It’s Not Just The Guns, It’s The Ammo

The Daily Escape:

Antarctica – May, 2022 photo by Jason Row Photography

Wrongo shot the AR-15 at Fort Ord, CA while in the military in 1966. Back then, the US Army had its Combat Developments Experimentation Command, known as CDEC, there. Fort Ord is now closed, but its location on Monterey Bay in California, made it a beautiful place to spend a weekend, if not military training.

In the 1960s, Fort Ord was the home of the 4th Replacement Training Center, with upward of 50,000 soldiers preparing for their upcoming tour of Vietnam. As part of our training, we participated in the night fire tests of the AR-15. Those tests simulated the conditions that small squads faced in combat. The idea was to compare the performance of the AR-15 against the M-14, the incumbent weapon.

The Army adopted the lighter AR-15 in a model they called the M-16. James Fallows, writing in 1988 in The Atlantic, said this about the weapon:

“By the middle of 1967, when the M-16 had been in combat for about a year and a half, a sufficient number of soldiers had written to their parents about their unreliable equipment and a sufficient number of parents had sent those letters to their congressmen to attract the attention of the House Armed Services Committee, which formed an investigating subcommittee.”

The subcommittee examined the problems caused by the M-16, and Fallows’ article is worth reading to see how badly the Army procurement process failed the US soldier in Vietnam. The Army made several changes to the AR-15 as it became the M-16. All of them served to make the weapon unreliable in combat conditions and less useful as a weapon of war.

But Wrongo wants to focus on the M-16’s high velocity bullet. From Fallows:

“Nearly a century before American troops were ordered into Vietnam, weapons designers had made a discovery in the science of ‘wound ballistics.’ The discovery was that a small, fast-traveling bullet often did a great deal more damage than a larger round when fired into….a human body…”

On Sunday, 60 Minutes re-broadcast a story on the lethality of the AR-15. The focus was on how the gun’s high velocity rounds cause devastating and often lethal wounds that first responders and emergency rooms have great difficulty repairing.

The Intercept brings this back to the Uvalde shooting: (Brackets by Wrongo)

“Many circumstances of this week’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, are incomprehensible….The [wound] damage was so severe that agonized parents had to give DNA samples to identify their children.”

Imagine. The request pointed to the obvious: Many of the children who had been killed were so grievously injured that it was impossible to identify their bodies. And that DNA identification process took hours.

Much of the damage was because in addition to the killer using the AR-15, a weapon of war, he also used hollow point bullets, one of the most physically destructive forms of ammunition. Hollow-point bullets open upon impact thereby causing more damage to their targets:

Source: Guns and Ammo

They can easily be purchased throughout the US, but the rest of the world thinks the use of expanding rounds on the battlefield is a war crime. The International Criminal Court bars their use, and they are prohibited by a declaration of the Hague Convention (which of course, the US has never ratified).

The US military has authorized hollow-point ammo. Civilian ammosexual proponents of the hollow-point ammo argue that the bullet reduces harm to nearby civilians, since it’s less likely to pass through its intended target or to ricochet. They also say that it’s useful in hunting big game, so the animal can be killed in one hit. Just like it works in 10 year-old grammar school students.

More from the Intercept:

“Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde, purchased 375 expanding rounds. In 2019, a 21-year-old gunman in El Paso, Texas, bought 1,000 of the same type of bullets for his Walmart rampage. The 20-year-old gunman in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting managed to stockpile 1,700 of various rounds, including hollow points.”

None of these purchases raised any flags with ammo retailers.

It cannot be emphasized enough, however, exactly what the AR-15 is: It is a weapon of war. It was made to blow humans apart. It is successful in doing just that. Back in the 1960s during those early field tests, the military learned that the AR-15 excelled at blowing people apart. Let’s give Rod Miller the final word:

“Armed Americans are killing our schoolkids while they study. They routinely kill them by the dozens for various reasons all across our country. Let me repeat that, armed Americans are killing our schoolkids.”

Can we at least ban hollow-point ammo for use by private citizens?

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Saturday Soother – May 28, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetery – May 2013 photo by William Coyle

Welcome to America’s Memorial Day weekend, when we remember those in the military who died in service to the country. But this year, we must also honor those who have died from mass murder by gun right here at home.

