June 21, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


A Writer Returns to the Woods of His Youth: The people who help shape us might not always be with us long, but a wild spirit can live on forever (RUSSELL WORTH PARKER, June/July 2020, Garden & Gun)

My Uncle Trip's truck smelled like dirt and chain-saw oil and pine straw mingled with cigarette smoke. I smell it when I think of him. The truck was a two-tone Jeep, a rust-dusted white cab over a faded copper body. I sat in his lap as we cruised the rolling back roads of the Georgia Piedmont, my hands on the wheel at ten and two, his at six as he worked gears and pedals. There were seat belts, but I understood them to be something we might only consider far beyond potholed asphalt or root-choked red dirt. No matter, his arm around my waist felt safer than any nylon and buckle Detroit could offer us. There was an AM radio, but reception was poor in Whistleville, so we sang duets of "Luckenbach, Texas" backed by the music of Old Milwaukee empties, crushed cans rattling like tambourine accompaniment to the steel guitar growl of bottles rolling in the truck bed.

We rarely traveled with purpose. Maybe a trip to Big Star for my grandmother or a run to the Happy Hooker for Louisiana Pinks or Red Wigglers. Probably a stop at the package store either way. Mostly we went to the woods.

There may have been concrete motivations for those trips--the recovery of an ax or a shovel set aside and momentarily forgotten. But generally, Trip went for the simple pleasure of time spent under leaf and limb and the desire to impart that subtle joy to me. He neither directed nor demanded, but spoke to me as if I had agency, as if it were plausible that at age six, I might have already made plans. "You want to go down to the pond?" or "You got time to help me find a pickax?" or "I'm going hunting arrowheads--come on if you want." And with a loyalty born of absolute worship, I followed him. The truck took us only so far, so Trip and I took to foot.

We never moved fast in the woods. He taught me how to cross barbed wire by spreading two strands to carefully step high over one while bending low beneath another. Through verdant confusions of kudzu that would otherwise have swallowed me, I sat high upon shoulders my mother says I share. It's a persistence of genetics that pleases me. Once we were afield, anything was worth a stop and a lesson--an animal's footprint, last spring's bird nest, the creek where water coursing over granite sounds so much like a cacophony of voices that we called it the Talking Place.

I don't hold many memories of Trip under a roof, fewer still without something in his hand: a rod, a gun, posthole diggers. We fished a family pond deep in the woods, spinning line from Zebco 202s in pursuit of the bass and bream silently wending through green water shining with rippled images of Georgia pine and blue sky. There, he taught me what made a rock right for skipping. How to nail a catfish to a board and strip the skin from its flesh with pliers. How to shoot a .22 loaded with rat shot at a water moccasin challenging us over a stringer of fish.

I don't know how many days my uncle Trip had been missing when my mother told me he was gone.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Backlash against Netanyahu as Israel enters second coronavirus wave (New Arab, 21 June, 2020)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government will discuss possible steps to halt the spread of the coronavirus as anger rises over the country entering its second Covid-19 wave.

Daily cases have spiked from 16 to 200 within a month,  the National Center for Information and Knowledge in the Battle Against Coronavirus said, announcing the second wave of the infection on Sunday. [...]

Israeli media has lashed out at Tel Aviv's strategy in dealing with the pandemic.

Israeli journalist Nadaf Eyal criticised the government in a Yedioth Ahronoth op-ed which has since been widely shared.

"This is not the fault of the public (mostly). This is on the government," he wrote.

"What exactly have they been doing for the last month and a half? You would have expected them to put together a project with a major national scope, one that could turn Israel into a world leader in the fight against the coronavirus and cleanse it of the disease, like New Zealand."

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Trump's Poll Numbers Are So Bad the GOP Is Starting to Panic About a 'Wipeout' (Cameron Joseph, Jun 18 2020, Vice News)

Trump has trailed former Vice President Joe Biden by almost 10 points in recent national polling. And Republicans privately admit things look just as bad at the local level. More than a half-dozen GOP strategists working on Senate and House races told VICE News that they've seen Trump's numbers plunge in states and districts across the country. His standing with voters was already suffering from his botched coronavirus response -- and his inflammatory reaction to national Black Lives Matter protests has pushed him even further down with key groups of voters.

