Current Affairs – US

Walter Becker – an appreciation

The passing of Walter Becker, who finally reeled in all of his years yesterday at age 67, is another one of those inevitable reminders that your youth is way way behind in the rear view mirror.
In the Autumn of 1973, I arrived, fish out of water, at the University of Manchester. In terms of music listening, i was most an under-the-bedclothes transistor radio nerd, lacking any form of stereo system, although I had listened to a fair bit of what was then being tagged as “rock music” at my friends’ houses.
The problem was, I didn’t like much of it. And when I arrived at the university and began dropping into the rooms of people in my hall of residence, I rapidly realized that musically most of them were locked into an emerging musical monoculture. That year in college, there seemed to be only four LPs in constant rotation – “Selling England by the Pound” by Genesis, “Tales from Topographnic Oceans” by Yes, “Seventh Sojourn” by the Moody Blues, and “Brain Salad Surgery” by Emerson Lake and Palmer. Somewhere in there some people were listening to Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, with a sprinkling of God aka Eric Clapton. But…most of the listening seemed to be dominated by bands writing long tunes stuffed full of elaborate pseudo-classical musical devices, and seriously pretentious lyrics that seemed to have been written by amateur high school poets.
Being something of an iconoclast, I rebelled. I had been marginalized in high school, and I was not about to join a herd that had shown by its behavior that they did not value differences.
I began to listen to American music off of Piccadilly Radio, which had DJs who not only shut up instead of talking over music (hooray) but who also were not afraid to step outside of the “4 bands and a couple of hangers-on” mindset.
I also found a record store in a small mall a few hundred yards from the college building named Black Sedan Records. Black Sedan was a small store tucked away in one of the corners of the mall. Most of its clientele was comprised of students from the University, but many of the visitors were musical nerds, who liked to hang out and listen to the latest LPs on the store sound system. Black Sedan’s workers had catholic taste, and also specialized in getting hold of import LPs released in the USA before they were released in Europe. At the time, the concept of simultaneous worldwide release dates for LPs did not exist except for a handful of mega-artists like Led Zeppelin. LPs by US acts would often be released in the USA first, up to 3 months ahead of the release in Europe. So, you could walk into Black Sedan and listen to music that might not be available in a UK record store for up to 3 months.
On one of my first visits to Black Sedan, I walked in and a few minutes later the counter guy put on a new LP by Steely Dan, “Countdown to Ecstasy”. I had heard “Do It Again” and “Reeling In The Years” on the radio already, and liked them. It was clear that in terms of playing and production, Steely Dan was ahead of most other bands of the period. They were also clearly prepared to do different things, as evidenced by the jazz-like electric sitar solo on “Do It Again”.
So, out of the speakers came “Bodhisattva”, seemingly a fast 12 bar blues, but not quite, the third part of the 12 modulated differently. Then, after the lyrics, which were clearly a dig at Eastern mysticism, was a jazz guitar solo. The play-out section was not the same as the rest of the tune, and it led to a shambolic sounding ending in a pile of cacophony that almost seemed like a parody of a bad rock band’s last live set tune ending.
Then, after the discord and bombast, along came “Razor Boy“. A jazz samba, with acoustic bass and Latin percussion, and dancing vibes, but with sinister lyrics sung in sweet harmony (“Will you still have a song to sing/When the Razor Boy comes and takes your fancy things away”). Then, out of nowhere, a pedal steel guitar began to accompany and solo, using jazz-based voicings instead of the usual wailing and sliding “my baby done left me” country music sound.
I was hooked.
I had been subverted by Steely Dan.
Steely Dan were, in hindsight, a unique band that partly provided the missing link between classical 20th century pop music, jazz, and Bob Dylan. Dylan had expanded the lyrical canon of songwriting beyond where it had been, tackling all manner of human subjects and social issues. However, Dylan was not really a singer, he was a vocalist, sometimes shaky and off key, and his songwriting approach was, compared to professional pop songwriters, rudimentary. Nobody was going to confuse his sense of harmony and musical structure with that of, say, Burt Bacharach. However, Bacharach also could not have written “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right”.
Steely Dan’s approach to songwriting, while seemingly revolutionary, was mostly rooted in classical structure, as this excellent piece from Tom Moon explains. Donald Fagen once said in an interview “classical song structure is extremely serviceable” and Steely Dan were quite happy to use it when it suited them.
However, it became early on in their writing careers that they were not, unlike Bacharach, going to be able to churn out hits for others, because, as Becker noted, “the lyrics always turned left in the middle of a song”. Steely Dan’s songs were often populated by…weird characters. Mixed in with the love songs (and yes, Steely Dan did write love songs, listen to “Rose Darling”), were songs about desperate gamblers (“Do It Again”), depression (“Any Major Dude Will Tell You”), drug dealers left high and dry by changes in fashion (“Kid Charlemagne”), seedy divorces and affairs (“Haitian Divorce”), and sad forty-something men attempting to date the Newer Model (“Hey Nineteen”).
