Friday, October 18, 2019

1001 and Ode to a Camel

"One Thousand and One cleans a big, big carpet in less than half an hour." It's from one of those jingles on an advert for cleaning products. Infuriating, it had a quality to it that caught hold of the ear, wormed its way into your frontal cortex and bounced around like an insane gymnast, or possibly a brain tumor. The fact that I can still remember the words of this jingle from the 1960's is a sure sign of just how much lasting damage has been done by the advertising industry to what few memory cells that remain to me. Oddly, yesterday was day 1001 of the current administration assuming power and paving the way for Putin-style oligarchy.

"They crouched by the arte-brakes, the hunters, and sort to win a safe prey, but she outran their shafts and pursuing hounds." It's not a product of a slimy back room boy in somewhere like Madison Avenue, it's a wonderful mind picture that comes from a translation of a 6th or 7th Century Arab love poem called An Ode to a Camel. And you have to wonder about whose side you're on, the hunters or the beautiful creature that outran them. My usual preference would be the beautiful creature that outran the hunters, off into the yonder. Inevitably there are debates around what a beautiful creature might be.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Trails of the Abwehr

Military Intelligence is a discipline, and like all proud disciplines it does require dedication and training, and it's reputation is judged by it's relationship with informed perspectives that are supported by available evidence. Intelligence officers are like the scientists of weather forecasting, and woe unto he who relies on the Farmers Almanac. Abwehr is the German word for Defense. The Abwehr was the name for a military intelligence service formed in 1920 contrary to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty within the agreed to Reich Ministry that was to be solely devoted to military matters, a limited army, a very limited navy, and hardly any air force. In the 1930's political interests within the new Germany had a few secrets of their own, and in 1937 these political interests raided the offices of the Abwehr to destroy files that reflected a truth that might have damaged their own carefully crafted reputations. They assumed that the Abwehr was also political player in the developing political circumstances within Germany. It was a quality of intense distrust within the upper levels of the new German hierarchy many of whom were close to feral and equally as short-sighted as many appear to be here in the USA in the year 2019. And no accident that a dictator is or was their head of state.

What happened was this, Stalin and Hitler had a dictator head of state kind of relationship, it's a sort of  homo-erotic bro-mance only between power lusting boy Porcupines, and Hitler kindly offered Stalin information, that would be provided by his Abwehr, about suspect individuals within the Red Army's officer corps.  Stalin accepted, and Hitler uncertain of the loyalties within the German officer corps thought it best to keep his arrangement, or deal, with Stalin secret. The suspicion was that because of relationships that had developed between the German and Soviet officer corps toward the end of the First World War, German officers might warn their counterparts, who might then escape the labor camps. Stalin conducted a very successful purge of his officer corps, the result was a win for Hitler, the effectiveness and capacities of the Red Army was very badly damaged and it was a win for Stalin who was more interested in his own survival through absolute personal loyalty than he was in his country's military effectiveness. Meanwhile in Germany political interests were very nervous of the Abwehr's information gathering, and had no inclination to believe that the information within the Abwehr's possession wouldn't be used for personal political gain by the Chief of the Abwehr, who at the time believed that his country had done so badly in the First World War as a result of a failure in the mission of military intelligence. I think it was Nietzsche who added his voice to the view that with us people the same events twist on an axis, turn endlessly, nothing really changes.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Tangled Webs, Ale Conners, Lord Marmion and Walter Scott

Not sure whether Bo Peep was a good or bad shepherd. Maybe shepherds lose their Sheep all the time, maybe it's just the less experienced shepherd who panics quickly when the odd Sheep goes missing, unaware that sooner or later they return to the fold dragging their tails behind them. A lot of disagreement around who Bo Peep might have been, and probably the truer understandings revolve around Victorian Nurseries rather than some long convoluted account that starts with Medieval Ale Conners who were charged with checking the quality of ale served by publicans, who being devious would employ youths to let them know when an Ale Conner was in the vicinity. These lookouts were called Bo Beeps. And I guess those who gave consideration to framing the occasional nursery rhyme thought Bo Peep kind of a neat name for a little girl shepherd, images of whom never suggest she was possessed of the Paleolithic character little boys tend towards. But best not to get too involved in the debate, let the passion pass into the distance, so that the mind might concentrate on one of Walter Scott's longer poems called Marmion, where the immortal words "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive" were penned.  In the poem, Marmion was a lord, up there amongst the landed gentleman in the years prior to the Battle of Flodden, when a disagreement between English and Scottish interests met to settle a dispute. The year of the battle was 1513, and Scott's poem was published around 1808. Not sure how to describe any of Walter Scott's poems, but they're kind of ripping yarns if you don't take yourself too seriously, inclined to sneer at the "Sound of Music" but very much liked the musical South Pacific. "I'm going to wash that man right out of my hair, and send him on his way." And that haunting song by Lieutenant Gable "You've go to be carefully taught."

Lord Marmion had a desire to increase his land holdings by seducing a very wealthy heiress called Clara de Clare. Oddly Lord Marmion plotted with his mistress Constance de Beverly to ruin the reputation of Clara de Clare's fiancée and the love of her life, a man called Sir Ralph de Wilton. You might wonder why Constance de Beverly, Marmion's mistress, would wish to assist Marmion. Well Constance was a nun who had slightly gone off the rails and she thought that by assisting Marmion she would get back into Marmion's good favor. Then while attempting to defend his honor against Marmion's wholly made up accusations Sir Ralph de Wilton challenged Marmion to a duel, which in those days (1500's) was how gentlemen proved their honesty in the court of public opinion. Sir Ralph de Wilton lost the duel and he was so ashamed he went into exile. Clara de Clare was heart broken, she decided to become a nun rather than risk having to deal with Marmion's odious character flaws and equally odious seduction techniques. Nor did it work out for Constance, she was tried, found guilty of being a bad nun and she was walled up, literally she was built into a wall of a nunnery. But in her trail she had managed to gain a few possibilities in the afterlife by giving her panel of judges documents that would prove Sir Ralph de Wilton was innocent of Lord Marmion's outrageous and totally made up accusations. And lo, with documentation of his innocence Sir Ralph was accepted back into the community of gentlemen where he was able to do his bit at the Battle of Flodden during which he was acclaimed a hero, his lands were returned to him and he was able to marry Clara de Clare who'd not yet gone full blown nun. And in that same battle Lord Marmion was killed, happenstance that King James IV of Scotland was also killed. As The World Turns (which lasted 54 years, he's 73 if you need reminding) webs of deceit become tangled but never, ever a shortage of plot twists.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Sausage and Home Again.

Walked down an aisles in the grocery store that your reluctant shopper has never been down before. You don't get maps, instead you got these little signs high above the aisles you need binoculars to read. The store was busy, shopping cart jams all over the place, coffee clutches with louder than necessary conversation and little old lady eavesdroppers doing nothing to aid the flow of traffic, inadequately trained big people on those motorized hazards that aimlessly zip around, not sure whether all children these days are an inch or two on the other side of special  but let's put it this way a snowflake in good standing does sometimes gain insights into the motivations behind the odious phenomenon of the eugenics movement. Then I saw an opportunity to collect my thoughts in what looked like a peacefully deserted aisle and ducked into it. The aisle contained yards and yards of Dog Treats, each variety of dog treat with images of so called adorable dogs that yap and if you tell them to shut up they bite you. To hell with it, I decided, "I'm going to buy a sausage."

Nor was "sausage" on my list, but arguably because three items on my list were, shall we say, so specially written I couldn't decode them, the sad fact is "sausage" could have well been on my list. It's also true that on a Saturday morning the meat products area in the Grocery store is a dithering place for those in our number who may have lost the physical capacity to touch their own toes and presumably some besotted life partner manages their foot care for them. The other thing about wanting to buy a sausage is that when put beside the mind blowing number of varieties of dog treats, sausage choice is very limited and, even more aggravating, at a minimum you have to buy 5 sausages for getting on 5 dollars. Then if you look further into prices, there's this whole reduced price per sausage if you buy two 5 packs of sausages. I guess it's all designed to sell pedicure kits to besotted life partners. Sadly, I spotted a little yellow lonely circle, the design of which might well have been culled from a Munch scribble just prior to his painting The Scream, so I got 5 suspect sausages for 99 cents. This time tomorrow I could be dead, structural change gone from consideration.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Volfefe Index

Stock Market traders like what they call indexes. If an index moves it suggests future possibilities for profit or loss. The Consumer Confidence Index. I'm told there's something called the Volfefe Index. This index has developed around information on how Stock Markets respond to the current President's Tweets. Doesn't matter whether information in the tweet is accurate or just something made up. This index simply responds to what happens to stocks when the tweet is about subject A, or B and so on.

Currently international trade is struggling with disagreements between United States and particularly China. Any tweet that suggests positive news in this area of trade between the US and China, whether it's true or not, whether it's political or simply a whim, results in stocks rising in value. In the course of tweet storm a trader can buy and sell, come away with a profit. Volfefe! Named after the famine horseman of the apocalypse? Could well be this time next week, but currently the rumor is it was inspired by a mysterious word, possibly a nuclear code, in one of the President's tweets which was "covfefe," the "vol" part in volfefe stands for volatility. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Kurdish Diaspora and Normandy

Feel a little confident that there might well have been Kurds on the Beaches of Normandy. They have a wide Diaspora. The first identifiable Kurds to arrive in the USA did so following the First World War. Back then Woodrow Wilson was all about self determination, and in the Middle East the US policy was that the Kurds who were finally free of the Ottomans should be allowed their homeland. The British and the French had other ideas. In the early 1920's Iraq revolted against British occupation and the Kurds saw their chance at a homeland, they too took up arms against the British. There were two Kurdish rebellions, both of which were put down rather brutally and in the aftermath some Kurds found their way to the United States.

