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‘Racism, Inc.’ Comes to Football

November 2nd, 2013 - 5:46 am

The historian Robert Paquette has done something unforgivable in his column “‘Racism, Inc.’Comes to Football.”  He has brought formidable scholarship and deep historical knowledge to a contentious subject that has hitherto been the province of politically correct clichés. His immediate subject is the controversy—if “controversy” is the correct term for a classic case of left-wing victimology—over the name”Redskins” for a football team. Is it a racially insensitive moniker? Yet another example of unthinking white supremacist intimidation?  Or is it (as I would contend) a completely innocent label appropriated by the morally inflamed commissars of Racism, Inc. in their effort to further their campaign of racialist intimidation?

I think it’s the latter, and Paquette provides some historically informed observations that help explain why. Imagine bringing a lawsuit to force a football team to change its name. But that’s exactly what some left-wing activists with too much time on their hands have done. Quoth one such activist, Suzan Shown Harjo, “a Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee”: “Most Native Americans despise the term Redskins . .  and say that it is the worst epithet hurled at Native Peoples in the English language.” Oh, dear. She went one to note that  “Redskins” referred to “the days of Indian bounty hunting in the 1600s and 1700s,” i.e., the practice “of paying bounties for the bloody red skins and scalps as evidence of Indian kill.”

I want to interject here that I make it a practice, when asked,  to refer to myself as a native American. Having been born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, than which a more American venue of natality is hard to imagine, I think I am entitled to the term. Sure, I know that  “Native American” is like “Person of Color” ( I, too, I’d like to point out, have a color), a semantic lever used to further the work of neo-segregation. But I digress . . . 

Paquette notes that “supporters in the academy have echoed [Harjo’s] assertion, although when the footnotes are examined the professors have performed little if any serious research on their own and, as was the case with one professor of political science and philosophy, merely assert that ‘this fact has been recognized by certain governing bodies [sic!].’”

Here’s where it gets interesting.  “Other facts,” Paquette observes, “run counter to the activists’ narrative.”

Polling data, at this point in time, fail to support Ms. Harjo’s first point; a higher proportion, of whites than “Native-Americans,” in neither case a majority, find the word “redskins” offensive. Moreover, not a shred of documented historical evidence has surfaced to support Harjo’s more incendiary second point. As Ives Goddard, a prominent linguistic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution, has pointed out, “Harjo has made a living of making assertions on a variety of controversial terms without providing any evidence for them.”  In truth, the use of “red” in describing descendants of Pre-Columbian peoples has a historical trajectory that in no way matches that of “black” in describing Africans and persons of African-descent.  Every word has its own discrete history. Undue present-mindedness, it appears, has led Ms. Harjo and her supporters to read into “redskin” an ugly equivalence, unsustained by historical scholarship, to that elicited by, say, the words “kike” and “spic.”

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Even as the world careens from crisis to crisis—will Iran get (and use) The Bomb? Will the euro finally fail? Will ObamaCare put the nail in the coffin of the U.S. economy and America’s tradition of self-reliance and individual liberty? No one’s crystal ball is sharp enough to say. But even as the world conjures with these and other pending catastrophes, there are still local tempests to conjure with. In the somewhat rarefied world of word-processing software, the corporate giant Apple has precipitated a category five storm in the teapot inhabited by users of its iWork suite of software: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, the Word, Excel, and Powerpoint of the Apple eco-system.

Last week, in the course of a big Apple event in San Francisco, The Corporation announced, to considerable fanfare, new versions of iWork. There were smiles everywhere as a couple of Corporate officials took to the stage and demonstrated that, at long last, users would be able to collaborate on the same document simultaneously over the internet, on their Macs and/or their iPads and iPhones, even on PCs. This is a feature that Google has offered for some time, but Apple’s implementation was supposed to be more elegant (if less robust technically). The software had been rewritten from the ground up, they announced, adding many new features. It was a particularly welcome announcement for those who use the software because the last major update to the iWork software was in 2009, eons ago in the chronology of software. Patience was about to be rewarded. A new Apple triumph was about to be born. The new software, which Apple was offering for free, would make serious inroads into the hegemony of Microsoft’s Office suite, which is a de facto world-wide standard.

The celebratory mood lasted for about 15 minutes. Then a few people downloaded and started using the software. Uh oh. In its effort to make iWork compatible with the version that runs on the iPad and iPhone, Apple decided to neuter the desktop version of its software. “Big deal,” you say. “Use Microsoft Office.”  More and more people will do just that, I suspect. But in the meantime, there is high drama at the Apple support site and App store, where the hostile comments about the software vastly outnumber the positive comments. One independent reviewer summed up the verdict: “Pages 5: An unmitigated disaster.”

