Just Typing Out Loud 9 December 2019.

First, the House of Representatives is going to impeach President Donald Trump.  The vote will be on a straight party line vote.  People shouldn’t make more of this than it deserves.  James Madison, in The Federalist, argued that the bad behavior of one group would be held in check by the bad behavior of the opposing group.  In short, this is how the Founders expected things to shake out.

Second, the Senate will try President Trump.

Third, they will acquit him him of all charges.  This will happen on a straight party line vote.  See above for an explanation.

There could be significant political fall-out from this trial.

On the one hand, the Republicans will have “gone loud” on Trump.  What if some new disaster of the president’s own making comes to light midstream?   What if the majority of American voters in November 2020 then decide  that they’ve had enough?  Not only will Trump be defeated, but so will Republicans in swing districts.

On the other hand, Democrats will have “gone loud” in impeachment when it was fated to lead to nothing.  Democrats and their media dog-whistlers will have made this the central issue in American politics during the Democratic primaries.   Whoever wins the nomination could be dragged down by this issue.  Or, perhaps, if enough Americans are persuaded by the trial testimony rather than by their established positions, then it will work against Trump and hos republican supporters.

On yet a third hand, former VP Joe Biden may be called to explain his “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship with his son and his son’s choice of employment.

Hunter Biden may be called to explain his work on behalf of a  Ukrainian energy company when his business partner–Chris Heinz–wouldn’t go near it. “What has four wheels and flies”  A garbage truck.”–My Dad.

Ambassadors Marie Yovanovich and William Taylor may be asked–as they should have been if the House Republicans had any brains–if there was any discussion within the Embassy or between the Embassy and the State Department of Hunter Biden’s position with Burisma.  Were government officials concerned about his role and about any actions of the VPOTUS?

Then, what if Mitch McConnell decides to use the hearings to investigate the possible role of individual Ukrainians–rather than the Ukrainian government as a whole–in the 2016 election?  After all, Candidate Trump said many pro-Russian things during the campaign.  President Obama had denied “lethal” aid to Ukraine in the early stages of the Russo-Ukraine war.  Would a Trump victory lead to a cut-off of all aid?  (In the event, just the opposite happened, but there was no way for Ukrainians to know this before the fact.)  Might some of them have considered opposing Trump by transmitting secret information to the Americans?  Do politicians play be different rules in Ukraine than in the United States?

Then, the Republican are sure to cite the example of Iran-Contra: a president accused of crimes, but never subjected to impeachment.  Peggy Noonan already raised this question in today’s Wall Street Journal.   Sometimes a scandal is only a scandal, rather than grounds for impeachment.

Then, , a prolonged trial might “dirty up” Joe Biden, while trapping Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in Washington during important elements of the Democratic primary season.  For that matter, it might give free rein to Senator Kamala Harris’s cross-examination “skills.”  Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg will stand above the fray.

Where will we be when this ends?  I’m just trying to see this from the opposing points of view here.

Democrats may be further enraged.  First the Trump-Russia “collusion” (John Podesta’s term I think, rather than Donald Trump’s) goes into the ground.  Then the Biden-Ukraine corruption thing goes into the ground.

Republicans may be further enraged.  First, there was the Democratic and media “with-hunt” in anticipation of the findings of the Mueller Report.  Second, there was the impeachment-looking-for-a-cause movement that fastened on the imperfect telephone call.

Another election is looming.

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”–Thomas Jefferson.

 

 

 

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 5 December 2019.

