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.