Monday, December 23, 2013

Who gets shot?

The Orlando Sentinel has an interesting survey of who gets shot in Florida, based on emergency room visits:

4 in 10 in ER, hospital after being shot are gun-accident victims, Florida data show

As the story goes on to demonstrate, "accident" is hardly the right word. More usually, it is the result of moronic irresponsibility. As the NRA likes to say, guns don't kill people, responsible gun owners kill people.

Sometimes themselves.

(Darwin Award alert; the 2013 winners are out:
Here Is The Glorious Winner:
1. When his .38 caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.)

The Sentinel's examples are not nearly so edifying. The paper starts with the boy who was playing basketball while his "friend" was "playing" with his .380-caliber pistol.  The boy, now 17, is paralyzed from the ribs down.

There's a cost of an armed society that you will live a loooong time without ever hearing about from the gun nuts.

Well, except this:

Marion Hammer, former president of National Rifle Association and the group's chief lobbyist in Florida, said she was wary of the Florida numbers because gunshot victims sometimes lie about how they were hurt. Data from hospitals, she said, may be unreliable.
While data from Marion Hammer's butt is totally OK.

The Sentinel did not bother to record the number of gunshot victims who were shot by proud Florida gun nuts who were either standing their ground or fighting off Obama's jackbooted thugs because, you know, there aren't any unicorns. Really. There aren't.


From my son-in-law (a military man), two links about guns and gun nuts.The second one raises urgently my earlier question about how one recognizes a responsible gun owner.

Obviously, it cannot be done.


Then there's this:

A 14-year-old Colorado girl was shot and killed by her stepfather early Monday morning after he mistook her for a burglar entering their house.
As commenter Katina Cooper mordantly puts it, "The NRA is getting an early Christmas present."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Truth-squadding Wal-Mart

RtO has been here before, but since it had no effect -- and because I dislike murderous business owners -- we're going back.

According to the NY Times, Bangladesh is prosecuting some factory owners and managers who callously murdered 112 workers. Any rightwingers out there interested in disputing the proposition that without the despised MSM, that would never have happened?

However, that is not the subject of this post, edifying as the change may be (assuming that the prosecution will be honest, which is probably assuming too much).

The Times reports, blandly enough, that

The fire also revealed the poor controls that top retailers had throughout their supply chain, since retailers like Walmart said they were unaware that their apparel was being made in such factories.
It's true that Wal-Mart said that. It isn't true, and no one who knows how Wal-Mart is run would fall for it. Wal-Mart does not even allow its store managers to turn the lights off and on at their stores. The idea that it does not know intimately how its suppliers operate is preposterous.

Wal-Mart just didn't care, as long as no bad publicity was involved.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nutty rightwing remark of the year

So, there's this Palin-huggin', gun-huggin' teevee celebrity, Phil Robertson, and he, like me, grew up in the South, working alongside people with black skin. (In my case, not alongside, exactly, but subordinate, but close enough.)

Phil has some obnoxious opinions and a folksy, obnoxious way of expressing them, but, hey, a rightwing Southern redneck with folksy ways, not news.

Robertson, who is about my age, never noticed any negative feelings about conditions in the South among his dark-skinned co-workers. He has a quaint, folksy way of expressing this:

“Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues,”
A number of white folks sprang to Robertson's defense, including his friend Sarah Palin. So far as the record goes, none of them ever heard any black folks singin' the blues either. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reality-based economics bites

A fundamental belief of Tea Party and similar economic radicals is that inflation is inevitable if government deficits are large. The market does not think so.

I dunno what a market worshiper does when the market refuses to behave in an ideologically pure fashion. Rethink basic premises? Fuhgeddabahtit!

RtO, on the other hand, drawing on the real experience of the Great Depression has warned since its beginning that deflation is the worst thing that can befall an economic system, because no one knows how to control or reverse it. The Republicans forced deflation on us, and the Democrats and the technocrats at the Federal Reserve don't know how to reverse it.

Heaven knows they've tried:

Bond investors are signaling they expect the Federal Reserve to lose its battle against disinflation, even after inundating the U.S. economy with more than $3 trillion in the past five years.
Reality was a long time in getting the market's attention. Gold went up crazily from 2009, just as it was supposed to do according to radical theory if deficits were large and growing. For reasons unclear to RtO, around six months ago, the whole world decided that was a mistake; and gold has crashed.

This coincided with the slowdown (but not reversal) of the rate of growth in US fiscal deficits, but that hardly seems adequate to explain it.

In percentage terms, its fall has been only somewhat less than the stock market's collapse in 2008-9.

 This week was time for legislators to discuss spending. I saw no evidence that any of them -- certainly not the radical right -- was aware of what is going on.

You might suppose, in the abstract, that people who elevate the purported wisdom of the market above all merely human understanding would listen when the market speaks. You would be wrong.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review 307: Coney Island: The People's Playground

CONEY ISLAND: THE PEOPLE’S PLAYGROUND, by Michael Immerso. 198 pages, illustrated. Rutgers

If someone had to write an environmental impact statement for Coney island, the historical section would be Michael Immerso’s book. it starts at the beginning, when the island was a clamming spot for Indians, and covers main events in rather dry style.

For example, one of the strangest “attractions” was pediatrician Martin Couney’s “Infant Incubator,” and it’s here, but the dramatic background to explain why premature infants were nurtured on the Coney Island boardwalk is not.

While other memorials do a better job of capturing the excitement the millions felt when going to Coney, Immerso exceeds them in getting at the fascination the resort had for the intelligentsia. Jose Marti loved it, Maxim Gorki, somewhat surprisingly, hated it.

Immerso somewhat overplays his theme, that the park brought democracy to entertainment for the working people. Fairs had always done that.

He underplays the decorum and orderliness of the crowds. Coney, just over two miles long and about 100 yards wide, drew 46 million people in 1943, about the same number that visit Las Vegas today. There was occasional violence. Both Kid Twists were murdered at Coney Island, but there were few or no examples of the murderous mobs that, for example, occasionally rampaged through English country fairs in the 19th century.

The level of policing was negligible: only about a hundred cops on days when millions crammed in.

Immerso emphasizes the tension between uplifters, who wanted the working masses to be edified; and the masses and the showmen, who wanted fun. Fun won, although the Puritans never left. There was a time when topless men were sentenced to 10 days in jail. 

In the early days, there were whorehouses and gambling hells, but these were eliminated when Luna Park, Steeplechase Park and Dreamland became enclosed, family parks.

Outside, there was a midway with freaks and frauds, but Coney never exhibited the brutality of the English fairs where, for half a crown around 1725, merrymakers could watch an Irishman eat a live chicken, feathers and all.

Immerso blames Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, an uplifter if there ever was one, for putting the kibosh on Coney island, which was already in decline.

I visited Coney Island in 2002, the year Immerso published his book. It was late in October, the last day of the season (which had ended in early September in the park’s best years), and I was shocked to see that the beach was closed. It was too cold for swimming but you couldn’t even walk on the sand.

Not much was left. A few sad rides, Nathan’s Famous and, in a rundown building a good many steps away from the Boardwalk, the last freak show, without freaks but offering a little history lesson along with the sword-swallowing (tame compared to watching a naked woman swallow fluorescent light tubes in Manhattan the night before) and similar old tricks.

Eek the Geek implored the tiny audience to help preserve the tradition of the American sideshow, but a few months later I read an interview in which Eek announced he was matriculating at a law school with a view toward defending the interests of society’s unusual individuals.

And so the gaudiest, brightest, biggest show in our history slipped into darkness.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fahrenheit 451, Release2.0

I have never approved of Google, because its business model is based on theft and the  glorification of thievery. But like crap from China in stores or crooks in stock brokerages, some economic situations are too pervasive to be avoided, however much we should.

Lately I acquired my first e-reader, a Nook Simple Touch. It’s an outdated model, so it was being sold cheap. I prefer printed books, as I discovered years ago after downloading a few volumes from onto a PC.

On the other hand, I fly a lot, usually with 20 pounds of books, coming if not going, because when I land in a new place I look up a bookstore. In order to save weight and, especially, space, it seemed like a good idea to carry my reading in a lightweight, small e-reader.

The Nook is acceptable, barely, as a book. I carry a laptop, too, but I don’t like reading books on a laptop.

Besides buying digital versions of some new books, when I got the Nook I looked through the free library of old books. In theory, this is a wonderful idea for readers. I was able to download four volumes of the Potash & Perlmutter stories written by Montague Marsden Glass a century ago. Printed copies of Potash & Perlmutter are hard to come by.

