Quotulatiousness

April 18, 2017

In WW1, the United States “was not fighting for survival. It was fighting for an ideal.”

Filed under: History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Reason‘s Glenn Garvin reviews two new documentaries, including one called American Experience: The Great War (no relation to the YouTube channel I regularly reblog).

World War I, as American Experience: The Great War paraphrases a conclusion already reached by the cast of Friends many years ago, is probably the biggest event in U.S. history of which Americans know next to nothing. In some ways, that will still be true even if they watch The Great War, which views the events strictly through the lens of how Americans were affected. The welter of royal bloodlines and backdoor treaties that turned a seemingly isolated event — the assassination of an Austrian nobleman by a Serbian teenager — into a worldwide conflagration involving Russia, France, England, Italy, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Japan, and the United States is barely explored [*]. Nor are many of the war’s geopolitical shockwaves. Even the implosion of Russia’s czarist government, which would eventually result in a Cold War that for nearly five decades threatened to turn apocalyptically hot, only gets a minute or two.

What The Great War does do, in truly spectacular fashion, is limn the voracious expansion of the American government midwifed by World War I. When Woodrow Wilson’s uncertain attempts at neutrality floundered and he called for a declaration of war in 1917 because “the world must be made safe for democracy,” it made the United States unique among the combatants, notes a historian in The Great War: “It was not fighting for survival. It was fighting for an ideal.”

But as The Great War documents in horrifying detail, that ideal was the creation of a Leviathan state with unprecedented power: to draft young men and send them to a foreign war. To set price controls on food and impose dietary restrictions. To arrest and even deport political dissidents. To create a powerful government propaganda organ aimed not at enemy nations but the American people. (It expanded from one employee to about 100,000 in a couple of months.) To send goon squads known as Liberty Loan Committees roaming neighborhoods offering deals on war bonds that couldn’t be refused.

Wilson’s actions did not go without dissent (signs at a protest march in New York City: MR. PRESIDENT, WHY NOT MAKE AMERICA SAFE FOR DEMOCRACY?) and dissent did not go without punishment. Wilson demanded, and got, a new Espionage Act that made it a crime to collect, record and disseminate information “harmful to the war effort,” and he wielded it like an axe against the anti-war movement. By the fall of 1917, the federal government opened prison camps in Utah, Georgia, and North Carolina to house all the “security threats” Wilson’s Justice Department had detected.

Wilson’s security mania spread out into the population, too, where it unleashed what The Great War calls the “wholesale destruction of German culture in the United States. There were moves to ban German music, plays, and even the spoken language. Some of the xenophobic spasms, like beer-stein-smashing contests, were loony enough to be funny; others, like the slaughter of German dog breeds in Ohio, were almost too ugly for words. Though Wilson’s supporters managed to utter some. When an Illinois coal miner of German heritage was lynched by coworkers who thought he might be a spy, the Washington Post labeled it a nothing more than a slightly over-exuberant sign of “a healthful and wholesome awakening in the interior part of the country.”

* Should you want to know more about the non-American aspects of how World War 1 began, you could read my Origins of WW1 series of posts, starting here (there are 12 posts in the series, and even so, I could be accused of omitting a lot of detail).

December 24, 2016

Smug Canada has been lucky … so far

Filed under: Cancon, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Chris Selley enumerates a few of the problems other western countries have been having with Islamic terrorism, and points out that Canada just been lucky not to have a greater share:

Here in Canada in 2016, meanwhile, we have endured … almost nothing. Aaron Driver hatched a plot to blow himself up in public somewhere, but police cornered him in his parents’ driveway, the bomb didn’t work and he’s dead now. I had forgotten his name.

Instead, some of us spent 2016 patting ourselves on the backs for accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees. It was a good thing to do. But heading into 2017, I think we might usefully recall demands to bring in five or 10 times that number, immediately, and perhaps finish their security screening on Canadian soil. European countries are struggling with failed asylum-seekers they can’t deport — to Tunisia, never mind Syria. Only someone from a decadently peaceful country like Canada would ever suggest running that risk voluntarily.

