CK MacLeod's

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.

Read more ›

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.

Read more ›

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.)
Read more ›

Posted in Books, History Tagged with:

"Wiegala," by Ilse Weber

The song posted below is only two and a half minutes long, and, unless you’re a really bad sport, I don’t think you’ll find it too much of a strain to listen to.  It’s in German.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of you already know quite a bit about it, but, for those of you who don’t, I think you might appreciate the opportunity to listen to it without pre-conceptions.  (Explanation after the jump…)

For those who like to follow along, these are the lyrics:

Wiegala, wiegala, weier,
der Wind spielt auf der Leier,

er spielt so süß im grünen Ried,

die Nachtigall, die singt ihr Lied.

Wiegala, wiegala, weier,

der Wind spielt auf der Leier.

Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
der Mond ist die Laterne,
er steht am dunklen Himmelszelt
und schaut hernieder auf die Welt.
Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
der Mond ist die Laterne,

Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
wie ist die Welt so stille!
Es stört kein Laut die süße Ruh,
schlaf mein Kindchen, schlaf auch du.
Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
wie ist die Welt so stille!

If you don’t read German, please trust me when I tell you that it’s a light confection of nonsense and numinous nursery rhyme images, expressed in stubbornly untranslatable idiom – wind playing sweetly on a lyre, on the green reeds – nightingale singing, the moon looking down, a lantern in the tent of the night sky – and then the final lines:  Viegala, viegala, vill:  now is the world so still!  No sound disturbs the sweet peace: sleep, my little child, you sleep, too… how still the world is…


Read more ›

Posted in Music

A Unique Take on Obama's Dual Crisis

George Friedman of STRATFOR has offered a unique take on what he refers to as a “dual crisis” – Afghanistan and Iran – awaiting action from the President.  To cut to the chase, his prescription for the President is as follows:

On pure logic, history or politics aside, the best course is to strike Iran and withdraw from Afghanistan. That would demonstrate will in the face of a significant challenge while perhaps reshaping Iran and certainly avoiding a drawn-out war in Afghanistan.

To reach this conclusion – more a strategic determination than a prediction or even a recommendation- Friedman systematically analyzes each problem in its broad political and military dimensions, and then takes apart the “four permutations” (fight/fight, flee/flee, fight/flee, flee/fight) of the major decisions that, in his opinion, Obama cannot delay any longer, since in each case delay itself will increasingly amount to having made the choice in effect to flee (withdraw, retreat, surrender, acquiesce, etc.).

Up until recently, the betting has been in the opposite direction:  Obama policy has seemed to consist of “fight” in Afghanistan combined with the equivalent of “flight” from any confrontation with Iran.  The former was Obama’s express commitment going back to the presidential campaign and resting on years of Democratic criticism, as re-affirmed repeatedly since the inauguration.  As for Iran, Obama has seemed willing or even determined to temporize to the point of giving in on a nuclear Iran unless Israeli action or some other event substantially alters the situation.

More could be said about Friedman’s assumptions and analysis, but for now I’ll just point to a paragraph that touches directly on a point discussed under the last CotD.  Here’s Friedman’s encapsulation of Iran’s strategic position and main objectives vis-a-vis the U.S.:

In Iran, Ahmadinejad clearly perceives that challenging Obama is low-risk and high reward. If he can finally demonstrate that the United States is unwilling to take military action regardless of provocations, his own domestic situation improves dramatically, his relationship with the Russians deepens, and most important, his regional influence — and menace — surges. If Obama accepts Iranian nukes without serious sanctions or military actions, the American position in the Islamic world will decline dramatically. The Arab states in the region rely on the United States to protect them from Iran, so U.S. acquiescence in the face of Iranian nuclear weapons would reshape U.S. relations in the region far more than a hundred Cairo speeches.

I find the above to be a nicely stated summary that gets at the shape of the threat instead of fixating on arbitrary or unlikely scenarios.

h/t:  Powerline Blog

Posted in International Relations Tagged with: , , , , ,

Messiah >> Joker >> Zombie >> Man

6a00d8341c630a53ef0120a556b3b4970c-500wiIt should come as no surprise that the “original artist” behind the Obama-as-Joker poster has turned out to be a politically undeveloped, one might even say confused, young man – not a committed activist of the far right or left, neither a brooding racist nor a gleeful, Joker-loving anarchist.

The words “original artist” belong in quotes because all that 20-year-old Firas Alkhateeb of Chicago did was employ a generally available web application to “Joker-ize” a photographic portrait, then save the result to his Flickr account, where it could then be viewed by other Flickr users.  His unique contribution seems to have been rather trivial:  There must be other web surfers who jokerized their own little Obamas, but merely failed to save them where a poster-izer would have found them.

In a strong sense the real “artist” or “author” of the Joker poster is whoever found Alkhateeb’s image file, cleaned up the text left over from Time, added the provocative title “socialism” at the bottom, and then “wilded” the poster on city streets in Los Angeles.  As we know, other members of a spontaneous virtual co-op were inspired to spread versions of the poster in other locales, turning the image from “found art” into national cultural phenomenon.  This act of displaying the poster became as much an act of authorship, and richer in intentionality, than creating the piece was or could have been.

In the most important sense, however, Obama and his image-makers remain the true authors, the originators – of a social morality play in which the poster is merely an inevitable moment:  Read more ›

Posted in Art, Featured, Movies Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

State of the Discussion

Wade McKenzie
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ …the desperate last-gasp radicalism of American reactionary conservatives before the demographic deluge and the expected relegation of white-European Americans to “minority” status in “their own” [. . .]
Holy American Major League of Nations (Notes on Baseball and the Re-De-Nationalization of Americanism)
Wade McKenzie
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ Speaking of George Friedman... The party of Chancellor Angela Merkel no longer uses the word “friend” to describe the United States in its platform. But in [. . .]
German Trust in America – the Trend (#OAG 12b)

just a note on your observation about the whiskey rebellion

https://youtu.be/ASZ7NXD4i1s

Holy American Major League of Nations (Notes on Baseball and the Re-De-Nationalization of Americanism)

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