Ode to Totalitarianism

An associate professor of music wants you to know how much safer he felt in China.
In China, the obligation to isolate felt shared and the public changed their habits almost immediately. Sterilization, cleanliness and social distancing were prioritized by everyone at all times. Rightly or wrongly, the Chinese state’s heavy-handed approach seemed to work.

In contrast, individual liberty is the engine that drives American exceptionalism. There are certainly valid questions about how much of it to sacrifice in the name of the public good, but our laissez-faire attitude, prioritization of personal freedom and utter lack of government leadership have left Americans confused and exposed.

Particularly troubling has been the extent to which it has felt like high-risk residents such as ourselves have had to shoulder the burden for stopping the spread of the disease by being the only ones to go into isolation. There are lessons to be learned from the Chinese people if not its leadership, including that everybody must accept their own responsibility, vulnerability and complicity — sacrificing “rights” for the collective good — or many of us will die.
What's with the scare quotes around "rights"? Was the intention to suggest that many things we think of as rights aren't really, like the 'right' to go out to eat at a restaurant? Or was the intent to suggest that freedom of movement, independence, protections from having the government seize your property, these sorts of things aren't really rights? The piece is ambiguous.

In fact the United States has managed, without a central authority -- in spite of the failures of our central government's ossified bureaucracies -- to lock itself down nearly as effectively as China. Schools and universities are canceling classes or shifting to online models for a while; sports leagues are forgoing millions in revenue to shut down their games. Nobody's making us do it, but we've done it anyway.

It does require more of us as citizens. I spent a lot of last week contacting government officials to urge appropriate action. And you can't just call the Federal elected officials: the real decisions are being made at the local and state level right now. Our local school board fought tooth and nail to avoid closing, as did the state department of education. As of yesterday afternoon they reaffirmed their intent to resume classes Monday morning, though the admitted that no one would be required to come given that the governor has declared a state of emergency. Finally, today, they gave in and canceled classes for the rest of the month.

Now we've got other problems, and we'll have to each do our part to get through it. But we are getting through it, and we are doing it ourselves, like free men and women.

Before you decide that a totalitarian central government is the way to make you feel safe, too, you should reflect on what they're doing to the people they don't like.

Maybe you're safer being free, too. Although I suppose an associate professor of music who was willing to speak well of the regime might have a high social credit score, you never can be sure what your masters will decide to dislike. The Cultural Revolution came for all sorts of intellectuals, just as it is now the Muslim minority that is being sent to the chopping block.

The FDA Is In This Too

“They could change their rules, but haven’t.”

What was their job again?

As we sort through the simultaneous complaints that the President is an autocratic tyrant who's failing to take personal control of enough important American institutions, I turn again to Doc Zero (a/k/a John Hayward):
I also wouldn't fault Trump too much for being surprised to learn the system actually has roadblocks that make quick and effective epidemic response difficult. Would you think, upon succeeding the president in charge during the H1N1 epidemic, that would be the case?
The fascinating thing about the Democrats' "Trump cut CDC funding" lie is that none of them bothered to actually READ the unimplemented White House budget proposal in question. It talked about CDC getting distracted from its core mission by excessive staff and bureaucratic creep.
Everything I've seen so far buttresses that analysis. There really is no excuse for a gigantic government swimming in money, bursting with personnel, and top-heavy with management to be paralyzed unless the chief executive comes in and micro-manages every agency.

Red Flags in Maryland

A police shooting.
A Maryland man who was shot and killed by a police officer was asleep in his bedroom when police opened fire from outside his house, an attorney for the 21-year-old man’s family said Friday. The man's girlfriend was also wounded....

The warrant that police obtained to search the Potomac home Lemp shared with his parents and 19-year-old brother doesn’t mention any “imminent threat” to law enforcement or the public, Lemp’s relatives said in a statement released Friday by their lawyers. Nobody in the house that morning had a criminal record, the statement adds.

