Sunday, April 15, 2018

Make America Again

A droll tweet prompted this, here is the image original, and a transcription, for those whom the image fails:

Make America again. Just make it again. Let’s start over completely. We had a good run but it’s time to hit the reset button and start again.

Some thoughts for America 2.0:

  • National anthem is “Gasolina”
  • No founding fathers whatsoever but maybe we give Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson a mountain statue or two
  • Let’s do way, way less genocide this time. I’m thinking definitely like 0% of the genocide form the last time, that seems good
  • Maybe more holidays about dogs

So here’re my thoughts.

First off, unless you discover a new landmass that’s uninhabited, America 2.0 will be built atop the current America, right? The historian in me, the same impulse that hates when ISIS destroyed ancient temples, would want us to keep the remnants, the ruins and monuments, of the past America. Modern Greece exists alongside the Acropolis, modern Mexico City has preserved aspects of Tenochtitlan which preceded it.

As such, let us not go dynamiting Mount Rushmore so as to carve The Rock’s face where Lincoln’s used to be. (In general I question the long-term historical import of The Rock, as beloved as he may be.) And on the note of the Founding Fathers, there would be… founders, right? Whether you like it or not, presumably some people would take greater responsibility in the creation of this new enterprise. They shouldn’t all be white men, many of whom were slave-owners, but you’re still going to have founders, regardless.

For the sake of nationalism and identity, for a country that will be laid atop the geographic spread and demographic spread of the current United States, unifying factors are not a bad idea. Instead of Washington’s Birthday it may be Shonda’s Birthday, but a bit of healthy founder veneration isn’t out of place. Regarding dog holidays, perhaps if we made Earth Day a national holiday as a start? (And what’s wrong with cats? A Pets Day, perhaps.) I’m all for holidays. Here are some other suggestions:

Some sort of Independence Day makes sense, based on whenever we become a new nation.
Arbor Day should totally be Federal.
United Nations Day is a good thing. Human Rights Day too.
May 1st is another good international holiday we could adopt, to replace our Labor Day.
Make Thanksgiving America 1.0 Day. A celebration and reflection of all that was good (pumpkin pie) and bad (genocide) about the first incarnation of our nation. Reflection is good.
I’m also okay with keeping Martin Luther King Day.
Replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, as some states have already done.
Make all major religious holidays Federal. They have to be major, not like feast days for saints, but that way everyone becomes aware of each other’s beliefs and we all get time off. Win-win. So Christmas, Eid al-Fitr, Passover, Visak, Holi – all of it.
Memorial Day and Veterans Day are both still good ideas. Especially since Veterans is, again, international.
New Years is silly, but I’m okay with keeping it too.
Teacher’s Day is a big deal elsewhere, it should be in America 2.0 as well.

Okay, now we’ve got our founders, a bit of mythos but less problematic than before, and some healthy holidays to let people feel pride and celebrate who we are. The next part is weirdly phrased in the original, which is on genocide: “like 0% of the genocide form the last time”. Now, with a little grammatical wizardry, this could be taken to say that some genocide is okay, especially since they state they want “less genocide”. One of America’s issues is a vague Constitution. Come on, people! Let’s not start off with the same problems as America 1.0. The “from last time” clause could be interpreted as allowing genocide, just so long as it doesn’t affect the same populations (indigenous peoples). Instead it should be clear: No genocide of any sort at all. Sheesh.

Lastly, from the original post, I had to look up “Gasolina”, which appears to be a track by Daddy Yankee from 2004. (I fail to see the nationalist value of the track, but increasingly am concerned with the poster’s infatuation with celebrity. America 2.0 would presumably be raised from the ashes of reality star’s failed Presidency – and we don’t want that shit to happen again. A basic threshold of ability and experience required, please.) We would need a new anthem, though. Ideally one we could all sing. If Daddy Yankee wants to write it, fine, but let's make something new.

These are my thoughts on the original post.

Beyond that, here are things I’d like to see, in no particular order, for America 2.0 which, may, upon reflection, be a little more important than carving a statue of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson:

