Friday, June 23, 2017

Another Trump ally exposed

This time it's the tub-thumper for fake news about voting, Kris Kobach. A federal court fined him $1,000 for lying.

Admonitions from courts are not rare but fines are. So Kobach really screwed the pooch. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The court took Kobach at his word, O'Hara wrote, but upon review of the documents – produced under a court order – found that they did relate to the voting rights case.

The judge wrote that while the court could not say that Kobach "flat-out lied," the "defendant’s statements can be construed as wordplay meant to present a materially inaccurate picture of the documents."

To make America great . . .

. . . you have to find great Americans.

 Like William Bradford.

In a December 2016 tweet, Bradford referred to former President Barack Obama as a “Kenyan creampuff.” In another tweet, he dubiously claimed Obama might refuse to leave The White House at the end of his presidential term and suggested a “military coup” could be necessary to remove him.

That's perhsps his most decent tweet. Oh, and, yes, you don't even have to ask. He faked his CV.

He's a Trump appointee.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

L.A. homes back to 2007 prices

Nominally, anyway, although the Los Angeles Times notes that, adjusted for inflation, they are still 11% short.
In summer 2007, the Los Angeles County median home price hit an all-time high of $550,000. It soon plunged as the housing bubble burst and the national economy crashed.

Now the median, the point where half the homes sold for more and half for less, has finally passed the heights of 10 years ago — the result of an improving economy, historically low mortgage rates and a shortage of listings.

According to a report released Wednesday from real estate firm CoreLogic, the county’s median price in May rose 6.8% from a year earlier to reach $560,500 as sales jumped 4.8%.

When adjusted for inflation, May’s median remains 11% below the 2007 high . . .
I mention this in a Maui blog only because of "shortahe of listings." We have that, too.

If you don't build house, you won't have enough houses.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Winning edge

In 1884, an Oxford undergraduate, Charles Oman, won the Marquess of Lothian’s Prize for an essay on “The Art of War in the Middle Ages.”  Although he essay is still read and has even been updated to reflect 20th century scholarship, it hardly seems likely to be of more than antiquarian interest in the 21st century. However, this is not the case.

Oman, nothing if not a confident 24-year-old, had a  message for his elders in his essay, although they were too obtuse to learn it until the events on the battlefields of Flanders 30 years later demonstrated how right he was. But there is more to it even than that, because the same lesson — suitably modified for modern times — applies today, and the masters of war of our time are proving as obtuse and stupid as the generals and politicians of late Victorian and Edwardian time.

While the theme of the essay is tactics, the lesson concerns the difficulty of recognizing when the terms of battle have fundamentally changed.

In brief, from the Battle of Adrianople (378), the supremacy of the Roman infantry legion was superseded by the charge of the heavy armored horseman — the cataphract, a development of, primarily, Iranians that spread to dominate Europe and western Asia for over a thousand years, fundamentally reshaping economies, politics and social organization.

From the late 13th century, two innovations began to overthrow the undisciplined, aristocratic knights: the phalanx of Swiss pikemen and the corps of Welsh longbowmen. Yet for over a century, the knights refused to recognize the change, no matter how many of them were slaughtered at, for example, Crecy.

The run of the Swiss and the English was much shorter, less than two centuries, and they, too, were very late in recognizing that a new way of fighting had made them vulnerable.





Push of pike
The introduction of firearms set up a period of innovation and confusion so that for some time there was no obvious best form of fighting, but the introduction of the long-range rifled musket in the 1840s began a new period of mastery.

The generals did not know it, as proven by Grant at Cold Harbor in 1864, and when Oman wrote in 1884, the supremacy of infantry in field works armed with long range weapons was still denied. The supremacy was enhanced by the introduction of breechloaders, repeaters and finally of machine guns. Small armies could defeat big ones, as the Turks demonstrated at Plevna.

The generals, who tend always toward incompetence, did not notice, until July 1 on the Somme in 1916 when more men were killed in a day than had happened since, perhaps, Cannae 2,100 years earlier.

The tank was invented to overcome the fieldworks, but its run was short. It was over for most conflicts by 1945.

For the past 70 years, in most conflicts where one side had tanks and planes and the other did not, the tankless, planeless fighters prevailed. As long as the population shelters him the guerrilla — if he can get submachine guns, rocket grenades and bullets, as he usually could in the age of nuclear standoff between the great powers — prevails.
The United States and the NATO nations spend close to a trillion dollars a year on their militaries. More planes, more ships, more radars — however necessary to deter similar national actors — are unlikely to gain results against committed fighters who have the backing of locals.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Gimme shelter

The Grenfell fire reminds us that if you are afraid of -ists, you are threatened more by capitalists than by Islamists.

Material used in the cladding that covered the Grenfell Tower was the cheaper, more flammable version of the two available options, an investigation of the supply chain has confirmed.
Although the Grenfell tower was public housing (council housing in England), its maintenance had been privatized. It provides a sickening confirmation of a phenomenon RtO has often written about, the "Fireproof Hotel"scheme.

(I wrote a summary today as a comment on a call not to attribute "wickedness' to the Grenfell perps: 

(Don't define wickedness down. I have often commented on the 'Fireproof Hotel' ploy. If you own a hotel, you can attract more business by advertising that it is fireproof. You can either paint 'fireproof hotel' on a firetrap or you can invest in fireproofing. You will make more money by using just paint, at least until your hotel catches fire. If you're lucky you will outcompete the honest hotelier and drive him out of business. That appears to have been the case at Grenfell. Seems wicked to me, even when no one burns to death.)

On a side note, when I heard on a radio broadcast that a high-rise was on fire "on every floor" I was skeptical. Tall buildings cannot do that; regulations forestall it.  But it turns out that the myth of over-regulated Britain is a myth akin to other rightwing fake news. Again, The Guardian:

In the UK there are no regulations requiring the use of fire-retardant material in cladding used on the exterior of tower blocks and schools. But the Fire Protection Association (FPA), an industry body, has been pushing for years for the government to make it a statutory requirement for local authorities and companies to use only fire-retardant material. Jim Glocking, technical director of the FPA, said it had “lobbied long and hard” for building regulations on the issue to be tightened, but nothing had happened.
I had planned to write about subsidized housing in Britain and Maui before the Grenfell fire. I delayed and now events sharpen the point.

Before the election in the UK, John Lanchester in The London Review of Books had written about London real estate in terms that sounded a great deal like Maui:

   A person who didn’t know modern Britain well might guess that the body in charge of this hugely ambitious project would be one with formidable powers of oversight and planning, combined with decades of expertise. A person who knew modern Britain better would be more likely to guess the truth, which is that there is no such body. No one is in charge of VNEB. There is no plan. The developments are the result of developers’ proposals, as well as occasional blurting interventions on the part of central government, under the supervision of local councils, in this case Wandsworth and Lambeth. Mayoral action and inaction play a role too. Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson were both pro-skyscraper; Johnson came up with a great phrase about not wanting to create ‘Dubai-on-Thames’, and then did everything in his power to do exactly that. In 2007, the mayor acquired the power to override local councils on ‘strategic’ questions of building, though this power doesn’t seem yet to have included restricting tall buildings, as opposed to allowing them. From this mismatch arises the marvel that will be VNEB, a chaotic patchwork of architectural ambition, developers’ greed and mostly well-meaning but always overmatched local councils. The new ‘homes’ are being targeted mainly at overseas investors. When the first properties in Battersea Power Station went on sale Businessweek ran a story about it that you didn’t need to read. All you had to do was look at the byline: Kuala Lumpur. Typical of the flats that have gone on sale so far is a two-bedroom apartment for £1.5 million. No Londoner – no Brit – is going to spend that kind of money to live in a two-bedroom flat in Vauxhall. The target market is glaringly, self-evidently non-local.
This is happening in a city where, by universal consent, one of the biggest problems is the lack of affordable housing. For many Londoners, younger people especially, the cost of housing is their first concern; living in what the Joseph Rowntree Foundation calls ‘housing-cost-induced poverty’ is central to their experience of life in the capital. This is one reason London is suffering a net loss of people in their thirties – a terrible warning sign for any city, especially one so pleased with itself. There is something here which reaches beyond the standard four-legs-good, two-legs-bad of party allegiance. Look at it from a Vauxhall local’s point of view: 1. housing is in crisis and desperately needs fixing; 2. the single biggest thing to be happening in the local economy in decades is a housing development; and yet 2 has nothing to do with 1, will not alleviate it in any respect, and may even (if it succeeds in flooding the London market with yet more foreign capital) make 1 worse. There is a total disconnect between what a majority of citizens want – I’m guessing, but London is a city where the majority of people are renters rather than owners – and political outcomes. Who should you have voted for, if you didn’t want things to get to this point? Most of it happened under Labour, at all three levels, local, mayoral and governmental. The Tories made it worse. Who should you vote for in Vauxhall at this general election, if you want to stop what’s obviously going to happen: the creation of a huge number of the very last things the city needs, new luxury flats under absentee foreign ownership?
The answer is that it doesn’t much matter, because on this issue you have no agency. I know that this may look like a trick answer, since planning decisions are taken by local not central government (except when the reverse is true, à la Prescott Towers). But our political system is man-made, not the creation of divine decree, and it is the system which is failing in this respect. In the case of housing, the solution to this problem is obvious and has been known for years. It is to build more housing. The Barker review in 2004 came to the conclusion that the UK has an annual shortage of 245,000 new homes.
I encourage you to read the whole, wordy thing.

