March 14, 2015

Is the world ready for some neo-Cynicism?

Update, March 13, 2015: The original essay, at the link, was one of the semifinalists in 3 Quarks Daily's politics and social science writing contest. Might sound strange to some to enter a philosophy essay into contest in those categories, but if you'll read on, maybe you won't think that way by the end.

By using the capital-C word, I'm indicating the ancient philosophy, not the psychological attitude.

Is the world ready? More important, is the world needing this? My answer here, at Massimo Pigliucci's new philosophy webzine.

That answer is a "yes," with details of how I think we should update Cynicism for today. Click the link for more.

For people unfamiliar with the basics of the philosophy, beyond perhaps knowing that Diogenes masturbated in public and told Alexander the Great to get out of his light, the Wikipedia entry has a good summary of base points:

1. The goal of life is Eudaimonia and mental clarity or lucidity (τυφια) – freedom from τύφος (smoke) which signified ignorance, mindlessness, folly, and conceit.

2. Eudaimonia is achieved by living in accord with Nature as understood by human reason.

3. τύφος (Arrogance) is caused by false judgments of value, which cause negative emotions, unnatural desires, and a vicious character.

4. Eudaimonia or human flourishing, depends on self-sufficiency (ατάρκεια), equanimity, arete, love of humanity, parrhesia and indifference to the vicissitudes of life (διαφορία).

5. One progresses towards flourishing and clarity through ascetic practices (σκησις) which help one become free from influences – such as wealth, fame, or power – that have no value in Nature. Examples include Diogenes’ practice of living in a tub and walking barefoot in winter.

6. A Cynic practices shamelessness or impudence (Αναιδεια) and defaces the Nomos of society; the laws, customs, and social conventions which people take for granted.
The “flourishing” is of course a commonality with most other ancient Greek philosophies. Point 2 gets back to Massimo’s Stoicism essay on showing some commonality, and is my point of departure, with a different assessment of human nature, for neo-Cynicism.

Points 3-6 then spell out how to achieve this … and why — that the challenging of convention, asceticism and related practices are designed to produce mental and emotional clarity.

In my comments on the piece in response to others (at least to others who get the difference between the philosophy and the small-c psychology), I responded to one person who asked about what a neo-Cynicism might be for, and not just against, my one-word answer?


My version of neo-Cynicism should be seen, in part, as being a more pessmistic outgrowth of humanistic psychologies of the 1950s and 1960s.


And, for the second time, one of my essays for Massimo has been picked up by 3 Quarks Daily.

March 13, 2015

I'll take "Butthurt neoliberal Democrats" for $500, Alex!

Donna Rice & Gary Hart.
Should I Photoshop in heads of
Hillary Clinton & Robert Reich?
This has possibly been the worst PR week, and the worst brainpower week, for national Democrats — and the para-Democratic apparatus of places like MoveOn and Media Matters — since Gary Hart mythically invited reporters to "follow him around" in 1987, even as his Monkey Business visit with Donna Rice was heating up.

First, there was Hillary Clinton's email imbroglio getting unveiled, followed by questions about how this might benefit former or current staffers/fixers, further followed by Clinton shooting herself in the foot with additional lies.

Next came Robert Reich, a Friend of Bill's of some sort, and at least a quasi-Friend of Hillary, as Bill's Labor Secretary, and the only Clinton Cabinet member to stick the full eight years.

Reich claimed that Obamacare was a "great success," based on some current metrics. I carefully showed that those metrics meant bupkis, and beyond that, found old 2009 video of Reich bitching about Obamacare's problems compared to single payer.

We then had Daily Kos, emblematic of numerous partisan Democratic blogs, websites, etc., claiming that the 47 GOP senators who wrote a brief "letter" to Iran had, at a minimum, violated the Logan Act, and had possibly committed treason.

It's all partisan hackery nonsense, of course, and I deconstructed it here, even while having fun with Ted Cruz and the actual letter here.

Unfortunately, many Democratic voters are about as much "sheeple" as many Republican voters, afraid of enabling Republicans rather than voting for truly liberal Democrats, let alone Greens, Socialists or whomever.

