Amazon is discontinuing the Kindle Cloud Reader

July 13th, 2020

If it’s true that Amazon is discontinuing the Kindle Cloud Reader, I will be sorely disappointed:

Over the course of the past week, Amazon has been pulling features away from it and it looks like it is on the verge of being discontinued.

We conducted a review a couple of weeks ago on the Kindle Cloud Reader, and since then, the navigation tabs to download ebooks from the Cloud have been removed. The only books you can read, are ones that have been previously downloaded, no new titles can be accessed. Ebooks from certain publishers with DRM cannot be opened anymore, even if you had previously downloaded them. There is a popup window that appears, notifying readers to download the Kindle app for iOS or Android. Amazon also pulled the ability to read books offline, you need a dedicated internet connection to read.

There were only two centers of power in the world, and the United Nations was neither of them

July 13th, 2020

The lessons America learned from World War 2 might not have been the right lessons, as T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

At the end of World War II, American military policy, digesting the Japanese lessons in China, was to control air and sea lanes throughout the East but never to engage in ground hostilities on the Asian mainland.


The only war that military planners could envision was a big one between the United States and the Soviet Union.


The military continued to plan for the only kind of war they had been told to plan for: worldwide, atomic holocaust.


They knew that military considerations, as they foresaw them, required the removal of troops from the Korean periphery, but also that the “rat leaving the sinking ship syndrome” was very prevalent in Asia.


The pragmatists in the high echelons of foreign policy could accomplish many things by fiat or executive agreement, but they could not raise troops or money against the popular will. This was a basic weakness to the policy of containment inherent in any parliamentary democracy, and as it proved in Asia, an insurmountable one, that would recur again and again, in China, in Korea, and finally in Vietnam.


There were only two centers of power in the world, and the United Nations was neither of them.

Stalin, who had asked how many divisions the Pope had, knew exactly how many divisions the U.N. maintained: none.

Heat is the poor man’s altitude

July 12th, 2020

This is the time of year, Alex Hutchinson reminds us, when fitness journalists write articles about how the miserable heat that’s ruining your workouts is actually doing you a big favor:

You’re lucky to be dripping buckets of sweat and chafing up a storm, because heat is the “poor man’s altitude,” ramping up the physiological demands of your workout and triggering a series of adaptations that enhance your endurance.


Heat training works differently [from altitude training]. The most notable change, after just a few days, is a dramatic increase—of up to 20 percent—in the volume of plasma coursing through your veins. That’s the part of the blood that doesn’t include hemoglobin-rich red blood cells, so it’s not immediately obvious whether more plasma will enhance your endurance under moderate weather conditions.


If heat training causes your plasma volume to increase, that will lower your hematocrit.

Lundby’s hypothesis is based on the idea that your kidneys are constantly monitoring hematocrit, trying to keep it in a normal range. If your hematocrit has a sustained decrease, the kidney responds by producing EPO to trigger the production of more hemoglobin-rich red blood cells. Unlike the rapid increase in plasma volume, this is a slower process. Lundby and his colleagues figure it could take about five weeks.


The 11 cyclists in the heat group did those sessions in about 100 degrees and 65 percent humidity; the 12 cyclists in the control group did the same sessions at 60 degrees and 25 percent humidity, aiming for the same subjective effort level. During the heat sessions, the cyclists were limited to half a liter of water to ensure mild dehydration, which is thought to be one of the triggers for plasma volume expansion.

The key outcome measure: total hemoglobin mass increased 893 to 935 grams in the heat group, a significant 4.7 percent increase. In the control group, hemoglobin mass stayed essentially unchanged, edging up by just 0.5 percent.

Every historic decision of the Truman Cabinet was debated by Congress only after it had been made irreversible

July 11th, 2020

T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the political situation in America after World War 2:

During the war, some members of the government had made an incalculable mistake: they had propagandized the Russians as heroic brothers-in-arms, indicated to the public that Stalin and associates were democrats at heart, and led the people to believe that Russia had fought the war from motives as pure as America’s own.


The problem was that America had fought the war — as she had most of her wars — as a crusade, while Russia had fought first for survival, then for power. Crusades are usually inconclusive; it was no accident that Russia won the peace.


