Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Paranormal is Common Today (updated)

We all know that the phrase the new normal is common today.  Much of its use is due to misconceptions about what normal is or should be.  Even though we often assume that things will conform to expectations, more often than not they do not.

Normal, normality, and other variants such as abnormal, anti-normal, and paranormal are Modernist ideas.  While many of these words, or their roots, are much older, they all get a big increase in usage during the widest breadth of Modernism, ca. 1890-1990.  The Latin root norma refers to a carpenter's square, rule, or pattern.  What could be more left hemisphere Apollonian than this?

Thus, in Dionysian eras like today, normal is less interesting and its use is diminished.

Normal is defined as (from

1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.
2. serving to establish a standard.
3. Psychology . (a). approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment. (b). free from any mental disorder; sane.
4. Biology, Medicine/Medical . (a). free from any infection or other form of disease or malformation, or from experimental therapy or manipulation. (b). of natural occurrence.
5. Mathematics . (a). being at right angles, as a line; perpendicular. (b). of the nature of or pertaining to a mathematical normal. (c). (of an orthogonal system of real functions) defined so that the integral of the square of the absolute value of any function is 1. (d). (of a topological space) having the property that corresponding to every pair of disjoint closed sets are two disjoint open sets, each containing one of the closed sets. (e). (of a subgroup) having the property that the same set of elements results when all the elements of the subgroup are operated on consistently on the left and consistently on the right by any element of the group; invariant.
6. Chemistry . (a). (of a solution) containing one equivalent weight of the constituent in question in one liter of solution. (b). pertaining to an aliphatic hydrocarbon having a straight unbranched carbon chain, each carbon atom of which is joined to no more than two other carbon atoms. c. of or pertaining to a neutral salt in which any replaceable hydroxyl groups or hydrogen atoms have been replaced by other groups or atoms, as sodium sulfate, Na 2 SO 4 .
7. the average or mean: Production may fall below normal.
8. the standard or type.
9. Mathematics . (a). a perpendicular line or plane, especially one perpendicular to a tangent line of a curve, or a tangent plane of a surface, at the point of contact. (b). the portion of this perpendicular line included between its point of contact with the curve and the x- axis.

Given its clear scientific connection, one might think that normal has a long history of usage.  In reality, it does not.  Other words such as regular, average, usual and common were used previously.

(click on chart for bigger view)

From the above chart we can see that normal and average where used mostly in the 20th century.  In the 18th century common and regular were more common.  In the 19th century common declines but is still most popular, and, usual became another widely used term.  Common, regular and usual decline as normal and average increase.  I suspect that common ceases to have much scientific use in the 20th century.

So, when we say something like the new normal is we are generally acknowledging that Modernist ideas about assumed patterns or norms have changed or are not working as expected.  In a deeper metaphorical sense, the real important change is that people are not interested in old-fashioned normal behavior or concepts.  While they heed those ideas, they also want and look for deviation and diversity.

This is one reason why the interest in the paranormal has become so common.  Again from

of or pertaining to the claimed occurrence of an event or perception without scientific explanation, as psychokinesis, extrasensory perception, or other purportedly supernatural phenomena.

The phrase without scientific explanation is likely key here as I suspect it is falling apart; it is becoming more acceptable to use science to explain these issues than it was previously, and, in some cases, the paranormal is being viewed as normal.

Post Modernism has blurred the difference between normal and other forms of it.  Television shows such as Ghost Hunters and Paranormal State provide credibility to the normal investigation of such phenomena.  A show called Sanctuary even places humans and abnormals into various factions as allies and antagonists.  We all know that ghosts, werewolves and vampires rule popular entertainment.

In Western Civilization:
(a) when Apollonian metaphors dominate, humans are not animals as man and nature are viewed as being in conflict, and, life and death are separate categories that should not blur.
(b) when Dionysian metaphors dominate, man and nature are one, there is no distinction between humans and animals as we all have our human and animal traits, and, life and death are a continuum of spirituality.