I also looked for English translations of any of the books of David Friedrich Strauss. These are almost impossible to find and cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. No soap, but I did find two volumes of Christian apologetics, contemporary with Strauss’s publications 150 years ago, purporting to refute him. So I downloaded them.

The first one I opened was a translation from French of “An Answer to Dr Strauss‘ Life of Christ” by the Protestant theologian Athanase Coquerel. On each page, it says “Digitized by Google,” part of Google’s effort to commit millions of old books to cyberspace.

A compete hash they made of it, too.  Using a copy from a Harvard University library, some klutz who couldn’t figure out how to get a page onto a scanner produced a weirdly distorted title page. At least it was readable. Not so the text, which was submitted to the indignities of optical character reading.

I used OCR in the newsroom for a while in the late ‘70s, and the accuracy then, not high, was better than what Google achieved in whatever year Coquerel was scanned.

I am not discounting the difficulties of scanning a book from 1845, which was priced at a shilling and slovenly printed on bad paper untreated with titanium dioxide, so that today the contrast between browned page and faded ink is not strong. Still, knowing that to be the situation, someone needed to take responsibility to have a text editor correct the misreadings, especially since I understand that some libraries (with Google’s encouragement) are discarding their paper copies now that Google has done them the favor of preserving the text in the cloud.

Only Google hasn’t done that. I have not bothered to do a precise statistical analysis. The result was so bad it isn’t worth it.

Probably 80-85% of the words in the text were scanned correctly, but no more than half the sentences are free of errors. Some gremlins are irritating but minor, like inserting * or spaces into words.

No more than half the sentences are fully readable, even as the reader supplies emendations. And recall that I have been an editor for half a century. I doubt many readers could supply the gaps and reconstruct the text as well as I could.

In many places (particularly at the original page breaks), some text has simply disappeared. There is no way to tell if it is a line or a paragraph.

Worse, when dealing with proper names, the error rate rises to about 98% (near 100% in the case of Arabic numerals). If the name isn’t obvious from context, and often it isn’t, then it is near impossible to fix it. In endnotes, even if the author and title can be guessed, the trashing of the numerals makes the page reference impossible to guess.

Here is an example, far from the worst, from Note VI:

“NOTE yi.

“Thf loyth^ $aUed Olshauseni be it historical or philosophSca],
embellishes the idea which it contains, by mixing up vith it circum-
 sfcasoes of little importance, dravn ftom the usages and opinions of different nations. (De integritate posterioris Petri EpistoU. Sec part cap. V. $3.)”

I avoided showing the worst because I didn’t want to spend half an hour carefully retyping gibberish.

I cannot say how many thousands, perhaps millions, of volumes Google has vandalized, or whether any of these losses are remediable. It is like going back to a scriptorium of the Dark Ages where sleepy monks introduced inscrutable errors into texts, and whatever information was in the master copy was lost forever as surely as if it had been burned.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bad Santas

The New York Times reports something called SantaCon, an annual flash mob devoted to drinking in Santa suits. Doesn't take much to amuse some people, I guess.

The local cop in Hell's Kitchen is not pleased:

John Cocchi, a New York Police lieutenant in Hell’s Kitchen, where Santas converged last year, sent an open letter to bar owners urging caution when it came to serving Santas. “Having thousands of intoxicated partygoers roam the streets urinating, littering, vomiting and vandalizing will not be tolerated in our neighborhood,” he wrote.
It's about the same size as Fright Night on Front Street at its peak -- 30,000 people -- but the story from Manhattan makes the complaints in Lahaina sound overblown.

I got to Maui too late to experience the Whaler's Spree, so I don't know how bad that was. Pretty bad, apparently.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Regrets, DOH has a few

I guess DOH wishes it hadn't chased Pacific Wings out of Kalaupapa, eh? Now that one of Senator Dan's friend's airplanes killed the director.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why we call them gun nuts, Chapter XXXVII

For cryin' out loud, why is anyone allowed to carry a firearm in this country? And don't give me any crap about responsible gun owners. You can't tell them from the nuts, delusional angry idiots and out-and-out psychos.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Don't feed the men in the gray suits

Shortly after I came to The Maui News in 1987, we had a story about a newlywed couple who stopped on the road to Hana to take pictures at a waterfall. Just like in the Charles Addams cartoon, the husband -- trying not to "cut off his wife's head" -- stepped back and over a cliff.

Details have faded, but as I recall he was killed.

A few weeks later, darned if it didn't happen again with another newlywed couple. This time, as I recall, the groom died and the bride, trying to climb down to him, fell and broke most of her bones but lived.

Does this happen all the time? I asked myself. But from that day to this, it has never happened again.

I bring up this ancient history because there have been two fatal shark attacks around Maui in the last few weeks. But if a tourist asks, does this happen all the time? the answer is no. There hadn't been a fatal shark bite anywhere in Hawaii since 2004.

That there were two, close together in time and space, is just a matter of the Law of Small Numbers. If you have a sample of three events over time X, then for sure at least twice as many will occur in one period as in the other. Or maybe it will be 3:0.

Of such arise panics of cancer clusters, shark attacks, tornadoes and a slew of non-events.

So I was surprised and pleased to read Rep. Kaniela Ing's blog post on sharks. He does not explicitly invoke the Law of Small Numbers but clearly he understands how it works.

While the entire world averages about four shark attack fatalities a year, South Maui has had two in 2013 alone, accounting for both of Hawaii’s only shark attack fatalities since 2004.
The real curiosity is in the menu. Of the first 100 documented shark attacks in Hawaii, not one involved a tourist. Now about half of them do.

Shine on, harvest Moon

I assume anybody gabbing about sexual purity is secretly doin' the nasty off the reservation. It may not be true in every instance, but if you're a betting man you could get rich playing it that way.

Lookin' at you, Tipper Gore.

Guns don't shoot people . . .

RtO has been ignoring a run of really stupid stories about armed idiots -- but I repeat myself -- but some are hard to ignore. Like this one. I cannot recall the last time I went into a public restroom and encountered a situation that could be controlled only by some stranger with a concealed carry permit and a loaded firearm.

That's because there was no last time. Never happened. Not to me. Not to anybody.

On the other hand, there's a non-zero chance of getting plugged by some jasper with a CC permit, a gun and the brains of a chipmunk.

I am 67 years old. The number of days of my life when I wished somebody around me was secretly carrying a loaded weapon continues to be 0, and it will be 0 for as long as I live.

Book Review 306: In the Nazi Era

IN THE NAZI ERA, by Sir Lewis Namier. 204 pages, Macmillan

When Lewis Namier was collecting his third and last volume of journalism about his own times in 1952, he warned that judgments made so soon after events were likely to be revised later. So have his been, but they shouldn’t have. He was right the first time.

Wikipedia says primly that Namier has been “criticized” as a Germanophobe. So he was, but to what sort of mentality is that worthy of criticism? Only those who, unlike Namier, have fallen for the German lie.

The first part of “In the Nazi Era” collects reviews of memoirs of surviving Germans who were concerned to put light between themselves and Hitlerism. Of the ones he treats, the most successful in doing so -- by  current historical opinion -- was Weizsacker. Namier saw through that.

Speaking of former German poohbahs generally and Weizsacker specifically, Namier observes, “German apologias, when read critically, offer surprising admissions.” Few historians were ever more pernickety than Namier, but the current flock seem often not to have read even carefully, much less critically.

I speak here of popular historians, of the Max Hastings variety, who are having more impact on current public opinion about Hitlerism than more academic students. These popularizers write offhandedly about the “German resistance” to Hitler. Namier was right to say it never existed.

At least, not a conservative resistance. There had been a left opposition, of socialists and communists, but they were obliterated (except those communists who fled to Russia) and had no impact after Hitler became chancellor.

Namier is concerned to show that there never was a right opposition to Hitlerism. (He does not mention it, but there was right disdain for Hitler personally, as an upstart foreigner with a hick accent. Had they had the courage to act, the conservatives would have ditched Hitler but kept his policies.) “The ‘good Germans‘ visibly change into Hitler profiteers,” Namier writes in one of his characteristically mordant summaries.

All this remains important for two reasons. First, Namier was right. Second, there is a movement among American rightwingers to redraft Hitler as a leftist. Really. Nobody at the time thought of Hitler as a leftist, because he wasn’t, but there is obviously motive enough to rewrite history to try to clean up the unsavory past that American rightwingers have inherited.

There is no real reason for the worry; American rightwingers have enough to apologize for without being tagged with the crimes of Germans, but public opinion counts and Hitler remains a touchstone. There is “Godwin’s Law” to consider.

