Streetwise Professor

August 16, 2017

First They Came For Lee . . .

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — The Professor @ 6:26 pm

The battle over the monuments is not really about the monuments. It’s not even really about the legacy of the Civil War. It is about the left’s vision of what America was, is, and will be. Here’s the most important thing to remember. The hard-core left that is the driving force behind extirpating the icons of the Confederacy does not see it, or the Old South, as an exception, a deviation from an otherwise laudable and righteous history: they see it as just one manifestation of the fundamental evil of America, evil that is writ on every page of history from 1607 on down. In this worldview, the United States has been, from even before its formal beginning, characterized by racism, sexism, and oppressive capitalism. It is not something that is basically good, but which has fallen short of achieving its lofty ideals: it is something that is fundamentally rotten, and which must be transformed by any means necessary.

It should not be surprising how the left conducts its march through institutions. It is really rather brilliant in conception and execution, although malign in effect and intent. There is a long term objective–in this case, the transformation of the US. But there is a coherent operational plan that concentrates force on a specific objective, and once that objective is taken, moves on to the next one.

Right now the ostensible target is the legacy of the Confederacy, but once the battle of the Confederate monuments is won, they will move on to the next target, which will inevitably include sooner or later every person in the American political pantheon, and every political, social, and economic institution that reflects the American past and tradition.

The left also masterfully personalizes the conflict, and ruthlessly presents the false choice between being on the side of the angels, or the side of the devils. In the current case, Nazis and white supremacists have been made the face of the anti-left. And now the left–with the assistance of many useful idiots, to whom I will turn in a moment–presents the false choice: if you are anti-left, well, that means that you are a Nazi or a fellow traveler thereof.

This is what’s happening here, and it’s as plain as day. Today it’s Robert E. Lee. Tomorrow it will be Lincoln and Washington and the Constitution and the Founding. The ultimate objective is the delegitimization of the American creed.

What is particularly sickening about this is that the most militant–and violent–of the leftists are being sanitized, and indeed lionized, because of their alleged anti-racist cred: anti-racism has become a license for vandalism and violence.

This is unbelievably stupid, and unbelievably dangerous. Antifa and the like are just the mirror image of the most retrograde white supremacists. Black bandanas=White hoods. Hammer and Sickle (which is displayed prominently at many Antifa and leftist actions)=Swastika. Both are anti-American. Both are anti-liberty. Both are committed to use violence in order to achieve their maximalist objectives. Nazis on the one side, Bolsheviks on the other. And it’s not as if either is hiding it: their regalia and flags advertise it.

And crucially, both are the twisted spawn of identity politics, the bane of modern society. Both define everything in crude terms of race and ethnicity and religion. Both are collectivists–a point too often overlooked, even though it is of decisive importance. Both reject the Western individualist revolution that began with Christianity and then humanism, and advanced through the Reformation and the enlightenment. To them, you are defined by your race, religion, ethnicity and class. The only difference between them is the perfect negative correlation between which race, religion, ethnicity, and class they demonize, and which they deify.

And, of course, this creates a sick symbiosis: neither can really exist without the other, and the rise of one contributes to the rise of the other.

Further, both are totalitarian and absolutist, and this is what leads to such virulent attacks on a past which does not conform with their absolutist vision. The iconoclasm we see now almost daily is redolent of other absolutist movements in the past, be it the Year One insanity of the French Revolution or the shrieking violence of the Cultural Revolution in China.

Both must be condemned. More than that, both must be opposed forcefully by duly constituted civil authority whenever they act out their violent ideologies.

But saying this is apparently beyond the pale in current American discourse, which just shows how degraded that discourse has become. Antifa–again, an avowedly communist, anti-liberty, anti-American movement–is not just not criticized, it is defended, because its self-proclaimed anti-racism (which in fact includes a healthy dose of anti-white racism) absolves it from any taint. Trump’s calling out of Antifa as well as Nazis has led supposedly conservative establishment figures like Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Charles Krauthammer to differentiate the indistinguishable, and to defend Antifa because of their opposition to Nazis and racists.

What Romney et al don’t get is who the hard-core left identifies as racists: it’s pretty much everybody who doesn’t agree with them in totality. It includes most whites (which is ironic, given the pastiness of most of the cheekbones and foreheads visible between black hats and masks). I guarantee it includes Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Charles Krauthammer. By vouching for them now, and validating their claim of authority in establishing who is and who is not a racist, Romney et al are putting a target on a lot of people who are by no stretch of the imagination white supremacists or Nazis.

But of course the left has always benefitted from useful idiots. Romney et al are playing that role to perfection.

History will not be the only casualty. Free speech will be as well. Free speech has already largely died on college campuses, which are merely the laboratory and hot house of leftism. Coming soon to, well, pretty much everyplace you might consider speaking your mind.

This too illustrates the devolution of American civil society. White supremacism and even Nazism are not new to American life, of course. In a way, what is amazing now is how marginalized these things are today. In the 1920s, the KKK was a major political force throughout the US–not just the South. (Indiana was a Klan hotbed.) In February, 1939–almost 6 years after Roosevelt’s inauguration and 6 months before German tanks rolled into Poland–the American Bund (basically the American Nazi Party) held a rally in Madison Square Garden attended by an estimated 22,000. Yet Eleanor Roosevelt, an extremely liberal political figure whose husband was savaged by the Bund, defended its right to exist, organize, and speak: she also defended America Firsters, Father Coughlin, and others with whom she disagreed violently on basically every political and social issue.

But if she did that today, she would be savaged. Because the left has gone from being believers in and defenders of civil liberties and individual freedom to their avowed enemies. The American liberal tradition, rooted in the enlightenment and classical liberal values, is being eclipsed, and replaced on the left by an alien political mindset. A mindset, ironically, that also spawned the fascist and Nazi movements in Europe as well as the leftist movements they battled in the streets: to understand the symbiosis between left and right in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, read Paul Johnson’s Modern Times. It is that intellectual tradition (rooted in Germany) that gave rise to the tragedy of Weimar, and it is that intellectual tradition that has the United States slouching towards its own Weimarization today.

