Friday, January 31, 2014

So just starve already

It's been a while since I've felt the need to state the obvious, rather than just restating what others before have said better and sooner. But as we say in east Tennessee, even a blind sow finds an acorn once in a while, and if the acorn is right there shoved up against her nose, what could be easier? Nevertheless, I have not seen anyone add up 2 of the bigger political stories of the first month of 2014 to see what happens. I refer of course to the Republicans' successful (last month) scuttling of extended unemployment benefits and their current intentions of keeping them scuttled; and President Obama's meeting today with business bosses to ask them to consider hiring people who have been out of work since -- oh, let's not shillyshally -- since the Bush crash. What Obama, who is unfailingly polite to these idiots because they are rich, powerful idiots, did not (at least publicly) point out to them is the shocking (shocking, not surprising) study by Rand Ghayad of Northeastern U. As the Washington Post summarizes:
He sent out 4,800 fake resumes at random for 600 job openings. And what he found is that employers would rather call back someone with no relevant experience who's only been out of work for a few months than someone with more relevant experience who's been out of work for longer than six months.
Like every other part of Republican economic theory (and especially Tea Party theory), their version of life collapses at the first application of reality. According to them -- and I am not going to bother with links; if you've stayed this long, you've heard the phony story many, many times -- "paying people not to work" discourages them from going out and taking whatever jobs there are. Except, 1) there aren't jobs; and 2) even where there are, the geniuses who run American business will not hire them. As I have said before, when you strip away all the foofaraw from Reaganomics, it's just David Ricardo's Iron Law of Wages:
The clear and direct tendency of the poor laws is in direct opposition to these obvious principles: it is not, as the legislature benevolently intended, to amend the condition of the poor, but to deteriorate the condition of both poor and rich; instead of making the poor rich, they are calculated to make the rich poor; and whilst the present laws are in force, it is quite in the natural order of things that the fund for the maintenance of the poor should progressively increase till it has absorbed all the net revenue of the country, or at least so much of it as the state shall leave to us, after satisfying its own never-failing demands for the public expenditure.
When I was in college, a long time ago, a teaching assistant in ECON 101 summarized it more bleakly: Wages will always be set at just above the point where the worker starves to death. And, just to put the cherry on top, Ricardo wrote when the "never-failing demands for the public expenditure" were going to pay for the war against Napoleon. Just like today except that England won her war, and the Republicans lost both of theirs.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hey, look! Democrat vote fraud

To balance out all the bad stuff about Republicans, RtO is pleased to present a real live, jury-certified case of voter fraud featuring a Democrat, and an African-American Democrat at that. Republicans have been so alarmed about voter fraud that they have caused several state legislatures to pass laws to prevent it, although courts have frequently found the laws unacceptable on one ground or another. It has also been a bit of an embarrassment that the panic about voter fraud is, in every investigation, imaginary. But here, for the GOP to treasure and bring up every time some skeptic wonders if shortening voting periods or making it more difficult to register is just a scheme to reduce voting by real citizens, is a gen-u-wine case of rampant voter fraud. California State Senator Roderick Wright
said he thought he was following the law when he arranged to rent a room in a home he owns that is occupied by his common-law stepmother to establish a legal residence in Inglewood. The city is in the district he wanted to represent.
But he had another pad in another community. Renting a room from yourself sounds pretty fishy, we admit. According to the Los Angeles Times, Wright could potentially go into the slammer for 8 years. Whether that is likely or not, we don't know, but, by golly, for all their liberal ways those Californians take residency requirements seriously. An election hardly ever passes in Maui County without some candidate being suspected -- often on pretty solid evidence -- of carpetbagging, but with only two exceptions we can think of -- Sol Kaho'ohalahala and that guy from Canada whose name we forget -- nobody seems to mind.

