Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Problem With Pacifism

The Illusion of Pacifism

The problem with pacifism is not that it's mistaken or impractical (although it is), nor that it's an illusion indulged in by people whose own safety is protected by non-pacifists (although it is), nor that non-violence has probably caused more loss of life and suffering than it has prevented (although it has) nor even that the record of pacifists in supporting brutal, corrupt and repressive regimes is at least as bad as that of the CIA (although it is). The problem with pacifism is simply that it does not exist.

What is Non-Violence?

  • Obviously, committing violence yourself is not non-violence!
  • Hiring or encouraging others to commit violence for you also obviously cannot be termed non-violence. This includes relying on the legal system, which ultimately rests on the use of force as a last resort.
  • Goading your opposition beyond endurance to the point where they respond violently is non-violence only in the most hypocritical, specious sense.
  • So is obstructing the activities of others so much that they must resort to force to end the obstruction. The sit-ins of the 1960's were not non-violent in any meaningful sense.
  • Putting people in the position where they either have to yield to your demands or resort to violence to stop you is emphatically not non-violence. 
  • Nor is provoking a violent response in the hope of getting an over-reaction that will discredit the opposition and gain sympathy for your side.
The last four items on the list are calculated, manipulative, and deceptive practices. Neither Gandhi, nor Martin Luther King, nor the anti-war protestors of the 1960's were non-violent. They were skilled orchestrators of violence by others. The fact that their opponents were usually stupid enough to oblige them doesn't make the tactics any less manipulative or deceptive; in fact, often the response to an initially restrained opposition was an escalation of confrontation in order to cross the threshold into violence.

  • Can you really claim to be non-violent if you engage in activities that you can reliably predict will end in violence?
  • Can you really claim to be non-violent if you threaten someone else's position to the point where they feel they must resort to violence to protect their interests? Civil disobedience is a form of violence.
  • There is no such thing as non-violent crime. 
Certainly nobody who uses drugs can claim to be non-violent. Yes, I know all about the theory that our war on drugs is really responsible for the violence, and that if we simply legalized drugs the problem would go bye-bye. But in the world as it is, drugs are banned and traffickers are violent, and if you do business with them you are supporting their violence. Could there be anything more absurd than a vegetarian who won't eat meat because she opposes harming animals, while at the same time using drugs and pretending that she's not contributing to violence?

Forms of Pseudo-pacifism

The only truly non-violent tactic, in the sense that it neither commits nor provokes violence, is complete non-resistance and submission to the demands of the power elite. Even something as benign as education or public health, if it threatened someone else to the point of violent action, would be forbidden. Women would have to submit meekly to rape rather than struggle to resist. And no "pacifist" I have ever heard of advocates that. Generally, what passes for "non-violence" or "pacifism" is one of the following:
  • Relying on the law. This is not non-violence because if all other measures fail, the legal system will use force to achieve its ends. That's why we speak of enforcing the law.
  • Maintaining a facade of pacifism while provoking the opposition to violence, or creating an intolerable obstruction that can only be removed by force, or threatening their position to the point where they feel they have to resort to violence to protect their interests. This position, as already noted, is hypocritical, manipulative, and deceptive.
  • Selective pacifism: condemning U.S. military action but not violent actions against the U.S. If you take the position that someone has a cause for waging just war against the U.S., fine. Just don't pretend it's pacifism. There's no difference between a cop clubbing an anti-war protestor in 1965 and clubbing an anti-abortion protestor in 2000. Argue that one was not justified and the other is, if you will, but don't pretend that one instance is violence and the other isn't. Even weirder are the pacifists who condemn the international community for not intervening in places like Rwanda. And do what? Hold anger management sessions for the Hutu mobs? No, intervention would surely have meant military violence.
  • Compensatory pacifism: you oppressed us for a while, now we get to oppress you. A perfect example is the statement by Mari Matsuda when the University of Hawaii was trying to formulate a policy against hate speech: "Hateful verbal attacks upon dominant group members by victims is permissible." While Idi Amin was slaughtering thousands in Uganda in the early 1970's, some activists in America argued that it was "racist" to condemn him, because Africans had been oppressed by colonialism and now we had no right to criticize.
I don't have any problem with the use of violence in self-defense, or for taking down an oppressive regime, or for subduing criminals or protecting the weak. And the fact that somebody is so insecure that they resort to violence when confronted by mere demonstrations is often (not always) a pretty good idea who ranks where on the moral scale. But then again, I never pretended to be a pacifist. What I have a problem with is advocating, instigating, or indirectly causing violence while pretending to be non-violent.

What Would Jesus Do?

"The search for the historical Jesus" is generally a search for ways to make Jesus say the things we think he ought to have said if he'd possessed our wisdom. The historical reality is that Jesus lived in a society under military occupation by a foreign empire, and one swarming with insurgent groups at that. If Jesus had ever meant to condemn imperialism or endorse "liberation theology" or "wars of national liberation," he had one of the most perfect settings in all history to do so. Not only did he not do so, but Roman soldiers are just about the only group in the New Testament who are given complimentary treatment. When a group of soldiers came to John the Baptist asking what they needed to do to be saved, he told them not to abuse their power. He didn't even remotely suggest they should quit the army.

It gets worse. Jesus was put to death on trumped up charges. What a perfect opportunity to condemn capital punishment. Yet, while he and two criminals were dying, one of the criminals chided the other one, saying that they were only getting what they deserved. What a perfect place to say that nobody deserves to die at the hands of the state, that the criminals are really victims of unequal wealth, lack of empowerment, and poor self esteem. Jesus, apparently failing completely to understand what was at stake, said nothing. And his followers, while they condemned the execution of Jesus and some of his followers, always did so on the sophistic grounds that they were innocent and morally in the right. Not once did they challenge the right of the state to take the life of genuine criminals.

Attempts to equate Christianity and pacifism simply don't stand scrutiny. Christianity does not teach that life is sacred. Jesus and his followers ate animal products. Christianity doesn't even teach that human life is sacred. Christ told his followers not to fear those who merely destroyed the body, and said that he who loved his life would lose it.

Thou Shalt not Murder

But what about "Thou shalt not kill?" Notice that it's "Thou shalt not kill," but David slew Goliath? Why two different words?

Because the original meaning of kill was more nearly that of murder, whereas slay meant homicide in general. Although there's some overlap in usage in the Bible, generally actions like killing in battle are translated with slay. The distinction was clear in the 1600's when the King James Bible was published. It's only when we became intellectually sloppy that we blurred the distinction between the two words.

This is a pons asinorum (bridge of asses) - an initial first step that has to be made before any productive discussion can begin. People who trot out "thou shalt not kill" as a basis for pacifism are revealing only their illiteracy.

The Cycle of Violence

Before we go any further, take your mouse and put the cursor on the bold lettering above.
Now, notice what you did. In order to move the mouse, you had to exert force, and very precise and gentle force at that. You didn't rip the mouse cord out of the computer, or crush the mouse in your grip, or push so hard on it that you mashed the trackball flat. The notion that force inexorably spirals out of control is precisely that trivially easy to refute.

Now it's probably true that resorting to unnecessary violence may very well lead to retaliation. So restraint in dealing with confrontations is usually a good idea. But all the talk about "ending the cycle of violence" fails to address the key question what do we do about people who have already turned to violence as their tactic of choice? As a problem-solving tool, "violence first" has a couple of things going for it:

  • It's simple
  • It gets results, especially after word gets around that you don't hesitate to use violence
  • It's gratifying. You get to vent pent-up rage, feel dominance over others, maybe even a sexual turn-on
Most pacifists react to this issue by simply pretending that it doesn't exist, that people either never deliberately choose violence, that violence always stems from earlier violence, poverty, or injustice, or that if people do deliberately choose violence, it's in rare cases that are not really of great importance. But history abounds with examples of people who have deliberately chosen violence. The ease with which people from non-violent backgrounds have been induced to commit atrocities in wartime shows how easy it can be for the violent to recruit assistants, and for the gratification factor to take hold. Thus, a single individual who opts for violence because he enjoys domination may succeed in recruiting many others less bold than he is. How do we respond to people who have opted for violence? Appeasement merely reinforces the conviction that violence gets results. Moreover, it provides gratification by reinforcing the feeling of dominance. When confronting people who have already opted for violence, non-violence has a very good chance of perpetuating the cycle of violence. Retaliatory force, on the other hand, makes the results of violence a lot less simple, a lot less effective in getting results, and a lot less gratifying.

Furthermore, violence is only the far end of the spectrum of force. Every screaming brat who throws a temper tantrum in public is testimony to the fact that children do not need to be taught the use of force. And regardless how loving, benevolent and diligent a parent is in meeting and supplying the child's needs, every child sooner or later runs into the fact that other people, much less the physical universe, will not. Sooner or later every human being has to face the fact that some desires will not be gratified.

Throwing the First Punch

Pacifists are vociferous in denouncing "aggression." I can think of a number of cases where "aggression" either shortened a war or ended genocide. None involve the United States, by the way.