In the second part of the book, Namier continues his attack on the men of Munich. He was an active anti-appeaser at the time, so unlike his German subjects he cannot  be accused of changing his garments.

Revisionists have been hard at work here, too, and not only the popularizers. It is now usual to find that Chamberlain was stymied by Britain’s helpless military condition.

It was low enough. The Royal Army (like the US Army in 1938) could hardly field a full division. But as Namier understood and the modern historians have not, neither side was materially or morally prepared for war in 1938. The German generals, Namier says, were terrified of their weakness.

The moral queasiness was beyond remedy. It was nice of Chamberlain to wish never to see Europe’s young men slaughtered again, but unrealistic. But the material situation was not so bad as recent scholars have thought.

France, a failed state, would presumably not have fought in ’38, as it failed to defend itself in 1940. But on a purely military assessment, it is not so obvious that the western powers gained anything by putting off the start of total war by 12 months.

England could not have done anything on the continent, but the Royal Navy was not appreciably stronger in ’39 than ’38. In ’38, the Maginot Line would have had value. It is not often recognized that when the Germans used massed armor to punch through the French defenses, it was to a great extent Czech armor, which was not available to them in ’38.

Last, although Italy had not yet suffered humiliation in Albania in ’38, there seems little reason to think that Mussolini, reluctant to start a fight until he saw Hitler scooping up territory, would have entered the war in a 1938-39 conflict in which Hitler probably wouldn’t have been raking in chips. Had the Mediterranean not been a theater of war, the condition of Britain would have been far happier. And France’s, too.

Namier scolds the men of Munich for not being realists. Modern writers have tended to find that they were realistic. Again, Namier has the better of that question.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Prosecuting small bankers

Small is relative. When speaking of banks, even pipsqueaks can make off with hundreds of millions.

We have been told not only that regulation is bad but that it is impossible. Sure is, if you do not wish to regulate. And most of our federal regulators have not been given strong powers.

(Most banks are chartered by states, and most states assign little in the way of resources to regulation.)

As the Washington Post story shows (and the New Deal had already shown), it is possible to ride herd on banks if you want to. And as commenter mikelemm says, "Regulation doesn't, cost, it pays."

A more precise formulation would be, "Of course regulation has costs, but it has big payoffs."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela, racism and rightwingers

The lefties at RightWingWatch commemorate the death of Nelson Mandela by reviewing the pro-apartheid records of some prominent American rightwingers, including Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, Sen. Jeff Flake, Pat Robertson and others. RWW couches the political stance in terms of anticommunism, which is misleading.

The opposition to black political rights was based on race, justified by anticommunism. The white government flooded the South with propaganda depicting South Africa as the last bastion against communism in southern Africa. Probably white agents worked in other sections, but as far as I know, without the success they had in the South, where before the main feature began at the movies we were treated to lengthy propaganda films depicting the South African air force bravely shadowing fishing trawlers that were described as Russian spy ships.

I cannot say how this was received by the audience. I thought it was as comical and sinister as most  rightwing anticommunism as I had learned it from the days of Joe McCarthy. I never heard anyone walk out of the theater saying anything about it. That was not the case in more politically active venues. My Bircher uncles were loud in their denunciation of South African blacks and communism. In newspaper columns and on the stump and in Congress (as RWW relates), praise for apartheid was loud.

It only got louder after South Africa's whitepower regime weakened in the face of international liberal support for democracy for blacks and browns, leaving only Southern Rhodesia as a white-ruled prison camp in Africa. The hysteria from the right -- in those days I was a constituent of the vile racist Jesse Helms so I heard a lot of this -- was ever greater in the interest of saving Rhodesia from communism and majority rule.

The reason alleged was our steel industry's dependence on chromium, which came from only two places -- Rhodesia and the USSR. Unfortunately, while working to save Rhodesia's chrome for Pittsburgh, the rightwingers neglected to save the steel industry for the United States. In fact, they advocated policies that chased steel to other countries.

The one constant in all this political stupidity was black skin. That is why when I hear the same people making the same arguments aimed at a man with black skin in the White House, I believe that the motivation is primarily racist, secondarily whatever non-racist cover story thy are peddling today.

UPDATE: From the invaluable aggregators at Little Green Footballs, two posts that you should read about rightwing racism.

As I noted in a comment to Clovis in the "Thankful for the Second Amendment" post, racist cultures take some curious forms. Today's rightwing racists have learned not to be publicly proud of themselves. Theodore Bilbo is not in style. But they are just as deeply racist for all that they have learned new manners, as the links will prove.

And, while it may not be the most apposite time to bring it up, the racist love for apartheid in the name of anticommunism (still alive today as the Breitbart comments prove) is as clear an example as any you could ask for of how stupid rightwing anticommunists were and are. All any thug had to do was scream "Communism!" and they fell in love with him.

SECOND UPDATE: Then there's this. I don't know that Rick Santorum is racist; not like most in his movement, so far as I have seen. But he is dense. If you're ever kidnapped by Mexican highwaymen who are exposing you to radioactive cobalt-60, try to get Rick Santorum between you and it. You'll be saved. He's better than lead.

THIRD UPDATE: And another example, found by a college friend and posted on Facebook, this one with an extra helping of Jew-hatred.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful for the Second Amendment

I haven't seen any stories about drunken celebrants shooting each other over the TV remote or any of the other traditional ways Americans kick off the season of goodwill toward men, but there was this from Ooltewah, near where I grew up:

An Ooltewah man who shot and killed what he thought was a middle-of-the-night prowler -- actually a 72-year-old man with advanced Alzheimer's disease -- Wednesday in Walker County, Ga., hasn't been charged but he might be later, authorities said.
This sort of thing is only too predictable, but in the South the authorities are understanding about reckless gunplay:

"Mr. Hendrix is clearly saddened and heartbroken," the sheriff said. "Mr. Hendrix has to live with his actions for the rest of his life."
At least he has a rest of his life, which is more than anybody can say for the sick man, Mr. Westbrook.

My grandfather lived down the road a piece from this place and at one point in his life, when nightriders were after him, slept with a loaded pistol in his hand and a loaded rifle on the floor beside the bed. One night, he heard someone at the door and thought the racists had come for him.

He didn't just shoot, though. Good thing, as it turned out it was just his drunk next-door neighbor who had mistaken the gate to his own house. 

What I'm thankful for right now

I'm thankful we are not being governed by lying bigots who use their reputations to stir religious strife in our country.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: So, 5 former ambassadors have excoriated the Obama administration for its "anti-Catholic" embassy closure, although no such thing is happening.

We're not talking unemployable, antisocial nerds in their moms' basements here, we're talking prominenti of the Republican Party. Now, except for the first one (appointed by FDR), our ministers to the Vatican have not been the brightest bulbs in either party. It's a post to reward rich guys where they cannot do much harm.On the other hand, you don't get the Vastican portfolio by being an outsider.

This stupid little story -- a 9 hours' wonder, not even 9 days' -- is, however, one of the most important political events of the year, because it presents, in irrefutable if unplanned form, proof that today's Republican Party has abandoned any pretense of working within our politcal system and has gone over to purely fascist (specifically, purely Action Francaise, the original fascists) strategies.

Rightwing myths

I suppose the most enduring of all rightwing myths is that the poor are lazy. That is one that the Pilgrim Fathers brought over from England, where the Poor Laws were savagely repressive.

Somewhere in one of his South Seas stories Jack London has a devastating line about colonial planters sitting on the verandah explaining to a visitor how work-shy the natives (down below minding the plantation) are.

I think we can be sure that all the censorious commenters in this Bloomberg/Business Week story about McDonald's workers who cannot afford to eat at McDonald's haven't had to work up a sweat in the last 10 years or so, if ever. But in the context of rightwing myths I want to focus on commenter jon fraer, who writes:

fasft food is not meant to be a living wage/ never has. always been for a first teenagers job.
Well, as it happens, my first wage work was at a Shoney's Big Boy in 1963. And, yes, I was in high school. But, no, the other workers were not part-timers. Every other worker there was an adult. It was a career for them.

Rightwingers, libeling the poor since 1620. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Like Munich?

The rightwing noise machine is nothing if not well-oiled (especially Bill O'Reilly, notorious drunkard), and it is a kind of pleasure to watch them in motion, like a synchronized swimming team in the Passaic River.   
Today's theme was that Obama's Iran proposal was "like Munich." Well, except that the US is a military power, and Britain and France were not in 1938; and no national boundaries are being changed; no armies are marching; and millions of people are not being driven from their homes.   