A representative, blended presidential-parliamentary system (along French lines) with two proportional houses makes sense. State boundaries aren’t valuable unless we make it explicit that they are flexible with demographic changes – one of the gravest problems we currently face. Elections need to be publicly funded and our Bill of Rights needs some more explicit language, a la Justice Stevens’ Six Amendments. Make alcohol, weed, and tobacco 21 across the board (unless, like, you’re actively serving in the military, in which case, sure – you can have your cigarettes and booze). On the subject of age, perhaps a nationally-agreed upon age defining adulthood, consent, etc. since 2/3 of the states have an age of consent under 18, and every state currently allows child marriage exemptions, and you know. That’s a huge problem. Perhaps lower the voting/adult/consent age to 17 as a compromise (or keep it 18 like civilized society, but I doubt much of the country would be on board with that. Too many people start having sex as teens. A good compromise should leave everyone feeling bad, after all…) Making whatever consenting adults do legal so long as they’re not harming others. That can include prostitution (sorry Nevada) and an acknowledgement of differing sexualities, gender identities, and legalizing non-monogamous relationships (for survivor benefits, etc.). Ensure education is free or affordable, and providing 21st century alternatives to that college/masters combo. Incentivizing a three-fold path after college: enlisting in the armed forces for two years, two years of Peace Corps, or two years of AmeriCorps. Gets people moving around, interacting, helping out the country and helping others. Change prison culture to rehabilitation (when possible) and get rid of private prisons and private military contractors. Making it really very clear that we can’t get involved in military conflicts without Congressional Approval unless we’ve been hit first and need immediate retaliation – and clearly legally defining war so that things like Vietnam and Korean ‘police actions’ don’t happen again (at least not without Congress’ approval). Other definitions are needed for strong privacy and data laws, the nightly news being commercial-free, and the internet a public utility. Also need to fix our bonkers copyright and patent laws. A cap on CEO, President, and all other corporate salaries – proportional to their own employees. All of the stuff I mentioned a couple of months ago regarding the institutional failures of the Presidency. A Federal living minimum wage. Stricter laws on guns, which I’ve also talked about before. We can let religions keep their tax-free real estate, but on the condition that they stay the heck out of politics. If they get involved, as George Carlin noted, then they can pay their taxes like everybody else. Speaking of which, the pledge of allegiance – if we keep it, it can’t have religious language. Think tanks with defined partisan agendas, also, cannot register as NGOs, but must be publicly funded, or become corporations. Universal healthcare, and more access to health services, especially in schools and rural areas, and doubly especially access to Planned Parenthood and like services. Paid parental leave – basically anything Michael Moore brought up in his recent documentary Where to Invade Next. Getting rid of homelessness (even voluntary – sorry wand’ring gypsy children, you need an address. The census is important, and we need to know who the heck lives here. Also: get a job, long-hair!). We can also fix our infrastructure and make more green solutions to deal with climate change (some painful. New Orleans and Miami…) and rejoin the Paris Climate Accord.

So, you know, just a few things. A couple of small fixes - if we decide to Make America Again.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Penguin Great Ideas

So I finally finished the Penguin Great Ideas list. 100 of the most important works of the world's civilizations...


Issues I have with this list: 1) Some authors get multiple selections, others only one. 2) It is heavily skewed to the West, and pays lip-service to the East, and then only the Far East, nothing from the Islamic world 3) Also heavily English-language (and culturally) biased.

That said: Some of these were great - best essays and works I've ever read. I encountered new authors, tackled works I'd meant to read for a long time, and was introduced to new perspectives. But it was still very problematic, overall.

Here is the official list, which I've gone ahead and annotated. My recommended choices, that is those which I agree are 'Great Ideas' are highlighted.

01. On the Shortness of Life - Seneca Great
02. Meditations - Marcus Aurelius Sure
03. Confessions - Augustine Essential (part of the canon, everyone should read)
04. The Inner Life - Thomas à Kempis - I got nothing from this
05. The Prince - Niccolò Machiavelli Essential
06. On Friendship - Michel de Montaigne Essential. Broadly - the whole Essays
07. A Tale of a Tub - Jonathan Swift - There's much better Swift
08. The Social Contract - Jean-Jacques Rousseau Essential
09. The Christians and the Fall of Rome - Edward Gibbon - Horrendously long and arduous
10. Common Sense - Thomas Paine Great
11. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman - Mary Wollstonecraft Essential
12. On the Pleasure of Hating - William Hazlitt Great
13. The Communist Manifesto - Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Essential
14. On the Suffering of the World - Arthur Schopenhauer - No repeats! (lower down)
15. On Art and Life - John Ruskin -  Sure. Two essays, 'The Nature of the Gothic' and 'The Work of Iron'
16. On Natural Selection - Charles Darwin The Origin of Species is Essential
17. Why I Am So Wise - Friedrich Nietzsche - There is better Nietzsche
18. A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf Great, possibly Essential
19. Civilization and Its Discontents - Sigmund Freud - No repeats! (lower down)
20. Why I Write - George Orwell Great
21. The First Ten Books - Confucius Essential
22. The Art of War - Sun Tzu Essential