Not good at math but you have to reckon with the enlistments in the USA that followed the USA's belated entrance into the Second World War, the Pearl Harbor incident in the December of 1941, some Kurds might have received their draft notice, along with German Americans, Japanese Americans, Austrian Americans, Andaman Islander Americans.. It's a long list. And I'm aware that during the Second World War the US had a fully fledged and well institutionalized segregation, the military was no exception. But if you're a whitey-white person and you met a Kurd in the streets of Nashville you'd think he or she was as whitey-white  as you, only with a very much better complexion.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019


Not easy to forget the Pickled Pepper fiasco of a couple of years ago. They were possibly the single most disgusting result of your gardener's short canning career. Yet the problem of a surplus of Peppers remains. Next year there will be fewer Pepper plants in the garden. Vaguely remember deciding that before. This year the excess of Peppers seems worse than ever, and this year some of the excess has found its way into a glop, which doesn't appear in the dictionary as a culinary expression but does kind of well describe anything that begins the cooking process with a cup of vinegar and a cup of sugar and ends up in a sealed glass jar.

This means I have a Pear Glop and a Green Tomato Glop, both of which have Peppers as a major ingredient, and we're talking around 20% of volume. The other thing about us less recipe directed cooks, after spending what feels like a lifetime processing a Glop, you feel obliged to offer the result of your labors a much higher rather than a lower grade. Only later do you develop a more objective view of the contents of the larder, and far too often there are major  disappointments. Either way that's it for the canning and freezing season of 2019, it's been exhausting and it could well take getting on a week to get the smell of vinegar and the flutter of Fruit Flies out of the kitchen.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Union of Corruption and Hypocrisy

 "The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform..." Is kind of standard definition of hypocrisy. But if I said to you, "I'm a bit ruppy." And you happened to know Sanskrit, somewhere along the line you might come up with, "I'm sorry you have a stomachache, but I think you'll find that the correct English language spelling of the Sanskrit for stomach ailment is rupya." Leaving aside the warm feeling pompous asses get when they meet each other, and the possibilities of extended debate, the point is that through the generations of language the "rup" part of "corrupt" generally means turning good to bad. Rupture and disrupt are other examples of the meanings in the "rup" part. If something is corrupted, that something is spoiled. Its value, if you like, has changed from the perspective that it was good and within the same perspective is now bad.  "I'm glad you're feeling ruppy, I've just poisoned you, which is bad for you and good for me." In time, corrupt came to mean debasement of character, to destroy, seduce, bribe and so on, and no doubt the wide range of meanings of a corrupted stomach is fairly clear, it's a whole thing, can be deliberate, accidental, it may be a result of ignorance and so on. And the word is used for disobedient computer codes.

Corrupting is something A does to B. "These eggs are corrupt." "Who corrupted them?" "Salmonella." Then being a gentle sort of person you can say "Salmonella can't help himself, it's just what he does in the course of his day, such a pity so many people had to die to give Salmonella an opportunity to thrive." All of which is why Corrupt has in its two meanings the idea of dishonest behaviors for personal gain, as well as infection, depraved, perverted, putrid, ugh, and it's a rather long, sometimes passionate list. The dilemma is how to get a hold of the idea of a corrupt person investigating corruption. Presumably he breaks something already broken for personal gain. Tricky area indeed, especially if the corruptor gets a little vague around whether the something is broken or not, which, safe to assume is how corruption spreads as an infection and becomes like a new set of perspectives, as for example insisting climate change is a hoax for no better reason than personal gain. A perspective that may or may not survive. Or possibly corrupt is better grasped in terms of Salmonella and the Eggs. Salmonella can't help himself, has no grand scheme, we're not talking the cunning of a Fox, Salmonella just doesn't know what the "rup" part even means. All of which means the shortsightedness of corrupt hypocrites is problematic for us people.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Machiavelli, Franklin, Jung and Others on Hypocrisy

"The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform..." Several arguments. All of them fascinating. So let's start with Machiavelli. His point was that we people "..are often touched more nearly by appearances than by reality." In the 1980's in a study subtitled Social Expertise and the Evolution of Intellect of Monkeys, Apes and Humans, agreed when they titled their study Machiavellian Intelligence. It's easier to seem fair than to actually be fair, and because laziness is deeply ingrained in human nature, humans more often choose appearance over reality. Then if you think about this in terms of yourself, unless like me you're an unrecognized Saint, you can grasp the soundness of this position. And you got Benjamin Franklin who said something like "..a convenient thing to be a reasonable creature, it allows you to make a reason for anything you have a mind to." And here laziness gets in the way of the hard work of trying to find accurate evidence to support your position and easier still to pick and chose what evidence best suits your position. The truly challenged by reality of course just make stuff up, then allow the theoretical underpinnings to become increasingly divorced from reality rather than accept the possibility of being in error. 

Philosophers have tried to work out whether or not Hypocrisy is good or bad. Philosophers worth their salt never have answers, but they love a good argument. Generally in moral terms Philosophers see it in terms of "pretending to be activated by a motive other than your own motive." This comes under deceit and lying which may or may not be a good thing. Philosophers also suggest that a "hypocritical lack of moral seriousness" can very much depend upon certain assumptions about the extent and make up of a moral framework within society, and so, they go on, best to think of the "No-Hypocrisy" position in terms of the right to blame and the value of blaming to the more constructive processes worth encouraging within a good society. There's also the idea that hypocrisy is a disposition in some to blame others and at the same time an unwillingness to accept blame from others or to blame ourselves. Realists more often just come out and say that being a moral person is a huge struggle in which most of us fail, so accept the flaws, we're all sinners, for god's sake everyone realize this, so get on with it and compromise. Karl Jung, who really did feel sorry for us people attempted to improve our lot by suggesting that under all circumstances lying to ourselves was very, very unhealthy, we had to know who and what we are and as we decided what we wanted to be, otherwise we all end up nutty. For Jung, I'd like to think, the west is enjoying yet another endless therapy session.

Sunday, October 6, 2019


Reached for the indoor long trousers this morning. Stared at them, they probably need to be washed, and the ethers are alive with that set of adverts that suggest the approach of the festive season, an appalling violation on a Sunday Morning. "Are we ready to do this Peloton!" It's a girl voice and she sounds very determined in an unnaturally excited way, somewhere between le climax and le concours, if you'll excuse the French. Dread to think who or what Peloton might be, but fairly convinced he, she or it is entirely unnecessary. Last Fall is mostly gone from my own memory, but I do recall raking leaves and being driven to such distraction by "Are we ready to do this Peloton!" that I had to switch off the technical device, which for those of us who have the addiction isn't easy to do. Then in March or May of this year, a long winter it was, "Are we ready to do this Peloton!" finally disappeared and I have known a degree of  inner peace for getting on six months.

It might be easier if I just went ahead and found out what or who Peloton is, but I'd call that an abject surrender. The whole point about "Are you ready for this Peloton!" is to drag you into Hades, down deep into the machinations of the Devil's own, where you creep around staring at last year's food stains on your indoor trousers wondering whether Peloton washes clothes as you slowly become an imbecile. "Harsh?" of course it's harsh, very harsh indeed, it needs to be, we're not talking Karoo Class Locomotives and milk chocolate bars, we're talking Peloton, a canoe ride down the Styx River, it's the contract with its promise that devours your soul leaves you wretched and drowning. Zeus swore an oath on the River Styx that one of his lovers would have everything she ever wanted, too late Zeus realized his oath would result in her death. Triumph and Disaster, "treat these two impostors the same," Kipling wisely quoted Shakespeare in his poem "If."

Saturday, October 5, 2019

A Settlement With Mill

A "solid ungulate quadruped of the horse kind, but shorter with long ears and a short mane." The Ass, is a native of Southwest Asia.  Southwest Asia includes Turkey, Iran, the Arabian Peninsular, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and in some minds, not mine, it includes Egypt. There are two species of Wild Ass both of them struggling for existence in Africa, the Somali Wild Ass and the Nubian Wild Ass. Strictly speaking the Donkey is an Ass which has over the years been domesticated, tamed and bred for servitude. Pompous comes from the Latin for 'stately' and all those high end dressing up, self important and funny hat behaviors associated with the more ceremonial side of stateliness. And as a Pompous Ass myself, I'd like to share with these pages my own moment of induction into the community of Pompous Asses.

The year was sometime in the late 1960's or there about and in discussion I did happen to say, "If you actually read the chapter you'll discover that you couldn't be more wrong." All I can accurately recall is the response and the tone of the response, which was "Oh belt up you pompous ass." It was a classic from a total loser who was entirely at sea within the framework of his thoroughly dumb ass, one sided opinions. I felt entirely vindicated, I'd never known what a Pompous Ass was and I began to realize that I was indeed a Pompous Ass, I embraced the title, and I think I got a D minus in the essay, which served only to reinforce my understanding that I was right and Mr. whatever his name was, was wrong to the point of idiocy. Back then of course we didn't have stuff like twitter. So welcome to our extraordinarily diverse community Senator Romney, we use first names so I'll call you "Settlement with Mill" or Milton for short.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Affective, Effective and Drought

"Affective" means causing emotional feelings. "Effective" means sensibly producing the desired result, assuming you know what that result is. Took me almost 60 years to grasp the distinction long enough to retain it for more than three and half minutes. Affective in the title "Reducing Affective Partisan Polarization" means reducing the level of emotion, or hostility, in partisan polarization. The subtitle of the study is the question "Warm Group Relations or Policy Compromise?" One argument as to why everyone seems to hate each other has to do with policy differences, and it's these policy differences that cause the sets of emotions that lead to hostility and an angry partisan divide that doesn't respond well to, let's call it discourse.

The other argument suggests that policy differences are fairly eternal and goes on to suggest that emotions that lead to hostility over policy differences are much ameliorated when leaders are seen to get along with each other, express comradeship in a warm and friendly kind of way without too much hugging and kissing, but certainly not shouting at each other, getting red in the face and saying things like 'what goes around comes around.' In other words, at heart, we're still more like Chimpanzees. The whole study makes huge sense to a gardener affectively struggling with his winter ground covers, weed seeds in his compost, rock hard ground, drought and the physical capacities of what effectively might just as well be a 900 year old Octopus lubbering around on land.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

How to Distract Dictators, The Goebbels and Hess example.

