Why plastic bags don’t go in the recycling bin

February 23, 2019

Populism, immigration and white majorities

February 20, 2019

2.1 children per woman is the replacement rate.  Click to enlarge.

I recently read WHITESHIFT: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities by Eric Kaufmann (2018, 2019)

It’s about the response of white people in North America, western Europe and Australasia to the fact that their birth rates are below the replacement rate, and that the likely sources of immigration are all from non-white countries with higher birth rates.

Kaufmann, a professor of political science at the University of London, said white fears of immigration are the driving force behind the election of Donald Trump, the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Community and the rise of right-wing populist parties throughout western Europe.

He sees four white responses to population shifts:

  • Fight.  Reduce or eliminate immigration from non-white countries.
  • Repress.  Avoid thinking about the issue and suppress discussion in the name of anti-racism.
  • Flee.  Retreat to white enclaves and avoid diverse neighborhoods, schools and social networks.
  • Join.   Assimilate and inter-marry with non-whites to form a new beige majority.

I wrote about the fourth possibility in a 2012 blog post.  I noted how, in the USA, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority evolved into a white majority that includes Catholics and Jews.  I speculated on the possibility of a further evolution into a new “non-black” majority including white Hispanics, mixed-race people who identify as white and possibly Asian-Americans.

The great danger, as I saw it,  is that the new majority would be as much, or maybe even more, prejudiced against black people as the old majority..

Kaufmann, who grew up in Vancouver, hopes for a more benign evolution—a inclusive majority based not on ancestry, color or facial features, but on loyalty to the nations’ original European cultural roots, but also tolerant of minorities who reject that culture.

He’s an example of what he advocates.  He is by ancestry one-fourth Latino and one-fourth Chinese, but identifies as white.  (The fact that he “identifies” rather than “passes” as white shows progress that has occurred in my lifetime.)

I have long believed that American patriotism should be based not on race, religion or national origin, but on loyalty to the Constitution and the ideals of equal rights contained in the Declaration of Independence.

Kaufmann thinks such civic ideals are too thin to command strong loyalty.  A nation can and should have principles of good citizenship, but real national identity requires a sense of being part of a community with a shared history, whether defined by language, religion, ancestry or culture and customs.

∞∞∞

The politics of the USA, the UK and many other countries are defined by a revolt of an anti-immigration Populist Right  against what Kaufmann calls a Left-Modernist cultural and political elite, which defines opposition to immigration as racist.

Exceptions include the English-speaking parts of Canada, where no Populist Right has emerged, and nationalistic countries of Eastern Europe, where Left Modernism has never gained a foothold.  In Quebec and Scotland also, the cultural elite is on the side of French Canadian and Scottish ethnic nationalism.

Left-Modernism, as Kaufmann sees it, originated among bohemian intellectuals of a century or so ago, who rejected the conventions of the conformist middle-class majority.  In the USA, this was a revolt against the Puritan heritage and an embrace of everything anti-Puritan, from sexual freedom to  jazz music.

Over time these values came to dominate academia, the news and entertainment media and the political elite.  Along the way, though, the Left Modernists ceased to value radical individualism and self-expression and developed a kind of reverse Puritanism, based on conformity and guilt.  Nowadays it is the Populist Right that is transgressive and provocative.

Read the rest of this entry »

President Trump invokes power of a dictator

February 18, 2019

President Donald Trump, having failed to persuade Congress to appropriate a full $5.7 billion for his border wall, has said he’ll declare a national emergency and take the money from Department of Defense funds.

The thing is, he doesn’t even pretend there is any emergency involved.

I could do the wall over a longer period of time.  I didn’t need to do this.  But I’d rather do it much faster.  And I don’t have to do it for the election.  I ’ve already done a lot of wall for the election. 2020.  And the only reason we’re up here talking about this is because of the election—because they want to try to win an election, which it looks like they’re not going to be able to do.

If a President can simply declare a national emergency and override the will of Congress, what power does he lack to make himself a dictator?

President Trump did not give himself these emergency powers, and he is not the first one to use them or abuse them, but none before him have been so blatant about the lack of justification for using these powers.

Our Constitution sets up a form of government with three branches of government with separate powers—the legislative, executive and judiciary—with the idea that each would check and balance the power of the others.

The problem with this is that separation of powers means separation of responsibility.  The path of least resistance for Congress is to abdicate responsibility to the President.

It’s true that Congress is not entirely to blame in this case.  The original law that President Trump invoked allowed Congress to veto an emergency declaration by a majority vote of the Senate and the House of Representations.  The Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional; it said the two-thirds votes are required not only to overturn vetoes of legislation, but to overturn any Presidential action.

Even so, it is Congress that over the years has given Presidents the powers of dictators, and it is the responsibility of Congress to take these powers back.  No member of Congress who declares themselves a part of the “resistance” to President Trump can be taken seriously if they continue to allow him the powers of a dictator.

LINKS

Republic’s End: Trump’s Border Wall by Ian Welsh.

