Monday, November 27, 2017

First world problems

Apparently, the Trump White House feels it is not lying enough.

Practice, practice, practice.

BTW, Sanders, a Google Images search for "homemade pecan pie" turns up this as the first hit. Easy peasy.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Yearning for dullness

Unregulated markets fail. You've read that here before.

Now there's a graph, which Paul Krugman published in his column, showing how dramatically true that is.

That's for many countries, whereas RtO was just referring to the United States.

There are many things you could say about that graph. An obvious one -- this is Restating the Obvious -- is that economies were more unstable when money was hard.

Another -- not obvious from the graph but readily ascertainable from financial history -- is that the very rich benefit from financial collapses. As John D. Rockefeller I said after the '29 collapse, for him it was an opportunity to acquire 'attractively priced securities.' That was true for the very rich following each financial collapse since Reagan took office.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

What I'm thankful for

Texas Republicans.

 Mollie Ivins is dead but loony Texas Republicans are immortal. How is that fair?

It's probably too late for you to have avoided the chemical the gummint is putting in your Thanksgiving feast that will turn you homosexual. Sorry.

Also thankful to Juanita Jean for the news from Denton County.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book Review 405: Lord Strange's Men and Their Plays

LORD STRANGE’S MEN AND THEIR PLAYS, by Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth MacLean.475 pages, illustrated. Yale

It sounds like a summary of today’s news:

“Dread of foreign enemies and a series of unsuccessful military adventures abroad, coupled with fear of dissension and conspiracy at home, led to repressive measures and an atmosphere of state paranoia.” Workers who felt that foreign immigrants, coddled by central government policies, were stealing their jobs rioted. “Diseased, wounded veterans,” unable to get medical care, were a scandal.

Just across the border, police murdered poor farmers, with the open approval of the government. Fear of hordes of violent, desperate migrants terrified citizens. An alien religion was believed to be plotting the destruction of the national way of life.

That was England — and its neighbors, Scotland and France — in the 1590s. 

Repression that later historians have called a “reign of terror” was imposed. But a few brave voices resisted.

Among them was a young actor and aspiring playwright, named Shakespeare, who penned an eloquent appeal on behalf of desperate refugees.

Shakespeare was writing for, and perhaps acting in, the most innovative, daring and admired acting company of the time, Lord Strange’s Men.

In “Lord Strange’s Men and Their Plays,” Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth McLean plumb provincial records to place Strange’s Men in a political, religious and social context that goes back to the Wars of the Roses. Strange was the heir of the Earl of Darby, and the earls had used sponsorship of players and entertainers (notably bearwards) for over a hundred years to solidify and encourage their power, which was in the northwest, including a village that grew into the great city of Birmingham.

It was a dangerous practice, and Lord Strange was probably murdered for it.

His death scattered the best actors and seeded the company of Pembroke’s Men, who literature students associate with Shakespeare’s most controversial years.

But Shakespeare wrote “Titus Andronicus” and (at least) two plays about Henry IV for Strange’s Men.

Shakespeare, however, is not the star of this show and barely shows up until chapter 9.

Before that, we learn an immense amount about the political duel between the Darbies (Catholics as were most of the people in their region) and the Protestant court; about theatrical tours (very important because the London playhouses were closed by plague for much of the history of Strange’s Men; architecture of the provincial halls where they played; how plays were commissioned; how much money they made; how they fell out of the repertory.
Strange’s Men introduced a new play about once a mont, which involved a tremendous amount of memorization by the players. Throughout his career, Shakespeare wrote two plays a year, and we must keep in mind that he was memorizing parts of about 10 or 12 new plays, plus acting, all the while.

How did they find the time?

Manley and McLean provide readings of the plays of the early ‘90s that make them more political than they appear to modern readers, but they also note the entertainment values.

Strange’s Men were known for their sensational and scary stage effects, pyrotechnics and gore. A list of the ways actors died onstage is long: “stabbing, smothering, strangling, hamstringing, poisoning (by porridge and by scent), hanging, burning, beheading, boiling, blowing up, eviscerating, butchering, dismembering, glossectimizing, and devouring.”

How guns protect

Another church shooting.

Real news

I.F. Stone, the red journalist, used to say that the government publishes everything it knows, a reporter just has to work to find it. Stone came to that conclusion as a result of a personal crisis. When he began losing his hearing and could no longer conduct interviewsS he began reading government publications.

