September 24, 2015

Papal Speech

So here's one reaction to the speech (from Ramesh Ponnuru).

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From National Review's Jim Geraghty found here:
"I’m just surprised that so many American conservatives are acting like this is the first time they’ve strongly disagreed with a pope. Anybody remember Pope John Paul II –- er, Saint Pope John Paul II -- calling military strikes against Saddam Hussein in 2003 “a crime against peace”? Not only did the Vatican denounce the decision to go to war, they offered an account of the pre-war discussions that portrayed the Bush administration as obstinate, irrational warmongers.

Or what about JPII’s response to the first Persian Gulf War?
Pope John Paul II delivered a scathing denunciation of the Persian Gulf war today, calling it a “darkness” that he said had “cast a shadow over the whole human community.”

“A choice was made of aggression and the violation of international law, when it was presumed to solve the tensions between the peoples by war, the sower of death,” he said in his Easter Sunday message, “Urbi et Orbi” -- “To the City and the World.”

It was a highly political Pope who stood this chilly morning on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, addressing tens of thousands of people who filled the vast square below him. Millions of others watched on television in 53 countries.

In effect, John Paul spun the globe for his listeners and, continent by continent, pronounced it to be intolerably filled with hunger, tyranny and war.

“Lend an ear, humanity of our time,” he said, speaking in Italian, “to the long-ignored aspiration of oppressed peoples, such as the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Kurds, who claim the right to exist with dignity, justice and freedom -- legitimate requests repeated in vain for years.” Lebanon’s plight and the goal of a Palestinian homeland have long been familiar papal themes. But it was unusual for him to mention the Kurds, a transnational, largely Islamic group in the Middle East that for decades has sought territory for itself and whose members in Iraq are now fighting a civil war against President Saddam Hussein’s troops.
This is the favorite of most American Catholics and the favorite of most American Catholic conservatives. If the American Right could survive disagreements with that pope with admiration intact, there’s no reason to think the relationship with this one will be perpetually sour."

Tim Spalding on Social Media and The Circle

Fascinating to read of the comments of the founder of librarything.com about the dystopian novel The Circle by David Eggers (some spoilers apply):
Rating. I loved the part where Francis wanted Mae to give his sexual performance a number rating--and the denouement, where he insists that her final number was better than her attempt to nuance the topic with language.

As many here know, this is a particular bête noire of mine. I think ratings are mostly crap for deciding between books. Whether or not they are, however, I think they are broadly corrosive of deep conversation. LibraryThing represents an old model of social interaction around taste--that people want to review things, and reviews aren't a word or two. By and large we've moved to an online universe of five-star ratings, less-than-binary "likes," and contextless "shares."

I find this stifling and dystopic already. As my friend Josh Christie put it recently on Twitter, "Today, try and think critically about some media without giving it a letter grade, a number, or a star rating."

More and more, this isn't just books and movies. It's people. "Hot or Not" was an early example, but that was a stupid web trick compared to Lulu. Have you heard of Lulu—1 million users, including 1/3 of college-age women belong to a site where you rate men you've dated, with two million reviews already. Yes, you get a star rating. Oh, and your dates' estimation of your penis size is now online. ( See this TLDR review of it http://www.onthemedia.org/story/its-rating-men/ ) And, of course, it has what previous people-rating systems didn't--a hard tie into Facebook, so the integrity of the system is assured, with both raters and ratings tied to real people.

De-complexification of social interaction. Closely related to ratings are the reduction in conversational complexity inherent in "smile," "frown,"* "friend" and the various social ranking systems in the novel. With Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget), I do feel these user-interface conventions are dumbing down and flattening our social world. As Lanier writes, simplistic social categories like that are how you explain social life to an autistic person; now we live out a big part of our social life using tools that operate on autistic grounds. Sure, people find ways to subvert the system, but it trickles down and out.

Unification of online identity. I think this is the core thing going on with the circle. Facebook has shown the way. The world of "on the internet nobody knows you're a dog" is gone; now the world knows exactly who you are, tied to a Facebook identity you can hardly get rid of. Other services have glommed onto that assurance. You can't sign up for Spotify without a Facebook account. You can't even LOOK at some popular clothing sites without signing in via Facebook.

