Tuesday, August 15, 2017

21st century iconoclasm

As we contemplate storing Confederate statues (in New Orleans) or pulling them down (in Durham), it is worth asking, how did we react when Poles, Germans, Czechs etc. pulled down statues of Lenin and Marx, or when Iraqis pulled down (with some help from the US Army) statues of Saddam?

With approval, generally, I think. Few Americans worried about losing the heritage of those places.

Still popular in Tajikistan

And how did Americans react when they learned that statues to Stalin are still up in, eg, Tajikistan?

For that matter, how did they react when a bust of Stalin was put up in a congressionally-mandated park in Bedford, Virginia, one that was inaugurated without protest by President G.W. Bush?

That one took a while, but the bust was eventually put in storage. Along with one of Chiang Kai-shek.

Were rightwing admirers of Chiang miffed? Not as far as I can tell. And it seems nobody gives a damn about busts to Attlee, who was more of a socialist than Stalin ever was.

Evidently, bronze images evoke complicated reactions.

The Confederate memorials that stand, usually, at county courthouses were not wholly a result of Jim Crow or even of nostalgia for the Lost Cause.  They were peddled -- not too successfully -- by Northern foundrymasters around 1900. It's a capitalist country on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line and feelings are not expected to prevail when bucks are to be made.

My preference would be to put the statues in museums, with new statues in their place of people like, say, Elijah Lovejoy. Or if new statues are too costly, how about a text, in line with th Southern mania for erecting texts of the Decalogue? I suggest the words of the Mississippi  Convention that ratified secession:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.

UPDATE Wednesday

Lee and Jackson were ridden out of town in Baltimore. Although the vote to do so was public, the removal was done without notice in the middle of the night. As we used to say, ironically, the terrorists have won. We cannot say that ironically now. The armed rightwing terrorists control the public space.

Fans of the Second Amendment, whose principal claim is that it protects the citizenry from its government,  now have to explain how that works.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Racists and cars

The news from Charlottesville that a racist had plowed his car into a crowd of peaceful protesters reminded me of how far we have not come.

Witnesses said a crowd of counterdemonstrators, jubilant because the white nationalists had left, was moving up Fourth Street, near the mall, when a gray sports car came down the road and accelerated, mowing down several people and hurling at least two in the air.
Not quite 50 years ago, Tricia and I drove out to the hospital in Raleigh, N.C., to get syphilis tests in order to get a marriage license. We were to be married in10 days.

It was the day after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Tennessee. Driving back through downtown, in a light rain, we encountered a march coming up the 4-lane road the other way, preceded by a couple of motorcycle cops and trailed by a squad car. The silent crowd, maybe a thousand or so, was, as far as I could see, all black, probably students from St. Augustine and Shaw universities, the two black colleges in town. On the front rank, the marchers carried a banner on a horizontal pole. I do not recall what it said.

 I had marched with Shaw and St. Aug students, for integration, before, but I was not aware of a march that day. I wouldn't have joined anyway since I was preoccupied with marriage.

The cars and trucks going my way came to a halt, probably at police direction, though I couldn't see that far ahead. We'd been halted for five minutes or so, and the head of the march had just passed my Saab 96 when a lifted Chevelle with big rear tires came roaring up from behind the marchers, pulled over in front of the crowd, then reversed with tires screeching into the crowd.

The marchers scattered. Unlike in Charlottesville, no one was hit (as far as I could tell) and I did not see how the police reacted. I was distracted.

As the marchers ran in all directions, many came past the line of stopped cars. One, who had a furled umbrella, smashed the windshield of the pickup truck stopped just in front of me. Another leaned in my open window and spat in my face.

As I was wiping my face I saw the two men in the pickup get out of the cab and pull a shotgun from behind the seat. They got back in the truck and the stopped cars began moving away from the commotion.

As soon as I reached a cross street, I pulled over and found a pay phone. I called the police to report two angry men with a shotgun and gave the plate number.

And then we drove home.

The Charlottesville driver wouldn't know that story, but I don't think he was imitating the Muslim assailants who have driven cars and trucks into crowds in France, England and elsewhere. I'd guess he was letting his redneck juices flow naturally.

Today would have been a good day for Whiny Baby Donald to have put some distance between himself and nazis. He didn't. His kind of people.


Saturday I heard part of an interview  with the deputy mayor of Charlottsville in which he noted that despite the presence of Mr. Jefferson's university, the city has had a long history of aniblack racism and violence. It took part in Massive Resistance to the Supreme Court's order to desegregate public  schools, for example.

He did not go back further than that. His remarks reminded me of an incident related to me by the professor in my college senior seminar, who was a graduate student at UVA when its grad school was integrated in, as I recall, 1951. (The first cracks in southern antiblack hatred came in the grad schools of public universities in several states.)

The grandfathers of the same nazis who came to Charlottesville this week came then, too, and tried to burn down the school.

The state police were called out in force and stayed on the campus for quite a while, though I don't believe they were able to identify the arsonists.

Today the New York Times has a story alleging, with entire credibility, that Trump was urged to condemn nazism and refused. The reason, clearly, is that he doesn't see anything wrong with antiblack racism (or antisemitism, either, for that matter). The proof, like the dog that did not bark in the night, is not what WBD said or failed to say but in what he failed to do.

Recall how many times he has offered/threatened to send federal help to Chicago to help deal wth its violence.

No such offer was made to Charlottesville.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Funniest story this month (so far)

So Kellyanne Conway says the White House is considering introducing lie detectors into the West Wing.

I predict some liars would be discovered.

Christians I knew

I grew up among Southern Baptists. I didn't like them. Still don't. But I was interested to see recently that the church's national conference voted to condemn the "alt-right." (A name I deplore; we already have a name for them: neoNazis.)

It was not unanimous.

Southern Baptists have always been fractious, and they're hell on liberals.

So I was interested, but unsurprised, to see what happened when a pastor called for witness statements from people who quit the church.

Next time you see a report about the National Prayer Breakfast,  think about this.

So far as I know, no other cult has voted on whether to condemn neoNazis. So there's that.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Immortal ideas

When I moved to Hawaii in 1987, there were several studies under way. One was from the state Department of Business and Economic Development, and it predicted that deepsea mining of minerals like manganese was "25 years away."

The other was by the county, for a garage to expand parkng space at the Wailuku Municipal Lot.

The undersea mining study was re-issued a few times but that idea has, thankfully, faded into the history of undoable things.

The parking garage, on the other hand, is still having money wasted on it. Today's Maui News has a story about a proposed $75 million stucture that would add a net 246 spaces.

That's just an estimate, but the estimate comes to $304,878.05 per stall.

It'll never happen.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Why is this business operating?

Why has the state of South Dakota not canceled the charter of Wells Fargo bank?

It is nothing but a continuing criminal enterprise, and if Jeff Sessions were sincere about cracking down on criminals, he'd be using the RICO statute to shut Wells Fargo down.

Of course, Wells Fargo is not run by brown people, so Sessions cannot recognize criminality in white people.

UPDATE, August 5

 More chicanery at the bank. At some point, and Wells Fargo is far past it, there can no longer be a presumption that the managers were attempting to conduct a legitimate business.

I  note, as well, that this is perhaps the greatest success of a business pursuing the "fireproof hotel" scam ever. While corruptly enhancing its bottom line as compared with legitimat banks, Wells became the biggest bank in the world.

Time to shut it down.

Book Review 394: Out of the Flames

 OUT OF THE FLAMES: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy and One of the Rarest Books in the World, by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. 353 pages, illustrated. Broadway, $24.95

You wouldn’t guess it, even with help from the lengthy subtitle, but “Out of the Flames” is about the loss that all people suffer from religious bigotry.

Michael Servetus suffered directly, roasted alive at Geneva in 1553. The rest of the world, or at least the European part of it, lost because this remarkable man had discovered the pulmonary circulation of the blood, described in a few pages of a book about theology — specifically, an anti-trinitarian study.

Because religious believers hate ideas, the sentence against Servetus condemned all his books to be burned as well, and most were. Only three copies of the “Christianismi Restitutio” survived.

The medical pages were not recognized until much later, putting off the recognition of circulation and — as the husband and wife team Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone say — the modernization of medicine for 75 years.

Servetus deserves to be better known. He was among those brave thinkers who lifted the cloud of superstition that blinded men’s eyes (still does, for millions) and made modern life possible. He ought to be honored along with Lorenzo Valla, Galileo, Voltaire and Darwin, but not many know even his name.

It is a measure of the hold that superstition and hatred still hold over too many people that when a monument to Servetus was proposed at Geneva, the city authorities turned it into a monument to his murderer, John Calvin. This was as late as the 20th century.

Even without the moral lesson, Servetus’s life was a riproaring tale, worthy of Dumas. He was condemned to atrocious death by both Catholics and Protestants, yet lived and worked clandestinely under their noses for over 20 years.

Servetus was probably the finest scholar of his time. He knew Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic and so was able to read the Scriptures as they were. He concluded — as all equally well-equipped scholars (like Newton) have — that there is no warrant for the Trinity in Holy Writ.

That idea was confected at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

Obviously, no Christian church, reformed or not, could allow such an idea to escape. Thus, murder and book burning.

On a human level, one of the second-best scholars of the time was Calvin, but  Calvin was no match for Servetus and he hated and feared the Spaniard. The Goldstones’ account of the trial focuses on the irregularities.

Calvin used his religious position to override all the protections in the law. Servetus, a scholar of law as well as of theology and medicine, pointed out the highhandedness, but the Christian community was thoroughly immoral. No one had the courage or morality to speak out. Even the Catholics, who normally would have happily burned Calvin, were pleased to cooperate.

The first 200 pages of “Out of the Flames” concerns the murder of Servetus. The remaining third is a bibliographical whodunit. (The Goldstones had written earlier books about books.)

Both stories proceed at a leisurely pace. The authors surmise, correctly, that almost all of this will be unfamiliar to most.

Thus, when a Hungarian count visits London and picks up a copy of “Christianismus Restitutio" and takes it back to Transylvania, there is a digression about the background of Transylvanian Unitarianism, with bits bout Habsburg politics and much else besides.

The book concludes with a review of a better-known story, the introduction of scientific medical schools in the United States by William Osler, a bibliophile who sought his own copy of “Christianismus” but never found one.

In fact, all the copies destined for the market were destroyed. The three survivors were all connected with the trial, including Calvin’s copy.

Servetus was too brave and honest to live. He really believed in the Bible, which makes him different from today’s evangelicals, none of whom believe it. The Goldstones write: “But much as Salman Rushdie was to discover four and a half centuries later, underestimating the zeal of one’s religious opponents can be dangerous.”

Tough talk

Regular readers of RtO may recall an exchange about whether WBD encouraged violence at his campaign rallies. (He did.) He's done it again, but when he did it to cheering Republican crowds nobody in the party had the guts to call him on it.

This time, a different group had a different reaction.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The funniest news story ever

Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon

Funnier than the guy who drowned in a vat of melted chocolate and almost equally fatal.

Funniest line:

Scaramucci said he had to get going.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Who WBD admires

This guy.

"Get out of there, I’m telling the Lumads now. I’ll have those bombed, including your structures,” the president said. “I will use the armed forces, the Philippine air force. I’ll really have those bombed … because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government.”
Waiting to hear someone, anyone in the U.S. government say our country needs to cease military cooperation, including selling munitions, to this murderer.

Anyone want to start a pool on how long I will have to wait?

I pick "forever."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Incompetent fools

I have long contended that American military commanders are incompetents and have been since at least 1950. The United States hasn't won a war since 1945 despite always having more money and bigger guns.

That is reasoning backward: If you have the best of everything else, it must mean you have the worst of leadership. (I don't spare the civilian leadership, either.)

There is also overwhelming evidence of the reasoning-forward type.

Here is a fine example, just out:
The Pentagon raised no objections with The Times before the article was published, and no senior American official had complained publicly about it until now. Some officials expressed hope at the time that some of the details in the article would sow fear in the ranks of the Islamic State by demonstrating that the United States could penetrate the group’s secrecy.
And another, also just out. This one is a broadcast (on National Public Radio), so I cannot copy the ridiculous assertion, but if you listen at around the 8:40 mark you'll hear Andrew Exum, a junior Army officer with combat experience and now an academic (and formerly assistant deputy secretary of defense for policy), casually claim that "we" "defeated" "al Queda" in Iraq in 2007-8.

We lost that war. So badly that the world's  most expensive, most powerful army was afraid to drive from the Baghdad airport to its fortress a few miles away.

It's like the American officer corps is personified by the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Who will be Trump's Bork?

It wasn’t until later that the weirdness of the scene imposed itself on me.

Three of us, two Americans and a Briton, were sitting at a table overlooking the sea, sharing a basket of pappadums and drinking beer and lassi and asking: Will Trump fire Mueller?

We were all old enough to remember the Saturday Night Massacre, 44 years ago, when Nixon fired Attorney General Elliott Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, for refusing to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor.

Cox was fired. Do you remember who, I asked the others, fired him? They didn’t. 

It was Robert Bork, the darling of the rightwingers.

Richardson and Ruckelshaus had promised Congress they would not allow interference with the special prosecutor, but Bork had not. So, when it comes down to it, we have no evidence that — absent an explicit promise — any Republican would have had the self-respect or integrity to stand up to a lawless president. When Nixon went shopping for a pliant courtier, he had to take only one step: Bork.

Bork later said he hesitated, not wanting people to think he would do the bidding of an out-of-control president just to keep his job. (He could not have hesitated long.)

No, it wasn’t job security that concerned Americans who believe in representative democracy. It was the supremacy of the law.

Neither Bork nor any other Republicans ever got that, and Bork’s career was made by his lack of a spine.

So, the answer to my question is: Whoever is first in line to be instructed.

Will Trump ask someone to fire Mueller? That’s hard to say. Has he built a wall and forced Mexico to pay for it?

But he needs quite a bit of cooperation on the wall. He needs only one person to cooperate in firing Mueller, and as we just demonstrated, finding that one person in the Republican Party will be the easiest thing in the world.

Will Whiny Baby Donald do it?

I think he will. He never controls his impulses for long, and the motivation is as powerful as Nixon’s.

Nixon was ordered to turn over the White Hose tapes, and he knew what they revealed. Trump is worried that Mueller will look at the finances of the Trump Organization (that is, Trump) and he knows that will reveal, at a minimum, money-laundering. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Under the influence

Thanks to Samantha Bee for mining C-SPAN for an enlightening few minutes with the 3 of the 4 most despicable members of Congress -- Rohrabacher, Gohmert and King. Des Jarlais wasn't there

Rude, crude and unglued

If you perhaps thought that Whiny Baby Donald's stupid behavior toward Madame Macron was his worst display of sexism this month, you're wrong.

President Trump says he went over to chat with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a dinner in Germany this month because his seat mate, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, didn't speak any English.

Akie Abe “doesn’t speak English … like, not ‘Hello,’” Trump told the New York Times in an interview Wednesday.

Not so.

Mrs. Abe, the daughter of a wealthy Japanese family, attended a private Roman Catholic international school in Tokyo before she attended college.

The elementary-through-high-school academy, the Sacred Heart School, includes rigorous English-language instruction as part of its curriculum.

Social media swiftly found clips of the 55-year-old Abe making speeches in somewhat accented but perfectly serviceable English.

WBD is like a mooncalf in his adoration of  Vlad.

AFTERTHOUGHT: If he and Mrs. Abe had stayed together, the one with greater command of English would have been Mrs. Abe

Monday, July 17, 2017

Under pressure

Hmmm. So repealing Obamacare depends upon the level of sophisticated health care available to an 80-year-old man.

Golly, if I were a rightwing kook,  I'd hope he has good insurance.

UPDATE: Christians awake!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The conservative liberals

This post expands on the previous one about how the major parties switched their orientation. From the beginning, it has not been simple to determine whether Americans, or any particular American, was liberal or conservative.

In this discussion it is useful to stick to left/right, even though those terms did not come into use until the seting arrangements at the French National Assembly in the 1790s provided a handy discriminator. Rather than trying to tease out whether a party (or a person) is authoritarian/permissive; creditor/debtor etc., the general tendencies left/right serve well.

The draft constitution presented  to the 13 states in 1787 was novel and frightening to foreign eyes, and radical to almost all of them. But that was not how the drafters saw it.

In world terms, the U.S. Constitution was (and is) radical and liberal — notably, it is the attempt by a society to govern itself via an elected magistrate rather than an anointed king, and without a state religion — or any kind of religion at all.

There were some partial models, of which the most relevant contemporary ones were the Dutch and Venetian republics. (There were other king-less governments in Europe, as in Switzerland; and there is a myth that the American constitution was based on Indian practice, but neither in structure, philosophy nor in goals does the U.S Constitution have anything to do with the convocations of the Five [or Six] Nations.)

However, the foreign model of most importance to the Framers was the Roman Republic, something that most of them had studied in detail (and in Latin).

The models of most importance were the several state constitutions.  Every state had rewritten its constitution in the years before the Philadelphia convention, some more than once; and the convention presents a unique example of a constitution being written by men who had had long experience of writing and then trying to govern with other constitutions.

This can most easily be seen in Article VI, where religion is written out of the government. The Framers had had bad experiences with religion.

However radical the American organic law appeared elsewhere, to the men who wrote it, it was conservative.

By 1787, Europeans had been occupying the Atlantic seaboard for seven generations, and the men who wrote the Constitution were conscious that their great, great, great grandfathers had had, as Lincoln later put it, brought forth a new nation.

Though beholden to the British Crown and Parliament, distance and distaste had allowed the colonists to establish and operate local government much as they wished. King’s agents there were, but few and easy to evade.

Thus, to American sensibilities, elected magistrates, elected assemblies, a more even suffrage, relative freedom from excisemen etc. were customary, not revolutionary. The Patriots revolted to preserve what they had, not to create a new polity.

We are now 16 generations into that liberal experiment. Nearly half the electorate deems it a failure.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Jumping the rails

A reader says, “Republicans used to be liberal, Democrats conservative.

“Conservatives are the new RINOs.

“I understand that it was a Southern Democrat who killed President Lincoln.
Democrats, conservative and Republicans, liberal.  I was having an identity crisis
and confused.   I am independent or would like to think so.
I believe in both conservative and liberal thinking.”

And he asks me to explain how that happened. That’s a good idea, because lying, racist rightwingers have made a habit of jeering at Democrats for being the party that started the Ku Klux Klan. The claim is so stupid it is hard to believe anyone could make it honestly, but then rightwingers are really stupid. But also really dishonest, so I cannot decide.

It is not correct to say that Republicans were liberal and Democrats conservative. It would be ore correct to say that both were mostly conservative for most of their existence. And not in the good sense that the word conservative can be used.

To back up, the first parties, Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, were reactionary and revolutionary, respectively, at least philosophically. (In the context of the time, both were radical — no king.) Or, if you prefer, the Federalists were the party that defended property, the Democratic-Republicans the party that aspired to bring those with no property into the propertied class — always excepting that neither pary had any intention of seeing colored people enjoy any of it.

You might say that the Federalists were the party of creditors (Hamilton and his crooked friends) and the Democrat-Republicans were the party of debtors (Jackson and his antibank friends).
Have vs. have-nots is a universal split, but in America slavery jumbled up the normal alliances. The Whigs (successors to the Democratic-Republicans) splintered over slavery, and the antislavery faction formed a new party in 1854 dedicated to free labor, free soil and free men.

These were the first Republicans, but they were not in other respects particularly liberal. They tended to be against free trade, while the proslavery Southern Democrats liked low tariffs but were in most other respects reactionary.

The proslavery Northern Democrats tended to straddle. Thus in 1860, there were 4 major candidates for president, each faction representing an uncomfortable mix of antagonistic desires.

Early Republicans were not racial liberals but hardly anybody was then.

After 1865, the Republicans divided sharply between the punish-the-South Radicals and the business-oriented (and pro-tariff) regulars. There we no liberal presidents elected before
Roosevelt in 1936. (It is forgotten that FDR ran as a conservative Democrat in ’32.)

The only Democratic president in the postwar, Cleveland, was solidly conservative.

Liberals (though not usually racial liberals) after the Civil War had to form a new party (several, actually), who called themselves Progressives (or Greenbackers or Free Silver etc.). They had sympathizers within the conservative parties (Teddy Roosevelt among the Republicans) and  took over the Democratic Party (at the presidential level only) leading to the three failures of William J. Bryan.

Thus, although the main parties were still primarily conservative, the United States elected three consecutive Progressive presidents in 1904,1908 and 1912 — although Wilson was a queer mix of Progressive and racist policies.

The Progressive moment, such as it was, was submerged in the rightwing, antiliberal war hysteria of 1917.

For historical reasons, the reactionary South voted Democratic, even though following the collapse of both progressive policies and the economy in 1921 (when the Depression started for the 40% of Americans who were still linked to the agrarian economy), the rump of Progressive voters stuck with the Democrats in most of the West, Midwest and parts of the north. (There were odd outliers still within the Republican Party like Hiram Johnson in California.)

It was FDR’s political acumen that welded an electoral coalition of racist Southern Democrats, northern blacks, and liberals. It wouldn’t have happened, however, if Coolidge Prosperity hadn’t wrecked the economy.

The Southern Democrats were split between poor whites, who could be induced to vote for liberal programs like TVA if race were not at issue, and better-off whites. The national Democrats, led by Truman, headed off in a liberal direction. The Southern racists were distressed and began moving toward the Republican Party, their natural philosophical home,  in the ‘50s. (They did not go directly but through the John Birch Society.)

In 1964, only 5 states voted for Goldwater, 4 of them because they hated the liberal, civil rights direction of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party had been, mostly ineffectively, for civil rights from its start, but the Goldwaterites were more concerned about communism than rights.

Nixon recognized this and with his Southern Strategy he made a naked appeal to racism. (Nixon was a profound if circumspect racist.) It worked and all subsequent Republican leaders have made their peace with the white racists. (Romney was a partial exception, and he lost.)

That is, by feats of electoral coalition-building in both parties, the insurgents in each managed to detach a disaffected portion of its opponent’s coalition: the Democrats shed their racists, allowing the liberal elements elbow room; and the Republicans absorbed the racists, simultaneously driving out their racial liberals (who had successfully catered to minority voters — Jews and blacks — outside the South).

(Similar flips occurred in other democracies; in France the onetime Radicals became a conservative party without changing their label.)

So in 2017, the Democratic Party ends up uniformly racially liberal and somewhat less uniformly liberal in other respects — and therefore the minority party in a self-satisfied conservative society; while the Republicans find themselves in the predicament faced by the Democrats up through the ‘30s — a hardcore of virulent racists (represented by the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus) and a mass of members who are willing to stay with the racists for the sake of an electoral coalition.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Femme fatale

From time to time, RtO has to state things itself, since nobody else is saying it first. This is one of those times.

What did Natalia Veselnitskaya want? All the reporting and commentary has focused on what Whiny Baby Donald's idiot son wanted -- dirt on Clinton. But why did Veselitskatya want to meet him? Not because of his pretty eyes.

And not because of adoptions. That is certain.

Around the world, the American middle-class hobby of scooping up poor infants is deplored, or worse. Bolivia forbids it. Russian patriots, who want to be regarded as equal to the biggest players, have no reason to like having to give up babies their country cannot manage to take care of. The idea, enunciated by Trump the Less, that some free-lance wanted to talk to him about renewing this humiliation is one reason we can confidently call him an idiot.

So, commenters leap to the conclusion that her purpose was to talk about removing the Magnitsky Act that sanctions some Russians bigwigs.  That makes no sense.

Putin had reason to believe that WBD would be amenable to removing Magnitsky if he could be elected. Possibly, he wanted Veselnitskaya to confirm that this would be a WBD priority.

But there was no need to contact the idiot son. Putin already had campaign manager Paul Manafort on speed dial. He could just have called him.

Even if, for some reason, an approach to Idiot Son was preferred, tempting him with dirt on Clinton and then being unable to deliver was a worse than clumsy way to go about it. WBD is notoriously touchy, and promising dirt and then not delivering would, most likely, be the item that remained in the front of his tiny mind, not Putin's anxieties about Magnitsky. (I saw a commenter refer to WBD's "goldfish-like attention span. That was funny.)

Veselnitskaya  and Putin must have had something else in mind.

My guess is that she came to remind (or perhaps reveal to) WBD that Putin has tapes of golden showers (or something similar) and that, if he should be elected, he had better follow the Kremlin line.

That's a message that would not have taken long to deliver, so Idiot Son may not be lying when he says it was over in 20 minutes.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Book Review 393: Siege: Malta 1940-1943

SIEGE: Malta 1940-1943, by Ernle Bradford. 304 pages, illustrated. Morrow, $19.95

A few years ago, I would have predicted that sieges were a thing of the past. Under 21st century conflict conditions, with  light-armed guerrillas usually having the upper hand, there seemed hardly any opportunity for an army to mount a siege.

That turned out to be incorrect. In Syria and Iraq, we have seen the unexpected sight of guerrillas mounting successful sieges, and, almost as surprising, armies besieging guerrillas.

There were two very long sieges during World War II. The siege of Leningrad has been widely covered; the siege of Malta much less so. Yet the (second) Siege of Malta presents some interesting phenomena, worth reviewing in the context of 2017.

Ernle Bradford’s history is short on statistics and details but usefully informed by a man who lived on Malta for 10 years, although after the war. Bradford, a sailor who wrote extensively about places in the Mediterranean, understands that Malta’s survival depended, in principal part, on its geography:

Two small islands (Malta is about four times the size of Manhattan and had a population of about 250,000 in 1940) made out of limestone. Easy to tunnel into, hard to disturb with high explosive. Hard to storm, with steep cliffs on the south and small beaches and wide creeks (what Americans would call inlets) on the north, fairly easy to defend, especially when indestructible forts had accumulated over 400 years.

As a result, and because of a vast overestimation of the capabilities of air power, Malta became the first place to be besieged almost entirely by air. (Submarines and light naval forces were used to cut off relief ships, but air attack was where the heavy fighting occurred.)

The Royal Navy, the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force took enormous casualties to keep supplies flowing to the island, and by the end of 1942 the island was on very short rations. (Nothing like as stringent as the besieged at Leningrad or Japanese bases in the Pacific faced.)

The story of the Pedestal convoy, and especially of the two civilian seamen who reboarded the abandoned tanker Ohio and fought off the Luftwaffe by themselves, would have dressed up “Malta” a great deal, but Bradford does not tell it. (Sam Moses does, in a 2007 book, "At All Costs.")

The inspiring story he does tell is the staunch stand of the Maltese, who had come to like their position as the home of the Mediterranean Fleet over generations. (This did not keep the from choosing independence after the war.)

Of interest in the light of the sieges of Aleppo or Mosul is the list of diseases that exploded in the undernourished population: vitamin-deficiency diseases like pellagra, ulcerative stomatitis, rickets and even — on an island that grew lemons — scurvy; trachoma and eye diseases (blamed on dust from explosions); tuberculosis, typhoid and dysentery.

Those were expected. Also expected were mental breakdowns, including what is now so popular, post-traumatic stress disorder.

That did not happen. Mental cases went down.

This despite absorbing the greatest weight of aerial bombs of any target during the war.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Inoperative statements

Younger readers may not know about it, but before rightwingers called their own lies alternative facts, they called them inoperative statements. That was back in Watergate days, and it resulted in the departure of a crooked, crazy president in disgrace.

A cautionary tale, one might think.

Anyhow, the press did not expose Watergate in a single story, decorated with attributed statements and buttressed with verifiable documents. That's not the way political corruption stories are exposed.

At the start, the malefactors scream and holler about journalistic propriety and holes in the story. It is a useful, if not ironclad guideline that the louder the screams and hollers, the dirtier the crooks.

This weekend, we came to the point where suspicions start to solidify into allegations. There's still time for Trump fans to abandon ship, but not much. Stick with Whiny Baby Donald and become one of his tools and fools. As my mother used to say, lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.

It is significant that Donald the Less the Elephant Slayer, Manafort and Kushner did not volunteer their conspiracy to gather dirt on Clinton but were forced into the guilty admissions by the steady pressure of partial revelations.

What did we know and when did we know it? We know the Trump campaign conspired to use Russian dirty tricks to influence the campaign's outcome -- that's what they have admitted -- and we have known it since July 8.

UPDATE July 10

Runnin' scared


Ruth Marcus asks te right questions. Washington Post commenters add important points:

The multiple choice options at the beginning should have included a 4th option: contact the FBI to report a contact from an agent of a foreign country that is hostile to the U.S. regarding unethical if not illegally obtained information concerning your father's political opponent as a candidate for the office of President of the United States.

But aren't sanctions against Russia somehow connected to adoption?

James Moylan
I am an Aussie lawyer who works as an academic and have spent quite a bit of time researching electoral laws across the western world.
I thought I might comment as many who are adding their voice to these threads don't seem to understand the significance of this story in legal terms.
In the statement released by Trump Jnr. he admits to an intention to meet with a person known to be a foreign national and who might have “information helpful to the campaign” - namely that "the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton".
The reason why Trump Jnr's press release is of significance is because it was so badly written that it actually forces those investigating these matters to investigate further. It is a very very odd document (in legal terms). Either no lawyer looked at the PR or those who did were utterly incompetent.
By making these statements Trump Jnr is forcing those who are investigating these matters to (at the very least) interview him to clarify the precise nature of the encounter and determine his intentions regarding the meeting.
This obligation is triggered simply because it is possible to construe the statements in the press release as being indicative that an offense may have been committed. The physical circumstance which is known to have occurred (a meeting with a foreign national) when coupled with a proscribed intent (a 'mens rea') can constitute a crime. However the press release was so badly worded and inappropriately focused (if it was intended to act as a legal justification) that it left the possibility that Trump Jnr may have been entertaining a proscribed intent at the time of the meeting open.
The Trumps' never cease to amaze.

No. 2 from bobbiji appears to be the most important point.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Fools rush in

Tricia and I like to watch a Youtube channel called "18th Century Cooking with Jas Townsend & Son." The host, Jon Townsend, (and occasionally his young daughter Ivy) have an infectious enthusiasm for 18th century foodways; and, somewhat unusually for the re-enactor community, he does solid research.

However, we missed the July 3 episode, from Mount Vernon, on a dessert called "Orange Fool." Unfortunately, a howling mob of ignorant rightwingers, drawn by some Reddit idiot (but I repeat myself), descended on the channel.

Townsend has eliminated their comments (presumably they reside somewhere on the Internet but I have not searched them out; I can imagine them easily enough). But from his subsequent anguished commentary, they exhibited the mix of venom, stupidity, ignorance and absence of humor that characterize the Trumpeters.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book Review 392: Lincoln at Gettysburg

LINCOLN AT GETTYSBURG: The Words that Remade America, by Garry Wills. 315 pages. Simon & Schuster, $23

As usual, when Garry Wills takes a closer look, American myths get debunked.

In “Lincolh at Gettysburg” we learn that our most eloquent president did not scratch out his Gettysburg address on an envelope on the train ride to the battlefield but (of course) labored over it for some time. That it was received well at the North and was not disparaged or belittled. That Edward Everett’s centerpiece address, though long, was not windy or tedious and was welcomed also as  summation of the conflict up to that time.

Those points, however, are not the thrust of Wills’s book, which was written in 1992 but has more punch now than it did 25 years ago, if only for this summation of Lincoln’s argument against Stephen Douglas in the quarrel about slavery:

“Government by the people cannot exist where those who believe in equality are asked to sacrifice that belief (and its expression) in the name of social concord.”

Still less, we might think, when the sacrifice is being demanded in the name of social discord, as today.

However, as trenchant as that page is, it is not the main thrust of Wills’s argument, which is that Lincoln, with a three-minute statement of aims and beliefs, “altered the document  (the Constitution) from within by appeal from its letter to the spirit, subtly changing the recalcitrant stuff of that legal compromise, bringing it to its own indictment.”

It was not easily done.

Today, liberals often criticize Trumpeters for waving the “treason flag.” This is entirely correct but it is not a claim that Lincoln was able to countenance. His goal, in war, was preservation of the Union, not abolition or any other good. Politically, he had a delicate task: to keep the four slave states that had not seceded from leaving the Union.

Therefore, Lincoln, formerly the lawyer for the nation’s biggest corporation (the Illinois Central Railroad (now owned by Canadians, how’s them apples?), argued that states had no legal capacity to secede. Therefore, the Confederate States of America had only a fictive existence, and, consequently, its adherents, even if in rebellion against the national government, had not given allegiance to another state and so could not be traitors.

This argument is bogus in every respect but, we may think, was an act of great political wisdom. Or, we may equally as well think, by allowing the white supremacists (who really were traitors in their own hearts) back into communion with the Union as equals, Lincoln’s policy, as expressed in the post-Reconstruction years, did end up sacrificing equality in the name of social concord — among whites. Blacks, browns and yellows did not experience much concord.

Wills writes, too optimistically:

“Lincoln does not argue law or history . . . He makes history. He does not come to present a theory, but to impose a symbol . . . No other words could have done it. . . . In his brief time before the crowd at Gettysburg he wove  a spell that has not, yet, been broken.”

Monday, July 3, 2017

Tillerson lies

To Congress. It's like it's part of the job description for Trumpeters.

Mr. Tillerson’s testimony notwithstanding, the programs explicitly promise that fellows will be able to join the Foreign Service if they successfully complete the fellowship. Zaid Zaid, a former Pickering fellow, said that Mr. Tillerson’s claim that no one had promised the fellows jobs in the Foreign Service was “patently false and ridiculous.”

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Left behind

In the New Yorker, an illuminating interview with the only doctor in one of the poorest counties in Georgia.

Dr. Karen Kinsell sounds like a nominee for sainthood, although the interview is deficient in explaining exactly what the economic structure of her clinic is.

Nut grafs:

“Most people are so poor and kind of out of it that they don’t expect anything. They mostly just expect to not have insurance.

"This morning, we had a lady with post-menopausal bleeding, which could be cancer. The absolute best thing to do is have her checked out by a gynecologist, but we really don’t have a way to do that that she can afford. The health department has some programs, but they generally require a diagnosis of cancer before their programs can pick up. So that’s a problem.

"People constantly have a problem being able to afford their medicines. I use generics all the time. And prescription-assistance programs, which are a tremendous amount of paperwork, which people have trouble doing. We use samples from drug reps.

“There’s no mental-health care in the county, which is crazy. I just had an eighteen-year-old who needed some mental-health medications renewed, so I did that. There just isn’t what you’d expect to have in America down here."

It sounds a lot like Maui County, except we're rich. But we don't have any mental health care at the hospital, and not even any private mental health care for young people.

And it sounds even more like the rural parts of the state, like Kona.

It raises a question, whose answer is, to me, easy:  Do Americans in the hollowed-out parts of the country get any medical care?

RtO has pointed at this problem before; the review of "Wide Ruins," for example, referred to "wild rides." Those were to get sick people to the neares medical help, about 140 miles away over unpaved tracks.

It is out of the question to expect modern medical services nearby for people who live so far out in the sticks, but Clay County, Georgia, is not that remote. It even has a "chicken plant."

The New Yorker report does not explain it, but Georgia has small counties, a hangover from an old-time voting system called the county-unit, which gave rural voters excess voice in the Legislature, on the same principle that the U.S. Senate does to small states. The county-unit system is gone but Georgia  has never rationalized it tiny counties. It might, perhaps, be somewhat simpler to deliver medical care if Clay and nearby counties were combined into a larger county with greater total resources.

Anyway, Clay County seems to have benefited little from Obamacare, but the Republican approach  -- as exemplified by the idiotic Sen. Ron Johnson -- would just dump the rural poor into the hands of root-doctors.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review 391: The Road to Stalingrad; The Road to Berlin

THE ROAD TO STALINGRAD: Stalin’s War with Germany, by John Erickson. 594 pages, illustrated. Yale paperback
THE ROAD TO BERLIN: Continuing the History of Stalin’s War with Germany, by John Erickson. 877 pages, illustrated. Westview

English historian John Erickson’s subtitles sum up his massive operational history of the Russo-German war. In the preface to the second volume, he notes that a Russian scholar criticized him for personalizing the “Great Patriotic War” and the efforts of the Soviet people.

Erickson sticks to his point, and, in fact, considering the cult of personality Stalin constructed, it would rather require an explanation why it was not Stalin’s war. Every crucial decision was filtered through him, when not made directly by him.

Many, perhaps most of these decisions were wrongheaded, sometimes spectacularly so, but the three crucial decisions, which determined the outcome of the war (as much as any human decisions laid on top of the economic, industrial, climatic and other non-human factors that influence the outcome of wars can), were right.

The first decision was all-out industrialization and militarization. Russia was the second nation (after Japan) to arm during the interwar years, and by 1939 it had more warplanes than all other countries combined and more tanks than all other countries combined.

Timing worked against the USSR. By starting early, it was stuck with weapons that were obsolete or becoming so in the aftermath of the big leap forward in capabilities that begin around 1935. The Red Army had a few first-class weapons (like the T-34 tank) but not many of them; and a mass of weapons that would have served admirably in 1931 (and did so even as late as 1938 at Nomonhon) but that were of small value by 1941. Among the deficiencies was an antitank gun that could tackle heavy armor.

Stalin’s prewar policy was defensive and pacific, and it failed. Poland was the key; Germany would have a hard time getting at Russia as long as Poland was independent. Stalin (through Maisky, his foreign minister) worked hard to interest Britain and France in a guarantee of Poland, but they hated pacific Russia more than aggressive Germany; and the Poles, remembering 1863, wanted no part of Russians.

Stalin’s defensive policy was in effect both east and west. After demolishing a Japanese invasion in 1938, he was careful to restore borders exactly as they had been. In the west, although the doctrine of the Red Army imagined a stout stand against an attack at the border, followed by a counterthrust into the enemy’s territory, Stalin clearly had no confidence in that. Thus, he attempted to buy Karelia from Finland to provide a buffer for Leningrad.

Finland, with its own bad memories of Russians, had no desire to help. 

As a result, Stalin reversed course and agreed with Hitler on a third partition of Poland, thus moving  his border farther from important parts of the USSR. This was a mistake in several ways, made worse by failure to properly adjust the defensive belt in the west.

Stalin was playing for time. Like leaders of several nations (including professional military men in Germany), he thought he would be ready for war in 1942. By June 1941, he had reason to think he had made it. Napoleon had started for Russia on June 24 and reached Moscow by October, and Hitler’s armies, which included 600,000 horses, moved no faster than Napoleon’s. If Hitler’s goal was Moscow, it was dangerously late — indeed, too late as events proved — and if Hitler’s goal was the Donbas (as Stalin wrongly guessed) then it was way too late.

The German army was concentrated menacingly on the border, but it could have been a bluff. (Hitler in 1944 was convinced the Red Army’s concentration on the road to Berlin was a bluff.) Stalin thought, correctly, that leading elements in Britain and America wanted Germany and Russia to fight to the death, to save themselves.

Warnings from many sources were wrong. They said the attack would begin by June 10, but it didn’t. At that time, the warning from Sorge in Japan was discounted because the USSR did not yet know how good Sorge’s source was.

But, most of all, Stalin was justified in his skepticism because no one in Germany was stupid enough to want a war on  two fronts. He was wrong. One man was that stupid.

Luckily for Stalin and Russia, the generals were incompetent, as generals usually are. The German generals, then and later, were happy to tell the world that they were the most skilled generals the world had ever seen. In fact, they were as incompetent as the British and French generals who had invaded Crimea in 1854. Whether the German army could have reached Moscow before winter or not, the German army made no provision for winter clothing, lubricants or shelter.

The army froze. Obviously, the Germans expected the Red Army would not fight. But Russians were not Frenchmen. They fought furiously.

There is a rightwing myth that the Russians fought only because NKVD men with submachine guns herded them forward. There were penal battalions, and the NKVD did herd those men forward, but even early in the war the Russians fought tenaciously. German officers marveled that surrounded reds (sometimes) fought to the last round.

Stalin soon latched onto this patriotism and dropped most communist rhetoric (and the commissars). It is hard to understand. Russians fought tenaciously for the tsar, too, for a time. Nether regime deserved such devotion.

Soon enough, though, the Germans gave the Russians reason to fight, whether they liked the regime or not. The White and Little Russians had greeted the Germans as liberators (from the Great Russians and the commissars), but German racism soon changed that.

Erickson seldom remarks about such things, but he does note that, in the final drive into Germany, the savage retribution taken by the Red Army was inflamed by the savage exhortations (in Red Star newspaper) of Ilya Ehrenburg.

Ehrenburg’s ferocious attacks against “fascist beasts” were extreme, but the fascists really were beasts.

The Russians absorbed losses that would have ended any other army (except the Japanese). Millions were taken prisoner (to be deliberately starved), more millions were wounded and killed. Yet, no matter how many the Germans eliminated, there were always just as many more.

Erickson is shy about statistics, but another English historian, John Overy, says that, in effect, the German army destroyed the Red Army twice; but Stalin replaced it thrice.

By the end of the war, even Russia’s human reserves were running out. The Germans, operating with a smaller population, had long since begun shrinking.

Early in the war, the Red Army, the one that wouldn’t fight, was inflicting 30,000 casualties a week on the Germans (and Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, Spaniards who collaborated).

The failure of the German logistical system was immediately apparent. By September, the Germans had managed to replace only 50,000 out of 150,000 casualties at the front.

The failures at the top (on both sides) were incredible, and if the Germans had fought even minimally effectively, the USSR would have been defeated.

It is a matter of choice which was the greatest failure. Entering the war believing the Red Army would not fight is one candidate. Beginning without establishing a strategic objective is another.

During July and August, the German army paused, in part to refit and reorganize after a rapid advance that stunned the world. The halt stretched on for 18 hot, sunny days while the Germans argued what to do. The broad options were to strike for the capital or for the food and minerals of Ukraine. Stalin was convinced it would be Ukraine.

He was wrong, sort of. The Germans decided on Moscow but could not make themselves concentrate.

Had they begun earlier, they would have had time to get to Moscow before the autumn rains. They failed, and at this point Stalin made the second of his three decisive moves.

The population of Moscow was panicking and the generals were doubtful they could hold off the Germans without reinforcements. Stalin demanded a stand but without extra troops. In the meantime, he assembled a huge, hidden force to counterattack once the ground (and the Germans and their weapons) froze.

At at least three points during the war, Stalin broke down. Not here. With unflinching self-confidence that was frequently ill-considered, Stalin held his hand. The Russians, deficient in so many skills of war, were always masters of deception. The Germans were stunned.

Here, if not earlier in September when the German army began to weaken numerically, the outcome of the war was decided. The democracies had little to do with it and the United States nothing. It was settled before the USA got involved.

The Battle of Moscow was the first defeat of the Nazi war machine.

Stalin nearly threw away his advantage be pressing on, thinking he could push the Germans right out of the USSR.

This led to another vast encirclement and capture of hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers.

Nevertheless, the Germans were now too weak to attain any strategic objective.

After a summer of vast retreats in the south, Stalin pulled off the same coup at Stalingrad, only this time the margin of the unreinforced defenders (the 62bd Army and their commander, Chuikov, who wasn’t afraid of anybody) was cut very much thinner than at Moscow.

The counterattack was even more successful, and Stalin made the same error of pressing it too long and turning a strategic victory into a tactical defeat.

There was one other result from the victory at Stalingrad. Although Stalin never trusted anybody, after Stalingrad he began to let the generals fight their battles more or less as they wished.

In the summer, Stalin was sure the German offensive would switch back to Moscow, and, as always, he preferred the offensive.

His marshals correctly predicted an offensive in the south and after much argument got Stalin to let them fight a defensive action. The result was the overwhelming victory at Kursk.

From this point, Erickson’s narrative broadens. For the most part, he deals in nothing smaller than an army (equivalent to a U.S. corps). As the Red rebound begins, he looks a bit more deeply at the forces involved, until by the final push on Berlin he sometimes deigns to mention something as small as a regiment (U.S. battalion).

He also spends many pages in detailed consideration of the postwar political settlement, dominated by the feckless Poles, to whose behalf the whole monstrous destruction was in principle devoted.

Not much else diverts Erickson from the disposition of armies and army groups. There is not much about logistics, weapons development, economic organization, civilian mobilization or anything else.

For the human dimension, we have to read others.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

So's your mamma

If the highest duty of the government is to protect its citizens -- as Whiny Baby Donald says he thinks -- then the second-highest must be to do something effective about it.

For example, in 1942, Americans really were under mortal threats, but rounding up Japanese citizens and immigrants in California, stealing their property and immuring them in concentration camps was not an effective way of protecting anybody. It was racism.

Just so with Trump's idiotic motion against Muslims, on the grounds that some may be ready to attack Americans. It's true, some are. But then, so are some Christians.

The Supreme Cort decision (per curiam, but 6-3, showing that a minority of justices have not lost their heads), does nothing effective to protect anybody. The order reads, in relevant part:

    The injunctions remain in place only with respect to parties similarly situated to Doe, Dr. Elshikh, and Hawaii. In practical terms, this means that §2(c) may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. All other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of EO–2.
The Trumpeters interpret this vzgue order to mean, as close as your mother.

The flaw is obvious to anybody. Everybody has a mother, and everybody's mother lives somplace.

If she happens to live in the United States, that tells us exactly nothing about whether her child is or is not planning to attack Americans.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Nazis? What Nazis?

Neonazis rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Why not?

The son of Trump's favorite Flynn was scheduled to speak, but I have not been able to find a report that says whether he did or didn't.

A lot of people -- me, included -- have wondered what the attraction was that Flynn has for Whiny Baby Donald. 

All in all, another brick in the wall.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Another Trump ally exposed

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

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

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

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

To make America great . . .

. . . you have to find great Americans.

 Like William Bradford.

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

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

He's a Trump appointee.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

L.A. homes back to 2007 prices

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Winning edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

Gimme shelter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

And a fraud against the Congress

Secretary of State Tillerson has been smoking rabbit grass again.

Don't these guys ever check anything?

A fraud against the courts

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

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

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

The 9th Circuit judges are vastly irritated.

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

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

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

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

The ban was intended to be permanent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even presidents have to comply with the laws.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Grade inflation

And another one bites the dust.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Book Review 390: The Gene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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