So don’t forget to watch the new season of Being Human, which is about vampires, werewolves, and ghosts—you know, people just being normal.

Update 4 Jan, 2012:
Seems this one may have influenced another

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Culture and the Divided Brain

One of the important themes on this blog is that the asymmetry and lateralization of the human brain influences broad patterns of culture; that while cultures always display characteristics of both hemispheres, at any given time a culture will lean left or right hemisphere; and, that major cultural change is often seen as a transition to one macro pattern to the other.  I discussed these issues here and here.  Following from Nietzsche, left hemisphere cultural patterns are called Apollonian and right hemisphere patterns are Dionysian.  Iain McGilchrist provides the best discussion of Nietzsche’s two patterns and the hemispheres, here.  Additionally, Apollonian is known as Low Context culture and Dionysian is High Context culture based on the work of Edward T Hall, here.  Cultural transitions from one emphasis to the other are called Awakenings, here & here.  In addition, don’t forget Levi Strauss and his two types, the Engineer and the bricoleur, here.

Human thought is mostly unconscious; and it is mostly metaphorical with a small amount of literalism.  Cultural patterns can also be thought of as complex metaphors.  Thus, to say that the brain influences culture it is through the creation of and perpetuation of metaphors.  One good example of broad complex metaphors is the contrast in American culture between the Strict Father metaphor and the Co-parenting metaphor that is also generally associated with republicans and democrats, here.  The strict father is an authoritarian orderly metaphor (left hemisphere) and the Co parenting metaphor is a right hemisphere one steeped in empathy.  Also, note the simple understanding of the bible; the Old Testament is left hemisphere and the New Testament is right hemisphere, authority versus empathy.

Every culture is a complex whole comprised of hundreds, maybe thousands, of complex metaphors that lean one way or the other, hemisphere wise.  One thing to remember is that complex metaphors can change over time, they can be made up of many sub complex metaphors that also change and maybe confound the issue by leaning the opposite way—the Strict Father pattern may have sub metaphors that lean right hemisphere because a touch of empathy is needed.

Awakenings are when a culture’s basic set of complex metaphors switch from one orientation to another, such as, in American history, from Romanticism to Modernism (from emphasizing the right hemisphere to the left one) during the Progressive Era, circa 1890-1920.  During the Awakening metaphors satisfying both hemispheres are stressed, thus the era is exceptionally energetic and cultural entropy increases, here.

This basically sums up one important idea that drives this blog.  The others are the Cultural seasons model, turnings, and the Generations model, both espoused by Strauss and Howe, here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Mass of Christ

Did the early Christians steal a pagan festival or was it the other way around?

Here is some interesting reading and

Friday, December 2, 2011

80 is Not the New 65

Here is the type of talk that drives me crazy.

Watch this video (I can’t embed it), here.

The constant hype that people will live forever is so stupid.  And, with living longer, they will also work longer.

Back in 1900 when the average life span was about 49 that argument was likely true because there was extra capacity in the human body.  Today, with average life spans in the high 70s, do you really think you’ll be productive after 70? I doubt it.  Most people can't do it physically, mentally, or both.

A small percentage of the population will do this.  I suggest it will be a smaller percentage than most think, less than 20 percent. 80 percent of the elderly need a lot of care, they live propped up on medications, spend too much time in doctor’s offices, and likely have senior moments when they can’t remember anything. The point is that the body is not genetically able to perform at peak levels after age 70.  Ever play golf with old duffers? They talk about one day of golf leading to two days of rest.  If you watch elderly people, they tend to stair step down in their abilities.

In the book the Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism Robert Fogel described how in American history our population's health and stature has vacillated between highs and lows.  In the late 18th century there was a high; people lived longer and stature was robust (eg. George Washington was over 6 feet and not considered overly tall).   By the end of the 19th century average health and stature had diminished greatly.  Over the 20th century both longevity and stature rose again.

