Tuesday, October 03, 2017

What's it take to make an assault rifle "full auto"? Not so much ...

When you hear the NRA and is political clients say it's hard to get guns that will fire full auto, check out bump stocks, paper clips, and other ways to make an AR-15 fire full auto, or close enough. It will be interesting to see whether Paddock managed to get "real" fully automatic weapons or some of these variations. As if it would make any difference to the victims.

Mass Shooting at a Concert in 1903 - After Las Vegas, Republishing My Notes on the Winfield Massacre

This is excerpted from one of my Shadowland columns for Newsweek in 2003. I reread it this morning in light of the Las Vegas massacre, but also remembered Trump’s past remarks about how terrorism supposedly was eliminated in the Philippines ... 

The down-home massacre in Winfield, Kans., took me by surprise when I came across it the other night while reading up on the history of this small town near the Oklahoma border.

I'm in the middle of researching a novel about terror in the American heartland, but the story of Gilbert Twigg got me thinking about the cost of being an occupying nation.

Here's the tale. One fine summer evening just 100 years ago, Gilbert Twigg "deliberately fired into the crowd of promenading people, at Ninth Avenue and Main Street, as Camon's Band was in the midst of its regular weekly concert." Six people died that night, and four more in the following days. Many more were injured. Described in earnest detail by correspondents of The Winfield Courier, the scene of Twigg
Gilbert Twigg
 emptying his shotgun and rifle at the bustle-and boater-clad crowd unfolds like a production of "The Music Man" interrupted by a rampaging Rambo. "At the first shot fired, Clyde Wagoner's horn was shattered in his hand and at the next, Rev. Oliver fell from his chair on the band stand. It would beggar fancy to attempt to describe the suffering of the injured, and the sight of prominent young businessmen dying in pools of their own blood made strong men turn aside their heads. A handful of brains on the pavement in front of the Craig book store, with young Dawson [Biliter] laying within a few feet in a pool of his own blood, is a representative picture of the vengeance meted out to an innocent public by the demented man.

"After firing his first two shots, Twigg arose and each time he fired he took a step backward, until he was in the alleyway back of Craig's where he came face-to-face with night watchman George Nichols and Cal Ferguson, who out of the crowd of several thousand people, were the only men who displayed any disposition to follow the veritable human canon [sic], and then still believing himself innocent and the victim of plotting enemies, Twigg took his own life, rather than be taken alive."

Twigg, we can infer, was a paranoid. He was also an Army veteran of the American military occupation of Cuba and the Philippines that began four years before. "His military training came in good play," wrote the Courier. "He chose the one evening of each week when most people congregate in a central place, he chose the spot from which to fire with the skill of a general; he commenced firing at a range of about 125 feet from the band stand; he dropped on one knee at each fire, then retreated backward, while reloading, then dropped on his knee again and fired. These are the skirmish line tactics of the army...."

Of course, nobody remembers the Winfield massacre today. Just as most people don't remember the savage wars--what Rudyard Kipling called "the savage wars of peace"--in which Gilbert Twigg enlisted. The people of the Philippines, it turned out, did not welcome American occupation after the Spanish-American War, and "the deteriorating situation provoked an ugly reaction among some American soldiers, who committed atrocities such as torturing prisoners," according to "For the Common Defense," a scholarly history of the U.S. military by Alan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski. "The final pacification campaigns on Samar and in Batangas were brutal. The ghastly massacre of a U.S. infantry company in Balangiga, Samar, in September 1901 whipped Americans into a vengeful fury." How could these people be so ungrateful? Some hawks, who were known more forthrightly as "imperialists" in those days, blamed "false humanitarianism" for the debacle, and a general known as "Hell Roarin' Jake" Smith was dispatched to carry out a scorched-earth campaign. What were called "concentration camps" became a vital part of the strategy in those days, just as "strategic hamlets" would be important in Vietnam. ... (The column continues with the theme of occupation)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Remembering James Dickey on Father's Day

Thanks to Alex Ashlock and WBUR's "Here and Now" for re-posting—on Father's Day—this 2013 interview about James Dickey's life and his Complete Poems.

Chris and James on the ferry from Dover to Dunkerque, 1954
I also posted several previously unpublished family photos on our Our Scrapbook.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Two Very Different Stories About Race and Hate in America

The Hellfighters Who Cut Down Germans and Gave France Jazz

What the 369th had that set it apart was strong leadership by black officers as well as white— and the best damned band in the American Army.


This History Channel video tells the tale of Harlem Hellfighters in combat and draws on the graphic novel by Max Brooks, but, oddly, doesn't mention James Reese Europe and the powerful role played by his music.

Inside the Head of Dylann Roof, Jihadist for White Hate

Never-before-reported documents about Roof's psychological exams give us a look deep inside the 'logic' of this murderous white supremacist—and terrorists everywhere.


The Macron Files: Superstar, Shooting Star, or Black Hole?

France's new president, Emmanuel Macron, has made quite an impression since his election less than three weeks ago. But his greatest accomplishments have been on the proscenium of international politics, upstaging Presidents Trump and Putin. At home he's already facing scandals that seem to give the lie to his promise of squeaky clean government. So, it's too early to tell if he'll remain a superstar, is just a shooting star, or like his predecessor François Hollande will become a black hole in the French political firmament. But here, for the record, are several of my pieces about him from the last couple of months. 

A post shared by Nomfup (@nomfup) on

Macron Handed Putin His A**, These Outlets Tried to Save It
At 64, Putin's a quarter century older than Macron, and he looked lost and frustrated next to the outspoken 39-year-old French president.



Macron Gets Under Putin's Skin, Shows Up Trump
Like Donald Trump, if Vladimir Putin thought the new boyish French president would roll over, he was in for a big surprise when they met for the first time at Versailles on Sunday.


Here's How World Leaders Are Learning to Handle Donald Trump
Small concessions, flattery, simple language, cultivation of his advisors, a united front, and low expectations are key to managing the U.S. bull in the global china shop.


Macron's Man on Terrorism
The professor Marine Le Pen loathes and the jihadists want to kill hopes that France can break out of the cycle of fear and hate promoted by both ISIS and xenophobic populists.


Emmanuel Macron Vanquishes Marine Le Pen

An Obama-friendly centrist has just crushed a pro-Trump right-winger to become the next French president. But ... who is this outsider with all the inside connections?


Did Macron Outsmart Campaign Hackers?
While it's still too early to tell, so far the big document dump by hackers of the Macron campaign has not been damaging.


Le Pen Vanquished in Final French Debate
The final French presidential debate—the only head-to-head between centrist Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen—ended in a clear defeat for the far-right populist.


Fighting Back Against Putin's Hackers

Emmanuel Macron isn't just fighting a neo-fascist in his race for the French presidency. He's battling some of Vladimir Putin's most savvy hackers, too.


France's Centrist Candidate Bans RT
The centrist running against Marine Le Pen to become the next president of France has denied credentials to Moscow's 'propaganda organ' as reports of Russia's efforts to undermine him grow.


French Far Right and Center Face Off
Trump's tacit endorsement of France's far right may have backfired, as France's centrist candidate took the lead in the first runoff. But Le Pen is still standing.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Antarctica

This is an excerpt from a long, unpublished piece I wrote about Jacques-Yves Cousteau in 1993 after interviewing him multiple times over the previous four years. With Antarctica now conspicuously imperilled, it may be of particular interest.

... Cousteau took a long time to realize the political potential of his fame, and longer still to decide what to do with it. The antic activism of Greenpeace did not interest him, certainly. Cousteau didn't need to draw attention to himself by hanging banners on warships or dumping sludge on doorsteps. If he walked down the street he could pull a crowd. For years French polls have ranked him the most popular man in the country, and his office claimed it got 80,000 letters asking him to run for president in 1988.

Still, it wasn't until the fight for Antarctica that Cousteau realized just how much power he might have.

As he tells the story he was reading the International Herald Tribune one morning in 1988 when he noticed that several signatories of the Antarctic Treaty had given their initial approval in Wellington, New Zealand, to a convention on mining and drilling in the frozen continent. It would put severe restrictions on prospecting, but by providing a legal framework for claims, it could eventually open the door to exploitation. The United States and France fully supported the convention.

Cousteau knew this place, Antarctica. He and his son Philippe had gone there in 1972 and 1973 and been overwhelmed by its beauty. The stupidity of mining there, of doing anything that put this virgin continent at risk, seemed so manifest that he could not conceive why governments would approve such undertakings. The villains, he concluded, were bureaucrats who put their careers before the good of mankind. "The scribes are governing and not the governments," Cousteau declared. "The prime minister can say to his apparatchiks what he wants, when he is gone they do what they want."

One Tucker Scully, the State Department official who dealt directly with the Antarctic Treaty, became the target of Cousteau's special contempt. And after fifteen years working on the subject, the ever diplomatic Scully initially met the captain's criticisms with polite contempt. "Maybe it's time for new blood," he said in the corridors at a 1989 Paris conference on Antarctica. "But as of now thirteen agencies of the U.S. government concur in the positions we're taking."

Cousteau decided to go to the top. He personally lobbied French President Francois Mitterrand, as well as the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand. And finally Captain Cousteau went to Washington.

The fate of the frozen continent was not exactly a  burning issue on Capitol Hill. A handful of environmental  activists like Susan Sabella of Greenpeace and James Barnes of the Antarctica Project had followed the issue closely, hoping to defeat the Wellington Convention by working with congressional staffers, issuing reports, occasionally testifying before committees and laboring over every word of pending legislation. They were, essentially, creatures of the Hill, and when Cousteau hit town in his turtleneck and leisure suit he looked, to them, like someone from another planet. But there was no question he had an impact. "You have members of congress that go ga-ga. They bring their children out for pictures with him," said Richard Munson, a congressional staffer and environmentalist who wrote a 1989 biography critical of Cousteau. "This is generally a pretty cynical lot," said Munson, "but you see some of them treat him almost with reverence."

Occasionally, weary from a relentless schedule, Cousteau would muddle facts: 30,000 birds affected by a recent oil spill in the Antarctic suddenly became 30,000 birds killed. Cousteau described the Wellington Convention as secretly negotiated, when in fact Barnes had been able to follow its evolution for years. As the captain spoke before members of the House Foreign Affairs committee Sabella and Barnes shifted in their seats, stifling laughs. "I kept wanting to say 'point of information,'" said Barnes when it was over. "He doesn't understand the politics of it at all." But when Cousteau begged off on one question about Antarctica by saying "I am not a prophet," Congressman Wayne Owens of Utah allowed as how "some think you are." Nobody ever said that about Barnes or Sabella.

Cousteau had access no other Antarctic lobbyists ever had. Conservative senators opened their doors to him. Liberals embraced him. At a breakfast in the Rayburn building, a dinner in the Capitol, they listened to him expound not only on the fate of Antarctica, but on the future of the world. "Since I was born, the population of the earth has tripled. And it goes on. Every two years there is another France. Every 10 years, another China." There are, right now, more than 5 billion people in the world.  "It's a heavy, heavy threat. We weigh too much on the planet." Some scientists believe the earth can feed three times its present population. "But is the goal to feed more people and have them lead a miserable life or is it better to have fewer people lead a full life?" he asked. "If you have 12 or 15 billion people there will be no nightingales, no butterflies no et cetera. And you will have only a few animals -- cows, pigs, sheep -- to feed those people. Everything else will be destroyed."

Cousteau began, in fact, to preach his revolution.

"It is during this next hundred years that the future" -- of mankind, of the et cetera --"will be decided." Sure the cost of setting things straight will be high: women in the developing world have to be educated so birth rates will go down, the poor have to be convinced that their future security does not depend on the proliferation of their descendants. Something like a global welfare system needs to be created. "Urgency makes this possible," said Cousteau. "If the doctor tells you you have cancer you enter the hospital, even if you have to borrow money."

People have to get over the idea that consumption and contentment go together. Cousteau reserves special disdain for the notion of "sustained development" dear to most politically savvy environmentalists.  If American-style consumerist prosperity continues to be the model for the world's aspirations, in Cousteau's opinion all is lost. "Seven hundred million Americans, that's all that the earth could support: 700 million Americans, it means nobody else." The positive side of the Third World's underdevelopment is that "more than half the planet's human beings are not yet consumers."

All of which met with polite nods among the photo opportunists of the Hill, and drew particular attention from then-Senator Al Gore. For the future vice president, Cousteau was something special. The baby-boomer politician had grown up with him, just like the rest of us, then became a personal friend. "I first invited him to come and speak to the U.S. Congress twelve years ago, and I have spent a great deal of time with him," said the senator. "I was at his last birthday party in Paris." They may have different accents, but two speak much the same eco-visionary language, rattling off alarming statistics, trying to picture a world that works very differently from anything we've experienced before. At the end of Gore's best-selling book he writes about the effect his son's brush with death had on his views, and the impportance of "inner ecology." "We can believe in that future and work to achieve it and preserve it, or we can whirl blindly on, behaving as if one day there will be no children to inherit our legacy. The choice is ours; the earth is in the balance." All this sounds remarkably like Cousteau. 

In the end, on Antarctica, the captain -- and Barnes and Sabella, and Gore, and the rest of the environmentalists -- won. A complete moratorium was declared on prospecting as well as mining for the next half-century, and that was good enough for Cousteau. "It is a victory of good sense, really," he said later. "I have just been a soldier of good sense." But Cousteau, while he still laughs at himself, finds it hard to be humble. "I carry on piling up information and I've done that all my life," he said. "I'm in a position, and I didn't want it, it happened to me, where I know more about the environment than anyone else alive."

There are, of course, many environmentalists who would question this claim. Even Al Gore, who likes to quote authorities as varied as Aristotle, R.D. Laing and Carl Sagan, only mentions Cousteau once in his book, and then only in passing. He doesn't include a single work by the captain in his bibliography. It is as if, after all he has done and learned, all the photo opportunities and homages, in the end Cousteau is not to be taken seriously. His information is too general, his interests range too widely, his talents are too varied for the tastes of a world attuned to specialists. Perhaps there is no place for a Renaissance man in a post-modernist age. Perhaps the power of beauty has waned, or, perhaps, he has lost his sense of it.

Undeterred, the old man of the sea keeps lowering his lance and charging at the apocalypse, pursuing the all-important, all-consuming work that those closest to him are reluctant to disturb. "Utopia or death," he likes to say. The alarm has been sounded. There are only ten years left to save the world, he announced last year. That's nine years, now, and ticking. The message from his organizations is relenetless. Every young member of the Cousteau Society in the United States or l'Equipe Cousteau in France gets a regular dose of Cousteau's philosophy in "The Calypso Log." "All society is organized to exploit those who are not yet born," he tells his child-revolutionaries. "The future of the human species is in danger."

Friday, May 05, 2017

My Latest on French Elections, Plus The Turkish Threat and the Noriega I Knew

France’s Centrist Candidate Bans RT

The centrist running against Marine Le Pen to become the next president of France has denied credentials to Moscow’s ‘propaganda organ’ as reports of Russia’s efforts to undermine him grow.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

North Korea and "The Tyranny of Proximity"

A new post on The Daily Beast by Tom Rogan sketches the kind of strategy and tactics the U.S. might use if it takes military action against North Korea. What I am posting here is background information about the gravity of the risks, even putting aside the threat of containerised or component-smuggled nukes detonated in the U.S., or bottles of VX used, well, almost anywhere in retaliation. And then there are the plagues. 

For decades, and for the present, the risk evaluations of war with the North Koreans have been focused on the city of Seoul, South Korea's capital, which lies only 25 to 35 miles south of North Korean territory that is bristling with big guns and ballistic missiles. To give an idea of that proximity, I am posting here several Google Earth screen shots. Thirty-five miles is roughly the distance, as the missile flies, from Baltimore to Washington, D.C.; Bridgeport CT to Manhattan; Reading to London; Joliet to Chicago; Silicon Valley to San Francisco.

This L.A. Times article from 14 years ago lays out the basics of the military option and its perils very well. Note that it was published at the mas macho moment of the George W. Bush administration, weeks after the fall of Baghdad, when the American government and many of the American people still believed in the salutary power of "shock and awe"—an attitude we see returning with the Trump administration. And it was written before Pyongyang had any serious nuclear capability. But the scenarios even then ranged from "bad to apocalyptic." I found it reprinted on the website of the UCLA School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, under the heading "Bioterrorism," and this passage is particularly arresting:

The arsenal [in range of Seoul's 12 million people and tens of thousands of U.S. troops] includes 13,000 artillery pieces, along with rockets, multiple-rocket launchers and more than 650 ballistic missiles. Warheads on the missiles can be armed with nerve gas and blistering and choking agents. The North Koreans continue to develop biological weapons such as anthrax, plague, cholera and even smallpox, according to U.S. intelligence.

Some more excerpts:

Source: Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2003
Seoul's Vulnerability Is Key to War Scenarios
A U.S. strike on the North may provoke a catastrophic retaliation against South's capital.
By Barbara Demick, Times Staff Writer
SEOUL -- When the U.S. military tries to explain the difficulty of using force to stop North Korea's development of nuclear weapons, the oddly poetic phrase it turns to is the "tyranny of proximity."
The phrase, which has been in the lexicon of the U.S. forces in South Korea for years, stems from the imposing array of conventional artillery that the North Koreans have dug into the hills just north of the demilitarized zone, a mere 30 miles from this capital city of 12 million. The nightmare scenario is that if the United States opts for a more forceful approach to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions, the communist regime would retaliate not only against the 38,000 American troops stationed in South Korea, but also against South Korea itself.
North Korea last Tuesday bluntly reminded Seoul of its vulnerability when an envoy threatened the South with "unspeakable disaster" if it sides with Washington in the crisis.

The comment — which ironically was made at the opening of talks about South Korean economic assistance to the impoverished North — underscores the degree to which Seoul is being held hostage.
Although the North Koreans later apologized, it goes a long way toward explaining the predicament of South Korea's new president, Roh Moo Hyun, as he tries to walk a fine line between a menacing neighbor and his country's most important ally.
At their recent summit in Washington, Roh and President Bush did much handshaking and smiling. But behind the outward bonhomie, they were able to agree on little more than the basic view that nuclear weapons are bad and that a diplomatic solution is preferable to war.
The South Koreans have consistently urged the United States to show more patience toward North Korea and have made it clear that they would prefer that Bush officials not speak openly about the use of military strikes against the North.
To some extent, the differences boil down to this: where one sits affects how one thinks.
"Given the geography of the Korean peninsula, there is no alternative to resolving this issue but dialogue," said South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young Kwan at a recent meeting of foreign correspondents.

For the moment, the Bush administration is pushing hard on the diplomatic track, and another round of talks with North Korea and others is expected to be announced shortly, according to diplomats. Options short of attack that are also under discussion include a naval blockade and economic sanctions.
But the military option hovers over South Korea, quietly depressing stock markets and bond ratings. Even the slightest, off-the-cuff comment by Bush or Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld can rattle the financial markets.
South Koreans are nervous as well about the Pentagon's determination to move the main U.S. garrison out of Seoul within the year and then start relocating 2nd Infantry troops from the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.
The moves give the United States more flexibility to eventually take military action by getting its troops out of the same hostage position as millions of South Koreans. The Bush administration reportedly turned down a request by Roh's delegation to delay the move until the North Korean crisis is resolved.
Seoul's location so close to the potential front line is a result of post-World War II partitioning, when U.S. officials picked the 38th parallel to divide the peninsula in half while barely keeping Seoul out of the communist-controlled sector. In the rapid postwar development of South Korea, nearly half the country's population ended up within a three-minute flight of the DMZ.

