Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunday Reading

The Tricks of Memory — Charlie Pierce on forgetting our past at the peril of our future.

… The 2016 presidential campaign—and the success of Donald Trump on the Republican side—has been a triumph of how easily memory can lose the struggle against forgetting and, therefore, how easily society can lose the struggle against power. There is so much that we have forgotten in this country. We’ve forgotten, over and over again, how easily we can be stampeded into action that is contrary to the national interest and to our own individual self-interest. We have forgotten McCarthy and Nixon. We have forgotten how easily we can be lied to. We have forgotten the U-2 incident and the Bay of Pigs and the sale of missiles to the mullahs. And along comes someone like Trump, and he tells us that forgetting is our actual power and that memory is the enemy.

The first decade of the twenty-first century gave us a great deal to forget. It began with an extended mess of a presidential election that ended with the unprecedented interference of a politicized Supreme Court. It was marked early on by an unthinkable attack on the American mainland. At this point, we forgot everything we already knew. We knew from our long involvement in the Middle East where the sources of the rage were. We forgot. We knew from Vietnam the perils of involving the country in a land war in Asia. We forgot. We knew from Nuremberg and from Tokyo what were war crimes and what were not. We forgot that we had virtually invented the concept of a war crime. We forgot. In all cases, we forgot because we chose to forget. We chose to believe that forgetting gave us real power and that memory made us weak. We even forgot how well we knew that was a lie.

[…]

A country that remembers, a country with an empowered memory that acts as a check on the dangerous excesses of power itself, does not produce a Donald Trump. It was the very first Republican president who said the most memorable thing about memory, and its mystic chords, and how he hoped, one day, those chords once again would be touched by the better angels of our nature. That was Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address. By the time he came to deliver his second, in which he appealed to the country to remember how it had torn itself apart, six hundred thousand Americans had slaughtered one another in a war that was only then beginning to come to an end:

Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

Remember, this passage said to the people of a tattered and bleeding nation. Bind up the wounds. Take care of him who has borne the battle, and his widow and orphan, too. Achieve a just and lasting peace between yourselves and all nations. But first, remember how this misery came to pass. Remember what we are capable of doing to one another if we lose faith in every institution of self-government, especially those into which we are supposed to channel our passions to constructive purpose. Remember, Lincoln said in this speech, which was his last warning to the nation he’d preserved. Remember that we can be killers. Remember that, and you can be strong and powerful enough to not allow it to happen again.

The late historian Michael Kammen likened even the newest Americans to Fortinbras in Hamlet, who declares that he has “some rights of memory in this kingdom.” Even the immigrants most lately arrived can, Kammen argued, “have an imaginative and meaningful relationship to the determinative aspects of American history.” In the campaign now ongoing, we see successful candidates running against the very notion of what Kammen was talking about. When Trump chants his mantra—”Make America Great Again”—the rest of the slogan is unsaid but obvious. The implied conclusion is “…Before All of Them Wrecked It.” And that is what has been selling, all year long, because while the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting, there is no guarantee that either struggle will end in triumph.

The Remains of Chernobyl — Alex Wellerstein in The New Yorker on the aftermath of the explosion at the nuclear power plant thirty years ago.

… For many people in the West, Chernobyl has served as a kind of referendum on nuclear power. Those who oppose it see the disaster as the ultimate embodiment of industrial folly. They point to evidence, extremely difficult to confirm, of increased rates of cancer and birth defects in the region around the plant. Those who support nuclear power, meanwhile—a slight majority of Americans today—argue for better and safer reactors and more competent operators. But Chernobyl has also had a strong and lingering political legacy. The Soviet state shared no small part of the blame for the accident, yet even in the era of glasnost it was unwilling to admit it. (Outside the U.S.S.R., the first indication that something was amiss at the plant came not from Soviet authorities, who initially kept quiet, but from a nuclear-power station in Sweden, where fallout, carried by the wind and tracked in on an employee’s shoes, set off the alarm during a routine screening for radioactivity.) To condemn the design of the RBMK-1000, much less nuclear technology itself, was to criticize Soviet know-how and jeopardize other economically necessary reactors of the same type. Human error was the only politically viable explanation. In the spring of 1987, Chernobyl’s operators and engineers were subject to what the historian Sonja D. Schmid has called “perhaps the last show trial of the Soviet era.” Not surprisingly, they were convicted.

