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Friday, January 3, 2020


As I sit at my desk, slowly and with great pleasure re-reading Book I of the Treatise, I am bombarded by events in the real world that demand notice and some manner of comment.  Most immediate of these events, of course is the drone killing in Iraq of a man who was, I gather, the second most powerful figure in Iran.  [You understand that I am way out of my zone of even casual knowledge here.]  The universal opinion of those who seem to know something of these matters is that this severely increases the danger of a war between America and Iran.  At the same time, and entirely unconnected, Modi in India has apparently launched an effort to deny full citizenship to the Muslim minority there, a group of people, as I understand it, numbering roughly two-thirds the population of the United States.  As I turn from my Hume to write these words, I read a new report that Trump’s huge Deutsche Bank loans are secured by a Russian-owned bank, thus making him directly and materially beholden to Putin.  This pushes into the background the flood of leaked emails and other documents concerning Trump’s direct involvement in the withholding of the 391 million in Ukraine aid.  And that in turn all but obliterates the new fund-raising figures that show Bernie crushing the Democratic primary field.

I feel compelled to mention all of these news items, despite the fact that [with the exception of Bernie’s prospects] I do not even have the simulacrum of knowledge of any of them.  I welcome comments from those who do.

Meanwhile I turn to the first of three critically important passages in Part III of Book I of the Treatise:  Section ii, “Of probability; and of the idea of cause and effect.”


Anonymous said...

Love Part IV of Book One. But then I have a naturally suspicious nature.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Part IV is where the really exciting stuff happens.

Charles Pigden said...

There’s another distraction/cause for concern about which you can do nothing: the Australian bushfires. In the 2019/2020 bush fire season so far an area has been burned out equivalent to

410% of Connecticut
215%of Massachussetts
260% of New Jersey
41% of New York State
45% of England
75% of Scotland
84% of the Irish Republic

In Dunedin, New Zealand we awoke on New Year’s Day to a dark day with sulphur-yellow skies and the smell of smoke in the air. That might not sound impressive until you remember that the distance between Mallacoota (the small Victorian town in the South-Eastern tip of Australia whose inhabitants were literally driven into the sea by the bush fires) and Dunedin is about a third of the distance between London and New York. Bush fires are common in Australia (I myself was in Melbourne in 1983 at the time of the Ash Wednesday Bush Fire Disaster) but this is a climate change -driven catastrophe of unprecedented dimensions. Furthermore it is the hitherto farmable and relatively inhabitable parts of Australia that are going up in smoke. In the desert centre there isn’t enough to burn.

Sonic said...

Some time back when the US had claimed Iran blew up one of our freighters (mirroring the beginning of basically every US involvement in major conflicts), I remember hearing some analysis. I can't remember if I read it here or not. Basically, we are already at war with Iran, and we have been ever since we set sanctions upon them. The deeper analysis was that the US actually doesn't want outright war actions to take place, because we want to continue strangling Iran with sanctions for as long as possible. On the other side, it's in Iran's best interest to just accelerate to the inevitable clash. The speculation was that as we get closer to the election, Trump will care less about maintaining the illusion of peace, and both sides will get what they want, a war.

I like the idea that sanctions shouldn't be defined as a peacetime action anyway.

Jerry Fresia said...

On Bernie's prospects:

The Bernie people must be reading this blog: they are focusing heavily on creating an unprecedented ground game, all the while reading Piketty to reverse a "global trend, and it’s one that the Sanders campaign is trying to stop and reverse. Instead of crafting a platform to fit a coalition, the campaign is trying to create a coalition to fit his platform."

The strategy: expand the electorate from the bottom up, activating non-voters, with a massive effort to knock on doors

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Jerry, I read most of the article you linked to. It is the most hopeful thing I have read in this god forsaken world. Thank you.

LFC said...

@Charles Pigden
Those are frightening percentages.

Charles Pigden said...