  • In 1971, civil war broke out in Pakistan, which was then made up of two ethnically and geographically separate areas. A million people died and ten million fled into India. Faced with an overwhelming refugee crisis, India invaded East Pakistan, which became independent as Bangladesh.
  • Madman Idi Amin brutalized Uganda for eight years, killing perhaps 300,000 people, before Tanzanian troops and Ugandan rebels invaded and expelled him in 1979. It should have happened much sooner.
  • The Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia killed at least a million people before being driven from power by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979. Most of the American pacifists who opposed the Vietnam War so loudly remained strangely silent while the Khmer Rouge atrocities were being committed (Joan Baez being the one honorable exception). But the U.S. government, still smarting from its loss in Vietnam, shamefully condemned the Vietnamese.
  • While Idi Amin was grabbing headlines in Africa, Jean-Bedel Bokassa held power in the Central African Republic, which he renamed the Central African Empire. He killed perhaps 100,000 people. In 1979, France engineered a coup that overthrew Bokassa. Very slick and oh so French. They took advantage of Bokassa traveling abroad to fly in a new president and a few battalions of Foreign Legionnaires, and that was that. Napoleon, if you're looking down, you should be proud.
Not only is it morally permissible to commit aggression, sometimes it's morally obligatory.

So What's Your Plan?

When the Persian Gulf War broke out, critics of the war complained that we had not given diplomacy enough time to do the job. Years later, after a decade of economic sanctions had reduced Iraq to utter misery, many of the same people were complaining that sanctions should be ended because they have failed and because they are causing great suffering.

So what, exactly, was diplomacy supposed to accomplish in 1991? The only actions we can take against a country from outside are to blockade it. If blockade has not been effective after ten years, and if a blockade is considered morally objectionable if it causes human suffering, then exactly what measures were we supposed to take against Iraq?

I suggest that pacifists have a moral and intellectual obligation to answer the following questions:

  • What specific measures will lead to a peaceful solution?
  • What evidence do you have that these measures will work?
  • What criteria will we use to decide if the pacifist approach has failed?
For example, saying "The United States should have relied more on diplomacy to capture Osama bin Laden" doesn't cut it. What specific diplomatic approaches should we have tried? What evidence is there that they would have worked? How long should we persist before concluding that they don't work? Are there other criteria (credible evidence of bin Laden acquiring nuclear weapons, for example) that would justify immediate action?

Why Did I Even Get Out of Bed?

Sometimes you find something written by a more illustrious writer that says it first and so perfectly, anything else is almost superfluous. Here is an excerpt from George Orwell's Notes on Nationalism (May 1945). Note: Orwell uses the term "nationalism" as a synonym for any fervently held ideology, whether attached to a nation or not. This is simply a brilliant piece of work, not just on pacifism but all forms of extreme belief.
The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defense of western countries. The Russians, unlike the British, are not blamed for defending themselves by warlike means, and indeed all pacifist propaganda of this type avoids mention of Russia or China. It is not claimed, again, that the Indians should abjure violence in their struggle against the British. ...
All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty....
If one harbours anywhere in one's mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts...
PACIFIST. Those who "abjure" violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf. ......

Too Dumb to Run a Lemonade Stand

According to National Review Online, The Corner, April 29, 2010, this e-mail is made the rounds on Wall Street in the early days of the Great Recession.
We are Wall Street. It's our job to make money. Whether it's a commodity, stock, bond, or some hypothetical piece of fake paper, it doesn't matter. We would trade baseball cards if it were profitable. I didn't hear America complaining when the market was roaring to 14,000 and everyone's 401k doubled every 3 years. Just like gambling, its not a problem until you lose. I've never heard of anyone going to Gamblers Anonymous because they won too much in Vegas.
Well now the market crapped out, & even though it has come back somewhat, the government and the average Joes are still looking for a scapegoat. God knows there has to be one for everything. Well, here we are.
Go ahead and continue to take us down, but you're only going to hurt yourselves. What's going to happen when we can't find jobs on the Street anymore? Guess what: We're going to take yours. We get up at 5am & work till 10pm or later. We're used to not getting up to pee when we have a position. We don't take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don't demand a union. We don't retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plates, we'll eat that.
For years teachers and other unionized labor have had us fooled. We were too busy working to notice. Do you really think that we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping? We're going to take your cushy jobs with tenure and 4 months off a year and whine just like you that we are so-o-o-o underpaid for building the youth of America. Say goodbye to your overtime and double time and a half. I'll be hitting grounders to the high school baseball team for $5k extra a summer, thank you very much.
So now that we're going to be making $85k a year without upside, Joe Mainstreet is going to have his revenge, right? Wrong! Guess what: we're going to stop buying the new 80k car, we aren't going to leave the 35 percent tip at our business dinners anymore. No more free rides on our backs. We're going to landscape our own back yards, wash our cars with a garden hose in our driveways. Our money was your money. You spent it. When our money dries up, so does yours.
The difference is, you lived off of it, we rejoiced in it. The Obama administration and the Democratic National Committee might get their way and knock us off the top of the pyramid, but it's really going to hurt like hell for them when our fat a**es land directly on the middle class of America and knock them to the bottom.
We aren't dinosaurs. We are smarter and more vicious than that, and we are going to survive. The question is, now that Obama & his administration are making Joe Mainstreet our food supply…will he? and will they?
Guess what, dude, you are not going to take anybody's job, because you don't have any useful skills. You push paper, and one particular kind of paper at that. I sided my house, designed and built a bay window, and converted a bathroom into a laundry room, doing all the plumbing and wiring myself. Can you even drive a nail without hurting yourself? Can you use a circular saw and come away with ten fingers? Can you change oil or spark plugs or a muffler? Can you use a soldering iron? Can you even write your own Excel spreadsheets? I can even code HTML, a frequent necessity because of the inept way Blogger writes it.

What kinds of stuff do you trade? Biotech? Great, tell me what a retrovirus is, and what a porphyrin is. You're international? Wunderbar. How many foreign languages do you speak? Aerospace? Tell me how they get a geosynchronous satellite into orbit. Information technology? What's the difference between RAM and ROM? A virus and a worm? What are VGA, EGA and RGB? Oil? Draw me a sketch of a saturated hydrocarbon. Draw a cross-section of a salt dome. What are migrated and unmigrated seismic sections? Defense? Pleased to meet you. What branch did you serve in? What's the difference between an Army first lieutenant and one in the Navy?

Here's a plan: you don't get to enroll in an MBA program - anywhere - until you have a professional degree or equivalent certification (say, master machinist) in a real profession, and five years' on the job experience. And to the business people who did it this way, it hardly needs explaining. (As of this writing, BP is taking hard hits over the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but at least the CEO, Tony Hayward, started off as a geologist and worked his way up through exploration and production. He's not one of those airheads who studied "management" in a vacuum, as if managing a drug company was the same as managing an automobile plant.)

You're not dinosaurs, all right. Dinosaurs knew how to survive in the wild. You're more like the dodo: flightless, sluggish, and perfectly adapted to its isolated and safe little island - until the people, cats, dogs, pigs and rats came ashore. Free rides on your backs? No, you got free rides on our backs. Your lavish income was precisely analogous to a church usher grabbing a pocket full of donations as payment for passing the collection plate, or maybe a refinery worker siphoning off a tanker full of gas to sell on the side simply because he has access to the valves. Just being in the money stream doesn't entitle you to any of it.

You're "more vicious" than dinosaurs? Oooh, can I feel your muscles, you big strong man, you? Maybe in your new found free time you can read Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff," where he contrasts the hollow business conceit of "dog eat dog" with the 25 per cent career fatality rate among military jet pilots. That's not combat. That's just flying. Fighter pilots take risks. Soldiers, cops, and firemen take risks. In a typical year about 1200 construction workers, 500 truckers, 300 farm workers and 150 police die on the job. How often does someone on Wall Street die on the job?

$85K with no upside is harsh? Do you have any idea how insulated from reality you are? Surf the want ads and see how many jobs there are at $85K a year. Especially entry level and no experience, which will be you if you try to make a radical career shift. Sure, when the market was performing well, everyone was happy. You got big bonuses, Joe Shlabotnik on the assembly line got a small raise and a hike in his IRA. Then the market tanks. Joe Shlabotnik loses his job, his house, his retirement and you, in return, are willing to settle for what - a slightly smaller bonus this year? Instead, you are shocked to get no bonus and a salary cap. You're taking a hit only remotely comparable to his; after all, you still have a job, a home, and savings, and let's not forget a health plan, and it's all so - (racking sobs) - unfair. After all that blather about the risks of the marketplace, you actually experience the real results of risk, and you're shocked. You experience the tiniest, softest touch of karma and you claim a martyr's crown. 

"Do you really think that we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping?" Absolutely. You are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping. First of all, you don't have any practical skills. I hope you're not one of the people I have actually met who think you can teach third graders the way you teach adults. Second, you're not going to leave Wall Street because you like being where the action is. You'll still get a thrill out of steering millions of dollars around even if your skim is a lot less. You will still enjoy the view from your top floor office window. You will still enjoy having flunkies cower before you and having affairs with the secretaries. And this is why John Galt will never, in a million years, move to Galt's Gulch. You'll trade all that to landscape in Altoona or teach school in North Platte? And be at the bottom of the totem pole? With only your actual skills and attractiveness to rely on? In the words of the inimitable Nelson Muntz: "HAH-ha!"

And don't forger Mrs. Vicious. Do you recall the story of the businessman in London a couple of years back who asked his trophy wife at a party whether she'd still love him without his money? She said "####, no!" and everyone had a good laugh. Turns out she wasn't kidding. The economy went south and so did she. Maybe your marriage is true love. But before you go John Galt, better make sure your Significant Other can (will) make the transition from society in New York to Rotary luncheons in Boise.

