Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation


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Gerrymandering: Surprises lurk in the shadows

 

The House is, for all that every member is up for re-election every two years, not likely to flip to Democratic control any sooner than 2022, and probably not even then. The reason is simple, the party in power gets to stack the deck every time the census comes around. Gerrymandering doesn’t have to happen, the politicians do it that way to prevent random cases of democracy breaking out.

But there is no way to gerrymander the senate. Each state gets two senators, and they are elected at large. There is not way to rig the game to make sure one side isn’t given a fair chance to win.

The clearest example I know of is California.

 

Calif voting record

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California is, by the numbers, a fairly blue state. 2/3rds of her voters voted for Obama.  What does her House delegation look like? These days it’s pretty close to those numbers; prior to the passage of Prop. 20, in 2008, that wasn’t the case.

What does that mean for the next president (who needs to have some support, somewhere, if anything productive is going to happen)?  That, as they say, depends. Incumbency is a pretty powerful thing. Lots of people say “turn the bums out”, but when pressed think their bum is ok.  I remember, some years back, being at a party. It was a party full of Quakers. Of liberal Quakers. Liberal Quakers who had David Dreier as their Representative.

The host of the party, a moderately liberal Quaker, had a David Dreier yard sign, in 2002. When asked why he said, “He’s done good things for Monrovia”.  That’s the power of incumbency.

But, lots of states have so gerrymandered their House districts that the Senate is at greater risk. Looking at the House Delegations (and remembering incumbency) seats look safer than they are.  But years of being disenfrachised, on the one hand, and the present level of disarray in the Republican Party had already put some Senate seats in moderate play.

Then Scalia died. The level of obdurate, obviously partisan, obstructionism the Senate got a huge spotlight.  The Senate, you see is supposed to be above that sort of thing (not that they have been for, at least 20 years) but before this they could appeal to the “Senate’s tradition of bipartisanship” and folks would believe it.  The real problem is there was a bout of this a few years ago, which was resolved with the “Gang of 14” who were supposed to see to it that, so long as no “extreme” judges were nominated, there would be “up or down votes” on nominees.

That failed. It very quickly became obvious that the definition of “Extreme” was anything to the left of Roberts.

But the public could ignore than when it was Federal judges being stymied. The crises at the district (and circuit) levels isn’t that visible to most people. The one time they pay attention to the recommendations of the Senate Judicial Committees is when there is a Supreme Court nominee.

Which couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Republican Party.

Because the question of who gets to appoint justices to the Supreme Court is usually theoretical. It’s something policy wonks worry about, but most people don’t watch the court closely enough to consider it. They see nominations as random. They don’t look at actuarial tables and wonder who is likely to die.  This year it’s right there, in the open.  And those blue states with Red Senators… suddenly have a big reminder of how much their vote matters.

 


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Making things

I have a Patreon, mostly to deal with writing about making things. I’m not sure how much political ramblings would go over. On the one hand, keeping different platforms for different things seems to be a recipe to let some things slide, on the other there is something to be said for keeping those things more likely to irritate paying customers to a minimum.

The other aspect is, of course, that I shall probably start to delay the release of things I write; so as to give some incentive to supporting most of what I have to offer, which is writing, and putting the political up on a delay seems counter to the purpose. I do know that having sat myself down to write about this and that was inspiring to write more about other things, so it’s also a case of habit (though I really don’t like the keyboard on the Dell Envy. I may fire up the Pavillion and use it as a writing platform; use this for games and photo editing).

So this isn’t going away, but if you like this, and feel like putting a bit in the tip jar, there’s now a place to do that.

 

https://www.patreon.com/Pecunium


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He’s not a dove, he’s not a hawk: Trump’s a thug

A couple of weeks ago Salon had a piece up saying we need to consider Trump’s foreign policy ideas because they were “better than Hillary’s”†

In the first place it’s not true. The keystone of this is the idea Trump opposed The Iraq War in 2003. He didn’t. He opposed the way it was run, but he didn’t think it was a bad idea. It was, in fact, perfectly in line with his way of thinking. Soup to nuts.  He never has had any grasp of how the world works. His ideas about diplomacy are little more developed than that of a mid-level mob-capo trying to keep three blocks of Little Italy paying his bag men every Friday.

