Primetime Arguments

Greetings, loyal minions.

Your Maximum Leader started on the bourbon at about 7pm last night, knowing that the Presidential “debate” started at 9pm. He’s a little embarrassed to admit it, but he was about 6 oz of 100 proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon in by 9pm.

What a shitshow. It was terrible. Absolutely terrible. It was probably the worst “debate” your Maximum Leader has seen in his lifetime. (And your Maximum Leader remembers the Carter/Reagan debates of 1980. So that is a while now…)

He turned it off after about 45 minutes. He really isn’t sure when he turned it off because time had lost all meaning after a few minutes of whatever that was on his television.

So your Maximum Leader put on this gem and cozied up to Mrs. Villain hoping it would put her in the mood.

Sadly, this didn’t do the trick… Mrs. Villain wasn’t impressed. Not even by the guy at 2:30 in the video.

Sadness.

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.

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.

WRONG!

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader asks that you read the title of this post in your best John McLaughlin voice. So, when it comes to things political you Maximum Leader has been very wrong about some things. He was wrong about Trump winning the 2016 Presidential Election. He is also very wrong about Joe Biden. He doesn’t recall if he blogged it, tweeted it, or wrote as a comment on Facebook that there was no way in hell that Joe Biden was going to win the nomination of the Democratic party for the presidency in 2020. Please know that your Maximum Leader is sitting down, wallowing in his wrongness. It feels like… Quarantine…

So, he was wrong about Joe Biden. Somehow, saner voices in the Democratic party prevailed and they didn’t coalesce behind Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, or one of the many other more “progressive” candidates. Frankly, your Maximum Leader didn’t see it happening. He thought that the Democrats were going to do what Republicans did in 2016. Your Maximum Leader likens 2016 to Republicans saying “Ah fuck it. Nominate Trump. Take our lumps. And see what happens in 2020.” Of course, there were many voices in the Republican party who’s view on nominating Trump was more like: McCain and Romney were too moderate; just nominate the furthest “right” person we can find and see what happens. Of course, now many of those voices are happy to crow that if the party had nominated someone more like Trump in 2008, Obama would have never become president.

Your Maximum Leader disagrees with the sentiment he just related to you, but he’s also spent this post saying he’s been wrong. (So take anything written here with a shaker of salt.) He figured that there would be a substantial faction of the Democratic party that would pretty much look at Trump in 2016 and say, “two can play at that game” and go ahead and nominate Bernie Sanders or someone just as/more liberal/progressive/socialist. So the fact that they didn’t is a little shocking to your Maximum Leader. Who’da thunk that the Democrats were more sane than Republicans? That is a turn around.

So it looks like it will be Trump/Pence and Biden/Someone on the ballot in November. If your Maximum Leader had to guess prior to the pandemic and subsequent lock-downs/quarantines he would have said that Trump would win reelection. Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure now. He would have said that a Trump reelection would be a “damned close-run thing” in favorable circumstances. Now, given the state of the country and how it may be in November, your Maximum Leader simply doesn’t know. What your Maximum Leader does know is that he doesn’t have an idea who he will vote for…

Yup… You read that right, your Maximum Leader isn’t sure for whom he will vote in November. To clarify, he isn’t going to vote for Trump. He didn’t in 2016, and isn’t going to in 2020. That man has a corrosive effect on politics and our nation. Successes he may have had (which are few in your Maximum Leader’s view) have not earned your Maximum Leader’s vote. That leaves the Biden/Someone ticket. Your Maximum Leader didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 either. (He voted for Gary Johnson - Libertarian.) Will he vote for Joe Biden in November? To be honest, your Maximum Leader has always viewed Joe Biden as a mediocre political hack who, like most US Senators, fancied that he could be a better President of the United States than whoever the occupant of the office happened to be. Your Maximum Leader is pretty sure that there were more than one sleepless night at the Vice President’s mansion when ole Joe gazed over the manicured lawns and said to himself, “I would be better at _________ than Barack Obama.” So Joe thinks he’s up to the job (and has since 1988 at least). Your Maximum Leader doesn’t think Joe is up for the job. He seems old, tired, and just out of it. Again, if your Maximum Leader is being honest, he doesn’t see Joe Biden physically holding up for 4 years as President. Your Maximum Leader isn’t saying that at some point in the possible 1st term of a Biden presidency we would be talking about the 25th Amendment, but he’s been thinking about it. That is why Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential choice is an interesting one.

