Thursday, December 5, 2019

Book Review 414: Twilight on the South Carolina Rice Fields





TWILIGHT ON THE SOUTH CAROLINA RICE FIELDS: Letters of the Hayward Family 1862-1871. Edited by Margaret Belzer Hollis and Alan H. Stokes. 427 pages, illustrated. South Carolina $39.95.

Cotton was King in the old South but rice was more profitable. It was not as important because the area where Carolina rice could be grown was restricted to the portions of tidal creeks between southern North Carolina and northern Florida where the rising and falling water could be used to flood and drain Fields. Only brackish water suited.

By building levees, sluices and gates the planters could grow wet rice. The greatest difficulties were first, labor; second, malaria; and third, coastal storms and runoff from upcountry.

When Nathaniel Hayward died in 1855 he owned about 2,000 slaves, the most of any American. His plantations were divided among several sons who could not stand each other. One, Barnwell "Barney" Hayward, was the author of most of the letters in this collection.

As it opens in 1862 he is preparing to marry a second wife, Catherine "Tattie" Clinch. We do not have many of her letters, only a few written to her stepmother and sister as she prepared to marry at the very late age of 35.

From these highly affected and silly letters it is difficult to get any sense of her, but she sounds like an airhead. Her husband's letters to her, which make up the bulk of the book, don't show much respect for her brain, either, at least not until a crisis in 1869.

Barney and Tat wrote each other twice a week when they were apart, which was for most of their marriage. Letters to him were not saved.

His letters to her during the war are of only marginal interest, though they do set up the character of Barney as a querulous, somewhat childish, pompous and fashionable young man. A good deal of what was wrong was wrung out of him by the stresses of postwar life.

Unfortunately for us, there are no letters from the end of the war, when he returned to Tattie from the army until 1867 except a few business letters. One lists 200 people who had been his slaves and were still on his land.

1865 and 1866 were turbulent, dangerous years when freed slaves tried to find a footing and former masters trying to figure out how to get labor from them in an atmosphere of terror and uncertainty from bands of deserters turned into bandits, guerrillas and ax-grinders using the trouble to settle old scores.

Not much got planted in these years. My ancestors were rice planners somewhat to the north of the Haywards and my great-grandmother starved to death in 1866. The Haywards were somewhat better off than the Thompsons but only just.

Here is where the real interest of the letters lies. We don't know what Barney's experiences were or how his thinking evolved but by 1867 he was treating his ex-slaves differently from almost anyone else in the rice country. Instead of cash wages he was sharecropping plus giving his workers a "square" of riceland to plant for themselves.

According to his letters to Tattie he had more and more reliable workers then any other planter, including his brothers and cousins, although in 1867 almost all were women. He set up a store -- two stores eventually -- on his plantations because his workers wanted cloth and some food delicacies.

This rings true because that was exactly the experience the Bolsheviks had with the Russian peasants in the 1920s.

(The Bolsheviks had a very hard time with the cloth and the dainties but they did teach the children of the peasants and sometimes the peasants themselves to read, which was a thing the South Carolina landowners never dreamed of -- at least not until 1877 when they had to appeal to black voters.)

As things settled down Barney began to be able to bring in crops of rice and he began writing of visions of re-establishing his family's wealth by planting more and more rice. In the meantime he almost cheerfully sold off the family silver to pay the bills, though by 1868 it was touch and go whether he would go bankrupt.

Capital from speculators in Cincinnati plus some securities from his wife's family saved him.

In 1869 he made a pretty good crop but then it all went smash. Tattie died in 1870 of a long, painful illness, according to her obituary, that never appears in Barney's letters. Barney died the next year of causes unspecified although there is a letter from Saratoga, a health resort, in which he says he is determined to get well "this time."

It seems likelybthat at least part of his troubles were from malaria.

Carolina rice was finished anyway. It had been on the decline from the 1850s when European colonial powers began driving exports from Indochina and other parts of Asia. After the war more progressive farmers in the Midwest begin growing rice in Louisiana, east Texas and especially Arkansas and by 1913 rice was gone from Carolina.

But the laborers lived on. In 1927 the first Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded to Julia Peterkin for "Scarlet Sister Mary," a story about people we now call Gullah-Geechee. Barney's letters do not do too much to personalize the 200 or so African-Americans who continued to live on his land but they do provide a bit of insight into the distinct culture that Peterkin fleshed out and that inspired another Hayward -- DuBose, author of "Porgy."

One anecdote involves some young blacks on bird-scaring duty when Barney shot a marsh hen over the water. He told the kids to go get it and the boys raced off ,but the one girl present did not move. Hayward told her there was nothing wrong with getting her dress wet and, according to him, she splashed in as joyfully as the boys. We don't have their side of the story. The water must have been cold.

The Haywards and the Thompsons and the other white people are long gone from the rice country, but the African-Americans are still there weaving their famous sweetgrass baskets and farming. Today Georgetown, the center of the rice district, is no longer malarial and attracts wealthy retirees who are pouring tons of money into restoring the houses of America's richest planters.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The anti-Harry Hopkins

Whenever I think we have learned the absolute bottom limit of Republican depravity, along comes someone like Robert Marbut.

RtO has often quoted Harry Hopkins that, "People don't eat in the long run, they eat every day."

In 2012, [Marbut] pushed the Florida city of Clearwater to stop “renegade food” donations from churches and other charitable organizations. At the time, he characterized Clearwater as the second-most enabling city in America.

“No one has got out of homelessness just because they got fed,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “That has never happened.”
 He never read Matthew 40:25, or if he did, it didn't impress him.

MORE DEPRAVITY

It comes in different guises.

William Barr is about my age and it is been a puzzle to understand why at this stage of his life he decided to remake himself is a toady, liar and pliant tool of a despicable political demagogue.

It's funny how information flows. Not long after posting about Marbut's depravity, I opened a solicitation letter from the Center for inquiry which quoted from the speech Barr gave at Notre Dame recently.

He said:

In short, in the Framers' view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people who recognized that there was the transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and to have the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.

And he said:

How does religion promote the moral discipline and virtue needed to support free government?

First, it gives us the right rules to live by. The Founding generation were Christians. They believed that the Judeo-Christian moral system corresponds to the true nature of man. Those moral precepts start with the two great commandments  -- to Love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind; and to Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.

But they also include the guidance of natural law -- a real, transcendent moral order which flows from God's eternal law -- the divine wisdom by which the whole of creation is ordered. The eternal law is impressed upon, and reflected in, all created things.

And he said:

I think we all recognize that over the past 50 years religion is been under increasing attack.

On the one hand, we have seen the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square.

On the other hand, we see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism.

By any honest assessment, the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim.

Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.

In 1965, the illegitimacy rate was 8%.  In 1992, when I was last attorney general, it was 25%. Today it is over 40%. In many of our large area urban areas it is around 70%.

Along with a wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic. 

(Did you hear the dog whistles?)

And he said:

If ever there was a need for a resurgence of Catholic education -- and more generally religiously affiliated schools  -- it is today.

I think we should do all we can to promote and support authentic Catholic education at all levels.

I heard such jeremiads 60 and more years ago at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. Father Shwa did not believe them then though he made money off of them; and Barr does not believe them now though he makes money -- power, too -- off of them.

The Center for Inquiry fact checks Brar but I'll pick just one zinger:

As to out of wedlock births, the two states with the highest rate are Mississippi and Louisiana, which are among the top states for church attendance.

If we hadn't seen Barr lie was such a straight face to Congress about the Muellar report we might be surprised at how easily he lies to the Catholics at de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

I recommend that you fast forward to the 17 minute mark and contemplate carefully who he describes over the next few seconds.