I was moving about today and did not have time to sample all the sewage, but Hannity was on board (expressing shock that Obama was "negotiating with terrorists," something Ronald Reagan would never do); and Cal Thomas was on the same theme in the newspapers.

 UPDATE: I occurs to me that younger and/or foreign readers may be puzzled by the reference to the Passaic River. Back before the liberals ruined everything with their "EPA" and their "regulations" and their "clean water," the Passaic was a notoriously foul stream through the industrial district of northern New Jersey.

I was in college in the '60s, and a friend from New Jersey used to joke about swimming the Passaic crawl -- an overhead stroke with the right arm while holding left arm crooked in front of your face to fend off floaters; or what the students from Massachusetts called Charles River trout.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What's an ethical Baptist to do?

Dr. Richard Land, until recently head of the ethics commission of the Southern Baptists, is getting some bad press from decent people for an Adoption Day screed in which he demands that single moms give up their babies to "a solid, faithful Christian home."
a solid, faithful Christian home.

Where, if it is a Southern Baptist home, they will have goodness beaten into them with a leather belt.

Decent people are appalled, but a little digging unearths the reason Dr. Land is concerned to snatch babies from their moms and give them to Southern Baptists.

The Southern Baptists used to be the largest Protestant cult in the country, but it is shrinking. In a interview he gave to RealClearReligion in July, when he stepped down after 25 years of overseeing Southern Baptist ethics, Land said:

The Southern Baptist plateauing is because we're not having babies.
So what Dr. Land is concerned about is not the future of the babies but the future weight of the collection plate take.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bugs in the gold

From time to time, I post things from my commercial blog,, at RtO. Today is such a time, yet another poke in the eye for rightwing ideologues who disdain public regulation of private business. I do not suppose this will have the slightest effect on their opinions, because ideology is adamant.

But such reports ought to have impacts on the reality-based community. Today's example concerns a really big market, gold. Some of the banks that fix -- which seems to be exactly the right word -- gold prices have already been proven to be corrupt. Big surprise there, no doubt. Kamaaina Loan blog report follows:

Revelations that London banks manipulated the LIBOR interest rate -- misbehavior for which they have been fined billions by regulators -- has prompted a closer look at the ways other financial markets are manipulated, including gold, one of the biggest -- $20 trillion (trillion with a T) according to Bloomberg News.

It appears that the term "London fix" may be as problematic for gold as for LIBOR (which is a base interest rate that has spillover effects on rates you and I pay, for adjustable rate mortgages or credit cards, and much else).

Should it prove that the five banks -- at least two of them already proven to be corrupt -- that fix the London rate have also been gaming the gold price, that might not have a great deal of impact on our Maui pawn shop. We buy and sell gold based on the New York spot price, which is updated every 15 seconds during the business day; but we do not change our benchmark so often. Besides, our prices are flexible within a few dollars or so (out of, at this writing 1,245 dollars), so we are not playing in the same league as the arbitrageurs who may (or may not, who knows yet?) be fiddling the gold market.

As the story explains, the mischief seems to come in very short-term (minutes long) bets on futures prices. Pawn shops deal in physical gold, whose value is necessarily somewhat decoupled from the vagaries of the futures market. Nevertheless, suspicions that crooks are loose in the marketplace cannot be welcome. Crooks in banks? Who knew? Bloomberg says:

“ 'Traders involved in this price-determining process have knowledge which, even for a short time, is superior to other people’s knowledge,' said Thorsten Polleit, chief economist at Frankfurt-based precious-metals broker Degussa Goldhandel GmbH and a former economist at Barclays. 'That is the great flaw of the London gold-fixing.' ”

Stay tuned. Kamaaina Loan blog will be keeping an eye on this.

Book Review 305: Thermopylae

THERMOPYLAE: The Battle for the West, by Ernle Bradford. 255 pages, Da Capo paperback, $16

For some years now, the rightwing noise machine has run a campaign against liberalism and common sense, claiming that such developments as extending civil liberties to wider and deeper sections of the population or attempting to deal with other societies on a fair basis amounts to “surrendering western values.”

 For the most part, the “western values” allegedly being defended, like religious intolerance, are really eastern, the principles of the eastern mystery cult of Christianity having been, for better and worse, welded to whatever were the original western values.

Western values were and are not always worth defending, but there was a time when they really were under attack, real attack, and how that attack was defeated is one of history’s most marvelous events. No question, if it had been dreamed up by a novelist, no one would have believed a word of it.

Among the western values of the Greeks being defended, as Ernle Bradford makes clear in “Thermopylae,” was a culture of political corruption that would appall a Chicagoan. Bradford makes that clear, but he emphasizes the Greek values we think about when we think politically: “patterns of freedom and individual liberty.” He does not mention -- and only a few of us think, when we think of Greece, of the 2-obol whores of Athens, slave girls forced to have sex on the cold stones of cemeteries for about 20 cents a time, until they died, which never took long.

Bradford, an Englishman with at least the rudiments of a classical education, grouses that (as of 1980 when this was written) “we have forgotten the roots of our culture” by failing to learn Greek. Balderdash.

True, few of us know Greek, but there’s not much evidence that the European privileged classes who were taught Greek up to the early 20th century (a late development at that, as Greek had been part of the curriculum for gentlemen for only a few centuries) absorbed the political ideas that Bradford admires so much, though they did display a lot of the less appealing ethos that E.R. Dodds so memorably detailed in “The Greeks and the Irrational.” It is worth remembering that during the young manhood of Ernle Bradford (which he spent at war, a fact he never lets us forget), most of “the West” was controlled by fascists, and many of their leading thinkers had been educated on the Greek classics.

It is also sobering, to a liberal, to consider, as Sam Harris notes in “The End of Faith,” that the largest group that spends time studying Greek in America these days comes from evangelical Christianity, not a group much enamored of “freedom and individual liberty,” although it is also true that Garry Wills (a professor of Greek) found that what many of them were studying was broken Greek. It can rapidly get complicated.

But not as complicated as the situation facing the Greeks 2,500 years ago. The battle at Thermopylae takes up only a few pages of “Thermopylae,” the rest being given to the intense decade leading up to the battle, and the concurrent battle of Himera which repulsed Persia’s allies from Greek Sicily, and the wind-up battles of Salamis and Plataea. The concurrent invasion of Sicily from Carthage was never mentioned when the Persian wars were taught to me in school, so Bradford’s little volume is worth reading just for that.

He does not break new ground with the ancient sources, merely retelling, in graceful prose, what modern scholars make of them; but he does bring something fresh to the oft-told tale. A small boat sailor, Bradford spent much time gunkholing in the Aegean, and his knowledge of the shores and weather bring an immediacy to his retelling that armchair scholars cannot match: plus he corrects some of their misimpressions.

Four things saved the Greeks (or some of them): superior infantry armor; superior ships; superior leadership; and a nearly miraculous run of bad weather.
Aegean weather is tempestuous but reliable as to what happens in which seasons. Under Classical conditions, the warfare season lasted just a few short months. Xerxes the King of Kings pressed his luck, and at every decisive point, he got the worst weather that that season offered.

UPDATE: I have not in the past linked book reviews to other reports, but this requires it. Should anybody want to quarrel with my contention that rightwingers don't get "western values," I offer this video of "Leonidas," no longer dead but "just old." He seems unclear on every aspect of the concept, from the horse (Leonidas was an infantryman) to the no-king sentiment (Leonidas was a king).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gun nuts protecting us

Sometimes the volume of gun-nuttery is too much for RtO to keep up with. Heck, that's true all the time, which is why this blog didn't link to the video of the New Mexico state trooper emptying his six-gun into a car full of children. You can find it yourself if your stomach is strong enough.

But this story is too good to resist because of the devastating comment by cvryder2000.

You see, there was this Texas state senator -- a Republican it goes without saying -- who has to carry a concealed hogleg at all times because -- well, the story doesn't say why, but we an guess it's because he is delusional. And he tried to carry it onto a passenger plane.

Now he's facing a felony charge although since this is Texas and he is a white Republican RtO predicts the prosecutor will be less zealous than  if he were a poor Mexican farmworker. Anyhow, nobody had anything to worry about because all gun-owners, unless the are gangbangers in Chicago, are trained, responsible and careful. It just slipped his mind that he was carrying a deadly weapon in a place full of people who had no desire to be shot, by accident or on purpose.

cvryder2000 nails it:

I find it amazing that they always "forgot". How do you "forget" something as seemingly important (to you, anyway) as your gun?
UPDATE Monday:

Certainly going armed in public places cannot endanger anyone, can it? Especially bars.

