Ever wonder what H.L. Mencken sounded like? You’re in luck. Check out this radio interview that he gave in 1948, shortly before the stroke that put him out of action forever. He sounds like a stodgy old grump, which, of course, he was.
Once upon a time, there was a planet drowning in bullshit and fraud. Then, one day, Elon Musk came along at saved it all with lithium batteries, or so his press agents said.
I know very little about Elon Musk and care even less. Is he the one who sky dives and rides around in a hot air balloon over the Himalayas, dreaming about space flight, or is that the other asshole? I forget. So many tedious billionaires, so little time. I do know that this particular capitalist wheedled one fine deal with Big Guvmn't in Nevada to build his “gigafactory” outside Reno, and the free market had nuthin’ to do with it:
$725 million in sales tax abatements over 20 years, which is equal to about 80 percent of the total sales tax revenue state government receives in a year.
$332 million in real and personal property tax abatements over 10 years—an amount equaling two and a half times the amount of property tax revenue Washoe County receives in a year.
$195 million in transferable tax credits, which other Nevada companies will be able to buy from Tesla in order to reduce their own tax liabilities to the state.
$27 million in payroll tax abatements over 10 years.
$8 million in electricity rate discounts over eight years.
Basically, Tesla is operating tax free for ten years and gets a discount on the electric bill. That’s the invisible hand of capitalism in action.
That’s the way our world works and there’s no use complaining about it. You and I would take the same deal, but just don’t give me all this jive about free markets, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and welfare moochers and looters. The government picks winners and losers, and it’s done so since Alexander Hamilton ran the Treasury, so let’s drop all of the Milton Friedman, University of Chicago free market bullshit.
And please stop telling me that Elon Musk is some kind of visionary. Is he is bad as the Wall Street parasites who are eating our colons from the inside out? No. He’s actually making something. But just because he builds electric cars doesn’t mean he’s Leonardo da Vinci. Stop telling me all of his quirks and personality flaws are symptoms of genius. He seems to me like a full-fledged creature of the modern age: a media savvy techno geek with a Gordon Gekko attitude. Forgive me if I don’t get wet.
Back next week: off tomorrow to watch granddaughter Bethany be graduated from the University of Iowa. Her amateur days are over; next season she's playing for a pro team in Calais. Which is in France. But you knew that.
Now that I have your attention …
Just kidding. It’s Sunday and politics have become a great big bore to me. I remain as firm as ever in my conviction that Jeb Bush will be the next president of the United States. I am not happy about this. I don’t want it to happen. I am just acknowledging reality. There will be a third Bush, America. It is written. We are sinners and this is our punishment.
And so what? Is he going to do anything substantively different than what President Hillary Clinton would do? Yeah, he’ll nominate some primitive, hanging judge prick conservative for the Supreme Court, some scowling, dehydrated, ass-puckered “strict constructionist” type who pines for the glory days of the eighteenth century; Clinton will nominate a solid liberal. He’ll oppose gay marriage; Clinton will support it. He’ll tell the rubes they should be able to wear sidearms to Disneyland; she’ll favor background checks, but only after carefully affirming her commitment to our Second Amendment rights. Viva effing democracy.
I won’t bore you with any more Hillary bashing, apart from saying that her phony baloney populism is an insult to anything with a forebrain and opposable thumbs. I think she has genuine liberal sentiments, but ambition trumps sentiments in politics, and she’s running for president of the United States, not president of Sweden or Denmark, and we don’t truck with too much liberalism. Not one minute after she she snookers us libs into voting for her, she’ll be off to brunch with Lawrence Summers and Lloyd Blankfein, and they won’t be eating hot dogs and spare ribs like the folks. They will, however, be having Very Serious Discussions about raising the retirement age and cutting those wicked entitlements. They will be drafting her inevitable speech about “fiscal responsibility” that we’re all going to have to endure. Just watch.
I can hear it in my nightmares. I can hear it in my daymares. I can see it, smell it, feel it and sense it as if it’s a tangible, living presence hovering over my shoulder getting ready to pounce, the Ghost of Establishment Politician’s Past come to smother me with smugness, condescension and hypocrisy.…Read on
“It will thus be seen that the author has no justification for expecting serious criticism from reviewers, and that, in becoming elated or indignant over anything that is written about his books, he is wasting his nervous energy. His reviews, if he knows how to read them, may have for the author a certain interest; but he will not be able to find out from them very much about the value of his work. For this he will have to depend on other sources, such as remarks made in casual conversation and evidences of his effect on other writers — always bearing in mind, however, that the true excellence or badness of what he has written may never really be grasped during his lifetime — a hazard for which we must all be prepared. And in the meantime he should read his reviews, not as the verdict of a Supreme Court of critics, but as a collection of opinions by persons of various degrees of intelligence who have happened to have some contact with his book. Considered from this point of view, there is occasionally something to be learned from them.”
