Tuesday, July 31, 2012

'Culture' wars

One of the ideas that Arabs like to throw in the face of the West is that they headed a brilliant civilization when Europeans were still living in crude huts. That's less than half true; the Arabs conquered a brilliant civilization.

At the height of that brilliance, the Arabs who became the masters were illiterates. (There were other, more cultivated Arabs at that time, but they were victims of the Muslim conquest.)

It is thus a symptom of the very deep fall that the Arabs have taken from even their borrowed cultural brilliance that some of them, Palestinians, objected when Mitt Romney opined that Israel's economic success derived from its "culture."

Of course it does. If the Palestinians want to dispute that, they have to also admit that the rise of Europe derived from its culture.

What Romney said in Israel was unexceptionable. But then he went to Poland and opined that Poland's economic success (which is, in truth, not all that notable) derived from its culture (he didn't use that word again) of not borrowing.

Well, Romney no less than the Palestinians cannot be allowed to have it both ways.

Israel's economic success (far more notable than Poland's anyway) is based on a socialist model with lots of borrowing.

By the way, Poland's Solidarity union said it wants nothing to do with Romney's war on workers.

And by the other way, in Poland all workers are required to contribute to something very like Obamacare.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book Review 244: The Gold Train

THE GOLD TRAIN: The Destruction of the Jews and the Looting of Hungary, by Ronald W. Zweig.312 pages, illustrated. Morrow, $26.95

I approached Ronald Zweig’s “The Gold Train” with unease. Compared with the murder of 400,000 Jews in Hungary, ought we to be concerned about the minor crime of stealing their gold? It turns out, we should.

On the superficial level of historical truth, the story needed to be researched because a version is current that is largely bogus. That needs correction.

Of greater significance is the insight it provides into the antinational actions of the Hungarian extreme rightwing, and the dishonorable behavior of so many of the people who were involved in the gold after the war.

In the usual historiography of central Europe, the nationalism of the Hungarians is cited as a destabilizing factor in the decline of the Habsburg Empire. But it turns out that Hungarian extreme nationalism was qualified. There were rightists who were persuaded that Hungary must be subservient to Germany. Fear of Russia and Bolshevism were part of that, but only part. Jew-hatred played its part.

As had happened in Vienna around 1900, anti-Semitic parties had a hard time getting traction. When  everybody hates Jews, a platform of Jew-hatred is not enough for electoral success. The conservative, aristocratic and anti-German elite kept the farthest right (Arrow Cross) at bay until the fighting started.

The Arrow Cross plundered the Jews, but they also plundered Hungary, sending as much of its portable economic assets to Germany as possible.

The Jews of Hungary (wholly assimilated to Magyarism except for newcomers) had been systematically plundered and excluded from economic activity since 1938, so the final looting in 1944 did not accumulate the fabulous sums that the “Gold Train” was reputed to carry. The aggregate value was large, says Zweig, but only because it amounted to the household goods of 800,000 people, some poor, some well-off.

But values of $300 million (1945 dollars, say $3 billion today) were exaggerated.

Still, gold is gold and brings out the bad in people. The central villain, so far as the gold is concerned, was Hungarian policeman Arpad Toldi, a nationalist and Jew-hater, who, however, was willing to forget politics for the chance to grab the gold (and diamonds) for himself.

Most of the loot was recovered by the Americans and French in Austria, but half a dozen boxes of gold are still missing,. The man who probably knew where they were was killed in a drunken brawl in 1951.

The disposition of the gold takes up half the book. It was deemed impossible, in almost all cases, to return the stolen goods to the owners, or their heirs, both because individual items were unidentifiable and because the owners had been murdered so comprehensively that they had no heirs.

A reasonable solution was to use the value to support the displaced and persecuted victims of Nazism, and this was done, more or less,

Some of the proceeds were used to help create the state of Israel, to the distress of the British, whose soldiers were being slain there by Jewish partisans. The UK government’s position regarding the disposition of the loot was conflicted but not dishonorable.

