Archive for the ‘The Good Fight’ category

Stray Thoughts and Mental Misdemeanors

August 16, 2017

I’ve been quiet for the last several days* for several reasons. I’ve been heartsick; paralyzed with rage, unable to form sentences;** and, perhaps most to the point, unable to add much, if anything to what everyone else has been saying.

What’s more, I’m well behind on my book project, and just about ever last erg of writing energy I may have by rights has to go there. Plus I’m heading off this weekend eclipse chasing, then off-the-grid resetting (a place in NE California that lacks cell signal and any form of internet, 13 miles from the nearest hamlet, no town electricity or services at all.  IOW:  paradise).  So I’m not going to be adding much to the conversation for a while yet, as in for some months.

But I don’t want to remain completely uncounted, so here I’ll just say two things.  First, of course, is to sign on to what so many have already said:  Donald Trump is not just a bad president. He’s an existential danger to the US and the world — and he is allowed to be so by a Republican Party that is wholly complicit in his failure, his corruption, and in accepting his embrace of evil.  As we do our best not just to resist but to overcome, we must aim not just for Trump’s fall, but for salt to rain on the fields of the entire, and thoroughly misnamed Grand Grotesque Old Party.

And second, because not even dire political straits can be navigated by rage and desperation alone, here’s a treat I discovered as I took one of my winding journeys through the ‘tubes.

That is:  I’m writing (inter alia) about the South Sea Bubble.  I was, for reasons that, trust me,*** make perfect sense in context, trying to discover a little more about the forestalled first voyage of the South Sea Company ship the Royal George.  Googling around that I was led to an image of the so-called South Sea shilling — part of a coinage in several denominations minted in 1723, three years after the Bubble, using silver the Company found in one of its few successful maritime ventures.

That led me to Spink and Son’s website to see if I could pick up such a coin as a curio and a keepsake.  Spink’s is a fabulous too-English establishment, with retail premises in London not far from the British Museum, and an astonishing collection of rare coins and medals.  It’s not really the right place to look for my coin — South Sea shillings are way too common and plebian, it turns out, and Spink’s likes to quote numbers with way too many zeroes in it for my bank balance.  But you know how it is.  Once there one can’t help mouse around — and cruising over to their private sale page, I found this:

The Dickin Medal

Awarded to 3 year old pigeon NURP.41.SBS.219 The Duke of Normandy, 21st Army Group, D-Day 6/6/44, AFS, No. 1086, DM No.45.

Here’s Spink’s photo of his grace’s medal:

The Duke of Normandy’s citation reads:

“For being the first bird to arrive with a message from Paratroops of the 21st Army Group behind enemy lines on D-Day, 6th June 1944 while serving with the APS (Allied Pigeon Service).”

That would have been the crucial information that paratroopers had managed to secure a key German battery overlooking Sword Beach in time for the D-Day assault on that position.

BTW:  if you want that bauble, it’s offered at £15,000.

Here’s the Duke himself, a fine specimen of pigeon-hood:

Some of y’all are likely much better informed than I am, but for me, the Dickin Medal was novel territory, so some further research was clearly required.  Of course in idle surfing, that means a quick trip to Wikipedia.  It turns out that the Dickin Medal is often termed “the animal Victoria Cross,” which apparently makes the human Victoria Cross people rather cross, which ISTM is their problem.

The Dickin Medal has been awarded 67 times since it was instituted in 1943.  The first went to the pigeon White Vision, who flew into headwinds for nine hours to deliver a message that led to the rescue of the crew of a flying boat that was forced down near the Hebrides.  The most recent award went, posthumously, to Reckless, a Mongolian mare who served with the US Army in Korea.  Here she is under fire…

And here in happier days:

She was, apparently, something of a character:

Out of a race horse dam, she was purchased in October 1952 for $250 from a Korean stableboy at the Seoul racetrack who needed money to buy an artificial leg for his sister. Reckless was bought by members of the United States Marine Corps and trained to be a pack horse for the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company, 5th Marine Regiment1st Marine Division.[1] She quickly became part of the unit and was allowed to roam freely through camp, entering the Marines’ tents, where she would sleep on cold nights, and was known for her willingness to eat nearly anything, including scrambled eggs, beer, Coca-Cola and, once, about $30 worth of poker chips.

