Quotulatiousness

August 25, 2016

The Brothers Gracchi – I: How Republics Fall – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 6 Aug 2016

Rome had doubled the size of its empire in a single generation, but such expansion came at great cost. The wars enriched the wealthy and impoverished the soldiers who fought in them. Into these turbulent times came a talented and well-connected young man named Tiberius Gracchus, who soon learned the power of appealing to the populace over the elite.
____________

Rome had expanded rapidly during the 2nd century BCE. It now stretched from Spain to Greece, with holdings in Africa, and showed no signs of stopping. At home, this growth destabilized the entire economy. Slaves from captured lands became field workers for the wealthy. Common soldiers who used to own land could no longer tend it during the long campaigns, and returned to find themselves either bankrupt or forced to sell to the large slave-owning elites. Now these displaced landowners flooded Rome looking for work, but many of them remained unemployed or underemployed. In the midst of this, two boys named Tiberius and Gaius were born to the Gracchus family. They were plebeians, but of the most distinguished order. Their mother, Cornelia, was the daughter of Scipio Africanus. Their father was a two-time consul who’d celebrated two triumphs for winning great campaigns. But their father died early, so Cornelia raised her children alone and made sure they had a firm grounding in the liberal arts. As soon as he could, the elder boy, Tiberius, ran for office as a military tribune and joined the final campaign against Carthage. There he earned great honor for himself, and learned from the Scipio Aemilianus, his half-brother who also happened to be the leading general. Upon return to Rome, he ran for quaeastor and was sent to serve in the Numantian Wars in Spain. This time, the general he served under was struggling and suffered defeat after defeat. At the end, he tried to flee, only to be captured by the Numantians along with the entire army. The Numantians insisted on discussing surrender terms with Tiberius Gracchus, whose father had long ago earned their respect, and he successfully negotiated the release of 20,000 captured soldiers. In Rome, however, the elites looked on his treaty with scorn: they felt his surrender made Rome look weak. The families of the soldiers had a far different perspective: they celebrated Tiberius, and even saved him from punishment at the hands of the Senate. He had learned that power could be found in appealing to the people.

August 23, 2016

QotD: American Progressives

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The progressives have a lot of problems with America. That is the entire point of their politics: They don’t like what America is, and wish to change it.

This is what it means to be “progressive” — you want to move away from what actually exists.

Conservatives, by and large, defend the current order, because they like it, and do not wish to “fundamentally transform” America.

This is what it means to be “conservative” — one conserves, or keeps, what already exists.

Progressives play this game where they launch nothing but nasty Marxist Critiques upon America, agitating for the country to remake itself entirely, but want to claim simultaneously: We love America as much as anybody.

Oh you most certainly do not! Definitionally, you do not: One who “loves” with a long list of caveats and criticisms does not love as much as someone who loves completely (or with a much shorter list of caveats and criticisms).

Furthermore, progressives take patriotism itself to be the sanctimony of the unsophisticated. Or, as Oscar Wilde called it, “the virtue of the vicious.”

Progressives, when they’re speaking honestly (that is, when they’re not speaking in front of TV cameras), love to lampoon their fellow countrymen’s unsophisticated, stupid, and obese love of country.

They have in fact defined themselves as being Those who are too smart to buy into this “patriotism” nonsense.

Ace, “Rudy Is Right”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2015-02-20.

August 22, 2016

Rona Ambrose reveals the secret to her AMAZING beer pong skillz

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Sarah Boesveld interviews interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose:

[…]

And how’s your beer-pong game?

Are you kidding me? My beer pong game is AMAZING. We had a huge beer-pong tournament at Stornoway [in May] for the university campus clubs, and they were all in their little suits and stuff. We were like, “Take off your ties! Relax!” We set up this huge beer-pong table in the kitchen and there must have been 60 people shoved in there. I kicked BUTT. I crushed them, those poor kids. They were like, “How are you so good at beer pong?”

How are you so good at beer pong?

I said to them, “Here’s the big secret: Don’t drink the beer.”

This interview has been condensed and edited.

H/T to Small Dead Animals for the link.