Former Vice President Biden has, stupidly in your Maximum Leader’s opinion, declared that his VP choice will be a woman. Why declare that it is going to be a woman? It is pandering, nothing but pandering. But strategically, why box yourself into that move so early? It speaks to a lack of vision in your Maximum Leader’s opinion. It says “I’m pandering for your vote now, and will take options off the table way before I have to in an effort to make you people who don’t like me, like me.” Your Maximum Leader has no problem with a woman as VP on the ticket, or a woman as VP, or a woman POTUS. (He thought Selina Meyer was great at both roles!) It all comes down to which woman. If Biden were to pick Hillary Clinton (which no one thinks will happen - but there is a faction that seems to still want it), your Maximum Leader would see about voting Libertarian again. Frankly, Stacey Abrams of Georgia is another choice that seems like pandering, but worse than just pandering it is a choice that is pandering AND irresponsible. When a 78 year old man picks a woman who has no experience beyond being a State Senator for the job that is literally one heartbeat away from the Presidency for no other reason than she checks some boxes that some people want to see checked it is irresponsible. It really undercuts Biden’s major draw. What is Biden’s major draw by the way? He has 2 in fact. The first is he’s not Donald Trump. That will be enough for many people. The second is that he can say “I’m competent and know what the hell I’m doing.” For chrissakes, he’s been a US Senator for a lifetime and was for eight years Vice President of the United States. If Biden were to choose Abrams it says that it is more important to signal that he is comfortable with a black woman who’s claim to fame is that she lost an election for governor, than it is to signal that he wants a serious person/partner who could be President. Again, your Maximum Leader isn’t wishing for a 25th Amendment situation, but he can envision one.

So who then? Who does your Maximum Leader think Biden could choose and signal that he is serious about thinking about someone who could be President in the case of a tragedy, and who would be set up for a possible Presidential run in 2024 or beyond? Since Biden said he has to choose a woman, then you have to seriously look at Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar. Your Maximum Leader would actually think that any of those three would be fine choices. Not that he agrees with any of them particularly on politics. But the choice is not reckless. Warren would possibly help him among liberals/progressives. Harris might (might - really only might) help him among minorities. Klobuchar may help him in the Midwest. Of those your Maximum Leader thinks that Klobuchar probably meshes the best with Biden politically and philosophically. Of course, Klobuchar doesn’t seem to be popular with minorities. Of those three, your Maximum Leader probably agrees with Klobuchar most on policy. That isn’t to say we are ideological soul-mates, we aren’t. But there is likely more common ground between Klobuchar and your Maximum Leader than Warren/Harris and your Maximum Leader. That being said, either Warren or Harris would be satisfactory choices. Between those two, your Maximum Leader would go with Harris. But what the hell does your Maximum Leader know? Nothing. Nothing as evinced by all of his blogging thus far.

There are other women being spoken about: Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and many others. They all have something they can bring to the ticket. Your Maximum Leader thinks Biden is going to probably choose Harris or Klobuchar. Your Maximum Leader thinks that Biden knows them both, they are both Senators and he feels comfortable knowing that about them. Additionally, they are both qualified for the job having had experience in Washington.

Where does that leave your Maximum Leader in terms of voting in November? Hell if he knows.

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.)

We Have An Answer to My Rhetorical Question

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader asked in his last post “What is the protocol for killing people storming your Embassy?” Apparently the protocol is to use an airstrike to kill the commander of the of Iran’s Qud Guards, Qassem Soleimani.

So, a few thoughts on this situation right now. Broadly speaking, your Maximum Leader only favors killing important leaders when you know how far you are prepared to go in dealing with the consequences of killing that leader. If Soleimani was just a “terrorist leader” and not officially affiliated with a proper nation-state, his killing would have some consequences similar to those that we have dealt with in killing other terrorist group leaders. Killing a senior general in the Iranian Army, even one that actively plots, plans, funds, and directs anti-American actions is a little different. My point here is not that we should not have killed Soleimani, it is that I hope we are ready and have a plan to deal with possible escalation and retaliation resulting from our actions.

It is possible that Iran will not retaliate at all. Your Maximum Leader thinks that is improbable, but possible. What if Iran steps up attacks on US forces in the Middle East (which is highly probable)? We can likely deal with that. What if Iran attacks Israel (also probable)? We, and Israel, can likely deal with that. How do you deal with Iranian agents killing a US Cabinet member in the United States? How do you deal with Iranian agents blowing up an oil refinery in the US, or in Saudi Arabia?

Your Maximum Leader isn’t saying that there isn’t a plan, or that people haven’t considered how this could escalate, he just hopes that they are prepared for the worse and know how far they are prepared to go.

