the first time; 'because it is there'.
want, then, to recommend the book The Case For Mars, first written back
in 1995 and recently revised. This book is a good introduction to the
problems of humans colonizing Mars. and some clever shortcuts that could
be made. The author's thesis
is that we should plan right from the start to go 'one way', and leave
astronauts there to start up a permanent colony.
This is an
upbeat book, written by a notorious Mars booster Dr. Robert Zubrin. It
has a lot of useful information, and good hard science in it, with a
lot of the technical answers with original thinking covered on the problems that would be faced.
A ''sequel'' to this book, How to live on Mars, a comic SF fictional
immigration 'handbook', set in 2095, is filled with practical information.
It is a funny book, a good book, that is a commentary on life as we know it now,
as well ..... but I am biased. I did some editing on this book. It got a
review in the Wall Street Journal that was favorable and a 1/4 of a page long, so it can't just
What with the risk of a meteor collision like the one that
wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, as well as the comet
near-miss that is approaching Mars next year, it would be good for the
survival of the human race to live on more than one planet in this solar
system. Even with all the problems the human race faces now, it took
economic progress in the West to turn humans into environmentalists, and
we are better stewards of the Earth than we might be otherwise. We do a
better job rescuing and reclaiming streams, cleaning the air,
sewage,using cleaner technologies, and saving endangered animals, by
using advanced technology applied to the problem. Humans are far from
perfect at this, but the general trend is good,. in my opinion.
darker note, I want to recommend two books by Richard Preston, The Hot Zone, and
The Demon in the Freezer. I read the Demon in the Freezer first, and
could not put it down, then searched for other books by this author, and
found The Hot Zone.
I was brought to the realization that the
human race may be hit by (another) disease outbreak originating in
Africa. Our government chose to ignore the last big epidemic from
it was too late to contain it; the AIDS epidemic (see the book The Band
Played on by Randy Stilts).
There are several other
that could break into pandemics, lurking to break out in a big way; a
good example is the five varieties of Ebola. The worst of these being
Ebola Zaire, which has a 90% fatality rate, and no known cure - only
palliative measures. The author says the evidence points to both
diseases started out as diseases from monkeys
and apes in Africa, that spread into the human population from eating
or handling sick monkeys, and the destruction of their habitat...
We nearly had an
outbreak into the general human population of Ebola Zaire near one large
American city, from a population of monkeys kept in a
military facility. Carelessness, and the insane pursuit of making money
by quickly selling groups of imported monkeys to American labs without
adequate precautions. This nearly caused an outbreak like those seen in
Africa, when whole villages were wiped out by Ebola. Though this book is
old, the risk is nearly as high it was then. Plus, with warfare and
economic conditions being far worse than it was 20 years ago, in Africa,
the chance of a big outbreak is high. There have been several small
outbreaks in the last 20 years. The author notes that the West
did not contain AIDS when it could...so our track record of spending
enough money to 'notice' and stop fatal disease
outbreaks is abysmal.
The Demon in the Freezer, which
I read first. covers first the heroic struggle to destroy smallpox in
the world, by dedicated health workers, doctors and scientists chasing
the smallpox outbreaks around the world and 'encircling' them,
vaccinating everyone around an epidemic, to 'contain' it and snuff it
out. in the early 1970's, smallpox was finally eradicated in the entire
world. The difficulties in doing this, the resistance of the local
governments, is well told. These men and women are heroes, and this
story should be better known.
The second half of the book is the
history of some of these scientists then turning to fiddling with
smallpox in labs, to 'weaponize' it, i.e. making it stronger, and in
some cases 100% fatal. The author interviewed Soviet scientists who had
defected years earlier, who reported that the Soviets had done this kind
of research...and after the fall of of the Soviet government, these
scientists had scattered and gotten jobs in
many other nations. Right now, up to this date, there has been no
success in destroying all the smallpox kept frozen in labs, as all sides
want some 'just in case'.
So,the chance of an 'accident' or a deliberate release of this disease
is still very high.