August 17, 2016

American Conservatives

Filed under: History, Politics, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

David Warren helpfully outlines the job description of US conservatives, based on the last century or so of progress:

Often I am asked by correspondents to define something they call “conservatism.” I rather thought I’d answered this question before, though it is always possible I was mumbling. So lest there be confusion, or perchance new readers, let me give the definition again.

Conservatism is a form of embarrassment or timidity; in an American context, the politics of the cartoon character, Caspar Milquetoast (see here). It is a way of standing astride history to say, “Please watch where you are going,” while being run over. It is a form of apology for being alive.

And no, Trump is not a conservative. He is what is called a “populist,” or to use the older term, insane.

The problem with these “conservatives” today is that they are too conservative. They merely oppose change. Each new generation of them becomes the rearguard for the previous liberal vanguard. They accept the revolutionary advances imposed by the last team of social engineers as “a fact of political life,” that only a fool would gainsay. They survive by breeding, I suppose, but also by adding new constituencies to their ranks, as the liberals safely discard them; then selling out each in turn.

“Free trade” was an example from decades ago. The liberals didn’t want that any more, so the conservatives became the free trade party. Skip forward another three score and ten, and the conservatives are now becoming the “gay” party. They are defending the right of homosexual persons to stay gay on their own terms, as the liberal agenda “moves on.” Along the way they (the cons) bought into second- then third-wave feminism, and now they are the old-fashioned, liberated women’s party, too. In another generation they’ll be defending old-fashioned mixed bathrooms, and the old-fashioned post-sexed against … what? (We must wait and see.)

The function of the modern conservative is to be sincerely appalled by the engineers’ latest proposal, without being able to remember why. And they will resist, cautiously, in the certainty that they will lose. Whenupon their children will go to work, consolidating their loss, to prepare for surrender in the mop-up round.

I hope I have made their position clear.

August 14, 2016

When virtue signalling became the dominant form of social media content

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Dan Sanchez explains why political “discussions” on social media tend to be worse than useless:

When children are free to learn from undirected experiences, they learn to conceive of truth as something that guides the successful pursuit of their own goals. But in the domineering, tightly-directed environments of school and the modern household, we condition our children to conceive of truth as received wisdom handed down by authority.

Children are largely deprived of the noble joy of discovering truths as revealed by successful action. Instead they are left with the ignoble gratification of pleasing a taskmaster by reciting an answer that is marked “correct.” And this goes far beyond academics. For the modern child, learning “good behavior” is not about discovering through trial and error what kinds of behaviors are conducive to thriving socially. Instead, it’s about winning praise and avoiding censure from authority figures.

Thanks to this conditioning, we have all become approval-junkies, always on the lookout for our next fix of external validation: for the next little rush of dopamine we get whenever we are patted on the head by others for being a “good boy” or a “good girl,” for exhibiting the right behavior, for giving the right answer, for expressing the right opinion.

This is why the mania for virtue signalling is so ubiquitous, and why orthodoxies are so impervious. Expressing political opinions is not about hammering out useful truths through the crucible of debate, but about signaling one’s own virtue by “tattling” on others for being unvirtuous: for being crypto-commies or crypto-fascists; for being closet racists or race-traitor “cucks;” for being enemies of the poor or apologists for criminals.

Much of our political debate consists of our abused inner children basically calling out, “Teacher, teacher, look at me. I followed the rules, but Johnny didn’t. Johnny is a bad boy, and he said a mean word, too. Teacher look what Trump said. He should say sorry. Teacher look what Hillary did. You should give her detention.”

You can’t expect much enlightenment to emerge from this level of discourse.

August 13, 2016

If Trump actually wanted to lose, what would he be doing differently?

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I think the jury is still out over whether Donald Trump really wants to win the presidency. Back when he entered the race, several people pointed out just how close he had been to the Clintons for decades, and floated the idea that his role wasn’t to win but to make it possible for Hillary to win (by crippling or eliminating anyone on the GOP bench who could beat her in the general election). Since he won the Republican nomination, he has consistently made unforced errors that allowed the media to concentrate their fire on him, especially when something came up that might have hurt Clinton. Maybe Scott Adams will explain how this is actually Trump’s version of the “rope a dope” strategy, but right now it looks like Trump is doing everything he can to lose the election.