This rang the truest for me. This is coming. It's already here. All Facebook needs to do is wait, as the entire online world gloms onto the clear advantages of tracing everything you do to a single, table and largely trustable identity. It does or can solve so many problems--passwords, shopping carts, online rudeness, marketing channels, etc. And as with many social technologies, it gets stronger and better as it grows.

Also, as with many social technologies, the important thing is to get to scale. Once you have scale, you can turn the screws. I do see a day when we pay for most of our purchases with out Facebook account, or its equivalent, and, of course, Facebook owns, processes and sells the data accumulated in this way. In fact, this is already happening in a spit-and-chewing-gum way, as a whole industry has sprung up to connect Facebook accounts, emails, credit cards and other social data. The only real hope lies in the proliferation of systems--Amazon, Google and Apple all wanting you to use their systems. But identity is close to a natural monopoly; players will drop out.

Mandatory socialization. This is a big trend in technology companies, and it's spreading to other parts of the economy. Time was when your job was your job, your life your life. Startup life changes that. It's certainly true for LibraryThing--my life and my job are extensively merged, and our resume-calls ask people to tell us about their food preferences and outside interests. Mind you, I think this is a good thing. I think the work/life dichotomy is flawed and even bogus. But it has its protective value, and it's something that can go bad, for sure.

This theme is everywhere in the novel, of course. The Circle provides meals for everyone, and parties. Attendance at parties is "semi-mandatory." CE employees are encouraged to become part of their customers' social circles, answer their questionnaires and, in turn, are invited to stay at their houses, etc. This isn't that far from current reality. Google does a lot of this--keeping people on "campus" as much as possible and, well, LibraryThing staff are indeed encouraged to participate on the site.**

Transparency. The novel picked up on a general claim--that transparency makes everything better. This notion is everywhere in our culture now: that it doesn't matter how much money people spend on political causes so long as it's "transparent"; that legislatures and courtrooms need camera; that politicians need to tweet, etc. Much more to say, obviously.

No delete button. This one's obvious. I was almost disappointed that Mae's hand job video didn't pop up later in the story, as it threatened to. But the overall truth of this was clear. Moore's law (or perhaps "Kryder's Law"), Big Data, the unification of online identity and other factors have conspired to create a world without a delete key.

As a side note, a person we work with in another company recently wrote us that he couldn't find the origins of a particular business conversation because he had deleted the emails. Abby and I basically responded at the same time "Who fuck deletes emails!?!"

The gamification of shelter allotment. One of the few times I laughed out loud was, "Homelessness could be helped or fixed, she knew, once the gamification of shelter allotment and public housing in general was complete."

The Circle wasn't a ramification dystopia--that throw-away line goes more toward the techno-utopian idea that social problems are all amenable to a technological solution. But someone has made a gamification dystopia, called "Sight." You should see it now: http://vimeo.com/46304267

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* "Frown" is actually an improvement. There is no frown on Facebook, and indeed I find it a rather frown-free world. That, perhaps, has more to do with the general reality that most people don't like to disagree or question. The early internet was a wrestle of ideas, often veering into the belief that only ideas matter; that's been largely reduced to sharing some online piece with your friends, who all agreed with it already.
Also on librarything.com, a discussion on the Circle & whether there's a Catholic angle.

September 18, 2015

Ye Annual Bike Ride


SPRING VALLEY, OH--It's always a joy to break out of the joint early for a half-day jaunt on our annual bike ride. The weather was supremely good, perfection personified - not too hot, not too cool, constant sun, and skies the color of Sinatra's eyes. We met as usual at the idyllic small town of Spring Valley and immediately noted a big change around these parts - they knocked down a wall in the antique shop. Heresy! How dare they change something in changeless Mayberry?

After the requisite bathroom breaks we lit out for the territories on our steeds only to get a half-mile down the road before discovering two flaws: my water bottle was AWOL (just purchased at the antique shop) and Mom had reconsidered her decision not to wear a jacket. So on the strength of this dual purpose (“it still counts!” we said, concerning bike-riding mileage purposes) we headed back whence we came and uncle Mark said this was the shortest ride we'd ever taken.

