Friday, May 30, 2014

Book Review 325: In the Garden of Beasts

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson. 448 pages, illustrated. Broadway paperback, $16

“In the Garden of Beasts” reminds me of why I detest grand opera. In opera, there is only one question: Will the soprano/tenor get laid? Different operas have different settings, some of them serious and even fatal situations, but the significance of those problems is always subordinated to the sex story.

Likewise, Erik Larson chose to examine a serious and definitely fatal situation, the encounter of the American government with the Nazi Party and the German state in the first year of Nazi power; but what we get is the adventures of the ambassador’s round-heeled daughter.

She did get laid.

The ambassador, Professor William Dodd, is an attractive character, a southern liberal (there once were such creatures) chased out of the South by racists, a respected historian who had been trained in Wilhelmine Germany, and nobody’s fool when it came to the character of the Hitler state, although less aware of his daughter’s character.

Nor was President Roosevelt at all deceived by the Hitler speeches that took in so many Europeans. Storm troopers were kidnapping and beating American citizens on German streets, so there was an instant diplomatic crisis; along with the question of whether Germany would keep (strictly speaking, start) repaying its American loans.

So we hear about Martha Dodd’s romances. She was one of a good many foreign blondes who trolled the Nazi Party for supermen, and nowhere near as dim as Unity Mitford, who thought she would marry Hitler but ended up shooting herself. Martha Dodd eventually -- although slowly -- came around to recognizing evil, or at least the Nazi variety, and left a mass of more or less revealing documents, a feast for a historian of Larson’s bent.

But while the salacious and violent private lives fitted right into his story of the Chicago World’s Fair in “The Devil in the White City,” Martha Dodd’s hijinks add nothing to the serious question of the encounter between American democracy and German militarism.

Ambassador Dodd’s troubles with the stripy-pants cookie pushers at Foggy Bottom also added to the difficulties of the encounter, and we get quite a lot about them. But not so much about the main event.

We also have to deal with Larson’s simple-minded misunderstanding of world politics in the Thirties, although it is astonishing that a professional historian can still maintain such innocence at this date.

To the meagre extent that Larson pays attention to the main event, he does state a theme, which is to wonder whether, if Roosevelt had pushed a more forward policy, the rise of Germany could have been limited.

The short answer is, no. A longer answer would note that because of the idiotic Republican policies of the Twenties, Roosevelt was holding an impossibly weak hand:

The Republicans had sunk the Navy second to none, signed the pollyannish Kellogg-Briand pact, lent Germany billions so it would not have to pay Versailles reparations from its own income, restructured that debt twice and ruined the American economy.

Larson mentions none of this, nor does he suggest what resources Roosevelt could have called on to back up an anti-German policy.

This comes pretty close to professional malpractice for a historian, even a popular one always looking for the tabloid angle. But if you like your Nazi history sexy, Larson’s the boy.

A cheap, EZ & surefire solution for Ukraine

This morning, Bob Corker, who is the best the Republicans can do in the Senate when it comes to foreign policy, gave an interview to deplore Obama's weak sister foreign policy.

This is a favorite theme of the rightwing lately, building, I guess, on their own smashing successes in the foreign field between 2000 and 2008. Corker believes the problem is not, for example, that George Bush wrecked our military. Nor that Bush wrecked the economy, to the point where Republicans have been forced, while crying many bitter tears, not to fund the Veterans Administration at levels needed to deal with the tens of thousands of grievously wounded vets who hobbled home from the defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No, Corker says what's in short supply is clarity:

 "I just didn't hear that clarity, so I would throw that speech in the trash can. I would do something far stronger when I'm in Europe, and then I would back it up," Corker told NPR's Steve Inskeep.
Like what, asked Inskeep, reasonably and predictably enough. Corker had not thought that far ahead, because here was his answer:

 So I think it's sort of in that air of permissiveness, the lack of clarity, that people miscalculate and really bad things can happen down the road. So that's what I'm concerned about. This is something that's heartfelt, it's of deep concern on both sides of the aisle, and again, I hope when he goes to Europe, he'll speak in a different way but then I hope he will also follow up in a different way.

Come on, Bob, throw us a  bone. What, what should the president say and do?


Honest, if he's going out in public to complain that the other guy is running a big clarity shortage, you'd think he would have a clear statement prepared for himself.