"Exiled for the good of the realm"

I don't know about you guys, but I haven't had that much success getting useful diagnoses out of doctors, other than in really obscure cases requiring specialized tests.  No matter how many doctors roll their eyes at "Dr. Google," most diagnoses occur at home.  This flow-chart may be helpful:

It might be better to organize it differently, though.  The main thing is whether there's fever or not, but evidently fever tends to appear with a suite of other symptoms:  cough, fatigue, and prostration (but apparently not sneezing or a runny nose).  If you're in this suite, the big difference between novel coronavirus and ordinary flu is said to be a distinct shortness of breath.  Presumably this means the subjective feeling that accompanies a low pulse-ox, something I've experienced only once but won't soon forget.

If there's no fever, but you're sneezing and your nose is running, you probably have either allergies (especially if your eyes itch but your chest is OK) or a cold (especially if your chest is "uncomfortable" but your eyes don't itch).

I remain uncertain whether I've ever had the true flu.  What do you call it when there's a little fever but not a lot, some weakness but not a huge amount, and a stuffy nose that turns into a moderate cough that goes on for a week or more?  Is that what they mean by "mild chest discomfort"?  Maybe all I've ever had were common colds.  Maybe I don't need to know, since there's no useful way to treat either them or the flu, and my immune system is going to do its thing regardless of the state of my conscious knowledge.  You treat the symptoms if possible, rest, and wait it out.  This is the first time I can remember particularly needing to care, since putting what may be an ordinary seasonal cold or flu into the "coronavirus" category would mean a lot more urgency about either quarantine or--nightmare scenario--pushing the panic button and heading to an ER or ICU for respiratory support.

We're self-quarantining anyway, or at least socially isolating.  It's the only useful way I know to do my part to keep the spread down, either to "flatten curve" in order to lessen the acute strain on medical facilities, or if possible to bring R0 under 1.0 so as to contain the spread completely.

My husband has just brought my attention to a much-needed distinction made by someone called "Ciaran's Artisanal ****posting":  self-isolation is boring and clinical, suggesting that you're following the orders of a government, and a sure way for no one to notice your effort.  Being "exiled for the good of the realm," however, is mysterious and sexy and will lead everyone to wonder what you did to deserve it.

Privacy and Elites

Now this is an essay worth discussing.

Isolation Diary 2

So far I'm only doing these on the days when I break isolation. Today I went down to town for what I think will be the last time for a very long time. I've managed to arrange for everyone else on the property to stop having reasons to leave, but for one more trip, until the state of emergency is lifted or we run out of food. We have lots of food. Tomorrow I'll bottle up a few gallons of mead and get another batch started, so alcohol won't be a problem for a long time either.

In principle we could ride out two months here. In practice, I'll probably ride out when the weather is nice. One can hardly get sick on a motorcycle, as long as riding in the clean air is all one does. If we run short of anything I can make limited stops to pick up what we need and put it in the saddlebags, washing my hands immediately after leaving any stores with soap and bottled water.

The novel I'm editing is better than I remembered. It's really pretty good. I am removing a lot of commas, and smoothing some dialogue -- it wasn't bad before, but it sounded like the Medieval sources rather than like anything anyone would know how to hear today. Still, I'm pretty happy with it. I'll never write anything this good again; academic training has killed the instinct for beauty that I once possessed.

Ah, well. Perhaps 'killed' is too strong. There will be a lot of time for meditation in the coming weeks. Maybe I can recover something of what I once had.

A Series of Implausible Arguments

Robert Fisk is still around, it turns out.

"The Saudi royal family appear unaware of the dangers of settling scores among themselves."

I would guess there are no better experts in the world on the subject than the Saudi royal family, but carry on dude.

Daytona Bike Week Canceled

Really everything is likely to be canceled that can be, but you know it's serious when Daytona cancels.

Some appropriate music.

Killing An Admiral From Time to Time

Apropos of the last post, and because it happens to be the anniversary, a sea story.
ON MARCH 14, 1757, Royal Navy Vice Admiral John Byng boarded his flagship HMS Monarch for what would be the last time.

As the 52-year-old officer waited on the quarterdeck in the company of nine marine guards, instructions were passed to all the men-of-war at anchor nearby in Spithead to dispatch their officers to the 74-gun ship of the line to witness the spectacle that had been planned.

As the clock struck twelve, a captain by the name of John Montagu stepped forward from the small crowd that had assembled on the Monarch to inform Byng that it was time — the admiral’s execution was at hand....

Upon learning of the execution, the French writer, philosopher and playwright Voltaire satirically wrote that the British needed to occasionally execute an admiral from time to time, “in order to encourage the others.”

