Weekend Reading

In the mid-nineteenth century, Walter Bagehot wrote that to preserve the monarchy, “We must not let in daylight upon magic.” If you try to see much other than the royal wedding this weekend on BBC World, you’ll be convinced (resigned?) that the Brits do “the magic” maddeningly well.

So, read, I say, and here are a few worthy articles:

Living in a Cycle of Fear and Danger (in Kabul) by Ali M Latifi in Roads and Kingdoms
The Jaguar Is Made for the Age of Humans by Nadia Drake at The Atlantic
What Can Chimpanzee Calls Tell Us About the Origins of Human Language? by Michael Wilson at Smithsonianmag.org
Neoliberalism is a real economic model – here’s how the left can overturn it by Paul Mason at New Statesman
How Democracy Dies by John Gray at New Statesman
Americans are Being Held Hostage and Terrorized by the Fringes by Tim Alberta at Politico

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’m working through The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder and that I think he’s pretty brilliant. Sophie Pinkham doesn’t think so. She has written Zombie History – Timothy Snyder’s bleak vision of the past and present in The Nation.

One last note about a column last week: I think The Fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat in Wednesday’s New York Times is thoughtful. He calls Germany’s economic dominance of Europe the “third German empire,” writing,

“…if the test of Europe’s unity feels like a test for liberal democracy, it’s a mistake to see it only in those terms. It is also a struggle of nations against empire, of the Continent’s smaller countries against German mastery and Northern European interests, in which populist parties are being elected to resist policies the center sought to impose upon the periphery without a vote. And the liberal aspect of the European system wouldn’t be under such strain if the imperial aspect hadn’t been exploited unwisely by leaders in the empire’s German core.”

And finally, if HDR photography entertains you, like these two photos from the Mercado in Addis Ababa, you’ll find 579 more in the HDR Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

Cheers for now.

System Demise, and What Happens Next?

“Democratic capitalism no longer works well enough to keep together a country of 325 million people and to guarantee domestic peace,” the German journalist Holger Stark declared in the news weekly Der Spiegel, trying to explain Donald Trump’s America to his German readers. I think Mr. Stark is right; our way of governance is under deep systemic stress from both sides of the money/power equation.

The disrobing of the financial Emperors began with the financial collapse of 2008. As the elite who run the financial world stood naked amid their misdeeds, we glimpsed how, among many other things, they had packaged and sold bad real estate loans under false pretenses, for profit, with the complicity of the ratings agencies. (Iceland suffered mightily. See deeper coverage in my book Out in the Cold.)

The moment lasted no longer than it took their Maitre d’s to sweep the crumbs from the Emperors’ Michelin-rated dinner tables. The systems of financial governance they support patched things up, bailed them out and dispatched that nasty little business, and fast.

But the markets were left in turmoil. The elite’s solution was austerity, which resulted in rising unemployment. This led to mass protests and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Occupy seized on rising inequality as a rallying device, calling themselves “the 99 percent,” pointing out that the top one percent of income earners, who are less affected by austerity measures, are generally the decision makers who caused the problem in the first place.

I think to watch the nascent Obama administration repair the Emperors’ balance sheets was a revelation for middle America. The former party of the working man, made up of all those out-of-work cadres to whom Donald Trump would later appeal, showed flyover country that whichever flag of political leadership flies over the land, the infestation of money has rotted the system clear through.

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It’s ALWAYS About the Money

In a Maslow’s hierarchy, the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf ranks capitalism as more fundamental than democracy. He writes, “Democracy cannot function without a market economy.”

“In today’s world, it is not capitalism that is in imminent danger, but rather democracy. A predatory form of post-democratic capitalism, not the end of capitalism, is the threat.” By this Mr. Wolf means we should fear authoritarianism.

Mr. Wolf works for a newspaper whose focus is money, so it is not surprising that he might overlook flaws in the workings of the money part of the money/power question. But there are glaring flaws, and they give rise to alienation.

An alienated center’s loss of faith in institutions invites the rise of the fringes, the peripheral haters and dividers that always rise at times when the disillusioned are too crestfallen to keep up their guard. Opportunist would-be leaders are always ready to exploit such an electoral mood, and this is what we call the rise of populism, an affliction from which we currently suffer.

••••

The post-post-Cold War world is well and truly in flux. Conflicting signals are everywhere. Vladimir Putin’s unapologetic Russian nationalism has brought along bits of east Europe, notably Victor Orban’s Hungary and a grudge-wielding conspiracy theorist whose destructive policies seem driven by personal vendetta, the power behind the throne in Poland, PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński.

