I was asked the other day, ‘A lot of people dislike Hillary Clinton. Why is that?’

My answer was simple. Her sin is that she is a woman.

A sin that has been compounded by her relentless ambition, since she was a junior employed by the Watergate Committee that pursued Richard Nixon to retirement. But such facts are not relevant.

The hatred that has been sown and nurtured by the Fox News and its allied ‘paths’ (a term that includes both sociopaths and psychopaths) for these many years has grown out of little more than hardened air.

The night she was elected to the Senate some years ago, by chance I was checking into a hotel in New York City, and when the count came on the television screen in the lobby, everything stopped. In the silence the announcer said Hillary Clinton had been elected and the lobby erupted in cheers from hotel staff and guests. It was completely spontaneous and general. I was surprised but she certainly had dedicated supporters that night.

She does not have to do anything to attract the vitriol and innuendo. Being is enough to provoke the haters.

That she is thick-skinned and keeps coming back for more, merely makes the haters sharpen the invective the more. Hypocrisy knows no bounds. Ask John Dennis "Denny" Hastert.

She has also learned how the system works and she has focused on making it work for her. Another of her crimes.

If it needs to be said for the back row, ambition, a thick-skin, and focus in a man are a virtue, but in a woman….

Grotesque but true, and nothing now will make it go away. Parking tickets, speeches to Girl Scouts, email at Christmas, shopping lists, everything has been ransacked for something and when nothing is found that is taken to be proof of deceit.

Barry Obama’s sin is greater. He is black. That is the ember that burns throughout the haters to which Trump Donald is now giving voice and license. All the smoke has created the fire.

The final sin that unites Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is that they are Democrats. Black, woman, and Democrat are the three horses of the apocalypse for Fox News, Murdoch Organs, and Haters United, i.e., the Republican Party.

To mention that Republican nominee, I wondered if the deportations bruited of Muslims (Arabs) and Mexicans will include all them who have been killed or maimed in Vietnam, Somalia, Iran, Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Will the next Republican administration dig up dead bodies, starting at Arlington, and deport them, along with the cripples and deformed who wore the uniform. Let it be noted that many of these dead were killed at the command of Republican administrations.

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Arlington 1.jpg Arlington 2.jpg
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It was amusing the other day to read Republican sage William Kristol bemoaning the rise of Trump Donald, since Kristol was one of the laboratory assistants to his father that converted the Republican Party into the Frankenstein it has become. Having sown, this Igor now reaps.

Even more amusing was Kristol’s generalisation that historically Republican candidates for president have been superior to Democratic ones. Such is the view from Olympus, where dwells he amid the mirrors, they being his main source of information. No criterion are stated, and facts are absent.

Does this crew of candidates make one swell with pride? Warren G. Harding, U.S. Grant, Alf Landon, Chester A. Arthur, James Blaine, Barry Goldwater, and William Howard Taft.

No doubt some of these individuals were decent men, e.g., Grant, but he was a lousy president.

A ten-part television series from Iceland.  Nordic noir without the computer graphic images of gratuitous gruesome gore that typify far too much of the genre. IMDB rates it at 8.2.

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It kept us coming back for more. Each fifty-minute episode ending on some crisis, and each subsequent episode beginning with a recapitulation.  Slow and old fashioned.

What's to like?

The pace is measured and low key. No shouting, table banging, or the other crutches mentally impoverished screen writers and directors use to distract from the superficiality of the work.

The setting is great travelogue. Snow, mountains, and fjords, oh, and plenty of ice on the north coast of Iceland.

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The Iceland’s weather is a major character that directs and limits what the human agents can do.

The interaction of the public and private lives of the characters in the small town which is cut-off by a storm.

The three small town cops, each different, make a good team, fallible though each is.

The crippled watcher. But we got too little of him.

The several wheels within wheels which were neatly wrapped up in the end.

The redemption of the falsely accused and imprisoned boyfriend.