Earlier I said information comes in curious coincidences. I learned about Barr's reverence for the moral uplift provided by religion and particularly his Roman Catholic religion just a few hours after learning that the Roman Catholic bishop of Buffalo had been forced to step down when he was discovered to be protecting child rapists and lying to the lawful authorities about it.

Ah, yes, the good ol' days of Judeo-Christian ascendancy when our moral preceptors were rapists on the same scale as senators of Imperial Rome. Who wouldn't want to go back there?

Retirement is about as much punishment as the bishop is going to endure. I doubt he will miss any meals.

It is -- even to someone like me who knows more about the history of the Catholic Church than  almost any Catholic -- surprising to watch them ignore great crimes. They do not ignore small ones.

For the great moralist Barr has hitched his wagon and reputation to, we must suppose he thinks he is a leader in the field of morality -- a lying, fornicating, cheating, stealing, irreligious scoffer at the law, married (for the moment) to a racist model for lesbian pornography.

Just the people to teach children "the discipline to control themselves."


Monday, December 2, 2019

An opening for the god-botherers

For years Evangelicals have been trying to push their version of moral law into the secular space. But there moral law is bulky and persons who respect the Constitution have noticed the plot.

What if the Law we're more compact? Perhaps then they could sneak it into the courthouses and schoolrooms without causing such a fuss.

Well, it is more compact than it used to be. No one who grew up among evangelicals, as I did,  believes their preachment's because they don't believe them. Do as I say not as I do is the 11th Commandment; or perhaps the Zeroth Commandment of the evangelical Christian.

Until fairly recently evangelicals tended to stay out of the political sphere; meddling, they thought, interfered with the main goal of Salvation. However, for a generation now the holy joes have been baptized -- full immersion not just dunking -- in politics.

This has clarified values immensely. We now have numerous public actions and firm declarations about what evangelicals regard as moral behavior. Let us see how much of the Decalogue remains.

  1. “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me.”
    Possible keeper. This would depend on whether you think that making fun of the Lord your god amounts to putting a strange God before him.

  2. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
    Definite keeper. Trump has a potty mouth but is not a blasphemer.


  3. “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.”
    Possible keeper, depending on your opinion of golf.

  4. “Honor thy father and mother.”
    Keeper.

  5. “Thou shalt not kill.”
    No longer in effect. No surprise here; rightwingers have never liked this one.

  6. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
    Bwaaaaah-ha-ha!

  7. “Thou shalt not steal.”
    The Catholic Church, whose Decalogue I borrowed, elaborates: "Embezzlement, fraud, tax evasion, and vandalism are all considered extensions of violations of the Seventh Commandment." No longer in effect.


  8. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
    No longer in effect.

  9. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”
    No longer in effect.

  10. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.”
     No longer in effect.

    There now, not such a burden even when carved in stone.



Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Meet the Little Russians

It is not comfortable to have Ukraine as an ally. It does not make any historical sense to demand it be reunited with Crimea. History does not support the idea that Ukraine is embracing western values, at least not the western values that we want to have embraced. Ukrainians twice greeted German invaders with bread and salt, then promptly set about murdering Jews.

Political Ukraine is in fact a creation of German despotism.

On the other hand, we must feel sorry for the Little Russians, a people who, along with the White Russians, have suffered as much as any ethnic groups over the past century.

Considering that we are now fixated on the country, it is remarkable  how little we know and have ever known about it.

Ukraine first entered the consciousness of Americans and western Europeans when it fell victim to a terrible famine engineered by the tsarist bureaucracy in 1892. That led to the creation of one of the first international efforts to succor a starving population.

That step into modernism has been almost completely forgotten, leaving even so well educated a person as Skipper unable to find a report of it on the Internet. Which goes to show the advantage of having a library of real books printed on paper.

I'm still opening the boxes of books from our move from Hawaii and I just found my copy of Chambers Encyclopedia of Universal Knowledge published in 1889, before the famine, before the large immigration of Little Russians to the United States and before the world had any special reason to care about these Russian provinces more than any others.

Following is the entire article in Chambers. It isn't long it and  does not mention the important fact -- never mentioned in the context of today's disputes -- that Ukrainians and Russians do not share a religion.

If Americans know anything about Ukrainians, it is that they paint over-the-top Easter eggs, and if they think about it perhaps they imagine that Ukraine is like Great Russia in its obsession with rituals with Easter rituals.

So it is, but there is a religious divide nevertheless. In the western provinces including Lwow the majority of the population adheres to the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church which is in union with Rome. The membership today is something over 5 million, small in a state with 44 million inhabitants.

The eastern districts, the ones being invaded by Russia, are generally Russian Orthodox now.

 It is not only a national war, a cultural war and an ethnic war. It is a religious war.

Here is all that Chambers had to say:

UKRAI'NE (Slav. a frontier country or March),  the name given in Poland first to the frontiers towards the Tartars and other nomads, and then to the fertile regions lying on both sides of the middle Dnieper, without any very definite limits. The U. was long a bone of contention between Poland and Russia. About 1686 the part on the east side of the Dnieper was ceded to Russia (Russian
U.); and at the second partition of Poland, the western portion (Polish U.) also fell to Russia, and is mostly comprised in the government of Kiev. The historic Ukraine forms the greater part of what is called Little Russia (a name which first appears about 1654), which is made up of the governments of Kiev, Tchernigov, Poltava and Kharkov.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Book Review 413: Soul by Soul



Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, by Walter Johnson 283 pages, illustrated. Harvard, $98.32.

In every slave state except one, slaves were personal property and when bought or sold left no more traces in the legal records than the sale of a mule. In Louisiana, slaves were real property and transactions had to be recorded by a notary.

That combined with the fact that New Orleans was the largest slave market left a large body of evidence about what day-to-day life in the slave pens was like.

All slave states had a sort of lemon law -- called redhibition -- that allowed buyers up to a year to force a seller to take back a defective slave or pay compensation for a dead one. Louisiana's redhibition law with more favorable to buyers than most, generating another mass of legal papers, especially in appeals to the state supreme court.

These along with other evidence including slave narratives constitute the evidence for Walter Johnson's "Soul by Soul", a history that treats the slave trade as a "technology of the soul."

In another arresting image, Johnson repeatedly describes slave owners is being "made by slaves," and he provides plenty of evidence that this was so. People who participated in the trade were categorized by society by how they did so.

Buyers claimed to have good eyes that would detect hidden injuries or diseases or bad attitudes like "propensity to run away." Buyers also needed to be able to detect the tricks of the traders.

They were also judged by the kinds of slaves they sought to acquire, whether field hands, house servants or drivers to conduct a carriage and four. A man with no slaves announced his intention to move into a new level of society when he acquired one slave; and if he said he did so to relieve his wife of daily chores, that was a signal that she was to move into a more genteel realm.

Despite the increasingly frantic defense of the propriety of slaveholding as the 19th-century wore on, the business of slave trading continued to have a low social status. Genteel slaveholders often pretended to have nothing to do with it even if they needed to acquire or dispose of slaves. Johnson exposes this pose for the sham it was.

Everyone possessing slaves participated in the trade in some way, including women who were never seen inside the slave pens  -- buildings with blank brick walls 30 and even 40 feet high..

The black laborers themselves were desperate for information with little advantage in acquiring it. Johnson shows that slaves did exchange information, on their home farms, during the long journey south and in the pens in New Orleans. They needed to know the character of who was thinking of buying them, where he was taking them and what he intended to do with them. Work in the cane fields was virtually a sentence of death.

To some extent slaves were able to manipulate buyers, as by showing a propensity to run away if they were destined for a remote plantation and preferred to remain in the city. Sometimes they were able to prevent the breakup of their families, although not often.