Rudolph Hess was a bit of an occultist, he had home remedies for everything, and he was Adolph Hitler's functional equivalent of Mike Pence. Hess' title was Deputy Fuhrer. Trouble was, while Hess had studied the theoretical underpinnings of the Third Reich, he believed in "living space" for the superior race, he had all the trappings, the uniform, the whole kit and caboodle, and he'd make perfect speeches praising the Dear Leader, but it was the war strategy that troubled him. He'd been wounded as an infantry man in the trenches of the First World War, struggled on became a fighter pilot just before the war ended, as opposed to a behind the lines courier, and he thought another two front war an error for Germany and soon enough he became DFINO, or Deputy Fuhrer In Name Only. In 1941 as the German Forces prepared to move into France, he flew a two engine Messerschmitt to Scotland where he hoped to meet a British bigwig who he understood to be anti-war and pro-Germany. Hess' intention was to talk peace between Britain and Germany. On the trip he took with him 28 different medicines, one of them was glucose, which is sometimes called blood sugar. It hadn't been an easy flight, he had to use landmarks to find his way and he had to avoid gung-ho British defense forces and by the time he got close to the bigwig's estate he ran out of fuel which forced him to take to his parachute.

He was arrested, spent the rest of his life in one jail or another, ending up in Spandau Jail where he killed himself in the August of 1987. He was 93 and by all accounts perfectly sane. Before he left on his trip to Scotland he hadn't actually told his Dear Leader what he was planning to do, but he had written a letter to Hitler laying out the details of his peace with the Anglo Saxons plan. It was a tense time for Hitler, what with an invasion of France about to happen, and when Hitler got the letter he had a bit of a conniption fit, yelled very loudly at everyone and he leapt to the conclusion that it was all part of an inner circle putsch to get rid of their Dear Leader. There was scurrying around, everyone was nervous for the longevity of their important careers. The plan Hitler came up with was to get it to the press in Germany and around the world, that there was nothing to worry about because Hess was totally nuts. Others suggested it just didn't look good under any circumstances to have your Deputy Fuhrer turn out to be a nut case even if he was totally nuts. It was Goebbels, who had his own propaganda problems with the loyalty of occultists, the whole higher power idea kind of undermined his stable genius argument that supported the often erratic Dear Leader, who, according to Goebbels, Germans were supposed to worship. So Goebbels took his chance to distract from the inner circle putsch idea by pointing out to Hitler that Hess was an admirer of the Occult, possible a practitioner, unsurprisingly with the world going insane occultists were popping everywhere. And soon enough all around Germany, any one suspected of occultism was being rounded up and made to disappear. Not sure what it is, but there's a moral for all of us here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Coop De Tat

Both a golpe de estado and a putsch are pretty good words for a "blow against the state" and oddly enough if the état part is capitalized then it's a blow against the "sovereign."  The coup part is not often pronounced coop, more often it's pronounced coo as in what Doves say and that's also rather cool for us English speakers who currently live in a constitutional democracy. Strictly speaking the coup d'état is an unconstitutional seizure of the state by a dictator or a military. So yes, it's an attempted coup and disparate organs of the state are currently bravely attempting to preserve the US Constitution which for getting on two centuries has been a shining a star around the world for many an idealist yearning for a just, fair and equal, open society in which to pursue the complexities of living a life on earth.

The five hundred years of the Roman Republic, another guiding light for many an idealist, fell when Roman senators forgot the essential principles of their own founders as their state gained territory along with slaves who knew how to build and farm, producing unbelievable wealth for the chosen few who slowly lost the enthusiasms of innocence. According to some, Caesar already had political ambitions before he crossed the Rubicon River, which is little more than a shallow fifty miles, was reluctant to assume power, but the Roman Senate was divided to the point of incompetent impasse, some senators were encouraging him to just go ahead and he kind of felt that it was his duty to preserve the integrity of Roman Rule over the vast wealth from so large an area of secured land which at the end of the Roman Republic was over a million square miles. The Roman Empire, for its part, became even larger until it split apart.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Price of Dignity

The whole thing is both fascinating and incredibly depressing, as well as tragic. Yet as one who spent a majority of his formative years in the murky waters of girl free boarding schools for boys my comrades and I learned a thing or two about getting into trouble, which is why with some confidence I can offer pointers to boys who might find themselves in trouble. Imperative to survival is the understanding that just because you don't think this or that activity or behavior is wrong doesn't mean you're right. Think otherwise, and you're pretty much being laughed at by Pontius Pilate, in which case history may or probably not, remember you fondly.  At the same time constantly saying how sorry you are for this or that activity or behavior is just wimpy, gives you a poor reputation as an entirely icky and pathetic human being who'll probably end up in a peaceful monastery or aggressive bible thumping on a street corner or selling exercise equipment.

Nor does it make any sense at all to claim that everyone does it, it gets you nowhere much beyond presenting yourself and your comrades with a splendid opportunity to be turned into exemplars of the consequences of poor behavior, dire consequences ensue as the great and the good, all of them guilty of something, gang up on you to unsully their reputations of your appalling and outrageous accusations. Avoid lying, it enables you to comfortably admit to the lesser crime, reduces your punishment and permits you to keep your dignity. Lie and it just goes on endlessly. Mind you, in my formative years the functionally unstable were as a rule fairly easily identified, they did a lot of sniveling, they whined constantly, everything was unfair, they were a pain in the neck to be around, they complained about their food at meal times, and the only reason to have anything to do with them was they usually had pocket money and would pay you to write a B minus essay for them, then pay you even more to keep quiet about their finest hour.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Ground Covers

 It's a great day when winter groundcovers sprout in drought and unseasonable heat, high's of 94 Fahrenheit. The well could run dry in the attempt to maintain the seed beds, but what with one crackpot behavior after another equally corrupt behavior going on in the wider world, the well running dry would be a minor inconvenience necessitating a more emergent attitude from me toward the advance of the new weather patterns climate change has foisted upon us following getting on centuries of abuse the climate has struggled with as a result of our truly juvenile quest for entirely unnecessary levels of surplus. Back in the early days of our planet the first life forms, all of them ocean dwelling, didn't require free Oxygen, as carbon based life forms they took what they needed from oxidized molecules such as iron, magnesium and in the process produced a little free oxygen. Then around two and half billion years ago, in the Proterozoic Period, as the ozone layer in the higher reaches in our atmosphere developed following an increased percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere and reduced the sun's more harmful radiation there was very dramatic jump in the levels of atmospheric free oxygen which for many life forms was actually poisonous, and billions and billions of them became extinct.

Those life forms that didn't fall to the pollution of free oxygen did so as a result of being able to source their oxygen from the free oxygen the Proterozoic Period had produced, and indeed without those early life forms that succumbed to free oxygen as a pollutant the free oxygen in the atmosphere today that you and I breath would not have been available for the long slow evolutionary process that produced the wealth of, the mobility of, and the flexibility of us free oxygen dependant creatures on the planet today. Some of us don't even need roots any longer. It's an interesting argument that really doesn't have anything to do with the pollutants currently causing the atmosphere to warm, the free oxygen we benefit from survived many an extinction caused by global heating and global cooling from volcano, meteor etc., and isn't going anywhere for a good long while. My own view, cling to all you want but our current lifestyle is doomed and as a result presents our species with a wonderful opportunity, if not to progress, not certain that's possible, then at least mature a little around the issue of what is and is not important. This year your gardener is attempting a dish of Groundhog Daikon Radish and Winter Wheat ground cover under very well aged lightly scattered hay bale, so it's all very mindful and exciting.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Deep State

I think it was Mitt Romney who while raising funds for his political ambitions suggested that around 48% of the population were not so much retarded as they were unlikely to ever vote for him, and as a result they weren't worth his while troubling with or giving much consideration to or caring very much about because they'd just never grasp what was best for them. Unknown to him as he spoke to a private group of diner guzzling potential investors was a recording device that was probably in the possession of a minimum wage deep state bus boy doing his best to clear away the plates as quietly as he could, maybe get a generous tip for good obedient, well dressed, clean nailed, behavior in public, treat himself to some left over sausage, mash potato and a cold glass of milk from the kitchen's refrigerators when the horrendous starched white napkin and heavily perfumed evening which cost more than he'd likely earn in a lifetime, was over.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, deep state dishwashers were doing the tidy up, the floor cleaning, cursing the cooks for the mess, swearing and probably polishing off left over glasses of chardonnay, or whatever, while the cooks were out back in the alley, congratulating themselves on a good review from an investment banker, smoking left over cigar butts to celebrate and no doubt some of them were wondering whether they fell within the 48% category, and if so maybe they too should start thinking about becoming deep state operatives. Not sure whether the Mitt Romney crew actually eat salad stuff, but my own memory of being a deep state dishwasher and occasional deep state bus boy suggests that those seeking an honest career in the romance of salad preparation are more likely to engage in deep state activities than for example tin opening, couldn't care less, shrimp cocktail preparers.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Tyranny? We'll know soon.

Our third in command, the 3IC if you prefer, refers to the increasingly unfashionable idea that facts change the situation, and it's the facts that are changing the situation elicits the response to the changing situation. Wonderfully refreshing from a leader. Our first in command, or 1IC, is one of those who reckons that to change the situation to your personal benefit you just make up facts. Our second in command, or 2IC, appears to be more of a balcony ornament. Meanwhile our democracy and the rule of law is on a collision course with tyranny.

In some respects whether our balcony ornament becomes Mr. Big, depends upon the extent to which one of our major parties and legal system has been suborned by the promise of tyranny, which is basically a promise that you won't have to trouble yourself with the popular vote any longer. As in most examples of how democracies become tyrannies, it's the current 1IC's popular support in our own democracy that one of our own major political parties is so in awe of, it could well return facts to the condition of irrelevance that so well characterizes pretty much every tyranny the world has ever known.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Minds, Riot and Paranoia.

