An Epidemic of Diagnoses

You have to distinguish between an epidemic of diagnoses and an epidemic of allergies. Dr. Nicholas Christakis

A recent story out of Sacramento describes the tragedy of the death of Natalie Giorgi, a 13-year-old girl who was allergic to peanuts and inadvertently swallowed a bite of a Rice Krispies square that had “peanut products” in it. Her parents had two EPI-Pens, used them both, then used a third from the camp where their daughter had been staying. Natalie’s father, a physician, couldn’t save her, and neither could the EMS team that arrived by helicopter.

Now the Giorgi’s have gone public because they want to convince a skeptical public that food allergies are real and pose a real threat to public health and safety. They believe most people aren’t already hysterical enough about food allergies. We need to ramp it up.

Now, I don’t know where the Giorgis stand on gun control, or drunk driving, or lightening, but, if we, as a society, were to respond intelligently to genuine threats to health and safety, we might be better off channeling our energies into more productive causes.

Even worse, the remedies proposed most often– declaring schools “peanut free”, for example– may actually be having the opposite effect. In Israel, where peanuts are a popular snack, the rate of peanut allergies among children is about 0.17%. In Britain, where peanuts are less popular, the allergy rate is 2%.

About 150 people die every year in the U.S. due to an allergic reaction. About half are due to peanuts. That’s slightly more than the number of people who die from lightening strikes.

Be it noted: there is a lot of misplaced faith placed in Epi-Pens.

John Cusack Syndrome

In the movie “Say Anything”, John Cusack plays Lloyd Dobbler and Ione Skye plays Diane Court. Dobbler is– how can we say it politely?– dumb. He’s not very book smart. He likes to hang out with his flakey but earnest and loyal friends and drink beer. He’s a down-to-earth kind of guy.

Diane Court is the class valedictorian. She’s brilliant. She’s beautiful. She’s classy. She’s not even a snob– surprise.  She’s definitely going to university. In a very, very wise touch, “Say Anything” shows her valedictory address as being politely received by a bewildered but respectful class. There is a lot of nuance to that relationship: she’s rich and classy and intellectual, but they don’t automatically disrespect her for it. And she gets that she’s never going connect with these kids, really.

Of course, she ends up wanting to marry a guy whose idea of culture is stabbing a beer can with a pen. Don’t all beautiful, smart, well-off women just crave that authentic, boyish, missionary position with the faint smell of barf in the back seat of the domestic sedan? Of course they do.

Well, actually, sometimes they do.

So how do we know Diane is smart? We are told that she is, by Dobbler’s friends, who tell him she’s out of his league. She is played as articulate and thoughtful by Ione Skye but then this is the movies: most characters are articulate and thoughtful, as needed. But it is a striking and consistent feature of film-world that smart characters don’t have any particular taste in anything. Is it because the writer and director are afraid to go out on limb? What if Diane Court loved Rossini or Balzac or Dostoevsky or Dylan or Picasso or Van Gogh?

It would scare away the adolescent girls who want to project themselves into the orbit around Diane Court because she has boobs and looks glamorous.  And for the males, she will be their ornament and she’ll be able to balance a check book while they’re out hunting or rebuilding the engine on the pickup.

I like “Say Anything”. I think it is above average. The characters are unusually well-rounded and complex. When Dobbler takes Diane to a party, he doesn’t feel the need to be tethered to her. He wanders around freely and she wanders around freely, and he checks on her regularly, which she likes. That’s believable and fresh. Dobbler may be a grunt but he’s wise about girls.

Diane’s father opposes the relationship but he’s not mean or stupid– for most of the film–, and when Lloyd leaves another message on the phone for Diane, he urges her to pick up.

In the one sequence in which the film’s seams show, he pressures her to drop the relationship because he has better things in mind for her. Because she is, after all, out of his league.  She’s not the snob: he is.