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.

Happy Independence Day!

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wishes you all a very happy Independence Day. He believes it is important to remember, especially on the Fourth of July, that we, Americans, are lucky to live in the greatest nation in the world. For all that divides us, we are still blessed with abundance in so many ways they are hard to enumerate. Let us ignore the New York Times Opinion page for a little while and focus on the positive.

Allow your Maximum Leader to pontificate on why July 4th is best of all holidays.

Here is the list:

1 - Secular
2 - Good weather
3 - Cookouts
4 - No gift giving
5 - Fireworks
6 - Women in swimsuits
(And Liberty, of course.)

He will expand on these point for your edification.

Some may argue that Independence Day celebrates the “secular religion” of American Liberty. Some of those people may be correct. But in this context your Maximum Leader wants to make sure we all know that there is not true religious association with American independence. It isn’t Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist (to name a few). While we can all express our freedom to exercise our religion freely, the 4th of July is not associated with any particular religion or religious festival. It should be able to unite us all as Americans without regard to our religious (or atheist) preferences.

Good weather is always a plus when one has a day off and is going to celebrate something. As much as your Maximum Leader does love Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, they are cold. They are often wet (or snowy). They also aren’t commonly associated with doing outdoor things. Everyone is cooped up together in a house somewhere and getting all in each others business. On the 4th of July you can go outside. You can get away from others. You can sit under a tree in the yard and watch your other relatives carry on without having to be too near. You can plan a walk. Or go camping. Or go to the beach. Or any number of things that don’t require you to sit around in the house. This is a good thing.

With good weather comes cookouts. Cookouts are great. It doesn’t matter if they are on your back porch, front porch, in a parking lot, on the beach, in the woods (NB: Only you can stop forest fires), or anywhere. Cookout food is fun food as well. Hot dogs. Hamburgers. Ribs (which is what your Maximum Leader will be having this Independence Day). Chicken. Fire, smoke, and fresh air are a winning combination when it comes to eating. Cookouts are fun as well. Again your Maximum Leader will direct you to being outside, having space, doing things.

Does “no gift giving” really need much explanation? There is no expectation that you are going to have to think about, purchase, wrap, and deliver a gift for all your closest family and friends on Independence Day. If someone invites you to celebrate with them good manners, not the day itself, dictate that you bring a little something. But it could be some beer, or a bottle of wine, or hot dog rolls, or a nice bottle of Makers Mark (which is what your Maximum Leader would prefer if you come to the Villainschloss for any reason whatsoever). Your Maximum Leader is all for stimulating the economy with consumer sales, but he is generally offended when he’s told he must purchase gifts for one holiday or another…

Fireworks are the best! THE BEST! About the only thing negative your Maximum Leader can say about fireworks is that they often upset the harmony of our canine companions. Otherwise there is nothing more fun that sitting back and watching colored explosives detonated to music for your viewing pleasure. (Okay, there are some more fun things. But your Maximum Leader has already been graphic in one recent post, he’s not going to push his luck on this.) Fireworks make the day better. They are fun for all.

Women in swimsuits. As a heterosexual male that appreciates females, this should be self evident. But if you need evidence, here is some: Click here for images of American Flag Bikinis. Or looky at these:
flaggirl1.jpgflaggirl2.jpg
‘Murrica!

And of course there is the enduring fact of Liberty. We often take our Liberty for granted. In recent times many on the left and on the right would like to circumscribe our liberty to advance their own political view of the world. We should celebrate our liberty and defend it. It is the abstraction that makes the United States of American unique in the world and worthy of preservation.

And now, the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson, as ratified by the Continental Congress:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for
one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected
them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the earth,
the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and
of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions
of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which
impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends,
it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute
new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing
its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect
their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments
long established should not be changed for light and transient causes;
and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed
to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing
the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and
usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce
them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw
off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now
the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated
injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment
of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts
be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary
for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate
and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation
till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended,
he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of
large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish
the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right
inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual,
uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their
Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them
into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing
with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions,
to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers,
incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large
for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed
to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States;
for that purpose obstructing the Laws of Naturalization of Foreigners;
refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither,
and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent
to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure
of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of
Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies
without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of
and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction
foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws;
giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders
which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring
Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government,
and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once
an example and fit instrument for introducing the same
absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws,
and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves
invested with Power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection
and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns,
and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries
to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun
with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the
most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas
to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of
their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has
endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers,
the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare,
is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress
in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered
only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked
by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler
of a free People.