There was the battle against the fire, and then there was the battle over its political meaning. Today, there is the battle of memory. The Internet is replete with videos of disaster tourists visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, sometimes with Geiger counters. Poke around in the bushes or buildings and you can sometimes find something “hot”—a rubber boot or glove, a piece of misshapen graphite. Stories abound of wild animals retaking the zone, and haunting photographs of the abandoned town of Pripyat—especially of the ruins of its carnival grounds—are now a staple of social media. (A friend of mine who visited Chernobyl not long ago noted that there was a suspicious overabundance of gas masks and creepy dolls in the town’s most cinematic locations.) But it is a mistake to assume, amid the Cold War nostalgia and post-apocalyptic romance, that Chernobyl was ever really relinquished. The undamaged portions of the plant were in operation until 2000, run by workers who were paid triple their normal wages. There are even some people—mostly elderly—who have, illegally and unadvisedly, returned to their homes nearby, sometimes eating crops grown in the contaminated soil. The acute radioactivity, the sort that can induce radiation sickness and kill people quickly, has largely decayed. The lingering fallout poses a long-term threat to anyone who inhabits the area, but if these people are old to begin with, and small in number, they are likelier to die of other causes.

The late sociologist Ulrich Beck wrote that risk can help human societies rediscover the importance of collective action and responsibility. But risk is a tricky thing to wrap one’s head around, especially once the fires have gone out. Does Chernobyl indict an entire industry, or does it show that, even at its worst, it isn’t that bad? The truth seems to be somewhere in the middle. Chernobyl was a disaster, but it was not the apocalypse. It was a highly specific event—specific to the reactor and to the Soviet state that it was conceived in. But it should give us pause to reflect generally on the high costs of technological mismanagement and deferred maintenance. It is easy to dismiss a few thousand extra cancers, out of the hundreds of thousands of cancers caused by other sources, when they are not in the bodies of our loved ones; it is easy to say that the Exclusion Zone is relatively small when it is on the other side of the world. These battles of Chernobyl are still being waged, but there may be no winners in the war.

Walt Whitman, Wellness Guru — Jennifer Schuessler notes that the poet was a health nut.

In 1858, when Walt Whitman sat down to write a manifesto on healthy living, he came up with advice that might not seem out of place in an infomercial today.

“Let the main part of the diet be meat, to the exclusion of all else,” Whitman wrote, sounding more than a little paleo.

As for the feet, he recommended that the comfortable shoes “now specially worn by base-ball players” — sneakers, if you will — be “introduced for general use,” and he offered warnings about the dangers of inactivity that could have been issued from a 19th-century standing desk.

“To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, man of fortune, idler, the same advice,” he declared. “Up!”

Whitman’s words, part of a nearly 47,000-word journalistic series called “Manly Health and Training,” were lost for more than 150 years, buried in an obscure newspaper that survived only in a handful of libraries. The series was uncovered last summer by a graduate student, who came across a fleeting reference to it in a digitized newspaper database and then tracked down the full text on microfilm.

Now, Whitman’s self-help-guide-meets-democratic-manifesto is being published online in its entirety by a scholarly journal, in what some experts are calling the biggest new Whitman discovery in decades.

“This is really a complete new work by Whitman,” said David S. Reynolds, the author of “Walt Whitman’s America” and a professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, who was not involved with the find.

“These are the most interesting and mysterious years in Whitman’s biography, and now we have this major journalistic series right in the middle of it,” said Ed Folsom, the editor of The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, the online journal that is publishing the series in its spring issue.

“One of Whitman’s core beliefs was that the body was the basis of democracy,” Mr. Folsom, a professor of English at the University of Iowa, continued. “The series is a hymn to the male body, as well as a guide to taking care of what he saw as the most vital unit of democratic living.”

Doonesbury — Updating.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Reading

Devolution — Neal Gabler on how the Republican Party has turned into the party of ignorance and hate.  Why won’t the media cover that?

Ah, the crescendo of complaint! The Republican establishment and the mainstream media, working hand in hand in their unprecedented, non-stop assault on the “short-fingered vulgarian” named Donald Trump, would have you believe that Trump augurs the destruction of the Republican Party. Former Reagan speechwriter and now Wall Street Journal/CBS pundit Peggy Noonan expressed the general sentiment of both camps when she said on Super Tuesday that “we’re seeing a great political party shatter before our eyes.”

But here is what no one in the GOP establishment wants you to know, and no one in the media wants to admit: Donald Trump isn’t the destruction of the Republican Party; he is the fulfillment of everything the party has been saying and doing for decades. He is just saying it louder and more plainly than his predecessors and intra-party rivals.

The media have been acting as if the Trump debacle were the biggest political story to come down the pike in some time. But the real story – one the popularity of Trump’s candidacy has revealed and inarguably the biggest political story of the last 50 years — is the decades-long transformation of Republicanism from a business-centered, small town, white Protestant set of beliefs into quite possibly America’s primary institutional force of bigotry, intellectual dishonesty, ignorance, warmongering, intractability and cruelty against the vulnerable and powerless.

