Politics & Prosperity Revisited

I am loathe to leave loose ends, so I am republishing the best of P&P at Substack: https://loquitur.substack.com/. Republishing gives me a chance to edit posts lightly and update them a bit. I’ve just started with a reprise of my first post at P&P: “On Liberty“.

There’ll be more to follow as I scour my archives and find time to polish what seems worth republishing. So, bookmark the Substack site or add it to your feeds, and be watching for more old posts in new clothing.

One More Thing

A recent exchange with a family member led me to pen this afterthought, which is really a consolidation of much that I have published here.

The movement toward centralized control of American’s social and economic lives began in the so-called Progressive Era of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It got a boost from the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who moved the country in the direction of governance by non-elected bureaucrats. FDR moved the country further in that direction.

And all of that happened before the emergence of a coalition that I will call the academic-bureaucratic-media-technology complex (hereinafter ABMT), which has coalesced around a long list ideological desiderata. Some of them are hangovers from the Progressive Era and FDR’s New Deal. Most have arisen in the past six decades, with the most bizarre among them having been hatched in the past decade. Here are as many of them as I can list without retching:

  • income redistribution
  • universal health care
  • abortion, for any reason, up to and even beyond the birth of a child
  • reverse anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc., aimed mainly at the imagined enemy of “equity”: the straight, white male of European descent
  • anti-whiteness, just because whites do happen to be smarter and less violent than blacks (on average)
  • sexual libertinism and “reproductive liberty”
  • “prison reform” (i.e., lighter and shorter sentences, or none)
  • de-funding police departments because of an occasional wrongful death (and many more debunked charges of racism and brutality)
  • reducing defense expenditures because peace is just a matter of diplomacy
  • cultivating convenient scapegoats (e.g., “Big Business” before much of it joined AMBT, Trump, and Russia)
  • saving the planet from an imaginary incendiary death, which is somehow to be accompanied by ever-rising seas
  • replacing reliable sources of energy with unreliable ones because they are “sustainable” (a mockery of the word)
  • debasing the language and erasing the nation’s cultural heritage on the pretext that some parts of it are “offensive” (mainly to effete whites who cringe at a sketch of a gun)
  • the practical debarment of religion from political discourse (Christianity and Judaism, to be precise)
  • and anything else that bestirs the combination of utter naivete and adolescent rebelliousness which characterizes AMBT.

The list is always growing because the quest for cosmic justice never ends. It cannot end because it is impossible to attain: Reality — the stubbornness of human nature, the limitations of nature, the prohibitive costs of attaining cosmic justice — always intervenes.

But that doesn’t deter ABMT, which has a cult-like devotion to the attainment of its desiderata.  Cult-like because it is the goals that matter, not the possibility of their attainment or the social and economic costs of striving to attain them. It is a cult ruled by feelings, not facts.

Any failure to advance the cult’s agenda is called an attack on democracy, as if the cult had anything to do with democracy. If it did, it wouldn’t be in the business of trying to suppress dissent from cult’s tenets; it would react peacefully (in rhetoric and deed) to judicial decrees that thwart the accomplishment of its desiderata (contra the reaction to Supreme Court rulings on guns, abortion, and EPA’s overreach); and it would accept the outcomes of election results that rebuff its candidates. If it did, its members would understand that they, not their political opponents, are the real fascists to be loathed and feared.

Nor are the members of the cult devotees of science. They use the word cynically to justify their dictatorial impulses.

Actual (representative) democracy and actual, fact-based, refutable science are to the cult as sunlight is to a vampire.

AMBT is abetted by a large segment of the populace. Having captured the Democrat Party, AMBT has captured some of its habitual. (Though there are signs that some of those adherents have had enough of AMBT’s “woke” agenda.) Then there are the over-educated and affluent professional classes, whose members believe in the idealistic, pseudo-scientific malarkey that propels AMBT, and who cannot see (or do not care) about its effects on the nation’s social and economic fabric. There is also the “education” industry, which has for decades faithfully regurgitated AMBT’s agenda and indoctrinated tens of million of young Americans. It deserves special mention and a place in the Ninth Circle of Hell. As for the many others unmentioned here, theirs is a combination of venality, envy, ignorance, and the aforementioned adolescent rebelliousness at work. Not every member of the cult ascribes to every item on AMBT’s agenda, but all support it because they believe — falsely and foolishly — that its attainment will be to their benefit.

AMBT would not be where it is today without the aid and comfort of professional politicians — Democrats, of course. Many of them may not be true believers, but they evidently believe that their profession of faith in AMBT’s agenda helps them to attain power, which is what they mean when they say that they are public servants.

The cult and its enablers are so committed (in practice if not in conscience) to the cult’s desiderata that the attainment of those desiderata justifies the use of any means to advance them. Limits placed by the Constitution and constitutional laws are sundered; ideological opponents are slandered, libeled, and shamed; lying (including the fabrication and use of the so-called Steele dossier) and cheating (as in rigging elections) are taken for granted; violence is condoned or encouraged — and excused because it is done by the “oppressed” (or something along those lines).

In a phrase: Their ends justify their means.

The long list of ends comes down to three things:

  • The first thing is to make people dependent on government (a dependency that began in earnest under FDR).
  • The second, and related, thing is to relieve people of taking personal responsibility for their life outcomes. (FDR, again, takes “credit” for having initiated this practice.)
  • The third thing is to accomplish the first two things not just by making people dependent on government and relieving them of personal responsibility, but also to dragoon the population at large into supporting the first two things (whether or not they support them). This used to be done by regulation and taxation. It is now being done (in partnership with AMBT) by controlling speech under the rubric of combating “disinformation”.

It is the preservation and advancement of the cult’s agenda that drives the myth of the “insurrection” on January 6, 2021.

Which brings me to Donald Trump. It was he who crystallized opposition to the agenda of AMBT. For that sin he was the subject and victim of the hoax that begin during his candidacy and endures to this day. For that sin he was the victim of the greatest electoral fraud in this country’s history.

If the acts perpetrated against Trump because of his opposition to AMBT’s agenda do not convince you that AMBT must — must — be defeated, nothing will. The coming mid-term elections may put the country back on the right road. But it will take victory — a resounding GOP victory — in the presidential election of 2024 to stride further down that road and away from the Sovietization of America.

My hope for 2024 is that a politician who is more articulate, personally credible, and bureaucratically adept than Donald Trump will be the GOP’s candidate for president. If the election of 2016 was the Flight 93 election — as Michael Anton dubbed it — the election of 2024 will be the Armageddon election. God save us all if Satan’s disciples win.

