Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book Review: Timothy Snyder's "On Tyranny"

This is a thoughtful, thought-provoking set of aphorisms and reflections.  As much as I enjoyed it – and believe that I benefited from reading it three times – I have to ask if the author would have written it had Hillary Clinton been elected president.
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
by Timothy Snyder,
Tim Duggin Books (Penguin Random House LLC),
2017; 126 pages, $7.95.

“History does not repeat but it does instruct.” (page 9). 
“History allows us to see patterns and make judgments. It sketches for us the structures within which we can seek freedom. It reveals moments, each one of them different, none entirely unique. To  understand one moment is to see the possibility of being the cocreator of another. History permits us to be responsible not for everything, but for something.” (125)
Snyder’s thesis is that Donald Trump represents a new fascism. Snyder includes  aspects of communism and Nazism, as well, acknowledging that all three are variants of the same collectivism of the early 20th century.  A couple of warnings do apply to Democrat Party politicians; and at least one nice nod went to the unnamed George H. W. Bush for his “thousand points of light.” But Snyder’s target is Donald Trump.  And I have to agree, if only because Trump is the President, and, whatever her foibles, Clinton is not.

None of the quotations or citations are referenced; the book has no footnotes or end notes.  However, the writing is unassailable with nice segues across the chapters.  Snyder counsels us to be our own investigative reporters, to check stories, rather than just accepting what we want to view and believe.  Snyder also warns us to be wary of sound-bites out of context. He then commits both errors near the end of the book.

Explaining why Donald Trump is a nationalist, but not a patriot (which I accept), Snyder writes that Trump wants to return to the economic chaos of the 1930s:
The president himself has described a regime change in the style of the 1930s as the solution to the problems of the present: “You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster.” What we need, he thinks, are “riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.” (page 123)
So, I googled the statement, and found that it was made on February 10, 2014 about 6:36 AM on "Fox & Friends."  Then, I found a plausible interpretation from Snopes.  I checked four other claims Snyder made, and all of them were true. In any case, the quote above was unreferenced and taken out of context.

Chapter 6: Be wary of paramilitaries
He does not identify the Occupy movement of the left as a paramilitary, but neither does he dwell on the many “citizen militias” of the right. Snyder’s concern is with the crowd control at the Trump campaign rallies in 2016.  I found that less salient. Hecklers are there to disrupt, not to engage in dialog. In effect, they are thieves who violate property rights, denying access to the venue that was paid for by the candidate and the supporters.  However, Snyder is cogent when he points out: “The SS began as an organization outside the law, became an organization that transcended the law, and ended up as an organization that undid the law.” (44)

That warning underscores the opening Chapter 1 and is reinforced by other examples as the book progresses.  

“Do not obey in advance.”  Many of the horrors of totalitarian regimes were not contemplated by the rulers at the top, but were invented by followers far below who anticipated orders they never actually received. Snyder cites the Nazis, but it applies to the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.  And it explains the violence of self-defined “patriots” who attack American Sikhs, thinking them to be Muslims, in effect carrying out what they imagine to be their leader’s command to rid the nation of undesirable foreigners.

Chapter 9: Be kind to our language
“Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.” (59)

Snyder warns against the domination of the screen with allusions to Fahrenheit 451 and 1984.  Those are the best known, of course, but Brave New World (1932) had its “feelies” movie theaters wherein by holding a device you could feel what the actors touch.

“The choice to be in public depends on the ability to maintain a private sphere of life. We are free only when it is we ourselves who draw the line between when we are seen and when we are not seen.” (86)  (That closes the chapter and segues to …)

“So try for your self to write a proper article, involving work in the real world: traveling, interviewing, maintaining relationships with sources, researching in written records, verifying everything, writing and revising drafts, all on a tight and unforgiving schedule. If you find you like doing this, keep a blog. In the mean time, give credit to those who do all of that for a living.” (76)
 “We find it natural that we pay for a plumber or a mechanic, but we want our news for free. If we did not pay for plumbing or auto repair, we would not expect to drink water or drive cars. Why then should we form our political judgment on the basis of zero investment?  We get what we pay for.” (77)
Chapter 14. Establish a private life.
“Have personal exchanges in person.” (87)

