I’ve lately been riding the Washington Metro (the much resented, decidedly second-rate, but often adequate, rail transportation system) most days of the week at least once, sometimes twice.
It’s not as bad as it was a few years ago. Many of the old problems are still there and the system remains something of a disappointment, and at times an embarrassment. Certainly it is those things to those who have seen what other countries/places have done. I feel confident I’ve written on this topic before on these pages.
What I want to record here is on masks in the Metro, something unheard of before March/April 2020. I mean to try to coherently record some sociological observations here, so we’ll see if I can stay disciplined and do so.
First I should state my position clearly.
The “Covid Mask“:
A dehumanizing symbol of submission…
A psychological (re-)enforcer of destructive Flu Panic and vector of the Panic Pandemic…
A sign and symbol of social dis-cohesion, of atomization…
Even a form of moral cowardice, absolutely not the stuff of which greatness is made…
A magic amulet-like item useful for social signaling and little else (studies show no evidence of any benefit; blocking normal access to oxygen, though, does happen)…
In case any of that was too ambiguous, count me as against masks.
I was against them from, approximately, the start.
But as I write these words (this post was written/revised between July 20-22, 2021), the nightmare of living in dystopian Covid Mask World feels nearly entirely gone, in even the most pro-mask parts of the USA. I see almost no one in masks in public places outdoors anymore.
When one does see a masked visage on the street, it most often seems to be an East Asian. Not exclusively, but on a per capita basis they’re way out in front. And they look highly isolated now, just as they did before the Panic really got into gear.
There was a kind of unstated consensus that the wearing of surgical masks for some general fear of flu or cold viruses in public was a sign of some kind of social pathology. This quickly disappeared, but seems to have somewhat recovered. I was in Japan for a time in 2015 and saw a few of the masked-in-public people. There might be one on a full subway car, or one or two visible as you look over a very busy street from above. It was not a general practice. And in my time there I got the feeling that those Japanese who worse surgical masks outside were: (1) usually women, (2) in many cases clearly trying to conceal themselves from others, to hide, to be anonymous—for the high-riding mask was usually paired with a low-riding cap.
Masks in the big blue urban centers in the USA are even largely gone even from indoor places, but still far above the former rate of ~0.00%.
The tide turned somewhere back there in April/May and the entire Flu Panic regime was rapidly rolled back.
I’m trying to think, but I don’t think any stores even maintain an illusion of a mask rule anymore. The last of the major disruptions in for-profit businesses were gone by May/June, with a few stragglers reentering the world in early July. A few McDonalds still don’t allow dine-in as of early July, one tangible example of lingering disruptions, but a big one I pass regularly that clung bitterly to the shutdown model finally reopened June 13; but rival Burger King had been basically fully open for dine-in since at least June 2020.
Businesses serving paying customers, those who have multiple options for rivals, exist under market pressures and must cater to customers. Non-business monopolies do not need to do any such thing. Non-market monopolies can impose whatever rules or ways of doing things, be they ridiculous or humiliating or capriciously arbitrary or even malicious, that they want. (Cf. any Department of Motor Vehicles).
The only places I think you still see these mask rules are in such monopolies. That generally includes anything to do with governments. The Metro is a monopoly player and is quasi-government run.
This whole thing–the social phenomenon of the Flu Virus Panic–is, of course, big, a big deal to our culture and politics, some say the biggest such thing since 1945. Simple narratives are crammed through the avenues of opinion-shaping one one side or other, but the whole thing is highly complex. They’ll be studying this thing for years across lots of disciplines, how it happened and how it got such staying power.
I underpredicted the strength, and staying power, of this thing in spring 2020. I overpredicted its staying power a year later in early 2021. I don’t want to believe the Flu Panic people who demand crude, no-exit-strategy sledgehammer options will be back on top, when flu season comes again in a few months. I see worrying signs that they will be back, but maybe not.
In any case, I’ve been interested in signposts for this, basically from the start, and that is where the Washington Metro comes in.
There is a posted rule in Metro (“federal law requires you to wear a mask while in the…”). And signs of the old Flu Panic regime still linger in the system. But lots of people are now ignoring the mask rule on the trains and stations with impunity.
My observation, from a large sample of observations by now, suggests that if you enter the Metro system, wherein it is still nominally mandatory to obediently don the “Covid Mask,” you will see something like the following mask rates at any given time:
10% to 30%: No mask at all. In some of these cases, the person probably does not have one on him/her; in others, the person is still “carrying” but did not want to wear it and did not take it out;
10% to 30%: Have a mask but it’s just for show. A mask is visibly attached to the person in some way, hanging somewhere on or near their face, but NOT actively worn at any given moment;
40% to 80%: Loyally wearing a mask. The ruler followers.
A common type of non-masker is a relatively young, professionally dressed male. That type of passenger is much more likely to be conspicuously non-masked in Category 1 than tourists (to the extent there are many of them). All else equal, males are more likely than females to be free of a mask. All else equal, Blacks are more likely to be without a mask than Whites. Come to think of it, this latter one I suspect may shield the non-masked whole from any attempt at crackdown (the concept “disparate impact” comes back to bite…?)
There is flexibility between these categories, which is where one particular interesting sociological observation comes in.
I notice that tipping-points occur locally with masks on the Metro, via the “demonstration effect,” and can tip the ratio at any given moment.
An illustrative example:
Seven passengers are in one end of a train-car within peripheral vision of each other, aware of each other. Two of the seven have no masks. Five have masks. The two with masks show no sign of being ashamed of not wearing masks and content about it, breathing free. Of the five masked people, some don’t want to wear the masks but feel they have to, or are frightened to break a rule, or think another person might yell at them, some set of fears. Observing the non-masked passengers are not being attacked, insulted, accosted, or arrested, soon one or two or three of the five originally masked passengers either take off their masks or transition to the “Mask just for show” category. The ratio of 5:2 Mask:NoMask soon flips to 2:5 Mask:NoMask. Then a few more people board the train-car, all loyally masked, and one or all of the “defectors” tip back into the Masked camp, perhaps afraid of being yelled at by a Volunteer Mask Enforcer, calculating that their chances of unwanted problems have just done up and it’s not worth it; they slink back into East Berlin, leaving their heartier fellows who breached the Wall to their own devices.
Decisions are socially influenced. Everyone knows it but sometimes we get these beautiful little natural experiments to show it and see it.
Metro which nominally mandates masks but never enforces the mandate, and by now the wider-social pressures are much relaxed and few wear them outside anymore, and in the right conditions the number of mask-wearers can plunge, even under a system of stated penalties for failure to comply.
We are seeing here a modified free market at work, one which could have kicked in from the start, if they’d dlet people making their own decisions and adapt, which eventually they did (had to do) anyway. A very large part of this whole debacle and International Flu Panic Response Quagmire an endless social and economic damage could have been averted.
I have seen no real effort in the DC Metro system to enforce masks at all, in June/July 2021. I myself have foregone some potential rides in the second-rate world of the DC-area subway, in the recent past, because I didn’t have a mask with me and felt annoyed or morally offended by the practice. I realize now that this one-man boycott was not necessary, for I have seen not a word spoken to any of the rule-breakers, and after I realized this I, too, have decide to stop wearing masks in the Metro system.
It’s not like Korea. A 1990s-era guidebook I once read described South Korea as “a democracy with authoritarian overtones.” In Seoul, teams of police (?) strut through train cars inspecting passengers confronting people who fail to wear their masks to some perfect standard, demanding these people adjust their masks. Basically that’s the kind of scene you’d get in an dystopian nightmare-world. And a lot of good it did: Their major social and economic disruptions continue without a clear exit-strategy, and no political courage to simply reject the Panic and apologize for the whole thing. They are totally quagmired in the system they created.
Lately I’ve heard Singapore has taken steps to reject the Panic model and treat “Covid” as any other flu, dismantle the entire Anti-Covid dystopia-lite apparatus.
Top-down edicts work better in Singapore, of course, than a place like Washington DC or any other of the USA’s “big blue cities.” It may be one reason why there is no enforcement of the ostensible mask mandate in the Metro is that they think they simply can’t do it. And this means the entire thing is something of a giant with feet of clay, and people’s individual decisions drive the whole thing more than government edicts.
These personal choices exist over a baseline in which the stale leftovers of the Flu Panic regime’s marketing campaign are still visible, like “Workers of the World, Unite!” signs in shop windows you pass as you creep up to the Wall to observe those who have breached it and are on the other side.
A picture I took a few days ago, a pretty good example of the kind of marketing campaign I mean:
The forces of the Panic itself linger, but it was clear they were essentially out of power even in the USA’s “Big Blue” areas. The old slogans look weak now.
Here is another, taken on the same day:
The most ridiculous-seeming of all were the leftover posters warning passersby at the MLB stadium that “Covid-19 is a VERY DANGEROUS disease!” etc., as dozens of maskless people walk almost every minute, at close quarters to each other, for hours. (The Washington Nationals organization lifted its attendance-limit on June 9, and signaled it would be doing so weeks earlier.)
All this makes me wonder where things stand. In 2020 we saw the rise of a hardcore and ultra-committed Flu Panic coalition. You still hear from them but their influence, their hold on power which was once so impressive/terrifying, is shown now to be now pretty weak, even in monopoly-controlled spots that still cling to the old slogans, such as the Washington DC Metro system. Are they waiting for the next flu season to strike back in force?
There are signs that some in the old coalition want it to be over. As for Metro, they are running commercials on TV boasting about how they are doing super-special cleaning measures, i.e., public-health theater.
But those sticking to the Flu Panic coalition are still too numerous, agitated, and influential to just roll it all back by a one-time decree (hence the Flu Virus Panic “Quagmire”). This is all the more so when flu season comes again. Even now, a lot the news-commentary squawkers are spending much time on flu, even in mid-summer when there is seldom much flu at all in the climates typical of the USA.
Some may not remember that masks were not particularly a feature of the early stages of the Panic Pandemic in the West, but only gradually rolled in. The mask mandates were surprisingly late on the Panic’s timeline.
I think masks survived specifically because they were such a clear way to overtly signal obedience to the Virus Consensus (which was, roughly: “Panic now, ask questions later or never; dissent is unpatriotic; and to hell with the consequences of the lockdowns”).
The phenomenon I’ve observed on Metro, of some people consciously choosing to ignore the rule and of social tipping-points being observable within the dynamic environment of a train-car, I think fits with that.
The Welt is reporting 1,300 people are missing. The number of dead in west-central Germany is over a hundred confirmed, and dozens more dead in Belgium. Many of these deaths are people in care facilities unable to easily move under their own power and when the flood came they were goners. A few rescue workers, of various fire departments, were also killed.
At about the same time South Africa had a man-made disaster of mass looting, but I aim now to stick to non-man-made disasters–though of course many will reply that major floods are also man-made, because of human-caused Climate Change. So it gets complicated. In any case, the agent of destruction is rain, which is not a human hand (as in the looting and arsons in South Africa), so that’s the line I’ll draw for now and revisit the Climate Change thing shortly.
There were big floods in Germany and the Czech Republic in 2002. In the annals of European history, major floods on basically this scale (like 2002 and 2021) are recorded several times each century. Of course people alive at any given moment think theirs are special. How will this 2021 flood rank? Probably not the worst of the century. But human psychology is such that many want to believe “we have never seen anything like this.”
I learn, in connection with someone’s commentary on these July 2021 floods, that the very worst recorded floods in central European history were back in 1342, when entire cities were inundated.
There were actually a series of floods over two years (1342-43). The flood and immediate aftermath may have killed some number in the high tens of thousands, those being the direct deaths. Given the economic damage from the floods, probably some number in the high hundreds of thousands died indirectly in the coming year or two or three, and it is said two straight terrible harvests were recorded, as the flood had damaged soils in addition to all the other damage it did to major centers of commerce. Then, in 1349 and 1350, the Pest arrived at these same places, known to us as Bubonic Plague or the Black Death.
Whereas the floods of 1342 might claim a total in the high hundreds of thousands, the Plague by the early 1350s could claim into the millions. It’s a tempting conjecture to think that the floods of 1342 (and others in 1343) softened up parts of Europe for the Pest, when it made its first appearance in Europe a few years later.
I had never heard of the Flood of 1342 before today. It came down on a still Malthusian Europe (existing within the “Malthusian Trap”), and was one of several disasters and mass-death-and-disruption events which a long-lived person of the day would live to see, even if 1342 were particularly incredible, reaching twice the high-water-mark as some of the major floods of our era.
We post-Malthusians expect it as our birthright to be forever immune from Nature. We are too good for it. We are geniuses, for we have broken free from Malthus and are masters of our destiny. When natural events do occur, many are willing to embrace a new kind of religion to explain them.
We usually assume pre-modern people thought floods or the like were God’s punishment, and while many still today believe some version of that, the most dynamic type of Western and Westernized person scoffs at the idea, but readily embraces Climate Change, almost replacing the God’s Punishment on Sinful Man idea with close versions of the same using climate-change talk. I could have predicted the kind of stories that are now coming out on the German floods: Some variant of “Climate Change Caused Floods in Europe” is all over.
Lots of people readily believe this (of course wildfires, floods, or earthquakes are caused by Climate Change; what are you, some kind of bigoted nut of little faith? Repent! The end is near!).
There is little need for any persuasion, somehow wanting to believe and not voicing doubts, which are telltale signs of a religion. This is all still true even if/when climate change is “real,” which is the tricky part of talking about this. It seems extremely likely to me that our activities could/would raise global temperature, but the existence of a general civic religion around such a fact is separate.
In brief searching for 1342 flood material, I see someone graphed out major flood events on the Hungarian Danube from 1200 to 1500, long before anyone started burning coal anywhere:
The Big One of 1342 was preceded by earlier ones, and in general it looked like all of a sudden enormous Climate Change was upon the world in the 1340s. Again in the 1390s-1410s there seemed to be floods all the time. Other times years would pass without one.
In my long search for why people so readily embraced destructive Flu Virus Paranoia in 2020, and how the erection of a new state cult around a Forever War Against Flu Viruses came about, I came to think it must be something deeper than a few conspiracy-theory-like rumors and grainy videos of people in hazmat suits in the Chinese interior followed by a mad-scientist’s crazy bell-curve projections of Millions of Deaths. Those things, and the other features of the early Flu Panic, were basically exposition, or at best weak plot points, lifted from any number of Killer Virus or Zombie movies (people are often turned zombie by a virus, after all).
There had to be predecessors to the astonishing social phenomenon to witness of society embracing Flu Virus Paranoia and willing to deal large-scale damage to their own fellow citizens to placate the Flu Virus gods. Was Climate Change was one of these predecessors? I reluctantly conclude that signs point to yes. It was far less successful than the Flu Panic of 2020-21, but at core there are some important similarities. Both sides may overplay their hand but put religion-like certainty into not just the rightness of their positions, but the moral rightness, and the moral need to crush naysayers or skeptics. Certainly this was true of the “Covid” Panic.
Flooding news reminds me of is my beloved old job, a job I walked away from in my early twenties because I was worried I would get too comfortable and never leave, and felt I had something out there to accomplish, somewhere.
Sometime back there I worked in mapping. One of the big tasks was creation and maintenance of flood maps for insurance purposes and for disaster-planning purposes, so flood news sometimes brings back those memories. FEMA was one of the clients for some of the projects.
There was a lot of money in this flood mapping. The ultimate source of the money I think was taxpayers, for when the client was not FEMA (“federal” tax dollars) they were invariably local or state governments. I didn’t like to think about that part, and instead focused on doing the task as best as we could do it.
At the time we were making maps using the best new techniques, which meant basing them on the fieldwork of a laser contraption known as LiDAR. It was a fun job, I excelled at it, the level of office politics was minimal, and most people seemed happy. I got to listen to audio books much of the day when deep into the map tasks.
I can’t have been the only one to have had the sneaking suspicion that all of our work might be for nothing, if the global warming / climate change people were right. We were drawing ten-year flood lines, fifty-year flood lines, hundred-year flood lines, and what if none of it was applicable to the 21st century?
If I had stuck around there, or if I had successfully gotten my job back after leaving for Korea the first time (the recession of 2009, which lingered into the 2010s, disallowed that; they’d have loved to have had me, as I heard from the directly) I’d have gotten to some position of responsibility there, but as it was, I had little.
I’d love to revisit those maps now, and spot-check how many times flood waters hit the various thresholds (10-year flood line, 50-year flood line, etc.) since we made those maps.
Come to think of it, I wonder how the concept of flood-lines are even handled, now that Climate Change is rather more powerful than it was. The thought that flood-mapping may be a giant wasted exercise in such changing conditions is not a hard insight to make.
There is a general election in Norway coming up (September 13, 2021; a Monday).
The below post is a polished-up set of notes on Norwegian politics as I understand it, as I’ve loosely observed it over the past years, and as I perceive that it stands in the early 2020s, with lots of gaps filled in from recent reading on the subject. Election years are particularly important signposts which means the months before the election are the best time for fresh evaluation.
Norway’s way of electing a national legislature: Electoral regions + proportionality
Norway has proportional representation, within an electoral-district-based system. The electoral regions are each home to a population in the low hundreds of thousands, except for Oslo and Akershus (the region surrounding Oslo) which each have resident populations above 600,000.
Oslo and Akershus (i.e., Greater Oslo) together elect 33 of the 150 directly elected seats to the Storting, the national parliament, which is somewhat below their total national population share because the system was designed to give greater weight to rural areas.