A Fishy Emergency Threatens the Republic by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Trump’s dictator move is the real emergency—and we handed him the keys by Will Bunch for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

What Is and Isn’t a Big Deal in Trump’s Executive Actions Related to the Border by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.

And why can’t we stop wondering “why”?

February 16, 2019

Source: Incidental Comics.

Ilhan Omar holds Elliott Abrams to account

February 14, 2019

Elliott Abrams in the 1980s carried out U.S. support for central American dictatorships that massacred their own people.  He is justly hated for his actions to this day.  For the Trump administration to put him in charge of U.S. policy toward Venezuela is an insult to the people of Latin America and a signal that the U.S. government does not care about human rights.

In the video above, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a new member of Congress from Minneapolis, questions Abrams about his record.  Along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, she is a new voice in Congress, who speaks truths that others fear to state.

Omar referred to a notorious massacre in which more than 800 civilians, including two-year-old children, were killed by U.S.-trained troops.  The Intercept had details on this:

On December 11, 1981 in El Salvador, a Salvadoran military unit created and trained by the U.S. Army began slaughtering everyone they could find in a remote village called El Mozote.  Before murdering the women and girls, the soldiers raped them repeatedly, including some as young as 10 years old, and joked that their favorites were the 12-year-olds.  One witness described a soldier tossing a 3-year-old child into the air and impaling him with his bayonet.  The final death toll was over 800 people.

The next day, December 12, was the first day on the job for Elliott Abrams as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs in the Reagan administration. Abrams snapped into action, helping to lead a cover-up of the massacre.  News reports of what had happened, Abrams told the Senate, were “not credible,” and the whole thing was being “significantly misused” as propaganda by anti-government guerillas.  [snip]

The extermination of El Mozote was just a drop in the river of what happened in El Salvador during the 1980s. About 75,000 Salvadorans died during what’s called a “civil war,” although almost all the killing was done by the government and its associated death squads. The numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. El Salvador is a small country, about the size of New Jersey. The equivalent number of deaths in the U.S. would be almost 5 million. 

Moreover, the Salvadoran regime continually engaged in acts of barbarism so heinous that there is no contemporary equivalent, except perhaps ISIS.

In one instance, a Catholic priest reported that a peasant woman briefly left her three small children in the care of her mother and sister. When she returned, she found that all five had been decapitated by the Salvadoran National Guard. Their bodies were sitting around a table, with their hands placed on their heads in front of them, “as though each body was stroking its own head.”  The hand of one, a toddler, apparently kept slipping off her small head, so it had been nailed onto it.  At the center of the table was a large bowl full of blood.

Criticism of U.S. policy at the time was not confined to the left. During this period, Charles Maechling Jr., who had led State Department planning for counterinsurgencies during the 1960s, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the U.S. was supporting “Mafia-like oligarchies” in El Salvador and elsewhere and was directly complicit in “the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.”

Source: The Intercept

Similar stories could be told about U.S. support for the dictatorship in Guatemala and Panama and for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Read the rest of this entry »

The widening target of ‘anti-racism’

February 14, 2019

Where once the targets of those concerned to fight injustice were “racism” and “sexism,” today the targets are “whiteness” and “masculinity.”  The underlying premise is plain: that there is no whiteness independent of the domination of nonwhites, and no masculinity independent of the domination of women.

==attributed to Wesley Yang, author of The Souls of Yellow Folk

I think it is great that black people to take pride in themselves and not think they have to be like whites in order to respect themselves.    I think it is great that women to take pride in themselves and not think they have to be like men in order to respect themselves.

I think discrimination against black people and against women are great evils, and I think it is great that these evils are being stigmatized and diminished.

I don’t see how racism and sexism are diminished telling white men they should be ashamed of themselves for being white and male.

My father taught me to live in a way that allows me to respect myself and to be willing to treat others with courtesy and respect, and that is what I believe in.

It is wrong to teach anyone that self-respect is impossible, or is possible only by adopting a certain creed or joining a certain group.

Breaking a taboo vs. committing a crime

February 11, 2019

Click to enlarge. Hat tip to Kevin Drum.

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia had a page in his 1984 college yearbook showing a white man in blackface (possibly Northam himself) posing with someone in Ku Klux Klan regalia.  This has been big news, and many of Northam’s fellow Democrats have called on him to resign.

Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, when serving as secretary of state, purged Georgia’s voter rolls using methods that targeted black voters.  This may have given him his margin of victory over Stacey Abrams, a black woman.  This has not been big news, and none of Kemp’s fellow Republicans have called on him to resign.

This fits with Machiavelli’s observation that human beings will more readily forgive an actual injury than they will an insult.

It is good that certain words and actions that once were common are now socially unacceptable.  I can remember when what we now call the N-word was a common expression.  I’m glad it isn’t any more.

Yet  Lyndon Johnson, who did more than any President since to advance the cause of civil rights, used that word.  And certain powerful people who would never use that word condone redlining, police brutality, selective enforcement of drug laws and systematic disenfranchisement of African-American voters.

