Author Archives: larsschaff

When will we become sane, to the nucleus?

The New York Times had a rare article today on the benefits of nuclear power. A readers comment:

Evolution equipped humans with a brain capable of almost unbelievable achievements, but it didn’t at the same time liberate the species from a penchant for delusions and irrational feelings. That gives us the nuclear dilemma.

Energy from burning carbonic fuels demands millions of lives every year, yet we are easily obsessed by on average a few deaths per year from nuclear power. Burning carbonic fuels bears an obvious risk of extinction for the entire human species within a century, yet we are easily obsessed by an imaginary risk of nuclear waste a hundred thousand years from now.

This is superstition on a breathtaking scale, putting into question if the human species is worthy of the marvelous brain it has been endowed with. And where are the enlightened and responsible forces to guide the deluded public? They are certainly not in media, who generally are among the worst in propping up fear of nuclear power (today’s article is a rare exception). And they are not among politicians, who mostly follow the easy way of succumbing to voter’s superstition, so far as they aren’t deluded themselves, which is the normal case.

What this article will come to show (and many of the comments illustrate) is that information will not suffice to dissolve the delusions. Intelligence and enlightened reason are handicapped when trying to influence the lizard brain that decides so much of our imaginations and actions.

Where will it end? We may have to ask the real lizards on how to survive.

The world is waiting for the Democrats to become political

In today’s New York Times Paul Krugman (a really sensible voice, otherwise) for the nth time is convincing the already convinced that the Republican party is repulsive (which one must agree with). But there is something important missing.
A readers comment to NYT:

If the tactics used by liberal media are intended to promote the Democratic party in any way, it’s really puzzling. It’s main components seem to be the daily bashing of Trump, GOP and Russia.

If I were a Trump voter constantly called stupid, it wouldn’t make me run to the Democrats. And if Russian meddling was a real threat (it isn’t, listen to Noam Chomsky and many other sober people) I would certainly stick to GOP, where there are even more foreign policy hawks.

One thing clearly missing is positive marketing of a political program. What will the Democratic party do to win over Trump voters and the rest of the middle class, suffering from 30+ years of neoliberal destruction? And even encourage half of the electorate that doesn’t vote?

If I, as a foreigner, would give some impertinent advise it would be to focus on politics. There is a new wave of progressives emerging, some labeling themselves socialists (like the natural talent Alexandria Ocasio Cortez). In Europe they would barely qualify as social democrats, and their political programs are embraced here by most conservative parties.

The progressives offer real solutions to the problems people are struggling with, but the Democratic party establishment is hooked up to the donor class in a system built by legalized corruption. It’s not tenable in the long run.

An advice from a social democratic country: reconnect to the politics of FDR, your best president ever. Become more European!

A meltdown at US Open – for once the good guy wins!

In all attempts to justify Serena Williams’ behavior in the US Open final against Naomi Osaka some basic aspects have been overlooked.

I’ll make the only assumption that Williams didn’t suffer temporary insanity, but was fully aware of her actions and, after two decades in the business, knowledgeable about tennis rules. In that case the events were not so very pretty.

Williams did hear the first warning, the one after coaching. She contested it, but realized that the umpire didn’t retract it, something she also after twenty years knows that umpires never do.

Then when Williams’ serve was broken to 3-2 in the second set she smashed her racket, perhaps done impulsively in the heat of the moment. But that’s when the acting started. After getting the compulsory point penalty she approached the umpire saying “that’s a warning, ehh” pretending that the warning for coaching didn’t exist, which she fully well knew it did. She used her pretended unawareness as an excuse to start her raving attacks on the umpire, a despicable acting in an awkward show.

When she was broken back she realized that she wasn’t going to defeat this superior opponent. Setbacks like that is nothing Williams is very used to, and she is known to handle them not too well in the past. So, she made it into a prolonged tantrum, which required good acting skills.

