Quotulatiousness

August 1, 2014

The New York Times bravely challenges … a policy they’ve propagandized for a century

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:39

In Forbes, Jacob Sullum admits that the sudden change of heart by the New York Times made him stop and reconsider whether he’d been wrong all this time:

According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of American adults support marijuana legalization. That’s around 130 million people. It turns out that some of them are members of the New York Times editorial board, which on Sunday declared that “the federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.”

Given its timing, the paper’s endorsement of legalization is more an indicator of public opinion than a brave stand aimed at changing it. Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor at the Times, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that the new position was not controversial among the paper’s 18 editorial writers and that when he raised the subject with the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, “He said, ‘Fine.’ I think he’d probably been there before I was. I think I was there before we did it.” Better late than never, I guess, although I confess that seeing a New York Times editorial in favor of legalizing marijuana briefly made me wonder if I’ve been wrong about the issue all these years.

In their gratitude for the belated support of a venerable journalistic institution, antiprohibitionists should not overlook the extent to which the Times has aided and abetted the war on marijuana over the years. That shameful history provides a window on the origins of this bizarre crusade and a lesson in the hazards of failing to question authority.

[...]

In short, the Times first publicly toyed with the idea of marijuana legalization in 1972, but it did not get around to endorsing that policy until 42 years later. What happened in between? Jimmy Carter, a president who advocated decriminalization, was replaced in 1981 by Ronald Reagan, a president who ramped up the war on drugs despite his lip service to limited government. That crusade was supported by parents who were alarmed by record rates of adolescent pot smoking in the late 1970s. Gallup’s numbers indicate that support for legalizing marijuana, after rising from 12 percent in 1969 to 28 percent in 1978, dipped during the Reagan administration, hitting a low of 23 percent in 1985 before beginning a gradual ascent.

Legalization did get at least a couple of positive mentions on the New York Times editorial page during the 1980s. A 1982 essay actually advocated “regulation and taxation” as “a more sensible alternative” to decriminalization, arguing that “a prohibition so unenforceable and so widely flouted must give way to reality.” But that piece was attributed only to editorial writer Peter Passell, so it did not represent the paper’s official position. Four years later, an editorial that was mainly about drug testing asked, “Why not sharpen priorities by legalizing or at least decriminalizing marijuana?” Good question. Let’s think about it for a few decades.

July 28, 2014

Britain’s “Trojan Horse” schools

Filed under: Britain, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:26

In The Spectator, Douglas Murray wonders when the moderate Muslims are going to speak out over the “Trojan Horse” scandal:

The Trojan Horse reports are in, and they make for damning reading. ‘An aggressive Islamist agenda… a coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos’. Teachers who claimed that the Boston marathon bombing and the murder of Lee Rigby were in fact hoaxes and an ‘Attack on Islam’. And so on. The grim details are out. But there is a story behind this story which has not been thought about, though it ought to be. That is the response of Britain’s Muslim communities to these awful revelations.

Ever since 9/11 a considerable appeal from the non-Muslim majority in the West has been ‘where are the moderates? Where are the moderate voices who are willing not just to excuse or remain silent in the face of their religion’s extremists, but to actually stand up and say ‘these people are bringing our faith into disrepute, we recognise it, we hate it, and we are going to actually push them out of the faith.’ The unwillingness of more than a tiny number of Muslims to actually stand up and speak out as well as push out the extremists is very noticeable to non-Muslims. Indeed, I would suggest that it is one of the largest contributing factors to the hardening of attitudes across Europe towards Islam in general (see here for some interesting polling on this).

So when the story of Birmingham schools emerged – with stories of the most appalling racism against white people and disgusting bigotry against Christians, gay people and others – it should have provided a fine opportunity for what is generally termed the ‘moderate majority’ to make their voices heard. Granted, the ‘Trojan Horse’ story started strangely and plenty of us were uncomfortable about writing or speaking about it until we knew what the facts were behind the allegations in the original document. But, once the press and then the official investigations got underway, it became clear that, whatever the origin of the document, what it alleged was true. It has now been repeatedly found to be true.

Yet the response of Muslim communities has not been to accept this and to do something about tackling it. Far from it. The official responses have almost to a man and woman been denial, evasion and a fall-back onto claims of ‘Islamophobia’ and racism.

