Saturday, December 31, 2016

To be or not to be Putin's punk

For months, leftist vulgarians have been portraying Trump as Putin's catamite.

Tacky and over the top?Yes. Inaccurate?

The subtle Obama has set the table for the world to find out. A New York Times analysis lays out some -- but far from all -- of the background but misses the real significance of Obama's actions to expel Russian diplomats and (in a move that I believe is unprecedented since at least 1941) deny access by foreign governments to their property in the US.

Not only does Obama remind Putin of the power of the United States -- despite the braying of rightwingers about Obama's weakness, Putin has been powerless to affect the sanctions that are wrecking Russia's economy, recalling Roosevelt's executive actions that destroyed Japan's economy in '41 (see my review of "Bankrupting the Enemy," Nov. 3, 2016).

He also presents Trump with a no-win situation when he takes office.

Either Trump continues to curry favor with Putin -- in exchange for nothing for the US --by reversing the expulsions and restrictions, which Putin signaled he expects Trump to do by declining to expel a like number of Americans (a hesitancy unprecedented in modern diplomatic custom); or he does not, thus queering (so to speak) the bromance on the occasion of the first real date.

If Trump chooses the second option, then Obama has effectively narrowed the amount of damage Trump can do to our allies by waltzing with Russia. But if he chooses the first, then he confirms the notion that he is a weakling, Putin's punk.

Well played, sir!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Book Review 377: The Lodger

THE LODGER: Shakespeare on Silver Street, by Charles Nicholl. 377 pages, illustrated. Penguin paperback

A century ago, a diligent professor from the University of Nebraska discovered an authentic autograph of William Shakespeare at the Public Record Office, only the sixth example known. English Shakespeareans were embarrassed and outraged that a hick from what Mencken called one of the cow states would have upstaged them on their own ground, but at that time Shakespeare scholarship was limited to memento hunting and arguments about line readings.

It was not until half a century later that the study took a more sociological shift, and even then not much was made of the lawsuit to which Shakespeare signed his deposition. After another half century Charles Nicholl decided to look deeper into the suit to see if perhaps it would yield some insights into a writer so universal that the individual author seems hidden from view.

The short answer is that the lawsuit doesn’t tell us much about Shakespeare but we learn a fair amount about a family of French refugees from Catholic atrocities who were prospering in London and from whom Shakespeare rented rooms.

“The Lodger” came out in 2007 but is particularly relevant this month because some attention is being given to a writers’ petition in favor of humane treatment of refugees, to which Shakespeare wrote some compelling thoughts. The threats, xenophobia, pure ignorance and violence being displayed by Trump and his acolytes is no different than the violence of the London mob in the 1590s, and Shakespeare’s humanity and tolerance then is as needed now as then.

But Shakespeare did not merely speak on behalf of refugees. He lived among them, and this was unusual. Silver Street, where the Mountjoys had their shop and residence, was far from convenient to the Globe or Blackfriars and not close to the districts where London’s litterateurs congregated. Nicholl imagines that Shakespeare needed to get away from the theater district to find the calm he needed to write two plays a year while also acting nearly every day.

But discoveries about the (possible) sexual looseness of Maria Mountjoy, the landlady, leads to many pages of arch speculation about how close the lodger and the landlady were and whether he chose this particular place because of his attraction to dark ladies.

As it turns out, Nicholl finds exactly nothing to support his lewd imaginings, and we don’t even know if Maria Mountjoy was dark or fair. All the heavy breathing was irritating but nevertheless, to anyone interested in Jacobean drama, “The Lodger” is still full of interest as Nicholl chases hares down many boltholes.

Two points were especially revealing: Shakespeare’s collaboration on “Pericles” with a pimp with literary aspirations, George Wilkins, who perhaps was brought in to help the aging Shakespeare (by 1604-5 nearing the end of his 25 years of writing and somewhat out of touch with new tastes) catch the current market; and the oddity that most of Shakespeare’s later plays were about fathers having trouble with daughters.

It is not known that Shakespeare had much trouble with his two daughters, one of whom married well (so far as we can tell) and the other rather late and to a layabout, but that came nearly at the end of his life.

Nicholl makes a fair case that Shakespeare’s involvement in the marriage at Silver Street — he helped bring the apprentice and the landlady’s daughter together — combined with his anxiety about his daughters (he had no living son) — colored all the work of his last years.

But we do not learn whether Shakespeare’s real-life matchmaking turned out well or not. The son-in-law and the father-in-law did not get along but we do not know whether the husband and the wife were a love-match or even well-suited in the more mercenary aspirations of 17th century marriage making among the middle class.

It’s good yarn even if unfinished.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

So you think your life is complicated

RtO has always advocated a free and independent Great Kurdistan as the beginning of any policy in southwest Asia that could ever have a chance of success. Here, via Ari Murad, is as good a summary as you will ever find of why it will be so difficult, even if tried, which it won't be.

As we indicated in the beginning; the second fall of eastern Aleppo has lots in common with the first fall. But why did Aleppo fall despite all the support to the tens or maybe hundreds of factions with tons of weapons from Turkey and finance from Saudis and Qataris with media propaganda about establishing a common operation room from all factions accompanied by threats and promises, but again why did Aleppo falls?
Possibly "hundreds of factions"had something to do with it. But this analysis, by Polat Can, digs deeper. It concludes:

 At last, the only viable project is the secular and real patriotic project of the Kurdish people, the project of the democratic Syrian forces and the people’s protection units. It is the federal and democratic project that can stand against ISIS and the regime and all the dictators and will also guarantee a free Kurdistan and free Syria.
Correct even if unreasonably optimistic.

However, the United States should support a Great Kurdistan because it is the right thing to do, which ought to be reason enough.

It is also practical. It is useful to compare southwest Asia today with central Europe between the world wars. A caution: the Versailles settlement lasted barely 15 years or only as long as the time since the U.S. destroyed Iraq.

Like the Middle East today, central Europe contained about half a dozen more or less evenly balanced states: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and (on the margin) Yugoslavia. On the periphery were much weaker states: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.

Compare Turkey, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt (with 2 inherently more powerful than the rest, Turkey and Iran, as were Hungary and Poland) with the Gulf statelets and Lebanon on the periphery.

(Iraq was once in the mix but it seems unlikely it will count for much any time soon.)

In each example, each state comprised resentful minorities, antagonistic religions and each had historical claims to somebody else's territory.

(In each case there is an anomalous state that does not play much of a role in the fundamental upsets that preoccupy the rest -- Austria and Israel.)

Each group faces interference from big powers: Germany and the USSR and America and Russia which each group's members are always ready to ignore if they see a chance to score off their local rivals. In 1938, when Germany broke up Czechoslovakia, the central European powers did not say, "Uh oh, us next." No, they saw a chance to grab a province themselves, notably Poland at Teschen.

Truly, all politics is local.

The comparative calm in central Europe in 2016 is the result of massive murders and population transfers -- voluntary and forced -- which reduced the minorities conflicts; plus over 40 years of an enforced Pax Muscovia that required nearly 2 generations to devote themselves to some other project than figuring out how to steal a few hundred square kilometers from a neighbor.  

Which is not to say these ancient resentments cannot be rekindled but that for now they are not the chief irritants of international affairs.

In other words, the national solution seems the only way out; the idea of the multiethnic, multireligious polity isn't desired by any considerable segment of any popuation in the region.

That requires, as a start, the breakup of the artificial states, which has begun but has a long way to go.
I once calculated that there should be 19 nations in the area instead of 10 (counting the Gulf states as one). Today I think 19 migh be too few. 

So there really is a death panel

It is coordinated at the Republican National Committee.

Vox senior editor Sarah Kliff wrote a poignant account last week of her visit to Whitley County, Ky., where the uninsured rate declined 60 percent under Obamacare but 82 percent of voters supported Trump. There, Kliff, a former Post colleague, found Trump voters who were downright frightened that the president-elect would do exactly — literally — what he and Republicans promised: repeal Obamacare.

Among those she found was Trump voter Debbie Mills, a store owner whose husband awaits a lifesaving liver transplant; they got insurance through Obamacare, and Mills is hoping the law won’t be repealed.
But they have to. It is the worst law ever; Congress has never repealed a law so many times.

