Archive for August, 2015

World War II in the Pacific: A 70th Anniversary Retrospective

August 31, 2015


Imagine if England had retained the tradition of knights in shining armour into the mid-1800’s. Imagine if the UK had remained as it was in the mid-1400’s, with a weak king and strong barons. Imagine if Queen Victoria was the first English monarch in seven hundred years to actually rule the United Kingdom. Now, jump ahead fifty years, and imagine what British society might be like half a century later. You now have an idea of what Japan was like at the beginning of the last Century.

Japan was always a militaristic society, in a knights in shining armour way. For almost their entire history this militarism was aimed inwards, with more or less continuous Wars of the Roses style fighting between rival clans and warlords using small armies of samurai, or with indian wars in the north, to pacify the Ainu. Unification of the country in the 1600’s under one chief warlord (Shogun) suppressed the fighting, and converted the samurai to a governing civil service (while not decreasing their militaristic ethos). The rise of a national army, in post-Meiji Japan, gave an outlet for those who yearned for more than trusted places in the bureaucracy. By the start of the 20th Century, Japanese society could still be classified as militaristic, but not in a nostalgic way. Large parts of it embraced the militarism that would later lead Europe into two World Wars.

And now we come to the place where hubris evokes nemesis. In the first essay in this series, the Japanese had gained control of agricultural Taiwan and Korea, and had established a sphere of influence in the Liaodong Peninsula. Occupation of resource-rich Manchuria had earned them the censure of the League of Nations, but no economically important countermeasures. It did, however, kick off continuing clashes with Chinese forces, which the Japanese generally won. If they had stopped there, they might have consolidated, grown, and prospered. They didn’t.

In 1937 the Japanese army in China, which by now was pretty much out of control, exploited, or manufactured, several incidents, that lead to an all out war with the Kuomintang (KMT) government, and a parallel guerrilla war coordinated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). At the start of the war, the Japanese army totaled 17 divisions. By the time of Pearl Harbor, approximately 35 out of 51 divisions, and 38 out of 39 independent brigades were committed in China. Japan managed to occupy a number of the major cities — Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan — but had less luck pacifying the country in between.

The start of the Second Sino-Japanese War threatened Western business interests in China. That, combined with the associated Japanese atrocities against Chinese civilians, well reported by the US Christian missionaries in-country, provided the basis for US support for the KMT. Initially, there were no overt actions against Japan directly. Diplomatic objections were raised. Loans were made available to buy military equipment and supplies for the Chinese army, much of which was delivered through Haiphong, in French Indochina, and thence via rail to Yunnan. So far, the Japanese were still ahead in the game. This lasted for three years.

We now begin a series of escalatory tit-for-tats, each of which, on its own and viewed narrowly, was perfectly logical. The problem was, the Japanese army was bogged down in China. They were looking at a scaled up version of what the US faced in VietNam — a patriotic people, fighting on their own ground, with continuing resupply from an untouchable sanctuary. Ultimately, it would lose somewhere between one and two million casualties there. Probably half of those were suffered by late 1940. The solution was, of course, to close off the resupply. By September of that year French Indochina was in the hands of the neutral Vichy government, and the Japanese tried to get them to close the rail line through diplomatic pressure. They refused, and the Japanese staged an amphibious landing south of Haiphong, as well as moving ground troops across the border at Lang Son, closing the railway. The US reaction was to halt all sales of scrap iron (75% of Japan’s supply), machine tools, and aviation gasoline, one step short of a total trade embargo. This lead the Japanese to make plans to obtain their own oil, by seizing the British oil fields in Borneo, and the Dutch oil fields in Indonesia. They took the next step in July of 1941, by occupying the southern half of French Indochina, putting their aircraft in range of Dutch and UK targets. The US froze all Japanese assets, and instituted a complete trade embargo, including all exports of oil to Japan. The final stage was set.

Throughout all of this, the US demonstrated an almost complete lack of understanding of the Japanese goals and values. In fact, US actions continuously confirmed the Japanese understanding of the West. Immigration restrictions were informally imposed on the Japanese in 1907, and formalized in the Immigration Act of 1924. As early as 1895 the European powers had ganged up on Japan to roll back major provisions of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ended the First Sino-Japanese War. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 limited Japan to the short end of a 5:5:3 ratio in battleships. And now the US was adopting a hard line withdraw from China and then we’ll talk approach. The Japanese were faced with unconditional surrender and acceptance of a second class existence as a client state of a nation that despised them, or a war that might allow them to achieve at least some of their goals, or that might end in ruin for the nation. What’s a proud samurai to do?