Dobbler is charming, if pedestrian, and I suspect that Diane Court, in real life, would eventually regret not taking the time to expand her horizons before running off with a home-town grunt, even if he is devoted and nice. His only passion is for kick-boxing.

In real life, yes, I know: girls like Diane Court do fall for guys like Lloyd Dobbler, because it’s hard to be smart, to pay your own way, to work, to take a challenging job.  Some smart girls just want to retreat into the security and stability of a relationship with a reliable, hard-working, honest guy.

Of course of course of course, this is America, where smart men are always evil and dumb and women are funny. It is decreed by the laws of Hollywood that no film shall ever show a woman falling hard for a man because he is smart. This would piss off the audiences, I suppose, who seem to be, by a rather overwhelming majority, stupid. Or are they? I don’t know. This might have been a film whose success was largely driven by female taste:

The smart man in “Say Anything” is Diane’s father, James, who robs vulnerable old people.

All right, let me think. Is there a movie in which the beautiful heroine– it doesn’t really matter if she’s smart or not as long as she has large breasts — falls in love with a man because he is smart?

The 2013 version of this dynamic is “The Spectacular Now”, which rather effectively destroys the Dobbler myth: Sutter is an alcoholic jerk. He eventually finds redemption, because, we understand, he is smart enough to see into the future. We can believe that Lloyd Dobbler is a decent guy because “Say Anything” is a smart movie, but I suspect that the real Lloyd Dobblers in the world are more like Sutter.

The pinnacle of the anti-smart movies, of course, are the Seth Rogen mysteries. I call them mysteries because it’s hard to figure out why it is entertaining to watch men act like adolescents, farting, belching, making jokes about shitting or drinking, or barfing, or sex, or commitment, or anything intelligent, and generally wallowing in their own precious Republicanhood, and upholding family values.

In “Say Anything”, Diane Court’s father is depicted as loving and sophisticated and wise, and Diane obviously loves him deeply. Then it is revealed that he has been embezzling money from residents at a nursing home he administers.

The transformation from love to contempt is probably one of the two or three weaknesses of the film, and Hughes manipulates the score by telegraphing to the audience that her father is really a jerk.

In “Breaking Bad”, he might be seen as heroic— just trying to take care of his family. It is a credit to “Say Anything” that he is not admired for it. It is even more admirable that “Say Anything” reveals him as a complex character, a mix of good and bad.

Character Assassination: Joyce Maynard Betrays J.D. Salinger

While watching Miley Cyrus’ pornographic performance on the 2013 MTV awards, I thought about an article I’d read hours earlier, about a new biography of J. D. Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno, and about Joyce Maynard who tried to sell letters Salinger had written her when she was 18 and he was 53, which resulted in her moving in with him for a year. Maynard was vilified by some for trying to sell the letters to pay for her childrens’ tuition costs. Peter Norton, he of the famous Norton Utilities (well, famous back in the days of DOS), purchased the letters and gave them back to Salinger, displaying more class than anybody else involved in this celebrity dust-up, including Salinger.

The deal is usually this: you want to sell your book / movie / record by appearing in magazines and on talk shows, you give up your right to privacy. I’m not sure why that is a “deal” but it is. If you seek publicity for personal gain, you don’t seem to have the right to complain if someone tries to take pictures of you topless at a private beach. Or if people camp out in front of your door and photograph you every time you go out to dinner or to get groceries or pick up your child at school. Why is that a deal? Because the “moderates” of the media monster have decided that that is reasonable. The subject celebrity supposedly agrees to this exchange, tacitly, when they agree to some other specified act of publicity.  No– it’s because you seek publicity in order to sell your movie, your book, your recordings, so it’s hypocritical to complain about your privacy being invaded when you have clearly offered it in exchange for money or fame or power.

J. D. Salinger famously became a recluse. He had a taste of fame, didn’t like it, and stopped publishing, and retreated to a very private cabin on a 90 acre property in Cornish, New Hampshire. He built a separate house for his family. He had work to do, even if he wasn’t publishing.  He accepted that he would not sell as many books if he maintained his privacy, and most of the media respected that tacit arrangement.