Now in the early 21st century I suggest that the trend reverses, stature and longevity will decline.  At the end of recent Apollonian eras (Enlightenment, Modernism) overall health has been better across the population.  At the end of recent Dionysian eras (late 17th century; Romanticism) overall health has been worse.

In other words, since we are in another Dionysian era, be prepared for a big decline in the overall quality of life for most of the population lasting several decades.   If you take care of yourself, you can be part of that 20 percent who live well longer.

Update April 29, 2012:
see the  essay by Mish which is a response to this.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fairness Doctrine as Modernism

One of my main interests on this blog is describing the transition from an Apollonian culture to a Dionysian one that started in the 1960s and was generally complete by 1990.  In other terms, this is the transition from Modernism to romantic Post Modernism.

There are, of course, many minor patterns of Modernism that persist simply because some are hard to change due to laws or they are bundled up with other patterns that are Dionysian.  Additionally, there are still many older people active in the public sphere who cling to older thoughts and values.   In the political economic sphere, those who still adhere to the “Neoliberal” agenda, and that includes the more radical neocons, are part of this older tradition.   In more political terms, those whom Lakoff called “neoliberal” and some of the moderate conservatives fall into this group (the extreme conservatives, are by definition, Dionysian) .

One Modernist idea recently closed out is the Fairness Doctrine.  From wikipediA :

“The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, that required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was, in the Commission's view, honest, equitable and balanced. The FCC decided to eliminate the Doctrine in 1987, and in August 2011 the FCC formally removed the language that implemented the Doctrine… The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented… The main agenda for the doctrine was to ensure that viewers were exposed to a diversity of viewpoints.

In the mid-1980s, under FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler, a communications attorney who had served on Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign staff in 1976 and 1980, the commission began to repeal parts of the Fairness Doctrine, stating in 1985 that the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

In June 2011, the Chairman and a subcommittee chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, both Republicans, said that the FCC, in response to their requests, had set a target date of August 2011 for removing the Fairness Doctrine and other "outdated" regulations from the FCC's rulebook.

On August 22, 2011, the FCC formally voted to repeal the language that implemented the Fairness Doctrine, along with removal of more than eighty other rules and regulations, from the Federal Register following a White House executive order directing a "government-wide review of regulations already on the books", to eliminate unnecessary regulations.

News items are found here,

The Fairness Doctrine is a fine example of Modernism.  The whole intent is to allow the assessment of ideas and concepts in a public format.  And, Modernists were all about ideas and their merits.  The Doctrine also supported the sense of objectivity that was expected in journalistic venues.

In a Dionysian culture, the emphasis is on power and control.  The merits of ideas are less relevant.  Objectivity, or the farce of it, is now a tool for manipulating people into voting blocks.  Journalism now has a preacher style instead of an inquisitive intellectual one.

The best example of the Doctrine is found in the old Firing Line series hosted by William F Buckley, although many other shows had it too (Dick Cavett, Point/Counterpoint).  Today, the PBS News Hour seems to be the last real attempt at implementing the Doctrine.

Here is a video of Buckley in action with Huey Newton, circa 1970, as they discuss the idea of revolution:

The inquisitive nature of Modernism also  influenced other forms of public culture. Here is a link to a 1950s You Bet Your Life show; watch the inter play between a scientist and Groucho Marx

Groucho even says at one point “do you want my job?”

Under Modernism Fair Doctrine conversations were exposés in questioning.  Today, the goal is to be dogmatic and convey a position.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Occupy Wall Street as Mutualism

I’ve been watching the Occupy Wall Street movement; basically, I am in agreement with them.

Their newsletter web pages seem to be these

Much of the perspective given by the occupiers is that they are doing it socially.  The young Millienials that are the rank and file of this movement are collectivists.

Much of the anti-Occupy commentary seems to rely on the words communism and socialism; these old work horses of the far right are used to demonize anything collective. 

Obviously, today these words do not reek of Marxist political leanings.   As slurs, communism and socialism basically mean anti collectivism.   They have become ideas that oppose the myth of rugged individualism that a portion of our society tends to worship, as embodied in the likes of Herman Cain.