Fortunately, the Republicans DO have a clear policy that could be applied to Ukraine at small cost, no risk and with certainty of success. Unfortunately, none of them seems ready to call for it. Although  I am not a Republican, I will do it for them.

If they had only done it first, RtO could restate it, but since they have neglected to, here is a clear statement:

Since it is a clear belief of the hardcore Second Amendment folks that the only thing that prevents the government from being taken over and all our liberties being canceled by [FILL IN THE BLANK] the way Crimea was is their arsenal of mean-looking personal firearms (although these are NOT assault weapons, they are always careful to make that clear), clearly the thing to do is to give the democratic Ukrainians similar firearms. (Is that enough clarity?)

In fact, I propose giving them the rightwingers' AR15s and similar guns.

This would not lessen the arsenal of America's loudest patriots significantly, since there are 300 million firearms in the US but only 45 million Ukrainians. Subtract the bad Ukrainians who are trying to become Russians and the old Ukrainians over 85 and the youngsters under fighting age (about 10, if what I read on the gun blogs is to be credited), and it wouldn't take more than 30 million non-assault (but really cool-looking) guns. A mere 10% of what we have on hand.

Since most Americans do not have even one gun, it follows that the nation-in-arms averages at least 3 or 4. And since responsible gun owners probably need no more than one or 2, then the people like the brave patriots of Tarrant County Open Carry must have upwards of 6 or 10 each. Heck, they wouldn't miss 1 or 2, and they'd still have enough to protect the local Chipotle from whoever it is that's attempting to take it over (aside from Tarrant County Open Carry).

Eh, voila! Problem solved. If guns in the hands of patriots are sufficient to repel a leftist putsch from the most powerful military in the world, then standing off a few amateur insurgents armed with nothing better than armored cars and mobile antiaircraft artillery will be EZ.

AP photo from link above

No need to thank me, Republicans. I'm sure you'd do the same for me, if you thought of it.

Phoney claims

Are all round us.

One that particularly irritates me is that the oceans are acidifying. They might be getting less alkaline but they are never going to get acid.

This might be less because the global warmers are trying to fool you than because there is no convenient short word for becoming less basic. But it might also be because the warmers are trying to fool you.

English is a supple and magnificent tool but it is an historical accident and a convention, not designed to work well in every circumstance. George Bush sounded an awful fool because he was, but one famous instance -- when he referred to Muslim terrorism as a crusade -- was really the fault of English. 

That's the only word we have for that sort of campaign.

RtO has avoided engaging with some of the commoner forms of lunacy on Maui because some things are just too stupid and, so far as I can tell, believing in chemtrails does not have any fallout (pun intended) other than labeling yourself as a nitwit. Not so with some other fantasies, like harmful GMOs (see "About the GMO petition," May 18) which is already harming people and, now that the liars at SHAKA are on the verge of getting their nuttiness on a ballot, has the potential to do some real damage.

However, I have said enough about GMOs. I want to link to an interesting post, by Eric Hall, on the subject of checking claims. It is followed by a longish comment thread that expands on the point in interesting ways.

It is called "Trusting the Internet," and if there's anything I'm sure of, it's that the people who most need to read it won't.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hog wild, wild hog or what?

Georgia Teen Accidentally Shot And Killed On Father-Son Fishing Trip

 From TPM.

They thought they might bag a hog. Fishin' is different in Georgia than in Hawaii.

The comments at TPM are generally unsympathetic to the allegedly grieving father. Some wonder if he just murdered his son and, this being Tea Party country, had the perfect alibi. Who knows? Dead sons tell no tales.

LoganFive comments:

For any conservatives reading this thread, you can calm down. This kid wasn't killed in the womb or in Benghazi, so you're off the hook in terms of having to give a shit about his death.
That sounds about right.

thomasmatthew comments:

I am wondering whether the NRA will attack this distraught father like the attacked the distraught father in the Santa Barbara shootings. Or do they only attack distraught fathers not involved in the shooting?

That is unfair. So far as I know, the NRA has not attacked Mr. Martinez. The NRA usually maintains a cowardly silence in the first couple of news cycles after one of their child sacrifices. thomasmatthew is confusing the NRA with various rightwing gun nuts who have sounded off.

If you need that, Wonkette is attempting to keep a sort of linkfest to the "stupid bloviating" of America's defenders of the Second Amendment.

