Bonfire of the Humanities

We sporadically talk a good bit about education here. It’s important, we care, and all, but it’s also a supremely frustrating area, although I’m convinced that going back to the basics would be a start. But that also begs a question, which set of basics? The trivium from the middle ages? the MacGuffey Reader from our history?, the “See Spot run” books that I grew up with? something else? Does it matter? I don’t completely know. I think a lot is probably inherited or absorbed very young. Reading to your kids undoubtedly helps for literature, but I had an

I think a lot is probably inherited or absorbed very young. Reading to your kids undoubtedly helps for literature, but I had an inbuilt drive to do things with my hands, and Tonka trucks are very educational, but I also had a built in sense of scale, a 1/64 Ertl tractor just wouldn’t work with the big 1/16 ones. Others, I noted, even then, didn’t have this. Why? I have no idea, but to this day, it’s something that bugs me.

Basic physics seems inbuilt as well. I can look at things and roughly compute the forces required to do thus and so. But maybe this is just all growing up when and where I did, with my parents. Hard to say, isn’t it? But how do we (or should we) pass along this sort of knowledge.

In any case, I’m pretty sure this method won’t work. Ryan Hammill wrote for The Federalist yesterday about a Harvard Professor and his asinine letter to The Wall Street Journal.

Anybody wondering how the study of the humanities arrived at its current, depressing state need only read the words of its practitioners. In a recent letter to The Wall Street Journal, James Simpson, the chair of Harvard’s Department of English, unveils the supreme and lamentable logic that now governs the field.

Simpson writes in response to a March 31 op-ed from Heather Mac Donald, wherein Mac Donald discussed the new “marginalization requirement” in Harvard’s English department. All English majors must now take a course covering authors “marginalized for historical reasons.” Mac Donald posed the question (the title of her piece), “Does Harvard consider Oscar Wilde ‘marginalized’?”

After all, she says, “‘Heteronormativity’ may have made his [Wilde’s] final years miserable, but it had no effect on the boundless success of his plays.” Mac Donald, God bless her, rehearses many of the familiar arguments against classroom identity politics: it gives students yet another excuse to ignore classics of which they are already ignorant; given their historically disproportionate access to education, it’s only common sense that “Dead, White Males” predominate; and race or sex of the author ought not to count for or against a truly sublime piece of literature.

If You Really Believe This, Act On It

These are good and familiar arguments, and they should continue to be made. But Simpson’s letter in reply on April 8 makes the exchange particularly edifying for readers concerned for the classics. Simpson tries to play the middle-of-the-road civility card. He calls Mac Donald’s op-ed “intelligent” but “mean-minded.” At first, he seems to concede: “Nothing could be more depressing than to see a literature curriculum determined by identity politics with dutiful representation from the required range of underrepresented groups.”

While the thought displeases me, I could find a few more depressing things. In fact, so can Simpson! “Nothing, that is, except a literature curriculum that betrayed the fundamental function of literature and other art forms, which is to hear the voices repressed by official forms of a given culture.” I find this claim nearly as depressing as Simpson claims the hypothetical literature curriculum depresses him.

With this sentence, Simpson supplies the asinine creed for the modern study of the humanities. The purpose of art, he says, is to “hear the voices repressed by official forms of a given culture.” That’s not a side benefit. It’s not an occasional consequence of studying art. It’s the whole point.

Do read it all, it’s excellent.

But the main thrust is, and it’s accurate, is that this fool of a professor, and many like him, has politicized everything. To some point that’s always true, reading about the Spartans at Thermopylae is unlikely to make one revere physical cowards. But a lot of literature is read, not because of political purpose, but for many other reasons, amongst them the sheer beauty of the language.

It’s rather sad to see people killing the goose that lays their own golden eggs, isn’t it? (And yes, that too is a literary allusion!) But it wouldn’t matter all that much if he wasn’t also damaging our society, perhaps beyond repair.

Blood and Earth

Steve Berman wrote an article for yesterday’s Resurgent. I think he makes quite a valid point. Here’s some of what he said:

[…] Europeans are very much into discussing Trump, and generally trolling any American who doesn’t display sufficient venom and hatred of him. I’ve been criticized by American liberals in the same way, and of course by Trump Kool-Aid drinkers who think I must have carried a Hillary sign because I recognized the factual negatives of a Trump presidency.

But, short of a nuclear war, which is only barely more perceptible inside the realm of fathomability, Trump represents little more than a blip on the slope produced by the American political equation. But someone like Marine Le Pen represents a much greater threat to Europe than Trump does to America.