The great decisions — the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine — that gave the earth a hope of eventual order were not instantly popular with the American people. There was no great attempt to sell them — it was significant that every historic decision of the Truman Cabinet was debated by Congress only after it had been made irreversible.


They began, knowingly and cunningly, to contain the spread of Communism through whatever policy, short of war, might be required. This containment was vital to American interests, but it must always be remembered that the mere mention of such a policy would have sent millions of patriotic, well-meaning American liberals into convulsions. Liberal thought, which had scented Hitler early, seemingly remained tragically blind to Communist tyranny.

Before any attack on the morality of the men who formulated the policy of Communist containment may be made, several things should be recalled: these men had no designs on the world. They had no nationalist or imperialist policies to foist on anyone; they wanted to keep order and, so far as possible, the status quo, in an era when the Soviet Government clearly desired the opposite.


Truman’s own tragedy remained that the people on whom he depended for domestic support would simply not support his foreign policy. For the policy that evolved in the 1940s was new to American thought. It was not underprivileged Democratic, nor was it business Republican. It was orderly, world-seeing, pragmatic, and conservative — but conservative in the British or ancient Roman sense, not in the American sense.


Wherever there is rule by consent of the ruled, the rulers must always be salesmen, however difficult the task.


It would be the first war to bring down a government, to oust a party in power, not because of the actions that party had taken, but because the policy makers were never able adequately to explain those actions to a troubled and increasingly hostile public.


They are hard to justify unless it is admitted that power, not idealism, is the dominant factor in the world, and that idealism must be backed by power.


It was hard for a nation and a people who had never accepted the idea of power, not as something immoral in itself, but as a tool to whatever ends they sought, to fight and die for limited goals. In short, it was hard to grow up.

Finland’s air force is quietly dropping the swastika

July 10th, 2020

Finland’s air force has been using a swastika ever since it was founded in 1918, shortly after the country became an independent nation and before the Nazis adopted the ancient symbol and rose to power:

Until 1945 its planes bore a blue swastika on a white background — and this was not intended to show allegiance to Nazi Germany, though the two nations were aligned.

While the symbol was left off planes after World War Two, a swastika still featured in some Air Force unit emblems, unit flags and decorations — including on uniforms, a spokesperson for the Finnish air force told the BBC.

Finnish Air Force Swastika

The Romantic painter went on to use a swastika as part of his designs for the insignia of the Order of the Cross of Liberty. He used a cross with much smaller hooks, so the visual similarity to Nazi symbolism is much less pronounced. It also features on the official flag of the Finnish president.

Finnish Flag with Swastika

But the swastika became associated with the Finnish air force via a very different man – a Swedish nobleman called Count Eric von Rosen.

The count used the swastika as a personal good luck charm. When he gifted a plane to the nascent air force of Sweden’s newly independent neighbour in 1918 he had had a blue swastika painted on it. This Thulin Typ D was the first aircraft of the Finnish air force and subsequent planes all had his blue swastika symbol too, until 1945.

Supporters of a continued use of the symbol point out that there were no Nazis in 1918 so the air force’s use of the swastika has nothing to do with Nazism.

However, while Eric von Rosen had no Nazi associations at the time of his 1918 gift, he did subsequently become a leading figure in Sweden’s own national socialist movement in the 1930s. He was also a brother-in-law of senior German Nazi Herman Göring, and, according to Prof Teivainen, a personal friend of Hitler.

They became adept at losing company property

July 9th, 2020

In 1946, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the newly split Korea was struggling:

At his desk one day, Fletcher heard that there was trouble in Samch’ok, on the east coast. He left his office in Seoul to investigate. At a company iron-ore mine, he found agitators were encouraging idle workers to carry away company property. He had the Korean Special Police arrest the agitators, and beat hell out of them.

Back at Seoul, there was some criticism — but nobody had a better idea.

The policy now became one of giving Korean nationals control of the company. The new executives learned some things quickly. They became adept at losing company property, mostly into their own pockets.