Green Thumb Up My Nose

August 30, 2015

Garden Report for 150831

Warm start (upper 80’s) but an autumnal end, with lows in the low 50’s, rain, and gusty winds that blew away the smoke from the burning WA.

Light harvest this week. I think it’s because all the blossoms that would have created the squash and tomatoes were killed off in the heat wave earlier. Things are still flowering, so I have hope for September. There is one young spaghetti squash coming along, about the size of a Nerf football. Sunday afternoon I found another pie pumpkin, still green, hiding in the jungle, but that’s a harvest for a latter day.

The lone amaranth is head-high and just starting to flower. The rest are still knee-high, in leaf harvest/stir fry mode.

One Big Amaranth

The big amaranth is protected by the beans and the shade trees, but the knee-highs on the deck are being beaten about by the winds. I can see where growing this stuff is a lot like growing corn — one good storm could wipe you out.

Amaranth Flower

Harvested three big zucchini and a handful of lemon cukes, plus one lone curved regular cucumber that I don’t remember planting.  A bunch of small tomatoes. Enough lettuce for salad every day. MJ has gone wild with her veggie noodleizer. It’s really a good way to do zucchini. I find if I slice them and cook them, the way my Zucchanite grandmother did, then the seedy interior gets overcooked and the outer bits are underdone. Or the outer bits are overcooked (easy to do), and the centers are way overcooked. The noodleizer pushes the unwanted center bits out the bottom, and the z-noodles are easy to get just right. We’ve been having them raw in salads, or fried with tomatoes (ours) and onions (boughten).

Here’s the latest scoreboard, such as it is.

Week Ending 8/31 Vegetable Count Weight oz Unit Weight oz Total Total Weight lb
Tomato  27 33  1.2  201 21
Bush Buttercup  4  3.2
Zucchini 3 64 21  16 17
Butternut  2  3.2
Cuke  7  23  3.3  18  4.0
Spaghetti  3  7.5
Pie Pumpkin  3  3.7
Beans  –  –  –  –  4.0
Peas  –  –  – 1.0

Grand Total: 64.6lb

This time last year we had 58lbs of produce, and in 2013, as near as I can figure out, we only had about 14lbs, due mostly to the lack of pumpkins.

French Onion Oats

August 27, 2015

About three months ago I wrote about using leftover grilled onions in my oatmeal. The trouble is, waiting for leftovers is a mug’s game, and creating leftovers is too much like cooking for my taste. Enter pre-fried onions, as in French’s French Fried Onions, available wherever fine processed foods are sold. I’m not sure what makes them French Fried — they’re really just fried breaded onion slices. In shape, they’re the onion equivalent of mushroom pieces and stems — the detritus left over from making onion rings. But they are flavorsome, and they keep, and they’re handy for breakfast.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two heaping dinner teaspoons of FFFO’s, small grab handful of shredded cheese for the bottom of the bowl, somewhat larger handful for the top, one cup of broth, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.

Results: Quit edible. Not quite French Onion Soup, but close. I guess if you wanted to you could use a slab of cheese for the top, and stick it under the broiler for a second.

Rating: *****

WA Smokes

August 25, 2015

Our AQI continues to seesaw up and down. On Sunday and Monday it peaked in the 165 range. Today it was only in the 150’s, and tonight it’s down around 90.  Here’s the latest AQI maps and forecast. The AQI Loop is the most useful.

Slow improvement today

Slow improvement today

Sunday night we had a deep red-orange demon moon. Monday it was our familiar silver quarter. And tonight, it’s barely showing through the clouds.

UPDATE: And here’s the WSU AIRPACT-4 smoke forecast.

World War II in the Pacific: A 70th Anniversary Retrospective

August 25, 2015


“World War II” is a collective term, encompassing a number of different conflicts that took place just prior to the mid-20th Century, in a number of different places, involving a number of different combatants, over a number of different durations.

For the US, the war started, with Japan, in 1941. For the UK, the war started in 1939, against Germany. For the USSR, the Great Patriotic War started in 1940, against Germany, with the follow-on Soviet-Japanese War limited to August, 1945. And for the Japanese, the Greater East Asia War began with the Second Sino-Japanese war, between Japan and China, in 1937 and later spread to the Pacific War, between Japan and the US and its allies, from 1941 to 1945.

