Armoured Trains

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is quite fond of the choo-choos. Oh yes indeed. He would make most of his travel rail travel if time, expense, and availability of stops weren’t a factor. He would gladly hop on a train and go to just about anywhere he had to go.

Sadly, he does not. He could take a commuter train to DC more often. (But for where and when he goes driving is best.) He does prefer and take the train to Philly, and NYC when he has occasion to go there. He’s planning a trip to Roanoke on the train (to visit Villainette #2). But making the time to get the train that goes to Roanoke is a bit of a chore.

If your Maximum Leader were truly a murderous dictator (or merely a tyrant, or even a person of conspicuous wealth) he would gladly have a private train on which he would travel. Of course, your Maximum Leader’s train would be much nicer looking that Kim Jong-un’s. Kim’s train is nothing special to look at. Your Maximum Leader would prefer more streamlined, and not green. Something like Raymond Loewy would have designed. Like one of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s S-1 or T-1 locomotives (seen here). But obviously (and sadly) not steam powered. One thinks the locomotives would have to be diesel (or some futuristic diesel and electric hybrid - running on electric on the electrified tracks of the Northeast Corridor, but having diesel for the non-electrified track). And it goes without saying that while your Maximum Leader’s train would be stocked full of fine foods, adult beverages, and comely conductors like Kim’s train, it would travel faster than 37 mph.

Of course, your Maximum Leader mentioned the very famous PRR S-1 and T-1 locomotives as a basis for the design of his train. Your Maximum Leader’s favourite locomotive in the whole wide world is the Norfolk & Western J-Class. He would probably use the J-Class as a model for the locomotive on his (completely hypothetical) armoured train.

NB: Your Maximum Leader must have some British English box checked on spell check because armor appears wrong but armour appears to be correct.

Carry on.

Carbon Emissions Question

Greetings, loyal minions. So here is a real question for you to noodle over some. If the US and Western Europe (plus Canada, Japan, and Australia) were to achieve zero net carbon emissions in the next 20 years, but the other major emitters of carbon (China, India, Russia, et. al.) did nothing to reduce their carbon emissions, what would be the net impact on global climate change?

Seriously, that is the question.

I have been googling for about an hour looking for a model, or a description of a model, or a summary of a model that might show someone reading it “This is the net impact of these countries going to zero carbon emissions.”

I can’t find one. I found a neat chart showing which nations are the top emitters of carbon. Here is that chart. But I really want to see a model. Gawd knows that there seem to be plenty of models that (with varying degrees of inaccuracy) show how everything is going to hell if no nation does anything (or very little). Why is there no model that says, “here is the impact you can have if you do something major.”

I don’t want to go down the old path of “Well why should the US do anything because China and India aren’t doing anything?” I actually want that question anticipated (not that it should be now because the question has been asked plenty). Once anticipated I’d like to see a scientist develop a model that shows what might happen.

I think such a model might be useful. Useful only for those people who are sceptical, and open-minded; and admittedly small group. This issue, like so many others in what passes for “discourse” in these times, has had opinions ossify. People have made up their minds (in large part) and aren’t going to change. Not for any reason related to assessing the facts, theories, and models at hand, but just because they have made up their mind and have chosen to be obstinate about it.

Anyway… If there is a model out there… I’d like to take a look at it.

Carry on.

“Presidents Day” +1

Greetings, loyal minions. Often, in the past, on the Federal holiday popularly known as “Presidents Day” your Maximum Leader has given his list of the greatest Presidents of the United States of America.

Well, as we all know, the holiday is actually George Washington’s Birthday (with a nod to Abraham Lincoln). We should celebrate it as such. We should remember Washington (and Lincoln) and be done with it. Don’t give lip service to the “office” and don’t go around ginning up how great this or that President was (or is). The presidency is a job in our Republic. The person in it (Washington and Lincoln notwithstanding) is just a normal citizen doing a job. We don’t need more cults of personality in the world.

