Pretty little town. 

I’m going to try a short 544 mile ride tomorrow to get ahead of some weather. Wish me luck. 

Sweet Alabama

I haven’t been to Alabama since I was a boy, but I’ll be there in another thirty miles. Riding down to Mobile for a strongman competition, and to see the ocean water and a good friend and fellow strongman. 

May post from the highway; plan to be back by Wednesday. 

UPDATE: The sign at the border actually says, “Welcome to SWEET HOME ALABAMA!” It does smell sweet to the motorcycle rider, and like the South, for the plate magnolias are in bloom.

Is Rioting a Valid Form of Protest?

Different perspectives. 

Weber IX: Last Remarks

Much of the second half of the document is of historical interest, especially for those wanting to see how the conditions in Weimar Germany might have been fertile for the rise of Hitler. I'll leave that as an exercise for those interested.

The end section has a view of how 'politics as vocation' must be managed if any good is to come out of it. Good can, Weber says, as long as we understand some basic metaphysical truths that are the foundation of politics:
The decisive means for politics is violence....  The ethic of ultimate ends apparently must go to pieces on the problem of the justification of means by ends. As a matter of fact, logically it has only the possibility of rejecting all action that employs morally dangerous means­­ - in theory! ...

My colleague, Mr. F. W. Forster, whom personally I highly esteem for his undoubted sincerity, but whom I reject unreservedly as a politician, believes it is possible to get around this difficulty by the simple thesis: 'from good comes only good; but from evil only evil follows.' In that case this whole complex of questions would not exist. But it is rather astonishing that such a thesis could come to light two thousand five hundred years after the Upanishads. Not only the whole course of world history, but every frank examination of everyday experience points to the very opposite. The development of religions all over the world is determined by the fact that the opposite is true....

This problem­ - ­the experience of the irrationality of the world­­ - has been the driving force of all religious evolution.  The Indian doctrine of karma, Persian dualism, the doctrine of original sin, predestination and the deus absconditus, all these have grown out of this experience. Also the early Christians knew full well the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil,  but that often the opposite is true. Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant.  
The last several pages include a review of various metaphysical and religious approaches to this problem, and very much worth your time to read. If you like, you might begin by finding your own and starting there, then contrasting if you like some of the other approaches.

Whichever approach you adopt or prefer, Weber says, if you want to engage in politics you need to be ready to wrestle with demons. 
Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation, has to realize these ethical paradoxes. He must know that he is responsible for what may become of himself under the impact of these paradoxes. I repeat, he lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence.... He who seeks the salvation of the soul, of his own and of others, should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for the quite different tasks of politics can only be solved by violence. The genius or demon of politics lives in an inner tension with the god of love, as well as with the Christian God as expressed by  the church.  This tension can at any time lead to an irreconcilable conflict.
Thus, Weber offers a warning to those who seek salvation in the political world via modes like socialism.
If one says 'the future of socialism' or 'international peace,' instead of native city or 'fatherland' (which at present may be a dubious value to some), then you face the problem as it stands now. Everything that is striven for through political action operating with violent means and following an ethic of responsibility endangers the 'salvation of the soul.' If, however, one chases after the ultimate good in a war of beliefs, following a pure ethic of absolute ends, then the goals may be damaged and discredited for generations, because responsibility for consequences is lacking,  and two diabolic forces which enter the play remain unknown to the actor. These are inexorable and produce consequences for his action and even for his inner self, to which he must helplessly submit, unless he perceives them.  The sentence: 'The devil is old; grow old to understand him!' does not refer to age in terms of chronological years.... Age is not decisive; what is decisive is the trained relentlessness in viewing the realities of life, and the ability to face such realities and to measure up to them inwardly. 
This is not, however, a call for abandoning politics in pursuit of religious life. Nor is it a call for anarchism: Weber believes (like the Declaration of Independence) that political states can secure rights, and that that where politics fails, 'not only the Kaiser but also the proletarian has lost his rights.' 

