Creative corner

    Interview with the Umpire

    Having put off reading Michael Wolraich's "Unreasonable Men" on the Roosevelt/La Follette saga for almost 3 years, the following exchange sprung from my wish to snapshot my reactions before I forgot, as well as take advantage of having the author in our midst. Being historical but somewhat akin to our times, the book provides the opportunity to look at a more crystallized version of today's issues, institutions and personalities. Rather than trying to keep the cross-hairs on a confusing, ever-moving target, we can evaluate these events more leisurely, with the luxury of hindsight and room to contemplate, without getting mired down in too much "he said, she said", thus avoiding the trap of “having a dog in that fight”. Sometimes our emotional attachment to events seems to be our biggest hindrance to grasping them.

    This "Entrevista" took place over email on Michael's return from Mexico ("don't destroy Dagblog while I'm gone!") largely as a single block of questions focused on the book's events and a couple followups. Many thanks to Michael for playing along and giving us a chance to play hookie from the exhausting current political chaos. A followup installment is expected to dig more into contemporary parallels.

    For readability, my questions and comments are in bold or brackets, Michael's in normal type.

     – Peracles Please

    Unrisible Irrascible Men

    Michael Wolraich's Unreasonable Men is an engaging exercise in political map making, following the fashions of the times with the entrenched interests of every year. The period in this case is the turn to the 20th century up to pre-WWI America, when her social development lagged significantly behind her economic success, but I found myself wishing for similar vignettes in other ages and historical climes. It's not the most weighty of tomes - finished in 1 day - but I'm not alone in not having time for say Carl Sandburg's 6-volume set on Lincoln - Unreasonable Men is more in the spirit of Hamilton, the Musical - a theater piece you can enjoy and put down, though revert to and contemplate with pleasure.

    Maleing it in: Masculine Mystique & the Savior Complex

    Elaine Chao, Washington veteran, noted at Politico's recent "Women Rule" that, 'Men don’t prepare that much, so why do we have to?' and continues "“I prepare so much more than some of my male colleagues,” Chao tells POLITICO editor Carrie Budoff Brown in the latest “Women Rule” podcast interview. “And I know women who are prepared more and we get ridiculed and it's like, ‘Oh, my gosh. She's just preparing so much. She's such an automaton. Can't she just like, wing it?’”"

    The reason, of course, is our millennia-old mythos of men being born for glory and greatness, ready to roll, walk-ons for greater things. We call this "The Natural", like that Robert Redford movie.

    You might think of it as Magic Johnson vs. Larry Byrd - roughly comparable skill & success, but in popular lore largely "the guy with the screaming God-given talent vs the Hoosier who always had to work so hard". 

    Charting Progress: Workers' Pair of Dice

    In discussing Kaep & whether he's being blackballed, I came across some graphs at Business Insider showing the typical NFL player's increase in salary - and the steadily decreasing chance he'll make it there:

     

    And then I thought of the implications for workers in general - what's our expected salary and performance trajectory, how many times will we be "traded", or have bad seasons or not make the cut in spring training and be pushed down to the minors?

    Where would *you* chart? Because we have the technology, the analytics to chart *everyone*, whatever industry. Like in sports, we have a window of productivity, peak performance, and then we often fall off or find a different groove and work from there.

    Projection Some: Russia's Sea Change

    In 2014, with Russia's shipyard lease in Crimea to expire in 2017 and the deal to extend it another 30 years on the rocks with Yanukovich's ouster, Putin brazenly occupied the peninsula militarily, invoking historical precedents and the image of "Greater Russia". But despite Donbas Ukrainians dreams of uniting with Russia, Putin's heart didn't seem to be into the conflict so much as reinvigorating Crimea, and the only significant action since was a brief push towards Mariupol in the presumed attempt to give Russia an easy land route to Crimea. But aside from laughable attempts to get Russian tourists to keep Crimea afloat economically with horrendous lines at the ferry, the Russians started rebuilding their Sevastopol fleet, where most of their global naval power is housed, within weeks of occupation (scroll down for better pics of the whole fleet).