Hedmark is an example of a rural area, and from which fully one-quarter of my total ancestry originates (half of my father’s), and it elects 7 representatives to the Storting for its 193,000 people. This is higher than it might otherwise be, because the system assigns seats based on both population and land area. If it were strictly on population, Hedmark would get only 6 slots and be at risk of falling to 5 soon as Oslo continues to grow. Hedmark itself doesn’t have any large cities (its largest is Hamar, pop. 32,000).
The electoral system by which rural areas are favored is a bow towards Norway’s traditional rural character and the concern that Oslo could swallow up the country’s politics. The same concern of course underlies the US system, in principle.
The big difference with the US system is the method of allocating seats: None of the seats to the Norway Storting are directly elected in the US style of a head-to-head horse race, with the 46% recipient taking the seat and the 44% recipient getting nothing, an a third-party challenger with 10% also getting nothing. In the Norwegian system, say a given electoral region has 10 seats, that 45%-party would take 5 seats, the 44%-party would take 4 seats, and the 10%-party would take one seat.
After each electoral region elects multiple seats to represent the entire region a proportional basis, 150 total, there are 19 seats left over to allocate nationally to parties which get over 4% nationally. Therefore for the small parties the “4% threshold” is all-important, in some cases determining whether a party will get several seats (e.g., at 4.01%) or none (e.g., at 3.99%). Therefore the way to get seats is either do well enough in one or more electoral regions to win at least one seat directly, or demonstrate substantial enough national support (4% or more) to take some of the extra seats.
This is a competitive multi-party system, with even the little guys having a real shot at representation. To me this makes systems like Norway’s, pound for pound, more interesting than the USA’s. Because I assume people in Norway tend to (or the system tends to impel them to) vote for what they want/like, rather than cramming themselves into one of two huge-tent boxes (“D” or “R”) or being detached entirely or sullen Nonvoters. I have long envied these systems, for the citizen in such a system gets to cast a positive vote, for people/parties/agendas they want, rather than a negative vote for people/parties they dislike less, which is our system.
(The USA’s voting options, are, usually: [1.] D-machine; [2.] R-machine; [3.] “Throw your vote away” and be a third-party voter–i.e., an eccentric–who knows well that his vote will have no influence on the outcome, except maybe as a “spoiler.” Or, [4.] Not vote at all. I have, in recent years, developed a greater respect for that latter group, especially when done out of principled decision and not laziness.)
The counter-argument is that multi-party systems become too confusing, with “too many” competitive parties, often something like five at least, sometimes even ten. Ten parties, not even counting the minor ones with no hope of gaining seats? Too confusing, naysayers will say. Even in a system like Norway’s, there are still minor protest parties, which often end up getting similar aggregate shares of the vote as the “throw your vote away” US third parties usually get.
To me, the larger number of parties is specifically the attraction, and makes a responsive system. All political parties are run by “political machines.” At least there is a more vigorous competition if there are more. And the system in toto would be more responsive to people’s views and needs, rather than a system in which monopoly power can easily crush people–rivals, competitors, dissidents, anyone it chooses–which is what the US “two-party duopoly” system does. two-party duopoly system seems to share many of the negative traits of a one-party system.
The coalitions that make up the two parties are always shifting, but the shift is often out of view because the two “tents” are way too big to see what’s going on, and the whole two-tented affair is stage-managed pretty slickly. The US political party system seems to shift when one party gets hijacked by either a single demagogic figure or, more commonly, by a cabal of agenda-pushers or ideologues. This is all part of the process, you say. True, but with huge-tent parties within a two-party duopoly system of continental scale (and major global ties and commitments) with a resident population something approaching 350 million, most people never see the process going on.
The risk of election fraud I presume also tends to increase when mega-parties are involved, often within a single-party de facto political monopoly or near-monopoly (as in the well-known cases of election fraud done by Mexico’s PRI in his era of hegemony), or in some cases within a two-party duopoly. On the other hand, if a system with a balance of relatively smaller parties co-runs the show, each able to watch the process and keep an eye on others, none totally dominating in any particular area, the whole system more likely to institutionally balance itself, in theory/principle.
I have sometimes tried to make these arguments on behalf of proportional-representation multiparty systems to interlocutors and conversation partners over the years, back to the days of long such conversations with a high school friend named P. S. (born in India but resident of Arlington, Va. from about age two). Back in 2006, my friend P. S. and I both became enthusiastic Ron Paul supporters (P. S. even putting on the evangelist’s cap and writing to our former science teacher, Mr. Ch., to encourage him to get on board the Ron Paul train, a naive thing to do, I thought, but to my surprise he got a positive response).
With my old friend P. S. excluded, in my experience few accustomed to the US system or US-style systems seem to “get it.” In many cases they are immediately suspicious of proportional-representation systems, sensing some kind of trick afoot which they can’t fully figure out but which must be in there somewhere. Or, in the case of a former graduate professor of Korean origin (born ca.1979) when I asked whether Korea might not do well with a fully proportional representation system and getting rid of the winner-take-all presidency position which seems to cause so much headache– she rejected it and said Koreans need a strong leader.
There are some good possible criticisms here, though appeal to tradition is not one (as the US electoral system is a remnant of the days when horse-and-buggy was primo transportation). The US is too big, unwiedly, and has too many now-built-in political-centrifugal forces in the mix, of the kind whih Lee Kuan Yes cited as the rerasons why Singapore needed its one-party state.
Still, I have been attracted to proportional-representation systems since some time in high school when I began to realize how many systems of the world use proportionality and how magical it can be for the imagination–even minor players have a shot, and new entrants have a shot, a purpose other than noisemaking.
When big elections come up i nsuch systems, it creates an opportunity to learn a lot more than one can learn from an equivalent level of “D vs. R” analysis in the US system.
ON NORWAY’S POLITICAL PARTY SYSTEM
Norway today has effectively something like a “seven-party system.” There is a chance up to ten parties could take at least one seat in the coming election, but maybe up to half of those may get a tiny number of seats (of the 169-member national legislature, called the Storting).
The various political traditions in Norway present are often recognizable to those familiar with the US Upper Midwest. The latter partly overlap with Scandinavian political traditions back to the origins of mass-democracy in these countries in the 19th century no doubt because of Scandinavian settlement of the Upper Midwest, including my father’s ancestors in northern Iowa.
The usual labeling of the parties, which tries to put them into Right-leaning and Left-leaning big-tents, doesn’t fully work in coalitional systems, though the tendency is still there. Norway has so far not indulged in “cordon-sanitaire” politics of by consensus rigidly excluding one or more political parties from coalition negotiations, though starting in 2021 it seems it will with the “Red Party.” The most right-wing party on the national level, the Progress Part (known as FrP) was in the government from 2013-2020.
I’m going to record here some sketches of the parties. It is true I am no expert, not able to read or understand Norwegian, and have never been to Norway, but I think for various reasons I have some insights into things, often by merit of proxy experience in Germany and in years of following European politics, which for some reason has been a hobby.
First I’ll go through the parties Right-of-Center (one are two are arguable; this grouping is for convenience’s sake):
Norway political parties supposedly or arguably of the Right:
(1.) Conservative [Høyre] [H], (2.) Progress [FrP], (3.) Christian Democratic [KrF], (4.) The Liberal Party [Venstre] [V], (5.) Democrats in Norway [DiN, now renamed DEM], (6.) The Christians, (7.) The Capitalists.
The CONSERVATIVE Party [Høyre, H]: Centrist; Establishment; party of the Prime Minister since 2013.
Ironically, the word means “Right,” but like a lot of Norway’s parties the label is an anachronism. Just like Germany’s CDU now advertises itself as a party of the Center, Norway’s party is likewise.
It seems the Conservatives have followed a path something like their sister-party in the big Germanic neighbor to the south. The leader of this party, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, just shouts out for comparison to Merkel in so many ways. Solberg, though, did one thing Merkel never would: Cooperate and co-govern with a party to her Right, which is the Progress Party, in both the 2013-17 and the 2017-21 terms.
But Solberg came under pressure from Progress in late 2019 and early 2020. When Progress pulled out of the government in protest over new refugee policy not in line, they said, with the deal, the whole thing correlated with the Conservatives losing support in the polls. Such was the situation in the early weeks of 2020 and into early March 2020.
Then, like magic, in March 2020 the Prime Minister and her people happily pulled the Panic trigger on “Covid,” terrifying much of its population, collaborating with the global Panic, and gleefully whipping up war-like hysteria. At some point “Covid” and the decisions related to it must be analyzed politically, everywhere, for the decision-makers imposing the lockdowns etc. were political figures.
Who’s to say when they realized this would happen, but during the “Covid” Panic, the Conservatives–as ruling party–regained all their lost popularity, and more (25% in 2017; down below 20% in almost every poll from mid-Jan. to mid-March, with a low-point of 16%; then Covid Panic happened and the Conservatives imposed their lockdowns. Already by late March they were pushing 30%, and held at the 25%+ level for more than a year.
Conservative seats won, 2017: 45 (of 169).
Expected to win in 2021: 35 to 48.
= If they net lose seats, which even-money says they will, it won’t be many. None should be surprised if they maintain about the same number at 45 (26.6% of Storting seats).
The Conservatives may be able to lead a governing coalition again if all the cards fall right, which did look like a strong possibility after the party’s surge in popularity during (due to) the “Covid” Panic in March 2020 and for about a year thereafter, as marginals shifted towards the safety of the Establishment, but by summer 2021 looks less likely.
PROGRESS Party [Fremskrittspartiet, FrP]: National-populist, immigration-restrictionist, advocates for a soft-nationalism but pro-NATO all the same, and laissez-faire-leaning in economics.
Progress largely took over the banner of the Right tradition in Norway after the Conservative Party’s drift towards a transatlantic consensus-centrism. But Progress’ success has also kept the Conservatives from drifting even further still to the left, as any basic political analysis will tell the Conservative Party’s bosses that the two parties share a much of the same potential voter pool.
This party’s name seems like the strangest mismatch with what the party is. It is not what we call “progressive.” It seems any and all like to claim the banner of progress, or used to. In any case, Norwegian politics does not use the long forms of these party names. The party is referred to by its aconrym, FrP.
FrP’s first breakthrough was in 1989, during the nationalist-patriotic mini-wave in Europe with the anti-communist protests that brought down regime after regime in the Warsaw Pact. Western European politics was also in a small flux at the time, but regime-stability was much firmer in the West, but this mini-wave was enough to topple the sclerotic Soviet-sphere regimes, once Gorbachev signaled “no Tienanmens.” The new Progress Party’s boat lifted on this rising tide, a favorable Zeitgeist.
The surprise is that Progress never went away, as many such parties or movements did. It grew to become a mainstay of the Right by the 2000s and 2010s.. It showed its real staying power in 1997 and has gotten respectable shares of the vote in every election since, its vote-share never below 15% of seats.
The big story of the 2010s in Norwegian politics was FrP entering government in 2013. It was no longer a protest party but the major junior partner of the Conservatives in actually governing, a bond which they renewed in 2017 (although then needing the backing of two minor parties) but broke in early 2020 over refugee policy.
FrP’s new leader says the goal is to form a new fovernment with the Conservatives, but this may be lip-service. Reporting in the agenda-setting Aftenposten newspaper suggests Progress core members are demoralized over recent reverses and sagging support, and have therefore given up on governing, wanting instead to regroup for the 2025 election when they hope for a breakthrough. This might sound like a strange stance for a political party to take, but is actually common in parliamentary systems.
Progress seats won, 2017: 27 (of 169).
Expected to win in 2021: 15 to 25
= It looks certain that Progress will lose seats. Given its dispute with Conservatives, for a time it seemed somewhat unlikely they would be in the next government.
CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC Party [Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF]: Conservative with traditionalist-christian overtones; but this party, KrF, takes pains to avoid being pigeonholed as right-wing in the Progress Party sense.
Because of the way coalition politics works, especially in Norway, KrF actually supplied the Prime Minister for four-fifths of the period Oct. 1997 to Oct. 2005. Like a lot of Europe’s small parties, KrF position themselves specifically to be kingmakers in just those situations.
The man from this party who served as Prime Minister, Bondevik (b.1947), is a Lutheran pastor but regards himself as “Sixty-Eighter.” That seems a strange thing to say for a man heading a party with the supposed identity and ideology that Christian Democrats of Norway claim.
Like the Conservatives, I sense this party (KrF) has drifted into the Center from a starting position in something like the Right. KrF seems to haves Lutheran-Right origins in the 20th century, as basically moderate-to-conservative Christians wishing to maintain ties to the Christian tradition, but today the party is almost of the Left.
I see parallels the drift of the ELCA in the USA, a story with which I am familiar from experience. My memory, experience, and knowledge all tell me the ELCA was basically centrist ca. 1990, with both ‘conservatives,’ moderates, and ‘liberals,’ but in the 2000s and especially 2010s the ELCA became almost a post-Christian institution dedicated exclusively to social justice causes. Its individual congregations and members may still have plenty of moderates among them (although few conservatives now, except among the elderly—‘grandfathered’ in, as it were), but the ELCA as an institution is now unmistakably of the Left.
The basic outline of the ELCA story in the US I suspect applies to the KrF in Norwegian politics. The ELCA is a church body in the USA and not a political party as such, but shares a lot with the KrF. For one thing, both are Lutheran. ELCA also has lots and lots of aggregate Scandinavian ancestry among its members and leaders, with Norwegian especially relatively strong
This makes me wonder, if the ELCA were a political party in a proportional-representation system like Norway’s and dependent on votes and a voter-base, I am sure it would have remained more moderate, even if still drifting Left-ward. I suspect a similar dynamic between KrF. At some point KrF is accountable to its voters.
Just like the ELCA’s declining appeal in the USA, the KrF party has declined off its former consistently strong showings between the 1950s and 1990s (up to the 2001 election) when it generally always had at least 10% of seats, and in good years 15%. It barely got past the 4%-threshold in 2017, and pinion polls show it will be lucky to stay above 4% this time.
Christian Dem. [KrF] seats won, 2017: 8 (of 169)
Expected to win in 2021: 1 to 7
= KrF could get nearly wiped out of the national legislature if they fail to make the 4%-threshold. It will be very close. They’ll still probably get a seat or two (or three) at least somewhere in one or more electoral regions.
All past experience suggests KrF would be willing to cooperate with either a consensus-establishment Labor or a Conservative-led government, except that I cannot imagine they’d cooperate with the “Red” [Rødt] Party in a national government.
KrF itself, as a party, seems to face long-term relevancy problems. But one of the ironies of the system is the problem can be concealed entirely with shifts amounting to a few tenths of a percent here and there. If in the key electoral regions they get a series of results like 3.7% and 3.9%–just below the 4%-cutoff, they’ll get wiped out in seats and may take only 1 seat nationally (in one electoral region they are seen to be strong enough to take one direct-mandate). But if they get just a few more votes and clear the 4%-hurdle, they could get several more.
The LIBERAL Party [Venstre, V]: Now a small party positioning itself as centrist and signaling it will be a force-multiplier for the centrist Conservatives, but advocating a set of boutique issues not emphasized by the Conservatives.
Ironically, the party’s name means “Left,” but I am grouping it among the right-of-center parties, mainly because it signals it wants to cooperate with the Conservatives. Both parties are centrist, and if there were three categories Liberal Party would go with “Centrist” for sure. The name dates to the 1880s.
It can claim to be Norway’s first mass-democracy-era true political party and has many successors of the Left but the original, Venstre, formally continues to exist. It has not been doing well, suffering from an unclarity of purpose. It has ties at the European level to a family of parties which includes the Free Democrats of Germany, and other defenders of the freemarket.
Odds are it doesn’t make it over the 4% threshold this time, though it might sneak in a seat here or there, for it does seem to have a small, loyal base.
Liberal [V] seats in 2017: 8 (of 169)
Expected to win in 2021: 1 to 3 seats (likely)
But if the cards fall the right way and they get their best possible result, including squeaking above the 4% threshold in enough places, a best-case-scenario puts them at as many as 8 seats.
= Any success by the Liberal (Venstre) Party, if at the expense of parties of the Left, moderately boosts the chances for a Solberg third term. The Liberal Party will again not be a major factor itself (except potentially in its best-case-scenario 8-seat result), but in some scenarios it could bump out seats to parties of the Left in some regions.
OTHERS. There are minor parties but none has seats now and none are likely to get seats, though one might:
Democrats in Norway [long known as Demokratene i Norge, DiN, now renamed Demokratene, DEM]: a firmer, more vigorous, harder-line version of PROGRESS. They are to be those things because of their tiny size, though that could change (see below). Apparently it is now legally known only as “Democrats,” another quite confusing name especially because some will be tempted to call them non-democrats of the this-or-that right-wing tradition.
The Christians: a more recognizably Christian-Right party, which I am assuming was formed from conservative defectors from the CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS.
The Capitalists (Liberalistene): purist libertarians. Their name is literally “The Liberals” but they interestingly choose to use the English name “Capitalists.” I assume the long shadow of confusion related to US President FDR’s repurposing the word “liberal” and distorting its meaning in American-English, and to some extent now Global-English, is to blame. Further confusion is that there is a party in Norway which uses the English name “Liberal,” but it uses that word much more in the American sense than in the “classical liberal” sense.