Nor have We been wanting in attention to our Brittish brethren.
We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their
legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.
We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and
settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice
and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our
common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably
interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been
deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore,
acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them,
as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America,
in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of
the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name,
and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies,
solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are,
and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States;
that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown,
and that all political connection between them and the State
of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved;
and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to
levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce,
and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may
of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm
reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge
to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Happy Independence Day fellow Americans!

Carry on.

Safe, Legal, and Rare

Greetings, loyal minions. We seem to have come a long way from the days when Democrats wanted abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare.” Haven’t we? I have contemplated writing a post on abortion for a while now. But I haven’t. It seems like this might be the time to do so in light of recently passed laws in Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, and Kansas.

For those of you who might be reading, this post will have the following form: I’ll discuss my own personal views on abortion, then I’ll discuss what my views are about abortion in America. These views are in conflict with one another, and are the cause of some intellectual distress within my own conscience.

To begin. Simply put, my own view is that abortion is the willful killing of an innocent human life and is wrong. There isn’t much subtlety to that position. It is as starkly absolute as it looks in the words on your screen right now. It is a clearly stated and forceful statement.

I wasn’t always as clear on this personally. Though raised Catholic, I went through long portions of time away from the Church. Certainly my Catholic upbringing has always influenced my thoughts on abortion, it would be an overstatement to say that my views were always in line with Catholic teachings. (Or are now…) There was a time in and around college, where my views on the subject were better described as “well, it seems wrong to me, but I just don’t really care that much.” I feel a certain amount of shame in that supreme ambivalence given the words I just typed a few short sentences ago. But that was where I was. I didn’t think about abortion much and deliberately avoided thinking about it for quite a while. But I was forced to think about it one afternoon while walking in a park with a girl.

We were friends in college. We never dated each other. It frankly never occurred to either of us that we should date each other. It was a plain old friendship in which sex rarely came up as a subject. I was dating others. She was dating others. And everyone seemed pretty cool about it. We didn’t talk much about sex at all. A rude joke here and there. Perhaps some clumsy innuendo once and a while. Innuendo that was always a little forced between us.

One day, shortly after we graduated, we were walking in a park near my house. We chatted about all the normal things we talked about. Then she stopped at a small playground in the park and sat on a swing. I sat in the swing next to her and there was silence. She didn’t look at me when she plainly stated, “I’m pregnant.” I wasn’t sure how to react. I looked at her and I’m positive my confusion in how to respond was plain on my face. She looked at me, and with tears welling up in her eyes she said, “I don’t want to be.”

The circumstances that lead her to that point are as unimportant as they are common. Not paying attention. Messing around. Accident. Knowledge of what was happening. Realization that the boyfriend is all wrong. Their relationship is all wrong. She isn’t ready. She doesn’t want to be ready. She doesn’t know exactly what to do.

So she tells me.

I was the only person she had told. That sort of surprised me. I would have figured I was down the list of people she would confide in. But I was at the top of the list. I didn’t know what to say. So she did the talking. She thought she was going to abort the baby. She wasn’t 100 percent yet, but she was 85 percent. She was telling me because she wanted me to take her and be with her and if needed stay with me a day or two after.

I admit that I am told by my friends that I am a pretty loyal friend and will do what I can to help a friend in need. My first reaction to being “asked” to help my friend get an abortion was that I would take her, and be with her, and let her stay with me after if she wanted. She seemed greatly relieved by my answer. We sat for a while, then continued on our walk in silence. We parted with kisses on the cheek, but few words. She said she would let me know.

I didn’t sleep much for the next few days. Her boyfriend didn’t know. Should he? Should he be given some say in the matter? How would he react? Shouldn’t he help her out? What about my friend’s brother with whom she was especially close? Wouldn’t he be more appropriate? After going through all the others in my mind I started to reflect on my role in all this. What was I doing? Should I counsel her to seek another choice, or at least investigate another choice? If she wanted my help and I gave it what would I be responsible for doing?

In that moment I realized I was against abortion. Why would I worry about the moral consequences of an abortion to which I was tangentially a part if the whole act wasn’t wrong? Is driving a hitman to a hit and letting them stay in your house to lay low for a few days after not morally wrong? In that moment I had terrible misgivings. I was conflicted because now I realized I didn’t want to do what I’d agreed to do. I was a wreck. And if I was a wreck, I could only imagine how my friend felt.