Here in the Northwest, the phrase Living Socially is common.  It is a bench mark phrase of our new post modern Dionysian culture. Living Socially is what the Occupiers are doing, even if some of their posters do evoke old fashioned communism. 

Don't be confused.  There is nothing Marxist about the Occupy movement because it is tied to older communal concepts such as mutual-ism and co-operatives, which, ironically, is where insurance began.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wall Street--Occupy This

Someone had to say it.

Watch these videos--are we led by real leaders?



Well, I obviously wasn't the first to used the phrase.  Google it and there are many more out there.
Here is one I kinda liked:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Split Brains are Not Normal

I have tried to avoid simplifying the relationship between brain and culture (see here).   It is all too easy to say the Apollonian is left-brain focused and the Dionysian is right-brain focused.   Unfortunately, we have these complicated issues broadcast to everyone in simple terms.   Here is an example

On the one had I am in favor of sharing the great results of science to everyone.   On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder “Why don’t they talk about whole complete normal brains?” instead of talking about the abnormal instances of split brains? 

So what if there are differences in the “two brains” by severing them?  Our goal is to understand the full complexity of the brain, not the unnatural instance of splitting one.

Brain hemisphere specialization is interesting but the brain likely functions different when its corpus callosum is intact rather than severed.   I question the results of 'hemisphere specialization' when a non normal brain is used as evidence.

Also, those who think that it’s best to have the left hemisphere over the right just reveal their biases, particularism and causality over holism and intuition.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The New Romanticism in Action

Below are two videos that I think reveal the new romanticism that is coming out in America.

The Occupy Wall Street folks and their spinoffs have an interesting way of conducting a open meeting.  watch this


I don't know who the ConservArt group is but the video is interesting.  I am tempted to make the following statement

repeat after me "Our father, who art in heaven...." 

Such is group think.

Now for a scholar about group think see this video at TED (I can't paste it here)

Why is this post modern romanticism?  First, the old linear ideas don't get used.  Second, egalitarianism is rampant, and likely excessive. Third, Both sides of the old party line get bashed; neoliberals and neocons are indignant about these protests.

Yin and Yang, closed and open, Apollonian and Dionysian.  Are we there yet?

Waves of Intellectualism: We are at a Low

Many people consider anti intellectualism an aspect of Post Modernism (aka our new Dionysian Romanticism).  I suspect the reason for this is that the rise of anti intellectualism in the 1980s is coeval with the more obvious push of Post Modernism in those years.  However, let’s not forget that much of Post Modernism has been pushed by people who would normally be viewed as intellectuals.  And, the Dionysian basis of Post Modernism was well entrenched by the mid 1960s.

Intellectuals and anti intellectuals are found in any era.  During the age of scientism (ca. 1890-1985) many disliked arrogant professors or they made fun of mad professors.  During the romanticism of the 19th century should we call the Transcendentalists anti intellectuals?  Doers versus thinkers is not Dionysian versus Apollonian.

Our current wave of anti intellectualism began in the early 1980s under Reagan and it likely peaked under Bush Jr.  This wave has been a concerted attack on rigorous thinking and research, and the whole system of Modernist meritocracy built around good thinking and research.  Anti intellectualism has been a tool by the materialists of our society to subvert hindrances to corporate profit.  The recent wave likely was started by the tobacco industry (Allan Brandt) and then used by the oligarchy to subvert the conservative right (here) which prior to Reagan was quite intellectual.

The spread of anti intellectualism in America has been intentional; the goal has been to make consumers and voters stupid so that higher profits could be made, and regulations reduced.  Anti intellectualism is not a Dionysian impulse in of itself; using it to gain power and money is a Dionysian impulse.

Into this mix we have the problems of academia and the corporatization of our universities.  The demise of good science and history is a result of anti intellectualism impulsion through society.  Here is an example.

Historian David Kaiser (wiki, blog) recently wrote a nice piece about how the history profession has changed over the last three decades, here.  He describes what history used to be like and what it has become.  He views himself as being a product of the modernist era and wishes that it was still active.  Here are some of his descriptions.