There were 4 million slaves in America and in the National Period (1800 to 1860) about 2 million changed ownership with 600,000 entering the trade, which was almost entirely from the declining agricultural states of Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky to Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, east Texas and the parts of Louisiana that had not earlier been given to sugar.

The hunger for slaves in those districts was inexhaustible and what was wanted most were prime field hands -- healthy, strong young men to clear the land. It was a smaller market for trained house servants -- cooks, laundresses, seamstresses, hairdressers and the like; and a much smaller market still for the most expensive slaves, "fancy girls" sold as sex toys.

Some of these beauties went for more than $5,000 when a prime field hand fetched something over $1,000.

Children were hardly wanted that all even though it was usual to put them to work at age 4 or 5. It was thought that they did not repay the cost of feeding and clothing.

It was an information society before the Internet. Traders in the pens attempted to present slaves as individuals, marketing one as a good driver or another as an experienced hairdresser, but their long supply chain forced them to come up with a grading system that was entirely impersonal.

In some court cases, expert witnesses claimed to be able to assess the value of a slave they had never seen simply on the basis of a grade that had been given by some trader who they also had never seen.

The slave pens in New Orleans were an irresistible magnet for visitors from the North, from other parts of the South and from overseas who left pen portraits, watercolors, sketches and oils of what they thought they saw. It may be doubted how well they understood. Even the people in the trade seem scarcely to have understood what was going on, with the slaves in the worst position of all to know.

In "Soul by Soul" at least part of life of the trade has been recovered.

Monday, November 18, 2019

A candidate for fragging

About 35 years ago I had a job interview at the New York Times. I was asked what I admired about the paper and what I disliked.

I said I thought it devoted way too much space to East Side socialites and that I most admired the reporting of Tom Friedman. I was thinking of his work from Lebanon in those days.

No one said anything, but when I brought up Tom Friedman's name there were scowls on the faces of my interviewers. Later a friend at the times told me that the managing editor who asked the question wanted nothing more in the world than to become a member of East Side society.

I wasn't offered a job there.

In the '90s Friedman wandered off into areas that did not interest me and I have not paid much attention to him in a long time, but he had column in the Times today that was absolutely right.

 How can Pompeo think he’s got what it takes to make the hard decisions needed to lead a nation as president, and send soldiers to war, when he can’t make a clear-cut easy decision to protect one of his own diplomats from being smeared by people acting outside our system.

It is a good thing that Mike Pompeo did not graduate at the top of his class in 1969 the way William Taylor did. Had Pompeo commanded an infantry company in Vietnam in those days he'd have had a grenade thrown into his tent.


Friday, November 15, 2019

The wheels on the bus go round and round

I went to pick up my grandchildren from school today. There was a long line of yellow buses out front, and at the end of it was a sodden pile of blue gabardine. A closer look revealed it to be Rudy Giuliani.

Where's Rudy?


If Alexander Chalupa did the things that Republicans are accusing her of, why isn't she being prosecuted?


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Release the kraken!

At today's hearings on impeachment rightwingers made much of their demands to call their own witnesses, demands largely rejected by Chairman Schiff.

It was not the most carefully thought out attack on the inquiry. Claire McCaskill, onetime Democratic senator from Missouri, asked why aren't they demanding to hear from Rudy Giuliani?

Zing!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Panem et circenses

I don't recall anything the least bit entertaining about the Clinton and Nixon impeachment scandals.

The Clinton one was stupid and sordid from start to finish and no one could have been anything but disgusted by the typical bicycle seat-sniffing Southern Baptist sex creep Ken Starr. Anyone who grew up among Southern Baptists, as I did, knew he would eventually be exposed although it took nearly 20 years.

I cracked a smile then.



As for Nixon, the only opportunity to smile came when some bright young thang with a microphone in her hand asked Sen. Sam Ervin if he didn't think that Nixon's offenses were the greatest crisis the nation has ever faced. Sen. Sam's eyebrows danced as he said that, no, he thought the Civil War was more serious.



The Trump impeachment, though, is a laff riot.

We have Rudy Giuliani the influence peddler masquerading as a cyber security expert butt dialing reporters and locking himself out of his iPhone.

The sanctimonious Jim Jordan being exposed as another Republican sex creep.

And Michael Flynn's new wrinkle on the insanity defense, in which he tells the judge: "Your Honor, my lawyer is crazy."

And so much more. My sides hurt from laughing.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Not knowing your enemy

The left continues to fail to recognize the pure evil of America's right-wing. A little after 10 o'clock last night, opinionators on both CNN and MSNBC were saying it would be difficult for Republicans to personally attack Lieut. Col. Vindman, a decorated Purple Heart Army veteran.

As I switched off the television I said to myself, that's just silly. Trump and his evil little cheerleaders love to attack veterans and especially men who served in combat in Vietnam. Rober Mueller most notably, but he is far from the only one.

Before I woke this morning Fox was already sliming Vindman.

I am old enough to remember McCarthyism. I did not understand at that time what was going on, but I watched it in action. The opinionators are too young to remember McCarthyism but that's no excuse for not studying it. What we're going through now is McCarthyism pure and simple.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Epater les bourgeois

The Republican game of keep away when Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper was due to testify to the House of Representatives takes us back to the very beginning of fascism.

Fascism originated in France as the Action Francaise. Its first tactic -- long before the Italians introduced of castor oil and the Germans staged torchlight parades -- was to run wild in the French parliament. The young fascists scoffed at the grave democrats, pulling their mustaches.

A democratic legislature is helpless against such tactics. It does not matter if it can be shown that the rowdies are hypocritical, uninformed or stupid -- and the GOP mob was all three. If the level heads don't react, they lose. If they do react ,they're down in the gutter wrestling with the hotheads.

Either way they are diminished and their institution is wounded.

As I have said before, I do not believe that the Trump fascists are consciously copying the tactics of the French, Italian and German fascists. For one thing, most -- but not all, some probably studied political science -- are too ignorant to know in detail how the French, Italian and German fascists operated.

No, this is a matter of attitude. The same childishness leads to similar conceptions. It is very characteristic that a  schoolyard bully like Trump would come up with this sort of meanness.

The rot in the Republican Party has gone very deep. It wasn't just the 25 most immature members of Congress. A number of others spent Thursday accusing the Democrats of running a 'Soviet' style of hearings.

This is McCarthyism pure and simple.


Saturday, October 19, 2019

'i think he clarified it'

I'll say.

The bland, public lie that everyone knows is a lie is a trademark of the fascist in public life. I was reminded of Goering's refusal to recognize von Papen in the Reichstag on Sept. 12, 1932.

The bland pretense that the lie is truth is the  trademark of the fascist spear-carrier.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Snakes on a plane

Going to Turkey to lick Erdogan's boots. I guess Pompeo doesn't really want to be president, despite reports that he does.

Pence ditto.

Trump really has a genius for humiliating people around him.

* * *

Reports say we bombed our own base in Syria, in order to deny munitions to the Turks or the Arabs or the Russians or the Iranians or whoever gets there first. I hope theAir Force aimed this time, but I doubt it.

I am reminded of the burning of the Navy's oil tanks at Cavite Navy Yard as the Japanese attacked Manila. That, too, came under the leadership of a first-in-his-class graduate of West Point. At civilian colleges, graduating first usually indicates smarts, but at West Point not so much.

The lieutenant who torched the tanks at Cavite wondered for weeks whether he would be commended or court-martialed. (In the background as I type this, Adm. Stavridis is saying that the bombing has the flavor of the skedaddle from Saigon.)

I'm pretty sure no one will be commended for this week's attack.

* * *

Wonkette has been rather dull over the summer but the collapse of Trump seems to have perked up the humorists:

If the Kurds are more of a terrorist threat than ISIS, maybe we shouldn't have double-crossed them.