I found my water bottle nearly at ground zero: it had fallen out within two yards of the starting line. I secured it better this time while Mark retrieved Mom's jacket and so we were off again on this, our 16th annual bike ride (give or take).

We started slow and then tapered off. No land speed records were set during this trip so please do try this at home. We went down the beautiful valley towards Corwin and then beyond.

Along the way we would experience many hardships. A slithering snake was passed. Mom's leg began bleeding due to the bike ride equivalent of a paper cut. Mark and I talked politics until Mom said she could take no more political talk lest her head explode. And most of all our butts hurt. Badly.

Along the way we saw marshlands and tree lines, streams and waterfalls, remote farm houses and outhouses. We saw great civilizations (Corwin, Ohio) and we saw raw nature tooth and claw (a spider landed on my back).

Four hours and 18 miles later - a pace joggers laugh at - we arrived back at the valley where it is eternally Spring, and enjoyed the pleasant atmosphere of Slim's or whatever the name of the joint is where they have good food, no patrons except those pleasantly tucked out of sight in a bar around the corner, waitresses bandying band-aids, and most importantly cold beer.

We had a picture taken, a bit too dark which when you get to be my age you count as a blessing. Good lighting for an overweight middle-aged man is very dark lighting.

We had a little snafu at the end when I gave Mom's tip and my signed receipt to another waitress (or pretend waitress?) who promised to give (or pretend to give) the money and receipt to our Florence Nightingale. But to error is human, to ride on a day like yesterday divine.

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Twelve Hours in Hocking County

Ingeniously blue skies on this sad anniversary; the skies the same preternatural blue as on that other 9/11. Right now enjoying a surprisingly ribald sun here in “the mountains” of Tar Hollow just shy of 10am. We fringe a forest of trees but are separated from, not quite “of” the trees like we were at Camp Creek. There we lived among the splendor and beside a lovely creek (at the cost, of course, of sun - can't have it all). Still, we're enveloped by nature and remote from civilization. Camping as it ought to be, not camping in tent cities with cars going by, music playing, and dogs yapping.

No cell reception though. Nuthin', nodda. No 3G even. So we're awol from civilization in more than one way.

Just beyond us stands a birch, with a sizable oval hole in it. Home for owls? Pecked out by 'peckers? Mysteries in the wood. Straight outta Hollar.

Rough sleep night; cold as the dickens; woke up to 52 degrees. Had multiple blankets though so not too bad, although there's ever a dampness seemingly present even though the tent wouldn't seem to let in dew, which was heavy this morning.

Pleasant morning reading a Shakespeare bio. One report has the young boy killing a calf and making it theatrical. You can take the boy out of Hollywood but you can't take the Hollywood out of the boy. Also came upon the riveting part of Shakespeare's use and affection for the Bible (Geneva version, not the more staid “Bishop's Bible”). Man but Ackroyd can write. This is the biography I was sore wanting to read. Others just leave me cold by comparison.

Walked up trail to the North Ridge primitive campsite. Three plus miles. Buggy as the day is long, which wasn't ideal, and slim, sketchy trail combined with corralling doggie Maris distracted from the gorgeous scenery: lichens, ferns, old trees. No timber rattlers fortunately. Every five steps got spider web in my face, so I picked up a tall walking stick and used it as a papal staff, blessing and breaking the webs by swinging it left to right.

Back to the campsite where it would it was work time. Heave ho, gotta go. Rain coming, cool coming. We got it done and I felt satisfaction in seeing a campsite with a structure (a tent) and a thousand and one items scattered here and there and by 5:04 we were on the road, everything back in pristine order.