Both far left and far right are collectivist and anti-rational, and hence at odds with the American political tradition which was individualist and rooted in the rationalism of the enlightenment. That is why Robert E. Lee might be the first historical casualty, but he will not be the last. All of American history is in the dock, and staring at the gallows.

 

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August 14, 2017

Comments on the War Over the War

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — The Professor @ 7:49 pm

A few thoughts to follow up on the post on the war over the war, which sparked a spirited set of comments (for which I am grateful as always).

Re those memorialized, specifically Robert E. Lee. I am with Tim Newman on this. Lee was certainly not a pro-slavery ideologue, and was arguably far less supportive of the institution than most of his social position and background. I would characterize him as somewhat like Jefferson–he would have liked to get rid of slavery, but had no idea how to do that where it was already established.

He was, moreover, first and foremost a Virginia patriot, who believed he was defending his people from an invasion by a tyrannical government that violated the Constitution. As is often noted, in that time it was common to say “the United States are” (not is): identification with one’s state was quite common during the antebellum period in a way that most Americans cannot conceive of today. They can’t conceive of it precisely because of the outcome of the Civil War.

That said, pace Orwell, since the war was ultimately about slavery, Lee was objectively pro-slavery. Subjectively, however, like many Southerners, he was pro-Constitution as he interpreted it, and a patriot who viewed Virginia as his country.

The opponents who aroused Lee’s greatest ire provide a window into his mindset. Of all the Federal generals he fought, he detested John Pope–“that miscreant Pope”–with the greatest intensity. Because Pope was a favorite of the anti-slavery, pro-emancipation Radical Republicans, and his army (the Army of Virginia) was the most pro-Radical army in the field? Not directly.

Because of the Radical leanings, Pope and his army advocated a hard war in contrast to that waged by George McClellan. As a result, they committed numerous depredations against civilians and their property in northern Virginia. It was those depredations that outraged Lee, and spurred him to crush Pope. Pope and his army had (in Lee’s view) unjustly harmed Lee’s people–his fellow Virginians–and Lee was dead set on making him pay: why Pope and his army acted as they did was irrelevant to Lee. And he did make Pope pay, at Second Manassas/Bull Run two weeks shy of 155 years ago.

So should Lee be memorialized? Before answering the should, it’s best to understand the why. A people who had suffered as devastating a loss as the South did (with about 25 percent of its adult male population perishing, and its cities and farms in ruins) and who fought courageously, and who fought in what their minds was a righteous cause, will always want to commemorate their heroism and sacrifice: people who have suffered such carnage will inevitably want to give some meaning to it. Lee embodied those things, so it was inevitable that he would be the center of those commemorations.

The darker side of this was that the old order in the South did not want to concede defeat, and indeed waged an ultimately successful campaign of asymmetric and political warfare to restore as much as the old social order as it could: Lee was conscripted into that campaign, largely after his death. The Cult of Lee, a man who was widely admired even by many of his adversaries, was to a considerable extent the benign cover for a the Cult of the Lost Cause/Old South.

So, it’s complicated. And that’s exactly why I think that the monuments can be a teaching tool. They shed light on the entire arc of conflict from the 1850s through the 1950s (or 1960s), and help illuminate the subjective motivations not just of the leaders (like Lee) but Southerners generally throughout that century of hot and cold war. Presentism is the enemy of understanding, and where the monuments (and the Civil War generally) are concerned, presentism has run amok.

Speaking of complicated, let me move to the second subject that has sparked comments–Great Britain in the Civil War. For a variety of cultural, social, historic, geopolitical, and economic reasons, Great Britain was broadly sympathetic to the South at least at the onset of the war. The United States was a rising commercial rival. The US and Britain had fought two wars against one another, and because of its Revolutionary heritage many Americans saw Britain as an enemy–and many Britons felt the same way. Britain’s textile industry was heavily reliant on Southern cotton. And there were British businesses from button makers to Birmingham gunsmiths to Laird, Son & Co. (the builder of the infamous Laird rams) who wanted to make some money. Lacking the industrial base of the North, the South was a better customer than the North, but large numbers of British arms made it into the hands of Union soldiers: the Enfield rifled musket was the second most widely issued weapon in the US army, and the US imported about twice as many as did the CS.

The UK toyed with intervention in 1861 and 1862, especially in the aftermath of perceived provocations like the Trent Affair, when a US ship seized two Confederate envoys from a British vessel. British enthusiasm waxed and waned with Confederate battlefield fortunes, and when Lee moved into Maryland in September, 1862, intervention (or at least recognition) looked like a real possibility. But Lee’s defeat at Sharpsburg/Antietam on 17 September, and Lincoln’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation immediately thereafter, ended that. Britain wasn’t going to recognize a loser, and particularly wasn’t going to intervene on the side of slavery once the war became explicitly about slavery.

One last thing, not directly related to the post but to the events that spawned it. There are reports, contested but plausible, that Charlottesville Police withdrew in the face of the Antifa, or at least did not vigorously contest them. The governor of Virginia, the execrable partisan hack Terry McCauliffe, claims that the police had to withdraw because they were outgunned by the white supremacists. Others deny this.

Regardless of why it happened, the biggest official error was that the Neo-Nazis/white supremacists and the Antifa types were allowed to come into contact. There is no excuse for the authorities not to realize that the potential for violence was great. As a result, they should have been present in overwhelming force to keep the two sides separate, and crushed any attempt by anyone to get at the others.