Even earlier, when it was rumored he was thinking of trying to run against GHWB for the 1988 race, he ran an “open letter to the American People” he was willing to spent almost $100,000 (which was a lot more money back then) to say,

It’s time for us to end our vast deficits by making Japan, and other who can afford it, pay. Our world protection is worth hundreds of billions of billion of dollars to these countries and their stake in their protection is far greater than ours…

Make Japan, Saudi Arabia, and others pay for the protection we extend as allies. Let’s help our farmers, our sick, our homeless by taking from some of the greatest profit machines ever created — machines created and nutured by us.  ‘Tax’ these wealthy nations, not America. End our huge deficits, reduce our taxes, and let America’s economy grow unencumbered by the cost of defending those who can easily afford to pay us for the defense of their freedom.  Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.

In 1988, two years before Desert Storm he said we should be squeezing Kuwait for 25 percent of their oil revenues because, they couldn’t sell any oil without us.  That’s, to be polite, a hegemonic imperialism. To use plain-language, over the circumlocutions of diplomacy… his view of foreign policy is, “nice little economy you got here, be a shame if anything was to happen to it”.

He’s talked about assassinating leaders he doesn’t like.

When it comes to domestic policy… The reason Putin likes him is Trump thinks China was too restrained when the machined-gunned students protesting in Tiananmen.

When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.

This is in keeping with his rhetoric about protestors at his rallies, where he says things about how in the past they would have been leaving on stretchers.

This is not a person who is, in contrast to anyone the Democrats have entertained as a candidate can be called any sort of “less adventuresome”.  Trump doesn’t have a specific country he want’s to invade.  No, he thinks he can threaten our “enemies”, bully our neighbors (Mexico is not paying for a wall), and extort our “allies”.

He’s no dove. He’s not a hawk. He’s a toddler, who wants you to think it’s reasonable to give him a sawed-off shotgun, with a hair trigger.

†Salon is a confused mess; there are often good stories, but since it’s both a place of original content, and a content farm repackaging things from other places, married to a clickbait site recycling things with lurid/sensational headlines it’s impossible to say they have any coherent stand on things. The New Republic may be fetid swill, but at least they have a coherent band of thinking.

The best example I can think of to show this editorial instability is the way they deal with the Daily Show since Trevor Noah took over. It’s been a mix of “Noah is killing it” and “OMG the Daily Show has been ruined by this inept poser who doesn’t really understand politics, humor, nor the need to go for the throat, woe is us!”.  Often in the same sidebar.


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Donald Trump and the politics of torture

I guess, like Arlo Guthrie, doing the chorus again in concert, it’s come ’round again on the guitar.

I ain’t proud.

Donald Trump is a moron. Not in the sense that he’s stupid. He’s not. He’s a canny bastard, and a pretty good politician (in an age where “politics” has long moved from The Art of the Possible” to the realm of the panderer; appealing to prejudice has always been a useful tool to the candidate,  but it’s rarely been required to keep the office, once gained. That’s a whole ‘nother topic).

This however is either ignorant; beyond belief, or evil.

Blitzer brought up Salah Abdeslam — a chief suspect in the Paris attack who was detained last week and who it has been speculated might have connections to the Brussels attackers — and asked Trump whether he would begin “torturing him right away,” since Belgian authorities have said Abdeslam was already talking to investigators.

“He may be talking, but he’ll talk faster with the torture,” Trump said, suggesting torture could have prevented Tuesday attacks which have left at least 30 people dead.

The amount of wrong in that sentence is massive. The errors are layered, from top to bottom, like sheets of pastry, and it only gets worse as he goes on. Extracting information is something I’m good at.  I did it for a few years as a journalist.  I did it for more years as an Army interrogator. On top of those skills I spent years teaching others how to do it.  I understand the theory, and practice, of interrogation a lot better than he does.

If Abdselam was talking, there wasn’t anything to do to “make him talk faster, and, contra Trump (and the Right Wing Wurlitzer) this is wrong too:

“I would be willing to bet that he knew about this bombing that took place today,” Trump said. “We have to be smart. It’s hard to believe we can’t waterboard which is — look, nothing’s nice about it but, it’s your minimal form of torture. We can’t waterboard and they can chop off heads. “

That is 100 percent what’s wrong with torture as a tool. Trump is sure Abdselam knew about Brussels. How is he sure?  Well Abdselam is Muslim, and he is supposed to have taken part in a different attack; hundreds of miles away, with people who had no connection to the attack on Brussels, but he’s a Muslim so…

Even if Abdselam were aware of the Brussels attack how would Trump get it out of him?  How would Trump know to ask? That’s the main problem, one can’t just say, “what do you know” and get the subject to vomit up the info you want. Assume, for the sake of argument, that Abdselam *did* know about the Brussels attacks. The interrogator doesn’t.