'The devil entered me' said the grieving grandfather.

That most of the trouble was all homegrown and did not come on the ferry.

The mixture of languages, Icelandic, Danish, German, French, and English. 

The cannibalistic media. Another tired trope but I am not yet tired of it.

trapped ferry.jpg


What's not to like?

The big city cops are a trope, arrogant, easily satisfied, and incompetent.

The ex-wife's boyfriend is ever present, leading to the conclusion that he will figure in the plot, but he does not. A blue herring.

The ferry captain's change of heart was pat.

The police commissioner in Reykjavik was built up to be important in the story and then dropped.

Andri’s backstory was a boring distraction as they always are. This is another crutch.


We found it on SBS On-Demand.  Hooray!  

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But we found it very difficult to find on the telly. The TV screen search function could not find itself! Nor could it find ‘Trapped.’ 

The iPad app is great. It was easy to find ‘Trapped’ on it but we wanted to watch it on the big screen in front of the easy chairs. The app does not communicate with the television as far as we could see.  

The title alone was irresistible, and my resistance is futile, quite often.

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It opens with the destruction of Earth and then it gets worse!

Fortunately, Earth had an All-Catastrophe policy, no exemptions and no deductible, with Stranger and Stranger Insurance, and Tom Stranger appeared in time to put things right, dragging in his wake one very reluctant intern. (President John Wayne took out the policy and arranged for eternal payment of the premiums.)

Tom offers the best customer service in the universe, and he means that literally. Anything less than a ten our of ten is failure, and Tom does not fail, not even when confronted with dinosaurs sporting Nazi insignia. (Part of a Trump delegation.)

The intern thought a six-month stint in insurance would be, like you know, easy. As a Gender Studies major he had not actually bothered to read any of the print, fine or actually otherwise, but, like, was waiting for the movie, actually, like, so he had no idea, like, actually what he had signed on for actually. Well ‘no idea’ might be a generalisation. ’Thought’ is not the right word. No thinking occurred. The intern is a thought-free zone.

Moreover, this Gender Studies intern was from…yes, it gets worse, Chico State, where beer stains on tee-shirts are, well, like, cool, way cool actually.

Tom would like to return his intern from whence he came, but duty calls and redeeming a Gender Studies major from Chico State, now that would be a challenge of inter-dimensional magnitude.

But first, Tom and the intern find themselves in Nebraska where they must battle the ultimate evil. Gulp!

Tom is rated at 104.3 Bear Grylls while the intern is a puny, 0.4 BG. The Bear Grylls rating refers to what it would take to kill BG. It is an inter-dimensional standard. [Love it!] Tom can man-up, or rather Bear-up, to the ultimate evil there among the corn fields, but he will have to shelter that puny intern who is less than half a Bear Grylls.

Correia.jpg Larry Correia

NO SPOILER.

It is two hours of spoof, like a long skit from SNL in its heyday, read by Adam Baldwin who manages all the inter-dimensional voices, including Muffie back head office. Discerning readers may remember Adam Baldwin as Animal in 'Full Metal Jacket.' It is high octane all the way.

The corporate speak, the obsession with the customer experience ratings while ignoring customers, the constitutional inability of an insurance company to pay a claim, the CVs of the policy-holding political leaders encountered along the way, the numb brain of the intern, all of it rings true. How can this be fiction in a world where Donald Trump is reality? Go figure that out.

It has been a while since I used Audible so I had another look and found this corker. I listened to it while pumping iron and pushing pedals at the gym. I call it a krimi because there are plenty of crimes, but in a boring old book store it would be sci-fi.

The fourth in a series set in Sixth Century in the Constantinople of Justine and Justinian, emperors of Nova Roma. Our principal is John, whose mercenary background has brought him to Constantinople … a slave. He bristles at his status but makes the best of it.