I don’t recall praying, or asking advice of others, or doing anything to work through my impending moral dilemma. And then the weirdest thing happened. My friend and I never spoke of it again. About a week later she gave me a call and suggested we meet for a quick dinner and a walk. I agreed. I had decided to play it by ear not bring up the subject and see what she wanted to do. We had dinner. We walked. We got ice cream. We parted company. About two weeks later she told me she was accepting a new job in Pittsburgh. She asked if I would help pack up her truck. I said yes. I helped pack her up. Her brother was there too. She told me that the boyfriend wasn’t in the picture any more. She went to Pittsburgh. We talked for a few months after, then we truly parted company. We haven’t spoken since. I heard about her for a few years through mutual friends. There was no single parenting talk. I don’t know what she did or how she did it. I don’t know if she sensed my misgivings and decided not to ask me afterall.

And that is the story of how I came to have the views on abortion that I hold. As you can read, my view crystalized pretty sharply back then. It hasn’t changed too much over time. I still think abortion is wrong because it is the killing of an innocent, defenseless, person who deserves a chance at life.

In light of this, one would think that I would applaud the recent changes to the laws of Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, and Kansas. Well… That is where I run into problems.

I realize that we live in a constitutional republic. I also want the maximum amount of liberty possible under that government. I am suspicious of government and am often suspicious of the motives of others. I also realize that though I believe what I believe about abortion strongly, I can’t help but also believe that others don’t share my beliefs in this matter.

One would think that I wouldn’t have a problem with abortion in the public sphere. If I believe in liberty, and the sacrosanct nature of the individual as an individual entitled to the protection of and from the state, then I should support abortion rights. I get hung up on the fact that there are two people in this equation and how should they be treated. How, in fact, should they be treated? Does a woman have the same, more, or equal rights as a baby within her?

At this point I find myself falling into a legalist mindset, or perhaps it is a type of etymological/verbal sophistry. I want to find terms from which the argument can flow. This is likely some sort of latent attempt at Socratic reasoning or just some sort of self-justification to assuage a guilty conscience.

I can tell you where this mindset on the issue of abortion started in my brain. College, some time in early 1988. I went to a fascinating (and horrifying) debate. The debate was between a Philosophy professor at my school and a visiting Philosophy professor. It was a dispassionate and intellectual exchange. No heated words. No protesting. No finger pointing. It was just two smart people exchanging thoughtful arguments on a hotly debated issue. The professor from my school set out the “Pro-life” position. It was the visiting professor that was most memorable to me however. She set out her “Pro-choice” position. I was young and dull-witted and didn’t see where she was going when she started off. She started with cognitive abilities of various apes. Then got into human language and reason. Then proceeded into conscious thought and ability to express complex abstract ideas. Before I realized it, she had set up an argument in which she had gotten many of us to accept the position that in order to be fully human one had to have some apprehension of language and reason in order to be fully human. Then next thing you know, she is arguing that one should be able to commit infanticide of children up to about 6 months old because prior to that point they weren’t fully human and thus not entitled to full protection of the state.

In retrospect, it is interesting that back in 1988 a rational, and horrifying, intellectual debate suggesting infanticide could be viewed as an academic exercise that was dismissed by everyone who heard it as “going too far to make a point.” Now in 2019 there were bills being introduced in my state legislature that wanted to codify roughly the same point. And the Governor of my Commonwealth went on radio and seemed to advocate for the very position that was seen as “too much” 30 years before.

So people have differing opinions on abortion and it seems to be advantageous to find some consensus under which we can all live. But the problem is in the definition of terms that no one can agree upon. If that fertilized egg has become a human, then it is entitled to the protection of the state. If that fertilized egg is just a “fetus,” or an “organism,” or a “parasite,” or a “clump of cells,” then it seems pretty clear that it isn’t a person entitled to the protection of the state.

For many years, I (and others) wanted to try and define “viability.” If we could decide when that “pre-human” became viable outside the womb then we could establish a point at which one could say “A-ha! The pre-human is now fully human and shouldn’t be aborted as it is a person with rights and entitled to the protection of the state.” Viability was a thing I really tried to figure out with an earnestness that amuses my more cynical self today. Do you want to know what I came up with? I figured out that with technology and medical advances “viability” doesn’t mean anything. I would almost be willing to wager that in my lifetime (I’m 50 now) we will have artificial wombs into which we can put fertilized eggs and have them develop until they are grown into babies ready to be born in the traditionally understood sense. I am certainly willing to say that the point during a pregnancy that a baby becomes viable outside the womb keeps getting pushed closer and closer to the time of conception. So viability is a moving, and thus meaningless, target.