It is a story you didn’t read, hear or see in the mainstream media, only in lefty journals like The Nation and Rolling Stone, on websites like People for the American Way, and in columns like Paul Krugman’s. And it wasn’t exactly because the MSM in its myopia missed the story. It was because they chose not to tell it – to pretend it wasn’t happening. They are still pretending.

It is hardly a surprise that the GOP establishment and their enablers in the media are acting as if Trump, the Republican frontrunner, is a break from the party’s supposedly genteel past. Like Captain Renault in Casablanca, who was “shocked, shocked,” to find gambling in Rick’s establishment, the GOP solons profess to be “shocked, shocked” by Trump’s demagogic racism and nativism. Their protestations remind me of an old gambit of comedian Milton Berle. When the audience was applauding him, he would shush them demonstratively with one hand while encouraging them gently with the other.

Neither is it a surprise that the conservative media have been doing the same thing — decrying Trump while giving us Trump Lite. Indeed, even less blatant partisans who ought to know better, like every “thinking man’s” favorite conservative David Brooks, deliver the same hypocrisy.

No, Brooks isn’t too keen on Trump (or Cruz for that matter), but he is very keen on some mythological Republican Party that exudes decency. On the PBS NewsHour last week he said with great earnestness, “For almost a century-and-a-half, the Republican Party has stood for a certain free market version of America – an America that’s about openness, that’s about markets and opportunity, and a definition of what this country is.”

Free markets? That’s what he thinks defines America? Let me rephrase what I said earlier: Trump hasn’t just fulfilled the Republican Party’s purpose; he has exposed it. And he also has exposed the media’s indifference to what the party has become.

Obviously, I am not saying that the transmogrification of the Republican Party happened surreptitiously. It happened in plain sight, and it was extensively chronicled — but not by the MSM. The sainted Reagan blew his party’s cover when to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 he spoke at the Neshoba County Fair, just outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been brutally murdered in 1964. He wasn’t there to demonstrate his sympathy to the civil rights movement, but to demonstrate his sympathy to those who opposed it. This was an ugly moment, and it didn’t go entirely unnoticed in the media. In fact, David Brooks would later be moved to defend the speech, which invoked the not-so-subtle buzz words “states’ rights,” and to act as if Reagan had been slandered by those who called him out on it.

But if some in the media did call out Reagan on his disgusting curtsy to George Wallace voters, the press seemed to lose its nerve once Reagan became president and the Republican Party lurched not just rightward, but extremist-ward. Do you remember these headlines: “Republicans Oppose Civil Rights”; “Republicans Work to Defeat Expansion of Health Insurance”; “Republicans Torpedo Extension of Unemployment Benefits”; “Republicans Demonize Homosexuals and Deny Them Rights”; “Republicans Call Climate Change a Hoax and Refuse to Stop Greenhouse Gases”? No, you don’t remember, because no MSM paper printed them and no MSM network broadcast them. Instead, the media behaved as if extremism were business as usual.

I don’t think the media would deny their indifference. They would say they don’t take sides. They’re neutral. They just report. Partisanship is for Fox News and MSNBC….

The White Party — Kelly J. Baker in The Atlantic on the history of the KKK.

Last weekend, Saturday Night Live produced a mock “Voters for Trump” ad, in which everyday “real Americans” gently describe why they support Donald Trump for president—before they are all revealed to be white supremacists, Klan members, and Nazis. Trump, of course, not only received former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s support for his candidacy, but also declined to disavow the Ku Klux Klan on CNN.

This has happened before. As The Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum pointed out, the Republican front-runner’s refusal to repudiate white supremacists’ support as well as the bombast in his campaign are both echoes of the Ku Klux Klan. As a historian of the 1920s Klan, I noticed the resonances, too. Trump’s “Make America great again” language is just like the rhetoric of the Klan, with their emphasis on virulent patriotism and restrictive immigration. But maybe Trump doesn’t know much about the second incarnation of the order and what Klansmen and Klanswomen stood for. Maybe the echoes are coincidence, not strategy to win the support of white supremacists. Maybe Trump just needs a quick historical primer on the 1920s Klan—and their vision for making America great again.

In 1915, William J. Simmons, an ex-minister and self-described joiner of fraternities, created a new Ku Klux Klan dedicated to “100 percent Americanism” and white Protestantism. He wanted to evoke the previous Reconstruction Klan (1866-1871) but refashion it as a new order—stripped of vigilantism and dressed in Christian virtue and patriotic pride. Simmons’s Klan was to be the savior of a nation in peril, a means to reestablish the cultural dominance of white people. Immigration and the enfranchisement of African Americans, according to the Klan, eroded this dominance and meant that America was no longer great. Simmons, the first imperial wizard of the Klan, and his successor, H.W. Evans, wanted Klansmen to return the nation to its former glory. Their messages of white supremacy, Protestant Christianity, and hypernationalism found an eager audience. By 1924, the Klan claimed 4 million members; they wore robes, lit crosses on fire, read Klan newspapers, and participated in political campaigns on the local and national levels.

