Streetwise Professor

July 28, 2020

Reflections on the Revolution in Portland

Filed under: History,Politics — cpirrong @ 12:12 pm

Although Edmund Burke was initially favorably disposed to the French Revolution, the seizure of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette by a crowd of Parisian women (a wall of moms?) in October, 1789 turned him into an ardent foe. After reading a pamphlet by an English divine, Richard Price, which compared the events in France to the English “Glorious Revolution” of 1688–an event that Burke revered–Burke was spurred to action, and in 1790 penned Reflections on the Revolution in France.

The book was a sensation, and effectively defined, intellectually anyways, the divide between contending view of the Revolution. Burke’s book resulted in immediate retorts, notably by Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine.

In some ways, Burke and his opponents were in complete agreement. Both believed that the Revolution was freeing France from the shackles of the past. The difference was that Burke viewed this with horror, whereas the Wollstonecrafts and Paines (and even some of Burke’s Whig colleagues, like Edward Fox) greeted it with enthusiasm, rapture even.

At the time, Burke’s interpretation was attacked as exaggeration, but events proved that he had a better, and far more realistic, understanding of the revolutionary dynamic, and the consequences of shattering the shackles. Insofar as exaggeration is concerned, yes, Louis and Marie were knocked about a bit, and humiliated, and the scenes between Versailles and Paris were chaotic and shocking to someone of Burke’s sensibilities. But they remained royalty, and remained alive.

But Burke saw that the forces of anarchy and what we now call nihilism (the word was not coined until the mid-19th century, and then in Russia) had been unleashed. He saw that there was no limiting principle in the revolutionary rhetoric. He took seriously the vaulting ambitions of some to revolutionize society root and branch. He had a tragic view of humanity: he referred to “the causes of evil which are permanent,” and believed that the complete dissolution of the institutions that kept these evils in check (perhaps with their own attendant evils) would result in disaster.

Within a few years, events would vindicate him. The execution of Louis and Marie. The Terror. And ultimately, something that Burke had predicted–the emergence of a military strongman who would restore order.

Burke, in other words, was a Cassandra. A seer who accurately foretold doom, but was dismissed and abused by those who were doomed.

Burke was not a reactionary. He had supported the American Revolution, and as I noted already, revered the Glorious Revolution. He was also famous for his prosecution of Warren Hastings for corruption in India and–critics of colonialism take note–accused the East India Company of doing untold damage in India.

But he believed that society required institutions, rules, and morals to restrain ugly human impulses. And he believed that attempts to revolutionize society root and branch would result in chaos and mass human misery.

Burke came to mind in watching the events in Portland–and copycat anarchy in other cities like Seattle and Oakland. The rioters there–I will not dignify them with the moniker “protestors”–avowedly desire the complete eradication of the United States and its institutions. Like the most radical of the French revolutionaries of 1789-1796, they believe that the entire system has to be overturned and replaced by an entirely new, utopian one.

Don’t believe me? Just ask them.

Like Burke’s critics, you might dismiss my attention to the radicals. They are just a fringe, you might say. Hell, if you are of the mind of Jerry Nadler (if so, you have my pity), you will dismiss the above as a “myth” deserving of no attention whatsoever: indeed, you will attribute my attention to partisan malice.

But what Burke perceived is that the radicals, the hard men–and today, hard women–have a decided advantage. Indeed, their hardness is their advantage. In war and politics, will matters. Those of iron will exert influence and power far beyond their numbers.

No major revolutionary movement–not just in France, but in Russia in 1917, or in China in the 1940s, or in Cuba in the 1950s-60s, or in Cambodia in the 1970, and on and on–has been remotely in the majority. Indeed, the defining idea of Leninism is that a small, dedicated elite cadre, not a mass of the people, is the driving force in revolution.

We are already seeing that the ruling class in the United States is largely deferential to the radicals. The Democratic Party defends them: as I write, the spittle-spewing morons on the House Judiciary Committee are hectoring AG William Barr for daring to defend federal property against the New Jacobins.

Fools. Do they not realize that they would be sent to the guillotine if the black-clad “scrawny, pasty white booger-eating communist shitheads” prevail?

Societies that have self-confidence crush such anti-social, radical, extremist thugs. Societies that don’t crumble before them, and pay the price in blood and treasure.

