Beirut Explosion

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was shocked and horrified to see the video of the massive explosion at the docks of Beirut, Lebanon, yesterday. Reports are that more than 100 people were killed. Damage is extensive. Your Maximum Leader feels for the people of Beirut and hopes that this was not a terrorist attack. Beirut, once the shining star of the Eastern Mediterranean in the 1960s, then the war ravaged desolation of the 1980s, seems to have been coming back in the 21st century. One hopes this is not a portent of the future.

Your Maximum Leader, no expert in these things. (He’s just an idiot with a website.) Speculated to himself yesterday that, given the location of the explosion at the port along the docks, that something in a warehouse or on a ship must have exploded. Apparently now there are reports that seem to back this up. Here is one: Beirut Ignored Public Warning There Was a Russian ‘Bomb’ at the Port. Here is a second: Fireworks, ammonium nitrate likely fueled Beirut explosion. Both linked articles assert that as much as 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate (the fertilizer used in the Oklahoma City bombing) was being stored in a warehouse or on a ship and it was this material that likely exploded.

Terrible. Your Maximum Leader is sure we will learn more as the investigation continues.

Carry on.

More on Nile Waters

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that now the situation along the Nile river is growing more tense. In a piece on Legal Insurrection, Leslie Eastman writes an interesting piece on the recent escalation of tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter’s move to start filling the reservoir behind the GERD dam. The Ethiopian Foreign Minister has apparently tweeted that the Nile belongs to Ethiopia. Egypt has not taken this statement well. There is an interesting bit in this piece about the financing of the dam by China. This dam, like so many other projects across Africa, has been financed by China to improve China’s position on the continent. It is worth your time to take a gander at this piece.

Carry on.

Water

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader fondly remembers a class he took in college. It was back in 1989. The class was called “American National Security Issues, 1989-2000.” The class was taught by LTG Samuel V. Wilson (US Army, Ret). By the way, you really ought to click on that link and read General Wilson’s Wiki page. General Wilson was one of the most interesting and thoughtful persons your Maximum Leader has ever had the pleasure of knowing. He considered himself lucky to be able to spend 90 minutes with General Wilson twice a week for a semester. Not too long ago your Maximum Leader found some class notes from this class. As he read over them, he started to remember how much he remembered. He also noted to himself just how many of the subjects that General Wilson covered in a class 31 years ago (yes THIRTY-ONE years ago) are still relevant today. One of the subjects that stuck with your Maximum Leader was water.

In the days before global warming, water was already an issue. There isn’t enough of it in many places. And as populations grow and become more wealthy they like to use more water. If this is happening where there isn’t enough water to begin with, that can be a problem. In fact, your Maximum Leader has observed for many decades now the various gulf states and how they try to deal with the question of water. It is a fascinating subject.

Water can also be a terrifying subject to think about. Take for example the Nile river. Way back in 1989 we talked about the Nile river. How it is the primary potable water source for 4 nations, chief among them Egypt. We spoke about the politics of the Aswan Dam and why the dam was so important in the first place. Well… Guess what? There is nothing new under the sun. If Egypt can dam the Nile, surely other nations can too.

And that is just what Ethiopia has done. If you missed it (and your Maximum Leader did until last year when he read a news article mentioning the dam), Ethiopia has been building a dam on the Blue Nile since 2011. Guess what else? That dam is finished. And Ethiopia is doing what is done when a dam is built. You fill a reservoir and start using the dam. Here is a piece on that: River Nile dam: Reservoir filling up, Ethiopia confirms. Here is the opening of the linked article:

A reservoir behind Ethiopia’s disputed Grand Renaissance dam on the River Nile has started filling with water - a day after talks with Egypt and Sudan ended without agreement, officials say.

Ethiopian Water Minister Seleshi Bekele confirmed the latest satellite images showing water levels rising.

Ethiopia sees the hydroelectric project as crucial for its economic growth.

But Egypt and Sudan, which are downstream, fear the large dam will greatly reduce their access to water.

Years of fraught negotiations have failed to reach a consensus on how and when to fill the reservoir, and how much water it should release.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has previously warned that filling and operating the dam without an agreement “that protects the downstream communities… would heighten tensions and could provoke crises and conflicts that further destabilise an already troubled region”.

A conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia, which are both US allies, would put millions of civilians at risk.

Going to war over water. Could that really happen? Do nations war over water?

As a matter of fact, they very well may. From The Independent (UK): Egypt is backed into a corner over the Nile dam – it may have no choice but to go to war. In this piece the commentator, Ahmed Aboudouh, writes:

Egyptian officials accuse the Ethiopian government of following a series of diplomatic one-upmanship ploys since signing the 2015-Declaration of Principles, which indicates that all parties should reach a deal first before filling the reservoir. But Ethiopian negotiators seem to have taken stock of the diplomatic prowess North Korea showed in its contracted negotiations with the US over denuclearisation. Since Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s 2018 joint statement in Singapore, the North Koreans have shown prudence in running the clock on their commitments. Now negotiations are frozen, and an agreement is far from complete. By following the same playbook, dragging its feet, Ethiopia seems to have led the Egyptians into a cul-de-sac.

The deadlock means Egypt is now running out of options. During a recent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Ethiopia’s hydro-electric plant, Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry stirred the pot. He described the dam as “a threat of potentially existential proportions”, and in a chest-thumping moment threatened that “Egypt will uphold and protect the vital interests of its people. Survival is not a question of choice, but an imperative of nature.” Ethiopia’s UN ambassador Taye Atske-Selassie countered, saying that for his nation accessing water resources was an “existential necessity.”

Water is not the only vital interest at stake: Egypt’s president and former general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is fighting for his legitimacy, too. Since taking power in 2014, Sisi has advanced a populist/nationalist narrative based on cultivating too much pride in military strength and raising the people’s expectations over his ability to protect “Egypt’s national security and interests.” Sisi understands that by losing the diplomatic battle over filling up the dam, and succumbing to pressure from Ethiopia’s, he’d risk igniting popular unrest - and possibly a military coup.

Your Maximum Leader would find it amusing that another nation would take a play out of the North Korean playbook, if it weren’t so devastatingly true. Just keep talking and talking until you’ve achieved your goal is a perfectly legitimate (and effective) way of dealing with your neighbors. Then when your goal is achieved, you can stop talking.

As if 2020 hasn’t given us so much up to this point, we may have a Egypt/Ethiopia war to which to look forward to. It may be a short war. Send some fighters in, blow up the dam. Then, one hopes, they can stop shooting and go back to talking.

Carry on.

Vaccines

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has been limiting his intake of news lately. It really doesn’t seem to be hurting him intellectually, psychologically, or emotionally. In fact, he’d say that he’s generally feeling better for having reduced his news intake. In “reducing his news intake” he doesn’t just mean news from traditional news sources (TV and newspaper) but also that which he consumes via the interwebs (Twitter, Facebook, and other on-line sources). In these times, the news is just jumping from one outrage to another and with few exceptions it is best summarized.