To save the nation, the Klan focused on accomplishing a series of goals. A 1924 Klan cartoon, “Under the Fiery Cross,” illustrated those goals: restricted immigration, militant Protestantism, better government, clean politics, “back to the Constitution,” law enforcement, and “greater allegiance to the flag.” Along with the emphases on government and nationalism, the order also mobilized under the banners of vulnerable white womanhood and white superiority more generally. Nativism, writes historian Matthew Frye Jacobson in Whiteness of a Different Color, is a crisis about the boundaries of whiteness and who exactly can be considered white. It is a reaction to a shift in demographics, which confuses the dominant group’s understanding of race. For the KKK, Americans were supposed to be only white and Protestant. They championed white supremacy to keep the nation white, ignoring that citizenry was not constrained to their whims.

The Klan was facing a crisis because the culture was changing around them, and nativism was their reaction. Demographic shifts, including immigration, urbanization, and the migrations of African Americans from the South to the North gave urgency and legitimacy to the Klan’s fears that the nation was in danger. From 1890 to 1914, more than 16 million immigrants arrived in the United States, and a large majority were Catholics from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Poland. Around 10 percent were Jewish. The Klan described the influx of immigrants as a “menace” that threatened “true Americanism,” “devotion to the nation and its government,” and, worst of all, America as a civilization. Evans claimed that “aliens” (immigrants) challenged and attacked white Americans instead of doing the right thing—and joining the Klan’s cause. (Yes, strangely, he expected immigrants’ support even though the Klan limited membership to white Protestant men and women. Of course, it’s also strange that Trump expects Latino support.) Writing in the Klan newspaper The Imperial Night-Hawk in 1923, Evans declared that immigrants were “mostly scum,” a dangerous “horde.”

Unsurprisingly, the 1920s Klan supported legislation to restrict immigration to preferred countries with Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian roots. The order championed the Immigration Act of 1924, which limited immigration visas to 2 percent or 3 percent of the population of each nationality from the 1890 census. When President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill into law, the Klan celebrated the continued protection of the “purity” of American citizenship. A white Protestant citizenry and the desire to maintain their dominance culturally and politically, then, defined 100 percent Americanism….

It’s In The Cards — Daniel Victor in The New York Times on the treasures among our trash.

The unattended bag found while cleaning out a great-grandparent’s home looked like trash, and it was nearly discarded. But someone decided to root through the pile of postcards and paper products, and was rewarded by finding seven baseball cards from 1909 to 1911 featuring the Hall of Fame player Ty Cobb.

Those cards, it turned out, may be worth more than $1 million, according to Joe Orlando, who authenticated them. The family, which he said wished to remain anonymous, had stumbled upon the kind of revelation that’s increasingly rare but consistently exciting for the flailing card industry.

“They are becoming more and more uncommon as time goes on, but until every attic is searched and every old box or bag examined, these finds represent the hope that all collectors dream about,” Mr. Orlando wrote.

The find, one of the industry’s most notable discoveries in years, could fuel the dreams of every longtime collector with eyes on a distant payday while boxes of cards continue to take up room in storage. But it also highlighted how much the industry has changed.

The mind-set that playing cards could represent not just a space-consuming hobby but also wise financial planning led to a boom in production and collecting in the 1980s and ’90s, as children were drawn to cheap packs they could trade among friends and adults saw financial opportunity. Parents, especially, could teach their children to see the hobby as an investment: Save these cards until you’re old and they’ll be worth a lot of money, the thinking went.

For the most part, that promise has fallen short as the value of modern cards has plummeted. If you held onto a 1984 Topps Darryl Strawberry rookie card, worth $15 in 1990, you perhaps should have sold it then: It’s down to $3 now, according to Beckett price guides. More bad news: Your 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco rookie card, worth $48 in 1990, is worth $15 today.

The cards’ popularity ultimately contributed to their own downfall. Companies printed more to keep up with demand and made the supply too abundant, said Brian Fleischer, senior market analyst for Beckett Media.

And collectors’ own seemingly savvy behavior fed the problem, said Dave Jamieson, 37, the author of “Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an America Obsession.” Since a generation of young collectors grew up thinking of their cards as investments, they’ve held on to them, shuffling them from one home to the next.

“The cards we grew up with never had a chance to become scarce because we kept them,” he said. “It became a better lesson in economics than any of our parents thought it would be.”

