Monday, March 7, 2016

Diary

After considering various options, the guest from hell dilemma has been solved with a plan to spend sixteen days on Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington in June, during which I will see family members. The trip will be expensive, but it makes more sense than spending time living like a hermit in a cabin somewhere on the East Coast. With any luck there won't be a major earthquake that month.

I am at a lull in my reading progress, as I haven't been able to find any books that currently interest me other than ones that haven't been published yet. As mentioned earlier, I've ordered Half-Earth, by E.O. Wilson, which should be available soon. I've also ordered The Big Picture, by Sean Carroll, and Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, by Frans de Waal, both of which should arrive by May. I learned of Sean Carroll on 3 Quarks Daily; not only is he a leading cosmologist, but he is also an excellent writer and even a nice guy. Frans de Waal is a leading primatologist whose articles I've come across from time to time; he is known for his comparisons of humans to other animals. If I weren't so picky about fiction, I'd probably be reading more of that, but the fact is that it takes an extraordinary amount of effort for me to find fiction that I consider worthwhile, and, comparatively speaking, we are living in a Renaissance of popular scientific writing that complements the growing mountain of scientific knowledge. Contemporary fiction, on the other hand, seems to be stuck in boring paradigms. The major writers of the developed world don't seem to have anything new to say, and at best they may come up with new styles that are unlikely to change literary history. That opens the field to lesser-known writers from the developing world who, unfortunately, probably won't do much more than put their cultural spins on old formulas. Ultimately most people are about the same at a fundamental level, and in fiction local culture isn't much more than window dressing. There may always be a demand for storytelling and entertainment in fiction, but those aspects of literature don't interest me as much as new ideas.  Krasznahorkai is worth reading, but I'd rather not read two of his books in a row.

I have been following the American presidential primaries, and this year's are truly bizarre. Bernie Sanders is doing quite well considering his political beliefs. He still has little chance of defeating Hillary Clinton, but that isn't important in relation to his overall impact. He has opened the way for younger politicians with unorthodox ideas who are likely to dominate the Democratic Party once the Clintons are out of the way. In the Republican Party many years of miscalculation are coming to a head. Trump is the worst nightmare of the Republican establishment, and if he is able to win the nomination the party may be in turmoil for some time. Their narrative has not taken into account economic reality, and no matter how much money they spend they can't win elections if they have nothing to offer ordinary voters. On a cautionary note, Donald Trump's success seems emblematic of all that can go wrong in a democratic political process when emotional voters become overwrought about their future well-being. Trump has nothing substantive to offer them, yet, psychologically, he has an appeal similar to that of dangerous fascists such as Hitler and Mussolini. If you put too much power into the hands of a person like that, the consequences may be catastrophic, and this is why I have doubts about the existing democratic process and believe that it will have to be changed sooner or later.

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