The behavior of the French was typically dishonorable and incompetent. For a while, they lost the loot they had seized. They wanted to spend some of the money on helping displaced persecutors of Jews, a strange position that would sound logical only to a Frenchman. Zweig is too polite to suggest that animus against Jews was part of their thinking, but we can take that as read.

Less honorable still were the actions of the Hungarians and the Russians who occupied Hungary. Only the Americans come off as generally honest and humane.

In the end, the fantasies of wealth were (and still are) fantasies. Zweig’s concluding paragraph deserves quotation in full:

“The destruction of European Jewry during the Holocaust took place over a wide geographical area and time span, beginning in Germany with the rise of the Nazis to power in January 1933 and ending with the Allied victory in Europe in May 1945. The motives of the perpetrators included genocide, the exploitation of forced labour, and economic spoliation. Ultimately, however, these objectives were contradictory. Some degree of wealth could be transferred from one population to another by organized plunder, especially where that wealth was concentrated in a few hands. But the roots of popular wealth and prosperity are social, and they were destroyed when the societies that sustained them and gave them value were laid waste, This was the madness of genocide. Although justice demanded that the material damage of the Holocaust be undone, the real damage was in the individual lives lost and the devastation of a vibrant community, and that could not be made good again.”

The same lesson, absent the murders, applies to rightwing American economic policy today.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

To mall or not to mall

Some background on the controversy about the Kihei megamall:

Less than 30 years ago, the sum total of national retailers on Maui was Sears, National Dollar and Woolworth, among general retailers. No Kmart, no Wal-mart.

Today, no Woolworth and no National Dollar.

There weren't a lot of specialized national retailers here 30 years ago, either: no Pier One, no Sports Authority (which didn't yet exist).

Today we have outlets from Tiffany to Home Depot and it night seen that rural Maui has caught up with national urban retailing trends. Far from it,

Around 1990, a speaker brought in by the Main Street Association asserted that there were 140 national chains that were NOT on Maui.

I haven't seen any more recent estimate, but although we have added many, many national chains since 1990, my guess is that the number today would be even higher than 140.

There are a lot more national (and even international) retailers like Ikea than there used to be.

If you think about just fast food chains, Maui lacks dozens. Chick-Fil-A is in the news, but on Maui you cannot either support or protest its position about marriage, because it isn't here.

Neither is Sonic, Long John Silver's, Popeye's, Boston Market, Friendly's and many more.

Among non-food retailers that are still absent are Target (probably on its way soon), Kohl's, Bed Bath & Beyond, Pottery Barn and on and on.

This helps to explain the desire of developers to build more malls on Maui. Maui may or may not be a top tier location -- it wasn't for J.C. Penney -- but national chains have to expand  to satisfy Wall Street.

This may not be a real controversy. There was the same commotion before Kmart opened, and while Km art has not been a success, the parking lots at Costco and Wal-mart are crowded.

The point is that, by national standards, Maui is seriously underretailed.

Friday, July 27, 2012

David Maraniss meets America's rightwing

David Maraniss, Obama biographer, has come in for attention from America's rightwing. I could have told him what would happen. But he figured it out on his own, and today had the guts to call them out.

"In the introduction to my book, I took note of a sick political culture where 'facts are so easily twisted for political purposes and where strange armies of ideological pseudo-historians roam the biographical fields in search of stray ammunition.' That sentence is now cited on right-wing Web sites as evidence that I hold them in contempt. True enough, one of the few accurate things that I’ve read from them. I do hold some of them in contempt, not because of their politics, nor because of their dislike of Obama. Political debate and disagreement are the lifeblood of American democracy. No, I hold them in contempt for the way they disregard facts and common sense and undermine the role of serious history as they concoct conspiracy theories that portray the president as dangerous, alien and less than American."