Although his comments were written as a form of mockery, surprisingly, the observation was entirely accurate. Byng’s role in the Minorca fiasco led to what was darkly termed in the Royal Navy the “Byng Principle,” which meant that “nothing is to be undertaken where there is risk or danger.”

This sardonic term served as a cautionary reminder to naval officers of the sort of conduct that should be avoided in battle. And just or not, Byng’s death was to instill in them an aggressive fighting spirit that would succeed in turning the war in favour of Britain.
We live in a softer age, for now.

When This Is Over, We Hang the Bureaucrats

After problems arose with the C.D.C.’s test, officials could have switched to using successful tests that other countries were already using. But the officials refused to do so, essentially because it would have required changing bureaucratic procedures.

The federal government could also have eased regulations on American hospitals and laboratories, to allow them to create and manufacture their own tests, as Melissa Miller of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine told The Washington Post. But federal officials did not do so for weeks. The Times’s Sheri Fink and Mike Baker reported this week about a Seattle lab with a promising test that was blocked by “existing regulations and red tape” while “other countries ramped up much earlier and faster.”
So what can we replace the CDC with that is not a bureaucracy, or at least not a government bureaucracy?

Virus Threat? Ban Guns!

You can tell when people aren’t taking a crisis seriously when they try to shoehorn irrelevant policy preferences into their so-called “disaster” planning. I hear Pelosi tried to slip abortion funding into the Federal plan, and this mayor has decided to assume executive authority to void the Second Amendment.

UPDATE: California governor to "commandeer property" to fight the virus.

UPDATE: NYC mayor says this is the time to nationalize factories and industries.

Texans don't get it

The "NewNeo" blog continues to amuse, particularly the comments section.  Commenter OldTexan weighs in on the host's thoughts about the loss of meaning of terms like exponential and existential:
My feeling about the existential stuff can best be summed up with [an] experience I had in the Army when about the only General I ever saw was touring our top secret facility in Germany where we did electronic eavesdropping on the various Commie Countries to the East. He stopped to talk to once of our men working a multiple radio intercept position inside a room tucked into the back of a building, free standing inside and old Luftwaffe hanger. He said, "Son, where are you from?" and the reply was, "Texas, Sir!" and then the General said, "Anything I can do to help you?" At that time the Texan took off his headset, we did not have to come to attention because we were supposed to keep working, the Texan stood up and said very clearly and kind of loud, "Sir, Existentialism, Sir I just don’t get it!"

Fix it so I can go back to sleep

John Hayward nails the irritable irrationality of someone woken from a sound sleep to a threat demanding immediate inconvenient action:
Focused intently on the suddenly urgent, all-consuming crisis thrust before our bleary eyes, we lose our senses of time and proportion. We want an immediate solution to the danger that jolted us awake. We eagerly signal to each other that we're fully awake and engaged now.
But we suspect maybe OTHERS are still asleep, still numb to the real danger, foolishly taking risks and making mistakes that could jeopardize everyone else. Our instinct to raise the general alarm level makes us amplify bad news and get angry at anyone who isn't at Defcon 1.
Few want to discuss proportionality during the fearful days after we are jolted awake. We want to spread the alarm and focus on this new terrible thing to the exclusion of all else. We want it to be over fast. We want to go back to sleep.
* * *
We should learn not to sleep so deeply between red-alert crises. We should demand more focus and less mission creep from the agencies that are supposed to be prepared for them. We should begin reacting judiciously to threats before they cross the horizon.
Most of all, we should learn there are costs and benefits to every action, and to inaction. Rationally balancing them against each other is difficult both in times of apathy and white-hot panic. If we learn to do it better when we're not panicking, we'll panic less often.

The Return of Legends

As the stable world seems less stable, remember that it has happened before.
We should be startled if we were quietly reading a prosaic modern novel, and somewhere in the middle it turned without warning into a fairy tale. We should be surprised if one of the spinsters in Cranford, after tidily sweeping the room with a broom, were to fly away on a broomstick. Our attention would be arrested if one of Jane Austen's young ladies who had just met a dragoon were to walk a little further and meet a dragon.

