15 December, 2019

In case anyone still reads this thing...

This blog is very old. It began when my wife was hospitalized, close to death, hospitalized after emergency surgery to remove flesh-eating bacteria and the dead tissue surrounding it. Each day, I'd spend what time I could with her (while managing two hours a day on the road, commuting to my job--I was a lot younger then). When I could no longer stay, I returned to our empty house, slept, and first thing in he morning went to visit her before I had to leave for my job. I was desperate for sleep, but it didn't come easy. When I closed my eyes I'd see her. My imagination kept coming up with horrible, painful ways for her to die, and there was nothing I could do to help her but to stay with her and try to project a confidence I didn't feel. We were new in town, disconnected from family and friends. I'd never felt so powerless and alone.

This blog was a combination of journal, distraction, and message-in-a-bottle. It was a way to keep myself occupied until I could calm down enough to get some sleep.

She recovered, slowly. It's years later, and she's more healthy (and more beautiful) than the day I met her. And this blog changed, too. Sometimes it was a place to think things through. Sometimes it was a place to vent my frustrations. Sometimes it was a place to note current events, and provide some commentary. Often it was simply untouched.

I haven't written here for a while. I'm not shutting this down: it's a unique record, and it remains a place for all those varied missions. But one thing I've learned, especially since my retirement, is I'm a "writer." Not just an author--I've been published before, as part of my job, as required by the games of tenure and consulting. Not for money, although I'll be happy to get a few bucks out of my hobby. Not even a journalist, or a blogger. I'm a writer because I have to write. I have to express who I am and what I think and the tell the stories I alone can tell. There's a novel started, and another growing in the back of my mind. In the meantime I'm publishing in places like Medium in the hopes of meeting new people and sparking some intelligent conversations. I'm surprised to learn I can enjoy writing.  It's still work, of course, but it's not a job because it's what I want to do. I'm free to do things my way. It's a little scary to not be driven by someone else's expectations. At first, I worried that without the external direction I'd slow down and vegetate, joining the scores of people staring at the television or some other distraction. But I haven't, and I won't. I'm going to keep writing, and see where it leads me.

If you're curious about where this goes, I'll probably post about it here from time to time. And you you can probably find me in places like Medium. I hope you'll check in here, and there, once in a while. I hope you'll notice if and when my first novel is published. I think--I feel--this is going to be interesting.

30 May, 2019

The Bilderberger Meeting Begins

The 67th Bilderberg Meeting is beginning today, 30 May, in Montreux, Switzerland, and is scheduled to run to June 2nd.  There are reported to be about 130 invitees confirmed from 23 countries.

Needless to say, the conspiracy theorists are besides themselves. They see secret planning events leading to One World Government and a New World Order (damn, these guys like capital letters!) and a general depopulation of the planet. Billions dying! Mind control! Apparent rivals working behind the scenes to attack the common man! Dogs and cats, sleeping together!

Mass hysteria!

Sorry. But it was fun to get that out of my system. And there are conspiracies, always have been. Most of them have failed. The ones that haven't were often working at cross purposes. Seeing a monolith when it isn't there grants the perception of power to people whose greatest power resides in people's perceptions of them. It builds what it claims to be fighting.

If I was inclined to think conspiratorially, I might think the opposition was part of the conspiracy.

And that's why it makes more sense to limit yourself to things that can be seen, and confirmed, and measured. Just because something scares you is no reason to assume it's real. I'd love to see what, if anything, leaks out of this meeting. The fact that these people are selecting themselves as "the elite" (one of them, anyway) is an interesting fact, in and of itself. We can compare what slips out of this meeting with the things that have slipped out over the past sixty-six meetings: white papers, guest lists, agenda items, and so forth. See what's changed, and what hasn't. Make predictions (did ANYONE predict Trump after the prior Bilderberg meeting?) and test them against observations. It's hard to do good work to understand people who don't want to cooperate. Hard, but not impossible.

Then again, Bilderberg meetings may all be Red Herrings. It's not like these people need to get together in a hotel for face-to-face discussions one week a year. I suspect it's more like a professional conference: a place to get away from the office, gossip, and have a few drinks with friends. Maybe even get a little work done, but that's secondary.