Am I Back?

For those few readers who might wonder where I was from November 22, 2021, until March 2, 2022:

My wife and I made the mistake of moving into an all-inclusive 55+ residential community. All-inclusive, in this case, comprehended three meals a day of steadily declining quality. (The decline halted only when quality hit rock-bottom.) All-inclusive also encompassed prolonged, daily pounding on our ceilings by the woman who lived above us and couldn’t travel 10 feet without bounding like a kangaroo. There were other things, too, such as the football-field trek to the nearest elevator, which gave my wife’s aching knees more punishment than she could stand, and the Dickensian gloom produced by a combination of low ceilings, too few windows and a northern exposure.

We remedied those defects by buying a light, bright, much quieter condo in a vastly better location, and by relying mainly on prepared meals and restaurant fare, both of which are vastly superior to the slop doled out by the “chef” at our former abode. The real-estate purchase is not only a good investment (for our heirs) but also has vastly reduced our living expenses (also to the benefit of our heirs).

Anyway, as we settle into our new quarters and recover from a second move in four months, I may find the time to do more than dash off a brief post like today’s “Thoughts for the Day”. Or I may just satisfy my blogging urge by dashing off a brief post more often than quarterly.

Time, as they say, will tell.

Thoughts for the Day

Racists of old believed that their superiority licensed them to suppress and kill persons of other races.

Today’s “anti-racists” believe that the inferiority of blacks in intelligence — and thus in income and wealth — licenses them to penalize and suppress persons of other races. (Some “anti-racists” would even resort to genocide.)

There is a parallel in the treatment of men, especially (but not exclusively) in the effort to advance women in fields where they are inherently inferior.

Why Should I Worry about Inflation?

What inflation? The spike on the right in this graph:

There are many reasons why inflation (except in moderation) is a bad thing. You can find those reasons by consulting Wikipedia or doing a web search. But there’s one reason that isn’t getting much press right now: Inflation hinders economic growth. Again, I won’t spell out the reasons, but you will find them if you research the ill effects of inflation.

You should be worried about the effect of inflation on economic growth because the effect is negative. Therefore, persistently high inflation means slower economic growth, which means less employment, less lucrative employment, less real output of products and services and — of course — a standard of living that’s lower than it would otherwise be. The top 10 percent won’t have anything to worry about because (a) they probably won’t be affected and (b) even if they are, the effects will be trivial (for them). The other 90 percent will suffer, and the suffering will hit the middle class (hard), the working class (harder), and the truly poor (hardest of all).

How do I know that inflation has an adverse effect on economic growth. Well, it’s among several things that, taken together, have an adverse effect on economic growth: an increase in the fraction of GDP that is commanded by government spending; a decrease in the rate of private, nonresidential investment spending; an increase in regulatory activity (as measured by Federal Register pages), and an increase in the rate of inflation as measured by the CPI-U. (See this for details.) As a result, there has been a steady down-trend in the rate of GDP growth since the end of World War II. (See Figure 2 here; it is slightly out of date but the trend has continued its decline in the two years that have passed.)

The equation presented at the first link above indicates that a persistent rise the rate of inflation by 1 percentage point will cause the rate of real GDP growth to decline by about 0.13 percentage point. That may not seem like much, but it becomes a lot over time because of compounding. Thus, for example, an increase in the rate of inflation from 3 to 4 percent, if sustained over 10 years, will result in a rate of growth that is 88 percent of what it would have the rate of inflation not increased.

But that estimate may be too low. GDP growth, as discussed, has been falling steadily for several decades, with occasional reversals during periods when onerous government policies have been relaxed. Abstracting from the downward trend, I obtained a statistically significant relationship between the year-over-year change in CPI-U and the year-over-year change in the de-trended rate of real GDP growth — with a four-quarter lag between the change in CPI-U and the change in the rate of GDP growth. What this amounts to is a rough estimate of the effect of the change in the rate of inflation on the rate of GDP growth when trend-related factors (government spending and Federal Register pages) are held constant.

Here’s the relationship:

The r-squared may not seem impressive, but it is statistically significant at  the 0.01 level (for those of you who care about such things).

What does the equation mean? It means that an annual rate of inflation above 2 percent generally drives the rate of GDP growth into negative territory. It means, specifically, that a 1 percentage point increase in the rate of inflation will cause the rate of growth to decline by 0.23 percentage point in a year — almost double the effect that I had derived earlier. Yes, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the accuracy of the estimate, but the negative relationship between inflation and GDP growth isn’t in doubt.

A little bit of inflation is a necessary thing in a growing economy because increases in outlays on investments must precede the resulting increases in quantity and quality of economic goods. But a sudden and persistent increase in the price of goods, fueled by government money-printing, is a bad thing. It creates uncertainty, and uncertainty is an enemy of sound economic decision-making.

What we are now experiencing may prove to be a very bad thing.

Election 2020: Too Close to Call?

A key indicator of Trump’s electoral standing — his approval rating at Rasmussen Reports — turned south this morning. When I crank the latest number into the algorithm that I use to forecast the electoral-vote split, Trump comes out behind: 253-285. Admittedly, that’s a squeaker. But I call them as I see them, and the sudden downturn in Trump’s approval rating is a bright, red warning flag.

Anyway, it won’t be over until it’s over, which may be a few months from now — in the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, follow the election returns this evening, and refer to my previous post for hints about the likely outcome.

Election 2020: Keep Your Eye on Rasmussen Reports

In my previous post I contrasted the results of polling by Rasmussen Reports with two indicators published by RealClearPolitics: its the “poll of polls” and its summary of election betting markets. Although Rasmussen’s numbers (as of September 30) look bad for Trump, they’re not as bad as the numbers produced by most polls and betting markets.

Why is that?  Rasmussen’s polls yield better — more accurate — results than most other polls because Rasmussen’s polls are unbiased. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Rasmussen has an excellent track record. Many pollsters and pundits try to dismiss Rasmussen as pro-Republican, or to denigrate Rasmussen’s methods. This is a classic example of psychological projection because most polls are systematically biased toward Democrats.

There are two reasons for that. Pro-Democrat pollsters (and their media allies) don’t like to publish bad news about Democrats. By the same token, underestimating the electoral prospects of Republicans is a devious form of election-rigging: It helps to demoralize Republican voters and therefore reduce pro-Republican turnout at election time.

