Monday, September 18, 2023

On Sewanee Tigers, shoving camels through needle-eyes, morbidity

I drift through the days now pursued by morbidity and the sense the deterioration of civilization, the world of the human species (plural), is accelerating to a denouement which will be apocalyptic, literally.  Occasionally I encounter a story that gladdens my heart, at least for a moment. The account of the 1899 Sewanee Tigers football team (of University of the South, an Episcopal liberal arts college in Sewanee, Tennessee, their school motto Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity) was given in a documentary I watched the other day:

With just 18 players, the team known as the "Iron Men" embarked on a ten-day, 2,500 mile train trip, where they played five games in six days. Sewanee had five shutout wins over Texas (in Austin), Texas A&M (in Houston), Tulane (in New Orleans), LSU (in Baton Rouge), and Ole Miss (in Memphis). (from Wikipedia)

Most people nowadays may not grasp what that brief quote above means in terms of sheer indomitable human will forcing performance in the context of un-relenting physical exhaustion and injury. The game as played in these early years was pretty brutal: In 1905 there were 19 fatalities nationwide (Wikipedia article early history football), and I am certain that no games called while players and fans sobbed (while the destruction of previous manly virtues in America is a concern to me, I wouldn't go so far as to recommend tourists visit Afghanistan "...the real land of the free and home of the brave...a rugged country inhabited by muscular men and traditional women.. Afghan tourism story at Air Force Times"). Ormond Simkins (a fullback of the 1899 Sewanee Tigers, and acknowledged by team captain Henry Seibels to be the best player of that 1899 group) played continuously on badly injured legs and in later years ended up having amputations of portions of both legs, dying following the second surgery). To play 5 games at the required level of physical performance, without rest and in fact traveling by train between battles, is astounding. I know a little about chronic overtraining, having maintained a very high level of martial arts capability for years while preparing for the occasional no-holds-barred fight (having the hand of God upon me was helpful also, grin), while accomodating various orthopedic injuries and exhaustion, so can appreciate the accomplishment of the Tigers in 1899. Picture of the 1899 Tigers:

The rare display of spirituality also uplifts me. In a speech last week (aroun September 18, 2023), UAW President Shawn Fain discussed the obscene money (tens of millions of dollars) given the CEOs of the automobile making companies as those same CEOs asserted that the people who actually did the work to produce those cars were asking too much. It was amazing to me that Shawn quoted Mathew 19:23–24, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, explaining that in the kingdom of God, no one hoards all the wealth while others suffer or starve. If you don't understand context of the UAW strike, Shawn put it concisely:

In just four years, Big Three profits have shot up 65 percent. Business is booming. Over that same period, CEO pay has skyrocketed by 40 percent. They’re absolutely rolling in money. Big Three spending on stock buybacks — money they lavish on Wall Street — is up a staggering 1,500 percent. It is literally off the charts. Average new car prices are up 34 percent. They’re price gouging the hell out of the American consumer. Inflation is up 20 percent. You better believe Big Three price gouging has a lot to do with that too. And autoworkers’ wages are up a mere 6 percent. We’ve fallen so far behind. Finally, and this is key: the cost of labor for the Big Three is around 4–5 percent of total operations. Think about that. They could double our wages, not raise car prices, and still make billions of dollars.

That is a pretty good assessment of the situation in America generally these days. Automobile production is one of the few remaining areas where Americans actually produce anything of value. Inventing things, building things, has been replaced by parasitic capitalism embodied by financialization. Kevin Phillips (see for example his 2006 book American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century) describes financialization as a process whereby financial services, broadly construed, take over the dominant economic, cultural, and political role in a national economy.  Phillips also warns us that the US economy is following the same pattern that marked the beginning of the decline of Habsburg Spain in the 16th century, the Dutch trading empire in the 18th century, and the British Empire in the 19th century. Basically, America has been reduced to a nation of service providers (e.g., serve hamburgers) and a few fat-cat money shufflers. This scheme is only viable as long as the rest of the world considers it safe to let us handle their money. That confidence is being destroyed daily as we shock the world by making it clear there is no longer any American population with the values (sense of true justice and fair play, integrity, honesty, courage) that the Founders harnessed to create the Republic. 

I don't know how the world is going to avoid mass death and collapse of civilization. The warming of the planet is accelerating and we are already in uncharted waters (literally). A recent scientific paper (Richardson et al., Sci. Adv. 9, eadh2458 (2023)) states that Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity. The sea-ice surrounding Antarctica is well below any previous recorded winter level, which is alarming, as that ice regulates the planet's temperature, the white surface reflecting the Sun's energy back into the atmosphere and also cools the water beneath and near it, paraphrasing the recent BBC article.

Meanwhile, authoritarian states like North Korea, China and Russia (yes, Iran should be in there, but I think Israel may take care of that problem at some point, to the benefit of the Iranian people) are busily preparing their militaries for combined action to destroy the increasingly decadent West. China's top diplomat ,Wang Yi, is visiting Russia for "security" talks. He appears to be a pleasant fellow:

Vladimir Putin has just finished meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, presumably for more "security" talks:

It seems to me that we are going to have to fight these folks at some point. I say again that we should help South Korea, Japan and Taiwan obtain nuclear weapons. For that matter, we should return the nuclear weapons to Ukraine that they relinquished with assurance of their national sovereignty.

Some might argue that I am old and my own mortality perhaps clouds my judgment as to the possibility for evolution of the present state of affairs to a pleasant world-culture where happy billions live in blissful general stupidity and banality somehow. What about Gorbachev and the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union? Couldn't that happen again (in multiple totalitarian countries)? Looking at the difference in the context of the countries I have mentioned as threats and the old Soviet Union, I find that unlikely.

That is quite apart from the rendering of much of the Earth uninhabitable from global warming and its consequences (sea level rise, droughts, heat waves, intense and frequent storms, wildfires, etc.).

To tell the truth, I will be surprised if the United States has not collapsed into a whiskey-tango authoritarian regime in the next few years. I wish I could say I was enjoying this ride to hell in a bucket (alluding to the Grateful Dead song).