Many of the Steely Dan song characters were fringe, alienated in some way from mainstream society. This reflected Becker and Fagen’s own upbringings. Both men were children of the Cold War, a dislocating time, when Americans were taught to live in perpetual fear of, as Fagen would write in his solo tune “New Frontier”, the Reds pushing the button down. They grew up feeling alienated from many things that were part of mainstream America. Today they would be nerds, but at the time the word did not exist. Like nerds, they lived in their heads, read books extensively, smoked pot, and expressed themselves through writing songs that often started out like pop songs, but then suddenly exploded into sharp stories about weird people, with jazz instrumentation and sophisticated modulations of keys and structure.
In many ways, Steely Dan’s choice of subjects for their songs was analogous to the approach of Spike Milligan’s writing approach for The Goon Show, where, not being a professional comedy writer who had written for others, he would quite cheerfully write a 30 minute show comprised of a single sketch with multiple oddball characters, surreal plot lines and elaborate jokes within the plot. Milligan, probably not coincidentally, was also a jazz musician.
Steely Dan also, like Weather Report, soon violated the idea, cemented in the 1960s, that a band passing as a pop band was a fixed collection of musicians. Unhappy both with the travails of touring, and with the poor consistency of most of the band members, Becker and Fagen effectively dissolved Steely Dan as a touring entity in 1974, and retreated to being a studio duo, hiring musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds to suit their conception of what a song should sound like. Effectively they operated more like a jazz ensemble, where musicians would routinely play with other musicians, partly to see what would emerge.
With lots of time spent in the studio, Steely Dan recording sessions soon acquired their own mystique. Tales of entire tunes recorded with several different sets of musicians being scrapped, and multiple rejected guitar solos for tunes such as “Peg” abounded, as the duo sought something different, lightning in a bottle to uniquely adorn songs that crossed the entire spectrum of musicality from simple to complex. Eventually Steely Dan returned to touring in the 1990s after a lengthy hiatus, able to afford great musicians, and this even led to a change of mind by Becker, who over the last 15 years of his life would mention in interviews that he wanted to record quickly and not spend hundreds of hours seeking perfection, although he also admitted that this was not exactly Donald Fagen’s preferred working method.
It has always been difficult to work out who did what on Steely Dan compositions, and in interviews Becker explained that when working together, they had no formula for how to complete a Steely Dan record, with both men taking on anything and everything to get to the point where they could move on. However, it is possible to tell songs written on guitar from songs written on keyboards, due to the notes and keys used, and based on this, one can make some educated guesses. “Haitian Divorce” and “Here At The Western World” are guitar-based songs, and the use of reggae devices on the former tune leads me to suspect that it was mostly written by Walter Becker. One is left with the impression that Fagen was more attuned to melody and tunefulness, with Becker, described by Fagen as highly cynical, crafting many of the sharp, witty but sometimes cynical lyrics.
Walter Becker’s guitar playing was always initially in background. He mostly played bass on early Steely Dan LPs, until the hiring of Chuck Rainey allowed him to start playing more guitar on LPs, and slowly he emerged from the shadows to demonstrate that he had a laconic, understated but highly effective playing style, not in the least bit flash, but perfect for adding statements to the music. The best example is probably his playing on “West Of Hollywood” from the CD “Two Against Nature”. “West Of Hollywood” is a song written deliberately without a single rhyming couplet in the lyrics. It represents a microcosm of Steely Dan – a monster groove, over which an elaborate story is told, with Becker talking his way through the song on guitar before Chris Potter blows the tune apart with his frantic soloing over a progressively ascending and descending series of modulations.
Steely Dan, more than anything else, expanded the vocabulary of song in the late 20th century, and, like most pioneering musical acts, regarded genres and boundaries as a weird construct imposed from elsewhere and something to be ignored. If a superficially odd combination of instrumentation sounded good, they would try it (see the bass clarinets on “Babylon Sisters”).
So, we have lost one half of one of the best songwriting and recorded performance assembly duos of the last hundred years. Steely Dan’s real impact has been on other songwriters and musicians, who have also felt free to step out beyond the 3 minute song form with conventional instrumentation and stock “happily ever after” characters.
Thanks for the fun, Walter.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Indirect Speech #1 – The disguised sneer