For those who want to read a fictional account
of how bad this could get, should read the thriller Andromeda Strain or watch the early 1970's film adapted from the book - it is excellent. Or the more recent film,
Contagion. This last film was carefully made, a realistic account of a natural pandemic
flu outbreak killing millions who catch it, with only a 20% fatality
Having a version of smallpox available that has been tweaked
to be 100% fatal could be disastrous for the human race. As this author
points out, we live in the age of air travel. One sick person could be
1,000 miles away in a few hours, spreading an air-born illness to
everyone she touches. Unlike the days of, say, the Black Death, which
spread only a few miles a week. any contagious illness spread by touch
or breath, that is highly fatal, could be around the world in a day or
When I read The Band Played On 20
years ago, I went around for six months trying to get my friends and
family to read the book. I was shook to the core by the author's
proofs that this fatal illness was ignored by our government, as they
did not care much about the population it first appeared in - the gay
population. Now, even though we are on the verge of a cure, this
illness has killed millions, and had decimated some African countries.
It is now epidemic among straight youth, esp. minorities, and seniors in
this country. Our abandonment of good public health worldwide, because
of ''the cost'', means a pandemic could happen anywhere, anytime.
We are fairly aware of the bird flu outbreaks that occur in the Third
World and then spread around the world, but most people don't think
about what else is out there.
I have to put these two books on my
list of great non-fiction of the late 20th and early 21st century, and a
must read for everyone. As we as a human race makes plans to colonize
Mars, ,these diseases still snap at at our heels and endanger
Jamie Lutton owns Twice Sold Tales on Capitol Hill, and her blog with her business partner is Booksellersvsbestsellers.
is an economic system
based on the private ownership
of the means of production
, with the goal of making a profit
by John MacBeath Watkins
Several political movements have been named by their opponents. "Liberal" used to be a term of disapproval before it became a term worn with pride, and then became a term of disapproval again. "Fascist" was a term invented by its liberal opponents, and enthusiastically adopted by its followers.
Capitalism is a term invented by Karl Marx in about 1850 to describe something new in the world, something he thought evil. As the Wikipedia definition demonstrates, the term is now retrospectively applied to all systems in which there is private ownership of the means of production, a situation that has probably existed as long as the institution of property has existed.
But Marx was not describing prehistoric societies where flint knappers owned their tools and hunters owned their spears. Through most of history, there had been peasants who owned their land, their draft animals, and their plows, and artisans who owned the tools of their trade. The situation Marx invented a new term to describe was one in which no longer did each weaver own his loom; ownership of the textile mill belonged to the capitalist, a person who did not weave or spin, but whose profession was to own, and to manage or hire managers.
The capitalist was the creator and the creation of the industrial revolution. Prior to this, there had been a number of theories of how economics worked.
Thomas Hobbes believed
that government made it possible for labor to create value. The war of each against all, much like the 30-years war, made it impossible for agriculture, navigation, or commerce to take place, which is why we should form a social contract and value the sovereign who keeps us from violent death and ensures that those who plant can reap.
thought that all value came from the soil, and government should interfere as little as possible. This appealed to planters whose wealth depended on crops such as cotton and sugar, and who wanted to be left alone to keep slaves doing the work.
The mercantilists thought the goal should be to bring as much wealth to their country as possible, which meant getting control of resources, providing the means to exploit those resources, such as roads and bridges for commerce, and steer the most profitable operations of business to their own country. They were natural empire builders, the sort who would conquer India and prohibit the Indians from building textile mills because it was better for England that industry should be in England.
Capitalism adopted parts of all these philosophies, but grew from the changes in technology. Frederick Law Olmstead, who traveled in the South from 1852 through 1857 writing for the New York Daily Times
, considered that slavery and the inefficiency it enabled had impoverished the South, its wealth restricted to the few owners of large plantations. From Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom,
an 1861 abridgement of that work:
'The citizens of the cotton States, as a whole, are poor. They work little, and that little, badly; they earn little, they sell little; they buy little, and they have little - very little - of the common comforts and consolations of civilized life. Their destitution is not material only; it is intellectual and it is moral... They were neither generous nor hospitable and their talk was not that of evenly courageous men.'
In short, he viewed them as insufficiently capitalist. The slaves of the South were at that time worth more than all the factories and railroads in the entire nation
, but even so, they were not efficiently employed, because their cost was less than the cost of hiring free men. Not that the cost was low; about half the wealth of the South was in the ownership of slaves
Capitalism did well enough out of slavery, with 80% of the South's cotton going to British textile mills and coming back as fabric. But the semi-feudal society of the South did not reward labor well, so did not have sufficient demand to support its own industry.