The Mind is a difficult area. We are delicate creatures. Most minds benefit from a little bit of everything. Some minds struggle with too much of one thing. Paranoia is a belief that other people are plotting against you. It becomes a problem when the often reasonable assumption that not everyone is an angel, becomes an irrational fear that pretty much everyone is plotting against you, they are determined in what ever way they can to harm you as well as the certainty and the convictions of your god-given interests. The paranoia in all of us can very quickly become riot, and this is especially the case with something like rejection of science. Science has pretty things to reveal and ugly things to reveal. It did not suit the Popes of old that God might not have made the earth the center of the universe.

A slippery slope from there to stuff like medicine, with it's suggestion that we people might be able to interfere with God's will through the magic of knowledge. No accident Faust, in one of the early accounts, was a doctor. True enough feral reactions to foreigners, immigrants, science, boffins and so on can enter the paranoia of riot and everything becomes hoax, a great plot against the great and the good. Which is why you really don't need a geriatric leader who struggles with a very cruel, brutal, icky case of paranoid delusions. Of course those who have tied themselves and their vitally important careers to the riot will find it difficult to eat the sour pie of humility, usefully reinvent themselves. Some never will be able to make the leap of imagination required. Meanwhile the world still turns and the Beatitudes still apply to us people.

Thursday, September 26, 2019


New question this time round is "Depends what you mean by though." As in "I need a favor, though." Don't be fooled it's a tough word, in regular hands it should mean either "In Return" or "Provided." Although who knows.

The Ukrainian election system is a two round system. In the March 2019 election the current Ukrainian President received 70% of the vote in the first round and in the second round he received 73% of the popular vote.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Words in Testing Times

There's no Joy in this! You got "Damning" on the one side, you got "Deeply Troubling" in the center. And on the far side you got what begins to sound like the kind of vocalizations the Kitten makes on the way to the vet to get her rabies shot, it's not a pretty sound but you know exactly what she's attempting to enunciate, and there's no amount of reasoned argument that would ever persuade the Kitten that it's absurd of her to suggest that she's a rare and unique creation that was born with an immunity to rabies, heart worm, ring worm, intestinal parasites, which includes tape worm, and it's a long list of awfulness's. But for a rabies shot you do get a little green badge, it's like a medal that's supposed to go on your collar to show everyone how fantastic you are for being such a good citizen even if as I'm told you were dragged kicking and screaming to the veterinarian's office and then frothed and hissed in a most dramatic and rather frightening manner at an already nervous veterinarian. Regret to say, it's feral behavior that you'd never get from the Girl Cat.

"Damning" is fairly clear. Classically from "gone to hell and damnation," or for non-wing-nuts, "Dude, you're totally doomed."  The issue is of course the meaning of "Deeply Troubling." Always a little suspicious of "deeply" in front of "troubling," not only does it sound as though it comes with a querying pursed lip, it's frightfully pompous, and I know this because I am a frightfully pompous person. Nor does "troubling" really add to the equation between "deeply troubling" and meaning. "Troubling to who?" is the instant response. For example I'm "deeply troubled" by the constant rearrangement and absurd number of choices of packaged bread products at the grocery store. You just want to go into the bread aisle and find your familiar bread category without having to wander up and down the bread aisle peering at bread products for a good twenty minutes. Then when you read it's Mitt Romney who's "deeply troubled" you have to wonder whether he means "I still got a chance to be president." In which case "yes!" It is indeed "possibly damning."

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Testing Times

It's around 1.30 pm Eastern Standard Time, feel ill from lunch, rumors abound, and like Hegel in Jena in the fall of the year 1806, I'm waiting for The World Soul on Horseback to enter the city. The Horse was called Marengo, I believe. Marengo, in the service of Napoleon, was injured 8 times in the course of his career as a War Horse. A career that ended at the Battle of Waterloo, where Marengo was captured, sent into peaceful exile in Ely, Cambridgeshire, England. His boss was sent to a tropical island in the middle of the South Atlantic named after Saint Helena of Constantinople.

Sadly the World Soul  is unlikely to be riding Marengo, the creature's bones, less two hooves, are on display in the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London, of all places. One of the missing hooves was turned into a snuff box by some total reprobate, the other is on loan to the Household Cavalry Museum, in the City of Westminster, London. More than likely today's parade will sputter into a puddle of jellied Eels and Banana skins in the hallways of Congress, a very slippery slope. My vote, let's do the right thing, keep the Republic and to hell with the politics of nuance.

Monday, September 23, 2019

The USA's Conservatives

The founder of the Birch Society wasn't that fond of President Eisenhower. He thought Eisenhower was a tool of the communists, and he had whole range theories why, none of them remotely fact based. He wanted to get the USA out of the United Nations. William Buckley, intellectual patron saint of modern conservatism, reckoned the Birch Society were a bunch of far right wing conspiracy theorist nuts with nothing useful to add to the discourse and he politely urged his fellow conservatives to totally ignore them, cosign them to the dustbin of history, and jump all over them in the most well reasoned manner possible by winning the argument. USA's Conservatives used to have influence over the Republican party, their influence dwindled, and now lurks around in the shadows in a condition of high dudgeon, writing books, creeping around cable news and the opinion columns, asking the question why and so on. All of these worthies, decent chaps hungry for useful work, are longing to be rid of our current president and get back to some sense of  policy based upon 'Conservative Values' under the leadership of someone like the Vulture Capitalist Mitt Romney.

To Conservatives, social policy, environmental policy, judicial policy, inequality of income, the whole shoot and caboodle are all on the negotiating table under certain conditions. The main driving force behind USA's Conservatism is the idea of limited government, which is reasonably based on the Founding Father's idea of Human Nature that asserts that people like freedom, they don't like to be told what to do, they like to make their own decisions based on open, fact based and free discussion. For conservatives, Good Policy for a thriving and happy society is made, whether it be social security or foreign policy, when those conditions of freedom to make your own decisions, come to reasonable compromises over differences with other people through fact based free discussion.  If Government just does all that for you, conservatives argue, consent of the governed goes out the window and you got the makings of tyranny. Sadly the Republican Party stopped trying to be conservative sometime during the Reagan era's spending spree. And yes, Conservatives are old fashioned idealists, if you like that sort of thing.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Prelude to the Gossip Wars of 2020

The breakup of the Soviet Union resulted in the Ukraine achieving a degree of independence from Moscow. But Ukraine was not immune to the machinations of a break up that resulted in a plutocratic, or kleptocratic, same difference, class gaining control over the industrial base, industries and so on. It was an ugly business, the idea of competition, the cream rising the top, produced a class that really has more in common with the mafia than anything else. Absolute determination to ruthlessly control this or that industry through every grisly trick in the book, including assassination, beating people up etc. And along with this went levels of corruption that were so dark hearted the immortal soul might weep all it wants but there'll be no chance of redemption. When the Ukraine, mostly it's non-Russian citizens,  decided that basically they'd be better off if they could escape the iron clutches of Putin's Russia, they looked around and concluded they'd rather get closer to the European Community and the West generally. Trouble was industry in the Ukraine was controlled by a plutocratic class that heavily relied for it's survival upon practices very much frowned upon by more Western Nations, even if those practices were very much the accepted way of doing things in the Russian sphere of influence. So what happened? Well the West said "You agree to clean house, and we'll be there for you." Ukraine sighed, "That's not going to be easy, we're going to need help cleaning house." Nor does much happen in the Ukraine without Putin's Russia knowing all about it. And there are powerful interests in the Ukraine who stand to lose control of their valuable assets should the Ukraine manage to clean house, do away with the sort of Politics/Commerce nexus of corruption our current administration here in the USA is increasingly prone to because our political class appears to be struggling with, let's call it a death wish. The Ukraine has some wonderful soil, it's the kind of thing a gardener dreams about, it's deep tilth beautiful stuff. One of the other things Ukraine has is a natural gas, and we're talking trillions of gallons, certainly enough for its own needs and plenty for export, yet for a long time the Ukraine had to import most of its natural gas from Russian controlled suppliers. Indeed having to import gas from Russian controlled sources gave Russia a strong hand in any negotiations it had with Ukraine.

Things fell apart, there was an anti-Russian movement, a long tradition in Ukraine, Ukrainians stopped buying Russian stuff, and what with one thing and another natural-gas-pipeline-delivery-wise the Russians decided to go all out gangster on Ukrainians who were getting rather tired of being treated like a colony. There was one of those unofficial, paramilitary wars the Russians are so good at starting and so hopeless at ending, they lose control of the actors. Meanwhile, since 2002, a private company based in Cyprus called Burisma Holdings had been successfully exploring for and producing Ukrainian oil and gas. In 2014 when disputes between Russia and Ukraine had reached the ugly phase, Burisma Holdings appointed Hunter Biden to it's board of directors, the term lasted until the April of 2019, when Hunter Biden stepped down. But when Hunter Biden was appointed to the board of directors, back in April of 2014, the chairman of Burisma Holdings was Viktor Yanukovych, the pro Russian way of doing things, President of Ukraine. At the news of Hunter Biden's appointment, the German press comforted itself by suggesting that the USA when it comes to Politics/Commerce has always had a hard on for oil and gas, look what happens in the Middle East when anybody sneezes the wrong way, so what do you really expect from them. Some elements in the US press had some cruel things to say about the appointment, it looked like Hunter Biden had broken some sort of unwritten rule by working for a Russian client. In the April of 2014, director of the US-Ukraine Business Council, Morgan Williams, suggested that while there was no evidence of wrong doing from Hunter Biden "It looks like there could be a conflict here. But when you're trying to keep the political sector separate from the business sector, and reduce corruption, then it's not just about holding down corruption, it's also the appearance, (of corruption)."  The White House declared that there was nothing wrong with the Vice President's son getting a damn good job with Burisma Holdings. Then. in the summer of 2014, I think, Ukraine tossed out Viktor Yanukovych who fled to Moscow. By 2016 Ukraine had satisfied at least some of the anti-corruption conditions demanded of them by the European Union and had entered an agreement with the European Union that would, if successful, gradually permit The Ukraine to obtain full membership of the European Union, something Putin's Russia will do everything it can to prevent. Frankly the whole Trump, Biden, Ukraine, nexus gossip crisis sounds to me like one of those manipulative moves against the stability of the west that the former Soviet Union is so incredibly adept at fermenting. The point being, the west is quietly winning Ukraine, putting the current pro-west Ukraine President and wishes of a majority of Ukrainian Citizens in the cross hairs of a US internal power struggle, undermines that.  Yep, Putin wants Trump for another four years.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

"Too Much to Ask"

In the early part of the 1200's a boy in Germany or Northern France began to preach. He'd had a vision in which Jesus had directed him to lead a peaceful crusade to convert the Muslims to Christianity. The whole idea caught on big time and up to 30,000 children marched south to Port Towns in the Mediterranean where they expected the sea to part as it did for Moses, enabling them to reach the land of the Muslims. The sea didn't part, but Port Towns have ships, and many a merchant promised the children passage. Accounts vary, and according to some, a great number of those children having embarked upon ships ended up being sold as slaves. Ever since, Historians, Psychologists and a bunch of others have been combing the sources to separate truth from fiction, and in the process many have suggests answers to why the children embarked upon their peaceful crusade. One answer, when you grow up, you disappear into a cynicism that feasts on division, hatred and anger, then die pointlessly, the world well rid of you.