We need a three-day weekend. We need a break from the slowly unveiling and depressing news out about how shamefully the police of Uvalde, TX reacted to the killer. We also need a break from listening to the tepid responses by both political Parties.

The Republicans are saying the same as always: The country should not have stricter gun control. Why do Republicans refuse to act? Beyond the fact that many believe stricter gun control would not prevent such mass shootings, recent polling data reveal that there’s less political pressure on them than you might have thought.

Let’s examine the public mindset on the gun control debate as shown in Gallup’s polling conducted in October 2021 and January 2022. Both polls found a slight decrease in support for stricter gun laws compared with the prior year’s measures. Here are the top line results:

Last October, 52% of Americans indicated they wanted stricter gun control, while 46% either thought laws should be kept the same (35%) or made less strict (11%). The headline is that Americans’ support for stricter gun control fell five percentage points from October 2020 to the lowest since 2014.

That decline was driven by a 15-point plunge among independents, while Democrats’ desire for more restrictive gun laws ticked up six points to 91%. Republicans’ views were essentially unchanged, at 24%, (after dropping 14 points in 2020).

Of course, these numbers can be hard to understand when polls also indicate that north of 80% of Americans want universal background checks for guns, which Democrats have been pushing for in Congress and which most Republicans won’t go along with.

Why? There’s no sign that the polling on background checks holds up when its on the ballot. CNN’s report (March 2021) showed that ballot measures for background checks have appeared on ballots in California, Maine, Nevada, and Washington.

In all four, the pro-gun control side’s vote margin was worse than the Democrats’ baseline in the same state. In 2016, Clinton won California by 30 points, while gun control won by 27 points. In Maine, Clinton won by 3 points, while gun control lost by 4 points. In Nevada, Clinton won by 2 points, while gun control passed by a single point. Lastly, Washington passed its gun control law by a little less than 19 points in 2018, while Washington state’s House Democratic candidates won by a bigger margin in the same year.

The question is: Why would Republicans feel political pressure to support more gun control, when something that polls as well as universal background checks doesn’t draw as much support as the Democratic presidential candidate?

And here are a few more depressing thoughts. First, before the assault weapons ban went into effect in 1994, there were about 400,000 AR-15 style rifles in America. Today, there are 20 million.

Second, it’s doubtful that you were aware that there is an active group of school principals who have survived a school shooting. It’s called the Principal Recovery Network, a support group of sorts that mobilizes to help principals in the immediate aftermath of a school shooting. Frank DeAngelis, the former principal of Columbine High School says:

“It’s like that club that no one wants to belong to,”

They provide support for a principal who’s having his/her worst professional day. In every scenario, the goal is to help a principal in crisis. This is America: We put all this energy into dealing with the aftermath of a preventable trauma, and that now includes therapy for principals. We’re in this dark place because we will not open our eyes.

And for the 21st time since a mass shooting in Isla Vista, Calif. in 2014, the satirical site The Onion republished its saddest headline:

“No Way To Prevent This,” Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens

The best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun is prevention.

Time for our long weekend Saturday Soother. The blog may be taking some time off, so don’t expect to see another column before Tuesday.

In view of the Memorial Day observance, and to remember those who died in Texas, listen to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”, played in the original version by the Dover Quartet. Barber finished the arrangement in 1936. In January 1938, Barber sent an orchestrated version of the Adagio for Strings to Arturo Toscanini. The conductor returned the score without comment, which annoyed Barber.

Toscanini later sent word that he was planning to perform the piece and had returned it simply because he had already memorized it! It was performed for the first time by Toscanini in November, 1938. Here, for the third time on the blog, is the quartet version of “Adagio for Strings”:

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Uvalde, Texas

The Daily Escape:

Hocking Hills Region SP, OH – May 2022 photo by Victoria Williams

There’s nothing more to say about how wrong it is when school kids are killed. There was a time when we might have thought that a mass shooting at an elementary school would have been the final straw. Randomly gunning down children in front of their classmates who had to witness the carnage, the horror endured by the families of the victims should have been enough to shock America’s collective conscience into action on guns.

But it wasn’t. The killers have kept going into schools and have continued to have their twisted say. And so have the members of the Senate, who will not lift a finger to try and end gun violence in America.

This is the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut. Wrongo wrote about Newtown back in 2012 when this blog was young, saying that the Second Amendment Absolutists:

“…need to balance for us the permanent loss of so much potential with the impatience of a waiting period, a background check, or the loss of the ability to fire more rounds per minute.”

