Sunday, December 31, 2017

When it all began

Because I am seeing all over the place claims that the FBI opened l'affaire Trump on the basis of the Steele dossier, I thought I'd link to this story that documents that it began before there was a Steele dossier.


Although the Times report was unsourced, Australia is confirming its accuracy:

The Australian government has not taken any opportunity to deny the reports citing Downer’s involvement, instead pointing to the investigation that is under way. Labor has also declined to comment.

Shut the Overton Window

I'd never heard of this Overton Window, so I looked it up. Wikipedia sez this about it:

"According to Overton's description, his window includes a range of
policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of
public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being
considered too extreme to gain or keep public office."
So the election of Trump pretty much proves Overton was spouting nonsense, no?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Meta-fake news

Recall all those rightwing hoaxes about voter fraud? Then the president appointed the vice resident and serial liar Kris Kobach to lead an inquiry into voter fraud.

Turns out that is fake, too.

Kobach and Pence and WBD know the allegations of voter fraud were faked from the get-go. Kobach especially. So it make sense that they would not want a real inquiry. But you might guess that they could have maintained the sham a bit more carefully.


Roy Moore brings it on. This is what passes for voter fraud in the rightwing echo chamber.

Perhaps Roy Moore is a creation of Hillary Clinton to make rightwingers look stupid?

Just a thought.


Too busy to meet or something


'Substantial evidence' means none at all.  Some people know no shame

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Do not be Florida man

Florida is not the most populous state but it leads the nation in ridiculous mishaps, usually attributed by headline writers to "Florida man."

For example, on Christmas Eve the Gainesville Sun reported:


"DESTIN -- A Florida man now living in Bali is fighting for his life after he fell from a roof while chasing a monkey that had stolen his favorite Pittsburgh Steelers cap."

Typically for a Florida man report, there is the unexplained reference to something like "now living in Bali."

Also unanswered is the question, would he have chased the monkey for his second-favorite Steelers cap? How many Steelers caps does he own?

My favorite Florida man story was about a burglar who was being chased by police. He jumped into a lake to escape where an alligator ate him.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas

Figgy pudding and a buche de Noel (in progress)
Last year I didn't have opportunities to bake for Christmas, so I bought a rather expensive Christmas pudding. Mistake. It was no good.

Figgy pudding is one of those foods that just won't submit to industrialization. This year I did a little baking. The figgy pudding is easy and I don't know why more people don't have them.

The most troublesome part is finding and chopping suet, now that most grocers trim their meat in distant mega-butcheries and ship the meat in chilled. But a few places still accept requests.

Figgy pudding doesn't usually have figs in it, though I have made it that way. This year, I saw a British baking show that presented a figgy pudding made with fresh tangerine. So I guess you can do what you want.

The buche de Noel has worms helping to decompose the fallen log. That was for my youngest grandchild, Dakota, who helped me decorate, though he ate more worms than he got on the cake.

The shallow state

Private citizens are not supposed to conduct foreign policy in the name of the United States, although this has never been prosecuted.

Perhaps because in nearly every instance except one, the private citizen was attempting, however ineptly, to support the policy of the government. That was the case, for example, when Bishop Walsh attempted to negotiate with the government of Japan for an end to hostilities in Asia.That was Roosevelt's policy, too, and Walsh was not prosecuted.

The one case we all know of when a private citizen attempted to torpedo the policy of the government was when Flynn, acting for private citizen Trump, advised the government of Russia not to pay any attention to sanctions designed by the government of the United States to influence Russian policy in third countries (Ukraine).

Not treason, according to the very narrow definition in the Constitution, but treachery.

Open and shut case, really, and now we know, via Foreign Policy magazine, that that is just what happened and that the guilty parties knew they were guilty and the other Trump advisers knew, too, and worked to cover it up.

Obstruction? Yes. Collusion? yes.

Kind of stupid, when you think about it. You could call it the shallow state.

And it goes far back and involves  advisers to Trump who were also family.

A further point.  The initial attempts to destroy the effectiveness of government policy need not have been successful in order to be criminous. People go to prison for long terms all the time for attempting to break the law without ever committing the violation they were attempting.

It's called conspiracy.

Eschew foreign entanglements

If you read this story carefully, you will learn that foreigners are not allowed to buy beer at baseball games in New Jersey. USA! USA! USA!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

More fake news

Sometimes it's hard to keep up.

Waiting for howls of outrage

There is no question a lot of national legislation is too complex. One of my first business stories, over 40 years ago, was about ERISA -- the Employees Retirement Income Security Act. Even its admirers said it was so complex that no one understood all of it.

It was designed to protect pensions from managers, a very good idea. Its big idea was to force the president and financial officer of a corporation to sign personally on income statements and be personally liable for their accuracy.

That was thought to be a very big stick indeed. Too big, really. What would it mean to be personally liable for the pension benefits of a declining giant like United States Steel?

ERISA was not a failure but only a modest success. The pension scandals of the '60s were curtailed but not eliminated.

(In some sectors, newspapers for example, pension funds were usually topped up. Even overfunded. In the '90s,with a hot stock market -- and forgetting that economies reverse course from time to time -- businesses petitioned for legislation that allowed them to pull excess savings out of plans. The company I worked for took back a million dollars. Time marches on. Newspapers declined. Last year, that fund [actually a new one, but for illustrative purposed it can be considered the same one] had to borrow nearly a million to keep within the 90% actuarial guideline to avoid a tax penalty.

(That is a very small fund. Some big ones were plundered to the tune of billions. This happened in both public and private funds. The State of Hawaii fund was well-provisioned until the Legislature began harvesting the excess in good years -- sort of like taking a surplus kidney from a healthy person -- until now it is tens of billions in the hole. Donating a kidney is a nice thing, so long as the remaining kidney remains healthy.)

My point is not so much about pensions (though perhaps I should write more about them) but about complex legislation and, in particular, how politically active citizens react to it.

About 8 years ago, several rightist to libertarian posters at this blog and another I used to infest were howling daily about the rush to pass Obamacare without having time to read through it. A point well taken. I am listening attentively for similar howls from the same people about the Trumpcare Tax Act (as it ought to be called because it sure takes care of Trump).

So far nada. Nil. Nothing. Not any.

Most Americans are said to deplore Trumpcare, which is a prudent assumption given the immorality of the people voting for it, but how have they arrived at their opinions? We don't know what sort of pig is in that poke.

I don't know how the tax changes will affect me and don't much care personally. Americans pay very low taxes. My income taxes last year were something on the order of 13 or 14% of my income, and even adding Medicare, excise and property taxes I doubt the total got as high as 25%.

In exchange I got good roads, good health care etc. A bargain really.

Tricia and I will not be driven out of the middle class. But many millions have been since the inauguration of Reaganomics and it looks as if the Trumpcare Tax Act will accelerate that program. There is no doubt it is the deliberate intent of the rightwing.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I identify famous 'flying' 'object'

Except it wasn't an object and it wasn't flying.

It was a foo fighter, a reflection off the plane of the navy aviator who saw it. His description is unmistakable:

The object created no rotor wash — the visible air turbulence left by the blades of a helicopter — he said, and began to mirror the pilots as they pursued it, before it vanished.

“As I get closer, as my nose is starting to pull back up, it accelerates and it’s gone,” he said. “Faster than I’d ever seen anything in my life. We turn around, say let’s go see what’s in the water and there’s nothing. Just blue water.”
Foofighters were first identified during World War II, over the cloudy skies of wintertime northwest Europe. They went away when the Air Force painted its shiny bombers.

They are not as commonly seen on clear bright days, but the ocean is reflective.