Just like Eisenhower in '52, Romney is showing himself too cowardly to stand up to the rightwing crazies. At least Ike, though spineless, had his underlings work behind the scenes against McCarthy (although their results were paltry). Romney is the double coward: afraid to repudiate the haters and racists but afraid too to come right out and embrace them.

Context is all

This is the most entertaining electoral season in a long time. The candidates act as their own straight men.

If Mitt Romney, who has some cred on Olympic topics, had merely said that the UK organizers had faced some disconcerting obstacles, no one would have cracked a smile. But nooo!

First he had to inspire some underling to suggest that Romney truly understands "Anglo-Saxon culture," feeding the racist idea that Obama is an unAmuurican, Moooslim commie. (Since I am not myself "Anglo," I would have deprecated Romney's increasingly racist rhetoric, but that's another topic.)

But it turns out Romney has little, if any, understanding of the pricklinesses of the British. Less, anyway, than Obama has shown. Thus, as he left England, tail between his legs, the Sun (the largest newspaper) labeled him "MITT THE TWIT".

Worse, in its way, than when Bush I ralphed in the premier's lap.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Learning to go slow

Now that the Final Environmental Impact Statement has been approved, the Wailea 670 project will most likely happen. I had my doubts over the past two decades since it was proposed. There are a lot of lessons to reflect upon in this development. Some are good reflections, some not.
In no particular order of significance:

1. Honua`ula, as it is now called, will have one golf course. Wailea 670 was to have had 2. Golf courses have managed to lose a lot of money for their owners over the past 20 years here. Several have gone bankrupt. Others have sold at distress prices. There’s no doubt golf sells, but there are many courses, relatively few golfers. We will keep seeing golf courses in big developments, because they are an attractive way of decorating the main drainageway. For each developer, it looks like a way to monetize a piece of infrastructure. Over time, it probably results in more courses than the traffic will bear.

2. A cap on annual deliveries of 100 houses a year is novel. In the past, developers wanted to sell as many as quickly as they could, particularly in a big project in an area devoid of infrastructure. The upfront infrastructure costs incurring a heavy burden of debt service. Today, and for as long as the Federal Reserve decrees, the burden of debt service will be small. Over the past 20 years, few developers could sell as fast as they hoped, so the cap of 100/year probably won’t have much practical effect.

3. But requiring the 250 (off-site) affordable houses to be built first will add heavily to the builder’s upfront costs, especially if they end of costing him beaucoup bucks. The history of affordable in South Maui has not been inspiring. When the Grand Hyatt (as it then was) built its off-site employee housing, the employees didn’t want it. The project found a hard time filling up in competition with other, standalone projects, too. In West Maui, the story has been different, because there, instead of too much (by some people’s standards) housing, there has been too little (by anybody’s standards). But that should be the topic of a future post.

4. Off-site environmental mitigation has had a mixed record. Lee Altenberg, a population biologist, fought for years to preserve a patch of native wiliwili forest in the lower corner of Wailea 670/Honua`ula. Lower corners, though, are where developers want to put their sewage treatment plants (to avoid pumping costs; sewage runs downhill), and so here. So far, Altenberg has not succeeded in making his point with the Maui Planning Commission. It’s hard for people who do not care for native plants to get it, though. 95% of the native wiliwili forests have been wiped out by farming and building and roads. By definition, the remnants are in “waste lands” that nobody (until now) cared about. It is hard to get people to understand the concept of “scarcity value” when it comes to land use. From the developer’s point of view, putting his sewage treatment plant anywhere else raises costs and makes his houses harder to sell.