At Never Yet Melted, David Zincavage says that Trump’s supporters have been played as suckers:

Donald Trump isn’t a conservative. Donald Trump is not a down-home American like you. Donald Trump is a conniving, cynical New Yorker. He’s 70 years old, fabulously wealthy, already famous and already living a completely sybaritic life-style. For him, moving from one of his luxury residences to the White House and having to be president would be like moving down-market in housing and getting a full-time job. It would be a real bummer.

He is not into personal sacrifice. Donald Trump cares about political ideas the way I care about Olympic soccer matches. Donald Trump has no real personal political ideas or preferred policy agenda at all. He’s just a businessman, a total pragmatist.

Donald Trump is not your buddy and he is no kind of patriot. Trump likes money, tail, and Trump, period.

So we’re watching him campaign. He carelessly contradicts himself. He routinely takes one position and then the opposite one. He constantly offends rival candidates and significant potential voting blocs. He does exactly as he pleases, casually taking time away from campaigning, often spending no money, doing no advertising and no fund-raising. He behaves like a crazy person, defying convention, political correctness, and rather frequently ordinary good manners and civility as well. He says something embarrassing or outrageous several times a week.

One is obliged to conclude that either Donald Trump is crazy and the most incompetent candidate for office in human history, or he is motivated by something other than winning.

Since we know that Trump is a close friend of the Clintons, on the whole, I like best the theory that contends that Trump has really just been running, all along, in order to kill Republican chances in what ought to have been a landslide Republican year and to make possible the impossible: Hillary’s election.

He’s having lots of fun. He’s soaking up the limelight and laughing at all the dopes supporting him, while mischievously dropping another turd in the electoral punchbowl every now and then and watching the commentariat have fits over what they think is a gaffe.

Update: After I had this post queued up for Saturday morning, I noticed this tweet from Megan McArdle:

August 10, 2016

Populists and open borders

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In City Journal, Victor Davis Hanson says the rise of Trump and other populist politicians is being powered by lower- and middle-class rejection of the elite preference for open borders:

Driving the growing populist outrage in Europe and North America is the ongoing elite push for a borderless world. Among elites, borderlessness has taken its place among the politically correct positions of our age — and, as with other such ideas, it has shaped the language we use. The descriptive term “illegal alien” has given way to the nebulous “unlawful immigrant.” This, in turn, has given way to “undocumented immigrant,” “immigrant,” or the entirely neutral “migrant” — a noun that obscures whether the individual in question is entering or leaving. Such linguistic gymnastics are unfortunately necessary. Since an enforceable southern border no longer exists, there can be no immigration law to break in the first place.

Today’s open-borders agenda has its roots not only in economic factors — the need for low-wage workers who will do the work that native-born Americans or Europeans supposedly will not — but also in several decades of intellectual ferment, in which Western academics have created a trendy field of “borders discourse.” What we might call post-borderism argues that boundaries even between distinct nations are mere artificial constructs, methods of marginalization designed by those in power, mostly to stigmatize and oppress the “other” — usually the poorer and less Western — who arbitrarily ended up on the wrong side of the divide. “Where borders are drawn, power is exercised,” as one European scholar put it. This view assumes that where borders are not drawn, power is not exercised — as if a million Middle Eastern immigrants pouring into Germany do not wield considerable power by their sheer numbers and adroit manipulation of Western notions of victimization and grievance politics. Indeed, Western leftists seek political empowerment by encouraging the arrival of millions of impoverished migrants.

August 7, 2016

QotD: “… there were no good guys in the Spanish Civil War”

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Pio Moa’s thesis is that the Spanish Civil War was not a usurping revolt against a functioning government, but a belated attempt to restore order to a country that had already collapsed into violent chaos five years before the Fascists landed in 1936.

I’ve studied the history of the Spanish Civil War enough to know that Moa’s contrarian interpretation is not obviously crazy. I had an unusual angle; I’m an anarchist, and wanted to grasp the ideas and role of the Spanish anarchist communes. My conclusions were not pleasant. In short, there were no good guys in the Spanish Civil War.