So far, there have been 199 mass shootings this year (defined as three people shot, excluding the shooter), and the year is only 21 weeks old. We talk about the Second Amendment, but what would the founders say if they understood the extent to which it has so crippled our ability to deal with home-grown gun carnage?  From Hal Gershowitz:

“Two hundred and thirty-one years ago, the founders who gathered in Philadelphia to write our Constitution were all wary of the dangers of a standing army. They all knew that standing armies in Europe…were used by ruling monarchies to repress their people. Nations…that maintained standing armies used them primarily to keep their people in check. The founders all embraced the idea of a citizenries’ right to bear arms and their right to establish militias as a bulwark against a standing federal army that might repress them.”

Gershowitz reminds us that gun ownership hasn’t changed:

“According to the first US census conducted in 1790, there were just under 680,000 families or households in the new country. Almost every household owned a musket, so the country was well-armed and well-protected should the newly formed American republic go rogue.”

He says that at the time of the Constitutional convention in 1791, The US only had a standing army of about 800 men and probably about the same number of muskets. Thus, the armed households of the country far outnumbered the armed army of the new republic. Just like today.

Yet the Supreme Court endorses Second Amendment Absolutism. Their Conservative supermajority is about to dramatically expand the scope of the Second Amendment and prohibit us from protecting our communities by enacting gun safety laws through the democratic process.

Today in our town in Northwestern Connecticut, there were feverish calls by parents to arm our teachers, and station police permanently in our schools. The urge to protect kids is understandable, but it doesn’t square with the facts. Perry Stein of the WaPo reported that two Uvalde Texas police officers and a school resource officer were present and fired at the shooter, but it did not stop him from entering the building.

So what can be done? Among the most basic purposes of government is to protect its citizens. Most people accept this even though it causes inconvenience and some loss of personal freedom.

You can’t take your bottle of water, your giant hairspray can (or your handgun) through security at the airport. It’s inconvenient and an abridgement of your rights, but the greater good requires that abridgement to protect all passengers against the threat of a terrorist, whether foreign or domestic.

We could change our gun laws. Start by looking at Canada, which requires a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and it imposes a clever safeguard: gun buyers should have the support of two people vouching for them. While this could be done on the state level, if any other state has very liberal gun purchase laws, your state will remain awash in guns. We need a national law, and a national law requires Senate action.

But the Senate won’t act on gun control. This should give you some perspective:

History says that we have a Second Amendment to protect us from a renegade standing army, one that has never existed in America. Today, Second Amendment Absolutism has left us without any effective means to control, regulate and, yes, “infringe” upon the acquisition of handguns, long guns, and semi-automatic machine guns in America, where we now have more than 400 million in the hands of the well-armed citizenry.

The Senate will only change if we elect Senators with moral courage!

Let’s close with a tune by the Drive-By Truckers “Thoughts and Prayers”:

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Free Speech Is About To Get Tested

The Daily Escape:

Lupine bloom, Beeks Bight, Folsom Lake, CA – May 2022 photo by Kaptured in Kamera

We’re back from France where we had fantastic weather, wonderful food and wine, and a break from the loud drumbeat of dystopian American news. One issue that Wrongo followed from afar was the continuing assault on free speech by America’s Right Wing.

From Dan Pfeiffer:

“It seems like every week, Republicans propose, pass, or enact another outrageous, authoritarian, retrograde policy. Book bans, abortion bans, efforts to turn back the clock on marriage equality and contraception. Each is a fleeting political firestorm and then it’s on to the next….amidst this parade of retrograde lawmaking, there is a pattern…”

Despite claiming to be for small government, the Republicans want to dictate the terms of speech in America.

Consider Florida where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis had passed legislation taking away the rights of Facebook, Twitter, and others to ban people from their platforms:

“The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Monday ruled it is unconstitutional for Florida to bar social media companies from banning politicians, in a major victory for tech companies….the court rejected many of the legal arguments that conservative states have been using to justify laws governing the content moderation policies of major tech companies after years of accusations that the tech companies are biased against their political viewpoints.”

The 11th Circuit court found that tech companies’ moderation decisions are protected by the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from regulating free speech. Interestingly, this comes after a different decision on the same issue by the Texas 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, that allowed a Texas law banning companies from discriminating against people based on their politics to remain in effect.

