Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Moral Dilemma

Or, Do Morons Have Rights?

There is a composting box in my yard. It is a cube about a yard in each dimension. I don't know how it got there -- perhaps some tenant of long ago put it there. My current tenant is a worst-case holier-than-thou environmentalist and all-around dipstick and uses the composter religiously. Lately even I have begun to occasionally throw things in there.

Recently I was at Costco buying among other things a new supply of paper plates. One kind said on the package that it was compostable. A moment's thought and another of inspection showed that meant that the plates did not have the usual water-resistant coating. Which means that they are lousy as paper plates. But, doing my duty to Mother Earth, I got them anyway. (My excuse for using paper plates is that I am saving water to wash dishes in, natural gas to heat the water, and avoiding putting detergent into the drain water. Actually I just can't be bothered to wash dishes.)

So I started tossing the paper plates in the composter with the food scraps. A few days later my tenant mentioned that someone was putting paper plates in the composter. I explained that it was me, that they were a compostable variety of paper plate, and that it was okay. She had gone to the trouble to remove the paper plates from the composter and put them in the garbage can.

Now comes the dilemma. Subsequent to the explanation, mirabile dictu, she has continued to fish the paper plates out of the composter and put them in the garbage can. Mind you, a composter may be morally and ecologically immaculate, but physically it is a disgusting pile of rotting, stinking garbage crawling with flies. Which means that every time I throw a paper plate in the composter, I and her stupidity and controllingness condemn her to dive into that disgust and filth to get it out. I am her landlord and am giving her an excellent deal on the rent so she cannot actually confront me about it.

So the question is: am I being a schmuck for deliberately throwing the paper plates in the composter? Actually that is no question at all. Of course I am. The real question is, should I continue to do it? And that, like the first, is no question at all. Of course I should. That combination of stupidity and piety deserves whatever it can be made to inflict on itself. And it makes me laugh.

The Torch

Like many revolutionary national movements, Tibetan nationalism is largely based on an idealized mythical, or even fabricated, past, and denial about the present. Before the communists invaded Tibet in 1950 in the course of re-unifying China, the social system in Tibet was, in the polite phrase, "feudalism". 70% of the land belonged to the monasteries, and almost all the arable land. Some Tibetan peasants were share-croppers. The majority were serfs. Serfs could be, and often were, sold. The less polite phrase for such a social system is "slavery". The communists overthrew the Tibetan social system by force, just as they overthrew the social system throughout China.

All the bitching and moaning ever since has been on account of the communists having been Chinese rather than Tibetan. The sole argument against Chinese intervention in an area that had been part of China for more than two hundred years was and is racial xenophobia. When someone strikes off one's chains, only a moron, dupe, or xenophobe objects to the ethnicity of the emancipator. This is like American slaves refusing emancipation because Lincoln and the Union Army were white.
But after three generations of disinformation both in Tibet and in the West, we have replaced historical reality with myth. Buddhism is cool. Communism is no longer cool. A successful social, commercial, and industrial system is definitely not cool.

An essential element of Tibetan Buddhism's appeal is that few know much about it. In fact, lamaist Buddhism is to the teachings of Gautama the Buddha as Holy Rollerism is to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. To those who have read anything at all about it, it is definitely Not Cool.

The Dalai lama's sole claim to moral authority is that he has a terrific smile and a wonderful presence. The best judgment on such a one is a line given Hamlet by Shakespeare, "That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain."

The Cops Shot Sean Bell

Sean Bell got married. Sean Bell got shot 51 times. The same day and by New York's Finest. He was unarmed. I hardly need mention that he was black. Yesterday the 3 cops who levelled the bridegroom were acquitted, as is the custom.

Yet black New York did not erupt. The Left were not outraged. There were no riots, not even angry demonstrations. Nobody picketed the Queens Borough Courthouse.