The Weimarization of the US, where rival gangs of extremist thugs battle it out on the streets, is a very real possibility–it has already happened in some places, like Berkeley, and Charlottesville was also very Weimar-like. It cannot be allowed to progress, and indeed, it must be rolled back.

There must be no tolerance for violence–either by Nazis, Klansmen, or other varieties of white supremacists, or against them. Those lawfully assembled, no matter how loathsome they or their beliefs are, should be protected against physical attacks by those who oppose them: and if those lawfully assembled attempt to initiate violence, their targets should be defended as well.

Alas, I sense an implicit double standard, especially among the officials of left-leaning local governments, who either sympathize with the Antifa types, or are who are too cowardly to stand up to them and their less violent supporters (who are part of their political base). Further, this double standard is echoed more broadly in the media and politics, as the hue and cry over Trump’s statement decrying violence “on many sides” demonstrates.

Not acceptable. The normalization or rationalization of political violence will have baleful consequences. The responsibility of the authorities is to maintain civil order, thereby assuring that political disputes are carried out through political channels. The authorities need to take the side of civil order, and ruthlessly suppress those who would disrupt it, regardless of their politics.

Weimarization is a real danger. It must be stopped post haste.

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August 12, 2017

Iconoclasm and the Lost Cause

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — The Professor @ 8:42 pm

Protests over the removal of the R. E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA predictably descended into violence, with at least three dead: one killed when a car drove into a group of counter-protestors, and two police officers killed when their helicopter crashed while observing the chaos on the ground.

The protestors were primarily white supremacists, egged on by appalling figures like David Duke. Their opponents included Antifa types, as well as non-violent protestors.

As someone who has been intensely interested in the Civil War since I was 8 years old, I have considerable ambivalence about memorials to figures like Lee and Jackson, or to Confederate veterans generally–and to their removal.

I understand acutely that the memorials were primarily an assertion of political power. Many were erected in the 1890s through 1920s, and were monumental embodiments of the Lost Cause myth, which denied the evil of slavery and its fundamental role in causing the War–and the consequent destruction of the Old South. They were to a considerable degree defiant assertions of the resurgence of the old social and political order. Hence, I understand the bitterness and anger and humiliation that they engender, particularly among black Americans whose ancestors suffered under that order.

But this very history makes them artifacts that document an important and instructive period of American history. I would much prefer that they be preserved, contextualized, and interpreted as such. That they be transformed into museums, rather than memorials per se. Repurposing them can contribute to our civic education in ways that destroying them cannot.

The history of the monuments can educate people about the history of an era, and in so doing may actually contribute to a broader understanding of just why they evoke such bitter memories and emotions in many Americans. Extirpating the monuments will generate a frisson of excitement and satisfaction, but once they are gone the era which spawned them will become even more opaque to Americans at large, and the important lessons of that era will be lost to most. Ironically, this is actually not helpful to the interests of those who find the monuments offensive: they would be better served if the lessons they convey could be taught in the future, rather than largely forgotten, as will happen once the monuments are gone.

It is because of this loss of historical memory that I am averse to iconoclasm. I am also quite conscious that iconoclasm is itself almost always an assertion of political power, and as such can be as divisive as the erection of the icons was. A cycle of symbolism can sow discord, and generate much more heat than light. In a deeply divided country, we should be looking for ways to improve understanding and to provide fora for reconciliation, rather than to inflame divisions. Building the monuments was a way of showing who is on top: taking them down is a way of doing the same. But assertion of power relations exacerbates conflict and detracts from the advancement of true equality.

The Confederate monument controversy has also catalyzed tribalism, perhaps intentionally so, as this has definite political uses, most notably making it possible for the left to claim that the fringe mouth breathers who rallied to defend the monument are representative of all its political adversaries. It is also the last thing the increasingly tribal US needs at present.

There are of course always hard cases: the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis (removed several years ago) is a good example, given his record as a slave dealer, the commander during the commission of a mass racial atrocity (the Fort Pillow Massacre), and leader of the first incarnation of the KKK. But even here, the fact that he was memorialized provides a very telling commentary on the attitudes of those who memorialized him. His very outrageousness makes his monument particularly instructive about the times in which he was cast in bronze and put on a pedestal.

The monuments are about a particular interpretation of history that held sway in a part of the country for decades, and as such are themselves historical artifacts that can inform and instruct. Transforming them from icons of The Lost Cause into museums that educate about the reasons for the Lost Cause myth, and the society that created it, would allow them to play a constructive role in America’s future, and in a way redeem the destructive role they played in the past. Making them the battlefields in a new civil war pitting some of the ugliest elements of America against one another only perpetuates their divisive legacy, as today’s events in Charlottesville demonstrate tragically and forcefully.

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August 2, 2017

Tell It to the Marines: SJWs are Inimical to Real Warfighting

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 11:43 am

Everything in the military should be directed to its purpose: winning wars while being sparing of American lives. As Patton said, making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. The focus should be on lethality, and strategic, operational, and tactical prowess. All other considerations are beyond secondary, because it is a matter of life and death, not to mention national security.

This is why I read with satisfaction that SecDef Mattis wants to focus training on warfighting, not Mickey Mouse:

Notably, Mattis has ordered a review of the “requirements for mandatory force training that does not directly support core tasks” – the many hours soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines spend prior to deployment meeting the Pentagon-required tasks that sometimes have little to do with the role they will actually fulfill when deployed.

“I want to verify that our military policies also support and enhance warfighting readiness and force lethality,” Mattis said.

Damn right. And about time.  To do otherwise puts lives at risk, and jeopardizes the national interest by compromising the ability of the military to fight and win wars.

But real warriors have long been the target of Social Justice Warriors who want to use the military to advance their agendas, even when doing so is inimical to combat effectiveness, either because it diverts resources from primary missions, or because it actually undermines order, discipline, and effectiveness.