We can also assume, that if he knows, he doesn’t really want to give up the info. Hitting him will only remind him that the info is important. If he knew about them, he also knows there is a time limit. If he holds out long enough either his confederates can get away, or the plan will have been carried out. So where does The Donald start his line of investigation?

Seriously. Where does one start? “Tell us about the other plans!!!!”.

Weak. It tells the subject you don’t know.  He can spin yarns until the plans he does know about are immaterial to the investigation.

“Tell us about the people you know in…”  Where?  How does one choose where to start?  He was arrested for attacks on Paris. Logic implies that any information he is guaranteed to have is about things in Paris. Ok, he’s Belgian. Maybe he is involved in something happening in Belgium.  Maybe the five months he’s not been caught after Paris have convinced him it’s safe to go back to plotting.  But against whom?  His MO is to work some distance from home (which is not a bad MO, if one can bland into the local environment; there is less chance of being IDed by someone at the scene, which means other leads have to be followed. If one is careful one’s odds of avoiding capture go up, a lot).

So how does one choose what line of investigation to start?  Which is the answer the victim is refusing to yield? Which, “I don’t now about that” is the lie which justifies torture?  When the victim *is* ignorant, and honesty leads to pain, what will keep them to telling the truth when just giving in and confessing to the required crime will stop the pain?

Because that is what will happen. One of the principle part of SERE school, where pilots and aircrew are trained in what it’s like to be tortured, is that everyone breaks.  Everyone. Even when it’s known that the tortures are part of the drill, and one won’t be maimed, much less killed, they all break. So why do our politicians, and pundits, pretend that “bad guys” are different?

Because it sells. Because there aren’t enough people holding them to account. Because part of the narrative is comforting. The fable that we can be protected, if only we have the resolve to “do what must be done.” It’s a convenient lie, that safety can actually be created by force of will. It can’t. Bad actors will figure out how to do bad things.

If you don’t believe me just look at prisons. In environments where the state has total control, weapons are made, assaults; even to the point of murder, are committed. Conspiracies for revolt are made, and carried out. If we can’t stop it in places where the populace is constrained, contained, and enslaved, what makes us think torturing a small subset of those who are freely able to move will?

Fear sells. Torture advocates (you can’t call them apologists when they use the word, and say we need to do the deeds) are selling fear, and fear is like yeast, once you put it in the dough, it won’t stop so long as it is fed.

 

 

*though like him I’m tired, even if I’ve not been singing the song quite as long.


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Navel gazing

Today was a day of difference.  We started by meeting Merav’s parents’ friend/guide near the Jaffa Gate, and heading to the Churches of the Holy Sepulchre. Off we went, left turn on to the street of the Greek Patriarchate and then right past the Cloisters of the Greek Orthodox, and into the plaza in front of the complex which is the Holy Sepulchre.

The Holy Sepulchre, as with all the other churches in Jerusalem is a mishmash of tradition, legend, and superstition. The story is Helena, Constantine’s mother, came to Jerusalem to poke about and found not only his tomb, but the crosses of both Jesus and the Two Brigands. Conveniently the tomb was right by the crosses (she tested the veracity of them by touching sick people. One of them healed people, the others did not, ergo she had found, The True Cross).

On top of all that she found the slab of stone on which Christ’s body was prepared for burial, and the tomb of Adam.

It’s no more plausible than George Washington and the Cherry Tree, or Alfred and the Cakes. Which is fine by me. I dont think the point of all this isn’t to see the actual sites (which, absent a whole lot of evidence which would have already come to light, ages ago. The point is that Jesus death, if not his life, was tied up with Jerusalem.  If one wants a sense of place, to engage in communion with that sense of place, one needs a focus.

The churches (and there are many, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic, each jealously guarding the piece of turf they have staked out, and arguing about who gets to do what, where, and when), manage to do that. These have been places of pilgrimage for going on 1600 years (that’s for the Christians, add the people who came through here on their way to Jerusalem; for any of the three festivals one was supposed to hie oneself to the Temple to observe, and it’s connections stretch back no one can know how long).

