Hitler lost WW2 because he ran out of gas

July 12, 2019

I came across an interesting history video that explains how access to oil was Adolf Hitler’s main goal in World War Two, how it determined his strategy and why his failure to achieve that goal doomed Nazi Germany to defeat.

It provides good food for thought, both about history and today’s geopolitics.  Here is an outline of what it said.

Adolf Hitler believed that Germany could not be a powerful or even an independent nation so long as it depended on imports for food and energy.  His long-range goal was to acquire the farmland of Ukraine and the oil of the Caucasus for Germany.

Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 was a step toward that goal.  If Britain hadn’t declared war on Germany in 1939 or had agreed to a truce in 1940 or 1941, he might have succeeded.

The United States during that period produced 70 percent of the world’s oil.  Most of the rest came from the USSR and Venezuela.  Even after Germany conquered most of Europe, including the oil fields of Rumania, the British blockade remained in place.  Germany was cut off from the oil of the USA and Venezuela and the USSR did not supply enough to meet its requirements.

Germany’s blitzkrieg strategy depended on tanks and other motorized vehicles operating on a broad front.  But Germany lacked enough oil of its own to conduct long campaigns.

The German army “demotorized” in order to provide enough fuel for the tanks.  It used horse-drawn vehicles to move supplies.  Messengers rode bicycles rather than motorcycles.  It also used an expensive process to synthesize oil from coal, even though coal supplies also were limited.

This meant Germany had a limited time in which to invade Soviet Russia and obtain the oil it needed.   Otherwise it would run short of the fuel needed to power its tanks and trucks.

That is why Hitler did not plan for a long campaign, and why he wanted his generals to concentrate on the Caucasus rather than Leningrad and Moscow.

The 1941 invasion failed.  After that Germany had one last chance of victory—by using what fuel reserves it had in 1942 to make one last stab at Maikup and Grozny in the Caucasus while conquering Stalingrad so the Soviets could not transport oil up the Volga River from refineries in Baku.

Lack of fuel was why Hitler ordered troops to stand fast and hold the line at all costs rather than allowing his generals to engage in a war of maneuver.

If the Nazis had succeeded, Russia would have been cut off from both the oil of the Caucasus and the Ukraine breadbasket.  Soviet forces would have been hard put to find the means to keep on fighting in 1943 and 1944.

But the Nazis failed.  From then on, Germany’s only goal in fighting was to prolong the war in hope of a negotiated peace.

All this shows that while Hitler was evil, he was not a madman—at least not where military strategy was concerned.  He understood strategy better than his generals.

It also shows the British blockade and American oil were as important to victory as the actual fighting by the Red Army.  If Winston Churchill had not become Prime Minister in 1940, Britain might have made a separate peace with Germany, and the German army would have had the fuel it needed to blitzkrieg Russia.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to undo legislative gerrymandering?

July 9, 2019

Click to enlarge.

It’s not an accident that Democrats won a majority of votes for state assemblies in Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, but Republicans won a majority of the legislative seats.

It’s because legislative districts were intentionally drawn by Republican state legislatures to give Republicans an advantage.  You can comply with the Supreme Court’s “one man, one vote” ruling and create legislative districts with equal population, and still draw the lines so as to give one party an advantage.

Click to enlarge

Both parties have done this through American history.  The word “gerrymander” comes from Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, whose party, the Democratic-Republicans (forerunner of today’s Democrats), drew up a strangely-shaped state senate district in 1812 to dilute the voters of the rival Federalists.

But Republicans during the last round of redistricting after the 2010 census used big data and computer analysis to lock in their control of legislatures in key states.  Democrats would have to do much more than win a majority of the votes to take back control.

They complained to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court turned them down, in a 5-4 decision.  Chief Justice John Roberts said the court can’t take up the burden of drawing legislative district boundaries for the states.

But Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that there is an accepted procedure for doing just this.  It consists of having a computer process draw up many different maps of legislative districts of equal population that are geographically compact and respectful of existing boundaries, and then allowing the state legislature to choose one of them.

If the state and federal courts do not do something about gerrymandering, who will?  State legislatures elected in gerrymandered district are unlikely to change the system that put them in power.  Congress? State legislatures draw congressional district boundaries, too.

But the fact is that the Supreme Court is not going to change its decision until and unless a new justice is appointed and maybe not even then.

What remains for Democrats is to try to get a large enough vote to offset a rigged system.  Or propose amendments to state constitutions to set up a fair process for drawing legislative districts.

LINK

Chief Justice Roberts OKs Minority Rule by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.  Hat tip to him for the chart.

Capitalism without a working class

July 9, 2019

Karl Marx and other socialists believed that capitalism depended on exploitation of workers, and that workers could liberate themselves by taking control of the means of production.

But the driving force in capitalism today is to eliminate workers as much as possible.  Manufacturing jobs are being eliminated through automation.  Now service jobs are being eliminated through use of artificial intelligence.

The end result would be a capitalism without workers—just investment in capital goods such as robots and AIs.

I don’t say this would ever happen completely, and it wouldn’t happen any time soon, but this is the direction we’re heading.

Treating people as unnecessary, and telling them that they are unnecessary, is wrong and very dangerous.

Almost everyone has it in them to do something that is useful and beneficial to others.  An economic system should be set up to honor and encourage this.  Investing in machines rather than investing in people is a choice, not a law of nature.