Several things seem worth remarking on concerning this story:

1. The Washington Post report should have mentioned foo fighters. At this late stage in the UFO nonsense, any large paper should have an editor somewhere in its team who know something about the silly history of this crap. And another editor will the guts to get the whole story out.

2. The video was made using Raytheon tracking instruments, presumably among the best we have. They failed completely. Longtime readers of RtO (with good memories) wil recall that RtO has often cautioned that target acquisition is the most problematic aspect of aerial warfare.

(I didn't mention that in the previous post, about bombing in Iraq, but the issue never, ever goes away. It is a rare bomb that lands anywhere near its target, if the target even exists.)

3. Foo fighters are seen very often around Korea, which has weather similar to northwest Europe's.

You might want to reflect on "3" for some time, considering the association of truculent military organizations North and South; an ignorant, impulsive and stupid American president with childish ideas about weaponry and idiotic advisers; defective technology; incompetent military leadership at least on the U.S. side.

The only bright spot -- aside from Fravor's UFO -- is that his Navy superiors paid no attention to his report.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Mad bombers

It should come as no surprise that Iraqi conscripts who declined to fight for a corrupt Saddam government also decline to fight for a corrupt Abadi government. That was the lesson of the very slow capture of Mosul and Raqqa.

It will not do to belittle the difficulty of reducing a stubbornly defended city, even if the defenders are only a small, poorly armed and hopeless force. It almost always requires the complete destruction of the place. Such was the case in Warsaw, Manila, Hue and many other places. But you cannot obliterate a city without killing its inhabitants.

And so it happened, again, in Iraq. The American press has done little to report the consequences, but European sources have claimed that something on the order of 60,000 non-combatants were killed. Many by coalition bombing, as the Iraqi infantry declined -- they are not fools -- to assault defended positions, preferring to have pilots blow them up.

If anyone was taking "shelter," so much the worse for them. A rare American report on the consequences is in today's Los Angeles Times. Nut grafs:

When Ali Thanoon lost more than 50 members of his family in a U.S. airstrike during the battle against Islamic State in Mosul in the spring, he turned to the Iraqi government for compensation.

But officials required Thanoon to prove his loved ones had been killed: He could get the necessary death certificates only by digging up their bodies from a mass grave.

That would take time. Thanoon had been trapped for five days under the rubble, then hospitalized for weeks. By the time a cousin was able to take Iraqi officials to unearth Thanoon's two wives, seven children and other relatives, all they found were "meat and bones," Thanoon said.

"What's this?" said one of the officials. "We need to see faces."

* * *

Yet payments under the U.S. program plummeted after America ended its initial combat role in Iraq in 2010 — and did not pick up again when the U.S.-led coalition launched a violent new phase of the war with its assault on the militant group Islamic State.
The U.S. acknowledges that it has killed at least 801 civilians in Iraq and Syria since the campaign began in 2014. Independent monitors insist the toll is much higher: at least 5,975, according to the London-based monitoring group Airwars.

Congress has set aside at least $5 million through the end of 2018 for payments to civilians under the condolence program. But a review of Pentagon data shows that just three such payments have been offered to families in Iraq over the last three years — and none were offered in Syria.
Although very few Americans have any notion of the immense destruction and savagery we are responsible for -- just as few know, even today, how much insane killing we did in Southeast Asia -- you can be sure that the Iraqis know, and the version they will hear will be even more lurid and disgraceful than the facts, however bad those are.

The rest of the Arab societies will hear, too; and other Muslims; and even, in diminishing ripples of knowledge and propaganda, many others.

I am reminded of a Fascist poster depicting their view of the bombing of Italy:

It means "Here are the Liberators!"

Sunday, December 17, 2017

That old-time religion

I grew up surrounded by evangelical Christians. They were an unsavory bunch. If I had a dollar for every time some evangelical who knew nothing about me -- other than that I attended Catholic mass, as I used to do -- told me I was doomed to everlasting torment in hell for not accepting Jesus as my personal savior, I'd have over $500.00.

If I had a dollar for every time an evangelical asked me, what is it exactly that Catholics believe about Jesus, I'd have $0.00.

There were liberal evangelicals in the South in the old days. One, anyway, a preacher in Tennessee, who was rather famous for siding with civil rights marchers back when I was marching myself.

You know how many of what we might call common or garden variety evangelicals supported civil rights equality for Americans of all colors and creeds there were? Zero. Nil. Nada. Not any.

I bring this up because of late there has been a barrage of writing by liberal evangelicals.  Some, like Randall Balmer, grew up outside the South in evangelical traditions that were derived largely from German sources and had almost no similarities with Southern Baptist evangelicalism, which was the kind I grew up with. (By liberal I mean the 19th century traditions of individual autonomy, political equality, and social reform, all concepts unknown in Southern churches.)

But of late a few have emerged from the holy roller traditions I grew up with.

Today, for example, Politico has a long piece about Jen Hatmaker, a Texas preacher's wife who had an enormous following until she questioned Trumpism. That's when the death threats began.

That's the evangelicalism I know: violent, bigoted, ignorant.

And, almost as if it's a plot, the N.Y. Times has a personal statement today by its evangelical reporter (I will bet not one critic of MSM "fake news" knows -- or will believe -- that the Times has such a reporter) denouncing the irreligiosity of what she calls "Fox evangelicalism." 

There have been similar pieces in other papers, and I doubt not, in the church press. I found these two especially well thought-out.

These outliers are still outnumbered many times by the old-line evangelicals.

Friday, December 15, 2017

What are Bitcoins worth?

Nothing, in my opinion, but if you believe in markets then they are worth -- dollars.

That's what the Bitcoin futures market settles in. Shouldn't the settlements be fractions of Bitcoins?

Unless it's all shibai.

Political clarity

The Tea Party/Trump wing of politics wanted honesty -- no more prevaricating, shillyshallying talk. Funny how they cannot tell even a simple truth. However, it's clear enough what they are saying.

During World War II, a German linguist living in Dresden, Victor Klemperer, devised a "National Socialist Lexicon." Although he considered himself to be a German and a Christian, the Nazis rated Klemperer a Jew, so he lived in a "Jews' House" and was tightly restricted. Nevertheless, he thought, correctly, that he could assess the temper of the German public by carefully following linguistic cues. For example, early in the war with Russia, death notices from soldiers' families usually used the phrase "in proud sorrow." By early 1942, the pride was vanishing from the obituaries.

Rightwing watchers, such as RtO, can do the same with our nazi politicians.

For example, in defeat Roy Moore said, "there's not a dime's worth of difference" between the Democrats and the establishment Republicans.

Now, where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, George Wallace in 1968, the last time a big name candidate ran for president as an open racist.

I was wrong about Moore's chances, but not by that much. He's not an open racist like Wallace but he's a racist, he knows it and everybody who voted for him knows it.

He still got nearly 49%.

And if there hadn't been 22,000 write-ins , almost all probably protest votes against Moore's pedophilia from racists who coud not bring themselves to vote for antiracist Doug Jines, he'd have won.

I wonder what it's like to go through life telling yourself: "If I'd been a racist but not a pedophile or a pedophile but not a racist, I could have been elected to the United States Senate."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ain't that the truth?

E.J. Dionne in the Post, demonstrating more knowledge of American history than the entire Republican Party put together:

When Republicans are FBI haters who are sidetracking probes into Russian subversion, the world truly is turned upside down.

Book Review 406:The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy

THE END OF THE IMPERIAL JAPANESE NAVY, by Masanori Ito. 192 pages. Macfadden-Bartell paperback

As we wonder what moves China or North Korea might be willing to make on the international stage, it is worth remembering how badly Americans understood what Japan would be willing to do 75 years ago.