The cards Mr. Jamieson saved from his youth ended up being just about worthless, he said. When he finally decided to get rid of them, he couldn’t find anyone to buy, and no one would take them as donations. “These cards aren’t even worth a penny apiece,” he said.

The industry’s drop-off began around 1994, Mr. Jamieson said. Since then, most brick-and-mortar card shops have closed, shows are less frequent and more sales are happening via the Internet.

Jim Ryan, co-founder of JP’s Sports & Rock Solid Promotions, said cards remain a draw at memorabilia shows and autograph signings the company stages in the tristate area, but not like they were in the ’80s and ’90s. Children are still drawn by the chance to meet a player at an autograph signing, while adults are more likely to make a big-money purchase after physically seeing the cards.

Cards and collectibles for current players are like the stock market, rising and falling based on performance, he said. But the older cards tend to have safer values, he said.

“Mickey Mantle isn’t going to have a bad year,” he said. “His card’s always going to be worth money.”

Mr. Mantle’s cards are worth more than they used to be, reflective of a market for vintage cards that has not just remained strong, but has grown since the industry’s heyday.

The Yankee slugger’s 1952 Topps rookie card, worth $1,400 in November 1984, is now up to $30,000, according to Beckett price guides. A 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan rookie card, worth $33 in 1984, could now fetch $500.

The cards, which as far back as the 1880s were found in tobacco packs and later with bubble gum, weren’t always considered something to save, which is why children would sometimes bend them into bike spokes. The Ty Cobb find was exciting to collectors, Mr. Fleischer said, because it suggested such rare discoveries are still possible.

“There are still finds out there to be found,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Doonesbury — Lighting up.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Little Night Music

Forty-five years ago tonight, a new sitcom debuted on CBS.  It barely registered in the ratings until the summer re-runs, but soon it became the number 1 show and Archie Bunker became the archetype of a reactionary right-wing bigot.  Nobody ever thought anyone like him could be taken seriously as a politician, least of all a presidential candidate.  Those were the days.

Short Takes

Relief aid reaches starving towns in Syria.

The Supreme Court sounds like it might deal a big setback to public employee unions.

Millions of ISIS cash destroyed by U.S. air strikes.

The Koch brothers’ dad helped build an oil refinery for the Third Reich, according to a new book.

William Del Monte, the last-known survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, dies at 109.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015

November 22, 1963

JFK 11-22-06Friday, November 22, 1963. I was in the sixth grade in Toledo, Ohio. I had to skip Phys Ed because I was just getting over bronchitis, so I was in a study hall when a classmate came up from the locker room in the school basement to say, “Kennedy’s dead.” We had a boy in our class named Matt Kennedy, and I wondered what had happened – an errant fatal blow with a dodgeball? A few minutes later, though, it was made clear to us at a hastily-summoned assembly, and we were soon put on the buses and sent home. Girls were crying.

There was a newspaper strike at The Blade, so the only papers we could get were either from Detroit or Cleveland. (The union at The Blade, realizing they were missing the story of the century, agreed to immediately resume publication and settle their differences in other ways.) Television, though, was the medium of choice, and I remember the black-and-white images of the arrival of Air Force One at Andrews, the casket being lowered, President Johnson speaking on the tarmac, and the events of the weekend – Oswald, Ruby, the long slow funeral parade, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – merging into one long black-and-white flicker, finally closing on Monday night with the eternal flame guttering in the cold breeze.

I suspect that John F. Kennedy would be bitterly disappointed that the only thing remembered about his life was how he left it and how it colored everything he did leading up to it. The Bay of Pigs, the steel crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, the Test Ban Treaty, even the space program are dramatized by his death. They became the stuff of legend, not governing, and history should not be preserved as fable.

At the age of eleven, I never thought about being old enough to look back fifty years to that time. According to NPR, more than sixty percent of Americans alive today were not yet born on that day. Today the question is not do you remember JFK, but what did his brief time leave behind. Speculation is rife as to what he did or did not accomplish – would we have gone in deeper in Vietnam? Would he have pushed civil rights? Would the Cold War have lasted? We’ll never know, and frankly, pursuing such questions is a waste of time. Had JFK never been assassinated, chances are he would have been re-elected in 1964, crushing Barry Goldwater, but leading an administration that was more style than substance, battling with his own party as much as with the Republicans, much like Clinton did in the 1990’s. According to medical records, he would have been lucky to live into his sixties, dying from natural causes in the 1980’s, and he would have been remembered fondly for his charm and wit – and his beautiful wife – more than what he accomplished in eight years of an average presidency.

But it was those six seconds in Dealy Plaza that defined him. Each generation has one of those moments. For my parents it was Pearl Harbor in 1941 or the flash from Warm Springs in April 1945. Today it is Challenger in 1986, and of course September 11, 2001. And in all cases, it is what the moment means to us. It is the play, not the players. We see things as they were, contrast to how they are, and measure the differences, and by that, we measure ourselves.

