Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lewis & Clark

A gorgeous guitar tune from Tommy Emmanuel.  Along with the lovely music I've always found this a very optimistic and spirited piece evoking the opening of the American West.   You'll feel better after listening.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Political Tactics & Identity Politics

As we approach the premiere of our new national Realty TV show, I'm doing a couple of posts to explain why many of those wary of a Trump presidency were as, or even more, concerned about not just a Hillary Clinton presidency**, but about the increasingly intolerant and repressive direction of Democratic Party politics.

I came across this article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik after reading about it in the always entertaining and politically unpredictable blog of Ann Althouse.  I've enjoyed Gopnik's travel writing, including Paris To The Moon, but have always found his forays into political thought naive and unsophisticated.

In The Democrats and the Seesaw Politics of Identity, Gopnik treats identity politics as a well-worn political tactic by both parties, which Democrats just got a little wrong on this go round, rejecting the thesis put forward by progressive author Mark Lilla in a recent New York Times piece, The End of Identity Liberalism, that identity politics was a dead-end political strategy for Democrats.

In her post, Althouse noted that Gopnik's approach, perhaps unwittingly, absolves the Trump campaign against charges of racism.  That's true, but not surprising, in an election that turned on voters who had twice supported Barack Obama failing to vote for Hillary Clinton.  My focus is elsewhere.  While Gopnik gets things wrong in almost every sentence, it is his overall thesis that is worth exploring to understand his fundamental misunderstanding.

Gopnik makes much of the point that electoral politics has often focused on identity politics, based on ethnicity, race and religion and thus there is nothing different about what today's Democrats are doing, except to the extent there are now some new identity groups on the scene.  He is correct that this has been a common element in campaigns for generations.

But where he goes wrong is confusing a political vote-getting tactic with a view of how the world, or more specifically America, should work.  There is a difference between appeals in an election designed to draw in members of varying groups (including running members of those groups as candidates) and a vision of America in which society should be divided up based upon group identity and whether those groups are identified as victims or oppressors.  It is the difference between the "melting pot" and today's progressive view of immutable differences that can, and should, define how individuals think and act in every aspect of their lives.

To understand why we need to go back in history to discuss how the Progressive movement has developed since its origins in the late 19th century.  Many Progressives are unaware of that history and many anti-Progressives misunderstand it.  While Progressive thought at its core has always been about centralizing government decision making and guiding it via a well-educated technocratic elite, until the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was strongly nationalist and assimilationist (for a penetrating critique of this era of Progressive thought read Forgotten Americans: Elihu Root).

What changed was the overlay of identity politics applied through the frame of victim/oppressor used to determine favored and disfavored identities.  Added was a bizarre admixture of post-modernist, deconstructionist view of society in which words and language is seen as only a ruse to disguise the underlying repressive power structures that dominate Western society (for a funny and appalling tour of that world read Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left by the philosopher Roger Scruton or the THC post, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty).  Taken together you are left with a world in which ideas no longer matter, only your identity which determines whether you a part of, or subject to, the power structure.  Springing from this Progressives create the "black armband" history of the United States (see, for instance, the unfortunately popular history work of Howard Zinn), in which the establishment of America was a tragedy only redeemable by following the Progressive program and allowing them more control of society to make it work in the "right" way.  In the political realm there is no better practitioner of using this mix than President Obama with his talk of the "arc of history" and the rhetorical trick he employs to keep the focus on America's ills.  For an additional understanding of how this can play out in American politics read What Would Otter Do?

The implications of identity politics are poisonous in the long run for our society as they pit every group in society against each other in a Darwinian struggle for survival.  What many of us supported over the years as a quest for fair and equal treatment turned out for Progressives to only be a tactic once they came to dominate the heights of American culture; what they are interested in today is payback in a zero-sum society.

Mark Lilla's thoughtful piece seems unlikely to spark a much-needed rethink of identity politics by the Democratic Party.  The two leading candidates for Chair of the Democratic National Committee are Keith Ellison, the very radical former acolyte of Minister Farrakhan and Thomas Perez whose political rise has been based on exploiting identity politics.  Since Trump's election most Democratic political figures have double-downed on the usual litany of identity claims amidst their hysterical overreaction to the November results.  To understand how unhinged Progressives have become about identity politics, read the response of Columbia University Law School Professor Katherine Frank in which she likens Lilla to American Nazi David Duke:
In the new political climate we now inhabit, Duke and Lilla were contributing to the same ideological project, the former cloaked in a KKK hood, the latter in an academic gown.  Both men are underwriting the whitening of American nationalism, and the re-centering of white lives as lives that matter most in the U.S.  Duke is happy to own the white supremacy of his statements, while Lilla’s op-ed does the more nefarious background work of making white supremacy respectable.  Again.
The pursuit of identity politics is unfortunate for this country.  Those who read this blog know I disagree with the basic tenets of Progressive thought, but I would welcome a return to the pre-1970 brand of Progressivism because it poses much less of a threat to the survival of our civil society than the current identity infused brand.

** For more on Secretary Clinton specifically, read Why Hillary?

Hot Stove League

Spring training starts in a month!  This will help you get ready.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Madain Saleh

 (Nabatean tomb in Madain Saleh, from King Abdullah University)

We've written quite a bit about the extent of the Roman Empire at its peak, stretching thousands of miles from Scotland to Arabia, Morocco to Armenia and from the Netherlands to the border of The Sudan.  One of the remotest outposts is at Madain Saleh in Saudia Arabia.  Along with Jawf in the Jordanian desert near the Saudi border, a third of the way between the Jordan River and the Persian Gulf, Madain Saleh was lightly garrisoned to control trade connecting southern Arabia with the Mediterranean coastal provinces of Rome.

Before its incorporation into the Roman Empire in 106 AD, Madain (known as Hegra in those days) was the southernmost settlement of the Nabatean Kingdom, which was centered around the headwaters of the Gulf of Aqaba and is best known for its capital of Petra (see the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade or Visiting Petra for a nice view of the place).

Most of the ruins date from the time of the Nabatean Kingdom, although in 2003 a Roman epigraph was found dating from the second century AD during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-80), the Emperor portrayed in the early scenes of the movie Gladiator (see, The Real Maximus).

(from aramco world)

The inscription reads:
“For the welfare of Emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus Armeniacus Parthicus Medicus Germanicus Sarmaticus Maximus, the community of the Hegreni restored the wall, destroyed by the passage of time, at its own expense, under the governorship of Iulis Firmanus, legate of the emperor with the rank of praetor; the work being arranged by Pomponius Victor, centurion of Legion III Cyrenaica, and his colleague, Numisius Clemens, and construction being supervised by Amrus, son of Haian, the headman of their community.” 
Here, more than 2000 miles from Rome, a centurion was overseeing the repair of a wall around the ancient town.  The distance is even more impressive in light of the slowness of travel and communication in the second century.  It is astonishing the empire remained intact for as long as it did.

An even more recently discovered inscription surprisingly showed Roman occupation of the Forasan Islands at the south end of the Red Sea, near Aden and more than 1,200 miles from Alexandria in Egypt.
(From amusing planet)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

City Of New Orleans

Good morning America, how are you?
Don't you know me, I'm your native son
I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans
I'll be gone 500 miles by the day is done

Whenever I hear City of New Orleans it brings me back.  I love its travelogue images of a mostly vanished America as the City of New Orleans rolls from Chicago to its namesake city.  Composed in 1971 by Steve Goodman, it became the only Top 40 hit of Arlo Guthrie's career.  Covered by many artists over the years (including an award-winning version by Willie Nelson in the 1980s) it retains its power to move.

Steve Goodman died of leukemia in 1984, at the age of 36.  A rabid Chicago Cubs fan and composer of several songs about the team, including A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request, he never got his wish fulfilled during his lifetime.  We hope he is happy now.