bookmark_borderPost-420: Who Lost Afghanistan?

The US-backed Afghanistan government turned out to be even more kleptocratic, and even less competent, than expected. Crossing the hurdle of being even less competent and reliable than already-low expectation is something like an Olympian-like effort, but they did it.

This story now dominates the US news and as best I can tell has totally pushed out the endless, tiring flu-virus news they decided to keep dumping on us for whatever reasons they have for that.

And the question “Who Lost Afghanistan” has suddenly entered US discourse in the 2020s, a rather shabby end to a twenty-year project that was misguided probably from the start and astonishingly costly — several trillion dollars, all tolled.

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The regime rapidly’s “folding” process happened between about mid-July and mid-August 2021 and was a fait accompli by about August 5.

A full defeat it was, without any apparent kind of fight. No battle of Kabul 2021. No counter-attacks. No defensive perimeter. Nothing. I expect that any US state, Canadian province, or Mexican department’s national guards could have done better that the entire national army of Afghanistan. The response was so laughably noodle-armed as to be not worth the effort of writing about. Even a full account wouldn’t run very long because there was just no action to speak of. Any would-be write of a military history of the fall of Afghanistan in mid-2021 will come up short of material and have to either pad it out dishonestly or abandon the project.

The start of the unraveling aligned precisely with the US pullout. A symbolic trigger to press the advantage. A symbolic trigger to push on the barn door of this shabby looking farm. A rich man from the Big City had taken pity on the shabby farm and donated all the money to build up the barn. Surprise! The barn door was completely rotten, and off its hinge, and all it took to get in was to push lightly. Why not push it open and walk in? The barn is now ours.

The final end for this regime, its backbone and what prestige it had entirely sponged off its patron, came with chaotic scenes out of Kabul. Those scenes themselves don’t matter much even though they may be the lasting imagery of it all. They just punctuate the general news of the full regime collapse within weeks.

The Soviet-backed regime did much better in the early 1990s and after not only its patron’s withdrawal in 1988-89 but its patron losing its entire sphere of influence in Europe by the end of 1989 and itself breaking up and falling into deep economic malaise in the 1990s. I’ve got to hand it to the Afghan communist regime of 1979-1994 or so, history proves you were more honorable in at least a staying-power sense than the kleptocrats of 2021. The kleptocrat-in-chief (president) and his inner circle were last seen fleeing with helicopters full of cash to an unknown destination.

I don’t really see any way around it: this is a major blow to US prestige, and it has all the political class dropping from regularly scheduled flu-virus talk to almost in unison express shock and outrage.

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I heard someone describe the fall of Afghanistan with these words:

The fall Afghanistan is one of the most catastrophic failures in the history of US foreign policy

The statement can be interpreted one or both of two ways:

(1) It was a mistake to waste enormous resources on a twenty-year effort at “nation-building” there, almost as if it were a game. Committing to Afghanistan in the first place was the foreign-policy failure. Blame here is shared by several dozen, hundred, or thousand people in positions of real power and influence, between September 2001 and mid-2021 in the US executive branch, “intelligence community” (as the de rigeuer phrasing has it, military bureaucracy, State Department, and also foreign-policy academia and think tanks and the like.

(2) The rapid, unconditional, pre-announced retreat clearly undermined whatever morale and fighting spirit the US-backed regime forces had; the refusal to re-intervene to save the US-backed regime ensured its defeat.

The second is a micro-failure. The first is a macro-failure.

And what a macro-failure! By one calculation (Brown University “Cost of War” study, updated to April 2021) the whole Afghanistan project came at a cost of $2,600,000,000,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars borne (in principle) by the US taxpayer. That amounts to the astonishing sum of nearly $1000+/annum/US taxpayer — effectively a yearly “Afghanistan tax” for 20 years!

That de facto “Afghanistan tax” was never subject to some kind of popular-vote approval. If it ever had to be approved as some kind of nationwide ballot referendum (as has to be done for extra money requests for parks and schools locally), it likely would have failed and the whole thing averted.

Imagine what that $2.6 trillion ($2600 billion) could have done over these twenty years, what kind of grand capital projects, civilization-advanding projects. A North-America-wide high-speed railway network? A network of Moon colonies with a forward base on Mars by now?

I also recall in the context of that staggering sum ($2600 billion) the whole political deadlock over the border wall in 2017-18. It was comparative table scraps in the $20 billion range. Its opponents claimed it was too expensive and the whole deadlock shut down the government for a time as everyone played it for full drama. Fully funded, built, and maintained, a border wall would have come in at around 0.5% of the final cost of the Afghanistan project.

