Booksellers versus Bestsellers
by John MacBeath Watkins
Jonathan Chait, writing in New York magazine
, has invented the term "peeliever" for those who believe the notorious "pee tape" of President Trump watching hired prostitutes pee on each other on the bed that President Obama and his wife had slept on during their visit to Moscow.
There's plenty of levity about this, and a twitter hashtag for†
by John MacBeath Watkins
I've been thinking through the logic of a new sort of sail trainer, the object of which is to get people to learn to sail with traditional rigs.
As some of those who follow this blog know, I helped start a sail training course called Sail Now at the Center for Wooden Boats. As the classes have evolved, more and more the classes are taught in Blanchard Junior Knockabouts, 20-foot spoon-bowed keelboats that are tractable and pleasant to sail. Unfortunately, some of the students come out of this feeling that the only boats they can sail are those like the BKJ.
The Center for Wooden Boats is a museum founded to preserve, not just the objects, but the skills, associated with classic boats and wooden boats in general.
Near the end of his life, Dick Wagner, who founded CWB, wrote a letter to the Collections Committee complaining that the fleet was becoming too homogeneous, with plenty of sloops about the same size, but fewer and fewer boats with traditional rigs. It occurred to me that part of the problem is that the boats that get used are the boats we train people to use, feeding a cycle that causes fewer and fewer people to use the great little classics we have on the dock.
Here's my proposed solution, which I am tentatively calling the Adept class:
by John MacBeath Watkins
One of the more surreal moments in the presidential campaign was when Donald Trump, at a rally in Tampa, Florida, June 11, 2016, walked across the stage and literally hugged an American flag -- even though his campaign is now being investigated for colluding with the Russian government and its minions to win the campaign.
In retrospect, it might be more accurate to say he molested the American flag while working with the Russians to subvert what it stands for. He campaigned on a promise to make America great again, but he's been hollowing out the State Department in a way that reduces American power abroad.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, recently tweeted,†"The purposeful gutting of American power abroad is mystifying. If you didn't know better, you'd think some rival government was running our foreign policy."
And Rod Dreher, a staff member for The American Conservative
, recounts this quote from an interview with Northwestern University Prof. William Reno about an exchange with the former foreign minister of an East African country:"We spoke several months ago while I was in his country to meet with army officers for my research on civil - military relations. Well read and well informed, he expressed distress over what he saw as the Trump Administration's attack on the foundations of American power in the world. He compared Trump to Gorbachev...
†"He explained that Russians know Gorbachev as the man who destroyed a superpower. He said that "Trump is your Gorbachev" because he is also destroying his country's global power. He noted that Trump was systematically undermining the architecture of American power, such as NATO and all sorts of other arenas of cooperation that make America essential in the calculations of other countries. He pointed to people like Sebastian Gorka and took the time to find out who he and some of the other advisors actually are. His country, he explained, prefers to get advice from "reality-based professionals" and wondered how others in the American political establishment could tolerate people who are so harmful to American power."
*The full interview is worth your time, I recommend clicking on the quote and going to the interview. When a publication like The American Conservative is worried about a Republican president destroying American power, you know things are getting bad.The Hill
"These people either do not believe the U.S. should be a world leader, or they're utterly incompetent," Dana Shell Smith told The New York Times
. Smith was the ambassador to Qatar until she resigned in June.
Aides for Tillerson have also reportedly depleted much of the department's diversity by firing most of the department's leading African-American and Latino diplomats.
Having a diplomatic corps that looks like the world could only help deal with the world, but the Trump administration doesn't want that.
Very few Republicans (Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is an exception) have raised an alarm about this, and that may be related to the fact that they see as their greatest enemies not foreign powers, but their fellow citizens of the opposition party.
In late 2014, I wrote
about the role of the liberum veto in the decline of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a topic that might seem remote until you consider how the paralysis of government that plagued that empire resembled what happened when Republicans became the 'party of no' during the Obama administration.
One aspect that I did not emphasize at the time was that part of the reason for the paralysis was that foreign governments were bribing legislators to use their liberum veto to serve the interests of the commonwealth's enemies.