As the days of Obama dwindle down to a precious few, it might be nice if the people who invented and spread the lie about death panels would retract and apologize. They won't, because of the fundamental indecency of the American rightwing.

It would be soooo easy to prove me wrong . . .

Pray you do not get sick, Deplorables

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book Review 376: Hitler's Empire

HITLER’S EMPIRE: How the Nazis Ruled Europe, by Mark Mazower. 726 pages, illustrated. Penguin

If asked to characterize how the Nazis ruled subjugated countries in a word, it would to be tempting to answer “brutally”or “murderously.” But a more acute answer would be “ineptly” or “amateurishly.”

The literature on the subject could not be mastered in 10 lifetimes but Mark Mazower has comprehended an enormous amount of it in at least half a dozen languages. Sometimes he struggles to squeeze it all into just 600 pages of “Hitler’s Empire.” However, it is possible to distill the essence of Nazi rule into a short space.

Yes, it was murderous, immoral and  (we hope) foredoomed. But, looked at in a narrowly administrative sense, main themes resolve themselves.

First, while it is sometimes said the the British acquired their empire in a fit of absentmindedness, and while Hitler admired their ability to mange it with so few men (about one to every thousand inhabitants of India, for example), Hitler in a sense acquired an empire he didn’t want.

“Mein Kampf” laid out his dreams of an empire in the east but he never imagined he would occupy western Europe or North Africa. He was neither prepared to rule the empire he got nor did he have enough Germans to do it.

(Though not remarked by Mazower, Bismarck had foreseen the problem; he opposed the bid for an overseas empire — or even a European state encompassing all German speakers —  because he did not think he had enough Prussians to staff it.)

The practical flaw in the concept of Lebensraum was that there were not enough Germans to settle the newly acquired lands. Nor did the Germans who did exist want to move east; they had been shifting west, and away from the land to the cities, for generations.

Second, much of the book concerns Himmler’s repeatedly frustrated schemes to remake Poland, Belarus and Ukraine into German-populated marches buffering Greater Germany from the hordes of asiatics. So these places had to be cleared of Jews and Slavs.

It was not at first envisaged that the Jews would be murdered. Up to late 1941, it was planned to shift them somewhere else. However, and in contradiction to this concept, it was expected that eventually the Slavs would be mostly eliminated. Starvation would do that job.

Third, meanwhile, the Germans had to decide how to control most of Europe. With no forethought or guiding notions, they made different arrangements in different countries: the Danes, who cooperated without much fuss, got to keep a parliament and manage most of their affairs; the French were partly under military occupation, partly expected to govern themselves for Germany’s benefit; the Croats were left to their own murderous selves; the Greeks were under a harsh military occupation.

An additional complication was that the Netherlands, France, Belgium and even Denmark had overseas colonies that the Germans needed to keep under the administration of sovereign states in order to keep the British out.

Elsewhere, the Germans exploited local jealousies to gain cooperation: in Slovakia, resentment of Czechs; in Romania and Hungary by allowing them to absorb territory they had historical claims for.

However, this did not work well, because some of these partners were claiming the same territory; or Hitler did not want them to have it; or for military reasons; and, most of all, because it tended to interfere with the racial policies.

Fourth, notoriously, many people, especially in eastern Europe, initially welcomed the German army because of their desire for independence, hatred of the Soviets, or both. But the brutality of German behavior quickly turned these potential collaborators into opponents.

Fifth, economically, the Germans did better, getting the industrial western conquests to convert to production for Germany. A dreamed-of rationalization of Europe’s economy didn’t happen and couldn’t have, but as a source of munitions and food the Reich did well enough out of its conquests.

Sixth, the demographic impasse which Mazower continually returns to bedeviled the Nazis. Early in the war, they achieved their racial dream of evicting non-Germans from Germany; but soon enough need for labor meant they were importing workers from all over, some as volunteers, some as slaves, some as half-slaves. Germany was again acquiring undesirables, even, in some instances, Jews. The total of 7 million was not far from 10 percent of the total of Germans in Germany. And, ironically, about the same as the number of German soldiers killed in the war.

Mazower remarks that for Hitler, economics was a zero-sum struggle, and in that sense going to war proved him right.

(Curiously, despite devoting much space to Germany’s labor stringency, Mazower never mentions the well-known facts that Germany never turned to its women — there was no Heidi the Riveter — nor did it divert the very large number of domestic servants into war work. Despite its radicalism in many ways, Nazism was traditional in its estimation of women; and although some 21st century rightwingers have attempted to define Nazism as a form of socialism, it was thoroughly bourgeois.)

“Hitler’s Empire” is not only an economic review; there is a great deal about politics and, throughout, the thing the 21st century thinks it remembers — the bloodshed. The amount of killing was unprecedented and Mazower never lets up; but there was much more going on than that, and the last two chapters should make liberal readers squirm.

Hitler’s New Order challenged the complacent democracies where they were vulnerable: none of what the Nazis did was unknown in the colonies of Britain, France, Belgium or the Netherlands, and the colonized took it to heart. None of those empires survived much longer than Hitler’s.

Hitler wanted to overturn the Versailles settlement that attempted to protect minorities by creating monoethnic states. Since 1945, the world has agreed with him; states have purged their minorities, creating a permanent refugee and migrant crisis.

If the United States was to some extent a holdout from this kind of nazification, the election of 2016 signaled that America has joined the intolerants.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A weak cheer for Rex Tillerson

Apotheosis of Tillerson, by Rockwell
Even a blind sow finds an acorn once in a while. Trump's appointments to date can be summarized as an assembly of imbeciles, some with nazi tendencies. Rex Tillerson as secretary of state qualifies as an imbecile if, as reported by Steve Coll, his favorite book is "Atlas Shrugged."

And he is also a NIMBY jackass  very much in the style of the next president.

And there may be many other objectionable things about him. Coll will be happy to tell anyone about them.

But his go-it-Exxon's-way style at least occasionally hits the correct note. Coll says:

 In Kurdistan, during the Obama Administration, Tillerson defied State Department policy and cut an independent oil deal with the Kurdish Regional Government, undermining the national Iraqi government in Baghdad. ExxonMobil did not ask permission. After the fact, Tillerson arranged a conference call with State Department officials and explained his actions, according to my sources, by saying, “I had to do what was best for my shareholders.”

It is RtO's firm opinion that a free and independent Great Kurdistan is not only consistent with what used to be American values but an indispensable component of any settlement that could conceivably bring calm to southwest Asia.

OTOH, clearly Exxon didn't do it out of any high-minded principles or even from a sophisticated conception of the politics in that part of the world, since it also does business in Equatorial Guinea, one of the worst hellholes in the world.

(Equatorial Guinea is the richest country per capita in Africa thinks to oil royalties but here is some of what Wikipedia has to say about it: "The UN says that less than half of the population has access to clean drinking water and that 20% of children die before reaching the age of five. The country's authoritarian government has one of the worst human rights records in the world, consistently ranking among the "worst of the worst" in Freedom House's annual survey of political and civil rights."

(It might be nice if, during Tillerson's confirmation hearings, some senator asks him about that. For that matter, it might have been nice if Hillary Clinton and John Kerry had been asked about policy there, too.)

Tillerson and I also agree that everyone should have electricity. Something like 2 billion people don't and they die because of it. I have never written about this, but RtO's position on climate change is:

If you are going to propose ANY policy with regard to climate or pollution, the first words I want to hear are how you intend to bring electricity to ALL the people. Unless I hear that, I will not listen to anything else you have to say.
At the Council on Foreign Relations, Tillerson said:

 "There are still hundreds of millions, billions of people living in abject poverty around the world. They need electricity. They need electricity they can count on, that they can afford. They need fuel to cook their food on that's not animal dung. There are more people's health being dramatically affected because they could -- they don't even have access to fossil fuels to burn. They'd love to burn fossil fuels because their quality of life would rise immeasurably, and their quality of health and the health of their children and their future would rise immeasurably. You'd save millions upon millions of lives by making fossil fuels more available to a lot of the part of the world that doesn't have it"
 Close enough.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Thirsty yet?

The Maui News story about EMI's water permits led with the Bureau of Land and Natural Resources' renewal of the withdrawal authority, then went to the bitching of the opponents. Only then did it mention what I take to be the most significant part of the story:

The daily limit was halved to 80 million gallons.