Meanwhile, a crisis developed with the Russians just across the border from Seoul Province. The waters that irrigated company rice paddies flowed down from the north, and suddenly the Russians dammed them off. The company agricultural adviser, PFC Peavey, was sent up north to investigate.

The Russians were not offended by negotiating with a PFC. They had political officers masquerading in low ranks in their own forces; they understood perfectly Gospodin Peavey’s desire not to appear conspicuous. They sat down with Peavey and informed him they wanted a portion of the company’s rice harvest in return for the water. Peavey argued awhile. Finally, getting nowhere, he figured, what the hell? He was due to rotate out any day and become a civilian. He agreed to everything. He returned to Seoul, and soon the water flowed south. When asked how he had outwitted the Ivans, Peavey would only smile gently. A few weeks later, he sailed for the States.

When fall came, the Russians asked for their rice. Military Government, of course, with some confusion, explained why they couldn’t have it. Next summer, the New Korea Company had a hell of a time getting water.

Overperforming and underperforming, momentarily dazzling but ultimately deflating

July 8th, 2020

Sianne Ngai became the most influential literary theorist of her generation by becoming the professor of gimmicks:

The summer before she enrolled at Brown University, Sianne Ngai got a job as a waitress at a restaurant called the Magic Pan. “This was an era of Reagan and gourmet jelly beans,” she recalled. In a word, it was the ‘80s.

The Magic Pan was committed to satisfying a newly sophisticated American palate. The restaurant specialized in crepes — an exotic European product — at prices low enough for upwardly mobile middle-class families to feast on them.

What was “magic” about the Magic Pan was its method of preparing the crepes. The front of the restaurant was devoted to a piece of culinary theater. The cook on display would dip the bottom of a copper pan into crepe batter. She would then place the pan, upside down, over a flame. On the underside of the pan the crepe would cook to crispy perfection.

Wander into the back of the restaurant, however, and a less spectacular picture reveals itself. After the crepes had browned on the copper pans out front, they were taken to the kitchen and stored in refrigerators. To assemble an order, a staff member would scoop filling into a cold crepe, fold the pancake over, and microwave the dish. In front: warm light, rugs, copper pans. Backstage: pungent smells of broccoli and cheese, creamed seafood, and other fillings; the incessant hum of microwaves.

This now-defunct crepe restaurant dramatizes the structure of the gimmick: an object that is at once overperforming and underperforming, momentarily dazzling but ultimately deflating. Gimmicks, Ngai writes, are “overrated devices that strike us as working too little (labor-saving tricks), but also as working too hard (strained efforts to get our attention).” In the front, the Magic Pan featured ostentatious labor — working too hard — with the “magic” of those flipped copper pans. In the back, it relied on labor-saving techniques — working too little — with its microwaves and refrigerated food. And what is a crepe but an overrated pancake?

In Theory of the Gimmick (Harvard University Press, 2020), Ngai tracks the gimmick through a number of guises: stage props, wigs, stainless-steel banana slicers, temp agencies, fraudulent photographs, subprime loans, technological doodads, the novel of ideas. Across its many forms, the gimmick arouses our suspicion. When we say something is a gimmick, we mean it is overrated and deceptive, that you would have to be a sucker to fall for it. Yet gimmicks exert a strange hold on us. As with a magic show, we can enjoy the gimmick even while we know we are being tricked.

Ngai, a 48-year-old professor of English at the University of Chicago, has slowly been building a reputation as one of America’s most original and penetrating cultural theorists. She has done so by revitalizing the field of aesthetic theory. To some critics, this domain of philosophical inquiry has long seemed fusty and archaic, overly beholden to 18th-century debates. The categories of the sublime and the beautiful, as theorized by Immanuel Kant and Edmund Burke, continue to shape how we make sense of aesthetic experience.

Ngai’s contribution has been to take marginal, nonprestigious aesthetic categories, such as “cuteness,” and treat them with the same seriousness traditionally afforded to the sublime and the beautiful. In her debut book, Ugly Feelings (Harvard University Press, 2005), she analyzed a set of “minor” negative emotions, including irritation, anxiety, envy, and paranoia. Ngai chose not to focus on the classic aesthetic emotions: states like sympathy, which offer the possibility of moral growth, or passions like terror and anger, which promise cathartic release. Instead, she studied weak, morally unattractive feelings associated with situations of powerlessness. “If Ugly Feelings is a bestiary of affects,” she wrote, “it is one filled with rats and possums rather than lions.”