I sometimes put myself in the spot of an observer from the 2100s or 2200s uncovering in archives news and commentary on events of my time, the 2000s, 2010s, and now 2020s. People one or two centuries hence will tend to have some big-picture idea of our time but most of the details will have eroded away by Time. What picture will they reconstruct of our time? It seems to me they’ll see the priorities of our time as too bizarre to properly understand. A long intervention, without clear purpose, in one of the world’s strategically least important places, gets extremely lavishly funded, year after after year for twenty years, usually without serious opposition except by some wingnuts on the far-left or libertarian-right. But a border wall project to stop a very real problem, at 0.5% the cost of the aforementioned distant-and-pointless-intervention, triggers a several-year-long political-hysteria.

Even if the US spends not another cent on Afghanistan (saving also on the cost of those giant Black Lives Matter and Gay Pride replacement flags for the embassy), the sunk cost of $2.6 trillion will continue to increase, given that (a.) the US gives its highly paid soldiers lavish lifetime benefits by law, and (b.) the entire thing was financed on debt from the start which requires interest payments and we no one seems to care about budgets anymore, or debt, or even inflation (now sustained at over 5% for four months and running, unprecedented since the so-called Volker Disinflation and the “Whip Inflation Now” campaign which succeeded at the cost of the early-1980s recession; the economic disruptions of 2008 cause a three-month 5%+ inflation run). I think the cost may run to something in the $4 trillion range when all is said and done.

There are lots of indirect costs. Unclear is how many refugees the news and dramatic imagery will net-add to Europe and the USA, such refugees of which, if taken in (if anyone tries to “pull a Merkel”), will all have to be cared for and impose real social pressures. The Afghanistan debacle is headline news in Europe almost as much as in the USA I think specifically because it could be the trigger for a 2021-22 migrant crisis, a major political headache.

The whole thing looks bad for everyone involved.

As for the US-backed regime, it looks rather like all along it rested upon a giant, shiny, but brittle tin pot.

Some defenders of the US government’s actions in 2021 will say (1) guaranteed (2)– the macro-mistake of entering into a long intervention and nation-building project guaranteed a chaotic final end when it all unraveled — be it in 2005, 2010, 2015, 2020, 2025, or 2030. Someone was going to have to do it.

The ousted kleptocratic regime’s defenders, if any, will point more to (2) — the US mishandling its disengagement. For other reasons this is also the sustained line of attack on the president personally by even most of those (the majority) who agree with the decision to end the twenty-year involvement.

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Many are no doubt more interested in the symbolic value here.

I was on a long, multi-leg airplane journey subject to several delays August 13 to 15. The delays especially had the silver lining of giving a better ability to chat with other passengers in the same situation. The news began becoming a flood that Afghanistan was “falling.” One, whose name I later learned was D. L., was talking all about the imminent fall of Kabul on the morning of August 15 (US time) at the Dallas airport, having updated himself during our August 14-15 overnighting at our airline-provided hotel for a canceled flight.

There was a large portion of US military on our flight, probably no more or less than any other time but much more noticeable on airlines in an era when international travel is still so disrupted, barriers imposed by government policies guaranteeing much lower passenger totals than usual. The military people are usually not the most impressive, though I know they are all competent for having passed the entrance exam to a fair standard. But they are

(on conv with Korean guy in his mid-20s)

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The Afghanistan case itself demonstrates an important principle: more important than balance-of-forces calculations on paper. People have long recognized this. We borrow the French phrase esprit d’corps to refer to this, and the entire concept of “morale” is something similar, another French borrowing/repurposing.

I don’t know that the US has looked as weak at any point in my lifetime than it does in mid-August 2021, following events of the past several years but especially the past 18 months. This has been a terrible period, the 2020s even 15% in the books now look like the end of the American Century, but maybe the middle part of the decade will turn things around a bit.

As I’ve observed the news on Afghanistan, I get thinking on the same lines some were no doubt thinking in 1988 an 1989 when Soviet forces ended their ten-year intervention in Afghanistan, widely interpreted as a defeat for the USSR. The Soviet-backed regime ended up looking like a tinpot and lost control to the Taliban by the mid-1990s, who led Afghanistan on the path to being the world’s worst large nation outside Africa on lots of indicators before being bombed out in late 2001.

The USSR still looked powerful enough during the pullout of 1988 and early 1989, with the last of their forces crossing back into the USSR in February 1989.

So powerful did they look that (famously) few predicted the events of 1989 (starting about mid-year), 1990, and 1991, when the USSR lost its entire network of so-called “satellite states” — the ex-satellites in Europe mostly turning anti-Russian — then itself dissolved, with the USSR’s legislature voting itself out of existence in the end of 1991 bowing to national independence movements in the constituent Soviet republics, maybe the most important of which was Ukraine, where public opinion shifted strongly towards independence and a full severing of political ties with Moscow between mid-1991 and late-1991.

I don’t know enough about the Soviet dissolution process to know what the scholars’ consensus is on the role their Afghanistan war played in the events of mid-1989 to late-1991, but I do know the process is all traceable to below-the-surface events happening mainly in the USSR in 1987 and 1988, protest movements on various grievances. The Gorbachev decision to withdraw I presume was public knowledge by mid-1988, and so reinforced the ongoing protest-movement energies in the USSR proper, which later cycled out towards the satellites starting in mid-1989 and brought the whole shaky edifice down. Chronologically, the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan does not pre-date the breakup process but is right in the middle of the first phase of it, even if few actors or observers, either domestic or foreign, understood what was going on at the moment.