Maternity french leave

And, no, RtO did not mean to say "French maternity leave," which we hear is a pretty good deal for moms and babies. Word apparently has not filtered out to the scablands of eastern Washington state that if you stand tall for 'Murrica, the Internets are going to scrutinize you. Thus we have Rep. Cathy Rodgers who, despite being the highest-ranking woman Republican in the House leadership team is not so well known at large. She gave the response to the State of the Union last night, and it was the most vapid political speech I have ever heard. I speak as someone who was paid to listen to political speeches for 45 years and spent many long hours listening to Wayne Nishiki. Apparently, the Republicans could not find any one willing to go public on policy ideas. But that is just by way of a setup. Rep. Rodgers is fecund, and while her party has not usually been favorable toward funny 'Yurpeean ideas about family leave, Rep. Rodgers got a sweet deal. It appears that during her pregnancies and new motherhoods, she just quit going to work. She missed
41% of House votes during the time span of having babby number 1, 77% during the time span of having babby number 2, and 21% when she brought babby the third into the world.
It is not recorded that she declined to accept her $174,000-a-year salary while lollygagging about the house (not the House) with the babies. The Republican advocate of rising through hard work seems pretty work-shy now,too.
She’s no champ at showing up when she is not giving birth either, with a vote absence rate nearly triple that of the average.
All in all, Rep. Rodgers seems like a near-perfect role model for the party of "I got mine," and I commend the GOP for its forthrightness in making her story known to a wider circle of 'Murricans than hitherto. Evidently she is not alone. For the Spanish response to the State of the Union, the party called on Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who delivered the same speech except "with personal anecdotes or references changed." The differences must have been striking, since Ros-Lehtinen's children are all adults, according to her biography, so no time off for her. Let's see how she stacks up on the roll call roll. Uh oh. Not as much of a slacker as Rodgers but close. UPDATE, FRIDAY JAN. 31 Well, well, well. Didn't I say going before the public would result in greater scrutiny? It turns out Rodgers's speech wasn't as vapid as it sounded. It was really a piece of disinformation theater: Her anecdote about Bette who was screwed by Obamacare was, in a single word, phony. AND ANOTHER UPDATE I have to thank my daughter Kachina for the first one, which she put on Facebook; and Facebook for this one, via its usually obnoxious aggregating scheme. It's a review by an informed local observer of her career, but the factoid I want to pull out of it this:
She’s been on a state or federal payroll since graduating from Pensacola Christian College, in the early 1990s.
And, no, not the fact that she feeds only at the public trough, although that does speak volumes about her, but about that college that she attended, the first that any of her family ever did. Pensacola Christian is not famous like Florida State or Harvard, but it does have a claim to fame, and some readers of RtO may owe RtO for knowing it. Yes, Pensacola Christian is the sponsor of A Beka Books, the hilariously stupid and fraudulent publisher of home-school textbooks. See "Memory hole," my post from Jan. 12 for background and links about that.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

'A pretty nice neighborhood'

Sometimes -- pretty often, in fact -- an event on the ground exposes all the gun nut arguments for the paranoid nonsense that they are, but you will have to go far to find a better example than this. The story does not say, but the accompanying photos strongly suggest that it was a racial murder, although that is just the cherry on top. Being shot for going into your own shed on your own lot seems, well, maybe guns don't kill people, only people kill people, but this particular person would have had a hard time offing two brothers from 50 yards away using the destructive implements that the gun nuts always trot out as exactly equivalent to a rifle with a telescopic sight, like automobiles, steak knives or baseball bats. 50 yards is, of course, easily visualizable on the Tuesday before the Super Bowl -- it's from the goal line to midfield. Even the Manning brothers would have some difficulty throwing a football so far. A neighbor told a teevee reporter that it had always seemed like 'a pretty nice neighborhood.' Well, sure, all the gun owners were responsible, as far as Mr. Bess knew. You don't find out about the irresponsible ones until they blow you away. And then it's too late. Wonkette describes it as a 'clean kill.' Antiseptic even. It won't even qualify under any of the various metrics as a mass shooting. Just background noise. The comforting murmur of freedom at work.

Monday, January 27, 2014


The New York Times' Adam Liptak gets his panties twisted over Korematsu, the Supreme Court decision that validated the internment of Japanese-Americans -- many of them citizens -- during World War II. One pretty obvious reason the Court has never flouted stare decisis and junked this outrageous decision is that the court "rules on live controversies, and the mass detention of citizens has not arisen again." That seems like a good reason, and maybe the public learned from its mistake. It's not as if the court has nothing else to do. I don't think the court has ever formally apologized for its antiworker rulings of the 19th century either. Of course, it may have some more outrageous antiworker decisions up its oversized sleeves if the teahadists have their way. Over the years -- and just recently -- RtO has had some harsh things to say about the FBI: basically, that it's run by morons and, when Hoover was chief, by the biggest felon in our history. But in the runup to Korematsu, the FBI in the Territory of Hawaii resisted the panic on the Mainland and the roundup of Japanese and Japanese-Americans was (mostly) avoided here. You just cannot predict where good sense and decency will break out. If the FBI can be right once in 75 years, anybody can.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Book Review 310: Unseen America

UNSEEN AMERICA: Photos and Stories by Workers, edited by Esther Cohen. 201 pages. Regan There are plenty of rightwingers who are incapable of saying the word union without making it come out “union thug,” although it is a fact of our history that employer thuggery has overbalanced union violence by at least 100 to 1. But when did you last hear a rightwinger complain about employer thugs? Never, right? There is an entire political party devoted to demonizing the First Amendment right of assembly if it is workers who are assembling. For more than half of our history, assemblies of workers were actually made illegal in most of the country. Regrettably, the resources devoted to countering this hateful campaign are small. Anyone wanting to see workers as they see themselves will be abundantly repaid by looking through “Unseen America,” a project of the settlement house Bread & Roses, which takes its name from a 1916 strike where the organizers campaigned for more than just wages. Personal dignity, of course, is a big one, and it is a deliberate tactic of right-to-work thugs to deny dignity to workers. Bread & Roses gave cameras to workers (many, in the case of this volume, members of the Service Employees International Union and thus many of them immigrants) to shoot what interested them. In many cases, that was other workers. The “stories” of the subtitle are all very short, just a sentence or two, but often affecting. A recurring theme is a quest for dignity and acceptance. Something they are unlikely ever to receive from Republicans, still less from Tea Partiers. I recommend a look at the picture on pages 18-19, taken by Catalina Crisotomo of the Damayan (Filipino) Migrant Workers Association in New York City and captioned “Holding Grandma.” Her story is brief: “That’s my friend, taking care of an old lady. I was touched by their relationship. You can really feel the love. It’s not just because of the money that you work.” Then ask yourself: If that was your grandma, would you rather leave her with an SEIU member or a Tea Partier?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bring in the grownups