    But perhaps Putin had a change of heart or wisdom about maintaining the bridge or land route to Crimea, as Russia's new $1.4 billion base is meant to open in 2020, not in Sevastopol, but in Novorossiysk heading down the Black Sea's east coast towards Sochi - firmly in undisputed Russia.

    This Black Sea investment might not have seemed the greatest idea what with Russia's relationship with Turkey on the rocks, but suddenly amidst significant surprise, Russia's Turkish relations vastly improved (with Turkey & Russia now arrying out naval maneuvers together in lieu of the short-term gas embargo). Erdogan also took advantage of the "beginning of a beautiful relationship" to crack down on Islamic dissenters at home and take off the gloves as to Kurdish rebels in Syria. [Some think Erdogan is just playing East off West, but it's hard to see what he wants from the West at this point, aside from a foil and scapegoat]. Putin's obvious benefit? Anything in the Black Sea comes out the Bhosporus Straits, i.e. through good ol' ancient Byzantium, aka Istanbul.

    KEEP CALM & CARRY ON, ISIS EDITION (PT 4)

    When I began this as diary as a "series", I pointed to Mosul as a metaphor for Nov 8, 2016, and true to form, the chaos of the ensuing weeks have thrown me off - but constructively so.

    Sadly and ironically, the progress on the "battlefield", Mosul's ancient tightly wound streets booby-trapped for maximum obstruction, has been replaced by the PR & propaganda battle over what really happened March 17, though largely this battle has been lost already - whatever the allies do now, they will be mostly remembered for civilian casualties, despite all the extraordinary painstaking effort they've taken to avoid them.

    And that should give Democrats great pause as well - the seeming victories over Trump & the Republicans the last few weeks can be ephemeral and imagined, with a PR loss pulled from the clutches of victory. As one person noted, giving Flynn immunity to testify can be a huge trap, and that's just 1 possible trip-up point. But I'm more interested in the idea of "cooperation" vs. "collusion" in how we go forward.

    Too Big to Fail: Why Government as a Business Doesn't Work

    Much is being written about Jared Kushner leading another task force to make government run like a business, with the usual caveats about how it's likely to fail. Included are all the usual right and wrong reasons about government not being a business. But the lack of failure is the biggest point.

    American business is successful precisely because so many businesses fail, and are replaced by new trendy companies with just as much chance of failing. Amazon, one of our great recent "success" stories, didn't make a profit for years, and now 20 years later only pulls in profits of maybe 1% of revenues. Uber's much worse, with a 2016 loss of perhaps $3 billion. It's hard to imagine US voters putting up with such poor results. And those are the *good* examples.

    KEEP CALM & CARRY ON, ISIS EDITION (PT 3)

    "Gaslighting" is a meme based on an old movie where you're led to question your own sanity & ability to judge anything.

    In my short previous installment, I noted the fighting in Syria & Iraq taking place in the new mags & tabloids and internet as well. Rather than subsiding with the near elimination of ISIS from Mosul, the conflict exploded onto front pages in the last day not due to what happened, but more due to what may have transpired. As has become rule over the last year or more, your take on the matter will depend on where you fit in the political spectrum and what walled-off garden of social & traditional media you're imbibing.

    Keep Calm & Carry On, ISIS Edition (pt 2)

    Not quite the #2 I'd planned, but in checking on progress for Mosul, I noted RT (Russia Today) continually using the term "indiscriminate strikes" when describing US/allied shelling and street action. Among their continued "3rd party independent" verifiers of this was a group called "Airwars".

    Knife in the Back - Monsters on Main Street

    Even as Hillary is sighted, somewhat like that bear, slipping out of the woods back into the mainstream, I see again and again the disgruntled comments arising in each story, the "we wuz robbed", the "DNC rigged the primaries", the "crooked woman", and the "party left us" kind of betrayed mentality you seldom see so strong except for WWI German vets distraught over Versailles. Not just a few comments - *DOMINATING* the comments section.