Read the rest of this entry »

When is it okay to beat up journalists?

July 8, 2019

Civilization is not so stable that it cannot be broken up; and a condition of lawless violence is not one out of which any good thing is likely to emerge.  For this reason, if for no other, revolutionary violence in a democracy is infinitely dangerous.

==Bertrand Russell in 1920

Andy Ngo is a photojournalist in Portland, Oregon, who tries to document the claim that the “anti-fa” left engages in unprovoked violence.

The “anti-fa” movement had responded to his charges by breaking his equipment and beating him up, the last time seriously enough to send him a hospital emergency room.

The background is political demonstrations organized by two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, known for engaging in street fighting and trying to provoke retaliation by leftists.  The response by liberals and progressives in the Portland area was to organize much larger counter-demonstrations in reply, which is an effective response.

Andy Ngo after beating

The “anti-fa” movement goes further.  They say it is necessary to meet street violence with violence.  They also say that any fascist – they get to decide who is a fascist – is a legitimate target.

A certain number of self-identified liberals and progressives have written excuses and justifications for “anti-fa” and Ngo’s beating, which is what moves me to write about it.  Otherwise I might have thought of all this as an isolated incident.

Here are some of the arguments:

  • Andy Ngo was looking for trouble and wanted to portray himself as a victim of violence.  If that is so, why give him what he wanted?
  • The reports of Ngo’s beating diverts attention from the real issue, which is that right-wing violence is a worse threat than left-wing violence.  Why can’t you be against both?
  • The “anti-fa” movement hasn’t actually murdered anyone yet.  Good thing Andy Ngo didn’t die of his injuries, then.  The “anti-fa” movement might have been justly criticized.
  • Nobody knows for sure who beat up Andy Ngo.  Supposedly it could have been anyone.  Would that argument be made if some left-wing photojournalist was beaten up after filming right-wing street fighters?

In an earlier era, there were street fighters who called themselves the “black bloc” who’d join peaceful demonstrations and then start breaking windows, overturning cars and so. Like the “anti-fa’ fighters, they wore black clothing and black hooded masks.

They called this as “diversity of tactics.”  The idea is that you do your thing (peaceful protest) and they’ll do their thing (vandalism and street fighting).  The problem with that is that if there is a political demonstration in which the vast majority are peaceful and law-abiding and a few break window or throw bricks at police, it is the window-breakers and brick-throwers that will be remembered, not the majority.

This is very different from the miners’ strikes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where gun-carrying union members fought virtual wars with corporate mercenaries, National Guard troops and sometimes federal troops.  The right to self-defense is a fundamental right.

The “anti-fa” fighters could provide a valuable service if they acted as a security service for peaceful leftists, as they did during the Unite the Right protests in  Charlottesville., Va., in 2017.

That’s different from denying that there are certain rights, such as freedom of speech, that apply equally to all—the basic principles of liberalism.

If the self-identified left fights the self-identified right with physical force and violence, it will lose.  In the United States today, it is the self-identified right that is better armed, is more willing and able to use lethal force and has more sympathizers in the police and military.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Mueller Report is full of holes

July 6, 2019

Robert Mueller

Aaron Maté pointed out yesterday that the Mueller Report doesn’t actually present evidence that the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails or that it furnished them to WikiLeaks.

He is a journalist who has done some of the best reporting on the Russiagate investigation, simply by reading all the material and separating what’s been proved from what’s merely been alleged.

Democrats are making a mistake if they count on Russiagate as the key to victory in 2020.  It’s likely to blow up in their faces if they do

Maté noted that:

  • The report uses qualified and vague language to describe key events, indicating that Mueller and his investigators do not actually know for certain whether Russian intelligence officers stole Democratic Party emails, or how those emails were transferred to WikiLeaks.
  • The report’s timeline of events appears to defy logic.  According to its narrative, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange announced the publication of Democratic Party emails not only before he received the documents but before he even communicated with the source that [supposedly] provided them.
  • There is strong reason to doubt Mueller’s suggestion that an alleged Russian cutout called Guccifer 2.0 supplied the stolen emails to Assange.  Mueller’s decision not to interview Assange – a central figure who claims Russia was not behind the hack – suggests an unwillingness to explore avenues of evidence on fundamental questions.
  • U.S. intelligence officials cannot make definitive conclusions about the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computer servers because they did not analyze those servers themselves. Instead, they relied on the forensics of CrowdStrike, a private contractor for the DNC that was not a neutral party, much as “Russian dossier” compiler Christopher Steele, also a DNC contractor, was not a neutral party.  
  • This puts two Democrat-hired contractors squarely behind underlying allegations in the affair – a key circumstance that Mueller ignores.
  • Further, the government allowed CrowdStrike and the Democratic Party’s legal counsel to submit redacted records, meaning CrowdStrike and not the government decided what could be revealed or not regarding evidence of hacking. Mueller’s report conspicuously does not allege that the Russian government carried out the social media campaign. Instead it blames, as Mueller said in his closing remarks, “a private Russian entity” known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).
  • Mueller also falls far short of proving that the Russian social campaign was sophisticated, or even more than minimally related to the 2016 election.  As with the collusion and Russian hacking allegations, Democratic officials had a central and overlooked hand in generating the alarm about Russian social media activity.
  • John Brennan, then director of the CIA, played a seminal and overlooked role in all facets of what became Mueller’s investigation: the suspicions that triggered the initial collusion probe; the allegations of Russian interference; and the intelligence assessment that purported to validate the interference allegations that Brennan himself helped generate.  Yet Brennan has since revealed himself to be, like CrowdStrike and Steele, hardly a neutral party — in fact a partisan with a deep animus toward Trump.