In other words, the USSR’s Afghanistan pullout signaled weakness and serious internal ‘regime’ problems and probably had symbolic or even metaphorical value at the time.

All this seems similar to the 2021 case for us, with the exception that at least the Soviet-backed left-wing quasi-Marxist regime they left behind had some kind of staying power and loyalty of at least enough people manning the oars of that regime that it lasted years and fought reasonably honorably.

The disgrace with which the US-backed Afghanistan government folded up, in most cases apparently preemptively surrendering or evacuating to the Taliban who simply walked in, is much more embarrassing, really, that the orderly Soviet withdrawal. A direct parallel would be the US-backed regime lasting to the mid-2020s before the final collapse, perhaps with the US embassy flying the Black Lives Matter and Gay Pride flags (the latter now mandatory at all US embassies) to the end.

The outrage, shock, and anger across the entire US spectrum at this humiliation (there is no other way to interpret it, with even the spin-doctors — whose job it is to give finely crafted talking-points to defend everything and anything the government does or says — looking a little ridiculous and the hearts not in it.

Another parallel with the 1980s-USSR is Andropov or Chernenko. Those were the aged, old-line Communist party-machine men who wound up percolating up by after Brezhnev died of old age. Both Andropov and Chernenko looked feeble during their brief tenures, before both dying of old age, one after another. It was embarrassing. After the third aged premier died within two and half years. Brezhnev died in late 1982; Brezchnev’s successor Andropov died in early 1984; Andropov’s successor Chernenko died in early 1985. Following this three-man string of elderly premiers, in came social-democrat reformer Gorbachev, a comparatively young man in his fifties at the time.

The whole thing looked like a farce: this supposedly global titan, the superpower USSR, either the world’s leading power or a near-competitor with the leading power depending on whom you asked in the 1980s, being nominally led by figures like those (Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko) in the late 1970s to 1985 (pre-Gorbachev). That is exactly the era in which the Soviet security commitment to molding a Marxist Afghanistan was made. Of course it revived a generations-old Russian play for Central Asia dating back to the mid-19th century (at one point called “the Great Game,” a name which for some reason stuck and is recognizable today). Do people see current US president as a figure like Andropov or Chernenko? Is this better or worse than how they saw the Orange Man?

PRC-China money will soon start pouring into Afghanistan (adding another buckle on the Belt and Road mega-project?). Unfortunately, therefore, we are going to be subject to years of “Who Lost Afghanistan?” talk in the USA. The opening salvos were fired early on.

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I mentioned above that the Afghanistan debacle contributes to the US looking as weak as I think it ever has in my lifetime. Who is in our out of a presidential palace in Kabul matters much less than the symbolic nature of it al. Maybe after a few weeks, months, or years this will seem less true that it does as I write (August 17).

The last 18 months in general have made the US look weak and perhaps morally undeserving of leadership. The realities of wealth and power-inertia being what they are, the US will still have power a while yet to come, but I don’t think the US any more can claim moral leadership.

— Early spring 2020: An in-retrospect, frankly crazy-looking Panic over a rather modest flu virus by world-historical standards of these things.

I am not alone in noticing that absolutely none of the Taliban wear masks out of fear of the said flu virus. None. Not even a token mask here or there. Just none. They know they are making history and what time do they have for silly mask stuff?

The initial Panic over a flu virus was embarrassing in and of itself, but it may even have passed, looked back on as an embarrassing mistake. But then is when forces from above intervened and made the Panic basically mandatory, institutionalized the Panic, with lots of transparent power-grabbing going on long after the people instituting the rules stopped personally panicking.

— Late spring and summer 2020: Elite-led and elite-encouraged protests against the United States itself (the country of which said elite nominally leads), against all US police, and at core against the US historical majority-population itself (or at least half or two-thirds of it — the Middle America component).

I thought at the time, observing the protests of the end of May and early June 2020, that people will look back on it as a kind of “color revolution.” Ours was strange in that instead of being nominally patriotic and on behalf of the people, it was a top-down, quasi-mandatory cultural-political policy of hatred of the core of the nation itself, root and branch.

Real moves to dig in with a new ethnopolitical caste system followed rapidly, by which one section of us (including this writer) are designated Evil. Naturally the Evil component of the nation is to be contained and disempowered where at all possible. The system was already well-enough visible by the 2000s in some areas at least, and unmistakable by the 2010s; signs of it were clear already in the 1990s, and even earlier on the fringes. As I told a friend at the time, who I suspected sympathized with the protests/riots and therefore phrased my reaction carefully, these things (images of mass arsons, rioting, thousands of smashed windows, scenes of uncontrolled mass looting) are a terrible blow for the USA’s image abroad. He angrily replied that that was not the case because the real damage to the USA’s image was Trump.