I’ve been using Pages myself for a couple of years. I’ve never liked Microsoft Office, and I’ve always harbored a particular dislike for Word, which I find bloated and unwieldy. Before using Pages, I wrote using a DOS- and then Windows-based programmer’s editor. It was a bare bones approach, but I liked the simplicity of the software and the control it offered over text manipulation. Together with a DOS-based PostScript layout tool, I was good to go.

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Remembering America

October 17th, 2013 - 8:33 am

I was having lunch yesterday with a politically mature Democrat, one of those “Scoop Jackson” fellows you read about in books but — unless you are older than I am — have probably never met outside a book’s pages. These are the chaps who see a fairly large role for government but who are also unabashedly pro-American, favor a robust foreign policy, are allergic to political correctness in all its squalid manifestations, and accordingly are the friends, not the enemies, of meritocracy.

It was a convivial lunch, but with a certain melancholy creeping in around the edges.

Witnessing the unedifying spectacle put on by our masters in Washington this last week or so, we could only shake our heads sadly. And when we contemplated the action of ordinary citizens — those vets who disassembled the “Barrycades” erected in front of national monuments by a punitive Obama administration — we couldn’t help wondering whether the country was teetering towards a pre-revolutionary state. Take a look at this video showing hundreds of veterans confronting park police in riot gear — riot gear! — in front of the White House. How about this photo of a vet: he lost the bottom half of both legs fighting to protect us from foreign enemies, and here he is now, tearing down those Barrycades, fighting to protect our prerogatives as free citizens, protesting the arrogant, overweening actions of a political elite that more and more views us citizens as serfs:


There is a lot more to be said about the events of the last couple of weeks: the pseudo-shutdown, the ham-handed and ineffectual pontifications of John Boehner, the punitive actions of the increasingly lawless Obama administration. Pundits and markets the world over heaved a collective sigh of relief when this circus of intransigence, stupidity, and preening brinksmanship collapsed on itself yesterday, but what happened is not behind us: it is prelude, not history. We are in the midst of political, social, and moral realignment, the lineaments of which no one’s crystal ball is sufficiently prescient to delineate with anything more than guess and possibilities.

This is a large subject, better suited to a book than a blog post. But let me draw on “The Obamacare Disaster,” an essay by Conrad Black at NRO, to highlight some of the headwinds we face. First, a few data points:

The United States has 5 percent of the world’s people, 25 percent of its incarcerated people, and half of its trained lawyers (who now take about 10 percent of the GDP); the legal system is an embarrassment, and the criminal-justice system is a disgrace, in which prosecutors win 99.5 percent of their cases, 97 percent of them without a trial. The legislators of the country are ultimately responsible for this corruption of what the Constitution and Bill of Rights set up as a just and merciful Society of Laws. The terminal cancer of legal paralysis spreads every week of every year.

Can you doubt that what Black says is true? But what are “we the people” going to do about this metastasizing pathology? Probably, what we have always done: nothing.

Consider the wickedly named “Affordable Care Act.” It owes its very existence, as Black points out, “to political treachery, electoral hijinks, and extreme prosecutorial misconduct”:

The 60-vote level in the Senate was obtained by the subornation of Arlen Specter in that tainted window between his rejection by his own party and his defeat by the Pennsylvania voters, and by Al Franken’s questionable win in the Senate election in Minnesota, where partisan, county-by-county recounts overturned the people’s choice. Also, most egregiously, Republican senator Ted Stevens of Alaska had been narrowly defeated in 2008 after being convicted of taking a bribe — a conviction that was subsequently thrown out because of the prosecutor’s completely improper suppression of exculpatory evidence.

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You’re busy, right? You have a lot on your plate. I know that, and I am going to help you out. Forget about the pseudo-shutdown and the posturing by Reid and Obama on one side and Boehner on the other.  The only thing you really need to read this weekend is Andy McCarthy’s piece at NRO, “Funding Jihadists while Denying Military Benefits.” It’s only about 1200 words. You can read it in a few minutes.  But you’ll remember it for a very long time. Think you’re disgusted with business-as-usual in Washington?  Just wait till you get your mind around what Andy has to say about how these clowns are actually conducting, or failing to conduct, the people’s business. And by “clowns” I very much include the Republican as well as the Democratic establishment. Listen:

The Republican establishment — the guys who told us that for a trillion dollars and several thousand American casualties, we could build “Islamic democracies” that would be reliable U.S. allies in the War on Terror — say it is Ted Cruz who is “delusional” and the effort to stave off Obamacare that is “unattainable.”