In the US today, many of the elite believe that standing up to anti-social, radical, extremist thugs is supposedly authoritarian. If those voices prevail, the rest of us will reap what the elite have sown.

This isn’t about George Floyd, or any particular episode of injustice. Those on the streets in Portland and elsewhere believe this is about the fundamental, irredeemable injustice–and evil–of America. An original sin for which there is no salvation, and which can be redeemed only by destruction. George Floyd is just a pretext (a concept that Burke explored in detail in Reflections).

Burke said other things that resonate today, in particular the assault on history, and the assessment of guilt on the descendants of alleged sinners of generations past:

They find themselves obliged to rake into the histories of former ages (which they have ransacked with a malignant and profligate industry) for every instance of oppression and persecution which has been made by that body or in its favour, in order to justify, upon very iniquitous, because very illogical principles of retaliation, their own persecutions, and their own cruelties.


It is not very just to chastise men for the offences of their natural ancestors; but to take the fiction of ancestry in a corporate succession, as a ground for punishing men who have no relation to guilty acts, except in names and general descriptions, is a sort of refinement in injustice belonging to the philosophy of this enlightened age.

It’s almost as if Burke foretold not just The Terror, but White Privilege and the Six Degrees From Slavery frenzy.

Those things, like many other things he wrote in Reflections, rhyme in America despite the passage of 230 years and the distance of thousands of miles.

So go ahead, and dismiss Portland (and its echoes in other cities) if you will–just as the “enlightened” of 1790 dismissed Burke. But before doing so, read Burke in the light of what happened almost immediately afterwards.

July 23, 2020

What To Do With With Erdo?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Turkey — cpirrong @ 6:06 pm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems hell-bent on making enemies. Indeed, other than Qatar, it’s hard to point to any nation that is allied with Turkey. Turkey doesn’t even seem to have frenemies, only real enemies.

The FT had a long piece detailing how Erdoğan is using force and threats of force to prevent other nations, notably Cyprus, from drilling for gas in the eastern Mediterranean. He has also entered into a deal for what passes for a government in Libya to develop its offshore gas, and to build pipelines that deny that Crete is part of Greece. (Hey, it was Ottoman once, right?)

Speaking of Libya, Erdo has intervened in the conflict there. Turkey has supplied advisors, drones (including armed UAVs), anti-air defenses, and electronic warfare systems to support the “government.” Further, Turkey haas shipped in thousands of Syrian jihadi-types to provide the ground forces to fight against the force led by warlord Khalifa Haftar, who is trying to overthrow the UN-recognized government.

This has led to a confrontation between French and Turkish ships off the Libyan coast. Turkey has demanded an apology, and Macron trumpeted a call with Trump during which Libya was discussed–a clear indication to Turkey that the US was leaning towards France and against Turkey.

To make things even more complicated, Egypt supports Haftar and is threatening to intervene with its ground forces to combat the Turkish-supported troops. Turkey has made stern warnings to Egypt to stay on its side of the border.

To make things even more complicated, Russia is Haftar’s biggest backer. Russian mercenaries operate there. So in Libya Erdoğan is risking conflict with Russia, France (and hence the rest of the EU–yeah, I know), and Egypt.

The correlation of forces here is definitely not in Turkey’s favor, especially if Egypt intervenes on the ground. Egypt shares a border with Libya, and as the Desert Campaigns of 1940-41 showed, an armored force can race across Libya and achieve operational dominance. Egypt’s logistics would also be relatively simple, and it would be operating well within range of its air forces. Turkey, on the other hand, has no direct land route to Libya, and would have to reinforce and supply by sea. If shit gets real, it is highly doubtful that such a supply line would be sustainable. It would certainly be highly vulnerable to attack from air and sea.

Turkey has some submarines, some frigates (including some old US Perry Class ships) and corvettes, and some small landing craft. Egypt’s forces are comparable, with the big difference being the French-built (originally for Russia) Mistral assault ship, for which Turkey has no counterpart.

So Turkey would be in a very weak position if it indeed attempted to challenge an Egyptian incursion.

Libya is not the only country where Turkey and Russia are at loggerheads. They are also on opposite sides in Syria, and Russian-supported forces have killed well over 100 Turks. There is an uneasy coexistence between Russian and Turkey in Syria, nothing more.

But there’s more! The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan (which has been going on since 1988 or thereabouts) is heating up again. Armenia is close to Russia, but Erdo is rallying behind Azerbaijan.

