Bus Station.

Back in the day (as my undergrads used to say back in the day) I was in the head in the Greyhound station in like, IDK, Winnemucca, Nevada?  Cold as all get-out.  Riding the bus east from Seattle to Boston after Christmas break.  See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GONmFCkCGCc   Black kid is using the head also.  Then this cowboy staggers in through the swing-door.  Older guy in jeans, boots, sheep-skin lined  jacket, real Stetson.  So, a real cowboy.  His saddle is probably in the luggage compartment under a bus bound for Casper.  He’s holding a fifth of some amber colored fluid and I don’t think it was green tea full of whatever green tea is full of that’s supposed to be good for your health.  OTOH, it’s in a regular “factory whiskey”–as Henry Fonda said in “Grapes of Wrath”–bottle instead of a Mason jar, so you probably won’t wake up two days later, blind and in a culvert.  Anyway, who was I?  Oh, yea.  The cowboy sees the black guy and says “Hey darky, help me get this thing whipped” and holds out his jug.  Black kid is just frozen.  He knows the guy meant it in a friendly way.  He knows that he isn’t going to do some Man-Tan “Nossuh, Ah don’t drink no whiskey” routine.  He knows that he should fight for being called “darky.”  He knows that there isn’t another black person around for 250 miles—unless there’s a train stop and some old porter named Ulysses Grant Weems is aboard.

Once every five years or so, I think about those two guys and wonder how it shook out after I left in embarrassment for all three of us.

 

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Climate of Fear XXI.

If the world does not cut carbon dioxide emission by 45 percent by 2030 and by 100 percent by 2050, then we can expect many extreme weather events.  These will include droughts, forest fires, floods, and storms.  Thus says the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).[1]  However, experts believe that it will take decades to raise wind and solar energy sources to a level where they can supplant carbon-burning energy sources.

Wind and solar currently provide about 8 percent of America’s energy.  Expanding its infrastructure could encounter difficulties.  For example, in California, the amount of land needed for a solar farm is vast: 450 times the space needed for a nuclear plant.  Yes, but solar and wind infrastructure is cheap!  Well, no.  The infrastructure (cement, wiring, panels) cost about the same to produce about the same amount of electricity.

Germany swore off nuclear power in favor of renewable energy sources.  Today, Germany derives 38 percent of its energy from renewable sources.  Germany switched to burning more carbon during the transition period away from nuclear in order to prevent a huge slump in energy supply and a huge price spike.  As a result, its carbon emissions haven’t fallen and Germany’s electricity prices are higher than any country in Europe.

If you compare the cost in human lives between nuclear power and carbon-burning, you find that no one died from Three Mile Island, one person died from Fukushima, and sixty people died directly from Chernobyl.[2]  In comparison, experts suggest that seven million people die every year as a result of burning carbon.

So, why not use nuclear energy?  Nuclear already provides about 20 percent of American energy.  Today, Sweden gets 40 percent of its energy from nuclear power.  It is a proven technology, while wind and solar face a bunch of problems.  The initial investment is high—about $7 billion—but the subsequent maintenances costs are very low.  It could be rapidly scaled-up by building reactors in Maine.[3]

Nuclear waste constitutes the main road-block to using nuclear power.  Spent fuel rods from reactors can continue to emit dangerous radiation for tens of thousands of years.   The pre-terrorist solution was to cool the rods in water, then to seal them up in concrete lockers.  The current solution is to bury them underground.  However, NIMBY[4] resistance put a stop to the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada States.  Barack Obama needed Nevada’s electoral votes to wind the presidency, so he promised to stall the ball.  Ultimately, he killed it.

Still, America is a country with a relatively stable energy demand.  What about Still-Industrializing Countries (SICs) like China and India?  Nuclear power appears to offer the only alternative to carbon-burning in these countries.  At the same time, the world’s worst nuclear accident—Chernobyl in the Soviet Union—resulted from an Actually-Existing-Third-World-Country betting on nuclear power.  This is a cheap, scary alternative to the “Green New Deal.”