We now have completely opposite decisions by the 11th Circuit and the 5th Circuit courts on the issue of whether corporations must follow the Constitution’s First Amendment. This will invariably lead to the Supreme Court weighing in on whether private social media companies’ content moderation decisions are protected by the First Amendment. From the WaPo:

“Some lawmakers pushing for laws governing online content moderation and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas have argued that tech companies should be regulated as “common carriers,” businesses like phone companies that are subject to government regulation because of the essential services they provide.”

But Florida’s court rejected those arguments, arguing states can’t force such restrictions on private company social media platforms. While the phone companies cannot stop callers or calls that may be objectionable, or even illegal, social media companies have different rights. From the Court’s ruling:

“Neither law nor logic recognizes government authority to strip an entity of its First Amendment rights merely by labeling it a common carrier…”

The “Terms of Service” (TOS) agreements between social media platform companies and their users are a contract. When someone agrees to the TOS, they are saying that they will abide by it. Violating the TOS, whether by Trump, Musk, or some random ideologue, is a violation of contract law.

When the TOS is violated and the violator is suspended or barred from the platform, it doesn’t demonstrate bias, or a restriction in free speech. It demonstrates equal treatment. The TOS isn’t there only to restrain Conservatives, despite their protests of discrimination.

Florida passes a “don’t say gay” bill to police free speech by public educators in schools. They then pass the law to prevent private companies from policing speech on their platforms. This irony is lost on those who claim they’re against federal or state overreach unless it’s their Party that’s doing the overreaching.

The First Amendment says the government cannot punish you for speech (with some exceptions). The same Amendment also protects free association—meaning that it’s perfectly legal for private organizations to exercise their freedom of association even while excluding some speech.

Networks like Facebook and Twitter exert a lot of power over the flow of information. They are a primary method of news and expression for millions. That means they must be broadly inclusive and promote healthy discourse. Their business model includes wanting to attract as many users as possible. From Nicholas Grossmann: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The big social networks—Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter—aim to be the online mainstream, appealing to a wide variety of users and the businesses that sell to them. That requires stopping behavior that isn’t illegal, but makes the platform inhospitable, such as hate speech.”

The large private social networks have a responsibility not to let the doctrine of free speech make them give a right of way to bad actors. There is zero reason to cede the concept of free speech to the trolls who are trying to drive people they hate off private social media platforms.

Now we wait to see what Alito, Thomas and the other Conservative Supremes have to say about the limits of Free Speech.

You shouldn’t be optimistic about the outcome.

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Travels With Wrongo, Saturday Soother Style – May 21, 2022

The Daily Escape:

View of the town of Sancerre and surrounding vineyards – May, 2022 photo by Wrongo

Our visit to France is coming to an end. It has been a nice change of pace from our life in Northwestern Connecticut. More below about France after another rant about the state of American politics. Here, we’ve seen very little about the baby formula debacle in the US. At this distance, the reasons why Abbott shut down its formula manufacturing facility seem a little unclear.

The WSJ reports that the shortage happened after Abbott voluntarily recalled some products and closed a plant in Sturgis, MI where Similac and other brands were made. The FDA investigated consumer complaints related to four infants who were hospitalized, (two of whom died) apparently after using Abbott’s formula.

Abbott controls about 42% of the US baby formula market.

The FDA said the offending bacteria was detected in Abbott’s plant, but not in their products. That raised concerns by the Agency that the formula carried a risk of contamination. Abbott said there was no conclusive evidence linking Abbott’s formulas to the infant illnesses. A charitable view is that the FDA failed to weigh risks against the real-world consequences of abruptly cutting off this very significant source of infant nutrition.

This brings us to today. It will take six to eight weeks before Abbott’s formula again starts showing up on store shelves, meaning the shortage could last months. The Biden administration wanted to ease the domestic shortage of formula by giving the FDA funds to expedite a solution. On Wednesday, most House Republicans voted against the FDA funding bill on a near-party line vote of 231 to 192. Twelve Republicans joined the Democrats in backing the bill. Another example of the fact that the Dems are the party of let’s try, while the GOP is the party of no we won’t.

Nearly all Republicans voted in favor of another bill allowing foreign formula into the US. (They aren’t required to meet FDA standards). The combined effect of the Republican effort with these two votes is to impede a solution in the US while introducing unapproved baby formula into the domestic supply chain.