First, the non-anarchist Left in Spain really was pretty completely Stalin’s creature. The volunteers of the International Brigade were (in Lenin’s timeless phrase) useful idiots, an exact analogue of the foreign Arabs who fought on in Baghdad after Iraqi resistance collapsed (and were despised for it by the Iraqis). They deserve neither our pity nor our respect. Insofar as Moa’s thesis is that most scholarship about the war is severely distorted by a desire to make heroes out of these idiots, he is correct.

Second, the Spanish anarchists were by and large an exceedingly nasty bunch, all resentment and nihilism with no idea how to rebuild after destroying. Wiping them out (via his Communist proxies) may have been one of Stalin’s few good deeds.

Third, the Fascists were a pretty nasty bunch too. But, on the whole, probably not as nasty as their opponents. Perceptions of them tend to be distorted by the casual equation of Fascist with Nazi — but this is not appropriate. Spanish Fascism was unlike Communism or Italian and German Fascism in that it was genuinely a conservative movement, rather than a attempt to reinvent society in the image of a revolutionary doctrine about the perfected State.

Historians and political scientists use the terms “fascist” and “fascism” quite precisely, for a group of political movements that were active between about 1890 and about 1975. The original and prototypical example was Italian fascism, the best-known and most virulent strain was Naziism, and the longest-lasting was the Spanish nationalist fascism of Francisco Franco. The militarist nationalism of Japan is often also described as “fascist” .

The shared label reflects the fact that these four ideologies influenced each other; Naziism began as a German imitation of Italian fascism, only to remake Italian (and to some extent Spanish) fascism in its own image during WWII. The militarist Japanese fascists took their cues from European fascists as well as an indigenous tradition of absolutism with very similar structural and psychological features

The shared label also reflects substantially similar theories of political economics, power, governance, and national purpose. Also similar histories and symbolisms. Here are some of the commonalities especially relevant to the all too common abuse of the term.

Fascist political economics is a corrupt form of Leninist socialism. In fascist theory (as in Communism) the State owns all; in practice, fascists are willing to co-opt and use big capitalists rather than immediately killing them.

Fascism mythologizes the professional military, but never trusts it. (And rightly so; consider the Von Stauffenberg plot…) One of the signatures of the fascist state is the formation of elite units (the SA and SS in Germany, the Guardia Civil in Spain, the Republican Guard and Fedayeen in Iraq) loyal to the fascist party and outside the military chain of command.

Fascism is not (as the example of Franco’s Spain shows) necessarily aggressive or expansionist per se. In all but one case, fascist wars were triggered not by ideologically-motivated aggression but by revanchist nationalism (that is, the nation’s claims on areas lost to the victors of previous wars, or inhabited by members of the nationality agitating for annexation). No, the one exception was not Nazi Germany; it was Japan (the rape of Manchuria). The Nazi wars of aggression and Hussein’s grab at Kuwait were both revanchist in origin.

Fascism is generally born by revolution out of the collapse of monarchism. Fascism’s theory of power is organized around the ‘Fuehrerprinzip‘, the absolute leader regarded as the incarnation of the national will.

But…and this is a big but…there were important difference between revolutionary Fascism (the Italo/German/Baathist variety) and the more reactionary sort native to Spain and Japan.

Eric S. Raymond, “Fascism is not dead”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-04-22.

August 1, 2016

QotD: Heinlein versus Pournelle

Filed under: Books, Media, Military, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I took some heat recently for describing some of Jerry Pournelle’s SF as “conservative/militarist power fantasies”. Pournelle uttered a rather sniffy comment about this on his blog; the only substance I could extract from it was that Pournelle thought his lifelong friend Robert Heinlein was caught between a developing libertarian philosophy and his patriotic instincts. I can hardly argue that point, since I completely agree with it; that tension is a central issue in almost everything Heinlein ever wrote.

The differences between Heinlein’s and Pournelle’s military SF are not trivial — they are both esthetically and morally important. More generally, the soldiers in military SF express a wide range of different theories about the relationship between soldier, society, and citizen. These theories reward some examination.