— The rest of 2020 and into 2021: The return of the a flu-virus Panic and signs a public-health would be used as a wedge with which to take more control (for the collective benefit, of course).

Rather than backing down they chose to dig in. They could have deescalated, admitted the mega-error that was the whole flu virus panic of early spring 2020 (we soon knew with certainty that the actual threat was about 1/100th of the level claimed, and in line with previous severe influenzas in recent decades — usually about two per decade since the 1970s — of which we took no notice). They chose to institute a quasi-permanent Panic-pushing regime around the same flu virus.

Each of these things is a political failure to a great degree, and they all combined to make the US look weak, as did several years (late 2010s) of constant political squawking at such a fever pitch that all our satellites in Europe and many other places could not ignore it.

I kind of understand why they did the whole Permanent Pandemic thing (and they had created a large domestic constituency of people terrified of a flu virus), but there is one thing that shows this kind of reckless and crazy action — full-on flu-virus demagoguery by what are supposed to be the world’s leaders — was a sign the US had lost the right to moral leadership:

The world followed a US pied-pipe into the flu-virus panic in 2020. Many of the “students” quickly exceeded the “teacher” here and made even more brutal virus-lockdown etc. policies than the US. Some of the “students” who jumped the gun no doubt would have deescalated and dismantled their domestic Panic-regimes if the US had absolutely refused to indulge in the temptation and had maintained a Sweden-like line of staying fully open like any other flu wave, an being done with it quickly. So the whole mega-fiasco of the Flu-Virus Panic of 2020-21-22 is more the USA’s fault than any other single actor, with the possible exception of China. But we didn’t have to copy their wacko “lockdown” policy. That we did makes us look weak, but that our political and thought leaders dug in and made the Panic regime permanent is an unmistakable sign, to me, that something is wrong.

All this relates to the Afghanistan debacle of July-August 2021. I am sure I am not along in sensing, in the rapid collapse of the Afghanistan regime, a metaphor for the state of its sponsor and benefactor.

The metaphor is with the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, when they abandoned a ten-year nation-building attempt there. I don’t think anyone argues Afghanistan brought down the USSR (it was a piece on Zbigniew Brzezinski’s great-game chessboard), but it was symbolic of serious domestic problems in both the Soviet state and its network of allies.

The Soviets must not have had a long debate on their own “Who lost Afghanistan” Question because the quasi-communist regime they left behind outlasted the USSR itself! It seems to me our own “Who lost Afghanistan” Question is so very uncomfortable for our policy-shaping, agenda-setting, and media elite because the answer is so uncomfortable, especially because of how much worse it looks than the USSR’s orderly pullout in 1988-89.

bookmark_borderPost-418: Hiroshima Day

Back in the early days here, I mentioned “Hiroshima Day,” August 6, when the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

I visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in March 2015. Living in Korea at the time, I was in the process of transferring visas, which at the time meant one needed to physically leave Korea to get a fresh 90-day visa, which as far as I know can be done by all the rich-country passport holders, certainly the US, Canada, EU, and Australia. So anytime a visa status would change people would have to leave. Realizing I had one coming up, I planned a two-week trip to Japan to take full advantage of it.

Hiroshima has a large park near the atomic blast site which they call the Hiroshima Peace Park. Nagasaki has something similar but smaller.

I wasn’t thinking about it at the time but I was there in the seventieth anniversary year (1945–>2015). Now the eightieth anniversary year is in sight (2025). What is the legacy of the atomic bombings now?

For one thing, there is a direct line between the bomb’s explosion and the geopolitical picture of today’s East Asia. The Emperor of Japan announced by radio (at noon Tokyo time, August 15, 1945) the surrender and the immediate release of most of the overseas territories Japan had acquired over the past fifty years, including the long-held possession of the island of Taiwan, all the possessions on the mainland of China, the entirety of the Korean peninsula whose fate was to be cast to an open geopolitical open sea, and many of the islands of the Pacific transferred to US administration as spoils of war, and of course the evacuation of all conquests since the expansion of the was in December 1941.

The entire justification for the atomic bombings, and to a lesser extent to the policy of firebombing cities in Germany, German-aligned Europe, and Japan proper, was to induce a non-negotiated peace, full surrender and full-occupation, a radical aim in any war. The Hiroshima atomic bombing’s defenders say it was necessary to ensure a swift and full surrender, allowing for a total occupation and reestablishment of Japan on neutralist and US-friendly terms, to be a weak power in military terms and a jumping-off point for US power in the West Pacific.

In retrospect, the way 1945 geopolitically played out was a net negative. Too much changed, too wildly, too fast, in directions too unpredictable. Several of these problems with us trace indirectly to the atomic bombing and the policy of full-occupation, immediate dispossession of all Japan’s territories, and a rapid carve-up of all its overseas holdings. Those arguing for giving some of these places something like protectorate status for a period were shouted down in the excitement of the time.