5. Already, according to Nanea Kalani’s news report in The Maui,News, there is nervousness about the cost of water in the private water system. The infrastructure expense is eyepopping -- $22 million for a 1,150-unit project, or about as much as the county water department spends on its physical plant for the entire island in a year. That’s expensive water. The report does not mention, and perhaps nobody remembers, that there was a question way back when about that water. Wailea 670 drilled 2 wells, for irrigation. They were expected to come up brackish. They flowed sweet and clean. David Craddick, then the water director, said if they were fresh, the water was the county’s. Charlie Jencks said, just wait till we’ve pumped for a while; the water will turn brackish. This is an experiment worth watching. There are rumors of more fresh water in the South Maui aquifers than the older studies (and current legal parameters) admit. Wailea 670 did not choose a promising site for its wells. It drilled where it owned. If it’s true that you can hit fresh water more or less at random on the south slope of Haleakala, that changes the development game in a huge way. Low-growthers should be praying nightly that those wells turn brackish and soon.

6. Bike and hiking trails. These have to be in developer plans in order to get approving nods from trendy people, but it’s doubtful they will ever be used enough to justify their cost. There’s a reason nobody hikes that hillside now: it’s steep, hot and dusty. Following development, it will still be steep and hot.

7. Jencks said the project needs to move within 3 years, but he is counting, in part, on either joint venture partners or buyers of pieces with their own development money. Presumably, he has somebody in mind, but Kaanapali 2020 has been looking for JV partners for a long time and apparently they are hard to find.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Oy Vegas

Even if you've never been to Las Vegas, you probably know about the fountains at the Bellagio, which are as much a symbol of the city as the Gateway Arch is of St. Louis or the statue of Kamehameha I is of Honolulu.

What you don't get from the pictures, though, is that the leaping jets of water are choreographed to music blasted out over the lake. These comes in sets of 3 (every 30 minutes during the day, every 15 minutes during the evening, when the sidewalk around the lake is crowded and various street hucksters set up).

I had never expected Vegas to be ironical, still less self-deprecatory, but I was wrong.

The first song in the set I watched was "Hey Big Spender," catchy, brassy and apparently written for the occasion ("Hey, big spender, spend a little time with me"). The next was equally appropriate, "Viva Las Vegas."

The third tune was unexpected: "Simple Gifts."

This one, however, was instruments only, no vocal. Still, I know the words, and "It's a gift to be simple" was decidedly odd coming under the sponsorship of the Bellagio.

Tricia said, "They don't know the words," meaning the sidewalk strollers, not the Bellagio management. She must have been right. I was the only one laughing.

(And, yes, if you're wondering, I did select a picture of the fountains in which they appear to be giving everyone the finger.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Making us all coolies

The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein has a good column about the intended and unintended consequences of outsourcing. I would have put it more briefly: The finance capitalists want everybody to be coolies. 

Some of the comments are enlightening in their drink-the-Koolaid acceptance of a nation of coolies. This one, for example: 

"What a crock. Without 'outsourcing' we'd all still be living as hunters and gatherers. But everyone would be employed, so I guess the left-wingers would love it." 

Pearlstein's is not an argument against globalization, which is good, but it does show why a society that is deliberately destablilizing itself economically needs to increase, not decrease, its social services. 

It's possible to modernize a labor force without destroying your society -- Sweden proves that. But it's also possible to do it and destroy your society, and that's what Reaganomics was about. Take all the jobs out of the central cities, and then complain that the residents of the central cities are lazy. 

But read the whole thing.

And, as if to order, the Guardian reports on an outsourcing debacle at the London Olympics. (For RtO, it's a two-fer, since it offers evidence for my belief that most private industry CEOs are incompetent. Certainly this one is, as his statement demonstrates.)

UPDATE: The attempt of newspapers to outsource has been a series of comic disasters, but perhaps none more comic than the story of Journatic, which proposes to relieve big papers of the tedium and expense of reporting on local news -- you know, the stuff that gives people a reason to buy a local paper, This one is a two-fer, too, as the outsourcing is a ridiculous failure and 2, count ;'em, two -- CEOs are revealed as incompetents.     <P>
And the Journatic fiasco doubles down on the contention that outsourcing is driven solely by a desire to turn us all into coolies. Poynter has a whole series of stories on this unfolding snafu,

Pass on the hats

I have no interest in the Olympics with its tedious competitions in synchronized badminton and underwater lawn bowling, so I am not offended that the American uniforms are made in China. But what's with the dorky hats?