[1] “Nuclear power and climate change,” The Week, 15 March 2019.

[2] Several thousand emergency personnel died from their heroic efforts to contain the disaster.  The heroism of the then-Soviet first-responders needs to be acknowledged.

[3] Hardly anyone lives there; the prevailing winds would carry any accident-produced waste over the Canadian Maritimes and the North Atlantic.  OK, that’s cold on my part.  What’s your solution?  Eastern Montana?

[4] Not In My Back Yard.

Zion Island 11.

NEU FILME!!

Apparaitre a la “Theatre d’Ete a Madagascar.”

“Die Hunde von der d’Urbervilles.”

Avec Hardy Kruger comme “Vitus Gasthaus” et Mina Loy comme “Frau Murnau.”

Realise par Franz Seitz, Sr.

Scenario de Graf Guy de Marcheret d’Eu.

 

 

Curmudgeon Me.

Il y a etait un fois, America had the best democratic public school system in the world, AND the greatest college and university system in the world.  More Americans went farther in education than did people in any other country.  In percentage terms, America had more and better “human capital” than did any other country in the world.  “We cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q49NOyJ8fNA&t=16s

Then, standardized tests revealed a terrifying decline in American educational attainment.  The generally-accepted, state-mandated, and Federally-funded response took the form of more standardized testing, accountability through assessment, the standardization of delivery models, and the proliferation of rubrics.

Here’s the thing.  When American education led the world, nobody did much standardized testing, nobody did much formal assessment[1], nobody insisted on standardized delivery, and no truly-educated person knew what the word “rubric” meant.  Schools and teachers didn’t do ANY of the things that now are supposed to cure “the prince of our disorders.”  This suggests that the origin of American educational problems lies elsewhere than in the educational system itself.

This applies to the American education reform experience of the last several decades.  Has anyone—other than me—ever been lost in the woods?  The hard-won lessons of millennia in this matter counsel certain behaviors.  First, Stop where you are!  Do not keep going forward!  Do not turn aside to the left hand or to the right to go bush-whacking through the brush!  You will fall over the edge of a cliff, bust your leg, and end up being mauled by some aggrieved Momma-bear.  Second, turn around and head back down the trail that you came up.  Eventually, you will come upon the place where you last knew where you were.  Third, stop in that place, consult your map and compass, and discern where you went wrong.  Fourth, get back on the trail you were supposed to be on before you missed the way-mark because you were looking down at your boots, trying not to trip over roots, when you should have been looking up to notice the white-painted blaze in a tree.

Thus, we need to stop bush-whacking through the educational underbrush.  We need to stop, turn around, and go back to whatever it is we were doing right before the wheels came off.

What was it we used to do when “once we were warrior kings”?  Historians have begun to explore what went wrong since the 1970s.  The early evidence suggests that complex social, economic, and cultural forces combined to wreck the foundations of American educational achievement.  The oil shocks of the 1970s put an end to an already troubled economic boom.  Families stopped valuing education as the pathway to success and stopped supporting the teachers who provided it.  Women’s Liberation took a lot of smart women out of career ghettos in teaching school (and nursing and bank-tellers and secetaries in offices), then replaced them with inferior substitutes.  They stopped buying encyclopedias and stopped subscribing to newspapers and magazines, and stopped taking their children to public libraries.  (Which have now become “social centers” with Ute and yentas grumbling at the top of their lungs.)  Divorces and re-marriages multiplied even though that meant that children had fewer resources and less family-support structures in challenging circumstances.  Trust in any and all institutions (understandably) declined.  (Hard to appreciate where those idiot anti-vaxxers come from otherwise.)  In short, the bourgeois social norms that had raised up individual “achievement” and collective “civilization” (along with its many injustices) went into a death spiral.

It would be un-fair to ask college administrators and faculty leaders at any one college or university to have the testicular fortitude to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  So, I’m doing it.

