November 11, 2017

#VeteransDay and the #WWI Centennial

If any Veterans Day is a day to remember the stupidity of war, it should be this one.

Veterans Day, of course, was started to remember World War I, as Armistice Day.

With us in the first year of America's centennial of entering World War I, that gets back to that opening line.

World War I was stupid long before America entered it. It began as a Great Powers conflict, with European nations on two sides of a trip-wire alliance egging each other on, including the Germany that forgot Bismarck's alleged dictum that "the whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier." (Bismarck also allegedly said, "If there is another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans.")

Whether true or not, both are true to his spirit and insight.

Anyway, none of the countries was prepared for the war, not even the Germany most closely prepared for it, but most reliant on being totally prepared for it. Moltke the Younger's weakening of the Schlieffen Plan, originally in the west to appease the Crown Prince, then in the pre-Tannenberg east, killed Germany's chance of an early win.

And with that came further horrors.

They were only exacerbated by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson being decidedly NON-neutral well before the war. A truly neutral American president would have told the British that their blockade by extension was just as illegal under international law as German submarine warfare zones, and reminded Arthur Balfour that we went to war with his country in 1812 over freedom of the seas issues.

After that, Wilson would have launched a neutrality proclamation that, as best written, would have applied to both sides, and banned travel into either submarine zones or blockade by extension areas. A truly neutral president also would not have offered guarantees of private loans made to foreign governments.

Had things played out that way — perhaps aided by a threat by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan to challenge Wilson's re-election in 1916 — the play of WWI from early 1915 on would have drastically changed.

By late 1916, both the Allies and Central Powers might well have been feeling out a truly neutral United States for armistice negotiations. Like the Seven Years War, at least on the Western Front, a treaty with no annexations might have resulted. (By this time, Tsarist Russia probably would have imploded anyway. A free Poland of some sort might well have resulted. The Ottoman Empire and the Dual Monarchy probably would have gone the way of the wind as well.)

Still, Communism of the murderist Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist variety might well have been prevented. And in Germany, no Hitler and no Nazism.

The U.S. would have been different, too. No Lenin and no November Revolution, combined with no U.S. war involvement, would have meant no Red Scare, either. Possibly no rise of J. Edgar Hoover. Possibly no xenophobia. Whether the U.S. would have address racial issues more quickly or not, I don't know.

(Reminder, while I'm on Lenin etc, since we're also at the 100th anniversary of the November Revolution, that a bunch of leftists need to start de-romanticizing Communism.)

Remember all of that. Remember the stupidity of Wilsonian idealism. Remember the stupidity of war. Remember that war today isn't all about video games or the drone equivalent. Remember that even professional philosophers can't justify stupid wars, even when they try.

"I tell you, war is Hell!" — William Tecumseh Sherman

November 10, 2017

A few thoughts on National Park Service rate hikes

I'd seen the proposal when it first came out, but, due to doing some Twitter research and other things, hadn't jumped on it right away.

First, let me state that I don't recall folks like the National Parks Conservation Association bitching too much when the Obama Administration replaced the old Parks Pass with the new Access Pass and forced people like me to subsidize the USFS and BLM because the government refused to charge more in extractive fees.

Nor do I recall the protests being a lot louder — and certainly not that long — when Dear Leader let guns back into national parks, and without a lot of pressure to do so, and that was with a Democratic-majority Congress.

Do I think every bit of protest by environmental groups over volume-based pricing for 17 parks is a way to gin up donations? No.

Do I think some of it is? Yes. Especially when I get emails warning of the fee hikes with "donate" buttons in the email.

==

Now that that's out of the way, the fees themselves.

If the Trump Administration weren't simultaneously cutting the NPS budget, I actually wouldn't totally oppose such fees.

Fact is that NPCA et al know that most Grand Canyon visitors never get past walking along the South Rim in the tourist area, never get beyond seeing Delicate Arches as a parking lot distance (if they go that far), etc. Zion they will go to the start of the Narrows because you can get bused there.