In the same spirit, Our Aesthetic Categories (Harvard University Press, 2012) named the “cute” (think Hello Kitty), the “interesting” (think conceptual art), and the “zany” (think Lucille Ball’s frenzied attempts to wrap chocolate or do ballet) the dominant aesthetic categories of late capitalism. “Cuteness” captures the mix of tenderness and aggression we feel for commodities — our desire for cute things to hug, squish, cuddle, fondle, crush, and dominate. The judgment that something is “interesting” conveys our hesitant and minimal responsiveness to novelty and change against a background of sameness. (Imagine a series of photographs of filing cabinets, and you will get a sense of this coolly rational aesthetic, which evokes processes of circulation and exchange.) The “zany,” seemingly fun but actually stressful, highlights the shifting boundaries between playing and laboring, work and nonwork, that characterize today’s emotionally strenuous service labor.

Our Aesthetic Categories made Ngai a star. “Once you see the relationship of aesthetics and late capitalism as Ngai wants you to see it,” the critic Merve Emre, an associate professor at Oxford University, has written, “you cannot unsee it.”

Basically, there were two ways to reduce abuses of power in the service

July 7th, 2020

After World War 2 ended, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the Doolittle Board tried to prevent future abuses of power in the service:

In making an Army of eight million men, the United States had commissioned many thousands of men who should never have risen above PFC. Some lousy things happened, particularly in the Service Forces. Officers and noncommissioned officers, in some cases, did abuse their powers.

Basically, there were two ways to reduce abuses of power in the service. One was to overhaul the officer procurement system, make damned certain that no merely average man could ever be commissioned, and have fewer officers, but better ones. The other way was to reduce the power to abuse anybody.

The Doolittle Board, probably thinking of a long period of pleasant peacetime coming up, in early 1946 chose to recommend the second.

It was a good idea, but it wouldn’t work. The company commanders in Korea watched the girls run in and out of the barracks, had men talk back to them, and didn’t know what to do about it. In fact, they weren’t sure but what the American thing to do was to ignore it, and get a girl of their own. Which many did.

What the hell, the war was over. Anybody who said a new one was brewing was definitely a goddam Fascist, or something.

Besides, contracting a venereal disease was no longer a court-martial offense. That kind of thinking had gone out with the horse, with saluting except on duty, with the idea that you should respect a sergeant.

Compliance does make you less likely to endure a beat-down

July 6th, 2020

Roland G. Fryer Jr. summarizes what the data say about police:

There are large racial differences in police use of nonlethal force. My research team analyzed nearly five million police encounters from New York City. We found that when police reported the incidents, they were 53% more likely to use physical force on a black civilian than a white one. In a separate, nationally representative dataset asking civilians about their experiences with police, we found the use of physical force on blacks to be 350% as likely. This is true of every level of nonlethal force, from officers putting their hands on civilians to striking them with batons. We controlled for every variable available in myriad ways. That reduced the racial disparities by 66%, but blacks were still significantly more likely to endure police force.

Compliance by civilians doesn’t eliminate racial differences in police use of force. Black civilians who were recorded as compliant by police were 21% more likely to suffer police aggression than compliant whites. We also found that the benefits of compliance differed significantly by race. This was perhaps our most upsetting result, for two reasons: The inequity in spite of compliance clashed with the notion that the difference in police treatment of blacks and whites was a rational response to danger. And it complicates what we tell our kids: Compliance does make you less likely to endure a beat-down — but the benefit is larger if you are white.


We didn’t find racial differences in officer-involved shootings. Our data come from localities in California, Colorado, Florida, Texas and Washington state and contain accounts of 1,399 police shootings at civilians between 2000 and 2015. In addition, from Houston only in those same years, we had reports describing situations in which gunfire might have been justified by department guidelines but the cops didn’t shoot. This is a key piece of data that popular online databases don’t include.