It’s a variation on the only heretical scene “The Last Temptation of Christ”, where Paul declaims the actual life, or death, of Jesus is immaterial because the message is what matters.
I didn’t come to Israel as a pilgrim. I came to visit family. On the other hand it IS is a place of pilgrims, and this is a week for pilgrimage. So we went; I’m the only Christian in the family, and I’m not much for performative religiosity. I am not going to bend down to kiss things, nor climb the Spanish Steps on my knees. What I do take to heart is continuity, so putting my hands in the deep hollow on the door, trailing along the wide, dark, band of stained stone; crossing the incised graffiti carved by others heading all the way down to the purported location of the true cross… those are meditative, connective; Communal.

The shared sense of what the teachings in Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles are what tie the various sects of Christianity together. Climbing the stairs to the Chapels overlooking the Stone of Unction the common threads are visible. The Catholic Chapel is cheek by jowl with the Greek Orthodox, where Armenians, Russian Orthodox, Lutherans, Romans, Greeks, Baptists, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Quakers, et alia, all make their personal acts of worship; or observation.

I stood, as in the Women’s Gallery of an Orthodox Shul, listening to the Greek Orthodox liturgy below me, joining in the responsorial Kyrie Elieson: one with the entire body of the faithful.

That, I think, is the thing I was trying to sort out before, how the thread which warps its way from Judaism, to Christianity; and also to Islam, binds up the separate warps of our personal beliefs, bound in the passage of the years, and the variations of the weft spun by our different creeds. It’s all tied up in this city. Even for the devoted, who like myself, are not very devout.

It is, by virtue of historical accident, the Omphalos of the world for something like one third of humanity. That sense of connection  to the rest of humankind, not the fripperies of the fables told of the churches here (be they the Temple, The Dome of the Rock, or the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre) are, I have come to see, what I ended up making pilgrimage to find.

For the moment, I can rest my scallop on the mantlepiece.


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The mind goes where it will

Israel is small, in the same way California isn’t.

Much of what people think of as “California” is in a narrow zone, not more than 50 miles from the sea. Much of what people (or at least I) want to see is within fifty miles of Jerusalem. It’s not that I don’t want to see the Negev, I do. I love the desert, but desert abides and I can carry *my* desert with me. A brief sojourn in another desert is much like feeding a sourdough starter; the calmness the expanse of desert gives me is renewed.

People talk of how looking at the vastness of the sky makes them feel small an insignificant in comparison to the empty vastness of space.  Not me.  I look at the sky and feel enlarged. So There is so much out there that EVERYTHING is insignificant, so I am equal to galaxies. I am become the universe. Not so the desert. The Desert is unforgiving in a way “space” isn’t.  No one ends up in space without preparing.  One can’t just hop on a horse, jump in the car, walk out of town, into “space”.

But “The Desert”?  It’s right there (or was, when I lived in Calif.)  All it took to be in the sere and sandy “wastes” was a couple of hours. But being in the desert, where the wind sweeps from the dry interior to the drier area behind the hills which gird the peopled piedmont, that makes you feel small. The desert will kill you. Water?  It’s there, but you have to know where it is, and how to get it. Food?  The same.  Shelter?  Non-trivial.  But people live there.  People have lived there since time immemorial. Learning how to avoid dying there was something I started doing when I was about nine.

Sitting three miles up Rattlesnake Canyon, with a plan to head up toward Chair Rock, and down the backside, over toward Boy Scout Trail and back to Indian Cove… that takes planning. In that trek you will walk across deep sand, up narrow draws, across open rock faces; and over boulders. Scramble, and climb and saunter. By turns you will cold and overheated. You will sit in the sun to warm yourself, and hide in the shade to cool off.

It sounds trite, but the desert will test you. It’s not that the desert hates you. The desert doesn’t care. No place cares, but the forest, or the city, or the plains don’t seem to be so open about it. The desert makes you feel small because you have to plan for everything. The cold of winter, the heat of summer. The bites and stings of bugs, snakes, scorpions and plants.

In exchange… you get nothing.

And nothing is wonderful. You can sit, where the wind is all you hear, look down from some rocky fastness, and think. You can hie yourself to where the only evidence of humanity is the odd contrails of people in planes, thousands of feet above you.

Introspection is possible there as no place else I’ve been. I understand the desert  hermits. It’s not that god is any closer in the quiet places, it’s that they were.

Which wasn’t what I meant to talk about at all.