Maui's housing deficit is said to be 16,000 although I believe it is considerably higher.

16,000 is 30 Waiehu Heights projects, which I propose as a model for adding housing for households with 2 earners of middling income.

As for where, acquire 1,000 hot, dusty acres from HC&S in the vicinity of Puunene. Houses there would not be so attractive to offshore buyers.

I did not hear his talk, but Peter Savio was on Maui last week. A friend who went to see him tells me he said if you want affordable housing, the gummint must absorb the infrastructure costs; sewer, water, open space etc.   

Even then, any housing would be affordable only to the middling sort. You cannot build new housing that is affordable by people working in retail, the largest category of workers on Maui
.

 In other places, affordable housing is older housing -- sometimes originally mansions, sometimes originally tract houses or cheap apartments -- that is in decline. This works only where there is a stock of older housing; it doesn't work in expanding communities like ours.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

And a fraud against the Congress

Secretary of State Tillerson has been smoking rabbit grass again.

Don't these guys ever check anything?

A fraud against the courts

If you read all 86 pages of the 9th Circuit’s devastating ruling against Whiny Baby Donald and his travel ban, the big message — never explicitly stated — comes through like thunder: the judges are not ready yet to allow the neonazis in the White House to permit wholesale fraud against the courts.

Had the same arguments and judgments been written against what the ruling calls EO1 (the first Executive Order, the one Whiny Baby likes), then that could not be said. Lawyers write bad papers sometimes.

But after their errors have been shown to them (and the whole world), if they repeat the same errors, the judges are going to be irritated.

The 9th Circuit judges are vastly irritated.

Even if, as the judges said is not the case, Whiny Baby could have made a persuasive case, he did not even try. The Immigration and Naturalization Act requires specific steps (and consultation with Congress) to even think about doing what Trump did. He didn’t bother.

That he did not bother confirms the suspicion that 1) he had (and has) no intention of acting lawfully and 2) he had no intention of having a temporary travel ban.

(Note: the ostensible purpose of EO1 and 2 was to allow time for reviewing and improving the clearance procedures for certain applicants. Some on the left have said, see, it has been far longer than 90 days, and the new rules have not been announced. But this is unfair: Judge Watson enjoined the agencies from initiating an internal review, but the appeals court removed that. The clock is now running on the 90 days. Mark your calendar; the revised procedures should be announced around Sept. 11.)

Not only did the EO not provide the necessary determinations when WBD signed it, when the District Court enjoined it, the government lawyers did not bother to rebut the assertion of failure (page 14).

The ban was intended to be permanent.

However, in reality, the ban was not addressed at the 6 or 7 countries, or even at its root against  Muslims. It was really aimed at fearful, ignorant Americans — of whom there are many —and their votes and support in opinion polls.

When times are troublous, the cry of “the nation in danger” is often a vote-getter. The nation does not have to actually be in danger; as the appeals court noted, no one from any of the target countries has ever committed an act of terror in the United States.

The danger is mythical and the rightwingers didn’t even pretend to the court that it is anything but.

However, something up toward half the population is terrified. The terrorists have won without committing any act.

(If WBD were really concerned about religiously motivated acts of violence, he would be ginning up a campaign against Christians, who are the source of more political violence in America than any other cult, or than all other cults combined.)

RtO has warned now for months about the rightwing assault on the courts. The courts have noticed. The appeals judges observed that (quoting a 1977 opinion), “Over no conceivable subject is the legislative power of Congress more complete than  it is over the admission of aliens.” (Page 33) The assault on the courts is also an assault on the legislature but the Republicans in Congress are too bemused by their chairmanships to see that.

About claims that a president has an inherent superior power to defend the nation, the court tartly says, “National security is not a ‘talismanic incantation’ . . “ (Page 43)

Even presidents have to comply with the laws.

The 9th Circuit judges said they didn’t have to get to Hawaii’s claims about constitutional rights, since WBD’s misfits had so completely screwed up even the bare machinery of following the statutes. But it is pretty clear that if Congress were to rewrite the statutes(which the court advised it could do), the constitutional claims would still be powerful.

Listing the many deficiencies in EO2, the judges wrote, it “does not provide any link between an individual’s nationality and their propensity to commit terrorism or their inherent dangerousness.” (Page 39)

The judges did not cite the WorldWar II absurdity that locked up antiNazi German aliens (many of them Jews) because of their nationality. That was more evident in Britain than in the United States, although it happened here, too.

Nationality is a state of mind, and that should be evident above all to the quivering cowards in the Republican Party who are so exercised at the thought that white people from European countries are traveling to fight for the Islamic State in the Mideast.

The mistakes of World War II ought to have taught us something, but clearly they did not. This blade cuts both ways. In a summary list of immediate harms to Hawaii interests, one is reduction  of tourism.

In 1942, when German submarines were torpedoing scores of tankers and freighters moving up and down the East Coast, at night, using the backlight from beach towns to silhouette their targets, the Navy proposed a blackout. Numerous mayors squealed loudly that that would ruin the tourist trade. The lights stayed on and sailors burned to death in oily seas.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Grade inflation

And another one bites the dust.

Inflating a 4-week course in credit management into an Ivy League degree isn't as uncommon as it ought to be, because you can get away with it in the low-pressure atmospere of small town country clubism. If you are one of the handful of poseurs that Trump has dredged out of Babbitt country to work for the peple, it will be harder to escape notice.

That this small fry banker massaged his resume isn't as interesting as the fact that the Trump staff still hasn't figured out background searches or the Internet.

Bloomberg, by the way, is mining news gold out of the tailings in the Trump slag heap.

I wonder whether the outing of Otting came thanks to a $1.30 background search or thanks to a Dartmouth grad working for Bloomberg who recognized the lie.




Sunday, June 4, 2017

Book Review 390: The Gene

THE GENE: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. 592 pages. Scribner, $32

Evolution by means of natural selection is the profoundest concept in biology; it may be the profoundest concept that humans are capable of. It can be expressed in a couple of sentences, and this has seduced many people to think that it is easy to understand.

This applies as well to those who pursue it as science or medicine as to those who disbelieve it because of religious bigotry.

But it is not easy to understand. We are now just 150 years from the germinal researches of Darwin and Mendel and capable — thanks to the research of a couple of yogurt scientists (yes, really) — of manufacturing genes to order with a high specificity.

Yet Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Gene” is both a cautionary and a triumphal story. Time after time, people have thought they knew enough to move from research to action. Some of these people were (and they are still around) ignoramuses who knew nothing about genetics; some were among the most advanced researchers and thinkers of their time.

