Trump can’t fire anyone and neither could Tsar Nicholas II

The late reign of the Russian Tsars was marked by their near total inability to exert their will over anything.

At Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation festival:

Before the food and drink was handed out, rumours spread that there would not be enough for everyone. As a result, the crowd rushed to get their share and individuals were tripped and trampled upon, suffocating in the dirt of the field.[39] Of the approximate 100,000 in attendance, it is estimated that 1,389 individuals died[37] and roughly 1,300 were injured.[38] The Khodynka Tragedy was seen as an ill omen and Nicholas found gaining popular trust difficult from the beginning of his reign. The French ambassador’s gala was planned for that night. The Tsar wanted to stay in his chambers and pray for the lives lost, but his uncles believed that his absence at the ball would strain relations with France, particularly the 1894 Franco-Russian Alliance. Thus Nicholas attended the party; as a result the mourning populace saw Nicholas as frivolous and uncaring.

The guy can’t even get out of sports with his uncle:

From there, they made a journey to Scotland to spend some time with Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle. While Alexandra enjoyed her reunion with her grandmother, Nicholas complained in a letter to his mother about being forced to go shooting with his uncle, the Prince of Wales, in bad weather, and was suffering from a bad toothache.[41]

Russo-Japanese War:

Nicholas’s stance on the war was something that baffled many. He approached the war with confidence and saw it as an opportunity to raise Russian morale and patriotism, paying little attention to the financial repercussions of a long-distance war.[45] Shortly before the Japanese attack on Port Arthur, Nicholas held firm to the belief that there would be no war. Despite the onset of the war and the many defeats Russia suffered, Nicholas still believed in, and expected, a final victory, maintaining an image of the racial inferiority and military weakness of the Japanese.[44]

As Russia faced imminent defeat by the Japanese, the call for peace grew. Nicholas’s mother, as well as his cousin Emperor Wilhelm II, urged Nicholas to negotiate for peace. Despite the efforts, Nicholas remained evasive, sending a telegram to the Kaiser on 10 October that it was his intent to keep on fighting until the Japanese were driven from Manchuria.[44] It was not until 27–28 May 1905 and the annihilation of the Russian fleet by the Japanese, that Nicholas finally decided to sue for peace.[citation needed]

The Duma:

A second Duma met for the first time in February 1907. The leftist parties—including the Social Democrats and the Social Revolutionaries, who had boycotted the First Duma—had won 200 seats in the Second, more than a third of the membership. Again Nicholas waited impatiently to rid himself of the Duma. In two letters to his mother he let his bitterness flow:

A grotesque deputation is coming from England to see liberal members of the Duma. Uncle Bertie informed us that they were very sorry but were unable to take action to stop their coming. Their famous “liberty”, of course. How angry they would be if a deputation went from us to the Irish to wish them success in their struggle against their government.[67]

He can’t even stop people from coming into his country!

Then, of course, there was that little matter with WWI.

The Tsarina, Alexandra, complained that she couldn’t so much as change the scones they were served at tea time. Each detail of the tea service was set, determined by a system of rules and patronage already put into place and now immutable.

I wish I could find now the book that discussed this, but my search skills are failing me. But in short, despite being the ostensible autocratic monarchs of a massive empire, the Tsar and Tsarina were remarkably incapable of altering even the most minor aspects of their lives. Despite titles like autocrat, emperor, tsar, etc., few men rule alone–most monarchs are enmeshed in multiple overlapping systems of authority, from their relatives–the rest of the royalty–to the military, bureaucracy, the local upper class, feudal obligations, rights and privileges, etc.

Even Henry VIII had to resort to inventing his own religion just to get a simple divorce–something we peasants affect with far more ease. Henry’s difficulties stemmed from the fact that his wife, Catherine of Aragon, was daughter of the king and queen of Spain, and the Pope (whose dispensation was needed for a royal divorce) was at the time being held prisoner by Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles V.

But Henry did eventually manage.

We might criticize Henry for murdering two of his wives, but Britain had just emerged from a century of civil war and he knew the importance of producing a clear heir so succession could not be contested and the country would not descend again into war. He was descended from the guys who were ruthless enough to come out on top and he was willing to chop off a few heads if that’s what it took to keep his country safe.