The recent kerfuffle over transgenders in the military is a case in point. The whole purpose of making transgenders in the military a cause celebre had nothing at all to do with fighting shooting wars: it was all about fighting the culture war. Some of the attacks on Trump for his bolt-from-the-blue statement that he was overturning the late-in-the-day Obama policy regarding transgenders in the military were rather astounding. One was the commonly repeated statement that there were as many as 15,000 transgendered individuals in the US military. That would be 1 percent of the force: bull. (How many transgenders do you know?) Even the Rand study that was commissioned to advise Obama administration policy put the number at less than half of that–at most–and admits that there is no empirical or epidemiological basis for the number. It is a wild ass guess. Nothing more.

Then there were statements like how terrible it was to exclude transgenders from the military because the suicide attempt rate among them is almost 10 times that of the population at large. Methinks that argument cuts quite the other way: why would you want to put in a high stress environment people who are disproportionately suffering from severe emotional problems? This is not conducive to military effectiveness, and even putting that aside, how is it helping these people? Suicide rates are already above average for military personnel, especially those who have been in combat: tell me how it is compassionate to encourage such emotionally vulnerable individuals to go into a profession that can test every fiber of the far stronger? Indeed, it is sick that transgenders are being used as pawns in the SJW war on convention and majority culture.

My policy recommendation is pretty simple: don’t ask, don’t snip. Apply the same standards of conduct and performance. Those that hack it, fine. Those that can’t–adios. That’s a truly non-discriminatory policy that is consistent with the overriding goal of the military: combat effectiveness.

The recent flap over transgenders sparked by a (go figure) Trump tweet is only the most recent example of the SJW campaign against traditional military norms. One that I’ve been keeping my eye on is efforts to change the Marine Corps, always a bête noire to the left because of its unapologetic, uncompromising stance on traditional standards of the service, and its resistance to PC tripe that the other branches have capitulated to. The anti-USMC vanguard sees an opening due to the recent scandal involving Marines sharing online naked photos of female Marines, often accompanied by unflattering commentary.

Is it gross? Yes. Would I be upset if my daughters were the subject of such indignities? Probably–although I am sure I would tell them that this is a problem easily avoided: don’t pose for (or take yourself) nude photos.

But even granting, for the sake of argument, that the Marine Corps is a socially retrograde institution, out of step with progressive values, and beset with misogyny: I don’t care! I look at the effects of its culture and traditions at achieving the purpose of the organization: on those terms, its record is unparalleled. Do not interfere with any military organization that has achieved a record unblemished by defeat. Do not interfere with any military organization that within the last 100 years has been able to get its men to fight and win horrific battles. There is no other body of troops of similar size that can match its record. Just look at the names: Belleau Wood, some bloody small wars in Central America and Haiti, Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Bougainville, Tarawa, Peleliu, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Inchon, Seoul, the Chosin Reservoir, Hue, Kuwait, Fallujah I and II. Grinding, bloody battles all. Despite often fighting on a shoestring (always being last in line for equipment) and facing grave disadvantages in terrain, protection, and position, and taking grievous casualties, the Marines always prevailed. (Yes, Wake is an exception. But that was a forlorn hope in which the Marines covered themselves in glory.)

When people approached Lincoln with tales of Grant’s drinking, he responded: find out what kind of whiskey he drinks and send a barrel of it to all my generals. I have a similar response to those criticizing the retrograde social attitudes of the Marine Corps.

The truth is that we have little understanding of the unique alchemy that creates an exceptional military force like the Marine Corps. It is possible, and indeed even likely, that the attributes of the Marine Corps that most infuriate SJWs are inseparable from those that make it a nonpareil military force. PC won’t prevail on Peleliu. SJWs won’t take Saipan.

The case for letting Marines be Marines is strengthened by the fact that it is, and always has been (with some modest exceptions in WWII and Vietnam) a volunteer organization. Nobody makes you become Marine, and you should know what you are getting into: in fact, it is precisely that knowledge that induces many to join. Self-selection at work.

I have long admired the Marines, but I knew from my days at Navy that I could never be a Marine in million years–another example of self-selection. But that’s definitely a feature, not a bug. By attracting and retaining people that are suited to the institution’s idiosyncrasies, the Corps has created a culture and esprit that has allowed it to achieve great deeds. It ain’t for everybody. And that’s why it’s great at what it does.

During the recent transgender kerfuffle some criticized using the military to carry out social engineering, to which some objected that the military is nothing but a product of social engineering. But this is not true. Most longstanding military organizations are emergent, not designed or engineered. They are the products of a long evolutionary process. Channeling Hayek, organizations like the Marine Corps are the product of human action, not of the execution of any human design. They have an internal logic that is often tacit and really impossible to understand. One attempts to redesign or manipulate them at one’s peril. Or, more accurately, at ours. For doing things that undermine the effectiveness of the USMC, or of other branches of the US military, gets people killed and undermine the security and interests of the country.

 

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July 9, 2017

Trump Throws Down the Civilizational Gauntlet In Warsaw

Filed under: History,Politics — The Professor @ 9:15 pm

Trump’s speech in Poland was like a political Rorschach Test, or a word-association exam. If you hear the word “will”, and think Leni Riefenstahl, you just might be a leftist! If you hear the phrase “Western civilization,” and think “white supremacism”, you just might be a leftist! If  you hear the word “God”, and think “Nazi”, you just just might be a leftist!

Trump uttered all these words, and people on the left responded in exactly these ways.

On the right, the reaction was much more favorable. Trump’s themes have been staples among many conservatives and some libertarians for decades, dating back to the Cold War. Now the main perceived threat is not the godless Soviet Union, but the hyper-militant strains of a religion. But most conservatives believe that an ideology inimical to the Western heritage and Western beliefs is on the march now as it was then. Further, there were serious doubts about the will of the West to resist, then as there are today. The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes, and Trump adapted an old tune to a new day.