And there's another reason. John Galt has a hundred people waiting to take over his job, and so do you. And every one of them can do it just as well as you can. You want to talk about unions? You're as tightly unionized as anybody. You restrict access to your career every bit as much as any other union, and you are no more in short supply than they would be if the artificial barriers were removed. Nobody can walk in off the street and challenge you for your job any more than you will be able to walk in off the street and challenge someone else for their job. Where you are now, it's who you know as much as what you know. Out here, it's what you know. And you don't know jack.

Cold Case: Lessons from a Long-Ago Murder

A Fairy Tale?

Once upon a time there was an Olympic athlete with a gold medal, who had gone on to become an eminent professional and respected family man. Unfortunately, he had a secret life. He had a mistress, and one night he killed her. The police soon arrested him, and he was put on trial for murder. His Olympic medal, professional degrees, and community stature counted for nothing. He was found guilty and put to death.

Whoa, many people would say, I'm glad you began that story with "Once upon a time," because it's a fairy tale. Someone of that stature could find a phalanx of lawyers to defeat the charges or bargain them down to something lesser. Even if he were by some wild chance found guilty and sentenced to death, the appeals would drag on interminably. The press and his supporters would wage a relentless battle to raise doubt about his guilt. Eventually some judge would be persuaded, or the governor would cave in to popular sentiment, and he would have the sentence commuted. In a few years, when the hubbub had died down, he would go free. Because prominent people just aren't put to death.


Except the incident really happened, exactly as described, in 1929. The Olympian was James Howard Snook, who won a gold medal for pistol marksmanship in the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium. Admittedly the Olympics in 1920 didn't command the celebrity they do now, and pistol marksmanship is not on the same plane as the high jump or decathlon. Nevertheless, Snook was an acclaimed Olympian. By 1929, he had a wife and child, and was head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University. He had also been carrying on an affair with a young medical student, Theora Hix, for three years. On June 13, 1929, during an argument, Snook bludgeoned her and cut her throat. Her body was found the next day. Snook was soon identified as the prime suspect, put on trial in July and found guilty on August 14. After exhausting his appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, he was executed in the electric chair on February 28, 1930. (Snook is the only Olympic medalist ever executed for a crime.)

Despite Snook's intelligence, education and professional experience, this was a singularly inept crime, worthy of inclusion in any "dumbest criminals" compilation. Snook killed his lover and left her body in a place he was known to visit (a firing range where he practiced his marksmanship). He managed to get Hix' blood on his clothes and in his car, and he kept the murder weapons. And although he had medical training, plus access to a laboratory and a wide array of chemicals, he was unable to clean the weapons, a knife and ball peen hammer, well enough to eliminate all traces of blood, even by the standards of 1929 forensics.

The trial was sensational, complete with drugs and kinky sex (by 1929 standards). Snook supplied the drugs, to which he had ready access, and which were much less regulated than they are now, and Hix supplied the kinky. (One can just picture Snook's poor wife hearing the details in court and wishing she could get the electric chair right then and there.) During the trial, Snook claimed that Hix had threatened to harm his family. Prosecutors argued premeditation, pointing to the unlikely opportune availability of a ball peen hammer in Snook's car. The jury, judge, and apellate courts agreed.

I first learned of this case in 1994, after the arrest of O. J. Simpson, when it appeared in a background story on other sports figures who had been charged with crimes. (I regretted not saving the article at the time, although when I finally decided to write this piece, I located the details on line in seconds. Such is the growth of electronic technology.) As the O. J. drama unfolded (complete with jugglers and dancing bears in the streets, as one Doonesbury strip put it) my mind kept returning to that long ago murder. How was it that in 1930, in a time many would consider a judicial Dark Age, an Olympic gold medal and a prominent professional position were unable to save a murderer from the electric chair? On the other hand, in 1994, after decades of legislation and court decisions aimed at reducing inequality in the judicial system, wealth, prominence, and the money to hire a team of lawyers were instrumental in getting a murderer acquitted.

Two conclusions immediately leap out in comparing the Snook and O. J. cases:

  1. All the procedural complexities added to the legal system since 1930 have made the system less fair and equal, not more. The inequality is not so much due to unfairness directed at less wealthy defendants, as it is the creation of innumerable loopholes that wealthy defendants can exploit.
  2. The increased injustice came about not in spite of the court reforms of recent decades, but precisely because of them. The most nearly infallible recipe for injustice is complexity. The more complex the appeals process becomes, the more costly it becomes to exploit judicial safeguards. Wealthy defendants can afford the lawyers. Public defenders and attorneys working pro bono for less affluent clients are more heavily burdened. And of course, if you are too affluent to qualify for public assistance and too poor to hire attorneys out of petty cash, you will escape punishment only in the sense of not going to prison. Financially you will be as bad off as anyone behind bars.

Most commentators on this case point out that the case would be handled differently now, as indeed it would. Snook was interrogated for nineteen hours straight, without a lawyer, and was slapped a couple of times by the interrogating detective. And the appeals process was very abbreviated by today’s standards. On the other hand, what substantive issues would a lengthier appeals process have addressed? Snook was clearly not of diminished capacity and his guilt was beyond doubt. The only issue of substance was whether the killing was premeditated. Snook claimed that Hix had become increasingly jealous of his family obligations and had threatened him and his family. Nevertheless, by his own account, Snook was not in imminent danger at the time he struck Hix, and the fact that he had a weapon close at hand tipped the balance against him.

If the police had merely been intent on closing the books quickly, they had a much easier target to go after. Hix had another lover while she was having her affair with Snook, and he was the first suspect picked up. He was able to convince the police that he and Hix had ended their relationship a year earlier and that he was engaged to someone else. So the police passed up the chance to wrap up the case easily, released a suspect of low socioeconomic class, presumably someone without the means to mount a vigorous defense, and arrested the respected professional Snook instead. The commonplace wisdom that socioeconomic status determines a defendant’s fate is turned completely on its head in this case.

From Hix’ murder to Snook’s execution was 260 days. Three years later, Giuseppe Zangara would shoot Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago in a botched attempt to assassinate Franklin D. Roosevelt. Zangara defiantly boasted of the shooting in court and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. However, when Cermak later died, Zangara was charged with murder. Again he defiantly pled guilty. Only 33 days elapsed between the shooting and Zangara’s execution and only 14 days since the murder conviction. Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated President William McKinley in 1901, was executed 53 days after the shooting. In 1921, psychologist Lloyd Vernon Briggs examined the case and concluded that Czolgosz had been mentally ill and possibly not legally responsible. Charles J. Guiteau, assassin of President James Garfield in 1881, was executed just 363 days after the shooting. This trial was one of the first high profile trials where the insanity defense was invoked. Garfield did not die for eleven weeks after the shooting, a victim of medical malpractice as much as the bullet, and Guiteau was convicted on January 25, 1882, 156 days before being executed.

There is a good chance that all three political assassins would have been found insane if tried today. Guiteau in particular was delusional about his popularity after the assassination, and believed the public regarded him as a hero. Certainly all would have had appeals filed on their behalf. But even counting the issue of insanity, all of the three assassination cases were straightforward enough to be resolved in a single round of appeals, lasting at most a year. Certainly none were complex enough to require millions of dollars to decide.

In contrast, it took 12 years to decide the case of Charles Rodman Campbell. In 1974, Campbell raped a woman and served six years for the crime. In 1982, while on work release, he killed the woman, her daughter, and a neighbor in retaliation for testifying against him. He was finally executed in 1994, only after the State of Washington had appealed to the Supreme Court in an effort to get a final decision on the constitutionality of the case. It took twelve years to resolve a case where there was never the slightest doubt of the defendant's guilt.

How did we get from the simplicity of 1929 to the complexity of today? The 1931-1937 Scottsboro case was a contributing factor. Nine black youths were accused of rape on flimsy grounds and sentenced to death after cursory assembly-line trials with only the most meager representation. Two separate hearings by the Supreme Court laid down important due process safeguards, yet it seems likely that justice would have been far better served if the Court had simply overturned the verdicts on the grounds of insufficient, flimsy, and contradictory evidence, not to mention blatant judicial prejudice. Yet the Federal courts played procedural patty-cake with Alabama's courts, effectively declaring themselves impotent against Jim Crow sham trials.

Another significant episode was Caryl Chessman's unsuccessful twelve year (1948-1960) battle to avoid execution for rape and kidnapping in California. This case became a rallying point for opponents of capital punishment, who were further swayed by Chessman's articulate writings. It laid down the precedent later observed in the cases of Eldridge Cleaver, Edgar Smith and Jack Henry Abbott that articulate writing somehow atones for heinous crimes. It also created a precedent for defense attorneys filing interminable piecemeal appeals in an effort to wear down the opposition or slip an overturned verdict through the cracks.

Due process is result, not procedure. A trial that results in punishment of an innocent person is not a fair trial, despite Justice Scalia's scandalous (and impeachable) recent opinion that innocence is not a Constitutional bar to imprisonment. However, a trial that results in the release of a guilty person is likewise not a fair trial. If the Scottsboro Trials were a miscarriage of justice, so were the acquittal of O.J. Simpson and the overturn of the convictions of the Chicago Seven.

Courts are understandably reluctant to second guess lower courts' readings of the facts. There are myriad important things in court that never make it into the transcript, such as the fact that a defendant has an arrogant smirk or a prosecution witness stammers and sweats when cross examined. And yet innocent defendants remain jailed while courts bat procedural matters around instead of declaring that a prosecutor's case is simply worthless on its face, or declaring that an appeal is pointless because the appellant is patently guilty. The waste of resources is huge. It typically costs millions of dollars to deal with a capital case, even if the defendant is palpably guilty. These are resources of money and docket time that could be spent on reviewing the cases of genuinely innocent victims of miscarriages of justice.

