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Posts Tagged ‘History

Yes, Academics are this dumb!

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“Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”

There are countless examples from history – as that Orwell quote shows – as well as our present day (see Souxie Wiles and Michael Baker).

Yet I still find myself being surprised by such stupidity, as with this story of then freshly minted President Biden meeting with a bunch of US historians in March 2021.

The enlisted attendees, all credentialed progressives, included Michael Beschloss and Doris Kerns Goodwin, each of whom has written on several presidencies; Joanne B. Freeman, a Yale professor and expert on Alexander Hamilton’s life; and Walter Issacson, many of whose books touch on presidential power.

I liked Goodwin in Ken Burn’s series Baseball, where she described the agony of being a Boston Red Sox fan, especially in 1986. But it would be fair to say she’s been tarnished in recent years by (accurate) accusations of plagiarism. Freeman is excellent on Hamilton, as Issacson is on more general US history, especially when it comes to the modern Hi-Tech period.

They had all gathered at the request of another historian, one Jon Meacham, whose ethical standards shine throughout:

Meacham was credited with writing Biden’s acceptance speech at the Democratic convention; he later characterized the speech as “poetic” on MSNBC without disclosing his authorship.

It looks like Biden, like so many other Democrat Presidents, was trying for a bit of JFK magic by mixing with intellectuals as he had, reaching for his strand of the mystic chords of memory.

They had assembled to advise the President on how his presidency might be shaped to be considered “historic.” Press reports hinted that the President’s staff saw an opportunity to nudge their boss into adopting an ambitious domestic agenda by crafting an image of Biden consulting history as a guide.

The historians were fully onboard with these plans:

He was, they argued, in a special position to undertake a programmatic agenda that would transform the nation’s civic and economic life. He could achieve that which President Obama had promised but failed to produce.

The advice is reported to have come in simple phrases—go really big, go really fast. The conjured image of what Biden could achieve was a fusion of the accomplishments of FDR and LBJ, only bigger, to meet the enlarged aspirations of a woke society.

Biden had just beaten a guy with some of the highest negatives in Presidential poling history, who had almost never been above 50% approval in his term, and Biden had been helped along further by one of the biggest voter turnout operations in Democrat history, the machine fueled by some $350 million supplied from the billionaire owner of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.

But even if the resulting 81 million votes did fool them into thinking Biden had a mandate rather than just the Trump-hate vote, the threadbare results of the Democrats in the House, where they lost seats and won none, and the Senate where they barely got the two they needed merely to get a tie, in post-2020 special elections in the state of Georgia (an unlikely-to-be-repeated fluke), surely should have been a clue that the Democrats did not.

When FDR launched the New Deal in 1933 he did so after a landslide win, plus coattails that delivered him huge majorities in the House and Senate. Same with LBJ and his Great Society programs in 1965. Obama had only slightly less power in 2009-2010.

For historians, so deeply informed not just of American history but American political history, to suddenly ignore their own knowledge because they had glittering Leftist prizes in their eyes, is almost criminally stupid.

Suffice to say that Biden, with fifty years of sometimes rough and raw political experience of winning and losing behind him, certainly should have known better as he surveyed the lay of the land. Bill Clinton post 1994 should have been the model, as it likely will soon have to be after this year’s Mid-Term elections.

But sometimes ordinary people and politicians are as stupid as intellectuals.

The Reading List: Revolutionary Theatre in Minneapolis

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Watching the chaos of Minneapolis through this year in the wake of George Floyd’s death, amplified by the utter uselessness of the city’s Leftist Democrat leaders, together with the dictatorial, but equally useless and harmful, control exerted over the surrounding state of Minnesota by Leftist Democrats, it’s hard to believe that there was once a time when Democrats fought back and won against such people.

And in that very state.

This little piece of history comes courtesy not of a book or an article in the MSM, but a post by long-time Minnesota resident and lawyer in the Powerline blog , which has long established itself as a leading voice in the national Republican Party.

The article is titled Revolutionary Theater in Minneapolis, but it’s actually more about the entire state.

Minnesota’s Farmer-Labor Party merged with the state Democratic Party in April 1944. Thus was the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party born.

Working from inside the Democratic Party, Hubert Humphrey helped engineer the merger. The Farmer-Labor Party was riddled with Communists. Humphrey knew it, but he had no trouble working with them. At the time he was a Popular Front kind of guy with no enemies to the left.