  1. If Trump had a legitimate interest in repressing Ukrainian corruption–of which there is a great deal if we are to believe Transparency International–he would have sicced the Justice Department on the task. He didn’t. He set his personal pit-bull (if that doesn’t give offense to pit-bulls) on it.
  2. Hunter Biden has a chequered past, but–for some reason that is probably easily explained–a Ukrainian oligarch appointed him to the board of his company when Joe Biden was VPOTUS. Roughly, Hunter made as much in a month as I make in a year. The purpose wasn’t to enlist Joe Biden as a protector; it was to scare off Ukrainian prosecutors, who are mostly oligarchs-in-the-making.
  3. Intellectually at least, it is possible to distinguish between asking for an investigation of the involvement of Ukrainians–not the government as a whole–in the 2016 US election AND asking for an investigation of the Bidens. The latter is clearly wrong and probably illegal (although, thank God, I’m not a lawyer).
  4. In Politico and then in the New York Times, Kenneth Vogel has laid out a possible chain of connections between individual–but powerful and interested–Ukrainians and the Democrats in the 2016 campaign. These deserve to be investigated. They are fundamentally different from allegations about lost servers or “Crowdstrike.” They are at the heart of Republican Congressmen’s objections.  I have wondered if this is the origin of the decision to hire a law firm hire a consulting firm to hire Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump’s Russia connections. Did they investigate ONLY Trump’s Russia connections, rather than all his international dealings? If so, why?
  5. Commentators have explained away Adam Schiff’s management of the Intelligence Committee hearings by comparing them to a grand jury. But, as someone wise once said, “A good DA could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.” (See Nancy Pelosi: “A glass of water could get elected in Brooklyn if it said it was a Democrat.” Or words to that effect.)
  6. Normally, but it is so rare that maybe there is no “normal,” impeachment hearings are carried out in the House Judiciary Committee. Why did Mrs. Pelosi assign the heavy lifting to Adam Schiff, rather than to Jerry Nadler? OK, that’s and extraneous question, unless Pelosi thinks that Nadler wasn’t up to the work.
  7. Actually, it is pretty significant that the career professionals in the military and the State Department have “issues” with President Trump. This can’t just be dismissed as “bureaucrats of the Deep State.” OTOH, I haven’t read much about equivalent figures at the Treasury or Commerce Departments kicking back. Why is that?
  8. Donald Trump is a pretty appalling person. Leaving aside his persona and behavior—but how can one?—he has sent the United States down some wrong roads. Climate change most of all, but also dealing with the weenies in NATO.  OTOH, he was correct to confront the Peoples Republic of China over its trade practices; he was right to talk to the nut with the nuclear missiles and a bad haircut in North Korea; he was right to lean on the NATO allies to ante up, given the supposedly growing Russian danger in Europe; he was right to put the clutch down on the torrent of rules, regulations, and executive orders from the White House during the period when President Obama did not have a majority in either house of the Congress; and he was right to bring the US corporate tax to international norms.
  9. IF this goes to the Senate, THEN expect Hunter and Joe Biden, and Adam Schiff(under oath), and the “Whistleblower” to be called to testify in open session (with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as “judges” for month after month).  Also, Alexandra Chalupa, and the guy who liased between the Democrats and Ukrainian informants.

Four Eyes 3 December 2019.

How come you can’t see as well as do other people?  ‘Cause you’re near-sighted.  How come you’re near-sighted?  It’s because your eyes got mushed out of shape.  Why did your eyes get mushed out of shape?  “Cause you read a lot: there’s a strong correlation between short-sightedness and IQ.  Read a lot, do well on tests.  “Gentlemen don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”   Why not?  ‘Cause smart women scare stupid guys, that’s why.

How long has this been going on?  Probably since the dawn of mankind.[1]  People invented “lenses” to improve vision as early as 700 BC.  This was pragmatic: they didn’t understand the science or the causes of failed vision, but they had some idea what to do about it.

So, what happened to people with bad vision in the many days ago?  They got treated as blind.  “Blind” actually is a relative term: even today only about 10 percent of people classified as “blind” can see nothing at all.  So, before glasses, there were a lot of “blind” people. The best you could hope for was bumping into things and getting yelled at by your sister-in-law.  (OTOH, you couldn’t see Thomas Kinkade paintings.)  Worse stuff could happen.  (See: Breughel, “Parable of the Blind” with everyone pitching into a ditch; see: “Old Blind Pew” in Treasure Island, trampled to death by the horses of the revenue men while he tap-tap-taps with his stick along the road outside the Admiral Benbow Inn.)

In 1263 the Medieval English polymath Roger Bacon mentioned that people were using “lenses” to improve their weak sight.  What he meant were glass spheres that had been cut in half.  In 1286 somebody[2] in northern Italy—who is a lot more important to me than is Columbus—invented spectacles.