The Japanese view of how it unfolded is very different from ours, even if the Japanese thinker agrees with most American historians that Japan had no chance of submitting its national goals to the test of war successfully with the United States and Gret Britin.

“The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy” is an old book, published in the early ‘50s, first as a series of newspaper articles by  highly-placed reporter who had covered naval affairs since the ‘20s.

Some takeaways:

For the Japanese, god, specifically the War God, was an active agent in warfare. Americans (like MacArthur) might prate about God’s being on their side, but even as psychotic a general as MacArthur did not write god into operational plans. The Japanese navy did.

Even as well-informed a reporter as Ito made some odd mistakes. He got the armament of HMS Prince of Wales incorrect. (Americans fixate on Pearl Harbor, but from the Japanese point of view — specially of a big gun guy like Ito), the sinking of the Prince of Wales was an even greater victory.)

Ito also still fell completely for the claims of the kaiten (suicide submarine) faction, even into the ‘50s. He credits these nasty weapons with major successes. In fact, they scored only a destroyer escort and a tanker. (I have a personal interest in kaiten, since the largest warship one ever attacked was the USS Case at Ulithi. Accounts of that attack vary — either that Case ran down and sank the kaiten or that the kaiten hit the Case but the warhead broke off and sank without exploding. My father was the gunnery officer aboard Case and if the kaiten had succeeded you would not be reading this.)

All military people make mistakes in reporting battle outcomes, usually claiming more destruction than was accomplished, but the Japanese were especially flagrant. In the case of kaiten, the only way they had of assessing results was what the big submarine that launched the little one could see, which was not much. At Ulithi, for example, several kaiten penetrated the atoll. The launch sub saw the results of explosions and concluded that the kaiten must have succeeded in sinking at least a battleship and several aircraft carriers, since the pilots would pick out the most impressive targets and could not fail. In fact, all but one of the explosions were of kaiten running onto the reef.

The antagonism of the headquarters of the imperial army and navy are well-known (and only somewhat more vicious than the antagonism between the US army and navy), but Ito proclaims that at the local level army and navy cooperated wholeheartedly. This is not the way Amercians saw it.
To take an example, although shipping was the main problem of the Japanese war effort, the army and and the navy each grabbed as much for their exclusive use as each could and would not share.

As a result, sometimes precious freighters were sent on empty voyages just because one service or the other would not let the other use its tonnage.

The most interesting section of the book — and one of the longest — is Ito’s defense of Admiral Kurita’s retreat at Leyte Gulf, always presented by American historians as lack of nerve or confusion. Ito, who knew and admired Kurita, has a very different view.

He says Kurita, first, was opposed to useless sacrifice of sailors’ lives if no military purpose was likely to be served; and second, understood that his valuable ships were best used against equally valuable enemy warships, and concluded that the sinking of empty transports — even many of them — would not have justified any substantial risk.

As in the United States in 2017, in Japan in the ‘30s and ‘40s, military officers vastly overrated both their own abilities and the capabilities of their arsenal. And they lied to each other and to their governments.

Genuine voter fraud discovered

As always, the fraudster is a rightwinger. A chairman of the Colorado Republican Party no less.

Did he man up and admit his dirty deed? Of course not. He's a Republican.

Hat tip to Juanita Jean, your internet source for rightwing shenanigans.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Where is Israel's foreign ministry?

According to Wikipedia, it is in Givrat Ram, a district of Jerusalem.
The Israeli version of Foggy Bottom

I was surprised to learn this, I would have guessed it was in Tel Aviv. Even more surprised not to have learned it through any of the many reports about WBD's decision to move our embassy.

It seems like a relevant fact.

Cutting ties with Wells

For a while, Tricia and I had accounts with Wells Fargo. It was not a business either of us would have dealt with if we had had a choice, even before the news reports about pervasive criminality and dishonesty -- not the main characteristic you want in a bank.

However, the administrator of an estate we were involved in used Wells, so we opened an account.

The estate was wound up, so I wrote -- real letter, on paper -- the branch where we had opened the account, instructing the manager to close the accounts.

I didn't hear anything back, so I assumed the accounts were closed. Today I got an email informing me I could view the latest statement.

Imagine  my surprise to see that the accounts were not closed and that Wells Fargo was assessing me fees on them. I had a negative balance.

So I called and got a nice lady who blandly informed me that at Wells you cannot close an account where you opened it. You do that online. Or, in my case, after some strong words, right on the spot over the phone.

Me: Are you telling me that the branch manager just threw my letter away?
Nice Lady: I cannot answer that.

So, not only is Wells Fargo criminal and dishonest, it is stupid.

But big. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

My prediction in the Aabama election

The special Senate election is a week away. I have not been in Alabama for a long time, but my grandfather was from the area where Roy Moore operated and I grew up (across the state line not far away.

People do not change rapidly, especially when their religious and deep cultural ideas are involved.

So I have a  prediction: Moore will win and it will not be especially close. Not a landslide but a comfortable victory.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The spy in the palm of your hand

The New York Times has an impressive report on the likelihood that Trump's claim that a Patriot missile shot down a Houthi Scud at Riyadh was mistaken.

The report relies on something called the Middlebury Institute, which I'd never heard of, and the institute, in turn, assembled its information from Google satellite images, social media posts of videos and similar open sources.

This is a good news/bad news revelation for military intelligence analysts. For one thing, now it's comparatively easy for savvy people to determine the actual results of an attack using stand-off weapons. For another thing, now it's comparatively easy for savvy people to determine the actual results of an attack using stand-off weapons.

I am reminded of the "Battle of the Beams" during the German bombing of England. The Germans used a radio-triggered bombing release, the first ever GPS technique. The British developed a countermeasure that "bent" the trigger beam, inducing the planes to drop their bombs in the countryside instead of on London.

The Germans, with no sources on the ground to report where the bombs fell, never realized their system had been spoofed.

It is easy to think of later examples of offensive efforts that were ruined by lack of targeting data: the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail is an obvious one.

Now, at least in some cases, results are discoverable.

Of course, you have to be smart enough to assess the evidence. WBD isn't that smart.

Are American military officers? Past experience suggests they are not.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A party of aspirations

There used to be a trick question on the Virginia bar exam: Is there an absolute defense against a charge of attempted statutory rape?

The answer is, yes, ignorance of the target's age is an absolute defense, although that is not, in Virginia, a defense against a charge of statutory rape.

(Off my topic here, but curiously pertinent to current concerns is that attempted statutory rape is the charge being made against Roy Moore, the Alabama moralist. He is vehemently suspect but that is not a charge that prosecutors ever bring.)

So, did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians to turn the 2016 election?

Trump says no. The evidence is not public that it did so successfully.

On the other hand, it is beyond dispute that the Trump campaign attempted collusion.

Monday, November 27, 2017

First world problems

Apparently, the Trump White House feels it is not lying enough.

Practice, practice, practice.

BTW, Sanders, a Google Images search for "homemade pecan pie" turns up this as the first hit. Easy peasy.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Yearning for dullness

Unregulated markets fail. You've read that here before.

Now there's a graph, which Paul Krugman published in his column, showing how dramatically true that is.

That's for many countries, whereas RtO was just referring to the United States.

There are many things you could say about that graph. An obvious one -- this is Restating the Obvious -- is that economies were more unstable when money was hard.

Another -- not obvious from the graph but readily ascertainable from financial history -- is that the very rich benefit from financial collapses. As John D. Rockefeller I said after the '29 collapse, for him it was an opportunity to acquire 'attractively priced securities.' That was true for the very rich following each financial collapse since Reagan took office.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

What I'm thankful for

Texas Republicans.