I don’t think anyone should be judged on the basis of the worst thing they ever said or did, but rather on the basis of the record of their whole adult lives.

Gov. Northram has apologized for the yearbook photo.  He should have the chance to show by his policies as governor that his apology is sincere.  Judging by the results of the public opinion poll shown above, a majority of African-American voters in Virginia feel the same way.

LINKS

Ralph Northram and the limits of forgiveness by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift, who also made some good points today.

Reverend William Barber Explains How Governor Northram Can Repent His Racist Sins.

Establishment Republicans mystified by their base should look at Ed Gillespie’s campaign by Matthew Yglesias for Vox.  About Northram’s Republican opponent in the 2017 election.

GOP’s Brian Kemp purged 1 in 10 Georgia voters by Greg Palast.  And Kemp is not alone, as Palast’s other reporting shows.

AOC on how to legally be a ‘super bad guy’

February 11, 2019

AOC Campaign Finance Primer Goes Viral by Jeri-Lynn Scofield for Naked Capitalism.

Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian

February 10, 2019

I picked up a copy of THE HISTORIAN: a novel by Elizabeth Kostova (2007) on a free book exchange rack at my local public library.

This novel, which is about a multi-generational search for the grave of Count Dracula, is more of a historical novel than it is a horror novel.

Dracula was a historical figure who lived in the 15th century in Transylvania and Wallachia, regions of what is now Rumania.  

His life overlapped with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks.  He was known for his cruelty to both his subjects and the Turkish enemy.

The framing story is a narration by a history professor, living in the present, about her attempt as a 16-year-old in 1972 to discover the truth about her father and his interest in the Dracula legend.

We then revert to 1954 and a narration by her father, a young graduate student in history, of his quest to save his advisor and mentor who has been taken by Dracula.  The quest takes him and a mysterious young woman to Turkey, Hungary and Bulgaria.

Within this narration are letters by the mentor of his journey in 1930 to Rumania, where he discovers the original (but empty) burial-place of the Count.

The 642-page novel moves at a leisurely pace, which I didn’t mind but others might.  I like her sketches of the life and landscape in all the countries that the characters visit.  Kostova is a marvelous descriptive writer and, from what I can tell, a meticulous researcher.

We get a glimpse of the struggles between Turkish Muslims and Orthodox Christians in the 15th century Balkans.  These wars were as murderous, heroic and tragic as World Wars One and Two, and, as the conflict in Bosnia shows, they aren’t completely over yet.

Near he end, we get to meet the Count, visit his library and hear him explain that inasmuch as human nature is basically corrupt, the only kind of perfection that is possible is perfection in evil. 

The book’s layered history reminds me of Rebecca West’s great book, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which is about her travels through Yugoslavia in the late 1930s and how the past lives in the present.

I would have liked an appendix telling what is fact and what is fiction in the novel, but evidently the author preferred to maintain the pretense that this is a true story.

Merle Hazard, country musician economist

February 9, 2019

Time for a change of pace.  Merle Hazard (not to be confused with the great Merle Haggard) claims to be the world’s leading country musician-economist.  Click on his name for more about him and more selections.  Hat tip to kottke.org.

Read the rest of this entry »

The peril of repealing arms control treaties

February 8, 2019

The danger of all-out nuclear war is two-fold.  One is that a leader of a nuclear-armed nation may launch a first strike in hope that the target nation will not be able to retaliate.  The other is that the leader of a nuclear-armed nation may think another nuclear nation has launched or plans a first strike.

Although neither the American and the Soviet/Russian governments has been willing to give up the option of all-out war, the two governments have over the years made treaties to make all-out war less likely.

But since the dawn of the 21st century, the U.S. government has moved backwards.  President George W. Bush withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002.  President Donald Trump has announced the U.S. will withdraw from the INF (intermediate nuclear force treaty.  There is a possibility that the strategic arms reduction treaty) will not be renewed in 2021.

Arms control treaties can give a false sense of security.  They do not eliminate nuclear weapons, only stabilize them.  But without such treaties, the danger would be much greater than it is.

ABM Treaty.   The anti-ballistic missile treaty was signed by Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev in 1972, after nearly 10 years of negotiation.  The USA and USSR agreed to limit themselves to 200 anti-ballistic missiles—missiles intended to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles—at two sites.. Later this was reduced to 100 ABMs at one site.  Missile defense against short-range and intermediate-range missiles was allowed.  After the breakup of the USSR, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan agreed to abide by the treaty.

The purpose was to preserve the principle of mutual assured destruction, which was considered a guarantee of peace.  If either American or Soviet leaders thought they had a reliable defense system, they might think they could attack the other nation and then be able to repel whatever weapons weren’t destroyed in the attack.

President George W. Bush canceled the treaty in order to place ABM systems in Poland and Romania.  He said such systems were necessary not just to protect against attack by Russia, but by “rogue nations” such as Iran.