To Kaiser, Modernist historians were…
trained to address, research, and study great questions of war and peace...They took their own and others’ opinions on those questions very seriously, and they enjoyed discussing these questions in a frank, if generally friendly spirit…Most importantly of all, perhaps, the historians and political scientists…did not feel bound to confine their comments to their research specialties.  We had been taught that historians have opinions on every major question, and we expressed them…[H]istorians used the fullest possible documentary record to make the best judgments they could about what actually happened.

He argues that…
Now a new view [has taken] hold [Post Modernism]:  that arguments about knowledge…were about the interests of groups, not the opinions of individuals, and that everyone was free to reshape the past based in large part on identity politics…A new view of history has triumphed, one which indeed denies the existence of any single truth…Everyone, it seems, is entitled to his or her own small plot of intellectual land, within which he or she can develop a particular variety of history.  A general non-aggression pact among the practitioners prevails.  The idea that certain books are superior in research, argument, or scholarship to others has become most unfashionable…Another feature of the current historical profession:  historians (and political scientists) are afraid to take a stand…[S]erious archival work involving exhaustive research has fallen out of fashion…[T]hat the changes in the academy have benefited the political right far more than the political left.  Because the historical profession is no longer interested in the doings of the rich and powerful, but only in the lives of the marginalized…

Certainly, under Modernism people generally believed in absolute truths--and history and (general systems theory) science benefited from this.  However, the Post Modern switch to relativistic perspectives can also lead to good science and history.  Creating relativistic and situational understandings of life is a good goal for both, and many are pursuing it (e.g. here).  

Actually, I think Kaiser is complaining more about the rise of “bad history” or “pseudo history,” the fact that many do not take their work seriously, so they don’t need to take a stand about anything.  Modernist intellectuals tend to view themselves as being serious and they want to be “taken” seriously.  The intellectual has authority when they are taken seriously.  The demise of authority in this country is due to the spread of egalitarianism that is a part of the Dionysian trend.

An educated mob has taken over academia and they will play out the processes of Dionysian hierarchy building (power and money dominate) as they please; and any older Apollonian advocate of modernist meritocracy will need to step aside.  Good luck David.

Intellectualism in America comes in waves and there are peaks and valleys.  There are periods when the whole culture is caught up in good thinking or bad thinking.  I think America’s intellectual high points are the Awakenings, leaving of course, the low points to be the secular crises.

The demise of history is not due to post modernism; it is a micro reflection of a culture that went from Awakening to unraveling to crisis.  There will be a new high and a new Awakening.  I fully expect our New Romanticism to have a powerful intellectual and ecstatic climax similar to the Progressive Awakening (1890-1920), which to my mind still stands as the greatest era of creativity in the history of Western Civilization.

Update #1

I was pinged that I have contradicted myself.   Remember the matrix metaphor, multi-scalar discussions are the norm here.

Level  One:   the recent transition from Apollonian to Dionysian occurred in the Fourth Awakening 1960-1990.  American culture is predominately Dionysian; some sectors of society are still in transition.

Level Two :  The transition from the Rationalist/linear/Modernism to the Intuitive/nonlinear/Post Modernism patterns.

Level three:  changes in Institutions within our culture reflect levels one and two.

Level Four:  there will be great diversity among Individuals.

My comment The demise of good science and history is a result of anti intellectualism impulsion through society is a Level Three statement.

My comment The demise of history is not due to post modernism; it is a micro reflection of a culture that went from Awakening to unraveling to crisis is a Level Two statement.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Objectivity as Modernism

When I was in college and graduate school in the 1970s and 80s I learned the scientific method.  There was a lot of focus on being objective.  While I never questioned the concept I do remember that I preferred other words similar to it, such as impartial or disinterested.  In the 80s and 90s, objectivity came under great pressure from critics who rightly pointed out that one cannot suppress their feelings or emotions or biases while doing research.  Today, the basic idea is to understand these biases and mitigate against them if possible.  Or, maybe we just live with the lack of impartial arguments.