I’m not going to talk about WWII in Europe. The European War is much more straightforward, one might even say traditional. The ruler of a country (Hitler) embarked upon a program of conquest through a war of choice. With a different ruler, one can argue, Germany would most likely not have gone to war. From that standpoint the European War serves to validate the Great Man theory of history. On the other hand, the Pacific War is fascinating because it can be attributed to the inevitable clash of cultures and national objectives, the Blind Forces of History. No one man pushed the Japanese into what one author calls the war they could never win. It was the Japanese (and American) view of themselves (and the world), that caused it.

As I said in an earlier essay, most Americans have this vague  notion that Japan woke up one morning and decided to attack Pearl Harbor.  I mean, it was a dull Sunday, and they still didn’t have cable TV, right? Of course it was more complex than that.

Around the world, the late 19th and early 20th Centuries saw a burst of New Imperialism, mostly on the part of European nations and the US. In the Scramble for Africa, the UK, France, Germany and Italy carved up those parts of the continent not already colonized. At the same time, the defeat of China in the Opium Wars allowed the UK, France, Germany, and Russia to establish spheres of influence there. Japan got some concessions out of it, but was treated as a decidedly minor partner. The US was not as imperialist as the other countries, possibly because it was still busy colonizing the lands between St Louis and San Francisco, but it still managed to come into possession of Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and of course earlier it had used the armed might of its Black Ships to force Japan to open up to the West.

The lesson was clear:  If you didn’t want to be a colony, you had to be a modern, industrialized nation.  And to become an industrialized nation, you had to have resources, either your own or from your colonies. 

Japan, a backward and resource-poor nation, learned that lesson well, at the hands of Oliver Hazard Perry. As soon as they felt up to it, they set about becoming both modern and industrialized, which meant acquiring colonies.

Between 1894 and 1910 they fought one war with China and another with Russia, as well as engineering several short-of-war incidents*, in order to transform Korea from a Chinese vassal state to a Japanese colony. Along the way they succeeded in getting China to grant them control of the Liaodong peninsula but the major European powers ganged up on them and forced them to give it back. This was one more example, if they needed one, that European nations still looked down on all Asians, and that Japan would not get any respect from Europeans unless they forced it out of them.

The Russo-Japanese war was a disaster for Japan. They won every battle. They drove the Russian field armies back and back, from one well-prepared defensive position to another. They bottled the Russian Pacific Fleet and another Russian army into the area around Port Arthur, at the end of the Liaodong peninsula, and forced a surrender after a year-long siege. Five months later the final disaster occurred — the Battle of Tsushima. There, the Japanese fleet utterly destroyed the Russian Baltic Fleet, and brought an end to the war.

Why was this highly successful war an ultimate disaster? Because the Japanese military came to believe they were the equal of any of the Western powers, that the army that destroyed the Tsarist  armies, 4,000 rail miles from their home bases, and the navy that destroyed the Tsarist navy, 18,000 nautical miles from its home ports, in 1905, could prevail against Britain and the US in the 1940’s.

The Japanese came to believe that they were destined to become the dominant power in Asia, superseding both China and the West. No-one believed this more than the Japanese Army. They, more than any other group came to see this as what Americans would call their Manifest Destiny. Not only was Japan now technically and industrially equivalent to the West, they felt they were also morally superior as well.

At home, the Army terrorized all who stood in their way. Assassination was a time-honored solution to problems of opposition**, and they, or their supporters, murdered recalcitrant generals, admirals, and politicians, even Prime Ministers. Abroad, with Russia cowed, the Army-dominated government continued their efforts to subdue China. As Allied participants in WWI they gained control of former German colonies across the Pacific, and in China they unsuccessfully attempted to push out their Western allies as part of their 21 Demands.

In 1931 the Japanese army engineered the Mukden incident, and used it to justify seizing all of Manchuria and establishing the vassal state of Manchukuo, a 100% Japanese creation, three times the size of the Japanese home islands (with over ten times the arable land), known today primarily for its exports of postage stamps.

But in 1937 the Japanese Army committed a fatal error, one that lead ultimately to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They started a land war in Asia.


*As with the US over the last fifty years, the Japanese used at least 17 incidents — violent events in China, some staged, some false flag operations — as excuses to increase military intervention there.