Barney Frank’s comment that for Republicans, life begins at conception and ends at birth, has never seemed truer than today, given the gutting of Roe v Wade and their refusal to support funding more baby formula. On to the travelogue.

First, the promised review of Auberge des Templiers, the Michelin one-star restaurant we were lucky to dine at on Wednesday. In summary, it was fantastic. We had six courses, all bite sized, including the main. All had unique presentations, a few were reimagined versions of traditional French specialties. Here’s a photo of our amuse bouche:

This was a soft-boiled egg served in a nest of straw. Note how the eggshell was so perfectly cut: it is difficult to imagine how that’s done. On top of the egg was an emulsion based on some of the straw in the “nest”. It was inventive and delicious, as were all of the courses. Not recommended for meat and potatoes types.

Yesterday we visited Sancerre, known for its wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. The vineyards surrounding the town are on fairly steep slopes. One wine from Henry Bourgeois is called “La Cote des Monts Damnes”, which translates into “that damn hill” since the workers say it every time they are on its 40° slopes. Sounds like backbreaking work. France doesn’t allow immigrant labor from outside the EU, so wages for this hard work are reasonably good.

Wrongo sampled a bottle from 2020. It was fruity and soft, with a long finish. Very nice!

It’s clearly unseasonably dry in this part of France. Walking among the vines, the ground is dry and cracked. But it’s forbidden by law to artificially water vineyards in France. That places great pressure on winemakers to manage their crop while maintaining quality.

Today we’re off to visit a wine barrel maker. It may surprise you to learn that they make barrels to the specifications of individual wine makers. They are also making barrels in different shapes to test the impact of those shapes on wine quality over 5-10 years’ time. It seems that they plan to remain in business for a while.

Let’s close with a Saturday musical interlude blending France and the US. Listen to Pink Martini an America group featuring China Forbes, sing “Sympathique (Je ne veux pas travailler)” in Stuttgart, Germany in 2010. The song is from their first album, and was nominated for best song of the year at France’s Victoires de la Musique, the French equivalent to the Grammys:

Luckily, the video has English subtitles, but the chorus is well-known:

I don’t want to work
I don’t want to lunch
I want only to forget
And then I smoke

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Travels With Wrongo, Part II

The Daily Escape:

A different view of the Arc de Triompe, taken from the roof garden of our Paris hotel – May 2022 iPhone photo by Wrongo

Before resuming the travelogue, despite limited internet connections and zero television, we’ve heard about the mass killing in Buffalo. It represents the inevitable convergence of the major trends animating the Republican Party as it schemes about a successful return to power: White nationalism, gun worship, internet radicalization, and hate speech masquerading as First Amendment absolutism.

It isn’t too soon to assign responsibility for this and almost all hate-fueled attacks to Republicans. It’s time for Democrats to go on the attack: Every day, all day long until the message is burned into the consciousness of the public.

Otherwise, we won’t need gun control. We’ll just need to avoid churches, malls, supermarkets, mosques, concerts, synagogues, cinemas, parks, pre-schools, middle schools, high schools, college campuses, mass transportation, and the outdoors in general.

Finally, Republicans always use the argument that it was mental illness that caused someone who hates the “others” to use a killing device for its intended purpose. The killers are valued Republican followers until they pull the trigger. Then they become unfortunate mental cases who just happen to support Tucker Carlson’s ideas. On to the travelogue.

After spending a few nights in Paris, Wrongo, Ms. Right and our traveling companions are spending seven days in the Loire Valley. We were fortunate to reconnect with Stan, a guide from our last extended trip in France in 2008. So far, we have had fantastic weather: sunny skies, high 70°s F and low humidity. Much of this trip is food and wine focused, but the Loire is also the principal wheat growing region of France. The Loire is a bucolic place, sometimes referred to as the “Garden of France”. Here is an example of a Loire Valley wheat field:

Wheat field, Rogny-les-sept-Ecluses, FR – 2022 photo by Wrongo

Many fields are surrounded by mature trees that help shelter the crop from the wind. And while most farms are small and independent, increasingly, large corporations are buying out French family farmers, and are changing the local culture. Like in the US, there is an active movement to prevent the purchase of family farms by corporations.