Objectivity is a modernist idea.  It wasn’t part of the Enlightenment agenda; usage of the word gets its peak around 1970, noting that the last swing to a higher peak after 1980 is likely the post modern counter attack. [click on image for better view; use the back button to return]

Prior to this, the word Impartial was the main idea during the Enlightenment

 In the early 19th century the word Disinterested was fairly common.

As scientism faded in the later part of the twentieth century so does objectivity.  Subjectivity and Conflict of Interest get more usage as post modern discussions get going.  With Subjectivity being the flip of Objectivity it too is falling into disuse.

The real concern in our new romantic era is conflict of interest and the partiality of many observers and commentators.

Note:  All Ngrams are done for the period 1700-2008 with a smoothing of 3 for English.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Addiction Goes Dionysian But Falls Short of Real Change

It looks like the “illness” called “addiction” has gone into the right hemisphere.  The medical community has released a new definition (here; a news story about it here) and it is very much a Dionysian version.

From the news essay:

Addiction…is a “bio-psycho-socio-spiritual” illness characterized by (a) damaged decision-making (affecting learning, perception, and judgment) and by (b) persistent risk and/or recurrence of relapse; the unambiguous implications are that (a) addicts have no control over their addictive behaviors and (b) total abstinence is, for some addicts, an unrealistic goal of effective treatment.


bad behaviors themselves are all symptoms of addiction, not the disease itself. "The state of addiction is not the same as the state of intoxication…” Far from being evidence of a failure of will or morality, the behaviors are the addict's attempt to resolve the general "dysfunctional emotional state" that develops in tandem with the disease.

While I am in general agreement with the new definition (because I prefer Dionysian holistic views on medicine and the old Modernist view was medieval), I also find some of its wording to be awful.

We continue to place “mental illness” in categories that demean people and incite prejudice.  Calling something a “disorder” or “dysfunction” or “illness” tends to place those with these traits into a living hell.  They are pushed to the margins of our society and generally treated poorly by the masses.

When you start out by calling something “bad behavior” or “illness” or “disorder” you taint the characterization with moral overtones.  While the medical community tries very hard to combat the morality discussion (Far from being evidence of a failure of will or morality) all they do is perpetuate it.  Terms such as these are based in Apollonian values of order, functionality, and “normality” (as defined by the scientific community) [1].

If you want to argue that people with “mental illness” are not immoral [2], then you must rephrase the discussion. 

Such as, some people are mentally blessed, they are closer to god, they are touched by god.  Their purpose in society is to inspire us and remind us of our shortcomings.  Many of these people have spurts of creativity that most of us will never have; many are or have been conceptual geniuses who can give us brief periods of wonder and bedazzlement. When their era of creativity is done we take care of them with honesty and dignity.

If 10 percent of our society has “mental illness” then why is it an illness?  Why not view it as part of the known range of human existence, as part of the order of life?  From this perspective we can confront excessive or destructive behaviors as something we want to limit without demeaning people or stifling creativity.

1. Modernists were obsessed with psychological and psychiatric issues; they wanted to define normal mental behavior and kill off all "abnormal" mentality.  They were broadly anti mental illness.  It threatened their love of intellectualism and conceptualism. They used to say that there was a thin line between genius and crazy. I think they were using bad ideas.
2.  Why do we have to continually live with 18th century (Kantian) ideas about human morality?  If excessive literalism is an addiction are Christian fundamentalists "addicts"?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Risk Free is Buried

Last week I discussed the S & P downgrade and focused on the loss of “risk free” investing, here.

Others have focused on the issue too.  Here are some good examples.

Good Luck out there.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pajamas and Pancakes: Anytime & Anywhere

At Wal-Mart the other day, I saw people wearing pajamas while shopping.  Just search “shopping in pajamas” to see commentary and videos about it.  I wondered:  when did it become okay for such casualness?  Also, why do I think it is casual?  After all, some people think it is just normal.