I haven’t been able to understand the words of practically any popular song for some time now, approximately since the death of the great Patsy Cline in 1963. It came as a relief then to find out that FBI is just as dumb as I am, or at least it did until I gave the proposition a moment’s thought.
Can there be a lower life form than the American tobacco executive? From the New York Times:
Tobacco companies are pushing back against a worldwide rise in antismoking laws, using a little-noticed legal strategy to delay or block regulation. The industry is warning countries that their tobacco laws violate an expanding web of trade and investment treaties, raising the prospect of costly, prolonged legal battles, health advocates and officials said…
Alarmed about rising smoking rates among young women, Namibia, in southern Africa, passed a tobacco control law in 2010 but quickly found itself bombarded with stern warnings from the tobacco industry that the new statute violated the country’s obligations under trade treaties. Three years later, the government, fearful of a punishingly expensive legal battle, has yet to carry out a single major provision of the law, like limiting advertising or placing large health warnings on cigarette packaging.
Oh, yeah, another thing:
Twenty percent of births in America are to mothers who smoked during pregnancy. These babies have smaller head circumferences on average, and because nicotine increases the testosterone in the woman’s uterus, some theorize that this may lead to a greater penchant for aggressiveness, particularly among sons. Patricia A. Brennan of Emory University found that when a mother smoked a pack a day during pregnancy, her offspring were more than twice as likely to be violent criminals as adults.
Public Health and Welfare | Regulation for the Benefit of Public Health, Safety and Welfare
…with Alabama in between. From the New York Times:
Dr. Offit’s home state of Pennsylvania permits a religious exemption to the wearing of bicycle helmets, and is one of a few that permit parents with religious objections to medical care to adopt children. In places where these exemptions do not exist including Canada, Britain and, as of 2011, Oregon, medically avoidable deaths among children ascribed to parent’s religious beliefs have essentially disappeared. In most of the United States, they continue to occur.
From The Origins of Morality and Honor by the evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson, the world’s greatest ant expert:
Nevertheless an iron rule exists in genetic social evolution. It is that selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, while groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. The victory can never be complete; the balance of selection pressures can never move to either extreme. If individual selection were to dominate, societies would dissolve. If group selection were to dominate, human groups would come to resemble ant colonies.
From The Shreveport Times:
Editor’s Note: Attorney A.M. “Marty” Stroud III, of Shreveport, was the lead prosecutor in the December 1984 first-degree murder trial of Glenn Ford, who was sentenced to death for the Nov. 5, 1983 death of Shreveport jeweler Isadore Rozeman. Ford was released from prison March 11, 2014, after the state admitted new evidence proving Ford was not the killer.
I did not question the unfairness of Mr. Ford having appointed counsel who had never tried a criminal jury case much less a capital one. It never concerned me that the defense had insufficient funds to hire experts or that defense counsel shut down their firms for substantial periods of time to prepare for trial. These attorneys tried their very best, but they were in the wrong arena. They were excellent attorneys with experience in civil matters. But this did not prepare them for trying to save the life of Mr. Ford.Read it all, and don’t miss the video of Mr. Stroud discussing it. Plainly he is a man of honor and decency and dignity. Think how wonderful it would be, both for them and for the nation, if Dick Cheney and George W. Bush were to publish similar letters.
The jury was all white, Mr. Ford was African-American. Potential African-American jurors were struck with little thought about potential discrimination because at that time a claim of racial discrimination in the selection of jurors could not be successful unless it could be shown that the office had engaged in a pattern of such conduct in other cases.
And I knew this was a very burdensome requirement that had never been met in the jurisprudence of which I was aware…
After the death verdict in the Ford trial, I went out with others and celebrated with a few rounds of drinks. That’s sick. I had been entrusted with the duty to seek the death of a fellow human being, a very solemn task that certainly did not warrant any “celebration.”
But I dream.
I think [democratic socialism] means the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship all of our people have healthcare; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interest. I mean, to me, it means democracy, frankly. That’s all it means.
Forty years after the Vietnam phase of our eternal war ended we might want to go back another 30 years, to Saigon in September of 1945 when it all really began. What follows is from the diary of a war correspondent in French Indochina named Germaine Krull. The full diary ends with these words:
The Annamites [Vietnamese] will win their independence because they are ready to die for it … It may be too late already. We may never regain face, but if we do, it won’t be with the assistance of machine guns.
Mme Krull saw the future way back then, but the new American president didn’t. President Roosevelt had wanted to see the French colonies freed. Ho Chi Minh had even worked for the OSS during the war, and sought our friendship as it ended. But Harry Truman saw France as an ally in the struggle against communism, and so he chose the machine guns. Millions upon millions of people have paid the price ever since, as our insane eternal wars roll on.
I’m posting below the last few pages of Mme Krull’s fascinating accounts of Saigon in September of 1945. The full text is available here as a PDF.