Insofar as other issues that exercise some Republicans and allegedly many Democrats are concerned, Trump even criticized Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria. No, not as vigorously as John McCain and his ilk would like, but to McCain anything short of a nuclear first strike against Russia is lily livered appeasement so he can be discounted. Trump also forthrightly committed to Nato Article Five. So that should have put paid to, or at least represented a substantial down payment on, the soft-on-Russia narrative.

But those issues were largely drowned out by the shrieking on the left, and among many Europeans. And the reason why is straightforward. In reality, the left doesn’t care all that much about Russia or the Paris Accord or the like. What it is most heavily invested in, by far, is the culture war. And arguably the most important motivating belief driving the left in this war is the conviction that not only is there not anything special, valuable, or uniquely worth defending about the West, but that the West is actually a malign force that has been and continues to be the source of great evil in the world. The legacy of the West isn’t individual freedom, political democracy, the rule of law, economic and technological progress, and great works of art and literature: it is racism, sexism, colonialism, oppression, and cultural appropriation. It doesn’t need defending–it needs to be transformed past recognition, if not destroyed altogether.

About twenty years ago, a popular chant on college campuses was “hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go.” Ostensibly the chant was about mandatory classes in Western Civilization. But in reality, then and especially now, among many on the left it is Western civilization itself that has to go.

The seemingly strange affinity of the left for Islam, despite its diametrically opposed beliefs on women, gays, family, and the role of religion in society, is more readily understood when you grasp the left’s real enemy–the civilization that Trump stood up for. Islam is a useful ally in the war on that enemy. Given the utter incompatibility in beliefs it’s an insane alliance in the long run, but one can see the short term method in this madness. The enemy of my enemy. And this alliance reveals how the left prioritizes its enemies.

And in Warsaw Trump threw down the gauntlet and rejected all this. He not only refused to surrender, he vowed to fight, and said that there is something worth fighting for. All of which is an anathema to the left, hence the hyperbolic–and Pavlovian–response.

It’s also a very clarifying response. It shows just what the real fault line is. The supposed pressing issues of the day–Russia, climate change, trade–are really just stones that lie within easy grasp to be flung in the fight. What the fight is really about is a much deeper conflict of visions (to lift a phrase/title from Thomas Sowell) about the Western inheritance. Is it something to be conserved (recognizing that a crucial aspect of that inheritance is a capacity for great and rapid change), or is it something to be razed? Trump said the former: the frenzied reaction on the left tells you that they believe the latter.

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July 6, 2017

Once Upon a Time in Annapolis

Filed under: History,Military — The Professor @ 7:20 pm

Please indulge me with a trip down memory lane. Forty years ago today I was inducted as a Plebe at the United States Naval Academy. I’m sure all you all* find that hard to believe. No, not that I went to Navy–the 40 years part 😉

Plebe Summer was a grind, but I can’t say that it was that difficult. There were in fact some high points. I can still get some yucks (not just from myself, but from others) with stories from that summer. Most related to my battles with authoritah! As I’ve often said–including under oath (when some attorney digging for dirt during a deposition asks why I left the Academy–but that’s getting ahead of the story)–Navy is where I learned that I had issues with authority, and that I was a libertarian rather than a conservative. During Plebe Summer I expected a lot of Mickey Mouse, and got it. But I was operating under the false belief that after the ritual was over, things would get serious and the Mickey Mouse would end. Wrong!

I soon learned that the BS was 24/7, and that standing out in any way attracted unwanted attention and harassment from some pretty twisted people. And I do mean twisted. Perhaps my experience was an outlier, but the upperclassman (along with his roommate) who took a special dislike to me was really twisted. How twisted? Killing his entire family in their sleep twisted. I really didn’t want to spend my 20s (and perhaps beyond) having to be subordinate to the likes of them.

During my years at Navy I also became sufficiently confident in my ability that I knew I could make it in many different careers and didn’t need the structure and security of the Navy. My dad was aghast when he learned (from my former high school history teacher, in whom I’d confided) that I was thinking of leaving. He was a classic manager/executive guy, and sat me down for a talk when I was home on spring break leave. In the 21st century, I’m sure he would have prepared a PowerPoint presentation. In that analog age, he instead prepared flip charts laying out the case for staying at Navy. This involved going into nuke power. Unfortunately, he gave this presentation the week after Three Mile Island blew. Really. Talk about your awkward timing!

I told him “Dad, I really appreciate the thought and effort, but that’s just not me.” As a compromise I agreed to attend the summer professional training (PROTRAMID) which involved spending a week at the surface, submarine, air, and Marine training facilities, and to defer making a decision until afterwards. But as soon as I got back to Annapolis, I prepared a resignation letter (a copy of which I found when cleaning out my mom’s house last month).

The usual routine was for a resigning Mid to have an exit interview with the Deputy Commandant. I did, but then I had one with the Commandant, and finally, the Superintendent (which almost never happens). The Supe was a bad-ass: Medal of Honor winner VADM William P. Lawrence. Admiral Lawrence asked me if there was anything he could do to convince me to stay. I cheekily said “guarantee a slot in Naval Intelligence and I will consider it.” (I was really not interested in boats, especially the kind that went underwater, and didn’t have the eyes to fly.) He said that was not legally possible, so I said, “then there is nothing you can do.” We shook hands, then I saluted, did an about face, and left.

Shortly thereafter, I went from alpha (the Academy) to omega (the University of Chicago). Many serendipitous twists and turns and 38 years later, and here I am.

A high point in that saga came about 25 years after I left Navy. My dad said to me one Christmas: “I thought you were making a big mistake, but you made the right choice.” That was good to hear, and I know he was right–the really important thing was that he knew it was right. It was the right choice to go, and it was the right choice to leave. When I look back–which I do seldom, and mainly on days like this–I do so with no regrets, and with pride. Pride at having gone there, but mainly pride at having no reason to regret deciding to leave.