It seems to me that we need at least three Constitutional amendments:

  • No person shall be punished for a crime except on conclusive evidence of guilt.
  • Appeals (criminal and civil) may only be based on a reasonable showing of factual error in the original verdict.
  • No procedural issue shall ever take precedence over issues of fact.

What about all the procedural safeguards created by the courts? There is still plenty of room for those; indeed, these changes will strengthen them. A prosecutor who faces having his conviction dismissed rather than merely being overturned will be a lot more careful about observing procedural safeguards that really count. If his case is dismissed with prejudice because he withheld exculpatory evidence, that will hurt a lot more than the slap on the wrist of having a verdict returned for retrial. Even better would simply be tossing the prosecutor in jail for contempt of court for wasting judicial resources. If Southern courts had routinely had guilty verdicts against black defendants thrown out as worthless because they were unsupported by the facts, or because the judge was blatantly prejudiced, we might not have had to wait so long for civil rights progress.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Six Most Economically and Mathematically Illiterate Comments on Social Security

"There's Nothing in the Social Security Fund but IOU's"

Guess what? Unless you have a petroleum tank or grain silo in your back yard, all your wealth is IOU's. Your bank account is bytes in a computer and scribbles on paper. Your stocks and bonds are pieces of paper. Just ask anyone who owned Enron. You have gold or platinum? Good for you. Do you actually have physical ownership? If not, all you have is a promise to deliver your gold. Even if you have gold, it has value only because you can probably count on someone to take it in exchange for what you want. But nobody is going to take gold for the last seat on a lifeboat or the last can of beans in town.

"There are Only Two Workers for Every Recipient"

As of August, 2013, there were 62.7 million Social Security recipients. They received an average monthly benefit of about $1200 per month ($14,000 per year), according to the Monthly Statistical Snapshot of the Social Security Administration. According to the Department of Labor, the employed work force totaled 144 million people, and according to the Census Bureau, the median personal income was about $50,000 a year.

So we have 2.3 workers for every Social Security recipient, but they're earning 3.5 times as much. So each Social Security recipient is equivalent to about one third of a worker, and there are 2.2 times as many workers as recipients. The actual income ratio is 2.2 x 3.5 = 7.6 to one. That is, wages total 7.6 times the amount being paid out in Social Security benefits.

"My Grampaw has Gotten 400% of what he paid in!"

So fulminated one angry millennial on line.

Ever hear of double-digit inflation? We had it for several years in the 1970's. The consumer price index now is about six times what it was in 1970. Meaning a dollar paid in to Social Security in 1970 would have to be repaid by $6 now. So yes, Grampaw probably did get 400% back in face value dollars. In actual purchasing power, he probably broke even.

"I'll Never See a Penny of Social Security"

That's entirely up to you.

Just be aware that "entitlement reform" is code for "I'm going to take everything you paid in to Social Security and use it to reduce my taxes.

So go right ahead and vote for politicians who want to rob Social Security. Your call.

"It's A Ponzi Scheme"

A Ponzi scheme promises investors unreasonable growth, which is achieved in the short run by luring new investors in to cover shortfalls.

If you borrow money from people, promising to pay it back when you get a job, and you do, that's not a Ponzi scheme, even though you're promising to pay in the future with money you don't yet have.

If you promise people to double their money in six months, and just take it and run, that's not a Ponzi Scheme. Stealing, yes, but not a Ponzi Scheme.

If you promise people to double their money in six months, and make a risky investment that could possibly have done it but fails, that's bad judgement. It may get you a whopping civil suit or even prison time, but it's not really a Ponzi scheme.

In a real Ponzi Scheme, you'd promise people to double their money in six months. (More than likely, you'd pose as a shareholder yourself to rake in the payoff). You pay them back a bit each month, using their own money to do it. They are impressed and encourage others. Now you have real money to play with. So you pay off the original suck investors, who are very happy. They tell their friends, and may re-invest their own money, and all goes smoothly, until the growth stops. You continue to make payouts until the money runs out, and then you run.

The important element in a Ponzi scheme is not hoping to pay off debt with future income, which is every debt ever incurred. And it's not even promising future growth. That's called "investment." It's the promise of unending growth, and even that's not a Ponzi scheme as long as you can deliver, and alert investors that the ride is about to end. No, a Ponzi scheme promises unending growth and then uses trickery to prevent investors from seeing the crash until too late. If Bernie Madoff had just said, "Sorry, folks, but the fund isn't doing well, and returns will be down" he'd have stayed out of trouble.

Social Security is not a Ponzi Scheme. At the beginning, it could pay out more than recipients paid in, because the pool of contributors was increasing. That ended 60 years ago. Right now there's a bottleneck because Boomers are retiring, but that can be fixed by controlling the growth of benefits and by raising the cap on contributions. If we make those reforms we can ride out the Boomer wave. There's no reason Social Security can't function indefinitely.

But is it fair to hit the rich with the costs of Social Security? Well, one reason they're rich is that their corporations stopped providing defined benefit plans, and they don't pay workers enough to save enough on their own. So, yeah, it's fair.

One final point. President Roosevelt wanted the Social Security fund to be prepaid, but conservatives opposed allowing the Government to accumulate such a large surplus.

"We have $100 Skazillion in Unfunded Obligations"

You are earning the median income of $50,000 a year and you have a mortgage of $250,000. Panic! You have $250,000 in unfunded obligations! That's five times your annual income!

Except, of course, you can reasonably count on earning a salary to meet future payments. And you will probably be able to sell the house, and maybe your salary and the value of the house will go up. 

According to "Cox and Archer: Why $16 Trillion Only Hints at the True U.S. Debt" (Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2012), the total value of unfunded liabilities in the U.S. is about $87 trillion, 5.5 times GDP. But if we don't flinch at our mortgage holder above owing five times his annual income, what's to panic about here?

So say we have 150 million workers. That $87 trillion in obligations comes to $580,000 each. But nobody is going to get a $580,000 lump sum. That will be paid out in Social Security and Medicare benefits. Those unfunded liabilities include pensions and social security payments to be paid out over maybe 25 years. Over 25 years, that $580,000 comes to $23,200 a year.

The present U.S. GDP is about $16 trillion, so the total GDP over 25 years will be 400 trillion dollars. Government obligations of $87 trillion total 21 per cent of total GDP over 25 years. But wait! yells the TV pitchman, there's more! Cox and Archer claim the obligation is growing at $8 trillion a year. Let's tack that on, a total of $120 trillion, to give a grand total of $207 trillion. That's half the total GDP over 25 years, not 5.5 times.

Well, hey, why don't we just extrapolate out till the earth gets too hot for life, 1.5 billion years from now? Our total unfunded liabilities over that span are 8 trillion times 1.5 billion = 12 sextillion dollars. That's 750 million times our GDP! We're doo-o-o-oomed. On the other hand, the people at the end are screwed anyhow (I was going to say "hosed," but they'd probably welcome that) so we can just stick them with the tab.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Cosmic Filter

Where Is Everybody?

A long-standing paradox in astronomy is sometimes called the Fermi Paradox after the famous physicist Enrico Fermi, who is the first person known to have posed it. If extraterrestrial civilizations exist, where are they? Anything that grows exponentially quickly gets very large, very fast. Something that doubles ten times is a thousand times as large. Actually 1024 times. The fortunate accident that a thousand is a round number in decimal, which humans use, and very close in binary, which computers use, is why we speak in terms of mega-, giga- and terabytes. (Nothing comes in kilobytes any more except tweets.)

So twenty doublings gets you to a million, thirty gets you to a billion, and nine more gets you to half a trillion. There are about 400 billion stars in our galaxy. So it would only take 39 doublings of a star-faring civilization to colonize every star in our galaxy. If it takes ten thousand years for a colony to take root and develop its own interstellar capability, that would be 390,000 years. That's an eye-blink in cosmic terms. So why isn't there massive evidence for interstellar societies? Or if they existed in the past and went extinct, why don't we see evidence of them? Why isn't there a global layer of extraterrestrial residue in the Ordovician or Jurassic?

Maybe we're first, or all alone (the same thing). That seems hard to believe given the rapidly mounting evidence that all (or nearly all) stars have planets. It also seems like special pleading. Scientists really don't like assuming we occupy a privileged place - it's proven false so many times in the past. Others object that we shouldn't try to read human psychology into aliens. Maybe they don't expand exponentially, or have a drive to explore. That's special pleading in reverse. It amounts to assuming we're uniquely aggressive or inquisitive, or so unusual that other races that develop science won't think anything like us.

Maybe there's some obstacle. Maybe civilizations don't stay viable for very long, or there's a technical obstacle too great to overcome. Or maybe they're out there, but keeping a low profile. Maybe they avoid pre-interstellar races, or maybe we're of no interest to them. We can barely read humans, much less try to head-shrink extraterrestrials.

Is it possible that there could be extraterrestrials that have the desire and means to colonize other stars, yet are free of the potentially fatal flaws we see in ourselves? There's one supremely important consideration. We don't see evidence of a widespread galactic civilization. That's serious evidence that such a combination of traits may not exist.

Oh, wait, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Well, yes it is. If a hypothesis predicts large and easily observable effects, and we don't see the effects, that's evidence the hypothesis is wrong. I can't argue that, because there are no arrowheads in my flower bed, that Indians never walked across my (to them) future lawn. The probability of finding an arrowhead anywhere is low. But if you say that Indians a few thousand years ago had technology comparable to ours, that hypothesis predicts we should find ubiquitous advanced artifacts. We don't. Therefore the hypothesis is wrong.