Jonathan Franzen famously refused to appear on Oprah for the same reason.  Then he changed his mind– at the behest of his publishers– and did appear on Oprah knowing full well the consequences of a deal with the devil: the tabloid fame that follows.

The essential duplicity of Maynard’s action is the decision to expose, for public consumption, very private sexual acts. The obvious question is why. The obvious answer– from a publicist’s point of view– is to tell the truth, or the help other people, or to have closure, or to work through her depression. The real reason, without the slightest doubt, is to evoke sympathy, make money, whether through book sales, the auction of the letters, or personal appearances, and exploit the fame of the person you are exposing.

You may choose to believe Maynard’s rationalizations: I do not. I think it’s bullshit. It is exactly what it looks like and there is never any doubt about what it looks like: you took a very private relationship and splattered it all over the place knowing full well what kind of mincemeat most of the media will make of it by the time they’re through. You behaved a certain way while with Salinger– you kissed him back, embraced him, undressed for him, whatever, consented to intimacy without giving him the slightest indication that you would eventually use that information to sell yourself, to be noticed, to get press, to sell more books, to present yourself as some kind of victim.

It’s Goldman on Lennon, Hersh on Kennedy, Kelly on Sinatra: it’s all the same. And nobody is absolved by saying, oh, they should have known that would happen. If you can’t take the heat…

There is nothing shockingly new about the whole thing: it just throws the issue into sharper relief than usual. I remember Dylan shredding a reporter who asked him if he was a “spokesman” for his generation. No. Are you the spokesman for your generation? You actually felt bad for the reporter, but Dylan learned as well: you can’t win that kind of exchange over the long run, no matter how smart or quick you are.

You are never going to go camp out in someone else’s driveway and go through their garbage.

Some of the writers who defended Joyce Maynard for telling all and selling Salinger’s letters to her remark on how Salinger saw her picture and then contacted her by letter and eventually met her, invited her to live with him for nine months, and then dumped her.

They insist Salinger obviously noticed how beautiful she was.

Hardcover Looking back;: A chronicle of growing up old in the sixties Book

With all due respect, looking at the same picture, I think it more likely he was attracted to her mind.

Maynard was raked by some other commentators for having breast implants, then removing them, and writing about the entire experience in Vanity Fair. If Maynard wants you to believe that Salinger was attracted to her because of her looks– I’m not sure she does– and that there was something wrong with that, why the implants?

“Breaking Bad” Goes off the Rails

The last few episodes of “Breaking Bad” betray a sense that the show has gone off the rails. They are trying to strong-arm the plot into setting up various confrontations that might prove more visually exciting but drain away plausibility. I am not convinced Jesse would find Hank any less repugnant than Walt, and that he wouldn’t find himself even more repugnant for betraying a man who actually treated him pretty well. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. I’m saying that it is a dramatic challenge to make it believable, and Gilligan completely failed that challenge.

The same goes for Hank’s senseless decision to keep his suspicions of Walt private, including chasing him out to where they think he hid the money without backups, and with Jesse in the car. This is so obviously intended to provide a motivation for Walt to kill Hank and Jesse (what would the point be if Hank’s colleagues had the information) that it would be laughable if it weren’t so lame. It’s just not believable on any level at all.

Nor was it believable that Walt would be so stupid as to fall for Jesse’s trick phone call. But it was the height of ridiculousness to have Walt confess most of his murders to Jesse on the phone while screaming at him on his way to check on his money, not suspecting for one moment that it was being recorded or monitored. This is a huge lapse of sanity on Walt’s part and there is no dramatic groundwork for it. They couldn’t do better than that to set up the confrontation that they wanted? Or that Huell Babineaux would so readily believe Hank about having been betrayed by Saul Goodman. Sure, he’s a fool– but fool’s are just as likely to disbelieve the truth as they are to fall for a lie. Just how many implausible events and coincidences had to occur to get to this scene, in the dessert? The credibility and the tension sap away, which is a shame, because it was so good up to the last season.