For decades the limit has been 160 mgd, but this is reached only when it rains in East Maui. At times the total take has fallen to 13 or 14 mgd (even lower, but that was before I arrived on Maui).

Now that HC&S is shutting down, the demand is much less.  The county takes 6 or 7 mgd (and is entitled to more but has not built the pipes to accept it), the ag park takes a million and there are some other small recipients -- say 20 mgd , more in dry seasons, less in the winter.

(HC&S has always insisted that it needed a minimum of 13 mgd, not for irrigation but for fire protection at the mill which relies on ditch flow. If there wasn't a fire, it got to use the 13 mgd on its fields. So when the total diversion went under 20 mgd, the county, which is upstream, was in theory forced to accept cuts; in practice this has been avoided in recent years because  the periods of low capture have been relatively short.)

Now, I guess, we can just let the mill burn so the minimum daily requirement is in the neighborhood of 10 mgd. It has been lower, back in the '70s, but not recently.

So everything is OK, right?

I don't think so. It may take a while but if EMI cannot take 160 mgd, it is not going to keep maintaining the farther reaches of the ditch system, so the total possible take (which has been as high as 200 mgd) will start shrinking. There will come a day when the rain stops and the total available at the places along Baldwin Avenue/Olinda Road where Upcountry gets its drinking water will not be 10 mgd but say, 5 mgd.

There is some storage, enough for 3 months maybe in a pinch.

But in a long drought -- long not unprecedented -- a shriveled EMI will be unable to reach minimum demands.

Not to worry though. Before we get to that point, the lack of water deliveries to abandoned fields, followed by weed growth, will lead to wildfires.

The Maui Vortex will push the flames toward (most likely) Maalaea/North Kihei. It happens frequently. Up to now, the HC&S heavy equipment has cut firebreaks and kept the fires away from the condominiums along the beach.

Next time, there won't be any plantation bulldozers, and the country fire department doesn't have any.

So bye-bye- condos. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The forgotten man of Pearl Harbor

Not the USS J.O. Richardson
In 1940, Commander-in-Chief Franklin Roosevelt ordered the Pacific Fleet to base itself at Pearl Harbor. He also poured money into a crash program of fortifications in Hawaii, Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines, the Canal Zone and elsewhere in the Pacific.

Earlier, starting in 1937, he had begun the buildup to a two-ocean navy, against the squeals of both rightwingers (who liked Germany and didn't like to spend money on the military) and leftwingers (who liked to spend money at home and thought the world had learned a lesson in 1914-18). He was abetted by Georgia congressman Carl Vinson.

At this date, few people are aware of the political pressure on Roosevelt who was widely and wildly condemned as a warmonger. His policy counts, we now see, as among the very greatest acts of wise leadership in our history, equaled only by Lincoln's nurturing of national goals just before and during the Civil War.

It is a good thing FDR started when he did, because it takes a long time to build warships. It wasn't until mid-1943 that the aircraft carrier Essex, first of the modern carriers of the new fleet, sailed for the Pacific (with my father and about 1,500 other new ensigns aboard, catching a lift to their first ships; in Dad's example the destroyer Case).

The president is not only commander-in-chief, he is also he director of foreign policy; and, as Clauswitz told us, the military exists only to further foreign policy, not the other way round. Roosevelt's policy was to try to restrain Japan so that armed force could be directed at Germany, the more dangerous state.  This policy failed (See Book Review 375: "Bankrupting the Enemy"). But it was never certain to fail.

Basing the Pacific Fleet forward was intended to reinforce the commodity and financial sanctions, and diplomatic pressure, on Japan to deter it from wider war. As the Japanese now know, that was a lesson they should have taken seriously.

It was a risk. J.O. Richardson, commander of the Pacific Fleet, warned Roosevelt that the Hawaii base was underdeveloped, inconvenient and easier to attack than West Coast bases, mainly around San Diego. All this was true but irrelevant. Richardson should have said, "Aye, aye, sir," and gotten on with the assignment. (Dad admired Ray Spruance most of all wartime commanders, because unlike all the rest he didn't complain about the forces he was allotted; he went ahead with what he had and always won; the only great commander America produced in the war.)

Instead, Richardson wouldn't shut up, so Roosevelt fired him.

Richardson was right; if the fleet had been in San Diego, it couldn't have been attacked. But he was wrong, because an unbuilt fleet couldn't have been attacked either.

And that is why today's Navy has a carrier named USS Carl Vinson and not even a garbage scow named USS J.O. Richardson.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Galatians 6:7

"God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform"
-- William Cowper

For all my life Bible-thumpers have been warning me that God would punish America for its sins, usually with hurricanes, communist invasions, tornadoes or whatnot. We have had plenty of all except the commie takeover but the message from the Lord has been unfortunately garbled.  The outwardly good perish and the defiers of Baptist morality flourish.

So it is a pleasure to report that -- just as St. Paul cautioned the Galatians -- we have a clear example of what happens when God is mocked.

Recall that the currently most popular sin for which God is going to punish America is gay marriage. Many Christians have warned us about this, for example one in Gatlinburg, Tennessee:

Sure enough God has tagged Gatlinburg, the marriage capital of the eastern United States, for the Sodom and Gomorrah treatment; and has struck down one of the most vocal persons in the gay marriage controversy. In fact, he smote the guy who put up that sign.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pray you do not get sick, Deplorables II

So the nominee for secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Tom Price, thinks Obamacare interferes in a bad way with the doctor-patient relationship. Price is a surgeon.

I wonder what he thinks about the current system.  Earlier this month I had to make 3 time-consuming and costly trips downtown to pick up and return a recording oxygen meter for my wife. Her doctor thinks she needs oxygen; she thinks she needs oxygen.

Their opinion counts for nothing. The decision whether her insurance (not Obamacare) will pay for it is made by a clerk with no medical training.

1. The Republican Party does not support a minimum wage of $15; it is not clear whether the tea party wing (of which Price is an ornament) believes in a minimum wage law at all.

2. Price's alternative to Obamacare is tax credits for purchasing private medical insurance.

3. As Mitt Romney famously complained, close to half of Americans make so little money (see point 1 in this summary) that they owe little or no tax.

4. A tax credit for a person not subject to tax is worth $0.00. (For people like Price it will be worth anything up to $1.00 per $1.00; a pattern emerges.)

Enjoy paying all your medical bills out of current income or savings, Trumpeters.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Is an itch a tickle?

Humor is hard to do. Consider the 2016 Ignobel Prize in Medicine, which went to German scientists who discovered (in 2013) that if an itch is induced in one forearm, having the sufferer watch himself in a mirror while scratching the like spot on the other arm will bring substantial relief.

While the idea is amusing the implications seem serious enough. Really, the only funny part was the speculation as to the mechanism:

This effect might be due to a transient illusionary intersensory perceptual congruency of visual, tactile and pruriceptive signals.

Saturday, November 19, 2016


In 1985 I was in Manhattan for a convention. The people I was with were anxious to look at Trump Tower, which was fairly new. They also wanted to see Bijan, a shop in the tower that sold $250 neckties.  I had no interest in either but went along with my group.

If I had any expectations, they were for, at least, an impressive interior space like the ones John Portman had introduced in the '70s in Atlanta. I was surprised to find that the entrance room to the tower was so dinky. Other than that, I have had no contact with Trump taste in building.

Now it cannot be avoided. news photographs of Trump's meeting with Prime Minister Abe show us his living room.

Garish doesn't begin to describe it. I thought, where have I seen the like for a political leader? Oh, yeah, Saddam Hussein.

However, when I looked up a photograph of Saddam's living room it was, comparatively, a model of taste and restraint.

I feign no hypotheses, but it is surprising.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

'Transparent flapdoodle'

I regret I never used that phrase in any of the stories I wrote in my newspaper days. Bravo, Michael
Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times.

He is exactly right about the 'Spirit-ualization' of the airlines, especially United.  Fortunately for me, my travel patterns have changed and I won't have to fly United any more. Not such good news for Hawaii tourism, however, which still depends a lot on United.

It makes you wonder whether American business managers understand who gives their businesses money.