Some in my trade spent 2016 penning encomiums to Canada’s supposed new status as a beacon of sanity: while Europe and America devolve into simian nativism and xenophobia, here we are enlightened, welcoming, serene. Some of these pieces conceded that being protected from uncontrolled immigration by oceans to the east, west and north, and by 1,500 kilometres of a larger, warmer economy to the south, might help keep the peace. Heading into 2017, I think we might usefully ponder just how pampered we are by that geographic reality. Faced with the European situation — unstoppable flows of unknown people, regular acts of terror, frequent reports of young migrant men abusing women — would we really react with this patented Canadian equanimity?

November 11, 2016

QotD: The amazing long-term success of Soviet subversion in the West

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

The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.

Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.

Koch shows us that the worst-case scenario was, as it turns out now, the correct one; these ideas, like the “race bomb” rumor, really were instruments deliberately designed to destroy the American way of life. Another index of their success is that most members of the bicoastal elite can no longer speak of “the American way of life” without deprecation, irony, or an automatic and half-conscious genuflection towards the altar of political correctness. In this and other ways, the corrosive effects of Stalin’s meme war have come to utterly pervade our culture.

The most paranoid and xenophobic conservatives of the Cold War were, painful though this is to admit, the closest to the truth in estimating the magnitude and subtlety of Soviet subversion. Liberal anticommunists (like myself in the 1970s) thought we were being judicious and fair-minded when we dismissed half of the Right’s complaint as crude blather. We were wrong; the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss really were guilty, the Hollywood Ten really were Stalinist tools, and all of Joseph McCarthy’s rants about “Communists in the State Department” were essentially true. The Venona transcripts and other new material leave no room for reasonable doubt on this score.

While the espionage apparatus of the Soviet Union didn’t outlast it, their memetic weapons did. These memes are now coming near to crippling our culture’s response to Islamic terrorism.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.

November 5, 2016

Media madness

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

In Vanity Fair, Ken Stern peers into the murky depths of the right-wing media bubble:

Virtually every day during the past year, I’ve digested a daily dose of Breitbart, the alt-right Web site that many journalists, including myself, have described as “Trump Pravda.” A typical day on Breitbart includes any number of articles extolling the rise of Donald Trump, including the massive size of his rallies and (on and off) his fast-rising poll numbers. There are also several pieces attacking the “mainstream media,” usually CNN, The New York Times or The Washington Post. Recently, there have been a slew of pieces from the Clinton WikiLeaks cache, which are part of a larger set of articles showcasing the couple’s venality, arrogance, and sexual peccadillos. The reporting, such as it is, is generally factually accurate, but mean-spirited and fantastically one-sided. If Breitbart were your primary news source, you would receive a view of the election that would be largely distorted and wholly unrecognizable to swaths of the American public.

When I checked the news the other day, it was more of the same. I counted some 20 articles about the presidential race, each espousing the unequivocal view that one candidate is collapsing due to moral failings, financial improprieties, and complete and utter lack of judgment and ethics. Notably, I was not reading Breitbart. Instead, I was reading The Washington Post, delivered to my doorstep, and the attacks were squarely waged not against the Clintons but rather against Trump.

In the Front Section, there was an incredible array of Trump-phobia, ranging from attacks on his business acuity to his ethics (“How Trump got a personal tax break by defaulting on loans”), to his personal knowledge (“Trump’s map of black America needs an update”), to stupid opinions about Trump (“Nader predicts fastest impeachment in history for a President Trump”), to smart opinions about Trump (“A contemptible candidate — and the party to blame for it”).

If you think this is limited to the National News portion of the paper, you would be mistaken. The Metro section, which typically reports on the Washington, D.C. area, was headlined by a news article describing the dysfunction at the Trump campaign in Virginia and a column arguing that Trump watching should be rated R for children. The top article in the Style section sported a massive feature on the Trump meltdown, supplemented by a column attacking Steve Bannon, the C.E.O. of the Trump campaign and the former head honcho at Breitbart. The sports section featured a column attacking Trump and defending, of all things, locker-room culture. Only the Health section lacked a Trump hook. (Trump, as you may recall, temporarily banned WaPo reporters from his campaign events.)

