A Few Ways Of Looking At Atlantic City

It can be the right kind of fun, but the steep drop from glittery artifice to gritty despair in Atlantic City is enough to make even the most contented reflect a little.

Across the street lies the baffling gaze of a woman, gripping the edge of her lawn-chair and cigarette at the same time.  Her peeled, faded porch displays a ‘For Rent’ sign.

Tourist towns, for me, have an air of the superficial and sad, despite the amenities and excitement they promise.  There always seems to be a lack of the local, as the locals must cater to tourists, coming and going.  What Atlantic City had going for it was trying to be the East Coast’s premier destination for gambling.  It’s since been mostly in decline from that holy peak.

Perhaps, in my early twenties (the last time I was there), I was looking for something like bittersweet confirmation of my oh-so-earnest impressions of how-the-world-really-is.  It was done with more than a little melancholic self-regard (apparently I haven’t changed that much).

Yeah, I can handle it.  I only lost $200 and we got to see Jon Bon Jovi playing craps as a crowd gathered (leather-jacket, surprisingly big head).

Glitzy:

No, dear reader, I haven’t suddenly joined the barely organized, deeply personal hatred of a man who thwarts political activism and idealism in crude, populist fashion.

I can’t really say I support him all that much either (although I think a lot of the right people are pissed-off).

For the sake of our Republic, I hope Trump’s a decent steward, because I suspect the forces driving deep institutional dysfunction and mistrust are probably still growing, and maintaining our freedoms will be difficult.  It could get quite a bit worse before anything gets better (maybe pretty bad, I’m afraid).

Sorry to not just focus on serious questions and policy, and to blather and link on a blog, but I’ve got a life and a job.  Writing for money seems…compromising, and my writing isn’t all that great, and my insights are nearly always second-hand, anyways.

I’m thankful when a few dozen people read what I’ve bothered to think and write down.

Really, thank you:

From ‘Atlantic City Waiter’ by Countee Cullen

Just one stanza might do, to show there are many eyes you see, that may also see you:

‘For him to be humble who is proud
Needs colder artifice;
Though half his pride is disavowed,
In vain the sacrifice.’

As previously posted, and probably relevant enough to post here: Bowling Alone and Charles Murray:

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***A reader passed along this bit of news: ‘Black Trump supporter beats white anti-Trump protester…’

A new kind of populism?

Charles Murray argues that controlling the data for just for whites in America, a gap has opened up between working-class ‘Fishtown’ and professional-class ‘Belmont.’ Fishtowners have increasing rates of out-of-wedlock births and divorce, more isolation from churches, civic organizations and the kinds of voluntary associations that Murray suggests can make a life more fulfilling, regardless of income beyond certain basic needs. Fishtowners have higher incidences of drug and alcohol use and intermittent work.

Belmonters, on the other hand, are mostly college-educated and beyond, still tend to court, marry, engage in family planning and tend to stay connected with family, friends and colleagues. Folks in Belmont are still living more moderate personal lives and working to stay ahead in the changing economy through academia, the professions, government, tech, business and global business.

Being a social scientist with a more limited government/small ‘c’ conservative/libertarian worldview, Murray likely sees a smaller role for government and limited ways in which some people acting through government can actually solve problems in other people’s lives. As a contrarian social scientist in a small minority, then, he disagrees with many basic assumptions often found amongst a majority of social scientists.

Murray thus advocates for people in ‘Belmont’ to increasingly preach what they practice, to look outside the bubble of their daily lives and wealthier enclaves, and perhaps reconstitute the kinds of family and civic associations, moral virtues and opportunities for independence and success he’d like to see more broadly.

What this would look like in practice, exactly, is unclear.

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Robert Putnam, author of ‘Bowling Alone‘, seems to agree with Murray about what much of what the data highlights: Working-class whites are behaving more like working-class non-whites, and college-educated non-whites are behaving more like college-educated whites.

Putnam also focuses more on economic factors, the decline of manufacturing and the disappearance of working-class jobs that has without question affected large parts of America and small-town life. Globalization has opened American firms to global competition, global capital markets and mobile labor. Whatever your thoughts on race, Putnam creates some daylight between the data and strictly race based interpretations (often aligned with ideology, especially in academia nowadays) and focuses more on ‘class’ in a way slightly differently than does Murray.

An interesting discussion, in which the empirical research of social science can highlight important differences in political philosophy and try and transcend the inevitable political and ideological battles of the day.