About the liberals and the politics of inevitability:
“Yet they portray the present simply as a step toward a future that we already know, one of expanding globalization, deepening reason, and growing prosperity. This is what is called teleology: a narration of time that leads toward a certain, usually desirable, goal. Communism also offered a teleology, promising an inevitable socialist utopia. When that story was shattered a quarter century ago, we drew the wrong conclusion: Rather than rejecting teleologies, we imagined that our own story was true.” (119)

About the conservatives and the politics of eternity:
“It is concerned with the past, but in a self-absorbed way, free of any real concern with facts.
Its mood is a longing for past moments that never really happened during epochs that were, in fact, disastrous. Eternity politicians bring us the past as a vast misty courtyard of illegible monuments to national victimhood, all of them equally distant from the present, all of them equally accessible for manipulation. Every reference to the past seems to involve an attack by some external enemy upon the purity of the nation.” (121)

I could go on at extreme length, quoting Snyder and recording my reflections.  This is a book to carry around and read when you have a moment. More to the point, it is a book to discuss with your friends.

PREVIOUSLY ON NECESSARY FACTS

Monday, March 20, 2017

Of Watches and Beaches and Atheists

I patronize the local atheist boutique to buy bumper stickers, pens, pencils, lapel pins, and badges. This one sat on my desk for a couple of weeks. Then, I had a reply. 

Watches only prove that beaches were not designed to be watches. And in fact, as variable as the tides seem to be to us land lubbers, for people who depend on the sea, the tides are more meaningful than an arbitrary clock, no matter how precise and accurate. You go out when the tide is right, not when the clock strikes an hour. 

Do watches prove that trees were not designed? Anything can be used to mark time. If we see a child after some months, we might say, "How you have grown!" Do watches prove that children were not designed?  In the near future, children might very well be more carefully designed than the best watch.

Our clocks are arbitrary. And we are always re-setting them. Timekeeping based on the rotation of the Earth is corrected against atomic clocks based on the vibration of Cesium-133 when excited by a specific wavelength of microwave radiation.  


Cesium Atomic Clock
http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/cesium.html
Leap Second
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leap_second
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161228213356.htm
https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/space-timekeeping-nasas-sdo-adds-leap-second-to-master-clock

The fallacy goes to the root of arguments for atheism.  You cannot prove a negative assertion. When you try, you run into non-sequiturs.

When something is true, it is provable many ways. (Over 300 proofs are known for the Pythagorean Theorem.) True statements are supported by other truths, and in turn lead to still other truths.  Truths do not come from falsehoods or lead to fallacies. That is the nature of truth.  Furthermore, when a statement is false, it fails in several contexts, not just one. So, attempting to prove that beaches were not created leads to nonsense statements.

The burden of proof for the creation of the universe, the Earth, or us is with anyone who makes the assertion.  Atheism holds only that, so far, no proof has passed the tests of objectivity, i.e., of empirical evidence explained by a logically consistent theory.

It may remain that the universe, the Earth, and we humans are anomalies: objects or events that are observably real (empirically real), but which lack a logically consistent, rational  explanation.  Quasars and tachyons are in that class.  We discover more facts about them as we observe them more often, but we have no consistent theory to explain them.

Also, while it is true that the universe had no creator, the Earth might have.  After all, we build houses, and cities. So, those are two separate questions. The creation of humans might be a third event, not directly related to the origin of the Earth, which was just here with its evolved animals until “someone” tweaked the chromosomes of apes, merging two and making us. 
 
https://www.mun.ca/biology/scarr/Human_Ape_chromosomes.htm
Be all that as it may – and I have no answers, even for myself – the fact remains that time and tide wait for no man because TIME and TIDE derive from the same root word. In the theoretical construct language “Indo-European” (spoken by our Caucasian ancestors about 6000 years ago),  dã-(i) meant “to part” or “divide.”  In modern German, the word for TIME is ZEIT, which is obviously close to TIDE. And in modern English, we still have archaic words such as Yuletide, eventide, and so on. 

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Counter-Insurgency is a Wrong Turn

While I accept the thesis, I question its underlying assumptions. I take the wider view that war is crime, and therefore crime is war; and therefore, “counter-insurgency” is a response to crime. More deeply, it is only part of the same course of action that any emergency management program follows for any disaster: Response, Protection, Recovery, Mitigation, and Prevention.

Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace
of Counter-Insurgency

by Colonel Gian Gentile
(The New Press, 2013).
Col. Gentile’s thesis is there is no such thing as “counter-insurgency” as a separate kind of warfare.  In addition, the American mass media perpetuate a myth that the army was losing under old leadership with old ideas, but that a bold new leader brought innovative thinking that re-directed the efforts into productive and meaningful modes.  Col. Gentile maintains that (1) counter-insurgency is just the continued meeting of enemy forces; (2) American military actions were always generally successful with notable losses, failures, and errors (as is the nature of war), but no “outside the box” innovative tactics ever were called upon; (3) historically, since Alexander the Great (at least), every army has had to deal with civilian resistance, whether farmers with pruning hooks or doctors repurposing artillery ammunition into bombs under the roadway.  

Col. Gentile examines the classic cases of the British in Malaya, the French in Algeria, and the Americans in Viet Nam.  In every case, he shows that success came from continuing the offensive according to the same logic, passed from commander to commander through each rotation.  The American failure in Viet Nam was essentially sociological:
“But unless the United States was willing to stay in Vietnam for generations to do armed nation building, the collapse of South Vietnam was inevitable. In the end, firepower could not break the will of the North Vietnamese, the NLF, or the PLAF; nor could it correct the endemic problems of corruption within the South Vietnamese government and military. Moreover, it could not connect in a moral way the people of South Vietnam to the government and military. The United States and South Vietnam lost the war on all fronts.” (page 83)
 The book itself is short, 144 pages, but it is supported with 270 footnotes.  Col. Gentile has done his homework. It remains that he knew the point he wanted to make; and among the libraries and archives, he found the facts he needed.

His thesis is easy to agree with. He wrote for the narrow context of armed conflict, not the wider problem of why people harm each other, and what to do about it.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 National Coin Week Club Trivia Challenge

Better written than last year’s, this one still has some compelling ambiguities. The theme this year is "Conflict & Courage: Money & the Military." The Capital City Coin Club of Austin is primed and ready for the challenge. As we did last year, those who are interested have been working on their own. We will get together next Sunday for lunch to compare our answers and prepare our submission.

1.    What U.S. coin features a major general of a state militia who tried to get military help from France to form an independent republic called United Columbia?
2.   Name the famous militia veteran of the Black Hawk War and at least six U.S. coins on which he appears.
3.   A 1991 commemorative coin honors U.S. military involvement in Korea.  What anniversary does the coin commemorate, and why was this anniversary chosen?
4.   Which three service medals are featured on the reverse of the 1994 Veterans Memorial commemorative silver dollar?
5.    In 2002 Guernsey issued a one-pound silver coin featuring a famous military leader, and for what battle is he best remembered?
6.   England struck coinage made from gold and silver seized from Spain after an 18th-century naval battle.  What privy mark was added below the bust of Queen Anne on these coins?
7.   A famous American is featured on both sides of a coin issued in 2007. What is this person’s name, what heroic deed is depicted on the coin, and in what war did this deed occur?
8.   This coin design (pictured below) was issued by the Emperor Augustus to celebrate a diplomatic “victory” with the return of Roman standards captured by Parthia. During what battle did the Parthians take these symbols of Rome’s power?
Gorny & Mosch Giessener Münzhandlung > Auction 244
CoinArchives.com
9.   In the mid-4th century A.D. the Roman Empire issued a series of coinage with a common reverse legend, including a design featuring a Roman soldier spearing a barbarian fallen from his horse. What is this reverse legend?
10.         In 1915 a private Bavarian-made medal was used by Great Britain as a World War I propaganda piece. What artist produced this medal, what was the subject,  and what error did the original medal contain?
11.     In 1916 German forces in East Africa during World War I produced emergency money using artillery shells recovered from a scuttled German ship. Was the name of the ship?
12.         A Belgian euro coin issued in 2015 was the source of controversy in France. What is the coin’s denomination, and what made the issue controversial?
13.         In 2015 the Royal Australian Mint issued a four-coin set honoring a famous campaign in World War I. What campaign was honored, and what four countries’ efforts are commemorated?
14.         Military payment certificates were produced as a means of currency conversion control. Between what years were the certificates issued, and what was the name of the U.S. cabinet member who first called for their production?
15.     Some of the most famous siege coinage (pictured below) was produced during a pivotal conflict in English history. Name the conflict.
Baldwin's Auctions Ltd et al., > The New York Sale XL

CoinArchives.com
Spink > Auction 16006

CoinArchives.com

 
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Friday, March 10, 2017

Away from the Keyboard Again

My assignment with the Domestic Operations task force of the Texas Military Department has been extended through the end of the month. 