Although I believe that good ol' 'Murican racism accounts for about 98% of Trump's electoral success, I also believe that a part of his personal -- as opposed to his policy -- appeal came from his habit of stiffing people who he hired. Democrats, who believe in an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, thought those stories would hurt him.

What they didns't get was the boiling rage of the American consumer who has a choice of buying crap from China or other crap from China, and if it breaks on the second use, there's no one to complain to. Or, if it's a service business (like his cable provider), he has to endure the humiliation of complaining to a brown person in India who speaks 'Murican with a lilting accent and reads from a script and is prevented form actually doing anything for him.

What the individualistic 'Murican wants to do is to tell all those businesses that don't give a hoot about him or his satisfaction to stuff it, he ain't payin'. Of corse, he's afraid to do it. Credit rating and all.

But he likes to watch Trump do it.

But he loves to see Trump do it.

Who is most likely to murder you?

1. A Muslim terrorist

2. A Christian terrorist

3. The gun nut boyfriend that your co-worker just broke up with.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Pray you do not get sick, Deplorables

The most unhappy of all Americans following Trump’s victory will be Republican congressmen who for the past 7 years have been declaring Obamacare a disaster and voting every two months to repeal it.

Now they can and replace it with something better, as so often promised.


Trump suggests health savings accounts, a favorite idea from the ‘70s that never worked. (I had a version of one once.)

I realize that Trump voters are lost when higher mathematics kicks in (anything beyond what they can count with their socks off), but consider this:

One day in a hospital room costs upwards of $15,000.

The average family in Oxycontinland makes maybe $600 a week.

Let us say they save 10% of their gross pay.

Solve for how many weeks they must save (each week incurring no medical expenses to draw down their savings balance) in order to afford one day of hospital care. Express your answer in years.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Book Review 375: Bankrupting the Enemy

BANKRUPTING THE ENEMY: The U.S. Financial Siege of Japan before Pearl Harbor, by Edward S. Miller. 323 Pages, illustrated. Naval Institute

Edward Miller’s  “Bankrupting the Enemy” has gained in relevance since it was published in 2007 because since then the attempt to control state actors with sanctions has become more and more common, more desperate and, usually, less successful.

It isn’t that sanctions have only just come into use. Miller noted in 2007 that they had been tried 75 times since World War II. Everybody knows that sanctions failed against Italy after it invaded Ethiopia because the key ingredient, oil, was not included. Sanctions had spotty effects on the Spanish Civil War, although that episode offered perhaps history’s strangest caution about unexpected consequences, when members of the Mother of Parliaments stood and cheered the news that German planes had bombed British ships.

Unexpected consequences seem to be the norm with sanctions. See Cuba. But the July 1941 sanctions against Japan resulted in the exact opposite of the intended effect, at least if you take Franklin Roosevelt at his word that he hoped sanctions would bring Japan to its senses, not to its knees. As we will see, this may have been a very good thing.

Half-hearted arms sanctions since 1931 had had no effect on Japan’s aggression in China, and ramped up sanctions in 1940 were no more effective. But a financial freeze in July 1941 quickly drove Japan to the most desperate response — war with America, Britain, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

Miller does a masterly job of setting the scene, and we learn a great deal about such unexpected subjects as why women dislike cotton stockings. The bottom line, which Japan’s militarists should have considered but did not, was that Japan’s most valuable export, raw silk, was used entirely for American women’s stockings. Such was the disparity of the two economies.

It was also crucial that America controlled gold — it made the only market — and that the dominance of the dollar meant that Japan would have no alternatives if America stopped buying Japan’s gold and also froze its dollars.

Yet Roosevelt and his cautious secretary of state, Cordell Hull, were hesitant to use that power. It was already known before Miller’s work, through Jonathan Utley’s “Going to War with Japan,” that midlevel bureaucrats had administratively toughened the commodity sanctions imposed when Japan moved into Indochina beyond what Roosevelt had intended. However, using secret documents not available to Utley, Miller shows how Japan managed to mitigate those impacts.

By subterfuge at the Yokohama Specie Bank in New York (exactly like what we have seen since with many banks, such as BNP Paribas, when the United States and/or the United Nations have tried to impose financial sanctions on, eg, Iran), Japan hid enough foreign exchange to finance necessary military imports for years. (In a minor aspect, the United States considered selective sanctions not against Japan generally but against certain companies but rejected that as impossible to administer; a lesson recent administrations have declined to accept.)

With money to spare, Japan could laugh at wimpy American commodity sanctions on aviation gasoline (87 octane) by importing 86 octane gas and blending it.

Officially and no doubt actually, Roosevelt intended the financial freeze as a carrot-and-stick method. As Japan showed signs of conforming to American wishes, shipments of petroleum or other materials would be selectively allowed.

One branch of government continued to license exports but an ambitious and opportunistic hawk in the State Department, assistant secretary Dean Acheson, simply clamped down on all access to frozen accounts. The licenses were useless.

It is unclear what Roosevelt was thinking. Perhaps he thought a sharp blow would quickly bring Japan around. His only comment in the archives is a note on a memorandum: “SW (acting secretary of state Sumner Welles) OK FDR.”

So Acheson had his way. Like Roosevelt, he wanted most to stop Germany and had little rational reason to force Japan into war against America in the Pacific. Or perhaps he thought that if he could get a war started anywhere, it would become a world war, as did happen.

Acheson’s memoirs are unhelpful.

So one lesson is that America is hard to govern and even presidents don’t always get what they want.

But another conclusion can be drawn, although Miller does not draw it.

It is clear that Japan’s divided leadership was itching for new military adventures in late 1941. Japan could neither win in nor withdraw from China, so to saber rattlers a new front offered a hope of upsetting things with hoped for good results.

The army wanted to conquer Siberia. That was its familiar area; it had already attacked the USSR in 1938 and 1939. And in its perpetual war with the navy, a land war would entitle it to a greater share of national resources.

The navy, we know, was unenthusiastic about war with Russia but could not control the army and, absent a shutdown of imports, had few good reasons to argue for an adventure in the south.

It is thus likely that, if Roosevelt had not acted and if Acheson had not overacted, Japan would have invaded Siberia. The Red Army had, we now know, defeated Germany in September by imposing the 900,000th casualty on the Germans.

Germany could replace only 900,000 casualties, so from that point on, all the Red Army had to do was keep fighting. But it was on a knife’s edge; a serious Japanese attack would possibly have reversed the decision in eastern Russia and would certainly have prevented the transfer of Siberian units to the Moscow front where the Russians just barely managed to save their capital and most important industrial center in December.

If Russia had been knocked out, the combined strength of America and Britain were insufficient to reconquer Europe, so it may be that the dysfunctional and dithering American policy toward Japan was, in the end, better than anything any of the feudists in Washington could have devised.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Bring back our industrial jobs!

You CAN haz cheesburger!

On a trip to Oregon in August, we visited the Tillamook creamery, where they were packaging 2-pound blocks of rat cheese.

It starts with blocks of approximately 40 pounds, which are sliced into 20 pieces. These are wrapped in heavy plastic and weighed. Underweight packages are directed to a man who uses a butcher knife to unwrap them, after which they are returned to the front of the line, where another man slices a thin stip off a block and carefully fits it to the shortweight block. A woman then adds this surgically-enhanced block to the wrapping line again.

Why the shortweight blocks are not weighed and removed before being wrapped is a mystery to me, and there was no one about to ask; just another example of American mangement genius,  I guess, like the Wells Fargo sales operation.

However, I want to focus on a career as a food unwrapper. It isn't only cheese; I once toured the Hershey chocolate plant in Pennsylvania, where 2 men had the job of unwrapping miswrapped Kisses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not  break out unwrappers in category 51-3090, Food Processing Workers, Miscellaneous, but it's a living.

I guess.

A hazardous one at Hershey. A good many of the naked Kisses went into the unwrappers instead of the remelting bin, and both of them weighed around 400 pounds. That, at least, was not a temptation with 2-pound slabs of cheese.

I have head many people who work in mental jobs say they wish they had the satisfaction that comes from having produced a tangible thing at the end of the day. By that standard, I suppose unwrapping food must be one of the least satisfying jobs you can have. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Food is not our future

From the second-floor meeting room at Maui Country Club, economist Paul Brewbaker could look over the heads of his audience and see the denuded 37,000 acres that used to be a sugar plantation.