Priorities, priorities

From a Washington Post report on Rudy Giuliani's latest divorce. I don't care about it and read it only because I had thought the split was completed long ago. Can't keep up with the Giulianis and the Kardashians at the same time, I suppose.

For the first time in his life, Giuliani was really rich.

He was merely rich before — the divorce settlement gave Hanover more than $6 million — but now he was raking in serious bucks, commanding $100,000 per speech and private jets to fly in style. His bride accompanied him on all his trips; they required extra accommodations for staff — and an extra airplane seat for Judith Giuliani’s designer purse, which she was unwilling to put on the floor, according to news reports.

The purse, one supposes, flew first class.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The party of geldings

There are more castrati in the Republican Party than there were in the Sistine Chapel choir during its whole history.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

History at my doorstep

In the context of arguments about the Second Amendment, RtO has noted more than once that the "well regulated militia"for which the amendment supposedly was written has never existed.

The only effective function that the militia has ever carried out has been to shoot workers on behalf of employers.

I did not know when I bought my house in Maryland that my front door is less than a thousand feet from the site where the first combination of militia firepower and modern technology was used to rob and imprison workers.

The Old Main Line of the Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road (today CSX) runs along the north bank of the south branch of the Patapsco River. My house is at the top of that ridge. This was the first efficient railroad in the New World.

In spring of 1831, the line was just reaching Sykes Mill (today's Sykesville, although the town was moved to the north side of the river after a flood washed the village away in 1868) about 25 miles from Baltimore. The contractor absconded owing his workers about $11,000; that is, for the entire winter's work. The workers demanded that the company make them whole or they would tear up the work they had done.

The B&O's agent paid over $2,000 in order to get back to Baltimore, where he got a warrant to raise a posse. Only one man (Jerome Bonaparte's ex-father-in-law, as it happened, a director of the railroad)  responded. This delegation approached the 135 workers to "negotiate."


Not to pay the men for the work they had done for the railroad. When the men declined to work for free. . . , I will let Edward Hungerford carry the story from there. It's in volume one of his official history "The Story of the Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road 1827-1927:

"The time had come for government to show its strong hand. To Brig. Gen. Steuart the sheriff now turned over his warrant, and at 10 o'clock that very evening more than 100 volunteers from the militia boarded a special train bound for Sykes Mill. (This undoubtedly was the first troop movement by train not only on the Baltimore & Ohio but anywhere.) Despite many delays the soldiers reached Sykes Mill at early dawn, found the rioters wholly unprepared for their coming, arrested 50 of them, including Reily, and the trouble was over . . . . A new contractor came in finish Lyon's job.  Whether his workmen were ever fully paid is not in the record."

We can be confident and saying that they were not.

Hungerford also does not say that the militia were drunk but you can but they were. The workers, Irish immigrants, were hotheaded but not daft enough to fight it out with hammers against the hundred drunken soldiers armed with bayonets and muskets.

A riot on the B&O, not the one in 1831, which was not the first and certainly not the last







Saturday, October 5, 2019

Book Review 412: Bad Doctors




BAD DOCTORS: Military Justice Proceedings against 622 Civil War Surgeons, by Thomas P. Lowry and Terry Reiamer. 126 pages. National Museum of the Civil War Medicine Press paperback.

In 1861 as the nation headed toward dissolution and war the surgeon general of the army lay in a coma, the result of a stroke. Such was the idiocy of the military mind that he could neither be retired nor replaced.

The tiny scattered army would've had difficulty in any event even with leadership. There were hardly any physicians, no field ambulance service, no system of procuring medical supplies, no hospitals -- really no nothing.

There was not even any agreed concept of standard care. In the United States of those days there were numerous competing systems of medical care, all of them more or less humbug.

By a curiosity of history, the small city of Frederick in Maryland was and is the center of the problems of Civil War medicine. In 1862 and '63, it was the closest considerable settlement to the south of the two bloodiest battlefields of the war, Antietam/Sharpsburg  and Gettysburg. The wounded were collected in Frederick to be treated in numerous buildings suddenly declared to be hospitals.

A small private museum, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, is housed in an old building within walking distance of several of these hospitals. Its staff has compiled some studies along with the exhibits about the conflict. "Bad Doctors" (which seems to be available only at the museum store) presents a curious picture.

About 6% of the surgeons inducted into or hired by the Union Army were court-martialed. "Bad Doctors" presents a precis of the proceedings as well as a few short chapters on extraordinary cases.

Such is idiocy of the military mindset that the famous disasters of medicine in the Crimean War just a few years earlier had no impact on the thinking or preparations of American officers. Combat should have focused their minds, but they still were more concerned with the heinous offense of officers messing with enlisted men than they were with officers who neglected, starved, mistreated or otherwise abused the men they were supposed to care for.

Part of this indifference no doubt can be laid the lack of consensus on what a standard of care was. Thomas Lowry and Terry Reimer note that in one way the Confederate soldiers were better off than the Union soldiers. The Confederacy faced all the problems the Union faced with fewer resources. But that included lack of access to calomel and other poisons that were commonly used as medicines in those days.

Southerners tried to make do by turning to traditional herbal remedies and not far from Fredrick in Keedysville, Maryland, at a branch of the museum, the Pye House which was the headquarters of Gen. Meade at the Battle of Antietam, volunteers are recreating a medicinal garden of the war. Some of the remedies produced there were less dangerous than calomel but not necessarily safe either.

Somewhat surprisingly, despite so many factors working against success, the two American armies, although they were much larger than most armies of former times, managed for the most part to avoid the typhus and other epidemics that have decided so many previous campaigns. The work of the United States Sanitary Commission -- a Civil War innovation hardly mentioned in Bad Doctors presumably accounted for this.

Lowry and Reimer conclude that on the whole Union doctors did a pretty good job considering. The numbers court-martialed for eating with the enlisted men, drunkenness, thievery, treachery etc. was not out of line with the numbers involved in later supposedly more enlightened times.

Whether military medicine really did get better, as they assert, is a matter for debate. My uncle Hugh was badly wounded and France in 1918. The army doctors wanted to cut off his leg. He refused because they were all drunk and he got away with it because he was an officer.

Records of the courts-martials sometimes show that the defendants were heroes, dedicated healers accused of peculation and theft who were actually working outside failed army logistical protocols in order to get enough food or medicine to keep their patients from starving and dying.

At other times, clearly incompetent doctors were forced back on the army by state governors who had great influence on an army organized my regimental volunteers raised in individual states.

At other times it appears that courts martial were convinced that a surgeon was incompetent or ineffective but kept him on because there was no one else. The sample is too small to permit a statistical study but judging by the percentage of colored troops in the army against the percentage of doctors who were in colored regiments and court-martialed, it looks like black troops had a hard time finding even incompetent medical help.

Their death rates, much higher than those of white troops, suggest the same thing.

Here is the book's notation of a surgeon chosen at random: Jacob Quick of the 22nd New Jersey Infantry which shows the kind of information available in "Bad Doctors":

"Refused to attend a private suffering from a 'severe purging of blood,' cursed him, told him to wait until morning. Guilty. Fined one moth's pay. Second trial: cursed and attacked his colonel and stole meat and potatoes. Acquitted."

They had learned at the Museum was that by the Civil War you rock. Battlefield surgery had ended. Soldiers no longer had to bite the bullet Wally sawbones cut off a limb 95% civil War Battlefield surgeries use ether as an anesthetic.

Today the American military has its own medical schools operating within a scientific background that permits of an actual standard of care and a budget that is essentially infinite. It also has responsibility for the dependents of soldiers, which was not the case in 1861-65.