September 15, 2015

Opinionated Opinions Now On Sale (10% off)


Watched the Steve Jobs documentary and I was fascinated how he (who aspired to be an artist) admitted that creativity with computers it is necessarily temporary, that unlike church buildings or great art (he used those two examples specifically) it won't last. Software marches on, and you can't even go back to an early Mac now because there's no software for it. It's sad for programmers and can lead to a devaluing of our work if not careful.  He compared it to a sedimentary rock in which you form a layer that builds the rock higher - soon enough no one who sees the rock will know what you did (“unless they have x-ray vision”).  Of course, the secret life of faith is that it is mostly hidden.

I thought of that as an analogy of how theologians stand on the shoulders of giants like Augustine and Aquinas. But a difference is that Augustine and Aquinas will be remembered for all time. Will Bill Gates or Steven Jobs?

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Read a potent National Review piece on sex and the meaning of it, how it's not just the pleasure we're after but the human connection. "We crave the intense solidarity it can create." The baring of breasts at Times Square was an attempt to undermine the taboo by unlinking them as a symbol of sexual intimacy.  The NR author writes that the he finds trying to destroy the totemic significance of exposed breasts not distasteful but "awful limited":  "A woman's breasts," in our society, are a "special emblem of being an insider...Taboos designed to protect this form of intimacy strike me as valuable and worthy of respect."

I can see that, but having breasts covered at all times certainly doesn't prevent the desire to be an insider to a party - it likely just changes the emblem of sexual intimacy to something else?  In devout Islamic societies the whole of a woman's body is taboo, hence the burka.  And still men there presumably lust (over exposed ankles?).  On the other hand, it's certainly likely that Islamic societies have a healthier view of sex than the West, given the bigger families, less porn, etc... They seem to realize, to a greater extent, the purpose of sex even if women aren't treated all that well.

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Was Gone With the Wind the saddest movie of all time? An unscientific Google search reveals a lot of hits with those two phrases. (But then on a hunch I tried “saddest movie of all time” + "Anchorman" and got a lot of hits, so an emphasis on unscientific.)

What is it about sad movies being so popular? Titanic is likely the GWTW of our generation given the surreal box office figures. I also wonder if my mother's pessimism can all be traced to the viewing of GWTW.

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My “Herman Melville prayerbook” came today, oxymoronic as that sounds. It's the “Portals to Prayer” series marrying literature to Scripture.  An uneasy marriage one might think, especially Melville (who said he was writing a devilish book).

But the priest compiler, a Fr. Boudreau, paints a positive picture, saying that Melville was simply ahead of his time in taking an anti-literalist perspective of Scripture, one the Catholic Church would embrace with Pius XII"s 1943 encyclical which:

 “effectively abandoned Biblical literalism and embraced critical analysis… by the 1960s the Second Vatican Council initiated not just a rearrangement of furniture in the sanctuary but also a fundamental rearrangement of the furniture of religious thought. Which made Moby Dick a prayer book of religious reform and biblical study that endures even to the twenty-first century.”

Oy. That sounds like a hermeneutic of discontinuity.

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Last night read rapturously and with great appreciation and relish the Knox. Earlier had read some of Dutch by Edmund Morris. I wasn't ready for it when I bought it fifteen years ago and my sensitivity to Reagan bashing was more keen. Anyway Morris's gift for writing is keen enough to overcome many sins. Amazingly, he gives credit to Reagan for having the faith that the “madness of economics” would work in his favor - big budget deficits led to GNP growth, a strong stock market, jobs, and even, a dozen years later, to a balanced budget.

It was also telling what French president Mitterrand said of Reagan upon meeting him and spending an extended amount of time with him:
This is a man without ideas and without culture. A sort of conservative, for sure, but beneath the surface you find someone who isn't stupid, who has great good sense and profoundly good intentions. What he does not perceive with intelligence he feels by nature.
Would seem to suggest the low importance of culture and intellectualism in presidents. Innocent as a dove, but shrewd as the serpent?

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About all I know of Taylor Swift is I share her initials and she's a singer, but I was recently riveted by an article about her “squad goals”, a phrase I was unfamiliar with prior but which seems to have some traction among the young peeps. (Is “peeps” still in vogue?) I assume “goals” is a Valley way of pronouncing “gals”. Apparently this squad of long-legged model-like babes was accused of being a cult by a New York Post writer.