There are grave doubts as to whether these ABM systems would work.  Maybe the best outcome would be that Russian leaders will fear that they might work and NATO leaders will fear they won’t work.

INF Treaty.  Negotiations of the intermediate nuclear force treat were begun by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, and completed in 1987 during the George H.W. Bush administration.  The purpose of the treaty was to eliminate Soviet or Russian missiles aimed at European targets and Europe-based missiles aimed at Russia.

The treaty called for a ban on land-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,420 miles).  It did not affect missiles fired from airplanes, ships or submarines, which was to the advantage of the United States, as the leading air power and sea power.  Under the treaty. the U.S. destroyed 346 nuclear weapons and the Soviets destroyed 1,346.

In the early 21st century, Vladimir Putin called for renegotiation of the treaty on the grounds that it did not set limits on other powers, particularly China, with its long land frontier with Russia.  Later Russia reportedly developed and tested an intermediate-range missile, the 9M729, and may have deployed some of them.  Putin claimed that the U.S. ABM system violated the treaty, arguing that nuclear warheads could be fitted on the supposedly defensive missiles.

President Donald Trump announced cancellation of the treaty, based on Russia’s violations.  Critics say that’s what Putin wanted him to do, since it frees Russia from any treaty obligation.

Read the rest of this entry »

How could we accept nuclear doom as an option?

February 7, 2019

A friend of mine responded this way to my review / essay on Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine, which quoted Bertrand Russell as saying that President Kennedy was “mathematically” worse than Hitler because he was willing to put the whole human race at risk during the Cuban missile crisis.

Thanks for this. I lived through that time too.  I guess that my perspective is a little different, although I see Russell’s point.  Kennedy was a cold warrior, among the coldest. And Khrushchev was as well.  

And while Kennedy would not have launched unless launched upon, he inherited the nukes and he had a hard game to play. The darkest devil was Curtis LeMay, Air Force Chief of Staff, who enthusiastically pushed for bombing Cuba.

Thank God Kennedy resisted, because those tactical nukes in Cuba would have been raining down on us and then both sides would have launched the ICBMs, and we wouldn’t be here.

Kennedy created some of this tension with his ridiculous missile gap rhetoric during the presidential debates–there was no missile gap, at least not one that favored the USSR, and he certainly knew it.

Again, thanks for your review. It was a terrible time, and there have been many close calls since that the general public has been mostly unaware of.

I liken Kennedy to someone who lives in a house with a basement filled with TNT.  He was able to resolve the Cuban missile crisis without letting anyone get their hand on the detonator.  But he never considered the possibility of getting rid of the TNT or the detonator.

Kennedy was a cold warrior.  So was Daniel Ellsberg.  So was I for many years after Ellsberg saw the light.  I never understood the justice of Bertrand Russell’s words during his lifetime.

My thinking back then—and I was not alone in this—was that the world faced a choice of two equal evils.  One was nuclear warfare.  The other was the triumph of totalitarianism.  I did not think it was better to be red than dead.  I admired President Kennedy for managing to avoid a victory for totalitarianism without waging war with nuclear weapons.

I came of age reading the literature of anti-totalitarianism—George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.  I thought there was a real possibility that Orwell’s SF dystopia could come true.  I thought that Soviet foreign policy was equivalent to Hitler’s and that conditions in the USSR in the 1960s were equivalent to conditions under the height of Stalin’s Great Terror.

I continued to believe these things long after I was exposed to facts that indicated otherwise.  It is amazing how hard it can be to change an opinion once you’ve committed to it.

I did not know the U.S. military’s secret estimates that nuclear war could result in the deaths of a quarter or more of the human race.  The thought of “omnicide”—the death of all—did not enter my thinking.   Daniel Ellsberg, by the way, does not advocate total nuclear disarmament, at least not to begin with.  He only advocates disarmament to the point where no country has the power to destroy the human race or human civilization.

Read the rest of this entry »

Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine

February 6, 2019

In 1961, the philosopher Bertrand Russell said President John F. Kennedy and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, because of their commitment to nuclear weapons, were worse than Adolf Hitler..

“…Macmillan and Kennedy, through misguided ignorance and deliberate blindness, are pursuing policies which are likely to lead to the extermination of the whole human race,” Russell said.  “Hitler set out to exterminate the Jews.  On a purely statistical basis, Macmillan and Kennedy are 50 times as wicked as Hitler.”

I recently got around to reading Daniel Ellsberg’s 2017 book, THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, which indicates that Russell was basically wright.

Kennedy, like Truman and Eisenhower before him and every President since, was willing to threaten nuclear war.  Ellsberg wrote that this not only could have led to the death of virtually the whole human race, but, on Kennedy’s watch, very nearly did.

I remember the 1950s and the 1960s, and the public’s well-founded fear of nuclear war back then.  The fear has gone away, but the danger hasn’t, as Ellsberg made clear..