RtO has an opinion -- several in fact -- about the NSA. What, you are surprised? 1. If bad guys are using the telephone to try to kill me, then I am cool with using the telephone back at 'em. As a practical matter, this is something to be farmed out to gummint. 2. I am not surprised that the NSA was prying into people's affairs, maybe even my own, beyond the seemliness of passing out crumpets at high tea. 3. I am offended that it did so. 4. I am equally offended at data-mining, information-collection subterfuges and the general ickiness of private businesses that exploit the Internet. Therefore, when they prate to gummint about sacred privacy, I tune them out. 5. I love whistleblowers, but prefer that they not be racist loons, although when I was a reporter I had to take what I could get. 6. I am pleased that other newspapermen get more worked up about these particular violations of civil liberties than I can make myself do. 7. I think all sides of the discussion (with a partial exception I will get to in a moment) have missed the only important point, which is that the NSA is run by morons. When I was a teenager, I read various real and fictional tales of spying, all of them admiring. Until one day in Esquire I ran across a piece by Malcolm Muggeridge (about whom I then knew nothing) who averred that during World War II he had been invited by J.C Masterman, then directing counterespionage against German spies in England and later author of "The Double-cross System," to join his band. Muggeridge claimed to have declined on the grounds that spy groups were incapable of recruiting adults. That was a new idea to me but in the 50 years or so since, I have learned that it is about 99 and 44/100ths% true. I could give examples high and low, near and far, as famous as Masterman's unbelievable best-seller and as hidden as the NSA career of one of my ex-sons-in-law. But I will burden you with only one, because it really happened and it couldn't have happened if any adults had been in the room. As related in "Walt Kelly: The Life and Art of the Creator of Pogo" by Thomas Andrae and Carsten Laqua, "Recently released FBI files on Kelly reveal that he was even suspected of sending some form of coded messages in the nonsense poetry and southern accents in Pogo, and the FBI went so far as to have their cryptographers attempt to 'decipher' the strip." Similar examples can be multiplied endlessly in the records of spy agencies of all nations. It is said that the NSA metadata analysis failed to uncover any plots. Now you know why. The only surprise is that the NSA didn't uncover any imaginary ones, and if we only knew, I'm sure it did. In a different post from the one cited in "6," my former colleague Peter Lewis writes:
* Remind me to tell you about my escapades with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Patty Hearst, and the Symbionese Liberation Army.
I know that story and it is every bit as childish as setting codebreakers loose on Pogo. As for the reporting of labor historian and liberal publicist Sean Wilentz in "5," no one who has read Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer" will raise an eyebrow at learning:
By this point, Greenwald had come to reside in a peculiar corner of the political forest, where the far left meets the far right, often but not always under the rubric of libertarianism. He held positions that appealed to either end of the political spectrum, attacking, for example, U.S. foreign policy as a bipartisan projection of empire. Like most of his writings, his critique of America abroad was congenial both to the isolationist paleo-Right and to post–New Left anti-imperialists. His social liberalism struck an individualist chord pleasing to right-wing libertarians as well as left-wing activists.
It is all just too bad, in both senses of that ambiguous phrase.

Hilarious gun nut video


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book Review 309: Defend America First

