November 16, 2018

Rocky Mountain National Park: Behind beauty,
Park Service bureaucracy run amok

Rocky-backlit aspens


Between trying to stay employed, and thus bouncing around jobs and not always getting the vacations I'd like even as contracting newspapers make that tougher, I like visiting our western National Parks as part of those vacations when I grab them.

With this summer's drought and heat out in the southwest, the aspens at Rocky Mountain National Park were weeks-early beautiful. I'll take the beauty even while noting the drought.

Rocky-Elk-bull and harem

That said, I've read more and more in recent years — including news stories about sexual harassment in the National Park Service — about how superintendents at major parks, especially the ones like Rocky that are filled with charismatic megafauna, and often with charismatic flora and geology as well, have become bureaucratic kingpins running miniature fiefdoms.

Well, so it was at Rocky.

Rocky-Fern falls 2Just because it was a certain date on the calendar, water was turned off in mid-September at both the Alpine Visitor Center and the restrooms and service area at the Bear Lake trailhead parking center.

Now, the Alpine Visitor Center is above 11,000 feet. It's arguable that, even with the ongoing unseasonably warm weather, park staff was worried about ground freeze problems already.

But Bear Lake? Gimme a break. It's only at 9,450 feet. Even in normal weather, you're not near to worrying about ground freeze yet in mid-September. (Estes Park, at about 7,500 feet, has an average low of 40 degrees during the time I was there.) And, shutting off the water is complicated by Rocky pushing people to ride the shuttle buses.

Yet, at neither of the east side visitor centers was it mentioned that water was turned off. This on two days when it broke 75 degrees at Bear Lake and pushed 85 at the 7,500-foot level.

Rocky-marmot pair
Marmots want to know why the water's shut off.
Now, a ranger told me: Hey, our private contractor's commercial kiosk is open; you can buy bottled water for a buck a shot.

First, why should I have to do that? Second, what if the vendor ran out? Then, we'd be back at square one.

First answer to the whole schmeer of questions? Don't shut off the Bear Lake water until Oct. 1.

Second answer? Don't shut it off at the same time every year; stop being bureaucratic. Instead, actually follow the weather forecasts.

Big answer? Maybe park superintendents need to be on a forced rotation from big parks every four or five years, like Methodist ministers.

For more pictures from this album, go here.

November 15, 2018

Sharon Hill deconverts from Skeptics™; my grains of salt

Sharon Hill of I Doubt It has finally seen the light and is leaving movement skepticism or Skeptics™. She mostly gets the reasons right, though in calling out scientism she doesn't get into larger anti-philosophy attitudes among many Skeptics™ folks who aren't necessarily scientism types. That's you, Barb Drescher. Still haven't forgotten you and your UCSB ev psych-leaning friend.

Too bad Hill herself likely isn't apologizing for fostering the cult of Brian Dunning. Nor does she take note of the likes of me or former top notch Skeptics™paralleler Massimo Pigliucci calling out all the things she has, and more, more than the five years ago that she says was the bottom of the movement.

Beyond her personal role in the sullying of the movement skepticism brand, she's apparently not aware of Jeff Wagg and Naomi Baker's even bigger black eye.

Nor does she look beyond tribalism at other issues involved — money and power. When one makes more than $100,000 a year for running a fairly small nonprofit, oh, like some California libertarian-neoliberal guy and the James Randi Educational Foundation, but not to name names, one has a vested interest in promoting both the brand and the tribalism used to keep it propped up.

Her own part in rebranding I guess includes dumping the old I Doubt It blog for her new website.

November 13, 2018

Jane Sanders off the FBI hook

Nearly two years after she first came under the eyes of an FBI fraud investigation based on some of the loans she got for the Burlington College she wound up running into defunctery (I'm an editor, I can invent words like that), Jane Sanders is now off the hook.

Two notes for the Berniecrats (I won't call you bros, but I will call you -crats): First, I know who filed the claim. And, I know who Brady Toensing is. Second, the Vermont U.S. District Attorney's office started looking into the allegations while Obama was still president. Thus, it's a bit stretched to think this whole thing was a GOP plot.

Several bits of background, from previous blogging I've done.

1. Reportedly, a grand jury was impaneled at one time, though that was disputed. Also reportedly, the FDIC as well as FBI were investigating.

1A. Per that same link, Bernie's unauthorized biographer, Harry Jaffe, noted that bank fraud is hard to prove.

2A. The Sanders family is a nepotistic money machine. Now, within the family, as Bernie showed with son Levi, that nepotism tilts more toward Jane's kids from her first marriage. And, Bernie put Jane on his campaign payroll before. That said, to pull Harry Jaffa's piece out of my first blogging link, Jane has long been a drive behind Bernie's drive.