How biased are the other polls? On average, extremely biased. The following graph shows the relationship between Rasmussen’s polling on the 2020 presidential election and the average of the dozen-or-so polls tracked by RealClearPolitics:

If I had removed Rasmussen’s poll from RCP’s average, the result would have been more stark, but it’s stark enough as it is. Rasmussen’s (presumably) accurate poll (White House Watch) would have to show Trump leading Biden with 70 percent of likely voters before the RCP average would show Trump tied with Biden.

The moral of the story: I won’t cite the RCP “poll of polls” again.

I will however cite RCP’s summary of betting markets. They don’t estimate the split of the popular vote, but they do measure the degree of confidence that one or another candidate will win. Unfortunately, there is growing confidence on the part of bettors that Biden will win.

I will close with a reminder of what’s at stake in this election: liberty.

Believe Some Persons

Democrats don’t really “believe all women”, at least insofar as the women in question are claiming that they have been sexually assaulted by Democrat politicians. First, there was Bill Clinton. Now, there is Joe Biden. It follows that women are to be believed only when they accuse Republican office-seekers, or persons nominated to office by Republicans.

The foregoing is obvious and has been noted many times by conservative writers. So I won’t dwell on it here.

What I want to know is why women should be believed automatically in the first place. Is there something about women that causes them to utter the truth unfailingly? Are women in fact less prone to lying than men? The evidence is mixed — if you can call psychological studies “evidence”. And we know what such studies are worth, which is to say not much.

There are some reasons to believe a person unreservedly; for example:

The person isn’t trying to sell you something, where the something might be a used car, a house, or a story that will advance that person’s interest (including revenge against particular person of class of persons).

You have known that person for a very long time and have never known the person to attempt deception, other than to tell a “white lie” to spare another person’s feelings (e.g., you’re not fat) or to get a child to do the right thing (e.g., Santa Claus is watching you).

You are engaged in a business relationship with the person and it is a sure thing that he will suffer financially if he is being less than honest about his side of the deal.

Accusations of sexual assault don’t fit the bill, unless you know have known the accuser for a long time and trust her (or him) because of her (or his) record of veracity. But accusations should be taken seriously and investigated.

As for Christine Blasey Ford: Her story was incredible from the beginning because of its vagueness, lack of corroboration, her known animus toward conservatives, and Brett Kavanaugh’s track record with respect to women.

As for Tara Reade: Her story isn’t incredible because of its specificity, partial corroboration, Read’s long-standing political views (a rather left-wing Democrat), and Joe Biden’s track record with respect to women.

But I am withholding judgement about Reade’s story — unlike most Democrats (who refuse to credit it) and too many Republicans (who are eager to believe it).

Is a Perfect Electoral Storm Brewing?

The storm that I have in mind is one that sweeps the board for the GOP in November. What might its ingredients be? Here’s my non-exhaustive list:

THE ECONOMY

An economic recovery that is largely limited to States governed by Republicans, while States controlled by Democrats continue to flounder.

OR

A quick, nationwide economic recovery, including a stock-market rally and the rehiring of millions of workers.

DEMOCRAT POLITICS

Solid evidence supporting Tara Reade’s claims about Joe Biden.

AND/OR

A rancorous Democrat convention which, at least, leaves Biden badly damaged and results in the abstention of Bernie supporters in November, and which saddles Biden with a VP candidate who will drive away independent voters (e.g., Stacey Abrams).

OR

A pre-convention deal that allows Biden to withdraw gracefully (though not without shame) and substitutes a more dynamic and less tainted candidate who has his own baggage (e.g., Cuomo and his failure to protect nursing homes from COVID-19).

SPYGATE (A.K.A. RUSSIAGATE)

The indictment of senior officials (e.g., John Brennan, Susan Rice, James Comey) of the Obama administration on charges related to Spygate (e.g., obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, filing false claims with the FISA court, perjury).

AND A CLINCHER

The inclusion of a thinly disguised Barack Obama as an “unnamed” conspirator in the indictment.

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

The collapse of Iran’s regime.

AND/OR

An attempt by Iran’s regime to disrupt the flow of oil from the Middle East that is met with prompt, devastating, and decisive action by the U.S.

AND/OR

The death or overthrow of Kim.

AND/OR

Conclusive evidence of China’s malfeasance in the COVID-19 pandemic.

There must be a lot more, but that will do for a start.

 

America’s Long Vac

COVID-19 has shut down much of America (and the world, too, I suppose). The shutdowns are coinciding with, extending, and preempting spring breaks at schools, colleges, and universities. You might say that America is taking a Long Vac. That’s the British term for summer vacation from school, college, or university. (See Oxford Glossary.)

How long will it last? Hard to say. Necessity rather than prevention may force the resumption of normal operations and activities. Although — and this is merely a hope — Americans will be less inclined to demand and supply products and services which are merely the excess fruits of capitalism (e.g., ocean cruises, boisterous rock concerts, destination weddings, and professional basketball).

Realities

Realities presents the best of Politics & Prosperity in the form of polished and updated articles. Some of them consolidate material that was scattered among several related posts at this blog. Give it a look.

Published to date:

Equality

From the keyboard of Maverick Philosopher (“Is There a Defensible Sense in Which Human Beings Are Equal?“):

Empirical inequality cannot be denied:  by the various empirical measures there is plenty of inequality among individuals and groups. (Trivial example: men on average are taller than women. Height is an example of an empirically measurable attribute.) So if human beings are taken solely in their empirical and material natures, or if human beings are nothing more than material beings, then talk of the equality of all human beings is either false or trivial. (That all human beings are equal in that they all have been born at or near the surface of the earth is empirically true, but trivially true.)….

Given the plain fact of empirical inequality, is there any defensible sense in which human beings could be said to be equal and in possession of equal rights?…

[A] person [in the descriptive sense] is a conscious and thus sentient individual, capable of self-consciousness, possessing feeling and will and memory and the capacity to reason and plan and seek the truth about itself and everything else…. A person in the normative sense is a rights-possessor which, in virtue of having rights, induces in other persons various duties. For example, my right to life induces in you the duty to refrain from taking my life, and your duty derives from my right. In this sense rights and duties are correlative….

My claim, then, is that we are all equal as persons in the descriptive sense, and therefore all equal in the normative sense.  That is, if any one of us is a rights-possessor in virtue of being a descriptive person, then every one of us is a rights-possessor in virtue of being a descriptive person.  And all of this regardless of sex, race, age, and any other empirical feature. We are equal as persons even if my will is stronger than yours and my intellect more penetrating. We are equal as persons even if you are more compassionate than me.