Don’t expect much of that to be farmed again, he told about 30 listeners (many of them farmers) who had turned out for a Grassroot Institute lecture Thursday. (Grassroot is a libertarian think tank that is agin’ regulations and taxes.)

Brewbaker scoffed at the need to be self-sufficient in food. What are the chances that the barges will stop coming, he wondered. But if there is no urgency to repatriate food production, what is the future of ag on Maui?

Not rosy, he thinks. There are openings for some niche development but nothing attractive in commodities.

The old plantation managers used to say, if you can grow it in the San Joaquin Valley, you cannot grow it on Maui and make a profit. And, as HC&S shows, even if you cannot grow it in California, it’s still almost impossible to make money.

Brewbaker did not mention it, but Hawaii went from producing 98% of the world’s canned pineapple in 1940 to 0%  in 2007. But while pine and then sugar declined, seed production has boomed, and without any subsidy or much attention or encouragement in any form from government, which was preoccupied with either saving sugar and pine or promoting “diversified ag.”

Seed production is really knowledge production, Brewbaker said. It is hard to calculate its value because the value isn’t measured in bushels of corn.

He did not get into GMO moratoriums but Grassroot’s head Kelii Akina did, briefly.

The bottom line is clear enough: The SHAKA movement, if successful, will kill off the only  successful segment of Hawaii agriculture, although even for seeds the growth era looks to be ending..

Ag is not our future in any case. Barely half a percent jobs are in ag.

There is 0 demand for farm land. As Brewbaker put it, if there were any attractive farm investment openings, they’d already be in operation in West Maui, where the closure of Pioneer Mill offered land and water in plenty. (It did not offer labor, though. Before the meeting, as attendees milled around in the lobby, someone asked Warren Watanabe, who has been the voice of ag on Maui for decades, what the biggest barrier to farming was. Labor, he said.)

A&B is going to offer ag leases on most of HC&S’s acres. I wish I could figure out how to sell those ventures short, because 5 years from now they’ll all be gone.

Most of Brewbaker’s talk was a review of how the seed business grew in Hawaii, with his father, a plant geneticist at UH, in at the start. It was too bad the naive pushers of self-sufficiency, small farming and primitive methods were not there.

They might have learned something.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Book Review 374: Papal Sin

PAPAL SIN: Structures of Deceit, by Garry Wills. 326 pages. Doubleday paperback, $14.95

Garry Wills is an American who shares the opinion about papal authority of rightwing hero Lord Acton. But since Wills is an American, he, unlike Acton, does not let the pope silence him.

This has led to some entertaining books although his impact on the Catholic Church has been approximately nil.

Only one part of “Papal Sin” has much relevance to non-Catholics, the first part about the church’s (by which we mean the Curia’s) attempt to falsify its role in the Holocaust. Writing from a Catholic perspective (although he is considered a heretic by rightwing Catholics, Wills has not been condemned by the Holy Office or even his rightwing bishop in Chicago), Wills manages to glide past the most relevant facts.

The ones he chooses to engage are disturbing enough. He focuses on the canonization of Edith Stein, born a Jew but converted to Catholicism and killed by the Nazis. The church argues that Stein was killed for her faith, making her a martyr. Wills says, convincingly, that the intention of the murderer, not the victim, is what makes a martyr; and the Germans did not murder Stein because she was a Catholic but because she was, in their reasoning, still and always a Jew.

By claiming a phony martyr, the popes could say, “See, we too were victims of the Nazi crimes,” except, of course, Catholics were not victims of the Nazis. Catholics trying to cover up the crimes of the church against the Jews also like to point out the numbers of priests who were jailed or shot by the Germans; but what they don’t ever say is that, like Stein, they were not killed for being Catholics but for being nationalists.

Polish priests were killed in plenty, but that was because they were Polish patriots not because they were Catholic priests. German priests were not rounded up and shot.

Wills, usually fearless, really does pull his punch here. He says he does not need to enter the debate about whether Pius XII was “Hitler’s pope.” Of course he was, and Wills even provides the most striking evidence that proves it: He notes, without explaining its significance, that in December 1942 Pius called for an end to the fighting. This is presented by Catholics as a pastoral duty of a pope to oppose violence and as an unpolitical, moral stance.

Baloney. Wills certainly knows what the map of Europe and North Africa looked like in late 1942. Hitler’s conquests reached their maximum in October. In November the antifascists counterattacked and it was obvious they were regaining the ascendancy. Pius intervened immediately to try to assure that Europe remained Nazi.

In the rest of the book, Wills demolishes the lies and tortured reasoning that the papacy uses to oppose contraception, abortion, women priests and married priests. He mocks John Paul II for arranging things so that the church ended up with a mostly homosexual priesthood, much diminished in numbers (down 90% in the United States), so that many parishes don’t get even a gay priest.

What Wills predicted in 2000 has come true, and then some, since. However, it is of no consequence to non-Catholics whether women can be ordained or not; and as for contraception, even Catholics pay no attention to the church’s teaching about that.

They do, to some extent pay attention to the teaching about abortion and that is of interest in non-Catholics because of its impact on secular politics; but Wills notes that Jesus never said a word about abortion. (There is nothing about it in the Torah either.) His deconstruction of the church’s teachings on the subject are worth reading, even if you are not Catholic.

Likewise his brief history of the despotism of Pius IX, whom he blames for trapping the church and future popes into structures of deceit that require them to lie to the faithful about what is in — or not in — their own Holy Scriptures. This is somewhat unfair to Pio Nono, who was every bit as bad as Wills paints him but who hardly invented papal despotism.

Then there are two chapters about St. Augustine’s views about truth. Wills has always been a big fan of the old demon-hunter but he is led far astray this time, following Augustine down a path that leads to indifference to destruction of human beings. Wills does not notice that these chapters end up contradicting his chapter on abortion.

In the last chapter — which particularly enrages popolatrous Catholics — Wills rather gives the back of his hand to Jesus’s talents as a preacher. It turns out — according to Wills —that Jesus was so unclear that it took a 20th-century French philosopher to finally work out what he was getting at.

Wills is always an interesting writer and he personifies the odd position of most American Catholics, who give money and profess allegiance to the teachings and preachings of the pope in Rome but whose actual behavior is hard to distinguish from that of American Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, atheists and Muslims.



Sunday, October 23, 2016

There is a wall between Mexico & the US already

It is difficult to see, but it works.

The screwworm, a particularly unpleasant kind of blowfly, used to attack cattle — and sometimes people — in the southern states. In 1959, a wall was put up and how the fly is gone, although it has recently reinfested the Florida Keys.

Since the fly mates just once in its lifetime, entomologists reasoned that if they could flood the zone with sterile males, none of the females’ eggs would hatch and the fly would be eliminated.

(This technique has been used with fruit flies in Hawaii, but with less success, for several reasons, one of which is that fruit flies mate more than once.)

So a gigantic screwworm fly hatchery was established in Texas. During peak seasons it was using 200,000 pounds of pork lungs a week to grow flies. The females were killed and the males were irradiated to sterility and released by the tens of billions along the border with Mexico.

I have my doubts whether the enviromaniacs would permit this today; they panic at the word radiation, but this was in the ‘50s.

Soon enough the flies were gone from the United States. By 1991 they were gone from Mexico, too, and today the technique is being used to push them back in Central and South America, although it seems unlikely they can ever be completely eliminated from the jungles. Presumably the flies re-entered the Keys from Central America.

What, you are asking, does this have to do with Trump and his fantasy wall to keep out Mexicans? Nothing, it’s just a curiosity, and a signal of the modernization of Mexico as it grows in wealth.

And perhaps that Robert Frost was wrong when he said good fences make good neighbors.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The most valuable land on Maui

The huhu over the Iao Stream diversion is a diversion from the real concern about water on Maui. I’ll get back to the diversion, but first let’s examine the area.

Na Wai Eha watershed supplies most of Maui’s domestic water — all of Central and South Maui’s — either by recharging the aquifer or by feeding the streams. The heart of the watershed is 13,700 acres of conservation land owned in fee by Wailuku Water Co. LLC.

This is the most valuable land on Maui. If it becomes degraded, we cannot live here.

It could happen. Miconia has destroyed the forests of Tahiti.