The crowd (unlike the TV viewers) obviously didn’t know exactly what was said, but they saw her arguing fiercely, and started to brawl in her support. This is when Williams began playing the audience like a violin. Since it was her second warning she was docked a point, and the next game was to start at the ad court. But she demonstratively went to the deuce court, then slowly moved to the other side, head hanging, playing the victim card and inciting the crowd to more booing.

An ugly suspicion is that Williams speculated about Osaka to break down under the pressure from the lynch mob that the crowd had turned into. But if so, she was immediately refuted. The calm Osaka held her serve and then broke Williams easily to 4-3. Time for side change and for the final act in Williams’ hysterical drama. Her acting, with outbursts of senseless attacks on the umpire restarted on an even higher level.

Let’s still suppose that Williams knew what she was doing. That includes knowing that the next warning would mean a game penalty. But she also knew that the championship was lost; Osaka hadn’t crumbled. Thus, she had no reason to restrain herself, it was time for the great Serena finale. She screamed at the umpire, pointed a finger to his face, called him a liar and a thief. She practically begged for a warning and when she consequently got her game penalty the show could finally end in a firework of hysteria (forceful acting but somewhat overplayed).

When Williams failed to have the crowd intimidate Osaka, there was only one logic left for her behavior: to create a situation in which her loss could be blamed on an umpire, stealing the victory from her, thus exempt her from her own responsibility for playing badly. It was despicable, and it was not over.

Waiting for the prize ceremony, Osaka sat in her chair with a face expressing deep sorrow, looking down on her hands in her lap. The camera caught a second-long glimpse of Williams when she looked over at Osaka with a fox-like smile which seemed to say: I stole the joy of victory from you, anyway.

And the booing continued into the prize ceremony. There a female official said that this was not the result we wanted, thus in effect criticizing Williams for not living up to her expectations and, even worse, denigrating Osaka’s victory. The official also happened to overlook the millions of viewers around the world who loved the fact that Williams’ unsportsmanlike attempts to destroy her opponent had failed.

Williams and the crowd were a disgrace this evening, seriously damaging the reputation of US sports. YouTubers commented on this spectacle in masses, overwhelmingly with condemnations for Williams behavior. What moved our hearts was Osaka’s tears when standing on the podium while thousands of heartless haters booed at the top of their lungs; and when she begged forgiveness for ruining the night for the audience. “Thank you for watching the match” she whispered humbly, and our tears ran.

We thought: what has happened to you Americans? Are you taking your belligerent culture to the sports arenas as well? We know that your love for USA sometimes takes chauvinistic proportions (the Olympics in Atlanta was probably the most extreme Olympics in history, in that sense). But we also know that the most brilliant minds working for solidarity and peace are Americans. Those are our great hope for the future of the world.

The first reaction from mainstream media and PC feminists was to defend Williams as “fighting for women’s rights”. How preposterous! They took for granted that one of the most respected tennis umpires in the world had done sexist umpiring! And they didn’t give a damn about Osaka’s women’s rights which Williams bluntly disrespected (Naomi in fact being more of a woman than Serena). When the hurricane against Williams online and elsewhere became apparent, the tone shifted eventually.

Perhaps my initial assumption was wrong. Maybe Williams suffers pathological narcissistic personality disorder. Then her dramatic performance was that of a sick person, which gives her impunity. Then again, she has more than enough resources to get the best treatment in the world.

In any case, a wise career move for Serena Williams would be to retire from the tennis scene – definitely.

Trump bashing intended to blur explanations

Paul Krugman had another piece on Trump in NYT yesterday. It’s becoming comical this meticulous autopsy on every possible eccentricity from the conman, mostly without any attempts at analysis. To really deal with a problem you have to look for causes. But the “liberal” establishment is just interested in blurring explanations, probably since they know they wouldn’t like the answers. Here’s a readers comment to NYT:  

The root of the problem is the same here in Europe, albeit the effects are not as pronounced. It’s called neoliberalism.