The point, then, is that equality is grounded in personhood, not in animal constitution….

The above definition of ‘person’ allows for persons that are not human beings and human beings (genetic humans) that are not persons, as well as persons that are human beings….  Examples of humans that are not persons, on my definition of ‘person,’ would be anencephalic human neonates. They would not be persons because of their lack of capacity to develop language and reasoning skills. (For more on the anencephalic business, see Potentiality and the Substance View of Persons, the comments to which were good.)  But these anencephalic individuals are nonetheless genetically human as the offspring of human parents.

To repeat, our equality is grounded in our shared personhood despite our considerable empirical differences. Personhood cannot be understood in natural-scientific terms.

I will try to reduce this to a syllogism:

1. A person is a human being who is a conscious and thus sentient individual, capable of self-consciousness, possessing feeling and will and memory and the capacity to reason and plan and seek the truth about itself and everything else. (A human being who lacks the potential for becoming all of those things is not a person.)

2. All persons are equal, in the sense that they all possess or exhibit personhood, as defined in 1.

3. Given that all persons are equal, if any one of them is a rights-possessor, all of them possess the same rights by virtue of their inherent equality.

Observations:

I am bothered by the distinction made in point 1 between human persons and human non-persons. This opens the door to the kinds of distinctions that are used to justify abortion and involuntary euthanasia.

Point 2 merely says that a person is a person, as defined in point 1. This is a trivial definition of equality. Are Hitler, Stalin, and Mao “equal” to Francis of Assisi, John Paul II, and Mother Teresa? By asking such a question am I proposing the kind of arbitrary distinction that I object to in point 1? (Arbitrary because it emerges from an a priori analysis rather than experience.) The answer is no, as discussed below.

The rights in point 3 seem to be free-floating Platonic entities, independent of the existence and socialization of human beings. But rights are not like that. Nor are they unitary; an all-or-nothing set that is bestowed on every person. Rights are complex and socially constructed*, and they arise from distinctions of the kind that I make between a Hitler and a Mother Teresa. There are persons who are so despicable that they should have no rights; unlike unwitting fetuses and helpless old people, they should be erased from the face of the earth for the good of humankind.

Social intercourse is capable of generating innumerable gradations of rights, from a positive right to be cared for in one’s old age to a negative right to be allowed to die in peace without the intervention of “life saving” measures. In between are such rights as the right to resume living among free human beings, working at gainful employment, enjoying normal social pleasures, and so on, after having been imprisoned for committing socially defined harms.

Equality, then, is the enjoyment of the same socially bestowed rights as others who are similarly situated (e.g., not incarcerated, eligible for care).

Bonus observation:

One way of defining liberty is to say that it is the scope of action that is allowed by socially agreed upon rights. Negative rights define what one may not do to others; positive rights define what others must do for the beneficiaries of such rights.


* In the best case, the state would enforce socially constructed negative rights (e.g., the right not to be murdered), and would not be a tool for the fabrication and enforcement of so-called positive rights. Such rights do arise from social intercourse, but when the state enforces them it imposes burdens on persons who are not party to the creation of such rights (e.g., the duty of care for others may vary considerably from culture to culture, even within a nation-state). State and society are synonymous only in small, cohesive, and kinship groups.


Related posts:
Negative Rights
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
More about Consequentialism
Line-Drawing and Liberty
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
Society and the State
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Liberty and Society
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defining Liberty
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”
Getting Liberty Wrong
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
The Principles of Actionable Harm
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
Natural Law, Natural Rights, and the Real World
Natural Law and Natural Rights Revisited

You Can’t Go Home Again

You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.

— Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

*      *      *

I have just begun to read a re-issue of Making It, Norman Podhoretz‘s memoir that stirred up the literati of New York City. According to Jennifer Schuessler (“Norman Podhoretz: Making Enemies,” Publisher’s Weekly, January 25, 1999), Podhoretz’s

frank 1967 account of the lust for success that propelled him from an impoverished childhood in Brooklyn to the salons of Manhattan, … scandalized the literary establishment that once hailed him as something of a golden boy. His agent wouldn’t represent it. His publisher refused to publish it. And just about everybody hated it. In 1972, Podhoretz’s first high-profile personal squabble, with Random House’s Jason Epstein, went public when the New York Times Magazine published an article called “Why Norman and Jason Aren’t Talking.” By 1979, when Podhoretz published Breaking Ranks, a memoir of his conversion from radicalism to militant conservatism, it seemed just about everybody wasn’t talking to Norman.

Next month, Podhoretz will add another chapter to his personal war chronicle with the publication of Ex-Friends: Falling Out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer. In this short, sharp, unabashedly name-dropping book, Podhoretz revisits the old battles over communism and the counterculture, not to mention his bad reviews. But for all his talk of continued struggle against the “regnant leftist culture that pollutes the spiritual and cultural air we all breathe,” the book is a frankly nostalgic, even affectionate look back at the lost world of “the Family,” the endlessly quarreling but close-knit group of left-leaning intellectuals that gathered in the 1940s and ’50s around such magazines as the Partisan Review and Commentary.

Given this bit of background, you shouldn’t be surprised that it was Podhoretz who said that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality. Nor should you be surprised that Podhoretz wrote this about Barack Obama (which I quote in “Presidential Treason“):

His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish….

… As a left-wing radical, Mr. Obama believed that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs. Accordingly, the fundamental transformation he wished to achieve here was to reduce the country’s power and influence. And just as he had to fend off the still-toxic socialist label at home, so he had to take care not to be stuck with the equally toxic “isolationist” label abroad.

This he did by camouflaging his retreats from the responsibilities bred by foreign entanglements as a new form of “engagement.” At the same time, he relied on the war-weariness of the American people and the rise of isolationist sentiment (which, to be sure, dared not speak its name) on the left and right to get away with drastic cuts in the defense budget, with exiting entirely from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with “leading from behind” or using drones instead of troops whenever he was politically forced into military action.

The consequent erosion of American power was going very nicely when the unfortunately named Arab Spring presented the president with several juicy opportunities to speed up the process. First in Egypt, his incoherent moves resulted in a complete loss of American influence, and now, thanks to his handling of the Syrian crisis, he is bringing about a greater diminution of American power than he probably envisaged even in his wildest radical dreams.

For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen….

No doubt he will either deny that anything has gone wrong, or failing that, he will resort to his favorite tactic of blaming others—Congress or the Republicans or Rush Limbaugh. But what is also almost certain is that he will refuse to change course and do the things that will be necessary to restore U.S. power and influence.