 Mollie Ivins is dead but loony Texas Republicans are immortal. How is that fair?

It's probably too late for you to have avoided the chemical the gummint is putting in your Thanksgiving feast that will turn you homosexual. Sorry.

Also thankful to Juanita Jean for the news from Denton County.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book Review 405: Lord Strange's Men and Their Plays

LORD STRANGE’S MEN AND THEIR PLAYS, by Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth MacLean.475 pages, illustrated. Yale

It sounds like a summary of today’s news:

“Dread of foreign enemies and a series of unsuccessful military adventures abroad, coupled with fear of dissension and conspiracy at home, led to repressive measures and an atmosphere of state paranoia.” Workers who felt that foreign immigrants, coddled by central government policies, were stealing their jobs rioted. “Diseased, wounded veterans,” unable to get medical care, were a scandal.

Just across the border, police murdered poor farmers, with the open approval of the government. Fear of hordes of violent, desperate migrants terrified citizens. An alien religion was believed to be plotting the destruction of the national way of life.

That was England — and its neighbors, Scotland and France — in the 1590s. 

Repression that later historians have called a “reign of terror” was imposed. But a few brave voices resisted.

Among them was a young actor and aspiring playwright, named Shakespeare, who penned an eloquent appeal on behalf of desperate refugees.

Shakespeare was writing for, and perhaps acting in, the most innovative, daring and admired acting company of the time, Lord Strange’s Men.

In “Lord Strange’s Men and Their Plays,” Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth McLean plumb provincial records to place Strange’s Men in a political, religious and social context that goes back to the Wars of the Roses. Strange was the heir of the Earl of Darby, and the earls had used sponsorship of players and entertainers (notably bearwards) for over a hundred years to solidify and encourage their power, which was in the northwest, including a village that grew into the great city of Birmingham.

It was a dangerous practice, and Lord Strange was probably murdered for it.

His death scattered the best actors and seeded the company of Pembroke’s Men, who literature students associate with Shakespeare’s most controversial years.

But Shakespeare wrote “Titus Andronicus” and (at least) two plays about Henry IV for Strange’s Men.

Shakespeare, however, is not the star of this show and barely shows up until chapter 9.

Before that, we learn an immense amount about the political duel between the Darbies (Catholics as were most of the people in their region) and the Protestant court; about theatrical tours (very important because the London playhouses were closed by plague for much of the history of Strange’s Men; architecture of the provincial halls where they played; how plays were commissioned; how much money they made; how they fell out of the repertory.
Strange’s Men introduced a new play about once a mont, which involved a tremendous amount of memorization by the players. Throughout his career, Shakespeare wrote two plays a year, and we must keep in mind that he was memorizing parts of about 10 or 12 new plays, plus acting, all the while.

How did they find the time?

Manley and McLean provide readings of the plays of the early ‘90s that make them more political than they appear to modern readers, but they also note the entertainment values.

Strange’s Men were known for their sensational and scary stage effects, pyrotechnics and gore. A list of the ways actors died onstage is long: “stabbing, smothering, strangling, hamstringing, poisoning (by porridge and by scent), hanging, burning, beheading, boiling, blowing up, eviscerating, butchering, dismembering, glossectimizing, and devouring.”

How guns protect

Another church shooting.

Real news

I.F. Stone, the red journalist, used to say that the government publishes everything it knows, a reporter just has to work to find it. Stone came to that conclusion as a result of a personal crisis. When he began losing his hearing and could no longer conduct interviewsS he began reading government publications.

Till then a fringe figure in journalism, his discoveries -- hidden in plain sight -- made him a hero of the resistance to Cold War chicanery.

His statement applies almost as well to closed, totalitarian societies as to open ones. The totalitarian governments don't deposit their documents in open libraries, but they do publish them.

Sometimes the totalitarians and the so-called democracies conspire to keep secrets. Probably the most famous example was the "secret treaties" between Britain, France and Russia before 1914.

When the Bolsheviks took over, they published the treaties. There's nothing new about Wikileaks.

Bloomberg News reporters Polly Mosendz, Patrick Clark and Michael Smith give a good demonstration about where news lies -- or perhaps it would be better to say, here it tells the truth -- and how mundane it can be in a story about Paul Manafort's home renovations.

Did Manafort really launder money, as a federal inictment alleges?

It turns out, his payments were waaay over when his contractors were billing him for, as least according to values declared ob building permits.

Bloomberg cautions that there might conceivably be a non-obvious but legitimate reason to pay $5 million for a $1 million job. If there is, Manafort's lawyers will explain it to us.

However, my money is on Mueller's lawyers.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Book Review 404: The Army and Vietnam

THE ARMY AND VIETNAM, by Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr. 318 pages, illustrated. Johns Hopkins paperback

In 1986, Andrew Krepinevich, then on the faculty at West Point, published his devastating critique of the ignominious American defeat in South Vietnam. It was then 14 years since the retreat, and Krepinevich thought that the Army had never learned why it was so badly beaten.

He concluded: “. . . the Army (may) again (find itself) attempting to fight a conventional war against a very unconventional enemy.”

Within less than 20 years, Krepinevich was proven to be a prophet and the Army lost two more wars, ignominiously.

Firepower and aircraft turn out to be useless in a place where the population is disaffected or indifferent and the local government is corrupt/incompetent (which is why the populace is disaffected).

What has the possibility of working is saturation of inhabited areas by light forces who live among the populace, build up relations, gain intelligence and give the citizens confidence that the central government can protect them.  That requires a lot of infantry,

The Army doesn’t have any infantry. Its so-called infantry divisions have more tanks than World Wr II armored division. Plus hundreds of helicopters.

It is not possible to develop relationships with the inhabitants from inside a tank or a helicopter — still less a drone.

The Army did not and does not care. During the Vietnam defeat, the slogan was, “If you’ve got ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” This is not true.

The Army had plenty of opportunity to learn this, since it financed and observed the defeat of the French by the Viet Minh. Yet in 1962, it adopted French methods.

The Americans were arrogant. They thought the French had failed because they weren’t real men, like ‘Murricans. Nor did the ‘Murricans have any use for the South Vietnamese armed forces or police.

Or the South Vietnamese civilians. Krepinevich says:  “For MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam), people living in rural areas represented barriers to the creation of free-fire zones.”

The American officers were uniformly incompetent. It took only three years for the Communists to run the Americans out. Even the despised French had hung on for eight years.

There are some omissions in “The Army in Vietnam.” The most serious, but understandable, is the omission of any discussion of corruption in the American armed forces. As anyone who came in contact with the Army in those years will attest, it was pervasive.

As anyone who reads the daily papers today knows, it still is.

A little book tells a story

While listening to the Christian Broadcasting Network, I heard a commercial for a hate book about Muslims. The pitch started like this:

“We Christians with our commitment to tolerance may have difficulty understanding a religion dedicated to intolerance . . .”:

Although no cult has a good record when it comes to toleration, there is no question which religion is the most intolerant. It’s Christianity.

Toleration is a secular idea; no religion, while holding civil power, has ever shown tolerance, although there are examples of lesser or greater intolerance.

Christians do not know their history; I have never met one who did. But I know it. The story of  little prayer book called the Sarajevo Haggadah demonstrates. (I take this story from Chapter XIV: Convivencia Under Fire,” in “The Holocaust and the Book” (which was reviewed here on November 8.)

The book was made in Toledo around 1350 when under Muslim rule a policy called convivencia allowed, perhaps even encouraged, Muslims, Jews and Christians to live together in peace.