The “Christian” party and the “Capitalist” party will definitely get no seats anywhere, but the “Democrats” after a 2020-21 boost may sneak one or two seats in, and could become a rival to Progress in the 2020s.
On the decline of the Progress Party (FrP), the political flux of the Right, and potential entry by the Democrats (DEM)
The Norwegian election is unlikely to get much attention abroad except via the most simplified possible narratives. There are multiple story-lines running through. One that seems likely to end up in the one- or several0line synopsis which news-followers will come across in September, when the election briefly appears in headlines for them, is: The once-mighty Progress Party (FrP) has fallen apart.
Wow does one interpret the late decline of the FrP? I foresee the headlines already: “Norway rejects right-wing party,” the headline being from a glance at 2017 vote-totals vs. 2021 vote totals. Certainly the FrP will have fewer seats, but where have their voters gone? And why?
Oslo journalist Andreas Slettholm wrote the following in early December 2020 (machine-translated from original and cleaned up):
In 2013, Per Sandberg warned that the Progress Party [FrP] would only consist of “smooth-polished billiard balls”. He fears that the party would cultivate groomed, boring types of politicians in its pursuit of power. FrP still had to be a bit messy, he thought.
No danger, one might say, seven years later.
There could hardly have been more scandals and quirks. Travel expenses and metoo. The party in Bergen was forcibly closed down. The continuous noise machine that is Sylvi Listhaug. Sandberg’s own Iran adventure. The case against Bertheussen. And Carl I. Hagen still squeaks in this horn that man-made climate change is nonsense.
A more groomed protest party
That the party has become too groomed is hardly the main concern of the day. The lack of support is far worse for Siv Jensen.
And the voters have largely disappeared to less messy parties. Like the Center Party, for example. […]
The Per Sandberg he mentioned left the FrP in 2020 to join the Liberalistene (known under the English name “The Capitalist Party”) after serving as a government minister between 2013 and 2018 and for years in high ranking positions within the party, back to 2006.
The “continuous noise machine,” Sylvi Listhaug (b.1977), took over the FrP in May 2021, five months after the article above quoted. Her predecessor, who led the FrP when it had its best showings, was Siv Jensen (b.1969), late Minister of Finance (2013-2020) until withdrawing the FrP from the government in protest over a government refugee policy but really signaling the crisis within the FrP. It’s funny but both leaders of the most right-wing party in the Storting have been women, as is the (nominally) Right-leaning Prime Minister, Erna Solberg,
The “Democrats in Norway” has rebranded to the “Democrats” (DEM). Norway’s DEMs are one of the many dissident-Right political outfits that one finds across Europe which have popular ideas but which never get anywhere, in part because the systems are hostile to their existence and often enforce so-called political “cordons sanitaire.” Their ideas have broken through in multiple cases, coopted by either demagogues larger parties with more flexible ideologies.
Somehow the FrP itself slipped past the cordon sanitaire in Norway, somewhere back there, and after highly impressive showings for years, was in government seven years in the 2010s.
As for the DEMs, they took only 0.1% of the national vote in 2017 and had about the same level in the previous few elections, back to 2005. Have the same few thousand people have been voting for them since 2005? Maybe so. They were, therefore, more like a “political club” than a “political party” which was competitive in a mass-democracy.
In early 2021, Geir Ugland Jabosen, the high-profile expellee from the FrP, was appointed head of the DEMs. He seems like a firmly archetypal character of the European national-populist Right of our time. His expulsion surely signals an identity-crisis within the FrP. The FrP doesn’t know what its identity is, though it knew it before, back when it was getting solid vote-totals. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown” applied and it occurs to me that participating in government may have been the source of the FrP’s own unraveling of late, something I observed and later saw Norwegian observers themselves say which boosts my confidence on some of these other judgement calls.
I’m sure all this is rather uninteresting except to Norwegians who most closely follow their own internal party-politics. Some general interest might be piqued by one of the alleged (stated) reasons for Geir Ugland Jacobsen’s expulsion from the FrP: He spoke publicly to Norwegian media on his view that the Nov. 2020 US presidential election probably involved fraud in key states, comments which the national-level FrP leader disavowed.
But the Trump election talk as a sated reason for expelling Jacobsen was partly a cover for his steady criticisms of the FrP party leadership itself, for drifting towards a centrist position. A determined group, of which Jacobsen was a member, wanted to push FrP back towards a national-conservative or national-populist position, a fight which it seems they mostly lost but which also means a lot of longtime FrP loyalists will walk away. That Jacobsen was elected to head the Oslo branch of the FrP itself proved this brand of politics had a natural home in the FrP.
The Geir Ugland Jacobsen and “DEM” news is probably of great interest to the several thousand core supporters of the long-marginal party (DEMs, formerly DiN), and at least of some interest to hundreds of thousands of committed FrP-oriented voters who sympathize with Jacobsen.
It would be strange to image the whole affair attracted no defectors, but Norwegian political-watchers have so far made little comment on it, I suppose hoping it’s not true and that any talk of it would increase the chances it comes true (i.e., that the DEMs get one or several seats in the Storting, from which position of prestige they can only grow).
The whole amounts to a crumbling of the FrP’s right flank further, with other parties (including the DEMs but also the Center Party) potentially sapping not just FrP vote-totals but, more importantly, some of the FrP’s most committed activists. That on top of whatever other problems the party has had, including the general trend starting abruptly in March 2020 in which some marginals have drifted back towards establishment parties when the Corona-Virus-Panic began.
Could the DEMs gain seats? Most would guess “Definitely Not.” I see the people running the poll aggregator PollofPolls.no haven’t even included the DEMs anywhere.
A surprise came in an early July 2021 poll, ten weeks ahead of the election, which put the DEMs at 3% national support. If accurate, that ranks as among largest relative shifts in support of any party from 2017, from 0.1% of votes cast to potentially 3% nationally. The big target is the 4%-threshold, which could mean several seats and is their best-case-scenario. (Beware a 3% result when the standard margin-of-error is +/-3!). The lesser target is to squeak in a direct-mandate seat somewhere, which is also possible in the larger electoral regions.
So if the Right-flank of Norwegian national politics opens up and a new actor takes seats in the Storting, we will know it came as a result of an ongoing shift by the FrP towards the “center right,” away from its traditionally dissident, critical, and populist positioning, especially on immigration restriction and for drastically tightening up the long-abused asylum system (and its influence has been felt, as even the centrist or center-left state bureaucracy now regularly deports those which it proves committed fraud in their asylum applications).
Most people agree that the parties of the Left went clearly overboard with immigration and asylum somewhere back there, with the political tipping point probably in the 1990s; Oslo Public Schools by the mid-2000s already had receded to having only a bre-majority of Norwegian students. Some Greater Oslo neighborhoods became subject to White Flight on the US model, in which immigrants and asylum-seekers and their chain-migrants begin to “tip” an area, and after the “tipping point,” the remaining Whites relatively quickly leave, creating immigrant-supermajority enclaves. This is a well-studied phenomenon in Sweden back man years now, and Norway is considerably better off than Sweden, but it’s a difference in degree. And this is all much like the other big Northwest European countries, in which a “diversity” consensus hardened and there was no way to easily turn it off by the 1990s, a new political-normal which guaranteed future political strife.
I am reminded of this line on affirmative action:
“One moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which affirmative action can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too weak to a world in which it can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too strong.”
(from Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, by Christopher Caldwell, 2009.)
The good people in Norway, back in the 1980s and 1990s, did not dare criticize the new consensus that Norway had a moral obligation to take in asylum seekers from wherever, as some kind of moral good, maybe even among the political crown-jewels of the highest possible moral good to which a European-Christian can hope to attain. This view is still strong, especially with the older generations who ha grown up in a mono-ethnic environment and who first encountered the issue as younger adults in the 1980s and into the 1990s.
Again I see the exact same phenomenon in the equivalents of these people in the USA (see also my comments on the KrF party in Norway vs the ELCA Lutheran church body in the USA). This older-adult and retiree-age bloc, whose political views became largely set in stone in an age when the asylum and immigration systems (there is hardly a practical difference in Norway) had a hanful of beneficiaries “far too weak” to ever possibly worry about, are now complemented two groups:
(1) an ever-firmer bloc of descendants of asylum-seeker immigrants (on the Ilhan Omar model) who in many cases don’t have voting rights but do have influence (but when they do have influence, bloc-vote for the Left, now likely to split between the traditional Labor [Ap], the Socialist Left [SV] and Red [R]), and
(2) an influential, radicalized element of natives of my generation, those who grew up under the new order of things and embraced the neo-morality which had become dominant in about the 1990s in Norway. I recognize this type well because I used to be among this group. It’s morally appealing to feel like you are on the morally just side, and many people don’t criticially examine anything, just roll with the emotions of it all.
This is a three-part coalition, and basically recognizable across the rich Western European countries now. It seems strong but is also somewhat fragile and always at risk, for the basic premises of the “neo-morality” have never had majority popular support (that pesky thing). Opposition is weakened through various social mechanisms and, importantly here especially, through the bully-pulpit of Perceived Consensus. If “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” perceived-consensus in Scandinavia must hold a similar share of political power.
That is why the FrP’s rise, in its time, was all the more surprising and impressive, from a political perspective. Breakthroughs by a party like the FrP in country like Norway are simply not supposed to happen. But it is happen. And now that the FrP has been in decline a few years, we can wonder what comes next. Is that aforementioned coalition both strong enough and bold enough to push the pedal to the metal and try to steamroll over the opposition, if they squeak out a narrow majority? That, too, seems unlikely in a place like Norway.
This is the kind of thing that makes electoral systems like Norway’s interesting to me. There is at least some kind of flux going on all the time. Sometimes it’s dramatic and overt, often subtle and sometimes easy to miss entirely. Political fluxes happen in one-party systems and in two-party duopolies (like the USA’s), too, but are basically always more obscure in one- or two-party systems because they involve unseen and un-voted-for factions of parties, whereas in systems like Norway’s it’s more in the open and What You See is What You Get, and it is much easier to break ranks if a party drifts, openly betrays its promises, or gets hijacked somehow by some individual or interest group. None of that is particularly easy in the US two-party duopoly. (In any European system, the 1992/96 Ross Perot phenomenon would have been a major event, but in the USA it was quickly forgotten.)
In Norway’s system, the changes can be of the “unseen” kind but will more likely involve an ascendant party displacing another, bearing a new agenda or new emphases or energy and personalities or drive.
Who are the defectors from the FrP? Where did they go? Polled support was down already by 2019. The party did poorly in local elections that year. As best as I can tell, the meta-story is that the FrP’s right-flank was left almost unguarded at some point and in the constant low-level melee of political discourse, its line-of-battle wavered; to extend the metaphor, seven years in government probably meant its field commanders, battalion commanders and staffs had all fattened up a bit and were less able to compel loyalty of the men in the ranks as they had in the lean years.
Geir Ugland Johansen recently (July 23) wrote on Facebook/Twitter (auto-translated):
Support for the Demokratene is rising sharply! We have never had so many new members per day, as now. The probability that we will cross the barrier limit is therefore high.
The Facebook post got 895 “Likes.”
A Demokratene leader (Tommy Tufte) also says this (July 24) on the growth in the past few months:
We’re getting votes from the following, put in order (completely unofficially): – FrP [Progress Party] – Sp [Center Party] – Others (small parties) – Høyre [Conservative Party] – Venstre [Liberal Party].
The top 3 probably account for about 90% [of new members].
In addition, we have picked up “sofa sitters” [sofasittere, i.e., disengaged nonvoters]. Several have told me that they have never voted or had a membership.
This “flux on the Right” storyline in Norway’s coming election is, I feel, worth attention, which is why I’ve written a few thousands words on it. It is said you do not really understand something unless you can write coherently on it.
The party taking from the FrP, the Center Party, minor parties, and nonvoters/disengaged indicates it is exactly that kind of recognizable protest party we became relatively familiar with in Europe in the 2010s but which came late to Norway, probably because the FrP was seen to fill that role, a previous incarnation of the same.
If a party to the FrP’s “national-populist-Right” of FrP comes in and takes seats, against expectations and out of the sight of any of the big political observers, that’s quite a big story and we can see clealry where it came from.
It will also be a story taking place outside government, for I doubt any plausible government accept support from this party in a governing coalition. Then again, who knows what the Center Party will really do, if they come out the other end having wiggled their way into narrowly taking most seats of any party, which is a possible outcome. Everyone has a pet theory what they’ll do but no one knows.
Geir Ugland Jacobsen says the party’s goal is “at least one seat” in the Storting and some signs suggest that may be more likely than not, but a naitonal showing above 4% would net the party several seats and suddenly make it a surprise player.
Here is a Democrats (Demokratene) campaign event at Stjørdal, July 2021:
The town of Stjørdal falls in the North-Trøndelag electoral region, which is highly rural. Stjørdal is the largest town and has only 21,000 people. The region is larger than the state of New Jersey but has only 134,000 permanent population at last count, about the population density of Idaho. This small, weekday electoral-campaign booth should be interpreted in that light. As might be guessed at from the way things look and the way people are dressed and present themselves, North-Trøndelag is Norway’s poorest, with the economy based on farming and fishing and typical incomes a third of Oslo’s. There are also almost no foreigners here,
North-Trøndelag elects four direct seats and one adjustment seat (split between parties which clear the 4% hurdle nationally). There is no chance that the Democrats of Geir Ugland Jacobsen (that’s him, at right, talking to a man in blue) win any of these four seats, which might be split between the Labor Party (two) and the Center Party (two).
In 2017 Labor got two, Center got one, and Conservatives got one, but polling suggests the Conservative vote-totals in the region will not be able to hold the seat and it will go to Center. It’s got to be hard to do opinion polling for such a small region, though. Historically the region had 6 seats but lost one because of relative population loss, and the most common party-split was 3 Labor seats, 2 Center seats, and 1 Conservative seat, though occasionally the Christian Democratic Party (KrF) would sneak in before the 1990s, and in the ’90s and ’00s the Progress Party (FrP) always had one of the six seats.
Demokratene leader Geir Ugland Jacobsen has recently (July 24) pointed to an opinion poll taken in northern Norway (electoral districts of Finnmark, Troms, and Nordland) which purports to show 12% of voters expressing preference for “Other,” double the rate from 2017.
If all the stars line up for the Democrats, there could even be a direct-mandate in Nordland (which sends 8 directly elected to the Storting, meaning one direct seat theoretically reflects 12.5% of the region’s votes), but the real surprise will be if they manage to take 4% nationally, which would give them more seats and suddenly present a rival to the the FrP’s right.
SUMMARY of the Right-of-Center parties (Conservative [H], Progress [FrP], Christian Democratic [KrF], Liberal [V], and the medium-long-shot potential new entrant the Democrats [formerly DiN, now DEM]):
In 2017, this set of parties took 88 of the 169 seats in the Storting, the Norwegian national parliament (Conservatives: 45, Progress: 27; Christian Democrats: 8; Liberals: 8). Without the Liberals, though, it was only 80 seats, not a majority. This meant the Conservatives needed to juggle a four-party coalition–not a favorable position to be in.
In 2021, the Conservatives+Progress+ChristianDemocrats three-party alliance will almost certainly get fewer seats than it had after the 2017 election, probably around (a combined) 65 seats.
The three together previously had 80 seats. The net loss of around 15 seats is enough to lead observers to predict the incumbent Prime Minister (of the Conservative Party) will be out.
The new total of around 65 seats is far short of the 85 seats needed to form a majority and thus a government, but could still happen if the Center Party (Senterpartiet) (see below) joins in, but the head of that party has ambitions of his own to be prime minister, and no one quite knows which side he’ll choose.
Until the head of the surging Center Party announced he would seek the prime ministership in 2021, the only other option was that the head of the Labor Party would succeed Conservative PM Stolberg, if she lost. Any Labor-led coalition may have significant left-wing pressures, but it all depends how the cards fall on election day. The electoral-district-based nature of the Norwegian voting system makes it harder to predict.
Now the political parties of Norway which are supposedly or arguably of the Left, in order of size/importance and not ideology.
(1.) Labor Party [Ap], (2.) Center Party [Sp], (3.) Socialist Left [SV], (4.) The Red Party [R], (5.) Green Party [MDR], (6.) Other minor parties.
The LABOR Party [Arbeiderpartiet, Ap]: A typical center-left, social-democratic European party.
The party dominated Norwegian politics for several decades, starting in the mid-1930s. This is another example of a curious parallel across political cultures, for the same kind of party also became ascendant in the USA at the same time, the so-called New Deal Coalition which swept into power in early 1933. In Norway’s case the power and prestige of this social-democratic wave lasted longer, for in the USA’s case the New Deal Coalition showed real signs of fracturing in the Nov. 1966 midterm elections, and then the corner was turned in 1968, and the coalition was perhaps finally broken apart in 1972 with Nixon’s big second-term win and the completion of the defection of the White South away from the New Deal Coalition. Since Norway had no racial politics whatsoever (except if you count the Lapps/Saami), their social-democratic stable ruling majority lasted somewhat longer.
I suppose the Labor Party came to be seen as Norway’s default party, and that it may still today feel like “the ruling party,” the default ruling party in popular psychology regardless of who’s actually in charge. (In like manner, Koreans claim to [still] think the right-wing party, currently under the silly name of “The People Power Party,” is the default ruling party and that the left-wing party, despite holding the presidency, is the default and eternal opposition).