That’s my straw-man.  Knock it to bits.

[1] Although teachers and professors wrote a good deal of commentary in the margins of blue-books and essays.  Less common now because many people just score a rubric.  Leave the student to figure it out on their own.

Herschel Grynszpan11 February 2019.

This will tell you something: in October 1938 Germany’s Nazi government ordered the expulsion of many Jews of foreign nationality who were then residing in the Reich.  The Jews—especially the Polish Jews—didn’t want to go.  Five years after the Nazis had come to power, and two years after the “fake nice” show of the Berlin Summer Olympics, they didn’t want to go.  Jews had left Poland and Rumania and Hungary for a reason.  From September 1939 on, everywhere in German-controlled Europe would become increasingly, unimaginably worse for Jews.  But not now in October 1938.  There were still places worse than Nazi Germany.  Out they went all the same.  However, the Polish Republic refused to accept the returnees.  So those people sat in the squalid space between the German and Polish border train stations.  The international press reported the suffering of these people.

One attentive reader of the stories lived in Paris.[1]  Like the Moldavian cleaning ladies and Portuguese plasterers with whom my son was supposed to be learning French (instead of pan-handling in the Place Beaubourg the instant my back was turned), Hershel Grynszpan had gained illegal entry into the Republic.  He had come through Holland from Hanover, where he had grown up.[2]  Then he spent some time in the wind.  Grynszpan’s parents and sister were among the deported Jews freezing the in the mud just short of the Polish customs post.

On 7 November, Grynszpan bought a pistol, then went to the German Embassy and shot a young diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, who had been assigned to see him.  Rath died on 9 November 1938.  That night, the Nazi government unleashed a pogrom against the Jews in Germany.  It has come down to later generations as “Kristallnacht” (The Night of Broken Glass).[3]  The gigantic riot shocked Western peoples.  Along with the German occupation of Rump Czechoslovakia in March 1939, it played an important role in persuading French and British opinion that, much as they wanted something else, the Germans needed another beating.

The Nazis made Ernst vom Rath a race-martyr in the eyes of the Germans.  He was hardly that: Rath seems to have been merely a standard-issue late-joining, careerist, upper-class German.  French Jews made Grynszpan a pariah.  Then Grynszpan’s lawyer intimated that the murder resulted from a lovers quarrel between the killer and the killed, with allegations that Rath had suffered from anal gonorrhea.  The French courts quickly convicted Grynszpan, but spared him from the guillotine.  He was in a jail cell when the Germans conquered France in summer 1940.  The Nazis dragged him off to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.  The Nazis were just as big on “show trials” as were the Stalinists.  They just weren’t as good at them.  In the end, Grynszpan disappeared into “night and fog.”  He may have been murdered in late 1942.

In spite of what he hoped and what historians may say, Herschel Grynszpan has no larger significance.  Either the Holocaust was on rails from Hitler’s early career OR the Holocaust sprang from decisions taken in the Winter of 1940-1941. But individuals act all the same.

[1] Stephen Koch, Hitler’s Pawn (2019).

[2] Unfortunately for mythology and film, Grynszpan was a jerk.  He was “a loner, immature, self-absorbed, quick to quarrel, [and] not always given to thinking things through.”

[3] Huge numbers of identifiably “Jewish” sites—stores, offices, synagogues—were destroyed or had their windows broken, the homes and businesses of individual Jews were looted, 30,000 Jews were arrested and shipped off to concentration camps until they were ransomed, and thousands of Jews caught a beating—of whom 91 died.

Just the Facts, Ma’am 2 11 February 2019.