But since we're the only intelligent species we know, it makes sense to start here. To begin with, we're really not all that inquisitive. The fact that we remained hunters and gatherers for a quarter of a million years doesn't inspire optimism. During recorded history, how many societies engaged in active, serious exploration? Renaissance Europeans, the Ming Chinese (but only for a short time), Polynesians, the Vikings. Maybe the Mongols and the Arabs, or at least individual adventurers. And that's it. The Romans, a society whose survival depended critically on knowledge of the world outside their borders, had almost no interest in geography. They never explored Ireland, or the Baltic. Black Africans never discovered Madagascar. The languages of Madagascar are Malayo-Polynesian, a fact that has been called "the single most surprising fact of human geography." Even today, with the world of knowledge at their fingertips, most people use the Internet for social messaging, games, and other less savory interests.

Space Travel

It's so much fun to watch science fiction from the early 1950's. The space program consisted of a wise old fatherly senior scientist, a young virile junior scientist, the senior scientist's beautiful daughter (can you see where this is going?) and a gangly kid from Texas or Brooklyn to provide assistance or comic relief or pathos (or all three). They worked in a basement lab at a university, or a back hangar at an Air Force base, and that's it. The sum total of the U.S. space program. Nobody pictured it would take the resources of a superpower to get into space, or that the impetus would be superpower rivalry. But we did, to the background beat of people complaining about "spending all that money on problems here on earth." But we persisted thanks to the virtues of being a republic, where decisions are (ideally) made by people smarter than the voters who elect them. And now that the technology has matured, minor powers like North Korea, and private companies, can orbit satellites. Barring catastrophe, that technology is here to stay. But resources were never an issue. Propellant is cheap. It was learning how to do it that was the problem. The vast majority of the cost of a satellite is skilled labor.

The next step is going to the moon. There are two important questions here. First, would civilizations on a world lacking natural satellites ever travel deep into space? Or would that first step be such a huge one that they decided it was impractical, impossible, or not worth it? More fundamentally, can civilization itself exist on a world lacking a large natural moon? Our moon stabilizes the earth's axial tilt within moderate limits because its gravitational effects overwhelm everything else. Mars, with only two tiny satellites, is much more affected by Jupiter, Earth, and Venus, and undergoes much larger changes in its axial tilt. It may be that the lack of large natural satellites is the real cosmic filter, that planets without large satellites undergo such huge environmental oscillations that life doesn't advance beyond primitive levels.

And once we got the the Moon, the geopolitical justification was gone. The people who wanted to "spend all that money on problems here on earth" got their way. Anyone else remember the Seventies? How we took all that Apollo money and eliminated poverty? Tore down the slums? Crime dropped to near zero? Me neither. Anybody care to tell me what we did get for it?

After the Moon, the next step is to Mars or Venus. Both would require a ship that can protect its passengers for many months, a lander that can get passengers to the surface and back, and a surface habitat that would provide protection for months while the party explores and waits for the planets to reach the right configuration for the return trip. We can do that for Mars, at least in theory. Venus is too hostile to venture to the surface now. But going to Mars will be a huge venture. We can do the logistics, provided we have the will as a society, and it will take years. We simply don't have the will as a society. The money needed to go to Mars will be an irresistible target for people who want to divert it to other purposes, or simply pocket it. More likely, incremental improvements in space technology will close much of the gap, just as private entrepreneurs are talking about returning to the Moon. The old conspiracy talk about all the blueprints for Apollo being gone is bunk. The blueprints don't exist on paper, but they do on microfilm. There are Saturn V rockets at Cape Canaveral and Huntsville. And we wouldn't recreate Apollo technology to go to the moon today any more than we'd run the Indy 500 in a Stutz Bearcat. Not when a cell phone has more computing power than Mission Control in 1969. (That said, do go to Cape Canaveral and take in the Apollo 8 launch re-enactment. Pay for the full price experience. It is money well spent.)

Much of the lure of venturing beyond the Moon is due to Mars being at least slightly earth-like. It has an atmosphere and evidence of a watery past. And there's that legacy of canals and imaginary Martians, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs. If there were nothing between us and Jupiter, or Mars were an airless planet like Mercury, or a lethal place like Venus, would we go? So maybe civilizations need the right planets nearby to have a motivation for long distance space travel.

So imagine we can eventually travel at will between the planets. Now for the stars. Now if we postulate things like artificial gravity or faster than light travel, all bets are off. On the other hand, if you can travel faster than light, the Fermi Paradox becomes even more acute, because it becomes so much easier to colonize the galaxy. So let's go to Alpha Centauri, 4.3 light years away. We need something that can keep a large crew alive - and sane - for many years. It will have to have room, the ability to grow food, its own space program (to land and come back), and the ability to fabricate everything it needs. I can't see anything smaller than an aircraft carrier, and that's being absurdly conservative. So let's say it weighs 100,000 metric tons (100 million kg) and gets to 1% of the speed of light. That's small enough that we don't have to worry about relativity. Energy = 1/2mv2 = 1/2 x 100 million kg x (3,000,000 m/sec)2 = 4.5 x 1020 joules. That's U.S. energy use for 50 years. That's not counting the internal energy needs to keep the ship lit and heated, keep plants growing, and so on. Then you have to spend an equal amount of energy braking once you get there. Unless you want to doom the crew to fly on forever. At 1% of the speed of light, the trip will last 430 years, or the time since Queen Elizabeth. The First. Can people keep a sense of mission and purpose for that long? Maybe they'll decide they prefer the ship instead. Or maybe they'll regress to pre-scientific levels and believe the ship is all there is. Although that theme has been used in a number of novels (and the ill-fated 1973 TV series, "The Starlost"), it seems far more likely that outcome would eventually - most likely very quickly - lead to a catastrophic breakdown of life support. If you up the speed to 10% of the speed of light, the round trip will take 86 years, maybe enough for someone who leaves as a child to come back. But multiply the energy needs by a hundred - velocity squared, remember? And then double it again, because now you have to accelerate back to Earth, and slow down once you get here.

There may be a relatively small historic window for us on Earth to travel into deep space. We saw one window open and close with the Apollo Program. There may or may not be another one. But why go to the Moon? Apart from scientific needs like building an observatory on the far side free from Earth's radio emissions, most of the things we can picture doing can be done better on earth. Mining? Well, almost all mineral deposits on Earth required water for their formation. The geology isn't the same. Mining metal rich asteroids may be more practical, and a lot of that can be done robotically. Then you do have the problem of getting thousands of tons of metal back to earth. Think of Chelyabinsk, multiplied by thousands. Drop it in the oceans? Tsunamis. Not to mention huge amounts of vaporized metal in the atmosphere during re-entry. Maybe we could fabricate the metal in space into aerodynamic landing bodies. On the other hand, using the metal in space to build spacecraft and space stations would be eminently practical. Why go to Mars? There may be some usable minerals in those deposits from Mars' early oceans. But there's the energy cost of getting it off Mars and getting it back to earth.

Libertarian colonies? Any libertarians who join lunar or Martian or asteroidal colonies will soon find themselves yearning for those regulation-free days back on Earth. Life in a colony where you can't survive five minutes unprotected outdoors will be regimented beyond belief. You don't waste anything. You don't pollute in the slightest. You will have to get permission for anything out of the ordinary. And you will work. I'm not even going to address Venus, where your habitat has to protect against 400 C temperatures and 90 atmospheres of pressure. We don't even have sub-sea habitats that can handle those pressures.

The only imaginable reasons to go to the moon or Mars for the foreseeable future are scientific, intellectual, and adventure. Any economic payback will be very far down the road. And human history doesn't offer a lot of hope that societies will engage in purely intellectual exploration for very long. To have regular travel to the moon or Mars will require travel simple and cheap enough for individuals and small groups to do it on their own. It's far from clear the economies of scale will ever permit that. Even taking a balloon to 25 miles and parachuting out required some pretty massive financial support.

If we can find habitable planets the equation may change, but seeking habitats for population growth is not an option. In fifty years we have launched about 500 individuals into space, or several thousand if you count people with multiple trips. Human population growth is about a quarter million per day. That means you send Birmingham to Alpha Centauri today, Fresno tomorrow, Tacoma the next day... just to stay even.

And incremental growth won't cut it. We didn't send ships ever farther into the Atlantic. Columbus went across in one shot. We didn't go a quarter of the way to the Moon, or halfway. (Actually, our first few probes did, but only because we didn't give them enough velocity) Once the technology exists for a long voyage, the only sensible approach is to do it all at once. But we won't go to the stars until we have the capability: propulsion, life support, all of it.


We've dodged a bullet in terms of nuclear apocalypse, at least for now. That's not to say we won't have a future superpower ruled by suicidal lunatics. Picture Brazil, say (just to pick a current non-nuclear major power) ruled by a North Korea style government and possessing a nuclear arsenal. Or ruled by an apocalyptic religious cult. But at least we aren't currently preoccupied with nuclear annihilation. What seems more likely to cause our collapse is environmental: exhaustion of resources, mass extinction, resurgence of epidemics, collapse of agriculture, and so on.

