Sunday, July 24, 2016

Watergate 2016

The underreported part of the DNC email scandal is that it occurred, apparently, because Russian operatives hacked the DNCs. Clinton campaign chair Robby Mook said that "...experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these e-mails and other experts are now saying that Russians are releasing these e-mails for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.”

In this election cycle, the Democrats and Republicans were each beset by someone from outside the party who wanted to be president. Bernie Sanders, a long time independent senator, and Donald Trump, an unaligned nut job, joined the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, the year they entered the primaries.

The Republicans, despite knowing how dangerous Trump is, allowed him to become the candidate. Leading Democrats apparently discussed over email how to keep Sanders from winning the candidacy (even though he was always a long shot). Of course they did. And so they should have.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Where have all the anti-globalization activists gone?

Over the last decade or so, every time there's a WTO meeting or G8 summit, a lot of protesters show up to bring attention to some very real concerns about free trade agreements. Most recently there have been a number of protests against the TPP.

Globalization has made the world richer, but the way it has been implemented has given much more power and wealth to corporations, and diminished the ability of nations to regulate activities within their borders. At this very moment, for example, a Canadian pipeline company is suing the US government for $15B for not approving a very unpopular pipeline proposal - and it's suing based on the rules of NAFTA.

So now Britain has voted to leave the EU. Polls showed that "the top issue among those voting to go was Britain's right to act independently" (link).

The deficiencies of the EU are widely recognized. As Paul Krugman wrote recently:
The E.U. is deeply dysfunctional and shows few signs of reforming.

...Today’s E.U. is the land of the euro, a major mistake compounded by Germany’s insistence on turning the crisis the single currency wrought into a morality play of sins (by other people, of course) that must be paid for with crippling budget cuts. Britain had the good sense to keep its pound, but it’s not insulated from other problems of European overreach, notably the establishment of free migration without a shared government.

...The most frustrating thing about the E.U.: Nobody ever seems to acknowledge or learn from mistakes. If there’s any soul-searching in Brussels or Berlin about Europe’s terrible economic performance since 2008, it’s very hard to find. And I feel some sympathy with Britons who just don’t want to be tied to a system that offers so little accountability, even if leaving is economically costly. (link)
Soon after England and Wales voted to leave the EU, Larry Elliott, Economics Editor at the Guardian, wrote an article in the Guardian titled "Brexit is a Rejection of Globalisation" (link). He talks about the free trade movements of the last 30 years resulting in "a much diminished role for nation states". Elliott argues that the EU failed:
Jobs, living standards and welfare states were all better protected in the heyday of nation states... than they have been in the age of globalisation. Unemployment across the eurozone is more than 10%. Italy’s economy is barely any bigger now than it was when the euro was created. Greece’s economy has shrunk by almost a third. Austerity has eroded welfare provision. Labour market protections have been stripped away.

...Torsten Bell, the director of the Resolution Foundation thinktank, analysed the voting patterns in the referendum and found that those parts of Britain with the strongest support for Brexit were those that had been poor for a long time. The result was affected by “deeply entrenched national geographical inequality”, he said.

There has been much lazy thinking in the past quarter of a century about globalisation. As Bell notes, it is time to rethink the assumption that a “flexible globalised economy can generate prosperity that is widely shared”.
So do you see my problem? Brexit is such an enormous boon for anti-globalization that it is being heralded as a reversal of the entire globalization trend. Why aren't the anti-globalization organizations marching in the streets?

I can answer that question, but it saddens me. Over the last week, "conventional wisdom" has decided that everyone who supports Brexit is racist. I have been practically spat on because of the sentiments I expressed in my last post (link), that "my head said Remain but my heart said Leave". One supposed old friend wrote:
60+ year old citizens of the UK who voted to leave (and they are the majority of wanna-be leavers) are delusional. They want to restore that tiny little island to its imperial greatness, or at least to its completely diminished splendour during WWII. They want an England with white rulers and black slaves.And of course the slaves are all rapists, and none of the white rulers is. Foreigners are all murderers and rapists. So the tiny little island may be able to pull in tourists to see its nearly dead monarch until she dies. Then the itiny little island dies. And this is where your heart is? I pity your heart. Unbelievable.
with a followup email the next day:
Fuck your heart Dwarf.
Every day recently, there are articles about thousands of people protesting Brexit; none about people supporting it. I just googled "Brexit" and the first hundred articles were overwhelmingly negative, largely based on the personalities of its spokespeople. The stock market in Britain is soaring (the FTSE 100 is at a 5-year high), but even that is being spun as negative with repeated claims that panicked Britishers are buying up everything in sight - which is a totally ridiculous argument.