I don't think it's any creepier than a typical sorority - witness the Alabama sorority that got in trouble recently for having only pretty girls, mostly blondes, in their recruitment video. Taylor was savvy enough to have a black girl in the mix although no doubt the feeling is genuine and not merely an Affirmative Action pick.

But what is fascinating about the whole set-up to me is how Swift seems to really relish being in control to the nth degree. She not only manages her career, finances, business but her friendships. Nothing haphazard.  I can obviously see the appeal of being in control and it's preferable to being out of control as the typical rock star seems to be, but surely there's a middle ground.

I also find it interesting that she fires back on social media and doesn't take a punch. Sort of Donald Trump-ish in that she doesn't start fights but she'll punch back harder than she was punched.

*

I cranked the theme from "Green Acres" on my iphone for nostalgia purposes. It sounded so crisp and melodic. Better than I remembered it as I ran it through my head.

It seems another world - imagine a time when two such completely disparate people could marry and live as one: "'You are my wife' / 'Goodbye, city life'" is likely as incomprehensible a sentiment to the latest generation as a rotary phone.

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Knox version, near end of Ecclesiastes: "Ay, it is good to look upon, the light of day; never was eye yet but loved to see the sun."

*

Into the pine cocoon I womb
Bereft of care, concern or wound
Amid the scrolls and knolls I loom
With words I sate, create, consume.

A sylvan divan is my repast
a hammock swung in glade at last
Into a sea of words I cast
Beside a tree, a wooden mast.

So rich this time alluvial
Breezed with grace elliptical
If God be comprehensible
We'd frown at limits sensible.

Tapper Tapped the Keg Early

Oh joy, Jake Tapper is giddy over the upcoming Republican debate: "Let’s draw the contrasts between the candidates, and have them fight it out over these policies, over who has the best approach to Putin, over who has the best approach to taxes, over who believes what over immigration reform...”

Well I'm for whatever makes the candidates better for when they have to debate Shrillary or Biden or whoever it is. But I think Tapper's comment is a tad optimistic. I like most of these candidates well enough but I seriously doubt any of them have any ideas since the Republican party as a whole hasn't had any serious ideas in decades. (Witness the complete lack of interest in healthcare reform both before and after Obamacare.*)

I can't think of a more boring question than "what's the best approach to Putin?" since nobody has an approach to Putin (as evidenced by George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both of whom had at their disposal gigantic mounds of intel and expert advisers, which these current Republican candidates lack. These guys on Putin is like Joe Schmoe in the Peoria bowling alley on Putin.)

Most of the candidates haven't seem to have taken immigration reform seriously in the past (witness Scott Walker's tortured whiplash policy changes) so their answers on that issue could easily be bloviations not worth the oxygen they take up. Taxes, yes, the governors have experience there.

Obama was arguably the worst president we've had in modern times and he also had the least amount of experience going in, so I'm not sure lack of experience is as attractive as people think it to be. Of course one president is anecdotal but I do wonder if a lack of experience (Carter, GWB, Obama) have been generally worse than more experienced hands (Bush I, Reagan). Nixon & LBJ exceptions for sure so I guess there's no real pattern either way.

* - in fairness, Scott Walker has offered some detailed policy positions.

September 13, 2015

St Max Kolbe As Christ

This (found via a blog) is how I view Jesus before Pilate:

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The recent appearance of an interview with an eyewitness of St. Maxmillian Kolbe’s demand to be killed in place of another at Auschwitz.
The strangeness and power of such an act under those circumstances seemed to even take the SS aback [my own translation of the interview]:
What’s most interesting is how in his dialogue [with the SS officer] Fr. Maximilian never once used the word “please.” He broke down the judge who had usurped the right to decide life and death and forced him to change his verdict. He acted like a consummate diplomat but in place of a tuxedo, ribbons, and decorations he had his striped prison uniform, a bowl, and wooden clogs. A funereal silence prevailed at that moment, every second seemed to last an eternity.  Then something happened that still cannot be understood by neither the prisoners nor Germans. The SS-man spoke to Fr. Maximilian using a “formal you” address, “Warum wollen Sie für ihn sterben?”–”Why do you Sir [closest equivalent to "formal you" in English] want to die for him?”
All the canons the SS-man had followed earlier came crashing down. Just a few moments before that he was calling him “Polish swine,” and now he addresses him as Sir. The SS-men and lower ranking soldiers nearby were not sure whether they were hearing aright. Only once in the history of concentration camps did it come to pass that a high ranking officer, who had murdered thousands of innocent people, addressed a prisoner in such a way.