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Amid much palace intrigue John, as the Emperor Justin is passing the rule, reluctantly, to his nephew Justinian, is assigned to an excubitor. Felix, he from the Teutonic woods, to investigate the blatant murder of a rich citizen in a church. The Emperor Justine designates them, perhaps more to slow, than speed the investigation for John is after all a slave, and no citizen is required to speak to him. Felix has only a middle rank, poor Latin, and is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. The city’s Prefect resents their intrusion and fobs them off with other duties.

Byzantium mosaic.jpg Justinian.

On their fools’ errand, they go here and there in Constantinople from the Hippodrome to the Golden Horn, to the Bosphorus, to Constantine’s column, to the Great Palace. Each time I shout out, ‘I’ve been there!’

Constantine column-1.png Constantine's column as it was and and it is today.

Two such low level functionaries have little access to the great and good, and the few they meet are quick to tell them that. But they do have more access to the panoply of slaves and servants of the great and good, from door men, to kitchen hands, to fishermen who supply the food, to prostitutes. While many of these humble folk are too careful not to say much, sometimes what they do not say, is itself noteworthy. That is the conceit of the work.

I have read two other entries in this series. Each is packed with period detail which is salted throughout the work. There are no long expositions, just everyday asides and comments. Felix is an excubitor and we learn as we go that means he is a palace guard. We are spared an exposition of the nature, organisation, and origin of excubitors that would be inserted by some other writers to discharge their learning. Here the hand is light and the exposition is slight; the emphasis is always on the matters at hand.

However, John’s backstory lingers more than it should for this reader. We would be better off to find out what kind of man he is through his actions, pace John Stuart Mill, than be prompted by his unfortunate biography. My empathy for such contrivances is zero these days.

The title makes sense in the end, though the villain springs from no-where. But it does tie up all the loose ends.

Eric Mayer.jpg Eric Mayer

MAry Reed.jpg Mary Reed

While this is a foreign and, in many ways, a repellant world, the authors do not attempt to explain or justify it, they just present it in its own terms. There are the fantastically rich and the poor who live on the streets, just as in Reagan’s America, and in Obama’s too. Indeed we have such dwellers in Sydney these days. All in all, the authors bring to life a cast of characters from mute beggars, clever scientists, vain artists, working stiffs, court intriguers, wealthy fops, as well as Emperor Justine and soon-to-be Emperor Justinian and she who will be obeyed, Theodora.

Many unusual terms like excutor are used and there is a eight-page glossary at the end for those who must know before turning the page.

An exotic krimi set in Mongolia as it emerged from the Red World in the 1990s.

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Where is Mongolia? Having seen so many episodes of Eggheads with contestants who do know where their elbows are, this map is included.

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A series of murders, each more terrible than the previous one, in Ulaan Bataar galvanises attention at the highest level, the more so when a British technician is one of the victims in a five star tourist hotel, and then a senior police officer.

Ulan-1.jpg Genghis Khan, a landmark mentioned several times in the novel.

The minister of justice dispatches the one man he can trust to co-ordinate the police efforts, Nergui, he of one name. Into this brew steps a British police officer, Drew MacLeish, sent, as a sop to the slain technician's family back home, to contribute to the investigation.

Ulan-2.jpg Ulaan Baatar

It is a nice context and premise. There is some travelogue in and around Ulaan Bataar, and the Gobi desert. The centrifugal and centripetal forces of the ancient traditions and new opportunities for wealth are portrayed. All of this was interesting reading.

Ulan-3.jpg Ulaan Baatar

The exposition is far too wordy for this reader. Too many long speeches about either the perils of modernity in Mongolia or the backstories of the principals, which always bores me to tears. In this case Nergui’s backstory is laid on with a trowel; he a man among men, a gentleman and a scholar, a preternatural athlete…. Oh hum. Sainthood can only be a matter of time.

Gobi.jpg The Gobi Desert

Let’s get to the plot and as it unwinds we better learn of the characters. I almost wished for Mike Hammer, so appropriately named. You always know where you stand with Mike, under his heel. He spent no time talking about anything but the beating he was giving you.