The book is in two parts.  The first is a personal history of nuclear policy, leading up to the Cuban missile crisis.  The other is a historical look at how American leaders in World War Two came to regard mass killing of civilian populations as morally acceptable, and how no American leader since then has been willing to give it up.

The Eisenhower administration had a war plan called “massive retaliation.”  That meant that in the case of military conflict with either the USSR or China, the U.S. would implement a plan that called for the nuclear bombing of every town in Russia with a population of more than 25,000, and also every large population center in China.

The Air Force, in response to a query by President Kennedy, estimated that this would result in the deaths of 324 million people in China or Russia through blast and radioactive fallout, which is more than died at the hands of Hitler, Stalin and Mao combined.  It estimated that up to an additional 100 million people in Communist ruled nations in eastern Europe, in allied nations in western Europe and also in neutral nations, depending in which way the wind was blowing.

This amounted to more than 600 million people, a quarter of the human race at that time.

But wait.  There’s more.  The Air Force did not attempt to estimate casualties due to fire.  Nuclear bombing would have set off fire storms that would have made World War Two Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo seem like the victims of children playing with matches. Ellsberg wrote that, if you count direct deaths to fire, a nuclear attack on the Communist bloc would have taken the lives of between one third and one half of humanity.  I can’t get my mind around such an enormity.

All of these estimates were based on a successful U.S. first strike that destroyed the Communist countries so completely that their military would not be able to retaliate.  If that didn’t work, there would have been tens of millions or hundreds of millions of American deaths as well.

Later on certain scientists awoke to the possibility of “nuclear winter”.   Firestorms resulting from a nuclear attack would send so much soot and smoke into the upper atmosphere that they would literally blacken the sky.  The dark layer would be above the clouds, so there would be no rain to wash it down.  It would remain for 10 years or more, making it impossible for plants to grow or for most complex life-forms to survive.

So an all-out nuclear attack could literally be a Doomsday Machine.

Read the rest of this entry »

The ‘deep state’ in the Reagan administration

February 4, 2019

When George H.W. Bush served as Vice President to Ronald Reagan, I was one of those who thought of him as merely a product of the upper crust who was always trying to seem like an average joe, and never quite succeeding.

But, as Seymour Hersh wrote in a recent article in the London Review of Books—

There was another view of Bush: the one held by the military men and civilian professionals who worked for him on national security issues.  Unlike the president, he knew what was going on and how to get things done. For them, Reagan was ‘a dimwit’ who didn’t get it, or even try to get it.  [snip]

George H.W. Bush (AP)

Bush was different: he got it.  At his direction, a team of military operatives was set up that bypassed the national security establishment – including the CIA – and wasn’t answerable to congressional oversight.  It was led by Vice-Admiral Arthur Moreau, a brilliant navy officer who would be known to those on the inside as ‘M’.  [snip]

In May 1983 he was promoted to assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Vessey, and over the next couple of years he oversaw a secret team – operating in part out of the office of Daniel Murphy, Bush’s chief of staff – which quietly conducted at least 35 covert operations against drug trafficking, terrorism and, most important, perceived Soviet expansionism in more than twenty countries, including Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Libya, Senegal, Chad, Algeria, Tunisia, the Congo, Kenya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Vietnam.

Source: London Review of Books

The “Star Wars” missile defense plan was a disinformation campaign, designed to make the Soviet rulers think the United States actually could defend against a nuclear attack.  Nobody on the Joint Chiefs of Staff actually believed it would work, according to Hersh’s informants.

Bush’s team sent out special Marine and Delta Force teams to kill drug lords, Soviet agents and terrorists, based names provided by the  CIA from the files of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Justice Department and National Security Agency—just as the Joint Special Operations Command does today.

President Reagan knew nothing of this.  Neither did CIA Director William Casey, who the team regarded as reckless, uninformed and overly read to talk to the press.  The press itself never caught on.  The only member of Congress who was told was Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyoming.

One of the team’s efforts was an abortive plot to assassinate Libya’ Muammar Qaddafi.  Another was support of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, which was forbidden by Congress.

This is what is meant by a “deep state”—a decision-making center within government that is hidden from the public, not accountable to the public, but greatly affects the public welfare for good ill.

Read the rest of this entry »

A true history of SF’s golden age

February 2, 2019

I just got finished reading ASTOUNDING: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee (2018)

This book is the story of how John W. Campbell Jr., the editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and three writers most closely associated with him, shaped the American mind.  It provides a detailed and objective account of the personalities, relationships and accomplishments of these four figures, both for good and ill.

In 1937, when Campbell became editor of the magazine at the age if 27, popular science fiction was a minor subset of the action-adventure genre.  

His ambition was to make science fiction not only a source of entertainment, but a way of thinking about science and the future.

He was an outstanding editor, full of ideas, able to prod and provoke writers into doing better work than they thought they could.  

He was a second-rate intellect who was outside the literary mainstream, but he punched above his intellectual weight. 