It’s not just Le Pen. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Syriza (officially “Coalition of the Radical Left”) party; Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders, whose PVV party controls 13 percent of the Dutch House of Representatives and 12 percent of the Dutch Senate;  Turkish President-cum-dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Britain’s Brexit vote all represent a swing toward European nationalism. […]

In social liberalism, all the EU nations (Turkey having stalled their joining) share the same cultural liberalism and moral relativism. The term “conservative” in Europe has quite a different meaning than it does in America.

What we’re seeing in Europe is actually dangerous. I’m no fan of one-world government globalism, or some utopian panacea to produce Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité forever. But forgive me for pointing out that Europeans, untethered from the requirements of entwined interests, tend to pursue extremely self-interested courses, regardless of the political philosophy or structure of state government applied to each nation.

In other words, Napoleon, Mussolini, Kaiser Wilhelm, Tsar Nicholas II, Stalin, and Hitler were all woven from the same loom, if not cut from the same cloth. Nationalism, socialism, national socialism, communism, monarchy, or the Jacobins–take your pick. They all inexorably fell to the same result: war, death, conquest, and the conquered.

He’s got a pretty good point here. If I was a Frenchman, I would vote for Le Pen, because as I said on another site yesterday, policies don’t matter all that much when survival is at stake, and I think that is where France is.

You all know that I detest the EU, to my eyes it’s little more than a German Zollverein, a customs union, tending toward Das Vierte Reich, but that’s my view.

But the EU program got underway initially to curb European nationalism. That nationalism has often been toxic as well. It’s often called ‘blood and soil nationalism’. And it has a nasty habit of getting completely out of hand. Frankly, in some ways, Le Pen doesn’t sound all that different from Mussolini and bears watching. But the EU has gone bad and needs destroying before it destroys the West.

One place where I disagree with Steve is where he lumps the UK in with Europe. To me, that just doesn’t hold up. From what I’ve seen of Britain, although that Gott mit uns (like the Kaiser’s) sort of patriotism does exist, as it does in the US, theirs is more like ours, holding their ideals aloft, rather than their land and blood.

And that is the difference with America, our patriotism, while very pronounced, isn’t about the land, or the people. It’s about the idea, often expressed as ‘The City on the Hill’. Traditionally, we go out into the world to fight evil, hoping we are on the Lord’s side, not claiming he is on ours. Therefore, it is not really dangerous in geopolitical terms, if people stay in their own country and leave their neighbors alone, they have little to fear from the US.


A couple shorts:

It was reported that several ISIS fighters, in Iraq (I think) were killed by feral boars. Well, if you ever hunted feral boars, it’s not hard to believe. I mention it mostly because Ace won the day with his phrase, “They got attacked by ‘armored bacon’. That is a most felicitous phrase.

Also, Nordstroms, who are again quietly carrying Ivanka Trump’s designs have also unveiled a pair of jeans (for $425.00) that have been presoiled with fake dirt.

That man wins one internet! Mike Rowe wasn’t impressed, either.

 

Finally, a Rational Foreign Policy

So, are you having trouble figuring out Trump’s foreign policy? Yeah, it’s different than we are used to. Bookworm had an article the other day, that made a fair amount of sense.

When the Great War (now known as World War I) erupted in 1914, dragging Europe from the pinnacle of civilization into an abyss of mindless killing, President Woodrow Wilson was resolute: America would not enter into this foreign war.

Americans themselves had no desire to be drawn into the war, although the country quickly divided into camps supporting the two sides in the battle. Those supporting England, France, Belgium, and Russia (the Allies) only slightly outnumbered the huge German-American population that put its moral weight behind Germany, Austro-Hungary, and a few other central European nations (the Central Powers).

Traditional American foreign policy there, essentially none of our business, root for the side that you like, and do business with all comers. Book notices and she’s right, the Allies bought an awful lot more stuff than the Germans and bought a lot of it on borrowed American money. It got to the point that the Allies losing would likely have caused a depression in the US. (So did the Allies winning eventually, in 1921, but Coolidge’s policies were so good, that it was a blip, except, maybe for farmers.)

That more than anything else is what forced America into the war, it was decidedly in the American interest for Britain and France to win. It’s not unique in American history, either, the British blockade of Napoleonic France is one of the causes of the War of 1812. In both cases, there were other reasons as well, but these stand out. Don’t forget, we had a little quasi-war with France earlier, again cause by interference in trade. For that matter, if Lincoln hadn’t had a cool head on his shoulders, things like the CSS Alabama could have drawn Britain into the Civil War.

But Wilson wasn’t about to go to war for American trade. Wilson was a lot of things, almost none of them good.

Faced with an unspeakable reason for entering the war, Wilson instead came up with a high-flown moral doctrine justifying America’s entry into the war. And so the Wilson doctrine was born (emphasis mine):

We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretence about them, to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.