There is an idea. The news should be summarized. Too much of what we consume as “news” is really commentary on news. This is the age-old problem of what constitutes “reporting.” Your Maximum Leader has long held that we should have more “reporters.” Namely those that research and subsequently report the facts of a new story as clearly as possible. We have lots of “journalists” nowadays. The journalist may do some reporting, but they do a fair amount of commentary as well. You don’t need to remind your Maximum Leader that even reporters (in the sense he just described) are providing some “commentary” by choosing what stories deserve to be reported. That is certainly true. But the journalist is really putting their reporting into the “context” that shapes a “story” they want to tell. There is an important, if sometimes subtle distinction.

Anyhoo…

There are some news stories that your Maximum Leader does digest in more detail than others. One of those subjects about which he is reading is work towards an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Your Maximum Leader is interested, as just about everyone else is, about knowing more about a COVID vaccine. But, he’s found his mind turning towards some pretty bleak outlooks. This may be influenced by a book he is reading (Plague Hospitals: Public Health for the City in Early Modern Venice). What bleak outlook you say? Well let him elaborate…

There are, and have been since this past April, a number of news pieces out there that focus on the relatively quick decline in the effectiveness of antibodies to COVID-19 in people that have recovered from COVID-19. This is to say (in case you’ve not seen or read one) that the natural immunity that a human gets from having suffered through a bout of COVID-19 seems to disappear relatively quickly when compared to other viruses. In most circumstances suffering through a virus can give immunity to that same virus for many years, or a lifetime in some cases. It appears as though that “immunity” to COVID-19 may last only a few months at most. This is a real problem if one was hoping to achieve “herd immunity.” That is the state where enough people have developed their immunity to a virus that the spread of the virus is greatly reduced. If one doesn’t have immunity to a virus for very long, it obviously doesn’t help in reducing the spread of a virus.

So your Maximum Leader heard on a podcast, or radio interview, some weeks ago a researcher from (he believes) Oxford University who said that there is significant data on COVID-19 that can lend itself to theorizing that not only is herd immunity unlikely, but finding an effective vaccine against COVID-19 is equally unlikely. Your Maximum Leader wishes that he’d noted down the researchers name and institution at the time, but he didn’t. Well… He found a piece in his news feed that struck a chord with him. Here is the piece (which originated at Business Insider): Coronavirus immunity can start to fade away within weeks, according to a new study which puts a ‘nail in the coffin’ in the idea of herd immunity. Here are some salient quotes about herd immunity:

Immunity to the coronavirus may disappear within months for many patients, according to a major new UK study which found that antibodies peaked three weeks after symptoms appeared, before gradually fading away.

For some patients, no antibodies were detected after just a few months, throwing doubt on hopes for a long-lasting vaccine.

[…]

The study, which was carried out by scientists at King’s College London and first reported by The Guardian, “puts another nail in the coffin of the dangerous concept of herd immunity,” one of its authors said.

The study was based on the antibody responses of 90 patients and health workers at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. It showed that 60% of those tested had “potent” antibodies while battling COVID-19, but just 17% had the same level of potency three months later.

The potency of the antibodies fell by as much as 23 times over the three months, the study found, and in some cases were undetectable at the end of that period of time.

[…]

A similar study in Spain, which was published last week, found that just 5% of people tested maintained coronavirus antibodies. Fourteen percent of people who tested positive for the antibodies in the first round of testing did not test positive in subsequent tests carried out weeks later.

Two of the Spanish study’s authors, Isabella Eckerle and Benjamin Meyer, said: “In light of these findings, any proposed approach to achieve herd immunity through natural infection is not only highly unethical, but also unachievable.”

It is important to note that the quoted article does state that the results of these studies have not yet been peer reviewed. The piece continues:

Katie Doores of King’s College London, the UK study’s lead author, said the findings could be a sign that any future vaccine for the coronavirus would need to be provided regularly for people to maintain immunity.

“People are producing a reasonable antibody response to the virus, but it’s waning over a short period of time and depending on how high your peak is, that determines how long the antibodies are staying around,” she said.

“Infection tends to give you the best-case scenario for an antibody response, so if your infection is giving you antibody levels that wane in two to three months, the vaccine will potentially do the same thing,” she added. “People may need boosting and one shot might not be sufficient.”

In an interview with Sky News reported by The Guardian, professor Robin Shattock of Imperial College London said that while reinfection would probably be “less severe” because of people retaining “immune memory,” the risk of them passing on the virus meant they would likely have to receive boosts of the vaccine on a regular basis.

“Ultimately this may require the use of annual boosting immunizations, particularly for the most vulnerable. This could be delivered alongside annual influenza immunizations,” he said.

Your Maximum Leader wonders if the researcher he heard on the radio or podcast was Katie Doores or Robin Shattock. Regardless of that, this caused your Maximum Leader to think a little harder in the vein in which his thoughts about COVID-19 had been progressing. Namely, what if an effective vaccine is not found? Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure about you, but he isn’t sure that a vaccine that only lasts 2-3 months is all that effective. On the one hand, 2-3 months of immunity is about the length of a flu season. But so far we are seeing that COVID-19 doesn’t seem to have a “season.” It appears to like all the times of the year. So it may not a question of getting your “flu shot” annually, but getting it quarterly. That doesn’t seem very good, at least not when you start to wonder about where your Maximum Leader’s mind went next.

Suppose any potential COVID-19 vaccine IS only effective for 2-3 months. And let’s further suppose that it has no side effects. And let’s further suppose that it is cheap and available in sufficient quantities so as to allow anyone who wants one to get one. It this going to be enough to satisfy people that “life” and economic activity can resume and become “normal?” Given how polarizing and hysterical people are right now, he can’t envision a situation where this sort of vaccine is going to be regarded as a significant improvement. What happens then? Do schools continue to be (effectively) closed? Will prisoners be released because jail is too dangerous? Will restaurants, gyms, and sporting events have to operate at minimal levels? What about anti-vaccers?

Your Maximum Leader doesn’t have answers. Further, he is not bothered too much by things out of his control at this point. This is more a mental exercise more than anything. Your Maximum Leader wonders if someone, somewhere is thinking about this and trying to plan… Someone at the CDC? The Department of Health and Human Services? The Pentagon? He doesn’t know.

What he does know is that if the past 4 months have been any indication, the shit-show will get shittier.

Carry on.

A Few Thoughts, June 23, 2020.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader will share a few disjointed thoughts with you all…

- As your Maximum Leader tweeted recently, no one will ever be woke enough. The mob will turn on you. The revolution will eat its own. No one will ever be pure enough to pass the zeal of the examiners.