In dialogue between humans, there are some fundamental ways in which one can easily reduce the chance of a positive outcome to the dialogue down to zero.
One of the ways in which you can be effective in discussion is to extend the principle of charity to the person at the other end of the dialogue. This requires an initial assumption that the other person is trying to engage in a good faith discussion, followed by verification that this is in fact true.
We validate the extent to which the other person is showing good faith by parsing their words carefully.
Now…some people read better than others, so this is not a foolproof concept.
There are, however, a number of ways in which you can quite easily convince the other party to an attempted dialogue that you are not interested in good faith discussion. Some of them are obvious. Some are not so obvious, and some are rather subtle.
Obvious approaches include:opening with a slur or a snark in the first sentence, often preceded by “you”. Words like “libtard”, “sheeple”, “snowflake” or “Trumpaloo” are prime examples. They make the writer look both juvenile and mean-spirited.
The next worst thing is to use strawman accusatory words like “statist”, “marxist” or “bleeding heart”. Those, in addition to making the writer look juvenile, are usually assumptive about the person on other end of the dialogue, and make the writer look like he or she is trapped in binary thinking. it’s not a good message.
The more subtle signalling is the use of indirect speech.
The first rhetorical device is the use of pre-inoculation. A classic example is beginning a response with “with the greatest respect”. This is usually deployed by the writer for one of two reasons:
– They fear that what they are about to say will be contentious, so they are engaging in pre-immunization
– They have no respect at all for the person or persons they are talking to, and they are attempting to offset this by excessive politeness
The second rhetorical device is the use of ingratiation. This usually takes the form of an introductory sentence such as “here is one for my conservative/liberal friends”.
The first thing that enters my mind when I read rhetoric like this is “why are you writing this?”. As a preface, it adds no content to the discussion.
The second thing that I wonder is whether the writer really has any respect for the positions or views that their “liberal friends” or “conservative friends” hold. In my mind, what I am really reading is “this is one for my conservative/liberal friends, who I consider to be idiots”. It is a form of dog-whistling, the communication of a message of dismissal in advance of the actual argument or response to a discussion point.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Interview with Gene Haas