And so we can only pray that the hole he will go on digging will not be too deep for his successor to pull us out, as Ronald Reagan managed to do when he followed a president into the White House whom Mr. Obama so uncannily resembles. [“Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2013]

Though I admire Podhoretz’s willingness to follow reality to its destination in conservatism — because I made the same journey myself — I am drawn to his memoir by another similarity between us. In the Introduction to the re-issue, Terry Teachout writes:

Making It is never more memorable than when it describes its author’s belated discovery of “the brutal bargain” to which he was introduced by “Mrs. K.,” a Brooklyn schoolteacher who took him in hand and showed him that the precocious but rough-edged son of working-class Jews from Galicia could aspire to greater things— so long as he turned his back on the ghettoized life of his émigré parents and donned the genteel manners of her own class. Not until much later did he realize that the bargain she offered him went even deeper than that:

She was saying that because I was a talented boy, a better class of people stood ready to admit me into their ranks. But only on one condition: I had to signify by my general deportment that I acknowledged them as superior to the class of people among whom I happened to have been born. . . . what I did not understand, not in the least then and not for a long time afterward, was that in matters having to do with “art” and “culture” (the “life of the mind,” as I learned to call it at Columbia), I was being offered the very same brutal bargain and accepting it with the wildest enthusiasm.

So he did, and he never seriously doubted that he had done the only thing possible by making himself over into an alumnus of Columbia and Cambridge and a member of the educated, art-loving upper middle class. At the same time, though, he never forgot what he had lost by doing so, having acquired in the process “a distaste for the surroundings in which I was bred, and ultimately (God forgive me) even for many of the people I loved.”

It’s not an unfamiliar story. But it’s a story that always brings a pang to my heart because it reminds me too much of my own attitudes and behavior as I “climbed the ladder” from the 1960s to the 1990s. Much as I regret the growing gap between me and my past, I have learned from experience that I can’t go back, and don’t want to go back.

What happened to me is probably what happened to Norman Podhoretz and tens of millions of other Americans. We didn’t abandon our past; we became what was written in our genes.

This mini-memoir is meant to illustrate that thesis. It is aimed at those readers who can’t relate to a prominent New Yorker, but who might see themselves in a native of flyover country.

My “ghetto” wasn’t a Jewish enclave like Podhoretz’s Brownsville, but an adjacent pair of small cities in the eastern flatlands of Michigan, both of them predominantly white and working-class. They are not suburbs of Detroit — as we used to say emphatically — nor of any other largish city. We were geographically and culturally isolated from the worst and best that “real” cities have to offer in the way of food, entertainment, and ethnic variety.

My parents’ roots, and thus my cultural inheritance, were in small cities, towns and villages in Michigan and Ontario. Life for my parents, as for their forbears, revolved around making a living, “getting ahead” by owning progressively nicer (but never luxurious) homes and cars, socializing with friends over card games, and keeping their houses and yards neat and clean.

All quite unexceptional, or so it seemed to me as I was growing up. It only began to seem exceptional when I became the first scion of the the family tree to “go away to college,” as we used to say. (“Going away” as opposed to attending a local junior college, as did my father’s younger half-brother about eight years before I matriculated.)

Soon after my arrival on the campus of a large university, whose faculty and students hailed from around the world, I began to grasp the banality of my upbringing in comparison to the cultural richness and sordid reality of the wider world. It was a richness and reality of which my home-town contemporaries and I knew little because we were raised in the days of Ozzie and Harriet — before the Beatles, Woodstock, bearded men with pony-tails, shacking up as a social norm, widespread drug use, and the vivid depiction of sex in all of its natural and unnatural variety.

My upbringing, like that of my home-town contemporaries was almost apolitical. If we overheard our parents talking about politics, we overheard a combination of views that today seems unlikely: suspicion of government; skepticism about unions (my father had to join one in order to work), disdain for “fat cats”; sympathy for “the little guy”; and staunch patriotism. There was nothing about civil rights and state-enforced segregation, which were seen (mistakenly) as peculiarly Southern issues. Their own racism was seldom in evidence because blacks generally “knew their place” in our white-dominated communities.

And then, as a student at a cosmopolitan Midwestern university (that isn’t an oxymoron), I began to learn — in and out of class. The out-of-class lessons came through conversations with students whose backgrounds differed greatly from mine, including two who had been displaced persons in the wake of World War II. My first-year roommate was a mild-mannered Iranian doctoral student whose friends (some of them less mild-mannered) spoke openly about the fear in which Iranians lived because of SAVAK‘s oppressive practices. In my final year as an undergraduate I befriended some married graduate students, one of whom (an American) had spent several years in Libya as a geologist for an American oil company and had returned to the States with an Italian wife.

One of the off-campus theaters specialized in foreign films, which I had never before seen, and which exposed me to people, places, attitudes, and ideas that were intellectually foreign to me, but which I viewed avidly and with acceptance. My musical education was advanced by a friendship with a music major, through whom I met other music majors and learned much about classical music and, of all things, Gilbert and Sullivan. One of the music majors was a tenor who had to learn The Mikado, and did so by playing a recording of it over and over. I became hooked, and to this day can recite large chunks of the libretto. I used to sing them, but my singing days are over.

Through my classes — and often through unassigned reading — I learned how to speak and read French (fluently, those many years ago), and ingested various-sized doses of philosophy, history (ancient and modern), sociology, accounting (the third of four majors), and several other things that escape me at the moment.

Through economics (my fourth and final major), I learned (but didn’t then question), the contradictory tenets of microeconomics (how markets work to allocate resources and satisfy wants efficiently) and macroeconomics (then dominated by the idea of government’s indispensable role in the economic order). But I was drawn in by the elegance of economic theory, and mistook its spurious precision for deep understanding. Though I have since rejected macroeconomic orthodoxy (e.g., see this).

My collegiate “enlightenment” was mild, by today’s standards, but revelatory to a small-city boy. And I was among the still relatively small fraction of high-school graduates who went away to college. So my exposure to a variety of people, cultures, and ideas immediately set me apart — apart not only from my parents and the members of their generation, but also apart from most of the members of my own generation.

What set me apart more than anything was my loss of faith. In my second year I went from ostentatiously devout Catholicism to steadfast agnosticism in a span of weeks. I can’t reconstruct the transition at a remove of almost 60 years, but I suspect that it involved a mixture of delayed adolescent rebellion, a reckoning (based on things I had learned) that the roots of religion lay in superstition, and a genetic predisposition toward skepticism (my father was raised Protestant but scorned religion in his mild way). At any rate, when I walked out of church in the middle of Mass one Sunday morning, I felt as if I had relieved myself of a heavy burden and freed my mind for the pursuit of knowledge.