And the product of Henry’s reign was peace; his daughter, Queen Elisabeth I, oversaw England’s golden age.

By contrast, Nicholas II couldn’t produce a viable male heir (hemophiliacs are right out). Alexandra’s failure resulted in neither divorce, a rupture with the Orthodox Church, nor execution (had any of Henry’s wives associated with the likes of Rasputin, their heads would have been off.) He couldn’t even get out of frivolous amusements with his uncle.

It’s not that lopping of Alexandra’s head would have saved the Russian Tsars, but that having a system with enough flexibility that the Tsar could actually make important decisions and leaders capable of using said system might have.

Meanwhile in America, it amazes me that Trump is not capable of simply firing anyone in the executive branch he so desires–including the entire executive branch. After all, Trump is the head of the executive branch; they answer to him. If Trump cannot fire them, who can? How can bad actors be removed from the executive branch?

Take the incredible recent 60 Minutes Interview with McCabe, a former FBI agent who was fired for conspiring to overthrow President Trump during the election:

Tonight you will hear for the first time from the man who ordered the FBI investigations of the President. Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe is about to describe behind the scenes chaos in 2017, after Trump fired FBI director James Comey. In the days that followed, McCabe says that law enforcement officials discussed whether to secretly record a conversation with the president, and whether Mr. Trump could be removed from office by invoking the 25th amendment.

Who the fuck does this McCabe asshole think he is? The power to impeach lies with Congress, not the FBI. The FBI is part of the executive branch. It doesn’t even make sense for the executive branch to investigate its own head, much less try to oust a sitting president for firing someone.

That’s how the entire CHAIN OF COMMAND works.

After Comey was fired, McCabe says he ordered two investigations of the president himself. They asked two questions. One, did Mr. Trump fire Comey to impede the investigation into whether Russia interfered with the election. And two, if so, was Mr. Trump acting on behalf of the Russian government.

The media keeps trotting out a line–they’ve been trotting this out since before the election–that Trump needs to believe the intelligence on Russia. But nobody–outside of a few folks inside the intelligence service itself and perhaps Trump–gets to see the actual evidence on the matter, because it’s all “classified.” And frankly, I don’t think they have any evidence. Because it’s not real.

Remember Iraq?

If you can’t prove any of this, there’s no reason to believe (or not believe) any of it.

Imagine if during the ’08 election, the Republicans had become convinced that Obama was an Islamic foreign agent working together with Muslim countries to subvert America, and the FBI under Bush started an investigation into Obama. (There are Republicans who thought this, but it has always been fringe.) Now imagine that two years later, the media is still insisting that Obama needs to “believe the intelligence agencies” about Saudi interference in the election and that the FBI is trying to secretly wiretap him because he fired the guy who was pushing the “investigation” of his supposed links to Osama bin Laden.

Would you not think that the FBI had gone a bit insane?

Whether you like Trump or not is beside the point.

There is simply no accountability here for the FBI’s behavior. The FBI is pushing whatever harebrained conspiracy it wants, and if Trump tries to do anything to reign them in, they threaten him with “obstruction of justice” and threaten to team up with Congress to get him impeached.

Even if you don’t believe in democracy, you may still be concerned that random guys in the FBI are trying to run the country.

Remember, in the midst of the destruction of the Russian regime, the best the royalty could manage was murdering an annoying monk. They couldn’t save themselves–or their country–from disaster.

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Because I am a Barbarian

Because I am a Barbarian

 

“Why are you like this?” the question refrains

There’s dirt in my hair and mud on my knees

I run with horses and sing in the breeze

There are stars in my eyes and sky in my heart

I feel the Earth spin and the seasons progress

Because the blood of barbarians runs in my veins.

 

“Why can’t you conform? Why won’t you behave?”

You build walls around me, but I will escape

I’ll find the trails and run for the hills

Dig into the earth where I can be free,

With birds and bears, foxes and trees.

For barbarian souls cannot be contained.

 

“You cannot say that–it isn’t polite–we’ll make it a crime–”

Fuck you, you bastards, I’ll say what I mean

I won’t bow to your idols nor repeat your lies

I won’t die for your profits nor fight in your wars

I am not your dog and I cannot be tamed

Because I am a barbarian and I do not obey.