Monday, May 26, 2014

I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight?

At the Manduke Baldwin Cup polo tournament:

Paniolo polo; playing without a helmet

 I like the composition of this one.

Audience participation: tamping down divots between chukkars to the music of Chubby Checker  
 Dogs got to romp.
Willing volunteers
 A mallet slipped out of a player's hand, went over the fence, over the road and into a gulch. There were plenty of helpers willing to go get it for him. I like the composition of this one, too.
The heat was too much for one        

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Book Review 324: Walt Kelly

WALT KELLY: The Life and Art of the Creator of Pogo, by Thomas Andrae and Carsten Laqua. 240 pages, illustrated. Hermes

Thomas Andrae and Carsten Laqua consider Walt Kelly the best cartoonist ever. I agree. Too bad this biography hardly rises above the level of a fanzine.

Kelly wasn’t just superior in each of the cartoonist’s tasks, he was unique in some, such as creating an argot found nowhere else (not unlike P.G. Wodehouse, although Kelly differentiated his voices via typography, too).

He was easily the best caricaturist using animals. Nast did it but he just pasted recognizable faces on animal bodies; and McNelly did skillful personality types but not individuals. Kelly’s best was
Joe McCarthy, first as Simple J. Malarkey and later as Wiley Catt.

Though Kelly has a deserved reputation as a McCarthy-killer, and he was satirizing illiberal values from the first (in 1949), he came rather late to McCarthy, 1953. Herblock had caricatured McCarthy (and invented the word McCarthyism) as early as 1950, but Herblock weakened his attack by occasionally depicting McCarthy (and Nixon) as mischievous boys. Kelly never showed McCarthy as anything but the menace he was.

It has been claimed (though not in this book) that Kelly created more characters than any other cartoonist,   more than 150.

He was the finest draughtsman ever to do cartoons, with a line as expressive as Caran d’Ache’s, and, needless to say, without Caran’s noxious antisemitism.

As one of few animators to turn to newspaper strips (though he was considered too independent at Disney), he also created motion in his panels that has never even been attempted by the second-raters who are sometimes compared to him, like Breathed and Trudeau.

Finally, he was funny. To everybody but the morons at the FBI who -- unbelievably except that it fits a pattern already known --  assigned codebreakers to find the hidden messages to the Communist underground in “Pogo.”

“Pogo” has also shown staying power. No one reads “L’il Abner” any more, but “Pogo” remains popular among children and adults. I had a nearly complete set of the 30-odd “Pogo” books, but my children discovered them when they got to be about 9 or 10 years old, and read them over and over till they disintegrated.

So much for who Walt Kelly was, which you will glean from this biography, although not much more. His marriages and alcoholism are barely alluded to. Although a fond remembrance by his stepson mentions numerous “antidotes” that his multitudinous friends would tell about him, we do not hear more than a couple of them.

Kelly, at least, would have appreciated “antidotes” and the numerous other illiteracies in this badly edited volume, and with his habit of making satire out of misunderstandings, would probably have laughed until the tears flowed to read this:

“As a concession to the Republican right-wing he chose Richard Nixon as his running mate, a HUAC lawyer who made his reputation by helping prosecute Albert Hiss, a lawyer suspected of leaking atomic secrets to the Soviets.”

Bad as it is, true Pogophiles will want “Walt Kelly” for (not especially adoitly-chosen) reproductions of many strips and especially photographs and fugitive Kellyana not within reach of any but the well-heeled collector.

Wandering in Babylon

I was asked by someone I know well to watch this address from the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. I did.

I have said before that I got tired, living in Tennessee, of having strangers tell me I was immoral because I didn't believe in their religion. This guy is one of those; according to him, I am living a life of Babylonian sin.

And he -- his name is Robert George, and he is a rich, tenured professor at Princeton who has been appointed to several presidential commissions -- complains how tough it is to believe in his religion because we Babylonians have retarded him in his career, and exiled him socially for his faith.

You know what's really tough about being a Catholic, Professor George? Being an altar boy with a cute butt.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tax cheats find a friend

Named Eric Holder. Joe Nocera tells why in the New York Times:

“This case shows that no financial institution, no matter its size or global reach, is above the law,” said Holder at a news conference.