As for the mercantilists, they saw conquest and the domination of other peoples as the key to gaining wealth. The West was won by people following those imperatives, using the nation's troops to conquer land for private ownership. The conquest of Indian land was not an enterprise for libertarians, it was a nation dominating by force people who commanded less force.
Frederick Jackson Turner declared the frontier closed in 1890. Perhaps it is no accident that in 1898, America tried to expand into a true empire by seizing most of the remaining colonies of Spain in the Spanish-American War.
The failure of America to become the sort of empire the proponents of the Spanish-American War had envisioned was really the end of the mercantilist dream. And the intellectual basis for an economic theory replacing mercantilism had been laid long before.
The theory of comparative advantage -- that is, the theory that if each nation produces what it makes best, and trades it to other countries -- was first examined in detail in David Ricardo's 1817 book, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation.
Ricardo suggested that such trade left both countries better off, in contrast to the mercantilists who advocated high tariffs to encourage domestic production of as many goods as possible. This was a very different view of how value is produced, and because it suggested that the production of value is not a zero-sum game, it was a major break from previous notions of how the world works.
The theory of comparative advantage has always been a hard sell, especially in hard times. But another intellectual revolution was to make capitalism work much better than the alternatives, and it grew out of the work Ricardo and a moral philosopher interested in the nature of value, Adam Smith, had done on the way markets work.
I'm talking, of course, about the marginal revolution, one of the least-known and most important revolutions in history. Economists in Austria, England, and America participated in perfecting the theory that the marginal utility of goods is key to understanding their value.
Adam Smith and David Ricardo had not understood value well enough to explain why diamonds are worth more than water. The one was a shiny stone, they other essential to life, yet the stone was worth more, which Smith regarded as the paradox of diamonds and water.
Marginalists could explain this. Many people had no diamonds, but all had sufficient water to maintain life, or they were dead. Since the dead demand no material object, the remainder of the population, who usually have more water than they need, do not hold additional water to be of high value. Most people the world over own no diamonds. When you have no diamonds, wanting to own one has some value. The notion of marginal utility could explain and quantify the effect of scarcity on prices.
Marx, remember, invented the word "capitalism," but he did not invent a really workable theory of value. About the time he would have read of the theory of marginal utility, he stopped writing. Personally, I think he realized that his theory of value, based on that of John Locke (Locke said labor creates property, Marx said labor creates value,) was crap compared to the theory of marginal utility, which left his theory with no place to go.
The marginal revolution gave liberal economists a powerful tool that allowed them to run an economy more successfully than those who did not adopt this notion. It laid the basis for the economic consensus that gave us steady growth with only modest downturns from the late 1930s until 2008. In the early 1930s, there was a sizable leftist movement, reflecting that many people didn't buy into capitalism as the best way of life. The steady success of a kind of capitalism where government moderated the excesses of the markets and made it possible for them to thrive undermined the socialist alternative, as did the less than brilliant performance of Fabian socialism and the wretched failure of the Communist economies.
The economic philosophies that asked government to moderate the effects of capitalism were first Keynesian economics, then monetarism. Keynes claimed that when the economy got into a liquidity trap -- that is, when the natural rate of interest is below zero -- fiscal stimulus is needed to get the economy running again. Moneterists claimed that monetary policy could do the job, making central banks the essential institution of capitalism.
But what has happened is that with the collapse of the socialist alternative, the left is defined by Keynesian and even monetarist ideas, while the right is defined by what amounts to pre-Depression economics. Although those on the right wish to portray this as an argument between socialists and capitalists, it is really an argument between different brands of capitalists.
When the only real alternative to capitalism is another brand of capitalism, you can say with some certainty that capitalism has won. Rhetorical efforts to label Keynesians as socialists remind me of the efforts of the Catholic Church to label the Goliard poets as "Bohemians."
The Goliard poets were rebelious clerics who wrote scandalous songs and poems often featuring "Father Golias," a figure who possessed all the flaws of the rulers of the Catholic Church. At the time they were suppressed (in 1289, the Church decreed that "no clerks shall be jongleurs, goliards or buffons"), the Gypsies, so called because of the untrue claim that they were from Egypt, were moving into France, where they were called Bohemians, because of the untrue claim that they were from the kingdom of Bohemia. They were foreign, poor, transient, and often stole things.