Packing the 1946 party caucuses, Communists promptly took over the DFL in Hennepin County (including all of Minneapolis) and in the state. Then Minneapolis Mayor Humphrey could not even get elected a delegate to the state convention. Communists picked up no fewer than 120 of the 160 Hennepin County delegates. In Minneapolis’s Second Ward, both Humphrey and his ally Arthur Naftalin (future Minneapolis mayor and father of Paul Butterfield Blues Band keyboardist Mark Naftalin) went down to defeat.

Humphrey was nevertheless named a delegate at large to the state party convention, where he was to serve as keynote speaker. As Humphrey rose to speak, however, he was shouted down as a “fascist” and “warmonger.” In his meticulous 1984 biography of Humphrey, Carl Solberg records: “A beefy sergeant at arms shouted at him, ‘Sit down, you son of a bitch, or I’ll knock you down.’ He was not allowed to finish his speech.” Solberg comments: “It was an outright coup.”

Solberg adds: “The totally organized left wing took command of the DFL convention….They passed resolutions excoriating Winston Churchill for his ‘iron curtain’ speech…” Talk about history rhyming.

The party’s rising star, Humphrey had been elected mayor of Minneapolis in 1945. He organized a successful counterattack on the Communists to throw them out of the party. By 1948, the task was more or less complete and Humphrey was on his way to national prominence. Mister, we could use a man like Hubert Humphrey again.

Orville Freeman, by the way, was one of Humphrey’s right-hand men in the counterattack. Freeman went on to be elected Minnesota’s first DFL governor and to serve as Secretary of Agriculture in the Kennedy administration. Freeman’s son Mike is the Hennepin County Attorney who is the object of scorn among the radicals who rule the roost in Minneapolis today.

It took them sixty years but eventually the Far Left won control of the Democrat Party in the city and the state, even if they don’t resemble the communists of old but the new “Woke” Left. And there are few, if any, Hubert Humphrey’s left in the Democrat Party either capable or even willing to fight back.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 9, 2020 at 9:37 am

The Reading List: The Legacy of Wounded Knee

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Wounded Knee has become a byword for awful relationships between native North American Indians and the US government, as well as White racism, colonialism and a bunch of other bad “isms” brought to the New World.

So this review of a new book on the subject, The Legacy of Wounded Knee, is of interest. Just a bit of background first:

The American name “Wounded Knee” referred to the site near Wounded Knee Creek in southwestern South Dakota where troops of the U.S. 7th Cavalry, under orders to disarm a group of several hundred Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Sioux, stumbled into a chaotic fight on December 29, 1890, in which they killed probably more than 150 Indians, including dozens of women and children, and lost 25 men.

But the term did not catch on until a book by that name was published in 1972, with the author, Dee Brown, taking the title from the last line of a poem from 1927, which was actually not a poem about the massacre. The book is very much of its time; the great 60’s Counterculture upheavals:

[Brown] aimed to tell the story of “the conquest of the American West as the victims experienced it.” This “victims” orientation has since become the often strongly enforced authoritative orientation of what seems like most, if not yet practically all, study and teaching of history (or any other subject) in America. Brown’s earth-saving orientation—planet Earth and its earth-loving natives versus Euro-American capitalist rapacity—has also become ubiquitous and obligatory. 

In other words, the book was less history than “New Left” mythology, a doppelgänger of the mythology of the American West that dominated movies and TV shows for forty years up to the late 1960’s where White pioneers were celebrated and Indians often (though not always) vilified. It should be noted that this Leftist mythology in which the roles are reversed has now dominated for far longer.

Fortunately “revisionist history” means that all historical takes get revised sooner or later and this article provides quick reviews of a few books that have recently been published that have a more intelligent and nuanced analysis than Brown’s.

First up is Peter Cozzens with The Earth Is Weeping: the Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West, which was written to explicitly redress Brown’s one-sided approach and provide some balance:

Cozzens’s American West is a very rough world, in which there is plenty of brutality, violence, treachery, and foolishness to go around—though courage and even nobility are not unheard of. Americans come out looking pretty bad, but more like rogues or fools than earth-destroying devils; and the Indians, who suffered much, are no babes in the woods.

Second is a book by one David Treuer, The Heartbreak of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, which gets specifically stuck into Brown’s history from a different perspective, starting  with his claim that “the culture and civilization of the American Indian was destroyed.”  Treuer thinks that’s crap and has a personal bone to pick:

Treuer, who has a doctorate in anthropology and teaches literature at the University of Southern California, is offended by that claim… [He] grew up on Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota as the son of a Jewish Holocaust survivor and an Ojibwe woman.