But some argue, the crusade wasn't just children, it was mostly people trying to escape the misery of their everyday lives into a religious 'end of the world' millennialism. In the early 1200's a growing number of people in Europe were shunning earthly things, wandering from place to place, relying on charity and doing a little preaching in return, which was a practice that resulted in them being excommunicated by the Pope, the Papal argument being they should have joined a reputable, properly affiliated monastery. As well back then there were no shortage of teenage boys who were well engaged in warfare, they grew up young, a very different world compared to the cosseted life of a more modern teenager. There's also a suggestion that the crusade inspired the story of The Pied Piper of Hamlin, blowing his magic flute so that rats would follow him out of a rat infested township and when he wasn't paid the agreed amount he blew his flute and the town's children followed him out of the town, never to be seen again. And you got to pretty much worship Greta Thunberg: "We demand a safe future, is that really too much to ask?" It's a damn good question.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Locke, Robespierre and Consent

 It was John Locke who observed that "consent of the governed confers political legitimacy." Brilliant, a guiding light, you might think, inspired by reasonableness, and at the same time you might also suspect a degree of idealness in the assertion that falls short of reality, far too many brigands and scoundrels out there messing with the way things obviously should be, fifth columnists, secret enemies conspiring from within. Robespierre had an answer, his own country was riven by divisions, war and a hunger for something reflecting a new order of things. "If the basis for popular government in peacetime is virtue," Robespierre argued, "Its basis in revolution is virtue and terror. --- Virtue, without which terror would be barbaric: and terror, without which virtue would be impotent." I mention this because there does seem to be a surfeit of trembling in the halls and cubbyholes of our Congress. Still prefer the word Frightfulness which during the First World War was the preferred alternative to the word terrorism. Guess the Brits, whether we like to admit it or not, had legitimized the word terrorism as a means of governing a colonial empire. 

During Robespierre's time France had been catapulted head over heels by the failure of the old order and those yearning for something different had fallen to a kind of chaos of meaning. He went on, "How long will the despots fury be called justice, and the peoples justice be called barbarism." Indeed Robespierre in his speech that came to be known as "On Political Morality" was a fine definition of dictatorship, where the idea "consent of the governed" goes out the window and in it's place is "Social protection is due only to peaceful citizens; there are no citizens in the Republic but the republicans." Worth noting the French Revolutionaries called themselves republicans because they wanted to a create a functioning Republic. For Robespierre, his ideal Republic was his understanding of the Roman Republic, which according to Robespierre was about as close to perfect as you could get. On the other hand, disruption, shaking things up, is a recognized Businessman's strategy for securing personal profit and power. The strategy has been defined this way:  "an innovative disruptive business is .... either satisfying the less-demanding customers or creating a market where none existed before."  In action, Disruption is how Amazon came to dominate the market for books and why people pay money for things like Pet Rocks, paper napkins and a new IPod, or whatever, every ten minutes.  Either way, as Locke understood it, 'consent of the governed' is a tricky area that in no way, shape or form, comes naturally.

Thursday, September 19, 2019


Polygamous peoples of the Gambia River Basin are considered  the source of the word mumbo-jumbo. Early accounts suggest there was a tradition of a male dancer, called something like mumbo-jumbo, dressed up in an outrageous dress and mask, which were kept hanging on a post at the entrance to the village, who screaming and shouting would enter a town in the evening to settle domestic disputes. Accounts continued to suggest that recourse to the mumbo-jumbo's help was really a last resort for males who were unable to control their wives.

The mumbo-jumbo's decision was absolute, he made no actual sense in his speech patterns and there was no recourse to a higher authority, one or other of the wives would always be deemed at fault, and the visit from the mumbo-jumbo came to an end after a night long communal, men, women and children, shouting and yelling, castigating and humiliating the mumbo-jumbo's chosen culprit. A grisly business that's up there with climate change denial, a certain political party and pretty much every utterance that issues from the current President's mental processes.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Battle of Maldon Revisited

A lot of people might have been a little confused by the horse in yesterday's attempt to find entertainment on these pages. They may also have been confused by the whole Battle of Maldon reference. I guess too that heat and lack of rain here where I live might have robbed me of brain cells, because I'd initially considered a well reasoned discussion on snowflakes, heroic poems and appeasement. The king at the time was Ethelred, The Unready, back then it was kind of like a joke nickname. Ethelred means well advised, originally unready would have meant ill-advised. Either way the Battle of Maldon was an engagement between Anglo Saxon forces and sea raiding Vikings. The commander of Anglo Saxon forces was a man called Byrhtnoth, he was a bigwig on the east coast of England, down there in Essex. He was tall, very tall apparently, and at the time of the battle he had long white hair and he was in his sixties, which in those days was old for a person, and the cynic might just leap to the conclusion that he was more than likely an old fart, prone to the odd error of thinking, especially in hot weather. Of interest the Battle of Maldon was fought in August.

King Ethelred, the ill-advised, was having trouble reproducing King Alfred's cohesive plan to deal with continuous Viking incursions. Ethelred levied land taxes in areas prone to Viking marauders and these taxes were given to the Kings of Denmark on the understanding that they'd do a better job of keeping Vikings from all over Scandinavia in some sort of check. On his statue, which isn't actually very old, its sculptor is still alive, in his 70's probably, Byrhtnoth has a plaque which goes on about how he was a principle voice against Ethelred's policy of appeasement to the Danes. No mention on the plaque of  how when  raping and pillaging England went out of fashion in Viking ranks English Kings kept on levying the land taxes, revenue for the treasury to pay a standing army, a navy and a bunch of other useful things, which as a policy was a return to King Alfred's more sensible policy preferences for how to deal with foreigners invading English shores. So with Byrhtnoth you got this more right wing nut, muttering on about appeasement, who decided to teach Viking marauders a lesson and in the process made a tactical error. He told all his men to dismount, and they were going to defend a bridge, which effectively gave the Vikings the higher ground. Byrntnoth and all his men died gloriously, except a couple who retrieved the horses and ran away, including Godric son of Odda.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Battle of Maldon and All That.

It's not complicated. The reason to have rules is because without rules complex society from commerce to civil cannot function. By complex a person has to start thinking in terms of cooperation between people who don't even begin to know each other. Round here where I live there are people who have lived and worked with each other all their lives, we're talking in the region of 70 years, and some of them stopped speaking to each other 40 years ago, a disagreement about two inches on fence line or something. It's enforceable rules that govern acceptable behavior between people who don't know each other. And rules are quite pointless unless there are enforcement procedures that include a fair analysis of the rule, why it was broken, how it was broken, and an understanding of a reasonable punishment for breaking this or that rule. The punishment part of enforcing rules has to do with the reassurance that if you or I as a person breaks a rule there will be a high possibility that adverse personal consequences will follow. The idea that without them we'd do just fine is a dream for the basically stupid. Impeachment is the high flown and very important sort of name for what happens when a politically powerful person breaks rules. It comes from the word impede, fetter, basically control the baser, more short sighted, self centered instincts of the species. No accident The Royal Standard for English Monarchs has a Unicorn, a mythical magical creature of unbounded opportunities that's in chains. 

And once you stop even trying to hold politically powerful people to account for any kind of rule they might have broken, what you get is a powerful class of people who no longer feel bound by or even obliged to follow rules that maintain cohesion in complex relatively free and relatively thriving society, and this results in a developing chasm between the populace and those who rule us. This chasm has to be managed with new rules, and the only real way for the powerful to manage this developing chasm is through various, well established tactics that permit tyranny, gulags, show trials, monopoly, the list is long. It might well be that Liberal Democracy is in its death spiral, but there's no honor in going down without a fight that'll leave a narrative of hope for those who come after. Then when you hear of an opposition party reluctant to embark upon the arduous business of holding something like a President, or a Supreme Court Justice accountable because it might be personally politically disadvantageous and divisive to the nation and no guarantee of guilty verdict, we snowflakes really have to start thinking it terms of The Battle of Maldon. Better to go down like a hero, have our leader's noble, and very militaristic, statue on the Maldon Sands 1000 years from now than be remembered as Godric son of Odda who to his eternal shame chose to run away, on a horse.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Nevil Shute's On the Beach

Apocalypse novels tend to engage the mind with an account of how a hardy, and very decent, tough minded band of survivors manage to reproduce some semblance of hope for the future of our species. Nevil Shute's On the Beach, about the aftermath of a failure of negotiations between Nuclear Powers, didn't even try to offer the reader a sense of future possibilities. Shute just went straight for it and bang no one survived, not even a distant radio signal. The characters met their fate one by one. A man drove his high powered racing car off a cliff, if I recall, his last wish was to break some kind of personal speed record and destroy the vehicle in the process, which was apt. The young couple, with a perfect upper middle class type life style ahead of them, died in each other's arms, very soppy, took some sort of pill to avoid a slow death from the reality of radiation poisoning. The book was best seller, and if you like that sort of thing, a ripping yarn, as the reader waited for something positive to happen with respect to the future of the species. Nevil Shute was a tad right wing in his political leanings, no fan of socialist ideas, a big fan of Monarchy, and some of his other books went on a little about characters bridging the social divides in society, posh upper class chaps like him falling for barmaids, that sort of thing. He was a graduate from Oxford University, he had a stammer which prevented him from getting a commission, becoming an officer, in the Royal Flying Corps, so in the first World War he served as a private soldier on the Western Front, where early in the war his brother had been killed on the Belgium border, at Armentieres, a town in the title of the very disgusting, very popular song "Mademoiselle of Armentieres."