(The following paragraph is relevant to Mukherjee’s book but is not explored in it. The antievolutionists of today who smear evolution as the progenitor of fascism or racial exterminationist ideologies are not only ignorant of the science of evolution, they turn history upside down. Evolutionary thinkers were (and some still are) guilty of racist and murderous thinking, but such thoughts did not have to await the “Origin of Species” to be thought. They were already around. The racists found evolutionary knowledge, especially as it stood in the late 19th century, handy to their purposes, but they had other impulses, primarily derived from Christianity. The word eugenics preceded the word genetics by 20 years.)

Natural selection requires something to select against, and it soon became clear that that something was physical. Darwin drove incorporeal vital forces out of biology, but for a long time that something was almost entirely unguessable. The word gene did not arrive for about 50 years and it remained an idea without a physical analogue for a long time. .

Not until the 1940s was it known for sure what genes were made of. After that huge conceptual breakthroughs came just about every decade — almost as if a kind of Moore’s Law (but slower paced) was acting in genetics.

The structure of the gene was revealed in ’53, the code was cracked less than 10 years later, and barely 10 years after that the prospect of genetic manipulation, as reality not dream, was so imminent that a famous conference on the ethics of knowing about the gene was called at Asilomar. There was “no comparable moment in scientific history,” Mukherjee says.

Mukherjee, a cancer researcher, is superb at explaining the concepts and experiments behind these breakthroughs (although as the reach into the gene becomes ever more detailed the explanations for lay readers become less so), but the best parts of the book are the ethical puzzles.

Mukherjee’s family included examples relevant to genetic research— a pair of identical twins, a cluster of apparently heritable madnesses — and it is here that his portrait of the gene becomes intimate.


His views are cosmopolitan, perhaps as a result of his family background, as refugees from what was then East Pakistan, then as migrants to America, and his own transoceanic education (Stanford, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford). Thus such insights as that the (apparent) power to direct genes led to concerns about biohazards among American researchers, moral hazards among students in Europe.

Soon enough ordinary people will have to come to terms with both. Mukherjee quotes the researcher Eric Topol: “Genetic tests are also moral tests. When you decide to test for ‘future risk,’ you are also, inevitably, asking yourself, what kind of future am I willing to risk?”

That, at least, is a more humane question than the assertion of the fascist eugenicists that “the future belongs to me.”

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Actual fake news

As Eric Wemple recounts in the Washington Post, the liars on the right shat themselves a mighty shit.

Then, when the real press pointed out to them the ugly stink and the spreading brown stain on their drawers, they shat themselves again. And again. And yet again.

By tomorrow, maybe they'll have soiled their pants a fifth time. (You have to read to the end of Wemple's piece to get the full aroma of the rightwing.)

There's a joke at real newspapers about "hiding a story on page one." It has happened to me; you report a significant story and for some reason -- maybe Princess Diana died that day -- nobody sees it. But once the story is rubbed on your nose, you can no longer say you overlooked it. After that, if you say you didn't see it, you're lying.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Highland clearances, American style

Two hundred years ago, when Britain was pretending to oppose tyranny at Waterloo, at home the army was used to drive crofters off their land to be replaced with sheep.

as the Countess of Sutherland wrote in 1799, tenants who refused to enlist in ‘her’ regiment, the 93rd, ‘need no longer be considered a credit to Sutherland, or any advantage over sheep or any useful animal’.

That would be the 19th countess. Breeding tells. I suppose the immorality of the market has never been more clearly expressed.

The "Highland clearances" are still a bitter memory among Scots at home and abroad, but few Americans know about our own clearances in the Southern highlands. At about the same time that the famous Scottish evictions began (which were in their turn a late extension of the robbery of the common land from the common people that had been going on in England for 200 years), the colonists in South Carolina were systematically driving the farmers out of the uplands.

Year after year, the militia would march out of Charleston in the fall, up the valley of the French Broad and other rivers and burn the crops in the Cherokee towns. (An ancestor of mine, Capt. Robert Heriot, took part in two of these genocidal raids, in 1759 and 1760.) In the spring, white settlers would occupy the empty lands.

This campaign continued in the national period, even after the admission of Tennessee in 1792.

Highland clearances continue to this day. In 1987, the Scottish poet Angus Calder wrote:

  Eric Richards’s History of the Highland Clearances (1982), (is) the work of an Australian who is bound to see them in wide geographical perspective. ‘The changes experienced in the Scottish Highland were in no sense unique,’ Richards writes. ‘The modern world economy is full of parallels.’ He finds such parallels in the Philippines and in Mexico.
He could have found them as well in west Papua, in the Kurdish districts of Iraq and Turkey, in Guatemala and Nicaragua, in Tibet, in Burma. The United States is implicated in the clearances in Turkey, Guatemala and Nicaragua, and America and her army did the work themselves in the Zippo raids in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.
Winning hearts and minds, 1965






Friday, May 26, 2017

Book Review 389: Fighter Pilot's Heaven

FIGHTER PILOT’S HEAVEN: Flight Testing the Early Jets, by Donald S. Lopez. 223 pages, illustrated. Smithsonian

When I was about 8 years old and just beginning to read newspapers, I knew the names of more test pilots than I did big league ballplayers. The test pilots were on page one, the ballplayers were not.

These once famous men have since dropped entirely out of the script of popular culture, except for Chuck Yeager. There was a time, though, when every informed American knew names like Iven Kincheloe.

The record-setters flew out of Edwards in California, but there were many more test pilots that I didn’t know about. These men did opertional testing for the Air Force and the Navy. The Air Force men were based at Eglin in Florida, in those days a desolate, uninhabited backwater in northwest Florida.

Don Lopez, a fighter ace who had been making war in China, was assigned to the flight test squadron even before World War II ended, and the big excitement was the arrival of the first jets, notably the Lockheed P80 Shooting Star.

The P80 seems tame today, with an engine thrust less than a tenth of an F16’s and a top speed of a poky 550 miles an hour. But in the late 1940s they were amazingly fast, and Lopez and his fellow pilots spent many weekends showing off the P80 at community events.

“Fighter Pilot’s Heaven” doesn’t make any big revelations but is rather a memoir with funny stories. Like the attempt to make the P51 Mustang more comfortable on long flights by replacing the seat with a hammock.

The hammock was slung on 4 hooks. The flight surgeon who came up with this idea forgot that fighters do aerobatics. When Lopez went upside down, some of the grommets slipped off their hooks and Lopez found himself unable to lift himself by his butt to rehook them or to shake the remaining grommets off.

As a result he couldn’t see out of the cockpit nor fully control his plane.

He managed to wrestle himself into a crouched position and get down, claiming to have been the only pilot to have landed a Mustang “standing up.”

Not all the stories are so amusing. Many of the test plots were killed, some by the inherent hazards of testing technologically novel equipment but more by the foolhardiness of the pilots.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Hawaii-Hannity connection

This one is for Hawaii journalists, who will know the background.

It turns out that Sean Hannity had help in flogging the fake story about the killing of Seth Rich: Malia Zimmerman, once Hawaii Reporter.

The Washington Post reports she is not responding to attempts to interview her about her part in the fake news, described as

The story, published on May 16 by Fox reporter Malia Zimmerman, contained specific details of what had been done and what had been covered up, citing a “federal investigator” in reporting that Rich “made contact with WikiLeaks.”
If you can dish it out, you'd better be able to take it, too.

When I was reporting, I was more than once surprised -- by David Shapiro, then the managing editor of the then Honolulu Star Bulletin, for one --  by news people who refused to be interviewed about their reports.

My policy was open door. Anybody could call me and ask how I got a story, and I'd tell him. And quite a few did.

It seemed to me then, and still does, that if you expect people to talk to you, you'd better be ready to talk to them.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hey, Rube!

Remember when George Romney visited a foreign country and his career was ruined when he said, "When I came back from Viet Nam, I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get."

Younger readers may not remember, it was a long time ago and American politics was different then. Recall also that the brainwashing was done by lying, corrupt American generals; some things haven't changed.