Like all the big social-democratic parties of Western Europe, the Labor Party of Norway have been in secular decline for a long time. This is characteristic of the social-democratic parties in every large country.
I took some courses at graduate school on European politics and this mystery of social-democratic decline, observed everywhere starting in about the 2000s an unmistakable in the 2010s, was a topic of discussion. People have lots of little ideas, and thousands of words can be and have been written on the matter. These explainers shy away from simple explanations. What’s clear is these parties have moved towards the “center,” losing some traditional bases of support. More generally they seem much less relevant to b.1970s, b.1980s, and b.1990s people than they did to those cohorts’ parents and grandparents generations. The USA would no doubt see the same but for the two-party duopoloy obscuring the trend.
Just as the Conservatives moved from the Right towards the Center, Labor has moved from the Left towards the Center. The core parties of Norway therefore seem to form a largely overlapping consensus-based politics.
Labor has held only 29% of seats since 2017, which continues their decline trend, for in their peak era for decades they had either outright-majorities or near-majorities, able to govern with a minor coalition partner.
The Labor Party in Norway has not sunk as far as Germany’s SPD. The SPD will take 15-20% of seats in the German Bundestag election this year. And the collapse of the social-democrats in France is even worse.
The long prestige enjoyed by Labor in Norway–I think one plank of Norwegian pride and patriotism is that they have run what are seen to be successful social-welfare states–has successfully guarded it from further softening of support.
I should add here that in the Hedmark region, the source of my own Norwegian ancestry, Labor still does well, along with the Center Party. Hedmark is to elect six direct seats to the national parliament; current polling suggests Labor will take only two of these, while Center will take three, the Conservatives one, and Progress will fail to take any this time.
In Hedmark there could be an upset by which Socialist Left squeaks by the Conservatives and locks them out of direct seats from Hedmark; even if so, the Conservatives would pick up the proportional bonus seat.
See below for why the Center Party is now so locally popular in Hedmark, moreso than the formerly strong Labor Party (Center’s strength in places like that comes from an agrarian political tradition + the head of the party is a Hedmark man).
The Labor Party’s traditional reason for existing is faded and it has long since drifted away from real ties to the “socialism” of its origin-days, which gives energy to two major left-wing challengers who will both almost certainly take seats, Socialist-Left and The Red Party, the latter of which is beyond the pale and Labor excludes them from any cooperation.
Labor [Ap] seats on, 2017: 49 (of 169)
Expected to win in 2021: 37 to 48
= Labor will lose seats on net but may lead the next government anyway.
A lot, for Norway’s centrist-establishment Labor Party, depends on how the cards fall with who makes it over the 4%-threshold and who doesn’t.
It seems to me a big question is how Labor looks, once the smoke clears, against the Center Party (see below) specifically. The odds favor the Labor Party candidate to be next prime minister if the Conservative-led natural coalition comes up short in seat-total, but that seems a surer thing if Labor has a strong showing relative to the Center Party. Not just more seats, but say ten or more in excess of Center would be a comfortable margin. If Center has more seats outright than Labor, suddenly it’s a different game..
The CENTER Party [Senterpartiet, Sp]: This one is difficult to pin down and is not really of the Left. If “Sp” is grouped with the Left, as I am doing here, it is for convenience’s sake, for Sp are in opposition to the Conservative-led government. Sp doesn’t really fit as some kind of notch on a number-line of the Left.
“Sp” seem to be the main advocates of protective tariffs in Norway, popular with farmers and rural regions, for agrarian politics retains a prestige in Scandinavia beyond what it does in most other rich countries, and also popular with semi-dissidents or semi-disgruntled people distrustful of the big party machines.
The current leader of “Sp” is effectively the third Prime Minister Candidate in the coming election, beyond the traditional candidates of the Conservatives (the incumbent, the woman who apologized to the nation for doing a panic-lockdown in March 2020, admitting she had done unnecessary damage to the society) and the Labor Party. The “Sp” leader is Trygve Slagsvold Vedum (b.1978), of Hedmark, a region I have ancestors from who left there in the 1880s/90s for Iowa. I would not be surprised to learn I am fourth cousins or so with him.
Here is a video of Vedum speaking:
Vedum looks and sounds like an Iowan to me, even if I cannot understand the words he is saying.
The Center Party (Sp)’s line of political descent traces to the Norwegian agrarian-political tradition of the late 19th century which carried strongly into the 20th century.
My father’s Norwegian ancestors carried this political outlook with them to Iowa, and it seems clear to me that my father, growing up in rural Iowa, inherited it, mainly through his mother. It was transposed onto mid-late 20th century America, now fading into early-mid 21st century, and of course never quite transferred smoothly in the USA, but neither did it transfer smoothly in Norway itself. Knowing both ends of it you can see how one fused onto the other.
All political parties change over time, either drifting at semi-random because of chance events, or single personalities, or small cabals that gain influence within the party, or because the world changes around them to which they adapt. All of these things happen.
The Center Party (Sp), besides its stances on specific issues, which can often be hard to sort out one from the other with so many parties, is also characterized by an attitude by which it is much more ready, even eager, to break with consensus thinking.
A Norwegian named Mette Wiggen, active in academia in the UK, wrote something like what I’ve attempted here but with a much narrower focus, and described the Center Party as “centrist, populist, anti-EU, nationalist…led by the charismatic and talkative Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, who travels the country joking and talking with ‘ordinary’ people and promising to help them to stand up to the ‘elites’.”
It’s clear that Center (Sp) is much more “populist” than Labor, and some almost want to position it on the Right, on the kind of populist-nationalist Right over which some people love to drum up fear. This includes Mette Wiggen, the author of the above-linked election commentary. I get the feeling it doesn’t quite work. The safest bet is that if Center (Sp) takes over the government, it’ll likely be something near business as usual.
I do not have a handy analog in US politics for Norway’s “Sp,” except one for those who know US political history well and recall the agrarian progressives of the late 19th century. They were probably never properly classifiable as Right or Left.
Sp claims it wants to form a government with the Labor Party, but some on the Left are warning of an inevitable cooperation with the Right once the election is over. Clearly the Sp delegation in the Storting will not be reliable, loyalist, traditional establishment-center-left types as much as would be the case had the seats been filled by Labor Party men and women. This makes Sp a wildcard, which of course is one of its appeals. With a big enough net gain in seats, it could turn bolder, as Vedum has already stated it will seek the prime ministership.
Center Party [Sp] seats in 2017: 19 (of 169)
Expected to win in 2021: 30 to 40
= The easy prediction: Sp will unambiguously be the biggest single winner in terms of net-seat-gain.
If lucky, they could more than double their seat total from 19 to about 40, nearly a quarter of the Storting‘s total seats. If the number of Sp’s seats is close to Labor’s, or if Sp has more by a few, they could easily talk their way into the prime ministership, which would of course be the big win.
SOCIALIST LEFT Party [Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV]: A socially left-wing party.
This party and the next (the RED PARTY) seem to be of that type of political party which inherited an old-line, economically-left-wing political tradition from past generations but which, in the late 20th century, steadily drifted, by the early 21st century becoming almost uninterested in economics. They are much more, if not totally, interested in cultural cases, the set of shifting issues we call social justice.
The old slogans about economics are often still there, but their hearts are not in them. Their hearts are in endless struggles for any available group which it can plausibly claim is oppressed in any way, and, being oppressed, is in need of noble protectors, services they will heroically provide. In today’s Norway these are immigrants, religious minorities (read: Muslims), any racial minority anywhere in the West, feminism,gay rights, and since a few years ago Transgender rights, and in a few years something else no one has thought of yet.
The basket of issues is predictable, if a “moveable feast.” Some of the positions Socialist Left takes seem to be almost parodies of the general type.
Between Socialist Left and the Red Party, though, Socialist Left does still seem to have a firmer interest in doctrinaire economic Marxism.
The Socialist Left Party seems comparable to the Green Party of Germany in several important senses: Like the German Greens, Norway’s Socialist Left Party exists (seems to exist, to me) in an overlapping, venn-diagram-like relationship with a longer-lineage, softer, establishment social-democratic party (the SPD in Germany’s case; Labor, in Norway’s case). What this means is the two parties largely share a voter pool. For for the one to do well, the other must and will go down.
Opinion polls say a net defection from Labor to Socialist-Left is likely, shifting a few seats on net. If a left-leaning government does come in, it may depend on the votes of this party. The party wants to govern (in coalition under the Labor Party), unlike its radical cousin in the “Red” party.
Socialist Left [SV] seats in 2017: 11
Expected to win in 2021: 10 to 18 seats
= Socialist Left will almost definitely have more seats than in the 2017-21 parliament and will be more influential, apparently confirming its staying power after it did well in 2019 local elections.
The RED Party [Rødt, R]: Much of the same general description applies here as to Socialist Left (re: the drift from an economic-Left of yester-century into a cultural-Left of today. This party is more radical, anti-establishment, and seems like the electoral arm of a kind of radical politics which I first noticed in Germany in 2007 and which, in recent years, became a cliche term in US politics: “Antifa.”
(I wrote about German/European Antifa anarchist groups on these pages in years before the word entered US-mainstream discourse; use the Search function if interested.)
In the 1920s, a certain buffoon and would-be strongman in Italy was asked to describe the program of his new party, the Fascist Party: “Our program is to smash the skulls of the socialists,” replied he. The mirror-image of the attitude of that statement by Mr Mussolini is the “Antifa” program.
I would not expect an actual, competitive political party would be as one-dimensional as the black-clad, street-violence-ready anarchist activist cadres long active on Europe’s streets. Even so I think Norway’s “Red Party” is basically understandable as “the Antifa Party.”
In Norway, this party existed on the margins for several cycles, and I see it was founded in March 2007, exactly when I was in Germany and observing the b.1970s, b.1980s, and already by then b.1990s antifa types and what they were about. They were not bad people. But they were hardened radicals, and believed in the moral righteousness of suppression against the Right in all its forms, including by means in the legal grey zone, and on occasion beyond the grey zone.
The Red Party has a committed core of supporters in line with the presumable Antifa support among the voting public — 1% in 2009, 1% in 2013, and 2.5% in Sept 2017 (the rise in 2017 I interpret/guess to be a backlash against the swelling tide of rightist national-populism such as Brexit, the surging of the AfD, and others, not to mention the Orange Man across the sea).
The polls suggest the Red Party will break the 4%-threshold in September 2021 and get several seats, but already every big player (most importantly, Labor) has said they will never work with the Red Party, and the Red Party returned the favor by saying they refuse to work with Labor.
In 2017 the party got its first-ever Storting member when RED broke through the 4%-threshold in the Oslo electoral region; the party leader, Bjørnar Moxnes (b.1981), has had a seat.
Party leader Moxnes will definitely retain his seat, for polls suggest Oslo will give the RED Party 8-9% of its vote in September. In ruraler regions, the RED Party will do less well (e.g., polling at 2% of votes and 0 seats from Hedmark).
Moxnes is a well-presenting but archetypal left-wing activist of the type I remember from Germany. He would have been 25-26 at the time I first encountered the type in person (2007). Moxnes claims he was inspired, while a teenager, to join the most left-wing groups he could find when he noticed Neo-Nazis becoming more active. Some people of my generation have chosen to base their identities on role-playing the 1930s, in fact on both sides.
This also makes me wonder if the Red Party primarily takes hardliner votes previously unenthusiatically voting Labor, or if it primarily activates previously disengaged of the kind of person who came of age in a way roughly as Moxnes did. I suspect both are major factors with this party.
A third factor with a party like this is the appeal to immigrants. It is said that any time a foreigner of extra-European origin was naturalized a Norwegian citizen, a coin in the Labor Party’s coffer rings, so to speak. That is, non-European immigrants long block-voted for Labor (per election poll data from Statistics Norway). With the rise of viable left-wing parties, including Socialist Left and this hardline Red Party, which sides with immigrants as one of the several moral crusades it bases its existence upon, the immigrant vote could easil boost these guys, especially in Oslo.
Red Party [R] seats in 2017: 1 (of 169) (Moxnes, see last two paragraphs)
Expected to win in 2021: 2 to 13 seats
= The Red Party could be another winner of the coming election in net seats gained. But much depends on them keeping above the 4%-threshold to scoop of these extra seats. As long as they can do that, and for now it looks likes they will, they’ll likely take around 10 seats.
GREEN Party [Miljøpartiet, MDG]: A centrist party which assiduously resists being tossed into the “left-wing Green” stereotype, but is here for convenience’s sake and because they have signaled they prefer to work under a Labor government. This is really a party of centrist Greens.
It is also quite a new party, at least in national profile, emerging beyond the fringe only in the 2010s.
They have never gotten about the 4%-threshold to win seats in the Storting, but di take one seat in 2017 in one electoral region (Oslo City, no surprise). Opinion polls consistently show them above 4% this time, so they will be minor players in the early 2020s.
As for whether they are on the Left or Right, this is what their official account wrote in response to a commenter on Youtube last month (machine-translated):
“We no longer distinguish between red and blue politics [Blue is the color of the Høyre/Conservative Party]. Red and blue politics, or the Left and the Right, were created in response to the problems that came with industrialization in the 19th century. [….] But we have made it clear that it is the Left we will cooperate with after the election, as the Right has not been able to implement real climate policy in the eight years they have ruled the country.”
See also a comment about Norwegian Green Party figure Lan Marie Berg, who was set to enter the Storting at the head of the Green party-list for Oslo, that after six years on the Oslo City Council. She fell to a local scandal in June 2021, but may have recovered by now after pulling a power-play esentially gurranteed to work in today’s West (see comment). She may well be a national-level (Storting-level) political figure in the 2020s and beyond.
Green Party [MDR] seats in 2017: 1
Expected to win in 2021: 2 to 10, including Lan Marie Berg.
= The Green Party will be a minor player but its position will firm up considerably from 2017. Like all the minor parties, it’s exact total will depend on where it can keep above the 4% threshold. Unless it firms up its vote support to keep above 4% in most places, it will probably end up with 1-2 seats.
OTHERS. Going on past experience, there will be several other, minor left-wing parties besides those listed here. None have any chance of getting seats, at least not in 2021.
The more significant minor parties are single-issue parties, explicitly interest-group parties (like the Pensioners Party), and there is the occasional joke party.
Of those that are coherently ideological parties and of the Left (one is called The Communist Party of Norway, an old-line Marxist-Leninist outfit), it will be a surprise if any exceed 0.1% of the vote nationally. There are enough parties, potentially nine taking seats, at that is just about the max under the current system.
Summary of the Left-of-Center parties
Things are looking better for the Left now. Jonas Gahr Støre is the Labor Party leader and the favorite to be next prime minister, though it’s unclear if we should call him or the Norwegian Labor Party as being of the Left at all. In the end, Støre is more like a consensus centrist, of a recognizable type across the West in the past (at least) twenty years.
And it likely won’t make too much difference if it’s Støre or if it continues to be Erna Solberg except for shuffling around a few different faces in different government ministries.
Some uncertainty surrounds the other guy, the Center Party candidate who has announced he wants to seek the prime ministership, Vedum. The uncertainty makes his candidacy the most interesting, for sake of the novelty of it. Norway has a standing tradition of minor party figures becoming Prime Minister, but the manner that Vedum is approaching it may be novel.
The party which was so prominent in the 2010s, the (formerly?) national-conservative-populist Progress Party, will definitely not get enough votes/seats to significantly influence the new government, though it’s possible if the cards fall in just the right way they could stumble their way back into a governing coalition. Their eleventh-hour leadership change may not have inspired confidence, with no net change in polled support. One report I see says the party has already “given up” on the 2021 election and working to reform itself to try for a strong showing in 2025.
If you’d asked political observers in the mid-2010s or so, some would even have said it was plausible Progress could be a prime minister candidate outright by the 2020s, but their fortunes have turned south. The defections to the Democrats in Norway party, or whatever the Democrats’ successor party in the 2020s may be, means Progress may have a a competitive rival to the right, which would be new territory in Norwegian politics.
The increased support to the dissident-Left parties is also evident, and much more a sure thing than this speculation on the Democrats in Norway party’s long-shot chances to take seats (medium-long-shot; not impossible-shot).
Norway is a small, wealthy, relatively rural and low-population-density country which follows the trends in European politics, or so I see it. None of these political forces or shifts seem entirely unique to Norway, though some have distinctly Scandinavian historical flavors, and of course the passing issues-of-the-day are often going to be local and of interest locally, but the general pattern is supra-national.
As I see it, there doesn’t seem to be any way a new government gets formed without the Center Party, so they will likely be kingmakers and potentially even given the prime ministership. Despite the electoral logic, if it actually happens it would something of a surprise, and take Norway into slightly unknown waters.
The Flu Virus Panic of 2020-21 and Norwegian politics
The Conservative Party in Norway imposed a fairly extreme lockdown on Norway in 2020, doing untold social and economic damage. To me this was among the worst crimes a government can do to its own people, essentially imposing war-conditions and deprivations on them, if not prison-like conditions, plus recession, for nothing (except indulging in panic).
I have to give credit to the Prime Minister, though, for after a few months she publicly apologized, admitted she had personally panicked when she ordered another copycat lockdown, and vowed not to make the same mistake again.
But the political writing was on the wall: her party had benefited greatly from the Great Flu Virus Panic of 2020. Enough people were scared enough to cling to the governing party for safety, and if she is reelected it may be because of that lingering poll-boost. In the weeks and months before she demanded an extreme Lockdown (and shut down her entire society and economy (triggering an unnecessary recession and doing untold social damage), her party was noticeably sagging in the polls.