Military medicoes are only somewhat slightly better prepared to handle these responsibilities than in 1861 as anyone who has had to depend on Tri-Care will attest.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Trump speaks truth

According to The Washington Post:

 President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries
On CNN, one of the Post reporters on the story, Shane Harris, said that obviously is not true. But it is true.

No country has subverted more elections than the United States although its usual practice has been to allow elections to go forward and then if democrats are elected to destroy the democracy.

American interference in other countries' elections got going shortly after World War II in France and Italy. It continued under every administration except Carter's, but it wasn't just a matter of subverting democracy.

Democracy was not all that common so as often as not subversion of democracy took the form of supporting despotisms: Indonesia, Greece, Turkey, South Africa, South Vietnam, Spain, Portugal, Paraguay, many more.

From time to time brown people did attempt to start democracies. This usually caught America off guard since it does not believe brown people are capable of governing themselves.

When that happened democracies had to be overthrown in Haiti, Guatemala, Iran, Dominican Republic, Chile.

America didn't allow for democracy at home either. I came to political consciousness in the 1950s in Georgia which no one would describe as a democracy. Then or now although there have been some attempts in that direction recently there.

A few days ago I listened to most of Trump speech at the United Nations. He always speaks from the bully pulpit though in the common use of the word bully not Roosevelt's. He blustered about Venezuela. American policy has not been now or previously been to support democracy there. insofar as the current government has a policy it's the old familiar one of propping up a puppet with little or no popular support.

Imagine if the United States had supported democracy in Venezuela in the '50s or '60s. Perhaps it could have become a democracy by now. But actions have consequences and supporting the destruction of democratic movements makes it all the harder for any to break through subsequently.

The earliest international policy of which I have any clear memory was the 1956 Hungarian revolution. As Trump spoke about Venezuela I was mindful of what happened to the democrats in Hungry.

Hungry has never been a democracy. It was fascist and then it was occupied by Russians. At Our Lady of Perpetual Help church we prayed for the liberation of Cardinal Mindzenty in the name of democracy. Mindzenty was not a democrat, he was a reactionary Catholic.

Having failed to detect or support any genuine democrats, when the revolution broke out the United States was in an impossible position. Because of the McCarthyites and the Catholic lobby it could only support the reactionaries if it supported anyone. But the people in streets throwing Molotov cocktails against Russian tanks were -- at least some of them -- democrats.

 Image result for 1956 hungarian revolution

The United States would not support them but Eisenhower had the Voice of America encourage their reckless resistance. With words only.

Today the United States talks about democracy in Venezuela but any actual democrats there have been hung out to dry.


Saturday, September 21, 2019

Chock full o' nuts



Sykesville, the little town where I live, got its start with water mills for flour and lumber. Fire and flood put an end to that but in 1894 the state opened a lunatic asylum here.

This was the biggest employer until the '80s when most of the hospital shut down. Maryland has been trying with almost no success to find new enterprises for its 600-acre campus.

Today downtown has a feed store, a distillery, three saloons, two creameries and -- very unusually for such a small place -- a bookstore.  All very small businesses.

Over by the hospital there's a county lockup, a drug treatment center that looks more like the prison than the prison does and a huge building with a sign you can see from the highway: Northrop Grumman.

While it's not exactly a state secret what goes on there the company does not advertise it and nobody in town seems to know. I asked the mayor. He didn't know. I asked the man who runs the town museum. He didn't know. I asked te head of maintenance at the lunatic asylum next-door. He didn't know.

Visitors are discouraged:



When the building opened in 1997 it was announced that the company would work with electronic sensors whatever that means. Here's what it means now.

So it's still lunatics.

As the United States prepares to leave Afghanistan in defeat, it's worth asking ,was it reasonable to think that $10 trillion was sufficient to support a military operation in a country with 25 million people. One might have thought that was more than enough, but when you're spending $1 billion on mind reading and rail guns, $10 trillion doesn't go that far.








Thursday, September 5, 2019

Carbuncle of uncertainty

Meanwhile in Buffoonistan;

the president warned that hurricane Dorian was going to hit Alabama hard. Apparently the National Weather Service is part of the deep state because less than 20 minutes later it tweeted that hurricane Dorian was not Alabamy bound.

You have to follow Trumps tens of thousands of tweets pretty intently to have noticed this and I certainly don't and didn't. Trump the master manipulator ensured that the world did pay attention.

He went on television with the map showing the projected track of the storm. It included an odd final bulge that reached to the area around Mobile Bay. (His accomplice was Kevin Macaleenan, previously in charge of starving prisoners in concentration camps and kidnapping babies. Now we have a project th├ąt might keep both of them out of prison: they can spend the next wet afternoon with some of Trump's many dollar bills, drawing mustaches the the portrait of Washington.)

The map had been altered. It should not take detectives too long to pin down the culprit. It was someone who is addicted to the use of very large black Sharpies and who hasn't ever noticed that each successive segment of a cone of uncertainty is larger than the one before, like the segments on a nautilus.

The Alabama  map looks more like a pimple.

It turns out that although falsifying and publicizing an official weather map is not an impeachable offense, it is a low crime and misdemeanor. Judging by the penalty, less serious then molesting a Coast and Geodetic Survey benchmark.

Perhaps Trump can mount a defense based on the fact that the map that was altered was not a weather map but a water district map.


I have a low opinion of Trump's followers but not as low as Trump's opinion of Trump's followers.

Splinter group

Christian monarchist Nazis.

At the time, neoreaction (also known as “NRx”) was a largely unknown internet phenomenon. Even now, defining it is tricky. At its core, neoreaction is anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic, and many of its proponents advocate a return to monarchy or other autocratic forms of government. Yet even its central tenets and thinkers, like most internet movements cloaked in onion-like layers of irony, are ambiguous. It feeds off of self-importance, as well as the impossibility of pinning it down.

Which was also  thing with the original Nazis. Even the would-be Hohenzollern crown prince put on the brown shirt.

A long piece in Splinter exposes these Nazis and their influence on today's rightwing.

I had never heard of Splinter but was led to it by an interview by conservative Joe Scarborough with conservative Tim Carney. This led back to Carney's piece at the Washington Examiner where he summed up;

Conservatives ought to make it a priority to fight for the fundamental dignity and equality of racial minorities who have been denied that dignity and equality. It will require overcoming decades of injustice, and so won't happen quickly. We won't disabuse the Left of their self-satisfied smears and conceits, but that's not the point. Conservatives will be able to take solace in the fact that we're fighting the good fight and pissing off the racists.
They are very late to this party. My racist uncles joined the John Birch Society in the '60s.

For individual antiracist conservatives, I have a suggestion: Join the left. It hasn't had a Nazi problem since July 22, 1941. That will be a lot easier than remaking the Republican Party.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

George Orwell comes to Maryland


Bandit visits us from New York

Maryland, where I live, has a new law forbidding the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits.

I do not know why these animals are more equal than all the other animals. Or perhaps less equal.

I'm sure that the dogs will prefer being sold, while the cats will be indifferent. I don't know what the rabbits will think.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Spirit of Drancy V

The gods are smiling on Trump today. Another shooting in Texas and a Category 5 hurricane heading for Florida have pushed the child execution news out of the public eye just when it was about catch attention.

Numerically, the plan to execute children would not have had any impact on immigration one way or  the other, but it was one of those things that tends to grab the public by its emotional ears and give it a good shake.

WBUR in Boston broke the story almost a week ago and although in some respects it was almost unbelievable it was quickly confirmed in Florida by the Miami Herald and has since been admitted to by the administration. Nobody else except maybe Rachel Maddow paid much attention. She got quite worked up about it and even begged her 'friends at FOX News" to mention it so that Trunp would become aware.

So far as I know her friends let her down.