First, let’s consider representative examples: Jerry Pournelle’s novels of Falkenberg’s Legion, on the one hand, and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers on the other.

The difference between Heinlein and Pournelle starts with the fact that Pournelle could write about a cold-blooded mass murder of human beings by human beings, performed in the name of political order, approvingly — and did.

But the massacre was only possible because Falkenberg’s Legion and Heinlein’s Mobile Infantry have very different relationships with the society around them. Heinlein’s troops are integrated with the society in which they live. They study history and moral philosophy; they are citizen-soldiers. Johnnie Rico has doubts, hesitations, humanity. One can’t imagine giving him orders to open fire on a stadium-full of civilians as does Falkenberg.

Pournelle’s soldiers, on the other hand, have no society but their unit and no moral direction other than that of the men on horseback who lead them. Falkenberg is a perfect embodiment of military Führerprinzip, remote even from his own men, a creepy and opaque character who is not successfully humanized by an implausible romance near the end of the sequence. The Falkenberg books end with his men elevating an emperor, Prince Lysander who we are all supposed to trust because he is such a beau ideal. Two thousand years of hard-won lessons about the maintenance of liberty are thrown away like so much trash.

In fact, the underlying message here is pretty close to that of classical fascism. It, too, responds to social decay with a cult of the redeeming absolute leader. To be fair, the Falkenberg novels probably do not depict Pournelle’s idea of an ideal society, but they are hardly less damning if we consider them as a cautionary tale. “Straighten up, kids, or the hero-soldiers in Nemourlon are going to have to get medieval on your buttocks and install a Glorious Leader.” Pournelle’s values are revealed by the way that he repeatedly posits situations in which the truncheon of authority is the only solution. All tyrants plead necessity.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Charms and Terrors of Military SF”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-13.

July 30, 2016

The alienated parts of the old Republican coalition

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the New York Review of Books, Jonathan Freedland looks at some of the significant factions of the Republican party who have not embraced Il Donalduce:

Yet this is not solely a revolt of “values conservatives” against the brash, thrice-married vulgarian from Queens — a battle of Iowa against New York, as Cruz likes to frame it. There are other fault-lines. Neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol (or Robert Kagan, who says he will vote for Hillary Clinton) oppose Trump too, as do foreign policy realists such as Brent Scowcroft. Some of this is personal: Scowcroft and others feel a strong loyalty to the Bush family, whose animus toward Trump is incandescent thanks to the billionaire’s trashing of Jeb. But policy substance has also played its part in Trump’s improbable achievement: he has managed to turn many disparate Republican strands — Log Cabin types and evangelicals, neocons and Bush 41 stalwarts, Wall Streeters and military brass — against him. (That these different elements have not been able to cohere around an alternative candidate or program helps, in part, to explain Trump’s success, but it does not make their opposition any less real.)

Trade is a crucial example. The GOP has long been the party of free trade; in 1993, Bill Clinton could only pass NAFTA with Republican votes. But now its nominee denounces such trade as a destroyer of American jobs, apparently seeing commerce as something the US should do to, rather than with, other countries. The result was the astonishing sight of a Republican presidential nominee, in his acceptance speech, bidding for the voters of an avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders, “because,” as Trump put it, “we will fix his biggest issue, trade deals.” The issue was hardly debated in Cleveland, but the shift is remarkable all the same. Trump has refashioned the GOP as the party of protectionism, advocating an approach Republicans previously denounced as a threat to American prosperity.

Similarly, Republicans have for decades enjoyed an advantage on national security, obliging the Democrats to match them on strength and military commitment. Trump has broken from that too. He implies a rupture not only from the neocon, democracy-spreading policies associated with Bush the son, but also with the engaged internationalism of Bush the father. Trump is seemingly uninterested in America’s traditional status as sheet-anchor of the international system, central in a series of interlocking alliances that have maintained relative order and stability since 1945. Instead, he took time out from Cleveland to tell The New York Times he did not believe in the cardinal principle underpinning NATO — that an attack on one member is an attack on all — and that, as president, he would only defend one of the Baltic states from hypothetical Russian invasion if he deemed that state to have been paying its proper dues. Put aside the huge implications of such a shift for global security. Trump is turning his back on decades of Republican Party doctrine.