- Your Maximum Leader voted (in person) today in the Democratic Primary. Seriously, he did. He voted for the least odious of the two candidates running for a chance to take on incumbent Congressman Rob Whitman. Today notwithstanding, your Maximum Leader will vote to re-elect Whitman in November. Why did he not vote in the Republican primary? Well. Honestly, he had no idea what the positions were of the three men looking for a chance to unseat incumbent Senator Mark Warner (D). Once there is a winner in that race, he’ll learn about the candidate.

- Seriously… Your Maximum Leader honestly nearly forgot there was a primary today. He didn’t do much to educate himself on the candidates. He voted in the Democratic primary mainly because he actually knew who the two candidates were and was reasonably informed on their various positions…

- Your Maximum Leader snagged some of the Makers Mark Private Select bourbon for Virginia. There are two limited release, special bourbons just for sale in Virginia. Sadly, he was only able to get his hands on one of the two types released in the Commonwealth. He has the manager of his local ABC store on the lookout for the other…

- Your Maximum Leader has mostly moved back into his study. Readers may recall that a year ago your Maximum Leader took in an exchange student. At that time your Maximum Leader’s study was converted into a bedroom. It has now been (mostly) converted back. There are some objets d’art that need to be re-hung in the room. But the bookshelves are back and mostly full. But they are completely disorganized. It will take some time to put everything back in the proper place.

- Your Maximum Leader and Villainette #2 have been watching (rewatching for him, 1st time for her) Ken Burn’s “The Civil War.” Your Maximum Leader forgets how good it is. He is pleased that Villainette #2 has now grown to dislike George B. McClellan. (As one does.)

- Finally, your Maximum Leader wonders when the current civil unrest across our Republic will start to abate. There is much to say about it. Its causes. How it has progressed. What is says about us. What is might portend for the future. But that is all for another time.

Carry on.

Qui tacet consentit.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader really does love the film “A Man for All Seasons.” He loves it for a whole bunch of reasons that are not pertinent right now. But the title of this post comes from a scene in the film where Sir (Saint) Thomas More is on trial and he schools his prosecutors that he’s not spoke out against the King’s marriage and advises them that “Silence gives consent.” Your Maximum Leader, no Latin scholar, recently learned that the full Latin saying is: “Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit.” Or, in English,: “He who is silent, when he ought to have spoken and was able to, is taken to agree.” (Thanks Wikipedia!)

Your Maximum Leader has not written specifically about what is going on in our country right now. Frankly, other than a very few people who have asked him personally about his thoughts on current events, he’s not expressed himself much on the subject. He is now reading and seeing on the news a good number of celebrities, politicians, and ordinary people making declarations that if you “aren’t speaking out, you’re part of the problem.” Since civil society is not a court of law, and we are not engaging in contracts, and your Maximum Leader is not invested with real authority over others, his silence is not meaningful one way or another in a legal sense. He is, however, a little disturbed by the subtext of “not speaking out” means that he’s “part of the problem.” Have we really gotten to the point where we have to announce our opinions on every matter that is reported on the news or in the moment seems to be of public concern? Thanks to social media do we have to disclose to everyone what we think or feel about anything at any given time? Are we supposed to volunteer our opinions in times of heated, passionate, and sometimes irrational discourse so that they can be parsed by anyone with a grievance? Perhaps we are there now. That thought is troubling in a number of ways.

So for what does your Maximum Leader’s silence imply consent? Does he consent to black Americans being killed by the police? Does he consent to peaceful protests? Does he consent to armed men killing a black jogger? Does he consent to rioting in the streets? Does he approve of the political response to all of these issues? Of course the answer is that your Maximum Leader knows his own mind on these things and anything that is construed by another is just inference.

Your Maximum Leader does have opinions on these matters. He’s actually started a post on current events. But the events have changed quickly enough that what he’s written doesn’t seem to adequately capture the spirit of what is going on at any given moment. He may choose to write more in the coming days, or he may not. (He also may have a post in him about the Villainschloss and the joys of home ownership and having a schloss full of people…)

Carry on.

Quaranta Giorni

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader thought he’d learned something this week. As it turns out, it is more like he learned something, thought about it some, realized he’d probably learned it at some point in the past but forgotten it. Does that count as learning? Re-learning perhaps. Or just “remembering” more accurately.

Regardless, that which your Maximum Leader re-learned/remembered is the origin of the word Quarantine. It comes from Italian, and specifically the Venetian dialect of Italian. The term quaranta giorni which means “40 days.” The words quaranta giorni were apparently shortened to “quarantina” and that word made its way into English as quarantine. Why 40 days? You have probably guessed already, but here is the story. During the period of the Republic of Venice, when the city-state was a major maritime trading power (and naval power in the Mediterranean in general) when ships would come into the lagoon they would be inspected. Ships found to have sick/infested/plague-ridden crew (or goods) were not allowed to dock in the city of Venice proper. They were directed to the small islands of Lazzaretto Vecchio or San Lazzaro Nuvo which sit off the Lido. There, the ships, cargo, and crews would remain for 40 days. After that 40 day period they could proceed to Venice proper. One of your Maximum Leader’s favorite websites, Atlas Obscura, has a great article on this subject called “The Black Death in Venice and the Dawn of Quarantine.” He commends the article to you.

NB: Your Maximum Leader has considered buying the book from the Atlas Obscura article, but it is a little dear. Furthermore, your Maximum Leader isn’t sure he is going to read a rather academic sounding book right now. But still, $64? Yikes!

Earlier this week, after reading the Atlas Obscura article, your Maximum Leader thought to himself that he couldn’t believe that he’d never read about quaranta giorni in any of the many books on Venice he’s read during his life. So today he went into the stacks (as it were) and checked a few of his books on Venice. Sure enough, there were references to quaranta giorni. So your Maximum Leader is left to conclude that he probably encountered this piece of trivia before, but forgot it at some point.

Interestingly, but not unsurprisingly, given our current global pandemic situation, your Maximum Leader has seen reference to the origin of the word quarantine several times this week. He finds it funny that he has seen it so many times this week, but not in the previous weeks of the pandemic. We have, after all, been effectively in quarantine (at least here in VA) since March. Your Maximum Leader can’t help but wonder if Atlas Obscura is a more read website than he thought. They published the article on May 11. By May 16th he’d seen this reference at least 3 times, including in this peice from CNN article on the future of Venice.

If your Maximum Leader had a bunch of money laying about, and a valid passport*, he would go to Venice right now. As readers of this space know, he desperately wants to visit Venice. In fact, if he were (heaven forfend) to be told that he only had six months to live, he would quit everything and go to Venice. It would be his last trip on this earth. It is the top of his bucket list. He would love to see Venice now. There would not a lot of tourists. There would be clear water (and sea life) in the canals. There would likely be some good deals on hotels as well. Though honestly your Maximum Leader doubts that the two hotels at which your Maximum Leader would like to stay in Venice (the Hotel Danieli** or the Gritti Palace Hotel) run deals. He would be quite surprised to learn that they do.