Nothing in particular happened; there were still fewer Annamites to be seen on the streets and almost all of them had left their former jobs and masters. For the first time, French women were forced to do all their own work themselves, which did nothing to temper their feelings toward the Annamites. This mass desertion, reducing them temporarily to the rank of domestics themselves, was the one sin they could not forgive.
A few British officers and I went for lunch at the house of some wealthy colonials. It was a magnificent repast, complete with wines and champagne, pleasant conversation’ and immaculate service. The cooks and houseboys were Chinese. “Oh, we could not dream of employing Annamites. You can’t trust them. What a relief it will be finally to leave this wretched country. If only they would let us have a good, strong reprisal, everything would be over in a few days. This same sort of thing happened in 1942, but we put a swift end to it. The leaders were sentenced and most of the followers arrested — that was all. It is the only way to deal with people like that. Force is the only thing they understand. Everything else is useless.
“Colonel Cedil isn’t ruthless enough. We hear that General Gracey is worried because he doesn’t have enough troops. If so, why don’t they let us take over? We could muster enough arms and volunteers. We have ways of making them wish they had never started this. In 1942, I was in charge of re-establishing order at X. Well, we burned a few villages, jailed a few hundred natives, sentenced their leaders and that was all there was to that disturbance. Everything went back to order and the coolies went on working as before. They don’t want anything else. They expect that of us…”…Read on
David Simon’s ‘My Country Is a Horror Show,’ a long-form (as we now describe anything dragging on for more than a paragraph or two) piece by the creator of The Wire explaining how we became a country where millions of people over the age of 19 (Alan Greenspan, for one) take Ayn Rand seriously as a thinker.
Marty Kaplan on the White House Correspondents Association’s annual public masturbation, which he sees as a celebration of corruption.
At Donkey Mountain, Ohollern’s dissection of Hillary’s road trip. It’s cruel, mean-spirited, vulgar and pornographic. You’ll love it.
From The Economist:
Second, cops think that the public underestimates the threats to their life — and why the use of force is sometimes necessary. Most of the officers I interviewed say that guns poison policing in America. “They’re literally everywhere,” says one. “And the problem with dealing with guns is that if I’m talking to you and you’ve got a gun, action always beats reaction.”
No, [Dick] Morris and those like him are right now attempting to paint Hillary Clinton as more Republican than Republican. It’s deliberate and you can tell because Morris specifically didn’t mention certain things, such as: Abortion, Climate Change, Minimum Wage, Income Inequality, Marriage Equality, Education, and etcetera.
Morris and his friends are not trying to make conservatives hate Hillary Clinton, obviously there’s no need for that. They’re trying to make liberals stay home…
Conservatives hated Barack Obama, but they didn’t like Mitt Romney either. So they stayed home. Two years later, liberals hated their truculent obstructionist Congress, but they didn’t much care for Obama either. So they stayed home…
And that, that right there, is exactly what people like Morris are counting on in 2016. Your apathy. They’ve got a clown car full of unlikeable nuts. And Hillary Clinton.
And if they can convince liberals, and progressives, and the fickle free-range undecideds to just stay home, they’ll take back the White House.
Here’s George W. Bush, our first frat boy president, speaking to the board of directors of American foreign policy:
Several attendees sensed a tacit critique of Mr. Obama and his failure to follow through on his threats to use force when Mr. Bush said “you gotta mean it” when talking tough, and that America’s allies and enemies needed to know where an American leader stood. He said also discussed his own approach in Iraq, saying he changed course when it was warranted.Bush, like our first half-white president, fails utterly to grasp what should be the cardinal principle of all public policy, foreign and domestic: If you’re on the wrong train, all the stops are wrong.
“You call in the military and say, ‘Here’s my goal. What’s your plan to help me achieve that goal?'” he said, according to attendees. He said that when asked what had to be done with terrorists bent on America’s destruction, the answer was “well, you kill em,” several attendees recalled.
From the New York Times:
Ms. Lynch is not expected to push for changing marijuana laws. Under Mr. Holder, the Justice Department did not stand in the way of states that legalized marijuana. And in his final months in office, he questioned whether the government should keep marijuana on the list of the most serious drugs, in the same category as heroin. Ms. Lynch, who told aides during the confirmation process that she had never smoked marijuana, does not share that view. She told the Senate that she did not support legalization and did not agree with Mr. Obama that marijuana may not be more dangerous than alcohol.
Another reason not to appoint career prosecutors to run the Justice Department, any more than banksters should run the Fed or the Koch Brothers Energy or union bosses Labor. Bad enough that both house of Congress are loaded down with lawyers, most of them former prosecutors thoroughly marinated in our astonishingly cruel and corrupt criminal injustice system. Incest is inevitable.
Agence France Presse reveals:
Chinese authorities on Thursday bared the details of their latest anti-vice sweep: a campaign to halt the hiring of strippers at funerals.