Till then a fringe figure in journalism, his discoveries -- hidden in plain sight -- made him a hero of the resistance to Cold War chicanery.

His statement applies almost as well to closed, totalitarian societies as to open ones. The totalitarian governments don't deposit their documents in open libraries, but they do publish them.

Sometimes the totalitarians and the so-called democracies conspire to keep secrets. Probably the most famous example was the "secret treaties" between Britain, France and Russia before 1914.

When the Bolsheviks took over, they published the treaties. There's nothing new about Wikileaks.

Bloomberg News reporters Polly Mosendz, Patrick Clark and Michael Smith give a good demonstration about where news lies -- or perhaps it would be better to say, here it tells the truth -- and how mundane it can be in a story about Paul Manafort's home renovations.

Did Manafort really launder money, as a federal inictment alleges?

It turns out, his payments were waaay over when his contractors were billing him for, as least according to values declared ob building permits.

Bloomberg cautions that there might conceivably be a non-obvious but legitimate reason to pay $5 million for a $1 million job. If there is, Manafort's lawyers will explain it to us.

However, my money is on Mueller's lawyers.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Book Review 404: The Army and Vietnam

THE ARMY AND VIETNAM, by Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr. 318 pages, illustrated. Johns Hopkins paperback

In 1986, Andrew Krepinevich, then on the faculty at West Point, published his devastating critique of the ignominious American defeat in South Vietnam. It was then 14 years since the retreat, and Krepinevich thought that the Army had never learned why it was so badly beaten.

He concluded: “. . . the Army (may) again (find itself) attempting to fight a conventional war against a very unconventional enemy.”

Within less than 20 years, Krepinevich was proven to be a prophet and the Army lost two more wars, ignominiously.

Firepower and aircraft turn out to be useless in a place where the population is disaffected or indifferent and the local government is corrupt/incompetent (which is why the populace is disaffected).

What has the possibility of working is saturation of inhabited areas by light forces who live among the populace, build up relations, gain intelligence and give the citizens confidence that the central government can protect them.  That requires a lot of infantry,

The Army doesn’t have any infantry. Its so-called infantry divisions have more tanks than World Wr II armored division. Plus hundreds of helicopters.

It is not possible to develop relationships with the inhabitants from inside a tank or a helicopter — still less a drone.

The Army did not and does not care. During the Vietnam defeat, the slogan was, “If you’ve got ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” This is not true.

The Army had plenty of opportunity to learn this, since it financed and observed the defeat of the French by the Viet Minh. Yet in 1962, it adopted French methods.

The Americans were arrogant. They thought the French had failed because they weren’t real men, like ‘Murricans. Nor did the ‘Murricans have any use for the South Vietnamese armed forces or police.

Or the South Vietnamese civilians. Krepinevich says:  “For MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam), people living in rural areas represented barriers to the creation of free-fire zones.”

The American officers were uniformly incompetent. It took only three years for the Communists to run the Americans out. Even the despised French had hung on for eight years.

There are some omissions in “The Army in Vietnam.” The most serious, but understandable, is the omission of any discussion of corruption in the American armed forces. As anyone who came in contact with the Army in those years will attest, it was pervasive.

As anyone who reads the daily papers today knows, it still is.

A little book tells a story

While listening to the Christian Broadcasting Network, I heard a commercial for a hate book about Muslims. The pitch started like this:

“We Christians with our commitment to tolerance may have difficulty understanding a religion dedicated to intolerance . . .”:

Although no cult has a good record when it comes to toleration, there is no question which religion is the most intolerant. It’s Christianity.

Toleration is a secular idea; no religion, while holding civil power, has ever shown tolerance, although there are examples of lesser or greater intolerance.

Christians do not know their history; I have never met one who did. But I know it. The story of  little prayer book called the Sarajevo Haggadah demonstrates. (I take this story from Chapter XIV: Convivencia Under Fire,” in “The Holocaust and the Book” (which was reviewed here on November 8.)

The book was made in Toledo around 1350 when under Muslim rule a policy called convivencia allowed, perhaps even encouraged, Muslims, Jews and Christians to live together in peace.