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader doesn’t have the cash laying about for such a trip. Also, Mrs. Villain has declared that she is “not willing to risk the health or life” of any member of the family just to go on vacation. (There is some additional context to this quotation that your Maximum Leader may share later, but not right now.) So there is that…

* - You read that correctly. Your Maximum Leader no longer has a valid passport. It is sad. He discovered this in November of last year. He had planned to get it renewed this spring. But according to the State Department, renewals can take 6 months at this point. The State Department further claims that when the COVID-19 quarantine is lifted their backlog will disappear quickly. They recommend waiting to renew.

** - Your Maximum Leader’s dream Venetian vacation would be to spend a week in the Doge’s Suite at the Hotel Danieli. He would spend his days wandering throughout the city at his own pace. Darting into any church, museum, shop, or eatery that struck his fancy. He would also like to see an opera at La Fenice. He’d prefer to see a Verdi opera at La Fenice, but isn’t going to be picky. And every night of his stay he would like to have a pevarini cookie and a Bellini cocktail every night before bed. Of course, this is a dream. Just like being a maximum leader…

Carry on.

Wasting time.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was taking care of some financial matters tonight and thought that when he was finished with them he would try to finish a post about reopening America that he’s been writing in fits and starts. Well… That didn’t happen. Instead he wound up spending time listening to some John Prine and Emmylou Harris. So here is some of that to which he was listening.

(NB: Your Maximum Leader thinks that Emmylou Harris grown more beautiful as she’s grown older.)

Some John Prine:
Dear Abby:

Jesus the Missing Years:

In Spite of Ourselves:

And the last song from his last album, When I get to Heaven:

Now some Emmylou:

Emmylou with Dolly and Linda singing the Sweetest Gift:

More of Emmylou and others (Allison Krauss & Jillian Welch) singing Go To Sleep Little Baby:

Emmylou singing Pancho & Lefty:

And one of my favorites, Red Dirt Girl:

It wasn’t all Prine and Harris though…

This Mark Knopfler song snuck into the mix as well:

And he listened to this tribute to Emmylou that he’s liked for quite a while:

Carry on.

Who are your people?

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was going to try and finish a post about opening versus not opening our economy in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. (NB: Is it Covid-19 or COVID-19? Your Maximum Leader thinks it should be in all caps, but he doesn’t want to hit and hold that shift or caps lock key. Lazy fingering.) But, he read David French’s column today and decided to write about it instead.

Many moons ago, when your Maximum Leader was in college, he was at a party. It wasn’t a college party with kegs, togas, and lots of grinding on a dance floor tacky with spilt beer. It was a real dinner party with grown adults. Men wore sports jackets and ties (at a minimum). Women wore dresses. Before dinner there were hors d’oeuvres on silver trays walked through the room by servers my age (my age back then anyway). There were cocktails with top shelf booze. Then for dinner you sat at a table where one needed to know which fork was for which course as well as which was a white wine glass and which a red wine glass. Your Maximum Leader was seated next to an aged lady from Richmond, VA. She had that wonderful Tidewater Virginia accent as she spoke. We engaged in friendly conversation through much of the dinner. At one point your Maximum Leader said something that made her laugh. When she stopped laughing she looked at him with a most serious expression and said, “You are such a delightful boy.” She continued, “I must know, who are your people?”

Your Maximum Leader must admit that he’d never been asked that question ever before. He stumbled for a moment and said, “My people? I’m an American from Virginia, like you ma’am.” Then she clarified, “No who are your people? Who are you descended from? I’m a Byrd myself.” Then your Maximum Leader got it. He replied that “his people” were nobodies from Scotland and England who settled in America like many others. (And didn’t move to Virginia until during/after World War II.) This disappointed her somewhat, but not enough to stop talking with him. It seems many in the room were descended from someone of note. (In case you were wondering, it was a dinner party for the Virginia Historical Society… About 1989 or so.)

That little anecdote came do him today when thinking about David French’s piece. French wasn’t writing about ancestry in general, though his ancestry is part of the essay. He was talking about tribes. Political tribes. Religious tribes. The confluence of the tribes of religion and politics. He was also writing about group think and confirmation bias. Here is a particularly salient bit when explaining “group polarization”:

The concept comes from a Cass Sunstein academic paper, published all the way back in 1999. Surveying the relevant social science, Sunstein said, “[I]n a striking empirical regularity, deliberation tends to move groups, and the individuals who compose them, toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by their own predeliberation judgments.”

In plain English, this means that when like-minded people gather, their views get more extreme. Our arguments reinforce one another to such an extent that the entire group will sometimes become more extreme than the most extreme person at the start of the deliberation. Think of it like this—when gun rights advocates (or gun control activists) gather, do they tend to leave the meeting doubting their positions or redoubled in their commitment to advocacy? How many people leave a good Bible study loving Jesus less?

It’s a nonpartisan, human phenomenon, and what’s so seductive about it is the fact that we can’t perceive the sheer tribalism because it’s accompanied by deliberation—by discussion and thought. We fool ourselves into believing our ideas or our intellects are in control when it is often our identity or our history.

This doesn’t mean that group deliberation is always wrong. A collection of abolitionists who met and grew in dedication to the abolitionist cause in Boston in 1860 were right. Unquestionably they were right. But what it does mean is that like-minded group deliberation is suspect, and it can be suspect even in a righteous cause. “The ends justifies the means” is a concept born in unanimity and fervor.

This passage, and French’s whole column actually, caused me to shiver. Shiver due to self-actualization. French writes about his Confederate ancestors taking up arms to defend slavery and he asks himself while he acknowledges the guilt he sometimes feels about his ancestry:

I don’t mean that in a guilty way, I’m somehow responsible for the actions of men who took up arms for an unjust cause more than a century before I was born. Instead, I mean that I’ve often asked myself, “What would I have done?”

Slavery was a monstrous evil. Yet generations of Americans grew up in communities that accepted it, defended it, and even celebrated it. How many abolitionist arguments did a child of the antebellum South ever hear? If they heard abolitionist arguments, did they hear them portrayed fairly, accurately, and sympathetically?

Putting aside the power of argument, did the witness of their own eyes and ears—the brutality that was plainly before them—provide them with sufficient cause to say, “No. I shall not defend such evil”?