Yet something very like this extraordinary transition takes place in British history at the end of the purely Roman period. We have to do with rational and almost mechanical accounts of encampment and engineering, of a busy bureaucracy and occasional frontier wars, quite modern in their efficiency and inefficiency; and then all of a sudden we are reading of wandering bells and wizard lances, of wars against men as tall as trees or as short as toadstools. The soldier of civilization is no longer fighting with Goths but with goblins; the land becomes a labyrinth of faerie towns unknown to history; and scholars can suggest but cannot explain how a Roman ruler or a Welsh chieftain towers up in the twilight as the awful and unbegotten Arthur.
According to the legends, those were the great times.

The Liberation of Sarah Palin

If I were to guess, I'd say that Ms. Palin was always a Sir Mixalot fan but long felt she had to keep that aspect of her personality private. Now that her political career is over, well, she's free at last.

That looks like a completely ridiculous TV show, but I have gotten the impression that such things are common now.

Grand Bargains

In general I'm opposed to involving the Federal government in anything, or for Congress legislating outside of its very clear Article I Section 8 duties. That said, a global pandemic is the best argument for a coherent approach across many normally divergent sectors. Since you go to war with the government you have, and ours is hyper-partisan and nearly nonfunctional, a bargain may be the only way to obtain the goods we need.

Strong high borders, closed schools, ways to keep people from losing their homes or places of living during times when we ask everyone to stay home; lots is going to have to happen quickly, and for a month at least (though likely not forever). We can get this under control, but time is of the essence.

Free Spirits

Part one and two of a study urging free market reforms for North Carolina's hard liquor industry. North Carolina has one of the most vibrant microbrewery and winery markets going, but hard liquor here is still controlled by "Alcoholic Beverage Control" councils operated not by the state but by 140 local governments. As you might expect, that leads to non-optimal results.
Did you know that North Carolina used to be the nation’s leader in locally owned and operated distilleries? It’s true. In 1904 the state had 745 registered distilleries, 540 of which were operating. And they were all outlawed, an entire industry destroyed, by a series of laws culminating in voters passing the first statewide prohibition in the South in 1908.
It won't be the last industry destroyed in the name of "progress," if certain people get their way.

The Eagles Come Home

SECDEF issues major travel restrictions, at the same time as our withdrawal from Afghanistan begins. I think these are 150th Cavalry Regiment soldiers, from the West Virginia National Guard but assigned to the 30th Armored Brigade that is mostly built around North Carolina National Guard units. If so, I was with this unit for a while during their deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom IV in 2009.

Isolation Diary

I'm inclined to isolation on most occasions, so it wasn't too shocking to realize I had been an early adopter of the 'social distancing' method being recommended these days. I left my property today for the first time since Saturday, to go down to the county dump to clear the ordinary household trash out of my place. I intended also to check the post office box in the 'town' nearest the house, which chiefly consists of that post office and a gas station. So I expected no social interactions at all. In fact I had two: I ran into my Mexican friend (born in Guadalajara, married these days to a Cherokee wife -- a real one from the nearby reservation, not the Warren type). I also ran into the guy who owns the gas station, who is a friend of mine because he and I both own off-roading Jeeps and enjoy that culture.

Therefore I shook two hands in spite of the elevated risk of doing so; but I still have plenty of hand sanitizer. The wife did her prepping a month and a half ago when the craziness was just on display in China, figuring it would get out this way sooner or later. After that I came home.

In many ways I'm ideally placed for a long isolation. I have a great number of books, plenty of supplies, still lots of firewood even though winter is just ending. There are springs on the property, and not many people around in any case. If it weren't for the need to make money to pay all those bills I could stay up here a very long time without coming down.

Of course my wife and another relative still have business in town, so they may bring the thing home in spite of however much I'm prepared to sit up here. Like Willie Nelson, 'taking it home to Connie and the kids.'

I'm editing a novel I wrote some years ago in my spare time. Maybe if it turns out all right I'll try to publish it when this is all over.

Feel the Bern

In spite of sequential drubbings by the Democratic machine, Bernie will stay in and force Biden to debate.

Ready for anything

I guess this quantum mechanics prof had gotten one too many anguished calls from nervous students:

Well, shoot, I can't seem to embed a legible version, but you can read it here.

