Monday, February 24, 2020

Concerning Michael Bloomberg and farmers . . .

. . . which we've previously addressed here and here, I received this image over the weekend via e-mail (origin unknown).

Makes sense to me.  When I look at the size of Michael Bloomberg's fortune (over $60 billion, by all accounts), I have to ask how much "dirt" went into amassing so great an amount.  If it all happened without a single lapse in ethics or honesty, and entirely within the law, I'll go out and buy a hat so that I can eat it!

(Of course, the same applies to most large fortunes, irrespective of the political affiliations and/or ambitions of their owners.  I daresay a certain amount of skullduggery was involved in all of them.)


The "ruling class" are losing their grip

Tucker Carlson addressed the issue last week.  This five-minute clip is well worth your time.

Andrew Codevilla, whom we've often met in these pages, discussed the "ruling class" a decade ago.  His insights then are as valid today as always.

Never has there been so little diversity within America’s upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America’s upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and “bureaucrat” was a dirty word for all. So was “social engineering.” Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday’s upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.

Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters — speaking the “in” language — serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America’s ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.

The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century’s Northerners and Southerners — nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, “prayed to the same God.” By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God “who created and doth sustain us,” our ruling class prays to itself as “saviors of the planet” and improvers of humanity. Our classes’ clash is over “whose country” America is, over what way of life will prevail, over who is to defer to whom about what. The gravity of such divisions points us, as it did Lincoln, to Mark’s Gospel: “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

. . .

At stake are the most important questions: What is the right way for human beings to live? By what standard is anything true or good? Who gets to decide what? ... This dismissal of the American people’s intellectual, spiritual, and moral substance is the very heart of what our ruling class is about. Its principal article of faith, its claim to the right to decide for others, is precisely that it knows things and operates by standards beyond others’ comprehension.

. . .

In sum, our ruling class does not like the rest of America. Most of all does it dislike that so many Americans think America is substantially different from the rest of the world and like it that way. For our ruling class, however, America is a work in progress, just like the rest the world, and they are the engineers.

. . .

The ruling class’s appetite for deference, power, and perks grows. The country class disrespects its rulers, wants to curtail their power and reduce their perks. The ruling class wears on its sleeve the view that the rest of Americans are racist, greedy, and above all stupid. The country class is ever more convinced that our rulers are corrupt, malevolent, and inept. The rulers want the ruled to shut up and obey. The ruled want self-governance. The clash between the two is about which side’s vision of itself and of the other is right and which is wrong. Because each side — especially the ruling class — embodies its views on the issues, concessions by one side to another on any issue tend to discredit that side’s view of itself. One side or the other will prevail. The clash is as sure and momentous as its outcome is unpredictable.

There's more at the link.

As Tucker Carlson pointed out, we're seeing the "ruling class" losing its grip.  It was first evident in the election of Donald Trump, overriding the "rulers" of the Republican Party.  We're seeing it now in the surge of support for Bernie Sanders, whose supporters typically dislike and distrust the Democratic Party "machine" and see Sanders as a candidate who can transform it, and the country.  In a sense, Sanders is as much a Democratic Party insurgent as Donald Trump was a Republican insurgent.  Trump has effectively taken over the Republican Party machine, both by leading from the top and by grass-roots activism from the ground up.  Can Sanders do the same for the Democratic Party?  That remains to be seen.

Be that as it may, both Trump and Sanders are anathema to the party political machines, of either or both sides.  Either party would much prefer to deal with the "old elites" of the other.  They understood each other, and would make deals to get things done in their mutual best interests (whether or not those were actually in the interest of the country as a whole).  Now that they can't get away with that any longer, they're desperately searching for ways in which to reassert control of the political process.  The mainstream media is a wholly-owned subordinate and co-conspirator in that process.  After all, just six corporations control 90%+ of all media in the United States.  The people controlling those corporations are - guess what? - part of the "ruling class", by any and every definition that matters.  Do their media properties reflect that, and the interests of that class?  Of course they do!

The American people have seen through that public facade.  They no longer believe or trust the mainstream media - on both sides of the political aisle.  Its deceptions and self-serving manipulation of the news have become so blatant that they're obvious, and no-one in his right mind believes any longer that they're objective sources of information.  The ruling class has not yet been able to come up with any other way of controlling public opinion, and in their desperation to do so, they're becoming ever more blatant and shrill in their repetition of the same tired old inanities.  Trouble is (from their perspective), not many people are listening.


"The Roots of Our Partisan Divide"

That's the title of a long and very interesting article by Christopher Caldwell.  Basically, he argues that a culture of "civil rights" has usurped, and threatens to overthrow (and may perhaps already have overthrown) the constitutional foundation of our republic.  I'm going to quote from it at some length, in an attempt to capture the essence of his argument.