A Wednesday Link On Afghanistan

Via Mick Hartley-Terry Glavin at The Ottawa Citizen: ‘Admit it. We’ve Lost Afghanistan:’

I can’t say I really agree, but am open to argument  (I don’t believe U.S. soldiers have died in vain, either). The logic keeping coalition forces in Afpak is pretty simple:

Because it’s so unstable, Afghanistan is a haven for all networks of ruthless, unscrupulous Islamist and terrorist organizations aiming to target citizens in Western countries, and Western leaders can’t risk that happening:

Of course, it’s a mess, and it appears a worsening mess:

‘Like every Afghan leader over the past two centuries, Ghani is a Pashtun – the ethnic bloc that has produced everything from enlightened monarchs and quick-witted statesmen to the murderous pro-Soviet thug regime of the late 1970s to the leadership of the Taliban and its allied Haqqani network in Pakistan’

Many parts of the world are truly lawless, but increasingly connected: It’s important to remember there’s a world black market full of shady, unscrupulous people, sometimes in control of States, that peddle nuclear technology and Afghanistan often serves as the market bazaar:

‘In recent weeks, Taliban commanders have confirmed that Tehran is boosting its supply of funding and weaponry to the Taliban leadership, and that some of those arms shipments originate in Russia.’

Ah, that delightful post-1979 crowd in Iran may simply have been emboldened to keep oppressing many of its people and to keep advancing its aims with questionable and limited gains for the West (the community of nations may have in fact, less leverage than the coalition in Afghanistan).

Here’s a documentary on the Green Berets passed along by a reader, which has good footage of what American special forces are being asked to do in Afghanistan: The fierce fighting. The tribal, poor and divided loyalties of what come to be Afghan forces. The thuggish tactics of the Taliban:

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Related On This Site: From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Alas, Lena Dunham

Conor Friedersdorf wrote a piece at the Atlantic rather charitable to Dunham’s latest bid for attention.

Many people want to see themselves as cool and meaningfully bohemian, radical and counter-culturally relevant, independently artsy but successful and morally virtuous. Dunham is likely a vehicle for many of these wishes.

What if also true is that the logic of the ideology Dunham holds has led to much of the desire to moralize to strangers, the potential for deceit and incentives to lie about her own experiences, and the isolated search for Self along with the branding of a political and ideological platform to gain power and influence?

As posted, three quotations that highlight how this blog chooses to look at the world (more at what people do, not what they say):

Karl Popper:

…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”

From this review here, on the late Ken Minogue:

Minogue concludes that instead of seeking “insane perfectionism” by, e.g., trying to abolish world poverty, we should simply be happy to live decent moral lives. This is, in effect, a challenge to build a better world by expressing our individuality through greater commitment to the institutions of family, markets, and church – an invitation simultaneously less exciting than undertaking grand projects and less destructive, as well.

From a Thomas Sowell piece, the Legacy Of Eric Hoffer:

‘Hoffer said: “The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.”

People who are fulfilled in their own lives and careers are not the ones attracted to mass movements: “A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding,” Hoffer said. “When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”

What Hoffer was describing was the political busybody, the zealot for a cause — the “true believer,” who filled the ranks of ideological movements that created the totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century.’

Henry Kissinger At CapX: ‘Chaos And Order In A Changing World’

Full piece here.

A rundown on global politics led by a comparison with what was facing British leadership under Margaret Thatcher, as applied to Russia, China, and the Middle East.

Kissinger:

‘She put forward challenges which, in their essence, are even more urgent today:

  • Should Russia be regarded as a potential threat or a partner?
  • Should NATO turn its attention to “out of area” issues?
  • Should NATO admit the new democracies of Central Europe with full responsibilities as quickly as prudently possible?
  • Should Europe develop its own “defense identity” in NATO?’

Click through a brief analysis of each of the ‘out of area’ players.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

He finishes with:

If the West stays engaged without a geo-strategic plan, chaos will grow. If it withdraws in concept or in fact—as has been the temptation over the past decade—great powers like China and India, which cannot afford chaos along their borders or turmoil within them, will gradually step into the West’s place together with Russia. The pattern of world politics of recent centuries will be overthrown.

Kissinger has been consistent in applying a lifetime of experience in diplomacy and the halls of power, profound Kantian-influenced idealism, and high ambition in providing grand visions and strategies of world players and events.