The percentages are already out of date. I got the burned out area from the Wikipedia page of the 2019/2020 bush fire season in Australia yesterday and then simply divided it by the areas of the various states and nations (also gathered from Wikipedia) , multiplying by 100 to get the percentages. Yesterday it was 59000 square kilometres. This morning (5th of January in New Zealand) it has been updated to 63000 square kilometers.

The other frightening statistic is that in the last thirty days the record for the continent-wide average temperature has been REPEATEDLY broken with two or three days when the average temperature across Australia was over 40 degrees Celsius.

If this sort of thing becomes the new normal, agriculture in large parts of Australia could become impossible. Already (as of the middle of last year) an official report suggests that climate change has been responsible for a 20% drop in the profitability fo the agricultural sector in the last twenty years.

s. wallerstein said...

Charles Pidgen,

We're the two regular commenters from the southern hemisphere.

In Chile this summer has broken heat records. We've had temperatures between 35 and 38 degrees Celsius and it didn't rain last winter in Santiago (it rains in the winter here), so we've had lots of fires in central Chile, where Santiago is located. Nothing like Australia in the extent burned, but we might break Chilean records for the area burned this year.

Are similar phenomena occurring in New Zealand? said...

Given the tolerance of factory-farming, the world deserves its fate.

Charles Pigden said...

To S Wallerstein,
Though we had a warm winter we have thus far had a fairly cool and rainy spring and early summer. So for the moment New Zealand is not expecting any bushfires. Things could change if we get a heatwave over January or February. However, in the last few years we have had small (by Australian standards) but still alarming bushfires in the neighbourhood of Dunedin. This September (*September* not February or January!!) a bush fire in the hills above the city burnt out one of my favourite walks (one that I begin starting from the Willowbank Dairy - a convenience store- about half a kilometre from University where I work. It also endangered the city's water supply. In December 2016 another fire burnt in the bush on Signal Hill above Logan Park where my children used to go to school. (This fire too was close to another of my favourite walks which I access via a five-minute drive from my house) So even in relatively damp Dunedin bushfires are becoming a problem. And in both cases though they were successfully contained they were on the outskirts of the city.

As you can see from the second link Logan Park School was in real danger of going up in flames.

Charles Pigden said...

Here is another link which gives you some idea of how close the 2016 bush fire was to the city .

s. wallerstein said...

Charles Pigden,

Thanks for filling me in.

Sorry about one of your favorite walks being burned out.

Charles Pigden said...

Just in case anyone is interested here is an update. The Guardian estimates that 84000 square kilometres have now been burnt out in Australia. That's equivalent to the area of a small-to-medium country. Here are some percentages:

New York State 54%
England 64%
Republic of Ireland 119%
New Zealand 29%
Czech Republic 106%
Austria 100%
Scotland 108%
Denmark 195%

s. wallerstein said...

The smoke from the fires in Australia has reached Chile, 11,000 kilometers away. The article is in Spanish, but there's a photo from Santiago: without the smoke, the day would have been sunny.

Anonymous said...

Dear Professor, You make me want to cry. The other day I managed to read a few pages of Hume, and I share your appreciation of his prose.
Would that I, like you, had the time to read to read slowly, with generosity and time to pause, time to digest. Ahh, time, time, what is it? Why does it slip through our fingers? Because we have to work, and work is an almost totally unremediable evil.
Yet my work is labelled with pretty words (or not so pretty words) to obscure its true nature. My work, to be sure, is not so evil as most work; yet, I live with insecurity and am only getting by from paycheck to paycheck. And I cannot even speak the truth about this thing called "work" in public lest I become unemployed. (Writing these words now are not as deeply satisfying as would be a real conversation.) I must manifest in public signs of satisfaction. I must even pretend to be "happy"... Odd how philosophers so rarely speak of this modern evil--unemployment..... If a war of agression contains within itself all other crimes, then work and the threat of unemployment equally entail a host of degradation, diminution, and disrespect--countless evils which make of a person less a person.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

anonymous, you make me ashamed of the easy, protected life I have led.