She served as an ammunition resupply horse–which is itself a reminder that for much of the twentieth century mechanized war was a hell of lot less internal-combustion-powered than you might think.  See, e.g., this glimpse of German resupply on the Eastern Front in 1942:

Back to Reckless: her medal-winning feats came during the Battle for Outpost Vegas, during which she made 51 trips, covering 35 miles, ferrying over four and half tons of artillery ammunition to the front lines.  She was wounded twice, and received two battlefield promotions, to corporal and then sergeant, and survived the war to live out a comfortable retirement in the United States.

As with the Victoria Cross, it’s not uncommon for Dickin Medal winners to have died in the action which earned them their award for valor, and many of the most recent winners have been dogs trained in the discovery of IEDs.  Here’s Buster, an RAF sniffer dog who, thankfully, survived his service in Iraq in 2003 to make it to the very respectable age of 16:

All of which is to say that there are so many much better creatures in the world than the vileness currently infesting the Oval Office, and all those who in any way made or make that continuing disgrace possible.

But we knew that.

So to close:  here’s to the Duke, to White Vision, to Reckless and Buster and the rest of their gallant company — and to all those who keep us company, who are, if unable to banish Trump, are still able to ease our spirits, the better to fight the bastards again tomorrow:

Let’s try to have some fun.  We’ll all need it.

*not on Twitter, TBH.

**with more than 140 characters

***in general, whenever you hear that, or even more, Trump’s favorite imperative, “believe me,” put both hands on your wallet.  Someone’s lying to you.  But not this time.

Images: Spink and Sons, Duke of Normandy Dickin Medal.

Paradata, The Duke of Normandy,

Camp Pendleton Archives, Reckless Under Fire,

US Marine Corps history division, Sgt. Reckless, Camp Pendleton

Bundesarchiv, German Supply Wagon in Mud1942

Me, Tikka, Hairy Eyeball, 2017

 

 

Odds and Ends

December 21, 2016

Consider this a proof-of-life post.  I went into a renewed Trump slough of despond a few days ago and am only now crawling out.  My reaction these last several days is summed up by this, fresh from my son’s vault of amusing internet clutter:

I’m climbing out of my funk in a couple of ways:  for one, by forcing myself to focus on work (and disconnect, insofar as I can, from Twitter).  Turns out that a deep dive into the story of Edmond “Comet” Halley as the father of life insurance does wonders for the mood.

Then there’s the promise of action.  My spouse is not letting up, and she’s making sure I’m going to march and all that.  The mood’s grim around here, but not abject.  I count that a win.

Then there’s all of you who read this.  Your company is  a light against the darkness.

And, though I may be a hopeless optimist on this one, I think the press is getting just a little better.  Not enough, yet, but the combination of obvious corruption, the overwhelming evidence of a tampered election, and the terror many are beginning to feel as the sheer slapdash incompetence of the Trump junta becomes ever more obvious has woken at least a few in the elite press.  Relentless pressure on social media, letters to the editor and so on will help.  That’s something the less crowd-loving among us (me!) can do, pajama-clad, in our basements.

And when all else fails, there’s the absurdity of it all.  That doesn’t make it better, of course, but it does give us something to gawp and cackle at.  Exhibit A?  This insight from the physician who attested to the Cheeto-faced, ferret-heedit shitgibbon’s Yuuuuuugely perfect health:

“If something happens to him, then it happens to him,” Bornstein said. “It’s like all the rest of us, no? That’s why we have a vice president and a speaker of the House and a whole line of people. They can just keep dying.”