July 23, 2014

Closing the Eastern Ukraine pocket

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:28

CDR Salamander links to a recent Ukrainian report that seems to show how far the Ukraine forces have come since May in reclaiming territory from the “separatists”:

Click to see full-size image

Click to see full-size image

Look at what has happened in the last two months.

1. Ukraine secured its maritime territory.
2. Ukraine managed to re-establish control over most of its borders – though in a thin salient in some places. Not firm control as we know traffic is getting through, but at least partial control to the point they are willing to claim it.
3. They are pushing to widen the salient in the south while increasing its SE bulge, pushing north along the Russian border.
4. From the north, they are pushing south along the Russian border.
5. Yes kiddies, we have a classic pincer movement to envelope a pocket of the enemy, nee – a double envelopment at that. As a matter of fact, a secondary double envelopment is about to take place in that middle thumb centered on Lysychansk – or at least there is an opportunity for one.

Cut off the Lysychansk based separatists there while at the same time cutting off their unopposed access to the Russian border – and then you can destroy the pro-Russian separatists piecemeal at your leisure.

A quick Google search for “ATO progress map” also turned up this map posted to Twitter a couple of days ago by Viktor Kovalenko:

Click to see full size image

Click to see full size image

As the original CDR Salamander post points out, these are based on claims by one side so apply whatever filters you feel are needed to counteract any PR or propaganda bias.

July 2, 2014

QotD: The myths about libertarianism

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:05

Whenever I talk to people about libertarianism, they usually dismiss it right off because of all the misconceptions that are floating about. They seem to have no understanding of what libertarianism is actually. This is largely thanks to all the years of government schooling, as well as the falsehoods perpetrated by the lamestream media. Usually their objections are based on falsehoods that are repeated often in government school textbooks and by talking heads who don’t know Jack about libertarianism.

They seem to believe the myth that the free market was a gigantic cesspool that was letter cleansed by the purity of government. This is largely based on a work of fiction created by Upton Sinclair, even though it was largely debunked by two different investigations performed under two different branches of government. They also seem to have the cartoon image of the greedy “Robber Barons” who supposedly created monopolies so they could line their wallets, while the poor became poorer. Never mind that they actually found ways to produce cheaper goods, which gave the poor greater access to them.

That is why there are so many people who believe that the government is the end all solution to everything. They have become so accustomed to having the government interfere in their daily lives that they can’t imagine life without it. That is why people make straw man arguments against libertarianism. Well, that and intellectual laziness also plays a strong part in it. The same intellectual laziness that I have seen in many creationists who constantly attack evolution without even bothering to open a science book to find out what they are arguing against.

Sean Gangol, “Misconceptions”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2013-12-08

July 1, 2014

QotD: Patriotism

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

Patriotic effusions, whosever they may be, seldom please citizens of other nations, because they are generally so self-congratulatory; and self-congratulation, which is no doubt an inescapable part of the human condition, is best kept to oneself even when justified. Occasional outbursts may be acceptable, as after a triumph in a just war — but just wars are themselves infrequent events in human history. Ignorance of and disdain for others are often the corollaries of noisy patriotism; it was with good reason that Doctor Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Quite often it is the first refuge as well.

On the other hand, some kind of collective self-belief is necessary, for otherwise effort would be in vain and achievement impossible. A country completely without patriotism, even if this state remained implicit rather than explicit, would be an unhappy place. As in most things human, a balance must be struck.

Theodore Dalrymple, “A More Sinister Equality”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-04-06

June 21, 2014

ISIS displays mastery of modern social media recruiting techniques

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:09

Lara Prendergast on the successful techniques of recruiting-by-social-media being used by ISIS propagandists:

Yesterday evening, I returned home, made a cup of tea and slumped down to catch up on the day’s news. A piece on Twitter caught my eye. Posted by Channel 4, it was titled ‘#Jihad: how ISIS is using social media to win support‘. Click. Soon I was learning about how ISIS was calling for global support via a sophisticated social media campaign, branded the ‘one billion campaign’. Click, click. Onto YouTube, where I found graphic videos recorded and uploaded by ISIS members. Click, click, click. Ten minutes later, and I was on Twitter, being recruited by jihadis to come join them.