The reason to recall Nevil Shute's On the Beach has to do with the relationship between the dream world and reality, that sphere where imagination finds it's entertainment, and more often than not the entertainment part permits the dream world to dictate perceptions of reality. Occasionally you get classic examples of what this means on our choice of assumptions. There's the current far too obvious example of nitwit perceptions running amok. But more classic examples abound.  A 2016 Republican Party primary debate, the candidate from Florida wary of so tricky an area, suggested that someone, somewhere in a garage was working on alternative energy sources, so no real need to devise a federal policy that might assist that someone, somewhere in a garage. An extraordinarily comforting statement, suggesting as it did that system was working, solutions from saviors would organically emerge, no actual need to do anything other than maybe cut taxes, slash regulations and reduce welfare programs. Another classic example is the idea that as a result of amazing discoveries by great minds in the pharmaceutical industry we people do not have to feel pain for any longer than it takes to get to a pharmacy. And there's vaping, or vaporizing, where as I understand it, the promise was you could indulge your addiction to nicotine without dying horribly from harmful 'side effects.'  And we all know how that turned out. Nevil Shute died in Melbourne, Australia in the January of 1960, he was 60 years old. There's a library in Alice Springs, Australia, named after him, and a couple of roads in Hampshire, England, where he had worked as an engineer and had designed a hydraulic undercarriage for air planes.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Arabia Felix, Queen of Sheba and Trade

The Romans called the southern part of the Arabian Peninsular, Arabia Felix. Felix here means something like happy and fertile, unlike Arabia Deserta which wasn't worth much, it was full of nomadic tribes eking a precarious living that required intense discipline to master, the sort of intense discipline that occasionally made them very challenging for the happy and more fertile lands that basically surrounded them. And for the Romans there was Arabia Petraea which was the Sinai, it was a Roman Frontier Province east of the very rich and very fertile lands of Egypt. If you ever go anywhere near modern day Arabia Felix you'd be forgiven for wondering where the Romans got the fertile idea from, back then however rainfall was more plentiful, the land was green and around 900 BC a number of dams had been built to mitigate the effects of seasonal flooding on crop lands. Nor did the Romans know much about Arabia Felix other than stories about the fabulously wealthy, possibly mythical, ancient Queen of Sheba, and too, Romans had a sneaky suspicion that the Arabian Peninsular was chock full of exotic treasures, a suspicion that was well founded because even in Roman times, there was an ancient trade between Arabia Felix, the Indian subcontinent and all the way down the eastern coast of Africa which in time included exporting really neat and unusual stuff to Romans. Sometimes, in this area of trade a person might begin to wonder whether our rather oddly named species, Homo Sapiens, should be renamed something like Homo Erectus Artifici. Artifici is a general Latin word for trade, method, trick, skill, talent and so on, that lends itself to the possibilities in the idea of neat stuff, art if you like, rather than the Latin word Commercium which translates more as the money grubbing wheeling and dealing side of barter and exchange. Not to get carried away, the English word trade comes from the Dutch, meaning path, track, course of action. Sailing ships for the Dutch traded their course. The word Trade merged with an old English word Tread, which was and is to step on, trample, traverse. The old  meaning in trade was more regular habit than it was barter or exchange. Trade Winds had nothing to do with commerce, rather Trade winds had regular and reliable habits. The modern use of the word Trade emerged in the 1800's. Trade War first appeared in the English language in the 1890's.

Then in 20 odd BC the Romans thought they'd send an exploratory army to take a jolly good look at Arabia Felix, check out the possibilities, smell the air, and of course develop relationships with the local inhabitants. To do this the Roman Prefect of Egypt at the request of his Emperor collected around 10,000 soldiers and off they all went, south down the western side of the Arabian Peninsular toward Arabia Felix. With the Roman army heading toward Arabia Felix there was a guide and adviser who was a native of Northern Arabia, he came from up there near Aqaba, which is the Port Town of Jordan. The western coastal area of Arabia, heading south before you get to Yemen, has been called the Hejaz for thousands of years. The word means 'The Barrier', to the East of which is the Red Sea and Africa, to the west is Arabia. The Hejaz includes Mecca, Jeddah and Medina, it was the prize of the Ottoman Empire. During the First World War the Hejaz declared itself independent of the Ottoman Empire, the British happily joined in, and soon after the end of the First World War with the help of the British the Hejaz lost its independence and became part of the Saud family Royal territory of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile the Roman army had been six months attempting to reach Arabia Felix, they'd had a few successes, they'd lingered there, they'd lingered here, but the sun was cruel, the water appalling, food very inadequate, diseases and sicknesses Romans had never seen before and had few remedies to combat took a toll, and there was some doubt as to the motives of their guide, a slight suspicion that he either didn't know as much as he claimed to know, or he wasn't whole hearted in his desire to see Arabia Felix become a part of the Roman Empire. The other thing about Arabia Felix, in 20 odd BC it had managed to survive considerable local unrest, and a clan called the Sabaeans, of Queen of Sheba fame had control of the ancient capital area of Yemen where the Queen of Sheba might once have resided. A place that today is still called Marib. It was at Marib that the Roman army suffered a major defeat, they had to retreat. The survivors took two months to get themselves back to Egypt, and when they were safely home they executed their guide. The more reasonable Geopolitical importance to trade of who runs Yemen today has to do with access to the Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal. The very treacherous, wreck strewn, Strait of Aden between Yemen and Africa, or Bab-el-Mandeb, a name that reflects the legend of an earthquake that was supposed to have separated the Horn of Africa from Arabia, is 16 miles wide. 9% of international trade passes through the Suez Canal, 21,000 ships a year, and pretty much all these ships pass through the Strait of Aden. Most modern oil tankers are too big to fit through the Suez Canal.

Saturday, September 14, 2019


Trade Agreements are about a seat at the table around bigger pies. They are developing relationships that are supposed to benefit all parties to the agreement. No surprise relationships require good manners, sensible conversations and should never be taken for granted. One of the ways to aggravate other parties to the agreement is to go all Anglo Saxon, piss and moan about how the agreement isn't good enough for you and say you're not playing any more. The CPTPP, or The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP-11 is a trade agreement that came together following the withdrawal by the United States from the TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP didn't include China, indeed it was very much designed around the idea of confronting China's many devious practices by enabling Pacific countries to present China with a somewhat more democratic and equitable united front. No accident at all that the CPTPP like the TPP doesn't include China, which has a somewhat domineering, dumb ass and cheating China First type philosophy toward the rest of the planet. The CPTPP is essentially the same set of understandings and enforcement procedures as the TPP, less 22 provisions that would have primarily benefitted the USA had TPP been ratified, and plus a number of provisions that encourage smaller firms.

These sorts of agreements don't happen over night, it takes time for countries to implement the rules of a trade agreement, there's a political dimension, an economic dimension and all sorts of practical considerations. As well with trade agreements there are many unforeseen circumstances. But learned and experienced negotiators, unlike rank amateurs, have excellent grasp of the problems they face and they also understand how to achieve a degree of success. The CPTPP is coming together, Chilean negotiators have yet to persuade the Chilean Senate, but ob January 14th of this year the agreement entered into force in Vietnam, many of the signatories are already cutting tariffs, reducing barriers, and most are confident that the CPTPP will indeed become the third largest trading block in the world, it's gross domestic product will be getting on 14 trillion dollars in today's money, about equal to that of China, the European Union is about 18 trillion and whatever NAFTA might one day be called is around 21 trillion. Canada and Mexico are in the CPTTP, Brexit-Britain, which is not a Pacific Country, is or was or might be interested, and lo what a shock, briefly in January through March of 2018, before trade wars were all the rage, so was a signatory of and guiding light to the original TPP called the USA. When it comes to the challenges of globalization and Climate Change, trade agreements aren't the problem, more likely, and this is not a popular view, the current outbreak of megalomaniacal billionaires are. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Pope Formosus and his Show Trial

Show trials are essentially propaganda exercises, and I feel for the G-Man who has to confront one at the behest of what is the functional equivalent of a six year old mind that's yet to manage building blocks. In the winter of 896-97 a Pope called Pope Steven VI ordered the body of a Pope called Pope Formosus exhumed. The corpse was placed in a dock, it wasn't a traditional dock, it was a rather splendid setting as envisioned by the late 19th, early 20th Century artist John Paul Laurens. It was a thrown like chair in the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist, which is like the cathedral for the Roman See. A See for us heathens is a Diocese, it's an administrative unit where the bigwig is a Bishop, and worth noting Bishops can often be ambitious people when it comes to serving themselves and their God. The proper way to refer to a Bishop "The Right Reverend" is to address him as "My Lord." Then if he gets to be an Arch Bishop, he's "Most Reverend" and is addressed as "Your Excellency." So no one should be really too surprised that a Pope would go to the effort of digging up a dead Pope he might have had a problem with. Nothing to do with justice, certainly unchristian, totally absurd in almost every respect, and in my view the Cadaver Synod, as history records it, is one of the classic show trials. It's got everything, including the idea that the defendant shouldn't really be allowed to defend him or herself, which is what happens when a political class calls upon aberrant personalities to dictate the verdicts of judicial proceedings. Stalin was very adept at show trails, Lenin had a few, the entire judicial system of many a short lived political system was all about show trials, more fashionable today in tyrannical and gangster circles is to "make disappear" as a warning to others rather than any pretense at a judiciary.