When the Christians took over, Jewish books were burned (and numbers of Jews along with them) but the Haggadah escaped along with refugees who ended up in Bosnia.

The pasha in Sarajevo inaugurated a new form of convivencia, bending the cult rule to allow construction of a synagogue and making other concessions to intolerance.

Historian Andras Riedlmayer comments: “As in medieval Spain, convivencia in Sarajevo did not imply an absence of hierarchies of status or of periodic friction between individuals and groups, but the fact of pluralism itself was taken as a given.” Under religious government, that is as good  it ever gets.

The Haggadah survived the burning of Sarajevo by Christians in 1697, though many of the residents, Muslims or Jews, did not. It survived the burning of the Jewish books and most of the Jews by Christians again in 1941-44, and — though no one knows exactly how — the burning of the Jewish and Muslim libraries by Christians in 1992-3.

It is almost the only relic of the great period of Jewish bookmaking in Aragon in the 14th century.

The only time that the little prayer book passed through a period of political change without being endangered was in 1878, when the new government (of Austria-Hungary) was committed to secular values of pluralism and toleration.

 That, of course, was just an episode. It didn’t last.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Which direction do prayers go?

When Christians — and here I am speaking particularly of rightwing Christians who typically care nothing for the this-worldly condition of other people — offer thoughts and prayers following a disaster, what does it mean?

Are the freethinkers right, that it just means “I don’t really care about what happened to you and I am not going to do anything to help you, even if it is in my human power to do it”?

Yes, they are right. But there is more to it than that.

Notice that these stiff-necked Christians always offer their prayer to the others, never do they ask for prayers for themselves.

Several things are going on here. On the spiritual level — about which I care nothing — they are committing the sin of pride, the worst one.

On the worldly level, the first thing is that these people assume they are morally superior. Yes, I know what they say about this in their sermons. What I am talking about here is what people reveal about their genuine thinking in their thoughtless statements, and “thoughts and prayers” is a thoughtless statement if ever there is one.

Two, the intention is not to help the sufferers but to make the observer feel good about himself.

Although Christians, especially evangelical Christians, constantly participate in communal prayers, they almost never ask for prayers for themselves. They don’t genuinely think they need it.

Radio preachers always offer to pray for their listeners but they never ask their listeners to pray for them. From them, all they ask is money.

Among the prominenti, it is hard to think of examples of persons asking for prayer for themselves. The one example that comes to mind is Harry Truman, who after Roosevelt’s death begged his friends for prayers.

Never will you hear a Christian gun nut pray: Guide me, is it possible that my love for guns is greater than than love for my brothers and sisters? Did I contribute by my mistaken views to these deaths of innocents?

After the latest mass murder by a gun nut — this comes up in our decivilized country every 24  hours or so, on average — a relevant prayer for the humble Christian would be my favorite, Cromwell’s Prayer: I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A request to the gun nuts

I suppose it is too early after the child murders in California today to talk about gun control. I don't know how long we are supposed to wait. However long that is, could you gun nuts please call a moratorium on mass child murders for the appropriate length of time so we can get on with it?

Book Review 403: The Maisky Diaries

THE MAISKY DIARIES: Red Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. 584 pages, illustrated. Yale

No insurance underwriter in the late ‘30s would have considered a policy on Ivan Maisky, a half-Jew Menshevik with bourgeois tastes who worked for Joe Stalin as ambassador in London.

Yet Maisky survived to live to 91. His was one of the most improbable careers of the 20th century.

His diaries do not provide any startling revelations about “the low, dishonest decade,” but they do offer another perspective to that terrible time. Probably their most interesting aspect is the personal and psychological.

At the beginning, Maisky seems like an attractive fellow, especially compared to the people around him. Arriving in London even before Hitler became chancellor, Maisky already understood what nazism meant for aggression and peace, and he (in alliance with Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov) worked tirelessly to put some skeletal structure into collective security. One of the few others in England who shared his alarm was Churchill.

Neither man had any sympathy for the underlying politics of the other. Fear of German militarism was their only bond.

It is still unclear, at least to me, whether it should have been obvious at the time that both sides were so mistrustful of the other that this effort was hopeless. Maisky knew he had to persuade not only the bourgeois states of France and Britain but the Bolshevik one in Moscow. Much of his maneuvering involved putting ideas into the heads of English ministers, then passing them along to Moscow.