The current fashion of law seems to be the “heartbeat” standard. When the “pre-human” has a heartbeat it changes into a human and is entitled to the protection of the state. A fetal heartbeat can start after about 4 weeks. As is often said in the news, the fetal heartbeat can begin before most women know they are even pregnant. The upstart of this argument is that a woman needs time to learn she is pregnant so that she can decide if she wants an abortion. There is something in me that wants to see both sides of this argument. If you want to allow abortions, you need to allow a woman sufficient time to realize she is pregnant. But if you want to make sure you are protecting innocent life, then the heartbeat seems like an objective and observable milestone at which one can set a benchmark. I am not sure if the heartbeat is the benchmark I would set, but I fully recognize that any benchmark at all is arbitrary.

Do I support the “heartbeat” laws? I’m not sure. I certainly don’t support unlimited abortion on demand. I am left wondering where did “safe, legal, and rare” go? I also would like to know where the rape, incest, and life of the mother exceptions went.

So that I am clear, I realize that, intellectually, how a baby was conceived shouldn’t affect the baby’s legal status as a person with rights. But I freely admit I have a real problem making a woman (or young girl) carry a child to term that was conceived by rape or incest. I can’t do it. It seems wrong to even consider it in fact. Forcing a woman to bear a child that will end up killing her also seems too far to go for me. So removing the exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother seems to be going too far for me in our society. (NB: Another dear college friend of mine, Ashley, was faced with the choice of having a baby or taking cancer treatments. She chose to have the baby and delay cancer treatments. She died shortly after delivering her son. I don’t know how I would have dealt with my wife having to make that choice. I’m glad I never had to. But I do know that I pray for Ashley, and her surviving family, all the time.)

I don’t pretend to have answers for society at large in this. I know that there is a point after which abortion should be prohibited. I just can’t articulate in a meaningful way where that point is that doesn’t seem completely arbitrary and thus irrational.

Broadly speaking, I would like to prevent pregnancy so that abortion isn’t the primary focus of our arguing. To that end, I wouldn’t mind if birth control became more widely available. I know some of you out there are saying to yourselves, “What? As if it isn’t already widely available.” I know what you are saying, but making some birth control pills over-the-counter wouldn’t upset me in the least. So many places give condoms away it amazes me that people buy them. And “day after” pills exist in this morally gray area that I don’t contemplate much. Mostly out of a selfish desire to leave a morally gray area for me to hide my conscience within like an ashamed shadow.

I wish that we, as a society, on this issue could get a commission together of intelligent and rational people on both sides and lock them in a comfortable, isolated, hotel somewhere and have them come up with a compromise that everyone hates but agrees to live with for the sake of civility towards one another. Sadly, civility isn’t valued and both sides prefer becoming more intractable in the hopes of “winning” the argument once and for all. But this is one of those issues for which there is no real winning at all.

Carry on.

Musings on Thomas Hobbes 431st Birthday.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader raised a glass of whisky this past Friday (April 5th) and toasted Thomas Hobbes. Thomas Hobbes is on a very short list of political philosophers that your Maximum Leader greatly admires. Thomas Hobbes. Michael Oakeshott. Edmund Burke. Those are the big three…

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader wrote recently about how to classify Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He was using old Cold War Soviet terms for his classification. So he had the Soviet Union on his mind. Bringing the Soviet Union more to the forefront of his mind was his watching (probably for the 100th time) “The Death of Stalin.” It happened to be on cable on Friday night. He caught it about 15 minutes in…

NB: Your Maximum Leader loves (LURVES!) “The Death of Stalin.” It is funny. It is intelligent. It is so well acted and well written and well directed. He rented it to watch on a flight to California last year. He saw it and knew he had to own it. He bought it upon landing and watched it three more times that weekend. He’s watched it a bunch since. In the past five years there have been two films that your Maximum Leader has found rewatchable over and over again. They are “Stalin” and “Deadpool.”

So, moving along…

Your Maximum Leader had been thinking about nomenklatura. Then he had been watching the comic antics of the Soviet Politburo jockeying for power in 1953. Then his mind wandered in a bourbon infused fog. At that point he had something of a revelation. And Hobbes has something to do with it too…

The revelation was that many liberals of today genuinely believe that a Soviet/Socialist/Communist political system is a good thing. Now you are saying to yourself, “Self, how it is that my Maximum Leader is just realising this? Is he stupid?” Well, not exactly. You see, intellectually speaking your Maximum Leader has known that many liberals think this way. But there was something of a series of subtle connections that were made in that fog that made things clearer.