I just watched an interview with Gene Haas during the rain delay of Qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix.
Haas came across as a deeply frustrated man. Having set up his own Formula 1 team from scratch, headquartered in the USA, he is now in his second season of F1. Superficially the team has done well, scoring points regularly. Haas did most things right, hiring experienced F1 leaders such as Gunther Steiner, and making deals with Ferrari (to supply engines, drivetrain and other parts) and Dallara to supply the chassis, in order to assure quality.
However, Haas is clearly concerned by the combination of the budgets in F1, and the reality that only three teams currently have any chance of winning races.
Whether the interview reflected his real position on the continued participation of the Haas team in F1 is difficult to tell. In this sport, public posturing and negotiation has been the norm for decades, as most of the key participants followed the divide-and-rule lead of Bernie Ecclestone. Liberty F1 are clearly not of the same mind. Chase Carey has consistently stated in interviews that he believes that businesses should negotiate privately and only announce deals after they are completed. So he may not be too happy about this public positioning by Haas. However, a lot of the Haas team infrastructure is shared with his NASCAR operation, so if he does decide to withdraw from F1, Haas can probably put that infrastructure to use, and find jobs for some of his personnel.
At any point in time, there are usually F1 teams available for sale. This has been the case for some time, ever since the slow distortion of revenue and payment structures created the current scenario, were the top three teams get given large guaranteed sums of money just for showing up. The last F1 attempt to bring new teams into the sport, which initially attracted Manor, Caterham, HRT and the failed-to-make-it USF1, did not end well, with all of the teams now defunct. Haas is the first new team in a long time to actually do well in its first two seasons. However, it is clear from Gene Haas’ comments that he is far from convinced that F1 is where he wants to be long-term.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Conflict of Interest

Conflicts of interest are inevitably going to arise in corporate and political governance.
However, the behavior pathology of driven people is to ignore potential or actual conflicts of interest. Hubris plays a part in this pathology. Successful, entrepreneurial people have a mindset that the normal rules should not apply to them. I have seen this close up in business.
A lot of politicians in the USA are former businessmen, and they carry that pathology with them into government. They regard conflicts of interest as something to be managed for the benefit of all parties, including lobbyists and influencers. The law is generally fairly clear on this topic. Conflicts of interest are to be avoided. This applies not only to clear conflicts of interest, but also to perceived conflicts of interest.
It is probably correct to state that the current administration in the USA has contempt for many basic political norms, including conflicts of interest.
However, the revelation that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was appointed several months ago by the POTUS to head up his Electoral Commission, is also a paid contributor to Breitbart, takes the phrase “conflict of interest” to a whole new level. It confirms in my mind that Breitbart is not in any sense of the word, an independent media outlet. It is operating a significant part of the time as a propaganda channel for the Trump administration.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Houston Floodsplainer

1. Matt Corbett‏ @CorbettMatt 13h13 hours ago
A Houston floodsplainer: (caveat, I’m not a pro, just someone interested in how my city works. If a real pro finds an error, please LMK)

There will inevitably be extreme hott-akes regarding flood planning and Monday-morning QB-ing of officials. This is for context
(some good links): https://www.harriscountyfws.org/ https://spacecityweather.com/ https://www.texastribune.org/boomtown-floodtown/http://traffic.houstontranstar.org/cctv/transtar/
Houston is on a flat, mostly featureless plain, which is naturally drained by a number of Bayous (“The Bayou City” refers to HTX, not NOLA) which all run (and drain) from west to east, converging on either the ship channel or San Jacinto Bay
Note the scale: HTX is also geographically enormous It also has varying development density. Here’s a sat pic which will roughly show that:

(Note: I’ve highlighted 2 areas- Addicks & Barker reservoirs and the medical center, because I’ll mention them later)
HTX has sandy soil and a high water table, and so has some, but limited, ability to rely on absorption
(related: No houses have basements and it would be nearly impossible to construct a subway)
Most of HTX is ~35-45′ above sea level. Flooding risk is almost entirely from rain, not storm surges
Being Gulf Coast, HTX gets ~50″ of rain a year. Gulf T-Storms can get intense. 4-6″-in-8-hours storms happen about once a year
flooding is essentially a rate problem- can you drain the water as fast as it comes?
when the answer is ‘no’, water backs up along the drainage routes