In a statement posted on its website, China’s Ministry of Culture pledged a “crackdown” on the practice, which it said has become increasingly common in rural areas… China’s official Xinhua news agency said such performances are typically organised in order to draw a larger crowd at last rites. One example cited by the Ministry of Culture was a funeral in north China’s Hebei province.
“Two strippers wearing revealing clothes danced on a stage at a public square in our village at night on February 15,” an eyewitness surnamed Zhang told the state-run Global Times newspaper earlier this month. “They first danced passionately and then took off their clothes piece by piece,” the man said. “Behind them, an electronic screen was displaying a picture of the deceased with elegiac couplets on either side.”
In another case later that month, a troupe in east China’s Jiangsu province was detained for funeral performances that drew crowds of as many as 500 local residents, according to provincial news site xichu.net.
The troupe engaged in “erotic performances on the stage with sexual organs exposed and imitating sexual acts,” police officer Tang Jinyang told the news site. Such shows “disrupt the order of the rural cultural market and corrupt the social atmosphere,” China's Ministry of Culture said.
From the New York Times:
Denmark passed legislation Tuesday banning bestiality, toughening a law that animal rights activists feared was encouraging animal-sex tourism. The bill amends a previous ban on intercourse that harms animals. Farm Minister Dan Jorgensen argued that the previous ban was inadequate, saying in an opinion article, “It’s hard to prove that an animal suffers when a human has sexual intercourse with it, and that is why we must give the animal the benefit of the doubt.” Those voting for the bill said Denmark did not want to remain the last northern European country where bestiality was legal, as this was attracting animal-sex tourists. Germany, Norway, Sweden and Britain previously banned bestiality. A 2011 Justice Ministry report surveyed veterinarians and found that 17 percent of them suspected that a human had had sex with an animal they treated.
Once upon a time, long enough ago that all involved but me are safely dead, I was sent by the Washington Post to report on something or other at the National Zoological Park. When I was done I asked the director if anything else interesting was going on at the zoo.
“Well,” he said. “Last week a night watchman heard a noise from the llama cage. The llamas looked okay but there was an empty liquor bottle on the floor, so he shined his light around. A guy with hair all over the front of his pants had climbed up on one of the roof beams, so the watchman took him back to the guard house and called up to see if the D.C. police wanted to charge him with anything. Once the desk sergeant stopped laughing he said, ‘Why? Did the llama complain? Just throw a scare into the guy and let him go.'”
“Does that kind of stuff happen a lot?” I asked the director.
“Not a lot, but it happens.”
“What animals?” I asked, hoping for pythons or at least ostriches.
“For some reason,” the director said, “it’s always the llamas.”
From an interview with filmmaker Nick Broomfield on his documentary, Tales of the Grim Sleeper:
NB: There is a police slang term that, when the police call in a homicide, for example, they would say “NHI,” [meaning] “no human involved.” Which [means] don’t really bother with proper forensics. He’s a John Doe or Jane Doe. It’s a homeless person, a drug addict, prostitute, gang member, we don’t really care. We probably don’t expect to find the person responsible. Just book it in. But don’t spend a lot of time on it.
That’s kind of what it means. It’s used for disposable people. People who aren’t worthy of a proper inquiry. And again, disposable people, people who obviously aren’t represented, aren’t considered part of the political process, have no employment. They don’t count.
…then fail, fail again. What’s next? Yemen?
Back in Washington, Gloria Emerson of the New York Times, perhaps the most passionately anti-war of all American correspondents, recorded the irrational elation, backslapping, cigar-lighting and self-congratulation over the Mayaguez operation at the White House, and the extraordinary increase in the government’s popularity it brought about. The Mayaguez was a US freight ship whose crew were detained off Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge a few days after the fall of Saigon. The Americans sent in marines to rescue the crew, who, it turned out, were probably not in any danger.
The operation then somehow got ludicrously pumped up as a counterweight to the humiliation of 30 April in Vietnam and the earlier fall of Pnomh Penh. In reality it was a botched and stupid affair in which the Americans lost a lot of people while attacking Khmer Rouge forces who — in a foretaste of the future — were in fact preparing to defend what they saw as their territory against the new masters of South Vietnam. In its poor intelligence, wasteful firepower and bloody confusion, it encapsulated much that had been wrong about the war that had just ended.
The Mayaguez affair was the first indication that you could take the United States out of Vietnam, but you could not take Vietnam out of the United States. In the decades since, the US has never ceased to fight the war. It continued to fight it, in the most immediate sense, by vindictively isolating the new Vietnam economically and politically. This it later took to a monstrous extreme by effectively favouring the Khmer Rouge regime remnants who were resisting the new Vietnamese-imposed government in Pnomh Penh.
The two countries are now almost as friendly as Ho Chi Minh had hoped they would be in 1945, when his appeals to the US for help in achieving independence from France went unheard. But if the US has finally stopped chastising Vietnam itself, the war still goes on in other ways. Everything the US has done in the world since then has been conditioned by its fear of the consequences of trying to reassert itself militarily — and by its compulsion to do so.