That’s true on the scale of government, too, with Trump implicitly advocating gargantuan powers for an imperial presidency: “I alone can fix this problem,” he says of crime, ISIS, immigration and much else. That’s quite a change for a party that has long regarded it as an article of faith that government is the problem and never the solution.

[…]

Republicans alarmed at these developments are not quite sure what will be worse: for Trump to lose or for Trump to win. Some have persuaded themselves that a Trump victory is best for America, simply because Hillary Clinton must not be president. (One Utah delegate, anguished about Trump’s “rough edges,” told me he believed Clinton was “evil.”)

But others are terrified by the possibility of a Trump victory. If that happens, they fear, the upheaval of 2016 will become permanent: the Republican Party will be reshaped in Trump’s image. It will be protectionist, nativist, authoritarian, and the vehicle for an exclusively white rage. Richard Tafel recoils so sharply from that prospect, he is talking seriously of forming a new party of the center-right. He’s already had conversations with “some of the wealthiest” CEOs and others, worried that Trumpism does not respect the prudent, cautious, free-market conservatism they value. For millennials especially, Tafel says, Trump is making the Republican Party a “toxic brand.”

The biggest challenge to forming a new political party is that the current system is completely rigged in favour of the two big parties to the extent that even long-established third parties like the Libertarians and the Greens still have to spend vastly disproportional efforts (and funds) just trying to get their candidates onto the ballot. A new “centre-right” party would face the same problem — and neither of the two big beneficiaries of the current system will be eager to see their institutional advantages eroded.

July 28, 2016

Scott Adams: Hillary is “selling past the close”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Noted Clinton supporter* Scott Adams thinks Hillary is making a major persuasion mistake in her campaign:

… that brings us to a concept called “Selling past the close.” That’s a persuasion mistake. Clinton has already sold the country on the idea that a woman can be president. Sales experts will tell you that once the sale is made, you need to stop selling, because you have no chance of making things better, but you might give the buyer a reason to change her mind.

Obama understood how to avoid selling past the close. At some point during Obama’s first presidential election campaign the country mentally agreed that an African-American could be their next president. So Obama accepted the sale and talked about other stuff. If he had dwelled on race, and his place in history, he would have risked making things worse. So he stayed quiet on race (mostly) and won. Twice.

Clinton is taking a different approach. As Michelle Obama said, we now take for granted that a woman can be president. That sale is made. But Clinton keeps selling. And that’s an enormous persuasion mistake.

I watched singer Alicia Keys perform her song Superwoman at the convention and experienced a sinking feeling. I’m fairly certain my testosterone levels dropped as I watched, and that’s not even a little bit of an exaggeration. Science says men’s testosterone levels rise when they experience victory, and drop when they experience the opposite. I watched Keys tell the world that women are the answer to our problems. True or not, men were probably not feeling successful and victorious during her act.

Let me say this again, so you know I’m not kidding. Based on what I know about the human body, and the way our thoughts regulate our hormones, the Democratic National Convention is probably lowering testosterone levels all over the country. Literally, not figuratively. And since testosterone is a feel-good chemical for men, I think the Democratic convention is making men feel less happy. They might not know why they feel less happy, but they will start to associate the low feeling with whatever they are looking at when it happens, i.e. Clinton.

* He endorses Clinton for his personal safety. He says neither candidate actually aligns with his views. He also says he doesn’t vote (but he lives in California where Clinton will likely have a huge surplus of votes anyway).

July 24, 2016

QotD: Literally every Republican presidential candidate (so far)

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Every 4 years the GOP nominee is literally Hitler. A few years later — sometimes, as in Mitt Romney’s case, as few as 4 years after he was accused of giving a woman cancer — that formerly-Hitler nominee becomes the standard of once-great GOP nominees to which the current nominee fall short.

Glenn Reynolds, “LIZ CROKIN: Trump Does The Unthinkable”, Instapundit, 2016-07-11.