“The Wire”, on the other hand, ended without a single false note– gracefully.  “The Wire” ranks among the best TV series ever, and much higher than “Breaking Bad”.

Skyler’s Complaint

Skyler’s Complaint

In a baffling op-ed piece in the New York Times, August 23, 2013, the actress Anna Gunn complains about what she perceives to be a double standard: the main male character of the TV series “Breaking Bad”, Walt White, seems to be regarded as a kind of lovable rogue, who’s just trying to take care of his family while selling methamphetamine to pathetic addicts who have faded further and further into the background of the series. Her character, Skyler White, who, she says, lives a relatively faultless life, is vilified. Why? It’s because, she says, Skyler is a woman. It’s a double standard. Skyler has become “a measure of our attitude towards gender”. And that measure indicates rage and hypocrisy towards women who don’t stand by their man. At least, that’s Anna Gunn’s take on it.

Guilty. I’ll admit it: I found the character of Skyler White repugnant.

Is she arguing that Skyler should be admired? She says Skyler “has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, non-submissive, ill-treated women”. Ill-treated? If, I suppose, you buy one of the fundamental conceits of “Breaking Bad”, which is, that there really is something admirable about Walt White’s desire to support his family, even if it means destroying hundreds of other lives. Then Skyler is ill-treated, I suppose, by Walt’s dishonesty. But Skyler had the opportunity to walk away and didn’t take it. Walt provides for her, desires her, and wants to sustain their marriage. How is that “ill treated”?

But what if you didn’t even buy the first part: that Walt is admirable in some way, because, after all, he is taking care of his family. Americans seem to be complete suckers for family: you can commit any atrocity, as long as it is to protect your family.

Well, in my view, Walt is a psychopathic criminal and a cold-blooded killer. In my view, anyone who would harm another man’s family to protect his own is not admirable: he’s selfish. Just as a mother who brags about her overweening love for her children can be suffering from “overflowing self-infatuation”. I don’t admire either of them. Am I off the hook?

The brains behind the program, Vince Gilligan, claims that “Breaking Bad” is about how far a man will go to take care of his family. If he is a psychopath.

Skyler wants it both ways, and it’s not unusual for audiences to find hypocrisy more repellent than mischief or even murder. Walt is repellent but he really doesn’t hide the fact that he doesn’t have any morals other than the desire to provide for his family, which isn’t really a moral. It’s a motive. And it doesn’t, in my view, make him admirable. His family really isn’t “other”. It isn’t someone other than himself who benefits from his criminal activity. And his passion for his family, as dramatized in “Breaking Bad”, is fundamentally unbelievable. In real life, that is something put on, a charade. In real life, people like Walt White are fundamentally psychotic and narcissistic.

Why does Vince Gilligan make this a central trope in “Breaking Bad”?  So the viewer can enjoy Walt’s shenanigans without feeling repulsion.  After all, he’s just taking care of his family.

Skyler doesn’t walk away. She doesn’t turn him in. She accepts the money. She cheats on Walt. She helps her employer cheat. Just what does Anna Gunn believe is admirable about her? That she is “strong”? But not strong enough, apparently, to walk away.

Don’t Cry for Me Wicked Witches

Universal Pictures, the film company, owns and produced “Wicked”, the Broadway Musical. You might think, why is a film company with much bigger fish to fry, dabbling in musicals? The answer is simple: “Wicked” is the most profitable venture in the history of Universal Pictures. Why? The answer is again, simple: how much did your last movie ticket cost you? Oh yeah? Well a ticked to see “Wicked” will cost you about ten times that amount. Multiply that times 3,000 a night, for, say 300 nights, and you have an idea of the scale of the venture. Even with all the dancers and musicians and make-up artists and set-designers and so on, you can make a lot of money.  Yes, we’re talking 50, 60, 70 million dollars.