You see, your Maximum Leader, in his heart shares a belief espoused by ole Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes famously wrote that in a state of nature life was a war of all against all. His famous sound bite was that life in such a condition was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Now, Hobbes’s view of humanity is more nuanced than this. You can pick up his writings and read a few hundred pages and figure this out for yourself. But here is the rub. Ultimately Hobbes, and your Maximum Leader, believed that human nature is inherently egoistic. We want what we want. We want to do what we want to do. If we think we can get away with something to our advantage, without fear of reprisal, we will do it. To use religious terminology (because in this the religious and political are closely intertwined), man’s nature is fallen. As a being with a fallen nature, we need to be constrained. Constrained, in Hobbes’ mind, by an autocratic state. (At least this the the broad theme of Leviathan.) Please keep this in your mind…

Of course, on the other side of this equation (as it were) are those who prefer the state of nature described by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Man was a perfectible, noble, creature. The nature of man was not fallen, or sinful, or bad. Mankind was corrupted by society, but society could be reformed and likewise man will be reformed as a result. Of course, your Maximum Leader is oversimplifying here, but bear with him.

So, broadly speaking, Your Maximum Leader thinks we can all agree that the best (theoretical) type of government to live under would be an autocracy ruled over by a wise, just, and benevolent autocrat. The Philosopher-King of Plato’s musings as it were. A good, wise, just, and benevolent autocrat has the power to “get things done” as well as the restraint to “keep from going too far.” Just laws, just taxes, and justice in general would flow quickly and efficiently from the Philosopher-King at the head of such a state. Things would be good…

Of course, the problem with autocracies is that you aren’t always guaranteed a good autocrat. The odds of a bad one are better than the odds of a good one. This is especially true if you believe, as your Maximum Leader and Hobbes do, in the not-so-good nature of man. But let’s say, you fall more under the Rousseauian theory of mankind. Well, even then you know that you are bound to get a bad egg from time to time. No matter how well you educate and train an autocrat, sometimes you are going to get a bad one. But if you give autocratic power to a bunch of perfectible people. People who are well-trained, well-experienced, and well-educated. Well then, that is a different story…

This is the root of the liberal’s love of technocracy. If mankind is perfectible and generally good, if you give power to right group of technocrats you will get a good outcome. If it doesn’t work out, it is because the “true formula” hasn’t really been tried. Ah… The ole “true socialism has never been tried trope!” Yes. Of course it all comes back to a fervent starting principal. If man is good it is all bound to work out! We just have had the wrong people in place…

Your Maximum Leader, in thinking all this, was musing on a column that Paul Krugman wrote some years ago (and he can’t find on the Google with ease and has given up with trying to link it) in which Krugman waxed admiration on the Chinese Communist government. In his musings, your Maximum Leader thought to himself that if you could look past the human rights abuses, the lack of personal freedoms, the rampant corruption, and the cronyism, there is a lot to like with the style of Chinese Communist rule from Deng Ziaoping through Hu Jintao. The Chinese Communist Politburo was populated by well-educated, experienced technocrats. These technocrats had well-constructed plans for moving their country ahead. They executed those plans (without any hindrance to their power). And presto-chango! China is the second greatest power in the world (and some could argue they are tied for the greatest power in the world). The Chinese Communist leaders are like half a loaf of bread in the argument about Socialism. They get so much right that they are admired, but there is that unsightly side. (All that lack of human rights, corruption, etc. etc.) It is like they are a beta version that just needs some more work.

You see, your Maximum Leader never really “saw” this aspect of how many liberals choose to look at socialism. He couldn’t get past his starting point, namely that humanity is not inherently good or truly perfectible. If you can’t get past that point, you’ll never get to where they are… Of course, your Maximum Leader likes freedom and liberty. He likes republican (truly little “r” republican) government. He likes restraint on government power. He likes it all because he doesn’t fully trust other people’s nature. We (humanity/mankind if you like) constrain our nature within society. We set up institutions and rules to constrain ourselves and others. It makes life better when we have boundaries and constrains, but also have the liberty to act as our own free-will agents.

It is possible that, at some point in the growing ever more distant past, he had this revelation before. But it seemed pretty enlightening the other night. It is possible that he’s never really tried to understand the whole “true Socialism” or “true Communism” hasn’t been tried argument. It’s never been tried, because it isn’t possible for it to be tried. If the nature of man is not predisposed towards it working, true Socialism/Communism just can’t ever work. Of course, many people don’t think as I do. So there is that.