What Romney clearly meant was, they tried to brainwash me but I saw through it. Republican Party infighting was dishonest and ruthless in those days, something else that hasn't changed. (Recall, from that same time, the savage attack by Prescott Bush on Nelson Rockefeller on the occasion of his remarriage, another career-ending attack.)

Now, Wilbur Ross isn't a politician at the level of Romney or Rockefeller. He isn't a politician at all. But he is a member of Whiny Baby Donald's Cabinet.

Presumably he sometimes offers WBD advice, and perhaps WBD sometimes acts on it.

That is a scary thought.




Sunday, May 21, 2017

Medical miracle

Well, maybe not a miracle, but bizarrely interesting.

But one particular gentleman really inspired Wartinger. The man rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, and then passed a small stone. Then he did it again and passed another. And then another. “That was just too powerful to ignore,” Wartinger said. “I'd been hearing these anecdotal stories for a couple years, and then I thought, okay, there's really something here.”
If you plan to do this, Dr. Wartinger found that you get the best results from riding in the last car.

Although only a preliminary study, Wartinger suggests this method might save big bucks.

I wonder what a screen of rodeo bronc and bull riders would find. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The view from the north


Land of the Morning Calm -- until the Americans came
Korea began the unbroken string of American military defeats that shows no sign of ever ending. (If Flynn and McMaster are examples of our best military leadership, that says it all.)

In the London Review of Books, Bruce Cumings rehearses the history of the Hermit Kingdom, though not as far back as he could have done. Most Americans know the name of Perry who "opened" Japan but not one in 10 million can name the American who "opened" Korea. (R.W. Shufeldt, in 1882, although the U.S, Navy had been bombarding what was then called Corea and killing Coreans since about 1870.)

After 1945, the Americans pursued the same policy in Korea that it did in Germany, China and Indochina: leaguing with fascists in the name of anticommunism. In Korea, it could not use the Japanese fascists so it used their Korean collaborators.

A vital figure in the long Japanese counterinsurgency effort was Kishi Nobusuke, who made a name for himself running munitions factories. Labelled a Class A war criminal during the US occupation, Kishi avoided incarceration and became one of the founding fathers of postwar Japan and its longtime ruling organ, the Liberal Democratic Party; he was prime minister twice between 1957 and 1960. The current Japanese prime minister, Abe Shinzo, is Kishi’s grandson and reveres him above all other Japanese leaders. Trump was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Abe on 11 February when a pointed message arrived mid-meal, courtesy of Pyongyang: it had just successfully tested a new, solid-fuel missile, fired from a mobile launcher. Kim Il-sung and Kishi are meeting again through their grandsons. Eight decades have passed, and the baleful, irreconcilable hostility between North Korea and Japan still hangs in the air.
Although supporting fascism cost America a great deal in Vietnam, in the long view it could be argued that it turned out OK in Germany, the Philippines, Turkey, Indonesia and South Korea. All eventually adopted at least semi-real democratic governments.  In 2017, though, it does not look as rosy as once it did.

Iran, the Philippines, Turkey and -- perhaps -- Indonesia are not models of democracy (despite the elections this weekend in Iran).  But Korea is the example, above all, of the proposition that maybe it would have been a better idea to have supported democrats, however messy that appeared at the time.

It is not merely that by supporting fascists the United States became morally responsible for several genocides; according to Cumings, the toll in Korea was of Rwandan proportions.

There is a strange gap in Cumings' narrative. He says

 After the Americans left in 1948 the border area around the 38th parallel was under the command of Kim Sok-won, another ex-officer of the Imperial Army, and it was no surprise that after a series of South Korean incursions into the North, full-scale civil war broke out on 25 June 1950.
As too few of us know, the United States was making war against communist states in the late '40s: in Ukraine, China, Korea and elsewhere. To do so in Korea, using South Korean surrogates, was especially reckless, since the South Korean government had no military of its own (only a constabulary of about 8 divisions) nor any American backup.

The Soviets and the Chinese had no option for direct retaliation, but the North Koreans did, and they used it.
After the Chinese routed the American-South Korean invaders of the north, and were pushed back in turn, the US Army had to acknowledge it was beaten. It then turned to a campaign of pure slaughter.
17 of every 20 buildings -- most necessarily of no military significance -- in the north were bombed, and unnumbered Chinese and Koreans were shelled along the inactive front lines.

The code name for the policy --it cannot be called a strategy -- was significant and meant to be: OPERATION KILLER.     

Under these circumstances, it is unsurprising that the North Koreans consider that any and all American policies are aimed at regime change, or that they might be prepared to go to any extreme to counter them.

Liberals made fun of Trump when he said, who knew health care could be so complicated. They might want to examine their consciences (if they have any in this area)  when it comes to policy in the Land of the Morning Calm.







 


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Even the 99% cheat

Forsooth! According to UBS -- which ought to know as it is one of the crookedest banks in the world -- people looking for auto loans are hyping their credit scores.

Golly! I wonder where they ever got the idea to do that?
The report raises questions about one of the key arguments for investors not worrying about consumer credit, and car loans in particular: borrowers’ credit scores are broadly rising, and have been higher for recent auto loans than they were before the financial crisis. Those scores have been climbing while auto lenders loosen many loan terms, including allowing longer payback periods, the strategists wrote.

“Everything but credit scores have been eased in lender underwriting,” Mish said. “Loan terms are stretched out, interest rates are aggressive, but there may be an over-reliance on credit scores, and that’s the danger.”
The story at Bloomberg says:


A growing number of borrowers have searched on the Internet for “credit score,” signaling that borrowers may be getting better at figuring out how to game their credit scores, the strategists said.

That despite the fact that every time you inquire about your score you get dinged by the rating agencies.

I expect the combination of rightwing economic idiocy and Whiny Baby Donald incompetence will generate a crash; perhaps not a big one.

Maybe auto lending is where the crack will open. 

And perhaps the bloom is fading on WBD's stock bouquet, if today's 370-point stock dive indicates anything. Bloomberg also worries that old, rich Americans are not spending their dough.

Get out the tiny violin.

Free Kurdistan

Apart from celebrating the delectability of greasy pork, RtO's consistent purpose has been to advocate a free and independent Great Kurdistan.

This would require breaking up Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Two down, two to go.

Breaking up Turkey looks like a better and better choice, all on its own.

Are there any despots left that Trump hasn't stroked?




Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Review 388: The Tools of Empire

THE TOOLS OF EMPIRE: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century, by Daniel R. Headrick. 221 pages. Oxford paperback

Professor Daniel Headrick contends that historians of imperialism have ignored or even denied the impact of technology on the success of 19th century imperialisms. If so, the imperialists themselves were in no doubt.

The American imperialist novelist and journalist Richard Harding Davis often used the phrase “Civilize ‘em with a Krag” in his books, meaning the Krag-Jorgensen rifle that the U.S. Army used to slaughter Filipinos.

Although Headrick’s premise is at least dubious, his little book (after subtracting notes, it is scarcely 175 pages long) is a lively rehearsal of the major innovations that made imperialism easy. And he supplies a number of provocative conclusions.

One is that the distance between European technique and local skills was never exceeded at any time or anyplace in history, and the greatest distance was attained in the final quarter of the century during the scramble for Africa. At times, intruders encountered people who had never heard of a firearm or a white man.

Second, though, is that the distance was narrowing quickly. By 1896, the Abyssinians had firearms as good as the invading Italians (obtained from the Italians, thus confirming one of Lenin’s most famous aphorisms before he even made it). So the Italians were defeated and humiliated by the Africans.

It was a lesson that the Americans should have studied. The 19th century was only a golden interlude for imperial technology, and by the 1950s brown people throughout the world were learning to counter firepower and fast transportation with concealment and guerrilla tactics. The United States has lost every war it has participated in since, with one exception.

Even before Adowa, Headrick says, the cost advantage of technology was narrowing rapidly. Britain was able to take over India on the cheap, but just a short time later the French had to pay a high price to do the same in Algeria.