March 12, 2015

No, Kossacks, Joni Ernst did not break the law, let alone commit treason

Sen. Joni Ernst — nutcutter, yes, even a
wingnut. Not a traitor or close.
Equalled in stupidity by Democrats.
A Democratic wingnut at the Great Orange Satan thinks Iowa's junior senator, also a Lite Col in the Iowa National Guard, has violated that state's National Guard regulations.

There's nothing "contemptuous" in the 47 GOP Senators' letter to Iran. President Obama was not called the n-word, nor even a secret Muslim, nor a Kenyan native. Certainly not by any legally defined use of the word.

For those with open minds, and not Democratic Party, or para-Party, hacks, click that link and read the actual letter, OK?

Really? This is just another example of run-it-up-the-flagpole-and-salute Democrats-only partisanship. Happens in both major parties.

The letter itself was stupid, to be sure. It didn't violate any military oath for Ernst, or any other GOP senator who may have a Guard rank.

Nor, contra Democratic wingnuts, did it violate the Logan Act. The Department of State has had past opinions that the act doesn't cover Members of Congress, for one thing. Second, I argue that it's unconstitutional, at least as currently written, anyway.

And, even if it DID violate the Logan Act, such violations are NOT treason.

The details for the Logan Act are:
§ 953. Private correspondence with foreign governments. 
 Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both. 
 This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply himself, or his agent, to any foreign government, or the agents thereof, for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

That's it, period and end of story. Nothing about "treason," and with a max penalty of three years in prison.

As for treason? That's officially listed and detailed in the U.S. Constitution:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. 
 The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Again, nothing in there sounds even close to the Logan Act. And, there's a reason why.

"Treason," like "libel" only worse, had long been a tool of the British Crown for hauling people into Star Chamber type proceedings. And the Founding Fathers wanted to prevent something like that in the United States. 

As far as details of that first paragraph? We've not declared war against Iran; it would itself be a constitutional issue as to whether the imposition of sanctions have made Iran an "enemy." If not, then the rest of the first graf is nugatory. Even if Iran is an enemy, one would then have to prove the letter gave Iran "aid and comfort."

Thus, PuffHoes is right; the whole "treason" is nothing but Democratic clickbait for attention and campaign dollars. The Dems' Senatorial Campaign Committee is already working on that, per Politico.

In other words, this is at least the third event or pronunciamento of some size this week that's shown that both lamestream political parties can, do, and will engage in partisan hackery.

And, as for a counter-commenter on 3 Quarks Daily claiming I'm overstating things? Wrong. Between that DSCC item and 250K and counting people signing a White House petition claiming a Logan Act violation, I don't think so.

And, as I previously noted with my latest Clinton Emails update, there's "a vast left wing conspiracy about conspiracies," complete with para-political groups like MoveOn, Media Matters, etc. And, the Huffington Post piece I linked noted the same — this is all part of the vast para-Democratic outrage machine. So, sorry 3 Quarks commenter, but, I think you're wrong.

The real, real issue, per the Huff Post piece, which connects with Politico's piece on the DSCC, is this:
There are sites which send around petitions to charge Republican senators with treason, stating erroneously that the senators who signed the letter to Iran could be arrested for violating the Logan Act, and other nonsense. These sites get money for each click. Then they have your email or your Facebook and maybe all your Facebook friends, and will continue to send click bait. People waste time signing useless petitions and sharing them. This click bait money is not the same as supporting a political party, or a candidate. The click bait money props up the organization sending the click bait, and in my opinion this is all money and time that would be better spent funding candidates or real activists (who do more than send out crap on the internet).

In other words, like most things in democratic-government politics, it's all about the money. 

And, until people who claim to be Democrats recognize this, this will only get worse. And, if Tea Party wingnuts don't recognize it, that's fine. This isn't a zero-sum unilateral disarmament issue.

So, it's fun to spoof the GOP wingnuts, like claiming Ted Cruz wrote a secret protocol to that letter to Iran. It's also fun to spoof Democratic wingnuts on stuff like this. Maybe more so at times, because they tend to get huffier.

Update: It is quite arguable, that in addition to a cheap political stunt, Sen. Tom Cotton is guilty of the crime of stupidity, if he really is just now discovering that the Iranians are threateningly in control of the city of Tehran.