23. The Symposium - Plato Great - The Apology would've been better
24. Sensation and Sex - Lucretius This is 'On the Nature of Things' and its Essential
25. An Attack on the Enemy of Freedom - Cicero Great
26. The Revelation of St John the Divine and The Book of Job The Two most important books of the Bible, psychologically. Essential
27. Travels in the Land of Kublai Khan - Marco Polo - I mean... basically none of it is true.
28. The City of Ladies - Christine de Pizan Essential
29. How to Achieve True Greatness - Baldesar Castiglione Great
30. Of Empire - Francis Bacon - Nope
31. Of Man - Thomas Hobbes I'm very conflicted by Hobbes. Downgraded to Great
32. Urne-Burial - Sir Thomas Browne Great
33. Miracles and Idolatry - Voltaire Sure
34. On Suicide - David Hume Sure
35. On the Nature of War - Carl von Clausewitz - Ugh. Only if you have a keen interest.
36. Fear and Trembling - Søren Kierkegaard Essential
37. Where I Lived, and What I Lived For - Henry David Thoreau Sure
38. Conspicuous Consumption - Thorstein Veblen - Just not that good
39. The Myth of Sisyphus - Albert Camus Great
40. Eichmann and the Holocaust - Hannah Arendt Essential
41. In Consolation to his Wife - Plutarch Great
42. Some Anatomies of Melancholy - Robert Burton Nope
43. Human Happiness - Blaise Pascal - I don't care for Pascal
44. The Invisible Hand - Adam Smith - The Wealth of Nations is arduous and unpleasant.
45. The Evils of Revolution - Edmund Burke - Burke is tedious and sanctimonious.
46. Nature - Ralph Waldo Emerson Essential
47. The Sickness Unto Death - Søren Kierkegaard - No repeats!
48. The Lamp of Memory - John Ruskin - No repeats!
49. Man Alone with Himself - Friedrich Nietzsche - No repeats! The only repeated author who they managed to give two of his worst works, when there's good stuff out there.
50. A Confession - Leo Tolstoy Sure
51. Useful Work versus Useless Toil - William Morris Great, bordering on Essential
52. The Significance of the Frontier in American History - Frederick Jackson Turner Great
53. Days of Reading - Marcel Proust - Not exactly known for his essays
54. An Appeal to the Toiling, Oppressed and Exhausted Peoples of Europe - Leon Trotsky Sure
55. The Future of an Illusion - Sigmund Freud Essential
56. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction - Walter Benjamin Great, bordering Essential
57. Books v. Cigarettes - George Orwell  - No repeats!
58. The Fastidious Assassins - Albert Camus - No repeats!
59. Concerning Violence - Frantz Fanon Sure
60. The Spectacle of the Scaffold - Michel Foucault Great
61. Tao Te Ching - Lao-Tzu Essential
62. Writings from the Zen Masters - Various Great. Sort of a random selection, but I appreciate the idea
63. Utopia - Thomas More Sure
64. On Solitude - Michel de Montaigne - No repeats! Especially from the same book!
65. On Power - William Shakespeare Essential. This is just a selection of his passages.
66. Of the Abuse of Words - John Locke - Only if interested in semiotics.
67. Consolation in the Face of Death - Samuel Johnson - Nope
68. An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment? - Immanuel Kant Great, admittedly better Kant out there, but not for a lay audience
69. The Executioner - Joseph de Maistre Great
70. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater - Thomas de Quincey - Nope.
71. The Horrors and Absurdities of Religion - Arthur Schopenhauer Great
72. The Gettysburg Address - Abraham Lincoln Essential
73. Revolution and War - Karl Marx - No repeats!
74. The Grand Inquisitor - Fyodor Dostoyevsky Essential. Story within the story The Brothers Karamazov
75. On A Certain Blindness in Human Beings - William James Sure
76. An Apology for Idlers - Robert Louis Stevenson Sure
77. Of the Dawn of Freedom - W. E. B. Du Bois Essential
78. Thoughts of Peace in an Air Raid - Virginia Woolf - No repeats!
79. Decline of the English Murder - George Orwell - No repeats! x2
80. Why Look at Animals? - John Berger Great bordering on Essential
81. The Tao of Nature - Chuang Tzu Essential
82. Of Human Freedom - Epictetus - Already got Stoicism well covered with Seneca and Aurelius.
83. On Conspiracies - Niccolò Machiavelli - No repeats!
84. Meditations - René Descartes Essential
85. Dialogue Between Fashion and Death - Giacomo Leopardi Great
86. On Liberty - John Stuart Mill Sure
87. Hosts of Living Forms - Charles Darwin - No repeats! Also, why is Darwin the only scientist on here?
88. Night Walks - Charles Dickens Sure. Not known for his essays, but they're good.
89. Some Extraordinary Popular Delusions - Charles Mackay Essential
90. The State as a Work of Art - Jacob Burckhardt - Nope. The sooner we let Burckhardt die out the better.
91. Silly Novels by Lady Novelists - George Eliot - Not really that great.
92. The Painter of Modern Life - Charles Baudelaire - Nope
93. The 'Wolfman' - Sigmund Freud - No repeats! x2
94. The Jewish State - Theodor Herzl Great
95. Nationalism - Rabindranath Tagore Great
96. Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism - Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Sure, but only barely
97. We Will All Go Down Fighting to the End - Winston Churchill Great
98. The Perpetual Race of Achilles and the Tortoise - Jorge Luis Borges Essential - collection of his short stories
99. Some Thoughts on the Common Toad - George Orwell - No repeats! x3! Seriously, four Orwell selections?!
100. An Image of Africa - Chinua Achebe Great


Out of 85 actual individuals with 'Great Ideas' we throw out another 20 for not being good, leaving us 65 authors whose works could be considered 'Great Ideas', broken down as:

25 'Essential' which are impossible to replace
4 'Great, bordering on Essential'
22 'Great' which are difficult to replace
and 13 'Sure', which are fine but replaceable, including one 'only barely'

As always if the option was a selection of a longer text I read it in full for better context. Thus ends a project begun in 2011 (when I was in Singapore), seven years later (now in Monterey), with the final work completed being the massive tome Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.