Dairy Allergies Overcome

Back just after the collapse of communism in Poland but before I came back to see what was going on, I heard about and went to a talk on someone who had just been in Poland on a trip talking to aspiring dairy farmers (they were from the College of Agriculture). They had been in a number of places around the country interviewing people as they were starting businesses and hoping to making it in the new capitalist reality they were getting (rather than the Scandinavian welfare state they’d hoped for, a story for another day).

A Polish woman in the audience also mentioned that there wasn’t much of a market for milk (as a drink) and that Polish people didn’t like the taste of fresh uncooked milk. As it turns out this was due to the wonders of communism (which produces and institutionalizes incompetence on a level that has to be experienced to be believed). The communist distribution system wasn’t able to reliably get milk to customers before it went sour and so people immediately cooked it (if it had gone sour, but not spoiled, it was used to make a kind of white cheese). This was also why most people drank coffee black and tea with lemon.

The speaker said that many of them had no realistic shot at success given the infrastructural realities and the number of cows needed and transport to get the milk to market and the prices they could realistically expect. Yet they were all ready to try and someone suggested this is the old rule of capitalism (and why it outperforms every other system). “Only one in ten will make it but each is convinced that he’s that one in ten”.

It took a few years, and lots of experimentation in packaging (as a customer base had to be built more or less from scratch) but ultimately at the collective level things worked out and now high quality fresh milk (an erratic product you could never be sure of) is easy to buy. As it turns out some Polish people now like drinking fresh milk when there’s enough to go around (not the case under communism) and many like putting milk in coffee and hardly anybody makes white cheese at home when it’s also so easy to buy. People still are suspicious about people who put milk in tea though… some things just don’t change.

Basically that’s the strength of capitalism, it’s tough on the individual (I’m sure those early dairy farmers went through hell trying to keep their heads above water) but it works better than anything else at making like easier and more pleasant (in some ways) at the collective level. That’s why the  temptation is to extend that magic to every possible sphere of life including those like education or infrastructure or human relationships or governance where problems can’t be solved by just throwing more products and consumption at them. But it’s a temptation that needs to be resisted. Figuring out where market style approaches work and don’t work is rational, simply treating every possible area of life as a market problem for capitalism to solve is a recipe for the same type of incompetence grown and nurtured by communism. Or rather a different and equally horrible type.





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How Long Does Collective Trauma Last?

Longer than 30 years. In Poland, under pressure from old time Solidarity (Solidarność) activists to whom some favors were owed the government decided to introduce a law that would close most stores on Sundays. Not all Sundays, just two a month (to begin, the plan is to expand this later).

Podobny obraz

Welcome to the bounty of socialism! (Polish butcher store, 1970s or 80s)

And… people are losing their shit. For the last couple of weeks there have been almost daily stories in the media for how people are going to deal with this and different plans for possibly trying to get around it (or make the most of what is assumed to be a terrible situation).

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania karty na mięso

Ration cards for food, introduced in the early 1980s (if you could find meat or butter on sale which was very far from a sure thing).

The reason for all the drama goes back to the 1970s and 1980s when for various reasons the economy hit the dumps and massive food shortages (and shortages of everything else) began. No one starved but buying food in regular stores became an exhausting ordeal of standing in line (many people spent several hours in line every day just trying to do normal shopping) and other alternatives (private markets, black market, underground trading networks) were expensive or risky. There were also lines for big ticket items that lasted weeks or months and were maintained 24 hours a day (people had shifts they had to report to wait in line).

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania kolejki prl

Line to buy paper…. let me repeat….. paper. Polish people are still not over this.

The lines ended about a year or so before the fall of communism, I forget the details but I’ve heard that sometime in 1988 stores were suddenly much better stocked. But the trauma related to shopping was extreme and everybody had stories about weird, funny or tragic things that happened while waiting in line. And the effects can still be seen. Even now when stores will only be closed for a single day (as on January 6, Epiphany) people crowd stores and buy what seems to be enough food to feed an army division. Closed stores make Polish people very, very, very nervous.

On the scale of collective trauma, difficulties in shopping rate pretty low maybe between a two or three on a scale of ten. As I said, no one starved (in the countryside people had too much food and bought subsidized bread to feed to livestock because, wonders of socialism, it was cheaper than animal feed). But the scars are still present in people’s psyches and have been handed down to some people who were born after the fall of communism in 1989. It’s not universal and people born in the last twenty years or so are mostly (not entirely) more relaxed about the idea.

The takeaway here is that people are not blank slates ready to be filled up with government policy (or to be nudged as they say now) but instead are complex and motivated by all kinds of different things that would be social planners never consider.





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New Header: The Turkish Chandelier

Now that February’s over I decided to change header pictures again. It’s super freezing where I am (winter always makes you pay before it’s over) but mostly sunny and no snow but I still want some better weather.

This is a detail of a large (probably 15 feet from top to bottom) chandelier hanging outside a restaurant or nightclub (forget which) in the lovely seaside town of Bodrum, Turkey. I have no idea if it survived the earthquake there last year. I hope it did. I probably won’t be able to check in person for a long time considering deteriorating relations between the US and Turkey (a once promising country headed down a one way road to disaster).

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Progressivism, Keeping People Apart

One of the odd things about modern progressivism, ostensibly based on universalist and humanistic ideals, is just how much energy it expends in trying to prevent individuals from interacting as individuals. Instead, individuals can only interact as exemplars of various collective identities which exist in a complex hierarchy requiring constant self- (and sometimes other-) monitoring.