And lets be honest… There were many duds and idiots that served as President of the United States… So for this “Presidents Day” (+1) let us throw out the names of some of those duds and idiots to have served as chief executive of our nation…

1) James Buchanan - arguably the worst in our history. Let us not forget that the ineptitude of his man led to the American Civil War.
2) Andrew Johnson. The first president to be impeached (though not removed from office). He was completely out of step with his times and an arrogant bastard to boot.
3) Ulysses Grant. Great general. Great writer. No-so-great President. Scandals ruined it for Grant. (NB: No, I’ve not read the new Chernow biography on Grant yet. I may not ever to be honest. I doubt it will change my view that Grant is a great American overall, but a miserable President.)
4) Millard Filmore. The man’s very name is a synonym for mediocre.
5) Richard Nixon. It pains me to type that, but it is true. We really need a special category for Richard Nixon all by himself. He can be neither great, nor terrible because he was both in equal measures. For every good or great thing you can attribute to Nixon, there is an equally awful or destructive thing you can name. On the balance, the negatives probably outweigh the positives. If Nixon’s presidency should have taught us anything (which it apparently has not) it is that executive power should be limited. Many of the problems that those on the right and left have with a president with whom they do not agree is how they use the power that they have been given by Congress. Give less power to the president and there will be less to be upset about…

Anyway… There you have it. The five worst presidents according to your Maximum Leader…

Carry on.

Smollett

Greetings, loyal minions. This whole Jussie Smollett situation should fill you with the wide range of emotions and thoughts. To recap: Jussie Smollett, a gay, black actor, claimed to have been assaulted in Chicago by two men. During the assault he had a noose thrown around his neck, a liquid poured on him, and was beaten. The men, Smollett claimed, were wearing “Make American Great Again” caps. In the ensuing days and weeks (it seems like weeks - but time has taken on a peculiar quality since 2017 it seems) two camps appeared. The first camp, mostly populated by liberals/progressives, stood by Smollett and decried how racism and racial hatred and racially-based hate crimes were a symptom of “Donald Trump’s America.” The second camp, mostly populated by conservatives/right-wingers, stood back and said “something doesn’t seem right with this story.”

As it seems to be turning out, there is something wrong with the story and those of the second camp I just described seem to be justified. According to news reports coming out of the Chicago Police Department, the two (black) men (immigrants from Nigeria it seems) were paid by Smollett to assault him. The hired assailants bought rope and plain red hats to carry out the staged attack. Smollett is, apparently, sticking by the story that he’s maintained publicly (including in an interview with Robin Roberts on ABC). Slowly the facts of the case seem to be going is a much different direction.

I am much more active on the Twitter than here. (@maximumleader) But I steered away from this story. I was shocked when it was first reported. I continue to be horrified by the racially charged nature of so many crimes and incidents in America over the past two years. It seemed plausible that such an assault could have happened. But as the facts started to ebb out I started to be sceptical. The attackers were allegedly black men. It seemed a little implausible that there would be two black Trump supporters in Chicago looking to assault another black man. Then there was the absence of CCTV footage. There were questions about the police getting to examine Smollett’s cell phone. There were questions… Now it seems like it was all a terrible contrivance.

The real tragedy here is that this whole incident further widens the already widening chasms between the various factions within America. Liberals are rending their shirts and covering themselves with ash while saying how this will affect how society will view future (and real) claims of racist attacks. And they are right to do so. A false claim, and even worse - a staged incident - does, I believe, cause people to be more cautious and sceptical of future claims by future victims. It is a society-wide expansion of the boy who cried wolf - but writ over a whole class of crimes and victims. Conservatives on the other hand are pointing fingers at liberals and especially the media and cheering themselves for being vindicated. They, rightly, claim that the whole incident was never investigated seriously when the claims were first made. The media believed because they wanted to believe because it fit the narrative they want to advance. I believe that this is also pretty true. If you are inclined to look for evidence of racism and racial hatred everywhere you aren’t going to question a big story like this one when it comes along.

All in all, I’m willing to go with the pox on both your houses. Our age of social media and instant commentary on anything has lead us to become reflexively partisan on just about any issue. It also give everyone the ability to comment in real time on anything. There is no time to gather facts. (NB: as if facts matter. Echo chambers of social media don’t appreciate facts that don’t fit the narrative. It is appearances that matter.) There is no time, and frankly no desire, to learn the facts and use them to create an intelligent opinion. As a result, the echo chambers resound. The divides harden. The sides grow further apart.

I don’t mind disagreement. But I want to encourage discussion of a serious sort. That being said, our society doesn’t value serious discussion and calm acceptance of differences. So the whole Smollett thing will just go down as another hoax that sets to wear down the bonds of civil society.

Carry on.

Unexpected Joy

Greetings, loyal minions. This weekend has been one of unexpected joy. Both Villainettes are college students now. As such, they are not home often. This weekend, Mrs. Villain had planned to get Villainette #1 (a senior at VCU) and bring her home to the Villainschoss on Friday night to spend the weekend with us and do some general “family stuff.” Well, Mrs. Villain had a bad headache on Friday night and your Maximum Leader himself made the trek (45 mins each way) to get Villainette #1 (who has no vehicle of her own) and brought her back home.