This has become more relevant as the story of Russian interference in the most recent presidential election unfolds.
Certainly much of what happened in the Polish-Lithuanian Sjem, the commonwealth's legislative body, had to do with divisions within the polity, but part of the problem was the willingness of legislators to advance the interests of other countries with the exercise of their veto.
It showed a lack of patriotism. And part of what we are now experiencing is a lack of patriotism.
This is hardly our first rodeo. Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush, was a director and shareholder of Brown Brothers Harriman, an investment bank set up for German industrialist and Hitler ally Fritz Thyssen, who helped finance Hitler's rise to power. (Thyssen was big in coal and steel, and benefited financially from Hitler's rearmament of Germany, and Brown Brothers Harriman helped him set up front companies to move money around the globe.) BBH was seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act, but strangely was not dissolved to benefit the taxpayers but returned to its stockholders after the war. Far from being prosecuted, Prescott Bush was able to sell his stock for a fortune after the war and used this wealth as a base for his election to the U.S. Senate.
And we all remember that Charles Lindbergh, who was widely praised in Nazi Germany for his efforts to keep America from aiding Britain in its war with Germany and advising America negotiate a neutrality treaty with Germany. When President Roosevelt criticized his position, he resigned his commission as a colonel the the U.S. Army Air Corps. He even considered moving to Germany as late as 1939, but German friends advised against the home he wished to lease because it had been owned by Jews.
Lucky Lindy also had some pretty racist views, but seems to have been motivated more by anticommunism than antisemitism. He was active in a group called America First, a term which has cropped up again in the Trump administration.
The thing is, we had a House Un-American Activities Committee to investigate people suspected of being fellow travelers with Communists, but we never had such an agency to help deal with Quislings.
Those on the right have never felt they had to answer questions about their patriotism, even when they have aided hostile foreign powers. Those on the right seem to get a pass on the issue of patriotism from pretty much everybody. The right was happy to accuse President Barack Obama of deliberately reducing American power, but it now appears those accusations were aspirational, and they were really voicing what they intended to do.
One definition of a political gaffe is "accidentally telling the truth." When Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) said about tax cuts, "My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don't ever call me again,'" he was doing just that. His donors are very rich people who care more about money than about their country. They don't care if the deficit explodes, they don't care if the foreign service is so decimated that foreign ministers don't even know who to talk to at the local embassy.
Because they don't care about their country, they care more about whether a president will sign a tax cut than whether he is destroying American power.
And it's not just the Republican donor class. Many of the votes that put Trump in office were supplied by Americans who hate their fellow Americans so much that they elected Trump to battle against "liberals" with the aid of Russia.
Anyone who talks to conservatives on line has run into people who don't care that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee's emails, as long as it nobbled Hillary Clinton. I've run across some who didn't care that many of the things said during the campaign were lies, because "it worked, didn't it?"
These are people who feel stronger ties to Vladimir Putin's Russia than to Americans in San Francisco. They are more conservative than they are American. The American flag represents something that was new in the world when this country was founded, a nation based on ideals rather than on ethnicity and religion. From the first we imperfectly embodied our ideals, proclaiming that all men are created equal, yet enshrining slavery in the Constitution, but we've made progress over the years, and during the Cold War America came to be seen as a beacon of freedom.
We've come to represent an international order that seeks consensus rather than conquest. Our military adventures have often been either futile or have boomeranged against us, but our soft power has been consistently important and beneficial to the nation.
Trump's treatment of the diplomatic corps shows that he does not understand American power, does not understand why we are seen as the essential nation -- or worse, that he sees this and rejects it, seeking to reduce us to the sort of gangster state Russia has become, a state that prefers conquest to consensus.
by Jamie Lutton
I am worried about the Black Death outbreak in Madagascar, and am thinking about Trump's FEMA response to the disaster in Puerto Rico - how they are linked†
in a chain of unholy possibilities.†
The government† in Matagasgar -- a military junta has been running the country since 2009 - - has been not able to -- or has ignored the 'black death' or bubonic plague outbreaks that happen every year there.† The average citizen in Madagascar lives on less than $600 dollars a year. Even though this country abounds in natural wealth, like gemstones, this money does not filter down to most of the population.†
Bubonic plague has been carried by rats on that island in rural areas for decades.