#ClintonEmails — Hillary Clinton's main foe is herself, then #Clintonistas

Contra a make-nice New York Times piece as a follow-up to her no-questions-allowed presser, a story which even tried to humanize her (and thus refuted David Brock and Media Matters' ongoing claim that this is just the latest part of the vast right-wing conspiracy) Hillary Clinton's main enemy is not the mainstream media.

It's Hillary Clinton.

In addition to the half-lies, omissions and full lies that I documented Tuesday, experts are now weighing in on her "no classified emails" claims — and are skeptical.

Steven Aftergood notes that, if nothing else, that, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was herself in charge of "classification" issues. And, theoretically, could  have given herself an official "okey-dokey" pass, including her kibitzing on Libya foreign policy with Sid Blumenthal, per my initial post at the time this broke.

Beyond that, as I noted last week, with Huma Abedin having an email account on that private domain, we now have to trust Clinton's word about two people, in addition to noting that domain administrator and Clinton moneybags Eric Hothem could have read all "private" emails without having to respond.

Frank Bruni gets into this "self-enemy" issue in much more detail, though he arguably buries the nut graf near the bottom of the column:

She’s going to have a primary, all right, but it will be a contest against her own worst impulses, default defensiveness and prickly sense of insult when pressed for explanations. From what I saw Tuesday, victory is uncertain.
Yep, that's about right.

Hence, my poll at right; the issue behind it is, does Hillary Clinton want to spend 18 months running against herself?

And, Clinton's second biggest enemy isn't the media, either.

Per my opening graf, it's actually the vast "left wing" (scare quotes needed) conspiracy of folks like Media Matters.

I love the Clintinistas at places like Media Matters for America peddling the line that the Clinton email imbroglio is yet another part of the vast right-wing conspiracy, how the NYT has gotten so much wrong (when it hasn't, and even, per above, has a make-nice story today) and more, all of which shows that just as there's a massive conservative para-political "apparatus" which connects itself to the GOP, rather than, say, the Libertarian Party, there's a similar vast "liberal" para-political apparatus that attaches itself to the Democratic Party, rather than true liberalism, including, say, the Green Party. It's all about the 11-dimensional chess, picking winners and losers, etc.

And, as Ted Rall's cartoon shows, Clintonistas? You're defending Just.Another.Politician.™

And thus, the Clintonistas marching in lockstep with every statement of hers are her third-worst enemy. When neoliberal quasi-wingnuts, on a page like this, claim, in lockstep with David Brock, that the New York Times, which launched this coverage, is peddling  "conservative misinformation," it's bad.

But why?

I think some Clintonistas are put out by the fact that Dear Leader beat out Slicker Hillary (oh, yes, this is going to get more fun) and are insisting that it's now "her turn." Speaking of the nickname, I've often thought she wore the pants in the family, so to speak, and had the brains in the family, and, to the point, had the Machiavellian streak in the family.

Others think that Democrats simply can't win without her. Well, the Slickster himself wasn't the pre-primaries Democratic favorite in 1992 and yet he beat Gulf War hero Poppy Bush. Besides, if you think the Democratic presidential-timber bench is that bad, isn't that problematic anyway?

That said, I agree with this great new follow-up piece from the Times, that a lot of Democrats are indeed "desperate." Like the banks fellated in 1998 by her husband, then by Dear Leader's Treasury Secretary, she's almost become "too big to fail" for many of them. At the same time, the piece makes clear what I've said before — the Dems' national "bench" is pretty thin.

Yet others can't — or won't, or refuse to — think outside the two-party box, getting defensive when I accused MM of exactly that.

Well, it's true. Show me when Media Matters has ever complained about lack of media coverage for third-party candidates as part of its complaints about media bias.

That said, the not-so-liberal, but not-conservative, media is becoming "enemy" No. 4, with AP now officially suing the State Department to get its hands on those emails. And, per CJR, Team Clinton's not totally innocent in making the media into an enemy in the first place.

This is all part of why, although I identify myself as a left-liberal, at least in American political alignment terms, I also call myself a skeptical left-liberal.

If 2012 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein had somehow been Secretary of State, and had done the same things Hillary Clinton had done, and then made the same claims, I'd have done the same blogging as I'm doing now.

So, deal with it, Clintonistas.

March 11, 2015

Buddhism — not so nonviolent; listen up, Sam Harris

I've blogged before about this, in noting some of Sam Harris' wrongness but per something on Facebook I saw a few days ago, it needs yet more commentary.