But it is a third strand of the story, running all the way down to our day, that is most important for explaining our partisan polarization. It concerns how the civil rights laws of the 1960s, and particularly the Civil Rights Act of 1964, divided the country. They did so by giving birth to what was, in effect, a second constitution, which would eventually cause Americans to peel off into two different and incompatible constitutional cultures. This became obvious only over time. It happened so slowly that many people did not notice.

. . .

What I am talking about are the emergency mechanisms that, in the name of ending segregation, were established under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These gave Washington the authority to override what Americans had traditionally thought of as their ordinary democratic institutions. It was widely assumed that the emergency mechanisms would be temporary and narrowly focused. But they soon escaped democratic control altogether, and they have now become the most powerful part of our governing system.

. . .

To put it bluntly, the effect of these civil rights laws was to take a lot of decisions that had been made in the democratic parts of American government and relocate them to the bureaucracy or the judiciary ... The problem is that when the work of the civil rights legislation was done ... these new powers were not suspended or scaled back or reassessed. On the contrary, they intensified. The ability to set racial quotas for public schools was not in the original Civil Rights Act, but offices of civil rights started doing it, and there was no one strong enough to resist. Busing of schoolchildren had not been in the original plan, either, but once schools started to fall short of targets established by the bureaucracy, judges ordered it.

Affirmative action was a vague notion in the Civil Rights Act. But by the time of the Supreme Court’s 1978 Bakke decision, it was an outright system of racial preference for non-whites.

. . .

Finally, civil rights came to dominate—and even overrule—legislation that had nothing to do with it ... Civil rights law had made it impossible for Americans to get what they’d voted for through their representatives, leading to decades of political strife ... More and more areas of American life have been withdrawn from voters’ democratic control and delivered up to the bureaucratic and judicial emergency mechanisms of civil rights law. Civil rights law has become a second constitution, with powers that can be used to override the Constitution of 1787.

. . .

So overpowering is the hegemony of the civil rights constitution of 1964 over the Constitution of 1787, that the country naturally sorts itself into a party of those who have benefitted by it and a party of those who have been harmed by it.

Let’s say you’re a progressive. In fact, let’s say you are a progressive gay man in a gay marriage, with two adopted children. The civil rights version of the country is everything to you. Your whole way of life depends on it. How can you back a party or a politician who even wavers on it? Quite likely, your whole moral idea of yourself depends on it, too. You may have marched in gay pride parades carrying signs reading “Stop the Hate,” and you believe that people who opposed the campaign that made possible your way of life, your marriage, and your children, can only have done so for terrible reasons. You are on the side of the glorious marchers of Birmingham, and they are on the side of Bull Connor. To you, the other party is a party of bigots.

But say you’re a conservative person who goes to church, and your seven-year-old son is being taught about “gender fluidity” in first grade. There is no avenue for you to complain about this. You’ll be called a bigot at the very least. In fact, although you’re not a lawyer, you have a vague sense that you might get fired from your job, or fined, or that something else bad will happen. You also feel that this business has something to do with gay rights. “Sorry,” you ask, “when did I vote for this?” You begin to suspect that taking your voice away from you and taking your vote away from you is the main goal of these rights movements. To you, the other party is a party of totalitarians.

And that’s our current party system: the bigots versus the totalitarians.

There's much more at the linkHighly recommended reading.

I've seen this happen in microcosm in the American penal system.  Convicts are sent to prison both as punishment for their crimes and - perhaps even more important - to safeguard society from their depredations.  However, since the rise of the civil rights culture, pressure groups have used relevant legislation and judicial action to enforce more "humane" treatment for convicts, whether or not it serves any useful correctional purpose, and whether or not it serves either as punishment (or an effective means of rehabilitation) for the perpetrators, or protection for the victims.

I've had many people tell me, even to my face, that prison should be a place of punishment, not a cosseted refuge where criminals can relax while planning their future crimes.  We hear jokes about the so-called easy-going conditions in Federal prisons - "Club Fed".  Most people don't know that those conditions were mandated by courts, which have required the Bureau of Prisons to provide amenities, facilities and protection for "inmate rights" that were not originally built into the system - and, in many peoples' opinion, never should have been.  The BOP had no choice.  The "civil rights culture" was used against it.  To this day it's forced to spend a large part of its budget - paid by taxpayers, you and I, let me remind you - to satisfy those demands.  That's also why it has to maintain a large staff of in-house lawyers, to deal with litigation from inmates.