The author cleverly turns the language barrier into an opportunity. When Nergui speaks to natives in Mongolian, Drew studies the expressions and body language and makes inferences from those observations. The conceit is that body language and face expressions cross the cultural barrier. Perhaps they do not. Likewise, Nergui uses the presence of the British chief inspector Drew as a lever to secure cooperation from officialdom, both Mongolian (in the ministry) and British (in the embassy).

mike-walters.jpg Michael Walters

Much of the tension springs from some tired clichés about politics and politicians. The unscrupulous behaviour attributed to politicians in general in these pages can be found in any middle to large organization. There is, surprise, nothing unique about politics, except its ready exposure to such clichés. I did not find any explanation of the title.

The denouement is deus ex machina. [Look it up, Mortimer!]

Democracy has always been about counting the votes and all the votes are equal. That is a given. So given that few stop to think about what it means. It means the minority, the losers may lose a lot unless the scope of voting is limited.

Though all votes are equal, not all outcomes are permitted. Huh? Human rights are sacrosanct, that is, they cannot be voted away by a majority. Certain other liberties and many institutions are put beyond voting, like a high or supreme court. Although many students have told me that such reservations were elitist and anti-democratic. Surely a vote for the Australian High Court would put Derryn Hinch on the bench.

Whoa! Too fast? Better stop for an illustration. X may vote ‘Yes’ and Y may vote ‘No,’ but the result matters far more to Y, if the vote is about Y’s life, limb, family, or property, than it does to X. Yet their two votes count the same. This is the problem, no account is taken of the intensity each has.

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Interest is often, usually, entwined as vine to fence with intensity. I may not much care where the new distant freeway goes but those near it do care, a lot. Yet my vote equals, and cancels, one of theirs. Interest is this case refers to the immediate and material.

Intensity may also be ideological as well. Within ideology we shall include for purposes of this discussion religion, though to some adherents it is as material as snowfall. What consenting adults do in the privacy of a home is of no interest to me, but some ideologues may feel soiled by knowing of the possibility of some such activities. Indeed they may be so intense about such activities that privacy is a lesser value to be breached in the interest of policing such activities. Think bathrooms. Be that as it may.

In a polity where voting is free, that is, voting is not compulsory, turnout is one indicator of intensity. Those that care about the result are more inclined to go and to vote, even if that requires advanced registration, and on the day the weather is foul, the wait in line is long, the polling place is distant, the officials are hostile.

Intense voters go to vote, rain or shine.

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More than that, intense voters round up like-minded others and take them along to vote as well, and most will then vote as the opinion leader does.

That the wind and rain in Britain may have reduced the turnout in the Brexit vote is another reminder of intensity. The Leave voters voted.

I wrote my first seminar paper in graduate school on ‘Intensity in Democratic Theory.’ It opened with the following epigram:

‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.’

From ‘The Second Coming’ (1919) W. B. Yeats

Yeats.jpg William Yeats

My last undergraduate class had been English poetry, famed of 8 a.m. on Saturday mornings in McCormick Hall with Dr Harwick. These lines seemed a fitting perspective on democratic theory, but it irritated the political science professor who read it. He was likewise irritated when in the next paper I opened with Robert Frost and ‘Mending Wall’ to start a discussion of political institutions.

Frost.jpg Robert Frost

I also quoted Saint-X, further betraying my literary side.

Antoine_de_Saint-Exupéry.jpg Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

‘Let a man but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the world,’ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in ‘Terre des Hommes’ (Wind, Sand, and Stars) (1939). The burning man, by the way, was Adolf Hitler. Saint-X died in 1944 while flying for the Free French in North Africa.

For further reading, the sources I can recall from that intensity exercise are these.

Robert Dahl, 'A Preface to Democratic Theory' (Chicago University Press 1956).