July 20, 2016

The media covered Obama as the protagonist of a movie, not as a typical politican

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Instapundit, Ed Driscoll points out the difference in the way the media covered the rise of Barack Obama compared to other politicians:

The blogger Ace of Spades has written about “The MacGuffinization of American Politics.” As Ace wrote, “For Obama’s fanbois, this is not politics. This isn’t even America, not really, not anymore. This is a movie. And Barack Obama is the Hero. And the Republicans are the Villains. And policy questions — and Obama’s myriad failures as an executive — are simply incidental. They are MacGuffins only, of no importance whatsoever, except to the extent they provide opportunities for Drama as the Hero fights in favor of them.”

The media never covered Obama as though he was a normal politician submitting bills to Congress and meeting with foreign leaders. Instead, they covered him as though he was Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart in an epic film as directed by Alfred Hitchcock, hence Ace’s name – the MacGuffin was the otherwise meaningless object that all the characters in an adventure movie desperately want. The microfilm in North By Northwest. The Soviet decoding device in From Russia With Love. The Death Star plans in Star Wars. The Ark of the Covenant, etc.

But I think it’s safe to say that all young people, or the vast majority of them, want to feel their life is some form of an epic quest for adventure, hence the near-universal popularity of films like the original (1977) Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings movies, or Batman Begins, all of which start off with their protagonist depicted as a callow youth, who precedes to then overcomes two hours worth of adversity, to emerge by the time the credits role as The Hero. As Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, this quest for adventure is hardwired into most people, all the way back to Homer. (The author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, not the nuclear plant worker who lives in Springfield.) Up until recently, most teenagers felt a similar sense of accomplishment and pride through such traditional avenues as academic advancement, athletic success, or learning a musical instrument.

The New Yorker calls Gary Johnson “The Libertarians’ Secret Weapon”

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the current issue of The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza introduces readers to the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate:

Johnson and Weld were set to appear that evening in a CNN town-hall special, which, it was later estimated, was seen by almost a million people. The stakes for Johnson were high. When pollsters include Johnson with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in their surveys, he has been the choice of roughly ten per cent of respondents, and in a Times/CBS News poll released last week he hit twelve per cent. If his standing in the polls rises to fifteen per cent, he will likely qualify to participate in the Presidential debates. “If you’re not in the debates, there’s no way to win,” Johnson said. “It’s the Super Bowl of politics.” Johnson has many flaws as a candidate, but being unlikable is not one of them. If he is allowed to debate Trump and Clinton, the two most unpopular presumed nominees in decades, then the most unpredictable election in modern times could get even weirder.

[…]

There hasn’t been a serious challenge from a third-party Presidential candidate since 1992, when Ross Perot, the eccentric Texas billionaire, ran as an independent and bought hours of TV time to educate voters about the large federal budget deficit. Perot won entry into the Presidential debates and received nineteen per cent of the vote against Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. Bush blamed Perot for his loss, though the best analyses of the race concluded that Perot had drawn equal numbers of voters from Bush and Clinton.

This year, the unpopularity of Clinton and Trump has created an opportunity for Johnson to at least match Perot’s impressive showing. Last week, Republican delegates in the Never Trump movement attempted to change the rules for the Republican National Convention, in a failed effort to deny Trump the nomination. For anti-Trump conservatives still searching for an alternative, Johnson may be the only option. On the left, anti-Clinton Democrats, including some determined supporters of Bernie Sanders, would prefer a candidate who is more socially liberal and noninterventionist than Clinton.

“We have arguably the two most polarizing candidates,” Johnson told me. “Hillary has to go out and she has to appeal to this ‘everything’s free, government can accomplish anything, what can you give us’ constituency. She’s doling it out as fast as she can. Trump is appealing to this anti-abortion, anti-immigration, ‘bomb the hell out of them, lock them up, throw away the key’ constituency.”

Johnson is charming and more transparent than most politicians — sometimes to a fault — and has a knack for putting a happy face on the rougher edges of libertarianism. Weld has a shabby-genteel bearing and a boarding-school sarcasm that comes across as both appealing and arrogant. Together, Johnson and Weld represent the first Presidential ticket with two governors since 1948, when the Republicans nominated Thomas Dewey, of New York, and Earl Warren, of California. One of the Johnson-Weld campaign slogans is “A Credible Alternative to ClinTrump.”

