Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

American celebrity is a wondrous thing

Funny, too.

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

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

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

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

Ain't it the truth?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Sessions the would-be fascist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Racists for Trump

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds right to me.

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

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


Truly, Fitzgerald was right.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Book Review 386: The Donkeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However the indifference to even trying stands out.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Makes me wonder

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

Has-been, except on Facebook

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Snyder "On Tyranny"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Do not obey in advance

2. Defend institutions

9. Be kind to our language

10. Believe in truth

17. Listen for dangerous words


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Book Review 385: Barbarossa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do tell

From a story in the Washington Post:

Killings have been reported during exorcism rituals at some shrines in the past, but such a mass killing would be unusual.
Let us hope so.