Not many people, apparently, have the courage to take on the anti-Brexit crowd.

Even while arguing against Brexit, people could be starting a discussion of the ways the EU needs to improve. Instead, we have vitriolic articles about one person who said he regretted his vote to leave, that is magically turned into a claim that most leave-voters regret their decision; claims that an uptick in google searches for "European Union" in England means that those who voted Leave somehow didn't know what the EU is; and on and on.

I am confident that the economic shock of Brexit will soon subside. I am not so sure that the world community will ever regain its sanity about what just happened, and why.

Oh, and for those clinging to the notion that Brexit was purely motivated by ignorance and racism, read this article written by Larry Elliott a month before the vote, in which he argues for Leave: Brexit May Be the Best Answer to a Dying Eurozone.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Another View on Brexit

I wasn't eligible to vote on Britain's exit from the European Union, and I'm not sure how I would have voted. My head said Remain but my heart said Leave - and I find myself quite pleased that England and Wales found the strength to free themselves from the EU.

During the campaign, every article I read made the assumption that the Leave camp were all skin heads, xenophobes, illiterate farmers, or doddering old fools. ("Doddering old fool" was defined as anyone over 54.) They said that people who supported Brexit were doing it out of fear and loathing. The only rational reason for Leave that I saw was that Brexit would lower the value of the pound, thus boosting British manufacturing and blue collar jobs.

In fact, there are lots of good reasons for England and Wales to leave the EU. The EU is a mess. Eight years on, Europe hasn't recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. The central bank situation leaves Europe unable to fix its economy. (How did they think they could share a currency but not have a strong central bank?) European countries are having to resort to negative interest rates as unemployment soars.

I'm not even scratching the surface of the problems with the EU. The upshot is that this incompetent organization dictates a huge array of things that should be up to the people: Britain is unable to regulate everything from the size of trucks to how foods are packaged to, yes, immigration. Trade has superseded democracy.

Since the Brexit vote, everyone's going on about market turbulence as if markets have fallen into the sinkhole of hell. In fact, markets have been turbulent since January, mostly because of fears that China won't grow as fast as it used to. Market turbulence is a serious problem but is nothing new. In general, the market goes down and then it goes up again.

I'm not ordinarily a fan of direct democracy. Voters in my town were conned by anti-vaxxer types into voting to take fluoride out of our water. Californians have damaged their public schools by their crazy and conflicting propositions, resulting in some schools being forced to offer after-school dance classes while cutting core subjects.

But this is different. Free trade agreements and common markets restrict our democratic rights. We, the people, should have a say in that. David Cameron called this vote for all the wrong reasons, but still, history will show that he did an important and progressive thing in allowing Britons to decide to Brexit.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

LRT in Waterloo Park

This used to be a line of mature trees alongside a pretty railway line. Now there is a hideous raised rail bed of gravel, structures every 50 feet that look like power pylons, and a long impassable chain link fence dividing our once-lovely park in two. Why oh why have our elected officials allowed this to happen?

It didn't have to be like that. LRTs don't have to be godawful ugly eyesores.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The pros and cons of getting drunk at the theater

Ten years ago I wrote a post about a performance of Ibsen's Ghosts at Stratford (link). The production was powerful, tragic and grim - but the seemingly-drunken audience tittered and laughed all the way through it.

Last week I had the opposite experience - a production of As You Like It that was so amped up on audience participation - being on stage during Pee-Wee's Playhouse would have been more sedate - that I suspected the only way to enjoy it was to be drunk.

At least, looking around at the third-full Festival Theater at the mostly blank faces of people being yelled at to wave pine boughs, hold up stars, proffer carrots, hold out lights, clap and sing, and even get on stage to dance - it seemed that the only person truly enjoying himself was the man seated directly behind me, who had obviously imbibed heartily from the theater bar.

(The production, when it was allowed to continue, was quite good. Petrina Bromley played Rosalind - and Petrina Bromley is a great, great talent. This is her first year at Stratford and if we're lucky she'll stick around for a long time. She brought a whimsical incandescence to Rosalind that I haven't seen since Maggie Smith was at Stratford in the 70s. Bromley is a naturalistic actor but has all the gravitas of a great Shakespearian. From now on, if she's in something, I'm going.)