As a result, any person’s flooding risk is mainly about proximity and elevation vs the nearest bayou
The primary backup for the bayous for handling too much water are the roads
In the 90s. Houston was getting large enough that relying on groundwater was starting to cause subsidence problems
The powers that be decided (wisely, mostly) to slowly convert all the roads into a giant rain collection network
so every time an asphalt road needed to be repaved, it got replaced with curb & gutter concrete w/ big storm sewer underneath
this has been highly obnoxious to anyone living nearby when such a project was underway but ultimately quite effective
usually means that in flooding situations, roads briefly become rivers and then drain, saving houses from flood damage
but it’s also a work in progress that has proceeded at the rate roads needed replacing, and varies greatly by location
the next backup for water are sections of freeways. Here, e.g. is a section of I-69/US-59 (as indicated on map)

Ggiven the flood risk indication of the neighborhood immediately south, that sunken section serves a flood-relief purpose.

Thus, flood control in HTX is and has been in a continual state of upgrade for 20 years
However HTX has also been growing rapidly in that time, adding about 100-125k people/year for 15 years, with the result that at any given time the flood control has been adequate, but for the city T-5 years ago, not now, with the currently least-adequate parts usually around the geographic periphery and immediately downstream
The key incidents forming city officials’ decision making have been the experiences of Allison (2001), Rita (2005), Ike (2008), and the flooding events of the past 2 years (Memorial Day 2015 and Tax Day 2016)
Conceptually, Harvey is closest to Allison, which was a TS that parked itself over HTX for 3 days and dumped 20″ rain
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Storm_Allison … . The key point:

Rita (2005) was a huge storm, occurring ~1 month after Katrina. For a few days it was forecast to hit Houston directly, but it ultimately drifted eastwards and hit Port Arthur
The debate of whether Houston should have issued a mandatory evacuation is more complicated than many probably realize
Hurricane Ike (2008) is least directly relevant- in Houston it caused immense damage but comparatively little flooding and death
..except in the medical center, which lost power, and sustained lots of flood damage http://doctorflood.rice.edu/SSPEED_2008/downloads/Day2/7B_Ellison.pdf …
The med center is an utterly critical component of Houston, and understandably a high priority for flood control
It employs ~150k people, conducts enormous amounts of cutting-edge research, and most importantly, at any given time has a large number of very sick, very immobile patients
it has therefore received (again, understandably) disproportionate flood-control attention in the past decade… but often at the expense of other areas in the city
The other section I highlighted was the Addicks & Barker reservoirs.
They are flood control reserviors that date from the 30s. They remain highly useful and functional
but given Houston’s growth are now inadequate to the nearby area, which is where the worst flooding in Allison occurred
They are the focus of the Texas Tribune article linked above, and I’d guess that’s where the worst flooding will happen this time
Note the last sentence in this page:

With all that background, now for the city’s Harvey choices:
As of mid-last week, it was forecast that Harvey would produce “up to Allison” levels of rainfall. That was when any evac order would have had to be made
It’s not possible to evac all of Houston inside of 48 hours. Too many people, not enough roads or time, and Houston would inherently be a lower priority than people closer to the coast
City & state leaders knew the rainfall would be very, very bad. But the experiences of Allison & Rita would lead to the belief that evacuation, especially on short notice, would lead to more death than hunkering down.
Also, given that roads & freeways flood BY DESIGN, “stuck on the road” is the absolute worst, most dangerous place to be.
thus an evac that stranded people mid-storm would be worst-case scenario.
Embedded in that is a gamble that emergency services will be able to rescue people at the rate they become endangered
That’s a hard choice to make. and it will be examined for a long, long time given 20/20 hindsight
But decisions have to be judged by the best information available at the time. And at the time, it was justifiable.
Perhaps on closer examination it will have been the wrong choice, but it is an entirely defensible one.
Many have noticed something of a gap a gap between Mayor Turner and Gov Abbott on this choice
and hinted some sort of R/D partisan issue. More relevant is likely the Gov’s handicap
(famously, within TX) Gov Abbott is in a wheelchair, and is thus highly sensitive to the risks for people with limited mobility, who of course are/would be in the most danger if hunkering down proves the wrong choice. And so the Gov likely has a different sense of risk than does the Mayor. Doesn’t make it right or wrong. just a different value judgement. Judgement calls are as much about being able to live with a choice being wrong as they are about picking the outcome one thinks will be best. It’s easy to see both sides of this one