Truer picks up the American Indian story where Brown stopped and runs to today, describing Indian ways and customs and the struggles of Indian tribes to find their place in America. He actually praises the efforts of the Nixon/Ford adminstration. He’s also sympathetic to the Indian protestors against the huge Dakota Access pipeline, but less so…

… with the American Indian Movement, whose AIM acronym some Indians render as “Assholes in Moccasins.” 

But two thirds of the article deals with a writer called Pekka Hämäläinen, who focuses on one tribe in particular – the Lakotas – with a book called Lakota America:

He wants to show them occupying the center stage, as powerful historical actors, who “force newcomers [and old-comers] to adapt to their way of doing things.” He sets out to present the Lakotas as “central and enduring protagonists,” … to “recover the full dimension of Indian agency in early American history.”

So not victimology! Unfortunately his own historic research so steers away from that and is so determined upon discovering the Lakota’s “agency” that it becomes a bit of a problem:

His Lakotas are a “quintessential warrior society,” in which a man’s success at war is critical to his social standing and his marriage prospects. They annihilate whole villages of their Indian competitors, killing, torturing, mutilating, enslaving, and trading men, women, and children.

Which is to say that the other Indian tribes being attacked, like the Pawnees, Otoes, and Omahas in the 1840s, don’t get much agency themselves. It would seem that they suffered a lot of “Wounded Knees“. And he’d already covered similar stuff with his earlier history, Comanche Empire:

The Comanches performed public serial rapes of female captives when they were selling them at Taos fairs. This was shocking to some Spaniards and New Mexicans. Hämäläinen thinks the shock reflects the inability of the Comanches’ neighbors to grasp the fullness of their agency. “[I]t is likely that the public rapes were a way to generate markets for captives.” The Europeans’ sensibilities—their horror in contemplating the cruelties to which the captive women would be subjected—would make them more eager to ransom the captives, quickly, and at a good price.

The age-old exertion of power then – by “victims” – as has so often been the case in human history. I was rather taken by a phrase he used to describe the approach of the Lakota’s in using force, extortion, or diplomacy and persuasion to get what they wanted, acting with a “flexible economy of violence.” Sounds like Europeans, something that becomes more obvious as the article notes:

But he invites the reader to consider the Comanche invasion with an entranced frisson the United States could only dream of. It “was a momentous cultural experiment. It brought destruction and death to many, but it also introduced a new, exhilarating way of life.”

Like Columbus or the Mayflower or Manifest Destiny.

As such Hämäläinen can’t last the distance in exploring and extolling “agency”, as he finishes up his story in the modern day:

Sadly, the greatest weapon Hämäläinen thinks the modern-day Sioux and AIM warriors have in their quiver is that, since “Wounded Knee II,” the Lakotas have acquired unprecedented cachet as a “persecuted minority people.”

They sound like good books to get if you’re interested in the history – the whole history – of the American West. But also read the whole article.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 4, 2020 at 9:55 am

The Reading List: Too much of a maverick

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That’s the title of an article from a website called The Critic, in its review of a new biography of a British politician I’d never heard of.

The review, and the book, makes some good arguments as to why attention should be paid.

… he was instrumental in founding so many of Britain’s institutions that it is hard to imagine what our country would be like without them today. Most are so well-known that they only need three-digit acronyms — such as the LSE, the OTC, the RAF, the BEF, MI5 and MI6 — but there are others such as the Imperial General Staff, the Territorial Army, Imperial College London, the Medical Research Council, and the Committee of Imperial Defence.

The reason I’ve never heard of him, despite reading more than a few histories of WWI, is that he got dumped early on by Prime Minister Asquith as a sacrificial pawn, along with Winston Churchill but unlike Winston he had no one to defend him nor did much to defend himself.

Haldane’s treatment was worse given that what he had done for the war was successful, as Asquith later admitted , and also the fact that the two men had been friends since the 1880’s. The old rule applies, that there are no friends in politics. The dismissal was curt with not a word of thanks and destroyed that friendship.

But as the title implies it was also because he didn’t fit in:

The problem is that he was a Liberal imperialist. Tories do not like him because he was a Liberal, Liberals do not like him because he was an imperialist, and even though he joined the Labour Party as its first lord chancellor, socialists do not like him because, for all his friendship with fellow intellectuals Sidney and Beatrice Webb, he never embraced socialism.

He also got treated like shit by the Fleet Street press during the first nine months of the war:

It was alleged he was a German spy; that the Kaiser was his illegitimate half-brother; that he had a secret wife in Germany; that the Haldane Mission had been intended to surrender the Empire to Germany, and so on.