They look like the candy dishes my grandmother kept in the parlor

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book Review 243: The Love Pirate and the Bandit's Son

THE LOVE PIRATE AND THE BANDIT'S SON: Murder, Sin, and Scandal in the Shadow of Jesse James, by Laura James. 306 pages, illustrated. Union Square, $19.95

Although forgotten now, Zeo Zoe Wilkins was the Nicole Brown Simpson of her day, a gold-digging easy lay whose savagely beaten and bloody body was discovered in her own home, setting off a nationwide news furor, although no one was convicted.

In fact, in Wilkins' case, no one was even tried.

It was an all-American crime, and author Laura James, a lawyer, is a good person to tell about it, because peculiarities of the law are important.

Born dirt poor, Wilkins' career ran a hectic quarter-century until 1924. James could have made more of the setting. Wilkins was a gold-digger, and gold-diggers and vamps were a preoccupation of the time. James does not go into why, but it no doubt had a lot to do with unease about the independence of the modern girl – with her own career, own home, own money and own husbands – five for Zeo Wilkins.

Beautiful in a hobble-skirt kind of way – James says she never opened her mouth to smile for photographers because her teeth were bad – Wilkins was ruthless about getting ahead.

With limited opportunities, she choose osteopathy as her opening. James could have penned an amusing discursion about the Still osteopath school, run by one of the great American quacks; but while James does not always deny herself excursions, she does here.

Wilkins' prey were small fish, go-getters in the oil boom towns of Oklahoma, later in Colorado and Missouri. An affair with a Joplin banker got her publicity as a scarlet woman from coast to coast and a fortune.

The ins and outs of her career are too complicated to recount here, but by 1924 she was a fading alcoholic who needed a lawyer in Kansas City. She hired Jesse James Jr. (Wilkins seems to have been drinking three bottles a day of Jamaica Ginger, a patent medicine that contained a neurotoxin that in heavy users paralyzed the extremities, leading to a malady known in the Southwest, where Jamaica Ginger was popular, as jake-foot; but Laura James does not describe the implications of being a Jamaica Ginger drunk; it might also have contributed to Wilkins' irrational behavior even more than regular booze.)

The son of the Missouri badman had had a rocky career of his own and was broke after sinking big money in a movie about his father's Civil War deeds. By the time they met, he was a fixer for the Klan and, apparently, one of the worst lawyers in the history of Kansas City. Laura James (no relation) says women murderers got a free pass in the widest-open town in America, and in a generation only one was ever convicted – the one defended by James.

Even Harry Truman has a walk-on role here.

To sum up, somebody killed Wilkins for bonds, stocks and diamonds that may or may not have been in her house, and Laura James thinks it was Jesse James Jr., who shortly after had a breakdown.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Welcome, hurricanes!

Well, Daniel has been reduced to a tropical depression, but 2 hurricanes are predicted to bring us rain by the weekend, right in the middle of the dry season.

