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
steves68
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]
steves68
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.

Microbrewing.

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.

* * *

 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.

* * *
 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.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Review 398: The Civilian and the Military

THE CIVILIAN AND THE MILITARY: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition, by Arthur A. Ekirch Jr., 340 pages. Independent Institute paperback

More polemic than history, Arthur Ekirch’s rehearsal of the argument against American militarism was published in 1955 and has been reissued every few years since, whenever the sabre-rattling seemed unusually loud.

At least up to 1940, the “history” is probably a reasonably accurate summation of the arguments that were used. After that, Ekirch omits the most important points at issue.

Even up to that point, he fails to provide what we read history for, which is some assessment of events in the context of the rest of the events of their period.

The practical argument against an army and a navy was that they were not needed, no one was going to invade America in her calm isolation. This was ridiculous on two fronts.

First, America did not win her independence thanks to embattled farmers but to a large army and a large fleet sent out by a European autocrat. The Framers, whom we adulate as wise above normal measure, lived this and knew it, yet they were firm against a standing army and for a militia, even using a “well-regulated militia” as justification for the 2nd Amendment.

Second,  America had not had till then and never has had since a well-regulated militia. In real war, the militia has always proven worthless, and throughout the 19th century it was regularly ridiculed for what it was, a drunken mob whose only practical purpose was to provide a taxpayer-paid police force so that employers could murder workers.

That equally severe criticisms could be laid against the militarists — Teddy Roosevelt appears in a particularly bad light in this book — does not justify presenting the antimilitarist arguments in a vacuum.

Despite occasional outbreaks of patriotism, Americans really did maintain their animus toward armies and military adventures up to 1940. After that, Ekirch sys correctly, everything changed. Considering the superpatriotism and bellicosity of today’s Southerners, it is instructive to see Ekirch quote many Southerners, such as Vardaman, who were usually populist and antimilitarist between 1865 and 1940.

Such limited merits as “The Civilian and the Military” has disappear when Ekirch gets to 1940. He writes from the perspective of a traditional liberal, but all along the pacifist bloc had often found itself allied in practical terms with the worst of rightwing tendencies. Organized labor had signed on to antimilitarism, which meant opting for a militia, even if the militia was likely to shoot workers — as at Ludlow, Colorado.

The helplessness of the liberal pacifists to stay out of the rightwingers’ bed came to a head in the conscription debate of 1940. Ekirch says the old-line antimilitarists were “forced into cooperation with isolationist groups.” He does not say who forced them, and they were — or should have been — free actors. They, after all, were the self-declared guardians of traditional individual liberties.

The isolationists came out of 1940 smelling like nazis, which is what they were. The alliance  that the old-line antimilitarists had entered into destroyed their moral standing, if not forever, for  long time.

In a world where rightwing aggressors were gobbling up both independent peoples and dependencies of so-called democracies, being against war was to be for nazism.

It was not an American who expressed this most clearly, but the American constructive fascists endorsed his action. This was Pius XII’s demand at Christmas 1942 for an end to hostilities. This episode is not in Ekirch’s book, but it happened nevertheless. And just at the peak of Hitler’s conquests.

World War II was followed by America’s first peacetime draft, and Ekirch endorsed the view of the pacifists that that meant a garrison state and military direction of the economy. His final, overheated chapter is called “Toward the Garrison State,” and the tone is near-hysterical: Ekirch thought the G.I. Bill was a plot to have the Army control the colleges.

In fact, the military had to scrap for bodies in the labor-short ‘50s, and by losing a big war managed to lose its access to conscription by 1973. In 2017, the active duty military, badly overstretched, was at about 3.5 million, or 1% of the whole population. While this matched the statutory size of the Prussian army, the paragon of garrison states, in the 19th century, it was tiny compared to the all-out effort in 1944.

Today, for the first time since T.R., America has a militarist president but the citizenry is as civilian-minded as it ever has been. If it weren’t for immigrants, the generals couldn’t even get to 1%.



Thursday, September 28, 2017

Birdwatching

The New York Times notes a silence in the District. The deficit hawks in the Republican Party are not screeching at the new deficits in the president's tax proposal.

WBD promises a "middle class miracle." In a comment I submitted to the Times (not yet accepted as I write this), I promised something better than a miracle. Miracles don't happen.

But magic is real. You just have to know the trick. RtO knows it. Here is what I wrote:

 Growth is in reality very large. As a percentage of all activity, it is low, but that's because output is YUUUGE. Growth could be even better, but increases by whole percentage points are improbable under any policy.

Reaganomics has directed nearly all of the increases in the past 30 years to the tippy top. Sending more there will not goose growth. The overlarge administrative costs in our healthcare trainwreck are so YUUUGE that if they were reduced to the levels paid by, eg, Canada, so many people would be thrown out of work and so many monetary transfers would be X'd out that the economy would go into recession.

But a great deal of capital would thereby be released so that any growth objectives desired by cutting taxes would follow automatically without cutting taxes. Money is fungible, after all. Growth and deficit hawks should adopt single-payer. It would be like magic.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

We used to welcome immigrants and refugees

Once upon a time, when America believed in itself, before it was taken over by frightened,  incompetent nativists, we used to welcome immigrants and refugees.

Like the Forty-eighter Carl Schurz, who became a Civil War general and later an influential United States senator. He was a refugee. Or Alexander Graham Bell. No one contributed more to the expansion of the United States economy than he did. He was an immigrant.

In 1904, Alton Parker, Democratic candidate for president, said:

"The display of great military armaments may please the eye, and, for the moment, excite the pride of the citizen, but it cannot bring to the country the brains, brawn and muscle of a single immigrant, nor induce the investment here of a dollar of capital."
An immigrant of that period -- a Dreamer since he entered at the age of 5 -- was Irving Berlin, who wrote "America the Beautiful." Refugees included Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, who patented the atomic bomb.

Here on Maui we couldn't survive without the inventions of Luis Alvarez, grandson of an immigrant to Hawaii in Kingdom days who later emigrated to California. His grandson developed Ground Control Approach radar. Without that, we'd all have to take ships to Las Vegas. An immigrant who settled on Maui was George Harrison.

What have the slobbering racists in their MAGA hats contributed?




Monday, September 25, 2017

Coming out party

This week the Republican Party, which has been genteelly racist since Nixon's time, came out as openly and proudly racist. I'll speculate as to timing in a moment, but the key event got little attention:

Nigel Farage will speak in Fairhope, Alabama on Monday night, in support of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

The Guardian has learned that the former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) will join former White House advisor Steve Bannon and Duck Dynasty TV star Phil Robertson at an election eve rally.
(An aside: The Guardian has become a strange news outlet, an English paper that is trying to migrate itself to the United States, digitally. It is well worth reading, because it has stories about our politics that American papers overlook, and because it has an outsider perspective that expands the discussion.)

Farage is Britain's most prominent racist. American candidates seldom, almost never, invite foreigners to campaign for them. I've never heard of it during a primary election.

Moore has not been primarily known as a racist, since he's made his career as a theocrat, but it's Alabama, the vacated seat was held by the career racist Jeff Sessions, so ginning up the racist vote should pay dividends in the polling booth.

Nobody missed the other shoe dropping: Trump's Huntsville Decree. That was Trump in his brown shirt, pressing, pressing, always looking for openings to see how far Americans will accept Nazi policies.

His Huntsville Decree that football players who do not worship the flag should be dismissed mirrors Hitler's Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service, and his demand that citizens boycott the National Football League mirrors the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.

I do not suggest that Trump consciously modeled his racist tirade on German precedent. It was instinctual, but there are only so many channels a politician can direct his discourse into. Trump is a natural nazi.

The invitation to Farage, reportedly engineered by the neonazi Breitbart News, looks much more consciously racist, especially since it is a step in an electoral strategy:

The Bannon ally said a win in Alabama would set the stage for primary fights in 2018 in states including Nevada, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arizona.

As for the timing, I suggest it was accidental. There are at least three factions in the Grand Old Party: the old-line regulars, who would not wave treason flags and are insulted to be called racists although they are; the Bannonites, who have no aloha for the party and are just using it to develop a new party; and the Trumpeters,  who are on board with only part of the old-line program but are yearning to let their racist feelings out.

I suspect that Trump didn't plan this kerfluffle; he was carried away by his crowd. But overnight, when he saw that knees pushed everything else off the news, he ramped up. Otherwise, this week the news would have been dominated by Trump and Republican disasters: no wall, no Obamacare repeal, no Muslim ban, no Middle East strategy, no Afghanistan strategy, failure at North Korea, rejection at the UN, no infrastructure stimulus, no trade renegotiations, no tax changes.

That's the most comprehensive failure of a party in our history and while some of it is beyond the control of any American politician (Afghanistan), the failure to write a tax policy or an infrastructure policy is mere incompetence.

The Farage invitation must have been in process before, so the near simultaneous, open appeal to racists was accidental.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Health-care fraud

I have not seen it stated explicitly, although the fact is implicit in analyses of the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare Repeal Bill, but it's a short-change scam.

If the bill were an actual repeal-and-replace effort, then it would have to provide more money than Obamacare does, not just a redistribution of the current amounts. That is because Obamacare resulted in a very uneven distribution of benefits.

About three-quarters of the states chose to expand  benefits through Medicare, thus drawing more money out of the national fisc. If Graham-Cassidy were evenhanded, then it would either provide less for the nonexpansion states, or more in order to bring benefit levels up to an even level throughout the country.

The Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds an overall reduction in funding, but even if funding were at the same levels, it would be  a reduction for most Americans.

If it were labeled the Graham-Cassidy Health Care Erosion Bill, that would be accurate, but then it's a rightwing plot.

Additionally, some critics of Obamacare made much of the claim that it amounted to rationing. I have not heard  even one of them complain about the greater rationing in the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Screech of the chicken hawk

Trump is the first antiAmerican president. Let's allow the waspish eunuch of Roanoke to explain:

The military parade which meets the eye in almost every direction  excites the gall of our citizens; they feel a just indignation at the sight of loungers, who live upon the public, who consume the fruits of their honest industry, under the pretext of protecting them from a foreign yoke. They put no confidence, sir, in the protection of a handful of ragamuffins.

From an address by Representative John Randolph to the first session of Congress

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Echoing history


There are several problems with using history to illuminate the present.

First, there's too much of it. Second, no two of us learned the same history. Third, most of us never learned any of it. Fourth, the more we need to know history, the less time we have to do so.

Nevertheless, I keep trying.

In the Sept. 7 issue of the London Review of Books, Michael Wood reviews a volume of letters between Alfred Dreyfus and Marie Arconati Visconti, the most recent of which was written in 1923, and in French. Wood never mentions Trump. Yet so much of it sounds instructive.
  ‘The moment they can’t persecute anyone, they consider themselves martyrs’
That's Madame Arconati Visconti, daughter of a famous anticlericalist, writing about Catholics. Here in America, we don't even have any anticlericalists, we have to import them from Europe, like Christopher Hitchens.  But it sounds like it was written about our evangelicals.
The Dreyfus Affair teaches us, among many other things, that evidence is easily faked, and that when the fakes don’t work or you don’t want to use them, you can plead national security: you can claim to have documents you can’t show.
That's Wood, summing up. L'affaire Dreyfus was all about fake news, and even after the reality was clearly exposed, there were many who preferred to believe the fake version. As Wood says,
Who do you have to be to believe X? And what else are you likely to believe if you do?
I don't know that recognizing that the Trumpeters' embrace of  falsehoods galore -- an embrace deftly summed in today's Washington Post by Greg Sargent -- had a nearly exact analogue among French rightwingers 120 years ago tells us anything useful about how to deflect political discourse into honest streams, but in fact Dreyfus was exonerated.

He always thought he would be. Wood writes:
 ‘As for those who have made themselves my executioners,’ Dreyfus wrote in his diary while still on Devil’s Island, ‘ah, I leave their consciences to them as judges when the light is shed, when the truth is revealed, for sooner or later, everything in life is revealed.’ 
But, Wood adds,  "Not quite everything, perhaps." We do, after all, have a birther who whips up his followers by whining about fake  news.

(Wood's review is behind a paywall. It will be worth your while to go to the public library and read the review on paper, and, while you're at it, also look at Malise Ruthven's article "The Saudi Trillions" and Amia Srinivasan's review of books about octopuses.)



Monday, September 11, 2017

Book Review 397: The Battle of the Casbah

THE BATTLE OF THE CASBAH: Terrorism and Counter-terrorism in Algeria 1955-1957, by Paul Aussaresses. 185 pages, illustrated. Enigma paperback

Paul Aussaresses claimed to have taught the U.S. Army his methods of countering terrorism by means of indiscriminate arrests, torture and murder. He certainly taught the Army, and later the Brazilian army and other rightwing Latin American despotisms.

And the U.S. Army certainly used methods much like his in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

But whether the Americans had to learn such skills from Aussaresses is less certain.

“The Battle of the Casbah” was dictated when Aussaresses was old, and it was not welcomed in France. He claimed that the highest government officials had known and, indeed, instructed him to do what he did. They denied it and stripped Aussaresses of his right to wear the uniform of the French army and of his Legion of Honor.

The truth of that is obscure but no one at the time was unaware of the atrocious nature of the Algerian fighting.

The interest of the book in 2017 resides in the fact that Aussaressses sounds just like Trump and his loudmouthed terrorism advisers. One difference is that Aussaresses was actually a soldier, with, apparently, a good record against the Germans.

Aussaresses was unrepentant when his book was condemned. It reveals a naive, stupid racist who was easily manipulated and deceived by the Algerians. He could not possibly have known what was going on, given the limited time he himself says he had to devote to assembling information.

He justified his murders on the grounds, which will be instantly familiar to anyone observing the fascist government in Washington, of defending western values. Perhaps he was.

The question is, were his values worth defending?

One instance will answer the question. Following a series of murders by Algerian nationalists, a group of powerful pieds-noirs (French colonists) came to Aussaresses and his commander, Massu, to threaten that they were ready, if the army would not act brutally, to park a convoy of gasoline tankers on the heights of the Casbah and flood the crowded old town with gasoline, which they would ignite.

Aussaresses says he believed them and thought it would have killed 70,000 people. 

Did he and Massu arrest these westerners? Of course, not. They raided the Casbah and arrested and murdered thousands of Muslims.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Book Review 396: The Last Full Measure

THE LAST FULL MEASURE: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers, by Richard Moe. 396 pages, illustrated. Henry Holt


Richard Moe wrote “The Last Full Measure” 25 years ago, but it has some surprising resonance in today's pro-nazi political environment.

Moe has been admired for telling the history of the regiment through the words of the soldiers. That, in turn, was possible because for the first and last time, the soldiers were literate (though not much at spelling, despite the adulation of Noah Webster’s blue-backed speller), had a cheap and efficient postal service and were not censored.

Some of the men seem to have written almost every day and they were uninhibited, although, at least in Moe’s selection, not about sex. (Other soldiers did write about that, and Thomas Lowry tracked down some of their letters in “The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell.”) Sex —even in the most genteel forms of longings — is notable for its absence since the men were so young. One enlisted at age 15.

They freely criticized their officers, and some (usually lawyers or newspaper publishers in civilian life) served as correspondents to hometown papers, which freely printed their complaints. Some officers’ lives were made much harder by this. As we learned during recent wars, army officers do not listen to criticism and will use force to prevent it.

What they wrote about were chow, the weather, marching (endless), interactions with the locals and sightseeing.

Minnesota was the far frontier in 1860, and few of the men had ever encountered a black person, slave or free. Surprisingly, although the endemic racism of Americans of the time is on display, the Minnesotans were, often, respectful of the black people they met — usually referred to as “contrabands” (if liberated slaves) or “servants” (if still enslaved). The cruder names ware mostly absent.

They liked to visit the capital and one, gawking at the White House, was shooed away by a guard. The Minnesotan said he had just stopped by to see President Lincoln. Lincoln opened the front door, came out, shook the man’s hand and chatted a moment. It was a simpler time.

Our main interest is in the descriptions of the fighting, so hard to convey to those who have not done it.

As to current relevance: Over 40% of the volunteers were foreign-born. They didn’t seem to have any difficulty in assimilating to American values, and the man acclaimed to be the best soldier of the regiment was a former Prussian army officer.

Terrorism was also relevant. In 1862, Sioux Indians raided Minnesota’s southern counties, killing  hundreds of white settlers. The men of the 1st Minnesota did not panic. In fact, although they were well informed (via letters from home and newspapers, of which they were avid readers), they seem not to have had anything to say. (Possibly Moe left that out.)

The 1st Minnesota was one of the most famous regiments of the war. They fought nearly every battle from Bull Run to Gettysburg, where the 262 effectives (the regiment had been badly shot up at Fredericksburg) were ordered to charge a Confederate brigade to gain a crucial five minutes for Union reinforcements to come up. Outnumbered probably five to one, and facing artillery besides, they did their duty. Somewhere between 60% and 80% were killed or wounded, the highest rate of the war for a Union regiment.

The  bayonet charge of the 1st Minnesota on the second day pf the battle and the bayonet charge of the 20th Maine Volunteers on the first day are reckoned to have saved the battle for tho Union.

Donate your eyesight to capitalism

The Fireproof Hotel phenomenon has been a frequent theme at RtO. Some readers deny it exists. Hah! Take this, skeptical readers.

It is unclear how many people will go blind from using phony eclipse glasses, but it is clear that capitalists care as little about blinding you as they do about burning you alive.

The Times report also turns up an additional reason -- as if saving your eyesight were not sufficient -- for regulation: by a kind of Gresham's Law of retailing in a litigious society, vendors of legit eclipse glasses got dinged as well as the criminals. In fact, perhaps more than the criminals.

In a statement to The New York Times, an Amazon spokesman said:
“Out of an abundance of caution and in the interests of our customers, we asked third-party sellers that were offering solar eclipse glasses to provide documentation to verify their products were compliant with relevant safety standards. After reviewing the documentation, the offers from sellers with compliant eclipse glasses remained available to customers. The listings from sellers who were not approved were removed and customers who purchased from them were notified.”

Mr. Panjwani said he submitted proper documentation three times. He said that Amazon did reinstate the page, only to pull it again, and then reinstate it again, leaving him with an inbox full of confused and angry emails.

As for the usual alternatives to government advanced by the libertarians:

1. Testing the glasses yourself was not so easy, and, in any case, you would have to buy them first.

2. Suing for compensation. Lots of luck with that.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Neonazis in the woodpile

It has been several days (and several crises) since Trump's pro-nazi remarks about Charlottesville. Various people have weighed in, pro and con.

If anyone was uncertain just what was going on, there has been plenty of what used to be called "values clarification."

So you really have to be a very dense kind of a nazi to wait until now to attack the antinazis.You'd have to be like Wilbur Ross.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Ecrasez l'infame!

Patheos reports Texas churches are suing to become eligible for FEMA relief despite the fact that they do not pay taxes.

Regretfully, they are being assisted by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. I used to have aloha for Becket, which up to 25 years ago did good work supporting non-Christian and oddball Christian cults being harassed by mainstream Christians and local governments.

Since then, however, Becket has changed from supporting religious liberty to suppoting religious dominance. One way you can tell is the speed with which Becket jumped into this dispute. As a smallish organization, it used to spend a long time debating which disputes to intervene in. It looks like it had the papres drawn up and was just looking for an occasion.

Again, we see Christians in America claiming to be persecuted when it never happens.

Nut grafs:


Using Trinity as a starting point here also seems to stretch the limits of that decision. Five of the justices who ruled in favor of the Missouri church made clear the ruling applied only in cases like a church playground, where the benefits were secular.
We haven’t seen that decision applied at the federal level, but the FEMA case isn’t a natural consequence of Trinity. It’s ridiculous for anyone to argue taxpayers should fund the rebuilding of churches — which would obviously benefit religion — when no one would ask taxpayers to fund the building of those churches in the first place.
One correction to Patheos. It is not true that no one is asking that taxpayers fund building churches from the start. The Catholics do.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Gambling

Bloomberg reports that small companies have taken up a large portion of Florida's home insurance business after the giants,  disliking their losses during 2005 when many storms hit Florida, pulled back.

This is a subset of the 'Fireproof Hotel' problem that RtO has so often commented on.

You can make a lot of money with a bit of luck -- an investment in Universal Insurance Holdings since 2005 has returned several times what an investment in Apple would have. However, eventually the unprotected hotel burns down and you're left with nothing.

People in Hawaii have forgotten, for the most part, but that's what happened in 1992. HEI had written a huge portion of local hurricane insurance. After Iniki,  it simply refused to pay.

Universal claims it has resources and reinsurance to cover any losses. I have not looked at its books, but I can recognize a company violating normal boundaries of prudence in insurance underwriting, and I am ready to bet that will turn out not to be correct.




Jeff Sessions, racist

RtO once said that Jeff Sessions is always about race. It's true. Everything that comes out of his mouth is dog-whistle.

Now.,thanks to the anger generated by the assault on the Dreamers, various left voices are publicizing what may have been his most open racist statement. It was made in 2015, and publicized in January when he was nominated to become attorney general. (I did not learn about it then.)

In it he tells a receptive audience -- the neo-nazi Steve Bannon -- that the 1924 immigration law "was good for America."

As everyone knows, the act was pure racism.

I happen to be reading Richard Moe's "The Last Full Measure," the history of the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment, one of the most honored formations in the Union Army.

Over 40% of the volunteers were immigrants, most had been in America just a few years. They understood American values well enough. Better than the first unit of traitors they fought, at Bull Run, the 4th Alabama.

The people who bray about American values or western values neither understand nor behave as if they honor those values.



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review 395: The Fifties

THE FIFTIES, by David Halberstam. 800 pages, illustrated. Villard

W.H. Auden famously labeled the ’30s “a low, dishonest decade,” but the ‘50s were as low and a whole lot meaner. There were men as mean as Hoover, McCarthy, the Dulles brothers, LeMay and Nixon in the ‘30s but they were nowhere near as influential or as close to the center of power as the evil men of the ‘50s were.

This is superficially odd. The United States came out of war and depression on top; it should have been a happy, confident decade. Halberstam writes about how it was not — race and anticommunism soured the mood — but never comes to grips with why.

A former newspaperman, he does have a good deal to say about how the press misled the public, although he does not spend much time with the gravest malefactors. There is nothing but respect, for example, for Time.

Of the two irritants, he deals better with race. “The Fifties” does give a pretty good sense of how much the dominant culture just wanted to ignore racism, and why the dislocations of the ‘30s and ‘40s made that increasingly unlikely.  But there is very little about antisemitism and absolutely nothing about the racism directed at smaller minorities. The bile spewing out of Congress during the drive for statehood for Hawaii, for example, is never mentioned. Nor is the racism directed at Indians and Latinos.

It is not as if there was no sense of that at the time. This was the decade of the success of “West Side Story.”

When it comes to communism, Halberstam fails completely to grasp what happened. This is in part because of his misunderstanding of World War II (as especially exemplified by his admiration for MacArthur, the most incompetent professional soldier in our history).

He is equally clueless about the contribution of Eisenhower and America generally to the defeat of Nazism — nothing, as the defeat had been accomplished by the USSR before we came in. If Americans had recognized that the spread of Russia into central Europe was nothing more than an oscillation in the European balance of power, then there would have been no talk of giveaways at Yalta and Potsdam and accusations of treason against men like Marshall would have resulted in the accusers being sent to the looney bin. Instead they took control of Congress.

The rot was deep. Halberstam often refers to the “essential decency” of Eisenhower. That was the man who would not stand by Marshall, the way Acheson stood by Hiss.

I was a young boy at the time. Even I could sense the fear. In the 2000s, we made jokes about how if we abandoned this or that common activity “the terrorists will have won.” In the ‘50s, they did win.

The one area where Americans conquered their fear was the civil rights movement, and Halberstam does a poor job of depicting that.

In the political arena, the part Halberstam gets best is the turn away from democracy in international affairs. He lingers over the overthrow of democratic regimes by the CIA (with the approval of essentially decent Ike) in Iran and Guatemala and the defense of colonialism in Southeast Asia, leading to the failure of American-sponsored fascism in Cuba and (after the end of this book) Vietnam.

For the rest of American society in the ’50s, Halberstam’s review is spotty. There is a great deal about Elvis Presley, not a word about Leonard Bernstein, and Mitch Miller is mentioned only because he happened to be present at an event early in the ‘50s, long before he became a phenomenon.

It is hard to believe anyone could write 800 pages about American life in the ‘50s without mentioning the move of two of the three big league teams from New York City to the West Coast, but Halberstam manages it. If you didn’t know better, you would think the only parts of America west of the Mississippi were Little Rock, Arkansas, and California — and not much of California.

It is also hard to imagine anyone writing a serious review of the ‘50s without mentioning Billy Graham and his crusades, but Halberstam manages that, too.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Big number

According to a Los Angeles Times story about a legal dispute between Apple and Qualcomm "the workings of today’s smartphones involve an estimated 250,000 patents."




Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Service Mark of the Beast

According to Bloomberg News, the Kusher Cos. are over a billion dollars in the hole and, having sold most of their income-producing assets, have no way to pay their debts, specially at 666 5th Ave..

So the China scam earlier this year looks more and more like what it always looked like: grifters grifting on the public dime.

This is what an administration of businessmen looks lik -- at least, one ofbusinessmen of smallish accomplishments.

Except that the amounts are comparatively trifling, the Kushner miscalculation reminds me of Olympia & York's bust over simultaneous real estate declines at Canary Wharf and in Manhattan. And if Bloomberg is correct, Charlie Kushner brought it down by forgetting that figures don't lie.

 Query: although Jared Kushner is supposed to be separated from the family business, his eassets are closely tied up with them nevertheless.  Is worry over going bust distracting him from saving the Middle East?


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Laws or men?

When Barack Obama was in office, Jennifer Rubin was an insensate opponent. Therefore I quit reading her.

She was an early and consistent opponent of WBD, just about the only Republican pundit who has been. I still don't read her much.

Today, however, she has a column that bears thinking about:

 In other words, if the president can pardon anyone who defies court orders to enforce constitutional protections, then those constitutional protections are rendered meaningless. It is a creative argument, but then, this president has created new and disturbing challenges to democratic norms.
In 1953-4, Eisenhower was too afraid to criticize Joe McCarthy in public but (we  now know) did engineer a secret cabal to control him. It wasn't effective but it was an attempt.

Unless some such secret maneuvers are being undertaken against Trump, nothing whatever WBD can do will disturb the Republican Party sufficiently to resist. We now know that. The enbrace of the racist, court-defying Arpaio makes it clear to even the blindest that Trump has no intention of complying with the laws or of respecting constitutional boundaries.

The nice thing about taking the obvious for one's field is that it's hard to go wrong.

Who are they trying to fool?

I expect Christians to lie. I have never known them to not lie to non-Christians. But even I was startled by the reaction of evangelicals to the anti-evangelical article in La Civiltà Cattolica last month.

I hardly expected the evangelicals to lie to other evangelicals about what evangelicals preach to each other every day.

Yet it happened.

 It began with a Jesuit magazine article, approved by the Vatican, "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism," that faulted rightwing American Catholics for their political alliance with rightwing fundies to push the Trump agenda. It did not hold back. Christianity Today summarized its tenor:

It comes after a prominent Jesuit journal published a criticism of US Catholics for forming an alliance with Trump-supporting conservative evangelicals to promote a 'nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state' and a 'xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls'.
Evangelicals, and especially rightwing pols who need evangelical votes to keep racist, fascist Trump in office, were wounded.  The Christianity Today article quotes Trump fundie nuncio Johnnie Moore:

"It's in this moment of ongoing persecution, political division and global conflict that we have also witnessed efforts to divide Catholics and Evangelicals.

"We think it would be of great benefit to sit together and to discuss these things. Then, when we disagree we can do it within the context of friendship. Though, I'm sure we will find once again that we agree far more than we disagree, and we can work together with diligence on those areas of agreement."
Well, I know who Moore was trying to fool directly: Pope Francis, as he was requesting a meeting with him. But clearly, the statement (and many others like it) was primarily directed at rightwing evangelicals.

Americans who are not evangelicals probably are unaware of it, but evangelicals hate Catholicism.  In this, the 500th year since the Reformation, the Whore of Babylon trope is strong.

I listen to evangelical radio nearly every day (about one quarter of U.S. radio stations broadcast the hateful message of the evangelicals).  You cannot listen to it for more than 20 minutes or so without hearing an attack on other cults.

The Mormons are probably attacked the most -- evangelicals fear their formidable recruitment apparatus -- but Seventh-day Adventists, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, are attacked incessantly.

As a test, I switched on the radio in my truck and hit the Christian hate radio preset to see how long I would have to wait for an attack on Catholics. Not 20 minutes. I tuned in in the middle of a diatribe about Catholics and intercession.

Now, not all American evangelicals hate Catholicism, but the noisiest, most politicized ones all do; and it is scarcely possible that more moderate evangelicals don't know this.

So, who is this mendacity aimed at? Beats me.

I noted, while scouting for the agitation on the issue, other examples of bonkers religious nuttery.

Moore, for example: "Moore says he is writing "at a time of historic Christian persecution in more places than perhaps at any time in Christian history."

It is always hilarious and disgusting to listen to Christians complain abut religious persecution. Christians have been the greatest persecuters of all. Persecution of Christians in the U.S. is non-existent, though rightwingers are assiduous in promoting that myth.

Jesus had something to say about that. See Matthew 7:3.

There was also some Catholic mendacity concerning the Vatican article. As with evangelicals, not all Catholics are rightwingers, although virtually all the American bishops are and always have been.

Archbishop Charles Chaput said "believers are attacked by their co-religionists merely for fighting for what their Churches have always held to be true.”

This is typical Catholic lying, or perhaps plain ignorance. Chaput was talking about abortion, and while his cult has always been against it, evangelicals have not.

 Chaput went on to say that rightwing Catholic-rightwing evangelical ecumenism “is a function of shared concerns and principles, not ambition for political power.”

In fact, evangelicals welcomed Roe v. Wade and only turned against it when they decided they could use it to advance their political and financial interests.



Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Realpolitik in Kurdistan

I seldom read editorials in The New York Times, but I made an exception for one about Kurdistan. RtO has always advocated a free and independent Great Kurdistan. There are 30,000,000 Kurds, the largest easily defined ethnic/cultural/historical/linguistic society in the world without a national base.

RtO would also advocate for a free and independent nation for the Tibetans, if there were the slightest possibility of moving toward that. There isn't, and maybe -- if United States policy were more controlled -- there wouldn't be in Kurdistan. But, wisely or not, the United States has assigned itself the role of agitator in the parts of the world where Kurds live. We can influence the drive toward a Great Kurdistan and so we should.

That is not the view of the Times.  Taking a break from its usual sappy idealism, the Editorial Board worries that independence "would heighten tensions, make it harder to stabilize Iraq and divert attention as the United States, Iraq and their partners work to defeat ISIS and rebuild Iraqi communities."

Oh, is that what the United States, Iraq and their partners are doing? Well, they are doing a lousy job of it. And I am pretty sure that continued American meddling in the area has already heightened tensions.

It might be that our lack of success is not due only to incompetent military leadership and shortsighted policies. It might be that the people who live in the area have noticed the complete lack of principle behind our blundering activity. It might be that taking a principled stand for once would enhance our credibility.

And even if it didn't, well, we'd have taken a principled stand. That's not nothing.

Believe it or not, the Times is worried that "a Kurdish breakaway is risky; without sufficient preparation, it would further marginalize Iraq’s Sunni minority, already disenfranchised by the Shiite majority and prey to Sunni extremists like ISIS." Perhaps the United States should have factored that in before destroying the Sunni government there.

That government did not deserve our support, but now that it's gone it is beyond absurd to wish it back.

The Times also frets that a premature free Kurdistan without "democratic institutions [that are] are functioning, [and an] economy [that] is strong" will not function well. Just so, but that has not stopped out supporting, eg, the governments of Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The real point is, though, that the Kurds qualify for independence and we should support that. I doubt the Times editorial Board would support delaying votes for disfranchised minorities in the United States on the grounds that they are not yet ready for self-government.

And, if you want to take a global view of things, it's hard to imagine the Kurds doing a worse job than the electorate that chose a President Trump, a Congress full of rightwing economic kooks and three dozen state legislatures full of racists, gun nuts and zealots against civil rights.











Friday, August 18, 2017

Sick children, corrupt party

CNN doesn't get a lot of credit from other news organizations, who often are quick to report on others' exposes, or even to follow with their own versions. I cannot say why that is.

But CNN's lengthy story about how Florida Republicans schemed to cut medical care for the sickest children in the state, so that big donor insurance companies could take in tens of millions in taxpayer dollars, deserves attention.

CNN does not mention that Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott, is an insurance crook. So this vile trick cannot be said to be entirely unexpected.

Nut graf:

"This was a way for the politicians to repay the entities that had contributed to their political campaigns and their political success, and it's the children who suffered," said Dr. Louis St. Petery, former executive vice president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Remember this story the next time Mitch McConnell says Americans are suffering under Obamacare. 

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.

UPDATE SUNDAY

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 about 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