Some form of major Flu Virus Panic restrictions returned to Norway. If we wonder why, I really think the answer is in the politics of it. That applies everywhere. But it doesn’t map ideologically very well.
What I mean is: the supposed lesson out of the USA, in which Left people/leaders are supposedly For lockdowns and Right people/leaders are supposedly Against Lockdowns, does not hold as a general principle. In Norway it was the Conservative Party, a centrist party with strongly lingering conservative influences and overtones, which pursued the crazy policy so associated with the “blue state governors” in the USA, and the Conservative Party’s coalition partners, none of them of the Hard Left, declined to demand an end to Lockdownism.
Next door in Sweden, a firmly left-wing government refused to join the lockdown-copycatists at all, from the start. Almost no one in Sweden ever even wore a mask, everything stayed open, the Panic drumbeat that took over in other places was muted–in short, minimal disruptions.
In Germany, some of the most fanatical lockdown-pushers are of the Right, and of the course the whole Lockdown regime there (which exceeds the USA’s) was led by Angela Merkel and the Christian Democratic Union (now a centrist party). A potential future Chancellor, Markus Soeder (head of the Bavarian CSU) was known as the most right-wing figure on the national stage in the ruling party and was also the most fanatical Lockdown-pusher and Mask-enthusiast, basically on that “blue state governor” level, but the simplistic USA model just breaks down totally for him.
In Norway itself, the Progress Party could not resist siding with Lockdownism to try to get stricter travel restrictions to limit the intake of migrants and refugees, its main issue especially since the Europe-wide shock of 2015-16 (the “Merkel Wave”).
One conclusion I take from the cases I know of is that Lockdownism was basically irresistible to demagogues (and few in the world seem to outdo Germany’s Soeder there; I wrote on him in German politics commentary in early 2020, during the search for a Chancellor-Candidate before the Flu Virus Panic began). It also turned out that a Flu Virus Panic played surprisingly well in the political center, and in electoral systems could really firm up support if played well. This became a highly negative vicious cycle, those who should have worked to dismantle the beast that was the Virus Panic were incentivized to feed the beast. These lessons mostly apply to parties with multi-party electoral democracies. In some countries, and I am thinking mainly of the East Asians here, the authoritarian hammer came down much more easily (South Korea is one).
Then there is the sad case of Australia, whose nominally conservative government embraced what seems to me like a policy of open-ended, no-endgame mass-delusion and paranoia, perhaps survivable under a fixed end-date, but they seem to want to indulge in this for several years. They are in a constant cycle of Panic–>Lockdown–>Panic–>Lockdown, with no one saying “Enough! Stop the Madness.” I don’t know why Australia fell into this, but I discuss it in a previous post. I’m interested to understand why. If we solve the Australia riddle, we might get insights onto the origins of the Panic and of Lockdownism across the West.
As for Norway, it seems like the three contenders to lead the next government who have an equal chance: Conservative Party (incumbent since 2013), Labor Party, and Center Party (Trygve Slagsvold Vedum). I don’t know enough to know what each is signaling about the Lockdowns of 2020-21.
In the USA, by May 2021, I sense a holding, if tacit, consensus that embracing Lockdownism was a big mistake. Despite the squawking of some news-talk-type rhetoric, there have been major, major strides to dismantle the whole Panic apparatus. The same might be true of Norway, but it’s hard for me to say.
Elections are always a little like doing a series of coin-flips. If you flip 100 times, you may get 50 heads, but you may get several fewer or more, and so any predictions exist in this statistical uncertainty area. But just a few seats different (equivalent to flipping 55 heads instead of the 50) could mean big differences and big lessons changed. It’s plausible that Norway will get this Vedum. This is exactly the kind of result that makes systems like that attractive, for he would be shut out in a two-party duopoly system like the USA’s.
[Contents updated several times to July 25.]
[See also comments for tangential, rolling updates to July 26.]
This website was getting lots of spam for a while (which I first mentioned back in spring 2020). It became much less so after some skillful behind-the-scenes changes by my generous host J. W now of “Rockpit, Alaska.” Without which this place looked truly abandoned, the quantity and quality of the spam as tumbleweeds in a digital desert.
Sometimes they still come through in spurts anyway. Often they target one post in particular, seemingly at random, and dump a small mountain on it, with others mostly spared. In the recent few days, I got about sixty comments in a few days over a small and long-forgotten post from 2013, “Ten U.S. Bombers.”
This is one of the ones I’ve gotten today, and I want to point to the poor quality:
Olymp Trade De Confianza [website omitted] 220.127.116.11
Hi! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Wonderful blog and wonderful design and style
MySpace group? Who is running this spam campaign? You might think it was left over from 15 years ago, but then it also adds he will be “tweeting this.” So what kind of effort was this?
Talk about “not sending their best.” Googling the same introductory phrase (“Hi! Someone in my Myspace group shared…”) appears 162,000 times. Quantity over Quality.
By the the 2010s I started seeing people saying that it was getting harder and harder to distinguish “spam” from real comments/people (scripts running ads or trying to spam links around).
The purpose of spam like this is to get one’s links spread far an wide, to seed the Internet with it, and boost traffic. The company purports to be an online stock trading platform. Assuming someone with the trading company is behind the spam, they must think the link-seeding strategy is worth the risk of looking bad by dumping low-quality spam on people.
And this is so obviously spam it’s like gearing up a Wright Brothers plane in early jet age, or proposing to send a letter by express horseman to hand-deliver in the age of the telegraph, or investing the royal treasury in hiring and outfitting the best new pikemen in the age of the musket.
Even in the 2020s it seems surprisingly easy to tell non-human actors from human actors, at least in this medium.
You’d think they’d have gotten better at it by now. And maybe they have, if by they we mean someone out there somewhere. But those unethical or foolish enough to spam-dump people by the millions are probably not the sharpest people around. It’s the same reason those Nigerian prince emails always end up obvious by some tell or other, sloppy wording, misspellings, something off, even before the part where they say the next step is to wire cash a.s.a.p. …
(This began as a country-size comparison, continued into a latitude comparison, and freely drifted into a discussion of Brisbane, Australian politics, the US-Australia alliance, China, and more. These are loosely related topics but, I hope coherent-enough thoughts. The whole amounts to 4000 words and covers the gamut of the usual fare which I put to digital-paper here.)
I came across this Australia vs. USA size comparison. It’s a map-over-map overlay and is NOT latitude-aligned but is effective at showing the relative sizes:
Another map I find purports to align the latitudes, “flipping” the familiar shape of Australia for purpose of the latitude-matching.
In other words, if Australia were in its exact same relative position but mirrored onto the northern hemisphere and tossed above South America, it would be here:
I didn’t realize Australia was nearly the same breadth as the United States, coast to coast. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it one way or another, though,
For practical purposes, the USA is much bigger in that most land in Australia is unusable and therefore empty. Australia’s size is impressive on a map, but measured in arable land, the continent USA has Australia beat by 4x or 5x as of today.
Brisbane is the place in Australia I can claim some acquaintance with, from personal experience and indirect experience through people I’ve known.
Brisbane is half-way up the eastern coast.
They say the name (Brisbane) as BRIZ-bin, and not Briz-BANE as some might guess (and, please, no “Bry’s Bane”).
I spent three days in/around Brisbane in August 2015. My cousin (M. W.) had moved there in January 2015, stayed several years, and is now somewhere in Oregon, after a total of four or five years in Australia. I think the last year or so was somewhere other than Brisbane. I can’t remember. I haven’t seen her since the day she dropped me off at the Brisbane Airport to proceed across the Pacific.
I’m quite sure I have written elsewhere on these pages about my August 2015 return-trip to the USA, to date the most memorable such trip I’ve done. I was leaving Korea after one of my successful stays there and a visa expiration. Australia was one of my stops on the way back to the USA.
(The tickets were a true win-win, a series of one-way tickets with the cheap carriers, strung together by finesse and boldness of action. I was able to spend time on the ground in Malaysia, Australia, Fiji, a very brief visit to Christmas Island (Kirimati), Hawaii, Seattle, before arriving back at Washington. The final price of all these together was not much above a direct ticket. Given that I got all this “free” travel worked in, that was the win-win.)
(As for Kirimati, a.k.a. Christmas Island, the airport was cut out of jungle and had exactly two buildings, large shacks, one for Arrivals, one for Departures. Or so I remember it. They didn’t let thru-passengers get off the plane. The scenes I remember were of mysterious figures, carrying unusual equipment, emerging slowly and piecemeal from the “Departures” shack. These were passengers who recently completely their scuba-diving or whatever sea-based adventuring they’d been up to and were re-entering the world.)
It’s a good thing I am the controlling editor of that which gets published here, because this is already digressing two levels down, a digression within a digression. I will allow it. No complaints. You, reader of the present of future or distant future, get what you pay for. Complaints allowed only if you paid for this. Onward we go.
Given that I’ve already written about the Brisbane trip itself, I’ll add something new: Several Brisbane connections from Korea.
Brisbane inserted itself in my life several times in the mid-2010s.
I don’t know why or how. I did not seek it out. But I met a series of people from that one city. All met independent of one another, all in Greater Seoul. There are three I can think of now. If there were others, I didn’t know them well enough to remember their place of origin.
One was G. D., whom I met in 2014 in Bucheon, my home for two years ending in September 2013. G. D. was then unhappily toiling in the hagwon world. I was glad to be able to help a Western foreigner having trouble in Korea who felt alienated and alone. I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this kind of assistance in my early days there, and soon G. D. was well-enough integrated into life.
Another was Martin B., whom I first encountered briefly in mid-2015 but really got to know in 2016 and thereafter. I have always gotten along with him and even admired despite his flaws.
The third is E. S., whom I met in, I think, June 2017 in Seoul, within the same general setting as Martin (ILC) but unconnected thereto except by citizenship and place of origin.
Of the three, Martin is still in Korea today but the the two are not.
Martin occasionally mass emails his thoughts to a hundred or more on his email list (seemingly always altering the list slightly). I don’t know what percentage of his mass-emails I am on, but they’re occasional. I enjoy reading them and he has a particularly unique writing style. He often drifts into territory few others would in such mass communications, relating to personal problems. Martin is now I think over 60 and has been in Korea over twenty years.
I am unclear what E. S. is doing.
E. S. was ambitious in mid-2017 but had never been to “Asia” before and reminded me a lot of myself when I was new. She was sent to Korea on some kind of scholarship in 2017. I was working at a low-level but prestigious academic-type job in summer 2017 in Seoul. E. S. is one of the people with whom I hoped to stay in contact, but have had limited success. I returned over the winter 2017-18 (ahead of a study trip to Japan), but E. S. had just left Korea, after completing six+ months there, and as best I can tell was back to Brisbane, air-dropping back into the usual.
E. S.’s interests at the time overlapped greatly with the world I was in, in the late 2010s, certainly in 2017, 2018, and even into 2019, but I think began fading in 2019.
One forms portrait-impressions of people and what they are up to at any given time. People with whom you fall out of touch, the portrait is faded, maybe not well sketched, but still exists. The last firm impression I have of E. S. is that she was hoping to fall comfortably into some kind of government employment. To what grander purpose, I don’t know.
What is the meaning of my having known three separate, unconnected Brisbane people, all in Korea?
Adjusting for unconnectedness and population size, Brisbane must be among the highest per-capita rates of personal origin-place for foreigners I knew above acquaintance level in Korea. Hong Kong and Singapore likely easily outrank Brisbane, but that’s almost a given.
At the height of the TEFL industry in South Korea in the late 2000s, statistics had it that there were nearly as many E-2 visa (language teaching visa) holders from Canada as from the United States. The USA of course had nearly 9x the total population. It shook out to mean Canadians were around 7x as represented, per capita, as Americans. (This was just for the E-2 people, of which I was one, and did not count the gyopos, usually meant to mean “Korean-Americans,” U.S. passport holders of Korean ancestry, but in fact for visa purposes it was for a wide net of countries).
Something about Canadians pushed them to Korea much more often. Does the same apply to Brisbane? I have no idea. My experience is probably not scalable.
If there is something special about Brisbane, what is it?
Brisbane turns out to be at the midpoint between the 27th and 28th Parallels South. The exact midpoint of the two parallels (i.e., “27.5” degrees South) passes right through the middle of the University of Queensland campus.
The same parallel here in the northern hemisphere (27.5 North) passes through (among other places) central Florida, meeting the Gulf of Mexico at a place called Manatee Beach, a pleasant-seeming beach community at the southern end of the Tampa Bay area.
On the western coast of North America, fronting the Pacific, the 27.5 North line (the mirror-image latitude of Brisbane) passes 20 miles south of a place called Bahia Tortugas, Mexico (part of Baja California) (apparently the town is NOT “Bahia de Tortugas;” what are they doing with this sloppy Spanish?) (Bahia Tortugas has no English wiki entry and a very spare Spanish one explaining that nothing much goes on down at Turtle Bay except fishing, but tourism or eco-tourism is a natural growth market).
Brisbane is, therefore, at a latitude promising a really favorable climate. From the times I’ve occasionally checked its weather, it does not disappoint. I was there in late August, southern hemisphere winter (the equivalent period would be late February here in the northern hemisphere) and it was pleasant and summer-like.
This seems almost a stereotype of Australia fulfilled, the image of Australia as processed through millions of pairs of ears countless millions of times since the early 1980s with the “Land Down Under” song, its tone and themes:
This highly favorable climate is a mis-match with the kinds of people who settled and built it up, Europeans from mostly much higher latitudes. (I had to correct my original “more northerly climes,” which doesn’t work in the case when northward means towards the equator…!).
In E. S.’s case, some of her ancestors come from around 51 degrees North latitude in central Europe. None of those people were acclimated to the sunny climes of the Australian coast at such cheery and creamy latitudes.
Am I getting at anything here? I’m not sure. The point I think I’m approaching is, if something is special about Brisbane, the climate could have something to do with it. This sounds like amateurish armchair analysis, I know, but it’s at least something.
I took myself on another digression for ten minutes and calculated my own ancestral median, out of curiosity. In latitude terms it falls around 55 degrees North, give or take.
(And the median lat-long coordinates, a single hypothetical point denoting the geographical median of my ancestors’ birthplaces several centuries ago, falls somewhere in the western Baltic Sea, or possibly lands one of the islands of Denmark — which, conveniently, is where my paternal line traces to about two centuries ago (the island of Fyn). This high median latitude comes from my father’s side’s Norwegian ancestry; none of my mother’s ancestral lines go too far south.)
In any case, latitude and climate don’t exactly align (Europe is warmer than its latitude suggests it should be), but sunlight stays consistent across latitudes. Brisbane is getting Florida coast or Baja California sun.
I was told by some locals that Queensland, Australia, is the per-capita skin cancer capital of the world. Looking at the map I see Brisbane is flanked by something called Sunshine Coast and on the other side by Gold Coast (at whose airport I arrived in 2015).
This all lends itself very much to outdoor activities, in addition to the long tradition of low-population and thus elbow-room. This combined with Northwest European cultural traditions meant Australia was always going to be something special once it got rolling, and if it had a strong enough sponsor, which ended up being so with the Britannia Rules the Waves-era UK.
This is probably getting closer now to a good explanation for why Brisbane ended up tossing so many more of its people, per capita, to a place like Korea in the 1990s-to-2010s era, than other places, but the right combination of words has not occurred to me to drive the point home in one sentence,so I’ll stop dancing around it and move on.
It’s so easy to look things up, but sometimes the picture you get is not quite right, and data must be interpreted with caution.
From the latest census results, it seems the Brisbane region’s population stock is around 60% White Australian today, by which I mean those descended from the pre-1970s (White) population.
Around 2% identify as Aboriginie. I remember seeing a few people who looked part-Aboriginie on a ferry heading to an island off Brisbane, but I don’t recall seeing any in the center of the city itself.
(Tangent: I remember when Australia hosted the Olympics in 2000. I remember them making a big deal about Aborigines in their opening ceremony, or so my impression was and so my memory tells me now. I remember finding it a little strange at the time. The Aborigines were there first, true, but so much attention was given that you’d think they founded the Australian state itself and its core institutions and culture and then somehow lost control to White immigrants. At my age at the time (2000), it’s not something I had any kind of fully formed opinion on one way or another, just impressions. The 2000 Olympics along with the Simpsons late-1990s Australia episode formed my early views of Australia; the Simpsons episode is delightful in how brazenly anti-Australian it was, mocking of Australia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they quietly banned that one there.)
If White Australians + Aboriginies together form just over 60%, that leaves the rest (35-40%) as recent immigrants or descendants thereof.
Degree of personal-identity Australianization no doubt differs from person to person among this group, and there doesn’t seem to be able simplified narrative to latch onto. But it does seem the 35-40% is tilted towards actual foreign-born. The rate of personal-identity Australianization is still going to be relatively low in the 2020s for that reason alone. What the 2030s and 2040s and beyond holds is harder to say.
But no group seems particularly dominant among the 35-40% of recent origin, almost as if immigrants were selected by lottery to ensure a relatively random draw. I am sure that is not the case. And of the 35-40%, it seems something between a third and a half are White themselves, broadly speaking.