Inmates know - and pressure groups are quick to remind them - that they can use civil rights laws to demand, and sometimes get, privileges to which they would otherwise not be entitled.  Failing that, they can use lawsuits to harass "the system" and force it to spend hours, days or weeks of staff time in responding to their nuisance suits.  (Here's just one extreme example, out of many I could cite.)  The authorities are forced (by the courts) to provide law libraries for them, so that they can spend their days figuring out what lawsuits to file and how best to manipulate the system.  I've watched them do it, day in, day out.  Some even tried to ask me for suggestions as to what grounds they could use to "sue the Man" for more benefits.  "[In 2014], more than 32,000 lawsuits were filed in federal courts from inside prison walls — 11% of all civil cases.  More than 6,200 so-called in forma pauperis cases were on the Supreme Court's docket in June [2015] — 77% of the total."

I see exactly the same culture pervade our society as a whole.  Look at what's happened to President Trump since his election.  Any and every group and individual that's disagreed with one or more of his policies has turned to the courts to block their implementation.  With the help of liberal, civil-rights-oriented judges, they've succeeded in imposing significant delays on many of his efforts, even if they haven't been able to overturn them.  The forces behind such efforts are also loudest in their condemnation of President Trump's efforts to appoint judges who will exercise their office in accordance with the Constitution, rather than from a civil-rights-culture perspective.  They appear to be terrified of what may happen if he gets to appoint a larger conservative majority to the Supreme Court - witness the liberal "panic" when Justice Ginsburg became seriously ill, and was feared to be at death's door.

I think Mr. Caldwell has advanced a very rational opinion in his article, and in his book on the same subject.

Both are worthy of attention, IMHO.  I'll be buying his book, to read more about his perspective.  From what I've seen so far, he appears to make a good case.


Sunday, February 23, 2020

Sunday morning music

A few weeks ago, friend, fellow author and fellow blogger Cedar Sanderson sent me a link to the video clip below.  It features the guqin, an ancient Chinese zither-like instrument that defies precise comparison with Western instruments.  It's a lovely piece.

Wikipedia describes the guqin as follows:

The guqin is a plucked seven-string Chinese musical instrument of the zither family. It has been played since ancient times, and has traditionally been favoured by scholars and literati as an instrument of great subtlety and refinement, as highlighted by the quote "a gentleman does not part with his qin or se without good reason," as well as being associated with the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius. It is sometimes referred to by the Chinese as "the father of Chinese music" or "the instrument of the sages".

Intrigued, I looked for more information about the video clip above.  It's from the Zi de Guqin Studio, which offers more videos on their YouTube channel.  Unfortunately they don't have an English-language Web site, but they do have social media posts on Chinese web sites, which you'll find linked beneath some of their videos on YouTube.

Here's another video from the studio's channel, giving a broader perspective on their work.

Finally, just for fun, here's a short video from the studio, coupling a theme song with a few cats for good measure!

It looks like Chinese kittens are just as rambunctious as their Western counterparts . . .


Saturday, February 22, 2020

Saturday Snippet: Between silk and cyanide

One of the most remarkable autobiographies to come out of World War II was that of Leo Marks, who became the code specialist for Special Operations Executive (SOE), the clandestine operations department set up by Winston Churchill with the directive to "set Europe ablaze".  SOE supplied arms, money and operators to resistance movements all over occupied Europe and throughout the Far East.  It made many mistakes and experienced many failures, but grew into a massive organization that made a measurable contribution to victory.

Many years after the war, Marks wrote about his SOE experiences.  He battled for almost a decade to get official clearance for his book (which talked about encoding and code-breaking methods that had not hitherto been discussed - some of them devised by him.  Many are still in use, and still secret.)  Eventually, "Between Silk and Cyanide" was published in 1998, shortly before his death.

The book got its name due to the need to provide codes to agents that could not easily be detected during body searches by the German occupying forces.  Marks wanted them printed on silk, which won't make a noise when patted down, and is so thin it can't be detected by feel when it's sewn between layers of other clothing.  In this excerpt, Marks explains how he sold the idea to his (very senior) superiors at SOE.  They were initially unimpressed, because silk was a vital strategic material during wartime, with huge demand for limited supplies.  He'd have to be convincing.

"Since you're here," Courtauld said wearily, "you'd better explain why these lollipops or whatever they're called have to be on silk."

If I had a lollipop I knew precisely where I'd stick it.  In lieu of such a luxury, I leaned forward and, before Courtauld could stop me, or I could stop myself, ran my hands rapidly over his tunic, beneath his armpits, and as far down his abdomen as propriety permitted.  In case he took this personally, I hastily explained that the Gestapo and the Vichy police cordoned off entire streets without warning and searched everyone in sight.  If he were a Frenchman carrying a code, wouldn't he prefer it to be on silk which groping hands couldn't feel rather than on sheets of paper hidden inside a portable object which they might have time to examine?

His mouth was so wide open that I feared he'd have a stroke.  There was an extraordinary sound from somewhere on my right.

It was Tommy Davies laughing.  "Point taken," he said before I could offer him the same facility.  "It's clear that silk has its advantages ... I presume, Marks, that you've brought some figures with you?"