One of the longest-running questions of American politics has been whether the United Stats should be in or out of the world. The issue seems to be heating up again. It is not easy (unlike with many other political questions) to identify one position and derive a citizen’s other positions from it. When it comes to isolationism, sometimes it is embraced from the right, sometimes from the left; sometimes from both directions at once, as in the runup to Pearl Harbor. In 1812, the antiwar center of gravity was in the Northeast and the warmongers were in the South and West. The positions were reversed in 1940 and reversed again in 2003-4. Perhaps we will learn something about ourselves by asking what the earlier isolationists were about. RtO is beginning an examination of isolationism in the words of the isolationists and the assessments of historians, beginning with Garet Garrett, once the holder of the bulliest pulpit of all. DEFEND AMERICA FIRST: The Antiwar Editorials of the Saturday Evening Post 1939-1942, by Garet Garrett, introduction by Bruce Ramsey. 285 pages. Caxton paperback, $13.95 Although Charles Lindbergh was the face of anti-intervention in the years before Pearl Harbor, Garet Garrett was the voice. As the editorial writer for the Saturday Evening Post, he “reached” 40 million Americans, better than one in 3 adults. Whether many of those who picked up the Post read Garrett’s turgid, windy screeds is another matter. Only the committed would have kept reading them, but Garrett was indefatigable. Although there were other issues facing America in those days -- arguably none as momentous as going to war, though -- Garrett wrote about the same one every week. Circumstances changed dramatically between the first screed in March 1939 and the last in January 1942 (when he was fired), but Garrett never wavered. His hatred for Franklin Roosevelt, which he had cultivated as an anti-New Dealer before coming to the Post, shines through. He also hated democracy, unions, and -- so he claimed -- aggressors. But he was firm: not till the aggressors had landed on the beaches of New Jersey was it right to do anything about them. Garrett was mighty aggrieved that the warmongers lumped him together with the pro-nazis (who he contended, wrongly, were almost non-existent), but after slogging through every one of his editorials, it is impossible to find any difference in policy between him and the out-and-out nazis. Except one. Garrett did not, like the popes, think the Nazis were all that stood between godless communism and Christian Europe. Garrett is remarkable in paying no attention to the reds, or to the Japanese. For him, the world being lost was well lost. What had we to do with those creepy foreigners? All we had to do was prepare an “impregnable fortress” at our borders and go about our business without concern for what went on outside. He did not think Germany capable of landing in New Jersey (true enough), but he also thought that giving munitions to England with which to wear down Germany left America weaker. In hindsight this is more than doubtful, and -- if we consider what Russia did to Germany -- crazy, but it was all one to Garrett. “If Great Britain could save herself by making peace at our expense, she would. We can think of no reason in law or morals why she shouldn’t.” There speaks the true man of Munich. It is not easy to square this with his simultaneous belief that America must serve as a beacon to all the world. All the world would have, correctly, seen America as the nation of “I’ve got mine.” This was, in fact, Garrett’s core belief. He had made his reputation puffing for business tycoons as a financial journalist, although his conception of economics was based on the way a country store operated in the mid-19th century. He disparaged “those who could not distinguish between the feudal capitalism of the Old World and American capitalism,” although there was in fact almost no difference and if Garrett had had his way, there would have been none. He dated the collapse of American exceptionalism from the time all men got the vote. He thought -- as rightwingers always do -- that the rich should control government. Though he bleated constantly about freedom, in his America only the rich were to be free. He had many other strange delusions. He often said that Americans had no need to worry about the power of other countries since we -- a few farmers “making bog-iron” -- had defied the British Empire. You would think he had never known (as most Americans do not) that we owed our victory to the French navy for winning the Battle of the Virginia Capes and the French army for surrounding Cornwallis at Yorktown. But, in fact, he did know these things had happened. He regarded French assistance as a misguided “entangling alliance” which we had subsequently -- until 1916 -- never repeated. Amazingly, he often claimed that America “had no ideology” until the marxists who ran the New Deal imported one. Like other ideologues, he was prone to make predictions (as well as historical misstatements) that had only the slightest relationship to real events. Garrett’s predictions -- like Hayek’s, who published his within a few months of Garrett’s firing by the Post -- were all wrong. There are no serfs (Hayek) and it is not true that, in America, “freedom of expression will no longer be defended” (Garrett). Despite being wrong on the facts and wrong in their estimates, Hayek and Garrett are both still in print, though Garrett is only just so. In fact, in a prophetic development, late in his life when no one wanted to listen to him, Garrett found a sponsor in northern Idaho, the Caxton Printers (now Caxton Press), and they continue to make Garrett’s ideas available in cheap editions, along with the works of other discredited apologists for force and property like William Graham Sumner.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


If you are a Southerner, you know that divorce is routine, despite -- as this study notes -- the religious disapproval of the majority of the sectaries. The study understates the dogma. A number of rightwing Christian cults -- including the fastest-growing one, Calvary Chapel -- either forbid divorce or counsel women to stay with their husbands no matter how violent or drunken they are. Yet, and I have run into this reaction from such believers many times, if you observe that divorce is most common among Baptists and the like, they will strenuously deny it. What's the deal, they never heard of Tammy Wynette? Or looked around their own congregations? In statistical fact, the holy roller divorce rate is around twice the national average.
The study asks, is it because of domestic violence (no), early marriage (only partly) or low income (correlated but not regarded as a cause). I would have fingered early marriage, but that seems not to be the whole story. It's early marriage allied with little schooling (and consequent low income), combined with a habit of divorce -- even among non-sectaries in the same community. Well, I have some doubts about the "non-sectaries." A great many Southerners who do not go to church were indoctrinated young and maintain the same religious orientation as the church-goers. That's not something that sociological surveys can catch, but if you grew up among Baptists, as I did, you know it. I would like to know if the habit of divorce -- I regard it as a habit, at least in the peckerwoods -- shows up in the rates of second, third and fourth divorces. I suspect it would. I knew an awful lot of serial divorcers.