When all is said and done, the total of what Canada’s statistical agency calls Visible Minorities in the Brisbane region must have broken the 25% barrier sometime the 2010s, certainly so by the close of the decade. I would assume this would follow the US pattern, the 25% applying in the region as a whole but being higher in core areas of the city proper and lower in “suburb”/”exurb” areas. This aligns with what I recall from 2015.
We are now 15% of our way into the 2020s, though, and the number of Visible Minorities may be pushing fast towards the one-third mark, especially among the active, core-age population. This is just my reading of the data I see and maybe I’m missing something.
It seems East Asians, broadly defined (including Filipino), are still below the 10% mark and may be so for some years to come, with maybe half of that of Greater China origin. Nothing like parity between Chinese and White Australians is ahead in the near term — not in Brisbane, anyway.
Anyone who knows how Overseas Chinese operate knows they don’t need numerical majorities to start to dominate, if that’s their play. It’s a complicated matter (for one thing, there are all kinds of different Chinese on the scene, Taiwanese, Southeast Asia Chinese, Hong Kongese, and PRC-Chinese are, I assume, a minority).
This Overseas Chinese matter is subject to a bit of a taboo in our culture today, and I assume the same holds in Australia, whose system of cultural-political taboos seems to closely resemble the USA’s own. My experience working at a think tank in 2019 gave me several insights into Australia, which got me thinking about the matter, anyway. Why do think tanks exist if not to inspire thinking? I understand the taboo and respect its power — I’m not stupid, right? — but these things do deserve thought.
Both Martin and E. S. are of self-identified German ancestry. Martin speaks German fairly well but seems self-taught, by which I mean he did not inherit much/any language but learned by force of will in classes or self-study over the years.
It seems both Martin and E. S. had several generations of nativity in Australia, but retained some coherent sense of German-Lutheran ancestral identity. They fit in the “around 60% White Australian” aggregate-grouping there but even that aggregate category obscures some differences which may be important.
The third Brisbaner I knew, G. D., also fits in the 60%; G. D. never mentioned any other origin and appears likely predominantly if not wholly British Isles origin.
Fear of China
I mentioned just above that when I worked in the Asia policy-related think tank in 2019, I got a feel for just how much the Australian state and security apparatus fears China today. They do. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Disregard the words of any official or unofficial spokesmen for the Australian state (or security apparatus) who tells you that they don’t fear China.
Maybe Australia will “flip” at some point in the second quarter of this century and side with China (that is, against the USA). This would be an extreme move and I have a hard time imagining it, though it suggests the plot for some kind of action/spy movie.
Much more likely than “flipping” would be neutralization, what was once called Finlandization in the US-Soviet Cold War setting,
If Australia willingly neutralizes (detaches from the US without joining Team PRC-China) before 2050, it’ll be later (2040s) and not sooner (2020s, 2030s). Even then it would require an entirely new generation to come into positions of influence and would only be assured if the U.S. (Navy) undergoes some shock or other problems by which it loses the ability or will to continue its security guarantee to Australia. That combined with new people significantly less committed to the US alliance, that’s the trigger for Neutralization.
People talk about the “two aircraft carriers” threshold. I made up the term, but not the thinking, which goes like this: If China can sink just two U.S. Navy carriers, the entire strategic board is turned over and pieces go flying everywhere. The board game must be reset. Picking up the pieces, realignments can be rapid.
Americans hardly think about the U.S.-Australia alliance.
This is one of the many dogs that don’t bark in U.S. discourse. In global terms it’s a fairly major thing but gets zero press in U.S. media. Australia is much more likely to get coverage for wildfires or coral reef or crocodiles than for anything geopolitical or related to the US-Australia alliance.
I get the feeling that Australians cling tight to it, that they implicitly think of the ties to the U.S. as a cornerstone of their state itself. Australia voluntarily extends its their own sovereignty, partially, to let the U.S. in a bit.
I remember conversations to that effect at the think tank. A big reason no one ever thinks or talks about the U.S.-Australia relationship (in mainstream political / foreign affairs discourse, excluding certain academics or specialists) is because the Australia give the U.S. everything it wants and more — basing agreements, everything. This all sails by everyone’s awareness because there was never any controversy to get it in the news.. Don’t mistake non-coverage and non-awareness for non-importance.
On the other side, I know from sometimes watching Australian news that they pay close attention to even minor matters in U.S. affairs. I was surprised to see how much they follow U.S. news, as if Australia were a part of the USA itself. (In one case in 2019, I remember the Australian anchors repeatedly referring to Trump as “the president,” as in a rendering like “Today the president traveled to Europe in order to…” What? Which president? Why not “the American president”? Or maybe “President [Name]”?)
One can ask why Australia is so pro-America. To me it’s got to be because Australia has always viewed itself as an outpost of Western civilization in a distant part of the world and therefore in need of assistance. It didn’t matter the extent to which this became much less true with time, for the thought-pattern was set. And if there was a long respite, it really does again apply, vis-a-vis PRC-China, as we head into the mid-21st century.
When the UK abandoned its global security commitments between the 1910s and 1940s/50s, and as the U.S. inherited the same by the 1940s, the impetus for the relationship was obvious, and has been for eighty years.
There are many other similarities between the two peoples, at least traditionally.
This brings us back to the immigration question, and what it means for Australia itself and the core nature of the regime there, and therefore the US alliance. The most obvious group of interest must be the ethnic-Chinese in Australia. (This breaches the taboo, I know, but at a high enough level you are allowed to; this venue probably does not earn such an exemption, so I proceed with caution.)
I was under the impression that Chinese of various sorts, by no means all “PRC-Chinese,” were a major population element within Australia now. I know several Koreans who went to Australia, and if the image it has in Korea is anything like what it has in China, that is a major pool of potential immigrants. I am certain Australia makes it harder for PRC-Chinese to come than most of the wealthy smaller East Asian states, including South Korea.
As for Brisbane itself, to continue my amateur analysis of that city, they have some Chinese but really not that many. There must be comparatively many Chinese in the big population centers down south to balance it out.
I once calculated Australia’s Chinese-immigrant population at nearly 10x as large, per capita, as the USA’s own (not-insignificant) Chinese population. This doesn’t seem to hold for Brisbane.
It doesn’t need to be some ethnic sedition lobby at all. It may simply be a policy establishment of immigrant-stock technocrats with sundry personal-ancestral origins, who feel little need to maintain the traditional ties to a distant benefactor like the USA which in the past was tied to Australia by mutual European-colonial heritage and more.
Some of the immigrants attracted to Australia are very talented indeed, and if they pull their weight or more within a near- or medium-term technocratic, business, and policy-making elite, why wouldn’t they entertain the idea of neutralization? It seems obvious.
Australia and the Flu Virus Panic of 2020: Why?
One thing I don’t understand. Australia seems to have run among the most authoritarian Virus Panic regimes of anywhere in the Western world.
This frankly shocked and disappointed me, and the millions who viewed Australia as a bastion of rugged individualism (or something of that sort) who might stand up against the madness, a Sweden of the Southern Hemisphere. Why did the precise opposite happen, Australia diving deep into a a dark fantasy-land of paranoid virus hysteria and dystopic policy fanaticism? I don’t have a good answer.
At one point I spent time in an international airport, March 2020. The worst-off, sad-sack, camping-out-in-airport cases were Australians, whose government’s crazy policy stranded its own people, refusing them entry into their own country, over purported fear of a flu virus.
A few of the themes of this essay suggest some possible explanations to the puzzle.
Australia’s heavy rate of immigration has got to cause them some apprehension, even if they seldom admit it to each other or even to themselves. How could it not be so? This might be one reason they started down the dark path of embracing the Panic, good and hard, rather than going about life as normal as we all should have and accepted the losses inherent to a severe flu wave.
Early on, an important narrative strand in “Covid” discourse was “shut down the borders!” to which the most common response was: “Closing borders is racist; Whatever you do, do not do that!” — these being holdover positions from a normal Right-Left dichotomy but transposed awkwardly onto the demagogue’s blank-slate that was “Covid.” If the virus’ impressive global P.R. network could gin up enough scare stories, the border-shutdown people could push through their preferred policy.
I doubt this was even a conscious thing. It could as well be unconscious, preferred policies permeating a seemingly unrelated event (the perceived need to drop everything and panic!, over a flu virus).
In the USA, Lockdownism eventually became a Blue Team vs Red Team thing. This does not apply everywhere, and in many cases right-wing governments were fanatical Lockdowners (including the likes of Hungary), whereas the hero of the whole thing, Sweden, standing out within the OECD as the only national government to refuse to demagogue on a flu virus, had a left-wing Social Democrat and Green-led government.
Australia’s policy-makers — who led their country into artificial major recession, social disruption, and a long period of bizarre, dystopian lockdown and what is set to be two full years of a travel ban — were/are Center-Right.
It also seems likely that the Fear of China arc, which was clearly ascending in the 2010s in Australia, could tie-in with the Flu Virus Panic of 2020-21. Given that the virus “came from China,” this may have tapped into a Fear of China political vein in Australia, and caused what natural opposition to Endless Lockdownism there was to stand down at first, exactly when a hard line against Lockdowns were needed.
Then there is the US-Australia alliance itself, and the apparently significant US cultural/political influence on Australia. When our big agenda-setters decided that it was to be “Lockdowns Today, Lockdowns Tomorrow, Lockdowns Forever!” — this sent a signal to the satellite states in the US orbit to get with the program and start panicking along with the cool kids.
This essay has wandered into interesting territory, reaching some 4000 words. When I commit to writing one of these, I never quite know where it’ll go.
The bad news for Australia continues, with this recent headline:
Prime Minister Scott Morrison – who faces an election next year – has announced Australia won’t re-open borders until mid-2022
That means over two full years of major disruptions, especially hitting any Australian seeking to go abroad (or even get home, in many cases) and any foreigner trying to enter.
The whole thing feels like watching a society in the midst of mass delusion. The major bastions of VIrus Panic in the USA seem to have begun falling in May and especially by June 2021 we re-entered the world of Reality and its warm and comfortable shores. Some bitter-enders will continue the disruptions even longer, but for now it seems to basically be over for most people in most situations.
Australia’s decision to demagogue on the whole thing in early 2020, and turn authoritarian, over a flu virus which we knew with certainty by relatively early on was not a major threat, simply does not fit the image I had of the country and people and the character thereof, which I had developed my limited experience in the 2010s. I am still puzzled by it, but I’m puzzled and dismayed by almost every society’s reaction to it.
As for Brisbane, the city that I ended up with multiple nodes of connection to, the news is also bad. Two news stories I find:
Brisbane restaurant cluster linked to flight attendant rises to five cases Three new community cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Brisbane, linked to a woman who tested positive after leaving hotel … 2 days ago
A recent trip to the repair shop got me thinking about my relationship to the smartphone and the digitization of most aspects of life which it represents/induces/necessitates. I’ll try to approach this indirectly through a small handful of memories.
I distinctly remember once, in Seoul, in spring 2014, being teased by a then-acquaintance from Europe, both privately and publicly, for writing out a map on a piece of paper. I didn’t mind the teasing nor his attempts later that day to show others my hand-drawn map. It got the job done, and who can argue with results? The mockery had nothing to do with results but of form: It was analog! Get with the digital age, was the message.
The reason I remember this little incident is I was surprised with the confidence with which he mocked me, as if in 2014 I were telling him I’d send him something by fax or give him a movie on VHS, something just laughably obsolete such that he couldn’t even imagine doing it. That was the tone. Obviously he did still use pen and paper in some cases, but for navigation in a city from A to B? Who would do that?
I had created this little hand-drawn map to navigate to the Seoul city wall, with the plan to hike the half length from West Gate to East Gate along the northern arc, which only this intrepid acquaintance was interested in doing on a Saturday morning. Finding access to the path from a certain meeting point was not easy. It involved twists and turns through alleys, and I planned it out at home and traced out the route on paper, making a sketch map. I had a hard copy of it.
I had a Smartphone at the time and “data,” but the data was on a pay-as-you-go plan, which meant when it ran out I had to pay to recharge, which was an annoying process; in any case, I didn’t want to use data when not needed. I also wanted to plan out the route to make sure I knew what I was doing. But something in me in spring 2014 was still profoundly uncomfortable with navigating by “phone” (as we end up calling such devices, which are used as telephones about 0.1% of the time for many people).
The sketch-map served its purpose wonderfully and we didn’t get lost.
I remember how amused he was by this map. He called it something like “the cutest thing I’ve seen all year.” Later that day he told others about it and insisted I show it to them. He was making fun of me, but I don’t remember taking offense, because I was in my own heart making fun of anyone who would be stunned at a pen-and-paper sketch-map.
I remember this even seven years later because it was in the transition period between when making sketch-maps like that was reasonably normal in the 2000s, and when it was laughable, given the always-on interactive map in your pocket (i.e., your “phone”), certainly so by late-2010s and in leading circles already becoming laughable in the mid-2010s. To have made an used a map like that by the late-2010s, it would have to extraordinary circumstances or maybe somewhere far outside a city where phone signals were unreliable.
I have always had an ambiguous attitude about devices.
For whatever reason, I also didn’t get a basic cellphone until rather late, I think in the last half of my last year of high school. I never used SMS “text messaging” until 2007 and that especially because of one particular person, M. K.; as for Facebook, I registered an account in late 2007 but was seldom active, and very much actively avoid it now. Although I use the Messenger app to communicate with people I otherwise have no way to contact, I avoid actually signing in — the last I did was some time in 2019.
This is all related to another sometime internal discussion I have. When does the Internet Age begin?
There are a lot of landmarks one an point to but these generally amount to trivia. If you must choose a ‘0’ year or a ‘5’ year, which is the best to attach to the concept of “Start of the Internet Era”? Note this is really a social question and not a technical one. I know there was technically some predecessor to email even as early as the 1980s, and there was an active early Internet scene in the 1990s. But these do not do. I think it has to be 2010, by which time the infrastructure we understand as the Internet was really in place. The Smartphone wave in the years that followed rapidly gave us our world as we knew it for the rest of the 2010s and now into the 2020s (1.5 years down, not a good decade so far for me).
Mobile digital computing devices connected to the Internet had made rapid gains and by 2014, the idea of someone making and using a paper sketch map to navigate a tricky path to a destination was something to laugh at, for some. Five years earlier, it wouldn’t have been so.
As for my own relationship with the Smartphone. I had none at all until the very end of December 2013, when one was given to me as a gift. In the last days of that year, I was sick with flu and living in a tiny room in a goshiwon in Seoul (in what some Koreans have been known to call the worst part of Seoul due to the presence of Chinese and Korean-Chinese). It was in my windowless room in that place that I entered the Smartphone Age after recovering from the flu on or soon after New Year’s Day 2014. The “pen-and-paper map” incident followed a few months later.
This timeline, I should add, means that my entire cross-country (South Korea) hike attempt in September and October 2013 was done Smartphone-less. In fact, it was basically done without any phone. I had a non-smart phone I kept off about 99.9% of the time. It had a good dictionary (an “offline” one, which in the Smartphone Age became a rare commodity). In the 2020s, it seems hard to imagine someone similar to 2013-Me attempting the hike without Smartphone access, perhaps even trying t o navigate by Smartphone, which is probably not a good idea, but the point is I just imagine people would do so by default.
People aging into social consciousness in the past few years, and in the years to come, and my own children God-willing I have any, may think that smartphones were common much earlier than they were, and that the Internet Era was much earlier than it really was. Even into 2011, the Smartphone was still considered fairly unusual, even something for eccentrics. The attitude was already changing by then. The spring 2011 Arab protests were hailed by our media for being led by organizers with smartphones communicating on the run (an attitude towards political-dissidents’ use of technology which they turned against sharply by the late-2010s).
By the mid-2010s, the Smartphone was rapidly becoming the standard.
I remember a case of a birthday party in 2012 or 2013. A Korean male about my age and I were among the many invitees, at the notoriously difficult-to-navigate Bupyeong Underground. In recent years they’ve invested huge amounts of money in making it more navigable, but you’ll still get lost there. I somehow linked up with him on the way. The venue was Outback. We both got totally lost and spent about fifteen minutes going this way and that through the maze-like underground before finding the right way. One thing I think I remember is neither he nor I had an easy way to communicate with the party’s kakao groupchat because we did not have smartphones. In any case I am sure he didn’t have one, which surprised me for a Korean male in his twenties at the time, but so it was.
I distinctly remember being surprised in early-mid 2014 when A. L., a Singaporean classmate in my first-ever Korean class, told me she used Google Maps for absolutely everything in getting anywhere, for all navigation. This stunned me, and made me think the less of her, I think. Did it mean she couldn’t navigate on her own, but just followed the arrows on the screen? It seemed so, and that seemed ridiculous. I think she said as much, said she would be hopeless without Google Maps.
I remember wondering how much data A. L. was using, for in those days data was often bought and paid for in fixed amounts, and when it ran out, you were out for the month unless you bought more. I remember thinking it extravagantly wasteful when A. L. revealed she rented an unlimited-Internet emitter, at some high cost per day at the time, for all her time in Korea. This amounted to around two months at longest, and shorter trips at other times. I remember thinking this was technically possible but seemed inadvisable, an excessive expense, and probably bad for the soul.
By the end of the 2010s, it was increasingly the norm to outsource all navigation or geographical-anything to Google Maps or the local equivalent, but in 2014 was still within the transition period. She had been an early-mover in the general direction.