And I thought Trump had it bad! Haldane got so much hate mail as a result of these that was given a armed bodyguard. All this despite the following:

Haldane was also the finest secretary for war in British history (admittedly out of a pretty open field), and the reason that the British Expeditionary Force was able to get 120,000 men over the Channel in 15 days in August 1914 to help save Paris from the Germans.

There’s also a lovely little anecdote about him besting Winston in wit on one occasion.

A article worth reading and a book worth getting.

Written by Tom Hunter

September 14, 2020 at 9:43 am

The Reading List: Time To Wake Up

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Pierre Manent is an interesting man. One of the French elites who graduated from École Normale Supérieure, he now teaches political philosophy in France and the USA.

Back in April an interview with him was published in the magazine, First Things, and I was intrigued by a number of points that he made about nation-states in general, the EU, and the nations within it.

..[the nation] has been abandoned, discredited, and delegitimized for two generations… We have renounced the very idea of national independence. Oh, to be nothing more than a soft and pliant node of specialized expertise in the great network of global trade! And above all, the flux must never slow down! Are we discovering that we are dependent on China for almost everything we need? But we have organized ourselves in order to be dependent! We have willed it!

And he seems to doubt that there will be even a slight reversal of this, even as there seem to be many voices rising to demand less inter-dependence that what has developed. He especially makes the argument that “there has never been a liberal regime without a national framework“, but that national societies have been corrupted in key ways: high-finance and rent-seeking, technostructures that actually disdain the nation-state (Google and Facebook are not mentioned), and social spending that traps low-income people.

The European Union is just as weak as the nations that make it up. The Union is in its last stage. Either it will limp along in its present form, or it will fall apart……. This is the end of the European fantasy. There is no marvelous adventure awaiting us on the European side of the road. Every nation has discovered the unchangeable character of its collective being.

But he cautions against exactly what has been discovered by each nation-state:

… we note the return of the least likeable features of our State. In the name of a health emergency, a state of emergency has in fact been established. In the name of this emergency, the most primitive and brutal of measures has been taken: general confinement under police surveillance.

Being the rather worldly professor he is, there is no condemnation of “elites” or “leaders”. In fact he describes them as “honorable people who are doing their best to overcome a serious crisis.” Nevertheless he warns of the following:

[Globalisation] exploited certain liberal themes, but the liberalism we must preserve is something different.

Expertise provides no immunity against the desire for power.

We now see in the State only the protector of our rights; now, since life is the first of our rights, a broad path is opened up to the State’s inquisitorial power. That said, we gave ourselves over to the State long ago, according it sovereignty over our lives. 

Which has always sounded great to the Left, but which increasingly means we are subject to the problems of technocracy vs democracy and civil liberties, especially with the rise of this feature:

Our world is full of victims who, in a voice that is at once whining and threatening, claim to be wounded by all this talk. …. How can we now oppose the State as guardian of rights while we beg it to intrude into our ever-wounded personal lives?

I’ll finish with a quote that I very much appreciated, as he talks of the difficulties of political decision making:

Aristotle was right: Politics is the queen of the sciences!

Read the whole thing here. There’s much in it to ponder.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 1, 2020 at 11:00 am

The Reading List: The Shakespeareans

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Random reads from the Interweb.

Today’s article is published by The Hudson Review, a quarterly that discusses and critiques literature and the arts and publishes short fiction and poetry.

Warning: despite clams that the quarterly specialises is unacademic, you wouldn’t know it from this article, which is 18,000 words long, so you should probably read it a few chunks at a time.

Still, even if you’re not into such things it’s a rewarding read. It deals with a literary club founded in London in 1764 by the likes of such famous “men of letters” as Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, and a few others. They pushed their considerable intellects into a lot of areas, not just literary ones, but this article focuses on just one aspect of their studies: Shakespeare. The following surprised me:

By the mid-eighteenth century, Shakespeare had become the iconic English genius—Britain’s answer to Homer, Dante, Cervantes. But this had not always been the general opinion and was not so at the outset of the eighteenth century. There had been a gradual elevation of Shakespeare from just one among several popular Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights to the one and only national treasure…

But reading further on you begin to realise why Shakespeare was regarded as just another playwright for so long. After the Puritan period (1649–60) ended, the British crowds were wild for hedonism:

The public, then as now, had an insatiable appetite for music, dance, and pantomime, so such interludes became regular parts of Shakespeare’s plays.