As I think over the vast sweep of US foreign policy in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the West Pacific since the 1940s, this full-occupation-and-puppetization-of-Japan decision was the bedrock on which everything since rests, and the atomic-bombing was simply the application of the full-occupation policy. I don’t know how it could have gone better.

A lot of memorials of Hiroshima are pacifist in nature, of course, with the message being that violence is bad, bombing of civilians is very bad, and atomic bombing is very very bad. But dropping a bomb under orders is just an act, one of millions, billions, trillions of acts, in war. Less often have I seen any critique of the policy behind the act. Not the decision to drop the bomb or not, but the decision for full-occupation that made the atomic bombing a logical tactic.

In the mid- and late-2010s I started to drift into the “policy” world in graduate school and then at a job and in general in “policy adjacent” circles. Earlier I had been an interested observer but in getting close to the action you realize what an enormous establishment the “security state” is, but how largely incurious the whole of it is. For twenty years there were hardly any voices against leaving Afghanistan, one of the least important places in the world for US interests and a well-known graveyard of empires. A lot of these ossified attitudes in Washington foreign-policy circles are simply coasting on a path-dependency and inertia that dates to 1945.

bookmark_borderPost-416: The Flood of 1342, the Flood of 2021, and thoughts on flood-mapping

I see flooding is in the news again.

[German Police photo of some of flooding (town of Altenahr).]

The Welt is reporting 1,300 people are missing. The number of dead in west-central Germany is over a hundred confirmed, and dozens more dead in Belgium. Many of these deaths are people in care facilities unable to easily move under their own power and when the flood came they were goners. A few rescue workers, of various fire departments, were also killed.

At about the same time South Africa had a man-made disaster of mass looting, but I aim now to stick to non-man-made disasters–though of course many will reply that major floods are also man-made, because of human-caused Climate Change. So it gets complicated. In any case, the agent of destruction is rain, which is not a human hand (as in the looting and arsons in South Africa), so that’s the line I’ll draw for now and revisit the Climate Change thing shortly.

There were big floods in Germany and the Czech Republic in 2002. In the annals of European history, major floods on basically this scale (like 2002 and 2021) are recorded several times each century. Of course people alive at any given moment think theirs are special. How will this 2021 flood rank? Probably not the worst of the century. But human psychology is such that many want to believe “we have never seen anything like this.”

(Some years ago I wrote several times about this topic, while observing the chatter about the odd behavior of the Monsoon Season in Korea. There is wide consensus that the monsoons acted weird in several years of the 2010s. Post-89: “Monsoon Season 2013 Comes Early”; Post-90: “Early Monsoons and Climate Change”; Post-91: Korean Monsoon Average Onset Dates, 2005-2013…)

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I learn, in connection with someone’s commentary on these July 2021 floods, that the very worst recorded floods in central European history were back in 1342, when entire cities were inundated.

There were actually a series of floods over two years (1342-43). The flood and immediate aftermath may have killed some number in the high tens of thousands, those being the direct deaths. Given the economic damage from the floods, probably some number in the high hundreds of thousands died indirectly in the coming year or two or three, and it is said two straight terrible harvests were recorded, as the flood had damaged soils in addition to all the other damage it did to major centers of commerce. Then, in 1349 and 1350, the Pest arrived at these same places, known to us as Bubonic Plague or the Black Death.

Whereas the floods of 1342 might claim a total in the high hundreds of thousands, the Plague by the early 1350s could claim into the millions. It’s a tempting conjecture to think that the floods of 1342 (and others in 1343) softened up parts of Europe for the Pest, when it made its first appearance in Europe a few years later.

I had never heard of the Flood of 1342 before today. It came down on a still Malthusian Europe (existing within the “Malthusian Trap”), and was one of several disasters and mass-death-and-disruption events which a long-lived person of the day would live to see, even if 1342 were particularly incredible, reaching twice the high-water-mark as some of the major floods of our era.

We post-Malthusians expect it as our birthright to be forever immune from Nature. We are too good for it. We are geniuses, for we have broken free from Malthus and are masters of our destiny. When natural events do occur, many are willing to embrace a new kind of religion to explain them.

We usually assume pre-modern people thought floods or the like were God’s punishment, and while many still today believe some version of that, the most dynamic type of Western and Westernized person scoffs at the idea, but readily embraces Climate Change, almost replacing the God’s Punishment on Sinful Man idea with close versions of the same using climate-change talk. I could have predicted the kind of stories that are now coming out on the German floods: Some variant of “Climate Change Caused Floods in Europe” is all over.

Lots of people readily believe this (of course wildfires, floods, or earthquakes are caused by Climate Change; what are you, some kind of bigoted nut of little faith? Repent! The end is near!).