Rather remarkably, there was virtually no mention of Clinton or any other candidate running for president on this particular day. And so I repeated this little thought experiment again last week and the results were largely the same. The Post should not be blamed for criticizing a candidate who has demonstrated xenophobic, racist, and sexually predatory behavior. But even at the end of perhaps the worst stretch of weeks for a candidate in modern American electoral history, perhaps 45 percent of the electorate, some 55 million voters or so, still will vote for Trump. And some of them may wonder if the Post put their fat thumbs on the electoral scales.

May 7, 2016

QotD: The Borderers (aka the “Scots-Irish”)

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

The Borderers are usually called “the Scots-Irish”, but Fischer dislikes the term because they are neither Scots (as we usually think of Scots) nor Irish (as we usually think of Irish). Instead, they’re a bunch of people who lived on (both sides of) the Scottish-English border in the late 1600s.

None of this makes sense without realizing that the Scottish-English border was terrible. Every couple of years the King of England would invade Scotland or vice versa; “from the year 1040 to 1745, every English monarch but three suffered a Scottish invasion, or became an invader in his turn”. These “invasions” generally involved burning down all the border towns and killing a bunch of people there. Eventually the two sides started getting pissed with each other and would also torture-murder all of the enemy’s citizens they could get their hands on, ie any who were close enough to the border to reach before the enemy could send in their armies. As if this weren’t bad enough, outlaws quickly learned they could plunder one side of the border, then escape to the other before anyone brought them to justice, so the whole area basically became one giant cesspool of robbery and murder.

In response to these pressures, the border people militarized and stayed feudal long past the point where the rest of the island had started modernizing. Life consisted of farming the lands of whichever brutal warlord had the top hand today, followed by being called to fight for him on short notice, followed by a grisly death. The border people dealt with it as best they could, and developed a culture marked by extreme levels of clannishness, xenophobia, drunkenness, stubbornness, and violence.

By the end of the 1600s, the Scottish and English royal bloodlines had intermingled and the two countries were drifting closer and closer to Union. The English kings finally got some breathing room and noticed – holy frick, everything about the border is terrible. They decided to make the region economically productive, which meant “squeeze every cent out of the poor Borderers, in the hopes of either getting lots of money from them or else forcing them to go elsewhere and become somebody else’s problem”. Sometimes absentee landlords would just evict everyone who lived in an entire region, en masse, replacing them with people they expected to be easier to control.

Many of the Borderers fled to Ulster in Ireland, which England was working on colonizing as a Protestant bulwark against the Irish Catholics, and where the Crown welcomed violent warlike people as a useful addition to their Irish-Catholic-fighting project. But Ulster had some of the same problems as the Border, and also the Ulsterites started worrying that the Borderer cure was worse than the Irish Catholic disease. So the Borderers started getting kicked out of Ulster too, one thing led to another, and eventually 250,000 of these people ended up in America.

250,000 people is a lot of Borderers. By contrast, the great Puritan emigration wave was only 20,000 or so people; even the mighty colony of Virginia only had about 50,000 original settlers. So these people showed up on the door of the American colonies, and the American colonies collectively took one look at them and said “nope”.

Except, of course, the Quakers. The Quakers talked among themselves and decided that these people were also Children Of God, and so they should demonstrate Brotherly Love by taking them in. They tried that for a couple of years, and then they questioned their life choices and also said “nope”, and they told the Borderers that Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley were actually kind of full right now but there was lots of unoccupied land in Western Pennsylvania, and the Appalachian Mountains were very pretty at this time of year, so why didn’t they head out that way as fast as it was physically possible to go?

At the time, the Appalachians were kind of the booby prize of American colonization: hard to farm, hard to travel through, and exposed to hostile Indians. The Borderers fell in love with them. They came from a pretty marginal and unproductive territory themselves, and the Appalachians were far away from everybody and full of fun Indians to fight. Soon the Appalachian strategy became the accepted response to Borderer immigration and was taken up from Pennsylvania in the north to the Carolinas in the South (a few New Englanders hit on a similar idea and sent their own Borderers to colonize the mountains of New Hampshire).

So the Borderers all went to Appalachia and established their own little rural clans there and nothing at all went wrong except for the entire rest of American history.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Albion’s Seed“, Slate Star Codex, 2016-04-27.