September 07, 2015

I'm Rich!

Not Donald Trump rich, but still!:


September 03, 2015

September 01, 2015

Seven Short Takes

Amused by a new bone found in a yard owned by our neighbor's dog. They passed the contraband through gaps in the fence, like adjoining cellmates.

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Nature has favored us with a bounty: more peaches than we can eat, plenty of tomatoes, raspberries. The peach tree reminds me of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, so much do we have leftover. There's rarely ever a case where we have much more food than we can eat. Normally we buy or make dinners individually, enough for one meal, and so we never have that feeling of bounty. The closest I've come to it is with books, since I have more books than I can read, and at Half-Price sale this summer there was more than I could even look at let alone purchase.

Whoa, the new normal goes thus: wake to pitch dark at 6:30 accompanied by temperatures of sixty degrees. That's no summer I know! Fall has come – in attitude if not in name.

*

The sunflower strikes me as the most Christian of flowers, a silent reproach to selfishness. She moves her head towards the sun, facing east in the morning, west at dusk until that time her seed-laden head dips from the weight, like Christ's on the cross, sacrificing her wont for others.

*

"Look up Luke 24:11!" she told me over the phone.

This was the day after I had said that the apostles didn't disbelieve the women who said Christ had risen simply because they were women.

"But the text says nothing of the sort. Says merely they thought of their talk as 'idle chatter'. Not 'womanly chatter'.  Likely the message itself would be the source of disbelief."

There's a lot of sensitivity out there.

*

In high school I was once given a punishment of having to write a 500 word essay for skipping gym. I wrote 5,000 words. Definitely the wrong "punishment” for a would-be writer.

*

I have this utterly irrational desire to spend a couple hundred dollars and complete my Chesterton collection, via his complete works by Ignatius Press. This is foolhardy because I read GK only occasionally; I should far more since a saner voice one could scarcely imagine. This mania for ownership was prompted by an offhand comment in a book that mentioned his essay on Macbeth.

I'll lie down until the feeling goes away.

(Later): Funny Chesterton comment on a lesson to be taken from Shakespeare's Macbeth:
“Distrust those malevolent spirits who speak flatteringly to you. They are not benevolent spirits; if they were they would be more likely to beat you about the head.”
That from his book The Spice of Life and Other Essays which I managed to snag for $2.99 on Nook (read via Nook app on iPad). A $35 out of print book!

Chesterton goes on to say how man cannot separate his life into separate parts and that free love doesn't work: “We can't talk about abolishing the tragedy of marriage when you cannot abolish the tragedy of sex….The basis of all tragedy is that man lives a coherent and continuous life. It is only a worm you can cut in two and have the separate parts live.”

More: “Macbeth has all manner of physical courage…and even moral courage. But he lacks spiritual courage, he lacks a certain freedom and dignity of the human soul in the universe, a freedom and dignity which one of the scriptural writers expresses as the difference between servants and the sons of God.”

*

I took one of the grandboys with me to pick Max and Ermas because he wanted to go with (go figure). We hopalong'd and then dined on the back patio. Then off on bikes to the ice cream store. The skin-caressing heat left me hungry to bike  longer, but 5-year old was sweaty, which, along with insects, he takes as disagreeable. He's all Brahmin.


WTT?

This is a pretty interesting diagnosis by NR's Jim Geraghty on WTT?  (Why the Trump?).

Part of the article mentions how globalization helps millions of Chinese and Indians out of poverty, so there's a kind of irony between how both Pope Francis and Trumpophiles tend to dislike free trade, if for very different reasons. Francis because he's Bernie Sanders politically, and Americans because we don't want to have to lose jobs to Chinese and Indians.