Hazard is the spice of life

More and more of my daily diet of online perspectives consists of the panic/don't-panic debate.  I enjoyed this lengthy excerpt from the comments section at thenewneo.com:
Arthur Koestler wrote about what he called the Tragic and the Trivial planes of life. As explained by his friend, the writer and fighter pilot Richard Hillary:
“K has a theory for this. He believes there are two planes of existence which he calls vie tragique and vie triviale. Usually we move on the trivial plane, but occasionally in moments of elation or danger, we find ourselves transferred to the plane of the vie tragique, with its non-commonsense, cosmic perspective. When we are on the trivial plane, the realities of the other appear as nonsense–as overstrung nerves and so on. When we live on the tragic plane, the realities of the other are shallow, frivolous, frivolous, trifling. But in exceptional circumstances, for instance if someone has to live through a long stretch of time in physical danger, one is placed, as it were, on the intersection line of the two planes; a curious situation which is a kind of tightrope-walking on one’s nerves…I think he is right.”
I think the attraction to ultimate catastrophes…whether the assumed flooding due to Climate Change, or the danger of America being taken over by the Ku Klux Klan, or the exaggeration of the very real dangers of coronavirus…is related to this. People who live entirely on Koestler’s Trivial Plane, looking for a little connection to Ultimate Things.

Restoring Civility to Office

A transcript of the genteel discussion Joe Biden had with a voter today. It's going to be a great election season, isn't it?

A Suspense of Mortgage

Italy, having placed sixty million under quarantine, takes a step to help make sure they don't thereby become homeless.

Class and Aristotle

Aristotle's view only gets mentioned in passing here, so I wanted to elaborate a bit on it along the way to illuminating the rest of the argument.
Aristotle, Niccolò Machiavelli, Alexis de Tocqueville, Adam Smith and Karl Marx grounded their philosophies in the understanding that there is a natural antagonism between the rich and the rest of us. The interests of the rich are not our interests. The truths of the rich are not our truths. The lives of the rich are not our lives. Great wealth not only breeds contempt for those who do not have it but it empowers oligarchs to pay armies of lawyers, publicists, politicians, judges, academics and journalists to censure and control public debate and stifle dissent.
Aristotle worries that the rich will hire actual armies, as a matter of fact. But he also thinks that both democracy and oligarchy are based on errors. From Politics 5:
Democracy, for example, arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal. Oligarchy is based on the notion that those who are unequal in one respect are in all respects unequal; being unequal, that is, in property, they suppose themselves to be unequal absolutely. The democrats think that as they are equal they ought to be equal in all things; while the oligarchs, under the idea that they are unequal, claim too much, which is one form of inequality. All these forms of government have a kind of justice, but, tried by an absolute standard, they are faulty; and, therefore, both parties, whenever their share in the government does not accord with their preconceived ideas, stir up revolution.
So what Aristotle is calling (small-d) democrats are right about one thing, but wrong about something else; and being wrong, they try to overthrow the government in order to establish an equality of property to go with the equality of rights. This is the kind of movement that Bernie Sanders is leading; we currently are calling this "democratic socialism."

But what Aristotle is calling oligarchs are also both right and wrong. They are right that they ought to be secure in their property, and not just have the mob empowered to vote themselves the right to take it away. They are wrong, though, in thinking that their superior wealth entails also a superior fitness to lead. Mike Bloomberg is the clearest exemplar of this mistake, and though defeated himself, he is employing his wealth to try to buy armies (of political activists, lawyers, etc) to ensure that his vision is secured by the powers of government. They also buy private security armies, even as they move to disarm the people; in Aristotle's day, sometimes those mercenary forces actually took over the state. For now, the movement simply creates a private right of self defense available only to the rich, while leaving the people disarmed and defenseless against both the power of the state and the criminals (from whom the state offers protection, perhaps, in return for deepened submission). Joe Biden is at this point merely a figurehead for the oligarchs.

Once you understand the sides, we can proceed to the causes of revolution:
Revolutions in democracies are generally caused by the intemperance of demagogues, who either in their private capacity lay information against rich men until they compel them to combine (for a common danger unites even the bitterest enemies), or coming forward in public stir up the people against them....

There are two patent causes of revolutions in oligarchies: (1) First, when the oligarchs oppress the people, for then anybody is good enough to be their champion, especially if he be himself a member of the oligarchy...