Read the rest of this entry »

How many times can you fold a piece of paper?

July 6, 2019

Hat tip to kottke.org.

It’s said that you can’t fold a piece of paper in half more than eight times.

High school student Britney Gallivan proved this wrong back in 2002.

To see how remarkable her achievement was, take a look at a brute-force approach to the problem below.

Read the rest of this entry »

How George Washington crossed the Delaware

July 4, 2019

If General George Washington had not led American troops across the Delaware River on Christmas, 1776, and defeated Hessian troops in Trenton, American secession from the British Empire probably would have failed, and the United States would not have become an independent nation when and how it did.

I recently finished reading Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer, which tells the story of that victory— how it was achieved, what came after and why it mattered.

By describing events in fine-grained detail, drawing in letter, diaries and reminiscences of many individuals on both sides, he drew a vivid picture of what it was like to fight in that era, and also showed how differently the two sides viewed the war.

Fischer’s history begins with the British driving the Continental Army out of New York City in the summer of 1776, and then winning victory after victory until they occupied all of New jersey.  He ends with the turning of the tide in a way that showed how Americans would win ultimate victory.

In grade school, I was taught to think of the British redcoats as fools, who marched in formation while Virginia and Pennsylvania riflemen picked them off from behind trees and stone walls.

The fact was that the British troops who occupied New York City in the summer of 1776 were veterans of regiments who, a short time before, had won battles in every continent in the Seven Years War against the French Empire.  They were backed up by the British fleet , which commanded not only the high seas, but the waters around Manhattan island.

They out-fought and out-maneuvered the inexperienced American troops, driving Washington’s troops out of New York and south through New Jersey.

By Christmas, the British and their Hessian allies had every reason to think they had all but won.   Washington’s desperate plan to attack across the Delaware River involved coordinated crossings at three different locations.   Two of the crossings failed.  Washington failed to make his crossing on schedule or as planned, but he pressed on to the attack anyway.

He pressed on and won.  As a schoolboy, I also was taught that he caught the Hessian garrison hung over from a drunken Christmas Eve party the night before.  Not so!  The Hessians were tough and well-disciplined troops who put up a brave fight, but were defeated in the end.

Fischer gives a powerful account of what it was like fight in those days, marching and pushing wagons through knee-deep mud and freezing rain, and fighting on despite hunger, exhaustion and lack of adequate shoes or clothing.  I can’t even imagine what it would be like to march through mud that was literally knee-deep or worse.

Read the rest of this entry »

The painting of Washington crossing the Delaware

July 4, 2019

Washington crossing the Delaware.  Please click to enlarge.

A German-American painter named Emanuel Leutze made his famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware in 1850 to encourage freedom-loving Germans after the defeat of democratic revolutions in 1848.

The original remained in Germany and did not survive World War Two, but Leutze made a copy that survives today in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Although the accuracy of some details has been question, historian David Hackett Fischer, in his book, Washington’s Crossing, gives Leutze credit for showing what a great feat it was to cross the Delaware River on Christmas Day, 1776.

The crossing succeeded partly for the same reason that General MacArthur’s Inchon landing succeeded during the Korean Conflict.  It was so difficult a feat that the enemy didn’t consider it as a possibility.

Fischer also gave Leutze credit for recognizing the diversity and individuality of the American troops.  Here is Fischer’s description.

Washington’s small boat is crowded with thirteen men …

One man wears the short tarpaulin jacket of a New England seaman; we look again and discover that he is of African descent.  

Another is a recent Scottish immigrant, still wearing his Balmoral bonnet.  

A third is an androgynous figure in a loose red shirt, maybe a woman in man’s clothing, pulling at an oar.

At the bow and stern are hard-faced western riflemen in hunting shirts and deerskin leggings.  

Huddled beneath the thwarts are farmers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey in blanket coats and broad-brimmed hats.  One carries a countryman’s double-barreled shotgun.  The other looks very ill and his head in swathed in a bandage.

A solider beside them is in full uniform, a rarity in this army; he wears the blue coat and red facings of Haslet’s Delaware Regiment.

Another figure bears a boat cloak and an oiled hat that a prosperous Baltimore merchant might have used on a West Indian voyage; his sleeve reveals the facings of Smallwood’s silk-stocking Maryland Regiment.

Hidden behind them is a mysterious thirteenth man.  Only his weapon is visible; one wonders who he might have been.

The dominant figures in the painting are two gentlemen of Virginia who stand tall above the rest.  

One of them is Lieutenant James Monroe, holding a big American flag upright against the storm.  

The other is Washington in his Continental uniform of buff and blue.  He holds a brass telescope and wears a heavy saber, symbolic of a statesman’s vision and a soldier’s strength.

The artist intends us to see each of these soldiers as an individual, but he also reminds us that they are all in the same boat, working desperately together against the wind and the current.

The greatness of George Washington was that he could forge an Army out of such diverse origins, and defeat the hardened British and Hessian professional soldiers.  The greatness of Americans in that era was that we could bury our differences and unite in a common cause.