This is not a very populated part of France. We drove through several villages that seemed empty of people, but when we attended the town market in Gien on Wednesday, it was clear that was where people were congregating. Gien is a town on the Loire River. During WWII, its main bridge was bombed first by the Nazis and later by the French. It was rebuilt in the 1950s, using much of the stone that was rubble in the river after the war. Here’s a photo of the reconstructed 12-arch bridge over the Loire River today:

Photo via

In the background is the 15th Century Chateau de Gien that was also bombed in WWII and later restored by the French government. The picture above shows how far the Loire has retreated from its original width and depth over the past few years. Ten years ago, the river’s edge would have been about 15 meters behind where the photo was taken. While climate change is a global culprit, as it is here, another issue is that water from the river is used to cool the Loire region’s nuclear power plants. France under President Macron is committed to nuclear. In February 2022 France announced plans to build six new reactors and is considering building another eight. France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity due to its very low cost of power generation. It receives €3 billion/year from this source. About 17% of France’s electricity is from recycled nuclear fuel.

Tonight we’re headed to Auberge des Templiers restaurant , a 2022 Michelin 1-star that is part of a Relais & Chateaux hotel in Boismorand. We’re expecting a fine time, and will give a review in the future.

Let’s close with a video of some of the chateaux of Loire:

 

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Travels with Wrongo, Part I

The Daily Escape:

Mona Lisa doing the dap, Marché Président Wilson, Paris – May 14, 2022 photo by Wrongo, price is 12 euros.

Wrongo and Ms. Right, along with four traveling companions arrived in Paris on Friday. We’re staying at a boutique hotel (45 rooms) in the 16th arrondissement, a short walk from the Champs-Élysées. The building dates from the Belle Époque, and originally was a single family home. Here’s the view from our room:

Never ones to give into jet lag, after dinner, we visited the Lapin Agile (the agile rabbit) in Montmartre at about 11 pm local time Friday night. The Lapin Agile is a very old cabaret, founded in 1860. It features performers doing drinking songs, risqué songs  and the famous chansons de Paris, with the audience laughing and singing along, some like Wrongo, in fractured French. We had their traditional drink, a cherry cognac, which packs quite a punch. The singing was fun, and the crowd largely Parisian with some tourists mixed in.

On Saturday, we went to the Marché Président Wilson, an open air market that’s open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It’s said to be the largest market in Paris. Here’s a pic:

Boutique hotels have quirks. Like most older hotels in Europe, we have a separate toilet room (WC). It is beyond tiny. Worse, the toilet seat won’t remain in an upright position. Wrongo doesn’t know much about the toilet habits of Frenchmen, but either they have substantially better aim than most Americans, or peeing is a two-handed effort, and probably not in the way Trump would have you believe.

Finally the hotel elevator dates from a former time. It holds two people comfortably if they are friendly. Otherwise it is only for people with a very liberal definition of personal space. Oh and its walls are decorated in Louis Vuitton:

Few in Paris are wearing masks, the streets are packed. And the Charles de Gaulle Airport was full when we arrived at 7 am Friday, despite the gloom and doom about inflation and the terrible global economy.

Time for your musical break from the week. Here is the signature pas de deux from “An American In Paris The Musical”. Wrongo and Ms. Right saw the play in London in 2019, where it is still running today. Back then we were privileged to see it with Robbie Fairchild playing Jerry Mulligan. He had starred in the earlier Broadway version. Here is the original Broadway version with Fairchild and Leanne Cope:

More next week.

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Florida State House Changes School Curriculum

The Daily Escape:

Cape Cod evening – 2022 photo by Alan Hoelzle

(This is the last column for this week as Wrongo and Ms. Right are heading to France for ten days. It’s our first international trip since 2019. Posting will be light and dependent upon internet connectivity.  Try to behave yourselves and keep your tray tables in the upright and locked position until told otherwise).

Bullies always complain that they’re the victim, not the ones who got the beating. We see this with Putin and Trump.

Another example of that is what Republicans in Florida are doing with public school curricula. Gov. Ron DeSantis says that he’s saving kids from imaginary indoctrination in their schools, but this week he issued a government edict that requires school indoctrination. From the Miami Herald:

“Public school teachers in Florida will soon be required to dedicate at least 45 minutes of instruction on “Victims of Communism Day” to teach students about communist leaders around the world and how people suffered under those regimes.”