For all intents and purposes our countries are run by the corporate class, promoting the interests of the rich, at the expense of ordinary people. Politicians regardless of party (with some exceptions) have been mere tools in the process.

In elections 2016 US voters finally revolted. The more enlightened turned to Sanders, others to Trump, and the usual third group showed their apathy by not voting at all. Together these groups constitute an overwhelming majority of the electorate.

But then it turned out that Trump was completely treasonous to his voters, turning even more power over to the corporate class.

From outside it seems futile to engage so furiously in Trump’s eccentricities, without addressing the roots of the problem, which are people’s legitimate grievances. Capitalism has come to a point where it’s stretched to its limits (Spätkapitalismus) leaving two alternatives. One leads down the Weimar abyss, the other to real democracy.

It seems as if the best way to disempower Trump would be to approach the large majority and work for real democracy, something we in Europe also are in need of.

Peace in Korea doesn’t serve US interests

“Kim threatens to abandon talks with Trump.” That’s the message my newspaper wants me to focus on. I’m supposed to get the impression that Kim Jong-un is a whimsical, unpredictable dictator impossible to negotiate with. North Korea’s real reason is mentioned only in passing, and as if it was just a prevarication.

I watched TV with some friends the day the presidents of North and South Korea embraced and walked across the border back and forth. My first reaction was: “US will not allow that to go any further”. I didn’t have to wait many days to have that prediction come true.

The means by which US showed its intention was to launch a military maneuver in the South, in the middle of a sensitive peace process, fully aware of what reaction to expect from North Korea. That was a demonstration of arrogant condescension beyond decency, but an action our “civilized media” hardly observed.

There is no possible interpretation of this brazen action other than that the United States don’t want peace in Korea. Short of unconditional surrender, regime change and North Korea joining the other US puppet states, there will be no peace. That’s a low-odds estimate.

Peace in Korea could threaten one of US’s important strong-holds in a region where the Chinese competition becomes increasingly critical. And the US military-industrial complex will have nothing to gain from peace, either.

A no-brainer guess is that US will keep the Israeli-like, perpetual and low-intensive conflict alive in Korea. That will best serve the interests of the global hegemon. Peace-loving people may perhaps have to wait for the 90 percent of world’s population that don’t live in US or EU to put an end to war-mongering (and join China in peacefully “conquering” the world with aid, investment and trade).

What about whataboutism? It’s not a simple club to hit others with.

It has become equally popular to use whataboutism in defense of one’s own errors as to attack those who do. But the concept is not one-dimensional; it’s use can be motivated under some circumstances.

The moral implications of the crimes my country commits are not affected in any way by whatever crimes other countries are guilty of. Thus “what about the crimes of others” has no moral legitimacy. The other way around though, the question becomes more interesting.

Chomsky has taught us the basic principle of moral universalism, found in all religions and cultures. It’s so fundamental that it must have its roots deep in our genes. It simply says that we must apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others. Those who don’t do so “plainly cannot be taken seriously when they speak of appropriateness of response; or of right and wrong, good and evil.”

So when our media and politicians excel in condemnations of other governments, the question “what about our own crimes” is not just legitimate, its compulsory for everybody who wants to have “a moral leg to stand on”. Clearly, a government who has ordered (and ignored) the killing of thousands cannot condemn some other government for murdering a dozen. It must first rectify its own misdeeds.

That’s not to say that atrocities can’t be discussed and even compared. Some murderous regimes are certainly worse than others. Mechanism that foster militarism is definitely important to discuss, regardless of whom it concerns. And there are naturally many other aspects of violence in the world that should be penetrated and analyzed.

But one thing is self-evidently impossible: I cannot morally condemn others for the same crime a committed myself.

False information in serious media is poisonous

Western propaganda about the despicable Communist hordes during the first Cold War was a no-brainer. There was no Internet; the Russian language was understood by no one but a few pundits, who used their skills to pick detached sentences from Russian media out of context to create the correct misimpression. The demonization went on as if Stalin never died.