This was the moment I'd been dreading.  I'd prepared some estimates for them but Hitler's fortune-teller could have done a better job.

"Well?  Have you brought them or haven't you?" demanded Courtauld.

"Yes, sir."

I lifted the estimates from their rain-sodden envelope.  They'd been typed by Muriel as if they were a royal proclamation but each page was covered in manuscript corrections and the ink had run.  Wishing I could join it, I gave the drier copy to the Gestapo (Courtauld), and surrendered the other to the Vichy police.

Watching them cordon off the rest of the world while they searched the pages for concealed common sense was a lesson in concentration I wished I could have shared with all coders.

They reached the last page without complaining about the ink-blots (there were enough for a Rorschach test), then exchanged glances like Gauleiters at the door of a torture chamber.

. . .

They ploughed through the European estimates with growing despair.  Courtauld then gave me a brief lecture on how they should have been prepared which was probably priceless and which I pretended to understand.

Then Davies took over.  "What the devil's this?" he enquired.  " 'Contingencies, various', with none of them stipulated."

"Perhaps they're too confidential to share with us?" suggested Courtauld.

Another mistake.  In attempting to keep the document to consumable length, i hadn't considered what would be important to them.  I rattled off a few of the 'contingencies, various' - How many agents would lose their codes? ... How many replacements would go astray? ... How many [codes] would Secret Armies need?

Davies interrupted sharply.  "Have the country sections agreed to use the bloody things?" he asked.

"They will, sir.  Colonel Nicholls is going to talk to them himself."

"And you'll have a word or so to say, I don't doubt," commented Courtauld.

"Only to fill in the details, sir."  I began explaining why the 'bloody things' would make so much difference to our agents.

"We're not questioning their merits," said Davies, "but the reality of getting silk.  There's a queue a mile long for it."

"You have an excellent case," said Courtauld quietly, "but so have all the others."

How many people with excellent cases have sat in this chair asking them to use their influence to produce the unobtainable?

Davies glanced impatiently at his watch.  Courtauld gave a hardly perceptible nod.  "Well now," said Davies, "if you'd like to leave these figures with us..."

I tried to spot the waste-paper basket, but I was the only one in sight.

"Unless you feel there's something you should add," said Courtauld.

"Yes, sir.  There is."  I wondered how to convince them that silk codes were more than just another 'excellent case'.

The 'hard men' - whom I finally recognized as responsible men seeking hard facts - waited expectantly.  What would jolt them into jumping the queue for the sake of the agents queuing to jump?

I decided to stake the future of our codes on a loaded question.  "Will SOE be allowed to know the date of D-day?"

They looked at me in astonishment.  "Why the devil do you ask that?"

"Because at some stage in the invasion the agents will have to be sent instructions from London."

"What of it?" demanded Courtauld.

"It would be safer for SOE to use Courtauld's code* than the present systems."

Courtauld sat motionless.  Davies rose from his chair.  "What do you know about Courtauld's code?" he thundered.

"That it's a variant of the commercial code, and you use it to minimize the high cost of international cables."

"Who told you about it?" he persisted.

I'd seen a copy in Dad's shop.  "Do I have to answer that, sir?"

"No," said Courtauld heavily.  "We've more important matters to dispose of."  His other half continued to glare at me.

I waited to be disposed of.

"We'll help you all we can," said Courtauld, "though the final decision won't rest with us."

"Far from it," said Davies.

"It will be made by a certain person who has very little time to spare."

"Very little indeed," confirmed Davies.

"It would be a great help to him - and to us - if you could put down on half a sheet of paper the difference silk codes would make to our agents."

"Half a sheet at most!" echoed Davies.

"I think it could be done in a phrase, sir!"  But what?

"Oh?" said Courtauld.  "We'd be interested to hear it."

"It's between silk and cyanide." **

There was a pause.

"Is it now?" said Courtauld softly.

* George Courtauld, mentioned in this excerpt, was before the war a director of Courtaulds, a major British textile and chemical producer.  It used its own code to communicate with its subsidiaries overseas over the public telegraph system.

** Agents usually carried a cyanide capsule to commit suicide if their capture was imminent, rather than face certain torture at the hands of the Gestapo, and the risk of betraying their comrades and their mission.

Not only did that phrase become the title of Marks' book, it was also successful in persuading the powers that be to allocate enough silk to SOE for the printing of their codes and ciphers.  That, in turn, made a major contribution to the safety of their agents in Europe under German occupation.

Marks' book is a remarkable memoir of the 'secret war' that raged across Europe and the Far East during World War II.  I recommend it highly.  He's very blunt about the failures and shortcomings of SOE and other intelligence organizations, as well as mentioning their successes.  From that perspective alone, it's a very worthwhile contribution to the history of the Second World War.