Buddhism, contra Sam Harris, and contra the many disciples of him who thinks he knows no wrong, does not have any special claim on nonviolence.

From that blog post, I noted:

The 969 Movement in Burma is murderously Islamophobic; more here. And Bodu Bala Sena is an Islamophobic movement in Sri Lanka.

But, it's time to take that far back into the roots of Buddhism.

Here, without mentioning one particular sutra, is an overview on Buddhists' wide varieties of thought on the use of force, within both Theravada and Mahayana traditions.

Wiki talks about the concept of Upaya, an old Sanskrit one and thus early to Buddhism, behind that first sutra. Let's look at this:

Upaya-kaushalya is a concept emphasizing that practitioners may use their own specific methods or techniques that fit the situation in order to gain enlightenment. The implication is that even if a technique, view, etc., is not ultimately "true" in the highest sense, it may still be an expedient practice to perform or view to hold; i.e., it may bring the practitioner closer to the true realization in a similar way. The exercise of skill to which it refers, the ability to adapt one's message to the audience, is of enormous importance in the Pali Canon.
In short, this is a Buddhist equivalent of utilitarianism, obviously. And, per that overview link above, it's often used by many a Buddhist not only to justify violence in self-defense (vs. running away from an aggressor) but offensive violence. In that sense, it's like a Buddhist equivalent of utilitarianism run through a filter of Shi'ite, or even more, Druze beliefs about the acceptability of lying.

The last sentence is also important. The Pali Canon is the core scripture of Theravada. So, this isn't some late grafting onto Buddhism, it's a starting point. Or, since we're comparing Buddhism to other religions, it's like Paul talking about being "all things to all men," or, better yet, a spin on that (which Paul might have accepted, "make your appearance as seeming to be all things to all men.")

Wiki's entry on capital punishment in the world's great religions, specifically the Buddhism sub-section, talks more about how active violence in Buddhism can be, and is, justified by the idea of upaya.

Beyond that in general, the "utilitarianism" of upaya is clearly behind the Two Truths Doctrine, which theoretically allows Buddhists to engage in various types of dissembling about their ultimate beliefs or intents if deemed necessary.

The subtlety of Buddhism, combined with this utilitarianism at its core, should make one take all claims of the inherent nonviolence of Buddhism with multiple grains of salt. So, too should the violence used as part of teaching by Zen monks. So should Kung Fu, which arose from Shaolin monastic martial arts.

I claim no expertise on Buddhism. It overall seems less violent than the monotheistic religions of the west, but it's certainly not nonviolent in general. Not even Jainism, at least going by that religion's graphic hells, is totally nonviolent — it just defers a much greater chunk of violence to the afterlife.

And, if a Sam Harris knows as much about Buddhism as he tries to make his disciples think he does, then he knows all about this, and therefore is spreading myth about Buddhism. And, if he doesn't know this, then he should stop pretending to be so authoritative about Buddhism.

In either way, I just heard a petard cranking up, once again, for old Sammy Boy.

March 10, 2015

Hillary tells all, and tells nothing, on #ClintonEmails

Hillary Clinton at one of her best performances
of not answering questions. Mike Segar/Reuters
And, for those of you who are not wingnuts thinking Benghazi, but either intelligent Democratic liberals, or those like me outside the pale of the Democracy, who in either case are skeptical about Clintonism in particular, or of neoliberalism in general, did you expect anything different than what she actually said?

So, as normal, it’s time to parse Clinton’s words.

Let’s start with:
I thought using one device would be simpler; obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way.
Oh, no, it remained “simpler” in a narrowly mechanical way. It just wasn’t politically simpler. Nice try. I covered this in more detail at the last link at the end of this post.

That said, a longer rewrite of the story has the New Clinton undercutting the Old Clinton:
Mrs. Clinton’s explanation that it was more convenient to carry only one device seemed at odds with her remark last month, at a tech conference in Silicon Valley, that she uses multiple devices, including two kinds of iPads, an iPhone and a Blackberry. She said then: “I don’t throw anything away. I’m like two steps short of a hoarder.”

Ooppppsssss .... 

Then, to this:
I fully complied with every rule.
Is the 2009 regulatory guideline about archiving email a “rule” or something else?