So, in a vacuum, and not East Trumpistan?

I would:

A. Get rid of the Access Pass and go back to the old Parks Pass.
B. Through annual inspection of mines on federal lands, force Congress to overturn the General Mining Act of 1872. That gets rid of subsidizing BLM and USFS on hard-rock mining.
C. Find a similar way to price up lumbering in both agencies, though, outside of Alaska, timbering on federal lands seems to be in decline anyway.

With those preliminaries in place, I would support frequency pricing at some parks. Not all 17 on the list, but at:
1. Arches
2. Glacier
3. Grand Canyon
4. Grand Teton
5. Rainier
6. Rocky
7. Sequoia/Kings Canyon
8. Shenandoah
9. Yellowstone
10. Yosemite
11. Zion

About all of these fall into "iconic" parks. Shenandoah, like the California parks, gets listed as being near major urban areas.

And so, with that said, I'll add an 11th that East Trumpistan did not:
12. Great Smokies.

I might not make the frequency fees as high as has been proposed, but I would raise them.

It would drive the total "36-clickers," to use an old film photography phrase, elsewhere. Fine. Reduces stress on park highways. And, on cleanup. In general, people who want to see a park in depth are less likely to litter, etc.

As for minorities, lower-income in general, etc? Going back to a Parks Pass (let's say at the $50 fee it was) rather than the $80 Access Pass. provides 30 ways of solution right there.

===

As for the NPCA donations ask?

Enviro groups have a high rate of churn among members, at least the "name" ones. So they push stuff like this.

Second, at least for Sierra Club, they pay employees crap.

A decade ago, it had an opening for a copy editor for its magazine. $33K a year. In San Francisco. Not "the Bay Area." In San Francisco. The City.

I generally don't give money to those groups.

I've even emailed a couple — if you first want to hire me as a copy editor, assistant managing editor, whatever, then we'll talk on donations.

The NPCA, unlike Sierra, is not a Gang Green group, nor is the Coalition for Biological Diversity, where I've twice sent such emails. OTOH, groups even smaller than NPCA sometimes have ethics problems.

November 09, 2017

What is it like to be a chicken ... owned by Tyson?

The header before the ellipsis points, for those not getting it, is riffing on Nagel's famous essay "What is it Like to Be a Bat?"

The riff, and even more the portion after the ellipsis, is based on living in an area of the United States where chicken farming is a major employer and even more, is chicken processing, namely, by Tyson.

Seeing a flatbed semi loaded with chicken coops, all carrying a fluffy white bird headed to his or her demise, and the highway-speed wind effects ruffling feathers (yes, literally) more than enough to expose naked chicken flesh prompted me to start writing.

First, re Nagel. Yes, bats fly by echolocation. But, it doesn't work over long areas, so, "blind as a (hypersonic) bat" is more true than not, perhaps. Per Dan Dennett, the idea that this makes their "whatness" harder to discuss or picture than other animals of similar intelligence probably isn't true. That's even if we accept at least a "soft" version of qualia. (And, it's also Dennett finding an acorn in the forest.)

That said, and Tyson ownership aside, it's surely likely that it's easier to picture what it's like to be a bat than to be a chicken. Wild chickens probably aren't as smart as bats, and domestic ones are dumb — though perhaps not as dumb as domestic turkeys.

Chickens are less social than bats, or humans, too. And ... animal rights issues aside for now, surely have a lesser emotional palette.

Plus, given that the expression of both intellect and emotions occurs in reaction to environmental stimuli, that domestic chicken living on a 40,000-bird Tyson farm, most all of his or her life spent in a cage about the size of a kitchen trash can.

That is, per existentialism, "existing" and not "living."

It's even worse.

Humans who have been close to chicken farms know what the ammonia-like smell of chickenshit is like. Most humans probably assume that birds in general, with beaks not noses, may not have much of a sense of smell.

Well, new research shows that's wrong for birds in general and chickens in particular.

I don't care how many vent fans there are in a modern breeding house (without which, in hot Southern summers, the birds would die in 15 minutes). That shit has to smell shitty to a chicken, I would think.