Friday, February 21, 2020

A lovely toy for well-heeled shooters

I've always liked double-barreled side-by-side shotguns.  I recently came across this early-19th-century muzzle-loading example at Down East Trading Co. in Canada.  (Click the images for a larger view.)

It comes in a lovely baize-lined case, complete with all original accessories.

The shotgun is made of Damascus steel.  These close-ups show part of the patterning.  (Of course, it's only safe to use with blackpowder loads.)

The company describes the shotgun as follows:

We are pleased to offer an exceptional example of the work of Durs Egg who was one of the most famous London gunmakers of the early nineteenth century.  The piece is a percussion 16 gauge shotgun that remains in outstanding collector grade condition.  This example shows 29 1/2" barrels that retain 99% of their original grey Damascus finish.  This set shows bright excellent bores and  choked full and improved modified.  The 1/2" rib shows outstanding pattern finish and is engraved in fine script D Egg 1 Pall Mall London. Durs Egg occupied this location from 1816 to his death in 1831 and by his executors and Jon John Egg from 1832 to 1837.  The underside of the barrels is mounted with its original brass and walnut rod with worm and turned brass cap. The locks show the D Egg engraved mark, fine scrolled engraving with exceptional edge border.  Both plates show original blue and case color pins.  The plates are mounted with the original engraved hammers and screws.  The triggerguard shows the exceptional fine engraving with an English pointer.  The engraving on the butt tang, forstock and breech tang is exceptional.  The stock shows a LOB of 13 3/4" original finish and hand checkering. This shotgun rides in its walnut case with its original baise green lining.  All of the original tools and accessories appear to be inplace. The top of the case shows an old age crack on the bottom left side that is solid and not spreading. These accessories are "Dixon & Sons " flask patent circa 1830-1833.  This flask shows a less than common shape for the traditional English Flask.  The front face shows a hunter, dog and horse returning from a hunt with a dead stag.  The flask remains in 98% original condition. There is also a rare brass charger marked D-egg London and a pewter oil bottle built by Hawksley Sheffield. The case contains an original leather shot pouch with excellent super leather, as well as a tin of caps and an original nipple wrench.  In addition there is a three piece ebony wood cleaning rod. All of the above accessories appear to be original to the case or are pieces that were used with this shotgun during its time of actual usage.  This is an exceptional non restored example of an Engish percussion shotgun by one of the most respected and known makers.

At $5,995.00 Canadian, that seems like a bargain to me.  I wish I could afford it.  Oh, well . . . whoever buys it will own a piece of history.  I hope they'll appreciate it, and treat it as such.  That's a masterpiece.


A farmer replies to Michael Bloomberg

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg was rather scathing about farmers and farming a few years ago.  This video clip surfaced recently as he ramped up his presidential campaign.

A sheep farmer from northern Texas has replied.

Dear Mr Bloomberg,

I am not an anybody ... a middle of the country farm girl with no college education ... but your comments about farming not taking as much “gray matter” as what you do made me want to address this serious misconception you and many in our society seem to have.

Farming is not simply planting a seed or feeding an animal and poof, you’re done.

It takes record keeping. I have spreadsheet after spreadsheet of expenses, profits, losses. We track weights of lambs and pounds of lambs weaned per ewe.

It takes math. Measuring feed, milk replacer, medications. A mis-measurement anywhere can be devastating.

It takes observation. Spotting an animal that’s acting “off” before it’s so sick it may not live.

It takes planning ... when to plant, when to breed, when weather's coming in and hay will need to be put out.

It takes long days in the cold and the heat. We can’t “work from the house” when it’s Snowy out ... water troughs need to be busted open, animals need to be fed, to checked on. When it’s 100 degrees a broken fence won’t wait.

It takes flexibility. It never fails you’ll be headed out to a nice dinner and you’ll find a sick ewe or a ewe in labor. Your night will be spent in the barn ... sometimes in 20 degree weather, helping that ewe.

It takes a huge heart. Our home has heard the rat a tat tat of bottle lambs running thru the house. The sound is music to my ears, after seeing a newborn rejected or hurt to bouncing and happy.

It takes mental toughness ... emergencies happen and it takes a calm cool collected mindset to make it thru.

It takes tears. I’ve worked on a ewe in distress for an hour only to deliver a dead lamb ... and then to lose the ewe.

It takes love. I love with my whole heart farming and raising sheep. I love helping to feed this country and I love this job no matter what anyone who has never set foot on a farm has to say.

It takes being an eternal optimist. That the rain will fall, the sun will shine, that next years crop will be better.

Mr Bloomberg, your comments echo the general problem with many in this nation that have lost touch with their agricultural roots and what it means to this country. I invite you to spend a day at an actual working farm to see what our lives entail.