It's not inevitable that an alien race would suffer collapse. But it is all but inevitable that a race that has a blind faith in unceasing growth will collapse. If they have our brand of technological optimism, they won't take action until absolutely necessary, confident that new technology will present a solution to their problems. And they'll always be right. Until that one time they're wrong, and they make that one fatal miscalculation. After all, you can run a hundred red lights in a row without harm. It's that one time that causes the problem.

There's an argument called the Doomsday Argument that holds that the end of the human species is probably near. Any given person has an equal likelihood of being born at any point in human history, and the average position would be halfway through. Since about 100 billion people have already lived, we should expect roughly 100 billion more to come after us. Since global births now number about 134 million a year, it takes about 7-1/2 years for a billion people to be born, or about 750 years for the next 100 billion people to be born. There are tons of things wrong with this argument, chief among them the fact that we are where we are, and if we're at the 10% or 90% points, no amount of probability will change that. It's like arguing that most cars run fine, so the probability is that yours does too, and that clanking sound is just your imagination.

It might well be that the real Cosmic Filter is cultural. Once a civilization accomplishes what it can easily do in space and acquires most of the easily available knowledge, any further improvement might require such a huge additional investment that the effort seems unwarranted. 

An additional collapse scenario is that sufficiently advanced civilizations may have their needs taken care of by machines so well that they lose the ability or desire to do things for themselves. Think of the progression of starship captains portrayed in Wall-E, each progressively tubbier and less motivated than the last. Imagine a civilization with holodeck technology but no interstellar travel. If they can visit any imaginable world without leaving home, why leave home? Our own concern with the environment and preserving history is laudable, but it bears an ominous resemblance to the renewed affection a child feels for an old toy just before giving it up forever. If you can see a tiger or a panda in virtual reality, why do we need the real thing? If you can go to Mars in virtual reality, why go for real? In short, they become Eloi. And watch the 1960 version of The Time Machine (the good one) to see just how contemptible the Eloi were.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Things the Internet Needs to Lose

No point in railing here about pop-ups, slide shows, and the like. Those are driven by ad revenue, for which my cure is to tax the bejeebers out of advertising. These are stupid things web sites do for which there is no excuse. They're simply annoying and are the result of dumb design.

User Accounts

They're not keeping out trolls. They're not keeping out spam. Those bot catchers have merely led to paid trolls posting ads on their personal accounts. They're not keeping the discourse civil. So what's the point?

Oh, yeah, selling those precious demographics.

This is doubly inexcusable on government sites. I paid for the information with my tax dollars. There is no valid reason for me to have to set up a user account with, say, the U.S, Geological Survey (a major offender).

Bait and Switch

"Log in with your favorite social account." So you do. Then, at the end, you get shunted to "One last thing, now create an account with us."

Better idea: Don't tell us we can log in with a social account unless we actually can without any additional steps.

Even worse are sites where there's nothing to indicate there's a login. You have a bare comments box. So all those sites with "hello" for a comment? Well, that's me, checking on whether or not I need to jump through hoops before writing something lengthy.

Identity Crisis

So you actually do go to the trouble of creating an account just to make one lousy post. Then you see "That e-mail is already in use."

That's because it's me, you idiots! If I already have an account there (because I posted something six months ago), let me in! Especially if you already have my identity from a social account.

Do It All Over Again

"We've changed our log-in procedures so we need to have you re-enter your account information."

The only change worthwhile is to junk the log-in. But if you must switch things around, don't ask me to do your housekeeping for youYou export the account data to your new system.

This also applies to sites that mysteriously and spontaneously lose your login info. So I create a user account and a password, and dutifully store it in a password manager. And it works. Then mysteriously, it stops working, even if I logged in an hour earlier. Even if I have my browser remember and input the password automatically. If you can't store my password in a stable fashion, how about scrapping the whole process?

Hidden Paywalls

So you click on a link to a story, only to find the story hidden  by a paywall pop-up, or faded out after a couple of paragraphs.

You have nothing I'm willing to pay for. Raise your advertising rates by a factor of ten. A New York Times opinion piece? You have to be kidding. This is the Internet. I can read all the stupid opinions I can stomach for free.

Vertical Video Complaints

I have no problem with vertical video. For some subjects it's appropriate. How about web site managers get off their lazy butts and create pages that accept vertical video? You detect the format of the video, and if it's vertical, you scale it to fit on screen, and rearrange page elements to fit alongside. That wasn't so hard, was it? I'll get a high school kid to help you.

Talking Head

Don't expect me to care about your story if you don't care enough to write out a transcript. This means you, too, Upworthy. Video is to show things that are in motion, and that does not include a reporter's lips.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Few Simple Questions

Since I'm asking questions here, Comments on this page are enabled.

However, this is not a page on urinalysis. Specifically, "your analysis" of the issues. You can set up your own blog for that. The only comments that will be accepted are those strictly limited to the specific questions posed.

For Foodies

There are many articles on line describing how the food industry analyzes the way people respond to sugar, salt and fat, and use that information to make their products more attractive. The information is open and nobody is making the slightest effort to conceal it.

So why don't healthy food advocates, instead of criticizing peoples' tastes or the food industry, devote similar efforts to devising healthy foods with the same attractiveness? Instead of telling us that we need to learn to like healthy food or "re-educate" our palates, why not develop stuff that tastes better than, say, potato chips or Big Macs, as determined by people who actually eat potato chips and Big Macs? (You can get beet chips, which are very good, but between the sugar content of beets, the deep frying, and the salt, they're probably not much better for you than potato chips.)

(This is a bit unfair because, however appetizing healthy food is, you can always add fat, salt or sugar to it. But there's also the idea of "good enough." I love fruit but I don't put sugar on pineapple.)

Also, if vegan living is so good, why are so many vegan dishes meat surrogates? If you come up with something that looks and feels as much like meat as possible, why not just eat meat?

For Libertarians

I consider anybody who has the power to curtail my liberty a threat, whether they're government or private. Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. Your right to use your money ends at my rights.  You have no right to use your money to gain an advantage over me in any political or legal proceeding.

So, libertarians, tell me what you plan to do to curb abuses of private power. And since this doesn't require any significant restructuring of the government, there is no reason at all not to do it right now. So tell me what you're doing.

For Conspiracy Believers

You believe 9/11 was an inside job, JFK was killed by a conspiracy, the global economy is run by secret organizations, and FDR knew about Pearl Harbor before it happened.

Okay, tell me exactly what first hand knowledge you have to justify those beliefs. Not what you read on line, or someone told you, but things you have seen or experienced first hand. If the facts just "don't fit," you must have had some experience to convince you the world works that way. So what was it?

I've asked this question in numerous forums and so far I have no responses. All the evidence I've been able to collect indicates that nobody who believes in conspiracies actually has a real basis in personal experience to justify it. Most of them have never faced a moment of real danger or discomfort in their whole lives.

For Climate Denialists

You claim that remedial measures to curb carbon emissions will cost vast amounts of money and wreck the economy.

Okay, prove it.

Show me the math. Show me your computer code that models the U.S. economy as well as any climate modeling software, and show me that it has successfully predicted changes in the economy. 

Oh, and if the atmosphere is so vast that humans can't possibly affect it, as some denialists claim, why can't we say the same for the U.S. economy?

And is global warming happening, or not? Some people say it is but it's purely natural, driven by solar cycles, some people deny any change at all, some people say it's actually cooling. So which is it?

For Believers in "Rights"

You believe that gay marriage, Internet access, food, and health care are rights.

Okay, prove it.

"Proof" does not mean using the Caps Lock key and lots of exclamation points, or calling names or using invective. Anyway, "Fascist" proves nothing except your emotional response to an issue.

No, proof means starting from basic axioms and reasoning, step by step, using logic that can be demonstrated to be valid. See an old-time geometry text for how it's done.

"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?" Well, that's the Declaration of Independence and those rights exist because they are "endowed by their Creator." That, by the way, is the only theory of rights in any of our founding documents. So those sentiments have been nullified by separation of Church and State. Talk about your law of unintended consequences.

For Pro-Lifers

Psalm 139: 13-15 (NKJV):
For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
There it is: a favorite quote to show that unborn babies in the womb are human beings. Only.... what comes next?

And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
How come we never hear this part? If "day" in Genesis means a literal 24-hour day, how come Psalm 139 doesn't mean babies form in the ground?

For Democrats

We hear endlessly the question "why do conservative voters vote against their best interests?"

So why do you vote against your best interests? Why do you speak on behalf of criminals and alienate the 90% of the population that avoids crime? Why do you side with atheists' petulant attacks on religious gestures and alienate the 90% of the population that either supports public religious gestures or sees no harm in them? 

If you believe abortion or gay marriage are important enough to promote, despite the blowback, why is it a surprise that opponents feel they're important enough to oppose despite the costs?

On Productivity

"Worker productivity has tripled in he last few decades but wages have remained flat."

The machines we use produce things three times faster. But that's the owner's productivity, and the people who invented and built the machines. Tell us exactly how your productivity has tripled. Can you work three times as fast? Do you speak three times as many languages? Can you use three times as many software packages? Do you have three times as many college credits? Do you have three times as much knowledge as you did twenty years ago? Are you skilled in three times as many occupations?

For Pot Advocates

Can you produce anyone, who is not a user himself, that is willing to testify that using pot makes you a better, more responsible, more creative person?

If pot had the beneficial effects its advocates claim, I'd suspect at least a few employers would have caught on and would be actively recruiting pot smokers. Are they?

For Gun Control Advocates

After the latest mass shooting, an editorial asked "Now will the NRA talk to gun-control advocates?"