Clearly, I am not about to head to Syria or Iraq. But I was struck by how quickly I found material asking me to show support and help the cause. If I was an impressionable young Muslim man, perhaps I would have found it alluring. I came across a podcast uploaded by the British jihadi Abu Summayyah al-Britani, which suggested that fighting in Syria was better than playing Call of Duty.

The imagery ISIS promotes is also absorbing, in a dark, sinister way. The black and white flag is the new Jolly Roger; balaclavas and AK47s the new uniform. ‘Come fight with us, brother’ it screams. It looks dangerous and exciting. This belligerent propaganda has zipped round the world at an unprecedented speed. It’s a potent mix of graphic imagery and piratic behaviour blended with a fanatical message. It’s hard not to look, no matter how much you try.

May 20, 2014

The “Pentagon News Channel” turns on its master

Filed under: Media, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:06

J. Neil Schulman talks about a recent Fox News commentary by Liz Trotta, which excoriated the Secretary of Defense:

I’ve been aware for a long time that commentators on the Fox News Channel get away with the most extremely jingoistic, the most atavistic, the most bigoted opinions in weekend commentaries that would make even the average weekday Fox viewer cringe.

But the commentary quoted above from FNC‘s Liz Trotta managed to surprise even me.

My friend, Brad Linaweaver, calls Fox News the Pentagon Channel because of all the 24-hour news channels Fox is the one that tends to support the agenda of those who find the Pentagon’s ungodly budget always too small, no projection of military force anywhere in the world too unattractive, and no invasion of privacy or restriction of liberty unnecessary. After seeing lively debates on Fox on all these subjects — often dragging in quasi-libertarians like Senator Rand Paul or in-house personalities like Bob Beckel or Kennedy to take the opposition — I’d have to say that Brad is being only slightly sardonic.

But unquestionably Fox, like much of the degraded talk-radio right today, has adopted the worst propaganda techniques that used to be the patented reserve of party-line Communists and World War II era Nazis. It’s a perfect storm of spinning half truths or facts presented in a misleading context, tunnel-vision ideology, and ad hominem slurs replacing reasoned discourse.

This was the technique perfected by Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, but for those not a student of history like Mr. Linaweaver, one needs go no further than the average anonymous Internet troll to find this level of vile attack.

In the above commentary Ms. Trotta manages to conflate the Veterans Administration — which does not treat active military — with the Army’s healthcare policies for active-duty military, and conflates both with the Affordable Care Act that addresses only civilian medical care.

Ms. Trotta manages to forget that homosexuals now serve openly in the U.S. military forces so a “feckless” Defense Secretary (who as an Army volunteer serving in combat earned two Purple Hearts) considering extending this policy to transgenders isn’t that much of a stretch.

But Ms. Trotta — in both managing to dismiss “gender dysphoria” as a treatable medical condition while simultaneously dismissing transgendering as a passing fashion — also does not know or chooses to ignore that as late as 1973 the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality in its official diagnostic manual as a mental illness.

May 8, 2014

QotD: Raising consciousness

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:50

A successor to “commitment” is “raising consciousness.” This is double-edged. The people whose consciousness is being raised may be given information they most desperately lack and need, may be given moral support they need. But the process nearly always means that the pupil gets only the propaganda the instructor approves of. “Raising consciousness,” like “commitment,” like “political correctness,” is a continuation of that old bully, the party line.

Doris Lessing, “Questions You Should Never Ask a Writer”, New York Times, 1992-06-26 (reprinted 2007-10-13)

April 11, 2014

QotD: Romantic views of death in battle

Filed under: History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:48

And we ourselves? Let us not have too much hope. The chances are that, if we go to war, eager to leap superbly at the cannon’s mouth, we’ll be finished on the way by an ingrowing toenail or by being run over by an army truck driven by a former Greek bus-boy and loaded with imitation Swiss cheeses made in Oneida, N. Y. And that if we die in our beds, it will be of measles or albuminuria.