It was a difficult time in Italy when Formosus was appointed Bishop of Porto, which is the harbor region of Rome and of interest Porto is still a thriving Diocese. In Formosus' time as Bishop, there was a whole series of problems about who was to be chosen Holy Roman Emperor, there was the whole business of crowning the chosen on in Rome and Bishop Formosus erred by deciding to get all excited about the wrong candidate. One thing led to another and Bishop Formosus had to flee the general area of Rome. When he was ordered to return to Rome he declined. He was accused of all the usual terrible things by church authorities including the fact that he had once informed Rome that he had been asked by the Bulgarian Court to become Arch Bishop of Bulgaria. This would have been against the Church Law which didn't allow a clergyman to leave his See so that he could find work in another See, and he was excommunicated. In time the mood changed a little in Rome and in 883 Formosus was asked to return to the Diocese of Porto, where he was given a good church job. And on the 6th of October 891 Formosus was unanimously elected Pope. So you can kind of see the swings and roundabouts of politics. Then when Pope Formosus' corpse, dressed up in his papal outfit, was seated on the chair in the Basilica of Saint John, Pope Steven VI asked him "When you were Bishop of Porto, why did you usurp the universal Roman See in such a spirit of Ambition." It was a guilty verdict, Formosus had his Pope-hood removed from the record books, he was first buried in a common grave, but this wasn't really good enough for Pope Steven so his body was dug up bound with heavy weights and tossed into the Tiber River. When Formosus' body washed ashore the Roman Populace had had enough there was a general uprising and Pope Steven VI was deposed and put in prison, and a whole bunch of Steven fans were excommunicated. A happy ending in my book. As for Formosus he was all dressed up in his papal outfit and he was buried in Saint Peter's Cathedral

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Bow of Fascism

Facism comes from the Italian word Fasciti, which in turn comes from the Italian word Fascimo which means a bundle of sticks. The idea being that a stick by itself snaps easily, but a bundle of sticks snaps considerably less easily. The word Fasciti  was how Mussolini chose to describe his basic political idea. He wanted an often disunited country to rediscover an identity that would unite it and of the options available, he chose to chase down an ancient idea of re-birth, which meant that the old ways of doing things in Italy had to go, and in their place new forms would emerge just so long as there was a good strong bundle of dedicated sticks rather than a bunch of sticks lying around all over the place doing little more than trying to enjoy themselves. The trouble was how do you make an un-snappable bundle of sticks out of people. Well one way was to start with some sort of romantic mythical aesthetic around which to forge the will, aesthetic is an understanding of beauty, the aesthetic could be turned into a set of symbols, and the thing about symbols is that most of their meaning is in the experience of the eye of the beholder, so any kind of precision of meaning pretty much goes out the window and you don't have to get too deeply into the complexity of the weeds, before deciding that "Yes, I'm with that lot, they seem to be doing something right." Myth and Symbol go together very well, they compliment each other and they support each other especially when an action is required. Just try not putting your hand over your heart as you say the pledge of allegiance, or try burning a flag.

The first sticks to arrive are more curious than anything, kind of like the first people who decided to adopt the mullet as a hairstyle, and if there are enough of this first group, the second group to arrive are those who think in terms of opportunity, a complicated group driven by a kind of barber shop hope as much as by ambition and they're usually attracted by the possibilities of a better world to live their own lives in, and many of the more ambitious see their chance to become like princes upon who's ill considered whims and self proclaimed brilliance there'd be few constraints. Then there's the question of how the bundle is tied together into a force that will begin the process of transforming established social relationships that will permit people to behave in ways that they might never have considered themselves capable of. You need a charismatic leader, the sort of person others follow for no better reason than he or she seems to best represent the romantic mythical aesthetic defined by the symbols and around which the sticks have seen a path into a wonderful future, a return to Eden, if you prefer. But charisma only takes you so far, what you need to succeed is a plan that seems to be working and around which you can tie the bow that keeps the bundle from scattering. The plan is one thing, Mussolini had the idea of building an Italian Empire with servile colonies for the Italians, Hitler had his Living space for Aryans, but the Bow of Fascism is ultimately pulled tight by a positive attitude toward violence, a kind of muscular alpha male masculinity, which Mussolini reckoned was forged by warrior stuff, violence and heroism. You needed regular revival meetings, a praise the lord church service if you like. And all this was followed by the slow erosion of civil discourse so that information from outside the bundle is ignored by the interpretations within the bundle.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


In keeping with the Ancient Greek insistence that we people are a little obsessive about the importance to our natural instincts, and general sense of ourselves as extraordinarily superior creatures, of naming things of the same likeness, and of being possessed by 'imagination,' and of being political creatures it's worth mentioning the expression "come a cropper" as in "the relationship was bound to come a cropper."  A Cropp in the old English, or Kropf in the old German, or Kroppr in the old Norse was the top part of a herb or plant that included everything but the roots.  So I guess strictly speaking Potato isn't a cropp, it's a root, and many blessings to it for being edible. Soon enough when it came to spelling the double p was lost and more modern English reckoned on Crop as the way to go. At the same time crop wandered around and saw itself as a way to refer to protuberances, such as the crop of a bird and to the top part of specific things such as hills, heads and so on. And there's the whole question of the word crop being used within the context of gathering, harvest or haircut, even applied to collections such as "the old, geriatric, pretty much senile, crop of politicians."

"Coming a Cropper" first appears in the literature as an expression used to describe falling off a horse. Not that fond of horses myself, they have big hooves and to my mind insane eyes, and yet I can sort of see that there's a relationship, a give and take, between a person and horse, it develops, possibly flowers, and however unnatural it might be the person ends up riding on top of the horse, and there's cheek clicking, there's giddy-up, there are reins, stirrups as well as a whole bunch communications between a horse and the person riding it. So when you fall off a horse there's a good chance, a very good chance, you'll hurt yourself and become a burden on the rest of us, yet you do the falling off as the top part of the relationship, and in this sense there's also a relationship between a "crop and root" or "Cropp and Wurz." Wurz is a very old German and Saxon word for root, and indeed a Mangelwurzel is to this day a giant Sugar Beet type root and crop. Either way back in April 2018 you could have bet good money that the Trump/Bolton relationship would quickly "come a cropper." Yes indeed identifying the likenesses between things for us people probably has more to do with poetry than some distant idea of precision.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Natural Order

Human Nature. Think I'm prepared to argue that if Human Nature was an element it would be more like the element Oxygen. The primary reason for my argument rests on the idea that I don't think the Ancient Greeks were right when they followed Socrates' suggestion that only people possessed the capacity to reason, and they went on to assure everyone that we were basically a combination of spiritedness and passion. In us people the role of the spirit was to manage the passions, and sure enough the best life was one in which being reasonable ruled, which naturally was why philosophers were the highest types of Human Being. Didn't stop there for the Ancient Greeks. They went on about us being conjugal animals, which meant mostly male dominated households, clans, tribes and so on. And we were political animals, which meant we could develop larger and larger complex societies. And unlike the animals we had imagination that was prone to take pleasure in seeing accurate likenesses which meant it was rather important for us to be able to tell the difference between things and because we had reason we could do this so that we could get ahead with giving names to things that looked alike, a valuable asset for a creature. All of which 'meant' we weren't just flopping around like Dinosaurs waiting, we were up and about, thinking about stuff, and we are always going somewhere definite, otherwise the passions usurp Spirit and we might just as well be Three Toed Sloths. The Ancient Greek idea of spiritedness has rung through the ages, it's the mysterious guiding light that passeth full comprehension but always very positive, a wet rag, if a wet rag ever sat up and said something.

Fairly certain the Ancient Greeks set out their ideas about Human Nature more cogently than I have tried to, but the point is those ancient ideas are still very dominant in Western Society. You can hear it all the time. "Why send people to Mars?" The answer always seems to ruffle scientific and product placement possibilities like Tang, before settling on "We can't help ourselves, it's Human Nature to explore." Quite certain everyone knows about Oxygen but need to make sure that I know it. Oxygen is an atom called O. An atom is a nucleus with one or more electrons bonded to the nucleus. A nucleus is made up of protons and neutrons, except hydrogen that doesn't have any neutrons in its nucleus. An electron is sub-atomic particle that has a negative charge. This negative charge is why electrons are bonded to the positive charge in the protons of the nucleus. The O element wasn't formed in the Big Bang it was first created in massive stars when the Universe was fairly young. Today it is the third most common element in the Universe. 21% of the air we breath is O, 78% is nitrogen and there are varying amounts of carbon dioxide and methane and there are others. The vast mass of O in the universe is bonded to other elements. Bonding to other elements is something O does very easily and quickly. All of the O we breath has come from and continues to come from plants on land and in the oceans. Without O to breath you and I can't live for more than a couple of minutes. "What in all that's reasonable has this got to do with Human Nature." A tad tangential, I'd agree.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Packing Grass

Tennessee has a lot to answer for. Nashville Country Music and Packing Grass to name just two. It was sometime in 1919 that a crate full of Chinese Porcelain was opened by merchants somewhere in Tennessee. The clay pieces had been packed in a kind of dried annual grass to protect them from getting damaged during the arduous journey. And lo, the packing material was improperly disposed of and a hundred years later Packing Grass qualifies as an invasive species in much of the more southerly parts of the Eastern United States. The damn stuff is shade tolerant, it gets all over the place and prefers to dominate the ground rather than share it with the community of more gentle natives, which includes both plants and the insects the plants feed, and Packing Grass can dominate a piece of ground to the point where it changes the nutrient cycles. 