After the rice harvest is over in the drier highlands,† there is a die-off of rats who endemically carry the bubonic plague. The disease then is carried by hungry fleas to humans, who catch it, from September to April, directly from the fleas of the dying rats.† Rats are so common in rural areas, they are a food source for the people there.†
But this year is different.† This outbreak has come earlier, and is a different form of the plague.†
There is a pneumonic plague outbreak - and instead of hitting the rural areas, the crowded cities are under siege. As of Oct 19, there were about 74 deaths and over 700 cases of this more serious form of the plague. unlike bubonic plague, which 30 to 60% of the victims recover without treatment, 100% of penumonic plague victims die within three days, sometimes 24 hours. There is no pattern of survival with this version, it is as fatal as rabies is.††
This form of the plague seems to have jumped into the population from an untreated case of the bubonic plague.† Or perhaps more than one.† According to the CDC, 10% of the untreated cases of bubonic plague morphs into penumonic plague, so with hindsight,† with so many cases of every year here, this was bound to happen sooner or later. This version of the disease reaches the victim's lungs and is spread from person to person as an aerosol disease, spread by coughing and breathing.†
The Index case seems to have spread it across the country as he took public transportation, a shared cab that he was in for many hours, as people were dropped off and picked up. .He appeared to think he only had a bad cold or case of malaria, util he suddenly died.† †His body was not tested for plague, and was buried without any precautions, or†
with tracing who he had contact with in his trip across the country.† They did not realize they had a plague case until more people had died.†
The†pneumonic plague outbreak there could turn†into an international crisis, like the Ebola†outbreak in 2015 did in Africa, where it† also jumped into cities where it had never been seen before, and into the poor urban population there. As† penumonic plague is spread by breath, coughing or spitting, this is much easier to catch than Ebola is, which is spread mostly by blood contact, as when a body is handled after death or when a caretaker touches the body fluids.†††
The authorities in Madagascar† have closed the schools and many†businesses in the face of this outbreak, which has terrified the local population.†
You can buy antibiotics over the counter in Madagascar, there is no controlover this.† People are dosing themselves like mad, trying to treat this on their own.
Madagascar's care for their poorer citizens has sharply declined in the past 9 years or so, the infrastructure to support public health nurses and doctors has withered away from neglect and a disinclination to spend any money on the health of the people there.†
This is where it can get dicey if a type of pneumonic†plague arises that is resistant to antibiotics, which could happen pretty quickly† since the people are dosing†themselves
with all kinds of antibiotics that they can buy over the counter
There is a type of tuberculosis†that is resistant†to antibiotics as people who had it and were treated with antibiotics did not finish their dose of pills, and a version of this disease†evolved that can not be treated easily, as it† is resistant. And this version of tuberculosis is now spreading all over the world.†
Watch the news. If this disease jumps to Africa, out of Madagascar, into their more crowded and poorer nations, this could be a terrible catastrophe. Thousands could die, if this disease is half as contagious as the seasonal flu.†
What with the 1% writing off the poor nations, and poorer parts of nations, we could all be in trouble This is the price of ignoring the poor, and cutting aid to them, as can be seen in Trump's proposed budget.†
The world is a lot smaller now, with passenger jet travel being quite affordable, international tourism and business trips linking all the major cities to each other, so that a sick person could travel thousands of miles in a day with ease.†
Madagascar was devastated by cyclone Enawo† in March this year, with† 80 dead, and with 276† thousand losing their homes.† This devastation might have triggered this latest outbreak of the plague, as the tens of thousands struggled to rebuild,† and not able to fight dirt and garbage, with their living conditions degraded. We see this after every natural disaster; it is very had to stay clean and control food waste and human waste, which is where rats thrive.†
Does this not sound like the conditions right now in Puerto Rico, where tens of† thousands are driven to drink unsafe water and catching diseases from that water.? We are already seeing† many deaths of dialysis patents and patents on oxygen because there is no electricity to drive the machines that keep them alive.