Then, in 1604, Johannes Kepler, who also was interested in astronomy, got interested in optics.  Kepler figured out that concave lenses correct for near-sightedness and convex lenses correct for far-sightedness.  Things moved ahead fast in the Seventeenth Century.

In the late Eighteenth Century, Philadelphia became the center of progress on optical enhancement in America.[3]  Diagnosis and prescription were pretty rough-and-ready, but people were so glad to be able to see anything at all that they didn’t complain.

In 1843 somebody had the bright idea of making a whole bunch of different lenses and packing them into a diagnostic case for spectacle-makers so that they could figure out what was right for each individual.  In 1862 Hermann Snellen invented the eye-chart to measure vision.  (Ever since old people have been memorizing FELOPZD to fool the DMV.)  In 1888 the first contact-lenses were made.  Then along came Henry Ford and his Model-T car.  Lots of people took to the roads, but many of them couldn’t see very well.  Personal injury attorneys loved this, but a bunch of people thought drivers should have to take a vision test.  In 1938 came plastic contact lenses; in 1952 came the first soft contact lenses, but the Food and Drug Administration did not approve their sale until 1971.

Ignacio Barraquer (1884-1965), a Catalan-Spanish doctor, invented most of modern cataract surgery.  His son Jose Barraquer (1916-1998), a Spanish-Columbian doctor, and Svyatoslav Fyodorov (1927-2000), a Russian doctor, invented what we think of as Lasik surgery.

[1] Do dogs and cats and fish get near-sighted?  Probably, but then they get eaten.  So, the genetic element doesn’t get passed along.

[2] We do not know his/her name.  Every over-muscled moron in the Super Bowl gets a jeweled ring, but we don’t know who invented eye-glasses.  Zoro-H-Aster!

[3] You didn’t get people complaining about how unfair it was, how people were altering Nature’s plan, how it would lead children astray, or saying that people should get rid of their yellow Benjamin Franklin bracelets.

Father Rale.

By the middle of the 17th Century the fires of the Counter-Reformation had begun to cool.  New ways of thinking emphasized skepticism and tolerance and not fighting over religious issues.  Father Sebastien Rale (1657-1724) belonged to another era than the one in which he lived.  He grew up on the eastern fringe of France, then joined the Jesuits when young.  He taught for a stretch in southern France, but reciting “amo, amas, amat” to blubbering school-boys didn’t hold his attention.  So he volunteered for the New World and the Jesuits shipped him off to a place better suited to his commitments.  In 1689 he went to Canada.  The Jesuit Superior in New France sent him to an Abenaki village near Quebec to learn the language, then to a mission in Kaskaskia in the Illinois country for two years, and then (1694) to Norridgewock on the Kennebec River.  Today, that’s in central Maine; then it was the frontier between Catholic New France and Protestant New England.

In Norridgewock, Father Rale both served the spiritual needs of his parishioners and wound-up the local Indians against the English-speaking Protestants moving up relentlessly from the southwest.  When Queen Anne’s War (1703-1713) broke out Father Rale’s parishioners joined in a Fall 1703 raid that killed 150 English settlers.  This raid fell within a larger pattern.  For example a raid on York, Maine in 1692 had left 100 people—men, women, and children—dead and many others taken captive.  Among the captives carried off to Canada and later ransomed, was Jeremiah Moulton (1688-1765).  English settlers—understandably—became obsessed about the danger.[1]  The governor of Massachusetts put a price on Rale’s head and New England militia were inclined to a literal interpretation.  Ten years of unsuccessful man-hunting and border war followed.  In 1713 “peace” broke out.

It wasn’t much of a peace in Maine, whatever it was in Europe.  The exact border between New England and “Acadia” hadn’t been defined in the peace treaty.  The French said it ran along the Kennebec.  The Indians—the Wabanaki Confederation—didn’t agree that they were under British authority.  The government of Massachusetts (which then owned Maine) built some forts on Wabanaki land and settlers moved north and east.  Father Rale urged the Indians to attack the English settlers, although they didn’t need any encouragement to defend their lands from outsiders.  Small raids went on until, in January 1722, the governor of Massachusetts launched an Indian war on the frontier of the province.