I don't think it is generally appreciated how much we depend on destructive storms for our drinking water. It probably wouldn't surprise you to think that on the leeward side, where there are only about 10 rainy days a year, that most of the moisture comes during torrents, usually from konas during the winter.
But it might surprise you to know that 95+% of rainfall even on the windward side comes on just a few days a year, even in places where it rains somewhat on over 200 days a year. Nevertheless, that's the case, also.
The reason is that big storms carry hard-to-conceive amounts of water in them. The flow of Nahiku Stream varies by a factor more than 1,000: the difference between 8 million gallons and 9 billion gallons.
Big raised limestone areas like Florida and Yucatan would be uninhabitable without hurricanes to renew their groundwater. But because they are big, they pay the price of having to absorb destructive winds. Hawaii is small and so gets the benefit of the storms' rain without having to endure the storms, except every 20 years or so.
In Makawao, where I live, it has rained at least 30 days, and probably more, I haven't been keeping a record, since May 1. In most years, it hardly rains at all from May to Thanksgiving. Last summer, it rained often, too, though not as often as this year.
The total accumulation has not been great, although perhaps that will change over the next several days.
But such swings make nonsense of claims that car exhausts are changing climate. Maybe they are, but you'll never prove it by citing exceptional weather.
Of course, that hasn't stopped the panic-mongers. They are busy trying to show that, for example, the heat wave in the east is 20 times more likely than it was in the '60s. Whatever that means. I used to live in the East, and there were heat waves back then, and frequently.
But not every year.
Heat waves are frequent now, but not every year.
I was startled, last week, when NPR began a lengthy report on drought in Texas. The surprise was that the report was about a drought in the '50s. In other words, long droughts in Texas are normal. Nothing to do with car exhausts.
For a few minutes, I thought that NPR had converted to common sense, but no. It was an aberration. Today, their science reporter, Richard Harris -- a true believer in catatrophic global warming -- had a report on how extreme weather events are more likely than they used to be -- despite the obvious fact that they are not happening more often than they used to.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Lucky you live Maui

Western Australia Bans Shark Tourism After Four Fatal Attacks

Western Australia state said it would introduce rules to ban most shark tourism after four fatal attacks on bathers in the region over the past year.

Book Review 242: Mirror, Mirror

MIRROR, MIRROR: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection, by Mark Pendergast.404 pages, illustrated. Basic, $27.50

As Mark Pendergast mentions casually along the way, everything that isn't a black hole is reflective. But by mirror he means surfaces that send back a reasonable facsimile of what is in front of them – although he never tries to define mirror.

This is not as trivial as it might at first appear. Mirrors have puzzled people enough that close examination has revealed un suspected properties of light.

Long before that point, though, mirrors had a vaguer purpose, though a profound one to those who used them: They were signifiers of divinity. This was a widespread conception, known from Mexico to China.

Mirrors as aids to vanity became big business in Greece and Rome. “Mirrors have always been ambivalent servants,” Pendergast writes.

Nowhere more so than in the claim that there are no blind schizophrenics. This is a curious claim, its implications dampened somewhat by the imprecision of the term schizophrenia. Still, as far as it goes, it may tell us something, as does the reaction of people (Pendergast included) to themselves in funhouse mirrors.

But the bulk of the book is spent with mirrors as avenues and assistants in scientific research. The obvious focus is on telescopes, but while we find things with telescopes, it was a split mirror that made it possible for Michelson and Morley to fail to find evidence of the ether.

Pendergast examines just about every aspect of mirrors, from the invention of float glass to the elaboration of kaleidoscopes, never neglecting to salt his reports with amusing, tragic or ironic anecdotes. Altogether, a lively survey of mirrors, leaving out only the trick that 20th century children learned by holding up a pack of Camels to a mirror and observing the odd behavior of the words CHOICE QUALITY.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Book Review 241: The Gilded Dinosaur

THE GILDED DINOSAUR: The Fossil War between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science, by Mark Jaffe. 424 pages, illustrated. Crown, $25

Just about any history book about dinosaurs contains a few pages about the spirited competition between Yale's O.C. Marsh and Philadelphia's Edward Cope to find fossils – especially dinosaur fossils – in the West during the late 19th century. Beyond the funny anecdote about Cope putting the skull on the wrong end of Elasmosaurus and Marsh sending his agents to kidnap boxes of bones gathered for Cope, most authors don't go.

It turns out there was a lot more to it than that.

Sure enough the anecdotes are memorable: Marsh and his pony Pawnee caught in a huge buffalo stampede, Cope being saved by his pony from going over a cliff in the dark, both men risking their skins to prospect for bones in the middle of the Indian wars.

Jaffe makes a good case that the irascible Marsh and the cantankerous Cope had a lot to do with the professionalization and bureaucratization of American science – and with its support by the federal government.