 It's like being incarcerated. No, scratch that.

It IS being incarcerated. And, while a chicken isn't a human, it's closer, evolutionarily and culturally both, to a human than it is to, stay, a sea star. So, to some degree, it might be easier for humans — at least those who have spent time in jail — to understand what it's like to be a Tyson chicken than a bat.

Don't tell me that a Tyson chicken doesn't have its fair share, or far more than its fair share, of anxiety and other mental health issues. Don't tell me that, at some base level of instinct, it's not yearning for freedom.

At the same time, don't overread and over-project. That chicken has never experienced freedom, and doesn't fully know what it's like. For that matter, neither does a free-range chicken know freedom. It's free — and still highly protected until slaughter — on a carefully selected range.

On the other hand, contra the Michael Pollans of the world, artisanal Smithfield hog hams and true (not fake PR) free-range chickens aren't the answer, unless we all (1 percent as well as 99 percent, Michael) simply eat a LOT less meat.

We need to do that anyway, for other reasons, of course.

And, if we want anything above just grams of meat per day, and we want to reduce agricultural stress on our planet, we need to start rooting for Dutch scientists to make test-tube meat a success — a commercial and ecological success — as soon as possible.

The answer until then is ameliorating animal conditions on factory farms, even more for hogs and cows, likely more intelligent than chickens.

November 07, 2017

The Revolution 100 years later — de-romancing Communism

Yes, it's a bit late — the centennial of Nov. 7, 1917 is today, but I might have wanted to do an advance, or at least pull my thoughts together more.

That said, start here. Jacobin has a good timeline of the actual day. (All months, etc., in my piece will be by the Gregorian calendar.)

Still wanted to offer a few thoughts. Won't have links for everything, as this is stuff I've seen online over several days and didn't bookmark.

And I primarily want to tackle this "romancing."

Here's a long piece, but quite illustrative of the problem.

It and other pieces make several factual errors. Not every piece has all the errors, but most have most of them.

First, Lenin was not a democrat. The November Revolution (to use the Gregorian calendar months) was a coup against the Socialist government of Kerensky.  It was a suaver cup than Lenin's original September call from Finland for insurrection. but, still a coup. That said, it was ultimately a coup by the Bolsheviks, not by Lenin. And that may be why it succeeded. That spirit was one that eventually rejected any compromise.

One can call Kerensky's government, the final outpost of the March Revolution, itself the result of a coup. However, what really happened in March was an imploding government got a final push; strikes followed by mutiny essentially left no government in place, so to speak.

Anyway, back to Lenin. The Bolsheviks held one fairly free national election after consolidating power. The independent left wing of the Social-Revolutionaries, the old Russian peasant party, won a plurality over Lenin's thugs. And, that was the last for Soviet democracy. The left S-Rs were forced to amalgamate with the Bolshis or face the price.

This happened after World War II in Eastern Europe, too. Stalin forced "peasant" parties to merge with "worker" parties. In places like Poland, they even had the name "workers and peasants party" or similar for years after.

Second, Stalin was not sui generis. Yes, Lenin modified economic ideas, and let up somewhat on terror, during "New Communism." However, had he lived longer, that probably would have been permanent. Contra some apologists — whether for Lenin or Stalin, I'm not sure — I take Lenin's will as legit. But, he refused to accept his own part in Stalin becoming (more of) a monster. Unfortunately, the generally excellent Existential Comics repeats the "let's blame it all on Stalin" idea.

Stalin's anti-Semitism is the one — and only — major way he did fall far from the tree. Surely he ranks second only to Hitler and his gang as a murderer of Jews in the 20th century, but a far distant second, even as the issue of his degree of anti-Semitism remains complex.

Existential Comics leads me to a broader point. That's the "no true Scotsman," which defenders of communism and defenders of capitalism promote with equal vigor.

Speaking of, Marxism was not scientific. Marx was not a professional, early-day sociologist. And, dialectic materialism is based on the discredited philosophical dungheap of Hegelian dialectical idealism. (And Existential Comics knows all of this.)