(2) Of internal causes of revolutions in oligarchies one is the personal rivalry of the oligarchs, which leads them to play the demagogue. Now, the oligarchical demagogue is of two sorts: either (a) he practices upon the oligarchs themselves (for, although the oligarchy are quite a small number, there may be a demagogue among them, as at Athens Charicles' party won power by courting the Thirty, that of Phrynichus by courting the Four Hundred); or (b) the oligarchs may play the demagogue with the people.
We can consider whether Sanders is a demagogue of the democratic type, of a demagogue who is a member of the oligarchy of the 2(b) type. In either case, as Aristotle warned, the rest of the oligarchy has firmly united against him. It was clear since before Super Tuesday that defeating Sanders was at least as important to the oligarchy as defeating Trump; probably much more important, since they know they can survive Trump but may not survive Sanders.

Aristotle ponders a third type of government, which he calls aristocracy -- government by the virtuous, he means, rather than by the well-born -- but we are so far away from that form that we need not consider it here.

So let us return to the article about the war between the democrats and the oligarchs, as it is playing out today.
The oligarchs are happy to talk about race. They are happy to talk about sexual identity and gender. They are happy to talk about patriotism. They are happy to talk about religion. They are happy to talk about immigration. They are happy to talk about abortion. They are happy to talk about gun control. They are happy to talk about cultural degeneracy or cultural freedom. They are not happy to talk about class. Race, gender, religion, abortion, immigration, gun control, culture and patriotism are issues used to divide the public, to turn neighbor against neighbor, to fuel virulent hatreds and antagonisms. The culture wars give the oligarchs, both Democrats and Republicans, the cover to continue the pillage. There are few substantial differences between the two ruling political parties in the United States. This is why oligarchs like Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg can switch effortlessly from one party to the other.
It isn't clear to me that Trump qualifies as a member of the oligarchy in good standing. He is perhaps a 2a type: a demagogue who is practicing on the other oligarchs. But he is so firmly opposed by the members of the so-called Deep State, as well as the rich, that I wonder if he isn't a kind of democrat himself. The objections to his crassness, vulgarity, ugliness of the design of his buildings and his products, these sound like class-based objections: the wealthy and established class sneering at the 'Nouveau riche,' whose manners are unrefined and whose wealth was too recently earned to be respectable. Certainly he is a demagogue, but like Sanders it is debatable which sort he is. In any case, he is an enemy of the established oligarchy, which draws its wealth especially from selling America's advantages for their personal profit. They seek cheap labor through globalization, or through heavy immigration, and through trade deals that benefit their corporations at the expense of the American people. Trump is preying on them, though whether as a democrat or as a 2(a) oligarch is debatable.

Nevertheless they and their fortunes will survive him, even if he succeeds in rebuilding American advantages.
Donald Trump may be a narcissist and a con artist, but he savages the oligarchic elite in his long-winded speeches to the delight of his crowds. He, like Bernie Sanders, speaks about the forbidden topic — class. But Trump, though an embarrassment to the oligarchs, does not, like Sanders, pose a genuine threat to them. Trump will, like all demagogues, incite violence against the vulnerable, widen the cultural and social divides and consolidate tyranny, but he will leave the rich alone. It is Sanders whom the oligarchs fear and hate.
There is a great deal more, which you can read if you are interested in the argument as it has developed so far. These are the choices before us; although after today's primaries, it may well be that we are left with a simpler choice. The oligarchs want to recapture all the levers of power; they are sure their superiority in wealth and power implies their superiority, and their fitness to rule over us and tell us how to live our lives. There are no better options on the table, not at least without the kind of revolution that Aristotle warns is likely to come out of this dynamic.

In Praise of Tulsi Gabbard

Acknowledging her flaws, there remains a lot to like about her. Most of what impresses this author will probably strike most of you as reasons not to support her, but read this argument on her alleged support for Assad.
The Assad smear is particularly difficult to unravel. Nothing about our involvement in the Middle East is simple. If we research the Syria trip, we find Gabbard had official permission to travel to Syria, she funded this herself, she traveled with a group that included fellow peace advocate Dennis Kucinich, she met not just with Assad, but with his opponents, community leaders and with citizens. She sought a full picture of events there in an attempt to verify facts to keep us from being lied into another war as we had been with Iraq. The US involvement in Syria is complex. It’s essential to look at the ways our actions have contributed to the problems Syria faces. It’s important to understand not every US action is a help to the people of a given nation. Gabbard understands this as no other candidate. She knows enough to realize we must seek facts before taking action. She consistently points to our constitution and the President’s need to go through Congress when it comes to war.