That was the specific passage that caused your Maximum Leader to shiver. Often he finds himself asking silently, “what if things were different for me?” Your Maximum Leader recalls with vivid clarity the day he was sitting in a high school history class during a discussion of the Cold War (which was still ongoing at that point). Your Maximum Leader, a Reagan conservative then (and now he thinks - but then was actually during the Reagan Presidency), gave a rather rote recitation of why the USSR was in fact an “evil empire” and needed to be opposed. A dear and close friend, a friend then and now, made a glib remark that “Sure, you’re a good conservative here, but if you’d been born in the USSR you would be in the Young Communist League and be working to get your Order of Lenin before you graduate from college.” At the time the comment shocked your Maximum Leader. He actually took offense to it then. But even way back then (in 1986 or so) a seed was planted. Ever since then your Maximum Leader has taken more time than he cares to relate to you all wondering if his beliefs and biases are an accident of birth and the groups with which he affiliates himself, or if they are due to him actually reasoning out a belief system in which he actually believes.

If your Maximum Leader is being honest with you all, he feels about 60% of the time he has formed a belief system based on his reading, understanding, and assimilation of the ideas of numerous other smarter people than himself. But 40% of the time he does think it is all just an accident of birth.

So your Maximum Leader asks those of you who may still be reading (or may stumble across) this humble - and moribund - weblog to ask yourself this question, “Who are your people?” But don’t think about your ancestry, as Mrs. Byrd did. Think about the broader tribe to which you belong. Think long and hard about who are your people in life. With whom do you associate? Who do you follow on Twitter? Who are your Facebook friends? Who do you go out to lunch with? With whom do you really talk about meaningful things? Then think about what they might have in common and how that commonality is intensified in you. How that commonality is actually polarization causing you to be less open and responsive to others. Try to give “the other side” a kind thought, or at least an open-minded review, from time to time. We live in an age and time which is becoming more polarized. Your Maximum Leader is keenly aware to many those who don’t share their views are misguided, or wrong, or even evil and must be stopped. But consider their views openly, then examine your own with a jaundiced eye from time to time and be open to revelatory ideas.

Be aware of the tribe to which you belong, and recall David French’s words: “The tidal pull of tribalism should humble us all. For many of us, it renders our virtue an accident of history and birth. For others, it gives our sin and vice a terrible momentum that’s so very hard to reverse.” Try to be self-aware of your own sins and strive to overcome them.

Carry on.

PS: And speaking of who you follow on Twitter, follow your Maximum Leader.

PPS: And in case this was a little heavy, here is some related humorous perspective on this post.

Advocacy in Favour of Our Client, Belial.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wishes that it were possible in the current political climate, and frankly the general societal climate overall, to have a serious discussion. He means this just as broadly as he plainly stated it. No one, at least in the West, is capable of having a serious discussion. Certainly those with opposite political views can discourse seriously on whatever topic you like. It doesn’t happen frequently, but it can happen. When it does it is noteworthy. But getting those with opposite views together to seriously and sanely discuss an issue hasn’t happened in a while. Additionally, particularly in the West, we are not fond of analysis after a crisis event to figure out how we can do things better. And thus we start to segue into the point of this virtual epistle.

It would be, at least in your Maximum Leader’s opinion, worth having a serious discussion about how we in the United States should deal with the current Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, it actually seems too late to have this discussion now, in the thick of it. We really should have had a national discussion (or at least a Blue Ribbon Commission that studied and made recommendations) based on the H1N1, or SARS epidemics. It would have been nice to look over what was done, how it was done, what didn’t work, what did, and lay down a framework for future epidemics. But that didn’t happen and honestly is not going to happen after Covid-19 subsides.

In this discourse, your Maximum Leader wishes to just put a few points to ponder out there for you, loyal minion and dear reader, to consider. Thus far our national response to Covid-19 seems to be a patchwork of recommendations about self-isolation, followed by general closures of public institutions (schools, universities, and the like), and then the imposition of mandatory partial quarantines (such as in New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Washington). There is a general clamor for a broader national shutdown of all but essential services. The rationale for these actions is to slow the spread of the virus so as to not overwhelm the health care system. These actions are all about slowing the spread of the virus. If one is listening carefully, the number of people that will catch the virus isn’t changing just the period of time over which the infected will become infected. By limiting the spread, one allows the health care system to prepare for what is coming, better manage the crisis when it is fully upon us, and save as many lives as possible. The societal cost of this the national economy comes to a stand-still.

Some brave souls, and with this post your Maximum Leader supposes he is one of them, have asked us to consider alternatives. He doesn’t believe many are advocating doing nothing, though some are. The general thrust of many of the alternatives is think about the economy. That is the where your Maximum Leader is going to go. If we shut down the economy, as we are doing, the repercussions are great and worthy of consideration. Many small businesses will close permanently. It seems as though people are happy to believe that the Federal government sending checks to taxpayers and providing loans at low (or zero) interest will magically allow a small business to weather all this and reopen as though we had all taken a long vacation from everything. This is magical thinking. The trillions of dollars circulating through the US economy are not going to be replicated by gifts or loans from the Federal government. Restaurants, small shops, many of the self-employed, are not going to be able to reopen. If these businesses do not reopen, then their employees as well as the business owners will suffer. No one knows how the economy will restart or how much will restart. There is much talk of a bailout of the airline industry. But these bailouts will come with strings. Don’t buy-back stock. No executive bonuses. Companies must retain their work force. Your Maximum Leader asks, how exactly does this work out? If the government bails out Boeing, is the bailout coming with the certification that the 737-MAX is also safe to fly and start producing? Is United going to have to maintain, and fly jets on routes that are mostly empty due to a recession or depression? How does this work out? Heavy-handed government intervention in these areas often has unintended and disastrous consequences. The shocks will come at some point. If the bailouts come with conditions, as seems likely, the shock will be delayed. But they will come.

So why are we proceeding with an economic shutdown? To prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed and thus saving more lives. If the virus spreads unchecked, or even weakly checked, the health care system will be unable to keep up with the care of those infected with the virus as well as those who would have needed services without the virus. We are talking about potentially millions of people dying due to the virus or due to being unable to received needed care. On the other hand, by stopping the economy we are creating a crisis of unemployment, contraction, and medium/long-term dependency on public funds. We all should probably ask if it is worth it. If in fact those most at risk for death from Covid-19 are the elderly and those with immunodeficiencies, are these people fully-participating members of the economy? Where are our people who clamor for wealth redistribution here? We know that retirees have a fair amount of saved wealth which is supplemented by programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. If a substantial portion of this population were to die due to the Covid-19 epidemic, wouldn’t that wealth be freed up? Wouldn’t the pressure on the Federal budget be lessened because the number of transfer payments would be greatly reduced? Isn’t that an overall positive societal benefit?

What about other potential upsides for the economy? Your Maximum Leader will not argue that history repeats itself. He will, however, argue that history has leitmotifs. A leitmotif we might look to is Europe after the Black Death. The plague had pretty much run its course by the early 1400s. The (greatly reduced) population of Europe experienced a tremendous period of economic and cultural growth. A period that later became known as the Renaissance. You may have heard of the Renaissance. It wasn’t just a lot of painting going on. The manorial system of the middle ages had been literally destroyed by the plague and peasants (due to their scarcity) realized that they didn’t have to be tethered to the land of a single lord. It was the beginning of what we might call social mobility. The Renaissance saw the growth of cities, trades, art, music, and that crazy group known as the middle class. Your Maximum Leader will not argue that this would definitely happen in a post-Covid-19 world. But perhaps it is worth considering. Economic historians might also look to the periods of economic growth after the epidemics (plague, smallpox, and others) that occurred in the early 1600s and 1700s. Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure that there is a serious analogue to the Roaring 20s and the end of the Spanish Flu of 1919, but there might be some small connection there as well.