Sarah Towery

American Shepherdess & Patriot

Well said, ma'am!  Next time my wife and I buy lamb (which we both enjoy), we'll be sure to remember your BC Sheep Company, and give you a call.


Reactions to coronavirus in China are echoing the Ebola epidemic in Africa

I'm seeing a number of similarities between the way that China is responding to the coronavirus epidemic, and the way governments and individuals responded to Ebola in Africa.  Frankly, I'm startled, because the Chinese government should know better, and its people are more educated than the average African:  yet, the similarities persist.

Consider government actions to control an outbreak of disease.  In Africa, we saw:
  • Initial denial.  Governments tried to protect their economies, particularly tourism, by denying that there was an epidemic at all.  Those insisting that the problem was real were denigrated, mocked, and sometimes even locked up by local authorities desperate to prevent higher-ups from taking notice that they might have "dropped the ball".
  • When the problem could no longer be covered up, fingers were pointed to blame other - usually outside - individuals and groups.  Neighboring countries, different tribal customs, "uneducated" or "primitive" peoples (as opposed to the "elite", as those in power styled themselves), and so on were all blamed.  The disease was used to whip up xenophobic frenzy against outsiders, and in some cases actually led to armed conflict between groups.
  • Self-isolation.  Communities would band together to keep out people they didn't know - up to and including killing them if they kept on coming.  Similarly, outsiders who claimed to want to help them treat the disease, no matter how "official" or genuine they might be, were treated with dire suspicion;  their presence (and their advice) was often rejected or ignored.  Local officials were tasked with preventing further outbreaks or the spread of the disease, which meant many of them seized powers to which they had no right, and tried to enforce draconian control by any and all means necessary.
  • Relief supplies, including medication, food, etc., were tightly controlled by the central government.  Aid organizations who tried to administer their own supplies were put under great pressure to adhere to government requirements, and much of their aid was stolen or "went missing in transit" between points of entry and the areas where it was needed.  The government made sure its supporters got most of those supplies, and the best of what was available.  Less favored groups were left to wither on the vine.
  • Stigmatization of survivors of the disease.  In Ebola's case, of course, where it's been demonstrated that survivors can still carry and transmit the disease, that's founded on fact;  but it went much further than that.  If a member of your family had died of Ebola, even if you didn't catch the disease, you were regarded with at least suspicion as a potential carrier, and shunned for at least some period of time.  There were reports that in remote areas, entire villages where the disease had been rampant had simply "disappeared".  I wouldn't be surprised if their neighbors had decided to stop the disease in its tracks by eliminating what they saw as its source.  It wouldn't be the first time that's happened in Africa.

What are we seeing in China?  It's being criticized for failing to deal with the crisis in a timely, efficient and honest manner.  To quote just one article:  "China now faces international vilification and potential domestic unrest as it blunders through continued cover-ups, lies, and repression that have already failed to stop the virus and may well be fanning the flames of its spread."  Similarities between China's moves to contain the coronavirus, and those directed against Ebola in Africa, are many.
  • Delayed, belated notification and/or admission that there was a problem at all.  Initial evidence of the coronavirus must have been available in November or December, but the official admission of its existence - which might have permitted early and more successful measures to prevent its spread - didn't happen until the beginning of January.
  • Finger-pointing.  Doctors who tried to alert their medical colleagues were pilloried, and forced to admit that they had been "rumor-mongering".  Whistleblowers were punished.  Aspersions were cast on those who had been eating "exotic" foods such as bat soup, blaming the existence of the disease on a traditional practice that's been prevalent in China for centuries, even millennia.  Some sources even blamed the Western world for deliberately launching a biological warfare attack on China (although, to their credit, the national authorities tried to squash such nonsense whenever it reared its head).  It appears that many of the mistakes made by Chinese authorities during the SARS epidemic in 2003 are being repeated.
  • Self-isolation, this time officially encouraged.  At many apartment buildings and in many neighborhoods, locals have formed impromptu police units, checking ID's and denying entry to anyone who doesn't live there.  Outsiders are regarded with suspicion as potential disease vectors.  Other locals are patrolling the streets, arresting anyone who doesn't have a good reason to be traveling (and they decide, often arbitrarily, what is, or is not, a good reason).  The Communist Party is holding its officials responsible for any further spread of the disease, which means that those officials are usurping normal social and bureaucratic norms and disciplines to exercise draconian control over anyone and everyone.  People are literally being kidnapped off the streets for daring to move around.
  • Relief supplies - in this case, medical supplies in particular, but also foodstuffs and basic household needs like diapers, toilet paper, etc. - are tightly controlled, and their distribution is rationed (except to party officials and senior members, of course).  Surgical masks and medical respirators have allegedly been declared a "strategic national resource", so that their export can be controlled (or, in so many words, blocked).  Factories making them have been urged to get back to work, despite the quarantine.  Others are converting production to make them instead of what they made before.  (The demand is incredible.  Consider:  China has well over a billion people.  If each of them needs one mask per day, and medical personnel need several, they can easily go through two billion masks every day.  Under normal conditions, I doubt the country produced even a hundredth of that quantity.  The needs of the rest of the world, who up until now have depended on China to supply them, are being ignored.)
  • Stigmatization of survivors.  This isn't official, and it hasn't been taken to the same extent as Ebola in Africa, but some reports suggest that survivors of coronavirus are treated with suspicion and kept at a distance by others in their community, even though medical authorities have pronounced them cured.