All it would take would be to have the rats that are already taking advantage of the garbage and chaos to start spreading this disease, or another disease. Haiti, after their last earthquake, now has endemic cholera on the island, brought there by peacekeeping forces from Asia, cholera that was not endemic before.
The plague can be fought - antibiotics we now have can cure it.† But what about other diseases out there?
Epidemic disease like influenza in the Far East, and this disease arises in areas that are dirty and with a lot of poor people crammed together close fleas on rats (or pigs† and chickens, with the flu) and who have governments who do not fund clinics or nursing care for their poor.†
As anyone knows who owns a cat or a dog even in Seattle, pet fleas are damn hard to control - consider what the challenge is for a poor family in Madagascar without ADVANTAGE flea treatment on hand when they are fighting the fleas from the rats that have just died. .†
The black death† has come back in a pandemic every 700 years. During the Justinian Roman Empire in the 680's, the late 1340's in Western Europe, and now this outbreak. Both those previous times, half the known world died.†
Even though we know much more about epidemic disease than doctors did even 100 years ago, when bubonic plague was first analyzed and described correctly,
Every flu season, a version of the flu goes around the world, killing thousands of people who are very young or old, have weak immune systems, or did not get their flu shots, or have complications from other illness.†
What kind of toll will this disease take? And if not this year, next year, as long as the government in Madagascar refuses to take care of their weakest and poorest residents, by finally suppressing the bubonic plague completely.
What disease could arise in Puerto Rico and sweep the world? And if you think I am being an alarmist, 5% of the world died in the flu epidemic of† 1918, which was probably set off by the unsanitary crowded conditions during† World War l.†
And if not this year, what about next?† What will happen in the future in Madagascar, Puerto Rico, or some other neglected and poor corner of the Earth, where the poor have been written off' by the 1% because they are of color, or speak the 'wrong' language?
by John MacBeath Watkins
America is the most successful large Utopian experiment of all time.
Up until its founding, nations were made up of territories where a majority of people belonged to one ethnicity, whose language, religion, customs, and appearance were similar enough that people could recognized their fellow citizens as "one of us."
In contrast, consider this charge against King George III in the Declaration of Independence:
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.Not only were they building a new country not based on ethnicity, they were upset that the king was not allowing them to encourage foreigners -- people who were not English -- to come to this land and become citizens.
America was founded not as an ethno-religious state like those of Europe, but as an experiment in building a society based on reason. Americans would have no king, no nobility, no state religion. People could worship as they saw fit, they could speak their minds, and they could select their leaders -- or, should they find their leaders needed to be removed, they could remove them.
There was nothing else like it in the world. There had been democratic and republican states in the ancient world, but not states without a state religion. Even the Netherlands, governed as a republic after 1649 and considered a bastion of free speech, was an ethnically homogeneous state that had its founding in a war between Catholics and Protestants.
There are countries where more than one language is spoken, such as Switzerland and Belgium, but America never has had an official language. The Pennsylvania Dutch (ethnically†Deutsch, that is, German) developed their own version of German. Our 8th president, Martin Van Buren, spoke Dutch as his first language, as did most of the residents of Kinderhook, N.Y., where he grew up (he was the first president born after the American revolution, therefore the first president born an American citizen.) Thorstein Veblen, one of America's most famous academics and the inventor of the concept of conspicuous consumption, had Norwegian as his first language and only started to learn English when he went to school (he was born in Wisconsin to Norwegian immigrant parents and had plenty of Norwegian-speaking playmates.)
And I frequently get old books in German that were published in Chicago, because many German-speaking communities in America wanted books in their language. The truth is, 18th and 19th century America was more multicultural than melting pot, which was fine, because America was not founded to be an ethnic or religious state. It was intended to be a bold experiment to find a better way for humanity to live together, to reduce conflict and increase happiness. Consider the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
No medieval king or queen would have recognized this as a proper way of governing. The sovereign served God, not the people, and God's earthly representatives gave their approval (or not) to the sovereign's reign.