What your Maximum Leader is stating here is that we all ought to consider the trade-offs between shutting down our economy and saving (potentially millions) of lives, and not shutting down our economy and potentially saving ourselves from economic catastrophe.

That is all.

Carry on.

(Don’t forget the tweety-box @maximumleader.)

Flu Fear

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader will remind readers of his (generally) annual trip to the pork capital of Virginia to buy his Easter ham. Last weekend was the glorious Hamquest. (Your Maximum Leader thinks he should hashtag and trademark “Hamquest” lest some lesser mortal try to muscle in on the term.)

Last Saturday your Maximum Leader roused Mrs. Villain, Villainette #2, and the foreign exchange student he is hosting - who we will call FE - from their slumbers to get into the car and head to Smithfield, VA. Smithfield is the home of Smithfield Foods one of the largest pork processors in the world. It also has a 350+ year tradition of producing country hams. Your Maximum Leader took his intrepid band down to Jamestown, VA and caught the ferry to Scotland, VA. From there he proceeded to Surry, then on to Smithfield. He initially bypassed the town to head directly to his ham provider of choice, Darden’s Country Store.

On arriving at Darden’s your Maximum Leader’s party got a treat. You see, last weekend was the weekend that they pack the new hams in the smokehouse. To describe this process for your benefit, before last Saturday, the extended Darden clan had taken the remaining hams from last year (about 30 or so) and placed them in a temporary storage unit they had next to the smokehouse. In another temporary storage unit (which was actually an old shipping container) they had started the process of curing this year’s hams. They had covered the floor of the container with salt then started stacking the fresh hams in the salt. When one layer was down, they cover the layer in salt. Then they add another layer. Then salt the new layer. And so on until they had over 1300 hams packed in salt. They remained in the salt for 2-3 weeks. On the day we arrived, they were taking the hams out of the salt, wiping them off lightly with a dry towel, and then covering them in pepper. Once the salted hams had been peppered, they were hung in the rafters of the smokehouse. They will hang to dry for another week. Then they will be smoked. The smoldering fire will be built and tended for 7-10 days. Day and night the smoke will cover the hams. At the end of 7-10 days the hams are fully cured and then they just age. Your Maximum Leader, as he noted, got one of last year’s hams. So his has aged for over a year. Aging adds more saltiness to the ham and requires more water before cooking. Once a ham is cured it can last years. In fact, the longest your Maximum Leader has kept a cured country ham is 6 years. He didn’t mean to keep the ham that long. He bought one, hung it in the basement. Forgot about the ham. Bought another and prepared it. And the ham sat in a back corner of the basement (of his parents house actually) for 6 years until his mother moved a shelf and saw it. She was going to throw it away, but your Maximum Leader forbade it and prepared the ham shortly after its rediscovery. It was delicious by the way.

Anyhoo… Your Maximum Leader selected a lovely 22 pound ham and paid for it.

While your Maximum Leader was waiting for the ham to be wrapped, he introduced FE to Mr. Darden and explained how FE was an exchange student from China and how we were showing him bits of America you don’t see by visiting New York or DC. Mr. Darden and FE spoke a bit about the Chinese love of pork and how much pork Smithfield Foods exported to China. (In fact, Smithfield Foods it largely owned by the Chinese national investment trust or some such thing. Perhaps that is a post for another day.) So we had a lovely time with the Dardens. We got the ham and went into town to our favorite restaurant, Smithfield Station for lunch.

For lunch your Maximum Leader had the “Smithfield chowder” and the “Station burger.” The chowder was a thin clear broth with potatoes, onion, celery, country bacon (think country ham, but bacon) and chopped clams. It was quite tasty. The burger was a 1/4 pound aged angus burger, with a healthy slice of country ham, 2 slices of country bacon, cheddar cheese, a generous helping of lump crab meat, with chopped purple onion, lettuce, and tomato on a grilled Hawaiian bun. It was really something else. Mrs. Villain had the creamy crab soup, and fish tacos. Villainette #2 had crab soup and and a grilled chicken dish (with country ham as a compliment to the chicken). FE had the crab soup as well and the pork BBQ sandwich.

We had a lovely lunch, and then went to walk through town…

Now, your Maximum Leader has visited Smithfield many many times (pretty much annually) and has always had a wonderful time and found a way to chat with the lovely people of the town. He was proceeding to do so during this visit. He would introduce himself and explain that we were visiting for ham and to show FE parts of America and American life. After our second stop Mrs. Villain took your Maximum Leader aside and said that he shouldn’t mention that FE was from China. You see, she had observed that after mentioning that FE was an exchange student from China a few people we encountered stepped back and were considerably more restrained than they were before that bit of information was exchanged.

So your Maximum Leader said that he would refrain from sharing that bit of information. But, it came up again at some of our other stops. Only this time FE himself mentioned that he was from China. Your Maximum Leader observed that people did seem to change their body language very subtly after that information was exchanged. Furthermore, if your Maximum Leader offered up that FE had been studying in the US for four years in an attempt to reassure people that he wasn’t a walking viral infection fresh from Wuhan, people didn’t change their posture towards him.

All in all it made me a little sad. FE did go to visit his family in China over Christmas break. But he returned before anyone had heard of the Covid-19 virus. He is, as is the whole family here, clear and feeling fine. But you show some people anyone from China (a large country with a population of over a billion people) and they get all squirmy and fearful that they are going to die from the flu. It was a bit disappointing to see in fact. It made your Maximum Leader more than a little sad in fact.

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader isn’t going to let this stop him from continuing to take FE out to see this great nation and learn more about America and Americans.

Carry on.

A New Year’s Message

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wishes you a Happy New Year. May it be filled with the emotions you allow yourself to be overcome with!

In our current social climate it seems a bit wrong to just wish you a peaceful, prosperous, and joyful 2020. If one is dissatisfied with politics, nothing your Maximum Leader writes will help you. If one is anxious about the health of the planet, nothing your Maximum Leader writes will help you. If one is upset that others are not sufficiently accommodating or accepting of others, nothing your Maximum Leader writes will help you. What your Maximum Leader is expressing is that you will only allow yourself the peace, joy, and mental/emotional well-being that you are predisposed to allow yourself. Allow your Maximum Leader to take the long view for a moment. We live in an age of miracle and wonder. (To crib Paul Simon’s lyric.) 2020 is the best time to be alive for a human being in the whole of human history. You may think politics are shit (and they are). You may think that life on the planet is going to collapse in 15-100 years (and it may). You may be offended by people that do not share your beliefs (and it is likely many don’t). But all in all and across the globe things that made life miserable and short are diminishing with each passing year. If you step back and look at the broad swath of history, none of your ancestors every had it so good. Perhaps you should be a little thankful and take a moment to see how you can make a positive change to yourself. A little change to yourself may have ripples outward to others.