The aforesaid Crile, in one of his smaller books, A Mechanistic View of War and Peace, has a good deal to say about death in war, and in particular, about the disparity between the glorious and inspiring passing imagined by the young soldier and the messy finish that is normally in store for him. He shows two pictures of war, the one ideal and the other real. The former is the familiar print, “The Spirit of ’76,” with the three patriots springing grandly to the attack, one of them with a neat and romantic bandage around his head apparently, to judge by his liveliness, to cover a wound no worse than an average bee-sting. The latter picture is what the movie folks call a close-up of a French soldier who was struck just below the mouth by a German one-pounder shell a soldier suddenly converted into the hideous simulacrum of a cruller. What one notices especially is the curious expression upon what remains of his face an expression of the utmost surprise and indignation. No doubt he marched off to the front firmly convinced that, if he died at all, it would be at the climax of some heroic charge, up to his knees in blood and with his bayonet run clear through a Bavarian at least four feet in diameter. He imagined the clean bullet through the heart, the stately last gesture, the final words: “Therese! Sophie! Olympe! Marie! Suzette! Odette! Denise! Julie! … France!” Go to the book and see what he got … Dr. Crile, whose experience of war has soured him against it, argues that the best way to abolish it would be to prohibit such romantic prints as “The Spirit of ’76″ and substitute therefore a series of actual photographs of dead and wounded men. The plan is plainly of merit. But it would be expensive. Imagine a war getting on its legs before the conversion of the populace had become complete. Think of the huge herds of spy-chasers, letter-openers, pacifist-hounds, burlesons and other such operators that it would take to track down and confiscate all those pictures!

H.L. Mencken, “Exeunt Omnes”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.

April 6, 2014

QotD: “[T]he effete dissipated welfare addicted gender quota apportioned peoples of Europe”

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:47

Even if the USA picked up its toys and went home in a huff, which they won’t I might add, more’s the pity for the hapless US taxpayer, the effete dissipated welfare addicted gender quota apportioned peoples of Europe that dwell so prominently in the imaginations of Real Men From Texas (or wherever), are actually quite capable of keeping the Russian Hordes, in their rust covered jalopies with siphoned fuel tanks, from sweeping across the steppes and threatening to once again park themselves somewhere near the Fulda Gap, presumably out of nostalgia for a place with half decent food. Russia… big dick, but no shoes.

I have often said the difference between British and American arrogance is the Brits think they run the world, the Americans think they are the world. Yet somehow the world will bumble along even if either don’t get involved with spanking Putin. The US should just fixate the collective paranoia on China because that actually is something of a Good Old Fashioned Looming Threat, of the kind much loved by people like Boeing and Lockheed.

Perry de Havilland, “Russia… lets keep a sense of proportion”, Samizdata, 2014-04-06

March 31, 2014

A guide to interpreting official Chinese TV phrases

Filed under: China, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:28

The WSJ‘s China Real Time column heartily approves of the guide to CCTV (China Central Television) posted by The World of Chinese:

… it’s a very handy guide to interpreting CCTV’s newspeak on the Network News at seven o’clock (Xinwen Lianbo新闻联播). It describes how CCTV sets the tone on the key issues of the day — every day, rain or shine — and in a nutshell some of their key observations are:

  • Your remote will be rendered useless and there is no place to hide. Central, provincial, city and local channels are all required to broadcast the program
  • Unplugging the TV won’t help as the same message awaits you on websites and newspapers the following day
  • No issue is too small when it comes to practicing the core values of socialism

For readers who are studying Chinese, the post also offers handy examples of the program’s particular phraseology — a sparse and wooden collection of stock formulations all too familiar to some of CRT’s more grizzled correspondents. A few of our favorites: “The two sides carried out an affable and friendly discussion” (双方进行了亲切友好的会谈), “[Insert country here] reaffirms that it objects to any forces threatening to undermine Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity” ( ___ 重申,反对任何破坏中国国 家主权和领土完整的势力), “The Chinese side highly praised the [insert country here] government’s efforts to always adhere to the one-China policy. (中方高度赞赏 ___ 政府始终坚持一个中国政策的立场)

To further the understanding of the uninitiated, we offer a few observations of our own:

  • The chairman always tops the news no matter how irrelevant his activities were that day
  • Nobody makes unimportant speeches
  • Nobody ever says what was in the important speeches
  • Long handshakes with unrecognizable visiting dignitaries always make interesting TV
  • China’s position is always reasonable
  • The world outside China’s borders is a frightening miasma of natural disasters, political crises and economic ruin.

To understand that last bullet point, you only have to watch a few minutes of MSNBC or Fox News.