Firearms are not the only, or even the primary, example of decisive imperial technology. In fact, Headrick identifies 19th century imperialism as an early example of an information society, and claims that information (and organization) rather than machines comprised the decisive technological advantage.

His list of key advances includes iron steamships, breechloading repeating rifles and machines guns, flat-bottomed river gunboats, submarine telegraph cables, quinine, the Suez Canal and railroads. He gives just two words to canned food, although in at least one case, canning is credited with conquest. An African economic historian says Uganda was taken over by “British herring.”

Generally, colonial needs did not drive technological advances, although occasionally they did. The first boat made with a steel hull was used by David Livingstone, and the first one of aluminum was used by the French to help penetrate Sudan.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Could RtO have been wrong?

I have had a lot to say about Timothy Snyder's "On Tyranny," both directly and as a background to my numerous posts about the  neonazi style of President Trump. I am not taking any of it back, but there has been some dissent in the comments, so here's an example of someone who does not think Snyder did a persuasive job on Whiny Baby Donald.

 Yet by resorting to mention of Hitler so early and often, Snyder risks sapping the sort of resistance he wants to encourage.
This is Thomas Meany using Godwin's Law to stop discussion; but, as I wrote last week, what if the discussion is about actual nazis?

Way back in my first list of parallels between WBD and Htler (or Mussolini or other despots), I noted that there are fundamental differences between the USA in 2017 and Germany in 1933.

For one, WBD doesn't have a private army of 3,000,000 thugs. For another, America doesn't have 25% unemploymnt, although to listen to WBD you'd think maybe we do.

Meany is writing in the London Review of Books, whose local readers have a much closer relationship to actual nazis than we Americans do. (In the same issue there is a hilarious essay on the burning of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford in 1926 and its surprising [to me anyway] connection to fascism. (The essayist, Richard Wilson, fails to mention that 1926 was the year of the General Strike and a high point of fascistic hysteria in England. )

Europeans have a more intimate connection to fascism in its many guises than Americans do.  There are fascist regimes in Europe now. An actual fascist -- rather than the "ersatz fuhrer" (as Meany calls him) that we had running in November -- was running for president of a nation with a permanent seat on the Security Council just last week.

Snyder, though an American, has been immersed all his professional life in European totalitarianism. He understands, if other Americans do not, that fascism is qualitatively different from other kinds of totalitarianism, no matter how noisome those were.

I don't think Snyder was calling for Americans to rip up the cobblestones and turn over the streetcars to erect barricades. (It is a measure of the political difference between America and Europe that we don't have cobblestones or streetcars.) It seems to me that he was calling for Americans to remember what our civic virtues are supposed to consist of,  and to renew our dedication to living them.

And to recognize a neonzazi when he rides into town.

The events of the past week reinforce all that.

I have been looking over David Low's "Years of Wrath," a collection of his cartoons in the Evening Standard during the years of fascism's first ascendancy. Europeans (or some of them) were concerned about interference in American elections even before I was born.


The strong resentment is not so obvious any more, is it?


 








Friday, May 12, 2017

How Hitler did it

The daily probes to see how little the American public cares about the Constitution have gotten occasional comment here. Not nearly all of them have been noted by RtO, but the Internet is a big place and you can find others if you care to.

Less noted, except at RtO, are the moves by Trump that parallel the administrative and governing moves that Hitler made in the early days of his chancellorship.

The most important tool Hitler had is one that America does not provide its presidents; Article 48 of theWeimar constituton allowed for rule by decree. Bruning, the Catholic Center chancellor, used Article 48 because the extremists in the Reichstag had made legislation impossible. Trump, by the way, occasionally uses theword decree. He is the onlyAmerican resident I know of who ever used the word.

However,  administratively, the most damaging move Hitler made was to appoint Goering police president of  Prussia.  Prussia was only astat, although a big one; it held almost half the German population in 1933.

In this case, the U.S. Constitution provides greater power to the chief executive. The job of police president combined, at a state level, the functions of a minister of justice and a chief of police. TheAttorney General (minister of justice) and chief of police (FBI) are national, not only state, posts.

With the appointment of Sessions and the firing of Comey, Trump is just about in the situation of Hitler -- or worse -- as regards administration of law and police power. Sessions has already reneged on his promise to the Senate to recuse himself, Rosenstein has set a record for destroying a reputation by cozying up to Trump and we will see who is put forward as chief of police.






The laboratories of democracy

The states are the laboratories of democracy, and the Trump administration wants to devolve government there.

 What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Bad vibes

A Huffington Post story gives some background to an argument made by the Trump administration in the hearing yesterday about the Muslim ban.

The dissents, even at the time, were furious. “May a State in order to avoid integration of the races abolish all of its public schools?” Justice William O. Douglas asked in his dissent.

“I had thought official policies forbidding or discouraging joint use of public facilities by Negroes and whites were at war with the Equal Protection Clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment, Justice Byron White wrote in another dissent. “Our cases make it unquestionably clear, as all of us agree, that a city or State may not enforce such a policy by maintaining officially separate facilities for the two races. It is also my view, but apparently not that of the majority, that a State may not have an official stance against desegregating public facilities and implement it by closing those facilities in response to a desegregation order.” 

The ruling in Palmer v. Thompson didn’t explicitly uphold segregation. But it did call for courts to avoid investigating the constitutionality of officials’ motivations.

Alexander Graham Bell used to admonish his children: Never impute motives. And when it comes to Whiny Baby Donald, there is always a question whether he understands his own motives. So it's a difficult situation. But we do not have to impute motives to Trump. He's been explicit.

To believe the orders were not Muslim bans, the courts (and public opinon) would have to take judicial cognizance that the president's statements are unreliable or meaningless.

A difficult siuation.

Palmer might never have had to be litigated if Jackson had done what Raleigh, N.C., did.

I moved to Raleigh in April 1963 when I was 16. I had come from Georgia, where the civil rights movement had not yet made itself felt in my restricted high school world.

North Carolina was different. It had 5 integrated high schools (vs. 0 in Georgia) and I enrolled in one. Almost immediately, I was invited to attend a march demanding integration of the State Theater (a private move house, not a government facility). I marched and it changed my life -- thank you Mary Lyn and Tommy Field.

But not completely and not so fast.

I spent a lot of the hot summer of 1963 at a municipal swimming pool within walking distance of my house. A lot of my new high school friends did, too, although none of the black students.

They did not live within walking distance of the pool and besides -- although this was not something I thought about -- it was segregated by law.

Over the winter, the city desegregated the pool. I don't know whether that was done by court order or a sense of right. (Note this was 8 years before the issue came up in Jackson.)

I didn't go to that pool again. The next summer,  I was working a job that didn't leave  much time for swimming, and none of my friends was at the pool anyway. I could see that as I walked past because everybody in the pool was black.

I remember thinking, I had a lot of fun at that pool, it's nice the black kids get to do it, too. I didn't occur to me that I should go integrate it. Desegregation is not the same as integration.

Whether the courts find that Trump's order is legally sustainable or not, it's morally wrong, for the same reason it was wrong to keep black kids out of the Raleigh pool.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Gangdom style

As long as there have been cities, there have been street gangs. In Shakespeare's day, London seethed and trembled at the prospect of rioting apprentices.

On the 1840s, Manhattan was regaled and repulsed by the violent attacks of gangs with  names like the Dead Rabbits.

Just 50 years ago, the fictional but lifelike Jets and Sharks rumbled with tire chains and knives.

Not much changes in the structure and habits of gangdom. But one thing has. Read this Los Angeles Times report of some gang attacks n Chicago yesterday and see if youcan guess what it is:

Two people were killed and eight others were wounded in an attack at the site of a memorial for a man who was slain earlier Sunday in the Brighton Park neighborhood, police said.

Firearms.