Your Maximum Leader isn’t going to round them up and send them out for re-education or anything…

Carry on.

Classifications

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was musing the other day about Democratic Congressman and Wunderkinder Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He wasn’t just musing about her lovely complexion, ample bosom, but over-large teeth either. He was thinking about her as a political phenomena of our day. He wondered how, other than her general good looks - which don’t hurt when gaining celebrity, she became such a spokesman for the Democratic Party. Here a 29 years old woman, elected by about 100,000 voters in liberal Brooklyn, New York, seems to have become one of the standard bearers for her party. All that and she is a spokesman for what your Maximum Leader thinks of as the far left-wing element of her party.

Then he started to think back to his youth during the bad ole days of the Cold War. Then something came to him. Was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez an apparatchik or a nomenklatura? He posted this, mostly rhetorical, question on the ole Tweety-box. (Your Maximum Leader’s handle by the by is @maximumleader.) One of your Maximum Leader’s tweeps (@arethusaf) suggested that she wasn’t detail oriented enough to be an apparatchik, and that she was certainly now, by virtue of her position, a nomenklatura.

NB: Any of you out there who might stumble across this post would likely know what apparatchiks and nomenklatura are. But in case you don’t here are the wiki definitions. Apparatchik. Nomenklatura. They will suit our purposes here tonight.

So back to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Apparatchik or nomenklatura. Your Maximum Leader agrees with Arethusa that by virtue of her position in Congress she is certainly a member of the Democratic nomenklatura. But she evinces, in your Maximum Leader’s eyes, many of the qualities of an apparatchik. He says this because she is a good reciter of the “party line.” She knows all the lines, everything she should say about all the hot-button issues for the Democratic constituency. You know them: the environment, health care, the environment some more, equal justice, equal pay, the environment even more, and a highly idealised and mostly imagined democratic-socialism of the Nordic type. She knows what to say on these subjects, how to say it, and more importantly how to communicate in Tweet-length soundbites.

NB: Your Maximum Leader wishes we would get legit soundbites. Remember them? People of a certain age remember lamenting the popularisation of the soundbite. Oh how, as a younger man, your Maximum Leader mused “What happened to the American attention span? When did we stop being able to listen to a person for more than 3 minutes? When did we lose the ability to concentrate for over 15 minutes at a time? Why must we be subjected to a 2-3 minute soundbite that doesn’t really give us any information or nuance?” The soundbite was the king of newsworthy statements in the late 80’s and 90’s. Now we don’t even get the soundbite. It is all tweet-length nowadays. If you are lucky you get the Twitter version of the soundbite - the thread… Pretty soon we’ll only understand emojis.

Actually, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ability to tweet is likely as responsible for her meteoric rise in her party as much as her beating Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary in her district (NY - 14). She is a mirror image of our President when it comes to tweeting. To make an old Dungeons & Dragons analogy, Ocasio-Cortez is a Paladin on the Twitter and Donald Trump is the Anti-Paladin on the Twitter. She is on-point and always saying exactly what you think she will (if you are into predicting these things). He is wild and untamed and all over the place. They both are happy to bend the truth while tweeting, but Ocasio-Cortez’s “facts” are generally more popular than Trumps and she is largely immune (in the mainstream) from actual fact-checking. Unlike the President who is oft (and rightfully) fact-checked and exposed as a liar (which he is).

Anyhooo… Back to the classification…

Your Maximum Leader thinks that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a failed apparatchik that has stumbled into the nomenklatura by a happy confluence of events (not the least of which was the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States).

NB: Your Maximum Leader can’t imagine that he’s going to have to spend the rest of his life looking at Trump’s ugly mug on a placemat depicting all the Presidents of the United States. Your Maximum Leader might have to swear off Presidential placemats in favor of Civil War generals, the States, or world flags placemats.

Ocasio-Cortez isn’t a bureaucratic functionary. She doesn’t have the talent for details (at least not that your Maximum Leader can observe). But she knows the party line, and that will get her far. It already has gotten her far. Your Maximum Leader wagers that she will serve in Congress long enough to receive a full pension. Ocasio-Cortez will likely be with us (at least those of us who follow politics to some degree) for some time. Your Maximum Leader hopes she’ll at least be entertaining for some of that time. He does not wish, however, that she will be particularly successful and implementing that which she so easily professes on the Twitter.

Carry on.

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