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

the pee tape and other needless distractions

Every few weeks, regular as clockwork, speculation fires up again on the Internets that the reason that Donald Trump is apparently behaving and talking obsequiously about Vladinir Putin and Russia is because he is being blackmailed.
Specifically, there is supposed to be a “pee tape” or some other audio and/or video record of Donald Trump engaging in sexual activities, that is in the possession of the Russian government. The hypothesis is that Donald Trump is being obsequious to Russia because he fears that if he is not nice, the tape will be leaked into the public domain.
Let me spell it out.
This is an irrelevant sideshow.
None. Of. This. Matters.
For multiple reasons. It’s a long list.
1. Everything we can see and hear about Donald Trump suggests that he is immune to being shamed in any public forum. He routinely lies, bullshits, utters malformed and inflammatory statements, and behaves oddly in public with other world leaders. The behavior is characteristic of a person with acute Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Narcissists simply do not care how they are perceived by most people, they only care that enough people close to them tell them how wonderful they are. That is why narcissists are almost always surrounded by an inner circle of sycophants who will praise and venerate them, usually without prompting. (For a narcissist, validation from his sycophants is enough, and if those sycophants do not provide enough validation, why, he will damn well fire their asses and get somebody in who will tell him how wonderful he is).
2. Donald Trump might be behaving obsequiously to Vladimir Putin because he thinks he is a great guy who is doing a bang-up job of running Russia. Almost all demagogues and dictators in recorded history have been narcissists, and narcissists love to strut with other narcissists. Think of it as a public dick-swinging contest. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin may simply be birds of a feather. There is also the matter of the Trump family business ties with Russia to consider. If, as rumors suggest, Trump was once bailed out of debt by Russian businessmen, he may have powerful reasons for being nice to Russia that have nothing whatsoever to do with pee tapes, threesome tapes, whatever.

3. What people do in consensual private activities is none of our damn business.
If a politician wants to have fun by being nailed to a wall and whipped by professional working women dressed as police officers, I don’t care. It’s the politician’s own private business. What people get up to in private is nothing to do with the rest of us, as long as it does not break other laws, both parties are able to give informed consent and they affirmatively consented. This should not be difficult.

4. A leader’s consensual, equitable private activities tell us nothing about his or her public behavior.
Nelson Rockefeller, who was the VP from 1974 to 1977, died suddenly in a hotel in New York in 1979, seemingly in the middle of a discussion with a woman who was not his wife. The family hastily shut down all inquiry, had his body cremated, and life went on. However, there was no suggestion that Rockefeller was a duplicitous asshole in politics. He was a well-respected Republican politician and leader. This, remember, was just over 15 years after the office of President was occupied for several years by an Ivy League graduate and war hero who could only just about keep his pants up in the presence of a pretty girl (at least, until he could discuss matters of state with them later in private). Politics always attracts the power-hungry, and power-hungry people will use that power in all sorts of ways. Sexual shenanigans is one manifestation, but probably the least damaging to the political process and the country, as long as it is not a pattern of abusive behavior.

5. Persecution of politicians for sexual shenanigans is hypocritical and encourages secrecy, duplicity and other bad behaviors in the political process
In private life, people have affairs, split up, divorce and get re-married all the time. Yet we persist in claiming to hold political leaders to standards that many of us have not been able to live up to. This is hypocrisy writ large. I have three divorces. I am no position to demand marital consistency from a political candidate.
I would be more impressed if electors would un-elect politicians who really were guilty of malfeasance.