Lots of similarities, aren't there?  Perhaps it's basic human nature at work, as already displayed towards coronavirus evacuees in Ukraine.  If coronavirus breaks loose in the USA, will we see the same reactions and responses here?  I daresay we will.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

He's got a point . . .

After President Trump pardoned several individuals a few days ago, reaction from the Democratic Party and the news media was very negative.  However, as Donald Trump Jr. tweeted yesterday:

It's kinda hard to argue with those numbers, isn't it?


"Plankton powered rubber duck bombs"???

The new Armed Forces minister in Britain is raising eyebrows (and not before time, IMHO!) with his views on the future of warfare.

Special Forces of the future should be planting malware in enemy servers rather than fighting wars with daggers, the new armed forces minister said yesterday.

James Heappey, a former Army officer, said ... the military needed 'to think the incredible' to win wars now and referred to the Alexa smart speaker as a model for innovation, adding: 'Alexa, fight my war.'

. . .

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) think tank, he said: 'We have commercial, consumer tech in our hands, in our homes, and that has informed our thinking and we started to look at how do we deploy that utility within defence.'

. . .

'We need to understand that if war is coming the first thing our opponents will try to do is to disrupt our first generation by switching stuff off before we've even left to fight the war.

'We need the capability to do exactly the same to them.

'We need to be able to thousands of miles in depth, switching stuff off, messing around with their digital architecture, their infrastructure back home, so they can't get to the start line in good nick either.'

He said this needed a 'total rethink of the sort of people with the sort of skills we need in defence'. He said cyber experts needed to 'exploit stuff thousands of miles away to defeat your enemy'.

. . .

Mr Heappey also said that servicemen and women needed to be 'emboldened' to 'think the ridiculous'.

He said: 'In order to embolden people to think the ridiculous, I was talking... last week about plankton powered rubber duck bombs, but why not?

'Who knows? If a million plankton powered rubber duck bombs crashed into the Queen Elizabeth, she might sink.'

. . .

He said: 'Are we in our platform centric military, Blockbuster, about to be disrupted by a future fight that is Netflix? In which case are we going out of business?

'Are we fundamentally just completely structured wrong in what we have got?'

There's more at the link.

The Minister's questions are good ones, particularly given the old adage that an armed force always prepares to fight the last war, rather than the next one.

I must confess, though . . . the thought of a "plankton powered rubber duck bomb" is more than a little intriguing.  Who gets to design and test it? - the latter in their bathtubs, of course!  I think I'll nominate retired US Navy flight officer Old NFO, and retired SEAL officer Larry Lambert.  With their background and experience, together they should be more than capable of figuring out such a weapon - and coming up with some unorthodox targets for it, too!  Who knows?  It might be the perfect way to secure the Rio Grande against cartel drug smugglers . . .


Politics and censorship: as always, follow the money

Two incidents - one local, one international - have confirmed yet again the ancient and time-honored truth:  if you want to know who or what is behind something, follow the money.  Even if it isn't immediately visible, the financial story tells the real story, if you can only uncover it.

The first incident involves Attorney-General Barr.  You may recall that last weekend, over a thousand former Justice Department prosecutors and employees signed an open letter calling on him to resign because of his various and sundry misdeeds.  The Federalist, doing its usual good job of digging deeper, uncovers the real motivation for the letter.

Not once in the 800-word article did the [New York] Times address the overwhelming evidence that the thousand-plus signatories were politically motivated critics of President Donald Trump. In fact, to the contrary, the Times claimed “the former Justice Department lawyers” “came from across the political spectrum” to sign the open letter that condemned “President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice.” Those actions, the much-touted letter claimed, “require Mr. Barr to resign.”

. . .

Over the weekend and earlier this week, left-leaning media outlets coalesced on the latest anti-Trump conspiracy theory, using the letter of the former DOJ employees to bolster the appearance of impropriety ... Had the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, or any of the other liberal outlets bothered to act like journalists instead of the PR arms of Democratic and anti-Trump outfits, they would have quickly discovered evidence of a partisan bias underlying the letter calling for Barr’s resignation.