The fear is of another Vietnam, another quagmire, another debacle. The compulsion, though, constantly seeks out other places where something like Vietnam can be taken on again, but this time won, cleanly and conclusively. The US has sought this compensatory victory again and again, most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. Vietnam, like Hamlet’s ghost, refuses to go away. The war never went away in America, at the most fundamental level, because it became a test of how Americans saw their country.
(The excerpt above is from a superb summary of Saigon’s fall 40 years ago by Martin Woollacott of The Guardian. In the photo an American charter pilot punches a would-be refugee away from a DC6 already overloaded with 264 others.)
None of what follows is news in the sense that it has never been reported before. It is news in the sense that most Americans, due to a combination of incompetence, laziness and spinelessness on the part of our media, are completely unaware of it. Proof of this is the almost universal outrage over Putin’s actions (reactions, more accurately) in the Crimean crisis. Pay special attention to what George Kennan said below. As usual, he was right. And to what Clinton did. As usual, he was wrong.
From the campaign trail on Oct. 22, 1996, two weeks before he defeated Bob Dole for a second term as president, Bill Clinton used NATO enlargement to advertise his assertiveness in foreign policy and America’s status as the “world’s indispensable nation.” Clinton bragged about proposing NATO enlargement at his first NATO summit in 1994, saying it “should enlarge steadily, deliberately, openly.” He never explained why.
President Clinton, thus, reneged on the pledges made by Baker to Gorbachev and Shevardnadze. Clinton lamely called upon Russia to view NATO’s enlargement as an arrangement that will “advance the security of everyone.”
Clinton’s tough-guy-ism toward Russia was, in part, a response to even more aggressive NATO plans from Clinton’s Republican opponent Bob Dole, who had been calling for incorporating Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary as full members of NATO and had accused Clinton of “dragging his feet” on this. Clinton was not about to be out-toughed.
Those three countries joined NATO in 1999, starting a trend. By April 2009, nine more countries became members, bringing the post-Cold War additions to 12 – equal to the number of the original 12 NATO states.
Clinton made what quintessential Russian specialist Ambassador George Kennan called a “fateful error.” Writing in the New York Times on Feb. 5, 1997, Kennan asserted: “Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.”
“Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”
Spring is in the air, and a young man’s thought turn to love.
Wait. Let me update that for the times: Spring is in the air, and a jaded middle-age man’s thoughts turn to … the upcoming Bush Clinton election farce. Egads, just when you thought hemorrhoids and heartburn were gone for good …
The words “orgy” and “indigestion” don’t often fit in the same sentence, but when I contemplate Bush v. Clinton they merge together as naturally as peas and carrots, or warm beer and a headache, or bunions and toe jam. I just can’t get over it.
We’ve got climate change and peak oil and wealth inequality and the death of the middle class. We’ve got major tectonic problems grinding below the surface, and the best that American democracy can come up with is … Bush v. Clinton? Burp. Scratch your balls and go back to sleep, Mr. America, there is nothing to see here.
I keep thinking Millard Fillmore or James Buchanan, or Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, or any of the other dull gray epic failures of oligarchic democracy who preceded great disasters. They bumbled and dawdled and stooped and stuttered, like Mr. Magoo, while the ground split beneath their feet and dropped them into a void, and their only thought on the way down was, Where’s my hat?
There is a really obscene joke being played on us, people. Here are your hand-picked machine candidates, now do your civic duty and vote! The only interesting thing will be watching how both of these rich, inside baseball, orthodox establishment clones turn themselves into pretzels running against “Washington” and the “status quo.” A public that accepts this deserves to get them, and, to paraphrase the great H.L.M., deserves to get them good and hard.
I’m getting chuckles watching Hillary’s populist “road trip.” Who thought that one up, I wonder? Has someone at Team Hillary recently watched Animal House? Did they take a fucking poll?…Read on
Lindsey Graham, a United States senator, on the man who landed a tiny unarmed gyrocopter on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol as a protest against the Citizens United Decision:
“He should have been subject to being shot out of the sky. I don’t know why he wasn’t, but our nation is under siege. Radical Islam is a threat to our home land. There are probably radical Islamic cells in our backyard already. And if somebody is willing to, you know, approach vital government infrastructure, they should do so at their own peril.”In a more advanced society, the senator would be kept in a quiet place and treated kindly until he was judged to be no longer a threat to others.
One area in which we in the US can still stake a claim to lead the world is the politics of paranoia, as Richard Hofstadter’s immortal essay made clear. And he wasn’t just talking about your garden-variety crazies like Ben Carson or Mike Huckabee; paranoia reaches even the highest rungs of the political ladder, as Richard Nixon so admirably demonstrated.