So we arrive at the real why question. And that answer is also simple. Broadway aint what it used to be. Leaving aside the question of whether “Wicked” is more interesting artistically than “Oklahoma” or “All That Jazz” or “Mame”, the people who go to Broadway shows are largely tourists, in New York (no other location of a stage production has nearly the influence), who want something utterly remarkable and amazing which they can tell their friends about when they get back home to Peoria or Austin or Sioux City: we saw “Wicked”. It was FABULOUS. Oh, you gotta see it live: it just blew me away!

It is possible to produce a stunning Broadway show, nowadays, without any of the difficult artistic stuff involved. Well, all right: someone still has to write dialogue and music and learn how to play an instrument. Then you mic everyone and turn up the sound system and throw in a few pyrotechnics, and you have a hit.

Then why did “Spiderman” bomb? Okay, so even with all the resources of Broadway’s technical departments, you still need magic, the elusive unquantifiable indefinable thing that makes people want to rush home and tell all their friends they saw your production.

Right now, Broadway is dominated by “Bridges of Madison County”, “Bullets Over Broadway”, “Big Fish”, “Rocky”. There are plans to make “Animal House”, “Back to the Future”, Tootsie”, and “The Devil Wears Prada” into Broadway musicals.

Convergence. Towards the lowest common denominator. My wife and I saw “Hair” a few years ago, and “Godspell” last year, on Broadway. “Hair” originated on Broadway and became a movie. It was Broadway that had the courage and audacity to present a hippie musical on stage. More timid Hollywood wanted a proven success, which “Hair” was a after a few years on Broadway. Hollywood does not take risks. It almost never, lately, takes artistic risks. Want to see an artistic risk? Stop drooling over Leonardo Di Caprio– he never appears in an artistically audacious film, even if it is Martin Scorcese directing. Has Martin Scorcese directed anything as remotely daring as “Taxi Driver” or “Raging Bull” lately?

To see a movie that takes artistic risks, you need to check out the independent films like “Before Midnight”, “Blancanieves”, “The Artist”, “Moonrise Kingdom”, “The White Ribbon”, “Junebug”.

So all we need is for Hollywood to start running Broadway. But there is a reason a Broadway ticket costs about ten times as much as a movie ticket. It is because Broadway has a luster to it, a glow, a sense of marvel and authenticity and originality that most Hollywood movies lack. It is because Broadway embraces risk, and change, and real emotions. Hollywood, like a huge, ugly remora, wants to attach itself to this luster. But first it needs to eliminate the risk (and originality) and homogenize the experience (nothing with a genuine edge) and castrate it. Once Broadway is safe for Hollywood, there will be a lot of happy tourists who will get exactly what they expected and will experience the delusion of having seen something that can be mistaken for a Broadway production. And they will invariably say that it was better than the film version because they damned well paid ten times as much to see it.

You know what’s up when you hear people involved in stage productions talk about how important it is that the audience not leave the theatre disappointed. You get the feeling that the disappointment they are talking about is exactly that: “I paid ten times as much as for a movie ticket and I couldn’t even understand the damn play! What a waste!” And so long to “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf” and “Equus” and “Cabaret” and “All that Jazz” and “The Book of Mormon”.

The irony of all this, of course, is that Broadway itself tends to play it safe lately, and the really daring, original Broadway productions almost always originate off-Broadway, or in London, or somewhere else. Broadway has its own cult of celebrity and a play often does poorly once the famous star moves on. Where do stars originally come from? They come from off-Broadway productions, independent films, and, so it appears, home-made porn films.

What if Hollywood had this great idea and decided that they would establish a street in Los Angeles and they would put on stage versions of their films and charge over $100 a ticket? They would never do that. No one would come. Because it wasn’t “Broadway”. They will fix that.

