One damn thing after another. A few months ago, the current Covid-19 pandemic pushed environmental pollution and global warming onto the media's back burners. And even those, along with their consequences, are but a few of the threats to human life. A book published back in 1979—"A choice of catastrophes" by Isaac Asimov*—divvied up a whole slew of them into 15 chapters, further grouped into five classes:

   • Class 1: The whole world coming to an end
   • Class 2: Our solar system becoming uninhabitable
   • Class 3: The Earth becoming uninhabitable
   • Class 4: The end of humans because of competition by other beings
   • Class 5: The depletion of resources needed to sustain human life

Covid-19 is a class-4 catastrophe. Pollution a class-5. Global warming, let's not overlook this, is a class-3 catastrophy, ultimately the most threatening of the three.  3

A quick check tells me that Asimov's list of catastrophes is not complete. The book's index does not include words and terms beginning with "criminal," "govern," "democr," "capital," to mention just some that immediately came to my mind. On top of which perhaps the more damning will turn out to be human nature.  4

It hasn't taken long into the Covid-19 pandemic for the notion to spread that the world will not be te same after it is driven back to within reasonable bounds, whatever "reasonable" is supposed to mean. Next question: How will or might the world differ? Will it be an economy in tatters that will then take a long time to recover, whatever that recovery will be like? Besides, with the current pandemic in full swing, there are strong clamors for societal change. For one, the recent murder of George Floyd (by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25) magnified an outcry to end racism.  5

On a different note, let's turn to the end of the book. The final chapter begins:

   "If we imagine a society at peace, with plentiful energy and, therefore, with abudant capacity to recycle resources and to advance technology, we must also imagine that society will reap the rewards of its victory over the environment. The most obvious reward will be precisely that which has been experienced as a result of similar victories in he past—the increase of population."

Which is likely to bring about other catastrophes, if it hasn't already.  

I don't think I need to belabor that somewhere along the line there is a limit to how much life our Earth can sustain, nor that human beings are only a fraction of all life, nor that this is an issue that keeps us awake all night. And so, moving in closer to more immediate concerns, what if all the newly born will be living ever longer lives? And will there be something about human life that limits what age we can possibly reach? With these questions in mind, I limit myself to family members alive today. Let's rephrase this, I am going to limit my concern to people alive today; assuming a maximum lifespan of, say, 120 years. Holy cow! Think of our accelerating pace of increases in scientific knowledge and technnology. Think of potential shifts in geopolitics; of social change and possibly in our conception of what is morally right and what is wrong! Clearly, I already bit off far more than I can chew. Now, where to begin? And how to stitch my ramblings together in something comprehensible?  7

"It was on the train," George Gershwin said, "with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer—I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise. ...And there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper—the complete construction of the rhapsody, from beginning to end. No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind and tried to conceive the composition as a whole. ... I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of ... our metropolitan madness. By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance."  8

Ok, ok; I am an old fogey and, well, you know. I ramble a lot.  9

Gershwin did not write the rhapsody's opening wail; clarinet player Ross Gorman did, on some whimsy. Nor did he write the orchestration; arranger Ferde Grofé did. He didn't even come up with the title, "Rhapsody in Blue." It was suggested by his older brother Ira. (Ref.) And so she goes in my world. Are not our accomplishments in myriad ways all shared accomplishments?  10

* * *

An article in this week's issue of The Economist (today is July 12, 2020) threw a wrench in the gears of my thoughts: inbred bias. Name of the piece: "The mark of Cain." In short:

   In the 2016 American election, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Robert P. Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute, explains this by asserting that the notion of white supremacy is deeply integrated in white Chistian identity even though his research indicates that white evangelicals are likely to express goodwill to African Americns. However, Mr. Jones, has come to the conclusion that the expressed attitude contradicts a prevailing unconscious bias passed on from generation to generation. Quoting the article, "The dominant southern strains of white evangelism were formed amid and sometimes in response to slavery. The Southern Baptists, America's biggest denomination, was launched to defend it biblically—which it did by representing black skin as the accursed 'mark of Cain'." When black Americans began to move to northern states, the bias against them moved along to other white Christians, be they protestant or catholic.  

Cain slaying Abel
"Cain slaying Abel" by Peter Paul Rubens. (
Genesis 4:8 Cain said to Abel his brother, "Let us go out to the field." And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. 9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? 10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. 11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand; 12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. 13 And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. 15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. 16 And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.  12

I wonder whether there might be in people's minds some commingling of Genesis 4 with Genesis 9. The latter tells us about Noah, who is a descendant of Cain, banning his son Ham, the father of Canaan, from his family. Genesis 9 (KJV*): 25he said, "Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers."  13

"Asimov's Guide to the Bible," a 1,300-page tome, carefully dissects names of tribes and the regions where they lived or might have lived. In so doing he connects Canaan with the north-eastern tip of Africa. Genesis 10 lists the sons of Ham as Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. Enough said. Enough said about what suggests to me roots of biblical bias.  14

Briefly returning to that article, "The Mark of Cain," I'll quote:

   "History records instances of white congregations pouring out of church to a lynching. And such scenes were not restricted to evangelicals or the South."