James Forrestal, one of my favorite examples, had a long string of impressive accomplishments, from excelling at (though not graduating from) Princeton, to claiming the first flag raised by American forces at Iwo Jima (the second flag-raising was captured in the famous photograph), to pushing racial integration in the Navy when his predecessor as Secretary of the Navy died of a heart attack and he became Secretary, to becoming our first Secretary of Defense. He was famously and uncompromisingly anti-Communist and anti-Soviet, concerned that the evil represented by Communism exerted a strong pull on societies decimated by the Second World War. His belief that Communism would not cease in attacking until it had destroyed all representative government might sound a bit paranoid, but Eisenhower, with whom Forrestal consulted during the War, apparently wrote in his personal diary that he “never had cause to doubt the accuracy” of Forrestal’s judgments on the issue. That level of paranoia, in other words, was pretty normal in those days.
After the war, Forrestal urged Truman to take a hard line with the Soviets over Poland. He also strongly influenced the new Wisconsin Senator, Joseph McCarthy, concerning infiltration of the government by Communists. Upon McCarthy’s arrival in Washington in December 1946, Forrestal invited him to lunch. In McCarthy’s words, “Before meeting Jim Forrestal I thought we were losing to international Communism because of incompetence and stupidity on the part of our planners. I mentioned that to Forrestal. I shall forever remember his answer. He said, ‘McCarthy, consistency has never been a mark of stupidity. If they were merely stupid, they would occasionally make a mistake in our favor.’ This phrase struck me so forcefully that I have often used it since.”
In the end Forrestal was asked to resign as SecDef and was quietly transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda where the cover of his psychiatric diagnosis of depression could be maintained. For the same reason they placed him on the 16th floor. Unfortunately, his body was later found on the roof of the third floor, with some reports claiming a bathrobe sash cord was tied around his neck. While he had never been given an official diagnosis of paranoia, it was rumored that he harbored a physical and individualized fear that Communists were coming to get him. On the other hand, given his opposition to the partitioning of Palestine it is likely that he was in fact being followed, though probably not by Communists.
Poor guy, and what a paranoid and inaccurate conception of the world! To imagine that your putative enemy is so powerful that they never make mistakes and are completely consistent, properties unknown to human organizations or even individuals. They are aggressive and relentless, and the complete destruction of your way of governing and thus of your culture is their only motivation. They are not, in short, human, but simultaneously both superhuman and subhuman. And to imagine this was true of the Soviets, who lost an entire generation of men, had been reduced to poverty nearly everywhere, and were struggling to feed their people and rebuild their devastated country! But paranoia builds its own sorts of reverse-Potemkin villages.
If only Forrestal had lived in the time of gyrocoptors! But his spirit lives on in the senior Senator from South Carolina.
“He should have been subject to being shot out of the sky,” Graham said. “I don’t know why he wasn’t, but our nation is under siege. Radical Islam is a threat to our home land. There are probably radical Islamic cells in our backyard already.”
“If somebody is willing to, you know, approach vital government infrastructure, they should do so at their own peril,” Graham continued.
Even the Washington Times couldn’t swallow that one whole: “The small vehicle was unarmed and likely would not make a formidable weapon, even if used kamikaze-style.”
This man has a vote on serious matters. Or would if the Republican Congress ever made an effort to address its responsibilities. In practice, however, so little happens in the Senate that Lindsey gets antsy, talks of running for President, and starts singing war chants with his BFF.
Which way’s the boogeyman comin’ from, Senators?
Apparently the following is old stuff, but it was new to me. I therefore assume it will be to you, too, since how could you be better informed than I am? The excerpt gives the rough outline; for more background, go to Professor Wolff’s fascinating blog, which ought to be on your daily checklist if it isn’t already.
The UMass Afro-Am doctoral students dominate the annual conventions and have assembled a brilliant record of publication. The applicants, most of whom apply to several doctoral programs, still have appallingly low GRE scores. What’s up?
A good many years ago, a brilliant African-American psychologist named Claude Steele asked the same question, and launched a fascinating series of experiments to find out. [When I had dinner with Steele in Amherst, MA many years ago, he was the Chair of the Stanford Psychology Department. He is currently the Executive Vice-Chancellor and Provost of UC Berkeley.] Steele formulated the hypothesis that Black students are well aware of the widely-held view that they are dumber than White students, and this awareness, which Steele labeled “stereotype threat,” undermines their ability to do well on the sorts of “intelligence tests” that the White world expects them to do badly on.
Steele devised a variety of experimental protocols to test this hypothesis, and again and again, the data proved him correct. For example, Steele would put together a multiple-choice test, and give it to two groups of college students [mixed White and Black.] The first group would be told that they were being tested for intelligence; the second group, given the identical test in identical testing circumstances, would be told that they were being tested on their general knowledge. Sure enough, the first group of Black students did markedly worse than the second.