Americans today are even more diverse that we were then.  But we’re still all in the same boat.

How to de-partisanize the Supreme Court

July 3, 2019

Nowadays appointments to the Supreme Court are a continuation of partisan politics by other means.

The major political issues of our time are fought out in lawsuits as much as they are in legislative debates or elections.   Maybe this was always true, but it seems to me that stacking the court is being done with much more awareness nowadays than in recent memory.

Self-described liberals do it.  Self-described conservatives do it.  Partisan judicial appointments have several bad effects.

It often happens that several Supreme Court justices reach retirement age during one Presidential term.  It means that President has a greater power than others to stamp his political ideas on the judicial system.

It gives a President an incentive to appoint relatively younger and less experienced judges to the Supreme Court because they will serve longer.  It gives aging and infirm justices an incentive to keep themselves on the bench until a President of their own political faction is appointed.

I propose the following Constitutional amendment to achieve a better political balance on the court.

Each President would have the power to make one, but no more than one, Supreme Court appointment during each two-year term of Congress, with the consent of the Senate.

The new Justice would be sworn in at the end of that term of Congress.

If there were no vacancies on the court, the sitting Justice who’d served the longest would retire.  

If there were more than one vacancy, the additional vacancies would be filled during the next term or terms of Congress.

What this would mean that each President and each Congress would have equal power to make a Supreme Court appointment once every two years.

This would not mean an end of partisanship, but it would mean a better balance.  It would mean that change in the makeup of the Supreme Court would take place over a long period of time and not all at once.

A Mitch McConnell might be able to stymie Supreme Court appointments during one term, but would not get power to make extra appointments during the next term.

The normal term of office of a Supreme Court justice would be 18 years.  That’s a reasonable length of time, but most Justices would be able to retire while in good mental and physical condition.

The fact that vacancies on the court would not always be filled promptly would be inconvenient. but the court has sat with fewer than nine Justices inn the past.

I don’t think there is any chance of such a proposal being adopted at the present time.  But if and when the two parties decide to call a truce, this would be a way to implement it.

A novel set in Renaissance Florence and Hell

June 29, 2019

Jo Walton’s LENT (2019) is a historical fantasy novel set partly in Renaissance Florence and party in Hell.

The protagonist is the Dominican monk, Girolamo Savonarola, who attempted a moral and spiritual revolution in Florence in the 1490s, but was burned at the stake for heresy.

Walton’s novel is partly an attempt to rehabilitate Savonarola’s reputation.  He is remembered as a religious fanatic who organized a Bonfire of the Vanities, in which the population of Florence consigned everything to the flames that was frivolous and distracted them from God.

But she shows him as a Renaissance humanist, a close friend of Pico della Mirandola, and a sincere religious  reformer, although not, as sometimes depicted, a forerunner of Protestantism.

The novel begins in 1492 with Savonarola exorcising demons, which in the novel are all too real, and then visiting Lorenzo the Magnificent on his deathbed, where he is given a mysterious talisman.  It follows his life to 1498, when he is tortured and killed, and learns that he is a damned soul in Hell, condemned to eternally repeat his life.

He returns to 1492 again and again, trying to make his life turn out better for himself and for Florence.  The novel reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day” and of Ken Grimwood’s SF novel Replay.

The novel is based on an original and interesting premise, which is well-executed.  I’m not sure why I don’t like it better than I do.  Maybe it’s because the cruelty and terror of Hell and the Inquisition are so much in the foreground that they detract from the glories of the Renaissance.

Read the rest of this entry »

A ranking of countries by civic honesty

June 28, 2019

Click to enlarge.

To gauge the honesty of people in different nations, social scientists turned in 17,003 “lost” wallets to people in charge in various public businesses and institutions in 355 cities in 40 countries around the globe, and recorded how many of the wallets were actually returned.

Click to enlarge

One surprising result was that there was a higher rate of return with wallets containing a small amount of  money ($13.46) than of empty wallets, except in Mexico and Peru.

In three countries, the United States, the United Kingdom and Poland, they also left wallets with a larger sum ($94.15),  There was an even higher rate of return for wallets with big money than just a little money.

This is contrary to what both experts and non-experts predicted.

Researchers thought that people made an extra effort when money was involved in order to avoid thinking of themselves as thieves.

Switzerland had the highest rate of return for empty wallets and Denmark for wallets with money in them.  European countries overall, including Russia, got high marks for honesty.

China had the lowest rate of return for empty wallets and Peru for wallets with money.  I am disappointed that the United States is so far down on the list.

LINKS

Humans are surprisingly honest when it comes to returning lost wallets by Katherine J. Wu for PSB NOVA.

Civic honesty around the globe by Alain Cohn, Michel Andre Marechal, David Tannenbaum and Christian Lukas Zond for Science.

Read the rest of this entry »

Gender, race and the 2016 psychodrama

June 26, 2019

I recently read a collection of essays entitled NASTY WOMEN AND BAD HOMBRES: Gender and Race in the 2016 US Presidential Election edited by Christine A. Kray, Tamar W. Carroll and Hinda Mendell (2018).

The question the book seeks to answer is how such an ignorant and misogynistic man such as Donald Trump could have defeated such an intelligent and well-qualified woman as Hillary Clinton.

The answers are sought in rhetoric, psychology and popular culture, not public policy. Clinton and Trump are treated as symbols, not as individuals with public records.  The election is treated as a psychodrama, not as a struggle for power.