A whole series of vacuous ideas like ‘rape culture’ (sexual original sin), micro-agressions, intersectionality and privilege (and others) serve the ultimate goal of turning  interactions between the sexes or across ethnic, religious or racial lines into awkward and unpleasant minefields with evil intent posited behind every casual word or gesture. I write that this is the goal because I think that things usually work the way they are intended (and when they don’t they are changed). If feminist ideas aren’t helping men and women relate to each other as human beings and equals (and not discarded in favor of more functional ideas) then the purpose is to prevent men and women from having anything like mutually beneficial (non-romantic) relationships.

If the idea of micro-agressions was meant to serve any purpose other than turning individuals into bitter grievance generators (and increase the likelihood of professional failure which can be assuaged by retreating into the warm, embryonic soup of group loyalties)  then it’s a failure so its continued existence suggests that it’s serving its intended goal.

The problem with universalist ideas is that homo sapiens is not really a universalist species but rather a discriminating (in the non-judgemental meaning of the word) and hierarchical one and so most philosophies meant to bring people together will ultimately devolve into new ways of dividing people up.

I’m all in favor of lessening the importance of (not eliminating, that’s impossible) various kinds of barriers between people and peoples but the only way to ultimately do that is to be pro-active and discard philosophies and theories when they stop serving that purpose. Most of the ideologies purporting to serve progressive ideas are way past their sell-by dates and need to discarded in favor of better ideas.


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Is All Our Democracy Belong to Russia?

I cannot say I really care about the various Russian scandals. It’s not that I like Russia or think that it’s worth emulating. It’s a mostly terrible country which has never had anything resembling civil society. Many individual Russian people might be nice and perfectly acceptable human beings but they’ve never had a government that hasn’t been 156 types of terrible. And the worse part is that doesn’t bother most Russians who have remained strangely placid and passive in the face of hundreds of years of tyranny. Whatever, their country their choice.

But I don’t care because my own country, the United States of America interferes in other countries elections all the time. It even helped falsify an election in Russia in the 1990s to prevent the probable winner, a self-described communist, from taking power (in retrospect it probably would have been better to let him win).

If you’re going to mess in other countries you need to be ready for them to try to meddle back (or obtain influence in whatever way they can). If a society has been dumbed down enough (on purpose largely by the same people getting the vapors about Russia) to nominate Hillary Clinton (way past her expiration date) and Donald Trump then worrying about Facebook bots or paid trolls is kind of pathetic. There are no horses in the barn, no reason to close the door.


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Is the Non-Binary Eating Itself?

Recently at a respectable (in the Victorian sense) supposedly feminist blog which I’d rather not link to, readers were advised to remember in comments to a post on childbirth that “not only women give birth”. A query about this odd comment was made and met with a reminder that a “trans man” could give birth and that in fact the proper form is “trans man” not transman or trans-man. This is, I read, because trans is just an adjective the way tall or fat is because trans men are simply men like any other men (except, I guess, for not having testicles and having a birth canal).

This is just one more little instance (among many) that shows how modern “feminism” is getting more and more gender essentialist by the day.  The new line in the sand being drawn by feminists is just as rigid and inhumane as the old line in the sand, it just has a different basis. Rather than reproductive and social functions it’s just changed to self-image and…. social function. This attitude reminds me of the Albanian women who took on male social roles (usually because there was no biological man available). They were regarded socially as men and had to follow all the dreary, traditional restrictions that came with that role including socializing only with men and not being allowed to do things like cook or clean.

Modern feminism has the same approach to gender as an Albanian mountain village in teh 1800s. Quite the accomplishment.


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Huh? Something About a Black Panther Movie?

I’m old enough to remember the very first incarnation of the comic book Black Panther. I don’t actually remember his very first appearances in the Fantastic Four (where he was a minor recurring character) but then in 1968 or so he joined the Avengers (which I do vividly remember since it was one of my favorite comics at the time).

The Black Panther wasn’t the first Black superhero but I’m pretty sure his run in the Avengers made him the first to have a regular gig in a mainstream comic. One thing I remember at the time is that his mask was redesigned for his Avengers membership. The full face mask was gone and the bottom half was cut out so that readers could tell he was black. Fan reaction (mostly positive to him joining the Avengers) was negative about the mask and after a few issues it went back to covering his whole face. Despite his initial breakthrough he was never the most important character at Marvel (or even in the Avengers, that would have been the Vision) and before long he was overshadowed by more American Black characters like Luke Cage (or even the Falcon). His whole shtick of a super-advanced remote African kingdom seemed like a throwback to the Phantom.

Fast forward almost 50 years and suddenly he’s the biggest thing EVER! I don’t get it, I’ll probably get around to seeing the movie and I probably enjoy it (though movies still seem like the wrong vehicle for Superheroes which tend to lose steam after their origin story). What I don’t get is why people are attaching all this political or symbolic cultural importance to a story that AFAICT literally has nothing to do with African Americans… (even in terms of African ancestry since Wakanda is supposed to be someshere in East Africa IINM and most American Blacks African ancestry is far Western Africa which is as different from the East as Turkey is from Norway…

Superheroes can be an appealing fantasy but they don’t stand much realism and I don’t think they can stand much… political investment either. All the fuss about Wakanda seems almost to be a surrender to the idea that the overall state of African Americans (or Africa) cannot be improved in real life so let’s jam out to fun fantasies.

That doesn’t seem healthy.

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