So…my conclusion about the pee tape? Even if it exists, I don’t care. I am far more interested in Donald Trump’s actions in his capacity as POTUS than anything he may have done consensually behind closed doors in the past. The POTUS engaging in a threesome is not something that impacts me. Starting an unnecessary global conflict will impact all of us. Let’s not get distracted by fluff.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Debates over Confederate statues are stuffed full of irony

There is a spirited debate going on in the USA about what should happen to the hundreds of statues erected over the last 150 years commemorating leaders involved in the US Civil War.
The debate is not entirely based on logic or courtesy, since we live in stressful times, with self-identified nativists, racists and Nazis showing up in public appropriating the Confederate flag.
Or more correctly, what passes these days as the Confederate flag. The flag most commonly used is not the official Confederation states flag, if indeed there ever was one. It was the battle flag of a Confederate Army unit commanded by Ronbert E. Lee, who, after the Civil War was over, disavowed the public display of Confederate symbols, including at his own funeral.
So, the flag that people wave in public, affix to cars and trucks, display on t-shirts etc. is the flag of a defeated army. To use dismissive American vernacular, the symbol of a bunch of losers. Given the sneering way in which people in this country dismiss the idea of “participation trophies”, I find the use of a defeated army’s flag as a symbol to be quite amusing.
But, on to the more interesting irony. The majority of the current statues and monuments erected to commemorate the Civil War do not date from the period immediately following the war, unlike the collections of war memorials in (say) Europe. Instead, they date from periods in the 20th Century, as this article explains
This tells me that the primary purpose of these monuments was not war casualty or war leader commemoration. The people responsible for erecting the monuments were, in many cases, not even alive at the time of the Civil War. These monuments were almost certainly erected for another purpose entirely. And this chart of when the monuments were erected reveals that protesting advances in civil rights for all might be one of the drivers for the erection of those monuments in the 20th century. Josh Marshall provides a summary commentary here.
More interestingly, monuments are still being erected at the present time. As the article explains:

…some continue to be built – USA Today notes that 35 Confederate monuments have been erected in North Carolina since 2000.

This is not commemoration of war events, leaders or casualties. This is a different kind of commemoration or virtue signalling. The people pushing for these monuments were either not interested in Civil War history, or chose to ignore it. In my opinion, they were protesting the outcome for a collection of reasons, some of which had to do with racism, some to do with regional solidarity and dislike of all forms of central government. But anybody who tries to convince me that any monument erected since 1900 was for Civil War commemorative purposes is going to have an uphill struggle.
The focus on leaders is also instructive. The real losers in any mass war are common people, who are pressed into service in large numbers and used as expendable cannon-fodder by military and political leaders. If there is any type of memorial that should be erected, it is to the people who lost their lives. In the UK, most World War II memorials are not statues of leaders, although there are a small number of statues of key figures in World War II, such as Winston Churchill and Gen. Bernard Montgomery. Most of the memorials are to war casualties. This is not the case with the Civil War memorials in the USA. When you start to erect statues of wartime leaders, you always ignite controversy, since many of those leaders issued orders that sent numerous people into battle, and many then lost their lives. The controversy in the UK over memorials to Air Marshal Harris is an example of this. He ordered the firebombing raids on Hamburg and Dresden that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, and as a result, commemorating him has become a lightning rod subject. Ditto the exploits of the 503rd Composite Group in the US Air force, the unit, led by Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. Controversy over how that effort should be memorialized has been going on for decades. The fact that these statues were apparently erected without any discussion of the war casualty dimension tells me, once again, that this was not about the war itself. It is defiant symbolism.
I therefore find the complaints that removal of the statues is “erasing history” to be both intellectually bankrupt and ironic. The complaints are unserious because removing a statue does not “Erase history”. It merely removes a symbol from public view. People in the UK would still know all about World War II even if every symbol and monument was removed.
If you subtract the whining about erasing history, you are therefore left staring at the irony that most of the proponents of the memorials are ignorant of history. They need to go learn some history first.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