**In the clan conflicts of the late 1500s, which lead up to the unification of Japan, eight major figures fell to assassination, including Oda Nobunaga, and his brother, and the father, and grandfather of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

August 23, 2015

Garden Report for 150824

Warm start (upper 80’s), cool end (upper 70’s), Beijing levels of air pollution in between (AQI 287). Don’t know if it helps plants to get their carbon in the form of airborne ash from 100 miles away, but if it does, the rest of the year should be great.

Did a major harvest sweep today. The spaghetti squash and the buttercupnuts seem to have stopped growing, so I harvested them, plus all tomatoes with any color to them.

Rounding up the squash

Rounding up the squash

Once again, I neglected my long beans, and they’ve gone all dried-beany on me. Found another monster Zucchini, so MJ wants to make more Z-spagh.

Harvested a bunch of Amaranth leaves and stir-fried them with garlic. Very earthy taste, as in “it tastes like fried dirt”. I’ll make one more effort, adding a bunch of unintelligible Indian spices, and then we’ll wait for the popcorn-like seeds.

Here’s the latest scoreboard.

Week Ending 8/17 Vegetable Count Weight oz Unit Weight oz Total Total Weight lb
Tomato  36 52  1.4  201 21
Bush Buttercup  4  51  12.7  4  3.2
Zuccini 3  44  15  13 13
Butternut  2  51  25.5  2  3.2
Cuke  5 21  4.2  11  2.5
Spaghetti  3  120  40  3  7.5
Pie Pumpkin  3  3.7
Beans  –  –  –  –  4.0
Peas  –  –  – 1.0

Grand Total: 59.1lb

This time last year we had 28lbs of foodstuffs, about a third of which was cabbage, which didn’t do well in this year’s heat. In 2013, there was not enough to report on.

WA Smokes

August 22, 2015

Not drugs. The wildfires along the east slope of the Cascades have been dumping smoke over to our side of the state. Here’s a MODIS shot from yesterday (21 August).

Red areas are active fires

Red areas are infra-red detected active fires


On the ground. Driving into Spokane, this is what it looked like:


Looking NorthEast

Eighteen hours later we were all clear, but you could still smell the smoke.


Looking SouthWest

Pretty much kept all the attendees at WorldCon 2015 inside.

Ramen alla Marinara Dashi Tonno

August 20, 2015

When I write about cooking, it’s mostly about oatmeal. Sometimes it’s about things you can put into oatmeal. And sometimes, not often, it’s about things you can put into things you put into oatmeal. This is one of those times.

I’ve written before about dashi, the seaweed/tuna broth that’s the basis for much Japanese cooking. I’ve even written about using it in oatmeal. This recipe is about using the leftovers.

As all followers of this blog know, the best way to make dashi at home is to soak one 2×2 slice of kombu seaweed, along with half a package of dried, shredded, katsuobushi tuna, in a quart of water overnight. In the morning, you heat it to the steaming point, remove the kombu, and let it cool. Then you strain out the katsuobushi, reserving it for other uses, and store the dashi in the fridge until the urge for miso cocktails strikes.

Well, one night I was just getting ready to heat the dashi mix for the next morning’s breakfast while wondering what I could do about dinner. MJ was off learning how to be a better judge of dogs, so I could experiment. There was a quarter jar of marinara sauce in the fridge that was going to go off soon. Suppose I mixed the katsuobushi tuna scrapings with the marinara sauce and put it on spaghetti? Suppose I mixed the katsuobushi tuna scrapings with the marinara sauce and put it on ramen? That would keep the Japanese influence strong, and I just happened to have half a case of ramen left from the last time I was in college.*

Setup: After leaving the dashi mix in the fridge overnight pour the entire works, broth, katsuobushi tuna, and kombu seaweed, into a two quart pot. Heat until steaming. Remove the kombu (don’t eat it, it’s like eating a wet suit ) and add a package of ramen. Ramen that is fresh-rolled by your obaa-san is best, but instant cup ramen is OK. Keep the mixture just below a simmer for five minutes. Strain the liquid — dashi plus ramen-starch — into a container. Dump the remaining ramen noodles mixed with katsuobushi tuna flakes into a bowl and cover with hot marinara sauce.

Results: Not bad. More like a good ramen lunch than a dinner. The ramen was a little dry-tasting (not crunchy-dry, just like it had soaked up all the marinara liquid). I’d do it again, but with more marinara, and, yes, spaghetti instead of ramen. The tuna mixed in nicely, for the most part. Be sure to divide up any clumps before you sauce it.