3. Murray Bookchin took a critical look at Bernie's own land redevelopment ideas when he was mayor of Burlington.

4. Both The Sanders Institute and Our Revolution appear to have a bit of these same issues.

5. Per the links above, Toensing may have started the ball rolling, but Seven Days, and especially VT Digger, pushed it a lot further along of their own action.

6. Just because. For the #ActualFlatticus Deadheads, or dead-end kids, he was wrong about this being a nothingburger. That said, I agree with Jaffe that the "pressure" angle was a nothingburger. But, I think Jane made arguably false statements on contributions pledged to the college. Did the DA not look at them? Not consider them serious enough? As Jaffe noted, bank fraud is hard to prove.

It was enough of a somethingburger, per Seven Days' long piece about the investigation ending (VT Digger was no longer than The Hill, linked up top), that eight people were interviewed by either the FBI or FDIC. That includes former college prez Carol Moore. Moore told Vermont Public Radio in 2016 that the land deal was an albatross, while carefully neither supporting Sanders nor explicitly throwing her under the bus.

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For Bernie, of course, it removes a shadow from a possible 2020 run. "Interestingly," or more, Nov. 13, the AP ran a story about a growing field of possible Democratic presidential contenders, and never mentioned his name.

Texas Progressives offer a post-election wrap


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The Texas Progressive Alliance celebrates last week's wins and looks to build on them as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff has some fun with the Harris County Republican Party and its ridiculous whining about straight ticket voting.

SocraticGadfly had a three-part election wrap. First, he looked at general hot takes, trends and issues from races. Second, he observed that conservative writers at centrist political mags were getting out the long knives for Beto, maybe in fear of a 2020 presidential run. Third, noting successful Democratic Socialist of America campaigns, he wondered if they would stay true to ideals once in office, and other issues, above all, the use of the word "socialist."

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

David Bruce Collins offers an in-depth three-part take starting here, with a number of good observations.

At the Dallas Observer, in the wake of the Jim Acosta incident, Jim Schutze says media need to be revolutionary, not respectful. Jim also rightly notes, as this scribe has on chastising former President Obama, that most Trump Train riders are not, and most likely never will be, amenable to reason.

In another media matter, Grits for Breakfast says that practicing “access” journalism is part of why former Chronicle political reporter Mike Ward got fired.

Paradise in Hell interprets the Presidential appointment-making process.

Colin Strother makes the case for Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Nationally, Ted Rall decries “Resistance” Democrats already talking about “bipartisanship.” Whether Pelosi is a “Resistance” Democrat or not, she’s made such noises.

Therese Odell vents about the Saturday Night Live/Dan Crenshaw situation.

 Sanford Nowlin reports on how progressives hope to build on 2018.

Grits for Breakfast looks at the 2018 results through a criminal justice reform lens.

Dan Gordon cuts through the anti-Semitic crap.

November 11, 2018

The 11th hour, of the 11th month, of the 11th day

No red blizzard of poppies on sale in shops, markets and at street corners can obliterate the absurdistan of four-plus years of senseless war that ended a century ago, nor ennoble the idea of sending men into a swamp-bog killing field. Neither can writing a poem about that which lead to people pinning poppies on puffed-out chests. That poem, as I discussed on the centennial of the start of the war, was a pro-war piece used by Britain as a recruiting tool. Stop romancing "In Flanders Fields."

"War ... is all hell."

No amount of patriotic prideful chest-puffing can hide the senseless loss of nearly 10 million military casualties plus an additional 8 million war dead, per Wikipedia estimates.

A November 1918 American teacher's riff on "In Flanders Fields" arguably is even worse. "Keep the Faith" by Moina Michael, who also started the poppy sales campaign in the U.S., isn't much less pro-war than McCrae. And, of course, the romanticizing of the war via the poppy was my ultimate condemnation, since the poppy campaign sprang from McCrae's original.

Looking ahead a century, if there are lessons in general, it's that World War I was begun from a case of nationalism run amok, and, at the same time, nationalism at its most petty at times.

In some cases, though, as with the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, it was a tottering, doddering pre-modern supra-naturalism, incarnate in an even more doddering, tottering dynasty, that led to war. The Hapsburgs surely combined the worst of this with the worst of pettiness in the name of nationalism.

Beneath their respective veneers, especially when compared with would-be peers, it was arguable that at the time the war started, the Hapsburg realm was even more the "Sick Man of Europe" than the stereotypical Ottoman patient. Add to that the Baroque Spanish court ritual that course through Viennese veins of protocol, and included Franz Joseph himself — the snubs that Count Montenuovo orchestrated for Franz Ferdinand and Sophie from marriage through funeral were ultimately not only approved, but pushed for by the kaiser — and Austria-Hungary had no business picking a war with the Serbs that threatened to expand.