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    Keep Calm & Carry On, ISIS Edition (pt 1)

    On April 8, 2014, al-Baghdadi announced Al-Nusra & Islamic State Iraq were joining forces, and soon unleashed an impressive series of attacks that gained large swaths of Iraqi & Syrian territory (see below). Tied to the seemingly unstoppable progress was the horror of ISIS' fanaticism and cruel behavior towards any non-adherent to their fringe beliefs. Besides fodder for those who believe all Islam is like this, it renewed criticism of how the Iraq War was managed, helped fuel the mass emigration from Iraq & Syria that swamped Europe for a time (and almost dented the US), and provided a key thread of fear and loathing for the 2016 campaign trail.

    The threat & ease of spread by ISIS wasn't just do to its methods and persuasion. It relied on the in-fighting of those that might in saner times approach it - in short, they relied on a philosophical vacuum much as they relied on the huge areas of unoccupied desert to make their gains look more impressive.

    3 years later (in 3 weeks) we see what happens when Kurds, Shi'ites, Sunnis and any other factions join together to confront a regional pariah. It hasn't been easy - the Caliphate gained land much faster than the slow, plodding effort to retake control. Even back in October there was some feeling that defeat of ISIS could be just a few weeks away - but instead the much more extended re-capture of Mosul has enlightened us to the new realities of lightning war, or its non-existence in a terrain where we worry about civilian life rather than raw advance.

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    Intermezzo - Springtime for Hitler

    Today is my dip into happy land, my safe haven, my respite from the madness. Yesterday was the first sign of spring, still chilly but warm enough to go out with only a suit jacket - time for that springtime optimism.

    They used to say no news is good news, but now we have it 24x7, so let's just talk up the good news for a change. Today I'll be largely untouched by political chaos, except to note the bright sides.

    Pop Quiz - Fight Harder or Smarter?

    I was at a pub quiz last night, answering questions with an impromptu team sitting around a table.

    At one point, there was a question about which of 3 early 60's events happened first. I quickly gave an answer that I was pretty sure was correct, and gave me reasons for it. But over the course of the next couple of minutes, my teammates talked me out of it and chose another.

    When we scored the paper a couple minutes later, my answer would have been right. One of the guys who was largely leading the group looked at me and said, "But you didn't fight for your answer hard enough".

    Доброе утро, Америка - Notes from Underground

    As the "Spy who Came in from the Cold" starts to unfold or unravel, these are some of my notes - there will be more, many more, flying at a furious pace I expect. What else is happening? Feel free to pile on, like a Moscow snowdrift.

    Was Trump the "Casino" behind Russian Spies Arrested 2014?

    Little Moscow: More Trump-Russia real estate corruption.

    Plus: how Russian money powered Trump's comeback:

    Bibi: Putin's inspiration?

    Reading Michael Crowley's piece on Bibi's long-term strategy towards Obama, I'm struck by this absurdity in American politics. As Netanyahu comes waltzing into Washington to place demands on the White House, receiving policy concessions served up like John the Baptist's head on a plate, he must be thinking the transformation is complete. But be careful, Bibi - sea changes can be wild, with the occasional tsunami.

    See, as we focus on foreign intervention into domestic politics, it won't be long until someone notices (me?) that we have a codified litmus test in Washington, if not largely accepted across the US, of allegiance to Israel and its needs/wants. For guilt reasons? Fear of the rapture and all things biblical? Sincere belief that these are Israel's and thus our needs? Who knows. For a nation that still largely practices the weird & painful circumcision procedure on all male babies for no actual religious or medical reason, we'll just have to accept we're a bit challenged on certain matters. But back to the story....

    Congress regularly is evaluated for support  on all matters Israel - AIPAC's "who's been naughty or nice" especially resulting in near lock-step adherence to Israeli predilections. Hillary took to this obligation with a flourish in her time as Senator, clinging almost as close to the Jewish state as she did to Obama during the last campaign. Bernie being Jewish got a little bit of breathing room, but even he mailed in his criticisms from an undisclosed remote location, knowing better than to deliver in person lest he be found in the East River with the fishes (a joke, son, it's a joke...)

    BrightBarf Spews -Who will Listen?

    Picking up a reference to a (Not-so-)BrightBarf header on Flynn's resignation at RCP, I was intrigued - while Pat Buchanan was telling those damn Negroes and Hippies to Behave, the Prez's virtual news rag of record was declaring Flynn's resignation was a bad sign - for everyone else. 