Book Review 308: The Florida Keys: A History of the Pioneers

THE FLORIDA KEYS: A History of the Pioneers, by John Viele. 154 pages, illustrated. Pineapple, $16.95 Florida is the third most populous state but there are still areas where you can drive for mile after mile without seeing any evidence of human presence except the pavement under your wheels. It is hard to imagine how empty it was a hundred years ago, when Key West, then the biggest city, had 18,000 inhabitants -- fewer than come to one section of one parking lot at Disney World on one morning. John Viele does a good job of recreating the hardship and emptiness of the Keys in these magazine-style articles. The focus is on the rural islands, where repeated booms (sponges, pineapples) were wiped out by repeated disasters (wars, hurricanes). Even at the peak of the booms, the entire population seldom topped a thousand until the railroad came, and in the busts it dropped to a few score. Some islands were empty. Heat, mosquitoes, loneliness, isolation and lack of fresh water made the keys unattractive but there were always a few hopeful adventurers. Some were murdered, some swept away in storms, some became briefly rich and ultimately broke, and Viele quotes liberally from letters and newspapers (ever hopeful that the latest fancy was going to begin the land rush) to tell their stories. This little volume carries the story to 1940, although one old character was still building ricks and making charcoal in the ancient way until 1960. “The Florida Keys: A History of the Pioneers” is a superior example of local history crafted in bite-size pieces, just the right size for the rushed vacationer to enjoy and profit from. (There is one curious error about "poisonous spines on the pineapple leaves." While unpleasant, they are not poisonous.)

The biggest mountain

Maui Nui is the biggest mountain in the world. 93% of it is underwater. It has several dry peaks, of which Haleakala is the highest. This is a picture of Haleakala this morning from my front yard, taken with an Olloclip fisheye attachment to an iPhone. Since my house is about 1,500 feet above sea level, this represents maybe 2% or so of the whole mountain.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The origins of Glass-Steagall

RtO has all along said that the Glass-Steagall Act was responsible for the 60 years America went without a financial panic. Before its passage and since its repeal in 1999, the rate has been one panic every 7 years, with the longest period without one 13 years, a special reprieve created by the unique financial operations of the Great War. This history is summed in RtO's slogan: Unsupervised markets fail. Here is a capsule prehistory of Glass-Steagall, published by Vanity Fair in 2010 but only coming to my attention today thanks to a link at Little Green Footballs. George Santayana comes to mind: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Santayana was a Pollyanna. The men who dismantled Glass-Steagall remembered it very well; they just disbelieved the past had happened.

Background on minimum wage

Bloomberg News has a piece on the probable effects of raising minimum wages for restaurant workers. Since I was onc e a minimum wage restaurant worker, I read it with interest. And since I also was a subminimum wage restaurant worker, I read it with more knowledge of what goes on in restaurants than most of the boobish commenters. But let's add a little reality to the recipe. Restaurants are among the riskiest of all businesses. Failure rates are sometimes estimated at up to 90%. Whatever the real figure is, it's high. And that's with no increase in minimum wages, and with legal minimums (where paid) relatively much below what they were (in comparison to living expenses) when I was making 75 cents an hour at Shoney's Big Boy in 1963. Obviously, something other than wage levels determines the success or failure of restaurants. What could it be? How about location? One of the crazy things about the restaurant business (aside from the hours) is that entrepreneurs keep opening new restaurants where old operators failed time and again. This does not say anything good about the alleged ability of the free market to direct capital to where society benefits the most. In Kahului, there is a location that has, in the 27 years I've been here, been the site of at least 6 restaurants. What were the last 2 or 3 operators thinking? I initially thought the underlying problem was that the landlord was ensuring turnover by refusing to adjust lease rents downward to account for expectable income, because the landlord had a reputation for being inflexible when circumstances changed; but then I learned one tenant was, in effect, paying no rent because he was offered the space as payment for a debt the landlord owed him. He failed. It cannot only be location, either, because while 5 (or more) restaurants have failed in this location, a restaurant (same landlord) across the alley has been operating successfully for over 40 years. (A free RtO business card to local readers who can figure out which location I am referring to AND name all the restaurants that have been in it.) The best thing that could be done to help restaurant operators make a profit would be to get the Reaganomics crowd out of public policy. In early 2008, Kahului fast food restaurants were paying $12 minimum, far above the legal requirement, and not filling jobs. One Jack-in-the-Box took down its banner promoting the latest iteration of the Jack burger and replace it with a banner offering a $20,000 signing bonus to anyone wanting a job as assistant manager. This restaurant was, I am pretty sure, making profits, since it was crowded at all hours. Then the Republicans crashed the economy. Today, although workers are no longer being offered $12 and up, and assistant managers are not needed, I doubt the lower expenses have been good for the bottom line, since the place is nearly empty. The landlord has demolished a restaurant that had been operating next door for at least 30 years, and replaced it with a pharmacy.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Gun nut memo is out