(She added) that no classified material had been sent on her email.
Isn’t that a State Department rule in general, even if you were using a State email address, that sensitive items would go by diplomatic cable, a secure-and-scrambled phone connection or similar?

And, on to this, which will get multiple parsings.
I feel that I have taken unprecedented steps to provide these public emails; they will be in the public domain.
Of course you took “unprecedented” steps because everything Bill and Hillary does is “unprecedented.”

And, does “they will be in the public domain” mean they ‘re not already? Define “public domain” while you’re at it, please.

Finally, this wouldn’t be a Clinton event without a whiff of martyrdom, would it?
Mrs. Clinton said that the State Department would make public all of her work-related emails, which amount to about 30,000 messages. However, she said that her personal email — about issues such as her daughter’s wedding and the death of her mother — would remain private.
Oh, tug the heartstrings.

A fuller rewrite from the Times has more, starting with mentioning that October 2009 regulatory guideline. And, more special pleading from Clinton:
(B)eginning in October 2009, 10 months after she took office, new regulations from the National Archives and Records Administration said that agencies where employees were free to use private email systems “must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system.” 
In Mrs. Clinton’s case, her emails were backed up on her personal server — not on a government one. But she argued that, because she had sent emails to “government officials on their state or other .gov accounts so that the emails were immediately captured and preserved,” she had complied with the rule. Mrs. Clinton did not address how emails she sent to people outside the government were preserved.
Yep. Because she can't. 

But asks us to trust her that those were ALL, ALL, ALL "private" or "personal." Yeah, right, and Clintonistas? I have beachfront property in Nebraska to sell you, or a liberal at Faux News. Take your pick. 

Meanwhile, Clinton would also have us believe that the Secret Service has the same detailed attention to online communications as does the National Security Agency:
Mrs. Clinton said the server that housed her email address had been set up on property guarded by the Secret Service, and that there were no security breaches. 
Boy, this gets to be more and more of a laugher all the time.

Including the fact that Dear Leader's denials of information become more and more laughable all the time as well:
After the news conference, Mrs. Clinton’s office provided several new details about the email account and what she has provided to the State Department. More than 100 government officials knew about Mrs. Clinton’s use of private email, her office said.
OK, Camp Hillary, give us names! 

And, rather than you offering to help unpack the media's questions, that's my unpacking of your answers.

Talking Points Memo has Hillary Clinton's nine-page press release, which has more lies. One? That she emailed all government employees on ".gov" accounts, when we know that Huma Abedin had an account on the Clinton server.

It also notes she is turning over 55,000 pages of emails, not 55,000 emails. She's actually turning over only half of the emails of the account, claiming a full one-half are private.

As for why Clintonistas cite Colin Powell for using a private email account but don't cite Condoleezza Rice, who followed him? A 2005 State Department policy manual update said private email accounts could be used only if those emails were turned over to the government, and specified narrow exceptions for private use. That's probably why Condi used a government account.

Meanwhile, ignore the fact that your chief female political fixer had an email on the same private domain and that your JP Morgan moneybags for your $25 million of investments runs the domain server.

Since you took no questions, and just gave a statement, that willful ignorance was easy enough, wasn't it?

Yes, just like it is for Democratic Party-connected partisanship, like that of David Brock at Media Matters for America, to circle the wagons around Clinton.

#Obamacare — I thought Robert Reich knew better

Look, in the name of having a semi-unified opposition to the GOP, I can understand former Labor Secretary Robert Reich not openly criticizing Obamacare.

But, to outrightly fellate it, as in this Facebook post? Wrong:
Remember when opponents of Obamacare claimed it would bankrupt America?
 New cost projections, published yesterday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, show the law costing 29% less over the next five years than the CBO first estimated. The reason: Healthcare costs are rising more slowly than previously assumed. Why the slowdown? (1) Larger co-payments and deductibles have caused consumers to rein in their own spending on healthcare, (2) Obamacare has caused providers to improve efficiencies in delivering healthcare, and (3) The law has also created incentives for more preventive care, thereby reducing the incidence of costly chronic diseases (heart disease, some cancers, and diabetes).
Bottom line: Obamacare is on the way to proving itself a huge success. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Republicans who are still out to kill it.

It's not a "huge success," first of all.