The Brutality of the American Health Care System

According to a New York Times article [2013-08-03], Michael Shopenn, a man living in Boulder, Colorado, needed a new hip and obtained a rock-bottom price of $13,000 through friends with connections in the industry. Then he tried to arrange the operation at a local hospital: they quoted him $65,000.

That is an unspeakable obscenity.

He chose, instead, to fly to Belgium and have it done in a private hospital there for $13,660. That price included the air fare, surgery, five days in a hospital bed, physical therapy, and the hip itself. The hip came from the same company that offered it to him for that rock bottom $13,000 in the U.S.

How is that possible? America is the greatest country in the universe. All Europeans are lazy, corrupt, and I forget the third one. The American health care system relies on good old capitalism and free market competition to drive prices down give Americans the cheapest health care in the world. The New York Times is lying.

What is the bigger obscenity? That large numbers of Americans continue to believe it, or that doctors and hospital administrators continue to believe that they are good, decent people, with ethics and morals and principles, who do their best to “help” people like Michael Shopenn. They are not like drug dealers, bank robbers, or, God help us, bankers. No, they work very, very hard and deserve to completely ruin your life. Shopenn’s example is a trifling one. I know of cancer patients who were charged $20,000 a day to stay in the hospital after breast surgery.

There is no country in the world where a health care system that charges these rates is sustainable. It is a system designed to deceive Americans into thinking that if they work hard, improve their skills, show up on time, and manage their money wisely, they will be able to retire when they get old.

No, you can’t. You will be robbed of every cent by hospitals and doctors who are unconstrained by morals or laws or regulations. They can charge whatever they want and they do.

The actual cost of manufacturing that hip: about $350. I’m not making this up. And Shopenn was quoted a bargain: many patients pay up to $50,000 or $60,000 for it. Why? Because every agency that handles or distributes or installs the artificial hip takes a huge cut, including the hospital.

There was a time when a man who charged you $13,000 for a device that cost $300 to make was committing “extortion”. I don’t believe for one second that it is not still extortion, and criminal.

But why the hell is the hospital marking up the cost? Why the hell is a hospital in the business of making a profit from a medical device?

Oh. This is America. Cue the anthem. Wave the flag. Get the marching band. Let’s remind the world that we are the greatest country in the universe and anyone who thinks otherwise should go live in North Korea!

It’s the American medical industry that behaves like North Korea. Hospitals are forced by secret agreements to not disclose the price they paid for devices like artificial hips because it would …. er… create competition among the manufacturers. And this is allowed in a Republic that claims to operate on the basic of market competition.

Michael Shopenn didn’t even have to go to India or Indonesia to save money on this operation. He only had to go to Belgium. But the interesting thing about this is that the skills required to safely perform this operation are not worth $65,000. They probably aren’t even worth $13,000. The skill set is not like oil or gold or an automatic transmission: it is something that can be taught to any reasonably intelligent, educated young person in most countries in the world.

Now you should not look at society through the lens of class warfare, but if you did, it would look very much like this: in order to get you to work, in order to make the rich rich, they have to offer you this charade of a “good living”, maybe even health insurance (more likely not), and let you invest in a house and in mutual funds so that when you get old you can retire on your savings. That’s the scam. Once you have actually reached that age, they will take all of the money back through medical costs. Breast cancer? Hip replacement? Heart surgery? It doesn’t matter– you will be charged an incredibly obscene amount of money so the rich can get back all of the money they paid you for your work. God forbid your children should inherit it!

What about insurance? Ah, but that is exactly what the Republicans are working on right now! They will tell you that America cannot afford health care, Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. You see, we desperately need that money….. to cut taxes for the rich. Oh– and to buy more F-35 fighters and nuclear submarines. And aircraft carriers, even if a drone from China or Russia or North Korea is going to be able to sink one in the next few years.

No, you couldn’t make that up. Nobody would believe it. But it’s right there in the Republican Party platform and re-election campaigns and policy conferences– that is what they intend to do.

The article about the hip replacement.