A fundamental difference between Churchill and Maisky was that Churchill never attempted to trick his government into an alliance. Of course, Churchill was never a member of government, unlike Maisky.

The diaries are, understandably, circumspect, so not much is said about the purges. Editor  Gabriel Gorodetsky, using other documents, asserts that Maisky was distressed to see colleagues disappear, which seems likely, although from what is available in this abridged volume, it seems he agreed that the accusations in Moscow were legitimate.

Did he really think so? It seems hard to believe from a man of his discernment, but then he spent much time hanging out with the Webbs and similar Stalinist dupes. This is why the psychological question is so interesting, though there is not enough material to venture a judgment.

Maisky had a high opinion of his discernment, and often enough his predictions turned out to be correct, and his plots worked, but he also reveals some odd blind spots.

Perhaps the oddest was his belief that landlords controlled British government and politics. Apparently he never heard of the repeal of the Corn Laws.

By the ‘30s, most English landlords were hanging on by  thread, but Maisky seems to have thought they were no different from the Polish-Lithuanian landlords he had known in his youth.

As an old Menshevik, Maisky had reason to be terrified during the purges, but he seems not to have thought very deeply about the direction of communism. Many times he asserts his belief that the restructuring after the war would be done in an almost entirely communist milieu. He appears to have forgotten what collective security was supposed to preserve.

Thus, he looks less and less attractive as he justifies the war against the Finns and drops any pretense of defending anything more universal than Russian imperialism when he blandly refers to “Soviet Karelia.”

After June 1941, Stalin presented himself more and more as a Russian imperialist and less and less as a revolutionary. Maisky arrived at that position much earlier, at least by 1939.

The diary ends with his recall in 1943. Gorodetsky provides a thumbnail history of his last 30 years, in which he narrowly escaped being shot but was (at age 70) brutally tortured, perhaps even by Beria personally.

There is no suggestion that he ever wavered in his devotion to communism.

Some of Gorodetsky’s commentary seems to contradict what the diaries say, but his interpretation of the low, dishonest decade it sharply different from what American and British historians have understood it to be. I found him unpersuasive.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hoping for Armageddon

The Guardian has an interview with the survivors of the famiy that had had members murdered thanks to the fact that the United States does not have any gun laws. It will sound unbelievable to sane people, but I grew up among these fanatics and I can assure that you out in the reality-based world that people in the South really think this way.

“It’s just not a problem to us,” said Holcombe, 86, adding that he and 84-year-old Claryce believed their dead family members were now alive again in heaven. “We know exactly where the family is, and it’s not going to be long until we’ll both be there,” he said. “And we’re really sort of looking forward to it.”

The Holcombes were upbeat and full of good humor in a telephone interview, and they were not an exception in a deeply evangelical part of Texas.
When I listen to my favorite Christian radio program, "To Every Man an Answer," I frequently hear callers yearning for Armageddon. My Bible says that would usher in  a thousand years of misery, but some folks love misery, I guess.

The folks in Sutherland Springs are not, perhaps, the most sophisticated exponents of Southern Christianity, but the most sophisticated ones are just vapid. On the whole, the simple fanatics are more attractive. Take, for example, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

 When we say our “thoughts and prayers” are with them, we are not washing our hands of duty; we are expressing our heartfelt urgency to pray. We are affirming the power of God to save, to heal and to comfort. We are praying for human agents, doctors and first responders, friends and neighbors, to do what we cannot, prompted by the leading of God.

Yeah, well, when god brings those 26 people back from the dead, I'll admit that prayers were meaningful.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ramblin' man


WBD enters the Twilight Zone.

And as long as I'm running through pop-cult items, there's this:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review 402: The Holocaust and the Book

THE HOLOCAUST AND THE BOOK: Destruction and Preservation, edited by Jonathan Rose. 314 pages, illustrated. Massachusetts

Just days after Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, university students organized a series of book collections and carefully staged burnings across the nation. This was not a project of the government or even, directly, of the Nazi Party. It was a bottom up protest against “unGerman” writing — mostly but not all Jewish.

World opinion was shocked, not least because although libraries had been burned since there were libraries, in Europe the burning had been done almost entirely as a Christian project. Secular book during as something new.