It could be an interesting place for some bugs. I imagine the NSA has some there already. The Swiss, too. But I hope there are some from Anonymous. A conspiracy spying on a conspiracy is a good metaphor for our times.

The Bilderbergers in Switzerland

27 May, 2019

Army Gets How-To Guide for Zombie Invasion

Army Gets How-To Guide for Zombie Invasion:

One day in the not-too-distant future, a mindless horde of cannibalistic killing machines will come shambling through the streets of America. And when that day comes, the U.S. Army will be on it faster than you can scream “BRAAIIIINNSS!”

Lucky for us, the Army Zombie Combat Command has put together a nifty manual on how to identify, fight, and kill those murderous mobs of the undead. Soldiers can now add the FM 999-3 Counter-Zombie Operations at the Fireteam Level to their arsenal – “the primary doctrinal reference on conducting fire team sized infantry operations in a Zombie infested environment in the United States.”

And as far as we know, this is the only (non) arm of the service that “guarantees the survival of the United States in the event of any Zombie emergency.”

Danger Room has already provided the civilian guide for the next zombie apocalypse. We’re glad to see such a forward-thinking authority prepare our nation’s troops to counter the next non-existent threat. It’s “based on intelligence collected from various Zombie outbreaks around the world,” so you know it’s reliable.

So how should our enlisted men and women fight the troves of Zombies who threaten to eradicate our species? Well, since every Zombie outbreak is slightly different, this guide is a handy how-to for dealing with unexpected developments.

First, identifying these flesh-eating monsters. Unfortunately, only “qualified medical personnel” can identify Type A infections (the weaker version that only starts the zombie-conversion process upon death). But never fear, the manual has precise instructions for identifying zombies at any stage of their rotten existence.

  • Stage 1, Infection: See someone shivering, vomiting, and whose pupils don’t respond to light or darkness? Quick, kill them immediately. Don’t forget to destroy their brains.

  • Stage 2, Recently Reanimated: Things get slightly trickier in this stage. Key movements to note are staggered walking, arms extended, slight groans. The manual advises immediate neutralization.

  • Stage 3, Active Zombie: This should be the easiest to identify. No body fat, mostly gray, clothing is probably damaged or missing. You know what to do.

Next up, fighting equipment. While your standard M4 is the weapon of choice for counter-Zombie operations, there are multiple think-outside-the-box options. Try a spear (highly recommended, aim for the head), aluminum baseball bat (the shortest melee weapon practical for use against Zombies) or sword (Attention! Decapitated heads can still bite you). But stay away from chainsaws (waste of fuel), pitchforks (not sturdy enough to penetrate the skull) or axes (they have the unfortunate habit of getting lodged in the target).

Next are elaborate instructions on how to regain order and control in a zombie-infested battlefield (this is crucial to due anticipated chaos and separation). Officers can choose from diamond, triangle, trident or file formations. Roof tops, very steep mountains or large trees are ideal defensive points in urban settings. Avoid islands, if possible – zombies will just walk under water and emerge on the other side.

Of course, no manual is complete without a thorough review of terrain and weather. Unfortunately, this section is short – zombies can operate in almost any condition, although they slow down once it dips below zero degrees Celsius. But remember, a frozen Zombie is still dangerous, once it thaws.

Now, this manual is intended for trained soldiers of the United States Army – so don’t rush home to try any of these anti-undead tactics yourself. Unless, of course, your living room has been invaded by a bunch of corpses who want to eat you alive. Then, all we can say is, best of luck.

Murphy’s Laws of Combat

Murphy’s Laws of Combat:

Murphy’s Laws of Combat -- for Memorial Day

[put together by Marines]

If your sergeant can see you, so can the enemy.
If the enemy is within range, so are you.
Incoming fire always has the right of way.
What can be seen can be hit, what can be hit can be killed.
There is no such thing as an atheist in a firefight.

Friendly fire — isn’t.
Recoilless rifles — aren’t.
Suppressive fires — don’t.
Interchangeable parts — aren’t.

The most dangerous thing in the world is a second lieutenant with a map and a compass.

There is always a way.
The best way is never the easy way.
The easy way is always mined.
The important things are always simple; the simple things are always hard.

No combat ready unit has ever passed inspection.
No inspection ready unit has ever passed combat.

No operations plan ever survives initial contact.
There is no such thing as a perfect plan.

Sniper’s motto: “Reach out and touch someone.”
Sniper’s philosophy: “If you run, you’ll only die tired.”

Read more ....

18 April, 2019

Mueller Report

Still browsing the Mueller report. A few tentative conclusions:

(1) Mueller and his group were very professional, and thorough;
(2) The report _would_ have drawn conclusions, but the Office of Legal Council prohibits him from inditing a sitting president. It said that if the weight of the evidence exonerated the president on any charge, they would have said so. They didn't. The best other option was to say they couldn't clear him, they've accumulated significant evidence, and it's up to other people (read: Congress, or other investigators) to take the next step;
(3) The Russian operation to undermine and interfere with the election of 2016 was originally to (a) sow confusion, divide Americans, and wreck American democracy, and (b) keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House. This began long before Trump declared himself a candidate;
(4) The Russians quickly recognized that there was no better disruptor, and no greater threat to American democracy, than Donald J. Trump. They quickly shifted the majority of their support to him;
(5) Trump and people in his circle (including, but not limited to, the official campaign), had long-standing communications and connections to people in the Russian state (both the government and the Oligarchs). Russia saw Trump as someone they could work with for mutual benefit;
(6) There is not sufficient evidence to charge criminal conspiracy in this matter. There didn't _need_ to be a criminal agreement. Russia was doing what it did for its own reasons, the Trump campaign was aware of it, and Trump's people (especially Manafort) were providing information to help them do it.
(7) Manafort was already involved as an agent of Russia for years prior to the Trump campaign. His job, in part, was to install leaders in Western countries who would serve Russian interests. Getting Trump elected was part of his job even before he joined the campaign;
(8) The president actively tried to block the Mueller investigation. He was blocked at several points by his own people. He succeeded occasionally. Either way, he committed several acts of obstruction of justice. Since the OLC prohibits indictments of a sitting president, he passed the evidence to people to do whatever they chose to do next.

A few speculations:
(1) The House can start impeachment proceedings. At the very least, they can open and expand multiple investigations;
(2) If the House has a vote, they will likely impeach the president. It's a political question;
(3) Making it an official impeachment proceeding would probably make it easier to get desired evidence, but once they get the evidence the House may choose not to impeach if they don't want the trial in an election year;
(4) There are no known "tapes" or "smoking guns" to force Republicans to abandon the president. Without that, and with the role of Trumpanistias in the Republican Party, it's unlikely that Trump will be be convicted in the Senate. If there is a major shift in the Senate after the 2020 Senate, but Trump is re-elected, the vote might go the other way.
(5) Whether or not Trump is impeached, he is vulnerable in other ways. He is already an unindicted co-conspirator in one Federal proceeding, and is vulnerable to indictment at the State level today and the Federal level after he leaves office.
(6) Eventually, Trump will be in court. Once there, he will lose. While he may or may not be removed from office, it increasingly looks like

Actually, I don't expect him to die in prison. Manafort will (and deservedly so). Trump will suffer some punishment--loss of properties, perhaps some loss of freedom--but (if he isn't pardoned in the interest of ending the agony) he'll eventually be out. Much as I'd like to see him without money, and without any hope of getting a loan, it's likely he will still have fans stupid and numerous enough to keep enough of the cash flowing to allow him to live in upper-class prosperity. And he'll find someone to ghost-write his version of events. But compared to where he's been, and where he's claimed to be, he'll be just another "loser." He'll find it hard to cope with that, so he'll probably do his best to ignore it. Given his talent for seeing only what he wants to see, plus his age, he may spend his declining years pretending to be "the president," surrounded by a staff that encourages that illusion.

Not that different than today.

07 February, 2019

Markets, politics, and religion

One of the defining questions in global political economy is as old as it is meaningless: what's more important-- politics or economics? You could have a more meaningful discussion of "nature versus nurture," or "structure versus process," or "the chicken or the egg?"

"Politics" and "economics" established themselves, in part, by walling off and ignoring the fact that they are both elements of a larger, codeterminative, whole. What was once "political economy" divided itself into artificial disciplines that maintained the orderliness of the university at the expense of messy, interdependent understanding. (And please don't get me started on sociology and anthropology.) Since then, theorists have emphasized one element over another, setting one concept or relationship as the key to understanding. And it does simplify things, at least in the short term. Marx could start with the mode of production, and everything follows. Morganthau defined the national interest in terms of power, and built his structure on that. Waltz attempted to simplify still farther, making the distribution of power in a system the key to understanding and prediction. Neoclassical economics still begins with the myth of the rational man, and builds an enormous artifice from there.

Reality is more than that. The map is not the territory. The menu is not the meal. When pressed, the best theorists admit that, and talk about necessary tradeoffs. But as we press those maps into our students, or repeat them in our speeches, or assume them in our editorials, we reify.

We pay good money to go to the best restaurant in town, and we eat the menu.

Which brings me to Tucker Carlson. As a rule, I don't watch his show, or pay attention to what he has to say. Anyone on Donald Trump's speed-dial is someone I don't want to know. In fact, one of my favorite moments of live television is when Carlson, "from the right," and his long-time debating partner "from the left" were called on their left/right nonsense in his show on CNN, by none other than guest Jon Stewart:

The show went off the air soon thereafter. Carlson eventually moved to Fox, and polished his act.

But sometimes even Tucker Carlson gets something important. His critique of the American "elite" is on point.
Our leaders don’t care. We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule. They’re day traders. Substitute teachers. They’re just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows. They can’t solve our problems. They don’t even bother to understand our problems.
The idea that families are being crushed by market forces seems never to occur to them. They refuse to consider it. Questioning markets feels like apostasy. Both sides miss the obvious point: Culture and economics are inseparably intertwined. Certain economic systems allow families to thrive. Thriving families make market economies possible.  
You’d think our ruling class would be interested in knowing the answer. But mostly they’re not. They don’t have to be interested. It’s easier to import foreign labor to take the place of native-born Americans who are slipping behind. 
There’s no option at this point. But first, Republican leaders will have to acknowledge that market capitalism is not a religion. Market capitalism is a tool, like a staple gun or a toaster. You’d have to be a fool to worship it. Our system was created by human beings for the benefit of human beings. We do not exist to serve markets. Just the opposite. Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society.
Of course, he can't help but get into an anti-immigrant, culture-war theme as well.  But this particular point is correct: market capitalism (which we don't really have anyway, but we pretend that we do) is too often treated as a religion. And in a globalizing economy, if maximizing profit is the goal, there's no reason for any elite to place the interests of "their country"--the locals, the nationals, whatever you want to call them--ahead of what pays them. People recognize this. And they react: with Trump, with Brexit, with the rising tide of nationalism and protectionism.

And in the process they shoot themselves in the foot. The elites still game the system.  They have the resources and the motive to do it. If the balance sheet tips, they leave and take their assets with them. Even in the most "favorable" circumstances, if there was no place left to go, the people would round up the elites, form a circular firing squad, and shoot everyone.

Fortunately, some of the elites are figuring out that's a solution that hurts them, too. Eventually. So it boils down to how much they discount the future. Can they "cash out" before the casino collapses? "In the long run, we're all dead," Keynes joked. But it can get very unpleasant for everyone before that happens.

Unlike Carlson, I don't think the goal should be to move backwards. We need to have a sense of community, yes, but that community shouldn't be--can't be--Mayberry. It has to have room for everyone. Everywhere. Our telos can't be in preserving the past, but in exploring the future, together.

So how do we do that? American progressives talk about a "Green New Deal," long on goals and short on details. That can be one of the starting points. Trump rallies his troops in opposition to American "socialism" (as if he had any idea what the word means). That can be one of the starting points, too. But both are thinking too small. The economics of the world is global. The politics of these proposals is national. At least the progressive's vision has the potential to be universalized--certainly not now, maybe not soon, but someday. "America First," if it comes down to "America Only," means we've lost before we've begun. And by "we" I mean everyone--Americans and the world.