It seems that 2 of the 3 policemen involved had the foresight to be black both at the time of the shooting and of the acquittals. The contrast to the reaction to the Rodney King beating and acquittals, and to the Diallo shooting and acquittals, could not be more complete.

If one will forgive the expression, the black humor here is that those who most insist that people be treated the same regardless of color, are themselves precisely those least inclined to do so.

Crikey! Is there no end to falling behind?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Pennsylvania Primary

The delegate allocation rules in the Pennsylvania primary require that, unless one candidate exceeds the other's vote total by 15% or more, the 188 delegates are divided evenly. The result, and one really has to believe, the intention, of the rule is to empower the super-delegates and to disempower the voters. The voters are unable to give any advantage to the candidate they prefer. In effect, the delegation is voted by the super-delegates and the voters are left only with a veto.

However the circumstances in which the voters' veto could be used are in elections so one-sided that there is really no contest. That is, the voters' votes only matter in elections in which they don't matter. Welcome to Pennsylvania.

These are the rules for choosing the candidate of a party that styles itself the Democratic Party.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Word for Today

abulia \uh-BOO-lee-uh; uh-BYOO-\, noun:

Loss or impairment of the ability to act or to make decisions.

I was suffering from an aboulia, you know. I couldn't seem to make decisions.
-- Anatole Broyard, "Reading and Writing; (Enter Pound and Eliot)", New York Times, May 30, 1982
There's little escape from her black hole of abulia.
-- James Saynor, "Woman in the Midst of a Nervous Breakdown", New York Times, June 12, 1994

Abulia derives from Greek a-, "without" + boule, "will." The adjective form is abulic.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In the Depths of Utah

[Pearl Harbor - December 7, 1941]

Here in dull, dull, dull Delta, Utah is a museum devoted to a poignant memory. A few miles outside town, at Topaz, there was a relocation center, some would say a concentration camp. 8,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were imprisoned there during the Second World War. It has become an accepted fact that they were harmless and their imprisonment a product of wartime hysteria.

I am not so sure. It is easy and convenient in hindsight to say so. It is the nobler and kinder sentiment. But it was wartime. The mea culpa claim of wartime hysteria ignores the fact that Japan was at war too. The Japanese were far more committed to the war than we were, and suffered far more war hysteria than the Americans did. Is it an absolute certainty that everyone who left Japan also abjured it, that no one among the Japanese immigrants had any love or loyalty for Japan? Had that been true, they would be almost alone among immigrant groups in retaining no loyalty to The Old Country.

In 1942 when the round ups began, much of the American fleet had been destroyed at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese launched a second great naval offensive toward Hawaii with the apparent intent of destroying the remainder of the fleet. The preparation of troopships in Japanese ports suggested that the occupation of the Hawaiian Islands was intended. The encounter of the Japanese fleet and the remainder of the American fleet is known today as the Battle of Midway. It was the most decisive naval battle of the Pacific War.

Throughout the remainder of the war, the United States enjoyed naval superiority because of the destruction of Japanese carriers at Midway. The advantage grew because after Midway superior American naval forces alway inflicted greater losses on numerically inferior Japanese forces so the advantage gained at Midway continued to grow. Had it been the US carriers that were destroyed at Midway, the reverse would have been the case.

How near a thing was the outcome of the Battle of Midway, fought between roughly equal forces? The history is that its outcome was a matter of luck. Under heavy cloud cover the carrier planes of each fleet searched for the enemy fleet. The first to locate the other would be able to send its planes to bomb and sink the other. Even under attack, the fleet being bombed could not counter-attack because it still did not know where the enemy fleet was. A US patrol plane spotted the Japanese fleet through a break in the clouds and radioed back the location, before any Japanese patrol plane could find the US fleet. So the US won the battle and eventually the war.