The arming of America has not made America safer.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Book Review 387: S.S. Great Eastern

S.S. GREAT EASTERN: The Greatest Iron Ship, by George S. Emmerson. 182 pages, illustrated. David & Charles

Great hardly begins to characterize the ship that was originally to have been named Leviathan.  In burthen, she was as big as a World War II aircraft carrier, though not so long. She was too big — no ship as big was built again for 50 years — but she was exactly the right size.

If ever life played a joke on technology, it was with the Great Eastern. The first captain of this huge ship proved unable to manage a dinghy while going to board her and was drowned. It cost more to launch her than the original estimate to build and launch her.

George Emmerson’s biography — claimed to be the first — reveals a more interesting story than the common image, which is of a jinx ship, built too big by self-deluded technocrats.

It turns out, the most interesting part is not the ship — though she is full of interest — but the finances.

I.K. Brunel’s design pushed to the limit of 1850s materials and understanding but was successful. It was capitalism that failed.

The projectors did not have enough capital, but worse yet, some of them had more or less secret designs to have the ship fail: think of “The Producers” set in a shipyard. Add to that financial shenanigans that today are, at least nominally, reprehended, and even without her repeated bad luck, Great Eastern was sailing for trouble.

To begin with, her size. The problem to be solved was similar to the problem of a trip to Mars and back today: how to get to Australia in good time, and back.

Steam, rather than sail, but there were scarcely any coaling stations in the Southern Hemisphere, so the ship had to carry fuel for a round trip. That accounts for her size. (Intermediate between the big steam ship and the Mars trip was the problem of airplane flights between England and Australia; the answer had to be flying boats because there were no landing fields.)

The ship had to be iron (this was before the advent of cheap steel) so Brunel designed a bridge that would float. He added features that are still not common in ships: complete compartmentation and a double bottom. The ship was almost impossible to sink, which — jinx alert — was proved when she ripped her hull on a poorly charted reef outside New York Harbor.

A similar accident sank the Titanic. One difference was that Brunel designed a genuine two-hulled-ship, with coal bunkers inboard of the inner hull. Titanic was, in theory, double-hulled, but the space between the hulls was not left void but used for coal. When it came time to close off the openings, coal dust in the rails for the sliding doors made that impossible.

Financial misadventures, including one of the unregulated market’s frequent crashes, meant that S.S. Great Eastern was not used to carry passengers and freight to Australia. Instead, she was sent between England and America, where she was too big to compete with smaller ships.

And here she did prove sinkable. A poorly thought-out heat exchanger (not Brunel’s design) blew out, setting off a series of failures that left the ship wallowing in a storm. The company’s chief engineer was aboard but incompetent.

Luckily, an American engineer sailing as a passenger stepped in with a jury repair of the broken rudder and saved the ship.

There are numerous other fascinating anecdotes in Emmerson’s short book, many reflecting poorly on Victorian manners and morals, but for this review one more will suffice.

When it came time to lay an Atlantic telegraph cable, the Great Eastern proved just right for the task, but some of her owners had interests in competing cables and apparently put saboteurs aboard to ruin the cable by spiking it with wires to cause shorts underwater. 

When one thinks of the competing private firms offering to send travelers into space, it might be worth remembering that.

Where Godwin's Law does not work

"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1" The unstated premise is: this is a bad thing.

The flaw in Godwin's Law is that there really are nazis. If you are not a nazi and tend to avoid places where nazis congregate, it can be too easy to forget that.

I had not visited Wonkette.com lately so had missed Dok Zoom's curious post on April 11, "Oh Look, Nazi Flat Earthers. Aren’t You Surprised??"

Well, yes, I was; and yet I wasn't, due to the phenomenon of crank magnetism. Anyway, Dok linked to a site called We Hunted the Mammoth.com, which looks to be worth bookmarking.

A little bit of this goes a long way, but it is worth reminding yourself from time to time that there are people out there like that, and that they probably look harmless.

 


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Cow College was never like this

I went to one frat rush party, over 50 years ago, and there was underage drinking going on. And I saw classmates pass out from booze and being dragged away at football games.

But I never heard of "back-packing" until now. Possibly that was because Moo U didn't offer any 15-foot flights of stairs to fall down.


In a group text message shortly before midnight, one of the fraternity members wrote: “Also, Tim Piazza might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of stairs, hair-first, going to need help.”
The brothers later returned Mr. Piazza to the couch, the indictment said, where they were seen “back-packing him” -– putting a backpack, stuffed with textbooks, on his back to weigh him down, so that he would not roll over and choke on his own vomit.
Or maybe we were just naive.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Low productivity

The session of the state Legislature that concluded today was the least productive in the 30 years I have lived here, or perhaps ever. The ouster of Joe Souki as speaker of the House suggests that the Legislature's fundamental problem  -- Oahucentricity -- will get worse, not better.

Maui has always punched far above its weight in the postwar Legislatures, starting with Elmer Cravalho and Mamoru Yamasaki. I covered both men at the tail ends of their careers, and while they were as different as they could be, they did each have clear ideas of what they wanted and knew how to get much of it. Roz Baker and Joe Souki had less success leading the House and Senate but some, and at least they saw to it that Neighbor Islands' issues were not swallowed in the goo of Oahu parochial concerns.

Now the leadership is all Oahu, and since they could not even come to a vote on Honolulu rail, I doubt next year will be productive. Today's story in The Maui News about the inability of the legislators to deal with the Front Street Affordable Apartments, which ought to have been simple despite the heavy breathing of the speculators' attorney, predicts the future. Don't expect any attention to Neighbor Islands issues from here on out.

There's a problem in the American system whenever one party dominates a legislature. Party maneuvering takes precedent over governance. We see it in the Congress now, but it afflicted John Adams and, even more, James Monroe. It's been an unforeseen flaw since the very beginning and is baked in.






Religious fantasies

Whiny Baby Donald continues probing the Constitution to see how much of it Americans will surrender without a fuss. (Mort Sahl said Nixon read the Constitution looking for loopholes.)

 That explains why his order on religion in politics is so much less antiAmerican than the draft leaked three months ago. Remember, though, that whoever wrote that draft is still working for Trump.

And filling the empty spaces in his head with ideas like this:

“For too long, the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith, bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs. You are now in a position where you can say what you want to say.”
You laugh, but there are millions and millions of Christians who imagine they are being persecuted. Recall the undying alarm in the churches about the imaginary government move to suppress religious broadcasting.

As a relic of my days as a newspaper book reviewer, I get constant offers of strange books. Some are very strange.  Last week, I got this pitch:

 In a daring new political thriller, lawyer and author Richard T. Dolezal imagines a world where people of faith must strive to take their country back. In The Fourth Vow, a chance discovery gives the Catholic Church irrefutable proof that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is executing a decades-long strategy to destroy Christianity in America. Pope John Paul II retains famed trial lawyer Carson Elliott to confront the ACLU. The ACLU responds by having Elliott killed. And so it begins.

“And look at society today.  It is quite easy to observe how vulgar, uncaring, coarse, rude and sexually-explicit our culture has become, and how unpatriotic and poorly informed some people are," Dolezal says. "Those of us who have lived awhile can remember a better society. In my book, I suggest that an ‘incremental evil’ has slowly insinuated itself into our daily discourse and dulled our senses to its ugliness. Where are the Christians pushing back?”

In the Rose Garden.

Need it be said that you have to be stone crazy to imagine the ACLU as a hit squad? 

Monday, May 1, 2017

How far would Trump go?

He has already gone very far.

The administration’s hard line on the standard for criminalization has gone so far as to alarm several members of the Supreme Court, as demonstrated during an argument before the Court last week (Maslenjak v. United States), in which a Justice Department lawyer argued that, as The Times reported, “the government may revoke the citizenship of Americans who made even trivial misstatements in their naturalization proceedings,” including not disclosing a criminal offense of any kind, even if there was no arrest. To test the severity of that position, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., confessed to a crime — driving 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone many years ago without being caught. He then asked if a person who had not disclosed such an incident in his citizenship application could have his citizenship revoked. The lawyer answered, yes. There was “indignation and incredulity” expressed by the members of the Court. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy told the lawyer, “Your argument is demeaning the priceless value of citizenship.” Roberts put it simply. If the administration has its way, he said, “the government will have the opportunity to denaturalize anyone they want.”
Timothy Snyder, who I have written about before, says he believes Trump is ready to go much further.