They. Can. Just. Keep. On. Dying.

That’s the perspective I seek in my medical professionals…

BTW — check out this gem from the good doctor:

“It never occurred to me that he was the oldest president, not for a second,” Bornstein, 69, said in his Upper East Side office of the 70-year-old Trump. He said that “there’s nothing to share” on a regular basis about a president’s health. “Ronald Reagan had pre-senile dementia. I mean, seriously, did they share that one with you, or did Nancy just cover it up?”

Reassured yet?

Last, because I love you, and I couldn’t resist this when I saw the shot, how about this edition of….

SEPARATED AT BIRTH

and…

Kitten Tikka Masala is unamused by Trump, and doesn’t care who knows it.

Thread, this one, open it is.

Image:  Yousuf Karsh, portrait of Winston Churchill, December 30, 1941.

Moral Action in Trump’s America

December 7, 2016

I’m way deep in a big project, and rather significantly behind on it too, so my blogging for the next few months is going to be quick-hit stuff rather than anything thought through.  I’ll try to make up for that by making it as regular a practice as I can to toss good reads your way.

Todays comes from Masha Gessen, someone y’all know I greatly admire.  About a week ago she posted a piece on The New York Review of Books site.  In it, she asks if the realist stance in politics can function in the context of Trump.  To find out, she looks to her own family history — including choices she made — to answer no.  She takes no prisoners:

In Bialystok ghetto, my great-grandfather’s responsibility in the Judenrat was to ensure that the ghetto was supplied with food. He ran the trucks that brought food in and took garbage out, he ran the canteen and supervised the community gardens that a group of young socialists planted. He also discouraged the young socialists from trying to organize a resistance movement: it would be of no use and would only jeopardize the ghetto’s inhabitants. It took him almost two years to change his mind about the resistance efforts, as he slowly lost hope that the Judenrat, by generally following the rules and keeping the ghetto inhabitants in line, would be able to save at least some of them.

As in other ghettos, the Judenrat was ultimately given the task of compiling the lists of Jews to be “liquidated.” The Bialystok Judenrat accepted the job, and there is every indication that my great-grandfather took part in the process. The arguments in defense of producing the list, in Bialystok and elsewhere, were pragmatic: the killing was going to occur anyway; by cooperating, the Judenrat could try to reduce the number of people the Nazis were planning to kill (in Bialystok, this worked, though in the end the ghetto, like all other ghettos, was “liquidated”); by compiling the lists, the Judenrat could prevent random killing, instead choosing to sacrifice those who were already near death from disease or starvation. These were strong arguments. There is always a strong argument.

But what if the Jews had refused to cooperate?

640px-le_brun_charles_-_horatius_cocles_defending_the_bridge_-_google_art_project

Was Arendt right that fewer people might have died? Was Trunk right that Judenrat activities had no effect on the final outcome? Or would mass murder of Jews have occurred earlier if Jews had refused to manage their own existence in the ghetto? We cannot know for certain, any more than we can know now whether a scorched-earth strategy or the strategy of compromise would more effectively mitigate Trumpism. But that does not mean that a choice—the right choice—is impossible. It only means that we are asking the wrong question.

The right question…or better, the right stance, the right scale on which to weigh any choice of action?

We cannot know what political strategy, if any, can be effective in containing, rather than abetting, the threat that a Trump administration now poses to some of our most fundamental democratic principles. But we can know what is right. What separates Americans in 2016 from Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s is a little bit of historical time but a whole lot of historical knowledge….

Armed with that knowledge, or burdened with that legacy, we have a slight chance of making better choices. As Trump torpedoes into the presidency, we need to shift from realist to moral reasoning. That would mean, at minimum, thinking about the right thing to do, now and in the imaginable future. It is also a good idea to have a trusted friend capable of reminding you when you are about to lose your sense of right and wrong.