For a couple of years now, Stratford has been aiming to involve the audience more in the play, and to make the play a more immersive experience. Actors talk to the audience before the play, people sit on the stage, actors talk directly to the audience at times during the play, and so on. This year's As You Like It takes this idea to an absurd degree and it distracted from the play... but I like the sentiment behind blurring the separation between fluffy musicals and Shakespeare. I like the idea of making the play a raucous experience, as it might have been in Shakespeare's day. I thought the setting really worked (Newfoundland in the 70s). It's just that I drive 30 minutes to get to Stratford so I can't get drunk enough to enjoy waving a pine bough over my head every 10 minutes.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Rape of Brunnhilde

I came to Houston this weekend to see a new production of the opera Siegfried by the Houston Grand Opera. It was stunning – breathtaking – especially the final act, when Brunnhilde (Christine Goerke) is awakened by Siegfried (Jay Hunter Morris).

I have written before about my fascination with Wagner’s fascination with the subjugation of women (Musings on Love and Freedom in the Ring Cycle; Hail, Isolde). It comes up again and again in the Ring Cycle and Tristan und Isolde: women are forced to marry men against their will, resulting in the repeated rape and slavery of the woman.

I don’t see any social commentary in this – these are tales of Norse gods and Celtic healer-princesses, not radio talk show hosts – and I don’t see anything of interest on the more general topic of free will. This obsession with female subjugation is more in line with Wagner’s [lesser] interest in incest (twins; an aunt and her nephew). It seems to be emerging from some moral ambiguity in Wagner’s psyche, and as I’ve written before, it feels like an itch he has to keep scratching.

In the production I saw tonight, Goerke’s voice was so inhumanly glorious that I lost myself in it for a while: I entered a state of concentration where I absorbed everything and can remember it perfectly, but at the time I had no conscious thought. When I emerged, I had the clearest sense that this was a woman who was desperately trying to stop a man from having sex with her. (And her last line in the opera, as she succumbs to Siegfried's sexual advances, is, “Laughter in death!”)

I don’t want to do some analysis based on rereading the libretto; what I’m writing about is an emotional reaction.

In bad productions of Siegfried, the final act can drag terribly. There must be 45 minutes of Brunnhilde waking up and meeting Siegfried. In most productions I’ve seen, Brunnhilde is coquettish, or needs some time to make up her mind. In this production, she is fighting him off. But I’d like to see a production that dealt with the matter even more blatantly: Wotan has magically forced her to become the slave of any man who can break through the fire that surrounds her. She fights against that, appealing to Siegfried to not force her. When he refuses, she must succumb. This should be a brutal scene: he should manhandle her; he should, against her will, remove enough of her clothing to be disturbing; she should become humiliated; and her final acceptance should be Stepford-wifish, or something along those lines.

That would make Gotterdammerung make more sense. Brunnhilde cheated in her subjugation: she knew that her nephew Siegfried would be the one to find her, and welcomed it. So when she succumbed to loving Siegfried, Siegfried quickly set off on a new quest, leaving her alone, and later was tricked into transferring the subjugation to another man who she truly loathed.

I don’t particularly like Wagner’s repeated plot lines of female subjugation, but I’d like to see a production that handles it head-on - that does it justice.

Correction: This is not a new production. It was first performed in 2007-2008 for the Palau de les Arts Reina SofĂ­a in Valencia, Spain.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Viva les Piratas Canadienses!

My friend Kate is currently in a 500 km boat race called the Ngalawa Cup in the Indian Ocean - sailing a dugout canoe with outriggers and a single sail. (Ngalawa is the Swahili word for outrigger, and this is a traditional Tanzanian fishing vessel, although in my memory they were smaller, fitting only one person, and had a simpler outrigger. They were frequently partly or completely submerged, with the fisherman standing to his ankles in water.)

I would be in awe even if Kate weren't in her mid-50s. She's a fantastic sailor and has all sorts of training in knots, navigating, weather, etc, but this still seems impossible to me.

There are ten teams, and three people on her team, the Piratas Canadienses. Here are some links to info and updates:

Video of the last Ngalawa Cup
Pre-launch news updates
Kate's Facebook
Adventurist's Facebook
Updates by team

Update: I forgot to add - Kate's team is asking people to make a donation to Cool Earth.