The moment is passed. The news tht the government is preparing to execute immigrant children would never impress the right-wingers anyway for whom killing brown people is kin to sport, but it might have had some effect on general public opinion for whom immigration isn't really much of an issue.

Instead we get wall to wall weather and ordinary murder.  The only thing really newsworthy about either of those stories is it Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas did not offer either thoughts or prayers for the people going down in Odessa. Presumably he has exhausted his stock of both.

It was impressive though how the Odessa killer managed to kill seven people by hitting them with a hammer while driving down the highway at 55 miles an hour.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Racism

Not so hard to find if you open your eyes.

Take a few moments to read the comments on the local news report.

It's Texas, so these people choose your children's textboooks, wherever you live.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Poll dancing

Public opinion polls show declines in Trunp's standing. Trump says his polls are different and show that he's doing great.

OK. Publish the polls. When were they taken? By whom? How many people were questioned. What were the questions and the responses? What is the margin of error ? All the things that are published by other pollsters.

Otherwise those polls don't exist.  It is possible though unlikely that Trump has been shown polls that show he's doing great. The atmosphere at the White House seems increasingly like that is Hitler's Chancellery in 1945 even including unfriendly Russians trying to gain access.

I can easily believe that Trump is being shown made-up polls. I can easily believe that he made  them up himself.
     * * *

Longtime readers of RtO or Great Guys we'll remember how often erp complained about the God complex of Obama and his supporters, one of her many fantasies. It seems almost a law that what right-wingers complain about they do themselves times 10.

Now we have Trump quoting with approval the opinion of right-wing commentator Wayne Root that Israeli Jews regard Trump as the second coming of God. Even if this is true, only a monomaniac would quoted that about himself to 40 million people.

(The head of the Jewish Anti-defamation League objected to Root's and Trump's use of Christian theology to explain what Jews think. We can absolve Trump; he doesn't know the first thing about Christianity.)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Gleichschaltung, American-style

Moley and Stull are accused of targeting career government staffers because they suspected those staffers were disloyal to President Donald Trump. At least one staffer was unfairly stripped of duties and quit the department, the report says.

Career government staffers are expected to carry out the priorities of whoever is in charge of the White House, regardless of political party. Their existence allows for an accumulation of expertise in the government and assures some continuity between administrations.

But many Trump appointees came into office believing that a “deep state” exists within the government bureaucracy and that it is determined to undermine the new president.
From Politico, which has done an excellent job of covering thisissue.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The 4-second catastrophe

Possibly Skipper overestimated his skills when he claimed he would have flown those Boeing planes out of danger.

It is certainly true that Boeing lied from the start about its behavior and continues to do so.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Role model

Ever since the protests began in Hong Kong, the BBC World Service has treated them as the most important story in the world. I think of it as a dog bites man story myself; I am astonished that it has taken this long for Peking to initiate its version of gleichschaltung.

However that may be, today the BBC reported that China suggested that protesters might be guilty of terrorism. The BBC correspondent in Hong Kong said this would likely deter some protesters since no one would wish to face a terrorism arrests in China where he or she might be imprisoned for years without charges.

Exactly like in the United States, I thought.

Then this evening CNN's Wolf Blitzer announced breathlessly that his network would reveal for the first time how shadowy Russian mercenaries we're being used around the world to help reestablish Russian dominance.

Never mind that reestablish is the wrong word, but exactly like in the United States, I thought.

It would be nice if our policy were different from those of our adversaries. It would make it easier to choose between them.

CNN produced an interview with Oleg, a purported member of the Wagner mercenary group. The correspondent asked Oleg how much training he had received for his mission to conquer the world. Almost none, Oleg said. He had been trained for six days including two visits to the rifle range and one session firing a machine gun.

That describes the training that I received from the United States Army during the first week of ROTC summer camp 50 years ago. I did not then feel prepared to conquer the world or even lead a platoon in South Vietnam.

If Russia is indeed attempting to establish world dominance, I am pleased to learn that its military is as stupid and incompetent as ours.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Spirit of Drancy IV

So much outrageous and evil behavior is coming from Trump's version of a war on the poor that I could put up a new post every few hours. By now, I hope, anybody who reads RtO can figure out my itnerpretation without my having to write it out. But Wednesday something important happened.

A United States attorney laid down a marker that will allow us to determine just who the American versions of the Milice are. It was not exactly buried in The Washington Post's story but it was not and has not been emphasized:

“To those who use illegal aliens for a competitive advantage or to make a quick buck, we have something to say to you: If we find you have violated federal criminal law, we are coming for you,” said Mike Hurst, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. But he declined to comment on whether anyone other than the immigrant workers would be charged as a result of the operation, which he said is ongoing.

I waited a few days to mark this out, in case indictments against the employers were in the mill. Not happening.

They will never happen.

I do not doubt the sincerity of Hurst, but these are charges that will have to be cleared by the Attorney General. Barr will never do it. It would be a spear in the heart of Trump's racist narrative of invasion. (Incidentally, while the word was purged from Trump's twitter file -- evidently by underlings -- the invasion narrative is still the word of the day and of the campaun. When asked, a senior White House accomplice, probably Miller, simply said "No.")

That is why I will be astounded if any of the mployers are prosecuted criminally. They may perhaps be allowed  an Epstein Plea and have to pay civil fines, with a promise to sin no more. Which will put them out of business, so I will be surprised if they are held even to that small an account.  Americans want their chicken nuggets and Trump is not the man to deny them.

Let me offer some ancient history.

I now live in Maryland, home of the delicious Chesapeake Bay blue crab. When I lived in Norfolk 45 years ago, you could buy picked crabmeat. It wasn't cheap but it was available everywhere. Most of the picking was done in Crisfield, Maryland, and the pickers were older black women, illiterate or nearly so with no other opportunities of making money.

Those women are gone now and so are their children. And the children's children have, thanks to the Great Society programs, grown up literate, many going to college. They don't have to pick crabs and they won't.

It is difficult to find picked local crabmeat nowadays and when you do find it it's expensive -- $25 dollars pound for backfin. I asked at the one store that regularly carries it, who picks it? "Hispanics."

But Hispanic immigrants, even illegal ones have better moneymaking opportunities than picking crabs, which is truly unpleasant work. More unpleasant evidently then working in a chicken plant,  which which is unpleasant indeed, as the excellent the Des Moines Register reporter George Anthan detailed in a series more than 30 years ago. (I edited Anthan's stories and thought they deserved the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.)

Or perhaps it's just that chicken plucking is year-round work and crab picking is seasonal.

In any event it is not true that recent immigrants, legal or otherwise, are taking jobs from Americans or depressing Americans' wages. For better or ill, the capitalist dream of forcing the poorest laborers to work for starvation wages -- what David Ricardo understood -- has been short-circuited by our public benefit system that right-wingers call socialist. It is not in any serious sense socialist. But it does have effects on capitalists. It complicates their labor recruitment.

Trump and his fascist friends have no hesitation to inflict sickening horrors on brown children -- you have seen the videos, you do not need me to say anything further -- but they do not and will not have any intention of seeing white employers compelled to submit to the rule of law.

I will be surprised if Mr. Hurst's career as a prosecutor lasts much longer.

Since the first weeks of Trump's regime I have been warning about gleichschaltung. When fascism is done by Americans, as Sinclair Lewis Lewis warned so long ago, it will be done in the name of Americanism. With flags flying.

Enemies of the state will not be proscribed as in Nuremberg laws but will be forced out in the name of efficiency like the scientists at the Department of Agriculture. There've been a few bumps along the road  as when Trump attempted  to install a bootlicking incompetent as director of national intelligence. However, good progress continues to be made.

RtO has noted more than once before that it took Hitler five years to become a dictator.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Reagan the racist

To the surprise of no one, really, St. Ronald was a crude, bile-filled racist, as newly released tapes reveal.