As he points out, each ethnic group, nation state and civilization has its own history, character, internal struggles and challenges.  It would serve American decision-makers well to have some awareness of who we’re dealing with, as many of these players have interests in direct conflict with American, Anglosphere and Western interests.

Imagine you are getting the daily intel briefings describing Russian meddling and constant attempts to destabilize American institutions (Cold War games go on, comrade), or the constant state-sponsored Chinese attempts to probe and hack American business and national defense interests.  It’s par for the course and everybody does it!

Imagine someone’s advising you of Iranian regime-support of nuclear black-market technology-swapping and terrorism against American assets and interests throughout the Middle-East (wow, there are some nasty people in Tehran).

The Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment West is probably still in an export phase of influence, but others do not necessarily think as we do, and the world can be a pretty dangerous, lawless and challenging place.

As previously posted: On Niall Ferguson’s new Biography (Kissinger’s probably such a bogeyman to some on the Left because he has an aroma of the heretic, or someone who broke with the ideals, or compromised)- ‘Kissinger: Volume I: The Idealist.1923-1968:’

FT review. 

The Economist

Previously on this site:

Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft here, long before any Iran dealing:

A good background and synopsis of American/Iranian diplomacy, and of the Iranian regime’s likely aims to become a Shia-led, anti-American/Western Islamist Republic dominating the Middle-East with deliverable nukes:

‘Some adjustments are inherent in the inevitable process of historic evolution. But we must avoid an outcome in which Iran, freed from an onerous sanctions regime, emerges as a de facto nuclear power leading an Islamist camp, while traditional allies lose confidence in the credibility of American commitments and follow the Iranian model toward a nuclear-weapons capability, if only to balance it.

Future generations’ prospects and American blood is still on the line.

Robert Kagan At Brookings: ‘The Twilight Of the Liberal World Order’

Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Francis Fukuyama uses some Hegel and Samuel Huntington…just as Huntington was going against the grain of modernization theory…:Newsweek On Francis Fukuyama: ‘The Beginning Of History’Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest Online: ‘Political Order in Egypt’

How does America lead or pursue its interests in this new landscape?:  We need to confront the rise of Islamism and the realities of many Muslim societies through our policy.  Putting women’s rights and international institutions front and center when you’re dealing with Al Qaida and the Taliban, assorted enemies, a suspicious China and a weaker adversarial Russia has serious problems …Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill…Daniel Deudney tries to build a global raft partially upon Kant’s idealism and says the global institutions we’ve got are better than nothing: Repost-Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: ‘Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy’

Double, Double, Toil & Cuddle

You amateur cuddlers are doing it wrong!

‘Franzblau created Cuddle Sanctuary in 2014, after attending her first group cuddle event, to help others realize their own touch needs. Since the election, Cuddle Sanctuary has seen 252 new clients beginning as early as the day following the election. The usual Wednesday night cuddle workshop following the decision was dubbed “Election Detox.” Five of the 21 attendees were new.’

After reading ‘The Calm, Gentle Rise Of Cuddlers For Hire‘ in our household back in 2015 (a joke still that still runs), we knew we were on to something good.  There’s talk of technology, literature, global economics, modernity etc. all in relation to professional cuddling.  Why, you could have a day at TED focused just on professional cuddling, and maybe throw-in that guy who’s an adult baby.

As to politics:  Whatever your thoughts on Trump, I doubt it helps any elected President having to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous infantilization. I mean, this is a President who might well respond in-kind.

When the personal gets political, politics gets personal.

To be honest: Seeking intimacy and paying money to hug strangers in a warehouse with a fair amount of new-age blather might help some people.

Using the kind of judgment I reserve for people I actually care about, however, (you know, personally) I might say something like the following:

Hey, at least you’re not paying for sex!  

No, really…you’ve got a lot to offer. Why don’t you go to meet-ups, book-clubs, take a course and start building yourself up that way?  You can do it.  Let’s grab a drink talk it out.’

A part of the piece that rung a bell:

‘Everyone should be in what Wyatt calls a “hell yes” space – that if asked for a specific touch, the reply would be a passionate OK. But more importantly, if you don’t want to partake, the word “no” should not be marred with guilt or shame.’

I’ll leave this from a post I put up about Jeff Koons, because I think it has some relevance to where parts of the ‘culture’ may be heading:

Koons’ Made In Heaven only amplifies that sound, blurring the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.

Koons himself:

‘This type of dislocated imagery is what motivates people. They’re amused by it, but they have a lot of guilt and shame that they respond to it.  I was trying to remove that guilt and shame.