There is little need for any persuasion, somehow wanting to believe and not voicing doubts, which are telltale signs of a religion. This is all still true even if/when climate change is “real,” which is the tricky part of talking about this. It seems extremely likely to me that our activities could/would raise global temperature, but the existence of a general civic religion around such a fact is separate.

In brief searching for 1342 flood material, I see someone graphed out major flood events on the Hungarian Danube from 1200 to 1500, long before anyone started burning coal anywhere:

[Lifted from publication by Dr Andrea Kiss, Vienna University of Technology.]

The Big One of 1342 was preceded by earlier ones, and in general it looked like all of a sudden enormous Climate Change was upon the world in the 1340s. Again in the 1390s-1410s there seemed to be floods all the time. Other times years would pass without one.

In my long search for why people so readily embraced destructive Flu Virus Paranoia in 2020, and how the erection of a new state cult around a Forever War Against Flu Viruses came about, I came to think it must be something deeper than a few conspiracy-theory-like rumors and grainy videos of people in hazmat suits in the Chinese interior followed by a mad-scientist’s crazy bell-curve projections of Millions of Deaths. Those things, and the other features of the early Flu Panic, were basically exposition, or at best weak plot points, lifted from any number of Killer Virus or Zombie movies (people are often turned zombie by a virus, after all).

There had to be predecessors to the astonishing social phenomenon to witness of society embracing Flu Virus Paranoia and willing to deal large-scale damage to their own fellow citizens to placate the Flu Virus gods. Was Climate Change was one of these predecessors? I reluctantly conclude that signs point to yes. It was far less successful than the Flu Panic of 2020-21, but at core there are some important similarities. Both sides may overplay their hand but put religion-like certainty into not just the rightness of their positions, but the moral rightness, and the moral need to crush naysayers or skeptics. Certainly this was true of the “Covid” Panic.

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Flooding news reminds me of is my beloved old job, a job I walked away from in my early twenties because I was worried I would get too comfortable and never leave, and felt I had something out there to accomplish, somewhere.

Sometime back there I worked in mapping. One of the big tasks was creation and maintenance of flood maps for insurance purposes and for disaster-planning purposes, so flood news sometimes brings back those memories. FEMA was one of the clients for some of the projects.

There was a lot of money in this flood mapping. The ultimate source of the money I think was taxpayers, for when the client was not FEMA (“federal” tax dollars) they were invariably local or state governments. I didn’t like to think about that part, and instead focused on doing the task as best as we could do it.

At the time we were making maps using the best new techniques, which meant basing them on the fieldwork of a laser contraption known as LiDAR. It was a fun job, I excelled at it, the level of office politics was minimal, and most people seemed happy. I got to listen to audio books much of the day when deep into the map tasks.

I can’t have been the only one to have had the sneaking suspicion that all of our work might be for nothing, if the global warming / climate change people were right. We were drawing ten-year flood lines, fifty-year flood lines, hundred-year flood lines, and what if none of it was applicable to the 21st century?

If I had stuck around there, or if I had successfully gotten my job back after leaving for Korea the first time (the recession of 2009, which lingered into the 2010s, disallowed that; they’d have loved to have had me, as I heard from the directly) I’d have gotten to some position of responsibility there, but as it was, I had little.

I’d love to revisit those maps now, and spot-check how many times flood waters hit the various thresholds (10-year flood line, 50-year flood line, etc.) since we made those maps.

Come to think of it, I wonder how the concept of flood-lines are even handled, now that Climate Change is rather more powerful than it was. The thought that flood-mapping may be a giant wasted exercise in such changing conditions is not a hard insight to make.

bookmark_borderPost-402: “Storming the Capitol” (Jan. 6, 2021)

History-making happens when you don’t expect it.

What to “make” of the occupation of the U.S. federal Capitol grounds, in Washington, in the afternoon and into early evening, Jan. 6, 2021?

My immediate impression. This will be remembered as a major, historic, ‘landmark’ moment in history. A moment ranking with the most historic of my adult lifetime so far.

As a protest, and as protests go, it was a stunning success. The occupation of central government building by unarmed protestors? Wow.

(The Occupation of the U.S. Capitol grounds, Jan. 6, 2021.)

Also a humiliation, if there ever was one, for the U.S. federal government.

The following was written about 48 hours after the event. Thoughts on context for this moment in history, how such as dramatic as this comes to happen, and then some notable scenes from the occupation.

(original: 2000 words) (updated, Jan. 9: now 3300 words.)

Continue reading “Post-402: “Storming the Capitol” (Jan. 6, 2021)”

bookmark_borderThe Two U.S. political hegemonies of our time

On historical trends of our time. I wrote about the general concept yesterday that eras often do not align with their calendar-numbers, with one example arguably being “the 2000s” ending Sept. 2008 with the financial crisis. (Some also argued “The 1960s” really ends with either the Nixon resignation or the evacuation of Saigon, which by calendrical dating were already in the mid-1970s, and maybe it really began about 1964, so at least that’s still a ten-or-so-year decade.)