    How do they start this - oh, the sanctions on Russia were: " to substantiate the Democratic Party’s sore-loser conspiracy theory" - nothing to do with annexing Crimea, apparently.

    Then, "there is no evidence (yet) that Flynn did anything but discuss sanctions in the most general terms" - oops, guess they didn't read last night's papers. (Maybe Steve Bannon can provide a phone transcript if you guys need - he is in the NSC chain of command, right?).

    But Flynn was caught "because the Department of Justice had been eavesdropping on the conversation" - uh, he was a suspicious character making international calls to Russian leaders - those calls are monitored by NSA, not the DoJ. Info *might* be shared with others, however. [Perhaps they know not to intercept North Korean mobile calls on the Prez's unsecured phone, but I'd guess it's got more taps than a Hollywood jacuzzi.]

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    Pat on the Back: Trump takes 51st Super Bowl

    In a last minute surprise, Trump's untraditional campaign team upset the over-confident Falcons last night to win the 51st Super Bowl held in Trump-friendly Texas.

    Neglecting to revisit key strategic border sections of the field more amenable to their game play, the Falcons relied on an over-cautious strategy from their early lead going into halftime, giving the Patriots the opportunity to microtarget an unnoticed but increasingly receptive field of key white receivers. The Nation's Team relied on the more exceptional game play of true stolid conservative players steeped deep in the field's vast, largely empty heartland rather than the Falcs' preferred focus around the crowded edges of the sidelines, often resting on slick and fancy footwork rather than core fundamentals.

    While the final score seemed close and tenuous, Trump noted he could have won by much more but the line refs and scorekeepers had rigged the contest, costing his team at least 20 points, and especially faulted the Falcons for relying on undependable non-white players, and the media for reporting pre-game events.

    Dissipating Power

    I remember it well, the heated 2008 campaign, and one of the vaunted risers in the party - scratch that, *conscience* of the party - Samantha Power - had just called Hillary a "monster". In this case it was for "deceit", saying anything to win, but it might as well have been for Powers' forte, foreign policy - poking holes in US reactions in Bosnia and Rwanda and elsewhere.

    9 years later, Powers goes out like a vanquished lion - braying in futility in her last moments as UN rep against Russia's transgressions in Syria. But what happened in-between? Where did these outspoken values go in the Obama years with a largely reactive, not pro-active stance on human rights and threading our way through more Mideast engagements and muddied mushy responses? Seth Mandel provides a comprehensive summary of this transition from Lion Queen to largely defanged kitten.

    This is not a post of schadenfreude - I'm saddened and confused and disheartened. It's symbolic of the real world as we know it, the demise of optimism and righteous fury, and where we get tripped up time and time again. The other side's busy ignoring that world, running red lights, hitting pedestrians on the sidewalk - but still, careful driving doesn't make you a good driver. But it's a helluva lot easier to tell if someone's a good driver than whether they're doing the right thing in foreign politics.

    A Lot of Rice

    Once I was taking a bus tour in China, and the tour guide kept pointing out a bunch of boring obvious stuff, "China grows a lot of rice. We have a lot of rice in China..."

    After a while, I noticed that when he said, "look out on your right", there was something unsightly and run-down on the left, and vice-versa.

    As we get all hot & bothered by what's going on, stop a bit and consider what else is happening that might not bother us, might have escaped our notice.

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    The 15%, pack mentality & unrolling stupidity

    Smoking still accounts for a half million deaths a year  in the US, 1 of every 5 deaths.1 out of every 650 Americans dies from cigarettes yearly.

    This isn't news. MAD Magazine used to run iron lung parodies in the 60's. We know smoking kills, a lot faster than global warming.

    Driving has 1/15th the number of fatalities, and we make Google self-driving cars take precautions.

    15% of adults - 36.5 million Americans - smoke. More than 16 million have a smoking-related disease - slow suicide.

    You might think it's looking better, only 15% compared to 21% 12 years ago - but that's still an awful lot of stupid. *MORE* people smoke in the 25-44 range than over 65.

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