Home Again


Back from the road. There were three of the most beautiful days I can recall. The sunset of the last one looked like this, no filters nor edits.


That’s Stone Mountain in the background. All my life I’ve heard the old rhyme, “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” Well, not this time brothers and sisters. That cloud formation indicates a weather change, and by Saturday Tex’s storm had blown in with a soaking like I’ve only rarely seen. Fortunately some old biker comrades had met me there, and we holed up with a bottle of Drambuie. It passed and Sunday was beautiful again.

I’m only home for a week or so, then I’ll be headed to DC in early November. Should see the best of the mountain color by then.

Fight Club 20th Anniversary Rules Addenda

Some additional rules now that we're all 20 years older.

Oklahoma Drivers


Kids these days -- can't even drive a wagon properly. What DO they teach them in school?

Well, thankfully, it seems no one was hurt.

Civic health, the sequel

It may not surprise any of you to learn that there is a strong current of paranoia in public life.  I'm not really referring to the run-of-the-mill concern that people are exercising power in shady ways and not being straight with us, since I call that more of a universal concern than a current, and in any event if it's a flaw I'm among the most flawed of citizens.

Posting late at night in discussions with my local fellow citizens, however--I'm still getting used to calling them my "constituents"--is sure to reveal some startling assumptions and suspicions.  Last night a fellow was arguing with me in a reasonably friendly tone, but exposing some pointed differences between us.  Suddenly he posted an inexplicable GIF showing someone high-fiving someone else.  Then he posted in some agitation that he hadn't meant to post that GIF, didn't understand why it was under his name, and couldn't delete it.  No problem, I said, I can delete it for you, and I think it's an example of something I've often seen happen before.  Facebook has little icons at the bottom of comment boxes, including a GIF button, and it's easy to swipe it by accident; it's equally easy to swipe one of the default options it brings up, and presto, you've posted a random GIF.  But there's also a little "..." icon you should be able to press and get an "edit or delete" button.

No, he said, you didn't delete it.  I can still see it on my screen.  (I suppose it just hadn't refreshed yet or something.)  And I can't delete it.  And besides, I didn't post it in the first place.  And I think you know what happened.  Clever.  (He repeated "clever" a few times in subsequent agitated posts.)

Hee-wacketa-wacketa.  Even if I were that much of a jerk, I said, posting something under someone else's name is beyond my technical expertise.  At this point I started disengaging, because there's no percentage in arguing with that kind of thing.  Half an hour later he was still thinking up nightmare scenarios about how I had a hacker troll on my payroll.  I wonder where you get one of those?  I can barely get my iCloud password to work from one week to the next.

As midnight approached, I was engaging with another, more stable neighbor who wanted to know why I thought sewage plants and non-point-source stormwater polluted with fertilizer, etc., were of more concern than the brine discharge from a desalination plant.  I looked up some stuff on the internet and tried to quantify some of the wastewater and stormwater volumes from the nearby city we were discussing, adding some explanation of how relatively clean brine discharge is compared to what I considered rather inadequately treated municipal discharges.  Well, the first guy interjected, that response is "supercharged with facts," but fallacious, as he planned to demonstrate at a later date.  That's me, Texan ("Supercharged with Facts") 99.  I'm thinking of making it my campaign slogan if I'm ever crazy enough to run for re-election.  My interlocutor said he was sure I hadn't written that response myself and wanted to know who my advisor was.

Don't we all wish we had an omniscient advisor we could get to craft an answer to a moderately technical argument at midnight on the internet?  I guess I do, but it's called my head, my education, and Google.  It's not dark magic.  I suppose this guy thinks I have minions to do my nefarious bidding at all hours of the night, write up little white papers for me.

In the end I complimented him on his public engagement and asked him to consider coming to Commissioners Court meetings.  I really hope he will.  If he keeps a lid on the paranoid stuff, he'll at least liven things up with some data.

More stings

Say "rip current," I dare you

Weather psychics predicted 14 named tropical systems this year. They just slipped in under the wire with "Nestor," which exceeded 39 mph winds for about a nanosecond. Now it's making "landfall" in Florida and hailed on weather.com as "post-tropical system Nestor," i.e., not even a tropical storm any more, but by golly we're still treating it as a named storm, because climate science. There's an anchorman standing bravely on the beach with the wind whipping his t-shirt and his gimme cap just barely staying on his head.

Justin Johnson




Happy Friday!