No, it is a call for politics in a heroic mode that is willing to wrestle with demons, and steadfast enough to do so. Weber closes:
Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth­­that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say 'In spite of all!' has the calling for politics.

Weber VIII: The Party Divide

Weber goes on to argue that party politics tends to order itself around one bourgeois party and a second party built around more novel ideas. His historical examples, mostly 19th century, also describe American politics reasonably well. 
First England: there until 1868 the party organization was almost purely an organization of notables. The Tories in the country found support, for instance, from the Anglican parson, and from the schoolmaster, and above all from the large landlords of the respective county. The Whigs found support mostly from such people as the nonconformist preacher (when there was one), the postmaster, the blacksmith, the tailor, the ropemaker­­that is, from such artisans who could disseminate political influence because they could chat with people most frequently. In the city the parties differed, partly according to economics, partly according to religion, and partly simply according to the party opinions handed down in the families. But always the notables were the pillars of the political organization. 
In America the Republicans were the party of the victors of the Civil War, and thus of Northern banks and big business -- recall that Wells Fargo sent Wyatt Earp as a secret agent to Tombstone, to ride herd on what the local Democratic elected officials were doing with the silver shipments in which WF was interested. Their opponents were deputized into the Sheriff's forces when the conflict became open. The Earps obtained Federal badges so easily because they were always aligned with the party of the President of the United States and his banker allies. Or, as Lonesome Dove put it:
Woodrow Call: [riding in San Antonio] Things sure have changed since the last time I was here. It's all growed up.

Gus McCrae: Of course it's growed up, Woodrow. We killed all the Indians and bandits so the bankers could move in.

Woodrow Call: Only a fool would want the Indians back.

Gus McCrae: Has it ever occurred to you, Woodrow, that all the work we done was for the bankers?
There is a way in which the parties in America switched sides on some issues, especially as regards civil rights for ethnic and sexual minorities. But there is also a way in which they remained constant, with the Republicans remaining in the role of defenders of what Weber like Marx calls the bourgeois. In such parties, Weber notes, the old rich predominate and the people striving to become rich join. The established families try to hold down the nouveau riche, the arriviste, the Donald Trump to put it in our own context. Weber says that the established pattern here is for the new man to have to prove himself, but once he does he has unwavering support from the voters attached to this party.
The ascent of leaders is far more difficult where the notables, along with the officials,  control the party, as is usually the case in the bourgeois parties. For ideally the notables make 'their way of life' out of the petty chairmanships or committee memberships they hold. Resentment against the demagogue as a homo novus, the conviction of the superiority of political party 'experience' (which, as a matter of fact, actually is of considerable importance), and the ideological concern for the crumbling of the old party traditions­ - ­these factors determine the conduct of the notables. They can count on all the traditionalist elements within the party. Above all, the rural but also the petty bourgeois voter looks for the name of the notable familiar to him. He distrusts the man who is unknown to him. However, once this man has become successful, he clings to him the more unwaveringly.  
That nicely mirrors the current situation of the Republicans, with Trump having no more hostile enemy than the Lynn Cheneys, Mitt Romneys, and Bill Kristols of the world. They regard him with utter disdain, and as Weber says, there's a point to be made there: political party experience is in fact of considerable importance, and also as traditionalists they worry about the loss of norms that have been of long service. The loss of norms is really dangerous -- witness the sudden enthusiasm on the other side for packing the Supreme Court, adding new states, 'reforming' election laws to eliminate protections against voter fraud, and the like. 

On the other hand, new ideas come forward in part because the old ideas stopped working. Decades of losing -- on economic issues, on culture, on immigration, on globalization -- brought the rural and bourgeois voters around to the idea that they needed someone to do something different. The norms cemented losing to China and to the global left, and the loss of their own increasingly perilous economic position as well. Likewise they were more likely to have multiple children, and the odds of passing on economic security to their families weighed heavily on their minds. 