Rating: *****





Green Thumb Up My Nose

August 16, 2015

Garden Report for 150817

Hot start but a cool end. Two days at 100F, and then the front passed, with 40kt winds, and Saturday peaked at 77F.

Big harvest this week. Picked 64 tomatoes, totaling over 6 pounds. Turns out I was wrong about last week’s mulimato. I got another one this week — 12oz — so I dug down into the jungle to check on what it was (I am of the age that if I want to remember something I have to forget something else, and what I planted where doesn’t make the cut). It’s a Yellow Brandywine, well known for large fruit. Except I’ve never had a Brandywine of any kind actually produce large fruit. I may be forgiven for last week’s mistake, because this one also looked like six small tomatoes fused into one. So far the flesh has been a little mealy and the flavor only so-so. The yellows on the deck are Lemon Boys. They are normal sized, and tart. No more Yellow Brandywines for me. Interestingly, the standard Brandywines, right next to the Yellows, are coming in at about 3oz each.

Speaking of monsters, I found two monster Zucchini hiding in the jungle, almost two pounds each. I realize that isn’t monster as far as Zucchini go — gardeners in the UK are proud of growing ones you can live in, if you don’t have a lot of possessions — but it’s way bigger than I want. Sliced them up and stuck them on the dehydrator for my famous Z-dust oatmeal. A third one was more normal, and we’ll probably salad that one.

Also harvested several feet of long beans, some of which had already started to mature into their dry bean state. Looks like I’ll have to keep after them on a daily basis. On another note, we haven’t been eating our green beans fast enough, and some of them have gone off. The usual advice is to freeze them, but the freezer is so packed we’d have to freeze them individually and poke them into the crevices. Everybody’s out of town for pre-Labor Day vacations so I can’t even give them away.

Planted some more amaranth and greens in Section 3, plus a bunch of thyme in Section 4. I’ll use that as a cover crop into the winter.

Here’s the latest scoreboard.

Week Ending 8/17 Vegetable Count Weight oz Unit Weight oz Total Total Weight lb
Tomato  64  132  2.1  165 17.8
Zuccini 3  86  29  10 10.3
Cuke  6  1.22
Pie Pumpkin  3  3.7
Beans  –  –  –  –  4.0
Peas  –  –  – 1.0

Grand Total:30.5lb

This time last year we had 26lbs of foodstuffs, about a third of which was cabbage, which didn’t do well in this year’s heat. In 2013, there was not enough to report on.

Zucchini Oats

August 13, 2015

Get a cup of coffee, because this will take a while.

It’s high summer and the Zucchini are running, a relentless green tsunami that will soon carry away kitchen counters, refrigerators, freezers, wharfs, boats, and small homes. One can eat only so many Zucchini casseroles, one can add only so many to salads, one can give only so many to friends, and one can take only so many to church on Sundays. Besides, some churches have started warning their parishioners to lock their car doors. What to do, what to do?

Let’s try dehydrating them! Turn them into veggie-crisps! We have this Primo Dehydro thing that MJ uses to turn hot dogs into doggie treats. Let’s use it for other things, like Zucchini.

Easier said than done. Well, than done usefully. If you add oil, as some recipes would have you do, you end up with something best described as vegetable jerky. Like flavored bits of leather. Like, well, dwarfbread. Dwarfbread, for those who don’t know, is Pratchett’s answer to Tolkien’s lembas waybread, and serves the same purpose, as food for travelers. One bite of dwarfbread, and you find you weren’t nearly as hungry as you thought you were. Two bites, and you realize that it’s possible to go all day without taking another bite. Dehydrated Zucchini with oil is like that.

Dehydrated Zucchini without the oil tastes like little rounds of cardboard to which FDA Zucchini Flavor #7 has been added. But remember our motto “No ingredient is so bad that it won’t improve a dish of oatmeal.” So, here’s the plan:

  1. Take a largish Zucchini, say about a pound, and slice it into 1/8th inch rounds. Add a little salt, to bring out the moisture.
  2. Dry on the dehydrator of your choice. Six hours at 125F should do it. Your pound of 2″ diameter rounds is now down to about an ounce of 1/2″ diameter treats.
  3. Dump the treats into a small food processor and run for a minute or two. It will grind down into a granular mix with a largish proportion of 1/8″ chunks.
  4. Dump the grains and chunks into an electric coffee or spice grinder, set to fine. Grind for about a minute. You will come out with something under three measuring tablespoons of fine Z-Dust.
  5. Add this Z-Dust to your morning oatmeal, to taste. Remember, that’s a whole Zucchini’s worth of fiber there, and that it originally held almost a pint of water. Your oatmeal should be a little thin, going in.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of broth, salt, Zucchini powder to taste.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the Zucchini powder about a minute before it’s done, and the potato when you take it off the stove.

