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Monday: The Palantir

Why is this man smiling?

Most people know J.R.R. Tolkien as the Oxford expert on Anglo-Saxon literature who broke all of the rules when he wrote The Lord of the Rings.  If you have never read Tolkien, you may be under the impression that LOTR was a dungeons and dragons fantasy written for adolescent boys.  That’s how many of us were introduced to it in middle school. But there’s a reason why some of us gravitate to Tolkien that goes beyond the very rich world he created.  He was a very wise man with deep spiritual convictions who lived through the early loss of both parents, the rejection of his extended family over religious differences, the battle of the Somme in World War I, the Depression and the rise of Hitler and the bombing of Britain in WWII.  It would be incorrect to assume that his books were thinly disguised references to these events, even if he did incorporate a some of his own personal history into his tales.  But he did seem to have an uncanny insight into how the powerful operate.  He knew things.

For example, it’s not wise to look into a crystal ball especially when someone else has control over it.  Some of the most tragic figures in the LOTR looked into what they thought was the future and saw only what someone else wanted them to see.  Those images were full of despair and the triumph of evil.  Without a moderating influence, the viewer gave up and gave in.  It takes an almost inhuman strength to overcome the power of relentlessly negative visions of the future.

Some of the most recent commentary in the left blogosphere makes me think of Denethor and Saruman and their palantiris.  The Denethors look into the future and despair, the Sarumans start off with good intentions but think that their intellectual gifts will allow them to control the lesser of two evils.  But the truth is, none of us know what’s going to happen.  The election is still more than a year away.  A lot can happen between now and then.  There could be a twist of fate, an unforeseen event, or what Tolkien calls, a eucatastrophe.  A eucatastrophe is like a shock doctrine event turns a story around and leads to a good ending.

If we give into despair, then surely the propaganda of the palantir will win.  We will give into the temptation to do nothing.  We do not leave ourselves open to the possibilities that may come our way.  We may miss potential allies or fail to take advantage of opportunities.  Palantiris can scare us into inertia.  Don’t let it happen to you.

In the next year, we may see an acceleration of the business cycle, a convergence of events that destroys the foundations of the finance industry, the emergence of a third party, the rise of a new independent labor unit, an unexpected potential candidate. There may be people working behind the scenes or little nobodies whose tiny positive acts have unexpected consequences. We just don’t know.  The best we can do is not let other people crush our spirits, to believe in fairness and justice, and to keep on going for as long as we can.

Oh, and stay away from David Brooks’ columns.

24 Responses

  1. But the truth is, none of us know what’s going to happen. The election is still more than a year away. A lot can happen between now and then.

    To borrow from Rumsfeld, the future is the true “unknown unknown”. Having said that, we can look at the present, as a dot that’s moving in a certain direction with a certain speed, and predict rather easily where that dot will be at a given time. Unless something happens to change the current direction of our present, there is little hope that things will change for the better. If Obama wins, we can expect a bad leader for another 4 years that will work with the Republicans to destroy whatever is left of the FDR promises. If Obama loses, we can expect a GOP president that will be just as bad or worse than Obama. We can hope for something to happen, but it’s not likely.

    • Darfo, I have to disagree; search on “+1000” (for what RD said) below.

      We are not in a linear system, and it cannot be modeilled as “a dot moving in a certain direction.” We are in a complex and highly stressed system, where small actions at critical points can have very large effects. So, we just need to keep plugging away!

    • Why settle? I don’t want Obama or a Republican. That is too either/or. Democrats have a choice this far out. If they don’t want four more years of Obama, now’s the time to say so.
      I don’t care what the Republican field looks like in 2012. I am not voting for another four years of an Obama presidency. Some other candidate will get my vote and there is no amount of fearmongering that will make me change my mind.
      Now, if we all said that instead of acting like the decision to run Obama again is out if our control, you might find the party singing a different tune.
      This problem is not insurmountable.

    • I agree with both comments, Lambert’s and RD’s. We don’t live in a linear world, and there’s always the possibility that we revolt like those in Egypt and Tunisia, or that the Obama gives a Sherman speech. Everything is possible, but unfortunately not probable. Unless the improbable happens, Obama or a GOP will be in the WH. I’m expecting a GOP president because that’s what was put in motion when the superdelegates pushed Obama in 2008.

  2. How will Obama finance his campaign? This time it might cost more than ten to fifteen dollars per vote. It is as if he is a shadow prez. I don’t hear his name mentioned by people who would have been fast to shout against Bush. Will he fill stadiums and be marketed as The One with a movement again? I predict a big yawn. Even the paid teenagers typing from their parents’ basement won’t have much heart in it. It would take a woman opponent to challenge their masculinity.

    “If Hillary gave Obama one of her balls, the’y’d both have two.” James Carville

  3. +1000. I want to highlight two passages from this wonderful post by Yves. First:

    The “you need to have a seat at the table” crowd misses how best to steer a path in complex systems. As John Kay points out in his new book Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly, one does better by sticking with principles, since it is beyond our capabilities to map a straight path.