Albert Einstein subscribed to Astounding.  Werner von Braun, in wartime Germany, reportedly took the trouble to obtain copies of the Swedish edition. 

Carl Sagan, Gene Roddenberry, Stephen King, Paul Krugman, Elon Musk, Newt Gingrich and George R.R. Martin all acknowledge Campbell’s influence.

When I visit my local Barnes & Noble bookstore, the space given to science fiction exceeds all other genres combined.

Without Campbell, there still would be adventure stories set against a science fiction background, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars stories, and there still would be literary writers, like H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapleton, who use science fiction themes, but It’s highly unlikely that science fiction would pervade the culture of the English-speaking world as it does today.

The other factor in the growth of science fiction, mentioned only in passing in this book, is science fiction fandom, a distinctive and maybe unique community in which writers and readers can interact and discuss the genre.

As for myself, I never participated in fandom, Astounding Science Fiction magazine and books by Astounding writers were my main source of intellectual stimulation when I was a young teenager.  I have continued to read science fiction all my life, and while I pass over the bulk of it, I find the best science fiction a source of great pleasure and food for thought.

Read the rest of this entry »

The ‘deep state’ plan to remake Latin America

January 31, 2019

Evidently the Trump administration’s demand for regime change in Venezuela was not a spur-of-the-moment decision.

It is part of a long-range plan to remake Latin America, along the lines of the failed plans to remake the Middle East.  Other targets are Cuba and Nicaragua.

At best, this will result in increased misery for millions of people who have never harmed or threatened us Americans, and an increased flow of refugees.

At worst, it will result in all these things, plus an increased Russian and Chinese presence in Latin America.

By ‘deep state,’ I mean all the U.S. military, intelligence and covert action agencies that set their own policies and operate out of sight of the U.S. public.

LINKS

Venezuelan Coup Attempt Part of US Plan to Remake Latin America by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

The Making of Juan Guaidó: US Regime-Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader by Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal for Consortium News.

Sanctions Are Wars Against Peoples by Moon of Alabama.

‘You’re either for us or against us’

January 30, 2019

Every time a U.S. President targets some nation as an enemy, and tries to drag other countries into the conflict, he creates the possibility of a backlash.

“You’re either for us or against us.”  Say that too many times, and the answer is likely to be, “we’re against you.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Why the push for ‘regime change’ in Venezuela?

January 29, 2019

National Security Adviser John Bolton explains U.S. Venezuela policy.

I think I’ve seen this script before.  The unpopular ruler of an oil-rich country cracks down on the opposition.  The U.S. government sees an opportunity and tries to bring about a change in regime.

What can go wrong?  In Iraq, this led to an inconclusive quagmire war in which thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives.  In Libya, it led to the collapse of civil order, leaving Libyans worse off than before.  In Syria, it led to another inconclusive war, benefitting no one.   The chief result of these wars was the European refugee crisis.

Now the U.S. seems to be playing out the same script in Venezuela—doing the same as before and expecting a different result.

The Trump administration has recognized Juan Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly, as the legitimate president of Venezuela, and called for the overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro.  Guaido is indeed the leader, but that’s because the leadership is rotated among the parties, and the Trump administration’s decision happened on his watch.

To support Guaido, the administration has blocked Venezuela’s oil company from collecting revenue from its oil exports.  Instead the money goes into a blocked account until Guaido takes power.

And if he doesn’t?  “All options are on the table.”

As far as I’m concerned, this is a pass-fail test of political leadership.  Only those who oppose intervention are lovers of peace.  So far Bernie Sanders passes this test, as do Democratic Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna, Ilhan Omar and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

Read the rest of this entry »

A sequel to The Three Musketeers

January 25, 2019

TWENTY YEARS AFTER by Alexandre Dumas (1845) is the first sequel to The Three Musketeers.

The Three Musketeers was the first and maybe the best of the swashbuckling action-adventure novels.  I enjoyed it a lot, and I enjoyed this sequel, too.  It would make a highly enjoyable TV miniseries.

The first novel ended with the 20-year-old D’Artagnan being rewarded for her heroism with a commission as lieutenant in the King’s Musketeers.  As this one begins, he is a hardened veteran of 40, somewhat embittered  at never having been promoted further.

Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis XIII are dead.  France is ruled by Cardinal Mazarin, an Italian, and the widowed Queen Anne, a Spaniard,  who is regent for the 10-year-old Louis XIV.

D’Artagnan happens to command a military escort to protect Mazarin from the rebellious Paris mob one night, and Mazarin, impressed by his professionalism, takes the trouble to learn his history.

He asks D’Artagnan to reassemble his team—Aramis, who’s entered the Catholic priesthood; Porthos, who’s married a rich widows; and Athos, who has resumed his life as a high-ranking nobleman.

But D’Artagnan only succeeds in recruiting Porthos.  Unknown to him, Aramis and Athos have joined the Fronde—a coalition of rebellious nobles and commoners united against oppressive taxation and foreign influence.