In fact, it shows nothing of the sort. Yes, Credit Suisse agreed to pay $2.6 billion; that’s real money, but nothing a bank its size can’t handle. And yes, three years ago, seven midlevel Credit Suisse executives were indicted. But in the just-announced settlement, no one in top management was forced to resign. The U.S. wanted the names of the Americans with private Credit Suisse bank accounts; Justice settled without getting them. And, most amazing of all, pleading guilty to a felony will have absolutely no business consequences for Credit Suisse. For instance, a Securities and Exchange Commission rule forbids a firm convicted of a felony from serving as an investment adviser; the rule was temporarily waived for Credit Suisse.

As its chief executive, Brady Dougan, put it in a conference call with media and analysts after the guilty plea, “We have found no instances where clients cannot do business with us.”
What Brady Dougan meant is he doesn't mind doing business with criminals.

Crime scene

Sure would be nice to learn the names of those 22,000 patriots with numbered accounts.

For the Swiss, business as usual. They collaborated with the Nazis to rob Jews, and still are (probably) holding some of that loot. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

You never see a fat mouse, do you?

Coming soon to your kitchen
Dutch researchers put exercise wheels outside to determine whether mice would work out. They would.

 Gene D. Block, chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, was not involved with the paper but knows Dr. Meijer and had seen the wheel set up in her garden. He said the study made it clear that wheel-running is “some type of rewarding behavior” and “probably not driven by stress or anxiety.”

The question had a serious purpose, but who cares about that? Now to talk them into buying tiny, overpriced shoes.

Which reminds me to remind you that we will be having a plague of mice around July or August. The last one was over 12 years ago. I forget the exact year, but Kimo Apana was mayor.

A plague of mice

When it rains, grasses luxuriate on the leeward slopes, the mice eat the seeds and reproduce exponentially, and not just to powers of 2 either. Mouse generations are only about 3 weeks long.

So if we take whatever number of girl mice were making babies on, say, April 1 as Generation 1, then we are already seeing the emergence of the young mice of Gen 3. And with serveral girl mice in each litter, it will not take long to have plagues of mice.

As they eat up the seeds, and the dry summer restricts production of new seeds, they will migrate up to Kula and eat up the farms and down to Kihei and Lahaina and alarm the condo owners.

No doubt the most alarmist will blame global warming, but that is just because people who believe in global warming have short memories (or, for malihini, none at all).

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Calling out the gun nuts

RtO's position is that gun nuts are cowards, afraid to go unarmed in places where even little old ladies do. But I did not say it as trenchantly as Flock the NRA.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

About the anti-GMO petition

CORRECTION: I let a decimal point get adrift and have thus revised the numbers in the post downward to correct them. The conclusion remains robust. (I failed to make the basic reality check of asking if my numbers were in the ballpark. For US suicides, they weren't. Suicides and auto deaths should be roughly the same.)

RtO was not planning to say anything more about GMOs (see "GMOs love you," Feb. 6), but Tricia asked me to revisit it in light of the petition to get a Luddite proposition on the county ballot in November.

Some background: Tricia probably knows more about genetic engineering than I do and she for sure has more field experience with plant breeding, having worked for a time for the NifTAL Project. (Nitrogen fixation in Tropical Agricultural Legumes, an excellent idea whose money was taken away by Bush I and given to Russian mobsters.) On Friday, while she was being a docent at the Makawao Histoy Museum, she was approached by a woman seeking signatures for the petition

Tricia has far more patience with these ignoramuses than I do and spent some time listening to her spiel. The woman knew nothing about farming or genetics, but what alarmed Tricia the most was the claim that Monsanto caused "hundreds of thousands" of farmers in India to commit suicide.

Statistics are very uncertain, but the number of reported farmer suicides in India is under 20,000 a year, in a population of close to 700,000,000 rural people. This is certainly an undercount, as landless rural laborers are not treated as "farmers."

Still, that is not a huge number compared to the United States. Some back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest 37,000 successful suicides a year here, of which farmers' share would be around 750. 

Since there are about 100 times as many farmers in India as in the United States, for there to be an epidemic of suicides (from any or all causes), there would have to be 75,000 farm suicides a year in India.

Whatever the accurate number is, nobody claims it is that high.