When they were young and poor, the number of professional scientists in America was in the low hundreds, and ambitious researchers had to go to Germany. Before they were through, America had thousands of professional scientists, and government expenditures on them dwarfed the public support of research of all the rest of the world together.

It couldn't have happened that way if Cope and Marsh hadn't inherited fortunes, and spent them on research. But presumably it could have happened without all the rancor and backstabbing.

And presumably it could not have happened if both Marsh and Cope had not had some admirable human qualities, which, however, they often managed to conceal.

Even by the standards of the Victorian years, when conformity was optional for the rich, Marsh and Cope were singular.

Marsh treated his helpers with contempt but worked hard to try to make the government fulfill its obligations to the Sioux. He earned the gratitude of Red Cloud.

Cope treated his helpers better but his friends worse.

Marsh was meticulous and secretive, Cope was careless and publicity-hungry. As enemies, they fitted together as perfectly as a key in a lock, or, perhaps, a femur in a pelvis. It was almost comical that toward the end, Marsh, who had exposed Cope's Elasmosaurus error, made a similar error by inventing Brontosaurus, an error Cope gleefully pounced on.

While the story is absorbing, “The Gilded Dinosaur” is the worst book I have ever read for errors. There are thousands. In fact, it looks like an uncorrected proof, but it was issued by Crown as a completed book.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

All wet

Water Director Dave Taylor laid out options to the County Council for financing water development. His words fell on uncomprehending ears.

Taylor, who really does understand utility management and finance, laid out our combinations for future expenditures. He even brought up the words the council never wants to hear: general fund.

It is only restating the obvious to say that unless general fund monies are used, the department will never catch up to its deficiencies, much less get ahead on future demands.

Riki Hokama, whose nerves twitch whenever the idea of spending money is advanced, was shocked. Dave Craddick, when he was director, used to rail against “disinvestment” – the department hasn't got enough money to maintain what it has, still less to get more.

It is something of a miracle that Taylor has extracted enough money to renew Waikamoi Flume, but that ought to have been done long ago.

Craddick also used to say – to me, not to the council – that the council had never “spent one dime” on the water department. When I repeated this to Hokama, years ago, he was shocked. Of course, the council had spent money, he said. It had put $25,000 toward watershed protection.

Big whoops. Watershed protection is vital, but it's not the water department. And $25,000 was less than peanuts.

The council spent more than twice as much on lawyers trying to get an opinion that they, not the mayor, can run the department under the last Charter revision. The lawyer was uncooperative and the money was entirely wasted.

I was not at the meeting, but I have sat through many like it. Taylor has to start to the bottom each time, because he cannot assume that the council members know anything about water.

Thus, he spoke about water meter fees, now $6,030.

That's a figure derived by accountants, but it has nothing whatever to do with the actual expenses of the department to provide a meter.

In theory, each new customer pays an amount that gives him an equal share of the department's assets as the old customers had. The total assets grow, but the value of assets per meter stays the same.

But in reality, it costs a lot more (probably more than twice as much) to deliver a meter Upcountry than it does to deliver one in Central Maui. If nothing else, the meters Upcountry are farther apart and so need more pipes between them.

More important, Upcountry has no reserves of developed water. For a long time, Central and South Maui did. Thus it was even cheaper to hand out another meter.

It is doubtful Central-South has any reserves now. Had development not been stopped by the Bush recession, we'd have had meter moratoriums in Central-South, and if development ever picks up again, we will.

The only way to get out of this bind is to spend a lot of general fund money up front, to recify the council's and the mayors' errors of past decades.

I take it from The Maui News report that Taylor said this, in a way, but in a way that only prepared minds would comprehend.

The assets of the water department are probably worth a billion dollars, and even if some do not depreciate, by a normal prudential accounting, the department ought to be spending around $50 million a year just on upkeep.

Its whole budget is only about that big.