Now here's a question for you. Tell me one concession you'd make to gun owners to get them to agree to gun control. An end to court challenges to the death penalty? Limiting appeals strictly to matters of factual guilt or innocence? A ban on criminals suing for harm as a result of their criminal act? Is there anything you're willing to give up to persuade gun owners to give up some of their rights?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Patton's Alternative Histories

On December 9, 1945, General George Patton was on his way to a hunting trip when his car had a minor collision with an Army truck. Patton hit his head on the glass divider between the front and rear seats, suffered a broken neck, and died on December 21. Naturally this is too fortuitous not to have been a conspiracy. So what if Patton had gone to war with the Russians, or had not had his accident?

Timeline 1: World War 2.1

As World War II drew to a close, General George Patton grew increasingly frustrated at the lingering tensions left behind. He particularly despised the Russians, felt it was only a matter of time before we were at war with them, and advocated launching an attack on them, remobilizing German soldiers for the purpose. His superiors quashed the plan.

Patton initially drew upon all his military discipline to follow an order he detested, but mulled over ways to violate the order without really violating it. Finally, he formulated a plan. He issued an order to border sentries, under strictest secrecy, with a solemn promise of life in Leavenworth to anyone who even hinted at the order's existence. The order was that sentries who witnessed any Soviet atrocity against civilians were to take unilateral action. Perpetrators were to be taken alive if possible and summarily hung. Sentries had already seen plenty, and many of them were enthusiastic about the chance to do something about it.

It took only eighteen hours. A patrol along the border of Bavaria and Czechoslovakia saw five Russian soldiers rape a Czech woman and, when her father attempted to intervene, they shot him. The patrol took advantage of the Russians' preoccupation to bayonet one and capture the other four. A spool of field telephone wire in the Soviets' truck served in place of rope. Signs were hung on the bodies explaining their crime.

An angry Soviet field marshal berated Patton a few hours later and demanded that the Americans be punished. Patton retorted that the Russians, from the lowest private to the field marshal himself, were all criminals and that he had every intention of hanging every Russian war criminal he saw. The field marshal stormed off.

Next day another U.S. patrol saw a Soviet squad line up and shoot a family on the Soviet side of the cease-fire line in Germany. The Americans charged in and were cut down in a company-scale ambush. Patton ordered a battalion to smash the Soviet company and arrest its officers. The Russians responded with a similar assault on a U.S. unit. It was on.

A blizzard of cables and phone calls began between the President, the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, Allied Headquarters in Europe, and the Kremlin. The Russians insisted the Americans had attacked unilaterally and Patton insisted the Russians had attacked. Patton's plan was to slice up into the soft underbelly of the Soviets. The mountain frontier with Czechoslovakia was easily defensible but the cease-fire line in Germany was little more than an accident. Insisting his forces were under heavy Soviet attack, Patton launched his forces northeast toward Poland. His plan was to cut off the Russians in Berlin, while putting higher command in a position of having to support him. Meanwhile, shooting erupted all along the cease-fire line.

President Truman knew perfectly well that Patton had launched his own private war, but stopping it would be a lot harder than starting it. The Soviets would certainly demand massive concessions as the price for ceasing hostilities, maybe even a complete Western withdrawal from Germany. Recovering any Americans taken prisoner would be all but impossible. Meanwhile, FDR's hard-line opponents on the right were ready to pounce on any indication that Truman was selling out American soldiers to Communism. They would whip the public into a frenzy if American POW's languished in Soviet captivity. They were already mounting a mass public relations assault on Truman's failure to confront Soviet betrayal and demanding reprisals against purported Soviet sympathizers at home. Some were demanding a declaration of war against the Soviet Union.

Truman reluctantly concluded he had no choice but to support Patton, at least as long as it took to achieve some sort of stability. After that he'd have him before a firing squad, but that would have to wait. Truman ordered Allied Headquarters to develop plans to repel Soviet attacks and occupy a stable defensive line. The plans were to stress holding actions or modest advances and preventing Patton's troops from being overwhelmed. He also ordered Patton to halt immediately and withdraw to defensible positions. Patton denied ever receiving any such orders. Truman also realized that this could easily escalate into a protracted conflict. He ordered a halt to outprocessing of troops in Europe, ordered recently returned war materiel shipped back to Europe, and stopped all reassignments to the Pacific. Troops home on leave were ordered to report immediately to embarkation stations for return to Europe.

Patton despised the Russians and derided their primitive supply system. Why, he sneered, they even drove pigs and chickens along to feed themselves. But the Russians had bought back their country with 20 million lives and now here they were at war with their supposed allies. Whatever feelings any Russian had about Stalin or Communism, they were furious at the betrayal. Nobody would need to worry about American POW's. There wouldn't be any.

Patton, meanwhile, was having a romp to rival his rapid advance across France. Within a week he was between Leipzig and Dresden, halfway to the new border of Poland. Elsewhere, the British were slowly falling back under Soviet pressure on the North German Plain and the Russians had punched a large bulge into American lines around the Fulda Gap. Patton, true to form, believed his rapid advance was due to his boldness and strategic genius. Actually, the Russians were letting him extend his lines. On D+10, they sprang their trap. Soviet forces pushed south from Germany and west from Czechoslovakia, threatening to pinch off the base of Patton's advance. Meanwhile Soviet forces poured from Hungary into lightly defended Austria, rapidly overrunning the plains of eastern Austria. Then they sliced north into Bavaria. On D+19 they bypassed Munich and by D+25 the three Soviet counterattacks met near Nurnberg.

Patton suddenly was surrounded. Again, true to form, he decided the best defense was a counterattack of his own. Continuing northeast toward Poland would just put him in more danger. Trying to retreat back to Germany would be an admission of defeat and a sign of weakness. The only way out was northwest to threaten the Soviet lines from the rear and try to hook up with American forces. Meanwhile the Russians were invading Germany by a completely unanticipated route, from the south. Neither side was quite sure what to do, but for the Russians, the default choice was to move forward. Stalin and the General Staff, amazed and delighted by this turn of events, poured a flood of tanks and troops across Hungary to support the new Southern Front.

Patton began to have a bad time of it. The word was out among his troops that the Soviets were not taking prisoners and anyone who somehow defied the odds had life in Siberia - probably short - to look forward to. So his troops fought desperately but they began running low on ammunition, food and fuel. They weren't able to capture enough Soviet supplies to meet their needs and the ammunition they did get was incompatible. Squads, then platoons, and finally companies began to be overrun after desperate hand to hand battles. Commanders began giving their men permission to try to make their way back to friendly lines. The vast majority would not, of course, but it was a chance. Patton was furious and ordered a couple of them shot. Increasingly, Soviet small units penetrated Patton's lines and roamed at will. On D+38 a Soviet company overran Patton's headquarters, taking the top officers captive and shooting everyone else. But not Patton. He had pulled the pin on a grenade and held it to his chest.

Stalin communicated with Truman and Churchill on D+50. His terms: unconditional surrender of all Allied forces in Europe. He pointed out to Churchill that British forces were doomed anyway, but he would stop at the Channel. American lines in Germany, even with reinforcements from the States, were crumbling as commanders shuffled forces to meet attacks from both the east and the south. Truman conferred with Congressional leaders who informed him in no uncertain terms they would seek impeachment and trial for treason if he gave in. By D+60 the Russians held everything east of the Rhine and were advancing through Belgium. Total U.S. losses since the war began exceeded the total for all of World War II in Europe. The Italian Communist Party launched an uprising in Italy, while the Communists in Greece overwhelmed the small British forces there. Meanwhile the war in the Pacific ground to a halt. Japan was eventually able to impose a negotiated cease-fire that left its military junta intact and its forces in China in place.

By now, the Manhattan Project had finished work on three atomic bombs and the first test was set to be held in New Mexico. Truman's advisers pushed him to forego the test and use all three bombs on the Russians. Others pointed out the weaknesses of the plan. The bombs would utterly destroy an area a few miles across but wouldn't have much effect on an advance a hundred miles wide. If used on concentrated targets like cities, the bombs would have to be used on targets in Western Europe. Attacks on Russia itself would require one-way suicide runs with a high probability of being shot down and allowing the Russians to capture and reverse engineer a bomb. And the Russians hadn't been intimidated by the Nazis pushing to the outskirts of Moscow. They wouldn't stop after three atomic bombs, and then it would be obvious that the U.S. had no more. Truman was in the frustrating position of having the world's only nuclear arsenal and being unable to use it effectively.

In the end, Truman opted to use all three bombs on Moscow, hoping to decapitate the Russian political and military leadership. Any independent country that allowed an attack to take off from their territory would surely invite the wrath of the Russians, so that left Britain, occupied Italy or Egypt as the only takeoff points even remotely capable of reaching Moscow. Three B-29's were readied in Italy, modified to carry extra fuel and cargo, and painted and modified to resemble Soviet aircraft. Taking off from Italy ensured the aircraft would not overfly some neutral country that would then be a target for retaliation. The volunteer crews were told only that they were carrying extra-powerful bombs and would attack the Kremlin in Moscow. They were told their chances of survival were nil. They were not told that the bombs had self-destruct devices set to go off if the air speed of the plane dropped below a certain level or if the plane went into a steep dive. The planes took off late in the afternoon of August 5, 1945. The plan was to fly at low altitude at night and hit Moscow on the morning of August 6. One plane exploded in flight near Kiev for unknown reasons. The other two made it to Moscow and dropped their bombs, devastating much of central Moscow and killing Stalin, the Politburo, and most of the General Staff. The planes headed west, hoping to make it at least to Finland or Sweden. They actually ditched in the North Sea and were picked up by the British navy.