Second, three tax proposals have been offered to raise more revenue from the rich.[1]  Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has suggested raising the tax on incomes above $10 million from the current 37 percent to 60 or 70 percent.  This would return upper-income tax rates to the level that prevailed during the 1970s.  In the regime of the 1970s, many deductions and exemptions existed which do not exist today.  The effective tax rate on high incomes under the Ocasio-Cortez proposal would be much higher than the one of the 1970s.  However, the top rate in the 1970s applied to the contemporary equivalent of $800,000.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed a “wealth tax,” not merely an income tax.[2]  People with a net worth between $50 million and $1 billion would pay 2 percent per year[3]; people worth more than $1 billion would pay 3 percent per year.[4]  According to the calculations underlying Senator Warren’s proposal, this tax would generate $2.75 trillion over ten years.

The Warren proposal may not be constitutional.  The 16th Amendment to the Constitution created a tax on income, not a tax on all assets.  Apparently, the courts have held that taxes on estates and gifts are excise taxes on the transfer of assets, rather than a tax on the assets themselves.  The tax also might be a logistical nightmare to apply.

Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed revising the estate tax.  Until 2009, the tax applied to estates of more than $3.5 million.  A 2017 tax change raised the threshold for individuals to about $11 million and the threshold for couples to about $22 million, with a standard tax rate of 40 percent.  Senator Sanders would return to the 2009 level of $3.5 million.  In addition, he replaces a single tax rate with multiple rates.  From $3.5 million to $10 million, the rate would be 45 percent; on estates of $1 billion or more, the rate would be 77 percent.

[1] Paul Sullivan, “Taxing the Rich Sounds Easy.  But It’s Not,” NYT, 2 February 2019; Sydney Ember, “Sanders Unveils a Plan To Increase Estate Taxes,” NYT, 1 February 2019.

[2] Senator Bernie Sanders also supports the idea of a wealth tax, if not necessarily Senator Warren’s version of such a tax.

[3] Apparently, there are 39,735 people worth between $50 million and $1 billion in the United States today.

[4] Apparently, there are 680 billionaires in the United States today.

Just the facts, Ma’am 1 11 February 2019.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that spending on people aged 65 and older[1] has increased as a share of federal spending from 35 percent (2005) to 40 percent (2018) and is projected to rise to 50 percent (2029).  The federal budget deficit is projected to exceed $1 trillion a year from 2022 to 2029.  Proposals recently offered by Democrats intending to run for President in 2020 or to shape the party’s policy for that race may have an effect on this situation.  None of the proposals claim to aim at deficit reduction.  Instead, they target reducing income inequality and/or financing expanded programs.

First, it is proposed to reform Social Security.[2]  As originally designed, Social Security enhanced private preparation for retirement by adding the resources from a tax on currently working people to individual savings and/or pensions.  Today, however, there appears to be a savings crisis among working people.

There is also a financing crisis for Social Security.  The actuaries at the Social Security Administration report that outlays (payments) will soon exceed income (withholding tax revenues).  Thereafter the payments will be paid from an accumulated surplus held in the form of U.S. treasury bonds.  When that trust fund is exhausted by 2034, benefits will have to be reduced.  Currently, about 63 million people receive Social Security benefits.  The number is expected to rise to 89 million by 2030.  The total current cost is about $1 trillion.  The maximum amount of income subject to Social Security tax is $132,900; the current withholding tax on payrolls is 12.4 percent.

Democrats propose to increase the minimum benefit to help lower-income people who have saved less than have higher income people; increase benefits by an average of about two percent; raise the annual cost-of-living adjustment to payments to respond to the reality that retirees consume goods and services in a different pattern than do still-working people; cut the tax on benefits for middle-income recipients while increasing them on upper-income recipients; and increase the payroll tax rate from the current to 14.8 percent by 2040, and the payroll tax would be imposed on incomes above $400,000 a year, while incomes between $132,900 a year and $400,000 a year would not be subject to taxation.

This proposal would permanently fix the financing problem.  It would also increase benefits paid out to some Social Security recipients.  An estimated three-quarters of the extra income would go to covering the looming deficit; the rest would go to increased benefits for lower-income recipients.

[1] Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.

[2] Robert Pear, “Democrats Push First Major Social Security Expansion Since 1972,” NYT, 4 February 2019.