August 23, 2012

Quebec election: why is Pauline Marois getting a free pass for xenophobia?

Jonathan Kay wonders why the English language media in the “rest of Canada” are being so careful to avoid calling out PQ leader Pauline Marois for far greater sins than any Alberta politician committed during the recent Alberta election:

Given the close scrutiny that surrounded the recent Alberta election, it is somewhat surprising that more attention is not being paid to the genuinely alarming things coming out of the mouth of Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois.

During the Alberta campaign, every gaffe committed by a member of the right-wing Wildrose Party became a national news item. The Toronto media, in particular, lapped it up — because it played to our outdated stereotype of Alberta as a land of rural hicks. Yet nothing that was said in the Alberta campaign can compare to the declarations of Ms. Marois, who has easily established herself as the most xenophobic major-party leader in all of Canada.

So why has there been comparatively little uproar over Ms. Marois? It is as if Canadians in the rest of the country have become so accustomed to watching Quebec nationalists bottom-feed for votes that we no longer are shocked by it. But Quebec is, after all, part of Canada. And Ms. Marois might become the province’s next premier on Sept. 4. Surely, it is worth rousing ourselves to pay attention to the fact that this woman is proposing policies that are unconstitutional and even bigoted.

August 16, 2012

Kheiriddin: Quebec xenophobia on display in election campaign

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:56

In her National Post column, Tasha Kheiriddin discusses the topic that most of the Canadian media is being ultra-careful about:

Racist or not? When it comes to the Quebec election campaign, remarks made this week by a variety of politicians provided considerable fodder for debate, and considerable distraction from the real issues — health, taxes and corruption — that voters actually want their elected officials to talk about.

First, Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault lambasted young Quebecers for being interested in living “the good life,” unlike children in Asia whose parents all want them to become engineers, and have to stop them from studying lest they make themselves sick. When he was attacked for this remarks, he retorted that the fault lies with Quebec parents, and that they should review the values they are transmitting to their children.

[. . .]

His remarks pale in comparison, however, to the xenophobic tone of those made by Parti Québécois ledaer Pauline Marois, and worse yet, the mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay.

On Tuesday, Ms. Marois unveiled her party’s desire to implement a “Secular Charter” which would ban the wearing of any religious symbols by government employees. With, as my colleague Chris Selley tartly notes on these pages, one notable exception: Symbols of Christian faith, such as the cross which hangs over the Speakers’ Chair in the National Assembly. In other words, a crucifix necklace, good: hijabs and yarmulkes, bad.

[. . .]

Then on Wednesday, Mr. Tremblay took xenophobia one step further, when he launched a tirade against Djemila Benhabib, the Parti Québécois candidate in Trois Rivières. On a popular radio show, Mr. Tremblay let loose: “I am shocked that we, the softies, the French Canadians, will be told how to behave, how to respect our culture by a person who comes from Algeria, and we can’t even pronounce her name.”

Update: Convenient timing suspects Don Macpherson.

May 28, 2012

The EU elites’ fear of populism reveals their loathing of ordinary people

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:32

In sp!ked, Patrick Hayes looks at the predictions of populist disaster from the EU elite:

There is little the EU elites fear more than so-called ‘populism’. According to one commentator, ‘in conferences and dinner parties from Brussels to Bratislava, the topic of populism dominates conversations’. As Corrado Passero, Italy’s minister of economic development, declared earlier this year, ‘our worst enemy right now is populism’. Clegg echoed such concerns in his interview with Der Spiegel. ‘Frankly’, he said, ‘questions about the British debate on EU membership will just be a small sideshow, compared to the rise of political populism’.

[. . .]

The casual equation of ‘populism’ with xenophobia, racism and even Nazism reveals much about the EU elites, and not a great deal about the actual views of the public. After all, that word — ‘populism’ — is commonly defined along the lines of the Collins dictionary as, ‘a political strategy based on a calculated appeal to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people’. Which raises a question: do Clegg and the many other politicians and commentators fretting about populism see xenophobia, racism and nationalism as being the default political prejudices of the public? From the public discussion, it would seem that if the ignorant, feral masses are not kept in their place by a liberal elite which understands their genuine interests, then concentration camps are just around the corner. As a Guardian editorial put it: ‘When Brussels or Berlin loses sight of [democracy], voters reach for simpler and uglier solutions.’

