Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cleopatra for President!

Image from, with caption: Ptolemaic Queen (Cleopatra VII?), 50-30 B.C., 71.12, Brooklyn Museum

One of the striking aspects of American exceptionalism/parochialism (two sides of the same coin?) is how "revolutionary" the USA political elite and some so-called "ordinary voters" consider the choice of Hillary as the "womyn" presidential candidate of the Democratic party.

The first woman-president-to-be! 

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Repeat over, over, and over again your cell phone: Like, Wow!!! USA! USA! USA!

But does not a most elementary glimpse at history suggest that women have wielded, since at least Eve, political power/influence in shores not that far from the man's land of the brave and home of the free? 

Allow me to cite a few Eves from my high-school history memory: Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth, Catherine the Great, Maria Theresa, Indira Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher, Michelle Obama.

So there's really nothing that "exceptional" about a USA representative of "girl power"

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being a nation's "Chief Executive," except from a very narrow, parochial "reverse-view" perspective on America's putative super-special, "male/cowboy" place on our small planet.

After all, don't we frail human beings sense, in our hearts and minds, that God is a woman?

From whose body, bottom line, did we not all begin our short, tragic lives on planet earth?

20 drunkest cities in America

According to, no. 1 city on this list is Appleton, Wisconsin.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Truth Is That We Need Immigrants - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

The Truth Is That We Need Immigrants,
by Matthew Rooney July 21, 2016

uncaptioned image from article

We need immigrants so that we can continue to innovate and prosper. It may seem ironic, but the truth is, immigrants made America and will make it again in the future.

First, our immigration “problem” isn’t about Mexico. The truth is, Mexicans don’t come to the U.S. in meaningful numbers anymore – in fact, over the past five or so years, net migration between the two countries has been southbound.
This is partly because NAFTA helped create an industrial sector in Mexico that has produced job opportunities there. It is tempting to think that these are good jobs that Americans lost. But the truth is that most of those jobs are lower-paid jobs requiring minimal skills. They are a step up for people from Mexico’s hardscrabble rural areas, but Americans’ skill levels are higher than that. We can and should aspire to better for ourselves and our children.

More importantly, Mexicans don’t come to the U.S. anymore because Mexico’s demographic curve has converged with that of the U.S., so Mexico doesn’t have large numbers of unemployed and unemployable young people, as it did 50 years ago. Today’s illegal immigrants come from further south or further afield. Most of them come through Mexico, of course, so one approach would be to encourage Mexico to do a better job of policing its southern border.

Second, our immigration “problem” isn’t about growth – at least, not in the way one might think. Because immigration doesn’t hinder growth, immigration supports growth.

There are, of course, numerous factors that affect the pace of economic growth, including the level and incidence of taxes, the volume of government borrowing and cost burdens imposed by regulations. But the long-term, fundamental growth potential of an economy boils down to two factors: population growth and productivity growth. In short, you either need more people, or your people need to be able to produce more stuff -- or both.

In the United States, labor productivity – itself a complex phenomenon with links to education, infrastructure, innovation, and mobility – has been stuck at just over one percent for the past decade or so. Meanwhile, with fertility hovering around the replacement rate, natural population growth is at or just above zero and the average age of our population is creeping upward. As a result, the key to growing our economy is more people – immigration – with skills that upgrade our labor force.

The ugly truth is that we need immigrants. We need them so that we can continue to innovate and prosper. We need them to keep our retirement systems solvent. We need them so that we can remain the youthful, optimistic society we have always been. It may seem ironic, but the truth is, immigrants made America and will make it again in the future.


Matthew Rooney

Matt Rooney joined the Bush Center in June 2015 from a career as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Jobs and unity -- Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

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Donald Trump Jr. was strong and persuasive on Tuesday night. The next morning, at a Wall Street Journal event, he made a better case for his father than his father has. He talked about the forgotten middle American and referred to himself, humorously, as “a Fifth Avenue redneck.” When pressed on how a man as divisive as his father could unify the nation, he answered that one way to unify the country is to see that its people have jobs: “When people are doing well it’s amazing how much unity you’ll get from that.” I had the distinct impression I was listening to a future political candidate.
--Peggy Noonan, "Trump and the Unknowable Moment," Wall Street Journal

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thank you, Father

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As I look at the Trump kids' willing (?) media exposure (granted, they're grown-ups, except for the youngest offspring of thrice-married The Donald) I can't help but thank the Almighty that I didn't have a Trump-like creature for a father.

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"She said he taught his kids to have a moral compass – with a straight face."

--Maureen Dowd, "Ivanka the Fabulous Fabulist," New York Times, regarding Ivanka, one of Trump's daughters

Video of The Birth of a Nation (1915 film by D.W Griffith on youtube) -- Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United"

Via RC and RM on Facebook

A good-quality version film can be found at:

On the film, see Wikipedia, which notes that
"Under President Woodrow Wilson it was the first American motion picture to be screened at the White House."