Massachusetts militia troops just missed capturing Father Rale, but did get a strong-box full of papers that seemed to show that he acted on behalf of France.  “Father Rale’s War” then began in earnest.  The Wabanaki retaliated with attacks on the frontier forts and settlements.

During 1723, Indian attacks had a devastating effect.  Spring 1724 began as 1723 had ended.  Wabanaki raiders killed farmers and loggers, fishermen (they captured a bunch of fishing boats), and soldiers sent to fight them.  The governor of Massachusetts ordered all settlers to move to the forts or to fortified houses.[2]

In August 1724, a group of militia—now much experienced at Indian fighting–surprised the Indians at Norridgewock.  Afterwards, a scalped Father Rale lay among the dead.  The English burned the village and the crops in the field.  The Indians then moved north out of reach of the English.[3]  The commander of the English attack was Jeremiah Moulton, who had been kidnapped in York many years before.  There is something Biblical in that.

[1] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Wgkpfa5HMw  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV2JPv1EFww

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garrison_(architecture) for the architectural style.

[3] British colonists settled the now-empty site of the village only in 1773.

The Devil’s Backbone.

Who made the first roads in America?  Animals did, mostly bison and deer.  They migrated from place to place and then returned.  Often, they preferred to travel on ridge-lines.  Vegetation was less dense there and height gave them what soldiers today call “observation”: they could see danger coming.  Native Americans then followed these paths for many centuries, either migrating or hunting or bound for war.  The trails became more distinct.  Then came the European-Americans.  These travelers had horses and cattle, vehicles and tools.  The pathways became rough-and-ready roads.  European-Americans called any such path-to-road a “trace.”

The “Natchez Trace” was a somewhat improved dirt road connecting Nashville, on the Tennessee River, with Natchez, on the Mississippi River.  The lands between Nashville and Natchez remained thinly-settled for a long time.  Weary travelers looked forward to sight of isolated inns, called “stands,” where they could eat and sleep.[1]  It being only “somewhat improved,” 450 miles long, and lawless, most travelers referred to it as “the Devil’s Backbone.”

All sorts of people of people flowed along the Natchez Trace in the early 1800s.  Presbyterian and Methodist preachers of the “Second Great Awakening,” an emotionally powerful revival movement, were all over the place like a duck on a June-bug.[2]  Westward migrants hoped for better cotton lands in the Mississippi valley.  With the white planters went their African-American slaves.  Merchants from Nashville and elsewhere used the Trace as a river of commerce.  The Mississippi Valley blossomed from the combination of cotton, and the north-south trade between New Orleans and the “Old Northwest.”  “Kaintucks” manned the flatboats that carried the river’s trade.  They walked home along the Trace.

Because money flowed in both directions along the “Trace,” so did crime.[3]  The little U.S. Army was stretched thin, so there weren’t many soldiers to provide protection.  Sheriffs were few and far between.  On the Western end of the Trace, merchants, “Kaintucks,” and slaves all congregated in the wide-open town of Natchez-under-the-Hill, where gambling, girls, and drink abounded.  So did fights.  When crime got bad enough, a posse of “Regulators” would go hunting outlaws.  Court trials did not always follow captures.

For example, Samuel Mason (1739-1803) served on the frontier in the American Revolution, then he turned to river piracy in Ohio, Illinois, and Arkansas (which then belonged to Spanish America).  (This isn’t the sort of thing that the Daughters of the American Revolution like to play up.)  He fell in with a family of serial killers named Harpe until the Spanish arrested him in 1803 in what would later become Missouri.[4]  He didn’t have any good explanation for the twenty scalps found in his luggage (but really, who could?), so the Spanish turned him over to the Americans.  They would have hanged him, but he escaped for just long enough for two of his confederates to kill him in hopes of collecting a reward.  Instead the confederates met their own grim fates on a tree limb.

In the 1820s, the steamboat (which could carry goods and people upstream against the river currents) and other roads made the Trace irrelevant.