It’s interesting to note Nancy Pelosi met with Assad during the Bush administration and took a great deal of criticism for having met with him. Pelosi responded that all should meet with Assad and any dictator in the interest of diplomacy. Pelosi’s voice was noticeably absent when Gabbard was being smeared for her courageous effort to broker peace. Pelosi remained silent when Harris, Buttigieg and numerous media outlets used the Assad smear to attack Gabbard.
For some reason Tulsi was the designated villain (as SNL named her in one of its skits), perhaps because of her support for Bernie over Hillary in 2016; perhaps because she gutted the Kamala Harris candidacy last year. Perhaps it is for some other reason. The backstab by Pelosi is just part and parcel of how she's been mistreated by her own party. Just last week the DNC changed the rules to keep her out of the debates again, after having changed the rules to ensure that Mike Bloomberg got a chance to debate. He'd have been better off if they hadn't, but Tulsi has been strong when she's made the stage. With only Bernie and Biden left -- and Biden slipping into hostile incoherence -- perhaps they fear to let her back onstage again.

The Great Scattering

A review of a book on the collapse of the family & the sexual revolution.

Rest in Peace, Max von Sydow

Swedish actor Max von Sydow has passed on. As the article mentions he had many more famous roles, but he also appeared in the Hall's favorite:

Sword & Sorcery Movie Posters

A blog I'd never heard of before today has a two-part series (one and two) on 1980s Sword & Sorcery movie posters. The artists involved are sometimes good, sometimes bad, as are the movies.

I have seen many of these, partly because I love sword and sorcery as a literary genre and always hope to find a movie that isn't terrible to go with the stories that are often great; but also because I grew up watching Joe Bobb Briggs Drive-In Theater, and developed a taste for quite bad movies of that sort.

After the jump, brief reviews of the ones I have seen.

Totem or pipe dream?

I've been reading good reviews of a new memoir by Emma Sky about occupied Iraq under the Bush and Obama administrations.  It's said to be personally generous and even-handed, so I was interested to read this summing up:
In the 2010 election, with both Sunni and Shia support, the non‑sectarian, nationalist Iraqiya bloc won two seats more than Nouri al‑Maliki’s State of Law coalition. But many MPs were disqualified by the de‑Ba’athification committees, while Maliki demanded a recount and then manoeuvred to stay on as prime minister. To his military’s disgust, Obama ignored the deadlock for two months. Chris Hill, the new US ambassador, told Odierno that Iraq wasn’t ready for democracy and needed a Shia strongman. An opinion poll disagreed: only 14% of Iraqis thought Maliki should stay in power. But the Iranians lobbied hard to preserve him and thus to alienate Iraq from the rest of the Arab world. Obama’s acquiescence led one of Sky’s Iraqi informants to complain: “Either the Americans are stupid or there is a secret deal with Iran” – a view that is still more widespread today. Where Bush made democracy a totem, and thought it could be delivered via occupation, Obama gave up on it entirely. The results of this equally misguided (and orientalist) approach are painfully evident today.
Well, where does that leave us? You can't give up on democracy, but you also can't deliver it by occupation. That leaves, perhaps, nation-building without occupation. I'm not asking rhetorically. I genuinely don't understand why some nations, at some times, manage to crawl out of tyranny, or how they stay out of it for a time.  The only glimmer of an idea I have is economic and intellectual/religious freedom combined with vigorous communal opposition to theft and violence.

The Wheel of Pain

You will of course recognize this event from the 1982 Conan the Barbarian.

Rogue Fitness paid for a pretty close replica for the Arnold event.

One minute events are very common in Strongman sports. It's often enough that you'll compete in an event that lasts all day, with only 6-10 minutes of actual work all day long. If you're not whipped the next day in spite of having only worked six or ten minutes the previous day, they didn't make the six minutes of work tough enough.