And that is a large part of why, if communism means any political philosophy ultimately derived from "The Communist Manifesto," I'm not a communist.

I am some sort of socialist. At least, more of one than Bernie Sanders. But, a communist? No. A communalist? Possibly, if I find the right commune. Not a communist. Have no plans on being one. Have no plans on romancing communism, nor giving a pass to others who do.

Give me a better version of the welfare state, combined with state ownership of a few key industries. But communism in any of its modern forms? No.

Beyond this, Lenin was a pedant and a prig as well as a dictatorial revolutionary.

Third, some notes on the run-up to November 1917. As for the assassination of Rasputin in late 1916, which failed to stave off the March Revolution? He warned Nicholas AGAINST war in 1914; however, once it started, he wanted a cut of the action. His "cut" seems to have been more about power — via providing access to the Tsarina for others — than money. Beyond that, much of his early life is unknown and much of what people think they know about  his later life is actually legend.

The March Revolution? It went through many shifts even before getting to Alexander Kerensky. That said, how Kerensky was the last man at the top shows how flabby it was. It probably could have morphed into something else without Lenin.

Related?

Two myths related to World War I.

First, in reality, Lenin's "Land, peace and bread" slogan didn't catch on as quickly as claimed. The "land" part did with peasants, but the S-Rs were already there. The "bread" caught on with the proletariat, but risked being at the expense of peasants.

The "peace" is the biggie, though. Even if not until after the Kornilov revolt, if Kerensky had adopted it, he probably could have stayed in power. Had he done so before Kornilov? Lenin probably would have been a footnote to history. Co-opting SRs who were more to the right, along with selected Mensheviks, he could have put his stamp on power. If Whites still launched a civil war, Kerensky would have gotten other non-Bolshis to rally to the flag.

Second, no, Tsarist apologizers, Russia couldn't have won WWI had it stayed in. Germany would maybe have lost a week earlier, that's all, while it continued to occupy the Baltics, Belarus and much of Ukraine.

Finally, even with some saying they want it back, Communism did have decades of effects gutting Russia. The Beeb has a piece with reaction to it today in major Russian cities.

One other myth, often hoisted by Gnu Atheists, needs to be refuted. The fact that Stalin went to a seminary doesn't make him a Christian. Nor does the fact that, for regime PR purposes, he reopened some churches during the Great Patriotic War, WWII.

==

The bottom line?

Unfortunately, late-1917 wound up with a choice between an ever-more-vacuous Kerensky and an ever-more-brutal Lenin. Kerensky had no new intellectual ideas, no great suite of political skills, and refused to call for an end to the war. Unfortunately, even though the November Revolution owed more to Bolsheviks on the ground than Lenin, he usurped it and glorified his power. Also unfortunately, he didn't see Stalin's potential for doing exactly the same until too late.

A couple of alternative history points arise — besides ones of July 1914 and the Russian ambassador to Serbia, Hartwig, not egging on the Serbian government.

First, even if half of what we know about Rasputin post-1905 or whatever is legend, still, removing him from the scene, oh, a full year or more earlier might have made a difference. Alexandra might have gone less far down the road of mystical neo-absolutism, and that would have restrained Nicholas.

Second, the "March Revolution" happening the previous November might have made a difference or three. Probably would have been harder for Germany to immediately smuggle Lenin into Russia. Might also have made a difference on whether or not Germany sent the Zimmerman Telegram. It might still have restarted submarine warfare.

Third, give Kerensky an infusion of brains and backbone. Or else let the Social Democrats or even right-wing Mensheviks find a better non-Bolshie alternative.

No USSR? Would it have meant no WWII? Hard to say. Certainly possible, though.

TX Progressives are weary of #thoughtsandprayers

The Texas Progressive Alliance rejects another round of “thoughts and prayers” rather than action over yet more gun violence, this time here in Texas, as it brings you this week’s wrangle.

Off the Kuff looks at the third quarter campaign finance reports for Texas Democratic Congressional candidates.