Larger co-payments also push working poor and lower middle class people away from even preventive care, thus undercutting Reich's point No. 3.

Related to that, on Point No. 1, Reich doesn't say whether doctors and hospitals have reined in their charges to any significant extent (answer is a probable No), whether insurers, to riff on Point No. 2, have gotten even more efficient on refusing to pay for such such charges — without doctors and hospitals then trying to dun patients (answer is a probable No), whether electronic patient records so beloved of many O-care advocates starting with Dear Leader have done much to rein in prices (answer is an almost definite No), and how much of these cost savings are from insurers booting yet more doctors out of their network, and making network changes on a more frequent basis (answer is a huge Yes, and one that Reich knows exists, unless he's stopped reading the news about Obamacare nine months ago.)

In short, Reich, who theoretically eschewed neoliberalism after Slick Willie's presidency ended, is either vocally or tacitly touting purely neoliberal drivers of health care savings.

On Point 2, Reich doesn't even tell us what these "efficiencies" are. And, doesn't this smack of Republicans always talking about "waste, fraud, and inefficiency" in Medicare and Medicaid? Survey says yes.

Point 3 is nugatory if your doctor is out of network or you can't afford the copays, per Point No. 1 being wrong.

Bottom line? 

Reich still seems to put rallying the party wagons above other things, and didn't run so far away from his neoliberal roots after 2001, after all.

Oh, well, at least he's showing his true colors. Which is "Democratic Partisan."

Because, per Media Matters, six years ago, Reich was severely lamenting the lack of a public option. And, he was talking about how this was making the CBO price Obamacare so pricey.

March 09, 2015

Secret protocol in GOP letter to Iran revealed!

Ted Cruz, the Havana Ham
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Everybody who keeps up on hot and stupid political news knows that 47 GOP Senate wingnuts sent a letter to Iran's mullahs saying that  future GOP administration would not necessarily be legally bound by any Team Obama deal with Iran on nuclear enrichment, and that the current Senate wouldn't consider it binding unless formally approved like a treaty.

Setting aside, for wingnuts, the fact that GOP president, including the guy named Shrub, have done similar, and for some butt-hurt liberals, the fact that the Logan Act has been in the past interpreted by the State Department as not applying to Congress, and this letter is little more than 47 petulant children holding their breath.

Speaking of, the secret protocol goes into that in more detail.

Here it is:

Dear Mad Mullahs:

This is Sen. Ted Cruz, and you don't know who you're messing with.

I have singlehandedly shut down the government of the United States in the past, and at other times, forced Congress to bend to my theocratic, Daddy-instilled Reconstructionist will. You cannot, repeat, cannot, survive a battle of the minds with me, and I will be the next president of the United States if I have to hold my breath for 22 months.

I and my colleagues are the Tea Party Council of the Senate of the United States. I and my fellows are more than a match for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the Guardian Council of Iran. We can out-stubborn you, out-intransigence you and even out-stupid you.

I personally have jammed up machinery far more complex than the centrifuges taken down by Stuxnet. Do not doubt me!

And, I have The Power! I shall cover you with the dust of the ashes of a red heifer if you do not submit. I will bring on the New Jerusalem and replace you with Cyrus, King of Kings, who shall bow and worship in the Most Holy Place.

Ted Cruz

Chairman, Tea Party Council of the Senate of the United States

And, that's how 47 Senators expect to have Ali Khamenei quaking in his boots.

Meanwhile, speaking of mad mullahs, Ayatollah Khamenei and the Guardian Council, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif may be having fun trolling the Senate GOP over international law, but ignores those "logs" in his own government's eye.

Apple Watch has some knockout snark apps

Apple CEO Tim Cook talks about the functions of the new Apple Watch during an Apple event
in San Francisco, March 9, 2015. Eric Risberg/AP Photo

You can read this summary, complete with CEO Tim Cook's loving praises for what he called  "the most personal device we have ever created" and "the most advanced timepiece ever created."

Or you can read my summary!

There's the BrandTime app, first of all. It alerts you to whenever the least, tiniest update is being made to any i-Device Apple makes. And, it has all sorts of subfeatures. You can program in what i-Devices you already own, and it will automatically update the ones that are updateable, and order new versions of the ones that aren't, or that you don't yet have. 