Compare and contrast all of this with Genesis 4:15, "... And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him." Go figure. Hint: money connects a lot of dots.  

* * *

As behooves a scholar, Asimov's writing follows the straight-and-narrow of logical thought, shying away from personal biases—in sofar that is at all possible. But circumstances and priorities have chainged since 1979, especially so during recent months with Covid-19. I don't recall ever having met the term Corona Virus when I wrote "Mikado" in December of last year. As for now, we haven't the foggiest of what Covid-19 has in store. It is obvious, therefore, that we must prepare for eventualities as speedely as we can and do so without bringing on other undesirable consequences. That's where that piece "Mikado" comes in.  16

Currently, our federal government is providing financial aid to the unemployed, to middle-class enterprises, and to provincial governments in the hope it will see Canadians through this pandemic. Health-care experts are far from optimistic about that, even with some, touted to be potential cures on the horizon. Conservative political strategists have a word for this spending on aid, a word that smacks of cynicism, "largesse." Cynicism is cheap. What is not cheap, however, is the risk that comes with such spending: inflation, inflation getting out of control as it did in Germany wihin a few years after the 1911–1918 world war. I mentioned this in an earlier piece as well as the consequences that culminated in WW-II and the Holocaust.  17

Therefore, while trying to stay on the logical, unbiased straight-and-narrow, we must act against inflation, the rising of prices in terms of currency. And all the while watching out for biases to avoid best-laid plans from going awry. I am thinking of taking some basic human needs out of the money-economy's loop. Those would be food, clothing, and shelter. Taking things one-by-one, food is the first to be shifted into a distinct economy, a coupon-economy. This is not an altogether new idea. In my early teens, under Nazi occupation of The Netherlands, food was rationed for which government provided people with ration-coupons to limit consumption of certain items that money could then (hopefully) buy.  18

What I am now thinking of goes further: a coupon-economy entirely separate from the money economy. Ration coupons issued by the federal government should not be exchangeable for money except when transacted by the federal government itself. Any illigimate occurrence calls for some form of severe punishment.  19

The government provides ration-coupons to registered citizens and sells ration-coupons to visitors from other countries for the duration of their stay. The government pays farmers and food distributors in currency. To partially compensate (as much as possible) for the "largesse," the government raises taxes and other payments that are its due. This paragraph is merely a broad outline of an idea, a score, if you will, yet to be orchestrated, but which buys us some time to come to terms with other big conundrums that are facing us.  20

One of them is mistrust or, putting it somewhat differently, who do we trust—spokesmen for governments or for medical authorities, or those around us who loudly proclaim to know everything better? It appears (at the time I am writing this) that a deficiency of trust is hampering efforts to bring the Covid-19 epidemic under control, which is compounded big-time by international power politics, greed, and an abuse of an ideal called democracy whereby multitudes of the more-ignorant overrule the less-ignorant. One could fill libraries with what has been written about this, yet there is no simple solution in sight. The best I can come up falls in the domain of upbringing, schooling, lifelong learning, and unbiased media. Hard to avoid skepticism here, but somehow we do need to get going in this direction.  21

We need to get going also on some other pressing issues, racist bias and inequality, notably assured shelter for the homeless. I recall former Canadian P.M. Lester Pearson saying that politics is the art of the possible. He probably quoted Otto von Bismarck. At any rate, I am inclined to believe that the coupon-economy is very much made possible by the desire of many for security. Thinking a little further ahead, I perceive the coupon-economy as gradually encompassing goods such as clothing, goods made of substances that pollute the environment, goods made of non-renewable natural resources, unnecessry goods that by their manufacture generate heat, whatever. We see here an encroaching of the coupon-economy on the money-economy.  22

Time to pick up another Mikado stick. We should not rely on other countries to supplement foods produced here, nor should we rely on our electronic tools not ever failing us—satellites, for example, are vulnerable to destruction. Hence, we'd do well to expand local food resources—raising production as well as researching for alternative foodstuffs. Hence, opportunities open up for employment quite aside from the existing employment by food producers and distributors. It also puts an obligation on the unemployed to pull their weight in sofar this is possible.  23