Results: Very good. Even my wife liked it. It’s what Zucchini would taste like if it were a root vegetable. A pat of butter helped, and it’s best eaten hot. As it cools, the Zucchini flavor becomes much stronger, and the bitterness of the skin starts to come through. I think it would make an excellent side dish at dinnertime, and you only have to clean four pots and appliances afterwards.

Rating: *****

My two cents on Trump

August 12, 2015

In 2008 the Republican Party suffered a massive nervous breakdown. This happened as a result of them unexpectedly losing an election that everyone but them knew they were going to lose. The fact that they were, to echo a Churchillian phrase, both beaten and puzzled, shows how tenouous their grip on reality was in the first place. Their loss was not only unexpected but it was a loss to a Democratic candidate who embodied everything they were against, everything they hated — a vast collection of traits perhaps best summarized in a single word “Uppity“. That sudden exposure to reality drove them absolutely stark, staring, barking mad.

How mad? Well, mad enough to think about sabotaging their own country. In their efforts to ensure that Obama was a one-term President, they did their absolute best to trash the economy. We know how to get out of a recession, even a Great Recession: the government spends money. Lots of money. During the Great Depression, Roosevelt’s biggest blunder is generally acknowledged to be cutting back on the spending too soon. But that didn’t matter. Now that Uppity was in the White House, the GOP switched from running some of the largest deficits in history to whining that anything other than a balanced budget would undermine the economy, the solidity of the dollar, and probably the sanctity of marriage as well.

How mad? Well, mad enough to to go insane over a non-existent gun control threat. Democratic Presidents are generally for gun control but are unable to do much about it. Carter was. Clinton was. But there were no loud-mouthed, wool-hatted, rednecked, right-wing extremists patrolling outside of their speaking engagements carrying firearms in support of the Second Amendment and comparing them to Satan, or Carpathia, or other Biblical figures. Mad enough to believe that a multi-state training exercise like Jade Helm was an attempt to take over Texas and steal their guns.

How mad? Well, four years later the GOP ran essentially the same campaign, with, OK not the same candidate but with his ideological and intellectual clone, expecting that this time they’d really win, and of course they lost, again.

But that’s history, even if it’s recent history, and even if there are people who still don’t have a home or a job, or a future because of the events of 2008 and the GOP’s actions afterwards. Let’s not sweat the small stuff. Let’s look to the nation‘s future. Let’s consider what’s happening with the GOP primary campaign in 2015. As satirist P.J. O’Rourke said last June about the possible candidates, they are all pygmies (to be fair, he’s including Clinton and Biden as well).

That’s not a list of presidential candidates. That’s a list of congressionally appointed members of a bipartisan blue-ribbon commission named to look into a question of pressing national importance such as “paper or plastic?”

Of course, the stand-out amongst them is Donald Trump. Everyone agrees he has no chance of getting the nomination, but he is certainly getting the attention. On the home page of yesterday’s Washington Post online there were seventeen headlines dealing with the Presidential race (some were repeats under different headings). Seven of them were about Trump. The New York Times online edition had nine mentions of Trump, and seven mentions of all other campaign personalities. Of course, a mention doesn’t have to be political. Three of the NYT mentions of Trump were various headers on Stephen Colbert’s Night Show. But the fact remains, that Trump is sucking up the lion’s share of the coverage. And that’s good for the GOP.

It’s good for the GOP because they are all pygmies. They are all failures, at business or government, or life. Each one of them has some one useful trait that has propelled them into the ranks of serious candidates. Not one of them has a collection of traits that would make a good President. And where they fall short, where their vision fails, they fall back on the tried and true GOP policy positions that lost the last two elections. They blow on their dog whistles until their lips are chapped, but gently, discreetly, and not in a way that might cause people to think they were extremists, or incompetents, just loud enough to alert the base. And then along came Trump.

Trump isn’t saying anything that any of the others don’t believe, he’s just saying it louder, with more bombast and bravado. He’s giving them political cover, making it possible to say the un-sayable, as long as they do it discreetly, and not like him.   But there’s more to it that that.

There’s a concept called the news hole. It refers to the fact that there is only so much time on national television news, only so much space on the front pages of national newspapers, only so much time available for reading even the most insightful of blogs. There’s even, and I know this is hard to believe, a limit on how much can be covered in one 24hr cycle of talk radio. And if it doesn’t get covered, then by definition, it’s not news. Every day editors of one stripe or another must decide what goes in and what goes away. It’s the basis for content analysis, a concept going back at least to the OSS exploitation of German newspapers in WWII.

By hogging the limelight, by filling up the news hole, Trump has limited the media’s ability to ask penetrating questions of the real candidates. You can see this in the numbers for the first debate, where even bleed’n Megyn Kelly was guilty of spending too much time on Trump, and not enough time on the other candidates. You can see it today on the home pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times. Even The Economist, no chaser-after of glib headlines, with five US Presidential campaign articles on the first page of their Politics section, mentions Trump twice and leads with his picture on a third article.

Of course, questions do keep being asked. Insightful questions like: Is Trump serious? Is there a way to beat Trump? Will Trump really pick Sarah Palin as his running mate? Sometimes they are even asked of the candidates: Mr. Candidate, how would you respond to Trump’s characterization of illegal immigrants?

Very few are the probing kinds of policy questions that would expose these pygmies for what they are. And that means that whoever gets the GOP nomination, almost a year from now, will have had a year to skate on the hard questions, will have dodged a year’s worth of scrutiny.

That’s the gift that The Donald is giving to the GOP, and they should be grateful.

Opera Browser: The Long Farewell 4

August 11, 2015

My Opera browser has become less and less compatible with more and more websites, until I find myself reduced to using it as an RSS reader.

Even Opera doesn’t like Opera anymore. Their revenues are down, even counting the more (one cannot say highly anymore) popular mobile browser. A recent report says they are considering a sale of the company. So this time next year, Opera may be a brand and a logo, but no longer a browser. My guess is that Opera will go the same way FoxPro did — bought out and abandoned as a brand and a product, with its components included in Microsoft Access.

Another Century

August 11, 2015

Yesterday hit 106 views, for the second Century ever in the history of this egoblog, and this time I can see why. Someone, possibly on a IRC chat room, found Girls und Panzer, liked the article, and devoured the rest of the GaruPan content. There were 37 hits on GaruPan articles, tying the Home Page / Archives views. They even rolled over to my wargames site and took a look at the PSVita game articles. Well done, GaruPan. Well done.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

August 8, 2015

Garden Report for 150810

The weather was warm but not hot (83F +/-5), but high winds and low humidity kept us in a Red Flag warning for fire the first half of the week. Temperature 12″ down in Section 1 was 75F at the start of the month.

Long beans getting longer

Long beans getting longer

Finally cleared out the green beans, harvesting about two poundsworth. I’ll replant with peas, and maybe amaranth. The long beans are coming … along …. About ten inches now, 26″ or so to go. Zucchini are doing well, but still no sign of summer squash. Don’t know what happened to them. I’ve planted a couple in a new container, so we’ll see if we can’t get some late summers out of them.

Our banana pepper struggles valiantly on, producing one pepper per month. The yellow bells out front are still green.

Tomatoes are hitting their stride, both in the garden and the containers. I’m going to have to shore up the tomato cages in the garden, they are starting to tilt.


Not A Multimato

What I thought was the yellow tomatoes in the garden having a fit of lycoperscian solidarity and all banding together in one 20oz fruit turns out to be one largish Yellow Brandywine. It still looks like six small ones. As for the rest, we’re averaging something under 2.0oz each, with six 3oz monsters harvested this week.


Here’s the latest scoreboard.

Week Ending 8/10 Vegetable Count Weight oz Unit Weight oz Total Total Weight lb
Tomato  37  59.88 1.7  103 9.5
Zuccini 3  41  13.7  9 8.41
Cuke  5  19.3  3.9  6  1.22
Pie Pumpkin  3  3.7
Beans  –  23.6  –  –  4.0
Peas  –  – 1.0

Grand Total: 27.8lb

This time last year we had 26lbs of foodstuffs, about a third of which was cabbage, which didn’t do well in this year’s heat. In 2013, there was not enough to report on.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

August 2, 2015

Garden Report for 150803

The weather this week started off pleasantly cool (72F), and showery, but ended up hot and dry with three days in the low 100’s. That’s good for the ripenings, but bad for setting more fruit.