In 2010, both the Tennessee state House and Senate overrode Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s veto on a bill to allow handguns in bars.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wisconsin, 1954

Hawaii has a reputation as a liberal state, although it is hard to understand why, with is loyalty oaths and red witch hunts. Same for Wisconsin, which in 1954 -- at the height of local boy Joe McCarthy's sway -- passed a tax exemption for "ministers of the gospel."

It was the sort of insular, backward, ignorant, arrogant Christian backscratching that I, as a Southerner, came to regard as the fundamental weakness of American democracy.

It took long enough, but finally someone challenged the law on First Amendment grounds. Amazingly, the defendants chose to fight, demonstrating that Wisconsin, or substantial parts of it, are as insular, backward, ignorant and arrogant -- and antidemocratic -- as ever they were in Joe McCarthy's prime.

They didn't get very far.

A federal judge took the unusual step of delivering summary judgment for the plaintiffs when they hadn't even asked for it. The issue was -- to him and me too -- that clearcut.

A small but perhaps portentous victory for the religious freedom which is under such heavy attack nowadays.

Cue the outrage of the bigots. It is clear that District Judge Barbara Crabb knows a storm is rising. Very early in her opinion, she writes, "equality should never be mistaken for hostility."

I agree completely but we just had five days of raucous evidence that Christians in Hawaii, or a large number of them, don't get it, during the marriage legislation.

Bank robbery

Ever since the Republicans crashed the stock market, they have desperately spun a story that shifts the cause away from Reaganomics. The story comes in versions from mild to wild but it boils down to: if it hadn't been for the Community Investment Act that required banks to make loans to deadbeats (brown deadbeats at that), it never would have happened.

From time to time, factoids are reported that demonstrate this cannot be so. Here is another.

Europe’s biggest banks, led by Lloyds Banking Group Plc and Deutsche Bank AG, have racked up more than $77 billion in legal costs since the financial crisis, five times their combined profit last year.
Since September 2008, the 18 banks with the highest litigation expenses paid at least $24.9 billion settling lawsuits and probes, set aside $31.5 billion to compensate U.K. clients improperly sold products including mortgage insurance and earmarked $20.9 billion for further penalties, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The sum equates to spending $42 million a day. The total may be higher as many settlements aren’t public.
The ACA did not operate in Europe but Reaganomics did, in various guises.

Bloomberg gives the comparable cost for US banks as $100 million. It does not say how much of the European banks' chicanery occurred in the US or how much of that was related to home mortgages, but some of it was.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review 304: The Courtier and the Heretic

THE COURTIER AND THE HERETIC: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World, by Matthew Stewart. 351 pages. Norton paperback, $15.95

Well, somehow most of us got to be modern without reading either Spinoza or Leibniz. That’s the moral I draw from “The Courtier and the Heretic,” though that is just about the opposite of what Matthew Stewart intended.

I was surprised to learn he thinks -- and implies it is the received notion in the professional philosophical community -- that Spinoza and Leibniz were the greatest philosophers of the 17th century, both pioneers treading into the modern, one happily, one unhappily. I would have thought that Newton, despite his alchemical and antitrinitarian obsessions, was the first and greatest modern philosopher, since he was the first to take philosophy out of the study and into the world

Think what a lot of nonsense was written about “light” by philosophers (starting at least as early as Genesis 1:1) before (and after, regrettably) “The Opticks” was published in 1704.

Thinking about thinking never got us very far, although we can probably agree with Stewart that Spinoza made one of the (very rare) breakthroughs using this method.

“The Courtier and the Heretic” attempts a difficult feat: to write something serious about the history of ideas, and a gossipy backstory, and introduce something novel into a much-studied subject.

The novelty is what Stewart imagines happened at a meeting between Spinoza and Leibniz in 1676. Imagines because no record exists. Drawing inferences for 300 pages is a bold experiment, which does not persuade.

The gossip is far more successful. That philosophers are just as much cads as the rest of us is no surprise (Spinoza seeming a rare exception). That Leibniz was a cad of cads is not something I had known before; though he usually gets a bad notice for his behavior toward Newton over priority in finding the calculus.

Stewart pooh-poohs that episode but portrays Leibniz as an awful person in just about every way. What Stewart does not say, though, is perhaps the awfullest thing about this awful man.

As a conservative and lifelong schemer to reunite the Catholic and Protestant sects, Leibniz constructed a philosophy (which seems to me to be nothing but a series of word tricks without any interest) to justify (even compel) such a reunification in the interest of better behavior. Like Ronald Reagan, Leibniz did not believe a person could be moral unless he feared the hereafter.

The evidence that this is so is all negative; people who fear the hereafter are some of the cruelest people there are, and this was more evident in Europe in Leibniz’ lifetime than at most times and places. Spinoza, who had some of his friends tortured and burned alive by Christians and would have been murdered by Christians if they could have gotten the evidence they wanted, knew better.

So did Leibniz, who panicked at the thought that evidence of his meeting with an “atheist” would get out.

Despite this knowledge, Leibniz worked endlessly to put people like that back in control, as he imagined they had been in the Middle Ages.

Meanwhile, the world (or much of it) went on getting modern, somehow or other, while few people knew much, if anything, about the tortured thinking of Leibniz and Spinoza.

What fires tell us about housing for the poor

The question isn't, why are so many people unhoused, but why so few?

After all, even in Hawaii, there are only a few hundred or somewhere in the low thousands of people living in tents along the beaches in Waianae or, until they were driven out recently, around Thomas Square.  Yet there are hundreds of thousands who are either unemployed or work in jobs that pay too little to afford the cheapest apartment.

On Maui, the largest single class of work is retail trade, and while some people (working on commission) can do well, the majority make minimum wage or thereabouts. When I first moved to Maui, I had a full-time job but I also had time on my hands and wanted to learn more about how the tourist economy works, so I took a one-day-a-week job on Front Street selling posters.

At that time, the cheapest, run-down rental house (in the oldest part of Paia) went for $300 a month. Retail clerks earned $5 an hour. That's about $825 a month, say $700 after deductions. You could just about swing $300 rent, but not if you had to commute from Paia to Lahaina. And there were only a few $300 places in Paia, while there were thousands of $5 clerks.

The cheapest rental house (and these were very rare) went for $700.

The lowest wage has gone up (although the rightwingers want it to go down), but the price of housing has gone up faster since then.

It was not that difficult to figure out where the working poor were housed. In addition to working at The Maui News, I subscribed to the Honolulu Advertiser and (although it was not available by subscription) read the Star-Bulletin. I don't think most newspaper readers pay much attention to datelines, but reporters do.

House fires were infrequent on Maui but were reported every month or two from Oahu. And it quickly became apparent that there were a lot of fires in Kalihi, and, even more so, that the stories always included a paragraph about the Red Cross helping the survivors, who -- in Kalihi -- always numbered 10, 12, 15 people.

I had not then been to Kalihi, but I could easily picture it, and when later I did go there, that's how it was. I was reminded of this lesson this week by a fatal fire in Kalihi. According to the Star Advertiser:

Residents say four families live in four sections of the house.
 With Hawaii's low wages and high housing prices, you would expect the average number of persons per household to exceed the national average, and it does: 3.42 per family vs. 3.14 per family; and 2.89 vs. 2.58 per household.

Those numbers are much higher than when I first noticed the overcrowding in Kalihi. Twenty-five years ago, the average U.S. family size was just under 3.0, and Hawaii's was just over.

Hidden in those numbers are huge changes. For one thing, the only state with higher housing densities than Hawaii is California. My guess is that this reflects Asian immigration. High housing densities are not in themselves problematic. For social groups accustomed to them, they are even preferred, as witness the Manila mansions in the Kahului increments.

The notion of the three-generation household is strong also in China, although I have seen studies from Taiwan showing that the harmony associated with this family structure is mostly mythical.

But for most Americans, numerous people in one household is not preferred; and when they are assembled not by kinship but by poverty, high housing densities are pathological.

Also hidden in those statistics is the qualitative change in the size of housing. For Americans doing well, houses have grown more than 50% in size recently and are now about four times bigger than after World War II (when Levittown houses were 800 square feet, the same size as a Maui ohana).

Hotel rooms on Maui are now bigger than most people's houses; and in new houses, the bathrooms are as big as the houses of the poor. The closets are bigger.