It’s not surprising, then, that Russian helicopters flew along the Turkish border soon after the initial Armenian-Azeri clash in mid-June, and Turkey’s condemnation of Armenia for that fighting.

Erdoğan also has a very strained, and strange, relationship with the US generally, and Donald Trump in particular. Given Trump’s mercurial nature, Erdoğan would be a fool to expect Trump to pull his irons out of the fire in a Turkish dust up with Russia. Or France. Or Greece. Or Egypt.

The Turkish economy is also in a parlous state, meaning that the country is extremely vulnerable to economic pressure. The lira has depreciated badly in recent years, is near all time lows against the dollar, and could easily tip–or be tipped-off a cliff. Turks of a certain age remember the extreme privations that followed US sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Younger generations don’t have that experience, and have (at least in the big cities) attained a degree of affluence that could be gone in a trice. It is an open question whether they would, in a fit of nationalist pride, forgive Erdoğan for that.

Erdoğan also outraged much of the Christian world with his conversion (on extremely dubious legal grounds) of the venerated Aya Sophia/Hagia Sofia from a museum (established by Ataturk) back to a mosque.

Erdoğan’s political situation is shaky–which may be why he is engaged in so much adventurism. He lost the big cities–Istanbul and Ankara notably–to the opposition CHP. He still has very strong support in the Anatolian heartland, especially among devout Muslims there (and in the cities as well). But the country is divided and Erdoğan has a lot of domestic enemies, and is making more by the day.

In sum, Erdoğan has picked a fight with pretty much everyone with a stake in the eastern Mediterranean. Why he’s doing so is not completely clear. In part, it’s delusions of grandeur: he envisions himself as the emerging dominant power in that region. But he can be so only at the sufferance of the US and Russia in particular. He is appealing to a highly chauvinistic populace–Turks are arguably the most chauvinistic nation in the world–in order to bolster his political situation.

But strategically his actions appear to be incredibly foolhardy and shortsighted. It is hard to see the upside, especially in Syria and Libya. The downsides are huge. He must be counting that the big boys in the neighborhood are willing to put up with his bumptiousness. But if he’s wrong, Turkey will be in a world of hurt.

He needs to be most careful about the Russians. After Turkey shot down a Russian jet over Syria, the furious Russian reaction forced Erdoğan to back down. Now he is risking confrontation with them not only in Syria, but in Libya and Armenia/Azerbaijan. With Putin too perhaps needing a wag the dog moment again (given the uninspiring results of his constitutional referendum, growing discontent as illustrated by open protests in the east, and chronic economic difficulties), Erdoğan could be made to order.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Erdoğan is rushing in where angels avoid, and doing so very likely because he is a fool.

July 18, 2020

School’s Out Forever?

Filed under: CoronaCrisis,Economics,Politics — cpirrong @ 4:04 pm

As summer marches inexorably towards fall, the latest battle in the Covid Wars is being fought over the reopening of primary and secondary schools. Democratic politicians, and teachers unions, are leading the charge to forestall face-to-face instruction. The battle cry among teachers appears to be “I don’t wanna die.”

Er, you’re not gonna die. Nor are the children.

One of the few pieces of almost uncontested evidence about Covid-19 is that children are at very low risk of contracting the illness, let alone dying from it. Nor do they pose major threats to passing the virus on to adults.

In the back-and-forth over “is Covid-19 worse than a bad flu,” when it comes to school-age children, the answer is that flu is worse than Covid-19, not the other way around. Yet schools have remained open, flu season after flu season.

Recognizing this, many nations have reopened schools, with no reports of resurgences tied to schools.

But in the US, the education establishment, and Democratic politicians, are largely united in opposing reopening. Some school districts (e.g., in Houston) have postponed resumption of normal instruction until November. (Right when the flu season kicks in. Smart!) Others are suggesting that school’s out, if not forever, for 2020-21.

Given the hectoring and lecturing about SCIENCE! from these very same people, the utter disregard for the evidence is striking.

There is only one rational justification for this refusal to run such a slight risk (and again, a risk that is likely less than during normal winters): traditional instruction provides virtually no value! Revealed preference at work, boys and girls.

Are the education establishment and Democratic politicians willing to stipulate to that? If so, we can save a helluva lot of money paying for teachers and brick-and-mortar schools. For the distance learning model is essentially home schooling plus (and not plus very much). Given the histrionics over home schooling emanating from the education establishment, this haste to adopt the home schooling plus model to avoid an immaterial risk is rather amusing.