* * *

I wonder whether the abusive treatment of black people, for example bullying, is an outcome of an abuser's sense of inferiority. "Inferiority Complex," I found in Wikipedia "is a term used to describe people who compensate for feelings of inferiority (feeling like they're less than other people, not as good as others, worthless, etc.) by acting [in] ways that make them appear superior. They do this because controlling others may help them feel less personally inadequate."  24

A major concern I have come to harbor is a devastating effect of a widespread inferiority complex on democratic governance culminating in people with underdeveloped intellectual acumen overriding those of a more sophisticated mind. "Populism" is a term used here. Fear and hate are recognized as the driving forces of populism. It is by stoking fear and hate that a person devoid of moral scruples can lead an entire society into an apocalyptic outcome. And that, I hope you agree, needs to be resolved. But how? Could a coupon-based economy be used as a means of moving from a democracy to a meritocracy? And what kind of a meritocracy?  25

I used to think that Canadians are fortunate in having one Chamber with elected members of parliament and another Chamber with appointed senators, mostly with pasts of great accomplishment, and that proposed laws cannot take effect until approved by both Chambers. In other words, a blending of the democratic ideal with demonstrated merit. But then I found that on the whole our senators are very much deficient in scientific knowledge and mode of thinking, and that, moreover, they, as a body, resist broadening their range of talents in that direction. Inferiority in math skills may be the reason for that, but to address some such calls for an acknowledgement that some such exists. And here is the rub. What it all boils down to is hardwon structures of logic being avoided or eroded by a multitude of biases.*  26

Following in the footsteps of Piet Lieftinck, think of the amount of ill-begotten money that may be taken out of circulation if banks were legally required to open their books. Still, the top tiers of the world's rich and powerful are not likely to go along with what I have just outlined. The privileged will resist kicking and screaming, corrupting governments in the process. Which puts a lot of blue in my rhapsody.  27

* * *
Tower of Babel
"The Tower of Babel" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. (
Genesis 11:3: And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.  28

The splitsing off of a coupon economy from a money-economy should not affect Canada's financial relations with other countries. International trade should go on as before except that payments made now by importers of food stuff are made by the Canadian Government. However, I would expect that if things work out well here, they will be applied elsewhere as well. Success begets success. In other words, the pandemic is likely to drastically change the international scene. Might it also change how we communicate?  29

Ethnologue, currently provides information about 7,117 languages. Here is a table of languages with more than 100 million native speakers, followed by a table of the most spoken languages:

Mandarin Chinese918 M
Spanish480 M
English379 M
Hindi341 M
Bengali228 M
Portuguese221 M
Russian154 M
Japanese128 M
English1,132 M
Mandarin Chinese1,117 M
Hindi615 M
Spanish218 M
French228 M
Standard Arabic274 M
Bengali265 M
Russian258 M

There are six official languages of the UN: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. Consider the linguistic mismatches all around. Consider those who feel linguistically underrated or offended or simply at a disadvantage in negotiations. Roiling their inner selves. Roiling their self-esteem.  30

This, it seems to me, cries out for a single internationally applied auxiliary language that is easy to learn. Esperanto is the one of choice. If Esperanto were taught in schools around the world, young people everywhere, communicating with their cellphones, would soon become familiar with those having bodily features and customs different from their own. Scorn and disdain would shift toward respect.  31

All Menschen
I-ĝu ĉi-uj ho-moj fra-tojn


Of the performances currently available on Youtube, I am going for the one by the Royal Music Aademy Symphony Orchestra. Why not also enjoy it? After reading this perhaps? Quoting famous composer, pianist, teacher Leopold Bernstein: "Rhapsody in Blue is not a real composition in the sense that whatever happens in it must seem inevitable, or even pretty inevitable. You can cut out parts of it without affecting the whole in any way except to make it shorter. You can remove any of these stuck-together sections and the piece still goes on as bravely as before. You can even interchange these sections with one another and no harm done. You can make cuts within a section, or add new cadenzas, or play it with any combination of instruments or on the piano alone; it can be a five-minute piece or a six-minute piece or a twelve-minute piece. And in fact all these things are being done to it every day. It's still the Rhapsody in Blue."  *   fn1

Isaac Asimov (1920–1992) was an American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. He was known for his works of hard science fiction and popular science. Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by concern for scientific accuracy and logic.  *   fn2

King James Version, the version used by the Southern Baptists denomination.  *   fn3

Here are two references that might eventually prove to be useful starting points for digging deeper into the issue of biases:
Inferiority complex
Individual psychology  *   fn4

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August 5, 2020

"Rhapsody in Blue" is a serious message packaged in an unusual manner. I submitted a more straightforwardly written extract to a regional paper, The Review, in Vankleek Hill, Ontario. Unfortunately things got garbled when the issue was made up. The paper published the correct extract in the next week's issue. It is found here. H.K.v.E.