Today it’s hard to even fathom such a propaganda-friendly environment. Technology has change the world radically. Now the Internet is a potent tool for enlightened, intelligent progressives to reach out to interested listeners and viewers globally. Measured against all the fact-based and rational information online, much of mainstream media products appear as propagandist demagoguery.

It’s hardly surprising that our self-sufficient media have painted a picture in which “fake news” and “disinformation” are characteristic of the Internet. They find the claim easy to “prove” by citing some knuckleheads or conspiracy theorists, of which there certainly are a few. (Spam is everywhere but is easily disclosed even by young teenagers.)

But the real purpose of defaming Internet is the threat from innumerable, informative sites, often free of charge at that. Already the media carriers – printed paper and fixed TV schedules – are rapidly becoming outdated. The young generation stick to their laptops for most of their communication and media consumption. What already has started to happen is that corporations move their advertising from the old to the new media, which will increase the pressure on newspapers and old-time television.

It could seem as if traditional media have the upper hand in the combat against dissident truths. People tend to believe the same old faces, backed by huge recourses with which to produce impressive presentations – on the surface. And some people certainly are sincere conservatives, though often against their own real interests.

But when corporate media slowly is pressured into the Internet world the level field may perhaps be leveled for the dissident sources. Propaganda lies don’t live forever and truths can’t be suppressed forever. Progressives just have to keep on working and never give up. Enlightenment, knowledge and truths will prevail, though it may take some time.

It took the Catholic Church 400 years to accept Galilei’s description of the solar system. Our corporate, conservative careerists are not that persevering. We just have to keep on grinding to separate the truths from the lies.

Human Rights is for others to abide by

Volvo Cars is about to start a new factory in Charleston, South Carolina, employing around 4,000 people who will produce the new S 60 model. The Swedish union tradition is set out to meet the South Carolina union busting tradition. Let’s see how that turns out.

Nikki Hailey, now famous for saying peculiar things as US representative in the UN Security Assembly, is a former governor of South Carolina. In that position she maintained that her state would welcome more manufacturing jobs, but no unions.

– We dissuade all corporations with unionized employees to come to South Carolina, Haley said to USA Today.

There is nothing decided on the matter yet. According to Dagens Nyheter there are discussions going on with United Auto Workers. The factory will be inaugurated next month so the outcome is probably to be expected in a near future.

The corresponding Swedish union, which has very good relations with Volvo Cars, has urged the company not to take part in any union busting operations.

Maybe the most serious allegation that United States and other countries in the (so called) free world direct against China is that it has no respect for human rights. But there is more to human rights than just freedom of speech, for instance Article 23, mom. 4 in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

Gore Vidal once said that England invented hypocrisy. Since then the western world seem to have perfected the grisly concept.


Kim playing chess with Trump

How far from simple common sense have we come when we hear from our media about the possibility that the Peace prize could be given to Trump. The peculiar rationale would be that Trump has put pressure on Kim Jong-Un to make him compliant enough to cancel his nuclear weapons program.

Are we blind or is it just that Asians on average have a few points higher IQ than we? The whole scenario is of course a strategic triumph for the North Koreans. They have an enemy that never have hidden their wish to defeat or even obliterate them. This enemy is the strongest military power in history, performing regular maneuvers in which nuclear attacks on North Korea are simulated.

Despite its strength, this overwhelming power prefers to attack defenseless countries, for every possible aim (except legal once). The militaristic nation in question has declared North Korea one of its prime enemies. What would a North Korean leader with his head screwed on do in that situation?

He would to begin with see to it that his country gained enough military strength (to avoid the fate of Iraq and all the other victims of the merciless aggressor). A nuclear weapons program is the ultimate deterrence. Any aggressor is forced to think twice before doing anything stupid.