Had the first fleet sighting at Midway been by a Japanese patrol plane rather than an American one, the subsequent history of the war would have been quite different. After destroying the remainder of the American fleet and occupying Hawaii, Alaska, and the Pacific end of the Panama Canal, a Japanese invasion of the West Coast would have become a considerable likelihood. Those who argue that the Japanese had no reason to invade ignore the importance of seizing or at least destroying the shipyards around San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere where the losses at Pearl Harbor and Midway could have been made good.

The argument that they had no reason to invade the US ignores that they had no reason to invade China, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Indochina, Malaya, Siam, New Guinea, Burma, or any of the Pacific islands. They had no reason to threaten to invade Australia. Yet they did. Preempting American capacity to rebuild the navy would have been more than enough reason.

With overall naval superiority in the Pacific and control of Hawaii, would the Japanese have attempted to invade the United States? Whoever built the now-crumbling fortifications still visible overlooking the Golden Gate thought so.

The argument that the Japanese committed no act of sabotage can be as easily explained as showing that the internment worked as that they were loyal. Similarly the fact of no sabotage can be ascribed to there having been no invasion, behind the lines of which they could have committed it.

Now, a lifetime after the fact, it is inconceivable that there could have been a Japanese invasion of the United States. It is inconceivable that the Japanese Americans could have been Fifth Columnists in the course of such an invasion. It was not inconceivable in 1942.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Obama Gaffe

Hidden in Plain Sight
The contest between Obama and Clinton has more and more been a class conflict. It is a struggle between people who patronize blacks and people who compete with them and, often, fear them. It has become a struggle between the suburban middle class and the working class. Obama, speaking in San Francisco to a closed door audience of wealthy liberals, had the incaution to express the disdain of the middle class for the working class. While racial epithets have become forbidden to where one can be punished in almost any context for uttering them, expressions like "trailer trash" and "redneck" remain in common public usage. Only white workers may be publicly spit on. But not just before primary elections in big industrial states like Pennsylvania and Indiana. Which is what Obama's gaffe was - an elitist incautiously spoke his -- and his constituency's -- disdain for his fellow Democrats and the majority of the American people.

Admittedly I also have no great love for most of my fellow working-class Americans, but I don't run around claiming to be an egalitarian lover of my fellow workers. I consider my fellow man and woman to be largely ___holes -- I have seen them drive.

But I also don't like elitists, and I really don't like hypocritical elitists. I don't know why I am surprised every election by how much I dislike all the candidates. It has never been any different in any election I can remember.

The View from the Hills

Pandemic scenarios seem more real to me after a short bicycle ride in the hills. I rode through Sunset View Cemetery here in El Cerrito. In the old section there are graves from the early Twentieth Century to the 1920's. About a third of the headstones have a year of death of 1918 - the year of the influenza. The First World War, 1914-1918, (until there was a Second World War known as the World War), was the worst war in human history, the worst catastrophe ever to befall humanity. More people died in it than had died in any war before it. Yet the influenza pandemic of 1918 killed more people than the war did.

I had not previously understood what seemed such an over-reaction to bird flu. Bird flu is closely related to the influenza strain of 1918. There is reason to be concerned. With modern transportation and larger more crowded populations, particularly in the poor countries, a pandemic today could spread faster and kill more people than in 1918.

Just as the influenza of 1918 overshadowed the war and revolutions of those years, a pandemic would make the issues of today seem insignificant.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Burr Under My Saddle

I find myself going back to the Rwanda genocide. The Clinton administration knew all about it and did nothing at all about it. They actively discouraged the UN from even taking up the question. Informed opinion is that they feared another debacle like Somalia. Estimates of the number of people murdered range from 800,000 to 1.2 million. The administration clearly preferred the deaths of vast numbers of strangers to the political risk to themselves of doing anything about it. The Republicans in congress concurred with the inaction. But the chief responsibility was on the chief executive.