The common theme was the need to overcome prevailing male attitudes toward women (“the patriarchy”) and prevailing white attitudes toward people of color (“white supremacy”).

I have reservations about this approach, which I’ll get to in due course..  But I first want to acknowledge the book’s merits.

One chapter discussed the obscene and vicious abuse directed at Hillary Clinton based on her gender, in the form of postcards, posters and Internet memes.  She was caricatured as a witch, a Medusa, a hag, a lesbian and a transgender man.  Unlike with Trump and Bernie Sanders, her age was held against her; she was depicted as a hag.  No human being should be subjected to this.

This unfortunately is not unusual nowadays for women who successfully compete with men.  They are subject to harassment via the Internet, up to and including threats of rape and death..

Donald Trump got his share of abuse, too—for example the widespread meme, including a video distributed by the New York Times, showing Trump and Vladimir Putin as gay lovers—the unstated assumption being that gays are weak and disgusting.

But I don’t think Trump, Sanders or any other male candidate was subjected to anything comparable to what Clinton had to endure because of her sex, and that Barack Obama had to endure because of his race.

I’d be interested about the experience of conservative woman in politics, such as Sarah Palin and Nikki Haley,  Do they get the same level of vicious and obscene abuse as white women?  My guess is, probably not, but I don’t know.

Another of the essays was about images of the women’s suffrage movement of a century ago.  The suffragists were mocked for presuming to assume male roles.  The mockery was extremely condescending, but it wasn’t threatening or obscene.

Is the viciousness of attacks on women nowadays due to a lowering of standards of public discourse?  Or do anti-feminist men today feel more threatened than than anti-suffragist men did back then?

But then there also are women, quoted in another chapter, who think that Hillary Clinton does not behave as a woman should.  Many of these same women excused Donald Trump’s bad behavior.

Indeed, the 2016 Presidential campaign illustrated the double standard for personal morality for men and women.  It is not just that Hillary Clinton could not have gotten away with trash-talking like Donald Trump.  Neither she or any of the current crop of female Presidential candidates could have been forgiven for infidelity in their marriages, as Bill Clinton and Donald Trump have been.

Various writers highlighted this double standard and speculated as to the cultural and psychological reasons why it exists.  Others dealt with a range of topics, from the myth of immigrant crime to religious freedom for Muslims.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rev. Dr. Thandeka on white privilege

June 24, 2019

In colonial Virginia, there was a law that white indentured servants could not be stripped naked and whipped.  They could be whipped while fully clothed, but only black servants and slaves could be whipped naked.  So the white servants enjoyed “white privilege.”

Rev. Dr. Thandeka

The Rev. Dr. Thandeka, a Unitarian Universalist theologian, says this is an example of how the idea of “white privilege” is used to persuade white people to accept being exploited and abused.

She wrote a series of posts (linked below) on her web log about how the idea of white privilege has been used through American history to divide poor black and white people and maintain the status quo.

She questioned the value of mainstream Christian churches trying to promote racial equality by means of instilling white guilt.  As an alternative, she proposed certain spiritual practices to help people of all colors better understand their common humanity.

I think she’s basically right.  Her analysis is considerably oversimplified, but when you’re stating your case in just a few paragraphs, you can’t always make fine distinctions.   I think her main points are important and true, and deserve to be more widely discussed.

The name Thandeka, which means “beloved” in the Xhosa language, was given her by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in 1984.

Read the rest of this entry »

How many new immigrants can the USA welcome?

June 21, 2019

I don’t think the number of immigrants into the United States should be unlimited.

I don’t think the number of immigrants into the United States should be zero.

But how many should we admit?  I don’t have a good answer.

I don’t believe in open borders because there is a limit to the number of newcomers any nation can absorb and avoid breakdown.

The economist Milton Friedman said that it is impossible for a nation to have both open borders and a generous welfare state, because needy immigrants will overburden any social safety net.

Friedman opposed the welfare state.  He favored open borders.

Then, too, there is a limit to how many newcomers a nation can absorb in any period of time.

We saw this in Germany’s refugee crisis in 2015 when a million immigrants, mainly from Iraq and Syria, poured into the country.  Germany weathered the storm, but it put a big strain on Germany society and European unity.

If climate catastrophe unfolds as many predict, there may be tens of millions of desperate would-be immigrants fleeing drought, floods, tidal waves and devastating storms and fires.

Every one of them would be just as valuable in the cosmic scheme of things (or, if you will, in the eye of God) as I am and my loved ones are.  But is American society resilient enough to give them refuge?  I’d like to think so, but I doubt it.

But neither to I favor closed borders.

The birth rate of native-born American citizens is below the replacement rate.  This means the retirement-age population is going to increase and the working-age population is going to shrink.

If the USA is to support its future old folks, such as me, it needs either an increase in economic productivity much greater than the current rate or immigration to increase the work force.

The main potential sources of immigrants are countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  A highly-skilled, well-educated person from Haiti or Nigeria might well seek a better life in the USA, but the person’s counterpart in Norway would have no reason to leave their enlightened, prosperous country.  These days Norway is a destination for immigrants, not a source of immigration.

In addition, we Americans have a moral obligation to admit a certain number of the refugees who have been driven from their homes by wars our government has instigated or dictators our government has supported.

