I'm a cancer, he's a cancer, she's a cancer, we're a cancer…

Last night, J.E. Dyer replied to “The Point of Being Annoyed with Glenn Beck” (at HotAir here), and to related comments at her blog The Optimistic Conservative. (For anyone new to the discussion, “The Point…” was itself framed as a response to J.E.’s “Beck and the Legacy,” which had referenced my short “Bennett vs. Beck” entry of last Monday).  At Zombie Contentions, we’ve had a wide-ranging discussion in the comment thread, but I’d like to consolidate the dialogue with J.E. rather than try to advance it in two or more separate venues amidst multi-sided group discussions.  This approach is further justified because J.E. is such an able and articulate spokesperson:  If I were Glenn Beck, I would be delighted and grateful to have J.E. speaking up for me and forcefully extending my arguments.  She also concisely expresses the responses of many who disagree either with the big name/high level critics or, rather a different thing, with me.

I also think that the discussion, whose implications go well beyond what anyone thinks of Glenn Beck, or thinks of someone else for what he or she said about Glenn Beck, can be usefully divided into style and  substance – even if, in the end, the two have to be considered together.

In this post, I will focus on style – that is, political rhetoric and presentation.

In the ZC comment, J.E. concedes some of her own hesitations regarding aspects of Beck’s approach (as she did, implicitly, in her “Legacy” post), then expresses incomprehension about one of my central complaints: Read more ›

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with: , , ,

The Point of Being Annoyed with Glenn Beck

In a post at the Optimistic Conservative, also featured on the HotAir main page, our friend and colleague J.E. Dyer asks, “What’s the point of being annoyed with Glenn Beck?” Obviously, J.E. is asking the question rhetorically, in order to respond to conservative criticisms of Beck that have been launched since his CPAC keynote speech: Her post actually tells us why we should be pleased with Beck, and I agree with most of what she says in it.

But I think her question deserves an answer.

It was, of course, William Bennett, writing over the weekend at NRO, who first spoke up loudly and incisively in reaction to Beck’s performance at CPAC. He focused on one of Beck’s customary themes:

To say the GOP and the Democrats are no different, to say the GOP needs to hit a recovery-program-type bottom and hang its head in remorse, is to delay our own country’s recovery from the problems the Democratic left is inflicting. The stakes are too important to go through that kind of exercise, which will ultimately go nowhere anyway…

Jonah Goldberg replied at NRO along somewhat the same lines as J.E., stressing that, if Beck may have overdone things, it was to motivate the troops and scare the wayward straight. Soon, however, Peter Wehner was joining his colleague Jennifer Rubin to second Bennett, and in addition was raising the ante: “If Glenn Beck were the future of conservatism,” he wrote, “it would become a discredited movement.”

Wehner went on to disclaim much concern about either part of that proposition, but, by the beginning of the week, both Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin were each worried enough to devote significant attention both on- and off-air to Beck and his arguments. Read more ›

Posted in Politics Tagged with: , , , , ,

Books in Brief: THE LIFE OF BELISARIUS; I, SNIPER; THE WAR THAT KILLED ACHILLES

I ordered Lord Mahon’s The Life of Belisarius on a recommendation at NRO The Corner from Victor Davis Hanson.  For the amateur history buff, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book, which was first published in 1829, is its depiction of a 6th Century Mediterranean world riven by competition and war, still under the shadow of Rome well after the conventional date for the eclipse of the Roman Empire.  Though the last Western Roman Emperor had long since given up the imperial purple, classic Roman institutions like the Senate, in Rome itself, and the Consulship, awarded in Byzantium, persisted up to this period.  The former fell victim to a war in Italy that might have restored the old imperial heartland, when the old Senatorial families were taken hostage and in large number executed.  The Consulship was by this time a merely honorific position, but had retained enough of its old aura to excite the jealousy of Emperor Justinian, who emerges in the tale as the very embodiment of vain and unwise leadership (he “imposed his name on no less than nineteen cities, and of these not a single one has served to prolong his memory”) – especially against the character of Belisarius, who is depicted as a great and good general, the very embodiment of loyalty and patriotism.  The book is filled with marvelous characters and great events largely forgotten to history (outside of specialist realms), but the chief pleasure of reading it may be in Lord Mahon’s aphoristic asides and wry turns of phrase, reminiscent of Gibbon:

The national altar and the national throne cannot be merely foreign and indifferent to each other; if not allied, they must be hostile.

…he was invested with Patrician dignity, and spent the remainder of his days loaded with honors and contempt.

It is rarely that men reject any tale, however fantastic or improbable, provided it tends to show that their own sect or country is the peculiar favorite of heaven.