I seem to have drifted somewhat from the original point. Oh, well, the advantage of a blog is you can post a first draft. Maybe it will prompt a discussion, and I can better figure out what I'm talking about.

05 February, 2019


The president's State of the Union speech is tonight. I have low expectations. Very low expectations. But it's as good a moment as any to report on myself, and where I expect to go next.

So--I've retired. I haven't officially checked yet, but from what I heard last semester I suppose I'm a "professor emeritus" now.

Actually, it wasn't my first choice. Although I feel fine, my Parkinson's Disease had progressed to the point that I couldn't handle the full load of teaching and advising, etc., that goes with the job. An hour of commuting (each way) didn't help. So long as I take my pills and get enough sleep, it's something I barely notice--but when was the last time someone in our business kept to a strict schedule and got nine hours of sleep a night? The good news is I can think, and occasionally write, and I see more of the IR-related stuff in Pittsburgh than I ever could when I was putting in my hours at Slippery Rock. It's a little bit like grad school, but without the pressure.

I was afraid I would just waste the time, while the time wasted me. For a few months, as the inevitable grew closer, I couldn't imagine life without the daily "professor" role.  But four classes a semester, plus advising, plus all the other service to the department and the university that goes with that role, was too much. Parkinson's emerges slowly--at least seven years ago, I suspect, in my case--but it's cumulative. I started taking short naps between classes and appointments (neglecting my research, writing, and other service). Then the naps grew longer. I was hard to stand in front of a class for an hour. I'm sure I wasn't doing my best work. Not by a long shot.

The point where I should have called it off and applied for disability was probably December of 2017. During finals week, there's no chance to take a nap. I made it until my last final exam (the third of the day, in the evening), but when the time came I had dropped to the floor of my office, unable to get up. There's only so much you can ask of your body before it shuts down. I was awake, I was thinking, but my muscles wouldn't work. Fortunately it was one of my advanced classes, and the students had the good sense to come up to my office to remind me where I was supposed to be. I suppose seeing me on the floor shocked everyone. I still couldn't sit up. Of course, they wanted to help. But there really wasn't anything anyone could do. I explained what had been going on, assured everyone that I would work around the problem so nobody's final grade would be affected, and asked them to leave me to get a few hours sleep. After that, I would be ready to pick myself and drive home. They were concerned, of course, and I was embarrassed, but I couldn't see any better options. So they got to finish early, and I slept for slept for three or four hours, and after that my body was ready to get up, walk to the car, and drive to Pittsburgh.

I should have thrown in the towel then, I suppose. But I'm stubborn. I don't like to think I can give my body a reasonable order and it will refuse to obey. And as I regained my strength over the winter break I told myself I could organize things to make everything work. But I couldn't. I made it to May (barely), but I really wasn't doing my job. The Dean (and Human Resources) were kind enough to allow me sick/disability leave, but that was to get me past my 60th birthday, so I could collect on my pension without penalty. My last official day of employment was January 4th of this year. 

Since then, I've been making adjustments. Finances, insurance, all the usual stuff. But the biggest adjustment had to be mental. I don't have to take this as an end to my life's work. If anything, it removes some of the distractions. I can still think, and read, and write. So long as I stick to schedule, take my pills four times a day, and allow myself nine hours of sleep, I actually feel pretty good. I even have the first draft ready of a paper I'll deliver at a conference in March (and I must arrange my sleeping arrangements in Toronto!). My greatest enemy is me: trying to ignore my limitations, or giving in to a temptation to watch a movie when I have better things than TV. Losing myself in the news would be an easy way to remain occupied but unproductive, So I'm not doing that, and I won't do that. (Usually. There's always the temptation to piece together the pieces of the Trump scandals.)

So that's the State of My Union. I'll probably be checking in more here, from time to time, and connecting some of the interesting stuff to Facebook. Social media can easily be another time sink. But it's also allowing me, through "professional" social media, to keep in touch with current and prospective colleagues. I can read more of their work now. I can, and do, contribute. I still have things to say, and I will say them.