Which is essentially lovely…bullshit. We went into the Great War for perfectly good reasons, but England wasn’t all that much more democratic than Imperial Germany. It became so, of course, but much of that was the result of the war.

Biggest trouble was that Wilson believed it, and because he did, he got shunted aside at the peace conference after the armistice, and very little of his program happened, and what did, was the parts that would lead to trouble, like the Balkans.

And as Book says, almost every war we’ve stumbled into in the last century, except World War II, has been because we have believed this myth, that we were fighting to make ‘the world safe for democracy’. And World War II, itself, was likely caused because of the vindictive treaty that ended the Great War, where Wilson was shunted to the side, even if he was the representative of the most powerful country there. It’s been true, all the way to Iraq II.

Obama held a different belief, almost a mirror image. As near as I can tell he saw his mission to make the world safe from America. He’s a true believer in the revisionist school, that the US (and the UK) have never done anything that was good for anybody but themselves. Well, we’ve disproved that plenty, but that is what they’re still teaching in the schools.

But what is Trump’s principle? I think it’s the traditional 19th-century American foreign policy, updated for the times. He’s not likely to go about regime-changing without really good cause, nor does he believe, I suspect, in the stupid ‘Pottery Barn Rule’. No more Iraqs are likely.

But he’s not afraid to use the military, as we saw in Syria when somebody does something that threatens America. And yes, chemical weapons do threaten America, especially in a country overrun with every sort of Islamic terrorist there is. The same is true for North Korea, threatening to nuke the US, or our allies, is enough to get you in trouble, and Trump doesn’t appear to pull his punches.

The key thing for America, as it is for Britain, as it has been since Good Queen Bess was on the throne, is freedom of the seas. We are trading nations, and these are our highways, and if they keep it up, sooner or later the PRC is going to run afoul of that, but they are smarter than the average bear, so maybe they’ll figure it out. See also my Sea Lines of Communication.

In short, Trump’s foreign policy looks very much like traditional American (and British) foreign policy, not looking for trouble, but it’s unwise to poke lions and eagles, you just might get hurt.

Dana Loesch Takes Aim, Ralph, and Sumdood

Make popcorn, make a lot of popcorn, because the United States’ largest and most effective civil rights group, the NRA has decided to take on that gray purveyor of fake news, the New York Times.

How refreshing!

Then there’s Ralph. One of the blogs I enjoy most is The Adaptive Curmudgeon, perhaps because we are brothers from another mother or something, because he so often corrals what I’m thinking, often better than I do. Such it is with Ralph.

[…] There’s a significant portion of the populace that gets frustrated when President Trump’s (he won folks!) ideas are fed into the bureaucracy and emerge with a treatment somewhere along a spectrum from ignored, through mangled, and into misdirected. There’s another portion that thinks “thank God the system is correcting against lunacy” and applaud a spectrum from moderate, through adapt, and into mitigate. Same actions, different point of view. People’s opinions invert with laser-like speed whenever a new party takes the reins. That’s your big tell. It’s not fully real.

Never forget; one man’s “gridlock” is another man’s “cautious and measured approach”. Furthermore “bipartisan” can mean a “widely agreed upon common sense solution” or it can mean “a stampede of lemmings”. Sometimes it means “witch hunt”. Same activity, different point of view.

This all leads to my reaction to dark utterances about the nefarious “shadow government” or “deep state”. There’s less than meets the eye. If you’re worried about that particular evil, let it go.

Yes, of course, there’s internal resistance to a new president. People don’t like change. I get it. I’m still pissed about automatic transmissions and fuel injected engines. Change is hard. […]

Keep going, this is some of the best stuff, I’ve read in years. How do I know? When the story of a fictional bureaucrat inspires comments that range from Hannah Arendt on Himmler, to Chesterton speaking as the devil, the movie Brazil, read this, and I mean the whole thing well your education is not complete until you have, hit the tip jar too, eloquence should be rewarded. And that brings us to the final thing mentioned in that article, the legend of Sumdood. You really shouldn’t go through life ignorant of one of the largest of American legends.

“So what happened, man?” I ask the guy as I shine a penlight into his eyes, checking his pupillary responses.

“Got hit,” mumbles the guy, stating the obvious. With one hand, he’s holding the absorbent gauze pad I’ve given him against the big laceration on the side of his head, as he absentmindedly tugs his shorts up with the other. Not too far up, mind you – just enough to perch precariously on his ass cheeks and still leave about four inches of boxers showing. Scalp wound and abrasions be damned, he has street fashion to consider.

“I meant, what happened exactly,” I explain patiently, suppressing the urge to roll my eyes. I palpate the back of his neck. “What did they hit you with, and did you get knocked out?”

“Hell no!” he blurts indignantly, pulling away. He starts getting wound up, because now he has a story to tell. He gestures animatedly to the porch behind him, and to his buddies currently being interviewed by the police. There is a small crowd gathered on the street. “See, I was just sittin‘ here, kickin‘ it with my peeps, noamsayne? Mindin‘ my own, noamsayne? And then…”

No doubt there were seven of them, far too many for you and your homies to defeat in a stand-up, fair fight.

“Then, dude just drops the brick and runs off!”

Whoa, just one guy! He must have been a baaaaaaaad ass…

“Did you get a look at this guy?” I ask. “Would you recognize him again?” Immediately, his eyes turn shifty and evasive.

“Nah man, I ain’t ever seen dude before,” he lies. “He just some dude.”

Sumdood?” I ask with sharpened interest. “You say Sumdood jumped you?”

He’s close, I can feel it. I knew it when the hairs stood up on the back of my neck when I got out of the rig. Evil lurks nearby.

“Yeah man,” the guy confirms. “Some dude.”

“There he is, over there!” the guy’s girlfriend says helpfully, pointing toward the crowd, “just standin‘ over there like he ain’t did nuthin‘!”

Shhh, don’t point at him!” I hiss, pulling her arm down. “Just be cool, a’ight?”

Aww girl, that ain’t him,” the guy says, feigning disgust. “Siddown and shut yo mouf.” […]

Take the time, read those links, you need this information.

Ancient Laws, Modern Wars

Victor Davis Hanson reminds us of some ancient learning, and helps us apply it to the present day.

After eight years of withdrawal, what rules should the U.S. follow to effectively reassert itself in world affairs? The most dangerous moments in foreign affairs often come after a major power seeks to reassert its lost deterrence. The United States may be entering just such a perilous transitional period.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/446471/military-deterrence-trumps-leadership-abroad-principles-foreign-policy […]

1. Avoid making verbal threats that are not serious and backed up by force. After eight years of pseudo-red lines, step-over lines, deadlines, and “game changers,” American ultimatums without consequences have no currency and will only invite further aggression.
2. The unlikely is not impossible. Weaker powers can and do start wars. Japan in December 1941 attacked the world’s two largest navies based on the false impression that great powers which sought to avoid war did so because they were weak. That current American military power is overwhelming does not mean delusional nations will always agree that it is so — or that it will be used.
3. Big wars can start from small beginnings. No one thought an obscure Austrian archduke’s assassination in 1914 would lead to some 18 million dead by 1918. Consider any possible military engagement a precursor to far more. Have a backup plan — and another backup plan for the backup plan.
4. Do not confuse tactics with strategy. Successfully shooting down a rogue airplane, blowing up an incoming speedboat, or taking an ISIS-held Syrian city is not the same as finding a way to win and end a war. Strategic victory is time-consuming and usually involves drawing on economic, political, and cultural superiority as well as military success to ensure that a defeated opponent stays defeated — and agrees that further aggression is counterproductive.

via Military Deterrence & Trump’s Leadership Abroad: Principles for Foreign Policy | National Review Read the whole thing.™

There’s more there and they are all true, useful, and important. One that we Americans are very prone to is number four above. It’s always a problem, where is the dividing line. There is a murky area in there as well that some theorists coming after Clausewitz refer to as the ‘operational’. While I see their point, which is valid, these theories are already too complex, so it is best to do our best to maintain a sharp clear line.

If they are doing their job, the TLAM strike in Syria in Syria was strategic. It may or may not deter Hasan, although that is certainly desirable, but it depends on his calculus of survival. If he thinks he is more likely to survive by doing such things, he will. He is, after all, a man of weak morals, caught in a corner. He will do his best to survive, just as Saddam did.

But the point of that strike, which occurred while the President was having dinner with the Chinese Premier, was not Syria. It was Iran and North Korea, and it was notice to their sponsor states, Russia and China, that we were quite unhappy, and that the eagle just might scream in other parts of the world.

It’s important to realize that the United States, while it may be possible to destroy it, it can only be destroyed by what is essentially a nation level suicide-bombing, and only Russia (and maybe China) can do it. America’s only real enemies are internal. And that too has precedent, especially with Rome. Are we there? I don’t think so, but there are troubling signs.

My reading is that the first signs of decline are corruption, venality, and a deterioration of will. I do see these signs in abundance, and we would be wise to check our course. Or maybe we did, and that why we have Trump.

Swamp Status: Undrained

Well, how about some videos on our problems?

or this

This, however, I do like quite a lot

If you’ve never visited our National Battlefield Parks, you really should. These are some of the places where our history was made. Names that ring down history, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Harper’s Ferry, Little Big Horn, and so many others. If your reflective in these places, you can almost still see the shades of the soldiers. And you know, it’s something uniquely American, nobody else has ever done this. It’s very moving and very cool.

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