I don’t think the United States has the capacity to absorb all the refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Central America.  A better way to repair the damage would be to help governments of those countries rebuild so that refugees could return to their homelands, if that were possible.

At a bare minimum, we should admit people whose lives are in danger because they were employed by the U.S. armed forces or fought on the same side.

Read the rest of this entry »

At last, the House stands against undeclared war

June 20, 2019

The House of Representatives yesterday voted to deny President Trump the power to start an undeclared shooting war with Iran.

The House voted, 226-203, to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) resolution of 2001, which was intended to authorize military action against Al Qaeda, but has since been used to justify military interventions that have nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

The House vote was on an amendment to the $1 trillion military appropriations bill a $1 trillion military appropriations bill that included an amendment repealing the AUMF.  It was a strict party-line vote, with all but seven Democrats all in favor and Republicans all opposed.

It will now go to the Republican-controlled Senate.  It’s likely the Senate will remove the amendment; if so, there would have to be some sort of reconciliation process before the appropriation bill became law.

I don’t think the anti-war cause is hopeless.  A number of Republican Senators have misgivings about undeclared war.  The Senate passed a resolution with bipartisan support to deny U.S. funding for Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen, but this was vetoed by President Trump.

Repeal of the AUMF wouldn’t be a total solution to the problem.  It wouldn’t prevent covert war and economic war.  There were reports of a big explosion earlier this month at an Iranian oil storage facility, which may have been sabotage.

The Iranian government has said that if Iran is prevented from shipping oil through the Strait of Hormuz, nobody else will be able to ship either.  That’s a credible threat, and would be disastrous to the world economy if carried out.

The House vote is an important first step in Congress reasserting its Constitutional war powers authority and heading off a war with Iran.  It is, however, only a first step.

LINKS

House votes to repeal Authorization for Use of Military Force while Trump reportedly urges representatives to tone down rhetoric on Iran by Tim O’Donnell for The Week.

Iran Tensions: House votes to repeal 9/11 era law used to authorize perpetual war by Tara Golshan for Vox.

Explosions Rock Iran’s Largest Port As Oil Products Catch Fire by Julianne Geiger for OilPrice.com

Declassified: The Sino-Russian Masterplan to End U.S. Dominance in Middle East by Yossef Bodanksy for OilPrice.com.

Why Would Iran Attack Tankers? by Ian Welsh.

Read the rest of this entry »

Neal Stephenson’s vision of a secular afterlife

June 19, 2019

The idea of uploading a copy of your brain into a computer and living forever is well-established in science fiction.  Some Silicon Valley scientists and entrepreneurs are coming to think they can do it in reality.

Neal Stephenson’s new novel. FALL, or, Dodge in Hell is the closest thing I expect to see of a plausible thought experiment as to what such immortality would be like and what it would take to make it real.

Although I don’t think this is Stephenson’s intention, it reinforces my belief that I wouldn’t want to live in such a world, even in the highly unlikely event that this were possible.

The novel begins with the unexpected death of Richard “Dodge” Forthrast, the billionaire founder and CEO of a fantasy role-playing game empire.  Due to a provision of his will that he probably forgot about, his brain is scanned and the data stored or later uploading.

Over the next 17 years, the Forthrast family joins forces with El (for Elmo) Shepherd, the developer of the scanning technology, to create the world’s largest data base to be a matrix for Dodge’s consciousness.

Dodge is activated as a disembodied consciousness with no memory of his previous life and no awareness of anything beyond “I think, therefore I am.”

Gradually, he evolves.  Through mental activity alone, he, like a god, is able to impose order on chaos.  The first thing he creates is the image of an autumn leaf, one of the last things he thought about before his death.

Slowly he forms a whole world with an “up” and a “down,” with a ground surface at the bottom and a sky above.  As he becomes aware of other entities entering his world, he gives himself a physical form, something like a bat-winged demon, with a skin to separate himself from the rest of his environment.

He is aided by a second entity in his world named Spring.  She does not embody herself, but gives the trees, the birds and the bees and Dodge’s other creations the attributes of living beings, rather than mere scenery.

The earliest immigrants into Bitworld are members of the Forthrast family and their hangers-on.  They also have special powers.  They are called the Pantheon.  Later ones are the product of full-body scans, not just brain scans, and are limited to the human form and human powers.

The Bitworld population has no memory of a previous existence, which is a good thing, because their memory of the wondrous actual world would make them unhappy.

Bitworld is much like the world of a fantasy role-playing game, with overlays of Greek and Norse mythology.  Dodge is a Zeus, complete with a warehouse full of thunderbolts, with god-like powers but lacking god-like wisdom.

The saving grace is that the souls in Bitworld have the possibility of a second and final death.  They are not condemned to having to do the same things over and over for all eternity.

Read the rest of this entry »

From white supremacy to white nationalism

June 17, 2019

This interview with Kathleen Belew was aired July 24, 2018.

***************************************************************

I learned two important things from reading BRING THE WAR HOME: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America by Kathleen Belew (2018).

One is how the Ku Klux Klan and other white racist organizations changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s from vigilantes upholding a racist order to revolutionaries and secessionists trying to overthrow an anti-racist order.

The other is that so much of what I thought of as isolated incidents, ranging from the murder of talk show host Alan Berg in 1984 to Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, were in fact planned by a revolutionary movement.