'Nuff said about the gullibility and ignorance of the anti-GMO crowd. But a word about the alleged mechanism provoking these deaths, which is debt incurred by farmers using Monsanto seed leading to despair leading to suicide.

Now, the issue of income and debt in India goes way back before there was ever a Monsanto (and if you are interested, the histories of Mike Davis and Eric Hobsbawm are a good place to begin), but the perfervid campaign against Monsanto led some researchers to ask real farmers about debt:

Ron Herring, a professor of government at Cornell University, interviewed Indian farmers in 2006 after 200,000 suicides in 10 years. He called "the media construction baseless," and told the Cornell Chronicle, "Farmers were insulted and incredulous: If farmers committed suicide every time they fell into debt, they said, there would be no farmers."

(If I were to go into more detail, I would link today's anti-GMO drive to the evil anti-Green Revolution propaganda of the '70s. The illustration makes the link graphic.)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review 323; Infinitesimals

INFINITESIMAL: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World, by Amir Alexander. 352 pages, illustrated. Scientific American/Farrar Straus, $27

That there was a dispute at the end of the 17th century between Newton and Liebnitz over priority for calculus is a well-known episode in the history of science, but the strongest word used to describe it is usually “unseemly,” and nothing depended on the outcome.

In “Infinitesimal,” UCLA professor Amir Alexander goes to the beginning of the century when the dispute over the same thing, then called the “method of exhaustion” or “infinitesimals,” was a matter of life and death, both for mathematicians and, so the disputants thought, for the life of their societies. They were not wrong.

As always seems to be the case wherever you look at that wonderful, horrible century at the divide between the Middle Ages and modern times, the characters are all fuller, stranger and more lively than anything we can produce in the 21at century.

Although Alexander cautions several times against applying today’s standards to men whose experience and understanding were so different, Thomas Hobbes had many characteristics that would have qualified him as a villain in any century. And yet, the philosopher was probably the only out-and-out atheist in the cast, which makes him sound modern; and he was a secularist in government at a time when few could even conceive of that.

The dispute over math was in many ways religious, weird as that sounds to us, and it is a measure of the strong feelings involved that Alexander says the Catholic Jesuits wold have burned Hobbes if they could have caught him, while the Anglicans, who had him, called for burning him but were politically unable to.

No wonder Hobbes thought that two of the leading characteristics of life were its brutality and its brevity.

We do not usually think of Hobbes as a mathematician, and his ideas (like squaring the circle) were disdained at the time, but he was at one point considered so highly that he was named math tutor to Charles Stuart, a man who, to say the least of it, grew up to be one of the greatest calculators of his time.

The war on infinitesimals was fought twice, with opposite outcomes.

The first half of “Infinitesimal” recounts the rise and triumph of the Jesuits as they sought to impose doctrinaire, inflexible and -- as we now know -- insanely wrong ideas on Europe. They succeeded in Italy, turning it from the scientific vanguard to a rural backwater. People really did get murdered for math in this war.

Along the way the Jesuits created what Alexander calls the first and still the only worldwide educational system. It is regrettable that most of what they taught was and still is nonsense.

What the Jesuits wanted, after generations of savage religious warfare, was stability, order and religion. If that sounds very modern, it is.

Gunpowder saved northern Europe from the Jesuits. In 1632, the same year Galileo was condemned (and might well have been burned had he not been a celebrity), Gustavus Adolphus defeated the Catholic army at Breitenfeld, and that was that as far as imposing Catholicism by force went, except around the Mediterranean and in Latin America.

The war over infinitesimals began earlier in Italy but the crisis overlapped in the two theaters, coming to its climaxes around 1660. In England, an odd character named John Wallis was the key disputant. His proofs seemed sloppy to, for example, Fermat; but they worked and appeared to ally mathematics with experimentalism and against rigid authoritarianism and Hobbes.
And that proved to be the winning approach, in economic, power political and philosophic arenas.

Alexander spends only a few brief paragraphs in sketching the consequences, which were, of course, dependent on many other things besides an experimental and inquisitive approach to math.

Advanced math is not sufficient to become modern, but it does seem to be a requirement.