March 29, 2014

A Conservative reading of Canadian history

Filed under: Cancon, History, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:33

David Akin notes that Stephen Harper’s self-appointed task — to change the narrative from a Liberal view of Canada to a Conservative one — is still underway. He points to a recent speech by John Baird as proof:

Both his fans and his critics agree on one thing about Stephen Harper. He wants to transform the country, so Canadians will come to see his Conservatives and not the Liberals as the natural governing party.

By the election of 2015, he will have done much in that regard.

But to make that work endure, the Conservatives need history on their side. They need a narrative of Canada in which Conservative Party values are integral to the story. Voters who buy this history will then turn to Conservative leaders as the default choice in this century the way Canadians turned to Liberal leaders by default in the last century.

[...]

“As I reflect on Diefenbaker’s legacy,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said this week, “I realise that our past makes me optimistic about our future. What we can offer the world is more important, not less. More relevant, not less. I think that it is fair to say our country has defied the low expectations of ‘middle power’. We have defied it with the ambition of leading rather than following.”

Baird’s 2,000-word speech was a neat encapsulation of this Conservative view of our history. There was a brief mention of Dief’s Bill of Rights, but much talk about how the Chief stood up to Soviet communism, just as Harper is standing up to Russian imperialism today.

“We are builders and pioneers,” Baird said. “We are warriors when war is thrust upon us, and we are compassionate when confronted by catastrophe.”

Professional historians have been taking issue with Conservatives for this reading of history but their argument is a column for another day.

Today, it’s worth marking Baird’s speech as a manifesto, a rationale for the Harper government’s decision to spend millions marking the War of 1812, and millions more for upcoming First World War commemorations.

It is through the re-telling of these stories that Harper hopes Conservatives will be able to displace Liberals as Canada’s “natural governing party”.

February 16, 2014

QotD: Theodore Roosevelt’s admiration for Imperial Germany

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:02

There was in the man a certain instinctive antipathy to the concrete aristocrat and in particular to the aristocrat’s private code — the product, no doubt, of his essentially bourgeois origin and training. But if he could not go with the Junkers all the way, he could at least go the whole length of their distrust of the third order — the undifferentiated masses of men below. Here, I daresay, he owed a lot to Nietzsche. He was always reading German books, and among them, no doubt, were Also sprach Zarathustra and Jenseits von Gut und Bose. In fact, the echoes were constantly sounding in his own harangues. Years ago, as an intellectual exercise while confined to hospital, I devised and printed a give-away of the Rooseveltian philosophy in parallel columns — in one column, extracts from The Strenuous Life; in the other, extracts from Nietzsche. The borrowings were numerous and unescapable. Theodore had swallowed Friedrich as a peasant swallows Peruna — bottle, cork, label and testimonials. Worse, the draft whetted his appetite, and soon he was swallowing the Kaiser of the Garde-Kavallerie-mess and battleship-launching speeches — another somewhat defective Junker. In his palmy days it was often impossible to distinguish his politico-theological bulls from those of Wilhelm; during the war, indeed, I suspect that some of them were boldly lifted by the British press bureau, and palmed off as felonious imprudences out of Potsdam. Wilhelm was his model in Weltpolitik, and in sociology, exegetics, administration, law, sport and connubial polity no less. Both roared for doughty armies, eternally prepared — for the theory that the way to prevent war is to make all conceivable enemies think twice, thrice, ten times. Both dreamed of gigantic navies, with battleships as long as Brooklyn Bridge. Both preached incessantly the duty of the citizen to the state, with the soft pedal upon the duty of the state to the citizen. Both praised the habitually gravid wife. Both delighted in the armed pursuit of the lower fauna. Both heavily patronized the fine arts. Both were intimates of God, and announced His desires with authority. Both believed that all men who stood opposed to them were prompted by the devil and would suffer for it in hell.