When the Christians took over, Jewish books were burned (and numbers of Jews along with them) but the Haggadah escaped along with refugees who ended up in Bosnia.

The pasha in Sarajevo inaugurated a new form of convivencia, bending the cult rule to allow construction of a synagogue and making other concessions to intolerance.

Historian Andras Riedlmayer comments: “As in medieval Spain, convivencia in Sarajevo did not imply an absence of hierarchies of status or of periodic friction between individuals and groups, but the fact of pluralism itself was taken as a given.” Under religious government, that is as good  it ever gets.

The Haggadah survived the burning of Sarajevo by Christians in 1697, though many of the residents, Muslims or Jews, did not. It survived the burning of the Jewish books and most of the Jews by Christians again in 1941-44, and — though no one knows exactly how — the burning of the Jewish and Muslim libraries by Christians in 1992-3.

It is almost the only relic of the great period of Jewish bookmaking in Aragon in the 14th century.

The only time that the little prayer book passed through a period of political change without being endangered was in 1878, when the new government (of Austria-Hungary) was committed to secular values of pluralism and toleration.

 That, of course, was just an episode. It didn’t last.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Which direction do prayers go?

When Christians — and here I am speaking particularly of rightwing Christians who typically care nothing for the this-worldly condition of other people — offer thoughts and prayers following a disaster, what does it mean?

Are the freethinkers right, that it just means “I don’t really care about what happened to you and I am not going to do anything to help you, even if it is in my human power to do it”?

Yes, they are right. But there is more to it than that.

Notice that these stiff-necked Christians always offer their prayer to the others, never do they ask for prayers for themselves.

Several things are going on here. On the spiritual level — about which I care nothing — they are committing the sin of pride, the worst one.

On the worldly level, the first thing is that these people assume they are morally superior. Yes, I know what they say about this in their sermons. What I am talking about here is what people reveal about their genuine thinking in their thoughtless statements, and “thoughts and prayers” is a thoughtless statement if ever there is one.

Two, the intention is not to help the sufferers but to make the observer feel good about himself.

Although Christians, especially evangelical Christians, constantly participate in communal prayers, they almost never ask for prayers for themselves. They don’t genuinely think they need it.

Radio preachers always offer to pray for their listeners but they never ask their listeners to pray for them. From them, all they ask is money.

Among the prominenti, it is hard to think of examples of persons asking for prayer for themselves. The one example that comes to mind is Harry Truman, who after Roosevelt’s death begged his friends for prayers.

Never will you hear a Christian gun nut pray: Guide me, is it possible that my love for guns is greater than than love for my brothers and sisters? Did I contribute by my mistaken views to these deaths of innocents?

After the latest mass murder by a gun nut — this comes up in our decivilized country every 24  hours or so, on average — a relevant prayer for the humble Christian would be my favorite, Cromwell’s Prayer: I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A request to the gun nuts

I suppose it is too early after the child murders in California today to talk about gun control. I don't know how long we are supposed to wait. However long that is, could you gun nuts please call a moratorium on mass child murders for the appropriate length of time so we can get on with it?

Book Review 403: The Maisky Diaries

THE MAISKY DIARIES: Red Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. 584 pages, illustrated. Yale

No insurance underwriter in the late ‘30s would have considered a policy on Ivan Maisky, a half-Jew Menshevik with bourgeois tastes who worked for Joe Stalin as ambassador in London.

Yet Maisky survived to live to 91. His was one of the most improbable careers of the 20th century.

His diaries do not provide any startling revelations about “the low, dishonest decade,” but they do offer another perspective to that terrible time. Probably their most interesting aspect is the personal and psychological.

At the beginning, Maisky seems like an attractive fellow, especially compared to the people around him. Arriving in London even before Hitler became chancellor, Maisky already understood what nazism meant for aggression and peace, and he (in alliance with Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov) worked tirelessly to put some skeletal structure into collective security. One of the few others in England who shared his alarm was Churchill.

Neither man had any sympathy for the underlying politics of the other. Fear of German militarism was their only bond.

It is still unclear, at least to me, whether it should have been obvious at the time that both sides were so mistrustful of the other that this effort was hopeless. Maisky knew he had to persuade not only the bourgeois states of France and Britain but the Bolshevik one in Moscow. Much of his maneuvering involved putting ideas into the heads of English ministers, then passing them along to Moscow.

A fundamental difference between Churchill and Maisky was that Churchill never attempted to trick his government into an alliance. Of course, Churchill was never a member of government, unlike Maisky.

The diaries are, understandably, circumspect, so not much is said about the purges. Editor  Gabriel Gorodetsky, using other documents, asserts that Maisky was distressed to see colleagues disappear, which seems likely, although from what is available in this abridged volume, it seems he agreed that the accusations in Moscow were legitimate.

Did he really think so? It seems hard to believe from a man of his discernment, but then he spent much time hanging out with the Webbs and similar Stalinist dupes. This is why the psychological question is so interesting, though there is not enough material to venture a judgment.

Maisky had a high opinion of his discernment, and often enough his predictions turned out to be correct, and his plots worked, but he also reveals some odd blind spots.

Perhaps the oddest was his belief that landlords controlled British government and politics. Apparently he never heard of the repeal of the Corn Laws.

By the ‘30s, most English landlords were hanging on by  thread, but Maisky seems to have thought they were no different from the Polish-Lithuanian landlords he had known in his youth.

As an old Menshevik, Maisky had reason to be terrified during the purges, but he seems not to have thought very deeply about the direction of communism. Many times he asserts his belief that the restructuring after the war would be done in an almost entirely communist milieu. He appears to have forgotten what collective security was supposed to preserve.

Thus, he looks less and less attractive as he justifies the war against the Finns and drops any pretense of defending anything more universal than Russian imperialism when he blandly refers to “Soviet Karelia.”

After June 1941, Stalin presented himself more and more as a Russian imperialist and less and less as a revolutionary. Maisky arrived at that position much earlier, at least by 1939.

The diary ends with his recall in 1943. Gorodetsky provides a thumbnail history of his last 30 years, in which he narrowly escaped being shot but was (at age 70) brutally tortured, perhaps even by Beria personally.

There is no suggestion that he ever wavered in his devotion to communism.

Some of Gorodetsky’s commentary seems to contradict what the diaries say, but his interpretation of the low, dishonest decade it sharply different from what American and British historians have understood it to be. I found him unpersuasive.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hoping for Armageddon

The Guardian has an interview with the survivors of the famiy that had had members murdered thanks to the fact that the United States does not have any gun laws. It will sound unbelievable to sane people, but I grew up among these fanatics and I can assure that you out in the reality-based world that people in the South really think this way.

“It’s just not a problem to us,” said Holcombe, 86, adding that he and 84-year-old Claryce believed their dead family members were now alive again in heaven. “We know exactly where the family is, and it’s not going to be long until we’ll both be there,” he said. “And we’re really sort of looking forward to it.”

The Holcombes were upbeat and full of good humor in a telephone interview, and they were not an exception in a deeply evangelical part of Texas.
When I listen to my favorite Christian radio program, "To Every Man an Answer," I frequently hear callers yearning for Armageddon. My Bible says that would usher in  a thousand years of misery, but some folks love misery, I guess.

The folks in Sutherland Springs are not, perhaps, the most sophisticated exponents of Southern Christianity, but the most sophisticated ones are just vapid. On the whole, the simple fanatics are more attractive. Take, for example, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

 When we say our “thoughts and prayers” are with them, we are not washing our hands of duty; we are expressing our heartfelt urgency to pray. We are affirming the power of God to save, to heal and to comfort. We are praying for human agents, doctors and first responders, friends and neighbors, to do what we cannot, prompted by the leading of God.

