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.