In addition, I still have other weekend calls with my home unit, the Command Group & General Staff of the Texas State Guard.
DOMOPS Task Force in the House Chamber
at the Texas State Capitol 8 March 2017

Previously on Necessary Facts
Start the Presses!
Raymond Loewy
In Suspect Terrain
Slow Down and Think
Science versus Common Sense

Monday, February 27, 2017

From Pearl Harbor to 9/11


It might be said that the enemy is different, not a nation state but a dispersed and diffuse array of "lone wolves."

It might be said that we are different now, soft, frivolous, and self-involved with tweets.

It might be said that while the Japanese forces withdrew to new positions, the 9/11 perpetrators all died in the suicide attack: it was over as soon as it began.

It might be said defeating Japan was a military problem, whereas defeating Islamic fundamentalism is a philosophical problem or a cultural problem.

It might be said that both were contrived by conspiracies internal to the government of the United States.

It might be said that both were the result of failures to understand the enemy and the threat.

It might be said that both were the consequences of American actions that caused a reprisal from them that looked like an attack to us.

It might be said that the world of 1941 was not much different from the world of 1841, but that 2041 is going to be very much different.

PREVIOUSLY ON NECESSARY FACTS
Etruscans and Americans  
Counter-Insurgency  
The Syrian Quagmire 
War is Good for Absolutely Nothin'  

Friday, February 24, 2017

I Quit Meetup

I sent this to CivicAction@Meetup.com and to the Austin #Resist when I received a Meetup request from them.  I also it to the organizers of the groups that I belonged to, most of them for computer users.

I am cutting my access to all of my Meetup groups and to Meetup.com as of February 28, 2017, in response to a corporate decision by Meetup to support the Resist political action collectives. 
We decided that we wanted to do more to support these efforts so we created a network of 1,000 #Resist Meetup groups with a few special characteristics.” --
https://www.meetup.com/help/article/2736376/
 While I am sympathetic to many of the social justice causes pursued by Resist, I must object to Meetup’s delivering a special value to them. My comrades on the right wing also have advanced the cause of freedom. Their methods and their successes do not grab headlines.  It is a matter of culture.
What are the politics of pasta?

As collectivists, my progressive comrades form strong groups, and groups are easy to see. They grab headlines when they grab other people’s property. But that property had to be created first. The exceptionally great wealth of America was the work of millions of individuals who mostly minded their own business, making their own lives as best they knew how by the standards they chose according to their personal values. That does not make the home pages of news media – unless it is to “doodle” in celebrating the historical birthday of a dead writer, musician, inventor, or scientist.

Meetup.com is a tool for those conservatives, libertarians, and Objectivists who advance the ethics and politics of individualism.  By creating new, no-cost platforms for one political group, Meetup.com of necessity excludes those of other political beliefs – and those groups with no political agenda. It is also a platform for millions of individuals who share personal – sometimes peculiar – interests of their own, far removed from politics. And that speaks to a fundamental problem with progressive causes.

It is critical that this be understood. Dr. Martin Luther King looked forward to a future in which each person is judged by the content of their character.  But character is an attribute of a person, not of a group. 
The Pursuit of Happiness is selfish.
Choosing not to do business with someone because they are not from your ethnic, social, gender, class, or religious group is irrational.  But freedom of association is a fundamental political right. While my collectivist comrades try to eliminate discrimination by engaging the power of the state, my friends on the right go to the root problem: lack of character.

If the owners of Meetup.com want to end social injustice, they should empower their customers who meet to build character. But that would mean creating a 1000 special groups for some religions or some philosophies in preference to others.  And there is no way to parse that, because, after all, even karate builds character.

Therefore, I will delete my Meetup account and switch to some other service or set of services, such as Google Groups, which, in fact, evolved from the age-old Usenet maillists.  Ultimately, no one needs Meetup.com. That is something to keep in mind.

Michael E. Marotta