Mazarin wants them to carry a message to Oliver Cromwell that he will not oppose Cromwell’s overthrow of King Charles I and persecution of Catholics if Cromwell will not support the Fronde or attempt to protect French Protestants.

Also unknown to him, Cromwell’s emissary, Mordaunt, is the son of the evil Lady De Winter, who has sworn vengeance on the musketeers for supervising the execution of his mother for her crimes.

When D’Artagnan and Porthos reach England, they meet Athos and Aramis, who persuade them to change sides. 

D’Artagnan’s idea is that as a soldier, his duty is to obey orders, and that, as a Frenchman, he has no concern with what happens in England.

But Athos convinces him that he has a higher duty, a duty to the idea of royalty, which stands for everything that noble and honorable.  Oliver Cromwell, in this version, is neither; he is suspicious, cunning and ruthless, like a Mafia don.

The four attempt to save King Charles, but D’Artagnan’s various plans are thwarted by Mordaunt, who nearly succeeds in killing the four musketeers as well.

Mazarin is naturally angry at D’Artagnan’s disobedience of orders, but through a combination of force, blackmail and Queen Anne’s influence, he gets a promotion to captain and rewards for all his friends.

Read the rest of this entry »

Addiction, depression and the war on drugs

January 23, 2019

Hat tip to Pete’s Politics and Variety.

Johann Hari is the author of Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (2015) and Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions (2018)

In the first book, he argued that drug addiction is not mainly a chemical dependency; it is an escape from pain and misery.  In the second, he argued that depression is not mainly a result of a chemical imbalance, it is a reaction to pain and misery.

The answer to both addiction and depression, Hari believes, is to enable people to fulfill their basic needs, material and psychological.

Late last year he was in Brazil, promoting the Portuguese-language version of Lost Connections, and did a wide-ranging interview with Glenn Greenwald about addiction, depression and drug policy.

The most interesting part, to me, starts at about the 38 minute mark.  It is about Switzerland’s successful drug legalization policy, which began in 1991.  

In Switzerland, a heroin addict can visit a clinic and get a medically-supervised injection of heroin.  This does not, as I might have thought, lead to an increase in heroin use.  Just the opposite!

The reason is that Switzerland uses the money saved from not enforcing drug laws to help addicts obtain jobs. housing and therapy.  Over time they commonly find they no longer want to escape from reality.

This fits in with the famous “rat park” experiment.  Scientists found that rats in cages prefer heroin to food and water to the point where they literally will die of starvation.  But one scientist decided to create a “rat park,” containing everything that might constitute a good life from a rat’s point of view.  Happy rats had no interest in heroin.

Unfortunately I don’t think such an experiment is feasible in the United States.  The reason is that millions of Americans, maybe a majority of the population, are stressed and fearful.  Many can’t pay their medical bills.  Many are burdened with student debt. Many are losing ground economically.

I think they would be very jealous if the minority of the population who are addicted to drugs are guaranteed jobs, housing and even drugs themselves.  It is actually more practical to make things better for the American public as a whole than for a targeted group, such as addicts.

Read the rest of this entry »

What does the US want all these bases for?

January 21, 2019

Click to enlarge

This map appeared in Smithsonian Magazine’s current issue, and represents a conservative estimate of the extent of U.S. military power.

It shows the U.S. military has a presence in 80 countries.  But Nick Turse, a reporter whose work is published in TomDispatch, was told that the total is really “more than 160” countries.

He said it’s impossible to get an exact number of the bases, the names of the countries in which they are located or even the number of countries in which they’re located.  It wouldn’t surprise me if there is no single individual in the Pentagon who actually has a complete list.

“Because we have been conservative in our estimates, U.S. efforts to combat terrorism abroad are likely more extensive than this map shows,” the Smithsonian writers stated.  “Even so, the vast reach evident here may prompt Americans to ask whether the war on terror has met its goals and whether they are worth the human and financial costs.”

The question is just what those goals are.  Is the worldwide network of bases intended to wage war on terror, or is the war on terror a means to the goal of creating a worldwide network of bases?  Do they make the U.S. more secure, or more likely to be drawn into foreign conflict?

While the U.S. is building bases worldwide at the expense of the American taxpayer, China is building infrastructure throughout Africa and Asia by means of loans to be paid back by the host country.

LINKS

This Map Shows Where in the World the U.S. Military Is Combatting Terrorism by Stephanie Savell and SW Infographics for Smithsonian Magazine.

Bases, Bases Everywhere….Except in the Pentagon’s Report by Nick Turse for TomDispatch.

Has the Government Legalized Secret Defense Spending? by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Why the U.S. shouldn’t build any more foreign bases by Akhilesh Pillalamarri for Defense News.

A giant floating ice disk forms in Maine

January 19, 2019

This video, taken last weekend, shows a massive spinning ice disk in the Presumptscot River near Westbrook, Maine, which is just west of Portland.  Local residents say it is 100 yards across, which would make it possibly the largest such ice disk on record.  Wonders never cease.