DeSantis’ bill makes Florida one of a handful of states adopting the designation. More from the Herald:

“It is, however, the first state to mandate school instruction on that day, as Florida Republicans continue to seize on education policy while placing school curriculum at the forefront of their political priorities ahead of the 2022 midterms….It would require teaching of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro, as well as “poverty, starvation, migration, systemic lethal violence, and suppression of speech” endured under those regimes.”

So kids, we learned today that teaching Florida students about authoritarian fascist slavery in other countries is necessary and mandated. But teaching Florida kids about authoritarian fascist slavery in this country is nothing but divisive critical race theory (CRT) that makes white kids feel bad. It must never, ever be mentioned.

This is a part of the Republican Party’s effort to make public education their top campaign messaging issue in the 2022 Midterms. Despite the reality that all of the education-related “issues” they are focused on are non-existent — like claiming that the teaching of CRT is everywhere, or that teachers who educate students about LGBTQ+ issues are “groomers”.

Normally, local school boards would be left to decide what is taught in the schools under their control, including curriculum, and health and safety standards. But under Republican radicals like DeSantis, the local community isn’t able to do that, because it might interfere with his goal of becoming America’s next Trump.

The irony of dictating school policy from the capital isn’t lost on anyone. It proves that DeSantis understands the basic concept that got the very regimes he hates going in an authoritarian direction in first place. They play up the victimhood — I’m the one being oppressed! — and then get their voting base, those who carry grudges against the Other, to go along with it.

The only “critical race theory” that DeSantis cares about is the race he’s running in to be president one day.

Since Wrongo is leaving you without any musical interludes for a week or more, let’s have a travel-appropriate tune to help propel you forward into the news jungle.

Listen, and watch for sure, Dierks Bentley do his 2014 song ”Drunk On A Plane”. If only airplane rides were really like this! The video won Music Video of the Year at the 2014 CMA Awards:

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Which States Are The Best for Working Moms?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Columbia Hills, WA – May 2022 photo by Mitch Schreiber Photography

Each year, WalletHub ranks the best and worst states for working mothers. Below is an overview of their methodology and findings: Women make up nearly half of the US workforce, and nearly 68% of moms with children under age 18 were working in 2021.  That share of the workforce declined during Covid, dropping around 1.3% between Q3 2019 and Q3 2021 (compared to 1.1% for men).

We know that women face an uphill battle in the workplace, with their average hourly wage being just 84% of what men make. They face other non-financial problems as well. Parental leave policies and other childcare support systems vary by state, but the quality of infrastructure — from cost-effective day care to public schools, is far from uniform.

WalletHub compares state performance across 17 metrics to rank the best & worst states. They compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across three key dimensions: 1) Childcare, 2) Professional Opportunities and 3) Work-Life Balance:

“We evaluated those dimensions using 17 relevant metrics…with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for working moms. We then determined each state and the District’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.”

WalletHub’s weighted average for the three categories was as follows: Childcare = 40 possible points, Professional Opportunities = 30 possible points, and Work-Life Balance = 30 possible points, totaling 100 points available per state. That translates into the overall total score below. Here are the top 10 US states for working mothers with individual state rankings by category:

It’s very telling that America’s best score was 62.99 out of 100, meaning that all states have a long way to go to make us a nation that supports women and mothers. Wrongo is happy to note that Connecticut is #1 in job opportunities for women. Here are the bottom 10 states:

Note that only California of the bottom 10 states is an urban (and blue) state. It gets killed in the rankings because of its terrible performance on childcare. If you are interested in how your state ranked, you can see an interactive map of all the states here. WalletHub also compared the top and bottom five states across a few of their metrics. Here’s what those rankings show:

According to a recent report, more than 2.3 million American women have dropped out of the labor force since the start of the pandemic. Solving the problems that keep these women out of the workforce should be a focus for all of the states.

This is particularly true for service and front-line workers whose work scheduling can be unpredictable and for many jobs, there is limited flexibility. Companies should do more. They can create more flexible work environments, allowing parents to take short-term time off. They can strive to eliminate schedule unpredictability for hourly workers. Companies can also work to change their culture to better recognize work-life balance.

The biggest hypocrisy of the anti-abortion movement and the Supreme Court’s apparent decision on abortion is that the Justices and the Republicans are willing to go to the mat to protect the unborn, but that commitment mysteriously vanishes once a child exits the womb.