 

You cut down the trees and lay cities in grids

Flatten the hills and murder the wolves

Choke rivers with shit and turn the frogs gay

Trample the flowers and murder your neighbors

All in the name of “Let’s follow the rules.”

But I am a barbarian and I won’t be a slave.

Why are there so Many Lizard People–and how do we GET RID OF THEM?

Cabrini Green, circa 1960

I’ve finally come up with a good definition for the Lizard People:

People who prioritize order above human utility–including their own.

It’s easy to understand why people harm others if they benefit personally in the process. We might not like it, but at least we understand it, and self-interested people can be reasoned with.

Lizard people look like people, but they seem to lack the ability to reason like people. They make other people’s lives worse, but for no discernible personal benefit. They use words like “progress” or “improvement,” “rational” or “modern,” “rules” or “policies,” to justify their policies, while ignoring complaints from the people involved that the new policies actually break more than they fix.

Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis, Missouri

Or to put it another way: lizard people are the folks who thought Cabrini Green looked nice and built it that way on purpose.

After all, housing projects don’t simply appear out of thin air. Hundreds if not thousands of people were substantially involved in the process of creating some of the ugliest monuments to poverty the nation has ever bulldozed.

And as Slate Star Codex recently discussed in his review of James Scott’s Seeing Like a State, this didn’t happen by accident or because ugly buildings were somehow cheaper than regular ones. It happened because there was a whole school of thought, the Modernists, who thought it would be grand to redesign whole cities to be “modern” and “rational”. As Scott Alexander notes:

The worst of the worst was Le Corbusier, the French artist/intellectual/architect. The Soviets asked him to come up with a plan to redesign Moscow. He came up with one: kick out everyone, bulldoze the entire city, and redesign it from scratch upon rational principles….

The Soviets decided to pass: the plan was too extreme and destructive of existing institutions even for Stalin. Undeterred, Le Corbusier changed the word “Moscow” on the diagram to “Paris”, then presented it to the French government (who also passed). Some aspects of his design eventually ended up as Chandigarh, India. …

the Modernists rarely got their hands on entire cities at once. They did build a number of suburbs, neighborhoods, and apartment buildings. There was, however, a disconnect. Most people did not want to buy a High Modernist house or live in a High Modernist neighborhood. Most governments did want to fund High Modernist houses and neighborhoods, because the academics influencing them said it was the modern scientific rational thing to do. So in the end, one of High Modernists’ main contributions to the United States was the projects – ie government-funded public housing for poor people who didn’t get to choose where to live.

I recommend Alexander’s entire post, because by the end you will have a much better idea of what I mean by “Lizard People” than I can possibly explain myself.

Or to give a much more mundane, local example:

After a couple of the local teenagers got drivers’ licenses and a large family moved in down the block, our neighborhood developed a parking problem: more cars than spaces. Residents complained, so the HOA handed down a ruling: no one can park in the spare spaces. Problem solved!

My personal experience with HOAs is that they are run by lizard people, overly concerned with having a “rule” and a “policy” for everything, and rarely with actually maximizing the property values of the HOAs members.

It’s kind of odd that people don’t discuss HOAs more often, because they’re a level of government that millions of people are exposed to, voting is restricted to property owners, and they’re small enough that individuals could have an effect on them.

To be clear, it’s not that order is itself inherently bad. For example, Alexander posted a map of Chicago (laid out in a grid) next to a map of a traditional, twisty-windy-street city. But Chicago’s sewers are a true engineering marvel:

During the 1850s and 1860s engineers carried out a piecemeal raising of the level of central Chicago. Streets, sidewalks and buildings were physically raised on hydraulic jacks or jackscrews. The work was funded by private property owners and public funds. …

During the 19th century, the elevation of the Chicago area was not much higher than the shorelines of Lake Michigan, so for many years there was little or no naturally occurring drainage from the city surface. The lack of drainage caused unpleasant living conditions, and standing water harbored pathogens that caused numerous epidemics. Epidemics including typhoid fever and dysentery blighted Chicago six years in a row culminating in the 1854 outbreak of cholera that killed six percent of the city’s population.[2][3][4][5]