"The environment really sucks for us right now. We've got a worldwide pandemic, the economy is slipping and now we have a race war tacked on," warned one GOP strategist involved in multiple races. "If the election were held today, we'd be talking about a wipeout. We'd be in landslide territory."

"If the election were held today, we'd be talking about a wipeout. We'd be in landslide territory."

The president badly trails Biden in states and districts that went red in 2016 that he needs to win again in 2020. Trump is in alarmingly poor shape in a number of states that appeared well outside Democrats' reach at the beginning of the election cycle. And his terrible numbers aren't just hurting him: Republicans are increasingly concerned that he could cost them the Senate as well, handing Democrats unified control of Washington after the next election.

...for not removing a racist leader.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Trump allies see a mounting threat: Biden's rising evangelical support: The president's supporters worry Biden can grab a larger slice of a critical voting bloc -- when Trump can least afford departures from his base. (GABBY ORR, 06/21/2020, Politico)

It was June 10, 2008. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama had gathered with dozens of evangelical leaders -- many of them fixtures of the religious right -- at the urging of campaign aides. If he could offer genuine glimpses of his own abiding faith, they insisted he could chisel away at the conservative Christian voting bloc.

At a rally in the Bible Belt, he talked about the church he'd attended for two decades in Chicago. Calling for an "all-hands-on-deck approach" to tackle poverty, he promised churches and religious organizations would play a greater public role in delivering social services under his administration. And during a faith-based forum in Southern California, he said his own support for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, did not mean he wasn't interested in reducing abortion in America.

The strategy worked. Obama's campaign stops at churches, sermon-like speeches and his professed belief in Jesus Christ earned him 24 percent of the white evangelical vote -- doubling Democrats' support among young white evangelicals and gaining three points with the overall demographic from the 2004 election.

Now, allies of President Donald Trump worry his 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, can do the same -- snatching a slice of a critical voting bloc from Trump when he can least afford departures from his base.

Biden, a lifelong Catholic, has performed better in recent polling among white evangelicals -- and other religious groups -- than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton did in 2016, and is widely perceived as more religious than the current White House occupant. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


The Man Who Started a Pandemic: Vladimir Lenin's 150th anniversary is a reminder of the cost of deadly idealism (Cathy Young, 5/01/20, Arc Digital)

With the COVID-19 pandemic sucking up much of public discourse, an anniversary of an event whose echoes still affect history went almost unnoticed this spring. April 22 marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov -- better known as Lenin -- the leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the founder of the Soviet state. There is some irony in the fact that coronavirus-related restrictions made the commemorations of this date in post-Soviet Russia even more low-key than they would have been otherwise. (Only a few dozen communists defied Moscow's lockdown to place flowers at Lenin's tomb.) After all, Lenin's chief legacy was a political plague that not only put entire nations under a full-time lockdown but killed as many as 100 million. It's not for nothing that Winston Churchill famously compared him to a deadly infection when he wrote, of Lenin's German-aided return from exile in the spring of 1917, that the Germans "transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia."

As the father of the Soviet state, Lenin is, in some ways, more legend than man. For online "tankies," he is the mythic hero of Soviet posters. For conservatives, he is the ultimate bogeyman, the source of fake quotes about socialized medicine as a commie plot.

Meanwhile, at a time of renewed interest in socialism and communism on the left, many leftists in places like Jacobin magazine see Lenin as the "good communist" to Joseph Stalin's "bad communist" -- the revolutionary wrongly maligned as an authoritarian. Indeed, Lenin's birthday this year was marked on Twitter by New York State Senator Julia Salazar, a member of the new crop of young progressive politicians.

The "Lenin good, Stalin bad" formula was also popular among Soviet reformers, both in the late 1950s-early 1960s and in the late 1980s. It was wrong then; it is wrong now. To be sure, Lenin is a figure of more nuance than Stalin. But as independent Russian historian Nikita Sokolov recently told Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, Lenin's only consistent position throughout his political career was that "he was a fundamental believer in violence as the solution to any problem." And while he sometimes regarded liberalization as expeditious, he fundamentally regarded freedom as a nuisance.