Click on A Massive Naturally Occurring Ice Carousel by Jason Kottke for more information.

Why I’ve given up watching network TV news

January 18, 2019

Hat tip to the Jimmy Dore Show.

I recommend you view this in the enlarged version, if you can’t see the dates of the various short clips in the upper right corner of the screen.

 I’m not a supporter of President Trump, but this is ridiculous..

A closer look at Tulsi Gabbard’s war on terror

January 17, 2019

After the 9/11 attacks, almost the whole world proclaimed its solidarity with the United States, including leading Muslim clerics and pro-US sympathizers in Iran.

This would have been a great opportunity for the United States to lead the world in suppressing Al Qaeda and other jihadist terrorists.

 Instead the George W. Bush administration chose to use the “war on terror” as an excuse to invade Iraq.  The Obama administration actually armed jihadist terrorists to overthrow the governments of Libya and Syria.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii and a long-shot candidate for President, wants to replace the bogus war on terror with a real war on terror.

After serving with the U.S. military in Iraq, she concluded that intervention was a mistake.  She opposed “regime change” proxy wars against Libya and Syria.  She courageously questioned the official narrative about chemical weapons in Syria.

After some misgivings, she endorsed the nuclear deal with Iran.  She opposes U.S. support for the Saudi war on Yemen.

She is not a peace candidate.  She just wants to replace the bogus war on terror with a real one.

She has praised President Assad of Syria for fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Nusra (successors to Al Qaeda) fighters.  She has praised President el-Sisi of Egypt for suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood.  She is aligned with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, a radical authoritarian anti-Muslim nationalist.

She favors drone warfare and continued Special Operations missions against terrorists.  She has said that the root of terrorism is in “radical Islam” and criticized President Obama for his refusal to use that word.

The Al Qaeda terrorists were in fact members of an extremist Muslim sect, the Wahhabis or Salafists, who are the established religion of Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis have promoted their version of Islam all over the world, especially in Pakistan.

This is true, but it is not the whole truth.  Just being an extreme Muslim authoritarian doesn’t make you a terrorist.  The reason terrorism has cut an appeal is the U.S. military presence in so many majority-Muslim lands, U.S. manipulation of so many majority-Muslim governments and the death and destruction caused by U.S. forces in so many Muslim lands.

U.S. policy serves the interests of Saudi Arabia more than it does Americans.  That’s because of a long-standing deal, going back to the 1970s, in which the Saudis agree to guarantee an oil supply, buy U.S. weapons and keep the oil profits in dollars in return for U.S. military support.

Gabbard is right to oppose wars to serve Saudi interests.  Her policy would be an improvement over Trump’s, Obama’s and George W. Bush’s.  She is not a peace candidate, but right now she is closer to being one than any of other candidates I know about.

At the same time, her policy is compatible with maintaining the Pentagon budget and the military contractor establishment in all its bloated glory.

Killing terrorists, in and of itself, won’t end terrorism, any more than killing drug dealers will end drug addiction.

LINKS

Tulsi Gabbard Wikipedia page.

Tulsi Gabbard and the Great Foreign Policy Realignment by James P. Pinkerton for The American Conservative.

Tulsi Gabbard, controversial 2020 Democratic candidate, explained by Zack Beauchamp for Vox.

Tulsi Gabbard Is Not Your Friend by Branko Marcetic for Jacobin.

Yes, Tulsi Gabbard Opposed the Iran Deal by Branko Marcetic for Jacobin [Added 1/19/2019]

Maybe the shutdown is a goal, not a tactic

January 17, 2019

I criticized President Trump in a previous post for being willing to close down the government and possibly declaring a national emergency in order to get his way on building fences along the southern border.

But maybe I’ve got things backwards.  Maybe the goal is not to build more border fence, but to shut down the government and declare a national emergency.  This increases his power and frees him from constitutional checks and balances.

I’m not saying this is his plan.  I’m saying his actions are consistent with him having such a plan.

His administration has ordered tens of thousands of federal employees to work without pay, which from his point of view is an ideal situation.  It shifts the cost of the shutdown onto others and shelters him from the political consequences of his nation.

Right-wing plutocrats don’t care about government employees and they don’t care whether the government is well-administered or not.  They regard government regulations as a nuisance and government services as unnecessary.

If government fails to work under their watch, they can say that this just proves that government is a failure.

This also was the attitude of President George W. Bush to some extent.  One thing you can say for President Obama is that he appointed highly qualified people to top administrative positions, and that he was concerned that the government work.

Civil servants don’t advertise.  We the citizens don’t appreciate or even know all the ways we depend on them quietly doing their jobs.  We scorn public service at our peril.

LINKS

The Government Shutdown Is Bad, But It Could Get Much Worse by Bloomberg News.

A Shutdown for the 99 Percent, Concierge Government for the 1 Percent by Eoin Higgins for The Intercept.

Inside Trump’s Cruel Campaign Against the U.S.D.A.’s Scientists by Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair.

Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming From the White House by Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair.