bookmark_borderPost-431: an Easter with Mormons

(2200 words)

Easter 2023 was a good experience, but it unexpectedly came with a hundred or more Mormons.

The Mormons were there by invitation of the Lutheran pastor. He invited members of other churches for an early-morning gathering outdoors. None took up the offer, except the Mormons. They took full advantage and sent well over a hundred of their number to the gathering. The Lutheran hosts had a small showing from their own church, whose main is service is 10am. We were far outnumbered by the Mormons. The gathering went well in an objective sense, and the church hadn’t seen such a crowd in a long while.

I noted that the Mormons read Bible verses with wordings I had not heard before. The Mormons said the word Amen like “Ey-men” while the Lutherans said “Ah-men.” Not one of the Mormons showed up dressed less than as for a job interview. They had a choir that sings very well.

The Mormons who were sent were almost all in their twenties and thirties with a few older male leaders. I guess there are no female pastor-equivalents in the Mormon church. The Mormons divide people into congregations based on age and marital-status. It does seem it was young-single and young-married congregations who were sent to this gathering, as it is those congregations that are in the immediate area. I am told that when a young-single congregation member marries, he or she is mandatorily transferred to a different congregation. Whenever one learns anything about the Mormons, such as the method of sorting people into congregations and limiting the member’s own choice in the latter, one tends to sense something “off” about the whole thing. On the other hand, I think non-Christians feel the same thing about encounters with any Christians.

Nothing specifically bad happened at this early-morning Easter gathering. One could even say much ‘good’ happened. While lots of people seem to love to point out that Mormons are “nice people,” the whole thing left me with a vaguely uncomfortable or dejected feeling.

The experience itself was the opposite of dejecting, for it is a rare person indeed who can feel dejected when such a large crowd of enthusiastic people is around and in the generally-positive spirits that Easter always brings (that even for those with no Christian connection at all who do “Easter egg hunts,” such as the big one that happened at the White House today, drawing thousands of children to the South Lawn). The dejection comes from the thinking about the thing.

The Lutheran pastor, who is new (this is his first Easter), made a point to say: “This is not an inter-faith gathering, this is an intra-faith gathering.” What he said was a highbrow of saying: “I declare that Mormons are Christians.” The polite Mormon elder thanked him for signaling that he, the pastor of a traditional Christian congregation, is willing to say that Mormons are Christians. The subtext of these few words is thick and generations deep. Few if any in the 19th or 20th centuries would have said such a thing.

Mormonism is not traditional trinitarian Christianity. Traditional Christian denominations have never considered Mormons to be Christians, unless the label “Christian” is extended so wide such that Jehovah’s Witnesses are also in, along with “Moonies” and other such groups. And to take another few steps in that direction, what’s the big deal against Islam? They also think highly of Jesus, right? There are all kinds of connections there, why not join up with them?

Our traditional view is that the Mormon doctrines make them a separate religion, and in certain historical periods a menacing one, which had undermined social norms, treated the majority as hostile, and in other ways used the strategy of a small or diasporic group to get ahead. They are “nice people,” but aren’t we also nice? Or at least used to be. White-Protestant Middle America types were once considered much like the Mormons are today, but generally without the negatives and clannishness.


The Mormon religion has assuredly drawn from the strength and prestige of the Christian religion, and asserts a place for Jesus. But, then, some brands of Christian-influenced Hinduism also reverse Jesus (so it is said). Our traditional view is that the Mormon movement in the mid-19th century left behind traditional Christianity and created a new religion in the desert, one alternately considered a serious threat or too small and eccentric to really be a serious threat.

From accounts I’ve read of overland emigrants from the U.S. East to Oregon and California, many or most of whom passed right through Mormon strongholds, the whole Mormon religion in its early years was depicted in deeply unflattering terms, with regular scenes of Mormon males propositioning westward-bound emigrant women to abandon their party and become third or fourth wives to his (Mormon male’s) growing harem; get on the winning team! They did often successfully coax such women; one doesn’t need to land ‘hits’ at any high percentage to eventually wind up with large female-to-male ratios. Such a social movement was, needless to say, an outrage to Protestant America as it was a potentially destabilizing force. If they had attempted the movement in the fully settled U.S. East and had no desert refugium to go to, they’d simply have been crushed.

Last year I read the published diary of an early-1850s emigrant woman a young bride and mother in her twenties. She recorded little observations along the way, except a gap when she lost her pencil and could not get a replacement on the trail for x weeks. This woman wrote of how glad she was to get past the Mormon area on the trail, after an unexpected stay in Salt Lake City of several months (many emigrants altered plans to winter at Salt Lake City, or work for wages a season there to continue financing the emigration or as advance-members of their group continued to California to send word when all was ready). Her diary entries were peppered with anti-Mormon comments throughout that period. They ran an oppressive, theocratic spy-state and cheated or persecuted outsiders (whom they called “gentiles”), she said. But when the diarist’s party did leave Salt Lake City, she recorded that her mother-in-law had herself become a Mormon and refused to leave with the party, so they left her in Salt Lake City.

When the Methodist movement was sweeping America in the late 1700s and continuing throughout much of the 1800s, it also met resistance and resentment. The difference was the Methodists were traditional Christians and did not run a parallel-society like the Mormons did.


One cannot easily deny that the Mormons present an image that seems wholesome, functional, and productive — much like our entire society used to be. It’s very possible that their current domestic strategy is to target disgruntled or demoralized Christians and in coming years try to take over traditional churches. It’s not a process that would happen in one year or ten. That I see pairs of them with suits and nametags and books in hand around here suggests they are serious about domestic evangelism.

I think my uneasiness is that celebrating the most important of the Christian holidays, Easter, with Mormons is because it is a step in the direction of abandonment of our churches. I can foresee it all happening in part because it is hardly prophecy but more extension of what has already happened, the trajectory of the churches I’ve observed in my lifetime, in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and some of the 2020s.

On the bad-so-far “2020s” decade, I wonder how the Mormons dealt with Lockdownism… Most of the traditional churches embraced it, some with great passion, the social-panic and new Virus-centered defacto social religion taking the place of any nominal religion. I was virtually alone in urging against it and although my arguments were sound none were willing to listen. One of the local churches, I understand, never re-opened after embracing Lockdownism in 2020.


At some point in the 2010s, I remember it hitting me that most of our churches today are really “unitarian-universalist,”regardless of what they call themselves or what they would assert about themselves if queried. I notice the change in all kinds of little ways but that the church now says “All are welcome to receive communion,” with not even the mildest of references that some kind of standard is in places, something like “all Christians” or some basic statement of faith. It’s all people. This is an overt non-standard that seems a sign of lack of self-confidence.

If a decline process can’t be reversed, one might predict a consolidation of churches. Some observes would think it a surprise this hasn’t happened yet. For me, the large number of Christian churches persist because the church-affiliation-driving individuals in a family have attachments to different specific Christian traditions that are meaningful to them above-and-beyond the practical matters of running churches. Often it’s family-ancestry and/or personal upbringing. Sometimes those things are modified by formative experiences. These religious-associations or identities have historically been so important that any proposed working definition of “ethnicity” that excludes church-affiliation entirely cannot be said to be worth much.

Ethnicity is an important but fluid concept over time and space, and one useful way to “track” ethnicity tends to be church-affiliation. These things have meant a lot to people and they still have meaning to people today, even “young” people. One such person I think of often is E. S. of Australia, who I may never see again and who I am sure is not reading this. She was from a German-Lutheran family with many generations in Australia. She signaled that the Lutheran church or the identity was important to her. While there are many other positives to E. S., a church-identity is a good sign, a rock upon which something can be built; historically, it was so. It was as if E. S. (born about 1989) were catapulted into the 2010s (which is when I knew her all-too-briefly) from another era, an era when life had more meaning and we could be proud of who we were. That she felt adrift is no sin, for the West of this late date doesn’t seem to be made for people like us. I felt an affinity for E. S. that was probably not reciprocal.

One of the great early Protestant missionaries to Korea, Appenzeller, was from an old Dutch Reformed family in Pennsylvania, and respected the tradition, but at age eighteen or nineteen in the 1870s he had a religious experience with in company with some Methodists and within a few years entered a Methodist seminary, and is forever known as the pioneer Methodist in Korea. It is said he personally always had great sympathy for Calvinists (which his own family was back in Pennsylvania), including his Presbyterian rivals on the ground in Korea.

The Protestant churches are the rock upon which the leading elements of Western Civilization, as we’ve known it for five centuries, has existed and progressed. The churches were definitely the basis of the United States. Observing their decline leaves me sad and dejected, that weak feeling in the “pit of the stomach” you hear people talk about when you feel unconfident about something and it’s bothering you.


I have heard people bash the churches plenty, often in the same sort of the same way I’m doing but usually in a less-informed way. One friend, G. S., in younger years loved to bash the churches and say they were a source of our discontent. G. S., too, coincidentally, was from a Lutheran family of long roots in Pennsylvania, continuing some themes of this essay. G. S. was difficult to talk to at times because he tended against yielding points or compromise, and when I talked to him about the churches he would reveal that he didn’t know much about them. He was not a church-attender after childhood. He didn’t even know if his childhood church was ELCA or LCMS or other. He had never heard these terms, as I remember. (Having visited G. S.’s parents on several occasions, I feel confident they’d be ELCA.) He still felt confident in saying the churches were a root-cause of our problems. I viewed that as immature, and ten or twelve years later maybe he has moved on from that view.

The networks of ideologues that seem to be present in the upper leadership of the churches are really social-justice activists, and if one only looks or hears from them, it does seem very off-putting to a typical young male. For the kind of person who seems to end up in leadership of these church-bodies (denominations), the “church organization” is really a left-wing NGO. Their output is not distinguishable from secular NGO’s.

There are many positives about the churches, even though I cannot deny that the overall picture leaves me tending towards pessimism. The rank-and-filers in churches, ordinary members and attenders, are seldom like the ideologues in the central-organization leadership. People attach themselves to churches for specific reasons and those church-communities become part of their civic-life. It’s generally a positive to be more socially engaged in such things than not.

My ambivalence for the church I am most familiar with is sometimes reinforced by single observations. An affirmative-action policy was in place (mandated by the ideologues up top) by which any nonwhite person and persons whose mother-language is not English is given favoritism. Of course it’s to “increase Diversity.” That is how every institution seems to work in the USA, which  leaves so many of us pessimistic, observing the clear signal that we are not wanted. I have tried suggesting in a roundabout way that a church should be about empowering its own members. “Inreach” is as important as “outreach.” People are inspired to great things by feeling part of something. The Mormons, as best I can tell, very much do do that.


Easter: the greatest of the Christian holidays, the culmination of a week of important days in the Christian calendar. To explain the themes of the holiday without the doctrines, the idea of “rebirth” may suffice. The calendrically synchronous tie-in with spring is also obvious. The tradition of wearing light-colored clothing on Easter also signals spring.

In some sense, Easter is the approximate starting point of the best of the social calendar of the year in northern-hemisphere temperate areas, with months of relatively long days and good weather  ahead. It is hard to be truly pessimistic at this time of year. This specific experience of Easter 2023 was a mix of the positive and negative.

bookmark_borderPost-430: “Declare Emergency!” Part II

(1700 words)

Yesterday I wrote (Post-429: “Declare Emergency!”) about my in-the-wild discovery of “Declare Emergency!” Today I find myself with something meaningful to add. The “Declare Emergency!” group, I learned, group was hosting an event at a meeting room in the public library today. I resolved to stop by, and I did stop by. What I learned gives me enough for a few more words about the group and its goals.

The group’s manifesto confirms that the group encourages people to “block roads and do civil disobedience,” quoting from one of their leaflets, “until such time that the Biden Administration declares a climate emergency.”

Continue reading “Post-430: “Declare Emergency!” Part II”

bookmark_borderPost-424: Maddy’s Taproom, r.i.p. (2011-2020)

Maddy’s Taproom,” a bar, previously of downtown Washington D.C.

I remember when I saw that it had been abandoned. It was late in 2020. There it was, boarded up. Closed permanently. “Retail space available” signs were up.

I later learned that Maddy’s Taproom had closed several months earlier, in July 2020. It had been doing fine as of February 2020.

The picture I use here is lifted from the Internet. It is what the street-corner entrance looked like in the 2010s. Now imagine boards of plywood over all the glass-windows and doors. Now imagine me, on the sidewalk diagonal across, seeing the place in its permanently-closed-and-boarded-up condition for the first time. It was a sad moment.

I had some memories and some passing appreciation or fondness for this place, Maddy’s Taproom. That day I passed by in 2020, I didn’t know that the place had gone down. Gone. Another victim of that great monster, the year 2020.


(4750 words)

Maddy’s Taproom, as I say, was a low-priced bar. What I recall of the inside is wooden tables and chairs, a few booths, low lightning, working toilets, and cheap beer. There was some kind of low music but it didn’t interfere with conversation. The clientele that I encountered there was mellow, unpretentious. Nobody around had a particularly bad attitude. It was a relaxed place. It was a pleasant place. That is why I steered people there occasionally. It is why I am writing this “ode” or recollection and commentary on the place.

Continue reading “Post-424: Maddy’s Taproom, r.i.p. (2011-2020)”

bookmark_borderPost-422: “Will an Afghan pullout occur?” (Washington Post, Feb. 1988)

(This is from the “Drafts” folder, written in 2021 but never posted. It has successfully survived the latest blog-migration. Edited in March 2023.)


I hear that the U.S. president gave a press conference yesterday (August 18, 2021) which went about like this: “Good afternoon. Virus virus virus, virus virus, virus, — ahem, let me see, oh, Yes, — Virus virus virus…” and so on. He then abruptly left the room without taking questions.

The performance was remarkable because it was a few days after the dramatic collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghanistan government, about which I wrote a few days ago (“Who Lost Afghanistan?“). He  had still not mentioned the word at all.

“Afghanistan” has shaped up to be just about the worst blow to U.S. prestige in some time. That’s what people are saying, from high-ranking various highfalutin nabobs in Europe denouncing Biden down to the level of the Smartphone-peasant interested in outrage and sensation. These latter are excitable and easily distractable people of the Smartphone era, the instant-everything era.

The tech-landscape of 2020 is what I believe caused the panic of 2020, and in principle it can cause other panics, and actually I think the entire system now glides along on these panics. It is a truism that countries and organizations could have better foreign-policy outcomes if they were aware more of past experience, and not in a propagandistic way but in a sober way, but the way people consume information does not at all encourage this.

I was on a long flight and was stuck in a airline delay (14-hour delay in a layover city) when the news of the ongoing collapse began to spread. People standing around began circulating the word. With instant-updates something they’d otherwise be aware of at long arm’s distance became real. As usual now, everyone with any interest became a mini AP newswire and expert commentator.

The surrealism of the bland virus talk amid the Afghanistan panic and uproar was so striking not because virus-virus-virus is so different from what these people have been talking about for about a year-and-a-half now (the extended annus horribilis 2020, the year of lockdown carried over into 2021), but because he seemed to be studiously ignoring the Afghanistan debacle. Everyone wants to know about the Afghanistan collapse; no one cares about the virus-virus-virus talk (for now).

I immediately thought to 1989 and wondered how the Soviet Union handled its pullout from the same muck it had foolishly became involved in. To that end, I found a 1988 Washington Post article commenting on then-rumors the Soviet Union’s proposed withdrawal from Afghanistan. The article (“Does Moscow Really plan on leaving Afghanistan?”) is dated some months before the Soviet Union’s detachment from that place actually began. I copy the text below as a historical document.

In reading the Washington Post article today, we have to judge the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan over nine or ten years as relatively more successful than the USA’s. It took years for the Soviet-backed government to lose after 1988/89, whereas the USA’s client state collapsed so spectacularly within mere weeks of the pullout signal, and after a much-bigger investment by USA’s taxpayer (said to be two or three trillion dollars) who never got a vote on whether it was a good idea to sink twenty years on such a project or not. A huge investment of extremely questionable wisdom or the usual imperial hubris. In other words, it looks like it was “for nothing.” How many thousands of miles of high-speed rail or maglev could have been up by now with even a healthy portion of that two or three trillion?

In any case, the Washington Post article deals with the same question as the Smartphone-experts are so concerned with today, except that the historical actor of Biden-2021 is replaced with Gorbachev-1988. As a foreign-policy problem, all the pins are standing, aligned to very similar places on the floor, and the onlookers are saying similar things. The biggest difference is that the Cold War spirit has this writer in the Washington Post (Lally Weymouth, 1943-, who seems to have had elite connections to the newspaper) reflecting the USA’s pro-“Mujaheddin” positioning of the time. She even has a section on the “Mujaheddin” reaction to the withdrawal rumors, alongside China’s, Pakistan’s, and so on.

A lot of Cold War cheerleaders praised the CIA’s backing of the “Mujaheddin” as some great victory worthy of recalling in song and story (and movie). That Mujaheddin later became known as “the Taliban.” The old myths about how great the CIA was for backing them get tangled up in the Taliban’s status as bad-guys. The whole thing is confusing, and a little ridiculous. Such was the Afghanistan venture of the 2000s, 2010s, and its farcical denouement of 2021.

I remember already as early as 2006, one day, suddenly thinking: “Why are ‘we’ still in Afghanistan?” Jumping ahead fifteen years, my skepticism was right. In the meantime, around 2008 and 2009, a cousin of mine who enthusiastically embedded himself in a career in the U.S. Air Force (now somewhere else in the national-security apparatus) was in Afghanistan. He spoke of what he did as being part of a team going from village to village team handing out goodies to village elders. Virtually anything they wanted they would get. Interesting, I thought, but a little ridiculous to play Santa Claus with the U.S. military.



By Lally Weymouth
Washington Post, Feb. 21, 1988

Islamabad, Pakistan — “I have never seen a test case like this,” says French diplomat Jean-Francois Deniau of the proposed Soviet pullout from Afghanistan. “It’s the only way we can see if Gorbachev can do what he says. It’s so important for freedom and for hope. It’s like D-Day … We can’t accept that a question like this will receive a false solution.”

Continue reading “Post-422: “Will an Afghan pullout occur?” (Washington Post, Feb. 1988)”

bookmark_borderPost-420: Who Lost Afghanistan?

The US-backed Afghanistan government turned out to be even more kleptocratic, and even less competent, than expected. Crossing the hurdle of being even less competent and reliable than already-low expectation is something like an Olympian-like effort, but they did it.

This story now dominates the US news and as best I can tell has totally pushed out the endless, tiring flu-virus news they decided to keep dumping on us for whatever reasons they have for that.

And the question “Who Lost Afghanistan” has suddenly entered US discourse in the 2020s, a rather shabby end to a twenty-year project that was misguided probably from the start and astonishingly costly — several trillion dollars, all tolled.


The regime rapidly’s “folding” process happened between about mid-July and mid-August 2021 and was a fait accompli by about August 5.

A full defeat it was, without any apparent kind of fight. No battle of Kabul 2021. No counter-attacks. No defensive perimeter. Nothing. I expect that any US state, Canadian province, or Mexican department’s national guards could have done better that the entire national army of Afghanistan. The response was so laughably noodle-armed as to be not worth the effort of writing about. Even a full account wouldn’t run very long because there was just no action to speak of. Any would-be write of a military history of the fall of Afghanistan in mid-2021 will come up short of material and have to either pad it out dishonestly or abandon the project.

The start of the unraveling aligned precisely with the US pullout. A symbolic trigger to press the advantage. A symbolic trigger to push on the barn door of this shabby looking farm. A rich man from the Big City had taken pity on the shabby farm and donated all the money to build up the barn. Surprise! The barn door was completely rotten, and off its hinge, and all it took to get in was to push lightly. Why not push it open and walk in? The barn is now ours.

The final end for this regime, its backbone and what prestige it had entirely sponged off its patron, came with chaotic scenes out of Kabul. Those scenes themselves don’t matter much even though they may be the lasting imagery of it all. They just punctuate the general news of the full regime collapse within weeks.

The Soviet-backed regime did much better in the early 1990s and after not only its patron’s withdrawal in 1988-89 but its patron losing its entire sphere of influence in Europe by the end of 1989 and itself breaking up and falling into deep economic malaise in the 1990s. I’ve got to hand it to the Afghan communist regime of 1979-1994 or so, history proves you were more honorable in at least a staying-power sense than the kleptocrats of 2021. The kleptocrat-in-chief (president) and his inner circle were last seen fleeing with helicopters full of cash to an unknown destination.

I don’t really see any way around it: this is a major blow to US prestige, and it has all the political class dropping from regularly scheduled flu-virus talk to almost in unison express shock and outrage.


I heard someone describe the fall of Afghanistan with these words:

The fall Afghanistan is one of the most catastrophic failures in the history of US foreign policy

The statement can be interpreted one or both of two ways:

(1) It was a mistake to waste enormous resources on a twenty-year effort at “nation-building” there, almost as if it were a game. Committing to Afghanistan in the first place was the foreign-policy failure. Blame here is shared by several dozen, hundred, or thousand people in positions of real power and influence, between September 2001 and mid-2021 in the US executive branch, “intelligence community” (as the de rigeuer phrasing has it, military bureaucracy, State Department, and also foreign-policy academia and think tanks and the like.

(2) The rapid, unconditional, pre-announced retreat clearly undermined whatever morale and fighting spirit the US-backed regime forces had; the refusal to re-intervene to save the US-backed regime ensured its defeat.

The second is a micro-failure. The first is a macro-failure.

And what a macro-failure! By one calculation (Brown University “Cost of War” study, updated to April 2021) the whole Afghanistan project came at a cost of $2,600,000,000,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars borne (in principle) by the US taxpayer. That amounts to the astonishing sum of nearly $1000+/annum/US taxpayer — effectively a yearly “Afghanistan tax” for 20 years!

That de facto “Afghanistan tax” was never subject to some kind of popular-vote approval. If it ever had to be approved as some kind of nationwide ballot referendum (as has to be done for extra money requests for parks and schools locally), it likely would have failed and the whole thing averted.

Imagine what that $2.6 trillion ($2600 billion) could have done over these twenty years, what kind of grand capital projects, civilization-advanding projects. A North-America-wide high-speed railway network? A network of Moon colonies with a forward base on Mars by now?

I also recall in the context of that staggering sum ($2600 billion) the whole political deadlock over the border wall in 2017-18. It was comparative table scraps in the $20 billion range. Its opponents claimed it was too expensive and the whole deadlock shut down the government for a time as everyone played it for full drama. Fully funded, built, and maintained, a border wall would have come in at around 0.5% of the final cost of the Afghanistan project.

I sometimes put myself in the spot of an observer from the 2100s or 2200s uncovering in archives news and commentary on events of my time, the 2000s, 2010s, and now 2020s. People one or two centuries hence will tend to have some big-picture idea of our time but most of the details will have eroded away by Time. What picture will they reconstruct of our time? It seems to me they’ll see the priorities of our time as too bizarre to properly understand. A long intervention, without clear purpose, in one of the world’s strategically least important places, gets extremely lavishly funded, year after after year for twenty years, usually without serious opposition except by some wingnuts on the far-left or libertarian-right. But a border wall project to stop a very real problem, at 0.5% the cost of the aforementioned distant-and-pointless-intervention, triggers a several-year-long political-hysteria.

Even if the US spends not another cent on Afghanistan (saving also on the cost of those giant Black Lives Matter and Gay Pride replacement flags for the embassy), the sunk cost of $2.6 trillion will continue to increase, given that (a.) the US gives its highly paid soldiers lavish lifetime benefits by law, and (b.) the entire thing was financed on debt from the start which requires interest payments and we no one seems to care about budgets anymore, or debt, or even inflation (now sustained at over 5% for four months and running, unprecedented since the so-called Volker Disinflation and the “Whip Inflation Now” campaign which succeeded at the cost of the early-1980s recession; the economic disruptions of 2008 cause a three-month 5%+ inflation run). I think the cost may run to something in the $4 trillion range when all is said and done.

There are lots of indirect costs. Unclear is how many refugees the news and dramatic imagery will net-add to Europe and the USA, such refugees of which, if taken in (if anyone tries to “pull a Merkel”), will all have to be cared for and impose real social pressures. The Afghanistan debacle is headline news in Europe almost as much as in the USA I think specifically because it could be the trigger for a 2021-22 migrant crisis, a major political headache.

The whole thing looks bad for everyone involved.

As for the US-backed regime, it looks rather like all along it rested upon a giant, shiny, but brittle tin pot.

Some defenders of the US government’s actions in 2021 will say (1) guaranteed (2)– the macro-mistake of entering into a long intervention and nation-building project guaranteed a chaotic final end when it all unraveled — be it in 2005, 2010, 2015, 2020, 2025, or 2030. Someone was going to have to do it.

The ousted kleptocratic regime’s defenders, if any, will point more to (2) — the US mishandling its disengagement. For other reasons this is also the sustained line of attack on the president personally by even most of those (the majority) who agree with the decision to end the twenty-year involvement.


Many are no doubt more interested in the symbolic value here.

I was on a long, multi-leg airplane journey subject to several delays August 13 to 15. The delays especially had the silver lining of giving a better ability to chat with other passengers in the same situation. The news began becoming a flood that Afghanistan was “falling.” One, whose name I later learned was D. L., was talking all about the imminent fall of Kabul on the morning of August 15 (US time) at the Dallas airport, having updated himself during our August 14-15 overnighting at our airline-provided hotel for a canceled flight.

There was a large portion of US military on our flight, probably no more or less than any other time but much more noticeable on airlines in an era when international travel is still so disrupted, barriers imposed by government policies guaranteeing much lower passenger totals than usual. The military people are usually not the most impressive, though I know they are all competent for having passed the entrance exam to a fair standard. But they are

(on conv with Korean guy in his mid-20s)


The Afghanistan case itself demonstrates an important principle: more important than balance-of-forces calculations on paper. People have long recognized this. We borrow the French phrase esprit d’corps to refer to this, and the entire concept of “morale” is something similar, another French borrowing/repurposing.

I don’t know that the US has looked as weak at any point in my lifetime than it does in mid-August 2021, following events of the past several years but especially the past 18 months. This has been a terrible period, the 2020s even 15% in the books now look like the end of the American Century, but maybe the middle part of the decade will turn things around a bit.

As I’ve observed the news on Afghanistan, I get thinking on the same lines some were no doubt thinking in 1988 an 1989 when Soviet forces ended their ten-year intervention in Afghanistan, widely interpreted as a defeat for the USSR. The Soviet-backed regime ended up looking like a tinpot and lost control to the Taliban by the mid-1990s, who led Afghanistan on the path to being the world’s worst large nation outside Africa on lots of indicators before being bombed out in late 2001.

The USSR still looked powerful enough during the pullout of 1988 and early 1989, with the last of their forces crossing back into the USSR in February 1989.

So powerful did they look that (famously) few predicted the events of 1989 (starting about mid-year), 1990, and 1991, when the USSR lost its entire network of so-called “satellite states” — the ex-satellites in Europe mostly turning anti-Russian — then itself dissolved, with the USSR’s legislature voting itself out of existence in the end of 1991 bowing to national independence movements in the constituent Soviet republics, maybe the most important of which was Ukraine, where public opinion shifted strongly towards independence and a full severing of political ties with Moscow between mid-1991 and late-1991.

I don’t know enough about the Soviet dissolution process to know what the scholars’ consensus is on the role their Afghanistan war played in the events of mid-1989 to late-1991, but I do know the process is all traceable to below-the-surface events happening mainly in the USSR in 1987 and 1988, protest movements on various grievances. The Gorbachev decision to withdraw I presume was public knowledge by mid-1988, and so reinforced the ongoing protest-movement energies in the USSR proper, which later cycled out towards the satellites starting in mid-1989 and brought the whole shaky edifice down. Chronologically, the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan does not pre-date the breakup process but is right in the middle of the first phase of it, even if few actors or observers, either domestic or foreign, understood what was going on at the moment.

In other words, the USSR’s Afghanistan pullout signaled weakness and serious internal ‘regime’ problems and probably had symbolic or even metaphorical value at the time.

All this seems similar to the 2021 case for us, with the exception that at least the Soviet-backed left-wing quasi-Marxist regime they left behind had some kind of staying power and loyalty of at least enough people manning the oars of that regime that it lasted years and fought reasonably honorably.

The disgrace with which the US-backed Afghanistan government folded up, in most cases apparently preemptively surrendering or evacuating to the Taliban who simply walked in, is much more embarrassing, really, that the orderly Soviet withdrawal. A direct parallel would be the US-backed regime lasting to the mid-2020s before the final collapse, perhaps with the US embassy flying the Black Lives Matter and Gay Pride flags (the latter now mandatory at all US embassies) to the end.

The outrage, shock, and anger across the entire US spectrum at this humiliation (there is no other way to interpret it, with even the spin-doctors — whose job it is to give finely crafted talking-points to defend everything and anything the government does or says — looking a little ridiculous and the hearts not in it.

Another parallel with the 1980s-USSR is Andropov or Chernenko. Those were the aged, old-line Communist party-machine men who wound up percolating up by after Brezhnev died of old age. Both Andropov and Chernenko looked feeble during their brief tenures, before both dying of old age, one after another. It was embarrassing. After the third aged premier died within two and half years. Brezhnev died in late 1982; Brezchnev’s successor Andropov died in early 1984; Andropov’s successor Chernenko died in early 1985. Following this three-man string of elderly premiers, in came social-democrat reformer Gorbachev, a comparatively young man in his fifties at the time.

The whole thing looked like a farce: this supposedly global titan, the superpower USSR, either the world’s leading power or a near-competitor with the leading power depending on whom you asked in the 1980s, being nominally led by figures like those (Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko) in the late 1970s to 1985 (pre-Gorbachev). That is exactly the era in which the Soviet security commitment to molding a Marxist Afghanistan was made. Of course it revived a generations-old Russian play for Central Asia dating back to the mid-19th century (at one point called “the Great Game,” a name which for some reason stuck and is recognizable today). Do people see current US president as a figure like Andropov or Chernenko? Is this better or worse than how they saw the Orange Man?

PRC-China money will soon start pouring into Afghanistan (adding another buckle on the Belt and Road mega-project?). Unfortunately, therefore, we are going to be subject to years of “Who Lost Afghanistan?” talk in the USA. The opening salvos were fired early on.


I mentioned above that the Afghanistan debacle contributes to the US looking as weak as I think it ever has in my lifetime. Who is in our out of a presidential palace in Kabul matters much less than the symbolic nature of it al. Maybe after a few weeks, months, or years this will seem less true that it does as I write (August 17).

The last 18 months in general have made the US look weak and perhaps morally undeserving of leadership. The realities of wealth and power-inertia being what they are, the US will still have power a while yet to come, but I don’t think the US any more can claim moral leadership.

— Early spring 2020: An in-retrospect, frankly crazy-looking Panic over a rather modest flu virus by world-historical standards of these things.

I am not alone in noticing that absolutely none of the Taliban wear masks out of fear of the said flu virus. None. Not even a token mask here or there. Just none. They know they are making history and what time do they have for silly mask stuff?

The initial Panic over a flu virus was embarrassing in and of itself, but it may even have passed, looked back on as an embarrassing mistake. But then is when forces from above intervened and made the Panic basically mandatory, institutionalized the Panic, with lots of transparent power-grabbing going on long after the people instituting the rules stopped personally panicking.

— Late spring and summer 2020: Elite-led and elite-encouraged protests against the United States itself (the country of which said elite nominally leads), against all US police, and at core against the US historical majority-population itself (or at least half or two-thirds of it — the Middle America component).

I thought at the time, observing the protests of the end of May and early June 2020, that people will look back on it as a kind of “color revolution.” Ours was strange in that instead of being nominally patriotic and on behalf of the people, it was a top-down, quasi-mandatory cultural-political policy of hatred of the core of the nation itself, root and branch.

Real moves to dig in with a new ethnopolitical caste system followed rapidly, by which one section of us (including this writer) are designated Evil. Naturally the Evil component of the nation is to be contained and disempowered where at all possible. The system was already well-enough visible by the 2000s in some areas at least, and unmistakable by the 2010s; signs of it were clear already in the 1990s, and even earlier on the fringes. As I told a friend at the time, who I suspected sympathized with the protests/riots and therefore phrased my reaction carefully, these things (images of mass arsons, rioting, thousands of smashed windows, scenes of uncontrolled mass looting) are a terrible blow for the USA’s image abroad. He angrily replied that that was not the case because the real damage to the USA’s image was Trump.

— The rest of 2020 and into 2021: The return of the a flu-virus Panic and signs a public-health would be used as a wedge with which to take more control (for the collective benefit, of course).

Rather than backing down they chose to dig in. They could have deescalated, admitted the mega-error that was the whole flu virus panic of early spring 2020 (we soon knew with certainty that the actual threat was about 1/100th of the level claimed, and in line with previous severe influenzas in recent decades — usually about two per decade since the 1970s — of which we took no notice). They chose to institute a quasi-permanent Panic-pushing regime around the same flu virus.

Each of these things is a political failure to a great degree, and they all combined to make the US look weak, as did several years (late 2010s) of constant political squawking at such a fever pitch that all our satellites in Europe and many other places could not ignore it.

I kind of understand why they did the whole Permanent Pandemic thing (and they had created a large domestic constituency of people terrified of a flu virus), but there is one thing that shows this kind of reckless and crazy action — full-on flu-virus demagoguery by what are supposed to be the world’s leaders — was a sign the US had lost the right to moral leadership:

The world followed a US pied-pipe into the flu-virus panic in 2020. Many of the “students” quickly exceeded the “teacher” here and made even more brutal virus-lockdown etc. policies than the US. Some of the “students” who jumped the gun no doubt would have deescalated and dismantled their domestic Panic-regimes if the US had absolutely refused to indulge in the temptation and had maintained a Sweden-like line of staying fully open like any other flu wave, an being done with it quickly. So the whole mega-fiasco of the Flu-Virus Panic of 2020-21-22 is more the USA’s fault than any other single actor, with the possible exception of China. But we didn’t have to copy their wacko “lockdown” policy. That we did makes us look weak, but that our political and thought leaders dug in and made the Panic regime permanent is an unmistakable sign, to me, that something is wrong.

All this relates to the Afghanistan debacle of July-August 2021. I am sure I am not along in sensing, in the rapid collapse of the Afghanistan regime, a metaphor for the state of its sponsor and benefactor.

The metaphor is with the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, when they abandoned a ten-year nation-building attempt there. I don’t think anyone argues Afghanistan brought down the USSR (it was a piece on Zbigniew Brzezinski’s great-game chessboard), but it was symbolic of serious domestic problems in both the Soviet state and its network of allies.

The Soviets must not have had a long debate on their own “Who lost Afghanistan” Question because the quasi-communist regime they left behind outlasted the USSR itself! It seems to me our own “Who lost Afghanistan” Question is so very uncomfortable for our policy-shaping, agenda-setting, and media elite because the answer is so uncomfortable, especially because of how much worse it looks than the USSR’s orderly pullout in 1988-89.

bookmark_borderPost-418: Hiroshima Day

Back in the early days here, I mentioned “Hiroshima Day,” August 6, when the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

I visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in March 2015. Living in Korea at the time, I was in the process of transferring visas, which at the time meant one needed to physically leave Korea to get a fresh 90-day visa, which as far as I know can be done by all the rich-country passport holders, certainly the US, Canada, EU, and Australia. So anytime a visa status would change people would have to leave. Realizing I had one coming up, I planned a two-week trip to Japan to take full advantage of it.

Hiroshima has a large park near the atomic blast site which they call the Hiroshima Peace Park. Nagasaki has something similar but smaller.

I wasn’t thinking about it at the time but I was there in the seventieth anniversary year (1945–>2015). Now the eightieth anniversary year is in sight (2025). What is the legacy of the atomic bombings now?

For one thing, there is a direct line between the bomb’s explosion and the geopolitical picture of today’s East Asia. The Emperor of Japan announced by radio (at noon Tokyo time, August 15, 1945) the surrender and the immediate release of most of the overseas territories Japan had acquired over the past fifty years, including the long-held possession of the island of Taiwan, all the possessions on the mainland of China, the entirety of the Korean peninsula whose fate was to be cast to an open geopolitical open sea, and many of the islands of the Pacific transferred to US administration as spoils of war, and of course the evacuation of all conquests since the expansion of the was in December 1941.

The entire justification for the atomic bombings, and to a lesser extent to the policy of firebombing cities in Germany, German-aligned Europe, and Japan proper, was to induce a non-negotiated peace, full surrender and full-occupation, a radical aim in any war. The Hiroshima atomic bombing’s defenders say it was necessary to ensure a swift and full surrender, allowing for a total occupation and reestablishment of Japan on neutralist and US-friendly terms, to be a weak power in military terms and a jumping-off point for US power in the West Pacific.

In retrospect, the way 1945 geopolitically played out was a net negative. Too much changed, too wildly, too fast, in directions too unpredictable. Several of these problems with us trace indirectly to the atomic bombing and the policy of full-occupation, immediate dispossession of all Japan’s territories, and a rapid carve-up of all its overseas holdings. Those arguing for giving some of these places something like protectorate status for a period were shouted down in the excitement of the time.

As I think over the vast sweep of US foreign policy in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the West Pacific since the 1940s, this full-occupation-and-puppetization-of-Japan decision was the bedrock on which everything since rests, and the atomic-bombing was simply the application of the full-occupation policy. I don’t know how it could have gone better.

A lot of memorials of Hiroshima are pacifist in nature, of course, with the message being that violence is bad, bombing of civilians is very bad, and atomic bombing is very very bad. But dropping a bomb under orders is just an act, one of millions, billions, trillions of acts, in war. Less often have I seen any critique of the policy behind the act. Not the decision to drop the bomb or not, but the decision for full-occupation that made the atomic bombing a logical tactic.

In the mid- and late-2010s I started to drift into the “policy” world in graduate school and then at a job and in general in “policy adjacent” circles. Earlier I had been an interested observer but in getting close to the action you realize what an enormous establishment the “security state” is, but how largely incurious the whole of it is. For twenty years there were hardly any voices against leaving Afghanistan, one of the least important places in the world for US interests and a well-known graveyard of empires. A lot of these ossified attitudes in Washington foreign-policy circles are simply coasting on a path-dependency and inertia that dates to 1945.

bookmark_borderPost-416: The Flood of 1342, the Flood of 2021, and thoughts on flood-mapping

I see flooding is in the news again.

[German Police photo of some of flooding (town of Altenahr).]

The Welt is reporting 1,300 people are missing. The number of dead in west-central Germany is over a hundred confirmed, and dozens more dead in Belgium. Many of these deaths are people in care facilities unable to easily move under their own power and when the flood came they were goners. A few rescue workers, of various fire departments, were also killed.

At about the same time South Africa had a man-made disaster of mass looting, but I aim now to stick to non-man-made disasters–though of course many will reply that major floods are also man-made, because of human-caused Climate Change. So it gets complicated. In any case, the agent of destruction is rain, which is not a human hand (as in the looting and arsons in South Africa), so that’s the line I’ll draw for now and revisit the Climate Change thing shortly.

There were big floods in Germany and the Czech Republic in 2002. In the annals of European history, major floods on basically this scale (like 2002 and 2021) are recorded several times each century. Of course people alive at any given moment think theirs are special. How will this 2021 flood rank? Probably not the worst of the century. But human psychology is such that many want to believe “we have never seen anything like this.”

(Some years ago I wrote several times about this topic, while observing the chatter about the odd behavior of the Monsoon Season in Korea. There is wide consensus that the monsoons acted weird in several years of the 2010s. Post-89: “Monsoon Season 2013 Comes Early”; Post-90: “Early Monsoons and Climate Change”; Post-91: Korean Monsoon Average Onset Dates, 2005-2013…)


I learn, in connection with someone’s commentary on these July 2021 floods, that the very worst recorded floods in central European history were back in 1342, when entire cities were inundated.

There were actually a series of floods over two years (1342-43). The flood and immediate aftermath may have killed some number in the high tens of thousands, those being the direct deaths. Given the economic damage from the floods, probably some number in the high hundreds of thousands died indirectly in the coming year or two or three, and it is said two straight terrible harvests were recorded, as the flood had damaged soils in addition to all the other damage it did to major centers of commerce. Then, in 1349 and 1350, the Pest arrived at these same places, known to us as Bubonic Plague or the Black Death.

Whereas the floods of 1342 might claim a total in the high hundreds of thousands, the Plague by the early 1350s could claim into the millions. It’s a tempting conjecture to think that the floods of 1342 (and others in 1343) softened up parts of Europe for the Pest, when it made its first appearance in Europe a few years later.

I had never heard of the Flood of 1342 before today. It came down on a still Malthusian Europe (existing within the “Malthusian Trap”), and was one of several disasters and mass-death-and-disruption events which a long-lived person of the day would live to see, even if 1342 were particularly incredible, reaching twice the high-water-mark as some of the major floods of our era.

We post-Malthusians expect it as our birthright to be forever immune from Nature. We are too good for it. We are geniuses, for we have broken free from Malthus and are masters of our destiny. When natural events do occur, many are willing to embrace a new kind of religion to explain them.

We usually assume pre-modern people thought floods or the like were God’s punishment, and while many still today believe some version of that, the most dynamic type of Western and Westernized person scoffs at the idea, but readily embraces Climate Change, almost replacing the God’s Punishment on Sinful Man idea with close versions of the same using climate-change talk. I could have predicted the kind of stories that are now coming out on the German floods: Some variant of “Climate Change Caused Floods in Europe” is all over.

Lots of people readily believe this (of course wildfires, floods, or earthquakes are caused by Climate Change; what are you, some kind of bigoted nut of little faith? Repent! The end is near!).

There is little need for any persuasion, somehow wanting to believe and not voicing doubts, which are telltale signs of a religion. This is all still true even if/when climate change is “real,” which is the tricky part of talking about this. It seems extremely likely to me that our activities could/would raise global temperature, but the existence of a general civic religion around such a fact is separate.

In brief searching for 1342 flood material, I see someone graphed out major flood events on the Hungarian Danube from 1200 to 1500, long before anyone started burning coal anywhere:

[Lifted from publication by Dr Andrea Kiss, Vienna University of Technology.]

The Big One of 1342 was preceded by earlier ones, and in general it looked like all of a sudden enormous Climate Change was upon the world in the 1340s. Again in the 1390s-1410s there seemed to be floods all the time. Other times years would pass without one.

In my long search for why people so readily embraced destructive Flu Virus Paranoia in 2020, and how the erection of a new state cult around a Forever War Against Flu Viruses came about, I came to think it must be something deeper than a few conspiracy-theory-like rumors and grainy videos of people in hazmat suits in the Chinese interior followed by a mad-scientist’s crazy bell-curve projections of Millions of Deaths. Those things, and the other features of the early Flu Panic, were basically exposition, or at best weak plot points, lifted from any number of Killer Virus or Zombie movies (people are often turned zombie by a virus, after all).

There had to be predecessors to the astonishing social phenomenon to witness of society embracing Flu Virus Paranoia and willing to deal large-scale damage to their own fellow citizens to placate the Flu Virus gods. Was Climate Change was one of these predecessors? I reluctantly conclude that signs point to yes. It was far less successful than the Flu Panic of 2020-21, but at core there are some important similarities. Both sides may overplay their hand but put religion-like certainty into not just the rightness of their positions, but the moral rightness, and the moral need to crush naysayers or skeptics. Certainly this was true of the “Covid” Panic.


Flooding news reminds me of is my beloved old job, a job I walked away from in my early twenties because I was worried I would get too comfortable and never leave, and felt I had something out there to accomplish, somewhere.

Sometime back there I worked in mapping. One of the big tasks was creation and maintenance of flood maps for insurance purposes and for disaster-planning purposes, so flood news sometimes brings back those memories. FEMA was one of the clients for some of the projects.

There was a lot of money in this flood mapping. The ultimate source of the money I think was taxpayers, for when the client was not FEMA (“federal” tax dollars) they were invariably local or state governments. I didn’t like to think about that part, and instead focused on doing the task as best as we could do it.

At the time we were making maps using the best new techniques, which meant basing them on the fieldwork of a laser contraption known as LiDAR. It was a fun job, I excelled at it, the level of office politics was minimal, and most people seemed happy. I got to listen to audio books much of the day when deep into the map tasks.

I can’t have been the only one to have had the sneaking suspicion that all of our work might be for nothing, if the global warming / climate change people were right. We were drawing ten-year flood lines, fifty-year flood lines, hundred-year flood lines, and what if none of it was applicable to the 21st century?

If I had stuck around there, or if I had successfully gotten my job back after leaving for Korea the first time (the recession of 2009, which lingered into the 2010s, disallowed that; they’d have loved to have had me, as I heard from the directly) I’d have gotten to some position of responsibility there, but as it was, I had little.

I’d love to revisit those maps now, and spot-check how many times flood waters hit the various thresholds (10-year flood line, 50-year flood line, etc.) since we made those maps.

Come to think of it, I wonder how the concept of flood-lines are even handled, now that Climate Change is rather more powerful than it was. The thought that flood-mapping may be a giant wasted exercise in such changing conditions is not a hard insight to make.

bookmark_borderPost-402: “Storming the Capitol” (Jan. 6, 2021)

History-making happens when you don’t expect it.

What to “make” of the occupation of the U.S. federal Capitol grounds, in Washington, in the afternoon and into early evening, Jan. 6, 2021?

My immediate impression. This will be remembered as a major, historic, ‘landmark’ moment in history. A moment ranking with the most historic of my adult lifetime so far.

As a protest, and as protests go, it was a stunning success. The occupation of central government building by unarmed protestors? Wow.

(The Occupation of the U.S. Capitol grounds, Jan. 6, 2021.)

Also a humiliation, if there ever was one, for the U.S. federal government.

The following was written about 48 hours after the event. Thoughts on context for this moment in history, how such as dramatic as this comes to happen, and then some notable scenes from the occupation.

(original: 2000 words) (updated, Jan. 9: now 3300 words.)

Continue reading “Post-402: “Storming the Capitol” (Jan. 6, 2021)”

bookmark_borderThe Two U.S. political hegemonies of our time

On historical trends of our time. I wrote about the general concept yesterday that eras often do not align with their calendar-numbers, with one example arguably being “the 2000s” ending Sept. 2008 with the financial crisis. (Some also argued “The 1960s” really ends with either the Nixon resignation or the evacuation of Saigon, which by calendrical dating were already in the mid-1970s, and maybe it really began about 1964, so at least that’s still a ten-or-so-year decade.)

I want to put digital pen to paper on a related topic again: The thirty-year cycle we are still (?) in.

In February 2020, I read State Dept. figure William J. Burns’ memoir (his career was from 1980 to 2014 and he rose unusually quickly; my comments on his unexplained rapid rise fill the margins of the book). I began to suspect something that had not quite occurred to me before. It was this: The USA was in a long arc that began thirty years ago, specifically in 1990-91, traceable to two landmark events (Rodney King and the U.S. decision to fight Iraq) which do not have immediate precursors at the time. The rest of this post will be an update on this idea including events of the last ten-and-a-half months. I think “2020” validates the thesis, which I published in these pages about one month before the Corona-Panic began, in a big way.


The two events, the decision to invade Iraq and Rodney King, occurred from late July 1990 to early March 1991, only seven months’ space of time.

The two events were almost trivial in their time and are often not remembered, in and of themselves.

I myself am too young to remember either of them. In the 1990s during my own process of socialization I became aware of them as minor landmark events of the recent past.

[1.] The decision to intervene against Iraq and crush it as a regional power (apparently made by top U.S. officials in late July 1990, according to Burns who witnessed it) set up a long chain process of very-free-hand Mideast interventionism, in a way that the U.S. would absolutely not meddle or intervene or bomb or invade any place in its own hemisphere (anymore), which itself is strange to think about.

When I was in high school I believed the U.S. might invade Colombia, in response to the rebels trafficking drugs there causing trouble. Nothing like that ever happened at all. But meddling in the Midwest over much more abstruse reasons is the norm, is expected, and one hears muted criticism of it. It is a consensus position.

There became an ingrained cultural attitude that The Evil-Doers (to use what I vaguely recall as a George W. Bush phrasing) are out there, and are mainly in the Midwest, so we have to constantly meddle, and attack, and bomb, and use the map as a giant chessboard, or the Evil-Doers win. It puzzles me how this is uncontroversial.

Intervention predates George W. Bush, continued through Clinton, and began with George H. W. Bush, not that the nominal president at any given time was the decisive factor, because they’ve all done it, steadily so, and as I say, seemingly as if a Foreign Policy Prime Directive, beyond the point of possibility of dispute by good people (an enforced consensus). This was much less a story in 2020 than other years, but it never really went away. A much bigger story in 2020 was the second trend:

[2.] The decision (?) to turn to race-demagoguery with the Rodney King incident (traffic stop and arrest of a man high on cocaine) as some kind of regularized, semi-controlled, moral-hysteria process. This functions to unify the regime and its loyalists against the Bad People out there. This strategy was subtle at first but increasingly embraced by Good People, and largely as a matter of course by those born in the 1980s and beyond, especially the Good People therein. Soon the strategy was by the state itself, the state being run by Good People. It was manifestly certain that this was our reality by the 2010s.

The Los Angeles Riots followed the initial Rodney King incident a year later. The pattern was set, and would reach epidemic proportions in the 2010s, and then in May-June 2020. The latter was not the breakout of mass-psychosis that it may have appeared to be, to many, but follows a specific line back to Rodney King. The pattern was: Take a minor, local story of ambiguous nature etc., etc., inflate into national importance, garnish with lies of commission and omission as needed, and riots are okay in pursuit of The Goal (whatever the goal is — but you wouldn’t want to be on the side of the Bad People, would you?).

Even if there are distant ancestors of this strain of domestic politics (most notably, the mid-late 1960s riots), and even though the cultural energies may have been hanging around in the 1980s, they didn’t manifest until 1990-91, and they have been near-hegemonic in our discourse since then, framing our accepted reality (to use academic-esque language).

Later events were faded carbon-copies of the Rodney King case, and they kept getting trotted out, one after another, dominating domestic-news in bizarre ways, and even Orwellian ways.

This all became depressingly in-your-face by 2020, highly demoralizing given that nothing was done against them. (I should know; I witnessed some of these things at their peak, at close range. I showed up. No one knew, at first, that riots were going to happen, but people locked down for months and recently released were ready for some fun; it was the only way young people could gather, all other options disrupted or closed-off to them by the Panic-Lockdown regime(s). I saw open rioting/vandalism/fires, and looting, in front of me. I saw the police stand-down. The rumors were/are true.)

The younger half or so of the population, socialized after Rodney King, thinks it more-or-less normal that this bizarre game is effectively our Domestic Policy Prime Directive.

Some at the top have profound sympathies for their own reasons, with many of them, if not most, even talking themselves into it with the other moral-frenzy-ists.

Whatever the 2010s were, as a decade, and whatever their true beginning and end should be, they seem to me to follow a longer thread that began in 1990-91. I don’t know how much energy this thirty-year historical-cycle has left in it, the Virus-Lockdown-induced, Elite-approved riots of mid-2020, the seeming Apotheosis, and the sudden statue-toppling, all-placenames-are-to-be-replaced mania (always fight the Bad People, no matter what, and if you run out of them, just find more) notwithstanding.

bookmark_borderPost-387: A BBC podcast on the Waco 1993, Koresh cult story; podcast review and thoughts on Waco’s place in history

Losing a pair of gloves I felt particular attached to, I decided I’d be willing to retrace my steps around town. Chances were fair that I could find the missing gloves, as I had in similar cases before. I was committed. I figured the had fallen out of my pocket while I was cruising along on the bicycle.

The glove search failed.

But unexpected good thing have a way of showing up, springing from the bad. I decided to make the best of this perhaps-several-hours-long commitment to carefully and slowly retrace all my steps by listening to a podcast along the way, so as “not to waste the time.” This is how I justified the search to myself. I am not in the habit of listening to earphones in public these days, so this was a conscious decision.

I googled around for a podcast that would make my time worth it. Something new. I came to the BBC podcasts page. The top one I saw was called “End of Days.” I said, Okay, yes, this’ll do. I don’t even have a good working pair of earphones anymore. I have a few freebies from airlines. Only one earphone worked.

Gone forever though the gloves may be, those gloves did give me a final gift, one arguably even better than hand warmth, as without losing them, I’d never have come to hear this really excellent “BBC Five Live” podcast. It’s less about the 1993 Waco incident, more about the personalities involved, a retrospective after 25 years. About 4.5 to 5.0 hours of total listening time; eight episodes. Some impressions and reactions follow in this post. First personal re:Waco, then a long review of the podcast’s contents, then a brief final thought on cults as I encountered them in my years in Korea.

Continue reading “Post-387: A BBC podcast on the Waco 1993, Koresh cult story; podcast review and thoughts on Waco’s place in history”

bookmark_borderPost-386: Thirty Years of Mideast Intervention

It suddenly occurred to me that the endless US interventions in the Middle East familiar to us today really date to August 1990, and have, since that month and the fateful decision made in it, followed on a path set down at that time. August 1990 was the month George H.W. Bush and his foreign policy people decided on the intervention against Iraq in its local war against Kuwait. In other words, there is a traceable ‘genealogy’ of US Middle East interventions that start with the August 1990.

This idea occurred to me suddenly while reading a book called The Back Channel, by William J. Burns, published in March 2019 and recently given to me by my friend Aaron S. The author, Burns, is one of the most significant US State Department figures of the 1990s–2010s whom you’ve never heard of. The chances are fair that he could be sworn in as Secretary of State in Jan. 2021, if a Democrat wins.

Continue reading “Post-386: Thirty Years of Mideast Intervention”

bookmark_borderPost-384: Genealogy research project

I have been spending time off and on the past few months working on a highly research intensive genealogy project. It traces my great-grandfather’s “line” (as the genealogy-ism has it) back several centuries, across New England and back to 1630s Massachusetts. Before that, limited information is available but it seems the original ancestor was a Puritan out of Lincolnshire, England.

It’s been fascinating making new discoveries and connections all along the way.

Continue reading “Post-384: Genealogy research project”

bookmark_borderPost-382: Thirty Pieces of Silver

We use the phrase “thirty pieces of silver” metaphorically in a variety of contexts. I used it today. It is a reference to the betrayal of Jesus by his apostle Judas for which he was paid that sum of pieces of silver.

I got to wondering how much thirty pieces of silver, ca. AD 33 in the Roman province of Palestine, would be worth in our terms, today; what is a reasonable US-dollar figure to attach to it? I spent some time on this and would propose $10,000 (see below).

From a version of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper; Jesus has told the twelve apostles that one of them has betrayed him. Most are in one or another state of shock or anger. Peter, angry, leans over Judas’ shoulder. Judas, slouched over and looking worried, clutches a bag with unknown contents but about large enough to hold 30 pieces of silver.
Continue reading “Post-382: Thirty Pieces of Silver”

bookmark_borderPost-381: Southern California observations; Anaheim, Robber’s Peak, Orange

Nov. 2019: I passed through California for about five days.

(Observations about Southern California with pictures, and some springboarding off of them.)

Places I spent at least some time were: Van Nuys; the Santa Ana River trail in Orange County; Anaheim and “Anaheim Hills;” Orange (the city of); Santa Barbara. On a previous visit (late Aug. 2018), I went to Huntington Beach.

Leaving Southern California, north to Silicon Valley, I spent time in: San Jose; Palo Alto; the Stanford campus; Menlo Park; Redwood City. (Another post, maybe.)


Friday early morning. I arrive at the airport from points east (Korea, by way of a long layover in Hawaii) and am soon on the bus to LA Union Station. Or am I? I am not. I got on the wrong bus. It was not labeled. It came to the place marked LA Union Station; I decide to take this new opportunity. and follow the shuttle bus where it goes. New destination: Van Nuys.

Continue reading “Post-381: Southern California observations; Anaheim, Robber’s Peak, Orange”

bookmark_borderPost-380: Stonewall Jackson’s Way

Lee–Jackson Day in Virginia.

No doubt many are unaware of the Lee–Jackson Day holiday. The two sons of Virginia, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, have birthdays about this time (Jan. 19 and Jan. 21, respectively), a coincidence which gave rise, a long time ago, to the holiday in Virginia. It remains in effect today, even if backed by no enormous media machine.

As for Stonewall Jackson, I can think of no better way to commemorate him than Stonewall Jackson’s Way, which is a song (below), but more a musical portrait.

It is a great piece of art in that it is an effective portrait of the general, his men, and the campaigning that brought fame and renown to both.

The song “Stonewall Jackson’s Way” was originally written in 1862 and appearing in poem form but also quickly becoming a hit song. The song’s composer was unknown for years. Testament to how alluring was the legend of Stonewall Jackson, by 1862, is the fact that an northern admirer had actually written the poem/song, a fact only finally revealed in the 1880s.

The version recorded by Bobby Horton in the 1980s is good (below); Horton rightly deserves his fame as a Civil War music interpreter/popularizer.

“Stonewall Jackson’s Way” Lyrics, as sung by Bobby Horton (below, a few more comments below on the figure of Jackson, and on my feelings on Lee–Jackson Day):

Continue reading “Post-380: Stonewall Jackson’s Way”

bookmark_borderPost-377: The 2020s as The Twenty-Twenties

Someone (A.R.) sent me a message saying

It’s the roaring 20s again! Quick, enjoy some alcohol before the economic collapse.

I predict people are going to use “the twenty-twenties” for the decade of the 2020s, and not “the twenties” (as for “the two-thousand[-and]-twenties,” No).

“The twenty-twenties” sounds sleek, futuristic. “The twenties” is already taken. The foregoing reasons are compelling and lead me to the conclusion that “the Twenty-Twenties” is the one.

Also this. Scholars believe Jesus was born in 5 BC, in which case our year “2020” into the 2,025th year anno domini. The number sticklers would say we’re already down to a mere four years , 11 months and some days left in the true “2020s.”

bookmark_borderPost-376: On “electoral tipping points”: 1618 (the trigger for the Thirty Years War) and the present

New Year’s Day 2020.

For reasons I don’t know, I began to re-read the classic history of the Thirty Years War by C. V. Wedgwood. In it I was reminded of a political point about that war I had forgotten, and one similar to one the US may be, today, at the cusp of.

The crisis began in 1618 because of an electoral tipping point.

There are fairly direct parallels between the Thirty Years War origin and the US institutions of the electoral college system and the nine-member Supreme Court system (see below) and fears about the ‘flipping’ thereof.

The Holy Roman Empire, a nominal political arrangement encompassing most of central Europe for most of the second millennium AD and ruled (in theory if not practice) by an emperor of the Hapsburg Dynasty for much of that time, had seven “electors” (Kurfürsten). These were seven seats which held the right to cast one vote for emperor when the need arose.

Continue reading “Post-376: On “electoral tipping points”: 1618 (the trigger for the Thirty Years War) and the present”

bookmark_borderPost-374: “A Generalized Crisis of Confidence” (on the political situation in the West by the 2010s)

Like many, I have an interest in the question of why cultural-political entities “decline” — call them states (or proto-states), cultures, or, most-grand of all, civilizations. (This includes “lost civilizations.”)

This interest has informed some of the writing on these pages over the 2010s, most usually indirectly but sometimes pretty directly. Post-252, Western Civilization’s long-forgotten collapse, circa 1200 BC, is an example of the latter.

I recall once being put on a team of three and given ten minutes to come up with something that made sense on the following question: “Was the the French Revolution inevitable?

This is a classic question, or maybe better stated is a variant on the classic question, Why did the French Revolution occur. Many, many volumes have been published on this.

This question was posed to be by a Dr. C. Ch., in a course in my first semester at graduate school, fall 2016. The course had an elaborate name but was effectively on European political history from 1648 to 1945.

I think the team was split between Yes, No, and Unsure. At my suggestion, our team finally agreed on a ‘No’ general response. It was not inevitable. The single critical element was poor leadership. This not only at the level of the king or royal court alone, who definitely are guilty of mismanagement, but all throughout the leadership classes in France and they didn’t seem to “want it” anymore, had stopped trying. Phrased another way is, there was a crisis of confidence in the mid-late 18th century in France.

Continue reading “Post-374: “A Generalized Crisis of Confidence” (on the political situation in the West by the 2010s)”

bookmark_borderPost-371: Great Grandfather No.4 before draft board, 1917

The is a snapshot of one of my four great-grandfathers in 1917-1918. I wrote it upon my discovery online of their WWI draft registration cards.

The others, in order of Father’s Father’s Father to Mother’s Mother’s Father, are:

Below I transcribe the draft registration card, provide a picture of the man, some comments on how the war period turned out for each man, and most ambitiously I try to re-create how they would have likely stood on the war. While I never knew any of these men, I did now their children in their old age (my grandparents).

Great-Grandfather 4
Born in Connecticut; of Colonial New England stock. Had lifelong ties to New Britain, Connecticut, often by residence, often by employment, and until his death for family/social reasons. He did not have to appear before the draft board in 1917 because he was still 19. Having turned 20, he was registered in June 1918 and was conscripted into the US Army:
[Transcription of draft registration card]

Registration Card

1. Name in Full: Earle Hazen
2. Home Address: 69 Church St., New Britain, Conn.
3. Date of Birth: April 13, 1897
4. Where were you born? East Berlin, Conn., USA
5. I am: A native of the United States. (Crossed out options are: ‘Naturalized Citizen’; ‘Alien’; ‘I have declared my intention [to naturalize]’; a Noncitizen or Citizen [American-]Indian’)
6. If not a citizen, of what nation are you a citizen or subject? [blank]
7. Father’s Birthplace: North Hero, Vt.
8[a]. Name of Employer: Landers, Frary, & Clark
8[b]. Place of Employment: New Britain, Conn.
9[a]. Name of nearest relative: M.H. [Mahlon] Hazen (father)
9[b]. Address of nearest relative: East Berlin, Conn.
10. Race: White (crossed out options are: ‘Negro,’ ‘Indian,’ or ‘Oriental’)

“I affirm that I have verified above answers and that they are true.”
[Signed,] Earle Hazen

Registrar’s Report

1[a]. [Height:] Medium
1[b]. [Build:] Slender
2[a]. Color of eyes: Blue
2[b]. Color of hair: Dark
3. Has person lost arm, leg, hand, eye, or is he palpably physically disqualified (specify)? None

[Signed by the Registrar of the City of New Britain, Connecticut]

Date of Registration: June 5, 1918

A middle-aged Earle Hazen (right), on his daughter’s wedding day (June 1942), 24 years after he appeared before the draft board. I believe the stout-looking figure in the background grinning and loitering is Walter Kosswig (no jacket) — see post-370 for Walter’s WWI(-era) profile. The older woman is Earle’s wife Catharine (nee Buchholz). The bride and groom are my mother’s parents. The yellow-paper handwritten caption is the work of my great aunt Ethel (Kosswig) Hinchliffe, who put together an anniversary scrapbook in 1982. “Ernie” refers to my grandfather, who is looking down.

Earle Hazen, circa 1930, with wife and daughter (my grandmother)

Why was Earle not registered in 1917? Why was he drafted in 1918? What was going on in his life in the 1910s? What would have been his position on intervention in the 1914-1918 war?

Continue reading “Post-371: Great Grandfather No.4 before draft board, 1917”

bookmark_borderPost-370: Great Grandfather No.3 before draft board, 1917

The is a snapshot of one of my four great-grandfathers in 1917-1918. I wrote it upon my discovery online of their WWI draft registration cards.

The others, in order of Father’s Father’s Father to Mother’s Mother’s Father, are:

Below I transcribe the draft registration card, provide a picture of the man, some comments on how the war period turned out for each man, and most ambitiously I try to re-create how they would have likely stood on the war. While I never knew any of these men, I did now their children in their old age (my grandparents).

Great-Grandfather 3
Born in Leipzig, Germany, but never lived there (in the US from age 1 in 1887); a near-lifelong resident of New Britain, Connecticut; in his 20s, he followed father’s trade into the printing business. Subject to draft registration in June 1917. This card was submitted when he appeared before the draft board of New Britain, Connecticut:

1. Name in full: Walter G. Kosswig
2. Home Address: 202 Hartford Ave., New Britain, Conn.
3. Date of Birth: July 10, 1886
4. Are you: a natural-born citizen, a naturalized citizen, an alien, or have you declared your intention (specify which)? Naturalized citizen
5. Where were you born? Liepsic [Leipzig], Saxony, Germany
6. If not a citizen, of what country are you a citizen or subject? [n/a]
7. What is your present trade, occupation, or office? Paper Roller
8[a]. By whom employed? Case, Lockwood, & Brainard
8[b]. Where employed? Pearl St., Hartford, Conn.
9. Have you a father, mother, wife, child under 12, or a sister or brother under 12 solely dependent on you for support? (specify which): Wife and two children and mother in part
10[a]. Married or Single? Married
10[b]. Race: Caucasian
11. What military service have you had? None
12. Do you claim exemption from draft (specify grounds)? Only on ground of dependent

I affirm that I have verified above answers and that they are true,”
[Signed,] Walter G. Kosswig

Registrar’s Report

1[a]. Tall, Medium, or Short? Medium
1[b]. Slender, medium, or stout? Stout
2[a]. Color of Eyes: Blue
2[b]. Color of Hair: Light
2[c]. Bald? No
3. […]Disabled: No

[Signed by the Registrar, Thomas Shuhan]

Date of Registration: [Not noted, but will have been June 5, 1917, the date of the first draft registration for men ages 21 to 30.]

Walter G. Kosswig (in black hat) with future wife Hulda (Hilda) [1885-1974], while both were dating in their early 20s. Savin Rock Amusement Park, Connecticut, 1907.

Walter G. Kosswig [1886-1952] was not drafted and did not serve in World War I.

Why was Walter not drafted? What was going on in his life in the 1910s? What would have been his position on intervention in the 1914-1918 war?

Continue reading “Post-370: Great Grandfather No.3 before draft board, 1917”