The fundamental delusion of Mikhail Gorbachev was that if you allowed some political loosening the dissidents would go after Stalin again and that you could use the criticism of deviation from Soviet ideals to gain backing for economic reform.  Instead, the newly freed voices went right after Lenin and the Revolution and the regime itself.  You can't reform evil.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Make Arenas Empty Again (TIM MILLER  JUNE 20, 2020, The Bulwark)

[A]s Trump took the stage, the story transformed from dystopian fiction to absurdist farce.

It turned out that President Trump was not, in fact, set to appear in front of throngs of MAGA die-hards who were waiting for their dear leader while stirring a COVID-Kool-Aid. Instead he was about to appear before a half-empty arena and complain about people who are mean to him.

The Trump on display in Tulsa was not a strong man steeling himself for a crackdown against protesters while standing astride a silent majority of mask-eschewing followers with a death wish.

Instead, out from behind the curtain came a weak and whiny D-list Rodney Dangerfield, obsessed with minor slights and not getting enough respect from the Fake News Media that he claims to hate but seems to be kind of super into.

This is not to say that the speech was free of evil: He claimed to have asked that COVID-19 testing to be slowed down in the hopes his mismanagement wouldn't look as bad; he described the virus that has killed 120,000 Americans in 4 months (and counting) as "the sniffles"; and he repeatedly attacked Black Lives Matters protesters as violent thugs.

Yet these bromides felt gross but rote. Like a guy hitting his spots even after losing confidence in his routine, because he doesn't know any other material.

What Tulsa revealed was a disrobed Emperor Orangius. The man who once obsessed over his great poll numbers is down everywhere, by nearly double digits. The man who bragged every day about the economy is staring at 13 percent unemployment. The man who gloried in the throngs of packed auditoriums and expected a crowd so big that he would have to give a second performance at an outdoor venue stood in the middle of an arena surrounded by empty blue seats, having been thwarted by TikTok teens.

Trumpbots like to complain that their opponents are focussed on race and racism, but what did their avatar offer in this desperate appeal to The Base other than racism? Forget what we think of them; this is what he thinks of them. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Xi, Who Must, For Now, Be Obeyed (Wolfgang Kasper, 6/21/20, Quadrant)

These are translated excerpts from a stirring audio statement by an eminent Chinese academic and Communist Party member:

The Party itself is already a political zombie ... the system has already corrupted many ...  [The leader] has become a total mafia boss who can punish his underlings however he wants ... the whole Party [is] revolving around one person ... [The CCP's Standing Committee members are] just slaves under the command of one person, I wonder whether [the Party] can rise up again for the sake of this country and its people ... [and] ask this person to step down ... The key is whether our high-ranking officials have the political courage to be accountable to the Party and the people...

... Right now, society can't be counted on, he's already atomized the entire Chinese society into scattered sand. All of civil society and the capacity for self-organization have been shattered... the ability to think is being devastated...

... we need to believe in this nation ... it is resilient and alive... If we don't get rid of this person... we will wait for a hard landing.... There is a large likelihood that by the end of this year or the first half of next year [i.e. 2021], the economy will completely collapse... [eventually] domestic conflicts will boil over... within five years, we will witness China go through another period of major chaos... [...]

In this essay, Căi Xiá argued for the recognition of the individual who enjoys autonomy and can pursue diverse self-set aspirations, and not - as in China's despotic tradition - who is a subject and just a tool for realising the goals of the national collective. When she wrote critically of "the forced requisition of land and forced demolition of housing among the masses", this evoked vivid memories in my mind of ordinary people waving placards and demonstrating in front of urban demolition sites -- scenes, which any visitor to China who left the 'foreign tourist bubble' will have  come across in recent decades.

Căi Xiá re-issued her essay in January 2013 . It sounded like a cri de cœur against the then emerging argument that constitutional democracy just does not fit China's specific conditions. At the time, many foreigners were amazed that such arguments as hers were still tolerated in the People's Republic, indeed that such arguments - even when infused with Marxist-Maoist modes of dialectic thinking - could come out of the Central Party School. To my mind, this inspired hope.

The style of the essay reminded  me of the writings of Milovan Đilas (Djilas), the imprisoned communist renegade in Tito's Yugoslavia. He, too, had reflected about communism within a framework of Marxist dialectic and come to conclusions that condemned the 'New Class' (aka party priviligentsia) for frustrating the justified aspirations of individuals. Writers like Djilas and Căi Xiá are hard to read because they use communist jargon and are enmeshed in the Marxist way of thinking. A sympathetic Western reader of Căi Xiá must of course doubt the practicality of her proposals. How could the leading role of the Communist Party of China ever be sustained when the political order allows freedom of speech, freedom of association and free elections? Would this not lead to the demise of the monopoly Party because of its past repression and its corruption? Would that not lead to revenge and turmoil? Would the present rulers not soon be replaced by alternative thugs?