Here it surfaces in Texas. When I was in Florida over Christmas, I heard rightwing radio nitwit Neal Boortz say the same thing about southwest Florida. He said, over and over, that he could go out and shoot pythons but not "northeastern liberals," who are "more dangerous." Boortz is about my age but he was snorking and chortling like a 9-year-old telling his first dirty joke. It's like there's a central registry where rightwingers go to get things to say. Possibly the Texas jerk heard Boortz (who was subbing for Sean Hannity on his show), but it happens often enough to leave a boiler room that provides stupid political commentary as a more likely explanation. Apparently, nobody walked out, showing that there were no decent people in the audience. Just recently, for the several hundredth time, a rightwing racist was caught sending an email blast to -- well, everybody, it was a blast -- of crude racial intent, which he (once he was found out) described as "humor." Not many decent people would find it so, but there are a few defending it as not merely satirical but realistic. The point is not that there are individual gun nuts in Texas or individual racists in the GOP. The point is that they think they are the norm -- you don't send crude racist emails to everybody if you think not everybody is a crude racist like you -- but that they keep demonstrating that they are, indeed, the norm of the 21st century rightwing. Crude rightwing racism is what I grew up surrounded by. I know it when I see it. I had thought, some years ago, that we had got beyond that, or, at least, people who hadn't changed had learned to keep their attitudes hidden except among trusted likeminded acquaintances. It was, as recently as the 1990s, a social faux-pas to warm up an audience at a public meeting with a few coon jokes, in a way that had been common up to the '70s. Not any more. Making contact with today's rightwing is like picking up one of Irvin S. Cobb's annual joke books from the '20s. Uggh.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Flesh wounds

What I don't know about cosmetics would fill a boxcar, and until today I would have said I didn't care. But Arts & Letters Daily led me to this article by Sasha Archibald about the unexpectedly exciting life and strange death of Max Factor. An immigrant success story if there ever was one, Max Faktorowicz had more impact on even my life than I had any idea of. One factoid that Archibald leaves out is that, according to Hemingway, Max Factor had a contract to supply makeup to the Romanian Army. Hemingway was making his point that no general could be sure of victory unless he was fighting the Romanians. This was true enough, as the Battle of Stalingrad demonstrated, but probably had more to do with the resentments of peasant soldiers than the vanity of their officers. I have not checked Hemingway's claim but while he could not be trusted to tell the truth about himself, he was always scrupulous about such other-directed statements, a legacy of his newspaper days. It makes you think, though. What if Richard Nixon had retained the Max Factor company (Max himself was by then dead) before he went on teevee in 1960? We could have cheap tropical holidays in Cuba instead of spending $500 a night to drink on Maui.

Memory hole

One thing I look forward to every Sunday morning (besides the newspaper) is Doktor Zoom's continuing serial review of two home-school American history books, called "Sundays with the Christianists." I hope that when he finishes -- he's been at it for about a year and a half and isn't up to 1940 yet -- he will collect his essays in a book, although also including the valuable comments (which must number nearly 10,000 by now) might be a challenge. I have been waiting for a good opportunity to recommend RtO's readers to this funny, accurate, insightful and vicious takedown of rightwing religious nonsense, and today's episode is it. Dok takes on the books' take on the Great Depression, noting:
Now that grandparents who lived through the Depression are no longer around to pollute the kids’ awareness with any firsthand accounts, it’s relatively easy to feed them a straight diet of rightwing revisionist bullshit. Read more at
True for 13-year-olds in 8th grade, but I am 67 years old and my Mom just marked her 90th birthday last week and is happy to remember how things were. (She is also writing some of it down, something every great-grandparent or grandparent should do for his grandchildren.) So I can endorse Dok Zoom's viewpoint with independent evidence of my own. Although this remark by Dok far understates the reality of today's rightwing nuts:
Land I Love, on the other hand, stops just short of saying Franklin Roosevelt was a commie, and certainly reminds kids at every turn that the New Deal should be seen as “a big step into socialism” and that FDR’s policies were unnecessary interference in an economy that wasn’t really all that bad anyway. Read more at
Many -- some I know who actually lived though the Roosevelt presidencies and ought to know better -- are happy to claim that FDR was not merely a communist but under direct orders of the Kremlin. Possibly the preachers at Pensacola Bible College (producer of the book under discussion) are aware that there are some things a preteen will not swallow. Who knows? Anyway, when you hear people bitch about the public schools and praise home-schooling, be aware that -- for a largish fraction of these victims -- this is the kind of idiocy they are being taught. Since Dok is already mining nuggets from the books, I will not try to chip off smaller nuggets but recommend that you read the whole thing. The comments, always nasty and usually insightful, are particularly good this week, too.

More adversity for Ireland

In the New York Times, a devastating look at how austerity failed in Ireland. Fintan O'Toole uses both observation . . .:
There’s always been a simple way to measure how well Ireland is doing: Go to the ports and airports after the Christmas vacation and count the young people waving goodbye to their parents as they head off to the United States, Canada, Australia or Britain, where they have gone to find work and opportunity. Other people protest in bad times; the Irish leave. And they’ve been doing so in numbers that haven’t been recorded since the 1980s. Nearly 90,000 people emigrated between April 2012 and April 2013 and close to 400,000 have left since the 2008 crisis. For a country with a population about the size of Kentucky’s (about 4.5 million), that’s a lot of people.
. . . and numbers:
This is why, in the end, the austerity program has not succeeded even in its basic aim of bringing down Ireland’s sovereign debt, which actually rose sharply over the last five years. In 2009, it was 64 percent of G.D.P. Last year, it peaked at 125 percent. The debt has doubled while public spending has been slashed.
No kiddin'. O'Toole happens to live in an advanced, culturally familiar country, where the disasters of finance capitalism and policies that give credence only to money, not people, is more easily comprehended. But Joseph Stiglitz, based on his experience as top economist at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, was saying the same thing about what finance capitalism was doing to distant, poorer, more exotic and obscure Third World countries long before the Panic of '08 brought the lesson home to the places where the modern exploitation of labor was refined. There actually is a counterexample of how to deal with a failure of markets by giving due weight to the contributions of both capital and labor, and it's right here at home. It is also a source of endless grievance-theater from the money-worshipping American rightwing. It's the American auto industry. When endlessly incompetent management finally left the Big 3 unable to pay their bills, the government stepped in. Instead of paying off the bondholders first, second and last; it gave due weight to the contributions of labor and diverted some of the assets to workers. It was not fair (the workers were shortchanged) but it was sensible, and it had the obvious knock-on attraction of not destroying the lives of auto pensioners and workers and pensioners in allied segments of the economy. The rightwingers are still whinging and demanding the head of Obama for not giving them their pound of flesh, but the outcome was rather good. Incompetent management was replaced (at too high a cost) with at least slightly competent management; hundreds of thousands, if not millions of working families were saved from financial disaster; and the sector is expanding again. The scorched earth tactic of the free-market tub thumpers, on the other hand, leaves behind only scorched earth.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Stuffed Turkey