These self-appointed sages are, of course, the same guys who told us the way to “stabilize” and “democratize” Libya was to help jihadists topple and kill the resident dictator — who, at the time, was a U.S. ally, providing intelligence about the jihadists using his eastern badlands as a springboard for the anti-American terror insurgency in Iraq. That’s probably worth remembering this week, during which some of our new “allies” abducted Libya’s president while others car-bombed Sweden’s consulate in Benghazi — site of the still unavenged terrorist massacre of American ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. officials 13 months ago.

Feeling bad yet?

So successful do they figure the Libyan escapade was, GOP leaders are backing a reprise in Syria. It is there, we learn from a Human Rights Watch report issued this week, that our new “allies,” the al-Qaeda-rife “rebels,” executed a savage atrocity just two months ago. Sweeping into the coastal village of Latakia, the jihadists slaughtered 190 minority Alawites. As the New York Times details, “at least 67 of the dead appeared to have been shot or stabbed while unarmed or fleeing, including 48 women and 11 children.” More than 200 other civilians were captured and are still being held hostage.

Smart diplomacy in action, right?

And here at home? “Conservatives” are busy looking for their collective vertebrae, terrified lest anyone blame them for “shutting down the government.” As of this writing, they’ve “negotiated” (i.e., capitulated) several times to the administration in their desperate effort to appear “reasonable” to entities like the New York Times, CNN, and Jay Carney. It’s not working so well.  Meanwhile, the public, fickle, untrustworthy, stupid thing that is is, has the temerity to blame Obama as well as the Republicans for shutting down national monuments, denying death benefits to the families of vets, etc. What ingrates!

in order to demonstrate beyond cavil that they were being reasonable, notwithstanding huge objections to the current unsustainable $3.6 trillion trough of federal spending, conservatives volunteered to fund everything the government does except Obamacare. The administration and its scribes shrieked, of course, but there is nothing illegal or unusual about withholding appropriations for federal programs. The government does it every year. Obama himself does it, not just in refusing to enforce the federal immigration laws (to take just one example) but in refusing to execute aspects of Obamacare that harm preferred corporations, union cronies, and Congress.

But don’t distract us with the facts. We’ve got politics to play here! Naturally, the president told the GOP to take a hike. Doesn’t matter that ObamaCare is the most unpopular legislation in history (with the possible exception of Prohibition). Obama  wants to shove it down our throats, so open wide.  The behavior of the administration this last week or so has been extraordinary, even by the low and cynical standards it set for itself in the previous 4 years. I think the only spending bill that the president let by was the “Pay Our Military Act.” “Why?,” asks Andy.

Because Obama needs to hold Senate Democrats in lockstep “no” mode, but even they would not sign on to refusing to pay our troops in wartime. So the bill was passed — proving that, as the delusional Ted Cruz maintains, Democrats can be moved if unified Republicans make the pressure intense enough.

By the way, the adjective “delusional” before Ted Cruz’s name is sarcastic. That’s clear in Andy’s original. Pantywaists from both parties are screaming that Ted Cruz is an extremist who is wrecking the GOP, but is he?  Or is he rather an almost lone voice of reason campaigning vigorously for the principles he espouses: limited government, fiscal restraint, individual responsibility? Of course, all GOPers emit those phrases on the hustings.  How many follow through with action? Hardly any.

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The Anglosphere and the Future of Liberty

October 6th, 2013 - 4:20 am


A few days ago, The New Criterion and London’s Social Affairs Unit hosted a one-day conference about the future of the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States, with special reference to the contributions of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in maintaining that filiation. It was a jolly and informative convocation. Among the participants were John O’Sullivan, a close advisor to Margaret Thatcher, and Peter Robinson who drafted Reagan’s famous “Mr. Gorbachev-Tear-Down-This-Wall” speech. Other paper-givers included Daniel Hannan, a conservative, euro-sceptic member of the European Parliament for southern England, Douglas Carswell, a eurosceptic MP for Claxton, and Keith Windschuttle, the historian editor of Australia’s best cultural magazine, Quadrant. If I am counting correctly, this was the twelfth such collaboration between these two organizations. Our stated purposed is to enhance and strengthen the transatlantic conversation on such subjects as limited government, individual liberty, and the the constellation of values adumbrated by the word “Anglosphere.”

What is the Anglosphere? I’m not sure who coined the term, but it was James Bennett, another participant, whose book The Anglosphere Challenge: Why the English-Speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-First Century gave the word currency. As the title suggests, it is an optimistic, or at least an upbeat book. (Dr. Pangloss was an optimist, but somehow was always a source of gloom.) If the 19th century was preeminently the British century in world affairs (and it was), the 20th century belonged to the United States. And going forward? “If the English-speaking nations grasp the opportunity,” Bennett wrote at the end of his book, “the twenty-first century will be the Anglosphere century.”

