Sun, Sand & Sales

It was a cold day some time in 1998 along a seemingly vacant beach in Loyola Park. A lonely vendor ventures, ever hopeful, into what would seem a market wasteland and…

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Loyola Park, 1998. Photo by Roman.

…he scores! Considering his small share of the sale price, he might have been better off eating his own merchandise, but he aspires to more than just feeding himself. Will he succeed with this pushcart? The odds are: He probably did not. But who knows? These customers appeared out of nowhere, after all. I suspect them of purchasing nostalgia as well as sweets. Sugar and childhood! How’s that for a sure thing?

Pity Ukraine:

So close to Russia… So far from God…

Pity may rank near the bottom of what Ukrainians need right now, but savvy readers might notice the above is derived from what Mexicans have been saying about Mexico and the United States. Some will be offended because the same savvy readers, being hip to the ways of polemics, will anticipate a tantrum of what-about-isms, so let’s get that out of the way: Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico… I could toss in Hawaii and more, but you should have gotten the idea. If not, you have homework to do. Some might say these offenses are ancient history… Surely there is a statute of limitations that has passed? Well then, need I mention “weapons of mass destruction” and two recent U.S. Presidents, George W. Bush and Donald Trump, who had no respect whatsoever for international institutions unless occasionally as a fig leaf to be discarded when convenient.

I do not present these as a means of deflecting or obfuscating: Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is wrong. And it is dangerous, at one extreme leading to World War III and at another extreme leading to the break-up of Russia and at another extreme an endless parade of resource wars and accelerating arms races, including nuclear weapons for all. But our own sins are worth remembering because beyond individual behavior, moral arguments are mostly just useful to entertain those who need to pass judgements, and maybe for morale and winning elections.

Sanctions will not save Ukraine and any meaningful outside intervention runs a very real risk of a wider war — though if the Russian military is stalemated for a while, the threat of such intervention might inspire diplomacy… maybe. I don’t know. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

(Belarus is already more or less a part of Russia through its 2000 “Union State” treaty with Russia. Lukashenko, however, had best watch his back as those Russian troops are likely to remain in Belarus for As Long As Necessary. Now smile!)

What I do know is that here in the States, the political left is screwed. Again. Just as after the 9/11 attack, there will be money for weapons and fear will veto much of anything else, not to mention the unfortunate tendency among some parts of the left to imagine imperialism to be a behavior manifest exclusively by United States. Ideologues know how to win arguments but not much else.

I really don’t want to get back to doing political activism. Would you care to do it for me? Please?

“Railroad Workers Barred from Striking”

While I still keep a wary eye on politics (broadly defined, not just elections), most of it just doesn’t seem that interesting (outside of immediate hazards) these days.*

But in this case, the story below had popped up on one or more of the news lists I follow out of a lifelong interest in trainspotting. Those accounts were rather sparse on the details. The account below, from the More Perfect Union YouTube channel, provides rather more detail…

…with maybe the “draconian” dial turned up a notch or so. Not that I’m complaining. The More Perfect Union website is worth a visit.


*Oh, yes: it is most certainly me and not politics that has changed. But since I’ve “retired” from activism, the details have changed enough that they begin to obscure rather than to inform.

Everything is Green Now

In case you’ve missed this…

Anthracite Unite

by Mitch Troutman

It’s happening again. A few months ago, Talon Energy announced it is building a bitcoin mining facility onto the Berwick nuclear power plant. Now, a bitcoin mining company has bought the coal-fired power plant in Nesquehoning, outside Jim Thorpe.

I knew this was happening in poorer countries and ignorantly assumed it wouldn’t happen here. Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) is anonymous, ultra-secure digital money that was intended to subvert government-controlled currencies like the dollar. Instead, it has become a high-stakes gambling market. Crypto’s backbone is a world-wide network of computers used to solve purposely-complex equations, called “mining”. Baked into its DNA is that every new transaction requires more computer power than the one before it. As of July, a single bitcoin transaction required enough electricity to power the average home for 2 months. These transactions happen 240,000 time every day.

The margins on bitcoin “mining” are…

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Networks Past and Present

Photo by Roman.

Tuesdays are my laundry days and so (as if I needed such a reason) here is another perspective on my laundry room. It also happens to be a room that includes at least three networks, maybe more depending on how you count them. The foreground is occupied by one of the past: the abandoned ends of three gas lines. The building does still use gas so there is no clue as to why these were abandoned. I find it picturesque in a rough and ready way.