Disinvestment continues.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Book Review 240: Pogroms

POGROMS: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, edited by John D. Klier and Shlomo Lambroza. 393 pages, illustrated. Cambridge

The essays in “Pogroms” were planned in the 1980s to correct an unhistorical theme that had become established in serious and popular histories: That the tsarist government had instigated, planned and directed the waves of pogroms that began in 1882 in order to divert the attention of the population away from the real problems the Russian Empire faced.

If it had been true, it didn't work.

Pogroms” was published in 1992, just late enough to catch new pogroms (not all against Jews) and antisemitic maneuverings that accompanied the collapse of the USSR.

The argument is persuasive, although we can now say it is not generally true that governments never foment disorder on purpose. But they didn't in the 19th century, especially not in Russia, where the Pugachev rebellion was almost still within living memory in 1882.

At least the central government didn't. The secret police did, at least in the 1904-06 outbreaks.

But if the pogroms were not government plots, what caused them? And what ended them?

The second question is easy to answer. The central government put down the disorders, often with a good dose of the incompetence and uncertainty that tsarism brought to everything but the making of expensive trinkets.

Aside from the fact that not a single document has been discovered describing a tsarist plot, a map proves that the outbreaks were local and spontaneous. Almost all were in the southwestern provinces of the Pale of Settlement, an economic frontier area where business, ethnic and religious antagonisms and resentment against newcomers created a perpetually tense situation in the cities – the pogroms were an urban phenomenon.

Even if the tsars (Alexander III and Nicholas II) were against disorder, it is significant that the recurrent rumor that the tsar had given permission to “beat the yids” was always believed. Nicholas believed the Jews had created the 1904-5 revolution.

The rumor probably followed, rather than inspired, the beginnings of outbreaks in any district. Vile antisemitic newspapers seem to have either set off spasms or at the least created an extra-tense situation in which any incident could escalate.

At least in 1882 and earlier pogroms, the death toll of Christians was sometimes higher than that of Jews. Jews kept grogshops, and Christians looted them and drank themselves to death.

By later standards, the death counts were tiny, only about 3,000 in the 1904-06 riots. The civil war pogroms, centered in 1919, gave a taste of modernity. The deaths could have been as many as 250,000.

Peter Kenez correctly attributes the difference to modern organization, military discipline and weaponry.

Before the White Terror in Ukraine in 1919, pogroms typically petered out after three or four days, even when the authorities were late in reacting. By then most everything had been burned or looted, and if peasants were involved, they had to get back to their fields.

The 1919 pogroms really were government-directed, and they lasted longer and were pressed more viciously. The leaders were men of Nicholas, so it seems fair to say that, given a different set of circumstances, there could have been government-directed pogroms before 1914. At any rate, the high functionaries of the tsarist regime had no objections in principle to killing Jews.

In a summation, Hans Rogger compares the tsarist pogroms to anti-Jewish riots in Europe (and Algeria) and anti-Negro riots in the United States in the 19th century. Although the tsars enjoyed a much worse press in the western nations, Rogger shows that the differences were not strongly marked.

He contends the precipitating causes – economic competition, depressions, political uncertainty – were more or less the same.

While he is persuasive, throughout all these essays the poison of religious faith is underplayed. It is unfortunate that the worst pogrom in American history – which probably took more lives even than the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- is not mentioned. (It occurred in Cincinnati and has been almost completely erased from the history books. The dead were Irish Catholics, mostly women and children.)

That event would reinforce Rogger's argument but also demand that it be broadened.

Apart from the history of tsarist pogroms, the essayists take time to place them in the context of revolutionary development.

The 1881-2 riots caused a split among the nascent revolutionary parties. One part welcomed any disturbance as a path toward a wider insurrection, the other stuck to its principles and decried victimization of poor workers, Jewish or otherwise.

By 1917, such principles had been lost in what Kenez perceptively calls the “bankruptcy of Russian liberalism.”