Weber, himself a member of the bourgeois, is mostly interested in that side of the ledger. (If you're reading along, note that the "Social Democratic" party in Germany is also, surprisingly for an American given the name, a bourgeois party.) He was also speaking at a moment in which the hard left had only recently won its position in Russia, and was being disarmed internationally in part by having its ideas adopted by the bourgeois in more palatable forms. This was, in America, what is called the Progressive Era, characterized by income taxes (rather than wealth taxes or socialization of property), Prohibition (to undermine the desire of European immigrants from Germany and Italy and Ireland to come to America), Popular Election of Senators (which empowered the party machines at the cost of the states, disempowering the states being a Republican goal since the Civil War), and Votes for Women (as these legal immigrants were almost all male, this diluted their voting power substantially even after they attained citizenship). 

The populists were on the Democratic side then, Free Silver and all that; and they were on a losing streak, broken up only by Teddy Roosevelt's decision to run as an independent, and then the Great Depression. They were regionally powerful in the South, though, and controlled therefore significant power in the Senate. 

You can see the echoes of the Republican idea of conscripting lesser versions of Socialist ideas into their party platform in the rump Republicans currently trying to avoid being replaced. The Democrats are more obviously following that strategy now, though (e.g. Biden's "plan" to forgive $50,000 in student loans, maybe, rather than all student loans coupled with making college both free and a right as it is in Germany; Obamacare rather than socialized medicine; and constant demagoguery on race as a substitute for action). 

So there are substantial differences in our current situation compared to the one Weber was describing just after World War I. There remains much to learn from his discussion, I think. 

What I'd rather do than anything else

The pattern center in my brain is ascendant again, firing up like a fireworks display.  Since all I want to do is crochet lace, maybe I ought to have been some Queen's lady in waiting.  Give me a book on tape and a crochet project and life is good:  it can even turn the most endless awful meeting into a productive afternoon.

Unions Against Jobs

The current leadership of labor unions has strange ideas about their members’ interests. 

So now we have the Pipefitters Union against pipelines and the coal miners union against coal.

Did anyone bother to actually ask the rank-and-file members what they thought?

The uneconomical mind

A rash acquiescience in the request of a departing commissioner to take on his committee assignments left me on the governing board of the county's only public swimming pool. It seems a nice pool, run by nice people. It gets a bit of financial support from the county, a fixed amount, while the city traditionally has covered losses in an informally open-ended way.

The year of COVID was hard on public pools. The pool closed for a while, then creaked back into action last summer under a hideous set of regulations that required selling visitors 90-minute blocks of time, separated by 30-minute whirlwind cleaning regimens. (The idea that COVID primarily spreads via contaminated surfaces, even in an outdoor facility dominated by chlorinated water, dies hard.) This was the state of affairs at the last meeting I attended, in May 2020. I'd been wondering somewhat guiltily if I'd managed to miss notices of any meetings since then, in person or by ZOOM, when I received a notice of a meeting yesterday.

In the eleven intervening months, the pool had managed to stay open all winter, a feat that required expensive heating. I admire their grit and their commitment to a small but avid public, but their operating deficit was about 20% of budget. Now, my role on the board is to represent the county's interests, and the county has no intention of increasing its fixed subsidy--much to the apparent disappointment of the pool managers. So a pool deficit is not a personal problem for me. I did, however, ask what their plan was, only to receive somewhat blank stares. Plan? None of this was their fault. What did I mean, plan?

Well, I asked, just as a practical matter, have you got cash reserves that will allow you to keep paying the bills when you operate in the red? Oh, no, the city simply picks up the slack. OK, then, if the city is willing to subsidize you infinitely, then I guess it's a problem for the city, not the pool, certainly not me.