If, in fact, there was any difference between them, it was all in favor of Wilhelm. For one thing, he made very much fewer speeches; it took some colossal event, such as the launching of a dreadnaught or the birthday of a colonel-general, to get him upon his legs; the Reichstag was not constantly deluged with his advice and upbraiding. For another thing, he was a milder and more modest man — one more accustomed, let us say, to circumstance and authority, and hence less intoxicated by the greatness of his state. Finally, he had been trained to think, not only of his own immediate fortunes, but also of the remote interests of a family that, in his most expansive days, promised to hold the throne for many years, and so he cultivated a certain prudence, and even a certain ingratiating suavity. He could, on occasion, be extremely polite to an opponent. But Roosevelt was never polite to an opponent; perhaps a gentleman, by American standards, he was surely never a gentle man. In a political career of nearly forty years he was never even fair to an opponent. All of his gabble about the square deal was merely so much protective coloration, easily explicable on elementary Freudian grounds. No man, facing Roosevelt in the heat of controversy, ever actually got a square deal. He took extravagant advantages; he played to the worst idiocies of the mob; he hit below the belt almost habitually. One never thinks of him as a duelist, say of the school of Disraeli, Palmerston and, to drop a bit, Blaine. One always thinks of him as a glorified longshoreman engaged eternally in cleaning out bar-rooms — and not too proud to gouge when the inspiration came to him, or to bite in the clinches, or to oppose the relatively fragile brass knuckles of the code with chair-legs, bung-starters, cuspidors, demijohns, and ice-picks.

Abbott and Thayer, in their books, make elaborate efforts to depict their hero as one born with a deep loathing of the whole Prussian scheme of things, and particularly of the Prussian technique in combat. Abbott even goes so far as to hint that the attentions of the Kaiser, during Roosevelt’s historic tour of Europe on his return from Africa, were subtly revolting to him. Nothing could be more absurd. Prof. Dr. Sherman, in the article I have mentioned, blows up that nonsense by quoting from a speech made by the tourist in Berlin — a speech arguing for the most extreme sort of militarism in a manner that must have made even some of the Junkers blow their noses dubiously. The disproof need not be piled up; the America that Roosevelt dreamed of was always a sort of swollen Prussia, truculent without and regimented within. There was always a clank of the saber in his discourse; he could not discuss the tamest matter without swaggering in the best dragoon fashion.

H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, part 2, 1920.

February 5, 2014

The Internet and the defenestration of the gatekeepers

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:51

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith talks about the recent movie The Fifth Estate, prominent whistleblowers, and how the Internet upset so many top-down information models:

The top three “whistle-blowers”, of course, in no particular order, are Assange himself, Bradley/Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. I’m interested in these individuals for a number of reasons, not the least of which, is that I wrote about them (actually, I anticipated them) long before most people in the world ever knew they existed.

Including me.

Eleven years ago, in a speech I delivered to the Libertarian Party of New Mexico entitled “Empire of Lies“, I asserted that every human being on Earth is swimming — drowning — in an ocean of lies, mostly told by governments of one variety or another. I pointed out that lies of that kind — for example, the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” that never happened, and yet cost the lives of 60,000 Americans and 2,000,000 Vietnamese — are deadly. I proposed, therefore, that any politician, bureaucrat, or policeman caught telling a lie to any member of the public for any reason — a well as any among their ilk keeping secrets — ought to be subject to capital punishment, preferably by public hanging.

On network television.

Some time later, I stumbled on what I think is the true historical significance of the Internet. For as long as human beings have been communicating with one another, except among family and friends (and even then, sometimes) communications have been vertical and one-way, from the top down. Just to take it back to the Middle Ages, you can’t talk back to, or argue with a church bell. You either do what you are trained to do when it rings — wake, pray, eat, go to bed — or you do not, and suffer whatever consequences society has arranged for you to suffer.

This sorry situation was not improved materially by later “great” inventions like the printing press, movies, radio, or television. Such innovations only made it easier and more convenient to issue orders. The elite laid down the law to the peons (that’s us) and there was no way of contradicting them. Letters to the Editor are limited to 400 words.

But the Internet, and all of the technical, political, and social phenomena associated with it, turned this communications hierarchy sideways. Almost overnight, it was now possible for anybody on the planet to talk to anybody else, and to speak privately with a single individual, or to millions, without obtaining anyone’s permission, judged not by their power or authority, but by the cogency of their arguments.

Atlas didn’t shrug, Authority wigged.

Traditional Big Media, newspaper, magazine, and book publishers, movie studios, radio and television network executives, held onto their monopoly gatekeeper position, inherited from a more primitive era, desperately and at any cost. Only they were fit to judge what word could be sent by mere individuals to the Great Unwashed (that’s us, again). What it cost them is their very existence. They were incapable of divining that the Age of Authority, including theirs, was over.