The challenge with hiding toxic beliefs from the public…

…is that sooner or later, the mask slips.
When you work for a volatile, capricious narcissist, and that starts to happen multiple times, you have a tough decision to make.
Do you continue to work for said person, and risk zeroing your credibility? Or do you move on?
These are not easy decisions to make. People have mortgages to pay and families to raise. However, when history is written, enablers will not be venerated.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Arguments about condemnations miss the point

There has been a lot of Light Heat and Sound expended over the last 2 days over whether Donald Trump did or did not adequately condemn the events in Charlottesville.
Whatever you think about what Trump did or did not say (I happen to believe that on this topic, as with many other topics involving his extreme fringe supporters, Trump behaved like a duplicitous shitweasel), the discussions miss the point.
In these kinds of situations, most people remember only the initial event or statement. Any subsequent modification gets a fraction of the publicity and attention. This is the origin of the famous quotation that a lie will be halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on.
Politicians know this of course, which is why authoritarian shitweasels routinely utter nonsensically inflammatory statements in public. When challenged on them, they first “double down”, repeating the original statement, perhaps in a slightly different form, while professing surprise that it should be at all contentious. If that fails to damp down outrage, their next tactic is either to issue a Notpology, or to qualify the original statement in some way to address the outrage.
both the Notpology and the qualification are not aimed at the politician’s core supporters, who tend to remember the original statement anyway, and will regard the later weasel words as window-dressing for snowflakes who Cannot Handle The Truth. (One also sees the usual whining about “political correctness fascism” or similar).
So, circling back round to Donald Trump, his original weaselling equivocation is now firmly etched in history. There is no real point in anybody demanding that he change his position, since even if he does, most people will only remember the original statement

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Incoherence in argument

In the past 24 hours I have observed the following on social media:

1. Different commenters describing the opposition by IBM to the Texas “bathroom bill” as “political communism” and “fascism”.
2. A commenter on LInkedIn declaring that the campaign to force BenchMark Capital to divest their investment in Uber (following the scandals that led to the departure of the previous CEO Travis Kalanick) is the revenge of “the PC Lib stranglehold”
3. An assertion that I am “biased” because I posted a couple of rather pointed messages to Facebook about the demonstration in Charlottesville (which, I have to remind readers, featured a drive-at-a-crowd murder by a man who seems to have been on the same side as the original demonstrators).

(1( and (2) are excellent examples of attempted argument by cutting and pasting slogans. This is about on a par with attempting to argue using memes, which for some reason people seem to think is an effective method of persuasion on social media.
Here’s the problem. Cutting and pasting slogans and memes is not making an argument. It simply demonstrates that the commenter can cut and paste. It is analagous to plagiarizing content for your high school essay and expecting the teacher to give you a good grade. Most teachers, if the determine that the content is cut and pasted, will give a failing grade, because absolutely no original thought went into the process. Ditto arguing in slogans and memes. That’s not your voice. It’s the voice of a sloganeer, who in all probability did not have a cogent argument in the first place, hence they used slogans. I cannot take this form of communication seriously. it is fundamentally lazy and unserious. It also tends to show that the commenter is confused or incoherent, as in calling IBM “communist” and “fascist” simultaneously.
3 is interesting. So, I am biased.
OK.
We all have biases. This is not revelatory, nor is it an argument.
On one level it is a statement of the obvious. On another level, however, it is a form of indirect speech. It is an attempt at a shut-down of the conversation, as in “I am not taking you seriously because you are biased”. It is, in some respects, a form of the ad hominem fallacy.
If somebody wants to be taken seriously in discussion, they need to stay away from rhetorical tricks like this one, and, you know, construct an argunent that contains a proposition for which they offer evidence.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube
Healthprose pharmacy reviews