Well, said the city representative on the board thoughtfully, it's not quite true that the city is infinitely generous and patient. In fact, the city's financial situation is a bit on the desperate side, too. OK, then, I said, back to the question: what to do about your operating deficit? Again we had to wade through the issue that they didn't feel the extraordinary circumstances were their fault. For instance, the state health department dumped an entirely new set of quite expensive operating guidelines on them in January, after promising--promising--they'd never do that. Yes, that's very bad, so what to do now? I have an idea: can you raise the rates you charge your customers so that they're adequate to cover your costs?

This notion struck like a bolt out of the blue. After all, the circumstances aren't the public's fault, either. There followed a long discussion in which they argued that raising rates a modest amount would contribute only quite modestly to the bottom line. My point of view was that any black ink was a least a little better than merely breaking even and much better than red ink. They tried arguing that some customers made a convincing case that they deserved a discount, because they needed the pool for their health. No problem, except that if you want to operate as a charity, you'll need a donor, and it sounds like the city isn't feeling infinitely charitable. Also, your "Friends of the Pool" fundraising partner just announced they were disbanding.

The pool managers argued that losing a little money on party rentals might bring in more individual customers because of the exposure. That's known as a loss-leader, I said, and it's definitely a marketing strategy, but where's your evidence that the loss-leader leads to more paying traffic and, in the end, break-even status overall? If you can't show that, you in classic "lose money on every transaction but make it up in volume" territory.

What about the risk, they protested, if we raise rates and our traffic dries up? Shouldn't we wait months for someone to complete a survey of competitive market rates in the tri-county area? But that survey was begun months ago and is unlikely to include the results of the recent state regs driving up costs. The pool managers probably are going to have to bite the bullet, raise fees, and see how their customers react. Ultimately, if the market won't bear user fees sufficient to cover their costs, and they can't find a fairy godmother in the form of a philanthropist, grant administrator, or elected representative of taxpayers, they can't keep their doors open.  This suggestion elicited general stupefaction. (What do they teach them in these schools?)

As the chairman reached his informal one-hour limit for any meeting, the pool managers seemed almost willing to admit that they needed to revamp the fee structure for individual guests as well as party rentals. The problem was, fee-hike proposals weren't on yesterday's agenda and would need to be settled at the next meeting. When's the next meeting? September, after the summer season. I suggested that their by-laws probably allowed for a special meeting. How about a week from now? Can you come up with some numbers for what fees would put you back into the black? Anxiety, shuffling, confusion, grudging agreement.

I'll be curious to see whether the chairman calls a special meeting in a week or two to pass some increased user fees in time for the summer season.

Beef is Better than Veganism

I'm not going to jump into this latest cultural propaganda push to get you to abandon meat, as all of you are too sensible for such foolishness. I'd just like to point out that beef is actually better, 'for the planet' as they say, than veganism or even vegetarianism. (Not buying 'Climate Change Dispatch?' Try PBS!)

The first time I heard this laid out was by an environmental ethicist at a lecture to a philosophy department. It's not even controversial, not even among the climate-change-will-kill-us-all set, just counterintuitive. 

The real solution to whatever human-produced negative climate changes there are is to have fewer people -- a road we are definitely headed down already, with fertility rates having fallen below replacement almost worldwide. As the developing world catches up (down?) with that, you'll see pressure relieved fairly rapidly over even a few generations. 

J "F" Kerry

Flirting with treason, again, which I suppose is better than his history of wholly embracing it. Perhaps he's learned... nothing, obviously. 