The Soviet Army was quite capable of fighting this war without higher leadership. In fact, without micromanagement from above, they fought better. They had been relenting somewhat in their treatment of prisoners, sparing those who were obvious non-combat troops or who fought bravely. The destruction of Moscow ended all that. There would be no more quarter. They crossed the Rhine and drove into France. French civilians fired on retreating U.S. forces, accusing them of saving their own skins while leaving them to face the Russians. A series of pincer movements enabled the Russians to sweep up vast numbers of American prisoners. Soviet planes, surface ships and submarines patrolled the English Channel, sinking everything that tried to cross. They even attacked ships in British ports, strafing and bombing disembarking soldiers. Other Soviet submarines, many recently surrendered by the Germans, prowled the Atlantic, sinking troopships headed to and from France. By September, the war was over. Almost all U.S. forces in Europe had been killed or taken prisoner and the Russians ruled to the Atlantic. Truman was impeached and accused of failing to support Patton's attack properly. The plan would have worked, his accusers said, if Truman had ordered an all-out attack. Truman countered that all the forces in position to support Patton were already commanded by Patton and committed to the attack, and diverting more troops would have left the rest of Germany undefended. Neither the troops nor the supplies were in position to launch an offensive elsewhere in Germany, and had they tried, the outcome would have been the same. Congress convened hearings where almost all top military leaders testified that the U.S. simply did not have enough forces in Germany to stop a Soviet attack. A majority of Congress voted to remove Truman, but well short of the two-thirds required.

Truman may have been acquitted by history, but not by the voters. A furious anti-Communist backlash erupted. College campuses were attacked and leftist professors beaten and killed. Truman announced he would not seek re-election in 1948. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia won the nomination, but lost to the Republican nominee, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. McCarthy's first offical act was to recommend General Patton for the Medal of Honor.

Timeline 2: The Patton-McCarthy Axis

Despite warning that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, and even urging a pre-emptive attack using re-armed German troops, General George S. Patton was rebuffed repeatedly. Sensing that he was becoming increasingly marginalized, and his future prospects were nonexistent, he decided to retire from the Army. On December 9, 1945, he was on his way to a hunting trip when his car stopped at a railroad crossing for a train. When the train passed, his driver stepped on the gas and stalled the car. While trying to restart it, the car was passed by an Army truck en route to a supply depot. The truck made an abrupt turn and, had the car not stalled, there might have been a collision (1). Patton had an enjoyable hunt and left the next day for Christmas leave in the U.S. He submitted his resignation on January 2, 1946 and spent the next several months relaxing, speaking, and beginning his memoirs.

In May, Patton was approached by Democratic Party leaders from Maryland with an offer to run for the Senate in the 1946 election. Patton had spent enough time at Fort Meade to pass for a Maryland resident, and the current senator was a weak candidate (2). Patton eagerly accepted, relishing the chance to engage in public life and even more, relishing the idea of a campaign battle. Patton unseated the incumbent, George Radcliffe, and won the election handily. In that same election, in one of the biggest ideological turnarounds in U.S. history, Progressive Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin was upset by Joseph McCarthy (3). Patton quickly saw through McCarthy's tissue of lies about his war service, but McCarthy had served in the Marines and flown combat missions, so Patton regarded McCarthy mostly as a slightly distasteful lightweight. Patton had become wearily familiar with phony war heroes by this time, but at least McCarthy had actually seen service.

A series of high profile espionage cases, the Soviet development of the atomic bomb in 1949, and the fall of Eastern Europe and China to Communism moved Patton to near apoplexy. He began asserting loudly that America had been betrayed from within, and that his plan to attack the Russians after the end of the war had been vindicated. He was initially highly supportive of the conduct of the Korean War, especially MacArthur's counterattack at Inchon and march to the Yalu River. When Chinese forces entered Korea, Patton called loudly for the use of nuclear weapons both against the invaders and against supply centers in China itself. But when McCarthy launched his crusade against internal Communism, Patton became concerned that McCarthy's buffoonery would undermine rather than aid the cause. He warned McCarthy that any actions that discredited the anti-Communist cause would have dire consequences.

The emergence of Dwight Eisenhower as a Presidential contender drove Patton to new heights of anger. He utterly despised Eisenhower for, among other things, being promoted over him. He considered Eisenhower hesitant and ineffective as a commander and blamed him for the Russians reaching Berlin first, and still harbored resentment for being denied the chance to attack the Russians. On the Democratic side, it looked like Adlai Stevenson would get the nomination, an alternative that Patton liked even less. When President Truman sacked General MacArthur in October, 1951, Patton launched a rhetorical blitz in Congress and in public, flatly accusing Truman of selling out U.S. forces in Korea.

Patton began to think the only way to save America was to be President. Patton harbored a deep strain of racism that would play well in the South, but the South by itself couldn't win the White House. His chances of winning  the Democratic nomination were poor. There were too many liberals who would oppose him. A third party campaign? That might act as a spoiler for one side or the other, but wouldn't win the election. A coup? The U.S. wasn't a banana republic where occupying the Presidential palace was enough to topple the government. Eisenhower, George Marshall, maybe even MacArthur would remind the armed forces their Constitutional obligation was to the President. But something had to be done.

Patton's first act was to call MacArthur and urge him - "order" was the word he used - not to resign just yet. He hinted that he was contemplating a Presidential run and that if he succeeded, he would have a job for MacArthur. So Truman was stuck with a cashiered general who refused to resign. He found a paper command for MacArthur, tasked with drafting plans for the land defense of the U.S. in case of a hypothetical Soviet invasion. MacArthur's first report urged adoption of General Pershing's idea from thirty years earlier for a national system of defense highways.

Patton met on numerous occasions with McCarthy, MacArthur, and J. Edgar Hoover regarding the Communist threat to America. He offered McCarthy the vice-presidential slot and told MacArthur he would be much more valuable as Army Chief of Staff, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, or Secretary of Defense. Hoover provided the juicy tidbit that Eisenhower was rumored to have had an affair during the war with his secretary, Kay Summersby. Patton himself had already heard the rumors, which were common knowledge among the high command during the war. Patton changed parties and announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination. McCarthy was given free rein to launch attacks on real, suspected, and imaginary Communists in an effort to swing the hard-right vote to Patton. The Summersby rumors seriously hurt Eisenhower's chances. The much more experienced conservative Robert Taft found himself sandwiched between liberals and hard right wingers, and when the convention deadlocked in a near three-way split, gradually saw his support drain to Patton. He finally released his delegates and Patton won the nomination. Patton picked McCarthy as his running mate. Eisenhower, torn between the choice of supporting Democrat Adlai Stevenson, or the Patton-McCarthy ticket, gave lukewarm support to Patton, gave a few generic speeches that dealt more with the threat of the Soviet Union than the virtues of Patton, and generally sat out the campaign.

Patton postured as a clean campaigner and avoided personal attacks on Stevenson, whom he professed to respect highly, and he kept McCarthy on a short leash. But lower level campaign operatives were under no such restrictions. In the North, they attacked Stevenson as soft on Communism, and the Democrats in general as pushing for many of the goals of Communism. Also, the Korean War had ground to a stalemate and Patton campaigned against what he considered a feckless strategy by the Democrats, arguing that a career military man was needed to bring the war to a successful completion. In the South, Patton's speeches were generic patriotic platitudes but his underlings made it clear that Patton was the only hope for states' rights. Stevenson predictably won the Northeast but Patton pulled off the first Republican sweep of the South as well as carrying the Midwest and West. He carried a solid Republican majority into both houses of Congress.

Patton appointed MacArthur Secretary of Defense, who immediately began planning a counterattack in Korea, involving amphibious landings on both coasts plus an airborne invasion. Hoover was given a free hand to root out Communists and anyone with even a trace of pink in their politics, while McCarthy worked with hard-liners in Congress to draft anti-Communist legislation. One of the first acts was legislation denying the vote to anyone identified as a Communist sympathizer, more or less guaranteeing a permanent far-right majority. Patton, meanwhile, drew up a list of possible Supreme Court nominees he could count on to back his policies.


I don't see any reason to assume Patton's death was anything but an accident. But if it was a conspiracy, it was one of the best things that ever happened to us. If "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the OSS, had come to me in 1945 and tried to recruit me, I'd have joined in a heartbeat. He'd have lost Europe for us if he'd gone to war with the Russians, and he'd have made the McCarthy Era ten times uglier if he'd lived to go into politics. McCarthy was a stupid, clumsy, venal drunk. Patton was shrewd, intelligent, disciplined, and every bit as vicious as McCarthy, and therefore, ten times as dangerous.


(1) In real life, Patton's vehicle collided with the truck and Patton sustained a broken neck, eventually dying (or being murdered by the OSS and NKVD, if you prefer) on December 21. The OSS needed the NKVD to poison Patton because they hadn't had that class yet at Hogwarts.

(2) In real life, the incumbent Radcliffe was defeated by Herbert O'Conor, who was elected to the Senate.

(3) LaFollette actually served only one term as a Progressive, the rest of the time as a Republican. McCarthy narrowly defeated LaFollette for the Republican nomination, attacking LaFollette for his lack of war service (LaFollette was 46 when the war broke out) and accusing him of war profiteering. Actually, McCarthy made more money from investments during the war than LaFollette. In the supreme irony, McCarthy was backed by a Communist dominated union who resented Lafollette's anti-communist stance.