We have lived so long by the founders' principles that we no longer appreciate how unique the experiment is. Faced with enemies who wish to frame conflicts in ethnic and religious terms, some wish to respond in kind, instead of playing to America's strengths, such as a tolerance of differences that allows us to absorb instead of conquer, and a freewheeling, vibrant culture that attracts others, instead of subjugating people outside of it.
Click on the "rethinking liberalism" label below in red and you'll see a list of posts exploring this heritage.
by John MacBeath Watkins
One of the remarkable things we've seen with the polarization of American politics is the rise of the shibboleth.
A shibboleth is something that defines the identity of a group. The biblical basis for the term is found in Judges 12, when the men of Gilead were fighting the men of Ephraim. It was a rout, and the Ephraimites tried to flee to their homeland, but the Gileadites got to the fords on the Jordan River first.5
And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was†so
, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him,†Art
†thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;†6
Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce†it
†right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.
In this case, it was just a word that the Ephraimites could not pronounce to save their lives, but over time it has come to mean what you say to prove you belong to a group. In many cases, you must say you believe certain things.
For conservative Republicans, shibboleths are things like Birtherism (the claim that President Barack Obama was not born in America,) or claiming to believe that Obama is a Muslim. Another is claiming to not believe in climate change.
No amount of evidence will shift these beliefs, whether it's Obama's long-form birth certificate or the fact the Obama for many years attended a somewhat controversial Christian church. Evidence won't shift such beliefs because they were not adopted based on evidence, or any real notion of objective truth. They were adopted to cement a sense of identity.
Normally, when we think of truth, we think of something so logical, so well supported by evidence, that we cannot help but believe it, even if it is inconvenient to do so. But shibboleths are things that you can choose to believe, because it is convenient, because it establishes your bonafides as a member of a group, or even because it annoys people you don't like (which may also establish you as part of a group.)
In many forms of communication, the intentions of the speaker are of the highest importance. To someone who believes climate change has the potential to wipe out humanity and most of the large animals on earth, those who deny climate change no matter what the evidence is appear to be speaking in bad faith. Those who deny climate change, as near as I can tell, do so as part of their identity. More evidence just appears as an attack on their identity, and continuing to deny climate change provides the satisfaction of pissing off those fucking liberals.
I keep seeing climate change deniers try to show bad faith on the part of the scientists who have actually studied this. In part, this is a tactic of agnotology, the science of creating ignorance, and simply serves those who do not want to stop selling fossil fuels. But in part, it's a matter of both sides thinking they are arguing on the same ground. Those who claim climate change is real offer their proofs as if they matter to the climate deniers, and those who deny climate change assume this is a belief that liberals have adopted as part of their identity.
Conservatives have told me that liberals are pushing the climate change narrative because the solutions are liberal ones, like regulation and international treaties. To me, this is an odd argument. Surely, we are not expected to believe that conservatives will only acknowledge the reality of problems conservatism can solve? And in any case, shown that a problem exists, shouldn't they display the superiority of their ideology by showing us a conservative solution?
But the denier assumes that belief in climate change is as much of a shibboleth to the believer as to the denier. Therefore, to them, the conversation isn't even about evidence. Evidence, to them, is a marker in a game that is really about identity.
by John MacBeath Watkins
Seattle did not have a total eclipse. We were at 91.9 percent, which was enough to give us some spooky light, a drop in temperature, and a bit of an eclipse wind.
I didn't buy the glasses or anything, just relied on standing by a deciduous tree casting a shadow on bare, level ground, in this case the sidewalk. The gaps between the leaves act as pinhole cameras.
After the eclipse came as close to totality as Seattle would see, I drove to work, watching the progress of the moon over the sun in the images case by trees along the way. When I arrived in Ballard, the eclipse was almost over, and the images cast on the sidewalk there were becoming less sharp-edged.