 
Snyder writes in his book that Trump will likely have his own conflict that brings about the “massive reckoning” Bannon seeks. Something like Hitler’s Reichstag fire that is either a war with North Korea, Iran, China, Russia or any of the other countries he’s antagonized over the last 100 days. In fact, Snyder said that it was “inevitable” that Trump and his team would try such an obvious stunt.
“Whether it works or not depends upon whether when something terrible happens to this country, we are aware that the main significance of it is whether or not we are going to be more or less free citizens in the future,” Snyder explained. “My gut feeling is that Trump and his administration will try and that it won’t work. Not so much because we are so great but because we have a little bit of time to prepare. I also think that there are enough people and enough agencies of the government who have also thought about this, and would not necessarily go along.”

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

American celebrity is a wondrous thing

Funny, too.

Trump's buddy Alex Jones appeals for respect and privacy.

If you can judge from bumper stickers, Jones has a sizable following in East Maui. And one devoted one who most days sets up placards in front of the Burger-King in Kahului.

Jones played an audio clip shortly after the inauguration which (if authentic) had Trump fawning over Jones.

Comments have run heavily toward "karma is a bitch."

Ain't it the truth?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Sessions the would-be fascist.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a master of the racist dog whistle.

His latest whistle, aimed at Hawaii, reminds us older Americans that Alabama and other southern states opposed admitting Hawaii a state because of all its brown people.

Out here, we get it. Sessions has been razzed all over Facebook by Hawaii people.

His lame attempt to raise the pitch a  little higher just made him look like not only a racist but an inept lawyer.

For RtO, I'll just repeat my comment on the Politico story:

Sessions is a racist. The comment was both racist and a part of Trump's relentless attack on the independence of the judiciary.

Sessions, if you believe your order was constitutional, the way lawyers defend such actions is by making an effective argument in court.

The way racists and would-be fascists do it is the way you did it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Racists for Trump

RtO concluded, even before Trump won, that he had a good chance of winning, on the grounds that racism is always an advantage in elections.

This was based on reverse reasoning:  overt racists flocked to Trump. They are the experts on who is a racist.

After the votes were in, there were plenty of attempts to show that racism was not the main driver. among the more interesting were comparisons of counties that voted for Obama twice and Trump.

Now The Washington Post has publicized a social science approach using a long secular series of interview data.

Finally, the statistical tool of regression can tease apart which had more influence on the 2016 vote: authoritarianism or symbolic racism, after controlling for education, race, ideology, and age. Moving from the 50th to the 75th percentile in the authoritarian scale made someone about 3 percent more likely to vote for Trump. The same jump on the SRS scale made someone 20 percent more likely to vote for Trump.
So political scientist Thomas Wood concludes: "Racial attitudes made a bigger difference in electing Trump than authoritarianism."

Sounds right to me.

I am less impressed by the finding that, for the second time since the interviews began in 1948, rich Republicans were less supportive of their party's candidate. The reason is that I doubt whether the sample (1,400) included any people that Trump would class as rich.

In this respect, four years ago, I heard assertions that Romney, with only a few hundred million, was not regarded as au fait among the billionairate. Who was the only other Republican candidate not to get his party's wealthy on board?

Romney.

Truly, Fitzgerald was right.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Book Review 386: The Donkeys

THE DONKEYS, by Alan Clark. 216 pages, illustrated. Pimlico paperback

Looking back from its publication date in 1961, and again from today, it is hard to see why Alan Clark’s “The Donkeys” caused and continues to cause such consternation.

Its argument is briefly told: the British Expeditionary Force in 1915 was ruined by incompetent commanders: lions led by donkeys.

Setting aside the coloration of patriotism and optimism that distorted British public opinion, it is difficult to see why anyone, even in 1915, would have expected anything better. Clark, reflecting the continuing attitude that survived for half a century, notes that the reputation of the Royal Army was that it “always won the last battle.”

This is not only not true — think of New Orleans — it also implies what was true, which was that for the century before 1915, the officers of the British armies had uniformly been incompetents. The list of disasters was unrelenting: Balaclava, Kabul, Isandlwana, Khartoum; and it wasn’t just that the armies were led into ignominious defeats but that they were led on corrupt and stupid campaigns.

After each disaster, reforms were imposed to be followed by fresh disasters, suggesting that something fundamental was amiss. The one thing that never changed over the century was the officer corps.

That the ranks were, often, steady and sometimes superb soldiers only reinforces the point. Kipling did not become famous for his poems about officers.

What 1915 brought was disaster on scales not seen before. Clark, who was described by an English reviewer in 1961 as a writer of venom, adopts the methods of Lytton Strachey, who read through the tedious memoirs and double-decker life-and-letters volumes of the people he intended to impugn and lampoon and skewered them mercilessly with their own words.

Clark is the only English writer I know of who comes close to Strachey in the blandness of his wicked sentences: “adulation . . . deluded the commanders with notions of their own ability” or Haig “became respected for his conventional opinions.”

One example of direct quotation will suffice: General Henry Wilson told his diary as the weather warmed and dried in 1915, after a winter in the waterlogged trenches (not by Wilson personally, of course), that the English officers would welcome the more comfortable conditions, although “the men do not mind so much.”

Clark looks in detail at three battles: Neuve Chappelle, Aubers Ridge and Loos. Conditions were such that even competent commanders could not have managed; the field was so large that, without radios, there was no way to control the battle.

However the indifference to even trying stands out.

Though Clark does not say it, the attitude of the generals was of a piece with those so common among businessmen of the time; concern for the workers was never a factor.

In 1894, at the  Battle of the Yalu River, hundreds of brave Chinese sailors were roasted alive because British contractors had sold the Imperial navy shells filled with charcoal instead of gunpowder. At Loos, thousands of British soldiers were mowed down by machine guns because American contractors had sold the British army shells filled with sawdust instead of lyddite.

During the second day of Loos, when the assault had been completely defeated, the donkeys insisted that a fresh attempt be made. Twelve battalions, nearly 10,000 men, went forward. “In the three and a half hours of the actual battle, their casualties were 385 officers and 7,861 men. The Germans suffered no casualties at all.”

Much worse was to come in 1916. Different men, same donkeys.

The reason to continue to read “The Donkeys” is that America in 2017 is in the same case as Britain in 1915. Our military commanders have not won a war in 70 years, and the reasons have everything  to with incompetent leadership, military and civilian. (Clark lambastes the civilians of 1915 as well.) We can tell ourselves that we have the best military in the world, and if we do we are likely to use it, but thinking it so does not make it so.  

Friday, April 14, 2017

Makes me wonder

If Facebook is, as some of my rightwing friends claim, a left-leaning business, why does it force Ann  Coulter's racist taunts onto my news feed?

Has-been, except on Facebook


* * *

The other evening, I found myself at a soiree for an international conference of libertarian economists.  One I talked with is the administrator of the Liberty Fund, which publishes pro-slavery books in lavish editions sold at very low prices in an attempt to, I must suppose, get our young people on board with slavery.

He told the friend who  dragged me to the soiree that Liberty Fund has an endowment of $500,000,000.00. I did not learn which billionaires ponied up for that, but I am sure they expect value for money.

Senator Elizabeth Warren says (I am sure it is not original with her) that if you're not on the guest list, you're on the menu.

* * *

Weird. When I asked Google Images to find me a picture of Coulter, it offered me a SafeSearch option to save me from any "explicit images." That's the first time Google Images has ever worried about my fee-fees in that respect .






Friday, April 7, 2017

Snyder "On Tyranny"

ON TYRANNY: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder, 126 pages, Duggan paperback, $7.99

Timothy Snyder is a Yale historian who has immersed himself in the story of eastern Europe during the 20th century, in a series of powerful books (including “Bloodlands,” reviewed at RtO on
Aug. 21, 2016). That was a grim tale, repeated thrice: after 1918, 1945 and 1990, states formed as democracies but soon evolved into fascism, Naziism or communism.