In January 1858, the first masonry building in Chicago to be thus raised—a four story, 70-foot (21 m) long, 750-ton brick structure situated at the north-east corner of Randolph Street and Dearborn Street—was lifted on two hundred jackscrews to its new grade, which was 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) higher than the old one, “without the slightest injury to the building.”[8] It was the first of more than fifty comparably large masonry buildings to be raised that year.[9]

By 1860, confidence was sufficiently high that a consortium … took on one of the most impressive locations in the city and hoisted it up complete and in one go. They lifted half a city block on Lake Street, between Clark Street and LaSalle Street; a solid masonry row of shops, offices, printeries, etc., 320 feet (98 m) long, comprising brick and stone buildings, some four stories high, some five, having a footprint taking up almost one acre (4,000 m2) of space, and an estimated all in weight including hanging sidewalks of thirty five thousand tons. Businesses operating out of these premises were not closed down for the lifting; as the buildings were being raised, people came, went, shopped and worked in them as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. In five days the entire assembly was elevated 4 feet 8 inches (1.42 m) in the air by a team consisting of six hundred men using six thousand jackscrews, ready for new foundation walls to be built underneath. The spectacle drew crowds of thousands, who were on the final day permitted to walk at the old ground level, among the jacks.[12][13][14][15] …

Many of central Chicago’s hurriedly erected wooden frame buildings were now considered wholly inappropriate to the burgeoning and increasingly wealthy city. Rather than raise them several feet, proprietors often preferred to relocate these old frame buildings, replacing them with new masonry blocks built to the latest grade. Consequently, the practice of putting the old multi-story, intact and furnished wooden buildings—sometimes entire rows of them en bloc—on rollers and moving them to the outskirts of town or to the suburbs was so common as to be considered nothing more than routine traffic. Traveller David Macrae wrote incredulously, “Never a day passed during my stay in the city that I did not meet one or more houses shifting their quarters. One day I met nine. Going out Great Madison Street in the horse cars we had to stop twice to let houses get across.” As discussed above, business did not suffer; shop owners would keep their shops open, even as people had to climb in through a moving front door.[34][35][36][37][38]

In other words, Chicago was too low and flat to drain properly, (which probably has a lot to do with it being laid out so neatly in the first place,) much less build underground sewers, and as a result, people kept getting sick. So they just used a bunch of jacks to lift the city and built the sewers at ground level, then filled in the open space with dirt and rubble.

So, yes, I am in favor of sewers, and even major, city-altering projects in order to install sewers. Sewers are good. Not dying of cholera is awesome. Nothing here should be interpreted as “let’s go die of terrible, preventable diseases in a muddy peasant hovel.”

But too often the imposition of order doesn’t prevent cholera; too often it just makes everything worse. “I have a solution!” doesn’t mean you have a good solution.

The biggest projects ever undertaken to improve human welfare, organized entirely along scientific, “rational” principles, resulted in the deaths of over 35 million people. No one is sure exactly how many people starved to death in the process of collectivization–Wikipedia lists estimates between 5.5 and 8 million for the Soviet famine of 1932-33, 23-55 million for China’s Great Leap Forward, and goodness knows how many we should count for North Korea, Cambodia, Ethiopia, etc.

It’s one thing to raise a city, one block at a time, on hydraulic jacks. It’s quite another matter to redesign an society from the ground up. Even if people’s current systems aren’t functioning perfectly, like the parking situation in my my neighborhood, systems tend to exist as they are because they are serving some purpose and you can’t just step in and sweep them aside without understanding what that purpose was. Moreover, whatever imperfect system you have, people are used to it and most of them have already adapted their lives around it. Before the French Revolution, there were thousands of people who made their livings producing lace, candles, and other luxury goods for the French Nobility. Chop off the king’s head, and some poor hatter will be out of a job.

Or as they say, if you come across a fence in the woods that doesn’t have any obvious purpose, it’s a good idea to figure out why it’s there before you go tearing it down.

But back to the Lizard People: the Lizard People are folks who, as everyone around them is transformed into skeletal corpses, keep insisting that everything is fine and we just need to stick with the plan–maybe even stick to the plan even harder.

And the strangest thing is that these people exist at all, and moreover, that instead of being shunned by society at large, they are often promoted–to manager, overseer, or government office.

Whatever can we do?