Estimates of the damage that could be inflicted by a North Korean attack range from bad to apocalyptic. Lee Yang Ho, defense minister during a similar nuclear crisis in 1994, said one computer simulation conducted during his term projected 1 million dead, including thousands of Americans.
"It is assumed that if the United States were to strike North Korea that the North Koreans would fight back," Lee said. "All industry would be destroyed, gas stations, power plants. This is such a densely populated area that even if North Korean artillery were not very accurate, anyplace you would hit there would be huge numbers of casualties."
U.S. military experts who have contemplated strikes on North Korea agree.
A senior U.S. intelligence officer speaking on condition of anonymity said that any war on the peninsula would be far deadlier than what took place in the desert terrain of Iraq.
North Korea — one of the world's poorest nations, and one with only 22 million people — has the world's fifth-largest armed forces and third-largest army.
Roughly 30% of the country's gross domestic product is devoted to the military, about 10 times the percentage of most countries. Its submarine force and 100,000-strong special operations forces are the world's largest.
Moreover, most of the regime's weaponry is deployed within easy striking distance of Seoul, and the troops have continued to mass closer to the frontier even during the last few years of outwardly cozy relations with South Korea.
If South Koreans have at times seemed almost blase about North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, one reason is that the North could inflict serious enough damage even with garden-variety weapons.
The arsenal includes 13,000 artillery pieces, along with rockets, multiple-rocket launchers and more than 650 ballistic missiles. Warheads on the missiles can be armed with nerve gas and blistering and choking agents. The North Koreans continue to develop biological weapons such as anthrax, plague, cholera and even smallpox, according to U.S. intelligence.
"It is not a modern military, but it is a very capable military," another U.S. intelligence officer said. "They have studied our military very carefully, and they have shaped their strengths accordingly."

The officer added that the North Koreans would most likely strike first if they thought the U.S. was massing troops in the South, as it had in the Persian Gulf region just before the 1991 war against Iraq.
"Unlike Saddam Hussein, who gave us six months to bring in half a million troops, [North Korean leader Kim Jong Il] can prevent us from bringing soldiers into the theater," the officer said.
There is little doubt that American and South Korean forces would prevail in a direct clash with North Korea. U.S. military intelligence believes that an advance by the North would be stopped short of Seoul — but at great cost to human life....
In June 1994, the U.S. considered a strike against the nuclear development facilities at Yongbyon, located alongside a mountain north of the capital, Pyongyang.
According to subsequent accounts, President Clinton was about to order additional U.S. troops to South Korea and an evacuation of American civilians from Seoul. But former President Carter went to Pyongyang and managed to strike a deal.
A commentary read Wednesday on state-run North Korean television credited the communist nation's formidable military for the decision not to go to war.

"The U.S. imperialists did not dare ignite the fuse of war — because they feared our physical strength [and] military power. Had we not had such power at the time, we would have long fallen into the current Iraqi situation," the unnamed commentator declared.
William J. Perry, defense secretary at the time, described at a recent Brookings Institution forum the dilemma in which the administration found itself trying to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.
"There are overwhelmingly strong reasons for not wanting a war with North Korea.... The million-man army they have lined up, the thousands of artillery pieces they have targeted at Seoul, all of those guarantee that even in the absence of nuclear weapons, a war would be a catastrophe," Perry said. "In spite of that, we risked a war in 1994 to stop that nuclear program and I think we would do it again."

* * *

For more on how the Clinton administration almost went to war with North Korea in 1994, why it didn't, and what happened to avert the apocalypse, see these excellent interviews from a Frontline series made during the G.W. Bush administration.