Steele then broadened his investigation to other stereotypes. Women are commonly thought not to be able to do math, so Steele tested two groups of women on the same math exam. Each group was asked to fill out a little personal data form before taking the test -- name, address, age, college class, etc. The last question on the first form, answered just before taking the test, was “gender.” The second form omitted that item. Lo and behold, the women who were called on to identify themselves as women just before taking the test did worse than those who were not so asked! Steele was even able to replicate the result by putting the gender question first on the form in one case and last in the other.
A Fulton County superior court judge handed down severe prison sentences to 10 former school administrators, principals and elementary school teachers for their role in a citywide test cheating scandal at the Atlanta Public Schools.
The educators and one other teacher were convicted April 1 for inflating test scores in 2009...
The case was brought by county prosecutors in what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — which backs the vendetta — called a “novel use” of state racketeering laws normally reserved for organized crime activities such as such as prostitution, counterfeiting or illegal drugs and weapons trafficking.
To the gasps of courtroom onlookers on Tuesday morning, Judge Jerry Baxter announced maximum 20-year sentences for three former school administrators — Tamara Cotman, 44; Sharon Davis-Williams, 59; and Michael Pitts, 59 — that include seven years in prison, 13 years on probation, fines of $25,000 each and 2,000 hours of community service.…
Judge Baxter was visibly enraged by the public sympathy for the educators whose families and friends packed the courtroom Monday to demand leniency. When spectators reacted with horror to his sentencing, the judge angrily blurted,
“Everyone starts crying about these educators. There were thousands of children harmed in this thing. This is not a victimless crime … When you are passed and you can’t read, you are passed and passed on, there are victims that are in the jail that I have sentenced, kids…”
After prosecutors sought to blackmail the educators with promises of lighter sentences if they accepted guilt and waived the right to appeal their convictions, Baxter reacted angrily, saying, “I’ve got a fair sentence in mind and it involves going to jail. Everybody.”
All involved are black except the judge, who is a vicious, ignorant bully who disgraces his race and his robe.
Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept:
Almost half of all Americans want to support Israel even if its interests diverge from the interests of their own country. Only a minority of Americans (47%) say that their country should pursue their own interests over supporting Israel’s when the two choices collide. It’s the ultimate violation of George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address warning that “nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded… .The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.”
It is inconceivable that a substantial portion of Americans would want to support any other foreign country even where doing so was contrary to U.S. interests. Only Israel commands anything near that level of devoted, self-sacrificing fervor on the part of Americans. So it’s certainly worth asking what accounts for this bizarre aspect of American public opinion.
The answer should make everyone quite uncomfortable: it’s religious fanaticism. The U.S. media loves to mock adversary nations, especially Muslim ones, for being driven by religious extremism, but that is undeniably a major factor, arguably the most significant one, in explaining fervent support for Israel among the American populace…
The wildly popular “dispensationalist” sect is driven by the dogmatic belief that a unified Israel in the hands of the Jews is a prerequisite for Armageddon or the Rapture and the return of Jesus: a belief shared not by thousands but millions of Americans.
Read it all. Truly frightening stuff. I’ll be having more on this soon.
Of course my reading world is a bubble; with so much available these days, what’s the alternative? I don’t even visit major news sites any more; I read their stories through an aggregator that allows me to train it much like one trains Pandora or Spotify. As a result I get what I ask for.
So I can’t claim to have surveyed a representative sample of reporting on Rand Paul’s announcement of his Presidential campaign. But a large proportion of the center-left pundits I read this week took particular glee in highlighting not so much points of substantive disgreement as errors in execution. To some extent this might reflect a narrative in journalism of Southern politicians as perhaps a few fries short of a Happy Meal, a slightly unfair characterization in that, while technically true, this trait doesn’t distinguish them from their compatriots who hail from less muggy climes.
I grant that if Hillary’s made any spelling errors in her first-week campaign materials she’ll hear about it for weeks from the right-wing echo chamber. But I don’t regularly read writers whose strongest arguments are issues for which most people these days rely on word-processing software. True, it evinces a lack of professionalism in realms highly valued by political professionals and their journalist colleagues. But those are possibly the only two groups who believe that such things matter to anyone else.
In fact, as Dean Burnett’s enjoyable article explains, there are a number of good psychological reasons for how politicians approach us and how we evaluate them. Good, that is, in that they make solid logical and scientific sense. Practically speaking, their effects are generally bad. For example, confident people are known to be more convincing. It’s also known that less intelligent people are generally quite self-confident, because they don’t have access to the higher-level metacognitive abilities. Metacognition is how we think about our own ways of thinking, the patterns in our own behavior. If we don’t look at our own patterns we don’t tend to see our mistakes or areas of ignorance, which can lead us to be quite confident without solid reasons for being so.
In addition, people tend to be put off by subjects that seem complex or are presented as requiring expertise. Since practically everything involved in governing a country is inherently complicated, or at least refers to issues most of us don’t confront in daily life, democracy begins with a disadvantage. We like to feel we’re involved and affecting things, but we don’t like digging in to complexity; as a result we tend to spend a good deal more time talking about trivial stuff we understand than complex stuff we don’t. Thus someone who relates a wealth of detail and sees both sides of the situation will be thrown over for someone who says history is bunk and it’s really all quite simple.