For governments all over the world, subsisting as they all do on lies, intimidation, and violence, it was a nightmare. They have tried to fight back, but they will lose. The tide of history is against them. The idea of “peer-to-peer” communication is out there, and — short of the mass slaughter some of them seem to be preparing against us: a measure of their utter despair — it can never be called back or contained.

January 29, 2014

Pitching the New Deal through film – Gabriel Over the White House

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:01

I’d never heard of Gabriel Over the White House, so Jonah Goldberg‘s summary was quite interesting:

The legendary media tycoon William Randolph Hearst believed America needed a strongman and that Franklin D. Roosevelt would fit the bill. He ordered his newspapers to support FDR and the New Deal. At his direction, Hearst’s political allies rallied around Roosevelt at the Democratic convention, which some believe sealed the deal for Roosevelt’s nomination.

But all that wasn’t enough. Hearst also believed the voters had to be made to see what could be gained from a president with a free hand. So he financed the film Gabriel Over the White House, starring Walter Huston. The film depicts an FDR look-alike president who, after a coma-inducing car accident, is transformed from a passive Warren Harding type into a hands-on dictator. The reborn commander-in-chief suspends the Constitution, violently wipes out corruption, and revives the economy through a national socialist agenda. When Congress tries to impeach him, he dissolves Congress.

The Library of Congress summarizes the film nicely. “The good news: He reduces unemployment, lifts the country out of the Depression, battles gangsters and Congress, and brings about world peace. The bad news: He’s Mussolini.”

Hearst wanted to make sure the script got it right, so he sent it to what today might be called a script doctor, namely Roosevelt. FDR loved it, but he did have some changes, which Hearst eagerly accepted. A month into his first term, FDR sent Hearst a thank-you note. “I want to send you this line to tell you how pleased I am with the changes you made in Gabriel Over the White House,” Roosevelt wrote. “I think it is an intensely interesting picture and should do much to help.”

You can probably get the overall tone of the movie from this clip:

Even the editors at Wikipedia — hardly a hotbed of proto-fascists — describe it as “an example of totalitarian propaganda”:

Controversial since the time of its release, Gabriel Over the White House is widely acknowledged to be an example of totalitarian propaganda. Tweed, the author of the original novel, was a “liberal champion of government activism” and trusted adviser to David Lloyd George, the Liberal Prime Minister who brought Bismarck’s welfare state to the United Kingdom. The decision to buy the story was made by producer Walter Wanger, variously described as “a liberal Democrat” or a “liberal Hollywood mogul.” After two weeks of script preparation, Wanger secured the financial backing of media magnate William Randolph Hearst, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s staunchest supporters, who had helped him get the Democratic presidential nomination and who enlisted his entire media empire to campaign for him. Hearst intended the film to be a tribute to FDR and an attack on previous Republican administrations.

Although an internal MGM synopsis had labeled the script “wildly reactionary and radical to the nth degree,” studio boss Louis B. Mayer “learned only when he attended the Glendale, California preview that Hammond gradually turns America into a dictatorship,” writes film historian Leonard J. Leff. “Mayer was furious, telling his lieutenant, ‘Put that picture back in its can, take it back to the studio, and lock it up!’”

Released only a few weeks after Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration, the film was labeled by The New Republic “a half-hearted plea for Fascism.” Its purpose, agreed The Nation, was “to convert innocent American movie audiences to a policy of fascist dictatorship in this country.” Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter concurred in 2007 that the movie was meant to “prepare the public for a dictatorship,” as well as to be an instructional guide for FDR, who read the script during the campaign. He liked it so much that he took time during the hectic first weeks of his presidency to suggest several script rewrites that were incorporated into the film. “An aroma of fascism clung to the heavily edited release print,” according to Leff. Roosevelt saw an advance screening, writing, “I want to send you this line to tell you how pleased I am with the changes you made in Gabriel Over the White House. I think it is an intensely interesting picture and should do much to help.” Roosevelt saw the movie several times and enjoyed it. After a private screening, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that “if a million unemployed marched on Washington … I’d do what the President does in the picture!”

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