Evaluating a great philosopher after 40 years

One of America’s greatest poet-philosophers, Merle Haggard, released “Are the Good Times Really Over” 40 years ago. Now that we’re in the last month of 2021, it seems like a good time to see how things panned out.

I wish a buck was still silver
And it was back when country was strong
Back before Elvis and before Viet Nam war came along
Before the Beatles and “Yesterday”
When a man could still work and still would
Is the best of the free life behind us now?
And are the good times really over for good?

That buck that Haggard sang about in 1981 is now worth about 30 cents. Silver cost $10.50 in 1981 and was about $28 in mid-2021. So, actually Haggard was correct in thinking that a silver dollar would hold a roughly constant value.

Did we recover from our loss in the Vietnam War and become strong again? Not strong enough to defeat a peasant army in Afghanistan.

“When a man could still work and still would”? I don’t think Haggard envisioned that the term “man” would become undefined. Can someone who identifies as a “man” still work? Yes. Would a “man” work? The Richmond Fed, based on BLS data, says “no” (male labor force participation rate down from 80 percent (1970) to 69 percent (just before coronapanic) to somewhere south of 69 percent today:

What about the “best of the free life”? For those in means-tested public housing, getting health care via Medicaid, and shopping with SNAP/EBT, the free life is better than ever. But maybe Professor Haggard meant free as in “liberty”. In that case, we’re free to follow governors’ and the president’s orders to get vaccinated (and inject children as well, so that they don’t die from a pernicious killer of 82-year-olds), wear a mask, refrain from gathering, etc.

Are we rollin’ down hill like a snowball headed for hell
With no kind of chance for the flag or the Liberty Bell
I wish a Ford and a Chevy would still last ten years

Fords and Chevys are way better than they were in 1981, so his wishes were granted! What about his wish for the flag? As long as he wanted rainbow flags to have a chance, that wish was also granted.

Before microwave ovens
When a girl could still cook
And still would

So many issues with the above that I won’t even comment!

Happy December to friends who are still in the frozen north!

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Andrew Cuomo as the modern Boethius

Fortuna’s wheel has spun downward for Andrew Cuomo. Who could have predicted this? Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, for one.

From Wikipedia:

In 522, the same year his two sons were appointed joint consuls, Boethius accepted the appointment to the position of magister officiorum, the head of all the government and court services. … In 523 Boethius fell from power. After a period of imprisonment in Pavia for what was deemed a treasonable offence, he was executed in 524.

He went from being the most powerful official in the world’s most powerful empire to being imprisoned, in other words. While in prison, Boethius wrote The Consolation of Philosophy. a book that was required reading for scholars until the Age of Enlightenment began in the 17th century. More than 1,000 years of being a touchstone for every educated person in Europe, in other words.

Here’s a question… what important intellectual work could Andrew Cuomo write during his corresponding period of being on the wrong side of the Rota Fortunae? What would it be titled and what would it be about?

My vote is a work that shows that the 7 elements of the modern catechism are not in conflict. Here they are on a Sign of Justice:

Black Americans are the biggest losers from low-skill immigration (NBER), so “Black Lives Matter” and “No Human is Illegal” are in apparent contradiction. “Love is Love” refers to the full slate of LGBTQIA+ and therefore the next line, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” doesn’t make sense because the term “Women” is no longer precisely defined. “Science is Real” is the kind of thing that Plato would have liked to consider. Is #Science real like a table is real? Or is #Science more real than a table because #Science is already an ideal form whereas the table is merely an attempted (imperfect) implementation of a real table form? “Water is Life” is confusing without reference to the other elements of belief. Is distilled and UV-sterilized water life? Is it “injustice” when Harvard discriminates against Asians? If so, why doesn’t that threaten justice anywhere, much less everywhere?

I’m not sure what this work would be called.


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Happy Friday: the ice pack is breaking up

A wise man once told me that people tended to be unhappy because they focussed on the problems in their life.  Things that were going well did not require attention and therefore did not get it.  Consequently if you asked a person what he or she had been thinking about it was generally an unpleasant and difficult to solve problem.  This blog will try to fight this tendency with a Happy Friday policy.