So the “Shakespeare plays” seen on the Restoration and, later, the Georgian stage often came in forms that would be scarcely recognizable to their author. The Tempest was a 1667 adaptation by William Davenant and John Dryden (… radically different from the original—more like an opera or a pantomime, complete with flying and dancing witches and lavish sets and costumes. New scenes had been written with impunity..); Richard III was Colley Cibber’s 1699 version; A Midsummer’s Night Dream became an opera, with music by Henry Purcell.

In the proudest traditions of Hollywood, the Restoration playwright James Howard wrote a version of Romeo and Juliet that kept the lovers alive at the end, pleasing sentimental viewers. In 1681 an author named Nathan Tate adapted King Lear in some wild ways:

He created a love story between Edgar and Cordelia … The invented romance led Tate to alter the play’s conclusion so as to provide a happy ending for the beleaguered lovers… Tate also made substantial cuts to the text, added some scenes, and omitted the character of the Fool. It’s easy enough to laugh at this preposterous Lear, but Tate’s version continued to be performed successfully until 1838—a remarkable 157-year run.

Garrick got sick of all this tripe and after revolutionising the art of acting in such plays he decided to go after the written words, seeking to push past the adaptations and get back to the originals. He became a fanatic on the subject. Still, it was tough, as Johnson acknowledged of their subject:

“So careless was this great poet of future fame, that, though he retired to ease and plenty, while he was yet little declined into the vale of years . . . he made no collection of his works, nor desired to rescue those that had been already published from the depravations that obscured them, or secure to the rest a better destiny, by giving them to the world in their genuine state.”

Nevertheless Garrick and Johnson did not have to start from scratch. Two former colleagues of Shakespeare, John Heminges and Henry Condell, started collecting and publishing them in 1623, just seven years after the man’s death, in the famous “Folios”, with second, third and fourth editions appearing in 1632, 1663, and 1685 respectively. More work was done later by the likes of the famous poet Alexander Pope.

But Johnson and Garrick were the ones largely responsible for the Shakespeare we have today, and there’s no doubt that Johnson’s in-depth study of the language needed to re-build the plays contributed to his famous Dictionary years later. Knowing what an ego the man had I was surprised to find that he acknowledged that the task of dealing with Shakespeare would be a work of many hands over decades or even centuries, and his study included notes and debates by previous and contemporary scholars. And it was Johnson who really got stuck into the critics of Shakespeare, in particular the snobs of France. Here is Voltaire on Hamlet:

“[It] is a gross and barbarous piece, and would never be borne by the lowest rabble in France or Italy. Hamlet runs mad in the second act, and his mistress in the third; the prince kills the father of his mistress and fancies he is killing a rat; and the heroine of the play throws herself into the river. They dig her grave on the stage, and the grave-diggers, holding the dead men’s skulls in their hands, talk nonsense worthy of them.”

You can read the article for parts of Johnson’s preface to his Shakespeare volumes that responded to this sniping:

Johnson disposed just as brutally with the necessity for the unities of time and action. All these “necessities,” he claimed, arise “from the supposed necessity of making the drama credible.” Yet who, save madmen, have ever taken the action on stage for reality?

In this day and age I’m not so sure of that last, given the Cancel culture we’re living in.

The rest of the article deals with the researches and sniping of younger Shakespearian scholars who joined the club later, including a famous Irishman, Edmond Malone, who figured out the order in which the plays had been produced, something that had not been done before. He also recovered the Sonnets and dealt with a famous forgery of Shakespeare material that had fooled other scholars to the point where they were preparing to show a “newly discovered” play. There is also a hilarious description of Garrick’s over-the-top Jubilee, held outdoors in Avon in 1769 and turned into a mud-soaked disaster by two days of rain that seems more like Woodstock in 1969.

I did like this observation of Garrick as an example of the sort of intellect and personality that almost all these men brought to bear on the club:

If the conversation then turned to stories of the moment, or the absurdities of the moment that occur each day in so rich and vast a town, it was Garrick who spoke and carried all before him. No longer serious, he became light, amusing, lively, an agreeable teller of stories, a subtle and gifted critic; when he bit, he laughed, when he scratched it was with velvet paws. . . . Almost no one spoke or told stories with so much ease and wit. He combined the art of the raconteur with the ability to paint characters and imitate them perfectly.

It sounds like it was a hell of ride. Read The Shakespeareans.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 6, 2020 at 6:00 pm

Happy Birthday, America

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As I write this it is still July 4th in America – and I recall this as my first memory of America.

An astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, standing on the surface of another world, facing The Stars and Stripes, the flag of the United States of America. This is a photo from Apollo 11, the first Lunar landing.

As a little boy I was entranced by these visions. It was the world of Thunderbirds made reality and although I knew it was a fantastic achievement I did not comprehend the nation that had achieved this millennia-long dream of humanity.

It was only in later years that I began to put together what the USA was as a nation and how all its features had led to such a thing. And it was that which began my journey to America.

By the time I was in my early twenties I knew I wanted to do more than just visit the place as a tourist. I watched almost all my mates depart for the UK using the Commonwealth Young Person’s Visa (as it was then called), but I had absolutely no desire to join them. To me Britain was NZ but worse – aside from the music perhaps.

No, I wanted to live and work in the USA, to experience what the people, the culture and the nation were really like. As a New Zealander I often found myself appalled by Americans I saw on the news and documentaries: loud, brawling, brash, ignorant, opinionated. They said things about many issues that my fellow Kiwis blanched at or rolled their eyes at. A phrase we used occasionally at varsity was that a person was “A Goddamn Pinko Commie“, just for laughs and mockery of Americans.

Their TV shows, especially the comedies, were often appalling, especially when they were just rip offs of British shows; the godawful Three’s Company for Man About The House being the classic example. Still, we watched re-runs of Star Trek and Columbo as well as later series like MASH, Hill Street Blues and Dallas and pronounced them to be not too bad.

One enduring caricature was actually not from a US show but from Fawlty Towers, in an episode where Basil has no idea how to make a Waldorf Salad for an American couple, and naturally cannot admit to not knowing. The couple are a perfect rendition of The Ugly American (a phrase I’d heard years before reading the book of that title): as cringe-inducing as Basil himself. And yet they are also almost the only guests who ever rose up against Fawlty, telling him exactly what they think of him and his hotel – and right in his face – and using their own money to take other guests away as well. Very American!

In the mid-1980’s I finally got my chance to live and work in America and it was simply the luck of the draw that saw me land in Chicago. On the way there I stopped in Vancouver and one night I visited the rotating restaurant, Top of Vancouver. It was packed but before I could turn away an older gentleman sitting alone at a table waved me over. The following photo of Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack is not dissimilar to his look and I almost turned away.

But what the hell I thought. It was all an experience. It turned out to be a pleasant evening, despite the fact that he turned out to be true to the caricature. He bought me drinks and dinner while regaling me with tales of his three ex-wives and life in general, He actually knew something of NZ, having served there briefly with the US Navy in WWII. He was not impressed by PM Lange: “I don’t hold with your new guy! What is it? Lang? Long? Goddam pinko Commie if you ask me”.

Yes. Really!

I staggered on board the flight to Chicago the next day with a brutal hangover, wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into. Was this what it was going to be like? Surrounded by loud people in loud clothes every day? A boss (I imagined J R Ewing) yelling at me to “get that report on my desk by 8am tomorrow or your ass will be out on the street“? Caught in the cross-fire of a drug-gang shootout? Doctors picking through my clothes on the steps of Cook County Hospital for the Visa card needed to pay them to save my life?

And it turned out to be nothing at all like that.

The gap between the media image and reality was vast.

The Chicagoans I got to know were (relatively) quiet: opinionated, but not in a mean or screaming way. Most had little time for President Reagan – it was then, as now, a solidly Democrat city – but with no red-faced anger. I worked in a group with a Vietnam vet and Vietnam protestor who held no animosity for each other. My boss never yelled at me once! And I saw no gunfights or dead bodies, despite the city suffering some 900 murders per year at that point. I became a Cubs supporter, which I found to be a special curse.

I would return to the city to live permanently a few years later. But I would also get to travel around the nation, and I would feel the genuine warmth, generosity and just outright friendliness of Americans of all races in those locales too, with the occasional ratbag thrown in, but not in any damaging way. My main complaint after a while was that Americans worked too damned hard, but that’s an unspoken aspect of their culture.

Over the years I’ve lost track of the number of times that people, whether ordinary, academic or famous, have labeled the USA as a faltering giant, torn apart by its divisions and over-stretched resources. Academically it probably peaked with Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in 1987 and its instant application to current America. Instead it would be the USSR’s empire that would collapse just a couple of years later. Reading further back in time I found the same dire forecasts about the USA from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, from both Right and Left, about issues political, economic and military.