Civic health

Last night I got a chance to meet our small town's new police chief, who is retiring from a mid-sized Texas department where he supervised 600 employees to take on our little 30-man department here on the warm coast, where his family has liked to vacation. I was delighted with him. He seems like one of those salt-of-the-earth, God-and-country, solid family men, besides being fanatically devoted to the Bill of RIghts: a great mix of determination to find a way not to let criminals ruin the lives of others, without losing sight of his obligation to respect all our rights. He told a revealing story about once messing up the chain of custody of evidence on a good drug bust and being furious that the bad guy was getting off on a technicality. His mentor settled him down saying, "You know this isn't the defense counsel's fault, right? It was your mistake. And it's not a fatal mistake. The guy's not going to say, 'Whew, that was a close call, I'm going to go get a job and turn my life around.' You'll get him next time." He made some good remarks about how the system does favor the defendant, but it's supposed to, because the Bill of Rights was written by outlaws who were tired of seeing the rich guy sic the police on the poor guy without due process. A solid constitutionalist. He married his wife about a month before 9/11, when he had just taken a job as a police officer and they had just bought a house. He worried about whether the new marriage could bear up under his sudden deployment (Navy reserves). When he drove up to the new house his wife had just moved into, he saw a U.S. flag flying from one porch column and from the other, a Navy flag with a yellow ribbon on it. He got himself a keeper.

RIP Harold Bloom

Critic, writer, professor

In the 50s, he opposed the rigid classicism of Eliot. But over the following decades, Bloom condemned Afrocentrism, feminism, Marxism and other movements he placed in the “school of resentment”. A proud elitist, he disliked the Harry Potter books and slam poetry and was angered by Stephen King’s receiving an honorary National Book Award. He dismissed as “pure political correctness” the awarding of the Nobel prize for literature to Doris Lessing, author of the feminist classic The Golden Notebook.

“I am your true Marxist critic,” he once wrote, “following Groucho rather than Karl, and take as my motto Groucho’s grand admonition, ‘Whatever it is, I’m against it.’”

Walkabout

I am going walkabout for a few days. Should be back Monday.

Showtunes

What is She Talking About?



I'm a little unclear on how even a joint resolution from Congress could "overturn" a military decision by the Commander in Chief. This is not a veto, which Congress has the power to override. It's an exercise of Article II powers that Congress does not share. Does she intend to declare war? I suppose that would create a duty for the Commander in Chief to fight the war, although he still would have a free hand as to strategy and tactics.

By the way, I'm pretty sure Congress didn't even authorize the mission in Syria. It's odd that Congress would raise so strenuous an objection to ending what they never authorized beginning.

Everything is Racist, Vol. MMMDLXXXVI

Someone suggested to me this weekend that we ought to change Columbus Day to Leif Erickson Day, as Erickson got to America first and didn't engage in slavery or mass plunder. (While strictly true, it is surely the case that the Viking explorers avoided these things more from lack of personnel than from ethical objections to plunder or attractive female slaves.) It turns out that this has been suggested before, and there's an ongoing debate about it.

Being familiar with the charge against Columbus, I knew that the reason to replace him was his unacceptable treatment of Native Americans -- which, in the common parlance of today, is "racist." (I'm not sure that the concept of race as such was very well-established in Columbus' day, though the concept of 'non-Christians subject to intense violence as necessary to control them' was one regularly employed by his patrons and their Spanish Inquisition.) It turns out that the advocates of Leif Erickson are also charged with racism by our contemporaries in journalism.
In 1892, the U.S. celebrated a Columbian centennial: the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s journey to the Americas. At the time, the country’s recognition of him was a source of pride for many Italian Americans and Italian immigrants. But Scandinavian immigrants and Americans of northern European descent wanted to celebrate Erikson instead.

This was a time of fervent anti-immigrant and anti-Italian sentiment in many parts of the U.S., and “the idea that there might be a story where the first Europeans to America are not southern Europeans” was appealing, says JoAnne Mancini, senior history lecturer at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth and author of “Discovering Viking America.”

...Erikson’s nationality wasn’t the only thing that made some people favor him over Columbus. Mancini says that in the 19th century, Americans “who were not Catholic were really paranoid about the Catholic Church.” Some Protestants went so far as to suggest that Columbus was part of a Roman Catholic conspiracy to suppress the recognition of earlier Norse explorers.

It’s not clear whether many people bought into this conspiracy, but the rise of Columbus in the late 19th century did motivate anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Americans to argue for the national recognition of Erikson over Columbus.
At some point we are going to have to figure out how to forgive our ancestors, or there will be no living with anyone.

Anyway henceforth I'm in favor of Leif Erickson Day as the standard mid-October holiday in honor of great explorers. Columbus really was terrible, Leif wasn't for whatever reason, and the Viking heritage is beautiful and worth celebrating.

Permanent Coup

Ymar recommended this piece by Matt Taibbi, who has been a reasoned voice these last few years. I think he's got good insights here. One of them is that, as bad as Trump is -- I go back and forth on how bad I think that is, but this week he's not in my good graces -- his opponents are much more dangerous to our liberty and way of life. How much more?
...also a bold new foray into domestic politics by intelligence agencies that in recent decades began asserting all sorts of frightening new authority. They were kidnapping foreigners, assassinating by drone, conducting paramilitary operations without congressional notice, building an international archipelago of secret prisons, and engaging in mass warrantless surveillance of Americans. We found out in a court case just last week how extensive the illegal domestic surveillance has been, with the FBI engaging in tens of thousands of warrantless searches involving American emails and phone numbers under the guise of combating foreign subversion....