Indeed, after losing the Seven Weeks War, with that being followed by Magyar disquietude that forced the Ausgleich on Franz Joseph, Vienna had no business, even less than the no business of Istanbul, of picking a war with anybody. The fact that Franz Joseph couldn't even get a better bargain on the Ausgleich than he did showed that he had little business being an activist emperor.

The war in Europe, once Gavrilo Princip assassinated Franz Ferdinand, quickly became overdetermined, as I have blogged before. In other words, if one works to make an honest assessment of who was primarily at fault, using percentages, one gets over 100 percent easily. And, that includes Britain, who had been subsidizing Belgian rearmament nearly a decade before the war started. Belgian neutrality was simply the excuse that Foreign Secretary Edward Grey used to pull non-interventionist Liberals onto the side of war. (Grey is the most under-recognized architects of duplicitousness in the entire run-up to war.)

That said, once war was launched, the U.S. had no damned business getting involved. We had no vital strategic interests. There was no grand moral issue, unlike Nazism in World War II. Indeed, the most anti-Semitic and most autocratic country in the war was one of the Allies, Tsarist Russia.

Yes, by international law of that time, German submarine war was illegal. So was the British blockade by extension, though Britain had not signed that particular agreement. But, considering food as contraband in any blockade was illegal per agreement that even the British had signed. Let us also remember that the U.S. went to war with Britain in 1812 over related freedom of the seas issues.

William Jennings Bryan
The only "interest" the US had was when President Woodrow Wilson eventually started offering government backing on private loans that American banks made to Britain and France, and his alleged neutrality had slipped long before that, as Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan knew even before he resigned his office, politely, rather than putting Wilson on the spot to fire him.

Had Wilson actually honored the letter of neutrality, even, he would have done like FDR in 1939, or John Adams long before, and issued some sort of actual neutrality proclamation. In this case, re the Lusitania incident, issued in advance, such a proclamation would have forbade Americans from sailing on ships of belligerents, among other things.

But, rather than learning from George Washington on steering a ship of neutrality, or from  John Quincy Adams and his famous "(America) goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy" speech, Wilson did just that. He ignored also Washington's Farewell Address warning about entangling alliances. He gave us a United Nations that we selectively engage with today, when it suits our imperial hubris, along with Wilsonian internationalism of Shrub Bush, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and many others. He gave us multiple Red Scares and their own spinoff Wilsonian intervention — whether the Korean War fits that or not, the Vietnam War and many coups do.

This is part of why I rank Wilson lower on the presidential scale than do many professional historians, putting him below average overall.

(I wrote more about the stupidity of America entering the war a year ago, on the centennial of that happening, and again a year ago today.)

What would have happened, had we not entered the war, or even, had Wilson not guaranteed House of Morgan and other banks' loans to Britain and France?

Well, by late 1916, France would have been stretched further than it was. The majority of US loans went to Britain, but almost as much to France, which of course was bearing the bulk of the fighting. Peace feelers might have been sent, either through Wilson, or through Switzerland, or through Norway. Or, France and Britain might have directly approached Kaiser Karl after the death of Franz Joseph, since, soon after his reign started in real history, he reached out on his own to France via brother-in-law Prince Sixtus.

Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg as German Chancellor would surely have been amenable. He might have been able to drag along the Kaiser, Wilhelm, especially if he would have been able to outflank the budding military dictatorship in progression of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff. (Yes, for the unawares, for about the last two years of the war, the duo of Hindenburg and Ludendorff ran Germany by an authoritarian quasi-dictatorship.)

What likely would have resulted, with Britain also recognizing that while its military reserves weren't stretched to the limit, it was running low on money and munitions for other Allies, might have been something like the Seven Years War — a status quo ante bellum, at least on the Western Front.

Certainly, if Germany had gone ahead with plans and let Vladimir Lenin smuggle himself across Germany to Finland and then Russia, the March Revolution, even with the Provisional Government in various incarnations determined to stay in the war — would have pushed Britain and France more toward peace.

In the East? Various things.

The Allies might have accepted Austria doing a set of Black Hand trials, handing over leaders. It might also have accepted deposing the Serbian royal house and reverting to the pre-1903 Obrenević house back to the throne.

In Russia? If the November Revolution wound up still happening, and all other parties were at least in the process of negotiating peace by this time, they might have done an intervention similar to what actually happened. As part of that, they might have united on a separatist Ukraine and negotiated some minor German or Scandinavian princeling — NOT related to the Hohenzollerns — to head the country. (A year ago, on the anniversary of the November Revolution, I wrote against people even further left than I am, as I attacked the romancing of the Revolution.)

In the Dual Monarchy, the Allies might have hinted to the Magyars that peace was dependent on them accepting Karl's plans for Trialism. They might have sweetened the pot by giving Austria a small part of southwestern Serbia.

For the Ottomans? They probably would have forfeit their Middle Eastern lands, with boundaries similar to actual post-dynastic Turkey.