I want to put digital pen to paper on a related topic again: The thirty-year cycle we are still (?) in.

In February 2020, I read State Dept. figure William J. Burns’ memoir (his career was from 1980 to 2014 and he rose unusually quickly; my comments on his unexplained rapid rise fill the margins of the book). I began to suspect something that had not quite occurred to me before. It was this: The USA was in a long arc that began thirty years ago, specifically in 1990-91, traceable to two landmark events (Rodney King and the U.S. decision to fight Iraq) which do not have immediate precursors at the time. The rest of this post will be an update on this idea including events of the last ten-and-a-half months. I think “2020” validates the thesis, which I published in these pages about one month before the Corona-Panic began, in a big way.

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The two events, the decision to invade Iraq and Rodney King, occurred from late July 1990 to early March 1991, only seven months’ space of time.

The two events were almost trivial in their time and are often not remembered, in and of themselves.

I myself am too young to remember either of them. In the 1990s during my own process of socialization I became aware of them as minor landmark events of the recent past.

[1.] The decision to intervene against Iraq and crush it as a regional power (apparently made by top U.S. officials in late July 1990, according to Burns who witnessed it) set up a long chain process of very-free-hand Mideast interventionism, in a way that the U.S. would absolutely not meddle or intervene or bomb or invade any place in its own hemisphere (anymore), which itself is strange to think about.

When I was in high school I believed the U.S. might invade Colombia, in response to the rebels trafficking drugs there causing trouble. Nothing like that ever happened at all. But meddling in the Midwest over much more abstruse reasons is the norm, is expected, and one hears muted criticism of it. It is a consensus position.

There became an ingrained cultural attitude that The Evil-Doers (to use what I vaguely recall as a George W. Bush phrasing) are out there, and are mainly in the Midwest, so we have to constantly meddle, and attack, and bomb, and use the map as a giant chessboard, or the Evil-Doers win. It puzzles me how this is uncontroversial.

Intervention predates George W. Bush, continued through Clinton, and began with George H. W. Bush, not that the nominal president at any given time was the decisive factor, because they’ve all done it, steadily so, and as I say, seemingly as if a Foreign Policy Prime Directive, beyond the point of possibility of dispute by good people (an enforced consensus). This was much less a story in 2020 than other years, but it never really went away. A much bigger story in 2020 was the second trend:

[2.] The decision (?) to turn to race-demagoguery with the Rodney King incident (traffic stop and arrest of a man high on cocaine) as some kind of regularized, semi-controlled, moral-hysteria process. This functions to unify the regime and its loyalists against the Bad People out there. This strategy was subtle at first but increasingly embraced by Good People, and largely as a matter of course by those born in the 1980s and beyond, especially the Good People therein. Soon the strategy was by the state itself, the state being run by Good People. It was manifestly certain that this was our reality by the 2010s.

The Los Angeles Riots followed the initial Rodney King incident a year later. The pattern was set, and would reach epidemic proportions in the 2010s, and then in May-June 2020. The latter was not the breakout of mass-psychosis that it may have appeared to be, to many, but follows a specific line back to Rodney King. The pattern was: Take a minor, local story of ambiguous nature etc., etc., inflate into national importance, garnish with lies of commission and omission as needed, and riots are okay in pursuit of The Goal (whatever the goal is — but you wouldn’t want to be on the side of the Bad People, would you?).

Even if there are distant ancestors of this strain of domestic politics (most notably, the mid-late 1960s riots), and even though the cultural energies may have been hanging around in the 1980s, they didn’t manifest until 1990-91, and they have been near-hegemonic in our discourse since then, framing our accepted reality (to use academic-esque language).

Later events were faded carbon-copies of the Rodney King case, and they kept getting trotted out, one after another, dominating domestic-news in bizarre ways, and even Orwellian ways.

This all became depressingly in-your-face by 2020, highly demoralizing given that nothing was done against them. (I should know; I witnessed some of these things at their peak, at close range. I showed up. No one knew, at first, that riots were going to happen, but people locked down for months and recently released were ready for some fun; it was the only way young people could gather, all other options disrupted or closed-off to them by the Panic-Lockdown regime(s). I saw open rioting/vandalism/fires, and looting, in front of me. I saw the police stand-down. The rumors were/are true.)

The younger half or so of the population, socialized after Rodney King, thinks it more-or-less normal that this bizarre game is effectively our Domestic Policy Prime Directive.

Some at the top have profound sympathies for their own reasons, with many of them, if not most, even talking themselves into it with the other moral-frenzy-ists.