As a kid, I grew up in a world where the social rules of conduct were based in Modernism, a world of order and hierarchy.  Everything in its place and a place for everything was a common phrase.  That meant that there were acceptable clothing styles for different parts of the day, for working or leisure, and for being in public or in private.  Various activities all had their clothing selections and were defined as formal or casual.   Golf shoes were for golf and not hiking; tennis shoes were for tennis not basketball.  Pajamas were worn while sleeping and maybe having breakfast with the kids--not shopping.

There used to be all kinds of rules for formality and being in public.  Restaurants had dress codes.  The more formal or upscale the place the more strict the rules.  Dinner jackets and ties for men; dresses and nylons for women.  Many places had No Shirts No Shoes No Service signs by the entry.

Clothing reflected social status.  Family restaurants were casual and noisy with children.  Formal dining was quiet, reserved, and full of ties and dresses.

Under Modernism there were three meals a day and each had its separate items.  Breakfast was eggs and pancakes or cereal.  Lunch was sandwiches and/or soup; dinner was a main dish and maybe a dessert.  Restaurants had different menus for each meal.   

In the 1980s and 90s this all changed due to the spread of our new Romanticism.  Casualness spread everywhere because formality declined everywhere. Public and private blended, as did work and leisure. Modernism was steeped in its domestications and hierarchies of cultural class.  All of it was defined by what you did, what you wore, what you read.  Paul Fussell (here) described very well America’s classes as they were at the end of Modernism.   He takes the three old classes of early Modernism (High Brow, Middle Brow, and Low Brow) and breaks them down into several subclasses of each. 

Under Modernism, the upper crust abhorred egalitarianism.  Under Romanticism, egalitarianism is the dominant theme.  Modernist social class (based on education, occupation, & money) has collapsed into Romanticism’s two groups, the Haves and the Have Nots (money and power divides everything); the Alpha personalities against everyone else.

Today, we have few outlets for formality.  You still see it in weddings and some ceremonies.  Graduations tend to maintain the old sense of order but the number of people wearing spoofy outfits (or nothing) under their gowns has turned these events into opportunities for satire.

In terms of clothing, there has been some backlash to the casualness.  Mild dress codes are still in force or are being reinstalled with different levels of acceptability.  However, meal categories are now useless.  Restaurants now have breakfast all day ads or their menus are a blend of separate meal categories and items served all day (see here for the Jack in the Box menu). 

Some have yet to figure this out.  McDonalds--Does it really matter what time of day I buy a Big Mac or an Egg Mac Muffin? 

You won’t see me in pajamas at Wal-Mart (because I don’t wear them).  However, if I want pancakes for dinner, I will have them.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

About that Downgrade

After the close on Friday the S & P folks downgraded US debt, here.  The ramifications of this are hard to understand but I offer one view of it.

Back in the day when I was studying for the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) the mantra was that people invest in stocks because they provide an acceptable risk/reward rate of return above treasuries.  If you are not willing to accept any risk then put your money into treasuries.  We had to know the formulas for estimating future prices of stocks and one common formula used the basic idea known as the risk free choice, using US treasury bonds of some duration, often the 10 year.  The formula used the current stock price, the current treasury yield, a future date in time, projected earnings per share, and did a time value of money calculation.  So the estimated future price of a stock would be based on some acceptable level of risk above the rate of treasuries.

Now that treasuries have been downgraded, they cannot be viewed as risk free and some other AAA rated instrument should be used.  What it will be, I do not know.

Thus, estimating future returns of stocks is now made more difficult.  Thus, more uncertainty will hit the markets.

Another thought is that all the contracts and loans that require AAA bonds as collateral will now be in jeopardy because that collateral is likely treasuries.  Some bank borrows 100 million and puts down 10 million in treasuries as AAA collateral now has to dump their treasuries and swap in something else.