It's ironic that Francis inadvertently wants the worst for people in general while having the best of intentions, and Americans want the best for primarily Americans, due to taking a nationalist view.

Geraghty writes:
Americans came to think of the economic conditions of the postwar boom -- low unemployment, easy entry into the workplace, job stability, considerable purchasing power and lots of consumer goods, high exports, good pensions, etc. as “normal.” What no one wanted to really acknowledge was how rare our advantage of that era was: We were an intact first-world economy on a planet where almost every other country was rebuilding from being blasted to hell during World War II.

Decade by decade, the rest of the world caught up and offered economic competition, primarily in the form of cheaper labor. The debate between trade and protectionism was largely one among elites. Non-wonk Americans lamented the decline of manufacturing jobs while buying Japanese (and then Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese) electronics, German and Japanese cars, etc. Free trade is terrific for consumers but not so great when somebody overseas can do your job for less money. From where I sit, it’s on the whole advantageous but horrible if it’s your job being “outsourced” overseas.

The public’s interest would briefly stir for NAFTA or Most Favored Nation status for China, but by and large, Americans either applauded globalization, loved its benefits but lamented its costs without ever connecting the two, or just ignored it.

For a while, Americans were told that the graduate-high-school-and-go-to-the-widget-factory-assembly-line life model was disappearing, but was being replaced with a better one: graduate-from-college-and-go-to-the-white-collar-job. In fact, it was so much better, it was worth taking on tens of thousands or even $150,000 in debt, because you would make more money over the course of your lifetime.

And then, sometime around the Great Recession, that deal changed, too. Companies realized they didn’t need that many entry-level positions (or they could shift it to unpaid labor in the form of internships). Undoubtedly, some colleges let their standards slide, and too many young people focused on basket-weaving, gender studies, or humanities majors and found themselves with a degree that didn’t translate well to the needs of the job market. A dramatic expansion of unskilled labor in the form of illegal immigration put the squeeze on another corner of the workforce; automation did even more. For many, that path to the good life seems steeper, rockier, and less clear than their parents ever faced.

Some folks at the top of the economic pyramid were or are quite comfortable with the new arrangement, offering perspectives like, “If the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” and, “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world. So if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.” An American company may not self-identify as all that American anymore, and certainly doesn’t feel much obligation to put a national interest ahead of the bottom line.

These are giant, sweeping problems that are best measured on generational time-frames and go well beyond one law or one president or lawmaker. This change is tied to our nation’s long, slow, painful slide from a system of public schools where kids were likely to get at least a “good enough” education to prepare them for the workforce to one where public schools range from excellent to abysmal. It’s tied to the U.S. going from a nation of 14 million immigrants in 1980 (both legal and illegal, 6.2 percent of the population) to 40 million immigrants in 2010 (12.9 percent). It’s tied to changing from a world with one primary, stable, relatively predictable antagonist (the Soviet Union) to an asymmetric, multinational, amorphous, adaptive slate of demonic foes like ISIS and al Qaeda. And it’s tied up in going from a relative monoculture influenced by Judeo-Christian values and identities to a cultural Balkanization where the counterculture became the dominant culture, then shattered itself.

Ultimately, electing a better president is one step on the road -- an important one, but only one. A lot of this comes down to what Americans expect of themselves. Do we want to compete in the global economy, and if not, are we willing to live with the consequences of closing ourselves off from the rest of the world? Are we willing to study hard to be qualified for good jobs and work hard once we get them? Are our companies willing to see themselves as national institutions instead of global ones? Are employers willing to show greater loyalty to their employees, and are their employees willing to reciprocate?

It would be spectacular if we could shake the country out of its fascination with caudillo-like figures. You would hope people would have learned from the experience of electing Barack Obama the Lightworker, the Munificent Sun God, the first man to step down into the presidency. But no, for far too many people, the lesson is not that we shouldn’t look to a president to be our savior, it’s that we chose the wrong one -- but Hillary, or Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders will be the right savior.