Although, like most Nazi programs, the robbery and destruction of cultural records and art was uncoordinated and haphazard, it eventually accomplished a lot. Some estimates say the Germans burned (or, in their thrifty way, pulped for paper) 100 million books — half in Ukraine.

Books could be reprinted, but the Nazis also sought to destroy government records, manuscripts, anything that would show that Jews had once been there. The Poles got the same treatment.

The Jews resisted. The YIVO project had begun in 1892 to collect Jewish records, and libraries had been established around the world, so a tradition of collecting and caring for records was in place. It quickly established itself in several ghettos, notably Vilno.

Part of the story of “The Holocaust and the Book” concerns the heroic effort to save records and give doomed Jews something to read. They preferred the Yiddish or Russian equivalent of Harlequin Books.

Some collections were saved but more often most of what was assembled was eventually destroyed.

The Germans did try to pick out the most valuable items for a projected huge research library on judaism.

Then after the war there was the problem of returning the items. Jews generally opposed returning specifically communal material to places that no longer had any Jews, so some of the archives were sent to Israel and other countries.

The most important of the Polish treasures ended up in Canada, where there was a long struggle over whether they should go to a now-communist government. Eventually, they were returned.

The longest essay concerns the question of how to view the contribution of Nietzsche’s writings to the Shoah.  American scholar John Rodden considers that Nietzsche was unfairly used the the Nazis, but he was used. Rodden carries the dispute into the postwar, where Nietzsche became an unperson in East Germany in order to serve a myth that  the East Germans had been antifascist. As with the Polish treasures, Nietzsche was eventually, if uneasily, restored.

Although burning books —or, strictly, a community's cultural records — was declared a war crime after the war, that did not prevent the Serbs from committing the largest book holocaust in history at Sarajevo in 1992. The Croats also participated, both acting against the Muslims, although as it turned out, the Serbs and Croats burned each others’ books when they got the chance.

In a way, a tradition was restored, since the standard was not race but religion.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Show and tell

Whether you regard gun mayhem as a mental or a moral issue, this graphic from the New York Times shows that the United States is a failed state. Morally depraved or mentally sick.

Take your pick.

Mass shooters on the Y axis, guns on the X axis. America upper right. Rest of the world lower left.

Gun nuts who say it is "too soon" to discuss gun violence are cowards.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The mistake in the tax bill

It probably isn't a mistake. More likely it's a con job from the rightwing. But for the purpose of elucidation, it doesn't matter, so let's be generous and assume that the Republicans pushing the tax changes are stupid.

Hey, it could happen!

The details in the bill don't matter, only the claim that reducing taxes -- in this case mostly for corporations -- will goose economic growth.

There were many periods in American economic history when that would probably have been true, to some extent. Rightwingers used to fret endlessly about shortage of capital. In the Reagan years, you could not open the Wall Street Journal editorial pages without seeing a piece about how higher government obligations (read, checks to welfare queens) were going to crowd out private investment, since -- unstated assumption alert -- there is only a finite amount of capital in the world

You don't hear rightwingers worrying about shortage of capital any more, at least not in Reaganite terms. And you sure don't hear professional mega-investors worrying about it.

Here, for example, is a sentence from the annual report of BlackRock Advisors LLC:
"However, the capacity for rapid growth is restrained by structural factors, including an aging population in developed countries, low productivity, and excess savings."
(I choose this example merely because my wife invested in a BlackRock bond fund, so we get the annual review; but the same sentiment can be found all over.)

The key words are excess savings. That means that BlackRock Advisors cannot find anythng to do with its money, That's not to say that society couldn't. There are plenty of thngs that could usefully use more capital, but they do not return direct profit, only (with good planning) indirect.

For the first time in history, there is excess capital. I cannot say when this began -- more or less when the dollar valuations of petroleum and gold were was raised off their artificially low levels in the '70s, although these big shakeups may not be explanations.

Over the past 35-40 years, in America (and in the world generally), there has been an enormous accumulation of capital. You didn't get any of it. Them that had, got.

But just because you didn't get it doesn't mean it isn't there.

I have not written much about this. I should have.

A number of conclusions follow from this change in circustances.

One (that I have written about) is that there is no longer any justification for taxing capital gains at lower rates than ordinary income. It probably makes sense now (if you care about reducing government debt) to tax capital gains at higher rates than ordinary income.