Socratic Gadfly offers his detailed take about the bombshell Donna Brazile dropped on the Democratic Party.

An Astros fan almost since birth, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs posts his 56-year remembrance of growing up with the team and celebrating their first World Series championship.

Neil at All People Have Value attended a rally in Houston to call for the release of 10 year old Rosa Maria Hernandez. Rosa was seized by ICE lowlifes as she recovered from major surgery in Corpus Christi. Thankfully the pressure on this issue for all over the country made a difference and Rosa has since been freed. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

Jobsanger looks at the huge Latina pay gap.

Lewisville Texan Journal discusses the idea of making Vista Ridge Mall into a live entertainment venue.

===========================

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

The Texas Trib notes an ongoing lack of Democratic candidates for statewide offices. Filing deadline is Dec. 11. Editor’s note: The Trib calls some guv candidates insignificant, then creates self-fulfilling prophecies by refusing to do in-depth profiles of the likes of Tom Wakely.

Juanita has had enough of John Kelly.

Therese Odell is all about Indictment Day.

Shea Serrano finally gets the allure of baseball.

The Current introduces us to the San Antonio Satan Fish.

Texas Vox patiently explains the difference between "weather" and "climate".

BeyondBones gives the science on vampires.

The TSTA Blog chastises educators who punish flag protesters.

Jeff Balke eulogizes the Houston Press. Editor’s note: In an online-only edition, with all writers as freelancers, it WILL die the rest of the way soon enough.


-->
Somervell County Salon discusses church-state issues.

November 06, 2017

Modern Era #MLB #HallOfFame proposes more hacks, ie JACK MORRIS

The "Modern Era" committee of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame has released its list of nominees. It's largely a list of tired hacks, with a lot of non-HOFers, a couple of borderlines, one or two possible Yeses, and one "why the hell isn't he there already"?

That "WTF" person is pioneering labor lawyer Marvin Miller, of course.

Deserves in before any of the players on the list.

OK, lets look at the players.

Alan Trammell? Closest to sure-fire yes on this list. Even he's not a lock, though he should be, dealing with the Cal Ripken overshadowing. Arguably a junior "Wizard" Ozzie Smith defensively.

That said, if he's on the list, where the hell is Lou Whittaker? The list of nominees is a fail right there.

Simba's time?
Ted Simmons? Borderliner who I'd tilt yes, especially with few catchers in the Hall. Tenth in career JAWS for backstops. That said, will Thurman Munson ever get love?

Luis Tiant? Borderliner with better advanced stats than Catfish Hunter among others.

Tommy John? If you want to vote him in as a pioneer for the surgery, OK. Baseball career? No. Nice "compiler" but nothing more. (That said, he too has better sabermetrics than Catfish Hunter, who I'd vote back OUT of the Hall, kind of like the "deleaguing" that British soccer does.

Steve Garvey? No. Shouldn't even be here. Don't cite Bill James' opinion, either. He was wrong. I mean, while Keith Hernandez also isn't a HOFer, he's a hell of a lot closer to deserving.

Dale Murphy? No. Not even as a two-time MVP. Overrated defensively, below 50 career WAR. Has a nice cult-myth aura about him, but it's not true. Part of that myth is his "cleanness" related to Dave Parker even if theyre pretty much the same player. Speaking of?

Dave Parker? I"m old enough to remember me some Cobra, but no.

Donnie Baseball Mattingly? Unfortunate back problems, but no Hall pass for that. No. (Also overrated as a fielder.)

Jack Morris? FUCK NO, and I've said that for years.

Among his contemporaries or semi-contemporaries, Brett SaberhagenDavid Cone and David Wells are all more fitting candidates than Morris. So's Bob Welch.
==

Tentative predictions?

The committee will get Tramm in. Will find a way to screw Miller again. (Sidebar: Will find a way to ignore Whittaker for at least another decade.) Will keep Simba out. 50-50 odds it puts Morris in. 50-50 one of the four of Dale, Dave, Donnie and Steve get in.