The real problem would be the precedent of a de facto intelligence community veto over elections, using the lunatic spookworld brand of politics that has dominated the last three years of anti-Trump agitation.
Yes, we are already seeing the spectacle of Congress trying to remove the President based on the secret testimony of unnamed CIA officers. That's not acceptable, no matter in how much regard one holds the CIA, and no matter what kind of louse the President might be. At an absolute minimum, the officer needs to bite the bullet and testify to the American people in his or her own name, and tell us why we should accept the removal of our elected President over intelligence concerns.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Andy McCarthy:
I’d wager that the flames of impeachment were stoked more this week by President Trump’s foreign policy than they have been by any purported impeachable offense his opponents have conjured up over the last three years. By redeploying a few dozen American troops in Syria, the president acceded to a Turkish invasion of territory occupied by the Kurds. Ostensibly, that has nothing to do with the impeachment frenzy over Ukraine, whose government Democrats accuse the president of pressuring to dig up dirt on a political rival. But Turkey’s aggression could crack the president’s impeachment firewall.

There is rage over Trump’s decision. It is rage over a policy choice, not over high crimes and misdemeanors. Only the most blindly angry can doubt the lawfulness of the commander-in-chief’s movement of U.S. soldiers, even though it rendered inevitable the Turks’ rout of the Kurds.... Nor does it matter much that, while excruciating, the president’s decision is defensible and will be applauded by Americans weary of entanglement in the Muslim Middle East’s wars.
More than "defensible," the decision was the only one to be made. The United States had only a few Special Forces in the area's front lines, as well as some trainers and support units further back. Turkey is committing tens of thousands of men, including combined arms conventional forces to include heavy artillery, armor, and air support. We have come to hold our special operations forces in a kind of awe, and they are certainly extremely brave and capable. However, "special operations" isn't a synonym for "better than conventional operations." It's a subset of specific missions that require specialized training and setup. These forces are not optimized for the front lines of a conventional war. They're great soldiers, but they're not the right tools for the task.

Nor is diplomacy an option. Erdogan's remaining forces, apart from the Turkish regulars just mentioned, are 14,000 Syrian irregulars. He brought them over to Turkey and massed them for the invasion. Being both non-Turks and irregulars, they won't stay if they aren't used. Erdogan can't be talked out of this because he knows he will lose the bulk of the infantry component he is employing if he doesn't move now.

We have conventional forces we could deploy -- the 82nd Airborne's 3rd Brigade is locked down in Afghanistan, but the rest of it could be shifted from the training exercises it was going to undergo; there's a MEU/SOC (the 11th, I believe) currently working with NAVCENT. But we haven't set up the logistics to support a large conventional deployment. You could get them there, but from day one they'd be burning supplies and needing new ones. What are the supply lines we'd use? Fly into BIAP and truck across the western desert? If Iraq let us, well, you can't supply a large force for long by air alone. Sail into Basra and drive across all of Iraq? Sail into Israel and drive across Jordan? Maybe we could ask our NATO ally Turkey to let us sail into Istanbul and use the same supply lines they'll be using.

Oh, I guess that won't work, huh? Some ally.

And by the way, there are 5,000 US Airmen in Incirlik guarded by Turkish Air Force members. Also fifty tactical nuclear warheads. So if this did become a hot war with Turkey, they could readily seize five thousand hostages and become a nuclear power. They're not ballistic missiles or anything, but they could use them against the very forces we'd be deploying to fight them -- and their intelligence services have had plenty of time to study how these weapons are stored and to learn how to operate them.

The root of this failure -- which may turn out to be the biggest American strategic loss since Vietnam or Korea -- is the failure of our institutions to come to grip with the drift of Turkey and the failure of NATO. The President, foolishly, is selling this as a choice he made for reasons of his own. The truth is he didn't have any choice. It's ugly, and in the medium to long term we could turn it around if we start putting the pieces in place now. But right now, today, there's not a thing we can do to stop the Turks that doesn't do more harm than good.

None of that cuts against Mr. McCarthy's point, though. Almost none of our elected leadership or class of journalists understands any of that. They all think this is happening because Donald Trump 'greenlit' the invasion. To some degree it's his fault for talking as if that were so. Nevertheless if you understand how this works, you quickly see that there wasn't a choice to be made. There were only orders to be issued, and obeyed, in spite of the massive human tragedy they entail. Donald Trump can't convey that; maybe he can't even feel it, for all he manages to show. I believe he truly hates to write letters to the families of fallen soldiers. I'm not sure how much he cares about the others who are being killed, who lately were friends to many of those soldiers. Perhaps that incapacity really is a disqualification, of a sort; although I'd think it more a 25th Amendment disqualification than an impeachable offense.

In any case, many others besides him bear responsibility for this disaster. It should have been obvious, and steps should have been taken to reinforce the position until we were ready to abandon it on our own terms and at a time of our own choosing. We are being routed, humiliatingly by an ostensible ally. We are leaving friends we fought alongside to be murdered. We should have had another choice, and it is our own fault that we do not. We left ourselves unprepared to do what would have to be done to stop it.