Alexander does not speculate on or extend the point, but that does not have to stop his readers. It is a fact, unmentioned by Alexander, that Islam deliberately took itself out of the running for math supremacy in the 13th century and China about a century later. Of the other centers where mathematics was so sophisticated that it is possible to imagine one of them pushing forward into modernity (India, Central America), all were conquered by backward religions and so stultified. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

A sensible tea party manifesto

On days when I go downtown I usually stop at the coffee shop for a small English breakfast tea. This costs $2.25, and I drop a quarter in the tip jar. Wailuku Coffee Shop stamps my frequent drinker card and every 11th cup is free, so my net cost is about $2.30 cents a cup.

Now a useful way to think of the national budget is in "Solyndras." One Solyndra is not quite $500,000,000, so that, for example, the USNS Choctaw County, the naval version of the Superferry, costs about three-tenths of a Solyndra. Wailuku Coffee Shop cups of tea are a useful way to think of the county budget.

A letter to the editor this week claimed that union labor would soon bankrupt the county, so that the unions should be destroyed. Is this true?

Not only not true but ridiculously upside down. Yet it is not hard to find people who think county taxes are too high. I'm lookin' at you, Council Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Mike White.

I recently paid my half-year property tax. Property tax is the largest source of county revenue, which needs to reach something over $600 million (about 1.1 Solyndras). We soak the hotels, but Council Member White, despite being a hotel manager, is not concerned about the high tax on hotels. He is worried about residential rates.

Really, Mike? I am paying $50 a month on a house the assessor thinks is worth around $500,000. For that I get police and fire protection 24/7, parks, a division to enforce zoning laws, the prosecutor, subsides for animal control and various other social services etc.

For $1.67 a day, less than I spend on tea.

Now there are other county services I pay for separately: The country's only opt-in opala collection ($2.08 a pickup for 2 pickups a week, which includes upkeep of an environmentally safe landfill); water ($15-$18 a month, or enough for around 4,000,000 cups of tea); and the vehicle and gasoline taxes, which keep the roads in (not very good) repair.

Vehicle taxes are around $250 per vehicle, and I haven't tried to calculate how much I pay in gas tax, but it isn't much.

So, trash, about 90 cups of tea; water, about 80 cups of tea; roads, maybe 1,000 cups of tea (I have 4 cars), and everything else, about 260 cups of tea. I hardly think that is an insupportable burden.

I have long wanted higher property taxes, if that will lead to a better life, for example by increasing funding for the Maui Invasive Species Committee. I was attacked by fire ants in Georgia when I was in junior high school and I still remember that and would pay a large amount not to have to worry about its happening again.

I get that many people on Maui struggle with housing costs and I see no reason to increase taxes on them. Mike White's low rates are appropriate for, say, the first $200,000 to $300,000 of real residential property. But taxes on more valuable homes should be higher. Much higher.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in a house worth more than $250,000 can afford it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Hedline in the New York Times:

Citigroup Says It Has Fired 12 in Mexico Over Fraud

 Nut (and I do mean nut) graf:

Citigroup has not fired any employees based in the United States in connection with the fraud, though the bank’s internal investigation is continuing.
Too bad they (and US regulators) cannot find anybody to fire/indict at Citi for  behavior prior to October 2008.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

High politics

If this story did not come from a usually trustworthy news source, I would have a hard time believing it.

About 40 percent of Punjabis 15 to 25 years of age were addicted to some kind of narcotic, and 48 percent of farmers and laborers are addicts, according to a 2011 government report.
It is difficult for me to conceive of a society with addiction rates that high (though I am not clear exactly what "addiction" means here; it has been demonstrated, for example, that people who are addicted to heroin can work steadily, as long as they do not have to spend all their time getting more heroin).

I had recently  read a persuasive argument for legalizing drugs, but am not yet convinced.

My argument, in simplest form, goes thus:

If a hit of crack cocaine/heroin/whiskey/name your poison costs less than a pack of cigarette, then what is it that prevents nearly everybody from using the poison? At least in America, when crack got down to $2, usage did not then become as common as chewing gum. (It is irrelevant to the proposition what comparison is used; when I first began thinking along these lines, a pack of smokes was around $3. Cigarettes are relatively higher now, but I don't see the smokers I know giving up. They try, lately by vaping. Most have ended up giving up  vaping, but a few now vape and smoke both. This applies even to those for whom buying tobacco means not eating regularly.)

The barrier is not religion or fear of the law, for the most part. A hundred years ago, when addictive drugs (except alcohol) were hardly regulated in the U.S., I don't think addiction rates got as high as 48% even in heavily addicted sectors.