I’m convinced Gessen is correct.  More, I believe her demand that we make the moral choice first, and then pursue whatever particular tactic seems most likely to embody that choice while advancing (or at least defending) the cause will be the most effective, as well as the right thing to do.  A Democratic response to Trump that says we can make this work a little better enshrines Trumpism, and all the vicious GOP assumptions as the ground on which such matters get decided.  One that says “No. This is wrong.  Democrats will oppose, not mitigate…” is the one that creates a real choice going forward on the ground on which we want to fight.

Read the whole thing.

Image: Charles Le Brun, Horatius Cocles Defending the Bridgec. 1642/3 (I know it’s not dead on point, but it’s close, and I always loved the story, so there.)

A Couple Of Things To Talk About When You Pick Up The Damn Phone

August 12, 2015

I promise I won’t post on this every day — but I’m going to come back to this pretty often until we get through the votes on the Iran deal.

Anyway — yesterday I asked everyone to call their Congressional representatives — Senators and Congresspeople alike — to thank them if they’ve already declared for the deal, to urge them to do so if they’re still (publicly) thinking about it, and, respectfully but very firmly, to give them grief if they’ve come down on the wrong side.

I’m asking again.  Here are the House and Senate directories.

Today I’ve got a couple of new developments you can talk about when you do call.

First up, meet Gary Samore:

“I think President Obama’s strategy succeeded,” said Mr. Samore, who left his post on Monday. “He has created economic leverage and traded it away for Iranian nuclear concessions.”

Samore quit his job as head of United Against Nuclear Iran — a pressure group that worked to deepen sanctions against Iraq and that now, under its new head, old friend Joe Lieberman (D then I, but really R-Likud) opposes the Iran deal.

Giuseppe_Arcimboldo_-_Winter_-_WGA00819

The key here is that Samore is not someone who just fell of the turnip truck, nor is he a squish about the sweetness and light that may follow an agreement:

Though he backs the accord as the most that can be achieved diplomatically, Mr. Samore is skeptical that the agreement will open a new chapter in American-Iranian relations.

“The best you can achieve with diplomacy is delay in the hope that at some point a new Iranian government emerges that is not committed to developing nuclear weapons,” he said.

And if that leadership does not materialize, Mr. Samore acknowledges that Iran might vastly expand its nuclear enrichment program after core elements of the agreement expire in 15 years.

He is also not convinced that Iran will continue to adhere to the accord once economic sanctions are lifted. Even so, he argues, the accord will put the United States in a stronger position to respond than a congressional rejection would.

“We will have bought a couple of years, and if Iran cheats or reneges we will be in an even better position to double down on sanctions or, if necessary, use military force,” Mr. Samore said. “If I knew for certain that in five years they would cheat or renege, I’d still take the deal.”

This is what “best available option” means:  not that Lieberman and his herd of neo-con ilk can fart pixie dust and will away Iran’s political establishment, its institutional memory, and the broadly available knowledge of nuclear weapons design, but that we put ourselves in the most advantageous position we can to shape events as they unfold.

And in other news, it turns out that Iran is not, in fact, a monolithic Borg committed to the destruction of the United States and Israel.  Who says so? None other than a reporter from that famously pro-Iran media organ, The Forward.*

Mr. Cohler-Esses’s reporting, coming as Congress prepares to vote on the nuclear agreement next month, presents a more nuanced view of Iran compared with the dark descriptions advanced by a number of Jewish-American advocacy groups that consider Iran a rogue enemy state…

“Ordinary Iranians with whom I spoke have no interest at all in attacking Israel,” Mr. Cohler-Esses wrote. “Their concern is with their own sense of isolation and economic struggle.”

Among some of Iran’s senior ayatollahs and prominent officials, he wrote, there is also dissent from the official line against Israel.

“No one had anything warm to say about the Jewish state,” he wrote. “But pressed as to whether it was Israel’s policies or its very existence to which they objected, several were adamant: It’s Israel’s policies.”