Originally published in 2003.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Find A Better Example

The forced internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II was one of the most shameful episodes in our country’s history.  Thousands of people were uprooted from their homes and livelihoods for no other reason than they happened to look like or share a country of origin with the people who bombed Pearl Harbor.  For the last seventy years we have been trying to make amends, going so far as to issue an official apology on behalf of the United States from Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Now there are those who are citing that horrible chapter as an inspiration on how to deal with Syrian refugees.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you David Bowers, mayor of Roanoke, Virginia:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.

Seriously?  He’s using that as a talking point for setting up concentration camps?  (Well, at least he didn’t suggest that we offer everyone a shower before being put into the camps.)

George Takei has a response:

Mayor Bowers, there are a few key points of history you seem to have missed:

1) The internment (not a “sequester”) was not of Japanese “foreign nationals,” but of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. I was one of them, and my family and I spent 4 years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. It is my life’s mission to never let such a thing happen again in America.

2) There never was any proven incident of espionage or sabotage from the suspected “enemies” then, just as there has been no act of terrorism from any of the 1,854 Syrian refugees the U.S. already has accepted. We were judged based on who we looked like, and that is about as un-American as it gets.

3) If you are attempting to compare the actual threat of harm from the 120,000 of us who were interned then to the Syrian situation now, the simple answer is this: There was no threat. We loved America. We were decent, honest, hard-working folks. Tens of thousands of lives were ruined, over nothing.

I admire Mr. Takei for a lot of reasons, not the least for being a wonderful punster as well as a role model for gay people, but he also has a life experience that he has turned into a lesson for us all.

Mr. Bowers, on the other hand, does a fine job of showing us how to be an asshole and put it out there in an official statement.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fear Itself

The Paris attacks and the unfounded rumors that Syrian refugees might be responsible for it have turned the usual suspects who know nothing about the actual nationality of the bombers and less about what to do about them into foreign policy experts and military strategists… at least as far as getting in front of a microphone is concerned and making noise.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta took an unusually blunt approach Monday in questioning President Barack Obama about why the United States has not destroyed the Islamic State, the militant group also known as ISIS.

“A lot of Americans have this frustration that they see the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS,” Acosta said. “I guess the question is, and if you’ll forgive the language, but why can’t we take out these bastards?”

Obama, who was speaking in Antalya, Turkey, at the G-20 summit, responded that he had “just spent the last three questions answering that very question.”

And because “Call of Duty” is a video game, not foreign policy.

Earlier Monday, Obama had defended the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State, which has largely focused on airstrikes, amid calls for deploying a large number of ground troops in response to the Paris terrorist attacks. Obama said a ground invasion would be a “mistake” because it would require using U.S. troops to occupy Iraqi and Syrian cities indefinitely.

Obama also said he respected the debate over what to do against the Islamic State, but “if folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan.”

“If they think somehow their advisers are better than the Chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them,” Obama said. “And we can have that debate. But what I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people and to protect the people in the region who are getting killed and to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that.”

The situation got even stupider if not more xenophobic when a group of state governors — mostly Republican — announced that they would not allow Syrian refugees to be settled in their states.

More than half a dozen state governors have come out against President Obama’s plans to relocate several thousand Syrian refugees within the United States. Some have pledged to actively resist settlement of these refugees. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), for example, signed a letter to Obama that begins “as governor of Texas, I write to inform you that the State of Texas will not accept any refugees from Syria in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack in Paris.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) issued an executive order instructing all “departments, budget units, agencies, offices, entities, and officers of the executive branch of the State of Louisiana” to “utilize all lawful means to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the State of Louisiana while this Order is in effect.”

The problem for Jindal, Abbott and the other governors opposed to admitting refugees, however, is that there is no lawful means that permits a state government to dictate immigration policy to the president in this way. As the Supreme Court explained in Hines v. Davidowitz, “the supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution.” States do not get to overrule the federal government on matters such as this one.

Just in case there is any doubt, President Obama has explicit statutory authorization to accept foreign refugees into the United States. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the president may admit refugees who face “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” into the United States, and the president’s power to do so is particularly robust if they determine that an “unforeseen emergency refugee situation” such as the Syrian refugee crisis exists.

Blaming the Syrian refugees for the bombing in Paris is not only wrong based on the facts, it reminds those of us with a knowledge of history of another shameful chapter in our recent past where those fleeing religious persecution were turned away.