First, as The New York Times noted, “Protect Democracy, a nonprofit legal group, gathered the signatures from Justice Department alumni and said it would collect more.” Here’s what the Times and other outlets failed to report: Protect Democracy was founded in 2017 by Ian Bassin, who was the associate White House counsel for President Barack Obama from 2009-2011, and Justin Florence, who also served in the Office of the White House Counsel as a special assistant to the president and associate counsel of the president.

Bassin is also the president of the liberal American Constitution Society and Florence had also served as a senior counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Protect Democracy also boasts a Who’s Who of the Never Trump resistance as advisors, such as failed presidential candidate Evan McMullin and running mate Mindy Finn.

The media also missed the reality that this latest attack on Barr (and in turn Trump) is nothing but a recycling of Protect Democracy’s earlier outrage over the Robert Mueller report. Shortly after the special counsel’s report issued, the same outfit ran the same “we are former federal prosecutors” who “served under both Republican and Democratic administrations” schtick to argue that Trump should have been charged with multiple felonies for obstruction of justice. As the following snippet shows, the signatories, for the most part, overlapped as well ... They spun themselves as apolitical, by stressing they worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations, but a quick visit to the Federal Elections Commission website to search for political contributions, aided by some amazing crowdsourcing, revealed extensive contributions to Democrats and liberal organizations by many of the signatories—so many, in fact, I called off the troops.

There's more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

Hello, retired DOJ astroturf!  The entire letter - its genesis, allegations, and the relentless publicity accorded to it - is yet another example of how the mainstream news media are, for the most part, unalterably biased against President Trump, and have abandoned fact and fairness in their pursuit of removing him from office.  He's right to call them "fake news".  That's exactly what most of them are.  Even worse, they're deliberately lying to the American people, seeking to mislead them about the facts.  As Glenn Reynolds has often observed, "Think of journalists as Democratic operatives with bylines, and it all makes sense."

The second incident concerns the Sony World Photography Awards.  (A tip o' the hat to Cedar Sanderson for bringing this to my attention.)  It seems they're all about the art and science of photography . . . unless the subject is too sensitive, politically speaking.

Contest organisers, the World Photography Organisation (WPO), removed shots from Hong Kong photographer Ko Chung-ming’s series titled Wounds of Hong Kong. The collection, which features ten images that highlighted the injuries and scars people had sustained from the city’s pro-democracy protests, was one of the finalists in the Documentary category ... Ko first discovered the link to his collection was broken last Friday. He told HKFP that he thought the website had been attacked, but later discovered two other shortlisted series related to the anti-extradition law protests had been removed as well.

. . .

In an initial reply to Ko’s inquiry, the WPO said his series was taken down temporarily because there had been concerns about the “sensitive nature” of  some of his images ... But the WPO said the list of finalists had not changed, and the contest result will be announced on April 17.

“I don’t know who’s complaining and what their concerns are. But why should any ‘concerns’ not be addressed by the judges at the judging phase?” asked Ko in a response to HKFP.

. . .

News of the collection’s removal spread quickly online. Some netizens left words of encouragement on the photographer’s Facebook page, while others criticised the organiser’s move as damaging.

“Photos taken during a war right in the war zone have won numerous awards, but I’ve never seen any of those labelled ‘sensitive nature’. Anyway, thank you so much for your effort and your truthful recording,” one commenter wrote.

“This is ridiculous, [and causes] damage to the freedom of expression,” another commenter wrote.

Again, more at the link.

If images are considered to be of sufficiently high quality as to be accepted for a top-flight photography competition like the Sony World Photography Awards, what possible grounds could there be for preventing the public from seeing them?  Of course this is censorship!  There's no other word for it.  What's more, the pressure to censor didn't have to be overt.  I'm willing to bet that a conversation (or two, or three) between Sony's top management and Chinese government officials went something like, "Just how many Sony products do you expect to sell in China next year?"  Money talks, and a nod's as good as a wink, after all.  A conversation may not even have been necessary.  The directors of Sony aren't stupid.  They don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

So, there you have it.  In the first incident, important facts were conveniently left out, completely altering the impression left with readers.  In the second incident, images were censored, leading to automatic disadvantage for the photographers concerned and a viewing public left in ignorance of the full slate of competitors.  In both cases, follow the money to find out the real reason for the issue.

Some of my readers may ask, "Why bother telling us what we already knew?"  The reason is simple.  It's too easy to become accustomed to such censorship and half-baked news.  We can very quickly lose sight of the reality that what we see and hear is being manipulated by powerful interests, all day, every day.  If we want to make clear-headed, correct decisions, we need to be informed about as many such incidents as possible.

Robert Heinlein put it well in the "Notebooks of Lazarus Long" from his 1973 novel "Time Enough for Love":

What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!

We are betrayed by anyone - individual, organization or nation - that tries to present opinion and innuendo as fact, and/or tries to prevent us from knowing and/or understanding the reality that affect our daily lives.