Hans Rosling

The rise and proliferation of politically correct ideologies has always created mutually uncomprehending disputants. In recent years, this has accelerated to the point that hard-core ideologues in the so-called political elite were so out of touch, willfully or otherwise, with ordinary society that they became almost literally unaware that there was life outside of their own specific echo chamber. Obviously, the recent presidential election is still poorly understood evidence of this.

I recently heard this separation of ideologically defined groups described as their “delaminating” from the rest of American society.

Delaminating. A striking, concerning, way to express it, to visualize segments of our culture shearing apart from each other in such a way as to suggest they may never again be able to appreciate one another as fellow citizens.

One person who has been both prudently attuned to issues of this sort, related to our stewardship of our planet and of ourselves, and who we sadly lost earlier this month, displayed his genuine and deep awareness refreshingly and with wonderfully engaging insight – and from both sides, in a way that comprehended the issues from key angles and offered a unifying way to appreciate them and proceed in addressing them.

Follow this link, pick any topic that strikes your fancy, and sit back for a few minutes of enlightening, entertaining, “laminating” perspective. You will find that he is also justly famous for his vastly inventive and illustrative means of organizing and presenting, of all things, statistics.


One of us

He was unlike any previous president.

He was – startlingly, unpretentiously, magnificently – simply one of us.

No privileged upbringing; no distinguished lineage or connections; no education really, other than what he obtained by his own efforts; no prospects. Just a farmer’s son, hired out until he reached the age of majority, a steady and intrepid work mate, an undistinguished businessman, a self-taught country lawyer.

Even when he began to make his name in politics, he never forgot where he came from. He never forgot who he was.

Even when he began to stand out from the crowd, he never separated from it. He remained among us always; listening, learning, internalizing, deepening his understanding of who we were – who he was. He was one of us, and he knew the richness of that.

The great questions of his time revolved around what the young United States really meant. He studied this problem deeply. He identified the fundamental founding documents that he believed unquestionably and for all time settled the matter.

And he combined those carefully cultivated convictions with his profoundly subtle understanding of the people of the country, of whom he was uniquely – and indispensably – one. This great idea, this “last best hope of earth” is what he and we fought to keep alive, to re-unite, to heal.

We, of course, do this still. And if we continue to look among ourselves for the wisdom, steadiness, and insight to carry on the effort, we will find it, as we did him, deeply ingrained there.

Please consider including the following among your resources for increasing your own understanding of Abraham Lincoln, his times and struggles, and of our own.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, is a justly famous accounting of Lincoln’s politically and managerially astute selection and use of his cabinet officers. See my review here.

Abraham Lincoln, by Lord Charnwood, is a deeply respectful analysis of Lincon’s character and his political philosophy, which combined made him the historically great statesman Charnwood celebrates.

A. Lincoln, by Ronald C. White, shows the rich moral development of Lincoln from his youth throughout his entire life.

Founder’s Son, by Richard Brookhiser, is an important examination of how Lincoln understood the great American experiment, which founding documents he identified as embodying it, and the manner in which he linked these to the momentous events that defined his times and his presidency.

Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years, by Carl Sandburg, has been criticized by some for its poetic license and inclusion of unverified folklore. But Sandburg was a poet, one who understood America, and who beautifully, poetically, explains to Americans this great president who arose so wondrously and inevitably from among them.

I would also recommend to you Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln.” It brilliantly chooses to shape the central story of this man and this country around the pivotally profound campaign to pass the Thirteenth Amendment.

And while doing your reading assignments, you may also wish to listen to the quintessentially American composer Aaron Copland’s incomparable “Lincoln Portrait,” with narration by Henry Fonda.

Learning and earning

Equipping people to stay ahead of technological change

It is easy to say that people need to keep learning throughout their careers. The practicalities are daunting

Source: Equipping people to stay ahead of technological change

What is daunting about it, according to this recent item in The Economist, is that life-long education designed to keep up with technological change increases inequality, rather than decreasing it as, The Economist implausibly argues, traditional education used to do.

Education since the industrial revolution, and in the US in the mid- 19th century, did greatly increase the size of the middle class. But it may be unclear how much it reduced (and it can certainly be argued that it was never specifically intended to reduce) what we today call income inequality. Possibly no one even thought of the issue in those terms. It was intended to increase the nation’s wealth and productivity. And the famous post-WWII education boom promoted by the government also aimed at harnessing the energy and experience of vast numbers of young men newly released from military service.

But now that The Economist mentions it, an increase in inequality – as Edward Conard interestingly and creatively argues in “The Upside of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class,” – often is an indicator of important technological advances that contribute vastly more to the middle class and to the economy more broadly than is generally appreciated. Moreover, it is far more important a contributor in economic terms to the national economy than can the wealth retained by the those who create and institutionalize it be considered a cost.

Much of the dismay, then, over the concentration of wealth in evidently increasingly smaller numbers at the pinnacle of the economy may not really trouble average Americans – or even those among us broadly defined as poor, given, thanks, among other things, to government programs that Conard decries, how healthy, well-housed, -clothed, and -entertained American poor are compared even to upper-middle-class citizens of so many other countries in the world.

In this respect, Conard’s overarching argument – that an increase in inequality signifies the introduction of growth into the economy that substantially increases the well-being of virtually all of its members; a vastly greater aggregate good to the greater number than to merely specific individual beneficiaries – may have much to commend it. Surely, though, The Economist’s suggestion that inequality is in and of itself a fundamental wrong that education, or other public policy efforts, should address remains to be established.