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Posted in Books, History Tagged with: , ,

In a world of their own: Conservatives and Avatar

Having immensely enjoyed the audio-visual orgy of James Cameron’s Avatar, as the kind of out-of-body experience that big movies are for, I find myself feeling sorry for the many conservatives – published critics, self-publishing bloggers, and commenters – who have blanketed, one might say wet-blanketed, the right side of the internet with their complaints and indictments.

Hollywood has given our anti-nonsense reflexes a lot of exercise in recent years, but I had still expected greater enthusiasm for this movie, or at worst neutrality, from my fellow conservatives.  Regardless of how some people feel about Cameron personally, or about any statements he may have made about Avatar‘s intended messages, he remains the same director who gave us  Terminator, Terminator 2, Aliens, and True Lies.  By the day that the Avatar trailer played to a national NFL TV audience and on the gigantic new video screen at Cowboys Stadium, it was clear to millions that an audacious effort was under way to re-vitalize the great American movie spectacle – a $400 million gamble by one of our leading auteur-entrepreneurs, in the shape of an advertisement for democratic capitalism at its most innovative, for the creativity and vitality of American culture during a time when American declinism and every other brand of pessimism about our future have been spreading to an extent not seen since the 1970s.

Those on the right who have been impotently and priggishly attacking the movie, their small-spirited wishes for its failure decisively dashed by a quick $1 Billion in worldwide ticket sales, have not just been embarrassing themselves and their political-cultural allies.  They may even have been doing harm to the conservative movement, at least as much as the movie itself may do with its incidental Gore- and Obamaisms.

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Posted in Movies

Tales from the Geopolitical Crypt: Seven Deadly Scenarios by Andrew Krepinevich

Seven Deadly Scenarios can be read and enjoyed almost as a collection of near future science fiction stories, though unlike sci-fi writers, who typically unveil the imagined course of future events elliptically, piece by piece, thus to keep the reader puzzling, author Andrew Krepinevich attacks the shape of things to come straight on, and the implied test is persuasiveness, not literary or entertainment value.  Anyone who delights in scaring friends, family, and internet acquaintances with prophecies of doom will therefore want to order a copy, but Krepinevich, a longtime defense insider, wants to reach people who have more serious uses for such material.  In this respect it’s possible that he succeeds too well as a writer, and is more likely to induce dread, resignation, or denial, where he means to motivate policymakers and citizens to demand better preparation and planning – that is, better leadership.

Each deadly scenario puts the American military and national command authority in disastrously untenable situations just a few to several years from now, and each would be world-historical (not in a good way):

  • collapse in Pakistan involving the U.S. in a nuclearized and Islamicized regional war
  • politically and economically de-stabilizing pandemic plague
  • a series of nuclear attacks in the American homeland brought off by an effectively unidentifiable (and therefore un-targetable) sponsor
  • a 1914-like Middle East outbreak of war, centered on Israel
  • Chinese moves on Taiwan forcing a choice between global war and the loss of the Pacific Rim (and more)
  • systematic Islamist assault on global resource and supply chains leading to economic catastrophe
  • civil war in an abandoned Iraq leading to a re-alignment in the Gulf:  the U.S. on the outside; China, Russia, and Iran on the inside

In short, 7 American catastrophes – and each entailing blows not just to our abstract “interests,” but to the very concrete counterparts of those interests:   our lives and our way of life.

Now consider further that there’s nothing preventing two or more of these or similar scenarios arising concurrently.  Read more ›

Posted in Books, Future History, War Tagged with: ,

On the Surge to the Exits (To the President's Right on Afghanistan #5)

Anyone who’s been interested in American military adventures and misadventures over the last couple of decades has probably seen Anthony Cordesman on TV at some point offering his highly professional, well-researched, crisply presented, carefully hedged, and almost invariably pessimistic assessments on whatever invasion, intervention, expedition, arms negotiation, or other military matter happens to be in question.

Now on the inside looking out, as an adviser on the Afghan surge, Cordesman can be found turning his customary skepticism on the skeptics, as in the following video (especially after the midway point ca. 2:30):

If Cordesman weren’t on the inside, I suspect he’d be sounding a lot more like the Anthony Cordesman who gave the Iraq surge a “less than even” chance of success, or like the Anthony Cordesman who has consistently downgraded any prospects for Israeli action against Iran. Over the years, such Cordesman assessments, though hedged and guarded on their own terms, have frequently been seized upon by anti-war activists, pundits, and politicians, and I tend to believe that the same pattern would be repeating itself if he was again on the outside looking in.