The MS St. Louis was a German ocean liner most notable for a single voyage in 1939, in which her captain, Gustav Schröder, tried to find homes for 908 Jewish refugees from Germany, after they were denied entry to Cuba, the United States and Canada, until finally accepted in various European countries, which were later engulfed in World War II. Historians have estimated that, after their return to Europe, approximately a quarter of the ship’s passengers died in concentration camps. The event was the subject of a 1974 book, Voyage of the Damned, by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts. It was adapted for a 1976 American film of the same title.

Those governors — including Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) who apparently won’t accept any Syrians unless they’re Cubans — aren’t afraid of the unlikely possibility that among them might be a sleeper agent of ISIS; they’re afraid of showing compassion to people who aren’t like them.  (Jeb Bush said he was fine with admitting Syrian refugees as long as they were Christians.  Oh, how noble.)  How can they run for president or some cabinet post in the Cruz administration if they can’t prove they are both butch and bed-wetters?

This is exactly what ISIS wants: for America and the West to close its borders to those fleeing their caliphate and to prove that non-Muslims hate all Muslims and intend to launch the Crusades again.  So far at least a goodly number of useful idiots in Congress and various statehouses are falling in line with them.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Dredfully Stupid

Mike Huckabee doesn’t know much about history or the Constitution.

While defending Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses out of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage, Mike Huckabee said Wednesday that the Supreme Court’s 1857 ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford – which held that all blacks, free or enslaved, could not be American citizens – is still the law of the land even though no one follows it.

The reason no one follows it is because there was the little matter of the Civil War and the subsequent 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution that nullified the Dred Scott ruling.

Since Mr. Huckabee never went to law school, I’ll let him off for not knowing the intricacies of the Constitution — although I’m pretty sure they cover the amendments that banned slavery and established citizenship in high school history class — but the Civil War was in all the papers.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Reading

Ten Years After — Charlie Pierce on the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

All archaeology is about layers, one city laid atop the others, as though civilization were coming from deep in the earth and piling itself up toward the sky. In the late nineteenth century, when the German adventurer and archaeologist—and part-time fantast—Heinrich Schliemann went looking for the city of Troy, he found eleven of them, one atop another. At one level, Schliemann found a cache of gold and jewelry that he pronounced to be the treasure of Priam, the king of Troy at the time of the events of the Iliad. He was wrong. The gold had been found at what later was determined to be only Troy II. It is popularly believed now that Troy VII was the site of the war about which Homer wrote. There are bronze arrowheads there, and skeletons bearing the marks of hor-rendous injuries, and there is evidence of a great fire. What Schliemann wrote when he first made his discoveries there has held remarkably true for all the layers of Troy that have been unearthed since then:

“I have proved that in a remote antiquity there was in the Plain of Troy a large city, destroyed of old by a fearful catastrophe, which had on the hill of Hissarlik only its Acropolis, with its temples and a few other large edifices, whilst its lower city extended in an easterly, southerly, and westerly direction, on the site of the later Ilium; and that, consequently, this city answers perfectly to the Homeric description of the sacred site of Ilios.”

There is an archaeology to human lives, too, and it is very much the same. Human lives have layers, one atop the other, as though the individual were rising from the dust of creation toward the stars. Some of the layers show nothing much at all. Some of them, like the dark layers at Troy that indicate a vast fire, show that something very important happened to the lives in question. Hurricane Katrina, and all of the myriad events surrounding it, both good and bad, is that vast, sweeping layer within the lives of the people of New Orleans. Almost fifteen hundred people died. There was $100 billion in damage. The levees failed. The city flooded. The city, state, and federal governments failed even worse than the levees did. It was estimated in 2006 that four hundred thousand people were displaced from the city; an estimated one hundred thousand of them never returned. Parts of the city recovered. Parts of the city were rebuilt. Parts of the city gleam now brighter than they ever did. There will be parades on the anniversary of the storm because there are things in the city to celebrate, but it is the tradition in this city that the music doesn’t lively up and the parade really doesn’t start until the departed has been laid to rest, until what is lost is counted, and until the memories are stored away. Only then does the music swing the way the music is supposed to sound. Only then do they begin to parade.

There will be some joy in the tenth-anniversary celebration because of this, but the storm is there in everyone, a dark layer in the archaeology of their lives. For some people, it is buried deeply enough to be forgotten. For others, the people who live in the places that do not gleam and that are not new, it is closer to the surface. A lot of the recovery is due to what author Naomi Klein refers to as “disaster capitalism.” The city has been reconfigured according to radically different political imperatives—in its schools and its housing and the general relationship of the people to their city and state governments. Many of them felt their lives taken over by anonymous forces as implacable as the storm was. There will be some sadness in the tenth anniversary because of this, fresh memories of old wounds, a sense of looming and ongoing loss. The storm is the dark layer in all the lives. And because it is, the storm is what unites them still, like that burned layer of Troy.