But neither should the question of inequality be dismissed, at least not its broader, or longer term, implications.

It is likely that most Americans really don’t see the concentration of economic wealth in the hands of innovators and entrepreneurs as an issue. Still, could economic inequality – or the educational inequality that, many argue, leads to it – come to result in a concentration of power in an elite that is dangerous to American society and culture? Most of us probably think of the wealth some possess as more or less benign, since it has little real effect on us in our own lives. But power? Concentrated and applied control?

Perhaps The Economist, and other presumptive seekers of equality, should look beneath measures of difference which are essentially superficial, to which they assign what are often facilely errant meanings, to deeper questions of greater import and significance. Such questions are not difficult to identify. And the failure to do so isn’t difficult to notice, either.

How to make sense of 2016

Liberals lost most of the arguments this year. They should not feel defeated so much as invigorated

Source: How to make sense of 2016

The Economist appears to be sharing the general hysterical progressive denial experienced by so many “experts” who have both gotten so much wrong this past year, and who have found their “expertise” to be widely dismissed.

The item cited above, from their current issue, argues that liberalism, under siege from current waves of populism and nationalism, has much to be proud of, citing popular sovereignty and broadly available individual freedoms arising from governmental non-intervention in private lives. Thus, the article proclaims, liberals should not be downcast at the year’s events – Trump’s election, in particular – but should take heart that the values they support have wrought much good in the world, and will win out yet.

In so doing, however, the author conflates the genuinely beneficial – and, yes, enduring – values of classical political and economic liberalism with the modern phenomenon of aggressive progressivism. This latter ideology directly conflicts with those of classical liberalism. In particular, its practice has had the effect of reducing popular sovereignty and individual freedoms in favor of transnational institutions and expert-driven policies that are imposed without – often in the face of – local input. They thus inevitably – unsurprisingly, one would think – give rise to the reactions these “experts” cannot understand and which they thus cannot accept.

In the same issue, the “Lexington” column makes the remarkable argument that with Trump’s election, the United States is entering a dangerous period of “low trust” – citing throughout examples of what is to come that actually serve better as examples of what has brought us to this point.

It is sad to see a once intellectually formidable magazine descend to such willful self-delusion on topics like this. The paper has always had a reputation for unapologetically speaking its mind and frankly presenting its views on both politicians and policies. In the past, however, it has been both even-handed in addressing the issues under discussion, and clear-headed in weighing and assessing them. Today, unfortunately, it seems to have fallen irretrievably into the reactionary habit of stridently avowing absolutist opinions and responding to their rejection with reactionary obfuscation and scolding.

Manifest Destiny

We all know about this: the strongly persuasive early 19th century idea that the future of the new United States plainly lay in westward expansion, in occupying the whole of North America and sowing all the land, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with the historically revolutionary promise of American energy and virtues. Its destiny was to show that a great nation born of so extraordinary an idea as ours was not to be an ephemeral phenomenon soon exiting the stage of History, nor doomed to be but one more of its minor players. Its destiny, rather, was to rise inexorably, encompassing a great continent, taking its rightful place at the very forefront of the globe’s great powers – more even than that: to become a very maker of History itself.

Now, we today should bear in mind that this remarkable idea generally, and certainly its specific instruments, were hotly debated among Americans of the time. But, for all that, on marched the expansion of the irrepressible nation. The Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition set it all in motion, giving scope and logic to an irresistible force. The War of 1812 secured once and for all the nation’s independence from the U.K., and the Monroe Doctrine warned off all of Europe from further interference with the U.S.’s growing role and activity throughout the Americas. The Mexican-American War largely brought all of that to fruition, leaving little more than the process of consolidation, itself a cathartically transforming experience, which marks us to this day.

But, let us recall, manifest destiny was not solely about becoming a continental power. It was about establishing in the broad, rich land thus occupied, alongside the patently irrepressible American energy, the revolutionary virtues borne of this historically unique nation.

That’s what it was about. And for all the debate, there was no stopping it. There was no modifying it. There was, really, no controlling it. In the broadest sense, it was in fact our destiny, and it was inescapably manifest. And we did it.

But just as inevitably – and, it can be fairly argued, just as uniquely – we found ourselves pressed to wonder at what we reap from this whirlwind – indeed, to puzzle over what were the seeds we sowed with such faith, such energy. Such violence, perhaps.

And we began this national debate, early on – even as the object of debate was underway. It was then, as now, about who we are and what is our role in the world, in History. What, we ask, sets us apart – and in so asking, we express a key part of the answer.

So radical an experiment, so abrupt a departure from the normal course of human events, so exceptional a national discourse as ours inevitably uncovered – created – seemingly irreconcilable contradictions.

One of these was painfully aware to us early on. It distressingly marred our very founding documents. It provoked much of the harrowingly divisive evolution of our political structures and character.

And, in due course, it erupted into the American Civil War. This, too, was uniquely American, revolutionary. It was a terribly awe-inspiring, grotesquely innate piece of the whole – an inescapable stage in the experiment. An experiment, we should recall, we still conduct, the ramifications of which we still absorb and still struggle to understand, to bend to our purposes, to find useful to the accomplishment of our aims.

We will begin attempting that here, ourselves, in the New Year. See you then.

In the meanwhile, enjoy the Holidays!

Allow me to acknowledge the recent kind mention by Kurt Harden in his blog, Cultural Offering. In referring everyone to his site as well, I do not reciprocate his generous remarks. I merely yield to the obligation to pass along my own recommendation that you stop by there studiously, every day, as I do, to benefit from the observations of one who lives a wonderfully thoughtful life.