In fact, although home schooling does work for some (I know several examples, including a home school family that produced a Harvard physics PhD, a Princeton BA and MA, and another Princeton grad who was a world-known ornithologist at age 13), for most Americans it is impractical because parents are employed, and even for families with a stay-at-home parent, less effective than in-person instruction for myriad reasons.

Meaning that the education establishment is willing to sacrifice the educations and futures of millions of American kids, to avoid . . . pretty much nothing.

In other words there is a huge disconnect between the rhetoric regarding the importance of public education that we are usually bombarded with, and the unseemly eagerness of the public education establishment and its political handmaidens to dispense with the core functions of public education. The disconnect is all the more glaring because the justification offered by the supposed followers of the SCIENCE! is flatly contradicted by the actual science.

So what is to explain this disconnect? I have two hypotheses.

  1. This is all about the 2020 election. The Democrats believe that preventing a return to a semblance of normalcy (and you can stick “the new normal” up a warm, moist, orifice) will boost the odds of defeating Trump. Relatedly, they also believe that keeping the panic alive by stoking fears enhances their electoral prospects.
  2. Teachers really like getting paid their full salaries while getting to stay home, assigning some YouTube videos, and calling it teaching.

These hypotheses are of course not mutually exclusive.

Regardless of the explanation, a failure to reopen schools will damage the educations of millions of American children, stunt their social and emotional development, and in some cases inflict serious psychological harm. Moreover, it will inflict substantial stress, distress, and economic harm on adults trying to earn a living now forced to divert time and effort to monitoring their children, and trying to teach them.

It is utterly cynical, and frankly, quite vile. Objectively the case for reopening schools is solid. Certainly far more solid than the cases for various Covid-19 measures, including masks (FFS) or social distancing or lockdowns that have been imposed over the last 4 months. Yet those forcing these latter measures adamantly oppose opening schools.

Like I said. Cynical. And vile.

July 13, 2020

The Emancipation Memorial–A Coda About Historical Context

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 7:04 pm

I regret to have forgotten an episode during Lincoln’s visit to Richmond in the immediate aftermath of the Confederate capital’s fall in April, 1865. It provides the backstory for the Emancipation Memorial which points out yet again that those who call for the Memorial’s destruction or removal are ignorant fools unfit to render judgment on the Memorial, the towering historical figure it depicts, or the events that it memorializes.

Specifically, on 4 April, 1865, a group of freed slaves, shouting “Glory Hallelujah!” mobbed Lincoln when he disembarked from the USS Malvern and strode the streets of the captured capital, still smoking from the fires set by the retreating Confederates the day before. Several of them knelt before him, some trying to kiss his feet, or the cuff of his pants. Lincoln replied:

“Don’t kneel to me.  You must kneel to God only and thank Him for your liberty.”*

That is is the scene depicted in the Memorial. A slave rising at Lincoln’s injunction not to kneel before him, or any man.

Thus, the Memorial does not symbolize subjugation of black people before the benevolent white father, as the iconoclasts claim. It depicts the exact opposite.

The Memorial therefore does what good public art should do–dramatize an historical event or personage (or, in this case, both) to make a powerful statement about time and place. And in this case, the statement is about liberation and the ending of a great historical “scourge,” which continued “until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”

It is an event that black artists of an earlier generation thought worthy of commemoration. In 1963, at the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the State of Illinois commissioned black artist Gus Nall to create a commemorative painting. What did he paint? Not anything related directly to the Proclamation itself: he painted the meeting between the freed slaves and Lincoln on the streets of Richmond, 98 years before, not 100. This was not a moment of humiliation. It was a moment at which a promise was realized, and at which the promisor disclaimed fealty, rather than demanded it.

About these events, and the direct connection between them and the statue in Washington, the iconoclasts are both ignorant and apathetic–they don’t know, and they don’t care. Yet they are swollen with self-righteous belief in their unerring and forever unchallengeable judgment. In their relentless narcissistic presentism they denigrate not just Lincoln, but newly freed people of color. They think they know everything, and can judge everything and everyone, but they know nothing and are fit to judge nothing and no one.