The M26 Pershing Tank


“In Finland the swastika was used as the official national marking of the Finnish Defense Forces between 1918 and 1945 and also of the Finnish Air Force, anti-aircraft troops as a part of the air force, and tank troops at that time.” Wikipedia.

I had never heard of that before. I wonder if they stop using it after the war.

I can’t tell you how many times, as a kid, I heard my friends and adults speak with awe about the Sherman tank. The Sherman tank won the war. The Sherman tank scared the bejeebers out of the Nazis. Oh my God, it’s a Sherman tank! Run!

If you were a soldier and your commanding officer told you to get into a Sherman tank and get out there and take on those Panthers and Tigers like a good boy — you’d have a right to take a court martial instead. Especially after you found out that your commanding officers, when offered a choice between the Sherman and the heavier M26 Pershing, chose the Sherman. We don’t need a bigger tank. Too expensive, and too heavy! No no, my boys will be just fine in one of those cute little Shermans.

In one battle, 17 of 18 Shermans were knocked out in the first twenty minutes.

The British called them “Ronsons”. Ronson was a lighter company which advertised “lights first time, every time”.

Would Patton have gotten into a Sherman knowing that a Panther was waiting around the corner?

I don’t know where the myths came from. Well, yes I do. There were a lot of generals and manufacturers and corporate executives and politicians invested in the Sherman. And there was no doubt about the fact that they were able to produce a lot of them: 50,000 by the end of the war. (The Soviets were producing about 1,500 T34’s a month at peak production).

The Sherman was lightly armored and fast. The speed didn’t matter: the German Tiger had an 80 or 90% kill rate against the Shermans. A Sherman could only take out a Tiger tank if six or seven of them attacked at the same time and one of them managed to get behind the Tiger. And even then, he better be quick: the other five would have been destroyed by then.

And let’s get to the truth: certain American generals bragging about the maneuverability and speed of the tank was like your best friend saying that the blind date he is trying to arrange is really quite smart and talented. In actual testing, both the allies and the Germans discovered that the Panther and Tiger tanks turned faster, climbed better, and were less likely to get bogged down in the mud.

The Russians weren’t as stupid. By 1943, they were at work on a larger tank to take on the Panthers and Tigers: the T-34, which performed admirably against the Germans, notably in the Battle of Kursk.

General George S. Patton championed the Sherman…. until the battle of Arracourt, a victory for the allies of no strategic importance. The fog and air supremacy favored the allies but it was also clear that the Germans were still capable of formidable opposition with their Panthers. Patton started asking for the Pershings.

The Pershing, astonishingly, employed the same engine as the much lighter Sherman. Who was in charge of this? Who made this decision? Let’s increase the weight by 50% but keep the same engine? The M26 Pershing, not surprisingly, like the German Tigers, tended to break down a lot.

Towards the end of this video, live footage of a battle between a Sherman and a Panzer, and then an M26 Pershing and the same Panzer, dramatize, in grim fashion, the reality.  Would you feel safe in a tank?

Does size matter:


Sherman  30 tons.
Panther (Panzerkampfwagen V)  46 tons
M26 Pershing  46 tons.
Tiger II  70 tons.
T34 (Soviets)  26 tons.

The Awful MLK Memorial

I really doubt that Martin Luther King Jr. would have enjoyed seeing $110 million spent on his memorial, especially when the design makes him look like Mao Zedong bursting out of the Great Wall of China ready to stomp out dissent and squash the nationalists.

How can a memorial that ugly cost so much? And, for $110 million, could they not have double-checked the text engraved into it: it will cost about $1 million to remove it, now that everyone seems to think it is an inappropriate misquote. Something about being a drum major.

I am opposed, as a matter of principal, to most monuments, but especially those that exaggerate the physical or historical size of the subject. The bigger the monument, the less likely the builders of the monument intend to live up to the ideals for which the subject stood. The monument is compensation. It’s a loud, bombastic assertion that the builders really care, really do stand for something, really do honor the ideals presented by the subject. It’s like hearing the Republicans talk about how great the Voting Rights Act was because it is no longer necessary, or how the courts carefully oversea the surveillance programs carried out by the NSA. We know they’re lying.