Whatever the 2010s were, as a decade, and whatever their true beginning and end should be, they seem to me to follow a longer thread that began in 1990-91. I don’t know how much energy this thirty-year historical-cycle has left in it, the Virus-Lockdown-induced, Elite-approved riots of mid-2020, the seeming Apotheosis, and the sudden statue-toppling, all-placenames-are-to-be-replaced mania (always fight the Bad People, no matter what, and if you run out of them, just find more) notwithstanding.

bookmark_borderPost-387: A BBC podcast on the Waco 1993, Koresh cult story; podcast review and thoughts on Waco’s place in history

Losing a pair of gloves I felt particular attached to, I decided I’d be willing to retrace my steps around town. Chances were fair that I could find the missing gloves, as I had in similar cases before. I was committed. I figured the had fallen out of my pocket while I was cruising along on the bicycle.

The glove search failed.

But unexpected good thing have a way of showing up, springing from the bad. I decided to make the best of this perhaps-several-hours-long commitment to carefully and slowly retrace all my steps by listening to a podcast along the way, so as “not to waste the time.” This is how I justified the search to myself. I am not in the habit of listening to earphones in public these days, so this was a conscious decision.

I googled around for a podcast that would make my time worth it. Something new. I came to the BBC podcasts page. The top one I saw was called “End of Days.” I said, Okay, yes, this’ll do. I don’t even have a good working pair of earphones anymore. I have a few freebies from airlines. Only one earphone worked.

Gone forever though the gloves may be, those gloves did give me a final gift, one arguably even better than hand warmth, as without losing them, I’d never have come to hear this really excellent “BBC Five Live” podcast. It’s less about the 1993 Waco incident, more about the personalities involved, a retrospective after 25 years. About 4.5 to 5.0 hours of total listening time; eight episodes. Some impressions and reactions follow in this post. First personal re:Waco, then a long review of the podcast’s contents, then a brief final thought on cults as I encountered them in my years in Korea.

Continue reading “Post-387: A BBC podcast on the Waco 1993, Koresh cult story; podcast review and thoughts on Waco’s place in history”

bookmark_borderPost-386: Thirty Years of Mideast Intervention

It suddenly occurred to me that the endless US interventions in the Middle East familiar to us today really date to August 1990, and have, since that month and the fateful decision made in it, followed on a path set down at that time. August 1990 was the month George H.W. Bush and his foreign policy people decided on the intervention against Iraq in its local war against Kuwait. In other words, there is a traceable ‘genealogy’ of US Middle East interventions that start with the August 1990.

This idea occurred to me suddenly while reading a book called The Back Channel, by William J. Burns, published in March 2019 and recently given to me by my friend Aaron S. The author, Burns, is one of the most significant US State Department figures of the 1990s–2010s whom you’ve never heard of. The chances are fair that he could be sworn in as Secretary of State in Jan. 2021, if a Democrat wins.

Continue reading “Post-386: Thirty Years of Mideast Intervention”

bookmark_borderPost-384: Genealogy research project

I have been spending time off and on the past few months working on a highly research intensive genealogy project. It traces my great-grandfather’s “line” (as the genealogy-ism has it) back several centuries, across New England and back to 1630s Massachusetts. Before that, limited information is available but it seems the original ancestor was a Puritan out of Lincolnshire, England.

It’s been fascinating making new discoveries and connections all along the way.

Continue reading “Post-384: Genealogy research project”

bookmark_borderPost-382: Thirty Pieces of Silver

We use the phrase “thirty pieces of silver” metaphorically in a variety of contexts. I used it today. It is a reference to the betrayal of Jesus by his apostle Judas for which he was paid that sum of pieces of silver.

I got to wondering how much thirty pieces of silver, ca. AD 33 in the Roman province of Palestine, would be worth in our terms, today; what is a reasonable US-dollar figure to attach to it? I spent some time on this and would propose $10,000 (see below).

From a version of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper; Jesus has told the twelve apostles that one of them has betrayed him. Most are in one or another state of shock or anger. Peter, angry, leans over Judas’ shoulder. Judas, slouched over and looking worried, clutches a bag with unknown contents but about large enough to hold 30 pieces of silver.
Continue reading “Post-382: Thirty Pieces of Silver”

bookmark_borderPost-381: Southern California observations; Anaheim, Robber’s Peak, Orange

Nov. 2019: I passed through California for about five days.

(Observations about Southern California with pictures, and some springboarding off of them.)

Places I spent at least some time were: Van Nuys; the Santa Ana River trail in Orange County; Anaheim and “Anaheim Hills;” Orange (the city of); Santa Barbara. On a previous visit (late Aug. 2018), I went to Huntington Beach.

Leaving Southern California, north to Silicon Valley, I spent time in: San Jose; Palo Alto; the Stanford campus; Menlo Park; Redwood City. (Another post, maybe.)

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Friday early morning. I arrive at the airport from points east (Korea, by way of a long layover in Hawaii) and am soon on the bus to LA Union Station. Or am I? I am not. I got on the wrong bus. It was not labeled. It came to the place marked LA Union Station; I decide to take this new opportunity. and follow the shuttle bus where it goes. New destination: Van Nuys.

Continue reading “Post-381: Southern California observations; Anaheim, Robber’s Peak, Orange”