Following on the post about whether Islam is compatible with democracy comes this factoid about Turkey, always held up by the easily impressed as an example of a Muslim majority state that is also a secular democracy:
More journalists are in jail in Turkey than anywhere else in the world, including China and Iran.
Their crimes, needless to say, are political. One of my daughters visited Stamboul last year and observed that "nobody prays," although government-paid muezzins issue the call. Easy to believe. Istanbul has a long history as a big city, one of the most diverse in history. The countryside, however, was never secularized, despite the savage religious repression of Ataturk (who had men who would not wear hats with brims executed, something to think about when discussions of forcing women to cover up today arise). The phenomenon is hardly unique to Turkey. Something similar can be seen between Beirut and the rest of Lebanon, Cairo and Egypt and even (believe it or not) Riyadh and Saudi Arabia. Turkey was actually the harbinger of the Arab Spring, because a decade ago a more or less free election was held, and the result was a move away from secularism. It was a slow-motion crash, and I took a lot of abuse from people who considered themselves friends of Turkey (all liberals) for pointing it out. The Jan. 5 post might just as well have been titled "Is Islam compatible with secular despotism?" and the answer also would have been no. Muslim citizens, when given the chance to choose, almost always choose religion.

The first woman president

Did a Republican woman in New Jersey just engineer the election of Hillary Clinton as president? If she can get the nomination, yes. The Chris Christie bridge collapse has finished off the best (or only) chance the Republicans had to nominate someone who can collect votes from the center. Nobody can win with only firm partisan votes, and the number of Republicans who can run against the Tea Party crazies who have taken control is tiny. Mitt Romney couldn't run to the center. Two kinds of candidates might manage it: an Eisenhower, who managed, although just barely, to evade the McCarthy crazies in '52; or a hard-nosed SOB who manages to combine broad appeal with a damn-your-eyes attitude to troublemakers in his own party, which Christie might be. He's finished now, thanks to his deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. Commenter Sue McAndrew at the New York Times summarizes Christie's failure perfectly:
Mr. Christie's personality and way of doing business are well known. So ask yourself, 1. If a major event impacting NJ residents occurred, would Mr. Christie withdraw quietly and say nothing or would he put himself front and center to be seen as the hero who fixed it all? 2. If an event occurred that smelled of political retribution. possibly retribution against NJ by NY, would Mr. Christie say "no biggie, whatever, I'm not curious" or would Mr. Christie make sure he knew exactly what was going on. Assuming Mr. Christie did not know what was happening at 6:00 Monday morning, there is no chance that Mr. Christie would not have demanded facts by 10:00 am. There is no way Mr. Christie would stand by quietly out of sight as NJ residents were harmed unless he personally approved of the harm. In all other scenarios, he would have been all over this like flies on honey.
McAndrew neatly sidesteps the question whether Christie was in on the plot. Doesn't matter. She also provides a framework for the reason Christie's apology won't matter. Sincere and heartbroken he may have been, but he wasn't being Chris Christie.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Well, that seems responsible, doesn't it?

Another day, another kid blown away by a responsible gun owner, this one a cop. STILL MORE Well, there's been a wealth of examples of responsible gun ownership since this post went up a few hours ago, but I like this one. Dumb quote:
she stressed that she was following safety procedures. "I was going through the process as I have been trained to do."
Gun safety procedures. You gotta love 'em. What other safety procedures have a kill rate?

The police can't do that

Every now and then, I crosspost an item from my commercial blog, Kamaaina Loan blog, to RtO. The interests of the two blogs don't overlap much, but here is one that does.

