Sunday, April 9, 2017

Had A Thought

Slag bij Ter Heijde by Jan Abrahamsz Beerstraten (Source)
It's the first weekend of being a bachelor since The Missus Herself headed out to California. To say I'm bored would be something of an understatement. The feline staff, while attentive and affectionate at meal times, pretty much just want to sleep the rest of the day.

So, rather at loose ends and just having finished reading a book, I cast about for something else to read. While there is a plethora of reading material here at Chez Sarge, nothing struck my fancy. So I headed out, to either the library or to a book store. The library, while much closer, has an issue with parking.

For the library sits downtown on the main drag (not called Main Street incidentally but Hope Street) and parking on a nice Saturday (which it was) can sometimes not be had for love nor money. It's a problem with old New England towns. The main streets were laid out in the horse and carriage days when only the wealthier folks could actually afford time away from the day to day drudgery of life to actually go someplace. At least that's how I see it.

Anyhoo, it was down to Barnes & Noble where I thought to perhaps acquire some Niven and Pournelle. They had one frigging book and it was way overpriced for the size of the volume. I shall not pay $10 for a 150 page novel. No matter who wrote it.

But I did see, in the historical section, another book by Nathaniel Philbrick, The Last Stand. Now Mr. Philbrick is a superb historian and makes history come alive through his writing. (I've read two other of his books, The Heart of the Sea and Bunker Hill, both of which I devoured.) How could I not want to read his take on the Battle of the Little Big Horn? (The Greasy Grass fight as it's known to some folks.)

The introduction sealed the deal. He relates history both to the time in which it occurred and to the times which come after. History doesn't occur in a vacuum. While years later people like myself read about historical events, for the people who experienced the event it's something they never forget, provided they survive. What they went through can echo down through generations.

Then I read my buddy Shaun's latest blog post, here. It struck me that history is a chronicle of the day to day events which taken together within the context of the time might seem to make some sort of coherent story or narrative.

But what if history is nothing more than the people in charge making colossal mistakes which get people killed and make other people in charge angry enough to pursue courses of action which wind up with more people dying and massive changes to the ebb and flow of society?

It seems to me that we have spent much of human history attempting to perfect the process of who gets to be in charge that will result in less of us common folk getting slaughtered and maimed.

Hereditary princes don't work. You might get a good one every now and then, but they all let it go to their heads eventually and most of them just suck at being in charge. Dictators don't work, left or right, they're just insane bullies who want to be in charge just because that's what power hungry insane people want. Having a whack job in charge is always a bad idea.

Also seems like our modern political system doesn't work all that well either. The people who want to run for office and want to be in charge are typically people you wouldn't trust to watch your dog over a long weekend.

I suppose some day we might get it right. But we've been at it for thousands of years. While things have improved, somewhat, it's neither consistent nor widespread.

Yes, history is what happens when the people in charge screw up. Big time.

Not a happy thought, but perhaps it's the way we're designed. Your thoughts?


  1. Two thoughts, while I consume my first cup of coffee (which should tell you something of the measure of those thoughts).
    First, what "good" person would want that job. Long hours, continual fighting, reputation continually besmirched with rumors, innuendo and leaks of partial truths. So, IMHO, only a flawed person interested in only the power would seek out that job.
    Second, I quoted Field Marshall Slim earlier this week. "No Details, No Paper, No Regrets." Don't get bogged down in the Details, give your folks the objective and step aside and let them handle it. Minimize the paperwork required. Finally, you're going to make mistakes, people may even get killed, analyze them and learn what you can from them and drive on.
    Not sure that's on target, Sarge, for what you're asking, but I'm starting to feel the coffee kick in, so I may be back. Or not, see, I've got this slave driver for a boss and he's expecting a product at 0400 PDT tomorrow! :-)

    1. Shack.

      (I've added "From the Green Notebook" to the "Newbies" section over on the right. I need to reorg that stuff, again, I don't have an Army category. Nor a SWO category.)

  2. "Yes, history is what happens when the people in charge screw up. Big time." I just want to add one thing to your
    statement - 'Memorable' history is what happens when people screw up big time. People just don't tend to write
    about the pleasant things that happen in their lives.

    We have a chain book stores in the Kansas City area called "Half Price Book Store" that are great for book shopping.
    Their books are used but usually very good quality books. After I lost a lifetime collection of books when our house
    burned, I found the cost of replacing my library to be atrocious. That's when I discovered Half Price Books and it has really helped in my slow process of book replacement. I also had a fellow bookworm turn me on to "Abe Books" online.
    I can usually get my books for less than the cost of shipping.