The odd thing is that, to this day, I retain feelings of loyalty to the Church of my youth — the Church of the Latin Mass (weekly on Sunday morning, not afternoon or evening), strict abstinence from meat on Friday, confession on Saturday, fasting from midnight on Sunday (if one were in a state of grace and fit for Holy Communion), and the sharp-tongued sisters with sharp-edged rulers who taught Catechism on Saturday mornings (parochial school wasn’t in my parents’ budget). I have therefore been appalled, successively, by Vatican Council II, most of the popes of the past 50 years, the various ways in which being a Catholic has become easier, and (especially) the egregious left-wing babbling of Francis. And yet I remain an agnostic who only in recent years has acknowledged the logical necessity of a Creator, but probably not the kind of Creator who is at the center of formal religion. Atheism — especially of the strident variety — is merely religion turned upside down; a belief in something that is beyond proof; I scorn it.

To complete this aside, I must address the canard peddled by strident atheists and left-wingers (there’s a lot of overlap) about the evil done in the name of religion, I say this: Religion doesn’t make fanatics, it attracts them (in relatively small numbers), though some Islamic sects seem to be bent on attracting and cultivating fanaticism. Far more fanatical and attractive to fanatics are the “religions” of communism, socialism (including Hitler’s version), and progressivism (witness the snowflakes and oppressors who now dominate the academy). I doubt that the number of murders committed in the name of religion amounts to one-tenth of the number of murders committed by three notable anti-religionists: Hitler (yes, Hitler), Stalin, and Mao. I also believe — with empirical justification — that religion is a bulwark of liberty; whereas, the cult of libertarianism — usually practiced by agnostics and atheists — is not (e.g., this post and the others linked to therein).

It’s time to return to the chronological thread of my narrative. I have outlined my graduate-school and work experiences in “About.” The main thing to note here is what I learned during the early mid-life crisis which took me away from the D.C. rat race for about three years, as owner-operator of a (very) small publishing company in a rural part of New York State.

In sum, I learned to work hard. Before my business venture I had coasted along using my intelligence but not a lot of energy, but nevertheless earning praise and good raises. I was seldom engaged it what I was doing: the work seemed superficial and unconnected to anything real to me. That changed when I became a business owner. I had to meet a weekly deadline or lose advertisers (and my source of income), master several new skills involved in publishing a weekly “throwaway” (as the free Pennysaver was sometimes called), and work six days a week with only two brief respites in three years. Something clicked, and when I gave up the publishing business and returned to the D.C. area, I kept on working hard — as if my livelihood depended on it.

And it did. Much as I had loved being my own boss, I wanted to live and retire more comfortably than I could on the meager income that flowed uncertainly from the Pennysaver. Incentives matter. So in the 18 years after my return to the D.C. area I not only kept working hard and with fierce concentration, but I developed (or discovered) a ruthless streak that propelled me into the upper echelon of the think-tank.

And in my three years away from the D.C. area I also learned, for the first time, that I couldn’t go home again.

I was attracted to the publishing business because of its location in a somewhat picturesque village. The village was large enough to sport a movie theater, two super markets, and a variety of commercial establishments, including restaurants, shoe stores, clothing stores, jewelers, a Rite-Aid drug store, and even a J.J. Newberry dime store. It also had many large, well-kept homes All in all, it appealed to me because, replete with a “real” main street, it reminded me of the first small city in which I grew up.

But after working and associating with highly educated professionals, and after experiencing the vast variety of restaurants, museums, parks, and entertainment of the D.C. area, I found the village and its natives dull. Not only dull, but also distant. They were humorless and closed to outsiders. It came to me that the small cities in which I had grown up were the same way. My memories of them were distorted because they were memories of a pre-college boy who had yet to experience life in the big city. They were memories of a boy whose life centered on his parents and a beloved grandmother (who lived in a small village of similarly golden memory).

You can’t go home again, metaphorically, if you’ve gone away and lived a different life. You can’t because you are a different person than you were when you were growing up. This lesson was reinforced at the 30-year reunion of my high-school graduating class, which occurred several years after my business venture and a few years after I had risen into the upper echelon of the think-tank.

There I was, with my wife and sister (who graduated from the same high school eight years after I did), happily anticipating an evening of laughter and shared memories. We were seated at a table with two fellows who had been good friends of mine (and their wives, whom I didn’t know). It was deadly boring; the silences yawned; we had nothing to say to each other. One of the old friends, who had been on the wagon, was so unnerved by the forced bonhomie of the occasion that he fell off the wagon. Attempts at mingling after dinner were awkward. My wife and sister readily agreed to abandon the event. We drove several miles to an elegant, river-front hotel where we had a few drinks on the deck. Thus the evening ended on a cheery note, despite the cool, damp drizzle. (A not untypical August evening in Michigan.)

I continued to return to Michigan for another 27 years, making what might be my final trip for the funeral of my mother, who lived to the age of 99. But I went just to see my parents and siblings, and then only out of duty.

The golden memories of my youth remain with me, but I long ago gave up the idea of reliving the past that is interred in those memories.

Thinking about Movies

I skipped the Academy Awards show, as I always do. This year’s show was especially skip-worthy, inasmuch as it featured self-flagellation by Hollywood types because of the lack of “diversity” (i.e., not enough blacks) among Oscar nominees. The self-flagellators dare not speak the truth which is that (1) Hollywood makes movies for profit, (2) movies must therefore appeal to a wide audience, (3) the average black has less money to spend than the average white, and (4) blacks remain in the vast minority of the populace.

Anyway, movies aren’t what they used to be, and never will be. Thus the following diatribe, which I have borrowed from my book, Americana, Etc.

My inventory of modern films — those released in 1932 and later — comprises 2,369 titles, 2,067 of which I have rated, and 660 of those (32 percent) at 8, 9, or 10 on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) scale. But those numbers mask vast differences in the quality of modern films, which were produced in three markedly different eras:

• Golden Age (1932-1942) — 237 films seen, 207 rated, 117 favorites (57 percent)

• Dreary Years (1943-1965) — 368 films seen, 287 rated, 110 favorites (38 percent)

• Abysmal Epoch (1966-present) — 1,764 films seen, 1,573 rated, 433 favorites (28 percent)

What made the Golden Age golden, and why did films go from golden to dreary to abysmal? Read on.

To understand what made the Golden Age golden, let’s consider what makes a great movie: a novel or engaging plot, characters who entice or excite, dialogue that is fresh (and witty or funny, if the film calls for it), and strong performances (acting, singing, and/or dancing), and excellent production values (locations, cinematography, sets, costumes, etc.). The Golden Age was golden largely because the advent of sound fostered creativity — plots could be advanced through dialogue, actors could deliver real dialogue, and singers and orchestras could deliver the real thing.

It took a few years to fully realize the potential of sound, but movies hit their stride just as Americans were seeking respite from the cares of a lingering and deepening Depression. Studios vied with each other to entice movie-goers with new plots (or plots that seemed new when embellished with sound), fresh and often wickedly witty dialogue, and — perhaps most important of all — captivating performers. The generation of super-stars that came of age in the 1930s consisted mainly of handsome men and beautiful women, blessed with distinctive personalities, and equipped by their stage experience to deliver their lines vibrantly and with impeccable diction.

What were the great movies of the Golden Age, and who starred in them? Here’s a sample of the titles: 1932 — Grand Hotel; 1933 — Dinner at Eight, Flying Down to Rio, Morning Glory; 1934 — It Happened One Night, The Thin Man, Twentieth Century; 1935 — Mutiny on the Bounty, A Night at the Opera, David Copperfield; 1936 — Libeled Lady, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Show Boat; 1937 — The Awful Truth, Captains Courageous, Lost Horizon; 1938 — The Adventures of Robin Hood, Bringing up Baby, Pygmalion; 1939 — Destry Rides Again, Gunga Din, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Wizard of Oz, The Women; 1940 — The Grapes of Wrath, His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story; 1941 — Ball of Fire, The Maltese Falcon, Suspicion; 1942 — Casablanca, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Woman of the Year.

And who starred in the greatest movies of the Golden Age? Here’s a goodly sample of the era’s superstars, a few of whom came on the scene toward the end: Jean Arthur, Fred Astaire, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Claudette Colbert, Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, Nelson Eddy, Errol Flynn, Joan Fontaine, Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Jean Harlow, Olivia de Havilland (the last survivor among pre-World War II stars), Katharine Hepburn, William Holden, Leslie Howard, Allan Jones, Charles Laughton, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Jeanette MacDonald, Joel McCrea, Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, William Powell, Ginger Rogers, Rosalind Russell, Norma Shearer, Barbara Stanwyck, James Stewart, and Spencer Tracy. There were other major stars, and many popular supporting players, but it seems that a rather small constellation of superstars commanded a disproportionate share of the leading roles in the best movies of the Golden Age.

Why did movies go into decline after 1942’s releases? World War II certainly provided an impetus. The war diverted resources from the production of major theatrical films; grade-A features gave way to low-budget fare. And some of the superstars of the Golden Age went off to war. (Two who remained civilians — Leslie Howard and Carole Lombard — were killed during the war.) With the resumption of full production in 1946, the surviving superstars who hadn’t retired were fading fast, though their presence still propelled many films of the Dreary Years.

Stars come and go, however, as they have done since Shakespeare’s day. The decline into the Dreary Years and Abysmal Epoch has deeper causes than the dimming of old stars:

• The Golden Age had deployed all of the themes that could be used without explicit sex, graphic violence, and crude profanity — none of which become an option for American movie-makers until the mid-1960s.

• Prejudice got significantly more play after World War II, but it’s a theme that can’t be used very often without becoming tiresome.

• Other attempts at realism (including film noir) resulted mainly in a lot of turgid trash laden with unrealistic dialogue and shrill emoting — keynotes of the Dreary Years.

• Hollywood productions often sank to the level of TV, apparently in a misguided effort to compete with that medium. The use of garish Technicolor — a hallmark of the 1950s — highlighted the unnatural neatness and cleanliness of settings that should have been rustic if not squalid.

• The transition from dreary to abysmal coincided with the cultural “liberation” of the mid-1960s, which saw the advent of the “f” word in mainstream films. Yes, the Abysmal Epoch brought more realistic plots and better acting (thanks mainly to the Brits). But none of that compensates for the anti-social rot that set in around 1966: drug-taking, drinking and smoking are glamorous; profanity proliferates to the point of annoyance; sex is all about lust and little about love; violence is gratuitous and beyond the point of nausea; corporations and white, male Americans with money are evil; the U.S. government (when Republican-controlled) is in thrall to that evil; etc., etc. etc.

To be sure, there have been outbreaks of greatness since the Golden Age. But every excellent film produced during the Dreary Years and Abysmal Epoch has been surrounded by outpourings of dreck, schlock, and bile. The generally tepid effusions of the Dreary Years were succeeded by the excesses of the Abysmal Epoch: films that feature noise, violence, sex, and drugs for the sake of noise, violence, sex, and drugs; movies whose only “virtue” is their appeal to such undiscerning groups as teeny-boppers, wannabe hoodlums, resentful minorities, and reflexive leftists; movies filled with “bathroom” and other varieties of “humor” so low as to make the Keystone Cops seem paragons of sophisticated wit.

In sum, movies have become progressively worse since the end of the Golden Age. Here’s a case in point: Last year I tried to watch Birdman, which won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2014. It failed to rise above trendy quirkiness, foul language, and stilted (though improvised) dialogue. I turned it off. It’s the only Best Picture winner, of those that I’ve watched, that I couldn’t sit through.

There have now been 89 Best Picture winners, and I’ve seen 69 of them. (I include Birdman because the several minutes of it that I watched seemed like two hours.) Of the 89 winners, only 14 are the highest-rated of the feature films released in the same year: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), It Happened One Night (1934), Casablanca (1942), Patton (1970), The Godfather (1972), The Sting (1973), The Godfather: Part II (1974), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), The Deer Hunter (1978), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Schindler’s List (1993), Gladiator (2000), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), and The Departed (2006).

A movie-watcher in search of good entertainment will often find it in a film other than one from the Best Picture list. But don’t put too much stock in the relative ratings of films across the years. If you’re in search of a great comedy, for example, go with one of the top-rated choices from the 1930s — It Happened One Night, A Night at the Opera, or Bringing Up Baby, for example — as opposed to more recent fare, such as Toy Story, The Big Lebowski, or The Grand Budapest Hotel. And if you want sustained laughter without the bother of dialogue, look no further than the silent films of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.

(Almost) Free Books

I have withdrawn my books from print publication so that I can make them available free to readers via Google Drive. Here are the links:

Leftism, Political Correctness, and Other Lunacies

On Liberty: Impossible Dreams, Utopian Schemes

“We the People” and Other American Myths

Americana, Etc.: Language, Literature, Movies, Music, Sports, Nostalgia, Trivia, and a Dash of Humor

Hint: If you save a file in Word, you can then send it to your Kindle, though I don’t know how the formatting will look.

If you prefer a bona fide Kindle edition, they’re cheap:

Leftism, Political Correctness, and Other Lunacies ($0.99)

On Liberty: Impossible Dreams, Utopian Schemes ($0.99)

“We the People” and Other American Myths ($0.99)

Americana, Etc. ($1.99)

The Kindle books are free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Americana, Etc.

My latest book, Americana, Etc. — Language, Literature, Movies, Music, Sports, Nostalgia, Trivia, and a Dash of Humor, is available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon.com.

Americana, Etc., is Volume IV of the series Dispatches from the Fifth Circle. The first three volumes are

Leftism, Political Correctness, and Other Lunacies

On Liberty: Impossible Dreams, Utopian Schemes

“We the People” and Other American Myths

There are links to and descriptions of Volumes I, II, and III in the four preceding posts.

Here’s some of the Introduction to Volume IV:

Volumes I, II, and III of this series are rather deep. It’s time for a break. The entries in this volume are sometimes serious, but the mood of the volume is light. It’s also rather random, jumping from baseball to movies to classical music to nostalgia, and so on.

I’ve included a long, final entry, “On Writing,” for want of a better venue. “On Writing” incorporates some of the ideas advanced in a few earlier entries, but it goes well beyond them. I commend it to you if you’re serious about becoming a better writer.

An annotated table of contents will give you an idea of the broad range of topics covered in Volume IV:

Political Parlance — A translation of words and phrases often used in politics.

Some Management Tips — A quiz to find out if you’re the pointy-haired boss.

Ten-Plus Commandments of Liberalism, er, Progressivism– What to believe if you want to be a good progressive (oxymoron alert).

Pet Peeves — The things that get my goat (and should get yours, too).

To Pay or Not to Pay — “Shakespeare” on taxes.

The Ghost of Impeachments Past Presents: The Trials of William Jefferson Whatsit — How Clinton’s impeachment trial should have gone.

The Good Old Days — Nostalgia.

Getting It Perfect — A satirical look at the Constitution’s amendments.

His Life as a Victim — Bill Clinton’s biography reviewed.

Modernism and the Arts — Why classical music and art went to the dogs in the 20th century.

Reveries — A remembrance of places past.

Thinking Back — The good and bad of technological change.

Thoughts of Winter — A selection of poetry for enjoying while sitting by the fire on a snowy evening.

Baseball Nostalgia — The Detroit Tigers “real” ballpark and great players.

Comix, Past and Present — The comic strips and books of my youth, some of which survive.

PC Madness — Why aren’t Norwegians up in arms about the Minnesota “Vikings”?

The Seven Faces of Blogging — A different take on Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man.”

Christmas Movies — The best of the bunch.

Mister Hockey — Gordie Howe beats Wayne Gretzky, hands down, and I have the numbers to prove it.

The Passing of Red-Brick Schoolhouses and a Way of Life — The end of the age of innocence.

My Old Sears Home — Sears used to sell houses, and I owned one of them.

Baseball Realignment — Adding spice to the game, cutting off the cold ends of the season.

Wordplay — The vagaries of English pronunciation in a few lines.

Nameplay — Fun facts about the waxing and waning popularity of first names, with some excursions into president’s names.

Pride and Prejudice on Film — My favorite version, and others.

September Songs — Autumnal melancholia.

Testing for Steroids — McGwire and Bonds, guilty by the numbers.

Baseball’s Losers — Three long-suffering franchises.

The War: A Final Grade — How to feel guilty about winning the “good” war.

Did Roger Do It? — Probably, but not by the numbers.

Stuff White (Liberal Yuppie) People Like — You’ll like it if you aren’t a white liberal yuppie.

Baseball and Groundhog Day — Arcane facts about baseball standings.

The Seven-Game World Series — Not as suspenseful as it could be.

Presidential Trivia — More arcana about names, heights, longevity, etc.

The American League’s Greatest Hitters — Was Ty Cobb really the greatest of them all?

Driving and Politics — What a person’s driving habits (might) say about his politics.

A Trip to the Movies — The quality of films over the decades, with some bows to the best.

Men’s Health — Remedying an oversight in this age of feminism.

Arm-Waving and Longevity — Do conductors really live longer, and is arm-waving the cause?

So, Who Made You Laugh? — A tribute to the many great Jewish comedians and comic actors whose performances I have enjoyed for almost seven decades.

Hopefully Arrives — Language debasement with a stamp of approval (not by me).

Why Prescriptivism? — The constructive role of language rules.

I’ve Got a Little List — My updating of Sir William S. Gilbert’s lyrics.

Speaking in Foreign Tongues — Why is it hard for adult Americans to speak foreign languages properly?

A Guide to the Pronunciation of General American English — For foreigners, Southerners, and New Englanders.

Home-Field Advantage — It’s real.

Looking Askance — Satirical takes on military strategy, cabinet positions, politicians’ memoirs, and public education.

Competitiveness in Major League Baseball — There’s a lot more of it than there used to be.

May the Best Team Lose — The meaninglessness of baseball’s post-season playoffs.

“Than I” or “Than Me”? — I have the answer.

The Hall of Fame Reconsidered — How to cull the riff-raff from baseball’s “shrine.”

On Writing — How to and how not to write right.

 

 

“We the People” and Other American Myths

My latest book is now available at Amazon.com

Book cover

Paperback edition: $14.95

Kindle edition $5.95

From the Preface:

I decided to title this volume “We the People” and Other American Myths because there are so many misconceptions about the governance of the United States, beginning with the fable that the Constitution is somehow a product of “the people.” Following closely upon that myth is the be-lief that the Supreme Court — which has violated the Constitution countless times — is the final and sole interpreter of its meaning.

Two other myths that I address in this volume are the illegality of secession and the idea that secession is “bad” be-cause it’s associated with the defense of slavery. Secession is legal, and the South had good reason to secede, other than a desire to preserve slavery.

Also addressed:

• the constitutionality of the sacred cow known as Social Security

• freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and privacy as absolute rights under the Constitution

• feel-good attitudes, such as nation = society, active presidents are great presidents, and democracy is to die for.

There’s much more packed into the 49 essays comprised in the volume.