The Church began to refer to the Goliards as "Bohemians," in an effort to make them seem less socially acceptable. But the term bohemian has come to mean a rebel poet, which is pretty much what Goliard meant. The Church had managed to change the sign, but not the signified.
So those who now wish to associate a rather successful branch of capitalism with the term "socialism" should be wary that they may revive the legitimacy of the term "socialist."
The paleoeconomic right wants to "end the fed." It's my belief that in so doing, they would be well on their way to ending modern capitalism, which since 1913 has relied on the central bank to moderate the excesses of the market and guarantee some stability in the economy. The problem is that a system that relies on large accumulations of capital needs a market in debt that can be relied upon. Alexander Hamilton understood this, which is why the Funding Act of 1790 funded the debt rather than paying it off -- he wanted to create a market for securities that could finance commerce. He proposed a Bank of the United States, which would accept deposits and make commercial loans. It was to take on the functions of the Bank of England, which had rescued the pound by acting as a lender of last resort in 1763
Andrew Jackson, the Ron Paul of his day, denounced the Bank of the United States in 1828 and refused to renew its charter in 1836.
As Wikipedia notes, "The end of the bank saw a period of runaway inflation, until Jackson's
executive order requiring all federal land payments be made in gold or
silver, driving all banks to require payments in gold and silver,
producing the depression of 1837, which lasted for four years."
This is the paradise to which Ron Paul wants us to return.
State banks took up the slack until 1863, when the Union, freed of Jacksonian southerners, chartered national banks. The panic of 1907 revealed that capital had become so important, and markets so unstable, that the Federal Reserve system was needed.
Jackson demonstrated that capitalism without capital fails, and the Panic of 1907 revealed that to have stable capital markets, we need a lender of last resort. So let's add that to the components of capitalism.
When Marx coined the term "capitalism," it was a flawed and sometimes brutal system. He correctly forecast that it would have to change. What he missed was that the beast could be tamed, with the advancing arts of economics and central banking, and policies of social insurance making it not only tolerable, but preferable to other systems. The danger now is that we will forget the lessons we learned in an earlier and more brutal time, and eliminate those elements of capitalism that make it function well enough not to call for its replacement.
When you take the tools from the weaver and concentrate them in the hands of the textile mill owner, you take control of working conditions away from those who make the fabric. Democracy has a pretty good history of fixing that problem, with the actions of capitalists restrained to a level that keeps revolutionary urges in check. It is inherent in the nature of capitalism that the ownership of the means of production is concentrated in few hands, often in the hands of a person who is a legal fiction, the corporation. This is at the core of capitalism, and it is the need for such large investments that makes the management of capital so important.
In 1811, William Blake published the following words:
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Yet somehow, among paleoeconomic conservatives, those dark Satanic Mills have become a vision of paradise. I would say they were not even capitalism, only the precursor to our capitalist system.
Links for this series:
Rethinking liberal theory 1: Thomas Hobbes, blasphemer and patriot
Rethinking liberal theory 2: The outlaw John Locke, terrorist, liberal, and advocate of freedom
Rethinking liberal theory 3: A compact to protect property, or a conspiracy to create meaning?
Rethinking Liberal Theory 4: John Milton and the many shapes of truth
Rethinking Liberal Theory 5: Adam Smith, moral philosopher of the marketplace
Rethinking liberal theory 6: Hegel, the end of history, and the triumph of the liberal idea
Rethinking liberal theory 7: Liberalism and individualism: The invention of the Util and the way west
Rethinking liberal theory 8 Property and freedom: Why language is the basis for the social contract
Rethinking Liberal theory 9: Physiocrats & mercantilists: The economic philosophies of the founding fathers
by John MacBeath Watkins
As some of you know, the backbone of the fleet at the Center for Wooden
Boats is the Blanchard Junior Knockabout. The Woodenboat Forum even had a thread from a man whose wife learned to sail in the program I helped start,
Sail Now, asking where he could find one.
The boats are sufficiently well known that a fellow from Portugal has made a model of one:
For comparison, the Blanchard Junior rig:
Too bad I don't have the money to build it.
by John MacBeath Watkins
Well, I've built the spars for Meerkat's crabclaw rig, and today I made the sail. The rig will look something like this: