Tuesday, October 31, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

That revealed a lot about Sanders.

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

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

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Review 400: A Pint of Plain

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

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

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

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

The rest of the Americanized menu sounds even worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

Pence is a nazi too

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

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

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

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

Pence believes the same.  

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

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

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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Sessions the nazi

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

That's because he is. 

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

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

Sessions also said this:

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

Book Review 399: The Politics of the Prussian Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Math is hard for gun nuts

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A case of fruit beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparatively cheap too, at $3 a can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Price is wrong

How real news gets reported.

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

Fine work at Politico.

Mutually assured destruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

 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%.