Yeah, well, when god brings those 26 people back from the dead, I'll admit that prayers were meaningful.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ramblin' man


WBD enters the Twilight Zone.

And as long as I'm running through pop-cult items, there's this:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review 402: The Holocaust and the Book

THE HOLOCAUST AND THE BOOK: Destruction and Preservation, edited by Jonathan Rose. 314 pages, illustrated. Massachusetts

Just days after Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, university students organized a series of book collections and carefully staged burnings across the nation. This was not a project of the government or even, directly, of the Nazi Party. It was a bottom up protest against “unGerman” writing — mostly but not all Jewish.

World opinion was shocked, not least because although libraries had been burned since there were libraries, in Europe the burning had been done almost entirely as a Christian project. Secular book during as something new.

Although, like most Nazi programs, the robbery and destruction of cultural records and art was uncoordinated and haphazard, it eventually accomplished a lot. Some estimates say the Germans burned (or, in their thrifty way, pulped for paper) 100 million books — half in Ukraine.

Books could be reprinted, but the Nazis also sought to destroy government records, manuscripts, anything that would show that Jews had once been there. The Poles got the same treatment.

The Jews resisted. The YIVO project had begun in 1892 to collect Jewish records, and libraries had been established around the world, so a tradition of collecting and caring for records was in place. It quickly established itself in several ghettos, notably Vilno.

Part of the story of “The Holocaust and the Book” concerns the heroic effort to save records and give doomed Jews something to read. They preferred the Yiddish or Russian equivalent of Harlequin Books.

Some collections were saved but more often most of what was assembled was eventually destroyed.

The Germans did try to pick out the most valuable items for a projected huge research library on judaism.

Then after the war there was the problem of returning the items. Jews generally opposed returning specifically communal material to places that no longer had any Jews, so some of the archives were sent to Israel and other countries.

The most important of the Polish treasures ended up in Canada, where there was a long struggle over whether they should go to a now-communist government. Eventually, they were returned.

The longest essay concerns the question of how to view the contribution of Nietzsche’s writings to the Shoah.  American scholar John Rodden considers that Nietzsche was unfairly used the the Nazis, but he was used. Rodden carries the dispute into the postwar, where Nietzsche became an unperson in East Germany in order to serve a myth that  the East Germans had been antifascist. As with the Polish treasures, Nietzsche was eventually, if uneasily, restored.

Although burning books —or, strictly, a community's cultural records — was declared a war crime after the war, that did not prevent the Serbs from committing the largest book holocaust in history at Sarajevo in 1992. The Croats also participated, both acting against the Muslims, although as it turned out, the Serbs and Croats burned each others’ books when they got the chance.

In a way, a tradition was restored, since the standard was not race but religion.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Show and tell

Whether you regard gun mayhem as a mental or a moral issue, this graphic from the New York Times shows that the United States is a failed state. Morally depraved or mentally sick.

Take your pick.

Mass shooters on the Y axis, guns on the X axis. America upper right. Rest of the world lower left.

Gun nuts who say it is "too soon" to discuss gun violence are cowards.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The mistake in the tax bill

It probably isn't a mistake. More likely it's a con job from the rightwing. But for the purpose of elucidation, it doesn't matter, so let's be generous and assume that the Republicans pushing the tax changes are stupid.

Hey, it could happen!

The details in the bill don't matter, only the claim that reducing taxes -- in this case mostly for corporations -- will goose economic growth.

There were many periods in American economic history when that would probably have been true, to some extent. Rightwingers used to fret endlessly about shortage of capital. In the Reagan years, you could not open the Wall Street Journal editorial pages without seeing a piece about how higher government obligations (read, checks to welfare queens) were going to crowd out private investment, since -- unstated assumption alert -- there is only a finite amount of capital in the world

You don't hear rightwingers worrying about shortage of capital any more, at least not in Reaganite terms. And you sure don't hear professional mega-investors worrying about it.

Here, for example, is a sentence from the annual report of BlackRock Advisors LLC:
"However, the capacity for rapid growth is restrained by structural factors, including an aging population in developed countries, low productivity, and excess savings."
(I choose this example merely because my wife invested in a BlackRock bond fund, so we get the annual review; but the same sentiment can be found all over.)

The key words are excess savings. That means that BlackRock Advisors cannot find anythng to do with its money, That's not to say that society couldn't. There are plenty of thngs that could usefully use more capital, but they do not return direct profit, only (with good planning) indirect.

For the first time in history, there is excess capital. I cannot say when this began -- more or less when the dollar valuations of petroleum and gold were was raised off their artificially low levels in the '70s, although these big shakeups may not be explanations.

Over the past 35-40 years, in America (and in the world generally), there has been an enormous accumulation of capital. You didn't get any of it. Them that had, got.

But just because you didn't get it doesn't mean it isn't there.

I have not written much about this. I should have.

A number of conclusions follow from this change in circustances.

One (that I have written about) is that there is no longer any justification for taxing capital gains at lower rates than ordinary income. It probably makes sense now (if you care about reducing government debt) to tax capital gains at higher rates than ordinary income.

Another is that a big injection of capital into the active sectors of the economy will not result in faster growth. The most likely result would be to destabilize markets.

Republican policies are, historically, very good at that.  


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thoughts and prayers

So, another big shoot-'em-up in a gun-crazy state. Somehow or other, the presence of heavily amed citizens did not deter the shooter.

Rightwingers -- specifically Attorney General Ken Paxton, than whom you can get no further right -- offered thoughts and prayers.

They never say what they are thinking or what prayers they're offering. I wonder.

"Holy crap, gotta buy me some more guns!"

"Dear Lord, I thank you I don't live in a blue state where the gummint at least tries to keep firearms out of the hands of people whose idea of Sunday services is shooting up a church.

Or what?

Here's a thought of my own. Of the 22,000 people at the Highway 91Festival, 58 were shot to death. But the others are not out of the woods yet. About 200 or so will eventually die of gunfire.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Book Review 401: Female Complaints

FEMALE COMPLAINTS: Lydia Pinkham and the Business of Women’s Medicine. 304 pages, illustrated. Norton.

You can still buy Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, although it is now called
“Herbal Compound” and its ingredients are not the same as in the 1875 product that launched billions of flyers.

Perhaps they never were. A government analysis of the 1913 elixir found less than half a percent of the unicorn root, life root, black cohosh and pleurisy root that Lydia Pinkham found in a standard compendium of cures. The original formula also had fenugreek, which perhaps Pinkham added on her own.

It seems probable to me that up to 1882, when Mrs. Pinkham died, there really were roots and “yarbs” in the bottle. Her nostrum was worthless, but she believed in it.

She was a passionate believer in all sorts of things. As a young housewife in the lively 1840s — the Age of Reform, especially in Massachusetts — she adopted the good, the bad and the ugly. She was a friend of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, a temperance advocate, a spiritualist, a Grahamist (whence Graham crackers) and many other things.

In Sarah Stage’s dated but still readable “Female Complaints,” we gain a good sense of the ironies not only of Lydia Pinkham’s life but of the times.

The Vegetable Compoudn may have been worthless medically — its only active ingredient was 18% alcohol— but taking it did no harm, which is more than the doctors of the time could say of their nostrums and operations.

It was a scary time to be a woman, a subject Stage explores thoroughly. Many of the female complaints were the result of gonorrhea, a disease not understood at the time; along with all the dangers of pregnancy in those times, plus overwork, corsets etc.

With her booze, Pinkham also gave out free advice, and it was mostly good: eat a good diet, avoid constricting clothing, exercise and breathe fresh air.