The tapes had been published in 2000, but the National Archives, to their shame, cut out the racist part "to protect" Reagan's privacy.

I noticed a number of present-day racists trying to soften the impact of the revelation by saying "it was a different time." Not that different, as we see.

Child sacrifice again

I went to bed last nght not having heard how many children were sacrificed to the 2nd Amendment in El Paso and still this morning I don't know. Presumably the Dayton slaughter, which was at a bar at 1 a.m., did not sacrifice any children.

But several mass child sarifices ago, I flipped on Fox to see how rightwingers were welcoming that news. I happened to get Tucker Carlson, the racist, and in the few seconds I listened to him, he was sneering at someone (I don't know who) who had labeled "white men" as the biggest terrorist threat in America now.

"Really?" said Carlson, "white men."

Yeah, really.

It strikes me that during the period over the last few hours when there were mass protests in favor of democracy in Moscow and Hong Kong, and when the despotisms there reacted forcefully, there were no deaths; while there were -- it appears -- at least 20 political murders in the United States and perhaps 29 (depending on the motivation of the Dayton killer).




Saturday, July 27, 2019

A hunger for education

School lunches are not something I know much about. We had lunches in Catholic school but all I remember about them is that they received surplus food from the agriculture department's program to support farmers -- apparently pea farmers needed the most support judged by the volume of peas we were served.

And all i remember about that is that my mother was incensed when she discovered that surplus butter was not being given to us in school but was allowed to go rancid in the kitchen at Our Lady of the Assumption school. We couldn't afford to eat butter at our house; we ate the cheapest margarine.

The other day I heard bits and pieces of a radio interview about the history of school lunches while I was working around the house but I still do not know much about school lunches.

At least part of that interview was about payment subsidies -- as opposed to food subsidies -- for children whose parents are unable to feed them. In my area, and many others, there are now programs to send backpacks of food home with children over the weekend, and some schools keep serving meals during vacation.


It struck me that if there is even a colorable argument that millions of children in this country whose parents work need government lunches, then our economic system has failed.


Friday, July 19, 2019

Good old German know-how

RtO won't be celebrating the men on the Moon along with everyone else, although I will how long will pause to remember the 30,000 people who were murdered in order to make it happen.

The first and trivial reason  that I won't be celebrating is that it was pointless, as is demonstrated by the fact that no one has gone back to that dead rock for the past half century. It was impressive all right, but so is a Chinese acrobat spinning 20 plates on rods.

The second and important reason to avoid celebrating is that at the bottom of the achievement was crime. Many many crimes in fact, crime that continued long after the Moon men came home. Balzac wrote behind every great fortune is a great crime. This indictment is too broad if there is something to his thought.

Although there was no scientific point in going to the Moon, the crime had a political point: the United States was desperate to prove our moral superiority to the Commies, which we did by hiring Nazi war criminals to build a rocket.

A friend of mine was as a young Air Force officer given the job of calculating the orbits of Air Force satellites. In that job he came to know the Nazis in Huntsville. They were very very happy to be there, he once told me. Indeed. They were aware that if there were any justice in the world they would've been swinging from gibbets.

All this was known or knowable to the public at the time. The public chose and still chooses not to care.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Fear in the streets

Since nobody else is going to say it, not even those most adamantly alarmist and angry about Trump's pathetic parade, in much of the world American tanks in the street and planes in the sky are terrifying, because they mean indiscriminbate destruction and death.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Spirit of Drancy III

How convenient that a day that  should have been devoted to follow-ups of detailed reports of kidnappings, starvation and brutality by Trump's agents against children, we were in instead treated to endless stories about softhearted Donald not wanting to see any Iranians hurt.

Among the latest proven atrocities carried out by ICE and Border Patrol was the kidnapping of a four-month-old baby. When finally returned to her mother the baby did not recognize her and was afraid to go to her. I readily recognize this sort of atrocity as the same thing happened to my grandfather at the end of the Civil War.

When Rodney King was beaten there were 25 law enforcement officers on hand but only one raised any objections to the savagery, leading us to conclude that in Southern California 95% of police officers are savages.

Christopher Browning's outstanding history of Reserve Police Battalion 101,  "Ordinary Men," found that of about 500 German policeman, only one raised even the mildest objections to the murders and other atrocities they were told to commit against Jews and other enemies of the people.

So far as it is known, no one in ICE or the Border Patrol objected in any way to the kidnapping of a four-month-old baby. If they do not have sufficient moral boundaries to draw the line there, history suggests they would not draw it anywhere.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Pompeo shoots self in foot

Whatever the object is in the spy film released by the Secretary of State to demonstrate Iranian guilt in the tanker bombing, it isn't a ship-killing mine.

One man handled it without straining, so it cannot have weighed more than 30 pounds or so.


Monday, June 10, 2019

Book Review 411: Joe Alsop's Cold War



JOE ALSOP'S COLD WAR: A Study of Journalistic Influence and Intrigue, by Edwin M. Yoder Jr. 220 pages, illustratedl. U. of North Caroina Press, $29.95.

I started reading Joe Alsop's newspaper column in the summer of 1966.  I thought he was an idiot.  He was, too.

I did not then understand how rank the stupidity was or how far back it went. It began in China during World War 2 when Alsop was on the staff of the crackpot aviator Claire Chennault. Chennault's fantasy of defeating an industrial state by random terror bombing was destroyed by infantry attack but Alsop remained a believer to the end of his life.

That 400,000 Chinese peasants were killed in the process did not affect his views.

After the war Alsop made a fine career as a sort of global village idiot specializing on foreign policy and military security.

He claimed often to have invented the domino theory, although Edwin Yoder is skeptical. If he wasn't the father, he was the doting godfather although anyone with a school atlas in the 1950s could have seen that if there was a domino effect, it ran in the opposite direction from the one Alsop and hisRless colorful brother Stewart spent 14 years flogging.

The Red Army stopped in its tracks as soon as it had defeated the fascists of Germany and Japan and never took another goose-step forward, until 1979 in Afghanistan. It even retreated from Finland, Austria, Iran, Korea and Manchuria.

This very obvious fact did not deter Alsop from bleating constantly about the dangers of Soviet imperialism although if any country was sending imperial armies into new territory in the '50s and '60s it was the United States.

People who knew Alsop intimately considered him stupid. It is impossible to argue with this opinion although Yoder, a personal friend, does his best to prettify the sordid scene.

After Chennault, Alsop maintained a lifelong predilection for tough talking fools in military uniform. He was a deeply closeted homosexual, a precious queen clinking his china tea cups and smoothing his custom made Italian silk shirts. Yoder does not speculate about Alsop's attraction to such crude milites gloriosi, but there is a distinct flavor of Tom of Finland here.

The Alsop brothers pretended to be real reporters and claimed always to have at least one previously unreported fact in each of their columns. They made much of their trips to see things for themselves.

However like other men of their time and class -- they were near kin of the Roosevelts and heirs to a Connecticut progressive Republican tradition -- they did not believe that colored people could or should govern themselves, and when they went to a foreign country it would never have occurred to them to speak to anyone who lived there. Their idea of getting the facts was to quiz diplomats, foreign businessmen and others who they believed to be in the know.

As a result they maintained a colonialist mentality.

Joe Alsop was especially smitten by William Westmoreland and was unwaveringly certain that the Republic of South Vietnam was going to prevail despte its complete lack of political legitimacy.

And yet despite their silliness overseas, back home the Alsops worked bravely and effectively, openly and deviously, against McCarthy and McCarthyism . Though not a fan of the somewhat dumpy Dwight Eisenhower -- one the few generals Joe did not admire -- Alsop did tell friends in 1952 that he was afraid that if the Republicans were kept out of the White House for another four years they would turn into a native fascist party.