Enough of the hippy-esque talk now! Down to business.

First of all, you’re welcome for this post. Your Maximum Leader is certain that all of you that might stumble across this page (or even navigate to it on purpose) are glad to see the new of the Washington Nationals winning the World Series pushed down the page.

Your Maximum Leader is coming to you from the dungeon of the Villainschloss. A dungeon in great disarray. It upsets his . Yes. Your Maximum Leader’s harmony is disturbed. It is due to a number of improvements being made to the Villainschloss. You see, the dungeon bathroom is being remodeled. He hopes that the work on that room will be done by Monday, but he isn’t 100% sure it will be. Additionally, the stairs down to the dungeon are being stained (after being replaced recently). This means that your Maximum Leader must walk out of the Villainschloss, around to the dungeon door, and then come back in. Of course, a little more walking would do your Maximum Leader good, but it is damned annoying.

As today is New Year’s Day, your Maximum Leader has attended Mass to fulfil his obligation to observe the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. (NB: Wasn’t this day at one point known as “Mary, Queen of the Universe?” Has your Maximum Leader imagined that? Too lazy to Google it right now.) He attended Mass at 7am as is his habit. He wanted to go to the Vigil Mass last night at 7pm that was celebrated in Latin. Sadly, his plans did not pan out and he went this morning.

Why did his plans not pan out you may ask? Well, it is because he was smoking pork shoulder and it just didn’t get done until much later than he planned. You see, your Maximum Leader was gifted this Christmas with some of his favorite seasoning rub. It is from Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous restaurant in Memphis, TN. If he is being forthcoming, he was gifted with a lot of spice rub in fact. (The gifter misread the ordering page and rather than ordering 1 box of 8 jars of rub, ordered 8 boxes of 8 jars of rub.) Faced with an embarrassment of delightful spices, your Maximum Leader took out two nice sized pieces of pork shoulder from the freezer, thawed them, brined them, then covered them in Rendezvous rub and set them to cook in the smoker. Sadly, due to the shape of one of the bones, and the breeze that must have kept the temperature down a bit lower than his smoker’s thermometer read, the pieces took a few hours longer to cook than planned. Not only that, one of the two pieces still wasn’t fully done when he took them out of the smoker. Sadly a little time in the oven to correct this error was needed before they could be served. They tasted great, but the need for extra heat upset your Maximum Leader a touch.

Anyhow, dinner on New Year’s Eve didn’t occur until 7pm. So Latin Mass was out.

Back to Mass… Your Maximum Leader prayed for many of you that might see this. And he offered up general intentions for everyone. He is going to try to be more prayerful this year. Specifically, he is going to try to change the general thrust of his prayers (such as they are) to be more thankful and to ask to be more receptive to good in the world around him. He has been reflecting on many things and realizes that a (however small) change is his outlook might reap manifold benefits. This applies to prayer as much as everything else. So there is that…

Ellipses…

Your Maximum Leader has been reading on the interwebs (specifically on the Tweety-box follow your Maximum Leader!) that people who use ellipses to “trail off” in their writing are generally evil and horrible people. To quote Carl Spackler, “So, I’ve got that going for me.”

To turn to topical news…

What is the protocol for killing people storming your Embassy? Your Maximum Leader’s personal opinion is that Embassies, Ambassadors, and Embassy Staff are sacrosanct. Once people breached a clearly demarcated perimeter, all bets are off. Your Maximum Leader falls in line, historically, with the Mongol Khans in this particular area of diplomacy. As evinced by this Ambassadorial medallion from Kublai Khan in 1240.
Khan Passport

Your Maximum Leader is declaring right now that there is not one single person running for the office of President of the United States of America for whom he can vote in good conscience. That is saying something, because there are about 100 people running. As you may recall, your Maximum Leader cast his vote in 2016 for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. Not knowing who the Libertarian candidate might be yet, there is a big empty spot right now in your Maximum Leader’s mental ballot paper. Your Maximum Leader is no fan of Donald Trump, but the Democrat candidates seem to only be able to push your Maximum Leader towards Trump. Your Maximum Leader can hardly believe he is typing these words are they appear on the screen in front of him. Trump is awful, but every Democrat is as bad or worse. They aren’t worse from a personal point of view. Trump is a terrible person. But the Democrats are terrible from a policy perspective. From the point of view of presidential politics, 2020 doesn’t look all that good. At this point your Maximum Leader might write in “zombie Richard Nixon” for President.

Which brings up the question, would a zombie Richard Nixon be eligible to be elected President of the US? A quick reading of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution tells us that “no person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice.” So there we have it. Richard Nixon, even reanimated Richard Nixon, is not eligible to serve as President.

Speaking of zombies, when your Maximum Leader contemplates melee weapons to keep in handy for the zombie apocalypse, one of the first ones he thinks of is a Venetian war hammer. Clicky here to see one if you are unfamiliar. They have some length (to keep the zombies a little way away from you). They have a pointy bits (for when you want to get stabby). They have the hammer bit (for when you want to get smashy). And the have the hook bit (for when you want to pull down a zombie before your get stabby or smashy on them). (NB: for those D&D players out there, a Venetian war hammer depending on it’s size causes 1d6 to 1d10 of damage.)

Of course, you want to have a ranged weapon too. Guns are great for as long as one can get ammo. Then you need bows or crossbows…

Speaking of guns. Did you see that video of the terrible shooting at the church in Texas? The one where more bloodshed was averted by 71 year old Jack Wilson. Mr. Wilson drew his weapon and shot the assailant in the head at a distance of 50 (or so feet) within seconds of the assailant’s first shot. It was a masterful and timely display of skill and expertise. Your Maximum Leader is not nearly as skilled and isn’t sure how he would have reacted in Mr. Wilson’s place. Of course, your Maximum Leader will freely admit that he would feel awkward bringing a gun into church. Even if it was legal and okay with the church in question. Your Maximum Leader’s awkwardness would leave him to his fate and having to rely on people like Mr. Wilson to save him.

Well… The ellipses indicate that your Maximum Leader is trailing off now. He has come to the end of things in his brain to put down in the blog right now.

Merry Christmas (until Epiphany at least) and Happy New Year.

Carry on.

Wednesday Randoms

Greetings, loyal minions. You Maximum Leader has been falling down on the proverbial blogging job and not updating. (After a spate of erratic updates… If it can be called a spate…) Here are some random thoughts.