For some reason or other an unassuming brownish Butterfly considers Packing Grass a host plant, and this Butterfly is considered rare to endangered. Certainly a dilemma for a Snowflake in good standing. One option of course is to just pretend you didn't know about the Butterfly and go about the gruesome business of pogrom. The other option is to understand the life cycle of the brownish Butterfly, and let it have its quite moments with Packing Grass before getting down on your hands and knees to start the long horrible process of pulling it all out. Generally speaking, in terms of the brownish Butterfly it's around this time of year that the all clear is sounded and you can go ahead, but by this time of year Packing Grass has already well gone to seed and next year's crop of Packing Grass is more bountiful than ever.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza died in the February of 1677, he was 44. He was of Portuguese Jewish origin and he lived all his life in the Netherlands. Not saying Locke stole his ideas, just saying Locke became a physician before he involved himself in Political Economics, he wrote in English and Locke died 1704, he was 72. Nor was Spinoza one to mess around and gloat when it came to reason. He essentially argued that reason could never 'defeat' emotion, just a lost cause to think that it could. The only way to manage an emotion was to dominate it with a more powerful emotion. Here he chose to think there were two kinds of emotions, the one kind were passive emotions, the other kind were active emotions, and the difference between them was the extent to which the emotion could be sensibly understood. And the thing about it was that if you had an understanding of the true causes of passive emotions, you could actually begin to think about them reasonably and turn them into active emotions. So, for example, if you understand that an emotion is a product of chemicals on the mood in your brain you might not feel any different but you can begin to cheer up a little bit as a result of knowing a possible answer to the question why. Freud, who died in 1939, was the same way in his thinking about emotions, and his psychoanalytical approach is all about determining causes of unwelcome thoughts and emotions then 'defeating' them.

"What," you ask, "did Spinoza mean by emotions." Well as I understand it, he reckoned that all emotions came from Happiness and on the other side Unhappiness. The degrees in between had to do with all sorts of things including the extent to which you understood the causes of the emotion. And I would imagine this is one of the reasons why Spinoza chose to think that up there as close to good as you could possibly get wasn't something like Love, rather it was Knowledge. It's also true that Spinoza was a bright star in the firmament of the various moods in society that resulted in the political arrangements and institutions that became Liberal Democracy. Also a chance that Spinoza might come up in one or other of the primary debates especially around climate change. "Good and Evil" Spinoza argued were relative and not absolute ideas, they were all about whether it was good and bad for people. Spinoza was also very positive, he reckoned that nothing happened by chance, and if things looked really bad, it was because we hadn't seen the whole picture, and this I'd imagine would apply to, for example, the extinction of our own species. Mind you with respect to Knowledge not sure that the age of our planet and the various mind blowing geological phases and extinctions it has been through were fully grasped in the early 1700's.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Bishop Berkeley

Bishop Berkeley's point was that we don't see distance in terms of geometry, we see distance in terms of a combination of size and distance. In short we have a sense of size and a sense of distance, and neither is necessarily that concerned with interpreting lines as they are concerned with interpreting relationships. You can catch a Fish or see a Snake and they can both look huge. "There is no object" he claimed "without the subject." Tricky area for a Bishop in the early 1700's.

Then in 20th Century his ideas about perception attracted minds concerned to better understand how we people could produce the social phenomena that shall we say did not lend itself to anything remotely associated with being sensible. Currently examples of this phenomenon are too many to mention without getting very, very depressed around the fate of our species. "Take away the signs from algebra and arithmetic," Berkeley suggested, "and I ask you what remains."

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Nut House

I guess it's a sad day when a sharpie pen of some sort becomes a nail in the coffin of sanity, the mind goes to the circus, practices with the big shoes and giant handkerchief, reinvents itself as a clown and somehow or other it's Patagonia's fault. Rather hoping the nail in question would be, shall we call it less obvious. Mind you the line, even though it made no sense in terms of the pattern it was so carefully attached to, wasn't in the least wiggly, the kind of confidence in line drawing that comes from a lot of practice, and practice requires diligence, I mean you don't just pick up a piano and assume you can play jingle bells. But there again you have to be a died in the wool something or other to assume your addition of an irrationally random bulge to a most orderly, well rhyming pattern wouldn't look anything other than shall we say eyebrow raising. Then to suggest it reflects the truth is either inspiring or absolutely terrifying.

The issue, to my way of thinking at least, is why didn't anyone say "this is going to make you look not just stupid but certifiably, nut house stupid." Nor am I perfect, as a tender youth, callow in the extreme, I had an interest in the idea of reading a book. It was hardback, quite heavy, how hard could it be, and I sat down determined to read it. And amongst caretakers there was a raised eyebrow or two, but it kept me occupied, I was an obnoxiously active and opinionated little sprat in those days, and it all worked quite well. "What's he doing?" "He's reading."  I felt powerful, important, full of promise, and we're talking "he will go far" Einstein level promise. Then some bright spark with a truly aggressive attitude who was obviously jealous that I was reading asked me what the book was about. Having not yet mastered the first three letters of the alphabet, this humbling question I was unable to answer.  The book in question, Washington Irving's 1849 history "Mohomet and his Successors" is on the shelf by my bed. Yes indeed, a cruel memory, still feel stupid for having been so transparently stupid.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Woody Perennials, Corn Laws and Free Trade

If the Free Trade quarrel was a plant it would a woody perennial the kind of plant that just carries on and on, you can uproot it, incinerate it, and a couple of years later there it is, sticking its tongue out at you. The Whig Party in the UK pretty much disappeared, got itself gobbled up by the Liberal Party, as a result of the back and forth around repealing the Corn Laws which was really all about whether or not to get on with it and embrace free trade. Back then UK Liberal Party were Adam Smith Liberals, their support came from business and anyone who wasn't a Tory, or Conservative landowner trying to protect his corn prices from the wishy-washy more trusting liberals of the period 1815 to 1845. And back then a man like Karl Marx was very much against repealing the corn laws, he argued that cheaper food wouldn't result in more money in the workers pocket, he argued that the factory owners would simply lower workers' wages. The Liberal's pointed out that there was a very good chance that cheaper food would actually put more money in the workers' pockets and with the extra money they would buy more stuff, like clothes and boots and saucepans and shoe laces, and factory owners would see huge opportunities in the increased demand for stuff and they'd start churning stuff out as cheaply as they could then sell it to the workers. In a sense it was the repeal of the corn laws that led to a dramatic increase in the pace of the Industrial Revolution in Britain that put Britain as a country right up there at the tippy top, wealth of nations-wise.

One of the problems of course with just letting business people do pretty much anything they want to is the burden the rest of us have to carry for them. Following the repeal of the corn laws not everything went swimmingly. There were rampant business cycles and no safety net for employees, poverty could be extreme, so a whole bunch of laws had to be introduced to try and deal with the poor people. A number of big towns decided just to make being poor illegal, and there were work houses, where you worked for your food and a bit of shelter. An area like infrastructure was a whole other nightmare, inadequate drainage, sewer systems, roads, none of which business people reckoned was their problem, their job was wealth, pure and simple. Law and order was unfunded shall we say. Public health was an issue and a survey, unadulterated by a sharpie, discovered that the average height of town and city dwelling males was decreasing, worse city males looked downright unhealthy when compared to the fresh air and butter country lad, and the other thing was a higher and higher percentage of the population lived in towns and cities. This soon became a National Defense issue, there was no way you could properly man an army to do battle with somewhere like France, or maybe Prussia, or Holland, with the scrawny examples of males coming out of somewhere like that hell hole London. And too, back then, Britain had endless coal, there was iron ore, a few difficult to reach remaining stands of timber and there was farm land, almost every other raw material came from colonized countries.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Personal Truth

"Personal Truth" used to be something private between a person and possibly their invisible god that was so blatantly absurd there was no other way to explain it without resorting to a straight jacket.

It's when anything like the expression "Personal Truth" is regularly applied to something like an utterance from the elected chief executive of a major power that you know there might be a problem.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Three Lined Whip

Whips in politics are senior people in a political party who have the role of maintaining a keen interest in the mood of the party they belong to and reporting back to the party leadership. An ambitious politician, one who is so totally devoted to his political career that nothing else really matters, doesn't like to get into a whip's little black book more than just a couple of times. He wants to be known as a force to be reckoned with, certainly not a wimpy Yes-Man, he's possessed by strong and very reasonable opinions, he's a standard bearer of justice and decency, without coming off like too much of dangerous rebel. But if he crosses his party whip too many times, he might indeed come off as far too ambitious and a danger to the stability of party leaders, who themselves are rather passionate about retaining as many reins of power as they can. When it comes to party votes the whip's job is to persuade party members who might be a little reluctant to vote in favor of this or that issue to pull themselves together and stick to the party line, otherwise they might fall into disfavor and never find themselves with an import role in one or other committee. As well, on something deemed an "essential" vote, a recalcitrant party member might see his chance to trade his vote for an important role in one or other committee. It does go on a bit, and it's a truly vile and unattractive process, but never forget one of the prime objectives of democratic process is to keep the innate megalomaniac impulses of the political class well engaged with each other by occupying them with something that better reflects a really absorbing eight dimensional, never ending game of point scoring bridge.

The word whip in politics, comes from that odious occupation the wealthy get dressed up for called Fox Hunting. The whip is the chap who keeps the hounds from getting side-tracked, doing things like chasing ice cream vans, or school children, or paupers. In the US Congress whips have a few ways of punishing their more disobedient members, which are all about who does and doesn't get a seat on a committee. In the UK Parliament whips have a whole set of possibilities available to them, but keep in mind that in the British Parliament you're not really allowed to come right out and tell someone to get stuffed, you're only allowed to insinuate it in as round about and elegant a way as you possible can, it's a whole word usage art form. Nor are you allowed to tell a party member how to vote, it's supposed to be entirely their own decision. Yet the UK Parliamentary whips have three ways of telling people how to vote, each one comes as a memo with a title. The title reflects the matter to be voted on, and the number of times the title is underlined tells the recipient how upset leadership will be should a member decide to vote against the wishes of the party leadership, or do something like call in sick. The most dread filled memo is one that has its title underlined three times. This is the Three Lined Whip, and if you decide to disagree with one of these the party whip can basically kick you out of the party. This doesn't mean you lose your seat in the Parliament, that's for the voters to decide, but it means you are no longer a party member with all the rights and privileges and election support that go along with it and henceforth you should consider yourself one of those vile creatures, an isolated and lonely, mumbling Independent.