He was right about that although premature.

Since "Joe Alsop's Cold War"  is subtitled "a study of influence," Yoder tries to assess whether the Alsops really exerted any influence. It is clear that they did in the counterattack of the regular Republicans against the McCarthyites. Yoder is skeptical that they had much impact on their chosen area of foreign relations.








Waiting for the news

So, Trump says we (meaning he) got 'everything we wanted' from Mexico, and he will be annoucing the additional goodies soon. Can we assume that this means Mexico is paying for The Wall?

Wasn't that one of the things he wanted?

Prediction: his besotted adorers will give him a pass on this one, too.




Thursday, June 6, 2019

The failure of anti-fascism

A cannonade of blather has been launched over beaches of Normandy today and many salvoes of freedom and democracy light up the sky there. Let's state the obvious: The great antifascist crusade in Europe failed.

The displacement of Italy and Germany succeeded, but fascism had already taken over nearly all of Europe before September 1, 1939; in the few states purported to represent democracy, democracy was a strange and phony system. No one in Egypt thought England was a democracy; no one in the East Indies thought the Netherlands were a democracy; no one in Congo thought Belgium was a democracy; no one in Vietnam thought France was democracy.

To the Russians who did most of the fighting and dying in the supposed antifascist movement, when that wing of the antifascist drive got to the German-speaking , it areas did not distinguish between fascists and antifascists; if you spoke German, you were a fascist.

Though it was fought with ideological weapons, from the perspective of 2019 it is hard to see the war an Europe is anything but a continuation of the struggle for national hegemonies that had been going on for 500 y.ears

For 50 years after the war ,fascism was suppressed except in Iberia and Greece but only suppressed. People who lived in Europe did not reject it. It's more than a little ironic that the place where antifascist political sentiment is strongest today is probably Germany.

The '30s were low, mean decade. The present time is not yet as low or as mean but we're on the same path.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

News you may not want to use

Every news outlet I use, print or digital, has been leading with the traffic jam on Mount Everest where climbers patiently wait to die.

 As my son-in-law likes to say: first world problem.

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Meanwhile, in the least surprising news report of this or any other week, Roman Catholics are a accused of spreading false information about sexuality.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Reason enough to remove

Even setting aside all his other crimes and misdemeanors,  Trump's attacks on the judiciary warrant his removal from office.

For a president whose single achievement has been to secure many appointments to the bench, establishing a precedent that decisions of judges are to be disregarded if they were appointed by a president you dislike seems remarkably stupid, even for him.

What we celebrate

Sen. Tom Cotton has written a memoir of his days doing play-party dress-up in the Old Guard at Arlington. (I own a farm in Arkansas and so have learned the local dialect.)

In interviews promoting his book he waved the bloody shirt more shamelessly than any politician that I can remember. He was unable to say "dead veterans," but could only call them "fallen heroes," a phrase he repeated obsessively.

So since no one else is going to say it this Memorial Day, let me state the obvious: Most of the men buried at Arlington did nothing more heroic than fold blankets at a supply depot, and most of them did not fall; they died from the diseases of old age.

I sympathize with the losses of men who were dragged away or induced to leave their homes for years, but not everything they did away from home was worth celebrating. Why are we celebrating the Marines who fought to suppress democracy in Central America, or the Zippo raiders who burned the homes of subsistence farmers in Vietnam, or the B-52 pilots who flew terror bombing missions against Cambodia?

Not everything the Americans have done with their military power is worth celebrating, although all of it is worth remembering. Glory is no substitute for morality.

I would also like to state the obvious about the Founders. Today's self-styled conservatives -- who are not really conservative -- cry the loudest about both Originalism and about serving their country, with the subtext that the only real way to serve is in the uniformed formations, but that was never the view on the Founding Fathers.

Those men who had just come through the most brutal war feared and distrusted armies and celebrated the life of the civilian. Men, as Jefferson said, who cultivated their own vines and fig trees.

The Founders loathed navies even more than armies. Jefferson was so fearful of navies that he withdrew America's warships and replaced them with 170 rowboats for coastal defense in order to prevent temptations into adventurism.

Among the things that worried the Founders was the rise of an hereditary officer caste, which in their experience would be a threat to democracy. The United States is come along way toward having that, too.

Even in 1789 the Founders' ideal of an unarmed nation isolated from the tumults of foreign disputes was ridiculous. It wasn't the Continentals who defeated the British at Yorktown, it was a French navy and a French army who did that.

Still, the Founders were right to be worried about military formations. American National Guardsmen proved just as willing to shoot down workers as the tsar's Cossacks were.

America as a whole  can take credit for fighting the fascists, although to state the obvious again, that large fraction of the population who did not want to fight the fascists were the political ancestors of the Tom Cottons of today.

I grew up celebtaing two Memotrial Days: the national one and Confederate Memorial Day.

Confederate Memorial Day is dying out at last, but maybe we should still have two memorial days: one for the poor soldiers who suffered; and another for the poor civilians who suffered from them.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Lighter fare

If you haven't been following the story of Jerry Falwell Jr., Mrs. Falwell, the pool boy and naughty pictures, you should.

Pool boys don't come cheap.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Diagnosing a name

Measles is not an adequate name. It should be called Stupid Parent Disease.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

An exception

Colorado, one of the most loaded gun nut states, attempts to attract tourists with the slogan 'come to life.'  Except you Kendrick Castillo. You stay dead.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A crowd under the bed

First, National Security Adviser Bolton spotted a Russian under  Maduro's bed, then Secretary of State Pompeo spotted both a Russian and an Iranian under Bolton's bed. It's time for sharp elbows down there.

It's hard to know what Pompeo is up to, although the fact that he finished first on his class at the Military Academy suggests he wouldn't know either. Bolton is trying to force war with Iran. Chickenhawks do that.

If I had a child serving on the Lincoln or the Stennis -- the two carriers  in the 6th Fleet, and was there ever a pair less felicitously named/ -- I would be extremely worried about his safety. Bolton talks tough but his never displayed the slightest military knowledge, which is not surprising in a chicken-- hawk.

The big winner here is at least potentially -- if it sees its opportunity -- China. China is an ally of sorts of Iran's, although it is hard to believe that the Chinese are very deeply invested in Iran for Iran's sake. Nevertheless, for a very small investment and if they can control the hotheads among the Iranians and the Iranians' stooge groups, the Chinese can take the US Navy 7th Fleet off the board in the Western Pacific.

Here's how that's done:

The Chinese we know have intermediate range ballistic missiles that can hit a steamer trunk size target traveling at 15,000 miles an hour. A thousand foot long aircraft carrier maneuvering at 40 miles an hour will not provide much of a challenge, especially as the carriers' Aegis defense system has never worked in operational settings in its 30 year history.

So all the Chinese have to do is to move two or three or four IRBMs to some remote spot -- and Iran has lots of those -- and wait for Bolton's saber rattling to produce a pretext. And then the Iranians  launch IRBM strikes against the 6th Fleet which has no chance against them.

Within 60 minutes the 7th Fleet will be skedaddling for Sasebo never to emerge again.

Gardening advice

Everyone likes to sit on the porch and watch the deer browse through our yard, but with the deer come deer flies.

I was working in the woods planting flowering trees like hawthorn, redbud, dogwood, crabapple and crape myrtle because the deer have browsed out almost all of the understory. The deer flies were annoying.

I put on some DEET although I've never had much success with it against mosquitoes, midges and that sort but I am here to endorse it against deer flies. I could hear the little buggers coming for my ears like Luke Skywalker attacking the Death Star but DEET worked like a force shield on the flies. When they got within a few inches they skittered off.