In 1933, President Roosevelt said that a third of the nation was ill-housed. After 35 years of Reaganomics, we are almost back there again.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Review 303: A Treasury of Great American Scandals

A TREASURY OF GREAT AMERICAN SCANDALS: Tantalizing True Tales of Historic Misbehavior by the Founding Fathers and Others Who Let Freedom Swing, by Michael Farquhar, 321 pages, Penguin

I don’t know how great all these scandals are, but Michael Farquhar is fun to read. I had expected “A Treasury of Great American Scandals” to be a Grub Street horror, but, no, Farquhar (an editor at The Washington Post) is an elegant writer. I also like that he quotes at length from the documents (often letters) that reveal the “scandals.”

“Scandals” in quotation marks because I don’t see the suicide of Meriwether Lewis (if that’s what it was) as scandalous. Mental illness ending in a gunshot is tragic. Though usually scrupulous about giving  a fair shake to Americans who went down in public opinion as terrible (specifically, Henry Wirz, the commandant of Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp), Farquhar surprisingly does not mention the alternative theory that Lewis was murdered.

Though for the most part Farquhar is retelling tales that are already more than twice-told, he does a superior job of doing it again. His restatement of the Salem witch trials is as good a summary as any I have seen.

But when it comes to Tricky Dick Nixon, he throws up his hands in despair. Not a word about Helen Douglas or any of Nixon’s other victims. All he does is quote three dozen sentences from the tapes.  It makes you wonder about the character of the people who worked for him.

Though he wrote in 2003, Farquhar gave himself a cutoff date of 1980, on the grounds that  “history needs a little time to percolate, after all.”

Too bad, since he denied himself the pleasure of reviewing the Reagan scandals. Reagan was not the most disgusting man ever to be president (that was Andy Jackson, well reviewed in this book), but no other president comes near the rich variety of Genial Ronnie’s scandals: bleating endlessly about freedom but shirking when people were really standing up for it; “astrologically influenced First Ladies” (as Farquhar delicately puts it in the introduction where he explains why Reagan did not make the cut); Iran-Contra; the Bitburg speech; the “young bucks” campaign story endlessly retold; the pilgrimage to Philadelphia, Miss., not a city of brotherly love -- and those are not all. 

I disagree with Farquhar; those bits of history are ripe now; they were ripe as they came out of Genial Ronnie’s mouth. 

Is it a First Amendment violation to gun down a printer?

Second trumps First, as constitutional scholar demonstrates at bulk bulk-up store.

Yet another persuasive demonstration that allowing everybody to go around with guns makes us all safer.

For a snarkier version, go here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Big surf

Yesterday, I drove out to Hookipa to look at the surf. From Baldwin Avenue around the old men's home, you could see the whole coast was closed out, with surf crashing over the outer reef.

The picture doesn't show it very well -- iPhone cameras weren't made for that.

It was the heaviest surf I've seen in several years, though nowhere near as big as I've seen it a long time ago. The big sets came intermittently, and the crests were far apart. At its biggest, Hookipa surf comes in tightly bunched and crashes hard enough to make the ground shake.

Wednesday was nowhere close to that. But it did come quite early in the season.

There's been some blather about global warming in connection with the typhoon in the Philippines, part of the promised more and bigger storms. You sure can't prove that by Maui (or by measuring Accumulated Storm Energy worldwide, either).

It rained hard at Kahului Airport Sunday; set a record that doubled the old record for a short period. It wasn't raining hard Upcountry, and I didn't realize there was a downpour Downcountry or I'd have rushed to see whether the intersection at Hana Highway and Dairy Road flooded.

That intersection used to flood two or three or more times a year, and become impassable every other year or so, a serious matter since that's how you get to the airport from the tourist areas. One time in the late '80s, I forget which year, there was a three-day storm that closed off that intersection for days, cutting off East Maui from West and South Maui.

The alternative way along Hansen Road flooded, too, and that was closed. I reported that East Maui was completely cut off, although it is possible that in a truck you could have gotten down Amala Place, through the airport and out along Haleakala Highway to Hana Highway. I didn't try it, and it wouldn't have made a difference in the big picture anyway.

My story in The Maui News made a big deal of the fact that if the state closed Haleakala Highway north of Hana Highway, which it was proposing to do as part of the runway extension, flooding at Dairy and Hansen would truly cut off East Maui any time there was a moderate rainstorm. (Ed Tanji, then reporting for the Advertiser, thought I overreacted; he believed Hansen Road had been closed by a rookie cop who didn't understand the situation; but he was kind enough not to say a malihini reporter had misunderstood, too.)

Gov. John Waihee, trying to soothe the furor over the runway and flush with $500 million from Duty Free Shoppers that could be spent only on airport projects, ordered Haleakala Highway rebuilt around the end of the runway, which never was extended. Nowadays, if you wonder why the road wanders around in the fields and requires you to make three mysterious dogleg turns, it's because John Waihee wanted to keep me happy.

It cost $1,000,000, the most anybody has ever spent to make me happy.

Later, as part of the development of Kmart and other big box stores, the intersection of Dairy and Hana was rebuilt. (It was raised, so that the cross-streets flood now in a heavy dew.)

The point (and I do have one, though it has taken a while to get to it) is that after the intersection was raised, it stopped raining. Whenever I saw Warren Unemori, who designed the road, I'd ask him if he was sure it would handle a big storm, and he always smiled and said he was sure it would. But for more than 20 years, until Sunday, it was never tested.

So, whenever the alarmists say we are going to have to weather more and bigger storms, you can't prove it by me. 

The Dairy-Hana intersection stayed open, so Warren was right.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What could possibly go wrong?

From Idaho, a most likely place, comes the story of a gun-totin', rapin', lyin', state legislator. You will not be surprised to kearn that he was sponsored by Tea Party loon Raul Labrador.

Or that he respects the law and cares for the little children so much that

 Patterson authored House Bill 219 in the 2013 Legislature, which would have made it a misdemeanor for Idaho law enforcement officials to help enforce any new federal restrictions on semiautomatic firearms or ammunition or any new registration requirements. The measure was drafted to pre-empt any federal action in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting that killed 26 in December 2012.
He claims to have lost his memory as a result of chemotherapy, something I've never heard of; but he seems to have remembered things that did not happen:

A month after he was elected in November 2012, Patterson acknowledged that his campaign website mistakenly said he was a petroleum engineer and had attended the University of Southern California. Neither was true.
His claim that he was a “professional road-racing cyclist” also was disputed in an Associated Press article. USA Cycling said Patterson was licensed in its second-lowest amateur division from 1993 to 1998.

You would think that after these revelations -- Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey did a thorough job -- legislators with any sense of self-preservation would be edging out of any room occupied by Rep. Mark Patterson, but they're rallying 'round. At least the Republicans are. Once again northern Idaho defends its reputation as the nuttiest place in the country.


Read more here:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review 302: Hellfire Nation

HELLFIRE NATION: The Politics of Sin in American History, by James A, Morone. 575 pages, illustrated. Yale paperback

James Morone’s “Hellfire Nation” is revisionist history in the best sense of the word. He is not out to say that previous histories have been misguided but that there is another, overlooked aspect to the creation of America. And he nails the case that it was important.

From the moment the Puritans arrived in New England to set up a novel commonwealth, they had to decide who was in and who was not. Indians? Women? Unproven “saints”?

Ever since, says Morone, established groups have asked “Who are we?” and they have usually provided a moral (I would say, moralistic) answer. And that answer almost always excluded women, newcomers, people of other religions, colored people. In fact, at various times it included everyone: women, children and teenagers; blacks, browns, yellows, reds and Reds; workers; Catholics, Jews, Quakers, Baptists and Muslims; drinkers and dopers; Irish, Italians and Slavs; Protestants who believed in being saved by works.

Over and over, panic developed that the newcomers were taking over, or at the least, they would enervate the true blue Americans.

Morone stands the whiggish narrative of individualism and liberty on its head, pointing out that it was the king in England who struck one of the first, shrewdest blows in the march toward American freedom by forcing the Puritans in New England to stop hanging Quakers.

More provocatively, he skewers the narrative of individualism and small government by showing that in almost every panic, the old guard gave its government new powers and that, once the panic subsided, the institutions of power remained.

Prohibition of liquor was repealed (except locally) but the apparatus of repression stayed and was refurbished to wage the war on drugs. The recurrent moral panics ratcheted up the size and reach of government. (This explains why a man like H.L. Mencken, a true conservative, despised “uplift” being imposed on everyone by the faux-conservative Puritans.)