The Reopening of the Embassy — In The Atlantic, Yoani Sánchez, a blogger in Cuba, tells what the flag-raising at the U.S. embassy means to the average person in Havana.  (Translated by Mary Jo Porter.)

My grandchildren will ask, “Were you there, grandma?” The answer will be barely a monosyllable accompanied by a smile. “Yes,” I will tell them, although at the moment the flag of the United States was raised over its embassy in Havana I was gathering opinions for a story, or connected to some Internet access point. “I was there,” I will repeat.

The fact of living in Cuba on August 14 makes the more than 11 million of us participants in a historic event that transcends the raising of an insignia to the top of a flagpole. We are all here, in the epicenter of what is happening.

For my generation, as for so many other Cubans, it is the end of one stage. It does not mean that starting tomorrow everything we have dreamed of will be realized, nor that freedom will break out by the grace of a piece of cloth waving on the Malecón. Now comes the most difficult part. However, it will be that kind of uphill climb in which we cannot blame our failures on our neighbor to the north. It is the beginning of the stage of absorbing who we are, and recognizing why we have only made it this far.

The official propaganda will run out of epithets. This has already been happening since the December 17 announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Washington and Havana took all of us by surprise. That equation, repeated so many times, of not permitting an internal dissidence or the existence of other parties because Uncle Sam was waiting for a sign of weakness to pounce on the island, is increasingly unsustainable.

Now, the ideologues of continuity warn that “the war against imperialism” will become more subtle, the methods more sophisticated … but slogans do not understand nuances. “Are they the enemy, or aren’t they?” ask all those who, with the simple logic of reality, experienced a childhood and youth marked by constant paranoia toward that country on the other side of the Straits of Florida.

[…]

A conflict of eras is unfolding in Cuba—a collision between two countries: one that has been stranded in the middle of the 20th century, and one that is pushing the other to move forward. They are two islands that clash, but it needs to happen. We know, by the laws of biology and of Kronos, which will prevail. But right now they are in full collision and dragging all of us between the opposing forces.

This Friday’s front-page of the newspaper Granma shows this conflict with a past that doesn’t want to stop playing a starring role in our present—a past tense of military uniforms, guerrillas, bravado, and political tantrums that refuses to give way to a modern and plural country. When one scrutinizes Friday’s edition of the official publication of the Cuban Communist Party, it is easy to detect how a country that is unraveling clings to its past, trying not to make room for the country to come.

In this future Cuba, which is just around the corner, some restless grandchildren will ask me about one day lost in the intense summer of 2015. With a smile, I will be able to tell them, “I was there, I lived it … because I understood the point of inflection that it signified.”

To Be or Not To Be, Dude — Shakespeare’s lost weed sonnets from Anthony Lydgate at The New Yorker.

South African scientists have discovered that 400-year-old tobacco pipes excavated from the garden of William Shakespeare contained cannabis, suggesting the playwright might have written some of his famous works while high.

The Telegraph.

SONNET NO. 156

Shall I compare thee to a Purple Haze?
Thou art far kinder, we’re talking righteous bush.
Rough kids do snatch the darling buds from May’s,
And Summer’s lease is up (landlord = douche):
Where, then, will I find thee, honeyed kaya,
When my cursèd suppliers do run out?
Perhaps succor shall I beg of Maya,
Although she hath a tendency to shout.
Dime bag or nug, I’ll lie on the carpet
And smoke my spliff, or in sooth just a roach,
For Anne is full vexed: “Lay off, please, stop it!”
One whiff of ganj and anon she’ll encroach.
So long as dudes can breathe and birds have feather,
That rug really ties the room together.

Doonesbury — Don’t know much about history.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

DNA Does It Again

From the New York Times:

Long before Lucy Mercer, Kay Summersby or Monica Lewinsky, there was Nan Britton, who scandalized a nation with stories of carnal adventures in a White House coat closet and endured a ferocious backlash for publicly claiming that she bore the love child of President Warren G. Harding.

Now nearly a century later, according to genealogists, new genetic tests confirm for the first time that Ms. Britton’s daughter, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, was indeed Harding’s biological child. The tests have solved one of the enduring mysteries of presidential history and offer new insights into the secret life of America’s 29th president. At the least, they demonstrate how the march of technology is increasingly rewriting the nation’s history books.

The reason you probably never heard about the Harding affair is because it happened almost a hundred years ago, it was hushed up by the Harding family to the point that they went to court to suppress a biography that wrote about it, the Harding administration was embroiled in the Teapot Dome scandal, and President Harding had the good sense to die a little over two years into his term, leaving Calvin Coolidge to clean up the mess.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Thursday, July 16, 2015