It is thus easy for Westerners to dismiss the writings of idealistic reform Marxists. Yet, they deserve some admiration for their valiant intellectual struggles and their humane, individualistic aspirations. After all, they have not had access to thinkers such as Max Weber, Joseph Alois Schumpeter, Friedrich August Hayek and Karl Popper. Our respect needs, however, to be tempered: Whatever Marx may once have had in mind when he spoke of  'democracy' and whatever Căi Xiá imagines him to have thought, one cannot absolve present-day Marxist idealists of empirical ignorance. Wherever socialist revolutions overturned an old order during the past one-hundred years, thuggish autocrats emerged and inflicted fear and poverty on the people: Castro in Cuba, the Kims in Korea, Uncle Ho in Vietnam, half a dozen socialist dictatorships in Africa, the al-Assads in Syria, Muammar Gaddafi's 'Green Socialism', the chavista socialism in Venezuela, and so on. There is no indication of a revolutionary dialectic leading from socialist revolution to democracy and constitutionally limited government! [...]

The expectation in the 1980s and 1990s was that a new and educated middle-class would gradually demand more political freedom and become more outspoken about the corruption of the Party elites, just as demands for democracy and civil rights arose after a generation of economic advancement in Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The signs were there that the PRC would follow that same evolutionary trajectory. Remarkable writings like Căi Xiá's 2011 essay inspired hope.

Since Xi Jinping's takeover of the helm of the CPC in 2012, such expectations have had to be modified drastically, though not all foreign observers and Chinese citizens have completely  abandoned hope. Xi is on the unprecedented mission to control 1.4 billion people, who are no longer ignorant, downtrodden peasants. Nor are Chinese communities as 'atomised as sand', as Căi Xiá feared. Hundreds of millions now belong to an educated, aspiring middle-class. They have been buoyed by an economic and cultural ascendancy and now have the means to network independent of government.  Any leader, who sees his role as defending a life-long political monopoly of the Communist Party and the country, will of course try to meet the challenges from the rising, more demanding, more educated middle-class by falling back on selective repression and whipping up nationalistic fervour.

Căi Xiá is probably right when she now writes that a crisis is imminent. China's economy has been hit hard both by the domestic disruptions of production and trade and the downturn in export demand in the wake of the pandemic. The option of using massive pump-priming to 'buy prosperity' is less available than in earlier cyclical slowdowns, since huge debts and unused capacities - for example ubiquitous stocks of new, but vacant housing - weigh on the economy and the financial system. Add to this the COVID-19 death toll throughout the country and a possible second wave now spreading in the capital. Superstitious Chinese may interpret recent omens as signs that the Red Emperor is losing the Mandate of Heaven.

On a recent Remnant podcast, Oriana Skylar Mastro offered some real enlightenment on why the PRC has been able to co-opt so much of the middle class that it gets credit, deserved or not, for creating. Her suggestion was that, so long as Xi and company can buy them off they'll stay loyal to the party.  So what happens as the economy stalls out? 

[N.B. There's also a good bit on this moronic border dispute with India.]

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Florida spike raises doubts over reopening strategy; mask debate gets more political (Anjalee Khemlani, June 19, 2020, Yahoo Finance)

Florida became the focus of rising fears it could become the next U.S. coronavirus hotspot, with surging cases in the West and South leading to increased safety measures, and fanning doubts about nationwide plans to reopen.

Globally cases have surged past 8.5 million, and more than 454,000 have died. In the U.S. nearly 2.2. million cases have been reported, and more than 118,000 are dead. On Friday, the Sunshine State reported a rise in COVID-19 cases of 4.4%, sharply higher than the previous 7-day average of 3.2%.

The relentless climb in domestic cases prompted California's governor to require mask-wearing in public, while Texas and Arizona recently began to ok enforcing masks in public, amid a spike in new diagnoses in those states.

Because everyone will go back to work and frequent businesses no matter how bad you make the outbreak, right?