Another is that a big injection of capital into the active sectors of the economy will not result in faster growth. The most likely result would be to destabilize markets.

Republican policies are, historically, very good at that.  


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thoughts and prayers

So, another big shoot-'em-up in a gun-crazy state. Somehow or other, the presence of heavily amed citizens did not deter the shooter.

Rightwingers -- specifically Attorney General Ken Paxton, than whom you can get no further right -- offered thoughts and prayers.

They never say what they are thinking or what prayers they're offering. I wonder.

"Holy crap, gotta buy me some more guns!"

"Dear Lord, I thank you I don't live in a blue state where the gummint at least tries to keep firearms out of the hands of people whose idea of Sunday services is shooting up a church.

Or what?

Here's a thought of my own. Of the 22,000 people at the Highway 91Festival, 58 were shot to death. But the others are not out of the woods yet. About 200 or so will eventually die of gunfire.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Book Review 401: Female Complaints

FEMALE COMPLAINTS: Lydia Pinkham and the Business of Women’s Medicine. 304 pages, illustrated. Norton.

You can still buy Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, although it is now called
“Herbal Compound” and its ingredients are not the same as in the 1875 product that launched billions of flyers.

Perhaps they never were. A government analysis of the 1913 elixir found less than half a percent of the unicorn root, life root, black cohosh and pleurisy root that Lydia Pinkham found in a standard compendium of cures. The original formula also had fenugreek, which perhaps Pinkham added on her own.

It seems probable to me that up to 1882, when Mrs. Pinkham died, there really were roots and “yarbs” in the bottle. Her nostrum was worthless, but she believed in it.

She was a passionate believer in all sorts of things. As a young housewife in the lively 1840s — the Age of Reform, especially in Massachusetts — she adopted the good, the bad and the ugly. She was a friend of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, a temperance advocate, a spiritualist, a Grahamist (whence Graham crackers) and many other things.

In Sarah Stage’s dated but still readable “Female Complaints,” we gain a good sense of the ironies not only of Lydia Pinkham’s life but of the times.

The Vegetable Compoudn may have been worthless medically — its only active ingredient was 18% alcohol— but taking it did no harm, which is more than the doctors of the time could say of their nostrums and operations.

It was a scary time to be a woman, a subject Stage explores thoroughly. Many of the female complaints were the result of gonorrhea, a disease not understood at the time; along with all the dangers of pregnancy in those times, plus overwork, corsets etc.

With her booze, Pinkham also gave out free advice, and it was mostly good: eat a good diet, avoid constricting clothing, exercise and breathe fresh air.

Among the ironies were that the movement for women to take control of their well-being from doctors, quack and otherwise, should have depended on such simple-minded advice. (This irony retains its force.)

That Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound still sells suggests that ordinary folks really are not the best judges of their own health care. (Amusingly, the current packaging has a banner that reads “Now with Black Cohosh.” It always had that. The licorice, Jamaican dogwood bark, dandelion, motherwort, gentian, vitamins C and E, BHA, salicylic acid etc. are novelties.)

Millions of women wrote “Mrs. Pinkham,” even after she was long dead, about their problems, and they were often frank and open. A few of the letters survive, but Stage laments that this valuable archive was destroyed in 1940 when the correspondence department was closed.

Although Lydia Pinkham was zealous, sincere and ignorant, her heirs were just frauds.

I suspect (though Stage does not) that the 1913 formula was the result of chicanery — just enough of the roots to give the expected bitter taste while saving on production costs.

The firm was owned equally by the descendants of Pinkham’s surviving son and daughter (two other sons worked themselves to death getting the slow-starting business going).

The son had sons and the daughter had a daughter, and the two sides fought bitterly for control for half a century. This battle of the sexes and over money neatly mirrors the struggle of women and patent medicine makers vs. male doctors for supremacy over women’s health care.

The men won, sort of.

“Female Complaints” was published in 1979, a combination of popular and academic history that reads well and holds up well today. The style, like Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, is dated but there is still a market for it.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A memorial to remove

As long as we are rethinking who is deserving of public memorials, let's expand our vision beyond old slaveholders.  One of the largest memorials is in Norfolk, Virginia, in a disused structure left over after urban renewal destroyed the old city center.