Apparently, while your Maximum Leader was on the road to Richmond, Villainette #2 (a sophomore at Virginia Tech) was on the phone with Mrs. Villain. The upshot of that phone call was that Villainette #2 decided to get in her vehicle and trek up home herself. That is a 3.5 hour drive. She started at 8pm. It caused her mom and dad a little anxiety (driving at night on I-81 is never fun). But she got home safe and sound. (I don’t know why it causes anxiety for us since she just drove all the way from Fredericksburg, VA to Orlando, FL and back over Christmas.)

Anyway… The full family was here (and frankly still is for a little while longer) for the weekend. That is an unexpected joy.

Carry on.

My Poor Commonwealth

Greetings, loyal minions.

Well, well, well. The regularly uninteresting political situation in my home, the Commonwealth of Virginia, has become rather noteworthy of late. Unless you’ve lived under a rock, or just ignored politics generally, you have likely heard about what has happened recently in Richmond. Allow me to summarize:

1) Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook has part of a page dedicated to him that shows a man in blackface and another in a KKK outfit. The Governor may or may not be in the photo. And he may or may not have been responsible for selecting the photo to be put in the yearbook.

2) Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax has been accused by two women of sexual assault. One alleges she was assaulted during the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The other alleges she was assaulted while she and Fairfax were students at Duke University.

3) Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted that he wore makeup to darken his skin (but apparently not full-out blackface) during a his time at the University of Virginia.

4) State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment edited the Virginia Military Institute’s (VMI) yearbook in 1968. A yearbook that is filled with racist photos and statements.

That is the shortened jist of what has come out. That is also the order in which this news was made public. Except for the second accuser coming forward about Justin Fairfax, that happened after the Tommy Norment story broke. The Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General are all Democrats. Senator Norment is a Republican.

In the immediate aftermath of learning about the Governor’s yearbook page (apparently “leaked” to a right-wing web site in the aftermath of a stunningly horrifying interview by the Governor in which he seemed to advocate infanticide) there were - and one supposes there remain - widespread calls for the Governor to resign. The Governor issued a video statement in which he expressed regret over the yearbook. Then a day after his statement of regret, the Governor held a press conference that was best described as somewhat surreal in which he denied that the was in the photo, didn’t know how the photo got there, admitted to dressing like Michael Jackson at another time, and nearly demonstrated his moonwalking skills. The Governor has since given another television interview in which he stated that black Africans were first bought to Virginia as indentured servants, not slaves. (NB: It has been a very very long time since I’ve read/studied this so I may be wrong and/or the scholarship may have changed in the intervening decades; but the Governor may not be technically wrong on this - though he should have just learned a lesson from all his other missteps and just shut the hell up about slavery. As I recall, among the first Africans brought to Jamestown some may have been given indenture papers. But this practice was short-lived at best and slavery came to Virginia shortly after Jamestown was founded. Again, my memory is hazy and I am open to being wrong on this point. More broadly speaking - it doesn’t matter one iota in the grand scheme - except to pedantic history nerds. Slaves came. If one is trying to be sensitive to over 400 years of slavery, racism, and inequality you ought not to try to score pedantic points.) So that is where the Governor is…

The Lt. Governor is calling for investigations into the allegations. Allegations he flatly denies. There have been calls for his resignation as well.

The Attorney General has seemed to benefit from all the other news stories as he now seems to be laying low and hoping it all blows past.

Senator Norment, too, is laying low and hoping it all blows past.

In my opinion, laying low and hoping it all blows past is the right strategery (as it were) for everyone, except Mr. Fairfax.

In the cases of Governor Northam, Attorney General Herring, and Senator Norment, all these incidents were decades ago. In my opinion, which as we all know is not worth a hill of beans in this crazy world, all three of these men have a long record of associations and public service that do not show signs of persistent or lingering racism. Some may choose to point out that a campaign flyer for the (eventually winning) Democratic ticket that was circulated in Southwestern Virginia only showed Mr. Northam and Mr. Herring, both of whom are white. It conspicuously omitted Mr. Fairfax who is black. It was said at the time that this was to help the ticket in an area of the state where it was believed that some whites would not vote for a black man. It is my belief that someone responsible for the printing of that flyer did make that calculation. I don’t believe that Mr. Northam, Herring, or Fairfax had any personal involvment with it. And it is interesting to note that Mr. Norment, while a student at VMI, advocated the full integration of VMI - an unpopular stance even in 1968. So, once again, I feel you have a long public record for these three men that doesn’t support they are racists. I don’t feel that this long record is outweighed by self-evidently awful behavior decades ago. Others may disagree.