* This is a Texan phrasing that I have adopted because it is so much more precise than “you”.

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July 4, 2017

Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant: If the Light of Day Scares You, You May Be a Germ

Filed under: Climate Change,History,Politics — The Professor @ 10:30 am

The Climate Change Mafia is threatening to go to the mattresses over EPA director Scott Pruitt’s plans to hold a “red team/blue team” exercise to evaluate climate science. Given the billions the US lavishes on this research, such a review is a salutary thing: but perhaps because it threatens said billions, the Mafia is going nuts:

The idea has been derided by activists and scientists who say it’s “dangerous” to elevate dissenting voices who disagree with them on global warming.

“Such calls for special teams of investigators are not about honest scientific debate,” wrote climate scientist Ben Santer and Kerry Emanuel and historian and activist Naomi Oreskes.

“They are dangerous attempts to elevate the status of minority opinions, and to undercut the legitimacy, objectivity and transparency of existing climate science,” the three wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed.

Defenders of the “consensus” argue the existing peer-review process works well and a red-blue team dynamic is not needed. They further argue scientific bodies, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, provide a forum for scientific debates.

“Developing science, far from being ignored, is confronted directly and openly in such assessments,” Santer, Emanuel and Oreskes wrote.

This is very, very revealing. What Pruitt is planning threatens the role of people like Santer and Emanuel as gatekeepers–although “trolls under the bridge” is probably a better metaphor. They dominate peer review, through a variety of mechanisms. They are the editors of the journals. They are the go-to referees. Look back at some of the references to peer review in the Climategate emails if you doubt this. No Little Skeptical Billy Goat or Medium Size Skeptical Billy Goat is going to make it over their bridge of peer review. But the sight of Pruitt and Trump playing the role of The Big Billy Goat Gruff has them quaking in fear.*

As for “scientific bodies, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” providing a “forum for scientific debates”–don’t make me laugh. There was more open debate at Soviet Party Congresses in the 1930s. Again–these people dominate these forums, and like any guild or clerisy, they cannot tolerate the rise of competing forums where contrary voices may be heard.

This is all very revealing. Truly confident scientists would welcome the opportunity to prove in a very public way that they are right. They would welcome the opportunity to vanquish publicly–and if they are so right, to humiliate–their adversaries.

This lot is very fond of pointing out what transpired during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Well, here’s their opportunity to make their supposedly anti-science opposition a public laughingstock, just like Clarence Darrow did (unfairly, truth be told) in 1925. Yet they recoil at the prospect.

Telling, no?

Also telling is the refusal of many states to provide public records relating to voter registration and voting to the Trump administration’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The media and the governing establishment heap scorn on anyone who dares suggest that there might be voting irregularities in the US. Well then–turn over the records so that it can be proved! If US elections in every jurisdiction in the United States are as pure as the driven snow (I snort writing that, being a Chicago native), you’d think these states would be falling over themselves to prove what a great job they are doing in achieving such an outcome, right?

They say that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Those–like the Climate Change Mafia and state election officials and pols–who shriek at the suggestion that sunlight be cast on their activities just might be germs.

* Looking back on my old Climategate posts, I stumbled across something I’d forgotten: that the Climate Mafia was truly ahead of its time in blaming its discomfiture on Russian hackers.  Just like Hillary and her minions and the media (but I repeat myself), they attempted to distract attention from the damning substance by attacking how the embarrassing emails came to light. I had a very Trumpian response, years before Trump was a political phenomenon–I praised the FSB. Hilarious.

 

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June 17, 2017

Out of the History, Into the Heat

Filed under: History — The Professor @ 2:31 pm

Apologies for the paucity of posts over the last couple of weeks. I was traveling, bracketed by a visit Zug and Lugano for speaking and teaching and a trip to Oxford for a commodities conference. In between I bounced around France for 12 days–first real vacation I’ve had in years.

My itinerary was Paris-Rouen and environs (Gisors, Gaillard, Harcourt)-Bayeux-Omaha Beach-Avranches-Mortain-Mont St. Michel-St. Malo-La Rochelle-Bordeaux-Chinon-Chartres-Paris (where I spent a couple of enjoyable days with my uncle, aunt, and my cousin and her family). My main focus was, as usual when I travel, history. With the exception of the foray to La Rochelle and Bordeaux (which wasn’t worth the extra mileage), I was not disappointed.

Perhaps my favorite spot was Chinon, even though I’ve been there before. It is hard to imagine such a small place with so much history. In the space of a few acres took place dramas involving the Plantagenets (and notably Henry II and his three sons–who will never be confused for a Fred MacMurray sitcom!–as portrayed in A Lion in Winter), Phillip II of France and the forces of Bad King John (one of Henry’s sons), and most notably, Joan of Arc. Chinon is quite beautiful, offering very pleasant views of the Loire Valley, and blessed with remnants of the castle dating from the 12th-14th centuries. (Not far away is the Abbey of Fontevraud, most notable for the effigies of Henry II, the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Richard I. It is also definitely worth a trip.)

The connection with Joan is most meaningful to me. It was to Chinon that she traveled in order to meet the future King Charles. Charles attempted to disguise himself, to test Joan’s supposed gifts. But the Maid immediately picked him out in the throng of the court, ignoring the servitor dressed in Charles’ clothing. Overcoming the incredulity of the court at the temerity of a young girl claiming to be a messenger of God sent to redeem France, she persuaded Charles to let her lead an expedition to Orleans, where she led seemingly forlorn hope charges that routed the besieging English and freed the city. From Orleans she led Charles to Reims for his coronation. That was the acme of her career. Her subsequent attack on Paris failed, and soon thereafter she was captured by the Burgundians (perhaps as the result of treachery–there is no doubt that Charles subsequently betrayed her), ransomed by the English, then burned at the stake in Rouen.