[1] In one of these inns, Meriwether Lewis— burdened by debts, drinking hard, and depressed–shot himself in 1809.

[2] Revivalist preachers stressed that individuals had to repent their sins to be saved.  Thousands of enthusiasts attended camp meetings like the one at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801.  The emotional, salvation-is-at-hand message of the revivalist movement had a profound effect on slaves, perhaps helping to inspire Nat Turner’s rebellion in Virginia in 1831.

[3] There’s a B-movie called “The Natchez Trace” (dir. Alan Crosland, 1960).

[4] The Louisiana Purchase was at hand, but had not yet taken place.  So, Missouri remained part of the Spanish empire.

Squanto.

The Native Americans of New England had been in contact with Europeans—French, Dutch, and English—since the early 1500s.  This contact began to transform Native American society.  On the one hand, the Europeans unintentionally introduced Old World diseases to which the Native Americans had no resistance.  Native American tribes did not live in isolation from other tribes.  The diseases spread like wild-fire from people near the coast to places much farther inland.  The toll could be horrific: 90 percent mortality in some cases, often as much as two-thirds.  On the other hand, the Native Americans were a Stone Age people.  The Iron Age Europeans had things—knives, axes, cooking pots, muskets—that would make the lives of the Native Americans much easier.  The Europeans would trade these things, and alcohol, for furs.

Beginning in 1605, English explorers—at the least—began occasional kidnappings of Native Americans.  Sometimes they sold them as slaves.  Sometimes they took them home to England and later returned them.  The catch-and-release effort may have been a crude attempt to create future intermediaries between the English and the Native Americans.  The English aimed at eventual settlement of colonies.  In 1614, an English explorer named Thomas Hunt grabbed 27 Native Americans from the shores of Cape Cod Bay.  He then sailed for the Spanish port of Malaga, where he sold them as slaves.

One captive called himself Tisquantum.  The Pilgrims later came to call him “Squanto.”  At a reasonable guess, “Squanto” was born about 1585 on the western shore of Cape Cod Bay.   His tribe, the Patuxet, were farmers, not hunters-and-gatherers.  Most of his life story is lost, with only occasional known facts.  He spent some time (probably years) in Spain (and probably at Malaga).  Somehow, he reached England.  He may have escaped to an English ship in the harbor.  He may have been bought or stolen by an English ship captain who knew of his employer’s interest in American colonization.  In any event, he spent enough time in London to learn English and see something of English society.

In 1618, the English merchant and colonizer Richard Slaney sent Squanto with an expedition to Newfoundland.  In 1619, Squanto talked an English captain into making an exploring voyage to Cape Cod Bay.  Home again, Squanto found himself virtually the “last of the Patuxets”: disease had destroyed his tribe.  Homeless and rootless, he declined to return with the captain.  However, he served as a translator and honest intermediary between his own people and the English.[1]

Then, in December 1620, the “Mayflower,” with the Pilgrims aboard, hove into sight on the western shore of Cape Cod Bay.  Having lost tribe and family, having learned English and met many Englishmen, Squanto soon moved into the Plymouth colony itself for almost two years.  He taught the colonists the rudiments of the fur trade.  This helped repay the debt to the company that had paid their passage—Plymouth was an “indentured colony.”  He taught them about Native American farming and crops.  Many of the seeds brought from England didn’t thrive in American soil.  He helped negotiate peace with surrounding tribes.  This minimized—for a time—“unfortunate incidents.”

Squanto died of what William Bradford described as an “Indian fever” in 1622.

[1] Some days later, a different group of Native Americans captured the English captain.  Eventually, he managed to escape and return home.  HA!

Zion Island 18.

“Shipping News,” Dar es Salaam newspaper, September 1950.  Extract.

The large dhow “Simba,” Mohammad Atif captain, has failed to return to port and is presumed to have been lost at sea.  “Simba” sailed from Dar es Salaam in July, bound for Lourenco Marques in Mozambique.  Captain Atif had been active in the coastal trade for forty years, carrying every sort of cargo, and was well-known in East African ports.