Cell factories

I'm listening to an audio version of "The Gene" by Siddhartha Mukherjee, which turns out to be more of a history of science than a popularization of what we know about genetics, but a good one. This anecdote is worth sharing: in the early 1980's, biochemists were starting to harness the protein-synthesis machinery of bacteria, injected with factory-assembled genes, to grow valuable proteins for human medicine. Just as they succeeded in a proof-of-concept synthesis of insulin, the AIDS epidemic hit, highlighting a critical need for blood clotting factor that needn't be harvested from thousands of dicey donations to a clearly contaminated blood supply. Biochemists worked like demons to produce the first test dose of clotting factor within a couple of years of the bad news about AIDS, using hamster ovary cells as part of the production line. They administered the first dose to a human volunteer, a hemophiliac sufferer. The volunteer accepted the injection, then slowly seemed to fall asleep sitting up. Keyed up to point of near hysteria by hopes for the effectiveness of the product and anxiety for their volunteer, the biochemists asked more and more frantically, "Dave? Dave? Are you OK?" Dave slowly opened his eyes, made a chittering hamster noise, and burst into maniacal laughter.

Weber VII: Party History

The history of political parties in Early Modern Europe looks a lot like Bolshevism, Weber notes, in two different respects that might surprise contemporary readers:
If one considers various things about these medieval parties, one is reminded of Bolshevism and its Soviets. Consider the Statuta della perta Guelfa, the confiscations of the Nobili's estates - ­­which originally meant all those families who lived a chivalrous life and who thus qualified for fiefs - ­­consider the  exclusion from office­ holding and the denial of the right to vote, the inter­local party committees, the strictly military organizations and the premiums for informers. Then consider Bolshevism with its strictly sieved military and, in Russia especially, informer organizations, the disarmament and denial of the political rights of the 'bourgeois,' that is, of the entrepreneur, trader, rentier, clergyman, descendants of the dynasty, police agents, as well as the confiscation policy. 

This analogy is still more striking when one considers that, on the one hand, the military organization of the medieval party constituted a pure army of knights organized on the basis of the registered feudal estates and that nobles occupied almost all leading positions, and, on the other hand, that the Soviets have preserved, or rather reintroduced, the highly paid enterpriser, the group wage, the Taylor system, military and work­shop discipline, and a search for foreign capital. Hence, in a word, the Soviets have had to accept again absolutely all the things that Bolshevism had been fighting as bourgeois class institutions. They have had to do this in order to keep the state and the economy going at all. Moreover, the Soviets have reinstituted the agents of the former Ochrana [Tsarist Secret Police] as the main instrument of their state power.
Such revolutions can only depart so far from the means by which power has been successfully exercised in the past, at least at first. This is true even with the most aggressive means, common to those who wished to undo Feudalism in late Medieval Italy and those Communists who had the same aim in Russia. 

In a way this is a kind of confirmation of a point that Marx makes, which is that material conditions of economics heavily influence the power structure that is possible at a given time. It's not a complete confirmation: Marx would have said that the economics determine the power structure. Yet Marx also hopes for revolution, and thus for the possibility that change would be something one could at least begin even if one had to fall back on forms that fit the material mode of production. Great change did eventually follow from both the rise of political parties and from the rise of Soviet Communism. Neither could change everything at once, though, and had to circle back more than they wished to established forms.

Weber does not believe that party politics can change very much either, as long as they remain the mode of political power. Outside of rural areas, he says, we are basically doomed to machine politics. 
In all political associations which are somehow extensive, that is, associations going beyond the sphere and range of the tasks of small rural districts where power­holders are periodically elected, political organization is necessarily managed by men interested in the management of politics. This is to say that a relatively small number of men are primarily interested in political life and hence interested in sharing political power. They provide themselves with a following through free recruitment, present themselves or their proteges as candidates for election, collect the financial means, and go out for vote-­grabbing. It is unimaginable how in large associations elections could function at all without this managerial pattern.

Various schemes have been recommended for eliminating the scourge of political machines, but Weber thinks they are doomed to fail. 

In practice this means the division of the citizens with the right to vote into politically active and politically passive elements. This difference is based on voluntary attitudes, hence it cannot be abolished through measures like obligatory voting, or 'occupational-status group' representation, or similar measures that are expressly or actually directed against this state of affairs and the rule of professional politicians. The active leadership and their freely recruited following are the necessary elements in the life of any party. The following, and through it the passive electorate, are necessary for the election of the leader.