Belew began her account with the story of a Klansman named Louis Beam who served in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner.  He regarded U.S. defeat in Vietnam as a betrayal engineered by Jews and Communists.  He and his like-minded friends regarded themselves as soldiers.  They regarded the war against Communism as the same thing as the war against racial integration and racial equality.

They obtained and stockpiled military ordnance, organized private militias and military training camps and enlisted as mercenaries in support of anti-Communist fighters in Africa and Central America.   The South African and Rhodesian governments made use of them, and so did the Central Intelligence Agency.

They saw no difference between killing Communists in Vietnam or Nicaragua and killing Communists in the USA.  Klansmen and Nazis joined forces in the shooting of Communist anti-Klan demonstrators in Greensboro, N.C., in 1979, resulting in the deaths of five white men and one black woman.

But at some point, they came to regard the U.S. government as hopelessly compromised.  The annual Aryan Nations World Conference at Hayden Lake, Idaho, announced a new organization called the Order, which would coordinate the Klan, Nazis and other white racist organizations, such as the Mountain Church, the White Patriot Party and the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord (CSA).

Their new goal was to establish a separate white enclave and eventually to break up the United States and forcibly move whites, blacks and maybe other racial groups into separate areas, while deporting Jews to Israel.  Beam commented that carrying out this program might make the Third Reich seem mild in comparison.

Their idea was that African-Americans, being members of an inferior race, could not have more their civil rights on their own.  They thought that black people must have been aided by the Jews, whom they regarded as super-smart but evil.

Members of the Order swore to carry out “a sacred duty to do whatever is necessary to deliver our people from the Jew and bring total victory to the Aryan race.”

The Order’s plans included (1) paramilitary training, (2) robbery and counterfeiting to raise money, (3) purchase of military-grade weapons, (4) distribution of money and weapons to white power groups, (5) assassinations of enemies and informers and (6) a cell-type organization so that rank-and-file members only knew the names of members of their own group.

Beam’s vision was a “leaderless resistance,” in which there was no top-down chain of command, but a network of cells linked by Liberty Net, a computer network.  This was prior to the Internet, a time when computer networks were a novelty.

They got a lot of their ideas from U.S. Army training manuals on insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare, and their system of organization resembled the Communist fighters in Vietnam and the radical Muslim jihadists of a later era.

Read the rest of this entry »

Alternate history and ancient science

June 14, 2019

Alternate history is one of the most popular types of science fiction.  It is based on speculation as to what would have happened if history had been different from what it was – if the Axis had won World War II, or if the South had won the U.S. Civil War.

CELESTIAL MATTERS by Richard Garfinkle (1996) is a work of both alternate history and alternate science.  I read it with great pleasure when it first came out, and reread it with pleasure recently.

The alternate history is what would have happened if the ancient Greek culture had not self-destructed during the Peloponnesian Wars.  

The alternate science is what the world would be like if ancient Greek science were correct—if matter consisted of the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, if the sun, moon and planets revolved around the earth, if medical theories of the “humors” were true, if life could be created through spontaneous generation.

In the novel, the Delian League, the alliance of the Greek city-states formed after the defeat of the Persian invasion, did not become a vehicle for Athenian domination, but was an equal alliance of Athenian thought and Spartan valor that endured for a thousand years.

Alexander of Macedon, influenced by his wise tutor Aristotle, did not attempt to conquer Greece, but joined the Delian League.  He did not cut the Gordian Knot, but allowed Aristotle to gently untie it.  He conquered not only Persia but India, lived to a ripe old age and set up an enduring stable government.

The Delian League’s only rival was the Middle Kingdom, whose technology was based on Taoist principles of Yin and Yang and “xi” force.

The novel’s protagonist, Aias of Tyre, is a scientific officer on an expedition to the Sun to obtain solar fire to use as a high-tech weapon against the Taoists.  The principles of space flight in the novel, of course, have nothing to do with gravity or Newton’s laws of motion.

Alas has to contend with Taoist attacks, sabotage by a secret traitor, personality conflicts in the high command and his doubts about the possible blasphemy against the divine Apollo—not to mention his growing attraction to the female Spartan officer appointed as his bodyguard.

The Greek gods exist and speak to him and other characters, but as voices and images in their minds.  Each of the gods represents a separate aspect of life and of the good.

This is not a novel for everyone, but if this is the kind of novel you enjoy, you will enjoy Celestial Matters a lot.

Lessons from the fate of ancient Athens

June 14, 2019

The alternate history novel Celestial Matters describes a world in which the Delian league of Greek city-states endured a thousand years.  This of course did not happen in reality, and the reasons it didn’t have a moral for us Americans.

The Delian League was an alliance of Athens and other Greek city-states against the Persian Empire, which had invaded Greece and was defeated by the Spartan army and Athenian navy.

Allies of Athens were supposed to contribute money to a treasury located on the island of Delos to be used to construct ships to wage war against Persia.

In time, the treasury was shifted from Delos to Athens.  In time, Athens gave up the pretense that the contribution was anything more than tribute exacted by Athens.  Delian League money went to help pay for construction of the Parthenon.

Allies revoted against Athens, and were put down ruthlessly.  All this was before the outbreak of war between allies of Athens and members of the Spartan-led Peloponnesian League.  Athens lost the war, but it was devastating to both sides.  Greece was successfully invaded by Macedonia and later by Rome.