In many cases, these same zealots are actively hostile to programs that would benefit children.

Parenthood is humankind’s most important job; but there’s no internship, no training program, no handbook. You dive into it and are expected to figure things out on your own. It’s true that parents should bear the responsibility and costs of raising a child, but, government intervention should be available, depending on local conditions and income levels. Some parents simply need help.

At a time when Republicans and the Supreme Court seem to be willing to discount the value of women in our society, it’s important that we battle their views on the economic front as well as on the political front.

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 9, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Lynden, WA – May 2022 photo by Randy Small Photography

A final thought about our radical Supreme Court: They should give up their black robes. White robes would be much more appropriate.

But for today, let’s talk about the Victory Day celebrations in Russia. This year marks the 77th anniversary of the end of World War II, and Russia observes it every year with military parades and patriotic messages.

Wrongo is publishing this before we learn exactly how Putin will mark the celebration. Certain pundits think that Putin will use the occasion to escalate his war in Ukraine.

UPI reported that in remarks Putin made to commemorate Victory Day, he blasted what he described as “Nazi filth” in Ukraine. He also sent congratulatory messages to the Russian-appointed figureheads of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, which together make up the Donbas region, for “fighting shoulder to shoulder for the liberation of their native land.”

That certainly doesn’t sound like he’s backing down on his currently stalemated war.

Others think that Putin is more likely to make the political choice to declare victory, or partial victory in the “special military operation”. They think that Putin will postpone any decision regarding mobilizing more troops, which could be politically difficult. Pat Lang, a former US intelligence officer, worries about Russia using a tactical nuclear weapon against the steel plant in Mariupol, a frightening possibility for the world.

Despite the speculation, let’s spend a few moments thinking about how the Ukraine war might end.

Tell me how this ends is what General Petraeus famously asked in 2003 at the outset of the Iraq War. It lasted until 2011, and then morphed into the war on ISIS, that lasted until 2017.

Since the Russian war hasn’t resulted in a clear victory, certain US and British officials are talking more openly about a “victory” in Ukraine, meaning that the West decisively degrades the Russian military’s capability. Also, there’s some talk about regime change in Moscow.

A more likely scenario is that we’ll see an extended standoff between Ukraine and Russia, without an agreed end to the war, but where neither side wishes to continue active combat. In this case, Western sanctions would continue. Russian forces would occupy all or most of the Donbass region and control a land corridor linking Crimea with the Donbass and Russia.

This outcome would have few rules of engagement, since most of the guardrails that would be part of a negotiated settlement wouldn’t exist. The US and Europe would face years of instability and the constant threat of a military miscalculation causing a spillover in Europe. A forever war in Ukraine also runs the risk of eroding support for Kyiv in the US. America isn’t emotionally able to endure another grinding military conflict, even with no troops on the ground.

Finally, there may be a negotiated settlement. But what is the compromise that all parties can live with?

Zelensky has indicated that Ukraine might agree to be a neutral country; but only on condition of stringent security guarantees, the terms of which both the US and Russia might find objectionable.

Ukraine has understandably ruled out territorial concessions, but Putin would almost certainly not agree to any settlement in which Russia were forced to leave the Donbass and Mariupol. And separatist groups there would be unhappy living under Kyiv’s rule after years of war. Also, it’s hard to see Putin compromising unless the US and Europe ease economic sanctions as part of a settlement. Removing sanctions without a Ukraine “victory” might be a difficult political pill for Biden in particular, to swallow.

We like to think that all wars end, and eventually, they do. Remember that may not happen quickly or completely. The surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox didn’t settle hostilities, or political and cultural tensions in the US. It didn’t resolve the related racial prejudices and political differences, which still linger today.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that in the Ukraine war, there may not be a discrete moment marking the war’s end for many years. A protracted war would be a favorable outcome for Moscow. It would certainly be a terrible outcome for Ukraine, which is already devastated as a country.

Time to wake up, America! What’s our strategy in Ukraine? Are we even following a strategy in the Ukraine war? To help you wake up, listen to Jon Batiste perform McCartney’s “Blackbird” on The Late Show in 2016:

Note Batiste’s overture on piano which McCartney originally wrote for guitar, was inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Bourrée in E minor, a well-known lute piece.

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