A kind soul allowed me to look through his eclipse glasses, but I didn't get an image of that.
When I got to work, Beau didn't greet me as I came in. I found him hiding in one of the aisles, looking a little shaken. Cats don't get a warning for these things.
I used to race against a 6 meter sailboat that was named Eclipse, and had an image of the sun painted on the waterline. As it heeled, it eclipsed that sun image, but not this way:
by John MacBeath Watkins
The way the word "truth" is used in ordinary language, it seems to mean, "that which I believe without question." Yet it is often discussed as if it were something outside of human consciousness, a sort of metaphysical monster that guarantees that we will have something to hang onto in a world of conflicting claims.
But what if, like other words, it is simply one of the categories we use to think with? Would that make it any less essential or powerful?
Compare this to property. We know that property is not objects, which exist whether they are owned or not. Property is a concept that allows us to build customs and institutions that regulate the desire to possess things, and reduce conflict over who gets to use what.
by John MacBeath Watkins
We must, without further delay, label participants in Donald Trump's Russia collusion "the Inept Clown Posse."
Watergate had a compelling name, especially when you consider that the water gate to the Tower of London is also known as "Traitor's Gate."
Prisoners were brought by barge along the Thames
, passing under London Bridge
, where the heads of recently executed prisoners were displayed on pikes. Notable prisoners such as Sir Thomas More
entered the Tower by Traitors' Gate.
The people who committed the "third-rate burglary" at the Watergate Hotel also had a water-themed name: The plumbers.
Once we've labeled the Inept Clown Posse, we can start working on a name for the scandal as a whole. So far, we don't have a colorful geographic label for it, like Watergate or Teapot Dome. The Trump Collusion, provided that collusion is proven (and many claim that the Donald Trump Jr. meeting to receive proffered Russian government help in the election has settled that issue) has a certain, Robert Ludlum-y, "The Subject Predicate" feel to it.
Language gives us the categories we use to think about things. The connotations of the terms we use -- the feelings we associate with the words -- are an important part of the way the label resonates with listeners.
Trump yearns to dominate every relationship. Calling him and his co-conspirators the inept clown posse points to the greatest source of his weakness, his own incompetence and that of some of the people on whom he relies most heavily. The Trump Collusion encapsulates the problem, and has an appropriately third-rate pulp spy novel feel that goes to the heart of Trump's willingness to court the aid of Russia, a country the last Republican nominee for president called our "number one geopolitical foe."
Trump, and many in the Republican Party, saw his Democratic opponent as his biggest political foe, and defined a hostile foreign power as an acceptable ally in defeating her. This willingness to accept the aid of a foreign enemy †against his domestic opponent shows that he cares less about being an American than about beating an American. †The most likely reason he hasn't released his income taxes is that they would show how dependent he is on Russian money, and demonstrate to all those willing to see that he places his own avarice over the good of his country.
Now, I'm not claiming Inept Clown Posse is definitely the perfect label for him and his enablers. It does fail to capture his subservient behavior toward Vladimir Putin, or his adoration of people like Putin who have managed to eliminate the democratic limits on their power. But I submit that at least for now, it carries the right connotations to make him an object of ridicule, which is one of the worst things that can happen to a would-be strong man.
by John MacBeath Watkins
As a bookseller, my knowledge of what really happened in the interaction between the Trump campaign and the Russians is no better than yours, dear reader, but I know how Robert Ludlum†would have written it.
First of all, to appeal to the prurient interest of the reader, the Russian kompromat tapes of Trump paying prostitutes to pee on each other on the bed he knew Barack and Michelle Obama slept in would have to be real.
Second, Trump's unwillingness to make public his income taxes would have to be because they would show that without Russian money, he's bankrupt and destitute. And they would provide enough clues to set the special prosecutor on his trail for money laundering for the Russian mob.
Third, Donald Trump's July 7 meeting with Vladimir Putin would have gone badly. He urged his staff to come up with "deliverables" that would satisfy Putin, even though he had been unable to lift the sanctions on Russia, as he had promised, but Putin wasn't satisfied.