Investigating police departments can have unintended consequences. Following the brutal beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers in 1991, the U.S. attorney general was given the power to investigate and litigate cases involving a “pattern or practice” of conduct by law-enforcement officers that violates the Constitution or federal rights. Many argue that the answer to police reform in America must include more of these types of investigations.

We conducted the first empirical examination of pattern-or-practice investigations. We found that investigations not preceded by viral incidents of deadly force, on average, reduced homicides and total felony crime. But for the five investigations that were preceded by a viral incident of deadly force, there was a stark increase in crime — 893 more homicides and 33,472 more felonies than would have been expected with no investigation. The increases in crime coincide with an abrupt change in the quantity of policing activity. In Chicago alone after the killing of Laquan McDonald, the number of police-civilian interactions decreased by 90% in the month the investigation was announced.

Importantly, in the eight cities that had a viral incident but no investigation, there was no subsequent increase in crime. Investigations are crucial, but we need to find ways of holding police accountable without sacrificing more black lives.

Outside, the fresh air was worse

July 5th, 2020

After VJ-Day, American soldiers wanted to go home, and Americans wanted them to come home. This left Colonel Jones in Korea in an awkward situation, as T. R. Fehrenbach explains, in This Kind of War:

Colonel Jones received replacements, of course. He got officers from the Quartermaster Corps and the Infantry, and plenty of basic riflemen from the eighteen-year-olds just drafted, who didn’t have Skill One, even for basic riflemen. Engineers he didn’t get. Engineers, like most professional men, serve in the military only when the draft moves them.

With a Group HQ that didn’t know a crowbar from a wrecking iron, and who thought a balk was part of baseball, Colonel Jones, as part of “Blacklist Forty” (code name for Korea), reported to General Hodge in Korea.


These were days and weeks to break a career officer’s heart. The United States Army, which had been the most powerful in the world, did not melt away in an orderly fashion. It disintegrated into a disorganized mob, clamoring to go home.


Fortunately for Jones, the Jap soldiers in Korea waiting to be sent home were willing workers.


The Japs, now that the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was gone, were affable, smiling, professional, and entirely helpful. Jones put them to work.


Eventually, though, all the Japs had to be repatriated. They took with them, when they left, every military officer, every professional man, every engineer, bank teller, and executive in the Pusan area. They left behind a hell of a mess.

Like most Americans, Colonel Jones was not prepared to take Chosun. The appalling poverty, the dust, dirt, filth, and eternal clamor of Pusan repelled any man accustomed to the West. Orphan children, with running sores, lay in the streets. Society, with the iron Japanese hand gone, was in dissolution. Money was worthless, since the Japanese had printed billions of yen prior to the surrender and passed it out to all who wanted it. Almost all responsible Koreans, particularly the educated were — rightly — tarred with the collaborationist brush.


He never got used to the stink. Inside the city, the odors were of decaying fish, woodsmoke, garbage, and unwashed humanity. Outside, the fresh air was worse. Koreans, like most Orientals, use human fertilizer. Their fields and paddies, their whole country smells somewhat like the bathroom of a fraternity house on Sunday morning.


Clothing washed in their rivers turns a sickly brown.


In Korea, there were no trained administrators for either government or business, regardless of their politics.


As an engineer, he became responsible for fire fighting in Pusan, and he noticed a great number of fires were breaking out. He asked a Korean fireman about this.

“Oh, it is the different factions, setting each other’s houses afire,” the Korean answered cheerfully.

He soon learned to use Korean guards for U.S. military stores. The Koreans were desperately poor, and would steal anything, even if nailed down — nails had commercial value — but American sentries would not willingly shoot down women and boys carrying off gas cans and water buckets. Not after they had killed two or three, anyway — they lost all heart for it. But Korean guards would shoot or beat hell out of the thieves, if they caught them.


The summers were hot and dusty, or hot and rainy, with hundred-degree temperatures. The winters were Siberian. The country literally stank, except for the few months during which the ground stayed frozen.

Happy Secession Day!