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I am as a stranger in a strange land

I’ve been in Jerusalem for about a week. It’s sort of like my trips to Germany… I don’t speak the language (and unlike Germany I can’t really decipher the signage; except that most f them here are tri-lingual, so I can * but not with any rapidity). As with Germany I don’t mark as being foreign (I suspect the beard I’ve grown since Sept. last, married to my hat-wearing habits, has something to do with this. {photo}), so I get a lot of Hebrew tossed at me when I do things like go for my morning coffee. This means I don’t feel out of place when walking about (which I sort of did when in Korea), but am at a moderate disadvantage when dealing with random interactions (which was not true in trips to Ukraine).
Jerusalem. Setting aside any religious sentiment I might have, it’s a city pregnant with meaning.  I was reared in the USA. I am a grandchild of Europe and a student of history. That, in itself will color one’s views. When Reagan said the US was a City on a Hill, he was making reference to Jerusalem. When people use the metaphor of “Crusade” it refers to Jerusalem. For a good three thousand years the ability to control trade has meant people fought for control of the city on these hills.

That’s on top of the religious significance three different groups attached to it. Which significance led to Rome’s most troubled province, and the revolt it had the hardest time suppressing **. Jerusalem was seen as the center of the world for a large part of the history which shapes the culture Westerners grow up in.

The same way being a Native English Speaker makes London something of a mental homeland, so too does being reared with a European perspective give a strange sense of place to Jerusalem.

But it’s more than that. We are here to visit family. My wife’s cousin has a son who is turning thirteen. We are here for his Bar Mitzvah.  So Israel, which is more than just Jerusalem is place to which I have a direct connection. A connection to which my christian sensibilities also disconnects, in more than a few ways.

But I am also, in many ways, a Californian. How does that relate?  The landscape, and the weather, are like unto  that of “home” (where home is that place one feels innately at ease, just by virtue of being present).  We went to Qumran, and thence to Masada. It was a day of rarity. Neither of our guides had ever been to the Dead Sea on a day of rain.  In Jerusalem the rain came down in buckets. In the wild hills above the sea there we had some rain and the smell of water on dusty rocks. Setting aside my views of the interpretations of the totality of the Dead Sea Scrolls *** I could see myself living a moderately hermetic life in the area. The climate, the smell, the appearance are all of piece to the places in Joshua Tree where I was wont to retire to collect my thoughts, when I was living in South-ish California. The hill about Judea, are as those I lived in San Luis Obispo, and wandered when I lived in the San Gabriel, and San Fernando Valleys.  Israel looks like home.

The day before we were in the Old City; though we didn’t go to the Christian Quarter (and I am mixed on visiting it, as I was already seeing pilgrims heading into Israel last week, and next week is Holy Week; which means crowds, married to the decided risk of encountering the sort of Fundamentalist American Christians I don’t enjoy being around when they are home. I don’t know how tolerant I can be of them here ****). But we went to the area of the Hulda Gate, and wandered the layered ruins, running a mixed gamut from the Umayyids, to the Second Temple and the Byzantines, and the Outre Mer and some First Temple. My spiritual landscape piled in heaps; with bits of order in the rubble.

Standing on the far edge of the Valley of the Cross, looking at the geography all the military history I’ve read: from the accounts in Kings, and Numbers, to Josephus,  and then the Crusades, and Lawrence, and Allenby and the War of Independence; et sequelae… all of it made plain by the way the hills, and walls, control the valleys. It’s a nexus; all trade passing here is controllable. That, married to religion, has made this small patch of dirt a cockpit for not less than 3,000 years.

Which brings us back to Masada, not the Masada of landscape
It’s a lot to digest.

 

 

*which is, like a Rosetta Stone, helping me acquire the skills to decipher the signs
** which is a large, if not the greatest, reason for the anti-semitism in the Gospels. Rome was REALLY pisssed at Judea. They expelled all the Jews from the province, and renamed it Palestinia. They tore out all the trees, and gave it over to grazing, changing the landscape, creating desert and altering the climate. They were doing this while the Ur-text of the Gospels were being written. Sympathetic treatments of Jews weren’t going to be any help in converting Romans to Christianity, but I digress.

*** I don’t think they are all the work of the sect in Qumran.  I think de Vaux engaged in a lot of overreach as he ascribed all the discovred texts to Qumran, and tried to shoehorn some very divergent ideas into a coherent whole. I think either they were texts brought with candidates to the group, and so discarded as not relevant (with the option to be reclaimed if they decided the community was not for them), or they were the valuable objects of people who were fleeing the chaos further North as rebellion approached, then raged.

**** I already had to bite my tongue at Katros’ House where someone tried to engage me in the horrors of American Divisions; given that they were giving off a strong Fundamentalist vibe.