There is a West Maui Watershed Partnership that attempts to protect the forest but it (along with the similar East Maui organization) is chronically underfunded. Just knowing what is happening in the forest is knowledge expensive to obtain. The land is almost inaccessible to humans though birds and spores can get there easily.

Despite the fantasies of the diversion protesters, Wailuku Water does not earn corporate profits from the water it harvests. It has been losing money for years. It does not have the funds to properly manage the forest.

Obviously, if water is a public trust, this land ought to be in public ownership. Mayor Arakawa does not understand this. Years ago, he tried to buy just the water collection and delivery system. He was properly stiffed by Wailuku Water.

There is no indication he has learned about water since,  but it is not essential that the county own the land. It could as well be the state. What cannot be sustained is private ownership.

(Amusing side note: while Arakawa was embarked on his silly bid for the intakes, the council acted even sillier. It decided it wanted a piece of the inaction, despite a recent charter amendment giving responsibility for water to the mayor. It hired a lawyer to “advise it of its [non-existent] rights.” The council eventually blew over a quarter of a million dollars on this nonsense. The lawyers’ report is still secret, because very embarrassing to the members, but we know what it said: butt out.)

For years, whenever anyone asked me about local politics, I had the same answer: Water is the only issue; if you don’t fix water, it doesn’t matter whether you fix anything else. Water has not been fixed although the most acute threat, the failure of Shaft 33, has been taken care of by abandoning and replacing that source.

Remarkably, water is now only fourth in this list of imminent disasters facing the county, proving that if you ignore a problem long enough you can turn it into a crisis. The gravest threat now is the failure of the hospital, followed in order by the collapse of Honoapiilani Highway in the vicinity of Ukumehame and the looming closure by the FAA of the crumbling runway 20-2 at the airport.

Back to the diversion. The West Maui Mountain was two miles high a million years ago. Now it is one mile high. A lot of rocks have been sluiced into the ocean, with big rocks crushing medium rocks into gravel along the way. It takes a big storm to move the rocks but these are frequent. There have been at least four in the past century, including one last month. It had been an unusually long time since the last — about 34 years, or before most of the diversion protesters were born.

If you hike far enough into the valley — I have been farther up than most, perhaps any, of the protesters — you can still see the impressive remains of the destruction the 1916 flood did to the then-new diversion structures. One piece in particular, a masonry wall that probably weighs 20 tons, is a mile from where it was built.

No diversions are permanent; all have to be rebuilt if people with kuleana rights are to continue to have access to water.

Few of the kuleana users want the water for loi today — no one wants to work in the loi — but their rights derived from the Mahele are still legal, kingdom rights. Today, most need the water for their homes. It seems odd that the protesters are, in effect, demanding that indigenous rights be extinguished; odder still that they are out to damage the interests of some of the poorer Native Hawaiians.

(Amusing side note: years ago I was covering a very boring hearing on Na Wai Eha rights at the Queen Emma center. The documents contained surveys of the loi at issue carried out to the ten-thousandths of an acre (4 square feet). The room was covered with 12-inch linoleum squares, and I spent my time comparing the loi to the room we were in. The room was bigger.)

Are the rocks sacred? The alii were not buried in the riverbed, and the rocks in the river today were not in the river at the time the last alii burial was made. If they are sacred it is only by contagion; and if that’s the case, maybe the protesters should be demanding the evacuation of Happy Valley, or possibly all of Wailuku.
UPDATE: Some background about kuleana water access. I'd forgotetn I wrote this but the internet hardly ever forgets

And there's this.

It's nice that some of my stories were pirated since The Maui News digital archives are gone.

People who say, however, that the destruction of newspapers by wholesale theft of their intellectual property would be made good by reporting and dissemination of news by new sources were crazy. Nobody reports water news as well as I used to do it.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It's a miracle!

Changing planes at Sky Harbor in Phoenix, Tricia and I were the last off. While we waited for a wheelchair for her, I chatted with the skycap, who apologized for our having to wait.

SKYCAP: We had requests for 9 chairs on this flight and we brought 7. That's why there's a delay

ME: That sounds like a lot

S: It is. Usually for this flight they request 7 and we bring 5

M: You mean there are people who need a wheelchair to get on the flight but walk off on their own?

S: Yeah. The flight attendants call them "jetway Jesuses"

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Local misgovernment

For many years, whenever anybody asked me about the local elections, I had the same answer: if we don't fix water, it won't matter whether we fix anything else (housing, Kihei high school, invasive species, you name it). And we haven't. Shaft 33 has been replaced, which was the most critical issue concerning water, but otherwise nothing significant has been done with the other deficiencies of the system.

However, another of my political maxims (which also works in business, and anywhere else) is that if you ignore a problem long enough, it can be manged into a crisis. So it is with the hospital. If that isn't fixed, there will soon b no more tourists and after that no more people on Maui. That's how things were before 1960.

Therefore, you might be interested in this:

Hospitals health emergency meeting, UH Maui Campus, Ike Le'a Science Auditorium, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday.
 This will be a joint informational meeting held by the State Senate committees on Health, Judiciary, and Ways & Means to examine the state of the Maui hospitals health care emergency resulting from delay in transferring management operations to Kaiser.

All the main players are expected to speak except, apparently, any union reps. No public testimony will be taken.

I am not sure what the significance of this meeting will be for the senators (I'm lookin' at you, Roz Baker), because they have shown no concern up till now and they -- along with the House -- created the problem by inventing the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.  Nevertheless, becase there has been zero transparency so far, I am planning to go myself.

Some background here in "How to destroy a hospital."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

He didn't think that one through. Or that one either

Politico has a clip showing Trump threatening that if the Democrats release more tapes of him saying bad things, he'll retaliate.


Trump didn't think this one through either. That is from The Huffington Post, which quotes the club-footed draft dodger as saying:
“I wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with a lot of these people, that I can tell you, including Ryan ― by the way, including Ryan, especially Ryan,” Trump said.
What we need now is Sarah Palin to tell us what she thinks.

I haven't enjoyed politics this much since Senator McKellar of my home state of Tennessee whipped out his dick during a reception in the East Room of the White house and pissed on the ambassador from Belgium.   

Monday, October 10, 2016

Book Review 373: The Greatest Benefit to Mankind

THE GREATEST BENEFIT TO MANKIND: A Medical History of Humanity, by Roy Porter. 829 pages, illustrated. Norton paperback

Roy Porter’s history of medicine — intended to be comprehensive within the bounds of one volume — is somewhat triumphalist.

And why not? After 5,000 years of being unable to cure or prevent much of anything, about 150 years ago the scientific approach finally reached takeoff, so that today smallpox is eliminated and surgeons are able to repair the hearts of babies in the womb.

Yet Porter — who died young and undoctored in 2002 — is also somewhat pessimistic in “The Greatest Benefit of Mankind.”

And why not? In America at least half the population adheres to cults that still teach that disease is caused  by demons, and there are millions more (often overlapping the first category) who ignore scientific medicine in favor of quackery like chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, qi gong, Rolfing and who knows what other nonsense.

Porter spends about 200 mostly earnest, occasionally lively pages rehearsing the more or less self-conscious medical belief systems of the pre-moderns. He pays no attention to folk or unorganized medicine although these of course are a big part of the whole history of medicine and still much with us; practically everyone in Mexico believes in the imaginary illness called fallen fontanelle, and similar survivals can be found anywhere.

Then he plunges in with his famous (in his home country of England) gusto to the scientific approach, which can be dated almost precisely to 1543, the miracle year when men, at least in western Europe, began to shed the superstitions of 100,000 years. It was a mostly discouraging slog, at least from the perspective of healing, because even though genuine knowledge accumulated, slowly, then, from about 1800, quickly, methods of preventing or curing disease were not found.

Porter writes amusingly and with more than usual candor about the rare advances. We not only learn (what we already knew from other sources) that Samuel Pepys was successfully cut for stone but the icky procedure that the surgeons had to use.

Only once does Porter falter, when he credits the early Christians for inventing the concept of charity as exemplified in the first hospitals. John Boswell, in “The Kindness of Strangers: Child Abandonment in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance,” showed that something like hospitals were created hundreds of years before the alleged appearance of Jesus.