Things change, after all. A few weeks ago, someone from management was showing two people some apartments, nothing unusual. In the courtyard I heard him say something like, “I’ve never managed a building with such a high proportion of common areas. The building really has great potential.”

They entered one of the entrances at that point, so there’s nothing more to be learned. But it seems to me a rather odd thing to say, particularly if one were showing the apartments to prospective rental tenants. I mean, “Stick with me kid; you ain’t seen nothing yet!” That’s a pretty weak pitch, one that pretty much rolls rather than flies across home plate.

But if this were part of a preliminary sales pitch for the building, it makes more sense. After all, in addition to the two garden apartments and machinery room and two laundry rooms, there’s room for a weight / exercise room, a bike storage room, a party room, maybe even an additional unit or two. Why, with those features, you could surely sell all the units of a hypothetical condo in a reasonable time, or if rental then maybe collect twice the rent. After all, you’re not just selling the accoutrements of a home but, more importantly, you’re selling a place on the pecking order, a place for the Karens of our country to feel more secure in the fearsome disorder of the world.

With any luck, I’ll be gone by then. But I’ve become such a peasant.

Democratizing the Economy

a presentation by Olof Palme.

The recording features a presentation at the December, 1980, Eurosocialism and America Conference by Olof Palme (1927 — 1986). At the time, Palme was a leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. He was then between two of his stints (1969-1976 and 1982-1986) as Prime Minister of Sweden. At the time, the Swedish Social Democrats were attempting to implement the “Meidner Plan” which would have euthanized the rentier class essentially by buying it out over time.

The Eurosocialism and America Conference was organized by the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC)’s 501c3 arm, the Institute for Democratic Socialism. A few years later, DSOC merged with the New American Movement to form the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). The conference was held at a strategic moment, after the pivotal November, 1980, election but before the January change in government. At least a few of Palme’s remarks are directed specifically at this. The conference was a Beltway wonder for a few weeks in that December but was ultimately buried by the flood basalts of the erupting Reagan Revolution.

Olof Palme is introduced by Chicago’s Carl Shier. Shier was an International Representative with the United Auto Workers Region 4 and a leader in the DSOC. While it is true that Olof Palme had many connections with the United Auto Workers, it is also true that a truly surprising number of foreign lefty politicians and union leaders knew Carl Shier, Palme among them.

[Recording time: 56:48]

This particular recording was among the several dozen tapes that Frank Llewellyn from the Democratic Socialists of America’s national office had sent to me sometime after the turn of the century. Allowing for duplications and individual tapes expiring from old age, I guessimated those tapes amounted to at least a week’s worth of full time work. I listened to a few of them and did an inventory, but that’s where I left it.

They remained in my closet for well over a decade. Now, voilà.

The Crisis in Economic Theory

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Michael Harrington (podium) at the 1980 Thomas – Debs Dinner in Chicago. Seated to his right is that year’s honoree, Rosemary Ruether. Seated to his left are Rev. Jim Gorman and Crystal Lee Sutton. Photo by Syd Harris.

This is another of the cassette tapes from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) national office. While I found the content interesting, it also had some mild historical interest, being a presentation by Michael Harrington to a gathering of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) [update] on June 16 of 1980. I’d guess it was the DSOC Youth Section’s annual summer conference. DSOC was one of the predecessors to DSA, the other being the New American Movement.

The quality of the recording is adequate, especially as it may have been done from the audience. It is missing the first minute of the program, and there is another more irritating section of really dead air about two-thirds in. I don’t know who the person recording this was and any specific venue would be but a guess.

I found the presentation interesting in two ways. One is that apparently Keynesian economic policy has not always worked as advertised. Harrington nominates business cycles as a possible explanation. Maybe, though I don’t find that idea particularly exciting. An institutional or even academic memory of this misfire of Keynesianism of a sort, however, is of interest. IMHO. The other thing is: what a topic to present to an organizational meeting of a political group. That leaves a bit, good and bad, to unpack.

(Length — 56:41)

What Rhyme or Reason

is there for a place to park poetry?

Or maybe it’s the daily slog that ambles from home to work, rhythm of sorts with uneven meter and useless rhyme. It must be a kennel for doggerel.

But wait! It promises a quick departure from dreary lines read in flat nasal affect.

Promises, promises. Capitalism always has an exit strategy…