I suppose my position comes down to when is long enough? If Governor Northam, while he was a state senator, went to a party in blackface I would sing a different tune. I suppose I might sing a different tune if he did so during his time as a doctor in private practice. And while I fully admit that a man in medical school should know better, it was a long time ago and he doesn’t seem to be “that guy” any more. This position also goes for Herring and Norment.

This is an unsatisfying position for many true believers out there. Both of the Left and the Right. But it is where I am on this.

Sadly, the allegations made against Mr. Fairfax are more troubling and may require his resignation. I say may because they are, at this point, allegations. Nothing is proven to any threshold of evidence. There does need to be an investigation. But even that is troubling. The General Assembly of Virginia isn’t the type of body that does investigations. Should the Attorney General’s Office do an investigation? Should it be left to the authorities in Massachusetts (site of the Democratic Convention) or North Carolina (for Duke)? I don’t have an answer for that. My inclination would be for the General Assembly to set up a special commission of Senators and Delegates (in equal number from both parties) with the authority to hire investigator - or use State Police investigators - to conduct an official inquiry. But I’ll be honest, I’ll have to re-read the State Constitution because I’m not sure the General Assembly even has the authority to do this. (NB: They probably do in that they can make all sorts of rules for their own behavior. But it is possible that they may have to write a special law to do this, and the legislature is part-time and their session is winding down. To make a law would be an extraordinary task that might require the Governor to sign off on it - which would be awkward to say the least.)

If there is an investigation, what should be the threshold for action? If the Kavanaugh Hearings over the summer show us anything in this matter they show that there is no level of evidence with a widespread acceptance for action. Beyond a reasonable doubt, the threshold for criminal convictions, seems too high. Clear and convincing evidence may also be too high. But is a basic preponderance of evidence too low? (NB: For clarity, beyond a reasonable doubt is 99% sure, clear and convincing is 75% sure, preponderance is 51% sure.) For myself, I think that if you are going to work to get an elected official ousted from his position for things done while not in office you probably need to be at least 75% sure.

For those out there that think impeachment of one (or all) of the three top elected officials is the way to go, that door should be closed. Closed for two reasons. The Constitution of Virginia clearly defines impeachable offenses and they all involve actions taken while in office. Secondly, a Republican majority legislature is not inclined, for obvious political reasons, to go down that path.

So what then? Well… I think that Northam weathers the storm but is a shadow of what he could have been in the last two years of his term. Since Governors in Virginia cannot serve consecutive terms and Northam never seemed to aspire to other offices in Virginia or with the Federal Government, he could just wait it out. He will likely serve out his remaining two years and retire from office and return to the (beautiful) Eastern Shore of Virginia and go back to private medical practice.

Fairfax and Herring are the wild cards here. Both men want to be Governor. In fact, Herring “waited” last time to let Northam run for Governor while he ran for a second term as Attorney General. Fairfax is also an ambitious man. It looked like he was going to give Herring his “turn” to run for Governor, then run himself. I don’t know what happens to either of them now. I don’t see how either man fends off any sort of primary challenge from another Democrat. That is going to be the more interesting thing to look at as time passes.

All in all, I’m sad for my state. This is the type of news no one wants…

Carry on.

The Black Dog

Greetings, loyal minions. You know, Winston Churchill was prone to bouts of what we would now describe as depression. Back in the day, it might have been called melancholy. When Churchill suffered from it his family, friends, and associates would say that “the Black Dog” had come and settled in. I mention this because I think I may be having a black dog of my own.

I wouldn’t call it depression, certainly not in any sort of clinical sense. Just a profound melancholy and abiding non-specific sadness that has lingered over me for a while. I can’t exactly put a finger on the cause. Perhaps it is generally anxiety over real life. You know the stuff. Kids in college. Work. Kid in High School. Relatives in a precarious health situation. Mortgage. My own weight and health. Just generalised stuff. I am hesitant to write that there is also anxiety over politics. But there is anxiety over politics too. I don’t want to be branded as having “Trump Derangement Syndrome” or whatever his advocates call it. I will say that he is by leaps and bounds the worst man to occupy the White House in my lifetime. (And I was born when Nixon was President - so that means something.)

As I’ve noted here, I didn’t vote for Donald Trump for President. I will not ever vote for him for anything. I do think he is a danger to the Republic. But he hasn’t actually accomplished as many things as many accuse him of accomplishing. He threatens. He is filled with lies and bluster. But he isn’t doing quite as much as many think. That being said, he is dangerously incompetent and that is likely the source of my generalised anxiety about him, and the state of the Republic today.

So my basic feeling is “Bleh.”

And that is about all there is to say about that.

Carry on.

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