Among the ironies were that the movement for women to take control of their well-being from doctors, quack and otherwise, should have depended on such simple-minded advice. (This irony retains its force.)

That Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound still sells suggests that ordinary folks really are not the best judges of their own health care. (Amusingly, the current packaging has a banner that reads “Now with Black Cohosh.” It always had that. The licorice, Jamaican dogwood bark, dandelion, motherwort, gentian, vitamins C and E, BHA, salicylic acid etc. are novelties.)

Millions of women wrote “Mrs. Pinkham,” even after she was long dead, about their problems, and they were often frank and open. A few of the letters survive, but Stage laments that this valuable archive was destroyed in 1940 when the correspondence department was closed.

Although Lydia Pinkham was zealous, sincere and ignorant, her heirs were just frauds.

I suspect (though Stage does not) that the 1913 formula was the result of chicanery — just enough of the roots to give the expected bitter taste while saving on production costs.

The firm was owned equally by the descendants of Pinkham’s surviving son and daughter (two other sons worked themselves to death getting the slow-starting business going).

The son had sons and the daughter had a daughter, and the two sides fought bitterly for control for half a century. This battle of the sexes and over money neatly mirrors the struggle of women and patent medicine makers vs. male doctors for supremacy over women’s health care.

The men won, sort of.

“Female Complaints” was published in 1979, a combination of popular and academic history that reads well and holds up well today. The style, like Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, is dated but there is still a market for it.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A memorial to remove

As long as we are rethinking who is deserving of public memorials, let's expand our vision beyond old slaveholders.  One of the largest memorials is in Norfolk, Virginia, in a disused structure left over after urban renewal destroyed the old city center.

It is really a sort of antimemorial, devoted primarily to besmirching the reputation of Harry Truman. Ostensibly, however, it is supposed to honor "Dugout Doug" MacArthur, the most incompetent professional officer this country has produced.

No other general ever maneuvered the men under his command into a Death March. MacArthur did it twice.

He also unleashed tanks on hungry, hopeless men formerly under his command. He took a huge bribe from the government of the Philippines. He ignored the attack on Pearl Harbor so that his own air force was surprised and destroyed. He failed to move supplies into Bataan, which was designted in prewar plans as a redoubt, leading to mass starvation and death for American and Filipino troops under his command.

He ignored solid intelligence that China would come into the war in Korea, leading to the biggest defeat in the history of American arms. He refused direct presidential orders.

You might wonder why a man with a record like that would have a memorial. Rightwngers love him. He talked big and acted small and he was a liar. Their kind of guy.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Russian meddling

I think it is worthwhile to notice instances of meddling by foreign powers in other countries' elections. I am not making a systematic search but just marking instances I come about by happenstance. For example, this from Gabriel Gorodetsky's annotations to the diaries of Ivan Maisky, the ambassador of the USSR to Britain during most of the 1930s:

''If Maisky expected (Foreign Secretary Anthony) Eden to have been won over by his Moscow visit (in January 1936), he was to be disappointed. 'I have no sympathy to spare for Mr. Maisky,' Eden minuted. 'I hope that next time M. Maisky comes with complaints he will be told that our goodwill depends on his  Government's good behavior; i.e., keep their noses and fingers out of our domestic politics. I have had some taste of the consequences of this lately . . . I am through with Muscovites of this hue.' "

("The Maisky Diaries," Yale, page 65)
Gorodetsky does not explain what in particular bothered Eden but Maisky was an innovator in openly courting newspaper editors and proprietors. This was shocking to the British,  although they were aware that European governments had been suborning newspapers for a long time. Before World War I, the German governement controlled several Parisian newspapers, and in the interwar period, Germany and Italy secretly subsidized many foreign sheets. Perhaps Eden was upset by Maisky's openness.

The prim and shocked tones coming out of our own senators and congressmen at this week's hearings on social media and politics are mote than usually disgusting, especially since just a few days ago the National Security Archive publicized hitherto secret American messages describing how the United States encouraged (and, from my experience back in '65, instigated) the murder of a large number of Indonesians.

The figure has been given variously, from press reports at the time of 250,00 to500,000, to, recently, a million.

That's some interference. The Atlantic has a useful summary. Nut grafs:

In Indonesia in October 1965, Suharto, a powerful Indonesian military leader,   accused the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) of organizing a brutal coup attempt, following the kidnapping and murder of six high-ranking army officers. Over the months that followed, he oversaw the systematic extermination of up to a million Indonesians for affiliation with the party, or simply for being accused of harboring leftist sympathies. He then took power and ruled as dictator, with U.S. support, until 1998.

This week, the non-profit National Security Archive, along with the National Declassification Center, published a batch of U.S. diplomatic cables covering that dark period. While the newly declassified documents further illustrated the horror of Indonesia’s 1965 mass murder, they also confirmed that U.S. authorities backed Suharto’s purge. Perhaps even more striking: As the documents show, U.S. officials knew most of his victims were entirely innocent. U.S. embassy officials even received updates on the executions and offered help to suppress media coverage. While crucial documents that could provide insight into U.S. and Indonesian activities at the time are still lacking, the broad outlines of the atrocity and America’s role are there for anyone who cares to look them up.

Is Mike Pence homosexual?

I grew up surrounded by holy rollers, so I am familiar with all sorts of weird Christian beliefs: canopy theory, serpent handling, speaking in tongues. But Mike Pence's rule against eating with a woman unless his wife is along is beyond weird.

I could get it if he was talking about those turn-of-the-19th-century restaurants with private seduction rooms in the back. But as far as I know, those restaurants have all closed.

So is there a reasonable explanation for his policy? I can think of only one: Mike Pence is gay, the lunch rule is a beard.

Pence is so ostentatiously signaling that he is so manly that no woman is immune to his allure if she so much as gets across the table from him because he doesn't want his bigot voters to suspect he's a flaming queen.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


A wise and prudent man who holds a high government position would probably not want to reveal that he is a fanboy of the Lost Cause and an apologist for slavery.

John Kelly was presented, uncritically, as a disciplined, sharp, controlled ex-Marine when he became WBD's chief of staff. A sort of glorified executive secretary or administrative assistant. It turns out, though, that he's just another reactionary ignoramus.

It shouldn't matter greatly, as a chief of staff is not necessarily, or even desirably, a political adviser.

Apparently Kelly is either an adviser or at least, a good water boy, because he decided to become  a controversialist when his boss began his nazi-like attack on the pro football players. I don't recall other presidential chiefs-of-staff ever doing such a thing.

His first comments were mild. Stupid, but mild. He lamented that in the good old days people respected women, life, religion, the military. As readers of RtO know, it is not necessary to respect the military. I have little but disdain, sinking to contempt for the military brass, who have failed to win any wars since 1950 despite consuming a vast amount of resources.

Mild as they were, his remarks sounded silly enough that reporters wondered about them, and Sarah Sanders warned that it would not be a good idea to "debate" a Marine four-star general.

That revealed a lot about Sanders.

Anyhow, Kelly seems to like the limelight and he has since gone on the teevee to reveal even more of his ignorant, backward and -- it turns out -- despicable thinking.

The reality-based community proved ready to debate the Marine four-star.

As would be expected in any war involving a high-ranking United States officer, the other side won.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Review 400: A Pint of Plain

A PINT OF PLAIN: Tradition, Change, and the Fate of the Irish Pub by Bill Barich. 242 pages. Walker, $25

The Irish pub was reeling when Bill Barich wrote”A Pint of Plain” in 2007-8. At the time, it appeared that modernity would do for them, in two ways — first, prosperity was making pubs absurdly expensive ($3 million, and up if the land was ripe for development); and, second, what the Irish call drink-driving laws were massacring rural pubs, which was most of them.

The prosperity proved to be imaginary, but the drink-driving laws were real enough. Since “A Pint of Plain” was published something like a fifth to a quarter of pubs have closed. And the rest, well, as Barich was lamenting a decade ago, they are changing beyond recognition.

Pub consultants recommend offering better food as a way to keep up business. So this is what you get at The Hill in Ranelagh (the first pub described by Barich): “The Frickel and Cheese — Deep Fried Crispy Pickles, Cheese, Slow Roasted Tomato, Rocket, Hot Sauce & Garlic Mayo on a Brioche Bun.”

The rest of the Americanized menu sounds even worse.

Here is what Barich said about it a decade ago: “The Hill struck me as Ranelagh’s most eye-catching pub, so I tried it first. Founded in 1845, it occupies a knoll on the fringe of the village and has a canary-yellow paint job that flashes like a beacon on gloomy, overcast afternoons. Off the beaten path, it doesn’t attract many outsiders, and its stalwart regulars give it an inbred quality a stranger — or a ‘blow-in,’ as the Irish put it— might have trouble cracking.”

The perfect traditional pub that Barich sought perhaps never was. His model was the pub in the 1951 film “The Quiet Man,” but the exterior shots were of a grocery, and the interiors were filmed on a set (which he quaintly calls a sound stage) in Los Angeles. The set furniture has since been shipped to Eire and used to open a pub.

This, and other things, sets Barich off on an extended rumination about authenticity.

An authentic rural pub wouldn’t be affected by drink-driving laws, since all the tipplers would have walked up. If pubs are disappearing from the countryside, it must be mostly due to the depopulation of the rural areas, which has been going on since 1798 and is now about finished.

If Irish pubs are disappearing from Eire, they are propagating across the world — even Dubai. The ones I have been in from New York to Hawaii are not much like the ones Barich liked in Ireland, except perhaps for the uappetizing food. It is a curious fact — not occurring to Barich — that the Irish saloonkeepers in America made little or no effort to reproduce what Barich takes to be the true spirit of the pub: “a space apart for socializing, where casual friendships and a democratic spirit prevail.”

“A Pint of Plain” is an amusing read, since Barich never stops himself from pursuing bits of history or sociology that have only marginal connections to beer drinking.

He also gets points for knowing the meaning of stevedore, the only modern author I have encountered who does.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Pence is a nazi too

America used to be a free country. In theory anyway. You didn't have to pass a religion test to go to college -- like in England-- and you did not risk your job by voting for the wrong party.

There were exceptions. Individual employers could be unfair, and the FBI tried to keep people it regarded as dangerous-- for example, people who disapproved of racial discrimination -- from getting jobs.

But at least in public political rhetoric, it was the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Trump the nazi is the first president to say publicly that an American has to conform to political norms to stay employed. He wants football players -- and soon enough, you and me -- to be dismissed for not worshipping the flag. That's gleichschaltung, and it's the main thing (but not the only thing) that makes Trump as nazi.

Pence believes the same.  

The racism of the Republican Party is on ever bolder display. At the Washington Post today, Eric Wemple details the open racism in the Virginia governor's race.

When Virginia voters go to the polls to choose a new governor in less than two weeks, President Trump’s bigotry and race-bating will be very much on the ballot.
Yesterday, Trump himself willed this to be so. The president tweeted that electing Republican Ed Gillespie might “save our great statues” and “heritage.” As an explosion of tweets immediately asked, what heritage, exactly — racism? Whatever Trump meant, there’s no denying that the Virginia contest has become a referendum on how successful Trumpist racial politics will be, now that he’s in the White House.

 Trump has repeatedly cast Democrat Ralph Northam as soft on immigration and crime, and Gillespie has heavily trafficked in these same attacks, with dishonest ads featuring scary, tattooed, brown-skinned gang members. In the state that was recently the site of white supremacist violence and murder, Gillespie has said Confederate statues should remain. All this is designed to energize Virginia Trump voters.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Sessions the nazi

Attorney General Jeff Sessions attacked federal judges yesterday. He sounded like a nazi. 

That's because he is. 

 "Some judges have failed to respect our representatives in Congress and failed to appropriately respect the prerogatives and perspectives of the executive branch," the attorney general said.
Some presidents -- or at least one -- have failed to respect the judicial branch. Does Sessions imagine we all have forgotten what Trump said about the "Mexican" judge?

Sessions is a racist and a nazi, and like everybody else in the Trump administration, his main job is gleichschaltung. That's the nazi word for "coordinating" all public discussion and action.

Sessions also said this:

Sessions also suggested in stark terms that the Justice Department and the Trump administration were saving the republic from a descent into lawlessness under President Barack Obama.

 "Many indeed think this election was pretty important. Without what’s happening today, the rule of law may have well be lost behind us in a cloud of dust," Sessions declared. "It's a very significant election I think....for the legal system."

The examples of American nazism pile up faster than RtO can keep up. 

Another tactic of the administration is to constantly press wild ideas to see how far  public opinion will end. A good example of that was when the con man Tom Price's wife suggested putting Americans with HIV in quarantine.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Book Review 399: The Politics of the Prussian Army

THE POLITICS OF THE PRUSSIAN ARMY 1640-1945, by Gordon A. Craig. 538 pages. Oxford paperback

A detailed study of “The Politics of the Prussian Army” might not have seemed to have had any relevance to American politics when it was published 60 years ago, but circumstances change and today we see the United States struggling with the problem that stymied Prussian (later German) liberals for two centuries: How does a polity achieve (or ensure) that the will of the people — as expressed in elections — is supreme?

The Prussians/Germans never did figure it out, although Professor Gordon Craig emphasizes that it was not for lack of trying.

The problem was deeper in Prussia than in other European states since the modern Prussian state was basically the army. It was only when that successful instrument decayed and failed in the face of the French nation in arms that the liberals got their first chance. Then Stein, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Boyen reformed the army but were unable to reform the government. (It is interesting that the Nazi state revered Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, not obviously for their liberalism but for their military and nationalist successes.)

From that rather simple time, the situation became far more complex, with the political evolution of the Great General Staff and the interplay among the army, the government and a succession of monarchs who varied widely in abilities and attitude to liberalism.

It was Europe’s misfortune that the more or less liberal-minded kings were weak or died early.

The curious thing about all this is that, except for a period of about 20 years, the army was not effective. The myth of Prussian military prowess was just that —a myth. The generals who limited the state were limited themselves by their small abilities. (It is worth noting that Prussian law limited the army’s manpower to 1% of the population; today, even after 25 years of continual reductions, the American military is just barely getting down to this level.)

Bismarck mastered them, by giving them three-quarters of a loaf, but after he was dismissed no one in the German state was really able to govern. Generals who were raised to the prime minister’s office were no more able to do it than civilians.

The result was another disaster, more complete even than in 1806. No Scharnhorst or Boyen was available, only Groener, an adept schemer but not a statesman. This led to “the kind of political confusion in which Hitler thrived.”

Hitler’s generals were no more capable than those of 1806 or 1914-18, so for the third time in 140 years the Prussian army drew the state to a doom, this time, everyone hopes, a final one.

It is astonishing, and an example of how people who know nothing about strategy are bemused by winning battles (something Clauswitz famously warned against), that the Prussian/German army still retains its aura of ruthless efficiency. In fact, it was thoroughly incompetent.

If this begins to sound familiar to American ears, it should. Incompetent generals, hopeless foreign policy goals: It is the story of America since 1950.