Joan has the remarkable talent to dissolve the deepest cynicism of people like her battle-hardened contemporaries, Mark Twain–and me. I actually would consider it more miraculous if she achieved what she did without divine intervention, than with it. How can you explain an ignorant peasant girl persuading kings, becoming an inspirational war leader and skilled tactician, and devising the strategy that reshaped western European politics, all in the course of a few short months? Her performance at her trial–she was both brave and clever–is equally inexplicable, given her background. Her moments of doubt when confronted with the pyre were human, and were redeemed by her decision to suffer a horrible death rather than suffer dishonor, and her transcendence as the flames devoured her. Yes, she has been mythologized, and conscripted in religious and political battles over the centuries, but the basic facts of her life are well-documented and those speak for themselves. I cannot think of a parallel in history: she is an exception that proves many very dreary rules.

I have previously been to Chinon, Orleans, Reims, and Compiègne (where she was captured). Rouen was the last major scene in her life that I visited. There is a single tower remaining from the Rouen Castle where she was imprisoned during her trial (but it is not the tower where she was kept). There is a small garden marking the spot in the Rouen marketplace where she was immolated as a heretic. There is a fairly new multimedia presentation about her trial in a building that is part of the cathedral complex–it’s worth a visit.

The physical remains of the scenes of her life are almost non-existent–the room where she met Charles in Chinon is no longer there, for example–but visiting those traces does evoke thoughts about her remarkable life and career.

I’m back in Houston now, just in time for summer to begin in earnest. So the work–and the posting–will resume. Hopefully it will be improved by a relaxing few weeks immersed in history and historical places.

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We Can Now Bound From Above the Price of German Principles

Filed under: Commodities,Economics,Energy,History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 12:30 pm

If you really concentrate, I’m sure you can stretch your memory to recall those long past days when Angela Merkel was hailed as the new Leader of the Free World, most notably because of her stalwart stance on Russia, in contrast to Trump, who was deemed a squish on Russia at best, and a collaborationist at worst. But that was so . . . May. Now in mid-June, the Germans and much of the rest of Europe and their fellow travelers here in the US are totally losing it over the 98-2 vote in the US Senate (the two dissenters being ideological bookends Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders) to strengthen the sanctions regime on Russia, and notably, to limit Trump’s ability to relax sanctions unilaterally.

So: In May, soft on Russia bad, hard on Russia good. In June, hard on Russia bad. In May, Trump had too much power. In June, limiting Trump’s power is inexcusable.

What changed? Actually nothing changed. This is volte face reflects an enduring constant: German commercial interests. The Senate sanctions bill would impose potential penalties on those assisting in the construction of Russian pipelines, most notably NordStream 2. NordStream 2 is a joint project between Gazprom and a handful of major European, and particularly German, corporate behemoths.

German explanations of the motivation behind the Senate’s action betray extreme psychological projection. Echoing Gazprom (an action which if you were to do it in the US would immediately bring down upon on your head screams of “RUSSIAN TROLL”), several European policymakers have claimed that this action was intended to advance the interests of US LNG exporters.

Um, no. Not even close. The objections of the US to NordStream date back to the Obama administration, which was hardly a major promoter of the US natural gas industry. Further, the main drivers in the Senate were people like McCain, for whom economic considerations are tertiary, at best: McCain et al have had it in for Russia generally and NordStream particularly for geopolitical reasons, and their opposition dates back years. Moreover, the bill reflects the current anti-Russia hysteria in the US, which in turn reflects a strange mix of political factors, not least of which is the clinical insanity of the Democratic Party post-November, 2016.

Indeed, US opposition to Russian gas pipelines into Europe dates back to the Reagan administration. The US tried to stop the pipelines through Ukraine that Putin is now trying to outflank with NordStream, because it thought the pipelines provided an economic benefit to the USSR and made Europe hostage to Russian economic pressure. This was in fact a source of one of the few disagreements between Thatcher (who supported the pipelines) and Reagan.

How much did the US hate the USSR-Europe gas pipelines, you ask? Enough to blow them up. Blow them up real good: “The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.”

Those who claim economic motivations say a lot more about themselves than they do about the US Senate: adopting a policy to advance German/European economic interests is exactly what they would do, and they are projecting this motivation on the US.  Indeed, the Germans’ hysterical reaction demonstrates just how important economic considerations are to them, and how marginal are geopolitical considerations vis-a-vis Russia.

If you think the Russians are as big a threat as the Germans and other gas-poor nations say, they should be deeply grateful for the emergence of US LNG which reduces their dependence on the evil Russkies. But the Germans say: we don’t want your methadone, we’d rather continue to buy smack from this really nasty dealer.

The hypocrisy and projection don’t stop there. Of course German economic policy is strongly oriented towards boosting its exports, often at the cost of beggaring its supposed European brothers and sisters (especially the swarthy ones down south). What’s good for zee goose, kameraden. .  .

Further, recall (if you can remember back that far) that one reason for the German/European freakout over Trump in May was his refusal to acknowledge solidarity with our allies by mouthing the words “Article 5.” All for one! One for all!

Right?

Well, eastern Europeans–the Poles in particular–think that NordStream basically sells them out to the Russians in order to benefit Germany. The Germans have totally blown off this criticism, and have subjected the Poles and Baltic States to considerable criticism and pressure for their opposition to NordStream. So much for European solidarity. It’s all for one, all right: that one being Germany. That one for all . . . not so much.

It gets better! Merkel and other Euros are fond of saying “more Europe.” Well, that’s exactly what the dispute and the sanctions are about, isn’t it? The economics of NordStream 2 are dubious, but it presents a nearly existential threat to Ukraine. The entire reason for the conflict in Donbas and the seizure of Crimea (conflicts that Merkel is allegedly attempting to mediate) were Ukraine’s attempt to move closer to Europe.