I do fear that the Left have finally succeeded in their Long March Through The Institutions, with almost total control of US universities, public education and media (Hollywood plus the MSM). And now it would seem, even through giant corporations and sports becoming “woke”; firing people for uttering incorrect thoughts, even far in their pasts, and disabling individuals ability to make a living by demonetising them on PayPal, YouTube, Visa and other platforms: the full weaponisation of Cancel Culture. They’ve become quite open about destroying their opponents, whereas in earlier times this was denied and scoffed at. The masks have dropped now.

But there are always vast currents moving beneath the surface of America, of which politicians are more passengers than boatman and as was most recently revealed in 2016. America has rolled through any amount of threats, just as wild and crazy as it ever was. It is already the most diverse nation in the world, in terms of race, ethnicity, culture and thought. It has survived worse than what the Woke brigades threaten, and given that they offer nothing constructive in any area of life I think they’ll break down sooner rather than later, effectively destroying themselves; larger versions of the recently collapsed and dismantled CHAZ.

And of course there is that lesson of my first trip to America that I’ve not forgotten: that the media lens through which all this is seen – amplified a thousand-fold now by the always-on-always-connected world of internet social media – presents a very narrow picture of the worst of the place. The loudest screamers, the reddest faces, the most polemical of writings and the places of greatest violence and destruction getting the attention.

I’m willing to bet that the same truth holds now as it did for me back in the 1980’s; that the vast majority of America is still not at all like this.

Perhaps I’m being too complacent as a Right-Winger, but I’m confident that America will come through this insanity, whether one thinks that it derives from Trump or the Woke Left.

So Happy 244th Birthday America.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 5, 2020 at 2:33 am

Posted in New Zealand

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The Reading List: A Mighty Empire

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Random reads from the Interweb.

An interesting article from The Tablet magazine, which is basically a review of a recently published book, The Fate of Rome.

The reviewer, a historian himself, briefly looks at the influence of 19th century German historians on studying Rome:

Setting aside the tales of writers ancient or modern, they were the first to line up the hard evidence of documents, inscriptions, coins, archaeology, to tell their story by stepping from fact to fact, frankly recognizing the gaps, and never ever weaseling past ignorance with “must have beens”,

This approach ended up giving new insights into the success of the Roman Empire. I did like this aside:

Only the Jews rejected the bounties of this intelligent imperial rule, as documented in that most reliable of historical sources, Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

The book itself is a variation on this; it takes a scientific look at the Roman Empire, and as a result comes up with some interesting tidbits:

Kyle Harper shows that the ungrateful Jewish rebel was right all along: Carefully citing skeletal studies of burials dug up in England, he proves that under Roman rule people became shorter and sicker, because all the benefits of clean water and baths were outweighed by the unprecedented growth of cities, in which there was no escaping from the bacterial and viral infections brought from the eastern provinces over well-built roads and pirate-free sea crossings—the old life of rude hamlets cut off from the world had been much healthier, and people duly became taller and healthier again once the empire collapsed.

Frankly I find that a little hard to believe. Cities succeeded our traditional hunter-gather lifestyle and were flourishing long before the advent of public health measures, so even if people were shorter and sicker there must have been advantages beyond personal health that made them stay.

This scientific approach also restores to the status of fact the claims made by the ancient historian Prokopius that Justinian’s reign was ended in 541 by the Bubonic Plague. Prokopius’s descriptions of the effects of the disease were detailed and compelling so I found the following comment by the reviewer a sad reflection on modern historians:

But this evidence was ignored by modern historians, because of the corrupting influence of “structuralist” literary theory, according to which everything written is made up to promote some hidden agenda. 

Prokopios was accused of wildly exaggerating some passing seasonal fever for the only purpose of copying the ultimate historian Thucydides and his deservedly famous account of the plague in Athens of a thousand years before.

FFS! Structuralist theory. Critical Theory. Post-Modernism. They’re diseases themselves: idea pandemics of modern Academia, and they’re going to have to be wiped out if the Humanities are ever to be restored.

The book sounds like an excellent read, but so to is the review: A Mighty Empire Brought Down by Plague.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 30, 2020 at 6:00 pm

Dame Vera Lynn

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Born March 20, 1917. Died June 18, 2020.

One hundred and three years old. What a great life.

It’s just so wonderful that one of the grand ladies of British history could have lived such a full and long life, beloved to the end, as the British people turned to her spirit again in yet another test and trial of their character.

In a televised address in April, the Queen evoked Dame Vera’s wartime message, assuring families and friends who were separated during the coronavirus pandemic: “We will meet again.” 

Just two weeks earlier, Dame Vera herself had sent a message on her 103rd birthday, calling on the British public to find “moments of joy” during these “hard times”. 