Freedom is next!

***Call me old-fashioned, but you don’t earn respect from others by demanding it, and you don’t convince others of your political views by using politics to beat them into seeing the world as you do.

Or perhaps you do if you’re business model isn’t so good…

Dear Reader, what are you doing with your imagination? For a few hours, this is what I’ve done with mine.

Apparently not all cuddlers are overtly political (addition: never mind, this is the same lady as featured in the Rolling Stone piece).

Tyler Cowen At Bloomberg On Automation And Displacement

In A Robot Economy, All Humans Will Be Marketers

Cowen:

‘This shift toward marketing, in the broad sense of that term, isn’t just about bank tellers. More legal work is done by smart software, but cultivating client relationships has never been more important. Some functions of medical assistants are being automated, but hospitals and doctors are still trying to improve the patient experience and reach new customers. Amazon Inc. warehouses use robots to pull goods down off the shelves, but someone has to persuade consumers to buy the stuff.’

I’m sure this will strike some people as deeply unfulfilling, others as threatening, and others as just fine.

I think automation is the key word, here.  Many tasks you do are repetitive, and the hardware and software is being developed to automate many of these tasks depending on complexity, feasibility and profitability where big business and technology meet (current revenue streams are directed by big players into areas where it’s too expensive and too costly not to compete (or try), and by start-ups trying to enter markets and disrupt).

This innovation shows up in our daily lives bit by bit, as consumers, as users, and as employees, but also in more personal and intimate ways (finding love online, suddenly having access to a book that changes your life etc.)

We already live within thousands of years of good and bad design all around us, and that is continuing, just perhaps more rapidly at the moment.

As to personal, social and political consequences, I’m reminded that old ideas die hard.  Many I see as worth conserving.

It’d be nice if Americans were competing more robustly with India and China in producing people ready to hit the ground running in STEM fields, but we’re doing alright.

It’d be really nice if American universities’ humanities and social science departments weren’t dealing with the postmodern and ideological problems of radical liberation politics.

Ah, well.

Hold on, keep learning, and don’t lose sight of the important things.

 

Repost-A Concrete Wonderland In D.C.

From Buzzfeed: The 7 Ugliest Government Buildings In Washington D.C. (Via Althouse)

The author of that post fired for plagiarism. Let’s hope those are real photos!

The modern art that’s often been left to roam the lobbies and courtyards of large bureaucracies is often curiously bad, and some is on display at the link.

A reader sends a link to a bad public art blog.

Perhaps you’ve caught a glimpse of the strangely familiar in a favorite work of art; being moved deeply, comforted, given some pleasure, frightened. Maybe for a moment some deeper truth seemed to reveal itself to you, and you were free to follow it for awhile, wherever it lead, along some thread of intuition.

Now, why would you want to do that in the lobby of the Department Of Housing & Urban Development?

We should be comforted when corporate/bureaucratic art is bland, bad, and uncommunicative. After all, do you think you’d trust a bank more or less if it had a shocking modern/pop art sculpture in the lobby?

More broadly, sometimes I worry about the attempt to seek collective purpose and postmodern meaning in modern art, music and even cartoons etc. The flirtations with nihilism can encourage more desperate collectivist/ideological impulses to fill the void. The excesses are many.

As for a critique of Albany Plaza, another modernist/bureaucratic concrete wonderland, here’s Robert Hughes:


Richard Serra was commissioned to put a piece in Federal Plaza, paid for the public, and some people didn’t like it.

It was removed. Serra felt railroaded. There was a lot of press and drama.

Now, New York City is a different town (trade, finance, money, tech, real estate etc.), but this was in a Federal building.

Pretty relevant, I’d say:

Some snippets of previous posts:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece which reflects upon the modernist influence. From the Atlantic piece.

‘At their best, the Schiffs can be models for renewing the unquenched aspiration of a century ago, to place art and its imaginative demands at the center of an effort to build a more humane future’

Humane. Human. Human rights. Make it new. Break with the past. Shape man’s destiny upon new foundations of knowledge, explore new possibilities, and perhaps shape men themselves.

Why, there’s a whole philosophy under there. Not a religion necessarily, and not always moral claims to knowledge, but a whole framework nonetheless.

Well, some of it, anyways.

A previous head of the Social Security Administration was also a pretty good poet.

See Also On This Site: Trying to stick something against his poems: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarWednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens, The Snow ManFriday Poem: Wallace Stevens And A Quote By David Hume

They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”