For most of the Balkans, most of the post-1918 world, on one or another such idea of counterfactual history, surely would have been no worse than reality, at a minimum.

Could such a peace have held, without more revanchism?

Maybe, and just maybe, if Imperial Germany got a more liberal constitution, and Wilhelm abdicated in favor of his somewhat better (but not great, as his pre-World War II Nazi flirtations show) son, August Wilhelm. Germany also needed to do what Bismarck in nearly 20 years, and his successors in 25 after, had failed to do — incorporate Alsace-Lorraine into the German Empire as one of its states rather than ruling it as an occupied territory.

Had this all panned out, we would have been spared some of the worst of Leninist Marxism, and likely all of the worst of Stalinism. We would also have been spared much of Fascism. Postwar Italy might not have been bad enough for Mussolini to gain power. A still semi-intact Austria and a Germany spared revolution by a hair would have left no space for Hitler.

Otherwise, with France, Austria and Russia all more seriously weakened than it, Germany would have emerged as more clearly the leading power of Europe. With a more democratized government, it might have reached some sort of entente with Britain about future relationships between the two, the overall governance of Europe, and how to face the United States.

Had this NOT been done, but the US was not in the war? The Red Tide from Moscow surely would have swept over Germany, most likely over France, and likely would have touched the shores of Britain, despite George V denying exile to his royal cousin Nicholas precisely due to revolutionary fears. I discuss that possible alternative history in depth here.

If you want other alternative history? Germany, not Denmark, could have owned the then-Danish Virgin Islands at the start of the war.

For your listening meditation? Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.



Why this? The recitatives, beyond the traditional Latin Mass text, are those of poems by Wilfred Owen.

If you want more music, on my other blog, the three non-Ottoman imperial anthems of World War I.

Sixers-Timberwolves Jimmy Butler trade a win-win
as Butler be begging no more

So, Jimmy Butler, with Justin Patton for salary number matching or else Elton Brand Philly GM verschnizzle, is off to the Sixers for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a second round draft pick?

As the header notes, I see this as a very possible win-win trade, except perhaps for Tom Thibodeau, T-Wolves coach and team president. (It could be a no-win for him, of course, if the Twinkies don't make the playoffs again. If that happens, that's because the trade isn't a short-term win for the team, which will have to adjust chemistry more than will Philly. Perhaps.

The Sixers now have a core of Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons and Butler. Saric, after a strong year last year, was looking more and more like an odd man out early this year.

That said, we'll have to see if, besides social media trolling competitiveness, Butler finds Embiid to be any more competitive on the hardwood than Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Ditto for Simmons and Fultz, of course.

Also, jokes on Twitter aside, Sixers fans have to be hoping that Thibs hasn't stripped most the tread off Butler's tires already. If he has, well, then this ain't a long-term win-win for Philly, because you traded away a couple of younger, cheaper players.

And, as Kirk Goldsberry notes, you traded away players who are better 3-ballers than Butler. I think teams will play even more lane-packing on D against Philly than they already have.

Up in the Great White North, there's talk that, because of injuries and age and having gotten one more player back, the Wolves would cut Bayless. I wouldn't. I think he's still a plus defensive player, and can add a lower-key version of veteran leadership along with Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and the rejuvenated Derrick Rose, as well as giving Thibs more lineup flexibility AND the option of playing older players fewer minutes — IF Thibs can change his stripes and do that. (I'd get rid of Luol Deng first, if nothing else, if that's doable by NBA rules, which I don't know why it wouldn't. I'd do that ahead of Anthony Tolliver, mentioned by Hoops Rumors.)

The Wolves, with the extra player back, face lineup questions in other ways. Does Saric start ahead of Gibson? Or Covington How does whoever gets the short straw handle coming off the bench?

How much small ball does Thibs try, with Covington at the 4 and the plethora of guards he has? How much big ball does he try, occasionally putting Covington at the 2?

Finally, how much do the other veterans now more quietly step into Butler's shoes on team leadership and challenging KAT and Wiggins in general, and challenging — and teaching — both better defense?

Long-term, if Saric finds back last year's form and Covington remains his steady self, it's a definite potential win for the Wolves. As Hoops Rumors notes, it helps their long-term cap numbers, important since Thibs was dumb enough to give Wiggins that max-level extension last summer.

Longer-term, IMO, it might be more of a win for the Wolves if it turns out to be a short-term loss, or at least, not enough of a gain for Thibs to keep his job. With four relatively younger players now, the team might be better served with another coach — and one without the additional title of team president.

Woj has a post-mortem on the deal. He says Thibs could still get shit-canned. He notes the deal will be challenging for Butler; if he screws up dealing with the young-uns again, no supermax deal for him. Woj finally notes that, per Adam Silver's eyeballs, we may see fewer weddings of coaches and player personnel guys in one suit when Thibs finally gets pushed.