A. L. (the Singaporean totally reliant on Google Maps, same age as me), J., the male co-hiker from Northern Europe who made fun of my hand-drawn paper map, several years younger), and I were all classmates in what was for me my first Korean class, the start of several years struggling to learn Korean, off and on.
These two I mention had both mentally and socially transitioned to something like a full-digital life and worldview by early 2014 when I met them, to the point they could not conceive of analog-life in certain important ways, which means it had probably not been a recent thing (i.e., was earlier than 2013) for them. In these years of 2014 to 2016, my own lifestyle changed much as theirs had some years before that. I thought then, and I think now, that I was lucky to hold out as long as I did.
The Smartphone has changed my lifestyle, and from the perspective of 2014-Me, probably for the worse. Still I have made a point to make at least one several-day hiking trip per year. For it I prepare paper maps beforehand. This kind of travel is always more rewarding. As forday-to-day movements and places I know well, there is no need necessarily for any use of a map. (Except that I am so often looking at the bikeshare map for my hobby of bike rebalancing.)
I visited China in December 2019 and was surprised by how much stricter their Internet policy was than my previous visit in 2010. Basically I could not use the Internet at all in China in 2019 except in my hotel room, which I think was arranged by the hotel and connected to my passport. There was no such thing as a free public wifi. This meant absolutely no navigation-on-the-fly staring at one’s phone screen. To go places I needed a good paper map, or an offline digital map, or to navigate by feel and landmark. I used all three methods.
For all my talk of still hanging onto the pre-Smartphone spirit into the late 2010s, I must admit the experience of being forcibly offline in China was quite disorienting.
I was in China for some of the last days of the 2010s, December 2019, and was thinking a lot about the closing decade and what it meant for the world and for me. Had I used my time well? How had I changed? Those kinds of questions. But also observations on China, especially given my previous visit in 2010, the opening of the decade. One thing that certainly changed was the digitization of life, the smartphone in one’s pocket.
What were the 2010s?
The decade seems defined as the age of digitization of lifestyles more than anything else. A lot of the social and political movements of the 2010s were tied fairly directly to the march of digitization, mobile Internet, and the Smartphone. The memory-anecdotes I’ve recorded here are little signposts in the sand from one person’s little corner of experience. I’m sure similar things happened all over.
It’s occurred to me that the Flu Virus Panic of 2020-21 occurred very specifically because of this digitization, and that therefore we have a very important meta-lesson to learn which has nothing to do with masks, lockdown orders (a tragic entry into Global English, which I’d retroactively nominate for worst new word of 2020), PCR tests, “social distancing,” or any of the other jargon of the Panic.
The meta-lesson is that digitization turns out to have been a risk to our health in ways few appreciated, for without it we could have avoided an artificial Great Depression-style economic contraction and major social disruptions hitting hard the young or anyone in transition, and the ripple effects will be with us for years.
Since so many still want to cling to the Panic and its various doctrines, I don’t expect this will be announced from on high anytime soon, but this is the bigger lesson than even my complaints about the insane virus restrictions and the weird Virus Cult that emerged. It was digitization that did this, and the same mechanism has done much else. Something about the smartphone seems to create moral-panics which end up doing damage and causing deadweight losses to society. We haven’t grappled with how do deal with this, nor d we even see the problem.
People have come up with cute renderings of this, something like “the real contagion spread via social media.”
People have also said the 2009-10 Swine Flu Panic never quite got off the ground, even though there were so many similarities to the events of ten years later, and a common explanation for the big reaction gap is: “The 2009 Swine Flu was not as bad.” I say: No one knew exactly how bad or not bad it was. People made the decision to panic — and push panic, hard, in March 2020, and to hell with the consequences — without full information. Panic had its own logic not tie-able to some specific magnitude of threat.
This leaves us asking what the big differences were between 2009-10 and 2020-21 in the nature of our society. It’s obvious to me that the biggest difference is the always-on, hyper-connectivity. Nothing like that existed in spring 2009 when the Swine Flu Panic peeked its head over the abyss. The soon-forgotten Swine Flu Panic looked frankly quite a lot like the early stages of the Corona Flu Panic of 2020.
I was on my way to Korea for the very first time. In Tokyo our plane was boarded by a team of doctors in some kind of hazmat-esque gear to check passengers for flu symptoms. They did this on board. We all remained seated. It all seemed ridiculous to us. I remember specifically someone laughing that they sent on hazmat-suited people. We were aware they were talking about Swine Flu on the news but really no one cared.
As I force my mind back to that day (it being my first time in Asia, I was a little dazed in general, and would drop into the deep water all alone at the hagwon by the next day), I also come up with this:
The Japanese medial quarantine team offered surgical masks to each passenger. There was some half-hearted announcement that we were encouraged to wear them. This was an American plane, possibly United, and I am confident in my memory that virtually no one wore the masks, ignoring the request. To wear surigcal masks seemed unsettling, even like something from dystopian fiction.
My memory tells me I pocketed mine and never put it on. It must have eventually ended its life in a garbage bin, possibly on Korean soil, possibly even in my new inherited apartment somewhere near Lake Park, Ilsan.
In any case and in short, no one cared about Swine Flu, even with this public health theater performance staged by Japan. (The Korean side was much more relaxed and simply handed out cards which effectively asked: “Are you Sick? Yes [ ] No [ ]. Check one. Thx. Bye.”)
The raw-material for a Flu Panic was there, but it never took off. The gap in experiences makes the time gap of eleven years (spring 2009 vs. spring 2020) feel more like fifty, or more. How can culture have drifted that far in eleven years, from casual mockery of an incipient Flu Virus Panic (2009) to an uncritical, semi-fanatical, monomaniacal embrace of the same (2020)? What happened to us?
The biggest difference, I propose, is the smartphone and the Internet, as we’ve come to know it. No one on that plane that day in 2009 had a smartphone. No one anywhere did (with possible/arguable exceptions of a handful of journalist- or CEO-types who, for several years, often carried a device known as a Blackberry; even in the late 2000s I wasn’t quite sure what a Blackberry was). That’s what happened to us.
Blogging as a medium, especially in the way I do it, is not really an activity of the Smartphone era, which is why I feel better about doing it. Of course, the same kinds of critics such as he who mocked my pen-and-paper map in 2014 have for years mocked the blog as a medium. What if the cool guys are wrong? What if diving into full-on digitization wasn’t as good as was thought?
Such was the Northern Hemisphere Summer Solstice moment which has just passed us by.
I often try to mark the exact solstice moments, winter and summer, and occasionally the neglected siblings known as the equinoxes.
Summer Solstice this year happens to have been in the dark-of-night at the latitude/longitude where I am.
This is how it looked:
I also note that because the Summer Solstice moment fell close to midnight, the coveted title of “longest day of the year” must by all fairness be shared by both June 20 and June 21, the difference being (must be) minuscule and measurable in seconds. If the Solstice fell at midday or so, there would be a clear winner.
Here is the same view lightened up:
Photography is funny in that most of the time it fails to do its job, which is to capture an image. Take a picture and you do get an image, but it’s not really what you see.
(Good photographers are good at staging, or something, and create more pleasing images; the poor photographer can aim to capture the same scene as the good photographer and take a picture at the same time and from the same vantage but it somehow ends up feeling different. And neither of them have truly captured the image in the sense the human witness saw it.)
Everyone who has ever tried taking a picture of the Moon knows this problem well. The way my little “Moon at Summer Solstice night portrait” actually looked was roughly a combination of the sky/moon in the first and the ground and ambiance in the second, or maybe even more navigable still. It was a very hot day and warmly pleasant at late night.
The picture is timestamped 11:19pm, 13 minutes before the Solstice. It seemed the best shot I would get. The place I wanted to be, a few minutes walk away, had some people loafing around and it wouldn’t have done for me to stand around waiting for the moment. I had to improvise, which meant wander and hope for the best. When the clock struck the Solstice moment (11:32pm), I was near a stream. The Moon was bright in full view.
The good news is: days will stay long for a while.
The return of darkness at something like the 6pm hour is many months away.
I wonder how much of the “work at home” zombie army has lost touch with the phases of the Sun in their work lives. (More than our civilization already has, given easy artificial light, to say nothing of losing touch with temperatures and other weather conditions, given ubiquitous A/C and heating.)
In the pre-Zombie state (before March 2020), most of these people had 5pm or 6pm quitting times, and were therefore out of “work” and into “the world” at those times or thereabouts. In the months around the Summer Solstice this meant good daylight after work and usually accompanied by favorable weather. A great gift to the 9-to-5-er. But after the mass-conversion to Zombiedom, it was all disrupted.
Or is it? I know enough about the Zombie ideology to know many of the Zombies will defend their Zombiesm and how great Zombieism is, how much better the Zombie lifestyle is than the Human one.
If anyone reading this doesn’t understand my Zombie references, vis-a-vis 2020 and 2021, you’re on your own.
On the other hand, what I see is many do seem to be indulging in the long days and fair weather, by being out “late” more than they may have been in their pre-Zombie lives. I’ve heard others remark the same. I’d almost describe it like the 8pm and 9pm hours of May and June seem like turbocharged versions of former 6pm and 7pm hours or the same months, pre-Zombie. This has struck me, but I think it may be an artifact of the hold-over Zombie custom of outdoor dining, which of course makes people more visible.
I was again at an MLB baseball game yesterday, June 16.
The Washington Nationals defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, at Washington. Neither team looked very good and but for a two-run home-run, the game was a toss-up.
They announced attendance as 16,800. Of 42,000 seats, giving a total ticket-sale figure of 40%. This in addition to what must be a few thousand staff, almost all of whom looked bored almost all the time (which I find an awkward part of the experience whenever I have been at baseball games here).
Thoughts follow on observations and some memories, the usual things I tend to drift into writing on these pages.
Bikeshare to stadium
I went to the game with my dad, who invited me. He has a friend who sells him tickets at discounted rates. He has been a baseball since youth, though seemed much more of a fan in the 2010s than I remember him being in the 1990s.
I persuaded my dad to go to the stadium by bikeshare after parking in North Arlington. In all there were four legs round-trip, and he did three by e-bike (free because I have so many credits) and I did them all by regular bike as usual (free always for members).
From looking at the stations around the stadium, I estimate something at least 150 people attended the game by this method, with probably an equal numbers using private (non-bikeshare) bikes. Armed guards watch over these private bikes during the game in a little cove on the east side of the stadium, which they call a “bike valet.” If my estimate is right, around 300 people of 16,800 attendees went by bike, 1.8%. Since many attendees were children, or elderly, or obese or otherwise disabled, this must mean up to 3% of able-bodied attended by bike.
One effect of the Virus Panic disruptions is the end of the bikeshare system’s “bike corrals,” four stations downtown manned in the mornings by small teams who would keep docks open, in other words, guaranteed parking. I used these. They did not return at all in 2020 and don’t look likely to return in 2021, though maybe by fall they might.
I think the bikeshare system also used to run these “corrals” at certain other places during major events, but I haven’t seen any in a few years. One was during baseball games. A small team would keep docks open — as the station got full, remove some bikes and keep them in a pile, allowing new arrivals to cruise in and park. This was a great system, but is now gone. We got there very early — 3pm — and the main station across from the main entrance was full by about 4:30pm, and most others in the area were also at or near full.
There are no real hills going to the stadium, which sits on the west bank of the Anacostia River not far above where it meets the Potomac, which makes bicycling there theoretically practical. In practice it’s still a little hard, which is a disincentive to people doing it. Make things like that easy or people won’t do it.
The good thing about rolling in early was walking around the empty stadium:
Reflections on stadium-anchored “gentrification” success, mid-2000s vs. early 2020s
I must say, the baseball stadium has been a success in anchoring the major gentrification of this area, which had sunk to some pathetic depths of crime by the 1970s, fading into the 2000s, something near a half-century lost. Optimists in the mid-2000s predicted the new stadium would turn things around decisively and they were right, or at least sis definitely right if we lean on Correlation and ignore that pesky bug in the ear called Causation.
In some pictures taken from the Nationals stadium, you’ll see large, new-looking apartment buildings near it. These are new-looking because they are new.
The river sits on a site adjacent to the Anacostia River. The very name “Anacostia” conjures up some unpleasant images, even today, to many. The general area was once an anchor of Washington’s years-long claim to being Murder Capital of North America. No Washington baseball team was national champion between 1934 and 2019, but quite a few years had Washington ranked Number One for crime, or at least homicides.
I remember assuming that crime would more likely persist. I was wrong in being skeptical that the plan would work, because the stadium today is surrounded by luxury apartments.
In my partial defense, the general area is still not exactly the kind of safe a good neighborhood in pre-1960s Washington would have been, and there is a modest siege mentality, of the kind that must be felt by residents of those Brazilian luxury apartments walled off from favelas but all the same directly adjacent to them (this is much more visceral in the development in Maryland just outside DC caleld “National Harbor”).
I had some dealings in one of these new apartment buildings in 2014, when I worked for a time for a Korean Phone English company. The agent for the company ran the business out of his home, I assume, and met me in the lobby. (Was that in a legal gray area?) The building was pleasant once scanned in, inside the security zone, but still subject to the unpleasantly high-security feeling. I expect that had faded somewhat by the end of the decade as things marched on.
Of course many other areas also improved. The 2010s were the lowest-crime since the 1950s (and early 1960s). Since the annus terribilis of lockdowns, artificial major recession, riots, and major breakthrough by anti-police rhetoric, a series of reverses starting in spring 2020, crime is back up around its long-term late-1960s-to-mid-2000s running average.
Since the lockdowns began there started to emerge unmistakable signs of major social blight in parts of Washington, things that seemed a thing of the past by 2019. The abandonment of downtown with the Virus Panic led directly to the mayor deciding to cede several downtown blocks to a protestor zone. For now fifteen months the mayor has also refused to allow police to clear homeless camps in public parks, originally citing the Virus (of course!), but now just through intertial inaction, I guess. This is to the bafflement of many. The tent citynear the Watergate Hotel has dozens of tents now, and I have seen some unpleasant scenes in it. But no sign of homeless tent-cities near the stadium yesterday.
If Washington’s sudden decline persists, the anchor of the stadium are will probably not feel its effects on game- or event-days.
The rollback of the Virus Panic
The capacity restrictions seem finally gone. I interpret this as another signal that our agenda-setters want to move on from the Virus Panic. Had they been responsible social stewards, they’d have moved to limit social/economic/psychological damage from the start, let people make their own decisions, and for God’s sake not deliberately fan Panic flames (which they did). I noticed clear signs of a sustained campaign to unravel the Panic starting in mid-May 2021. The tone shift seems to predate that. Maybe they were waiting for spring? Of course when flu season ends, flu viruses recede dramatically in our climates.
In the Washington baseball stadium case, the authorities lifted the stadium attendance capacity cap from 33% to 100% less than a week ago. For this game, the market bought 40% of the tickets. (It was a 4:00pm weekday game and I don’t know how many of those ever sell out, especially mid-season for a mediocre team; though the Nationals won the World Series in 2019, they don’t look like the same team now.)
The market figure and the arbitrary capacity restriction end up being similar figures — 33% vs. 40% — which means if the local government still demanded the 33% limit, three thousand who attended yesterday could not have done so, a simple deadweight loss to those people and to ticket and food/beverage revenue and whatever else they tossed their money into.
The other good news, from my perspective (as a pretty hard-line anti-VirusPanic person since late March 2020), is the absence of mask busybodies, those who demand people wear masks or adjust them properly, which became a strange feature of Virus Panic world since masks became mandatory by law by about May 2020.
(Looking back now, Mask-ism was a strange escalation by the Virus Panic regime, right when they should have moved decisively to slay the Panic beast and let people make their own decisions — which they finally did one year later, but for one year masks became a disturbing feature of lived reality, led by the decisions of Western political demagogues riding Virus Panic to popularity or power-grab, my interpretation of events.)
The fingerprints of the old regime are still all over:
With half of June gone, I see continual good news on this front. An event like a major-league baseball game, and what restrictions are imposed or not, and how people behave, these seem pretty significant indicators to me, especially in one of the Big Blue strongholds of what became a bizarre, reality-detached Flu Virus Cult. O understand much of Europe is still mired in this, and Australia is for some reason the worst off of all, being subject to disgraceful terror-panics when even one “positive case” comes out in a region.
There are still individual Panickers, of course. I still see people still riding a bicycle with masks on, something I will just never understand.
I was moving around the stadium for, it must have been fifteen minutes before I saw the first spectator with a mask. Later I saw a few others, some actively wearing and some with it hanging off their face or neck or whatever in some way — all looking ridiculous to me and I would hope looking ridiculous to the eyes of History. It’s hard to estimate, but maybe 5-15% of spectators had masks with them at all, and most of those were not actively wearing them at any given moment, which puts the total actively wearing at any given time well below 5%. Up from 0.00% in 2019 and all previous years.
This little estimate of mine applies to spectators. The staff is another matter. The staff mostly had conspicuous signs of masks — I assume they are still under a private mandate. My non-scientific estimate is least half actively wearing them at any given time, but not too high above that 50% line. Some conveniently took long or indefinite breaks from the mask in the afternoon heat and seemed no longer to be subject to mask-busybodies or supervisors. Their mask rate is much down from peak-Panic periods since the mandates started coming in in spring 2020.
This is all really good news, but as long as anyone has a mask to me means a sign of the social contagion (which I’ve called Virus Panic here) is still in circulation.