July 19, 2016

Attempting to make sense of the state of the Middle East

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait links to an essay that summarizes some of the confusing and contradictory motives and actions that have roiled the Middle East for the last few years:

I haven’t much to say about all this, but one thought does occur to me, which is that it seems rather wrong for Americans to blame other Americans for this bloody shambles. (Haivry himself does not blame America.) The next silliest thing to believing that your country is an unchallengeably magnificent superpower that never ever errs is to believe that your country’s mistakes and crimes are overwhelmingly more important and blameworthy than those of any other country, these two attitudes being far more similar than those who indulge in the latter one typically realise. The Middle East would surely now be a bloody shambles whatever the Americans had recently tried to do about it.

If there are imperialist villains to be blaming, how about Britain and France? But one suspects that, again, even if those notorious “lines in the sand” had never been drawn around a century ago, what would be happening on top of this sand would still now be a bloody shambles.

The only rays of light that Haivry discerns are in the form of the various little non-Islamic and anti-Islamist statelets that are starting to form, such as the newly emerging Kurdistan. The Kurds aren’t the only ones doing this, apparently. Good to hear.

Here’s the link to the Ofir Haivry essay.

In 2007, in a seminar room in Jerusalem, a day-long session was devoted to Israeli regional strategic perspectives. I was among the participants together with several other scholars, a former Israeli interior minister, a future Israeli defense minister, and two future Israeli ambassadors to the U.S. At a certain point, the talk turned to various scenarios for the regional future and the opportunities or dangers each of these entailed for Israel. When the possible breakup and partition of Arab states like Iraq or Syria was raised, the near-unanimous response was that this was simply too fantastic a scenario to contemplate.

Now we live that scenario. The great Sunni Arab implosion that began with the 2011 “Arab Spring” was unforeseen in its suddenness, violence, and extent. But some, both inside and outside the Arab world, had long suspected that, sooner or later, a day of reckoning would indeed arrive. (Among Westerners, the names of Bernard Lewis and David Pryce-Jones come most readily to mind.) Today, those in the West who acknowledge this great collapse for what it is will be better able to face the emerging realities. But the first and most important step is to recognize that there is no going back.

[…]

And what would all this entail for Western interests and for the regional policy of the U.S. (should it wish to have an active one)? There is no point in dreaming any longer of a grand deal with Iran, or of rebooting the good old days with Turkey, let alone resuscitating an Arab hegemony led by Egypt and the Saudis. As with the huge, decades-long effort by Great Britain to prop up the Ottoman empire, finally blasted in World War I, so with the increasingly forlorn effort by the U.S. to save the Sunni Arab regional order from collapsing, now finally revealed as a road to nowhere. One might as well attempt to restore the Balkans to the Habsburg empire or the Ottoman fold, or to resuscitate Yugoslavia.

With artificial regimes and borders gone, people in the region seek protection and solidarity in the old identities that have survived the Arab reverie: their nation, their religion, their tribe. These are the only building blocks upon which a new and stable system can be founded. The process will be long, complex, and fraught with difficulty, but it offers a prospect of strategic as well as moral coherence. A region redrawn along lines of actual self-definition would give voice to the communities on the ground that will become invested in its success and work for its stability.

For Western observers and policy makers, the principle should be to look with appropriately cautious favor on significant groupings that possess their own voice and some degree of self-government, while ensuring that in the event of their political defeat, they will not be exterminated—which is far more than any of the Arab world’s political systems ever offered anyone. Some of these groupings will evolve into robust independent nations, others into weak federal states or new tribal confederations. Some, cherishing the opportunity, will build thriving and prosperous democracies, and perhaps even become natural allies of the West and Israel. Others will undoubtedly, yet again, waste their opportunities, devolving into another round of petty and corrupt tribal entities—though with the advantage to themselves of ethnic and religious cohesiveness and to outsiders of being too small to entertain dreams of internal or external genocide. In the Middle East, again, not such a bad outcome.

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