#ActualFlatticus vs the Green Party

I had said that I wasn't going to write much more about prolific Twitterer Actual Flatticus, aka Alan Smithee — profiled extensively by me already — short of breaking news, but, a light bulb popped in my head a few days ago, on Chris Chopin's hatred (no other word for it) for Jill Stein, and possibly for the Green Party in general. And, since Tuesday is election day, with a Green gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey, Green candidates for the lege there, and a number of big-city Green municipal candidates, it was time to write again.

That light bulb?


The infamous butterfly ballot.

Chopin was old enough to vote in 2000. Lived in Palm Beach County (presuming he didn't live in Miami-Dade to attend University of Miami Law).

Palm Beach County, the home of Theresa LePore and her infamous butterfly ballot. And, if he was living in Miami-Dade at the time, that was the site of the infamous "Brooks Brothers riot."

That said, it was also a state where Ralph Nader, carrying the flag for a coalescing Green Party, ran fairly hard, leading to David Cobb pushing for the "safe states" strategy in 2004 — a strategy I was ambivalent about at best at the time, and reject outright now, along with the entire AccommoGreen mindset of him, Stein and others.

Sidebar: Per Wiki, going by percentage of total vote in each state, and setting aside the three where Ralph wasn't on the ballot, Florida was actually one of his lower-performing states anyway, refudiating Cobb, Stein, et al. Of the 47 states where Nader was on the ballot, Florida was 38th for him. Hell, he did better in Texas. If nothing else, that probably shows that many Greens had a safe-state mindset.

Anyway, Flatty was there. He knew GP issues, at least in broad outlines, long before 2016, unless he was having some lawyer's snow in the men's room then going to Margaritaville on the beach rather than writing in Donald Duck. The fact that he, unlike his big GOP-donating daddy, gave bupkis to federal-level Dem candidates OR the party his entire life adds a bit to the "poseur" idea.

On Twitter, we have the record of him dissing primarily Stein, but also the party.

He couldn’t stand Jill Stein, for whatever reason. Rather than pick something truly nutty, like her sexist Mother’s Day comment, rather, in my time w/him on Twitter, he picked on her idealism, saying she “declared war” on Saudi Arabia as his reference to her quite reasonable call for an embargo on arms sales to KSA. (This is one reason why I said above that he didn't seem to think that deeply outside dark money and national health care; certainly, I didn't hear deep thought from him on foreign policy issues, beyond the true enough "Hillary is a warmonger." He may have expressed it elsewhere, but not to me.)

More Twitter evidence he hated the Green Party. And more here, though this, plus my interactions with him, make me wonder how much of this was Green Party hatred in general, and how much was misogyny toward Jill Stein as a female Green Party presidential candidate.

Flatty also may have believed Stein was an anti-vaxxer. I myself said that her stance seemed pandering at times. But not unbelievable. 

And, then there's the irony of the arrogant Flatty calling Greens arrogant. And bully boy calls one of them "whiny." Guess that's the champion debater!

More here on how he hated Greens having a principled foreign policy.

One of my blog posts after the death of Chopin said that voting Green would be in the idealistic spirit of Chopin. On further hindsight, as I get even more skeptical of his legacy, I don't think so.

Was he pissed Gore lost? And, I don't know who was on his 2016 ballot, but if he wanted real change, in 2000, besides Greens, he had the Socialists and two different batches of Communists.

Related to that, I'm still debating how much weight to put on the word "parody" in his Twitter precis, versus two other options.

One of those options is he was somewhere between an agent provocateur and a high-priced troll girl. (I see what I did there.)

The other is that he really was something like a double agent.

Anyway, whether he was, or was not, something like that, he WAS a slacktivist. No financial donations, for federal campaigns, to any candidate or party. Rejected acting outside the duopoly.

And, in light of Sutherland Springs, I can say that, from what I remember on that subject, at a minimum, he was NOT close to hardcore on the good side of gun control.

Note: Here's a list of Greens running Tuesday, Nov. 7.