If you're shopping online, or in the presence of a physical Apple Store, an Apple RFID reader will automatically lock your Apple Watch into this.

With Apple's new location on the Dow Jones 30 "industrial" stocks index, there's the DOWnTime app. Apple gives you its "private," branding-laden investment advice with this app.

Then there's the iDate app, with many, many features. An autobreathalyzer gives you a beep to head to the bathroom and shoot some breath freshener in your mouth. The personal health monitor ties in with this to tell you when you're overdoing it in trying to impress her or him, except with, of course, your Apple Watch. And, the watch's syncing app lets the two of your coordinate simultaneous virtual orgasms.

And, you can't forget iCook — the wonderful new app where the CEO gives you his celebrity chef tips, right at the kitchen counter and stove! But, that's not what it's really about.

The iCook app will be the entree to Apple-branded food products, which will top Google's plan for interactive appliances.

Then, beneath the level of apps is the iLike program. It also takes your personal health monitor, combined with a retina scan and other things, to tell Apple which apps engage you the most so that it can double down on them.

Then, there's the iGov app. With this one, Apple automatically appends your e-signature to any petition drive, lobbyist's letter or other DC-related item that will benefit Apple. It also, when combined with Apple Pay, can automatically send campaign contributions to officials who support Apple's goals.

It's not who "lost" China to Communism, but who won it for Communism

China 1945: Mao's Revolution and America's Fateful ChoiceChina 1945: Mao's Revolution and America's Fateful Choice by Richard Bernstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very good, but couldn't quite give it a fifth star.

First, yes, 1945 was the "key" year precisely because Stalin invaded Manchuria as part of entering the war against Japan, and established the old Russian hegemony that Japan had ended in 1905. That was a key to Mao's win.

But, Bernstein covers more than that. A full one-third of the book is, if not pre-1937, at least pre-1941. And, parts of it, such as the Marshall Mission, are post-1945. All of this is good, and necessary. However, it means the title isn't quite accurate, especially on the subheader.

"America's Fateful Choice" really didn't happen until 1946. That's when Marshall's Mission clearly wasn't going to succeed, and we faced the choice of whether to do what we actually did — give Chiang reasonable backing but no blank check, versus giving him a quasi-Vietnam blank check, versus cutting a deal with Mao sooner, versus trying to knock both of their heads together even more forcefully, which is an option Bernstein doesn't even mention.

That said, while 1946, not 1945, was the year of America's choices, it's arguable that neither year may have been the most crucial, from a purely Chinese perspective.

Instead, try 1936, because of an incident mentioned in this book.

The Xian incident is where Chiang was arrested by Marshal Zhang Xueliang, a former warlord of Manchuria, and Commander of the North Eastern Army. Zhang and other Kuomintang generals forced Chiang into a second National Front with the Communists.

However, it could have turned out far differently. Zhang reportedly originally planned to hand Chiang over to Mao. Mao would then presumably have executed him. However, when he asked Stalin for official permission, Uncle Joe said no.

Why? He feared a Japanese attack against the USSR. He knew a China strong enough to at least partially defend itself lessened that possibility, and he didn't think a China with Chiang removed, which likely would have left the KMT dissolving back into warlordism and Mao's Communists by default as the government of China, could have resisted Japan at all.

And, he was right.

Let's say Mao killed Chiang, and the KMT then fell apart. Japan, of course, did move south from Manchuria just months later, and Mao's Communists, who over the next eight years inflated for Western audiences the degree of their resistance to Japan, would have indeed been on the spot. And they likely would have wound up with the same opprobrium as Chiang's Nationalists.

That said, and speaking of this, while we had no easy options with China, Bernstein gets two things very right:

1. Nobody (at least in the US) "lost" China. Mao and Stalin won it.
2. The old China hands, while right about our tough choices, were naively wrong in extremis about the Chinese Communist Party.

On my critiques, besides changing the header and subheader of the book's title, Bernstein would have served readers well with an additional 50-100 pages.

Bernstein deserves one other kudo. And, that's pointing out how the whole "imperialist lackey," "running dogs" and other vomitoria of Chinese Communist dialectic dialogue started in this era, and also how, related to this, Chinese Communists, from Mao to today, have shown themselves to be totally trustworthy at one thing — not being trustworthy.

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