Now in “On Tyranny,” he warns it could happen in America, and is already happening in other countries. His prophylactic is history, his antidote political action. And he is deeply alarmed:

“We can be sure that the elections of 2018, assuming they take place, will be a test of American traditions. So there is much to do in the meantime.” As I type this, the Republicans have just ratified, by the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch,  what they told us a year ago, that they hold American traditions in deep contempt.

So if anyone is going to do anything, it won’t be the Republicans.

I am  mindful of a story a friend of mine told me about her mother. She was born in Berlin in 1920 to a high-status Jewish family. In 1938, alarmed, she abandoned family, status and possessions and fled to the United States. None of her relatives thought things were quite that bad. By 1945, she was the only member of her family alive.

That resonates with Snyder’s Lesson 20: Be as courageous as you can.

He elucidates: “If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny.”

In tone, and standing alone, that sounds more like a line from “The Turner Diaries”  than the work of a respected academic, but the difference is that Snyder knows what he is talking about.

Yet, if countering the dictatorial goals of Trump depends upon Americans understanding history — and especially if it means understanding the history of other people — then I am more pessimistic than Snyder. The motto of the Trumpeters, the Tea Partiers, the rightwing generally is the one adopted by the antisemite, antidemocrat Henry Ford: “History is more or less bunk.”

It is worth remembering that Ford had a private army that he used against workers. The thing about private armies is that only the very rich have them.

If you were, say, a Polish college professor, it did not matter much, during the past century or so,  whether the tyranny you faced was Nazi, communist, or, for that matter, tsarist. All were about equally ominous for you personally. And Snyder does not make practical distinctions between fascism and communism.

However, his historical examples of what to watch out for are weighted more toward Nazism than Bolshevism. This is, I think, an obvious reaction toward the Trump style, which is more Hitlerian than Leninist or Stalinist. RtO has noticed numerous examples (especially "Frenzy," Feb. 3, 2017), which are more an example of what evolutionary theorists call convergent similarity than direct descent.

To call Trump a neonazi is not to say he embraces National Socialist ideology. He is a nationalist but not a German nationalist.

Almost all aspirants to unlimited personal power have to adopt similar approaches. One that has become evident since the last time RtO listed the neonazi aspects of Trumpery is the reliance on family. This is not one of the 20 lessons in Snyder’s book and, in fact, is not associated with Hitlerism or Stalinism — neither had much family; but it is a very common aspect of most despots. Think Castro or Napoleon. Most despots don’t trust outsiders, and many have discovered that trusting family was a mistake, too.

But I do not propose that Jared Kushner will eventually strangle Trump and Pence and declare himself leader.

Our tyranny, when it comes, is more likely to assume a corporate or bureaucratic cloak.

Some of Snyder’s 20 lessons are more immediately pertinent than others. These  are:

1. Do not obey in advance

2. Defend institutions

9. Be kind to our language

10. Believe in truth

17. Listen for dangerous words



 









Sunday, April 2, 2017

Book Review 385: Barbarossa

BARBAROSSA: The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45, by Alan Clark. 522 pages, illustrated. William Morrow

Almost all Americans share a belief that our fathers and grandfathers fought a “good war” that eliminated fascism. It is a false belief as regards European fascism but half-true for Asia, where we defeated the fascists in Japan but supported them in China, and, later, in Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere.

Even professional historians in America write about America’s role in the European war as if it determined something. English historians have a clearer view of the matter: They say the outcome was determined before the Americans got involved.

Alan Clark writes in his introduction: “It does seem that the Russians could have won the war on their own, or at least fought the Germans to a standstill.”

The “seem” is odd, since his book demonstrates not only that the Russians might but that they did.

The proof came in December 1941, when the Red Army counterattacked, but the decisive moment came earlier. Exactly when is a matter for interpretation, but Clark in “Barbarossa” puts it earlier than other historians; he sets it during July-August 1941, when the German blitzkrieg paused after astonishing advances and Hitler and his generals dithered about what path to follow next.

The choices were to press on and capture Moscow or turn south to engross the grain of south Russia and the oil of the Caucasus. For 19 dry, sunny days, the German army stopped its assault.

It would have had to pause for a time anyway, as the advance had gone so far, so fast that supplies had to be brought up and units had to repair and refresh. That did not require 19 days.

Although from time to time Clark pauses to elaborate on an individual experience of the biggest war ever, “Barbarossa” is history from 30,000 feet. It does not even sketch the month-by-month or even operation by operation history but instead considers three central events: the initial onslaught on a front of 2,000 miles, which petered out in the suburbs of Moscow as the winter closed in; the second year’s drive for grain and oil, which ended in the surrender of a whole army at Stalingrad; and the third year’s opening battle, the tank encounter at Kursk.

Each of these great encounters was won by the Red Army, which may surprise American readers used to a history of the war as a succession of enormous Russian defeats.

Indeed, the Russians lost battles in spectacular fashion, but never a campaign. And even as they wound up campaigns with powerful advantages, after Moscow and Stalingrad they stupidly threw away many gains by attempting to turn a campaign victory into a war-ending smash. They did not make that mistake after Kursk.

Clark’s book is more than 50 years old; it was written before much archival material became available for the Russian side, but Clark was more interested in the thinking of the Germans. It was, in his view, theirs to throw way success, which they did.

Indeed, it can be argued that Clark sets his date for the decisive event too late. Wars between industrial states are always wars of attrition (because the defensive power of a modern state is so vast). Germany with a population of about 80 million was sure to lose in a war against the USSR with almost 200 million.

Also, the chance that Germany could win a two-front war of attrition was nil.

Just as the Germans thought they could finesse those circumstances in 1914, they (or rather, he, Hitler) thought to do so in 1941.

With all the productive capacity of Europe, and much of its manpower as well, the Germans could balance the population and resources of Russia.

But, in reality, such thoughts were just map exercises. Neither Hitler nor his generals expected the Soviets to put up a fight. This was expressed openly and, more tellingly, logistically: the German army made no provisions for equipping itself for a winter war.  The generals were certain the fighting would be over long before the snow fell.

The Russians did fight, tenaciously if not skillfully. Clark says he wants to acknowledge the resilience, toughness and valor of the ordinary Russian, even if the book is mostly about what generals did. But he does not inquire into what made the Red Army man and woman fight, often to the death.

This remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma. After the fighting started, Stalin dropped the party program in his propaganda in favor of a Holy Russia theme, but that could not have influenced the fighting in the opening weeks: it was during that time that Russia beat Germany.

The common soldier had at best modest incentive to fight for the Bolshevik regime; he would not have remembered much about tsarism but no doubt he had heard about it. No on wanted to die for a renewal of tsarism.

Later in the war, it is obvious (from reading memoirs and contemporary letters and news reports though not from this book) that the Red Army soldier was motivated by revenge. Many said exactly that. They were ready to fight to the death because they had no families, no villages to return to.

Clark comes close to this motivation when he writes (from the German perspective) “no man coming fresh to the scene could stay sane without acquiring a protective veneer of brutalisation.” But this does not account for why the German soldier kept fighting when it was obvious the war was not winnable. (To anyone with a map, it was clear in May 1942, when the assault was renewed on a much reduced scale from June 1941, that Germany had not the strength to impose its will on Russia.)

Clark, who made his reputation with “The Donkeys” about the generals of the British Expeditionary Force in 1915, is ignored by the professional historians of the Russo-German war.  It is hard to see why.

He specialized in describing the idiocy of generals — not hard to find if you look — and his conclusions are generally similar to those of the academic historians, only enunciated earlier. He is much harder on the German generals than the academics are but this seems more to his credit than against it. The academics seem to be bemused by the undoubted tactical skill of the Germans — far better than that of the Russians even at the end of the war — while forgetting that generalship involves much more than directing combat and, even worse, that the Germans had lost the eastern war almost as soon as they started it.