Twitter is a real hellhole. That doesn’t prevent your Maximum Leader from hanging out there. (@maximumleader, check him out!) There are a few people out there with whom your Maximum Leader likes to engage. That is the miracle of social media in general. He doesn’t leave the platform precisely because of those people that he’s “met” virtually and genuinely likes. But some days Twitter is just terrible. For example, last week when David Koch died. So many progressives/leftist/Democrats/Communists/Socialist/whatever-they-call-themselves were tripping over themselves to gleefully celebrate the death of a man. It was awful. Regardless of what you might think of someone’s politics and how they used their fortune to advance their beliefs (all within the bounds of the law and generally accepted behavior) one shouldn’t make merry at their death. Your Maximum Leader was sorely tempted to ask how they would react to a conservative/rightist/Republican/fascist/nationalist/what-ever-the-other-side-calls-themselves dancing on the grave of someone like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should she have passed. (NB: Your Maximum Leader, while not agreeing with RBG on many items, bears her no ill-will and hopes she recovers fully from her recent surgery and is able to fully return to her duties at the Court. Your Maximum Leader isn’t advocating she retire. She’ll retire when she is ready. Or she’ll never retire and die on the bench like her friend, and political opposite, the late Antonin Scalia. That is her prerogative.) Of course, some did make this observation on Twitter and your Maximum Leader did not. There is no point. You can’t stop the Twitter mob and there is very little point to trying to do so.

General update on domestic situation. Our exchange student is fitting in generally well at the Villainschloss. He is picking up chores and the routine. Your Maximum Leader is figuring out how much parentis he can exercise in the ole concept of in loco parentis. We are still working on the details of supervision. We had some missteps (in your Maximum Leader’s opinion) over how our student (we’ll call him “J”) chose to change sports teams over the weekend. J didn’t give proper notice to the coaches of both teams. Your Maximum Leader has encouraged him to take some steps today to smooth things over with the coach who’s team J departed without notice or discussion. This can be a problem at a small private school. One has to maintain good relationships all around. Communication is the key. In addition to the sports situation, your Maximum Leader is apparently the proofreader/editor of J’s essays. This is something of a surprise as your Maximum Leader has the reputation in the house of being a hardass editor and “mean” proofreader of papers. (Villainette #1 didn’t come to him for help until well into her Senior year of HS. The Wee Villain will not come to him at all. Villainette #2 is thick skinned and will sometimes ask for editing services. But her writing is clear and technical - she is studying mechanical engineering after all - and doesn’t need much editing.) Your Maximum Leader has written a few emails to J’s teachers to get guidance on what type of help he should, and should not, give J. One teacher has responded already with a number of very helpful suggestions which your Maximum Leader will implement. These include making sure J reads his essays aloud to make sure he’s gotten all his words down, using Google docs to exchange drafts, and point out problems (tense, subject/verb agreement, run-on sentences, etc.) and have him make corrections then do it again. All good common sense advice. So there is that.

Also domestically, your Maximum Leader has been spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about trains and railroads. He has spent many hours (yes, hours) watching live cams of various rail road sites. His favorites include: Strasburg RR Cam 1, Strasburg RR Cam 2, Ashland, VA CAM, and the Horseshoe Curve in Pennsylvania. He is becoming a fat, middle-aged, white, male, railfan it seems. Well… It keeps him off the streets and out of jail…

Carry on.

Twitter Musings

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader engaged in a little Twittering this weekend, to an unexpected result. You see, Democrat Presidential wanna-be Pete Buttigieg tweeted that “You don’t refer to people as animals.” This comment was in reference to our President’s old comments concerning the gang MS-13. The President called the members of the gang animals. Many on the left (or among anti-Trumpers) concurred with Buttigieg’s tweet. Frankly, your Maximum Leader agrees with the broad sentiment of his tweet. One shouldn’t call people animals. Civil discourse suffers with name-calling. It is much too common in what passes for discourse nowadays.

Then again, some people do deserve to be called animals. If anything, some people are worse than animals and have, through their own actions, forfeited the “right” to not be name-called. Some of the people that deserve to be called animals are the members of the MS-13 gang that (allegedly) perpetrated a terrible murder. A terrible murder that your Maximum Leader has the most tangential connection to - thanks to a twist of geography.

According to news reports, Jacson Chicas, was a former member of the MS-13 gang. He tried to leave the gang. Members of the gang hunted him down. Then they murdered him. They stabbed him nearly 100 times. Then they took his body from Maryland (the site of the crime) to my home county and they dumped the body along the Rappahannock River, doused it with gas and lit it aflame. Here is a short piece from NBC 4 in Washington. The body was so badly desecrated that police had to release a photo of Chicas’ arm, which had a distinctive tattoo, in order to help identify the body. (The rumor around town is that Chicas’ face was badly mutilated and couldn’t be identified. But it is, one hopes, only a rumor.)

Your Maximum Leader’s connection to this was that he had to get up early the morning that the body was discovered to run an errand. After he woke, he got a text from the Stafford County Sheriff’s Department. (He is on the County text alert system. It tells him all about road closures, bad weather, school closings, police chases, water main breaks… You know, the good stuff.) The text said that River Road was closed due to a police investigation. Your Maximum Leader suspected the investigation was related to a car accident. So, rather than going down River Road, he drove along a different route. A route that put him on the other side of the Rappahannock River from the crime scene. As he drove by he saw cars from the Sheriff’s Department. A few State Trooper cruisers. He also saw what he suspects was a big crime scene investigation van. He also saw a large white sheet over what he suspected was the victim’s body.

That is it. That is the extent of his connection… Geography and a glance at a crime scene…

Anyhoo…

Back to Twitter… Someone responded to Buttigieg’s tweet by citing a news article about this MS-13 murder and said that the people who committed this crime were, indeed, animals. Your Maximum Leader responded to that by tweeting that the body was dumped near his home and that he saw the crime scene. He added that the crime was barbaric.

Well… That Tweet has been retweeted, liked, forwarded, and responded to in ways your Maximum Leader is not used to seeing. You see, he doesn’t have many followers. He isn’t really working hard to gain lots more. But that one tweet seems to have made more than 28,000 impressions. He doesn’t know how twitter calculates these things, but he is certain that this tweet gets a lot more eyeballs looking at it than most of what he tweets. It is the reactions that intrigue him. The way responses line up completely on ideological lines. Party lines really. The discussions has devolved to the absolutes. You either think people can be called animals or you don’t. There is no room for nuance. Where are the sensible people who realise that one can’t call anyone an animal, but some people certainly deserve it.

Certainly 5 people who stab a 16 year old about 100 times, then set his body aflame can be called animals? A person who disagrees with a political stance I espouse ought not to be called an animal (or a Nazi for that matter).

It seems your Maximum Leader is out of touch with the times in which he lives.

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.

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