It seems clear to me that a big factor in addiction is a personal propensity for risk-taking. I have a friend who used to be addicted to snorting coke. A spell in prison and a near-death overdose got her off snow but not off excitement. She started running up bills she could not pay, for the thrill of evading bill collectors.

Not appealing to me, but to some people.

It is also true that social pressure has a lot to do with it. Perhaps this is what happens in Punjab.

Book Review 322: One More River to Cross

ONE MORE RIVER TO CROSS: An African American Photograph Album, by Walter Dean Myers. 166 pages. Harcourt Brace, $40.

It is often said that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, and there’s truth in that; but it is just as true that black middle class life is almost invisible to white America.

In “One More River to Cross” Walter Dean Myers has culled archives, junk stores and other places where old photographs hide and assembled an album that would be merely nostalgic if the faces were white. But most of them are not, which means that for many readers, an America they never knew existed looks out at them: A lean and tough-looking young cowboy, complete with bandanna, chaps, cartridge belt, Winchester repeating rifle, saddle and lariat -- and a head full of wild, long but (apparently) processed hair. Part Indian, too, maybe.

Nat Love, or Deadwood Dick

The selection is rich and broad, with laborers in cotton fields, a lynched man and a gangster, and at the other end of the social scale, celebrities like Duke Ellington; but there is a weight toward scenes of middle class aspirations, recreations and work.

Always work. Myers, a poet, accompanies the photographs with a sparse but effective text that returns again and again to work.

This is worth repeating, since in 2012 we had a presidential candidate of a major party who claimed humble people avoid work; and in 2014 we have a large fraction of his party rallying around the same losing (but comforting to them) message.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Book Review 321: The Shakespeare Legacy

THE SHAKESPEARE LEGACY: The Material Legacy of Shakespeare’s Theatre, by Jean Wilson. 211 pages, illustrated. Bramley. £19.99

When I was taught Elizabethan and Jacobean theater practices in the ‘60s, hardly any of the evidence had been found since around 1900. The Victorians had ransacked England for documents and “reliques,” and since hardly anything had been found since then, it was thought that everything that had survived had been found.

So we confidently reconstructed the vanished Globe and what went on inside it, on hardly any evidence. Professor Jean Wilson reminds us that all of the many reconstructions of the Globe’s “wooden O” are conjectural, including Sam Wanamaker’s full-size version built around 1989.

In that year, though, excavators came upon the foundations of the Rose theater, waterlogged, and a great surprise. Then followed a “debacle,” during which competing scholarly interests wrangled over what to do with them; while the government, since it was the era of Thatcher, was content to see them destroyed.

It is always so with rightwingers. They bleat endlessly about the superior ways of the past, but when there is a chance to study them, they flee in fear. That is because their past is even more of a fiction than the honest attempts of Kittredge and Chambers; real knowledge is always potentially a threat to their political superstructure, so they are careful to avoid or destroy it.

Nevertheless, though done in a less than proper manner, some evidence was recovered from the Rose and from a subsequent deliberate search for foundations of the Globe.

Wilson argues, however, that all along there has been hiding in plain sight a lot of evidence about what the theaters were probably like. This is important beyond the texts of the Renaissance plays; “The Shakespeare Legacy” is about theater management and technique, not about what the players declaimed.

There has been a more or less unacknowledged assumption that plays and players were outlaws of a sort (despite having a king as a sponsor), so that their status was outlaw, too. Wilson contends that they partook of most of the styles and attitudes of their time:

“We will learn far more by looking at structures such as Hunsdon’s tomb than by looking at Anne Hathaway’s cottage.”

Most of the book, therefore, examines tombs, builders’ books, furniture and the like.

Wilson is diffident, rarely asserting that anything she has found conclusively settles such old questions as, did the tiring-house facade project onto the stage or was it flush with the back wall?

One of her few flat statements is to knock down the idea that hall screens was used as convenient backwalls when players went to great halls for temporary playhouses. It seems to make perfect sense that they would, and when surviving halls are used nowadays, that’s what modern players do.

But an interesting thing about ancestors is that what seems simple and obvious to us  did not always seem so to them.

The rescue archaeologists discovered that the muddy arena of the Rose was treated with ash and clinker (from the abundant sea-coal fires), and then mixed with hazelnut shells dropped by groundlings, forming a pavement that after 400 years was still “like rock.”