You can hear the Republicans saying to blacks: look, see how we love you? Look at how big the statue is. It’s gigantic. How can you doubt that we are on your side?

If this monument was appropriate, we would never have needed civil rights legislation or the Voting Rights Act: Dr. King would have simply stomped the racists into the ground or ripped the Washington Monument from its base and swept away the segregationists, the KKK, and the fat southern sheriffs in one stroke.

While the City of Detroit declares bankruptcy, the State of Michigan is providing $500 million to build a new arena for the millionaire players and owners of the Detroit Red Wings.

Taxpayer subsidies of major league sports stadiums remains one of the biggest scandals in American politics.

Marinus Van der Lubbe

The Reichstag was set on fire February 27, 1933. June 30 – July 2, 1934: “The Night of the Long Knives”.

Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party won a fair amount of popular support by 1932– about 33% , the Communists won about 17% of the seats, and other parties, including the “Catholic Center” party (which later joined with the Nazis to approve “The Enabling Act” making Hitler dictator), the rest.

It was not enough to give Hitler absolute power.

Then came the burning of the Reichstag, part, it was alleged, of a plot to overthrow the government, led by Marinus Van der Lubbe.

Was there ever a less impressive threat to national security than this pathetic little whiner, who was actually drummed out of the Communist Party several times because he seemed to have no sense whatsoever? No wonder many historians tried their best to prove that he was never actually involved, that it was actually Goering and his fellow jackboots (Goering joked about being responsible for it at Nuremberg). But history seems to have coalesced around the idea that Van der Lubbe really did do it– handed the Nazis a fabulous excuse to arrest their political opponents. Hitler, a witness reports, seemed genuinely startled and confused by the event.

Was Goering? There’s room for doubt. But I doubt we’ll ever know for sure.

One thing is clear: if the Nazis had planned it, it was brilliant.

People are easily frightened. Very easily frightened. Very, very easily frightened. And they are easily deceived. The weakest leaders of all, the most frightened and timid and stupid, are those who panic in a crisis and enact draconian measures. Why “The Enabling Act”, which gave Hitler absolute power? Why the NSA today? Because our leaders are cowards. They are terrified. They don’t know what to do. So they make a great show of doing something, of spending unlimited amounts of taxpayer money on useless security measures, on wars on countries that were not even involved in the original attack, and then they trump up charges against marginal suspects and rigged the court system and march them off to prison, because they are cowards.

Who has wrecked more real havoc on the lives of Americans today than the terrorists? Well, the banks. Drug dealers with the violent gang wars. Energy companies with their coal plants. The medical establishment with their ruinous charges and their end-of-life unnecessary treatments. The government, sending foolish young men overseas to die in wars against the wrong enemy. The chemical – fertilizer industries with their explosions and their fires.

It is a duty of every citizen to take sufficient measures to ensure that his own indifference, ignorance, or complicity does not lead to his fellow citizens becoming subject to tyranny.

Incidentally, the Germans can’t get enough of Marinus Van der Lubbe, the crazy Dutchman who allegedly burned down the Reichstag. After his initial trial before the Reichsgericht (German High Court) in which he was found guilty and beheaded, he was posthumously given an eight-year sentence in 1967, found innocent in 1980, not guilty by reason of insanity in 1981, and pardoned in 2008. Did he actually do it?

Ernst Rohm

The Officer class of the German Reichswehr and Hitler’s industrialist sponsors were notably concerned about the “morals” of the SA (Sturmabteilung — “Storm Battalion”) under Ernst Rohm. They didn’t like the homosexuality, the parties, and the street violence. Once Hitler eliminated Rohm and his cohorts, they were fine with the rest of the Nazi program: genocide, war, totalitarianism. As long as we don’t have any of that icky homosexuality.