    1. Dang, you lost your whole collection? Not to mention all of the other things we hang on to, photos, remembrances, etc. That must have been tough!

  3. I am grateful that we have people the caliber of General Mattis, General McCrystal, John Bolton, Nikki Haley and similar that are willing to endure the purgatory of Public Service in order to serve their country. I know that there are many others, unsung, but the reality of todays politician is that the shallow, self-serving "bad" ones far outweigh the others. As we seem to be incapable of firing the bad ones at election time I'm not sure what the answer is.

    Speaking of Shaun, a random comment of yours recently led me to his site. I lurked for a month or so then finally made a few posts. Thanks for introducing me to a great guy that writes wonderful posts about real American life. He shoots better than I do but I do not hold that against him. :)

  4. The answer has always been the First Principle. If you believe it is a self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with natural rights, and if you believe in treating others as you would be treated while at the same time holding yourself to the standard you set for others, then you are behaving as a civilized human and contributing to peace and stability and the very real promise of humanity. No one, least of all me, is perfect at this. I've found that I have to consciously exercise my principles. If I don't, they atrophy. Whenever I start treating others as things, I become exactly as Stalin or Hitler or Wilson. What I can do about the state of human civilization begins and ends with me. When I seek to correct others I'm doing it wrong, for I'm attempting to manipulate them and you only manipulate objects, not human beings who are equal to you. Civilization is a mess. I cannot change civilization. I am a mess. I can change me. Anyway, that's my take.

    1. Pretty good take on things. First Principle is first for a reason.

  5. We keep on screwing it up - despite the intentions of those who tried to make the machine difficult to break.

    We're doomed.

  6. I read the Philbrick a couple of years ago and enjoyed it.
    My thought at the time, and still today, is that be careful when you try to leave a legacy.

    1. I have a problem with the whole legacy thing. If you do your job, to the best of your ability, everything else should fall into place. Maybe that's just me...

  7. In our particular case, there are a few things we can do.

    If you want to fix things in politics, there are a couple of things we can do. They're not easy, but they're doable.

    First, get rid of the "my way or the highway" mindset. When Obama was president, the GOP decided that they would allow him no way to get credit for anything. Now that Trump's in office, the Democrats seem to have decided to do the same. Hey, people, compromise means you can't always get everything you want, but sometimes you get what you need. Hmmm... isn't there a song like that?

    Second, get rid of gerrymandering. When you have a "safe" seat for your party, you don't have to take mind of the center, so the guys on the extremes define the debate. Unfortunately, that would take a constitutional amendment to be effective.

    Third, get rid of most money in politics. Pols spend more time sucking up to donors than talking to their constituents. Shouldn't it be the other way around? I'm sure Justice Roberts et al have many fine points, but the idea that corporations are people and that restricting their political spending is some kind of unconstitutional restriction on speech seems bizarre to me. You're telling me that a billionaire's money (or that of a labor union, for that matter) is OK as a proxy for multiplying their opinion which I have no way to counter? Sounds awfully undemocratic to me.

    Finally, require that every visit to every member of Congress (and their staff) be documented. There are at least 12,000 lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and they spend more money than Congress gets for their salary and benefits. There's no way to get rid of lobbyists--that's a right under the Constitution's First Amendment--but we can make damned sure make lobbyists are known, along with where their money comes from. And if I visit my senator and have my say, you can take my name. No problem.

    1. All excellent ideas. The first reminds me of the old saying "politics is the art of compromise," we are so doing that wrong. The Dems and Repubs are equally guilty.

      Gerrymandering is a bad idea all the way around. Getting rid of money in politics? Love it, do I see it happening? No.

      A visit to a Congress critter by someone who isn't a constituent makes me smell something fishy.

      The only real answer, I think, is term limits. It would remove a lot of the problems you cite. At least I think it would.

      Will that happen? I doubt it...

    2. Term limits sounds good on the face of it, but what you really get is inexperienced lawmakers facing experienced lobbyists. The odds are pretty stacked in such a case. Just as good to make sure that the voters know that Mr X visited Congressman Z twenty times and gave $500,000 to his re-election fund and hope for the best. If the voters don't like it, it's up to them to find somebody they can trust.

    3. Yes, the lobbyists are a problem term limits might not solve, in fact could make it worse.

      Your last line is critical. An educated electorate who pay attention is really the only solution.


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