What would have happened if the Athenians had maintained the Delian League as a true alliance rather than making it into an empire?  They might have been more powerful rather than less, because they wouldn’t have to expend blood and treasure in suppressing rebellions against their empire.  Their aggression might not have been feared as much by the Spartans.  These things aren’t knowable.

I see a parallel between Athens after the Persian Wars and the United States after the Second World War.  The United States was the trusted leader of the Western world.  

It sponsored the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a defensive alliance against the Soviet Union, the United Nations as a means of implementing international law and the Bretton Woods agreement as a means of stabilizing the world financial system.

I think that if the U.S. had been faithful to the purposes of the international organizations it created, and had been willing to submit to the laws that it demanded other nations obey, our nation still would be a respected world leader.

But over time the Western alliance and U.S.-created institutions such as the International Monetary Fund have become a vehicle for American empire.  The administration of Donald Trump does not try to hide this.

I don’t want to lean too heavily on historical analogies, but I believe that, unless the U.S. changes direction, we will meet the fate of Athens.

The Athenians were not hypocrites.  They did not violate any of their professed ideals.  Athenian democracy was based on the citizens’ right to govern themselves collectively and their duty to govern themselves individually.

They lacked any idea of humanitarianism, universal human rights or the rule of law, which are part of the American ideal of democracy.  It is we, not they, who will be judged by history by failing to live by our own principles.  

War, power and the clothing of men

June 12, 2019

These drawings are copied from About Face by Nate Powell for Popula.

Click on About Face to see the rest of the sequence.

War, power and the clothing of men (2)

June 12, 2019

Click on About Face for the previous part of this sequence.

LINKS

 About Face by Nate Powell for Popula.

A veteran and historian responds to Nate Powell’s “About Face” by Sam Duncan for Popula.

The Sum of All Beards by Adrian Boneberger and Adam Weinstein for The New Republic.

The facts behind the black-white IQ gap

June 10, 2019

In case this ever comes up in conversation.

Here’s Why the Black-White IQ Gap Is Almost Certainly Environmental by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones

Who’s to blame for Venezuela’s economic crisis?

June 8, 2019

There are two explanations for Venezuela’s economic crisis.  One is that Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro mismanaged the economy.  The other is that the United States economic warfare ruined the economy.

Greg Wilbert of The Real News Network said it’s true that Chavez failed to adequately prepare for falling oil prices and Maduro failed to adequately cope when oil prices did collapse.

He said Venezuela’s economic crisis was not caused by the United States, but U.S. sanctions, which began under President Obama, made matters worse and prevented corrective action.

 I don’t think a new U.S.-imposed government would do better.

[Revised 6/9/2019]

Who will resist new regime change wars?

June 8, 2019

How Liberals Came to Embrace War As the Only Option by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Zero Percent of Elite Commentators Oppose Regime Change in Venezuela by Teddy Ostrow for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

Trump’s Venezuela War Hawks Are Freaking Out Congress by Matt Laslo for VICE News.

If the US is going to war with Iran, Congress needs the evidence by Steven Simon and Richard Sokolsky for POLITICO.

Senate fails to override Trump veto on Yemen by Marianne Levine for POLITICO.

Tulsi Gabbard Pushes No War Agenda – and the Media Is Out to Kill Her Chances by Philip Giraldi for Strategic Culture.

Democrats Running for President Waking Up to the Danger of War With Iran by Alex Emmons, Akela Lacy and Jim Schwartz for The Intercept.

How did we come to accept regime change wars?

June 8, 2019

We Americans have come to accept “regime change wars” as normal.  But they aren’t.  They are what the United Nations Charter and various UN resolutions define as wars of aggression.

I remember the Cold War and how we thought of the Soviet Union as the aggressor nation that scoffed at international law.

Click to enlarge.

Now our government is the one that thinks it has the right to attack or overthrow governments that displease us and improve our version of “democracy”—a democratic government being defined as one that supports U.S. policies.

The U,S. government is waging economic warfare against Venezuela and Iran while threatening military attack.  The purpose is to make Venezuela accept a President chosen by the United States and to make Iran unilaterally disarm.

Neither government has threatened or harmed Americans.  Their offenses are to oppose U.S. policy in Latin America and the Middle East, and to keep the world’s largest and third largest oil reserves from being controlled by the United States.

Yet this has somehow come to be accepted as normal.  Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is regarded as an eccentric, or worse, because she is one of the few who opposes making war against countries that haven’t harmed us.

The Charter of the United Nations, which was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1945, declares military aggression to be a crime. Article 2 said, “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat of force against the territorial integrity of any state or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg stated that aggressive war was “the supreme international crime.”

In 1950, the UN General Assembly condemned “the intervention of a state in the internal affairs of another state for the purpose of changing its legally established government by the threat or use of force.” It also resolved the “any aggression, whether committed openly or by fermenting civil strife, in the interest of a foreign power or otherwise, is the gravest of all crimes against peace and security throughout the world.”

I think most Americans thought these resolutions were aimed at the Soviet Union, which we thought was the world’s main aggressor.

The two main wars fought by the United States during the Cold Wa era were in Korea, where U.S. forces defended the Seoul government against an attack from without, and in Vietnam, where U.S. forces defended the Saigon government against a revolutionary movement supported from outside.

Secretly, of course, and sometimes not-so-secretly, the Central Intelligence Agency plotted coups in Iran, Guatemala, Chile and many other countries.

Read the rest of this entry »