Willmore Kendall and George W. Carey, The "Intensity" Problem and Democratic Theory, 'American Political Science Review,' Vol. 62, No. 1 (Mar., 1968), pp. 5-24.

Giovanni Sartori, 'Democratic Theory' (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1962).

Today I did have a look at the Web of Knowledge and found a few more recent sources, but none that claimed or seemed to be definitive, all of which cited these three as foundation texts on the subject.

The greatest Finn, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867-1951), spoke nearly no Finnish. That is just one of the paradoxes of the man and the state and nation he made.

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Mannerheim’s family traced back to German Hanseatic traders who settled first in Sweden when it was a dominant power and then among the Finns where there were commercial opportunities. Mannerheim is a derivation from Mannheim, as the spell-checker keeps insisting. Mannerheim had no interest in that Teutonic past and came to view Germany as an enemy. Yet late in life he made an alliance with the devil himself in Berlin, Adolf Hitler, to save Finland from a worse fate. On that. more later.

Let’s slow down and get back to the beginning. He was one of many sons in a very well off family. His grandfather had been a Count and his father was a Baron, and Mannerheim himself was a Baron. That sounds grand but in the hierarchy of his time and place it was near the bottom of aristocracy, money or no.

As a boy he was unruly, as children may be, and loved the outdoor life, especially with horses. He was sent to military school for the discipline and Mannerheim liked the idea because of the sports and horses in the cavalry and eventually entered one.

For centuries the Finns, together with Norway and Denmark, were ruled by Sweden from distant and imperious Stockholm. This Greater Sweden eventually lost a war to Russia in 1809, and Finland was created as a dependency of Russia. In fiction it was an independent Grand Duchy, whose duke just happened to be the Czar. By that fiction local freedoms and practices continued. For example, Russia made no effort to impose military service on Finns, and permitted local militias to keep the peace. Censorship and taxation were light. The Grand Duchy of Finland served as a buffer to any future Swedish aggression, and a staging ground should Russia take the initiative.

Mannerheim’s family was Swedish, that was the maternal language, though resident among Finns for centuries when he was born. (Swedish remains an official language in Finland today.) He grew up speaking Swedish as did most of the resident aristocracy.

After several false starts, he entered military school in Russia, and there he stayed for the next thirty years. (Let that sink in. Thirty years a Russian.)

Mannerheim young right.png Young Mannheim, riding crop at hand.

He made a career in the Czar’s Russian army. While many Russian officers took their place by birthright, Mannerheim worked for his, and once there, he worked at it, unlike so many others. Accordingly, he rose through the ranks. He was, remember, a Baron, and there was no social barrier to promotion.

When Nicholas II was crowned, Mannerheim was selected as one of four officers who stood an honour guard on the steps of the church, a singular honour for someone who spoke Russian poorly with a heavy Swedish accent. The one barrier he faced in the army was speaking Russian, but he worked at that with the same application he showed to much else.

He married a Russian aristocrat who soon found him boring and took herself off to the south of France with their two daughters. There was little subsequent contact. She had supposed they would live in St. Petersburg while he became a staff officer, but to be promoted he had to have field commands, in one back-water after another. This book is silent on any other sexual interests he may have had.

When Russia and Japan fought over the metal and mineral riches of Manchuria in 1904-1905 he gained combat experience. He learned there that cavalry had no chance against the machine gun, and he loved horses too much to see them slaughtered to no point. Thereafter in his mind the horse was a means of transportation, not a weapon. This was not the common reaction and made him stand apart from other officers who still favoured the cavalry charge. Nonetheless he weathered his baptism of fire and gained recognition and promotion because of his cool head and clear thinking under fire.

Manchuria cartoon.jpg A contemporary cartoon on the bloody conflict, showing Russia and Japan courting Manchuria.

There are estimates of 70,000 Japanese deaths, 120,000 Russian, and 20,000 Chinese by-standers in the eighteen months of combat. Teddy Roosevelt brokered a peace treaty.

War map.jpg The theatre of operations.

