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.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Math is hard for gun nuts

At the Washington Post, I made a comment that would have been familiar to readers of RtO. It elicted some self-satisfied rebuttals. Here's the thread:

1 American in 100 dies from gunfire. Let's talk about guns
Douglas Levene
Sorry it's 1 in 10,000. Math is hard.
10/3/2017 7:19 PM GMT-1000
ROFLMAO Uh no sorry 1% of the population does not die from gunfire. Stop making things up. The 2015 murder rate was 4.9 per 100,000 people. That's murder by all methods not just shooting.
10/3/2017 8:01 PM GMT-1000 [Edited]
Why do you people keep making these crazy things up? The total murder rate for 2015 was 4.9 per 100,000 so no 1% of the country is not being shot to death.
10/4/2017 10:39 AM GMT-1000
It is impossible to have a discussion with gun nuts, because they are both stupid and impervious to facts.

Perhaps a lesson from the acerbic press critic A.J. Liebling will serve to explain for the slow learners.  Liebling once chided the Washington newspapers for spending millions of dollars on prizes like electric coffee pots during a competitive circulation struggle. This was in the '40s.

The managements of both papers reacted in aggrieved fashion. In the past year, one wrote, the spending on incentive prizes had been only a few hundred thousand.

Liebling observed that that adds up to millions pretty quick. So it is with your chances as an American of being shot to death by one of your fellow citizens.  Your chance really is 1 in 100, since the average lifetime of an American is not 1 year but about 85.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A case of fruit beer

About 50 years ago, I read about fruit beer, but it was decades before I ever saw any. If ever there was a monoculture, it was American beermaking between 1945 and about 1976.

But eventually, I found myself in  an Austrian restaurant on Long Island which had raspberry beer on the menu. They lied. What they served was lager with raspberry syrup. Ugh. Worst quaff ever.

All along, of course, Europeans had been enjoying excellent fruit beers, particularly the lambics brewed in Belgium. Nowadays, thanks to Lite beer, you can get these even on Maui, though they are pricey -- about $17 a bottle.

What happened was this. There's a lot of talk among business journalists these days about disruption, as if this is something invented in Silicon Valley. It's been going on a long time.

In the '50s and '60s, local breweries were closing or being absorbed by regional brands, and by the late '60s the people analyzing the brewing sector predicted that soon there would be only 4 or 5 brewing companies in the United States: These were going to be Anhueser-Busch, Schlitz, Coors (then only a regional brewer), perhaps Pabst and Anchor, a specialty brewer in San Francisco.

Everyone else was going to be swallowed up and homogenized; and in America, unless you brewed your own (as I sometimes did), your only choice would be thin light lager. Then Miller introduced Lite (actually developed by Rheingold, a New York regional). That was disruptive.

Americans, knowing no better by this time, drank that swill, by the tens of millions of barrels, and Schlitz disappeared. The consolidation continued, although never quite to the level of 5 companies, but a funny thing happened.


Perhaps enough Americans traveling abroad discovered real beer to create a demand at home, but in any event, as the majors made beer lses and less desirable, here and there, and soon everywhere, small companies began brewing and selling loclly -- just like in the 19th century. As in the 19th century, the quality was varied and a lot of the stuff was pretty bad. But eventually, the brewers began to get the hang of it, and good beer was available.

Not fruit beer, though. Some guys from Idaho opened an undercapitalized brewery in Kahului in the '90s. They liked an extremely dry beer, which did not suit local tastes, and soon went out of business. But not before experimenting with a raspberry beer using 3,000 pounds of raspberries grown at UlupalakuaRanch.

This was good beer but no one would drink it. In the end it was sold for $2 a cup at semipro baseball games.

It took a long time but the craft brewers finally got around to fruit beer, and it took even longer to reach Maui. In fact, I'm pretty sure "craze" does not describe what's happening on Maui where a night of relaxing beer drinking still means a suitcase of New Zealand lager and a pack of cigarettes to most locals.

I was surprised, yesterday, to see a white and red can of beer labled "Raspberry Sour" tucked amid the welter of cutely-named craft beers at Whole Foods. Whole Foods and, to a lesser extent, Tamura's, have been selling a limited selection of fruit beers for some time, but they make up a tiny fraction of demand if shelf space is any indication. (Maui Brewing Co. makes a beer with a bit of pineapple, but it is not a fruit beer.)

From the can I learned of the "sour craze" for the first time. Raspberry Sour made by 10 Barrel  Brewing Co. in Bend, Oregon, and it's the McCoy.

Comparatively cheap too, at $3 a can.

There is, I think, a simple economic lesson in this, and it's nothing to do really with beer snobbery or back-to-the-simple-days-of-yore.

It's just that we are a very rich nation now, or some of us are. Joe Sixpack will continue to drink thin lager, sometimes paying a bit extra for a foreign label. though the stuff inside might as well have come from Grain Belt (a brewer of extremely cheap beer in the last days of the consolidation of the lager business, though I see that today the Grain Belt name is being applied to a craft brew, an unlikely ploy to anyone who drank Grain Belt back in the day.) Those of us with a little extra income can patronize bespoke beers and there are enough of us to support a small (in comparison to national consumption) fine beer sector.

Even, it now appears, a bespoke fruit beer sector.

Paul Krugman has a column today about lies the rightwingers are telling about taxes. He mentions, just in passing, the economic factor behind everything, from beer to cars, although so far as I know even Krugman has not cottoned on to the big news: we have too much capital. For the first time in history, there is more capital available than anybody knows what to do with. Enough even to bring good fruit beer to Maui.

Here's Krugman, almost coming to grips with the revolution in economics:

Many of the companies with big overseas hoards also have plenty of idle cash at home; what’s holding them back is a lack of perceived opportunities, not cash flow.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Price is wrong

How real news gets reported.

Also noted: It ain't cheap. A thousand hours of reporting time is tens of thousands of dollars.

Fine work at Politico.

Mutually assured destruction

The votes in Britain to withdraw from the European Union and in the United States to elect Trump were at bottom the same thing: an assertion of racism slightly veiled in a tissue of crackpot economic notions.

The racism is coming along nicely in both countries, thank you very much, but dealing with the crackpot economics is more urgent in the United Kingdom, because of deadlines in the EU Treaty. It has not gone well there.

In the London Review of Books, Swati Dhingra and Nikhil Datta (economists in London) run down all the difficulties facing Britain in withdrawing from the European Union, in an article called "How Not to Do Trade Deals."

It turns out it is hard to recruit partners into an economic suicide pact. Who could have guessed?

Although the essay scarcely mentions the United States, almost every line applies here and I urge you to read the whole thing. But to tempt you, here are a few nuggets:

The UK supply chain is highly integrated with the EU, with some car parts crossing borders about forty times. As a result, car makers and the government would like a sector-specific trade deal, that keeps the tariffs on cars and car components at zero and counts components from EU countries towards the rules of origin. But the UK and the EU can’t sign a deal that removes tariffs on cars and no other sector. To prevent countries cherry-picking and discriminating against other members, the WTO only recognises bilateral trade deals that cover almost all forms of trade between the signatory countries. A zero tariff deal for the car industry is therefore unrealistic.

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 A larger problem is trade and foreign investment in the services sector, which makes up 80 per cent of the UK economy. There are no tariffs on services: non-tariff barriers are the main hurdle.

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 Despite all this a UK-China deal could still lower costs of goods for UK consumers, but deep integration with a country like China, where labour is cheap and abundant and which has very different standards of safety and environmental regulation, is likely to hurt British blue-collar workers – the people who voted for Brexit. To avoid this the UK could insist on worker protection and consumer rights in its trade deals with developing countries. It could insist on social clauses in trade agreements that include the monitoring of safety standards, as the US has done with its Better Factories Cambodia project. But getting countries like China to agree to such clauses would be very difficult.