Gun nut ethics

There was a short version of this story yesterday in The Maui News. The longer version -- and the comments following -- fail to capture the irony. In summary, a Utah company refused to sell $15 million worth of man-killing firearms to Pakistan because they might be used to kill Americans. This was presented as an ethical stand. The company, Desert Tech, will be happy, however, to sell its guns to Americans so they can shoot other Americans. Let's be clear. That's the sole purpose of these weapons. Nobody is buying them to hunt rabbits or to shoot paper targets. They are mankillers, first and last, and nothing else:
The SRS Covert sniper rifle was purpose-designed for Police and Military snipers needing ultimate concealability and maneuverability.
I'll let the gun nuts among RtO's readers explain why police would need a sniper rifle with a silencer.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Creative spelling

OK, I've been an editor for half a century, and I take a small pride in doping out what people mean to write, even if they didn't come very close to the standard form. But the following threw me. Even though I knew the context, I had to read it three times to figure it out.
One time I was looking for a socket toremove a spark plug on my weed eater we dug true the bends for five minuets are more .
"true the bends" is "through the bins," but without the context I never would have figured that out. The author identifies himself as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Where are the paragraphs?

Durned if I know. RtO was quiescent over the holidays and now when I post, blogger won't make paragraphs. Dunno what went on while I was away.

Is Islam compatible with democracy?

I do not think so, but Bangladesh has been one of the examples tending to say I am wrong. One thing Osama bin Laden succeeded in doing was destroying whatever small progress various Muslim polities had made toward modern popular government. It may have been that all he had to do was stick one in the eye of the dominating western paradigm to give new heart to the suppressed feelings we call salafist, but whatever the mechanism was, the status of Muslim governments has deteriorated steadily in the past dozen years. At the beginning of that period, perhaps 5% of Muslim-majority societies were failed or failing states. Now the proportion is much, much higher. Bangladesh, once the east portion of Pakistan until a murderous war separated the states, had apparently followed a different course from (West) Pakistan, whose descent into chaos contrasted so strongly with that of secular India, independent from the same moment. The Bengali social experience, so different from that of the Pakistanis, seemed to account for some of the difference. And possibly the Ismaili form of Islam dominant in Pakistan was important \in the different courses the two Muslim states took. In any event, Bangladesh did not threaten war with India all the time, and although it went through periods of military usurpation like Pakistan, by the '90s Bangladesh seemed to have emerged as a Muslim country with a functioning electoral mechanism for choosing governments. Maybe this was not much, but it was different from the rest of Islam, described in 2001 by Bernard Lewis as showing "the cult, without the exercise, of freedom, and the almost universal holding of elections, without choice." Since then, Turkey, never really the democracy it pretended to be, has become openly theocratic; and the false Arab Spring led merely to a summer of increasingly antidemocratic discontents. Now Bangladesh has joined the reversion to frank medievalism,if a BBC report ( accurate, leaving only Indonesia as perhaps a Muslim-majority state showing a successful transition to modernity of some sort. There are political atrocities in non-Muslim democratic or pseudo-democratic countries, but the form they take in Muslim states have a special flavor, hard really to imagine in, say, Belarus: "The BNP and its allies - including the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party - have been conducting a violent campaign of strikes and countrywide road and rail blockades (to enforce a boycott of national elections). "The protests have left more than 100 people dead in recent weeks. "Scores of opposition supporters have died in police shootings and dozens of commuters have been burnt to death by protesters throwing petrol bombs at strike-defying buses." In no other part of the world would burning potential voters alive be thought to be an effective party strategy, but I think the explanation is that the BNP does not care about votes or elections. Speaking specifically of Arabs, the political scientist Bassam Tibi stated flatly that Arabs are not interested in democracy. Events have shown he was correct, but events also suggest that it is Islam, not Arabism, that is the antidemocratic seed.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Make your own egg nog

Egg nog is so easy to make, it's hard to understand how the wretched commercial imitation finds buyers, but apparently egg nog has a reputation for being time-consuming. It's not. You can make any quantity in 15 minutes. You get a smoother result using a whisk, at least on the whites, but that takes just a little longer. I used to make egg nog very sweet and very stiff – so stiff you had to eat it with a spoon – but my current thinking is for a slightly sweet, more fluid drink, though still a lot stiffer than commercial egg nog. The basic recipe, easily scalable, calls for 6 eggs, half a pint of heavy cream and a quart of light cream, and powdered sugar equal to half the volume of the yolks. Separate the eggs, and put the whites in the refrigerator in a china or stainless steel bowl to cool. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl, then whisk in powdered sugar. If you want sweeter egg nog, still limit the sugar to about half the volume of the yolks. Otherwise you get a gluey mixture that is not easy to mix with the whites and cream. You can add more sugar while you are whipping the cream. Let the yolk-sugar mixture stand a while, 30 minutes or so. In a medium bowl, beat the whites, just until they begin to hold a shape. Using an electric mixer gives a slightly coarser texture. Combine the yolks and whites. In a chilled large bowl, whip the heavy cream just until it holds its shape. Add to the whites and yolks. Add light cream. You can thin the egg nog to any state with whole milk. I think it tastes better after sitting in the refrigerator overnight, but it will separate and have to be remixed. If you add alcohol, do it far enough ahead to let the flavors blend. You can add rum, brandy, bourbon or blended whisky; or any of the sweet brown wines like sherry, Madeira or Marsala. If you use nutmeg, grate it fresh. I prefer mace. For a modernist touch, grate some hard chocolate flavored with pepper.