The moral issues have often been absurd -- though not slavery -- and have generally been rightwingy, so it is ironic -- and satisfying to a liberal -- that the residue of most moral panics has been stronger, more tolerant government, extending American values as stated in the Declaration and the Constitution more  broadly and deeply than before. The most amusing example came when the antediluvian racist Judge Howard Smith, chairman of the House Rules Committee, submitted a killer amendment to the Civil Rights Bill of 1965 to include women as a protected class. Instead of killing the bill, it got enacted, and the racists and rightwingers and Christian bigots are still paying for that.

 Morone’s structure is more nuanced and subtle than I can convey in a short review, and he establishes several general propositions. Chief is the endless, never to be resolved tension between individualism and the Social Gospel (roughly, communitarianism, though he never mentions Amitai Etzioni).

He calls the four decades from FDR to Reagan the peak of the Social Gospel, and I agree that it was not until the New Deal that the supposed American values first began to be available to most of the population for the first time. He finds the Social Gospel in full retreat in the 21st century and launches a jeremiad of his own against the war on drugs. This is worth the price of admission all by itself, the first sustained attack I have seen that does not get itself entangled in individualistic or libertarian fantasies.

“Hellfire Nation” was written in 2004, and at that time it did seem that individualism and disdain for the weak was ascendant. The efflorescence of the Tea Party in 2010 seemed at the time to reinforce the feeling; and there’s no doubt that the hate-your-neighbor thread of American politics has a new champion.

But it was not quite so firm as all that, and -- as with Prohibition -- the free marketeers and individualists scotched their own success by crashing the economy, allowing the liberals back in. Lenin was right when he said that when capitalism was hanged, it would sell the rope to the hangman.

Morone lamented that the liberals had practically abandoned the field to the malefactors of great wealth and the religious bigots. But since this book was published, equal treatment for homosexuals has made big gains, and even the poor are being offered a taste of medical care through the Affordable Care Act. Barack Obama is hardly another Martin Luther King but he’s shown himself a successful coalition builder and expander of American values.

The moral panic that produced the Tea Party (or, more precisely, gave a temporarily respectable coloration to the John Birch Society, which is basically what the Tea Party is) does not seem to have created any new government apparatus, so in that respect it does not quite fit into Morone’s mold; but there were other moral drives in our history that were accomplished without moral panic, demonization of outsiders or entanglement with the Protestant religion, like the factory safety movement that followed the Triangle Shirtwaist fire; but Morone is not concerned to tell those stories.

Morone notes that class changes sometimes had much to do with the ebbing of moral panics, and it looks as if the browning of America is what will wash away the Tea Party; the racism that permeates it is turning off many voters, including the dramatic failure of socially conservative blacks and Latinos to vote for a socially conservative movement that disdains them.

The real “tea” will be the consummation of a prediction my father (a white Southerner) often made to me while I was growing up: someday, he said, Americans will be a tea-colored people.

And when that happens, the WASPy “us” will have been proven right: “they” will have taken over. But it won’t be for the worse.

While I find Morone largely persuasive, he does start a little late in the history of Euro-America. Before the Puritans, there were the Virginians, and they were really individualists and not greatly concerned about building cities on hills. They would have preferred to dig holes and find gold in them.

It is not so widely known, but the early Virginia colony was also subject to witch and heresy hunts of various sorts, but it does not make such a neat tale as following the New Englanders, for at least two reasons.

The Virginians did not provide such quotable idiots as Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards. And, here is the key difference, the drive for virtue was imposed on Virginia by a small, powerful elite (just as in most of the rest of the world), the Anglican establishment. The degree of persecution was about the same in both places, but in New England, Americans persecuted themselves.

And that is the true American exceptionalism. We are the only people who do that.

Clever girl

My daughter and son-in-law linked to this graphic on Facebook:

Then she commented:

Forget the numbers, even though they are thought-provoking.
Ask why you buy into paying to stigmatize and embarrass someone who is just like you.
Somebody must have raised her right.

Coming soon to RtO, a review of James Morone's "Hellfire Nation," a book that looks deeply into the reasons that Tea Partiers are so damn mean (even though it was written before there was a Tea Party).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gun nuts in Congress

How it used to be:

Congress in those days (the decades before the Civil War) could have easily been mistaken for a Western saloon. "Every man on the floor of both Houses is armed with a revolver," reported Senator James Hammond of South Carolina, "and some with two revolvers and a Bowie knife." Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio even carried a sawed-off shotgun. When a pistol concealed in one House member's desk accidentally discharged, there were instantly "fully thirty or forty pistols in the air," recalled Representative William Holman of Indiana, who was present. (from Michael Farquhar, "A Treasury of Great American Scandals")

 This gives a different coloration to Webster's
"Reply to Hayne," which schoolboys of 7 or 8 generations ago (in the North) used to memorize.

 Despite all the artillery, nobody got shot on the floor of Congress until 1954 when Puerto Rican nationalists shot 5.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Father's day in court

The trial of the Madoff helpers has opened, and Bloomberg carries this eyepopping transcript:

Under cross-examination today by Bongiorno’s lawyer, Roland Riopelle, Kugel agreed that he exposed his wife to federal tax charges by letting her sign joint tax filings over the years without warning her the papers contained false information about his inflated Madoff investment account.

Riopelle asked Kugel if he had put his wife at risk “for a few pieces of silver.”
After a delay of several seconds, Kugel said, “Yes.”

Kugel also agreed he had allowed his son Craig to join Madoff’s company around 2003 without warning him the firm engaged in fraud. His son, who worked in Madoff’s human resources department, pleaded guilty last year to a tax scheme that paid salaries and benefits to people who weren’t employees, including Bonventre’s son.

Kugel also agreed under questioning that he allowed his son and daughter, Heather, to open investment advisory accounts with Madoff, without warning them of the fraud.
“He had an account full of trades you knew to be fake?” Riopelle asked.
“Yes,” Kugel said.

Asked by Riopelle if he considers himself to be a good father, Kugel said yes.
I have often thought that it takes 2 (or more) sociopaths to generate the really horrible crimes. A lone sociopath can do damage, but it often seems that while lone sociopaths may have bad desires, they are comparatively harmless in excution. When they cross paths though, watch out.

I first cottoned on to this some 40 years ago in the case of a rogue cop in  the town where I was a reporter. He was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl.

While on bail before his trial, he was drinking in a saloon with two strangers, a Navy sailor and another guy, and telling them his troubles. He said he'd pay $50 if they'd kill the girl so she couldn't be a witness.

So they did.

I'm pretty sure that if he'd been drinking alone, he'd have cried in his beer but he wouldn't have killed her himself. And if the two strangers had instead met somebody and talked baseball, they wouldn't have killed anyone.

Madoff was a total solipsist, not caring that what he did might ruin his own children (and did; one killed himself); and no doubt he would have stolen money somehow on his own. But he couldn't have carried off as much as he did without helpers as conscienceless as himself.

How did he find them?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Rightwingers' mosh pit

About a week ago, Cass Sunstein wrote a piece about Alger Hiss at Bloomberg News. It set off the most baroque efflorescence of rightwing craziness I have seen in, well, maybe ever.

I thought I knew most of the rightwing fantasies, particularly those related to the McCarthy era. I was wrong.

And they are still hot at it. Here is a sample from "stonehilllady" just a few hours ago:

We lost the Republic when the Fabians took over the White House with W.Wilson, when he allowed the Constitution to be amendment behind belief. The 17th. amendment allowed Fascism to change the Republic in making sure that now Senators can be sponsored by Big Business instead of being nominated by each States Governors and each States Legislators and now Mob Rule is in both the House and the Senate.
Beside's the Fact that he also allowed crooks to handle the money called the Federal Reserve, the main factor for unemployment and a state of continuous wars for their interest.
All of this way before Hiss & Chambers were to hit the scene. All of this infighting today is about the joining of Fascism with Socialism as B. Franklin had said, "A Republic Madame, if you can keep it", and all it took was PHD. Wilson as President, a worldly man to become a bribed man that "Changed" this nation from the One that Franklin warned would, could, happen.

I promise you that stonehilllady is not nearly the nuttiest commenter on the thread. It's hilarious, if a little worrisome that some of these people might vote.

The whole schlamozzle should  be edited, arranged and published as a book. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

This is for the other johngault

Since johngault didn't like RtO's statements about Obamacare, claiming they were not factual, here's some facts.

Nut grafs:

When people want to demonize single payer systems, they always wind up going after rationing, and more often than you’d think with hip replacements…
It’s not true.  They don’t deny hip replacements to the elderly (in Canada).  But there’s more.
Do you know who gets most of the hip replacements in the United States?  The elderly.
Do you know who pays for care for the elderly in the United States?  Medicare.
Do you know what Medicare is?  A single-payer system.
Please read the whole thing, as poster Aaron Carroll has something important to say about health costs.