July 4th, 2020

I almost forgot to wish everyone a happy Secession Day:

Koreans had learned the hard way that imperialism comes in many forms

July 3rd, 2020

More than a million Koreans fled their homeland when the Japanese took over, T. R. Fehrenbach explains, in This Kind of War:

One refugee in the States, a Dr. Syngman Rhee, embarrassed the government. He had entered on an old Korean passport at the time of the takeover, and now in 1919 he requested a visa to visit the League of Nations, to make a protest over the treatment of his countrymen. Washington emphatically told him no, since he had no valid Japanese passport, and Washington did not want to offend its late ally, Japan. Generously, however, since Dr. Rhee had influential friends, he was allowed to remain in the United States.

In 1919, and later, the Japanese rulers of Chosun never quite dared expel the Western missionaries, probably not realizing in how little repute these emissaries were held in the Western capitals. For years the only contact the Korean people had with outside was through these missionaries. In Chosun, no anti-Western bias ever developed.

Koreans had learned the hard way that imperialism comes in many forms, and it can be black or brown or yellow, as well as white. Koreans would never afterward feel any sentimental racial cohesiveness with the rest of Asia. The Japanese occupation and policy of extirpation took care of that.

Army halts SERE course after 90 soldiers test positive for coronavirus

July 2nd, 2020

Out of the 110 students participating in the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 82 — along with eight instructors — tested positive for COVID-19:

The course was terminated and all 110 soldiers are being quarantined for 14 days, Burton said.

Excellent moviemaking, but risible history

July 1st, 2020

Three years ago Ed Realist noted that “Gone with the Wind is going through hard times right now.

If in a year or three it’s banished from TCM and movie revival houses and the AFI top 100 (much less the top 10 position it now holds), I won’t be surprised.

Gone with the Wind is not one of his favorite historical films — he considers it “excellent moviemaking, but risible history” — but he considers Mellie was one of the greatest feminist characters of all time. (I’d consider her a strong female character, but not a feminist.)

I’m not sure when I first realized that Melanie Wilkes, played by the great Olivia De Havilland, was the tremendous feminist model that others saw in Scarlett. I do know that from the first time I watched it to now, I preferred Melanie. Sometime in the 90s, though, I realized that she, not the tempestuous Scarlett, is the exemplar of a powerful female character. De Havilland’s Melanie is, in my view, one of the five great feminist movie roles of all time (the others: Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, Faye Dunaway in Network, Meryl Streep in Out of Africa, and Sigourney Weaver in Aliens.)

This came up because Olivia De Havilland just turned 104 years old!

Gone with the Wind is back on HBOMax, by the way. I’ve been meaning to listen to the audiobook.

It is the nature of peoples to see the ancient foes, and to ignore those newly arising

July 1st, 2020

T. R. Fehrenbach explains, in This Kind of War, why there were multiple Korean wars before the Korean War:

Korea, or Chosun, is a peninsula, 575 miles in length, averaging 150 miles across. It resembles in outline the state of Florida, though bigger. Along its eastern coast a giant chain of mountains thrusts violently upward; the west coast is flat and muddy, marked by estuaries and indentations. Inland the country is a series of hills, broad valleys, lowlands, and terraced rice paddies. Its rivers run south and west, and they are broad and deep.

It is a country of hills and valleys, and few roads. Most of Korea is, and always has been, remote from the world.

Chosun is a poor country, exporting only a little rice. But its population density is exceeded in Asia only by parts of India.


Neither China, nor Russia, nor whatever power is dominant in the Islands of the Rising Sun, dares ignore Korea. It is, has been, and will always be either a bridge to the Asian continent, or a stepping-stone to the islands, depending on where power is ascendant.


Manchuria is the richest area in all East Asia, with iron ores, coal, water power, food, and timber, and whoever owns Manchuria, to be secure, must also own Chosun.


It is the nature of peoples to see the ancient foes, and to ignore those newly arising. Japan defeated Russia with the moral and material aid of Great Britain and America, who had watched the Russian advance to the Pacific with unconcealed dread. Japan, with far greater ambitions than the rotting Empire of the Bear had ever entertained, now was the dominant power in East Asia, and America and Britain applauded.

They did not sense that, in time, Japan would overthrow the old order completely.