All this suggests that precious metals will bounce hard.  Maybe that is why they were smacked down last week as the insiders played this game.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Re-Emerging Romanticism at Yosemite

The Management at Yosemite National Park is planning to cut many trees.  Here is the story: “Thousands of younger pines and cedars will be cut down this fall to restore many of the park's original scenic vistas that in previous decades were managed by natural and controlled fires”.

At first glance, I have to ask Why is this news?  The NPS has been managing vistas since day one of their mission.  At Yellowstone earlier this month, every vista we stopped at had cut tress lying about.  Every roadway showed signs of tree thinning.  National Parks are managed properties; to think that they are untouched by human agency is silly.

Upon deeper thought, I think this issue at Yosemite represents, although subtly, the ideas expressed in this blog.  The conflict that park officials are facing is one of shifting metaphors, from Modernism to the new romanticism.

Under Modernism, there is a well-defined division between man and nature, or culture and nature.  The news article expressed this in its opening statement that vistas were “managed by natural and controlled fires.”  Natural here is a reference to non-human events such as lightning strikes; controlled fires refers to human events.  The complex metaphor underlying it all is that human behavior and natural events are two separate processes--that humans are exclusive of nature.  Additionally, modernists generally believe they can control nature, and, for certain parks, “wilderness” areas are set aside such that nature can run amok within controlled spaces.  Modernism is about human imposed order on the world and entropic processes are placed, categorized, within controlled boxes (here).

The Yosemite scenic vista plan continues this philosophy in its Abstract:  “Yosemite National Park is an icon of scenic grandeur.  When set aside in 1864, Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove were the first scenic natural areas in the United States protected for public benefit and appreciation of the scenic landscape…The purpose of the Scenic Vista Management Plan is to develop a systematic program to document, protect, and reestablish Yosemite's important viewpoints and vistas, consistent with the natural processes and human influences that created them’ [emphasis added].

I bolded the modernist ideas, those that express man controlling nature.  The abstract also retains a 19th century romantic idea that certain scenic areas need to be protected “for public benefit and appreciation.”  Beautiful vistas should be shared and enjoyed by all.

If the NPS were operating within a fully romantic metaphor, the statement would read something like this:  Yosemite National Park is an icon of scenic grandeur.  When set aside in 1864, Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove were the first scenic areas in the United States to be reserved for public benefit and appreciation because of their scenic beauty.  The purpose of the Scenic Vista Management Plan is to outline the choreography that will be used to embellish those scenic vistas that have been identified as having been diminished by vegetation encroachment.  The NPS believes that public benefit and appreciation of the vistas will be greatly enhanced once the work is completed.  Recognizing that other opinions about this are important, the NPS solicited public comments and offered replies, and these are included at the end of this document.

Our new romanticism starts with the basic idea that humans are natural and that culture is a subset of nature.  Humanity is inclusive of nature.  Humans engage with their environment and they manipulate it.  That environment includes other animals, vegetation, water, air, asphalt, concrete, and glass.

This perspective then provides clarity to the NPS problem:  how much human agency do we want within a park such as Yosemite?  What percentage of the park is to be biotic versus non-biotic, what species do you want, and what photographs do people generally want to take at what vistas?

There is a reason that Artist Point and Inspiration Point are popular places at Yellowstone and Yosemite—their names are perfect for what they are, places for and of artistry and inspiration.

The NPS is shifting to this new romantic perspective but like any federal agency the meaning changes before the actual words do.  NPS employees are operating romantically even though their management plans are a confusing blend of old and new metaphors.  The news article reports:

"We are managing the park for people," said Kevin McCardle, a park service historical architect who headed up the scenic vista team.  "We have to create roads, we have to create parking lots, we have to create space for people.  We are creating space for visitors to see the park."

Yes they are.  National Parks are for people's imagination.  The NPS needs to change some more.  I have no argument with an historical architect heading up a scenic vista team; understanding view sheds is what they do.  That team should also include a poet, a writer, a photographer, and a painter.  If cutting trees will enhance the awesomeness of the below view, and I assume it can be done, then please, cut some trees.