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Cold War Spies Sifted Through Used Soviet Toilet Paper In Search of Clues

Urvija Banerji,

A British patrol car passes an armored East German vehicle on a street straddling East and West Berlin in 1961. The border runs between the two vehicles. (Photo: CIA/Public Domain)

On a cold dawn in East Germany in 1981, two British secret agents crawled through enemy territory in search of intel. Specifically, these highly-decorated spies were scouring the Soviet training field to find soiled toilet paper.
Cold War-era espionage seems as though it would have been a more glamorous–or at least sanitary–affair. However, some intel you just can't get from a stake-out or wire-tap. Indeed, one of the most successful Western Bloc spy operations in the Cold War involved agents rifling through the enemy's bloodied bandages and discarded bathroom supplies. 
Operation Tamarisk began during the Soviet-Afghan War, which was waged from December 1979 to February 1989. At the time, East and West Germany were occupied by four powers: the U.S., the U.K., France, and the Soviet Union. Through a reciprocal agreement known as the military liaison missions, the allied nations and the Soviet Union had been permitted to deploy a small number of military intelligence personnel in each other’s territory in Germany.

The missions were originally intended as liaison teams that would ostensibly better the relations between the Western and Soviet occupying forces, but they soon became a legalized form of espionage for both sides. 
The intelligence methods used by these legal spies ranged from the basic to the ingenious. To learn more about the Soviet-Afghan War, the British Mission (BRIXMIS) had the idea of rummaging through the dumpsters outside of Soviet military hospitals in East Germany, behind the Iron Curtain. Well-used wound dressings and other items fresh from the ward would be bagged and sent out for analysis. The samples revealed shrapnel from bullets and other weapons, whose sources would then be uncovered following further analysis. BRIXMIS agents also haunted the military graveyards behind the hospitals, and noted the names and dates of deaths of deceased Soviet soldiers.

A sign posted in East Germany prohibiting military liaison missions from entering the area. (Photo:Peter Duffy/Public Domain)
The British, French and American liaison teams were banned from visiting areas in East Germany where military exercises were taking place, but once the maneuvers were complete, these areas were combed through, too. In Beyond the Front Line: The Untold Exploits of Britain’s Most Daring Cold War Spy Mission, Tony Geraghty explains, “sifting through the detritus of military exercises, including human excreta and worse, was a valuable technique which sometimes produced gems of intelligence.” 
This form of dumpster-diving, Geraghty writes, “had long been sanitized within the Mission under the code-name "Operation Tamarisk.” As a result of the practice’s popularity, “to tamarisk” became a verb in the Mission argot, although at least one British sergeant preferred to describe it as “shit-digging.”
One crucial bit of intelligence that informed the Western Missions as they tamarisked was the fact that toilet paper was not issued to Soviet troops in the field in East Germany. As a result, these soldiers were forced to use any kind of paper they had with them instead. Mostly, they used letters from home–but sometimes they used secret military documents. 
These discarded documents were incredibly important to the Western Missions, as they could provide invaluable information on "everything from ciphers to intelligence on morale levels and also on Army-Party-MGB relations in the field,” Richard J. Aldrich writes in The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence

Soviet soldiers stand before Berlin's historic Brandenburg Gate. (Photo: CIA/Public Domain)
“The untidy habits of the Soviet Army consistently proved to be one of the most startling sources of material,” Aldrich writes. Combing through Soviet exercise areas and firing ranges could produce findings of improvised toilet paper such as “notebooks and schedules of newly arrived material with sources and serial numbers for the latest equipment.”
This information was “gold dust to the growing army of analysts in London and Washington,” Aldrich explains–not that they didn't make jokes about it, too. Some agents tasked with reviewing the soiled papers had quite a puerile sense of humor and “enjoyed ‘forwarding’ to each other some of these unsavory intelligence items for ‘further analysis.’”
Through one tamarisking mission at Neustrelitz, a quiet place in the north of the GDR, BRIXMIS agents found a Soviet military log that revealed top-secret data about the type of armor, the strengths and the weaknesses of the latest Russian tank, and even contained information about its proposed successor. The information caused a huge stir at NATO’s technical intelligence division, and according to Geraghty in Beyond the Frontline, “set in train an emergency programme to acquire a new anti-tank missile known as the ‘long-rod penetrator’ … [which is] now in service with the British Army.” 

Children were not the only ones playing in the dirt in Soviet-controlled Germany–so were Western Mission spies. (Photo: CIA/Public Domain)
Another tamarisking operation undertaken in 1981 had almost as impressive effects. Major Jim Orr, a Parachute Regiment soldier doing a tour with BRIXMIS, alongside Sergeant Tony Haw, trawled a training area near Cottbus that was being used by the Soviet paratroopers. Orr and Haw lay under cover at first light, combing through the Soviet trash. Here, just as elsewhere, they found the same improvised toilet paper.
According to Geraghty, Orr saw a Russian soldier come out to relieve himself in the midst of the operation, and the two agents narrowly avoided being seen. But even though they had to rush away, the two ended up finding “some smelly papers” which were then “reassembled and analysed back in Berlin,” and included “documents revealing the brigade’s training programme, and, even more important, an Order of Battle booklet that revealed some units as a ‘shell’ formations,” writes Geraghty.
"Shit-digging" might not have been as unpopular with agents as you might think. If they dug up something valuable, it helped both their careers and the covert war effort. “I seemed to get landed with a lot of tamarisk operations," Orr later explained to Geraghty. "Eventually I volunteered for them as a sort of masochistic pleasure.”
Operation Tamarisk has been described as one of the most successful, if lesser-known spy operations of the Cold War. It didn't involve martinis or Aston Martins, but you know what they say–no guts, no toilet paper, no glory.