Brexit deflated proponents of the European project. Donald Trump has NATO rightly alarmed. Mr. Putin’s loans to Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale seek and may attain influence over a Europe teetering on terminal division.

We all see the challenges facing the German chancellor, who looks more tired by the day, after her fateful acceptance of 1.1 million refugees (or was that 890,000?) in the summer of 2015. A narrative is emerging that she “represents what many voters consider the failings of the past.” Her painful audience with the U.S. president could scarcely have bucked her up before the September electoral challenge from the SDP head Martin Schulz, who has the clear and canny benefit of having been away in Brussels and untainted by the immigration wars.

Still, for every Orban in Hungary there is an Austria, where 73-year old Alexander Van der Bellen ultimately won the presidency last December with 53.8 percent over Norbert Hofer, heir to Jörg Haider’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigration Freedom Party. In Bulgaria the center-right has held, with the pro-E.U.-integration (and corruption-plagued) Boyko Borissov likely to retain his premiership after elections at the end of March. Then too there is the Dutch rejection of the nasty, isolated Geert Wilders. It appears the power side of the money/power question could go either way.

••••

An epic, scene-setting battle is being fought right now, before our eyes, and it is historic. After the 25 year lull we called the “post-Cold War,” this is the world-defining struggle for what comes next. It is history on fast-forward. For now, it is hard to see the emerging landscape for the early spring fog. The 7 May runoff in France and September elections in Germany will help to illuminate the path forward.

The potentially good news on this side of the Atlantic is that Donald Trump’s act wears thin as fast a Wal-Mart t-shirt. We have fast come to know him as a slight-of-hand president, a purveyor of diversion, and there is every chance that his dissipation of the common trust will in time bring the country to a crisis that will not end well. In the context of the times we live in, if there could be a worse time for my country to have installed an ignorant, self-involved unsteady hand on the presidential tiller, I can not think of when it would be.

His rank dissimulation may – just may – prevent our president from being trusted long enough to cause physical harm. How we get from here to there is plenty fraught. But surviving the Trump threat won’t be the end of our woes, for they are systemic. We will still be left to repair our system’s corrupted relationship between money and government. A subject for future consideration.

 

Note: Less than an hour after publication of this post the U.S. Senate did its part in the institutional disassembly process by changing its rules so that sixty votes are no longer needed to confirm a Supreme Court Justice.

This article also appears on Medium.

Friday Photo #28 from Addis Ababa

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Here is my favorite photo from an eye-opening day in the Mercado in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They call the Mercado the world’s greatest open air market and I am sure they are right. Click the photo to enlarge it. There are a few more photos from that day in the Ethiopia Gallery at EarthPhotos.com. Post production on this photo in Photoshop used High Dynamic Range and other techniques, and you can see a few hundred more HDR photos in the EarthPhotos HDR Gallery. And see all the Friday Photos.

Just a note: Next Friday we begin a week around Saimaa Lake in Finland – nearest town, Varkaus. Photos are sure to follow.

Friday Photo #24, Ethiopia

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This is an overflow crowd worshipping in the courtyard of St. Mary’s Church on Mt. Entoto near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Click the photo to enlarge. See also the Ethiopia Gallery and 576 other HDR Photos at EarthPhotos.com, and see all the Friday Photos.

Friday Photo(s) #12: The Streets of Addis Ababa

Three HDR photos from in and around the Mercado, which Ethiopians say is the world’s largest outdoor market, in the capital of Addis Ababa. Click them to enlarge. More from Ethiopia here and more HDR here, on EarthPhotos.com. Happy Friday!

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And see all the Friday photos.

Wednesday HDRs – Animals

Sometimes HDR processing works and sometimes it doesn’t seem right for the subject matter. Animals, I’ve found, are hit or miss. Here are eight that made the grade, starting with one of the tree climbing lions in Ishasha, Uganda. That photo was published in Afar Magazine. The grasshopper lives in South Africa, the parrots in Antigua, Guatemala, the silverback mountain gorilla in Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda, the ram with a view in the Taronga Zoo, Sydney, the hippo family along the Kazinga Channel in Uganda, the beasts of burden at the Mercado in Addia Ababa, Ethiopia, the horses in rural Finland, and the colobus monkey was just hanging out in a tree by the road in rural Uganda. All the photos link to larger versions in the HDR Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

As in most cases, all of these were tonemapped in Photomatix and finished in various versions of Photoshop with various iterations of Nik software.

One other thing: EarthPhotos.com is looking a little strange as we continue to wrestle it into a fresher new format that will compliment CS&W. Thanks for bearing with us.

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