While he wrote that there was no freedom of the press in Iran, “freedom of the tongue has been set loose.”

“I was repeatedly struck by the willingness of Iranians to offer sharp, even withering criticisms of their government on the record, sometimes even to be videotaped doing so,” Mr. Cohler-Esses wrote.

There you have it, folks: the deal on the table — even if the Iranians break it — still works to the advantage of the US, according to one of the most expert and skeptical figures in this long-running debate.  And the Iranians have a polity that is not in fact a unified autocracy bent on rogue violence, but is instead a much more complicated web of interests, beliefs and aspirations — exactly the kind of situation that offers opportunity for those deft enough to seek it out.

Oh — one more thing.  Last night I got an email from someone I’ve never met, who thanked me for yesterday’s effort to get some calls into the Hill.  He identified himself as someone who works on the senate side, and this is what he wrote:

We all hear the report every week on the top issues being called/written about and the breakdown. That message isn’t lost.

Your five minutes makes a difference.  Go to it.  Call your representatives.  Let them know you’re paying attention.

Once more:  the House and Senate directories.

*Snark, friends, if you’re not familiar with this pillar of New York Jewish newspapering.

Image:  Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Wintersecond half of the sixteenth century.

 

I’ll Be Your Cornhusker Tonight

May 27, 2015

Go Nebraska!

Nebraska on Wednesday became the first conservative state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty, with lawmakers defying their Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, a staunch supporter of capital punishment who had lobbied vigorously against banning it.

Manet,_Edouard_-_The_Execution_of_Emperor_Maximilian,_1867

By a 30 to 19 vote that cut across party lines, the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto on Tuesday of a bill repealing the state’s death penalty law. The measure garnered just enough votes to overcome the veto.

Slowly, haltingly, one step forward, often too many back, we progress.

Image:  Edouard Manet, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian 1867

Great Satan And Islamofascist Central Agree!

April 2, 2015

Nuclear talks with Iran produce a preliminary agreement.

Joannes_Fijt_-_Mushrooms_-_WGA08352

Statement glossed here.

Obama to speak on the accord at 2:15

In the meantime, here’s the debate prompt:

Worst deal since Munich or worst deal ever?

Image: Jan Fyt, Mushrooms, first half of the 17th century.

La Lucha Continua…With A Sideways Reason To Keep Fighting From The (A) Good Doctor

November 6, 2014

Serendipity works sometimes.  My friend David Dobbs publishes a near-daily newsletter of three or four fascinating essays or articles to read.  (You can sign up here.) Today he took me to a writer I’ve only occasionally glanced at in the past, Sadie Stein, (may have to change that)  for a piece that comes to a climax with a vision of a young, fictionalized Joyce Carol Oates, TA-ing her first class.  Trust me; it’s worth a look. (It’s over at the Paris Observer, itself a venue I chance upon more than seek out — might want to change that too.)

Contemplating the various joys of full-body immersion in student fiction was fun, enough so that I clicked through to Stein’s archive, and there, just below the bon-bon of a post to which David had directed me, I came upon her entry for Tuesday.  Mostly (though not entirely) she hands the microphone over to William Carlos Williams, and a poem, which, thus acknowledged, I herewith steal:

Election Day

Warm sun, quiet air

an old man sits

in the doorway of
a broken house–

boards for windows
plaster falling

from between the stones
and strokes the head

of a spotted dog

George_Wesley_Bellows_-_Man_and_Dog_(1905)

The dog and the man deserve better.  The struggle continues. It will not end easily, as Tuesday’s results remind us.  But to mix references and speakers of very different histories, the arc of the moral universe is long.  But that we can conceive of the idea of justice allows us to bend that arc towards the just end.  (And yes, I’m feeling my Anselm just a bit today.)

Image:  George Wesley BellowsMan and Dog, 1905.