Then in May, We’ll Meet Again was used during the finale of the BBC’s coverage of the VE Day anniversary. Dame Vera appeared in a virtual duet with Katherine Jenkins, while key workers also joined in with the song. 

That led an album that had been released for her 100th birthday – featuring contributions from younger singers including Alfie Boe, Alexander Armstrong and Cynthia Erivo – to re-enter the UK top 40.

I’ve included possibly her most well-known song, We’ll Meet Again, in two versions.

The first is the one used at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 Black Comedy, Dr Strangelove. But instead of the Black & White images of the original film this one is updated with video clips from material declassified at the end of the Cold War and used in the brilliant 1995 documentary, Trinity and Beyond.

The second version is from an actual performance in the field for the British troops, which she did many times, and one of the great things from these recordings is the way the men join her in song.

I’m not going to say R.I.P. because to me that implies a life of hardship and pain from which she has now been released, and that was never Vera Lynn’s spirit. Instead I’ll choose this quote from somebody who had almost nothing in common with her:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Written by Tom Hunter

June 18, 2020 at 10:09 pm

History never repeats?

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Oh yes it bloody well does, and with more than rhyming Mr Twain.

In The Vet’s post the other day, What Has Louisa Wall Done To Offend?, he made the point that her being challenged for her seat from within the Labour Party was a mystery given that she ticks so many boxes for them: Maori, Female, Lesbian, smart, high achiever in sport, academia and now politics…

Amidst much discussion some points were made about Chris Trotter’s constant raging against the Identity Politics Warriors like Wall messing up his beloved Class Warfare purity that he thinks Labour should return to. I was reminded of a piece of satire that Danyl McLauchlan wrote a few years ago on his old blog, The DimPost. Once he started writing serious stuff for places like The Spinoff he made his blog private, but thanks to The Wayback Machine, a commentator’s suggestion, and more searching than I usually care to do, I found it: Chris Trotter on Party Central (2010):

So “Party Central” is no longer central to the party that is central to the party at the centre of our party politics. 

Am I the only Kiwi who experiences tightness in my jaw and a numb feeling in my left-arm when I contemplate the disarray that has befallen Auckland governance?

we have all supped from the golden poison chalice of satanic robot run regional and local government only to find ourselves regaining conciousness yet again in our neighbour’s toolshed with our clothes drenched in urine.

Danyl really should try satire again, although it may be that he can find no one to pay for it. But it was the next section that I remembered the best:

It was the radical right-wing feminist government of William Massey that spread open the labile pink floodgates of change and swept away the egalitarian order in a wave of capitalist frenzy, separatist Maori entitlement and so-called-women who threaten to press charges because that is what their liberal puppetmasters at our elitist universities have brainwashed them to do. 

Like most real New Zealanders I yearn for the days when our great little country was ruled by stocky, moustached trade-unionists but I fear that those days are gone forever, swept away by a great wave that swept everything away like a wave.

During my history search I found a 2014 article by Trotter advocating pretty much the treatment that Wall is getting, Labour’s Caucus Still In Charge, where he admiringly quotes Matt McCarten from 1988:

“So we should call a special conference of the party and expel them … The Labour Party made a mistake selecting these people so sack them. Throw them out and let them stand against us. They’ll lose and the Labour Party can rebuild itself.”

To be fair, Chris appears to now be in total thrall to “the labile pink floodgates of change“. Funny how  winning elections and obtaining a measure of power can do that.

Speaking of which, during my search I also found an old comment of mine from Kiwiblog in 2011, in a thread which dealt with us losing people to a more successful Australia and DPF’s lament that we need to boost productivity and lift wages.

Shorter message: Vote for us because we suck less than the other guys.

Actually that’s the entire National message as NZ slowly reverses into the 21st century. And it’s an effective one as they undoubtedly know; the smug, cynical response being who else are you going to vote for? 

And they’re correct.

As far as the media coverage is concerned I say to all lefties, welcome to our world circa 2000-2005. The shallow, pathetic coverage of stories combined with gushing over various aspects of [PM Key] is really very little different than in Clark’s time. Sure, there are the blogs but they aren’t there yet in supporting a narrative the way the old MSM still can. 

But don’t worry. National and Key will tire sooner or later, Labour will find some “new” material as candidates and even a fresh leader, the pendulum will swing and you will find yourselves benefiting from exactly the same uselessness of media coverage. 

Yeah. History repeats all right.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 26, 2020 at 12:00 pm