    The technocrats are kidding themselves if they think they can optimize anything in system under as much stress as ours. The Mark Buchanan book Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen describes how complex systems are not just unpredictable but also subject to upheaval. Interestingly, you cannot tell what event, like the self immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, will unleash disruptive change, nor can you predict what direction it will take.
    But you can tell when a system has reached a supercritical state, when small events have the potential to produce massive shifts.

    We just need to keep plugging away!

  4. haven’t gave up my dream of Hillary 🙂

    • Me too. Despite my grim view of the future, I know that stuff happens and the direction of our present situation can change.

    • It doesn’t have to be Hillary, even though she would be the logical choice.
      I voted for Chris Daggett for governor of NJ in 2009 because I was not going to reward Corzine. He was a mediocre governor at best and a former Goldman sachs executive who cheated nj Clintonistas out of their votes at the Denver convention.
      Democrats should pay attention to that election because that’s where they’re headed.

      • There are many Democrats that would do a great job as presidents. I’m not looking at Hillary because she’s the only one that can do a good job, but at the same time, all the other Democrats that could move into the WH, are not as electable as Hillary.

        I want to also say that expect 2012 to be a horrible year for the economy. That will be more and more evident by December 2011. Will that be enough to challenge Obama? I don’t think so. Most of the disappointed Obama supporters won’t want to vote for another Democratic candidate. They will vote GOP or stay home. That’s why I’m predicting 2012 will give us a GOP president.

  5. We just had one of those 52-card-pickup events here in France with the DSK débâcle (I love typing those diacriticals). The whole nation has been seized in an OH-SHIT moment for about three weeks. Real interesting to watch.

  6. Where is Aragon when we need him (or her)?

    I had been hoping that Hillary would primary President Obama, but I think the chances of that are now quite low. Then again, it was the collapse of the economy that gave us President Obama and it is not robust now. Perhaps something might happen to give us different choices, but how do we help to make something positive happen?

    Loved, your post about the IP perils of outsourcing, particularly in China. Been advising my former client of that for years, but some people have to learn the hard way. Too bad for Fellowes — they made excellent shredders.


    • The “collapse of the economy” was timed to get the one with the most Wall St. money in office.

      Was so glad that Huma did not stand by her man! I hope she gets away from him as fast as possible. He “might” seek psychiatric help, but that would be a long, long process and what would be the result?

      • Funny how the real dicks in office never get caught with their pants down.
        George Bush by all accounts was a boring, monogamous twit. Barack Obama appears to be pursuing a deliberate strategy of unsexiness.
        But, no, it’s always the guys we like who wave it around.
        If I were weiner

        • Not sure GW was that boring: remember SOS Rice’s slip calling him her “husband”? But he was not tweeting pic’s of himself in his underwear either.


      • Funny how the real dicks in office never get caught with their pants down.
        George Bush by all accounts was a boring, monogamous twit. Barack Obama appears to be pursuing a deliberate strategy of unsexiness.
        But, no, it’s always the guys we like who wave it around.
        If I were weiner, I’d volunteer to resign right after David Vitter. Then, his wife should confiscate his iPhone and hand him a bottle of lube to share with Rosie.

        • Great line about resigning right after David Vitter.

        • That’s the sad part. If there’s any D who’s got chutzpah enough to say “Enough with the freak show and so what?”I would have thought it was Weiner, but no.

    • Forget Aragorn. We need Eowyn.

      • Begone, foul dwimmerlaik!

      • I hadn’t realized until recently that Tolkein had originally meant Eowyn for Aragorn’s love interest. In the books, Arwen is such a non-entity that it’s hard to see why Aragorn would prefer her. Jackson gave her considerably more character.

        • Arwen’s story is in the appendices. That’s where Jackson got the details. Also, he had to make some editorial choices to keep the plot moving. I thought it was a stroke of genius to take Glorfindel’s race to the ford and give to Arwen. Glorfindel doesn’t really figure much into the plot after that and Arwen sorta does.
          Even so, Arwen can’t hold a candle to Luthien. Luthien kicked ass and took names.
          I would be surprised if Eowyn was ever supposed to be Aragorn’s love interest. That wouldn’t be consistent with Aragorn and Arwen/Beren and Luthien’s themes. Eowyn was unrequited love and frustration at being always left behind. I think her story is from a Norse epic about a shieldmaiden. Tolkien wasn’t the only author to turn to that epic for a good story. Nancy Farmer did it about 7 years ago with The Sea of Trolls.

  7. Bravo!!!!

  8. Nice one, RD. Geez. Gollum. Which one of the politicians….?

    I hope all is well or getting better.

    hugs, RD.

    I didn’t realize he had that past with his parents, I remember The Hobbit so strongly from Jr. High. I learned to speak in runes from the appendix in back.

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