General Strike, Seattle 1919

It shut down a major U.S. city, inspired a rock operaled to decades of labor unrest and provoked fears Russian Bolsheviks were trying to overthrow American capitalism. It was the Seattle General Strike of 1919, a century ago this month.  All told, striking workers represented about half of the workforce and almost a fifth of Seattle’s 315,000 residents.  Still, the strike didn’t achieve the higher wages that the 35,000 shipyard workers who first walked off their jobs sought, even after 25,000 other union members joined the strike in solidarity.  Read why, nevertheless, the story of this particular strike is surprisingly hopeful for the future of labor, and holds lessons for today’s labor activists – whether they’re striking teachers in West Virginia or Arizona, mental health workers in California or Google activists in offices across the world.

— Read more from Steven Beda, writing for Consortium News

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Let’s be practical

 Je plaide simplement pour le maintien d’un niveau minimal d’hypocrisie, sans lequel aucune vie dans la société humaine n’est possible.
— Jean Houellebecq

I’m just pleading for the maintenance of a minimal level of hypocrisy, without which no life in human society is possible.
— from a contrarian article translated for this month’s Harpers

innocent_hypocrisy_by_madartia_dcl427i-pre                                        Innocent Hypocrisy, by Madartia




My Desire

My desire
is always the same; wherever Life
deposits me:
I want to stick my toe
& soon my whole body
into the water.
I want to shake out a fat broom
& sweep dried leaves
bruised blossoms
dead insects
& dust.
I want to grow
It seems impossible that desire
can sometimes transform into devotion;
but this has happened.
And that is how I’ve survived:
how the hole
I carefully tended
in the garden of my heart
grew a heart
to fill it.

— Alice Walker is 75 years old today


For we are on the Mother’s business.  If we stand, She supports us, and however we fall, She will catch us.

A new theory of negative mass

It was Einstein who first noted that we have two different definitions of mass.

      1. Mass is inertia.  It’s a measure of how hard it is to get something stationary to start moving or to get something that’s moving to stop.  F=ma.
      2. Mass is the source of gravity.  Mass is attracted to other mass through the weakest force in the universe.  F=Gm1m2 / R2

Einstein elevated the equivalence of gravitational and inertial mass to a founding postulate, the equivalence principle, and on it he built a geometric theory of gravity.

Jamie Farnes, an Oxford University physicist, thinks that some of the mass in the universe is negative.  It has negative gravitational mass and negative inertial mass.  So Farnes-stuff has a repulsive gravitational effect on itself, but it attracts ordinary matter.  In the Farnes universe, negative mass is being continually created, popping out of the vacuum.

What’s the motivation for making a radical new proposal?  Well, 20 years ago, cosmologists realized that the conventional view isn’t viable.  On the one hand, they found that galaxies are held together by a force stronger than their gravitational mass can account for.  On the other hand, they found that the universe is flying apart faster and faster, as if under the influence of some kind of negative gravity.  To solve these two problems, the conventional wing of physical cosmology postulated that 70% of everything in the universe is “dark energy” while 25% is “dark matter”, and only 5% is the matter we’re familiar with.  In order to explain the motions of the 5%, they have invented 95% of stuff that no human has ever seen, heard, or tasted, and that we know for a fact can’t be made of electrons, neutrons, protons, or any of the exotic particles observed in high-energy accelerators.

So Farnes-stuff is no more crazy than the theory it purports to replace, and the advantage, says Farnes, is that it’s just one thing—a single substance that can play the role of both dark matter and dark energy.

I was skeptical about dark energy and dark matter because they were invented out of the blue to rescue a failing theory.  Three hundred years ago, people invented phlogiston to account for the properties of heat, and two hundred years ago there was the luminiferous aether to explain the properties of light.  Today, we understand light and heat without the need for these fictional substances.

But I became less skeptical once I saw a video by Yale astrophysicist Priya Natarajan, describing two ways to locate dark matter in maps of the sky.  (1) she looked for gravitational lenses—concentrations of matter that bend light from distant galaxies and distort the images, or even cause them to appear in two pieces  (2) she reverse-engineered the gravity that binds galaxies together to locate the extra mass that would be needed to keep them from flying apart.  Natarajan shows pictures in which these two maps coincide.  In other words, two different ways to detect dark matter seem to agree.


The question I would like to see Natarajan and Farnes address is whether the same trick works for Farnes-stuff.  Can gravitational lensing and the coherent force in clusters of galaxies be explained in a single map of where the negative mass is hiding?

Coming soon to a world you live on: Pax Sinica

The United States has been in charge of the world since 1945.  Could anyone have done a worse job?  Despite huge increases in productivity, the middle class is stagnating.  Despite no challenge to US military might for the last 30 years, our country continues to be the world’s biggest bully.  We have abrogated treaties, undermined legitimately elected leaders in dozens of democracies (in service to our largest corporations).  We have bombed innocents and supported dictators and made a lot of enemies.

Some people are afraid of what might happen if when China’s growth carries her well beyond the US, and China becomes the reigning superpower.  I look forward to this time as probably a reprieve from violence and a restraint on international policing.

Image result for pax sinica

In American eyes, the contest between America’s and China’s political systems is one between a democracy, where the people freely choose their government and enjoy freedom of speech and of religion, and an autocracy, where the people have no such freedoms. To neutral observers, however, it could just as easily be seen as a choice between a plutocracy in the United States, where major public policy decisions end up favoring the rich over the masses, and a meritocracy in China, where major public policy decisions made by officials chosen by Party elites on the basis of ability and performance have resulted in such a striking alleviation of poverty. One fact cannot be denied. In the past thirty years, the median income of the American worker has not improved: between 1979 and 2013, median hourly wages rose cent—less than 0.2 percent per year.  In the same period, China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty and created the largest middle class in the world.


Many in the West have been alarmed by the enormous power Xi has accumulated, taking it as a harbinger of armed conflict. Xi’s accumulation of power, however, has not fundamentally changed China’s long-­term geopolitical strategy. The Chinese have, for instance, avoided unnecessary wars. Unlike the United States, which is blessed with two nonthreatening neighbors in Canada and Mexico, China has difficult relations with a number of strong, nationalistic neighbors, including India, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. Quite remarkably, of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom), China is the only one among them that has not fired a single military shot across its border in thirty years, since a brief naval battle between China and Vietnam in 1988. By contrast, even during the relatively peaceful Obama Administration, the American military dropped 26,000 bombs on seven countries in a single year. Evidently, the Chinese understand well the art of strategic restraint.

— Read more from Kishore Mahbubani at Harper’s Mag

John Keay looks at 2,500 years of Chinese history, and concludes that as the Chinese conquer foreign territories, they are usually content to leave in place local customs, cultures, and governments.