Much has been made of Bill Clinton's blow job and of Whitewater and of Hillary lying about sniper fire at Tuzla airport. Her betrayal of her and Bill's mentor and family friend Joe Lieberman has been passed over in silence. But enabling by inaction the deaths of about a million people seems somehow worse. Hillary Clinton may not have been the co-president she once claimed to be, but there can be no doubt that her role in the White House was more than making cookies and tending the children as Laura Bush's is. She was part of the Clinton Administration. No one who participated in a decision that enabled a genocide is fit to be president. No one who participated in a decision that enabled a genocide can be trusted not to do it again.

The Vanishing War

The surest sign that the war is being won is that it has been falling out of the news. The victory comes when our combat troops have been withdrawn and Iraq remains stable without them. This withdrawal is already in progress. The army, in its usual combat relationship with the English language, has been quietly working on "building down" its post-surge troop strength in Iraq. The shape of the evolving "peace" has just been demonstrated in Basra in forcing Bani Sadr's Mahdi army to stand down without a prolonged fight. It was done with Iraqi army infantry and American air power.

The domestic politics of it are ironic unto humorous. The Bush Administration wants the war won while they are in office. The McCain campaign ought to want the war to go on so they can elect an old soldier to conduct it, in preference to the openly defeatist Democrats.

The Democrats, on the other hand, will benefit greatly from the war ending before either of them gets to the White House. Their plans to withdraw may or may not help them get elected. But it will be politically disastrous for them if they actually do withdraw the troops after taking office. When the news stories of widespread beheadings and Iranian influence and renewed ethnic cleansing start to come out of post-withdrawal Baghdad there will be such a public clamor that impeachment will be possible, and defeat in the 2010 midterm elections certain. If the war is not won before they take office ("Won" defined as the Iraqi government and army being in control of the country.), they may well be in big political trouble whether they withdraw or stay.

If the war is won or nearly so by the end of the Democratic convention and the beginning of the general election campaigns, it will be off the agenda. Without the war, the issues will all be domestic, i.e. the economy. McCain's announced policy of abandoning borrowers in foreclosure while the federal reserve board rescues banks, will hang like a millstone around his neck. That, and his announced "do nothing" economic policy, will sink him.

Democrats ought to hope the army can win the war and come home before they themselves can undo everything the troops have accomplished by withdrawing them before the war is won.

The Wisdom of Linda Lovelace

As a famous and profound American political sociologist observed, "Follow the money". According to the Wall Street Journal, Senator Clinton now has $33 million in campaign funds, Senator Obama has $39 million, and Senator McCain $8 million. Clinton has 4 times as much as McCain and Obama 5 times as much. Most notably each Democrat has raised more money from each of the seven industries which usually contribute most to the GOP than McCain has.

Something is very different now than in most election years. The pattern suggests that industries regard their contributions not as expressions of their ideological preferences but as investments. One invests in the liberal candidate who is likely to win and ignores the conservative who is likely to lose. I believe the expression is "smart money". It goes without saying that investors expect, and get, a return on their money.

No smarter money than George Soros and he is doubling down on Obama. Soros is an Israel-hater from way back who claims that AIPAC runs the government and comes as close as is "legal" to antisemitism, though himself nominally a Jew. When he ran an article to that effect in the New York Review of Books last year, Obama was forced to publicly repudiate him. Nothing has been disclosed about whether Obama also repudiated his money. My guess is that he didn't. Going back to Linda Lovelace, where there is money there is influence, no matter what the public posturing.

All other things being equal, the process is self-reinforcing. A candidate seen to be likely to win gathers more money than one seen as less likely. The accumulating money makes the candidate more likely to win and enables him to gather still more money and become still more likely to win. The fact that the money comes from the few rather than the many is often said to make the system undemocratic. But a moment's thought shows us that if money makes any difference at all, then democracy is a joke anyway.

Further Rushing Ahead

I have completed my 2006 federal taxes and mailed them. Woo hoo! Now I am just one more sap who will not have his 2007 taxes done until mid-April. That and 3 years of state tax returns.

Now I will have to find something else to feel guilty about.