Miscellaneous baseball memories
I do not follow baseball, nor do I follow any sports with any regularity today. I did when I was a kid.
I played baseball up to around age 12, always prompted by my dad, whose own preferences and interests generally steered my activities at those ages partly to my low-level resentment. Not long ago I came across a team picture from 1996 of my our team and my dad kneeling alongside, as coach. I hardly remember him being coach. I think there were two coaches and the other one was absent on picture day.
I liked playing baseball, I think, and am glad I was able to do it and had a period of great interest in the sport (i.e., when I “followed” it), because in the end it’s the mark of one plank of our culture. Baseball has been with us about two centuries, though the lineage of the game may not be what the legends claims (invented by a young man named Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York, about 1840 — later General Doubleday). People who don’t know the game expect American men to know it and be able to explain it.
I wouldn’t mind playing again, especially a lower-stakes version as with plastic bat and hollow plastic ball. My cousins in Connecticut called this “whiffle ball,” but I don’t know how common that name is.
(I played cricket once, in 2012, on an island off the west coast of Korea, with a mish-mash of vacationers including British coworkers, and did amazingly well to their surprise. Baseball skills are transferable, though the rules of the game are different. Cricket vs. baseball strikes me as a good analogy for how languages differ and how language families work.)
Baseball games, 1990s vs. 2010s/20s
I attended a few Baltimore Orioles games in the 1990s, the closest team to me at the time before the Nationals came in. I was at one one as late as July 2005, with my aunt N. and cousins B. W. and M. W.; the Orioles were playing Boston, which is B. and M.’s favorite team and, they being through the area at the time, decided to attend and for some reason invite me. (They are from near the Yankees-Red Sox fandom dividing line that runs through central Connecticut and decisively side with the latter.)
One thing I noticed in the 2010s, in the handful of times I attended games in various capacities and situations, and which I was reminded of very much yesterday, is the lower share of people actually interested in the game in any way than what I remember from the 1990s. (Reader beware, I was just a boy in the 1990s and everything impressed me. Even trying to adjust for that, I really think this is true.)
Many of the people attending are just at these games as a social event and spend the entire time chatting or hanging around in the rear area, and any of the game they witness if almost by chance. These are people there as a form of social signaling. This is true of many, perhaps most, of the women attending, and many of the men, too. A little sign of how so much of the world is oriented towards women, especially younger-end women in that consumption decisions are much more driven by women (per anyone with contact with lived-reality, but also spending studies).
It’s hard to untangle exact motivations in individual cases but the social dynamic of “attending = prestige” does seem to exist, like an umbrella under which individuals operate. In any case this is great news for the Nationals as a business, because if the stadium is a ‘prestige’ place to be, sales go up, attendance goes up, sales of merchandise goes up, prices can go up (or stay crazily high, $30+ t-shirts, whatever).
Airport-style security comes to stadium — Why?
I started this writing on the rapid retreat of masks as symbol of the retreat of the Virus Panic coalition, which is good news. I realize there was something else in yesterday’s experience that seems pretty bad news and which I want to put to paper here. It is: the hugely increased security at the front gate, and seemingly also inside the stadium.
They interrogate everyone entering now, often for several minutes, and subject them to airport-style security with the same level of rigor and tone that the benighted TSA does. The TSA, perhaps the USA’s most hated agency of all since its founding in late 2001. Is it actually a government agency? For practical purposes it seems to be, and after twenty years another government agency was born never to be reigned back in.
Most people have demonstrated their full willingness to go along with whatever, as long as whoever it is eventually waves them through. Last year taught us this willingness includes even month-after-month-after-month of endless, rolling shutdown orders, based even on the thinnest of justifications and apparently no cost-benefit calculations at all, throwing social and economic life into disarray. Compared to 2020, a little increase in stadium security looks minor.
Still, for some reason I was surprised and annoyed by the new security regime. I was in the stadium over four hours without but one or two brief sips of water from a drinking fountain. I would’ve had more but they made me throw out my water bottle at the security gate because it was already open. (What the heck?)
This is all dramatically different than what I remember. As recently as summer 2019, the last time I was at a game (which was with coworkers and worth a full post of its own if I get around to it), I remember sailing through security and taking more time scanning the ticket to get in. This time the ratio was reversed.
I remember airports in the 1990s. I think the baseball stadium security in June 2021 was in some ways at least as strict as airport security was in the 1990s and in some ways stricter. Absolutely no bags are allowed. All open water bottles must be inspected and dumped if opened. There were several other procedures. What is the meaning of this?
I don’t know who gave these silly orders for airport-style security at the baseball stadium gates. I also sense they may never get rolled back now. I’ve heard this called the “ratchet effect.“
Synchronicity. The very evening I published the Star Trek Voyager post, I randomly flipped to a channel, early in the 11pm hour. To a number on the channel list I feel certain was random. I wasn’t sure what number I was typing. By this set up you may already have guessed what I found. None other than Star Trek Voyager.
There it was. Very occasionally I’ll do a random flip to see what’s going on. The channel I’d stumbled onto was called “Heroes & Icons.” I’d never heard of this channel before. I had planned to turn off the TV and sleep. Tthere was the face of the character Tuvok, looking perplexed, with ominous music playing and dark lighting. A mystery assailant was attacking crew members and Tuvok was on the case.
People can mock the concept of Synchronicity if they want, but I can attest that I had never watched this channel ever before nor knew of its existence. I can attest I had not seen Voyager on TV in man years. What are the odds the very day I wrote/published about it that I’d encounter it at random? I couldn’t believe it.
Although that very morning I had written that Voyager was still airing, I confess I was saying so to puff up the importance of my subject. I hadn’t seen it, myself, on regular TV and had only heard of its syndication airing (an impressive fact for a show off the air twenty years. I assumed it would be on the Sci-Fi channel, which I think still airs it, too. Maybe others, I don’t know.)
Today, before proceeding with other matters I turned it on again to see what would come up. On came the television show Rawhide. This is an old Western show, originally conceived of in the late 1950s and which clearly draws influence from the old radio dramas which preceded it. In other words, I think the show could have worked on radio almost just as well as on TV.
Rawhide is a good show.
I am not sure I’d ever seen Rawhide before but it’s typical of the Western genre set in the late 19th century. I had heard the theme song, which became a well-known Country-Western music song in its own right.
Okay, now. Whoever reads this may not believe this but the purpose of this place is for me to record any thoughts or experiences, or etc., that I want. I already opened this post with a long tangent on Star Trek Voyager and Synchronicity. If you’re with me, get ready for another.
Yesterday afternoon, I had some business in downtown Washington. It is very hot this week, and from late morning to early evening the temperatures, sun glare, and maybe humidity are all enough to make it physically oppressive during those hours. As I had business to do and under such conditions, and especially as the business I had to attend to went badly and ended up somewhat humiliating — a small psychological blow in addition to the physical as described — my mind drifted to humming a song that seemed suited. You may have guessed from this set up, too, what I am getting at.
Many times yesterday afternoon, the simple tune and lyrics of “Rawhide,” the song, turned over in my mind. Let me say again I was familiar with the song, but had (1) never seen the show, (2) wasn’t sure the song was from the show, (3) wasn’t completely sure there was a show named Rawhide, (4) had never been on the channel aforementioned (Heroes & Icons) before the 11pm hour of the night before, (5) had no idea of the channel’s schedule, (6) had no plan to return to the channel but did by chance this morning.
It was a good show and something compelled me to watch it to the end. I didn’t realize I was watching Rawhide until some of the transitional and mood-setting music in certain scenes, recorded by an orchestra, used variations on the tune to the song.
This is the song:
I don’t think my mind had drifted into the “Rawhide” song in a very long time, and again here within less than a day I see the show for which it was the theme song, as far as I know the first time I’d ever seen the show.
I think I’d been familiar with the song since the mid- or late-2000s, probably first encountering it via a download from one of the Napster-successors of the day, especially one I was on called WinMX. (I assume most of the market for music-sharing on those networks was replaced by Youtube, which is a worrying development, a Youtube monopoly.)
I don’t know what to make of this double-synchronicity. I know well that the usual attitude of skeptics, there must be some explanation you are overlooking. I have had experiences like these before, more often when I was younger, and I have no explanation for them. Mysteries of the universe, including events that do not align chronologically like the two I’ve described, are best not sledgehammered away with ultra-skepticism.
I have never read Carl Jung in a serious way, but like any reasonably educated person I am familiar with many of his ideas. I believe Jung coined the term “synchronicity,” and two major and identifiable ones in a row like this is no small matter. What is the significance of this?
I have tagged this post ‘Religion’ as the closest of the existing categories I have to capture this discussion. But I don’t know how to proceed further with such thinking except to read Jung or his successors, but I don’t really want to.
The episode of Rawhide I saw was Season 3: Episode 6, first aired November 1960. Clint Eastwood is one of the protagonists in Rawhide, playing a cleaner-cut type of the character for which he later became emblematic in a long series of movies.
The plot: The group of cattle drivers encounters a former stagecoach robber who is on a mission to repay all his victims from ten years earlier, and then turn himself in. Because of the looseness of the law in the Old West, this is best done by tracking down victims and secretly dropping off the money and slipping away.
The group helps the reformed robber get to the final town he needs to get to, for it’s in the same direction they’re going. They repay $250 to the town’s bank. But it turns out someone in the town had framed him ten years earlier, had stolen the entire town’s savings of $11,000, and had shot dead the popular bank clerk.
The local sheriff and mayor are mixed up in this plot and kept it a secret for ten years. Agitated locals, led by the sheriff, form a posse and insinuate that may lynch the reformed robber, or at least fast-track his murder trial and hang him that way. Eastwood, a junior hand in the group, starts to figure out the frame-up, devises a plan to expose the plotters, and does.
Eastwood is the co-hero of this particular story, along with the head of the cattle driving group who agrees to help the reformed robber in the first place, putting himself at some risk.
What to say about Rawhide. Sixty years is not a short time (1960 to 2021), and the era depicted is about 90 years earlier still (ca. 1870), 150 years before our time.
The idea of linear progression is our civic religion. From a very-bad Distant Past, to a somewhat-bad Moderate Past, to a better-but-still-bad Near Past, to a still-bad-but-much-better Present, to a hopefully better Future, the last achieved through constant and unrelenting striving against The Bad People, who are of an identifiable demographic who “cling” to this and that (as someone famously said in 2008). This is what I see as our civic religion, and the dominant American historical-cultural narratives are now all based this premise, a form of worship of Progress. In other words, I have no doubt at all — zero — that any of the priests of our civic religion were to watch and analyze/interpret this episode of Rawhide, or any episode, they would get angry and produce a laundry-list of grievances against it, maybe even try to start a social-media mob to get it canceled for some inane reason. Such is not in the realm of parody but happens pretty regularly now. As such I’m always a little surprised when very-old TV shows or movies still air on TV. Even Star Trek Voyager of the 1995-2001 period, has plenty of episodes which would draw ire.
The funny thing about or civic religion is how there are so many heretics to the religion, people who basically disbelieve the central premise of the civic religion that the past is horrifyingly bad and one gets one’s moral worth through eternal striving against the past and against any supposed remnants of the past, an eternal political-cultural purge apparatus now seems built into our system. The wave of statue-topplings and name-changings goes on. The latest I hear is people are demanding bird names change because the people who named them one or two hundred years ago had some kind of impure political views as judged from the early 2020s. The America I know by now will have some people make noise, complain, about the ever-more-bizarre Jacobinism of our time, but the institutions with power over such things will fold.
Clint Eastwood himself stands out as against this tidal wave. I don’t know what his personal views are. I think he is a longtime Republican. I don’t know if he actively supported the Orange Man at any point, either the wild days of 2015, or through the Orange Man’s presidency. I don’t know what he may have thought during the disputed election drama going on a few months, except that he was too smart to say the wrong thing once things got heated and people started getting arrested by the hundreds.
Clint Eastwood the man is less important, anyway, than Clint Eastwood the artist (actor, director, movie producer), and the latter really stands out as a living tie to the days of a culture basically wholesome and optimistic, as I see it. May he live and continue working for years yet to come.
I’m going to write a little about a recent Eastwood movie I saw next, Richard Jewell (2019) but this post has already sailed well past a good length limit.
(The idea for this post was in my mind on May 23, 2021 and the actual writing is just filling in the details and the usual, limited tangent-hopping.)
May 23, 2021: The twenty-year anniversary of the original airing of the last episode of Star Trek: Voyager.
I worked for the Census in 2020 as a field agent, and it was really rewarding work but also usually physically exhausting. After finishing some days, I started watching episodes of this show again, not thinking much of it. But the foray began a re-ignition of interest, picked up from about where I left it off at age ten, maybe eleven, in the late 1990s.
I was eight years old when the show first aired in 1995. I remember excitement around it at the time. I had forgotten that it aired on UPN, which I do remember being a fan of in the late 1990s and 2000s. What I also didn’t know is the original episode of Star Trek: Voyager aired the opening night that UPN was on the air, as a new broadcast-tv channel. Voyager was, I learn, by fan UPN’s best-performing show, drawing over millions of established Star Trek fans to its new episodes and reruns. (I don’t know if UPN is still around in some form, but in the long run the attempt at a new broadcast television channel was clearly doomed.) I hear Star Trek: Voyager is still airing somewhere on TV in rerun form, even into the 2020s.
I got my views on such things as what kind of TV show to be interested in via a very limited window of perception. (About the same time, I was a subscriber to the print-magazine Nintendo Power, and the idea of a print magazine shipped to people’s homes to talk about video game stuff seems terrible anachronistic now.)
I feel certain I was influenced in being an early fan of Voyager by my half-brother, ten years my senior, and who was hanging around at the time. I think I remember watching the first episode, but don’t know for sure if it was on the original broadcast or on a rerun. The original episode straddled the line between movie and TV, for they took more month to produce it and it was double-length, two hours of TV time (minus commercials at 1h30m ore a little more). In the 1990s there were still only several channels on TV and cable existed but was not really mainstream. I remember perceiving cable as exotic, maybe decadent, and unnecessarily expensive, which is roughly how cell phones were perceived at the time. (I had access to neither a cell phone nor cable all through school days; I think I got a cell phone first in my last year of high school.)
The premier of a much-anticipated new series was a big deal. When I recently watched the first episode, a scene involving drinking water stands out; I know I had seen it before, but I was just a child. In 1995, and probably 1996 and 1997, I think I was a casual fan, but I don’t know how many episodes I ever really watched. I remember being intrigued when my half-brother wrote and submitted a script in either summer 1995 or summer 1996. Star Trek had an open submission policy. I remember some of the plot of his script, which leaned absurdist but any Star Trek could be characterized as absurdist, except the played it straight and waved away problems with the magic of future-scene (“technobabble”). He never heard back from them on his script, one of hundreds that never made it.
There is a lot to show about this show. I don’t want to go on too long here except to note the anniversary of the show’s ending. Children are sometimes Star Trek for very different reasons than adults. Both appreciate it. It’s been called modern mythology, or American mythology (but the series may be as popular outside America), an update of the legends of pantheons of gods of yester-millennia. It’s also basically utopian, a fantasy presented within a certain set of firm, reality-seeming bounds. People have written a lot about this over the years, back to the 1970s when they first started observing that Star Trek had attracted an unusually devout fan base, and in the early 2020s we are at roughly the fifty-year mark of the social phenomenon.
I have never counted myself a Star Trek fan. I occasionally watched the show in reruns, with The Next Generation (late 1980s to early 1990s) being more the standard-bearer than the Original Series (late 1960s).
A culturally literate American born between the 1950s to 1990s knows Star Trek references well, for they became well-embedded in popular culture by the 1990s and even those who never saw the show soon acquire by osmosis certain ideas or references.
The set of assumptions behind Star Trek is also profoundly set in most popular culture, going back many generations, the religion of Progress, unstoppable progress, which of course would put us zooming across the galaxy by the 2370s (when Voyager is set).
The 2020s is 350 years from the 2370s, the time-setting of Voyager. Reversing chronological course in the other direction, we get the 1670s. (By coincidence, the 1670s is an era I have for several year taken interest in for very different reasons, the subject of a long unpublished post on this blog related to Amerindians in the Potomac area, a project I abandoned but recently revived in Microsoft Word form and which I hope to bring to a form of completion.)
I am really writing this to note the anniversary of the end of Star Trek: Voyager, which probably formed a bigger part of my understanding of the world than I knew at the time, in my formative years. I have enjoyed watching the old shows, and for a while was even reading multi-thousand word reviews someone had written in 2017-18, but eventually grew tired of them because they were repetitive. (No one can write a cumulative hundreds of thousands of words on a television series without getting seriously repetitive.) In the past few weeks I’ve started listening to a podcast by two of the actors, The Delta Flyers. (Late in the series the ship developed a small vessel called the Delta Flyer for small “away missions.”) The two, who played two young-male officers on the show, do a good job with this podcast, and have such good connections with the other actors that they often get them on, too.
I had completely lost interest in Star Trek: Voyager by the time its final episode aired in May 2001, as is usual for people in the age range I was in at the time.
The show is underrated and worth watching again, for all kinds of reasons for insights into baseline of American/Western attitudes towards future, past, and present. In the quarter century since Star Trek: Voyager came on, I don’t know that I thought about it much before about summer 2020 when one day I sought it out again. I appreciate its role in my own life, as minor as it was, I remember being captivated and inspired by it.