But that raises a question. Did each groundling bring a nutcracker? It seems unlikely they had enough teeth to crack them that way. Or was it like my teenage years (long ago before self-opening beer cans) when not everybody carried a church key but in any group of three or more, you could count on at least one person who had one to share.

In my mind, at least, the picture of the ‘prentices listening to Shakespeare’s lines from Shakespeare’s mouth is changed by imagining them interrupting the delivery of Hamlet’s soliloquy to ask someone to pass the cracker.

Or perhaps it wasn’t that way. We don’t know. But we know more thanks to Professor Wilson.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dropping the big one

So it seems we are to have a partisan congressional investigation of Benghazi, numero 8.

According to the New York Times, Democrats

 remain divided over whether to boycott the select committee. They are concerned that their participation would grant legitimacy to what they believe will be a partisan forum. But they also worry that if they avoid it they won't have the chance to counter GOP claims and defend potential witnesses — including Clinton, a possible 2016 presidential candidate.
Not being a Democrat, I don't get that. If I were a Democratic congresscritter, I'd be in the same mood as Clarence Darrow when he learned the opposing counsel in the Scope trial was going to be William Jennings Bryan. As T.H. Huxley allegedly muttered when Slippery Sam Wilberforce delivered his killer question at the debate on "Origin of Species": "The lord hath delivered him into my hands."

Rep. Trey Gowdy prepares to chair Benghazi committee
 If I were on the committee, I'd ask Hillary Clinton: "In your opinion, what has caused the 90% drop in attacks on American embassies since President Obama took office?"

I am sure there will be many other moments, too.  After all, if your opponent is working from the Fox News playbook, it will be really hard to lose.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Gun nuts on parade

I visited my granddaughters over the weekend, which meant exposing myself to parts of the culture that I normally don't have any contact with, like television. One thing I saw was going to be fodder for another gun nut post, which now must come later, because overnight an even better -- by which I mean, much worse -- example has come up.

NJ man shoots 11-year-old nephew dead while demonstrating laser sight on his forehead

What more can one say? Plenty, and the online commentariat is saying it. I have picked out a few of the most incisive ones but it is worth reading them all:

 More guns mean more people are safe. --The NRA--

 The NRA would say that if the eleven-year-old boy had a gun this would not have happened.

At least they arrested this guy -- they usually call this kind of stuff a "tragic accident."


 Criminal negligence is a funny thing. Kill someone outside your family and you could get life, but kill a family member and all you will probably get is sympathy.

and (based on the fact that the shooter lived in his mother's basement)

I was mostly making fun of him for being a loser who can apparently afford a gun collection (good-quality new guns ain't cheap), but can't afford to move out of his parents' basement.
I know times are tough for millennials, but, damn, that's pathetic.
I think after every similar episode, the national press should insist that Wayne Lapierre go on record and on camera to explain the NRA version of events. When Lapierre starts showing up every single day, then maybe the responsible gun owners of America (if there really are any) will start joining the don't-need-guns voters to draft some responsible legislation -- like repealing the Second Amendment.

But I am not hopeful because 1) Wayne Lapierre doesn't have the stones to defend his positions when they lead to shooting kids; 2) gun nuts are cowards who are afraid to go unarmed in places where the rest of us move about without a care, and that is why you cannot discuss anything with them; 3) there is an enormous financial sector that profits from stroking the penis substitutes that the gun nuts cannot live without.

Which brings me to the original post this was going to be. The hedline was to have read:


 And the text would have said:

 The ultimate in vicarious wish fulfillment for gun nuts has come to "Animal Planet," a reality show called Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters. 

I have not seen the show, only the promo, which explains all -- "Hunting men is the ultimate" (I do not have that exact but that was the sense of it; the picture explains the sentiment just as well.)

All the sicko gun owners will be watching and spasming into their BVDs, and Animal Planet will be raking it in. It would be worth watching just to learn who the sponsors are.

A fair idea of the intelligence of these menaces is given by the promo, which shows them sneaking up on a tent (presumably hiding a fugitive) across a broad, snow-covered meadow, wearing forest camouflage.

A commenter at claims to know the show is fake, which is no doubt true; but that does not change the intent of the producers or the intended audience.