Lincoln’s words, “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” fall on uncomprehending ears today. What we witness today is people seething with malice towards people and events for whom and about which they not have the slightest understanding, nor the smallest speck of human charity. They deserve no respect, and their demands deserve only scorn and rebuke. The nation should not kneel before this mob. I for one will not.

*The NYT described this event on its sesquicentennial in its “Disunion” series that recounted the events of the Civil War day by day. Will they ever do so in an uncritical (let alone laudatory) way in the future? I seriously doubt it.

July 4, 2020

The “Russian Bounties” Story: The Media Dog Returns to the “Intelligence” Community’s Vomit

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Uncategorized — cpirrong @ 2:43 pm

“As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” — Proverbs 26:11 

This Proverb applies to the American news media and the US “Intelligence” Community, with a variation. The variation being the media returns to the “Intelligence” Community’s vomit, rather than its own per se.

For about four years the news media lapped up whatever lies the “I”C barfed up about “Russian collusion.” And it was all lies. 100 percent.

Honest people can be fooled. Yet, once they are fooled, they distrust who fooled them. Dishonest people lap up lies over and over again. Because they want to.

The latest iteration of this is the recent hysteria over the allegations that the Russians (namely, its military intelligence service, the GRU) paid bounties to the Taliban to kill Americans, that Trump had been briefed about it, and did nothing. These allegations were “credited” to “anonymous intelligence sources.”

The dogs at the New York Times ran to the vomit like they hadn’t eaten in months. Which may be true, since the demise of the impeachment fiasco, and the dominance of the Covid-19 story. But rather than treating another “I”C leak with skepticism, if not disdain, they wolfed it down. Because they wanted to.

In the event–I’m sure you will find this shocking–the “intelligence” was of dubious provenance, and because of that Trump had not been briefed about it. So the story was 100 percent unadulterated puke.

A word to the wise. If you claim to put any credence in any story based on “anonymous sources in the intelligence community,” you are either a fool (because you actually believe it despite the repeated evidence of their untrustworthiness) or a knave (because you know it is likely untrue but choose to treat it as gospel regardless because it is politically useful).

Arguendo, suppose the story is true. What is Trump supposed to do about it? Nuke Russia? Add more sanctions? What’s left to be sanctioned, pray tell?

Those who are flogging this story, and those like it, want a new Cold War with Russia. But apparently they expect only one side to fight it: the Russians, evidently, should be pacifists in this Cold War II. But if the Russians are pacifists, why fight a war against them?

So let’s get real. If there is a Cold War II, then one can expect both sides to utilize the tactics of Cold War I. During which, you might remember, the Soviets supplied massive military supplies to, inter alia, North Vietnam and North Korea which were used to kill Americans.

And during which the United States “Intelligence” Community supplied weapons to Afghan Islamist foes of the USSR that were used to kill thousands of Soviet soldiers.

Memories run long, and payback is a bitch.

Meaning that if you fight Cold War II with the Russians, as day follows night, Russians will try to kill Americans–while attempting not to leave fingerprints. That’s the way Cold Wars are fought.

So be very careful what you ask for: and if you ask for a New Cold War, expect the consequences. And if those consequences include the deaths of American soldiers, you need to accept that the responsibility is largely yours.

It is particularly perverse to blame Trump for the deaths of Americans in Afghanistan. He has been laboring to extract the US from that cesspool, precisely because he believes that it is pointless for American troops to die there, for . . . well, for nothing.

And the establishment–notably the “Intelligence” Community and the Pentagon–have fought him tooth and nail. Apparently forgetting the adage “never reinforce failure,” they have reinforced it for going on 20 years now. And they will not admit failure, and have fought Trump more viciously in his attempts to withdraw than they have fought the Taliban in the Hindu Kush.

In other words, Trump has been trying to save American lives, and the Pentagon and the “Intelligence” Community have been willing to expend them. To what purpose, they cannot explain.

In that respect, the “Russian bounty” story is even more twisted than the run of the mill Russian collusion story. For it represents the most malign elements of the Deep State and their vomit mongers in the media and the Democratic Party crying crocodile tears over dead Americans in Afghanistan, and blaming the man who is trying to prevent more Americans from dying there, all to perpetuate their insane war that will kill Americans as long as it lasts.

It is hard for normal people to imagine a more damning commentary on the American establishment than that. But that likely reflects the limits of my imagination. I am sure that these malign, evil creatures that dwell in the bowels of Langley and the Pentagon will conjure up even more sick actions in the future.

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