Harvested almost a pound of green beans early in the week. Probably another poundsworth available by the end of next week, which I think will wrap up the beanfest. Pinquentos haven’t started producing yet, but those are dry beans, so I won’t have any results until October. Finally started harvesting tomatoes in the main garden, mostly Brandywines. Meanwhile, the main garden has produced two Buttercup squash, while the containers have produced four, all hanging from the tomato cages. Main garden also has one Delicata and two Spaghetti squash coming along. The Spaghettis are also hanging from the tomato cages. Don’t know what it is with squash and climbing things this year.

At least they won't get ground-rot

At least they won’t get ground-rot

Meanwhile, we’re experimenting with drying stuff. Our home dehydrator system will reduce a medium Zucchini to a cup of leathery chew-toys overnight, while dumping six hours of 125F air straight into the house. First attempt was matchstick size, what reduced down to hairlike threads. Second attempt was finger sized, and that reduced down to matchsticks. Final attempt was slices, done outside, overnight. Results were better, but were still just vegetable jerky. Probably save the dehydration option for if we become really overwhelmed with squash.* Otherwise, MJ will continue to use it to turn hot dogs into dog treats. UPDATE: I have found that it’s possible to soak them in water overnight and cut them up for a salad.

Remnants of a once proud Zucchini

Remnants of a once proud Zucchini

Here’s the latest scoreboard.

Week Ending 8/03 Vegetable Count Weight oz Unit Weight oz Total Total Weight lb
Tomato  21  54.4  2.6  66 5.8
Zuccini  1  12 12  6 5.85
Cuke  1  3.5  3.5  1  0.22
1  15  15  2  2.1
Beans  –  12  –  –  2.5
Peas  –  – 1.0

Grand Total: 17.5lb


*Normally, MJ would take them in for our friends at church, but they’ve started locking their car doors during the service.

Peak Hubbert

August 1, 2015

So oil prices are down and production is up and people are looking at the Hubbert curve and saying “Where is your King now“? It’s probably a good time for a quick summary of my understanding of the situation.

Hubbert wrote his initial paper (.pdf)  in the middle of a twenty-year run of steady oil prices — around, say $25/bbl at todays prices. At the time, the US was the biggest producer of oil, but it was not so big that it could control the market. There were enough other suppliers, and demand was still low enough that changes in US production had little impact. So for all intents and purposes he was dealing with a fixed price. Note that throughout this period, no-one had tested the boundaries of this situation.

Hubbert was talking about a physical quantity, the amount of oil in the ground, given the facts known at the time, and the rate at which it will be recovered. It’s interesting to note that he never uses the words “price” or “cost”, although he does mention the possibility of new technologies.

So the Hubbert Curve says that with a fixed supply and a fixed price, you will recover the easy oil first, up to some peak, and then your fixed price will only allow you to recover smaller and smaller quantities as time goes on.

In the almost sixty years since his first paper, two major changes have occurred. First, is the massive increase in demand, and the associated increase in price per barrel. Second, are the technologies that the higher prices make profitable.

Note that the increased price (constant dollars) associated with the increased demand implies that the oil isn’t all that easy to get. If it were, we’d still be exploiting $25/bbl sources. So what Hubbert really was writing about was peak cheap oil.

As Hubbert’s detractors have noted, new technologies, like deep ocean drilling and shale fracking have made more oil available, but this is done at some technological price. This year’s slide in oil prices is causing a shakeout in the fracking industry, with many companies going bankrupt, because the technology isn’t profitable at a mere $50/bbl.

Do The Math has a good summary of the situation at the end of the last decade, and a discussion of the  current state of play of physical production (and many of the many comments are worth reading). I’d also recommend his discussion of our current trajectory of heating up the planet, a thermodynamics discussion that has nothing to do with global warming. TL;DR version: at a 2.3% growth rate of energy use, be it solar or nuclear, within about 400 years the surface of the Earth will become uninhabitable, mostly due to waste heat. Now 400 years is a long time, but it’s  certainly within the lifetime of a major civilization (It’s about the amount of time since the Jamestown Colony).