The widespread concerns being voiced by the political classes about the dangers of populism speak to an elitist disdain for mass politics. Trying to represent the uncontrollable electorates is seen to be cynically pandering to their proto-fascistic whims. The fear of the rise of populism, then, comes not from a genuine concern that a Fourth Reich is imminent, but rather from a terror of the public. The only solution is seen to be greater consolidation and centralisation of power in Europe-wide institutions in Brussels. These can then insulate the enlightened elite from the barbarian hordes roaming across Europe, so they can continue in their attempt to keep civilisation alive. The worst xenophobes are in fact among the European political elite, petrified of the ignorant, bigoted Others that make up the rest of the European populace.

March 26, 2010

Confusion over Quebec’s anti-burkha moves

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:46

Even in the same newspaper, the conclusions are drawn based on the observer’s preferred worldview, rather than the facts of the case. In the National Post, here’s Barbara Kay’s ringing endorsement for a pro-equality outcome:

Chapeau, le Québec! That means, “Hats off to you, Quebec.”

With the announcement of Bill 94, barring the niqab in publicly funded spaces, Quebec has dared to tread where the other provinces, feet bolted to the floor in politically correct anguish, cannot bring themselves to go.

The new bill will proscribe face cover by anyone employed by the state, or anyone receiving services from the state. That covers all government departments and Crown corporations, and as well hospitals, schools, universities and daycares receiving provincial funding.

I can’t remember a time when Quebecers were more unified on a government initiative.

Also in the National Post, here’s Chris Selley doing his best Inigo Montoya imitation:

I’m not quite sure what Quebec’s new Bill 94 means, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean what Premier Jean Charest and Immigration Minister Yolande James are saying it means.

Here’s Ms. James: “To work in the Quebec public service or to receive the services of the Quebec state, your face has to be uncovered.”

Here’s Mr. Charest: “Two words: Uncovered face. The principle is clear.”

And here’s Bill 94: “The general practice holds that a member of the staff of the administration of government . . . and a person to whom services are being rendered . . . will have their faces uncovered during the rendering of services.”

Huh? General practice? Oh: “When an accommodation involves a change to this practice, it must be refused if motives related to security, communication or identification justify it.”

So there will be accommodations, then? You sure wouldn’t have known it from Wednesday’s news conference.

All that being said, I can’t disagree with the sentiment later in Barbara Kay’s column:

Some of these women may, as in France, have adopted the niqab for ideological purposes (a serious problem in itself), but most niqab-wearing women are virtual prisoners, who have never known, and would be afraid (with reason) to exercise their “freedom of choice.”

For those confused liberals who instinctively hate the niqab but feel guilty about banning it, it will help them if they understand that the burka and niqab are not “worn,” but “borne.” The niqab is not an article of clothing; it is a tent-like piece of cloth supplemental to clothing. Full cover is worn as a reminder to the “bearer” that she is not free, and to remind the observer that the bearer is a possession, something less than a full human being.

Update: The National Post editorial board comes out against the Quebec bill:

Gender equality — a stated goal of Bill 94 — is a noble goal. But the law would go too far, using the state’s power to leverage a campaign of social engineering. As conservatives, we oppose such encroachments on individual liberties. But liberals, too, should understand the stakes at play here: The principle that government has no role in our wardrobes is the same one that excludes it from our bedrooms.

In the short term, the better approach is the one recently embarked upon by several Quebec schools, where administrators have common-sensically resolved the issue of what constitutes “reasonable accommodation” on a case-by-case basis. In the long term, moreover, we are convinced that legislation won’t be necessary at all: Muslim groups themselves increasingly are joining the chorus against the niqab, a welcome development that puts the lie to the notion that Canadian Muslims are uniformly backward in their attitudes toward women.

It would benefit women, Muslims, inter-faith relations and Canadian values alike if this unfortunate practice were extinguished voluntarily by the affected community itself rather than by heavy-handed state edict.

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