It is really a sort of antimemorial, devoted primarily to besmirching the reputation of Harry Truman. Ostensibly, however, it is supposed to honor "Dugout Doug" MacArthur, the most incompetent professional officer this country has produced.

No other general ever maneuvered the men under his command into a Death March. MacArthur did it twice.

He also unleashed tanks on hungry, hopeless men formerly under his command. He took a huge bribe from the government of the Philippines. He ignored the attack on Pearl Harbor so that his own air force was surprised and destroyed. He failed to move supplies into Bataan, which was designted in prewar plans as a redoubt, leading to mass starvation and death for American and Filipino troops under his command.

He ignored solid intelligence that China would come into the war in Korea, leading to the biggest defeat in the history of American arms. He refused direct presidential orders.

You might wonder why a man with a record like that would have a memorial. Rightwngers love him. He talked big and acted small and he was a liar. Their kind of guy.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Russian meddling

I think it is worthwhile to notice instances of meddling by foreign powers in other countries' elections. I am not making a systematic search but just marking instances I come about by happenstance. For example, this from Gabriel Gorodetsky's annotations to the diaries of Ivan Maisky, the ambassador of the USSR to Britain during most of the 1930s:

''If Maisky expected (Foreign Secretary Anthony) Eden to have been won over by his Moscow visit (in January 1936), he was to be disappointed. 'I have no sympathy to spare for Mr. Maisky,' Eden minuted. 'I hope that next time M. Maisky comes with complaints he will be told that our goodwill depends on his  Government's good behavior; i.e., keep their noses and fingers out of our domestic politics. I have had some taste of the consequences of this lately . . . I am through with Muscovites of this hue.' "

("The Maisky Diaries," Yale, page 65)
Gorodetsky does not explain what in particular bothered Eden but Maisky was an innovator in openly courting newspaper editors and proprietors. This was shocking to the British,  although they were aware that European governments had been suborning newspapers for a long time. Before World War I, the German governement controlled several Parisian newspapers, and in the interwar period, Germany and Italy secretly subsidized many foreign sheets. Perhaps Eden was upset by Maisky's openness.

The prim and shocked tones coming out of our own senators and congressmen at this week's hearings on social media and politics are mote than usually disgusting, especially since just a few days ago the National Security Archive publicized hitherto secret American messages describing how the United States encouraged (and, from my experience back in '65, instigated) the murder of a large number of Indonesians.

The figure has been given variously, from press reports at the time of 250,00 to500,000, to, recently, a million.

That's some interference. The Atlantic has a useful summary. Nut grafs:

In Indonesia in October 1965, Suharto, a powerful Indonesian military leader,   accused the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) of organizing a brutal coup attempt, following the kidnapping and murder of six high-ranking army officers. Over the months that followed, he oversaw the systematic extermination of up to a million Indonesians for affiliation with the party, or simply for being accused of harboring leftist sympathies. He then took power and ruled as dictator, with U.S. support, until 1998.

This week, the non-profit National Security Archive, along with the National Declassification Center, published a batch of U.S. diplomatic cables covering that dark period. While the newly declassified documents further illustrated the horror of Indonesia’s 1965 mass murder, they also confirmed that U.S. authorities backed Suharto’s purge. Perhaps even more striking: As the documents show, U.S. officials knew most of his victims were entirely innocent. U.S. embassy officials even received updates on the executions and offered help to suppress media coverage. While crucial documents that could provide insight into U.S. and Indonesian activities at the time are still lacking, the broad outlines of the atrocity and America’s role are there for anyone who cares to look them up.

Is Mike Pence homosexual?

I grew up surrounded by holy rollers, so I am familiar with all sorts of weird Christian beliefs: canopy theory, serpent handling, speaking in tongues. But Mike Pence's rule against eating with a woman unless his wife is along is beyond weird.

I could get it if he was talking about those turn-of-the-19th-century restaurants with private seduction rooms in the back. But as far as I know, those restaurants have all closed.

So is there a reasonable explanation for his policy? I can think of only one: Mike Pence is gay, the lunch rule is a beard.

Pence is so ostentatiously signaling that he is so manly that no woman is immune to his allure if she so much as gets across the table from him because he doesn't want his bigot voters to suspect he's a flaming queen.