Put all this together, and a less intelligent politician is likely to be supremely confident and ready with an oversimplified solution to any complex problem. But it also turns out that confident people who are proven to be either wrong or lying drop to the bottom of the credibility list. So politicians are encouraged by the system to promise a great deal and to do so confidently, despite the obvious impossibility of fulfilling those promises. When they fail to deliver, they’re massively devalued. Repetitions of this cycle convince people that politics is stupid and cannot be affected or improved. As Burnett puts it:
The majority of people are prone to numerous subconscious biases, prejudices, stereotyping and prefer their own “groups”. None of these things are particularly logical and invariably are not supported by actual evidence and reality, and people really don’t like being told things they don’t want to hear. People are also keenly aware of social status; we need to feel we are superior to others in some way to maintain our sense of self-worth. As a result, someone more intelligent saying complicated things that contain uncomfortable (but accurate) facts isn’t going to appeal to anyone, but someone demonstrably less-intelligent is not challenging to someone’s perceived social status, and if they’re going to say simple things that support inherent prejudices and deny uncomfortable facts, then so much the better.
Personally, I wonder if there isn’t something in the hilarity Rand Paul provokes among liberals that conceals a lack of understanding and an unspoken fear. Liberals in the US have tended to gather round an understanding of government as at least a potential force for good in the community as against the conservative view of government as inherently bad, with our visions reflecting our respective feelings about ourselves as much as anything else. But the current version of conservatism is quite far from opposing big government; it simply wants big government to be singularly focused on enriching the ultra-rich, and the only sustainable means to that end is constant, relatively low-level conflict and warfare, preferably as far from the US as possible.
To some extent, therefore, and regardless of rhetoric, Democrats and Republicans mostly agree on the need for big government, they just disagree on its purpose. Paul is differentiating himself from this crowd in clear and conscious ways. His positions don’t seem coherent in part because he’s not trying for a coalition that fits current categories. He really is against government, a stand that many Americans can relate to at the gut level despite intellectually rejecting it.
So am I trying to follow my successful prediction during the primaries in 2007 that Obama would be President with a similar one about Paul? In a word, no. He doesn’t have a realistic chance to be nominated by the GOP, who would prefer to lose with Bush or Walker or Rubio.
But if he were nominated, he’d be a fascinating candidate to watch, capable of snipping off a bit of left-wing support for his stances on war, drugs, voting rights, and prison reform, and at least attempting to reach out to constituencies Republicans advertise to but rarely actually converse with. He’s against so many things that practically everyone agrees with one or two of them. And his inability to hire staffers who can spell might not matter, given the precedent set by the most recent successful GOP nominee.
In the end, however much we might wish it were otherwise, intelligence isn’t necessary to be a winning candidate for President; in real life Jed Bartlet would lose to George W. Bush. And to those whose view of candidates is rather superficial, Rand Paul has many of the folksy qualities of W. without the baggage of his New England WASP family history or his interest in big government and war.
Rand Paul is not a threat precisely because his approach represents a threat to the existing structure of political coalitions. That’s what makes him so much fun to watch.
Something I never knew or more likely forgot, this from a book review in today’s New York Times:
Since the early 1900s, parents who willfully withheld medicine in the name of religion have been prosecuted and convicted. But, Offit tell us, beginning in the ’70s, the prosecutors’ task became difficult. The blame for this setback can be ascribed to two powerful men in the Nixon administration, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, both famous for their roles in the Watergate scandal, and both Christian Scientists. They became involved because of Lisa Sheridan, a 5-year-old who in 1967 died of pneumonia. Her mother, Dorothy, a Christian Scientist, had opted for prayer instead of antibiotics. The autopsy of the child showed a quart of pus in her chest, and the Massachusetts district attorney charged Sheridan with manslaughter. She was sentenced to five years’ probation. This was around the time when Walter Mondale was working to introduce the landmark Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act (Capta).Ehrlichman wavered in his faith by accepting dialysis treatments in 1999, and then died after discontinuing them. Haldeman, resolute in his nuttiness, refused treatment for the cancer that killed him anyway in 1993.
“Elders in the Christian Science church saw the trial of Dorothy Sheridan as a wake-up call,” Offit writes. “If she could be prosecuted for following the tenets of her faith, all of them were at risk. Capta was about to shine an unwanted light on their way of life. Something had to be done. So church authorities turned to the two men they were certain could help.”
Haldeman and Ehrlichman inserted a religious exemption into Capta: “No parent or guardian who in good faith is providing a child treatment solely by spiritual means — such as prayer — according to the tenets and practices of a recognized church through a duly accredited practitioner shall for that reason alone be considered to have neglected the child.”