“If.” A tiny word that prompts large questions. What were those opportunities that needed grasping? How sure was our grip? And who, by the way, were “we”? What was this Anglosphere that Bennett apostrophized? Winston Churchill’s opus on the English-speaking peoples, published in four-volumes in the mid-1950s, principally included Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. He commenced his story in 55 B.C., when Julius Caesar first “turned his gaze” upon Britain, and concluded as Victoria’s long reign ended at the turn of the 20th century. By the time Andrew Roberts extended Churchill’s work in his magisterial A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 (2006), the Anglosphere had expanded to include Commonwealth Caribbean countries and, more to the point, India with its 1.1 billion people and the burgeoning capitalist dynamo that is its economy. The inclusion of India shows, as Roberts argues, that the defining quality of the Anglosphere is not shared race or ethnicity but shared values. It is a unity, as Madhav Das Nalapat put it in his contribution to an earlier TNC-SAU collaboration, a unity of ideas, “the blood of the mind” rather than “the blood of the body.” Its force is more intangible than physical—set forth primarily in arguments rather than armies—but no less powerful for that. The ideas in play are so potent, in fact, that they allow India, exotic India, to emerge as an equal partner with Britain and the United States at “the core of a twenty-first-century Anglosphere.”

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Yesterday, I mentioned that I had recently been out in Colorado chatting with some friends about the work of Michael Oakeshott. One name that keep popping up was that of George Santayana, the philosopher everyone knows from his famous saying about those not knowing history having to repeat it. The little melodrama of the week plays itself out in Washington, D.C., and those we’ve duly elected to bilk us, enrich themselves, and mishandle the nation’s business set about their daily rounds of grandstanding and vote getting, Santayana offers a welcome alternative to that noisy spectacle. I think, for example, of his observation “free government works well in proportion as government is superfluous.” Tell that to a busybody politician or government regulator (or NSA snoop).

Anyway, a year or two ago I had occasion to supply an essay for Yale’s new edition of Santayana’s Character and Opinion in the United States and “The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy.” Looking at the display of petulance that is our political life today, I thought it might be worth posting an edited (though still longish) version of that essay, and accordingly, do so herewith.

I called the piece “Mental Hygiene and Good Manners,” implying that we could do with a bit more of both. Santayana, by and large, is a good source for those virtues, and our public life, as well as our private satisfaction, can benefit from a little more Santayana and a little less CNN, etc.

George Santayana was one of the most urbane philosophers ever to put pen to paper. He was also one of the sanest practitioners of the philosopher’s craft and (as it often is) sullen art.

Admittedly, that may not be saying a great deal. You do not have to read far in the corpus of philosophical speculation to appreciate that neither urbanity nor sanity — especially not sanity — has generally been much prized by homo philosophicus. There are exceptions, of course. Plato and Descartes were nothing if not urbane; Hume was commendably sane. But as a rule philosophers have demonstrated by their practice — if not always by their prescriptions — that they adulate other mental and moral qualities: profundity, for example, or at least the appearance thereof, as well as a certain ferocious verbal dexterity and obtuse cleverness in the juggling of concepts. (“Anyway, I’d rather be right than clever,” said a brittle English clubman. “I’d rather be both than neither,” came the withering rejoinder.)

Whether all this speaks well of philosophy is a question that we can (as the phenomenologists say) bracket. My point is only that Santayana — the Spanish-born, Boston-bred, Harvard educated cosmopolite — stands out as an unusual specimen in the philosophical fraternity. He wrote beautifully, for one thing, commanding a supple yet robust prose that was elegant but rarely precious or self-infatuated.

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Out in beautiful Colorado Springs a few days ago, I was chatting with some friends about the philosophy of Michael Oakeshott. (If you don’t know his work, I recommend it, in particular the brilliant essay “Rationalism in Politics.”) One of our merry band mentioned an essay by the Swiss-born French writer Benjamin Constant,  “The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns.” I’m not sure how I had escaped this brilliant speech all these years, but I did. Available free and for nothing at Liberty Fund’s wonderful “Online Library of Liberty,” this 7800 word essay is as pertinent to our concerns today as it was in the immediate post-Napoleonic era in which Constant wrote.

One of the first things that struck me was Constant’s optimism (“naïveté” would not be the right word for so nuanced a thinker). With the carnage of the Napoleonic wars still fresh in Europe’s memory, Constant nonetheless assured his readers that he discerned a “uniform tendency towards peace.” The imperatives of war, he thought, must at last give way to the subtler though ultimately more efficacious imperatives of commerce. “[A]n age must come,” he argued, “in which commerce replaces war.  We have reached this age.”