Yesterday my friend Brad and I took the DA40 out of its hangar and headed out to Williamstown, Massachusetts.  There are three great art museums within 3 miles of the Harriman and West Airport (paved but VFR-only and surrounded by mountains):  Clark, MassMOCA (installation art fueled by approx. $50 million of Massachusetts taxpayer funds; run by New Yorkers who dress and sound like Dieter on Saturday Night Live), and Williams College’s art museum.  We stopped by Williams College and looked at their magnificent 9th century BC Assyrian tablets plus a visiting show of Tibetan art.

The Assyrian tablets remind one that the current conflict in Iraq is not the first one and that the artifacts of ancient civilization in Iraq have nothing to do with its current Arab rulers.  The Assyrians are the heirs to a literary and cultural traditional that goes back to the Epic of Gilgamesh and Sargon’s kingdom circa 2350 B.C.  For some reason it became conventional in Assyrian literature for heroes to be discovered in baskets floating on rivers, washed into the reeds.  This is how Gilgamesh was found and also Sargon.  For those of you going to a Passover Seder this year, a good way to really piss off your hosts is to start asking questions about whether the story of Moses being found in a basket in the Nile wasn’t simply copied from much earlier Assyrian stories.  Suppose that it is true that Moses grew up in an Egyptian royal household but not that he was found in the river.  That would make Moses, the Jewish leader of the Jews, … an Egyptian pure and simple.  (The descendants of Moses’s relatives would therefore be the Coptic Christian minority that survived the Arab invasion of Egypt.)

Assyrians converted to Christianity shortly after the death of Jesus and have been fighting a losing battle with Muslim Arab invaders since the 7th century A.D.  They seem to be a forgotten oppressed minority in an Arab country but they do have a Web site: http://aina.org/aol/

From the art museum we walked out into the 50-degree sunshine and along a creek filled with snowmelt.  A young woman came up behind us, smiling, red-faced, and walking briskly with wet hair.  She had been celebrating Spring by taking a swim in the freezing water.

For our return flight to Boston we took off just as the sun was setting in the Berkshires.  The hilly landscape around the Connecticut River was painted with a pinkish light reminiscent of the Hudson River School.  We could distinguish the subtle tones with our eyes but there is no way that film would have captured it so Brad and I just enjoyed it.  In flying over lakes we noticed that the pack ice was broken up and covering less than 50 percent of the surface.  Spring is here.  Brad flies for American Airlines so you’d think that he would have become jaded with aerial scenery but he looked out the window in wonder (and in fear; I did much of the flight with a hood on so that I could see only the instruments while Brad looked for other airplanes and critiqued my performance on 4 instrument approaches).

Now that we New Englanders seem finally to escaped the clutches of Winter it may be worth reflecting that it could have been much worse.  Here’s a note from Marion, an old friend who lives in Alaska:

I am curious whether you heard as far away as Boston about the storm of the century we had here in Anchorage about two weeks ago. 130 mph winds, right off the inlet and onto our poor little condo. The winds and low temperatures also meant there was about a -30 degree F windchill. First the power went out and the car alarms in the neighborhood were going off like crazy. Debris was flying everywhere, trees were going down, and the dust was high. Then the roof flew off next door (from the green house on the corner), up about 15′ and onto our building’s roof, crushing it and breaking a joist. Boards were falling from the ceiling onto Sylvia & Jerry while they were in bed (Jerry tried to dismiss Mom’s complaints about the roof falling in until a board hit him in the ear! That is what he deserved). Then, early in the morning, our downstairs neighbor, Sherman, came flying into my condo announcing that the pipes had burst and water was spraying everywhere. We had to shut off the water. Concurrent with this, we also lost our heat. The water and heat stayed off for about a week. 

Marion lives in Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska and one of the places with the mildest climate. Full post, including comments