When the nuclear weapons are functional, and the defender has shown to the world that they have missiles to carry the warheads all the way to their most threatening adversary, there is a position of strength from which to negotiate. And so did North Korea.

One possible outcome of such negotiations could be that United States takes its military forces out of South Korea, an important prerequisite for a peace treaty. Without nuclear weapons as a trump card (sorry!) in the talks an outcome like that would certainly be unthinkable.

This seemingly self-evident scenario is obviously too difficult for western media to grasp. Or more likely perhaps: they don’t want to grasp it. It’s important to stick to the dramaturgy of children’s fairy-tales: the evil one is always evil and cannot do anything benign. The good ones are us.


Liberals attack populists – after creating them

There is a war going on against liberalism, asserts my newspaper today, reviewing a book (The Shipwrecked mind) by a US historian (Mark Lilla). The attackers are the “neo-reactionary” right-wing populists, including Putin and radical Islamists, who all “have a contempt for liberal values”.

There’s just one hitch: liberalism is in itself to a large extent responsible for propagating the right-wing populist movements.

Today’s liberalism is perplexed and ostensibly unable to understand what happens. Its pundits mostly confuse surface with content, thus wasting energy and media space on futile “analysis”. (But it would be somewhat premature to conclude that their pseudo analysis is purely unintentional.)

The Trump phenomenon sparked the latent interest in right wing populism and extremism in liberal media., whose prime tactics has been to condemn the leaders and supporters of these movements (which has had the anticipated effect of instead strengthening them).

Well-intentioned liberal writers and thinkers try to teach the uncultured the importance of accepting immigrants, gays, feminists, colored people and other deviant individuals. They also devote their didactic skills to avert online abuse in the form of hate comments, fake news and deceptive information from “enemies”.

All this will lead nowhere, and I presume intelligent liberals are aware of that, and the reasons are obvious. Right wing extremism doesn’t come from nowhere, it has real roots in the real world. Apart from the fact that humans have some innate tendencies to xenophobia and racism, it normally requires real grievances for people to abandon what they know is good behavior. Those grievances are today created by neoliberalism.

There is consequently a need for abolishing dysfunctional manifestations of the capitalist societies, and that is something liberals won’t do. Their very function in our societies is to defend and protect the established order and its masters. They are assigned to herding in the more mild-mannered citizens, while real conservatives take care of the more hard-core (and religious) part of the population.

The 1970s can in many ways be regarded as the peak of western capitalism. Economic growth had been record high since the war, and the growth was distributed quite equally between labor and capital. Ordinary workers in North America and (northern) Europe could live comfortable lives, their organizations were usually strong and there was a sense of parity in the social fabric.

Temporarily baffled by the popular and democratic break-through these years, the owners of the world eventually realized that they had the economic power, that overrides other forms of power, and launched a counterattack on all fronts: think tanks, media, politicians etc. Soon the right-wing tide drenched all resistance. Liberals (and even Social Democrats) betrayed their constituencies and removed obstacles to unfettered capitalism by means of deregulation, privatization, cutting of social spending and much more.

Neoliberalism put its gloomy hand over the lives of ordinary people, while those who didn’t need more money got perversely rich. That’s in one sentence the basic motivation behind right-wing populism. Liberals denied people the means to oppose this detrimental development by refusing to respond to the grievances in any other way than to enhance them. The only answers people got were from crackpots who told them to blame immigrants, minorities, gays, liberals, anti-Americans and all the rest.

Why the liberals chose this way is no mystery. They serve their masters by sheer instinct, and that decides their highest priority: oppose everything “left” that breeds from the moral insight that we should care for each other through solidarity, welfare and preservation of the common good at large.

We have been through this before, most notably in Weimar Germany in the 1930s. The liberals of that time helped the Nazis to power with the expectation that Hitler would take care of the communists. We know how it ended. Our liberals are again playing with fire, and for the moment we don’t know how it will end.