I think Cordesman would in fact be sounding more like the British military historian Max Hastings, whose nuanced take on the Afghanistan enterprise – “Obama’s Afghan Surge Is Not About Winning the War, but Managing Our Looming Failure” – falls squarely within the pessimist camp, though with decidedly more understanding and sympathy for the President and his predicament than shown by American critics like George Will, Andy McCarthy, or Ralph Peters. At the same time, it’s not far from the worst-case/acceptable trade-off position implicitly acknowledged, but rarely advertised, by those who hold out greater hope for eventual success, but remain aware of significant obstacles between where we are and some final victory – with the uncertain, ever-receding, in-the-eye-of-the-beholder quality of unconventional “victories” not least among those obstacles.

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Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with:

On the Surge to the Exits (To the President's Right on Afghanistan #5)

Anyone who’s been interested in American military adventures and misadventures over the last couple of decades has probably seen Anthony Cordesman on TV at some point offering his highly professional, well-researched, crisply presented, carefully hedged, and almost invariably pessimistic assessments on whatever invasion, intervention, expedition, arms negotiation, or other military matter happens to be in question.

Now on the inside looking out, as an adviser on the Afghan surge, Cordesman can be found turning his customary skepticism on the skeptics, as in the following video (especially after the midway point ca. 2:30):

If Cordesman weren’t on the inside, I suspect he’d be sounding a lot more like the Anthony Cordesman who gave the Iraq surge a “less than even” chance of success, or like the Anthony Cordesman who has consistently downgraded any prospects for Israeli action against Iran. Over the years, such Cordesman assessments, though hedged and guarded on their own terms, have frequently been seized upon by anti-war activists, pundits, and politicians, and I tend to believe that the same pattern would be repeating itself if he was again on the outside looking in.

I think Cordesman would in fact be sounding more like the British military historian Max Hastings, whose nuanced take on the Afghanistan enterprise – “Obama’s Afghan Surge Is Not About Winning the War, but Managing Our Looming Failure” – falls squarely within the pessimist camp, though with decidedly more understanding and sympathy for the President and his predicament than shown by American critics like George Will, Andy McCarthy, or Ralph Peters. At the same time, it’s not far from the worst-case/acceptable trade-off position implicitly acknowledged, but rarely advertised, by those who hold out greater hope for eventual success, but remain aware of significant obstacles between where we are and some final victory – with the uncertain, ever-receding, in-the-eye-of-the-beholder quality of unconventional “victories” not least among those obstacles.

Read more ›

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with: ,

Portrait of a Failed Presidency: "What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?" by Kevin Mattson

The fall in Barack Hussein Obama’s poll numbers, the difficulties he and his program have faced, naturally prompt comparisons to that emblematic Democratic presidential failure James Earl Carter.

Enter “Obama Carter” into a popular search engine, and you’ll find commentaries like this one from Seth Leibsohn at the National Review, reflecting on the President’s recently completed visit to Asia:

This is reminiscent of the Jimmy Carter years — the last time the U.S. was seen as weak — unable to move and coax other countries, unable to reassure dependent allies, unable to have the respect of the world and, of course, unable to move the mullocracy of Iran.

Already in July, Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie were invoking Carter in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post:

Barely six months into his presidency, Barack Obama seems to be driving south into that political speed trap known as Carter Country: a sad-sack landscape in which every major initiative meets not just with failure but with scorn from political allies and foes alike.

Carter 2.0, Carter^2, worse even than Jimmy Carter…  We’re still only in year one of the Age of Obama, but, if the bloggers and pundits are right about our man, if he doesn’t halt and reverse his decline soon, historian Kevin Mattson’s “What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?” – the story of the third year of the Carter presidency, organized around the famous “malaise speech” – may be a sketch of things to come: not just one or two grand catastrophes, but one botch of a fiasco of a screw-up after another…

Read more ›

Posted in Books, Featured, US History Tagged with:

If At First You Don’t Succeed… – WORLD WAR ONE – a Short History by Norman Stone


For the unhappy many on the front lines of the Great War, after no one much remembered why they were fighting, one last recourse was gallows humor, implicitly at the expense of their leaders. “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here,” they came to say. Many, of course, are still there – because they are – and there is no disrespect in recognizing that we honor them because we honor them because we honor them. That’s more than reason enough. We don’t really need to fear the Kaiser, remember Zimmerman, or rage against unrestricted submarine warfare.