That is: (1) Ukraine takes “more Europe” seriously, and enters into an agreement with the EU that would open up trade with an eye on Ukraine joining the union in the future, (2) Putin takes exception to this, and initiates a series of actions that culminate with the ouster of Yanukovych followed by the seizure of Crimea, and a hot war in Donbas, (3) the US Senate attempts to penalize Russian actions by sanctions, and (4) the Europeans scream bloody murder at US intrusion into their policy domain.

In other words, when forced to put their money (and their gas) where their mouths are, the Europeans jettison “more Europe”. And then turn around and slag the US for taking them at their word.

Hey, they can do what they want. And the US can do what it wants. Just spare me the sanctimonious bullshit about standing up to Russia, European solidarity, more Europe, and on and on. It’s all about the Euros, baby–€–and German € in particular. Every “principle” that supposedly earned Merkel the designation as Leader of the Free World went out the window in a nanosecond, once some big German companies were going to have to pay a price for those principles.

We can now bound from above the price of German principles. The upper bound is in the billions of Euros. I am sure that the true price is far lower than that.

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June 4, 2017

Terrorism, Populism, and Elite Failure

Filed under: History,Politics — The Professor @ 1:02 pm

Yesterday witnessed yet another terrorist attack in Europe, leaving seven dead in London.

The London mayor, safe behind his massive security detail, assures that there’s no reason to be alarmed.

Easy for him to say. Revelers and pedestrians, not so much.

This kind of vapidity is of a piece with something that I’m sure we’ll hear yet again: People overreact to terrorism. After all, you are more likely to die in your bathtub or some such than be slain by a terrorist. So accept it! Don’t be alarmed! Nothing to see here.

For one thing, this banality about violence does violence to statistics. I’m pretty sure that the Saturday night partiers in London or the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo or the attendees at a concert in Paris or the celebrants in Nice or the schoolgirls at a concert in Manchester are not in demographic cohorts heavily represented in the statistics of bathtub slips and falls.

For another, there is a difference between a small risk willingly taken to achieve some other benefit and being subjected to the risk of political violence in return for no benefit whatsoever. I am perfectly aware that every time I get in my car to go somewhere, I might be killed in an accident. That is part of the full cost of driving, and when I decide to drive I do so because the benefit of the trip exceeds the full cost. I made that choice. Getting decapitated by a religious fanatic while going out for a drink should not be something that must be considered when evaluating the pros and cons of a night on the town. That is the result of a breakdown of public order, not a private misfortune to which everyone is prone.

But those aren’t the biggest reasons to object to the bathtub comparison. The biggest reason is that intuitively people recognize that there is a difference between political violence, a social phenomenon, and the ordinary risks of every day living. They recognize that political violence may start with small, isolated instances, and spin out of control. The history of humanity is a dreary litany of social and political violence, and people have an intuitive sense that if it is not contained, it can well metastasize and make life all but unbearable. People rightly dread the prospect of political violence, because if unchecked, its trajectory is almost always upwards not the other way round. That is categorically different from the random misfortunes inherent in everyday life, and people intuitively recognize it is categorically different, and therefore react differently to it.

In brief, people realize that if you don’t suppress political and social violence when it is a relatively modest problem, it will become bigger: and that if you can’t deal with it when it is a small problem, you will be totally overmatched when it grows.

It is particularly infuriating when such platitudes pour from the pieholes of pompous politicians, of whom the London mayor is only the latest, and by no means the most powerful–the recently elected president of France, and the departed and unlamented (by me, anyways) president of the United States have uttered similar “thoughts.”

The only principled argument for the existence of the state is that people exchange some liberties for security of their lives and property. The primary–and to a classical liberal, sole–reason for the state is to provide such protection. When it fails to do so, it has failed utterly in its mission. When those ostensibly responsible for governing trivialize these failures, it is unpardonable.

It is particularly unpardonable in places like France particularly, but almost as much in the UK, and increasingly in the US, where the state holds itself out as omnicompetent to rule over every aspect of citizens’ lives. As the saying goes: you had one job. You fail at that, yet you presume to tell us that we should trust you with everything from health care to occupational licensing to monetary policy to all the other goddam things you claim only the government can do?

The initial reaction of the increasingly horrid British PM, Theresa May, encapsulates–yet again–the elite failure that is the hallmark of the 21st century. May posits that it might be necessary to restrict–wait for it–the Internet. If you are going to constrain liberties further in your feeble attempts to provide security, mightn’t a little more targeted approach be better, Ms. May? Starting, say, with places like the Finsbury Park Mosque? Or the 1000s of individuals which your security forces have already identified as threats (and then apparently ignored until after they act on them)?

But oh no. That would be discriminatory. Can’t have that, can we? But indiscriminate approaches like restricting the Internet or subjecting everyone from toddlers to the senile to security theater at airports are both wildly over inclusive and wildly under effective, thereby entailing great cost with no remotely corresponding benefit. Which just makes the populace all the more alarmed by terrorism, because it makes them all the more convinced that their supposed betters in government are not serious people and do not have their true interests at heart.

The elites are frightened and befuddled by populism: they freaked out at Trump’s very populist reaction to the latest London attacks. They should not be confused in the slightest, but they just cannot admit the truth: that populism is a reaction to profound elite failure, which the elite gives evidence of every passing day. Understanding populism would require that they admit failure, which they adamantly refuse to do.

People fear terrorism when they see it growing and they see those charged with preventing it failing time and again, and consciously avoiding doing the sometimes messy things necessary to do so. That fear seems pretty rational, given the fundamental differences between political violence and the risks of normal life, no matter how frequently the better thans instruct us about mortality statistics.

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