Tell that to the Kaiser, to Hitler and Stalin, to Mao, Pol Pot, and Ho Chi Minh, not to mention all the ayatollahs, imams, and African butchers who succeeded them!

But Constant’s premature peace proclamation should not distract us from the great and troubling insights of his essay.  It begins by elaborating the distinction named in his title, between liberty as understood by the ancients and liberty as understood by us moderns. In brief, ancient liberty was freedom to superintend the political process. Ancient liberty, he said,

consisted in exercising collectively, but directly, several parts of the complete sovereignty; in deliberating, in the public square, over war and peace; in forming alliances with foreign governments; in voting laws, in pronouncing judgments; in examining the accounts, the acts, the stewardship of the magistrates; in calling them to appear in front of the assembled people, in accusing, condemning or absolving them. But if this was what the ancients called liberty, they admitted as compatible with this collective freedom the complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the community.

In contrast, modern liberty eschews, or at least abandons, direct involvement in the political process for the sake of a more or less inviolate sphere of individual discretion. For us moderns, Constant wrote,

It is the right of everyone to express their opinion, choose a profession and practice it, to dispose of property, and even to abuse it; to come and go without permission, and without having to account for their motives or undertakings. It is everyone’s right to associate with other individuals, either to discuss their interests, or to profess the religion which they and their associates prefer, or even simply to occupy their days or hours in a way which is most compatible with their inclinations or whims.

That seems pretty clear, even uncontroversial.  But Constant has more to say. Among the ancients, he writes, “almost none of the enjoyments which we have just seen form part of the liberty of the moderns.” For example,  among the ancients, “All private actions were submitted to a severe surveillance.” We freedom-loving people would never submit to that today, would we? (“Here’s looking at you, kid,” the new motto of both the NSA and Google.)

This is just scratching the surface of Constant’s essay. What he elaborates is a melancholy dialectic of liberty in which nostalgic efforts to resuscitate ancient forms of liberty on the stage of modern life yield tyranny. And yet distinctively modern forms of liberty depend in the end on a ground of genuine political liberty if they are to thrive. Hence the paradox:

Individual liberty, I repeat, is the true modern liberty. Political liberty is its guarantee, consequently political liberty is indispensable. But to ask the peoples of our day to sacrifice, like those of the past, the whole of their individual liberty to political liberty, is the surest means of detaching them from the former and, once this result has been achieved, it would be only too easy to deprive them of the latter.

Modern totalitarians, those of a soft as well as those of a harder disposition, have understood and exploited this paradox.  Hence Constant’s prescient warning. Some people, he says, noting that we moderns cannot resurrect ancient forms of liberty without abolishing our quotidian freedoms, “conclude that we are destined to be slaves. They would like to reconstitute the new social state with a small number of elements which, they say, are alone appropriate to the situation of the world today.”

And what are these elements? 

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Andrew Roberts does America

September 27th, 2013 - 5:32 am

Andrew Roberts, marooned in his New York bivouac, has been writing sterling dispatches for London’s Standpoint about the decline and fall of the West, that’s to say, about the great political wrecking ball called Barack Hussein Obama.  He has just collected these melancholy but essential reports into an ebook and they are available for a trifling consideration at  Download it today and get a bracing (not to say infuriating) damage report on the most destructive president in history.

Racism Inc.

September 26th, 2013 - 4:49 am

Here’s a question: “What is it about the term “racism” that silences conversation and sends an anticipatory shudder of delight down the spines of politically correct vigilantes of virtue?” I have something to say about this over at RealClearPolitics today.  Here’s a teaser:

Like the word “heretic” in an earlier age, “racism” is more weapon than word. Its primary effect is not to describe but to intimidate, ostracize, and silence. What semantic significance it may command is overshadowed by its use as an epithet. Once successfully applied to a person or practice, a sort of secular damnation, or at least excommunication, ensues. Seldom is there any appeal, let alone absolution. Those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, said St. Mark, cannot be forgiven. Racism is the eternal, the unforgivable, sin of our age. Those successfully accused of racism are beyond the pale, cast out into the place offletus et stridor dentium, “of wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Exactly why this should be takes us into deep waters.

Read the rest here.




Thought for the Day

September 23rd, 2013 - 6:05 am


From C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (1970):

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

I am hoping that one or another of my readers might forward this to our masters in Washington. Any chance that Nancy Pelosi, for example, could absorb the phrase “omnipotent moral busybodies”?