Later when the Russian General Staff wanted to gather intelligence about the far reaches of Western China, that is, Sinkiang, the duty fell to him. Mannerheim travelled for two years, filling notebooks with copious details about roads, mountain passes, fodder for animals, obstacles, fords in rivers, attitude to foreigners, capacity of the central Peking government to act in these extremities, the effect of altitude on man and beast, the grades of ascents, the frequency of avalanches, and more. He was a meticulous notetaker, a keen observer, and inquisitive questioner, so much so that Chinese authorities more than once interrogated him as a spy but his cover as a scientific explorer held. When he reached the Russian legation in Peking, it took him two months to write a report based on his notes. It was later published in two volumes.

Mannerheidm asia.jpg Mannerheim's Asia route.

Leaving aside the myriad of details, what is most impressive about this exercise is, first, that he did it largely unaided, and, second, that he realised the area had no strategic value and said so. At best a Russian incursion there might draw off Chinese men, material, and attention from the real prize, Manchuria. He said as much in his report.

He was offered another such mission but respectfully declined because he was anxious to return to field command to continue his way up the promotion ladder. In 1914 when the lights went out all over Europe he was a Major General in the Russian army and led troops into combat against the Austrians in Rumania and Germans later in Poland.

While he had been in the Orient, the Russian hand on Finland tightened. Taxes increased. Traditional freedoms were curtailed. Censorship increased. The imposition of the Russian language grew. Mannerheim’s correspondence with his large clan of brothers and sisters made him vaguely aware of this change. But there is no doubt he felt torn between a maternal interest in Finland and his personal oath of loyalty to the Czar.

Russia had been home to him for thirty years and had provided him with many more opportunities than Finns could have. He knew far more Russians than Finns, apart from his own family who, remember, were Swedes with little in common with the locals Finns among whom they lived. He spoke nearly no Finnish.

By early 1917 the wheels were falling off the Russian cart and he was caught up in it, like millions of others. He despised the mob he saw in the Bolsheviks, there was never a democratic sentiment in this man, and took leave to recuperate from war wounds in Finland, passing through the St. Petersburg station from which Lenin emerged.

With Russia collapsing, Finns declared themselves a country in 1917 and set about making one. While autonomy appealed broadly to Finns, there were many differences over the specifics. Some wanted to remain close to Russia for protection, while others wanted an entirely new course. On another plane were those who wanted a Bolshevik revolution in Finland to displace the established order of aristocracy and church, and others who wanted to fortify those institutions and practices against any and all threats. In time these divergent interest boiled down to conservative Whites who wanted a Finland independent and radical Reds who wanted a Soviet, which might well be aligned with Russia. (See Craig Cormack, ‘Kurrikka’s Dream’ (2000) for the Red side of this coin, with an Australian echo.)

The self-appointed Finnish Council’s first priority was to define and defend the territory of Finland, including the Karelian Isthmus, from predators, of whatever flag. Defence required an army, and army had to have a general. A few streets away sat a Lieutenant-General. This general’s exploits as soldier in Manchuria, explorer in Sinkiang, and general on the Eastern Front had been a matter of some national pride among Finns in the preceding years.

The book is very well researched and carefully argued. It begins with a survey of existing biographies of Mannerheim which is lost on this reader but affirms the care of the author in situating the work. It is based on extensive examination of Finnish, Russian, German, and Swedish sources, including Mannerheim’s own notebooks and letters. Altogether it seems to be a definitive work of the public life of Mannerheim. I could not find a picture of the author on the web.

Note, Mannerheim took it upon himself to convert the cavalry under his command to mounted infantry, and only the intervention of Czar at some point saved him from a reprimand for such an initiative. As World War I approached the Russian army was spending more on sabres for cavalry than machine guns, according to Barbara Tuchman in ‘The Guns of August’ (1962), discussed elsewhere on this blog. As journalists are always criticising the last war, so generals often prepare for it.


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