Porter is right to say that hospitals were not originally intended to preserve life but to assist men to a good death — the ars moriendi. Only much later did the concept of leaving a hospital arrive and later still the concentration of medical care in hospitals, soon to be renamed medical centers.

For most of medical history, doctors offered solace not healing. And still today, that is most of what customers are asking for. And, according to Porter, not getting it, which helps explain the embrace of chiropractic and suchlike quackery. He is right at least as far as the quest for solace goes; Numerous studies have found that most (around 60%) of visits to primary care doctors are from people who do not have any organic condition. They just feel bad. Add in the ones who go to chiropractors and the like and the proportion of pointless chasing of medical or pseudomedical attention must soar to some ridiculous figure.

However, the situation is not so simple. Even evangelical Christians who are told by, eg, Rev. Pat Robertson that disease is caused by demons go to scientific doctors, not witch-doctors,  when they are really sick. I recall an amusing though unself-aware instance at a public hearing years ago.

Health insurors generally decline to cover services for certain conditions if the modality chosen is one that does not provide emergency room care. The chiropractor testifying was aggrieved to be kept off that gravy train because, as he explained to the county council, there aren’t any chiropractic emergency rooms.

Of course not. Nobody in his right mind goes to a chiropractor when he is really sick.

Porter’s summary chapters on medicine, state and society and medicine and the people are useful, even if you have no interest in the history of medicine, for their succinct catalogue of most of the issues that the success of scientific medicine has created for itself. It will be particularly revealing for American rightwingers who have swallowed whole the lies told about Britain’s spectacularly successful National Health Service over the years.

What it cannot reveal is why Porter himself refused to go to any doctor.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The vision of a carless society

I have covered hurricane threats to the Southeast since 1968, and I was surprised by the evacuation orders given in advance of Hurricane Matthew. Not disapproving, just surprised.

But that is neither here nor there. A few days ago, closer to home, I had some harsh things to say about the drive to get us all out of our cars and onto bicycles on Maui.

A woman who was at the same meeting stopped me in the grocery last night to lament that I was "misinformed."

Think about this: If we adopt the bicycle method and, on the rare occasions when we need an auto, we use car sharing services, which exist in a smallish way in some of our big cities now, and evacuation becomes a priority from those cities, who gets to use the cars and who evacuates on bicycles?

Evacuation of large, congested cities is difficult enough (to say nothing of small islands in the North Pacific Ocean), which is why I was so surprised by the governors' orders.  As I was also by the Broward County government's closure of the roads just before the storm arrived.

It is clear that since 1968, when it was every man for himself, the bureaucrats have been thinking seriously about the consequences of big storms, and they have run up against the hard choices.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What contradictions?

"Hitler and Dr. Goebbels maintain that contradictions do not matter, provided the content is sufficiently damaging to their opponents."

Dunno who said this in 1942 but it's evergreen.

(I found it in an appendix to the book "Orwell: The War Broadcasts")

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What the community wants

I went to a meeting of the revived Wailuku Community Association Monday evening. Community is an exaggeration. Of about 20 people there, all but 5 or 6 were on the county payroll.

Of the private citizens, all were business owners. No one who lives in Wailuku was present.

The featured speaker was Marc Fenton, who said that by reducing parking and making streets narrower, our mobility and quality of life would improve. Business would perk up.

Dunno who he meant. Not my family. 

My mother is 92; she has balance problems and walks with a cane. She is not going to be bicycling to the store.

I walk and could bicycle if I wanted to, but my wife requires bottled oxygen and cannot walk far. We are not going to be bicycling to the store.

My daughter is 34 and runs marathons. She could ride a bicycle, but she has children ages 6, 4 and 2. They will not be bicycling to the store.

So who does Marc Fenton want to tear up our streets, parking lots and zoning ordinances in favor of?  Well-to-do, unattached, healthy young people. Special Snowflakes.

He made another presentation to the planners and council today. I did not go but I've been to 4 or 5 of these bj's before. No doubt he was petted and praised, as he was Monday night. And no doubt nothing will happen, because the grown-ups will (again) recognize this for the specious nonsense it has always been.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Colonial American women in burqas

Philip Fithian was a recent graduate of Princeton in 1774 when he took a job as tutor at Nomini Hall, home of one of the richest families in Virginia. His journal is an important source for information about daily life in colonial America during the time of poltical agitation just before the Revolution, at least among the1%.

In a letter of August 1774, he advised his replacement about the odd (to a Jersey Presbyterian) customs of the locals:

The Balls, the Fish-Feasts, the Dancing-Schools, the christnings, the Cock fights, the Horse-Races, the Chariots, the Ladies [go] Masked, for it is a custom among the Westmorland Ladies whenever they go from home, to muffle up their heads, & Necks, leaving only a narrow passage for the Eyes, in Cotton or silk handkerchiefs; I was in distress for them when I first came into the Colony, for every Woman that I saw abroad, I looked upon as ill either with the Mumps or Toothache!

From "Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian: A Plantation Tutor in the Old Dominion 1773-1774," University Press of Virginia

Sunday, September 4, 2016

An evil saint

I was aware, from a short passage in "Hitch-22," that Christopher Hitchens considered Mother Theresa a fraud and an inhuman proponent of mutiplied human suffering; but I never inquired further, as I know plenty already about the Catholic church and its despicable record regarding the poor.

However, today, on the occasion of her canonization I watched his full indictment made over 20 years ago. I had no idea what an evil woman she was.


As I watched the Hitchens expose, little of it surprised me, but one incident shocked me: when Theresa laid flowers on the tomb of Hoxha. There was a stalinist murderer that even other stalinists could not stand. Out of 7 billion people in the world, only one could be found to give him flowers.

And then I thought further about the hospices that Theresa founded in Calcutta, where the poor die alone and untended on the streets. Or do they?

Visitors are shocked by the poor workers sleeping in culverts and on the streets in Calcutta and they are right to be appalled by the way the Indian economy works, but to some extent the sleeping on the streets is customary. It is a way for migrants from the countryside to save more money to send home. A local custom, you could call it, and not impractical in a place as hot as Calcutta, at least in the dry months.

It is not necessarily the case, either, that the poor are dying alone. Their situation is miserable but poor people in cities have their own networks, hard for a passerby to detect. I will bet that, in some cases at least, the squalid sick are being visited by neighbors with water and a chapatty or two.

Dying, as living, on the streets is a way of life.

So what does Theresa do? Carries the sick away from their homes to die alone and untended in bleak warehouses. They get water and a little food and, obviously, no other nursing or medical care to speak of.

How do I know this, who have never been to Calcutta? Because in the video all the dying people are wearing brown clothes. The garments of a poor Bengali are white. The poor wear brown because their garments have not been washed.

It would cost nothing, but sympathy and work, to bathe the dying and wash their garments. A bit of delousing would cost little more in trouble or money but would ease the discomfort of the dying considerably. One of the things that First World people tend not to realize is how irritated poor people are by the parasites, vermin and skin diseases they spend their lives with. 

If Theresa and her pious friends really cared even a little about the sick, they would not dump them in a warehouse to die but would, at least, wash and tend them and perhaps bring a little dignity to the last days of people who were accorded none of that during their working years.

Finally, something was nagging at the back of my head while watching the videos of Theresa hobnobbing with people who  were notoriously uninterested in the state of poor people, like the Reagans. Later I realized what it was; Theresa acted just like that other pious fraud from India, Gandhi.

Real problems, unreal solutions.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Is Trump's physician Jewish?

Yes, according to The Forward, which ought to know.

And why would we care? I don't, but this is Restating the Obvious, and while there was much comment from the antiTrumpeters about his alleged antisemitism,  I didn't notice any of those people noticing that his personal physician is Jewish. It isn't obvious that he is, but Harold ben Jacob Bornstein, from New York City -- it's an obvious hint he might be.

Any real reporter would have checked.

Does having a Jewish physician clear Trump of charges of antisemitism? Not necessarily. 

In the weird minds of bigots strange things occur. No one doubts that Hermann Goering was a Jew-hater and Jew-murderer. But he was also a feverish art collector whose favorite dealer was a Jew.

When some daring Nazi challenged Goering with breaking the Nuremburg Laws, which as police-president of Prussia he had helped create, he answered, "I will decide who is a Jew."

Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review 372: Over the Edge

OVER THE EDGE: Death in Grand Canyon, by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers. 586 pages. Puma paperback, $24.95

Chuck Jones wouldn’t have subjected even Wile E. Coyote to what Californian John Presley did to himself in 1968: while hiking a rough trail Presley slipped on loose gravel and, instead of just plotzing, ran out of the slip. He kept upright but could not stop as he approached the edge of a cliff.

At the last moment he wrapped his arms round a barrel cactus but it pulled out by the roots and both fell 50 feet. Presley died.

This seems to be more a case of hard luck than the rank stupidity and carelessness that characterize most of the 700 or so deaths of visitors to what Michael Ghiglieri and Thomas Myers, both experienced hikers and rescuers, call the most unforgiving place on earth.

That seems excessive. Actually, the toll over a century, while high, is not enormous, and over half the deaths came in crashes of helicopters and planes, including a 1956 collision of two airliners that was the worst peacetime civil aviation disaster to that date.

Despite spectacular opportunities, people fall or jump off the rim to their deaths only about once a year. Falls from below the rim, plus deaths from heart attacks in out-of-shape middle-aged men about double that toll.

Drownings are somewhat more common. Still, the body count doesn’t come close to what Hawaii enjoys.

Some things that might seem dangerous have so far failed to kill any visitors: animals and poisonous plants or running the rapids of the Colorado on commercial oared rowboats.  (Rafts and private trips have been more dangerous.)

Lee Whittlesey inaugurated the morbid book about deaths in our western parks with “Death in Yellowstone.” There are more ways to die in Yellowstone than in Grand Canyon (but not nearly as many as in Hawaii), and Whittlesey’s book is still the best of the genre. “Over the Edge,” while admirably complete, suffers from Ghiglieri’s purple prose and a somewhat phony public service justification.

Nobody really reads these books for deep insight into safety considerations. Walking into the desert without water is not a topic that requires deep reflection to avoid. Likewise, stepping over safety barriers to teeter on the edge of a cliff in order to get a dramatic photograph does not require 500 pages of explication in order to discern the risk.

(I never reviewed Whittlesey's book, but I did write about it in the context of deaths at Haleakala National Park.)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The big kill

Although I said I wouldn’t have more to say about guns, reflecting on the book “Bloodlands” got me to thinking. “Bloodlands” didn’t add anything to my knowledge about gun deaths but it did inspire me to compare three facts I already knew, and that is the method implied by “restating the obvious”: We know more than we think we know.

The NKVD shot something over 1,000,000 people. The SS shot closer to 2,000,000.

Neither – nor even both combined – shot to death as many people as American gun nuts have.

Possibly the Second Amendment was a bad idea.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mass guilt

Here is an episode I was not aware of but that resonates today: From Politico Magazine, a story about rounding up Muslims in America.

Read the whole thing.

It was a nice touch to name it Amt IV; shows historical sensitivity

Book Review 371: Bloodlands

BLOODLANDS: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder. 524 pages. Basic paperback, $19.99

“Bloodlands” has enjoyed wide, even extravagant praise, and in many ways it deserves it; but reading it is something like coming into a performance of “Hamlet” at the fifth act: There is plenty of gore, drama and treachery, but the discerning playgoer will suspect that something went on before.

And indeed it did.

However, for what it does cover, “Bloodlands” is outstanding. It is directed towards readers generally unfamiliar with eastern Europe and its history and so deliberately simple and direct. It also has a moral dimension, engaging (gently) with other commentators like Hannah Arendt. In the end, Snyder says, he is trying to restore the individuality of the people done to death – all 14,000,000 of them.

Memory and memorials that lump them all together are, he says, a trap, tending to confirm the Hitlerian or Stalinist vision of guilty groups. No, says Snyder, the liberal and humanist view must be that each was a life and each deserves (but cannot get) its own story.

He also emphasizes the interaction of the two dictatorships, which allowed or drove each to actions that neither would have taken on its own. Most dramatically, the German Final Solution was not originally eliminationist (in the sense that Daniel Goldhagen uses that term) but exclusionist: Hitler wanted to ship Jews away. Stalin and the USSR declined, in peace and in war, to become that place, so by late 1941 the policy of dliberate and total mass killing was resorted to.

This does not mean that Germans were driven to mass murder by outside forces. They had already resorted to it many times, against the mentally handicapped and against Jewish women and children in the territories of western USSR they had just invaded.

As it happened, the death toll was much lower than the German plan had forecast. Before the Holocaust there was the Ostplan, which envisaged the death (by starvation and overwork) of 30 million to 40 million people, mostly Slavs, to make room for German farmers. This is a spectacular number, although Snyder says he has used conservative counts and estimates for the various killing actions.

This is true. For example, he gives the death total for the construction of the White Sea Canal as around 600,000. A.J.P. Taylor thought it was 2 million.

The two regimes killed extravagantly but for different reasons. The Soviets generally went after class or national enemies (or imagined enemies), while the Germans went after subhuman races. There ended up being a great deal of overlap, and a man or woman could be murdered for any of several reasons – if reason is the correct term.

Snyder emphasizes that the killing regimes declared categories (kulak, wrecker, spy, partisan, Jew) that were often arbitrary and in any case applied carelessly.

Still, while it was dangerous to live anywhere in the Bloodlands (the area comprising Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and eastern Poland where both Hitlerian and Soviet governments were in power at various times from 1933 to 1945), it was probably most dangerous to be an educated Belarussian nationalist or a Polish communist – most of all to be a Jew.

The scale of death was unimaginable. More Poles died in the bombing of Warsaw than in the bombing of Dresden or in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, and that was a minor component of the total.

Snyder comes up with 14 million, divided about 10 million by Germans and 4 million by the Soviets, with another 8 million or 9 million deaths as a direct result of battle. These latter are not the subject of “Bloodlands,” which is focused on deliberate murders as a result of policy.

And because he limits himself to the area where the Germans and Soviets alternated control, he does not include the 300,000 Jews murdered in Croatia, an impressive total – 5% of the total victims of the Holocaust of the Jews by a government with far less than 5% of the power and capacity of Germany or the USSR.

And here is where I find “Bloodlands” lacking. The killing did not start in 1932-33; nothing that was done had not been done in the same place before.

The famine in Ukraine, in which 3 million starved while trainloads of grain moved to Odessa for export, had happened under the tsar, exactly the same way, in 1892.

For that matter, a million Irish had starved during the Potato Famine of the 1840s while food was shipped from Ireland to England.

The Ostplan, in which 30 million to 40 million Slavs were to be enslaved and worked to death to make room for racially superior farmers, was exactly what Americans had done in order to colonize what is now the state of Tennessee.

Snyder mentions that Hitler thought of the Ostplan – the use of starvation and slavery to build a prosperous colony – as no different from what the United States had done, and he was right.

Snyder does not ask, was there a difference? There was, but not as much as Americans would like to think, if they were capable of thinking about it.

However, it is doubtful Hitler had more than a vague notion of American history; and besides he had a closer model. From about 1200 the crusade of the Teutonic Knights against the pagan Prussians (and Livonians etc.) was exactly the Ostplan: extermination and enslavement of non-Germans to occupy their land.

It did not take the emergence of supposedly modernizing regimes to turn that part of the world into Bloodlands. They had been for nearly a millennium.

(Other parts of Europe were also Bloodlands and, proportionately, more dangerous to the targeted peoples than even Poland or Belarus in the ‘40s. Few know of the extermination of the Muslims by Christians in western Sicily but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.)

The scale of the killing was so monstrous that anyone confronting it has to ask, what caused it, what could prevent it in the future? In a thoughtful coda Snyder does not really say.

In this coda is the one point upon which I seriously disagree with him. People in the Bloodlands had limited choices. In the end, for many, the only possible fate was to be murdered. By collaborating, that fate might be postponed but not avoided.

Others collaborated for lesser but weighty reasons. Snyder says, “it is hard to find political collaboration with the Germans that is not related to a previous experience of Soviet rule.”  This is not true of Ukraine where, in the short period after the withdrawal of the kaiser’s armies there was an independent Ukrainian state. It had many difficulties to face but instead made a priority of murdering Jews. Offered a chance again to murder Jews, Ukrainians were eager to help. The same probably applies to some Lithuanians.