Saturday, April 16, 2016


The lull continues, though my activities are slowly moving toward summer ones. Although it's only April, if you stargaze at four A.M. the sky is now arranged the same as it will be on a summer evening, with the Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way prominent to the south. I just took a quick look at Saturn, which is currently near Antares in Scorpius. When you familiarize yourself with the night sky you begin to feel as if you are living inside a giant clock, and it is easy to understand our ancestors' fascination with it. I'll be planting tomato seeds soon.

We continue to follow the presidential campaigns, and if you are able to stay awake through the Democratic debates they are surprisingly substantive compared to past years. One thing that I find interesting is that the media approaches the Democrats differently from the Republicans. They tend to ask more serious questions to the Democratic candidates, because that is how Hillary and Bernie have consciously framed their campaigns, but the Republican debates are designed to evoke controversial and grandiose statements, since Trump is politically ignorant. I was recently encouraged by hearing Wolf Blitzer of CNN ask Bernie Sanders a fairly sophisticated question about minimum wage increases. If minimum wages are raised, won't this lead to wage inflation and eventually push prices up to a level where those who had low wages will once again have low wages due to inflation?  I think the answer is yes, and this reveals some of the shortfall in Bernie Sanders' analysis. Bernie is not an original or deep thinker and looks a little like an FDR copycat. However, I still far prefer him to Hillary Clinton, who seems like the George H.W. Bush of the Democratic Party: she lacks "the vision thing," without an original idea in her head. While she is good on details and is generally cautious, her incrementalist approach, which mimics that of Barack Obama, is doomed to fail when large systemic changes are required. In my view, Obama has been a mediocre president in part because of his insistence on making decisions through an inclusive process of consensus. This approach absolves the president of responsibility for poor policy decisions and provides greater influence than is warranted to self-interested parties. The same accusation of weak leadership that has been made of Barack Obama would be made of Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders may have gaps in his understanding, but he clearly has greater leadership ability than either Clinton or Obama.

I've ordered books by Sean Carroll, Frans de Waal, Richard Feynman, Czeslaw Milosz, Simone de Beauvoir and Stendhal, which I'll read in due course. I am particularly enjoying the ability to buy used books online at very low prices. The low prices are psychologically freeing, because I feel less compulsion to finish books that I don't like. In the past I would have forced myself to finish books by George Saunders, Tom Perrotta and Virginia Woolf, but now I just stop reading them and set them aside without hesitation. I also seem to have outgrown whatever attraction I ever had to libraries and bookstores, and I rarely go to them anymore. Once upon a time, when books were hard to come by, Borders seemed like a godsend, but how quickly it became obsolete. Many still enjoy rummaging through bookstores and libraries for the surprise find, the sensory presence of books or the feeling of community that they inspire, but as a practical matter if you know what you like there is no sacrifice required when you bypass them entirely. You can find anything online, and if you knew what others were reading in those bookstores and libraries you might well be shocked to discover how little you have in common with them.

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