This, of course, means more corruption is a necessary feature of politics; and for broadly similar reasons, i.e., because it requires the constant attention of someone who must therefore find a way to make the politics pay. The success of the machine, which is separate from both the politicians it elects and the civil service that those politicians appoint, means that the machine itself ends up being more important than the elected leaders. Likewise, those elected officials -- who are supposed to represent their constituents -- end up being representatives of the machine. 

These modern forms are the children of democracy, of mass franchise, of the necessity to woo and organize the masses, and develop the utmost unity of direction and the strictest discipline. The rule of notables and guidance by members of parliament ceases. 'Professional' politicians outside the parliaments take the organization in hand. They do so either as 'entrepreneurs'­­ - the American boss and the English election agent are, in fact, such entrepreneurs - ­­or as officials with a fixed salary. Formally, a far-going democratization takes place. The parliamentary party no longer creates the authoritative programs, and the local notables no longer decide the selection of candidates. Rather assemblies of the organized party members select the candidates and delegate members to the assemblies of a higher order. Possibly there are several such conventions leading up to the national convention of the party. Naturally power actually rests in the hands of those who, within the organization, handle the work continuously. Otherwise, power rests in the hands of those on whom the organization in its processes depends financially or personally­ - ­for instance, on the Maecenases - or the directors of powerful political clubs of interested persons (Tammany Hall). It is decisive that this whole apparatus of people­­ characteristically called a 'machine' in Anglo­-Saxon countries or rather those who direct the machine, keep the members of the parliament in check. They are in a position to impose their will to a rather far- ­reaching extent, and that is of special significance for the selection of the party leader. The man whom the machine follows now becomes the leader, even over the head of the parliamentary party

At the current moment, it seems as if we are at a moment in which the machines have broken down. The Democrats for several elections have been divided between the Clinton and Obama machines, with Obama's being really the long-established Chicago machine. A new, socialist machine has been trying to form and exert itself, but without success so far thanks to the coordination of the other Democratic machines. Joe Biden was not elected by popular vote in the Democratic primary; he was well behind until it became clear that Bernie Sanders was going to win, at which point the other machines aligned behind Biden, forced out the other candidates, and unified the primary votes and caucuses to ensure a machine victory. 

The price was a candidate unfit for the office by age and mental capacity, and a vice president who was entirely detested by their own voters -- she had been polling in the single digits even among an exclusively Democratic audience, being morally unfit for office in a clear enough light for anyone to see. That is who they are stuck with, however, because their machines failed them. 

Likewise, the Democratic machinery has failed in the same way that the ancient king Beowulf is said to have failed: it has done nothing to ensure a smooth generational succession. In addition to Biden, the party leadership is composed of very old people with very limited futures. It is unclear who might rise to replace them. VP Harris is unlikely to be more popular, or to survive a re-election attempt unless the general elections are successfully corrupted to the same degree as the Democratic primary process. AOC and her 'squad' are too young, and from the socialist wing that the machines wish to use but not empower.  

The Republican machinery is in a complete wreckage, having been built on a fraud that was exposed by the Trump era. Possibly Trump himself could establish a new machine with himself in the role of Boss Tweed; possibly, though, he will not even attempt to do this, seeing himself as the proper center of attention rather than being able to envision himself as a the behind-the-scenes power. Right now the Cheneys and Bushes and Romneys who were long-dominant figures, and the machines that back them, scramble helplessly to try to regain a grip on the electoral machinery of the right. 

What that means is that, just as the legitimacy of the government of the United States is weaker than it has been in a long time, and the Napoleonic military means of power are more doubtful now than in generations, the political machinery is also weaker than it has been in a very long time. They continue to perform the black magical rites by which they long maintained power, but it is suddenly doubtful as to whether the magic will continue to work.