Then there's this takedown of rightwing scare tactics.


    Private Sector
    Hello, I’m the private sector.

    And I’m Obamacare!

    Private Sector
    Obamacare, I have to tell you about the sweetest, bravest little girl I met. Her name’s Chloe, she’s eight years old, and she was born with a heart condition that has meant surgery after surgery just to keep her alive. She’s spent so much of her life in the hospital, but she is just the brightest, cheeriest girl you could imagine. She has this big stuffed bear she called “Mr. Bear,” and she takes it everywhere. They’re best friends! Oh, and here’s the best part. Her family just reached their lifetime cap on coverage, so I don’t have to pay their bills any more. They were getting pretty expensive!

    Yeah, you can’t do that anymore.

    Private Sector
    Wait, what?


And another epic failure of a "news" organization to find someone harmed by Obamacare.  (Fox does good job, shoots Roger Ailes in foot, basically. Will wonders never cease?)

Private Sector
Hello, I’m the private sector.
And I’m Obamacare!
Private Sector
Obamacare, I have to tell you about the sweetest, bravest little girl I met. Her name’s Chloe, she’s eight years old, and she was born with a heart condition that has meant surgery after surgery just to keep her alive. She’s spent so much of her life in the hospital, but she is just the brightest, cheeriest girl you could imagine. She has this big stuffed bear she called “Mr. Bear,” and she takes it everywhere. They’re best friends! Oh, and here’s the best part. Her family just reached their lifetime cap on coverage, so I don’t have to pay their bills any more. They were getting pretty expensive!
Yeah, you can’t do that anymore.
Private Sector
Wait, what?

Private Sector
Hello, I’m the private sector.
And I’m Obamacare!
Private Sector
Obamacare, I have to tell you about the sweetest, bravest little girl I met. Her name’s Chloe, she’s eight years old, and she was born with a heart condition that has meant surgery after surgery just to keep her alive. She’s spent so much of her life in the hospital, but she is just the brightest, cheeriest girl you could imagine. She has this big stuffed bear she called “Mr. Bear,” and she takes it everywhere. They’re best friends! Oh, and here’s the best part. Her family just reached their lifetime cap on coverage, so I don’t have to pay their bills any more. They were getting pretty expensive!
Yeah, you can’t do that anymore.
Private Sector
Wait, what?

Private Sector
Hello, I’m the private sector.
And I’m Obamacare!
Private Sector
Obamacare, I have to tell you about the sweetest, bravest little girl I met. Her name’s Chloe, she’s eight years old, and she was born with a heart condition that has meant surgery after surgery just to keep her alive. She’s spent so much of her life in the hospital, but she is just the brightest, cheeriest girl you could imagine. She has this big stuffed bear she called “Mr. Bear,” and she takes it everywhere. They’re best friends! Oh, and here’s the best part. Her family just reached their lifetime cap on coverage, so I don’t have to pay their bills any more. They were getting pretty expensive!
Yeah, you can’t do that anymore.
Private Sector
Wait, what?

Private Sector
Hello, I’m the private sector.
And I’m Obamacare!
Private Sector
Obamacare, I have to tell you about the sweetest, bravest little girl I met. Her name’s Chloe, she’s eight years old, and she was born with a heart condition that has meant surgery after surgery just to keep her alive. She’s spent so much of her life in the hospital, but she is just the brightest, cheeriest girl you could imagine. She has this big stuffed bear she called “Mr. Bear,” and she takes it everywhere. They’re best friends! Oh, and here’s the best part. Her family just reached their lifetime cap on coverage, so I don’t have to pay their bills any more. They were getting pretty expensive!
Yeah, you can’t do that anymore.
Private Sector
Wait, what?


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Next, Mr. Ed rejects socialized veterinary medicine

They say laughter is the best medicine, and after the latest rightwing attack on Obamacare, we're all laughing so hard we'll never get sick again.

Since it is a journalistic disaster, I like all of it, but I think the best part is where the Rupert Murdoch-run Wall Street Journal mistook a dog for a horse:

 Also, the cover of a Maclean’s magazine issue in 2008 showed a picture of a dog on an examining table with the headline “Your Dog Can Get Better Health Care Than You.” An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the photo showed and headline referred to a horse.
That's some correction. (RtO particularly enjoyed this one because I once worked for an editor who had produced "The Wall Street Journal Book of Animal Stories." Really. He grew up in Iowa and probably could recognize a horse if he saw one, though I never tested him on that.)

But back to cases. The Journal, which even before Murdoch bought it was trying to be a real paper with sections on what to do on the weekend, even though it did not publish on weekends, has a section called Experts, where experts get to opine on their specialty (as opposed to the editorial page, where ideologues opine about everything, with comic results, although not as comic as what's coming next).

 So, no domestic issue is more salient than Obamacare, which was so important the national government was shut down over it; and the Journal needed to get the very most expert expert there is to tell us all about it. So they got:

Yes, they did.

With results you might expect. More corrections:

An earlier version of this post contained a quotation attributed to Lenin (“Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state”) that has been widely disputed. And it included a quotation attributed to Churchill (“Control your citizens’ health care and you control your citizens“) that the Journal has been unable to confirm.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review 301: Catholicism & the Roots of Nazism

CATHOLICISM & THE ROOTS OF NAZISM: Religious Identity & National Socialism, by Derek Hastings. 290 pages, illustrated. Oxford

Although numerous Catholic apologists have been concerned to deny it, it goes without saying that a mass political party organized in 85% Catholic Bavaria must have been, in some sense, compatible with Roman Catholicism.

And so it was. In “Catholicism & the Roots of Nazism,” Derek Hastings shows precisely how this worked and, following the failed putsch of 1923, how Nazism left Catholicism behind.

Bavarian Catholics before 1914 were deeply divided between “politicals,” allied to the Center Party and the Vatican; and “religious,” nominally non-political and nationalist. The religious Catholics were Jew-haters while the politicals were Jew-dislikers.

Obviously, the religious were likely adherents of a racist-nationalist political grievance party, of which there were many in Germany. Of these, only the DAP (later NSDAP) was overwhelmingly Catholic. Hastings persuasively traces the symbiotic growth of the alliance, dominated by the once-central figure of the Catholic Jew-hater Franz Schronghamer-Heimdal.

But it was not until 1923, when numerous priests became active recruiters in a hugely successful membership drive, that Nazism took off. Hitler then overreached, and the party went into temporary eclipse.

His alliance with the Lutheran bigot Ludendorff, combined with political failure, drove Catholics out of the revived party from 1924; but in the only real failing of Hastings‘ impressive account, this is not described as what it was -- the abandonment of Catholicism by Nazism, rather than the other way around.

The Nazis briefly (through 1926) allied with Protestant anti-semites, then gathered self-confidence and  abandoned dependence on confessional politics altogether.

The conflicts between Nazi politics and German religion, however, were never concerned with the two great crimes we revile the Nazis for -- violent conquest and Jew-murder. The religions never objected to either. Schronghamer remained a popular, locally revered Catholic publicist up to his death in 1962.

Hastings asks -- as writers of dissertations have to do -- what is the significance of his research; and his answer is thoughtful.

But for an American reader in the 21st century, there is an additional significance to his thorough inquiry into the (one imagines) turgid files of Bavarian religious publications of the early 20th century. We are now told by American rightwingers that Nazism learned racism from Darwinism.

This is improbable. Bavaria was saturated in Catholicism not Darwinism. Hastings shows (without drawing  attention to his feat) that justifications for anti-Jewish racism in the publications of the nascent Nazi party, and in non-Nazi publications by its allies, never mentioned Darwinism but derived their Jew-hatred entirely from traditional and ancient folk and religious sources.

This archival excavation goes back far before Drexler started the DAP, and even before Hitler moved to Munich.

In his introduction, Hastings reviews other scholars who have inquired into Nazi racism, and gives the back of his hand to Daniel Goldhagen’s thesis of a pre-existing “eliminationist” German Jew-hatred. This is strange, since Hastings’ own excavations find numerous eliminationist and even exterminationist statements from Bavarian Catholic apologists from before 1914.

In 1919, for example, Schronghamer wrote: “The salvation of the world can only come through the extermination of the world poison whose destructive capacities we recognize in the intellectual foundations of Jewry.” The word Hastings translates as extermination is unequivocal: Vernichtung, and many other Catholic apologists used it, too.

Goldhagen has been disparaged by many academics, but “Catholicism & the Roots of Nazism” goes far to show he got it right.