For Norman Stone, World War I was a 4-year period in which the world “went from 1870 to 1940.” Rendering the whole story of this hyper-accelerated epoch in a mere 190 pages, when others have managed to illuminate much less while working at much greater length, Stone dramatically re-compresses time all over again, tracing the broad outlines of strategy, diplomacy, and personal and mass psychology, and yet he never seems too rushed for a witty turn of phrase, a memorable detail, or a colorfully absurd footnote.

The overall effect of this kind of history-writing is often exactly as diverting as it is ungraspably awful.  This feat of letters is possible not because Stone is desperate to crack a joke, but because his material cooperates and he has mastered it, as in the grandly and horrendously comedic set-up:

In 1914, to crowds of cheering people, the troops moved off, generals on horseback dreaming that they would have a statue in some square named after them. No war has ever begun with such a fundamental misunderstanding of its nature.

The philosopher Henri Bergson’s book Laughter (Le rire) had just three years earlier defined humor for the world as the imposition of the mechanical on the human.  Approaching a century later, it may not be too obscene to view the events of 1914-8, the industrialized mechanics of mass murder imposed on human scale expectations, as a test of Bergson’s proposition, its grim punchline – contradictory, unexpected, irrational, like most good jests.

Read more ›

Posted in Books, Featured, History, War Tagged with: ,

Just read: THE CAVALIER IN THE YELLOW DOUBLET

I won’t attempt a review of The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet, the fifth book of Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s “Captain Alatriste” series, which is set during the decline of the Spanish Empire in the early 17th Century.  Instead, I’ll note in passing that I fully concur with the Amazon customer who says, “The only problem with the Captain Alatriste series is I end up gobbling up each new installment in two or three days and then have to wait another year and a half for the next to come,” and I’ll supply a passage that I think conveys the sense and atmosphere of the tale and of the whole series while underlining some possible relevance to the political interests that normally concern us here.

For some justification on the relevance claim, let me quote John Steele Gordon at Contentions from just last Monday:

Watching the United States go the way of 17th-century Spain, with its power to defend its interests crippled by debts it can’t pay and its enemies emboldened by its weakness, won’t be boring. It will, however, be tragic for all mankind.

The comparison is one I’ve found myself bringing up, too, though its timely appearance makes me wonder if Gordon isn’t also a Captain Alatriste fan who also just finished The Cavalier. (As for broad comparisons of 17th Century Spain’s predicament to that of 21st Century America, one place to start for background might be Wedgewood’s classic The Thirty Years War.)
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Posted in Books, History Tagged with:

Noted & Quoted

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The rise of the military, if coupled with the undermining of civilian aspects of national power, demonstrates a spiritual exhaustion and a descent into Caesarism. Named after Julius Caesar — who replaced the Roman Republic with a dictatorship — Caesarism is roughly characterized by a charismatic strongman, popular with the masses, whose rule culminates in an exaggerated role for the military. America is moving in this direction. It isn’t that some civilian agencies don’t deserve paring down or even elimination, nor is it that the military and other security forces don’t deserve a boost to their financial resources. Rather, it is in the very logic, ideology, and lack of proportionality of Trump’s budget that American decline, decadence, and Caesarism are so apparent.

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Foreigners often get Mrs Merkel all wrong. She is not the queen of Europe, nor has she any desire to be it. She is a domestic leader and politician whose mounting international stature is always a function of her ability to serve the interests and predilections of German voters. It is predominantly because Germans, for deep historical and cultural reasons, feel so “European” that that she talks and acts in a “European” way. Perhaps all the more for this, Mrs Merkel’s comments today illustrate how much Trumpandbrexit has hurt America and Britain in the past months. They have made it not just possible but also electorally beneficial for a friendly leader of a crucial partner to bash them in public. And more than that: to do it with sincerity.

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My hope is that you will continue to live our values and the mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.

DONNIE TRUMPO HAS INVOKED A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS AND HE’S WIPING HIS ASS WITH OUR MOST SACRED DOCUMENT THIS IS THE FOURTH TIME I HAVE EXPLICITLY TOLD YOU THAT YOU HAD BETTER STEP UP

If you do that, you too will be sad when you leave, and the American people will be safer.

SORRY YOU’RE GOING TO BE FIRED AS WELL BY THIS CANCER ON THE AMERICAN STATE IT’S GOING TO BE WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER BUT THE COUNTRY’S FREEDOM IS ACTUALLY AT STAKE HERE DESTROY HIM LIKE A GREAT AVENGING EAGLE

Working with you has been one of the great joys of my life. Thank you for that gift.

IF I EVER MEANT ANYTHING TO YOU MY G-MEN AND G-WOMEN YOU WILL BURN THIS MOTHER DOWN

Jim Comey

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